Safari Preparation

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. 

trek_two_group.jpg

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!

Swahili.

When you landing in Tanzania or Kenya, the first thing you will hear is Jambo!
Jambo means hello in Swahili.  Don’t worry, the customs official, your Safari guide and most people you will pass on your Safari will speak English, but saying Jambo to them will let them know you are happy to be in Tanzania or Kenya.

Safari

Want to know a few more words so you can really flex your Swahili.

– Habari gani? – How are you?
– Asante – Thank you.
- Asante sana - Thank you very much.
- Tafadhali - Please.
– Karibu – Welcome.
- Sawa - okay.
– Lala Salama – Sleep well.
– Habari za asubuhi? – Good morning.
– Chai – Tea.
– Kahawa – Coffee.
- Ndiyo - Yes.
- Hapana - No.

To really impresss a local.
– Shagala Bagala – ‘this is messed up’ in a fun sense.
– Poa – I am chilling.
- Twende - Let's go.

Want to know any specific word? Email or call me and we can chat in Swahili. Now let's get you on Safari so you can practice your Swahili. 

Keep Calm and Swat Away.

african safari

This is Richard, my guide on my exhilarating Walking Safari in our private area in Serengeti. He has company – Tsetse flies. I had their company as well - I was right behind him.

When on Safari, there are areas in the parks and conservation areas where you just can not avoid these pesky flies.  Don't worry, they are not going to bother you all the time; they come only in certain areas. 

A few things to help yourself.

Wear light-colored clothing.
These buggers are attracted to dark colors. If you can avoid dark blue and black clothing on Safari. You will notice clothes with this color hanging from trees in various areas, put there by the park officials, in hopes that these flies will be hanging out on those clothes instead of on you. 

Try loose clothing.
Create a barrier between the fly and your skin. This is the best protection. And will keep you cool when hot. Win-Win.

Bug Spray.
This brand of spray has worked on me. At least kept a lot of them at bay, even when wearing black. Yup, I do wear that color on Safari as it is hard to get away from black clothing. 

Anti-itch cream.
Relief for when those pesky flies do get in your vehicle. Put some anti-itch cream right away; it will help with the itch. And try to avoid scratching the sweet itch. 

The silver lining here is that these flies keep the cows and humans away from the wildlife zones. They don’t seem to bother wildlife which means more areas for the wildlife to roam and the slow down of human encroachment. We are talking about tribes like the Maasai who live on the periphery of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation with their cows or the farmers with plantations close to Tarangire or Ruaha. Stay back, we need to give wildlife their space.

Keep Calm and Swat Away.  Don't let them stop you from going on a Safari. 

Lost in Translation.

On Safari, you are going to be spending a lot of time with your guide, your new friend. This person comes from a different culture, different background, does not know you, your personality yet he will work hard to show you a great time. That is his goal and our repeat clients are a testament to how hard they work to make it happen.

Be open and patient with things that can get lost in translation.

africansafari

My guide Makubi from Dunia Camp in Central Serengeti was telling me his Wakuria tribe culture was not to look in the eye when talking. That is a sign of aggression. He would never do that in his village with his elders or peers. In our western culture, if you don’t look in the eye when talking, you are rude. The dilemma. He adapted.

Reuben is a Maasai. A proud warrior whose Maasai blanket [his tribal clothing] would peek from his sleeve. He said wearing the clothing reminded him of his heritage. He would sit with us for dinner and share some good stories of his people, wildlife, Tanzania, etc. When we were served polenta with our lamp chop, he would be polite and have small bites but I have a feeling after our meal, he would head to the kitchen and prepare his own local food.

They go through lots of training so they can understand our western sensibility and adapt for our comfort. To be fair, be open to a different culture. Don’t get offended with what may not translate to our culture.  Talk. You will learn from your new friend when on Safari.

Isn’t that part of the adventure of traveling to another place?

Gift Guide for the Safari Goer.

It's that time of year when you when you want to get yourself or your loved one some thoughtful gifts. If you are going on a Safari or a Safari aficionado, here are some ideas that I can personally vouch for. 

Seeking Information - my personal favorites:

  • Beat About The Bush - This field guide tells you a story about the wildlife and birds. Things like 'do elephants have good memories?' to 'why do lions have manes?'. Fun Facts. 
  • Lion Share - David Bygott is one of the most recognized Safari guides. He and his wife wrote this book about the lion prides' saga in Serengeti giving them a human-like voice. 
  • The Birds of East Africa - give birds a chance. Once you start paying attention to birds, you will be hooked. Coo Coo. 
safari photography

Photography:
My favorite hobby.  I have moved on from being a hobbyist to amateur, ahem, and one of my favorite gifts to myself has been my camera.

