Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Tangier, Morocco – The Worst And Most Expensive Day Tour Ever

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

At least the camel's smile in Tangier

Rick Steve’s was wrong!!  In one of his guidebooks he recommends taking a day tour to Tangier with one of his best guides, Aziz.  He goes on to say how much Tangier has changed over the years and how its no longer the “Tijuana of Africa”.  Tangier may no longer be the “Tijuana of Africa” but you wouldn’t know it by using the horrible guides provided by Aziz Tours.  Here is the story on how a good idea turned into a the worst and most expensive day tour ever.

I contacted Aziz by e-mail and he was very responsive and gave a quote of 101 euros person (202 for the two of us).  This included the ferry tickets (66 euros round trip), a minibus tour of the outskirts of Tangier, visit to Cape Spartel, Cave of Hercules, a stop for a camel ride then finishes up with a walking tour of the old city.  During the tour he said he would give “lots of information about Tangier´s history, Moroccan culture and Berber traditions, etc”.  This sounded good and since Rick Steve’s recommended this guy I said ok.  Then things started to fall apart.

At the last minute, Aziz notified us he wasn’t available and said one of his trusted colleagues would take us around.  I should have cancelled immediately as this is a big red flag.

So what went wrong??

  • The “30 minute” ferry ride actually takes about 90 minutes.  They slow the ship down so they can process everyone’s visa onboard before the ferry gets to Morocco.
  • Aziz nor his colleague was there to pick us up at the ferry terminal.  We had to wait around for another 30 minutes even though the ferry was over an hour late.
  • The “trusted colleague” who picked us up wasn’t actually a tour guide.  He was Aziz’s driver.  He spoke extremely broken english which was virtually impossible to understand.  So much for getting “lots of information about Tangier´s history, Moroccan culture and Berber traditions, etc”.
  • When we got to the Cave of Hercules our guide/driver couldn’t take us in.  Instead we had to pay 5 Euros to some other guy to show us around.  He spent 2 minutes explaining the sight and 10 minutes showing us all the crappy souvenirs to buy.  The worst part is you could tell he hated his job.  No enthusiasm, no passion for his job, no smiling, just no personality.

Cave of Hercules

Souvenirs in Cave of Hercules

  • When we got to the camel ride I wasn’t expecting much and I was right.  It was a 5 minute ride around a dirt parking lot that cost another 10 euros.

Camel ride around a dirt parking lot

  • We wanted to eat lunch at one of the local restaurants that served what looked like a very good local fish dish.  Our guide/driver said you can’t eat that because you will get sick.  I said I want to get some good, cheap, local food for lunch and he said no problem.  He took us to what looked like a local restaurant except when we entered it was full of tourists.  I told him I wanted local and cheap and he said.  Yes.  Local food.  Cheap.  We found out at the end of the meal that it cost 50 euros.  The lunch wasn’t bad but 50 euros was ridiculous.
What we wanted to eat that cost only a couple Euros…

Local Moroccan dish

Instead.  We got a mediocre meal at this overpriced restaurant.

Overpriced tourist restaurant in Tangier

  • Now for the walking tour.  What a disappointment.  We actually got handed off to another guy who had even less personality (I didn’t think that was possible but it was).  He rushed us through the old town just pointing out the old buildings by saying their name.  No history.  No stories.  No explanation. He just said their names.

Our no history. No explanation. Super fast walking tour of Tangier

  • When Miki found this craftsman making leather handbags in a small corner shop she stopped.  Our guide said no and tried to keep us moving.  Miki wanted to buy a bag directly from the craftsman.  Our guide said that wasn’t possible.  We must buy it at a shop.  The lightbulb went off.  He was rushing us through the tour to get him to his friend’s shop so he could get commission off what we would buy.  At this point I called him out on it and told him we are not going to buy anything at the shop and your not going to get any commission so please take us somewhere else.  He got pissed.  He said there is nothing else to see in Tangier so he took us back to the ferry terminal.

Local craftsman making leather handbags

So what’s the best thing to do in Tangier, Morocco?

