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Mara River September 2014


kilopascal
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My addiction to Tanzania has now become severe enough that the thought of not going at least once a year is no longer an option. So, I had a short period of time available in September and used it to go to the Mara region of the Serengeti. Five days in the Mara. Then an overnight in Karatu and back home. For many people probably not worth the cost of the flights, but as I said, this is an addiction and we all know how those can take control. It is just me this time as my significant other is off in Canada with “the boys” doing manly stuff… fishing, or canoeing, or drinking and doing nothing. Who knows. Our addictions are a bit different.

I did the usual, air miles flight on American from my Midwest town to Chicago. $5. There are two flights, one early morning and one about noon. I always take the early one because you never know when one of these commuter flights gets cancelled. Then, because the ticket is completely separate from the KLM ticket, you are really hosed. So I had a lot of time in Chicago and there was a well spent $30 for a day pass to the Delta lounge (awesome place) to await my KLM flight. In our 5 previous trips to Tanzania this has always gone off without a hitch. So I guess I was about due. It starts with a text that states the 4 pm flight to Amsterdam is now scheduled to leave at 6:15 pm. Hmh. Will it really leave then? So I inquire about getting on a flight to Minneapolis and then onward. I am told no, you will still have 90 minutes in Amsterdam so no problem. Do they really believe these things they tell you? They add that if I miss it, then they will get me on another flight even if it is a different airlines. Uhhh, clearly they don’t know how flights to Kilimanjaro go. Oh well. Nothing to do but wait in this awesome lounge. Eat more stuff even though I can’t possibly be hungry. Drink more wine. It’s 5 pm somewhere. Well, at about 3 pm I wander over to the international terminal. Here’s where I make a critical mistake. I have everything packed in carry on. I have already checked in on line but haven’t printed the boarding passes. When I go to print them I get directed to the desk. (Never good). They print them no problem then ask how many bags to check. I say none. I have a day pack and a roller bag that fits in the overhead. They say no problem but we want to weigh them. Uh oh. 4 kgs too much. Drats!!! So I check the one without all the camera stuff and the I-pad without giving much thought to what I would wear if it doesn’t show up. This occurs to me after my bag has disappeared. Oh well. It will be fine. Right? So I wait. And wait. And wait. It’s about 5 pm. Plane is at the gate. Then it’s 6 pm. Still waiting. 6:15 we start to board. We land in Amsterdam and I have 40 minutes. I go directly to the gate and through all the gate security and I’m among the last 3 people to board. Plane is completely full. Arrive in Kili, fill out a form that asks me if I have been sick and I hand this to a person who just puts it in a pile. Visa line, then out to luggage. No luggage. So off I go to the luggage guy who is very pleasant and pulls up a form with my name already on it and says your luggage is in Amsterdam. No surprise here. “Where are you going?” I tell him we are driving the next day to the northern Serengeti. He says my luggage will be in tomorrow night, then the next morning they will fly it to Kogatende. Okay. I have extra underwear in the backpack and a pair of pants. The longish skirt that I always wear to fly because it is so comfortable seems a little unsuitable for safari. The flip flops I am wearing will have to do. I am met by George Mbwambo, the same freelance guide we always use. He asks where my suitcase is? I give him the short version and the number he is supposed to call tomorrow night to check if it arrived. Off we go to the Outpost Lodge. Before George leaves I ask him if he can bring an extra fleece tomorrow and some deodorant. (Good job this is not my first trip with George.) I get the standard George response of “no problem”. The Outpost Lodge is economical and perfectly suitable for one night of sleep with one exception…..the 2 am arrivals from Turkish airlines flights arriving next door with roller bags going thump, thump, thump.

