Blog Two - Kenya
30 Jul 2016
|Blog Two – Kenya Safari
Sunday 24 July 2016 – Denbe’s Birthday
Having woken up reasonably early, we finished packing, finished the Nairobi blog and headed down to brekkie. Duly consumed we sought out Steve the concierge and took a picture with him and thanked him very much for all the advice and work he had done for us. We had a great time at the hotel and staff were fantastic. But it was now time to start the main reason for visiting – safari!
We met Stanley at 8:30 and our other two companions for the trip – a Victorian couple, Vernon and Rathi. We were soon off in our Toyota troupe carrier leaving Nairobi and headed out through the Great Rift Valley. The traffic was better than usual being a Sunday but the amount of trucks was amazing – this is the main route from Mombasa (the main port in East Africa) through to Western Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the other Central African nations. There was quite a few breakdowns on the road and the trucks simply put a hazard sign up and remain on the road forcing it down to a one lane highway. It made for some interesting driving. We had a quick stop at a lookout over the Great Rift Valley but the conditions weren’t good with a lot of smoke/fog so it wasn’t a long stop.
The other surprise for us was the amount of people and towns along the way. There were one or two large towns but there was a never ending stream of people alongside or near the highway. We didn’t have a lot of expectations but one was open expanses without people. Wrong. There were always people wondering around, tendering their sheep, goats and the occasion cattle, or going to church in their finest. It was a strange site to see everyone decked out in their Sunday best wandering along the side of the dusty roads, all walking to church. Makena gets a bit worried for them walking on the side of the road way too close to the traffic for her liking. The state of the towns was also something. It is a very poor country (by our standards anyway) and the general look of the places isn’t great. But that’s why you travel to see the way other countries and people live and hopefully at the same time feel a greater appreciation for what we have back home.
We turned off the main highway after a few hours and headed towards Lake Nakuru and about 20 minutes after turning we were headed off the beaten track onto dirt towards our accommodation for only a single night. The road was pretty much as expected and the 4WD handled it no worries and after about another 20 minutes we were pulling up at Mbwehe Camp. We were shown our little hut which was just gorgeous with the bed a king at least and all very rustic and fitting with the surrounds. We then went to lunch straight away (three course meal no less) and then had little bit of time before we met at 3:00pm for our first safari!
For those of you who didn’t slip straight into the photos the following is how the afternoon unfolded. We had to back track a little bit back to the highway and another five minutes back and we entered through gates of the Lake Nakuru National Park. We headed off towards the right and came across some water buffalo, impala and a few flamingos in the distance. This wasn’t all that promising and word came through on the CB that rhinos had been spotted off in the other direction. Stanley did a 17 point turn in the long wheel base troupe carrier and we were off to find out whether we could see any rhinos. About 15 minutes later word came through that a leopard had been spotted not far away. Needless to say we hightailed it and within a couple of minutes we spotted it lying on a dead branch up a tree, as happy as Larry and providing us with a wonderful view. She sat up for awhile giving us another profile and did a 180 as if showing herself off for all the safari-goers, to ensure we all took varied photos. There would have been about 15 vehicles at any one time and we stayed here for a good 20 minutes moving a little bit to catch all the angles. This is the first time Stanley has seen leopards in this national park and they are the hardest of all the animals to find as they are very reclusive. This was a huge and unexpected bonus as we didn’t expect to see one at all let alone on our first safari! To say we were ecstatic with this viewing is an understatement. Not sure how many photos Makena would have taken!
With the leopard behind us we drove five more minutes before spotting a herd of six Whyte Rhinos! They were a little bit far away but still very visible and made for some more great photos and videos. There were some very impressive horns on them measuring in the feet! We moved with the herd and stayed with them for 20 minutes as well. We were beside ourselves – a leopard and a herd of rhinos on our first safari!!!
We then continued in the same direction and the next safari instalment brought on a herd of Rothschild’s Giraffes or white socks giraffes! There would have been about ten of the tall creatures at varying distances but easily within eyesight and yes, photography was the winner again. One thing that struck us was the stunning health they seemed to have with their coats glistening even in the slightly overcast conditions. They were grazing on Acacias and truly unconcerned by our presence and simply meandered here and there looking for the tastiest supply of greenery. So now we had seen a leopard, a herd of rhinos and a herd of giraffes on our first safari!