If you or your partner are looking into buying a DSLR and are new to the camera game, I would recommend:

  • a Canon T7i, a good starter DSLR camera. 
  • If you know you are going to use your camera often, get my current crop body Canon 70D or full body Canon 6D
  • Want the mother-load camera? Then go all out for the Canon 5DMarkIII

And don't forget camera lens. There are so many options out there, but if you can get a zoom lens with at least 300 mm, you will be happy with your photographs.  For my next Tanzania with Mefi Safari, I plan on getting the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens. 

If you want to do a good point and shoot, my client Natalie got the Canon Powershot. She had some great photographs and videos with this compact camera.

The other option is renting camera body and lens. Photo Rental Source is my go to place in Houston and they ship nationwide.

Binoculars:
After a day or two on a game drive, everyone gets into the searching-mode for wildlife and birds with hawk-eyed Safari guides. A professional guide / guide trainer recommended these Vortex binoculars to me. The key to good binoculars he said, to simplify the complicated science behind the machine, is 10x42 and good prism glass. 

 Children of Rift Valley Children's Home. 

Children of Rift Valley Children's Home. 

Organizations we Trust:
These are my personal favorites because I can vouch that your gift will be put to good use. If you are going on Safari, we can arrange a visit or meeting. If you have been to these places or met our contacts on your Safari, hope you agree. 

  • David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - they are amazing. From anti-poaching to caring for young elephants; you can donate or foster one or more elephants. My elephant is Ndoto. 
  • Carbon Tanzania - if you go on a Safari with us, you are already contributing to this great organization because all of our partners on the ground [a requirement for us to use them] offset carbon footprint with them. We can always do more. 
  • Rift Valley Children's Home - we stop every time we go to Ngorongoro and continue to be impressed with how happy, loved and smart the kids are here. Kudos to a great team lead by Mama India and Baba Peter. 
  • Honeyguide Foundation - we know Damian Bell and have seen him in action with ranger training. They protect the precious wildlife from human-wildlife conflict - a big issue - to poaching related matter. Wildlife is threatened from all sides - we must do all we can to help save so many species from extinction. 
Gift Guide for Safari

Ethical Shopping:
If you are into sustainable fashion, you will love that when you purchase items from these selected sellers, you are supporting females, like the Maasai ladies in the remote village of Mkuru in Northern Tanzania. 

  • My friend Tati who works with the Maasai ladies above sends beautiful jewelry to her Canadian business partner, Lotusland. I have a few of Tanzania Maasai Women Art pieces and always get complimented as they are so different. Want to buy the jewelry in Tanzania? Save your dollars and we will take you to Tati's store. 
  • Sidai Designs is another company helping the Maasai ladies. You can find their jewelry in beautiful Plantation Lodge, one of our favorite Safari Lodge. 
safari gift guide

Children's Book that my Kids love:

  • Mama Panya's Pancake - we love this book, as you can see, about how sharing takes you much further in friendship. And it's the mother who learns this lesson from her warm son. 
  • Greedy Zebra - Mwenye Hadith, the author has so many great children's books but this one is my favorite. This solves the age old mystery of the zebra stripes. 
  • I am Jane Goodall - A true hero for all wildlife. She started research with chimps on Mahale Mountains and my November 2017 Tanzania with Mefi Safari takes me to her stomping grounds. 

Enjoy your gifts or giving them. If you give to any of the organizations above, Asante Sana! Together, we take care of our wildlife, community and planet. 

Safari Photography.

Before I went on my Tanzania with Mefi Safari, I told myself ... do not use the automatic mode on your Canon 70D camera that I bought specifically for the Safari. Gulp! 

Yup, me the hobbyist photographer took a leap after hearing how I should learn to use the camera from uber-guide / friend Paul Oliver on my Natron Safari and Ruaha's hot chilly loving Italian guide Lorenzo. I practiced at home on my kids. I made them twirl and jump so I can figure out the F stop, ISO, Aperture, etc. Still learning.

And off I went on Safari and set my Canon camera on manual. I cheated a few times but stuck with manual most of the time. While shooting with my camera, I realized this is fun and not as intimidating as it sounds. I would try a few different setting until I liked what I saw.  I have upgraded myself to an amateur photographer, I think. 

