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Maiden safari for the city folks


Kitsafari
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This turned out be a really long trip report. All the other ST reports are so well and vividly written, that I hope mine will be half as good. please bear with me as I get enthusiastic and excited over little things – it was our first safari and we went gaga over nearly everything. As I took a break while writing this, I relived the moments and every time wished I was back there. We were in Tanzania from June 25 to July 5, chilly nights warmed by thick duvets and hot water bottles, crisp cold mornings wrapped up to the hilt, hot days cooled by the wind in our faces, and balmy evenings blessed with starry skies.

 

Day 1-3 Tarangire : Oliver’s Camp

Day 3-5 Manyara/Ngorongoro Crater; Gibbs Farm

Day 5-7 Seronera/central Serengeti; Dunia Camp

Day 7-10 Lamai/ Northern Serengeti; Olakira Lamai Camp

Day 11 – Arusha/ Onsea House

 

Tarangire

 

We were tired after 20 hours of flying and transit time, and we didn’t have much time to look around the Kilimanjaro international airport when we arrived early morning. It was a relief to see Freddie, our guide for the next four to five days, waiting to pick us up at the airport, but we faced another 2 hours’ drive to the Tarangire national park gate. It was our first time in Africa, and everything was an eye-opener for us, so we were wide awake during the long drive.

 

On the way to Tarangire, the bare plains, stripped of any vegetation and fractured by fissures in the earth, looked torn and fragile, a worrying trend for the future. Freddie explained it was a result of over-grazing. Without proper management of the over-grazing, Tanzania is staring at an expanding loss of grassland outside its national park, and that will mean more pressure to release national park areas for grazing in the near future. As it was, we saw settlements just outside the Tarangire national park, which means more potential clashes between humans and their farms, and the wild animals that are free to roam/migrate outside the park. I fear for the future of the wild animals which also have every right to what used to be their land, but now face the encroachment of humans and their farms and domesticated animals.

 

At the gate, we got out of the vehicle to stretch our legs while Freddie got the papers to let us into the park. As we walked back to the vehicle, the monkeys were having a field day on top of a canvas roof with packets of biscuits, and I wondered which unlucky tourists had lost their snacks. Well, it turned out to be us! Freddie forgot to wind up the window and the monkeys left clear signs of rummaging a box filled with cartons of drinks and biscuits. Lucky and smart monkeys!

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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This was our maiden safari, coming after many years of lobbying my husband. We have only seen the Big 5 and other animals on TV screens and to see them right in front of us – it was such a huge treat. I was beaming the entire trip, no matter which creature we saw.

 

The first sights we had were of elephants - the adults and their babies, swishing their tails and throwing grass on top of their backs. Next came the beautiful graceful impalas, and then of zebras. I was amazed at how the stripes appeared so fluid the longer you stared at them. After that, it was one after another of giraffes with their gentle faces, hyrax, superb starlings, lilac-breasted rollers (saw a lot of both of these beautiful birds in Tarangire), maribou stocks, batelur eagles, a few harems of impalas, a tawny eagle, a stunning looking water buck, grant gazelles, grey headed kingfisher and a very shy warthog with a baby that kept hiding from us. A group of dwarf mongoose was hanging around a termite mound, such tiny lovely creatures that blended into the red soil and a while later we saw another group of banded mongoose, sunbathing and grooming each other on yet another abandoned termite mound.

 

 

 

 

 

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I have to mention the magnificent baobab trees. I’m a tree hugger, and many a time I wanted to stop the car to hug the ancient trees that whispered to me centuries of memories. But the thought was banished just as quickly for fear of what might be up on the tree or lurking in the tall grasses around the trees.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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Great start, looking forward to more! :)

 

I, too, went "gaga over nearly everything" on my first Africa Safari in 2011, and I sincerely hope I will again next time in 2014. Tarangire was where I saw my first elephants as well - an unforgettable experience. Good that you could control your Baobab hugging urges - who knows what would have hidden behind them. :D

 

And beautiful pics, especially enjoyed your mongoose Family. And Tarangire looking so green and lush (I was there in September, completely different scenery.)

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Hello @Kitsafari - thank you for the first two installments! I'm very much enjoying and looking forward to more. We too did our first safari in Tanzania a few years ago and this report is like walking down memory lane and bring back some very happy feelings.

