February 1998 Journal

Richard Neergaard


Day 1; Monday, February 2nd: Amsterdam; stay at Canal House Hotel

Trig, Waltraud and I used a very convenient limo service to go from Sue and Jan Willemís house in Zeeland to the Canal House Hotel in Amsterdam. The hotel is a quaint, appealing, cobble-up of three quirky attached row houses along the Keisergraacht, and sports real antiques in its rooms.

We poked around shops in the afternoon, among which was an African Art gallery. What, we asked, Should we buy in Tanzania? Nothing, was the frank answer. We then met the other ten members of our Safari group, all of us going out together to Indonesian restaurant for dinner.

Day 2; Tuesday, February 3rd; fly to Arusha, Tanzania; stay at Mountain Village Lodge

The day started nicely; Richard had meetings at Schiphol and was able to meet us there prior to our departure.

After a long but uneventful, non-stop flight, we arrived at Kilimanjaro airport on the north-east border of Tanzania to a balmy evening, and were met by the Thomson Safari team, John, Jonas, Frank and "Little John", and their three Land Rovers. They brought us to our hotel, the Mount Meru Lodge, a former coffee plantation. Contrary to what we’d been led to expect, the road there, a main north-south artery, was well paved and immaculate, no litter. The rooms were charming, styled after native huts, attached cylinders with conical roofs, but were constructed of concrete and had modern facilities as well as mosquito nets around the beds.

Day 3; Wednesday, February 4th; drive to Tarangire National Park; stay at Tarangire Tented Lodge

We started the day with an orientation in the garden of the lodge, learning among other things that though there were plenty of tsetse flies around (think kamikaze horse flies), the sleeping sickness they carry was, thanks be, confined to the western part of the continent.

We set out for the Tarangire National Park under a clear sky, and could see the snow-capped peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, on the equator, in the distance. We stopped once en route to whet the appetite of the shoppers amongst us at a "Cultural Center," a touristy emporium for souvenir knickknacks. The road, the same one we’d been on the previous evening continued well paved, but when we at last left it to head for the park, we got a taste of the reality to come. We were able to progress at a speed not much faster than a brisk walk, holding tight as our driver eased the vehicle over the ditches and mounds which made up what was more accurately a muddy dirt path through the woods than a road.

When we entered the park, the countryside immediately changed character, from farmland and pasture, to untamed. There were numerous antelopes of various persuasions, as there would be everywhere we went, and we were excited to see almost at once, our first large wild animals, giraffes.

At the lodge, lunch was an all-you-can-eat buffet, with a good variety of well-prepared though not memorable food, just as almost all the meals on our trip would prove to be. Afterwards we had a few moments to introduce ourselves to our accommodations, permanent tents on a ridge overlooking a river valley, and to our baggage, rummaging through the three-dimensional mazes in our duffle for the first time in the field. As we gathered for our first game drive, we were brushed past by a family of baboons infiltrating the lodge area, evidently a raiding party to see if anyone had left a tent flap or car window open. The thirteen of us, plus three drivers and a guide, distributed ourselves among the three Land Rovers, and off we went into the bush.

We immediately learned that a game drive is a stop-and-go affair. You’re there to see animals, and anything from small birds and rodents to elephants qualify for a gazing and picture-taking stop. Wildlife viewing by Land RoverYou don’t try to make time. We also quickly learned to appreciate our Land Rovers, and our admiration of them, and of their drivers, grew throughout the trip. They could speed along on paved and graded dirt highways, hold steady on the slippery clay of rain-soaked roads, ease in and out of ruts big enough to lose a Volkswagen in, and slither crabwise, all four wheels churning, through patches of deep swamp mud, all the while maintaining radio contact with one another in a stream of Swahili frequently punctuated by "....Rodger, Rodger....".

