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PROLOGUE:Thanks to the Covid pandemic, it’s been a very long time since we have traveled, so when the opportunity to see the world reopened, we jumped at the first opportunity. We had been completely vaccinated since early March and believed that our risk of catching was low enough that we felt reasonably safe to resume travel. Friends, Richard and DeAnn Johnson, invited us to join them on a Tauck tour of the Serengeti and Zanzibar and we were eager to join the adventure. We booked flights from Austin to Kilimanjaro via Newark and Amsterdam. The flights were long and not as pleasant as previous flights due the restrictions imposed to mitigate the corona virus. The Austin airport is not prepared to handle the return of the traveling public and can be best described as organized chaos. None the less, we arrived safely and on time at the Kilimanjaro international airport. The health screening and immigration procedures were slow and tedious but after an hour and a half we exited with our luggage and found our driver who drove us the 45 minute route to the Arusha Serena Hotel. We arrived tired and hungry about 10:30 in the evening. We were greeted with a glass of cold Our tour group at dinner in the Arusha Serena Hotelchampagne and a host of welcoming staff. They had kept the kitchen open incase we wanted something to eat after our long flight. The menu offered a selection of light snacks which was all we needed before retiring for the evening. The rooms at the Serena Hotel are all individual bungalows and unattached from the main lodge. The tropical setting is landscaped with a variety of blooming topical plants. The evening temperatures are very pleasant due to the altitude of the area…about 4500 feet above sea level. We were serenaded all night by a cacophony of jungle sounds including birds and howling animals, but due to the sheer exhaustion from the jet lag we slept soundly through the evening. Sunday morning we awoke to see monkeys playing in the trees outside our bungalow. The bungalow was a short walk back go the main lodge where we had breakfast with very strong black African coffee. We were quickly introduced to the other couple who would be joining us for the Tauck Tour. Stephanie and JJ are restaurant owners from Louisiana and are very entertaining. After a very leisurely breakfast we started to explore the grounds of the resort which are on the site of a former coffee plantation and on the shore of Lake Duliti. As we were walking around, we met a gardener who offered to show us around and guide us to the lake shore. He knew all the plants and showed us the vegetable garden which had collard greens and other greens which were for the staff to eat. We also learned about banana trees, and coffee plants as well as papaya, mango and guava trees. Our private tour lasted about an hour before Francis had to return to his assigned jobs. The rest of the day was for relaxation and reading until 4:00 in the afternoon when we started our happy hour. We joined with Richard and DeAnn and Stephanie and JJ who had just returned from visiting the cultural center in Arusha. We sat outside for almost 3 hours listening to hilarious stories from the owners of the Not Your Mama restaurant in Louisiana. The restaurant in the lodge opened at 7:00 for dinner. The stories and laughter continued all through dinner probably disturbing the other diners in the restaurant, but soon we were the last patrons to shut down the place.

Monday August 9, 2021 Arusha, Tanzania

Plans for today were to relax and recover as much as possible from the long plane ride and jet lag. The property at the Serena Hotel does not offer a lot of activities although Becky at the Arusha Serena Hotelone can book things to do outside of the hotel. The Tanzanian government regulates all tourist activities, so it is not allowed to go off exploring without a guide (all this under the umbrella of safety, but really just to create jobs for the local population) We wanted to hike around the lake Duliti, but we were required to go with a guide. The government rate for the 2.7-mile walk was $40 per person. Somehow the hotel manager was able to negotiate a half price rate so we agreed and met our guide at 1:30. Cimba was a well trained naturalist who gave us plenty of information about the plants, birds and animals living around the lake. The lake was formed in the crater of a volcano and is about 1200 feet deep. There are fish in the lake but only for catch and release. We finished our hike about 4:30 and joined the rest of the Tauck Tour on the lawn for happy hour. Our tour director, Ivan, gave a briefing for the next day’s itinerary and then we went to dinner. The hotel had prepared a buffet for a large group which had arrived earlier in the afternoon, but we declined the buffet and requested to order dinner off the menu instead.

