Entries in Serengeti National Park (13)


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. 


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.


Tanzania Holiday 11: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Afternoon

At this point on our safari, we had driven in to Serengeti National Park to a camp off-road.  In this designated "wilderness area", our guides would take us on walks through plain and brush, to see the Serengeti on foot:

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

This was the first of two days for walking.  We already had our morning hike, with hippo tracks, hyena tracks, a water buffalo (both live and a skull on the ground), and a termite mound.  This post is about the afternoon on Day 1:

After lunch and a rest, we met again on the banks of the Orangi River.  This is Daniel, our Park Ranger:

Our main guide Prim took the lead.  He always likes to look at recent animal tracks in the damp riverbed:

Frau A followed Prim, and I was behind her.  It was becoming a bit cloudier with a risk of rain.
December is the short rainy season in Tanzania, and it often rained a bit in the evenings when we were there. 

We came to another place in the riverbed where tracks showed that hippos recently passed by (last 24 hrs):

The river was not full enough to flow, but rain could change that at any moment.  The guides were alert.

Prim made sure we got to see an antlion up close.  It's one of the "little five" !

Here is a more technical photo of an antlion, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Source: Wikipedia (Jonathan Numer)

Prim showed us an antlion's trap.  He tried putting bugs in there to see an antlion attack, but no luck:

However, there are plenty of videos on the web that show an antlion attack better than we ever could:

Now late in the afternoon, the weather appeared somewhat inconsistent across the horizon.
In the west (looking into the sun), there were threatening clouds...

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

...off in the distance, an acacia forest glowed green with hazy clouds overhead...

...but to the east (sun at our backs) skies were pretty clear with the brush a little drier & more brown.  Interesting.

Our guides -- and the park ranger -- were always on the lookout for animals (even though they avoid humans).
Just after the halfway point in the walk, they hit the jackpot.   The sun was at our backs, and the wind in our faces.  Therefore, for animals walking towards us, we would be downwind and partially shielded by the sun's glare.

Fortunately, Prim spotted the animals before they detected us.  Two jackals walking right at us, 100m away.
Jackals are very skittish, and Prim explained later that this was a rare occurance, to see them so closely.

The guides motioned us to be as quiet as possible & to squat down - to remain undetected as long as possible.
Frau A and I tried photos and video, but it was tough with a lot of grass and bushes in the way.
I got this photo when the jackals were first spotted, and still walking closer towards our position: 

The video and other pics are not great, but I was able to cherry-pick some still frames from the video file:

This was their closest point, and the moment when the leading jackal discovered us.  Then they were gone:

That was awesome!  It really felt like you were THERE.  Hiding in the bush; no zoo, no jeep, just us & nature.
It doesn't have the WOW factor of the big game, but this is the unique experience we were hoping for. 

(We think these are the smaller black-backed jackal, also called the silver-backed jackal.)

From here we turned across a rocky plain and continued in the direction of camp:

I snapped a couple of nice silhouette-style photos of Prim as we skirted over larger piles of rocks:

As we took a moment to take in water, we had our guides pose for a photo (Prim on left, Mark right):

On our morning walk we saw termite mounds, but they were inactive and the new owners stayed out of sight.
This one was abandoned too, but taken over by a mongoose family who took a second to check us out from afar!

We saw three or four of the family appear, but most were gone in a flash.  This one was more patient.
Of course, I cannot think of "mongoose" without remembering Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  (do kids still watch that?)

The clouds continued to blossom here and there, but the rain stayed away to the west:

Some parts of the riverbed had no water at all -- still greener than everywhere else, but no pools here:

I captured Frau A once when she turned around.  It's good practice for that quick Serengeti wildlife.  ;)

As soon as we crested the next bank...

...we were on the home stretch.  The dining tent is in the background, just to the right of Prim.
Mark is swatting away tse-tse flies, that were a bit of a bother around the acacia trees (got a few bites). 

From here it's back to the tents to wash up a bit, and start thinking about dinner:

Here's "our" section of the Orangi river, with the sandy "newspaper" that Prim likes to read...  if it rains overnight, then tomorrow we will have a fresh record of the animals that came so close to our tent during the night!

It was a little slow going at the end - the light was really nice, so I stopped a lot to take photos:

The camp staff (two of them) already had a fire going and were starting on dinner:

Across the riverbank, on the other side of the camp, a small herd of wildebeest were gathering.
They would be staying close together during the night, when the predators would be after them: 

Yes, that night while lying in the tent, we heard lion roars, leopard roars, and hyena barks - not too far away.
The "bathroom" tent was a few meters away, and it made the trip there (with just a flashlight) interesting! 