 

Cheers

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Thanks all for the compliments,!

 

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the baobab trees, which we never saw in the other places.

 

 

Along the way to Oliver's, we came to a halt. A jackal was lying in the middle of the road and was completely oblivious to the car. Looking tired and sleepy, he laid down his head to rest. Tough as it was to disrupt his rest, Freddie slowly moved forward and the jackal vanished into the bushes.

 

 

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We had been on the planes, airport lounges and roads for nearly 30 hours before we finally reached Oliver’s Camp in the evening, and took a very cold shower in the chilly night in the outside shower room. We slept soundly that night although in the middle of the night, I woke to strange noises which, as I found out next morning, belonged to hyenas and lions. And every night after that, hyenas would serenade me to sleep.

 

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The next day, we returned to the beautiful strip of green marsh, and stopped to admire a small group of giraffes and impalas but they were both nervous and the impalas fled after a short while. Freddie drove a little further up to get a better view of a pair of ostriches, and it was there we found the reason for their nervousness – a pair of black-backed jackals, which seemed more intent on resting than eyeing the other animals.

 

Pressing on, we spotted two African king eagles, one of which was using its talons to tear into some meat - its breakfast with a kill. Then we drove straight into a huge group of the famous Tarangire elephants which were just finishing their morning baths. The herd was at least 45-strong with some 15 babies and teen elephants walking around us. A few of them were splashing in the water, a couple doing the mud baths, while the rest were grazing. It was such a blessing, looking into the gentle eyes, and finding it a contradiction that they can be so ferocious and destructive at the same time.

 

We saw two more herds of elephants after that, one further down enjoying their morning baths, while another was further inland munching their way through. Then we saw a lone old bull and learned that the aged elephants would usually get left behind near the marsh. He cut a lonely figure, and we felt for him since elephants are such social creatures.

 

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Back at camp, I spied a rabbit in front of our tent in the evening, and then a rush of a small animal which then crouched in the long grasses looking around with its big doe eyes. I found out later it was one of the resident dik diks! What a pleasure! But we never saw dik diks for the rest of the trip. We took the night drive that night. But once again luck eluded us, so try as he might, the camp guide Lewis couldn’t find the Big cats for us. Instead we saw a bush baby, more jackals, a giant eagle owl, bat-eared foxes (too dark to see them clearly though) and impalas.

 

The next morning, we left Oliver's at 7.30am for the next destination. And our long wait for the big cats finally paid off, we saw two cheetah brothers resting on a termite mound. But they weren’t doing much, and after spending a while admiring them from a distance, it was time to push off, and we were out of Tarangire shortly. We had seen only 2 out of the Big Five (buffaloes and elephants), but we still had 7 more days and hope abounded.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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Wow, Tarangire so green and although I have seen parts of the marsh fairly green before, it's amazing to see it full of water like that. A nice gentle start to your safari with my highlights being elephants in the green and those mongoose sightings.... oh and some cheetah thrown in at the last moment! I like your baobabs shot.

 

I suspect you are going to be successful in seeing most of the animals you want - but do keep the suspense going.

 

I wonder if you did see the same mongooses as me - I am pretty sure I recognize the mound (although that is a slightly ridiculous thing to say, given that they get eroded).

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So which do you like better, the Big 5 on TV or in person? :blink:

 

You mongoose shots are really great and probably unexpected surprises. Could you add the exact dates of your travel?

 

I share your tree hugging urges and hesitations. Great start to your report. Do you think there will be less lobbying for a return trip?

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@@Atravelynn - no more lobbying needed. he's well and truly hooked. i've already got a warning - "No safaris without me." was the word. :lol:

Hi @@pault - the mongooses were not nervous about the vehicle at all, which surprised me as i thought they would be skittish. the dwarf mongoose sighting was on June 25 and the banded ones were on June 26. i thought they were on the same day but the Man says not. for all you know - it may be the same mound! here's a pix of the full mound:

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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That's great you have a safari partner ready to go!

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@@Kitsafari

Thanks for a great TR so far. It is always nice to read of people's first impressions of Africa. Are you and Mr Kitsafari planning your next visit?

Looking forward to the rest of your report :)

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Before I continue, the photo credits go to my husband. We are still amateurs where great photography is concerned. :blink:

I also realised that I may get into too many details! so i'll try to sieve out stuff from my ramblings....pardon me if i forget and get you bogged down.

