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Trip Report Patty & Mark's 2008 Kenya Seychelles Trip Report

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Our itinerary:

Jan 26/27 ' LAX-CDG-AMS-NBO airport marathon
Jan 28 ' arrive NBO, transfer to Swara Plains
Jan 29/30 - Galdessa/Tsavo East
Jan 31/Feb 1 - Satao Rock/Taita Ranch
Feb 2/3 - Lion Rock/Lumo Sanctuary
Feb 4/5 - Finch Hattons/Tsavo West
Feb 6/7/8 ' Sandai/near the Aberdares
Feb 9 ' Staying with friends in Nairobi
Feb 10/11/12/13 ' Hilton Northolme/Mahe, Seychelles
Feb 14/15 ' SEZ-NBO-AMS-CDG-LAX 36 hour trek home

Photos in case anyone missed them:

Kenya
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=jy877nh.awe5dc7h&x=0&y=-r706vt

Seychelles
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=jy877nh.aandlgjx&x=0&y=kyzuq7

On this trip we primarily wanted to revisit and spend more time in the Tsavo area which we had very fond memories of from our first trip in February 2005 (it lived up to our memories and more). The Kenya portion was confirmed back in September and we received an email from Serah at Eastern and Southern Safaris saying that everything was all set while we were in South Africa. A couple of days later, I learned from this thread http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35014814 that Kenya Airways (KQ) had finally formalized their entry into Skyteam so of course, ideas started spinning in my head and I felt compelled to tweak my itinerary to somehow take advantage of that ;)

I immediately started working on it when we returned home which resulted in 4 nights in the Seychelles added to the end of our trip. I had to shift the dates of my safari a bit to accommodate the Seychelles flight schedules which only operate on Thursdays and Sundays, and the date changes were confirmed by my TO within 24 hours. Woohoo, we were going to the Seychelles too! :D

In the mean time, everybody knows what happened in Kenya :( Like everyone else, we were following the news and were pretty much determined to go if at all possible. I started monitoring flights to NBO in early January thinking that passenger loads or other issues could cause cancellations or disruptions. We were booked on KQ CDG-NBO-CDG which seemed the most vulnerable to me given the service had only started in late 2006 and they also operated AMS/LHR services. Sure enough, they started canceling some flights on this route a week and a half before we were supposed to depart http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35101311

I contacted Delta (these were Skymiles award tickets) for alternatives but since our flight wasn't officially canceled yet, they wouldn't override award availability and I would need to find flights with award availability if I wanted to make any changes (I could understand their position). I did find a longer routing via JFK and AMS with award availability that would've worked but decided to hold out hope that our original flights would operate as scheduled. Plus I thought I could make these changes now only to have something like weather at JFK delay us.

I also hoped that if there was a cancellation, we'd find out by late Friday or early Saturday so I'd be able to get rebooked while many alternatives remained. As it turned out, we didn't find out about the cancellation until after 4:00pm on Saturday about an hour before we were planning to leave for the airport (and too late to get on the 5:30pm LAX-AMS nonstop). I found out we were protected on CDG-AMS-NBO flights but couldn't get our tickets re-issued over the phone, so I hurriedly finished packing and we left for the airport. It's a good thing Mark always insists on leaving for the airport early or I would've been even less ready ;)

The rest of our saga of getting to NBO was posted live here http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35104040 I can't believe 2 things happened ' 1 that we made our connections (I'd resigned myself to spending our first night in AMS) and 2 that someone (THANK YOU whoever you are) noticed our camera/video bag when I inadvertently left it in the boarding area and turned it in and we had the sense to put a name tag on it so they could track us down and bring it onboard. How cool was that? :D

AF ground staff seem to have a bad reputation, particularly at CDG, but I have to say that the agents were encountered at both LAX and CDG were nothing but incredibly helpful. OK, getting someone to meet us at the gate at CDG didn't materialize but they also said they couldn't guarantee it would happen.

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    I cannot imagine the dread you felt when you first noticed the camera bag gone. Well, maybe I can. I left mine on a plane once as we were exiting and when I went back to retrieve it just moments later, the bag was gone. An employee had found it and put it on the counter in the lounge where we exited the plane. Whew!

    Maybe you never knew you had a problem until you were paged. That would be good.

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    There was never any dread because I didn't even realize I'd left it until a flight attendant handed it to us onboard!

    Years ago I left my camera in a taxi at MIA. Luckily, I remembered right away and was able to chase the taxi down.