Sleeping in Tangier

We spent almost 300 euros on what was the the worst and most expensive day tour ever.  (Ok.  it wasn’t the most expensive day tour we’ve ever taken but it definitely was the biggest waste of money.) It’s too bad that a very pour tour guide ruined Tangier for us.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone to visit Tangier but if you do definitely don’t use Aziz Tours.  I’ll also think twice about trusting Rick Steve’s again :)
We did see one cool thing during our tour.  The cafe from the Bourne Ultimatum.  When we asked to stop to take a picture the guide said no place to park (surprised?).  So we had to make due with a drive by pic.

Cafe from the Bourne Ultimatum

Tanzania & Uganda – The Pictures

Friday, January 1st, 2010

I’ve finally gotten through all 7000 pictures I took on our Tanzania and Uganda holiday back in November.  Don’t worry.  I didn’t post all 7000.  The pages are split into one section for Uganda and one section for Tanzania.  Both pages have a gallery that links to about 200 of the best pictures from the whole trip.  The rest of the galleries have more great pictures broken out into specific sections of the trip.

Enjoy…

Uganda Holiday Index

Tanzania Holiday Index

Tanzania – Video Slideshow

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Video slide show of the Tanzania portion of the trip.  I’m really liking the ability to embed short video clips into the animoto slide shows. It almost makes my long slide shows worth watching :)

Click here to download a high resolution version

Uganda – Video Slideshow

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Here’s another Animoto Video Slideshow from our trip to Uganda. If you’ll only going to check out one thing on the blog from our Uganda trip… watch the slideshow ;)

Click here to download a high resolution version.

I still have more photos to process from my trip, not to mention the hours of video to go through but I’m getting there.  Hopefully I’ll have the best of the photos up in a couple weeks.  I’ll also finish the video slideshow from the Tanazania leg of our trip shortly.

Tanzania – Trip Report

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Migration

The planning aspect of the Tanzania portion of our trip was easy once we had all the dates worked out that my family could meet us there.  I scoured the forums looking for a reputable safari operators, talked with other people who had been there before, e-mailed travel magazines for recommendations, etc.  After I had a list a few companies I e-mailed all of them with what was essentially the same e-mail detailing the requirements we had for our trip.  I had been on safari before so I knew exactly what we wanted.  A luxury camping experience with a few days in a lodge half way through the trip to break up the camping.  After some back and forth with several companies I eventually decided on Naipenda Safaris.  Jo (the owner) was extremely helpful and responded quickly to all my e-mails.  They also had a local office in Arusha, Tanzania so this wasn’t just a travel agent reselling another company’s services.  Their trucks looked new, their camp sites looked very professional and the guides seemed all very well trained.

Here is the itinerary that was eventually put together for us:

Day 1 :Arrive at Kilimanjaro airport and transfer to Tarangire park.  Afternoon game drives in Tarangire park, dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping

Today we arrived early in the morning from Entebbe, Uganda and met up with the rest of my family who arrived the night before.  We were quickly (after our driver fixed TWO flat tires we had in the span of 30 minutes) on our way to Tarangire park.  The campsite was fantastic.  Our tents were nestled in between huge Baobab trees.

Tarangire camp site

Day 2 :Morning and afternoon game drives in Tarangire park, dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping

Tarangire is known for its elephant herds and it didn’t disappoint.

elephant up close

Day 3: After breakfast, game drive en route towards Ngorongoro, via Lake Manyara Park.

Lake Manyara is a very small park so we were only scheduled to drive through it on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater.  About half way through the park we came upon the typical safari scene.  There were zebras, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, and impala all sharing a clearing with a small river running through it.  The following picture is using my Canon 30D that I just had converted to infrared.  I’m not totally happy with the results but with more practice I should be able to produce some better results.  Another excuse to go back to Africa on safari :)

Tarangire infrared scene

Day 4: Next morning descend into the crater for tour, game viewing around the area, late afternoon back to the hotel for dinner and overnight Ngorongoro Sopa.

