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Serengeti strikes back (after Mara kicks sand in her face)


pault

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I am not ready for this, but ladies and gentlemen ..... .... and ZaminOz...this is how it is done. Just #@(*^&* do it!!!

Since .... and I were more or less facing off accross the Mara River this October, I thought I'd link my report to hers. She did what I call my "boring, uninteresting" fly-in Kenya style trip this year while I did a trip very similar to her first safarti (was it really only last year?) even with the same guide. Also, people are always wondering whether Northern Serengeti or Mara in July-October, so it's an interesting comparison.... weill, it will be if she ever actually finsihes her trip report.

If this were a poker game, .... would have already shown most of the Mara's hand in order to make us feel she has made a report, but I've played it cool and kept the Serengeti's cards close to my chest. Is that because I have a pair of twos or might I have a stack of aces? Is my Mum the joker? Or am I just holding a lot of rubbish.


Anyway, to end the extended metaphors and start again at the start, I recently returned from a trip to Tanzania with my wife and mother. I can say taking fair-skinned mothers aged over 70 on safari is a bit of a risk, since they have this tendency to want to look in mirrors (don't notice your hair!!!!), stay clean, not get eaten by insects and spend time in camp reading a nice book and working on their tan. They even think it would be nice to have a lie-in sometimes. I don't think I have associated any of thoise things with holidays for quite a while.

Our itinerary was

2 nights Ngorongoro Crater (Sopa)
3 nights Central Serengeti at Turner's Springs (Serengeti Wilderness Camp)
4 nights Lamai Wedge (Serengeti North Wilderness Camp)
3 nights Bolongonja area (Olakira)
1 night at Barbaig village south of Babati
3 nights Tarangire (Oliver's)


Featuring, among others

Tsetses, tsetses and more tsetses
The sausage tree
Excuse me, there's a dead dog in my accommodation
Cougars on the Serengeti
Kenya
Killer hippo
Jackal muggings - no longer an isolated problem
Dust
Crossings as sport
My wife sings like a hyena
Overambitious predators galore
One more carnivore ticked off the list (two if you count the python)
Revealed: The official best place in the world to watch mongooses
Honey burglar mystery solved
Doppelgangers and cads at Seronera

and much, much more.....

And who is this arriving?


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Can you stand the suspense?

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Surprisingly (not), Bibi was ready for a low-key and slightly lazy couple of days. I haven't been making it very clear but except where mentioned we'd been taking out both breakfast and lunch with us.

Oh, and the sunset was limp. but that doesn't mean there weren't a few moments of interest just before it.     Day 3   Although we weren't leaving until 7.15, and despite the wine, we woke up a

It's time for this.....     There are a couple of things about the previious night that I missed out, because they are part of the story oif the next day. Firstly, we'd talked over dinner and dec

Wow - I had not realised that trip reports on ST were a blood sport!!

Will there be a full-court press soon? Camping in the penalty box? Did mum get a lie in?

Was sun-screen lotion used in unintended locations? Was it performance enhancing? Did it cause the singing?

Was it the jackal's day? Did it mug the dog which ended up dead?

I for one can barely stand the suspense. :P

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I did remember that but you haven't given the game away yet. I think you already produced the hottest trip report of the year with your Big Cat Live thread. I can't match the adrenalin of your predator interactions but we are rich in stories from this trip. I am wondering which involving Deo I can tell/ have to tell on a public forum -'not that there is anything bad to say about him -'just respecting privacy a bit.

 

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Fantastic start! This is great - dueling trip reports (hny am I thinking of the song dueling banjos)?

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No, like Deo she will only be able to find. The report if I send her a direct link. I will send one to both! What is important is that none of her friends read Safaritalk.

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twaffle

ENOUGH! Just get on with it, I'm busy ........

