Quick update from Tanzania/Kenya

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Jan 9th, 2006, 04:01 AM
  #1
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Quick update from Tanzania/Kenya

I am currently in Nairobi (Norfolk Hotel has wireless internet - about $22 for 6 hours).

A quick summary before flying home on BA tonight:

1. Serengeti is dry as a bone. No rains. Ndutu is a dustbowl with few animals apart from very thirsty residents. EMC camp decided to postpone their move down there and is currently in Seronera. Migration is stalled somewhere in the Western tree areas in small groups - these stretch from Kusini up via Seronera and even into Northern Serengeti. I hope it rain soon - things are rather desperate, but the wildlife in Seronera is still amazing.

2. Piaya is as dry as you can imagine. None of the camps have moved there as a result except Sayari and they are very sorry they did - their game drives are day-long rides to Seronera (really bad). Maasai and their cattle are roaming everywhere in the dust to find grazing areas.

3. EMC was a bit of a letdown according to myself and all 10 people who stayed with me for 2 nights. The tents are extremely noisy (it was very windy), the food only so-so, and the staff is nice but inexperienced in terms of service. I just don't think the experience is worth the high prices they charge. EMC don't compare well to Sayari.

4. We spent 4 days driving all over the Masai Mara to update my maps. Also bone dry but it did rain near Mara Simba on Saturday night. I was guided by a young Maasai who lives just outside the Mara near Governor's camp and I learned so much about the Mara from him. I will share some of this later.

5. I used a minivan for part of the Mara trip and will never again set foot in a minivan regardless of tour company. These things are noisy, dusty (because the sliding door creates an opening at the bottom and if the rubber parts it is dust everywhere) and when the little rains came down the minivans were lined up in a row with nowhere to go. Basically the Eastern Mara is minivan country and the Western Mara is Landcruiser/Landrover area. Companies use minivans to save money at the expense of tourists - these things are horrible and I have a huge knob on the side of the head from bumping against the window area from my small seat. We saw about 10 minivans stranded in 4 days - with flat tires and many other problems. This is no way to go on safari.

6. I drove back from the Mara to Nairobi. Never again. The road between Narok and Nairobi is horrible and dusty and the police stops every 10 kms makes this a tiring and frustrating journey. Spend the money and fly to the Mara.

go-safari.com will be updated within a day or so to reflect the locations of all the Mara camps/lodges/roads and also some changes in the Serengeti and NCA.

Eben (disclaimer - I have a business interest in Tanzania)
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Jan 9th, 2006, 06:43 AM
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Eben,

Thanks for the update. I am hungering for information on the Migration and this was a nice breakfast worth of information.

Any news of Nomad's camps? Will you be visiting any of there camps during your stay?

Thanks.
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Jan 9th, 2006, 07:45 AM
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Thanks eben. Very disconcerting--hoping for rain.
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Jan 9th, 2006, 08:24 AM
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... and I hear that in the Mara it's already quite hot.

No rain, dry and hot. Let's pray there are no fires.
 
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Jan 9th, 2006, 08:43 AM
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Eben, Hi, It's sad to know that there is no rain in the serengeti.I have postponed my trip to serengeti because of a wedding in feb to march. I also want to do botswana this year. I may just combine both the trips. have u been to botswana?? Sonali.
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Jan 9th, 2006, 11:02 AM
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Eben,
Thanks for the update. Itís sad to hear about the drought. Iíve been reading about the failed short rains and the famines theyíve caused in some parts of Kenya. Though I suppose that without political ineptitude and corruption the drought wouldnít have such extreme consequences for people.

Letís hope for rain soon.


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Jan 9th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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Thanks for the update, Eben.

And I will hope for rain. There was an interesting (depressing) article in the Washington Post about this on Sunday. Link is:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...010701024.html
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Jan 9th, 2006, 01:19 PM
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My wife and I are going on our honeymoon to Tanzania from Feb 12th to Feb23rd. We were really excited to witness the migration and calving season in the Ndutu area. Due the the drought, I'm starting to get the feeling that this will not happen. Thoughts....suggestions??? I hope the drought will not have to much of a negative impact on the remainder of our trip. (Ngorongoro, Seronera, Lake Manyara, Tarangire.) This is a trip of a lifetime for us......should I be concerned about the negative impact of the drought?.....I'm starting to worry. Thanks
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Jan 9th, 2006, 02:04 PM
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Eben -- Fascinating -- Ndutu was dry as a bone when we were there Dec. 1 -- unbelievable that it is still waiting for rain!

I am so envious of how often you get to be in Africa & always look forward to your updates.

Lisa
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Jan 9th, 2006, 08:01 PM
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Philisburg:
You will have a wonderful honeymoon.

I understand your concern. I cannot travel in February but for this year and so I looked for a trip that was very special to February---hence deciding on targetting the Feb calving season in Tanzania. I am glad that I read Eben's report because he gave us a reminder of what I knew intellectually--we simply cannot predict the weather and the animals.

When first I read eben's report, I did think about the fact that I might not see the migration and felt a little sorry for myself. I then read leely's link to the Washington Post article that indicates that children have died in Kenya because of this drought.

