Sundowners on Safari.

The word sundowner is making me excited about heading back on Safari.
If you have experienced this glorious time on Safari, let’s exchange our Safari stories. If not, I will try to explain this but words will not do justice. You have to go.

What is a sundowner? Via British dictionary; “an alcoholic drink taken after completing the day's work, usually at sunset.” In the US, we’d say happy hour.

My definition:
It’s that magic time of day you and your family/ friends and maybe new friends you have made while on Safari celebrate the end of the day. It’s the time where your guide and possibly the Safari Lodge crew will set up ‘an outdoor bar’, make your drink of your choice [does not have to be alcoholic], while you are enjoying the magic of the landscape.

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A great time to reflect on what you have seen, what more you will see, the serenity of being on Safari in Africa, what is important in life ++ whilst having a nice cocktail watching the golden hour /sunset - I can’t think of a better way to end my day.

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You owe it to yourself to experience an African sundowner, at least once in your life, if not more. My experienced sundowners, where to next for your sundowner drink?

Let’s chat.
Cheers!

Family Safari in Africa.

I love planning Safaris. But when I get to plan Family Safaris - woohoo!
I am thinking of all the possibilities that can happen when a child or children are on Safari. They may come back home having seen something that will shape their future because of the people they will have met on Safari. The wildlife stories told by their Safari guide will make them future conservationists. The forever memories that will be told for years during get-togethers. Endless!

However, my goal is to also make sure the adults also have a good time and don't come back from their Safari needing another vacation - well, maybe. ;)

Here are some ideas to make your Family Safari go as smooth as possible. 

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Get a Family Room.
Most of the lodges have a family room and if we book ahead of time, we can get that room for you. You will have two rooms with usually a living room between the rooms. Most will also have two bathrooms within that space. Perfect when you have younger kids and are not comfortable with them having their own room yet or having to split up the adults. 

Slow Travel.
Safaris can be a bit of go-go-go especially if you are keen on waking up early to capture the sunrise but also want to be out until the last light of the day and enjoy the sunset. Slow Travel. Stay in one place for a few days to make it easy on yourself and settle down. You know you have a room ready for an afternoon siesta, the crew knows what foods the kids like, what drinks mama and baba need to wind down, etc. If there is a pool, take advantage of that as the pools will have amazing views. 

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Private Safari.
Having your own vehicle is appreciated by most families. The biggest advantage of this is that you can set your times. Want to sleep in a bit today - sure! Want to come back to camp early in the evening  - of course! Fussy kid on the game drive - no worries! You and your Safari guide set the schedule versus having to go by a set schedule or have other guests give you that look. 

Plan B - cards, movies, book. 
Always have a Plan B. It is your holiday after all and some days, just take a break. All the camps we recommend have great views, amazing ambiance so even if you want to stay back and read, watch a movie in the afternoon, you are still part of the environment and you may have to pause to see wildlife stroll by the camp. 

Sawa! Okay, now let's get you on Safari.  

My 5 minutes of fame.

That's me on TV! My 5 minutes of fame.  
Great Day Houston had a Father's Day segment and I was asked to share how being on Safari would be an amazing Father's Day gift. Debra Duncan, the host was really easy to chat with and asked a few spontaneous questions such as shopping for Tanzanite in Tanzania and how Africa gets a bad reputation. I wish I had more time; I was having a blast chatting with her and sharing about Safaris in Tanzania.

So if you want my autograph, I am happy to oblige. :) Or get me back on TV. I am up for talking Safaris in Tanzania.  

Slow Travel on Safari.

If lucky, one of the feelings you will experience on Safari is the slow pace. A wonderful feeling, really!

There is a sense of routine that forms on Safari.  Since the staff will take care of everything for you, it allows the luxury of this relaxed, laid back feeling to sink in so you can really take in the incredible, natural surroundings. For example, you have your day planned by your guide and Safari lodge [thanks to all the planning you and I will do before you get to the ground], you are 'driven around' in your Safari vehicle, meals taken care off, activities arranged, etc. You can allow yourself to surrender in these wonderful places. You are detoxing from the hustle bustle of your day-to-day.

