I don't often get to travel for my day job. But when I do, my company sends me to some far-reaching places. The past March was one such opportunity. In December 2017, I found out I would be going to Africa, Tanzania, specifically. I assumed that someday I'd get the chance to go to Africa but had never really thought too much about it. Now was my chance.
Still, with finding out in December I had very little time to plan. I didn't know the exact dates until less than 30 days out. Fortunately I had some vacation time in the bank that wasn't already spoken for. This made for the possibility of adding on a few extra days after the official business to take an adventure. I'm so glad I did!
Most of my time in Tanzania was spent in Dar es Salaam. What to say about Dar? Well, not much really. From what little I saw of it, there's not much reason to go there. It's a large, sprawling, urban traffic jam. There may have been some sites to see in the main downtown area but I didn't have the time or means to explore that area much as the office where I was working was out in the 'burbs' well over an hour out of downtown.
If you do plan a trip to Tanzania, especially arriving at the Dar es Salaam airport, here's my main pointer for you: BUY YOUR VISA IN ADVANCE! You can get a tourist visa upon arrival, but it's a messy process at least at this time (perhaps will be better when the new terminal is completed - was to be completed in October 2018, a year behind schedule. I don't think it's done as of this writing.). I was lucky. My seat on the plane was very near the front - still economy, mind you. So just 1st class and a few from business class were already in the visa queue when I got there. You wait in line to have your immigration form checked. Then you wait in line for a clerk, have your picture taken, fingerprints scanned, hand over your passport with $100 cash (for Americans, that is - less for almost everyone else). Then you wait. As I say, I was lucky! I only had to wait about 30 minutes (nowhere to sit in this crowed, cramped, and hot space) before another officer brought out a stack of passports and started calling names. I was the last called in this batch of about 20 passports. A lady that was on my flight - a Tanzanian national living abroad - she goes through this every time she visits and says it can take 4 - 5 HOURS! So - get your visa in advance and save yourself this trouble.
Now, back to the pleasantries.
I picked a hotel at the north end of the city, near the office where I'll be working. There are a number of beach resorts out this way. Many looked fine from the pictures but really so hard to know what you're really going to step into. I played it safe and chose the Ramada Beach Resort. Good location, nice beach, decent price. It actually turned out to be a good choice. I may do a separate post about this later.
What to do with my bonus days? I could either go up north to go on safari or head out to Zanzibar. I can sit on a beach in many places in the world but it would be fun to see the spice markets and go scuba diving. The chance to go on an Africa safari was much more alluring.
A little research made it clear that a safari could get really expensive, really fast. To make matters more difficult, I'm not going as part of an organized week-long or more tour. The logistics of doing this on my own, having never been to Africa, was going to be tricky. All of the airlines that actually fly into the Serengeti are ridiculously expensive for these destinations. Then you add on the hundreds of dollars for the park entrance fee. The nearest major airports are in Arusha and Kilimanjaro - too far of a drive to get to the Serengeti with the time I have available. At this late date, many of the lodges were fully booked. I did speak with a well-known photo safari guide, Andy Biggs, who was good enough to offer some advise and warnings - specifically, that I should expect to pay about $1,000 per day for a quality experience - ouch! (Would have liked to have joined the safari he was leading a week later - maybe another day.) He also warned me of some guide companies to avoid. I finally zeroed in on a hotel that looked nice at a reasonable price and had offerings for various day-trips. Now booked, the hotel arranged for airport pickup/dropoff. I also had them arrange a tour in the nearby Arusha National Park. Great - all is sorted. I may actually be able to pull this off!
The day of departure arrived sooner than I was mentally ready. I hadn't packed a thing. Fortunately, I didn't need to be at the airport until 2:00 or even a little later. That gave me plenty of time to get packed with a last minute scurry to off-load a few pounds to make the weight limit.
Kevin got me to the airport in plenty of time. We said our goodbyes as I headed for check in.
As I got to the counter, I overheard one of the other ticket agents mention a special: deeply discounted upgrade to Business Class. I asked my agent and she confirmed that they were indeed oversold in Economy and offering the reduced upgrade price. I was tempted, oh, so tempted. But this being the beginning of my trip and wanting to conserve funds (just in case) I foolishly passed up the offer. I was not so foolish on the return! - more about that later. The bag passed the weight check, just barely. Alaska Mileage Plan number applied to my itinerary (which took some considerable amount of keystrokes, several agents, and a supervisor) and I was off to the Centurion Lounge to await boarding.
