♬ This Time for Africa ♬
After the passport reissue came the mother of all decisions. Where do we travel to? After our last trip in 2014, we both had decided to travel to Japan for our next vacation to see the breathtaking beauty of the cherry blossoms. After recently watching Kill Bill, I even had a desire to visit Okinawa and a secret wish to own a samurai sword. My husband would definitely not love the idea of me owning a samurai sword, but marriage is all about sacrifices, I remind him. Doing a brief research about Japan made him realize that the cost was too much for us to bear (or was the samurai sword a bit too much for him to bear?!). So, we started picking and dropping destinations off the map faster than a seasoned shopper on a shopping spree. Finally our eyes rested on Tanzania. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, I love wildlife and heavily regretted the missed opportunity to visit Brazil and to witness the Amazon rain forests in all its glory. So, to make up for that, we decided to travel to Tanzania to enjoy the African savanna.
Although shortlisting the country was relatively easy, the difficultly was in picking specific destinations to visit in the sprawling landscape. Wildlife safari was our first and foremost priority. Reading about Tanzania, we realized that Tanzania abounds in national parks which conserve wildlife and that they are spread across the country. So, here comes the “technical” details that I can’t skip when writing about a trip. Broadly the regions can be divided into four circuits – northern, southern, eastern and western. We had to choose between the northern circuit which comprises of Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire and Lake Manyara and the southern circuit consisting of Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve. To complicate the decision making, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are listed among the seven natural wonders of Africa. On the other hand, Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania and East Africa. This was definitely not going to be an easy choice by any means. But when you are married, you have the unique advantage of delegating all unpleasant and tedious decision making activities to your spouse. To top it off, add the annoying right to criticize and complain about these decisions if it is slightly uncomfortable to you! When you are the blogger in the family, you further have the unique opportunity to compress your spouse’s research spanning weeks about the right circuit to visit into just two points:
- The southern circuit, albeit having lesser number of tourists, proved to be way more expensive (easily an additional 1000$/ head for transportation alone). Also, the accommodation options available at Ruaha were more expensive compared to the options in the northern circuit.
- The cheaper transportation option within the southern circuit was to drive from Dar-es-Salaam to Ruaha, which is a nine hour ride with plenty of free African massage (the inevitable dusty bumpy roads).
So finally, we (all successful decision making efforts are group efforts, any indication to the contrary is completely fictional) decided to target the already explored and touristy northern circuit for our wildlife exploration initiation. We also added the island of Zanzibar to our itinerary to have a relaxing week after a hectic safari.
As my husband still had to attend classes and juggle it with his corporate work, we could only travel during his college term breaks. Fortunately, the term timetable for the next few months was already available and we booked our tickets after monitoring the price fluctuations for a few days. As if waiting for us to book our tickets, his institute, within hours of our ticket confirmation, sends an email recalling the time table and pushing the end-term exams by another week such that the exam dates fell during our trip. What a wonderful year we were having! Cancelling and re-booking the tickets would set us back by a huge amount. We tried exploring all the possibilities including giving an early exam. Things were looking so bleak that we were on the verge of cancelling our trip and re-planning it for the next year. Luckily, on contacting the airlines, we realized that the cancellation charges were not enormous and so, we had to cancel our tickets and re-book them on different dates, but with a slightly modified itinerary in order to balance the exam dates, flight availability and his next term commencement dates.
With the vacation destination and the dates fixed and my passport reissued came the tricky part – getting the leave of absence from our offices approved. After practicing plenty of fun conversation starters to put my manager in a happy mood, I approached her with my leave request. The ease with which she approved it left me flabbergasted and laid my practice waste. Unlike me, my husband had to go through several nail-biting bouts in the arena before his manager conceded defeat and he was granted leave.
We then started our research for a safari operator for visiting the northern circuit and TripAdvisor helped a great deal in this regard by listing down the top safari operators around Arusha, which is the starting point for all safaris in the northern circuit. After a lot of email exchanges, back and forth Q&As and cost considerations, we shortlisted three travel operators who provided the deluxe package we wanted at an affordable cost on the dates that we had requested – Duma Explorers, Warrior Trails and Good Earth Tours . After further analysis we decided to go with Good Earth Tours as they provided us with a more flexible itinerary to customize as per our needs and requirements. After making all the payments, booking the domestic flights within Tanzania and the hotels in Zanzibar, we went ahead with our visa application. Fortunately, that went through without any hassles, but thanks to the demonetization drive in India, we had a tough time in trying to purchase the foreign currency. Mentally, I was all set for the safari even though my husband was lost among his management books trying hard to convince me that he was really studying while sneaking about and doing his office work. Whatever! Only marks will tell!
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