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Trip Report Very late trip report Pt. 1 - East Africa Sept. 2005

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This is a very late trip report as I visited Africa for 8 weeks in September-November 2005. This trip was comprised of a number of itineraries, some group and some solo. I’ve done my best drawing on my notes, photos and memory to recall this wonderful 2 months and hope that the birds and animals are correctly identified. The photos were taken with a new (at the time) Panasonic FZ5.

My itinerary was:

Drifters Kruger Park (5 days)
Kenya (Samburu, Nakuru, Masai Mara) (7 days with Nature Expeditions)
Tanzania – Northern Circuit (7 days with Good Earth)
South Africa – Swaziland (9 days with Vuka Africa)
Namibia (18 days with Trans Frontier Expeditions)
Okonjima Lodge (2 nights)

This was my second trip to Africa – in 2004 I went to South Africa and did a 10 days accommodated Drifters tour along the Garden Route from Cape Town to Johannesburg and a 14 day mobile camping trip with Wilderness Dawning in the Okavango Delta. Of course this was the beginning of an addiction and I’m currently planning my 3rd safari.

I booked frequent flyer seats and flew return Hobart-Melbourne-Perth-Johannesburg with Qantas and South African Airlines. Given that it takes so long to get to Africa I wanted to stay for a good length of time, about two months seemed OK. Once I had booked the air ticket I had great fun filling up the 8 weeks that I would be away. I had only just discovered this forum and decided to book some of the safari with in-country operators and some as scheduled group trips. Consequently, I booked 2 safaris with Good Earth and 3 group departures with my local travel agent. Following the success of this trip, my 3rd safari looks like being booked totally with in-country operators or their agents. It will be a bit easier in 2008 as I will have travelling companions for some of the time and the solo traveller woes won’t kick in until half way through.

Kruger Park with Drifters

I wanted to visit Kruger National Park and this trip was accommodated and suited the dates that I had available. I stayed at Drifters Johannesburg Inn both before and after the safari and also purchased airport transfers from them – this is a good service as Judah, their driver, comes into the terminal to collect passengers. The Drifters Inn is basic, yet very friendly and they sometimes accept bookings from travellers not joining a Drifters tour if they have rooms available.

I’m pleased this trip was only 5 days as there were 17 in the group which was mostly German and Australian in composition, and we had two leaders, one of whom was a trainee. Our first stop was Pilgrim’s Rest followed by Bourke’s Luck Potholes. The first two nights were spent on the Drifters Balule concession in rustic yet adequate rooms with ensuite bathrooms and a view over the park and a floodlit waterhole. There wasn’t a lot of game here, but we did get to do a guided walk and saw some small game, in addition to elephant and a baboon spider. The trackers talked to us about plants, explained animal tracks and showed us a rhino midden. We did a night drive here and saw rhino, buffalo and bush babies.
Next stop was Drifters Hazyview Inn which was a very comfortable property, although the rooms weren’t ensuite. The grounds were extensive with many native South African plants and trees and a bird hide built over a dam. Some of the land on the Inn’s boundary was being used as a citrus grove. The Sabie River runs through the property and provides a pleasant place to while away the afternoon. The last night was spent at Pretorius Camp in Kruger. We saw rhino, lions, giraffe, an unidentified nesting eagle in addition to steenboks, impala and buffalo. I couldn’t get used to seeing wildlife on the blacktop after my previous experience in Botswana – it doesn’t seem like a ‘true’ game viewing experience somehow. Left Kruger and returned to Johannesburg, from where I flew to Nairobi the next day. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/SouthAfrica2005Drifters


