Serengeti Part 2 – The crossings

Serengeti – three dreams come true

4-8 August 2018

After a reasonable night sleep, we packed up camp and headed westwards to meet up with Pete and Sally and Great Migrations Camp. GMC had set up at Special Campsite Wogakuri 7 – not on T4A, but we found it as we had good directions from Sally and Carel, the GMC owners/managers.

Guests usually fly in to Kogatende airfield (Pete and Sally did this), but as we wanted to explore a little more of the Serengeti, plus we wanted to visit Ngorongoro independently, Sally and Carel very kindly allowed us to join the camp halfway through their 8 day safari. We were planning to sleep in Klippie, but they had set up 2 tents for us! Soooo comfy – Emma had a tent to herself. The others were still out on a whole day game drive with Carel and Sally, so we met the young Chef, Herman, who got is settled in, then Zebedier arrived after a morning getting supplies at a “nearby” village, and explained the camp proceedings. He heated water and we had the best shower (bucket shower, but beat every other shower) in Tanzania! While sipping our G&T’s under the Nomadik tent, the rest arrived back from their day safari. Super to see Pete and Sally again. Another couple from SA were also on this camp – Jonathon and Cheryl – a 70th birthday gift from his family and friends, and then at last we met Carel and Sally, who have answered a million questions from us before we got there on travel advice in Tanzania. The driver and guide is Amani – a gentleman with the biggest smile.

En route from Lobo Hills, we came across a truck, completely stuck in a small river crossing.  The river channel was deeper, muddier and rockier than the truck could handle and was wedged.  There seemed no way around the truck, but after about 20 minutes of deliberating, and with the arrival of another vehicle in a hurry to get across – he pioneered a way on the right hand side of the stricken truck.

Emma and I watched Richard negotiate Klippie through our little crossing.  We couldn’t, however, leave the two truck drivers without trying to help.  They were already stripped to their underwear, digging out rocks out of the black mud, trying to wedge flat rocks under the wheels to provide purchase.  Richard attached our snatch strap to their chassis, and we tried to pull them out – Klippie bounced back towards the truck.

New strategies, digging, more spades, rocks, jacks, etc, and two safari vehicles arrived.  Mercifully these drivers could speak English, so now we could help the Swahili speaking truck drivers better.  After more discussions, and the removal of 2 large rocks that were preventing the truck from getting out of the dip, the one safari driver also connected his vehicle to the truck with our second tow strap.  Double Toyota power now.  2nd attempt and we got the truck out!  VERY happy truck drivers.  Such lovely people – after we had packed up all the equipment etc, the truck driver insisted on having a photo shoot with Rich – he was so grateful, but it was teamwork.

Camp mornings are early – warm water is brought to you in a jug with a gentle good morning, time to get up from Zeb around 5h45. Quick wash, dress and cereal and coffee, into the vehicles and head off for a day safari. The plan today, hopefully see wildebeest crossing the Mara River. We followed in our Toyota – Klippie was off and resting at camp. All I can say is thank goodness we chose to join GMC – we had no idea of the rules and procedures one has to follow when the herds are crossing. Carel has been watching these crossings for 15 years, and is able to read the signs and moods of these animals in a way that has given him the title of Wildebeest Whisperer :).   We drove past the Kogatende airstrip, and crossed the Mara over the causeway (why the wildebeest don’t cross here? Much easier:)) and headed to a viewpoint overlooking the river.

Our sedate crossing of the Mara 🙂

A huge herd of wildebeest was congregating on the “Serengeti” side – at least 2000 animals. The wildebeest are very skittish and the vehicles have to remain in the tree line at this stage. If a person or vehicle comes into the open, it disturbs the animals and they won’t cross.

The herd making its way to the river edge, they become very vocal, and the jostling at the river starts – who will be the brave one?

One has to wait until the first brave wildebeest have crossed and are safely on the other side before barreling out of the tree line down to get a closer view. We were warned that this was a crazy event, and Carel told Richard to be ready – there were about 30-40 vehicles on our side, and more on the opposite bank. We were watching quietly, listening to the wildebeest who were becoming more and more vocal. The tension, suspense and energy in the air was quite something. Animals patrolled up and down the bank deciding where to head down, then all of a sudden one went…the rest started to follow, the first got across safely, and then all hell broke loose – Carel says let’s go! And oh boy, all the vehicles raced at full tilt down the slope to get the best view of the crossing – Vuka Vuka!! I couldn’t believe my eyes, and was terrified that a car would drive into us. Anyway, all was well as we had a stunning view of these beautiful animals streaming across the river, slipping, jumping on one another, mothers looking for calves, but somehow although it is manic, it is also orderly.

The relief was palpable, as all the animals got across unscathed – the crocs were so full, they didn’t move. The herd moved up the hill, past the vehicles and began grazing. By now the tears were streaming down my face – what an awesome site.

We all were amazed, and Carel and Sally guided us slowly down the river – and next minute, the other half of the herd further upstream were crossing! A lot less frenetic to get to a perfect viewpoint, and here the wildebeest were jumping down a bank of approximately 4m high.

That was hot-stopping, especially watching the calves leap off the edge. Mercifully there was a sandy landing before heading into the rocky river. Here, the hippos moved out of the way, and we watched a croc slowly move towards the column of wildebeest leaping through the water and rocks. One of hippo moved between the croc and the wildebeest – all crossed safely that we saw. Wow, two big crossings in the space of an hour!

