"Born to be Wild...."

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005

Flag of Tanzania  ,
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

April 6, 2005
DISCLAIMER: Serious Bloat Blog ahead, but hey we just can't stop talking about it :-) Also, kudos to Cheryl for naming "Closing TIme" as the song Mark asked to be identified in our last post. Sorry, no prizes for naming the artist of our theme song for this leg...bet you can all sing along though..."...looking for adventure in whatever comes my way. Like a true nature's child, I was born to be wild...." I'm imagining you all singing along now so get into the spirit :-)

She Said:

"Jambo" from Tanzania and WOW!!! The beauty of this trip has been the incredible diversity of experience and our Safari just took everything to a whole new dimension. I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland that just fell down the hole into a whole new mind-blowing world. It just doesn't get much better than this!

First the people....we met up with our friends Ron & Nancy who had organized this for the group ...and what an amazing time we had! It was so good to see old friends and I just realized how much I have missed intimate discussions and authentic talk. Our group of 14 all just meshed so well, it really made for constant great times. Combine that with our fearless leaders from Robin Hurt Safaris and I couldn't imagine a better team!

It was really good for our whole family to have new points of interaction, everyone including the children clearly enjoyed the sharing. Kayla just loved all her 'girl talk' times with everyone and talked everyone's ear off. For anyone that knows Tyler, he's always been our shy little guy. Just to illustrate how much he has changed on this trip, one nite at dinner he actually got up and regaled the whole group with one of his original rap songs. What a hoot!

Animals:

It was like the safari gods were watching over us - we saw more animals than I ever imagined...all of the Big 5 - Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, Lion, Rhino. Add to that the amazing Hippos, Cheetahs, Rhinos....

But hey we didn't just see animals - we were on a part of the Serengeti that seemed cordoned off just for us, as we never saw another group the entire time we were there. We were able to get so close to the animals it was unreal...I will venture to share a few of my magical moments from the trip:

- Every day we would start the trip with what our 'wishes' for the day were. We got a little cocky in our requests...it wasn't enough to see all these amazing animals - we wanted to see a birth, a hunt, a kill and the children wanted to see them all in miniature ...baby everything. We were so spoiled, as we were rarely disappointed. I must admit the babies were a special treat - 5 lion cubs, 3 baby cheetahs, a little elephant learning how to use his trunk, baby hippos, rhino, giraffes, zebras. We even saw a wildebeest calf that had just been born. It was still wet, could barely walk and the placenta was still hanging from the mom. It was unbelievable to see nature's incredible instincts at work right from the first moments. I was in awe most of the time.

- A big bull elephant seemingly so nonchalant suddenly charging one of the vehicles complete with a loud trumpeting. National Geographic eat your heart out!!!

- A cheetah hunting warthogs and the mommy pumba deciding to take her on...what a sight. A seemingly uneven match but that maternal instinct so strong that mother warthog would clearly give her life for her babies. It was pretty tough to decide who to cheer for - the beautiful, graceful cheetah in need of meal or the feisty mommy warthog. It was quite a show, complete with a Disney happy ending - nobody got hurt :)

- The lion kills - we met a male lion guarding the last of his wildebeest kill from a pack of nasty hyenas. The next day we went back to see how he had fared and found him a short distance away with a fresh zebra kill. Incredible stuff!

- The Wildebeest Migration - words can not describe what it's like to sit in the middle of a herd of wildebeest and in every direction, as far as the eye could see the animals. They estimated there were over a MILLION wildebeest - it was wild! And to see them on the move is a sight to behold.

- The baboons scrapping amongst themselves. This one mama had a very little baby holding onto her back during the whole fight.

- Giraffes gracefully loping along seemingly running in slow motion.

- A leopard sunning herself in a tree.

- Cheetah cubs playing like little kittens right in front of us...like a scene right out of Lion King - "pinned ya". At times you almost forget these are dangerous beasts they were so nonchalant to our presence.