Tuesday August 10, 2021 Aursha – Ngorongoro

Today for a day for African Butt Massage which mean you sit in a car most of the day riding over very bumpy unpaved roads. We started the day with the standard breakfast in the Arusha Serena Hotel. Our luggage was transferred to a luggage van which set out for our next accommodation on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. We started our trip at 8:30 and travelled for about 3 hours over decent paved roads in the direction of the Manyara National Park. We passed through several small villages which were crowded next to the road and bustling with trade and motorcycles and busses. We Lunch break in the busharrive at an outpost camp which was a couple of kilometers off the paved road back in the bush in Masai territory. We had a brief pause to use the washroom and then Rueben our Masai guide took us to visit the local school and then on a nature walk explaining the various trees and the uses of each including the medicinal purposes. We then went to a one family Masai village to see the living conditions while the native women tried to sell us their hand made trinkets. Next we were invited to a dinner table set outside under an Acacia tress on the rim of a small dry creek. The breeze across the savanna was marvelous which made for a vary picturesque setting for lunch. The menu included a fresh salad with fritters of corn meal followed by spicy meatball, coconut rice and sautéed vegetables. The dessert was a mango banana puree which was excellent. Following lunch we piled back into the safari jeeps for the remainder of the trip to the crater. We stopped briefly at the entrance gate to secure Typical Masai homeour permits, use the restrooms and watch the baboons playing in the street and on the vehicles. The final 40 minutes of the journey was inside the national park over an unpaved road. We did see a capped buffalo and several zebras along the route. We finally arrived at the lodge hotel about 5:30 and were greeted with a cold glass of champagne and a Masai music and dance program. We had plenty of time to go to our rooms and prepare for the rest of the evening activities. The hotel is situated on the rim of the crater and each room has a spectacular and a private patio. We drove through a small rain shower which lowered the outside temperature into the 40’s. We then unpacked and refreshed for the evening before joining our friends in the lounge for drinks before dinner. Due to the chilly temperature, we sat around a fireplace while we watched a local troop of acrobats preform their tricks in the lounge. Following the show, we moved to the dining room for dinner and the returned to our room for the evening.

Wednesday August 11, 2021 Ngorongoro Caldera:

We had planned an early start for the 1st game ride of the tour which meant we had to be at breakfast at 6:00am. The menu was identical to the menu at the Arusha Serena Wildebeeste in the Ngorongoro calderahotel so choosing breakfast was easy. We loaded into the waiting safari vehicles for the 7:00 departure down 1600 feet onto the floor of the Ngorongoro caldera. The weather was cold and foggy with extremely limited visibility. As we descended, we passed below the clouds and fog and could finally see more than a few feet in front of us. The ride was over very rough dirt roads and unfortunately there was limited animal activity. We did see gazelles, wildebeests, zebras, hippos, elands, one elephant, a jackal and a variety of birds, but the guide was disappointed at the low quantity of animals and blamed the lack of activity on the cloudy, cold weather. The highlight of the drive was lunch which was a glamping feast set up in a secluded spot away from all the other safari vehicles. The lunch was catered by our hotel exclusively for our Tauck tour. Picnic in the bushThey had set up a large tent with tables, chairs, table cloths and a bar. The menu included a variety of grilled meats, fresh salad, rice, pasta, vegetables, potatoes and a desert selection. It was a remarkable experience and probably the finest “picnic” I have ever experienced. After lunch we finished our game drive with little additional to see except one more elephant and the jackal. We returned to our room to repack for the remainder of the safari and prepare for the evening activities. Most evenings began with meeting our group in the bar, but tonight Tauck sponsored a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres. Ivan gave the briefing for the next day and then we moved to the dining room dinner. Neither Becky and I were very hungry due to the happy hour snacks and the enormous lunch down in the Ngorongoro Caldera so we just ordered salad and a sandwich.

