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Highlights and Photos: Self-drive Kenya & Tanzania August 2009

Highlights and Photos: Self-drive Kenya & Tanzania August 2009

Sep 8th, 2009, 08:03 PM
  #21  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
I see your itinerary now where your accommodations are all detailed. The lion count is tremendous!

Can you elaborate on your night drive escape from poachers? Did they approach you or interact with you?

Nice job spotting on that night drive, since you were there.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 07:06 AM
  #22  
 
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Welcome back Robin & Robert! (though I can guess you’d rather not be back). Been eagerly awaiting your return and report!(nearly missed your post because I don’t look every day – was just looking for an answer to a question of mine a while ago and spotted it!) You obviously had a great time, what an adventure, looking forward to the next installments on smugmug. 181 lions?!! I have a few questions about your trip but you may well answer them as you go on with your report so I’ll be patient (must hear more about the poachers incident). The little critters seem to have been more of a problem than the big ones! We had the same problem with the bees once, showering became a bit of a wild session with lots of flapping around - just as well no-one was around to see!

As I said I'll no doubt be back with more questions as the report progresses , but if in the meantime could I ask a couple (or 5) questions?...
- This might be difficult to answer because it was your first visit, but from what you’ve learned do you think you chose the best time of year to go?
- If you had to choose ONE place from this trip to go back to which would it be?
- If you had to shorten your trip by one week what would you miss out?
-Is there anything you did which you would have done differently with hindsight?
- Where next???

As usual great photos from Robert, looking forward to more.
tockoloshe is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 07:37 AM
  #23  
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We were amazed at the number of lions. It got to the point where, when we saw a cluster of vehicles, we were saying, "Oh drat! It's probably more lions!" We wanted more cheetahs and leopards!

The porcupines were a great sighting - we didn't dare take the time to stop and photograph them - we weren't far from the campsite at that point.

Here is the poacher (we assume, we have no way of knowing) story:

It was 9:30pm – we were on the Mareo special campsite in the Western Corridor - we had the table and chairs set up and we were sitting next to the Land Rover with the light on (an external light that runs off an extra battery - it lights an area up to about 20m from the vehicle), watching a slide show of the day’s pictures on the laptop. Robert happened to look up and notice lights in the direction of the main road (the track between the Western Corridor and Seronera). At first we thought that they were the headlights of a vehicle – we thought perhaps it was the rangers coming for a visit, but we couldn’t hear a vehicle. The rangers in the Mara kept telling us that they might drop in to check on us, although they never did – that is why we thought it might be the rangers. However, we then realized that there were three lights and, from the way the lights were moving, that they were flashlights coming towards us through the bush. We realized (once we knew that they were flashlights and not headlights) that they weren’t rangers because we hadn’t heard a vehicle and no ranger would walk from the main road for the 1.7km (the road into the campsite was 1.7km - as the crow flies, through the bush, shorter!) to the special campsite at night. We flashed our flashlights in their direction – basically to tell them “we’re here, so go away” but they kept coming. We quickly packed up our belongings – the table and chairs, the computer, the grill etc – and locked them in the Land Rover. We buried our wallets, cameras and computer amongst our stuff in the vehicle. We kept flashing our lights at them as we did this, but they kept coming. We didn’t have time to put down the roof-top tent. They appeared to be shining their lights on us - or at least in our direction. We had no idea if they thought we were poachers infringing on their territory or if they were bandits coming to rob us. We had seen a young giraffe with a snare around its neck earlier in the day, not far from our campsite – which we had reported to the rangers – that is why we were thinking they were poachers. It seemed unlikely that they were coming to rob us – their chances of finding anyone on that site, which was so isolated and, judging from the road into it, not used very often, were pretty slim. We continued to flash our lights at them, but they kept coming so, we locked ourselves in the 4x4. Eventually, as they kept coming, we made the decision that we needed to leave – I have no idea how close they were by then – it was difficult to judge in the dark - maybe 50m – close enough that they could have called to us and identified themselves – they didn’t. So, with the tent still up, we left the campsite and, with great difficulty in the dark, followed the track the 1.7km out to the main road. As soon as we fired up the Land Rover, their lights went out. Perhaps they thought we were the poaching patrol - I have no idea. I suspect that we may have scared them as much as they scared us. I wished later that we had turned the Land Rover and shone our headlights on them, but safety was our priority not identifying them. It was fortunate that they had not come along the campsite road and that we had an escape route - I would have hated to go crashing through the bush in darkness. We made it out to the main road and had to make a hasty decision as to whether to go left or right to find civilization. As we were to head to Seronera the following day, we decided to go in that direction (right). Big mistake – it took us over two hours to reach the nearest people – the lodge at Seronera. If we had gone left, we could have reached the rangers’ station in about 45 minutes. Of course, the lodge was in darkness when we arrived (it was after midnight by then because we had driven so slowly) as was the rangers’ station, so we simply headed to the campsites and set up the tent – we had stopped on the road after about 5km and folded up the tent – once we were certain that the owners of the flashlights weren’t following us. We had no idea if they had a vehicle somewhere – we hadn’t seen one when we reached the main road but we still feared that they might be coming after us.

