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Trip Report A Long, Long Overdue Trip Report - East Africa - August and September 2008

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I’ve finally gotten around to writing this long overdue trip report of my trip to Kenya and Tanzania in August/September 2008. I’ve no excuse other than I had to get my excitement, emotions and amazement under control, otherwise I’m afraid this trip report would be in the running for the longest post in Fodor’s history. I think that this trip report will accurately reflect my experience as I’ve told the stories of my adventure over and over again (my family is sick of hearing about it), and I kept a pretty detailed journal of everything I saw and did, and of course, looking at the 3000+ pictures that I took over the 3 weeks I was in Africa brings it all back as if it was yesterday.. At the time that I planned and booked this trip, I believed it was going to be “A Trip of a Lifetime”, a one time experience that I would add to my life’s story. As many posters have mentioned, once you get bitten by the Africa bug, it’s not something that goes away with time. I’m now starting to plan my next adventure for next year. As such, I have changed my username from Tripofalifetime to Safariwannabe, and will post under the new name from here on out. As I’ve started to ask questions and advice on Southern Africa, I felt that I owed the board this trip report, as the trip reports I’ve read and enjoyed helped me tremendously in planning my first trip. I hope this is helpful for future travelers, or that those that have experienced this can relive some of their adventures through this report. I’m going to write the report in segments – writing the whole thing in one sitting seems overwhelming. I’m going to break it down into the flight over, then a section for each park visited. I’m trying to work on my pictures as I’m writing this, so I’ll post links to those with each section.

A little bit of info on me to temper this report. At the time of the trip, I was a 49 year old single man, living in Florida. I have a desk job, 9-5 and relatively inactive lifestyle. I thought that I had some travel experience behind me and thus would be a seasoned traveler – however I found that my journeys in Europe and my business trips to India, along with extensive travel in the US was not really preparation for this trip. Especially as I was traveling solo. I’ve never thought of myself as an outdoorsy kind of guy – much more likely to be found at the theater or inside a museum. My friends thought I was crazy for taking this type of trip, but it was something that I felt I wanted to do. So prepared with months of research and a new Canon 40D camera (my first DSLR camera), a several lense (100mm-400mm, 17mm-85mm) off to East Africa I go.

Planning
I started doing research on East Africa about 6 months before contacting any travel agents, outfitters, or safari experts. I used several books, web searches, travel brochures and trip reports posted on this site. I had identified the parks and camps that I thought would be best for me and submitted proposed itineraries for pricing. I came across a frequent poster to this board and was impressed with his knowledge and the sharing of that knowledge with other folks planning trips to this area. While I’ve not seen any marketing of his company on this board, I decided to contact him as well to see what he could put together for me. After reviewing my “wish list” he came back with some recommendations and some advice on some of the locations I had chosen. He was the first (and only) TA to offer suggestions and advice on what I had proposed, including pointing out that one of the camps I had chosen would be relatively sparse in wildlife as the migration would primarily be in Kenya at the time of my trip. No one else had offered any such advice, only sure we can book you there and here are the costs. Based on this and his proposal being in line with others I received, I decided to book my trip with Kiliwarriors.

Packing
Scared by the weight limit on many of the internal flights, I started practice packing about 1 and ½ weeks before my trip. I had everything laid out in my guest bedroom – and would pack, take the bag to the bathroom scales, and repeat. I finally got it down to the weight limits required (33 pounds). Thanks to LyndaS for her comprehensive packing list – it helped a lot. Even with that, I took way more than I needed, not understanding the miracle of Africa – put dirty close in basket in the morning and the mysteriously appear clean and folded at the end of the day. Having a phobia about clean underwear (never know when you’ll be in an accident) I guess taking 10 pair was overkill.

Final Itinerary
Nairobi – Panari Hotel – 2 nights
Masa Mara – Serian Camp – 4 nights
Masa Mara – Rekero – 3 nights
Tarangire – Oliver’s Camp – 3 nights
Ngorongoro – Sopa Lodge – 2 nights
Lake Manyara – Kirurumu Camp – 1 night
Ruaha – Mwagusi Lodge – 3 nights
Selous – Sand Rivers – 3 nights

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    Part 1 - And We're Off

    The day for my trip finally arrived and I was prepared (so I thought). I’ve always been one of those people that have to get to the airport way ahead of their departure time. I marvel at those that can handle leaving for the airport, gas up and return a rental car, stand in line at security and arrive at the gate minutes before their flight. That would make me crazy. I think partly due to this and then partly due to the excitement of starting this journey, I had planned to arrive very early. The shuttle driver was 15 minutes late getting to my house (still relatively calm at this point), but I still had plenty of time. About 10 minutes into the drive to the airport, I realized that I had forgotten my safari jacket (can’t go on a trip to Africa without one…) and we had to go back to the house to pick it up. As we left my subdivision, we got pulled over by the police, (one of my neighbors that I didn’t know) who was suspicious as he had seen the shuttle driver driving around the neighborhood (took him several attempts to find my house), and then saw us leave and return and leave again. After more explaining, and studying my driver’s license for my address, after a stern lecture on the dark tent on the shuttle’s windows, we’re off again. Now, I’m starting to get nervous as my airport arrival timetable is about 40 minutes behind schedule. I was flying Jetblue from Orlando to JFK, and then transferring to British Airways (JFK to London, London to Nariobi). We arrive at the airport and I get in line to check in at Jetblue (huge line). My nerves are starting to fray a bit, only to find out that the flight is delayed (unknown how long) as they have Tornado warnings in Manhattan – whoever heard of Tornado warnings in Manhattan – it certainly wasn’t something I had taken into consideration. We ended up being delayed by about 2 hours – starting to panic as I only had about 2 hours between flights at JFK. Get to JFK, and head down to baggage claim to pick up my luggage and then to figure out what terminal BA is in. While waiting for the luggage, they announce that due to a lightning storm, they aren’t unloading our luggage until it passes. The luggage finally arrives, and I make a dash to find BA – 30 minutes after my flight was scheduled to leave. I get to BA check-in – the line is huge, but luckily due to the weather in NY, all of the flights are running very late. I had decided to splurge and fly business class, so I was able to go directly to a desk where someone could help me – (avoiding the huge line that had formed at BA’s coach checking), and the representative told me that if we hurry and check my baggage at the gate, I can possibly make my flight. Of course, having planned for checked baggage, I had opted not to fool with the 3 ounce size of anything, and as we had to go through security, all of my toiletries, insect repellent, etc were taken away. We get to the gate and they managed to get me on the plane – oh that noise behind me was them closing the cabin door. At this point I’m in serious need of valium and alcohol (another reason to be thankful for flying Business Class), but I’m on the plane.

