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Tanzania Day 1: Karibu

Karibu!

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We must have heard that phrase a thousand times. It means "Welcome" in Swahili. It's used to welcome you to a place but also in response to thank you ("asante sana" in Swahili). Over and over. And over. It's an overly polite group of people living in Tanzania, which is better than the alternative I suppose.

Brenda and I landed at Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania, around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 17, after a 24-hour journey. After some initial confusion as to which line we were supposed to get in, we got our visas, stamped our passports, and retrieved my duffle bag. No customs check. Our guide for the week, Maningo, was waiting for us outside. We hopped in our Land Cruiser and disappeared into the night. The airport was about an hour from town and our hotel, Planet Lodge. Driving through the dark town, there was actually a lot to see. Many people were out and about, having dinner at restaurants, drinks at bars, and going about their daily lives. We arrived at our hotel, "Karibu, karibu, karibu" and the chef was so kind as to cook us a special meal even though it was late. Before retiring for the night, we spent some time after dinner sitting on our private porch marveling at the fact that we were actually in Africa. So how did we get here?

For the last 20 years, Brenda and I have talked about going on safari in Africa. It has always been our dream trip. Last July, she said let's just do it. So I started checking things out and doing the required research. I first started looking at both Kenya and Tanzania and quickly realized that trying to do two countries in two weeks was way too much. For a number of reasons, Tanzania won out. For the most part, this was because the time of year we wanted to go (June), the annual migration of millions of wildebeest would be in the Serengeti. The wildebeest don't usually cross over into Kenya until August or September and even when they do, more stay behind in Tanzania than cross over. Secondly, the famous Ngorongoro Crater, which I've always read about, is in Tanzania. And finally, Kenya seemed much more crowded and touristy to me than Tanzania (in the areas we would have visited, not all areas). With the where settled, we had to figure out the how so I contacted about 10 trip operators to get quotes. I had already done extensive research on the Tanzanian parks and read many trip reports on Trip Advisor before contacting them. I sent them all the number of days we wanted to visit along with the parks we wanted to visit, budget, and some personal information. Most came back with detailed itineraries including camps/lodges based on our criteria. A couple never responded and a couple sent itineraries completely different than what we asked for. Obviously, those were marked off the list immediately. I compared the prices, lodgings, routes, etc. and narrowed it down to two itineraries. I then posted both on Trip Advisor to get feedback. Finally, we chose Access2Tanzania, a company jointly owned by a Tanzanian man and an American couple.

Our itinerary looked like this:

Sunday, June 16 - Fly from Dallas/Houston to Amsterdam (short layover).
Monday, June 17 - Fly from Amsterdam to Arusha, Tanzania. Spend two nights at Planet Lodge in Arusha.
Wednesday, June 19 - Drive to Tarangire National Park. Spend two nights at Tarangire Safari Lodge.
Friday, June 21 - Day trip to Lake Manyara National Park. Drive to Ngorongoro Crater. Spend one night at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge.
Saturday, June 22 - Day trip to Ngorongoro Crater. Drive to Serengeti National Park. Spend four nights at Serengeti Wilderness Camp.
Wednesday, June 26 - Fly to Selous Game Reserve. Spend four nights at Selous Impala Camp.
Sunday, June 30 - Fly to Dar es Salaam. Day room at Harbor View Suites. Evening flight to Amsterdam (short layover).
Monday, July 1 - Fly from Amsterdam to Dallas/Houston.

Most safaris in Northern Tanzania are private with your own vehicle and guide who accompanies you from park to park throughout the country. A2T provided us with our guide, Maningo, who would stay with us until we boarded the plane in the Serengeti. We would then fly into Selous in Southern Tanzania where we would be provided a guide by our camp. This is how most safaris are done in Southern Tanzania.

We woke the next morning in our bungalow at Planet Lodge, around 8 a.m. Showers were a fairly lukewarm trickle of water (a theme throughout the trip) and we headed to the main building for breakfast.

Inside our bungalow at Planet Lodge
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Pathways to the individual bungalows
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Our bungalow #5
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The main building (the bar, restaurant, and lobby)
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Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet of fresh fruits, cereals, sausage, bacon, pastries, and an omelet station with some hot, hot peppers. I was all about the omelet station! After breakfast, we joined two older ladies on the 10 a.m. free shuttle into Arusha. They had arrived one day early for a group tour and asked us loads of questions about how we were doing a private tour. They seemed a little jealous. I guess lots of people don't know how to do trip research.