 

 

June 27

 

Manyara/Ngorongoro Crater

 

I had read so much about the tree-climbing lions in Manyara, and had gone into the park with high expectations, but was sorely disappointed. We saw a blue balled monkey at the entrance, and a southern ground hornbill. With a lack of game to show us, Freddie brought us to the hippo pool and what a disappointment that was. The hippos were hidden from view and the pool didn’t amount to much, at least we didn’t have a great angle to see much.

On the way out, again we saw no game, so Freddie educated us on the different types of acacia trees. I didn’t realize there was such a huge variety – the ones that I could remember were Acacia Kiki, whistling acacia, drop leaf acacia, and umbrella acacia.

 

Halfway out, we stopped amidst a group of baboons crossing the road. It was a huge disappointment at the Manyara and we will give that a miss if we ever return. But whatever we did not see in Manyara was more than made up in the crater.

 

 

 

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June 28

 

We had to drag ourselves out of the warm bed at at 5.30am to leave at 6am from Gibbs Farm. By 7am we were at the crater entrance, and half an hour later we were almost at the bottom of the mountain when we noticed three vehicles stopped in front of us on the narrow road. We stopped and searched until Freddie let out “Caracals!” He was excited as it was the first time in one year since he spotted the cat, which he said was nocturnal in nature. One was crouched down, having its breakfast, while the other was just watching him. The other started moving away, and that was when I noticed it looked like a pregnant female. We watched for over half an hour and while she was about to tuck in when the other cat finished, someone in the front cars let out a yell, and they were gone in a flash.

 

So much for keeping quiet while watching game. It was a constant struggle trying to remain respectfully quiet and debating whether to shush other tourists or guides talking loudly to each other. That’s a question to discuss at another time!

 

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The crater is beautiful. Massive. Serene, surreal with the mist hanging over one end, and the sun shining through a break in the clouds. Strangely, I felt so at peace in that crater. It was as if it was in a universe of its own, which in a sense it was, and that the animals had found a sanctuary in that cauldron. A small cocoon of what the rest of Africa offered. I pray that safe refuge remains forever protected.

 

We saw our first wildebeests, peacefully grazing. Then we saw cape buffalos. Freddie got word that a rhino was sighted, and he raced to the spot – nearly half an hour away! The African black rhino was stealthily running through long grasses in a far distance, away from the roads, we could only see a tiny speck of his profile, and after a short while, the rhino sat down and we lost sight of it. But who cares – my first sight of the very endangered and very rare black rhino!

 

Next, Freddie got wind of lions and he sped to the spot, just in time, ahead of several cars, so we had a good view of 2 male lions and 3 lionesses. The males looked young as their manes were not fully grown. They were just rolling around and resting on the top of the hill, but I’m sure they kept a close eye on the cape buffaloes across the road and down the hill. We were hungry by then – it was nearly 9am and we hadn’t had breakfast – so we went off. We passed by a lake, and spied a group of six lionesses far across the lake. It was too far to see them clearly; we drove on and came across a small group of hippos grazing on land.

 

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We had a loo break and just as we started off, one of the cars ahead of us reversed. Freddie heard from the driver that lions had a kill, and we tailgated them immediately.

 

It was back to the original group of lions! While we were tucking into our breakfast, they had brought down a cape buffalo from across where they were! They were feasting just next to the road but the row of cars were three-car thick, and Freddie didn’t have space to squeeze in. After half an hour, none of the cars in front of the cats wanted to move. My hubby and I were feeling uneasy and uncomfortable and we told Freddie to move off even though we couldn’t see the cats eat.

 

My hubby and I don’t like crowds for one, and we certainly didn’t share the “festive” atmosphere that the other tourists seemed to be enjoying while watching the cats eat. Perhaps we are just being fastidious, but we felt we should give these lions respectful space and quiet for them to eat. There must have been close to 40 cars at one point, jostling for a position.

 

 

So we went down the hill to watch a hyena trying to hunt impalas among a group of wildebeests. This hyena gave up very quickly and walked off soon after. Then we realized that although we were far away from the lion kill action, we had a clear view of another hyena running towards the lions to try to steal the kill! A lioness was left to guard the kill while the 2 males and 2 females went down the hill to drink at the marsh, and the second hyena was playing hide and seek with it. We returned to the lions’ kill area after lunch, and by then the rangers were stationed there, and the hordes of cars were gone. Thank goodness for that! the lions had their fill although one stayed with the kill. We took a couple of pix and then it was time to leave the crater.