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twaffle

I mean, how much time do you need pault???????? :D

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I mean, how much time do you need pault???????? :D

 

All right twaffle.... I'm just buying time because most of my photos are still on the net book and my wife has that in Germany until Thursday. But I suppose I can fill in the blanks with words.

 

We left home at 9 pm on a Friday night, nearly forgetting various essential items such as the padding for the waterproof sack I use to keep my camera gear slightly safe during particulary bouncy and dusty drives - and that would have been a big problem as all gear was well dusted and bounced by this trip - thank goodness Mum doesn't have piles (it's not the kind of thing you think to ask is it?).

 

It only took an hour to get to the airport and we were so excited we either held hands or traded insults most of the way - we were bouncing by the time we reached the Kenya Airways counter. Everything was smooth all the way to Nairobi. Rather surprisingly, I mean nearly everything.... no flight attendant telling us we couldn't have a bottle of water because we had had dinner and only people who didn't have dinner got a bottle of water.... no possible complaints at all; not even for my wife who still has a bone or two to pick with Kenya Airways for previous encounters with Nairobi matrons (she has an elephant's memory). Of course there was the obligatory dude in my seat, but even he scurried off after just a smile and a nod from me this time (the one on the last trip was asked to move by my wife, grudgingly complied, and then sat down in my seat next to her - he was quite offended at us being rude enough to ask him to move again and took my blanket with him in protest). It so happens that Kenya Airways has just laid off a lot of its cabin crew and hired quite a lot of foreigners from their destination countries, as well as some younger Kenyans. There's a lawsuit or something over this pending and I am not going to judge (Kenyan Airways should be Kenyan I think) but on both legs Kenya Airways service was noticably better, including at check-in, and not just from the foreign staff

 

There, I promised my wife I'd write that - my contribution would have been "I slept until Addis Adaba - great flight." which would have been the same as last year and Kenya Airways' changes would have been in vain!

 

We had a two hour wait in Nairobi and were able to use the business lounge even though our ongoing flight was economy. We wandered around the airport a bit and noticed a quite nice looking new bar and smoking lounge had been added, but that most people preferred the usual seats and floor space - maybe the drinks were very expensive, or maybe the European flights hadn't landed so nobody was drinking beer at 7 in the morning. Anyway, that was just waiting and soon we were on our Precision Air flight to Kilimanjaro - sufficient bin space for a good-sized photo bag and a 'sit where you like" policy. We saw Mount Meru half obscured by cloud and a conical cloud bank where Kilimajaro was - it certainly didn't look promising weather-wise and I resigned myself to the certainty that those wildebeest would be on the way to the green pastures of Seronera by the time we got up to the Lamai Wedge; never mind, it is not really what we had come for, and a green and flower-strewn Serengeti would be beautiful.

 

Her Ladyship being greeted at Kilimanjaro Airport by a rather obsequious Vice-Consul Horace Buckley-Smythe and a Tanznian delegation. Apparently the Ambassador wasn't able to come down from Nairobi. Had to apologise for my wife blanking the fellow. "We just don't do Vice-Consuls in jeans after a long flight I'm afraid old chap. I'm sure you understand. No hard feelings, eh?"

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Oh no... I've lost all my text! That was only half of the post.

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I'll try again....

 

Anyway, after going through the three queues for visa on arrival and the seemingly random fingerprinitng (I got the full works, my wife a finger of each hand and Mum, later, no printing at all) I spied a skinny guy holding a sign with a familiar Wild Source logo who looked like an ageing but still handsome rastaman rake who lost his dreads in a bet, but he had a special sort of twinkle in his eye so I guessed this must be Deo and I was right. We shook hands and went through the formalities of greeting and arrival, including a brief rundown of what our itinerary was today and whether that was in line with our understanding. Having got that out of the way I asked hime to close his eyes as I had something for him from .... Then I gave him a big hug... well it was a bit of an awkward grapple to be honest, but big between two men our age who had met four minutes ago . I suspect he had guessed what was coming as he refused to completely close his eyes - perhaps fearing a big wet kiss.

