Somehow I can't add to the prior thread, so here is Part I - I hope!
Tuesday, September 4 & Wednesday, September 5 – We had a quick and smooth Checker Cab ride to Lindbergh station and MARTA trip to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. We checked in for our KLM flight, #622 using our Delta Frequent Flier miles for Business Class. It took only 25 minutes to clear security: G.’s spotting scope/camera was removed from its travel case and inspected. We had a pleasant wait in the lounge chatting with a couple from Jackson, MS, off to Slovenia to hike. At the gate, we saw the Moores on their way to Ireland, also for a walking trip. We waved to a couple of other friends as they boarded the plane to Amsterdam, on their way to Paris!
After champagne, dinner, and wine, I slept a little and G. more. After a full breakfast, we arrived in Amsterdam on schedule at 7:20 AM. We waited to speak again with Bill and Wendy, but somehow missed them. Though we had not exited the secured area of the international terminal, we passed through security again before entering the gate area for KLM flight 565. We were not asked to remove our shoes—nor anywhere else until we were back in Atlanta! The 747 was only partially filled when we departed rainy, cold Amsterdam at 10:30 AM. I wasn’t hungry for lunch, so napped instead. I awoke to glimpse the Sahara below: an oasis and perhaps a sand storm? In what appeared to be Sudan (per the projected flight map), there were large rectangular fields and cultivated red fields. I began reading Bror Blixen’s Africa Letters, slow going.
We landed at Jomo Kenyatta International, Nairobi, on scheduled at 7:15 PM. —a seven-hour time change from home. Economy passengers were actually not allowed to deplane until Business Class had done so—convenient, but not comfortable! Things appeared much more organized than when we were here in 1992. Of course, we weren’t so tired this time. Baggage took a while, but arrived in good order. We were met by Fiona of Abercrombie & Kent and a driver, Edwin, who drove us to the Norfolk in an A&K dark green Land Cruiser. Fiona seated us in the reception area and brought our hotel registration to complete. After reviewing our Nairobi itinerary, she collected our fees for the Mara balloon ride and charter flight from Tsavo West back to Nairobi. She then escorted us to our room, #312, across the garden and up and down various courtyard stairs. Fiona presented us with gifts: A&K safari hats, a wooden, carved rhino, and a beautiful wildlife book, Jonathan Scott’s Safari Guide to East African Animals, autographed. Though appreciative, we were surprised at these additions to our baggage, given the stringent weight restrictions!
After settling in our room, we returned to the Ibis Restaurant on the terrace for a glass of wine. The Norfolk looks much the same, though it is under renovation following its purchase by Fairmont. The reception area is open, with a terrace behind overlooking the garden, where the old rickshaw is still displayed. The Delamere Room and the front terrace restaurant are closed for renovation. In the evening, the garden was filled with a chorus of tree frogs. Our room had a small balcony overlooking the swimming pool. We left the windows open during the night. To ensure a good night’s rejuvenating sleep, we took Ambien and were frighteningly dead to the world!
Thursday, September 6 – I woke at 5:30 AM to a beautiful birdsong, which I believe was the black-headed oriole, later identified at Loldia House. We slept on until 8:00 AM and were a little late for our breakfast with Peter from A&K Kenya. Peter was gracious, interesting, and informative.
From our sources so far, Kenya is doing well. All say the economy is growing. There are about 1,000,000 tourists annually and about that many business and other visitors. President Kibaki is respected and acting in the interest of the country. Christianity is the dominant (largest number) religion. There are Muslims along the coast. Peter said he wishes Christians were as aggressive as Muslims. He said some Christians in the United States seem more aggressive.
The day was overcast with pleasant temperature. Fiona, when asked, had said we should not walk from the hotel grounds. This advice was reinforced by the razor wire atop the fencing. So we relaxed, split a club sandwich for lunch at the Ibis, where we saw some brilliant sunbirds. Black kites were flying overhead. The sun came out as Edwin picked us up for our afternoon tour. Edwin conducted a short city center tour, with commentary:
• The blue/purple flowering trees are jacarandas. We also saw eucalyptus and flame trees.
• Kenya is 65% Christian and about 25% Muslim.
• Unemployment is about 45%, but the “economy is doing well.” Many people sell various wares on the street, but are not considered “employed.”
• Nairobi province, which has only the one district, has about 2.5 million people.
• The Norfolk Hotel was built in 1904; the Stanley (no longer called “The New Stanley”), in 1913. The thorn tree which had stood before it since colonial times has been removed from the Stanley. Traditionally, notes were left tacked to the tree as a way of communication. I noted a wire, flat “replica” of a thorn tree on the terrace!
