I am off on a “bucket list” adventure. I have always wanted to go on a photo safari in Africa. My dive buddy Donna (we are the original dive princesses) suggested the trip. We have roomed together on many dive trips and get together for lunch so we stay in touch and have experience traveling together. The added element to this trip is that we are traveling in a small group with a photography professional, Reed Hoffmann. Reed’s clients include USA Today, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and NBC.
Reed did a great job of getting us ready with lots of tips on things we needed to packing. He even exchanged emails with me before I signed up for the trip and beyond that as I selected equipment to purchase or rent. I am nervous about the structure of the trip because I am a true beginner and have never had a photography class. But as anyone who reads the blog knows, I love to take pictures. Donna has traveled with Reed before and has even taken his Nikon class in Houston. She said he is a real “sweetie”.
The trip includes overnights in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam and two safari camps in Tanzania. We are staying in luxury tents, but I usually leave off the luxury part when telling people I am going; I am trying to sound more adventurous. We have to take three flights to get to Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. To reduce the trip expense, we are both using miles to pay for our airfare. Donna suggested that we upgrade our seats so we are not tired when we arrive. I have been saving miles and had enough to go First/Business First one way. Donna, who just retired and has traveled extensively for work and pleasure, used a small portion of her 1.8 million miles to make the trip. I depleted my account.
We live pretty close to each other, so the morning of the trip we shared a cab to the airport. Our first flight was on United to Washington Dulles. It didn’t matter that it was a relatively short flight; I used the controls to make my seat a bed. It was really neat. I tried to be cool about it, but I am sure it was pretty obvious that I was not a regular in that section of the plane. We had a quick transfer in Dulles, but were fortunate that our flights were both in the same terminal. A terminal transfer in Dulles can take a long time because they wait for the large pod (kind of like sticking people in a boxcar) to fill before the move from one terminal to another.
We were in an older United plane to Zurich and the bed was narrower, but still functional and off to sleep I went. Now that the travel is international, Champagne is served and during the two international flights I enjoyed 5 free glasses of champagne-only to help me sleep of course.
For our final flight to Tanzania, we are transferring to Swiss Air in Zurich. I have never been on this airline and had to relearn all the controls. The man sitting next to me was very nice and helped with the tray, bed, ect. A new airline meant new movies and even better food. I usually don’t eat on planes, but enjoyed all the in-flight meals on this outbound trip.
I went to sleep pretty quickly, but when I woke up needing to go to the bathroom, the man next to me had taken advantage of his bed. No pictures of me straddling him to get in and out. Later in the flight, just before we landed in Nairobi, Kenya (our only stop) I had to chance to visit with him and learned that he worked for the United Nations and was currently CEO of a Food and Agricultural Division based in Kenya. He has worked around the world and his life experiences were fascinating.
Most of the passengers got off in Nairobi and after about hour on the ground, we had just one more hour before we reached Dar Es Salaam. Upon landing, we filled out the necessary forms and went straight to purchase our visas ($100 for Americans). It was very disorganized and no instructions were posted. You gave your passport and cash to a representative roaming around outside the office and then waited for your name to be called. Donna and I gave the rep our passports in at the same time, but I was finished about a half hour before she was finally called. When I got mine, the officer came outside the office and called my name. When he handed it to me he had it open to the page with my picture and he questioned whether I was indeed the same person. Give me a break. The picture was nine years old and I had been traveling for 28 hours. No picture of how I looked at that point either. We also found out that we could have gotten a visa before arriving; I highly recommend that.
Fortunately the transfer driver was waiting for us when we finally got out of the airport. He took us to the Southern Sun Hotel. It was formerly a Holiday Inn, but you would never guess that from its current condition. The foliage was lovely and there was lots of the beautiful carved African wood. After we each had a much-anticipated shower and a reorganization of our luggage for the lower weight restriction on our next flight, it was bedtime. We have to be up early to meet our guide and the rest of our travel group for the bush flight to the first camp. Breakfast begins at 4 am; our departure time is 6:45 am. Welcome to Africa, Natasha.