My Kenya Diary
A fantastic trip and way beyond our expectation of what a safari should be! I began planning the trip in mid June and luckily was able to book a couple of camps that I had previously researched. With the advices from the posters at Fodors and Tripadvisor along with my previous research made this trip a lot of fun and I would like to thank everyone who posted trip reports and help give me recommendations and advices.
I wanted to fly with Kenya Airways who fly directly from Bangkok to Nairobi but the flights were all full, in all travel classes, on the dates we needed. Ended up flying with Emirates which required a stop in Dubai but the benefit will be the complimentary stopover on our way back home in a 5 stars hotel. The flights went smoothly and we greatly enjoyed Dubai airport’s terminal 3 and the Emirate lounge there.
Upon landing in Nairobi I had a vision, based on several trip reports, of long lines at the Kenyan immigration and an even longer waiting time for the luggage to be offloaded. Well we landed at 2.45PM on a Sunday and to our delight there was waiting at all and the luggage came out within 15 minutes. The driver from our first hotel, the Giraffe Manor, was waiting outside with a rather delightful sign (a giraffe’s head sticking out from the top) which made it very easy to spot. The drive took around 30 minutes and we arrived at an English looking manor with wide open grounds.
The Giraffe manor was a delight and we love everything about it except for the disappointing food. The weather in Nairobi was unusually cold and overcast for the two nights that we were there. Temperature didn’t exceed 15C during the day time and at night it hovered around 10C, how English like! We met several of the resident Rothschild giraffes who visited us through the windows of the dining room and on the grounds. “Kissing” a giraffe is an experience everyone should try! Our other activities in Nairobi were shopping for my wife who found several locally made jewelries and other souvenirs at Utamaduni Craft Centre. Another activity that is worth mentioning is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant centre and we visited there at around 4PM with our new found friends, two ladies from New York, and ended up adopting a blind black rhino and a baby elephant.
After two wonderful nights in Nairobi it was time for the Masai Mara. I was so afraid of the weight limit that, with the advice of MaryW’s husband, I invested in a travel vest from “Scottevest”. The vest look rather “nerdish” but I was able to carry 16KG of computers, Ipad, batteries and other heavy items inside the jackets without showing it. Our luggage weighed in at a combined total of 26KG and with the extra 16KG in my jacket and 10KG in my wife’s purse we made it on to the plane without having to repack our stuff or pay any overweight penalty. In hindsight I probably didn’t need the special “vest” as I don’t think that they are that strict about the weight limit as no hand carried items were weighted.
Lacking an accurate weather forecast for both Nairobi and the Masai Mara I feared that the cold overcast weather will be at our destination as well since distant wise they are not that far apart. The Dash -7 took off on time and after 15 minutes we finally broke the cloud cover and saw the sun for the first time in 3 days. The pilot made an announcement that the weather at Keekorok, our destination, was good – sunny and I was elated with joy. The last 10 minutes of our flight we could see the grounds and wow no clouds! The landscape was barren, brownish and look devoid of life but as soon as we were low enough I could see groups of wildebeest roaming the land – yeah!
The Masai Mara.
To hedge our chances of seeing the migration I booked two camps that were relative far apart but both being inside the national park. Our first camp was Sala’s camp, a “real” tented camp with no permanent structures or buildings. We landed at what look like a makeshift airstrip with several 4x4 parked waiting for the arriving passengers. I looked at all the signs carried by the drivers and none were from Sala’s camp and then I walked around to all the vehicles and non were from Sala’s camp as well. Oh, oh a nightmarish scenario was happening to us! A local Masai guide from another camp came over and called the camp for us while I called my travel agent in Nairobi. After a few minutes I was reassured that the guide and vehicle from Sala’s was coming and they had mistook my arrival time to be 2 hours later! All the vehicles at the airstrip started to leave and the Masai guide volunteered to stay with us as he could see that we were quite angry and scared. The last vehicle leaving the airstrip stop by where we were standing with our luggage and a group of Chinese TV production crew got out and ask us what was wrong. Their vehicle was full of TV cameras and other equipment but they offer to take us to our camp and volunteered to stay with us at the airstrip as well. One of the Chinese documentary film makers was quite famous in China and the other one who called himself “Simba” was there to film Lions. What a great world we live in when total strangers offering to help us in our time of need!
Masai Mara day 1.
