Tanzania – My Bucket List Trip – Part 1

This is what I have been waiting for

This is what I have been waiting for and the reason I wanted to go in October to finally see a river crossing in Tanzania as the migrating herds came back from the Masai Mara into the northern Serengeti…

We left Lake Manyara Tree Lodge early to get out of the park within the 24 hour period of the park fees that had to be paid and Emme drove us back to Manyara Domestic airport. I said goodbye to the other guests who were on their way to &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and bordered an 18 seater TFC flight with pilot Rebecca, who flew us to Lobo airstrip first (took 1 hour) to drop off and pick up other guests some of them from &Beyond Kleins Kamp and then flew 15 minutes onto Kogatende where I was met by Ivan our ranger for the stay at Serengeti Under Canvas Camp. On the flight were a South African couple that I had met on my first night at Lake Manyara, Gary and Angie from Johannesburg who had just got engaged at the crater lodge and I was happy to hear that we would be having our game drives together as they are such a great couple.

Everyone that works up in Tanzania knows that you will always see the wildebeest herds pretty much all year round in the different areas as they move in a circular pattern from the Serengeti up into the Masai Mara in Kenya and back down again, but to see a dramatic river crossing only happens in certain areas where the herds regularly cross year after year. The river is quite deep due to the rains up in the Mara and flowing swiftly and I can see the hesitation of these animals as I wouldn’t want to jump into a fast flowing river with hippos and croc’s either, and they sometimes do it 6 or 7 times at this time of year on different parts of the Mara river as they make their way north and then back down south and suddenly I have a new respect for these animals it takes a lot of guts to do this – and I always thought they were stupid animals based on the way they look.

Ivan our ranger tells me that the current stats are that there are now 2,5 – 3 million wildebeest in East Africa having increased from 5 years ago from 1.5 million or so proving just how successful they have been. But it’s not like the areas has 2.5 million they are spread out and dotted all over the plains of the Masai Mara and Serengeti and cross when the pressure of the numbers build up on the bank of the river and start to push the front ones so that they have no choice but to jump into the river – it just takes one and then they all go.

We wait patiently and the next minute a vehicle from the camp arrives with a picnic lunch for us, as Ivan had let them know we wanted to wait and see the crossing and had arranged with the camp to send a vehicle across to us (a good hour away) with lunch and a table and chairs.

Just as we unpacked the basket and before evening setting out the food – the crossing started making us leave everything in the bush and rush down to the river – the crossing more important than lunch and our grumbling tummies.

Wow its such an incredible sight – the vehicles have to hang back until the animals are already in the river and then everyone drives down to the bank to get a close up view of them crossing and coming up out of the river literally around your car in some places, running back into the Serengeti. Cameras are clicking everywhere, the dust, the sound of the hundreds of Gnu’s (ie wildebeest) moaning is just so dramatic. This is what I have been waiting for and the reason I wanted to go in October, and finally I see a river crossing…

I have to say that I have never wanted to see the croc’s getting hold of the animals as they launch themselves into the river as this for me would just be too distressing to watch. So I was extremely lucky to catch 3 crossing without any casualties during my 3 night stay in the area.

Two crossings happened on the day we arrived and the 3rd happened on the last day in the area so there are days they just don’t cross and you never know when it’s going to happen you just have to be patient and be in the area in the right month of the year. The noise and dust and drama of this event is really hard to describe verbally – luckily I have a 100 – 400 lens and am able to capture a lot of the action up close and personal which I hope will give you some idea of with my photos.  I have never wanted to see the croc’s getting hold of the animals as they launch themselves into the river as this would be just too distressing to watch, and I am happy to say I was extremely lucky to catch 3 crossing without any casualties during my stay of 3 nights at &Beyond Serengeti Under Canvas Camp.

Two crossings happened on the day we arrived and the 3rd happened on the last day in the area so there are days they just don’t cross and you never know when it’s going to happen, you just have to be patient and be in the area in the right month of the year. I heard a wonderful story whilst there of a young wildebeest that got carried away with the flow of the river a couple of days previously and was really battling to find its way across, the next minute a hippo came up to it and gently gave it a nudge and helped it to get across – I was amazed as this is just something you don’t imagine happening and just wished it had happened whilst I was there.

We also had some wonderful lion sightings, two leopards one male with a badly damaged eye probably due to a fight, and loads of giraffe – two in a territorial fight, Oribi, Klip Springers, Eland, elephants, Zebras and a large number of birds as well. There were cheetah in the area but unfortunately we didn’t get to see them.

Mussa from Under Canvas Camp was waiting for us on arrival at the camp late afternoon along with our butlers Muran and Nemis and welcomed us to camp with a wet cloth to cleanse our hands and cool us down.

