Kenya, Rwanda, & Tanzania photos & short trip report

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Oct 6th, 2005, 10:49 AM
  #1
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Kenya, Rwanda, & Tanzania photos & short trip report

Hi everyone,

I’m not a regular on the board but I have been on a bit in the last year planning our 3.5 week East African honeymoon. Thanks to everyone who helped out with answers, and a special thanks to climbhighsleeplow for advice concerning mara vs. serengeti vs. both. We concentrated on the Mara and were very well rewarded.

This trip report will be brief with info on operators, lodges, etc… and not much narrative (I’ll let the pictures tell the story).

Photos: www.ltaylor.info

***Photo Notes

Since this forum has a growing interest in photography (rightly I think since it deals a lot with safaris) I thought I would share some observations.

My main safari lens was the 100-400L from Canon paired to a Rebel XT. This lens was incredible. Some don’t like the push pull but when shooting on a bean bag, push pull is so much easier than a zoom dial which can get struck from friction with the beanbag (that happened when using my 70-200). The range was great and the image stabilization fantastic. If you are in the Canon system I don’t think there is a better choice.

The XT was great. The only thing that would make me upgrade was the extra focus points on the 20D would make composing a bit easier sometimes.

When shooting from a vehicle a bean bag is absolutely essential. I used the kinesis safarisack which is a good size but a little overpriced for a nylon bag - any bean bag will do.

For gorilla trekking I used the 70-200 2.8 IS. This was again the perfect lens. I originally did not want to get it because of the cost but I sucked it up and bought used and will sell it soon. The range is perfect for gorilla trekking and the 2.8 and IS are very useful when shooting in the forest handheld without flash.

I took a lot of photos. I had a 2gb and a 1gb flash cards which was sufficient. On one gorilla trek I took about 300 raw photos, nearly hitting the 3gb capacity. On game drives it was very rare that I took near 3gb at a go. I think I took in the order of about 2500-3000 photos. I used a very basic OTG backup device (these are very basic hard drive enclosures with a usb port and a copy button). They worked perfectly. (Search ebay for item# 7550581656 for what I actually used)

Weight: The only time my carryon was weighed was Nairobi to Kigali at checkin and I think I could have avoided that by being less actively cooperative – but it was just a weighing of all luggage together so didn’t matter if one hand luggage was overweight. I had my wife’s hand luggage lightly packed so I could transfer stuff over and also at least on some flights our ticket said our binoculars, camera, food, reading material were not included so I was ready to take all that out if someone hassled us. My only close call was in Heathrow on the return flight. Just after check-in and before security there was a British Airways person that was asking people with heavy looking luggage to have it weighed but my Lowepro minitrekker isn’t that big and the lady was occupied with someone else as I approached so I made no eye contact and walked right by (At this stage we had our duty free liquor and some souvenirs so I don’t think I could have passed any stuff to my wife’s bag). Note though that we didn’t do any really small plane flying, just short haul flights.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 10:50 AM
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***September 6th to September 10th --- Masai Mara, Kenya

We flew British Airways Toronto-London-Nairobi, leaving late on the 4th and arriving late on the 5th. We stayed at Panafrique in Nairobi which was fine. On the 6th we drove to the Mara.

Our experience in the Mara was phenomenal and almost spoiled later safaris. The pictures tell the story. It was unseasonably cool and often rained or drizzled a bit in the afternoon or overnight. I didn’t mind because the park was quite green. Highlights:
- Lions cubs playing and suckling
- Male and female lions interacting
- Lionesses stalking prey, eating kills (but we didn’t see any kills take place)
- Huge herds of wildebeest
- An incredible encounter with a cheetah that played & roled around just in front of us.

*Operator: Raylenne Tours (http://www.raylenne.com/)
I was very happy with Raylenne. They are a value operator and so the minibus was perhaps a little less swank than some other operators but not enough to matter. It was the garden variety poptop. Our guide was Peter and he was very good. He didn’t go on and on with facts about the animals but he was a good animal finder which is all that mattered to me.

*Lodge: Keekorok
I was also very happy with Keekorok. Its not luxurious, but I think that location is really important. The best viewing times are just after the park opens and just before it closes so you are going to be within the vicinity of camp for those drives. Keekorok is in the south east and we had great luck spotting animals. I heard the west is better for animal spotting but we were too late to get into the Serena and Keekorok was a very good second choice.

I would encourage anyone planning a safari in East Africa to do their best to go to where the migrating herds are expected to be. While different parks have different scenery and animals, our time in the Mara was a level of magnitude more exciting and rewarding than other safari parks.

