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A Day of New Discoveries

Thursday 21st July 2016

Elsa’s Kopje proved to be a location where we got closer to nature without even leaving camp! During the night I was woken up by the noises of the African night! In the trees that surrounded our cottage, a group of monkeys were getting very agitated and vocal. As I listened I could hear a sawing sound, and my sleep befuddled brain tried to rationalise this against the knowledge that I had built up on Kenya’s wildlife. Could it be… ….a Leopard that was the cause of the cacaophony that the monkeys were now making?

At 5.45 am our room steward was knocking at our door with our early morning call, accompanied by tea and coffee. This was followed by a quick shower before we made our way down to reception to meet Philip. Just after 6.30 am we were out on the road keenly anticipating what the day might bring to us. I mentioned to Philip the noises in the night and he confirmed that there was a Leopard that lived on the top of the kopje. Its route down into the park often took it right past our cottage, so yes it was a Leopard that I had heard in the night!

Meru National Park is one of Kenya’s more remote and least visited parks and you won’t find it on many safari itineraries. For years it was plagued by poaching which almost wiped out the local Elephant population, indeed it was poachers who murdered George Admason, of Elsa the Lioness fame, in 1989. As a result of this lack of pacyderm browsing, the undergrowth was allowed to grow and become quite dense. As a result viewing of animals is slightly more difficult than elsewhere and an experienced driver with good local knowledge is essential. It is not unusual to go all day in this park without seeing another vehicle! Thankfully, in more recent years Elephants have increased in number, but it is still possible to be able to hear them but not see them due to the density of the bushes in between!

The day before I had asked Philip if would be possible for us to visit Adamson’s Falls and Elsa’s grave at some point during our visit. Philip had decided that this would be our destination this morning. As we crossed the park, heading for the Tana River, all three of us were scanning our surroundings looking for wildlife. However it was Philip who had the keenest eyesight, for as we were driving along, all of a sudden the brakes came on and he had put the vehicle into reverse before we came to a halt with Philip pointing into the dense roadside bushes.

“There”, he pointed, “can you see it?” For the life of me I couldn’t at first pick out what he was pointing to. “There right in the bushes!” Adjusting my position I stared and then, there it was… ….a Bush Baby, its large round eyes staring at us through the branches! Now came the tricky bit, could I get a photograph? There is a saying in acting, never work with children and animals. Well I think the same could be said in the context of photography! Would that Bush Baby co-operate – not on your life. Even with my 600mm lens and setting to manual focus, it was proving difficult to get the perfect shot as the Bush Baby was inside the bushes and there were branches and twigs criss-crossing my view. In the end I decided that I would have to settle for a record shot rather than that perfect picture with every detail in focus, as trying to focus out the branches proved to be nigh on impossible.

Bush Baby

Nonetheless, a fantastic sighting and one which we have totally missed without having an expert and enthusiastic local guide.

It never ceases to amaze me how the safari drivers manage to spot, often the smallest of creatures, in dense bush while safely driving their guests. Their eyesight is phenominal.

Despite the difficulties of getting the shot, we continued our journey wondering what this magical country would produce for us next, happy that we had seen such a small and nocturnal animal in the daylight. Under such circumstances, I often wonder what the animal I am trying to capture is thinking. Was that Bush Baby hanging on in the bush while quietly wondering at the strange behaviour of the homo sapiens in the large tin can, or just cursing us for disturbing its sleep?

En route we crossed the Equator – not a new experience for either of us, as over the years of visiting Kenya we have crossed this line on the globe many times, but it does no harm to stop for the obligatory photograph. Almost everywhere you cros the Equator in Kenya you will find a sign by the roadside to mark this point.

Crossing the Equator (again!)

As we drove on we continued to find a variety of wildlife – a Black-backed Jackal; a Tawny Eagle; Hammerkop; Madagascar Bee-Eaters; Warthog and Dik-Dik – this was a relatively quiet morning for wildlife compared with some others we had experienced, but made up for by that sighting of a Bush Baby!

Madagascar Bee-eaters

On arrival at Adamson’s Falls, our breakfast destination, we alighted from the vehicle. Overlooking the falls were some picnic tables under some thatched awnings, and as we admired the view Philip was setting out our bush breakfast – a selection of cereals; some salad; hard boiled eggs; sausages; cold meats; bread; yoghurts; fruit juice; tea and coffee. While we ate, the sun started to break through the clouds that had accompanied us so far this morning.

As we finished eating, an African Fish Eagle alighted on some rocks just up river from us, watching the water as it rushed down from the falls, and clearly hoping for its own breakfast. Downstream of us, a troop of Baboons came down to the river. This was certainly a breakfast with a difference!

After packing everything up and disposing of our rubbish in the bins provided at this picnic spot, we headed back towards Elsa’s via Ura River, for it was on the banks of this river that George Adamson had laid his beloved Elsa, the lioness imortalised in the film Born Free, to rest after she died. When we arrived at the spot, we alighted to find a gravestone set in the ground. We stood for a moment with our own thoughts, much as one might do at the graveside of a fallen human. For me it was remembering the film that I had seen in the cinema as a young boy, where I had first learned of this wonderful story. Philip then tenderly brushed away the fallen leaves that lay on the grave, before we took our photographs.

We arrived back at Elsa’s in time for lunch and Charlie was amazed at where we had been that morning, as it appeared we had covered quite a distance. The afternoon was spent relaxing by our cottage, camera never far from hand as the Rock Hyrax came to inspect us, until it was time for our afternoon game drive. Once again Philip was an excellent guide and host, well worthy of the Gold Standard that we learned he had achieved.

This afternoon we stayed relatively local to Elsa’s, at least compared with this morning’s excursion. We saw several varieties of bird, but the one Philip got excited about was a possible sighting of a Pale Spotted Owlet, which I managed to capture several shots of. (Sadly this was later to prove to be a mistaken identity, confirmed by Nature Kenya – The East African Natural History Society, to whom I submitted details of the siting as a possible rarity for this part of Kenya). In truth it turned out to be a more common Pearl-spotted Owlet. Nonetheless an exciting sighting for us!

Pearl-spotted Owlet

This afternon we also saw a number of larger non-avian species including Elephants, a Crocodile, several varieties of antelope and two Cheetahs.

After stopping for our sundowner Tuskers, accompanied by bitings (Kenyan for nibbles!) as we watched the sun set behind the distant hills, it was back to Elsa’s for dinner.

As we sat drinking our pre-dinner Tuskers, Charlie wandered round talking to guests about their day. Stopping to talk to us, she asked us if we would like a bottle of sparkling wine with our dinner, to mark our wedding anniversary – a lovely gesture. Once again, dinner was served by candlelight on the lawn. A perfect end to yet another perfect day – a day of new discoveries, of creatures that we would not have seen without Philip’s keen eyesight.

Meru Sundown

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2016 – 30 years Married!

