Rio’s African Adventure|Honeymoon Special – Part 1
African Adventure|Honeymoon Special – Part 1
(Warning: This is long, so grab a cuppa!) – Last year, I married my soul mate. It was the most incredible day filled with all the positive emotions one can imagine, but it was also a long process and left us pretty exhausted both financially and emotionally. We had to wait patiently for our honeymoon, our first real holiday in years. In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t go straight away, as it gave us something incredible to look forward to.
Making the honeymoon decision – Planet Africa Safaris
With beaches on our doorstep here in Dubai, my husband and I craved an adventure. Italy had always been my dream, Iceland (also on my list) would be a visual feast and Africa, well Africa would feed our desires to see the wild close up. Friends suggested Tanzania or Zanzibar, and Planet Africa Safaris (a small safari company with a personalised service) was recommended to me.
I contacted them and was sent a series of questions to enable our travel consultant to draft a bespoke itinerary. We wanted to see the BIG 5 (wildlife), enjoy some romantic touches, good food and culture, and, towards the end, relax. The cost was not cheap, but after a few tweaks we managed to find a balance, with the personalised assistance of Willow, our Planet Africa Safaris consultant. It was our honeymoon, after all, and a holiday of a lifetime. Below I recount our honeymoon experience (all images were taken on my Iphone and camera). Enjoy!
On our arrival in Tanzania, we were met by our smiling chauffeur, ‘God’s light’, who safely drove us to our first accommodation, a boutique guesthouse called Onsea House in Arusha.
Adam and I were greeted with fresh passion fruit and banana juice, and I was blown away by the green, lush landscape. The air was fresh and crisp, with a light drizzle (much appreciated, having come from the soaring heat in Dubai), and the resident cat, Naila, was sleeping cozily at the entrance. We were then shown to our gorgeous room, which had an adjoining balcony offering stunning views across the hills.
During our short stay, we dined at Machweo, overlooking the valley (very romantic); our waiter ‘Method’ showed us the best spot to watch the sunset and, although partially encased in clouds, it was still a beautiful sight.
We knew the food was fresh, as the kitchen is built to allow guests to catch a glimpse of the chefs at work. Piles of fragrant herbs were being washed and prepared as we made our way to our table. We dined on sumptuous dishes such as pumpkin and sunflower seed soup, white snapper and pineapple fritters with chocolate ice cream. To end our first evening in Tanzania, we reclined in our chairs overlooking the greenery and watched the clouds settling around the peak at the top of the distant mountains … and just took it all in.
Tarangire National Park/Maramboi Tented Camp
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by our first guide, Elisa, in a super awesome, pimped out Planet Africa Safaris 4×4 Land Cruiser, much to the delight of my off-roading obsessed husband.
After 1.5 hours, we arrived at the gates of Tarangire National Park, a unique park close to Lake Manyara. The first thing we noticed were the beautiful Baobab trees, which can grow up to 25 metres tall and can live for several thousand years. The trees made for beautiful pictures set against the stunning African sky.
During our drive through the park, we saw plenty of elephants, and a wide variety of other unique wildlife as well as interesting bird life. In particular we met lots of naughty monkeys, who attempted to ambush our packed lunches provided by Onsea House. A lovely safari initiation, Tarangire was not as intense as what was to follow, but was exciting nevertheless.
That night, we stayed at the Maramboi Tented Camp – a mid-range option offering spacious permanent tents with pleasing décor, private wooden verandas and en suite bathrooms. The main area had a great swimming pool with incredible views and there were wildebeest grazing nearby.
We rose early at the next day to maximise our time at the Ngorongoro Crater, an imploded volcano and the world’s largest inactive, dry, complete volcanic crater. The drive at the top of the crater through dense forest was breathtaking. With misty fog floating around, it was like something out of Gorillas in the Mist. I stood up and stuck my head out of the Land Cruiser roof, inhaling the fresh, crisp air.
After driving along the beautiful crater rim, we started our descent to the crater floor, some 2,000 feet below. Described on TripAdvisor as like “Noah’s Ark parked in the Garden of Eden”, the vast crater brims with wildlife – rhinos, lions, hippos, elephants and flamingos. At one point, our jeep was literally surrounded by monkeys, some with tiny babies clinging to their fur.
We saw lots of zebra in particular, and I noticed some seemed to be resting their heads across each other’s backs. This, I was told, was because they were literally watching each other’s backs, looking out for potential danger. Everywhere the zebra went, the hilarious wildebeest seemed to follow; this, I learnt, is because zebra have great eyesight, while the wildebeest have an impressive sense of smell, so they complement one another.
The piece de resistance for Adam and I was meeting the local Maasai tribe, known for their red garments, necklaces, unique hair styles and diet consisting of milk, meat and cows’ blood. As soon as I stepped out of the jeep, the local ladies grabbed my hand and started singing to me. The tribesmen joined in, and I attempted to sing along with them (surreal!). We met the village elders, were shown the livestock enclosures where we learnt about their prized cattle, and visited the local school.
The people of the Maasai tribe are considered rigid by some because they have managed to preserve their traditional ways despite the impact of western civilization. This is what I admired greatly about them. While they were welcoming and happy to answer our questions via our guide, you could sense that they were also proud and protective of their way of life.
I could write more about what we experienced at the crater, including having lunch close to a lake filled with hippos cooling off during the midday heat, while watching an eagle gliding back and forth above a beautiful Baobab tree. Or seeing a couple of lionesses dozing under the shade of a tree through our binoculars … or watching elephants in their natural habitat, without fear of poachers. But I will stop there … ah, it was truly wonderful.
Rhotia Valley Lodge
Our next accommodation, the mid-range Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge, was conveniently located just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation, but required a long and extremely bumpy drive to reach the top (gorgeous views though, with lot’s of pretty sunflowers). Along the way, the local village children waved at us with huge, beaming smiles. All the proceeds from this lodge are used to fund the local orphanage, and we visited the children’s home straight away, accompanied by the lodge’s resident dog (we fell in love with him) and the manager.
On entering our lodge, we noticed the cute flower petal display on our bed, the first lodge to add that ‘special honeymoon’ touch to our accommodation. Dinner was delicious, especially the mustard seed soup (if you’re Muslim, be sure to inform the staff as some of the food contained small portions of pork), and we loved the roaring log fire. The lodge had a really quirky, personal feel, especially the dining area which was just lovely.
We finished our evening at Rhotia Valley gazing at the moon and stars through the manager’s giant telescope. We saw the craters on the surface of the moon, and shot some amazing images with our own camera. The sky was so clear, it was a star gazer’s dream…and a magical experience!