Here's are some of the results of Journey To Africa Photography. Ahem! 

leopard in serengeti

This leopard was lying on the tree in a distance. I had my Canon 70-300 mm L zoom with me and had the picture cropped so the leopard could be in focus. Next time, the 100-400 L mm.

elephant in serengeti

Okay, I love this picture. This march of the elephants was such a glorious moment for me. The golden hour light and the closeness of these giants was just magical. 

batueleur serengeti

This is a Bateleur Eagle with it's eye lids closed. A bit different don't you think? During the day time I mostly kept with ISO 200-400 and played with F stop. Birds! Even trickier to capture. 

elephant tarangire

The details on the elephant truck just get me. The truck has around 40,000 muscles and has such an important function. And you can see the blade of grass. 

jackal serengeti tanzania

The jackal is my husband's favorite animal. They are so beautiful. On the food chain, they lurk around large predators and feed off their hunting work and compete with hyenas. 

lions on ngorongoro crater

I can see the whiskers. When I admire professional photographers work, I am always amazed at the details they capture. I was happy to see whiskers where clearly defined. The little things.

Here is my reason for nudging you - if I can do it, you can too - especially if you like photographs and like to play a little with your camera. Turn the dial and enjoy clicking away. 

Camera Tip:
Play with your camera before you head out on Safari. Practice at home, read the manual, learn the controls and then come back with amazing photographs to share. 

Not into photography and rather just enjoy the experience, good for you. You sound like Sally, my client-friend who lost her pictures in Ruaha [she accidentally formatted her memory card - oh my] but was so zen-like and got over the memory loss. She is coming back with me to Tanzania on my Epic Safari in Nov 2017. 

Take your camera out for a spin on Safari. 

What to Pack on your African Safari?

They say that the anticipation phase of a trip is just as exciting as the actual adventure.
I agree!

Serengeti Walking Safari

To sit by the fire-place in the evening, enjoying the moon and stars or the darkness. The wildlife, oh the amazing range of wildlife. The people and the conversations. Goosebumps. 

Okay, here's something most people don't realize when they think 52 countries, vast 11.5 million miles large Africa. It does get cool/cold. We're talking 30-40s during the evenings if you are in areas like Ngorongoro. [Weather guideline]. This is true even if the day is warm/hot especially if you are going during the cooler month. You knew? Awesome. A fleece or sweater is a good idea. Scarfs may be necessary as well. 

My advise is to stick to a carry-on. This ensures less chance of the bag being delayed on arrival [happens] plus you need to keep weight down for local flights anyway. You are restricted to 33 lbs of total weight. On KLM is 26 lbs for carry-on plus the personal carry which for most is usually going to be a camera bag.

Take a soft bag [they need to squeeze bags sometimes in the luggage compartment in the small flying taxis] that has been used for years; no pangs when it comes with extra scratches or dust.

What to pack on Safari :
– A warm sweater and/or fleece for evening. If going in cooler months, June to September/October, both would be a good idea. Always check weather.com before you leave. They have temperature for Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
– 2-3 pants. If they that zip off to become shorts, may work especially during hot season.
-  3-4 short sleeve t-shirts/tee for the day time which you can rotate. Layering is key as it will be cold in the morning and evening but warm up during the day.
– 1-2 pants and 2-3 long sleeve shirts for the evenings time that will stay clean. Mix and match is the way to go. Ladies, sneak in a light necklace for instant glam or get on in Tanzania.

Sometimes, you end up wearing what you wore on the game drive - no worries. No one is looking. Enjoy the sunset if it mean staying as long as it is allowed by park authorities and rushing back for campfire drinks.

– Scarf or bandana. The scarf/bandana can be used as a mask again dust, protecting your neck from the sun and those times you need a wipe. If small, sneak in another one so it can stay clean. Putting on a clean one in the evening feels good and instantly dresses you up.
– Closed-toe shoes. There will be some sort of walking on every Safari - even from your room to the dining tent. Closed toe shoes also to keep anything from biting you.
- Socks. Add a pair [or two] of warm socks especially during the cooler months. Remember - reduce. reuse. recycle - unless you think you need more than two pairs because only you know your body well enough. 
–  Sandals. I have my Birkenstock which I like as sometimes I can wear these during game drives. A good idea to pack for the comfort in your tent.
– Wind-jacket. Highly recommend this especially since a lot of the vehicles on Safari are open. The morning and evening wind does get chilly. If it is also rain-proof, even better. This one I have has been with me on many Safaris.
– Sun hat and sun glasses of course. – Hat. We do give you a Journey To Africa baseball cap either in the US or on arrival.
– 2-3 undergarments preferable quick dry ones so you can wash overnight. In most of the lodges, they will provide soap to wash but taking a small laundry bar may be a good idea. 

