You are honestly not going to believe this, but I have literally just sat down to start typing a message to you when yours came through! We arrived back early yesterday morning, came home, had a shower and went straight to work – brutal but the best way to slot into a normal routine and get over the jet lag.
We cannot thank you enough for all your help with arrangements, and your patience with all our questions. Without a shadow of a doubt this has been the trip of a lifetime! It was short, but felt like we were away for months – yet neither of us wanted to come home and could’ve quite happily have stayed in the Serengeti 🙂 We cannot fault the arrangements – transfers were smooth, accommodation was brilliant and the people very friendly and attentive. Really appreciate your help with the extra night hotel stay after Kili – we could’ve stayed another night at Mweka camp, however the shower and soft bed was most welcome 🙂
This might sound a little bit nonchalant / arrogant, but we didn’t find Kili that challenging – apart from summit night. It was at the end of Day 2 when we spoke with the guides about the upcoming days and they said based on our fitness and pace the walks for the next couple of days would only be about an hour a day. We struggled with the decision overnight and the morning of Day 3 decided to divert and join the Machame route. Absolutely no regrets as Day 4 was both our favourites – climbing the Baranco Wall and the Lava Tower. I think the altitude of the Lava Tower (hike high, sleep low) help with our acclimatisation – thankfully neither of us felt the effects of it. But summit night was still a big challenge, and we were both so relieved to have made it to the top.
The Serengeti was superb! We both fell in love with Grumeti Tented Camp – the setting and layout of the camp is nice and intimate and just beautiful. The hippos add a great touch to it, even though a bit scary when they brush past the tents at night. We were very fortunate to have seen the migration at both camps in the end too! Talk about being lucky!
I will be writing photography based blogs on the different portions of the trips, and will send them over as soon as they are done. Although it may take a while – I downloaded around 4,000 photos last night, and now need to make the selections for editing…
Let us know how and where is best for us to submit a review for you 🙂
Bernard & Nick
We had a lovely interview with Tony Zephania, one of the walking guides at Namiri Plains. Tony has had an inspiring career, starting off as a waiter for a safari camp before his enthusiasm for all things wildlife shone through and he was entered into the Asilia training programme to become a fully fledged safari guide. He is now one of Asilia Africa’s head guides and, as Tony puts it himself, “a childhood dream has come to life”. Read on to hear more about his love of the smaller wildlife, and some of his experiences on safari.
Can you tell us more about Asilia’s Trainee Guide Programme?
So the duration of the initial walking training was 30 days – this was safe rifle handling, elephant rifle shooting and safe walking how to approach and avoid dangerous animals. Then I did a year as a backup guide with a very experienced walker – totalling to 100 hours of walking – then I was coached and assessed as a lead walking guide for 20 hrs. Fortunately I had learned well as a backup guide and I passed.
What’s the best part of your job?
Birdwatching and exploring the small life on a walking safari.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
When guests come in with high expectations of big game and on walking safaris that is not what we are looking for – we appreciate the smaller life in the bush – who are just as exciting. I also struggle with guests who do not speak English so I take more time with them to ensure they understand.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not with guests?
I like spending my time watching or listening to wildlife programmes. I also like to sit with my guides and discuss work challenges and how to overcome them.
What animals do you enjoy seeing on safari?
Birds mainly, but for large mammals, I enjoy watching elephants.
How many miles do you end up walking every day?
Depends what we come across and what we see and what the guests want out of their walk- but on average 3 miles a day.
What’s the best experience you’ve had on safari?
When I saw for the first time an elephant giving birth in Ruaha and it was almost dark but I could see everything. So very special and a moment I will never forget.
Have you had any amusing experiences with either animals or guests?
Yes! One of my guests jumped out of the car when we were viewing a leopard and the leopard climbed out of the tree. He did this to impress his fellow photographic friends who had been waiting for hours for the leopard to move. He thought it was very funny but it was so dangerous.
Huge thanks to Tony from Namiri Plains Safari Camp for answering all our questions. Namiri Plains is currently undergoing a complete refurb, and we’re super excited to see how the renovated camp looks once it reopens in Autumn 2019.