On the 10th we drove back to Nairobi and flew Rwandair express to Kigali…
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Oct 6th, 2005, 10:50 AM
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***September 10th to September 16th – Rwanda

We spent two days just wandering around Kigali. It was nice to visit a non-touristed, safe African city without constant harassment from touts. We also visited a youth outreach project and made a small donation. On the 13th we took a local bus two hours up to Ruhengeri. We had arranged with a local there to drive us to and from the treks. The reason we didn’t do a tour in Rwanda was that we just wanted to do the Gorilla treks and even no-frills operators seemed to be charging a very large premium for what was essentially just renting a car for a few days. So instead we did it independently which worked out fine.

In Kigali we stayed at the Milles Collines. It was about 90 Euros for a double and I would call that very good value because it’s the nicest hotel located in the downtown core, except that on our third day there was a bad smell started to come in from a vent in the washroom. It wasn’t worth it for us to change rooms but it you go there be careful about the room they give you.

Up north we stayed at Gorilla’s nest which is quite nice, although the food (you are pretty much stuck there for dinner and breakfast) was quite mediocre.

Our first day we trekked to the Sabyinyo group. I had wanted to do Susa, but the day before the group had trekked about 5 hours there and another 5 back so I was a little unsure and it was quickly snapped up by a group of 8. I later heard they had to crawl on the ground through the brush sometimes!!!

It took us about 30-40mins to get to the park from the carpark and about another 1-1.5 hours to reach the gorilla’s. The hike was steep but I felt it was “easy” compared to what I had thought I would have to do.

The group has about 10 members, but we only saw 6. The group was moving a lot and in the brush in the first 15 minutes so I was a little disappointed as we were always moving and peering at the gorilla’s through dense brush. But then they settled down and we had a fantastic 45 minutes watching a young juvenile climb up branches and stare at us while a little baby clung to her mother. Sabyinyo has the largest silverback that you can visit and man was he huge!!!

Our second day we trekked to the group 13. I would strongly recommend this group to anyone trekking in Rwanda. It has 15 or so members which is the largest except Susa and it is very close. (At least it was when we were there and I was told that is generally the case). It was only 20-30mins from the car park and then less than an hour to meet them. Also the terrain was even easier than Sabyinyo. There was a new baby with her mom, young kids playing with each other and older adolescents fighting amongst each other. It was incredible. It really made me happy because it had a lot of interaction which was why I had originally wanted to see Susa.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 10:51 AM
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**September 16-October 1st --- Tanzania

Our itinerary in Tanzania was as follows:

-September 16: arrive midday from Kigali (through NBO). We originally were supposed to arrive late and stay in Arusha but plans changed so we had a bonus afternoon driving to lake Manyara and staying over at Lake Manyara Hotel. It was interesting because of the forested sections but not that exciting.

-September 17: Drive to Ngorongoro highlands – Nainokanoka village. Today we hiked to Olmoti crater and Munge falls and we’re also lucky enough to visit Nainokanoka on market day. We didn’t get out to the cattle auction in time but saw hundreds of Masai in the village for the market. The next three nights were camping.

-September 18: Drive to Bulati village and trek from there to Empakai crater rim. This was an incredible day. We walked about four hours through Masai land seeing villages, women carrying a baby on their backs and driving donkeys and young men/boys herding cattle all in a very natural not touristed way. The scenery was absolutely stunning.

September 19: Trek into Empakai in the morning, relax at camp in the afternoon. The crater was also quite stunning. Just as a note, we decided not to bring a thermarest or sleeping bag as we would only camp 3 nights out of 3.5 weeks. Our operator provided a mattress which was fine but the blankets were just not warm enough. (The highlands were absolutely freezing). We fixed this after the first night by buying some more blankets at the masai village, but if you are doing any camping I would encourage you to bring your own gear or triple check that your operator has more than enough gear for you. Also, I would have changed our itinerary so our last night we drove to a lodge rather than camp again – the trek into Empakai only takes 2 or 3 hours and it would have been nicer to go strait to a lodge rather than wait until the morning.

September 20 – Ngotongoro crater. We stayed at Sopa which was nice and close to our camping. The crater was great but a little disappointing to me after the Mara. It was a lot more dried out and our itinerary was such that we were doing an all day there which means driving around in the heat when all the animals are sleeping . I guess I was just unlucky (didn’t see a rhino) and fell victim to too much hype. We did see a Serval and watched it for quite some time which was a nice treat.

