2/12/15 – Today we landed in Tanzania; Kilimanjaro Airport. No jet way, just down the stairs to an open tarmac and into a building where Machas from ADS greeted us. The immigration line was long and hot. The anticipation of the next 10 days made it bearable.
We loaded our belongings and ourselves into a vehicle driven by Michael and drove about 50 min to Mt Meru resort. Machas remained with us. Stayed the night…room was nice; wood floors, open shower stall on a beautiful campus located up against Mount Meru.
Up before dawn, ate a buffet breakfast that included fresh fruit, omelet bar, muffins, bacon and sausage. Drove to Arusha airport, went through “security” and boarded a small plane (air Excel) and flew to Kogatende airstrip (North Tanzania, on our approach we made a sharp turn directly over the Mara River…you could see crocs in the river), picked up a European couple, and saw an elephant on our landing. Took off and flew about 25 min back south to the central part of the Serengeti and landed at Seronera airstrip… Both runways were short and gravel.
Upon our arrival we met our driver/guide Pokea “Poquer”. Pokea is short for Elipokea and he is from the Meru Tribe. Our safari began within minutes. We left the airport grounds and ran into a convoy of safari vehicles watching a pride of lionesses and several different age cubs devouring a zebra.
We moved right down the road to watch a herd of elephants, to include a ginormous male, and many young still nursing at times.
Our drive continued towards a neat picnic area at the top of a hill overlooking a corridor where the animal migration takes place during two other times of the year. Lunch consisted of a variety of foods in a box (pb&j, quiche, boiled egg, an item that resembled a meatloaf/pizza, apple, pound cake, nestle kit kat, pineapple juice box). The picnic area also had a small trailer selling snacks and cigarettes and a restroom with an attendant.
After lunch we left the hill and on the way down we spotted a leopard in the crotch of a yellow barked acacia tree. Later a troop of vervet monkeys entertained the five of us playing on the ground while others ate flowers at the top of an acacia tree.
Other animals we saw on today’s drive included wildebeest (met a herd outside our camp as we arrived), topi, hartebeest, reedbuck, Grant gazelle, Thomson gazelle, impala, dik dik, hippos, Maasai giraffe (our welcome committee at our camp as well as many others throughout the day), buffalo, warthog, zebra.
Birds were a plenty (too many to list), the largest being an ostrich; several crossed our path a couple of times today. We witnessed an Egyptian goose couple with a hand full of chicks. Red-billed oxpeckers rode on the giraffes to rid them of bugs/mites. A few others we were able to get photos of include: kori bustard, secretary bird, marabou stork, crown crane, Guinea fowl, heron, lilac breasted roller, superb starling, black wing stilt (orange legs), white belly bustard.
Trees rounded out the landscape. Several species of acacia trees provide shade and food for many of the Serengeti animals (umbrella thorn, yellow barked). Speaking of food, on our way to the picnic area we shot photos of a sausage tree.
We arrived at Seronera Sametu Camp around 6pm. Seronera Sametu Camp is located in the east central Serengeti (Serengeti originates from the Maasai word ’Siringit’, meaning ‘endless plains’). Upon our arrival we requested shower water (hot water is placed in a bucket rigged to push water into an en-suite shower).
Dinner was served at 7, which consisted of pumpkin soup, pan-fried fish, rice, a cucumber salad, mixed vegetables (cauliflower, carrot, green bean), and a roll. For desert Jonas (JJ) surprised the four of us with cakes wishing us Happy Anniversary.
After dinner we retreated to our tents to find the “windows” closed and warm water bottles heating our mosquito netted turned down bed.
Early to rise (5am wake up), breakfast at camp…scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, porridge, toast, pancakes (reminded me of a fat crepe), and a variety of fresh fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, watermelon), juice, tea and coffee.
We set out at 6am sharp. The drive started in the dark and off the beaten path. We came across a few hyenas and a couple of bat-eared fox. The sun granted us with its presence about an hour into the drive. The sunrise provided a backdrop for one of the most exciting activities of the morning trek; we witnessed a Hyena (a second one was present but pretty much watched) run down a young Thomson gazelle. The hyena chased the little guy out and back making the kill about 100 yards from our vehicle. As it ate we drove up closer and not only visualized the meal but also heard it.