The shuttle dropped us off in the center of town at the clock tower and then it started. We were descended upon by the locals. They weren't trying to sell us anything. I don't really know what they were doing. They wanted to escort us or talk to us or something. They were relentless. We tried being firm, polite, rude, ignoring them. Nothing worked. Initially we escaped into the money exchange. That was a whole separate problem. We walk into this money exchange which is not much bigger than a closet. The door is standing wide open and this crowd of locals is outside. This is a bit disconcerting when you have a wad of cash to exchange. I give the woman behind the counter the first batch of US dollars (my personal money). She puts it in the bill counter and then gives me only half the Tz shillings I'm due. What the hell? I'm thinking....what kind of idiot do they have working here who can't change money? I argue with her and she doesn't seem to understand. A second woman comes in and goes behind the counter. I explain the problem to her and she understands, clears it up, and gives me the correct amount of Tz shillings. I think, ok, we're good. So I hand her the second batch of US dollars (our spending money). I tell her this is X amount of US dollars. I know this amount is correct because I counted it last night several times and wrote the amount on the envelope. It hasn't been touched since. She puts the money in the bill counter and it comes out $500 short. Now what the hell? What happened to the $500? No one knows. It had disappeared. I'll tell you what happened. The money exchange in Arusha is running a scam. The first scam is to try and give you less Tz shillings than you're entitled to. When that didn't work with us, they simply stole some US dollars off the top. I then had no way to prove that had happened because I failed to count the money out in front of her. Lesson learned. Always count the money out before handing it over so there is proof of how much you are exchanging.

The next stop was to get a Tz cell phone for texts and calls home. The Airtel store was across the street from the money exchange. It was like crossing the gauntlet, surviving another group of locals hounding us. Once we were safe in the store, I bought a Nokia unlocked phone for about $30 and some Tanzanian SIM cards. Very easy and very cheap. The helpful saleslady pointed out a taxi driver just outside the store so our next escape route was planned. Upon leaving the store, we headed straight for the taxi. We had people following us there, even talking to the taxi driver on our behalf!

Women walking in Arusha
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Carts for hire to transport goods
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Market for the locals
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The taxi driver took us to the Maasai Market for a little souvenir shopping before our lunch reservations. The hassle factor was much better here even though it was a place I would have expected it. The market was huge and everything there appeared to be handmade. I bought some beaded sandals, a soapstone dish with zebras on it, and a handcarved wooden globe. Our taxi driver waited for us to take us to our next destination, Shanga House.

Shanga is an organization that employs disabled Tanzanians to make jewelry, glassware, and other items out of recycled goods such as bottles, aluminum, etc. The workshop, along with a restaurant, is located on a coffee estate. After a hectic morning in town, visiting Shanga made for a peaceful afternoon.

You are greeted with a glass of champagne.
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Lunch is served in a separate pavilion.
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The first course was spinach soup. Soup is big in Africa. It was served at almost every meal we had.
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The second course was samosas. These were delicious.
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The main course was barbeque beef, chicken, and fish. Sides included rice, carrot salad, sweet potato (the potato tasted like sweet potato but was white in color), and salad.
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Dessert was fruit with coffee beans. Dessert was usually the worst course of every meal. Africa needs some help in this department.
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After a leisurely lunch, we toured the workshop and did some more shopping. The goods for sale here were beautiful. I would have loved to have bought some glassware but didn't really have a way to pack it and tote it the rest of the trip. I did buy some beaded placemats and some coffee for souvenirs.

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Coffee beans
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Our trusty taxi driver came back to pick us up and take us to our hotel as we'd had enough shopping for the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, checking email for the last time on the free computers at the hotel, and getting ready for our safari to begin the next day.

We stayed at the hotel for dinner that night, another three course affair. I dined on tomato soup, pork chops with rice and veggies, and vanilla cake with strawberry sauce. Brenda had beet salad, veggie curry with rice, and nuts "mouse".

I took advantage of the free computers and last chance at wifi and spent some time Facebook chatting with Mike before heading to bed.

Posted by zihuatcat 18:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania arusha brenda

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