Jump to content

From Sublime to Terror, and everything in between: Trekking across the Serengeti 2018


Recommended Posts

This was a safari of a different kind, at least for the Serengeti. 

-There are walking opportunities in the Serengeti and we strongly recommend considering a couple of walks mixed in with traditional game drives: Walking doesn’t replace driving but does provide a whole new perspective, appreciation, and overall enhanced experience.-

Our safari was an over-the-top experiment in walking, trekking, hiking, backpacking, vehicle supported camping, fly-camping, and simply making it up as we went along.  At our request and based on key criteria we specified, this trip provided us the adventure and experiences we sought while providing Jean and the Wayo team the opportunity to explore routes, test logistics, and assess what aspects could be offered to future clients… and which would not.  We hope this report inspires consideration of expanded walking opportunities.  If not, hopefully you’ll find it entertaining…😊

Note:  This report will be long.  It will be more a story of adventure with reporting mixed in.  The images won’t be the OMG head shots or close ups as so much of this adventure is on foot.  It is my hope the images, and commentary, help to convey that sense of vast grandeur that is the Serengeti and surrounds.

Familiarity and trust – Who needs an itinerary!

Jean and I started scheming our next adventure when we first met back in 2015, TR link "backpacking Serengeti, Katavi, mahale, game driving Serengeti.  We continued talking over the next couple of years, always with an eye toward expanding on the walking/backpacking possibilities in SNP and NCA.  We settled on a plan, then another, and another. Each idea included new areas for us to explore and walking or packing across broad swathes of the Serengeti and/or Highlands.  Just a week before our departure, Jean asked if we’d be ok arriving without a set itinerary and adjust on the fly based on conditions on the ground.  The familiarity and trust we had in Jean and that he had in us made this not just possible, but the best possible option.


So, we left home on Thursday, February 8, 2018 for 24 days in the Serengeti/NCA/Manyara with the itinerary of: Meet Jean and the Wayo Africa team at the Seronera airstrip the morning of Saturday, February 10 and bid farewell at JRO the afternoon of Monday, March 5th. 


Following is the ‘after the fact’ itinerary:

·         2/8 – Home to SEA–LHR

·         2/9 – LHR–NBO and a couple hours at the Lazizi Hotel (now Crowne Plaza)

·         2/10 – NBO–Musoma–Seronera and game drive to the Wayo Walking Camp

·         2/11 – Morning walk.  Backpack/camp on Oldoinyo Olobaiye

·         2/12 – Trek east across the plains to Kaslya and Ngorono Lakes – Vehicle Supported (VS) camp*

·         2/13 – Walk around Kaslya and Ngorono – second night at VS camp

·         2/14 – Trek west across the plains to Soit Ngum Kopjes – VS camp

·         2/15 – Walk back to Wayo Walking Camp

·         2/16 – Morning walk/Afternoon game drive through Moru Kopjes

·         2/17 – Drive to Salei Plains and setup camp at base of Gol Mtns

·         2/18 – Hike through Olkarien Gorge and high plains – VS camp

·         2/19 – Trek to Nasera Rock – VS camp

·         2/20 – Shuttle to Lemuta then trek on to Barafu Kopjes – VS camp

·         2/21 – Walk to Soit Le Motonyi Kopjes then shuttle to Banagi – VS camp

·         2/22 – Walk to Nook camp – VS camp

·         2/23 – Walk around Nook camp area – stay second night

·         2/24 – Drive to Four Seasons – No camping tonight! 

·         2/25 – Game drive Simba Kopjes/5 Hills to Naabi Green Camp

·         2/26 – Game drive – stay second night at Naabi Green camp

·         2/27 – Game drive through Ndutu then up to Irmisigiyo – Fly Camp

·         2/28 – Trek through Malanja Depression and north along the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater to an unnamed clearing – Fly Camp

·         3/1 – Walk east along the north edge of the Crater to Sanctuary Lodge

·         3/2 – Game drive Ngorongoro Crater – stay second night at Sanctuary Lodge

·         3/3 – Game drive Ngorongoro Crater and continue on to Endabash Camp Manyara

·         3/4 – Game drive and walk Manyara – stay second night at Endabash

·         3/5 – Drive to JRO for flight to NBO

·         3/6 – NBO–LHR–SEA and home

* Vehicle Supported Camp = We carried necessary gear for the day, but vehicles carried backpacking tents and other overnight gear as well as a full fly camp kitchen, loo, etc.


Tomorrow the adventure begins...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OMG this is going to be amazing. A proper adventure story to keep us gripped while sitting in our covid bound armchairs. Thank you

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 1 – Meet, greet, and shakedown walk

We’d made it all the way from SEA through LHR, to NBO and a couple hour stay at the Lazizi (now Crowne Plaza), and the first leg of our NBO to Serengeti charter - we like this connection as it gives us almost a full day to day and a half in the bush instead of transiting through JRO and Arusha - before our first “we haven’t seen this before” moment.  It came at the Musoma International Airport.  If you haven't had the pleasure of flying through Musoma, it is very similar to bush airstrips though the runway is a little wider and longer.  It is fenced for security.  And there is a 'modern' cinderblock building for security checks and clearing immigration.  Because we were an international flight we all (4 pax and 1 pilot) had to deplane with all bags, clear immigration, and clear security before re-boarding and continuing on.  Pretty standard.  And in these challenging times its good to know security protocols are followed at all international airports regardless of size or traffic: That ours was the only plane at the airport, we were the only people other than the officers, and that we were getting back on the same plane didn't change the process.  The 'huh, haven't seen this before' came about because they had lost power in the terminal.  Despite this, they still instructed us to put our bags on the conveyor belt.  We were told to push them into the scanner.  They pulled them out the other side, selecting some bags for physical inspection.  And waved us through to the other side.  No one can claim they aren’t serious about following protocol:)!


     Quick note/reminder:  Have new currency for paying for your visa.  A French couple had crisp, clean, like new US currency, but it was older than TZ will accept.  Not sure how it would have been resolved otherwise, but we swapped some newer currency with the couple and we were all able to continue on.


This was our third Serengeti safari and 4th to central Africa.  I’m happy to say the transition from urban to bush is one of the special experiences of which I’ll never tire.  Shuttling far out on the tarmac, hanging out under the wing before instructed to climb into the single prop, feeling the bounce of the fatty tires as we roll out and down the runway; Flying low enough to see everything below as cities become villages, villages bomas, and then wide-open savannah with vast grasslands, fingers of forest, rivers, and dry drainages.  As we descend, we pick up more details, see more animals, and then feel the washboard landing.  As the doors open and we step out, taking our first full breaths, our months of anxious anticipation are replaced with a calm excitement for how special it is to be back in the bush.


We landed at the Seronera airstrip at 9:40. We were a little early so waited about a half hour for Jean and the Wayo team to arrive.  We’d agreed to let another couple, S & L, join for part of our exploration.  While they weren’t due until a little later, they too had arrived early, and we were all loaded and on our way by 10:40.  We headed south through the Moru Kopjes to the Wayo Walking Camp.  While in route we saw all the usual as well as a leopard in a tree; It was too far for a decent picture.  These lions, on the other hand, were close, comfortable, and didn’t care that we were there.  This was the second time we’d been through Moru and the second time we found lions in trees… and it won’t be the last. 



1837073207_1.02MorucubsintreeRESIZED.jpg.e0793fea9a05aee28cb693d43b59761f.jpg                1187767685_1.01MorucubintreeRESIZED.jpg.1bcc11608056a18fa6f52545c36257d0.jpg 


The walking camp is a good 15 – 20 minutes off the track at the base of a small kopje on the edge of the plains just south of Oldoinyo Olobaiye.  It is simple and comfortable.  Each tent has an ensuite with bucket showers and short drop, dry loo.  There is a comfortable common area tent, and the view, well, it is what you’d expect from a seasonal, mobile walking camp.  





