Les Animaux Sauvages sont Dangereux

Friday 22nd July 2011

The coach returned us to the Outspan hotel for breakfast, along with the party of Chinese who had spent the night at Treetops with us – sadly not an experienced to savour!  We were crammed into the coach with the last passengers to board standing or sitting on the floor, in the aisle.  Added to which we were unimpressed with the manners of the Chinese.  In contrast to those we encounter, almost on a daily basis, at home in the U.K., these were so rude.  When we arrived at Outspan they nearly knocked one of the waiters off his feet with their pushing to get to a table!

Les Animaux Sauvages sont Dangereux

A sign at Samburu Lodge from which the title of this instalment was taken

Breakfast over, we were reunited with Nicholas for the journey northwards to Samburu – reunited with our rafiki once more.  The journey took us down from the cooler Aberdare Mountains to the much warmer plains of Samburu.  At one point the road descended quite a long way, and in the process my ears popped!  However, from the top of the descent you could see the road stretching out in a straight line across the plains below.  Once again the road was vastly improved from our previous visit, with a smooth tarmac surface, until just before we crossed the river to the north of Isiolo.

The road to Samburu

Ear-popping road to Samburu

We left the main road at Archer’s Post and made our way to the Samburu National Reserve gates, where we spotted a ground squirrel and an antelope as we waited for Nicholas to complete the entry formalities.  The journey through the reserve to the lodge produced sightings of a variety of wildlife, including Gerenuk, Thompson’s Gazelle and Elephants.  One of the Elephants was wearing a radio collar as part of the project run by Ian Douglas-Hamilton and his daughter Saba.  Amongst other aims, the project is trying to understand where, and how far, the Elephants range in order to try to reduce Elephant/Human conflict.

On our arrival at Samburu Lodge we were taken to our room, No.57, on the opposite side to the reception block from where we stayed previously and looking out over the river.  The grounds were once again frequented by a variety of birds and other wildlife – walking back to our room after the afternoon game drive we were thrilled to see an Eastern Chanting Goshawk on a branch overhanging the path; while down by the river were Crocodiles and a pair of Monitor Lizards.

Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

However, the afternoon game drive was the “mane” event! 

There were plenty of antelope around including Dik Dik, Thompson’s Gazelle and Grant’s Gazelle.  We also saw a Mongoose.  Guinea Fowl were present in large numbers, as were Elephants, including several babies.  However, the highlights had to be the Lions!

We came across a Lioness who was definitely in “the zone”, focused on hunting, but despite Nicholas following her at a discreet distance, we lost sight of her as she went off into the bush.  A little further on we came across a bachelor group of three young males and witnessed some social interaction between them, with much head rubbing as they greeted one another.  They then wandered off to the riverbank, with us following close behind.  They lay down overlooking the river, with one of them wandering down to the water’s edge to drink, coming back up a while later.

Three Brothers

Bachelor Boys

We moved on, and as we drove through the bush we spotted… …the lone female from earlier, but this time she was carrying a Dik Dik she had managed to catch, in her mouth.  We tracked her at a respectable distance to see if she would lead us to cubs, but she eventually sought refuge in some bushes to eat her kill.  Even without seeing cubs, we all agreed that we had witnessed some fantastic scenes.

Lioness with Dik Dik kill

Lioness with Dik Dik kill

On our return to the lodge, as we turned in through the gate we saw a Genet Cat in the shadows under a bush, but this was not to be our only sighting of the Genet Cat this evening.  At dinner, not one, but TWO Genet Cats visited the restaurant!  One was on the path along the river, while the other was on the roof over the kitchen.  

On the walk to the restaurant for dinner, we came out of our room to find three Kudu just the other side of the path from us.  As we walked towards them, we found that they didn’t flinch!  Talking to one of the security guards, he told us that two of the Kudu had been born within the grounds of the lodge and all three live there in relative security, hence their lack of fear of humans.

At dinner we were talking to the Manager and mentioned that we had stayed at the lodge previously, and how much we loved Samburu.  During the meal he asked me our surname and room number, the significance of which was not apparent at the time.

Saturday 23rd July 2011

Our morning game drive took us across the river and onto the Buffalo Springs Reserve. As is the case with all game drives the wildlife present was unpredictable.  To us this is one of the attractions of a safari in Kenya – you know you will see something, but you don’t know what you will see, or where.

This morning there were plenty of birds about, as the sun rose as an orange ball into a clear blue sky, including some vultures riding the thermals as the air warmed up.  However, we saw very little else until we got deeper into the reserve.  Here we saw Oryx, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebra and several species of antelope.

Oryx herd

Oryx herd

We returned to the lodge for breakfast, and even then we were surrounded by the wildlife – as soon as the Samburu security guard’s back was turned, one of the monkeys dashed in, grabbed the sugar from one of the tables and made off into the trees to enjoy his plunder!

Mid morning, as the temperature continued to climb, we went down to the pool.  The pool itself was a welcome relief from the heat, and whilst swimming we saw numerous bright red Dragonflies skimming across the water.  As the day wore on the temperature increased to the extent that by the time we went out on our afternoon game drive we didn’t expect to see much in the way of animals until the heat started to dissipate.  However, it turned out to be an afternoon of surprises.

Close to where we had seen the three male Lions the previous day, we found a lone male Lion, older than the three seen previously.  He was  having a quiet snooze, until we turned up and he found himself facing a barrage of cameras from the wildlife paparazzi!

Samburu Yawn

Samburu yawn

Next on the list was a male adult Tawny Eagle, which Nicholas and I identified between us, but only after much consultation of books.  Almost simultaneously, Nicholas was receiving radio messages and without further ado we set off, at speed, across the bridge into the Buffalo Springs Reserve and towards Elephant Bedroom Camp.  In the distance we could see several vehicles raising the dust as they too sped towards the same spot.  We arrived just in time to see an adult Leopard leap down from a tree and disappear into the bush before we could get any photographs.

However, within minutes another Leopard was spotted, asleep up a tree, just yards away from us.  We were able to get some excellent photographs as we drove directly underneath the bough the Leopard was lying on.  It was quite something, looking straight up through an open roof hatch at an apex predator asleep just above us!

Samburu Leopard

A different viewpoint

Having promised Nicholas a Tusker in the bar this evening, we started the journey back to the lodge.  Once again a flurry of radio and mobile phone calls saw us charging across the savannah to another “spot”.  This turned out to be a Cheetah, walking down the road!  When we came along, remembering its road drill, the Cheetah stepped out of our path, only to then flush out a rabbit – the rabbit fled for its life, with the Cheetah in hot pursuit!  Fortunately for the rabbit, the Cheetah failed to catch it and our last view of the Cheetah was it lying down, getting its breath back.

Samburu Cheetah

A Cheetah gets its breath back

As we drove back to the lodge there were six elated occupants in our vehicle – yes even Nicholas, who told us he never tires of witnessing nature in all its aspects as he goes about his job.  So far on this safari we had seen FOUR of the Big Five, with only the Rhino to go.  However there was one more surprise to come later that evening.

The bar at the lodge sits in an elevated position overlooking the river.  Some steps lead down to the river bank and from this position it is clear to see why the bar is built as it is.  Underneath, at river level, a gauge in the wall tells a story, a story of the owners’ constant battle with the force of nature, when the river, swollen with the seasonal rains, over tops its banks and floods the lodge.  Such has been the increase in river levels over the years that the gauge itself has been extended twice since it was first installed!  Just under eighteen months before our visit the flood waters had reached their highest recorded level, 3.55 metres, bringing the water to with a few centimetres of the underside of the bar floor!

