GBE

backpacking Serengeti, Katavi, Mahale, game driving Serengeti

77 posts in this topic

It’s been 115 days since departing TZ… Better late than never comes to mind as we go through our notes and begin our trip review. We’ll start with a thank you to ST for providing a great forum for learning about safari opportunities and to the great community here that provided advice whether directly or through your own reviews and topics. Time now to contribute back in what I hope provides some of the same enjoyment, inspiration, and experiences I’ve found in your reports.

 

Getting there – Left home at 10pm, Tuesday September 15th for red eye flight -

· Delta SEA to EWR with a 4 hour connection in MSP and 4 hour connection in EWR.

· British Air EWR to NBO with a 4 hour connection in LHR.

· EKA Hotel shuttle to the hotel (we’d spent the night at NBO on an earlier safari and decided against it this time). EKA is clean, modern, has a very helpful staff, and were prompt in both our pickup and drop off. We were only there for about 6 hours but worth it for the security of the room for resorting of gear, topping off batteries, taking a long steamy shower, etc.

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· Coastal Air from NBO to Kogatende via Musoma for immigration. Meeting the agent outside the pre security check was a little disconcerting but the agent did show up, handled our bags, and escorted us through security. Note: we had 7 bags to check as we outfitted our guide and his team for the first segment of our safari. There was some consternation checking bags through all of the above flights and then turning them over to the agent on the curb with no receipt… but everything made it. We were the only passengers on this flight so had to pay the inducement fare (3rd seat) and this covered the cost of all the bags, so a deal in our minds. Other than a mechanical issue that necessitated another plane pick us up in Musoma (30 minute delay) the process was simple and gave us an entire day in the Serengeti that would have otherwise been spent flying NBO to JRO, JRO back north… basically using up a day travelling. We strongly recommend you look into these NBO / Serengeti direct flights as an option.

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· Arrived Kogatende at around 10:30am, Friday 18th.

 

Met by Jean DuPlessis, Sarah, and his extraordinary Wayo team… And as you read further along I believe you will come to understand and agree that my use of the term “extraordinary” may be inadequate. Over the 12+ months leading up to meeting Jean, we had communicated via email about the “possibilities.” One of those possibilities was to do what had not been done in the modern era: An expeditionary style safari. Here in the US we call this backpacking. Jean had secured the first ever permits for self-supported, self-contained, on foot, multi-day safari in the Serengeti National Park. There was one small hitch. The ranger assigned to this trek had been reassigned to Ruaha the previous day. Jean learned this at the airstrip, the rangers there didn’t know anything about the permit much less what he was talking about, i.e. You’re going to go walking through the bush for 4 days with all of your gear and food on your back? You’re Nuts! Once they understood or at least accepted what it was we were going to do, the decision on which ranger was going to escort us… and carry his own load, needed to be made. Hussein must have been the newest and youngest ranger as he got the assignment. Turned out great for us and for him as we think he enjoyed the safari as much as we did. All straightened away and we loaded into the trucks and headed for our launch point.

We drove the Mara for a spell, enjoying our first glimpse of Zebra, Impala, Wildebeest, Crocs, and Vultures. Wildebeest carcasses that had been shore to shore for what may have been a couple hundred meters were starting to thin out, but the stench and vultures were impressive.

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We continued our game drive to the stone and concrete bridge that crossed the Bologonja River. There we stopped to scan the terrain from the Nyamalumbwa Hills back toward Kogatende. We discussed the original plan to walk all the way back… but looking at the distance and keeping in mind we weren’t certain of where water may or may not be, we decided to amend our route to hiking south along the west side of the Nyamalumbwa Hills to where they meet the Bologonja. From there we would follow the drainage back to the bridge where we would call for a pick up. With that settled we continued on, game driving along the Sand River, and then cutting off the track and along the base of the Hills to where the Wayo team had set up a lite mobile camp.