Safari Drive in Tanzania is looking into the incident for us. The rangers at Seronera were concerned when we reported the incident the next morning. We feared they might be angry that we had driven through the park for two hours after dark, but they agreed that we were wise to leave.

I feared that the incident might make me nervous on the rest of the special campsites (it was early in our trip when this took place), which are all very isolated, but I was able to convince myself that it was an isolated incident. It was a small bleep in an otherwise perfect holiday and I would not hesitate to repeat the trip and use the special campsites. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 07:52 AM
  #24  
 
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Thank you for the detail and all turned out well. It must have been a little scary during that rushed pack up job.

It appears whoever they were did not intend you any harm by the way they conducted themselves. You had plenty of time to see them and head out, which is maybe want they wanted if they were just small scale poachers.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 08:11 AM
  #25  
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Well hello Tockoloshe! Great to hear from you. We must have posted about the same time. The poaching incident is outlined above. I hope to add more to the website today.

You ask REALLY difficult questions, but I'll give them a shot!

This might be difficult to answer because it was your first visit, but from what you’ve learned do you think you chose the best time of year to go?

Having not been at any other time, it is impossible to compare, but we certainly found it perfect - great day and night temperatures, only scattered showers in the Mara, good sightings at whatever water was available, and we timed it perfectly for the migration in the Mara Triangle - the only down side was the dust in the Serengeti - choking at times.

- If you had to choose ONE place from this trip to go back to which would it be?

OK - this is impossible - Robert would probably say the Mara and I think I would have to agree. We saw more predators on other parts of the trip, but the sight of hundreds of thousands of wildebeests was amazing. We parted seas of wildebeests as we drove down the roads.

- If you had to shorten your trip by one week what would you miss out?

What a tough question - I might just take a day off everything and maybe eliminate Lake Manyara - we agreed that it was our least favourite park, although the lions in the tree were spectacular. It was just after dawn and we had them all to oursleves - they weren't far from our campsite.


-Is there anything you did which you would have done differently with hindsight?

I would have spent a 2nd night in Nairobi - as you'll read shortly (I am about to post more) I found our time there too rushed.

I would not have entered Tanzania without all of the cash that we needed (for diesel) for that segment of the trip. We had been told that we could get money at the Kenyan/Tanzanian border, but we couldn't. We feared we were going to run out of gas before we convinced the Speke Bay Lodge to exchange some money for us. If we had started in Arusha it wouldn't have been a problem - lots of ATMs and banks there.

We had originally wanted to do the trip in the reverse order - start in Arusha and end in the Mara (which I thought would be the highlight - I wanted to leave the best to last). However, the vehicle was going to be in Kenya so we had to flip the itinerary. I think I would start in Arush next time.

Where next???

Robert's next sabbatical is 2011-2012 - we are thinking of spending the year in southern Africa. We would love to do this trip again and I would also love to do a combination of Botswana and Zambia - the Zambezi R is calling - I would like to do a canoe trip. I would also want to return to Kgalagadi and the dunes!

Phew! Too early in the morning for such difficult decisions. Good to hear from you. Robin
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Sep 9th, 2009, 08:50 AM
  #26  
 
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If you had to choose between Kenya OR Tanzania...which would you choose?
simbakubwa is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 09:38 AM
  #27  
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Oh dear - I hope I would never have to make that choice - the Mara and the Serengeti are so close together that they make a great combination for self-drivers.

If I HAD to choose and was going to self-drive, probably Tanzania, because there were more parks (on the Northern Circuit) for us to visit/greater variety. As self-drivers in Kenya, we were limited to the Mara and couldn't go elsewhere in the country - Safari Drive felt it wasn't safe without a guide. We have learned to respect and follow the advice of the experts. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 12:43 PM
  #28  
 
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That's a scary story about the poachers, I'm sure you did the best thing by leaving, the rangers obviously thought so. I'm glad it didn't spoil the rest of the trip for you.