 

Ice broken we drove to Arusha in Deo's town car, with Deo providing a very expert and interesting commentary on the area as we passed. It took 45 minutes to get to Arusha and then another hour to get through it as the traffic was quite possibly worse than nairobi - it was like Bangkok on a Friday night in the rain. And it was Saturday morning! I guessed we passed through Arusha (later realised it was not necessary to pass through the center of town) because it was on out itinerary to shop for wine for sundowners and pick up some cash. Since the cash was via ATM I could have got it at a number of places, and I would have paid the extra to buy a bottle of wine from the camps where drinks weren't included rather than waste so much time in a traffic jam. Mea culpa - be careful what you ask for! Anyway after finally reaching a garage on the other side of Arusha where the Landcruiser was waiting, and a final check by Deo, we were off!

 

Except 10km down the road Deo realised he had not actually seen the Ngorongoro Conservation Area cards that were supposed to be with the rest of the stuff in his vehicle. I suggested he stop and look and make any necessary calls as otherwise he'd be focusing on that and we were not in a hurry. You might think it a little risky to tell an East African man that you do not know well that you are not in a hurry but I thought Deo would know what I meant. After numerous calls, and much searching Deo informed us that someone would bring the cards to us at Lake Manyara and we'd better get on.

 

Of course by now we were never going to get to Lake Manyara for lunch so when Deo suggested we stop somewhere on the way we agreed. We tried under a tree Deo knew with a gorgeous view first but there were two Maasai kids nearby and Deo rather harshly (but I am sure accurately) concluded that there would soonbe ten kids and we did not have enough to feed ten. So we stopped a little way down the road at the cafe and souvenir shop of a childhood friend.... no it wan't the old shopping stop "to use the restrooms", but it had a really nice tree with a table built around it. The price of table rental was three cokes from the cafe - well actually she called into town and a guy brought them on a motorcycle. The woman was teasing Deo and he explained that it was because he had just had another child, many years after the last and she was teasing that he was sick of waiting for his grown-up children to make him grandchildren and so had decided to make one of his own. She called him "Babu" (grandfather) and we liked that so we asked him if Babu Deo would be an appropriate form of address if he actually were a grandfather. It was and after that he was Babu Deo.... well once we got to know him a tiny bit better, although we were already very comfortable with him.

 

We reached Lake Manyara at about 3 pm. well behind schedule, so only had 90 minutes to look around and use the strikingly clean toilets (more about toilets later). Deo suggested we stick to the woodland areas as we would not be seeing that kind of habitat elewhere on our trip and I was impressed he thought of that. However, we didn't really see much in our short time and spent most of it watching some young vervets playing and some baboons browsing. There were birds we wouldn't see again but the light was low and in any case most of the pcitures I took are in Germany. Lake Manyara is a pretty park and ,as they say, different. However, I don't think I will stop in like this next time - either stay overnight and give it time to reveal soemthing or drive on. In this case since we had already bought the cards it was a no-brainer to have a look. When we left the park Deo's son was waiting outside with the tickets - he is a handsome young man - much younger than I expected for a retired Olakira guide, but Deo says he's better than his Dad.

 

The few pictures I have - all of one of my favorites subjects if I can get close enough - they are so small.

 

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Elephant dung contains lots of tasty and nutritious morsels for a growing baboon and these semi-digested treats are probably a bit easier on the milk teeth than trees and sticks.

 

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Baboon tails are actually a steering system - many scientists do not realise that - or the importance of cuteness to young baboon survival rates.

 

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With respect to the duel - in the sun of course - no duelling banjos here Paul! :P

 

 

..... Serengeti is big, but the Mara's got cojones!

