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Kenya trip report from fresh meat

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Excuse length... am chanelling back experiences as I write and not applying much in the way of checking ... only way I can get it done... but it may take some time


Recently came back from my first trip to Kenya (or even Africa for that matter, unless you count two hours’ transit in Dubai 15 years ago) and would like to donate a trip report for Lynda’s index, since we will definitely be needing the help of the regulars with the next trip (scheduled for ASAP which in reality is likely to be December this year). We didn’t actually make much use of your advice for accommodations this year (and it SHOWS) since we had already made most of our decisions before I found this board. However, all the advice re cameras, what to take, game drives, and whatsoever was so, so useful. We were totally, perfectly equipped!

I doubt this will in general add much to the knowledge already in the posts here but there are a couple of things that may be of interest since we (rather like Nyamera coincidentally) had a mix-and-match variety of destinations and accommodations and transport which make the trip itinerary appear like it might be for two different people.

In our case the nature of our plans can be explained as a battle between someone who wanted to be as close to nature as possible and my wife, who was rather scared of being mauled by lions or trampled by herds of dik-diks in the night. Tents were OUT. Fences were NORMAL. Walking was for LUNATICS. Africa is a dangerous place. Anyway, we compromised on the following itinerary, which I deliberately loaded with some unknowns to make sure things stayed interesting. We used Eastern and Southern Safaris for the first five days (which first brought me to this forum since I was looking for assurances or background about them and Patty’s original trip post came up from Google search – and by the way I agree with her that they can be recommended as an excellent semi-budget option, especially for a private safari) but all blame should be attached to me and my imagination:

DAY 1 Bangkok - Dubai – Nairobi (arriving 1200) – Nairobi Safari Club
DAYS 2- 5 Masaai Mara – Serena (Eastern & Southern Safaris)
DAY 6 To Nakuru – Midland Hotel (now on our own!)
DAY 7 Nakuru (day off) – Midland Hotel
DAY 8 Lake Nakuru National Park – Midland Hotel
DAY 9 Lake Baringo - Lake Baringo Club
DAY 10 Lake Baringo – back to Midland Hotel in evening
DAY 11 Mount Kenya National Park – Mountain Lodge
DAY 12 Mount Kenya National Park – Mountain Lodge
DAY 13 Nairobi – Jacaranda Hotel
DAY 14 Nairobi – Jacaranda Hotel (left at midnight)

Now of course you may well be looking at that and shaking your head, but if you are be warned it might pop right off later.

We flew Emirates because it is two shortish flights and so does not require splashing on Business Class. We were not served anything (not even drinks) until two hours before landing in Dubai. Next time I don’t want them to serve anything at all since they clearly got the concept of cuisine from a British motorway café in the 1970s. I have a strong stomach and have never before not been able to eat a meal when hungry (except for a sour pigs’ intestine soup I was served – lukewarm - by a lvoely family of doctors here in Bangkok some years ago). Nice planes, shame about everything else! Never drink the coffee unless you are British and would prefer a nice pot of stewed tea really.

We survived Emirates cuisine and stopover in Dubai (damage limited to a new pair of binoculars and an extra memory card) and arrived in Nairobi at midday. Excited to see we can see outside from the baggage claim – we are really here !! Unfortunately one of our two bags is not here…!!!! They are ultra positive and ultra helpful at the lost luggage counter but I have no forwarding address with me (we are going on safari next morning at 7 a.m.) and so have to run out and find our driver (hey, his face looks familiar somehow..) and borrow his “Mr & Mrs Taylor” signboard which has the Eastern & Southern Safaris telephone number on the back. Fortunately security let me back in, but when lost luggage then ask for the address too (I said positive and helpful, I didn’t say efficient) the security guard refuses to let me back in again, so we have to go around to the staff entrance and go through the security check. They sort of gave up trying to understand our confused driver’s explanation of why I was coming in through that entrance and seemed to let me in on the basis that I looked harmless enough and appeared to be in a big hurry.

We finally got out after 90 minutes and arrive at the hotel very quickly since it is a public holiday. Nairobi Safari Club is a surprisingly nice place. It looked very big, impersonal and modern on its Web site but in fact it's small and quite cosy with lots of wood paneling and a rather old-fashioned air. Rooms are really big (not that you need it, but…) and view is nice from the balcony. Wife learns that “Jambo” is not a cheeky remark about my waistline. Dinner at Carnivore - only camel, croc and ostrich on the game meat menu now and no sign of a show, but a very good feed and excellent service – bit disappointed but wife loves it.

