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Mara August 2012


Marks
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This post is inspired by PT123's excellent report. Our trip was fairly short, but I hope someone enjoys reading about it/seeing the pictures.

 

First time in Kenya, and we could only manage five days - but what a great five days they were! We chose to spend all five at Governor's main camp, and were lucky enough to get the last tent, #37, which apparently is much sought-after. It's not hard to see why; this is the view directly outside the front of the tent. This panorama was taken directly in my girlfriend's camera - no Photoshop stitching - and I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. In between game drives and meals, I spent a lot of time taking in this view and reading The Marsh Lions. While reading, I'd be delightfully "interrupted" by a troop of baboons, warthogs running through camp, and buffalo moving off in the trees to the right of the picture. Later in the week, herds of wildebeest and zebra streamed across the plains. Governor's main might not be the smallest or most remote camp in the Mara, but it certainly felt like we had this bit of wilderness to ourselves, especially at night, with only the mournful echoes of hyenas to break the quiet. At mealtimes we would constantly be wandering away from the table to watch the hippos and crocs in and along the river.

 

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Paradise Plains Panorama by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

 

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Baby Hippo Yawn by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

Plains game was abundant on our first game drive: giraffe, topi, Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, warthogs everywhere, zebra, several different species of vulture, buffalo, waterbuck, cranes, storks, etc. Having only previously been to the Sabi Sand in South Africa, the wide open vistas of the Mara were truly revelatory. Both environments are beautiful to me, but the visibility of this environment gives it the edge.

 

 

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Portrait of Cape Buffalo by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Portrait of Waterbuck by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

We had really wanted to see cheetah in the Mara and were really crossing our fingers, so it's easy to imagine our delight when our driver Koech took us to see a mother with a cub on the very first drive. This is a cheetah called Malaika. We were told her cub is 3-4 months old. Malaika is one of those cheetahs born to pose for the camera. Her very excitable cub chased her around a termite mound for twenty minutes or so; eventually she was so harried that she hopped up onto a vehicle to get away from him. When she got back down, she retrieved a dead hare from somewhere in the grasses and brought it to her cub. The cub became curiously possessive of the kill, and Malaika had to quickly dart in, take a piece for herself, and take it a few paces away to eat in peace. We were thoroughly enjoying the spectacle and were surprised when Koech turned the ignition in the vehicle. Koech had received a tip on the radio that a leopard was stalking gazelle in the immediate vicinity. We fairly raced to the scene and arrived just in time to see a leopard, out on the open plains, quietly approach a gazelle and give a brief chase - the prey escaped, but we felt really privileged to even see a leopard here. I used the "Sports" mode on my camera to capture a few dozen stills of the chase as it occurred; I could barely keep up with the lightning-quick sprint.

 

 

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Malaika and cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Mailaika's cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Malaika on Land Rover by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Malaika with cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Leopard Chasing Thomson's Gazelle by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

Our second day would be a lion-centric day, although in the morning we did stumble across a nice looking ostrich at a nest. I find this interesting, because I wonder how he chooses which eggs to sit on; clearly, he can't reach them all. In the early afternoon we were treated to a pair of lions who were moving about the bush periodically mating. I believe the male was one of the lions they call the Four Musketeers, because three other male lions were lounging about in the long grass nearby, wholly unconcerned with the antics of their companions. However, the mating lions were drifting near a herd of elephants, which were altogether displeased with the very close proximity of the lions. One elephant in particular seemed to find them objectionable and would periodically charge at them and chase them away.

 

Another fun member of this gathering was one little elephant calf, which continually mock-charged our vehicle. This happened to us in South Africa, too - maybe calves are just especially excitable? It certainly seemed to be having fun!

 

 

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Male Ostrich by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lounging Lion by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

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Lions Mating by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lions Mating 2 by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Elephant Flushes Lions by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Elephant Calf by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

Moving off, we spotted a large amount of game sprinting away from something across the plains. As my binoculars are cheap and unimpressive, I used the zoom on my camera to try to see what was happening, which was very difficult as the car bounced over the terrain to catch up to the action. It was lions! I got a rather shaky photo of the lioness with the kill, but we did manage to catch up with the whole group. I previously mentioned that my only other real safari experience was in the Sabi Sand. There we only saw two lions during our stay; both were males just passing through the traversal area. Here I was happy to see many females and small cubs resting and playing.