Samburu Flood Levels

The lodge is flooded on a regular basis

As dinner came to an end that evening, the restaurant staff emerged from the kitchen.  One was playing a guitar, while they were all singing “Jambo”.  They processed around the restaurant until they reached… …our table!  They gathered round the table as the manager, who we had spoken to previously and told how much we loved coming to Samburu, placed a beautifully iced cake in front of us.  On it was one word, “Kwaheri”, Swahili for “goodbye”.  The manager expressed the sentiment that while we were leaving in the morning, he hoped that we would return one day.

Samburu Kwaheri Cake

Kwaheri cake

Jambo, Jambo bwana… …

Wednesday 20th July 2011

Up early once more, coffee and then out on our game drive at 6.30 am.  This morning’s game drive just added to the tally of wonderful wildlife that we had seen.  With out a doubt the highlights of the morning were an African Fish Eagle – one of the largest of the African birds of prey, and an awesome sight when in flight; two Zebra stallions fighting – biting, kicking, head-butting (they weren’t messing around); a male Ostrich trying his best to attract the attention of a female; and a Flamingo – Nicholas reckoned it was lost!

Stallion Challenge

Stallion Challenge!

A pride of Lions with several cubs; Hippos, including a calf; and some Pelicans, added to the tally.  Amboseli was certainly delivering for us on our last full day before we continued north.

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

Returning to our room at Ol Tukai after breakfast, we met our room steward, Stephen Sabore, who stopped to say hello and enquired as to how we were enjoying our stay.  Stephen told us that he spends 2 months working at the lodge and then returns to his village, some 40 kilometres away for 2 weeks, before returning to the lodge for a further 2 month stint.  He also advised us that he was studying part-time with the hope of becoming a tour guide on safaris.  

We spent the rest of the day chilling, walking round the lodge grounds, and photographing some of the amazing birds that could be seen there, until the time came for our afternoon game drive.

On leaving the lodge, Nicholas drove us to Observation Hill, where we left the vehicle to walk to the top.  The views were superb, looking out over the savannah and the swamps below.  We had an excellent view of some Pelicans on an island in the swamp, and a Flamingo flying over.

View from Observation Hill

The view from Observation Hill

Descending the hill, we returned to the vehicle and resumed our game drive.  Unfortunately, the pride of Lions we had seen in the morning had changed location.  However, a number of groups of Elephants were browsing the grasslands, a Hyena put in an appearance, and a Snake Eagle, before we returned to Ol Tukai as dusk started to fall.

At dinner this evening, we were just finishing our meal when the restaurant lights went out, leaving it lit only by candles on the tables.  As we sat wondering what had happened, the staff entered from the kitchen, led by one of their number carrying a blazing torch!  All of them were singing, “Jambo! Jambo bwana!  Habari gani?  Mzuri sana… …” (Hello!  Hello, master.  What news? Good, thank you… …), as they made their way through the restaurant.  To Sandra’s horror, they stopped at our table and placed a decorated cake in front of us with “Happy Silver Wedding Anniversary” iced on the top!  A very pleasant and unexpected surprise, not to mention a wonderful end to our stay in Amboseli.

Anniversary cake - Amboseli

Anniversary Cake

Thursday 21st July 2011

After breakfast we set out from Amboseli en route to Treetops, in the Aberdare National Park.  The road through Amboseli was rough, stony and dusty, but we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the main A109 road to Nairobi, at how much it had been improved.  It was now a smooth and fairly fast road – well at least to start with!

Sure enough, before too long we hit the roadworks where the road was being improved!  En route, Peter’s vehicle suffered a puncture, so we turned round and went back so that Nicholas could help him to change the wheel.  Nicholas, being the joker he is, told us we had left something behind in Amboseli and had to go back for it!

Changing the wheel

Changing the wheel

Wheel changed, we were soon on our way again.  En route we made a brief pit-stop at one of the roadside curio shops.  Growing outside was a lovely red shrub which had a hand-written sign telling us that it was “Acalipha Hispida (Foxtail Flower)”, or in truth Acalypha hispida or the Chenille plant, native to Malaysia and Borneo!

Foxtail Flower

“Foxtail Flower”

As usual, just past Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, we hit the Nairobi traffic.  Hakuna matata!  Nicholas turned off the main road and took us on some interesting diversions through some of then residential areas of the city in order to reach the Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel in Westlands, for lunch at the poolside restaurant.

Lunch over, we set off again, with a short call at the Private Safaris office for Nicholas to deliver some paperwork.  Nicholas managed to get us to the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, before nightfall, where we checked in for Treetops.  He then drove us to the Treetops Gate of the Aberdare National Park, where we transferred to the Treetops’ coach.  As we walked away from our Land Cruiser, Nicholas called out, “Is no one going to say good-bye to me?”  Feeling sorry for him, we went back to say good-bye!

The coach then took us onto Treetops where we found it was full, manly with Chinese.  We were allocated Room 12, a couple of doors along the corridor from where we were on our previous visit.  Before dinner we went onto the roof for drinks, and another surprise – compared with three years previously, there was an abundance of wildlife at the small waterhole, including three Elephants and a group of warthogs.  At dinner, to our surprise the food had improved slightly, although the dining arrangements were still along one single long table.

And so to bed, for a night totally undistrubed by any wildlife turning up at the waterhole!

 

In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro

Tuesday 19th July 2011 – 25 years married!

Our Silver Wedding Anniversary – today Sandra and me have been married for 25 years. Celebrating this milestone in our lives is the primary reason for the safari this year.

At Tsavo West

Anniversary photograph at Tsavo West

After breakfast we said goodbye to Kilaguni and made our way westwards towards Amboseli, picking up our armed escort on the way. The road to Amboseli runs close to the Tanzanian border and in the past vehicles have been attacked by poachers and bandits, so an armed escort for part of the journey is deemed as a necessary precaution.

Most of the journey was on very bumpy and dusty roads, although there was a brief respite when we reached a stretch of tarmac road which was almost “billiard table” smooth!  Having traversed the “risk zone”, our armed escort bade us farewell and we continued on towards Amboseli.   

About 4 kilometres west of Tsavo National Park’s Chyulu Gate on the road to Amboseli, we reached the Shetani lava flow.  ‘Shetani’ means ‘devil’ in Swahili.  The flow was formed approximately 500 years ago and is said to get its name from the fact that when the locals saw ‘fire’ erupting and flowing on the ground they thought that it was the devil himself emerging from the earth, hence the name Shetani lava flow.

Shetani Volcano - Tsavo West

Chaimu, the source of the Shetani lava flow

Shetani Lava Flow - Tsavo West

Shetani Lava Flow

We had a brief stop at the lava flow and were able to get out of the vehicles and explore on foot.  The landscape around us was like something on the Moon.  Very little vegetation could be found, just the occasional very stunted Acacia.  A barren and inhospitable landscape.

We reached Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli, in plenty of time for lunch.  Our room on this visit was No.44; larger than the standard room, very comfortable, and overlooking the African savannah, just the other side of the fence!  As looked out Zebra, Elephants, Wildebeest and even a Hippo, were grazing just a matter of a few yards away.