Thanks for your answers to my difficult questions - all ideas getting filed away for future reference! Simbakubwa's was a good one too especially for the self driver.

You'd better not tell me anything more about your next trip, with your viewing record you'll have 2 extra people tagging along!
tockoloshe is offline  
Sep 9th, 2009, 12:50 PM
  #29  
 
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Thanks Robin,
Great info and stories you're sharing. Good to see another self-drive report, and glad to hear your one bad incident hasn't put you off. keep it coming!
Ted
travellingted is offline  
Sep 10th, 2009, 01:26 PM
  #30  
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If you go back to Botswana, Tockoloshe, we'll be tagging along with you - I've seen the wild dog and lion photos!!
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 10th, 2009, 06:02 PM
  #31  
 
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I think my heart would have beat right out of my chest when I saw those lights with no vehicle. What a scary, unfortunate episode. Glad you are both okay.
Leely2 is offline  
Sep 11th, 2009, 06:36 AM
  #32  
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It was a bit unfortunate Leely 2 but, thankfully, it was a small incident in an otherwise fantastic trip. It could have been worse - we might have been in bed. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 12th, 2009, 05:26 PM
  #33  
 
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Hi Robin, been looking forward to having some time this weekend to look at your report properly!

Well your trip got off to a good start courtesy of BA – what good luck! We sometimes fly with BA just because we use BA airmiles but that 24 hour seat booking policy has frustrated us many times. Also we tried to check in from Windhoek for the JNB-LON leg and weren’t allowed to check in online because we were taking a connecting flight (still don’t understand why), so of course when we tried to get good seats at JNB they had all gone. It’s definitely something we’d consider when booking a flight again. Unfortunately Air Namibia have stopped flights from London direct (now via Frankfurt) but we were delighted to get an upgrade to business from them last year – makes a huge difference to flight comfort.

Did taking the flights in the small planes help you get over your nervousness or are you still not too keen on them – did seeing into the cockpit make you feel more secure or worse?

You were very kind about my lion photos but you certainly got your pick out of your 181. I loved the lioness with her cub, and the magnificent male in the North Mara Conservancy. But the best one has to be your breakfast companion – just shows how careful you have to be! Luckily he must have had his breakfast. (would you Canadians get the ‘he’s behind youuu’ panto reference?) And you got to witness your first kill in the Serengeti, – disturbing yes, I’m not sure how I’d feel about it, but it’s a privilege to see magnificent predators at work.

The wildebeest pictures are ‘classic Mara’ – it’s something my husband has wanted to see from a very young age so now he’s seen your photos there’s going to be no stopping him. The wildebeest hunt by the hyena in the Crater must have been a sight too.

As much as we enjoy the self sufficiency of the self-drive it’s a different thing to have a local guide like your Masai guides, that interaction can very rewarding – good for you for learning some Maa, I’m sure they appreciated it (that’s new for me, didn’t know that was their language)

How far has Robert got through the 7000 photos?
Looking forward to more.
tockoloshe is offline  
Sep 13th, 2009, 08:18 AM
  #34  
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Hi Tockoloshe!
I wondered if perhaps BA's 24-hour seat selection was new. They must get a lot of complaints. Coming home, our seats once again weren't together, and we didn't manage to get bumped up to business class - at least the airline managed to seat us across the aisle from each other. I believe KLM now goes direct Arusha to Amsterdam - we might try them next time.

I think I would be a little more comfortable on the small planes the next time, as long as there was something to look at. The wildebeests were so spectacular from the plane on the second flight that I was completely distracted.

The number of lions was amazing - our count doesn't even include lions that we would see for a second time later in the day. They seemed to be everywhere. Clearly, they are thriving.

The lion at breakfast was a wee bit of a shock. I am not certain why the second vehicle waited until we had finished breakfast to call our guide. All of us had "marked our territory" in the surrounding bush by the time they called - in fact, I think it was Robert heading off in the lion's direction to find a suitable bush that precipitated the phone call. It certainly reminded us how careful you have to be at all times. Robert and I had let our guard down because we were with a guide - not a good idea!

The wildebeests were amazing - we had no idea. We were very fortunate to see as many as we did. The migration was early this year - normally, in early August, there wouldn't be as many wildebeests in the Mara. We had originally planned to go to the Mara last for this reason but, even in late August, we wouldn't have expected to see as many as we did.
Parting seas of wildbeests as we tried to make our way down the roads was quite something (better pictures coming!)and we frequently climbed up on the roof of the 4x4 to better appreciate the view. I gather the migration is very unpredictable (from year to year), so it would be difficult to know when to go next time.

