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Trip Report Imelda’s African Adventure - Rwanda & Kenya July 20th 2006 to July 30th 2006

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Well it's almost two weeks since we returned from Africa and as promised I said I would start my trip report this weekend. I'm afraid I have to warn you though... IT IS SERIOUSLY LONG AND DETAILED and I'm afraid I will never make a writer but I promise I will give it my best shot so here goes:


Background:
Our first and only trip to Africa was in September 2002 for our honeymoon. We spent 17 days in total splitting our time between Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, Sun City SA, Honeyguide Tented Safari Camp SA and Capetown SA. The initial thoughts of Africa came about quite by accident this time. Declan (who will be referred to as Deck or Hubby hereafter) changed jobs in January. This changeover was in the pipeline for a few months prior and I was itching to get some sort of holiday planned for 2006 but couldn’t as we really hadn’t a clue how much holiday time he could take or indeed when he could take it. In January I started to try to pin him down to a time and place, which wasn’t easy. We normally go on holidays in September for two reasons, firstly, Deck isn’t too keen on too much heat and places tend to be a bit cooler at that time of year and secondly, I like to have September to look forward to when most people are back from their holidays we still have ours to look forward to and it breaks us that long cold winter until Christmas. Also, our anniversary is in September so it’s nice to be somewhere ‘nice’ for that too. Anyways, September wasn’t going to be a goer this time as hubby is a golf fanatic and the Ryder Cup is being played here in Ireland this year so of course nothing could come between a man possessed and his sport! Early in the year would be too soon after changing jobs and late in the year wouldn’t suit either, as the push to meet targets would be at its greatest. Between one thing and another, it was narrowed down to the month of July.
Now where to go? Originally I was ‘told’ that we would only have a week away! We initially looked at a cruise out of San Juan but soon decided against that as we would lose too much time travelling and a week wouldn’t be enough. Next a European cruise was considered but because of the temperatures in July as well as the crazy price and also the fact that we’re not really ‘in to’ Europe, that was ruled out. Next Canada was looked at and I discovered Polar Bears could be seen in Churchill… but only in November and hubby couldn’t go that late. Where oh where should we go??? Of course I had thought about Africa but there was no way Deck would go for that… or would he?? … The trick, as most women know, with these decisions, is to let the other half think it’s their idea ;) So without ever saying ‘Deck, will we go to Africa’, the ever so subtle hints were dropped until one evening after seeing a travel programme on TV about some part of Africa Deck turned to me and said those three little words I’d been hoping to hear….‘ What about Africa??’ And so the wheels were in motion.

Planning:
Well it was internet research time. Where in Africa were we going to go? We knew it had to be somewhere not too hot and not TOO far away. South Africa was ruled out right away as it is the longest flight from Ireland and we had already been there. Egypt would be too hot and I personally don’t really consider Egypt to be an African holiday. We took out the map of Africa and looked to see where was the shortest flight – Kenya or Tanzania. Well now we had half a plan. So the research began! It wasn’t long before I learnt about the great wildebeest migration and those spectacular crossings that begin in July. By pure chance I discovered something very exciting, something I never, in my wildest dreams imagined a tourist could do… it popped right out of the screen at me… Gorilla Trekking in Uganda!!!!! I remember literally dancing in to the sitting room to Deck after discovering that fact and saying: that’s it, we just have to go to do this! I was like a child at Christmas time. I read on and discovered Gorilla trekking was possible in Rwanda too. Well now we knew it was either the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti and Rwanda or Uganda. We had to fit all this in to just 10 days AND it had to be lodges and not tented camps (hubby’s condition on going to Africa – the infamous ‘bug thing’!). I found Fodors at this stage and had read as much as I possibly could about these destinations. Sunny-days trip report on his Rwanda Gorilla trekking and this, together with other articles about it being an easier trek than in Bwindi and it being less humid AND the selling point of Kigali airport being only a couple of hours from PNV sold me Rwanda. I then had trouble narrowing down where we should go in Kenya / Tanzania. The places that stuck out were the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti, one of which was a definite and either Lake Nakuru or Samburu with Sweetwaters somewhere in there in the mix. I knew I needed help with the planning and what better place than here on Fodors so in early February, the very first of my many many questions here was ‘Maasai Mara or Serengeti in July?’. I got many fantastic replies to get me set. I contacted some TA’s and got some quotes for the Kenyan portion of our trip. No-one could get us all 4 nights at the Mara Serena which we had decided we wanted due to its location and recommendations here. I e-mailed Serena directly myself on the off chance that there might be availability but I didn’t hold out much hope but lo and behold, Serena came back with availability for ALL 4 nights and so it was set that this trip would be booked independently. Finally it was decided; we would leave Ireland July 20th and return July 30th. We would do 3 nights Rwanda, 4 nights Maasai Mara and 2 nights Nairobi (remember those Cheetah petting discussions!), flying between locations so all was set and flights were booked. Then, just as we were settling to do the final little bit of tweaking of our itinerary we decided that 3 nights in Rwanda was the ‘wrong’ amount of time – we either needed another night to do ‘something else’ there or we would be hanging around on our last day. Lake Nakuru was always in the back of my mind and I had never properly let it go so when the discussion about cutting a day from Rwanda began in around June 22nd, only a month before our departure :-0 Lake Nakuru was a definite maybe! With a LOT of changing we finally ended up with the following itinerary:

July 20th Shannon Ireland – LHR – NBO (overnight flight arriving July 21st)
July 21st NBO – Kigali Rwanda arriving at 10.05am. Spend day in Kigali and drive to
Gorillas Nest that evening. Overnight Gorillas Nest.
July 22nd Gorilla trek PNV. Drive back to Kigali. Overnight Hotel Des Mille Collines.
July 23rd Kigali – NBO arrive at 9.05am. Kennedy drive us to Lake Nakuru.
Overnight Sarova Lion Hill Lodge.
July 24th Drive back to Lake Navisha. Leave Kennedy to take extra luggage back to
Nairobi and fly from Navisha at 3.10 on SafariLink to Mara Serena arriving
at 3.50pm.
July 25th Mara Serena
July 26th Mara Serena
July 27th Mara Serena
July 28th Fly Mara Serena to Wilson arrive 12.15pm. 1/2 day with Kennedy in Nairobi. Overnight
Nairobi Serena.
July 29th Day around Nairobi. Overnight Nairobi Serena.
July 30th Early morning flight home.

Our Trip:

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often go Awry!

July 20th – The ‘Adventure’ Begins:
Well the day had finally dawned when we were returning to Africa! After 6 whole months of planning we were just hours away from the trip of a lifetime (for a second time!). But first Deck had to ‘drop in ‘ to work on the way. No problem we’re on our way to Africa after all. We drove the hour or so to the office and Deck did what he had to do while I attempted to complete my book about Africa – about a guy in the Maasai Mara doing research on Baboons – quite a good read. It wasn’t long before we were on our way to the airport, a short jaunt of about 2 hours from the office. We arrived in plenty of time with our underweight (!) bags – just 15kgs each but with a backpack carryon of over 10kg containing my span spanking new FZ30, Epson P2000 and 2 sets of binoculars as well as all our meds (just in case). Check in was a easy peasy. Having said goodbye to our two checked bags we headed for the restaurant for a little late lunch. Our flight wasn’t due to leave until just after 5pm so we had lots of time. Lunch eaten we sat in the bar where Deck got his last ‘fix’ of golf. While we were sitting there we see that our flight is delayed until 5.30, then its delayed until 5.45. We’re crossing our fingers it won’t be delayed further otherwise we won’t make the connection in Heathrow. Thankfully, the finger crossing worked and it’s not delayed any more but now it means we will only have an hour and a half to make our connection in Heathrow – it will be a rush as we would have to change terminals but we should make it.
Our flight from Shannon to Heathrow is uneventful. We got off the plane as quickly as possible and literally ‘legged’ it for the train to Terminal 4. Now, we had done this terminal change on a few occasions but had forgotten how confusing the changeover is. Firstly, the lifts to the trains aren’t labelled very well and in our panic we end up going up and down to the wrong levels. Eventually we get off on the correct level where we try to figure out the platforms. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as there is a sign pointing straight ahead for trains to Terminal 4 and left for trains to Terminals 1, 2 & 3 BUT there is an A4 laminated sheet at the entrance to trains for Terminals 1, 2 & 3 with ‘Terminal 4’ written on it. And when you go to that platform it says ‘Terminals 1, 2 & 3’ only. Confusion, confusion and we’re in a big rush. Eventually, together with a couple of people with the same dilemma, we find someone who tells us which platform we need to be on – it’s the one that says Terminals 1, 2 & 3!!! Well we wait and wait and eventually the train comes and we get on. By now it is getting late and we’re getting a little worried that we are going to miss our flight. The train doesn’t take long and we’re soon off and practically running to get to departures. We go through the scanners and thankfully no ‘beeps’ but it’s still a long way to the boarding gate. We keep up the pace and eventually arrive at the gate. Thankfully they’re not even boarding yet. Deck heads off for a longed for cigarette while I wait at the boarding gate. There is an announcement - our flight is delayed by a whopping 1.5 hours. This is good AND bad we decide. At least now our bags will make it between flights BUT now there is a big chance we will miss our Rwandair flight from Nairobi to Kigali. We were due to land in Nairobi at 7.25am and the Rwandair flight departs at 9.45am. I go to the BA desk and tell them our predicament. The guy at the desk tells us to go to the Kenya Airways desk (as the flight was booked through their website and Rwandair are the carriers) so off we go. The girl at the desk is very nice and tells us she has reserved our seats but we still need to check in in Nairobi. She tells us not to worry as BA may make up time in the air and Nairobi airport is pretty small so there is still a chance we will make the flight. I ask if there is availability on the next flight to Kigali in the event we don’t make the 9.45am one, YES the next flight at 11am isn’t full…- this makes us feel more at ease. So we go back to the gate to wait hoping that the flight won’t be delayed further. We discuss phoning Joyce, the girl who is to meet us in Kigali with our transport but decide against it as we might yet make the flight and as her English isn’t the best we don’t want to confuse her.
The time passes quickly and it’s not long before we are on the BA767 in our pre-reserved seats. It turns out to be a good flight. The seats we have chosen (23J &K) are excellent (as excellent as it gets in economy!), there are no seats behind us and we can recline without disturbing anyone. We also took some sleeping tablets and both of us sleep for about 5 hours - BRILLIANT!! We arrive in Nairobi at around 8.50am - we might actually make the connection!!! We disembark and attempt to find the Kenya Airways desk in order to get our tickets. We also need to collect our bags as they haven’t been checked through. We had actually asked on board the flight if it could be arranged for our bags to be transferred without us having to collect them and check them through but they told us this couldn’t be done. Well eventually we find someone who is from KA and he tells us where the KA desk is to get our tickets and check in. He tells us that there is no need for us to collect our bags as KA will retrieve them and transfer then to our Rwandair flight - FANTASTIC! So we go to the KA desk to get our tickets and boarding passes -h boy!!! There they told us that, no they wouldn’t transfer our bags between flights, that we had to collect them and re-check them. We decided that I would stay at the desk to get the tickets sorted and Deck headed to retrieve our luggage. I told the guy at the desk we needed to collect our tickets and check in and handed him the print out of the confirmation. I don’t know what he was doing but after about 10 minutes he asked me for our tickets!! I told him that I was there to collect our tickets. Well off he took and I knew we were definitely in Africa as it was pole pole. The guy at the desk was gone for at least 20 minutes and there’s no sign of Deck and it’s now about 9.30am!! Well next thing the guy at the next desk takes a phone call. He asks me if I am Imelda and when I say yes he asks me if ‘do you have your visa’ I try to explain that I don’t need a visa as I am in transit. After a few minutes I figured out the guy was looking for my Visa CARD. Well Deck STILL hadn’t returned from the baggage area and it was his card the flights were booked with. I asked if they could take my credit card but they couldn’t so off I headed to find Deck and his credit card. Half way down the hall I thought to check the rucksack that I was carrying, just in case it was in there with the other documents… found it! Back to the desk I went. At this stage the KA desks were manic with LOTS of people panicking because their flights were due to depart and they hadn’t yet checked in. It didn’t help that it was a general check in and not separate desks for each flight. I went back to the deck which I had been at which was now empty, explaining to the people in the queue that I wasn’t skipping the queue. I try to see where the guy who asked me for my visa went but neither he nor the first guy are anywhere in sight. After a few minutes I attempt to ask the girl at the next desk to phone the first guy for me. Eventually another girl phoned him and after a few minutes he came back. He gave me back our passports and took the visa card and he was off again. A few minutes later Deck arrived … you’ll never guess what?…. They ‘think’ our bags didn’t make it - both of them!! The guy at baggage told Deck to check with the BA desk to make sure they definitely didn’t make it. At this stage we know we are not going to make the flight to Kigali as it is now somewhere around 9.40am and the guy still hasn’t returned with our boarding passes :(. We begin to look at what we actually have with us. Deck is wearing runners, a tracksuit bottom, a tee shirt and a fleece jumper. I have slip on shoes, light combat style trousers, a vest top under a short-sleeved shirt and a jumper and I also have my rainproof hooded lightweight jacket. We have all our medicines and camera gear in the rucksack - we’re not TOO bad we decide. Deck says, it’s OK; we’ll just pick up some stuff in Kigali as I try to explain that it won’t exactly be that easy as there are no shops per say. He doesn’t quite get his head around this and I decide not to push the issue and just let him ‘see’ when we get there. We decide what will be will be, we’re not going to let a little thing like having no bags interfere with our happiness at being in Africa and we have a little giggle as we resign ourselves to the fact. The guy returns with our boarding passes at 9.53am. We ask him to change them to the 11am flight and he does. We eventually leave the desk and head for the BA desk at the far end of the airport. We ask if the bags are definitely missing… Yes. We want to register them as missing … No you can’t do that here, you have to do it in Kigali as it’s your final destination. But we didn’t book the Kigali section through BA, we want to register them missing with BA… No you have to do it in Kigali with Kenya Airways. OK, OK, we’ll register them in Kigali. By now it’s coming very near boarding time for the KA flight and we still haven’t let Joyce know we are on the next flight. I turn on my mobile. It shows coverage but I can’t phone Kigali for some reason. We go in search of a phone and eventually find one of the shops who will let us pay to phone. We try and try and try to get Joyce but there is no answer, now what? Next door I spot computers, hopefully she won’t have left yet and she will check her e-mails before she leaves for the airport. I log on and type the quickest e-mail ever but it is sllooowww sending it. It eventually goes through. Now we rush off to the boarding gate. It’s around 10.40am and I certainly don’t want to miss this flight too.
Well we get through the security and enter the boarding area. I look for a toilet but there isn’t one. All the toilets are outside and I’m afraid to go out in case boarding is called and I will have to get back in through security again. Well we wait… and wait… and wait and there’s no sign of the flight being called. I go to the lady at security, when is the Kigali flight boarding… Soon. I decide to risk it and go through security to the toilets. When I get back the queue at security is enormous but I sneak in the side (I have nothing with me other than the boarding pass so I don’t feel too bad about skipping and there is NO WAY I’m taking a chance of missing this flight). Back inside we wait…. and wait….. and wait some more. We listen for announcements but there aren’t any. We’re getting a little worried now but suddenly we hear it… boarding for KA…… We head through the gate and down the steps to the tarmacadam. There, there are about 5 planes. We ask the guy at the bottom for the Kigali plane and he motions us to what looks like the last plane. We board and find two seats. Our boarding passes have assigned seat numbers but the hostesses tell us it’s open seating. The plane eventually took off at 12.30pm. Deck was a little anxious as he thought he heard someone saying something about somewhere other than Kigali, Accra he thinks. I tell him that the people for the Accra flight entered security through the same gate as us and that this had to be the Kigali flight. He wasn’t content with that so when I spot a hostess nearby I ask her if the plane is stopping anywhere other than Kigali. She says ‘Nairobi’. OK Deck, we’re on the right plane and it returns to Nairobi – it’s not stopping anywhere else! After about an hour the plane lands, we pack up and disembark. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Joyce has gotten my e-mail and is there to meet us. Well we walk back along the tarmac and enter the building. There we ask a guy where is lost luggage and he tells us it’s outside in the arrival hall. WE pick up our visa forms and start filling them out. Deck makes a comment about the heading but I don’t really take too much notice and just tell him ‘it’s Rwanda, it mightn’t be exactly as it should’. We fill out the visas and go to the desk to pay. The guy asks for $40 for both of us, I thought it was going to be $100, now how did I get that wrong? I don’t dwell on it and we head through customs where they ask to see our vaccination certs and then it’s out into a sea of people. We look around but there is no one there that looks like it might be Joyce. She didn’t get the e-mail after all. We have a good look around and then Deck decides he really NEEDS a cigarette so I stay inside with the rucksack while he feeds his addiction. When he comes back we go to the information desk and ask where is lost luggage. The girl at the desk tells us it’s inside where we came from! We decide we’d better try to phone Joyce first and then go back in to report our bags missing. We go to a ‘shop’ and ask to use the telephone. I dial the number but it’s not ringing. I show the number to the girl behind the counter.. ‘you need the code’… ‘this is the code’ I say, ‘no, the international code’….’ This is a Kigali number’..’ yes you need the international code’…. ‘but this is Rwanda’ … then I hear the words that wash colour from my cheeks ‘No this is BURUNDI’!!!!!!

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    Sorry guys, I tried and tried to turn off the bold but for some reason my computer had a mind of its own tonight and with it being almost 2am I decided to just 'let it go'. Sorry if it's hard to read.
    Imelda

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    Thank you all so much for your kind comments.
    Hee, hee, I knew I was being very 'bold' by leaving it at that last night but I just couldn't resist! And it was after 2am after all.
    I promise I won't leave you hanging on for too long, I'm hoping to have the next installment up this evening although I'm not going to wait up until 2am to post it... work tomorrow! :)

    Wildebeestus, I like your analogy.. it certainly was 'like a BAD commercial'!! ;)

    Imelda

    Imelda

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    Imelda:

    Your post was at the top when I signed in this morning, and I got SUCH a big smile - I knew this was going to be a fun read!!! And you did not dissappoint! Off to check my map to see where you were supposed to be as opposed to where you ended up.

    Don't make us wait too long!

    Cyn

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    Glad you're having a giggle Cyn and I'll save you the trip to find that map... it was a whole 500 miles from where we were supposed to be AND in a country that is no way as hospitable as Rwanda!!! :))

    Kavey, all good things come to those who wait!! I'm just starting on the next 'episode'!

    Imelda

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    OHMIGOSH Imelda - this is fabulous! I have only read the first little bit - I am going to save it for a bit until I finish some of the others I have printed (that way there will be mnore for me to read too...)- but it looks great!!! So detailed, I LOVE it!

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    Next instalment coming up:

    OH MY GOD!!!! I can feel my face dropping to my toes and I just know I’ve gone as white as a sheet. I feel sick, and at this point, I could actually have cried! What is happening to my trip of a lifetime?! What have I done for it go THIS wrong? I don’t even KNOW where Burundi is!! But I don’t cry, my mind races as I just blurt - ‘But we’re supposed to be in Rwanda!’ The lovely girl behind the desk just points back towards the doors we came through – arrivals. I don’t ask questions and I’m afraid I don’t have the presence of mind to even say Thank You, I just run. I don’t exactly know why I’m running, maybe we can get back on the plane and it will take us back to Nairobi is one of my thoughts but there are so many things whirling in my head. We fight our way through the throng of people beside the doors. We enter the doors not even explaining properly to the security guy what has happened, he doesn’t bother to question us. I suppose the look of blind panic on my face says don’t ask! We run through the security gates and then I just stop, I look around, now what?- Who can help us? There’s a guy with either a uniform or a suit (I can’t remember which – I wasn’t in the frame of mind for registering details!!!!!!) and he is talking to two people. He turns around and just takes one look at me, I must have looked like a woman possessed and I just say ‘we’re supposed to be in Rwanda!!!’ He turns towards the glass at the front of the building and motions to a plane on the runway, it’s the plane we just came off... I think! I don’t ask any questions I just run. Deck is behind me, we haven’t actually spoken since the ‘bombshell was dropped’ but we just know what each other is thinking...Get to that plane!! We get out on to the tarmac but there’s a long way to go to the plane and they can’t actually see us coming as there’s a high wooden barrier hiding us from their view. Oh My God, they’re going to go without us! Deck at this point is saying ‘Calm down, calm down’. How he thinks I can actually calm down is beyond comprehension!!! I am running for all my legs are worth and Deck is behind me. It is all going in slow motion in front of my eyes. I have a 10kg backpack on my back trying to run for this plane. The backpack is bouncing up and down on my back and I’m going nowhere fast. I go as fast as I can but it seems to take forever. I have visions of watching the plane taxi down the runway and leave without us. Finally, we’re past the barrier and we can see the plane, it’s still there. I’m not sure if they can see us yet and I keep running. At long last my heart can start beating again, we reach the steps to the plane...’Can I see your boarding passes’ the guy at the bottom asks! He MUST be joking - I haven’t a CLUE where they are - does he actually think my brain is functioning?!!! We explain that we were already on the plane and we’re supposed to be in Rwanda NOT Burundi – or rather Deck explains while I rummage frantically for the boarding passes. I don’t find them and I’m still rummaging frantically when the hostess at the top of the stairs says ‘its OK, come up’. Thank GOD! We’re back on the plane. With sweat literally dripping from me and my heart pounding inside my head I explain we’re supposed to be in Rwanda. The hostess tells me that the plane made a stop in Burundi and is continuing to Kigali!!! Thank GOD! Up until this point we didn’t even know for definite where the plane was going – Rwanda or back to Nairobi! The hostess asked ‘did you not hear the announcement?’.. ‘What announcement?’, apparently there was an announcement saying that passengers for Kigali should not disembark! BUT, what I failed to mention in my previous post, was, on the plane our seats were right in the middle of a group of young ‘lads’. A soccer team we guessed. These guys were quite rowdy with one of them sitting behind us singing at the top of his voice, there was no way we could have heard an announcement! As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones who made the error getting off BUT we WERE the only ones who made it through customs and out onto Burundi soil!!!! :s
    Well we found two seats and sat down we looked at each other, whew, that was a close one and with that the giggles took over, we just laughed and laughed and laughed, we couldn’t stop! Each time we looked at each other we would start off again. You couldn’t even write this let alone believe it could actually happen to someone!!… First our flight is delayed, we rush for our connection and our second flight is delayed, we arrive in Africa no luggage to be found, we miss our next flight and get on a flight that is delayed to find ourselves in the wrong country – 500 miles from where we’re supposed to be!!! If someone told me this I would think they were making it up! (I swear I’m not by the way, my imagination isn’t that fertile!) I actually thought about how my trip report here would go.... We just decided to visit another country on our way to Rwanda so that Deck could have a cigarette!!! We even have the visa stamps to prove it! It turned out that the thing that Deck was saying to me in the airport on arrival was ‘it says Burundi on the visa forms’. I had actually heard what he had said but with the hostess telling us that the plane was only stopping in Kigali and then Nairobi I dismissed it as ‘just being Africa’ – I promise Declan, I will NEVER EVER dismiss anything like that again! We laughed all the way to Rwanda!

