Photo Friday: Rwanda and Tanzania

Kathy Terlizzi and a group of volunteers from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana recently went to Tanzania and Rwanda with Ujuzi. View a slideshow of their trip.

When Kathy Terlizzi told people that her first foray out of the United States was going to include a visit to Rwanda, she often got one of two reactions: puzzlement or warnings that the country must be dangerous because of the genocide that took place there in 1994.

But it had been Terlizzi’s dream to see mountain gorillas in the wild since she was a little girl, and she’d wanted to go on a safari for almost as long. The volunteer manager at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana finally had her opportunity this February when she went to East Africa with several zoo volunteers. Ujuzi African Travel organized the group’s weeklong safari in Tanzania followed by a gorilla trek in Rwanda. “If it hadn’t been for the mountain gorillas, I probably never would have gone to Rwanda,” she says. But she’s glad she did.

She found a people who were proud of their country’s reconciliation and unification efforts over the past two decades, and a commitment to keeping communities safe for everyone. In Kigali, the capital city with 1.5 million residents, Terlizzi went on a two-mile walk with others from her group. “We were never, ever worried. I wouldn’t do that in many places in my own city. But I felt very, very safe. Our guide later told us that if someone does harass you on the street, citizens almost always step in and help you.”

The civic pride also shows in the beauty and cleanliness of the country. The day after Terlizzi arrived in Kigali was the fourth Saturday of the month, a day that Rwandans from all walks of life go outside and clean their neighborhoods. Businesses even open late so that their employees can participate. “Everywhere we went, you would see people out with broomsticks sweeping the street. … It was beautiful. They have affluent sections of town … and they also have very dirt poor housing, but every place we went, you could tell there was a pride in ownership. Even if it was a poor place, it was swept, and they had gardens and flowers.”

The humans weren’t the only friendly presence in Rwanda. When Terlizzi went on her mountain gorilla trek, the guides told her group how to behave and to show respect by keeping their distance from the gorillas. But no one informed the gorillas that they were supposed to turn a cold shoulder to the humans. The gorillas were as interested in their human visitors as the humans were in them. “When I show people videos from our gorilla trekking, they’ll say, ‘Are you zoomed in?’ But no – that’s how close we were. Oftentimes, [the guides] have to grunt and keep the babies from touching you because they’re so curious. They’re very gentle animals by nature.”

Courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi

Mountain gorilla. Photo by Kathy Terlizzi.

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

Baby gorilla. Photo by Ellen Wilson.

Terlizzi was thrilled by the closeness to other creatures she experienced with the mountain gorillas and throughout her trip. “I went there to experience Africa – not a tour bus version, not a sanitized version, not looking at animals through binoculars,” she says. And she got what she was looking for.

Within an hour of arriving at Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, she saw lions, elephants, Cape buffaloes, leopards, and rhinoceroses.

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

A cape buffalo enjoys napping in the sun. Photo by Ellen Wilson

Courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi

Elephants of all ages hang out. Photo by Kathy Terlizzi

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

A leopard surveys the savannah. Photo by Ellen Wilson

And her group spent a few days right in the middle of the Great Migration, when more than 2 million wildebeest trek through East Africa for their spring calving. “Until you are there – hearing, seeing, looking at the dust cloud all around you, you can’t even fathom how incredible that is,” she says.

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

It’s calving season for wildebeests.
Courtesy of Ellen Wilson.

At night, Terlizzi relished the opportunity to stay close to nature – while experiencing many of the comforts of home, such as beds and private baths – by sleeping out in the bush in luxurious tented camps. “The tent lodges were so awesome. They were the safest way you could get as close as possible to the wildlife. I would get up early and just sit out there and watch the sunrise.”

Courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi

Sunrise in Tanzania. Courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi

During those sunrises, she saw almost as much wildlife as she saw during the day on safari, including a herd of waterbuck antelope, a group of hornbills, and a giraffe that stopped to nibble on a tree just outside her balcony.

Terlizzi spots a giraffe from her balcony. Photo courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi.
Terlizzi spotted this giraffe from her balcony. Photo by of Kathy Terlizzi.

“Every day was a new adventure,” Terlizzi says. “I don’t know that I could have asked for anything more.”

