GBE

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About GBE

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  1. @@janzin if I had a choice between a bush plane and a helicopter, I pick the helicopter every day and twice on Sunday. They are smoooooooth.
  2. For gorilla tracking don't ignore Virunga as a choice. Less visited and lower overall cost coupled with the opportunity to climb Nyiragongo makes it worthy of consideration. For beaches and something a little different, check with Wayo Africa on the development of their kayak/snorkel safaris in the Comoros Islands. You may need to reach out directly to Jean for this. Wayo's Green Camps, walking safaris, and canoeing in TZs northern circuit along with their guides and overall reputation should put them on your short list.
  3. So much great advice and perspective. A couple of thoughts not presented above or worthy of reiteration: Costs not included in quotes but that can be substantial the first time you travel to AfricaVacinations and drugs - some are common sense and some are required depending on your destination Travel Insurance - often required if booking through an agent - This can be very expensive if you're in the US and are not allowed some of the lower cost insurance available in the UK or elsewhere. Since you travel alot, there are some other membership options you may be interested in. PM me if you'd like more information. Visas - individually not much, but if you're going to multiple countries they could add up Value of a private vehicle - This was touched on but I can't overstate the value elevating this as a priority. Add to this unlimited mileage and hours Tips - everyone has an opinion. We budget 10% of our ground costs for tips. On the flip-side, most of your quoted days will be full board, all inclusive. As such, unlike travelling elsewhere in the world you really don't have many options for spending more money. Sure, you can pay for drinks at some camps but honestly, if you're anything like us you'll be too exhausted at the end of each day to do much more than have dinner and go to sleep... didn't stop us from a drink with dinner but... what are you going to do! Travel Agents - Interview several to find 2 or 3 that seem to be hearing you and understand what you want. Then work with them to hone the itinerary based on what you want. In that process it should become clear which is the best fit for you. We worked with Natural High Safaris in the UK for our second safari and we were very satisfied with the service and their willingness to 'explore options' not typically offered. We are working with them again on our trip to Virunga in a couple of weeks. They have stayed current on various developments and have adjusted our itinerary a couple of times out of necessity. They will pass you to the agent best suited for where you are headed. We first worked with Vanessa and this time we are working with Rod Tether. No issues with working with a UK based agent. With toll free numbers and email the only difference we can discern is accent! Don't worry about seeing everything on your first safari. As others have voiced, list out your priorities and focus on those. We went on our first 'trip of a lifetime' and were planning our second before we flew out of the bush to fly home. We were planning our 3rd safari for March of 18... but then something came up and it will be our 4th. Everyone is different but I can't imagine anyone going on safari, especially for 20+ days, and not getting bit by the bug and going back again and again and again. Cheers, GBE
  4. taken as intended... Always the gentleman, I always offered to let Terese go first!
  5. In camps they usually asked us to flash a torch after dark for an escort to the Loo. In a less formal camp we were simply told to sweep the outside with our torch and if we saw two lights (eyes) looking back at us at about knee to hip height, stay put. Sage advice:-)
  6. @@offshorebirder - Thank you for the confirmation on Nairobi NP. Are you self driving or do you have a guide? Someone you would recommend? 30 days out... time to start thinking about visas and meds
  7. More memory is better, though 600gb is an extraordinarily generous amount to take. For reference, we took the following on our last safari: 2 Nikon DSLR bodies 6 full capacity batteries - The plan was to start each day with 1 fully charged battery in each camera with a fully charged backup for each camera. The other 2 batteries would either be backups or charging. We did need the backup batteries on occasion but I do not believe we ever needed the 5th or 6th. That said, we will use the same plan on our next trip simply because batteries take little space and are prone to lose capacity. In the bush there are few options to replace OEM batteries. Check Canon's specs for how many images can be expected on a single battery. Based on @@amybatt comment above, you may want to do a few calculations to know if it's worth adding another battery or two. Keep in mind you may not use a whole battery before swapping it out. Best to do this sort of work between sightings and when the vehicle is still. 