By this time the light was starting to fade so we headed back slowly as we only had to be out of the park by 6:30. As we approached a T intersection there seemed to be a lot vehicles stopped and all eyes were searching the longish grass. Within a minute we captured a lioness with two cubs walking along in front of us crossing a stretch of grass before crossing in front of another lot of vehicles and moving away from us. Stanley quickly (as possible) did another 17 point turn and had us in position in time to see the lioness walk a bit further before climbing a tree fairly close, followed by one of her cubs with the other staying on the ground, mostly hidden. The cameras were going crazy and lens envy was all around. Lucky Makena had bought the 100 – 400! The longer lens was great for capturing both the mum and her cubs and both seemed pretty content with surroundings even though there was about 20 vehicles in the vicinity. By this time we were flirting with the time the park closes and Stanley let us stay as long as possible but then he was insistent and put the pedal to the metal and made it back on time or at worst a minute or two over. So now we had seen a leopard, a herd of rhinos, a herd of giraffes and a lioness with her two cubs. From a safari point of view it doesn’t get any better and it was our first one. Hard to believe it actually happened. We had very little expectations so this contributed to the feeling of being very fortunate. Unfortunately for Stanley, he now has to live up tothis every trip!
So after Stanley had a chat to the guards of the national park we headed for home. You would think after such a safari it would be a tame drive home. Not the case. About half way back home on the highway Stanley hit the anchors and next thing a five metre Rothschild Giraffe came running across the highway from one side to the other. It was really close and totally not what you would expect to see running in front of you – then then it is Africa. Stan the man to the rescue again. So that was it for the safari and we made it safe and sound back to the camp where we decided to drop everything in our huts and return to the main area for a drink in front of the fire and then move into the dining room. The meal was the “normal” three course affair and very tasty. Even more so when washed down with a Tusker! The meal followed its normal course until we were grazing on a cheese plate for dessert when the sounds of drums and singing permeated the hall. Denbe’s first thought was that the entertainment had started, but this was soon dispelled when a congo line started coming up the ramp from the bar/fire area singing and banging away followed by cake with candles! It was a fantastic touch and the staff seemed to really enjoy it as well. They followed their Swahili singing with happy birthday and a couple of other tunes before Denbe got to cut the cake and serve it up to our travelling buddies. It was really great and a shout out to Danica and Jono from EA for organising it with the camp and Makena for making it happen. Denbe will have to ensure the 16th of September is special as well.
So after the feast and the birthday cake we retired to the fire with Tusker and cheese platter in tow and soaked in the atmosphere for some time before retiring to our bed which had been turned down, mossie nets put in place and a wonderful note from the staff wishing Denbe a happy birthday again. Thinking over the day it is going to be tough to beat this one which is Denbe’s last one with a four in front of his age! Going out in style!
Monday 25 July 2016
Today was a very early start with brekkie at 6:15am for a 7:00am departure to our next destination – the Masai Mara. Stanley mentioned that today we would be travelling on the Whiskey Road but we were unsure what this meant. We found out soon enough. We back tracked to the highway and continued back the way we come in for some time before turning off to Narok were we had a toilet break at a very large shop containing work from locals in ebony, malachite and many other materials that were turned into sculptures of animals and other Kenyan related objects. They nearly had a purchase. Makena saw a couple of cheetahs in ebony and was very keen but we would have had to ship them home and we were on a bit of tight timeframe so reluctantly we let them pass and continued into the town to fuel up, whilst at the same being offered various curios from locals at the windows of the vehicle. That done we then continued on the road a short time before we came to the Whiskey Road. Why the Whiskey Road? Because if you were to look at the vehicles as they are driving along you would assume that too much whiskey had been drunk, because it’s mainly dirt and rock and to drive it you have to swerve all over the road to avoid the worst of the huge potholes and ruts. Stanley quite often went at a huge rate of knots and we were hoping that the camp we were going to had a spare set of axles, but after driving for over six and half hours on this whisky road, we finally pulled up to Tilipikwani Camp. We did have one bit of viewing on the way in – a pack of huge vultures and a Maribou Stork which is also huge. The vultures were making a lot noise and from the noise and their look you can see how they get such a bad reputation.
We were shown to our glamping tents (two queen beds, nice shower and toilet) and then headed to the now usual three course lunch – for Denbe anyway, Makena had just mains. After a very short break where we attended to unpacking etc we were on the road again for safari. We drove around the massive expanse of the Mara National Park for about an hour or so and saw thousands and thousands of wildebeest and a large number of zebras and Thompson Gazelles but no sign of the “big animals”. We also saw an ostrich or two and they very much resemble our emu in size and shape but their plumage colour is fairly different. However our “big animal” fortunes changed with a sighting not far away from us of some lions. I can’t commit the full story to paper, but let’s just say that we were about three metres away from four big cats for about 60 seconds before driving off complete with a large number of photos and some video. Very exciting and we will fill everyone in on the full story when we get home.