Kenya

I flew Kenya Airlines arriving around 2 pm and spent one day in Nairobi staying at the Nairobi Safari Club. I hired Jimmy (a Fairview Hotel based driver) and visited the Sheldrick Animal Orphanage, Denys Finch Hatton’s grave, Karen Blixen’s House, Kazuri beads and the Giraffe Centre. The Sheldrick Orphanage was wonderful and I went a bit mad with the camera! The drive out to Finch Hattons grave took quite a long time through the Ngong Hills which was very pleasant and we had to collect a KWS ranger on the way. The grave area is now fenced and there was a slight problem in finding someone to open the gate which they did after I handed over 700 KS. Enjoyed the tour around Karen Blixen’s house and the visit to Kazuri beads where I bought a necklace of pottery birds that has been greatly admired since I returned home. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Nairobi2005 and http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/SheldrickOrphanage

Set off the next morning to Samburu for a 2 night stay – what a long trek! Chris, my guide was pleasant and chatty, and I believe, inexperienced. He relied a lot on the radio, yet we saw the sights and animals that I expected. He wasn’t great on bird identification and fessed up to this early on. The really good thing about this tip was that I was the only passenger which suited me just fine. I enjoyed the drive up to Nanyuki and was fortunate to get a good, yet hazy view of Mt Kenya. Stayed at the Samburu Game Lodge where I requested a change of room. I suspect that as a single traveller I was given a horrible ‘back room’ and was eventually moved to an upstairs room with river views. I did a guided bird walk one morning and saw so many birds I wish now I had been keeping a list. Samburu game was fantastic, spent quite a bit of time with a young male lion, saw vulturine guinea fowl, reticulated giraffe with their crazy paved hide, gerenuks and a wonderful extended leopard sighting. The leopard was deep inside a fig tree and only the tail was visible, but at sundown it climbed up through the tree and surveyed the surrounding area. There were many elephant in Samburu, including a couple of young eles lying down to sleep - a first for me. Also saw an ostrich family with very young chicks ‘at foot’ and a coalition of 3 cheetahs (twice). Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Samburu2005

After a long drive, during which we were caught up in a large funeral procession that Chris thought was probably a local politician as it was very grand and well attended (and a second puncture) we arrived at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge around 2.30. After luch it was time for an afternoon game drive of which the flamingos were the star attraction. Also saw many rhino, buffalo with ox-peckers, zebra and marabou storks. The lookout from the Baboon Cliffs provided magical views of the still, pink frosted lake. I could see the lake from my room at the Sarova – this time I was lucky to be given one of the best rooms, the Ziwa Suite which has a sun room, verandah and terrace. The view through the fever trees to the lake was wonderful and I spent a quiet hour in the early morning contemplating this vista. After a one night stay it was time to head off on another long drive to Masai Mara. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Nakuru2005

We arrived at the Mara Serena for a 3 night stay around 2.30 in time for a late lunch and a game drive. I was so fortunate with game viewing here – wonderful time spent with lion cubs, and cheetahs on a kill and a view of the migration as wildebeest lined up at a river crossing. Jackal pups were a great find late in the afternoon. There were so many lion cubs in the pride it was impossible to count, maybe as many as 12-14 in the care of 2 lionesses. One of the lionesses was missing most of her tail – perhaps an encounter with a baboon? I was fascinated by the migration which was all around the Mara Serena and we seemed to be driving through a never ending parade of wildebeests every time we left the lodge.

I signed up for the nature walk with the Serena’s naturalist, Dr Timothy Oloo who had established the rhino program at Nakuru during his time with KWS. During the walk he pointed out birds, plants and insects, especially safari ants. The only animal we saw was a dassie however, this was a really pleasant way to fill in an hour before lunch and it was interesting talking to Timothy about his KWS years.