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    Oh Imelda - absolutely priceless!!! I can just see the 2 of you giggling away like maniacs - so glad you both immediatly saw the humor in your predicament!!! L O L

    Can't wait to see what happens next!

    Cyn

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    Tears rolling down as I'm reading this. My goodness! Aren't you glad that you weren't the only ones to get off the plane? I would have pounced on that soccer team and asked they haul your bags to make up for your grief.

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    Lynda, I know what you mean about reading the other reports, I'm afraid I've fallen waaayyy behind with them too and I haven't even had time to print them out.. after all I did promise to start this report this weekend and I didn't want to be TOO sadistic by leaving you all hanging on for the 'punchline'.
    Speaking of trip reports, Wildebeestus, sorry for not commenting on your report, I had read the very first bit and then I have been missing it since. I've just found it again so hopefully I will catch up soon!
    Sandi, I am not quite caught up with your report either but I have to say those accomodations sound and look AMAZING! I am especially taken with Shompole but I don't think hubby would go for the 'no walls' experience - remember his bug issue :))!
    Cyn, Patty and Sandi, to be honest, while writing this report I'm still giggling away to myself! I think I will be for a long time to come!!
    Sandi, I didn't even THINK of that soccer team when we got back on (even though they were still on the flight)- we were too engrossed in wiping the sweat off our faces and laughing! I was a little embarassed I have to admit, especially when the hostess made the announcement '...for those who have rejoined the flight, the flight to Kigali will be 30 minutes....' or something to that effect. She wasn't actually being sarcastic, just filling us in AND they turned on a big screen at the front showing a map with the route (a bit like the map on BA's little screens)!
    Nyamera, sorry to dissapoint ... I'll try to make Rwanda as interesting as possible ;) (not too difficult a task I might add!)

    Imelda

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    Oh my GOD Imelda! I have never heard anything like this - you pooooor darlings. I cannot even IMAGINE what I'd do as that realisation that we were in the wrong country dawned on me! Good on you for making it back to the plane!!!

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    Imelda,
    I thought you said you couldn't write! This is wonderful! Keep going!
    Lonely Plant has a series of travel anthologies titled along the lines of "I Wish I'd Stayed Home" and I Should Have Stayed Home, etc. They are all true stories of travels gone wrong(or almost wrong.) I think your tale would qualify!
    Can't wait to hear more.
    Lily

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    No bugs, it's too godawful hot for them to survive. If by privacy you mean the "twoi-lette" know that they and the showers are in two different areas of each suite and both have wash basins. Give Shompole another look-see!

    As to the mossies, from dusk to dawn... just like the rest of the malaria areas, once inside the nets, you're fine. I don't even recall mossies anywhere, but for the grass flies or whatever that got my ankles at Desert Rose.

    But right now, want to read more of your tale!

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    Ok, Imelda, I guess I won't ask what your impressions of Burundi are. Talk about making dust out of town. Good thing that plane waited for Deck's cig. break %%- he must be very important to hijack an entire plane for a puff. So funny! :))
    Would love to be a fly on the wall in the employees coffee room after that episode.
    Look forward to the rest of your adventures.
    Sherry

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    What an adventure, Imelda! That really sounds like something I would do but I'm glad it was you and Deck! What a way to start your trip. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of it.

    ~Cindy

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    I can just feel that panic when it dawns upon you... Thank you very much for making me choke om my very hot morning coffee :&

    Don't let your work get in the way of writing the report!

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    Deck's got the pub story of a lifetime there - fag break in Burundi, with the visa stamp to prove it. This is even better than I thought - well done getting back on the plane though! It's a bit like one of those "mother-lifting-car-to-free-trapped-child-underneath-how-did-she-do-that?" things isn't it?

    With hindsight, do you think this was actually the best possible way to start your trip?

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    The trick, as most women know, with these decisions, is to let the other half think it's their idea.>b>

    Imelda,
    Ahh, the universal female manipulation theory in action! LOVE IT!
    Loving your report, lauging and stressing right along with you...waiting for more!
    Teri

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    Kavey, Yes, it was quite a shock when that bombshell was dropped and I certainly thought about crying but thankfully it didn't get to that :)

    Lily,
    Thank you for your kind comments. Any yes, my tale just might fit the bill for LP but I am definately glad we didn't stay at home.

    Sandi, It's those nets that hubby doesn't trust. He can't BEAR to be able to even see those critters when he's in bed so I really think it's going to be a non-runner for Shompole. I don't mind too much though if lodges it has to be then lodges it will be if it means getting back to Africa ;)! You poor thing with those grass flies at Desert Rose! Hope those bites didn't itch for TOO long.

    Sherry,
    Never come between a man and his adiction, especially Decks!!!
    I'm sure that those staff had a really good laugh at us... glad it made someones day a bit of fun!

    Cindy, It certainly was a start with a 'bang'!

    Siro, Hope you've gotten over your coffee incident this morning :D . And yes, that feeling of panic just swept over me ... not a nice feeling to put it mildly!

    Wayne,
    Glad you're liking the report, but now ye know all the 'good' bits. Hope the rest isn't too ordinary and 'boring'.

    Kimburu, We have both gotten a serious amount of 'mileage' out of this story. I think it will definately be one of those that will be told to future kids and grandkids :)).
    In hindsight I suppose after losing luggage and almost ending up in Burundi instead of Rwanda things just had to get better and we certainly looked on the bright side for the rest of the trip.It was also a VERY good thing we had some sleep the LHR - NBO leg otherwise our frame of mind might have been different. Also, I have to say, Deck was brilliant. He could very well have turned around and said 'I told you it said Burundi' but he didn't, he just started laughing with me! So yes, I suppose in the long run it was a good thing as number one, it will NEVER happen to me again and number two, what would I have put in my trip report had it not happened! ;)

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    Hi Imelda,
    Kennedy warned me that you would have a great story, but I didn't realize that it would be that crazy! I'm glad everything worked out for you and Deck (at least so far in your story)... I can't wait to hear more!
    Darren

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    This was just too funny Imelda!!! (I just couldn't wait to read this, so I am reading 'on screen' at lunch.....) I have just been dying to know the story and just couldn't put yours to the proper order for reading!

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    Teri, Yes, us women are a clever breed aren't we ;)!
    Darren, Kennedy had a good laugh at our adventures. I think he actually thought we were joking when we told him first! But of course we convinced him we weren't. .... Any sign of your trip report by the way??????!!!
    Siro, Glad I wasn't the cause of ANOTHER mishap :D
    Lynda, Glad you're enjoying it!

    Now for a little more:

    Well we eventually land in Kigali at 2.30 and boy were we glad to be on Rwandan soil. We paid our visas, this time the correct ones :) and went down stairs to the lost luggage office to finally report our bags missing. The office was locked and after a LOT of tooing and froing we eventually found someone to open the office. While I was filling out the forms Deck went out to arrivals to see if Joyce had made it. He came back a short time later, poor Joyce and our driver Richard were outside and had been waiting for us since 12.30. She HAD actually gotten my e-mail and knew we would be on the later flight but she hadn’t known that that flight was delayed. Deck had filled both her and Richard in on our escapade so when we both went out, having filled in the necessary paperwork, Joyce had a HUGE hug for me.. Poor Joyce kept apologising ‘ I am sorry you lost your bags’ she kept saying. We told her ‘no worries – we are in Africa & we’re going to have a good time’ I think she was a little surprised by our positive up-beat attitude but we were just very glad to be in the right country and to hell with the bags, we’d get by. We did tell Joyce though that I would need some closed in shoes of some sort to do the Gorilla trek in and if we could get a second pair of trousers for each of us and maybe some sort of jacket for Deck that would be great. No worries, we will go to the market and get some cheap clothes’.
    Well we all load up in to the 4x4, Richard in the drivers seat and Joyce in the passenger seat with myself and Deck in the back. At this stage Deck and myself are both quite thirsty and Deck remembers there is one of those little aeroplane cans of diet coke in the bag – just the thing to solve the problem. Well he opens it up and then asks Joyce ‘ Would you like some?’ ‘Oh Yes thank you’ she says and Deck hands the can to her, well what happened next really was the crowning glory to our day and I really don’t know how the both of us stopped ourselves from laughing out loud but... Joyce took the coke and thinking we had offered her the WHOLE can, proceeded to drink the entire contents, commenting on how nice it was. I swear I don’t know how Deck and myself didn’t actually wet ourselves trying to hold in the laughter. It really was ‘just one of those days!’.
    Anyways, of we set off through the streets of Kigali towards the market. Along the way we stopped at someplace where we could change some money. Deck asked how much he should change bearing in mind we were going to buy some clothes. Richard said $40 or $50 should get us the clothes we needed so Deck changed around $100. We arrived at the market and Richard parked up and stayed with the jeep. Joyce brought Deck and myself down some steps and straight to a large stall where there were lots of runners. To cut a very long story short I found a pair that wasn’t in TOO bad of condition and in my size and Joyce did the bargaining. She asked us ‘is 4000 OK?’, that’s about €4 right… ‘yes, that’s OK’ so Deck counts out the money and gives it to Joyce, then it dawns on us ... that’s NOT €4, that’s €40… ‘Joyce how much is that in US$?’…. oh Nooooo, we’ve just paid over $50 for a pair of second hand runners that would cost less than half that new at home :s . Well all we can do is suck it up and learn ANOTHER lesson!! Next we go to look at some trousers but by this stage we are a little worried we are going to spend a fortune on clothes that we will never use again. Joyce figured out that this was going to cost us a fortune and said to me ‘I will give you something to wear’. Originally, when Deck had gone in search of her in the airport and told her the story about our lost luggage etc., she had offered the same thing. I asked her if she was sure she didn’t mind and she said that she didn’t so with that we left the market to take her up on her unbelievably kind offer.
    Along the way, Richard produced one of the things I absolutely LOVED in Rwanda - a bunch of the sweetest ‘mini’-bananas that I have ever tasted. I had never seen those little bananas before and I had never tasted anything like them either. During my time in Rwanda I basically lived on them ... Delicious! When we arrived at Joyce’s she led me into a cosy little room where I waited. She came back with a tracksuit and a top. I asked her again if she was sure she didn’t mind and she reassured me that she was glad to help. What a fantastic person she was to do this. This was probably the only tracksuit she owned and she didn’t hesitate to give it to me. I really couldn’t thank her enough. With that we said goodbye with the promise of seeing her tomorrow.

    Originally we had planned to visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali before we went to Rhuengeri but it was too late to do that now so instead we stop at a shop for drinks and goodies for our journey to Gorillas Nest where we are spending our first night in Africa. Once we have stocked up off we go to begin our journey to see the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda – something I had longed to do ever since that evening in February when I first discovered that such a thing was possible!
    The journey North was along a smooth surfaced road that was very windy. The views were absolutely amazing and now I know first hand why Rwanda is known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’. We fell in love with the eucalyptus trees that sprung up along the road. The colour, especially in the fading light, was spectacular. For two and a half hours we drove round and up, round and up and all along the road people were walking, walking. So many people going where? It got dark at around 6.30 and still people walked. How the cars avoided these people I will never know. Richard turned out to be an amazing guy who absolutely, totally and utterly LOVES his job. His English was a little broken but we understood each other perfectly. We talked the entire way to Rhuengeri. There we collected our trekking permits from Greg of Amahoro Tours. We left the smooth tarmacadamed road and travelled on a relatively smooth dirt track arriving at Gorillas Nest at about 7.30pm. We unloaded and were greeted with a cold drink. Richard waited with us to make sure we got checked in OK. We said goodbye to him and headed straight for our room.
    The grounds of Gorillas Nest were beautiful especially with the lighting along the pathways to the rooms but I’m afraid that I can’t compliment the rooms in the same way. Wayne, you had warned me in advance about the rooms being sparse and cold and they didn’t disappoint!!!!! They were FREEZING!! A guy arrived with towels just after we entered the room. I would love to say they were warm and fluffy but I’m afraid the description was more like cold & damp! Oh well, we could cope for one night. We DIDN’T get changed and put on fresh clothes (LOL) but we went for dinner. It was a buffet affair that was basic but edible but not much more. I, being a vegetarian, had some rice and beans (you told me about this too Wayne!). I actually wasn’t very hungry so a couple of fork fulls sufficed. We saw those lovely little stoves that again Wayne you had mentioned and asked for one but it actually never came and by this time we were pretty tired so we just ordered a packed lunch for tomorrow and a wake-up call for 5.50am. We toddled off to our room where we had a good laugh about our adventure and snuggled up in our very damp bed after almost 40 hours of travelling.

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    Bat, Thank you! If we had missed the trekking I would have been totally and utterly gutted. It really would have ruined the trip but thankfully someone was looking down on me saying 'OK, they've suffered enough, let them trek!'

    Imelda

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    OK, Imelda, I had to stop with the Coke can. I red that in my office while snacking onc crackers and nearly bit my tongue off! That is hilarious.

    But there was also a part of me that was like "are they going to drink after a stranger?" When I was hiking to see the gorillas, the guide cut a piece of bamboo, took a bite & then handed it around to several people who each proceeded to bite and hand it around. $) No offense, but we all just met! ((A))

    OK, back to the story...

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    By the way, I am grinning that I someone agrees those rooms are an icebox.

    But more importantly. RICHARD was your guide. There can only be so many Richard guides in Rwanda with broken english.

    I have temporarily put a pictures on my web site waynehazle . com / richard.jpg

    Is that him?

    I don't want to put in the whole url and mess up your formatting.

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    Imelda-

    Your travel log is excellent! I am going to Rwanda in February and doing your exact trip, so I am sooooo anxious to hear the rest of the story. Don't make us wait to long!!! :-)

    Monica

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    Monica~does that mean you will end up in Burundi also? Imelda, keep it coming and you really should quit your day job and become a writer! I think I would have been more upset about Joyce drinking the only soda than any of your other exploits!
    Aloha, Dennis

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    OMG Wayne, THAT'S RICHARD!!!!! I can not believe we had the same driver ... wasn't he just THE nicest guy !!!! We absolutely totally and utterly fell in love with him. That broken english was never a barrier - he just LOVED to talk and tell us all about his country and he has my utmost respect - I think if what happened to him, happened to me I would end up bitter but not Richard he just loves life. Was it ITT you booked him through???
    Re the coke - I suppose DEck was just offering to be polite and didn't really think she would take the coke.

    Denis, I swear hubby's face just dropped when she proceeded to polish off the contents of the can. he was soooo looking forward to it D).

    Kavey, Well I suppose it was either let these things ruin our trip or say 'no, we're in Africa and nothing will spoil it'.

    Monica, you are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE Rwanda .... wish I was going again! And if you have any questions feel free to ask.

    Imelda

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    Imelda
    In practice I'm pretty similar - I do my best not to let things ruin an entire trip and I don't tend to stew too much over mishaps or at least, not to the extent of stopping myself from enjoying the present - I'll sometimes just put them on hold, as it were, to deal with when I get home.
    But I haven't had any mishaps quite as serious as yours and I don't know whether I'd copy quite as well as you! I'd try but I suspect I'd find it hard not to let some element of anger/ disappointment/ frustration get through!

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    Kavey, actually I'm usually the opposite, I'm a born worrier and I tend to stew a 'little' over things but it is definately all mind over matter as I discovered in Africa. I had put so much work in to this trip there was no way I was not going to enjoy it .... see I'm stubborn too ;). That and the fact that this trip was busy, busy, busy so I didn't have time to stew AND Deck is definately not someone who worries so his attitude rubbed off on me :). Thankfully!

    Imelda

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    yes, Richard was amazing. Just a wonderful positive guy. He says his sister has a lot more anger and bitterness.

    I don't want to jump ahead in your report, but did he tell you about his experiences during The War?

    My wife was pretty scared about going to Rwanda, but it became her favorite of the three countries on our trip and i was because of Richard.

    Imelda, I rarely drink soda, but I may just go have a coke today in honor of you :)


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    Yes, one of the best things about my DH is that he is very laid-back and relaxed so if I'm in the early stages of getting into a state over something he's usually able to head it off right there and calm me down!

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    Hee, hee, Wayne - enjoy thet soda!

    Richard didn't go in to too much detail about his experiences during the war. I asked about the war and he explained the history behind it and the barbaric things that were done to people (not him specifically). He told us he lost his brothers and sister and father but he really didn't seem to want to talk about it and we didn't want to push it.

    I know exactly how your wife feels about Rwanda, we loved it too and, like her, it was all down to Richard (& Francois, who I'll tell you about shortly!). Next time we go (because I just have to trek the Gorillas again) we will stay for longer and hopefully do Uganda too with Richard as our guide! Let's hope that by the time we get back they will have some sort of heating installed in Gorillas Nest ;)

    Kavey - Yes, hubbys certainly come in handy sometimes ;)

    Imelda

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    Imelda, I don't recall heating at any of the lodges I've visited, including Mountain Gorilla Nest (which I don't remember as unually cold).

    If you want to experience the cold, visit Kgalagadi in the Winter. I visited last month and I took a shower each morning in an unheated tent -- and by the time I got in my car and the day had started to warm, the temperature read no more than 32 any day (while the shower was warm, it was admittedly chilly when I got out into the sub-zero air).

    But, that's Africa, and I woudn't want to visit a lodge with either A/C or heat (the closest I came to having heat was the hot-water bottles furnished at Wilderness camps in the Okavango Delta).

    Michael

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    Michael,

    During this trip and our first trip to Africa I never found any of the places excessively cold EXCEPT for Gorillas Nest. Anywhere else (including Honeyguide Tented Camp in the Manyaleti in September), it was just chilly but with Gorillas Nest even the beds felt wet with dampness as well as the towels. In all the other places we stayed we never experienced this kind of cold and hubby who always complains of being too hot even said yes 'it's freezing'! If it had just been cold and not damp it would have been OK.

    Imelda

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    OK, so I see from your preview we are going to hear about Francois soon, which I assume is Francois Bigirimana, one of the rangers in PNV and who also works with MGVP. He seems to show up in every tourist's pictures and on every TV special filmed in PNV, and I am really looking forward to meeting him when we are in Rwanda in January 2007. Seems like he is always wearing a scarf ...

    All this talk about being cold at Gorilla's Nest is also making me glad we are staying at the Virunga Lodge. I know how Wayne feels about that Lodge, and its lack of proximity to the PNV entrance, but we chose it because after exerting ourselves on four gorilla treks (2xPNV, 1xMgahinga, 1xBwindi), we want to be comfortable in the evenings. We'll see if our figuring turns out to be correct... meantime I am eagerly looking forward to reading the next installment of this trip report!
    Chris

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    Chris,
    I'm not sure if Francois (our trekker)is Francois Bigirimana as I didn't actually get his last name and I can't remember is he was wearing a scarf or not AND believe it or not (I can hardly believe it myself!), with all the pictures I took, I don't have even one of Francois :(. He was a young guy though (30 or under I would say) and I think he had glasses. It's amazing how you think you can remember a face and then when you try for the details it's gone ... must be getting old and losing my memory! I haven't seen any pictures of Francois Bigirimana like you describe - any links on the web???

    Regarding Gorillas Nest, if I were going back and doing just one trek I would definately stay there as it is SO convenient and I would definately not want to be doing the drive in the morning BUT if I were doing 4 treks I don't know if I would stay there - maybe if I brought a couple of hot water bottles :-D. One thing though Chris, you might want to make sure Virunga is actually better (heat wise) as I know I read somewhere that the thing it has going for it above Gorillas Nest is the views and not that it's much better accomodation wise - I could be wrong though (I hope I am!). I am envious of you going on THREE gorilla treks AND Mgahinga!! You are going to have an AMAZING time - it is definately an experience of a lifetime! What is your itinerary?? Have I missed it somewhere along the way?

    Imelda

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    However long the night, the dawn will break. AFRICAN PROVERB

    JULY 22nd - Things Are Looking Up ... Sort of!

    A knock at the door woke us and we got straight up, we rushed around getting all our stuff packed (hee, hee!) A then…. I looked at my watch – 5.35am. We had been deprived of 20minutes sleep!!!, They weren’t supposed to call us until 5.50am and Deck even ‘accused’ me of telling them to call us at 5.30am (I have been known to tell little white lies at times in order that we be on time for important things …. A necessity at times as Deck is one of those people who is ALWAYS late) but this time he was wrong, they had just decided to call everyone at 5.30. Anyways, we brushed our teeth with our BA toothbrushes (I don’t actually know how they ended up in our bag but boy were we glad they were there) and bleary eyed we made our way to breakfast. Deck had an omelette which he said was fine but I wasn’t all that hungry. I tried the bread but it wasn’t to my taste so instead I had a couple of those fabulously sweet little bananas and a cup of tea. Afterwards we sorted out our bill and collected our packed lunches. Richard was there to meet us and we set off for the ORTPN base. We left Gorillas nest at about 6.30am, which was a bit early, but we wanted to trek to a near group as we are definitely not the fittest and with our recent incidents we weren’t the best equipped for a long trek either so we wanted to maximise our chances by getting there early. After reading about the Amahoro Group here (again, thanks to Wayne!), I was hoping that they would be near and we would have a chance of ‘maybe’ being assigned them but I wasn’t getting any hopes up going on our history of luck on this trip!!

