A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10. Tanzania- Grummeti

sunny 26 °C

Just as was the case for Klein's for our first night we had the camp to ourselves. The camps only take maximum 20 people but they feel that much more special when the only people walking around this gorgeous place are the staff, guides, and your family.

Grummeti is quite different from the concession- it is more wide open and has animals everywhere. In the morning we revisited the hill where the cubs were supposedly hiding. We saw their mother but no sign of the cubs. On the open plains we saw huge herds of gnu (wildebeest) mixed in with zebra, large groups of impala and different types of gazelle. We saw fewer buffalo, of which we saw many at Klein’s. Each camp is both different and amazing. I wish I could visit all of them.
We then drove along the small creek looking in the undergrowth for lions and happened upon a mother with her five cubs. These were not the very young cubs from the hill but were none the less only about two months old. She was letting them play for short periods, but close to the bush. When they would get too far away you could hear her growl, calling them back. When they were all back inside the bush as the sun was heating up you would never have known there were six lions hiding out. You couldn’t see a thing from the outside. We got back around 10:30 or so and had a huge breakfast out by the hippo pool. They had amazing jam- passion fruit, ginger, mango…I was secretly eating it by the spoonful. We relaxed by the pool, did some napping, ate again, and then were off for the afternoon drive.
We revisited the spot where we had seen the cubs, which was now populated by 4 mature females, 2 young males with scruffy manes, and three sets of cubs of different ages. The five we had seen that morning were the youngest and they were busy trying to climb a nearby tree, with little success. There was a set of three and four month old cubs who looked enormous compared to the little ones. We spent most of our afternoon sitting and watching. I could have stayed there all night but eventually it was time to put the babies to bed. Amazing day.

Posted by Jmclellan 07.04.2014 20:54 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 9. Tanzania- Klein's & Arrival at Grummeti Camp

sunny 25 °C

Today we had decided to do a walking safari- a short one since we had a flight to catch mid morning and and hour drive to the airstrip. Mom, Don and I walked up to the hill crest behind the camps where you could see on one side the concession and on the other the vast Serengeti extending for what seemed like forever. Patita found a foot long porcupine quill on the way up that I had meant to keep but lost along the way. We were nearing the crest of the hill as the sun was peeking over the eastern hills. The walking safari is a totally different experience than being in the vehicle. You feel much more exposed when on foot and that elephant that you thought was a bit far away while riding in the vehicle is more than close enough while walking. Patita had said to stay close and would walk for a minute or two then stop and listen. It became quite clear I was not in the best shape of my life as I was completely out of breath and relishing the stops to secretly catch my breath. We changed direction part way up the hill because there was a herd of elephants that weren't moving out of the way enough for us to pass. Once we summited (it was a hill and not Kilimanjaro but the I think the term still applies!) Patita quickly pointed out a bachelor herd of buffalo who no sooner than I had spotted them were scampering (if buffalo can scamper) away. Patita said they smelt us immediately and got out of dodge (not quite his words). We watched the herd of elephants who had by this time also summited the hill and were moving down the other side. Staying close is the first rule of walking safari. Don't run is the second. As we were enjoying the view we were told of stories of previous guests who had accidentally startled a buffalo and as Patita raised his gun in protection he realized all of the clients were running in opposite directions. When asked later they said they were so frightened and panicked- running away seemed like the best option even though they knew they weren’t supposed to! I guess even if you tell yourself you will be safer behind the guide with the gun (which is true) running away is the most instinctive option. Our walking safari ended without any such drama but we did get to see a family of warthogs before our descent.
We quickly had breakfast (you are never really hungry because there is always such great food around and you eat it anyways because it is so, so delicious!), said good bye to the camp staff and headed out to the airstrip at a quick pace since we were behind schedule. We still, however, had time to investigate a dainty and very fresh female impala carcass hanging in a tree 20m off the road but didn't see any leopard in sight. As far as I know leopards are the only large animals that pull their prey into trees for safe keeping for snacking at a later time. (I have so many photos of prey from these kinds of trips- I need to remember to remove them from my screensaver photo album because having them pop up at work raises eyebrows. I keep them because they really remind me of what it was like out there in general and on a particular day. Hunting is a part of life for wild animals and it is honestly exciting to see killed prey because it means predators are nearby..).
The flights between camps are enjoyable as long as you don't have trouble with motion sickness. I don't usually but with these small planes I and other members on our trip were having minor issues. They are great because you get to see the land from another vantage point and can usually see animals, although from a distance, the entire time. When I first went to Botswana with Don's parents I couldn't see a single animal they were pointing out- you just don't know what to look for. Once, however, you see your first few you start seeing them everywhere. I had to keep reminding myself that I didn't need to point out every single animal I saw from the plane to others because they could probably already them.

