Masai Mara

Tuesday 26th July 2011

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

purple grenadier

Purple Grenadier

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

  hippo yawn

Hippo Yawn

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

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

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

mara playtime

Playtime!

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

Wednesday 27th July 2011

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

scent-marking

White Rhino Scent Marking

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

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

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

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

white-bellied bustard

White-bellied Bustard

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

mara cheetahs

Mara Cheetahs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rift Valley Lakes

Monday 25th July 2011

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

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly (Male)

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

017

Customising our vehicle

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

Thompson's Falls

Thompson Falls

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

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

Pelican in flight

Pelican in flight

Pelican tree

The Pelican Tree

The Pink Fringe

Lake Nakuru’s “pink fringe”

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

Approaching storm

The gathering storm

Tuesday 26th July 2011

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

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

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

Eye level

Eye Level

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

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

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

Walking with the animals

Walking with the animals on Crescent Island

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

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

 

Its Camping… ….but not as we know it!

Sunday 24th July 2011

Team Nicholas

‘Team Nicholas’ ready for departure 
(left to right: Alex, Susan, Terry, Nicholas, Sandra & Steve)

After breakfast we set out on the relatively short drive from Samburu to Sweetwaters Tented Camp near Nanyuki.  Other than what we had seen and read in the brochure, we were not sure what to expect from a “tented camp” in Kenya, but we need not have had any concerns.  The last time I had been camping had been with the Scouts in the late 1960s, but this on a totally different level!

The tents were spacious and comfortable, furnished with a full-size double bed and other furniture, including a full en-suite bathroom.  This was camping in style!

Sweetwaters Tent

Sweetwaters Tent… …camping, but not as we know it!

The camp was set by a waterhole that is visited by wildlife both by day, and night.  Our tent was on the “upper level” so that it looked out over the lower tents and gave us a commanding view of the grounds and the waterhole.

Sweetwaters sits exactly on the Equator, just under 6,000 feet above sea level, and is located within the Ol Pejeta Private Conservancy.  We arrived in plenty of time for lunch, and as we walked from our tent, a Maribou Stork came into land by the waterhole.  On the fence by the kitchens, a Crowned Hornbill sat in hope of some titbits.  On the far side of the waterhole two Rhino were browsing; while closer to us a pair of Grant’s Gazelle bucks decided to have a contest to see who was the more dominant one – it was all happening here and we hadn’t set foot outside the camp yet.  This is Kenya!

Grant's Gazelle bucks sparring

Sparring Grant’s Gazelles

After lunch we set out on our game drive, which also included a visit to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and also a lovely surprise.  Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya and the population at Sweetwaters are in their own fenced area, having been rescued from Rwanda and Uganda where they are killed for bushmeat.  While it was, in some respects, sad to see them in a large enclosure, in other ways it was heartening to think that at least they were able to live their lives free from threat from some of their closest relations, homo sapiens. 

On leaving the Chimp Sanctuary we continued our drive, at one point coming across a Warthog who was casually walking along minding its own business.  What the Warthog had, at that point, failed to spot was the Lioness lying in wait for it further along its path!  As we watched the Lioness shuffled back into cover, while the Warthog continued to wander closer and closer to what we assumed would be its death!  We watched and waited with baited breath… ….until about a hundred yards from the waiting Lioness the Warthog appeared to sense something; lifted its head to sniff the air; and then with tail in the air, ran off at speed in the opposite direction!

Hunter & the Hunted

The Hunter and the Hunted

Resuming our drive we reached an area where we were able to leave the vehicle and a then came the surprise!  A ranger met us and took us to an area fenced off with a low wooden fence, and introduced us to Barak, a blind Rhino.  Barak slowly made his way over to us and in exchange for handfuls of fresh hay, seemed quite content to allow us to stroke him. What an experience, stroking a Rhino – we know that our youngest daughter, who considers Rhinos to be “cute and cuddly” (her words, not ours), would be really envious!

Barak

Meeting Barak

Meeting Barak

After a full afternoon’s game viewing we made our way back to camp for dinner. Tomorrow morning we move on to Lake Nakuru to continue our Kenyan wildlife adventures.

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