 

 

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Lioness with kill by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lion Cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lions by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

More lions were on the agenda for later in the afternoon, as well. The male in this bunch kept looking forlornly at the female as though he could wake her up by sheer force of will, and when she would move around, he would follow her around hopefully. But sleep was the only thing on her agenda that afternoon. Interestingly, we spotted a car filming these lions, though I was never able to ascertain if the filming crew was associated with any particular company or safari lodge.

 

 

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Male and Female Lion by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lions yawn by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lioness Yawning by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

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Filming car by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

The rest of the day was no less productive, although it's getting late here and I want to at least wrap up our second day in this post.

 

 

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Ruppell's Vulture by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Hyena Cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Wildebeest Migration by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

As a side note...Governor's camp has a map of the Mara framed on a wall near the gift shop. The gift shop itself sells this map. I meant to pick one up on my last day but it slipped my mind. If anyone is going to be there (long shot, I know) and wouldn't mind picking one up for me, please shoot me a PM. We can work out any kind of payment (Paypal, etc) which suits you. Thanks!

 

Tomorrow I will post our next few days, which consisted of river crossings, hot air ballooning, and my favorite cheetah experience to date.

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Really enjoying your trip report. The picture of the leopard chasing the gazelle is terrific and I liked your other pics as well. Thanks.

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Lots of activity in your 5 days. So many little ones, even those still inside the egg!

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That's some first two days! Lovely photos - especially liked the one of Malaika with cub and the wildie shot. Keep them coming...

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Hi Mark, Great report and great pictures! I loved the close ups of the cheetah and lion cubs as well as the cheetah on the roof of the land rover. That’s never happened to us but I hope that someday it will. The shot of the elephant and the lion is awesome. I was happy to see that you started it off by saying “that it was your “First time in Kenya”. This sounds like you may be thinking of a return trip? Tent 37 sounds like the “adrenaline tent” – fantastic!

 

Also, thank you for the compliment – I was inspired by the many excellent reports here on ST. These aren’t only fun to read they are very useful in helping to plan future trips.

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Thanks for the positive feedback! On to our third day...

 

We started this morning by driving to Little Governor's to go on a balloon ride. Having never been on a hot air balloon, I was blown away by the experience. You really get a whole new perspective on the environment, with the game spreading out beneath you with a new sense of scale. Wildlife was very visible. We saw plenty of elephants in the forest along the river, lots of zebra and wildebeest everywhere, a few large groups of buffalo, and even some hippos out of the water, as it was still early in the morning. One interesting interaction was a group of hyenas harrassing a hippo and chasing it back into the river. On the drive back to camp through the Conservancy, we did spot our first river crossing - one wildebeest bravely plunging through the water unmolested. I was amazed at the sheer number of dead wildebeest piled along the riverbank.

 

 

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Balloons Over the Mara by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Ballooning Over the Mara by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Sunrise from Balloon by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Sunrise from Balloon 2 by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lone River Crossing by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Dead Wildebeest on Riverbank by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Vulture Eating by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Crocodile Cooling by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

Back to game drives, we had lots of luck. We ran into a large number of giraffe; I counted fifteen visible at one point. They were all along the forest's edge in the Marsh area. But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly our second cheetah encounter. This was a female with a male cub about 11-12 months old. They were resting on a termite mound, and we had them pretty much to ourselves for the hour that we spent with them. Occasionally another vehicle would come up, watch for a few minutes, and move on in search of more active game. We were just happy to be near them. The grunting and snorting of the wildebeest in the background framed a perfect scene as the cheetahs scanned the horizon, sometimes rolling over each other to get more comfortable. Hunting was probably the last thing they were thinking about at the time, but this didn't disappoint us at all. It's such a treasure that we can get close to these wild animals and just watch them do their thing. Maybe as I go on more safaris this magic will start to wear off - but I sure hope not.

 

 

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Large Baboon by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Waterbuck with Calf by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah with 6-11mos Cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah 6-11mos Cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah with 6-11mos old cub by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

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Another great installment to your report. I don't think that the majic will wear off - if anything being on safari and just watching the animals do their thing becomes more and more addictive!

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Very useful tripreport. Great pictures.

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Good choice to stay in one place since you had so little time - you really got to see such a lot and I am not surprised you are pretty impressed! Your enthusiasm is infectious and I enjoyed your photos very much.