The first thing you notice about Grummeti and I’d say one of the main attractions is that the camp is on the banks of a hippo pool. The air is filled with hippo grunting noises and chatter- it is so unique that it is difficult to describe without playing an audio clip. My first thought while relaxing at Grummeti was that it was as if you were on safari all day because there are a lot of animals around at all times. I would guess there were always at least 100 hippos in the area directly surrounding the camp and another 50 further up the pool and 50 further down the pool.
After a late lunch we headed out for our first Grummeti game drive. Although both camps are either in or on the border of the Serengeti they feel quite different. The concession is bounded by hills so you never feel disoriented- you can always landmark. I kept getting turned around in the Grummeti region because it is so flat. One other really nice thing about this part of the Serengeti is it is not as busy as other park regions- this means you never see other vehicles and you don't need to stick to the roads. Typically within the National Parks the safari vehicles must stay on the roads meaning you can't drive right up to the animals and often they are quite far away. I know this is enforced quite strictly in the Ngorongoro crater, where there are also quite a few vehicles.
Our guide, Joseph, who ended up being one of my favorite guides of this trip and the Botswana trip, took us to a rocky hill top where he had recently seen one month old lion cubs. We spotted two female lions but when we discussed it later I think it was more likely that they thought we were fools that they were leading away from the cubs rather than us discovering from them where the cubs were hiding. We were, however, in for a real treat lion cub wise the next day....

Posted by Jmclellan 05.04.2014 06:53 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 8. Tanzania- Klein's and drive to the Maasai Mara River