The crater is one amazing place… and so is the Ngorongoro Sopa lodge.  The amount of wildlife packed into a small place is amazing.  One of the key attractions (besides the concentration of Lions) are the Rhinos.  We saw them earlier in the day but they were very far away and lying down.  We decided to go back and see them just before we returned back to the lodge and we got very lucky.  Just as we pulled up to where we say them in the morning they started to move.  The best part is there were no other vehicles around unlike in the morning where we had to jockey for position with the other 10 vehicles.

rhinos

We also had some amazing cheetah sightings.  We watched a pair of them for quite a while.  We thought one of them was about to take off and kill a gazelle but at the last moment he laid down instead.  I guess he must have been full.

cheetah

Day 5: After breakfast game drive en route Northern Serengeti in Lobo area, full day game drives dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping

We spent the next 5 days in the Northern part of the Serengeti.  We originally choose the northern part because the migration should have been there this time of year.  However, you can’t really plan it and due to an drought in Kenya, the migration started earlier.  By the time we arrived the migration was already in the central part of the Serengeti.  This was about a 2 hour drive from our camp.  We were concerned when we first heard this but it turned out not to be an issue at all.  We did drive back to the central sergenti for two days to see the migrations but the rest of the time we stayed in the north and we had amazing wildlife viewings every day.

migration

Day 6: After breakfast game drive en route Northern Serengeti in Lobo area, full day game drives dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping

lions lounging on a rock

Day 7: After breakfast game drive en route Northern Serengeti in Lobo area, full day game drives dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping

leopard

Day 8: After breakfast game drive en route Northern Serengeti in Lobo area, full day game drives dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping (We ended up staying at the Lobo Wildlife Lodge due to our campsite being destroyed)

wet black maned lion

Today.  It rained… hard… and it was very, very windy.  The morning started off just as every other morning did and the weather was ok.  We went out for a game drive and actually saw two black maned lions which are pretty rare.   They looked pretty miserable in the pouring rain but little did we realize we would also be sharing their experience.  We started to head back to camp around lunch time and it started raining so hard that you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the car.  We eventually pulled up to camp and one of the camp hands came up to our car and said “one of the tents has a little water in it”.  We couldn’t see the tents from the car due to the pouring rain so we asked which one.  His reply was the second one… which was my sisters.  We all got out of the car, which was parked right next to the dinner tent so we wouldn’t have to get wet.  We walked through the dinner tent and out the other side to get a good look at our campsite.  The “second tent” looked fine.  It was moving around the wind pretty violently and it was leaning to one side a little but generally ok.

campsite

BEFORE

our tent destroyed

AFTER

Then we all noticed that the one tent to the left of the second tent was no longer there.  All that was standing was the toilet.  The rest of the tent was in the tree… upside down.  All of me and my wife’s clothes, some camera equipment, everything was flipped upside town and tossed into a tree.  I quickly ran through the rain into the tent via a huge hole that wasn’t there before.  It was a disaster.  There was water everyone and our stuff was tossed around like a tornado just went through.  There was a shoe floating in the water.  One of my portable hardrives was floating nicely in its neoprene case.  All I thought was all the pictures from the trip are ruined (turned out not to be the case.  It dried out fine and turned out without a problem.  I love my Hyperdrive).   The amazing thing is that inside the tent there was a cast iron bed and dresser.  The bed must have weighed 200-300 pounds but the wind was so strong it had no problem flipping it upside down and tossing it into the tree.  The rain eventually stopped and we got all of our stuff out of the tent but everything was went and the tent was totally destroyed.  There was no way we could stay here tonight

My parents tent was the only one that was damaged but since the flaps on the tent were open, rain soaked everything in the tent.  All six of us had almost no dry clothes, no place to stay that night, but we were all having a good time.  Part of the fun of traveling.

