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Trip Report Lewa Safari Camp - 4 nights

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My wife and I were off on a safari in our backyard. The morning started off like most Saturday mornings, with the dogs barking, some wanting to be let out, others wanting to be let in. Coffee on, showered, packed the day before, we were off in our Chauffer driven 4wd (our driver was dropping us off in our car) to Nairobi’s Wilson airport.

Yay. It is Saturday. We only took 20 minutes, as opposed to an hour, and with a swift security check to enter the airport, we were at the Safarilink terminal. Bags out, through the scanner, we were at the check in desk in less then 2 minutes. No priority queues here. No extra luggage allowance. We are allowed 15 kg per person including hand luggage, which was sort of enforced. With a big smile, we are given our boarding pass (each is color coded depending on your final destination), and we were in the waiting area.

No fancy shmancy business or first class lounges here. Just a massive cafe with seating. As usual, the cafe staff turned up at 7 am (they are meant to open at 7 am) to set up, so were not ready to serve till past 7.20 am. This is one thing that pisses me off about Moniko's who run the cafe at Safarilink. 7 am opening does not mean 7 am service. Food was very average, and the strong cappuccino still tasted like dish water. Did not learn from being here a few months ago.

Our flight today had 12 passengers - 10 getting off at Nanyuki airstrip, and the two of us heading up to the airstrip at Lewa.

The reason for our trip. 5 years of marriage. We used to travel abroad, but a few years ago agreed to domestic tourism. Kenya has some magnificent places to visit, and properties to boot, so we decided every year we will go on a domestic safari in Kenya, at least a week long, and maximum two properties. This trip entails 4 nights at Lewa Safari Camp, and 4 nights at Tortilis Safari Camp in Amboseli.

Sitting in the waiting area, you can smell avgas, see planes taking off, and ground crew getting planes ready for the day. Wilson airport is Nairobi's second airport, the busiest in Africa, and used mainly for safari flights, as well as aid flights into neighboring Somalia and Sudan's.

Around 7.45 am we were called to board, as we had a pink boarding pass. We exited the Safarilink terminal, walked a short distance to the general passenger terminal, underwent an additional security check, and entered a small departure lounge. Shortly we were asked to walk across the apron to our Cesena caravan, identify luggage and board.

My wife and I always like the back seat. Seems to be a more comfortable ride. We had two pilots and 8 others passengers - two American families who were on safari together. One husband was a pilot for Delta, and one for Ethiopian Airlines.

We took off at 8.10 am, flew over Nairobi national park, and hit low cover cloud. A short 40 minutes later. We were in decent into Nanyuki Airstrip. This is where the family of 8 got off, and we picked up another family of 4. Next stop was Lewa Airstrip. The plane was scheduled to drop us at Lewa, head up to Samburu, then the Masai Mara, before returning to Nairobi. The captain said he then had an afternoon return flight to Amboseli. The life of bush pilots.

A short 15 minutes later, we were on approach into Lewa. We landed on a bush strip, and were met by one person, one vehicle, 7 giraffe, and 5 elephant. The person was our guide - Tom, who would be looking after us for the next 5 days and 4 nights. Tom had turned up in a long wheel base Toyota Land Cruiser, that was open sided. Seating was 3 rows behind the driver with two seats in each of the first two rows, and 3 seats in the final row. Awesome for game viewing.
Tom told us that Lewa Safari Camp was around 45 minutes away, but depending on what we see, we could take up to two hours. The drive to the camp was awesome. We came across quite a few rhino (both black and white), giraffe, Somali Ostrich, Grants Gazelle, Impala, Warthog, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Grevy’s Zebra, Burchells Zebra, and so much bird life.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a 60,000 acre conservancy that has been donated by the Craig Family to a trust. They wanted a wildlife conservancy and breeding ground for both the Black and White Rhino’s, as well as the Grevy’s Zebra (they have 20% of the total world population). Lewa has several accommodation options including homestays ($1000 a night plus per person), to camps (aka glamping).

We arrived into camp at around noon. We were met by Sacha the camp manager and a team of his staff. Welcomed with cold scented towels, we were led to the main lounge area for our welcome brief and orientation. Sacha is a Zimbabwean guide, and runs the camp with his wife Tam plus all of their staff. Lewa Safari Camp (LSC) has 12 tents (including two family tents), all with views overlooking the Lewa Plains. There is a large living area (indoor / outdoor), dining areas, swimming pool and expansive lawns.