We leave at 6 am the next morning. George arrives, hands me a travel mug of coffee just as I like it and off we go for the long drive to the Mara region. We have traveled with George so much now that it’s very comfortable and I don’t feel odd being the solo traveler. We catch up on his family and mine, world politics (not really) and just listen to music and enjoy the ride. He has my standard favorite travel food – dates and cashews. I contribute Jolly Ranchers and the beef jerky he has requested. It was an unremarkable trip. No traffic/police stops. The usual sights on the way to the Serengeti that we have seen so often now but I still enjoy them. A bit of a struggle at the Serengeti gate with the card George is using but a couple of calls to various banks and it gets settled. I think George might have had a mild bit of panic setting in but everything was taken care of, as always. We drive across the central Serengeti, then exit at the Ikoma gate and drive north through several small villages and then enter back into the park in the northwest.

Shortly after we enter there is this lovely siting of elephants and just a bit further the suggestion of the rain that is to come. George thinks we need to speed it up a bit, as there is a low crossing on our way to the camp that can flood and be impossible to cross. As we continue it starts to pour with rain and there is standing water everywhere. I have never been this wet in the Serengeti, even when we’ve been here in April and May. George had just returned from the Mara region and said it rained many of the days the past week. It keeps pouring and as we drive past the Kogatende airstrip we notice it is COMPLETELY submerged. Uh oh. We make it across the area George was concerned about and to Wild Frontier’s Serengeti Wilderness North camp.

 

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A sign of things to come

I get the usual camp welcome and orientation and then head for the tent, slogging through a couple of inches of water and slipping a bit in the mud. The tent is basic but very clean and the shower bag is quickly filled with very hot water. So I shower, then head down for some wine in the lounge tent and chat with George a bit before dinner. The rain has slowed to almost nothing now. The guides eat with their clients here and it is a pleasant evening, although my flip flops and feet are still a big soggy. George makes a call to the airport and they say my luggage is there and they will send it out the following morning. Excellent!

The Mara River is very close to the camp and wildebeest are happily munching outside of my tent through part of the night. The bed is very comfy and it is cold enough I need the thick blanket so it makes for a very nice sleep.

George and I meet up at 6 the next morning. I have some coffee and George picks up the breakfast and lunch boxes for the day. It is just turning light, and we have barely driven out of camp and George stops the car, saying he thinks he saw something move amongst several large boulders. We stare at it a while and then George says there is a leopard. And after several minutes I finally see it as well. It is a ways away (photo taken at the limit of the 200- 600 mm lens). We watch for a while and eventually another couple of cars stop and ask what we see. One has 3 boisterous women, one of whom exclaims praise god and George laughs. Their guide gives George a look of relief, as they are leaving this morning and had yet to see a leopard. We stay and watch the leopard, along with some spur fowl scratching in the mud alongside the car, until the leopard disappears between the rocks.

 

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This turns out to be a particularly good morning, as not more than 15 minutes later we happen upon a newly born impala right by the road, that is attempting to stand.

 

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Before we drive on, George makes a call about my luggage then hangs up and says “bad news”. The Kogatende air strip is closed. I said, “well, good job you brought me that deodorant then, isn’t it”. And we’re off…….

George wants to know if we need to hang out by the river and hope for a wildebeest crossing or venture out elsewhere. I’ve seen crossings at the Mara before, although from the Kenya side, so it’s not the priority for me. If we see one, great, if not that’s okay. Since we don’t have to be back to the airstrip, we decide to drive some distance away from the river.

 

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As we drive back at the end of the first day we notice that there is some major earth moving going on at the airstrip. They are apparently trying to regrade it so it doesn’t always flood. Good plan because it continues to bust out with rain every evening for the next 4 nights. I was a little concerned that I would never see some clean clothes but the airstrip was back open the next day and we picked up my luggage that morning.

 

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Kogatende air strip after grading

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Guides waiting for clients and George waiting for my luggage

Well, I am going to post this, and finish up later before I lose the whole thing for the 3rd time today!!

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That's some adventure! Look forward to reading more.