We really should shoot these pics before messing up the place…






1576352763_1.07ensuiteRESIZED.jpg.1684a9a9b6ff22a8e01c3c4fd8b2154d.jpg              1321117403_1.08ensuiteRESIZED.jpg.18faa82f96cf70459ba7dca1f864dc10.jpg


Crazy sitting in the community lounge watching lines of wildebeest and zebra pass by…



After lunch we unpacked and took a short nap before getting together at around 3:30 for a review of walking rules.  By 4:15 we were off on a short ‘shakedown’ walk with Prim (our official guide who was with us from Seronera pickup to JRO drop off), K (our ranger escort for the next 14 days), and S & L.


Walking along a woodland for about 1 ½ hours we saw wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala, and buffalo.  We started to weave through some kopjes when Prim pointed high and far to the top of the highest rocks.  It was far enough away that I couldn’t make it out until it moved, but it was our first lion while on foot.



Seeing lions up close while in a vehicle is really cool.  Seeing lions at any distance while on foot is exhilarating.  As if the sighting wasn’t enough, Prim said there was a moderate incline on the other side of the kopje and that we could go around and see if we could get a closer look.  SHAZZAM!!!  This was like a dream come true: Did I really believe we’d end up seeing the lions any closer?  Not really, but off we went around the left side of the kopje and up the slope.  Then we curved around the back side where the rocks were a jumble and spaced such that we could pick our way across the top of them as we continued up.  And then…  OMG!  There was the head of a lion cub peeking over a large bolder just above us and not 20m away.  And then another head, and another.  Then they are up on the bolder for full body view as they looked as curiously at us as we looked in awe at them.  Then a full-grown lioness came up to see what the cubs were looking at.  Wow!  After about 5 minutes Prim indicated he wanted us to slowly back up and back down.  The lions watched until we were down off the rocks.  Then they disappeared behind the rock they were on.  Prim took a few minutes to talk about the sighting, why we didn’t continue up (as if we needed that explanation), and that he backed us down after about 5 minutes out of respect for lions and their level of tolerance. 



We’d been walking for almost 2 hours.  Good that Prim was sensitive to time with the lions, because now we were looking at 45 minutes to an hour to get back to camp and the sun was starting to set.  We picked up the pace, getting back to camp a little before 7 in waning light.  Some views on our way back to camp.









Quick showers and some organizing of gear and we were down to the dinning tent around 8 for drinks and dinner. Terese scared up a jackal and a hyena on her walk to the lounge loo.  How cool is that!  We were all in bed by 10 and looking forward to our early rise and start of our wilderness adventure.  As we lay there I recall talking together in the dark, marveling at all we’d experienced and that we’d been in the park for barely 12 hours.  Imagine what the next 300+ hours will bring!  Turned out to be more than either of us could imagine.


Day 2Shakedown walk and pack up Oldoinyo Olobaiye

Up and to breakfast by 6:15. Alas, small change of plans.  Rather than donning backpacks we would go with day packs for the morning and meet up with the crew later to gather our backpacks and continue on to our planned camp for the night.  I think Jean wanted the morning to walk with all of us just to see how we all handled a longer walk together, or maybe he didn’t feel like hauling a full pack all day😊 Either way, we made some gear adjustments and headed out with water, lunches, and gear for the day.

We headed in the opposite direction from the night before, looping around and then up the rock slabs of the kopje we were camped behind.  This gave us great views out over the plains and small groups of wildebeest, gazelle, and zebra. 



View to the south...



View to the north...



We descended and headed out into the plains.  The Beasties hung back in the woodland.



Lots of solo hyena curious about our presence.  They’d parallel us for a while and then lose interest.



We’d come across small groups of gazelles.  They kept their distance but otherwise gave us little attention.  Note the hyena back by the mound.  They were everywhere.



Zebra, on the other hand, kept a close eye on our every move, eventually heading off in the opposite direction.



We saw a lion under a tree at a great distance: required glass to see him.  We discussed heading in his direction but opted to head back toward the woodland and a cluster of large kopjes.  As we hiked up the slabs we gained new views both out over the woodland as well as within the jumble of rocks. 





Both of the above images include beasties and probably zebra and gazelle in the far distance.  It is one thing to know they must be there while walking below, it is another thing to walk up and see out to all the life across the horizon.


Within the kopjes we found oases of vibrant greens hidden away just waiting for discovery.



I think Jean was right with his decision to start the day with lite packs and just getting comfortable with everyone’s pace and how we moved together as a group.  All together there was Jean and Prim as guides (both armed for big game), K (armed for poachers), Sarah (Jean’s better half… heck, his better ¾), S & L, Terese, and me.  The combination of going up and down the initial camp kopje, loop out into the plains, then up these massive slabs, along with the varied tread under foot provided a good indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the group.  It also allowed us to find our comfort zone as a group and individually, though this would evolve over the next two weeks. 


Personally, what I started to grasp this morning was the freedom of being afoot.  We’d backpacked and walked in the Serengeti previously.  We’d trekked in Mahale, Virunga, and Rwanda.  But there was something about this morning, perhaps on the heels of the previous night, perhaps in anticipation of the coming days; But there was a change in how I felt, how I saw, and how I experienced all that was around me.  Then again, it might have been the building heat of the day and it was still before noon😊. In all seriousness, how many times have you driven by a kopje and thought how cool it would be to jump out of the cruiser and climb up to the top for the view? Or explore the nooks and crannies for life?  It’s amazing what is not seen from a vehicle.


While always alert and individually responsible for where we walked, we also relied on Prim, K, and Jean to assess risk.  I found we would spread as a group based on individual strengths in ascending, descending, and navigating uneven ground.  All the time Prim, K, and Jean adjusted to have one of them in front, one in the rear, and one floating from side to side as needed.  I see this now in retrospect; But at the time, and throughout the entire trip, I felt like I was with a group of friends exploring, not like I was a client being guided or herded.  I think this comes so natural to Jean and his team that they don’t even know they are creating this special undercurrent to the extraordinary experience of walking in the Serengeti.

Here Prim is high on the rock horizon scanning while K is bringing up the rear.

1965031267_2.11PrimscanninghighonkopjeRESIZED.jpg.940d81b9a1b819cb759cfebc85001ed0.jpg           1834621237_2.12KapingabringinguptherearRESIZED.jpg.de3ef3c814a0f5bae18fada11e136526.jpg


And the rest of us spread out...



On the downside, similar to the previous evenings gauge of time, time management this morning was not great.  Perhaps we were being tested, but I’m a believer the guide has a responsibility to call for periodic breaks, snacking, and staying hydrated regardless of the groups experience level; Especially as everyone is getting familiar with each other’s abilities.  No harm, and we mentioned this later that evening.  More or less the rest of the trip there were efforts toward regular breaks and/or each of us took responsibility for calling for a break if we wanted or needed one.


We retraced our route back to the base of Oldoinyo Olobaiye where we met the camp crew, cruiser, and our overnight packs.  We ate lunch and discussed plans.  Originally, we’d planned to pack for a climb up and over Olobaiye and then west toward Bolela Bontemi Kopjes: This area was ‘closed’ for rhino recovery, but we had permission to enter the area.  Unfortunately, overnight Jean learned there were some ranger training maneuvers happening in the area.  If that was the case, we might run into issues better not confronted.  So, Jean suggested we keep with the plan to camp atop Olobaiye, but descend in the morning, and chart a new course.  While there was some anticipatory disappointment, this was also part of the adventure and experience.  Rather than regret something that hadn’t even happened yet, we looked forward to our night under the stars.  And what a night.


While not a long climb, in the heat of the Serengeti afternoon, the lack of any trail, and very loose and rocky tread under foot, it was a bit of a physical challenge.  Oh, but the reward when we crested the east facing flank.  Spread out in front of us was a beautiful meadow with scattered acacia and a 180-degree view from the Moru Kopjes in the north to the Ngorongoro Highlands in the south


Soon there was a ‘community’ blanket spread, camp chairs set-up, water boiling, and we were all enjoying afternoon tea and/or a nap in dappled shade, looking out over the Serengeti Plains.  C’mon, wilderness is one thing, but missing afternoon tea is another thing altogether😊



After tea we spread out across the meadow to finish setting up our tents.  We also had time to wonder as long as we stayed within sight of camp. 