My room at the Mara Serena was comfortable and had a picture perfect view over the plains and river with baboons, waterbuck and impala gathering at a nearby waterhole. A word of warning – if you stay here, don’t leave the sliding doors open as I watched some baboons run up the hill and enter rooms long the ridge top, with 2 gardeners in hot pursuit! A warthog was roaming around the garden and brilliantly coloured agama lizards basked in the sun. Spectacled mouse birds spent most days in the trees below the verandah along with bagelfecht weavers. Too soon it was time to leave and return to Nairobi. The next morning it was off to the Riverside shuttle to Arusha. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/MasaiMara

Tanzania

This week was the highlight of my 2 months in Africa, I had a wonderful guide in Kisali and once again I was the only passenger. Kisali was very interested in any animal behaviour that was out of the ordinary and I remember well his excitement and interest in a lame zebra, an ibis with a snake and a black rhino all in the Crater. He was keenly interested in a vulture and lion interaction that occurred about thirty minutes from Naabi Hill, more on that later. He was also very good at interpreting the landscape for me – I was usually engrossed in what was happening right in front of me, but Kisali would be glassing and he filled in the whole canvas for me before I learnt to look up and around for myself.

Early in 2005 I met a school friend I hadn’t seen for years and she told me that our Grade 5 teacher had accepted a volunteer posting to Arusha for 2 years. I wrote, and we agreed to meet at the Arusha Hotel on Sunday 1st October – what a great time we had reminiscing about other pupils and life in our home town.

My first stop was Tarangire where I stayed for one night at the Safari Lodge. The trip really began for me at the lunch spot near the park entrance where I was interested in the great variety of birds – it was in Tarangire that I really became interested in birds, having seen most of the large animals previously in Kenya and Botswana on the 2004 trip. Kisali was a good spotter and had a vast knowledge of species – it helped a lot to be told the name of a bird and where we had seen it before when learning to identify for myself. Our guide in Botswana and a Maun policeman both told me that the birds were their favourite ‘animal’ because there was more variety, but it took me a while to work out what they meant - even when there are no animals to view there are usually plenty of birds.

Tarangire is a great park with many elephants, boab trees and lots of birds and even pythons dozing in trees above the road. The brightly coloured Fischer’s lovebirds, some species of shrikes, red and yellow necked spurfowl (I had started to keep a list!) and my first hamerkop made this a memorable park. I enjoyed the Safari Lodge and whilst the food was ordinary the situation of the lodge is spectacular on top of a bluff that affords magnificent views over the park. Tea was delivered to my tent at 6am in the morning and I sat and watched elephants and baboons at the river as the sun came up – a great memory. Left around 9 am en route to the Crater and I noticed a lot of activity in works car park with armed rangers and other uniforms that could have been police or army. I assumed this was an anti-poaching patrol, however, it wasn’t until I was reading these boards some months that I learned about the tragic leopard attack on the young French boy which I believe happened 2 days before I arrived, that I realised this was probably park staff hunting the leopard in question. At the time, no one mentioned this to me, although when I was shown to my tent I was told to wait for a guard to accompany me to the dining room at night because leopard footprints had been in the camp – understatement! http://www.arushatimes.co.tz/2005/40/local_news_1.htm Tarangire NP photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Tarangire2005

Kisali took a back road to rejoin the main road en route to the Crater in search of hoopoes and other birds – no hoopoe, but we did see a bat-eared fox. Lunch was eaten at the Crater visitor centre where a curious African wagtail waited patiently for crumbs. I have always wanted to go to the Crater and had high expectations of this area and I was not disappointed. We spent two half days in the Crater – driving through the Le Roi Forest Kisali pointed out the elephant with the large tusks that is often seen in this area and black rhino further into the crater. I particularly enjoyed watching a large flock of crowned cranes and spent some time observing an ibis killing and eating a snake. Other sights included lion, cheetah, a hyena clan and a grazing hippo. I was fortunate to see the last flamingos of the season at the lake and also a golden jackal. One really sad sight was a lone zebra that didn’t seem to be able to walk, she didn’t appear lame, but it looked as though the message to move her feet wasn’t getting from the brain to the feet – maybe something neurological. Kisali commented that these were her last days, more like her last hours I remembered thinking at the time. The Crater provided good opportunities for very close warthog sightings, what comical creatures they are - foraging on their knees and then running off with tails held high. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/NgorongoroCrater2005

Left the Crater after a morning drive for the long trip to Seronera where I stayed at the Serengeti Serena. There were many lions in this part of the Serengeti – starting with a pride snoozing at the roadside. This pride contained a really thin, sickly male and his well-fed pride mates. Further along the road a cheetah was trying to enjoy the shade of the only tree in sight much to the delight of safari-goers. There were two lionesses at Simba Koppies, very appropriate! One of these was wearing a collar possibly from the Serengeti Lion Project.

