sek07

A Return to the Serengeti: Migration Season in the South (February 2017)

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We recently returned from a 9 day/8 night trip to Tanzania in February 2017.

We have had the pleasure and good fortune for this to be our 8th trip to the continent, starting with our honeymoon years ago.

 

Our honeymoon was both a blessing and a curse. A curse in the sense that once we visited we found out we are like the many people who talked about how it gets into your blood, and how no trip will ever compare. When planning every subsequent vacation, we ask ourselves, will this live up to Africa?? In most cases we believe the answer is no, and we find ourselves facing the large expense to return. I can say, however, that we have never returned and thought that it wasn't worth every penny. Retirement is going to have to wait!!

 

As many of you also know, the blessing of visiting Africa takes many forms. Starting with the obvious, the beautiful landscapes, the amazing wildlife that never fails to amazing and bewilder, exposure to new and wonderful foods. The understanding of new cultures, viewpoints, ways of life. Making new friends, experiencing the mishaps that inevitably occur and somehow surviving without your "stuff" for a few days. Learning to appreciate how lucky you are to have the things you have and how random life is that you were born where you were. Noticing the subtle and larger changes you make to your life after returning- maybe wasting less, helping more, just appreciating the natural world. But always returning home wondering how, when, and where we'll be able to get back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

The itinerary for the trip was as follows:

 

Depart Friday February 10th from Newark to Kilimanjaro (via Amsterdam) on Delta/KLM

Arrive Saturday February 11th early evening and be picked up for transport to Rivertrees Arusha

Depart Sunday February 12th from Kilimanjaro 10:30am to arrive early afternoon at Serengeti South

3 nights Serian Kusini Camp

Road Transfter to Serian Kakessio for 4 nights (also called Serian Serengeti South)

Depart Sunday February 19th From Ndutu to Kilimanjaro. Several hour layover then Depart Kili to Dar to Amsterdam to Newark on KLM/Delta

 

We arrived at Newark Airport at 4pm for our ~7pm flight on that Friday. At about 6:30pm the announcer came on to say there was a mechanical problem with our flight and that it was going to be a minimum of 3-4 hours before another plane could get there to take us. We would clearly miss our connection with no flights out of amsterdam for 24 hours so we would miss a full day of our 8 day safari, and have to try to make countless adjustments to our small planes, hotel in Arusha etc.. I also for the first time ever didn't buy trip insurance for some reason (murphy's rules).

 

After a minor freakout, we took a deep breath and started to formulate a plan. I scoured Kayak and found a flight at 11pm from JFK traveling on Turkish Air that would connect via Istanbul and get to kilimanjaro at about 3AM. not ideal, but a possibility. After waiting for 30 mins on hold with Delta (the line was 100 people deep at the counter) i finally got someone who told me that Delta would only book me on a 'partner' airline and all of those options wouldn't get us to Kili without losing a day of safari. They refused to book me on Turkish despite it being a viable option.

 

Typically if you don't get on your outgoing flight it automatically cancels your return. I was able to get the delta person to cancel our outbound but keep our return flight. He said we would get a refund for the outbound portion but would have to negotiate that when we got back. We closed our eyes and booked the Turkish flight one way which was shockingly reasonable given the flight was in 4 hrs. We raced to find a cab and make the ridiculous trip from Newark to JFK and pray we made it there and get through security in time.

 

LESSON- ALWAYS BUY TRIP INSURANCE

Edited by sek07
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What a nightmare start to your safari @@sek07 - what's the distance between Newark and JFK? Then there's the traffic!

 

Hoping to hear good news re the new connections and your flight experience with Turkish, and then looking forward to following your Serengeti safari.

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We had booked with Serian directly, so I sent an email to Billy at Serian (who was long asleep in London) saying i would hopefully give her an update on arrival in Istanbul. I then fired off one more to Rivertrees to give them an updated pickup time from the airport.

And off we went to JFK. An hour later we arrived with nearly 0 traffic, pretty much an impossibility in new york on a friday night.

 

The plane took off slightly late but we had a 3 hr layover in Istanbul. We wouldn't know how much of a $ hit we would take until returning but we were just thrilled to be en route. We arrived with plenty of time to spare. The Istanbul airport is incredibly modern, so we had a ridiculously over priced italian meal, were able to send some emails updating people that we should in fact arrive and boarded the plane and were off to Kili. Crisis averted.