 

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satisfied lioness with blood still on her muzzle

 

On the way out, Freddie took a different path and we were all alone on the track when we saw a lone lioness sitting by the grass verge with a group of Thomson gazelles further in the grassland. She looked so forlorn, and lonely with a face that was full of resignation, with the flies buzzing around her eyes. The wind was blowing from behind her, which meant the gazelles were aware of her and she couldn’t hunt. It was not until I saw the photos that I noticed that her right eye looked injured. Freddie suggested that she had cubs somewhere which explained why she was alone. I felt sorry for her and hoped she got her meal.

 

Other animals we saw in the crater included 2 common elands and a koribustard bird.

 

 

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hippos at one of the lakes

 

 

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the lone lioness - her right eye doesn't look right

 

 

Edited by Kitsafari
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Really enjoying this, thanks for sharing! 2 caracal, wow. I had 2 on the same night drive once but not together like this.

 

However.... Please don't cut down on your words and slip bits, in its entirety, different parts will appeal to different people. E.g. unless this is coming later, please add something about the camps/lodges you stayed at a others.

 

You should see my (unfinished) report, its almost a minute-by-minute account of everything and I've yet to be banned :D

Edited by Super LEEDS
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Another wow for the caracal!

 

I've also never seen one in 20 safaris and a whole year spent in Africa.

 

The crowds of vehicles are quite disturbing, and I tend to steer well clear of busy areas these days. However, on the flip side, whenever I see mongoose (an animal I'm rather fond of) they are mostly running away very fast, so it's lovely to see them up close and relaxed.

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I also realised that I may get into too many details! so i'll try to sieve out stuff from my ramblings

Please don´t, I enjoy the level of detail in yourrReport and I´m sure others do, too.

 

 

 

 

It was a huge disappointment at the Manyara and we will give that a miss if we ever return. But whatever we did not see in Manyara was more than made up in the crater.

I had similar experiences in Lake Manyara, but like you I only spend a few hours here which probably don´t do the park justice. There is a nice trip report here written by @@Canadian Robin which shows how beautiful Manyara can be:

 

http://safaritalk.net/topic/4962-kenya-and-tanzania-august-2009-trip-report-and-photos/#entry35795

 

We stopped and searched until Freddie let out “Caracals!” He was excited as it was the first time in one year since he spotted the cat, which he said was nocturnal in nature. One was crouched down, having its breakfast, while the other was just watching him. The other started moving away, and that was when I noticed it looked like a pregnant female. We watched for over half an hour

I can tell you from experience: Only after writing a trip report and then gettings lots of "Caracal, WOW" by the most experienced Safari travelers here one realizes how special such a sighting is. And you were so close and could watch them for such a long time, wonderful. :)

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Sorry that Manyara turned out to be a bust but happy to hear the crater lived up to expectations and then some. We have seen lions in trees in the Mara Triangle so (as also noted by others) they do this in other locations as well and perhaps you will see them on your next safari. Very lucky (and fairly rare) sighting of caracal – great shots.

 

I totally agree with your sentiment of moving away from the crowds to try and allow the lions to eat in peace. One other (somewhat selfish) benefit is that while the other cars are all watching the lions, they’re will be fewer at other sightings.

 

We stayed at Gibbs and totally enjoyed it – I really liked the fantastic views of the rolling and infinite landscape from the cottage verandas. Did you get a change to walk around grounds/garden or do a hike in conservation area to the elephant caves?

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Wow! i didn't realise that caracals are such elusive small cats. our guide Freddie alluded to it but i read somewhere that they were common. so we were really lucky to catch sight of them for our first trip. :) they are gorgeous, aren't they?

 

@@ZaminOz, definitely hoping to make another safari trip. i'm trying to see if we can squeeze a mini safari next year as we are also hoping for a trip to see the northern lights - another tick on my bucket list.

