Reflections on Recent Global Travel Program Safari

Continuing a popular Global Travel Program offering, a group of alumni and friends went on a safari in Tanzania in May 2019.

I am writing to share with you my experience on one of the most amazing trips I have ever been on in my life – and I have been fortunate to visit over 45 countries during my career.

My wife, Gail, and I joined 26 other alumni and friends for a Tanzania Safari with the Hope College Alumni Association’s Global Travel Program. Going on safari has always been high on my “bucket list” and the idea of going with an award-winning wildlife photojournalist and other Hope alumni and friends was too good to miss. On all scores, the trip exceeded my lofty expectations – from wildlife viewing to cultural excursions to getting re-acquainted with a number of former classmates and fraternity brothers to meeting and making many new friends who share a common love for Hope College.

Tim Laman, a Hope College alumnus and National Geographic photographer was a co-leader on the trip.

The trip was well organized by Pat Van Wylen, who did a fabulous job with logistics before and during our excursion. She was ably joined by ornithologist, professor emeritus, and founder of Birder’s World Magazine, Eldon Greij, as well as distinguished alumnus, Tim Laman ’83. I cannot hope to compare to the quality of Tim’s work. You can see for yourself on Instagram, where he now has over one million followers! Eldon and Tim were so gracious in imparting their vast knowledge and experience that it made the trip a phenomenal learning opportunity.

Tanzania is ranked as one of the best African countries for safaris. It is not hard to see why. With almost a third of Tanzania protected for wildlife, viewing opportunities were endless. We followed what is called the northern safari circuit, where we witnessed an amazing array of wildlife and enchanting landscapes. This program was designed to maximize animal viewing and it more than accomplished that goal from dawn to dusk each day. The trip also included a number of cultural experiences designed to provide insights into the history, people and culture of Tanzania.

We experienced a wide variety of ecosystems with unique habitats. We traveled from forest and woodlands with scattered lakes, ponds and wetlands, to wooded savannah where trees and grasslands are interspersed, and finally, to grasslands — both short and tall — culminating in the Serengeti. What an amazing place! But I am getting ahead of myself. One of the points that Eldon and Tim kept emphasizing was to stay in the present moment. Don’t anticipate what is to come next – you never know what is just around the bend of the road.

After flying into Schiphol airport in the Netherlands (how appropriate) from various parts of the US, we flew as a group into Kilimanjaro Airport near Arusha, Tanzania where we stayed at the African Tulip, a luxury boutique hotel.

Colobus monkeys were an early highlight of the trip.

Our first full day in Africa was spent at Arusha National Park with habitats varying from wetlands to ponds and forests. Eldon was in his happy place because we saw so many different varieties of birds, including flamingos, herons, stilts and plovers. We also saw baboons – including a rare albino – along with zebras, giraffes, buffalo and monkeys. The highlight was watching the huge black and white Colobus monkeys that are unique to this particular area.

Mama Gladness welcomes the group at the Tengeru Cultural Center.

The next day began at the Tengeru Cultural Tourism Center where we learned about the Meru people and examined coffee and banana cultivation within a facility that captures, recycles and produces its own biogas. Not only did we get to share a meal, but we followed the coffee harvesting, roasting and grinding process all the way through to enjoying a fresh cup with Mama Gladness and our new friends.

We then moved onto Tarangire National Park. Tarangire has biodiversity not found elsewhere in the northern circuit. We spent two days where the Baobab trees dotted the landscape and there was an abundance of excellent wildlife viewing. The waterbuck, impala and gazelle became commonplace along with large elephant groups. We spotted lions, watched a leopard stalking a warthog and a Goliath heron perched on a rock in the river.

Flamingos in the Lake Manyara region.

We next moved on to spend two days exploring the enchanting Lake Manyara National Park. Ernest Hemingway once called this area the “loveliest place in Africa.” The park, with its phenomenal assortment of wildlife, is set up against the imposing huge western wall of the Great Rift Valley. The forest, lake and wetlands are home to a diversity of bird species so vast that it was hard to keep up on the ornithology lessons from Eldon. We spent our nights at The Retreat at Ngorongoro, a gorgeous new lodge at the top of the western wall. While there we visited the Iraqw to learn about their culture and history and to tour a nearby hill-side home. We witnessed a traditional marriage ceremony and some of our group had the opportunity to ‘renew’ vows.

A lioness and her cubs encounter the travelers.

Next, we were off to Ndutu Lake, within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It lies on the southern edge of the Serengeti plains and is filled with Acacia trees. We spent the night at the Ndutu Safari Lodge. The area is famous for cheetah and grazing mammals, such as wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, all of whom are at home in the short grass plains of this region. And, sure enough, Ndutu did not disappoint. On the drive in, we encountered two male lions relaxing under some trees near the lodge.

