Taking the family to Tanzania for a safari has been a pipe dream for a long time, but living in Spain has afforded us the opportunity to go and we couldn’t pass it up! Getting there, though, is easier said than done. The best flight options ended up being a red eye out of Madrid on Ethiopian airlines, through Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and finally into Kilimanjaro airport in Arusha, Tanzania. It was not so very bad as we mostly slept on the first flight – it had an unexpected stop in Malta for gas, perhaps it’s cheaper fuel – and landed in the morning in Addis Ababa. The Addis airport is not the most boring airport I’ve been in, but its certainly quite dull and oddly organized. We bought some water and passed our few hours of a layover reading on the kindle and listening to audiobooks.
I’ve found, travelling with my kids that focusing on reading is a way better time waster than videos. Via our library access, I downloaded a handful of audiobooks onto the One Click digital app on my old iPhone. I also downloaded some new readers onto my kindle for Avi, and updated some books onto Zoe’s kindle for her to read. Using their imaginations to listen or read stories keeps them more focused and involved; plus, for the digital space on my phone an 8 hour audio book is way smaller than multiple movies. I highly recommend this no screen time (save for the kindle) method of traveling with kids.
Our flight from Addis to Kilimanjaro was just a couple hours and uneventful other than Bryan’s excitement over riding in a new airplane – the 787 Dreamliner. It was super super nice! Disregard all that crap I just wrote about screen time…. well, not completely, but on this airplane we each had an entertainment console in the seat in front so everyone was digitally occupied. It is pretty nice when its at the cost of the airline. The highlight for Avi, however, was the dimming windows. No shades in this plane, instead there is a button that causes the window to tint itself blue. Wild!
I made him untint the window as we neared Kilimanjaro to see the peak of Kili and Mt. Meru poking up through their drapes of cloud. After landing we found ourselves in a slightly confusing set of lines for visa’s and immigration. I pre printed and filled our visa forms, so that step was eliminated but we still needed to do arrival cards and stand in the visa line to pay: $100 each since we are Americans, all others pay $50 (this is not uncommon, but kinda sucks). After paying for it, we needed the line to acquire the visa, and then the immigration lines. Took a while, and one particular white bearded French old man was pretty peeved about the whole thing and started ranting in French, very loudly, then stood in line behind the kids and I. Ugh. He went on and on and I really expected security to take him out, but I guess he made it through as we saw him a few days later at the Serengeti.
Outside of immigration we snatched our single suitcase – we brought an actual rolly suitcase this time instead of backpacks to keep all our stuff in one bag. It is an old blue one I got from the Osan thrift store for $5 with the sole intention of moving to Spain, then pawned it off to my sister Bethany, who recently surprised me for my birthday by flying down to Spain to return it (among other things). Seemed like a good bag to take and potentially destroy without caring; though it held up like a champ.
Our driver from Bobby Tours (www.bobbytours.com) was there to retrieve us and we drove out into the African sun. Past sunflower fields and boys herding goats and cows, we drove an hour or so to Arusha to finalize our bill with the tour agency at their office. From there we were taken to Songota Falls Lodge for the evening – a hotel I booked for our first night.
It was wonderful, up in the cool misty foothills of Mt. Meru, and surrounded by jungle. As we settled for the evening Avi spotted monkeys right outside our window and Bryan was so excited he rushed out for pictures. Our room was a round stone hut with a thatched roof, a big full size bed and a rustic bunk for the kids. The grounds were pretty and groomed with banana trees and flowers, plus both a mean dog and a nice dog to play with. There were amazing murals painted on the walls and the artist completed one while we were there. Ms. Joyce, the proprietress, was a very kind and attentive woman dressed in the colorful clothes of the area; she had her helper bring us a charcoal burning pot for the room as a chill had set in by evening time. Exhausted from a day of travel and the previous evening on a plane, we enjoyed dinner at the lodge’s outside dining room and were introduced to a delicious avocado salad, potato soup, injera bread, and lentils. By nightfall it was downright cold outside, but toasty warm under our wool blankets. We slept well and woke bright and excited for the start of our safari the next day.