Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tanzania - The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth
In preparing for a trip to the wonderfully diverse African continent there are many questions that will come to mind as to read, plan, and prepare. These blog pages will ask and answer those questions. For further information and itinerary suggestions please email David Clapp at or call at 508-896-7322. Nasera Safaris is a Tanzanian company run by the very well known and highly experienced Joseph Ndunguru. Joseph (worked for many years for the Tanzanian National Parks and later was a guide and courier for Abercrombie & Kent. Joseph has recently started his own safari company with the intention of providing special experiences to ( clients who want to organize and arrange their own outing. The usual safari is into the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. However there are options to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, dive into the huge reserves in southern Tanzania, or visit the mountains where the great apes live (Uganda and Rwanda). You decode, you set the parameters, and we will develop a wonderful experience for your group.

The blog pages include choosing a safari, when and where to go, packing, medical considerations, travel to and from East Africa, photography and optics, and a series of galleries showing mammals, birds, scenery, and other items of natural history interest. Search through the blog site as if it were a web page - and enjoy Tanzania - it is home to the greatest wildlife show on Earth.

 We will be happy to discuss your interests and goals as you think about the safari. We will make suggestions and offer ideas that will help you make the most of this trip of a lifetime.

Joseph has led thousands of visitors through Tanzanian parks and wilderness areas. His easy style and intimate relationships with lodge mangers make him the ideal traveling companion when it comes to logistics. His lifetime of observing wildlife and teaching visitors make him equally adept as a mentor, friend, and companion.

How Do I Choose My Safari?

There are many ways to choose, plan, and arrange your safari. Africa is large and complex. There are many people and places to see and visit. The mammal and bird life is stunningly diverse and captivating. A two-week period will allow for at least eleven nights out on safari. This is long enough to see the major features of the great Serengeti plains of northern Tanzania.

Lodging can be in tented camps (quite royal actually), in smallish camps like Ndutu pictured here, in larger hotel-like facilities with all the trappings that you are used to or in elegant upscale facilities with gourmet food and very private tree-house rooms. It is also possible to have a totally remote safari with your own tented camp moved each day from one remote spot to another. Of course camp staff, hot showers, good beds, excellent food, and South African wines accompany you throughout.

If you are joining a group you should read their itinerary and be sure that it offers the things you want to see and do. How much time is spent driving? How many picnic lunches? Can I photograph as much as I want? Will I be in with birders, strangers, people speaking another language, photographers, children, or families? In some cases you may want to be with certain types and in other cases you may want to avoid certain types. Planning will help you arrive at both an itinerary and traveling group suited to your needs.

The easiest way is to create your own group and tour your own itinerary. If you have to be with families and children they might as well be your own or your grandkids or some other relatives. If you are an avid and hard-core photographer you will quickly become a nuisance among people interested in looking and moving on. Photographers are best with other photographers or spouses resigned to the behavior and needs of a photographer. The same can be said for birders.

Many of the lodges are operated by local residents trained in hotel services. I have never met an African  who is not multilingual. Swahili and English are the two most common languages found in Tanzania.

If you want to see the great apes, local cultures, focus on cats, or start early every day to photograph animals at sunrise you may need to create a group with similar desires. Some things, like the great apes, special lecturers, or special meals may require planning (and payment) well in advance of the visit. Think about your interests and needs and see if they can be met by advertised safaris; then determine if you have enough people to create your own group and specialize the itinerary. 

Nasera Safaris can accommodate you, your group, and your interests as we have experience, knowledge, and contacts throughout Tanzania.

Most of the northern Tanzanian wildlife areas are in land owned by the Maasai people.

When and Where Do I Go?

A safari can be wonderfully elegant or it can be an earthy visit to the place where man was born. Tented camps have tents but they also have private bathrooms, showers, king beds, and room service. Some lodges have room insinuated into the branches of ancient baobab trees and others are as elegant a a Rivera spa. Your choice of lodging will impact the price of your journey but the wildlife viewing is universal to all travelers. 

All lodges have multi-lingual help, good food, safe water, and a remoteness that will have you tingling through the entirety of your safari. I just love sleeping and waking in Africa.