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Nice trip report, and some great photos. You had some excellent sightings, and I can see why you loved it so much.

 

Out of interest, could you say who you booked through?

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Just wanted to thank everyone for their interest. It's nice to be able to share with a community who is interested in this. Friends and family are always curious, of course, but their eyes kind of glaze over after the fifteenth impala shot...

 

Vlad, I booked with Stuart Parker at Africa Uncovered. We had a very positive and hassle-free experience. He handled our Sabi Sand arrangements a few years ago, too.

 

The morning of day four was very chilly. In an effort to pack light (I like to travel with just one carry-on bag, nothing checked), I had skimped on warm clothes, and came close to regretting it this morning. But any thoughts of discomfort were quickly swept aside as we began another day of great game viewing. This hyena was picking at some bones, with the plains spread out behind him, and a few compatriots wandering off in the grass nearby. We moved into the Marsh area, as we had new guests in our vehicle, and I think that the guides like to take guests to the Marsh on their first drive, as the general game is pretty good and there seems to be a good chance of running across lions. This is just my guess/observation, though.

 

In any event, we found a herd of elephant along the river not far from camp, and got out of the cars (the only time in the reserve that we did this, though the balloon landed in the conservancy and there didn't seem to be any walking restrictions there) to observe them from the far bank. One by one they filtered from the forest and moved down to the water. Their thirst sated, they eventually began mud-bathing. One elephant took this to the next level and tried to initiate a crossing; she made it about halfway before giving up the attempt, presumably because none of the other elephants were following.

 

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Hyena Eating by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

 

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Elephant Calf by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Elephants Drinking Along Mara River by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Elephant in Mara River by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Grey Crowned Crane by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lilac Breasted Roller by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

We also saw a proper river crossing, though our positioning wasn't ideal. River crossings (both during and at the river in general, where many cars will wait for hours on the off chance that one occurs) were the only time in the Mara where I thought it seemed excessively crowded. Luckily this wasn't a problem for us; we expressed that we'd rather take our chances finding our own sightings out in the bush than wait along the crowded riverbank with many noisy vehicles. Koech wholeheartedly agreed, and so we would never do more than swing by the river on our way through the plains, to see if anything was happening. This time we were lucky and a crossing began almost immediately after we pulled up to the riverbank.

 

The day came to a close as we left the river and were reunited with the cheetahs we had seen the previous day (the mother and the older cub). The cub was working away at a Tommy carcass while his mother lay in the grass a few meters away. She would occasionally rise to a sitting position to scan the area around her, presumably to make sure no predators had caught wind of the kill. We watched the pair of them for the rest of the drive and only left when it started to get dark. We made it back to Governor's just in time to see several hyenas sprawled out along the dusty road in a rather doglike manner.

 

We returned to camp to have one final dinner and night in the Masai Mara. It was another guest's birthday, and the staff seemed to have a lot of fun in bringing out a cake and singing for them. They certainly seemed more enthusiastic about it than waiters in your average States restaurant, at any rate. We ordered a bottle of Kenyan wine and had a pleasant conversation with another couple. When we returned to our tent, we were surprised to see it surrounded by no less than three hippos. Our fearless escort simply stomped at them a view times, and we watched, enthralled, as the hippos meekly trotted away into the grass. I imagine that the tactic wouldn't have worked if we had been between them and the water. We retired that night to the sound of whooping hyenas in the dark, a sound that I will now forever associate with Governor's Camp and the Mara.

 

We had one more day left on our all-too-short trip, but I will save it for another post.

 

 

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River Crossing by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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River Crossing by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah Cub 6-11mos Eating by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah Cub 6-11mos by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Cheetah Mom on the Lookout by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

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Dusty Hyenas by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

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"Just wanted to thank everyone for their interest. It's nice to be able to share with a community who is interested in this. Friends and family are always curious, of course, but their eyes kind of glaze over after the fifteenth impala shot..."

 

I couln't agree more! Aslo, great shots of the crossing.

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"Just wanted to thank everyone for their interest. It's nice to be able to share with a community who is interested in this. Friends and family are always curious, of course, but their eyes kind of glaze over after the fifteenth impala shot..."

 

I couln't agree more! Aslo, great shots of the crossing.