- The bird life was something I hadn't even thought about but with over 1000 recorded species, apparently East Africa is one for the world's richest regions for birds. It was shocking to see such an amazing variety of incredible birds - huge birds, colorful birds, song birds...something for everyone. Some family favs were the Secretary Bird, Crowned Crane, Kori Bustard and Flamingos in flight.

- The gazelles silhouetted against the sunset - many times I honestly felt like pinching myself it was so beautiful.

Culture

The Maasai people are striking - a beautiful people with jet black skin set off with their bright red clothing and elaborate jewellery. I was disappointed there was little opportunity to explore their culture more but I bought a book and between that and the Hurt's I was able to glean some information on their history and customs. Unfortunately, what stuck out for me the most was the obvious mistreatment of women. Female circumcism is still practiced - such a barbaric, senseless act that will have life long impact on a woman's life. Women clearly just aren't valued in this culture. In fact, only the week before we arrived a battle broke out between two different tribes where both people and cattle were killed. Finally, the chiefs got together to reach resolution before any more blood was shed. It was decided that a compensation plan would be enacted: for every man killed $100,000 Shillings would be given, 75,000 Shillings for every cow lost and 50,000 for every woman. How absolutely appalling - right there in black and white it is identified that a woman's life is worth that of a man's and less than a cows!!!! I don't know what lessons I am supposed to be learning thru all this, but something in my heart and soul has definitely been stirred - I just find it all so shocking that this can really be happening in our 'modern' world. (It seems like "He Said" doesn't have an exclusive on SoapBox time...this is becoming a bit of a theme in my posts :-(

Accomodation

OK lets be honest, I was a little nervous about sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti. Let's just say Girl Scouts didn't prepare me for camping like this -surrounded by lions and other man-eating creatures. Well, I needn't have worried...these tents were luxury all the way - raised platforms with lovely decks...comfy beds with a full ensuite including hot showers, toilets, the works. This is my kind of camping! And the food was gourmet all the way, "picnic lunches" complete with tables, chairs, linens and china.

Then we headed for the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Is it not enough that all of the animals live in this caldera, so easy to see it's like they were placed there for our amusement? Well, when we walked into our "huts" overlooking the crater, it was clear they were ensuring there was NOTHING missing. This place was truly palatial - imagine crystal chandeliers over the tub. And of course, you'd need your own butler to ensure that the fire was crackling when you came back from dinner, the bath complete with bubbles and rose petals was drawn for your arrival after a hard day of animal spotting, and coffee and hot chocolate to wake you up in the right frame of mind in the morning. COME ON...is this really real??!!! I can honestly say my wildest fantasy of the ultimate safari in the world would not have been as good as this one has been.

I could go on forever about this adventure, but much of Mark's post simply echoes my own sentiments. Soooo, I'll sign off simply sharing my feelings of tremendous gratitude. I am in awe of the goodness in my life. I am surrounded by the most amazing family and friends at every turn. The richness of the experiences in my life are truly mind-boggling. My dreams and prayers are answered at every turn. I am so very blessed and grateful.

Highlights:
Hanging out with my buddies!!!
The sheer numbers and diversity of the animals seen
Robin Hurt's team (www.robinhurt.com) - I cannot say enough about what an amazing group of people they are!!! Thank you Robin, Pauline, Roger, Derek & Gerard!
The accommodation & food - Five * Freddy's in heaven & so am I!!! Crater Lodge www.ccafrica.com and Camp Kusini
Sitting in the tub of bubbles and rose petals watching the sunrise over the crater.
The stars over Kusini - listening to the lion roar and buffalo munch outside your tent at nite
Mark and I riding in the safari truck with our heads sticking out the top, wind blowing in our hair singing "Born to be Wild" - Kayla, Tyler and our inner children all in our glory!