Each of the options carries a price tag of course. Permanent tented camps and the hotels may be the least expensive. Elegant hotels and the unique experience of having a mobile camp will cost more. The more remote opportunities are more expensive... and so on.

The locations are also varied and variable. Many of the parks, including the Serengeti, in northern Tanzania are best in January, February, and March when the great numbers of wildebeest and zebra have arrived. There are parts of the Serengeti to the west that see the animals as they begin to migrate back to the west and then north toward Kenya and its Maasai Mara where they will be in July, August, and September. The highest costs are coincidental with the greatest number of animals. But, there are always animals of all sorts in all the places throughout the year - the density varies greatly however. 

In the Serengeti the rains begin in November or December and carry on through April. This greens up the grass, attracting the migration, and cannot be avoided. It rarely rains heavily and almost never rains all day. But the best animals and the presence of some rain are certain to overlap. Birders can go anytime, but the wettest times make for difficult travel.

Style and elegance can greet you at the end of each day.

Facilities staff persons are multi-lingual and unfailingly good at their jobs.

How Do I Get to Tanzania?

There are several ways to get to Tanzania and they pretty much all go through Europe. Many people will choose to spend a day or two in London or Amsterdam on the way to their safari. In almost all cases the recommended flights will include an overnight flight to Europe and an all day flight south, over the Alps, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert to Arusha's Kilimanjaro Airport.

Most flights from the United States will take you to either London or Amsterdam as a mid-trip location to change flights and direction of travel. If you are in Amsterdam on a KLM/Delta/Northeast flight you will be boarding a flight to Dar es Salaam. The stop in Arusha, where you will get off, is an in-transit stop. Be sure that your ticket and luggage are for Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) in Arusha. After you disembark in Arusha the plane will continue on one hour to Dar es Salaam. When you depart Arusha after the safari you will board this same flight and head south to Dar and then return northward to Europe. The return leg is about three hours longer than the arrival flight.

There are flights through Nairobi, Kenya and from other African cities as well. But the Delta flight (previously Northeast or KLM) is the easiest to book and fits well into all itineraries. You will be met at the airport by your safari company and taken to your first night's lodging somewhere in or near Arusha. Most itineraries will have a whole day in the Arusha area so that travelers can sleep late, have a half-day outing, and recover from the impact of travel.

Just be sure that you are headed for JRO.

Packing - What to Bring

Yes, you will need a hat and sunscreen and a change (or two) of clothes. You have to trust me on this - no one studies your outfits while you are on safari. Really. Eagles, zebras, lions, Maasai warriors and spectacular scenery draw all the attention.

If you are not stopping in Europe you can pack everything into a single duffle bag. This bag plus a carry-on for cameras, medications, and your field-guide-to-the-birds is all you will need. If you are stopping in Europe you should pack all the Europe-stuff in a suitcase that can be left behind and retrieved later. On safari there is little room for storage and transport of luggage in the vehicles. One duffle per person works pretty well. Luggage beyond that and luggage that is hard-sided make packing very difficult for the drivers. The space behind the rear seat will have a case of bottled water and a spare tire (or two) in addition to the luggage. 

If there are four or five people in your vehicle the storage space will get filled up very quickly. If you are arranging your own safari it is always a good thing to plan for the people, the itinerary, and the luggage. Seven people and their luggage is a crowd in a single vehicle. Four people and their luggage is a breeze. The cost of having another vehicle, driver, and related arrangements does impact the bottom line; but consider the impact of crowding on travel, photography, and ease of observing the wildlife. For ten, eleven, or twelve people two vehicles is essential. The same can be said for seven or eight people. Once you get to the six and seven participant level you have some hard decisions to make regarding how to divide your group.

As far as clothing goes there are a few considerations. The weather will be warm and possibly hot. You may never wear a fleece, sweater, or jacket. Wool and heavy cotton are often too much. Sandals work well on most days, as you are inside a vehicle. Outdoor sandals can get you through the whole trip; especially those with a protected toe. You will not need leather shoes or dress clothes. Sneakers (or today's equivalent) are fine.

