I wish I had more time to explore the rest of the Serengeti, but that’ll have to wait. Work has a way of interfering with life, but at the same time, without work we wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity to see East Africa.
Since our flight leaving Seronera wasn’t until 11AM we got to sleep in and leisurely get ready for our departure from camp @ 8AM. One party had already left, 2 others were leaving with us, and one other party was leaving in a few hours. This left the camp with 2 parties, and no one else checking in for the day. Gotta love slow season.
Goodluck ended up driving us to the airport, and on the way there we saw a serval!
This was the Serengeti’s parting gift to us. Almost like a teaser for us to stay.
The last time I was this sad leaving a place was last year in Botswana.
It was an hour flight to Arusha, and another 20 minutes to Kilimanjaro. Then it was a 6-hour lay over in Kilimanjaro. Luckily, priority pass gave us access to the VIP lounge.
This was our first year with priority pass, and I have no idea how we ever managed to travel without it. The more comfortable seats with complimentary refreshments made traveling so much more palatable.
We had a 3-hour layover in Nairobi, coinciding with dinner time.
And another 3-hour layover in Dubai, where we opted to get 2 hours of sleep before our 16-hour flight back to LAX.
I estimated that I slept a total of 4 hours during the entire 40 hours of traveling, and I didn’t feel worse for the wear.
We did crash after getting home and slept like babies until the next morning, waking up feeling refreshed and ready for work! That’s never happened!
Finally, asante sana East Africa for the amazing experience and memories. We will be back!
Entire trip tally of cats – 45 lions, 15 cheetahs, 3 leopards, 2 servals. (Botswana was 5 lions, 2 leopards)
Woke up to another beautiful morning in the Serengeti.
Walter’s plan was to go find the pride of lions belonging to the set of brothers we saw last evening. Easier said than done. We set out at 6:30AM and drove around for 4 hours looking for them. During those four hours we saw a smattering of other animals.
This cheetah was obviously looking for breakfast, and Joe and I wouldn’t have minded if we waited around to watch the hunt, but she was taking her sweet ole time, so Walter decided to go look for the lion pride.
On our way, we saw another cheetah mom, but without her cubs. Walter surmised that the cubs were probably very tiny and hidden away, and she was out looking for food.
Cheetah claws are not retractable like other cats (e.g., lions, leopards). This helps them grip the ground when they are running at top speed. With that said, cheetahs are speedsters but clumsy off the ground. This cheetah showed us how clumsy she was when she was attempting to climb a tree branch close to ground. She looked more like a dog than a cat.
It was as if all the cheetahs were out today. We ran into this set of brothers when we were looking for a spot to go ‘bushy bushy’. In fact, we were all ready to pile out of the jeep to go relieve ourselves, but then Walter decided to check the area for predators, and we saw these 2.
After 4 hours of driving, Walter still wouldn’t give up on the lion pride and his persistence finally paid off.
Thirteen lions in one spot – 4 lionesses and 9 cubs.
This pride belongs to the first set of males we saw last evening. The sad part is that they started off 32 strong, but because all the animals had migrated north during the dry season there was little food for the pride (had to subsist on warthogs), so a lot of the cubs had starved. The good news is that the animals are starting to return to this part of the park thanks to the rain. I’m sure the warthogs are singing their Hallelujahs.
Maybe it was the mud, but this group of lions looked shabbier than the ones we saw the day before. Walter said that the larger prides tend to suffer more during the dry season because they have more mouths to feed.
One of the guests in the jeep had his cap blown off while we were about to drive off. Walter decided to fetch it by driving closer to the cap. However, that ended up pushing the cap into the water towards the cubs. That got all their attention, and no one knew what to do. Then Mama lion nonchalantly walked over, plucked the cap out of the water, and walked away with it.
After seeing 13 lions we were satisfied to return to camp. On our way back, we saw a Kori Bustard – the largest flying bird in Africa. It’s wingspan was as wide as our jeep!
But wait, did someone say hyena cubs? No, it’s lion cubs. More lions!
This smaller pride is actually the same pride we saw the first evening we arrived at Namiri Plains.
So in the span of an hour, we saw more lions that we did the entire week in Botswana! When it rains, it pours!