 Dip in Lake Tanganyika, after a trek to see the chimps. Photo taken by Julien Polet, the manager of Greystoke Mahale at the time.

Dip in Lake Tanganyika, after a trek to see the chimps. Photo taken by Julien Polet, the manager of Greystoke Mahale at the time.

Three ways to enhance that for yourself.

Take time to enjoy the park.
To really get the feel of the park or a corner of the park, make sure to settle in. Unpack your bags and spend at least 2 nights in each of our lovely lodges so you can really sink in that vastness of the terrain you have the privilege to explore. Most of the parks in Tanzania and other countries in Africa are huge. Give yourself time to dig deep into the park and you too will start feeling like you are 'at home'.

Decompressing takes time; stay at least 8-9 days.
I may not be too far from the truth when I say our lives are on the run. Whether you are a family with young or adult kids, a couple, or even retired, we travel to escape. The first few days on Safari, you are still getting in the groove of how to relax ... or at least that is what most of us feel. Then we slowly start putting the phone away longer and are not craving for wi-fi. Your body is learning to relax. The game drives start become more enjoyable; you are decompressing. One of the reasons you are taking a Safari right?  

Friendships.
The longer you spend time with your guide, the lodge crew, the other travelers you will meet on Safari, your family and friends, the deeper the connections that will start to form. So much fun if you can open up and chat with your Safari mates.

One of my favorite things on Safari is to chat with the guide and lodge crew. Tanzania has over 100 tribes and each one has an amazing story to tell. My Lost in Translation blog post came from my time chatting with these knowledgable guides. I still keep in touch with many of them. They have taught me a lot.

My Tanzania with Mefi Safaris have been that - amazing experiences which have created lifelong friendships because we have had 10+ days together and we continue to travel together.

 Evening game drive in Ruaha. You can't help but appreciate the vastness, the silence, the unknown.

Evening game drive in Ruaha. You can't help but appreciate the vastness, the silence, the unknown.

The #traveldeeper hashtag - that's what we want you to achieve. If you can afford to give yourself the time and depth of slow travel, do it!

I look forward to being on Safari [or any trip] so I can slow down the pace of life.
Ready to enjoy some slow travel time on Safari? We can make it happen.

Trekking Tips for Mahale Mountains from Greystoke.

I have rubbed shoulders with chimps. Yup, I rubbing shoulders with no other than a male chimp called Christmas, who lightly whacked me with a twig [no harm was done] - what an unforgettable present. 

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To successfully hike the mountains, I have some tips for you [in no particular order] especially for amateur hikers like me. Tips collected from personal experience and collected from other experienced hikers. Rain and sleek or dry, these should come in handy. 

// Wicking clothing.
It is hot and humid in the mountains. Having moisture-wicking clothing was more comfortable but on the day I did not wear that fabric, I was drenched. Not a deal killer for me but if you are sensitive to sweating, definitely look into moisture-wicking clothing - you can use it for your Safari as well. 

// Raincoat. 
Greystoke Mahale provides a poncho but for a smaller person like me, I found myself tripping on the way up and down the mountain. Having my own rain jacket would have been more comfortable. I do have to say that the poncho did cover my camera packed back-pack when it was raining hard so if you do take a raincoat, see if it will cover you and your back-pack. Or stick with the poncho.

// Gaiters.
When Sally said she was getting this, I was not 100% convinced I should get the gaiters but I am glad I did. It kept my socks very dry. Which leads me to then next must item ...

// Waterproof hiking shoes  - if you can.
I had Columbia Peakfreak hiking shoes and I could not have been more comfortable. They gave me traction, kept my feet dry and kept me blister free. I wore mine with Smart Wool socks. Happy hiker here.

// Camera solution.
A fellow trekker could not use his lens because of moisture. Make sure you have a water proof protection / backpack for your camera on the climb - he had it around his neck, and making sure you have a good seal for your lens + camera. Have a back-up as well if you can. 

