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Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Malden
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Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Hi

I thought I would post our trip notes here it is not a report as such. I hope it is of interest, and useful to future visitors to what we found to be a beautiful country with beautiful people.

These notes were compiled by the whole family by the way.

Lake Victoria.

Our first glimpse of Lake Victoria was as the plane started to descend to Mwanza airport, a small dinky unsophisticated airport, located right on the lake shore. Our guide for the safari, Bernard was waiting outside, and at that point we did not realize how much of a friend he would be over the next few weeks. Mwanza is built amongst these giant standing rocks, in the lake and on the shoreline, and on the slopes of rocky hills. This was our first taste of real Africa, and even though it is a large city, the cultural difference was startling, especially from Nairobi, and as we later saw from Arusha. We spent the rest of the day exploring the area, going on a boat cruise on the lake and visiting the Sese Islands, which Bernard tells us is to be Tanzania’s newest National Park. The hotel this night was the Tilapia, overlooking the lake, and very relaxing. The food was good, without being extravagant and the staff where friendly. It was definitely a nice relaxing way to start the safari and recover from the long overseas flight.

The next morning we headed north along the lake shore to the Ndabaka gate, which was about 2 hours drive, and was a real eye opener, small fishing villages dotted the shoreline, and the glimpses of the lake with dug- out canoes and fisherman, and great monolithic rocks was different world. We entered the Serengeti and almost immediately we started seeing zebras and impalas, quite amazingly close to such a main road. The first part of the drive was almost open plains, before we started heading into the Grumeti River valley ( hopefull correct), with a low range of hills on our right, and the plains turning into an acacia forest, with the occasional herd of elephant and buffalo. We stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking the Grumeti, and was advised not to get out of the car, and fair enough to, as basking in the sun on the river bank were a couple of smallish crocodiles!

We arrived at the camp late in the afternoon, with a welcoming fruit juice being on offer! The camp in the Serengeti was something else, although very simple, and not extravagant in furnishings, we really appreciated it and were surprised how close we where to nature and the wildlife.

Russ and the rest of the crew.

Seronera
National Parks
Tarangire National Park
National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas, Geologic Formations
Malden
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1. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

There had been rain in the Seronera area before we arrived and there was a bit of drizzle at night in the camp, it was a bonus as the camp was full of animals during the day, zebras and some wildebeest. Buffalo a couple of hundred meters away could be easily seen as well.

On the second night as we were having dinner a female lion was sitting watching us from about 40 meters away, just outside the light of the camp fire, but easy to see. Buffalo had been in the camp, and our guide Bernard said that was why the lions were there.

The first night was a bit hard to sleep because of the noises from these lions, it sounded as if we were surrounded. Hyena were around on the third night, but by then we were so tired we slept through the night. It is amazing how tiring it can be sitting in a landrover all day!

We didn’t see a kill but suspected the lions had actually killed a buffalo with all the noises going on.

When we where game driving on the second day we were by ourselves not far from camp, when Bernard started pointing to a tree about 60 meters from the road and said it was a leopard, we thought he was pulling our leg as he has a ripe sense of humour, and we had already noticed he was always the kidder, and we could see nothing, not even with binoculars, but sure enough, as we watched the leopard stood up, climbed down the tree and starting walking towards us, we were so lucky as it crossed the road in front of us and sat under a shrub just off the road. It was in a perfect spot for us to watch, out of the six leopards we saw on the trip, including three in Tarangire, two of which were on the night drive, this was probably the best experience. Not only because it was only our second day on safari, but after hearing so many stories about dozens of vehicles lining up to see the cats, being by ourselves was something special.

One of Bernards running jokes was the two types of zebras, those that are black with white stripes and the others that are white with black stripes. It took me about ten minutes or so to realize he was pulling our leg, (and a surreptitious look at a guide book!!) but the kids were convinced there was two types, till we let them in on the joke, and for the rest of the trip the “zebra” joke was a constant course of amusement.

