Sunday, May 30, 2021

Day Twelve - Farewell Serengeti - the journey home - KIA lodge

So the day has come and it’s time to say goodbye to the Serengeti for now – what an incredible 12 days!

We drove Dunia to Seronera, on the way seeing a lovely bull elephant a little way from the road, lots of giraffe, a snoozy pride of lion in the grass, a very cheeky baby baboon and a wave to the hippo as we drove past their pool.

Then check in for 10:30am Coastal flight Seronera to Kilimanjaro, go through security, 20 minute wait in lounge and onto the half-full 12-seater flight. We flew straight to Kilimanjaro, a little over a one hour flight with the rest of the passengers continuing to Arusha.

My next flight on Precision Air to DAR had been rescheduled to 6:55pm so rather than 6 hours twiddling my thumbs in the check-in area I hopped in a taxi to KIA lodge which is only 5 minutes away. I hadn’t visited this lodge before so took this as a perfect time to check it out. Sadly deserted with no guests at the moment the staff were very pleased to see me and show me around.


The lodge comprises around 30 basic but clean guest cottages scattered through rather lush and  beautiful gardens of jacaranda, bougainvillea and franjipani with a shady bar area and an elevated attractive pool area (with view of Kilimanjaro on a clear day). 

It is possible to book a day-room or also there are shower-only rooms by the pool that are available at a small fee for showering and changing before a flight.

A solid local lodge in a very convenient location for Kilimanjaro airport – no frills but definately worth a mention.

I passed several hours in the bar area on my laptop with intermittent wifi, couple of cokes and a coffee before the same taxi returned for me to head back to airport.

Quick check-in* then through to the departure lounge (via security) and a cold Savanna cider and some friendly banter with the barman

*The Precision flight JRO – DAR was booked as part of the international ticket with Qatar and in the past it would have been possible to check-in at this stage for the entire journey, with bags tagged all the way home -but now because of the Covid-check requirements Precision (and other domestic airlines) will not check-in for the international portions as the test certificate checks etc. must be done by Qatar/KLM before the international flight.

Precision flight (via Zanzibar) departed on time and landed in DAR around 8:45pm at the domestic terminal. Through luggage security check and then an 8-minute walk with luggage trolley along well-lit level pavement to the brand-new Terminal 3 was no problem.


  • Go to the Stationary Kiosk within the terminal (next to the mini-supermaket) to print out your test certificate. Happiness (yes that’s her name) can pull your certificate up on the portal with your passport number and print direct from her computer $2/copy (her smiles are free)

  • Near the check-in area there is a Ministry of Health representative at a desk by itself (with an armed guard next to her) – take your certificate there and she looks it up online and then will stamp and sign it.**

  • Pre-check desk before actual line for check-in verifies you have all the documents necessary – for me travelling to US – passport – eticket - green card/visa – Covid certificate – US entry declaration form

  • Check-in – all documents are checked again by the airline agent, bags tagged and magical boarding pass issued.
  • Upstairs to immigration check – fill in departure card – give to immigration with passport.
  • Security check – unload all laptops, liquids etc.
  • Relax and wait for flight to be called.

** I asked the Ministry of Health rep about the process at Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar airports and she said there were MOH reps there also to stamp and sign certificates.

The rest of the journey is a blur of airline meals, zombie-naps, some more productive office-in-the-sky activity and a movie or two. The flight DAR – DOHA  went smoothly then 2 hours in Doha and on to the 16 hr flight DOH - DFW. All flights on time, smooth and easy.

There were no covid-certificate checks on entry to US that I saw but there was an announcement instructing arrivals to have certificate ready in case of random checks. Also was never asked for the entry declaration form....

Then out into the Texas sun and humidity to be met by my very own biggest monkey and a hug and a smile worth coming home for.




Day Eleven - Namiri to Dunia

Yet another farewell to an amazing collection of people at Namiri Plains and then on the road back to Seronera, game-driving slowly along the way in the company of another guide, Khalid. First a stop at the nearest (I think) kopje where the pride, I think, from under the tree were in early morning high-spirits with both cubs and lionesses frolicking, pouncing and play-fighting.

