Friday
Dec272013

Tanzania Holiday 16: "Mobile Camp" For The Serengeti Safari Game Drives

For our "walking safari", we wrote a blog post about the "mobile camp" that was our base for exploration.
Now that we've finished that portion of the trip, we want to show the "mobile camp" for the safari game drives.

We stayed at one of the Moru "Special Campsites", located throughout the Moru Kopjes in Central Serengeti:

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

There are a number of different overnighting options in Serengeti National Park.
The Serengeti National Park General Management Plan defines facility types as a:

  • "Lodge"
  • "Permanent Tented Camp"
  • "Premium Campsite"
  • "Public Campsite"
  • and "Special Campsite"

(There is also one youth hostel and one "rest house", but most facilities fall into the above categories.)

There are five "lodges" in the park.  The lodges are upscale, almost like mini-resorts.  Expensive, naturally.
They are also large, with around 150 beds each.  Here is an example -- the Lobo lodge, with nice rooms and a pool:

Source: www.hotelsandlodges-tanzania.comPermanent tented camps don't look like a hotel/motel building (as do lodges), but are no less decked out.  There are ten of them, all significantly smaller at 30-50 beds each.  Like lodges, they are more expensive, but unlike lodges they give a more secluded feel to your adventure - something like the classic British safaris (full service, but a sense of in-the-wilderness).  Here is an example, the "Grumeti River Camp" (notice the "camp" has a small pool!):

Source: www.andbeyond.com

There are ten Premium Campsites in the park.  Technically they can be broken down... but they are there effectively permanently.  Yes, the sleeping tents and dining areas are "tents", but definitely not a Boy Scout feel.  These are significantly smaller, with usually a capacity of 12 beds.  Here is one example, the Simiyu premium campsite:

Source: www.safariandbeach.com

Next, we have the Public Campsites.  These are similar to the high volume, basic services style found in the U.S. national parks - true camping tents, but with central facilities for bathrooms, running water, picnic tables, etc.  There are 8+ in the Park, with capacities between 20-60 beds.  Here is an example, the Tumbili Public Campsite:

Source: www.tripadvisor.com

These various facilities all are spread throughout the Park, and depending on the time of year, some are more convenient to animal viewing than others.  However, at any of them you have the chance to have surprises --
this Public Campsite had a lion kill during the night, and they awoke to the lions eating their buffalo victim:

There is one more category of lodging in the Park:  "Special Campsites".  These are truly temporary setups.
No permanent buildings, no facilities of any kind (toilets, running water, etc.)  The idea is that you are truly camping in the wild.  However, full disclosure it required here:  the tour guides set up the tents, bathroom tents with pit toilet and shower, meal tents, and do the cooking, etc.  So no Grizzly Adams here.

We stayed at the Moru Special Campsite #6.  Moru Special Campsites are located around the Moru Kopjes (see map at top of page), and are known for a large lion pride in the area (that's foreshadowing for a future post...):

Source: Serengeti National Park General Management Plan

For this time of year (late December), our location in the Park was fine.  The wildebeest herd is not moving actively -- they're spread throughout the park, with a large portion of them just a bit south, preparing for the birthing month not far away in February.  In fact, we saw them on the way into the Park:

Source: www.tanzania-safaris.com

BTW:  if you want to know where wildebeest are each month, this is a neat web page showing the migration:

Source: www.eyesonafrica.net

The defining feature of the Moru Special Camping sites are obviously the Moru Kopjes - largest set in the Park.
On the map below, the blue dots are kopjes, and the Moru campsites labeled towards the bottom of the picture: 

Source: www.tanzania-safaris.com

As you approach "our" kopje, for Moru Special Campsite #6, this is the view:

It's a classic kopje.  Large rocks, trees and bushes.  We kept the photo to 640px across for fast loading on the Web,
but did you happen to see anything of our campsite?  Here is a cropped area of the above photo for a better look:

Nestled behind the small rock is our sleeping tent!  Our camp was tucked in, almost up against the large rocks.
The dining tent was hidden from view altogether, behind some trees/bushes and an even larger rock.
You can see it here, and also the bathroom tent just peeking out from the far right in the photo:

Our guide Prim & the other camp staff (2-3 for setup, cooking, etc) had their own area ~35m straight back from us.