Sob! If you were (like us) gripped by Sunday’s episode of Dynasties, the latest David Attenborough documentary, you’ll be saddened to hear that David (alpha male chimp, not the presenter) has been killed, beaten to death by the younger males in the group. Watching the documentary, it was hard not to cheer this strong, brave, chimp. Desperately wounded in an attack under the cover of darkness, he battled his way back to leadership of the troop. Sadly, this was not to last. He was killed 7 months after filming finished as the males in the group battled it out for dominance and the chance to mate with the female chimps.
Watching Dynasties, it is all too easy to recognise the politics at play. Chimpanzees are our second closest relatives (the closest are bonobos, found only in the DRC) and perpetually push the boundaries of what it means to be human.
Once it was thought that only human beings used tools, and then chimps were found to use twigs for fishing termite mounds and rocks as weapons. For a while it was thought that only humans could smile, but now we know that chimps also smile. Equally, it was once thought true that only humans were self-aware, but chimps (and also magpies) have been shown to recognise themselves in a mirror. Chimps share 95-98% of our DNA, can catch our diseases, and have, in captivity, learned simple sign language.
The best places to track chimpanzees
Chimps are found only in Africa, living in the patches of forest which once made up the equatorial rainforest belt. Seeing them in real life can be as moving, fascinating, and at times, as terrifying as Dynasties showed.
The Mahale Mountains in Tanzania is one of our all-time dream destinations for chimp trekking- not only does it have chimpanzees, but the setting is glorious- mist covered mountains tumbling down to the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika. The downside of Mahale is that it’s remote and can be costly to get to, so many more people go to see the chimpanzees in either Rwanda or Uganda.
Rwanda’s chimps are found near to Nyungwe Forest, a mecca for birding and hiking and a nice add-on to a few days of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. In Uganda you are spoilt for choice- probably the best-known place for chimp trekking is Kibale Forest, where sightings of the chimps are usually very reliable. Here, you can also take part in chimpanzee habituation, heading out for the full day with the park rangers to try to acclimate chimps to human presence. Further north, just outside Murchison Falls National Park, you can track chimps in Budongo Forest- many of the excellent guides here were trained by Disney, so they’re excellent at really capturing the magic of the chimpanzees. For those visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can also track chimps at Kyambura Gorge, making chimps in the morning and elephants in the afternoon an entirely reasonable possibility.
If you’re not sure which option would suit you best, we’ve tried them all, so just ask us to point you in the right direction!
First off you should know this is written by a grade one wimp. I’m not a natural fly camper, and my preferred method of getting a good night’s sleep on safari is a large glass of Rioja before bed. For those of us with an over-active imagination, the thought of sleeping out with only a mozzie net between bed and the bush comes with a side-order of sheer terror. Unfortunately, it’s a core part of the Extraordinary Africa ethos that we’ve been there and done that, so we can give you the best possible advice, even when terrified. And it turns out that for each Extraordinary Africa traveller who’s tried it, fly-camping seems to be one of the best bits of their safari.
Frankly, I knew it was high time I toughened up and headed out into the wilds.
Most fly camps operate as part of a stay in a permanent camp, walking out to into the wilderness for a night or two under the stars. We’d made our base at Sand Rivers in the Selous Game Reserve, and if I was going to trust anyone with my nerves, the Sand Rivers guides seemed like a decent bet. So, nobly, your condemned reviewer ate a hearty tea. And afterwards tramped off into the bush, full of Victoria sponge, water bottle slung over her shoulder. And although it did not escape my notice that a steel bottle full of water might make an efficient weapon, it was not needed. Instead, we wandered gently through the Selous between the grasses and the trees in a strict line behind our guide, Ernest. We followed snake trails through the sand, photographed white hyena poo for my six-year-old godson, (obviously), and stepped carefully over armies of angry siafu. Please note- that unless you choose to fully explore the meaning of ants in the pants, this final tip is essential.
A few hours later we arrived in camp to what every traveller needs- a damp flannel for dusty faces, and a cold drink for dry throats. Lusekelo had slung a bucket shower over the branches of the nearest tree, and he’d dug a fresh short-drop loo (complete with a very smart seat) nearby. We were extremely grateful that our crew had built a canvas screen around both to stop the hippos being too startled by bottoms that hadn’t seen the sun in a very long time.
Showers smelt of warm water hitting dry dust, and our bedrooms were mozzie net cubes. It’d be fair to say these are spacious for one, cosy for two. They all had bedrolls to sleep on, but anything larger than a medium-sized elephant would have struggled to fit. Fortunately, when there’s a shooting star every 7 minutes, this didn’t cause too much of a problem. Behind each room was a dressing table with a mirror, bug spray and a safari sink and, further back, a dome tent in case it rained. Or you could sleep in it if you were nervous. But I wasn’t nervous. Obviously.