The group finds itself suddenly in the middle of the Great Migration.

The next day we were up before the sun to see if could observe cats on the move. And observe we did. We were not half a mile down the trail before encountering a pregnant lion out hunting. After an encounter with our two males again, we happened upon a group of two females and six kittens at a watering hole. While photographing these beautiful creatures, our guide spotted what he suspected was a cheetah chasing a wildebeest. We arrived just as the cat took down its prey. As we sat in the middle of the vast plain, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the Great Migration as thousands of zebras and wildebeest came thundering out of the trees on the surrounding hillside and began to fill up the surrounding area from horizon to horizon. It was an awe inspiring site to say the least.

A leopard on the hunt.

We then spent two days exploring Serengeti National Park, the preeminent park in East Africa and home to more than 2 million large mammals, including the big cats — lions, leopards and cheetahs. We spent two nights at the elegant Serengeti Serena Lodge. Where else in the world are you going to suddenly encounter a female cheetah and her six kittens resting in the shade of an Acacia tree? Or a pregnant leopard sleeping on a branch of a tree? Or another out stalking prey in the tall grass?

A panorama of Oldupai Gorge.

On our way to the Ngorongoro Highlands, we visited Olduvai Gorge (although we were instructed that the correct name is Oldupai – after the plant that grows there). The site is famous for early hominid findings from the team of Louis and Mary Leakey. A fascinating and well done museum has just been opened on the site and we were treated to a lecture and overview of the history of the site by the museum director.

After a couple of hours touring the Gorge, we move from one UNESCO World Heritage Site to another. At the top of the highlands sits the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, a collapsed caldera that is the largest in Africa. We packed a picnic lunch and descended from the beautiful Ngorongoro SOPA Lodge, located on the crater rim, into the spacious crater floor, where an absolutely incredible experience with wildlife awaited us.

The beauty of Ngorongoro Crater from the rim.
A single lion battles with a herd of buffalo in Ngorongoro Crater.

Over the course of the next few hours, we witnessed several hunts and attempted hunts between lions, buffalo and hyenas. At one point, we were positioned in between two very different encounters. On our right, two packs of hyenas were attacking a buffalo calf that had become separated from its mother and the herd. The buffalo tried for the longest time to fend off the attack, but was simply out numbered. On our left, we witnessed the sight of a young male lion that somehow found itself surrounded by an angry herd of buffalo that began hooking the helpless cat and throwing it into the air over and over again. It is amazing that the lion survived the repeated attacks and continued to fight back. After 15 minutes or so, the buffalo abandoned the cat. But we were not finished. One of our vehicles spotted another hunt underway with two lionesses stalking a small buffalo herd. A seeming stalemate ensued until four more from the pride arrived to join in the hunt. It didn’t take long after that for the buffalo to fall. We watched in astonishment.

Tim Laman summed up everyone’s sentiments for the day: “At times these scenes were not pleasant to watch, I will admit. Nature can be harsh. But it was real, and it was amazing to witness the cycle of life in a place that is still wild. We need places like that on earth, and it is good for us to visit them. As Tennyson wrote, on this day, we truly witnessed nature red in tooth and claw.”

Students from the school in Tanzania sign the national anthem.

We also visited a Maasai school in the area that Hope College groups have been financially supporting for the past few years. We also brought a number of gifts such as soccer balls, frisbees, jump ropes and other toys for the children to play with. It was fun to play with such an energetic group of students. We visited classrooms where we exchanged songs. In spite of our best efforts, we were totally outclassed by the students singing the Tanzania national anthem. They were beautiful.

The trip faces rain-soaked roads toward the end of their journey.

But our adventure was not over. There is no pavement on the roads around the rim of the crater. Given that the rim is quite often in the clouds during this the rainy season, the volcanic soil turns into a deep, red, slippery mud. Our drive up the night before had been harrowing enough, but two more days of wet made the drive even more treacherous. We attempted to get permission to go out via the park, but we were denied. So . . . we forged on. This is where you really appreciate the skills and experience of our guides from Roy Safaris. Although one of our vehicles did indeed become stuck trying to avoid another vehicle mired in the mud, they were able to free both from the mess.

On our final morning before heading to the airport for our flights home, many of us visited the Plaster House. Plaster House is the home of the Rehabilitative Surgery Program of the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre in Northern Tanzania. It was established in 2008 to provide a unique and loving home away from home for children receiving pre- and post-operative care and rehabilitation for a surgically correctable disability. It was truly a moving experience to see these children and their families recovering from surgeries to correct club feet, harelip and cleft palates that had hindered them from leading a normal life.