The next day we did a full day game drive and saw many animals, topi, hippos, elephant, giraffe, crocodiles and a zebra and her foal. I enjoyed the birdlife at the lunch stop and happily spent an hour roaming around with the camera. The ‘monkey man’ and his slingshot were fighting a losing battle with the resident vervets – no sooner was his back turned than they returned to the tables. Although we spent quite a bit of time looking for a leopard along the river a distant partial sighting of rosettes high in a tree was all there was to see. I thought the hippo pool was awful – the water was low and very ‘thick’ and smelly with so many hippos sharing such a small pool. Kisali pointed out a large male hurrying down the dry river bed to rejoin the group. Around lunchtime we found a pride of lions lying in the shade of a tree at the roadside and amongst this group was the most engaging cub – the photos tell the story, http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Serengeti2005

Leaving the Serengeti we were the first vehicle to arrive at a ‘mound’ of vultures – this is the best way I can describe the sight. It was impossible to see what they were feeding on until a male lion ran up and scattered the flock. Under the scrum was a pathetic little gazelle skeleton (recently killed by the 4 cheetahs we saw in the distance a few kilometres back?) which the dominant male lion appropriated for himself. There was a lot of activity as the rest of the pride arrived, the other mature male, an almost fully grown sub-adult and about 6 lionesses. The two jackals that showed up early on decided to leave once the whole pride appeared. The pride came over to the vehicles and the young male was fascinated by an old tyre on the side of the road, and as other vehicles drew up, the lions sought shade underneath. This was a very close lion encounter and lasted for about 45 minutes – another fantastic memory, http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/LionAndVulturesSerengeti2005 Anyway, leaving the lions and vultures we drove on to Naabi Hill for lunch before setting off for Lake Manyara.

I knew this wasn’t a great time to visit Manyara but I wanted to go as I had read Among the elephants by Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton when it was first published and was fascinated by their life and work in this park. I recall there were many baboons around the gate and we experienced some very close elephant moments. Memorable birds included the grey-headed kingfisher and the silvery cheeked hornbill. Unfortunately, this was the end of my big Tanzanian adventure and I returned to the Arusha Hotel where I spent the rest of the afternoon around the pool amid the falling jacaranda blossoms and watching the rainclouds roll in over Mt Meru. That night it rained so hard, with sheets of water falling in the street – I hope some fell into the hippo pool to freshen it up a bit! Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/LakeManyara2005
I returned to Nairobi the next day on the shuttle and stayed two nights at the Fairview and hired Jimmy again to visit the National Museum where I admired Joy Adamson’s paintings of Kenyan people and also the permanent display of high quality beadwork. Visited the Masai market and bought some small gifts to bring home and enjoyed bartering with the stallholders much to the disgust of the ‘brokers’ who continually try to interfere with all purchases. The Railway Museum was a pleasant surprise as it contained many interesting displays of railway memorabilia from times past, including trains from the Uganda railway and the carriage from which Ghost and Darkness dragged Police Supt. Ryall during their murderous spree at Tsavo. Called into Collector’s Den and purchased a dainty pair of blue sapphire earrings set in a flower petal pattern and a necklace made of West African trade beads.

The Fairview is a very gracious hotel, with pleasant gardens and impressive choice of restaurants. The poolside eatery was especially good with some tasty curries on offer. I didn’t know the hotel was situated over the road from the Israeli embassy until the boot was searched and a guard examined the underside of the car with a mirror. Some people don’t like the Fairview for this reason, however nothing happened during my stay. The next day I returned to Johannesburg on Kenya Airlines.

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