Dung Beetles to Gorillas – A Journey to Tanzania and Rwanda by Kyle Witten
Another safari to Tanzania was long overdue and I was excited to experience this incredible safari destination again. Arusha is a bustling hub of activity with streets jammed with cars, safari trucks and a new venture, motorcycle taxis – assemble yourself motorcycles shipped in a box ready for any entrepreneur to start a new business and it seemed everyone in Arusha had the same idea.
I arrived late into JRO and by the time I got to Arusha Coffee Lodge it was around 12:30am. The next morning was an early breakfast and off to Arusha Airport – for a flight to the Serengeti. Kilimanjaro was clearly visible from the plane window – my first view of this Tanzania icon. We landed and were met by our guide Blessed and took a leisurely 3 hour game drive to Namiri Plains. The camp is in a remote area of the eastern Serengeti – no other vehicles around – it was perfect. The area is a recently opened Cheetah research area and the game did not disappoint. We saw ten different cheetahs over the course of two days and probably 25 lion encountered. Plains game was plentiful. We even saw a bat-eared fox – a first for me.
I then flew to the northern Serengeti for a night at Lemai Serengeti. We took an afternoon game drive in the Lemai Triangle on the northern side of the Mara River. The landscape is stunning – rolling green grassy plains, expansive views and flat top mountains. Our guide was Lazarus and our first sighting was a leopard tortoise – another first! Our evening game drive was a success – we got the call a rhino was spotted and were off on a Ferrari safari to view a beautiful relaxed black rhino – another first!
I returned to Arusha for a night at Legendary Lodge – wow the lodge is beautiful and the rooms are huge! This is perfect all inclusive relaxing spot in Arusha. The next morning it was back to Arusha airport and a flight to Kuro airstrip in Tarangire National Park. We took a slow game drive through the park to get reach our camp – Little Chem Chem. We spotted lion, leopard, elephant, waterbuck, dik dik, reedbuck, zebra, Cape buffalo and wildebeest!
Little Chem Chem is a gem gem. Owner run and managed by Fabia and Nicola they are passionate about their concession that borders Tarangire National Park. They offer morning and afternoon game drives and walking safaris where I saw a dung beetle – another first! We took a late afternoon drive to see a small lion family enjoy their evening dinner – with a few hyena popping up in the distance grass waiting for their turn – which came at about 3:00am with a chorus of howls and cackles right outside my room.
Next up was Fabia and Nicola’s Chem Chem lodge just down the street on the edge of Lake Manyara.
On the way we stopped at a local school where we met children in grades 4 – 7. We tested their mathematical and geographic skills which was a lot of fun. This is all about the slow safari – we did two walking safaris with our guide and a local Maasai. We dug for scorpions, made a Maasai toothbrush and learned how to start a fire with two sticks all ending with a breath taking sundown on the dry lake bed of Lake Manyara.
Our next stop was Mwiba a much lauded new entry in the Serengeti luxury camp market. The main lodge and rooms are stunning – perched over a dry river bed that was dotted with water holes that attracted buffalo and elephant during the day. This area is great for walking with qualified guides and we did a nice walk to one of the natural springs where they have an elevated hide.
On a three night stay you can do an afternoon with the Datoga. They performed a few local songs and then we went into the family’s manyata to see how they live – it was an authentic experience – as it can be these days. It was real highlight for everyone. The Datoga were even taking pictures of us taking pictures of them!
Our last stop in Tanzania was Gibbs Farm on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation area. We arrived early in the afternoon which gave us enough time to do the 1 hour hike to the elephant caves and waterfall. The hike was short but with the altitude and a couple steep climbs you need to take this one slowly.
Gibbs Farm grows all of own local produce used in the kitchen and much of the milk and cheese are from their own cows. The coffee is grown, dried and roasted on the farm and they produce just enough for the guests of the lodge. Lunch was a fresh assortment of greens, salads and quiches all expertly made.
We used a local guide Maleta who took us the Ngorongoro crater for our game drive. The drive time was about 1 hour from the farm to the crater gate. November is low season so there were few vehicles on the crater floor – we saw everything in a short time except cheetah and leopard. The view to the crater floor dappled with sunlight and quenched by a slow passing rain shower took your breath away – an incredible sight.
The last leg of my journey was gorilla trekking in Rwanda. I arrived in Kigali and spent the night at Kigali Serena. A 3:30am wake call for a 4:30am departure to the park entrance. After a brief orientation we were a group of 7 off to trek the Hirwa group. However the Hirwa had other plans and evaded our attempts to catch up with them. Around 1:00pm we relented and got permission from the park to switch groups and found the sabyinyo group at 4:00pm – this was very long day so you have to be prepared – pack plenty of water, snacks, fruit and even a sandwich.
I spent the night a Sabinyo Silverback Lodge. Thank you to Wendy and Finlay for such great hospitality and delish food and hot bath after such a long day and difficult trek. The second trek was much shorter but the terrain was very different. The gorillas were on a steep slope that required you crawl up the mountain side grabbing onto bamboo and vines. The day was bright with sun and blue sky as we hiked through the farm fields and pyrethrum daisy fields to the park boundary – through the mud that attempted to suck the boots right off your feet – reaching the Umubano group. The vegetation was so thick we only saw 4 members but were so close it was incredible.
I stopped for a quick site inspection and clean up at Gorilla Mountain View. My guide Theo and I drove back to Kigali airport to start my long trek back to the states.
This safari to Tanzania was in many ways a safari of firsts – Mt. Kilimanjaro views, bat-eared fox, leopard tortoise, dung beetle, black rhino and gorillas. I visited three areas of the Serengeti ecosystem – no migration sighting but it did not matter, Tanzania wildlife is abundant and I felt thoroughly content with the experience.
The people of Rwanda and Tanzania are so warm and welcoming and eager to share their beautiful country and wildlife with you, I look forward to the next visit – another safari of firsts.
– by: Kyle Witten