    The plane makes up some time and we arrive in London about an hour before the scheduled departure of my London to Nairobi leg. Much to my surprise, I have to change terminals, and then run what seemed a 100 gates to get to my next flight. Now as I mentioned before, I’m pretty much a couch potato at home, but had started walking every day to prepare for the trip. I was up to about 3 miles everyday, however walking on the sidewalks around my neighborhood had nothing in common with sprinting through the airport, with a carry-on bag and a backpack full of camera equipment. Needless to say I was sweating like a pig, so out of breath I couldn’t talk, and again got to hear that sound of the cabin door closing, almost hitting me in my dragging butt, but I’m on the plane – no worries. Another few screwdrivers later (amazing how good those taste at 8:00 AM), I caught my breath and settle back down for the flight. We arrive in Nairobi – and I breath a big sigh of relief – I’ve made it – I’m in Africa. As I approach the baggage claim area, I hear someone calling my name. How nice – someone is here to meet me – much to my dismay, it was the baggage agent letting me know that while I did the 100 yard dash through the airport, the baggage handlers did not and my luggage had not made the flight. After the assured me that it would be on the flight the following evening, I found my hotel shuttle and headed off to the hotel. After spending so much time on the plane, qualifying for Olympic gold in the long sprint, and having had many alcoholic drinks after arriving at the hotel my first thought was of brushing my teeth. Ooops, that was in the stuff that got confiscated in New York. Oh well, tomorrow is another day, I’m in Africa, maybe they have stores here where I can replace the toiletries (I wasn’t sure – this was Africa), so off to bed I go.

    Lessons Learned for Future Planning
    When booking your flight, don’t worry about the $50 you can save by using different carriers – book the whole trip on one (if possible). At least with this it puts the responsibility of the luggage with them and not you. When packing, you will need much less than you think that you do – taking hiking boots, walking sandals and tennis shoes isn’t required. However much time you have allowed yourself between flights – it’s not enough.

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    I'd like somebody to take that "longest running" award or demerit or whatever you want to call it away from me. So easy on the editing and post away!

    What an amazing start! Who knew the endurance from your 3 mile walks would be needed in the airports?

    I hope you have continued your walking regimen for the next trip in Zim/Zam, etc.

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    I love the name change!
    Don't worry about the length of your post - you'll have to work awfully hard to make it longer than my Kenya/Tanzania report!:-d
    I too keep a very extensive journal, which I guard with my life until my report is complete.
    I look forward to reading each of your segments - seems we visited many of the same places. I can relive the whole experience through your eyes.
    I have never dealt with them, but my impression from this forum has always been that you can't go wrong with Kiliwarriors!
    What a (humourous - at least for your readers!) start to your trip - like you, I like to be early. I would have been fretting about the delay in getting out of my own neighbourhood. Business class does have its advanatges! We always overnight in London - it has always seemed like a bit of a waste of time, but perhaps not. Looking forward to more! Robin

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    Part 2 - Nairobi – KWS, Giraffe Center, Utamaduni Craft Center and Sheldrick Orphanage

    In Nairobi, I stayed at the Panari Hotel. This was a pretty modern hotel, with rooms and baths much like you’d find anywhere. The accommodations were nice and clean, but the best thing about it was the location – it was about midway between Jomo Kenyatta International and Wilson Airport. I arrived at the hotel – no unpacking to do (no luggage), so I recharged my camera batteries and went to bed. I was in Africa and I didn’t have to get on a plane the next day.

    When I originally planned my trip, I had initially planned on an overnight in Nairobi and a morning flight to the Maasai Mara. After reading several postings on things to do in Nairobi, I decided to stay an extra day to do some sightseeing and to get over my jetlag. With the issue with the luggage, I’m very glad I made that decision – otherwise, I doubt my close would ever catch up with me.

    I booked a day’s activities with Kennedy from Waymark Safari. I had read many complimentary things about Kennedy on this site and opted to visit the Kenya Wildlife Service, The Giraffe Center, Utamaduni Craft Center, and the SheldrickElephant Orphanage. I had previously adopted 2 baby elephants, so was entitled to do the special visit with them.

    Kennedy picked me up right on schedule and we talked about my planned activities and other options. I explained that I needed to find a grocery store or somewhere I could stock up on my toiletries (no deodorant, no toothpaste for 3 days – I was feeling pretty nasty) and he assured me we could find one.

    Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
    Kennedy had arranged for a private guide Julius to show me around KWS and for me to experience the cheetah hug. KWS is like a really nice zoo, with the animals in more of their natural habitat (as much as they can be in captivity). I had not visited a zoo in over 30 years and the only experience I had previously was with the animals in cages. I was very impressed with the efforts to make the animals as comfortable as possible. I did not realize that I would get a special tour and be able to see areas that weren’t really open to the public – this put me up close, with the best view of the animals. Things I enjoyed the most – an Albino Zebra, Black and White Colobus monkeys, a Oryx that had lost a horn, a leopard high up in a tree, a fairly close view of a lion (well at the time I thought it was a close view – hadn’t experienced the Mara yet) and the beauty of Eland, Bongo, Antelope and Impala. The biggest highlight here was the Cheetah Hug. Petting and posing with a full grown cheetah in your arms, words cannot describe. I couldn’t help but think – this beautiful creature could tear my throat out at any moment, and the low purr (after I realized this wasn’t a growl) was wonderful to hear. While some have asked, why you would go to a zoo when you were going to experience the animals in nature, I’m glad that I did as it helped to increase my excitement level and anticipation of what was to come. Also was able to see some animals that I wouldn’t experience outside of this facility.

    Giraffe Center
    The next stop on the tour was the Giraffe Feeding Center. This was a wonderful way to get up close and personal with giraffe. The center has a raised platform/feeding area which puts you at eye level with the giraffes. Pellets are provided for feeding them and they are very tame and friendly when you’re offering food (somewhat pushy when you’re not). At the suggestion of one of the attendants working there, I put a pellet between my lips which earned me a nice kiss from one of them (gosh, I didn’t even have to pay for dinner). I really enjoyed the interaction with the giraffe, and also saw a warthog up close – not as cute as in The Lion King.

    Utamaduni Craft Center
    Okay – I have to admit that when we started out for this, I thought it would be like visiting Pier 1 or World Market. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. This was a wonderful market with incredible carvings, fabrics, authentic clothing, blankets, and paintings. I saw so many things that I wanted to buy – unfortunately, I was at my luggage weight limit, so didn’t have many options. I did end up buying some carvings and some hand painted pottery and had to ship it back (shipping was almost as much as my purchases). Sales people were helpful in answering questions, but I never felt pressured to buy anything (much more relaxed than my last trip to the Mall). I had lunch here, out in the open under a tree where I saw the most beautiful yellow bird. I’ve included a photo with my pictures – can anyone tell me what kind of bird that was – I’m thinking it was some type of starling, but I may be mistaken.

    After lunch, we were off again. It was still too early for my 5:00 visit at the Elephant Orphanage, so Kennedy offered suggestions of other things I could do. None of them sounded appealing – crocodile farm (I’m from Florida – alligator farms are a dime a dozen), etc. We opted to visit the grocery store – (amazingly just like my local grocery store with some different items) and I replaced my lost toiletries and bug repellent. It was amazing to me to see brands that I thought no longer were made – who know you could buy Prell Shampoo in Africa. So restocked and looking forward to a good tooth brushing and shampoo, we headed off. We ended up stopping at a convenience type store with a coffee shop and sat, talked and had coffee. I have to say, after spending a very short period of time with Kennedy, it had started to feel like I was spending time with an old friend. It was so relaxing and enjoyable to just sit and talk – he told me of his children, their plans and aspirations, life in Kenya, and asked questions about my life. I found this time to be as enjoyable as the rest of the day combined. I highly recommend Kennedy if you’re going to spend time in Nairobi. After this we stopped at a roadside craft shop and I bought a few more little carvings.

    Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
    We arrived at Sheldrick right on time and I was able to see them brining the baby elephants in for the night. I quickly identified the two young ones I had adopted (Kimana and Dida) by the names posted on their stalls. There were quite a few others visiting during this time, so we were only able to stand outside the stalls to view them. I was talking to one of the attendants and when he found out that I had adopted 2 elles, he told me to stay around after everyone started to leave. After most of the others had left, he let me go into the stall with Dida and Shimba, which was a great experience. Shimba became my best friend when I offered her some leaves and kept putting my hand in her mouth with her trunk. I couldn’t believe how gentle and sweet these babies were. I really enjoyed this experience – so much that I stepped in a pile of elephant dung and was covered up to my ankle and never realized it until I tried to get back in Kennedy’s vehicle. He quickly stopped me and one of the attendants took me to a water pump where I could “clean-up”. Actually, the attendant cleaned my sandals, allowing me to concentrate on my toes, foot and ankle.

    After an exciting day, Kennedy took me back to the Panari, where I spent some quality time with my toiletries and washed off the dust and dirt of the day. I then went to the Restaurant for dinner, called the airline to check on my luggage, and tried to relax. Unfortunately, I couldn’t relax until my luggage arrived (I was leaving for the Mara early the next morning), but it finally got there about 1:30 AM. All is good and I’m ready for my next adventure.

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    A wonderful start to what I am sure is an amazing trip. I cannot wait for the rest! Love the pics of you and your adopted Ellies......so cute and a great way to begin
    your trip!

    FlowerP

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    Drat! Now I really wish we had spent an extra night in Nairobi!
    Great pictures - you looked very relaxed for someone who sprinted through airports, endured long flights and lost his luggage! Robin

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    Better late than never. Looks like it was a good day in Nairobi even without luggage. Dida and Kimana are adorable and that's a great giraffe kiss photo. Thanks for posting--I can't wait to read more.

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    A day in Nairobi can be a savior for lost luggage. Shopping at a grocery store is not usually one of the activities written up for Nairobi, but I understand why you went. Yet another thumbs up for Kennedy. Nice to know you had a good experience with Kiliwarriors. Your Mara itinerary is exceptional.

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    Enjoying the start to your trip much more than you probably did. Quite a stressful beginning.
    Love your itinerary and looking forward to the photos which I have opened but not viewed yet.