Looking north...



Looking southeast...



Soon dinner was ready.  This was something completely new, eating dinner when it is light enough to actually see what you’re eating!  Fresh vegetables and pasta was a great finish to the day.  Well, not quite finish.  Jean spent a good part of the evening with his binoculars, gazing out over the plains. He was sure he saw lots of life, specifically masses of wildebeest.  Honestly, even with glass I couldn’t see anything.  Then again, I couldn’t see the lion on the rock the previous evening until it moved. Jean, Prim, and K discussed and soon Jean proposed we walk out into the plains toward Naabi Hill the following day.  Instead of carrying all our gear, we’d carry only what we needed for the day and the crew would make their way out to a spot between two 'slivers of silver'.


We were all tired and headed to our tents relatively early, but not necessarily to sleep. Terese and I decided to leave the rainfly off so we could star gaze.  Absolutely incredible to see stars through the clear air without a single light anywhere. We stargazed from horizon to horizon until eyelids couldn’t be held open any longer.  Eyes closed, we laid there listening to the night sounds all around us, hyenas in particular.  In the clear air they could have been far out on the plains, or they could have been somewhere in the meadow.  It didn’t matter.  We were back in the Serengeti, nestled in our tent, gazing at the stars, and listening to all the night life around us.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow.  I am looking forward to more of this report on your adventures.

The photos are amazing especially the Lion cubs   

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Many thanks for sharing another of your extraordinary safari adventures with us. You sure don’t do normal safaris!  Look forward to experiencing the endless plains of the Serengeti figuratively walking besides you.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

21 hours ago, GBE said:

hopefully you’ll find it entertaining…😊

I'm hooked following this fascinating and engrossing safari. What an adventure! Loving this report. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Thanks for this report, @GBE- Sounds like an epic trip!! Amazing stuff....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 3 – A walk to the slivers of silver

We woke around 6.  The air was cool and crisp.  The sun was still well below the horizon.  It would have been easy to just lay there but we knew it wouldn’t be long before the sun would crest and the temperature would begin to rise.



The sunrise was…

Naabi Hill to the east.



 Ngorongoro Highlands to the south.





We were up and tent packed by about 6:30. We joined the others for coffee, juice, fruit, and muesli. 



As the sun broke over the horizon Jean pointed out over the plains to the sliver of silver glittering about halfway to Naabi Hill.  That was our destination for the day.  Soon we were packed, down the hill, and to the cruiser. 



A redistribution of gear and final coordination between Jean and the camp crew (where to meet and how to get there) and by 8 we were headed out onto the plains.


Initially the plains were dotted with many termite mounds and hyena.  Similar to the previous morning the hyena would watch us for a while, paralleling us and maintaining their distance.  Then they would lope away.  After some time there were no more termite mounds or hyena and we were into short grass. We’d occasionally come across some gazelle, but otherwise just thorns, burrs, stickers, and building heat.  1 hour, 2 hours…  bush pigs on the ground, kestrel in the air, an occasional line of wildebeest, building heat, and dusty haze rising in the distance.





From left to right: Terese, L, S, Sarah, and Jean with Oldoinyo Olobaiye in the distance.  It was hot and dry…



And then, out of the blue (or beige as the case may be), a grass oasis and small mud hole!  Not only was it a shock to find this little oasis in the ocean of brittle dryness, but there was also a hippo there.  While keeping a good distance from the hippo we found a place in the greenish grass that was slightly sheltered from the rising wind.  We rested a bit, snacked, and then continued on. 





As abruptly as the oasis appeared, it was gone. Over the next hour we saw long lines of wildebeest far in the distance. Fine as talc dust rose from the lines. Despite, or maybe because of the wind, the dust remained in the air shrouding the horizon in a beige haze.  Not sure at what point we realized we were in that haze.  Perhaps it was when we found ourselves on some high ground with the plains sloping down and away from us on all sides.  The following series of pictures are taken from this 'high point' and represent a 360* view.  While individually unremarkable, when taken as a whole - the haze, the barren landscape, the lack of any other human presence, but the existence of herds or lines of wildebeest in EVERY image - this experience was one of those ‘depth of the soul’ moments that is difficult to adequately express.


Note - from the middle horizon to the haze at the base of Naabi Hill, the plain is all but filled with wildebeest.



Turning counter clockwise, Naabi on the right...















And on completing the 360* turn finding beasts and zebra closing in from the side.



But for Naabi in the haze and a couple of tree shapes there were no other landmarks, not even Oldoinyo Olobaiye.  We were in the midst of herds, understandably so, as we were all headed to the same place.


We continued.  Building heat.  Stiff, plains breeze.  Dryness compounded with talc suspended in the air.  Horizons that didn’t seem to change across the featureless plains; Naabi Hill the exception and what we sighted on through the haze to maintain our course.  How far had we come?  How much farther?  Our route was not just new to us, it was new to Jean, Prim, and K.  To be sure, they were familiar with the area in general terms but had not walked or driven our path before.  This was the adventurous exploration we sought when scheming with Jean.


Slightly after noon we ‘crested’ another rise to see the slivers of silver that were drawing the herds: Kaslya and Ngorono lakes 'hidden' in a bit of a 'valley'.



It is amazing what is hidden by the near imperceptible rises and falls across the expansive plains. Though hot, windy, and dusty we felt relief knowing we had little more than an hour of walking left to skirt around the water to where we’d setup camp.  By the time we arrived, the crew, too, had arrived and put up a shade awning for us as they continued setting up.





Something special about setting up camp in such a wilderness, teaming with 10s of 1,000s of migrating Ws and Zs.  The Wayo crew was confused about T and I setting up our kit.  For us, participation is part of the joy of the adventure.  Besides, I tend toward the compulsive side on how our kit is set and we’d brought our own gear anticipating carrying it on our backs; so, I may have also been a bit protective.



We were camped 200m from one of the lakes attracting the masses of migrating beasts. Love the line of beasts on the horizon, unbroken edge to edge.



And a look off to the right…



As evening approached, clouds started rolling in and the dust started to settle.  Combine that with the slight cooling, endless lines of wildebeest descending to the water from all around us… And a glass of wine…  we were all smiles!



Something about a place like this had each of us picking our own little piece of heaven to absorb the solitude...



as we watched the sun set...



With the dust and visible rain in the distance we left the rainfly on our tent.  While there was no star gazing, we were free to listen to the sounds.  And what sounds:  Lions, hyenas, and for sure there was the constant ‘Aaa, Aaa, Aaa’ from the beasties.  Soon that was mere gray noise.  It was the periodic crashing of new groups of beasties hitting the water that would shake us from our sleep.  It is a sound we struggle to describe.  The first time I thought the rangers on maneuvers were crashing down on us in mechanized vehicles!  In the morning we were able to reconcile the sound with seeing the point of a line of beasts hitting the water.  Crazy.


Day 4 – Walk around the Lakes

Morning greeted us with clear skies, long shadows, a cool breeze, and little dust.





Plans change.  We’d planned to break camp and continue on to Naabi.  Instead, we all agreed the location was too spectacular to leave after just one night.  Instead, we decided to hike around both lakes… would still be around 10k, but that seemed a small effort for the heard masses we would see streaming to the lakes throughout our hike.


We started off a little before 8.  Stepping up the low but distinct bank behind camp…  



The first few hours were quite nice as we walked along the east side and around the southern end of the lakes. We passed through vibrant green grasses, short and tall.  We crossed mud flats, both wet and dry.  We found it interesting that the WB and Z limited themselves to certain access points and seemed to completely ignore what appeared to be comparable access points. All combined this made for some good variety of views.

Reedbuk in the middle of the water on the left.  Beasties strung out on the horizon from edge to edge.



They scampered to the safety of the other side of the lake as we walked by.



And lines of beasts in virtually every view.