One thing to note is that most lodges we recommend have laundry included or if not, there is a nominal fee for laundry. Take advantage of this service.

Guys, there are a few modification you would need to make but you get the idea of what is necessary.

Personal items:
– Hand wipes. For those times when you have to eat lunch after your game drive and you need to wipe off the dust. Dispose them off properly in the camp.
– Shampoo + conditioner travel size. Though I have to say, I used the lodge provided shampoo + conditioner the past couple of Safaris and my hair and I survived. 
SPF 30+ is a must on Safari.
- Lotion as it can be dry air on Safari. Our preferred lodges usually offer this but a compact one in your hand luggage may be a good idea. I speak from cracked hands experience. 
- Nail cutter. If you are like me, and want short nails so they look clean. Plus if you are going to be on Safari for longer than 2 weeks, this may be an overlooked item. 
– Flash light. In the middle of the night, should you need to go to the enclosed rest room, this may come in handy as most tented lodges turn off lights after a certain time. Most of the camps we suggest will have this but not a bad item to have.
– Mosquito repellant wipes. I got this tip from Susan of the Insatiable Traveler.
– Medical first-aid kit. Take your prescriptions as carry-on. A must!!
Then you have band-aid, Neosporin, cortisone cream, Immodium [you never know], Pepto-Bismol [read this article and decide if you want to do this on your Safari], Advil or Tylenol, muscle relaxing balm +. This is just a sample.
– Contact wearers, there is dust on Safari. But, I prefer my contacts over recommended glasses. What to do? I always wear my big sunglasses. They usually help. But I always have my glasses as back-up. I take extra contacts in case I need to put on a fresh pair mid-day. Remember to clean your hands first.
– For those who need a little make-up to feel put together, go ahead, take a small pouch. If you feel good, you enjoy more. Keep strong perfumes/colognes at home. An insect magnet.

Extras:
- Consider a white noise machine for the light sleepers or those who would like to sleep in a bit - birds especially don't know you are on holiday.

Safari Clothing

And then if you forget anything, you can always buy in Tanzania in the towns before you head on Safari [except prescriptions please], re-wear as no one is really looking or ask the lodges if they can help.

The most important packing tip – your sense of adventure! 

Safari Documents

Here is an incident I am embarrassed to admit. I have advised clients on this matter after all.

I was checking into  Zanzibar Airport coming back to Arusha after a great time in Stone Town and the beach of Nungwi with my husband and the kids. At the check-in counter, I could not find my paper ticket for my flight back. This was not the little Safari airstrip where guides take care of you. This was the International Airport. I frantically searched all the pockets of my backpack. No luck. Lucky for me, I was going back to Arusha [and not getting on board an international flight], the Regional Airline office was near by and they printed a ticket for me.

 My  Everlane  Backpack. 

My Everlane Backpack. 

Lesson learnt. Always keep your documents in one bag.

Here are five items that I carry with me at all time on Safari:
- Passport.
A given - this is your ticket home. I also give a copy of my passport to my family in the US. A client had given me a copy of her passport and when they were in South Africa, their bag was stolen. I was glad I could help by emailing them their passport copy.
- Paper e-tickets.
Print your International Airline tickets before you leave. Don't depend on your phone. On arrival at Kilimanjaro Airport, a hard copy is needed to enter - and don't bother arguing with the official. It does not work. I have tried. 
- Money.
Keep $100 per person handy [if you are a US Citizen] for the visa should you be getting that at the airport. The rest for tips, drinks, shopping, etc. should be carried with you always. We have detailed guidelines on our Traveling Tips which we share with our clients.
- Vaccination paperwork if applicable.
If you are coming from another African country, you will need to get Yellow Fever vaccination. Otherwise, vaccination is your choice. 
- Phone numbers for various people.
This is should Plan B need to go into place.
+ Phone numbers for your Travel Insurance - highly recommended to get insurance.
+ Phone numbers of the ground crew - we will provide this to you.
+ My mobile phone number in Houston. 
You never know why you may need to make a phone call. Some examples; missing your international flight, breaking a leg in Amsterdam on the way to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, or calling me in the US because you want to stay longer in Zanzibar and are willing to incur all the change cost. We made it all work. 

Note here:
When you are on Safari, your local flights ticket on the Safari route from say Manyara to Serengeti and Serengeti back to Kilimanjaro will be with your Safari guide in Tanzania. The airstrips have you on the flight manifest and you don't need a ticket printout. If you are flying to a location where our guides are not with you, we will have a tickets for you so you don't fall into the predicament I was in.

Everlane backpack on Safari

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