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@kilopascal—great start for your TR! Especially interesting to me since I hope to do a similar trip this late September/early October, and on the same ORD-AMS-JRO flights. Do you think you wouldn’t have had problems with the overweight roller if you were able to bypass the desk? Did you notice any similar weighing at the gates? Like most (all?) photographers, my roller bag is always overweight with fragile gear, but I’ve haven’t had any problems yet.

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@@AKChui - I might have made it had it not been for the desk stop, however, the gate personel were far more stringent than usual with the size of the bags and the number. It was a little rewarding, honestly, to see people that clearly had far more than allowed or large bags being made to check them at the gate. Might have been because the flight was so full. Usually with this flight I've not had too much problem. I don't recall any bag weighing at the gate.

 

Well, I guess I left you after picking up the luggage at Kogatende. We wandered by the river as the wildebeest seemed to be lining up in large numbers but then there was a sudden change of mind and they turned back. So, off we went to who knows where. The following are just random photos of the day (and perhaps some from the following day) The photo of the baby impala is the same impala we saw right after it was born.

 

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George making breakfast

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Wildebeest near the border with Kenya

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On day 3 there is once again, a large herd of wildebeest milling at the edge of the river and we decide to just hang out and wait. It’s not too long and they start to cross.

 

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Patiently waiting for wildebeest to cross

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Croc dragging wildebeest

After most of the herd, and everyone around us have left we see a group of elephants coming down to the river. The lead elephant seems very focused and deliberate about where they are going and soon she enters the water and they all start to cross. Until I reviewed the video, I hadn’t noticed the crocodiles on the sand bank. But, everyone made it safely to the other side.

 

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Oops. I clearly messed up that last post.

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Really a pretty mad thing to do - not only to fly all the way there, but then to drive all the way from Arusha to the Lamai Wedge after that. Cool!

 

Some nice sightings and you seem to be moving quite a bit back and forward between the Lamai Wedge and the kopjes on the southern side of the river - or is that just the way it looks because you didn't post the picturews in any particular order? Quite a lot of rain for the time of year.

 

Some excellent hand-on-waist belly supporting and foot-scuffing in the guide circle pictrure that is the last in post#1 That's a classic East Africa safari-circuit scene.

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I had to reread the first part as well as I couldn't believe that you drove from Kilimanjaro airport all the way up north to Lamai wedge! how long did the drive take? @@kilopascal

 

george has sharp eyes to see that spotted cat in the distance!

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@@Kitsafari, we left Arusha at at 6:30 am and it was probably about 5 or 5:30 when we arrived in the camp. and yes, George has very sharp eyes.

 

@@pault, we did move around quite a bit, but it looks much more so because of my haphazard random posting. Kind of like my life. Yes, it is the classic 'guide circle' isn't it.

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Well, it appears the video of elephant crossing will have to wait until I get home (away on business trip right now) and have the original video and figure out what I'm doing. In the mean time I'll post the rest of the pictures.

 

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The last day we leave just before light, and about 30 minutes later, as we are driving toward a mound of dirt close to the road, up pops a jackal pup and then 3 more. Two of them run back into the den. One of them is frighteningly curious and comes right toward the car. George starts the car, and bangs on the side a bit to scare him back. This same morning we find a den with hyena pups. The day comes to an end way too soon. On the way back it starts to pour with rain again, at times making it difficult to see. We get back and at dinner that night one of the camp staff tells George that a group of clients had to stay at a different camp because they couldn’t make it in.

 

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The bold one

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The trip back to Karatu was uneventful. The next morning George drops me off at Shanga in Arusha, and he goes off to service and clean the car for his next guests who come in that evening. Shanga Shanga Ltd. has been mentioned before on many forums but briefly, employs disabled people to make and sell products from recycled material, most notably jewelry that is made with beads made from recycled glass bottles (www.shanga.org) . I get the tour of Shanga and then drop a significant chunk of change in their shop, eat lunch in their Riverhouse restaurant, then sit in the garden drinking tea and catching up on emails.