As we started to make our way back north along the west side, we swung wide to avoid some particularly tall grass: The tall grass combined with the lack of beasts suggested cats of some form might be lurking.  As we came out of a gully and back into view of the lakes, we saw a safari vehicle – where it did not belong.  I suppose they were more surprised to see us: And more so when K walked down to inform them that they were not allowed to be in this area and were to leave. I admit it may be a bit provincial and selfish, but I felt like these lakes were our jewels, earned by our effort to walk across the plains. How dare these people invade our exclusive experience!B)!  So, there was some satisfaction seeing them heed K’s direction and disappear across the southern horizon.



The cool of the morning gave way to the heat of mid-morning.  With the heat came the rise in wind and dust.  And interestingly, there was very little green grass on the west side.  We were back into brittle dry scrub.  Here we are looking back across between the lakes at our camp - it is just barely discernable in the dust – with WB and Z streaming by on their way to or from the water.



At one point we were within a large herd, they parted in front of us and closed back in behind us as we passed through.  There had to have been 1000s upon 1000s as this image is representative of what surrounded us for the better part of an hour...



As we came out the other side, we were up wind of the herds.  The choking dust and haze was replaced by clean air and crisp views.  And the key view was a lone tree in the distance. 



While a little off our course, we chose to head to it: If we didn’t find lions using it for shade, we would – use it for its shade.  Either reason seemed worth the extra effort.  It was very interesting to experience the process of approaching the tree so that we didn’t surprise anything that might be there.  Instead of a direct line, we swung wide by a good 100m and almost walked around to the other side before going in.  No lions…



After a nice break we faced the inevitable:  The only way to a cold beer was to continue the trek around the north end and down to camp.  Winds had picked up.  We estimated 25+ mph as we had to lean hard into it to keep balance with each step.  Though it felt like being in a convection oven, the upside was that we seemed to remain upwind of most of the herds, so more or less out of the dust.



Rounding the north end of the lakes it was quite desolate.  Dropping down into the dry/wet/dry lakebed the wind dropped off.  As we got closer to camp, we found beasts on both sides of the dry lakebed and at times between us and camp.







Early afternoon lunch and popcorn and cold beer!  And the rest of the afternoon to simply watch. 







To this day we still marvel at our fortune and the sheer numbers of beasts we walk by, through, with, and simply watched hour after hour.  Another fine dinner and classic sunset to wrap an extraordinary day.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

 @wilddog @NSY @AKR1 @Caracal @madaboutcheetah  Thank you all for your comments and encouragement.  By all means let me know if the pace of this ‘story’ needs to be adjusted.  I tend to get wrapped up in my enjoyment of the trip and may lose sight of practical editing😊


AKR1 – Our first safari was a ‘normal’ game drive safari in the Serengeti (TR still owed).  Interestingly, it was arguably our most extraordinary for sightings.  And as our first it was an adventure.  We really enjoy game drives and will always include them:  But for us, having feet on the ground changes the experience in such a profound way that most of our aspirations are to explore under our own power.  We’re scheming a ‘truly wild’ (make what we’ve done thus far somewhat pedestrian) adventure for ’23 if you’re interested…

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Loving it so far and yes on foot is amazing. looking forward to the next instalment and eventually hearing your plans for '23


just let the text flow as you already are:)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I second @wilddogJust let the text flow! Loving the report

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 5 – West to Soit Ngum Kopjes


This day started around 3:30 in the morning as we listened to a lion(s) roaring, closer and closer.  On top of that I had a bit of an upset stomach.  Perhaps just a trial run for later in the trip, but it is interesting to discover that point at which the need of bodily functions overcomes the fear of lions in the dark… the loo was a good 50m from our tent.


Everyone up and at breakfast by 6:30 and ready to start the days trek by 7.  The plan when we left Olobaiye was to continue east to Naabi and then on to the Gols.  In discussions the night before and during breakfast we decided instead to head back west.  Our decision was based on a number of factors not the least of which was the shorter distance to, and existence of, woodlands and shade to the west and that we’d likely see very little in the way of the migration at or past Naabi.  We could camp at Soit Ngum Kopjes and then continue down the Simiyu River drainage the next day.  The potential for sightings in the riverine woodlands was a big draw along with knowing we’d have some shade through much of the following day.


While our route was south around the end of the lake as we did the previous morning, this morning we stuck closer to the water and walked more on the mud beach.  Like the previous morning, there were few beasts at the south end.  The cool calm of morning and the lush green gave us pause to simply enjoy the quiet.



As we rounded the end of the lakes we enjoyed the morning shade of the only tree in sight before striking out across the plains.





We started to follow a dry but grassy gully.  Here we rousted 5 - 7 lions.  They were at quite a distance as the image shows (or doesn't depending on screen resolution); Exciting all the same.  And of course, on the horizon the dark dots of beasts… What was more interesting was that they, the lions, headed in the same direction we were headed, giving us hope we may get better views when out of the tall grass and on the open plains.



Soon we were out of the gully and into the long crossing.  The heat started to build.  Let me emphasize, it was getting hot, hot, hot.  And it was just 9 in the morning.  Despite knowing about how far and how long it would take to get to the woodlands, the plains seemed to extend without relief.  We were now beyond most of the herds.  While this took us out of the dust, it left us with little to view.  But then, we came upon a small depression filled with a forest oasis.



We considered the possibility of a quick respite in the shade.  But rousting the lions again, and this time with a big, beautiful male, scuttled our shade plans as we watched them scatter into the forest.  Pictures?  I mentioned it was hot.  Cameras overheated and shut down!  Packed them away next to the relatively cool water in hopes they would cool enough for later use.  This worked and served as a good lesson for handling/carrying cameras in these conditions.


Snap, Crackle, Pop!  The sounds we made as we crunched our way through the brittle dry thorny scrub stubble.  And then we started to see the outline of hills and kopjes in the hazy distance.  A herd of giraffe far off helped give us a perspective on distance.  Then some definition of trees.  Green started to show and become more prominent with each tree and pile of rocks we passed.  It was pushing 1 when we reached our camp.  A beautiful spot, high enough to provide nice views in several directions.  The more we looked around the more apparent it became that we were on the southern end of the very kopjes we’d seen the lions on our first night’s shakedown walk. 


The crew had set out a tarp in the shade of some trees. Combined with our camp chairs and sleeping pads we had a wonderful place to enjoy lunch, relax, watch clouds overhead… quench our thirst with cold beer, and nap some.  It didn’t take long for the weary weight of the crossing to slip away. 



Here’s a look south across woodlands toward Kusini.  Note the spacing of the two tents.



Turning 180*, here’s a look north to the location of our tent and the kopjes about 150m beyond.



Well rested and re-energized we took an evening walk… mostly to see if the lions were still around.  Sure enough, a couple of cubs poked their heads out from behind the rocks beyond our tent.



Spaghetti, crusty bread, and wine for dinner… More conversations.  A trip like this allows everyone to get past the ‘hi, how are you’ and really start to get to know each other.  Pretty much every evening wrapped with a fire and sundowners. Sometimes everyone joined.  Other times it could be just a couple.  Super chill.


As the light faded, we headed to bed… with the melodic harmonies of lion's roaring to lull us to sleep😊



Day 6 – Down the Simiyu drainage and loop back to the walking camp


By about 4:30 in the morning both of us needed some relief.  Funny how our proximity to lions synchronized our needs.  We shined our lights to see if anything was nearby.  No need for the loo.  We were both out our respective doors, a couple steps away, and back snuggled in our bags in no time.


As we arose a little before 6, we again shined our lights into the darkness. This time two sets of little lights shined back.  The shapes behind them were too short in both height and length to be lions or hyena, but they did keep my attention until they disappeared into dawns darker shadows.  And then we were up to enjoy a wonderful sunrise.



The plan was to continue down the drainage to another camp spot.  Not sure all the issues, but I think the crew needed a break and chance to restock.  Regardless, Jean made the decision to follow the Simiyu for a couple hours and then loop back to the walking camp.  There was a little let down but at the same time we could look forward to sleeping in beds, enjoying longer bucket showers, laundry, and spreading out gear for cleaning before embarking on the next leg of our adventure.