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    Hi Patty,
    I remember reading about all of your flight problems and camera situation when you posted from the road. Glad it all worked out.

    I can see myself now, sleeping outside on the viewing platform at Galdessa. What a lovely view. You also had fantastic views from your tents at Satao Rock Camp and Lion Rock. The setting at Finch Hatton’s is also beautiful. But I have to admit that even though I go to Africa for the wildlife, the views from your villa in the Seychelles really made me stop and look at the color of that water twice. Maybe it’s the winter weather getting to me!


    You had some wonderful wildlife sightings. I loved the picture of the vervet screaming for lunch. And the cheetah cub, it seems so very young. My favorite photo, though, is of the bushbaby. And you even saw a pangolin! What a fantastic trip. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.

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    I've seen crystal clear blue water in many places. But flying over and even from the shores in the Seychelles all I could think was "they must have added food coloring." The most amazing colors of blue anywhere.

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    Swara Plains - We arrived NBO at 7:30am on Monday morning, only an hour and a half later than we were originally scheduled. For the first time, I realize there are two separate passport control areas at NBO that are laid out as mirror images of each other. No wonder there’s always a debate as to whether the visa counter is on the right or left hand side. It depends on which passport control point you pass through, mystery solved! Our luggage didn’t arrive but we didn’t expect them to, and neither did the luggage of anyone else who was originally on the canceled flight. We fill out the baggage paperwork, change some money and head out to meet Julius who had been waiting for us since 6:00am. I had emailed Serah and Siema to let them know the flight we were rebooked on but forgot that it was Sunday, so they wouldn’t have seen it until Monday morning.

    I got some more cash from the ATM in the arrivals hall and picked up a new Safaricom SIM (they used to be good for 365 days so I could use the same one each time, but I found out they’ve shortened the validity to 120 days). At 8:30am, we’re off to Swara which is to the southeast of NBO heading toward the direction of Tsavo. The drive takes about an hour due to construction on the Mombasa Hwy. Swara Plains is a 20,000 acre private ranch which used to supply game meat to local restaurants until the 2003 ban. Nowadays the ranch operates on tourism, vacation rentals to Nairobi residents, and various other things. There are two camps on the ranch, Acacia, a larger, less expensive and simpler one with about a dozen bandas, and Swara, the smaller 4 cottage “up market” option. We were staying at Swara but did have a look at Acacia. The latter was fully booked by a bush survival course group so we didn’t get to see the inside of the bandas but they looked comfortable enough from the outside, if a little closely sited together.

    On the way to camp, we saw a lot of plains game and to borrow from Lynn, many antlered things. Swara camp operates on an all inclusive basis, so it’s decided that Julius will head back to Nairobi and pick us up the next morning for the drive to Galdessa. On his way back, he’ll stop by the airport to check if our bags arrived. We were given cottage 4 which is the farthest one from the dining area (but not that far) and very private. Cottages 2 and 3 are near each other so would be good for a family or 2 couples traveling together. Cottage 1 is adjacent to the dining area and where the Hopcrafts who own the ranch are currently living until their house which burned down in a fire is rebuilt. We met David Hopcraft briefly on arrival and it was later explained to us by Raine, the lodge manager, that the owners aren’t really “people” people and they tried not to subject the guests to them unless the guests had a particular interest in discussing dung ;)

    We decided to nap until lunch. This is the first time we’ve arrived in the morning and I’m not sure I like it as I’m too exhausted to try to stay awake. Arriving in the evening, I can pop an Ambien, pass out and start fresh the next morning. At lunch we met Raine and the 4 other guests, a UK expat couple living on the north side of Lake Naivasha and their friends who were visiting. They’d left their house this morning and had to make a detour to avoid Naivasha town. Swara was one of their stops on their way to Msembweni on the southern coast. Tomorrow they’d stop at Ngutuni outside Tsavo East.

    At 4:00pm we went on an afternoon drive with Phil Tilley, the ranch manager. We saw giraffe, fringe eared oryx, eland, gazelle, warthog, ostrich, zebra, hartebeest, a pair of white bellied bustard and stopped at one of the dams on the ranch where there were many red-billed teal and Egyptian geese. We were told there were some, but not many, larger predators on the ranch and occasionally they do get lions from Nairobi NP wandering over. We also stopped to visit Tuli the resident cheetah. She had to have a tooth pulled recently and still had an infection so wasn’t in the best of moods. Therefore, we were only able to photograph her from a distance. Phil also showed us their car collection which consisted of some used in Out of Africa (doesn’t every mzungu in Kenya have something to do with the filming of Out of Africa? we’ve yet to meet one who didn’t ;) ).