12 32GB Sandisk Extreme PRO cards. We used all 12 cards. Two were for overflow and we never removed them but we did appreciate having them as overflow several days: There are times when swapping out a card simply makes no sense. We didn't use the full capacity of each card. Each morning we would evaluate if there was enough memory free to start the day or if we felt it was worth swapping before leaving camp. In all we shot 11k jpeg large/fine and 29 hours of HD video. We used all cards and a total of about 290GB It was recommended to us NOT to plan to delete images from cards while in the field and viewing on your camera. We now understand the reasons behind it and hold back any deleting or editing until we are on our PCs at home. It is great to have all you need in the way of photo gear. Take the shot. Take every shot. But don't forget the best image are the ones you have in your own memory. Don't forget to put the camera down from time to time and simply enjoy watching. I haven't used a GoPro but perhaps having that going will free you to just enjoy watching from time to time. Have a great trip
  8. @@optig - Certainly security is a concern and we don't want to irresponsibly underestimate the risk. We'll keep an eye on it, particularly after the 19th. Completely agree there are simply so many places calling to us to visit. I'm relatively new to Africa and Safari Talk and only beginning to build the life list. I'm curious your recommendation: We'll have a full day in Nairobi before flying out around 10pm. Is a day trip into the park worthwhile? Other suggestion for the day? Thanks,
  9. 8 wks to Virunga... provided security remains manageable.
  10. Gorilla trekking had been the plan for our next safari. But circumstances made that unlikely as we have plans to do a trip in 2018. But a funny thing happened last week... I got a crazy idea... texted my wife asking if she could get a couple of weeks off in February. Next, I'm looking online for possibilities for trekking and flights. And email or two. A couple of mileage award tickets and we have 99% solid plans for Virunga NP. 1% is being held for potential issues after December 19th. But all in all we think it should be fine. Besides, if we don't support what Merode, rangers, and locals are creating and preserving... they don't have a chance. 4 nights Bukima - 3 days trekking 1 night Nyiragongo shelters - Have climbed most of the volcanos in the Cascades, but all they offer is steam and ice - A lava lake, now we're talking! 1 night Mikeno - Gorilla Sanctuary/Congo Hounds. Potential Chimp trek 4 nights Lulimbi - central Virunga plain along the Ishasha river with both walking and driving 1 night Mikeno - 56 days and counting. If things fall apart in North Kivu after the 19th and continue to spiral out of control we'll look at options in Rwanda or Uganda.
  11. Hello Safari Talk. Yikes, it’s been 10 months and I owe several of you a reply and the community the final chapter. @@Marks – We really enjoyed our first jungle experience and think being there at the end of the dry season for our first experience was good, i.e. visibility through the underbrush and footing was pretty good. @@Atravelynn – We’re honing in on our next backpack trip… Once this report is complete we’ll share more. To this day we still marvel about our fortune on safari (and in life), especially with our experience with the chimps. Big Bird added much and we feel very fortunate to have had time with him. @@Tom Kellie – One of our very favorite photos for exactly the points you make. @@optig – 10 days in Katavi… Now I’m envious! With 10 days you should be able to get 3 or maybe even 4 nights fly camping. We pressed hard for fly camping prior to arrival and were glad we did as they didn’t seem to have as much flexibility as referenced in earlier reports. And, if the camp is busy their available vehicles can limit your options. @@sylvia000 – I haven’t checked but will look for your trip review. Love the idea of self-driving but lack the mechanical knowledge to try it. Our flight from Mahale was a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful and by late afternoon we were back at the Kogatende airstrip where we met our driver/guide for the next 5 days. Our guide was experienced, competent, did everything we asked and then some… but we never felt a connection. This really illuminated the contribution attitude can have on the overall experience. I think it was a YMMV situation and hence won’t list his name here. We took our time driving from the airstrip to our Nomad Serengeti Camp out by the Nyamalumbwa Hills, not far from where we started our trek with Jean and the Wayo team. Zebra, a pair of lions, Impala, elephant, Ostrich with chicks, Crocs, Wildebeest, bush pigs, and Cheetah… Not bad for our commute to camp! Camp was what we expected and what is presented on the Nomad site is accurate and representative. This is a mobile camp and had we not just come from Chada and Mahale we would likely speak