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  • Hi everyone! We're back in the land of running water and real beds after five days spent camping in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Our time on safari was INCREDIBLE, spanning amazing natural scenery, unparalleled wildlife viewing, and the best tour group I think either of us has ever been with. There's way too much to give a true play-by-play, so here are some of the highlights:

    *We spent a day touring the village of Mto Wa Mbu ("Mosquito River Town"), meeting the local inhabitants and learning about their way of life. There are more than 120 native tribes living in Tanzania, and nearly all are represented in this village. We found the tour enlightening, learning about their agricultural practices, carving and weaving, homesteading, and enjoyed a delicious local lunch. We then journeyed to the Maasai village on the outskirts, to see how G Adventures is helping the local community through their respiratory health-focused Clean Cookstove project. The Maasai continue to live a nomadic existence, herding livestock and building huts for accommodation. Some of their practices range from uncomfortable to ghastly for westerners (mostly FGM, along others), but we found it valuable to learn about these folks who are the original inhabitants of the wildlife areas

    *Our time in the Serengeti was simply awe-inspiring. We camped under the stars, with the sounds of wildlife ever-present outside our tents. During the day we drove in a modified Land Cruiser with an open roof, following the game across the vast, endless plains. We saw lions, leopards, elephants, cape buffalo, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, jackals, zebras, wildebeast, hartebeast, Thompsons gazelle, impala, warthogs, vultures, ostrich, hippos, dik dik (miniature antelope), crocodile, vervet monkeys, a serval, mongoose, topi, baboons, marabou stork, a monitor lizard, secretary birds, ibis, crowned crane, pelicans, heron, and vast numbers of other small birds. It was incredible

    *After two full days game-driving in the Serengeti, we spent a half-day driving around deep in the Ngorongoro Crater. This area is known for its saltwater lakes, vast quantities of ungulates, rhinos (which unfortunately we did not see), and hundreds (if not thousands) of migrating flamingos. The true highlight of this experience was when a pair of lions (one male, one female) wandered over and quite literally took a nap underneath the rear of our truck! (Hence the title, pictures below)

    There are just a few photos below; keep an eye out on Facebook for a full album Rachel will post this week. We loved it! (Edit: we can't find the camera connector so it will be awhile.)

    Shoutouts to all of our amazing new friends from the tour: Meg, Donna, Alex, Joe, Angus, Adon, Colin, Kenneth, Emily, Amy, Stan, and Annette!
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  • It's starting to feel like we're bragging about all these beautiful beaches we're getting to go to. But, here we are again, on a nearly deserted beach. This time on Zanzibar. We arrived late last night and discovered that low season is basically empty. There have been other tourists around, but they are few and far between. We found one restaurant open for dinner last night and there was only one other family there. Rachel tried the ugali with curry, a traditional Tanzanian dish eaten by hand. Nick had the chicken masala, of course. Here's a picture of today's paradise, Nick the cat whisperer, and the plane we took here. Hope you all are enjoying the warm weather as well!Read more

  • Yesterday we went on a blue safari: a boat trip in the channel on the west side of the island that included lagoons, snorkeling, beach time, and a seafood cookout. We were initially skeptical as the organizers approached us on the beach the day before selling their trip. As is typical in this area, there is no licensed tour company under which they operate nor a company name to read reviews on TripAdvisor. However, there were other people signed up already and they didn't require any payment or deposit in advance, so we figured we would give it a shot. It was also relatively inexpensive compared to the other activities we've been offered on the island, especially considering it was a full day event including food, drinks, and transport.