Great start to the day spotting a cheetah down in the drainage.  We needed glass to really see her, but exciting just the same.  As we started down, she disappeared.  Shortly after, we spotted two more.  Alas, they skittered away too.  But this foretold what we experienced through the rest of the morning.  We saw many small groups of W and Z.  We saw a large group of giraffes, but they were really skittish and disappeared almost as fast as the cheetah.  We saw a single buffalo, hyena, warthog, and eland up close, baboons, and gazelle.  Following are a couple pics of our morning descent and sightings.  Note how lush and green it is. 









When we turned to follow another drainage back toward the walking camp there was some frustration as we were having great sightings and it seemed likely we’d have more if we continued down.  That we didn’t have any more sightings during our ‘march’ back through a drier landscape and the heat of late morning may have caused some deeper resentment in S & L. 



We were rewarded on our return with some nice viewings from camp and in particular a great rainbow cast from a light evening rain.



The evening cooled nicely.  We met the new guests; always fun to hear people describing their days experiences and sightings.  We enjoyed popcorn, GnTs, and a warm fire before dinner.  Then off to bed… ah yea, a bed with ensuite loo.  Like our first night in the walking camp, we marveled at all we’d experienced in such a short period of time.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 7 – Leisurely walk, game drive, prepare for move to Salei Plains


This was a bit of a rest day, though we were up at 6 for a 6:30 breakfast and a 7:15 walk.  Beautiful morning with a couple buffalo joining us for breakfast.



Two of the other guests joined us for our walk.  This was fine with us as it meant we wouldn’t overextend our walk.  We enjoyed some nice views from atop a kopje and then walked with some W and Z on our way back to camp. 





Back at camp we took some time to relax in the shade and enjoy a cool breeze.  Then we organized and cleaned gear as well as putting some clothes out for laundry.  At about 3:30 we headed out for an evening game drive.  We saw our first elephants of the trip, an active group of giraffes, a leopard sitting on a rock (at a considerable distance), and lions in 3 different trees.  We had two sightings that stood out.  First was as close to witnessing a wildebeest dropping a calf as we’ve seen.  Fascinating to watch the interaction between mother and calf in the early minutes of life.



The other was a relatively decent view, albeit at a fair distance, of a leopard with a kill in a tree.



TSE flies were a little annoying on our way out and back, but otherwise not an issue.  It's worth noting that we had no TseTse issues during our treks, only when in vehicles.

We enjoyed sundowners, fire, dinner, conversation, and setting of plans for those that wanted to meet early the next morning to watch the sun rise from atop the kopje behind camp.  Then to bed.


Day 8 – Drive to the Olkarien river on the western edge of Salei Plains


We met at the dinning tent at 6:15 and headed around and up the east facing slabs of the camp kopje.  Prim surprised us with fresh coffee as we settled in to watch the sun rise.  We all seemed to spread out, looking for our own little piece of solitude.  Very much worth the effort. It was a nice sunrise and the morning light view of the area surrounding camp was beautiful.





Loaded and ready to go by 9:15. 8 people, gear, and 6 seats…  We started with Prim driving and K riding shotgun.  S and L took the next 2 seats.  Some gear, Jean, and Sarah took the wheel wells where seats had been removed to create more space. Terese and I took the back seats.  It didn’t take long before I was standing.  That allowed Sarah to take one of the back seats.  Jean was up and down…  This was a hot, windy, herkie/jerky, dusty at times, high speed, six-hour test of one’s metal.  We stopped at Kusini to file papers leaving the Serengeti.  We stopped at Ndutu, twice, to file paperwork.  Then around Lake Masek.  We stopped for lunch at – under – the biggest acacia tree I’ve ever seen.  Then on through Angata Salei where I’m not sure there is a track as much as picking the best parallel beast trails and giving it more gas.  This was a physically and mentally challenging shuttle… but well worth it for the rewards. 


It was challenging to appreciate the change in our surroundings and new vast views until we came to a stop in camp.  What an amazing location.  Camp was nestled in the trees along the Olkarien drainage.  Lush and green.  Though thorny in places, we could still enjoy the shade, breeze, and views. 







The views were spectacular.  East out across the Salei Plains to Oldoinyo Lengai,





South to the Ngorongoro Highlands,



And to the west the Gol Mountains climbing out of the plains.  



Day 9 – Like an entirely new safari



The sunrise alone made this a day to remember.  But as it should be, it only foreshadowed the day ahead.  We were entering a world in striking contrast to the previous week.  And to guide us through this world we had two Maasai join us; one to guide us on foot through the gorge and up through the Gol Mtns, and one to guide the support crew through Angata Kiti and up into the higher reaches of the mtns.  As we were now in the NCA, Jean and Prim left their rifles in the crew vehicles:  I think they probably enjoyed a break from carrying them for a couple of days.  By 6:45 we’d packed our kit, had breakfast, and were on our way out of camp.  The hour walk up out of the riverine trees and across the grass to the base of the mountains was a perfect start.  It was cool, the rising sun cast long and ever-changing shadows, and the changing views as we gained elevation demanded several pauses to turn and gaze all around.









The wide open plain gave way to scrub and woodland.  The grass was replaced by sand and gravel of the dry riverbed.  The hills in front and to our side grew steeper and with every step began to close in.  We then start to see the critically endangered Ruppell’s Griffon vultures soaring high on the broken cliffs.






723978384_9.08RuppellsGriffonvulturessoaringRESIZED2(2).JPG.60c64f25a1b241ea9768e0ebedd6fcfa.JPG            1844129518_9.09singleRuppellsRESIZED.JPG.f803e10829a7ce34b64785f0713c4dfb.JPG


Though the riverbed is dry, here at the entrance proper, a hole has been dug for water.  The rest, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.





1993296019_9.12insidevertRESIZED.JPG.6a886b0a577e6cbf39a39bd039757611.JPG            737808273_9.13insideupviewvertRESIZED.JPG.fc6482c08406c73bedbe4580ff21acdf.JPG


This gorge section was about 100m.  Many Ruppell’s soaring through.  As we exited, the path stayed about the same width but started to ascend through sand and broken boulders.  The walls weren’t quite as high and showed greater signs of erosion.  And their angle also started to moderate enough to support vegetation. 

1761578236_9.14after1stRESIZED.JPG.984566d7d0fb5610d5fe493db211eafc.JPG            2001601717_9.15asweascendto2ndRESIZED.JPG.2c288ff412f926dc38097282c74d5595.JPG



But we were a little let down thinking that was it.  Then we rounded a corner to see the next narrow cut through the mountains.  This cut was more narrow and much taller than the first.  Over the 150 – 200m there were several deep holes with water pooled at the bottom. 



917237446_9.18secondcutpathRESIZED.JPG.49e1f8e639c14891a80cbe8d14849c5e.JPG          1786777919_9.19secondcutupRESIZED.JPG.ef3395baa4a6aee411a898e91e55293d.JPG


The erosion patterns under foot and up the side walls as we exited were striking.

1787972496_9.20exiting2ndRESIZED.JPG.21bc08515a2a653c1cb251e789802624.JPG            880526903_9.21exiting2RESIZED.JPG.12b847468d49ed634b2ee8d2a4e4b2bb.JPG




There are a number of side chasms that could easily be mistaken for the main route.  And, perhaps on a day hike in and out it wouldn’t matter, as long as you could find your way back out.  For us, we were hiking through and needed to stay on course.  Having the guide became all the more critical after passing through the second chasm.  He informed us a recent slide in the next segment made the way too narrow and for safety reasons unpassable.  The solution was to hike up and around, though there is no trail.  The bushwhack up was on a very steep, loose rock hillside, covered in thorny acacia scrub. As we’ve learned on other treks in Africa, the concept of switchbacks doesn’t seem to exist and the ‘shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ is the guiding principle.  It was an arduous 30 minutes in building heat.  But the views started to emerge through the scrub about 2/3 up.



And at the top we had a fantastic view back over the top of the gorge, out onto the Salai Plain, the Highlands, and Langai.



The way was more rolling and with a little less dense scrub than our ascent. We were also able to get a glimpse of the broad valley/high plains we eventually would access and cross later this day. 