Our daily routine would be to ride these vehicles for six to eight hours, in morning and afternoon sessions (nights were out - we’d have been shot as poachers), either viewing game or moving on to another location. The cars had 2x2 passenger seats located amidships and rear, with a pop-top over them so viewers could stand, plus a fifth passenger seat next to the driver, which offered a good view while moving forward, but sacrificed any ability to stand and peer all around while stopped. There was an unstructured understanding that we’d rotate vehicles and positions, so at the start of every drive people would mosey into what they guessed ought to be their appropriate spots. We’d then meander through the bush for hours, every eye straining to locate animals. Navigating the deeply rutted and swampy paths required constant high concentration of the drivers, yet amazingly, they were almost always the first to spot distant game as we bumped along.

There were scattered groups of the delicate, graceful Thomson gazelles virtually everywhere. Less frequent but still numerous were other antelopes: bushbuck, dik-dik, eland, kudu, oryx, and the vast herds of wildebeest in which zebra and buffalo were frequently mixed. At first each group of animals we passed caused new excitement but after enough sightings of a particular species, we started looking past them for the rarer animals - elephants, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, and in particular, the scavengers and predators: hyenas, jackals and of course, the big cats: cheetah, leopard and lion. As well as animals,Serengeti lion there were birds everywhere, interesting even to non-birders - large and/or colorful birds, songbirds, birds of prey, and scavengers. Birder or not, it’s exciting to watch an eagle hook a fish out of a river, and then have it stolen in mid-air by another eagle; and a tree full of looming buzzards will attract anyone’s attention.

The big sighting for the afternoon was a pair of elephants, whom we watched close by for some time, and who then had the good theatrical sense to cross the road right in front of us. They pretty much ignored us, as did most of the animals we were to see, the game on the safari circuit seemingly used to the occasional appearance of those funny-looking but harmless beasts on four tires.

The weather had been fine all day, the afternoon had been comfortably warm, the evening turning cool. We ate, chatted, shared a drink, and slept well.

Day 4; Thursday, February 5th; drive to Rift Valley; stay at Kirurumu Tented Lodge

Our second-day morning game drive in Tarangire featured watching two families: a large community of baboons which tumbled one at a time out of a tree onto a dry river bed to spend the morning socializing out in the open, and a herd of gazelles, perhaps 30 graceful does and fawns, grazing by a lakeside and then meandering across the road around us, authoritatively supervised by a magnificent buck.

In the afternoon we started our journey of about 150 miles into the center of the Serengeti. We had originally planned to stay a second night in Tarangire but recent rains had caused so much deterioration of the roads that the trip to the Serengeti had to be begun that afternoon rather than next morning, if we were to reach our lodge there by nightfall the next day.

The first part of the journey was through the open cattle-grazing ranges of Maasai country. We’d occasionally see warriors, singly and in small groups, along or near the road. They were always impressive, tall and slender, wrapped in their brilliant red cloaks, equipped with a spear (to kill), a fighting pole (for combat without killing), and a short-sword (for self-defence). Both their bearing and their beaded jewellery drew the eye, but particularly arresting were those youths who wore fierce-looking face-paint, indicating they had recently celebrated entry into adulthood by being circumcised (both boys and girls, no anaesthetic; if she flinches, the guide told us, her father may kill her on the spot). The Maasai are noted for their pride. Their god has given them dominion over all the cattle in the world, a dominion they freely exercise, much to the distress of their neighbors. Nor do we Europeans impress them; they refer to us as "those who contain their farts within their clothing".

We reached the Rift Valley late that afternoon, which in that part of the country, is actually a cliff. We drove through a settlement at its foot called Mto Wa Mbu, "River of Mosquitoes". As we crossed the stream, several skinny-dipping youths grinned and waved. The climb up the escarpment was interesting as well as scenic, in that the landscape changed dramatically from savannah to tropical rain forest..