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We used the afternoon to get to know each other, sort and assign gear, teach the team how to use the gear (most had never carried backpacks, set up or slept in modern backpacking tents, etc.). We think there was still some disbelief on the part of some of the camp staff. Late afternoon we set out on a several hour walk exploring around the camp and getting a sense for how we all would travel together. Back to camp, dinner, and then off to bed… Having been on a safari previously we had the “if you need to leave your tent in the dark flash your torch and someone will come to escort you” rule. HA! As the tent we were using was a good 50m from the loo and a little farther still to the next tent I asked about the proper protocol… “Well, shine your light out of your tent. If there are two lights about waist high shining back at you don’t get out of your tent.” We’ve been asked many times if we were scared when walking or camping in the bush. The answer is an emphatic “not at all.” We’d equate it to hiking in Grizzly country: Be smart, use common sense, and trust you gut. For the most part the predators don’t want to be any closer to humans than humans to predators. More on this later.

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Saturday, 19th - What a glorious morning. There really is nothing like breakfast out in the open, in the bush.

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Loaded up we stand for a departing picture: Hussein, Cliff, ? (feel so bad his name escapes our memory and isn’t in our notes), Jean, Sarah, Terese, and me.

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Tomorrow we'll share our first couple of days on foot in the bush.

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Great trip! where did you stay at katavi? I travelled there for the second time last september and stayed again at chada

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This sounds like an exciting and unusual trip - and a great start to your report!

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Great start, looking forward to more.

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Posted (edited)

"The first expedition style safari in the Serengeti in the modern era"

 

That paraphrased sentence really got my attention. Looking forward to more.

Edited by AKR1

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@@miguelkatavi - We stayed at Chada for 5 nights with two additional nights fly camping, one night directly across the Chada Plain from Chada Camp and the other on the edge of the Katsunga Plain. Certainly, we'll provide much more on Katavi in the days to come.

 

@@TonyQ - Truly, 4 distinct safaris and each in its own way an absolute standout. And each beckoning us back to do it again.

 

@@AKR1 - That got our attention too! "Expedition Style" is an odd phrasing for us in the US. I'll address some of the dynamic that comes with a group like this in today's post. "The first" is the other part that captured our attention. To our knowledge and that of Jean and the Park Warden, there has never been such a permit given. No doubt people have done it... poachers come to mind, and Masai do it as a normal course of life. But there is no denying the sense that what we experienced was in a small way what Speck, Burton, Livingstone, et. al. experienced as they explored.

 

Off to work but looking forward to continuing the report tonight.

Cheers

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@@GBE

 

Actually, a few "old style" portered safaris have been done in fairly recent times too (although not in the Serengeti)

 

Richard Bonham has been doing many fully portered safaris in the Selous, at least until ten years or so ago. They were bigger affairs, lasting two or three weeks, with many porters and staff involved. Most of the food was transported, but they were also shooting game and birds for meat (all legally. of course). Those were the closer thing I know to the days of Speke and Burton...

 

There are now multi-days camel-backed safaris in northern Kenya, like those run by Karisia Walking Safaris (all your stuff is carried by camels).

 

Several years ago (2002) I did a walking safari in the northern part of South Luangwa that was partly similar, except that we were sleeping in very simple bushcamps (with little resemblance to the "bushcamps" of today - - but there was no road, and once crossed the Luangwa river on a boat from the Eastern side, all our luggage was carried by porters on their shoulders as we moved from bushcamp A to bushcamp B.

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@@Paolo - Thank you for that clarification. I should have completed what was in my mind with "To our knowledge and that of Jean and the Park Warden, there has never been such a permit given in the Serengeti NP.

 

We have mixed feeling about 'breaking the seal' in SNP. On the one hand being on foot reduces the wear and tear on the park, employs more locals and rangers, and provides another option in a park that seems to be over run with vehicles. On the other hand, habituating animals to humans on foot along with all of the other issues 'walking' creates, if not managed properly could do more harm than good.

 

I can't thank you enough for your advice and recommendations visa vi Katavi. Our 7 day taste was just that and we are scheming another trip...

Cheers,

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@@Paolo

I figured if anyone had actually done this before it would have been you :)

Fascinating info on the Richard Botham Selous walking safari with game dining- on game not while viewing game!

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Posted (edited)

@@AKR1

 

Just to clarify - unfortunately I never took part to one of Richard Bonham's expeditions. However, I was at Sand Rivers (his logistical base) when they were organizing one of them, and it was really fascinating to witness the "science" behing one of those trips - how much sugar to carry, how to fold the equipment so that it can be easily transported etc....

 

Those trips were kind of based on the expedition lundertaken by the late Hugo Van Lawick, Bonham, Robin Pope in the Mbaraba gandu (sp?) and Luwego rivers in central Selous and described in Peter Matthiessen's book "Sand Rivers".