    Though the tour did not follow through on all of its promises, we are still glad we went. It was an enjoyable day and we felt that we generally got a good value for our money. We made some really cool friends who we ended up spending all evening with (and will be seeing again today) and we got to see the other side of the island. Once we arrived to "port" after driving over a dirt road for some time, we met up with the other participants and walked out to the boat. It was low tide so the boat couldn't get too close, but the water was no more than knee deep for the short trek. The boat, as promised, was a sizeable sail boat with an attached motor. It comfortably fit 20 people. Probably less expected though was the simplicity of the boat; it was made by hand from local mangrove trees, had no respite from the sun, and, though sufficient, moved fairly slowly. We're starting to see that if you want luxury in Zanzibar, you should primarily stick to the fancy resorts. By no means is this a criticism of this interesting place, just information for other travelers reading this post. Pretty much everywhere we've been around the world there have been luxury or at least well-known company options available for tours and activities; here, we have yet to see them. I would not say the operations are illegitimate here, but they are definitely self-organized by enterprising Zanzibari men. That being said, everyone we've met has been trustworthy, and no one has failed to follow through on their basic promises of service.

    Our first stop on the tour was a sandbar island where we relaxed and cooled off in the water. The guides also provided us with freshly cut fruit including bananas, pineapple, and watermelon. There is no fruit so delicious as a fresh, high quality pineapple (at least to Rachel). After some time on the beach, we took a short boat ride to a nearby coral reef. It was excellent and Nick even found a turtle! It was the first time one of our new friends had ever snorkeled, and what a great first time it was. The coral and sealife was very close to the surface, and there was a ton of plant and animal biodiversity throughout the area. It was really a pretty excellent snorkel experience!

    After snorkeling, we headed to another island for lunch. We took a quick detour though when we saw a pod of dolphins swimming nearby. We spent some time following them and some of our comrades tried to swim with them, but as expected the dolphins fled as soon as anyone jumped in the water. We were able to see them pretty closely though and for several minutes. It was awesome!

    Our lunch was pretty delicious if you like seafood. They served freshly caught octopus, prawn, kingfish, and lobster served over rice, fries, and curry sauce. We had originally been promised beers as well but this did not come to fruition for reasons we don't really understand, but that's pretty typical for stuff on the island; we've had plenty of experiences where restaurants run out of certain foods and that's just part of life here. Were there ever going to be beers provided? We're not sure, but it's a small thing to not follow through on in the grand scheme of things. We had plenty of pop and clean water to drink, and more than enough food. Lunch was followed by more delicious fresh fruit and a short walk to a 600 year old baobab tree. Most baobab species are only found in Madagascar, but there is one species that can be found on mainland Africa and nearby islands. This tree was huge and had fallen over some time ago so that new trees were growing up out of its side. Based on Rachel's previous observations of baobab trees, she thinks it is likely older than 600 years because it was truly huge.

    The afternoon was supposed to include a stop in the blue lagoon, possibly with swimming, and some relaxation time on Paradise Island. However, we were told that we were behind schedule due to the dolphins and the extended snorkeling time so we only briefly boated through the blue lagoon and skipped Paradise Island entirely; there were also concerns about the direction of the wind/current, the height of the waves, and the boat being able to manuever through the tight spaces. Were these false promises, or is it another one of those incidents that you just chalk up to being in Zanzibar? Hard to say, but we had had a full day already so it was not terribly disappointing. Plus, the sea was getting kind of rough so more than a couple people on the boat were fine heading back to land.

    All in all it was a fun day and worth the expense. It is also an excellent example of how tours and activities operate out here, consistent with or better than what other guests have told us about their tours here. As a bonus, we got to see some monkeys when driving through Jozani forest, so we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see here except for the spice farms (Zanzibar is a huge exporter of spices). Today we did our laundry by hand and are going to relax on the beach before heading to Arusha early tomorrow morning to prepare for our safari!
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  • So, we decided to come back to Zanzibar! Yes, it is that great. We wanted to explore a different part of the island so have a few days booked at a bungalow in Nungwi (Kajibange Bar & Guesthouse) with the intention of spending our last few nights in a different town. However, we arrived last night and we like the location and the vibe so much we are finding out if we can stay here until we leave for Egypt.