Another personal note - I lost my lens cap on the mountains and some chimp is playing with that. In the fluster of climbing up fast, setting up the camera quickly, etc., I dropped my lens cap and realized too late. Note to self - secure your lens cap with a cord. 

// Camera Tip.
Learn your camera. Have it set for the quick shooting in low light and definitely know your settings if you are planning on using manual. The camp manager and guides like Butati at the camp were helpful with suggestions. It is dark, humid, and the chimps can be 5 ft. away to 50 ft. so what type of lens to carry is the million dollar question.  I had my 70-300 mm lens and used my iPhone for the close-ups.

// Other trekking notes.
- Energy bars and sweet bananas were provided by Greystoke Mahale - they really helped with giving the group a nice boost on the trek.
- Bring extra cash. There were other people besides our guides who took care of us like the trekkers who start early to find the chimps and Tanzanian government rangers.
- Self care items like for blisters, scratches from the forest, balm for the hard trek. 

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Anything else we can add to these tips?
Besides these few tips, do make sure you are fit to make this trek. It can be long and steep up the mountain, and you truly want to enjoy the whole experience.

And let me tell you, it has been one of the best experiences of my life!

Tanzania with Mefi - Katavi + Mahale + Ruaha.

I rubbed shoulders briefly with a male chimp called Christmas on my trek up Mahale Mountain from Greystoke Mahale. Yes, you heard it right, this Safari had many firsts for me. 

 Mzee Jairo, Sarina, Lisa, Drusti, Sally, and your's truly, Mefi. 

Mzee Jairo, Sarina, Lisa, Drusti, Sally, and your's truly, Mefi. 

My third Tanzania with Mefi Safari. I was with three adventurous ladies.
Sally, whom I have traveled together with before [and she's been on other private Safaris with friends and family in Tanzania where her soul lives]. Drusti, an Elephantopia member and her extreme love of elephants keeps bringing her back to Africa. She went to Zambia with Journey To Africa. Lisa, a Safari newbie and I can safely say, the Safari bug has bitten her. Sarina, a single traveler who became part of the group was a true city girl who definitely warmed up to nature. 

Our first stop in this epic adventure was Katavi National Park; a remote park in Western Tanzania. So remote, there are only two flights a week. 

On arrival, we meet Mzee Jairo with Chada Katavi.  A quiet man, but a hawk. His animals knowledge, instincts, and his eye-sight lead us to some amazing viewings. 

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We had an up-close [about 10 feet away] encounter of two hippos fighting - heart pumping moment, saw three lioness fight which was a #natgeo moment, healthy numbers of lionesses and lion cubs, beautiful birds including the ever beautiful lilac breasted roller, listened to bone-crunching sounds by a leopard enjoying lunch right above us, and spotted the elusive elephants of Katavi who were hiding in the bushes. 

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Katavi was wet as the short rains had already arrived in this part of Tanzania. This made the landscape so fresh and green. The drawback was that it was muddy and at times buggy but really, it was a non-issue if you go with the flow. 

Katavi, in the low season, can become your own private park. With very few camps, we spotted 2-3 vehicles a day. We stayed in Chada Katavi which is truly a rustic lodge. Eco-bathrooms and outside showers in comfortable tents with fans and charger in the room. The staff at this camp were amazing. By day two, they knew our drink preferences and would have them ready on arrival after our game. In case you are wondering, mine is warm water with lemon. Perfect for a cool evening. 

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On to Mahale Mountains and magical Greystoke Mahale.
I had been dreaming about this place for years. To see the chimps and to experience this place that everyone says is one of the best places in Africa. 

I concur. The Nomad Tanzania group at Greystoke have got it down right.
From the introduction to the fantastic guides on the boat ride to Greystoke, the terrific crew in the camp, the ultra-comfortable rooms, activities outside of chimp trekking, and more. 