    We were offered the option of a night game drive and a morning walk but reluctantly passed on both as we didn’t think we’d be able to stay awake for the night drive and wanted to leave fairly early the next morning for the drive to Galdessa. In addition, biking, horse riding and fishing are also available on the ranch.

    We had a nice dinner with the two British couples and were off the bed early. Swara was a good alternative to staying Nairobi and put us a little closer for the drive to Tsavo East. It would also make a good choice for a final evening in Kenya if you’ve done all of the Nairobi activities and didn’t want to stay in the city. The only downsides of the ranch were that we could see the highway from our cottage (it was more noticeable at night than during the day because of the headlights) and hear the occasional plane taking off and landing at NBO. Other than that, I can recommend it. I believe they also accept day visitors for game drives and lunch with prior arrangement.

    In an attempt to be less long winded I decided to write this report in a location by location rather than day by day format, but I’m not sure that I’m actually succeeding ;)

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    The passport dilemma is now solved - Funny, I remember a few of us going around about that - leave it to you Patty.
    We'll have to send you back to scout every country that needs detail verification :)

    More, please!

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    Galdessa – Julius arrived this morning with our bags, yay! Although we were prepared to live out of our carry ons for a while, we were glad they arrived. We continued southeast on the Mombasa Hwy through another 40km of road construction before we hit smooth blacktop. We noticed there were less lorries and traffic than usual. The area we were driving through was predominately Kamba and Julius said that as one of their own had just been appointed VP, they were mostly OK with Kibaki’s administration. It took about 4 hours to reach Tsavo East’s Manyani gate where a Galdessa vehicle met us with our park tickets and another hour or so to reach camp. Saw many zebra and marabou stork by the gate. They were like a welcoming committee there to greet us.

    Galdessa is set on a spectacular location on the Galana River. We’d requested and were given Banda A (since we were the only guests, they could hardly refuse ;) ) which is the end honeymoon tent that’s part of private camp. This tent had an adjacent, elevated viewing platform with 2 chairs, a table a day bed and the best views in camp! Galdessa is divided into main camp with 12 tents and private camp with 3 tents. Each side has a honeymoon tent with viewing platform (at main camp, it’s Banda 7) but the view is better from private camp although from what we heard, Banda 7 is where Tusker the resident elephant likes to hang out when he’s in camp. Unfortunately, he never made an appearance during our stay. Each camp has its own dining area with private camp having one big communal table and main camp having several tables. Sylvia, the manager, explained to us that they often get big Italian groups and will put them in main camp while using private camp for individual bookings. It sounded like a great solution to us as we’ve been in camps where groups seem to take over.

    We had a lunch of vegetable pasta (the pastas here were delicious!), grilled chicken and fruit salad accompanied by lots of lizards running around and crocodile on the riverbank. We decided we would just nap and game watch from our deck this afternoon. We saw hippo, impala, vervets, a baboon with an adorable baby that played hide-n-seek with us, glossy ibis and had an agama visit us on our deck. I’m loving this!

    The tents at Galdessa operate on solar, there’s cold running water in the sink with a thermos of hot water for shaving and bucket showers which we found held more than enough water for 2. There was another great pasta course at dinner tonight. I think they mentioned something to the effect that normally there would be two choices for dinner but since we were the only guests, it was a fixed menu. We didn’t care (except that they made way too much food for us). It was a bit eerie being in a camp that’s supposed to be full with just the two of us. We’ve traveled in off season and to obscure places where we were the only guests but this was different. They told us that their normal staff of 50 was down to 16.

    We fell asleep sitting on our viewing platform after dinner, woke up an hour later and decided we should just sleep up here. Grabbed a sheet from the bed in case of mossies and fell asleep again under the stars. It was a beautiful, breezy night. At 5:00am, the hippos decided it was time for us to wake up, so we did some early, early morning bird watching. Saw a grey-headed kingfisher and a green-backed heron or was it a black-crowned night heron? It was hard to see. The morning was overcast with no sunrise. We left for a game drive at 9:00am after breakfast stopping at Lugard’s Falls and Crocodile Point to get out of the vehicle and look around. During the drive we saw impala, Grant’s gazelle, gerenuk, common waterbuck, warthog, ostrich, hippo, crocs, giraffe, buffalo, dik dik, and several herds of eles. On our way back, we stopped at Epiya Chapeyu camp which is also located on the Galana east of Galdessa. They had no guests at the time. It’s a fairly simple, rustic camp but well sited on the river.