On the way to camp, we got a glimpse of a serval before it hid.
We took full advantage of the bar after lunch. Everyone else was back in their tent napping and facebooking. We sat in the lounge area and started our happy hour early.
4PM – evening game drive.
Walter told us we’d be heading southeast of the camp, which we hadn’t been. He said, we may not see much, or we may see something different.
The way to distinguish a male from a female giraffe is by looking at their horns. Male giraffes don’t have much hair (the tufts of black) left on their horn due to neck fighting with other male giraffes.
Now here’s something we hadn’t seen.
When the mom and pop foxes saw us, they had the pups go back in the den while they tried to lead us away from the den.
It was quite exciting to see these foxes as they are hard to find. What wasn’t hard to find was this ostrich nest.
A male ostrich can mate with several females, and all the females will have the matriarch incubate all their eggs.
We headed back to camp early because Asilia had a surprise for us.
It was nice to have a drink and chat with everyone while watching the sun go down.
If you were to ask me to pick a highlight of this entire trip, I’d have to pick today.
After yesterday’s beautiful lion sighting we figured there was no way to top that experience. However, Walter proved us wrong. We had an early start for our game drive @ 6:30AM, driving around for about 1-2 hours not seeing much and wondering what we were looking for. Drove around saw some giraffes and learned that trees can actually communicate with one another. One tree can let the others know that there’s a giraffe coming through and the others will start producing unpleasant taste in the leaves to ward off the giraffe. Unlike elephants who are non-discriminate eaters, giraffes will get turned off by unpleasant tasting leaves.
The first new animal we saw was a steenbuck.
Look at those ears…
Shortly after we came upon a cheetah family of 4 – mom with 3 cubs.
From the very moment we saw this family we noticed that the mom was looking around for prey and not paying the cubs any mind. The cubs (especially 2 of the 3) were just chasing and jostling with each other.
They even stumbled upon a tortoise and didn’t know what to make of it.
Another jeep had radioed that they were waiting for a cheetah hunt elsewhere. Walter asked if we wanted to go to that spot, or follow this family which the mom appeared to be looking for food. Obviously no one knew what was best, so I said, “what do you think?” Walter decided to follow this family for 10 minutes and see what would happen, and if nothing happened we’d go to the other site. Well, 10 minutes turned into an hour and a half. We kept following the family, and I was dozing off in the jeep (my way of not thinking about how full my bladder was at that moment).
Cubs following mom…
As we were hanging out in the jeep, we noticed that the cubs suddenly became very still and well behaved. No more romping around, but staying close to mom and paying attention to what she was focusing on.
What they were looking at was a herd of Thomson gazelles. The cheetahs stayed in their spot not moving for a good 10-15 minutes. All of a sudden the mom took off, the gazelles scattered in all different directions, and my heart was pounding.
In 10 seconds the hunt was over.
I thought I would be sad watching a kill, but I guess spending an hour and a half with a cheetah family, I started rooting for the mom to catch something for the family to eat. I also realized that this is nature, there is absolutely nothing cruel about this. It’s all about survival. Only in human society do we artificially allow all to survive.
The mom didn’t immediately eat, as we were told that her brain was still engorged with blood during the chase and that she had to allow the blood to dissipate before she could eat.
The cubs also waited before pouncing on the gazelle, “practicing and honing” their skills.
Apparently watching a cheetah hunt is not a daily event. Walter told us that he gets to see it once a week, and only if the people in the jeep are patient and willing to sit and wait for hours. That patience certainly paid off for us, and this was exactly what Joe wanted to see on this trip.
By this point, all of our bladders were about to burst, so it was off to find a private spot to go “bushy bushy”.
After seeing the cheetah’s morning hunt, coming across a lioness on the road side seemed so common place.
We drove around a little more and looped back to find a male cheetah chowing down a baby gazelle.
This poor little jackal was waiting on the sidelines hoping for some scraps.
But by the time we left, the cheetah had all but devoured the gazelle.
It was time for us to grab lunch and a little siesta, before setting off for our 4PM game drive.
The afternoon game drive was short, but we did manage to see 2 sets of lion brothers.