Instead, caught up in the magic, I rushed my shower to make drinks around the campfire. Dinner was equally splendid. From a small safari kitchen Sallum produced a magnificent feast. And if you have, as I did, a serious foodie as a travelling companion, a tour of a bush kitchen is quite something. No blender, no microwave, no sous vide- just a hot metal box and a bucket of coals.
Afterwards, as (perhaps) not the bravest of souls, it’s fair to say I was tired. My day of dicing with imagined deaths had been fairly exhausting. No longer fearful, but still cautious (what kind of naïve fool do you take me for?), I retired to an early bed planning exactly how I would bop each invading hippo or intrusive lion on the nose. (Public Service Announcement: for those of you who are as nervous as I was, I was delighted to note our tent was at the far end of a peninsula guarded by two Landrovers, the guide and our magnificent crew. An invasion was possible, but on balance, unlikely). So, I looked my fears in the eye, looked up at billion stars, and wondered if there was anywhere in the world I’d rather be. I think you know the answer to that.
We gave our experience at fly camp 9/10 (minus one point for the self-induced terror factor). Your reviewer was accompanied by Mr Extraordinary Africa. He would like it to be noted that he was especially impressed by Max’s splendid fly-camp bar, not to mention its white tablecloth, and the excellent dinner which seemed to come from nowhere. So impressed in fact, that when he returned to the fly net that night, under a sky of Scorpio and a million other stars, he found a Tanzanite ring in the bottom of his rucksack and proposed. And what Africa-lover could say no?
One of the great delights of visiting Stone Town (and if you are on holiday in Zanzibar, this is the No. 1 on our do-not-miss list) is in buying treasures to bring home. There’s the fun of discovering some hidden gem you’d never find anywhere else, the post-holiday boast-factor (“Oh this? I picked it up in a little shop I know in Zanzibar…”) and above all, the fun of the bargain.
First of all- know where to bargain. Stone Town hotel boutiques or swanky air-conditioned shops where all of the stock has price-tags are unlikely to be as flexible as cash-only market stalls and owner-run shops.
Do your research… If you spot something you like and want to buy it, ask around before you approach the store owner and get embroiled in negotiations. Who to ask? Well- ask the staff in your hotel (though don’t follow them to their brother’s shop) or our guide if you’re on a tour of the town. It’s also possible to ask multiple store owners for a rough guideline price before you buy so you can compare, but you must make it clear you’re not looking to buy right away, or be entangled in hours of unwanted bargaining and the poor stallholder will get his hopes up.
Remember, you really, really like the person you’re bargaining with, even if you’ve only known him for 5 minutes. Charm- and a touch of Swahili- always gets you the best price. Try “Ni ghali sana” (“it is very expensive”) to help your cause.
Bargaining is supposed to be fun– be prepared for the odd touch of melodrama (“Oh, my friend, my children won’t eat if I sell it at that price”/”But my wife will divorce me if I spend $200 on a Zanzibar chest”). Making a good deal is fun. Be prepared to walk away if you really feel you’re being ripped off, but don’t come back unless you’re seriously planning to make a deal- it’s not fair on the man or woman who’s devoting half an hour of their day to you and not their other customers.
If you reach a price that you’re happy with, and the stallholder will sell to you at- go for it! There’s no perfect price- just the perfect one for two people in that moment. You might pay more or less than others, but you’ll always have a memory of striking a fun deal with a proper Zanzibari merchant.
When the last cork’s popped, the turkey sandwiches are all eaten, and the door’s finally closed on the last member of your family, it’s time to get away. Away from demanding teenagers with endless Christmas wishlists, away from awkward conversations with cousins you only see once a year, and away from other people’s children who are charming but so very, very noisy. And if you travel far away enough, you get to the sort of places where they can’t call you, even if they try.
If you need to switch off and tune out, this is where to go in Africa:
Greystoke Mahale (Western Tanzania). There’s a reason that tycoons’ wives whisk them off here when they really, really, need a break from their Blackberries. Greystoke isn’t a place for the intrusions of the outside world even if there were phone reception. When you’re sitting around the campfire late at night, the only dim glow (or blazing fireball) you need is from the shooting stars up above. In fact, from the minute you step onto the dhow – and look down at the hippos swimming in the water below you- you’ll be ready to hurl your phone overboard and stay forever.