Gazelles speckled the landscape as far as we could see. Pokea refers to the gazelle as cheetah food. Sure enough, next we came across a mother cheetah and her older cub. Hoping to see a chase we stayed with the pair for a bit. We did get teased when the younger took off after a rabbit; but he/she gave up rather quickly.
Next up was a long, pretty, quiet drive. Pokea had received word of a pair of male lions near our location and with some determination and a U-turn we came upon two male and two female lions resting in the shade of a tree. As part of the same pride, about a quarter of a mile up the road in a make shift den of tree limbs and shrubs, we found a lioness and her three, approx. two month old, cubs. At one point a cub wandered a yard or two out of the den towards our vehicle and the mother made a short, quick grunt and the cub responded immediately by retreating, right back to her side. After nursing the mother and three cubs took a nap.
As lunchtime approached we headed back in the direction of Seronera Sametu Camp. It must have been just past lion lunchtime because we drove up on a male lion resting next to a “skinned” warthog. Two vultures were in close proximity pecking away at scraps.
Further down the road we witnessed three species of vultures (white-back, ruppells griffon and the lappet-faced) finishing off a kill, as we watched a black-backed jackal hurried across the road and jumped right in to the feeding frenzy.
Almost back to camp and getting pretty hungry we spot a newborn Thomson gazelle and become pretty intrigued by how well camouflaged a newborn is once the mother stopped hovering over it. It took us a bit to locate the baby Tommie even in the pretty low vegetation.
Lunch consisted of spaghetti, veggies, and fresh fruit cocktail. After lunch our group spent the next several hours scoping out our camp’s surroundings. Wildebeest, hartebeest, zebra, warthogs, buffalo, elephant and topi grazed the hillside across the valley from our tent.
Kopjes: means little head. Kopjes are rock outcrops. These rock outcrops of the Serengeti are one of the Park’s most delightful habitats. The most visible ones stand out like islands on the plains. They host a variety of vegetation and wildlife.
At 4pm we returned to our vehicle and drove towards the Maasai Kopjes where we were met by a handful of giraffes grazing on small acacia trees. From there we traveled with a plan to explore the Sametu Marsh Kopjes when another driver alerted Pokea of a leopard with a kill high in a nearby umbrella thorn acacia tree. Upon our arrival the leopard moved/leaped higher in the tree leaving two kills lower and viewable by our cameras; we didn’t stay long as it appeared the leopard might be a bit skittish and disturbed by our presence.
Continuing onto the Sametu Marsh Kopjes, thankful we stayed the course, landed us a lengthy visit with about a dozen elephants. We were able to watch them eat, play, nurse, relieve themselves before they sauntered off the kopjes out onto the plains.
Before leaving camp for our afternoon excursion Tami arranged for a group photo in our vehicle and then asked Pokea if he’d assist with setting up a great sunset photo shoot upon our return “home”. Wow, Pokea met Tami’s challenge with a bit of off-roading and good timing; successful photo opportunity of the sunset. As we approached camp we spotted a hyena running through tall grass with a kill.
Shortly after our return to camp just long enough to shower dinner was served, comprised of lentil soup, grilled pork chop, potatoes, mixed veggies (hot and cold) and desert (passion fruit cheesecake).
During dinner the camp staff prepares your tent for sleep by closing the “windows”, dropping mosquito netting and placing warm water bladders into our turned down bed.
Wake up was at 5, breakfast 5:30 (great selection to include Spanish omelets). We were on the road at 6:10. The first animal we came upon, a civet, scurried off too quickly for a photo. A newborn wildebeest tracked us down to see if we were his mother or maybe asking directions. He ran toward a herd of wildebeest angling away from hyenas we spotted nearby. A few jackals crossed our path on our way to see “Steve”, the leopard, in his tree. Next we watched two cheetahs playing around a tree and on and off the road.
Pokea decided we’d eat lunch at Ngon Rock so we took in the scenery and animals on our way. We saw giraffe, dik dik, and elephants (spent a lengthy visit with the elephants). A large male showed us how he could extend his reach by kneeling on one knee.
During our drive Pokea stopped because a handful of guinea fowl were agitated and angry. We spotted the source of their anxiety, a serval creeping up to them. A martial eagle perched atop a tree looking over his territory allowed us a photo op. Next we saw our first baboons, speckling the top of an acacia tree shoveling flowers one at a time into their mouths. We slowly approached a male lion resting in the grass; Pokea was able to get close enough that we were able to smell his breath…not good.
