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


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GBE

Day 12 - Hike to Soit Le Motonyi Kopjes then shuttle to Banagi

 

A typical morning, although still a little shaken from the night’s events.  The plan for the day was to cross the plain to the visible drainage and follow it north.  Depending on our pace and sightings we could follow it all the way to Soit Le Motonyi or cross and take a more direct route across plains.  There we would meet up with Jean and shuttle to a Banagi. 

 

To a certain extent this view back to Barafu Kopjes, center horizon, and Lemuta, in the far distance, was the end of our time on the great expanse of the southern and central Serengeti.

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A ½ hour later we were into the broad drainage. While there was no surface water, the evidence of its existence was everywhere:  Trees, shrubs, flowers in bloom, more green than brown, and dry mud holes from little more than puddle to small lake size.

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It was easy to imagine how the area would be teaming with wildlife when water was present.  Dry, it was just us and the vulture sentinels that lined the drainage.

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And then we saw that unmistakable shape high above us on the edge of the drainage… A cheetah, comfortably far enough to simply sit and watch us as we watched her.

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 A little later we came upon the largest group of gazelles I’ve ever seen; Easily over 100.  And it was comical watching them zipping in all different directions.  Even Prim was taken by the behavior.  But neither he nor K had an explanation.

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Since there wasn’t much in the way of sightings in the drainage, we decided to cut across the plain to our shuttle point.  Voila… animals on the plains!

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As we reached a grove of yellow bark acacia, we startled some hartebeest. 

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We explored some but mostly found some soft grass to lie in and gaze up through the acacia at the gathering clouds.

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We were picked up around 1 as planned.  It rained hard as we drove to Banagi.  By the time we got there the rain had stopped but it was very humid: What an odd sensation after 12 days of brittle dry. The camp was ‘not active’ and the crew had to do some clearing to make space for each tent.  It was a beautiful, wooded location.  I can understand why it was used as a mobile/walking camp in other seasons.

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We were camped less than a kilometer from the Retina Hippo Pool.  Crazy.  We’d visited the pool on our first safari several years earlier and I would never have guessed you could camp so close.  Being this close explained the hippo trails through camp.  Seriously, our tent was no more than a meter or two from the well-worn trails.  In addition to hearing hippo, throughout the afternoon and evening we also heard lions and hyenas.  I’ll admit to some trepidation as we climbed into our tent and settled in for the night.  We listened to the sounds of the night for a short bit, but soon we were asleep, and both slept well through the night.

 

Day 13 - On to Nook Camp – No more plains

 

Woke a little after 5.  Shined the light out.  A hyena shined his two lights back from about 25m: then turned and walked off.  Wha-da-ya-gonna-do?  We, too, went about our business.  But for the hyena, our morning routine was pretty typical.  But the sunrise was not.  I love morning/evening acacia silhouettes.

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We were quite looking forward to this morning.  While we loved the plains, hiking along the river should have provided good hippo, elephant, and buffalo sightings.  Alas, here is another sunrise shot as we’re walking east...

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We didn’t see any hippo, elephant, or buffalo.  We did see Waterbuck, Topi, Hartebeest, and this single giraffe.

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And a very cool Golden Orb Spider.

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Walking in such a water rich area meant grass was taller and brush was thick and full.  This meant everyone needed to be more aware and attentive.  We stayed relatively close and single file.  Prim, Jean, and K were more deliberate and communicated much more than on the plains.  They explained their primary concern; Surprising, or being surprised by, a buffalo.  Below is a good example of how thick the underbrush could be.  First and second is Prim leading down into a gully and then scanning before motioning for us to follow.  Second is T and S coming up the other side.

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We were excited and surprised to catch a ‘blinks’ view of a leopard darting away from us through tall grass.  We saw more of the animals listed above along with wildebeest, zebra, and more giraffe.  We even saw a buffalo, at a distance, and a mongoose.  A little later we got a fantastic, albeit brief, view of a leopard dropping out of a tree and bounding out of sight.

 

This was a relatively long walking day.  Trees and brush provided some shade, but they also blocked the wind and held the humidity.  We were having some good sightings and varied terrain to enjoy along the way, so we were in no rush to get out of the sun as we were when on the open plains.  One surprise was seeing a seasonal camp in the distance.  It didn’t detract from the walk, but it was a reminder that we weren’t ‘out there’ like we’d been earlier in the trip. 