Serra Cafema– Namibia- This oasis on the shores of the Kunene River is a remote safari camp, even by Namibian standards. Most guests come here for the chance to meet the Himba community (though not all that long ago, two nomadic Himba ladies walked for a couple of days to come have a look at the tourists), and chances are, they’re far more fascinating than whoever you might be talking to from home…
Mwaleshi, North Luangwa, Zambia- At Mwaleshi it’s challenge enough to even charge your phone, let alone getting enough reception to take a call on it. Far better to immerse yourself in the timeless world of North Luangwa, rising with the morning sun, wandering by elephants in the woods and cooling your feet in the river at the end of the day.
Old Mondoro Lower Zambezi, Zambia- The sort of place where a ringing phone would sound frankly aggressive, if not downright rude to the poor old hippos singing in the river outside. So if, let’s say, your phone sadly “fell overboard” on the way to the lodge, you’d have the perfect excuse for not chatting to your family
Now- we wouldn’t guarantee that if you climbed a tree and held your phone at precisely the right angle, you wouldn’t get a flash of reception at some of these lodges, but you’d have to work pretty hard indeed. And a holiday’s not really about work is it?
A lovely email from Faye and Alan, who’ve just got back from a beach honeymoon in Zanzibar, where it was (allegedly) the short rainy season! Lovely reading on a chilly morning at Extraordinary Africa HQ- thanks guys!
It’s no surprise than when the weather turns cold, phones start ringing at Extraordinary Africa HQ. As much as we love snuggling up beside a blazing fire and listening to the windows rattle, sometimes we’d really just rather feel the sun on our skin and the warmth breathing out of the sand. So, if we could fly south with the swallows for summer, this is where we’d pick.
Cape Town: Food, wine, and African sunshine…
For an easy winter break with reliable sunshine, an incredible gourmet scene, and barely any time difference Cape Town would be difficult to beat. During the chilly northern hemisphere winter, there are direct flights from London to Cape Town, so you as you leave work on a Friday evening,you can wave goodbye to your colleagues, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow be eating lunch with a glass of rosé on the Waterfront. Hotels in Cape Town are boutique and effortlessly chic, the glamorous beaches of Clifton and Camp’s Bay are the perfect place to spend a few days snoozing, Table Mountain provides incredible views and fabulous hiking if you really must, and there are world class restaurants scattered throughout the city (just ask us to book early for you- many of them fill up months in advance).
If you have longer to spare, hire a car (we love whizzing around in a soft-top mini) and head out to the Winelands, where you can ride from vineyard to languorous lunch, or head down to Cape Point to see the utterly adorable penguins.
Tanzania’s Tropical beaches
For something a little more remote and wild, Tanzania’s beaches are incredibly low-profile, but utterly gorgeous. During our winter temperatures are hovering at a balmy 30 degrees, conditions are perfect for diving and snorkelling and deep-sea fishermen will have a serious challenge on their hands.
Zanzibar’s beaches are the real show stopper, and perfect if you want to combine your beach with island life- exploring the ancient streets of Stone Town, being guided through spice plantations, and cycling through the fishing villages. There are some seriously lovely 5* hotels here, as well as some adorable boutique options, so we can almost always find a perfect option for you somewhere.
For divers and snorkelers there’s really only one choice: Mafia. We probably wouldn’t rate the beaches on Mafia Island as highly as those on Zanzibar, but if you want somewhere utterly unspoilt and charming and impossibly laid back, this is it. If you want to cut yourself of from a frenetic job and the rest of the world, Mafia is the place to be. Plus there’s the chance to dive with whale sharks. And if that’s not worth travelling for, we don’t know what is.
Finally, over on Tanzania’s mainland coast, visiting Pangani is like stepping back in time to a Zanzibar of 40 or 50 years ago. You’re more likely to see a fisherman, pushing his bike along the beach with a cheery wave, than you are to see another tourists. Ladies sing as they wade into the sea to haul in the nets, and dhows potter past, sailing gently by as they have for centuries. Bliss.
The reason I absolutely love my job, is for emails like this, which kept a smile on my face for most of my working day:
Thank you Calynne for this lovely report- it made our morning!