• The long rains come from March to May and the short, from October to December, but weather patterns are changing, making agriculture more difficult.
I mentioned that last time we were here, many of the taxis seemed to be small Mercedes. Edwin said those are mostly around certain large hotels, but we saw none on this trip. Kenatco Taxis is a well established company with an earned good reputation. There are City Hoppa buses. On the other extreme, there were hand–pulled carts near the market. Matatus are now limited to 14 passengers each, with a seat belt for everyone. As we watched one driven onto the sidewalk, severely cutting a corner, Edwin referred to the “matatu matata,” “the matatu problem”—poor driving. Edwin says cars are “very inexpensive,” as is parking, which brings too many cars into town. The police have gotten very strict on zebra-walk violations: violators are fined and given points, which can lead to suspension of one’s driving license. He says there are about 5,000 cars a year added to the roads!
We witnessed a disturbing incident of “mob justice”: a young man being beaten by other young men. Edwin said he had probably been caught stealing.
We talked about the troubles in Zimbabwe and the effect on other parts of Africa. Edwin said that Zimbabwean refugees are taking jobs from South Africans, because they’ll work for lower wages. This is one reason there is such pressure on South Africa to censure Mugabe. But because President Mbeki was a schoolmate of President Mugabe, he’s not inclined to oppose him.
Having seen virtually no white people on the street, I asked Edwin if there are many white Kenyans. He said they are more in other areas (Karen, etc.). Whites own many businesses. He says the whites blend in well and assimilate. Many speak Swahili as well as the predominant dialect of the district in which they live.
Uhuru Garden was built to commemorate the place where the Union Jack came down on December 12, 1963, and was replaced by the Kenyan flag. The park is a memorial to those who contributed to peace, who may be buried in the cemetery in the park.
We visited Bomas of Kenya, an outdoor museum. Olive baboons on the grounds were our first mammal siting of this safari! We saw only the last of the native dancing program and the Jambo Acrobats. The acrobatic show was fast-paced and amazing, much enjoyed by groups of uniformed school children—and their teachers, who laughed and clapped. The village included exhibits of bomas of ten different tribes, described by a guide. Edwin is from the Luo tribe. He still has a hut in his father’s boma—but it doesn’t hold up well while he’s away working and not there to maintain it. The Luhya tribe have bull fights, between two bulls. They’re now trying to promote this sport as a tourist attraction!
We arrived at the Sheldrick Trust, in the edge of Nairobi National Park, just in time for our 5:15 appointment to see our adopted elephant, two-year-old Lenana. Friendly warthogs milled around us adoptive parents and other supporters, including three young, blonde women, affectionately labeled “the Barbies” by G.. They were slender, wore blue jeans, had bare midriffs, and made photographs with their cell phones. [Do I sound envious?!] First we all watched a keeper give Maxwell his evening bottle. Max is a one-year nine-month-old, black rhino orphan. He was found in Nairobi National Park near the orphanage by keepers. They kept an eye on him for several days, but his mother did not return to care for him. When they tried to approach him, they realized he is blind, so they took him in. He has adjusted well to his keepers and bonded with some of the little elephants. He has had surgery on one eye, but without complete success. Further surgery is planned. The hope with all animals in the orphanage is that they can be released into the wild. A large number of elephants have been successfully released into Tsavo East.
We walked around the “barn,” to see the elephants and their keepers returning from their day in the bush—in the Park. There were about a dozen elephants varying from tiny ones only a few months old to those Lenana’s size. All trotted right into their stalls for their suppertime bottles. The tiniest ones lay down and fell asleep almost immediately, covered with blankets. A keeper is always with the elephants, one sleeping in each stall on a raised platform. While we were there, the keepers’ dinner was brought out as well: greens and some sort of mash—not very appetizing looking! Lenana is fed fifty liters of formula a day! When elephants reach about four years old, they are transported to Tsavo East, where, still accompanied by their keepers, they learn to live in the wild, mingling with wild elephants during the day and returning to their stockade at night—until they are assimilated into a wild family.
Just at the end of our visit, we were all herded around the corner of the barn—Magnum, a feisty, lone male rhino was coming in for the night! He’s not one to pet and fondle, but he visits Max regularly.
We owe thanks to the Bathursts, who insisted we adopt an elephant so we could have this special behind-the-scenes tour. Well worth it—in fact we may adopt more! They also highly recommended Giraffe Manor, where we stayed later in this trip.
As we were driving from the Park, Edwin spotted an antelope in the brush, which he identified as a bongo. I’m fairly sure it was a bushbuck.
We were back at the Norfolk about 7:00. We had a delightful dinner: after tomato bisque soup, G. had Indian ocean lobster and I ate Naro trout. All was accompanied by a good bottle of Forrester Petit Chinen Blanc from Stellenbach. The end of a great first day in Kenya!