 Guide extraordinaire Butati, ranger Husein, me with my huge smile, uber-guide Mathias who I am so grateful made to go on my second hike as we saw so many chimps. 

Guide extraordinaire Butati, ranger Husein, me with my huge smile, uber-guide Mathias who I am so grateful made to go on my second hike as we saw so many chimps. 

But, the dream was the chimps. And we were all touched, literally. Special shout out to guides Mathias and Butati who lead our group, TANAPA rangers especially Hussein and trekkers who go out early to spot the chimps and let us know when to start the hike while we wait, all ready to trek at a moment's notice. 

We had four nights at the camp and every minute was throughly enjoyed. 

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The chimps.
The first trek and the first chimp I saw was a baby chimp. And then, drum roll, we spotted the back of Primus, the alpha male leader of the M-group. I was shrieking inside and smiling so hard but did not let out more then a little peep. The 1 hour with them went by too fast but each second was amazing. What we saw was typical human-like behavior - Primus waiting on his lady Yuna to get moving. And because he is alpha, a grooming session with another male chimp. What a pinch me moment!

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Second trek, we had a lot more chimps interacting. Christmas, a male chimp walked right by my shoulder and started shaking a tree towards me which hit my backpack - he is the one you see me photographing. No hard feelings Christmas. Apparently, he was aiming at a fellow guest who Christmas did the same action last time.

Primus and Yuna where having their moment together - Primus is making sure his DNA is passed on. Also, within the hour, we saw a whole scene where Juno, a female did not want to mate with Primus, and was screeching loudly, and how the other 5-6 males - including Christmas - were trying to get in their turn with her but in the end, Primus prevailed. And calm Sally had Primus right by her as well when she and Mathias got super close to the mating action. Every minute of the 1 hour with them was filled with excitement. 

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The days we did not trek where enjoyable as well. Our group plus other guests at Greystoke, Mathias, Butati, at that time manager Julien and Hussein played a few rounds of 'The Bowl' game and Kingdom - ask me if you want to know how to play. We also got to take a magnificent sunset cruise on Lake Tanganyika and swim the blue waters of the deepest lake in Africa. Total bliss. 

November is the rainy season and that makes the trek slippery and also because food is abundant higher in the mountains, the chimps move up. Anyone who wants to go see the chimps, need to be physically fit. We trekked 4-6 hours minimum each trek up and down. Tips for trekking Mahale Mountain and how this process happens - read here.
* Best time to come to Mahale for chimp trekking; dry season which is July to October but why November, low season rates. 

Mahale Mountains and Greystoke - you spoilt us and I can't wait to get YOU to experience this splendid place.

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Our final park in Tanzania, wild Ruaha National Park. Ruaha is larger than Serengeti at 8,000 sq. miles. Serengeti is around 6,000 sq. miles. The last time Sally and I visited Ruaha was in May 2015, right after the rainy season. It was green, with tall grass that we had a hard time spotting wildlife - but we still loved the park so much that we came back. In November, the rains were not here yet and the park was dry as a bone with short grass. Every season has it's advantages and keeps it fresh. 

Because it was dry and grass was short and not bushy, it was easier to see large herds of elephants, five cheetahs - a mom and her cubs having just hunted, huge buffalo herds, and finally a pinch me for me, wild dogs. What a thrill. Elly, a guide was taking us for a night game drive and boom, a pack ran in front of our vehicle. The sun was setting casting a reddish orangish glow on them. A few minutes with them and they were gone. Wow! 

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We spent time in Kigelia Ruaha, another beautiful Nomad Tanzania property. The camp has flush eco-toilet, hot and cold water bucket system for washing hands and face, filtered water for brushing, and outdoor shower. The camp currently is overlooking a river and dinner by the banks, under the stars was lovely. 

This truly was an Epic Safari with some amazing memories and #SafariStories made with old and new friends. To many more! 

Want to head out on Safari and create your own Safari Stories? Yes.

"Quite a Memory."