 

I had just arrived at Sand Rivers (the lodge) after a week of fly-camping (vehicle backed) in the touristy (northern) area of the Selous, and - witnessing all the preparation involved for Bonham's safari - I felt a bit like a fraud :-)

Edited by Paolo
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@@GBE This looks like fun. Looking forward to the continuation.

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“Well, shine your light out of your tent. If there are two lights about waist high shining back at you don’t get out of your tent

 

Sounds like good advice, haha.

Looking forward to your report.

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The area we hiked has been closed to tourism. Rangers and poachers are all that have traveled the area for quite a number of years. There are no tracks and except for a ranger vehicle we saw at the end of our first day we saw no other humans or vehicles until we hiked out on Wednesday. While many animals migrate and otherwise pass through the area, for the most part they have not been habituated to humans much less humans on foot. As a result, animals treated us much like a predator; they were skittish and kept a minimum distance, about the distance they would maintain from a lion and know they could elude an attack.

The expanse takes on a new meaning on foot. These Zebra were at such a distance as to make the thought of a ‘keeper picture’ superfluous. Yet it is representative of our place in this great wilderness and we found an equal, albeit different, satisfaction with sightings and views such as this as we did up close on our game drives

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As many will attest, walking isn’t so much about animal sightings as it is about opening up the senses to the small things… the smells, the sounds, movements. It is feeling the crunch of brittle twigs under foot; the realization of the sheer volume of feces everywhere. Finding carcasses in various states of consumption and decomposition. Jean was very good at mixing information with maintaining a comfortable pace. Here we took a short break to learn a little about the termite mound.

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While there were no human trails we took advantage of the animal trails. And we learned the trails often provided the best route from shade to water to shade… Go Figure!

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Sometimes we humans must be prepared to create our own shade.

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Especially when we need to stay clear of the nearest shade. We took a wide arch around these 20 – 30 elephants crowded under the few available shade trees.

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We took a little more time than anticipated getting out of camp and found ourselves hiking well into the afternoon. With temperatures reaching into the 90s we were quite happy to reach our intended camp by about 2. A spectacular spot at the base of the Nyamalumbwa and along the Bologonja. Here we have Terese’ and my tent, Jean and Sarah’s about 70m away, and the crew/ranger tents another 70 – 100m.

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While we were using the latest in cutting edge, solar ready tents with solar panels and power supplies we cooked the good ole fashion way… And yes, those are pork chops and there were potatoes baking in the coals. Jean and his team really surprised and impressed in so many ways and the food was definitely one of them.

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Off to sleep for our first night… away from it all.

 

There really is nothing like morning in the bush. Cool, soft light, long shadows, and the promise of new adventures. But not before coffee! Yes, we packed those chairs. Roughing it is one thing. Giving up comforts is something else altogether. A bit of learning: Note the reddish paste on the pot over the fire. We learned that wrapping the pot in a paste of water and termite mound dirt kept the pot from being charred black yet rinsed off clean when cool.

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We decided to use this camp for two nights. This allowed us to take the morning to explore environs up and across the Bologonja. Following are examples of the various landscapes, some animals (we saw vultures, baboons, wildebeest, zebra, eland, topi, impala, ants, spiders…

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And back to camp for a restful afternoon split between soaking in the relatively cool pools, napping, scanning the hillside for wildlife…

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Late afternoon we set out again. This time downriver a bit and up a ravine on the other side. Found a new snare we confiscated. A reminder why we had a ranger with us. Saw rhino tracks in the sand along the river but that was as close as we’d get to seeing a rhino on this segment of our trip. Back to camp for dinner and a good night’s sleep. In the morning we’d break camp early in an attempt to beat the heat.

 

(Let me know if you want me to pick up the pace or cover other information… It’s still early so may post again tonight.)

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No need to pick up the pace in my opinion. Very interesting.

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@@GBE

Excellent trip report so far. Enjoying the different feel to a very different (in modern times) style of safari.

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Very cool adventure, really enjoying this!

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Great trip - enjoying the report a lot. As a big fan of both the Serengeti and multi-day hikes I'm in with you for the ride.

 

Out of interest did you bring your tents / chairs or did Wayo provide them? Similarly were you treating water with a steripen or similar?