It was after the first couple of days we realized how lucky we were with our guide, he said he had been guiding for over 20 years, almost all with EASTCO, and was incredibly knowledgeable about birds and reptiles as well as the other larger animals we saw. His stories about past safaris to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, loading with trepidation the 4WD onto ferries on Lake Victoria and watching the ferry roll to one side, walking in knee deep leaf matter in the Udzungwa forest looking for birds with a couple that he has taken on three birding safaris over the last ten years, nothing we seem to ask could to faze him, and if he did not know he always turned to one of his ready to hand reference books!

When we met up with couple of other EastCo guides, we realized that it seemed to be part and parcel of the company, all older and experienced guides, one of them I think said 30 years! Can’t for the like of me now remember his name though!!

More on Seronera and the Serengeti later

Isle of Man, United...
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2. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Sounds like you wre having agood time Trevor. Pleased it all worked out well for you and looking forward to reading the rest of it.

One small point. The Ssese Islands are in Uganda's part of the lake. I think the new NP is on Saanane (2 o'clock' Island) just off Mwanza.

You are right. a good guide is worth his weight in Gold. You seem to have had a gem in Bernard.

Perth, Australia
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3. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Thank you, an interesting and varied trip so far, keep it coming, any chance of photos???

Malden
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4. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

perthlady3

Hi I did reply to your private message. If you read our notes below you might see the answer to your question as to why we started in the Serengeti first. This was apart from the obvious reason of wanting to visit Lake Victoria.

My daughter, who was in charge of photos, will I'm sure post some when she has sorted them out.

Mfuwe thanks for your comments. I will email Bernard and clarify your point on the islands

Serengeti continued and Ngorongoro

We had heard lots of differing opinions and other travelers tales and advice from agents and experts alike about the Serengeti, and when it should be visited and how busy it was, with vehicles surrounding animals. Our experience was one that was totally contradictory to these, and I can recommend the Serengeti to anyone in September.

The game viewing was superb and we saw so much in the three days we were there, I think my daughter had counted 47 lions! No kills, but then not sure if we could have handled that, also there was less traffic than what I thought, there were a few sightings where there were half a dozen other vehicles, but this was on the odd occasion rather than the norm, and I am sure this had a lot to do with the experience and skills of Bernard. Also against popular thought, I think it was much better to start the game viewing in the Serengeti and then head east towards Tarangire. All of our expectations where met, and we were able to enjoy the Ngorongoro and Tarangire parks without being stressed about having to “tick” off a particular animal. It made the rest of the trip a holiday instead of a mad rush.

The drive from Serengeti to Ngorongoro along probably one of the worse roads I have ever been on, very dry, very rough and very very dusty. I don’t know how these cars survive the roads, it is a credit to the companies and the guides that they are able to maintain them, even though we could see the wear and tear resulting from travelling on corrugated tracks! One thing I did note there where so many other vehicles speeding past us, obviously well over whatever speed limit there was, without any care to fellow travelers on the roads. Even when we stopped to enjoy a hyena sitting in a shallow ditch right beside the side of the road, we (both us and the hyena) were disturbed by other 4WD’s speeding past and throwing up huge billows of dust. Bernard was quite upset about this, how other guides were ignoring speed limits and just being totally selfish on the roads, as well as endangering the lives of their passengers to meet some deadline. This was even more apparent as we were driving down the escarpment, Toyotas and Land rovers whizzing past, on blind curves or racing to beat an oncoming slowly climbing truck which can’t be safe! I don’t know if this was because of the pressure from their passengers or just that they felt that had to be somewhere as soon as possible.

Anyway back to the safari. Climbing up towards the Ngorongoro crater and our first glimpse of the crater below in the afternoon sun was spectacular! We drove around the crater, through some Masai villages and cattle towards the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, which although we had read some mixed reviews, we thought was fantastic, the view from the verandah, with its cast iron railings was incredible, and made the stay perfect. The staff were also good, and as like everywhere else in Tanzania, everybody was so polite and willing to help and so interested in where we were from and what we thought of Tanzania.

