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Today, we flew an hour and a half north to Arusha to begin our budget camping safari with Duma Explorers. We were met at the airport by our driver, Malles, our cook, Gideon, and Irish newlyweds Lorna and Carl. Honeymooning with Aidan and Nathan… this should be interesting!

Travel TipTravel Tip 15: Do your research before arriving.

There are dozens of safari companies based in Arusha. I took the recommendations from several different guide books and then cross-referenced reviews on TripAdvisor. After narrowing the choices, I investigated their websites to find one that had the desired itinerary and price.

Your chosen safari company should be a member of TATO (Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators). Ask about the types of vehicles that they use. Inquire about their insurance and medical evacuation procedures.

We’re traveling in an 8-passenger Toyota Land Cruiser. Nearly everyone here travels in Land Cruisers or Rovers. Just five minutes on the road tells you why. I use the word “road” loosely. It’s more of a dusty, stone-carpeted, teeth-chattering path, and the deeper you get, the worse it becomes. I have a new-found admiration for the suspension systems on Land Cruisers. If we don’t blow a tire on this trip, it will be a small miracle.

(Note: Later on the trip, we blew not one, but two tires!)

It was a 6-hour drive to our campground near Lake Eyasi. All along the way, we saw young Maasi boys – younger than Aidan – tending herds of cattle and goats. So much responsibility for boys so young.

From Nathan: My legs hurt when we got out of the car, because I had to fit my long legs into a cramped space. At one of our stops, we got to see Tanzanite, a precious gem that’s 100 times more rare than diamonds. I got to hold a $18,000 piece of it.

The campground is… rustic. We’re staying in canvas tents on pads, no cots. The bathrooms, again using this term loosely, have no running water. (Technically, they have running water, but it’s broken. As we’re learning in Africa, when something breaks, it’s often not fixed.) There’s a bucket of water brought in from a nearby spring for hand washing and toilet flushing. After four days of sunscreen and intensive DEET insect repellent (there’s real Malaria risk here) layered on our skin, we may have to resort to a sponge bath or bucket shower. I’m pretty sure that any desire to camp in the future will be sufficiently purged from our systems by the end of this trip. (Neerav, I know you’re jumping for joy!)