After the lions we cruised back towards our camp and spotted quite a bit of wildlife including the Black Backed Jackal, Coke’s Harte Beest, a Secretary Bird with its quill-like head-dress, after which we stopped and watched a magnificent sunset over the Mara. In the twilight on the way back we also saw five hyenas and they came close enough to see their spots and tell their approximate ages.
Dinner was the usual three course affair although Makena has been very good and stuck with mains. Denbe however feels that he has to keep his strength up and likes to try what’s on every course. With a couple of Tuskers on board and such a long day of travel, sleep was very quick in coming once the head hit the pillow.
Tuesday 26 July 2016
Brekkie was a bit later today thankfully. Both of us slept well in our separate beds and woke up refreshed – it was greatly needed. Even so Stanley was packing our picnic lunch when we arrived out the front at 7:30am and we were soon off. It is a going to be hard to convey what happened when and in what order but we will have a go.
We drove into the park and meandered about looking for suitable specimens for awhile and it wasn’t too long before we spotted a pack of Olive Baboons, another Secretary Bird followed by a pair of red throated Southern Ground Hornbill birds. Some of the birds in the parks here are largest we’ve ever seen and this one is not different. Huge beak and the male has a large red ring around the neck. He walked quite close so we had some good photography of him. Not long after Stanley was on the radio again and we joined about four other vehicles with a small pride of lions. We saw about seven in total including two small cubs! Cute little buggers and they were reasonably close with the females and other adolescents even closer with a couple coming within ten metres of the vehicle. You can imagine how many photos were taken! Makena was snapping away and the big lens she bought before we left is working overtime and was a very smart acquisition.
We probably spent about an hour with the lions in total as they wondered here, there and back again before it was time to head off. We had to visit another camp to drop lunch off for another vehicle and a toilet break was had at the same time – very handy. Stanley again meandered here and there all the while listening to the CB and as we were driving along an open area (there’s a lot of this in the Mara) Makena spotted a figure on a termite mound and thought it was a vulture. The vehicle stopped and we all gasped as it was a CHEETAH! Makena’s number one animal in Africa and the one animal she had been so looking forward to seeing. So we stopped and we then spotted another one! Both were a reasonable distance away but we still managed some good photography. We tracked them for some time but they went behind a small thicket and couldn’t really be seen. However after a short time a third cheetah was spotted in the grass as it started to move. It went for what appeared to be a purposeful walk and crossed the road a fair bit in front of us and continued on so we drove to the next road which gave us a good look, although still at a little bit of a distance. It stopped on another termite mound and was looking pretty much continuously in a single direction for most of the time – away from us. There were a couple of wildebeests in the background not too far from the cheetah and as they wandered off the cheetah followed back to where we started. So we hightailed it back to our original spot and watched the cheetah keep pace with the wildebeests and then all of a sudden leapt into action running full tilt away from us cutting a young wildebeest off and catching him in a clean kill – unfortunately for us behind a large corpse of trees and bushes a fair distance away. This meant that we only caught the merest of glimpses of her (female and gestating) whilst she feed. Still we felt so privileged to have witnessed such a scene and before the kill Stanley said she looked very hungry, although she was in very good condition, so it was good to see she was able to have a good feed and keep the milk up to her cubs – wherever they were. We also found out later that she has been given the name of Malaika (Angel in Swahili) as she has given birth to six cubs in two of her litters – an almost unheard of event apparently, hence the name. Awesome experience! Made Makena’s day.
I think we would have spent about an hour to an hour and half moving from site to site watching the cheetahs and at one stage we thought we were going to get closer but it wasn’t meant to be this time. Stanley had spoken to the rangers and had arranged for us to be able to go off track and to watch her feed but they were unable to get anywhere near her so it didn’t eventuate. We then cruised a bit further and came across a waterhole with about 15 hippos. All were pretty much submerged but came up for air occasionally and it looked to an untrained hippo specialist as though one of them was trying his best to conceive. We stayed here for a short time before driving a short distance that ended at a river crossing for the great migration of wildebeests and zebras. While there were a few vehicles sighted around where we have been, there were about 40 at this sight. We had to a position behind another vehicle and the view wasn’t the best. Stanley did a great job though and ensured we all saw the migration across the river and took some great shots and video. There would have been over a thousand cross this particular spot in the Mara River and a fair number of zebras as well. It was quite a sight and even better when we “obtained” a better viewing position for a short time but it was well worth it with much better views and photography all round. After about nearly an hour we were able to move to a better position after a lot of the vehicles had left. We did a lot of just looking at the spot especially with binoculars. Denbe however got the best sighting – or worst depending on your point of view. As we were watching five zebras cross the river he spotted a crocodile in the river who had an unsuccessful go at the third zebra, an unsuccessful go at the fourth zebra but he went full on at the fifth zebra and within about 10 seconds there was no sign of zebra or crocodile. It was that quick and that strong that it was over without really comprehending what had happened. It was quite distressing really but that’s what happens in river crossings and in the wild.