Leaving the airstrip with our very apologetic driver we started to see wildebeests, zebras and the other animals on the plain. Both my wife and I were very excited taking numerous photos and video and then driver advised that we should stop as what we were seeing was nothing in comparison to what is around Sala’s camp itself. I thought no way that what our driver was saying can be right as I was seeing Wildebeests in groups of a thousand or more and zebras groups of 50 or more. After a relatively short drive and with a few stops to photographs “sunning” lions and lioness that were only 5 feet away from our vehicle we arrived at safari heaven!
After climbing to the top of a small ridge the land below suddenly became black with wildebeests all tightly grouped together. What an amazing sight and we later learned from the owner of Sala’s camp and a visiting “gold” star guide who was accompanying a family from India that the herds around Sala’s is classify as a “Mega – Herd” and there are approximately 700,000 wildebeests plus around 100,000 zebras and other migrating and residential animals around the camp. We were speechless and spent several minutes just looking at the magnificent sight before we told the driver to head into camp.
Sala’s camp is rather small with 7 tents and situated on the bank of the Sand River. Upon our arrival at the camp one of the owners, Ronaldo, came out very apologetically about the late arriving driver at Keekorok airstrip. We told him that it was not a nice feeling not being met but at least the kindness of strangers made up for it. We were shown to our tent, number 6 I think, and found it very rustic being a real tent set up on uneven grounds and no electricity. I knew about the camp but I was so relieve that my wife found the camp OK and like it.
After a quick lunch with only just the two of us in camp we wanted to start the game drive immediately. Ronaldo told us that it was best to start at 4.00PM since it was too hot and the animals will not be active. I insisted and after his failing to meet up with us he gave the driver/guide the OK. Our driver was “Alex” and he had only just started working with Sala’s for a month. A very entertaining young man with a great sense of humor and I knew straight away that we would get along.
We drove out of the camp passing numerous Wildebeests, Elands, Zebras and numerous antelope type animals (Thompson’s Gazelles, Elands etc). Alex headed for the bushes by the river bank and I asked him what he was looking for and he said rhinos or leopards. After about half an hour later we saw on the other side of the Sand River several vultures standing by a freshly killed wildebeests. Alex wanted to investigate and explained to us that there must be a predator nearby as the vultures would not dare eat the wildebeest. While crossing the Sand River, mostly sand bank and half way across, we came by a big lioness crouching behind some rocks on the river bed. I asked Alex if the wildebeest kill belonged to her and he said he didn’t think so. We waited silently by the lioness and a minute or two later a leopard emerged from the bushes!
The lioness stood up and began to move towards the leopard and Alex started our vehicle to follow the now running leopard. I got off a few shots, photos, of the leopard in flight and all the time I could hear the lioness growling while in chase. All these events happened right beside our vehicles so it was a terrific first safari for us!
The leopard scrambled and disappeared into the bushes by a ravine and the lioness followed him, a “him” or male from later photo identification. I pointed to a tree that I saw the leopard running toward and Alex parked our vehicle directly below the tree hoping to spot the leopard while giving us some shade. A loud growl came from the top of the tree and we spotted the leopard up there while the lioness was circling below in the ravine! My wife got so cared in the open top vehicle and the driver realized the danger and we moved back a few meters for safety. We were now about 5 meters away but still so close and it was a bit scary for a first time safari tourists. We parked there for the next 45 minutes and with no sign of the lioness leaving or the leopard daring to come down we called it a day and headed back to camp. On the way back we passed by the mega herds of wildebeest again and we ask Alex to stop the vehicle for some nice sunset pictures amongst the magnificent herd.
Arriving at the camp at dusk a spritely young lady quickly walks to our vehicle to greet us. It was the camp manager who was out earlier with another group of guests and she introduced herself and then again apologized to no ends about not having someone meeting us at the airstrip on time. I extended the greeting from Sandi to Sissa who immediately remembered Sandi as Sandi XXXX from New York. Not knowing where Sandi is from I simply said I think so and Sissa asked that I convey a big hello to you Sandi.
There was a roaring fire right outside the mess tent and Sisa offered us some snacks and drinks but we wanted to return to our tent and clean up before dinner. It was a full camp that day we all sat in one long table for dinner and made friends with everyone in camp. A family of 3(grandmother, mother and young son) from Zurich, a family of 6 from Holland, a couple from India who live in San Francisco travelling with their parents and a private guide(gold star) and us. The food was good but the conversation was better and with the ever so clear night sky of the Masai Mara we sat outside afterward talking under the bright shining stars beside the smouldering fire.
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My Kenya Diary