Random thoughts on the trip: Stunningly beautiful area of the Serengeti. I was surprised at the number of people there. Not near as bad as the Kenya side, but more than I expected. However once we drove away from the river it was very easy to find solitude. Everyone we encountered was very well behaved, even at the river crossings, with the exception of one driver with a single client who drove off road and up onto a rock to photo a leopard. Oh, and a couple of women who thought leaving their toilet paper in the bushes was fine. Really????? The Wild Frontiers Camp was Serengeti Wilderness North. I had stayed with Wild Frontiers at their central location several years ago and it was excellent. This one was just okay. Some of it may have been just the difficulty in coping with the massive amounts of rain. Trying to keep things clean etc. Nothing would really dry out during the day. I don’t go on safari for the food, and while it wasn’t bad, it’s probably the least inspired of any I’ve had. Location however, was outstanding and the price is reasonable.

That’s it. Another trip report done. Just in time. I will go back in less than 2 weeks to the Serengeti and Gol mountains. Can hardly wait.

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A very ennjoyable report. I love the photo of the jackal - and I see from your avatar picture that you do as well!

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Thanks for sharing! i enjoyed every bit of it. that was a very long drive between arusha and lamai but it's an extended game drive and i always like such drives as it gives you a better understanding of what's happening on the grounds versus flying in. im sure it was an enjoyable extended game drive!

 

the baby jackal is adorable and so are the hyena and warthogs babies too.

 

is that the bridge across Mara River going to lamai from the south of the river? it looks so dry! when we were there in early July the river was running over the bridge. here's a picture of it + one vehicle on its side after falling in in a failed attempt to cross!

 

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Love your adventure and we also lost luggage with KLM this year :) . Is George freelance or does he work for a company? How many miles/km was that drive to Northern Serengeti? Pen

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Thank you @@TonyQ and @@Kitsafari. It is the same bridge and right after a rain water would flow over but most of the time not. This is toward the end of the dry season. Nice picture! Hope everyone was okay.

@@penolva, to be fair the luggage wasn't really lost just delayed which was not a surprise. I have no idea how far the drive was. We went straight through (sort of) the Serengeti from east to west then north outside of the park because it is faster. Then re-entered the park. It takes you through some very interesting village life which is always fun. George is a freelance driver but contracts with some companies during busy times of year. Predominantly The Wild Source. He is the same guide @@Atravelynn goes with. He also works quite a bit with Safari Infinity but he works for other companies as well when he is not with Wild Source. We always hire him directly but this means that we are limited to the low season times of year which we prefer anyway.

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Great start. Well not really, because your luggage is gone and there is concern about your accommodations being submerged. But a quick glance at the photos shows luck returned.

 

What kind of beef jerky does George like?

 

Looking forward to the rest.

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Another trip report done. Just in time. I will go back in less than 2 weeks to the Serengeti and Gol mountains.

 

You´re efficient - churned this one out in no time at all! And lucky you, I´m sure you will have a great time again with a guide as eagle-eyed as George. Beautiful photos, especially love the Klippspringer and the Jackal Pups.

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~ @kilopascal:

 

Your sightings and images are driving me crazy! So, so nice!

George must be a joy to travel with, as your safari sounded superb.

That crocodile image is outstanding. Many thanks for posting it in Safaritalk.

Tom K.

Edited by Tom Kellie
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The baby jackals are so cute and the baby warthogs are both cute and numerous. I think I counted 7! That's a brood. The elephant crossing is exciting. Your photos really capture the raging waters. No wonder the airstrip got wiped out.

 

How many days in between your trips? When you lost luggage is found it could just be held for you at JRO, saving you from packing again. That even beats @@graceland's packed bag strategy because she has to carry it; yours would be there waiting.

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The baby jackals are so cute and the baby warthogs are both cute and numerous. I think I counted 7! That's a brood. The elephant crossing is exciting. Your photos really capture the raging waters. No wonder the airstrip got wiped out.