I want rain for the people, for the wildlife, and yes, it is true I would like the rain to happen before I travel to Tanzania --but I am fortunate to be able to travel there at all and any trip there will be fantastic regardless.

So while I hope that it rains before I leave, if not--then I hope that it rains the day I that leave, or the day after----so long as it rains.
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Jan 9th, 2006, 09:41 PM
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Very well said, bat.
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Jan 9th, 2006, 11:13 PM
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I went to Piaya to find the Sayari and Nomad locations but Nomad was nowhere to be seen (smart!) I think they are staying in the North near Klein's until the rain comes.

I found Sayari camp after a long day of driving. They are quite far to the east (very near the town of Piaya). As the camp is on a hill, the views are great but I have doubts about the wildlife in that area - I enjoyed their Mara location so much better. We saw some bedraggled clients arriving at the camp after a tiresome game-drive to Seronera - I felt sorry for them!

Due to the drought and dust we decided against visiting any camps in Ndutu - I looked with the binocs and could not see anyone at the special camp sites so we gave up. As a result I did not see the Nomad and Olakira camps. EMC moved from the Sopa area to Seronera 3 special camp site instead of Ndutu.

Seronera is an oasis! We camped at EMC and also at Seronera River Special camp. At the River Camp we were surrounded by lions and hyena as the camp is next to the animal path to the river. What a great location! It is my new favorite camp site in Seronera. Game viewing at Seronera was splendid and we saw everything including plenty of leopard, many lion, hyena, smaller cats, elephant, buffalo, hippo, cheetah and large pockets of antelopes.

We also camped at Simba B special camp at Ngorongo where lion and elephant circled the camp during the night - causing some concern for our guard.

I did not go into the crater but the others saw rhino almost next to the car as well as more lion, hyena, cheetah, and elephant (we also had a huge male elephant in camp all day).

In Tarangire we camp for 2 nights at Mbweha special camp and there the entertainment was a huge troop of baboons in the tree next to the camp. Watching them go about their daily routine of foraging, grooming and guarding the family was fascinating! Wildlife viewing was very good thanks to the dry terrain and short grass. We saw everything except leopard (too far away).

I then flew to the Masai Mara and spend two nights at Basecamp and one night at Mara Simba after we got caught in the first little rain storm in months! The Mara was still good with surprisingly large groups of wildebeest in different pockets. Lion, cheetah, lots of hyena and plenty of elephant.

Basecamp has nice tents but problems with currency exchange left me a bit annoyed. The staff is friendly but inefficient and hard to understand at times (at the front desk where good communication is key), the food so-so, lighting in the tents were poor (my flashlight batteries were dead), you have to pay for everything including water to brush your teeth and so on. It is clear that they market to European tour groups and large groups can overrun the place. The eco-friendly design is impressive though.

Mara Simba actually had a great buffet and I enjoyed the local singer in the lounge! The rooms are a different matter - my door could not lock from the inside and in general the rooms are disrepair. Not the kind of place you want to spend more than one night unless you have kids and need a pool. And I don't care too much for this part of the Mara.

I got a good introduction to the greater Mara and the expansive array of camps that are jumping up everywhere on the group ranches. The area around Talek is very crowded with rather big towns just behind Basecamp and Fig Tree. I will not visit there again.

In the East, the area around Sekenani gate is also crowded. Sekenani is a big town right next to the gate! Further East, the Olaimutiek gate is surrounded by public camp sites with the Sopa bringing up the rear. It is a long drive from here into the park - and all the way you are driving throup populated areas.

I just don't see the attraction of places such as Siana Springs and surroundings.

I enjoyed the western area north of Kichwa all the way to Mara Safari Club. The Mara River is full of crocs and I saw the best hippo pool ever at David Livingstone Lodge. This stretch is not so crowded and it is true that the Wildebeest migration can stratch all the way up this area to the hill just east of Mara Safari Club and near Richard's Camp.

But I would never stay in this area exclusively. It is best to combine a night or two here with a 4-5 night stay inside the Mara. These camps often represent themselves as being in the Mara but they are an hour or more away from the Mara proper.

The roads in the greater Mara area are black cotton soil. With the slighest bit of rain, these roads become impossible for 2WD vehicles. You also need vehicles with high wheel clearance.

The future of some of these permanent camps in the greater Mara may be at risk. They are located in populated areas and many clients may be disappointed as such. Also, these camps sprung up without proper planning for waste and there are indications that the authorities want to return some of the locations to temporary camp sites for mobile camping as originally intended.

That's it from the internet cafe at Heathrow!

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Jan 10th, 2006, 01:22 AM
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Jolly good report!
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Jan 10th, 2006, 08:13 AM
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eben:
Thanks for the great information. I realize you may not be able to reply for awhile.

Here is what I am a bit confused about. Can the semi-permanent camps (Nomad, Sayari, etc) set up in the Serengeti proper--these seronera valley campsites that you are mentioning?

How large was the EMC camp--it was a shared camp (the way that Nomad and Sayari are)? or was it private?