More pictures of the aftermath…

Naipenda eventually arranged for us to stay at a lodge but that was a bit of an ordeal as well.  The closest lodge was the Lobo Wildlife Lodge but they very rarely sent guests there and don’t have an arrangement with them.  They wanted us to drive 2+ hours back to the central Serengeti to stay at a Serena lodge but it had started raining hard again and it was to dangerous for us to leave.  So, we eventually worked out a deal with the lodge and Naipenda to stay there two nights.  More on the lodge later but basically it was an amazing beautiful lodge with the most horrendous service.

lobo wildlife lodge

Day 9: After breakfast game drive en route Northern Serengeti in Lobo area, full day game drives dinner and overnight Luxury mobile camping (replaced with: Lobo Wildlife Lodge)

After getting all of clothes cleaned and dried we headed off for another day of game drives.  The morning drive was great but the afternoon was almost completely uneventful.  The afternoon drive was really the only game drive we had were something very cool didn’t happen.

Day 10: Morning game viewing drive towards Seronera airstrip, fly to Arusha for lunch.

cheetah kill

The final day.  We packed up from the lodge for the 2 hour drive back.  On the way back we saw a few cars stopped to look at something.  It was a cheetah but it was pretty far away.  Even with my 7D, 1.4x extender and 400mm lens, it was still hard to see.  A few minutes into us watching it started to run after a Gazelle.   The cheetah started playing with it.  It would tackle it and then let it run away only chase it and tackle it again later.  The Cheetah kept looking around.  We think it was looking for its cubs which is way it was just playing with the gazelle.  The wanted it’s cubs to make the final kill.  The cubs never showed up so the Cheetah eventually finished off the gazelle and dragged it away.

We took a final plane ride back to arusha and then back to Tokyo… about 24 hours later.

Uganda – Trip Report

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Kayonza Airstrip

Flying over the Congo in order to land on the airstrip that services the Bwinid Impenetrable Forest

Day 1

After a long trip from Tokyo (23 hour layover in Bangkok, 3 hours in Nairobi) we finally landed in Entebbe, Uganda.  From there we took a 30 minute taxi ride to Kajansi airstrip to grab our charter flight to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest.  We had the option to take a 10+ hour car ride from Kampala to Bwindi or fly there in a very small Cesna 172.  Given our time contsraints we opted to fly in and out of Bwindi.

We landed on a very cool airstrip that was cut out of a tea field only a few meters from the Congo border.  We were picked up by our guide/driver for the next 3 days.  Since the Volcanoes lodge didn’t have a car in the area they arranged for us to use a driver/guide from Gorilla Forest Camp (GFC).  They wanted to drive in a car in from Kampala but that would have added considerable cost to the trip.  You really don’t need a guide… only a driver and even then you sometimes don’t need one.  The first day, we could have walked to where we started the gorilla trek.  The problem is that is not always the case.  Depending on where the gorillas are, you may have to drive a ways to the point were the trek starts.  On the second day, we had to drive for about 2 hours because we were trekking with a different group that was based out of a different park office but still in the Bwinidi Impenetrable forest.

Travel Tips:

  • The plane we charted from www.flyuganda.com told us we had a weight limit of 180 kgs.  This included passengers and baggage.  I was worried because we were a little bit over this but they didn’t care.  The pilot didn’t even weight our bags.
  • The charter company can pick you up from the airport for $75 or you can get a taxi just outside the airport for $25.  You have to negotiate cause they will start at $75.  I could have probably gotten lower but I was jet lagged and wanted to get on with it.
  • The flight was almost 2 hours in the Cessna 172.  These planes bounce around a lot so take air sickenss medication before if you need.

posing gorilla

Day 2

This was the first day of the gorilla trekking and to be honest… we were pretty disappointed.  The trekking through the forest was amazing.  We started with about an hour of hiking pretty much straight up.  The terrain flattened out a bit but then the vegetation got very thick and we had to make our own trail.  The gorillas weren’t cooperating today.  Most of the time the trackers that are sent about 2 hours ahead of us find where they slept the night before and can find them pretty easily.  However, today they were on the move.  We hiked for a very long time but eventually the trackers found them so prepared our cameras and started towards them.  It was amazing to see them up close but the disappointing thing is they seem kinda pissed that we were there.  Once we would see them they would stay still for a couple of minutes and then start running down the mountain again.  They would eventually stop and we would chase them.  They would stay still for a few minutes and then start running again.  The terrain was very steep so it was hard to keep up.  This went on for about 50 minutes until we reach the bottom of the valley.  In the distance we some elephants which from what the guide said was pretty rare to see.  They think that’s why the gorillas seemed spooked.  They do not like elephants.  Anyway, our 1 hour of gorilla trekking time was really only about 15 minutes of face to face time and 45 minutes of chasing after them.  Obviously, we were very disappointed but that is why we booked two days because they are wild animals and you never know what to expect.