Leaders and guides from the trip pose for a photo before returning home.

I leave you with this picture of our fearless leaders. Our amazing guides are decked out in Hope College track warm ups. From left to right are: Hussein, Tim Laman, Niko, Pat Van Wylen, God Bless, Eldon Greij and Moses.

I cannot recommend highly enough that you check out the opportunity to participate in a future program. New Zealand with Dave Van Wylen and Croatia with John Tammi are two destinations currently open for registration. It is a great way to re-engage with your alma mater.

Spera in Deo!

Hope Experts Guide Alumni and Friends Through Tanzania

Photo of Tim Laman '83
Tim Laman ’83 takes a photo alongside guests on the recent travel program trip to Tanzania.

By Lynne Powe ’86

The jubilant “whoop” on the plains of the Serengeti isn’t the call of the African black-bellied bustard. It’s award-winning wildlife photojournalist and field biologist Dr. Tim Laman ’83 celebrating the composition of a special photo. As he reviews the images on the back of his camera, he beams with satisfaction, and a brief nod confirms he’s enjoying his time photographing the national parks of northern Tanzania.

Photo of Eldon Greij
Professor emeritus Eldon Greij leads a safari vehicle of interested birders.

In a nearby Toyota Land Cruiser, Dr. Eldon Greij, professor emeritus of biology and founder of the magazine Birder’s World, focuses his binoculars on a pair of raptors, while calling out identifying characteristics. The local driver/guide joins in. When necessary, they consult, “The Birds of East Africa,” a field guide laying on the dashboard. The energy and enthusiasm is palpable as they confirm another species to add to the checklist that evening.

Photo of Eldon Greij and Tim Laman
The former faculty and student research team takes a break in Arusha National Park as colleagues and trip co-leaders.

An African safari has been my dream trip since I was a Hope sophomore and hoping to photograph wildlife found in that part of the world. When I heard that Eldon Greij and Tim Laman were co-leading a tour with the Hope College Alumni Association, I was the first to pay my deposit. Based on their expertise, I was confident it would be an exceptional experience.

Eldon taught in the Hope College Biology Department for 26 years, specializing in ornithology and ecology.  He founded Birder’s World in 1988 and edited the magazine for 11 years. During that time he led birding tours to the Amazon and Africa for readers of the magazine.  He also led Hope student May terms to Peru and Tanzania.

Tim has excelled as an international wildlife photographer and videographer. A contributing photographer for National Geographic, he was named Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2016 by the world-renowned British institution, the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine. More than 50,000 entries from 95 countries were submitted for this prestigious competition. He has recently been a videographer for nature documentaries produced by the BBC.

For this Hope College tour, Eldon worked with his connections at Roy Safaris in Arusha to develop an itinerary that included a balance of national park game drives and cultural experiences. Highlights included Arusha National Park, making coffee at Tengeru Village, Tarangire National Park, an afternoon learning about an Iraqw tribe, Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti National Park, NDUTU, time with children at the Nainokanoka Primary School, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater, and a visit to a Maasai Village.

Twenty-eight alumni and friends from across the United States signed up for this adventure. Our ages ranged from 23 to 83. The reasons they shared for taking this journey were as varied as our ages. Some wanted to interact with people from other cultures. Some were drawn by the allure of so many animals.  Many were eager to add new species of birds to their life list. Some came for the opportunity to improve their photography skills under the mentorship of a National Geographic photographer. Some sought the thrill of the adventure of traveling to another part of the world. We all had a common desire to see and learn as much as we could during this unique opportunity.

Travel Program Group
The full group and guides celebrate a successful safari at the African Tulip in Arusha.
Safari Guides
Our guides, Thomas, Nico, Emmanuel and Salvatory, take a break for a photo before lunch on the edge of the Serengeti.

We had four amazing local safari guides who led the way and answered our constant questions. As we traveled the bumpy roads, they proudly taught us about their beautiful country and shared their stories. Thomas, Nico, Emmanuel, and Salvatory, knew the national parks well and easily spotted a wide variety of mammals and birds. They loved their jobs and it showed.

It was just as refreshing to see Eldon and Tim enjoying their vocation with so much enthusiasm. They freely shared their knowledge. Tim helped us develop our photography skills during the day and shared his photos at night as another way for us to learn. I was eager to absorb Tim’s photography tips, but I was equally impressed by his natural history knowledge of Africa.

With stunning landscapes and assorted wildlife around almost every corner, photo opportunities were plentiful. The click of camera shutters in our vehicles seemed to be never-ending, and we were all a little giddy when reviewing our photos. I know my photography improved with each day’s shoot.

Agama Lizard
This agama lizard earned the nickname of the Hope College lizard for his orange and blue spirit.