Thursday August 12, 2021 Ngorongoro - Serengeti

Today we left the Ngorongoro Sarena Hotel and headed for the Serengeti. The morning was chilly and foggy as made our way down from the rim. The road was a rough dirt Oldavai_Gorgewith poor visibility and more traffic than you might want for those conditions. Somehow our driver managed to get us safely out of the fog in the direction of the Serengeti. We did make a stop at the Oldavai Gorge where we had a lecture on the formation of the gorge and why it was the birthplace of the first known civilization. We had about a half hour before we had to return to the vehicles for the bumpy ride to the national park entrance. Along the way we did see a few giraffes and several Masai tribes people tending their herds and flocks. The landscape was very flat with nothing of interest, not even any trees. After almost 4 hour of a dusty and boring ride we arrived at the entrance to the Serengeti National Park. This was our rest and lunch stop; our first box lunch Cheetahexperience was unremarkable but at least it was break from the monotony of the drive to get there. The game drive following lunch was much more interesting and started to fulfill our expectations of the adventure we anticipated. We saw Hartebeests, cheetahs, leopards, impalas, dik-diks, mongoose and elephants. There were 4 cheetahs together which entertained us for at least a half hour. We later found two leopards in a tree which seemed to be totally uninterested in the 15 safari vehicles that had parked near their tree to observe their activities. We continued on the Serena Serengeti lodge for the evening and dinner. The hotel is a collection of huts each houses at least four hotel rooms. We are in an upstairs room with a balcony that overlooks the savanna. Dinner was served in the main dining room and while the presentation was nice, the food remains unremarkable.

Friday August 13, 2021 Balloon Ride _Serengeti:

Our wakeup call this morning was a 4:00 because we were going on a hot air balloon Hot Air Balloon Rideride and scheduled liftoff was dawn so we could see the sunrise from the air. Our transport departed at 4:45 which would allow time for viewing any nocturnal animals enroute to the launch site. Only a short distance from the hotel we encountered a small pride of lions on the road. The male decided the road was his and laid down and stretched out in front us blocking any forward progress, After taking all the pictures we wanted, Julius, our driver/guide, slowly advanced and the lion eventually yielded his spot on the road to the passing traffic. It was still dark when we arrived at the balloon launch site. Hugh and Becky in the balloon basketThe crews were preparing for the flight which was carefully timed to coincide with the sunrise. Large gasoline powered fans filled the balloon with air and then we were instructed how to load the basket which was laying on its side. Once we were on our backs inside the basket, the pilot began to direct hot air from a propane burner causing the balloon to gently lift from the ground and tug on the lines attached to the basket. Suddenly we were upright and the ground crew released the tether and we were airborne. At first the pilot kept the basket close to the ground while he determined the behavior of the wind. We started to gain altitude just in time to see the sun rise over the horizon. The flight of the balloon followed a small river which was host to many animals. For me the animals were difficult to see because they were so well camouflaged, but we spotted hippos, lions, gazelles, hartebeests, and a variety of birds. The markings on bird wings is remarkably different from the air looking down instead of from the ground Champagne after the balloon ridelooking up. Our flight lasted a little over an hour; it was smooth and silent except for the few second burst of flame to keep the balloon aloft. The landing was fairly smooth and as we emerged from the basket we were greeting with a glass of champagne to celebrate our flight. From the landing site we drove about 30 minutes to a site for a memorable formal bush English breakfast. We first visited a hand washing station and then found our assigned table. Of course, there was more champagne and also coffee, tea and juice, followed by fruit and a very typical full English breakfast. We were all presented certificates of our flight and then we boarded our vehicles for a game ride. During this ride we saw giraffes, lions, elephants, hartebeests, hyenas and numerous species. By 2:00 in the afternoon, we were exhausted from the early wakeup call and the bumpy game ride. We returned to our hotel for the remainder of the afternoon to relax and prepare for the evening. It started to rain as we relaxed in our room which dropped the temperature significantly. Tauck had arranged a happy hour which they refer to as a sundowner. Starting about 6:30 we could have hors d’oeuvres and drinks on the veranda of the bar. Following the sundowners, we were invited to dinner. The layout was a round cooking station which was essentially a buffet but with options to have some items freshly cooked while you watched. The pasta station was exceptionally good. One comment about the food in the national park: it is all safe and good but nothing memorable. The presentation is always good but it’s just not exciting.

Saturday August 14, 2021–Serengeti - Kirawira:

