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Journey to the Serengeti

The Joys of Traveling

by Janis Borgueta

 

I recently came to the conclusion that traveling only gets better with age. The planning, the anticipation and journeying to places I never considered touring is pure joy. Writing is a great way to remind me of each place I visit. Remembering the new people I meet along the way, the laughter is a beautiful way of being in the moment at a new location. I have digressed from my real estate blogging to a more personal blog about my travels. I’m enjoying the chance to document each journey with photos. It allows me to return to the mindset and the wonder that I experienced while being away from home. 

 

The inspiration for my travel journal, begins with my daughter Kathleen. During her travels for work to Uganda, Kathleen would share her experiences with friends and family on a regular basis by emails. Learning about her perspective and daily experiences was an eye opener for many of us, and I truly enjoyed reading them. They are now documented forever, and she can look back at them years from now, easily reliving memories from a different time. Many things in life become a blur, and with significant travel she can now look back on where she began her career and her trips to Africa.

 

Following my daughters footsteps, I begin this journal with my first trip to Africa. It was an absolutely beautiful safari, and some rather special time spent with my daughter.  Please enjoy  my adventures to Tanzania . 

 

 

Safari in Tanzania  - January 2017

by Janis Borgueta

#lovetoexplore  #serengeti

 

Kathleen had been traveling to different parts of Africa for work for over ten years when I decided it was time to take her up on the offer to travel together on safari. Frequently advocating for this trip, Kathleen described to me what a trip to Africa might look like. To be honest, I was a bit intimidated to go on safari. Was I brave enough to travel on small planes to distant places in Africa? Was living in a tent something I could be comfortable with? After all, we would be in a remote part of the country in the bush with wild animals. So many reasons not to make it a priority, but in January of 2017 I made the trip to Tanzania a reality. I decided that life is short and my time to travel was now. 

 

After two very, very long plane rides from New York, I found myself in a tiny airport in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Friendly people were helping the mostly tourist, new arrivals to the country through customs. I was witness to long lines and two complete blackouts, while waiting patiently for Kathleen to arrive from Nairobi. The local airport conditions took me back to my adventures of traveling to the Philippines in 1978. Back then I was a Navy nurse and on a work adventure of my own. While waiting for Kathleen to arrive it brought me back to that time in my life. It was a very different country from Tanzania, but the similarity of traveling out of my comfort zone was front and center. I was anxiously awaiting for Kathleen to arrive and hoping that our travels together would go smoothly. I was optimistic that things would be fine, but that element of “what next” is always looming while waiting anxiously in an unfamiliar airport at 11pm. The flight was actually most punctual and that made me happy. Kathleen would tell another tale about the rough travel and early departure from Nairobi that you would find most ironic. Her flight was less than smooth, and rather windy. More importantly, she was now safe and our journey together was just beginning. We left the airport with our driver and our time together was off to a good start.

 

It was past midnight when our driver pulled up to our hotel. It was extremely dark and it seemed we were in a very desolate place. I wondered if we had made the right hotel choice for our very first night. It was late and we were not going to leave, but I did wonder what this place had to offer. Expedia gave it four stars and Kathleen had personally been given some great recommendations from her peers at work. Our driver woke up a few people in order for us to check in as it was so late. No worries, just sleepy people that were able to help with luggage and get us settled into our room for the night. Our room was clean and safe which were the only two things that mattered at the moment. It was my first night ever under a mosquito net. I was so tired and relieved that we both finally arrived on schedule, that sleep came very quickly.

 

In the morning all my skepticism about where we were, faded immediately. As daylight came, we woke up to a beautiful hotel, a wonderful hot shower and a delicious home cooked African style breakfast (touristy African style). I wished we had more time that morning at our inn, as the gardens and architecture were beautiful. A few more photos would have been lovely. In the distance was Mt. Kilimanjaro, but since the fog had not yet lifted, we were not able to see the view to the top of the mountain. Knowing it was there made me want to linger, but it was time to move on and begin our safari.

 

Elias, our assigned guide, would be our driver, translator and friend for the next three days. His role was to bring us to the places where the animals were, keep us safe and educate us about us everything safari. The roads we took during this part of our travels were dirt roads that only an off road vehicle could handle. 50+ MPH on a dirt road can be rather bumpy. Definitely not what Americans are used to, but this was the norm for getting where we needed to be. Kathleen shared with me that this was similar to her journey from from Kampala to Mbarara that she frequented with working in Uganda. Another important thing to note, is that there are very few bathrooms around in the bush. Planning well when traveling is a must. I do admire the ability that Kathleen has when using the not so fancy local “squatty” potty while in transit. I guess I’m not quite so agile. 

