Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tanzania's safari and Zanzibar itinerary.

I've always been intrigued by the Serengeti National Park ever since I read about it when I was little. It's always been in the back of my mind that it's a place that I'll visit someday. I guess I realized that dream this past July. What a trip it was. It's different from all the other trips we had taken before. Took months of research and planning on my part. After browsing the internet for tour ideas and suggestions, I decided on an 8 days safari trip with 4 days of relaxation in Zanzibar.
I sent out email inquiries with my initial itinerary to 11 different tour operators (TO) in the States and Tanzania. Three didn't respond. One responded quickly saying a quote is on the way. After a few back and forth emails for 2 months, no quote was offered. Another responded from their office in the States with no quote. So, I reached out to their office in Tanzania. The response was they'll get back to me with a quote and that was that.
One TO (A2T) sent an automated request to set up a telephone appt. I did as requested and waited by the phone at the appointed time. The call never came. Reached out to them again requesting for another appt but no response from the company. I guess they're picky about who their clients are. Another TO gave us an incomplete quote and promised to send another quote. Well, the second quote never came. One TO called me from Tanzania and gave me a quote that was ok but wanted us to stay at the camps that he owned. I was a little apprehensive.
Ended up with 3 competitive quotes from TO's in Tanzania and in the end, we chose B2B as the owner was responsive in her communications and gave her thoughts whenever I have doubts or questions in the trip planning. After a few emails, she was able to put together an 8 days safari trip for us with a reasonable price. The payments were to be wired in 2 parts, the initial deposit was wired as soon as the itinerary were set and the rest of the balance was wired 2 months before the trip. I have my worries about wiring funds to a stranger in Africa having read stories about how some people were scammed of their wired payments and ended up having to fork over more money during their trips because the TO's never paid for the accomodations. But, we didn't have any of that problems. Our final safari itinerary was as follows:-
Day 1 Arrival at JRO (Kilimanjaro Airport)
Day 2 Tarangire National Park
Day 3 Ngorongoro Crater
Day 4,5 Central Serengeti
Day 6,7 Northern Serengeti for the wildebeests migration
Day 8 Fly to Zanzibar

Our driver was waiting for us at the JRO as we got out of the baggage claim area. What was presented to us was  an old rickety 1981 Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop up roof and no air conditioning. The interior was reinforced with heavy metal, a bit of rust here and there and seat coverings that had seen better days. I have my doubts if this 4x4 would hold up for the entire 8 days trip. Not only did it last, I think I know why we were given this vehicle. Our driver's driving was skilled but too fast and impatient. Sometimes, driving off the track as well. He seemed to be trying to get us from one lodging to the next as fast as he could. On our sixth day, the staff at the Bologonja One Migration Camp was caught off guard when we checked in at noon as they were expecting us in the evening. It's no easy task navigating the dirt roads for the safari trip. We had a flat tire on the 3rd day. Took an hour fixing the tire then we were good to go. With bumpy rides on mostly dirt roads, the power connection  to its electrical outlets went out by the 4th day. So much for charging our electronics in the vehicle.  But, these are minor inconveniences for a chance to see amazing animals in their natural habitats.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One day in Dubai.

A glamorous city in the desert. Stayed for one night in July en route to Tanzania, Africa. Arrived late at night and took a taxi straight to the Burj Al Arab, the world's first seven stars hotel. Nice reception as we were greeted with cold drinks, dates and a refreshing towel upon stepping off the taxi at the curb. We were swiflty taken to our suite for check in. First impression was "wow" with the size of the 2 storey apartment style suite and the rich Versace furnishings. Golds and marbles were used liberally throughout. A little tired looking but beautiful, if one is not picky about the details.
Walked for 15 minutes around the beach area, but the heat (90's deg F) was unbearable at 8 in the morning. Decided to retrieve back to the hotel for the rest of the day. Took a long nap till the evening before we checked out of the hotel. The only place we visited that night was the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa which were next to each other.

Burj Khalifa via fish eye lens- world's tallest building at the moment. Very impressive tower with reflective golden exterior at dusk. Didn't visit the interior as we just didn't have the time.

                                          Pastries at Eataly Market, Dubai Mall.
Clockwise from top- naan, dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice), eggplant puree and grilled harumi cheese. We ordered grilled chicken, lamb and prawns as well. Liked the prawns  the best.
Dubai Mall- one of the world's largest malls. Massive and expensive. I don't shop during vacation time because I think prices in the States for most things, be it luxury or not, are more reasonable than the rest of the world. Did buy a cannoli, panna cotta and another pastry at Eataly Market in the mall's basement. Sadly, was not impressed with the taste or looks of the pastries. For convenience, we chose to have dinner at one of its middle eastern restaurants- service left a lot to be desired as their waiters were disinterested in serving their clients. Maybe it was Ramadan season, people breaking fast at the same time and the staff were overwhelmed. We waited an hour and a half for a table after the crowds were gone. The foods were mediocre at best.
Dubai is definitely a super modern city with skyscrapers bursting thru its skyline. At the same time, it's a conservative and diverse society. We didn't know anyone locally but, we talked to the taxi drivers from India, the waiters from Bangladesh, the butlers from the Phillipines,  a receptionist from China and a manager from Romania. All trying to make a better living for themselves and Dubai has delivered thus far.