We spent the night atop the escarpment, in the Kirurumu Tented Lodge overlooking the alkaline Lake Manyara. The lodge was a most pleasant place, in a setting offering impressive views. The porters were lovely young ladies, the common-room floors marble, the tents were actually good-sized furnished rooms with canvas walls, raised on foundations, with verandas, each in its own landscaped wooded setting. At the conclusion of the evening meal, the manager of the lodge introduced us to a small, friendly native hedgehog who apparently liked to be stroked (but only after dark, a shy animal). Evening music was by a chorus of enthusiastically randy frogs in a pond by the patio of the dining hall. Security was provided by Maasai, scaring the bejesus out of one of our members as she rounded a corner on a path after dark to come face-to-face with three warriors in full regalia.

Day 5; Friday, February 6th; drive to Serengeti; stay at Seronera Wildlife Lodge

We resumed our voyage to the Serengeti over the meadowlands atop the Rift escarpment, which presented a sharp change in character from the grazing ranges below. These highlands were neatly cultivated, tended by a skilled farming tribe called the Mbulu, reputed to have originated long ago in Iraq.

Part of our route ran along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, to which we were to return a few days hence, but we stopped to have a quick look. The guide reported that all Americans, when first peering over the rim, inevitably said "Wow!". We proved to be no exception. The view was spectacular; the crater floor, ten miles across and a third of a mile below us, was a quilt of meadows, lakes, wooded areas, marshes and grassy hills. Even with the naked eye (anyhow a good one), herds and even some single large animals, could be seen everywhere.

When we pulled up in a glade for a picnic lunch, several Maasai men and separately, a few boys, drifted up. While the boys watched the show (us) and their donkeys took dust baths, the men tried to do deals with us. One, whose physiognomy looked decidedly unsavory, indicated he wanted my water bottle, I didn’t know whether all, or just to share. I became hopelessly dense and unable to understand..... he shrugged and the moment passed non-lethally.

As soon as we entered the Serengeti Park proper, we spotted a cheetah and her three grown cubs strolling about, then saw three lazy lionesses who unobligingly just lolled motionless, and seemingly boneless, draped over a roadside mound.

Our lodge, which we reached late afternoon after a drive under dramatic storm clouds and between rainbowed squalls, was architecturally quite interesting, being integrated into the rocks and enormous boulders of a large kopje (rock outcropping). After dinner there was an entertainment: "traditional" singing and dancing. I was astounded to hear Caribbean rhythms. Then I realized where Latin American music must have come from in the first place, that it was neither Latin (European) nor American, but African. This discovery of authenticity was then a bit dented by an exhibition of athletic dancing, featuring break-dancing; I was pretty sure break-dancing was traditional only in the Bronx.

On the way back to our rooms, we passed an outdoor ping-pong table on which a moderately-sized furry animal, a rock Hyrax, (somewhat like a giant, phlegmatic hamster), was laconically sprawled, as it it had just finished an exhausting match, at least our sudden appearance did not in any way disturb it.

Part of the rear wing of the lodge had recently had a fire and the burned-out rooms were now occupied by a family of baboons. They made full use not only of the space, but what was left of the furniture and whatever other facilities of the lodge they could get away with. I fell asleep to the sound of monkeys galloping back and forth along the roof and, less charmingly, of folks chatting loudly in the parking area below our windows.

Day 6; Saturday, February 7th; Balloon Ride over Serengeti; stay at Seronera Wildlife Lodge

Everyone made it to the lobby in time to set out, pre-dawn, for our hot-air balloon ride, in spite of the failure of the lodge’s wake-up call system. We drove through the dark, hoping we wouldn’t be shot as poachers, to the place where our two balloons were starting to be filled with enormous, thundering jets of flame. The scene was dramatic - the flame jets roaring, the monstrous sacks heaving slowly up from the dawn-lit savannah. It felt like the opening scene in Top Gun. As the balloons filled, we walked about peering at a nearby kopje, trying to discern a lion reported to have been spotted there. The balloons’ baskets, honeycombed into six compartments, lay on their sides. When the balloons were part way up, we were invited to get in by sliding ourselves into a (horizontal) compartment, much like shells being loaded into a howitzer. Then, as the balloons filled completely, the baskets tipped reassuringly upright, and as the sun rose over the savannah, so did we.

