tanzania

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. 

lioness

" 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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tawny

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. 

Can't Thank You Enough.

When I first talked to Ravi, he said he wanted to take his Phase One Camera to Tanzania. Now I know a thing or two about how awesome Phase One cameras are because of uber photographer and my dear friend Andy Biggs. 

Keeping his photography passion in mind, the Safari had to be private all the way so that he would have one guide and one vehicle the whole time. Ravi was also keen on seeing the wildebeest migration; I suggested we make a pit stop in Central Serengeti at Kiota Camp before he carry-on to North Serengeti and Serengeti Safari Camp. Northern Serengeti was a must for their August Safari because that is when the migration is in that area

Ravi captures Tanzania beautifully. I think he will be back.

Serengeti Elephants
Leopard Tarangire

" Absolutely the finest vacation we have taken in our lives! Mefi was outstanding with her service to make our trip most enjoyable and memorable. She was responsive to us during the planning stages leading up to our trip and was always available to answer any questions we had. Given this was our very first safari trip, we didn't know what to expect when we set out to think about all this and Mefi made it very simple and practical."

wildebeest
elephants
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"The lodges she picked for us were excellent! The service in these camps were simply outstanding. The folks in each of the places were caring and helpful.

The guide we had for our 11-day trip Rowland was an experienced guide with a ton of patience. He was equally passionate about the trip each day and helped us experience the ultimate safari.

Highly recommend Journey to Africa and Mefi! Thanks Mefi!"
- Ravi and Jayanthi R.

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wildebeest sunset

It was such a pleasure working with Ravi and Jayanthi on their Safari. Jayanthi was going along with her husband but I do believe she enjoyed it just as much. Woot! And Ravi, amazing photos. Asante for sharing them. 
You ready for your ultimate Safari? Ask for details. 

'Can't wait to plan round two."

When Talia emailed us via our form Start your Journey, she mentioned she heard about us "Through a friend, who had posted recent pictures and tagged Journey to Africa".  I asked which friend? Aarthi and Prabath B. I love the #JourneyToAfricaSafariCommunity we have created. Referrals and repeats are our jam - I am grateful.

Talia and Vernon were heading to South Africa and wanted to add Tanzania as well. We spent a lot of time planning their first-anniversary Safari. We found the right dates of May/June so we could still enjoy all the luxury lodges but take advantage of some of the low season rates May offers. Mission accomplished. They stayed on the rim in beautiful Entamanu Ngorongoro and lovely Serengeti Safari Camp.  

Talia and Vernon shared their amazing Safari Stories and photographs with me over coffee in Houston.  Here are some - had a hard time narrowing them down - for you to enjoy.

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A cerval cat - not a very common sighting on Safari. 

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giraffe and mama

An older baby hyena still feeding from it's mother. Another not so common sighting.

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A baby elephant with other elephants in mourning.
They said they were driving when they heard elephants trumpeting. They thought it was a gathering but on getting closer, they realized there was a dead elephant on the ground and the other elephants were actually mourning. Sad sight to see. 

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Still one of my favorite birds and so glad they got to see this on Safari.

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Some amazing big cat photographs.
For the curious, before they went on Safari, we talked about photography. They wanted to buy a camera and lens so I suggested they buy a Canon T6i as it is a good camera to have but borrow my favorite lens, the Canon 70-300 mm L.  They got some amazing shots. 

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mama and lion cub

Part of the migration crew. They never take a bad picture. 

And this ... the majestic African sunset with one of the most beautiful animal. 

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"Going on safari exceeded all expectations we had. From the camps to the amazing staff, our fantastic guides, the food, the wonderful people we met, and of course, being able to see all the stunning animals in their natural habit was simply amazing. We had always wanted this “once in a lifetime experience”, but we already can’t wait to start planning round two!

We can’t thank you enough, Mefi!"

cheers

Cheers Talia and Vernon.
You can call yourselves pro-photographers. 

"Tanzania is definitely an exception."

When Matt and Ashley D. contacted me to plan their 10th anniversary Safari, they had one request. They wanted to spend time in Oliver’s Camp.

Why? Their friend John H. had recommended that Safari lodge. John H. and I met randomly at Oliver's Camp in 2009 while having dinner in the family style table. A friendly chat lead to us keeping in touch for all these years.

The Deel's Safari was super fun to plan. 
And I managed to surprise them with a few anniversary treats.  

African Safari

"THANK YOU SO MUCH for planning our amazing anniversary trip.  We’ve traveled to numerous countries over the years and I always say “I don’t like going to the same country twice because the world is so big and there is so much to see”, but Tanzania is definitely an exception to this rule!  It is such a beautiful country with wonderful people.  I can’t wait for our return trip and I hope to bring along friends and family so they can experience all Tanzania has to offer as well.   

Thank you again for making this exceptional vacation happen!

African Safari

- How was your time with Fazo? 
Fazo was exceptional!!  He was courteous, professional, knowledgeable and so much fun.  We enjoyed getting to know him, laughing with him, and enjoying a beer at the end of the day with him. He truly cared for the land, animals, and people.  He was patient and kind, he not only cared about us and our experience, but he also cared about the other camp guests and wanted to ensure everyone had a great safari experience. One safari guide staying at a camp with us was new to the area and didn’t know his way around very well. Fazo was disheartened to hear that those guests didn’t see the same animals and have the same great experience as we did during the day, so Fazo very politely spoke with the resident camp guide and the new guide and helped make sure the guests had a better experience the next day. He privately took the new guide under his wing and gave him advice, while not speaking down to the new guide or making him (or his guests) feel uncomfortable.  This is only one example of Fazo’s passion for his job and his country.   We told Fazo that he is welcome in our home if he travels to Florida, Missouri, or Kansas.