Sacha gave us our welcome brief, do’s / don’ts and how the camp works. We were then shown to our tent – Tent 7. The tent consisted of a King Size Bed, bedside tables, open wardrobe / shelf, and bathroom with shower, toilet and single sink. There was a large deck in front.

The tent has one power socket and running hot (solar)/cold water.

It was a comfortable tent. My only areas that I could suggest for improvement would be more comfortable seating on the deck such as a day bed (there was one sofa seat, but not comfortable to lounge on), heavier bedding (it was freezing at night, and we asked for additional hot water bottles as well as more duvets. The duvet was cotton, and what was needed was a duck down one). I felt the bathroom was too close to the bed area – the toilet was behind a canvas flap, so if one partner was in bed, they could hear everything going on in the bathroom. While I am not looking for an ultra lux property, just some more room would have been appreciated. We would spend 5 hours during the day in the tent, so space would have been welcomed.

We quickly unpacked, and headed up to the bar. Lunch is served at 1 pm, dinner at 8 pm, and breakfast (if had in camp between 7 – 9 am). We were advised that the times were strict.

We were on an all inclusive package, which meant all of our meals, game drives, laundry and some drinks were included. Drinks included local beers, a house red and white, some spirits, and all soft drinks.

A cold tusker in hand, we went to explore our surroundings. There is a very nice pool area with sunbeds (the pool is freezing), various seating areas, help your self tea/coffee station, indoor / outdoor dining areas, as well as the lounges.

Lunch is always a buffet. Usually salads, a pasta or quiche, focaccia and more. Dessert was plated. Dinner was a three course affair, served at your table. LSC does not practice communal or hosted dining, so we had our own table at all meals. Daily menu’s are published so you can see what is going to be served, and can let your camp hosts know if you want any changes. They also cater for most allergies and likes/dislikes.

After a scrumptious lunch of salads, lasagna and focaccia, we headed back to our tent for an afternoon siesta. A nice day bed on the deck would have been welcomed.

We had agreed with Tom that we would head out for a game drive at 4.00 pm. At lunch, the barman had asked us what we wanted paced for our sundowners (we asked for vodka, lime and soda). We met Tom at 4 pm, and he introduced us to Kwality (sp) who was a Lewa Ranger and would accompany us on all our game drives. Between Tom and Kwality, we had 2 pairs of the most incredible eyes, pointing out so much to us.

Our afternoon game drive was incredible. We saw so many different animals, and birds. We had started to explore Lewa. We were told that there are additional activities we can partake in, including game walks, a visit to their rhino orphanage (each camp/house is given 2 slots a week, so you need to book early. For LSC it is Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons). Also there were community visits, visit to the tracking dogs, vintage bi-plane ride, helicopter rides, and so on.

We had a beautiful sunset, and our VLS’s. By this point, I was starting to feel unwell – sore throat, cough, sinuses and a headache. When we got back to camp, I asked Sacha if they had any antibiotics, and he suggested I visit the Lewa Medical Dispensary the next day.

As soon as the sun set, the temperature started to drop. I am used to wearing shorts on an afternoon game drive, and then changing into pants in camp for dinner, but I was very cold. When we got back to camp, we headed to our tent to change and then head to the lounge to warm up by the fire.

The lounge dining area had two fireplaces – either end of the room. Unfortunately they were not the ‘roaring’ type, and had to be stoked very regularly to get any flame going. Would have been nice to have a massive fire going.

The food at LSC was very very good. Always fresh, and plentiful. It is very Italian influenced.

We were back in our tent by 9.30 pm, had welcoming hot showers and in bed by 10.30 pm. The night (and most nights) were incredibly quiet. We did not hear any hyenas, lions, or other animals.

At dinner, we had been asked about a wake up call, so we asked for black coffee and to be woken at 5.45 am. We had agreed with Tom, we would leave by 6.30 am with a packed breakfast for our game drive.

After a good nights sleep, we were up by 5.45 am, dressed (very warmly), had our coffee and made our way up to the car. There was a clear view of Mt. Kenya on our game drive. As we drove, Tom kept slowing down, as we came across fresh lion spoor, fresh leopard spoor, and fresh hyena spoor. We drove, and kept looking, but found no cats this morning. We however had incredible rhino sightings, lots of giraffe, buffalos, zebra and other plains game.

We hardly saw any birds of prey. At around 9.30 am, Tom started driving towards an open plain, where a bush breakfast had been set up for us, and another couple (French from Texas on their honeymoon). We had a fully cooked breakfast in the open savannah with animals walking past us (at a distance). It was surreal.

