Big Wide World

Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Frank Dayus

For most people, places like Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and Zanzibar are exotic names found in books and movies. For Windsor residents Debbie and Frank Dayus, these are but three destinations from an itinerary from a trip of a lifetime in East Africa.

Debbie and Frank Dayus in Ngorongoro Conservation on the last day of travelling in the park reserves.

“Friends had gone the year before. They had done almost the exact same trip,” Debbie says. “We took their lead and created our plan together based on theirs.”

“We went with Gate 1 Travel to book our safari and hotels,” Frank says. “Once we arrived that made it very smooth, rather than doing it on our own.”

The travelers flew into legendary Kilimanjaro at the end of September. 

“We would travel with Gate 1 Travel again,” the travelers say. “We didn’t have to think about where we were going to eat or go. We had a fabulous guide named Romwald Mtandika. He took us around and it was great.”

They continue: “One thing that people often worry about on trips like this is the food, what it might do to their system. We drank bottled water, but we had no problems with the food.”

The travelers spent two nights in Arusha recuperating from their long flight and checking out local sights. From there, they spent two nights in Tarangire National Park, located in Tanzania’s Manyara Region. Tarangire is approximately one hundred kilometers from the city of Arusha, and is known for its huge herds of elephants, giraffes, giant baobabs trees, fever tree forests, along with its swamps and sweeping vistas. 

“We stayed in beautiful accommodations that had all the amenities we wanted—even mosquito nets around the bed,” the travelers recall.

The African Tulip was one of these hotels, a luxury accommodation located along the Serengeti road in the heart of Arusha. Situated within an hour’s drive from Kilimanjaro international airport, many travelers find the hotel a convenient launchpad for safari adventures. 

“Every place we stayed, we were met at the door with hot towels,” they say. “It’s very dusty and it was good to wash off a bit after arriving! Hotel staff also met us with a signature drink, a passion fruit juice. We really enjoyed that.” 

Soon, it was time to get out into the bush among the animals they had waited a lifetime to see.

“We started off around six o’clock in the morning, driving down a bumpy dirt highway, before entering the reserve,” the travelers recall. “There we saw elephants, giraffes, cheetahs and lions all roaming around. I couldn’t believe how close they came to our vehicle!”

“We could have reached out an touched them,” the travelers say. “It was amazing. We asked our guide if a leopard or a cheetah ever jumped into one of the jeeps and he said: ‘Yes they have!’ The guide knew his way around, and we always felt completely safe.” 

At times, the travelers got an eyeful. 

“It was mating season,” the travelers say with a laugh. “We certainly got to see the animals in their natural state! They didn’t care if we were only five feet away from them. They went about their business without a care in the world!” 

They continue: “It was great being so close to the animals We’d be driving down a path and a leopard might suddenly pop out of the tall grass. Romi, our guide, saw a cheetah and knew exactly where it would come out into the open. He parked our jeep at the side of the road next to a mound of dirt. A few minutes later, the cheetah came out of the grass and jumped onto the mound. He was searching for his food and paid no attention to us.” 

“We weren’t afraid,” Debbie adds. “It was as if there was an understanding between us and the animals: ‘You stay in your space. We’ll stay in ours!’”

“While sitting in the jeep, we saw a group of lions chewing on a zebra, like you or I chewing on a drumstick!” the travelers say. “We got to see lions mate, as well as the ostriches. It was interesting to see the male ostriches do a dance as they approached the females. You don’t see that at the zoo. We saw hyenas feeding on a wildebeest.”

Their guide operated, primarily, with instincts honed by years of experience. There were no weapons visible in the jeep in case an animal decided to join the group in the safari vehicle. That said, there were well-armed guards at the entrances to the reserves.

“The guards at the gates had AK47s,” Frank says. “They’re guarding against poachers, which was a very big problem. We asked our guide: ‘What do they do with poachers?’ He said: ‘They shoot them.’” 

“The only animal we didn’t see right up close was a rhinoceros,” the travelers say. 

“We saw one quite a ways away,” the travelers note. “With my camera lens, I got a half decent picture of it. Because of poachers and past hunting, they’re almost extinct.”

Debbie and Frank spent three days in the Serengeti.

“We stayed at a bush camp,” the travelers explain. “Everything there was brought into the reserve from outside. Even the wood they burned in the fire was brought in. They won’t even pull branches from a fallen tree in the reserve. They just leave it.” 

They continue: “The camp tents were incredible. We each had our own tent that had a huge bedroom and a washroom. If you wanted a hot shower, you called down to the check-in area, and a bucket of hot water was brought to the tent. The bush camp ran on solar power—we had full power all night. It was like being in a hotel.”  

Two things the travelers say booked on their own during the adventure was a balloon ride in Zanzibar and a grand lobster meal on a beach, which included lobster rolls, lobster bisque, lobster salad, and a main course of—lobster.

“I got my lobster fill that night!” Debbie says. “The whole trip was everything we hoped it would be and a lot more.”

“Our itinerary was go-go-go, nonstop,” Frank says. “From the time we met our guide at six a.m., to when we said goodbye, every moment of the day was planned. There was time to relax, of course, but when we got up in the morning we just went!”

Would the travelers say go on this trip again?

“In a heartbeat,” they say. “There is so much of the world to see, we’re at a point where we want to see different things, but we would recommend this safari experience to anyone.”

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