Here is a view from the sheltered camping area, looking out from our tents onto the Central Serengeti.
Because it's a "special" (isolated) campsite, you really get the feeling of being alone and small in the wild: 

When we step a few feet out through the gap, the view opens up to the plain and another of the kopjes far ahead:

Our guide would have to walk that way, out towards the road to/from camp, to get mobile phone reception:

This was our leader Prim talking to his family on the phone.  He led our entire safari (all Parks).  Mark and Daniel, from the walking safari, departed after the walking portion and we only needed Prim for the upcoming game drives:

We would see him there early in the morning, and then in the evening, talking to his wife and baby.  After all, this was December 23, and he would be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us rather than with his family:

At the end of each day, when we got out of the Land Cruiser, we looked back at the road to camp and Moru Kopjes - before heading into the campsite to wash up, have some dinner, and look and the photos we captured that day:

The meal tent, as on the walking safari, was a simple open canopy with a staging table and a dining table for two:

Our cook would walk from the guides' area carrying the food and drink, and leave it on the table for us:

Overall the food was great -- rice or potatoes, vegetables, and different variety of main dish every evening:

We had some electric hanging lamps to give some illumination (this photo with flash, though):

Notice that the camera is always nearby, either in case we can shoot something, or just to enjoy the day's photos:

There was not much wildlife around at dinnertime (that we could see, anyway).  Breakfast, however, was a different story.  Baboons would actively patrol the nearby trees.  We were warned that they could try to steal something, so if they came close we were assertively to drive them off.  They never made a move, just being content to feed there:

If we looked closely, there was often movement further out on the plain.  See anything from this breakfast photograph?

Let's zoom a little closer (with our bowl of breakfast bread on the table for perspective)...

Yes, a family of giraffes with a young one!  (These were a nice treat, because it was usually water buffalo.)

For pre-meal washing / the pit toilet / showers, the bathroom tent was just like the walking safari mobile camp:

It was certainly an unusual experience to stick your head above the canvas wall and see the Serengeti:

In the evening, we could look up from the bathroom area and see the moon through the overhead tree:

We were fortunate to get almost a full moon for this part of the trip.  (It's good hunting light for the lions, BTW...)

There were a couple of times when we couldn't sleep right away because of the excitement of the day, so we messed around with light painting -- a longer exposure time, and using a handheld flashlight to illuminate the scene:

The view from camp also held some AMAZING surprises in store for us... more on these in our future blog posts!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Ronald M, for the overnights in this great location.  It made a camper out of Frau A!  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the nights in this special camp.  We absolutely loved it.  THANK YOU!

Sunday
Sep292013

Tanzania Holiday 15: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Game Drives

The morning after our final day in walking safari camp, we loaded the Land Cruiser and headed toward the next camp.
This time we would be in a similar mobile tent camp, but further south in Central Serengeti for a series of game drives.
We would drive today from our site on the Orangi river, past the Seronera airstrip, then head west into the kopjes: 

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

Not long after starting out, we got a photo of one of the "Little Five" - the leopard tortoise!

30 minutes later, we pulled off to a well-known hippo pool.  There was already one jeep in the prime viewing spot:

We took some photos from our "on deck" position, and then pulled forward when the first Land Cruiser left.

We had seen hippos from afar in prior parks, but this was our first relatively-close look at the "river horses":

Most of the herd (or pod) were clustered together, with one large male noisily keeping order.  A few others were a bit apart, on the far bank or further up the pond, but all eventually waded down and joined the main group:

On this one's hide, you can see the scars from fighting/mating or other interactions with fellow hippos:

Hippos can't keep themselves cool, so they stay in the water and splash themselves using their ears.  Some float up and down to breathe, but others like the one below prefer the technique of resting their head on someone else:

This baby had mom nearby to rest on.  Mom would give her a lift every once in a while:

Yes, this was cute!