Our drive took us past a kopje with a set of Maasai Paintings and a cave where ten warriors lived up until about 100 years ago. We enjoyed a box lunch at Ngon Rock (a conference area for Maasai Warrior Chief). A large orange slice shaped rock and a small stone hit together provided the Chief a bell to summons his people. After eating we drove approx. a quarter mile up the road and found 3 female and a very young male lion resting on the rocks. Up a bit further we past a second set of lions resting on rocks.
Pokea educated us to impala behaviors as we approached a large herd of impalas; one male gets to be patriarch of ALL of the females while all other mature males form a bachelor herd. We arrived to our final destination, Retima Hippo Pool; in a downpour…brief visit but entertaining.
We refueled and used the facilities at the Park’s Visitor Center. The grounds are home to many hyraxes. Heading back to camp Pokea spotted another leopard about 150 yards out lounging in a sausage tree; to be sure Steve wasn’t jealous we checked on him as well on our way back to camp.
Dinner was leek soup, steak, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies and a roll, and banana custard for desert. We ate with Fran, Mark and Wilfred, the only other residents.
Packed up and said goodbye to Seronera Sametu Camp staff after eating a made to order breakfast. We passed by Steve’s tree to wish him well. He was still there along with his two day old kills. Took a few photos of a pretty new zebra before we met up with a herd of elephants two of which were in a “heated discussion”; obtained footage of their water break and their return to action.
The start of rainy season, February, is a time for many births in the Serengeti. Today we drove by a mother and newborn giraffe (still had umbilical cord) and hartebeest and their babies. Another newborn wildebeest approached our vehicle looking for its mother. The wildebeest calf “talked” to Pokea for a bit before we drove off leaving it to find its mother.
Two young male lions made it difficult for us to get to the Sometu Kopjes because they were lounging in the middle of the “road”. Pokea wanted to have lunch upon arriving to the Sometu Kopjes but every kopje had either lions or hyenas occupying our planned rest stop. By the fifth formation and tons of photos of lions, hyenas (mating pair), jackals, agama lizards (male, two colored orange/red and blue) we couldn’t wait any longer. With hyenas on one side we drove to the other and had a “standing” picnic lunch.
After lunch we continued our journey towards the Ndutu area of the park passing a kopje with an owl in the crack; the “Devil Tree” which accommodated a large lappet-faced vulture nest; and a herd of Thomson gazelle (two of which were clashing). Warthogs grazing and marabou storks kept us entertained on the way to Ndutu Lake to watch the flamingos feed. The water in Ndutu Lake is alkaline and very salty providing less pink food for the flamingos, hence their white color. We did see one spread its wings and saw a brilliant pink under layer.
It rained the last bit of today’s trip; our approach to our new home for the next three nights – Camp Masek. Camp Masek sits high, elevation: 5070 ft., overlooking Lake Masek. This was our first chance for Wi-Fi (slow but a nice perk). Camp Masek is eco-friendly. All power is supplied by solar electricity. Rainwater is harvested and collected for use. Ndutu Lake Woodlands reside in the southern plains of the Serengeti. Camp Masek employs several Maasai Warriors to guard and escort safari guests around campus. Hippos and buffalo are known to roam the grounds at night.
We arrived and were warmly greeted with a snack and a short briefing about our stay and introduction to our tent in preparation for dinner. Our group joined Mark, Fran and Wilfred (their driver/guide) in the large lodge for dinner. We enjoyed a buffet dinner with an open bar. Franreynolds@comcast.net
First night proved to be adrenaline filled; shower time in particular (outside shower). We heard several lion growls/roars and hippo yells as we showered and prepared for sleep. While at dinner our tent was prepared by an attendant for sleep…mosquito netting and window closures. No warm water bladders.
Wake up call at 5:30; got a late start this morning because we were busy chatting with Mark and Fran at the lodge. We left for our drive shortly before 7. Stopped to watch the flamingoes at Ndutu Lake on our way to the migration. Prior to reaching our destination we came upon a cheetah just passing through. We saw more lions today, three females, two of which were resting and one was grazing on grass to aid her upset stomach.