The big surprise was the absence of - silence. I had expected a serene drift high above the Serengeti, but the flame-nozzle roared constantly. Our flight path had us skimming the bush, requiring continual short blasts to micro-adjustment our height. Had we gone higher, the pilot explained, we would have caught a wind that would have quickly blown us too far, forcing us to set down prematurely. So to prolong the flight we stayed low, at grass-top and tree-top level, rushing along brushing the bush, every few seconds thought being blasted right out of our heads by the bellows of the balloon’s giant torch.

While most animals we passed in our cars were blasé about them and so ignored us, a hot-air balloon traversing buzzing one’s territory is altogether less usual. A cheetah we floated over was clearly shocked by this strange horror roaring just over his head. He made a dash for it, for some reason always running downwind, of course just in the direction we too were moving, until finally he caught on and peeled off.

The chase crew had anticipated our landing point by a few minutes and had set up a fantasy scene - a champagne breakfast under an umbrella acacia tree out in the middle of the Serengeti, a "reserved for balloonists" sign on the white tablecloth, waiters in fancy dress - all good light-hearted fun. The owner of the operation was there and told stories, including one of searching for a lost balloon, peering over a ridge and "seeing nothing but MMBA." Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa, he explained.

We returned a bit tipsy from our odyssey to set out on a late morning and then an afternoon game drive, the latter ending up in an excursion to the "hippo pool", a natural rock-walled amphitheatre around a bend in a stream which created a pond, well-populated by wildlife, including crocodiles, but most notably by a squadron of bellowing hippos--mamas, pappas and babies--everyone bellowing.  All in all it looked rather like an unrealistically-gorgeous Hollywood set.

Day 7; Sunday, February 8th; game drives on Serengeti; stay at Thomson Classic Tent Camp on Naabi Hill

As we made our way from the center of the Serengeti to Naabi Hill at its east end where our next lodging, our "classic tented camp" had been set up, we saw more hippos and at one point found ourselves so close to a giraffe grazing the tree-tops at the road edge that we could have reached out and touched him. There were of course also continual sightings of antelope and other grazers such as elephant, ostrich, and warthogs. There was never a shortage of interesting birds. Sightings of scavengers - hyenas, jackals - were fewer but still occurred with regularity: Spotting a big cat however, was never "regular"; it never ceased to be a special event.

We had our first real experience with being caught in rain just before we arrived at camp. Turned out, as we drove, that a wet wildebeest looks even more dejected than a dry one, and a drenched ostrich is just plain pitiful. The squall played itself out while we were at lunch. Then on our afternoon drive, we saw, and were able to work our way into the center of, a mass of zebras a good half-mile across. There was constantly a lot of action going on, as well as general grazing: yearlings racing one another, colts gambolling and mares trying to keep them in control, the odd neighbors quarrelling, studs trying their luck with varying success.

Back in camp I thought I heard one of our group talking about having seen an African bear. Oh? I said to her, I didn’t know there were bears here. No, she responded, you misheard. I said we’d seen an African hare. Oh, I said, For a moment there I thought you were talking about the boys we’d seen swimming a few days ago. She pondered for a second, then announced that I had no longer any credibility with her whatsoever.

Our tents this time were real tents, not canvas motel rooms; no utilities, but they were spacious enough -10’x10’ and ample headroom to stand and move about - and with a "pee-pee tepee" containing a portable toilet attached to the rear of each. Lanterns were brought to the tent verandas at sunset, hot water was provided for hand-washing at meals at the mess tent and for showers to order. This was classy as well as "classic" camping, indeed. There was a campfire to gather ‘round after dinner and then - aah! the quiet (except for the birds and animals) and the fresh air. No motors, no generators, no sounds of distant traffic. Peace. Well--there was the occasional nearby muffled roar of a hungry lion.