 

@SuperLeeds, i wasn't thinking of speaking of the camps but i'll add them in at the end of the TR. (BTW, my hubby and my bro in law are diehard LUFC fans ever since the mid 70s. my BIL was co-founder of the Leeds United Football Singapore Club as well! :lol: )

 

@@stokeygirl, the mongoose were so comfortable with us that they continued to stretch out and sleep or groom each other. the dwarf ones were really cute!

 

@@michael-ibk, I'll check out that TR, perhaps it was just the timing of our visit.....

 

@@PT123, Gibbs was fabulous, such a beautifully landscaped place and fantastic service. they put us in their best room (at least that was what they told us!) which overlooked the veg garden. we walked around the veg garden but didn't have time to see the elephant caves, although the afternoon we arrived, an elephant came through the coffee plantation!

Edited by Kitsafari
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The crater was special for us. I wished we had one more day to spend at the crater. Even if we saw the same animals, it would tell us a different story each time. There was so much to see, and so little time. I would love to go back to the crater again. The feelings evoked in that caldera were those I will treasure.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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June 29

 

The next day, we flew into Seronera from Manyara airstrip. It was a bit chaotic. We didn’t have tickets, and didn’t realize we needed them! Finally we went up to the pilots and checked their lists and prayed we got on the right flight. Of course we did. J The small plane was a bit choppy, flown by a beautiful blonde lady. As we climbed into the plane, we noticed two trolleys of hard case luggage (about 4 pieces I think) that was in pink stripes. That was serious safari.

 

Ernest James of Asilia was waiting for us with an open vehicle at Seronera. We had booked a private vehicle but we had hoped for a closed one with a pop-up top just like we did in Tarangire. Soon we could see the advantages of a closed vehicle – the roads were very dusty and the vehicle was very slow and cumbersome. There appeared to be a few lodges around the airstrip but Dunia camp was an hour’s direct drive away. We took a game drive – saw a smattering of elephants (not as many as in Tarangire), a couple of sleeping lions in the bushes by the stream, and lots and lots of tommies. I spotted a sleeping hyena among the bushes, then saw topis, an African hoopu, a group of storks on a tree, giraffes, 2 lappet faced vultures, the ubiquitous secretary bird and the lilac breasted roller. A leopard was said to be in one of the kopjes with a kill but the vehicles parked in front of a spot didn’t look like they were moving off and no one had spotted the well hidden cat. We gave up quickly.

 

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The plains were a wondrous thing – especially for us city folks who grew up in concrete jungles. I thoroughly soaked in the scenery in front of me with the cool wind and clean safari air blowing against me.

 

We returned to Dunia for lunch (yummy!) and waited in the hot tent for the evening drive. We had asked for a closed vehicle and thank goodness there was a spare. Ernest looked pleased with the change. We drove out with the top open and regretted after that as tse tse flies swarmed into the car. Ernest brought us to a small pond and we saw 2 small Nile (I think) crocs. Next was to a beautiful lake (I’m sorry, I forgot the name) with a crowd of flamingoes preparing to settle for the night. A reed buck came along. Ernest’s sharp eyes spotted a black spot far far across the lake, and said it looked like a rhino. And sure enough it was! Yet again a black rhino just out of our human sight to admire, but it was running across the plains very quickly. Amazing it could move so fast! We watched a fair bit, and then, with the sun setting, we headed back.

 

 

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The elusive rhino

 

On the way back, we saw a vehicle with the occupants training their binos on something. We imitated them, and spied a lion sleeping in the tree. Its tummy looked full and she looked at us with half-closed eyes. Finally, a tree climbing lion!? this one didn't look like she was going anywhere. So off we went, back to the camp. This time, we closed the top to avoid the tse tse flies and it was a good call. Poor Ernest didn't have to multitask - hit the flies on him and steer the vehicle!

 

Closer to the camp, we came across 2 hyenas sitting along the road. Though we stopped next to her, the larger of the two glanced at us but didn’t move. She was panting heavily in the heat. But she looked quite stunning compared to the scruffy looking ones in the crater.

 

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Back to Dunia camp we went, enjoying a stunning sunset. but it didn't relieve my growing migraine. once back at the camp, i skipped the communal dinner, and asked for a bowl of soup and a bread roll in the tent instead. Lying on the divan in the mobile tent, plugged into my ipod for music, alone in the tent in the dark, i peered up into the starry nights. a cold breeze blew in, and the calls of the hyenas pierce through my music. i sighed with contentment and my migraine melted away.....