Next morning we got up to go pay the remaining 70% of our safari cost and then off the Masaai Mara. Learn that driver – guide has just driven someone called Patty around and is indeed in a Kodak photo album posted here. Wife falls in love with him after about 2 hours and decides she is no longer afraid of lions if J’s around. Pick up a stranded family of British tourists whose Urvan suspension gave out on the road from Narok and drop them off at the Mara Saraova Camp where we also have lunch. See giraffes immediately and then a steinbuck (took some identifying but I think that’s it) followed by a cheetah having a nap. Some Indian tourists try to wake it with shouts and whistles but J and the wife give them a combined power death-ray look and they take off to annoy the hippos further up the road. Next see hyenas stirring from their den and having an early evening pee and a jackal stopping to water a termite mound (sleeping cheetah, peeing hyenas and jackals – the wife is now confirmed in her belief that wildlife is not after all likely to maul her and starts plotting to bring it home to meet our cats). Arrive at lodge. Much discussed herein before I think. Excellent place for its type but I can see it would be too big for some tastes and you can’t e.g. see the stars very clearly for all the lights around, which is disappionting. Great value for money though, given its location (location, location) and the quality of the service, food and comfort of the rooms. Plus it looks totally cool in your photos! When it was very full we noticed a significant deterioration in service standards but that was only one night and in our room or at the bar after 9 it was nearly always very peaceful and quiet. Like it; wife like it a lot.

Saw lions next morning, and then everything else we had heard of (bar rhino) and a lot we hadn’t. There really are a lot of animals in this area of the Mara – I cannot stress this enough and just do not understand why people have to scoot off to somewhere else after two days – four nights was just perfect for us – and if there had been much wildlife in the eastern part (which there wasn’t) we could have stretched it further quite easily. So by the end of day three we had seen about 10 different lions, which were sleeping after a feed, feeding on a kill (twice), making love, and taking their cubs home away from the nasty tourists (six cubs, two lionesses right up in the north west of the reserve). There were just thousands of wildebeest and zebras (or a few hundred of each moving round very rapidly) and tons of elephants and giraffes. Also saw cheetahs (again) dik-dik, a leopard (right next to the lodge when we left late one morning), an eland family with two very young fawns (placenta was still hanging out mother’s behind), three different types of mongoose, all of the common big savannah birds and no small number of topi and the totally weird looking hartebeest (for some reason our guide was particularly keen to point these out and so I thought I would mention them)And there were never a lot of vehicles around except for the combined lion kill and cubs which happened to be near wquite a few of the camps I think……

to be continued… keep your powder dry…

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    I am enjoying the report also. I am sorry for your experience with Emirates.

    I found my flight from NYC to Dubai the greatest flight I have every taken with wonderful food.

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    Love your writing style, and it's great to read about all kinds of experiences. How can you say this won't be useful?

    Like your wife, my good friend was terrified of "Africa" until about an hour with our guide. Then it was "Oh, whatever Adrian thinks is best."

    Can't wait to read more.

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    Very entertaining report. Trip #1 may have served as a good education for your wife and you'll be tenting it, walking in the bush, and canoeing on trip #2.

    Glad you took the time to channel, looking forward to the rest.

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    Trip report part two - hooked and cooked

    I sort of skipped explaining how it all felt to arrive in the Masaai Mara for the first time, but it’s so difficult to describe. Somewhere between stunned and totally alive is the best I can do. I guess I’ll get the totally alive bit without the stunned bit next time, but to be honest I think the stunned feeling is good in that it keeps people in their vehicles (well except for one Irish guy who got out of the pop up roof of his vehicle and sat on top of the van at a lion kill holding his arms up to the heavens - and not even my wife’s death ray stare and pointed questions to J could get through to him; the driver of his van had to start the engine and move back a fraction to jolt him back to the realization that he was made of bush meat too). I think my wife felt the same way but expressed it as “Why didn’t we book the whole two weeks here… why are we going anywhere else? Can we cancel and stay here?” I was smart enough to accept the blame for not predicting she would completely reverse all previous opinions on the African bush within 36 hours of arriving.

    I think everything was helped by the weather. It was cool in the evening and warm during the day, but unless the sun was directly on you it was never uncomfortable (okay we live in Bangkok, but it really was pleasant). Also at this time of year nowhere was full (except for the odd day when the big Scandinavian or British tours arrived for their flying visits). I would say save money and go to Kenya in November/ early December, because the rain is light or non-existent, there are lots of animals as usual and people have not yet arrived for their Christmas vacations…. but seeing that I have never been at any other time of year …..

    Back to the trip report…. We left the Mara early on day 6 because we didn’t want to get to Nakuru too late and wanted to stop off by the Masaai village at the Sekenani Gate. We had originally thought that the Masaai dance and lecture at the Serena might be sufficient and we could do a game drive that morning instead of leaving so early, but although the lecture is goodish, the dance is performed by the same people who clean your rooms and carry your baggage, and I would swear some wore wigs… and the little bald guy with the paunch is not REALLY a Masaai surely?? He certainly didn’t jump very high. Anyway, it was a sad kind of morning saying goodbye to the Masaai Mara, and we saw appropriately few animals that morning (only took about 20 photos compared to at least a 100 for every other game drive – yes a lot of photos and I am not even a real hobby photographer).