It is easy enough to bring small numbers of wash and wear shirts, pants, and undies. This kind of clothing will dry overnight or during nap time in the African sunshine. 

Pants - wear one and pack two. Shirts, maybe pack three or four (and wear one); but remember, the safari lodges will sell shirts and T-shirts if you need more. Most people say that blue jeans are too heavy. Undies can be of a poly fiber that can be washed and dried with ease. A couple pair may be boring but certainly adequate. Poly fibers and other man-made fibers tend to be thinner and dry much more quickly than does cotton.

Here are some further thoughts on clothing; a bathing suit is useable at most lodges for those with the inclination and energy. A fleece, hat, or even gloves might used one or two early mornings if you are visiting in June, July, or August. Some people bring a face mask to filter out dust. This may be a reasonable idea for people with respiratory problems. Dust is possible but quite variable. Some years it is mud not dust. Bug spray is rarely needed and along with sun screen, mouth wash, and all toiletries can be purchased en route.

In summary you should pack at home - then remove at least one-third of your choices. The less you pack the easier the storage, the more room for trinkets and souvenirs, and especially, it leaves more room for binoculars, diaries, and cameras.

What About Medical Concerns?

Africa is huge. Each country is highly contoured. Illnesses are often specific to elevation, habitat, and are usually limited by a variety of environmental and cultural factors. The Center for Disease Control's Traveler Health web page has all the information you need for specific destinations.

There are however several areas that should be considered; malaria, dysentery, replacing prescriptions, and hepatitis probably head the list. Please read through this section and note the very last entry.

Malaria is a bad disease. You should check with the CDC regarding the possibility it is found along your safari route. The management of this disease is for you and your doctor to determine. (I would comment that one of the prophylaxis medications, Larium, should be a last resort. there are severe side effects from this medication.) Malaria is a disease of low elevations, wet areas, and warm portions of the country - where the appropriate species of mosquito resides. In general it has not been found along the primary safari routes. Overall mosquitoes are not a problem on the Tanzanian or Kenyan safaris and I rarely see mosquitos when traveling. However, malaria is a bad disease and care should be taken. One last consideration with malaria is it rapid evolution; not all medications work on all malarial forms. Make sure that what you are prescribed is appropriate to East African strains of the disease.

Another insect-borne disease is trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. The vector insect for this illness is the tsetse fly. The good news here is that, even if you see tsetse flies, the population in the northern part of Tanzania does not carry the disease.

Dysentery is not common on the safari routes. In most cases unwashed food or untreated water is the cause of gastric distress illnesses. By using bottled water and washing your hands as often as is possible, you can avoid most intestinal discomforts. The hotels use treated water for all kitchen work and food prep. You should be sure to drink only soda, beer, and bottled water. Ice cubes are almost always made from bottled water, but it might be good to ask.

You should pack and carry all prescriptions with you in your hand luggage. Once on safari your luggage will always be with you so you can relax a bit. It is a good idea to make a separate list of prescriptions that includes the medicine name and details regarding strength and dosage.

Before any travel it is recommended that you have a "good health" visit with your primary care physician. This is a time to look into your health, prescriptions, travel needs, and vaccinations. This is when you can deal with hepatitis, tetanus, measles, polio, and other inoculations. There are a variety of illnesses that are (perhaps) more common in Tanzania than in the USA. But, you will be on a route that caters to travelers and is well monitored. The majority of disease in any country resides in crowded, damp, warm, areas with limited medical coverage. None of the apply to the safari route in Tanzania.

Tanzania requires that travelers coming from a country that has a yellow fever concern be able to show their yellow fever certificate upon arrival. The countries that are of real concern to the Tanzanian medical branch are Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. If you are coming from one of these countries you will need a yellow fever certificate even if you have merely passed through the country on the way to Tanzania. Thus travelers using Virgin Atlantic, Kenya Air, Swiss Air, and British Air - even though they are merely in-transit passengers - will have to have a yellow fever inoculation and the certificate to prove it. If you are a regular traveler to the earth's more remote regions a yellow fever inoculation is a good thing to have. It may well be a once-in-a-lifetime shot, but it is necessary to get one every ten years.