Following our encounter with Somak’s Justin Cole at Birdfair in August 2015 we settled on one of the example itineraries in the Somak brochure for a flying safari with stays in Meru, Samburu and the Masai Mara. Meeta, our consultant at Somak https://www.somak.com/, was one of the most helpful people we have ever come across. Nothing was too much trouble for her and the added bonus was that she had personal experience of some of the locations we wanted to stay at. By the beginning of July 2016 we had everything finalised, visas obtained, transport to Heathrow booked, and we were set to go!

Monday 18th July 2016

Jo, our driver, picked us up from home for the drive around the M25 to Heathrow, dropping us off outside Terminal 4 in plenty of time to check-in for our flight https://www.kenya-airways.com/uk/en and make our way through to the Business Class Lounge to relax and wait for the flight to be called. Boarding the flight we settled into our seats and with an on-time departure were soon airborne.

Flying down across Europe, as we crossed the Alps passing close to Munich, off to the east we could see towering anvil clouds and occosional flashes of lightning lighting up the sky. However, we were well to the west of this storm and continued southwards in relatively smooth air. Throughout the flight we enjoyed the usual high standard of service that we had previously experienced with Kenya Airways.

Tuesday 19th July 2016 – Happy Anniversary!

Happy 30th Wedding Anniversary – yes, we touched down in Nairobi at 04:35 (local time) on the morning of our 30th wedding anniversary – the reason for this, our 3rd visit to Kenya! Having passed swiftly through Kenyan immigration and collected our bags, we made our way to the front of the terminal to find our driver. Since our last visit in 2011, following the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in 2013, security had been stepped up throughout Nairobi, and the various holiday reps had been relocated from directly outside the terminal doors, where they had previously waited for clients.

Of course, we were unaware of this until a very helpful member of the cabin crew from our flight came out on her way home, saw us waiting there, and came across to help us. She pointed out the group of people standing on the opposite side of the road in the shadows, and advised us that we had to go and find our rep. Thanking her, and armed with this information, we soon located our driver who whisked us off to the Somak Lounge at the company’s offices on Mombassa Road, to wait for our hotel room to become available.

Mid-morning we were driven to the Ole Sereni Hotel https://www.ole-sereni.com/, just off the Mombassa Road, to check-in. This hotel is ideally located on the southern edge of Nairobi; right beside the Southern Bypass and within easy reach of both Jomo Kenyatta International Airport https://www.kaa.go.ke/airports/our-airports/jomo-kenyatta-international/ and Wilson Airport https://www.kaa.go.ke/airports/our-airports/wilson-airport/, the departure point for domestic flights to many major Kenyan towns and the various National Parks and Reserves.

Nairobi National Park from the Ole Sereni Hotel, with the Ngong Hills in the distance

Our room at the Ole Sereni, No.344, overlooked the Nairobi National Park, which was quite literally just the other side of the fence. Having dropped our bags we made our way to the hotel’s Waterhole Restaurant, overlooking the park, for lunch. They do a very nice range of pizzas which are prepared and cooked to order – the Nyama Choma pizza for me, and a Hawaiian pizza for Sandra, washed down with a bottle of Tusker lager each. Nyama Choma is Swahili and literally means “roasted meat”. Most of the time goat meat is the default genre and this pizza was an inter-continental twist on a traditional Kenyan dish, combining as it did, European cuisine with that of East Africa.

Later in the afternoon we were picked up by a Somak vehicle and driven to the Nairobi National Park. We found that there had been some changes since our last visit. gone was the public access to the KWS Orphanage from our previous visit, and in its place was a Game Walk, winding its way between large enclosures containing animals that had been injured in the park and been brought in for treatement by the KWS vets. Some were released following treatment, while those too badly injured to be able to fend for themselves back in the main body of the park are kept here to provide an easily accessible educational source for local schools.

Leopard in the Nairobi National Park

During our visit there were a number of very well-behaved local school parties visiting, and it was good to see steps being taken to educate Kenyans that the wildlife is an asset to the nation to be conserved for future generations. Signs warned drivers of the 20 kph speed limit on the road, advising that “Warthogs and Children have right of way”!

Warthogs & children have right of way!

Following our visit we were then driven to the Carnivore Restaurant https://tamarind.co.ke/restaurant.php?carnivore in the Langata suburb of Nairobi.

Carnivore

We had heard a lot about this restaurant and at last were able to visit it for ourselves. As the name suggests, the emphasis is heavily on meat and the menu contains a variety of meats from the exotic (Ostrich and Crocodile), to the more day-to-day (Chicken, Beef, Pork and Lamb). The meat is all cooked on swords over an enormous charcoal pit. The staff were more than happy for us to watch them cooking the meat and to take photographs. Once cooked the meat is brought to your table, one variety at a time, and carved from the sword directly onto your plate. On the table is a miniature flagpole with a flag. While the flag is in the raised position, they will continue to bring meat to your table, one variety at a time. Once you have eaten your fill, then you lower your flag to indicate that you have had enough. As you can imagine, the accent is very much upon meat, so this is not a venue for vegetarians!

Carnivore’s enormous charcoal cooking area

As we ate we looked out onto the gardens, with monkeys playing in the treetops and various local birds flying from tree to tree until darkness descended. Our meal over, we were driven back to the Ole Sereni for a good night’s rest after a long day.

Wednesday 20th July 2016 – Let the safari begin!

Following an early breakfast we were driven to Wilson Airport for our Air Kenya https://www.airkenya.com/ flight to Meru. Wilson Airport is a short drive along the Nairobi Southern Bypass from the Ole Sereni Hotel and in no time at all, we were checked-in and ready to board the single-engined Cessna aircraft. Our flight took off on time, climbed out over Nairobi National Park and the suburbs of the city, before reaching our cruising altittude of around 9,000 feet. Unfortunately, most of the flight was in cloud, but 45 minutes later we were coming in to land at Meru, where we were met by our driver, Philip “Bird” Mukuhi.

Meru airstrip & our flight from Nairobi

Meru lies approximately 225 kilometres north-east of Nairobi. The origin of the word ‘Meru’ is believed to come from the Maasai people who referred to the Tigania and Imenti forests as the Mieru forests, or simply the Quiet Forests. The Maasai are also believed to have used the term Mieru to name any tribe that did not understand their Maa language.

The Meru National Park is also, of course, the setting for Joy Adamson’s book Born Free, telling the story of the lion cub, Elsa, that she and her husband, George, adopted. The book was later made into a successful film of the same title.

Our first encounter with a Meru Elephant

Having loaded the bags into the vehicle, we set off for Elsa’s Kopje https://www.elewanacollection.com/elsa-s-kopje-meru/at-a-glance which was to be our home for the next three nights. On the way to Elsa’s we took in the wildlife with some fabulous sightings of Elephants, Waterbuck and Giraffe, plus a variety of birds, the latter being a special interest of Philip’s, hence his nickname.

Elsa’s Kopje is one of those places that just takes your breath away. Situated part way up a large rock rising out of the surrounding bush, it is reached by a steep winding track before you are deposited at reception, in the shade of the surrounding trees. From ground level, Elsa’s is all but invivisble unless you know where and what to look for – close up the only visible sign was the roof of the main reception area! Here we met the resident managers, an absolutely delightful couple, Philip and his wife Charlie.