Day 8; Monday, February 9th; game drives on Serengeti; stay at Thomson Classic Tent Camp on Naabi Hill

The tents’ verandas sported a table, mirror, bowl and towel. Hot water was brought at wakeup for an outdoor wash and shave in the cool of the early morning air. Nice.

This day’s game drive finally introduced us to the great herd of wildebeest (gnus) for which the Serengeti is famous. We had driven along the savannah for quite a while without seeing much of anything, but this grassy plain is so vast and flat (it appears dished as you look out on it, much as does the earth’s horizon from theButterfly in Tarangire window of a jet high over the ocean) that its apparent emptiness can easily deceive; drive a few miles further on and you’re in an entirely different area that only looks identical. With surprising suddenness, the herd appeared on the horizon as we drove, and then we were amongst them. They stretched as far as the eye could see, in all directions, a million wildebeest, with smatterings of other ruminants mixed in, using the gnus for protection. Far out on the horizon a piece of the rim herd would appear a bit darker than the rest. With glasses, you could work out that it wasn’t just a thicker clustering of the group of animals you were among, it was a whole new herd - like a constellation outside the Milky Way appearing to us as a single star.

We later came upon the same four cheetahs that we’d seen two days earlier as we entered the park. They’d just killed, their bellies were full, and they were cuddled, preening and grooming one another, eyes closed with expressions as close to ecstasy on their faces as any I’ve ever seen. We also had several lion sightings, one of a pair in their mating period. He was gaunt and staggering, ribs showing, since for a week or two he’d not eaten, just made love all the time. She looked fine.

On returning to our camp we noted a pair of pigeon-sized birds, brilliant irridescent blue with bright orange chests and flashing yellow eyes, investigating whether we had left any tent-flaps open, offering an opportunity for plunder. As striking as the birds were, the staff, usually keen to point out sightings, ignored them. We asked, and were told that were "only" common African starlings and indeed we soon saw they were all around the area.

Day 9; Tuesday, February 10th; drive to Ngorongoro Crater; stay at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

We left the Serengeti for the Ngorongoro Crater, stopping en route at the Olduvai Gorge of archaeological interest. We peered into it, and walked through the two-room "museum" containing a few fossils, some pictures of digs, and a photo of Hillary and Chelsea during their recent visit there.

More interestingly, we also stopped at a Maasai village. The government, concerned that the Maasai way of life not be corrupted, has made it illegal for safari drivers to bring tourists to Maasai villages or even to stop for roadside photographs of Maasai people. A few specified villages are however allowed to be visited, and it was one such, Masaaia few dozen mud huts enclosed by a fence of brambles, that we entered. Much of the population was gathered inside the entrance to greet us with song and dance, the men swathed in cloaks of multiple shades of bright red in rectininear patterns, the women wrapped in more ornately patterned robes, colored predominately in various shades of rich blue. There were two immediate and contradictory impressions: admiration of the warriors who had gathered at our arrival to dance for us, leaping and chanting with skill, power and joy; and repugnance at the squalor, muck, flies, and distressingly frequent deformities. (This in spite of there being a reasonable amount of wealth at their disposal. We were told that herds of cattle running to several hundred head owned by a single individual were not uncommon, and were worth enough to buy several Land Rovers. Some of the largest heres would, in Texas, make their owners millionaires).

Afterwards we picnicked on a hill covered with lavender wild flowers, an unforgettable sight. But the Maasai flies had came with us in the cars and one of our group who had been thoughtful enough to have brought Raid, was convinced by his spouse to gas them before we continued.