The clouds we saw earlier gave us a nice effect over the mess tent as the sun was setting:

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

Just like the evening before, we had a fire going near the meal tent and headed there to eat & relax:

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

After the sun was gone, and before heading to bed, we tried some photos with a light painting technique: 

Not bad for the first time, and by a couple of hackers!  We were inspired to try by this light painting video:

By then it was time to crash.  We were tired -- a good tired, if you know what I mean.
It did rain again that evening, but just a soft rain.  The lightening stayed in the distance.
We had another full day (two walks) to look forward to tomorrow, and hope they would be just as fun.

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.  You can see how much we learned with our guides.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  The jackals were amazing!.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  What a great view of the Serengeti.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  It was dry, comfortable, (and great beer).  THANK YOU!

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


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. 


Tanzania Holiday 9: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Walking Safari

In the first half of our travel day into Serengeti NP, we were incredibly lucky to see lions mating - a great start!
On the map below:  we had entered the park on the southeast main road, but not yet reached Naabi Hill Gate.

In this blog post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  starting at Naabi Hill Gate where we register with the park and pause for lunch.  Then, we continue north along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and finally go completely off-road into a "wilderness zone" and our "light mobile camp" on the banks of the Orangi River.

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

We pulled off at Naabi hill to register in the park and take a lunch break.  The land cruisers were already lined up:

Naabi Hill has picnic tables and the park office, but the most appealing aspect is the kopje.
From the parking lot there is a walking path to the top (only a few minutes -- it's not exceedingly tall):

It's not that tall, but because the Serengeti is so flat, the Naabi Hill kopje has an impressive view.
We are looking south from here -- on the photo's left is the main road, on which we just drove into the park:

It was nice to stretch our legs, and Frau A was having fun taking photographs.

Here's a better picture of the road, looking back from where we came, disappearing across the "endless plain".

Next shot:  a panorama will open if you click on it, but beware -- it's 14+ MB in size.

If you remember the prior blog post, we drove through the wildebeest herd.  This is just the far edge of it!

Again, to try and show the sheer scale of the herd (at least what we could see from here) we took video.
I twisted as far as I could to do a pan from left to right across the horizon... black dots as far as the eye can see. 

Zooming far into the scene we found vultures perched on top of a tree:

But we didn't need telephoto for everything.  Agama lizards were very active on the rocks at our feet:

It's the males that develop these flashy colors.  (Females and juveniles stay with a brownish color.)

Another eyecatcher here was the superb starling.  There were many of them around the picnic tables... or anywhere that scraps of food could be found.  Signs prohibit feeding animals, and trash can lids are extra solid.
Regardless, humans always create free meals.  These birds won't go hungry unless they overpopulate.  

Their coloring is quite remarkable.  They are not too afraid of people and would come relatively close.

A trucker was eating in his cab to avoid harassment.  This starling was just waiting beneath his window:

Another scavenger was much larger... and as ugly as the superb starling is pretty.  This is a marabou stork.
It is technically a wading bird, but has adapted to live near humans (or, more precisely, near human waste). 

This is a large bird!  Wikipedia says that marabou storks can get up to 150 cm (60 in) tall and 9 kg (20 lb).
This particular one was probably one meter tall (three+ feet).  He wandered around the parking lot all day. 

The marabou stork is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" because of its "deathly" appearance. 

We spent more than an hour at Naabi Hill, then got back on the road, heading north again.
From the wide open plains, the terrain changed a bit - with trees and hills more commonplace. 

At some point, probably around Banagi and the turnoff right going northeast, we stopped at a small village.
Here, we picked up two more people:  our park ranger Daniel, and a guide-in-training Mark.  So Frau A and I had our guide Prim, plus two other Serengeti experts - all with a rifle (the back of the Land Cruiser looked Texas-like)!

In order to camp in a wilderness zone and tour the Serengeti on foot, it is required to have a park ranger with you. That was Daniel.  Mark was a recent graduate of one of Tanzania's wildlife management colleges, and recently joined the same tour company as Prim.  It was a great mix of people - we were happy to have them along!

From left to right: Prim (our guide), Frau A, Mark (guide trainee), and Daniel (Serengeti NP park ranger)

But we're getting ahead our ourselves... that photo is already at the camp site.  We're not there quite yet...
After we took the right turn at Banagi, trees really started to have a stronger impact on the landscape. 

Perhaps an hour after picking up Mark and Daniel, we turned off the main road completely - just tire tracks.
This was leading us into the designated "wilderness area", where walking safaris are permitted
(although only around 3 companies are licensed to do this, of the 150+ that give driving safaris).