Male brother lions always stay together.
Joe actually spotted the second set of lions. He thought the ‘grass’ looked different.
Another early departure from camp today. By this time only 1 set of guests remain, and they were slated to leave later in the morning, leaving Sanctuary Ngorongoro camp empty.
It took 2 hours to get from camp to Lake Manyara airstrip, and it was another hour of waiting for the flight. During that hour I managed to haggle with the art shop owner (Petro told us the other night that you are expected to haggle for everything) over a painting. He started off with $50 but said that since I was the first customer of the day, he’d give it to me for $40. I never pay more than $20 for any of my ‘art’ pieces I collect on vacation, so I told him $20. He dropped it to $30, but I held my ground. I eventually got it for $20 and the shop keeper didn’t seem too happy as it wasn’t as much haggling as I just named the price and never budged.
We flew into Seronera via Lobo on a full flight this time. The flight took an hour and 20 minutes, and once we got to the Serengeti we realized this was where everyone was. The tiny airport was crowded.
Our guide, Walter, from camp didn’t wait for us as he had another set of guests and they went ahead with the game drive. Goodluck from another Asilia camp met up with us and transferred us to Walter’s jeep where they were waiting for us at a leopard sighting.
Right outside the airport we saw a bunch of jeeps parked near a tree, and we immediately knew there was something interesting to see.
In the Serengeti, guides will broadcast whenever they find something of interest. That leads to crowds and congestion. Imagine being a sleeping leopard just looking for some peace and quiet, all of a sudden a mass of noisy jeeps descend upon you, and then you start hearing ‘click’ ‘click’ ‘click’ of cameras. Luckily, we weren’t going to be part of this crowd.
Seronera is the central valley in the Serengeti, where a lot of the tourists were staying. We booked to stay in the remote eastern part of the Serengeti – Namiri Plains.
As were were planning our trip, we had wanted to see the great migration of the wildebeests crossing the Mara River in Northern Serengeti. However, given that we were going to be in Tanzania in November we realized that Northern Serengeti was probably not the place to be to see the migration, as the animals would have started moving south towards Southern Serengeti. The animals would likely be in the Central valley, but even that’s no guarantee. So instead of staying in Central valley and risk not seeing any animals, we decided that we’d go to ‘big cat country’ – Namiri Plains. After not seeing many cats last year, my main goal was to see cats this year. Namiri Plains had been closed to tourist for 20 years to help the cheetah population rebound, and now has a high concentration of cheetahs and lions. Asilia Namiri Plains is the only outfit in that area, and had just opened 4 years ago.
Being in a remote part of the park meant a longer drive to reach camp, but we just took it as part of a game drive.
Our guide was waiting for us at this leopard transfer point. So we hopped from Goodluck’s jeep to Walter’s and met up with a couple from IL who would be sharing the game drives with us for the next 3 days.
Very different scenery in the Serengeti. It’s mostly flat plains and some scattered kopjes.
In no time, we spotted a cheetah.
Cheetahs are relatively small, so their main prey are the smaller Thomson gazelles and not so much the bigger antelopes and zebras.
However, these guys were not letting their guards down. They kept their eye on the cheetah to make sure they weren’t going to be lunch.
You know it’s cat country when all you see are cats on your way to camp.
Not only did we have Walter as our guide, we had Manja as a “guide in training” in our jeep. We were told that Manja’s a Masaai, and I wonder if that’s why he see things that none of us could. As Walter was driving past a kopje, Manja nonchalantly said, ‘lion’.
None of us saw this one. Not even Walter.
Before reaching Namiri Plains, we saw our first topis.
We finally reached Namiri Plains in time for lunch, and outside the camp is this beautiful acacia tree.
The Asilia setup was not as luxurious as the Sanctuary camps, but they more than made up for it with their hospitality, great food, and fast wifi in the individual tents.
After a brief sieta, we were off for our afternoon game drive at 4PM. I couldn’t imagine what more we could see given what we’ve already seen in the morning on the way to camp. But Walter amazed us by showing us the most beautiful male lion one could ever lay their eyes on.
Just look at that mane!
This was one powerful looking cat, not like the paunchy baldy one we saw at Tarangire Park.