Lowlights
Having to say good-bye to everyone
No free time - after 6 month's of no agendas, it was tough to have no downtime to really process the magnitude of what was happening to us. I've come to really enjoy my P&M time on this trip.
Malaria Pills Suck! including the side effects of feeling completely wired and not being able to sleep. I'm amazed at how well the kid's adapt to these things, tho' they were a bit more edgy in the safari truck the day's they took them.

He Said:

Highlights:
1. Seeing Kilimanjaro on the flight in from Nairobi - a great first impression!!!
2. Meeting up with everyone at The Coffee Lodge
3. The Twin Otter flight to the Serengeti
4. Camp Kusini - taking camping to another level, there is nothing like sleeping in a tent in the Serengeti!!!
5. Robin, Roger, Derek, Gerard, Jay and Pauline from Robin Hurt Safaris
6. The stars at night at Camp Kusini - it was amazing
7. The Serengeti Plains
8. The Wildlife - we saw everything we could have wished for
9. The Wildebeest (Gnu) Migration - seeing a million Wildebeest on the Serengeti plains is a sight that is indescribable.
10. The Big Cats... we seen all kinds, males, females and cubs
11. The Giraffes - watching them run is completely captivating
12. Seeing a Bull Elephant Charge one of our Safari Cars
13. The Ngorongoro Crater - natures own zoo
14. Crater Lodge - absolutely amazing and the best views from a bathtub I've ever seen :)
15. Riding with the tops off the Safari trucks across the Serengeti
16. Picnics on the plains - not your average box lunch
17. Watching a Cheetah stalk and go after some Pumbas (Warthogs) and then eventually get chased off by the mother warthog
18. Seeing it all throught the eyes of Kayla and Tyler as well
19. The feeling of being very in "The Now" and present to my wife and kids


Lowlights:
1. All good things must come to an end... :(
2. Having to say goodbye to everyone. It was so great to spend 10 days with such an amazing group of people.
3. Not being able to get closer to the Rhinos at Ngorongoro... such is life.

Well I'm sitting in the Transit lounge in the Nairobi Airport on a long (8 hour) layover between Kilimanjaro and Cairo. To say that the Safari in Tanzania was amazing would not do it justice but I will say it anyway, it was TOTALLY AMAZING!!! I cannot imagine how it could have been any better. From the time we landed in Kilimanjaro and were whisked away by Brahm from Robin Hurt Safaris until we boarded the plane to Nairobi it was pretty much perfect.

We arrived from Frankfurt totally exhausted after flying all night and headed straight to the Coffee Plantation Lodge, our hotel in Arusha. The rest of the folks we were on Safari with had arrived the night before and were off at Tangirie National Park getting a warm-up to what lay ahead. We took the opportunity to have some lunch and get some much needed rest. We hooked up with the rest of the group Ron & Nancy (the organizers), we can't thank them enough, Billy (we know you were R & N's right hand man in getting this Safari started), Robin and Kay, Dan and Connie, Audrey and Paul and Katie later that evening for a few drinks and dinner. It was a wonderful dinner and we got the logistics for the rest of the Safari sorted out with Jay from Robin Hurt.

After a good night's sleep we were off to the Arusha Airport where we hopped aboard a Twin Otter for our flight out to the Serengeti. It was so great, everyone was so excited and I know I personally felt like a little kid, I just couldn't wait to get there and get out on Safari. This was for me the fulfillment of a dream I had had since I was a little boy watching Tarzan on TV. The flight was about an hour or so and we were all chatting and looking out the window trying to figure out what the various white or black specs were below us. As we neared our destination the pilot buzzed the landing strip to clear any animals that might be lingering, safety first, and as we zipped along map of the earth level she made a hard climbing turn that left all of our stomachs behind and the kids and the kids within squealing with delight. We found out later she does that whether or not there are actually any animals there or not just because she loves to do it... :)

After circling around she put us down on a grass runway a few clicks away from Camp Kusini. Let the odyssey begin. After disembarking and being introduced to the Robin Hurt Safaris team we split up into the 4 Safari trucks and did some viewing on the way to Camp Kusini. We saw some Zebras, Giraffes a few Buffalo, some Baboons all in the first half an hour. What a way to start. We then made our way over to Camp Kusini to get settled in and have some lunch.