Every once in a while, one hippo would emerge farther out of the water for a nice photo:

After maybe 30 minutes at the hippo pool, we got back on the main road:

We stopped briefly at the Seronera air strip to drop off our secondary guides.  We would head back here in a few days, after the game drives, to end the safari but continue on to the Tanzanian coast part of our honeymoon!

We soon started seeing a lot of impala, many grazing very close to the road:

We spotted a giraffe moving through the trees and feeding...

... and it led us to a little giraffe, on the ground.  We were hoping the little one would get up, but no luck.

Small water holes, similar to the hippo pond, were scattered throughout the landscape:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

One of the water holes offered us our first glimpse of crocodiles!

Throughout the trip, we never got a better look than this -- they were just lying in the sun and resting.
(We heard if you're here for the Great Migration, you can really see the crocs in action in the right places.) 

Continuing south through the Park, were were seeing more and more impala:

They were skittish, but stayed so close to the road that we could basically get portait photographs of them:

Our guide Prim was an amazing spotter.  Here, he found a silverbird for us to photograph:

We also found a rufous-tailed weaver in the trees...

... and a southern masked weaver, in the process of weaving its nest!  (entering the nest from the bottom):

And one more bird that we'd seen before, the superb starling:

As we left the wilderness area ("low use area") and approached high-use areas, we saw many more Land Cruisers:

Then, finally!  A coupled of stopped jeeps with lots of people staring indicated something interesting was ahead...
It was a young leopard, resting in a tree: 

Here is a zoom.  Nice!

He/she eventually got down, and in the tall grasses we could not see him/her anymore, so everyone moved on:

We took another brief pause to photograph a pair of white-backed vultures:

As with the crocodiles, this ironically was the best view we ever got of vultures.  They were quite far away, and we needed all of the 600mm equivalent zoom lens to get a shot (therefore a bit fuzzy and non-contrasty, but OK):

We took a break for lunch in a small area with a few picnic tables.  We finished lunch in the jeep due to the rain:

Not long after we again got going, the results of the rain hit us -- this road was underwater!
Prim drove us slowly and carefully across, without incident: 

Despite what was now a slight drizzle, this mongoose family was foraging about:

Those babies are sticking close to mom, and are really sweet!  Look at that face!!

We had stopped a bit too long photographing them, so they got nervous and headed back into the den:

This water buffalo was grazing near the roadside, and decided to stick his tongue out at us...

... so we thought he deserved a "headshot".  A handsome dude:

In a little while, we entered the area with the Moru Kopjes:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Each one was a little different.  There was certainly tons of wildlife in there, but hidden from cars & cameras:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

On one of the outcroppings, we spied a lion resting:

She was lying in the sun to get warm, plus at that height the insects are much less of a nuisance:

Our last view was as the sun was setting, looking out from our new campsite near one of the kopjes.
You can see others of the Moru Kopjes sticking out from the plain in the distance:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We'll give a complete look at the campsite in the next blog post, then we're on to the full-day game drives!

Wednesday
Sep182013

Tanzania Holiday 14: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 2 - afternoon

With mixed emotions, we departed this afternoon on our final "game walk" of the 2-day Serengeti walking safari.
We really enjoyed the camp on the Orangi River and seeing the Serengeti on foot, but were also eager to see some big game up close -- which doesn't really happen while hiking.

We would make this walk with only two of our three guides.  Prim (our leader) had a bit of a headache, so Park Ranger Daniel and Guide-in-Training Mark led the way.  Mark suggested that we head into an area of denser kopjes, because leopards live there and might start to become active this time of day.

It would be a longshot to see a leopard on foot, because they don't want to be seen and sense us from far away.
But were were rewarded right away with some spectacular storm clouds and kopjes:

This had some of the most up & down walking we experienced, over rolling rocky hills with scattered trees:

That's Mark and Frau A in the above photo.  Below, Daniel forges his own way across the landscape:

On occasion, one of the guides would go ahead to check an area, then we would follow behind:

We strode up a long slope...