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    Part 3 - Maasai Mara Conservancy – Serian Camp
    8/17/08
    Up early the next morning for my Air Kenya flight from Wilson to Musiara in the Mara. I had never flown on this small a plane, nor landed on a short dirt runway, so that was pretty exciting for me. Musiara was the 2nd or 3rd stop on this flight, so by the time we got to my landing strip I was an old pro (yeah right). I was amazed at the close proximity to the animals – by the time we landed I had seen elephant, giraffe, and as we came into land for my stop, I spotted what I thought was a lion. This got my heart pumping and my excitement level high – I knew I would be close to the game, but the reality of just how close set in. After getting over the initial panic of “what if no one is here to meet me”, I gather my belongings and got off the plane. I was quickly greeted by my guide, Francis and driver, Kemanzi. Francis asked if I’d like to see lion, to which I responded yes. We loaded into the Land Rover and in less than 5 minutes were parked and observing a pride of lions (the lion I had seen from the plan) – 4 lioness, 8 cubs of various ages, and 2 hippos in a pool below where they were resting. After watching the lions, we started off to camp, while some might think this is just transportation, it was a game drive all by itself. By the time we arrived at camp, I had already seen elephants with 2 babies, zebra, wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle, and giraffe. I certainly hadn’t expected this.

    Serian Camp
    My first camp was Serian Camp in the Mara Conservancy. This was a nice camp. Tents were large and comfortable; bathroom was separate from Main Tent with hot water heated by fire and a shower with a view. My favorite part about this camp was the deck in front of the tent. I had a nice view of the river from my deck, although I did not see any animals there during my stay. There were hippo upstream just a bit, and I could hear them, but not see them. Lunch was nice, taken in an open area. Several mongooses (mongeese?) came out of hiding during lunch time begging for handouts. Each guest had a private car, driver and guide so the daily routine was very flexible
    Around 4:00 we left on my first “real” game drive. Saw what would become the usual suspects – Grant’s and Thompson’s Gazelle, Giraffe, and Wildebeest. Then we started to see elephant and more elephant and more elephant. We ended up in the middle of a herd of elephant (we estimates 50+), parked and just sat. In time, the elephants had surrounded us – it was amazing. There were elephant of all sizes and ages. Babies from about 1-2 months old to old bulls. I can’t describe the feeling I had sitting in the midst of all of that. It was incredible. I think we stayed there for about an hour. Continuing our drive, we found a large pride of lions. Francis indicated that this was the Gorge pride – 3 Lionesses and 7 cubs – 4 about 1 month old, 3 about 4 months old. Again we sat for a long time, deciding to have our sundowners while watching this pride. The cubs were playful while the mothers slept. This was the Africa I had come to see.

    Dinner was an occasion with everyone gathering in the dining room around a fire in the fireplace for drinks before dinner while we caught up on what everyone did and what they had seen that day. An after dinner drink and then back to my tent to bed. I sat out on the deck for a little while trying to convince myself that it was real – I was in Africa.


    8/19/09
    I was so excited about the coming day that I didn’t get much sleep that night – before I knew it I heard “Good Morning – I’ve brought your coffee” from the front of my tent. I got up, staggered out on the deck and sure enough – there was hot coffee and cookies – what a way to wake up. Good Kenyan coffee, a cigarette and watching the sun begin to rise. We started out early to the usual suspects – gazelle, giraffe and then the radio went off. The driver asked if I’d like to see leopard. Leopard – well….Sure, I guess if there are no wildebeest to see. We sped off in search of leopard. We found a leopard mom and then found her 2 cubs. Of course, after the radio alert, quite a few others were looking as well, but we found her. That afternoon was probably one of the most eventful game drives. We found a pride of lions – 1 male, 3 females. We sat and watched them sleep for a while, but then when they woke up it was obvious that they were going on a hunt. There was a line of wildebeest a great distance away and they started heading off in that direction. Once again, the radio went off and then off we were for leopard again. This time we came across a leopard that had just killed a baby antelope. While we watched, it picked the kill up and took it up a tree. Once in the tree, the antelope fell out of the tree and the leopard had to retrieve it again. While understanding the circle of life – it was somewhat sad. A lone female antelope which we assumed to be the mother, stayed nearby watching the events unfold. The guide thought that this leopard was named Sowetie and had been featured on Big Cat Diaries.

    Everyone else was very envious of my day at dinner that night. I of course couldn’t stop talking (nothing new once you get to know me). One of the other guests was very upset at having missed what might have been Sowetie. She was an avid fan of Big Cat Diaries and made plans to return to the area the next day to try to find the leopard. She had spent 4 days at one of the crossing sites hoping for a crossing and really hadn’t seen anything else.

    8/20/09
    Well, after reliving my day for several hours sitting on the deck of my tent, I finally went to bed and slept rather well. That was a good thing as my wake up visit would be very early this morning as I was going to Little Governor’s Camp for a balloon adventure. All too early, I heard the Good Morning; I’ve brought your coffee and staggered out to the deck to try to wake up. We made the long drive to Little Governor’s, too early to see much – too bumpy to sleep. We arrived, took the boat across the little river and arrived at the launch site. The balloon ride was exciting – I had never been in a hot air balloon so this was a first for me. The game viewing was okay – we say giraffe, buffalo, antelope, gazelle from a different perspective, but I prefer to view it from the ground. I glad that I did it once, but I doubt that I would ever be tempted to do it again. After the champagne breakfast, I was taken back to the camp where my guide and driver were waiting. We decided that since we were already in the park proper (all previous game viewing had been in the conservancy), we’d spend the day there. This was an amazing day – herds of wildebeest and zebra everywhere – all marching in the same direction. I had read a lot about the migration – but was not prepared for the sheer numbers. Everywhere you looked were lines of wildebeest and zebras walking in the same direction. In the midst of all this, we happened upon 3 cheetah brothers, longing on a termite mound. These were the first cheetah I had seen since my cheetah hug and I think that if I had to pick one favorite animal, this would be it. We also came across 3 lionesses guarding a buffalo kill.
    Then headed down to one of the crossing areas to see what was happening. When I first starting planning my trip, I had told my TA that I wanted to see a crossing. He was very direct in letting me know that there were no guarantees. He said he put me at the right place at the right time, but it was a crap shoot. The woman at camp had spent 4 entire days at the crossing site, hoping with no results, so I wasn’t very optimistic. The river was beautiful, with a pod of hippos in the middle. A couple of the hippos decided to get out of the water and I was able to get some great pictures of that. We saw 3 crocodile with a baby wildebeest kill, so I figured that we’d missed it. We decided to eat lunch and while we did, the wildebeest and zebra kept coming and coming and massing at the water’s edge. Finally, a few wildebeest wandered down to the water’s edge and wandered about. One of them decided to take the plunge, but the other’s chickened out. The guide said that the pod of hippos just downstream had probably spooked them, but the one that went made it safely across. Another 30 minutes of milling around and finally several zebra made their way to the front of the line and they jumped in – this prompted the rest of them to follow. Saw a croc take a zebra midway across the river. In all we estimated that between 500 and 700 went across. I have to say this was the most amazing thing I had ever seen and had I left Africa right then, I’d have been complete.