    Well from Gorillas Nest we rocked and rolled our way to the ORTPN base, now I understood the need for a 4WD! Boy, oh boy was the journey bumpy and rocky but Richard did an excellent job of manoeuvring us safely along the roadway. When we arrived at ORTPN we were about the third group there. We went inside and signed up and then went outside with Richard. There was a tea and coffee station there but I had a definite ‘butterfly tummy’ with anticipation and didn’t have any. I was hoping and hoping that today our luck would change but I really didn’t want to get my hopes up in case we had another mishap… I had visions of ending up with the Susa Group (for those who are not ‘in the know’, the Susas are the largest group in the PNV but are also always a VERY long trek away – 4 hours to and from the day before we arrived!). Richard pointed out the head trekker and told us that he was the guy who would assign us our group. Joyce and Richard had told us not to say ‘ I want a low group’, but instead to say ‘ I am not fit & will not be able for a high group’ – this was actually the truth I’m afraid so I didn’t feel bad saying this. Anyways, more people were gathering and this ‘head trekker’ was going around assigning people to groups and I was getting really nervous because the groups were filling up. So I move a little closer to him and ‘hover’ near him and he comes over. I tell him we’re not fit … ‘that’s OK’ he tells us and he guides over to .... Wait for it....The Amahoro Group!!!!!!!!!! He asks the trekker for that group, Francois/Francis, how far away the Amahoros are to which he replies ‘ about 45 minutes’....I CANNOT believe our luck!! I am SO excited I almost do a little dance! This just has to be the end of our bad luck. %%- ((R)) .

    We are the first two people to be assigned to the Amahoros. It’s not long before we are joined by an older Australian couple, a Mom and daughter from the US and a Scottish girl who seems to be with (not too sure if they were together or had met before the trek) a ‘local’ guy as he put it himself. Francois introduced himself and told us about the group. The Amahoros are a group of 16 with 21/2 year old Muhabura (whom I had read about and seen on Wayne’s post and had fallen in love with him – in fact he was the reason (Muhabura I mean ;) ) I really wanted to visit the Amahoros) AND 2 babies …… one 4 month old and one just 4 weeks old – WOW!!!! Things are getting better and better … baby gorillas ….. I’m going to see baby gorillas!!!!! Francois warned us though that we might not see the 4 week old as the mother is very possessive of him and ‘hides’ him. That’s OK, there’s a chance of seeing him so I’m a VERY happy trekker.

    Francois finishes his talk and the Mom and daughter in our group say they need a lift to & from the trek so we volunteer to let them ride with us. BUT Richard tells us that his insurance will only cover him to take us, his clients, and we find out that the Mom and daughter actually have their own transport. They are with some others who are not doing the trek so their Tour Operator wanted them to see if they could get a lift instead of him having to drive them there! Needless to say, we didn’t take them with us & instead we take Francois with us, which turns out to be a VERY good move!! It turns out that Richard and Francois are friends and we have the best fun rocking and rolling our way to the trekking point (doing the Congolese dance as Francois calls it!). At the ORTPN base there was a black board that said ‘Bill Gates visited the Gorillas on July 17th’. We mentioned this to Francois and he said, Yes Bill Gates visited. ORTPN are very excited about this – lets hope he gave a donation! During our drive we learned lots from Francois & Richard … we learned that the beautiful Trumpet shaped yellow flowers are poisonous yet some people still grow them for their beauty – in a land where usefulness is all important! We learned that most people prefer to eat goat rather than lamb (or sheep as they call it) and we learned (or at least I did), to tell the difference between Rwandanese sheep and goats. They are not like at home where the difference is obvious; in Rwanda sheep are brown and are almost identical to goats. We have much fun pointing out goats versus sheep and it turns out that Francois is absolutely hilarious and we are VERY glad he is travelling with us. We talk and talk & the conversation soon turns to banana beer … & gorillas drinking Vodka!!!! (No they don’t actually drink vodka). It was absolutely hilarious stuff. Well we Congoed all the way along the road to the trekking point passing many mud huts along the way. Children were running to the roadside just to wave at us as we passed – My God … what a different world it is here. Everyone smiles and waves and they have so little. Before I came to PNV to do the trek I had read about how the people ‘took’ the forest & kept encroaching and turning the forest into farmland. When I read this, my sympathies were with the Gorillas but now, seeing these people, so poor, I know it’s not so clear-cut and I have sympathies for both.

    After much fun we arrive at our trekking point at the bottom of the Bisoke volcano. I think the journey took somewhere around half an hour. We unload from the 4WD and get our backpack ready. We try to lighten the load and because we are trekking a close group we do not need to take the packed lunches but our backpack is still heavy. Deck keeps ‘mentioning’ about a porter – I think he’s afraid he will have to carry the backpack himself, which is definitely not part of his plan. There’s no problem getting a porter – Richard organises it and tells us that it will cost $5. We don’t want to make the porters life too tough so we check with Richard that the backpack isn’t too heavy and he says it’s OK. Francois hands us each a walking stick and we’re all set...
    We start off walking on a track between the farms. It’s easy but there are a lot of tree roots so you need to be careful not to trip and fall. Next we start going up an incline through the farms and after about 20 minutes we reach ‘The Wall’ ….. Deck, this is the wall I read about I tell him excitedly….. I really can’t believe we are actually here and we are just minutes away from seeing those precious Gorillas. At this stage we are a little ‘puffed’ with the ‘climb’ (if you could call it a climb) and the thin air but we are fine and welcome a little rest at the wall. The Mom (of the Mom & daughter), is struggling & the Australian couple are finding it hard too. Deck & I are actually very glad that our fellow trekkers aren’t the super fit kind & I suppose I’m glad we aren’t the slowest either (I can’t remember who made this statement to me when I posted that I was worried we would be the slowest and it certainly was true J ). I had warned Francois during our drive here that I was certain to be the slowest but this wasn’t the case.
    After about 10 minutes at the wall and Francois giving us our briefing, we started into the forest. The first bit was OK & Francois showed us ‘celery’ and other Gorilla food. We kept close to Francois during the trekking so that when we stopped to wait for the others (the slowest person wasn’t put in front which surprised me), we had a longer rest period. This ‘spurt’, ‘rest’ method suited Deck & myself best whereas others chose a constant slow pace. It was OK for everyone though as we stopped frequently – about every 10 minutes, and boy was I glad we were taking our time. My new ‘breathable & waterproof’ jacket proved not to be very breathable, I was soaked! And runners are definitely not the best on the slippery ground – how I would have loved to have had those hiking boots that were in limbo somewhere between Ireland and Rwanda. However, my €40 runners turned out to have better grip than Deck’s – he ended up on his nether regions on a couple of occasions – one time more notable than the other but I’ll get to that later ;).
    When someone would ask Francois ‘Is it much further?’ he would always answer ‘It’s not much further’ – it became the running joke! I must add here that everyone was glad of the slow pace, that is …. all except for one (isn’t there always one!) … the ‘local’ guy just couldn’t be happy. He kept whinging about the slow pace and when there was a very slight drizzle and I said ‘that’s lovely’, (I meant that it was cooling and others agreed), he said ‘it’s OK for you, you have a jacket!’ ….. I felt like giving him an earful saying, ‘yes, & I carried it, others could have too’ but I bit my tongue. I had visions of Eben’s bad experience with his fellow trekkers and was hoping this guy would just stop whinging. Anyways, the drizzle lasted only a few minutes and “not much further” ;), after about 50 minutes of trekking from the wall, we were told ‘leave your bags here’, ‘they’re very near’. My heart skipped a beat as we took out our camera gear and left our bags and walking sticks. Within about 3 minutes we were there! There in a clearing were most of the Amahoro Group, happily munching on some fallen tree trunks. I could have cried with happiness!

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    Chris, I just found a picture of Francois Bigirimana and it's not 'our' Fraocois. Actually I think the 'guy in the photo' was the guy assigning people to their groups.

    Imelda

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    Imelda, I must have checked Fodor's 50 times for this post since yesterday and you did not dissapoint. Your words have teleported me back to PNV.

    I feel the excitement at base, waiting for your assignment, the bumpiness of the road, the eyes of the local children looking at you, that awesome feeling when you hit THE WALL, the dampness, the celery and bamboo, leaving your bags with the porters, rounding the corners... AND THERE THEY ARE!

    It is everything you anticipated huh?

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    Imelda, you seem to have found a picture of the Francois I was talking about -- or you can just do a Google image search with his name and you get some pics of him. I have seen him on TV so many times and heard him mentioned in others' trip reports so often, he seems like a bit of a celebrity and so I'm looking forward to meeting him!
    In terms of our itinerary, it goes like this. We leave December 23 and head first to Addis Ababa, and from there we spend a week doing a tour of the "Northern Historical Circuit" in Ethiopia (Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum, Lalibela, and then back to Addis). Then we go to Entebbe, where we will spend the night on Ngamba Island to see the chimps and do whatever "hands-on" chimp activity is available at the time. From there we fly to Kigali, then we head to PNV for two gorilla treks. After that, we go north into Uganda to do a trek in either Mgahinga or with the Nkuringo group in the southern part of Bwindi, and then north again to the Buhoma area to do a trek in the northern part of Bwindi. Then we head back home. The portion of the trip from Kigali forward was organized through Volcanoes Safaris, which is why we are staying at all of their properties (Virunga Lodge, Mt. Gahinga and they have a lodge near Buhoma also). We chose Volcanoes because of their affiliation with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and other conservation groups. The lodges are supposed to be nice, but if we end up roughing it a bit, that is OK. Believe me, we have endured FAR worse on previous trips.
    I am eagerly awaiting your description of your encounter with the Amahoro Group -- keep it coming! Personally, I am trying to get my wife in better shape so that we can hike to the Susa Group, which is not only farther away, but apparently about 2000 feet higher in elevation than the Amahoro/Sabinyo/Group 13 families. She will need the conditioning for the Mgahinga hike anyway, which is supposedly the hardest of any of the parks.
    Chris

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    Personally, I am trying to get my wife in better shape so that we can hike to the Susa Group, which is not only farther away, but apparently about 2000 feet higher in elevation than the Amahoro/Sabinyo/Group 13 families.

    I greatly regret not REALLY pushing it and goign to see Diane Fossey's grave and what little is left of her research center.

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    Wayne, that is good advice. We have a free day in between treks (or perhaps afterward), when we supposedly will have the opportunity to hike to her grave and the remains of the original research facility she used. So I suspect we will try to do that.
    Chris

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    Imelda-

    I have butterflies reading your travel log. I feel like I am there with you. I have arranged the Rwanda portion of my trip through Volcanoes Safari and they did initially put me in Virunga. After reading on the board that it was an hour from the park entrance, I asked them to move me to Gorilla’s Nest and they did with no problem. I also wanted to do Dian Fossey’s grave and research center, but I don’t think I will have enough time. Guess I will just have to plan another trip. Only 183 more days…Yahoo! Imelda, I can’t wait until your next installment.

    matnikstym, you make me laugh! I think I will leave off the Burundi stop on my trip :-).

    Monica

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    Oh how magical... I'd love to go and see the gorillas but I'm not sure, with my arthritic hips and fitness levels whether I'd manage to reach even the nearest group! I can't wait to read the next chapter!

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    Imelda, this is great! I just got back from Rwanda and Kenya last night...will post a trip report soon...after I get over the stress of our return journey (Heathrow was NOT fun).

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    Hi Guys,
    I was hoping to get the next installment up this evening but I'm afraid my sister and kids have been very inconsiderate and have come to visit :D so I'm not going to get it done this evening. I will do my best to get some more up tomorrow but I can't promise as sis & kids are here until Sunday and I have to spend some time with them (don't want to be a bad Auntie!). Sorry to leave ye 'hanging on'.

    Wayne,
    The trek was everything I could ever have wished for or anticipated plus much much more!

    Patty - The Amahoros were the cherry on the cake (even if the cake was a little stale to start with!)

    Chris - Sorry, yes, I found a picture of Francois on the net and he wasn't our trekker.
    What a fantastic itinerary you have! You are sure to have an AWESOME time. If you can get to the Susa group I'm sure it will be well worth it. Personally, I would have DIED on a hike that long :)

    Leely - Glad you're enjoying reading.

    Monica - Those 182 days will absolutely fly by - you have the trip of a lifetime waiting for you!!!!!

    Denis - Sorry to prolong the 'hanging'! I had to stop somewhere and there seemed as good as any ;)

    Kavey - Two words - DO IT. I too was worried that I wouldn't be able to do the trek as I am VERY unfit but I promise, they only go as fast as the slowest person and EVERYONE is glad to take it easy. OUr guide told us that it would normally take only 45 minutes but we took almost 90 minutes total to get there as the Mom was finding it difficult But I swear no-one (except for one ignorant person whom no-one took any notice of anyways) was sorry the pace was slow. If it is something you would like to do then I say go for it! It's an amazing experience.

    Lucia - Welcome back!!! I see you have started your trip report ALREADY(!!). I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I hope to get to it very soon.

    Imelda

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    Just a little snippet this evening to keep things going. I probably won't get to post more until after the weekend - sorry to drag things out!


    Francois and the guards ushered us to one end and we immediately got set with the camera gear. What a sight! My first impressions were, Wow, they’re so small! I had had visions of these great big fearsome looking apes but they weren’t at all like that. I definitely imagined the adults to be twice the size they actually are. Don’t get me wrong, the Silverback and second in command (when he eventually came to join the group) are large, just not as big as I had expected.
    As I said, most of the group were there, with the juveniles doing acrobatics on the tree stumps while they ate and after a few minutes the Mum with the 4-week-old baby showed up. She went to the end furthest from us and kept her baby more or less covered. I did manage to snatch a few pictures of the back of his head though J. Then the ‘second in command’ silverback came and sat behing everyone else. Francois told us that he keeps watch behind the group, making sure that everyone is safe. This silverback, Francois told us, is missing his left hand due to a poachers trap. He keeps the stump covered with his right hand but he manages just fine and when the current silverback dies (he’s 34 now) this guy will take over as leader in spite of his handicap.
    Anyways, I just got out my FZ30 and started clicking away. After a few minutes I asked Deck to do some filming with the camcorder (not his favourite job …. He much prefers just to watch, that is watch and instruct on where I’m missing a good photo!!) ….. Oh, oh, the battery is dead L, It must have gotten turned on in the bag during our trip as it had been fully charged when we left home – oh well, it’s not the end of the world and I have my trusty FZ30. So I snap and snap …. 350 pictures later…..
    During our time with the Gorillas Muhabura certainly showed us his mischievous side. He came scampering towards us and climbed up a sapling right beside the Scottish girl. He came so close to her that one of the guards rushed over to her to get her to move backwards… quickly! What a little devil Muhabura is, I fell totally and utterly in love with him and couldn’t take my eyes of him for the entire time we were there. Near the end of our time with the Amahoros, the Mum with the 4 week old came to the front of the group and we all got to see the baby – so, so cute – as too is the 4 month old! A short while later one of the females gave the silverback ‘the eye’. He ignored her for a while and then François tapped me on the shoulder ‘the silverback is mating’ he said. What?….. I was still watching the babies but my focus soon changed. Well I think it was Wayne (again, Wayne your influence on this trip is noted!) who said it was a bit of ‘Wham, Bam…..’ and that’s certainly what it was but afterwards, the female turned backwards to look at the Silverback with the most memorable look on her face ….. it said …… Aawww, … I love you’ . I managed to capture it on camera and I will definitely post it when I go through my 2000 plus photos.

    All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Amahoros …. But wait, our path is blocked by two of the younger gorillas. One of the guides walks slowly towards the path to ‘encourage’ them to move. Ah, Ah, you don’t do that …. One of the gorillas came towards the guide while he (the guide) backs away, and gives him a little push, as if to say – ‘No, you can’t do that’. So change of plan. We have to make a track between some bushes going through the middle of the clearing with the main body of the group to our left and some of the younger ones to our right. This track is going across a slope and we have to slowly follow the tracker one by one. So off we go. Deck is a couple of people in front of me (of course I’m one of the last as I’m ‘inhaling’ my last few minutes with the gorillas). We’re moving along slowly when next thing there’s a ‘stop’. At that stage I don’t know why we have stopped but when I catch up with Deck a few minutes alter he tells me what happened. With the slope and Decks runners with their ‘non-grip’, he had slipped and fallen on his bum. Muhabura, being the little devil he is, decided that he wanted to get from the top of the slope to the bottom ….. via Decks feet!! He ran right across them!!!
    After Decks incident, we all gather where we left our bags. We pack up and start our descent from 6,700feet to 5,500 feet. It was definitely easier on the legs going downhill but it was harder to manoeuvre as it was slippery and we would have ended up on our bums many times had it not been for those walking sticks. One thing to note on the walking sticks, on the way up we both had sticks with ‘rounded’ tops on them but on the way down Deck had one with no ‘top’, just a straight ‘ended’ bamboo stick and it wasn’t nearly as good as the rounded one as you couldn’t lean down on it or it would hurt your hand. I actually had to swap sticks with Deck as his shoes were so bad with no grip that he needed all the help he could get in order to stay upright.
    Anyways, after a LOT more whingeing from Mr. Local Guy, we all made it down to our vehicles. We paid our porter and gave him quite a large tip (as the bag had been pretty heavy) and he was SOO thankful. It was now around 11am (it took only about 35 – 40 minutes to make our descent) and we set off with Richard and Francois to Rhuengeri. We noted that no-one (!!) had tipped Francois at all and during the journey he seemed quite and a bit disappointed so Deck gave him our tip on the way and he seemed to cheer up then. I can’t believe no-one else tipped him, what bad form!

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    I was going to correct you that the Amaharo missing the arm is a black back. But looking at my video, of him you can see the silver hair is growing. I can imagine there is only more of it now! They say he is pretty anxious to take over. Ever with one arm he will have no problem running things.

    you can see the one Imdelda is talking about at waynehazleDOTcom/eastafrica/ look for the Gorillas Part 2.

    It was someone else that said they saw the Amaharo silverback matting with one of the females & that he didn't put a lot of time into foreplay or cuddling afterwards. O:-) Hey he's old ((a))

    He much prefers just to watch, that is watch and instruct on where I’m missing a good photo!!)

    RELATIONSHIPS. Don't get me started ...

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    Imelda:
    This is great--you have me putting gorilla watching back to the top of my list with your wonderful descriptions and enthusiasm. So glad your luck shifted for you.

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    I'm the one who saw the Amaharo silverack mate back in June. There really was no foreplay.

    The backback with one hand was really close to us during our visit and Muhabora grabbed the tracker who was standing right next to me. Our guide grabbed me and pulled me back or I might have been next! Really cool experience.

    I'm really enjoying your report Imelda.

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    Poor Deck!
    Non grip shoes on slippery slopes, gorillas running across his feet! I'm assuming he went on trek # 2? What a sport.Did he take his sense of humor with him? I hope he can chuckle at all of this whlie looking back on it. I must admit his misadventures have brougt a few grins to my face. I'm loving your report, I've never even considered trekking to see gorillas, so am really enjoying your story..can't wait for more

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    What troupers you and poor lucky Deck are.
    So sad about the poor beast with the missing hand - interesting how he seems to hide it - such a human trait.

    I just love your descriptions - it make me appreciate that the gorillas still unpredictible i.e. the human interactions are not affecting them negatively.

    Very glad you like your Fz30 - best camera I've had. Did you try the video on it? It's pretty good. Keep it coming!
    Sherry

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    Imelda:
    This is so much fun to read - thanks! I was really hoping you would get a good look at the little baby, and I can't wait to see the photo of "the look"!

    Did they tell you how Mr #2's hand was treated? So sad...

    Cyn

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    This is wonderful Imelda! My boyfriend had wanted to visit the Amahoros on our second trek, as Katie Faucett, the head of the Karisoke Research Center, told him that they were her favorites. We also later found out that most of the guides prefer that group too (though they won't tell you that they like any group better) because the silverback and black back like to play with the humans. Seems they lived up to form on your visit! Can't wait to hear more. Also, Monica---from what I hear the Virunga Lodge is so fantastic, it might be worth the 1 hour drive (we had a 1 hour drive from Ruhengeri and it really wasn't bad to get up at 5am instead of 6am before our trek). Actually not visiting/staying there is one of the few things I regret from our trip. This couple who was also travelling around the country stayed there and said the view was out of this world! How often do you get to have a G&T at the top of a volcano range!!!

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    Wayne, This guy was definately a silverback and took his duties as second in command very seriously as he stayed right at the back and watched over everyone.

    Bat, I'm afraid my description doesn't even come close to doing ouor experience justice, it was so much better than my words could possibly describe!

    Marty, Sorry for the mixup with Wayne, I just couldn't remember who posted about the 'non-foreplay' mating - it inspired quite a few comments if I remember correctly ;). What a little imp Muhabura is to tease people like that - I think that's why I fell for him.

    Teri, We actually only did one trek unfortunately - I would have loved to have done a second one but it was not to be.
    Yes, Deck did have a few 'incidents' which were quite funny but he has a VERY good sense of humour and actually got a kick out of them himself. Especially the coke can incident - he told me not to forget to post that on Fodors! And I think he was secretly glad to have had such a close encounter with Muhabura - to tell the truth I was a little envious!!

    Sherry, I also felt very sorry for Mr#2 (as Cyn) it especially as it was caused by humans. He seemed to get along just fine without it though.
    I LOVED the FZ30 by the way, just like you said I would! I actually didn't use the video function at all and in hindsight I should have done when I realised my camcorder was 'dead'.

    Cyn, I will do my best to get photos up soon but with my slow dial up I am having trouble with it timing out when I try to put them up in Kodak. I have given up for the moment as I have to do some culling but when I get my report finished I'll try to do it on my work computer.
    Regarding Mr#2's hand, I didn't ask how he was treated - I'm sure ORTPN intervened but I completely forgot to ask after the trek.

    Cindy, It was definately an experience of a lifetime and if you can then 'DO IT'!!! You won't ever regret doing it.

    Lucia, I was so excited when they allocated us to the Amahoros. I had seen pictures of Muhabura that were posted here and I really wanted to see him .... he definately quite impressed that I could identify Muhabura in the group :)

    Imelda

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    Oops, I've just re-read what I posted and instead of reading ......'I had seen pictures of Muhabura that were posted here and I really wanted to see him .... he definately quite impressed that I could identify Muhabura in the group'..., it SHOULD have read 'I had seen pictures of Muhabura that were posted here and I really wanted to see him .... he definately lived up to our expectations and Francois was quite impressed that I could identify Muhabura in the group'.

    Glad youre enjoying Sharon, Promise I will try to post again Sunday or Monday (I've got a wedding tomorrow).

