Walking vs Driving?

We always prefer walking to driving – but how about on a safari?  A walking safari was an appealing option offered by Mark Thornton Safaris.  We emailed back and forth with Mark and decided our safari would be long enough to do both.

Driving

We drove in Land Rovers, with canvas tops that could be rolled open, so that we could stand up in the vehicle to better see animals.  Only game driving is allowed in Ngorongoro Crater.  We’re glad we didn’t miss it.

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Jack, Chagamba, and Ellen spotting animals all around us.

In vehicles, we got quite close to some of the animals — safely.  At one point, Chagamba shooed away a baby elephant that didn’t yet know enough to have fear of humans.

Sometimes our guides looked out in the far distance and saw grasses moving in just a certain way.  We drove closer and had a look at a lion or other cat that only our guides could see or knew were there.

Walking

We walked in single-file with our guide in front carrying a rifle and a Maasai in the rear holding his spear.

Walking with a park guide in Arusha National Park.

Walking with a park guide in Arusha National Park.

We thought we’d see the landscape more than animals on a walking safari.  We were wrong.  On one of our first walks, we saw a herd of oryx, not so easily seen in this area.  We regularly saw zebras, wart hogs, wildebeest, African buffalo, hartebeest, and various gazelles on our walks.

Binoculars are up spying 2 warthogs.

Binoculars are up spying 2 warthogs.

The big advantage of walking was in the many other things we saw.

Our guide swooped up this little critter near a harvester ants nest.

Our guide swooped up this little critter near a harvester ants nest.

Standing in an elephant footprint.

Standing in an elephant footprint.

Coming across a plover nest.

Coming across a plover nest.

Ellen walking in the Maasai Steppe Wilderness.

Ellen walking in the Maasai Steppe Wilderness.

So, which was better?  We think everyone in our group agreed – you really need to do both.

 

June 2014

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Photography from afar (with a compact camera)

Why did we think that we might not see many animals in Africa, and why did we worry we would be too far away to take photographs when we did see them?

We truly wanted to see the environment we were in – landscape, plants, trees, insects, and yes, animals too.  We were confident that we’d see everything, but snapping wild animal photos from a distance wouldn’t be easy.

Over nine days and with a lot of opportunities (thanks to our guides, Chagamba and Mika), we managed to enjoy watching a great number of animals and even to get a few photographs.

Olive baboons

Olive baboons

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A dazzle of zebra

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Hyena

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Lion

Impala

Impala

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Elephant suckling two young, one presumably hers and other was another elephant’s juvenile

Giraffe

Giraffe

June 2014

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Little findings

When we travel, we’re looking for the little things that tell us the story of the new place we’re in. If we told you we were in Africa for a safari, you might think we came to see the Big Five (African elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, African buffalo). Sure, that would be nice, but our goal was to see the little things too.

We scheduled time for some walking on our safari and our guides – Mika, Chagamba, and the Maasai – knew just where to help us look.

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Our Maasai guide climbed a termite mound and with his spear, broke away a small section of the mound for us to see. These mounds can be active up to 70-80 years. Dwarf mongoose colonies choose abandoned termite mounds for their homes. It’s all about recycling.

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Maasai guide by termite mound

Among other insects that we saw were harvester ants, ant lions, numerous grasshoppers, and (new to us) funnel-web spiders.

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Funnel spider web

We had asked to see birds as well as animals on the safari – a request more common than we realized. In our 9-day safari, we saw over 170 species.

Lilac breasted roller

Lilac breasted roller

Two-banded courser

Two-banded courser

Fan-tailed widow bird

Fan-tailed widow bird

When we asked Chagamba how many people come to Africa to see the Big Five, he also told us about Africa’s “Little Five”: elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, leopard tortoise, ant lion, and buffalo weaver. We saw three of those five. Not bad!

 

June 2014

 

 

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Dropping into the crater

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Hippopatamus in Ngorogoro Crater

We were awakened at 5am, when Samuel brought us a tray with coffee and hot chocolate. We scrambled to get ready.   Thanks to good planning by Mark Thornton, we stayed at Lemala Tented Camp inside the Ngorongoro park, so it was a very short drive to the gate.   At opening time – 6am – we were the first and only safari vehicles to drop down into the crater.

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The rim of the crater was still covered by clouds in the early morning.

We were the only ones there as the sun came up. The area inside the crater is huge (260 sq. miles /100 sq km), and once inside we looked around, and had the impression that we were in the bottom of a large bowl. The escarpment rose up about 2,000 feet on all sides around us. Twenty-five thousand animals live in the crater, and we hoped to see a few – and spend some time watching them. (By the way, technically, the “bowl” is not a crater but rather the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled caldera. We had many good sightings of animals as they began their day. Jo spotted three little lion cubs only a few feet back from the road, hidden by their mother in tall grass. Chagamba explained that their mother was out hunting and would only return after she’d eaten. A lion can go up to five days without eating, but, then, even with lion cubs to leave behind, she will have to go out to get food so she can nurse the cubs and survive.