    We returned to camp at 1:00pm for lunch with 2 cheeky vervet monkeys. They kept sneaking under the table and we kept having to chase them away. I think these guys have tasted the quiche before ;) Everyone at camp asked if we saw any lions on our morning game drive and seemed disappointed when we said no. I tried to convince them that I was much more excited about seeing gerenuk and even more so, being able to get a couple of good photos of gerenuk than I would’ve been about seeing any lions but no one seemed to believe me.

    We went back to our tent for another afternoon “game sit” and saw a big bull ele on the opposite bank (it wasn’t Tusker who has only 1 tusk), more hippos and many more vervets running back and forth. Had another yummy dinner of carrot soup, pasta Bolognese and duck l’orange tonight. It was not as breezy so we decided to sleep inside. Woke up at 1:00am and moved outside again when the breeze picked up and it was nice and cool.

    In case it’s not apparent, I loved, loved, loved Galdessa! I could sit all day along that bend of the Galana.

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    Patty -

    >>I realize there are two separate passport control areas at NBO that are laid out as mirror images of each other. No wonder there’s always a debate as to whether the visa counter is on the right or left hand side. It depends on which passport control point you pass through, mystery solved! <<

    Have I missed something in 13/years. Two separate passport controls? Do tell!

    Down the ramp and the Immigration desks are in front of you; Visa desks are positioned to the right or left... from visit to visit, Visa desk is sometimes on the right, others on the left.

    Depending on which terminal Int'l flight arrives?

    Oh, I'm enjoying your report!

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    Sandi,
    There are two ramps from the intl terminal down to passport control, one closer to the lower numbered gates and the other closer to the higher numbered gates. The ramp that's immediately to the right of the transfer desk has the visa counter to the far right. If you come down this same ramp and turn right at the hallway just before you get to passport control, you'll find the KQ Simba lounge. The other ramp takes you to a passport control point where the visa counter is on the far left and you turn left at the hallway to get to the lounge. I had to do a double take when I finally realized this!

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    Patty, I’m glad you saw some wildlife at Swara and not too much of the apparently not presentable owners. I’m very interested in the Galana River. Do you know anything about the rates of Epiya Chapeyu and how to have a look at their website?

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    Nyamera,
    At one point in the past I was able to access the Epiya Chapeyu website. I seem to recall seeing a posted rate of $80pp full board double occupancy then. Don't recall the single rate. Sorry, I didn't realize their website was down and didn't think to get contact info while I was there.

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    Well, I'll be! :)

    Never paid any attention... just wanted to be in front of queue, which I was. And, yes apparently one area has the Visa desk to the right and the other to the left.

    Seems I've used both any number of times.

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    It's amazing the things you see in a 7 hour layover, extended to an 11 hour layover. I think I walked up and down the concourse of the NBO airport 5-6 times, in and out of the Simba Lounge. I knew all of the restaurants, coffee bars etc. well before we finally left. I passed by both passport controls several times, but it was probably the 2nd or 3rd time that I actually realized there were two different ones.

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    sevendown,
    Did you happen to see the Sleep-n-Shower facility that's supposed to be near gate 4?

    I'd planned to check out every little itty bitty corner of the airport during our 6 hour layover, but we ended up yakking with a couple we met at SEZ who were also heading home and waiting for their KQ LHR flight. The time flew by and I didn't end up checking out any part of NBO (no great loss ;) ).

    I was also trying to keep an eye on the progress of our rebooking which they were working on in the lounge. Believe it or not, they started working on it when we arrived and didn't finish until 11:00pm (the KL flight departs at 11:10pm). They were paging us by the time we left the lounge. I don't know what they were doing all this time but did notice the one lounge attendant only used one finger to type.

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    Satao Rock – We left Galdessa around 9:00am and game drove our way to Satao Rock. Another overcast morning and aside from the species we’d already seen in Tsavo East, we saw some Coke’s hartebeest, a young lesser kudu and our first tourist vehicle near Aruba Dam. We also tried to visit the supposedly re-opened Aruba Lodge but construction was still going on and they wouldn’t allow us in. We reached Buchuma gate around 1:00pm and used the cleanest park restrooms I’ve ever seen. We took a short drive across the Mombasa Hwy before reaching the turn off for the 18 remaining km to Satao Rock getting to camp around 1:30pm.