    At dinner that night, I felt so bad. The woman who’d been looking for a crossing had gone in search of the leopard I’d seen the previous day and didn’t find it. When she heard about the crossing, she was not a happy camper.

    All in all, I had a wonderful time at Serian. The camp was beautiful, the food was excellent, the guiding was good (even though they seemed to use the radio and cell phones more than anywhere else I would stay). Tomorrow, on to the next camp – Rekero.

    I added the pictures taken at Serian to my shutterfly site. The link above will take you to the Nairobi pictures, but this link will take you to all my albums.

    http://eastafricaaugustandseptember2008.shutterfly.com/#

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    I get excited every time I read a trip report. Thank you for this one! I don't think I have ever seen so many giraffes lying (laying??) down! Nice kiss photo. We did that as well, stayed at Giraffe Manor which is next door to the Giraffe Center. The kisses smelled of alfalfa (perhaps from all the pellets I gave them).
    Anixously awaiting the next segment.

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    If you have some time in between your writing, could you go into a bit of detail on Serian camp as I am thinking of staying there 5 nights Sept. 2010...how were the guides, trucks, tents (do you have chairs/sofas as pictured on website on the decks?)..would you stay there the entire 5 nights or did you like changing to another area?
    Is there a particular number tent that would be better than others in your opinion?
    Anything you might remember as significant to the experience at Serian would be appreciated.

    Thanks - great reporting!

    FP

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    You were lucky - we stayed at Serian and our flight to Musiara was cancelled because we were the only passengers going to that airstrip - we had to take two connecting flights instead. That feeling of "what if no one is there to meet me?" came true in our case thanks to the last minute change to our flights.

    Kimanzi is still at Serian - we had him this past August and he was a great driver.

    Don't you love that morning coffee routine at Serian - such a wonderful way to start the day! They even run the hot water for you!

    Wow! You had great sightings while at Serian - I have always wanted to watch a leopard drag its kill up into a tree. The experience of the (unfortunate) woman who was at Serian at the same time demonstrates just how much timing and luck (and a good guide) influences what you see.

    What a difference a year makes! Your crossing, with the animals swimming across the Mara River, looks so different from ours this year when they walked across. I can see how the crocs would up the excitement level considerably.

    I love the giraffe pair (sitting) and the three cheetahs - great shots. Thanks for sharing! Robin

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    Flowerpower
    We were at Ngare Serian in August and loved it. Ngare is the smaller camp (4 tents) across the river from Serian Main Camp. If you can afford Ngare, go for it. The tents were gorgeous and the food excellent. Our guide was Jonathon and our driver was Kimanzi - both excellent. The sofas are there and I can vouch for them being very comfy! :-d Each tent has their own guide and driver - no shared vehicles. They are the traditional open-sided safari vehicles with a canvas roof that can be folded back.

    In terms of actual tents - at Ngare, ask for tent 4 - furthest from the common area and next to the hippos.

    At the main camp (haven't stayed there but walked through it two or three times), can't give you specifics, but at one end of the string of tents is the common area and at the other is the area where everyone (from both camps) gets into their vehicles in the norning - so I would be inclined to ask for one in the middle. If there are tents beyond the dining area/gift shop (which I wouldn't have seen), then that would be the best spot.

    If I were going for 5 nights, I might be inclined to spend a couple at Rekero - there is a lot of driving involved in getting to the reserve from Serian - although, as Safariwannabe discovered, there is lots to see in the conservancy.

    My photos (tents, vehicles, dining room, staff) of Serian begin middle of page 7. There are lots of comments regarding the camp - food, staff etc - all positive!

    http://bert-and-bin.smugmug.com/Travel/Kenya-Tanzania-2009/9504315_Lmned/1/638901400_BHybf
    Robin

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    Wonderful report so far!

    Can't wait to get to Kenya in Feb 2010.

    The cheetah picture (KWS) shows a cheetah which looks extremely strange - sick in my opinion.

    I am looking forward to reeding the next installment.

    SV

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    Excellent leopard action. Then more spotted cats with the 3 cheetahs and even a serval. Nice job spotting your own first lion from the plane! Great river crossing shots. Lucky you!

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    Flowerpower - I think that Robin answered most of your questions. I was in Tent 7 which was almost the last tent from the common area. It really was secluded - couldn't see (or hear) the other tents. Some of the guest tents were closer to the river and some talked about the noise from the hippos, which I could hear but not as well. I thought the guide did an excellent job - but they did seem somewhat dependent on radio and phone calls from others. The vehicle was in good condition and provided unobstructed views. For me, the biggest plus for the camp was having a private vehicle and having a driver and a guide in the vehicle. This enabled me to spend as much time as I wanted watching lions or enjoying being surrounded by elles, without worrying about what someone else wanted to see. I also liked the 2 level deck in front of the tent, particularly in the mornings and nights. I'm glad that I split the time between Serian and Rekero. Rekero had a different feel to it for me - more authentic somehow. As Robin mentioned, it was a good distance into the park proper, but most of the sightings I mentioned in this report were in the conservancy. I

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    Flowerpower - after rereading my last post - I wanted to clarify, that I would certainly return to Serian given the chance, but I would probably split my time again if I did.