From here, Tom took us to the Lewa Dispensary. Lewa looks after surrounding communities with several medical dispensaries, schools, etc. I was pleasantly surprised at how modern the dispensary was. I met with a doctor, who took all my vitals. It was a fully computerized clinic. His diagnosis was that I had a chronic bronchial infection, and needed antibiotics, anti inflamitories and antihistamines. He gave me the medicines, and I paid $2 for all of this.

We then had a lazy drive back to camp, seeing what we saw.

Another amazing lunch later, and I was feeling exhausted, so off for an afternoon siesta. We headed off on our game drive at 4 pm, this time suitably dressed for the cold weather that would hit us at sunset. Still no cats, but lots was learnt on the game drive. After an incredible sunset, we were back at camp by 7.30 pm. I was really starting to go downhill by now. All I wanted was a quick dinner, and get to bed.

It was decided that the next morning, my wife would go on the game drive, and I would rest (having been on hundreds of safaris, I have never done this before).

The next morning, my wife went on the game drive, and I slept till 9 am. I was felling like absolute crap. I woke up, and went for breakfast, and asked for the tent to be cleaned. We were looked after very well by Lydia, who kept our tent spotless, looked after me with lots of liquids and hot water bottles, and would check up on me from time to time.

I slept again till lunch time. My wife had found the Cheetah with 4 cubs, and spent time with them. She had also been to see the orphaned rhino’s and said it was one of the most amazing experiences she has ever had, spending time with them. After lunch, I went back to sleep, and my wife went on a game drive at 4 pm.

At 7.00 pm, I forced myself out of bed, and headed to the lounge area. Met my wife, and she told me about her wonderful afternoon – again with the Cheetahs, and more game. I tried to have dinner – could not really eat much, and was back in bed by 8.30 pm.

Our third morning – I was still crook, so stayed in bed, and my wife went off on a game drive. I woke around 8 am, and my wife sent me a message saying LSC had organized a bush breakfast for her. I was not going to stay in bed all day today, so forced myself up. The camp arranged for me to be taken to the Bush Breakfast site to meet my wife. She was not far with the cheetahs’, so I was dropped off to her vehicle with Tom and Kwality. I got to see the Cheetah’s. So cool. The mother was trying to hunt, and hid her cubs. We waited and waited, but not much happened. A radio call came in that our breakfast was ready, so another one of the guides (he had no guests) agreed to wait with the Cheetah, and we drove 10 minutes to the bush breakfast site.

Just as we were to finish our breakfast, a call came in over the radio that the Cheetah was on the move again – she was ready to hunt. We jumped into the vehicle, and drove off towards where she was. The cubs were hidden, and she had her eyes on a group of Grants Gazelle’s who had a fawn. Tom was certain she would target the fawn. At the same time there was a Grevy’s Zebra that kept coming closed to her, and we thought he might blow her cover. After 30 minutes, the Zebra walked off, and she was off as well. She went straight for the fawn. She swiped once and missed, still running at full speed, she swiped again and missed. We thought she was going to give up. Third time, bang, she got the fawn, and killed it. She was panting hard, and was out in the open. I swear in less then 2 minutes vultures started circling above us (had not seen a single vulture the whole time we had been there), and soon there were more then 15 vultures overhead.

The cheetah started dragging her kill towards some bushes. When she got to the bushes, panting hard, she started to call the cubs. It was so cool. Soon the four cubs came bounding through the grass, happy to see their mama, and happy she had a kill. Some played with her, and two of them tried to get into the kill. Their teeth were not sharp enough, so they had to wait for their mama to come and help tear the skin. It was not a huge meal, but 30 minutes later all that was left was bones and very full bellies.

We headed back to camp, very happy. After a great lunch and rest, we were off again at 4.00 pm. This time, we came across two male Cheetah’s who had been named Wallace and Grommet. They were huge. They were resting with very full bellies. We spent an hour with them, before we went off looking for other game. After sundowners we headed back to camp.

By this point, I was still not feeling well, and my wife had started to go downhill as well. At dinner, we decided, we would call our safari short, and head back to Nairobi for medical attention and rest.

The next morning, we sent emails to Cheli and Peacock who had booked our safari, as well as Safarilink requesting if we could postpone our Amboseli leg of the safari. They all graciously agreed, and we flew back to Nairobi at lunch time.

An afternoon at Aga Khan Hospital revealed that I had a lower lung infection, and it was a wise call to cancel the rest of the safari. So we headed home, and spent the next 5 days trying to recuperate.

I know we are going to go back to Lewa – probably next year, as we did not make a dent on the LSC bar, oh, and also to see more animals, and have a better wildlife safari.