 

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After leaving Manyara at something to 5, we had to drive as quick as the Landcruiser could amnage to get to the NCA gate before closing time, but made it withe a good 20 mintues to spare. It's a beautiful drive and i would ahve preferred to spend more time on this stretch of road than that from Arusha to Lake Manyara. At the gate I realised it had taken us around 8 hours to get here - albeit with lots of stops it wasn't was I had expected but that was nothing unusual with travel by road in East Africa. There had been tar all the way here but we wouldn't see much more of that until we arrived back at Manyara airstrip in 12 days time. Best of all we were "there" now, in the NCA and so at our destination. No more hurrying and it was tourism all the way now - bush all the way or at least out of the way places that I had never seen before and would be at least interesting and sometimes fascinating. In any case we had seen some interesting things already and the towns along the way had been great on a Saturday - market day. I really wish we'd had the time to stop - maybe one day I'll take 3-4 days over this trip and then down into Ndutu, stopping over and taking photos. There were so many great shots to take but of course I doubt people would be that happy with getting snapped candidly along a tourist route like this, and they weren't the kind of shots you could ask people to pose for .... you'd have to ask and then hang until they got back to their normal routines. I always think stuff like this but I never do it. I'd need to travel alone and I don't think my wife is going to let me do that for a few years yet.

 

Anyway, no street shots, but when we arrived at the gate I noticed this really strange late afternoon sky and found a spot behind the (sparklingly clean I am told) toilet block where I could shoot it while Deo did the park entry formalities. It's a really strange scene I think - almost like a composite of images of different places.

 

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We drove pretty fast to Sopa but it still took over an hour, all the way around half of the crater. While Sopa and Lemala do have access to the quieter side of the crater, you need to add a couple of hours' driving ther and back to the calculation as to whether it is worth staying that side - I hadn't considered that before. Why Sopa when everything else was tented and the person who might have enjoyed a swimming pool and the almost 5-star hotel ambience wasn't even in Africa yet? Well, it was oriignally for one night and then the second night was going to be at Lake Masek Tented Camp, to spend a bit of time looking for lost cheetahs in Ndutu before we traveled up to the Serengeti, but we decided we didn't want to pack/unpack the first two nights so we decided to do two nights and Sopa and leave early the third day to explore Ndutu before heading to our camp in the Serengeti. I have to say Sopa does what it does well, and it is quite bearable to be there the first two nights on safari - it was better than a hotel in town after all and it is in Africa. At the end it would have been horrible after quiet tents on the ground for two weeks.

 

A funny thing is that we asked Wild Source to book the tents furthest away from the central area, but i think I might have used the word "rooms". We got room 83 at Sopa and that was really good exercise up the quite steep hill before dinner. Puff, puff - must have been the altitude made us so short of breath, or maybe it's just that Bangkok and surrounds are so flat, your lungs forget what it is like to work out. I realised perhaps why we got Room 83 later, when we also got the room furthest from reception at KIA Lodge, even though only a few rooms were occupied, where we took a day room on the last day, before our flight - really not quite what you want for a day room in a hotel. I could be wrong but I think it was my special request in action - if it was again it is totally mea culpa .... and be careful not only what you ask for but also how you ask for it. :P

 

After a cold shower because we were a bit late for hot water and struggling through the rather formal (but very good in our section) service at dinner (I got a kick for interrupting the waiter in mid-speech to ask him if we could please have two G&Ts) we hurried to bed and slept like angels. As usual we slept the untroubled sleep of angels throughout out time in Africa (except once when my wife had to kick me because I was snoring and another time when the wildebeest charged right past our tent) but every bed we slept on is to be commended. Not only does Tanzania have exceedingly clean toilets for its tourist visitors, it provides them with exceedingly comfortable beds. Which is cue for my comfortable bed here in Thailand. I know what I'll be dreaming of tonight, :)

Edited by pault
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Wow - I had not realised that trip reports on ST were a blood sport!!

Will there be a full-court press soon? Camping in the penalty box? Did mum get a lie in?

Was sun-screen lotion used in unintended locations? Was it performance enhancing? Did it cause the singing?