    Imelda

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    Richard mentioned getting lunch but we really didn’t want to stop because we wanted to get the the Genocide Memorial in Kigali before closing. We were supposed to visit there yesterday but missed it because of our delayed flights, clothes shopping ;) etc. Richard said he thought we would make it AND have time for lunch so we gave in and after dropping Francois off, we stopped at the Muhabura Hotel in Rhuengeri. There we had a fabulous meal, even if it did take 11/2 hours!!!! I had vegetarian pasta, Deck had some sort of stew and Richard had spaghetti bolognaise. Poor Richard told us that he gets a meal allowance but we treated him to lunch and he was very thankful. During our meal Richard told us about his job and how much he loves it. It was then that he told us in a hushed voice that he is a Genocide Survivor. He told us that he lost his brothers, his sister and his father in the Genocide but didn’t go in to much detail and we got the impression that he didn’t really want to talk about ‘personals’ so we didn’t ask. We really couldn’t believe what a positive ‘un-bitter’ person Richard is and it certainly makes me feel bad and embarrassed for complaining about little things.
    Anyhow, we eventually got Richard out of the Muhabura and on the road again. It was now about 1.30 and the Memorial stops letting people in at 4 so we had to hurry. Well Richard talked and talked along the way. He told us about the history of the conflict in Rwanda and about the Genocide. Some of the things he told us were unbelievable. He cleared up some of the misconceptions us people in the West have including the fact that the people in Kigali believe that ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is totally untrue and that in fact Paul Rusesabagina murdered some Tutsis rather than saved them!
    After about an hour and a half Deck dozed off and Richard sped up a little – he had been driving quite slowly while we had been talking. It came to about 3.30 and it was touch and go whether we would make the Memorial on time. Richard tried his best but we had a couple of very brief stops along the way where Richard pointed out a large river and a photo stop where the view of the government building in Kigali was clear. I didn’t get out of the vehicle and I was actually more interested in making the Memorial than taking photos but I snapped a couple of quick photos from the vehicle as I didn’t want to insult Richard. After that he put the foot down a little and we reached the memorial at exactly 4.02pm & guess what – in ‘go slow, time doesn’t matter Africa’ they wouldn’t let us in! Richard tried to get us in but they were determined it was not going to happen. We were really disappointed but there was nothing we could do.

    Joyce had phoned us earlier to tell us that she had tried to check if our luggage had arrived at the airport but they wouldn’t let her in past security so we decided to head there to check ourselves. On the way Richard asked if we wanted to go to the market to buy some souvenirs but we weren’t really in the mood and we told him that if we got our bags at the airport we would go shopping afterwards but if we didn’t then we wouldn’t as it would be difficult to carry them without having our luggage. The journey to the airport was short – about 10 minutes and after much tooing and froing inside the airport, we eventually discovered that our bags had not arrived. We were a little disheartened as now we had the issue of going back to Nairobi in the morning without our bags and the last thing we wanted to happen was for our bags to turn up in Kigali when we were in Nairobi or the Mara. It was now about 4.30-4.45pm and the guy at the airport told us that there was a ‘freight’ flight due in at 5.30pm so we should check back at 6pm. We tried phoning BA from the airport to see if we could find out where exactly our bags were but we couldn’t get a reply so we soon gave up on that. We went back out to Richard and filled him in on the situation. We decided that we would go and check in at the Hotel Des Mille Collines and I would change out of Joyce’s tracksuit so that Richard could take it back to her. Richard very kindly said that he would drive us to the Hotel Des Mille Collines, wait for us and then drive us back to the airport at 6pm to check on our bags again. So on to the Mille Collines we went. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. While we were checking in the clerk at the desk told us that there is a party going on tonight. We just said oh, OK and headed for our room. It was on the sixth floor overlooking the entrance to the hotel. There, I quickly changed out of Joyce’s clothes and back in to my own and we sorted out our tips for both Richard and Joyce. When I had budgeted our tips we hadn’t allowed for a tip for Joyce but after her being so kind with the tracksuit etc we decided to give her a something decent to say thanks. We also decided that the guideline tip of $10/person/day for drivers wasn’t nearly enough for Richard as he had been an absolute star and upped that quite a bit. Having sorted all that out we went back down to Richard who was waiting patiently and with fingers tightly crossed we set off for the airport again. We went back through the same security gates and got a few funny looks ‘weren’t ye here already?’, we explain again our situation and check in lost luggage again… alas, no bags. Now the fun of the adventure was beginning to wear a little thin, we were filthy dirty and hadn’t been able to change our clothes in 3 days - eewww!!! And we were going back to Nairobi tomorrow and onwards to Lake Nakuru and from there to the Mara – if we didn’t get our clothes we would have to try to find emergency ‘supplies’ tomorrow in Nairobi (not something we wanted to spend time doing as we only had one night in Nakuru and we would miss most of that if we had to go shopping). Anyways, we told the lady in lost luggage of our situation and gave and she advised us to check in lost luggage in Nairobi in the morning. We decided then to phone Kennedy from the airport to let him know that we would be late coming out to arrivals as we would be checking for our luggage and also to let him know that we had used his address as our forwarding address for our luggage should we not get it in Nairobi in the morning (we didn’t want it to be going to Nakuru if we were in the Mara and at least if it went to Kennedy he would make sure it got to us… or at least that’s what we hoped). Now, I had ‘spoken’ to Kennedy many times during the planning stages but I had never actually spoken to him in person. I got him on his mobile and told him of our problem ‘No worries, I’m glad you phoned’ he told me. ‘This has happened to people before – it will be OK.’ After phoning Kennedy we were feeling much better as now we had someone to help us solve our problem in Nairobi. With that, we went back out to Richard who again, was waiting patiently.

    While we had been in the airport, Joyce had phoned Richard. She told him that she wanted to meet us and that Richard should phone her when we came out of the airport. Richard phoned her and then I spoke to her. At this stage we were pretty tired and Deck and I had decided to give Joyce’s clothes and tip to Richard to give to her. When I spoke to Joyce she was very insistent that she meet us at the hotel. I tried to tell her that it was OK and that we were sending her clothes and “a little something” with Richard for her and I thanked her for her kindness but she still was VERY insistent that she meet us. I think she was afraid that she wasn’t going to get a tip! And to be honest she really was a bit too pushy about meeting us. While I had been speaking to her on the phone we had arrived at the hotel. When I told Deck that Joyce had insisted on meeting us he told me that he had already given the money to Richard. Richard said it was OK; he would go to Joyce with her tip and clothes and tell her that she needn’t visit us as we were tired and wanted to go to bed (his phone was out of credit so he couldn’t phone her). We were glad that he was going to do that as it all gotten a little bit too much as we really were exhausted and knew that Joyce was ‘pursuing’ her tip.
    As we hugged Richard goodbye he was very near tears and that almost made me cry too but we promised to keep in touch by e-mail.
    Richard works for ITT when there is work but he intends to do some private work now he has his own computer (it arrived yesterday as a gift from an American couple he toured with for a month). If I was going to Rwanda again (or even Uganda) I would, without a doubt, want to have Richard accompany us – he is someone we will definitely never forget and without him our trip to Rwanda would not have been half as memorable. Joyce was also very nice and she really went beyond the call of duty lending me her clothes but her insistence of meeting us was a little overpowering and put me off a little.

    Having sadly waved goodbye to Richard we go back up to our room where we are in bad need of a decent wash, as too are our clothes. Luckily, there is a freestanding fan in the room, which seems to work pretty well so we basically strip and I head for the bathroom to start washing. First though I have to get Deck in on cockroach patrol as there’s a large beasty on the mirror and there’s no bug spray. That sorted I get busy at the wash hand basin washing what I can – socks, underwear and tee shirts. Luckily we both have jumpers so we can wear these to dinner. One ‘little’ issue though, I had taken note of some of the postings here re wearing disposable undies on the international flight .... now have you ever tried to wash disposable underwear?? I discovered that it IS actually possible, though it MUST be done very gently ;) !!! So with undies drying I decide to utilise the bath and have a good soak. Without paying too much attention I get in to the lovely warm water looking forward to easing my muscles but just as I’m lying back I look up .... eeeewwww ... the bath hasn’t been cleaned after the last occupant and there’s a thick ring of dirt right the way ‘round the bath .... yeeeuuucckk!!! So much for my long soak! At this stage we really are too tired to complain & I think the hotel was full anyways so we improvise and shower, avoiding the edge of the bath! Having washed I find the little bottle of complimentary body lotion – Brilliant – at least I have something to put on my very dry face. I open it and am just about to pour some out when just by chance I look at the cap ... for crying out loud ... there’s lots of ‘gunk’ inside the lid where they’ve obviously topped up the contents of the bottle ... now, for me, this really is the final straw when it comes to hygiene issues and I am totally disgusted. With a little frustration I decide that there is no way they are going to re-use this bottle again and I empty the contents down the sink and break the bottle with my foot .... there that feels just a little better. By now we are REALLY sorry that we didn’t opt for the Intercontinental – only $60 more than what we paid for this absolutely filthy hole. At least we’re only there for one night.

    Well, undies dried, we get dressed and head downstairs to arrange our complementary airport transfer for our 6.45am flight in the morning. Now I know people on this board said that there really is no need to check in the recommended two hours beforehand but Richard advised us otherwise and based on our flight experiences in Africa :S, together with the punctuality of the Genocide Memorial (!!), we decided that we weren’t taking any chances. We told the clerk at the desk we needed to be at the airport at 4.45am so we needed the transfer at 4.30am. We made our request and the guy said “we leave at 5am”. Now I didn’t want to be awkward but there was no way I was leaving it that late and after a LOT of pleading and explaining our situation, we agreed on a compromise - leaving at 4.45am. THEN he says … quote …“I’ll have to negotiate with the driver”!!!! For crying out loud. Anyways, we agree to check back with him after dinner and we head for the restaurant. There we order main courses. Decks meal was fine and mine was OK but not very appetising – beans, rice and spinach. I ate a couple of mouthfuls but wasn’t all that hungry so it didn’t really matter. Afterwards we checked back at reception about our transport and the guy said 4.45am was OK. We booked a wake-up call and toddled off to bed where I basically collapsed into a comatose sleep. Deck wasn’t that lucky though – the party the guy at reception mentioned when we checked in, involved a Jazz band which was located directly below our room and played until 2.30am.:S

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    EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW unlceaned tub! No more needs to be said there. Neither do I need to say more on washign disposable underwear ;)

    Richard is awesome and yes he made the vacation in Rwanda for us. What an incredible guy. He should be bitter and enraged with his life, but he is not. Long story short he was in Kigali when the genocide went down. He went outside, got chased and shot at by a band of me. He leaped off a tall bridge to escape them and on landing shattering one of his legs, sending bone potrudign through. Someohow he made it to a hospital and spent many days and nights there, never sure if it would be his last.

    I am thrilled that someone else bought him a computer.

    It seems like you and I had a similar curse with the Kigali Museum. For some crazy reason it was closed the day we were supposed to be. Richard tried begging the guards to let us even walking through for a few minutes, but no dice. I was BUMMED.

    Yeah, Kigali people are not much thrilled with Rusesabagina. They feel AT LEAST he is taking more credit than he deserves, but I have others say they think he was complicit, at least in the beginning.

    Why on earth do they have such an issue at Millie Collines with having the shuttle pick you up and get you tot he airport at the time you need. They gave me a similar *&^%$ run around also :-@

    By the way, I am also glad you treated Richard to some grub. We stopped in one town and got lunch. Most lunches were pretty cheap around six dollars or so. When we got to the restaurant, he slipped away when we sat down. Found out later he just couldn't afford to eat there. :( But we treated him to somethign later.

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    Wayne, yes, the bath tub certainly was not a nice experience - especially discovering the fact when I was actually IN it!!! We were really sorry we hadn't booked the Intercontinental especially as I had hummed and hawed about it beforehand and had opted for the Mille Collines because of it's location. And that guy at the desk really annoyed us with the shuttle 'issue' - our thoughts were, there's either a shuttle or there isn't but don't tell us there is one and then not be prepared to get us there on time and when he said he would have to "Negotiate with the driver after we agreed to a later time, well I could have given him an earfull but decided my energies were better put to use enjoying our holiday and not winding myself up.

    Wayne, I had completely forgotten you missed the Memorial as well. Richard also pretty much begged the guys to let us in too but we told him that it was OK and not to bother as there guys seemed to like seeing people beg and they had absolutely no intention of changing their minds. We were very dissapointed though but it just means that now we have to go back to see it ;) Poor Richard was very dissapointed for us and he kept apologising.
    Now that I know that Richard couldn't have afforded to eat at the Muhabura I am doubly glad we invited him to join us. He certainly seemed to enjoy his meal and as you said, it didn't break the bank. He certainly deserved a nice meal.

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    Ewwww Imelda...sounds like you had a pretty bad Milles Collines experience. I was lucky there, but the last night we stayed what was not nearly as enjoyable as the first two. There was some sewage problem going on in our toilet and our room stank and they had given us twin beds that weren't made up together.

    It's funny what you say about the lotion. We stayed at the Milles Collines 3 separate times and each time got different complimentary items. Once we had shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower cap, shoe shine kit, sewing kit and razor! Once just a half bottle of used lotion. GO FIGURE!

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    Yes Lucia, it was pretty gross. I'm glad you had a better experience though that half bottle of used lotion wasn't the best hygiene advertisement either. In my opinion, the $125 for the room was definately not worth it. At least if we had gone someplace cheaper we wouldn't have expected 4* treatment (which is what the Mille Collines is supposed to be and it certainly isn't 4*!). Another thing I forgot to mention was that when I booked the room on the internet I booked a pool view room but forgot. If I had remembered and had gotten it it would have meant we would have been a bit further from the band!! Also, at the risk of sounding like a whinge (which I really am not - and don't want to be), when we were checking out we asked to pay our bill in $US. It totalled $147 (including our meal) and we gave him $150. We told us he didn't have any $US change and wanted to give us Rwandan Francs in change. We got the impression he was trying to 'encourage' us to leave him the change! We told him we didn't want change in RWF as we were leaving. Miraculously he 'found' $US ! (Throughout our time in Africa we WAY over tipped but I don't like being 'encouraged' in that way, especially when the person isn't particularly nice).

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    Imelda sorry you had such a yucky experience in Hotel Rwanda. We stayed in the Novotel and it was fine.

    The Genocide Museum was wonderful and I'm sorry that both you and Wayne could not see it. We spent about 2 hours there and it was VERY moving.

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    I did see the Murambi Genocide Center, but that was quite a different experience. The visitor's center was not open yet, but they had about 2 dozen rooms filled with skeletons of unearthed genocide victims and another room with bloody clothing hanging on a clothesline :( Somber.

    Richard was looking forward to us seeing the Kigali museum because that talked about the ideology (a word Richard used dozens of times) of how Tutsis were viewed by Hutus.

    BThe people at the Mille Collines apparently think they are still the only hotel in town and are way snootier than they are worth.

    The enocide museum has a website, I once had it. I just tried Googlign that and I can't find the URL. However, I found an interesting article on Rwanda and whether Rusesabagina is a hero.

    http://www.hotel-onlineDOTcom/News/2006_Jun_23/k.TBE.1151086663.html

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    Yes, they ARE snotty at the Mille Collines - they have no reason to be!!!! I definately won't be staying there again!

    Wayne,
    I cant seem to get that link to work?! Would love to have a read.

    Marty & Wayne,
    I'm going to say something that Richard kept pointing out to me when I inadvertently referred to the Genocide Memorial as a Museum quote: "Memorial NOT Museum". He was quite insistent that I got it right!!:)

    Imelda

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    I have completed reading up to "this is Burundi." Never have I seen such a difficult start to a safari, and from where I left off, you are not in the correct country yet! I completely understand the BA terminal 3 and 4 vs. 1 and 2 confusion with the buses, having just gone through that.

    You are a good writer and have me hooked. Can't wait to read the rest!

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    There are many different points of view about Paul Rusesabagina---but there is no evidence that he was complicit in the genocide.

    A lot of the opposition actually comes from folks in the government, including Kagame, who feel threatened by Ruesabagina and think he wants to run for office in Rwanda.

    I came away from Rwanda shocked that such slaughter ever happened in such a beautiful and peaceful country---and yet also uneasy that it doesn't seem over. The rumors are still going and that is terribly worrying. I had a horrible dream two nights ago that the genocide was beginning again. Ugh.

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    So you made it to Rwanda, even if your bags did not, and are about to approach the Amahoro group. (I stopped there.) That's the good news. The bad news is that I can't recall a Burundi trip report and it would have been nice if you could have supplied one on your adventures in that country.

    The Coke incident was hilarious.

    Gorilla’s Nest was also the coldest place in Africa that I have stayed. I remember longing for the sun’s rays to shine through the trees so I could run out and bask in the warmth. Still, that’s where I would stay again for the convenience factor.

    Your hint about saying you are not fit rather than just requesting an easier gorilla group is a good one.

    The lack of sarcasm in the attendant’s comment, “For those who rejoined the flight...” had me laughing. I can just picture it and hear that matter of fact comment made in that beautiful accent. It reminded me of the time my use of humorous sarcasm fell completely flat. I had returned from a game drive at Chitabe and was thrilled about seeing the wild dogs denning. The ladies greeting me as I exited the vehicle asked, “How was your drive?” I answered, “I saw some beautiful palm trees that I photographed,” then added what I thought was the punchline, “Oh, and near the foot of the palms was also this wild dog den with 8 pups. That was nice too.” They did not find any humor in the remark and went on to state how pleased they were I liked their trees, how much they themselves enjoyed the palm species, and that they would be happy to show me some more beautiful palm trees in camp. Obviously I had just bombed.

    I’m looking forward to your gorilla encounter and the rest of your trip when I return to your fascinating post later today for more entertainment.

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    Imelda, I am trying not to post a regualr link, because I know it throws off the formatting of the whole page. Someone sent me a link to TinyURL site which can be used to solve the problem. But I have been too lazy ;)

    hotel-online . com/News/2006_Jun_23/k.TBE.1151086663.html

    Just take out the space before and after the period and you will have the complete URL.

    And I will remember from now on, Memorial not Museum. A museum implies old paintings and other artwork that is static. One can just go for a little diversion. A memorial is powerfu8l, dynamic and life changing, especially when you consider this only happened TEN years ago. The memorial is still growing more information is being added.

    Yes it is INCREDIBLY hard to believe that all this ugliness happened in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. The Rwandese are trying to "put it all behind them" and not talk about it (especially to outsiders) but as Richard drove around the country, I couldn't help look at lots of men in their 30s and 40s and wonder what they did 10 years ago.

    The tension is abosolutely still there. As we sat in the Gorilla's Nest lounge and Richard told us about THE WAR, he whispered, looked around and made sure no one was close to him.

    While some of the most radical parts of the Hutu miltia were driven away, the common every day person who may have done killing, went back to his life.

    I know they are having these tribunals, but... it is a strange situation.

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    I am now up to date with your report. That's terrific the gorilla trek went so well. Seeing a 4-week old baby had to be a highlight. Richard sounds like a gem, as does Deck!

    Sorry about the bathtub experience and that you had to discover that disposable undies are actually washable.

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    Imelda:

    I recently discovered it seems to work better to upload photos to the Kodak Gallery if you open the kodak software on your own computer, create an album, select all, and express upload from your software (rather than from the website). I'm on dial up too, and it would time out on me all the time when I used the website. For some reason, it doesn't seem to do that using this method. It still takes forever, though. Once you get the pics uploaded, you can easily copy them into one big album of all those loveyl african photos! Hint hint hint :-)

    Cyn

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    Hi Guys,

    Sorry I've abandoned the thread for a little while, I'm a little under the weather at the moment so I'm not up to posting much ..... SORRY!!! Hopefully I will kick this soon and get back on track.

    Lynn,
    Thank you SO much for your kind comments and I'm glad you've caught up with our Adventures!
    You had me laughing out loud with your 'sarcasm story' and it rang so true. They really don't 'get' sacrasm at all which I suppose is a good thing. We did try a couple of funny sarcasm comments ourselves but soon realised the error of our ways :).
    The 4 week baby Gorilla certainly was 'SOME' sight, I couldn't believe our luck when Francois told us about the TWO babies. Muhabura really stole my heart though :) And yes, Richard just has to be one of THE nicest people I have ever met (other than Deck of course;) ) Deck, too was brilliant throughout this trip. He really could have rubbed in that visa issue in Burundi but didn't even mention it which I was very glad of and he definately was the best person to have around when things went wrong as he's one of those people who never gets too flustered and normally sees the funny side. We had LOTS of laughs!!!

    Wayne & Lucia,
    Yes, the Genocide is still in the background and when Richard told us "I'm a survivor", he looked around to make sure no-one could hear him and whispered it to us. In fact, he whispered it so lowly that I had to ask him to repeat it. It was that which made me realise that the tensions must still be there although no-one ever implied or said it.
    Wayne, YOu mention the commone everyday person - when we were driving back into Kigali towards the Memorial we passed a crossroads where there was a pickup with young men in the back all dressed in baby pink boiler suits. We asked Richard who they were and he told us these were the people brought before the tribunals. Richard didn't even look at them as we passed. These men were so so young, we couldn't believe it - it was a sight that will live with me.

    Kavey,
    I'm glad you are considering the trek. I really cannot stress enough how the trekker makes sure he goes slow enough for everyone and once you get to the group you forget all about the uphill climb and the downhill is easy enough especially with those walking sticks. Before I booked this trek I seroiusly considered not doing it because of our lack of fitness and my asthma and had I heeded what is written on some websites that I found I would NEVER have done it. Those things were definately exaggerated a bit.

    Cyn,
    Hint taken!! Although I have to say I want to get a little further on with the report before I get carried away with the pics, (and I do seem to get carried away with things at the best of times!!). I have one question - where can I get the Kodak software for my PC? Can I just download it from the website? Sorry for such a silly question but I'm new to all this photo sharing :). I also want to try to get hold of a photo editing package as I have some shots that are definately less than perfect but worth trying to save if at all possible - any recommendations? I know photoshop is the preferred but how much does it cost and where is the best place to get it do you know??

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    Imelda:

    The following link will take you to the page where you can download the software (I think)- hope it works - syas it'll take 140+ minutes on dial up.

    http://www.kodak.com/eknec/PageQuerier.jhtml?pq-path=9/150/130&pq-locale=en_US

    I think you can get the photoshop software at Adobe's website, but perhaps someone who knows more than I can give you better advice. I know the panasonic came with photobase, which allows you to do SOME editing of the pics - saturation, hue, contrast, brightness. That's as far as I've gotten.

    Good luck!

    Cyn

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    Thanks a million for the link Cyn. I haven't tried downloading it yet - will do over the weekend hopefully.
    Somehow I missed the photobase disc with the camera - better have a look for it! Is it relatively easy to use?



    JULY 23rd – Yes, No, Maybe, Yes, and No –YES – Lake Nakuru Here We Come!!

    Well, as I said, the Jazz band played until 2.30am and Deck didn’t get much sleep. I hadn’t had an excessive amount either – maybe 5 hours, so we were both pretty tired this morning. We weren’t looking forward to trying to get our luggage problem sorted in Nairobi and even more so were apprehensive about having to buy clothes to tide us over, in the very likely event that we didn’t get our bags. I swear, I had visions of going home to Ireland & still having not seen our luggage – BA have a history of doing this to us!!!