After completing the check-in formalities, accompanied by warm towels and a cold fruit drink, we were taken to our accommodation – a small cottage, with a thatched roof. This was amazing!

Built onto the rock, following as far as possible the contours, it was on several levels with a decked area outside the bedroom, overlooking the park below, where we could relax in the sun and admire the views.

Lizards were frequent visitors, scurrying across the rocks, while some very large dragonflies filled the sky as the sun broke through and cleared the clouds away. Rock Hyrax scampered nimbly through the adjacent trees and then onto the railing surrounding our decking – one even climbed up onto the coffee table and sat there! Small orange butterflies flitted across the decking, momentarily pausing on the rocks. Inside the cottage, geckos could be seen clinging to the walls, keeping the accommodation free of any annoying insects in the process. A different experience, showering in the morning watched by the lizards and geckos clinging to the walls! There is nothing quite as thrilling as accommodation with immersive wildlife!

At one o’clock everyone gathered in the lounge area for drinks. Lunch was a serve-yourself buffet which we ate sitting on the terrace looking out over the lawn. After lunch we returned to our cottage to relax until 4pm when we met up again with Philip for our game drive.

Meru National Park http://www.kws.go.ke/content/meru-national-park, sitting a long way north of Nairobi, is little-visited by tourists and is utterly unspoilt. During our stay it was unusual to meet another safari vehicle during our game drives, and if we did it was likely to be one from Elsa’s Kopje. During this, our first game drive in this slice of Eden, we spotted Grevy’s Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Impala, Dik-dik, Somali Ostrich and the Black-backed Jackal.

Black-backed Jackal

As the sun sank towards the western horizon, we parked up and got out of the vehicle for our sundowner Tuskers and “bitings” – the Kenyan version of what we would refer to as “nibbles”, so quite a literal translation! As it started to get dark, we drove back to Elsa’s Kopje narrowly avoiding Zebra and Buffalo in the road, almost invisible in the fast gathering gloom.

After a quick freshen up, dinner was served on the lawn, sitting out under the stars! The tables and chairs had been moved down from the terrace onto the lawn; oil lanterns sat on the top of the wall surrounding the swimming pool, while each individual table was lit by candlelight – what an absolutely wonderful way to end such a perfect day!

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2008 – Holiday of a Lifetime!

How it all started

For my 50th birthday I had driven one of the original steam locomotives on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway in Mid-Wales. So when, two years later we were approaching my wife’s 50th and I asked her what she wanted, the response I got was, “I want to be a zoo keeper for the day!”  On researching this I found that while it cost about the same as my amazing day, it all seemed a bit tame mucking out the Meerkats, or feeding the Lemurs at our local zoo – we can do better than that I thought.  A visit to the travel agent during my lunch break and I returned to my office armed with brochures.  Over my sandwiches I marked some likely itineraries and that evening handed my wife the brochures with the words, “have a look through those to see where you want to go for your birthday”.

Thus was born our first Kenyan safari adventure!

Nairobi – 31st August 2008

After flying overnight by Kenya Airways from London Heathrow Airport, we landed in Nairobi at 7.20 in the morning (local time), were collected by our driver and driven to the Holiday Inn in Parklands Road, Westlands (this hotel has now become the Southern Sun Mayfair).  At this point when thinking “Holiday Inn” forget the UK image of a budget hotel – this one was on a far grander scale.  Beyond reception the grounds opened up, with two swimming pools and acres of lawn and mature tropical plants, creating an oasis in which the sound of traffic on Parklands Road was removed.  After attending the welcome briefing and being shown to our room, we sat by one of the pools just drinking in the magical atmosphere and watching the numerous birds that inhabited the trees and bushes.

On the far side of the pool was one of the hotel’s restaurants backed by a stand of tall trees.  In the tops of these trees some Black Kites watched and waited… …until one of them seized the opportunity, glided down from its perch, and silently swooped, grabbing the bread roll of an unsuspecting guest as it cast a fleeting shadow over his table, accompanied by the rush of its slipstream.  It was over in a glimpse and he looked up from his morning newspaper and then looked around for his bread roll!

We had a number of excursions planned for this day, so mid-morning we were collected from the hotel and driven to the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the edge of the Nairobi National Park.  The Trust was set up by the late Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick and was born from her family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness.  Today it is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programmes in the world, and one of the pioneering and conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

 

At the trust we had the opportunity to meet some of the orphan-elephants, warthogs, and a rhino which had been born blind with a congenital degenerating condition and despite surgery to try to correct this, sadly he will never regain his sight.

Orphan elephants
Three of the orphan elephants play together in the dust

From here we travelled to the Nairobi suburb of Karen, to visit the Giraffe Centre.  This is home to a herd of Rothschild Giraffe, a sub-species of giraffe found only in the grasslands of East Africa.  The centre is the only one in the world which enables the public to come into close contact with these beautiful creatures, the world’s tallest yet most endangered animal.  We were amazed at how close we could get to the giraffes – a giraffe head height platform brings humans to eye-level with the giraffes, but more was to come!  One of the staff offered us a bucket of food pellets and showed us how to place one of the pellets between our lips.  The giraffe then approached and very gently removed the pellet from our mouths – imagine that happening in health & safety averse Britain!  The giraffe’s breath smelt of Eucalyptus from the trees that they browse on.  The giraffes were also just as happy to take pellets from the hand.

Feeding a Giraffe
Hand-feeding a Rothschild Giraffe

 

Since being founded in 1979, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.) Kenya has been able to introduce over 300 Rothschild Giraffes to various Kenyan national parks.

Our final call on this tour of some of Nairobi’s sights was the Karen Blixen Museum.  Some 10 kilometres outside Nairobi city centre, at the foot of the Ngong Hills, the museum buildings were once the home of Danish author Karen, and her Swedish husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke.  The museum takes the visitor back to another era in the history of Kenya, to colonial East Africa.  The house gained international fame with the release of the film ‘Out of Africa’ based on Karen’s autobiography of the same name.

Karen Blixen House.jpg
Karen Blixen House

The house was built-in 1912 and was purchased by Karen and her husband in 1917, becoming the farm-house for their 4500 acre farm, of which 600 acres was used for growing coffee.  Divorced in 1921, Karen remained living in the house until she returned to Denmark ten years later.  In 1985 the house passed into the ownership of the National Museums of Kenya.

Following our guided tour of the house, which is furnished in the style of the period when Karen resided there, we returned to our hotel with a tour of Nairobi en-route.  The day ended with the sound of frogs in the grounds of the hotel as we walked down to dinner.

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The Journey Begins

Between 2008 and 2018 my wife and I have been seduced by Kenya, its people, and its wildlife. It was love at first sight and the more we visit the deeper we fall under its spell.

Thanks for joining me!

Introduction

Kenya changes you forever.  Once you have been there you will never be the same.

Kenya gets under your skin and into your blood.  Once visited it is a country that many fall under the spell of, to return time and time again.

