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backpacking Serengeti, Katavi, Mahale, game driving Serengeti


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Fantastic! Really enjoyed this Mahale segment, it´s so obvious you had a wonderful time there. Great photos of the chimps.

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Really enjoyed that, interesting that you had to wear masks, is that the norm now as we didn't in Uganda. Already googled Big Bird, love it.

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@@dlo - Surgical masks are required to reduce the risk of airborne viruses being transmitted to the chimps.


Interacting with Big Bird is pretty cool. Even though the camp closes for several months each year Nomad leaves staff to both maintain the facilities and feed BB. Prior to BB arriving they only sent staff in occasionally to check on things. Nice demonstration of responsibility on the part of Nomad.


@@michael-ibk - It's hard and simple to explain how special this segment of our safari was to us. While everyone is different, I can't imagine anyone not feeling something special after visiting Mahale. We have yet to trek in Gombe Stream or Gorilla trek but suspect the experience is similar in many ways. The broad brush plans for our next safari (September 2017) include some combination of Uganda, Burundi, and/or Rwanda and Mahale.

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@@michael-ibk - No we hadn't heard. Very sad. Thank you for passing along this news.


While sad, we can't help but recognize what a special life BB had, especially in light of the likelihood he would not have survived but for the efforts of the Greystoke staff. In return, BB provided wonderful experiences and joy for those that had the opportunity to meet him. RIP BB.

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You are right about chimp tracking. It is one of my favourite experiences ever and one we are planning to repeat in 2018. You will love gorilla tracking It is as special as everyone says.

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Just a superb report and glorious pictures. Perhaps the most in-depth, evocative report on Mahale and Greystoke camp I have read. Definitely on my list to get to some day. Thanks for sharing this.

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Very envious of your chimp experience at Mahale. I can't wait to visit there when I head next to Ruaha and Katavi. Thanks for a great TR.

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Your photos from Mahale are excellent, great to see some chimp photos.

I wish we had been able to include Mahale in our itinery but we already had four locations, and the daily rates at Mahale were way above our budget.

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@@Julian - I get that for sure. We wanted to fit Selous and Ruaha in but time just didn't make it feasible. As for budget... We justified Greystoke as our 25th anniversary gift to each other. And, I have a two year old's discipline, "I want what I want when I want it" :) I'll just push retirement a little further out.



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A wonderful section on Mahale. Superb writing and great photos really take me there (only not as wet!). It is obviously a special experience and you show it so well.

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@@TonyQ, @@Marks, @@AKR1, @@dlo, @@michael-ibk, @@SaminKaz, @@Julian et al, Thank you for your kind words. We've so enjoyed pouring back through pictures and essentially reliving our trip as we put together this trip report. And it is truly gratifying to know that you and others are enjoying the read. One more segment and then we'll have time to start going through other's reports. We love ST and this community! Thank you @GameWarden . Can't say that enough...


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What a fantastic chimp experience. I'm especially taken with the appearance of the jungle. Really evocative photos.

Big Bird looks like he would have been fun to be around.

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  • 3 weeks later...

"first ever permits for self-supported, self-contained, on foot, multi-day safari in the Serengeti National Park." This feat and how you (and Wayo) pulled it off does exemplify extraordinary. Nice to see a sequel is in the works for you.


That's even before you get to those wonderful chimps. They really came out of the shadows for you.


Though you go for the wild animals, Big Bird is very captivating. He proximity to people really show how big he is.


Your comments on the open vehicle and some of its disadvantages are my sentiments as well, even though you get more of the "into the wild" feeling when free of barriers. The lack of rollbars and bean bag holders did not seem to hurt your Katavi photos.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Ruaha ( Mwagusi in our case)was perhaps justified in not doingfull days out ( although if we really wanted to I believe they would have provided it) - it was just too hot to be out in the early afternoon.


Mwagusi do make full days out you just have to ask. I have my own cars so I decide myself what to do and only stay for the luxury the driving I do myself. I do get the feeling that several camps are a little bit lazy and have routines they do not like to change.

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What a wonderful trip report you had a real nice safari, I enjoyed your pictures immensely. Katavi is my favorite park and open vehicle is the only way to experience the bush if you have to sit in a vehicle, walking I like the most.

Beanbags is nice to have and a Gimbal is not bad to have mounted on the cars sides either. Thanks for sharing your trip (o:


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  • 2 months later...