    Satao Rock is located on Taita Ranch bordering Tsavo East NP to the south. There was one other guest here staying the same 2 nights as us. The camp is built on a rock kopje with a waterhole below. We were given tent 7 which has a view of the waterhole from the deck. There are 8 tents total, 4 on each side of the dining area, with tents 3 (best view), 7, 8 and the dining area having waterhole views. Meals here are mostly buffet with soup and dessert courses brought to the table at dinner. A white-bellied go away bird and hyrax joined us for lunch.

    We decided we’d chill in the afternoon (are ya getting’ the picture that we don’t do much of anything in the afternoon?) and see what came to the waterhole. As Satao Rock is at fairly low elevation (1500 ft) and the entire camp faces west, it began to get really hot about 3:00pm. We turned the fan in the tent on only to realize that the generator is off from 3:30pm-6:30pm (what, do they expect their guests to be off on game drives or something? ;) ) and started to wonder if we might have made a mistake by staying at camp. By 4:00pm, there’s not a speck of shade on our deck, so we move over to the deck of tent 8 which is unoccupied. We stay there until we’re relegated to one tiny corner before moving to the dining area where we take up residence in the one remaining table in shade. This whole time the only thing that came to the waterhole were 3 woolly-necked storks. Bottom line, go on afternoon game drives at Satao Rock! We thought about calling Julius and asking him to drive us around in circles really fast ;)

    Dinner tonight was the best peanut soup I’ve ever tasted. OK, it’s the only peanut soup I’ve ever tasted but it was really great! And to think I was incredulous at first when they said we’d be having peanut soup. 4 buffalo were at the waterhole at dinner and a family of eles arrived after we returned to our tent for the evening. It looked like a matriarch, 2 babies, 2 adolescents and another adult. From our tent, we could hear more eles arriving at the waterhole throughout the night.

    The next morning, we caught the last of the eles leaving the waterhole around 6:00am. Then the worst moment of the trip happened. I accidentally flushed a frog down the toilet :o It was dark, I saw something blurry desperately clinging to the side of the bowl, but by the time I realized what had happened and reached in to try to scoop it out, it was too late. From then on, I started checking the toilet for frogs.

    At 7:00am, we went on a 2 hour morning drive and saw a pair of black backed jackal, impala, dik dik, giraffe, zebra, 2 gerenuk, several lesser kudu, an oryx butt, a pair of buffalo wallowing in a mudhole, more eles, and among other birds, the red-billed, eastern yellow-billed and Von der Decken’s hornbill. We were in hornbill heaven. It was overcast again this morning, so nice and cool. It’s hard to believe how much hotter it can get in the afternoon though.

    We learned our lesson from the previous day and also went on an afternoon game drive. Didn’t see any new animals but concentrated on birds and saw a little bee-eater, white-bellied bustard, grasshopper bustard, pale chanting goshawk, and several steppe eagle in one tree. On the way back to camp, we encountered a large herd of buffalo near camp and about 15 eles on their way to the waterhole. Different groups arrived throughout dinner. Then it was the buffalo’s turn.

    At 9:00pm we went on an hour long night drive in a Satao vehicle with their driver and spotter. Their spotter was very funny. We liked him a lot but every time we came across something, he would ask us what it was and regardless of our reply, he’d answer it again himself like we never said anything. He did this with other types of questions too. When we came across the cheetah, he asked us why would a cheetah not feed on its kill right away. We replied that it needed to cool down. As he went on to talk about other cheetah behaviors, we thought he was satisfied with our answer, only to have him ask the same question again. We gave the same reply but elaborating a bit more this time. When we were done, he proceeded to tell us that the cheetah needs to cool down because its body temperature becomes so elevated during the chase. Hmm… isn’t that the same thing we said ;) This might come across as sounding annoying, but we found it rather amusing.

    In addition to the cheetah and species we had seen during the day, we saw a bat eared fox, genet (spotter “what is it?”, us “it’s a genet”, spotter “it’s a genet”), white tailed mongoose, bushbaby and some hares on our night drive. It was a very productive hour.
    Prior to our trip, we hadn’t read too many positive comments about game viewing on Taita Ranch, so we were very pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Maybe we were lucky or maybe we’re easy to please?