Today was scheduled to be a leisurely travel and relocation day. We would be moving south following the course of a river. Since the departure time wasn’t until 9:00, we could sleep late and enjoy a relaxing breakfast period. The only downside is you spend a lot of time sitting in the vehicle over very bumpy roads, but fortunately the dust was minimal due to the rain we had the evening before. We made several pauses along the river toA lone Giraffe see if any animals were around. We saw several crocodiles and some hippos in the river and one elephant. Along the road were giraffes, impalas, wildebeests, zebras and loads of baboons. We arrived at the Kirawira Tented Camp a little before noon and were greeted in the lounge. These are tents in name only; they are elegant and formal with the flare old British aristocracy at every turn. The lounge is full of dark wood paneling and matching stuffed furniture. The individual bedroom tents are large with an elegant bathroom complete with wood trim, granite countertops and a marble shower. This is without a doubt the nicest accommodation of the safari. The camp sits on a hill with a spectacular view of the savanna from our front porch. After dark we have to be escorted by a guard to offer protection from the wild animals. Ivan had teased us that we might have hamburgers for lunch, but the chef didn’t get the message, so we settled for club sandwiches instead. We had the afternoon free until 4:30 when we started the evening game ride. This region in the Serengeti has much Male lion protecting his prideless traffic, in fact we are the only guests in the tent camp. During the evening game ride, we did not see another vehicle which was a first for this trip. We also didn’t see a lot of what we were anticipating but none the less there was plenty to see. The interesting thing is that after four days of game viewing visual sense becomes jaded as we anticipate something new and even more spectacular, even though the animals that we saw the first day were amazing then, now they have become commonplace. This afternoon game ride continued until dusk when we returned to the lodge for happy hour and dinner. The routine following dinner is for the escorts to walk with us back to our tents where we remained until daylight.

Sunday August 15, 2021 Serengeti - Kirawira:

The day started with an early morning game ride at 6:30am. We were hoping to see Sunset on our last night in the Serengetisome animals which are typically active in the early morning. We saw two huge herds of caped buffalo which crowded together in the evening for protection. We also saw plenty of hippos and crocodiles as well as zebras, impalas, topis and baboons, but there wasn’t anything unique to justify the early morning departure. However, one benefit to starting so early is the cooler temperatures and fewer tsetse flies which proliferate in this area of the Serengeti. The middle of the day was reserved for reading, relaxation, and short walks around the camp. Our final game ride of the trip departed at 4:30 with one final chance to see something special. The ride started with The prize on our last game ridethe normal array of common animals and we were bothered with flies and tsetses to the extent that we had the top down on the vehicle. We had searched along the river looking for anything when finally we got a radio call that there was a pride of lions nearby. We found the other vehicle which was next to the male head of the pride and as least 4 of the females and young male close by. The lions were nonchalant about our presence only 20 feet from where they were lying on the ground. Eventually the females moved off presumable stalking some nearby wildebeests while the male was content to stretch and yawn waiting for the girls to announce that dinner was ready. If a kill happened, weSunset our last night in the Serengeti would never know because we soon had all the photos we wanted and headed back to our tent camp. We arrived just in time for our farewell Sundowner to the Serengeti. We were mesmerized by the spectacular sunset while we enjoyed the drinks and snacks on the pool deck overlooking the magnificent savanna. We adjourned to the dining tent for dinner and to reminisce about the sights of the final game ride.

Monday August 16, 2021 Kirawira - Zanzibar:

our farewell giftToday was a travel day as we left the Serengeti and mainland Africa and flew to Zanzibar. We had plenty of time for breakfast before meeting our vehicles and drivers at 8:00am. We were presented with traditional Masai garments and shown how to wear them. After bidding farewell to our tent camp hosts (who were sad to see us go because we were their first and only guest of the season with no one else due in for weeks), we piled into the vehicles for the 2-hour ride back to the Serengeti airstrip. On the trip back, we made a quick diversion to see an elephant with her young; otherwise, the sides of the road displayed the usual menagerie of zebras, topis, impalas, buffalos and baboons. We arrived about an hour before our flight and let the arriving and departing flights entertain us until our 14 passenger Cessna Caravan arrived to take us A lone elephanton the 2 hour and 20 minute flight to Zanzibar. Much to my surprise the flight was smooth even though the seating was a bit cramped. We were greeted at the Zanzibar airport by a local guide who escorted us to the Park Hyatt and started to give the history of the islands. We went immediately to the dining room for a huge and delicious feast. We had only few minutes to prepare for our 4:30 walking tour of the historic area known as Stone Town. Our guide continued with the history and explained the construction methods of the building which gave the name to the district. There are small alleys and streets which are filled shops, kiosks, and people. Stone Town is an interesting place to see one time, but once is enough. Neither Becky nor I had any appetite following the huge late lunch; we decided to skip dinner and meet Richard and DeAnn at the outside lounge and enjoy one glass of wine to top off the day.