The rest of the journey was basic, mundane, air travel on a 14 1/2 hour flight. Watched a few movies, tried to sleep, chatted with the couple next to me a bit (they were hay farmers from Central Washington on their way to Dubai to sell horse hay to the Emirates where it's no longer permissible to grow hay - who knew?), eat three times, etc. I know I watched a couple movies, but can't tell you now what they were. Fortunately, I had an exit row seat at the wall - no window, just wall - so was able to come and go at my leisure. Before I knew it, we were in Dubai. Left Seattle at 5:00pm and arrive in Dubai at 7:30pm, great only 2 1/2 hours have passed! So what if it's the next day. Overnight here in a hotel near the airport and back in the morning for the next leg.
The next flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam was equally uneventful. Exit row seat again, but on the aisle. This flight was only 5 1/2 hours with breakfast and lunch and more movies. Before I knew it we were south of the equator and coming in to land.
I'll spare you the details about the horrors of trying to get a sim card for my phone and data card for the laptop. But that finally done with the help of the driver that had been arranged, we were off for the hour + drive to the hotel. Traffic was hell!
Let's fast forward through the time in Dar es Salaam to getting setup for the safari.
The trip from Dar to Arusha was fairly uneventful. Other than the fact that I got to the airport quite early for the flight as originally scheduled. I didn't get notice until at the airport that the flight time had been pushed back an hour. Trust me, this is not an airport you want to find yourself having to sit for an extended period!
Upon arrival in Arusha, I was greeted outside the small airport by the driver from the hotel I'll be staying at. Of course, I arrived during rush hour so it took a fair while to get to the hotel. Nice tour of the city and my first glimpse at Kilimanjaro. The hotel, Arusha Serena Hotel, was some ways from downtown Arusha situated on a former coffee plantation. The grounds were lovely and the staff friendly. I was greeted by the hotel manager, Jane, on arrival who saw me to reception and then to my room, insisting she drag my huge suitcase herself.
This hotel is setup with a large main building, the former plantation house. All of the guests rooms were in semi-circle sets of bungalows fashioned in the style of Massi villages.
Since we were out of the central core of the city, there really wasn't much available to walk about to explore. In fact, the hotel staff warned not to leave the hotel grounds without escort. But while on the grounds, I felt quite safe.
The rooms aren't air conditioned. But that hardly seemed to matter. Arusha sits at a pretty high altitude at about 4,600ft (1,400 meters) above sea level so is much cooler than Dar es Salaam. It was warm and humid my first night here for which the ceiling fan was handy. There was a hole in one of the window screens, a bandage easily fixed that so mosquitoes didn't in. The bed was surrounded by mosquito netting which the staff carefully deployed at evening turn-down. Night time average low temperatures can get downwards of the mid 50sF to upper 60sF (13-12C). I didn't notice if the room had heating, surely it must have.
One of my colleagues is from Arusha. I told him about the arrangements I had already made. He wasn't impressed, saying that, sure, I'll see some wildlife but that there are much better places to go. Though the Serengeti would be impractical, he offered to arrange a trip to Tarangire National Park through a friend of his, Charles, who runs a wilderness safari company. It's a little further from Arusha than what I had booked but was offering for the same $300 I was planning on paying anyway. This was all-in: car and driver, park entrance fees, and lunch. And the best part, it turns out, was that I would be the only one going. This proved to be of great advantage as I wouldn't be competing for vantage points while in the park. No one to get in my way of shooting. (I kept getting looks of jealousy from other vehicles in the park that were packed with upwards of 12 people each, all vying for the best spots to get their photos).
The drive out to Tarangire took somewhere in the vicinity of 1 1/2 hours, maybe more. The scenery was stunning! The Great Rift Valley off in the distance and the mountains of the Ngorongoro Crater not far away. We passed many of the traditional Maasai villages with the round thatched mud huts in a circles surrounded by stick fencing (my driver offered to take me to own of these, but it just didn't feel right, so no.)
I don't recall exactly, but it think it took a few hours to get from my hotel in Arusha to Tarangire. Upon arrival Charles took care of park entry requirements. I wandered around the visitor center which had a few information displays about some of the plant and wildlife of the park, a treehouse-style lookout tower built into a baobab tree and, most interestingly, several elephant skulls. I wouldn't have thought a skull would be very fascinated, but then again, I never imagined what an elephant's look like. I had to get a few shots to show you. Plus, I have a friend who collects various small skulls and animal skeletons so I knew he'd be interested in seeing one.
We were barely into the park before we begin to spot the wildlife. First up were the impalas and warthogs. Then the giraffes and more impalas, various birds. More impalas. And on and on. One sighting after another. It wasn't long before we came across a pack of elephants. Amazing animals! And who can get too much of watching baby elephants play?
There's not much more to say other than to just let you (hopefully) enjoy the photos.
Here are the photos
These next ones are not from Taragire Park. The left is Mt Meru which hangs above the city of Arusha, within Arusha National Park. On the right is Kilimanjaro. Both photos taken on the drive into Kilimanjaro airport (3°23'20.8"S 37°03'51.5"E).