September 21-22 – Tarangire. This was a great park. It had a very different feel from the Mara and had great wildlife watching. We saw lots of zebras, giraffes etc… and saw our only leopard. And of course we saw lots of elephants. We got to watch three elephants really close for about an hour which was fantastic and on the morning of the 22nd we got charged!!! We had just left camp and ran into a troupe of about 10 elephants. We just sat on the road watching them but I guess one of them didn’t like the look of me and so raised up his trunck and started to walk menacingly towards us. We told this to the driver and as he was turning on the car the elephant started charging!!! It was lots of fun, but my wife was a bit scared . I think the driver had a little fun with us because he didn’t go far and then the elephant charged again (this time with two juveniles practicing their charging with him). We have it on video and hopefully I’ll upload that sometime.

We stayed at Sidai camp which is close to and connected with Boundary hill lodge. We had a fantastic time experiencing a permanent tented camp and on the second night we heard a lion grunting in the night which was fantastic. We had the camp to ourselves which was really special – my wife really loved it. The food was fantastic.

September 23-24 – Arusha – we returned to Arusha and relaxed at our hotel on the 23rd. The 24th was supposed to be spent doing the cultural tourism programme and visiting a village nearby Arusha but we were tired so just spent the day relaxing and visiting town – man the touts are bad in Arusha! We stayed at L’Oasis which would have been ok except the food was not good at all.

*Operator: East African (http://www.eastafricansafari.info)
I was happy with East African, although a little less so than Raylenne. It was really a combination of things – the car was a little more basic, our guide Godbless was just a little less eager to please and outgoing, the whole blankets thing and L’Oasis. East is a value operator and very good at custom itineraries at a great price. They also have camps in Tarangire for good rates – staying at Sidai was great. The car was a large quite late model landrover truck. I saw nicer cars (I think small landcruisers but dunno) from them in Tarangire – we probably got the truck because we needed to haul the camping gear. The worst was that it was canvas top rather than poptop which meant a lot of sun on the safari drives – poptops are definitely better.

September 25 – Stonetown, Zanzibar – we flew to stonetown and stayed at the Dhow palace which was nice but nothing special.

September 26-Oct 1 – Mnarani Cottages Nungwi – we stayed at the honeymoon cottage at Mnarani which was really great and great value. We really enjoyed unwinding and enjoying the sun and sea. We stopped by the ritzier Ras Nugwi for lunch one day but I wasn’t particularly impressed with the food or the service given its class. The food at Mnarani was good but I was disappointed that dinner was a buffet. The food was fine but I would have like full service after all the buffets at the lodges.

Our beach was interesting. Seaweed wasn’t really a problem but as you walked out there was a lot of rocky areas. My wife got water shoes from the watersports guy and I am used to walking on rocks from my parent’s cottage so we were fine. We would walk out to a big sandy area and swim there. Of course the beach was very tidal but that is like most of Zbar. We walked to the main strip of Nungwi and many of the places had horrible beaches with lots and lots of seaweed but I don’t know if that changes with the season. One place, Baobab bungalows had a fantastic stretch of beach, on the east side so less tidal and deeper. I don’t know anything else about the resort except it is right beside the little main Nungwi strip with restaurants and a little convenience store. It was high tide at Ras Nungwi when we went for lunch so I didn’t really see the beach but it is supposed to be very good – probably less rocky than ours.

*Operator: We booked the Zanzibar portion with African Encounters (http://www.africanencounters.com)
They have a great website and service was fine up until I booked. Then it was really weird. I sent in my deposit and never got a confirmation and then after two emails I got a weird message saying of course the had received my deposit. This story repeated itself when I paid the balance. Despite my emails inquiring if the wire had been received I only received the voucher 2.5 weeks after the wire was sent (via Citibank which is generally very good with wires). The local agent on Zbar was exotic tours. When I arrived at the airport my transfer was not there but there is an exotic office at the airport so it was sorted quickly (lucky I had my voucher handy!). I don’t know who’s fault that is but its just another reason why I hesitate to recommend this African Encounters.

Like I said, this isn’t really a narrative but some hopefully helpful information. Feel free to ask questions and I will try my best.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:02 AM
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Hey, that baby gorilla has a perm! I am just getting to the report, but wanted to say the photos are fantastic. Thank you for posting. Sounds like a dream come true.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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Whoops, now I'm not getting into the photos--something with the links perhaps?
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:05 AM
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My wife and I love the pictures of that little guy, he is so cute and his hair is really crazy. I think his name is Gukunda.