Just off the road we spotted a mother hyena and three 6-7 month old pups laying on their den, eventually two wandered off and we left to move on to our next amazing sight…millions of zebras and wildebeest migrating to the rain. As far as we could see in all directions and for several kilometers of driving zebras and wildebeest speckled the horizon. At times it seemed like every third wildebeest was a newborn, many young zebras as well. Pokea told the group that 30-35% of the wildebeest die each migration due to three reasons: natural causes, predators, water. During the drive we spotted several hyenas and a jackal or two, none of which were interested in feeding. Elands (Serengeti’s largest antelope), gazelles, impalas and lots of birds rounded out our morning drive.
As we drove you could look down on the ground and watch balls of dung being rolled by dung beetles. While stopped to video this crazy creature in action a newborn wildebeest, still wet from birth, wandered up to us calling out for its mother. It attached itself to our vehicle. Pokea lead it by driving towards a herd of wildebeest to encourage it to find an adoptive mother. Speaking of wildebeest we had the pleasure of watching about two-dozen or so vultures “pick apart” a dead wildebeest on our way back to camp for lunch. The couple hour break was nice as Camp Masek is on a hill with steep and rocky terrain that makes for bumpy rides in out of camp each drive.
After lunch we drove to the Large Marsh, an area known to host lion and cheetah breeding. No such luck for our group, all was quiet in the marsh. On our way there we were lucky enough to catch a mother Cheetah and her two cubs (approx. 4 mos.) lounging in the short grass just outside of the migration area. Also on our way we came across a grounded tawny eagle that had caught herself a stork. Many of the usual animals showed up on our drive home: zebras, giraffes, elephants, and impalas.
We arrived back to camp around 6:30 (Conservation area as well as Serengeti National Park close at 6pm). Cleaned up for a 7:30 dinner. Mark, Fran, and Wilfred, their driver/guide joined us for a three-course buffet with open bar, could easily get use to this.
Early breakfast again today, left by 645. Pokea took us by a temporary Maasai camp. A small clearing with a few mud and stick huts as well as a makeshift pen to put their cattle at night. Dogs protect the cattle from predators during the night.
We drove towards the migration at sun up to maximize the chance of a “hunt”. Not to disappoint the cheetahs blessed us with their presence. I think we saw a total of 5 but it was hard to keep count. We witnessed one attempt to chase down a gazelle, a second ran far in the distance after what we think was a gazelle as well. We followed several more as they strolled through the migration. As we searched for more action we noticed a group of safari vehicles and drove by to catch a glimpse of a cheetah that had a kill (baby wildebeest).
We departed just as she started to eat to allow her space and privacy. We saw more hyenas today…a group of seven at one home range (a den with several openings to accommodate a pack of females with their cubs). 2 female lions sleeping, neither moved even when we drove up to check them out.
Birds captured our attention today as well. We briefly saw an African Grass Owl (flew off before photo); a Verreaux owl; an adolescent Bateleur Eagle as well as a male Kori Bustard (largest flying bird in Africa) with a swollen neck, hoping to attract a female partner. We found several small birds (love birds) bathing in a puddle.
A mid size leopard turtle missing his left front foot scooted across the road in front of us. Just one occasion Pokea’s amazing eyesight prevailed; they blend in to their surroundings quite well.
Back to camp for lunch, where we dined on amazing fried tilapia and beans/rice on the back deck overlooking Lake Masek. A nice restful afternoon and back out for a drive around Lake Masek. Met up with a few of the hippos who swam close to the shore; several of which we photographed out of the water at lunch from the lodge deck. A mother hippo and her very young calf relaxed just off shore, pretty far for a decent photo, though. Vervet monkeys showed up around the second bend of the lake where we searched for a leopard spotted earlier in the day by others, no luck. On the opposite side of the lake Pokea drove us into the wildebeest graveyard, bones and skulls with antlers piled on the lakeshore indicative of the risk animals take to cross water in search of grass and following the rains. We returned to camp to enjoy another 3-course meal before retiring to our tent, rested well until 430am when the roar of lions awoke us.
Slept in today and enjoyed a quiet breakfast in the lodge prior to packing all of our bags to leave Camp Masek. We picked out items from a smorgasbord of fixing’s for our lunch we planned to eat on our way to the Ngorogoro Mountains.