At 4pm we set out on our evening game drive, and once again Nicholas pulled out all the stops to find us the wildlife.  This time the “tick list” included all the usual suspects, but the highlight as we returned to the lodge with the African night starting to descend upon us, was a distant view of a Serval hunting! The Serval is the tallest of the small African cats; a spotted cat with long legs and big ears.  As we watched, it performed its characteristic leap into the air as it pounced on its prey in the long grass; perhaps a rodent or a bird.  The Serval is more day-active than most of the cats, especially early or late in the day.  It also has two peak periods of activity at night, the hours before midnight, and then again before dawn.

Arriving back at the lodge at 6.30pm we settled in for dinner and a relaxing evening reliving the day’s experiences and looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

Amboseli Serina Lodge

Our accommodation at Ol Tukai

 

 

 

Return to Tsavo West

Monday 18th July 2011

After breakfast at the poolside restaurant, we checked out and boarded our Toyota Land Cruiser for our safari.  There were only 11 people in our party, split into two vehicles.  In our vehicle were Sandra and me; Terry & Susan from Edinburgh; and Alex from High Wycombe.  Our driver and guide was Nicholas Kahura.

At the first roundabout we reached the Nairobi rush hour traffic and made slow progress out of the city, stopping at a garage en route to put some air in one of the tyres.  By the time we left Nairobi and were on the open road, Nicholas had tuned into our sense of humour, and we into his!  This was going to be a fun experience and little did we know that by the time we returned home we would have formed a bond and relationship with Nicholas that still endures seven years later.

Once we reached the Mombasa Highway progress speeded up and it was interesting to see the improvements that had been made to this main artery between Kenya’s two main cities, funded by the European Union, since our last trip in 2008.

En route we saw the overnight Mombasa to Nairobi passenger train, nearing the end of its journey, and a freight train heading in the opposite direction.  We stopped at one of the roadside curio shops for the toilets and had a browse of the items for sale, gathering ideas for purchases later in the trip.

Resuming our journey, we eventually reached the entrance to Tsavo West National Park and made our way to Kilaguni Safari Lodge.  We had enjoyed our stay here on our 2008 safari, so knew our way around and what to expect… ….or so we thought!

After being given a cold fruit juice to drink and hot towels to clean the road dust from our skin, we sat down to fill out the registration card.  One question on it was, “Have you stayed at Kilaguni before?”, as we had, I ticked the box for ‘yes’ and thought nothing more of it.  We were handed our room key and were escorted to room 1.   Having dropped our luggage in the room, we made our way to the restaurant for lunch.

We had only just got our food and sat down to eat, when the manageress came over to our table. “I need to change your room”, she said.  I asked if we could finish our lunch first, to which she readily agreed, and said to just ask one of the staff to find her.

After lunch we found the manageress who advised us that she had seen on our registration card that we had stayed at Kilaguni previously. As returning guests she wanted to upgrade us!  We were then taken to room 22, a larger room on the first floor, and with a better view of the waterhole!  The room had also recently been refurbished.

Under the Acacia - Tsavo West

A Burchell’s Zebra under an acacia tree… …as seen from our room

At 3.30pm we set out on our game drive; spotting Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle and a large variety of birds.  We also visited Mzima Springs again, where we saw a Crocodile, a couple of Hippos in the distance, a Pied Kingfisher, and an African Fish Eagle.  We returned to the lodge at 7pm, in time for dinner.

African Fish Eagle - Mzima Springs

African Fish Eagle at Mzima Springs

Earlier, we had been offered the option of a Night Game Drive, led by the lodge’s resident naturalist.  So at 9pm we set out in one of the lodge’s vehicles.  Most of our companions in the vehicle were American, who nearly caused an international incident when they mistook Sandra’s Yorkshire accent, for an Australian accent and enquired which part of Australia she was from!   Her response, delivered in broad Yorkshire vernacular, I am sure left them no more enlightened as to her lineage than they were before their error!  As they say in Yorkshire, “eee bah gum, tha’s reet gormless!” 

What a fantastic experience the night game drive was!  The African bush is totally different at night and while photography was out of the question in the total darkness (no light pollution or ambient light out here), we saw a host of nocturnal creatures which we might not see during the day; including Nightjars, African Rabbit (which has large ears like a hare), a Silver-backed Jackal, Giraffe, Zebra, Gazelles, Hyenas, Bushbabies, and a Genet Cat.  Some of these were quite clear sightings, aided by a powerful spotlight; while others such as the Bushbabies, were merely the reflection of their eyes in the spotlight.

At one point we saw a group of female Lions, one of which was definitely in hunting mode and proceeded to stalk something.  After an exhilarating experience in the pitch dark of the African bush, we returned back to the lodge at 11.30pm and so to bed, to snatch a few hours sleep before tomorrow’s adventures.

Pied Kingfisher - Mzima Springs

Pied Kingfisher at Mzima Springs

2011 – Karibu tena! (Welcome back!)

Following our safari to Kenya in 2008 we were determined that we would return.  As with our first visit, this safari was to mark a special occasion – this time it was our Silver Wedding Anniversary.  We chose to use Kuoni again, picking an itinerary that was almost identical to that followed in 2008.

Also following on from our 2008 adventures in Kenya I had made the leap from a “bridge” digital camera, to a Canon DSLR camera and invested in a Sigma 500 mm lens – those animals were no longer going to be an indistinct dot in the distance if I could help it!

Saturday 16th July 2011

We were picked up by car from home and conveyed to Heathrow Airport (Terminal 4) in plenty of time for our Kenya Airways flight KQ101 to Nairobi.  As we relaxed in the Business Class lounge waiting to board our flight, the English weather outside produced a rainbow through which it appeared inbound flights had to pass as they landed on Heathrow’s northern runway.

Through the Spectrum

Through the spectrum 

We were boarded in plenty of time for an on-time departure as we settled back into seats 1A & 1B at the very front of the cabin.  While the flight was very comfortable, sleep eluded us through a mixture of excitement at returning to Kenya, and the noise of the air conditioning.

Saturday 17th July 2011

As we crossed the Equator at 32,000 feet we got a stunning view of the sunrise.  Arrival into Nairobi was delayed slightly because the airport had lost power and our crew were unable to contact the control tower.  We circled the city twice and eventually came into land.  We were among the lucky ones, as earlier flights had been forced to divert to Mombasa.

We cleared Immigration very quickly, via the “Kenyan & East African Passports Only” desk, courtesy of a very helpful and friendly Immigration Officer, who waved us from the queue we were waiting in and welcomed us to Kenya with a beaming smile; collected our baggage and once again were the first Kuoni passengers to emerge from the terminal!  We met up with the Kuoni rep, and once the other passengers had emerged from the terminal, we were conveyed to the Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn where we stayed in 2008), in Westlands.

Were there any differences between the Holiday Inn, Nairobi and the Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel, other than the name and branding changes, since our last stay in 2008? 

Not really,  the buildings had received a refurbishment both inside and out, but otherwise we noticed little change.  The grounds were still well-kept and formed an oasis within a busy city environment; a peaceful haven just yards from the busy Parklands Road.  The staff and the service were still to the same standard that we had experienced 4 years previously with no noticeable differences.