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    Robin, thanks for the info and of course your pics, along with Safaris(looking forward to the Rekero section!)

    Serian has been on my list but here and there I do hear of some shortcomings. Of course there will always be discussions on those types of things (radios, staff, etc.) so I will just keep reading and researching.

    FP

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    Loving your report, my heart was in my mouth regarding your international flights nightmares!

    We too stayed at Serian last August and were upgraded to Ngare, which was just lovely.

    We had Francis for our guide and Kimanzi as our driver. Both very good indeed. And, I'm surprised about your comments on their use of radio/ phone as they did that very little indeed during our 5 night visit. It's something I dislike too, so I was pleased it didn't occur much and that, at most sightings, we were alone or one of only two or three vehicles.

    I'm still in touch with Francis, though he's no longer at Serian, which is a shame, as I'm considering a return visit in 2010 and would have requested him and Kimanzi again.

    Your description of that experience where you sit among the eles and are surrounded by them and can relax, watching them feed and play, brings back memories - we did the same and spent a couple of hours this way, leaving only when it started to get too dark to stay longer. Magical.

    Looking forward to the rest of your report!

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    Interesting the note/complaints about the radios at Serian. The only time I can recall Jonathon (our guide) using the one in our vehicle was:
    1. When we were called by the other Serian vehicle and asked if we would come and help find a cheetah that they had caught a glimpse of and then lost
    2. When we were out of our vehicle at breakfast and the other Serian vehicle called to warn Jonathon that there was a lion 100m from us.
    In fact, Jonathon used the radio so little that I didn't realize we had a radio at first.

    As for the staff, we found them to be excellent. Robin

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    I am relieved to hear this Robin as I am virtually planning my trip around Serian!
    Of course one never knows what changes and when, so I just hold my breath and hope!

    I do appreciate all your input and of course looking forward to safari's report on his experience at Rekero.

    FP

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    The comment about the use of radio was just a note - not really a complaint. Had wonderful sightings so I'm not complaining at all - just mentioned it as an observation. Francis also did well on finding game on his own.

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    Maasai Mara National Reserve – Rekero Camp
    8/22/08
    My last breakfast at Serian and then off for the game drive/transfer to Rekero. The transfer provided more cats – a lone lioness, 2 Cheetah, and a Male Lion in addition to the usual suspects. I felt so bad for the lioness – the flies were about to drive her crazy - as you can see from the picture, they were swarming all around her face. Next we came across 2 cheetahs, crossing the plains. We stopped and they passed very near the vehicle. The next sighting was of a beautiful male lion. This was one of my few sightings of adult males (to date). We arrived at Rekero, where I was greeted with a cool towel and a drink, and shown to my tent. I was in Tent 4, which was located very close to the river. I had arrived a little early for lunch, so I wandered the camp grounds for a bit and met more of the staff. The common areas were located on a slightly wider part of the river, with a lone male hippo in residence right in front. Downstream a bit was a pod of hippos, which they explained had forced the one male out. They said they had some problems as the main pod of hippos regularly attacked the lone one, trying to force him out. He was pretty battle scarred from these attacks. After lunch, one of the camp crew reported a group (7) of elephants in camp. Several of us went to see them – and they were almost directly in front of my tent. Across the river, many wildebeest and a one-horned water buck added to the experience. I loved this camp – in fact, this would be my favorite camp of all. I felt like I was more in the midst of everything and enjoyed the more rustic feel. In my opinion, it seemed more authentic than Serian. The first 3 hours in camp and I saw elephant, hippo, crocs, eland, water buck and a line of wildebeest without ever leaving camp.

    Later that afternoon we set off on my first game drive. Rekero does shared drives – however this first afternoon, I was the only one in my vehicle. During this game drive we saw herd of buffalo with very young babies, a large pride of lions – 1 male, 6 female and 8 cubs. The guide referred to them as the Paradise Pride and later a lioness across the river with 2 very young cubs. The guide thought that she was part of the other pride, but had been caught across the river, either too pregnant or with the cubs too small to cross.

    Dinner was a wonderful experience - Everyone gathered for drinks outside the dining room around a large campfire. Very relaxed atmosphere and all of the guests were very friendly (as well as the staff). Much more casual and informal than at Serian. Dinner was served in the dining room with assigned seating. The food was wonderful (as I had come to expect). Who’d have thought the food could be so wonderful in the wilds of Africa…After dinner, most guests returned to the campfire for another drink or too and then off to bed.

    It was a long but exciting night – the elephants returned to camp and decided to feed right next to my tent. It’s amazing how much noise those guys can make. The excitement of laying there in the dark and hearing them just a few feet from my tent kept me awake – and slightly nervous, but it was a wonderful experience. I never thought that grass being ripped from the ground and branches being broken from the trees could make so much noise. I loved it.