The trees are primarily acacia... which unfortunately is the favorite home of the tsetse fly.  Swarms of them.
The tsetse bite -- living off the blood of animals.  They are also the main carriers of African sleeping sickness.
The odds of contracting the disease were very low.  It was mostly trying to avoid getting bitten!
Bug sprays don't have much effect, but we stayed covered up and it wasn't a real problem in the end. 

Prim wound the Land Cruiser through field and trees, arriving at the edge of the Orangi River (see map).
The river only fills it's potential in the high wet season, but did have some water from the December light rains.

Did you notice the animal tracks in the sand?   We'll get to those not far down the page...

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

We'll try to give you a sense of what the camp was like.  This is a "light mobile camp", and not a permanent camp like most places in the Serengeti.  It gets pulled down and, ideally, traces of human habitation disappear.

Here's what happening in the video below:  I'm standing in the field where the camp is centered.  To my left, about 15 meters away, is the Orangi River.  This is the central landmark, and the basis for our daily hikes.
     - The video begins looking upriver, and you'll see the tent where we eat, not far from the river bank.
     - The video pans left-to-right across the field.  At the 20-second mark you see a walking path
       leading to the tents where Prim, Daniel, Mark, and two other guide staff are staying.
     - At the 30-second point, you can see the tent where we sleep, with an open "bathroom" behind it.

Here's a photo of our sleeping tent, underneath a tree with a small rocky mound nearby.  Right on the Serengeti!

The first thing we did was to drop off our backpacks inside the tent, and splash our faces with water:

Looking out from our tent, we could see the eating area by the river.  That's our guide Prim, standing nearby:

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

After dropping off our backpacks, we went to the eating area where we could sit down:

From those seats, we had a nice view of the Orangi River (looking westward, or, downstream):

We walked from the eating area down into the mostly-dry river.  It rained one evening while we were here, and the water rose enough to cover most of the area within the riverbed.  This pic is looking back at the table:

Did you notice the animal tracks in the soft dirt?  Prim came down and explained that he thought of the damp earth as "the daily newspaper".  It could tell you what animals had been here, and how recently they passed through.

We were especially impressed with large, relatively fresh hippo tracks Prim identified for us! (photo below)
The hippos passed by about 30-40 meters away from where our sleeping and eating tents are located! 

Prim explained that most animals will avoid humans as much as possible.  At night, some wander through camp.

We walked over to where the guides' tents were.  In the neighboring field, seen from their tents, was a group of wildebeest!  They were gathering together, because dusk was approaching and night = predators hunting.
In the brief video, you can also hear the clank of pots & pans as the camp staff were starting to make dinner: 

While dinner was in the works, they brought potato chips and beer to snack on.  Just perfect!

At this point, the sun was setting in earnest.  We had a nice view, across the river, of the changing colors.
Two things to notice in the photo:  first, a water buffalo skull at the foot of the tree.  That's "decoration".
Second, there is a small table (look far right in the picture) closer to the edge of the river bank... 

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

...our guides made a small fire, so we moved our chairs, chips, and beer out from the tent to the riverside:

Now we were right on the river bank -- you can see the hippo tracks again in the background behind Frau A!

We were told to listen for animals coming to the water hole to drink during the night:

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

After dinner we returned to our tent, and zipped up for the night (photo: looking back at the eating area):

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

For "just a travel day" we got to see a lot.  And now we were tent camping in the Serengeti wilderness!

We will spend a few days in this camp, taking a 3-4 hour guided walk each morning and afternoon.
The guides all told us to expect fewer close-up encounters on foot - animals accept a jeep, but they will stay hundreds of meters away otherwise.  However, that doesn't mean the next blog posts will be boring... just wait.

Until then, we can say:  that evening, we heard hyenas and lions calling not too far away.  Awesome!


Tanzania Holiday 8: Entering Serengeti National Park

So far on our safari, we had spent a day each in Arusha NP, Lake Manyara NP, and Ngorongoro Crater.  We returned from the crater and spent the night in Rhotia Valley, on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

We woke up the following morning, climbed in the Land Cruiser, and again started west.  On this travel day, our guide would drive us through the NCA, into Serengeti National Park, and on to our walking safari camp site.

Source: expertafrica.com

As reference:  in the map below, the inset (upper left) shows how the NCA borders on the Serengeti N.P..
For this blog post, we are entering the park on the main road (in red, coming from the map's southeast/lower right), take a quick detour west onto the Serengeti Plain, return to the main road and head for the Naabi Hill Gate.