My wife and I first visited Kenya in 2008 for the “holiday of a lifetime” on safari to celebrate her 50th birthday.  We instantly fell in love with the country, the wildlife, and the people.  The country is diverse in the habitats that it provides for its wildlife, from the lush grasslands of the Masai Mara which feed the annual migration of thousands of animals; the drier and more arid lands of Samburu; to the more dense and less heavily browsed bush of Meru, sitting astride the Equator.  The people are warm, friendly and welcoming.  Drawn from 43 tribes, the Kenyan people are diverse, but common to all of them is a great sense of pride in being Kenyan.

Subsequent to that first visit we have returned to Kenya a further three times.  What I hope to do through these words and images is to share with you some of the fantastic sights and experiences we have had on our travels.  I will be taking you on a journey through Kenya, showing you the sights, and the wildlife, while sharing with you our experiences.

 

The Legal Bits

Apologies, but it is necessary to make sure that you are aware of a couple of points before we go any further:

  1. Any opinions expressed here about camps, lodges or operators are  mine and mine alone.  They are based upon my experience at the  time and changes, for better or worse, may have taken place since.  Undertake your own research and then blame yourself or your  travel agent if you are disappointed.  You can do no better, in my view, than to visit Tripadvisor where you will find reviews of  camps, lodges and hotels based upon the experiences of people  who have stayed there before you, including some of my reviews.
  2. All photographs used in this site are mine and I own the copyright.  I do not like to put watermarks on photographs, as I feel this spoils  the photograph.  However, all my photographs have my copyright  details embedded into the metadata so that if I think somebody has  ripped off my images I can search this down and take appropriate  action to protect my work.

Safari?

The history of the safari belongs to Kenya, even the word “safari” comes from Swahili, the language common to all Kenyans, and means “to travel”.  Safaris first took place in the turn of the 19th century in colonial Kenya when the early hunting safaris were known as “foot safaris”, typically made up of a small group of wealthy European visitors, a professional hunter, and several hundred cooks, grooms, gun bearers and porters.  The usual ratio was 80 porters to each European, and each porter would carry  80 pounds of luggage on his head!

Common to all safaris was the idea that at the end of a hard day’s travelling or shooting, folding chairs would be drawn up around a fire and drinks would be served as the sun went down.  Thus was born the concept of “sundowners”, a tradition which is still carried on by some modern-day safari camp operators.  It is also customary to serve with the drinks, snacks, refered to locally as “bitings”.

Today safaris are about shooting the wildlife with cameras and capturing their images, rather than shooting them with guns to capture their skins or heads as trophies, but they still rely on local knowledge and support through the drivers, spotters, guides and the staff of the camps and lodges, who are employed to ensure that you see the wildlife and get the best possible experience in the limited time you have available.

A typical safari day today, certainly one that is worth the money you are paying for it, will be out at sunrise, usually around 6 am, and will end at sunset.  The best safaris are those that leave camp as the sun is rising, taking breakfast with you to eat out in the bush, returning to camp for lunch.  Then setting out again in the mid-afternoon, stopping somewhere for sundowners as you watch the setting sun rapidly disappear over the horizon, returning to camp for dinner, as the last glimmers of daylight fade into total darkness.  As Kenya straddles the Equator, sunset is always around 6 pm.  Such a timetable, we have found, affords maximum time with the wildlife, observing their behaviour, and getting those photographs that otherwise you might only be able to dream of!

Our first two safaris were booked through Kuoni, who used Nairobi based Private Safaris to provide the transportation and drivers from location to location, and on game drives within each location visited.  More latterly we have used Somak, who provide tailor-made safaris to your individual preference, using either road or air transfers between locations, where you choose the camps you stay at.

Experience has shown us that to derive the maximum enjoyment and benefit of seeing the wildlife, the optimum time to spend at each camp is two to three days. You can of course spend longer or shorter time at each one, depending upon your preference and budget, but it is important to remember that the wildlife cannot be delivered “to order”, if the timing or the conditions are not right then you will not necessarily see what you want.  An example is the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara – this is totally reliant upon the availability of grazing.  Once the millions of animals making that journey have depleted the grazing in the Serengeti, they make the hazardous crossing of the Mara River and into the Masai Mara, but while this generally happens between July and August, the timing is not exact and is totally dependent upon a number of elements, none of which can be controlled by human hand.

Karibu.  Sit back, relax… …and enjoy Kenya with me as we meet its people, its wildlife, and make this safari together.

If you wish to contact me with any questions or comments then please use the contact form below.  Requests to purchase copies of my photographs will be considered, but will obviously require discussion between us over your requirements, costs, etc.  I will respond to all comments and questions as soon as possible.

 

 

Safari Intermission: 2

Visas

Most visitors to Kenya will require a visa, obtainable from the Kenyan High Commission closest to you. These can be obtained on line, by personal application from the High Commission, or at your port of arrival in Kenya. Personally, we live some 40 miles from London, so usually apply in person, travelling to London on the train and then spending some time in our capital city once we have conducted our business at the High Commission.

If applying in person, you will need to drop your application and documents at the High Commission, and then return the following working day to collect them once the visa issuing process has been completed. Full up-to-date requirements in relation to applying for visas, along with the application forms, can be found on the Kenyan High Comission website http://kenyahighcom.org.uk/visas-2/ or the relevant website in your country of residence.

The experience of applying in person is an interesting one. On arrival at the High Commission it is usual to find the office to be quite crowded with a mix of Kenyans applying for various documents from their government, and British citizens applying for visas. It is clear that Kenyans and their government officials enjoy the same relationship and frustrations as we do with our government officials, with the bureacracy seeming to make a relatively simple process an ordeal!

However, my own experience has always been a pleasant one – perhaps the official behind the glass sees the presence of a mzungu (literally Swahili for “white person”) as a pleasant relief from the queue of Kenyans frustrated with their government’s processes. On arrival at the counter I greet the offical in Swahili, “Jambo, habari gani?” (hello, how are you), which always results in a smile (something you will rarely get from a British official in similar circumstances). The rest of the formailities, are quick and efficient – you part with the requisite fee and receive both a receipt for the money and a raffle ticket. The latter is the receipt for your passport and its counterpart is affixed to your application. When you collect your duly processed passport the raffle ticket helps them to quickly and efficently find your passport and return it to you.

I know that some Kenyans reading this might find it difficult to recognise my description of their government officials as friendly and efficient, but this is my experience of them on every occasion I have gone through this process (and indeed when passing through Kenyan border controls at Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). They have even, on returning my passport to me, wished me a pleasant trip to Kenya.

Innoculations

Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the world, Kenya unfortunately suffers with the risk of a number of tropical diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria, as well as more “international” ills such as Hepatitus. As a result it is a requirement for most foreign visitors to ensure that they are innoculated against these ailments, or in the case of maleria, take a prescribed course of tablets to prevent falling victim. The last thing you would wish to do is fall victim to one of these ailments which could not only ruin your adventure, but also impact on your health afterwards.