After checking in and preparing our bags for the safari, we boarded a minibus to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to meet the orphan elephants, stars of the 2007 BBC television series “Elephant Diaries”, and their keepers, led by the amazing Edwin.

 

Pachyderm Parade

Some of the orphan elephants are led in from the bush to meet their visitors

This centre serves an invaluable purpose in the care and rehabilitation of orphaned young elephants. When they arrive, from all over Kenya, they are often traumatised. Some have seen their mothers senselessly slaughtered by poachers after the valuable ivory tusks; others have fallen victim to deep wells and been abandoned by their mothers unable to rescue them; while some have been attacked and injured by predators such as Hyenas.

However, what all these young elephants all have in common is their good fortune in having been found by members of the community or by staff from the Kenya Wildlife Service, in the nick of time, and as a result given the chance to be restored to health and eventually reintegrated into the wild.  It is certainly a heart-warming experience to witness and support the good work being carried out here by people who very clearly care deeply and passionately for the animals in their care.

Following a very pleasant and entertaining hour in the company of these mini-pacyderms and their human carers, during which one of the baby elephants reversed onto Sandra’s foot (no damage done to human or elephant, just a healthy deposit of red mud onto a white trainer shoe!), we re-boarded the minibus and set off for the Giraffe Centre at Karen.

Milk Time

A baby elephant receives its bottle of milk after a morning in the bush

At the Giraffe Centre we met the Rothschild giraffes and fed them pellets.  One of them was keeping her distance, and we were advised by the staff that this was because she had a six-day old calf, which we could see in the distance.

Giraffe Diet - Nairobi

Please respect the Giraffes’ diet

The Rothschild Giraffe is one of three breeds of giraffe to be found in Kenya, the other two being the Masai Giraffe found in most of East Africa; and the Reticulated Giraffe found in northern Kenya.  Thanks to the Giraffe Centre and its breeding programme, over 300 Rothschild Giraffe have been reintroduced into the wild in various Kenyan national parks.

Adjacent to the centre was Giraffe Manor Hotel where the giraffes wander on the patio and are known to poke their heads through the windows to see what the guests are having for breakfast!

George, there's a Giraffe in the garden!

George… ….there’s a giraffe in the garden!

From the Giraffe Centre we headed off for lunch – toasted open sandwiches, washed down with Tusker lager, at a nearby restaurant.

Following lunch we made our way to the Karen Blixen Museum for a thorough and very interesting tour, although most of us were too tired now. On our return to the hotel we retired to our room for a rest before dinner.

Dinner was in the poolside restaurant where earlier we had seen a Black Kite swooping down from the trees behind the restaurant, and stealing from diners’ plates as they ate!  And so to bed after a long 48 hours with very little sleep, but it is really great to be back in Kenya once again!

Lala salama… …goodnight!

 

 

The Mara Migration

11th September 2008

An all day game drive – this is courtesy of Private Safaris, to compensate us for the problems with the Land Rover earlier in the safari (Onwards and Northwards).

We headed out into the Mara, spotting several remains of overnight “big cat” kills.  Herds of wildebeest were very much in evidence, a good sign that the migration was well under way!  On reaching the Sand River, which marks the border with Tanzania, we watched the wildebeest making their migratory passage across the river, and into Kenya.  There was very little water in the river and as a result, no crocodiles, so a relatively safe crossing point.

Crossing the Sand River

Wildebeest crossing the Sand River

Continuing on, we headed for the Mara River.  Now the crossing of the wider and faster flowing Mara River poses an altogether bigger challenge for the herbivores taking on the migration.  Here the very hazardous nature of the wildebeests’ journey was all too amply illustrated by the number of bloated, rotting carcases floating in the shallows, providing sustenance for the scavengers.

Crossing the river at Mara Bridge, we drove on in search of the wildlife.  Coming across a female Cheetah with her juvenile cubs, we watched as Mum started to stalk some antelope, but when they sensed her presence and took to the hoof, she decided not to give chase.  We left her sitting, in classic Cheetah pose, atop a termite mound.  Further on we came across four juvenile male Lions lying in the shade of a bush, seemingly undisturbed by our presence.

Lunch was a picnic provided by the lodge, eaten in the shade of an Acacia tree, just yards from the Tanzanian border, and seemingly not too far from the lions!

Lunch devoured, undisturbed by any wildlife, we got back into the vehicle and returned to the Mara River, crossing back to the other side, and parked up.  A ranger, armed with an AK-47 automatic rifle, escorted us on foot along the river bank to enable us to get a better view of the crocodiles and hippos in the river.  

 Masai Mara

Maasai Mara landscape

Returning to the vehicle, we started back towards Keekorok spotting a tiny baby antelope and a family of Warthog hoglets en route.  A brief shower of rain forced us to close the vehicle roof hatches, and arriving back at the lodge the rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, as the sky darkened and the wind picked up.

Mara River

The Mara River

After dinner, returning to our room, we were escorted by one of the Askari, as there were two Hippo wandering amongst the trees opposite our room, the Askari sweeping his torch across them so that we could see them!  Further up the path a large Mongoose was sat watching for prey!

12th September 2008

During the night we were woken up by some sounds at the back of our room.  Looking out of the window we were amazed to find a Hippo grazing just outside our room!

The morning game drive was a “wildebeest morning”, with several large herds sighted.  down by the Sand River we watched as one herd crossed southwards.  Despite Justice’s best efforts we were unable to find a Leopard that had been reported by other drivers the previous day, but we did spot a pair of Hyenas, and then within a mile or two of the lodge, a lion lying on his back, asleep!  When we pulled up and started pointing cameras in his direction, he opened his eyes, took a look at us, and then promptly resumed his slumbers!

Mara Lion

 

Disturbed slumbers…

As we walked back to our room after breakfast, three Baboons were wandering across the lawn!  This lodge certainly brings the visitor closer to the wildlife!

On a stroll around the grounds later, we saw the staff picking the oranges for the dining room – you can’t get much fresher than that and zero air miles involved from tree to table!  Down by the hippo pool, some strange splashes in the shallows turned out to be Mudfish!  We decided to watch the hippos for a while before wandering back watching the Vervet Monkeys in the tree canopy above our heads.

The afternoon game drive turned into “Big Cat afternoon!  First off, was Sandra’s biggest wish – a Leopard in a tree with its kill, although a distant view (oh, how I wished I had a better camera with a larger zoom at this point!).  This brought our Leopard total for the trip to four.  Next up were two juvenile male Lions; quickly followed by two female Lions, and then two female Lions with three cubs!

What an ending to a fabulous safari!

13th September 2008

Setting out at 8am, we hit the road for Nairobi.  The climb out of the Rift Valley would have revealed a spectacular view of the plains below, but for the low cloud and haze.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn, in Nairobi by lunchtime and said goodbye to Justice.  After checking in to our room and sorting out our luggage ready for the homeward flight, we went shopping to the Sarit Centre, just a short walk from the hotel.  As we walked up

 

Continuing Southwards

9th September 2008 – Lake Naivasha

An early morning game drive before breakfast, in fact as the sun was rising!  A report over the radio of a Leopard sighting took us to the airstrip, but it had disappeared into the trees.  However, we did see Zebra, Giraffe, Buffalo and Jackal; as well as two White Rhino sparring with one another!  The lake shore was teeming with Pelicans and Flamingos as usual.