... and came to a great viewpoint looking over a broad plain dense with acacia trees:

Just down the hill was a river of stones.  The storm clouds would darken and lighten as winds changed:

Mark, ever the budding photographer, offered to take our photo with the "endless plain" in the background:

From here we started circling back towards camp.  We should be there just before sundown.

We hadn't seen a leopard, but we were still all smiles as the countryside is lovely and (ironically) peaceful:

We stayed quiet on the way back, giving us the best chance to spot a leopard...

...but did interrupt the silence with shutter clicks once in a while:

We left the hilly area and said goodbye to the kopjes here (and their unfortunately hidden inhabitants).
So no leopard or any big cat spotted on our walks, but that was expected.   The walking safari was GREAT.

As we arrived back at camp, the sun was sinking lower in the sky - a beautiful scene...

...that ended with a beautiful sunset:

 

After dinner we crashed in our tent, and started looking forward to the drive to our next camp tomorrow,
where we would have three days (!) of game drives with Prim... and celebrate Christmas Eve & Christmas too.

After the sun had slipped under the horizon, the rains came and put us to sleep:

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank all our family and friends who generously helped us realize our dream of walking in the Serengeti!

Friday
Jul122013

Friday Photo Favorite: a piece of Berlin in New York City

Early in 2013, Frau A and I spent a few months (for work, not vacation) in the U.S.  Most of the time was on Long Island, but some in New York City.  Even though I had lived there for four years, it still had a few surprises waiting.

One discovery:  a section of the Berlin Wall.

We walked right by it one day, stood processing for a minute, then immediately snapped some photos... 

Of course later, I spent some time online to learn more.

I had no idea that Wikipedia had a long page listing segments of the Berlin Wall throughout the world.
And on that page, I learned that New York City has "at least three" different secions of the Wall:

"At least three segments of the wall are located in New York City. One can be found between Gateway Plaza and the North Cove marina in the World Financial Center near the World Trade Center site. A second segment can be found in the gardens at the United Nations headquarters, among the sculptures. A third segment exists on 53rd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues."

So we had found the segment on 53rd Street, between Madison & 5th.  It has been there since 1990.  I worked in an office building just a few blocks away (53rd St and Lexington Ave), but never happened to see this before.

A March 2013 NYT news article indicated that one of the segments (a different one) was removed recently.

Who knew that there was so much Berliner Mauer activity in the Big Apple?

Tuesday
Jul092013

Tanzania Holiday 13: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 2 - Morning

For our "walking safari", we had only 2 days scheduled.  So walking up this morning, we knew it was our last.
(links to the first day's walks are here:  morning and afternoon)  At least we had more game drives to come...

For the morning walk on Day 2, we again started early-ish (breakfast at 07:30, leave around 08:00).
This time we would be heading north, which was supposed to have more hills and forest than Day 1:

 

Mark took the lead this time, rather than Prim who usually had the front position:

Right away, we saw some zebras near the riverbed.  They had already seen us and were retreating:

Daniel, the park ranger, spotted the small klipspringer on top of a kopje too!  He disappeared quickly though:

This next photo intends to give a better perspective of exactly how far away the animals stayed from us.
Remember the zebras from the first photo?  Two are running up the bank, and a third behind.  Way out there!

Most of the wildlife photos were taken with a 100mm-300mm zoom lens, with a crop factor 2x camera.
This means that in 35mm/full frame angle of view, it is a 200mm-600mm lens.  Pics are cropped too!