~ @@GBE


What a photograph!

A little bit of everything in a single image.

Impressive and great fun to see.

Thank you!

Tom K.

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@@GBE I just love this trip report especially since I've already booked and paid 10 days at Chada Katavi and 3 days at Mahale next year. I'm certainly planning on doing some flight camping at Katavi. I think that the pelican "big bird" is so entertaining that it's almost worth going to Mahale just to play with him. You were very lucky to see both herds of rones and sable at Katavi. I know that my safari next year will be just awesome.

Edited by optig
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Hi optig, it seems like a great trip! I've been twice in Katavi ( last in sept 2015 ) and once in Mahale, you will love both places. Just telling you Big Bird is not anymore there, this amazing creature died this year :(

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Thank you very much for the trip rapport, great reading.

We will be self driving and camping for 5 days in Katavi this July, looking forward to this

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  • 5 months later...

Hello Safari Talk. Yikes, it’s been 10 months and I owe several of you a reply and the community the final chapter.

@@Marks – We really enjoyed our first jungle experience and think being there at the end of the dry season for our first experience was good, i.e. visibility through the underbrush and footing was pretty good.

@@Atravelynn – We’re honing in on our next backpack trip… Once this report is complete we’ll share more. To this day we still marvel about our fortune on safari (and in life), especially with our experience with the chimps. Big Bird added much and we feel very fortunate to have had time with him.

@@Tom Kellie – One of our very favorite photos for exactly the points you make.

@@optig – 10 days in Katavi… Now I’m envious! With 10 days you should be able to get 3 or maybe even 4 nights fly camping. We pressed hard for fly camping prior to arrival and were glad we did as they didn’t seem to have as much flexibility as referenced in earlier reports. And, if the camp is busy their available vehicles can limit your options.

@@sylvia000 – I haven’t checked but will look for your trip review. Love the idea of self-driving but lack the mechanical knowledge to try it.


Our flight from Mahale was a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful and by late afternoon we were back at the Kogatende airstrip where we met our driver/guide for the next 5 days. Our guide was experienced, competent, did everything we asked and then some… but we never felt a connection. This really illuminated the contribution attitude can have on the overall experience. I think it was a YMMV situation and hence won’t list his name here.


We took our time driving from the airstrip to our Nomad Serengeti Camp out by the Nyamalumbwa Hills, not far from where we started our trek with Jean and the Wayo team. Zebra, a pair of lions, Impala, elephant, Ostrich with chicks, Crocs, Wildebeest, bush pigs, and Cheetah… Not bad for our commute to camp! Camp was what we expected and what is presented on the Nomad site is accurate and representative. This is a mobile camp and had we not just come from Chada and Mahale we would likely speak glowingly. But, there is no comparison and I’ll echo with Vanessa told us, that Chada and Mahale should be the last places visited on the trip as anything after will seem like a letdown. That said, the facilities were very good, staff was attentive, we wanted for nothing… though the food wasn’t quite up to par with the other camps. Good, just not great.


Up the next morning and breakfast in camp. Our preference is to take breakfast and lunch into the bush and spend the entire day away from camp. This just avoids a lot of backtracking on the same tracks. This was our first day here so went with the flow. We spent a good part of the morning along the Sand River. Mostly Sand this time of year but with enough water to attract wildlife and provide lush brush and trees along the bank. Some eland finishing up their drink, a hyena sunning on the track…



On down to the Mara river where we saw a dozen or so elephant walking along the opposite shore. We drove and stopped, drove and stopped, and then maneuvered ourselves into a bit of a bush blind for the vehicle to watch as they worked their way down to the river, drink, wade out further, drink some more, and then cross… and then come right up to our viewing spot. In all we sat and watched for just short of an hour with no other vehicles or anything to disrupt their activity. It really was fascinating the differences between each elephant, which bound into the water, which hesitated, the longtime smelling up stream. Our driver thought they probably smelled something ‘off’ that had them uncomfortable crossing with calves.