We didn't know about Maa before we went either - it is amazing what you can find on the internet. Interacting with the guides at Olduvai was a highlight of our trip - as was, I am sure, your visit with the bushmen at Grassland. I think it was the experience at Olduvai that makes us so keen to go to Grassland. We would plan on spending at least a couple of nights.

Robert is slowly making his way through the pictures - he is labeling and editing as he goes, so it is taking a while. I think he is on about day 10! Just like at camp, we have a slide show here every night.

Should be more later today. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 13th, 2009, 09:39 AM
  #35  
 
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I just read the stoty on the poacher's visit. Huch - scary! And congrats to you both that you did not let it interfere with your overall experiences which were fantastic! Doubt I would have been that brave!

THX also for the House of Waine pics - we are looking forward to our visit in Feb 2010

Thank you for sharing!

SV
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Sep 13th, 2009, 12:56 PM
  #36  
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House of Waine was great - a very comfortable room and a great breakfast. I would have liked to stay a second night. Arriving late at night and leaving first thing in the morning just didn't give us time to appreciate it.

The poachers' visit was a bit frightening - I was just happy that we were still up and knew enough to leave. Half an hour later and we would have been in bed. Who knows what might have happened then.
Robin
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Sep 13th, 2009, 01:53 PM
  #37  
 
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Robin
I fear we are going to feel the same regarding HOW! We arrive at 1900hrs but then that at least leaves us a couple of hours more incl. the dinner. And of course we leave also at 1000hrs next morning. It's always the question whether one wants to spend one more night in the city when the game drives and bush is calling ;-)

And yes - that seems to be a blessing in disguise that you were still on your feet when the "visitors" were coming!


SV
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Sep 13th, 2009, 02:14 PM
  #38  
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Good point - when it comes down to a night in Nairobi or another night in the Mara, there is no contest! Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 05:00 PM
  #39  
 
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Another weekend’s trip report reading – great!
(I hate this new format, if I don't look every day it takes me ages to find a thread I'm interested in when it drops off the list!)

The tracks do make driving in Namibia & Botswana look easy, I’m not sure we’d have the confidence to take this on!

The wildebeest crossing pics are great. Gosh the idea of 30 vehicles at the crossing is just what puts us off, but a sight worth seeing.

Thanks for the info on the Masai, I didn’t know much about their lives. Although you were the only ones there they seem prepared for visitors, judging by the large ‘shop’ – do you know if it’s a stopping off point for many tours? It’s a pity about the sales techniques – don’t they realise it just puts people off? Or does it work with some people, otherwise why would they do it?

Bit of a pain about the missing supplies, we’ve learnt from experience to check everything before we set off! This time the spade and tow rope were missing when we did our pre-departure check – of course we didn’t need them this time but what’s the betting we would have done if we hadn’t had them??

Drought situation in Kenya doesn’t look good – I put a link to an item on BBC news this evening.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8265988.stm
tockoloshe is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 05:35 PM
  #40  
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Hi Tockoloshe!
I am not certain that we would have had the nerve (to take on the navigating) either had we known ahead of time. It really wasn't until we arrived that we realised what is was going to be like. In the end, it was easier than you might expect - we had the paper maps, so we always knew what direction we were trying to head. As long as you had your GPS, you'd be fine. The first section of the trip was the most difficult/vague - after that, as we headed to the Serengeti, the driving became much easier. The roads were never marked, but at least it was obvious that they were roads. The drive from Serian to Speke Bay near Lake Victoria took all day and was fascinating - I'll be posting pics after the highlights of the Mara.

I hated the crossing with 30 vehicles - if it had been just Robert and me (we were with the Serian guide), we would have left. Thankfully, later in the week, when we were on our own, we saw a much better crossing with few vehicles.

We wondered why the big shop because this Masai village doesn't receive many visitors apparently - it is rather in the middle of nowehere. Thankfully, we were the only ones there at the time. I don't know why they continue with the aggressive sales pitch - they must realize that it isn't working.

The missing supplies was a bit funny (thankfully, neither of us is addicted to our morning coffee!) - our own fault - we should have checked for the starter kit. Since our Botswana vehicle had been so well equipped and the Safari Drive folks there so organized, we made the mistake of assuming the situation would be the same in Kenya. Lesson lerrned!

Thanks for the link to the BBC news item. It is such a sad situation.

More pics coming - Robert and I are in the process of choosing our favourite photos from the 5 days in the Mara - a tough decision.
Robin
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