The camps is gorgeous and isolated and you really get that feeling of being in the middle of the wild, but being a mobile camp that gets moved every couple of months it does not have the same feel as a permanent camp ie there is no swimming pool, no running water etc, and boy do these guys work hard to look after you, bringing you hot water in your tent when you want a shower or to wash. The shower is an open air shower with a bucket that gets filled with hot water – have a look at the pic on the right and you will see it off the back of the tent.

There is no electricity either so it is all done on an open fire – even the washing and ironing is done by hand and ironed using a iron filled with coals – and we all know what ironing is like with a normal iron – I have huge respect for these guys washing and ironing the linen and bedding on a regular basis.

Food is cooked on an open fire or on gas and is plentiful with fresh bread rolls every day, and the staff are very attentive to your needs, in fact they really like to feed you and you have to be careful not to eat too much and become sloth like.

Whilst I am in the area I was also able to do a couple of sight inspections of some other camps, specifically:

Sayari where South African born Barbara is one of the managers – this is a permanent luxury camp with spa facilities and a swimming pool with bath and shower facilities in the room for those not wanting the camping feel but want to go to this area. They have 14 suites and split the camp into two sections of 9 and 5 suites with two separate dining areas which is great for family groups who can have a section of the camp to themselves if they wish.

I  got a chance to meet Kenneth the camp manager at Lemala Serengeti Camp which moves between the northern and southern Serengeti depending on the time of year and they also have two other permanent camps called Lemala Ewanjan in the central Serengeti and Lemala Ngorongoro Crater.

Whilst in the area I also get to meet Pascal, camp manager at Olakira Tented Camp and co-incidentally older brother of Asheri who is the assistant camp manager at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge he has the same happy smile and warmth as Asheri too – Olakira is also a mobile camp which moves around the Serengeti depending on the time of year.

On our last night we join up for special sundowners, cocktails and snacks out on one of the rocks near the camp watching the incredible colours of Africa as the sun sets.

The relaxed team at a sundowner stop on our last night

All too soon my stay is over and we transfer by road back to Kogatende Airstrip which is 45 – 60 minutes from the camp site and time to fly to Kleins Kamp via Lobo Airstrip.

We arrive at Lobo Airstrip in the Serengeti and Rabin my ranger from Kleins Camp is there to meet me, and after a quick trip to TANAPA’s office to pay park fees we are on our way from the main Serengeti National park to Kleins Kamp which is a private concession on the north eastern border of the Serengeti.

I am impressed to see that Rabin has a set of Swaovski binoculars like mine – this is a great sign as to me it means he knows his birds as these are some of the best around and I highly recommend this brand for any person looking for a set of bino’s.

Normally you would land at Kleins’ own airstrip but it’s closed for the moment and so we have to use Lobo Airstrip and there is approximately a 2 hour road transfer to camp which is quite pleasant as we saw a lot of elephants along the way. There is another stop at Tanapa offices just before we enter the Kleins concession and they are in the process of building flush toilets here for guests as well. Then a short drive across a river which has local cattle drinking from it and we are in the Kleins concession 10000 hectare with just one lodge and only 10 cottages! This means night game drives and driving off road to follow the animals something you cannot do within the national park boundaries.

Its a little cooler at Kleins than in the rest of the Serengeti as its slightly higher up from an altitude point of view and for me a relief to my swollen ankles. Tiffany, (joint manager with her husband Matt), Rob (finance), Josephine (Safari shop) and Ester(room steward) along with my butler Dennis await me at the top of the hill full of welcome smiles. Ester and Dennis take my bags to my room and then I go and join Tiff for a drink in the bar area before I go to my room to unpack – the lodge is fairly quite at this time and not fully booked and I get offered a light lunch in my room of kebabs and pasta salad which was delicious and I sat at the table on the veranda of my room eating.

At 4pm I meet Rabin and tracker Sombe who is a Masai for my afternoon/evening game drive. Because Klein’s is a private concession we employ trackers here to help the rangers find the animals in this vast area and of course it creates employment for the local Masai who we are in partnership with on this concession.  Not even 30 minutes on the game drive and Sombe spots a female leopard so high up in the tree and camouflaged that I am amazed at his eyesight but that’s the advantage of having a tracker he is not busy talking to the guests and can focus on looking for the game.

We also hear lions roaring and decide to try and find them and we did two females, but they were on the move and slowly disappeared into the thick bush. It started to drizzle a bit with rain and we head back to camp spotting a porcupine in the process another animal very seldom seen and great to get a good look at. Unknown to me this was not to be as dinner was held in the bush that night and I join up with other guests for their last night in camp in the bush for dinner which was followed by Masai dancing.  It’s been a long day and its back to camp around 10h30 or so and a really good night’s sleep. The next morning the security guard wakes me with coffee and a biscuit before I go down to meet Rabin and Sombe who tell me we are having breakfast out on the plains today and off we set, Rabin eventually decides it’s a great place to stop for breakfast in the bush and out comes what we in South Africa call a skottle braai (it’s a gas cooker but on a dish shaped metal plate.