    At 4.45am we got on the minibus to the airport and arrived at around 5.05am. We weren’t the first there and I went to double check with Kenya Air that the Kigali office would definitely notify Nairobi not to send our luggage there. Reassured, we went through emigration and waited for our flight. We boarded and I’m very happy to say …… IT WAS UNEVENTFUL … boy am I glad I can say that! In Nairobi we went to the first KA person we saw at one of the boarding gates. We explained our story again and then this girl went and got another lady for us. Again we told our story – by now I was getting tired of repeating it because I was convinced that our luggage was in luggage limbo but this lady turned out to be VERY helpful. We showed her our luggage tags and she said she normally works in baggage and that yesterday she saw a couple of bags with EI codes (our tags had EI codes) but she didn’t know if they were ours. We weren’t getting our hopes up and asked if we didn’t get our bags if we should contact BA but she told us to stick with KA – wow – someone who didn’t want to pass the buck! With that we head to emigration, explaining why we have no bags. One guy found the fact that we had lost our luggage 3 days beforehand hilarious and told our story to the guys at the emigration desk who in turn had a little chuckle. The first guy then followed us and pointed out where we should go to try to find our bags. We go downstairs to the KA baggage area where there must be at least 100 bags just lying around in the open. We ask the guy who is in charge of these lost bags and he tells us to look around. We look and look – no bags L then this guy tells us to check the BA area and points out the area. I continue to look in the KA area while Deck goes to check the BA area. EUREKA, Deck shouts over ‘One of our bags is here!’ At least now we both will have ‘some’ clothes (I ALWAYS split our clothes between bags just for this reason). Well, BA have all the bags in the area chained together so Deck goes in search of someone to unlock our bag. I don’t actually ‘get’ the chaining together thing as the bags are out in the open and can just be unzipped in order to remove items or if someone wanted to steal one, all they would have to do is cut the handles … go figure!
    Anyways, while Deck is gone on a wild goose chase I have another look around and this is where things are REALLY looking up, I find our second bag …. YIPPEE!!! I can’t believe it – I am SOOO happy. Deck comes back and tells me we must go to a different part of the airport to find a BA person so out we go and there waiting for us is Kennedy and Mules (pronounced Moolay) our driver. After MUCH back and forth to and from different sections of the airport we EVENTUALLY get our bags. THEN, they don’t want to give Deck a written confirmation that we have gotten our bags (apparently the girl who issues there is not there!) but Deck insists (we need this to register our complaint with BA on our return home). This is the 3rd time BA have lost our luggage in as many international flights but this time has definitely been the most inconvenient. Last year the lost all our luggage on our return from the US which wasn’t too bad but the year before they lost my vanity case with all our medication, toiletries etc for the entire duration of our trip and we only received the case when we checked in for our return flight home. They hadn’t bothered to forward it to us and couldn’t tell us on the numerous times we telephoned lost luggage, where our bag was. We never actually complained on either of those occasions but this time we definitely will …….. can you tell we’re not happy with BA?!!!

    Anyways, back to the story (and mini-rant over J ), luggage in hand, two VERY happy people relaxed and chatted to Kennedy. I told him of our Burundi ‘adventure’ and we had a good laugh about it. We changed some money at the airport and it was time to load up into our van. I had packed some gifts for Kennedy and his family but I was a little wary as we have been warned about theft in Nairobi airport and I was a bit afraid that some of our stuff will be missing – especially the gifts. I was thankfully proven wrong as I located all of the items J. I gave them to Kennedy to take with him, as I didn’t want to cart them all around Kenya. He was very thankful and we said goodbye and set off for Nakuru with Mule.
    The journey to Nakuru was long and very dusty and bumpy, especially where the roadworks were. Mule was not what you could describe as a quick driver so there were lots of vehicles passing us out and throwing up dust in their tracks. Mule didn’t talk very much so the journey was relatively quiet. Along the way we saw our first troop of baboons and I made Mule stop so that I could get my first photographs of Kenyan wildlife. We reached the nearest gate to Lake Nakuru but weren’t sure if we could enter here because of the new rules of ‘no cash at the gate’ but Mule stopped and asked if they would let us enter and we would come back with (I assume with the paid pass from the Lion Hill Sarova). Thankfully they let us enter here, as, had they not, we would hade had to drive for a further half hour to get to the next gate.

    We started through the park where we saw Waterbuck, Impala, a herd of Buffalo and some Guinea fowl before reaching the Sarova. The drive from the gate to the Lodge took only about 10 minutes and we arrived sometime after 2pm. We check in and are told that Kennedy phoned ahead to let them know we were on our way. We were given room number 25 which is located towards the far end from the reception / main lodge. We were extremely happy with this room as it had a good view of the lake and flamingos and we liked being a bit away from the Lodge. The room itself was actually quite small but it didn’t feel that way. It was very nicely decorated and was spotlessly clean – a MAJOR improvement on the Mille Collines! In fact we were absolutely delighted with the quality of the room. After having a quick change of clothes …. YAAAYYY … clean clothes!!!!! , we head to the buffet for lunch. The food here is fantastic with lots and lots of choices of very good food. I thought, being vegetarian, there would just be the salad bar with maybe one or two hot meal choices but I was wrong – there was MUCH more. I had a fabulous salad from the large and varied salad bar. The breads were amazing (lots of different choices) and there were at least 4 vegetarian choices in the hot food selection, all Yummy. There was also a very nice fresh fruit selection where I knew I was back in Africa when I tasted the amazingly fresh pineapple – there really is nowhere on earth where you can get fresh pineapple like that in Africa! The wait staff were very nice and efficient and over all we were very impressed.

    We had arranged to meet Mule at, I think, 3.30 for our first real gamedrive. We had mentioned to Kennedy and Mule that we would love to see leopard but what would be would be. We set off and we are just about 4 minutes in to the gamedrive when we spot about 4 vehicles parked on a roadway beside a wooded area. We pull up and, you’ve guessed it, there on a tree about 80 metres away is a leopard relaxing!!! I really can’t believe it, our very first sighting is a Leopard …. Wow, things are just getting better and better. I watch captivate by this beautiful animal just lazing in that tree unmindful of the people around him / her. In the meantime more vehicles are gathering and there is one with a teenager (maybe 17yrs old) who is literally shouting something to the effect of we’ve seen it, now lets go. They had only been there a couple of minutes at most and I was definitely a bit annoyed that he and his travel companions would let him risk ruining the opportunity of others of viewing the leopard. Mercifully the driver pulled off fairly quickly and the leopard ignored the shouting. We stay with the leopard for about 15 minutes just watching and then we reluctantly move off to let others have a look-in. I was definitely on a high, we had found our luggage AND a leopard all in one day!

    Mule said it would be better to go to the ‘pink’ lake in the morning as there wouldn’t be as many vehicles then so we did a very quick gamedrive on our way to Baboon Cliff. Along the way we saw the herd of buffalo again, a Cattle Egret, Zebra, Pelicans, White Rhino, Thompsons Gazelle, Pink flamingo in the distance (a teaser) and a Marabou Stork. A Black Backed Jackal quickly crossed the road in front of us but didn’t hang around and we also saw our first Lilac Breasted Roller. Up at Baboon Cliff the view was very beautiful. There we saw a dove and what our guide called a ‘Jackson’ ( a small orange / black bird). We stay at the Cliff to take great photos and soon we have to head back towards the Lodge. On our return journey we see Grants Gazelle and we arrive back at the lodge at about 6.30pm.
    Back in our room we cull some of our dirty clothes (not too many due to the missing luggage!), one of our travel pillows (I kept the other to use as a ‘bean bag’ for my camera – VERY good move that turned out to be!) and some other bits and pieces so that Mule can take them back to Nairobi and we will collect them on our return from the Mara. After a fabulous bath and another change of clothes (having clothes to change in to is a novelty and I’m taking advantage ;) ), we head to dinner, which again is fabulous – especially the pineapple fritters which they cook right in front of you! Yum, Yum!! Deck also enjoyed the barbeque outside and managed seconds. After stuffing our faces we go to the bar and order a carafe of red wine to take back to our room to enjoy on the patio. We just settle down on the comfy chairs and I have just started downloading the days photos when we hear the nights entertainment begin. Of course I can’t resist going back to the bar area for a look so I finish up downloading and we take the wine back to the bar. There we watch some of the dancing but it’s not long before all those early mornings are catching up on us so we go back to the room and get sorted for the morning and fall in to bed very happy and content – this is the life!

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    Patty, How on earth did I forget to mention how long the journey took, after that MAJOR discussion about travel time in the planning stages?! - It took us about 3 hours but I'm sure it could be done in 2 and a half easy enough.

    Imelda

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    Absolutely Lucia & Wayne, we had to be the happiest people in camp that night. It's amazing what losing luggage and then finding it does for ones sense of happiness!!!

    And yes Wayne, I've just caught up with Lucia's report again and now we're both content in Lake Nakuru's Sarova Lion Hill!

    Imelda

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    Yes, Wayne I noticed the Lake Nakuru convergence too.

    When I clicked the photo link I got to the main Kodakshare page but not Imelda's photos.

    If anyone else found the photos, please tell me how you did it.

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    Lynn,
    Imelda hasn't posted photos yet. The link that Cyn posted is for downloading the Kodak software. BTW I don't think I've said this yet, welcome back and looking forward to your Botswana report!

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    Sorry Lynn, Patty is correct - Cyn posted the link to Kodak so that I can download it. It will be a while before they are posted though as it's extremely busy here (weddings, christenings, weekends away to football matches ... we won... YAY!, anniversaries) and we're away every weekend until October so it has slowed down my trip report postings ... sorry!

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    JULY 24th – Maasai Mara Here We Come!!

    For some reason we didn’t have such a good nights sleep. Deck had nightmares, which meant that it was another bleary-eyed morning for both of us. No lying about though, it’s Africa and there’s no time to waste! Up we get and go to breakfast. I was very impressed that one of the waiters (whom I hadn’t taken too much notice of the evening before) remembered us and told us ‘you can sit here at the table you had last night’. How he remembered two people in a full lodge I don’t know, especially as we only arrived the previous day. The breakfast, no surprise was really really good with a fresh waffle station which I took full advantage of! After breakfast we checked out smoothly. I didn’t see a tip box so I asked if there was one. The lady at the desk gave me an envelope into which I put our tip and handed it in to reception. At about 8am we met with Mule and set off for the pink lake.

    Along the way to the lake we saw female Waterbuck, a Vulture, Warthogs, Buffalo, Impala, White Rhino, Thompson Gazelle, a baby Giraffe and a Marabou Stork. Near the lake we saw Blacksmith Plover and Egyptian Geese and of course the flamingos at the lake. What a sight! Mule was right, there weren’t very many vehicles at the lake this morning and we have some uninterrupted viewing of the beautiful flamingos. On leaving the lake we spot our first pair of Dik Dik. This was to be one of only two sightings of these cute little antelope during our time in Kenya. Before leaving the park we see a very handsome Eland, a Rothschild Giraffe, which is very far away, a Pine Crow, Pelicans, more Zebra and our first Monard Lizard. We didn’t see any Colobus Monkeys, which I was a bit disappointed by, but we did see a very large troop of Baboons with many babies.

    We almost had another flight incident today .... While we were driving around Lake Nakuru, I mentioned to Mule about needing to be at the airstrip a little early as I had to pay SafariLink for our flights to the Maasai Mara. Mule didn’t say much but phoned Kennedy who spoke to me on the phone. He was worried about the ‘paying for the flights at the airstrip’ but I told him that was what I had arranged with Debra (my contact in SafariLink). I had a copy of the e-mail stating, “pay on arrival” (quote, unquote!) for the flights. Kennedy was worried, which definitely made me nervous and he said he would contact Debra and then get back to me. Well it turned out that Kennedy’s fears were well founded – he phoned me back with the news that the flights had to be paid for in Nairobi :O !!! NOT Navisha as I was led to believe. He gave us two choices – we drive back to Nairobi and pay for the flights and fly from there ..... OH NO!!! or Kennedy would drive to Wilson airport and pay for the flights and we send the money with Mule for him and we still get the flight from Navisha.... Hurray for Kennedy!!!! Needless to say we took the latter option!!! Whheeewww!!!

    After our little heart stopping moment over the flights we hit the very dusty and bumpy road towards Naivasha and the Lolida airstrip, leaving the park at about 11am. We found Mule to be very quiet again on this journey. In fact Mule was extremely quiet throughout our time with him. We tried to engage him in conversation many times but he just didn’t seem to want to talk much. We were a bit disappointed by this as we like to chat a little and Mule just didn’t really make an effort. Anyways, a very quiet journey towards Naivasha ensued. We saw the same troop of baboons along the roadside as yesterday but not much more. Originally, Kennedy had mentioned about going on a boat ride on Lake Naivasha but we decided we didn’t really want to do this. We said this to Mule and asked for suggestions as to where to go and what to do before our 3pm flight. Mule was intent on having lunch even though we said we weren’t bothered but we gave in. We found him lacking in suggestions and eventually, in order to spend time doing something, we settled on going to Mpata for lunch. At about 1pm we pulled in to a Golf Club near Lake Naivasha (I can’t remember the name) for lunch. I don’t know why we didn’t go to Mpata – Mule never said! Anyways, we went in and lunch was a buffet. We picked at a little food while we watched the many starlings feeding at the birdfeeder below AND at the next table – they especially enjoyed the butter!!!! The food was fine, nothing spectacular but OK – not a patch on the Lion Hill though. Having finished our lunch we asked for the bill ... WOW!!!, almost $50 just for lunch and 2 cokes!!! We were definitely shocked and were actually a little annoyed over this. We thought that Mule could have at least warned us about the cost or taken us somewhere else just to have a light snack. Now don’t get me wrong, we are not penny pinchers when it comes to eating out, it’s just that Mule knew we weren’t particularly interested in eating lunch and then he takes us to a different lodge than he says without even telling us first and it cost an exorbitant amount (comparatively speaking). There was also nothing much to do / see here so we were effectively trying to waste time before our flight - NOT something I wanted to do in Kenya! We walked around the small garden of the lodge and then we set off for the airstrip – we were there before 2.30pm!!

    Anyways, we waited for our flight with my nerves building by the minute. I have a serious claustrophobia issue and as I had never been in a small plane before, I was extremely apprehensive. I had brought us this issue with Debra prior to booking these flights and she had reassured me that I would be fine as their planes are 14 seater and 16 seater but I was still very anxious. Deck was amazed with the ‘airport’, especially when a guy pulled up on a bike to unlock the gate … no security here! Shortly after, we heard the whir of a plane approaching and it wasn’t long before it landed - but Oh Boy – it was a VERY little one. My heart was in my mouth – would I be OK in such a small plane? Then the pilot got out we found out that it wasn’t our plane – what a relief! The pilot had just gotten out when the guy on the bike made him get back in to pull the plane over to the side beside the bushes – Deck thought this was absolutely hilarious! Again we waited for our plane and at around 3.30 another plane landed. This time it was a SafariLink 14 or 16 seater and we got ready to board (ie I was sweating it!). But again, no, this wasn’t our plane – this one WAS going to the Mara but not the Mara Serena and we were told to wait again. Now it was getting late and I was beginning to worry that there had been some mix up and we had been forgotten about but at 3.50 a third plane landed. It was a 16 seater and was pretty full. Thankfully the two last seats were vacant meaning that we weren’t stuck in the middle of everyone which would have been a bit of a challenge for my claustrophobia. The seats we had were near the door and had a vacant area behind them for baggage, which suited me well. I was OK with the space issue and distracted myself by looking out the window. The flight was a little bumpy but we had travel sickness bands on which I was very glad of.

    Our stop was the first in the Mara and we landed at around 5pm. There, Samuel from Serena picked us up. We drove to The Serena where we were greeted with cool facecloths and some cool pineapple juice. We checked in quickly and were shown to our room – number 76, which was at the end of the row and quite a long way downhill from the Lodge. We entered and the room was lovely BUT, it was a twin room and I had booked a double. The guy who escorted us to the room phoned reception but there was no double room available. They offered to move us tomorrow and in the meantime, make the two single beds into a double. Ordinarily I would have just stuck with the two single beds being pushed together but I didn’t really want to do this for four nights so we agreed to change in the morning. We left our luggage and went back up to reception where we spoke to Kevin. He told us there would be a double room available tomorrow and Deck asked if there was any possibility of getting a room nearer the lodge (Deck isn’t too keen on walking too far, especially when it’s uphill!!... it actually WAS quite a long way though!). Kevin asked if number 5 would be OK – only 5 doors from the lodge on the opposite side to number 76 – Perfect!!

    With that, we went back out to Samuel for our short evening gamedrive. We headed straight for the Mara River to check out the Wildebeest crossing situation. Sure enough, a number of wildebeest had gathered and we observed them for about 10 minutes but decided they weren’t going to make their move this evening – maybe tomorrow. I got my first sighting of the beautiful Topi, which I had never seen in reality before. I had seen pictures here in Fodors and thought they were beautiful animals – I love their colouring and think they are really handsome. We also saw Zebra, Thompson Gazelle and White Backed Vultures. We headed upriver where we saw Hippo and Crocodile. Samuel was a mine of information and it was very obvious that he loves his job. He has worked for Serena for 7 years at the Mara and also at Amboseli and Samburu. He told us lots of things we never knew – for example, crocodiles only need to eat every 3-4 months and sometimes if there is a drought, they hibernate under a dried up river bed!! On our way back to the lodge we saw our first beautiful Masai Giraffe. She was alone and heavily pregnant. We were really hoping that Samuel would be our driver for the duration of our stay but alas, it was not to be. He told us that he had another group coming in in the morning and we would have a different driver – oh well.

    We arrived back at the lodge at around 6.50 and headed for our room to finally have a shower and change into some clean clothes. We were well impressed with the room. I had seen some photographs of the rooms and to me they had looked gaudy but they weren’t at all. They were bright, clean and large with lots of lights and a bright bathroom. There were complimentary bathrobes and also insect repellent wipes (which contain DEET and were replenished daily) and the shower was amazingly powerful. We attempted to open the patio doors but we discovered we had a little resident outside … a lizard. Now, I’m not too keen on lizards but Deck feels a little more strongly about them!!! He hopped up on the coffee table when the little critter crept into the room through a small gap between the doors …. What a sight, a grown man on top of a coffee table instructing me to remove an equally scared lizard :)). Thankfully the lizard, obviously deciding that we were very scary humans, vacated through the same gap after a couple of minutes.

    Having made sure our visitor couldn’t re-enter we headed to the lodge for dinner. It was supposed to be A la carte but in fact the soup and main course were the only items that were al la carte, the rest was from a buffet. I had a salad from the small salad bar to start and I think the soup was mushroom was OK. I can’t remember what Deck had to start but he had the Beef Consommé which he also thought was OK. I had a curry dish from the buffet with rice, which was VERY hot. I like things quite spicy (I normally order my dishes medium to hot) but this was a bit much. Deck, I think, had the beef, which again was OK. I tried the rhubarb crumble from the buffet – one of my favourite dishes. The rhubarb in the middle was lovely but the crumble wasn’t exactly crumble – it was gooey and very unappetizing and instead I ended up with some fresh delicious pineapple. The food throughout our stay in the Serena was a BIG let down for us. It was sameo, sameo - always a curry as the vegetarian option and many times there were very few vegetables in it, consisting mainly of sauce. There was a ‘stir fry station’ every night also but on half the nights the meat option was at the same stir fry station and they used the same pans and utensils for both the meat and vegetarian dishes without cleaning them in between so that ruled out this option for me. Lunch and dinner were basically the same with curry vegetarian option and the same small salad bar selection each day. By the last day we were relieved we would be eating elsewhere for our final two days. I lived on fruit and salad for the duration of our stay and as someone who is a desert lover, was very disappointed never to find one, which was anyways appetizing. Deck was also unimpressed with the meat options and the portions were tiny. By the end we were dieing for some ‘real’ potatoes instead of those fried, cubed potatoes they had for EVERY meal (breakfast, lunch AND dinner)!

    Anyways, back to the 24th! We ordered a bottle of wine which was lovely but quite expensive at $33 (all wines on the menu were over $27 I think) and we finished it near the fire pit where we listened to two guys on guitars – very enjoyable. We didn’t stay too long and headed for bed early where we slept soundly in THE most comfortable beds.

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    Oh goody, more (mis)adventures. Love the report! I think topis are beautiful as well. The sheen/coloring of their coats.

    The Mara Serena sounds like another great place for me to experiement with my safari-as-spa-diet theory.

    Kennedy's just the best, isn't he?

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    I'm glad Kennedy saved the day and you didn't have to drive back to Nairobi before flying to the Mara!

    Was it the Great Rift Valley Lodge perhaps where you had lunch? I think they have a golf course.

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    The Mara Serena seems to switch to buffets in the evening when full - and the desserts definitely look better than they taste. Dessert lovers will be slightly disappointed. However, I do have reservations about the concept of serving rhubarb crumble in the middle of the Masaai Mara anyway. Didn't they do the vegetables in tomato sauce while you were there? And didn't they do the pasta station? Poor you - overfed and then underfed!

    Considering where you come from I refuse to take your complaint about potatoes seriously. Admit it, Deck's never satisfied with the potatoes, is he? ;-)

    Personally I think Mule was a naughty boy.

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    Yes Wayne, I should have named today 'budget buster day':)) To be honest, we had no major qualms about paying for either so long as that was what we wanted but as far as the meal was concerned, like Kimburu, I think there must have been something in it for Mule. Maybe I'm completely wrong but that's my cynical mind. The wine was lovely was it goes!

    Leely & Patty, Kennedy was just FANTASTIC. He took complete control of the situation which was brilliant as normally I end up sorting things out myself so it was good to have someone to do it for me for a change.

    Leely, The colouring of the Topi really had me ! They are so handsome. And yes, the Mara Serena is the perfect spa-safari diet location. I didn't put on an ounce!!!! (definately not the usual case)

    Patty, Yes, I think it was the Great Rift Valley Lodge. I knew it was an 'easy' name to remember - that's why I didn't write it down!:-]

    Kimburu - NO vegetables in tomatoe sauce while we were there I'm afraid. They DID have pasta at the 'stirfry' station but on one of the pasta nights the meat option was at the same station :(. The second night that they had pasta it was purely vegetarian and it was actually quite good.
    Re your 'potato comment', yes, we do like our potatoes but are really not too fussy EXCEPT when it's the same thing every day AND meal. We would have given ANYTHING for some creamed potato or even just plain boiled or baked .. ANYTHING other than the cubes with onions! After 4 days we were sooo sick of them.