We continued along the river seeing hippo sunning on the banks, zebra grazing, some crocs, waterbuck, and a lone baboon sitting in the shade of a tree. Then back to camp for lunch and relaxation. This was a very nice start and while we’d have preferred staying out in the bush, we welcomed the relaxation of camp. The view was nice from camp and there usually were some zebra, bush pigs, wildebeest, and the like in viewing distance. Funny how sitting in camp wasn’t on our list of “to do’s” on safari, and we continued to communicate this to the camp manager and driver, yet a day or two later another couple was in camp asking why they had to leave so early in the morning for their game drive… they were on holiday and wanted to sleep in! Goes to show everyone is a little different. The key lesson for us in this camp was to keep communicating as best we could.


Pretty standard timing as we headed back out a little before 4. Soon we came upon another lone hyena, a pair of lions, a couple of jackals with what was left of a carcass. Then we came upon a pride of lions with young, adolescents, and adults. Some were just lying around, some playing, and some just getting into mischief. As it was, one of the younger wasn’t paying close attention to where they were and over the edge they went… All in all a very fun time!













Out and around the area we came upon a cheetah and some elephant and a wonderful sunset on the way back to camp.



Up the next morning and enjoying our breakfast while the vultures enjoyed theirs…



Still in camp but OK since we had the opportunity to view a large group vying for what was left. It was kind of odd having to stay in the camp to view this from a distance. Some 12 days earlier we would have been on foot and thought nothing of approach, within reason, for a better look. The other reason we opted for breakfast in camp was because it was a bit of a compromise with the camp manager and our driver. Today we would be taking our lunch with us and stay out all day. We were still out by 6:45 so not too bad.


Roughly we’d planned to head around to the other side of the hills, see what we could see and go from there. We weren’t ½ hour out of camp and just starting up and over the tail of the hills when we come upon some eland and giraffe.




Some zebra and some Impala squaring off.



And then we saw way off to our left and down below a swampy area a rhino. We then saw the tracking team. We pulled up alongside and our driver and the team chatted while we watched the rhino come our way; slowly and at times appearing to get stuck in the mud. But eventually crossing right in front of us.




Then on over the hill and down to the other side where there are some camps and a ranger station. Lots of grazers in the area including wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and Topi


The skies opened up around mid-morning. This put a damper on viewing overall as well as simply not much game to see. We were feeling a little down and even a little guilty for pressing for an all-day drive but then the skies started to clear and we headed south toward the Lobo airstrip. This was a main road, rather rough, and we were quite happy to turn off onto a lessor track along the Grumeti. Once off the main track we didn’t see any other vehicles and we started to see more and more wildlife.





We then came onto a large land peninsula with the Grumeti snaking around 3 sides. There were many grazers on the peninsula and yet, just the other side of the river was a pride of lions. In this particular case was male in and framed by a thicket with several females and cubs spread around him. We watched for quite some time as the cubs played and then one went with the male. What a great site as he engulfed the cub in his jaws several times. Captured on video but this is still one of our favorites for a still…


We decided to move along the river a bit to find a lunch spot. Quite to our surprise we came upon another large male and a female. They were well into their mating cycle…







He was big. He was regal



After lunch we continued along in the bush as the track seemed to fade away. We drove this way and that and eventually found a shallow spot in the river and crossed to the other side. Eventually we picked up another track… clearly our driver knew the area and we very much appreciated his taking us off the beaten path. Along the way we came up several herds of buffalo and some elephants crossing the river.



Then back to the main road and some lions lazing on some rocks.



Just love eland


And this oasis is one of our favorites


Wildlife small and large.






This was a very long day by the time we made it back to camp. But, we asked for it. And, we didn’t realize how far we would go. Our first safari started at the Lobo airstrip. Getting back to that point on this trip was nice as it helped put things in perspective. Tired but feeling great about all we saw we showered, ate, and I think were asleep before our heads hit the pillows.


Up and out early the next morning with breakfast packed for the bush. Our third day and what a treat first thing. We came upon a couple of lions getting a drink. Then we saw a couple of hyena. Then came the antagonizing as lions and hyena squared off… much bluster and no actual fight, but what fun to see and hear.


Then, just over the rise and a few minutes down the track to a kill from the night before and a pride finishing up. Here we experienced the 1st of 3 bad experiences with Asilia vehicles. In this case there were 4 or 5 vehicles spread across the area to view the kill, all different safari companies. As the lions one by one started moving about 100 – 200m to some shade and water a few vehicles shifted their position to be ready when/if the large male left the kill and headed for water and shade. With everyone settled, with good views, and clients watching or taking photos the male did get up and start ambling toward the line of vehicles to the water. Inexcusably the Asilia vehicle, closest to the kill to begin with, drove alongside the lion all the way to the shade. In so doing they blocked the view of some onlookers and were in the photo view of all others. And then, zoom… off they went. Really disappointing. It isn’t as though this was our only opportunity to see and photograph lions, but it was simply inexcusably discourteous to everyone else there.