glowingly. But, there is no comparison and I’ll echo with Vanessa told us, that Chada and Mahale should be the last places visited on the trip as anything after will seem like a letdown. That said, the facilities were very good, staff was attentive, we wanted for nothing… though the food wasn’t quite up to par with the other camps. Good, just not great. Up the next morning and breakfast in camp. Our preference is to take breakfast and lunch into the bush and spend the entire day away from camp. This just avoids a lot of backtracking on the same tracks. This was our first day here so went with the flow. We spent a good part of the morning along the Sand River. Mostly Sand this time of year but with enough water to attract wildlife and provide lush brush and trees along the bank. Some eland finishing up their drink, a hyena sunning on the track… On down to the Mara river where we saw a dozen or so elephant walking along the opposite shore. We drove and stopped, drove and stopped, and then maneuvered ourselves into a bit of a bush blind for the vehicle to watch as they worked their way down to the river, drink, wade out further, drink some more, and then cross… and then come right up to our viewing spot. In all we sat and watched for just short of an hour with no other vehicles or anything to disrupt their activity. It really was fascinating the differences between each elephant, which bound into the water, which hesitated, the longtime smelling up stream. Our driver thought they probably smelled something ‘off’ that had them uncomfortable crossing with calves. We continued along the river seeing hippo sunning on the banks, zebra grazing, some crocs, waterbuck, and a lone baboon sitting in the shade of a tree. Then back to camp for lunch and relaxation. This was a very nice start and while we’d have preferred staying out in the bush, we welcomed the relaxation of camp. The view was nice from camp and there usually were some zebra, bush pigs, wildebeest, and the like in viewing distance. Funny how sitting in camp wasn’t on our list of “to do’s” on safari, and we continued to communicate this to the camp manager and driver, yet a day or two later another couple was in camp asking why they had to leave so early in the morning for their game drive… they were on holiday and wanted to sleep in! Goes to show everyone is a little different. The key lesson for us in this camp was to keep communicating as best we could. Pretty standard timing as we headed back out a little before 4. Soon we came upon another lone hyena, a pair of lions, a couple of jackals with what was left of a carcass. Then we came upon a pride of lions with young, adolescents, and adults. Some were just lying around, some playing, and some just getting into mischief. As it was, one of the younger wasn’t paying close attention to where they were and over the edge they went… All in all a very fun time! Out and around the area we came upon a cheetah and some elephant and a wonderful sunset on the way back to camp. Up the next morning and enjoying our breakfast while the vultures enjoyed theirs… Still in camp but OK since we had the opportunity to view a large group vying for what was left. It was kind of odd having to stay in the camp to view this from a distance. Some 12 days earlier we would have been on foot and thought nothing of approach, within reason, for a better look. The other reason we opted for breakfast in camp was because it was a bit of a compromise with the camp manager and our driver. Today we would be taking our lunch with us and stay out all day. We were still out by 6:45 so not too bad. Roughly we’d planned to head around to the other side of the hills, see what we could see and go from there. We weren’t ½ hour out of camp and just starting up and over the tail of the hills when we come upon some eland and giraffe. Some zebra and some Impala squaring off. And then we saw way off to our left and down below a swampy area a rhino. We then saw the tracking team. We pulled up alongside and our driver and the team chatted while we watched the rhino come our way; slowly and at times appearing to get stuck in the mud. But eventually crossing right in front of us. Then on over the hill and down to the other side where there are some camps and a ranger station. Lots of grazers in the area including wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and Topi The skies opened up around mid-morning. This put a damper on viewing overall as well as simply not much game to see. We were feeling a little down and even a little guilty for pressing for an all-day drive but then the skies started to clear and we headed south toward the Lobo airstrip. This was a main road, rather rough, and we were quite happy to turn off onto a lessor track along the Grumeti. Once off the main track we didn’t see any other vehicles and we started to see more and more wildlife. We then came onto a large land peninsula with the Grumeti snaking around 3 sides. There were many grazers on the peninsula and yet, just the other side of the river was a pride