    Last night we met some of the host staff (Gibson, Christian, and Suleman) and ended up joining them and a Moroccan couple for dinner. Suleman had fetched a freshly caught King Mackerel (pictured) and cooked it for over an hour on the spit above the beach fire. Even Rachel, who doesn't really like seafood, thought the fish tasted amazing! It had just been caught and was absolutely delicious. For anyone coming to Zanzibar, we highly recommend the seafood.

    As a bonus, most of our friends from the safari are arriving in Nungwi today, so we will get to continue hanging out with them! There are plans in the works to do some diving with at least one of our friends in Mnemba which is supposed to be beautiful. We also found out there are some swimming caves/lagoons a short walk from here so we'll head there one day as well.

    For now, though, we are set up on the beach for a late lunch. The tide is in, the view is great, and Kajibange has a collection of friendly kittens and a puppy, all of whom are adorable.
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  • So we survived our first 13 hour bus journey from Dar es Salaam to Arusha on the Kilimanjaro Express...well just about!...Nina and I were nearly left stranded after the bus drove off on us during a short toilet break. Luckily we used our athletic skills to race after it and continued on our journey to Arusha.
    In Arusha we visited the local primary school next door to the Rena hostel, where we sat in the staff room, met the principal and learned the childrens' dance for their graduation next week.
    We then went on safari to the Serengeti National Park, and what an experience it was!! Our 'Will I Am' look alike guide, Micheal drove us to the north western part of the Park where we managed to track down four of the 'Big Five' (lions, buffaloes, leopards and elephants). We also saw giraffes, warthogs, gazelles, ostriches, hippos, antelopes, hyrax and cheetahs, to name just a few, all in their natural habitat. One of the highlights was seeing the Migration of thousands of wildebeest in an orderly fashion towards the centre of the Park. I also had my first ever camping experience, where we shared the campsites with buffaloes and zebras.
    We then went to the Ngorongoro Crater which combines the crevices and vast size of the Grand Canyon and the greenery and hilly scenery of the Lake District. Here, after many hours of searching, we finally found the last member of the 'Big Five' when we discovered one of only 17 rhinoceros in the whole crater, grazing happily in the grass. This completed an unbelievable experience on safari here. It was great to be able to get up close and personal with so many animals over the four days.
    We then made our way back to Arusha where we went to see Mount Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately when we got there it was misty and overcast so we couldn't see much. But at least we got to pose for some photos at the bottom and we may go back to some day to climb to the summit!
    We are now on a 20 hour bus journey to Mbeya in the south of the country as we head towards Malawi. I think there'll be plenty of numb bums at the end of this, but at least we have hundreds of photos to go through from the safari. That will surely pass the time a little! Tanzania has been an amazing first stop of the trip! The rest of the countries we are visiting have a lot to live up to, to compete with it!!
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  • Just wanted to share a picture of our campfire tonight. G Adventures focuses on sustainable tourism so worked with the conservation rangers to arrange for us to have this fire tonight on the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater. We've had an excellent week with G Adventures in Tanzania!

  • After spending the last three days here in paradise. Unbelievable beaches, blue seas and sunshine. What an amazing start to the trip. Swam with dolphins, snorked in the reef. Went to Prisoner Island and posed with giant tortoises. Had a Swahili/Irish rap off with the locals. We're going to do very well to beat these last few days. Heading onto Arusha next to see some animals.

  • Took a boat with local person to island nearby. No life jackets, rough waters, little motorbike engine. Snorkelled there. BEAUTIFUL but stung by jellyfish. They looked like those Avatar magic forest things.
    Nardus snorkelled all the way back to the hotel.

  • Arrived at LA Gemma Dell'Est
    Transported on golf cart to our villa. Beautiful. Mosquito nets around the 4 poster beds.
    Stunning grounds.
    More spread out than expected so quite a walk to restaurants, pools, etc.