 

How many days in between your trips? When you lost luggage is found it could just be held for you at JRO, saving you from packing again. That even beats @@graceland's packed bag strategy because she has to carry it; yours would be there waiting.

LOL - if I were going to return I'd just ask a camp to keep it. Or better yet not bother to go home for the two weeks!

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Really excellent photography! The second pic in post #10 is probably my favorite land(water)scape shot, and your hyena is simply irresistible.

 

I am also a proponent of short safaris (in my case, because they're all I can afford) - you've clearly had experiences and sightings that are worth making the trip!

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Thanks everyone.

 

The baby jackals are so cute and the baby warthogs are both cute and numerous. I think I counted 7! That's a brood. The elephant crossing is exciting. Your photos really capture the raging waters. No wonder the airstrip got wiped out.

 

How many days in between your trips? When you lost luggage is found it could just be held for you at JRO, saving you from packing again. That even beats @@graceland's packed bag strategy because she has to carry it; yours would be there waiting.

So the warthogs were interesting. You know how warthogs are. Getting a picture of anything but them running away is difficult. Seconds after I take this the babies take off, running as fast as possible. And then the mother takes off in a completely different direction. Initially I'm thinking "idiot" but then realize I'm the idiot. That she is trying to divert the danger.

 

As far as the baggage, to be fair to KLM, it was not really 'lost' just delayed. Since my plane was over 3 hours late leaving, it just didn't make the short transfer. Quite frankly I was prepared to be impressed if it did. And then when I arrived in KIA. all paperwork regarding the bag had been filled out with my name at the top before I even got there. Had the air strip not been flooded, I would have had it in two days. Lesson learned about what to take in a carry on though. I will have to take this to heart when I leave on Qatar airways next Wednesday. They are very restrictive on their carry on, and from what I read on line, they insist you comply. One carry on, 15 pounds. Yes 15 pounds. Apparently you can get away with lenses in coat pockets and carrying a large lens in its case. I have a short 55 minute transfer time in Doha. Story may be repeating itself. I hope not. George's new shoes will be in the luggage. :D He apparently has a very old pair of made in Australia Redback boots that he wears for work. He bought them used in Tanzania. He loves these shoes. He asked if we could purchase some and bring them and subtract the cost from what we pay him. I said sure before I knew what they were. Turns out, there is not a distributor that I could find anyway, in US, and not many companies in UK or Australia that have them ship international. But I finally happened upon Everything Australia. Ordered them for an incredibly reasonable price for the shoes and shipping and they were to be sent via International Express. Awesome. But not. Sam, from the company emails and says they are out of that size and it will be a couple of weeks delay. So I explain why we need them sooner and ask if they ship to Tanzania. There was a 2 day delay with no email and then Sam emails and says we have found you a pair and will get them to you. And they have arrived. Kudos to Sam! So, stay posted for the trip report to see if George gets his shoes.

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I am also a proponent of short safaris (in my case, because they're all I can afford) - you've clearly had experiences and sightings that are worth making the trip!

 

~ @@Marks

 

That makes two of us.

The short safaris have an intensity and charm all their own.

One wants to savor ever sunrise, each tree full of birds, all nearby herds, the sounds of every minute.

Here's to the pleasures of the shorter safaris!

I'm so pleased that you mentioned this, @@Marks.

Tom K.

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So the warthogs were interesting. You know how warthogs are. Getting a picture of anything but them running away is difficult. Seconds after I take this the babies take off, running as fast as possible. And then the mother takes off in a completely different direction. Initially I'm thinking "idiot" but then realize I'm the idiot. That she is trying to divert the danger.

 

~ @@kilopascal

 

I laughed when I read your comment above.

Numerous are the times when I've initially scoffed at animal behavior only to subsequently realize that it was my blundering shortsightedness which was apparent.

Thank you for a refreshing trip report which was highly enjoyable throughout!

Tom K.

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Good work on the Australian shoes!

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