 

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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@SuperLeeds, i wasn't thinking of speaking of the camps but i'll add them in at the end of the TR. (BTW, my hubby and my bro in law are diehard LUFC fans ever since the mid 70s. my BIL was co-founder of the Leeds United Football Singapore Club as well! :lol: )

 

Stop the report, no getting better than this!

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Just catching up and am really enjoying your adventures. Two caracal … how wonderful.

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Caracal! WOW! I weep with jealousy.

 

There's another one of those comments!

 

I note you are already in "only this, only that..." mode.

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@@pault, i know..... **blush**

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Continuing the long-winded TR....thanks for being patient!

 

June 30

 

After an uneventful start in central Serengeti, especially after my hubby had heard at dinner how one family saw a lioness tried to hunt only to fall on her belly in the stream, we wondered if we would be just as lucky the next day. We started very early at 6.30am, armed with a packed breakfast. We saw a marshal eagle and a lone hyena at the same spot where the female hyena was last evening. We moved into the plains and Ernest spotted a cheetah alone on a termite mound in the distance. But the cat moved down and sat among the tall grasses and stayed out of sight, so we drove off. Lots of tommies around, which meant, said Ernest, cheetahs had to be around since they fancied these plains. we saw a group of 4-5 batelur eagles in one tree and a black belly bustard.

 

Then Ernest stopped the vehicle. Cheetahs on the road, he said. Quickly we stood up. There was only one vehicle in the opposite direction and we were the only ones on our side. 2 young cheetahs were walking into the grass towards a mound, and there their mother cheetah stood up. Next was a stupendous hour and a half watching this fantastic hunter and wonderful mother doing what cheetahs do best.

 

With just us two cars watching, she started moving forward towards a group of tommies. The young cubs hung back, waiting. She slipped forward, picked her target. I was watching with my binos, and in a flash she was gone from my binos. Her race was so fast I couldn’t catch up. She caught the gazelle and her two cubs went forward. Out of nowhere, a hyena ran forward. Ernest said cheetahs wouldn’t fight with a hyena for a kill, and sure enough the hyena stole it from them. That scene played out two more times!

 

The mother and cubs moved away, and soon the mother was hunting for another gazelle. By then two other cars came forward, and sorry to say, the tourists in those cars started making loud yelps “Cheetahs!” We instinctively turned around and shushed them. For the rest of that time, they looked sulky. It’s so annoying that people can’t sense that there was a hunt and any sound would disrupt the hunt.

 

Sorry for that little diversion. :ph34r: We soon caught on that the mother cheetah didn’t kill the gazelles. She kept them alive for the cubs to play and for them to be trained. What a great mother! But the hyena, soon joined by a second one, stole the gazelle once again. On the third round, the cubs joined in the hunt but were too inexperienced and scattered the herd of gazelles. But the mother caught hold of a third one and the cubs were able to play around and chase it a bit before the well fed hyena came for a third round. The cubs valiantly tried to fight it, but were no match for the snarling hyena.

 

Ernest said in all his 10 years of guiding he’s only seen cheetahs hunt once each time. This was his first, witnessing 3 consecutive hunts. For me, there is no animal as elegant as the cheetah. The mother embodies everything that is elegant, gorgeous and beautiful. She had a 100% strike rate in the hunt – an excellent hunter and fantastic mother. Of the cats in Africa, the cheetah has become my favourite cat, but it won’t replace my all time fav –the tiger.

 

By the third hunt, there were so many cars just following the cheetahs, we decided to leave the area. There were three cars that stopped right in front of the hyena tearing into the gazelle, which was still pitifully alive. We could hear her cries. It was just too much for us. For that, I was grateful that the cats kill their prey before they feed (or so we were told, until i watched one video where a group of lions were eating an antelope that was still alive).

 

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mama staking out prey

 

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moving on to the next target

 

P1000716.JPGstalking the prey

 

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in all her elegance and glory

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We passed the Morru kopje and settled on the Gong rock to have breakfast. Of course we had a go at the gong rock! It was good fun. We saw this beautifully coloured Agama monitor lizard on a small rock which must have been watching us eating our breakfast.