The zebras and klipspringer were gone, so we again turned our attention to the rocky Orangi riverbed: 

The landscape was lovely too, not just the animals... so the normal lenses weren't completely ignored:

Walking along the riverbank, we continued to look into the hills for more animals.
We spotted a bohor reedbuck -- like the others, very cautious and keeping far away:

Mark wanted to try our cameras, so I handed him mine & he lined us up in the riverbed for some photos:

That's Prim (main guide) in front, then Herr J, Frau A, and Daniel (Serengeti National Park ranger) in the back:

This was the view as we walked along the sandy bottom of the Orangi River.  The trees here have yellowish bark. Natives used to think they caused Yellow Fever... but it's really the mosquitos who transmit the virus:

We finally turned out of the riverbed, and headed up one of the nearby hills.  When we reached the hilltop,
we could look back and see the winding river, and behind it a vast plain with scattered acacia trees:

Here's a zoomed-out view of the acacia forest, with the Orangi River in the foreground:

We continued to the other side of the hill, with more scrubby/brushy terrain.  Two ostriches near the tree:

A few times we walked by poachers' old wire traps (no photo).  Our guides made sure they were harmless.
This area also has had its share of gold hunters (also outlawed now), and there are old mine entrances too. 

We spotted this giraffe the next hill over...

... but he wasn't interested in sticking around and posing for photos:

But, he did lead us to his friend (also, notice the antelope on the upper right of the picture)...

... and then we found the whole herd.  All of them using their height to spy on us from afar:

All other animals in this area watch the giraffes for signs.  These water buffalo already were jogging away:

After the animals had cleared out, we went back to traversing the plain:

Frau A always asks me to take a photo with the Olympus "Dramatic Tone" art filter, just for fun:

We stopped for a minute as the guides explained a little more about this tree to us (below).  It's called
acacia drepanolobium, or, the whistling thorn.  As usual, it is easier to let Wikipedia give the interesting details:

"The base of its thorns is bulbous...  These swollen thorns are naturally hollow and occupied by any one of several symbiotic ant species. The common name of the plant is derived from the observation that when wind blows over bulbous thorns in which ants have made entry/exit holes, they create a whistling noise.

Like other acacias, Whistling Thorns have leaves that contain tannins, which are thought to serve a deterrents to herbivory.  In addition, Whistling thorn acacias are myrmecophytes that have formed a mutualistic relationship with some species of ants. In exchange for shelter in the bulbous thorns (domatia) and nectar secretions, these ants appear to defend the tree against herbivores, such as elephants and giraffes, as well as herbivorous insects."

 

Our guides even demonstrated this behaviour:  they agitated some branches, and the ants came right out.
The ants were looking for the source of the disturbance, and to attack it.  A very interesting live demo!

Interestingly, a while later, we saw a group of park rangers drive by on some dirt tracks some ways away.
Daniel explained that they will look for poachers or illegal activities, help safari groups, etc: 

As usual, we would stop for some water and a snack at intervals.  Frau A found a natural bench for a rest:

Even on breaks, she was alert to her surroundings and found things to photograph...

... in this case it was a large dragonfly that stayed perched on a nearby branch for a while:

Our guides then pointed out a few more insects - here, a locust:

And here, another dung beetle, but one who has stopped rolling and started digging to bury it's dung ball:

But it wasn't yet the end of the big game for today!  A topi observes us from the taller grass:

Here are Daniel, Frau A, and Prim.  Frau A with one of her cameras in action:

At this point, we had turned back and started heading back in the direction of camp:

There was a lof of clay in the earth here -- with an unusual reddish hue that we had not seen before:

At one point across the fields, we saw the entire topi herd watching us from the far hillside:

They didn't like the looks of us, and started moving quickly up the hill and away from the humans:

One more look at the Serengeti landscape...

... and then following Mark back "home":

But wait!  There's more!  We got a surprise on the way back to camp - one of the coolest on the trip.

Here's the story:  Mark was in the lead, and he knew we were excited to photograph any wildlife we could.
At one point he yelled "Come here!" so I quickly jogged forward.  Sliding through the grass was a black snake, maybe 1m long.  He said "it's a cobra - get your camera ready".  And then he stomped his foot on the ground...

What does a cobra do when feeling threatened?  It faces you, rears up and flares its neck of course.

This is where it gets funny.  I was a little shocked, and didn't get a photo in the split second we had.
So what does Mark do?  He has us follow it in the grass, asks if I'm ready, and stomps his foot again.

I got a few photos that time!  Now that is what I call customer service - thank you Mark!!!