    Imelda

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    In Mule's defense, he was probably trying to stop some place "on the way" to Loldia, if that's where the airstrip is located. I don't know what Mpata is. The only Mpata I've heard of is a lodge outside of the Mara. Perhaps he was just confused ;) It does sound like he could work on his people skills though.

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    I'm glad you did not have another flying incident.

    Your mixup on rooms at the Mara Serena reminded me of my visit when the staff actually asked if I would mind rooming with a complete stranger because they had accidentally booked my room a day before my departure. My guide came to the rescue and maintained my single room. Other than that the Serena was fine.

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    I’m so glad everybody is saying nice things about topis. Otherwise I don’t know what I would do. Once there was a thread with a comment that wasn’t 100 % pro-topi. I hope it will never be repeated.

    Imelda,
    The Burundi incident might have been stressful, but it’s nothing compared to the terror of lost luggage. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I can’t get my brain around what you did to the gunky complimentary body lotion. I would have scraped it up from the floor of a public toilet. The gorilla experience sounds incredible, even in a borrowed tracksuit, but I was so relieved when I read that your bags were in Nairobi.

    Is anyone planning a whole safari with Kennedy’s company?

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    Imelda, After several false starts, I've finally caught up with your report and what a wonderful treat it is!!! Your writing is so full of the drama that is life - wide-eyed wonder that someone drinks all of the only Coke, "tooing and froing at the airport", stomping the gross lotion bottle, sharing your walking stick with Deck after he's been trounced by a gorilla. It's easy to see you don't make too much mountain out of molehills!! I have laughed out loud so many times, what a fabulous trip I've enjoyed with you and Deck. Atravelynn does have a point, next time a Burundi trip report will be appreciated!! hee, hee. Really, I've learned so much from your post and will save it for yet another "once in a lifetime" trip, a gorilla trek, maybe even the Amahoros. Just so you know, I yippeeed right along with ya when you finally found your luggage!! Feel better soon!!! (Maybe you'll feel like sorting through the 2000, although you really have to be strong in spirit when you're choosing from what must be so many fabulous shots!! Good luck!!!) Deb

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    Imelda,
    Thanks so much for your inspiring report. We are leaving for Africa in 4 weeks and each time I read about your trip, it excites me about mine. I wanted to ask you a little more about Richard in Rwanda as I have yet to book transport for my 5 days there. Do you have a contact address for him? Would love to book him as my driver as he sounds amazing. I would also like to know, if you don't mind, how much i can expect to pay for him as my driver/guide? Many thanks.

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    Patty, I completely agree, Mule was definately trying to stop somewhere on the way but it was him that said Mpata not me. I just thought at the time that I must have gotten it wrong and there was a Mpata in Navaisha too. Honestly, the real issue was that he didn't bother to tell us differently and just 'landed' us there. Definately a people skills course would be in order.

    Wayne, please don't take my thoughts on Mule to mean I thought him a bad guy - he definately wasn't. It was just that after having had Richard in rwanda and him being so 'in to' his job, Mule was the opposite - it was just a job to him as far as we could see.

    Lynn,
    Me too - the flying incident I mean!
    I can't believe Serena would actually ask you to share with a stranger - that's not even funny!!! Thank God you had a good guide to stand up for you.

    Nyamera,
    You sure are beautiful and I can't believe anyone could or would be anything other than pro-topi!!!!;)
    Re the body lotion - there is NO WAY I could even have considered using it. It looked like the remnants of a couple of bottles had been put into it and that gunk at the top was not pretty to say the least.
    Joyce was an absolute lifesaver with that tracksuit - I would have been a bit more peed off about no luggage had she not been kind enough to loan me her clothes. The Gorilla trek was in one word AWESOME!

    Kennedy does full safaris in both Kenya AND Tanzania and if I was booking a guide I certainly wouldn't hesitate to book him.

    Leely,
    I meant to say in my last post that Kennedy specificially wanted me to thank you for him - after all it was you who recommended him in the first place and he is EXTREMELY thankful. In fact he said he would like to thank you himself if you would be willing to have him e-mail you - I could give him your e-mail address?!

    Deb,
    I'm glad my enthusiasm shows because I really want to try to convey how fantastic this trip really was (even with all those hiccups). There really was no point letting those little incidents get to us as there basically was nothing we could do and we knew that everything has a solution of some sort. We really did laugh our way through it all and you know what they say - what doesn't kill you ......Although I have to say, the sight of those bags in the airport was definately one of the high points and I almost did a Yippee there and then! Deb, if you are even CONSIDERING doing a Gorilla Trek I say - DO IT!!!! It is something I would really love to repeat in the future (and we're not really repeat type people). Re my flu, I still haven't managed to shift it buy I'm muddling along. Hopefulli it will soon be banished and I promise I will do my best to get at least some of those photos up and I'll resist the urge to post all 2000!!! :))

    Travellingbug,
    You can e-mail me at im_civil at hotmail dot com and I'll tell you all I can about Richard. Just put something in the title like Fodors so that I can rescue it from my junk mail. You really won't regret having Richard as your driver, he's a real dote. Travellingbug, I really posted SO many questions in the lead up to our trip that I couldn't list them all here but if you click on my screen name all the posts that I have contributed to / started will come up. I think I started a few on Lake Nakuru, Rwanda, ballooning etc. If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.
    By the way, did you finalise your itinerary??

    Imelda

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    Imelda,
    Thanks, I will email you and hope that Richard will be available when I contact him. And yes, we have almost finalized our trip, just a few days and a few details that need to be sorted. We fly into Nairobi and have a week to play with (I know it is getting close but still cannot decide....looking at Lake Navisha, Hells Gate, Lake Nakuru) am hoping to look at previous posts to commit myself to something...and to someone, you and so many others recommend Kennedy so I will contact him. We fly to Rwanda from there for 6 days, just need to sort out driver and some of the accomodation (Kigali). We fly to Zanzibar for a week, then return to Nairobi to start our 10 day safari (Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Eyasi, Tarangires). We finish our trip on the coast of Kenya for 5 days (still sorting this out). All this and we leave in 4 weeks...butterflies in my stomach!! Thanks again.

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    Imelda, LyndaS has my email, I think. But, please, Kennedy has nothing to thank me for. Of course if someone is looking for a guide in Nairobi, I'd recommend him. He's very reliable! And if the client is up for socializing and/or needs a little extra help, he's the kind of person who will go the distance.

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    Lisa, I'm glad you're enjoying our tales of adventure. I promise I will do my best to get some of those photos up soon but I'm afraid it's pretty hectic around here and time is very limited so I'm focousing on the report first.

    Leely, Kennedy was very specific that I should thank you for him :) And I completely agree, he is a GREAT guy. Maybe Lynda can give him your e-mail.

    Imelda

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    JULY 25th – Dreams Come True!

    Originally we were supposed to do our hot air balloon flight this morning as Serena had arranged it but when we checked with JP, the balloon pilot, he had us booked for the 26th. He told us we could change it to the 25th if we wanted but we decided to stick with the 26th. Deck was absolutely delighted when I revealed the surprise of the hot air balloon flight by the way (it was a very early anniversary surprise). He had actually said on the way down to the Mara on the flight ‘ ah, we forgot to book a balloon flight’ – it took all my strength not to tell him there and then…. Little did he know!;)

    Anyways, we were up bright and early for our 6.30am game drive. We had tea and coffee at the hot drinks station and then we went to reception to see if we could find our new driver. We couldn’t find anyone who looked like they might be waiting for us so we asked at reception. Soon Sammy our new driver came and took us to our 5-seater vehicle. Inside, there were two people – Tony & Sylvia from Miami but are originally Cuban. Sylvia had very little English but Tony’s was perfect and we got along very well. We got in and told Sammy ‘no pressure – a crossing and a leopard will do nicely ;) and a cheetah sighting too!!’ We were teasing of course. Actually, the evening before when we were talking to Samuel, he told us that with 4 nights he “guaranteed” we would see cheetah! He said that leopard was a different story though and it was unlikely. Sammy asked us how long we were staying at the Serena and he seemed a little surprised when we told him 4 nights. It seems that very few people stay there for that long.

    Well, first stop this morning was to be the Mara River to see if those wildebeest from last night were ready to cross. Along the way the Serena hot air balloon floated right by us. It looked fabulous with the rising sun in the background. Next we saw two Secretary birds. They were walking around in the grass and there was another bird (not sure what kind) flying above. We guessed that there was probably a nest on the ground somewhere as when the Secretary birds moved in a particular direction this bird dive-bombed them. It was hilarious to watch them frantically ducking out of the way. Eventually the Secretary birds moved off and so did we. We continued on our way to the river and sure enough, the wildebeest looked like they might actually cross so we sat and waited with two other Serena vehicles. In a tree on the riverbank I saw my first ever kingfisher – a Chestnut. After a short while the wildebeest seemed to get nervous with the location they were in and the started to move a little further downstream. We also moved further down in order to get a better view and within a few minutes the first wildebeest made his way down the bank to the water and the excitement grew. A group gathered at the waters edge and tension mounted. Next thing we knew, most of the wildebeest at the water got spooked and started to turn and go back up the slope away from the water. After a few minutes things calmed down again and finally the first wildebeest took the plunge and others followed. The wildebeest exited the river behind our vehicle. After a little while and a largeish group had crossed, the route changed and some wildebeest took long drinks at the river before crossing and exiting RIGHT beside our vehicle! They were definitely spooked by our presence but I got the impression that we would have spooked them even more if we had tried to move out of the way. Some of the wildebeest on the other side started going down a practically vertical bank to reach the water. Next Deck pointed out a large croc swimming no more than 10 feet away from the line of animals crossing the river. He moved to within a couple of feet of them and then disappeared without even trying to make a kill. We figured he just wasn’t hungry and I was so happy that each and every one of the wildebeest made it across safely. The croc did spook the wildebeest on the other side though and again the crossing point moved – back upstream this time. The entry point was over large rocks which the wildebeest jumped over in order to reach the water – WHAT A SIGHT!! We couldn’t figure out how they made it over those rocks without being killed. Within about 30 minutes most of the wildebeest had crossed with the remainder deciding to leave it for another day. About 400 animals in all crossed the river that day – what an amazing sight and an amazing start to our first game drive in the Mara!

    After our amazing experience we left the river and just a little while later we found three lions – two young males and a female, surrounded by three hyenas – two adults and a juvenile. We only stayed with them for a few minutes and then drove to another location near the river where we were told to get out. We actually didn’t know what was happening as we walked a little way but it turned out to be the Hippo Pool Breakfast. We had actually requested this for the morning of the 27th but didn’t mind having it today instead, a nice surprise! We were seated at a table with our travel mates and were served some delicious champagne. We had a beautiful view of the river and hippos and we had a really nice cooked breakfast. The only ‘little’ hiccup was that I ended up knocking poor Sylvia’s champagne over whilst attempting to remove a fly from the glass but she was very kind and didn’t make me feel too bad. Sylvia and her husband were very nice and interesting people. Just as we were finished our breakfast, a family of Warthogs showed up right beside our picnic area and then a family of Mongoose (I had never seen a mongoose before and they proved very difficult to photograph as they were so skittish). After breakfast we went for a very short walk along the riverbank with a Maasai where he told us about his village and the knife he carried. We saw our first Macaw and Yellow Billed Stork in the river. Beside the picnic area / river was a fully functional modern type toilet – unbelievable! On the way back towards our vehicle the Maasai asked if we were going to the Maasai village. Tony & Sylvia said yes and we said we would go along with whatever they said. We assumed we would be going straight there but this was not the cast. Sammy took us back to the Serena and told us he would be leaving for the village at 11am. We told him that if we weren’t there that he should go without us. We weren’t really totally sure we wanted to go, especially after reading about it here (the ‘staged’ issue and the ‘surrounded by people’ issue – especially with my claustrophobia issue, put us off somewhat) and Deck was edging towards having an afternoon siesta.

    Upon return to the lodge we checked at reception about changing rooms. They told us it wasn’t ready yet and they would phone us in our room when it was ready but it would be a while. So we went back to our room and I packed up ready to move while Deck hopped into bed and promptly fell asleep and it wasn’t long before the lure of that amazingly comfortable bed overcame me too. No sooner was I in bed and had just started to doze off when a knock on the door brought me back into consciousness. Murphy’s Law – they wanted us to change rooms now. So up we get and go back to reception for the key. Kevin was as good as his word and gave us room number 5. We were even more impressed with the room. It was larger than 76 and had a fantastic view. It was also lacking the gap between the patio doors which meant no uninvited guests – we were well happy! Deck being Deck, hopped straight back into bed while I unpacked for the first time during the trip .... A big thrill for me to have clothes AND not living out of a suitcase! I attempted to book a massage for today but the beauty therapist was fully booked. I spoke directly to her and she was lovely. I enquired about a facial and the products she uses (Dead Sea) and told her that I have had reactions in the past to some products. She was really nice and told me that maybe I would be better not having a facial as some people have had reactions to the products in the past. I was really impressed – if that was a therapist at home they would most likely have told me it would be OK (this happened to me in the past and I subsequently had a reaction) . I ended up booking a body massage for the following day at 11am and an Indian Head Massage AND Reflexology for 7pm the day after. I felt I deserved a bit of pampering after all our ‘incidents’ :D. I spent the time before lunch looking at the beautiful wildlife in our ‘back garden’ which amazed me. There were lots of Common Bulbul flitting between saplings right outside our patio door and some even came to sit on our balcony posing for pictures!There was also Giraffe, Buffalo and Wildebeest within sight – what a thrill!!!!!!

    We headed to lunch at about 2pm and it was more of the same – salad, veggie curry etc. We ate and then got ready for our afternoon gamedrive at 3.30pm. When we got to the jeep we found that Tony and Sylvia weren’t coming as they had been to the Maasai Village at 11. So off we went on our ‘private’ gamedrive. The first thing we came across was two Thompson Gazelle ‘on honeymoon’. There were the other usual suspects, the beautiful Topi, lots of Wildebeest and something I NEVER tire of observing ... Zebra and some babies too. For some reason, since our first safari I have a thing about zebra. I know they are very common but for some reason I just love to watch them. Next up was a large Hippo pod where we got out of the vehicle to view them and listen to their loud ranting. There too was a Greater Egret. Back in the jeep we spot Waterbuck, a couple of curious Giraffe and a journey of 5 Giraffe far away. A beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller seemed to realise that I was a novice photographer and actually posed for me! I can never get over the beautiful colours of the birds in Africa – spectacular, even common birds like starlings. Anyways, onwards and more ‘new’ wildlife – an Ostrich a herd of Buffalo keeping as far away from the Wildebeest as possible. Not many animals like the wildebeest, apparently due to the fact that they make so much noise. Another Lilac Breasted Roller and then it’s my first sight of a beautiful big Bull Elephant. I have to mention now that Elephants are my absolute favourite animals and I was so excited. We pointed the Ellie out to Sammy who didn’t seem interested in him. Instead he continued driving an pulled up next to a tree. Under the tree was a male lion ‘flat out’. We weren’t in the best location to photograph the lion (there was one other vehicle there) and I was afraid I was going to miss the elephant as I didn’t think that Sammy was going to go over to him so I started clicking away at the elephant thinking I could photograph the lion afterwards as he didn’t look like he was going anywhere ;). After a couple of minutes Sammy began to move. We thought he was going to try for a better vantage point of the lion but we were wrong – he moved completely away and headed for the elephant …. And I hadn’t even gotten one shot of the lion. I was disappointed but Sammy was to turn out to be one of those guys who constantly did his own thing and didn’t want to talk much (sound familiar? Dejavou? (sp?)) It was like ‘pulling hens teeth’ trying to get information out of him. He never volunteered information, we always had to ask questions, and ask him to “please stop”, “where are we going” etc. and sometimes we just didn’t even bother to ask him because he made us feel like we were being bothersome. It wasn’t that he said anything it was just his attitude. He was pretty standoffish and wasn’t a patch on Samuel and we were disappointed. He definitely didn’t love his job – not by a long shot!

    Anyways, we were off again without knowing where we are headed. For quite a while there are very few animals and then.... we see Lots of vehicles parked around a tree .... it just has to be a cat we think! What is it??? I can’t see!! As we draw nearer to the other 12 vehicles – Yes 12!!! We discover it’s a cheetah mom with 5 cubs!!!!! WOW! We had read in the visitors book at the Serena that others had seen these cats but I had only dreamed I might see them and I hadn’t even dared to hope that I would and now they were there right in front of us – I was so so happy, it was a dream come true! We stayed with them while they were oblivious to the vehicles around them for about 20 minutes. In fact, three of the cubs played happily under one of the vehicles! They were just so cute and I really hated leaving them but we had to start making tracks back to the lodge for the 6.30 curfew. On the way back towards the Oloololo Gate we saw a hare hiding in the grass – how Sammy spotted him I couldn’t figure. Later we saw another Bull Elephant and then a lone Buffalo having a mud bath right at the side of the road. Sammy told us that this guy probably was a weakling and had been banished from a herd. I felt really sorry for him, as he looked dejected. We saw a Coucal and a Bustard but didn’t get to photograph either. Then, just as we were leaving the buffalo, a Black Backed Jackal began to cross in front of us. Sammy turned off the engine to let us watch. The Jackal just stopped in the middle of the road, turned to look right at us and then sat and then lied down right there in the middle of the road!!! He didn’t move, just looked at us and we got the impression would have sat there for a long time on his own ‘human safari’ had we not switched the engine back on and begun to move off. Shortly after leaving our curious Jackal we came across some very relaxed lions but we couldn’t stay very long as it was already 6.30 and the Park Rangers were there.

    Back at the lodge we washed off the dust ... It really amazed me how dusty it was possible to get on each game drive and it really stuck! We prepared for and went to dinner which again was curry and Italian night (I think). There was meat bolognaise at the vegetarian ‘stir fry’ station so it was curry for me again tonight. Contented with our first days sightings in the Mara – a crossing AND cheetahs – the stuff I only dreamed about!!, it was early to bed, as we had to be up bright and early for our 6am departure from the lodge for our balloon flight in the morning. Well that was the plan anyways BUT ..... The people next door in number 4 certainly didn’t have the same plan ... we were kept awake by an extremely piercing, high pitched laugh until the very small hours of the morning – not much sleep for us tonight!

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    I am jealous. Though I'ver seen jackals a number of times they have never stayed still ong enough for me to get a decent photo.

    And what's a hippo pool breakfast? Or is it self-evident?

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    Leely,
    Yes, we were VERY excited about the Jackal. Our one and only other jackal sighting was a fleeting glimpse of the one that basically ran across in front of us in Nakuru. Actually, in the Mara we had a couple of good photo ops of jackals but this one certainly was the best.

    The hippo pool breakfast is basically just that. The tables for breakfast are set up outdoors besdide a pod of hippos in water - the hippo pool.

    Imelda

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    Nyamera,
    I admit it. Once I made a slightly anti-topi comment a long time ago in another thread. It will never happen again.

    Imelda,
    I'll be reading about your time at Serena a little later.

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    JULY 26th –Lions & Babies Day!

    We arose very tired at 5.15am and had coffee before departing for our balloon flight at 6am. The journey to the take off point was short. We were all in a 14-seater army vehicle and myself and Deck happened to get seats in the first row at the front (there were 4 rows behind the driver which could each hold 4 people). On arrival JP said to leave backpacks etc. in the vehicle, as he was afraid things would fall out of the balloon on takeoff and landing. We took out what we needed and left our backpack on the seat. I discovered that the flight was full – 12 people – 3 in each of 4 compartments. I was a little worried about the space issue but my worries were soon allayed. While the compartments couldn’t be described as ‘roomy’ we weren’t totally squashed either. We loaded up with me and Deck in one compartment with the wife of an Aussie couple (her husband was in the adjoining compartment) and takeoff was very gentle. It wasn’t very cold, especially when JP ‘burned’ and the view was beautiful. We reached about 800 feet and just for kicks also flew low enough to brush some trees. From the balloon we saw Reedbuck, a Hippo out of water, Eland, White Backed Vulture and Topi. When our flight was almost over we spotted a couple of vehicles stopped on a roadway. JP radioed the ground team to try to find out what it was the two vehicles had spotted. It turns out it was a pride of 7 lions with a kill. It was decided that we would look for the lions after we landed and before breakfast. Upon a very gentle landing – we landed vertical which JP said, only happened 20% of the time! We loaded up into the 14 seater vehicle. Now, I was going to leave this part out for fear of sounding like a whinge but this is a ‘warts and all’ trip report so here goes: There was a large group of Indian people with us (6 in all) and when we went to load into the vehicle they literally rushed into the vehicle heading for the front seats. Now, we really didn’t care whether we were in the front row of seats or not as you couldn’t see out of the front anyways but it was the manner in which they did it. Without a word they removed our backpack. We sat in the back row with Sylvia and Tony and we set off to find the lions in the but had no success and we returned to the picnic site for breakfast. After breakfast the two Aussies set off with their own tour guide (he had come to collect them) and we all loaded into the 14 seater again with, you’ve guessed it, the Indian group rushing for the first three rows again. Now this is where it bothered me – Deck and I were the last ones to board the vehicle. There was Sylvia and Tony in the back row and two each of the other group in each of the three front rows. One of the guys in the second to last row came out of his seat and said we could sit in there .... In the middle!!!!! He was ALREADY IN the seat and got out trying to put us in the middle basically saying that he wasn’t sitting in the middle – talk about rude. We could have stooped to their level and just said no and sat outside them on two rows but we didn’t, we sat in the back with Tony & Sylvia. Anyways, whinge over, back to the breakfast: The tables, covered in green linen were set up right in the middle of nowhere – an absolutely amazing setting and a bit surreal. Breakfast was OK – fried potatoes and beans for me (the omelette station had ham!) and the champagne flowed. It was an unreal experience sitting there in the middle of the vast Mara with not another soul to be seen sipping champagne at 7.30 in the morning. I could have just sat there for hours. Poor Sylvia ended up with a wasp in her champagne again – she wasn’t having much luck with champagne!!!