 

Ernest decided to have another attempt to find the leopard from the day before. It was a long way and we settled at the back, admiring the savannah. Yet again, he came to a halt. Lioness on the road. Once again, we were so lucky. We were the only car on our side of the road. Opposite us were five vehicles quite close to the crouching collared lioness. She was watching a group of gazelles whose tails were swishing nervously.

 

Suddenly, a lone gazelle strayed to the right of our vehicle and crossed the road right in front of us. She was nervously watching us, standing still by the side of the road. Her movement caught the eye of the lioness, which quickly changed direction and began to crawl towards us! She crouched, crawled, and waited. We stood frozen, completely quiet and holding our breath as we watched. The gazelle still stood at the road, distracted by our vehicle. The lioness finally pounced and the gazelle was off. But just as the lioness gave chase, she stumbled, not noticing a small ditch hidden by the long grasses. The lucky gazelle jumped off fast, a lucky escape.

 

The lioness looked forlorn and decided to walk by the car. I was on her side, and I was within two feet from her, standing in the vehicle. Thank God for the closed vehicle, I thought! She kept glancing upwards to the car, probably worried that it would pounce on her. She settled down on the road again five feet away, and then all those other vehicles came forward. Ernest later told us that the we were the envy of the other vehicles.

 

In total, 15 cars followed her every step! I felt so sorry for her. So we told Ernest, let’s move off, and we did. We later learned that she managed to get a kill much later that day, and two cubs came forward to feed. We saw her and the 2 cubs the next day on the way to the airstrip, and a male with a full mane walked towards them to join them. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stay to admire them again.

 

By now, you may have guessed that we were so absorbed in watching both cheetah and lion hunts that we didn’t reach for the cameras. So we only have the chases in our head.

 

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The evening drive took us back to the lake again with a huge group of tommies trotting in a line. What we saw – a big pod of hippos lying on the bank of a river and a silverbird. It was rather uneventful after such an early day packed with adrenaline, although poor Ernest tried nearly every kopje in the area to find a leopard, well at least until Ernest heard about 2 leopards up on a tree.

 

It was close to 6pm when we finally reached the spot, and there were some 15 vehicles along the path. We even saw a vehicle with NatGeo logos on it. Probably some guides training as well in some cars. Ernest’s sharp eyes immediately saw the tail, but our inexperienced eyes took nearly 10 mins before we saw the tail. Then one of the leopards came out to feed on the kill in the tree. It took me 5 mins to see it, but my hubby took longer. Because we needed an hour to get back to camp and it was nearly 6.20pm already, we totally forgot to take pictures. And that was the only sight of the elusive leopard during the entire trip. L They were smaller than I expected! How in the world do they have such strength to pull that kill so high up on the tree? That’s so amazing!

 

Well, we hightailed back to the camp, Ernest was driving like a man possessed since you can’t drive on the roads after 7pm in central Serengeti. We made it back in 50mins! Thanks Ernest! Initially I was worried about Ernest’s familiarity with the area as he was not with Dunia camp. But his sharp eyes and alertness made him a great guide and he was so sweet when we parted, saying he would miss us and wished he had continued as our guide. And we were the first Singaporeans he had met too. We missed him too when we went up north. Wished we had packed him along in a luggage!

 

And that was it in Seronera/central Serengeti. This was one of two best game drives in our trip, the other being the crater. It was so satisfying, and I was on the moon just watching the cheetahs and lioness without being crowded by vehicles. We were very lucky to catch the hunts. They were just feeding my addiction without me knowing! We were supposed to be heading to Olakira Mara, and we were very excited about it. Bring on more game! And I had read on tripadvisor how much game there was south of Mara River and we were looking forward to it.

 

in between, there was still plenty to see, stop and admire -

 

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I love the colours of the Topis. such gentle looking animals.

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July 1 - North Serengeti

 

Here comes the part with which we were (and still are) sorely disappointed. Our itinerary specifically said we were to stay at Olakira Mara, and we had done research on that place which was next to the Mara River, and wanted specifically the view of the river for any crossing. We had heard about the first crossing made while we were at Dunia, and we were excited at the prospect of being surrounded by the migrating animals at the river. But the African agent decided, without consulting us or our local agent, to place us in its brand new Olakira Lamai. The Dunia camp manager had mentioned it the night before but we thought it was Ola Mara he was still talking about. We didn’t know anything about the Lamai camp and finally realised about the change only on the day we flew off. On the plane, we were told we were going ahead to the Lamai airstrip instead of Kogatende where we were originally scheduled to get off, we had no clue where we were heading. We just assumed the Lamai camp was an addition to the Mara camp and close to the river.