Now I would not normally be one to encourage provoking a cobra, but we're so glad Mark did just that.
We also learned:  it pays to have a young, recent-graduate, fearless guide-in-training on the tour with you! 

The other interesting thing:  when we got home, we had to look up exactly the kind of snake it was.  It was not really large (neither long, at 1m, nor that wide around) - so presumably it was a juvenile we had "asked to pose for us".

Based on the photo, we think it was a naja nigricollis -- commonly known as a black-necked spitting cobra.
I guess I was fortunate to stick my camera so close, when its venom can cause permanent blindness.  

Now THAT was a real Serengeti walking safari experience!  It was one of the really unique events of the trip.

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  This day had the best big game viewing so far.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  How about that black-necked cobra!  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  Isn't the landscape fantastic?  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  After this experience, we didn't want it to end.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 

Sunday
Jul072013

Tanzania Holiday 12: "mobile camp" for the Serengeti walking safari

We've just posted photos from our first day of walking safari:  the morning walk and afternoon walk.
Before posting photos from the second day, it makes sense to explain more about the walking safari and camp.

Where was it located?

The campsite was located about here (see below) in Serengeti National Park, along the Orangi River:

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

I think they change sites depending on time of year, e.g., a different place during the wildebeest migration.


How did you get to walk, rather than have to use jeeps?

Wayo Africa, our local guide company, describes the "wilderness zone" on this page, saying:

"Walking in the Serengeti is new to Tanzanian National Parks. Only a handful of companies have been granted permission to enter this park on foot. The regulations stipulate that an armed and qualified walking guide from the operating company must accompany all walks. An armed ranger from the National Park will also join every walk.

All walking activities in Tanzanian National Parks happen inside the demarcated "wilderness zones". The area we walk in is a massive and remote area and mainly consists of gentle rolling hills with small streams and springs in the valleys and small grassland plains surrounded by sparse acacia forests. Big granite outcrops called kopjes give the area a great feel and look and make for superb campsites.

"Wilderness zone" means an area with very limited human infrastructure or disturbances and access in to these zones generally only happens on foot or horse. Since a horse won't live long in the Serengeti we avoid these! The only roads that exist into these areas are access roads to the campsites. Since there are no permanent accommodation facilities in the walking zones a small, lightweight camp, we have to bring all our food and basic necessities into the camps.

Being an area of varied eco-zones and vegetation types it is home to all of Africa's mammals and a huge variety of birds, reptiles and insects. A fair amount of wildlife is resident in the area year round due to permanent springs but June - August is fantastic due to the annual migration moving through the area.

Since visibility is generally good walking is safe and wildlife watching good. "Walking wildlife watching," means looking at animals from a distance. Animals are nervous with people on foot and close up viewing is not possible and not advisable on a walk."


For reference, the "main" roads throughout Serengeti National Park looked like this...

... but the drive to the camp in the wilderness area had, at best, tire tracks like this:

 

What was the landscape like?

The Orangi River is the defining natural element in this specific area, but with eco-diversity.  The riverbed:

...often with pools of standing water and recent animal tracks:

...riverbed again, but here rocky instead of sandy:

...miles of grassland with sparse acacia forest:

...long, sloping grassy hills (acacia forest in the background):

...scattered kopjes (we're on one here, plus we see one in the background):

...the top of a kopje:

...and just mixed, here with kopje in the background, grass & brush, very rocky, with scattered acacia:

 

How was the walking safari led?  Who were the guides?

Also mentioned previously, we had our Wayo guide and a Serengeti National Park ranger.  In addition, we had a new-hire guide to Wayo, in training, plus two Wayo staff members that ran the camp (food, hot water, etc).

From left to right:  Prim (Wayo guide), Frau A, Mark (Wayo guide in training), and Daniel (park ranger):

One of the Wayo guides (usually Prim) would lead, followed by Frau A and myself, with Daniel (the park ranger) in the rear.  Mark would sometimes lead, and any of them would narrate to show/explain something on the way.

They did a fantastic job.  Friendly, knowledgeable, and were the best animal spotters!  THANKS GUYS!!!

