Written on: September 02, 2014
I visited in July 2014
E-Trip Africa organized a mind blowing tour to Tanzania and Rwanda for us this summer. The manager Ben and our Guide Rajai were at the airport to greet us when we arrived and joined us for a welcome dinner in Arusha at Arusha Coffee Lodge, which is a beautiful lodge located in a Coffee Plantation just outside of Arusha. We spent two nights at Arusha Coffee Lodge in order to recover from the long flight. On the “recovery” day, Ben joined us for an outing to Shanga House, where handicapped and disabled people are employed to create a variety of hand crafts, like blown glass. Ben then took us to Plaster House, which is an inspiring project that does surgeries for children whose families can’t afford such medical interventions. I nearly left the place in tears, seeing how strong such young people can be. As a rule, we find a way to give something to the places that we have traveled. I was turned off by the numerous scams that we had heard about in East Africa. But you can see that E-Trip Africa is really involved with the community and they were able to find some real projects to introduce us to. We started early to get to Tarangire National Park. As a first African safari we really had no idea what to expect. Tarangire is a perfect place to start the journey. Elephants and Giraffe mixed with the huge baobab trees that seem to go off into the horizon. It was not long before Rajai had us driving down a small track near a dried up river bed. There were no other cars in sight, so I naturally though he was taking a short cut or even got lost. But then all of the sudden he stopped and pointed at a Sausage tree. I stupidly assumed he was showing us another Sausage tree, but then we saw her. A beautifully majestic leopard, not even 20 feet above our heads, was taking a nap on one of the large branches. She opened her eyes and glanced at us and then dosed back off. After some time relaxing and enjoying the nature, we continued the drive enjoying the elephants, giraffe, ostrich, lovebirds, beaters, and the grandiose baobabs. We then spent the night at Tarangire Safari Lodge, which as promised has “the best view in Africa”. The next morning we started the day early slowly working our way out of Tarangire, when we spotted two cheetahs. We still don’t know how Rajai was able to see the animals while navigating the sometimes nearly impassible roads, but he spotted them and then pointed it out to us. Once again we were alone, but this time on a much larger road. He said we should wait to see if they were hungry. And sure enough within 15 minutes they were on the hunt. We crept along as they moved and finally, the burst out after a herd of Thompsons Gazelles. By the time they had caught one they were quite far from the road, but we could still see the action. Then to our surprise two female lions appeared from behind some bushes and the poor cheetah lost their breakfast. By that time several other vehicles had arrived and we decided that it was time to move on. We gratefully joined the tarmac road again and drove to the south to enter Lake Manyara. Originally our plan did not include this park, but Ben as a Bird Man, said it was one of his favorites and convinced us that we should give it a day in the trip. We are so glad we did. While it was not easy to top the excitement from the morning, Lake Manyara National Park was a splendor in itself. The coexistence of so many different animals all in one area really made me feel that this was a special place. At one point not far from the hot springs, we had 17 different types of birds, along with a huge troop of baboon, giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, and mongoose all feeding in the same place. We actually spent over an hour there just enjoying all of the interactions, sounds and movements. In the afternoon we drove to Ngorongoro spending the night at Serena Lodge. Again we started the day very early. Rajai wanted us to get down to the crater floor first thing so that we could see the animals when they are most active. The drive down to the floor was quite impressive. This is where we encountered our first Hyena, of which we must have seen almost 100 during the morning drive. There were also some new birds to see, Crowned Cranes and Kori Bustards were new for us. This time it was not Rajai who had the luck but one of the other E-Trip Guides who radioed Rajai to tell him that two Black Rhinos had been spotted. We then headed off in a bit of a rush. We arrived to find 5 other cars there and the rhinos where quite close. Rajai told us that Jon was an aggressive male that is the father of most of the rhinos in the crater. He has also killed some of his sons once they reached sexual maturity. So the park is thinking about moving him to a better place. Within about 20 minutes there were nearly 50 cars lined up. We left our space for someone else and we then headed off. Near a small stream on the floor we came across a female lion that had 4 cubs with her. She was alone, which meant that the cubs were still less than a few months old. They were adorable to watch and since everyone else was viewing the rhinos, we had some time to ourselves to enjoy. After lunch it was time to drive out of the crater and to the Serengeti. The one surprise we had was the large numbers of Maasai People and the fact that there are so many cows in the conservation area. I don’t really see how the area can support the wildlife and so much live stock. From Ngorongoro to Serengeti the road is very bad. I never saw a road this bad in my life before. It was two hours of bumpy, dusty madness. We then spent almost an hour at the entry gate and continued to Nieleze camp in Serengeti. The camp is small with six tents and located near a small hill. The next morning we had a sunrise breakfast on the top of the hill, which was a nice surprise. We then enjoyed two days in central Serengeti, where we saw over 40 lions and 3 different leopards. The highlight though was a mother cheetah with her cubs near the den. From Nieleze we drove to the northern part of Serengeti which was also long and dusty. The road was not as bad as before, but nearly. Rajai took us on a few loops along the way. And as we got further and further north there were fewer and fewer cars. We spent the following two nights at Bolongonja Camp, which was a bit more rustic than Nieleze. However, it was perfect for the location. The sense of really being in the wilderness was ideal. Ben & Aurelie had warned us that the migration was very unpredictable and not to have our hopes too high. Seems once again the stars were aligned perfectly. When we arrived there were still some large herds of wildebeest around. We drove by and waited for hours, but they just moved back and forth with no real desire to cross that river. But the second day when we returned, they had changed their mind. There were thousands of wildebeest jumping in the water and two got taken by crocodiles. Rajai said that this was actually a rather small crossing, but it was big enough to enjoy. On our way back to the camp I spotted what I thought to be an elephant, but then I decided it must be a hippo. Rajai laughed and took us down a small track to get up close. It was another black rhino. This time all to ourselves. The next morning afternoon Rajai took us to the airstrip where we said our goodbyes and then we boarded the small plane to Rwanda. We arrived there to find Ben waiting at the airport with our guide Joseph. We spent the night at the upscale Serena hotel in Kigali. The next day Ben took us on a tour of Kigali. We started the day visiting the Ivuka Art Studio where children are given the opportunity to express themselves with art. We then drove to Volcanoes National Park. Along the way we stopped at the Gorilla Doctors project which provides medical care for Mountain Gorillas. We then headed off to Gorilla View Mountain Lodge for the night. The lodge was okay, but not quite at the level of those in Tanzania. The next morning we were up early and of to the park to visit the Mountain Gorilla. The rangers gave us some coffee and then told us a little about the family we were going to visit. Our family was the Susa group, which we were told had 28 gorillas in it. From the ranger station you get very good views of the 5 volcanoes that are inside the park. I did not take pictures here because I thought we would see them better from the forest, but you don’t see them at all. We drove to the start of the trail and the rangers gave us walking poles. The hike was a bit difficult and it is high so not so easy to breath. We walked about two hours and then the rangers stopped us and told us that we needed to get the cameras ready and to leave our bags. We then walked a few more feet to a clearing where there were several gorillas. The rangers lead us into the middle of the group. In our sight I counted 14 gorillas but I could hear some others that we could not see. The sights, smells, and sounds are all so overwhelming that the 60 minutes passes rather quickly. I still have not figured how to put the experience in words, but I can say it was the highlight of a perfect trip. I am grateful that we came across E-Trip Africa, as they building this amazing trip for us and where there from the start to the finish.
Ben and Aurelie provided useful insight and expert advice. Rajai and Joseph are fantastic guides and passionate people that have a love for wildlife.