[While I still believe the Norfolk Hotel is a good place to spend the first couple of nights in Kenya, I now believe that Giraffe Manor might be a better spot, doubtless pricier. It might be a shame, at that price, to arrive there at midnight the first night, missing drinks and dinner. But if one’s arrival schedule was earlier, . . . . See the description of Giraffe Manor on September 12.]
Friday, September 7 — After the expansive buffet breakfast in the dining room, Edwin collected us at 8:00 for the drive to Loldia House. Nairobi was bustling with crowds already moving toward the University for the graduation ceremony: dressed in gowns and academic stoles, dress clothes, tinsel and glitter. The ceremony wasn’t until sometime in the afternoon, but seats are hard to come by on the grass of Uhuru Park.
The drive (we had requested a land transfer) showed us the changing countryside. Near the city, there were very poor areas, the roads filled with matatus. There are some larger buses, which do not run on a schedule, but depart only when filled so the drivers won’t have to stop to pick up other passengers. Throughout the drive, there were police checks: the road was obstructed by pairs of spiked barricades, one in each lane, staggered so that vehicles had to slow and pass by one at a time. The checks are for licenses, speed governors, and the safety of tires. We were always waved through, having the proper stickers on the windshield.
Along the road, we passed:
• newly made furniture for sale
• vegetable stands
• plowed fields of rich soils
• areas of small farms where people appeared less poor
• wooly sheep—and their wooly hides for sale
• geese and turkeys.
After a stop at an overlook for a view of the Great Rift Valley (and a couple of shops, which we resisted), we entered a higher, greener area with:
• pine trees
• cattle egrets
• pepper trees
• maribou storks
• yellow-barked acacias, “fever trees”
• cactus, introduced as ornamentals from Mexico
• women washing clothes in the river
• maise fields
• flat-topped acacias
• whistling-thorn acacias (ant nests with holes create the whistling sound in the wind)
• pairs of dik-diks
As we neared Loldia, we saw common drongo, cisticola, zebra, impala, tommies, waterbuck, Cape buffalo, and numerous other species of birds. Just inside the grounds, we saw a reed buck.
Peter Norge, the congenial manager, welcomed us on the veranda with juice and wet face cloths “for the dust”—and cared well for us throughout our visit. We were introduced to Ana, our room steward; William, the chief meal steward; and Sammy, Charles, and Josaphat, the guides. It happened that Peter Hopcraft was in the house this afternoon, and G. had a brief chat with him. He is a member of the family who still owns Loldia and operates the farm. The guest operation is part of Governors’ Camp group.
“Loldia Farm was established by a settler who came to Kenya in an ox-wagon after the Boer War and is still owned by the same family today. He was a renowned horseman who chose this beautiful corner of Kenya to enjoy all that was best of the early Kenyan Lifestyle. Nestling under the acacia and wild fig trees on the green western shore of Lake Naivasha, the present Loldia House was constructed by Italian prisoners of war of stone quarried on the farm. Built around a courtyard, its main archway frames a stunning view of the dormant Mount Longonot. . . Today’s guest can savor the taste of this early Lifestyle. . . . On the Farm’s 6500 acres, guests may walk or ride through herds of dairy and beef cattle or a flock of farmed ostriches, interspersed with impala, waterbuck and other plains game.”
Our room was one of four in the main house, opening onto the central courtyard, with a view over the Lake. It was a large room with high ceilings, comfortable chairs, and windows open over the lawn. There were twin beds, pushed together (and interestingly, positioned about 18 inches from the wall—and repositioned there when we shoved them back!). The furniture is comfortable and homey looking, not fancy. There was a large en suite bath. A large part of the edge of the lake (several hundred yards) was covered with water hyacinths (?) and reeds that look like papyrus, but we’re told are not. While this growth created the look of solid land, the vegetation moves with the wind. This part of the lake can clear overnight—and it did!
Lunch was served at a long table on the lawn. Superb starlings, ring-neck doves, white-rumped helmet shrikes, and crested francolin gathered on a rock beside us and hadada ibis and orioles chattered in the huge overhanging fig tree. The yard was lush with brilliantly colored flowers. Seated, we were served: rice balls with tomato sauce; fried fish fillets, roasted potatoes, and green beans; and a delicious apple tart with custard sauce. Vegetables were fresh from this or neighboring farms. The house was filled daily with bouquets of roses, also grown on a neighboring farm. This was the first of three weeks of delicious and bountiful meals, mostly served without our having to make decisions except as to our drinks! At lunch we met Marilyn and her daughter from California. Marilyn was a delightful character, a former probation officer. She and Alanna had come here from the Mara. Before that they had been at Lewa Downs Conservancy and had really liked that experience: quiet, no other vehicles on game drives, great game encounters. Suzanne had tried to send us there—maybe another time!