As regal as this lion looked, it showed us its goofy side. It would try to bite at the tse-tse flies midair like Truffalo would with the flies at home. It was quite comical.
It finally laid down, and it was our cue to go look for something else.
When there’s a lion, you know the rest of the pride is not far away.
Of course, Manja saw the lioness before anyone else did.
And she was with one other lioness and 4 cubs.
The other lioness..
Three of the cubs…
Wow, what a day! We could’ve just called it a day and packed up for home, because how can you top a day like this?
Sanctuary had provided electric blankets at all their lodges/camps. This was Asilia’s version of an electric blanket.
Ngorongoro (the ‘N’ is silent) – crater in Swahili
We left Swala camp early in the AM after breakfast. Took us an hour to get to the airstrip, and another hour of waiting at the airstrip to get on a flight to Manyara airstrip 15 minutes away. Slow season meant we were the only passengers on the 12-passenger flight. It was like flying on our own private jet.
During our flights within Tanzania, we noticed interesting patterns on the ground. There are homes within circles, and circles within circles sometimes with livestock in them. We later learned that these are Masaai homes. Each circle may belong to a wife of a Masaai man, who can have up to 50-75 wives at a time. The richer the man, the more wives he has.
We were met up by Joseph, our guide for the next 2 days. Unlike all our other guides, Joseph was quiet and not quite as engaging, which made our stop at Ngorongoro less exciting. He was, as I jokingly called him, Tony 2.0 because he kept pointing out birds like our guide Tony back at Chobe.
We were driven to Lake Manyara Park before check in. I was surprised we were going to Lake Manyara as I didn’t recall it being on our itinerary (it was).
Lake Manyara was underwhelming. It’s great for someone who’s never been on a safari, but for those who’ve seen quite a bit it was ‘blah’.
But I did get to see tiny warthog babies.
And other babies…
There were 3 new things we saw in the park.
After lunch (yummy chicken chapati wrap) and a fall for me (after tripping on uneven steps) we headed to the crater, an hour and a half away.
The roads were paved between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro. We passed by a few towns en route to Ngorongoro, and it reminded me of Taiwan 30-40 years ago. One thing I have to say about Tanzania is that their bathrooms are clean. You’ll often see attendants constantly mopping and wiping, keeping them cleaner than the bathrooms we’ve encountered in major cities in China. All I have to say is that it takes desperation, courage, and a strong stomach to use the bathrooms in China.
Once we got to the crater, it was bumpy dirt road again.
Ngorongoro is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera with 30,000 animals. Most are residents, but some migrate in and out of the crater. It is also a world heritage site like the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Sanctuary Ngorongoro Camp is situated on the rim of the crater. Due to its high elevation the camp was relatively cold. The camp has 10 tents with a reception/bar and dining area in the center, and had just been renovated the week before we arrived. Wifi is only available in the dining area.
The most interesting part of the camp is its shower. There is no automatic running water, the shower is a ‘bucket shower’. Your room attendant fills up the bucket with warm water as you’re showering, which means you can’t just take a shower whenever, you need to make an ‘appointment’ for a shower.
The evening was spent chatting with Petro learning about Tanzanian culture and sipping on Amarula, my favorite African drink ever since I was introduced to it last year in Botswana.
Again, the camp only had 3 sets of travelers, and one group was set to check out the following morning with no one due to check in.
The day started with elephants visiting the watering hole next to the dining area during breakfast.
Since last year’s trip to Botswana, I’ve learned to temper my expectations. During that trip I was hell bent on seeing large prides of lions with their cubs. However, we only saw 5 lions on that entire trip – 2 males lions sleeping in the brush, and 3 females walking away from us in the dark. What we did see tons of during that trip were BIRDS – thanks to Tony (our guide in Chobe) and the birders in our jeep.
Lions in Botswana…
I have to admit that I was so disappointed last year that it nearly ruined the trip for me. So I’ve learned to lower my expectations for this trip so that I wouldn’t be so dispirited. My expectations for Tarangire wasn’t too high to begin with as this place is really know for baobab and elephants. So I went on the all-day game drive expecting to see the usual suspects.