Each group must register and pay a fee to enter a National Park or Conservation area; groups sign in/out at the ranger post. Both entering and leaving the Ndutu area the Ranger was not at the post because he was registering arriving and departing guests at the airport; we found him there and signed out. Thinking we were finished seeing all the migration had to offer Pokea made a quick detour when he spotted the passage of zebras, wildebeest, and giraffes across Lake Ndutu. Quite an amazing image, it looked almost like a parade of marching bands.
The middle part of the day we spent driving towards the Ngorogoro Mountains on a “highway”. It was flat, rocky and vehicles drove very fast; it didn’t help that the wind blew hard today. Along the way we came upon a young couple and the vehicle they drove, apparently on a self guided tour and unprepared for the road conditions. They had wrecked, flipped a complete turn but were uninjured awaiting the police and a tow when we stopped to ask if they needed any assistance.
Maasai Village: paid $40 to hear and see the village. The Chief’s son met us at our vehicle, accepted our monetary offering and facilitated the dances. Men and women danced separately. After dancing we joined the tribe inside their meeting place (also used to corral their animals at night) to witness the tribe’s “jumping” ritual. We received a lecture about their culture during our tour of the village.
This village practices polygamy, not all do. Each husband’s wives had their own home. Each home has four rooms: wife/husband bedroom, children bedroom, a kitchen and a living room. They were made of sticks, bushes branches, cardboard and mud. Women have five jobs: build homes, child rearing, laundry, preparing food (consists of milk, blood and meat), and making crafts for the market. The village obtains blood from their cows without killing them. They tourniquet their neck, poke it with an arrow and drain out about a liter. Men have two jobs: protecting the village and shepherding the animals to and from water/grass to graze.
About 120 people live in this village, all one family. The grandfather rules the village while the grandmother acts as a midwife and assists the women with childbirth. As men of the village find women from other villages and marry they bring them to the man’s village, exchange animals (dowry: cows, goats, donkey and sheep). We joined the school-aged children in their schoolhouse. Ages 3-10 attend school in the village schoolhouse while the older children attend secondary school in Ngorogoro or Arusha (boarding school). The primary source of income is the village market: crafts made by the women and sold to the tourist to help pay for food, water, clothing and school supplies.
Returned to the road and made our way to Ngorogoro Crater. We passed several more villages and grazing animals with Maasai “shepherds”. The landscape was eye-catching but we were unable to stop for photos along this stretch. We even saw a handful of camel.
We arrived at the crater rim around 1:25 pm (elev. 6700 ft), signed in at the ranger station, used the facilities and proceeded down the steep and rocky one-way road into the west (Serena) side of the crater. This area is referred to as a crater but it is actually a caldera (the sunken or collapsed cone of a volcano). It is the largest inactive and unbroken caldera in the world. The crater is 100 square miles, ten miles across and speckled with animals. The animals had to wait while we ate lunch in the LeRai forest. A troop of baboons crossed our path as we approached the picnic site.
After lunch we drove the crater roads looking for action. The crater is a microcosm of the Serengeti: open grasslands, streams, lakes, forests, and hills, all of the habitats that allow many animals to live in such a small area. On our first day within a few hours of our arrival we spotted 2 rhinos, pretty far from the road but still able to be seen.
While cruising the crater roads Pokea introduced us to his favorite bird, the crown crane, they travel in pairs and mate for life. Lions lying in the bushes brought on a convoy of safari vehicles, we took a quick peek but didn’t stay long allowing others to get a glimpse.
We left the crater on the opposite side we entered, heading east (Sopa) we ascended the crater wall and found Lion’s Paw Tented Camp hidden within a misty forest of acacia trees and ferns. Lion’s Paw resembles Seronera Sametu Camp, small and private. Tonight we joined the other residents of the camp at a bon fire. We visited with Fran and Mark as well as Luxpe and M.P. (Ann Arbor, MI – from India); Heidi and Dan (San Francisco Bay Area); Julie and Bob (Big Island, HI). Julie and Heidi are sisters. We had dinner in the main lodge and said our good byes and good nights.
Up early, breakfast at 5:30 and we were on the road at 6:15. Checked in at the ranger station to obtain entry permits. Shot a few photos of the sunrise and misted crater wall on our descent into the crater. On our way to Ngoitokitok Springs, our destination, we filmed zebras playing, jackals sleeping, elephants grazing and spotted 5 Black Rhinos, two on one side of the road and three on the other.