Rhinos at Lake Nakuru

Rhinos at Lake Nakuru

We returned to the lodge for breakfast and then it was time to bid farewell to Lake Nakuru as we moved on to Lake Naivasha.  En route to Naivasha we saw troops of Baboons and a herd of Zebra by the main road!  As we headed towards Naivasha, the road ran parallel with the railway line linking Nakuru with Nairobi.  Along this stretch we caught up with, and passed, a southbound freight train.

Class 93 locomotive

Southbound freight train 

Our destination was the Lake Naivasha Country Club, which we reached just after mid-day.  This turned out to be another charming colonial style building with a number of “chalets” in its beautiful grounds, 6,200 feet above sea level and 80 kilometres south of the Equator.  Lake Naivasha Country Club dates back to the 1930s with its origins as a staging post for the Imperial Airways Flying Boat service between the U.K. and South Africa.  As we sat eating lunch we could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, and on asking a member of staff if it was going to rain, he replied, “Yes, soon!”

Following lunch we went for a stroll through the grounds, but as we left our room we saw a member of staff carrying a platter of fruit and some cutlery, who asked if we were from Room 24.  When we confirmed that we were, she said, “This is for you!”  This reduced Sandra to tears as this was clearly because I had said that the safari was for her 50th birthday when I had booked it!

After depositing the fruit in our room, we continued our stroll, spotting monkeys in the trees and some Impala wandering at the edge of the lawns, on the fringe of the trees.  Sure enough, as predicted earlier, it started to rain, but we continued our walk towards the lake where we discovered a Camel tied up by the jetty! (Half an hour ride along the lake shore – 500 KSH per person!).

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Beautiful trailing blooms in the grounds of Lake Naivasha Country Club

On the lake shore we found an African Fish Eagle perched in a tree and saw Pied Kingfishers on the jetty.  As the rain became heavier we made our way back to our room via the shop, to enjoy our fruit.  We sat out on the verandah to eat, watching the rain fall until it stopped, at which point we discovered that two Maribou Storks had taken up post in a nearby tree.

10th September 2008

Straight after breakfast we set out on the drive to the Maasai Mara – an uneventful journey broken by the usual comfort stop at one of the roadside “curio” stores, where an old boy, wearing a very smart beadwork tie featuring the Kenyan flag, was selling newspapers.  The toilet block, at the rear of the store, was adorned with some very well executed paintings of a male and female Maasai, to indicate the designation of the two “departments”!

Pitstop

Pitstop en route to the Mara

We arrived at Keekorok Lodge in the Maasai Mara at lunchtime – one of the few lodges we had encountered so far that was not fenced in.  Our room was another delight – overlooking the open savannah of the Mara.  From the verandah we could hear Hippos in the pool, just a short distance away.  Two trees by our verandah provided ample opportunity to sample the local bird life!  We were advised that because of the open nature of the grounds it was not unusual to find Hippos and other wildlife wander after dark – as we were to discover!

Following lunch we went on an exploration of the lodge and discovered a viewing platform overlooking the Hippo Pool, complete with a bar!  After watching the Hippos for some time, we walked back to our room, in the rain, via an excellent souvenir shop!

Keekorok Hippos

Keekorok Hippos

The afternoon game drive produced elephants, lions, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest and buffalo, in great numbers.

At dinner that evening, somebody’s birthday and another couple’s engagement were celebrated, with the staff bringing in a cake and a bottle of champagne, accompanied by singing, flaming torches and the beating of tin trays!  Sandra was slightly worried in case they were coming to our table to celebrate her 50th birthday! 

 

 

 

In the Footsteps of The Queen

7th September 2008

Onwards from Samburu to Treetops!  The first leg of the journey retraced our steps to the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, where guests for Treetops check-in.  En route, Kenya served up sights that were truly out of Africa, including a 3-Donkey powered cart!  As we passed him, the driver spotted my camera and gave us a beaming smile.  The friendliness of Kenyans!

3-Donkey Cart

3-Donkey Cart & Driver

At one point we stopped at a curio shop in order to use their toilets.  Alongside the obligatory coffee stall were growing… …coffee bushes! 

Coffee bushes

Coffee Bushes

Lunch at the Outspan Hotel proved that the food hadn’t improved since our overnight stop here a few days earlier, although the staff appeared slightly friendlier on this occasion.

Lunch over, we all piled onto a bus for the short journey to the world famous Treetops, in the Aberdare National Park.

Treetops

The original Treetops first opened for guests in 1932 and got its name because it was literally built into the tops of the trees as a tree house!   It was here that Princess Elizabeth was staying with Prince Phillip, when she received news of the death of her father, King George VI, and her accession to the throne in February 1952.  However, the original Treetops was burnt down by African guerrillas during the 1954 Mau Mau uprising.  Her Majesty’s bodyguard at the time, Jim Corbett, wrote in the visitors book, “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.”  

Treetops

Part of Treetops seen from our room

Treetops was rebuilt in 1957 near the original waterhole, and it was here that we were to stay for one-night.  Our room was at one end of the middle level, overlooking the waterhole.  The room was basic, and cramped!  Two single beds were arranged in an L-shape around the walls, and that was it!  The toilets and washing facilities were along the corridor!

A switch on the bedroom wall enabled you switch a buzzer on or off.  If you wanted an undisturbed night’s sleep you could switch it off – switched on, there was a code of buzzes to alert you to the presence of various animals at the waterhole: 1 buzz for Hyena; 2 buzzes for Leopard; 3 buzzes for Rhino; and 4 buzzes for Elephant.

After putting our bags in our room we went to the lounge for tea and coffee before moving up to the rooftop observation deck, where we sat until it started to rain!  There were a few Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Buffalo and Warthogs in the vicinity; as well as various birds, including a Yellow-billed Stork and the rather attractive Speckled Pigeon.

Speckled Pigeon

Speckled Pigeon

The Yellow-billed Stork seemed to be on a one-bird mission to clear the waterhole of frogs, judging by it’s hunting prowess!  We also watched two male Bushbuck vying for the attentions of a solitary female.  As darkness descended we spotted an owl on one of the mudflats in the waterhole.

Dinner was a pretty unappetising affair, served at a long table, with the dishes being passed from one end to the other on a trolley running along the centre of the table.  As it reached where you sat, you helped yourself to whatever took your fancy… …or didn’t!  I opted for Steak, which turned out to resemble two large Beefburgers!  Sandra opted for Fish in a Garlic & Lemon Sauce, which appeared to contain very little of either!  For dessert, the Black Forest Gateau turned out to be a sponge, but lacking in either Cherries or Kirsch!  All in all, a big disappointment.  (Since our visit in 2008 and subsequently in 2011, we understand that Treetops has undergone a “makeover” so my comments here will not necessarily reflect what you might find if you do visit).

After dinner we returned to the roof and sat looking out over the waterhole, adding a White-tailed Mongoose to our wildlife tally before retiring to our room.

And so to bed… …to await the elusive 2 or 3 buzzes!

8th September 2008

The following morning we were up early, after an undisturbed night (no… …no buzzes in the night!), for tea and coffee before the short drive back to the Outspan Hotel for breakfast; to collect our main luggage; and be reunited with Justice and the 4×4 for the journey to Lake Nakuru.

As we drove out through Nyeri we passed a building under construction, clad in the most amazing wooden scaffolding – no Health & Safety regulations in this part of the world!

