A few weeks ago, we shared information regarding our co-led hosted experience to Africa with Membership Development Coordinator Heather Kuhlman. If you missed it, check out the article: Discovering Africa with a Professional Photographer.
The first leg of this trip, Tanzania is complete. As the journey continues, we want to share Heathers journal entries from the first part of this trip:
October 30 - November 7: Tanzania
The trip of a lifetime started once I landed and met up with a group of Gifted Travel Network advisors at the Kilimanjaro airport. From here, an arranged airport transfer took the group of us to the Golf Safari House, where we stayed for one night before the trip "officially" started.
The next morning we headed to the Dolly Aerodrome, a private airstrip that took us on our first light aircraft charter flight. The key word in that sentence "light." I am only traveling with 33 pounds of soft-bagged luggage (including all of my camera gear) as there are strict requirements when traveling on a light charter flight.
After about an hour of flight time, in the distance, we could see the planes and landscape of Tanzania. The pilot circled the Lenagi Crater; an extinct volcano that last erupted in 2016. This felt like something out of an egg-burn cinematography National Geographic movie. Once we landed at our airfield, we were greeted by the Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge staff and our safari driver, Bosco, who is such a hoot. For the next two nights, we will be staying at the Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge which is remotely located in the Wogakuria Hills of the Northern Serengeti.
We immediately set off for our first safari drive, and after a short bit, we saw our first animal; a zebra. This was just the beginning. We saw four huge vultures, and Bosco explained the vulture's duties are to “clean up” the carcasses. Herds of Wildebeests stretched for miles and miles. We remained quiet and just listened to the sounds they were making. It was truly magical. We came upon a lioness who walked right past the door of the vehicle, and many of us instantly froze in fear. Bosco reassured us just to stay still. She was relaxed.
I have to say my scariest moment of the day was when a female leopard came through the bush up to the side of the car door where I was sitting. Bosco tapped me on the shoulder and said don’t move. Be quiet. As he quickly grabbed my iPhone and began to take pictures and videos for me.
As the day came to an end, we found ourselves with a flat tire and the start of our next adventure, traveling through the Serengeti in the dark, with no lights, trying to get back to Lemala Hills without issue.
After dinner, I was escorted to my room and the security guard held up his light to illuminate a massive Cape Buffalo quietly grazing around my tent. I could hear them crunching and chewing as they enjoyed their last meal for the day.
The day started early, 4:40 AM to be exact – Very bleary-eyed but excited advisors were transported to a makeshift airfield in the Serengeti for the balloon ride of a lifetime. Two balloons were being inflated as the advisors received safety precautions and briefing regarding their experience to come. Once coffee and tea were served the vibe turned from sleepy and quiet to eager and energized. The advisors boarded the two balloons, and I watched them softly and gracefully lift into the sky into the sunrise.
I stayed in the tracking car following the balloons initially as they gracefully drifted in the wind. They started to fly lower and capture great vantage points over the herds of elephants and wildebeest. My driver then began tracking different animal groups by communicating with the captains of each balloon over the radio. “Everyone hold on we're going fast” as we started to accelerate at speeds 65 km over the planes of the Serengeti.
When the balloons landed, tears were shed at the beauty of the experience, and stories of the regaled animals seen were shared. A champagne toast made by the captain was enjoyed by all.
After arriving back at camp, we went on another game drive which found us tracking a female leopard and finding a male leopard hiding under a bush. A mother and her baby elephant by a stream were gently playing and splashing water in the mud as the mom cooled the baby down. In the distance, we could see a herd of buffalo elephants all surrounding one tree keeping cool from the hot midday sun. It was an amazing site of this matriarchal family archetype.
We ended the day with a beautiful sundown (pictured below) on top of some rocks above the camp. The Lemala staff sang songs and shared stories of our two days with them. Drinks were had, lots of pictures taken, and all were spell bound by the amazing African sunset.
We left Lemala Kuria Hills this morning for a short game drive which had us looking for anything we could find, and that ended up being a female leopard. Off to our left were herds of wildebeests, and she was very obviously stalking her prey and waiting for her moment. She would lift her nose to the air - sniffing, ensuring that her target was still there and occasionally readjusting for a closer vantage point. We did not see her do the hunt, and it was our driver's belief that she would be there for quite a while.
