Monday, October 23, 2006

Partner with us: Affiliate Discounted Resellers (ADR) Programme.

How to Join

Simple and free
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relevant forms to complete. You will also be entitled to access to some of the
most competitive rates for your market, making your selling smoother than ever
before. All information will be sent to you absolutely free and a member’s card
dispatched after a few days. Travel agents with a proven track record are
invited to apply. Landmark safaris believe in application of the principle of
‘first come first served basis’. So make haste and be the first in your
region/area/country/town. Please check with us if we have an appointed ADR in
your area when applying. My advice is to grab this opportunity before
somebody else in your area does!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Serengeti, Ngorongoro :-best kept secret of Tanzania safaris and tours

The play of light shifting with the sun casts ethereal spells on the moods of the Serengeti.

In your wildest dream lies a camp in the midst of secret Serengeti, where the skies open and the plain stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s the place where your soul travels in the space that is Serengeti and there is everything in Mbalageti to spoil you.

The landscape from Ngorongoro to Serengeti is stunning! A late morning mist covers the yawn of Ngorongoro, such that you can’t believe the world largest unbroken caldera lies below. The old trees on the rim of the crater support beards of moss and lichen, drawing life from the poor air. The memorial slabs of Dr Bernhard Grizmek and his son, Michael, who pioneered the study of Serengeti, stands by the crater’s viewpoint.

But it’s the play of light shifting that casts the ethereal spells on the moods of Serengeti. Golden grass plains stretch unlimited, ancient craters stand silent, the Masaai bring there cattle to the water for their morning drink. The red robed pastoralists call the land of endless plains Siringet. Alone giraffe stands by the side of the dust road, browsing on the thorn tree and in the secret of the sand, remains of ancient life are still being unearthed at
Olduvai Gorge. One of the many archeological sites of the earliest man. The distraction of the plains and craters makes up for the road that rattles every part of the body. We’ve dubbed it “Maasai message”.

The stone kopjes of Serengeti sit in the midst of the plains. The massive borders are the lion dens but we are out of luck. The cats of Serengeti are not making an appearance today. Somewhere in the midst of Serengeti we have to find our abode for the night and all we know is that it is a tented camp in the Western corridor that is Mbalageti. With no signs indicating Mbalageti, it is easy to get lost in park measuring 14,763square kilometers. Only after we have crossed Serengeti do we see the sign that reads Mbalageti. It’s at Mbalageti itself, close to the day’s end.

“Mbalageti is actually a word from the old Maa language. It means wildebeest. But the word is no longer in use”, says Sofia, the charming manager at the stunning little affair perched on a plateau over looking the Dutwa plains of the Serengeti. Today Mbalageti refers to the seasonal river that flows from the Ndaabi Hill area near the eastern gate and into the
Lake Victoria. It’s a major artery of the vast plains pulsing through the Serengeti.

There is nothing to reveal the tented lodge at the entrance. It’s only when we step into the open foyer that we catch the glimpse of the tented affair.” I don’t like the word luxury.” Hedenus continues her spiel about Mbalageti.”We want everybody who comes here to feel like they are visiting us-like you visit friends.”

“The deco is modern and light, not the heavy deco of 1970’s”, she says. ”We have used colors like the blue of the
Mediterranean and natural wood and stones from the surroundings. The detail is an expression of fun with nature. There has been a lot of love and thought in every room we have done. And we involved everybody who came to stay with us while the work was going on to give us ideas and feel part of Mbalageti.”

Mbalageti is eco-eccentric and delightful. What would look macabre anywhere else becomes a functional art piece here, a chandelier of wildebeest bones strung together. West African masks and furniture replace the ordinary with exotic. Two home–made chandeliers of empty Heineken bottles light the inner bar. Outside, the verandah houses the adjoining bar, pool and dinning area and that endless stretch of the Savanna. Almost everything is custom-made on site.” Most of the ‘fundis’ [local artisans] who built the lodge still work here so there is always a lot of ideas’ going around.”

With such savvy work force, there are surprises every where. A hidden garden on the ground deck doubles up as the garden of tranquility. A pair of go-away birds flits on the thorn trees and butterflies of so many colors cast a dreamy spell as the masseuse rubs the warm oil to sooth the muscles. In the silence of space it’s easy to connect with the nature.

It’s that time of the year again June. The Western side is filling up with the white bearded gnus, their snorts and comical gait not really the stuff of the superstars, yet they are for now. The wildebeest are beginning to gather for their trek up north to the Kenyan side of Maasai Mara in what is reputed to be one of the greatest wildlife migration on earth.
There is poetry everywhere. The late evening game drive in the light of the setting sun has woken up the bat-eared foxes. Every where you look they are thousands of wildebeest besides the zebras, gazelles, and a huge herd of topis something I haven’t seen even in the Mara. The vultures sit atop the tree waiting to feast on those that drop dead.

Fossils of the wildebeest at the prehistoric site of
Olduvai Gorge shows that the Serengeti is its ancestral home. The wildebeest has been around almost a million years on the Serengeti plains. It’s a fascinating journey of survival as the clowns of the plains take the grass route from the Serengeti into the Mara and back again, mowing the grasses down to the roots, and then giving them time to regenerate naturally.
The Mbalageti is almost dry with a pool of water dotting the dry river course lined with a granite rock bed. A suspended bridge helps visitors to cross over when the river swells after the rains. Mbalageti is the only place in the Serengeti where the rare patas monkeys are found. Now a herd of zebra run across the dry river bed to the other side of the Serengeti creating a running pattern of stripes in the long golden grasses.