Game viewing in the crater very early the next morning was good, although very very chilly at the start, and we managed to see rhinos and lions, as well as two cheetah, but the rhinos where quite a way off in the distance, and looked more like large boulders, although one did stand up when we were watching. It was very peaceful being in the crater, but there were lots of vehicles! After a picnic lunch near the hippo lake, we then left the crater mid afternoon and headed towards Tarangire and Boundary Hill Lodge. Stopping at Mosquito creek (Mto wa Mbu) to buy the obligatory souvenirs!! Printed material like sarongs and the red bananas which were a meal in themselves.

The last hour to Boundary Hill Lodge was along a bush road, open plains with rocky hills, and bushy acacia forests. The baobab trees here are incredible, and I think this afternoons drive through the Tarangire landscape was what I really thought Africa would be like, even though the day was long, the drive in the late afternoon with the dying sunlight on the grey baobab trees was very moving.

melbourne
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5. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Russel

I like your detailed report. Please continue.

A good guide is indeed worth his/her weight in gold.

Malden
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6. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Tarangire

We spent four nights in the Tarangire area and this was very special. Boundary Hill Lodge was superb, the kids stayed in a family cottage, with wide verandah and a fireplace which was burning bright each evening, we all tended to congregate here before dinner and in the afternoon to relax, play cards and read. My wife and I had one of the rooms built on the cliff with spectacular views over the park.

Our first morning was spent walking towards the rocky hill, which apparently is Boundary Hill, right on the border of the park and spectacular views towards Manyara and the escarpment and over this large swamp towards distance solitary mountain peaks. The Masai guide, Louie, was fantastic, and showed all manner of interesting tidbits, large piles of fresh elephant dung, still moist! Louie, plunging his hand into the mass to show us the fruits and bark of the trees that the elephant had breakfasted on, pointing out the older matriarch, less bark and more grasses, and the young elephants who have strong teeth with more trees and wood. Louie spent a lot of time telling us about his childhood in the area, and herding the family’s cattle and goats since he was five. How when there was no water to be had, they used to squeeze the fresh elephant dung to get drinking water!! This was something none of us felt like experiencing first hand. He was continuously pointing out trees and shrubs, and telling us the uses they had in traditional Masai medicine. On this morning’s walk we saw some elephants below us on the plains and when we were walking down a dried river bed towards a spring, surprised a couple of warthogs, which crashed off into the bush.

In the afternoon we head off onto the plains and after about an hour came along a collection of Masai huts, seemingly miles from anywhere. Our first indication we got was a couple of young Masai girls carrying plastic containers of water on their heads. Apparently they had left early this morning to collect the water, obviously from some distance. There were four separate huts in the compound surrounded by thorn bushes, apparently to keep out lions which can still be found here, so far from the park. All the young men were out with the cattle and had left at sunrise. This was a family with one hut for the family elder and huts for each of his wives. This was a moving experience, and the girls where in awe of the life these people where living, and played some sort of dodge ball with the young children. We returned to Boundary Hill at sunset, driving back through the plains and acacia and baobab forest towards the setting sun.

After dinner this evening we went on a night drive in an old cut back range rover. Bit nervous about being in a car which was so open! The first half hour or so we hardly saw anything, a fairly big chameleon in a small bush, which Moses saw within the beam of the spotlight, which even after pointing out to us still took us ages to see. A couple of small owls, (I think they said they were Scops but could be wrong here), night jars and some bush babies. As we got lower down onto the grasslands we could see pinpricks of light, which turned out to be spring hares and also a couple of genet cats in the trees. After a long day we were all drifting off after about an hour, and we started to head off to the lodge. Just before we turned into the car park, Moses was making frantic noises and the car stopped with a jolt, all of us fully awake now, with Moses pointing off down along the road in front of us, and there we saw two leopards, one obviously smaller and younger than the other, walking along the road. We watched as they walked a short distance and then headed off into the rocks and into the night. This was right at the lodge!! Which made us appreciate the escort to our rooms and to and from dinner each evening.