(In the next post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  continuing north from Naabi Hill Gate along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and eventually go off-road to our wilderness camp on the Orangi River.) 

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Ngorongoro Conservation area has some hills... so it was clear when we reached the "endless plain".
Yes, there are some hills far off, and we'd see kopjes later on, but it left no doubt how the Serengeti was named:

Our guide maneuvered us around a bateleur (type of eagle) that was finishing a meal in the middle of the road.
It was hard to tell if it had made the kill itself, or had scavenged a piece of a larger carcass further afield. 

Within 20 minutes of crossing the border from the NCA into the Serengeti, we saw lions!  There were three.
One young male was relaxing soooo close to the road, just behind a small pile of rocks, 25m from the other two: 

The sun was already very warm, so he made it easy to take photos.  And so close by!

The other two, 25m away, stayed closer together.  In fact, the male walked over to the female...

...and they they mated.  We'd seen the circle of life already (eagle feeding, future lion cubs in progress)!

We were even able to get a short video.  We didn't think that we would be shooting lion porn, but there it is.
We're glad we did -- you can see and hear the final snarls and fake bites at the end.  What a great experience:

Here is a still frame from the above video.  They both give a big snarl at the end:

Our guide, Prim, speculated that the two males are brothersthat grew up together, and still relatively young.  Normally an alpha would not tolerate another so close by, but perhaps he doesn't feel as threatened by his sibling.  Of course, only the dominant brother gets to mate, with the other forced to keep his distance at this time.

After mating, the dominant lion laid down (photos above, below), panting a bit to get cool:

The female, as you saw in the video, immediately rolled on to her side and presumably fell asleep.
Also, did you notice that she is wearing a leather collar?  It's part of the park program tracking lions. 

And the other brother?  He didn't move a muscle:

After stopping to watch the lions, we continued north.  Far from the road, our guide spotted a tawny eagle.

We think it had just made a kill and was checking that the area was secure... but it was hard to tell.

Not long thereafter, we reached the edge of the wildebeest herd.

It's late December, and the short wet season; water & food are available.  At this time, the wildebeest are not in an active part of their annual migration.  Rather, this is the lead-up to the massive birthing in January and February.

At this point in the drive, there are not too many wildebeest nearby, but the horizon is completely covered.

It was a day of full travel, but it was not rushed.  So Prim took us off the main road and down a tire-track path.
In effect, he wanted to drive us right in to the middle (or at least a dense portion) of the wildebeest herd: 

As we drove, there were more and more wildebeest, in every possible direction.  Very cool to see.

Interspersed with the wildebeest were zebra, Thompson's gazelle, and a some ostrich like the one below:

In the next photo, you can see that there are ruts (old tire tracks?) running along the side of the road...

...many of these ruts held water from earlier rains, and the wildebeest drank from them:

They would jump up and run away before the car passed - the one on the left below is about to retreat:

The herd covered the road too -- it was like a wave parting when we drove through.
Most were busy eating, only taking a moment to either get out of the way or check us out. 

Ironically, it was rather difficult to take a photo that shows exactly how many wildebeest there were.
It was then that we realized why balloon trips are poular, because that would give the best perspective. 

During some stops, we took video too.  We tried panning left-to-right, in an attempt to share visually what it was like to be in the middle of that mass.  The video also let's you hear the constant vocalizations of the herd's members:

The next photo is pretty low quality, because it is at 600mm (35mm equivalent), and still heavily cropped.
However, it's especially interesting because of the carrion feeders:  a jackal and at least four vultures together:

We did spot a lone elephant, also far out into the distance, mingling with the wildebeest:

Eventually, we turned around and drove (through the herd again) back to the main road.  We continued north towards the Naabi Hill Gate.  The landscape started slowly changing - and we had our first kopjes sighting!

We made it to the Serengeti... but this was just the morning of our travel day into the park, to Naabi Hill Gate.
In the next post we break for lunch, then ride the rest of the way to camp for three days of walking safari!

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:
   -  Steve (Herr J's brother) for the telephoto lens.  It was on my camera the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Megan A, for Frau A's telephoto lens.  Like mine, it never left the camera (& worked great).  THANK YOU!
   -  Heather M, for the telephoto lens.  It was a "must have" and made a huge difference.  THANK YOU!
   -  William H, for the teleconverter.  Frau A loves her trusty Nikon, and took over 2000 shots.  THANK YOU!
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad), for the backpack.  Your daughter used every inch, but no back pain!  THANK YOU!

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

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