Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Behind the 2012 Kenya/Tanzania Safari

The Great Migration in morning light. (click on image for full size)

This trip was to be my 5th to the Dark continent (6th if you count a day trip to Tangier) and this time I decided to go without medication for Malaria. I diced with more mosquitos in Penang Airport than I saw for the rest of the trip. Penang’s Airport is being refurbished and it was a total mess….I first felt like the rabbit in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and then –The Prisoner of Zenda’ while waiting for my flight to Singapore. When at Changi airport I had a few hours to wait but soon caught up with Nick and Dennis who would join me on the Emirates flight to Dubai. It was not a good flight, stuffed full, over-warm and aisles the dimensions of a 5 cent coin. Like many others you are sleep-deprived and off-loaded in the steamy hub for too many hours. The next leg to Nairobi was more laid-back and pleasant. We filled in Visa forms and after meeting our driver we encountered our first Nairobi traffic jam…….getting out of the airport carpark. We eventually made it to the Safari Club, which is a downtown, all-suite hotel that is comfortable although getting weary with age and low-level maintenance. It is however always good to get a horizontal sleep after modern airline, hub-centered transport.

The lounge in my Safari Club suite

The next morning after a good breakfast we were on our way to the Maasai Mara. We had met up with two other members of our team, Pok Zin and Vincent who had come via Qatar Airlines which hubs in Doha. We stopped briefly on a lookout over the Great Rift Valley and a punctured wheel on one of the vehicles was exchanged. Pok Zin was clearly feeling repressed in modern, arms-free Singapore when he nearly perforated a local while flexing his arm with a souvenir Maasai spear. More was to come. 
We had a break at Narok on the way, a normal watering-hole on the way to the Mara. 

Something new; Kenyan bikers

Organized chaos in a Kenyan Village. The building on the right is the Kenyan Institute of Management

The journey for about 5/8 of the way is on relatively good tarmac roads but as soon as the vehicles turn off towards the Mara and a good 3 hours yet to run the roads turn ugly. I have said before they look like an airstrip that has been subject to the full force of carpet-bombing raids. Bomber Harris would be proud if his aviators had inflicted such damage.

The escarpment on the edge of the Great Rift Valley

First casualty: a puncture after an hour on good roads.

It was with great relief that we reached the Ashil Bush Camp on the banks of the Mara River. The Ashnil camp is permanent and surrounded by an electric fence.  It is well located and we saw a crossing of Wildebeest adjacent to the camp later the first afternoon. The tents were solid and the food in the large dining room was good. There were wireless internet connections available at a cost and altogether we were comfortable.

Finally the first camp

For the next four days we explored the area along the Mara River and were surrounded by hordes of Wildebeest. We had very good encounters with a female cheetah and her four cubs and a lioness with two impish cubs. We also located a pair of Bat-eared foxes and were able to get good shots of them. The mornings had clear skies and sweet light and we were happy.

Part of the great Wildebeest herd. The line continues on the horizon.

The Mara River, a hub of action

The Talek River

We then moved some distance away to the Mara Bush Camp (, that was on the banks of a somewhat stagnant Olare Orok (I think the translation means 'stinks like hydrogen sulphide') River, which hosted a number of hippos that roamed through the camp at night. We were now in basic tents with no electricity. The tents however had been tastefully furnished and there were a number of nice decorative touches employing the work of local artists. My attentive houseboy was called Major. There was no running hot water but 20 litres of hot water was added to a canvas bag that was piped into a shower-head in the tent each evening for a welcome shower. A thermos of hot water was provided for face-washing or shaving. In the dark hours if you wanted to travel outside your tent you had to summon a spear-carrying Maasai warrior by ringing a cow-bell adjacent to the tent entrance. Electricity was available for laptops and battery recharging at a photographers tent. This was very nicely set up and a good idea because you could swap stories with photographers from other vehicles and learn where the action was. The food was excellent in the Mara Bush camp, which was exceedingly well run. This was mainly down to the manager, Sabine, a German lady who was friendly and passionate about Africa and eco-tourism. The world needs more Sabines. We did have lots of hippo noises and a nearby kill one night by a pride of lions that seemed to get closer to the camp each night we were there.

The inside of the Mara Bush camp tent.

The vanity unit in the Mara Bush Camp tent

The photographers tent, not an Apple advert.

Breakfast in the great outdoors
Breakfast on the go...alongside the Mara River    Photo courtesy of Dennis Ho  

From the delightful Mara Bush camp we caught a small plane to travel eventually to Tanzania and the Serengeti.  Our departure was delayed for an hour and this gave Pok Zin a chance to actually throw a serious Maasai spear. He used the wrong end initially and that had a mature, Maasai rolling around the long grass in uncontained mirth. Possibly a number of furtively observing lions were in the same state. It took three hops to get to the desired airport in Tanzania. First we had to fly to Wilson Airport in Nairobi to clear the Kenyan Immigration. I have flown into Nairobi on several occasions on a small plane and you fly over some large mansions and then the huge slum……..two worlds close together but far apart. From Nairobi we flew to Kilimanjaro airport and had glimpses of the famed mountain peaking through clouds.   Two more travellers/photographers joined us; Lip Kee, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Singapore and his anesthetist wife, Rachel. They were to go on to explore the Ngorongoro crater when we departed.