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    I peeked ahead at your Seychelles photos and they look lovely...especially where you stayed. You were there the same time we were in Zanzibar...and part of the reason I didn't choose the Seychelles originally was that it was supposed to be rainier than Zanzibar....but you got the sun and we got the rain! Your beaches look so inviting too. Looking forward to your report on the Seychelles.

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    My initial thought after ROTFL - Frog killer!

    I can only imagine how many frogs or other critters I may have flushed during my nightime visits to the loo! They shouldn't be there! :)

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    Lion Rock – After watching a large herd of buffalo at the waterhole at breakfast this morning, we left Satao Rock around 9:00am for the drive to Lion Rock. We gave a lift to Benson, one of the Satao Rock staff, to the main road and after about an hour and a half reached Voi where Julius gassed up the van and picked up a Daily Nation for us so we could catch up on the local news. Another 20 minutes later, we were passing Mwatate where the paved road turned into a decent dirt road, reaching camp around noon.

    Lion Rock is located on Lumo Sanctuary which is joint community project of 3 neighboring group ranches, Lualenyi, Mramba and Oza. The camp sits on top of a hill at 3,750 ft so it was cooler and breezier here. We were given tent 1 which is the closest tent to the dining area. There are 12 tents here with 12 being the farthest. I noticed no particular difference in views so the choice would depend on how close you wanted to be to the dining area. When the camp has more guests, farther might be preferable if you don’t want to hear noise from the dining area but as we were the only guests, it didn’t matter. We were told their last guests had left on January 26th.

    Meals here are also buffet and the food was fairly basic. They apologized for the limited offerings saying that they were trying to not keep too much in stock since there were so few guests. But it was fine and still more food than we could possibly eat. I would however advise that if you’re a wine drinker, to BYO. They only had papaya wine. It wasn’t very good on its own and was even worse with food ;)

    We took the afternoon off again and just napped, read and enjoyed the view from our deck. Hot water isn’t available here until 6:45pm when the generator comes on and I didn’t want to wait until then, so I took a cold shower during the warmest part of the afternoon. We had sundowners on the deck by the bar where we caught a glimpse of Kili and after dark they lit a fire for us to sit by (it really is much cooler here). The 3 of us had dinner (Julius dined with us here and sometimes at Satao Rock) and watched as a bushbaby attempted to steal some fruit salad.

    The next morning we headed out early at 6:30am for a 3 hour game drive with Elvis, a Lumo ranger, riding with us. We actually got to see a sunrise this morning for the first time. The clouds were hanging just above the hills and gave everything a mystical quality. On the drive, we saw hartebeest, impala, dik dik, giraffe, a pair of secretary birds, several pairs of Hartlaub’s bustards and drum roll… a pangolin! None of us could believe it. Julius said he’d never seen one before and Elvis said he’d only seen one twice before. We just caught a glimpse of it was it was crossing the road and then it hunkered down in some grass next to the road. We watched as it slowly moved its head up and down (probably to check if we were still there). It stayed pretty still otherwise and we watched for a while. I wanted to stay there all day but we felt we’d disturbed the poor thing enough and should let it resume doing whatever pangolin things pangolins do. On that same drive we also came across an aardwolf. As it was only our third aardwolf sighting ever and first clear photo of one, we were pretty ecstatic with our game drive this morning!

    We returned to the camp for breakfast and left again shortly before noon for the drive to Ndolwa House for lunch with Faryl (Local2542) and her mom, Zoie. Faryl had posted their itinerary before they left http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35099839 and we’d made plans to meet for lunch. We were glad Elvis went with us again as he knew the exact way to Ndolwa.

    The four of us got along great and we ended up spending the night at Ndolwa. We showed Faryl and Zoie our pangolin and aardwolf pics and they showed us their wild dogs! We were at first concerned that the staff at Lion Rock would think that we were leaving because of something they did or didn’t do, so we assured them that was not the case and that we really enjoyed our time at Lion Rock. They were very understanding and Chris, the manager, even said “When you told me this morning you were meeting your friends, I had a feeling you’d stay there”.

    Overall, Lion Rock was a little rough around the edges. The camp opened in August 2004 and you’re likely to notice some maintenance issues. The charging points in our tents didn’t work and there was no running water in the washrooms near the dining area when we were there because they were fixing the pump. If you can overlook these things, I think you’ll enjoy your stay and it’s a worthwhile project to support. Everyone we encountered seemed genuinely enthusiastic. If you’re too fussy, you won’t like it (I like to think of myself as fussy with the ability to rough it when required ;) ). It was also the least expensive place we stayed. IIRC it cost us $185pppn to add Lion Rock to our itinerary and this included the sanctuary fees and the cost of our vehicle from Eastern & Southern.

