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.