Our accommodation on the rim of the crater, the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, was the poshest yet: swimming pool, sit-down dinner, spacious, well-appointed rooms and a magnificent view. But its opulence was accompanied by its being busy-busy, by pricey gift shops, tour groups coming in and out, and its lobby bustling like that of a hotel in midtown Manhattan, all-in-all rather less harmonious than our tented camp had been with the notion of "safari". But the air was lightened for me when, as a dignified Japanese gentleman and I passed one another on a walkway, he nodded at me respectfully and addressed me with the one word of Swahili we both knew, the greeting. "Jambo" he solemnly said.

Discordant or not, the international ambience was certainly stimulating. The number of tongues one could hear spoken on the terrace as the lodge guests sat watching the sun setting over the crater, was amazing.

Day 10; Wednesday, February 11th; game drives in Ngorongoro Crater; stay at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

The interior of the crater combines the Garden of Eden with a circus, the latter being the contribution of us safari-goers.

We passed by a herd of elephants on our way down the rim to the crater floor, then once on the floor, we drove through one herd after another of sleek, well-fed animals of all descriptions (except giraffes, who can’t manage the slope). I don't mean to give the impression that the animals are all just standing at attention served up on a tray for you. They're not;  - there’s still the thrill of the hunt. The crater’s ten miles across, and there are a lot of different topographical features - hillocks and marshes as well as meadows and lakes - behind or beyond which to discover animals. But find them you do, at a fast and exciting clip. The big moment was when we finally spotted the rare black rhino, eight within an hour or so. The most poignant moment was when we passed a field full of widely separated, single male wildebeests. Each was standing stock-still, alone, in the forlorn hope that somewhere, somehow, some females would see him, fall in love from a distance, and gather round him to make a harem. A little like teen-agers that hang out on street corners.

The circus aspect arose when we arrived at our picnic lunch site. Until then, although we’d see the odd safari vehicle during the morning, there’d been no impression of crowds. But when at noon we topped a knoll, there, by a hippo-pool, was a new herd, one composed of maybe 50 Land Rovers and a couple of hundred chattering picnickers of all descriptions of mien and dress. Every safari group in the crater had gathered here to eat. And, there was an outhouse! - most welcome, as most of us by then had a mild touch of the Tanganyican Tango. But then it turned out to be locked! There was another, but it wasn’t apparent and was 100 yards away. In the meantime groups of Japanese schoolgirls were jumping up and down on one leg screaming, and ample ladies in spandex pants were pulling them down behind sparse bushes, having evidently decided that coverage from at least the main body of picnicker eyes was sufficient under the circumstances. The trees were full of cawing kites that would steal your lunch out of your hand if you ate outside your vehicle, and through it all, the hippos bawled.

After lunch - and back amidst nature - we had the most interesting sighting of the day. We were watching a lone bull elephant stroll through the tall grass when - surprise all around - he roused a rhino who’d evidently been dozing there. The rhino stood up, horn presented, and we watched the two of them face off, three elephant-lengths apart, in full profile to us. The elephant looked very much the irresistible force, the rhino, smaller but incredibly massive, an unquestionably immovable object. They stood eyeball to eyeball for a few minutes, not moving, then the elephant decided he didn’t have a stake in the matter worth getting gored over and veered off, making a wide berth around the unyielding rhino.

As we went back up the rim at the end of the afternoon, we passed through an elephant herd, probably the same we’d seen on the way down, unintentionally separating one from the rest. We heard her trumpet, then this enormous head appeared over the tree tops on the uphill edge of our narrow, cliff-face road, just in front of our car. Taking guidance from the behavior of her cousin earlier, we decided we didn’t have a stake in the matter worth getting flipped over for, so stopped and backed up. The elephant cocked an eye at us, decided we weren’t relevant, and crossed the road in front of us.

Day 11; Thursday, February 12th; drive through Crater to Ngorongoro Highlands; stay at Gibb’s Farm

Last full day, alas. We re-entered the crater in order to cross it and start on the road back to Arusha. At a rest stop on the far side of the crater floor, we all took sentimental pictures of one another and of our drivers, while a troop of monkeys looked on. When they were sure we were fully engaged in picture-taking, the monkeys dashed across the clearing and tried to raid our cars. We beat them to it, getting the windows closed just in time.