of lions. In this particular case was male in and framed by a thicket with several females and cubs spread around him. We watched for quite some time as the cubs played and then one went with the male. What a great site as he engulfed the cub in his jaws several times. Captured on video but this is still one of our favorites for a still… We decided to move along the river a bit to find a lunch spot. Quite to our surprise we came upon another large male and a female. They were well into their mating cycle… He was big. He was regal After lunch we continued along in the bush as the track seemed to fade away. We drove this way and that and eventually found a shallow spot in the river and crossed to the other side. Eventually we picked up another track… clearly our driver knew the area and we very much appreciated his taking us off the beaten path. Along the way we came up several herds of buffalo and some elephants crossing the river. Then back to the main road and some lions lazing on some rocks. Just love eland And this oasis is one of our favorites Wildlife small and large. This was a very long day by the time we made it back to camp. But, we asked for it. And, we didn’t realize how far we would go. Our first safari started at the Lobo airstrip. Getting back to that point on this trip was nice as it helped put things in perspective. Tired but feeling great about all we saw we showered, ate, and I think were asleep before our heads hit the pillows. Up and out early the next morning with breakfast packed for the bush. Our third day and what a treat first thing. We came upon a couple of lions getting a drink. Then we saw a couple of hyena. Then came the antagonizing as lions and hyena squared off… much bluster and no actual fight, but what fun to see and hear. Then, just over the rise and a few minutes down the track to a kill from the night before and a pride finishing up. Here we experienced the 1st of 3 bad experiences with Asilia vehicles. In this case there were 4 or 5 vehicles spread across the area to view the kill, all different safari companies. As the lions one by one started moving about 100 – 200m to some shade and water a few vehicles shifted their position to be ready when/if the large male left the kill and headed for water and shade. With everyone settled, with good views, and clients watching or taking photos the male did get up and start ambling toward the line of vehicles to the water. Inexcusably the Asilia vehicle, closest to the kill to begin with, drove alongside the lion all the way to the shade. In so doing they blocked the view of some onlookers and were in the photo view of all others. And then, zoom… off they went. Really disappointing. It isn’t as though this was our only opportunity to see and photograph lions, but it was simply inexcusably discourteous to everyone else there. Can’t leave out the elephant shrew… On we went seeing a variety of animals. This morning our guide wanted to get us to a potential “crossing” where we’d set up breakfast, wait, and watch. Nice place for breakfast. Saw lots of wildebeest. Saw a crossing… but of elephants, not Ws. It was quite interesting. When we arrived we didn’t see any wildebeest. Our driver assured us they would be coming along. Sure enough they did. First it was one or two, then a dozen, and then they were streaming by but not crossing. At the same time, we were watching the elephants on the other side looking like they wanted to cross but seemingly hesitant. Eventually they did cross. All in all a very fine breakfast spot. That said, we also learned that we are not the ‘go somewhere and sit in hopes a specific event will happen’ kind of people. We’re willing to wait and watch as things develop, but not forego all else in hopes to see a single event. Some breakfast views… Back to camp… Sitting for breakfast and watching was OK. But, then driving the main track back to camp for lunch was a prime example of what we didn’t particularly like. The two combined had us feeling like we had squandered a good amount of time. But, still a pretty good morning and we still had the evening drive ahead of us. Back out around 4 and heading for border markers between Tanzania and Kenya. Lots of good sightings of grazers and some simply beautiful terrain. We circled back toward the hills and then saw way off in the distance what appeared to be a rhino. It appeared to be heading our way so we shut off the engine and sat… 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. It’s coming closer and is in reasonable photo range. 