    JP told us the designated toilet was ‘au naturalle’ behind one of the vehicles. Before we left the picnic site all the men used the ‘facilities’. Me, being me, I decided to wait until we got back to the Serena ... big mistake! We were barely gone 10 minutes when the amount of champagne and tea I had drunk raised their heads and I just knew there was no way I was going to make it back to the Serena. AND, you have to remember, I was sitting all the way at the back of the vehicle so there was no way to discretely get JP’s attention. We just had to bite the bullet and we asked him to stop when he could and within a minute he found a largeish termite hill. There was nothing for it but to very red facedly, disappear behind the hill. It was certainly a relief when I got back in the vehicle and with some teasing and joking we moved off again. Within no more than a minute we had stopped again. This time it wasn’t my doing, it was a puncture. We all got out and as we did so I thought about the discussions here on the dangers of disembarking from a vehicle on Safari but we were in the middle of a flat area and there was a herd of zebra right beside us so the chances of predators were quite slim without us knowing it. Quite a few photos and a tyre change later we are on the way. Next stop was a large group of Vultures and not very far from those, the pride of 7 lions with their kill and we were the only vehicle around – YAY! It was a great sighting, a perfect end to a perfect morning.

    We had arranged to have our game drive with Sammy at 11am as we had missed our morning one. Deck decided to have a nap instead of the drive so Tony, Sylvia and I loaded up. Tony and Sylvia were very disappointed that they missed the cheetahs yesterday but Tony had been ill. They asked Sammy if there was a chance of seeing cheetah today but he didn’t seem too positive and replied in his manner of not wasting too many words - “it’s very hot”. I was really hoping we would see cheetah for Tony & Sylvia’s sakes as this was their last game drive in the Mara.

    Before we are out the gate of the Serena we see Rock Hyrax. Next is a herd of 6 elephants with two babies – they walk right by us! We don’t see much more except Plover and a large herd of Buffalo for a while. Sammy hasn’t told us where we are headed but I soon recognise that we are headed North towards the Oloololo Gate where the Cheetah mom plus cubs were yesterday (beside Kichwa Tembo). Soon we reach the gate where we get out to use the toilet (they’re not the best but I’m not taking any chances after this morning J)). When we return from the toilets the ranger is talking to Sammy – there is some sort of problem! Next thing Sammy comes to us and asks if we have our park tickets. We tell him that Serena never gave us any so he goes back to the ranger. We hear the ranger saying its Sammy’s responsibility to make sure that we have our permits with us at all times and he basically implies that Serena are trying to pull a fast one by not paying the park entry fees. Tony tries to stand up for Sammy saying it’s not his fault and the ranger tells Tony he ‘knows’ the park fees were paid by us. Anyways, after a few minutes, Sammy is let off and we continue on our way. Tony tells Sammy not to worry that it’s not his fault but Sammy acts like a spoilt child and just sulks, not speaking to anyone (but what’s new!).

    A few minutes after leaving the gate we reach the area where we saw the cheetahs yesterday. There are lots of lone acacia trees and we begin to search around. It is looking like it really is too hot for the cheetahs and we are not going to find them when all we see are Warthogs. Then, suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spot something at one of the trees far away .... it’s one of the cubs on the trunk!!!! HURRAY!!!!!! We’ve found them! I have a great since of achievement, as it was me who spotted them – a first for me in the Mara! AND there are no other vehicles around…… I am SO happy!! It was a fantastic sighting with the cubs climbing on the tree trunk - MUCH better than yesterday. Tony and Sylvia are ecstatic. After a few minutes another vehicle arrives but that’s OK, it’s still much better than having 11 others! We stay with the cheetahs for about half an hour and it’s totally amazing – again I could have quite happily stayed for hours.
    Shortly after leaving the cheetahs and before we even reached the gate, we come across some buffalos with two of them engaged in a serious fight. The noise of the horns clashing together was just something else .... Fantastic. We stayed for only a few minutes and drove on back to the lodge. Along the way we see Giraffe Warthogs and Zebra but nothing else and for most of the journey Sammy hardly says a word. On arrival at the Serena I say goodbye to Tony and Sylvia and go back to our room. We go to lunch and relax a little and I download my photos and then we get ready to go on our evening gamedrive at 4pm (instead of 3.30pm). I was sorely tempted to skip the drive and have a nap instead but the thought of missing something soon wiped all thoughts of bed from my mind.
    It was still pretty hot when we set off. Sammy started to drive around some of the long grass and eventually he told us he was looking for lion. After quite a while of driving back and forth we find out he is actually looking for the lions with the kill that we saw this morning. We give up searching for them here but eventually find them but they are quite along way from where we had been looking. Before finding them we see 2 Black Backed Jackals, another Lilac Breasted Roller and a Starling. The Lions are pretty full when we arrive and there is a Tawny Eagle perched on a tree above them just waiting for his chance. We leave the lions and find a Thompsons Gazelle with a baby of about 3 weeks of age. Then we see a Yellow Billed Stork, a Black Headed Heron and an Impala Bachelors herd and next a 2 week old baby Impala. Next up was another baby – a zebra suckling his Mom. We spot a herd of elephants a little way away and point them out to Sammy (ie we want to stop) but I guess Sammy isn’t too keen on elephants and doesn’t stop. On we drive … MORE Lions!! This time two males with their black manes showing. Apparently they are between 5 and 6 years old and are apparently very tired! We stay with them for quite a while (I think Sammy liked them!) and then we start to head back towards the lodge. We don’t see anything much for quite a while when next thing Sammy stops the vehicle and points out a Topi about 100 metres away .... I didn’t get it - he wouldn’t stop for the elephants yet now he is stopping for a Topi which is far away and a way more common sighting than Elephant (Nyamera, I am not dissing the Topi by the way ;)) AND on previous drives he had driven past hundreds of Topi without commenting! Go figure! Moving on we spot the tiniest little baby Impala. Sammy said he was less than a week old. Of course I wanted a photo but instead of just stopping the vehicle and letting me take an ‘insurance’ shot first, he moved towards the little mite. The baby of course got scared and moved away so Sammy followed. By now the poor little thing was really afraid and he found a little circle of rocks which he lay down inside with ears down and the adults moved away as if we were a predator. The poor little thing was so cute and after quickly taking a few shots we move off to leave him in peace. Next to see is a journey of Giraffe with two very small babies – one about a month old and the other less than 2 weeks old …. Today was certainly babies’ day!

    Back at the lodge, having showered and hastily changed I went to meet Lillian the beauty therapist at reception. She took me down to the ‘salon’ below the pool. There, I had the most wonderful massage for an hour and all for just 2000KSH (about €20). I have paid 4 times that price for massages which haven’t been half as good at home. Fully relaxed, I went back to meet Deck for dinner. Tonight there was no meat at the stir-fry station so I had pasta with vegetables which was nice. It would have been perfect except for too much chilli – my own fault. After dinner we went straight back to our room for an early night – all those early mornings were catching up with me. We knew we couldn’t cope with another night of that awful laughing so we took a chance and put a note through next doors door asking them if they would mind keeping the noise down a little. Lying in bed, we heard them come back to their room at about 10pm and we held our breath .... the note would either work or it would have the opposite effect. Well, thankfully, it worked – after a few minutes of noise when they entered the room, there wasn’t a peep for the rest of the night – complete silence ... heaven!!!!

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    JULY 27th - Our Last Day in the Mara.

    Another day, another game drive. Sammy gives us our park entry permits this morning and makes a big hoo ha about us needing to keep them with us at all times. He says this in a way that makes us feel as if it were our fault we didn’t have them yesterday! Anyways, this morning was pretty cold and we weren’t expecting to see very much as most of the animals seemed to be having a lie-in. We had the vehicle to ourselves again. We passed a Tawny Eagle and some Waterbuck and were driving along a very quiet road with not an animal in sight when suddenly there’s a silhouette in the tall grass moving alongside the vehicle – it’s in the shape of a cat ... what is it, what is it? ? It’s a cheetah!!! It trots along past the vehicle and out onto the side of the road. It turns out to be a beautiful female. She doesn’t bother to look back at us, just stops at the side of the road and then crosses over to the middle of the road and then goes into the long grass on the other side – she seems to be on a mission! But wait … there are two more cheetahs – more than 14-month-old cubs Sammy tells us. They disappear into the long grass too. These cats move away quickly as Sammy tells us this is the first time they have been seen in the area and they are not habituated. In the meantime, two more Serena vehicles arrive behind us and when the cheetahs go into the grass they follow them. My heart is in my mouth – I don’t want to frighten them but I do want to see them. Sammy decides not to follow them!!!! And of course, as usual, he doesn’t tell us his plan - if he has a plan?! We drive on. I’m elated and disappointed at the same time. Further down the road (maybe half a mile or so) we pull into the grass and drive back and forth for a long while. It seems Sammy is trying to catch the cheetahs crossing our path. The other two vehicles are still following them and the radios are going goodo but of course Sammy doesn’t fill us in so we have to ask and even then he gives us the bare minimum of information. After a while we spot a Black Chested Snake Eagle and a Pied Kingfisher. We continue looking for the cheetahs and eventually Deck spots a large group of Vultures. Sammy drives over and we discover the reason for the group – it’s a dead Thompsons Gazelle. On further inspection we discover that it is a cheetah kill (or so Sammy tells us) So they’ve already had their breakfast and the Hooded Lapped Faced Vultures, the White Backed Vultures and the Ruppell Vultures are fighting over the remains. Sammy radios the other vehicles about the find and we ‘eventually’ find out that they have lost the cheetahs. There is no sign of them where we are either so we start making our way back towards the road. Before we reach it I get a good picture of a Crowned Plover. Shortly afterwards a lone Black Backed Jackal passes in front of us and turns to ‘pose’ for a couple of photos – both myself and Deck love these guys – they are so cute with those big ears on such little heads.

    At about 8am we give up on finding the cheetahs and Sammy drives to the river where a large pod of Hippos are making a bit of noise. It turns out that the ‘Chief’ is having a good sniff at one of the females but she is obviously more interested than he is as she sticks her butt in his face. After a short while we leave them to it. Then, just as we think that’s it for the morning we spot a very late arrival ... It’s a large hippo out of water at 8.15am, I can’t believe our luck – I really wanted to see a hippo out of water and here one is ! When he spots us he hurriedly makes his way back to the river. We ask Sammy “Is he old?” (i.e. how old) and we get a typical Sammy answer .. “He’s not old” .... I swear, it’s like pulling hens teeth trying to get answers out of Sammy. Myself and Deck just look at each other with that knowing expression and neither of us bothers to ask again how old – too much effort and we don’t feel like pulling teeth today! We watch as the hippo gets back in the water somewhat annoying Sammy as it’s very obvious he wants to go. On the way back we spot a Topi on a termite mound and as this is one of the pictures that typifies the Mara I want to try to get a good photo. But as Sammy pulls close too quickly he scares the Topi and I miss the shot ... oh well. Back to the Serena.

    Deck does the usual after breakfast and has a nap while I photograph our resident lizard just below the patio doors. Then I head back to Lillian for an amazing Indian Head Massage and some Reflexology. Afterwards, the day has turned out to be quite hot and I decide to take advantage and read by the pool. I haven’t had much chance to read during this trip and the views from the pool are breathtaking. I can’t believe I’m lying there with such amazing surroundings. This really is the MAJOR plus of staying at the Serena. I mean, having a herd of Impala browse while I sunbathe – this is the life and I’m only sorry I didn’t take my camera to the pool especially when the resident male Monard Lizard shows up – he’s such a handsome guy. Well, problem solved – Deck shows up at about 1pm and I send him to get the camera and I get some close-ups of the lizard and the spectacular view.

    At 2pm we seriously considered not bothering with lunch. It was such a pity we never looked forward to our meals as normally we quite enjoy this part of our holidays. In the end we decide we better have something small, as we will be starving by 7pm. We both end up having a small salad, Deck has some cheese and crackers (his staple for the duration of our stay) and I have some delicious pineapple (my staple), then we head off to meet Sammy again.

    We’re just out the gate when Sammy says “Topi on termite hill”. This time I make Sammy stay well back while I get a couple of zoomed in insurance shots. After I get the photos he moves closer so I can get better close-ups. There beside the Topi is the baby giraffe we saw yesterday evening. He’s such a cutie. The baby moves closer to the Topi and it’s such a funny picture – Topi on termite hill is towering over the baby giraffe – what an odd sight! Next are a couple of Buffalo and some ‘Kenya Express’ that I actually manage to get some decent close-up shots of without them taking off with their tails in the air. Deck just loves these guys – they are funny creatures.

    As we carry on we realise we are once again heading in the direction of the Oloololo Gate. Deck asks me if I have the permits? Oh ‘beep’, they’re in my other shorts – do we tell Sammy? We, or rather I, decide not to – if there’s a problem at the gate we will deal with it. After all Serena let us gamedrive through the park for three days before they gave us the permits. After a little while we spot a beautiful male Giraffe. He has the most beautiful dark colouring and we get up close and personal with him. Apparently he is more than 20 years old. I discover for the first time that giraffe don’t have the best ‘head’ profile J. Next us are some female Waterbuck and then a couple more Giraffe, some Yellow Billed Stork and some Greater Egrets. We drive on a little further and just around the corner there is a large herd of Elephants – fantastic! They come right up beside us, babies and all. We stay with them for quite a while which I am delighted with – they really are such beautiful animals. Reluctantly we leave the Ellies heading again towards Oloololo. A short way further we spot some more Waterbuck. It’s a large group of males and females and one of the males is showing a keen interest in one of the females but she is leading him a merry dance. We watch from a distance and I get some photographs of an ‘almost honeymoon’. I ask Sammy if he can get a little bit closer as they are now out of range of my camera Sure. He moves a closer, and closer, and closer - too close, we have distracted the Waterbuck. We sit tight for a while to see if the ‘honeymooners’ will go on honeymoon but they don’t. Instead the male chases another male away. We sit for another while and although there is no honeymoon I get some great shots. When the female Waterbuck look straight at the camera I think they look like teddy bears with those rounded ears – so cute.

    After our ‘distraction’ we are again on our way. Sammy stops at some birds along the way. I have already seen and photographed these species and we gently urge him onwards saying we have photos of these already – we really want to try to get to those cheetahs and birds definitely are secondary in priority to cheetahs – for me at least. We do actually stop to take a picture of a Vulture in a nest with a chick but the chick ducked and stayed down. Soon we are again in an area where there seems to be no animals. As we are driving along we see a vehicle stopped off the roadway and camera flashes going. We ask Sammy to investigate. As we pull off the road the other vehicle comes towards us. Sammy and the driver have a brief chat. We assumed he was asking what they had been looking at but when we asked Sammy ‘What is it!’ after the vehicle left he replied “I didn’t ask” - For God’s sake, he was just having ANOTHER chat!! Anyways, we make our way over to here the other vehicle was and discover the attraction … Mum & Dad Hyenas with two jet-black cubs just outside their den. Dad is fast asleep and Mum is attempting to rest. We ask Sammy “How old?” (We have learnt our lesson and ask specifics!). He says about 6 weeks. We are given quite a show as the cubs frolic and climb all over mum. We watch them for about 10 minutes and eventually we have to leave.

    We head back towards the lodge, too late to go to see the cheetahs – oh well, the hyenas more than made up for it. One thing we couldn’t figure, Sammy must have known where the Hyenas were before this as this was their den and the visitors book at the Serena had entries from people who had seen them, why hadn’t he taken us there before now? Especially since we had come near here quite a few time before. We really couldn’t figure this guy.

    Anyways, on our way back Sammy spots three of the females of the pride of 7 Lions we saw previously with the kill so we stop for a short visit. I also get a glimpse of a Hawk in flight. When we arrive at the Serena we ask Sammy what is the plan for tomorrow – are we going to have a gamedrive before our 11am flight to Nairobi? Yes is the answer. We are delighted to have one more drive so we say goodbye to Sammy. As I am heading back to the room Sammy called Deck back .... “Did you enjoy your game drive?”. This is the first time he has asked this in all of our drives, you’d never have guessed we were leaving tomorrow and it was tip day!!!!! Talk about obvious!

    Back at the room we shower and pack up most of our stuff and then it is off to dinner. Tonight, if you can believe it, dinner is actually quite nice – a big surprise. I have the lettuce soup which I had never had before and it is quite pleasant. Deck has what was essentially Chicken Volovents which he also enjoys. He says that his main course, lamb I think, is the best he has eaten in his time at the Serena. I have pasta stir-fry from the stir-fry station and this time I don’t make the mistake of having too much chilli. It is very nice. I don’t have any dessert but Deck has cheese and crackers. During dinner we discuss the tips for the following day. We decide to leave Kevin at reception a little something, as he has been so helpful. The ‘general staff’ we would figure out in the morning but Sammy … what to do? By now you will have figured out that we were less than impressed with him so the tipping question was a hard one. Deck is actually so unimpressed with him that ‘no tip’ was mentioned but of course we would never do that. Neither did we want to over tip him because that would just encourage his ‘bad behaviour’ and would do no one any favours – why should he make an effort if he was going to get tipped well anyways. So we decide, his service was ‘less than average’ so his tip would be no more than average.

    At dinner we meet with a lovely couple from the US who are seated at the next table. It turns out that they have Samuel as their driver – I am envious. They tell us that they were in one of the vehicles that followed the cheetahs yesterday morning. They said they stayed with them for quite a while and got some good sightings … oh boy, NOW I envious!!
    After dinner we go down to the fire pit where the resident musicians / singers are in full swing. There we meet two Australians who have just arrived today – Maxine & Robyn. Maxine is a Tour Guide with Scenic Tours and we have good fun swapping stories of lost luggage etc. All too soon it’s time for bed so after one last rendition of ‘Jambo Bwana’ we leave the fire and head for bed – our last night in the Mara.

    We arrive in the room and start to put away more of our stuff when we discover that we have new neighbours .... Please, please don’t let them be too rowdy for too long we pray - luck is with us, within half an hour they go to bed and we get another pleasant nights sleep.

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    You had an outstanding array of animals in the Mara, despite your lack luster guide.
    Did I count 9 cheetah? Five were young babies! A hyena den with pups and fighting buffalo. I am partial to the waterbuck also.

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    Wow! I've finally caught up again -this is a great report - Thanks Imelda! I have a question (and sorry if I missed the reference earlier) - what are "Kenya Express"?

    It's a shame that your guides haven't been the best. It must be hard for them to maintain their enthusiasm day after day - I know I wouldn't have the patience for it.

    Now you've mentioned another picture that I can't wait to see - there's "the look", and now the Towering Topi!

    Thanks for taking the time to do this!

    Cyn

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    Lynn, yes, although Sammy was a BIG dissapointment we were definately VERY VERY lucky with our sightings - 9 cheetahs!! and LOTS of animals and birds I had never seen before - lots of really good Jackal sightings, a hippo out of water, A wildebeest crossing, Mongoose, those cute Hyena cubs plus mom and dad, those buffalo etc etc ..... fantastic! Those sightings really made the trip and what made it even better was that we saw something we had never seen before on each and every game drive.

    Imelda

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    HI Cyn,
    Sorry, I was typing while you posted. 'Kenya Express' is the nickname for Warthogs. I think they are called that because they just take off and run with their tails in the air - so funny!

    To be honest Cyn, Mule and Sammy were very different - Mule just wasn't a people type of person - at least that's the impression we got but Sammy was in a league all of his own - he was downright rude (You'll have to read the next installment of my trip report to see just HOW rude;)!). He also spent LOTS of time on the radio and we couldn't believe it when he just did his own thing so many times (skipping the Ellies TWICE and then spending about half an hour with the two lions on 'Lion day' just because HE wanted to)... I really didn't get it. The icing on the cake was when he pointed out that Topi. Anyways, the reason I posted about him here is so that this doesn't happen to anyone else here. Really, had we known he was going to be so bad we would have asked to change guides on the second day but thought 'he can't be this bad - he HAS to improve' thinking that it was miscommunication - but it DEFINATELY wasn't. I suppose, had we not had Samuel on that first evening we would have thought that Mule and Sammy were the 'normal standard' of guides in Kenya.

    I promise once I finish the report (which hopefully will be quite soon!), I will get working on those photos!

    Imelda

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    It is a good thing you have such a good attitude. From sullen guides to mediocre food (I think I read that) to the Burundi thing, your positive outlook has made the best of all these situations so that the wonders of Africa remains your focus.

    You have me curious about the next installment on rudeness.

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    Hello Imelda!

    Well, I have finally caught up a bit on my reading - I went to bed with a good book written by Imelda last night! Almost made it to the end, but had to put it down at 12:30 - early to work this morning!

    What a fabulous read! And you should really be proud of both yourself and Deck - you really do take life as it's comes - an admirable attitude! It would seem that you did have a few challenges thrown your way - both big and small and by-the-golly you guys sure came through with flying colours!

    I agree 100% on Kennedy - he is an incredible person that will make sure that you have a good trip in all ways possible, I too noticed how much he paid attention to all the details and genuinely cared about us having a good time! The expresion on his face in our pictures at the cheetah hug said it all actually. Someday we will return, and do a whole safari circuit with him. Did you by any chance though let him know that you found Mule's 'enthusiasm' a bit lacking?

    You really did not seem to get the 'best of the best' of the guides - but at least you did get a taste of it and what better reason to go back again thatn to try and rectify that situation?

    You had me rolling in my seat (well, bed...) when I read about the lotion bottle and the bath tub - yeeeeewwww... I think I will cross staying at the Milles des Collins off my list! Maybe just a lunch so we can see it someday for the historical 'factor'!

    By the way you didn't mention how you 'liked' the balloon ride - did you have any problems with the heights at all - are you glad you did it?

    Looking forward to the rest of your report, my good friend, and I am starting to 'finish' mine at lunch today!!!

    Once I completely finish yours - I'm on to Sandi's now!

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    Hi Lynda,
    Sorry the report is loooong but I did warn at the beginning!;) :D and sorry to have kept you up so late on awork night! I'm glad you're enjoying it though.
    Yes, we did come up with some challenges but for some reason we didn't let them bother us too much. I suppose we felt lucky to be in Africa at all and I had spent so much time getting it all sorted I wasn't going to let ANYTHING spoil it. Sammy was definately the biggest damper but thankfully the Mara totally made up for it. You would swear the animals 'knew' we had a less than perfect guide and decided 'aw, lets give them something to smile about' and appeared before us! The sightings REALLY made up for the bad guide and truely, had the sightings not been so good, we wouldn't have been so upbeat and you know... every cloud has a silver lining of some description ;)

    Yes Kennedy is a dote and we had great fun with him. He did ask us how we got on with Mule. I really didn't want to whinge to him as I know he would have been very dissapointed but I din't cover it up either - we said 'he was OK' and left it at that. I 'think' Kennedy picked up on it and I didn't want to make him feel bad by going into too much detail. He's too nice of a guy to do that to.
    I'm glad you had a laugh about the Mille Collines 'lotion incident'. I couldn't believe someone would actually do something like that AND it wasn't a cheap hotel by any means either ... next time it will be the Intercontinental for sure ;)
    Sorry, I meant to say about the balloon ride - we absolutely LOVED it!!! The heights thing wasn't even an issue and even if someone was totally terrified of heights I don't think that they would be scared. It was so peaceful and the views were spectacular. We have just one compliant ..... it wasn't long enough! :D We could have happily stayed up there for another hour! Would I do it again?... Most definately! It's just such a different experience and I think that it's something everyone should do at least once.