We were treated to some animals we’d never seen before.
Then you have the usual.
As we’re trundling along the dirt path, Samwell suddenly stops and spots a lion. A lion! I really didn’t expect we’d see a lion so quickly.
In Chobe National Park in Bostwana, the park rules are that the jeeps must stay on the paths and not go off road. In Tarangire, the rules also exist, but since the park was deserted Samwell took matters in his hands. He said, “we’re going to get closer, get your camera ready.”
It’s hard to tell in the photo, but there were 5 other lions within the brush. No wonder we couldn’t see any lions in Botswana, they were all hidden away and we couldn’t get close to them. Of course we couldn’t stay too long as we were off road, but that just made my day. We just saw more lions than our entire trip to Botswana. I thought to myself, this is a good sign for the rest of our Tanzania trip. Little did I know how good of a sign this would end up being.
As we’re heading toward Silale swamp, Samwell asked, “do you guys want to see a snake?” I thought that was strange question. Maybe some people don’t like to see snakes. I thought about it and said ‘sure, why not’. He backed up the jeep and pointed out the python.
Samwell told us that the python is likely done eating for the next few months, and will be spending all its time in the tree digesting.
We got to Silale swamp and it looked like a painting.
Samwell was looking as he was driving. It was unclear as to what he was looking for, and then he spotted the 2 legs dangling from the tree.
He had been looking for this leopard for his prior group but could not find it. We had seen a leopard in Okavango Delta last year, but I didn’t take this one for granted as we know elusive they are.
Here’s the beautiful leopard we saw last year in Botswana, as we followed it for close to an hour.
Back to the leopard we saw this time – it just decided to sleep in the tree and made no movement at all except for a flick of the tail.
Samwell got word that there were 2 lions close to the path, so we left the leopard behind.
We were told that the male lion is still young and therefore the mane isn’t as full as one would expect. However, we were later told by the guide at the Serengeti, that the reason the mane is not as full as the ones seen in the Serengeti is because of the terrain. Tarangire has a lot more brush and therefore the lions lose their hair as they’re walking through the brush. Whereas the Serengeti plain has nothing to grab onto their hair to cause hair loss, as you’ll see in pictures in later entries.
After spending a good amount of time with the lions, we headed to the picnic site for lunch. Samwell told us to get our cameras ready before driving right up and under the sleeping leopard.
On our way to the picnic site, we saw a few more interesting animals/birds.
Sanctuary provided us with packed lunch – chicken rice, cucumber and red onion salad, sweet yam with figs, brownies, and it was all amazingly good.
An interesting tidbit we learned during lunch – since hunting in Tanzania was banned 5 years ago, bush meat is considered illegal and anyone caught with it will end up in jail.
On our way back to the camp, we ran into the the first pride of lions again.
Samwell had wanted to find the cheetah for us, but we couldn’t possibly be so lucky in one day.
After a long day, it was happy hour at the camp.
Sanctuary Swala used to have a swimming pool, but had it covered earlier this year during their renovation after the swimming pool was becoming the animals’ watering hole. The staff told us that there were so many animals on the grounds when the swimming pool was in place that the camp was like a zoo.
We had breakfast before meeting up with the Sanctuary rep for our ride to the Arusha Airport for our onward trip to Tarangire National Park.
The drive to the Arusha airport was only 10 minutes, and the airport itself was tiny, like all other regional airports in Africa.
The flight to the Kuro Airstrip within Tarangire park took only 20 minutes.
We were met by Samwell, our game drive driver for the next 2 days. The drive to Sanctuary Swala would take an hour and a half, which served as a mini game drive. If you ever plan to go to Tarangire, make sure not to wear dark colors such as black and blue, as those colors attract tse-tse flys. Guess what colors I was wearing? Black and blue and I was eaten alive en route to the camp.
Since last year’s trip to Bostwana, I’ve had a greater appreciation for birds. The birds in Africa are especially colorful.
Tarangire is know for it’s Boabab trees, which look different than the baobab trees in Madagascar. I personally believe the Madagascar ones are much more dramatic, but the boababs in Tarangire were impressive in their size as well.
Tarangire is also known for its elephants.