 

+2! No other place like Safaritalk to share safari stories.

 

Thanks for a great report- some stunning pics. Just shows how much the Mara can deliver even in a short time.

 

Let me add my thanks. The Mara has never disappointed to date (though the traffic can be a little annoying in high season).

 

I totally agree on the friends and family comments. To them, its a been there done that. They dont get the joy I have at being in Africa and being on Safari. I dont even try to explain that special shot of an aardwolf, pangolin, or honey badger.

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I dont even try to explain that special shot of an aardwolf, pangolin, or honey badger.

 

If only they appreciated how special those shots are! I have yet to see any of those three animals and hope I get the chance someday soon.

 

The highlight of our last day was undoubtedly seeing a male lion carrying the remains of a wildebeest up a small hill and beneath the shade of a tree, being dogged (pun intended) all the while by a pair of black-backed jackals - along with a lone hyena and innumerable vultures. The vultures were in a frenzy over a piece of the wildebeest that the lion had left behind, and the jackals were having a grand old time charging into the fray and sending the birds scattering in all directions. They didn't seem especially interested in eating at the time, but they were clearly enjoying themselves. Meanwhile the lion was marking the tree both with urine and also by rubbing his face against its branches. He panted heavily after getting his kill to relative safety, but was not molested anymore (at least while we stayed to watch) by any of his entourage.

 

 

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Male Lion Carrying Wildebeest Kill by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lion with Stashed Kill by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

 

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Lion with kill by Mark Smeltz, on Flickr

 

We also saw a nice juvenile bataleur to round out our fantastic time on the Mara. I thought I would leave this video here. None of it was taken with a video camera; just the video modes on our regular cameras, so the quality isn't fantastic. And the music may seem a little cheesy to some, but those of you who recognize it will perhaps forgive me, as it was the Big Cat Diary series which first introduced me to the Mara and so seemed the only appropriate choice.

 

 

Finally, my full set on Flickr, although I've posted most of the best ones in this thread:

 

 

Thanks again for all the interest! We had such a great time in the Mara...now it's off to read more trip reports here to try to decide where to go next!

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This is a good report to remember for anyone who asks if it is worth trying to do a safari if they have less than a week. The conventional thinking is no, wait until you can devote more time, especially if there are long flights involved. But one look at all you saw in just one place would convince anyone to make the most of their short holiday.

 

I have found several times for Africa trips or other nature-focused trips, that after 4 full days, I feel like I've been on a proper vacation. I always prefer more than 4 and usually spend more than 4, but if it must end after 4, I'm ok with it. Somehow 4 is the magic # for me.

 

Any thoughts on what's next yet?

Edited by Atravelynn
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I agree! In fact, due to my job's limited allowance of vacation time/PTO, I wouldn't be able to go at all if I weren't content with shorter safaris. Next time we would like to spend a little more time, though. We were looking at Tanzania and were thinking of combining the Selous with Ruaha and the southern Serengeti (inspired by Safaritalk, of course!). As always, it will depend on work and money, but that's our train of thought at the moment, anyway.

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  • 1 year later...

For some reason I have missed this excellent report of yours @@Marks, will be back for more thorough read. Thanks for sharing, Mara is great, we went there last year... Nice photographs, as well.

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Nice trip report! TFS!

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  • 1 month later...

Thoroughly enjoyed this, thank you for sharing. Love the cheetah pictures especially, very much hope to see some in a few weeks. :)Good to read that you managed to avoid the crowds.

 

So, have you decided on the next trip yet?

 

Maybe as I go on more safaris this magic will start to wear off - but I sure hope not.

Never ever!!! :)

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@@michael-ibk Thanks! Cheetahs were definitely the highlight of this trip. Where are you headed in a few weeks? It looks like we're going for South Luangwa next year. Originally looked at southern Tanzania but the itinerary we wanted ended up being too long for the short timeframe we have to work with.

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@@Marks

 

Headed to the Mara (and Meru, Samburu, Aberdares, Nakuru) on Sept. 5th, so I´ll be walking in your footsteps. South Luangwa sounds great, according to all the brilliant trip reports here leopard paradise is waiting for you. :)

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@@Marks

I am glad this got bumped to the top. Great report of a short trip - time expands when you are there!

Excellent photos - I really like some of the animals in their environment shots.

Enjoy S.Luangwa!

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