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Tuesday
Jun252013

Tanzania Holiday 10: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Morning

In the previous blog post from our Tanzanian safari holiday, we had spent the day driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and into Serengeti National Park.  Our destination was a campsite in the designated "wilderness area" -- very off-road, and select spots where approved guides (together with a Park ranger) can take you on guided walks in the Serengeti.  Much different than the typical game drives in a jeep.

The campsite was along the Orangi river, center-east in the Park (see map below):

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Orangi river winds its way west, joining others and eventually landing in Lake Victoria.  At the point of our campsite the river actually ran north-to-south for a few hundred meters.  The camp layout looked roughly like the picture below.  We would have two days of guided walks, with a morning & afternoon hike each day (not to scale!):

The walks came together something like a clover -- each one exploring a different area away from camp, and lasting about 4-5 hours (including brief rests).  Our guides "warned" us about a few things before we got started:

First, the guides stressed that animal viewing would be much less intimate than in a Land Cruiser.  The animals see you as part of a harmless jeep on the road, but on foot we are human and are avoided as much as possible (and they can smell and hear us much before we could see them).  We would get to see the trees, plants/flowers, and insects first hand, but we should not expect big game too close.

Second, there are some pitfalls to be prepared for.  Insects sting or bite, some plants cause skin problems, and in rare cases an animal will get aggressive rather than running away.  We jokingly asked "When was the last time you had to use your gun because of a charging water buffalo?".  Our guide Prim answered straight-faced:  "last week".
He wasn't joking.  He explained that a shot in the air usually sends animals the other way.  Their group came around a large rock and surprised it, so it charged.  Interesting...

We started the morning walk on Day 1 around 08:00 (after breakfast at 07:30).  Because it was the first one, I asked the others to pose for a photo.  From left to right we have:

- Prim, our main guide from Wayo Africa
- Frau A, with her Nikon DSLR ready to fire
- Mark, a recent graduate from a wildlife university and guide-in-training at Wayo, and
- Daniel, a park ranger in Serengeti National Park 

We started the walk in the Orangi riverbed, reading what Prim calls the "morning newspaper".  December is the short wet season in Tanzania.  Evenings often bring a short rain and get some water flowing (the river was mostly still pools at this time) which makes recent animal tracks easy to see.

It was interesting to see how many animals came to drink the prior evening - 30 meters from where we slept!

We continued to follow the riverbed...

...then headed off into the brush a bit (but often came back to the riverside throughout the walk):

At a point further along the river was another large still pool to investigate:

This time Mark showed us some of the recent visitors here:

The most interesting were pawprints from a large hyena - you can see the imprints below:

Further along in the brush we came across a buffalo skull...

...Mark picked it up and we got Frau A to pose with it!

The next section along the river was not as flat -- it had kopjes (rock formations) going up to the right:

A bit ahead, we spotted a large water buffalo -- see him in the trees?

This was nice, but actually presented a bit of a problem.  The water buffalo seemed to be following the river... just like we were.  Prim was trying to keep track of it.  But we ran into a higher kopje, and the water buffalo was probably on the other side, out of view.

In the video below, here's what happened:  we are walking quietly, to listen for the buffalo.  At the 20 second point, you hear Prim voice "psst" -- a signal that we need to follow him.  We crept up the kopje, and then Prim went forward alone (gun somewhat ready) to see where the buffalo was.

What you don't see in the video (it happened after I stopped recording) is that Prim *did* flush the buffalo out, and it thundered away about 20m from us, ground shaking.  It didn't charge or present a danger, but things might have gotten interesting had we surprised it up close.  But that was Prim's job.

After that exciting moment, we continued along the riverbed:

This time, Mark offered to take the group photo (left to right:  Daniel, Frau A, Herr J, and Prim):

The next brief stop was at a good-sized termite mound (they can get a lot larger, in proportion to the amount of water in the earth below, as our guides informed us):

It was almost as tall as Frau A:

In a nearby tree, we spotted a dragonfly posing for a photo:

Around 11:30, the sun was getting punishingly fierce.  We found a tree for shade and took a break for lunch.  We were situated on a kopje with a decent view of the surrounding plain and its acacia trees:

The video below is just a quick pan, left to right, to show the view from our perch above the Serengeti:

When we got underway again, it was back down to the riverbed.

As we saw in the sand near our campsite, there were hippo tracks in the damp soil here:

From here, we cut across the plain, starting to circle back towards camp:

We would consistently pause in the shade for some water.  Daniel agreed to a photo here:

We got Mark in action, when he took the lead.  The would rotate positions between them on the hike.

We came across an abandoned termite mound that another animal had made its home.  The guides guessed that it was a warthog family, but they get dangerous if cornered so we didn't investigate further:

The weather was great, but hot!

Unfortunately, the acacia trees are a favorite home of tse-tse flies, but they didn't bite too much:

We did see another "large" animal - a lone impala in the trees.  This photo was taken with a 580mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, so it gives you an idea of how far away the animals were that we could spot:

As soon as it saw us, it took off and was out of sight:

We saw a number of dung beetles, working tirelessly to roll their find to the right location to bury it:

We eventually made it back to camp, and were rewarded with some Serengeti beer and a light lunch:

It was nice to view the river from the mess tent, now that we had explored it a bit:

There were some other things that don't have an accompanying photo, but made the experience more real - for example, I felt a "rock" underfoot and looked down to see that I was stepping on a zebra skull!  It was a very different experience than the game drives was had previously in Arusha / Manyara / Ngorongoro... just what we wanted!

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.  Just the unique experience we were looking for.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  Frau A was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  It was so cool to hear the lions roar at night.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  The view from the tent was extraordinary.  THANK YOU!

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

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