At 4:00, G. and I joined Charles for a bird walk through the fields. Peter drove the three of us from the house and idled in the background while we walked. We walked largely through plowed cabbage fields of rich, volcanic soil. The highlight birds were the Fischer’s lovebirds—like little parrots, sitting in a row all along a power line. This walk finally convinced me that I had made a serious mistake by not bringing a bird book! An interesting plant seen on this walk was devil’s horsewhip, a spiked purple plant that hurts if you hit against it. [Animal and bird lists follow each section.]
After a short break, we joined Marilyn and Alanna in a green Land Rover Defender for the evening game drive with Josaphat and a spotter, with a light. In addition to diurnal animals whose eyes we spotted, we saw hares, springhares, two spotted hyenas, eland and just at the end we found a leopard! He was lying under a tree. We watched him move off and into a ravine. Nearing the House, we saw hippos who had moved from the Lake to graze on the lawns and fields in the cool evening.
After drinks in the living room, we moved into the dining room and a candle-lit table for dinner. With Peter, in coat and tie, at the head of the table, the eleven of us carried on a rousing conversation. The guests over the period of our stay included Marilyn, her daughter Alanna, Muriel and David from northern England, an English family of four (college-age son and daughter) who live in Hong Kong (he heads Price Waterhouse there), honeymooners from London, and a widely traveled couple from Houston. Dinner included pasta with peas; barbecued chicken, cabbage, potatoes, zucchini; bread pudding. Peter arranged our next day’s activities and we went happy to bed with hot water bottles at our feet! Our first safari day—including a leopard!—had ended.
Saturday, September 8 – We breakfasted on the lawn at 8:00 with Marilyn and Alanna, with whom we were making the day trip to Lake Nakuru. The drive was more than two hours, over dusty, bumpy roads, through Saturday’s rush traffic in Nakuru, third largest city in Kenya. There was a lot of truck traffic on the “highway.” Sammy, our guide, said the neighboring countries send trucks through to the port at Mombasa. We were greeted at the Park gate by curious vervet monkeys, while Sammy went into the office to pay our fees. After Sammy opened the roof hatches, we drove straight to the Lake’s edge to see the flamingos: 100s of thousands of lesser flamingos! The sound of the whole pink sea was like the roar of a small airplane—the blending of their individual murmurings. Birds were constantly in motion, walking in every direction, very occasionally dipping their heads to eat. Courting groups marched in lock-step. Small groups flew off together, as other flocks settled onto the lake. There were young, gray chicks, but I noticed no nests. There was surprisingly little odor or poop—not like the penguins!
The flamingos themselves would have been worth the day’s drive, but there were so many other animals: hyenas, white rhino (we didn’t see any black rhinos, but they are in the Park), buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, tommies, impala, eland, Rothschild’s giraffes, olive baboons, zebra and numerous birds. We watched one hyena splashing through the shallows chasing flamingos—unsuccessfully.
We stopped for a late lunch in a picnic ground, which was being renovated. Because the tables were being repaired, we sat on a fallen tree trunk and a blanket on the ground and shared the space with the park workers, who blessedly were on their lunch break as well. Peter had sent abundant food: chicken pies, quiches, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, coffee and tea. Sammy had stopped at a market and bought bananas. Just as we left the park, rain came. Sammy quickly closed the roof hatches for the long drive home, finishing with two silver-backed jackals just before we reached the house.
Four new guests had arrived, replacing four who departed, with whom we expect to be reunited at Little Governors’ Camp.
Sunday, September 9 – After breakfast under the trees with the birds, Muriel, Marilyn, Alanna, and we embarked with Patrick to explore the Lake shore by boat. The hyacinths had cleared enough that Patrick had to push his way through only a small border to reach the open water. There were the usual three buffalo grazing shoulder-deep in the shallows, but we weren’t near them. We saw a great variety of birds. G. managed some shots of flying anhingas and geese.
As we ate lunch on the lawn, the hyacinths again closed off the Lake. It was another grand meal, started with yogurt/avocado aspic, surrounded by slices of tiny zucchini. Three employees of the rose producer who supplies the abundant flowers filling our rooms were luncheon guests. Raising flowers for export to Europe is big business in Kenya. We had seen a number of greenhouses on our drive, and saw more from the air. The rain came again just as we finished lunch. No, this is not the rainy season, as noted above, but as the days passed, we began to wonder!
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Somehow I can't add to the prior thread, so here is Part I - I hope!