Off to Tanzania, via Nairobi

Approaching Nairobi.....the extensive slum area.

Our group was now split into three vehicles driven by Nickson, Paul and Frank who were employed by the Maasai Wanderings. company. They were excellent, professional drivers and guides and the vehicles were in excellent condition. The same company owned the two camps we stayed in.

We were ferried to our first camp in the famed Serengeti National Park, which was located at the base of a hill and was similar to the Mara Bush camp but more primitive. Both Nick and I had a boyhood dream to see the Serengeti after seeing the iconic film ' The Serengeti shall not die' made in 1959 by Bernhard Gryzimek. The camp was well run and the food was of a good quality, especially considering the conditions for its preparation. We were located in the central part of the Serengeti and there were no Wildebeest present in the area. 

The tents for our first Serengeti camp

The interior

The washroom

Shower time; the camp boys provide 20 liters of hot water

Vincent had his canvas disturbed one night.......the culprit....the most dangerous animal in Africa

There was good birdlife and we located a young female Leopard resting on a Kopje on our second day. There were interesting noises just outside the tent during the nights. Hyena and Buffalo were ever close and lion were calling in the vicinity.  A raking search by torch-light would reveal many green eyes in the dark......fortunately belonging to a herd of Impala. There was ample game near the hills and in green areas that had benefitted from regrowth following selective burning. Kopjes also provided an interesting ecosystem for a number of mammals including Klipspringers and the Yellow-spotted Hyrax….which look like fat guinea pigs but had amazing tree-climbing ability. We also had some good encounters with Banded and Dwarf Mongoose tribes.

One of many Kopjes

A Klipspringer resting in his domain

Yellow Spotted Hyrax warm up in the morning sun

Out final camp was to be a similar one (owned by the same company) in the Northern reaches of the Serengeti. The journey between the two camps was breath-taking. Expansive plains, rolling hills, lush pastures, poetic trees and large numbers of animals. Herds of elephants, large groups of Zebra, massive Cape Buffalo herds and many types of antelope and gazelles could be seen peacefully grazing.

Steve was the hard-working manager of the camp and his team worked well to make our time enjoyable. A devlish wind rattled our tents the first night and we wondered if we would end the night in the same location.

Camp 2 in the Serengeti complete with an intrepid explorer.

The interior of my tent.

Fording a creek

A failed ford.....or in this case, a Toyota

The weather was not ideal for photography in the next four days but we travelled in some beautiful countryside. One vehicle did a full day trip to the Mara River and saw a large contingent of Wildebeest poised to cross. True to form however there was collective procrastination and no wet bodies… least for that day.

When we were done with the Serengeti and the safari we caught a plane back to Kilamanjaro airport and thence to Wilson before spending another night in the Safari Club.
There was a shorter wait at Dubai followed for me by a longer period at Changi Airport before I arrived in Penang around midnight on a Thursday night.

It was a very good safari with excellent company from my companions. There were a few issues on the Kenyan leg with distracted drivers, inadequate vehicles, likely corrupt rangers and radios that did not work for a number of days. We were in two vehicles and were in contact with hand-held 5 watt walkie-talkie radios that helped relay information to each other.
We had great mornings on the Mara and fulfilled a lifetime dream by drinking in the magnificent beauty of the Serengeti.

From a photographic point of view; when analyzing such safaris I am convinced the Joe and Maryann McDonald model works very well, suppliers  are very compliant, Joe is very strict on drivers, a 5 vehicle network  fans the countryside for shooting opportunities and communicates to the others. If this mesh-work works well it greatly magnifies your chances of encountering that magic moment. 

Breakfast on the go......always with a good surrounding view to spot sneaky predators.

Dennis in the shooting position
Nick, was my shooting companion throughout the trip         

          Happy at the battlefront, Pok Zin and me.          Photo courtesy Dennis Ho
Approaching storm Maasai Mara (needs to be viewed full on image)

The amazing Serengeti (click on image)

Serengeti Shall Not Die

Cover art for the 1992 VHS video release
Directed byBernhard Grzimek
Produced byBernhard Grzimek
Written byBernhard Grzimek
Narrated byBernhard Grzimek
Editing byKlaus Dudenhöfer
Release date(s)June 25, 1959
Running time85 minutes

Graeme Guy September 2012

1 comment:

  1. Hi Graeme,
    Thanks for sharing all this magical moments. The sprawling, wildlife-rich grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania Safaris is a sight to behold whether you travel in style or by the seat of your pants. This is amazing.
    Kenya and Tanzania Safaris