 

We did cross some open areas. Taking a break under a tree we were astonished and amused as we watched a bush pig meandering on the rise behind us.  He didn’t seem to know we were there.  He was just casually sauntering toward us.  Then he froze and seemed to be staring down in our direction.  It was almost like a staring contest. And then he spun and was off.  One of those fun/funny moments in the bush and one of the reasons we like to just sit quietly whether on foot or on a game drive and just let things happen naturally.

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Nook camp is located on a long, gentle, mostly open slope.  At the top there is a cleared area for the crew and kitchen. 

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Midway down the slope is where we set our tent.  We got a 5g bucket to rinse our clothes – it had been almost a week since laundry.

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From our tent, a look across to the loo and S&L and Jean and Sarah’s tents

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And a look downslope to our dining area.

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Though the river was mostly dry, the view was good and begged for constant scanning with glass for life.  Looking left…

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 Looking right…

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And sunset…

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As we retired for the night, we could hear a pair of male lions at a distance.  As we lay there, we could hear them coming closer.  And closer.  And then we could literally hear the gurgling of phlegm in their throats as they roared while walking down through the middle of camp.  Even as they passed by, we found it odd/interesting that we didn’t have any concerns.  Turns out they spent the night in the riverbed below our dining area.  Evidently the crew scared – rousted – them out as they setup for breakfast.

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madaboutcheetah

@GBE- Love that Yellow bark acacia forest ...... Had some good elephant sightings in there!! 

 

Did you get hammered by Tse Tse flies during this woodland walk?  

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GBE

@inyathi It’s a shame more people don’t get to experience the gorge and Nasera.  As we advise friends planning safaris we always bring up these places but with the caveat they can take a solid 1 – 3 days away from prime game viewing: A tough commitment on a first safari.  We’d really like to return when the migration is in the Salei Plains and along the eastern SNP/NCA boundary. 

Yes, the first crux moves on Nasera are tricky.  And the landing is in thorns!  I imagine some have worn through pant seats and possibly left a little skin descending.  Of course the Maasai that guided us up knew the route and how/where to place their feet... but to do it in sandals!  We were impressed.  

Walking in western TZ:  Was that in Katavi? 

 

@madaboutcheetah  It is a wonderful forest.  I wish we had seen elephant there.  We don’t have any notes about Tse Tse flies when we were there.  The only time we noted them was when we were in vehicles, and even then they were just an annoyance. 

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Toxic

@GBEthank you for sharing this with us! I am now all caught up and ready for your next installment.  It's like watching a movie, you have a great way with words!

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inyathi

@GBE

 

I’ve just looked at a photo of myself on top of Nasera Rock, this was back in 1998, I went up in a pair of Teva sandals, I’ve walked in sandals for years, having been guided by people in sandals, so unless I’m forbidden from doing so I always wear sandals, but they're not great for climbing in. 

 

Yes, it was in Katavi, I’ve been lucky to walked there a couple of times, not doing quite what you were doing, in that we would drive to an area camp for a few nights at a spot chosen entirely by our guide, walk in that area exploring that location and then drive on to a new area, rather than walking from camp to camp, doing this, I’ve seen parts of Katavi that most tourists who go there, have never been to. I’ve done similar in Ruaha, but also walking from camp to camp, with these types of safaris, there is always a trade-off, you do miss out on a lot of the game viewing and wildlife photographic opportunities, that you’d have on a more typical safari, but you do get to explore places few tourists have been, experience the wilderness and the bush up close, and camp in special places, with no one else there. Where you were in the Serengeti Ecosystem you get to see some amazing landscapes, and Ol Karien is pretty interesting from a cultural point of view as well, it is what I love to do on safari.      

 

 

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GBE

@Toxic It is my pleasure to revisit and share this and other safaris.  I should have the next installments up later today and over the weekend.

 

@inyathi Sandals in the bush – that’s bold... brave... tough...  I'd considered it but thankfully T dissuaded me.  I had an acacia thorn lance the sole of my foot through the soles of my boots!  Perhaps T and I will follow your footsteps.  Whether trekking or driving between camps we very much want to explore Katavi on foot.  That will likely be combined with Selous and Ruaha.  Will I find a TR of your walking in south and west TZ?  Share a link?

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inyathi
Posted (edited)

@GBE

 

Touch wood as they say, I’ve never had any serious problems wearing sandals, yes, I have very occasionally jabbed myself on the odd thorn, but never really badly, nothing requiring medical attention, nor often enough to want to go back to wearing shoes or boots, but obviously, I do always have walking shoes, so I could, if need be, switch back to shoes. I do wear shoes a bit more when walking in forests, just because I’m bit more concerned about snakes, if there’s a lot of leaf litter, although I do like snakes, so that’s not a big concern. I took to sandals because I thought if my guide is walking in sandals, it can’t be an entirely crazy idea, even if he grew up in the bush and I didn't, so I’ll give it go, but some guides and camps do insist that you wear sturdy shoes/boots with ankle support, I think that’s to really to avoid them getting the blame, if you do injure yourself.  

 

I am afraid I’ve not written any trip reports, on my walking safaris in Tanzania, I’ve just posted the odd photo here and there, but I did recently create an album on Flickr and upload the photos from my most recent safari to Ruaha and Katavi.

 

Wilderness Tanzania: Off the map in Ruaha & Katavi

 

I also have some much older Katavi photos in the following thread some of them of the same places, taken on a similar safari but just in Katavi 16 years previously, I’ve just replaced most of those photos, but I still need track down the last few, so I can replace those as well. 

 

Let's talk Katavi National Park. (Tanzania)

 

Edited by inyathi
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mopsy

Wow @GBEwhat an epic adventure you had.

 

Wonderfully descriptive, you make the reader feel as if they were walking 2 steps behind you all the way.

 

Looking forward to the coming instalments.

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Kitsafari
On 6/28/2021 at 12:13 AM, GBE said:

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.

 

 

OMW - i'm only on your second post but that awesome descriptive para has just taken me back into Africa, and i can hear the silence of the land as the small plane drones onto the sandy runway, and we seek the long drop toilet before climbing into the vehicle eagerly awaiting for the best show in the world. 

What a way to take me back!

Thank you. 

Edited by Kitsafari
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Kitsafari

what an epic walking adventure so far. I can sympathise with the frustrations, but also with the guide's best intentions. just like a vehicle safari, you really can't have hours and hours of animals, but walking under a  hot sun in dry, tiring conditions can be really energy-sapping.

 

geez, i stopped breathing too when whatever-was-out-there started fooling with your tent. you both did so well stayng so quiet. i always wonder under these circumstances, would you blow a whistle and/or yell out for help? and would the others be able to hear you? or is it better to stay silent and pray for the best?

 

Looking forward to the rest of the adventures. 

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GBE

Day 14 – A walk around Nook Camp

Breakfast every morning was every bit as complete as though in a seasonal camp.  We had coffee, tea, milk, juice, cereal/muesli, as well as special order eggs, bacon, toast, tomatoes…  On mornings we wanted to get out as early as possible we tended toward cereal, but all was available.  After so many mornings together we found it entertaining to guess who would have what.  In the end, it didn’t really matter as the orders would come down ‘almost’ correct😊 Then we’d pass the plates with each pulling what they had requested.  Always worked out and always very good.  Thank you, Mouhamad!

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We carried lunches with us each day.  Sometimes we’d get to the next camp before consuming, but always more than we could consume in a single sitting; so, enjoyed snacking as we walked and took breaks. 

 

With a rather relaxed start this morning we ambled in the riverbed following the lion tracks.  Eventually we climbed out and over to a drainage with flowing and standing water.  This area was prime for leopard.  Given our two sightings the previous day we were quite optimistic.  Alas, none today.  We meandered through meadows, rocks, small valleys, and woodland. 

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In this terrain, I’m sure there were many animals that saw us but that we didn’t see.  While we did see some wildebeest, topi, hartebeest, gazelle, impala, and zebra, the highlights for the walk were buffalo.  Here, a lone bull not too happy that we’d disturbed his morning soak.

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Jean was leading us single file through an area with small hills.  Very abruptly he stopped and motioned for everyone to remain still.  Slowly he started backing up and motioned for us to do the same.  While we followed his direction, we also craned our necks to see what it was that had him backing away.  Back a bit, Jean said there was a buffalo coming around the corner directly toward us.  There was a jumble of rocks off to the side that we scrambled onto.  While still relatively close to the buffalo’s path, the boulders provided adequate security.  What happened next was too funny.  We watched as the lone buffalo sauntered along, head swinging to shake away the flies, and pretty much oblivious to anything around; after all, he knew he was the biggest, baddest, and meanest dude around.  And then he got to where Jean had stopped and started our retreat.  It was comical when he caught Jean’s scent; almost like he bumped into an invisible, electric fence.  Here’s a short video…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39i3Rb85fBs

 

Later we saw another group on foot.  I felt a little bad for them seeing us.  I think our change of plans put us in ‘their’ area.  We each swung wide and in opposite directions so didn’t interact.  We assume they were staying at the camp we’d seen the previous day.

 

We were back to our camp a little afternoon.  No potable water???  No worries, we still had beer, wine, and soft drinks.  And learning about Lager Shandy: S and L were originally from the UK.  This afternoon S and L organized personal gear for their departure from the Seronera airstrip the next day.  Otherwise, we all enjoyed the afternoon down at the dry rivers edge.  We watched as thunder heads develop and begin moving our way.  So cool to see the rains from a distance.  As they got closer, the wind picked up and we found ourselves the target of a massive ½ hour deluge.  We sought cover under the shade tent, but for the most part we accepted natures cleansing shower.  It ended as abruptly as it started but left that great smell of fresh rain.

 

Overnight we heard lions again, but not as close as the previous night.  Closer, we listened to the banging of pots and pans as the crew had to chase hyena out of the kitchen area several times.  I was up multiple times from 3 until sunup with an upset stomach.  Nature calls… Despite the lions in the distance and hyena in camp the walk to and from the loo wasn’t a concern.  The only unsettling time was making the blind corner in and out of the loo.

 

Day 15 – A taste of how the other side does safari

 

We had a very relaxed morning.  Everyone was getting along, and spirits were high, but after 14 days together I think everyone was looking for a change.  We’d be dropping S and L at the airstrip, and K and the Wayo crew were likely looking forward to a well-earned break. Here’s a shot and shout out to the whole crew. 

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We didn’t have a fixed plan after dropping S and L.  Jean proposed a ‘wild’ idea…  Want to stay at the Four Seasons?  Sarah had a flight the following morning and it would be really convenient to stay there instead of driving out to the walking camp or their Naabi Green Camp.  Trying not to show our disappointment and utter disgust at such a proposal😊 We deferred to his best judgement.  Following we share a little of our suffering…

 

We arrived a little before noon and were led to our Terrace room to freshen up before lunch.  Not quite sure where to start…  Livingroom, bedroom, dressing room, 2 bathrooms, 2 showers, and a soaking tub; and that was inside.  Outside we had another sitting/livingroom area, bathroom, shower, and private infinity plunge pool overlooking the plains.  A couple of images pulled from video and phone…

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It was quite a conundrum:  Enjoy handmade chocolates, open the wine, shower, soak??? Decided to get showered and laundry set out before meeting Jean, Sarah, and the manager for lunch at 1.  Lunch wrapped around 3… good conversation and no reason to rush.  Talked a little business, specifically the possibility of setting up walking activities from the hotel.  Then we toured the facility.  Oh my!  While not our ‘cup of tea’ it really is quite an impressive property for those that have the resources and want/expect all the comforts of a 5* resort while on safari.  Heck, the 3-bedroom unit not only had its own large pool, it overlooked its own private/secluded watering hole.  Crazy.

 

Back to our room by 4:15 we took the opportunity to enjoy our pool, wifi, and cleaning cameras.  We met Jean, Sarah, and Prim for dinner at 7…  Didn’t head back to our room until just before 11.  We found it humorous that we had to be escorted back to our room despite all of the walkways being elevated and enclosed: Probably for the best as I’m not sure we could have found our way back without a guide… they have a well-stocked bar😊

 

Day 16 – Farewell to Jean and Sarah, game drive our way to Wayo’s Naabi Green Camp

 

We enjoyed a leisurely start to the day.  Since we were still full from the previous night, we skipped breakfast and just enjoyed the comforts of our room and the view; though there were no animal.  All packed, we were off to drop Jean and Sarah at the Sero airstrip.  About ½ way there we realized no one had picked up the box lunches.  We still had drinks and a few snacks from the room.  While I’m sure we would have loved the lunches, we didn’t want to burn more time driving back.  We were eager to get going on our game drive south to Naabi Hill.  The plan was to drive through the 5 hills and Simba Kopjes area.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have much in the way of sightings.  We did see lots of gazelle, a few buffalo, and a lone wildebeest.  We also saw eight lions sleeping under a lone tree.  Later we saw this lone lion baking in a surprisingly barren area given the amount of standing water.

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We arrived at camp a little before 1.  Though they were not expecting us until later, they did prepare a lunch for us.  Naabi is really ‘out there’ and unless the migration is there, there isn’t much to see.  And given our experience driving down, it didn’t seem to make much sense to try an afternoon game drive.  So, we hung out in camp swatting flies.  A rather inauspicious start to our few game drive days.

 

Later in the evening two other couples arrived.  We enjoyed chatting and hearing about their adventures.  Otherwise, we were to bed relatively early with the plan to be up and out early… WITH box breakfasts and lunches!!!

 

Day 17 – Full-day game drive

 

Up at 5:20. We passed through the Naabi gate just a little after 6.  We thought it a good sign we saw a hyena before the sun had broken the horizon.  Simply love the sunrise over the plains.

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Soon we were seeing banded mongoose, ostrich, hartebeest, topi, gazelle, wildebeest, zebra; first individuals, then small groups, and then loosely spread across the plains.

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A lone lion with an intent gaze guided our scanning search to more lions. 

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This was one of those fun experiences on a game drive.  There were no other vehicles, nor dust trails from vehicles, in view.  We were able to watch, discuss behavior with Prim, and calculate where we thought they would be headed.  Then we drove for about 10 minutes to another track, looped back on it in the direction we expected the lions to be going, and then picked a spot to sit and wait.  And sure enough…

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A little later we found cheetah atop some rocks.

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And a little later got to watch as several lions were setting up to ambush some zebra.  All about timing, and one of the lions was a little anxious and sprung too early.  It’s amazing how quick it all happens.

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Nearby was a male. He was unimpressed…

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On up to Seronera where we refueled.  Kind of interesting to drive the back/staff area.  I’ll admit T and I got somewhat turned around on the various loops around Sero, so not entirely sure where we were, but we found a decent bit of shade under a tree where we enjoyed lunch and some pretty great views.

182129197_17.15zebraRESIZED.JPG.7795053ddfe8461e2e227864809804ec.JPG     1751108318_17.16zebraRESIZED.JPG.07ad9a3c0a97d46fa17cea4a431f848b.JPG

 

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It was getting late, so we started back for Naabi.  Storm clouds were gathering on the southern horizon.  The vistas are magical whether on foot or in a vehicle.

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We were back to camp a little after 6.  No other guests.  Drinks, dinner, and to bed by 9.  This was a long day… the kind of day we want when game driving: But it’s curious how exhausting 12 hours of sitting/standing on a drive can be.  As we lay there listening to lions in the distance – never tire of that sound – we both agreed, despite how good our sightings were game driving this day, we were looking forward to getting up into the highlands and back on foot.

 

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GBE

@inyathi Thank you for the links.  We wanted to explore the escarpments but things just didn’t work out.  Your pictures are getting me back on track to plan another trip there.  Your photography is spectactular!

 

As you intimated in one of your comments, part of the draw to walking, as well as getting back to Katavi, the Congo Basin, or other less explored areas, is to imagine/experience just a little of what it may have been like for Morton, Burton, Livingston, et al.

 

@Kitsafari  No doubt the heat contributed to the frustration.  The single ‘boil over’ was pretty minor in the overall scheme of things:  We’d never met before, we’d spent 10 days in considerable heat, they were looking at their time in the Serengeti coming to an end, and we’d gone from incredible migration views to virtually no animal sightings.  It may be more surprising that we all got along as well as we did.  A lot of that can be attributed to Jean (and Sarah), Prim, and crew.  So much happens behind the scenes on any safari, but hats off to the crew that did all the behind the scenes work as well as setting up, breaking down, and moving camp everyday.  

 

As you point out, walking or driving there are going to be times when there aren’t many/any animals.  I think we enjoy this time for both the landscape views as well as the anticipation of what might come next.  Certainly, part of the thrill is spotting and discovery. 

 

To shout or lie silent, that was discussed over the next several evenings.  Jean has some great ‘close encounter’ stories.  In the end I’ll stick with ‘being silent worked’. 

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marg

@GBEWOW!  What a trip!!!  And, thank you for the trip report.  Question...when you were out camping for so many days in a row, how did you charge the camera batteries?

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GBE

@margOn this trip we carried two camera bodies and 4 interchangeable batteries.  This was enough to cover us until we reached the Four Seasons.  There, we recharged everything.  Even if we hadn't been there, we could have charged in the vehicle while driving.  Plus, there is power at the walking and green camps.  When we backpacked in the Serengeti and didn't have access to power, we carried Goal Zero solar panels.  These worked well as we tried very hard to be in camp by noon, thus giving 5+ hours of solar charging time.

 

As battery life gets longer we are finding it more space and weight practical to carry extra batteries or a small power supply rather than the solar chargers.

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