Full details of the current recommended innoculations/medications can be found on your government’s website. As an example, here is a link to the advice on the United Kingdom government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kenya/health

Photography

For most people a trip to Kenya will be the “holiday of a lifetime” and will be the one and only time you will visit the country, as our first trip was supposed to be! You will want to capture your memories in the form of photographs, and the opportunity in Kenya for truly memorable photographs is a given.

There are few rules to remember, but to ensure that you don’t inadvertantly fall foul of local laws, generally photographing Government buildings of any kind; airports; the military and the police; is prohibited. You might also find that some shopping centres in Nairobi are also reluctant to allow you to take photographs, and it is inadviseable to take photographs of the security arrangements now prevalant at hotels in Nairobi. Sadly, Kenya has been victim of terrorism in recent years and with this comes suspicion if you are taking photographs in certain areas or of certain installations. If you are asked or told not to take photographs, apologise politely and move on.

If you want to photograph people, as with anywhere else in the world it is only polite to ask for the person’s permission. Generally, most will agree to a polite request, but be prepared that some will request or demand payment. Whether or not you wish to make payment is of course your choice, but please remember that most of the people who you might wish to photograph will not earn a great deal of money and your small financial contribution could be important to them.

Generally, once you are on safari, in the National Parks and Reserves, there are no restrictions. Subjects for your camera’s lens will be abundant and varied, although some will be elusive and most will move quite swiftly if spooked by anything.

Camera Gear

It is not necessary to have professional or semi-professional camera gear to obtain reasonable images of your once in a lifetime safari in Kenya. Indeed, many people venture out with no more than the camera on their mobile phone! My wife uses a digital bridge camera and obtains some very good images, sometime better than I manage!

My “weapon” of choice for wildlife photography is my 500mm lens. With this I am able to capture some fantastic shots of wildlife, without infringing upon their “circle of fear”. The circle of fear is the distance at which an animal will take fright and run away. In most circumstances while on safari this will mostly apply to the prey animals, i.e. the animals that predators such as Lions or Leopards prey upon. Many of the species you will encounter on safari have become habituated to the presence of safari vehicles in their territory and, for the most part, will ignore your presence provided you follow some common-sense practices such as keeping noise to a minimum and remain inside your vehicle.

Conduct on a Game Drive

Your driver/guide is your local expert. He will know the area and its wildlife; he will know the best spots to go to in order to see specific types of animal; and he will have an understanding of what you want as a photographer. If you are extremely fortunate, as I have been, you might even find that your driver/guide is a photographer himself and once he has got into position for you to obtain your photographs, will pick up his own camera and get his shots!

It is important to follow your guide’s advice – if he advises you to sit down, it usually means he is about to move the vehicle in order to obtain a better view, or you are off to another location where he has heard there is soemthing worth seeing. Your driver/guide’s primary concern though, will be your safety. He will not knowingly put you into a position of danger – follow his advice and you will have a safe and successful safari with, hopefully, some fantastic memories.

Wild animals are totally unpredictable. With experience and observation of certain species over time, you might become atuned to their behaviour and learn to spot the tell-tale signs that predict what they mkight be about to do. However, most of the time, things will happen very quickly and you will need to be prerpared to react to the changing behaviour of your subject. If you want to learn about the behaviour of the animals you are likely to encounter, prior to your safari, then I would recommend that you try and get hold of a copy of The Safari Companion – A Guide to Watching African Mammels by Richard D. Estes and is published by Chelsea Green Publishing Company – ISBN 1-890132-44-6. I have had my copy since our first safari in 2008 and have found it an invaluable resource. (I have no connection with either the author or publishers of this book. I am purely a very satisfied owner and reader of this volume).

Prey animals realise that these “canned creatures”, i.e. human beings in a vehicle are not out to eat them; and the carnivores realise that without a large tin-opener you are not on their menu for lunch. This means that your driver is often able to get you quite close to the wildlife and obtain for you the views that you desire. While it might be tempting when animals come within touching distance, please do NOT try to stroke or pet them. At best you will spook them, spoiling the experience for you and everone else in your vehicle; at worst it could result in injury to you or your safari companions. I know you might think that this piece of advice is unnecessary, but unbelieveable as it may seem, I have seen tourists trying to stroke or pet wild animals while on safari!

Finally, while we are talking about conduct on your game drives. Please, please do NOT leave litter – take it back to your camp or game lodge with you and dispose of it responsibly. Sadly there are people who thoughtlessly, think nothing of discarding their empty food wrapper or drinks can or bottle, carelessly. Not only does it create litter which is totally alien to these unspoilt natural environments that you are privileged to be experiencing; but it also presents a danger to the wildlife. An inquisitive animal that chances upon your litter could very well end up with an injury, or more seriously suffer a slow and agonising death, all through a moments thoughtlessness.

Leave no sign that you have been other than your footprints (or tyre tracks).

Safari Intermission

Is there such a thing as writer’s block for blog-writers? I pose this question because this instalment has been a while coming and for that I would like to apologise most sincerely to my readers and followers. Having recounted to you our experiences on our first two safaris, I wanted to mark the change between them and our subsequent visits to Kenya. But how? Having spent time, too much time agonising over this, I settled on bridging the gap with some, hopefully, useful hints and tips for those of you have never been on safari. So, sorry for the delay folks, but we are back on track.

The Rift Valley

So, after two safaris in Kenya we had got the bug! We left Kenya in July 2011 vowing to return. At this, currently, the halfway point in our safari adventures, it was time to take stock and look at how we could improve the experience. Our first two safaris had been with Kuoni Travel, a UK based holiday company https://www.kuoni.co.uk/

As established clients, when they opened their new store in Cambridge’s Grand Arcade shopping centre, just 16-miles from where we live, we were invited to the opening event. Over drinks and canapes we discussed our experience of the company so far, and when we expressed some dissatisfaction with the experinence of staying at Treetops, we were advised that they could put together a tailor-made itinerary for us. We left with an appointment to return later in the week and sit down with one of their consultants to discuss our requirements. Sadly,sitting down with the consultant is as far as it got, because despite several phone calls, the promised itinerary and quote never materialised. We cast around looking for another supplier who could offer us an itinerary that did not include Treetops, but to no avail.

Now, every August we visit an event held on the shores of Rutland Water in England’s smallest county – Rutland. Birdfair is the go-to place if you are into wildlife observation and travel involving watching wildlifehttps://birdfair.org.uk/ Here, for one weekend a year, you will find dozens of companies offering wildlife watching gear, clothing and holidays; accompanied by talks from some of the top experts in the field – Jonathan & Angela Scott; Nick Baker; Martin Hughes-Games; David Lindo; and Chris Packham, to name but a few!

One of our regular stops at this event is the stand of Nature Kenya, the East African Natural History Society, based in Nairobi http://naturekenya.org/ It is always great to catch up with the team each year; to discuss our latest trip to Kenya; our hopes for our next trip; pick up the latest edition of their journal, Birding Kenya; and of course to try out our Swahili! As a result of our visit to them in 2011 I was lucky enough to get a short piece written by me, entitled Kenyan Wildlife – A Visitor’s Perspective, together with three of my photographs, published in the 2012 edition of the magazine.