Animals along the way.
We finally arrived to the camp without seeing any predators. The jackal pup was the highlight.
We always like to travel around Thanksgiving because of the extra days we get off. But also because most Americans are home celebrating Thanksgiving, and not a lot of people are traveling overseas. This makes for less crowded traveling which we like. Sanctuary Swala has 12 tents, and only 3 of them were occupied. That goes to show how quiet it was, and this was a recurring theme at every camp we stayed at on this trip.
Sanctuary Swala had just recently been renovated, so everything looked new and modern.
One nice thing about all the Sanctuary accommodations is that they provide a ‘gym’ bag with yoga mats, weights, resistance bands for you to use in case you want to exercise while on vacation. We never touched any of those bags during our trip.
After a nice lunch and siesta, we went on a short evening game drive, but didn’t really get to see much. November is the low season when the dry season game have migrated out of the park.
We saw an amazing moon rise during dinner, and can honestly say it’s something we’ve never seen in our lives. Didn’t get a photo of it, but it is forever ingrained in our minds.
Today ended up being a whole day of traveling from Uganda to Tanzania. We left Sanctuary Gorilla Forrest Camp @ 7:30AM for a 1 1/2 hour drive to Kihihi airport to catch a flight back to Entebbe. We had lunch at the VIP lounge during our transit at the airport prior to our flight out to Nairobi International Airport* in Kenya. We then flew out of Nairobi down to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. From there we were met by the Sanctuary reps to drive us 2 hours to Arusha. By the time we got to the Arusha Coffee Lodge, we were done. Skipped dinner and went straight to bed after a quick shower.
*Silly incident at the Nairobi airport. As we were going through security, the guards said, “Jambo!” The two of us looked around confused thinking that the lane was only for Jambojet passengers. Then the guard said, “Nihao!”. It took us a while to realize that ‘Jambo’ meant ‘hello’ in Swahili. We looked like clueless tourists.
After a disappointing first trek, I knew it would only get better because they wouldn’t possibly assign us to the same group would they? Luckily, our driver accompanied us this time instead of the camp manager, and he heeded my preference. He gave us 2 options: one group has baby gorillas, the other has a huge silverback but no baby gorillas and is a longer trek. Of course I picked the huge silverback and longer trek.
We were assigned to the Mubare family with some fit looking hikers (couples from germany, czech republic, and another from CA). Before setting off, the guide asked who would be the slower hikers, but no one raised their hands. So he said, “we’ll find out.”
Off we went. We followed the same path as we did yesterday, but we quickly branched off the main path and started climbing uphill. The uphill continued for the next 2+ hours through clear path and then through dense shrub, and amazingly everyone kept up with the guide, and he admitted he was impress with our group. He said usually he’d have a huge gap between him and the rest of the group, and would have to stop to wait for everyone. Our group just stayed on his tail.
At one point, we had to back track as the trekkers who had set off 2 hours before we hadn’t locate the gorilla family, but we were soon on the right path when we spotted gorilla dung – I’ve never been so happy in my life to see poop.
Shortly after we were following 2 females.
And then we saw the giant silverback.
Then we just all forgot about all the other members of the family, and kept following the silverback.
Members of our group
and our guide hacking away at the brush so that we could get a good view of the silverback.
The silverback was just busy eating and not paying us any mind. The whole time he would be grunting to let his members know that everything is fine. He also made a noise that sounded like something from Jurassic Park. It was quite eerie.
Finally our time was up and it was a 2 hour hike back down to the headquarters. As we got closer to the headquarters someone pointed out a gorilla in the trees. Then we saw baby gorillas on the ground and realized we had unexpectedly run into the Rushegura family (the family we saw yesterday)!
By the time we got back to the camp, it was a little after 2PM, and we were soaking wet, but what an exciting day. This totally made up for shorter hike we did the day before. This time I made sure I didn’t touch the boxed lunch so that I could have a proper meal back at the lodge.
We took advantage of the free laundry service at the camp. Had our dirty hiking clothes cleaned so that we could pack up for our departure the next morning. Not only did they clean our clothes, they cleaned our hiking boots to the point where it looked like brand new pairs of boots!