25, 30 minutes. We are getting very excited as it appears to be coming directly toward us. Then, from behind us comes an Asilia vehicle. Do they stop next to us and wait? No! They barrel on up the hill toward the rhino, spooking it a 100m or so to the side and into thickets. I’m sure they got a decent picture or two before speeding away. That’s 2 strikes. Our driver was quite frustrated and shared that this is not an uncommon occurrence with Asilia drivers. No guarantee it would have come by us, but any chance was wiped away by their BAD behavior. Back to camp as night fell… Up the next morning for our last full day in the bush. Off toward the border again and we were rewarded with four male lions in the early dawn light. Then off we went meandering back toward the Mara. Our guide had a real desire to get us to where we could see a crossing. Interesting as we never made that a priority but agreed to head back in the direction of Kogatende as long as we did so off the beaten track. Some of the views… Came on a hyena den and a nursing mother. We spent a good deal of time here just watching the interactions. The drive to the Mara was quite spectacular. We came off a rise and down a long slope that gave us great panoramic views. We set up in a very similar spot along the Mara very near where we were the previous day. A similar pattern followed with the Ws streaming in but behind us. They then bunched up at a ravine, jumping in single file, then back up the other side. We moved ourselves to a decent viewing spot along with about a dozen other vehicles. It really was quite something to see. It seemed like an endless stream. Then strike 3 for Asilia. Instead of following the lead of other vehicles that opted to leave, i.e. slowly pulling back and away from the stream of Ws, they drove up and through. Barely slowing down. And that severed the herd, stopping the crush into the ravine and back out the other side, and spoiling the experience for all of the other people. BAD, BAD, BAD!!! The Ws that hadn’t made it to the ravine turned around and went the other way. The Ws that made it through stayed on the other side. Having waited for a crossing and then watched the heard for quite some time we headed back to camp. We couldn’t help but feel like several more hours weren't maximized as we sat and waited for “the crossing.” Saw a fat and happy cheetah in the shade of a tree on our way back to camp… including a pic simply because we haven’t yet. Lunch in camp was good and we enjoyed sitting outside the tent watching the clouds role in. Back out for our last afternoon. This was an interesting evening. We asked to drive along the Sand River again, thinking as evening started to fall we might see animals coming down for a drink. We did enjoy seeing some animals but what captured our attention was what appeared to be a leopard tail hanging from a tree way off on the other side of the river bed. Absolutely crazy how our guide saw the tail. Long lens, binoculars… neither provided definitive proof. So, we opted to take a long drive around and see if we could get close enough for a look. We did get around and as we inched closer to get a look… BAM! Down the trunk and out of sight. While no picture, we did see a ‘blinks’ worth of leopard this evening. The result of our efforts left us quite late in the evening and quite far from camp given the need to re-cross the riverbed. Clouds made it darker… There was a definite sense of urgency to get back as night settled in… Not sure we stayed on a track and I know we were moving very, very, very fast… Hold on for dear life fast: Kind of fun. Up the next morning for an early start. They suggested we sleep in and take a leisurely drive back to the airstrip for our 3:15 flight. We’d have lunch on the way. Not. We agreed to breakfast in camp but then out shortly thereafter. This was our last day and we wanted to drive along as much of the Mara as possible and perhaps cross to the triangle. Our driver wanted to go back to where we’d seen the leopard the night before. We agreed but under the condition we’d drive by and if nothing… keep going. He was right! We did see a leopard in another tree. It was skittish and didn’t stick around, but still nice to see. On the way to the Mara we saw a number of other animals… A couple of Tommys squaring off, some big crocs, active hippo… Then, far up the river we saw something… Not a full blown crossing. In fact, it was a single wildebeest but with a croc clinging to its tail! We were a long way off and they appeared to be at a standstill. So we took a chance and drove around a small hill for a better view… An incredible display. No doubt the crocs were full and not really intent on having another meal. But the sheer battle of wills. The wildebeest lost its tail. Then it lost part of its mane. No doubt it had multiple contusions and likely broken ribs. In the end, after we were certain it was all over, it burst out of the water and collapsed on the bank. Then, slowly it got up on its feet, wobbly at first and then gaining strength walked off into the bush. Not convinced it survived the rest of the day, but an incredible display of the toughness and will to survive. If we figure out how to post video… really cool to watch. The whole event lasted about 10 minutes. More fun photos of our last afternoon with lunch on the triangle… And then to the airstrip for our flight back to NBO via Musoma… or so we thought. Several of the guests we met at Mahale were scheduled out on the same flight to NBO. In fact several of them were on the same BA flight out of NBO