A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12. Tanzania- Grummeti & Arrival at Lake Manyara

all seasons in one day 25 °C

This morning we went in search of crocodiles and hippos out of the water. We had seen a hippo yesterday morning but Dad had taken a morning off and so hadn’t seen him. We were successful on both accounts, although the hippo out of water photos are currently hiding from me so I’ll add those later. An unusual sighting that we saw most days at Grummeti was a Serval cat- a small, nocturnal cat the size of a small dog. Don spotted him the first time and Joseph the second. He was very skittish and we were incredibly lucky to see him. We followed him to a small patch of grass and you would have sworn that he somehow got away. Suddenly, he sprung up from somewhere in this foot high patch of grass and high tailed it into deeper cover. We saw giraffe everywhere here and below are just a few of the many photos. We got a great look at a family of mongoose- the slender mongoose I believe.

We said goodbye to the lovely staff and headed to the airstrip for our flight to Lake Manyara. Don got some great photos while at the airstrip- there are animals absolutely everywhere here!

We flew into what felt like a fairly large airport, Lake Manyara International Airport, and met our guide Emme. We knew the drive into Camp was long because you drive the entire length of the park, and so wanted to get going. We later realized that when Emme had been suggesting lunch before we headed down into the lowlands where the park is situated was probably to wait until the incoming storm had passed. We didn’t want to stop for lunch and were therefore, possibly avoidably, hit with a huge rain storm at the gate of the park. The open air vehicles are wonderful for game viewing, but as we learned at Klein’s not very good for keeping out the weather. We had lunch about half way into the park at a lookout and this allowed us a chance to dry out a bit, and for Don to get some more bird photos.

Manyara is again very different from the other camps and parks we had visited on this trip. It receives much more water and is in fact a huge water catchment area. It is a relatively narrow park, bordered on one side along its length by Lake Manyara, and the animals are therefore not bothered by vehicles because they come up against them often. On our drive in we saw many different types of monkeys, including baboons and the Green Vervet Monkey who has bright blue testicles. We also saw a regular 'old fashioned North American deer', or what looked like one, which we hadn't yet seen on this trip. We thought at first it was perhaps a female antelope but I think we've now settled on deer.
Later in the drive we passed close by to Lake Manyara and got a quick look at the flamingoes. We carried on a few minutes and then stopped in the road and had an elephant come right up to the side of the vehicle. You could have reached out and touched him. I don’t think I have ever been as close to elephants as we were in Manyara! I included one of the ‘throw away’ photos so you can see how close the elephants were, and in fact they got much, much closer than this..!

Lake Manyara Lodge is absolutely stunning. I have really enjoyed ending these safari trips at a lodge because you really appreciate their luxuries, especially after a few days of safari. We did the same in Botswana, ending at Xudum Lodge after starting at Nxabera lodge and then visiting two tented camps, and really enjoyed that trip order. Manyara lodge has old dugout canoes as decoration at various spots, a huge open two story lounge area, and a sandy area out front where they set up the dinner tables. The lodges are on stilts and built in and around large trees, hence the name Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. You could easily spend the day sitting on your balcony listening to the sounds of the forest and drinking coffee.
We didn’t do a night drive today, since we had spent most of the afternoon doing a game drive and were all ready for some down time. We met a couple that were on a self drive safari and were next headed to do a boat tour of the river Gambia. Unusual trip combination in my opinion, especially considering how far away Gambia is, and how much there is to see close to Tanzania and the surrounding counties. I guess I now always think Gambia is a strange trip destination because I feel Southern and Eastern Africa are so much more beautiful than Western Africa. But of course this is only my personal opinion.

Posted by Jmclellan 18:33 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 11. Tanzania- Grummeti

sunny 27 °C

Today we were paired with a Dutch couple- the only time on the entire trip we didn’t have the vehicle to ourselves- but they were very nice and easy to ride with. We told them all about all the baby cubs we had seen the day before and so headed back to the same spot, which was then empty. We trolled around for a while, working with the other vehicle by radio to find the lions. We managed to find a mother with three cubs (Joseph thought this was the mother who had 5 cubs the previous day so it is unclear what happened to the other two). We were told that typically only half of the cubs survive and die because they are caught by other predators such as hyena or leopards, or starve to death if the mother cannot find food. All of the lions in the group we had seen the night before were looking pretty skinny. The mom and cubs were walking across a huge open plain with grass about 8 or 10 inches high. This was obviously a long walk for the cubs and one kept falling behind. We would drive ahead and let the lions walk to us. They were not bothered at all by the vehicle and would walk within a metre or so of the front of the car. Later in the morning we saw one lone male lion, who looked absolutely grumpy and once we arrives, clearly not wanting visitors trotted into the thick brush. We also saw a family of bat eared fox and some spotted hyena lazing around. IMG_3529.jpgIMG_7830.jpgIMG_7833.jpgIMG_7844.jpgIMG_7854.jpgIMG_7865.jpg IMG_7065.jpgIMG_7625.jpgIMG_7638.jpgIMG_7701.jpgIMG_7704.jpg

In our afternoon drive we found what Joseph thought was a leopard or cheetah kill (an impala) that was then being finished off by a gaggle of birds, including several types of vultures and a few jackals. The Maribou stork was among the group and is as named a stork but it really looks like a vulture in a storks body. All storks, even the ones that deliver babies in lullabies, are closely related to vultures. Vultures typically have no feathers on their heads and necks so that they can plunge their head into rotting animal carcasses without getting flesh stuck in their feathers to rot and cause infection. Nice, I know. But life is life. There was a clear pecking order at the carcass. The jackals were clearly the kings but when they moved off the larger vultures would move in. There certainly was a lot of fighting over whose turn it was to eat!
We also saw some impala 'practice' fighting- they do this to learn how to fight so when they are lucky enough to have a herd of females to guard and mate with they can fight off challenging males. Interestingly, male impalas can only keep a haren for a short while because if I remember correctly they spend so much time mating, marking their territory and fending off other males they become weak quickly. I think Joseph mentioned that a month is about an average length of time to keep a harem. Young buffalo were also quite common- the babies would have been about 4 months old, having been born on the southern part of the migration path. IMG_7489.jpgIMG_7076.jpg

As the sun was setting we returned to our lion spot and saw two lions in the thick grass awaiting the zebra herd which was about 50m from the grass edge. The herd slowly moved closer, with one male out front checking that all was safe. He got spooked at one point- he was painfully close to where the lions were laying down in the grass, but then relaxed. The male zebra are quite big, over 300kg, and are not the ideal pick of the herd for the two female lions we were watching. Darkness settled in and it was time for us to return to camp. Although we didn’t see a chase I still enjoyed sitting in anticipation watching. Even though we had seen the lions move into the deep grass you wouldn’t have known they were there otherwise. I find I have mixed feelings, I want the lions to catch prey because I want them and their babies to have food to eat, and I want to see a kill, but I don’t want to zebra mother or young to be attacked by lions. Anyways, they were safe, at least while we were watching.

Posted by Jmclellan 18:02 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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.

On our way out of camp for our morning drive we spent some time looking at hippo tracks on the road and then later in the mud- they are absolutely huge. The hippos stay in the cool water in the day and then come out at night to feed. Their skin is apparently quite delicate and can burn easily. When the hippos use the toilet they spray their dung with their tail. The legend we heard to explain this is that the hippos asked their creator to let them spend time in the water. He was initially against this because he thought they would eat the fish. Thee hippos said they would excrete their dung into the water, thus assuring him that they would then not eat anything from the water. They would also yawn very big yawns so that he could see there were no fish in their mouth.
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 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 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 07:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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