With our good friend Jonathan Scott at Birdfair 2018

On our 2015 visit to the Nature Kenya stand we met Justin Coles, the Business Development Manager of Somak Holidays, a company based in north-west London specialising in safaris in Kenya. https://www.somak.com/

Justin showed us their brochure, which contained a sample itinerary for a flying safari, visiting three locations within Kenya, and using aircraft to transit between the reserves. We left with the brochure and Justin’s business card – by the time we had finished our lunch our minds were made up, Somak were about to become the supplier of our next safari experience!

However, before we reach our 2016 safari I want to share some thoughts, advice and guidance on how you can select your safari, and what you need to take with you in order to have the best possible experience.

Getting to Kenya

At the time of writing only two airlines fly direct non-stop between London and Nairobi; British flag-carrier, British Airways http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/destinations/nairobi/flights-to-nairobi; and Kenyan flag-carrier, Kenya Airways https://www.kenya-airways.com/uk/. Outbound to Nairobi, British Airways’ flight is a daytime flight, with the return flight being overnight. Kenya Airways flight from London to Nairobi is overnight, while their return flight to London is a daytime flight.

The only non-stop direct flight between Nairobi and the United States of America is currently supplied by Kenya Airways, who fly overnight in each direction between Nairobi and New York JFK Airport.

Both British Airways and Kenya Airways fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, located on the south-eastern side of the city.

Drive or Fly

Our first two safaris (2008 & 2011) were Driving safaris, while our third and fourth (2016 & 2018) were Flying safaris. So what are the pros and cons of each type?

Driving – Driving safaris are the cheaper and more common option. Every day of the week, dozens of vehicles set out from Nairobi conveying tourists to the various National Parks and Reserves so that they can see Kenya’s wildlife. You will find yourself sharing a vehicle, either a minibus or a 4×4, with other travellers – usually there will be a maximum of six of you with a driver. Each passenger will have a window seat and it is common practice for you to move round one seat per day, so that everyone will sit on either side of the vehicle and at the front and back, during the course of the safari.

All of the safari operators will request that you pack your belongings into soft-sided bags (rucksacks or holdalls are suitable), as these are easier to pack into the limited luggage space of the safari vehicles.

Mount Kilimanjiro seen from Amboseli

On a Driving safari you will see more of Kenya as you are driven from location to location. The journey will be split into easily manageable sections, with breaks for the driver usually at a roadside curio market where the passengers will have the opportunity to browse, and if they wish to, purchase wooden carvings, bead jewellery and other crafts. All of therse locations also have toilet facilities and some a place where you can obtain a cup of tea or coffee if you so wish. On longer sections there will be a stop for lunch at a suitable restaurant en route. Your driver and vehicle will remain with you for the duration of your safari.

Kenya’s roads vary in their standard – even the main roads can be riddled with potholes, but where foreign investment from the likes of the European Union, and more recently, China, has been used, great improvements have been made in the infrastructure. Travel by road will be long, hot, dusty; and can be tiring.

Flying – Flying safaris are the more expensive option, but will facilitate a quicker transit time between destinations. On most flights you will be in single-engined aircraft carrying no more than 10-12 passengers and flying at an altitude of no more than 10,000 to 12,000 feet. On the more popular and busy route between the Masai Mara and Nairobi, the airlines tend to use larger twin-engined aircraft.

The two main operators are SafariLink http://www.flysafarilink.com/en and Air Kenya http://www.airkenya.com/en (not to be confused with the larger national airline, Kenya Airways). All of our flights on our flying safaris have been with Air Kenya, who we can recommend without any question. Both airlines operate from Wilson Airport in Nairobi, to the south of the city centre.

Disembarking in Meru after flying up from Nairobi

Again, all of the safari operators will request that you pack your belongings into soft-sided bags (rucksacks or holdalls are suitable), as these are easier to pack into the limited luggage space of the aircraft and also into the vehicles that will transfer you between the airstrip and your lodge or camp. There is usually a 15kg per person weight limit on these internal flights as well.

In the next instalment we will look at camera gear; visas and the all important innoculations. I promise that the next instalment will be along very soon!

Clothing – should be lightweight and comfortable. Once on safari no one expects you to be imaculately attired, even for dinner in the evening, so leave your dinner jacket at home! During the day shorts and t-shirts are usually the norm; while in the evening once the sun has gone down, it will get slightly cooler and you may wish to change into trousers and perhaps put a lightweight jumper or fleece jacket on.

All good things have to end

Thursday 28th July 2011

As dawn was breaking we made our way out for our game drive.  We hadn’t gone too far when we met some vehicles coming in the opposite direction, which Nicholas advised us had been the ones that got stuck in the mud during yesterday’s downpour.  They had apparently spent the night out in the bush, returning to their lodges at first light.

Our first wildlife spot was a pride of Lions with the remains of a kill; mostly bones with some scraps of skin remaining, but enough to tell us that this had been a Zebra.  Again this sighting gave us the opportunity to observe animal behaviour as the Lions greeted one another, rubbing heads and faces, before relaxing; most of which involved rolling around on their backs! Lions are sociable animals living in prides that can number as many 40, although you will rarely see all of them together in one place. Prides consist of related females, the female being the dominant sex, with adult males being limited to one! In the main, it will be the females that will undertake the hunting; while the male will be ever alert to the threat of a takeover by younger males.

Lion with Zebra kill

A herd of giraffes, including a youngster, ambled past us a short distance further on; and a short while later we came across a lone female Elephant with her young calf.  The calf nuzzled up to its mother, wanting the safety and security of her bulk, as we watched from a respectable distance.

Baby Giraffe

Herds of Wildebeest were wandering across the savannah, the migration from Tanzania, northwards into the lush grass of the Mara, now being in full swing.  Nicholas then informed us that we were in actual fact now in Tanzania!  We had driven across the unmarked border, the only indication being a concrete marker defining the boundary between two countries!

Tanzanian Border

Safely back in Kenya, we drove on heading for the Mara River in search of more wildlife.  As we expected the river was alive with Hippos, while some sizeable Crocodiles lay on the banks, always with an eye on any opportunity to snap up a tasty snack!

Stopping at Mara Bridge, Nicholas spoke to the rangers and then turned off the main track.  We hadn’t gone far when we stopped – there, hanging in the tree was the carcass of an antelope.  As antelopes are not renowned for their tree climbing prowess, there was only one way it could have got there – a sure sign of a stashed Leopard kill!  sure enough, at the base of the tree lying in the undergrowth was a Leopard, fast asleep.  As Nicholas switched off the engine, it opened its eyes, looked up at us, and then resumed its slumbers. Sandra always asks our drivers to find her a “Leopard up a tree with its kill”… …well I think this is close enough!

Leopard kill up a tree!
Meanwhile, the Leopard sleeps underneath

Leopards are the embodiment of feline beauty, power, and stealth. Solitary creatures, you will rarely find two together in the same territory unless you are lucky enough to come across a breeding pair, or a female with cubs – both rare sightings indeed. They tend to lie up by day and during the early part of the night, in trees and dense undergrowth. It is often advisable to scan the undergrowth at the base of trees, or in amongst the foliage where the branches branch out from the top of the trunk, for a chance to spot a Leopard during the day.