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So quickly why Alex Walker's Serian camps?

On a previous trip (see trip report here http://safaritalk.net/topic/15748-september-2014-kenya-tanzania-safari-with-serian/)we had stayed at their Ngare Serian Camp (Mara North), Nkorombo Camp (Main Reserve Maasai Mara) and the Serian Serengeti North Mobile camp (Serengeti Lamai).

 

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It was a tremendous trip clearly and we were anxious to see what else he had to offer: every tent gets their own vehicle; its one of the few owner operated camps; a well earned reputation for great guiding; great food but with fresh/healthy options; Alex is a nice guy, and we'd get to have our guide Masha from the Tanzanian portion of the trip again.

 

Alex chooses locations in prime areas, but away from the crowds. His was one of the first camps in the mara north, and one of the first camps in Serengeti Lamai, one of the few camps in Kusini, and one of the only camps in Kakessio. And several of the camps allow our favorite activities including some walking, night drives, and some off road driving allowed.

 

We had an opening in the early part of the year and given that is prime migration/birthing season in the southern part of the Serengeti we decided to go for it.

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Rivertrees in Arusha is a lovely place which we unfortunately didn't get to enjoy for very long and hence no good pictures to post. we finally arrived after 4am, woke up, had breakfast and had to head to the airport. I would definitely recommend it as its one of the closest hotels to Kilimanjaro Airport (but not Arusha airport as its on the other side of town, with apparently a lot of traffic on most days). It has nice grounds, with monkeys in the trees above our room and some birdlife as there is a river that runs through the property as you might have guessed from the name.

 

We did get to see Kiliminjaro for the first time as it was a clear morning on the drive to the airport. The pictures don't do it much justice as they were from an iPhone in a moving car. Needless to say we were excited to see it not covered by mountains.

 

Next post I will finally get to the fun part, the pictures and the safari. Enough background already!

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Well done! Calm under pressure. Yes, to getting on to the fun part but warnings that this kind of stuff can happen are worth having. It never happens until it happens!

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Great job coming up with a plan B on the fly and executing it. I confirm how lucky you were to not encounter the usual horrendous traffic between EWR and JFK.

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I was starting to worry when you said in your introduction that your honeymoon "was both a blessing and a curse." But then you went on on to qualify that statement with what is probably one of the most well-written tributes to the wonder of Africa that I've read in a long time.

 

Congratulations on only having a "minor freakout" about the delayed flight and missed connection you would have endured. I would have been apoplectic.

 

Even if you had had trip insurance, you are never fully compensated if you miss so much as a single day on safari. Building in extra time for transit on the front end can help -- assuming you've got the time to take off in the first place -- but it looks like you came up with a creative solution to make the best of a bad situation. You must have been exhausted though. (And now I presume to understand your introductory remark about sometimes having to survive without your things for a few days -- as you must have abandoned your checked baggage in Newark to catch that Turkish Airlines flight. Did Delta keep it on the flight even though you cancelled? At least it sounds like you ultimately reconnected with it. You certainly had your priorities right!)

 

Looking forward to more. I've only heard accolades about Serian.

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Wow, what a nightmare at the start, but quite impressive how you kept your cool. Looking forward to hearing more.

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Great job on making a plan! I remember growing to love that phrase -- let's make a plan -- on my first safari in South Africa, and also growing to understand that the making of the plan is itself part of the Safari process. So, in a sense, maybe your plan-making meant your Safari had already started?

 

At any rate, I am so glad it all worked out. I can't wait to hear more, for selfish reasons among others -- I'm starting to look into the Serian camps myself and will be very curious to hear what you thought on your second round.

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When planning every subsequent vacation, we ask ourselves, will this live up to Africa?? In most cases we believe the answer is no, and we find ourselves facing the large expense to return.

 

Yup, I hear you...best/worst thing I ever did!

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When planning every subsequent vacation, we ask ourselves, will this live up to Africa?? In most cases we believe the answer is no, and we find ourselves facing the large expense to return.

 

 

Agreed! Looking forward to reading/seeing more...

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Great map, awful beginning but it worked out, maybe I saw you.