As we drove along the narrow ridge of the crater rim, everyone was peering with desperate intentness at tree branches, looking for the dangling tell-tale tail of a leopard, the only one of the "big five" we’d not yet seen (the others are elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion). Then, at the last possible opportunity, on just about the last branch of the last tree as we left the park, there one was. Triumph! Whew.

We spent the afternoon and night at Gibb’s Farm, an ex-coffee plantation, still in the Ngorongoro area but outside the park itself, set on a hillside over a pretty, cultured valley. It’s a cluster of Cotswold cottages with an African flavor, with lovely tropical gardens and tasteful, comfortable interiors - a class act. Some of us joined for a "walk" that afternoon to a nearby waterfall, a strenuous undertaking as it turned out, on an uneven, steep and slippery path. One of our group soon turned back, I kept struggling for footing, but Trig ran back and forth the whole time, racing to net a butterfly, zipping back to hand it to Waltraud for safekeeping, then bounding past the rest of us in pursuit of another, as we gasped for breath. It was inhuman. Waltraud radiated quiet pride. Trig says the moral is: "Butterfly catching (in moderation) is good for your health!"

We all gathered on the lawn afterwards for a self-congratulatory drink. I leaned back in my lawn chair, cool draught in hand. A chair leg went into a hole, I flailed as I tipped, dousing my neighbor in beer. Oh well.

Later we migrated to the comfort of the bar, where we particularly admired several truly fine prints of tall, slender, flowing Maasai women.

Day 12; Friday, February 13th; drive to Arusha, stay in Mt Meru Novotel day room, fly to Amsterdam

The final-day drive to Arusha, back through the Rift escarpment, the Mto Wa Mbu settlement, and Maasai country, was a tough one. It had rained heavily, the roads were soaked and muddy, and many vehicles were mired (never ours!). When at last we reached the paved road and thought we could relax - nothing had gone wrong with our group the whole time - driver Little John got busted. There was a police roadblock, our drivers’ papers and vehicles were thoroughly examined, but the best they could come up with was that Little John hadn’t been wearing his seat belt (a shakedown?). We were told he was able to talk his way out of it.

We stopped again at the "Cultural Center" on our way into Arusha to shop for souvenirs, then went on to the Mt Meru Novotel for lunch and relaxation in our day-rooms, awaiting the time to leave for the airport. Rather than relax however, a group soon assembled to go into town to look around and shop for an hour or so. I ended up buying a few wood carvings, of a giraffe, a rhino, an owl, a cluster of Maasai warriors and, at the airport, a charming set of carved wooden animals seated on chairs around a table, having a tea party, for grandson Willem.

We left for the airport at 6 PM for a 10 PM flight, to avoid problems with what we were told was frequent overbooking (there are only two KLM flights per week). We had to fly first to Dar-Es-Salaam, further south and on the coast, and deplane there for an hour. We developed a new appreciation for the pleasant weather we’d had on our high-altitude safari circuit; in Dar-Es-Salaam it was a humid 100 degrees F. At midnight.

It had been a most enjoyable trip but strenuous. Most of us had no trouble sleeping on the ten-hour flight back to Amsterdam.

Day 13; Saturday, February 14th; arrive in Amsterdam

We said our goodbyes at Schiphol. Everyone seemed deeply satisfied by our experience, if weary. Trig and Waltraud started their long train journey that would bring them back to the snows of Wagenschwend, where they would gaze only on civilized fauna--euro-deer and euro-boar. I boarded my transport for the ride back to Sue and Jan Willem’s house in Zeeland, which passed en route not a single square inch of untamed land.

This is a journal of our Tanzania wildlife safari in February 1998, written by Richard Neergaard, a member of the group. Harlan Hague, the tour escort, also has written a freelance travel article about the safari. See also Hague's web site.

Writing | Travel | Search