We stayed and enjoyed their seemingly joyful play for a while and then continued to where another Asilia vehicle had a coalition of three cheetah brothers in their sights. As we arrived the brothers were on a steady move towards a herd of Eland. We stopped near the other vehicle and cut the engine to watch the hunt unfold from a distance. 

The cheetah picked up pace approaching through a sea of mid-height grass until suddenly they burst into speed fanning out towards the now panicked Eland. The herd took flight but the lead cheetah appeared to single out a smaller one and it looked like he brought it down into the grass. The hunt over we were able to drive closer to where the cheetah had stopped – all to find him and his companions empty-‘handed’. Somehow the eland had escaped him even though we were all convinced we had seen the cheetah take it down. The three brothers gazed off wistfully after the now-distant herd then lay down in the grass to recover from the chase and wait for another opportunity to wander by.

What a fantastic way to end my catstravaganza experience at Namiri.

Arriving at Seronera I was greeted by the most amazing smile of my new guide Zawadi; a lady guide with waist-length dreadlocks and the sass to match. We chatted easily on the 90 minute gentle drive through giraffe and by a hippo pool to camp. 

Dunia is located south of Seronera in the Moru area, tucked behind a hill in a wooded and bushy site filled with wild-flowers giving the feeling of a safari-garden.

A massive welcome was waiting from the all-female staff of Dunia with much singing and celebration, which was to be a general theme to my overnight stay. In the heavily male-dominated safari-world the women of Dunia are blazing the trail as a beacon of inspiration and hope to all aspiring women in Africa and beyond. From guides to camp manager to overnight security it’s an all-female team and the undeniable feeling of sisterhood and pride that they are independent, capable and powerful in their abilities. Big kudos to Asilia Africa for leading the charge and investing and believing in these women and giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills and capability at Dunia. May other companies follow their lead. I would also mention here that the other company where I noticed a high proportion of female (Tanzanian) management and staff was Singita ….. also great to see (not just waitresses and housekeeping)

Dunia is a lovely luxury permanent tented camp with a fresh contemporary-clean design. The lounge/bar/dining area is set up on decking with a light, open and natural feel. The guest tents are also on wooden platforms with very nice front decks with built-in seating. Large tents with sliding screen fronts (nice feature - much easier that zip-flaps), bathrooms a step-up from canvas-walled shower cubicles to wood framed shower and toilet stall and a large sink/vanity. Solar-powered running hot water. A perfect balance of contemporary luxury but keeping true to the spirit of a tented camp.

After a quick lunch a damp-kikoi nap was in order and then back up for a cup of tea and afternoon drive at 4:30pm.  Zawadi’s first spot was a tree full of lions; five lionesses and large cubs balanced precariously, and somewhat comically in the branches of a fairly high acacia. Three dozed contentedly but two were seeming to have some issues finding the right spot with a large female looking like she’d really like to get down but not quite ready the navigate the descent (which is trickier for lions than the ascent). 

We waited a long time but finally left her undecided and ill at ease to drive to Lake Magadi.

The lake was a perfect calm silver-blue with flocks of pink flamingo, soft in the evening light. We stopped at the shore and got out to be suddenly surprised by a singing and whooping flock of Dunia ladies hiding in the grasses. Their song and laughter set a flurry of flamingos into flight!

Sundowner cocktails shared in the company of these joyful souls was truly a treat worthy of my last evening in Serengeti. Banter, teasing, singing and laughter these women exude a powerful force of togetherness and friendship. “These are my sisters – we are our own tribe.” – Zawadi

We left them on the shores of the lake (to follow us in another vehicle) singing in the fading light with Yasinta chanting beautiful low harmonies that seemed to come from the earth itself.

It was an almost-dark drive back and one of the best ‘night-drives’ I’ve had. We saw a huge porcupine lumbering across the road, bat-eared fox, hyena, dwarf mongoose, scurrying mice and a gorgeous golden-orb spider hitched a ride on the framework of the roof canopy.

Then a gin & tonic round the camp-fire with a dazzling sky of stars and dinner and laughs with Zawadi and Ellie, the manager.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Day Ten - Namiri Plains - Lions, Lions, Cheetah, Lions, Cheetah, Lions

Another 6:30am start for what was to be our big cat day. We started with two pretty huge and magnificent male lions lying in the grass near a large rock kopje. Penwell said that this pair are newcomers to the area looking for territory and to claim a pride of their own and may cause some upset in the weeks to come.