 

Our first stop was at Lake Manyara and  we made our first encounter with the local animals. This was NOT anything like a Disney ride or zoo adventure. Monkeys and birds and a hippo, were among the first animals we saw. Our jeep was open with lots of windows and a pop up roof so we could stand up, see out and grab photos. Unlike the zoo where the animals are caged in, our vehicle was an open cage and we were peering out at the animals. They were aware of us and watched us too. To be honest my fear of being eaten or stolen out of our car was not something to question. The excitement of visiting the animals on their terms, is a wonderful reward. I guess there is some risk involved, but I fear many things back home are much more risky that I dismiss on a daily basis. I also put a good deal of faith with our guide knowing how to respect and guide us to be good and safe visitors. 

 

We ate lunch near a pond where hippos were bathing. While very dangerous, hippos don’t really care much about human, unless of course you get between them and the water, or more importantly, their babies. Hippos are vegetarians, so eating a human is not something they do. They will kill a human only if they perceive imminent danger to them. Although we stayed away from the shore of the lake, I was able to get a couple photos of these very large critters. A plethora of wildlife that surrounded us from almost every angle made our afternoon “game drive” spectacular. All the brochures and photos I saw before the trip did not convey how vast the Tanzanian countryside is and how many animals live there. 

 

As the sun was going over the mountain, and we headed for our lodge, I was anxiously awaiting a hot shower and dinner. Knowing that this was just the beginning of what we would be experiencing over the next week I was convinced that our careful planning for this trip worth all the time, expense and effort.

 

Our new accommodations for the next couple of days were at the Ngorongoro Farm House Lodge. To be VERY clear, it is nothing like any farm house that I’ve ever seen in the Hudson Valley. A small boutique lodge that is now a favorite of mine. We were greeted by a staff that was gracious and hospitable. Along with the staff was one giant sized bird, almost as big as me. The lodge was eco friendly, and grew all the veggies we ate while we were there. Wine with dinner every night, and soup (vegetarian soup) was on the menu. Who would have ever expected soup on safari? I’m a fan!. 

 

Touring the Ngorogoro Crater during our next days was a big difference than the lake area. Long, windy, dirt roads are the only way down. The windy roads are a bit unnerving but our skilled driver didn’t seem to mind. It reminded me of the mountain roads to West Point. While the road on Storm King Mountain is paved and much wider, it can get icy and foggy at times. Elias would think our roads at home were a piece of cake by comparison! I was glad that I didn’t have to drive. Not only are they bumpy and windy and overlooking a giant crater, Tanzanians drive on the British side of the road.

 

Once down in the crater there were lots and lots of animals and an expansive view of the entire crater. Staying on our path we saw the animals roaming around grazing on the vegetation. These happily grazing animals are dinner for the major predators. The balance of nature is both beautiful and a bit disturbing to witness when a small animal becomes dinner for another. The circle of life is not just a tag line here, but truly a way of life. Most of the animals spend their days eating the vegetation, and the rest of the day is spent sleeping or watching out for danger. The different species will even alert each other when a hyena, lion, cheetah etc are nearby. They don’t want to be the next meal, but inevitably someone always is. 

 

In addition to the treat of having lunch with my guide and daughter that day, was that of our companions. More than 15 zebras were just 25 feet (or less) from our vehicle. Dining was not just about the food, but some truly great company. After lunch Kathleen and I were able to get out of the car to stretch our legs for a few minutes and capture a few photos of our lunch buddies. They surprisingly show very little interest in humans or our car at all. They did look back at us, and then seem to yawn with boredom. Having my lunch in their home, was beyond words. Our day was full of scouting out animals of all shapes and sizes. Nothing boring from my perspective! At the end of the day a good meal, a warm shower and some much needed sleep was a welcome respite until morning. The days go by quickly, and looking back I wonder how we drove around touring for so many hours. Some find safari a leisurely experience, but I found the time just disappeared in a flash. After two nights at the lodge it was time to move on to the next part of our adventures.

 

A good zoom lens is very important on safari. My days were filled with learning about different animal behavior, and also learning a good deal about my new camera. My zoom lens, better known as the beast, is 100-400mm. It weighs about three pounds. A pain to carry around, but worth having when on safari. I will certainly cherish all of my photos! Kathleen borrowed her dad’s camera for this trip and was experimenting taking photos with his Canon. Yes, she did capture some great shots. It is hard to go on safari without a decent camera, and now we both have so very many photos to sift through and find the best to share. It may take a while to sort through them all. 

 

Our next four days began with another long and bumpy ride from our lodge to a rather remote airstrip in the Serengeti. We passed goats, and cows along the way. Cows are skinny in Tanzania. I wonder if our Hudson Valley cows know how lucky they are calorically speaking? We passed small villages of Masai Warriors dressed in bright red and blue garb. Young boys of about 7 or 8 years old would be out guiding a family flock of goats along the road. These boys would be guarding the entire livelihood of a family in their care. No adults around as far as the eye can see. Just one small boy and about 30 goats, walking along the fields carrying only a big stick. Amazing to me how much responsibility comes so early in life in these remote places.