all seasons in one day 22 °C

Walking down to breakfast Don spotted a baby impala and her mother grazing a meter off the path. The baby seemed a bit startled but the mother was too busy eating to bother with us. We watched the pair throughout most of breakfast. It was a reminder of just how immersed you are in nature and the animals. There is no fence around the camp and the animals can roam in out and as they choose.
Today we opted for the full day drive out to the Maasai Mara river. We travelled into the Serengeti National Park on a 3 hr drive, that is, a 3hr drive if you don't stop! We didn't see much at first but then got into zebra country. It was exciting- Dad asked Patita to stop at the sort of up close zebra and we quickly realized afterwards that they were absolutely everywhere. We passed one other vehicle during the day and they reported spotting a leopard in a little oasis nearby. I’ve never strained so hard to see anything as on these drives. We didn’t get to see the leopard today but by now ‘seeing a leopard’ was on everyone’s radar. When we arrived at the river there was a rush of movement as the hippos stampeded into the water from their sunny sand bar resting area. There were I'd say approximately 100 hippos, all moving around, cavorting, yawning and making hippo noises. I'd never before seen so much hippo activity. And they were all watching us intently. That was quite different from Botswana where they just slept as you went by. We also saw some big crocs in amongst the hippos. Apparently they don't bother much with each other because of their mutual size. As I mentioned in the last post the Mara river is the river where you see the great migration videos with the wildebeast crossing and the crocs snapping them up. Patita said that during the migration the land looks black because there are so many animals.
We then headed further along the river to watch a herd of elephants with a very young baby- the guides thought about 2 months old. She was so little! She kept lying down, I guess because she was tired. We then watched them cross the river (and play around in and with the water as they did so). In some of the photos you can see just how tiny the baby is compared to the adults. She was almost completely underwater at some points during the crossing. Two of the young males looked like they were having a bit of a tiff (trunks intertwined, photo below). At this time of year the river is quite shallow- I’d guess it was two feet deep in the deepest part. After spending about 45 minutes with the elephants we moved off to a spot where there were no animals immediately in the vicinity- this actually took some work because there seemed to be elephants everywhere. Lunch was served under the shade of a nearby tree, and just as it felt special at breakfast the day before, when you are able to get out of the vehicle you really get a heightened sense of where you are and that excited feeling of being there comes back in full force.
The drive back to camp was the really exciting part of this trip and when we got our first full dose of lions and cubs. We first spotted three females off on their own and as we pulled up it began to rain, and then pour. We hung around for a while but the lions were clearly focused on hiding under the brush to get out of the rain.
The other &Beyond truck alerted us to a lion pride feeding on a buffalo carcass nearby. The pride as we saw it consisted of two large males, a handful of mature females, two young males with tufts of hair coming in for their manes, and two litters of cubs, totalling I’d say 8 or 10. We sat there, in the rain, enjoying every moment. Don pointed out that one of the cubs was actually inside the belly of the carcass, eating his share from the inside (photo below). As we watched you could see that the lions were feeding in groups, in a hierarchical order. The big males were lying on the grass nearby with bulging bellies, then the older females came in, followed by the young males. The cubs were mostly just cavorting around in the muddy water and occasionally making an effort to take a bite. I’d guess the cubs were about 2 and 3 months old. These were, compared to cubs we saw later in the trip, very, very shy. Finally, as the realization set in that we were all soaked we decided to continue on our still several hour drive back to camp.
Another tip came in from the other vehicle shortly after- a Rhino spotted in the distance. We had been told that out by the river was our best chance of seeing a rhino and so I couldn’t believe our luck. Well, I’ve posted wheat we’ve come to term proof of existence photos- these show that yes you did in fact see an animal but really what you hope is that they’ll hold a spot in your photo album until you get the chance to upgrade it to something a little closer. Again I have no idea how the tracker spotted them- even when the guide was telling me exactly where to look I couldn’t see them. We were quite far away and impeded by getting closer by a river. I did eventually see them with the binoculars, which I highly recommend on these trips if you are not constantly taking pictures (Don had a big 400 fixed lens, and Dad a 21x zoom camera, which both effectively act as binoculars). I did in fact just buy a pair of binocs for the upcoming Namibia/Zambia trip, which starts in under two weeks (yes- I am a bit behind on these posts). As we were looking for the rhino we saw another female lion off on her own. She blends in so well with her surroundings you could easily miss her. As we drove we moved ahead of the storm and this allowed us to get great photos of the weather and the landscape. What a beautiful place!
We passed two broken down vehicles near the park gate exit- a group of four vehicles on a self guided driving tour had two vehicles break down. And of course it was nearing dark. We saw this group at the ranger station trying to sort out what to do- you aren’t near anything at all in these parks. I couldn’t help but think that I was so glad we weren’t in their situation.. While our guides spoke with the rangers, I am guessing about how to take care of these people, we wandered around the entrance. Don got some great photos of the red and blue lizards that were absolutely everywhere. The photos below are of one such lizard sunning himself on an elephant skull. We arrived back at camp around 6 and then it was on to drinks and dinner, after, of course long, hot showers to work the chill out of our bones.

Posted by Jmclellan 04.04.2014 07:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 7. Tanzania- Klein's Camp Northern Serengeti