We continued on to another kopje, currently home to part of a pride that has two-week-old cubs that are hidden down in a bushy area between the rocks. As we arrived a large male was on the move climbing up to join a lioness that lay on the top. As he clambered up he slipped sideways landing heavily on his side against the rock while the lioness seemed almost to reach out to catch him … he lay still for a couple of seconds and then rose to stalk off huffily (and embarrassed) out of sight.

One of the cubs made a little appearance popping out for a little wobble along a low rock and then peeping out for his/her picture. Then it was cleaning time and we could see the lioness head bobbing behind the rock as the cubs got a good morning wash.

We left them and found a vacant kopje to set up breakfast – coffee, fruit, sausage and quiche, a little pit-stop  and then on our way (in another mystery direction)

Penwell spotted a cheetah in the middle-distance (don’t ask me how!) and we headed that way. As we arrived she was sitting alertly but within a couple of seconds she rose purposefully and launched into full chase, zig-zagging through the mid-height grass, tail whipping sideways for balance. Just a few excited heartbeats later she rose with a twitching rabbit dangling from her mouth, stalked a few paces past the car and then dropped into the grass to eat.

We watched and listened to the crunching of bones, she ate quickly and raised her head to check around frequently showing us her blood-pink mouth and whiskers. After about 15 minutes she rose and walked away and the shadow of a vulture fell on the ground as it swooped in to land just behind her. It followed her unsure, it seemed of where the remains (if any) lay. One step too close and she rounded on the bird and as it took flight she leapt of the ground and took a swipe.

Just amazing!!!

On our way back to camp we checked the kopje with the young cubs. The male lion (Mr. Clumsy from earlier) was snoozing on the big rock, his tummy rising and falling the only movement to see while a lioness dozed further along the top. The cubs were peeping out a little but hard to see in the shade.

On the way back to the camp for lunch we came across yet another pride (of 12+) sleeping in the shade of a tree by the road – the pride from last night under a different tree.

Another delicious lunch of (fancy) fish and chips and then a couple of hours desk-time before the afternoon drive at 4:30.

We checked in on our way back with the pride under the tree – still snoozing, then drove by the kopje/cub pride – still snoozing. A third pride that we found in the grass were a little more active with some playing, pawing and cuddling going on. 

This pride included a collared female (part of the Serengeti Lion Project that monitors the movements of certain lion). 

We watched for a while and then headed towards where two male cheetah brothers had been seen earlier in the day. We found them intently and carefully approaching a small heard of impala so we hung back and watched. Unfortunately for the cheetah the impala caught wind of them and took flight long before they were close enough and they lay back down in the grass.

We headed back to the kopje to check for activity and both the male and the females were posing beautifully in the golden evening light. 

The clouds were forming quite promisingly for a nice sunset so we stayed to see if we might get some good lion sunset silhouettes ……

Then a quick dash back to camp in the almost-dark.

More good camp-fire company and a lovely dinner with Penwell finding out all about his family and his hopes and dreams for them and his guiding career.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Day Nine -More Maji Shida - and Cats - Namiri Plains

 The first objective of the day was to get to Seronera for PCR testing before 9:30am (the tests go out to Arusha on the 10:30am flight so any tests taken after 9:30am are not sent out until the next day) With this aim we left camp at 7am, waving goodbye to all the lovely staff. 

We drove eastwards through the herds of Zebra and Topi until, about an hour in, we were halted in our tracks by a flooded bridge. 

A tributary of the Grumeti was in full flood, swollen and fast with the rains from last night. The concrete bridge was hidden below the fast-flowing water creating a waterfall of sorts along its downstream edge.. 

Nothing to do but wait a while for the level to drop…….. seems familiar…. time for a cup of tea!

After about an hour the level was definitely dropping slowly and the force of the water seemed to have lessened some, though the bridge was still underwater. We were discussing waiting another 30 minutes when a car-load of local Indians rocked up in a Range Rover – quick discussion with Mussa, some laughter and a dismissive wave and they were in 4WD and plowing through the water and quickly safely on the other side waving fists in the air out of the windows. They were kind enough to wait on the other side and cheer Mussa on as we followed them.