 

What was the camping experience like?

The camp itself goes by different descriptions - "light", "mobile", "tented", "green"... but the main concept is that it is NOT a permanent camping area like the formal Serengeti National Park sites.  The equipment fits on a small trailer so it can be brought in behind a Land Cruiser.  It is set up, used, and then taken down after just a few days.  The idea is that when people leave, they did not leave any trace.

Our sleeping tent and bathroom tent layout looked like this, under a tree near a tiny kopje:

 
The bathroom's just meters away... but interesting in the dark, when you'd earlier heard leopards roaring:

Wayo describes the sleeping tent on this page, saying:

"Tents are 3-man dome style tents that are easy to set-up with plenty of floor space for two people. You are not going to do the Macarena in it but it is great for a good nights rest in a really remote area. Sleeping is on comfy 4-inch mattresses on the ground and the bedding is cotton covered duvets and cotton sheets."

Here is our sleeping tent -- and, actually, it was quite comfortable (we slept very well each night):

You can see the staff setting up a tent in one of their videos:


Wayo describs the bathroom facilities on this page, saying:

"The old traditional lightweight camp toilets meant you had to be an acrobat of sorts just to use the bathroom. We have decided to move away from the old style zip up, claustrophobic non-aired toiled cubicle to a non-closed enclosure approach, using nice wooden toilet seats etc. Sure, if it rains in this arid region of Africa, you might have a wet toilet seat for a bit or a shower in the rain but hey, there are worse things in the world.

Toilets are shallow pit latrines; a hole about 12m deep is dug and once all is in the hole you just sprinkle soil over top. With the open toilet tent these toilets never smell and the soil acts as both an absorber and a visual barrier.

Showers are the same type spiral tents. The water is always hot and you will have plenty for a nice shower to get cleaned and refeshed after a day's safari.
These showers and toilets have proven to work a whole lot better than anything we've used in the past."

Our open bathroom looked like this:

The main drawback -- toilet paper got soaked during rains.  We brought it inside our tent instead.

In this next view, looking out from the bathroom, you can see the shower, the two Land Cruisers, and the guides' tents (background, left side).   The guides were close enough for safety, far enough away for privacy.

Everything was very well put together, comfortable, and even during hard evening rains we stayed dry.

 
Looks pretty normal so far.  But don't forget this was truly the Serengeti wilderness.
How close did animals come?  This small wildebeest herd was just across the river on evening (!):

At night, we clearly heard leopards roar, hyenas barking, and occasionally a small something walking by!


The dining tent was set on the edge of the river, a ways (30m?) away from our sleeping and bathroom tents:

The overall camp basically formed a triangle, between our tents, the dinign tent, and the guides' tents:


Here's our video panning briefly across the field, so you get a sense for the how everything comes together:

It was nice that the dining/mess tent was set apart a bit - meals and relaxing time felt more secluded.

There was a dining table in the tent, plus a second smaller  table for setting water, dishes, etc:

The evening fire was lit near the dining tent.  A perfect way to relax with a beer as the sun set:

The view from the dining tent was nice too, seeing the Orangi River (even though it is low in December):

Finally, a "light painting" photo of the dining tent, just before we went to sleep one evening.  Lovely:

 

Would you recommend it?  Would you do it again?

Understanding that this is NOT the best way to see big animals up close... absolutely YES.

The wilderness camping and walking safari experience were just what we had hoped:  not completely "roughing it", but definitely an intimate way to see the Serengeti, with minimal environmental impact.

We were really pleased with our tour companies, so we'll mention them here:

- Natural High Safaris coordinated the whole trip (except flights from & to Munich).

- Wayo Africa is the local company that provides on-the-ground services, with whom Natural High works


As you can see by the photos and blog posts, we loved our trip and want to do it again.

Friday
Jul052013

Friday Photo Favorite: Night shots

Two fountains in Charleston, South Carolina (downtown, near the water):

 

A couple views of the Siemens/Atos work campus outside Munich, Germany (Herr J heading home that day):