The Old Guy

Day 3

The next day of trekking was amazing.  Truly, truly, amazing.  The group was comprised of about 12 individuals and they all seemed intrigued with us.  One was so intrigued that it came running across the path in front of us it hit me on the leg.  It wasn’t a hard hit but more of  forceful “get out of my way” kind of tap.  The guides said this particular gorilla is known for “playing” with the tourists.  The individuals we were watching at the beginning were all males.  All the females and babies were somewhere else.  About 45 minutes in to watching the males the guide said lets go find the other half of the group.  My initial thought was no because the 1 hour limit starts from when you see the first one but I didn’t have time to object.  We hiked through some swamp for about 15-20 minutes when we came on the other half of the group.  One of the females was right out in the open and seemed to be posing for us.  There were also two babies playing around.  A big silverback also came back and started tearing down a tree.  The guides gave us about 45  minutes with the other half of the group which we were all very grateful for.  They eventually pulled us away and we started walking back to the park office when we saw the oldest silverback of the group sitting on hillside munching on some vegetation.   We stayed for a little while longer watching him and getting a last few photos in.

Overall, an amazing day that totally made up for the disappointment on the first day.  We found out after that our guide from GFC told the park ranger that we had a rather disappointing gorilla trekking experience the day before so make sure they have a good time today.  We’re not sure if they helped convince the guide to give us extra time but we were grateful either way.

Day 4

A pretty uneventful day.  We drove back to the airstrip near the Congo for the 2 hour flight back to Kampala.  We transferred to the Sheraton in Arusha and had a nice long hot shower and got some of the Uganda mud out of our clothes.  The showers at the Volcanoes lodge were all served from a bucket so you had to keep them short.

baby gorilla

Uganda – Trip Planning

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Infrared Gorillas

The planning aspect of the Uganda portion of our trip got a little complicated and I probably shouldn’t have tried to figure out a way to get the price lower but it worked out fine in the end. I contacted Volcanoes Safari to help arrange this leg of my trip.  They are considered “The No. 1 Gorilla Safari Company” so I figured it would be a good choice.  The short of it is it was a good choice but they are very expensive unless you do what I did.  I also contacted Gorilla Forest Lodge (GFC) at the recommendation of the owner of flyuganda.com but they were fully booked for the dates I needed to go.  Most people I met say that GFC is considered the best lodge in the Bwindi area.

My request:

  1. Fly in and out off Bwindi to avoid the 10+ hour car ride.
  2. 3 nights in the Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge
  3. 4 gorilla trekking permits (2 days x 2 people).
  4. All transfers and guide

I go into more details including prices after the jump.  I guess it’s taboo to talk about cost on blogs because I had a very hard time finding this type of information.  I hope this helps some people save a few bucks when traveling to Uganda.  If you don’t want to find out the costs just enjoy the pictures in the other posts.

(more…)

2009 Safari – Uganda and Tanzania

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

gorilas in the mist

We just got back from a 2 week trip to Uganda and Tanzania.  An amazing trip that almost went off without a hitch… until our tent flew into a tree while camping in the Serengeti, all of our clothes got soaked, and we had to take shelter in a lodge instead of our luxury camp site.  All part of the adventure of traveling and to be honest… we were all getting a little bored of watching animals all day long.  The little (mis)adventure added a needed break from the daily routine.

Trekking with the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impentrable Forest was also a highlight.  The first day of trekking was a little bit of a disappointment but the second day more than made up for it.  Check out the trip report, pictures, and videos in subsequent posts.

baby gorilla

I’ll break this trip report into a couple of different sections to make it easier

to read.