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@@AndyH1000 - Yes, we brought our own gear. In fact, we brought tents, bags, pads, filters, group cooking/eating, chairs, packs, and some additional items for the entire group. We used filters and backed up the filtered water with iodine tablets. The bio richness of the water sources necessitated extra caution and vigilance. Happy at the time and now to report that we had no gastronomical setbacks :)

 

Wayo now has a rather robust 'gear room' for outfitting guests.

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Great pictures, looking forward your katavi report!

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Up around 5 with aspirations to be walking by 6. Best laid plans… we were moving by 7. Our route for the next 3 days would be following the Bologonja downstream. During the morning we were treated to views of animals getting their morning drinks; eland, zebra, impala, gazelle. For much of the first hour or so we stuck close to the intermittent water pools, enjoying true oasis in an otherwise very dry environment.

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Mid-morning we got a whiff, finding a Buffalo rotting in the river. No scavengers yet, seemed odd given the stench. Shortly after we attracted the attention of a loan hyena.

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On 3 occasions we noticed Jean go to full alert… easy to note as his grip on the rifle moved from casual to prepared. Buffalo, about 70m from us, instigated this first alert. Two large bulls off in the shade but with eyes locked on us. We watched for a several minutes before backing up and giving them a wide berth as we walked around them.

 

5 minutes later, just as we came around to the back side of the buffalo we found ourselves about equal distance from the Buffalo behind and a herd of elephant in front. They were strung out and on a course to intersect the route we’d planned. This was the second time we saw Jean at full alert… We took about 10 minutes to watch the elephants determined they were moving slowly enough that we could likely get past them before our paths crossed. This was good as it was getting late in the morning, about 10, and it was starting to heat up.

 

By 10:30 we’d cross the river ahead of the elephants and crested the ridge. The heat of the day was settling in so we opted to take a short break in the shade to cool off a bit, get a good drink and snack, and prepare for a final push for camp. As we sat, we were almost joined by a pair of Giraffe. They were about 30m away when they saw us. Pretty clear they were more surprised than us. They froze and watched us for several minutes. Then, quite casually but with clear purpose, they turned and sauntered down and out of sight.

 

Refreshed and conscious of the growing heat we headed out again. Our plan was to start looking for a good camp spot along the river starting at about 10:30 with the idea we would select the best option by 11. Sure enough, our next camp presented itself minutes before 11. Camp was a 150m x 1000m+ neatly trimmed grass field on a high bank. Terese and I set up in the shade very near the bank.

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Jean and Sarah set up on a sandy spot below the bank next to the river.

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And the camp team on the far side of the field, tucked into a small group of trees.

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This evening we didn’t take a walk. We were all quite content to watch giraffe on the hillside at one end of the field.

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We also had a considerable amount of water to filter as we’d drained all of our reservoirs. Nice gravity feed system we backed up with iodine tablets… After all, to say the Bologonja is bio rich is an understatement! By being careful and vigilant we had no gastronomical issues.

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A very nice evening and sunset.

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Up earlier still this morning and very much ready to go by… 7:30??? Perhaps it’s just too serene and beautiful to be moving too quickly. Besides, we need time for our coffee, muesli, juice… Really, much to our surprise the Wayo crew carried boxed juice. I think they may have learned powdered juices can work too… but we certainly enjoyed the fruity treat each morning.

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This day we chose to go up and over the hill on which we saw giraffe the night before. Sure enough, we saw them again. Back down toward the river and this was the 3rd time we saw Jean come to alert. As we walked along the river we found ourselves in progressively taller grass. At about the time the grass was consistently above our knees Jean suggested we might be advised to angle back up toward the ridge where the grass was neatly trimmed and there’d be little that could hide in wait for the unsuspecting.

 

After a time on the ridge with wide open views we descended into a magical, sparse woodland. We found wildebeest and gazelle. Dabbled sun through the trees, green grass, a cool breeze; but for what we came upon next, the 15 minutes or so we spent walking through this woodland would have been the standout of the morning.