Early in the morning, you may come across a Leopard as it returns to one of the spots it uses to lie up, after a night hunting.

As we made our way back to Keekorok for breakfast, we came across a Cheetah, sat on a low mound, looking out across the savannah, and posing for photographs.

Cheetah on alert

After relaxing in the lodge grounds, at 4pm it was time to head out again on our afternoon game drive.  The Savannah was teeming with herbivores of all description, a feast of temptation for the cats later on this evening and through the night, as the circle of life revolved across the Kenyan grasslands.

Lions were present in numbers, but the highlight of the afternoon was another pair of Cheetahs. These are beautiful cats and Sandra’s favourites amongst the big cats.

Mara Cheetahs

Cheetahs are mostly diurnal; seldom active at night, but usually rest during the heat of the day, hunting in the cool of the dawn and dusk. Cheetahs are of course renowned for their speed, although they are only able to sustain this over fairly short distances. If they haven’t caught their prey within 600 yards they will generally give up the chase.

Friday 29th July 2011

Sadly today we were scheduled to return to Nairobi, so breakfast was taken at a more normal time, no game drive today. The journey from the Mara was over all too quickly and arriving at the Southern Sun Mayfair we very reluctantly said goodbye to Nicholas. Nicholas summed up our two weeks together when he said to us, “we started out as strangers and finished up as family”. The family is very important to the Kenyan people and their culture, so we took this as the highest possible compliment, that he felt this way about us after two weeks together.

One final thing though was to give him his tip as a reward for his hard work in finding and showing us the wildlife of his fabulous country. We also presented him with his own copy of Helm’s Field Guide to the Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania, as a thank you for his friendship and for sharing his country and wildlife with us. We had noted his frustration with the field guide that Private Safaris had equipped him with earlier in our travels. To say that he was delighted with this gift is perhaps a gross understatement.

Sandra & Nicholas

Having checked in to our day room, we dropped our bags off and had a stroll along Parklands Road to the Sarit Centre for some last minute shopping. As we strolled, ordinary Kenyans displayed to us just how friendly the Kenyan people are, and cemented our love for this wonderful country. They were returning from work or from shopping, but as they met these two white, total strangers bright smiles appeared on their faces as they greeted us, “Jambo Jambo”!

Returning to the hotel it was time to get our cases packed ready for the drive to the airport for our overnight flight home.

Farewell Kenya – we are sure that this is not the last that we will see of you! We have fallen in love with you and we will return.

Masai Mara

Tuesday 26th July 2011

After lunch we relaxed in the grounds of the lodge until it was time for our afternoon game drive.  The bird life in the area was amazing with some wonderful colours on display. 

purple grenadier

Purple Grenadier

Down at the Hippo Pool we sat in the shade provided by the bar and watched as the Hippos wallowed in the cooling water.

  hippo yawn

Hippo Yawn

Our first encounter this afternoon was with a pair of Giraffes – a mother and calf, gently browsing on the lush vegetation.  Watching them, wandering with such grace through the Savannah, it was difficult to appreciate that if attacked they will defend themselves and their calves to the death against predators.  Their main defence weapon being their hooves, with which they are capable of inflicting fatal injury.

Continuing on our drive we came across a lone Hyena, trotting along the track heading straight towards us.  It wasn’t until it was almost upon us that it turned and disappeared into the bush.  Hyenas are such ugly looking creatures, but perform a vital task in the circle of life, scavenging on the remains of the kills of the apex predators, such as Lions.

And Lions were the next species we encountered, coming upon a pride with a number of young cubs.  We sat watching them for some time, with the cubs climbing the tree under which their parents were seeking shade; or playing with what looked like a lump of wood that one of them had discovered!  All the time they were under the watchful gaze of the adults.

mara playtime

Playtime!

With the arrival of other vehicles keen to get a view of the Lions, we left, the photographs safely stored on memory cards and our own memories in our heads.  Dusk was starting to gather, and in this part of the world, darkness arrives very quickly, so we made our way back to Keekorok to get ready for dinner.  What adventures await us tomorrow?

Wednesday 27th July 2011

Out just after sunrise, our first siting of the day was a Martial Eagle, perched in a tree top, as it scanned the landscape in search of a meal.  Close by, we came across a male White Rhino, who paused from his browsing to gaze at us, scanning for any sign of threat.  Satisfied that we meant him no harm, he treated us to a display of scent-marking as he sprayed his urine on the surrounding vegetation as he claimed this patch of grassland as his territory.  Job, done, he trotted away!

scent-marking

White Rhino Scent Marking

Early morning is one of the best times of day to watch wildlife in most parts of the world, whether it be your own garden, or as in this case, Kenya’s Masai Mara.  Before the sun climbs to high in the sky, and temperatures soar with it, most animals are quite active.  The herbivores, such as Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo and the various antelopes are grazing contentedly, happy in the knowledge that they have survived another night without becoming a meal for one of the big cats.

For the predators it is time to seek a shady spot where they can lie up for the day, sleeping off their night’s exertions; perhaps digesting the meal that they killed and devoured during the night.  In these early morning hours, they are often to be seen returning to a favourite spot to rest after a night’s hunting.  A pair of Lionesses were picking over the remains of a Zebra carcass, by now reduced to just the skin and a few bones, in the hope that some tasty morsel had been left.

Not finding much to satisfy their appetite, they wandered off, perhaps in search something else to feast upon, but instead encountered a lone juvenile male.  We watched in anticipation as they greeted one another with much sniffing and head rubbing.  The outcome of such encounters is difficult to predict; will it turn violent as the females reject any advances by the male; will the male try to assert his dominance, claiming this patch of land as his territory and by inference all available females within it?  On this occasion, following the ritual greeting, they proceeded to roll around on the ground in a tangle of legs, before being joined by two more females and the whole group wandering off.

A little further on a female Elephant, accompanied by her young calf, came into view.  As we approached, keeping our distance so not to disturb them, the calf took refuge under the grey bulk of its mother, taking the opportunity to suckle.  The more they got used to our presence, both appeared to relax, with the calf taking a great interest in us and Mum happy to proudly show off her offspring.  This was turning out to be a fantastic morning, but there was still more to come.

white-bellied bustard

White-bellied Bustard

On any safari game drive you never know what will turn up.  To the keen eyed, a safari will turn up all manner of creatures, both great and small.  If the wildlife is there, your driver will do his very best to find it for you and to ensure that you get the best possible opportunity to view and to photograph the animals.  Nicholas was no exception and so far on this safari had not disappointed.  After leaving the Elephants to continue their day, we drove on in anticipation of what we might see next.  Rounding a curve in the track we came across… …Cheetahs!

mara cheetahs

Mara Cheetahs

A mother and her sub-adult cub were grooming one another.  As we settled in to watch, to our amazement and delight, three more Cheetahs emerged from the long grass and they all greeted one another.  After observing them for a few moments, Nicholas advised us that this was group that he had been watching for some months on his regular visits to the area.  The four sub-adults were the adult female’s litter from earlier in the year.  This was testament to what a good mother she was; the fact that four cubs had survived this far despite the harsh terrain and the presence of predators who wouldn’t think twice about killing the cubs if the opportunity arose. So this was a special moment for all of us, not least Nicholas, and his keen interest and knowledge was testament to how lucky we were to have been given him as a guide.

