Entries in Wayo Africa (2)

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
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.