but 1 was on an earlier flight to Ethiopia… Wonder why I include these points? Well, as we started down the runway, full throttle… Clunk, tip, skid, swerve to the side: Blowout. If you haven’t been, bush airstrips don’t have repair facilities. There are no spare planes. Add to the complication that our flight was international and there are added rules. Our pilot didn’t have a phone that worked but one of the passengers had a SAT phone. KUDOs to Coastal Air!!! They turned around an earlier flight heading for JRO. Once it arrived the pilots needed to swap manifests so our pilot could take the plane (international now). They figured there was just enough time to fly all of us to JRO, clear immigration, refuel, and get back in the air and out of TZ airspace before dark… single props can’t fly at night in TZ. It was a bit of a fire drill in JRO as we were instructed to leave everything on the plane except Passports. We were walked through immigration both ways with nary an issue. Back to the tarmac as dusk was falling. Onto the plane… waiting for clearance. And once clearance was given the pilot “floored” it. I think we were near take off speed before he actually hit the runway. Not sure we were out of TZ airspace by the time it was dark, but we did make it to NBO with the probability of our Ethiopian bound member making his flight unlikely: They were boarding his flight when we landed. We all bid farewell and told him to take the pickup van and go for his flight. We’d wait for another ride. Turns out he made it. Epilog… Again, Coastal Air really came through. Not only did they get Matt on his Ethiopian flight, they walked all of us through the terminal to our departure gate, collected our passports, went to BA and got our boarding passes and checked bags through. Super service and follow through under difficult circumstances. For those of you that have made it this far, I hope you found the report enjoyable, informative, or both. Moreover, for those that haven’t been on safari or to some of these places we hope you found some inspiration to go. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to message me or put them here where other members can offer their thoughts as well. Next up… Virunga in February 2017 and another backpack trip in the NCA and Serengeti in March 2018. Cheers!
  12. Showering - I'm curious about this at public camps. Do they have showers? Staff to fill the buckets? We've always stayed at private camps. On return to camp each evening our driver would call ahead to assure showers were ready on our return. This assured we were clean at dinner, our sheets stayed clean, and we were ready to go without the need to shower in the morning. Just curious. Cheers,
  13. @@DrToonz - I think this string will be viewed by many in the future. Your questions address so many aspects of a first safari that many will benefit from the answers as well as considering new questions. My biggest suggestion for your first safari is to go with the right attitude. By that I mean you should be ready for all kinds of unexpected surprises. Examples: On our first trip we had several camps without any other guests... that is a rather disconcerting experience, or was until we started enjoying ultimate camp privacy and undivided attention. Flat tires - it happens Tire blow out on flight take off Little to no ice in your GT The sunrise you don't want to end... but that can't be stopped The sunset you don't want to end... but that can't be stopped you get the picture... some big, some little, some troublesome, some glorious, and everything in between. Just writing this makes "home sick" for Africa, Damn! Enjoy every moment good, bad, or neutral. Africa and the bush will throw you curves and your attitude will make all the difference. "Don't worry, be Happy" Cheers,
  14. Completely agree with @@wilddog. Think also along these lines, "what is it in Africa that you want to see that you can not see or experience in other ways on other continents?" You said it in your priorities; Big 5. There are no certainties but, if you want to maximize your chance of seeing the big 5 you'll want to maximize your time in the crater and Ndutu - Moru area of the southern Serengeti. This is also where you'll see the migration and greatest concentrations of animals. Would it be nice to hike a little on Kilimanjaro? Sure, but there are lots of mountains all over the world... Heck, you have Mt Rainier in your back yard. I've not been, but I don't imagine Arusha NP nor Tarangire NP offer compelling reasons to choose them over the crater and Serengeti. Will they be nice to see, sure. But other than telling people you've been there, there isn't enough added value to reduce or dilute your time where it can produce the greatest return. I can't imagine flying all the way from Seattle to Tanzania and then spend more than 1/3 of my nights in Arusha. If you are only going to Africa once, focus that time in the bush where your experience can't be recreated anywhere else on earth. Cheers,

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