    The masaai village is, to my surprise, really worth a visit. You can just drive in and they’ll arrange a dance and tour for you immediately. It’s much more interesting to have the culture explained while you are among the people and although the descriptions and explanations given by our host were rather cursory we found him willing to talk in a lot more detail if you show genuine interest. Of course you have to show respect before asking the tricky ones like wondering how, if all the young Masaai men kill a lion each, there are any lions left in the area nowadays. Another couple turned up after us, poked their heads in the dung burrow – sorry, house - watched the fire display and promptly left – waste of money for them but they were as friendly as a couple of fish and about as comfortable in the land of the Maa speakers. There was a sizable little market set up in a kraal beside the village (ooh … just happen to have it all set up and why don’t you take a look while you are here). I would not say that the prices were good, but it is THE way to buy souvenirs. My wife selected about 20 pieces and I another 10 “Oh we’ll talk about the price later” they say “you choose first”. This of course is a famous negotiating ploy, and the Masaai know every trick of the trade – from “very rare” to “we’d charge a normal tourist ….” to “calculation errors” to reacting to a hard line from you on one piece by raising the starting price of the next piece. I’m well used to bargaining from living in Thailand for 16 years, but they had me. I finally gave up at 10500 shillings because my knees were giving out from crouching in the middle of the kraal for so long. My wife would have had more stamina since she is better used to sitting on her haunches – from her childhood in Thailand – but she had beaten a retreat from the bargaining circle when she noted that the Masaai do not wear underwear. [They had been quite circumspect during the dance, placing their hands in lieu of a sporran when they jumped, but once they all got excited by the bargaining (each family has its own stall and so 10 different families were involved in bargaining with me) they were relaxed and laughing and just let it hang. Sensitive ladies might wish to steel themselves in case this was actually another negotiating technique and not at all accidental - I did note they assigned the most handsome of the Morans to carry my wife’s shopping for her during the selection. Less delicate ladies may already be contacting their outfitters and adjusting their itineraries.]
    J meanwhile had got worried about us and was not calmed when he arrived in the kraal to find me crouched on the ground surrounded by 15 shouting Masaai men. Great fun and well worth being burned a bit! You just don’t get the same experience in the lodge gift shop.

    The direct road from Narok to Nakuru was open and this was going to save us an hour or two, so we stopped for a meal in Narok (which by the way means "hell" in Thai) in order to try Kenyan food, which had unfortunately not featured on the menus at the Serena. We ordered ugali and chicken curry and it was really good. The road from Narok to Nakuru was first smooth, then like a dry river bed for nearly an hour, and then good again when we got near Nakuru. It is a very steep dry river bed in places, but a real short cut. Driving time from Sekanani Gate to Nakuru (excluding Masaai village and lunch stops) was not more than 4 hours I think.

    We arrived at he Midland Hotel, which we had booked through Let’s Go, and it is rather better than we expected. Said sad goodbyes to J, who was returning to Nairobi and were now on our own. Rooms at the Midland are relatively basic and they seem to have missed the invention of the telephone somewhere along the line, but it is genuinely comfortable and clean and rather reminds me of one of the more upmarket motels in New Zealand or Australia. They are building what appear to be gardens next to the new wing, which has big bay-style windows and I think it will be pretty nice when complete. They also have the best meal in town – the ½ chicken platter with ugali, irio (potatoes, corn starch and some greens all mashed together and very good indeed) chips and gravy. It is not a light meal and we could not finish one plate between the two of us, but it really is very, very good. Their oriental chicken curry is also delicious, despite being not at all oriental and not actually a curry.

    We had the next day planned as a “day off” in Nakuru but that turned out to be a big mistake now that we both had the safari bug so bad. We covered the town center in about 2 hours walking slowly, including all the souvenir stalls, where the wife half-heartedly bought what even she now admits is a pretty tacky carving of a warthog. It’s not that it is a bad place – it’s just not a place to chill after a safari. Actually I don’t think it’s a place to visit at all unless you are bored and looking for unusual experiences. So we decided we would book a whole day in Lake Nakuru National Park the following day, since we would otherwise have little to do and at least we would be with the animals all day. The previous day the staff at the Midland had recommended a safari company for trips and so we had set up a meeting with them for this morning – Spoonbill was the name and Gibson was the man. Remember these. When we arrived at this office we couldn’t finds it at first; this turned out to be because there was no sign outside and it was located on the second floor of the Carnation Hotel (cheap and relatively cheerful by the look of it) in what I presume was a converted room but appeared at first to be broom cupboard with a desk in it. After talking to G for a few minutes it became apparent that he was not a man of substance (quite possibly he had never set foot inside the park) but we decided to just take the tour because we were a bit down and couldn’t be bothered shopping around. He also wanted to arrange transport for us to Lake Baringo and Mountain Lodge and from Mountain Lodge to Nairobi (I had made the room and board bookings but arranged no transport and so it was part of the plan that I would arrange transport in Nakuru) but we said we’d see first because he was quoting us 40,000 shillings and that seemed a little excessive for simple transport.

    At this point wise heads are saying it would have been better to add another day in Lake Nakuru to your safari itinerary - would not have cost more, and they are right. It cost us more this way! The only reason we did it this way was because my wife insited she was not likely to enjoy the safari experience that much.

    I have to get back to work and will post the rest as soon as I can… thank you for all encouragement offered.

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