As we made our way back towards the lodge for breakfast, we came across a group of Lions with four cubs.  Completely ignoring our presence, the cubs played happily in the sunshine with two of them play fighting, while a third honed its tree climbing skills.

Back at the lodge, breakfast over, we relaxed in the lodge grounds until it was time to head out on our afternoon game drive.

Our first sighting of the afternoon was of a male and female Lion, wandering across the savannah together, constantly on the alert for danger, or an easy meal.  Then out of the grass emerged two more females – the King’s harem was complete!

Driving on we came across two female Elephants with their calves, gently browsing on the abundant grass.  As we watched, we noticed the rapidly darkening sky to the North of us, as rain clouds gathered and rolled in.  The Elephants noticed too, sniffing the air with their trunks as the rain approached.  Sure enough, the first spots of rain splattered onto the windscreen and we hurried to close the roof hatches.  The next moment, our view was obliterated as a torrential downpour struck!

Within minutes, the previously solid marram roadway had been transformed into glutinous mud!  Over the radio a conversation between two drivers was taking place, and Nicholas pointed out to us, some vehicles in the valley below, advising us that at least one of them was stuck in the mud.  Earlier we had split from the other Private Safaris vehicle, although they were not far away, and it was obvious that Nicholas was worried both for their safety and for us. Fortunately, the other vehicle emerged from the torrential rain, and slowly we made our way back to the lodge.

It wasn’t long before the rain stopped, but so heavy had the downpour been that the ground was now far too soft to risk exploring any further.  Off to the west, the dusk was rapidly gathering, no doubt hastened by the dark clouds.  We cautiously made our way back to Keekorok, satisfied with what we had seen and ready for dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rift Valley Lakes

Monday 25th July 2011

Straight after breakfast we departed en route for Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley.  When we got to our vehicle we found a large brown and buff coloured butterfly on the rear window.  This beautiful creature was a male Orchard Swallowtail butterfly.

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly (Male)

A road safari takes its toll on the vehicles, and while the drivers work very hard to keep the vehicles as clean as they can, it is inevitable that they rapidly acquire a coating of dust!  Before we set out it was too much temptation for us not to customise our vehicles, writing, appropriate words in the dirt on the spare wheel covers!

017

Customising our vehicle

Setting out, our first stop was Thompson Falls, just before reaching Nyahururu.  Standing at 243 feet in height, the falls are located on the Ewaso Ngiro river as it drains from the Aberdare mountain range.  In 1883, Scottish explorer and geologist, Joseph Thompson was the first European to walk from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.  As he made his progress across Kenya he reached the falls and wrote of what he found… …”I was impressed mightily by the stupendous thundering of the waters which in magnificent mass plunged down several hundred feet into a fearful gloomy gorge.  The crevices give support to a splendid drapery of creepers and bushes, the spray from the waters yielding the necessary sustenance.  Among other plants, wild bananas are to be seen.

Thompson's Falls

Thompson Falls

After viewing the falls we continued on our way, arriving at Lake Nakuru Lodge in time for lunch.  Like many of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Nakuru is located in the bottom of what was once a volcanic crater.  The lodge sits on the crater’s edge, above the lake, with views out across the surrounding area.  We were slightly disappointed this time, compared with our previous visit, as there was quite a bit of building work going on within the lodge grounds, but as we were only stopping for one night we did not worry too much about this.

Our afternoon game drive took us down to the lake shore, where we were able to get out of the vehicle and walk. Just a matter of feet from us were Pelicans and Rhinos, who were quite unconcerned by the presence of the Homo sapiens. A large group of Pelicans were perched in the top of the tree – we didn’t know what type of tree it was, but from that moment on it was dubbed “the Pelican tree”!  Out on the lake, the Flamingos were gathered in their hundreds, creating a pink vista.

Pelican in flight

Pelican in flight

Pelican tree

The Pelican Tree

The Pink Fringe

Lake Nakuru’s “pink fringe”

As we headed back to the lodge, with night rapidly falling; to the west as the sun set, clouds were gathering and we could hear the distant rumble of thunder.  Tomorrow we drive south to the Masai Mara.

Approaching storm

The gathering storm

Tuesday 26th July 2011

A lie in this morning as we are driving south to the Masai Mara.  After breakfast we met Nicholas at the vehicle.  Before we set off he advised us of the length of the journey and then asked if we would like to make a small diversion to Lake Naivasha and take a boat trip on the lake.  We all agreed, even Sandra who is not the best of sailors!  On our previous visit to Lake Naivasha we had seen a fairly large boat tied up at the Lake Naivasha Country club, so we envisaged that we would be in something of that size.  Oh, how wrong could we be!

On arrival at the lake, Nicholas went off with our boat fares to make the arrangements and then led us down to the lake shore, where we found that our “boat” was glass-fibre dug-out canoe with an outboard engine on the rear!  Oh, well, we’ve paid our money let’s have our adventure!  Having helped us aboard the boatman started the engine and we gently made our way across the lake.

What an experience, well at least I thought so, as unfortunately Sandra was concentrating on keeping her breakfast!  Here we were at water level, eye to eye with Hippos (yes, an animal more dangerous any other African animal and responsible for more deaths than any of the big cats!); floating gently past as Kingfishers watched us silently from their perches on the bank. 

Eye level

Eye Level

At the far side of the lake, the boatman cut the engine; stood up and reaching for a fish from a bucket at his feet, started calling.  As we watched, an African Fish Eagle took off from a tree and with a few flaps of his wings swooped down to water level, as the boatman threw the fish into the water. 

This was one of those ‘Wow!’ moments, as this enormous bird of prey swooped down, grabbed the fish from the water, and with the minimum of effort, flew back to its perch with its catch.  Such was my awe at this spectacle that at first I considered my photographs to be less than satisfactory, but later on reflection I feel that they reflect the power of this avian giant.  The boatman repeated the spectacle once more before he started the engine again and we headed for Crescent Island.

Here we disembarked from the boat and walked amongst Giraffes, Zebras, and a variety of antelopes.  What were these animals doing here?  This is where some of the scenes from the 1985 film “Out of Africa” starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep were filmed.  The animals were brought here for the filming and have remained here ever since, contentedly living out their lives, their days enriched by the occasional boat load of tourists dropping by!

Walking with the animals

Walking with the animals on Crescent Island

Boarding our boat again, we returned to shore to be reunited with Nicholas and to continue our journey to the Masai Mara.  Was it worth the diversion to Lake Nakuru?  Absolutely – this wonderful country just continues to deliver amazing wildlife experiences at every turn! 

On the road again it didn’t take us too long to reach Keekorok Lodge in the Masai Mara, where we had stayed on our previous visit to this part of Kenya.