Other than this boma view, for the next half hour there was little to view as we pushed on through the scrub, thankful for the nominal shade it provided. 



Eventually we were back at the edge of the gorge, albeit farther up and into the mountains.  There was a moment of consideration to climb back down when our guide informed us there was a cool, clear pool for soaking.  But, and this was a very big BUT, we’d have to come right back up the same way because of other rock fall farther up in the gorge. 



We chose to forgo the soak and continued on through a mix of scrub and drainages with erosion patterns similar to what we saw lower in the gorge.  Slowly, as we gained more elevation, the hillsides became less steep, and the drainage became wider, sandier, and more gravelly than rocky with boulders and polished stones.  Then we came upon the first of several Maasai sheep and cattle herds.  The Maasai would dig deep holes in the sand until they reached water.  They ringed the holes with brambles to aid in limiting access.  There was no free for all, they limited which animals got to drink, when, and for how long.  It is difficult to describe what we witnessed, a brief but genuine glimpse into the daily life of these people.  Brutal… and yet these people were among the wealthy based on the number of cattle and goats they had.







And on through the drainage and goats to the distant horizon…



It was past noon by the time we crested the drainage.  The sun was high.  The heat was long past ‘building.’  The view was vast over a parched grassland without a single bush, much less shade tree in sight. 



While the hike up out of the gorge was challenging, we were still relatively fresh and our minds still in awe of the gorge.  As we walked the dry riverbed, we had the interesting observations of the Maasai and their herds.  But now, on the high plain, the vastness of the parched grassland that extended in front of us and between the rolling tops of the Gol Mountains - a sight that would have been a constant marvel in the cool of the morning or when we were physically and mentally fresher - challenged each of us.  Terese went into ‘destination mode’: We learned later the Maasai guide wanted to know ‘what was with the girl in the pink shirt’.  While she was simply focused on moving forward and was relatively close on his heels, he thought she was pressing him to pick up the pace.  Kind of funny then, and more so now knowing Maasai tend to have only one trekking speed.  For T and me, this was part of what we'd let Jean know we wanted to experience: To become a speck in the vastness of the Serengeti; to feel the Serengeti, perhaps as the Maasai and animals do even if for just a moment in time. Terese and I have hiked and climbed extensively in our past. This was simply a variation on what we expect when hiking in the wilderness. I think it was much harder on S and L.  But I digress… 


After crossing the first rise the grass was a bit greener.  We were also reminded that on such expanse the rise and fall is quite subtle. It isn’t that there are false crests as much as an evolving recognition that the near horizon can appear quite close and then 5 minutes later, without cresting anything, the horizon is far off.  This would be a recurring experience over the coming days: Really quite fascinating if not a bit demoralizing at times! 


About 1 ½ hours on the plain and we could see shade trees ahead. They lined a small dry drainage.  And this is where the crew set camp for the night.  Perhaps you can see T had her shade umbrella up: A piece of equipment we would strongly recommend should you choose any extended walking on the plains.  Often there is simply too much wind, but when calm enough the self-supplied shade can make a huge difference.



It is amazing how spirits lift with a little shade, a soft camp seat, and cool beverage.  S and L settled in as the crew set their tent and bedding.  Terese and I wondered along the drainage looking for a place to set our tent.  Jean was anxious to get a signal, so he and Sarah headed out for a high spot that took a couple of hours round trip: Only to later learn from the crew that they got a signal a little behind the cook tent!  Much as we were spread out while walking across the plain, I think we each sought space in camp.  As well, everyone wanted to wait until T and I selected our tent sight:  I’m an epic snorer and everyone wanted to be as far away as practical.


We selected a site along the drainage, as much for the shade as for the large rocks and exposed roots for anchoring our tent in the developing wind.  Jean and Sarah's tent can be seen farther out.



Here is a good representation of our camps.  On the left Jean and I sitting in the community area protected by wind screens.  Just right of us are wash basins and a bit behind the wash basins are the loo and shower.  Below the loo is S and L’s tent and farther down is ours.  Where possible, the community area and loo are set in natural shade.  If no shade is available, the crew puts up a shade shelter.  



Every camp had its own special view.



What a day!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A fascinating trip. Keep telling it as you are.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

An exceptional walk in parts of the Serengeti virtually no safari tourist would ever see. Both you and Terese are troopers and obviously fit and hardy. Highly unlikely I could do that- I was gasping for air:wacko: and burning up in the perceived heat as I virtually walked ( and even rode in the vehicle) besides you. Just like your Congo trip, fast becoming clear this is outside my league. 

Also some extraordinary landscape images that really illustrate the topography. I particularly like the N-S/ E-W images from a single point highlighting the landscape you are witnessing at that point. 

Keep it coming!

Edited by AKR1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@AKR1  I wouldn't be too fast in deciding our trips are out of anyone's league.  One of the cool things about working with Jean is how adaptable he and his team are to both client interests and abilities.  Breaking our trip up and doing just 1 or 2 days of vehicle supported trekking could put you at any place we visited.  


Thank you for reinforcing the value of landscape images.  A big part of this trip was about seeing the variety of landscapes.  While not apparent in the images, it was interesting to discover the plains in the west, where we walked the first week, had thorns, burrs, stickers, et. al.  But, the plains in the Gols and out to Nasera and Barafu were pretty much just brittle grasses without the stickers and such.  Though we transitioned from grazing areas in the NCA to non-grazing areas when we crossed back into SNP, the lack of thorns and such continued.  We had hoped to literally walk across the southern plains... that simply wasn't in the cards for this trip, but it would be interesting to discover where the primarily grass areas give way to the thorny scrub areas.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I don't even know where to begin!  What a magnificent trip!  I'm enjoying your report very much and Love, Love, Loving the photographs!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What an epic adventure this was and totally enjoying following along. I am curious, what are your 2023 plans that you mentioned?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 10 – On to Nasera Rock


A good night’s sleep.  The cool morning of a new day.  Soft dawn light. A hint of color.  Silhouettes frozen in anticipation of the coming day.  A stillness that can take one’s breath away.  Most mornings we would be up ahead of everyone else. These are the moments that stay with us…



By this 10th day we all had a bit of a morning routine.  There wasn’t a lot of banter beyond polite morning greetings and ordering breakfast.  We’d all become quite efficient, allowing us to each enjoy the morning and still be ready to start out on the days trek well before the sun broke the horizon. 


We enjoyed the difference in the plains this morning vs the previous day.  There was more variety of hills and mountains on either side of us.  We could see what appeared to be another small drainage ahead and then a clear rise to an exposed horizon.  With 15k of grass plains ahead of us we appreciated the visual waypoints.



The small drainage with what appeared to be small trees, similar to the camp drainage, turned out to be quite large.  Not surprising, it was filled with goats and cattle.  What we thought were small trees were the tops of large, tall trees.  Another reminder of what the plains hide in plain sight.



Well beyond the drainage, a look back.



And then from the exposed (horizon) pass, our long-shadowed view -not even 7:30 yet - into a new and vast grass plain. 




As we crossed the next expanse, we had an opportunity to hear, translated from our Maasai guide, about various groups of Maasai in the area.  We found it interesting to learn the Maasai face similar social, wealth, and power inequity dynamics not uncommon elsewhere in the world.  We learned the group on the south side of the plain had established a water well and pump system.  This allowed them to increase the size of their cattle and goat herds.  They didn’t need to drive them across the plains and dig holes for water.  This also made their marriageable women more attractive than the other groups marriageable women.  But there was a problem this particular season; the pump wasn’t working.  Though they did not share with other groups the bounty of the water when their pump was working, the other groups did have to give way to the extra herd animals as they were driven over the plains to compete for the limited water/water holes in the various drainages.  Granted, we were only getting a single, translated version of these dynamics, but interesting all the same.



Following are several views as we crossed long stretches of plains, separated by more ‘unseen’ drainages, by active bomas and abandoned boma sites, by Maasai with goats…







A look back from whence we came.



And a look forward to the next horizon.



About 4 hours in we got our first view of Nasera Rock.  Still a bit of a walk and it took another 45 minutes to get around to the other side where we’d set camp, but a welcome sight knowing we wouldn’t be trekking in the heat of the noon/post noon sun.