sunny 27 °C

I woke up terribly excited. We were treated with fresh coffee and biscuits delivered to our cabin, which does help you get yourself organized for the morning drive. We saw al sorts of animals- tons of buffalo, impala, dikdiks, giraffe, hyenas, and the list goes on. We also saw a whole variety of birds (one of Don’s favourite)- ostrich, secretary birds (so called because they look like they are wearing a white shirt, black bottoms, and black leggings), Ground Hornbills (black feather, red beak), Love Birds, eagles... I really enjoyed the dik diks- they are a small antelope that stand 14-16 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 10-12 lbs. They are named for the female’s warning call. They are so small that when the grass grows too high, obscuring their view, they move onto other habitats with their preferred low grass but with lots of ground cover. One photo below shows a baby hiding in a bush. Dik diks have a gestation period of 6 months (compare that to 22 months for elephants), and are monogamous so you most often see them in pairs.
Once it had warmed up and the animals were no longer out and about Patita and Franco cooked us breakfast on the hillside overlooking the concession. Incredible to sit with your family, sip coffee and look at the landscape. After napping for the afternoon we headed out in search of the leopard that was in the area. He had been up and around the main camp buildings the night before and heard over by the guest washroom- so I was rushing a tad when using the washroom during dinner. You need to be escorted around the camp at night by one of the staff, which means you also get an escort to the toilet…
This search for the leopard, although entertaining, did not result in a sighting. Late into the drive Patita asked us if we could smell the fire- he said the Maasai were having a ceremony and did we want to watch? We weren't terribly interested, for the same reasons we didn't want to see the local Maasai village, which was that these experiences never feel authentic. I’m not certain a group of comparatively rich white people can walk into a village and truly meet the people in this way, especially when the village often greets tourists. There is usually a fee for visiting and you are expected to buy items while you are there. In any case we declined but he said we were close, so we should just go take a peek. Well, it turned out to be a campfire, mini bar, and chairs set out for us to sit and enjoy the sunset. Very sweet of them.
I had the chance to talk to Daniel, the finance guy for the Camp, about life (and slightly more health related topics) in Tanzania. He didn’t seem to mind my many, many questions about the local healthcare system, where people are most likely to seek health care etc. He did mention that 75% of women give birth at home and use traditional healers, which I think is fairly typical for many African countries. He was also the first to tell me about the local health clinics that &Beyond had built in local communities near their various camps. This is one side of &Beyond that I think they should do a better job of telling people about. I really feel this sets &Beyond apart from some of the other high end tour companies. After our campfire we headed home for a lovely dinner. I got into the port- which just seemed fitting in an old hunting lodge. Plus there were three varieties (in crystal goblets) and you shouldn’t try just one of them.

Posted by Jmclellan 03.04.2014 06:44 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 6. Tanzania- Arrival at Klein's Private Concession

sunny 26 °C

Once our trip with &Beyond started we were on small planes with local carriers. We flew over Lake Victoria, the biggest African lake and our Tanzanian border entry point was Mwanza, where we purchased our Visas on arrival. I should have mentioned that for Rwanda we applied for our Visas online ahead of time (24hr turn around) and then paid for them on arrival in Kigali. One thing I noticed while we were waiting for our baggage to clear customs in Mwanza was the fairly substantial array of Tanzanian brewed beer. We re-boarded our plane, made a quick stop in Grummeti (our second camp) to drop off passengers and then continued on another 20 minutes to touch down in the Northern Serengeti. We were met by our gruide, Patita, and after coffee and a mid morning snack we started the 1 hr drive (really 1.5 hrs because you are constantly stopping to look at animals) to Klein’s Private Concession, which is on the Eastern border of the Serengeti, very close to the Kenyan border and the section of the Maasai Mara river enclosed by the Serengeti park in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Tanzania. It is at this section of river where all the National Geographic crews go to film the great migration river crossing- but more on that later.

Klein's has been a private concession for a very long time- before owned by &Beyond it was a private hunting concession and the main building overlooking the concession is the original building put in by Klein's previous owners. The camp buildings are all round with stone floors and thatched roofs and are set along the hill side and so all look down into the open plains below. The land is leased both from the local Maasai and the government, both of whom claim ownership and &Beyond pays rental fees to both parties. Since eating is a major activity with &Beyond trips we were soon at lunch in the dining area looking out a huge open window and looking for animals. It is so exciting to be at these camps because the animals you get to see are so incredible. For me a lot of the excitement is the anticipation of going on the drives, and then once on the drive the anticipation of seeing the animals. We were the only guests for this first day, which felt very special.

Our afternoon/night drive was awesome. We saw two young, very thin and scraggly male lions (I have no idea how our tracker, Franco, spotted them). One was limping and they didn't seem in the mood for a visit.... The highlight, however, was that we saw our first (and only) cheetah on top of an old termite mound snoozing after a big meal. He hissed at us because we were in his opinion too close. We happened upon him just before the sun set and had time to snap a few photos. Although he had a very fat belly he was so elegant when he walked. I also want to describe him as slinky.

Posted by Jmclellan 01.04.2014 18:04 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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