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I follow the Serian camps on Facebook; they look very nice. Excited to see some of your photos.

 

Typically if you don't get on your outgoing flight it automatically cancels your return.

 

I did not know this! Glad you were able to arrange otherwise and not miss out!

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Oh I started reading this and find you stopped? Sounds great so hope you continue. Pen

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Many apologies for the ridiculous delay in this trip report.  Our computer basically became "full" and despite efforts to clear space for memory and use hard drives it was to no avail.   then life got in the way!  I am hoping to begin this trip report again shortly..

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We likely passed on the Kusini Plains.  You should have had a day or two of decent rain toward the end of your trip.  Hope your files are all ok.

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We departed on our flight from Kilimanjaro to Serengeti South and found out we would be the 5th stop.  The aircon was definitely not working well on the plane and my wife M (from here on out will call M) gets motion sickness so it was an unpleasant few hours but we made it.  

 

We were greeted at the airport by Masha who had guided us at Serian Serengeti north a few  years prior who is terrific and we recounted a few of the stories and he remembered us after we reminded him we got stuck on the wrong side of the bridge when the rains caused the river to get too high to cross.  We had a good laugh and met our spotter Felix who would be with us. 

 

We stopped at camp to freshen up quickly but headed out for our first drive that evening. we were really tired but running on pure excitement/adrenaline at this point to be back.   

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One cool thing i forgot about the flight was that we got to fly over the crater.   Some on the boards will remember we asked whether people thought it was feasible/worthwhile to add the crater on to this trip.  Ultimately we decided not to given logistics, so i was really pleased to at least get to see it form the air.  Unfortunately M was feeling so unwell she couldn't look out the window!   

 

We would not regret our decision to stick to our two locations, they delivered beyond what we could imagine

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"beyond what we could imagine" is wonderful start.  At least one of you got an aerial view of the crater.  We were in just about the same place at just about the same time.

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Yes @Atravelynn i remember we were almost the exact same time.  I'm sure we saw many of the same spotted cats that week!

 

First sighting within minutes of camp.  Two cheetah brothers roughly 8 years of age.  They seemed keen to hunt and a big herd of wildebeests were slowly making their way towards us.  we positioned ourselves and waited.  The herd kept moving closer including some babies but the brothers never made a move.  So we enjoyed a beautiful evening with two totally relaxed cheetah.

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Masha helped me get some pictures from a different perspective, low to the ground almost at eye level.  We were back in the place we love spending time with the rare cheetah.  Its always worth the long difficult travel.

 

Finally we decide to let the brothers rest on their own.  As we drove away we realized why they likely never made their move.  In between their position and where the wildebeests were we found a couple hyena lying down.  

 

We continued further and found a bat eared fox den.  We had seen them before but almost always either at night or they would turn and run as soon as we stopped the vehicle.  Two pups popped their head out and were relaxed with our presence.    Finally we were treated to a classic sunset with a part of the great migration silhouetted against the horizon.   Tusker and sunset- happiness

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A great meal, warm hospitality and some much needed sleep on our first night in camp.  The sounds surrounded our tent in the unfenced camp all night, and i wrote in my notes that we heard a commotion with wildebeests stampeding around at one point.  We would find out why later.

 

We were the first ones out of the camp in the pitch black darkness.  M is not a morning person but on safari she is up and at em with me just wanting to see what the day brings.   And on this morning again not 5 minutes outside of camp we found the local lion pride on a wildebeest kill.   in the pitch black we saw that different eye reflection in the jeep lights and masha whispered 'lions' in his relaxed but excited tone that we came to love.  

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Posted (edited)

The pride at this point comprised a female lion with 4 three year old cubs.  We sat and watched them feed as the sun came up.  Jackals and hyenas arrived on the scene and skirted the outskirts of the prides comfort levels (can you find them in the background of one of the shots below).   one of the juvenile males even followed one of the vehicles from camp as they arrived to check out the scene. 

 

All of this just outside of camp and there are so few camps in the area that it was just a couple of Serian vehicles on the scene.  Always fun to be the ones who find it and another reason why we love going out early.  Masha would turn the lights off and we would just listen to the cats feeding that we knew were just a few feet away and hear the jackals and hyena's laugh.  All of your other senses sharpen.  We love Africa!

 

 

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Edited by sek07
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