It seems none of us was quite sure what to expect at Camp Kusini. I know for Shannon and I we were expecting Tents on the ground with outhouses and communal showers with the water provided by solar heated bags. Well to say that Camp Kusini exceeded those expectations would be an understatement. It was amazing! It was situated in amongst a group of Kopjes (rock outcrops) and the tents all are situated on wooden platforms with little verandas. Inside is deluxe with two single beds (the boys shared one tent and the girls the other) and a divider that separates the sleeping area from the bathroom, toilet and shower area. After a long day out and about in the Serengeti we'd head back to Kusini for happy hour up on the big kopje beside the main dining tent. It was great they had a little bar set up on the kopje and some pillows to lounge on and snacks where we could share the day's stories and watch the sunset. It was pure magic.

After sunset most people would either head down to the fire for a few more drinks and socializing or head to their tent for a quick shower before dinner. By dinner time the stars were fully out and it was an amazing spectacle. I thought we had clear nights at our Cabin but the nights at Kusini were out other worldly. The Milky Way was totally visible across the sky and with the telescope they have at Kusisni we all got a chance to check out the rings of Saturn. It was so cool!!! Dinner along with all the other meals at Kusini was always spectacular and the conversations and stories around the table were completely captivating. It was just an amazing time in an amazing place with a group of amazing people.

Wow, all that and we have not even talked about the animals. I don't even know where to begin or how to describe the feelings of excitement that I had riding, actually standing most of the time with my upper body sticking out of the top of the Safari truck, around all day looking for animals. It was intense, exhilarating and physically exhausting. From the time you left camp until you returned you never new what you'd see behind the next tree, over the next hill or on top of the next Kopje. In the 4 days we spent in the Serengeti we pretty much saw everything we wanted to see except for Hippos and Rhinos. We saw Zebras and Wildebeest galore and caught the full migration on the way to Ngorongoro. 1 Million+ animals spread across the Serengeti Plains for as far as your eyes could see in every direction. Words cannot do justice to that kind of sight, it literally takes your breath away and brings you intensely into the moment.

Gazelle at almost every turn both Thompson and Roberts on the plains, Warthogs, Cape Buffalo (these guys are big and mean and were always right around our tents at night munching away), Eland, Impala, Hartebeest, Waterbucks, Jackals, Bat Eared Fox, the Bull Elephant that charged Robin's Vehicle. Now that was exciting seeing a Bull Elephant get all excited and trumpet as he suddenly charged towards their vehicle. Add in Vervet Monkeys, Baboons, a Male Lion with a Wildebeest kill, Hyenas (spotted one's) all over the place, 5 lion cubs, the same male lion the next day with a fresh Zebra kill, a Leopard lounging in a tree and a Cheetah stalking a mother warthog and her 3 babies. Eventually making it's move only to be run off by the mother warthog. She was not going to let that cheetah have one of her babies on this day and the cheetah wanted no part of mommy warthogs tusks. A mother cheetah and her 3 cubs, and an animal that completely captivated us in the wild, the Giraffes, they are so amazing to watch when they run. It is like they are in slow motion with their long legs striding effortlessly across the ground. A striped hyena around the camp fire at Kusini and so it went every day.

Now what made it even more special is that in this part of the Serengeti you are free to drive anywhere you want. As such we could and did literally drive right up to these animals. It is one thing to see a Cheetah or a Lion through some binoculars a few hundred meters away, it is quite another to be able to stop your car 10 or 20 meters away and be able to take pictures of the animals face that fill the entire frame. It did not dawn on us just how special that was until we got to Ngorongoro where you have to stay on the roads and you are sharing those roads with many other safari groups. While at Kusini we never saw anyone else pretty much the whole time we were there and we certainly did not have to compete with any other safari groups for prime viewing locations. We had the entire area to our selves.

IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE!!!

The whole experience was enhanced by the fact that we had the kids along which added a completely different dimension and excitement level to the day's events. They were completely captivated by the animals and I'm sure ruined for any future outings to the local zoo. Kayla was amazing as she quickly picked up the names of all the animals and over time the subtle differences in the Gazelles and being able to name many of the different bird species that we saw. Tanzania apparently has one of the most extensive bird populations in Africa and that was very evident, so much so I won't even begin to try and name them all. A couple, however, do stand out the Secretary Bird, the Ostriches, the Kori Bustard (the world's heaviest flying bird) and the Crowned Crane.

Tyler while not quite as keen as Kayla was totally engaged and was by the end able to name many of the animals upon sighting them. He could also get very set in his ways and was completely disgusted that upon seeing Hippo tracks along the waters edge we did not just follow them to the Hippo. He wanted to see a hippo and to him it seemed only logical that if we found the tracks we should just follow them until we found the hippo. It was very cute!

Now having said all this about the animals, this experience would not have been possible without the amazing group of folks we had guiding us from Robin Hurt Safaris. We were fortunate enough to have Robin Hurt himself, along with his sons Derek and Roger, and one of their best guides Gerard as our hosts. They were simply amazing! They get much of the credit for making our time in the Serengeti so magical. Their understanding of the animals, the area and their ability to spot animals was truly impressive. I think the fact that they also run Hunting Safaris was totally an asset to those of us out on a Photo Safari. These guys know the animals and they know how to find them, it is as simple as that. Not only that but they tirelessly answered our questions, pointed out birds and in our case made the trip a learning exercise for the kids. Roger, who took us out the most, was amazing with Kayla, while Tyler loved Derek. The evenings were always entertaining as they shared some of their more interesting experiences from the many Safaris they have been apart of over the years. These guys are first class individuals who run a first class operation with a first class team behind the scenes headed by Jay and Pauline (Robin's wife). I can't say enough good things about them and highly recommend them if you're thinking a Safari is something you'd like to do in the future. That said, they are booking 2 years out right now, so don't delay. :)

While talking about Robin Hurt Safaris I'd also like to put in a plug for The Cullman & Hurt Community Wildlife Project which is an organization that works to ensure conservation efforts continue to grow in the areas where they operate. They are truly making a difference and they truly understand the value of conservation and the fact that conservation needs to benefit the local villages and people for it too succeed. The animals of Africa and in this case of Tanzania are a valuable renewable resource if properly managed. And in order for conservation and anti-poaching efforts to be successful and sustainable there needs to be a benefit to the local people. Robin Hurt Safaris is spearheading these kinds of efforts through Cullman & Hurt and is working with the local villages where they operate to share the wealth that these resources can bring to the area. I cannot do their efforts justice so if you are interested please visit http://www.cullmanandhurt.org/ for additional information.

For me Hunting and Photo Safaris both have a place in these plans and in fact are vital to generating revenue to ensure these conservation efforts continue and that the local people continue to benefit directly from the natural resources on their lands, in this case the wildlife.

Well I guess I'll get off my soap box now... :)

After our time at Kusini was up were off to Ngorongoro Crater. We took the better part of a day getting there from Kusini but it was an awesome day as on the way we came into the middle of the main body of the Migration. We had thought we had hit it as good as we possibly could the day before alas fortune once again smiled on us and we ended up passing right through the middle of the over one million animals mostly Wildebeest with a healthy smattering of Zebras and Gazelle and assorted others. As I said before words cannot adequately describe what it is like to be able to see no end to the animals for as far as your eye can see in any direction. The plains were alive and in motion.