    8/23/08
    Day 2 at Rekero started out with my early morning coffee delivery and wake up visit – I really miss that… Then it was off for another game drive. My guide was Salaash, who was excellent. I didn’t note my driver’s name, but he did a great job as well. Not far from camp we encountered a lioness with 3 cubs feeding. We watched them for quite a while as the cubs were very playful with a full belly. Not much further we encountered another lioness laying on a rock overlooking the river. Then onto breakfast beside the Mara River, overlooking a hippo pod and a huge crocodile. We later encountered 6 lion brothers, approximately 4-5 years old and then a leopard. I had a shared drive that morning, which was a different experience. I had gotten spoiled to being able to stay and watch things for as long as I liked. Unfortunately, I was paired with a frequent Africa visitor, who was primarily interested in birds (Nothing against birders, but remember this was my first trip – I wanted to see cats…..) I got a chuckle when he had the driver circle a tree twice trying to get a picture of a bird (forgotten what kind), only to have the bird fly off when he finally got the angle that he wanted. We received a call that there was a crossing in progress (yes, my second crossing). We convinced my game drive companion (it actually took some convincing) to drive over to the crossing site to view it. It was well underway when we arrived, but enjoyed it never the less. Having gotten many photos of the previous crossing, I was able to just sit back and enjoy it. Returned to camp for lunch and I decided to just sit back and relax, skipping the afternoon game drive, just to enjoy the view from my tent. Even with that I was able to see hippo and zebra across the river.

    8/24/08
    Rekero – Day 3
    Different partner for the game drive. This one was much better – interested in seeing animals – not bird. Just out of camp we encountered a lioness with 3 small cubs walking along the road. It was wonderful. I had a view of the lions on one side of the vehicle, and a beautiful sunrise on the other side – what more could you ask for. After the parade passed right by the vehicle, I swear I could have reached out and touched them – we moved on to find 2 lioness with 3 cubs finishing a wildebeest kill, a long with a male lion. Selaash thoughts these were from the Paradise pride which we had viewed the day before. The rest of the morning was enjoyable – good company, good viewing and I’m in Africa (how can there be a bad day).

    The afternoon game drive was one of my favorite days. It started out with a Zebra with a small offspring, and then several zebra drinking beside the river. We then happened upon 3 cheetahs (probably the 3 from earlier in my trip – which Selaash had named Snap, Crackle and Pop. We sat and watched the cheetah for about 3 hours – they finally woke up from their nap, all stretched at various times and then set out across the plains. On the return trip, we came across a leopard with a kill. This was an awesome day.

    9/25/08
    This was my last morning with Rekero. We went on a last game drive before heading for the airstrip. Most interesting site on this game drive were two male lions stalking a female. She was somewhat of a tease as she would walk for a while, then stop and wait for the males to get close and then move again. We watched them follow her for some distance, but never got to see them mate. The time to start the drive to the airport finally arrived (all too soon). I was sad to leave the Mara – I guess it was like your first love – you never forget it.

    Recap - I thoroughly enjoyed both camps (Serian and Rekero) and would gladly return to or recommend either one anytime. I have to admit that Rekero became my favorite camp through all of the camps I experienced on my trip. For me (and others might feel differently), it felt more authentic. It may have been timing, but the game that I viewed from the front of my tent, the friendliness of the staff, the stories shared with other guests all contributed to this. I had wonderful game viewing experiences at both camps. The guides were wonderful at both camps. I did enjoy the private guide and driver at Serian, but other than my experience with the birder – I couldn’t complain about the drives from Rekero. The staff at Rekero was wonderful – everyone I encountered asked me about my day’s game drives and what I had seen, and genuinely seemed interested. During my staff both in the conservancy and in the park, I experienced many sightings of cats – 4 leopard sightings, 3 cheetah sightings, 1 serval cat sighting; other special memories were experiencing 2 crossings (one from the beginning), and sitting surrounded by a herd of over 50 elephants.

    Additional pictures added - the link again is:

    http://eastafricaaugustandseptember2008.shutterfly.com/#

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    the game that I viewed from the front of my tent...

    The stuff dreams are made of. Rekero sounds like a winner for you. Now I'm off to view the latest set of photos. So glad you're posting this report.

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    S-W,
    Oh My, the pics were awesome; I cannot stop looking at them!
    I thought Rekero looked great, much nicer than I had imagined so perhaps I may "copy" your itinerary - my husband was duly impressed with both of your experiences, so you have helped me get him on board for this and I thank you so for that! Pictures and accompanying stories are so much better than a website!

    I can only imagine you are no longer "desk bound", but actively planning your return. How exciting! Isn't it amazing how Africa changes your life?

    FP
    I only hope my trip is nearly as exciting as your has been.
    Thank you for sharing

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    Wonderful photos! I love the cheetah stretch! I can't get over the difference between the crossings you saw in 2008 and the ones we watched in 2009 - it confirms just how low the Mara River is this year. Robin

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    I'm so glad your report got bumped back to the top -- I missed it the first time around!

    No worries about being "too long" with a trip report. Some of us are really into the long reports. And if you can beat mine for length, I'll be thrilled!

    Thanks so much for posting this. :)

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    I am glad you enjoyed Nairobi as much as I did.

    I came two full days earlier ( before the Safari) and then had another full day at the end as I flew out of Nairobi at 10 PM.

    Enjoying your report and the pictures. I was there in August/ September 2009...a year after you , but I really cannot tell that the animals were a year older :)

    Thanks for posting

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    8/25/08 – Off to Tanzania
    My Air Kenya flight was over an hour late leaving the Mara – making me nervous about my connection in Nairobi to Kilimanjaro Airport. There were a couple of other people on the flight continuing onto Tanzania, so they had held the flight. Upon landing, a baggage handler had me point out my bags and he whisked it onto the connecting flight – a quick trip through customs, and I was on the plane. I arrived at Kilimanjaro. After arriving, I stopped for a bathroom break, went outside for a quick cigarette, and visited the money exchange. Upon retrieving my luggage, I couldn’t locate anyone to pick me up – “Drats – my fears of being stranded in Africa had come true. Luckily, my guide/driver had gone back to his vehicle to call the office to check on me as I was late and we connected soon after that. For this portion of the trip, Kiliwarriors had arranged a guide/driver, Wilson to transport me and guide my game drives through Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara. Wilson was excellent – offering good driving and great knowledge of the wildlife and birds. The trip to Tarangire was long, but enjoyable – it was my first real view of the villages and towns of East Africa, passing many school children in uniform. We arrived at Tarangire; however it was still quite a distance to the camp.