And then onwards to testing at Seronera

**Check out separate blog post on the Covid-Test process at Seronera**

From the testing site we drove just around the corner to the airport to meet up with a Asilia vehicle and guide, said goodbye to Mussa and hello to Penwell, which actually was a ‘hello again’ since he guided a safari I did in 2018 to Selous when he was working at Asilia’s Roho ya Selous camp. So that was a lovely surprise! I had company in the shared vehicle with a charming young German couple on honeymoon which was quite a treat to witness their delight at seeing their first warthog at great distance, first impala, first baboon and gave me a fresh insight into the absolute wonder and thrill of the first game -drive of a first safari.

As we headed towards Namiri Plains the ground levelled out into truly the endless plains that the Serengeti is named for. Golden and green and open all the way to where the land rises to Ngorongoro in the hazy distance away to the south and as far as the eye stretches in the other directions. The plains are broken only by a multitude of rock kopjes and an occasional tree making this prime lion and cheetah country.

We arrived to our first big kopje (I’m not going to pretend to know all the names – I think it was either Masai or Boma) to find a small herd of safari vehicles and a medium pride of lions sunning up on the rocks including a particularly fine male. This was by far the most vehicles I had seen in one spot during the trip – about 10 probably and we didn’t spend very long there. “Ah we have plenty of lions at Namiri” said Penwell dismissively and we left the rocks behind. After that point we didn’t see another vehicle other than from our camp for the next two days.

On the drive east into Namiri Plains we saw quite an array of wildlife; giraffe, reedbuck, ostrich, rock hyrax, buffalo, warthog, impala, zebra, wildebeest, a cerval darting into the grass with a mouse in its mouth.

Namiri Plains – Asilia

I would describe Namiri as an open lodge … some sort of hybrid between a regular lodge and a tented lodge. The main lounge/bar/dining and the guest suites are all constructed with a combination of rock and wood-paneled walls each being open-fronted with sliding mesh-screen panels across the whole front wall in the guest rooms. This gives quite an open, airy feel despite the solid-walled construction on three sides and provides that essential connection to the outside. 

Massive, swooping canvas coverings almost encase each suite providing much-needed shade especially across the deck where huge bean-bag chairs and an outdoor bathtub offer the perfect spot for viewing the marshy area that stretches the length of the lodge. Fed by a natural spring, this is a major water source during dry season so likely to see a lot of animal activity in the vicinity. 

The lodge has a organic-sleek vibe, almost minimalist-feeling in some ways although that’s referencing more the style than the amenities and luxury level. Gorgeous bathrooms; pool and deck with a view over the marsh; really fabulous food served en-mesa style and an outstanding and wonderfully friendly staff. Really a stunning camp/lodge in a truly remote corner of East Serengeti, tucked away by itself surrounded by miles and miles of open plain, home to the greatest concentration of lion and cheetah in the eco-system.

Note there is one 2-bedroomed family suite and also it is possible to add a bed to a regular suite to create a triple (max 2 triples at one time)

·   The property is quite large and in the heat of the day can be quite a trek to/from the guest suites so there is a little Zebra-uber electric jeep that can ‘whizz’ you back and forth if needed.

After lunch, a tour, and a quick refresh in my room we met back up at 4:30pm for an afternoon drive. I have no idea which direction we headed (I will confess to being totally disorientated the whole stay) but as the air cooled into evening we found 3 bull elephant sauntering along together, peacefully grazing and wandering around  a wet area where yellow-barked acacias glowed golden in the evening light.

A little way further on a pride of lion (4 lionesses and 10 cubs/juveniles) were gathered in the grass near a large acacia. We were able to park up about 20 feet away and watch as they seemed to be getting ready for some evening/night activity. Alert and watchful, eyes scanning the middle distance in all directions it looked likely that at least the four adult females would be on the move at some point. Alas not soon enough for us to witness as the light was fading fast and we had to head back to camp.

Quite a lively camp-fire crowd since the camp was busy with guests from US, Kenya, ex-pats from Dar, 2 sets of honeymooners – nice to see after many sparsely booked properties along the way and hopefully a sign of business picking back up all-round.