Was it the jackal's day? Did it mug the dog which ended up dead?

I for one can barely stand the suspense. :P

 

You have to read on, John. You'd just scan the pictures if i told you now! :lol:

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twaffle

Excellent pault, thank you. As good as I've come to expect and made much better reading over breakfast than the normal news!

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A wonderful read. Can't wait for the rest, even if photographic evidence of nefarious goings-on are not presented :)

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Atravelynn

This is so exciting. Dueling trip reports. And it is so fitting for those of us in the US who are wrapping up election season tonight (we hope). We now have somewhere to turn for continued one-up-manship and rivalry. Though you had only a quick look at Manyara, you enjoyed signature baboon antics.

 

Great start!

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madaboutcheetah

The start to yet another fabulous report from you, Paul ..... I look forward to the rest of it!!!

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Excuse me, there's a dead dog in my accommodation

 

Waiting for this part...

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Excellent Paul T. Keep it coming! Great shot of the sunset at Ngorogoro :)

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armchair bushman

hilarity. we want more.

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Work is tough - but tomorrow for the next part and then the pictures at the weekend.

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Well I don't expect you will be very impressed by a few squirrels and baboons so I should proceed quickly to the Crater, which definitely offers more than squirrels.

 

Our first visit to the (in)famous Ngorongoro Crater was not a disappointment - what a wonderful place. However we were a little disappointed at the state of the sky - or rather the complete absence of sky, as we were already in the sky among the clouds ( I do mean that literally - see photos below). It was damp and dark and windy, and although it improved a little in the afternoon it was not really ever pleasant weather.

 

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This tree is a little larger than you might think at first sight..... see the wildebeest, which is significantly closer to the camera?

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En route to "very clean" toilets at one of the pcinic sites - where we had breakfast. No black kites as it was too early for them.

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You can see from the above picture that the picnic site looks like it might be in Scotland (well ignore the Acacia and animal dung and it might). This "view from the picnic site" confirms that impression...

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We found the Crater to be reasonably quiet for most of the day. It was difficult to avoid seeing traffic completely since it is so flat that you can see a long, long way, but we didn't actually pass much traffic until the afternoon. Partly this was certainly due to Deo taking the less travelled route - he does have a knack for avoiding traffic; but it also just wasn't very busy on the Sopa side in the morning. Even after lunch we were able to spend 15 minutes with a Serval without any car passing us (although we were on the hill that is a bit of a sacred place for Maasai ..... the name escapes me now - help!). There were 20 vehicles spread out along the side of the road at a sighting of four rhinos together, and the lunch site was a little busy, but I was surprised - even for October.

 

Did I mention the Serval? Oops, that was supposed to be a surprise. Great to see, even if the grass was too long for a clear photograph. He was hunting for mice and quite unconcerned about having us observe. We had been doing something like admiring the tusks of a particularly well-endowed warthog, and the Serval just sort of appeared out of the sea of grass behind us. Eventually his hunting took him into even longer grass and he was gone as suddenly and silently as he had appeared.

 

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Early in the morning we found some hyenas on the move, but it seemed they were just heading to their den, which was too far off the road to be of interest. We then found more hyenas and at one point their paths crossed with a small group of lions, who looked rather young and thin. Neither hyenas nor lions paid much attention to the other. Since the lions were heading off into an unaccessible (no roads) area and didn’t look up for much excitement despite being clearly hungry, we sort of stuck with the hyenas, taking the odd detour to see another two lions and spot two rhino about two km away. There was plenty of general game too – with zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, gazelles, hartebeest and topi everywhere. A couple of small groups of elephants added to the interest. Golden Jackal were also frequently seen and there were numerous Kori Bustards and other ground birds. The number of plovers was particularly striking in places – like a plover convention was in progress.

 

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madaboutcheetah

Paul, absolutely loved the BW with the clouds rolling in ........ you can feel it! Look forward to meeting Deo in March. Heard so much about him!