How to get to Serengeti:
One can either use air safaris from Kilimanjaro airport to the Serengeti or connect by road from airport in a minivan. A minivan ensures you get to see much of Tanzania and the Serengeti plains. Alternatively, you can land in Nairobi Kenya and connect to the Serengeti by air or minivans again and sample both the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti. This offers a wider variety is a few more days than the former. Tour operators both in Kenya will organize your safari without much hassle on your side. Cross border travels are well co-ordinated and there is free movement across Tanzania and Kenya. Check more details here or email author .

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Mt. Kilimanjaro & Amboseli elephants: the tale of Ol Tukai

The Amboseli National park has the highest number of elephants which roam freely around a lodge. The elephants are so habituated due that you will find one feeding right outside your room. Amboseli Park is the classic post card symbol of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Amboseli of Africa. The photo, familiar to most visitor’s, features a herd of elephants wallowing in clear water with a backdrop of a bald-snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I’m chatting with Soila, the project manager of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. The mid-morning sun, a warm orange glow in a blue sky, casts a lush tone of green on the swamp by Ol Tukai lodge. Ambling in the background is one of Soila’s favorite charges, Adam.

“Adam is in his 30s.He”s used to breaking fences and staying near the lodge,” explains the pretty Maasai woman who has worked for the project for more than 20 years and can recognize most of the elephants of Amboseli. “I think he likes being around sometime he will be behind a tree and people will walk right passed him and he trumpet to scare them away”. He was away for four months with a group of males at kimana, a ranch 40 kilometers away.

Adam disappears into the horizon, a grey hulk in a green swamp with Mt. Kilimanjaro glued like a poster in the clear blue sky.

“The AERP office is based in the lodge in the middle of Amboseli”, she continues .And the elephants have influenced them [meaning the lodge] a lot. You have got to see the chandelier of tusks [not real thank goodness] hanging above the bar. All the chalets have elephant brass plates on the doors. “That’s besides the enormous wooden elephant by the bar and other ele-phernalia around Amboseli’s Ol Tukai. Incidentally, Ol Tukai is the name of the palm found around the swamps of Amboseli and very central in many a Maasai ceremony.

Ol Tukai is a beautiful lodge set by the fringe of the swamps that’s fed by the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. I enjoy a couple of refreshing laps in the swimming pool and afterwards, a mini massage in the beauty clinic. One is spoilt for choice at the lodge where there is everything from French manicure and pedicure to aromatherapy massages while the elephants keep busy in the swamp right outside.

The AERP project was started in Amboseli by Cynthia Moss, a world renowned authority on elephants. Cynthia came to Amboseli in the early 70s and so began one of the greatest chronicles of elephant’s family in the world. The AERP is renowned as the most longest and most detail of free–living elephants. Today, names like Adam and Echo of Amboseli are known to a world –wide audience watching wildlife documentaries in the comfort of their sitting rooms.

The elephants of Amboseli are very special. Every one of them has a file complete with a photograph, name, number and code. The project, like its founder, is renowned as the longest and most detail study of free living elephants since 1972. It is used as the model of assessing the status of other elephant of populations in Africa. It’s also used increasingly as a baseline data on the elephant social and reproductive patterns.

Elephants are like people comments Soila. “Some are weird, some are loners, and some are friendly and others crazy.”

The swamp by Ol Tukai is fascinating, more so because it’s the home ground for the EB family. Cynthia pioneered her research by getting to name each one in alphabetical family units. From the initial ‘E’group, the generation down the family tree has spilt into EA, EB, EC.

We get to meet the Echo of the EB group on the afternoon game drive. She’s really beautiful with a perfect pair of slim curved tusks, the tips almost touching each other in perfect symmetry. With her, is the youngest calf. Echo is the matriarch of her group and well into her 50s.

Ol Tukai of Amboseli is full for the moment after the long rains which have fed the swamps and the grasses. The mirages of the salt lake fed in the sinking sun as we climb up the vent of Nomatio, the tiny mountains from the Pleistocene era when mammoths and mastodons and saber toothed cats ruled the plains and birds with wingspans of 30- feet flew the skies. The time span of the Pleistocene lasted from 1.8million years ago to the last ice age 10,000 years ago. This is also the time that the homospecies became smarter thinkers, more adept at using stone tools and being effective honey-gathers.

Atop the volcanic vent of Nomatio, the clouds lift off Mt.Kilimanjaro. The elephants of Amboseli forage in the swamp below. It’s estimated that in 15 years, the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro would have melted away. Studies show that 73 per cent of the glaciers of Mt.Kilimanjaro have disappeared in a century. The melt down of Kilimanjaro is said to a direct result of global warning.

We know today that we are dependent on the ecosystems. Amboseli without the snows of mount Mt.Kilimanjaro might just become an empty shell.

Arriving back at Ol Tukai from the late evening game drive, Mt.Kilimanjaro stands perfectly framed through the open door of the foyer. In the classic picture that is Amboseli, A solitary grey bull walks by the mountain.

Outside, the Maasai moran will entertain the dinners and the stars will shine like blazing rocks in the sky.
How to get there:

Your tour operator will pick you from the airport for a night in a Nairobi hotel. Alternatively you can opt to go directly to Amboseli depending on your time of arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Transfer from Nairobi to Ol Tukai lodge is by minivan about 3hr drive. See more details and itineraries here or email the author.

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Go on an amboseli day trip here: Amboseli national park day trip