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.

DSCF1555

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).

DSCF0183

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.

DSCF1363

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

 

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.