A fatality from a previous crossing

Carel, Sally and Amani guided us northwards into the Mara part of the Serengeti – close to the Kenyan border for our lunch stop. What a spot – in the middle of the rolling grassy plains, dotted with squiggly Dr. Seuss trees, as I called them. We sat under a beautiful big lone tree, Pete’s tree, and wound down after the morning’s excitement.

Delicious lunch under Pete’s tree on the Mara side of the Serengeti

Rich enjoying 40 winks

Towards the end of our relaxing lunch, a massive her mad an appearance over the hill in front of us …. Never ending stream came down, heading towards the Mara River.

After lunch we drove back towards camp, keeping an eye open for predators – no luck, but lovely drive. Hot shower, superb meal and cuddled up in our comfy sleeping bags.

 

Thompson’s Gazelle
Iconic Serengeti plains

Camp day 2 it was decided to come back to camp for lunch – so early morning game drive. The mission was to find leopard for the Gies! The others had had a fabulous sighting before we arrived. No leopard but loads of klipspringer, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, topi etc.

Love this pic – 3 vulture species resting after gorging on a carcass – White-backed, Ruppels & Lappet-faced vulture

Old Dagga Boy

Dainty Klipspringer always on their toes
Majestic Topi

Lunch and siesta for some in camp, then the Gies headed out with Amani, Carel and Sally on a quest to see a leopard. In the area is a female with 2 cubs . The cubs are just short of a year old, so Carel had a good idea of where they might be hanging out. We drove up and down hills, in and around koppies, and then saw on an opposite hills, a give-away cluster of safari vehicles.

We knew it was leopard (radio banter), and decided as it was getting late, to brace the hordes and head in that direction. On the way up a hill on a muddy track not utilised that much, we got stuck. And it started to rain a little. Amani got on the radio, and another safari vehicle kindly bounced down the hill to pull us out. Slick and “easy”.

But the vehicles had dispersed as the leopard had disappeared into the trees. Hmmm…what to do – we decided to try and find it. The safari vehicle that assisted us was also prowling around to find it – we decided the cat would have disappeared into the trees to escape the hordes – and then we saw our rescuers stop in a patch of bush, engine off. Leopard found! We joined them as quietly as we could – as we turned slightly towards a small rock with thick trees, there he was – a magnificent leopard emerging through the trees towards the low rock. Again, tears poured down my face – our first proper leopard sighting – and only 20 m away from us.

Pure magnificence and power

This was the young male, on if not his first kill, one of his first kills. We watched him crunch and eat carefully around the stomach of the fallen young wildebeest. We watched him for about 20-30 minutes, before he had eaten his fill, he left his kill and disappeared back into the thick trees.

The leopard here do not usually have to haul their kills into trees as there is so much food around, the lions and hyaenas are all well-nourished. The leopard will feed on their kills over a few days.

We left the area, only to hear over the radio that his sister was nearby – a little way up the hill, lying wrapped around a boulder on top of a granite outcrop, there she was. Sjoe, 2 leopards in a day.

Day 3 at GMC – another full day out planned – we headed west along the Mara river – Carel suspected the large herd we had seen the day before may cross somewhere around crossing site 1. We were the only vehicle in the area by the time we got there – and watched as a herd of about 10 000 strong came slowly towards the river from the Mara/Kenyan side of the river. Eventually some of the herd started crossing – we watched for about 30 minutes, then they stopped. During this one, one wildebeest lay flailing on a rocky section of the river, his hind legs behind it, and it seems that his one leg was jammed between the rocks. Horrible to see, and there is nothing one can do. He would have become croc and vulture food – we didn’t stay to watch that.

Safely across – and ALL around our vehicles

Instead we headed back up the hill for some lunch, keeping an eye on the rest of the herd thinking about crossing. As we finished our lunch, a spotted bush snake appeared in the tree above us – it was hunting – beautiful snake and incredibly agile moving between the branches trying to nab a lizard.

The wildebeest became vocal, and we headed down just in time to see the rest of the 10 000 strong herd traipse across the river towards us. Again, we were the only vehicle around – unbelievably special – the wildebeest whisperer struck gold.

Back at camp we started our pack up and with help from everyone, got Klippie back on the bakkie. Herman, who is in his early twenties, and this is his first proper chef’s job, served freshly made vegetable samosas for our snacks – oh my word – they are honestly the best samosas we had all ever eaten! He made the pastry from scratch in his camp kitchen, and also a dipping sauce served in hollowed out cucumber. A delicious dinner, again, followed, as well as a birthday cake for Jonathon. What an amazing team who love what they do, and go the extra mile. Asante Sana…

GMC by night
Klippie resting for 4 days
Contemplating the day in the bush – with Herman’s delicious freshly made potato crisps

Time to leave GMC, Pete and Sally and the Serengeti. The usual morning wake up, just at 7am this time, and bacon and eggs for breakfast. Pete and Sally flew back to Arusha and are continuing their journey to Kenya and Uganda, possibly Ethiopia – very sad to say good bye to our travel buddies!! Farewell to the fabulous GMC team, and I really we hope we meet again – sure we will, Cheryl and Jonathan I think had a fabulous time and kept us so entertained. Special people.

We headed out through Tabora B Gate on the north western side of the Serengeti – beautiful scenery, lots of game and a few more birds. Me super weepy!! What a way to end our journey north and turn around to head south.