Nyeri Scaffolding

Nyeri Scaffolding

As we drove towards the Rift Valley we passed tea plantations, growing another of the crops for which Kenya is world-renowned.  Our route crossed and re-crossed the Equator as we made away towards Thomson’s Falls, a 243-foot waterfall on the Ewaso Ngiro river as it drains from the Aberdares mountain range.  In 1883, a Scottish naturalist and geologist, Joseph Thomson, was the first European to reach the falls and named them for his father.  In the early 1880s, Joseph Thomon had been the first European to walk from Mombassa to Lake Victoria.

Thomson's Falls

Thomson’s Falls  

After the obligatory photo-opportunity, we continued on our journey to the edge of the mighty Rift Valley Escarpment.

The Great Rift Valley runs through Kenya from north to south, but is full extent runs from Israel in the north, to Mozambique in the south; some 5,965 miles!  The floor of the valley is broken by a number of volcanoes, some still active, and a series of lakes.  As the B5 Nyahururu to Nakuru road descended into the valley, we paused at the Subukia View Point, which afforded some amazing views of the valley.

Rift Valley sign

A wooden viewing platform, through the slats of which you could see down into the valley below; guarded by a rudimentary and rather flimsy looking guardrail, afforded a panoramic view north and south along the Great Rift Valley.

Rift Valley Vista

Great Rift Valley vista

Continuing down into the valley bottom, we made our way to Lake Nukuru, arriving in time for lunch at the Lake Nakuru Lodge, the sign in the car park giving a small clue to what awaited us later!

Lake Nakuru Lodge

Lake Nakuru

Our room overlooked the valley, with forest on the valley floor and the hills rising beyond.  Lunch was taken on the restaurant terrace overlooking the lake, after which we returned to our room to freshen up in one of the most powerful showers known to man!

At 4pm we set out on our evening game drive, down towards the lake.  Lake Nakuru is is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes and lies in the Lake Nakuru National Park.  The lake has an abundance of algae which attracts huge flocks of Flamingos, lining the shore.  Nakuru means “Dust” of “Dusty Place” in the Maasai language, Maa.

Lake Nakuru

 

 

Lake Nakuru – fringed in pink

On reaching the lakeside plain we came across a herd of some 150 or more Cape Buffalo, inter-mixed with large numbers of Zebra.  We continued to the mouth of a stream running into the lake, where large numbers of Pelicans were gathered.  The shoreline of the lake was fringed in pink, such was the density and number of Flamingos gathered there!

Lake Nakuru Pelican

Lake Nakuru Pelican

On the edge of the lake we were able to leave the Land rover and walk quite close to both the Pelicans and the Flamingos.  Returning to the vehicle we drove round the shoreline of the lake and into the forest that borders it.  En route we passed a number of White Rhino and Rothschild Giraffes.  However, the icing on the cake for us, was not one, but TWO Leopards in the grass to the far side of the airstrip – a total of three Leopards so far on this safari!

We returned to the lodge in time to see the sunset.  A glorious end to yet another stunning day on this Kenyan adventure.

Lake Nakuru sunset

 

 

Lake Nakuru Sunset

 

 

Onwards and Northwards

4th September 2008

It was an early start for the longest leg of our safari – Amboseli to Nyeri, north of Nairobi, a distance of approximately 250 miles on Kenyan roads!  A short distance after we left Ol Tukai, one of the other passengers spotted a Cheetah sitting by the roadside.  However, by the time George had stopped and reversed, the Cheetah was walking off into the bush.  Such is the nature of a driving safari, the drivers will stop if any wildlife is spotted en route. As we neared Namanga Gate, where we exited the park, we came across a trio of Lions.

Over five hours later we reached Nairobi and its traffic!  Our route had taken us from Amboseli, across to the A104 Tanzanian Highway at Namanga, within 100 yards of the border; and then northwards on the highway to Nairobi.

Our lunch stop was at The Lord Errol restaurant on Ruaka Road.  Built in the old colonial style, with beautiful grounds, we sat on the verandah sat and watched Crowned Cranes and Hammerkop wander the beautifully manicured lawns, as we enjoyed lunch.  Nearby, Black Kites were sitting in the tree tops.

DSCF1524 Crowned Crane

The Crowned Crane is the national bird of neighbouring Tanzania.  The Hammerkop, is a water bird that derives its name from its large “hammer-shaped” crested head and short neck.  While it looks much like a duck in stature, it is actually more related to Herons or Storks.

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Setting out from Nairobi after lunch, we headed north on the Thika Road.  At one point George started to feel tired, so we pulled into one of the many “curio shops” that you can find on Kenya’s main roads.  While George had a cup of coffee, we browsed the beadwork and wooden carvings on sale.

Setting off again, we hadn’t gone far when our Land Rover started to overheat.  George pulled over, and assisted by the other drivers and a local lad, who went to fetch water, he soon had us back on the road.

Just under an hour later we reached Nyeri, where Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout movement, is buried.  Our overnight accommodation was at the Outspan Hotel, where Sandra and I found we had been allocated an enormous room, more like a suite, which had two bathrooms and a balcony overlooking the valley and its tea plantations.

5th September 2008

By the time we got up the following morning, George had already left to drive to the nearest Land Rover dealership, some 60 kilometres north, to try and get our vehicle repaired.  Meanwhile we set out in one of the minibuses in our group, driven by Ki.

At Nanyuki, we pulled off the road at the point where it crosses the Equator.  Here there was a row of crude shacks which served as curio shops.  However, to our amusement each one was decorated to represent a British football team!  Most startling of all was the “Manchester United shop”, painted in Manchester City’s blue!

Ki dropped us off here while he went on ahead to see how George was getting on with the repair.  while we waited we were treated to a demonstration of the effects of the gravitational pull of the Earth at the Equator.  This was demonstrated by pouring water through a hole into a bowl.  In the Northern Hemisphere the water flows in a clockwise direction as it passes through the hole; in the Southern Hemisphere, it flows anti-clockwise; while right on the Equator it flows straight down!  All in the space of a few metres.  We were also able to purchase “Crossing the Line” certificates at the princely sum of 400 Kenyan Shillings each (about £4) – a very worthwhile souvenir of such an auspicious moment such as crossing the Equator.

Equator

On the Equator

Ki returned with the news that George hoped to rejoin us at Samburu this evening. With this news, we set off again.

On reaching the Samburu National Reserve we came across Elephants, Zebra and Beisa Oryx, the latter only being found in north-east Kenya.  The Beisa Oryx, with is long scimitar like horns, is often described as the “Spirit of the Desert embodied in an Antelope”.

When we reached it, the lodge was located on the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro river.  Having checked in and taken our bags to our room, we spent the afternoon watching a Samburu dance group performing.

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The Samburu men demonstrate their prowess at jumping

The Samburu people

The Samburu people are a sub-tribe of the Maasai, confined to north-central Kenya.  Like their Maasai cousins, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists who measure a man’s status and wealth in the head of cattle, sheep and goats that he owns.  The name they use for themselves is “Lokop” or “Loikop”, a term which has a variety of meanings, something which not even the Samburu can agree on!  Many, however, assert that it refers to them as “owners of the land” (“lo” refers to ownership; “nkop” is land).

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A group of Samburu girls sing and perform traditional dances

Our afternoon game drive brought sightings of Somali Ostrich, Giraffes, and Elephants – the highlight being a baby taking milk from its mother, just 50 feet or so away from us!