Thanks again for all of the great information.
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Jan 10th, 2006, 08:58 AM
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Phillipsburg,
Don't worry! You will have a great safari. We can't control everything; if we could, what a wonderful world it would be.

bat's thoughts are, as always, eloquently stated and very sensible.
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Jan 10th, 2006, 09:00 AM
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Good to hear from you, Eben!
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Jan 10th, 2006, 09:02 AM
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thanks for the compliments patty and leely--I have to confess that I am not generally known for being sensible! leely, thanks for the Washington Post article referral--it put my trip into perspective.
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Jan 10th, 2006, 09:29 AM
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Thanks for the updates, Eben!

I'm sorry to hear about the food and service you experienced at Basecamp. We visited (but didn't stay at) Basecamp in November and I really liked their renovated tents, layout, and eco-friendliness.

I agree with you that I wouldn't stay exclusively in the northwestern area where Mara Safari Club/Kicheche/Richard's Camp/etc. are located as it's quite some distance from the reserve itself and we found the game more plentiful inside the reserve (but this could be seasonal). We saw large cattle herds here too which some people might be disappointed to find.

We also stayed at Ilkeliani but because we knew prior to our stay that there were towns in nearby, we weren't disappointed in the location. Mark had some very good sightings in the Talek area (I unfortunately was sick and stuck at camp). The only area we didn't cover was the eastern side.

I guess you don't need any of my Mara coordinates now!
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Jan 10th, 2006, 01:49 PM
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Most of the camps away from tourists are in the West so the drive to the heart of he Mara is easily 1-hr. I find that it is a trade-off - remote and intimate with options other than game drives, or in the thick of things with not much other than game drives (though, maybe a game walk).

We had been clear over at Cottar's which is Southeast of the Mara - was supposed to be a 1.5 hr drive from Keekorok airstrip... it took us 3 hrs, but then we kept stopping along the way. When we returned, it was only 1.5 hrs (via the Sand River Gate) to Keekorok. From here we headed due West, then North to the Talek gate and were outside the Mara and at Elephant Pepper in another 1.5 hrs (with stop to watch a mating pair of lions). We definitely had a destination if we wanted our vittles (lunch).

When leaving Elephant Pepper to Saruni, high in the Northwest hills, was only about 45-min, but the game along the way was great for early June. And returning from the Mara from afternoon game and night drive, it barely took us 40-minutes in the darkest of dark to return to Saruni (for dinner).

At most, if not all, of the camps way over this way, the drives take you where the game is - any and every direction, with surprises around every bush or open clearing. The last thing I'm doing when I'm on a game drive is checking my watch (often leave it behind), even if I know how long it takes... the sun and the color of the sky are my indicators; and the brightness of the stars on a clear night.

The distances and time are all relative. On safari, except for meals awaiting (it's not like you won't be fed. whenever)... does time really matter?
 
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Jan 10th, 2006, 02:25 PM
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Thanks, Eben! More of this, please.

I too am sorry to hear you werenít entirely happy with Basecamp. As it was the first place I visited in Kenya itís taken mythical proportions in my imagination. What kind of problems with currency exchange did you have? Bad rate? Thatís not good. Staff at Basecamp consists mostly of local Maasai Ė that are supposed to take over the camp in some years - while other camps employ people from the outside with perfect English. It might explain some of the communication problems. Iíd say most people at Basecamp spoke better English than I do. I decided to learn Swahili and Maa till next time, but my Swahili is still very deficient and my Maa is inexistent Ė my English has improved since I discovered Fodorís. Due to some personal problems I canít comment on other peopleís efficiency. The food at Basecamp is normal camp food that canít be compared to Intrepids etc. Lighting was on the poor side if you need eye make-up for the early morning game drive, but most people donít Ė Iím probably the only one that do. Dead flashlight batteries - not good. Itís good not to encourage over-consumption of bottled water, though I donít know if thatís the reason they donít put water bottles in the tents. I was the only guest for most of my stay at Basecamp. Wasnít it because of a person who didnít answer my letter Iíd have returned to Basecamp or somewhere in the area, but then I wouldnít have seen Tsavo and Samburu.

There arenít exactly paved roads in Talek Ė itís more like a place in a western film of the scruffier kind. I regret not having spent more time there. Itís within walking distance from Basecamp Ė 15 minutes or so. Anyway, you canít see Talek from Basecamp. Instead I saw some warthog hunting lions right at the other side of the river and I was told sometimes there are lions and elephants in camp and once a leopard jumped down on a tent terrace where a couple of guests where sitting. The Serengeti/Mara is prime habitat for our species. Itís Maasailand even if people have been evicted from many parts. To avoid Maasais and cows Iíd recommend visiting the Antarctic.

As Iím known to be on the misanthropic side myself Iím very interested in the western Mara. The Serena is the only place thatís a bit more reasonably priced and it has the best location, but it is too big and an eagle nest view is enjoyable at other places, but in the Mara I want to be on the ground as close to wildlife as possible. If money werenít an issue Iíd stay at Rekero. What about Keekerok in the middle of the Mara?

Thanks again.

Bat: Yes, youíre very sensible.


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