From the river crossing we only drove a short distance before an elephant was spotted just on the other side of the Mara River, which was narrow at this point. We drove to the escarpment of the river to watch the big fella munching on leaves and branches right on the edge so it afforded a great view. The spot was actually a bit special as we then spotted three crocodiles on the same bank as the elephant and two large herds of hippos at either end of where we were. Not soon after a Fish Eagle then descended and landed on our bank just in front of us. We took all this in over a half hour or so and by this time it was more than time for our picnic lunch.
But where to find an unoccupied tree? Turns out most of the trees were all occupied around us so poor Stanley had a bit of a drive until we finally found one and we set up tables and chairs and had a very good lunch of stew, rice, chicken and veges with a few of trimmings. The chef did well again. Who would have thought it would be so hard to find a tree – but then there aren’t that many in the Masai Mara.s A few more happy snaps of the locale and its visitors were had before we packed up and headed off on a bit of a drive that saw us with a close viewing of a herd of hippos and another male trying his best to conceive right in front us. On a bit further we saw where a lot of the footage from the Big Cat Diaries was shot and then we ended up at a Masai Village for some cultural experience. This was good although from our point of view has been turned into a little bit of a money making venture. We saw the men dance, the women dance (Makena took part), inside a hut and learnt about day to day life. The cost was probably a bit steep for what it was and walking past the souvenirs and their makers at the end was bit too much. But we put it down to helping the Masai build a better future but it could be considered a tad commercial.
It was a quick drive back to our camp for a shower and then dinner over a few Tuskers. We shouted Stanley a beer which he really appreciated and we arranged to meet at 7:00am for a very long drive tomorrow including a border crossing into Tanzania. This might be interesting!
Wednesday 27 July 2016
Early start again today for what we knew was going to be a very long and hard day on the road. The Whiskey Road was becoming the Whiskey, Whiskey Road so we knew what to expect. We packed, had brekkie and hit the gravel right on 7:00am and headed out of the park area. However on the way out we spotted a couple of vehicles together and immediately saw a lioness not far away from where we were. We headed over to the other vehicles and there to our delight was a huge male and a young lioness who, according to Stanley, were mating. The male was fairly placid until the older lioness started to come closer and closer and appeared to be an unhappy camper with the way things stood with the male and younger female. He then stood up and was looking directly at her in what looked like a territorial pose. The younger lioness seemed unperturbed and just lay there while the Mexican standoff continued. Denbe nicknamed the male Greg Norman! Unfortunately for us it was time to head if we wanted to make our destination by dark.
So we continued out of the park past small villages and heaps of motorbikes and the occasional giraffe or other wildlife. After three hours and twenty minutes we hit bitumen! It never looked so good! It was in really great shape as it was a new road and very wide. It lasted all the way to the border with Tanzania where we arrived about 10:45. Stanley showed us where to go and we went into Kenya Immigration which took about 30 minutes, mainly due to a group from Asia who must have been questioned a bit because as soon as they left the line moved pretty quickly. The actual process itself was about 60 seconds and we were then back in the troupe carrier with Stanley as he drove to the Tanzanian check point. Here we met our Tanzanian guide, Comfort, yes Comfort! It was also where we said goodbye to Stanley and took a couple of pics with him before heading to the Tanzanian Immigration. This was even quicker being about 20 minutes from queueing to leaving the building – very happy with that!
So we then started the trek into Tanzania and towards Serengeti National Park. And so we left before midday. The bitumen only last for about half an hour and then we had more whisky road for a couple of hours. We pulled off on the side of the road for a quick lunch prepared by the chef from the camp the night before and then another couple of hours before we stopped to enter the national park which took a bit longer than expected. Denbe and Makena must have looked the part because they were asked to take part in a couple of photographs for a Tanzanian school excursion in the front of the national park sign. Very funny for us and them as well we expect. Makena was actually going to ask the guy taking the photo if he wanted her to take the photo so he could get in it, but he got in first and asked her to join the group in the photo. Denbe was laughing his head off and then he was also asked to join.
And so we entered the park and drove another hour and a half before on the Serengeti Whisky highway where we arrived at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge, but not before stopping to view a herd of elephants either side of the road and very close. Needless to say we were sore and sorry and very happy to have reached the lodge. A quick change and into the very cold pool we went. It was too cold for our travelling companions but we enjoyed it and it did the job of refreshing us for dinner, which was buffet style due to the large number of people staying – it was pretty much full by all accounts. So the day ended with dinner and glass or two of South African Chenin Blanc and we retired bruised (literally) to start again tomorrow.