We drove to the airfield to board our next plane. This 20-minute short flight had an amazing view of the open Serengeti plains from a high vantage point. We landed and were greeted by the great big smiles of our new hosts at the Lemala Nanukie Lodge. On our way to the lodge, we were surprised and excited to see a huge male lion lying not 10 feet from the roadside under a tree in the shade. We watched him for easily 30 minutes as he groomed himself and lifted his nose into the air. It was an amazing site and one that we didn’t expect to see or have happened so very quickly.
We took off again, headed for the lodge, when the radio crackled, and our driver was notified of a huge leopard in a tree nearby. As we raced over, two other vehicles of our group were already enjoying the sight. Cameras clicked; people were excitedly whispering about how beautiful this giant leopard was as we took many photos.
We arrived at the lodge and were greeted by the friendly staff and Maasai warriors. The Maasai are beautiful people with great smiles, the red tartans they’re so well known for, recycled motorbike tires, shoes, beaded jewelry, and huge spears. They are your escorts anytime you move around the camp as cape buffalo, elephants, and rhinos wander freely throughout as if we are guests in their homes. We dropped our belongings in our rooms, and some of us headed for a bush walk, while others went out for an afternoon game drive.
Many of our advisors went on a game drive in the morning, but I decided to hang back and see if I could do an impromptu photo shoot with two of our Maasai warriors. The advisors that went on the walking safari had come back after learning about the animal dung identification. This walk was led by a Lamala staff naturalist and an armed park ranger.
GTN Advisor, Susan Wilson desired to join for the photoshoot as my assistant and off we trekked to scout locations. The Maasai warriors spoke little English, but were majestic and proud in their presence. It was an incredible experience to have the honor to photograph them! As a thank you I gave them hammered metal and cord bracelets.
After lunch we were hearing distant thunder and before long the raindrops were falling. It was a glorious sight as the winds picked up and the rain fell harder. Before long everyone was laughing and enjoying the welcome break from the heat while the cool breezes gently brought the group together laughing while wrapped up in Maasai blankets.
After the rains we went on another fantastic game drive where I was able to capture the image below:
Today found us transferring from Nanyukie to Ewanjan in the central part of the Serengeti. A different type of stay, a tented camp with a shared common area which overlooked a blind valley with incredible views.
Today we saw hippos wallowing in a pond and crocodiles in that same pond and in the distance you could see rain coming. We again caught the zebra migration with what seemed like thousands of zebra traveling single file for kilometers! This was exciting to watch move across the plains.
Our evening concluded with an amazing sundowner on top of a rock with a 360 view of the planes below. The staff wowed us with fabulous drinks, treats and song. Maasai warriors watched carefully over us to keep us safe and we were all amazed by the incredible sunset. Dinner was community style in the main tent. We concluded the evening around the fire with many people exchanging their stories of their favorite game sightings
We left Ewanjen to the singing of our hosts - wishing us happiness at our next resort and location. Excitement was running high as we drove to the Ngorongoro Crater! Several people had deep sentimental attachments to seeing this location and the thrill to visit the long inactive volcano. It is sometimes referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, featuring several ecosystems in one location. The top of the crater is over 7000 ft in elevation, with an interior bowl below.
Once inside the crater it was amazing to see the wide mix of animals coexisting within the bowl of the extinct crater. We saw wildebeests, hippos, cape buffalo, zebras, flamingos, and so much more. We were treated to a private lunch in the most picturesque place beneath the fever trees with all our needs and expectations exceeded. The staff the cares for us at each camp has been kind and attentive and has helped to make our stay so special.
As the day started to wind down we left the crater and made the climb to our camp. Lemala camp Ngorongoro was the most rustic of tented camps we have stayed at. Again, a common area with a charging station and communal meals with everyone. Our tents have wood bottom floors with soft side walls. There is a first for everything, and for us it was taking a bucket shower! Bucket showers are best described as when the staff delivers water to a large cistern bucket outside your tent and the water runs to the inside of your tent and you control the pressure! A staff member waits outside of the tent checking the water temperature and asking if you had additional needs. This is laughingly called a talking shower!
I’m at a loss of words at how the African people and landscape get in your heart and soul. The land is harsh but beautiful, the animals violent in their survival but glorious to watch. And the people, the people… full of song and joy in their quick smiles and happy dancing eyes. It’s a place of contradiction and awe!
As we wrap up the first part of the GTN Hosted Experience in Tanzania, stay tuned for part two - Botswana coming soon.