Featured Lodge: Zanzibar Palace Hotel

Named Tanzania’s Leading Hotel by the World Travel Awards in 2011 and 2012, Zanzibar Palace Hotel is stunningly decorated in a mix of Arabic, Indian, Persian, Swahili and English designs that reflect the island’s rich multicultural history.

Zanzibar Palace Hotel is a nine-room boutique hotel in the heart of Stone Town, the historical center of the international spice trade. Step out of the hotel and into a fascinating maze of narrow streets and alleyways that lead you past mosques, ornate homes, shops and bazaars – then find yourself on the seashore, looking out on the blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

Each room in Zanzibar Palace Hotel has a full array of modern conveniences, including air conditioning, high-speed WiFi, a flatscreen television, digital safe, and high-pressure hot and cold water. Ceiling fans, mosquito nets and hotel-supplied bathrobes keep you comfortable. The staff has thought of the little things that will make your stay more pleasant, such as reading lights attached to the beds so you don’t have to reach through your mosquito net to turn your bedside lamp on and off. They can even supply you with reading glasses if you forget yours!

Additional amenities include an on-site restaurant, bar, guest library, and a spa that offers massages, facials, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures in a lovely, relaxed environment.

Zanzibar Palace Hotel is an ideal home from which to explore one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

The Road Is Part of the Journey

Dirt Road in area of Ngorongoro Crater Safari - Ngorongoro Conservation Area - Tanzania, AfricaRoad near Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Photo by David Berkowitz.

Traveling in East Africa can bring many new experiences, from learning about a different culture to watching prides of lions nap in the heat of the day. But there’s one unique experience that many Westerners don’t think about before going on safari: traveling rough roads.

Road budgets in East African nations are far smaller than those in North America and Europe. As a result, most byways are simple dirt tracks or gravel roads. (In Tanzania, for example, only 15 percent of roads are paved.) Flooding during the rainy seasons can wear away at the gravel and dirt, leading to enormous potholes.

While highways connecting major cities are frequently smooth asphalt, even these can have issues. Hot midday temperatures can soften the asphalt, leading to grooves in the road when heavy vehicles drive over it.

Fortunately, there are many ways to make travel on rough roads more comfortable. Ujuzi African Travel works with experienced drivers who know the roads and do their best to provide a pleasant ride. We use roomy vehicles with comfortable seating, and use four-wheel drive in areas that require it.

And once you spot a giraffe nibbling on a treetop, a wildebeest nursing her calf, or young chimpanzees cavorting in their natural habitat, the minor discomfort of rough roads becomes a distant memory.

Travel Tip: Using Cell Phones in East Africa

Photo by Erik Hersman. Used with permission through a Creative Commons license.

Keeping in touch with friends and family while you’re on safari takes a little planning, but it’s probably easier than you think. You may even be able to use your current cell phone and plan while traveling in East Africa. But it’s often cheaper to buy a special international roaming plan or an “unlocked” phone – a phone that’s not under contract with a certain provider – for your travels.

Planning for my own upcoming safari in Kenya, I found this world phone guide on CNET.com to be very helpful. It provides an overview of the types of international roaming plans offered by the major U.S. cell phone carriers, and offers guidance on how to find out whether your current cell phone will work abroad.

Buying a separate phone for your international travels is another option. Since not all carriers offer international roaming plans, and some U.S. cell phones won’t work on networks in Africa, many travelers carry unlocked phones with a SIM card slot. Bring the phone with you and, when you get to your destination, buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card. The card will give you a local phone number and allow you to make calls and send texts at reasonable rates. If you have a smart phone, you can also send emails, check your Facebook page or upload photos of your travels to your cloud drive or Flickr. When you buy your phone, make sure it’s compatible with African cell phone networks. This article explains how to do that.

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New Balloon Safari Option

Experience the natural wonders of East Africa from a bird’s-eye view. Adventures Aloft are based in Tarangire, and their balloon safaris fly over Maasai Mara in Kenya, Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, and the North Serengeti in Tanzania.

Balloon safaris give you an unparalleled opportunity to view wildlife in a way you’ve never before experienced. In its 15 years of operating balloon safaris, Adventures Aloft has maintained a perfect safety record. All balloon pilots have over a thousand hours of flying experience and are commercially rated on large size balloons.

Contact Ujuzi African Travel to book your flight today!

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