 

As we neared the edge of the woodland there was a slight incline that limited our view. As we crested we gazed out onto a long and broad short grass plain filled with wildebeest. There were groups milling about, some clusters running in one direction and others running the other direction. For as far as we could see in either direction there were wildebeest. The picture is inadequate but all we have short of video. The feeling was, I think, something along the lines easterners felt when they first witnessed herds of buffalo on the Great Plains. It is one thing to have read and heard about the herds. It is another to have seen them in a Wild West show. But it is something else entirely to witness it for the first time. This was THE moment of our walking safari. It was that time when we understood how special our experience was, that we were walking with the wildebeest. As we stood and absorbed the scene we noticed groups of zebra here, gazelle there, giraffe in the distance. One of those scenes that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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In time we began to skirt along the edge of the herds and then crossed through them.

With the day heating up and now past 11 we descended back down to the river and as if planned, came to another wonderful oasis for our camp. Heat necessitated shade, cooling in the pools, and sacking out through the afternoon.

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And then some visitors… Some up the riverbed, some split up the bank along the hillside.

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As evening approached, so too did the clouds.

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As we returned from our evening walk we were met with a proper Serengeti storm. Wind strong enough to necessitate moving our tent from the sand to firmer ground beneath the trees; couple with a torrential rain and it became a “hunker down” and weather the storm kind of night. All part of the adventure.

 

Up early to the crisp, clean, and clear post storm morning. The only downside was the break in routine drying gear before packing up. Unfortunately Terese took her Malarone on an empty stomach… and that’s not a good thing. With a little rest, a little food, and a lot of water she recovered and we were on our way.

 

The day heated up fast on the open, short grass plains.

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Lots of wildebeest. Really, quite funny to watch. They run one way and then without any apparent reason they turn around and run back the way they came… and then an abrupt stop and milling around. Then? Do it all over again. While hot, started with a little sickness, and knowing this was our exit day, we still had a tremendous time walking with wildebeest more today than any other. Really quite special.

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Elephant bones

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Our last break in the shade before reaching a track.

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We then walked the last couple of Kilometers along the river. Herds of wildebeest and zebra on the hillside on the other side of the river. Throw in a couple of buffalo – other side of the river too. Waterbuck. Giraffe. A truly wonderful way to wrap up or hike.

Here’s the crew…

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I think they were ready to drop their packs! For the crew and ranger this was the first time they had ever carried this style of backpack and made this type of trip. Truly amazing their great spirits throughout.

 

Before reaching the first track we had seen a vehicle. It had been several days and seeing it was the first tangible sign that our backpacking safari was coming to an end; I experienced a moment of resentment at seeing a vehicle in ‘our’ wilderness. Then it dawned on me what the sight of us and ensuing conversations might be in the vehicle. I think I would have resented seeing people walking in ‘my’ wilderness if I was in the car… how dare these people spoil my view of this grand landscape. The irony is that this isn’t my wilderness but it is my/our responsibility to consider our impact. I’m not offering an opinion one way or another; just sharing a bit of irony.

 

It was bitter sweet walking the last hour or so to the bridge for our pick up. It was hot, we’d drained our water reservoirs, we ate the last of the peanut M&Ms, we were feeling the weight of our packs and the minor aches and pains seemed to grow as we neared the end. And nearing the end was bitter as well. While we’d find relief (and a cold beer) at the end… it was the end. While we had another night with Jean and Sarah at their Walking Camp on the Mara, we were saying good bye to the team… a bit tougher than other separations.

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Great adventure, I will certainly do a similar trip one day. Looking forward to the rest of your tripreport. Thanks for sharing.

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@@GBE

 

What a unique and very enjoyable report...the only antidote to the end of trip blues is to start planning the next one (which it seems that you have already begun doing).

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@@GBE

I am very much enjoying your very engaging writing and great photos.

What a wonderful walk - the wildebeeste a real highlight.

Very special

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@@PT123 - Timely. Just this week I sent Jean an 'idea' for a future safari. It became clear Jean and I should not be allowed to scheme without Sarah or Terese there to real us back in. We'll see how the 'idea' develops and perhaps in a year we'll start sharing our plans.

 

And the antidote was a short flight to Katavi... more on that to follow in the coming days.

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"This was THE moment of our walking safari. It was that time when we understood how special our experience was, that we were walking with the wildebeest. As we stood and absorbed the scene we noticed groups of zebra here, gazelle there, giraffe in the distance. One of those scenes that will stay with me for the rest of my life."

 

You captured what it is all about!

 

The brelly is a good idea.

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