 

Well, imagine our massive disappointment when we found out the Lamai camp was north of the river, and some half hour to 45 mins in soft terrain to the river. All the action was in the south of the river! The day we arrived, we took two game drives and saw no big animals except for small groups of giraffes, grant gazelles, an obiri antelope, lots of topi, the secretary bird, a grey cap social weaver, ground hornbill, yellow throated long law and hyenas in the evening close to the camp. Not that we didn't stop to admire and revel in each of their beauty. But we were there to watch the crossings and migratory animals with the entourage of predators. But - no cats, no wildebeests, no zebras. Zilch. We were ready to pack up and demand to be sent to the Mara camp, but the Lamai camp staff were so incredibly warm hearted and fantastic and so excited with us being their first ever guests, that it would make us look hard-hearted if we had made that demand.

 

One thing also struck us - in contrast to the nonchalant attitude of the animals in central serengeti, the animals in the north were more skittish of vehicles. as soon as they heard the vehicle, they ran off. which made photography a real challenge.

 

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Lovely topis on the serene plains of Lamai

 

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where are the ladies?

 

 

July 2

 

The next morning our guide Mesenger brought us to the river and there we had our first sights of the wildebeests. There were hordes of them - across the river, dotting every part of the plains. We got stuck on the way there once as the banks were soft and muddy after the heavy rains in the night. But we made it safely through and came upon two hyenas on a kill. Or what we thought was a kill. The wildebeest suddenly raised its head and cried out. The poor thing was being eaten alive. Lappet vultures started to arrive at the spot and one of the hyenas started dragging the wildebeest closer to a tree, out of reach of the vultures. The other hyena ran off down to the banks, and directly across, a group of wildebeests was standing at the banks. We drove further away to watch the wildebeests but clearly the hyena on the banks was making them hesitant about crossing the river. Since the wildebeests couldn’t make up their minds, Mesenger decided to move further down the river.

 

A black cobra slithered under the car. I’m terrified of snakes and I didn’t want the car to stop, so I only talked about it after it moved out of sight. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. Mesenger saw it and said he wasn’t about to stop either. Neither of us wanted it to spit its venom at us!

 

A little way further, another group of wildebeests gathered at the banks. This time, the banks were some 10m high, and I prayed they wouldn’t jump. There were 2 crocodiles sunning on the rocks in the river, and the sight of them halted the wildebeests in their tracks. So we moved on but we had to veer away from the banks as the soil was too soft. But on returning to the banks, we noted there were no wildebeests across the river. We decided to turn back.

 

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To cross or not to cross - that's the question....

 

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waiting for the cues.

 

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I'm just dozing, don't mind me

 

So glad we turned back, because I saw that a crossing was underway. Mesenger picked a spot but a tree blocked our view and I suggested he moved to another spot. I warned him there was a muddy ditch ahead of us, but he probably didn’t hear me and drove straight into it. and the car was well and truly stuck. You can see from the pix that one side of the car was off the ground!

 

Well, we had to wait for another vehicle to pull us out, but luckily for us, the crossing was well underway. We spent nearly two hours watching the crossing. We swam with the wildebeests, took great strength in climbing on to the wet slippery rocks in the middle of the river, rested on those rocks for a while, then jumped into the waters again, and then heaved themselves up the banks across the river. We estimated some 20,000 crossed during those 2 hours. It was tremendous! What great privilege to watch them follow their migratory instincts to cross that river. It was a hard crossing as well and we could hear them grunt, cry and call for their young or for their mothers. We could see the exhaustion as they lifted themselves out of the water and once they were on land, on our side of the river, they broke free and trotted around with satisfaction.

 

This was the reason we came to Serengeti – to witness one of the world’s five greatest migrations at the most challenging point. It was an honour. i felt such pride in watching them achieved the crossing and i felt so exhausted for them. And I was glad they came through alright – no crocs, no cats on our side and no hyenas waiting to pounce on them.

 

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a slow start to the crossing

 

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P1000899.JPGan eagle keeps an eye on the wilde crossings

 

 

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well and truly stuck....

then, Rescue!

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Edited by Kitsafari
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