While Nasera may not look that large in the image.  Consider those are full grown trees at its base.  And if you can make out the white spots... those are horses grazing.  Nasera is about 80m tall.


The area around Nasera Rock is used by a horse outfitting company, Maasai goat and cattle herds, and tourists like us, though we appeared to be the only tourists on this night. Nasera is massive.  We camped on the backside.



By the time we reached camp, setup, and had lunch, none of us had the energy to stroll out and around to get the postcard shot… I’m sure you can find one online if you search😊.  That said, we did have the energy to, hmmm… hike up to the top for the view.  I was sure there was a ‘walk up’ route on the other side of the rock given what we saw on approach and from camp: NOT!  The slabs on the left 1/3 of the image of our approach is the ascent route: A 200+ vertical foot 4th class scramble without forgiveness should you slip.  Terese opted to relax and wait for our return about 100 feet up.



And a look back as others continued up.  You can see Terese far below on the rock, cattle grazing on the left side of the image, and a group of Maasai watching (they are slightly left of dead center). 



The last little bit moderated some...



The top is expansive and one could spend the better part of a day exploring.  We settled on a high set of slabs that gave us most of a 360* view…

 Looking back toward the Gols and the valley we traversed



North.  A bit deceiving as the brush and trees on top of Nasera make it difficult to discern the break between Nasera and the western Gol foothills in the distance.



West across the small valley.  Here we watched a bush plane make several passes looking for the 4 white rocks the mark out the landing strip: no dirt strip, just the smoothest part of the hillside marked out for landing.  The distant hills on the left are Lemuta.



And south with the primary access road.



I would have loved to remain for the sunset, but a descent in the dark was a non-starter.  So, after about a ½ hour we started working our way back down.  We reached camp as the sun was setting… not bad from there either.



Day 11 – Desolation, Dung Ball, Frustrations Boil Over… and TERROR in the night


Same routine this morning.  At breakfast Jean reaffirmed what we’d discussed on top of Nasera Rock the previous evening, specifically that we would shuttle across and up the valley to the northwest edge of Lemuta.  This would cut considerable walking distance… but still left us with a uniquely challenging 10+km.  Our destination was Barafu Kopjes, but via exploration of at least one drainage on our way across the expanse as we left the NCA and re-entered SNP.


The drive across the valley was in the cool of morning shade.  The breeze through the open top and windows put a bit of chill in each of us.  It was welcome as we anticipated the heat we knew was to come.  We reached the northwest flank of Lemuta at about 7:20. The view took my breath away.  We’d been on open plains earlier on the trip.  This was something altogether different.  Not a single reference point visible across the horizon.





The plains are full of surprises.  As we experienced earlier, the almost indiscernible rise and fall of the plains, coupled with the slow pace being on foot, made the appearance and disappearance of reference points interesting and welcome.  From Lametu we saw no trees, kopjes, gullies, lines of beasts, or herds.  All we saw were some far off gazelle scattered on the gradual slope down and rise to the horizon.


Just 20 minutes later we had crossed that horizon without knowing it.  While the view forward, where our eyes were fixated hadn’t seemed to change much, not even the clouds… 




A look back greeted us with a string of zebra on the horizon we’d just crossed.  And Lemuta and the Gol Mtns were no longer visible!  Oh, but the sun was up and we could feel the heat starting to build.



A little later we spot a small bush on the horizon that turns out to be one of two very large trees by the time we reach them.





On we go and catch a glimpse of rocks in the distance.  While not a full-on kopje they were substantial for where we were, and they supported some foliage. We headed to them hoping for a little shade for a break and snack.  While there was no real shade, we did enjoy a bit of a break.  We also found many, many goat bones.  Seems this was a ‘party place’ for Maasai men from time to time.



And from this break point, looking back.  Voila, Lemuta is back in view as well as the two trees. 



On the other hand, perhaps ‘break point’ (pun intended) might be better applied to the view of the direction we were heading…



Where oh where is that green oasis of a drainage we were going to explore?  It was only 10 and the heat was building.  We’d been walking for 2 ½ hours with scant sightings of distant gazelle and zebra.  Despite understanding how visual waypoints come and go with the rise and fall of the plains, we still had not seen any indication of the drainage we wanted to explore nor the Barafu Kopjes.


We continued on and finally came upon the drainage we wanted to explore.  Not quite the lush green we were anticipating.



This created a real conundrum.  We could see hyena far down the slope.  We could see gazelle, ostrich, and Eland across the dry bed.  There really seemed to be some game viewing potential.  As well, there were many vultures, suggesting there may be a kill potential. While not lush, there was some green.  Though the drainage would eventually take us a little north of the Barafu Kopjes, it would likely add hours to our trek.  It was already 11 and the heat was becoming oppressive.


There is no doubt Jean and I wanted to explore.  But, looking at the expressions on some of the faces it was decided – appropriately so in retrospect – to forgo the drainage and beeline for the Barafu Kopjes.  When we reached the rise above the drainage, we were pretty sure we could see the kopjes, first through glass and then with the naked eye.  For the next hour we walked toward them.  Sometimes they were visible.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes it seemed the closer we got the smaller they became: A funny and frustrating optical illusion.  There was no visible life for as far as we could see.  Just brittle dry and bleaching remains…



We were well spread.  There was little to no conversation.  There wasn’t anything picture worthy for well over an hour.  For sure there were lots of gazelle.  And there would be an occasional hyena.  But mostly it was just heat upon heat and occasional frustration with our heading when the kopjes were out of sight.  Then they would be back in view, and we’d realize Prim and Jean had us right on course.  Then a funny thing happened.  We found an intact dung beetle ball.  I was surprised at its size and how hard and strong it was.  In fact, I found I could quite effectively kick it a great distance.  Well, this became a bit of a game, being spaced as were, as each of us would send it ahead with a swift kick for someone else to send forward…  Even K joined in!  But when S sent it whistling within a hair of L’s ear… well, the game lost some of its fun. 


By about 12:30 we reached the midpoint of the kopjes.  It took another 15 – 20 minutes to reach camp at the southern end.  Along the way we were greeted by a lone giraffe.  A good sight anytime but given the dearth of sightings this day it was particularly appreciated.



Nice of the giraffe to hang out for a closer look as we walked by.  And note Lemuta in the distance.  The plains can be incredibly deceptive! 



Our camp at the base of the kopjes was everything I’d imagined it could be.  Here’s a shot from atop an adjacent set of rocks.



Our tent, set 75 – 100m out from the base of the rock where the rest of our group and crew were camped.



This was an interesting afternoon.  Jean needed to leave for the night but would meet up with us the following evening: Not a big deal as Prim was our official guide for the trip.  Before leaving, Jean wanted to make sure everyone was set for the afternoon and the following day.  At the prospect of continuing our trek across barren grasslands, S’s frustrations boiled over.  I think we were all caught a bit off guard by the apparent anger and snarkiness aimed at Jean.  He was frustrated that we hadn’t had any notable animal sightings for 3 ½ days and angry at the prospect of wasting another 2 or 3 days doing the same thing.  For Jean’s part I was impressed by his professional calm in the face of such an assault.  I finally had to interrupt.  I reminded S that this was our – T and my – safari.  That everywhere Jean had guided us thus far was spot on with our direction.  While our interest certainly included seeing animals, we equally wanted to explore the gorge, Gols, Nasera, and the overall wilderness of the area… And to do that meant there would be days where there simply weren’t many sightings. 


Once his frustrations were vented, S was able to articulate the root issue:  Why continue crossing open plains when we could shuttle to woodlands that would provide better overall sighting potential, varied landscapes, and occasional shade.  T and I were OK with this, but with the caveat that we trek out the following day as planned and keep the shuttle short; Preferably in the afternoon when we’d otherwise simply relax in camp.  In retrospect, we could see the frustration started when the decision was made to go back to the walking camp instead of continue hiking down the Simiyu river drainage.  The heat and limited sightings over the intervening days, coupled with the prospect that their last 3 days on safari would mirror the past couple of days, was simply too much for S.