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Little lion cubs left by their mother

We drove slowly and spotted more animals that day than we thought possible. Here are just a few:

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African buffalo

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Great crested cranes with flamingoes in the background

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Thompson’s gazelle

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Hyena

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Wildebeest

Zebra

Zebra

Ostrich

Ostrich

By lunchtime, too many vehicles had gathered on the road. Mika and Chagamba, our guides, tried to maneuver our Land Rovers around the congested roads. In early afternoon, we finally we got caught in a traffic jam. Two lions lounged by the side of the road. Everyone wanted to watch.

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Lions stopping all traffic

We backed away and made our escape. Experienced planning, great guides, and good luck combined for one of our best travel days ever.   June 2014

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An Unexpected Invitation

We walked for several hours, transitioning from the hard mud-caked flats to grassy plains. A Barbaig tribesman appeared out of nowhere and approached Melly, our Maasai guide. Would our group like to visit his home inside the boma? (Note: A boma is an enclosure for all of the animals.)

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Melly was taken aback and told us this was the first invitation he had received from the man in his many walks.

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The shrub “gate” has been removed to allow entry.

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The Barbaig family’s home

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Gourds hung on the side of the house

The boma was circular and made of brush. As we stepped inside we were in a small farmyard.   The family gathered around with a visiting friend. The little girls stayed close to their mother. The man indicated we could go in and see his home and the mother went to the door as if to greet us as we entered. The small first room was lit by the open door, but we needed to use an iPhone flashlight to see into the area beyond the first room that was used for cooking and sleeping. The floors were dirt and the space very small. No electricity, no plumbing, and not anything even resembling furniture – everything at its most basic. No decoration evident, unless you counted the gourds hanging outside their home used for water.

A few chickens ran around inside the boma. Most of the goats and all the cattle were grazing at some distance away. Our guide later estimated that our host probably had over 150 cattle in his herd (based on the size of the enclosure).

Our guides spoke to the family and exchanged pleasantries.

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After we left and continued our walk back, we realized the amazing luck that allowed us to walk by that day and visit this family. Some memories of our travel will stay with us forever.   The invitation to visit to this family’s boma will be one of those.

 

June 2014

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Barren landscape encounter

We walked through grassy plains.  Wildebeest ignored us, but two warthogs approached and stared as we strolled by them.  (Which was the stranger animal worth watching?)

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In a short time the landscape turned from grassy to hard-caked barren mud as we approached Lake Manyara, just visible in the distance.

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Larger animals disappeared from the horizon though we did see birds and insects.

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Flamingoes appeared as little pink dots on the far-away shore of the lake. We did want to see them close up, so we continued walking to see how near we could get before the hard mud flats turned oozy soft.  After some time, we saw shapes on the horizon ahead.  Boys from the nearby village sat on the mud flat and cleaned the fish that they’d caught that morning in the lake.  They caught enough fish for two full buckets – worth about $3 in the marketplace.

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Mika, our guide, thought they probably put the buckets on their rickety bikes to get them back to the village – quite a distance away.

Our destination had been a close-up view of flamingoes at the lake, but seeing the fishing boys at work was far better.  We started back….to be continued with “An Unexpected Invitation.”

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June 2014

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An athletic contest in Maasai country

How did the contest begin?  We walked through the Maasai Steppe with our guides in the late afternoon.  Chagamba walked in front with a rifle and our Maasai guides walked in the rear with their spears.  Did someone ask just how effective were those spears?  The next thing we knew a competition started between two Maasai elders.  They aimed for a tree.

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Then Chagamba, our guide who is from the Ikoma tribe, borrowed a spear.  His throw rivaled the Maasai’s.  Next up was Mika, our guide who lives in Tanzania.  (We thought he could improve with a little practice.)    Last to compete was our group member, Jack.  After a brief tutorial he took aim.

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Each throw brought laughs, groans, and cheers.

That night at the campfire, we talked to the Maasai (with Chagamba and Mika interpreting).  They were surprised we were such an old group and shook their heads slightly in shock that we lived in urban locations.  As for us, we were surprised to learn that they have cell phones (for their herders to use in emergencies).

The morning of our departure, Joe signed the Maasai’s guest book on behalf of our group.

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We had laughed when we discovered that two of the Maasai and a member of our group, Jo, all shared the same name: Joanna (though different spellings and pronunciations).  A photo of the group was in order.

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When we planned our trip, Mark Thornton offered us the option of tent camping in the bush with local Maasai as guides for our walks, and we happily agreed.  Our time camping in the Maasai Steppe Wilderness turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of our safari, a Swahili word that means journey.  They did take us on a wonderful journey of their lands.

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June 2014

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