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Count the plovers ... bet you miss one! Count the zebras too if you like.

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Bushbuck staying still for long enough that he has "fly-lashes".

 

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Vervet monkey deep in thought.... or perhpas just deep in indecision.

 

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As the sun rose (although it didn’t make much difference on the ground through the low cloud cover) many animals started to move toward the swamp, which was the only water source available since, despite the cloud, the rains hadn’t come yet. We followed them (and some hyenas) and watched while the hyenas stampeded a group of wildebeest and then observed them, looking for a limper or a slow mover.

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Hyena “hunt” with one hyena on the other side of the wildebeest next to the reeds, one hyena spotting, one chasing (out of picture), one apparently waiting for the order to attack, and one in the corner of the picture who apparently wasn’t listening to the team talk! All the wildebeest performed acceptably in the 100m dash, and the hyenas lost interest.

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Later were more lions doing nothing, buffalo by Lake Magadi, the Serval, baboons and vervets again, lots of birds of prey – mainly the usual eagle suspects (I’m including Bataleurs and Secretary Birds in that, grudgingly) but also a Dark Chanting Goshawk. Do I need to mention the vultures? Crowned cranes were around, acting as wind socks.

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We were happy to take in the beautiful scenery and breath the African air for the most part, while following Deo’s (apparent) plan of avoiding crowded areas - although we were probably avoiding some more lions as a result, they are not really on the “rare” list in the Serengeti. We had very infrequently seen the Golden Jackal before, so we spent a bit more time with them that some northern circuit regulars might. They seem even more tenacious and wily than the Silver/Black-backed variety we are used to, but this might be a general northern Tanzania trait as we saw some pretty aggressive Silver/Black-backed ones too. Interestingly, jackals in the Northern Serengeti didn’t surprise us at all.

There is certainly more that is forgotten (maybe the photos will bring it back) but the only other siting of interest was the four rhino (black) who were feeding together on the edge of a dry marsh. I thought it was two mothers and two big calves as they were paired, but one pair started a bit of jousting so they were presumably both males and I could reach no conclusion about their relationships – “just friends?” They were quite a way from the road so it was a bit more underwhelming than it could have been – especially with all the vehicles being much closer to us than them. A very nice sighting nonetheless.

At about 5.30, quite content with our first day, and seeing that the rhinos were not going to come closer to the road, we started to head back. Since the light was nice for the first time that day, and there was not much else around at that moment, we stopped for some photos of zebras and wildebeest; Deo pointing out that it was a good opportunity as there was nowhere that you could get closer to either without causing any disturbance than the Crater. And that is true (the pictures below are full frame and shot at around 300mm). Of course there was more to it than pictures too, as we could clearly see the bite scars on the stallions, and even smell the zebras if we so wished. My wife is a “smell it” person and thought they were not too stinky, although a bath wouldn’t hurt.

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My wife didn't go this far, of course.

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We weren't lucky with sightings on our slow drive back, so we got to Sopa before sunset. It was a pretty weak sunset for East Africa, so my wife had the pleasure of my full attention over sundowners rather than half, with one eye on the photo op. I did take a couple of pictures just in case, but it was perfunctory.

Since we were going to have breakfast before we left the next morning (“a fried egg day” as my wife calls them, affectionately) we had a few drinks after dinner. Next day would be a long drive, but taken at a very gentle pace and with lots to distract us… or so we assumed. We should probably have asked Deo about that, and just for good measure worked on common definition of “gentle” and “lots”….. be careful what you assume!

 

Coming soon....

Watch out! There are cougars about!

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Sangeeta

The hyena maestro is back :D

 

Lovely landscapes, beautiful zebra (they don't look at all stinky, in fact, quite the contrary) and a smell the wildie pic I could have done without!

 

So in retrospect, crater worth it or not worth it? Haven't been in my two visits to Tz and continue to teeter back and forth on that one?

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