After taking many photos of the rhinos we moved up the road a bit where we watched hippos play. Speaking of hippos or should I say hippos speaking – Ngoitokitok Springs home to many hippos; we heard lots of hippo “noise”. We were able to record their grunts and howls. Many safari vehicles enjoyed breakfast at the springs while we were able to utilize the facilities. Hyenas roamed just off the hills in close proximity to dining guests. Back to the drive…hyenas and lions, the hyenas were close to the road, female lions in the bushes and two beautiful male lions lying next to a tree.
The late morning proved to be a delight. First, we witnessed a newborn wildebeest (learning to stand/walk, nurse and hop around). The mother wildebeest remained quite still for most of the ten minutes we observed the two getting acquainted. Secondly, we watched black rhinos mate; almost certain this is not an activity one sees very often since there are only approx. 115 black rhinos left in the world.
We returned to Ngoitokitok Springs for lunch, wow many vehicles had the same program for today (although we were told that the safari business is not doing well and this is considered a low census for lunch). Pokea asked us to eat in the car and get out after we complete our meal because of a dangerous bird, the Kite, which will attack people to get their food. While eating, the view out of the car windows (our “flat screen”) provided several humorous short clips: First, two hippos chasing each other emerged from the spring and ran towards people enjoying the view. People scattered and one dude even climbed the tree. Secondly, a French safari customer dining out of his car next to us attempted “ninja” moves in defending his lunch…he was not successful. It took two kites to strip his sandwich from him. Our group had plenty of laughs during today’s lunch.
After lunch our main goal was to see a “baby” buffalo and to travel the Rumbe Hills (or the Ang’ata Kit translated Women’s belt in Swahili), which is where many buffalo roam because of the longer grass. This area is also home to the resident lion pride. On our way to the hills we found a wildebeest stuck and or possibly injured in a shallow water hole containing a half dozen or so hippos. We hung out for a bit because we spotted a hyena anticipating the wildebeests doomed outcome. At one point a hippo chased off the hyena but the hippos did not seem to mind the wildebeest in their space.
On the backside of the Hills, eastern section of the crater, we found a large herd of buffalo, males, females and their young. The quick ascent to camp was briefly hampered by two large groups of Maasai cattle herds and their young men shepherds. Early return to camp gave us plenty of time to relax and get to know camp staff, shower and plan for dinner. Edward served us fresh roasted cashews with drinks before dinner. Tonight was broccoli soup (cinnamon roll), beef, sautéed potatoes and green beans. For desert Edward presented us with a going away cake.
Wake up at 530; breakfast at 6 and said good-bye to Lion’s Paw and off to Lake Manyara. We drove the rim road for about a third of the way around the crater and then headed down through farm country and the town of Karatu. We arrived at Lake Manyara National Conservatory and waited in the car for Pokea to check in and obtain entry permits.
Last game drive of our trip introduced us to the blue monkey and the monitor lizard. We have already crossed paths with the other animals residing in this area: baboons (lots of baboons, this park is sometimes referred to as Baboon Park), vervet monkey, hippo, elephant, wildebeest, gazelle, buffalo, and warthog. The park’s trees and foliage made it difficult to find the resident lion pride or see a leopard but it diversified our safari experience and was worth the quick trip in and out. We enjoyed our last meal/box lunch in the bush at a nice picnic area just inside the park exit.
After lunch we returned to the road, black top, yay. Pokea received a call to inform us that Mt Meru Resort was too busy and our day room was changed to The African Tulip (not African Toilet). Nice place, dinner was ok, shower refreshing but we were ready to be home. Machas and Timon met us at the hotel and drove us to Kilimanjaro Airport, pulling over on the crazy highway so we could photograph Mt Kilimanjaro, which is usually difficult to see due to fog/smoke/clouds.
The airport stay went by surprisingly quick. Our KLM flight to Amsterdam was smooth, with a quick stop in Rwanda (Kigali airport). Trip home went well, no issues. Arrived in Denver on time to a good 6 to 10 inches of snow. Our wonderful neighbors had already shoveled our drives and sidewalks.
Wendy and John M.
Safari Dates: February 12, 2015 to February 21, 2015