Very nice dinner with the manager, Bryan and then to bed.

Hyena in the night and lion quite close in early morning.

Video of Namiri Family Tent - the regular tents are identical just without the extra twin bedroom and bath.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Day Eight - Western Corridor & Rains - Nomad Serengeti Safari Camp

Morning tea arrived on a tray to tray at my tent at 5:30am and we were driving out of camp in the cool morning air at 6am just as the sky was lightening. A soft purple glow turned slowly to peach along the horizon then strengthened gradually to a hazy electric orange. The damp grass sparkled silvery green, almost like frost in the first light of the new day and the air was fresh and fragrant.

We drove north-west then curved westward driving almost parallel to the Grumeti River through open plains filled with the morning’s activity.

Two fluffy hyena cubs trotted from the road at our approach then turned to eye us curiously. 

Numerous herds of zebra, topi, buffalo, impala grazed on either side of the road nearby and also in the middle distance.

Around 7:30 we spotted lion about 100m from the road; a pride of fourteen that we could see. Females and cubs lying in the open with three or four still snacking on the remains of a kill and the rest dozing restlessly. Two jackal trotted nearby, circling and waiting for the chance to get closer while a hyena observed from a little further distance. Also in view were zebra and buffalo – an amazing array of wildlife all in one spot.

We continued on a little further and then stopped for bush breakfast in the company of a large herd of zebra. Our arrival caused a little stampede by those separated on the other side of the road.

A breakfast sandwich, coffee and conversation and we packed back up and continued westward. Mussa had originally planned a different circuit but the road was flooded by an overflowing Grumeti River so we adjusted the route.

Another pride of lions; eight this time with a full-maned male, lay in the grass 50m from the road with two medium-size cubs a bit closer who popped their heads up to look at us and then sauntered to join the adults. Slowly each member of the pride rose and made their way riverward away from us and were lost to sight in the grass.

We drove to take a look at the bridge that leads to &Beyond Grumeti Lodge and it was hidden below the waters of a swollen and powerful Grumeti River. As we pulled up a large monitor lizard strode along the edge of the water and into the grass. In a week or two the wildebeest will be starting to attempt to cross this river and if the flow is still high it will make for some very dangerous and dramatic crossings.

 In a backwater pool just by this crossing-point five or six golden yellow crocs were lazily circling and biding their time just waiting for their annual feast to arrive….

Further along we came across two topi males clashing horns in a serious challenge for the ‘guardianship’ of a watching harem of females until one trotted away and the other returned proudly to his ladies.

In another place 2 topi pronking which is an amazing skipping and leaping/bouncing display of exuberance.

Also a large family of fluffy waterbuck and a gorgeous bright green flap-necked chameleon, his color matching the grass and then a darkening zig-zag appearing on ahis backas he crossed the brown dirt track.

We arrived back in camp around noon for a delicious lunch of fishcakes and salads (and one weak gin and tonic so I wouldn’t get too sleepy and could catch up on this blog and photo-sorting after lunch!)

I set up my ‘bush-office’ for a couple of hours in the lovely lounge close to wifi and then retired to my tent as the heat got to that still and stifling point of the afternoon. Using my damp kikoi trick I spent an hour dozing comfortably despite the heat.

Damp Kikoi Trick – take a thin cotton kikoi/wrap/sarong and wet it down thoroughly, wring it out, lay a towel on the bed, strip off and lay under the wet kikoi - instant AC!!

I woke around 4pm to the sound of thunder rolling and a gusting breeze through the tent, the horizon to the East was shrouded in heavy purple rain-clouds and the storm was approaching fast, 10 or 15 minutes of buffeting wind, canvas swaying, the smell of rain blowing through and the downpour arrived. With no prospect of an afternoon drive likely I settled quite happily back into my cozy tent enjoying the spectacle of the storm through the open screened ‘windows’.

The skies cleared around 6:30 just in time for a camp-fire with stars and fireflies.


Day Twelve - Farewell Serengeti - the journey home - KIA lodge

So the day has come and it’s time to say goodbye to the Serengeti for now – what an incredible 12 days! We drove Dunia to Seronera, on the...