We saw a plethora of animals — many I had never heard of before, including the black-faced vervet, large spotted genet, rock hyrax, klipspringer, eland, Coke’s hartebeest and topi. Within a 24-hour period, we were elated to see Africa’s big five: elephant, black rhinoceros, cape buffalo, lion and leopard. We even glimpsed the orange-and-blue agama lizard which we ceremoniously dubbed the Hope College lizard. The bird list also seemed to be endless, and I think most of us became enamored with the lilac-breasted roller and the Fischer’s lovebird.

Birds
Ficher’s lovebirds and a lilac-breasted roller.

More than a month after returning home from our travels, I’m just as excited about this safari now as I was during the trip. I am thrilled that I became a better photographer during the trip, especially because these images will help me remember such a wonderful experience in vivid detail. Thanks to Eldon, Tim, and our guides, each day on the trip was educational and inspirational.

Happy Travelers
Happy travelers at the end of their adventure.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to have traveled with other Hope alumni and friends, and I’m grateful for the leadership we had. The Alumni Office staff did an amazing job of coordinating all the details before, during, and after the tour. We could fully enjoy the trip because we didn’t have to worry about all of the logistics. A special thanks to Kasey Petro and Scott Travis for making it all run so smoothly.

As we set off in early May I know there were a lot of expectations to fulfill for this group. Personally, my expectations were exceeded on the first day and every day!

  • Check out video highlights and photos taken by various members of the group in the galleries posted below.
  • You can also learn more about Tim Laman ’83 and see a collection of his work from this trip at magazine.hope.edu.
  • If you are interested in joining the mailing list for the travel program, please email alumni@hope.edu.

Guest Photo Highlights

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Video Highlights

Upcoming Alumni Events Near You!

Don’t miss these upcoming events for alumni!

Ann Arbor Reception

Join us for dinner in Ann Arbor on March 15 at 6pm. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to connect with others in the Hope community. Help us welcome Dr. David VanWylen, Dean for Natural and Applied Sciences at Hope College.

Dr. VanWylen will share his vision and update us on student and faculty collaborations within the sciences. The cost for this event including dinner is $10 per person. A cash bar will be available.

Please register online.

Living & Working In: West Michigan

grand-rapids-mi-downtownYou are invited to take part in a career networking event on March 15 at Founders Brewing Company. The Living & Working In: West Michigan event provides an opportunity for current Hope students to meet alumni and receive advice, tips and tools for successfully finding a job and permanently locating themselves in West Michigan after graduation.

Appetizers will be provided. Brought to you by the Alumni Association and the Career Development Center. There is no cost to attend this event. Please RSVP here with your name, grad year, title and employer name by Tuesday, March 8.

Chapel Choir: Spring Break Tour160219ChapelChoir008(1)

The Chapel Choir will be on tour from Sunday, March 6 through Thursday, March 31 with concerts throughout West Michigan, New York and New Jersey. Find the full schedule and a concert near your here.

Living & Working In: Washington, D.C.cherry-capitol-1622222

You are invited to take part in a career networking event on March 23 at the University Club. The Living & Working In: Washington, D.C. event provides an opportunity for current Hope students to network with alumni and friends.

A networking reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres will begin at 5:30 pm. Brought to you by the Alumni Association and the Career Development Center. There is no cost to attend this event. Please RSVP here with your name, grad year, title and employer by Wednesday, March 16.

Living & Working In: Chicago

You are invited to take part in a career networking event on April 6 at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery. The Living & Working In: Chicago event provides an opportunity for current Hope students to meet alumni and receive advice, tips and tools for successfully finding a job and permanently locating themselves in Chicago after graduation. Appetizers will be provided. Brought to you by the Alumni Association and the Career Development Center. There is no cost to attend this event. Please RSVP here with your name, grad year, title and employer name by March 30.

Scholarship Day of Giving

SDOG_Image_WebSave the date for the second annual Scholarship Day of Giving! The goal of this campaign is to receive 750 Hope Fund gifts in 24 hours. These gifts will then provide funds for student scholarships through the Hope Fund. The entire Hope College community is encouraged to donate to the Hope Fund and spread the word about this 24 hour giving campaign on social media. Alumni, parents, friends, students, faculty and staff are all welcome to join in the excitement and give on April 19!

Alumni Weekend

2016 Email Graphic Alumni WeekendEverything you need to know about Alumni Weekend on April 29 and 30, 2016 is available online. Members of the Classes of 1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1986 and the Fifty Year Circle should have received a brochure and registration card in the mail. A detailed list of events is available at hope.edu/alumniweekend.

If you have any questions about any of these events, please contact alumni@hope.edu or call 616.395.7250. We are looking forward to welcoming you back to campus soon!