Out comes the bacon and eggs along with muffins and fruit and yogurt just for me and the two of them and Sombe proceeds to cook assisted by Rabin. Sombe being Masai does not cook at home but Rabin teases him about the fact that he likes to cook – so when he starts on his own meal of eggs and bacon and makes a sort of plain egg omelette I ask him if he has ever tried to make one with bacon and cheese on it. Fascinated he decides to give this a try and loves it – now his breakfast of choice he says and really enjoys it! We stand and chat and watch the animal world go by and I wonder why I never became a game ranger – this is the life.  Time to move on and make our way back to camp it’s not been the most exciting morning but as we drive back past the tree where the leopard was the night before we see she is back and with two of her three 7 month old cubs. Now this is an unusual sighting – normally you are lucky to see one leopard and here are three of them potentially four. What a picture that would have made 4 leopard in a tree together – but it was not meant to be I could only get two of them in the tree together – still unusual though. I all my years of going to the bush I seem to have the most incredible luck with leopards, and they are my favourite to photograph of all the animals with Cheetah a close second.

Back at camp and Tiff tells me that I will lunch with her in the lounge area overlooking the fantastic view of the Kuka Hills to the west that border the Serengeti National park, she knows I am not that hungry as 3 meals a day and 3 courses per meal catches up with you after a while and its impossible to eat that much anymore no matter how delicious it is.

Because Klein’s is situated up on the hill the views from the main deck area are fantastic as you look down onto the plains below the lodge and see all the animals you almost don’t need to go out on a game drive and it’s the perfect location to sit and relax during the day and have lunch. Lunch turns out to be pizza and salad. Chef, Shobani has been taught how to make small but really delicious pizza which was the perfect meal – light and with salad and I get to know Tiff who I only know via email. Her son Jackson who is just about to turn 2 years old comes to visit and is an absolute delight with all guests I am told and you can see that all the staff just love him.

Rob and assistant manager Tawanda pop in as well and I get to meet them. Tawanda is from Zimbabwe originally and used to work at &Beyond Matetsi Water Lodge near to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and has been working up in Tanzania for a while at Kleins Kamp. With no other guests in camp I decide to have an afternoon in camp and not go out on a game drive which means Rabin and Sombe also get to relax a bit for the afternoon. Most guests do not realise how hard camp staff work up before the first guest to be ready and waiting with breakfast or packing the vehicle for the game drives with drinks etc they are up at least an hour and a half before you are so time off in the middle of the day is time for them to catch up on paper work, playing soccer with friends or choir practice, watching television or getting there emails or grabbing a few hours of sleep!

Tiff and husband Matt have invited me for dinner at their house for the evening. A heavy shower of rain falling on the roof of my room soon sends me to sleep for a couple of hours first though.

Rob meets me at 6pm and I go to Matt and Tiffs house, and have Jackson insist on showing me his bedroom and toys – I think he thought he could tempt me into paying with him for a while but it was close to his bedtime and wasn’t to be. The previous night’s bush dinner had turned into a very late night for Matt and Rob with the guests in camp and both very extremely “tired” by 9pm at which point eyes were closing including mine so it was back to camp to sleep. It’s amazing how tired you can get on holiday when you are packing in so much, driving around for 6 hours a day sounds relaxing but you feel like you are always on the go so it is great to have an early evening.

Up early the next morning the three musketeers ie Rabin, Sombe and I set off with breakfast to cook in the bush again this time driving far across the airstrip to the far side of the reserve, where we set up breakfast overlooking a plain full of giraffe, eland, buffalo, coke haartebeest, topi, wildbeest, elephants and zebra.

This time I ask the guys if they know how to make French Toast, and so the cooking lessons proceed – me in my element out in the sunshine and open air, the smell of cooking wafting around me as I drink my African coffee – that’s coffee with Amarula cream (a sweet creamy liquor) also really good on ice or with hot chocolate too!

Back to camp late and I decide not to have lunch as breakfast was filling, instead this afternoon I am going to try my hand at using the small sketchpad and water colours that is in the room another great relaxing afternoon for me.

Late afternoon my last game drive and Rob decides to join me as he is also a keen photographer, in fact is much better than I am and he’s keen to find the leopards, so far we have seen 4 leopards all different in two days of game drives, the lions have moved off and a high chance of seeing them again.  Once again Sombe, eyes peeled like a hawk finds us a leopard up a tree with a kill, another leopard we haven’t seen before that makes 5 different leopards in 2 1/2 days – extraordinary to say the least! Light fading fast we take lots of photos and she finally comes down the tree to eat some grass and then walks across to a small hill to lie down again and pose for us.  All to soon darkness falls and we drive off to see what else we can find – coming across some hyena on the way, clouds are building and the cooler weather is settling in and we stop for sundowners quickly and a final G&T in the concession before driving back to the lodge and dinner.

Tomorrow its off to Grumeti – or not…. see why in part 2.

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Sheena Knox

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