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!

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!).

DSCF1832

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! 

 

 

 

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.