Can’t leave out the elephant shrew…


On we went seeing a variety of animals. This morning our guide wanted to get us to a potential “crossing” where we’d set up breakfast, wait, and watch. Nice place for breakfast. Saw lots of wildebeest. Saw a crossing… but of elephants, not Ws. It was quite interesting. When we arrived we didn’t see any wildebeest. Our driver assured us they would be coming along. Sure enough they did. First it was one or two, then a dozen, and then they were streaming by but not crossing. At the same time, we were watching the elephants on the other side looking like they wanted to cross but seemingly hesitant. Eventually they did cross. All in all a very fine breakfast spot. That said, we also learned that we are not the ‘go somewhere and sit in hopes a specific event will happen’ kind of people. We’re willing to wait and watch as things develop, but not forego all else in hopes to see a single event.


Some breakfast views…




Back to camp… Sitting for breakfast and watching was OK. But, then driving the main track back to camp for lunch was a prime example of what we didn’t particularly like. The two combined had us feeling like we had squandered a good amount of time. But, still a pretty good morning and we still had the evening drive ahead of us.


Back out around 4 and heading for border markers between Tanzania and Kenya. Lots of good sightings of grazers and some simply beautiful terrain.




We circled back toward the hills and then saw way off in the distance what appeared to be a rhino. It appeared to be heading our way so we shut off the engine and sat… 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. It’s coming closer and is in reasonable photo range. 25, 30 minutes. We are getting very excited as it appears to be coming directly toward us. Then, from behind us comes an Asilia vehicle. Do they stop next to us and wait? No! They barrel on up the hill toward the rhino, spooking it a 100m or so to the side and into thickets. I’m sure they got a decent picture or two before speeding away. That’s 2 strikes. Our driver was quite frustrated and shared that this is not an uncommon occurrence with Asilia drivers. No guarantee it would have come by us, but any chance was wiped away by their BAD behavior.




Back to camp as night fell…


Up the next morning for our last full day in the bush. Off toward the border again and we were rewarded with four male lions in the early dawn light.








Then off we went meandering back toward the Mara. Our guide had a real desire to get us to where we could see a crossing. Interesting as we never made that a priority but agreed to head back in the direction of Kogatende as long as we did so off the beaten track. Some of the views…



Came on a hyena den and a nursing mother. We spent a good deal of time here just watching the interactions.




The drive to the Mara was quite spectacular. We came off a rise and down a long slope that gave us great panoramic views. We set up in a very similar spot along the Mara very near where we were the previous day. A similar pattern followed with the Ws streaming in but behind us. They then bunched up at a ravine, jumping in single file, then back up the other side. We moved ourselves to a decent viewing spot along with about a dozen other vehicles. It really was quite something to see. It seemed like an endless stream.




Then strike 3 for Asilia. Instead of following the lead of other vehicles that opted to leave, i.e. slowly pulling back and away from the stream of Ws, they drove up and through. Barely slowing down. And that severed the herd, stopping the crush into the ravine and back out the other side, and spoiling the experience for all of the other people. BAD, BAD, BAD!!! The Ws that hadn’t made it to the ravine turned around and went the other way. The Ws that made it through stayed on the other side.


Having waited for a crossing and then watched the heard for quite some time we headed back to camp. We couldn’t help but feel like several more hours weren't maximized as we sat and waited for “the crossing.”


Saw a fat and happy cheetah in the shade of a tree on our way back to camp… including a pic simply because we haven’t yet.


Lunch in camp was good and we enjoyed sitting outside the tent watching the clouds role in.



Back out for our last afternoon. This was an interesting evening. We asked to drive along the Sand River again, thinking as evening started to fall we might see animals coming down for a drink. We did enjoy seeing some animals but what captured our attention was what appeared to be a leopard tail hanging from a tree way off on the other side of the river bed. Absolutely crazy how our guide saw the tail. Long lens, binoculars… neither provided definitive proof. So, we opted to take a long drive around and see if we could get close enough for a look. We did get around and as we inched closer to get a look… BAM! Down the trunk and out of sight. While no picture, we did see a ‘blinks’ worth of leopard this evening. The result of our efforts left us quite late in the evening and quite far from camp given the need to re-cross the riverbed. Clouds made it darker… There was a definite sense of urgency to get back as night settled in… Not sure we stayed on a track and I know we were moving very, very, very fast… Hold on for dear life fast: Kind of fun.