 

Elias, navigated with binoculars to find our path. No GPS, or even a map for this trip. Oh how lost we would have been if Kathleen and I were in charge. Exciting and a bit scary all at the same time. Trust was a must for this sort of travel. While I noted the contrast of lifestyle and culture I was prepared to let go and felt it was imperative while traveling on safari. This is what I choose to be a part of when I signed on for the trip and that allowed me to compare and contrast without being fraught with concern. Trusting our guide implicitly allowed me to enjoy the journey. GPS is new, and the old techniques still work for those that are trained. Our guide easily found his way to the airstrip, which was a small grass runway. No flight for us today, as we were just meeting up with our new host. Mission accomplished and we were handed off to our new guide, Sammy, a Masai Warrior. Sammy was to be our local guide for the next four days. The best part of our trip had just begun.

 

To say that a trip to Africa is “roughing it” while on safari is an oxymoron. Luxury does meet camping in some rather remote places. Being far from everything, while having all the creature comforts that I am accustomed to was remarkable. Our newest digs were a tented camp in the Serengeti. No electricity, no cell phone service, no internet and no interruptions from the outside world. “Glamping” (glamorous, luxury camping) is a wonderful option on safari. Make no mistake, while I was in a giant sized zipped up tarp tent, I had all the luxuries of a four star hotel. Besides the wonderful cuisine (vegetarian for us), we had hot showers, proper potty, solar lights at night, and my favorite, a hot water bottle under my pristine white sheets before sleep. (It gets cool at night and a warm bed feels wonderful). Tented camps are a popular way to spend time in the “bush” and be close to the animals for our game drives. I always felt safe, even when we would hear animals outside the tents at night. Kathleen said she heard growing and sniffing one night. I do wonder what was outside our tent each night as others at the camp reported various noises. 

 

Our days began early with coffee delivered to our tent, with a wakeup call at 5:30 every morning. I could definitely get used to having coffee delivered with any wakeup call. I am now officially spoiled! Getting up early for safari is important in the bush as the animals are early risers. We were rewarded quickly the first morning for our early start with lion cubs. Just a 1/2 mile from our camp we saw an entire pride of lions with babies playing while the air was still crisp and cool. Lions can sleep 22 hours a day I’m told, so finding them out roaming has a limited window of time. The lion cubs at about 5 months are already getting big, but so cute to watch. Getting photos of them so close is what we came for!  Our morning routine was to scout for as many animals as possible before they started seeking shade and nap time.

 

Since we were up so early with only coffee and a biscuit, breakfast around 10 am was much appreciated. Our camp provided us with a proper picnic during our mornings in the Serengeti. and Sammy scouted out for our picnic location in the middle of nowhere it seemed. Open and without any animals lurking around, he put up a small table, table cloth, three chairs and made us a proper breakfast with hot coffee from a french press. No plastic utensils ever, as we had plates and silverware and cups. Everything we brought with us, left with us. One remarkable thing I noticed during our travels is that there was never any garbage laying around. Not a stray empty water bottle or random paper anything on the ground. It made me happy to see that everyone that comes to visit, respects that mantra and is working on keeping the animals and the environment safe for future generations. 

 

Our entertainment while we ate was to watch wildebeest, zebras and impala in the distance and on one occasion a hyena was about 75 feet away, (or probably less) watching us. He got bored and left. I will say that when is saw him that close with his eyes on us, an adrenaline rush came over me. Sammy told us that he would not be a problem, and as soon as he said that, the animal ran off in the opposite direction. The training that a good guide receives is imperative for a good safari experience. Understanding animal behavior and how to provide a safe and enjoyable journey is obviously important. My understanding is that not all the guides out there are as educated and that can be a problem for both the animals and their guests. Sammy spent a lifetime training for this, including 3 years of classroom and mentorship to become a guide. As our journey continued, he shared a plethora of his experiences and knowledge with us. A very interesting young man, and his command of the English language was impeccable. I only wish I could remember all of his stories and info as he had so much to share.

 

Four days passed quickly in the “bush”. Beautiful star gazing and Kathleen pointed out the Orion Constellation. So many things to take in all at once. I constantly found myself wondering where all the time went. Great dinners every night with new and interesting travelers at our camp we made friends and shared great stories from the day. On the last day we headed back to the airstrip for our very tiny plane adventure to the beach part of our vacation. A few days at a beautiful beach in Zanzibar, followed by a visit to StoneTown completed our journey. 

 

Our time together for this trip was spectacular. I’m sure you can guess that I favored the safari, but more importantly, I am most thankful that my daughter encouraged me to join her. Kathleen, the animals and me on safari was a superb adventure. As I have started to review the over 4000 photos I took while away, one thing is absolutely clear to me. It is impossible to capture how vast and surreal the experience was. My photos do convey how beautiful the animals are, and somewhat how close we were, but it leaves the element of our “being in the moment” from the photos. Some things just have to be experienced up close and personal. This was one of those moments. I have now been home for more than a week and I’m over my jet lag with an increased desire to return to Africa. I never would have imaged traveling to this part of the world, but no regrets, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Thanks Kathleen for this wonderful opportunity to travel together. This was a fabulous journey and an adventure that I will cherish forever! Love you - Mom

 

 

 

 

Borgueta Photography

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