Tuesday August 17, 2021 Zanzibar:

Dhow boats along the beachThe rooms in the Park Hyatt are what one would expect from a 5-star hotel. We have a balcony with an ocean view and every possible amenity to make our stay enjoyable. But once you step off the Hyatt property, you enter the third world. We started our first full day on the island with an elaborate breakfast buffet. We initially sat outside but a passing rain shower chased us inside. Ivan had made plans for the day to experience the Safari Blue. This was an all day excursion to a small island by dhow boat. The boat was anchored about 45-minute drove from the hotel. As we arrived the weather had deteriorated into a howling thunderstorm with wind and waves to challenge the small boat. We waited in the bus for the rain to stop and then boarded a small shuttle outboard boat to reach our dhow. The wind and waves had not yet subsided, so we were in for a sporty ride to the small island lying two miles offshore. While some of the waves did crash over the bow, the boat seemed to handle the conditions without much difficulty. We first entered a lagoon which afforded protection from the rough seas. Everyone jumped into the water for swim and a chance to feel the salty water. The plans called for us to go snorkeling, but we soon convinced the crew that the conditions and the lack of interesting structure was not appealing so we motored to the beach.enjoying a day at the beach This small island has a nice white sand beach and is operated for the tourists. There must have been close to twenty dhows anchored along the beach with plenty of beach combers enjoying the sand and water. The trip to the island included a grilled seafood lunch complete with lobster, prawns, fish, rice, vegetables and salads. Desert was a fruit tasting where we could try at least 7 of the tropical fruits found on Zanzibar. Following lunch and some beach time to visit the various vendors, we loaded back onto the dhow for the run back to the launch site. But on the return trip we were down wind so instead of running the motor, the crew hoisted the sail. The boat was actually faster and smoother under sail as opposed to the outboard power. We were still wet, sandy and salty as we arrived and boarded the bus but no one seemed concerned. Back at the Hyatt, we had enough time to shower and dress for our final farewell dinner. The dinner was arranged on a terrace overlooking the water; it started with wine and beer cocktail hour with chicken Satay skewers for the appetizer. The attendants were keen to keep the wine glasses full and ensure that everyone was enjoying the evening. The food started to arrive and never seemed to end, truly a memorable feast. By the end of the meal, we were ready to return to our room and start recovery for the full schedule of our last full Tauck Tour day.

Thursday August 18, 2021 Zanzibar:

Becky feeding the tortoiseOur last full day of this Tauck Tour started with the breakfast buffet in the Park Hyatt…we sat outside over looking the Indian Ocean and enjoyed watching the morning beach activities while we had our breakfast. Richard and DeAnn joined us and we started to come up with a plan for things to do until we left for the airport. We decided to visit Prison Island and arranged for a local boatman to take us there in his dhow powered by a 15 horsepower Yamaha outboard. The ride across was about 30 minutes; the water was a little choppy but not unpleasant. There is no pier so we had to make wet beach entry into to dhow. As we arrived at the island we waded to the beach and met our guide for the visit of the island. It is misnamed as Prison Island because it never functioned as a prison, but as a quarantine station during the plague and cholera pandemics. At one point the island was developed with a resort hotel and restaurant but time and Covid 19 had reduced the commercial outlets to abandoned, derelict buildings. Our guide paid our entry fee and took us to see and feed the giant land tortoises. These were brought from the Seychelles in 1914 and have proliferated ever since. There are currently over 200 giant tortoises and a nursery with more than the island can sustain. There are regularly fed and seem to be content, but the currentRichard and Hugh on the beach at Prison Island number of infants may be too much for the island to handle and they have no plans to handle the population explosion. We visited the prison building and then returned to our waiting dhow for the return cruise back to the hotel. The entire visit to the island was only about an hour although there was a nice beach and had we know we could had taken swim suits and enjoyed the beach. None the less we agreed to pass the afternoon at the Hyatt and then go to a local restaurant for an afternoon snack before heading to the airport. Our driver met us at 6:00 and dropped us unceremoniously at the entrance to the departure building. Now we were totally on our own to negotiate the most chaotic check in procedure ever. The departure lounge was spartan and crowded, but eventually our flight boarded and we left for the overnight flight from Zanzibar to Amsterdam.