Up the next morning for an early start. They suggested we sleep in and take a leisurely drive back to the airstrip for our 3:15 flight. We’d have lunch on the way. Not. We agreed to breakfast in camp but then out shortly thereafter. This was our last day and we wanted to drive along as much of the Mara as possible and perhaps cross to the triangle. Our driver wanted to go back to where we’d seen the leopard the night before. We agreed but under the condition we’d drive by and if nothing… keep going. He was right! We did see a leopard in another tree. It was skittish and didn’t stick around, but still nice to see.


On the way to the Mara we saw a number of other animals… A couple of Tommys squaring off, some big crocs, active hippo…




Then, far up the river we saw something…


Not a full blown crossing. In fact, it was a single wildebeest but with a croc clinging to its tail! We were a long way off and they appeared to be at a standstill. So we took a chance and drove around a small hill for a better view…













An incredible display. No doubt the crocs were full and not really intent on having another meal. But the sheer battle of wills. The wildebeest lost its tail. Then it lost part of its mane. No doubt it had multiple contusions and likely broken ribs. In the end, after we were certain it was all over, it burst out of the water and collapsed on the bank. Then, slowly it got up on its feet, wobbly at first and then gaining strength walked off into the bush. Not convinced it survived the rest of the day, but an incredible display of the toughness and will to survive. If we figure out how to post video… really cool to watch. The whole event lasted about 10 minutes.


More fun photos of our last afternoon with lunch on the triangle…













And then to the airstrip for our flight back to NBO via Musoma… or so we thought. Several of the guests we met at Mahale were scheduled out on the same flight to NBO. In fact several of them were on the same BA flight out of NBO but 1 was on an earlier flight to Ethiopia… Wonder why I include these points? Well, as we started down the runway, full throttle… Clunk, tip, skid, swerve to the side: Blowout. If you haven’t been, bush airstrips don’t have repair facilities. There are no spare planes. Add to the complication that our flight was international and there are added rules. Our pilot didn’t have a phone that worked but one of the passengers had a SAT phone. KUDOs to Coastal Air!!! They turned around an earlier flight heading for JRO. Once it arrived the pilots needed to swap manifests so our pilot could take the plane (international now). They figured there was just enough time to fly all of us to JRO, clear immigration, refuel, and get back in the air and out of TZ airspace before dark… single props can’t fly at night in TZ. It was a bit of a fire drill in JRO as we were instructed to leave everything on the plane except Passports. We were walked through immigration both ways with nary an issue. Back to the tarmac as dusk was falling. Onto the plane… waiting for clearance. And once clearance was given the pilot “floored” it. I think we were near take off speed before he actually hit the runway. Not sure we were out of TZ airspace by the time it was dark, but we did make it to NBO with the probability of our Ethiopian bound member making his flight unlikely: They were boarding his flight when we landed. We all bid farewell and told him to take the pickup van and go for his flight. We’d wait for another ride. Turns out he made it.


Epilog… Again, Coastal Air really came through. Not only did they get Matt on his Ethiopian flight, they walked all of us through the terminal to our departure gate, collected our passports, went to BA and got our boarding passes and checked bags through. Super service and follow through under difficult circumstances.


For those of you that have made it this far, I hope you found the report enjoyable, informative, or both. Moreover, for those that haven’t been on safari or to some of these places we hope you found some inspiration to go. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to message me or put them here where other members can offer their thoughts as well.


Next up… Virunga in February 2017 and another backpack trip in the NCA and Serengeti in March 2018.



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@@GBE I'm actually going to spend one week in Katavi,and 4 days in Greystoke Mahale. I'm planning to go fly camping for two nights during the week i spend at Chada Katavi. I just love going fly camping.

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Fantastic report. Had read your earlier adventures and now this -you really had quite the safari. Does not appear to be a single down day in the bush. Also kudos to Coastal Air for going way beyond normal service. Something the big international carriers need to learn.

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