Thursday, October 13, 2011

Safari - Tanzania

We mentioned in an earlier post that we had taken a chance booking with our Safari tour company, and while there have been a couple minor things we wished were different, overall the trip in Kenya had been great and we've been very happy. During our time in Tanzania, we became severely disappointed with our tour company. Let us just say, do NOT book anything with MICS Tours and Safaris. // Our combined Kenya/Tanzania safari was organized through a Kenyan company, who had apparently outsourced the Tanzanian portion to a partner company. According to our Kenyan tour company, the Tanzanian company had completely dropped the ball and NONE of our reservations for lodging had been made, some of which we had specifically contracted for and were popular lodges. We found this out after we waited two hours at the border for our new Tanzanian driver (keep in mind we were already a couple hours late due to flat tires and being stuck in mud) because he claimed he just found out he was guiding our trip the day before, and this was the quickest he could get to the border to meet us. Our new guide Asseri, showed us our itinerary and it was completely different from what we wanted, what we paid for and what we were expecting. For instance, the first afternoon, we were planning on leaving the border and heading to Lake Victoria for one night. Change #1 - the lake victoria portion was cancelled because we didn't have a hotel reservation. Okay, we now had an extra few hours in the Serengeti, which was not the worst thing. Our tour operator guaranteed us that the new lodges would be as good as what we booked, but when we showed up at the tent, it was clearly not the Serena lodge. // The ride to get there was quite exciting. With the late arrival of the driver, and certain errands, we were late to head to the Serengeti. Our driver did not tell us that the gates to the park close at 6 and that we would be stuck outside if we did not make it. He just drove as fast as he possibly could, causing pedestrians in many towns to signal him to slow down, or to just jump out of the way in fright. Clearly, this driver had different thoughts on speed than the previous one. We made it with just a couple of minutes to spare, which is when we got the explanation for the high speed. //. But over the next couple of days there were lots of problems. The driver didn't have money to pay for park fees, fuel, etc. Hotels didn't have reservations or payments. Our driver would take us to parts of the parks with almost no animals. We would skip or curtail game viewing to call the tour operator or to find internet to get payments. We would sit in hotel lobbies for hours hoping to be allowed to check in. We had to come up with some cash of our own or be abandoned in some small Tanzanian town by driver. A couple of times our tour operator suggested we make the hotel payments and he would be sure to pay us back, even though he obviously couldn't remember to wire our driver the funds. Our previous enjoyment of a refreshing towel and our bet over which variety of welcoming fruit juice we'd receive upon arrival was replaced with concern over whether we would have a place to sleep. //. But enough of our troubles for now. In between moments of frustration and anger, we actually did have some good animal viewing. The amount of predator cats we encountered in the Serengeti were more than anywhere else. We saw lots of cheetahs, including some young cubs. We saw an unfortunate warthog family cross the path of two cheetahs, who pounced and picked off one of the young warthogs. The warthog parents gave chase but the cheetah without the warthog in its mouth easily chased them away. In the Ngorongoro crater, there was one cheetah that had a bloody face and bloody paws - he must have been having a good time.

We saw leopards, both in trees (with a half eaten gazelle up there as well) and on the ground...

There were of course several prides of lions

And a new predator cat for us, the serval cat. We were originally told that the serval was nocturnal and hard to find, but we saw two in the Serengeti and another in the Ngorongoro crater.

Here some hippos, three of them trying to decide where best to enter the water and join the ~30 already in.

There were lots of hyena in the parks. At one point, we came across three lions with their warthog lunch, and a pack of hyena kept trying to get close and join them for a snack, but one of the lions would stop and chase them off.

And we did see some baby giraffe. As it's forbidden to get out of your vehicle while on game drives in the national parks, we couldn't get an exact comparison but we think these guys were about Betsy's height.

And we haven't been posting a lot of elephant pictures recently as we did have quite a few earlier, but there have definitely been elephants everywhere. Elephants are one of the species that we regularly see young ones, but these were probably the youngest we've seen. Our guide estimated this little one was probably about 2 years old, because it was at the height of its mothers belly.

// Eventually, the anguish and anxiety became too much - we decided we had enough of the problems, did not want to pay out more cash, paying a second time for travel costs and hotels, so we decided to end the safari. We had been to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, but did not get to experience Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Amboselli NP. We had our driver take us to Arusha, which was his hometown but also a major travel hub. Of course, this last 2 hour journey with our driver was nerve wracking. He realized that the tour company was going to screw him out of his money and that he clearly was not going to get a large tip from us, and he started to get angry. We were getting quite nervous with the fast driving and his bad mood. We had previously borrowed the driver's extra SIM car for my cell phone to call our tour operator while trying to resolve the problems. Now, realizing that we were off of our itinerary, and no one back home would no where we were, I sent a short text message to my brother on the cell phone giving him our location and letting him know I would text him in 2 hours. It was a long 2 hours. But we arrived at the hotel, and our driver had calmed down by then. We slept in pleasant hotel which made some sort of claim to be involved with a John Wayne movie, and the next morning took a bus to Nairobi. The whole situation is obviously extremely frustrating and we are disappointed to not be able to finish our Tanzanian safari. But we loved Kenya and are happy at least that portion was the type of safari we were expecting. //. Now, safely in Nairobi, we are working on the plan for the next few days. - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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