    Hi Nyamera,
    Yes, a towering Topi - I knew you'd like that! And yes, we really were spoiled by the game viewing... thankfully! Glad you found my description of Sammy interesting - just a pity he wasn't ;)

    Hi Wayne,
    We were SO excited about the cheetahs. We had 'missed' cheetah on our first trip to Africa so we were delighted to see some this time. The Mom and cubs were so cute and I was really sad to hear she lost one of them a few weeks ago but I guess that's life.
    Seeing the other three 'un habituated' cheetahs had my heart racing though - a real thrill! although it was a very short glimpse I was very excited about it.

    Hi Cindy,
    We too loved the babies. We had never seen many babies before so it was very exciting.

    Imelda





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    JULY 28th - Animal Petting Here We Come!

    Our last day in the Mara and I’m definitely a little bit sad. We were up and ready for our last game drive bright and early. We met Sammy and off we went. “We are looking for Leopard” he told us! This is a leopards territory he tells us of the area just below the Serena (the area we thought of as our ‘back garden’). We had never driven this area before.
    Our first sighting is a Crowned Hornbill on a termite hill, then some Giraffe and a pair of Dik Dik – our first in the Mara. I attempt to get good shots of them all with my trusty FZ30 but horror of horrors, for some reason all the photos are coming out blurred - it’s as if I have the shakes... but I haven’t!!! =-O. As hard as I try I can’t get decent shots and now I’m panicking a little. What if I can’t fix it!!! What about those beautiful cheetahs I’m going to hug in Nairobi and my foster Ellies too – what if I can’t fix my camera and I cant take photographs of them?!!! I change some settings and try to figure out what I did since last night to ‘break’ the camera. Eventually I guess I must have pressed some button or other by mistake so I try adjusting the anti-shake setting. I can’t remember which one I should be using and the manual is back in the lodge so I just guess. I turn the camera off and then back on and after much perspiring, it’s working again .... Now I breathe!! I still don’t know what I had done wrong but thankfully it was OK. Talk about anxious moments!!

    We search in and out of clusters of bushes for leopard finding only Baboons. We see two Little Bee Eaters (another first) but don’t manage to photograph them – we’re on a mission! A few minutes later we spot a lone lioness by the river. She is on the move. We don’t follow her but we watch a male Impala as he watches every move the lioness makes. We move off as soon as the lioness is out of sight. We have just left the lioness when two young males are spotted. We watch them as they stroll past. With so many lions I know the chance of seeing leopard is slim if not very unlikely but we continue on our ‘mission’. We spot a Goliath Heron a couple of Zebra and some more Crowned Hornbills which I manage to get a couple of ‘non-shaky’ shots of. We move onwards, MORE lions!! This time two males of about 31/2 – 4 years old. These too are on the move. We don’t follow them but move on again. Not too much further away we spot ... you’ve guessed it ... MORE lions! This time two males of about 2 years old. They look relaxed enough until they realise that the other two, older lions, are in the area. On that realisation they quickly jog away.

    We drive on. Next up, a group on Mongoose. These are very skittish and I just manage one half decent shot of them with a Topi in the background. After that we turn back towards the way we came. We spot some Elands far away. Suddenly, an antelope in a very big hurry flies across our path and just vanishes. We hardly see it as it has come and gone so quickly. It turns out it was an Oribi Gazelle which Sammy tells us is nocturnal (I actually subsequently looked up Oribi Gazelle in the net to see what exactly it was we saw and found out that they are NOT nocturnal!). We continue on our way and suddenly we realise we are back at the Serena .... and entering the gate .... it’s only 8am. :( We are disappointed we didn’t get a longer drive (we thought we could easily have spent another hour on the drive) and again Sammy never filled us in on the plan. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly, without warning, be finished our safari in the Mara. Anyways, we pull up at the Serena and as we hadn’t sorted the tips this morning, we ask Sammy if it is OK to leave his tip at reception for him. He tells us he will be driving us to the airstrip for our flight so we say OK, we’ll give it to you then.

    First off we go for breakfast. There we meet the couple we spoke to last night. It turns out that they are flying back to Nairobi on an 11am flight today also. Deck picked up the bill from reception and we looked it over during breakfast – good thing we did because they had overcharged us for the room – they hadn’t deducted the deposit. After breakfast we went back to reception to get it sorted. With a revised bill we went back to the room to finish packing, look over the bill and sort the tips. Having OK’d the bill and finished packing we sat down to do the tips into envelopes. We gave the standard tip to the ‘general’ staff plus a separate tip for the room attendants. Sammy had taken us on 3 days of game drives plus this mornings ‘jaunt’ so we decided (or rather Deck decided) he was getting the standard tip for 3 days so in to an envelope it went. We went back up to reception with our luggage (they wanted us there at 10am) and settled the bill. One thing to note on this – when I made the reservation I was quoted in US$. I paid the deposit by credit card in US$ and asked when the remainder was due. I was told that I could pay it at the Serena by credit card. What I wasn’t told though was that if I paid by credit card it would have to be paid in Kenyan Shillings, then converted over. I hadn’t budgeted enough cash to pay in $ so I had no choice but to pay by credit card and by paying it in this way it actually cost me about $60 more due to the exchange rate. If I were doing it again I would have paid the bill in advance from home.

    Anyways, bill sorted, checked out and ready to go, we head for some outside seats where we meet up with Maxine & Robyn again. We have a nice chat and take one last look at the spectacular view from the Serena – I will miss it!
    Sammy told us he would pick us up at 10.15am but he doesn’t show until well after 10.30am. We load up into his vehicle and our luggage is loaded into another vehicle with that of the people who had Samuel as their driver and we set off for the airstrip drinking in the last sights of the Mara along the way. All too soon we are there. We wait in the vehicle while Sammy goes to get our luggage. He takes it out 0of the other vehicle and leaves it at the edge of the airstrip for us. Sammy then busies himself with luggage etc. belonging to arriving guests on a large AirKenya flight. Then another AirKenya flight arrives, this time a much smaller plane, and Sammy is even busier. When he had gotten more or less sorted Deck called him over to give him his tip (as he hadn’t come over to us since we arrived at the airstrip). Deck gave him the envelope and Sammy said he would be coming back to us, he just took the envelope and carried on with the arriving guests. Well, a little while later we spot Sammy going into the toilets. Deck guessed Sammy was checking the contents of the envelope – subtle Sammy was not! Anyways, to cut a long story short, Sammy never came back to us; he just took off with some new clients without so much as a wave or a Thank You. You know, it really didn’t surprise us; it just reaffirmed our thoughts on him - rude and ignorant! The tip we gave him wasn’t a bad one – it’s what many people give as a standard tip and we gave it for what was most definitely sub-standard service. Throughout our trip we over tipped absolutely everyone, except for Sammy that is, and boy were we glad we didn’t.

    By now it was well past 11am with no sign of our SafariLink flight. There was another family waiting for the same flight so we didn’t worry too much – after all we were on African time! ;) In the meantime, the people who had boarded the large Kenya Air plane for their Nairobi bound flight had to disembark, as there was a mechanical problem. After a while they were loaded up into vehicles and taken to the Serena to wait for another plane. We had originally booked the Mara flight with Kenya Air but because SafariLink fly from Naivasha we cancelled with AirKenya and booked both legs with SafariLink instead. We were really glad we did because it would really have messed up our Nairobi plans if we were on that grounded plane. Eventually, almost an hour late, the SafariLink plane arrived. This plane was a 14-seater with two large seats right at the back. We ended up with there seats which was great as they had LOTS of space with a large gap between them and the next ones on the other side of the door. I was fine with my claustrophobia issue. We took off. Once we were up we saw an amazing sight – thousands and thousands of wildebeest making their way , almost in single file, towards the river. We just imagined what the migration would be like in a week or two ... Awesome! Then from Decks side of the plane he saw a herd of zebra crossing the river – what a last sight of the Mara!!! We made one stop before we headed for Nairobi – Keekorok I think. It was a good flight and soon enough we were landing in Nairobi.

    When we land at Wilson airport we are escorted out, through what appears to be customs, through a gate outside the airport. We are asked if someone is meeting us – Yes, Kennedy. Someone brings our bags to us ‘Wait Here’ we are told. We wait a little while but we don’t see Kennedy. The first guy comes back ‘Do you know who is picking you up?’ - he seems intent on making sure we are OK. Soon I spot Kennedy. He has been waiting for Debra in SafariLink to telephone him on his mobile to let him know when our flight is in as it was delayed. When I spotted him he still hadn’t gotten the phone call and he was asking some guy if he knew what the story with the flight was. It was now 1pm and was drizzling in Nairobi. We loaded into Kennedy’s Suzuki Vitara. We were supposed to do Karen Blixen, the Giraffe Centre, Utamaduni Shopping Centre for lunch and then visit our foster Ellies at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Tomorrow we were supposed to ‘Hug the Cheetah’ at KWS and do a little shopping. Kennedy asked if it would be OK if we did the ‘Cheetah Hug’ today instead of he could arrange it .... OF COURSE!!! I’m not too sure why Kennedy wanted to change the ‘hug’ to today but we had absolutely no objection. Kennedy was a bit worried about the rain though but we told him ‘what’s a little rain’, we’re from Ireland where it rains all the time and the drizzle in Nairobi today could hardly be classed as rain! So Kennedy makes a phone call to see if the ‘hug’ can be done today and we set off.

    First stop is Karen Blixen which is actually a relatively quick visit. We get one of the guides to show us around but don’t bother with a walk in the garden as suggested as, number one, it’s still drizzling and number two, Deck isn’t than ‘into’ gardens and this one doesn’t seem to be that exciting. After Karen Blixen we decide we’re getting a little peckish so Kennedy suggests the Utamaduni Centre for lunch. There, the restaurant is most accommodating. As you already know, I’m vegetarian and I don’t eat cheese which can cause problems, but not here! Everything vegetarian on the menu has cheese - no problem; they make me THE most delicious fresh ravioli especially! It is absolutely gorgeous, especially after living on salad for the past 4 days! Deck has a burger and chips which he says is the best meal he has had since he came to Africa! Kennedy has the chicken which he actually sends back as it is undercooked but it is OK when it returns. We don’t actually go into the Utamaduni Shopping Centre, as, by now, we need to make tracks to hug those Cheetahs.

    Along the way we have some really good fun with Kennedy. He really has a fantastic sense of humour and we got along fantastically. I remembered to ask him the story about his name Leely and it was a very interesting story. Lynda, I asked him about the tinted windows on the Vitara too..... And they’re all down to you!! Actually, they really are a very good idea for Nairobi and would have worked perfectly for us too had Deck managed to keep his up! .... Kennedy told Deck there was no problem with him smoking in the Vitara and of course deck didn’t need to be told twice and took full advantage :o, keeping the window rolled down while doing so. This defeated the purpose of the tinted glass a little!

    Anyways, back to Nairobi ... It wasn’t too long before we reached the KWS and my heart was beating faster with anticipation. I could hardly believe that we really were going to hug those cheetahs. After so much planning the time was almost here and I was just SO SO excited! We waited in the vehicle while Kennedy telephoned the guy who was arranging the hug to check all was in order - it was. A few minutes later our guide (Francis I think his name was … can you believe I forgot to write it down and now I’m not sure:( ) arrived. Kennedy was still worried about the rain and gave us a large umbrella to take around with us. We walked with Kennedy and Francis to the entrance where we paid the fee and entered. Francis took us around to all the enclosures and Kennedy left us to it half way through. Most of the animals looked fine but I felt that the pigmy hippo wasn’t happy. He was in the corner of his enclosure and didn’t move and I felt sorry for him. We went to see the leopard and he was high up in a tree. Francis told us that some people throw stones at him so he hides in the tree - poor thing. We also saw the hippo and beautiful Oryx who is the one that the Lioness in Samburu ‘adopted’ – an unbelievable story. The two beautiful male lions weren’t really interested in coming too close to us. There was also an albino zebra, buffalo, hyena gazelle and one of my favourites: three Colobus monkeys – two adults and a baby. I would have LOVED to have gotten in to their enclosure and had originally asked Kennedy about entering other enclosures which he said he would arrange but with Darren’s trouble yesterday with the cheetah hug we didn’t even mention to Kennedy about this (on the journey Kennedy told us that Darren had problems with the ‘boss’ the day before). Anyways, as we went around the park Francis told us about all the animals. He was a really lovely guy and we couldn’t believe it that he is a volunteer and doesn’t get paid for his work here – how sad as it shows that he really loves these animals ... he should take Sammy’s place in Serena!!!!!! Anyways, as we are walking around my excitement is growing and I can hardly concentrate on the other animals when we reach a closed in area. Francis introduces us to the cheetahs’ keepers and within a couple of minutes they are opening up a large gate. We enter an area which is shielded from the publics view. They tell us we will be seeing the cheetah here as there are lots of people outside (which there are!). We walk a few feet and there in a smallish enclosed area is one of the cheetahs – I catch my breath … this is it! They open the gate and as I begin to walk in Deck hesitates, yes Lynda, he hesitates and asks ... ‘is it safe’ :)) :)) I just say, yes, come on, and he does. Well, this cheetah just loves to be petted. One of the keepers takes the camera and just clicks away and another keeper videos us with our camcorder. The cheetah (I can’t believe this either but I can’t remember her name either – guess I was too excited to take it all in!) is missing some fur around her neck and they tell us that she has some sort of internal mite but she is being treated for it. She has taken a total shine to Deck … she licks and licks and licks him until he is complaining (albeit half-heartedly) that his hand is sore :D. He is wearing a baseball cap and she takes a shine to that too and actually tries to remove it from his head :-))) and talk about purring – she just adores being petted. Soon it’s time to leave and I just don’t want to but the beautiful girl is beside the gate and obviously wants to go back out to her outside enclosure with her buddies so we say our goodbyes and leave the enclosure. We are exhilarated and sad at the same time and return to the entrance is a bit of a daze. It was definitely one of those memories I will cherish for the rest of my life - AWESOME!!

    next up Sheldrick Animal Orphanage ...

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    Kennedy was exaggerating a little bit. We didn't have any trouble at the KWS orphanage and had plenty of time with all three cheetahs. But we found out later that Kennedy and Richard (the volunteer guide) were worried the whole time that the boss was going to show up and throw a fit. Imelda, I guess that is why they took you to a separate enclosure out of sight of the public to spend time with your cheetah.
    Darren

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    Hi Guys,
    Sorry, I sort of abandoned the last of my trip report for the last couple of weeks but I haven't forgotten about it. Here is just a little more ....

    Darren, I'm gald Kennedy was exaggerating and you didn't have any hassle - that would have been a bummer.


    On the way back we are very unsure how much to tip Francis, especially as we know the keepers are expecting their cut. In the end we decide on $30 (I’m still unsure if this was enough?) and some key rings / pens etc. We meet up with Kennedy again and we say goodbye to Francis as we head off for the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The Orphanage isn’t far and on the way we pass by Kazuri Beads but don’t have time to stop – maybe tomorrow. When we arrive at Nairobi National Park (the Elephant Orphanage is inside), a guard takes Kennedy’s details and lets us in. We travel along a roadway for a couple of minutes and we arrive at the gates to the Orphanage but they are closed and there is no one in sight to open them. We sit and wait for a few minutes. Kennedy then decides to phone someone to get the telephone number of the Orphanage so that he can then telephone them and get them to let us in. Turns out, the person he phoned has already left the office so they can’t get the phone number. Next, Kennedy decides to get out and go to the gate .... Guess what, it wasn’t locked, just ‘closed’... ha, ha. ‘Open sesame’ Kennedy says and we’re in! We drive towards the Orphanage buildings when a keeper comes running towards us – ‘stop’, we are bringing in the Rhino (Shida) and he won’t come in if he hears the vehicle. We park up and follow the road to the buildings. Shida, the baby rhino is in his pen when we get there but the Ellies are still not back from the park yet. The keepers tell us we can go over to see Shida while we are waiting for the Ellies to be brought in. So over we go. Shida is being bottle fed and loving it. Watching this huge rhino (he is very large even though he is still a baby) guzzle the ‘bottle’ with serious slurping is hilarious ... What a ‘big baby’! I ask the keeper if I can pet him (Shida, not the keeper ;) ) and he says yes. Shida wasn’t too keen on the petting though and when he was finished his bottle he moved back from the gate to a large oversized ‘plate’ of some sort of powder in the pen. He started into his meal when next thing, two visitors enter the pen through the back – the resident Warthogs! Of course they want to share Shida’s meal. Well they edged closer and closer and closer. Shida was very tolerant and would let them have some food and then would nudge them away. It was really comical to watch.

    In the meantime, the Elephant babies arrived and were put into their stables so we decided to say goodbye to Shida and say hello to the Ellies. I think it was Sidai and Kamboyo we saw first. Then Sian who has the least hair and the softest shin and LOVED being petted. Baby Makena was next and then little Zurura with whom the keeper was playing, wee, wee, wee, he called to Zurura as they played. Zurura is very funny and stole some of Makenas food (leaves) through a gap in the timber between the stalls. Next we went to Kora. Makena and Kora are my two foster babies so it was really exciting to see them. All of the babies loved sucking my finger. They had just had some coconut oil rubbed on their skin to keep it soft and I found out that this leaves quite a mess :). Poor Kora has a piece of bone broken off in his jaw from a bullet shot and has a very bad infection which they have been trying to treat since he came to the orphanage. There were talks of operating to insert antibiotics directly into the infected site but the keeper told us that this is not going to be done. Instead poor Kora is getting 10 injections per day and this seems to be helping. Next (and last) was Lualeni, the Matriarch. She is such a dote. She ADORED sucking my finger, to the point, when I went to take it away, she wrapped her trunk tightly around my arm to hold my finger in place :D I couldn’t stop laughing at her. Kora is actually ready to be moved to Tsavo except for his jaw, as is Lualeni but Kora can’t be moved until his jaw improves and Lualeni is being kept with Kora until they move to Tsavo together. Lualeni’s keeper told us that the keepers get up every 3 hours to feed the Ellies 24 hours per day! They only get 4 days off per month. Their beds are in the stables with the Ellies and these are only thin foam mattresses on top of bales of straw with two thin blankets each AND Kora and Lualeni are in more ‘outdoor’ type enclosures (because they are older – around 2 years) and I’m not sure if their keepers have anywhere else to sleep other than there.

    We left Lualeni and went back around to all the Ellies again to say goodbye. When we went back to Lualeni to say our final goodbye (can you tell I didn’t want to leave them!), a woman brought a small plastic bowl of something. At first we thought it was a supplement or something for Lualeni but I couldn’t have been more wrong – it was the keepers ‘dinner’ (If you could call it that!). When he got that we said goodbye but we were shocked, including Kennedy. It was a very small bowl of corn and cabbage – how could a grown man who gets up every 3 hours, 24 hours a day, sustain his health and live on such food and such a small amount?! Kennedy told us that these keepers get paid very little – only about $100/month and with Nairobi being expensive they find it very difficult to live on this.
    On the way to our hotel we talked a lot about the situation in Kenya and Kennedy told us how he started out on his own with less than $100 to his name. I really admire him for his courage and determination. On the journey back to the hotel and that evening I thought a lot about the Ellies and their keepers. I was disturbed with the keepers conditions and I felt somehow partly responsible for the keepers being in the situation they are in. After all, I have fostered two Ellies, which, being a good thing in itself, is the reason these keepers are here and are not being looked after properly. They don’t even have the basics of such things as warm blankets to sleep with. I was very sorry I hadn’t realised this before I went to Kenya because at least then I could have taken some things with me for the keepers – sleeping bags etc.
    We decided that we wanted to go back to the Orphanage tomorrow at the regular visiting time (11-12). We hadn’t originally planned this but I just had to see the Ellies one more time before leaving Kenya and we also wanted to give the keepers something for themselves so we arranged this with Kennedy, He would pick us up at 10.30am and this would be our first port of call.

    We arrived at the Nairobi Serena sometime around 6.30pm. Kennedy insisted that he stay with us until we got checked in even though we told him there was no need as he had a fairly long drive back home. Check in was quick and we said goodbye to Kennedy before being shown to our room ... Oh, oh, it’s a twin and I had booked a double. A phone call from the room and we are told ‘it’s OK, we will have a double ready for you in 15 minutes’ so back down to reception we go. We have some complimentary drinks outside near the bar. After about a half an hour finally our room is ready. Up we go and by this stage we are pretty tired, Deck more than me, so we decide to have a little rest in the big comfy bed. We discuss the day and at about 8.30, nod off .... there went dinner!

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    Great report, thank you very much.

    Would you happen to have contact information for Richard in Rwanda? You also mentioned that you would recommend him for Uganda as well, has he done that before? My plan is to spend about 8-10 days in Rwanda and Uganda, starting in either Kigali or Entebbe and ending in the other one.

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    Lynn, Yes, those babies were fantastic and I was VERY sad to leave them.

    Tacos, Glad you are enjoying the report.Richard is a FANTASTIC guide and I wholehartedly recommend him. He has done many trips around Rwanda and Uganda so if that's what your interested in then Richard is your man. If you want to e-mail me on im_civil at hotmail dot com I can give you his details.

    Imelda

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    Imelda,
    Makena is my foster baby ele as well! Because of our schedual, we can't stop at the orphanage on our trip, and I am so dissapointed, especially after reading your report. It was so fun to read about your visit, though...Thank you!
    Cindy

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    <<There, there are about 5 planes. We ask the guy at the bottom for the Kigali plane and he motions us to what looks like the last plane. We board and find two seats. Our boarding passes have assigned seat numbers but the hostesses tell us it’s open seating. The plane eventually took off at 12.30pm.>>

    This must be "normal operating procedure" in Africa. My husband was going from Nairobi to the Serengeti and ended up in Zanzibar!!! Same scenario - he asked which plane is going to the Serengeti and the guy says "that one." He thought it strange when he saw coral and clear water -- didn't realize that the Seregeti was on the coast of Africa. :)

    What an adventure it was!!!

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