On returning to the lodge we watched Nile Crocodiles coming out of the river to be fed by the staff on huge joints of meat.  The crunching of bones as they devoured the meat that was thrown to them, was incredible!

6th September 2008

We were up early for our morning game drive, which produced a large heard of Beisa Oryx and several herds of Elephants.  As we crossed a river, we spotted a small Crocodile lurking, waiting for any unwary animal as it came to drink!

Back at the lodge, after breakfast we browsed the shop and then chilled out while occasionally thwarting the criminal attempts of the Vervet Monkeys who were out to steal anything they could lay their hands on.

Samburu River outside our room

The Ewaso Ngiro River

On the far side of the river, Giraffe and Waterbuck could be seen; while a Sacred Ibis was wading in the water, no doubt looking for its next meal.  Closer to where we were sat, a Glossy Ibis was wandering.  We were seeing things that previously we had only seen on television wildlife programmes, but now they were close up and very real!

Beisa Oryx

Beisa Oryx

Sadly when it came time for the afternoon game drive we learned that George would not be rejoining us.  Instead we were reallocated to a vehicle occupied by two couples and driven by Justice.  This afternoon we saw large numbers of Giraffes, as well as Oryx and Elephants; then, just as we were giving up hope… …two Lionesses were spotted lying in the shade.

 

Let’s Safari… ….1st September 2008

Nairobi to Tsavo West

Straight after breakfast we met our driver/guide, George, who was originally intended to be with us until we returned to Nairobi in just under two weeks time.  Having loaded six passengers and their luggage into the long-wheelbase Land Rover, off we set, straight into Nairobi’s notorious traffic!  It was the tail-end of the morning rush hour and our hotel was on the northern side of the city, while we needed to be on the A104 Nairobi to Mombassa road, which lay on the other side of the city centre.

Kenyan roads are… …different and varied!  Some can be bowling green smooth, but most are incredibly bumpy and pot-holed, even in a city like Nairobi.  Traffic rules are difficult to interpret if, as we were at the time, you are unused to Kenya.  We hadn’t gone too far out of the city centre when the traffic ground to a halt on the dual carriageway to Mombassa, not far from the turn-off to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.  Was it an accident, or just Nairobi’s chronic traffic?  No – some local farmers had decided to drive their cattle from one side of the dual carriageway to the other, in order to reach pasture – only in Kenya!

Cattle Crossing - Mombassa Highway

Hold-up on the Nairobi to Mombassa highway

Having cleared that obstacle, the rest of the drive down to Tsavo West passed uneventfully and we arrived at Kilaguni Safari Lodge.  We were greeted with hot towels to clear the dust from our skin and a cold glass of fruit juice to clear the dust from our throats.  

Kilaguni takes its name from a Kamba word meaning “young Rhino”.  The Kamba people are a Bantu ethnic group, or tribe, who live in the semi-arid former Eastern Province of Kenya, stretching from Nairobi to Tsavo, and north up to Embu.  The Kamba make up 11% of Kenya’s population.

After checking into our room, lunch, and then a stroll around the lodge’s grounds where Mongoose and Lizards scuttled across the path in front of you, and Rock Hyrax sun bathed on a wall.

Rock Agama

A Rock Agama basks in the sun at Tsavo West

Our afternoon game drive took us to Mzima Springs, a set of four natural springs fed by a natural reservoir under the Chyulu Hills, to the north.  The Chyulu Hills are composed of volcanic rock, lava and ash, which is too porous to allow rivers to flow.  Instead, rain water percolates through the rock, spending up to 25 years underground before emerging 50 kilometres away at Mzima.  This natural filtration results in Mzima’s clear stream, which flows through a series of pools and rapids.  Two kilometres downstream from the springs, the stream is blocked by a solidified lava flow and disappears below the surface again.  With a resident population of Hippos and Nile Crocodiles, Mzima Springs are a popular tourist spot.

As we walked down from the car park, we came across a young Nile Crocodile in the stream, mouth agape, letting the cooling water flow past a matter of feet from where we stood.  Had it been any larger I am not so sure we would have been quite so keen to be so close!

Spot the Croc - Tsavo

Spot the Croc!

There were a number of crocodiles and hippos in the water at the springs, and visitors were able to enter an underwater viewing chamber in order to see what was going on under the surface, but all we could see were some fish!

Driving back to Kilaguni in the sunset, we saw the misty outline of Mount Kilimanjaro, across the Tanzanian border, in the distance.  Kilimanjaro was a mountain that would be in our sight throughout our time in Tsavo West and Amboseli.

After dinner, we sat watching the wildlife coming to the waterhole by the lodge – Zebra, various breeds of antelope, Elephants, and Buffalo.  It was at this point that Sandra turned to me and said, “I want to come back!”  Our adventure had only just begun, but already Kenya was working its spell and enticing us to return!

Our first impressions of Kenya?  A wonderful country.  The people are so friendly and can’t do enough for you.  As for the wildlife, well it’s ten times better being there among it then to watching it on television!

Zebra at the waterhole

Zebra at the waterhole at Kilaguni

Before turning in for the night, we asked if we could be called if anything interesting, particularly any of the big cats, turned up at the waterhole during the night.  Sure enough… …at one o’clock in the morning the telephone in our room rang.  Sleepily answering it, I heard a voice at the other end say, “… …Lion at the waterhole!”  Quickly waking Sandra up, we went to the window to find a large bull Elephant in one pool and four Lions approaching the other!  The Lions then proceeded to drink… …noisily (we could hear them lapping the water from where we were).  Once they had slaked their thirst they moved off a short distance away to make way for a herd of Buffalo; who in turn eventually made way for five Elephants, including a baby!  This little spot was turning our to be quite busy, but very worthwhile having our sleep disturbed for the experience of seeing the wildlife at night.   

2nd September 2008

Tsavo West to Amboseli

Breakfast was taken overlooking the waterhole with Zebra, including a foal; as well as a Giraffe mother and baby, coming down to drink.  The area was teeming with wildlife, but it was time to move on.  After breakfast we drove to Amboseli, in convoy with an armed escort from the Kenyan Wildlife Service, armed with AK-47 assault rifles!  The reason for this was that route lies very close to the Tanzanian border and their had been a history in the past of bandit attacks on vehicles.  A necessary precaution, but everyone seemed quite light-hearted about it.

Just after leaving Kilaguni, we rounded a bend and a Leopard walked out of the bush behind us!  George brought the vehicle to a halt, but the Leopard crossed the track and disappeared into the bush before any decent photographs could be obtained.  Already we had seen FOUR of the Big Five: Elephant, Lion, Buffalo and Leopard – only the Rhino to go and this is Day Two of our safari!

Our route this morning covered a variety of roads from the stony park roads to the rutted, dust main Nairobi to Tanzania highway.  We arrived in Amboseli and enjoyed a short game drive as George drove us to Ol Tukai Lodge, where we arrived in time for lunch.

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Ol Tukai is located in an area renowned for its Elephants and consists of a central lodge housing reception, the restaurant, etc. and a number of smaller blocks, each of which contains four en-suite rooms, each with its own verandah.  We had been allocated No.34 Elephant View, which as the name suggested, commanded an open view of the plains beyond the low five strand wire fence – all that separated us from the wildlife!  From our verandah we could see Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo and Elephants!