It was visually stunning and it made me wonder what it must have been like to see the Buffalo migrate across the plains of North America before we white folks arrived and greedily slaughtered them on mass. What a tragedy and what a loss. Just another example of how poorly we have stewarded this planet that God gave us dominion over. It seems that we do not learn from the past and as such are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Be it fisheries, forests, global warming etc. we just don't seem to get that we are living in the Garden of Eden. We are blinded by greed and consumption and the Garden called Earth is paying the price and at some point if we are not careful the price will become too high and at that point it may be our turn to pay the piper and sadly our wallets are likely to be empty. As usual my belief is that balance is the key. You can't just stop doing what we're doing on a dime and suddenly reverse course. The Genie is out of the bottle so to speak but we can if we choose to begin to slowly turn this ship around. My fear is that we will not start the turn until it is much to late. I hope not but history is not on my side.

Hmmmm.... Seems like I got off on a bit of a tangent there, oh well. Anyway back to Ngorongoro...

Ngorongoro Crater is Mother Nature's Zoo. It is as if Noah's Ark hit ground here and unloaded. You can easily do a trip around the Crater Floor in a day and during that day you are likely to see pretty much every animal you'd want to see. We saw the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Elephant and Rhino) Big 6 if you include Hippos all in one day on the Crater Floor. Throw in the host of usual suspects like Thompson's Gazelle and Grants, Zebra, Wildebeest, huge flocks of Flamingos, some Eland and a Cheetah and you have the makings of a couple of pretty special days. For me the crater highlights the Large Bull Elephants, there were a couple with Huge Tusks, the Rhinos, which we had not seen in the Serengeti and the Maasai.

The Maasai are an amazing tribe of people who live their lives today much as they ever have and by all accounts don't really have much desire to change. They are a proud people and continue to live somewhat nomadic lives as herders of Sheep, Goats and Cattle. They live very traditionally and are usually very colorfully dressed. Their traditional colors are red and as such they stand out in the fields from quite a ways away. It would have been cool to spend some time exploring this aspect of Africa but that will have to wait for another time.

Last but certainly not least I need to say something about Crater Lodge. This is without a doubt the finest accommodations I have ever stayed in. And that is saying quite a bit as I have had the privilege of staying in some very nice Hotels in some amazing locations over the years both as a business man and as a traveler. But, Crater Lodge is the hands down winner in the Best Accommodations category. Not only are the rooms huge, with Fire Place, King Size Bed and a huge ensuite bathroom but they are perched right on the Crater's Edge so you have these absolutely stunning panoramic views of pretty much the entire crater floor. But wait there is more, the ensuites have these amazing tubs facing a set of French Doors that you can open and have that same crater view from your tub. Which by the way is filled and waiting for you upon your return to the Lodge at the end of your day. Even the toilet has stunning views! :)

After dinner when you return to your room the Fireplace has been lit and there is a decanter of Sherry sitting fireside for you to sip on as you relax in one of the big chairs cozily positions in front of the fire. You can slip into one of the comfortable robes they supply, and just relax as you reminisce about the day's spottings and what tomorrow might bring. Then as the sandman calls out to you, you can crawl into your bed, preheated with electric blankets, open the curtains and drift off to sleep staring out at the crater below and those amazing views of the stars that are like no others I have ever seen. This is indeed a very special place in a very special location!

So there you have it, our African story, it is almost to good to be true and had I not experienced it personally I'd probably be hard pressed to believe a trip could be this special. But it was every bit this special and more! We/I cannot thank Ron and Nancy enough for organizing this, it was a true gift to be able to experience Africa in this way with such an amazing group of people. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you....

Kid's Said:
Highlights:
Tyler:
Seeing the cheetah & lions & hippos & rhinos & zebras & giraffes &&&... All the babies. Watching the Dung Beetle. All of my new friends.

Kayla: Pretty much EVERYTHING!!! All of the animals, especially the babies and hanging out with everyone.
Lowlights: Leaving!
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