    Tarangire – Oliver’s Camp
    8/26/08
    Oliver’s was another nice camp. I would put it somewhere in-between Serian and Rekero for level of comfort. It was almost time for dinner by the time I arrived, so I took a shower and freshened up and waited my escort for dinner. I had a city boy moment while taking my shower; I had a nice view of the surrounding landscape. While I had no problem in hugging a cheetah and kissing a giraffe – getting ridiculously close to lions, leopards and cheetah, I must admit I have a secret fear of snakes. While showering and looking at the area in front of my tent, I saw what seemed to be a huge snake slithering around in front of my tent. All I could think of was waking up in the middle of the night with this thing in bed with me. When my escort arrived to take me to dinner, I had them check the area for the offending snake – much to my embarrassment; it ended up to be a tree branch – definitely the non-poisonous kind.

    After swallowing my pride, we headed off to dinner. Everyone met around a campfire for drinks and introductions and then a dinner gong was sounded and the evening menu announced. We then moved to the dining area for dinner, nice setting and as everywhere I’d stayed, wonderful food.

    Up early the next morning for a game drive, greeted with my morning coffee and enjoyed the sunrise from the front of my tent. The morning drive presented the usual cast of characters – impala, elephant, giraffe, lion, ostrich, buffalo, and waterbuck. I’m not sure if it was seeing them in new surroundings or my continued excitement – but it all seemed new to me again. This drive presented some of my favorites as well – dik dik and cheetah. We happened on 3 cheetah’s lounging in the shade of a tree and we watched them until they started out on the prowl, but lost them soon after that. For that day (seemed to change with what I was viewing) – cheetah were my favorite of the cats. In reviewing the pictures, I couldn’t find just 1 or 2 that I liked so sorry for the number of them.

    One of the things that made this trip so much fun was the excitement and enthusiasm that Wilson had for the animals. He was beside himself when we saw the fringed eared orxy as he said these weren’t frequently sighted in Tarangire. He almost came undone when 4 lionesses walked within 10 feet of the jeep, and he kept talking about the cheetah sighting from the day before. The morning of the second day, he asked what I wanted to see to which I responded leopard. He explained that leopard were very difficult to find. During our game drive, we were driving along when he suddenly slammed on the brakes. All he could manage to say was leopard in a tree, leopard in a tree. He was so excited he couldn’t even tell me where to look for several minutes. When we arrived back at camp for lunch, he told the other guides how lucky I was and they joked that they would just follow us around for the rest of the day. The afternoon of the second day, I went on a walking safari with Rudolph, the manager at Oliver’s. It was amazing how much different everything felt on foot. We were able to get very close to a family of elephants and also to some eland, waterbuck, reed buck and vervet monkeys. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Overall, this was a wonderful park. I enjoyed it very much. It was very warm and the tse flies were fierce, but that was a small price to pay. On Day 3 we did a morning game drive and then were off to Ngorongoro for the next stop on this wonderful trip. Driving out of the park, we spotted a leopard, which crossed the road in front of us, mongoose, vervet monkeys and baboons, and a warthog. After a brief stop for lunch, we arrived at Ngorongoro Crater mid-afternoon. The views from the road were breathtaking.

    Link previously posted will take to these additional pictures

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    Ngorongoro Crater – Sopa Lodge
    8/29/08
    We arrived at Sopa Lodge and checked in. This was quite a change for me, having become accustomed to Tented Camps. The Sopa was adequate, somewhat dated, but this was probably my least favorite lodging. This was the only time on the trip that I really felt like I was traveling alone. The large dining room and being seated by myself was a let down after the fun and story telling of the camps. I made my bellman feel bad, as while he was escorting me to my room, he asked where was my Mama, to which I replied she’s dead. I guess he thought I was joking and asked again, to which I responded – she’s been dead for years. Only later did I realize that he was assumed that I had a wife and she was traveling with me. It didn’t help that they had reserved the room for two – he looked very sheepish as I guess he thought my wife had died on the trip. In hindsight, I should have told him that she was eaten by a lion in Tarangire, just to see his reaction.

    The crater was beautiful – I loved the views from the rim of the crater. Plentiful wildlife, however this was the only time I felt crowded or hurried. The number of vehicles at each sighting took away from my enjoyment of the wildlife viewing, plus it was hot and dusty in the crater. It certainly was worth a visit, however I would exclude this from future trips and have spent more time in the Mara or Tarangire.

    During the trip to the crater floor, we saw jackal, zebra, wildebeest, lion, rhino, cheetah, hippos, elephant and many beautiful birds. We stopped for lunch at a picnic area and it was almost like the African version of the movie The Birds. The saving grace was that they were beautiful and it was really the first time that I had stopped to admire their colors and plumage. I enjoyed their display as I tried to guard my lunch.

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    Lake Manyara – Kirurumu Camp
    08/30/08
    Very scenic views of the Crater as we left for Lake Manyara. Lodgings were at Kirurumu Camp, a short distance from the park. This camp tented, but had more of a lodge feel to it. No campfires – dining room with evening entertainment. I enjoyed the camp, but missed the feel of those located in the parks. It was very comfortable, the food was enjoyable. I think the high point of this stay was actually having a meal with Wilson, my guide. He spoke with pride of his family and his children, talking about their schooling and his hopes for their future. Much like Ngorongoro, I felt crowded at Lake Manyara – lots of traffic trying to get in position for the few cat sightings that we experienced. A lion was spotted off the road, but we were never able to get close enough to see anything. I enjoyed spending time viewing the monkeys and baboons and the birds on the lake were incredible. Again, I’m glad I experienced this once, but would probably not repeat this on a future visit.

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