The next day we slept in a little bit and had breakfast by ourselves on the terraces, trying to see the klipspringers on the rocks below us, (a sighting which I can’t count at all, as I failed here to distinguish them amongst the rocks.) We then went for a game drive in the park. Bernard had already told us that Tarangire was best during the middle of the day when all the animals were down by the river drinking from the water there. Firstly, even though we knew Tarangire was famous for elephants, I don’t think anyone of us expected to see so many, from almost straight away with a few old bachelors, the closer we got to the river, the more we realized they were just everywhere, the animal counter in the family gave up after the first 200 hundred, as it seem no matter where we looked, we were surrounded by elephants, and when we stopped by a muddy pool we saw a calf, which was only a few months old playing in the mud with a watchful mother. We must have spent hours here watching their antics, as they slowly left the mud bath and walked within touching distance of the car, all of us holding our breaths as each adult turned and looked at us as they passed, the calf wandering between its mothers feet. To me, after the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, I think this hour or so and the close encounter was probably my favorite moment on the entire safari.

The rest of the day we saw thousands of zebras and wildebeest, so many birds, it was amazing, much more than what we had previously seen, a lucky leopard in the tree quite a distance off the road, and a group of lions sitting in the shade, one of which had a radio collar. Bernard mentioned that one of the biggest threats to the lions in Tarangire was the professional hunters, which is why we did not see a mature male lion, and why the lodge and village conservation area that we were staying at was so important to the park. It was all very interesting.

On our third day here in Tarangire, we left very early in the morning, to our drop off point about half an hour from the lodge. Here we met up with Chris from Naitolia, and an old Masai guide, who looked ancient! But proved to be much fitter than any of us. Chris had been brought up on a farm out on the Masai Steppes and had loads of stories to tell as we walked through the plains. The highlight this morning was along a dried sand river bed, where there was elephant droppings scattered everywhere, as Chris showed us the holes they had dug into the river to get to the water, he said each afternoon they come to dig in the river bed. There was also groups of baboons and impalas under the massive baobab and fig trees along the river bed. We walked for about five hours this morning, weaving through a “wait-a-bit” thorn tree forest, across a dried up swamp where the sun-baked footprints of elephants dwarfed our every step. We saw lesser kudu in the bushes nearer the sand river, a male and three of his ladies, although they were very shy, and giraffe, zebra and wildebeest on the plains. A small group of elephants seemed to mirror our walk on the opposite of the valley. We arrived at Naitolia Camp early afternoon, which was so hidden that we only realized we where close when we were almost there.

What can I say about Naitolia, after everything we read about Boundary Hill, I think Naitolia was the biggest surprise. It was so beautiful, and being so small, with us as the only guest, we felt we had all of Africa to ourselves. Hundreds of lovebirds drinking from the bird baths in front of our hut, the trees all around us had obviously been feasted on by elephants just recently, and we wondered if the group we saw early were also heading this way, and a few shy dik -dik standing in the shade. I think this was what we expected from Africa, the serenity and peacefulness of Naitolia has made a lasting impression. The beds were massive and so comfortable, and after the long day’s on safaris I slept better than I had for ages, (and missed the elephants grazing in front of us during the night as well!!)

Next the trip to Babati.

Malden
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7. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

I hope I can still interest somebody with our report and notes

Russ

Isle of Man, United...
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8. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Hanging on your every word Russ. Fascinating stuff. Please continue.

Perth, Australia
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9. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

What an incredible trip you've had, hope we are half as lucky.

"Squeezing fresh dung for water", silly me thought that Bear Grylls invented that trick, should have known better. Waiting for next instalment and those photos!

Ballarat
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10. Re: Out Trip Notes, Tanzania, September 2011.

Russel

I found your report also fascinating as when we were in Tanzanian we also travelled with East African Safaris and stayed at Naitolia and Boundary Hill. The sand river and the walks around Naitolia were a real highlight for us as well.

Can't wait for Babati.