George, Joey, and Henry and I started planning their Tanzanian Safari in March 2017 for their November 2017. Three photographers on Safari in Tanzania - I was ready to see some great pictures of wildlife and landscape and I was right. George, Asante sana for sharing your Safari Story with us and your amazing photos. 

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" We had a spectacular time! In pretty much all respects, it was everything I imagined it would be.

Festo and Nathan were great but Nathan gets a special mention as he had us for the 9 days and 800+ kilometers; he was not only a wonderfully knowledge guide but an excellent (and patient :-)) travel companion. Life in the Land Cruiser was great, even with the free African Massage (as Nathan described traveling down some of the roads).

Camps and lodges were very comfortable and we were very well fed and taken care of in the camps. Ngorongoro Farm House was a nice oasis after a long day drive down from Kati Kati ... walking up the hill and seeing the sunset over the lawns, someone handing me a cool cloth and lemon water, I thought "Ok, I think I could hang here for a while". 

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The game drives and wildlife viewing were superb and the weather ideal; we'd certainly recommend that time of year to go, rains, not a factor at all and in fact welcome to keep the dust down. Temperature nice and summer-like, crowds not a factor at all (well almost never, there was that leopard site ... :-)). It would be nice to go back and see the same areas right after the long rains though ... the stark contrast I imagine.

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We missed out on the rhino at Ngorongoro and only saw the wildebeest hover but not cross at the edge of the Mara but otherwise, we saw all the big and small mammals and lots of birds (about 100 names on our list). Our cameras got a good workout and we're still curating the 5k+ images each of us have. Tough to capture the full impact of zebra and wildebeest out to the horizon in the Central Serengeti ... that is quite a memory.

For me the trip was one big highlight but a few things come to mind ...

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  • When we were in the crater, we watched this big old bull elephant saunter across the crater floor towards the marsh where Nathan had us positioned. The old boy stopped maybe 12 ft away and just stood there, dust bathing and looking at us for about 15 minutes and then just continued on his way.
  • Being a city boy, I don't see the Milky Way very often due to light pollution so I hoped to get a night sky shot at some point on the trip. At Kichuguu, what was just as memorable was the honor guard of camp staff we had around us, simultaneously ensuring we didn't get eaten and just as keen to look at the results.
  • On arrival at Kati Kati, Nathan had a somewhat extended dialogue with one of the Camp #2 staff after which, he chuckled and told us that we were in the right place but, since a family of elephants had gone through the kitchen tent the previous night, we were being moved to Camp #4. All was well and we got to see and hear a loud debate within an elephant here the next morning ... camp staff figured it was likely the same herd that had visited camp #2
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Thank you for putting this all together for us and hope to do it again someday. "

Makes me happy when my Safari goers get to fulfill their Tanzanian Safari dream.
What is your Safari dream? We can help make it a reality.

Lioness Fighting.

Drama with the Lioness.
Katavi National Park.
We were having high tea - as one does on Safari - when Jairo, our Chada Katavi guide rushes to say we should get going because the camp manager Hamza has spotted a few lioness in a tense mood. We hopped in our Safari vehicle thinking we were going to see a hunt - topis were close by and on edge - instead, what we saw was Nat Geo worthy. A fight between a single lioness, who we believe was trying to hide her cubs and walked away from the den and two lionesses from the Chada pride who were trying to protect their territory.

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What we witnessed was dramatic! I was nervous because I was not prepared to see a fatality. The single lioness showed all the signs of submission - she was yawning, licking, lying really low - nothing helped. It all transpired in less than a minute and a half. Enjoy the sequence. 

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And done. The Chada pride's territory was marked with lots of rubbing the bushes and a pee here and there. They two Chada lionesses walked away after a few minutes into the bushes - we had sundowners with them. 

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One of the Chada lionesses may have bitten the mama lioness hard - see some red around her teeth - but I think everyone left intact. 

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You never know what you will see on Safari.
These are my Safari Stories from my Epic Tanzanian Safari to Katavi National Park, Mahale Mountains, and Ruaha National Park.