No34 Elephant View

No.34 Elephant View, Ol Tukai

After lunch we went to the Conference Centre  for a fascinating and entertaining talk on the Maasai people.  The talk was given  by two Maasai tribesmen, dressed in their traditional attire, or shuka.  They explained, in some detail, their way of life; the significance of their beaded necklace designs; and in fact everything from the Cradle to the Grave to do with the Maasai.

Before dinner we embarked on game drive, straight into a dust storm.  However, despite this we managed to see a number of Lions, including one wearing a radio tracker collar as part of the then newly established Amboseli Lion Project.  In July 2007, five lions within the Amboseli National Park were fitted with radio collars, to enable researchers to establish the movement of Lions within the Amboseli Eco-system, providing the local population with data that could help prevent conflict between Lions and local tribesmen safeguarding their livestock. 

3rd September 2008

Amboseli

We were up at 5.30 am ready to set out on our game drive at 6.30.  It was warmer than we expected, but a lot less dusty than the previous day.  The sun rose very quickly, bathing the savannah in a beautiful light, as the cloud cleared from the summit of Kilimanjaro, to reveal its snow-capped peak. 

At 20,000 feet high, Mount Kilimanjaro, or Kili for short, is the highest mountain on the African continent, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.  Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Mawenzi, Shira, and Kibo.  Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo, the highest peak, is dormant but could erupt again in the future.  However, the most recent activity was about 200 years ago, and the last major eruption was 360,000 years ago!  Almost every kind of ecological system can be found on Kilimanjaro; cultivated land, rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and arctic summit.

The mountain’s snow caps are rapidly diminishing, having lost more than 80% of their mass since 1912.  Scientists have predicted that the day when they could be totally ice-free is not far off.

Mount Kilimanjiro

Mount Kilimanjaro seen from Amboseli

It was wall-to-wall Elephants this morning, including a number of youngsters, one of which was only approximately 10-days old.  There were also a numbers of Lions, Zebra, wildebeest and Giraffe to be seen as well.  There was plenty of evidence of overnight kills by predators, mainly Zebra, with Hyenas and Vultures in attendance feeding on the left-overs.  Further on we came to the swamp where we counted ten Hippos wallowing; and further on another one out of the water grazing, normally a night-time activity.  Close-by we saw a pair of Crowned Cranes, the National bird of Tanzania.

We returned to the lodge just before 9 am for breakfast and to change, before setting out to visit a Maasai village.  On the way we had an impromptu game drive, spotting a Secretary Bird out hunting.

The Maasai

Called Maasai after their form of speech which is known as “Maa”, the Maasai are renowned for their bravery.  They are also distinguished by their good manners, impressive presence and almost mystical love of their cattle, which weave an invisible thread through their lives and their culture.  “I hope your cattle are well” is still the most common form of Maasai greeting.  Milk and blood still remains part of the traditional diet of the Maasai.  Cowhides provide such things as mattresses, while live cattle establish marriage bonds, and complex cattle-fines maintain social harmony.

Maasai Welcome Dance

Maasai performing a traditional welcome dance

Thought to have migrated to Kenya from the lower valleys of the Nile, the Maasai have had a troubled history in their adopted land.  From famine and disease, to the arrival of the European settlers, this proud race has endured many trials and tribulations.  despite the primitive appearance of their way of life, the Maasai have adapted and today rather than killing the lions that killed their cattle, they are actively engaged in protecting them.  Many are actively engaged in the tourism industry, creating lodges, serving as guides, and of course explaining their traditions and way of life to the visitors. 

Some things however, will never change, and above everything else the Maasai love their cattle.  No matter how large the herd, each animal will have a name and only in the harshest of circumstances will a Maasai part with a single animal.  So why do the Maasai love their cattle so dearly?  Perhaps the best explanation is one given by the Maasai themselves in this folktale:

In the beginning the Maasai did not have any cattle.  Then one day God called to Maasinta, who was the first Maasai, and said to him, “I want you to make a large enclosure, and when you have done so, come back and inform me”.  Maasinta went and did as he was instructed.  Then God said, “tomorrow, very early in the morning, go and stand in the enclosure and I will give you something called cattle.  But keep very silent no matter what you might see or hear.”

Very early in the morning Maasinta went into the enclosure and waited.  Suddenly there was a great clap of thunder and a leather thong descended from heaven.  Down is descended hundreds of cattle in all the colours of brown and black, some with great horns, others with velvet dewlaps .  Meanwhile the earth shook so violently that Maasinta’s house nearly fell over and he was gripped with tremendous fear, but he did not make a sound.

It was at this moment that Dorobo, who shared the house with Maasinta, woke from his sleep and went outside.  there, seeing the cattle descending down the leather thong, he let out a great shriek.

Immediately God withdrew the thong into heaven and, thinking that it was Maasinta who had shrieked, he said to him, “what’s the matter?  Are these cattle not enough for you?  If that is the case, I will never send any more – so you had better love these cattle in the same way that I love you.”  And that is why the Maasai love their cattle so much.

  Maasai Women dancing

Maasai women dancing

The Maasai language, Maa; their history and their stories and songs are not written down in any way, but are passed down from one generation to another.  It is only with the interest shown by non-Maasai in their history and culture that their heritage is now being recorded and shared with a wider audience.

Visiting a Maasai Village

Arriving at the village we were met by Daniel, one of the village elders, who welcomed us and outlined what we would see.  The entire village came out and welcomed us with traditional dancing and singing, followed by prayers for our safe travels.  We were then given a conducted tour around the village and into one of the homes.

Inside the house it was totally dark and it took some time for our eyes to adjust.  The only light that entered the house was the small amount that comes through the very small gaps in the wattle and daub walls.

The village consisted of 125 people, living in a community of four extended-families.  After viewing and purchasing their traditional beadwork, we were taken to the small school, which also doubles as the community’s church, where we were invited to meet the children and their volunteer teacher.  The children, ranging in age from four to eleven years, recited the days of the week; the months of the year; the alphabet; and their numbers to us in English.  Bearing in mind that the first language of the Maasai is Maa; and the common language of Kenya is Swahili; and most Kenyans also speak English, many of these children will grow up to be tri-lingual!

We then said our farewells and made our way back to the lodge, through a dust storm, for a late lunch.

Masai Church & School - B&W   Maasai school & church

After lunch we sat out on the verandah outside our room, enjoying the sun.  Two Little Bee-eaters perched nearby on the fence, while on the other side Elephants slowly wandered across the Savannah.

At 4 pm we set out on our afternoon game drive, very soon coming across a group of four Cheetahs.  At first they didn’t appear to be that interested in the Gazelles that were nearby, so George decided to move on and look for something else.  However, as we came back up the track, all of a sudden, all four Cheetahs broke into a run. What an amazing sight!  They stopped, and then took up the chase again, before giving up and sauntering back into cover behind some bushes.

Cheetah

Cheetah

The rest of the game drive produced a varied bag of wildlife ranging from Lions to Elephants,  As we made our way back towards the Lodge, we saw the vultures queuing up for their turn on a kill, but we were unable to see what was on the menu this evening!  As we arrived back at the Lodge, the setting sun was reflecting off the snows of Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak – what a beautiful sight.

Kilimanjaro at Sunset

Kilimanjaro at Sunset