- Did you enjoy your Safari experience? Wildlife, birds?
We absolutely enjoyed our safari experience. The wildlife, birds, bugs, and insects were all amazing (yes, I even took pictures of the dung beetles).  I also really enjoyed the people and the culture.  Seeing and visiting with the Maasai was definitely a highlight.

- Any favorite story/ stories?
1) We really enjoyed meeting a Maasai boy outside of the Ngorongoro crater that Fazo had befriended over the years.  The boy was about 8 years and an absolute pleasure to meet.  As we were driving I saw a small boy in the distance sprinting across a field. After a few twists and turns in the road we came upon the area where the boy was running to and Fazo noticed that the boy happened to be his friend (the Maasai boy had recognized our car in the distance).  We stopped and visited with the boy for about 10-15 minutes and I definitely consider this to be a highlight of our trip.   

2) A favorite was also the late afternoon game drives when Fazo packed a few snacks and a couple beers.  Happy Hour in the bush watching a lioness and her cubs play is hard to beat! 

3) The staff’s recognition of our anniversary was also great.  We had a surprise sunset bubble bath and champagne at Oliver’s Camp (we didn’t even know our room had a bathtub!) and we also really enjoyed the celebratory dancing and singing with cake and champagne at Olakira.  Such unexpected treats! Thank you, Mefi for coordinating the celebrations.

4) Having Fazo tell us about the baboons that jump into cars and steal food, then to witness it firsthand a few minutes later when another guide failed to close down the roof before parking.

5) Seeing an elephant in the crater get upset at a safari car and charge the vehicle. Luckily Fazo was always watching and paying attention because he promptly started our car and zoomed down the road so that the car behind us (the one the elephant was charging at) didn’t run into us.

6) We enjoyed learning about Fazo and his family.  His volunteer work protecting the wildlife, his avid volleyball playing, his wife and children, his knowledge of sign language, his support of the deaf community, and his love and respect for the people and animals within his country.

7) Having Fazo ask us questions about where we grew up (rural Missouri and Kansas) and his surprise that we had dirt roads and how similar the views of the Kansas plains are to the Serengeti plains.

Olakira Camp Serengeti

- What about the Safari Lodges? Did you enjoy your time here?
All of the lodging was great.  Oliver’s Camp and Olakira were our favorites because we enjoyed the camping experience, but all of the accommodations were fabulous.  

- Was Zanzibar enjoyable? Did you enjoy the Stone Town and Spice Tour?
Zanzibar was beautiful!  During our one full day there we went on a snorkeling tour that included lunch on a private beach (coordinated through Matemwe Lodge), it was a great way to spend the day.  We weren’t sure what to expect from the Stone Town and Spice Tour, and to be honest we weren’t really looking forward to them, but they were great and I am so glad we went on them.  We learned so much on the tours and we enjoyed seeing another side of Tanzania. Our Zanzibar guide was very knowledgeable and the tours were fantastic.

- Any suggestions for us for future clients? Any improvements we can make?
A suggestion for a future client would to bring more long, moisture wicking dresses.  I only brought two and I wore those more than anything else on our trip.  They kept me cool and comfortable on game drives and in the evenings when I wanted to dress up a little I wore them with my wedges (not that dressing up was ever required). "

Happy Anniversary!
See you back on another African Safari with your family. 

Wellness Safari.

I was recently interviewed by Travel Weekly about wellness travel trends for 2017.
Here is what I think wellness Safari means when I plan these Safaris for my clients. 

wellness safari

" When I think of wellness that my clients have been craving when on their Safari in Tanzania this year, I think of human connection wellness. We have definitely seen more request for cultural stops. And they are requesting not meeting them the touristy way or quick photo op, but rather to spend a few hours or days, interacting one-on-one, to get an insight into a different world. 

I think the shift is because we see more stories on social media, news and sometimes we make up our minds or we are given opinion that we accept without research but until we see, listen and experience the other side, we really can't judge until we see it for ourselves. Parents have told me they want to open their children's eyes, an investment in their future

We have had a few groups visit the Maasai tribe ladies with a local friend to see them make jewelry or making leather the natural way so they can support their families. Clients have come back saying these stops are eye-openers and the simplified questions 'why do they choose to live like that' answers are more complex because change takes a lot of time, investment and personal desire. 

I like to take kids [and adults of course] to see the one of the last hunter gather tribe, the Hadzabe tribe in remote Lake Eyasi region. These tribe members chose to keep their ancient ways of life in this modern world though wide cracks are forming in their lifestyle. One 16 year old client told me he wishes people would not force change on them as what we perceive as 'backward' is actually a happier earth based lifestyle and we could all learn from them. That is the type of response that is rewarding.

It's these mind changing / human connection wellness Safaris that I am excited to share more in the future. "

tanzania safari

What do you think?
Wouldn't this be a life changing Safari. A peek into another culture and lifestyle. And combine that with amazing wildlife and maybe the traditional wellness - massage - and you have opened your eyes to a whole new world. 

Let's get you on Safari.