Jean, Prim, and K came up with a possible adjustment; But it would require some reconnaissance and verification of accessibility.  So, K stayed in camp with us and even took S, L, and T for an evening walk around the Kopjes while I hung in camp and further anchored our tent against the rising wind.  Jean took the guide cruiser to his obligation.  Prim, Sarah, and the camp manager headed out in the crew vehicle to scout potential meet, shuttle, and camp points.  By early evening Prim, Sarah, and the camp manager were back and able to confirm plans for the next 3 days.  I can’t say we were all completely back to normal, but everyone was pretty chill through dinner, and we were all off to bed by around 9.


It was 11:15 when we were awakened by something tripping on the guy-lines of our tent ----

            As the image above shows, we’d set our tent well away from the kopjes and the rest of the camp… my snoring and all😊 Plus, I’d hoped to rise early to catch some images of our tent with the camp against the kopjes and the sun rising behind.

            On top of this, I’d turned off the solar lamp that the crew set at each tent to give them a quick visual reference to each tent in the dark.  What can I say, I was tired of that light next to our tent and wanted to enjoy both the shroud of darkness through the night as well as not having it there should I want/need to relieve myself in the night.  Besides, we had torches if we needed light in the night.

            The moon and stars helped to cast a dull gray through our tent, but it wasn’t sufficient to cast shadows. 


---Though startled by whatever tripped over our guy-line, hearing the subsequent clomping of hooves, ripping of grass, and munching, we whispered back and forth that it must be beasties or zebra.  Whew!  One of them must have tripped on the cord.  How COOL!!!  In a minute or two all was silent, and we started to relax back into…  And it happened again: Trip over the cord and clomping, ripping, and munching.  While still cool, it was a bit disconcerting as I started to consider the possibility of a large herd and getting trampled: Maybe turning out the solar lamp wasn’t such a good idea!?!  Alas, all went silent.  It was only 5 minutes between the first trip and the end of anything we could hear after the 2nd trip.  Relaxing and slowly drifting back to sleep it was 11:30 when we were brought back to full awake by what seemed to be another beast tripping on our guy-line…  Even as I write this now, I find myself taking a deep breath…


There was no clomping of hooves.

There was no ripping of grass or munching.

There was only very heavy breathing.


            For those of you that have been sharing our experience and footsteps across the plains, feeling the heat, choking on the talc dust churned up by the herds…  close your eyes and imagine you are lying out in the middle of the Serengeti, in the middle of the night, that a herd of ‘prey’ has just past by, and that now a predator(s) following its prey was less than 1m from your head and separated by only mosquito netting and a thin nylon rainfly…


Something was sniffing our tent.  Then we feel the tent being pushed on.  It very nearly presses down to touch my face.  And then silence.  We are frozen, contemplating and focused on any sound.  It’s amazing how loud my whiskers were scraping on the nylon of my sleeping bag from just the motion of my beating heart:  I’m not sure I was breathing yet.  I must have been as I “shhhh’d” Terese and whispered, “lions.” (Note:  I learned later that telling Terese I thought they were lions wasn’t reassuring, duh!).  Then, without warning, the entire tent tacos (folds over itself under extreme tension) onto Terese’ side along with some rips and flapping sounds as the tent pops back up.  Moments later the tent is being pushed on again…  And then silence.  Pushed on… and then silence.


            While not experiencing our ‘life flashing before our eyes’, we both experienced thoughts we’d rather not recall: What do I do if/when claws shred through the tent?  What do I do if I see her/him pulled out?  The mind can create an eternity of such thoughts in a very short span of time.


We laid there in silence.  Exhausted.  Too tired to stay awake.  Too keyed up to fall asleep. 


We did eventually fall asleep.  Awake before light we both had the need to relieve ourselves but held back until first light of morning.  Ha! I recall being synchronized earlier in the trip.


When it was light enough to see we took a look at the outside of our tent.  Puncture holes about ¾ of the way up on my side.  The guy-lines anchored to several large rocks on T’s side had been ripped from both the rocks and the bar-tacks on the fly; the anchors left some 15m away.  There was dried phlegm and drips all over 3 corners of the tent.  General consensus from Prim, K, and Jean was that it wasn’t a lion(s) but almost certainly hyena.  Whether the threat was real or not, whether lion, hyena, or our neighbors’ pug: For about 10 minutes, we experienced more than fear – conscious terror.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

@RC88CORVery loose discussions for the Congo Basin.  We've enjoyed the comfort and well orchestrated experiences of CCC camps in Odzala and Sangha Lodge in Dzanga Sangha.  We are now looking at less refined explorations to key spots in Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, and RoC.  Very preliminary at this point as communication can be slow anytime.  Covid has made it that much more challenging.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh my goodness @GBE what an incredible adventure this has been so far! You writing is absolutely captivating - ‘roust’ now that’s a word I’ll always associate with lions going forward! 😊 All the images are lovely, and the story-telling even better. No change of pace needed, please, this is moving along at a perfect pace. And have you thought of putting this in book form? You should!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

:o wow! I felt just a bit of your terror reading that. My comforts were of course:-1. it is not me. 2. that you are alive to tell the tale.

You had no such reassurance. Fantastic story 

Edited by wilddog
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@GBEBrilliant trip report, absolutely epic, almost primal! I have been tracking your route on my Frankfurt Zoological Society Serengeti map. I have been to the Serengeti 3 different times with one being a 14-day self-drive so many of the areas you have so far described I am familiar with. I have told my wife for many years that my dream trip to Africa would be walking in the Serengeti, doing exactly what you have done. Thanks so much for sharing, maybe it is time that I make this happen...


Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

@Sangeeta Too kind.  I enjoy writing for this community of friends at ST… A book seems like work😊


@wilddog  While I can’t recall specifically, I’m fairly certain Death in the Tall Grass flashed in my mind.  For sure I recalled reading in the news about a person being pulled from their tent in Selous the previous year;  They had left their door partially open and their foot was lying outside the tent.  The article included the suggestion that it was extremely rare for predators to breach a tent.  I was of the mind that we remain absolutely silent unless/until our tent was breached.  T wanted to shout out.  We’ll never know if shouting would have worked  But as you said, we ‘are alive to tell the tale’ so silence worked...  It would be interesting to get T to write a reply with her recollections. 


@Paul B  I’d love to self-drive, but I’m not comfortable enough with my mechanical abilities should something go wrong. 

Jean would love to find another ‘schemer’ to explore the Serengeti on foot.  We continue to discuss backpacking the Grumeti from boundary to boundary, but that requires getting permissions for areas outside SNP, which has been problematic.  The other issue is timing along the river, which needs to be running well for filterable water.  But when it is running the grass is also at its tallest.  If we do pull the trigger on this it will likely be vehicle supported so drinking water isn’t an issue and we can time it to whenever makes most sense for safety and sightings.  Probably TMI.  PM me if you’d like to discuss more.  Here is a link to our backpack trip with Jean in 2015: https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/15778-backpacking-serengeti-katavi-mahale-game-driving-serengeti/#comments


Link to comment
Share on other sites

@GBEFantastic report, the photos bring back happy memories, I’ve not done the actual walk that you did, but I have visited and camped at some of the same places over the years, such as Ol Karien we didn't of course go all of the way through the gorge, but that is a very special place to camp with the views of Ol Doinyo Lengai and also Nasera Rock, I went up, despite not being fond of heights, the first section at the bottom is a bit of a challenge, it’s easy going up after that, although I didn’t find coming back down on my butt quite so easy, but that seemed to be the best way to do it, if you don’t have a head for heights. I have done a fair bit of walking and camping and quite similar safaris, a little bit in the Serengeti/NCA/Loliondo, but mainly elsewhere in Southern and Western Tanzania and once in Niassa Reserve in Mozambique, I’ve had a few quite scary wildlife encounters, fortunately I’ve never had hyenas try and get into my tent, that’s not something I would want to experience, an animal encounter is one thing when you are with your guide and a ranger or two, it's another thing when you're on your own or just the two of you, in your tent in the dark.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy