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Tanzania - August 2012: Natron, Serengeti, Katavi, Mahale


Safaridude
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Katavi ... I'm thinking maybe a whole trip of 2 weeks but when to fit it in.

 

Love your writing and photos Safaridude, they never disappoint.

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If you want to be close to nature (bucket showers, “eco-toilets” and elephants around camp all day and all night), Chada is the answer

 

Someone take me to Chada... Sounds perfect :)

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On 9/16/2012 at 5:10 PM, Patty said:

Now I want to go to Katavi too. Looking forward to more.

 

On 9/17/2012 at 12:03 AM, twaffle said:

Katavi ... I'm thinking maybe a whole trip of 2 weeks but when to fit it in.

 

On 9/17/2012 at 12:14 AM, Game Warden said:
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If you want to be close to nature (bucket showers, “eco-toilets” and elephants around camp all day and all night), Chada is the answer

 

Someone take me to Chada... Sounds perfect :)

 

I've got an idea. A 2-week ST trip led by Mr. Katavi (sounds Italian too... perfect)

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You should get a free trip from someone - you make places sound so wonderful. You probably don't need it though.

 

Photos are beautiful - you always take lovely photographs but for me they are particularly good this time. Wonderful scenery and I can't wait to get to the Northern Serengeti next month.

 

I am not sure that hippo joke is very cerebral, though. A bit mucky I always thought. ;)

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I think a Signor Katavi led trip is a fabulous idea! Croc caves and all...

 

The photos are indeed beautiful, Safaridude. In fact, so beautiful that they immediately encapsulate whatever it is you were describing.

 

Very glad to learn that the Lamai Wedge curse was broken! Looking forward to Mahale.

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Mahale

 

The approach to the Mahale airstrip is sensational. The airstrip is located right on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, and the wind direction today is such that we are landing toward the lake. As the Caravan swoops down from the mountains, the sun’s reflection on the lake washes everything in white. The unusually acute angle of the plane’s descent (must clear the mountains first) creates an illusion that the lake actually sits higher than the Caravan. Only upon landing and looking back away from the lake do the colors return – the deep green hills (remnant Central African rainforest), the bricky soils and the various bright colored T-shirts and soccer jerseys worn by village children waiving and welcoming.

 

Greystoke Mahale is still an hour or so, stress-relieving boat ride away. That someone had the audacity to create it is astonishing: so remote, so demanding. That it actually exists is hardly credible. But many years ago now, Zoe and Roland Purcell put their stamp on it. From its signature W-shaped mess banda on the beach to guest rooms built out of old dhows (each room also equipped with a breezy, nap-inducing upper deck) to lantern-lit, elevated bar overlooking the lake, Greystoke Mahale is a triumph in safari architecture. Imagine Robinson Crusoe shipwrecked, found and offered a rescue, but deciding to stay – that’s Greystoke Mahale. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and a couple of copycat camps have sprouted at Mahale. But there is only one Greystoke.

 

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Boat ride to camp

 

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Elevated bar

 

Though many activities are offered, “chimping” and fishing are the priorities for us, in that order. Chimping, it turns out, is a more leisurely affair than I thought. Chimpanzees tend to sleep in, and in any case, we must wait for news from the trackers who set out in the morning to find the exact whereabouts of the habituated “M group” of chimps. So, after 8 am is our leisurely start each of the two days we licensed for. Luckily, the M group is currently attracted to fruiting trees on the lower slopes of the mountain right behind camp, and both days it would take us less than 30 minutes of trekking to find them.

 

The chimp society is a complicated mess. With most antelope species, there is one herd bull. With lions, maybe 2-3 brothers rule the pride. In either case, you are either dominant male or you are not. With chimps, however, the alpha male status is fluid. Most intriguing is the fact that the alpha male status is achieved not just by brute force, but by clever politicking as well. Males form alliances to consolidate power, only to break them if self-interest dictates so (office politics, anyone?). It’s not unlike the TV show Survivor, but there’s much more violence involved… it’s more like The Sopranos. Last October, the then alpha male, Pimu, was engaged in a peaceful grooming session with an up-and-comer, Primus, when suddenly a fight broke out between the two. Both Pimu and Primus called for help from their respective allies, and all hell broke loose, several males siding with either Pimu or Primus. During the fight though, alliances shifted as the males saw fit, with one key male abandoning his allegiance to Pimu. The result was a gang murder of Pimu, and Primus becoming the alpha male.

 

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Who, me?

 

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Grooming partners

 

According to the local guide, Primus’ alpha male status is tenuous because he currently doesn’t have everyone’s respect, for Primus is thought to be all brawn, no savvy. This turns the heat up a notch on the boiling nuthouse that is the M group at the moment. As if the M group needed more tinder, it turns out that a female chimpanzee is in oestrus our first morning of chimping, and… all hell breaks loose. Several males are clustered together grooming each other peacefully. Then one starts to hoot, and another responds, and in an instant, the entire troop is in a hooting and howling frenzy… and the males start to – as best I can describe it – beat the crap out of each other. Christmas, a lower ranking male, is desperate to impress his elders. His usual solution is mock-charging tourists in a vain show of strength. At one point after a mock-charge toward us, poised merely six feet away from me, Christmas grabs a small bush and thrashes it violently while staring me down and hooting (“look what I can do!”). I can’t decide whether to be fearful or burst out in laughter at his pitiful antics.

 

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A moment of reflection

 

Chimping was remarkably easy our first day. The second day, not so much. The M group is in an area that requires a steeper hike today. Visitors are required to don surgical masks in the vicinity of the chimps, in order to avoid possibly transmitting human diseases to them. The steep climb, the higher humidity today, and the suffocating surgical mask are not a pleasant combination. My glasses fog up from breathing through the mask, making it a real challenge to photograph using manual focus that is essential in thick bush. The conditions are darker than yesterday, and it is hard to get enough shutter speed in the forest. But then, action begins and I quickly forget about these minor annoyances.

 

The insane asylum continues to brew today. A young male walks by a very old male who is minding his own business – and sucker punches the old man! Another young male happens to be walking by the female in oestrus. The top-ranking males are grooming each other some distance away. This is the young male’s chance to strut his stuff without fear of being chastised by other stronger males, and he does exactly that by circling the female confidently, shoulders raised. Out of the corner of his eye, Primus catches this nonsense; he and his grooming partners suddenly charge at the young male. They mean to teach this youngster a lesson. They go on to, again, as best I can describe it, beat the crap out of him. After two days of this, I am mentally spent. I have just seen the worst, dark side of chimps (a reflection of us?). It’s like watching Lord of the Flies – with more hair.

 

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All hell has broken loose

 

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Darwin, with a distinctive face - he is one of the gentlest and wisest chimps

 

To be fair to our closest brethren, it isn’t all hate. There is some love involved as well. We find a chimpanzee mother cuddling a youngster who is apparently much older than he appears. He is very sickly and not expected to mature into a regular chimp. The mother’s tender face exudes unconditional love. It is all too human.

 

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Mother and sickly youngster

 

If there is any doubt as to how close chimps are to us, there is this story… Several weeks ago, Michio the chimp turned up at camp walking through the staff quarters. A mirror happened to be attached to the side of a hut, and Michio became mesmerized by it. He screamed at first as he saw his own reflection. Then, he got close to it and even kissed it, but then he became unsure of it (looking off to the side and refusing to make eye contact with the mirror for some time). Then, he put his arm behind the mirror in order to touch this strangely one-dimensional chimp, and upon detecting no chimp there, walked behind the wall to which the mirror was attached and put his face through the loose thatch to see if he could find this unfamiliar chimp there. Some two weeks after this incident, three different chimps came into camp with purposeful strides. They were heading straight for the hut in question. The mirror had been removed from the wall of the hut, but these three inspected the hut for several minutes before leaving camp. Is there any doubt that Michio told his three friends about the chimp in the mirror on the hut wall? How do they communicate such complex thoughts? What exactly did Michio say to those three? Was Michio ridiculed after those three found no “big foot” on the wall of the hut? I wonder if they beat the crap out of him.

 

For relief from the ape mob, there is great fishing on Lake Tanganyika in the afternoons. The lake is the longest in the world, the second deepest (second only to Lake Baikal) in the world and holds an astonishing 17% of the earth’s fresh water. The lake contains over 250 cichlids (types of fish), many of which are endemic to Lake Tanganyika. The colorful cichlids are what we are after – to catch, photograph and release. Dom, who is an accomplished and perhaps rabid fisherman, has brought soy sauce and wasabi just in case a fish is damaged during catch (in which case, we may be given permission by the game ranger on the boat to keep the fish for eating). Unlucky for the 15-inch cuhay, he is “irreparably damaged” while being reeled in by my younger son. The cuhay is expertly filleted by Dom and arranged next to the wasabi/soy mixture within minutes. Somewhere between halibut and fluke, the delicious cuhay sashimi is chased down by a cold Kilimanjaro at sunset. A palm-nut vulture dives for fish nearby. A Storm’s water cobra (injured and possibly even dead) floats lifelessly (by the way, isn’t being a highly venomous cobra enough intimidation? Does it really have to know how to swim too?). A hippo grazes amongst the reeds. Hootings of the warring M group chimps echo in the forest. Mahale/Lake Tanganyika is singular place.

 

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Dom with a cuhay catch

 

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Main mess banda at night

 

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Farewell dinner

Edited by Safaridude
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Home

 

So, I wanted perfection: Natron completely pink with flamingos, Serengeti black with wildebeests, Katavi shrouded in dust from buffalos, and chimps evolved at once as to communicate with us at Mahale. Of course, things don’t always pan out that way. We got a few hundred flamingos, a wildebeest “migration-light”, buffalo dust from afar, and chimps who only talked amongst themselves. But none of this mattered. Somewhere along the way, the pressure for a perfect safari ebbed. Just being there with the family, Craig and Dom was the point. Just being there in Africa was more than enough.

 

I actually took very few photos on this trip. I was “smelling the roses” more with the family and freeing myself from the tyranny of the big white Canon (Cannon?) lens. It sure brings a different perspective to things: I am glad that the oryx herd ran away from us at Natron (may they run away from every vehicle and survive); I am glad that the rhino viewing at Serengeti was from 600 meters (may all human encounters by rhinos be from at least 600 meters); I didn’t care that I didn’t see roan at Katavi (as long as they are continually seen by others); I am glad to have worn the suffocating surgical mask at Mahale (shouldn’t we double up on these masks?). Come to think of it, it was perfect.

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I love the emotion with which you wrapped up this report mate. Great photos, and can you put at least this one:

 

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In the Africa Picture a Day thread?

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Thank you for your wonderful photos and writing. The Natron part brought back memories from a few years ago when I climbed Lengai. Northern Serengeti (10 nights) and Katavi (7 nights) are booked for August 2013, so it's been great to get an August-account of these areas.

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Man, you tell a great story!!!

The images are pretty special too!

 

The Cuhay is I believe a cichlid called Boulengerochromis microlepsis -it attracts a fair price in aquarist circles; expensive sushi!

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Many thanks for your report! Its simply perfect...Next year in September I'll visit SERENGETI (SAYARI), KATAVI (CHADA) AND MAHALE (GRESYTOKE) with NOMAD TANZANIA for my Honneymoon :D

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Thank you for your wonderful photos and writing. The Natron part brought back memories from a few years ago when I climbed Lengai. Northern Serengeti (10 nights) and Katavi (7 nights) are booked for August 2013, so it's been great to get an August-account of these areas.

 

Wow, now that's getting to know a couple of places real well...

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Man, you tell a great story!!!

The images are pretty special too!

 

The Cuhay is I believe a cichlid called Boulengerochromis microlepsis -it attracts a fair price in aquarist circles; expensive sushi!

 

Thank you. Yeah, the fishing license is $50 per person per day. Expensive sushi. But that's the way it should be. We fished for two days and released everything but two. Good sushi for sure though.

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Many thanks for your report! Its simply perfect...Next year in September I'll visit SERENGETI (SAYARI), KATAVI (CHADA) AND MAHALE (GRESYTOKE) with NOMAD TANZANIA for my Honneymoon :D

 

Congrats on your choices. You won't go wrong.

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Beautiful evocative pictures, K but your writing is, dare I say, is even better. Makes the safari come alive. What a wonderful college send off for your son.

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Have finally got to read this superb report in full, with some wonderful images which have all wetted my appetite to visit these areas. Thank you so much for writng it and providing in your naeeative, a sense of the mood of each place.

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Well Safaridude, I have to say that your summary brought a tear to my eye. A masterful and evocative piece of writing. Thank you.

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madaboutcheetah

Big Thank you ....... Loved the report!!!!

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What a haunting tale of Billy and the curse of the Lamai Wedge. Your black and white brightly lit klipspringer is great and so is the impala on the run. Nice to see the crocs and hippos of Katavi. Thanks for the help in spotting the lion. Following your directions he was obvious. Without it was just a bunch of rocks. Looking forward to the rest.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Ah, Lake Tanganyika ... so nice to glimps the other side of it :)

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Thank you everyone.

 

 

It is quite complicated. Lake Natron Camp is indeed Ngare Sero, and Lake Natron Tented Camp is indeed Moviaro. They are both located near the southern end of the lake. I believe (don't quote me on this) their guests are allowed to traverse other parts of Natron but not allowed to take photos (!!!).

 

The camp I stayed at was Natron Camp (sometimes called Natron Tented Camp) (note: the word "Lake" is not used), which is an exclusive Ker & Downey/Tanzania Game Trackers camp near the northeastern shore of Lake.

 

The vast majority of the Natron Game Controlled Area is divided up into two blocks (the northern block leased by Ker & Downey/Tanzania Game Trakcers and the southern block leased by Tanzania Wildlife Company). I believe Ngare Sero and Moviaro have rights to tourism in a very corner of the Natron Game Controlled Area.

 

I am confused myself.

 

But I can tell you that staying at Natron Camp (or Tandala Camp -- both by Ker & Downey/Tanzania Game Trackers), you have a huge area you can traverse.

Edited by Safaridude
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Absolutely... you will be close to Lengai and that is very special. If you have the time, go around to the easterd side of Lengai... the landscape is spectacular there (very lunar, if you will).

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I am glad that the oryx herd ran away from us at Natron (may they run away from every vehicle and survive); I am glad that the rhino viewing at Serengeti was from 600 meters (may all human encounters by rhinos be from at least 600 meters); I didn’t care that I didn’t see roan at Katavi (as long as they are continually seen by others); I am glad to have worn the suffocating surgical mask at Mahale (shouldn’t we double up on these masks?). Come to think of it, it was perfect.

 

From your lips to God's ears... very real emotion in your writing, Safaridude, thanks for sharing.

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