Lawrence
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:07 AM
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Thanks for your trip report! Great to hear that your independently arranged Rwanda trekking went well. That opening photo had me cracking up! On to your other photos...
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:07 AM
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Let me know what exactly is wrong it still seems to be working for me, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of the links are messed up. The real url is: http://individual.utoronto.ca/ltaylor

Lawrence
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:25 AM
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Lawrence, seeing a Rhino usually means watching a very big, very grey, animal going about its business, which usually consists of sleeping or grazing. Seeing a Serval is a very rare experience, you could proably spend all your holidays in Africa for the rest of your life and not see another Serval, whereas Rhinos, certainly in South Africa are not hard to find. One of the reasons for you not seeing Black Rhino in the crater is that the areas they frequent are apparently off limits on the advice of the Frankurt Zoological Society, who contribute a lot of money to the park. Daryl Balfour has an excellent commentary on it in a recent Africa-Geographic magazine.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:30 AM
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I got to the photos from the first link.
They are fantastic. The gorilla ones are wonderful. Great close-ups. Especially knowing you can't use flash so you must have had much better lighing w/ Group 13 than I did. They were deep in bamboo when I was there in Feb.

And it looks like Group 13 may have a few new additions since I was there. I don't recognize the two littlest ones. It was also the easiest hike for us.

I'll go back and read the rest of the report but I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed the photos. Great work.

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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:31 AM
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I just loved your photos. They are all great shots. And I enjoyed seeing the two of you at such a special time in your lives. You both look radiant. I am off to the mara on oct.29th. I know the migration will be finished but I am sure hopeing to spot some of the big 5 anyway.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:49 AM
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Very interesting report -- I also stayed at Mille Collins and Gorilla Nest on my trip to Rwanda in August 2003, and I also spent a day in Kigali, which was much easier to wander than Nairobi.

Interesting that no rhino in the Crater -- I was there in 1999, admittedly several years ago, and saw several black rhino, but all from a distance. We didn't see any serval in the crater, but I have since seen a few in other parks and got some good photos.

I'm going to check out your photos now. Thanks
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Oct 6th, 2005, 11:49 AM
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Hey Napamatt,

You are right of course. Seeing the Serval was really exciting. And I know I'll see some Rhinos when I get around to a southern africa safari (sometime far in the future). I think it was a combination of being blown away in the Mara and yet thinking the Crater would be the best viewwing experience. It didn't help that our guide spotted a black rhina and then was like oh wait its just a buffalo
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Oct 6th, 2005, 12:20 PM
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Wow, great photos, especially of the gorillas.

My first safari in August 1999 was to the Masai Mara, and even though I have been on several more safaris, my very best overall game viewing was on that trip to the Mara.

Michael
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Oct 6th, 2005, 12:36 PM
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Sunny days,
Thanks for sharing your photos and report. What a wonderful honeymoon! The gorillas were amazing, especially the curly little guy and the Mara lions looked so nice and fat.
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Oct 6th, 2005, 01:02 PM
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Your photos are incredible! I especially enjoyed the ones of Group 13 (why is Group 13 just called Group 13 when all the other groups have names?). I also liked that you included many non-wildlife photos. Thanks again!
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Oct 6th, 2005, 01:29 PM
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Thank you to everyone for the nice words on the photos.

Patty: some of my favourite photos are of the older female in group 13 - she does the grumpy look, the thinking pose hand on chin, thinking pose scratching head - so expressive. The kids playing is also priceless.

Nyamera: you are right about the lions, there was so much game around its not surprising they spent their evenings watching tourists and yawning

Micheal: I think I will have the same experience as you, I'm not sure I will even be able to top those four days in the Mara. Everything was so new and exciting and there were so many incredible encounters. There is only one pciture that doesn't do it justice (http://individual.utoronto.ca/ltaylo...s/img_5419.jpg), but one day in the middle of the day we were driving a little off road to snoop at some clusters of brush to see if anything was there and two big male lions emerged from the brush right in front of us and one started walking towards the car, only maybe 5 meters away. My wife got pretty scared and the driver backed away back onto the road but it was really exhilirating!

Lawrence
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Oct 6th, 2005, 01:44 PM
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Fantastic photos.
Little Master/Miss Curly Top is probably the best animal photo ever. And the little gorillas playing are just amazing. Great that you were able to get all these little ones.

Definitely, the predators looked very healthy, though some of those elephants need some skin treatment... never saw so many with much damage. Hey, it's probably in their genes. And then, those skinny tusks.

You did well getting the Masai in the air and those little children at the Manyatta... too adorable. And the dhow sunset photos are postcard beautiful.

Best of all, you both look so happy and enjoying yourselves along the way.

Thanks for sharing these.
 
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Oct 6th, 2005, 05:12 PM
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GREAT pictures!! Now I know I want to go gorilla treking next year! Thanks for sharing your report and photos!
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