    One more thing, we asked Elvis if we could do night drives on Lumo and he said yes. But we didn’t have a spotlight and they didn’t have one either. So just BYO wine and spotlight!

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    Finch Hattons – This morning Faryl and Zoie decided to come and stay at Finch Hattons with us. The 4 of us left Ndolwa around 2:30pm after lunch reaching Maktau gate in 15 minutes and game drove our way through Tsavo West. On the way, we saw eland, zebra, Grant’s gazelle, fringe eared oryx, giraffe, warthog, impala, dik dik, yellow baboon, vervet monkey, Syke monkey and a cheetah mom with an adorable little cub. At first, the little cub crouched behind the mom and stared at us, then it stood up and crouched next to the mom, then started walking away from mom, the whole time having a stare down contest with us. It was the cutest thing! The mom remained completely nonchalant.

    We arrived at camp around 5:30pm informing them that we’d brought along extra guests. We had requested and we given tent 7 where we stayed 3 years ago and Faryl and Zoie were given tent 5. There are 35 tents here in 3 groupings with tents 1-7 in one group and 7 an end tent. I like end tents because I think you tend to see more game wandering by. We got settled in and were watching the hippos and vervets from our deck when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a bushbuck grazing a few feet from our tent. It continued to graze as I watched, then went underneath our tent, across the footpath and grazed some more right next to the footpath as I walked by. At first, I thought it must have been a tame bushbuck someone raised but later when we talked to Peter, the owner, he said the bushbuck are just really habituated around camp. Finally, it got spooked by a coughing vervet monkey and bounded away.

    The 4 of us had a lovely dinner of avocado/grapefruit salad, cucumber soup, snapper, and strawberry covered ice cream. I remembered how formal the dining here was when they brought out our palate cleanser!

    At 5:30am the next morning, the hippo alarm went off right on cue and we heard a loud racket made by the baboons and an impala snorting. Later we found out that a leopard had killed an impala during the night in camp. From our deck, we could see giraffe on the other side of the springs and crocs swimming in the shallow areas. At breakfast, I found our guestbook entry from 2005 and took a photo of it. We headed off at 8:00am to see Faryl and Zoie off at the airstrip for their Safarilink light to Nairobi. The flight arrived right on schedule and 10 passengers boarded. We said our goodbyes and wished them a good time in Nairobi and Paris on their journey home.

    We went on a game drive until noon and saw lots of giraffe, zebra, hartebeest, impala, oryx, wildies with young calves, baboon, hippo including the carcass of a baby, warthog, bushbuck, and a pair of ostrich with many, many chicks. We also stopped at Poacher’s Lookout to enjoy the view. Unlike at Roaring Rocks where you have to walk up, you can drive right up to Poacher’s Lookout. Both would make good picnic spots but we think we like Roaring Rocks just a bit better if you don’t mind the walk.

    We returned to camp for lunch, went for a swim (not with the hippos) and hung out on our deck the rest of the afternoon. We saw some dwarf mongoose, a pied kingfisher diving in the water, African golden weaver, black crake, great comorant, green-backed heron, lesser masked weaver, sacred ibis and monitor lizard next to our tent. The setting at Finch Hattons over springs was as beautiful as we remembered and we’d forgotten what a great place it was for birding. It was also great to be able to watch the hippo interaction between the moms and the babies and the adolescents play fighting right in front of our tent. When it gets dark, they use a path close to tent 7 to go ashore and apparently to come back in the morning too because it is loud! It is however my favorite African animal sound.

    Another nice dinner this evening and with about 16-20 guests both nights, this camp is the fullest we’ve encountered this trip. The guests were from a variety of places, different European countries, Nairobi, and South Africa. We decided to grab a sheet from the bed and sleep out on deck on our last night in Tsavo.

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    Sandai Part 1 (with a little bit of Nairobi) – We had very mixed emotions at breakfast. Sad that our safari with Julius was ending. Happy that we would see Petra again. A herd of impala formed our farewell committee as we were leaving camp and on the way to the airstrip, we saw banded mongoose and Skye monkeys. As we were the only passengers departing from Finch Hattons airstrip today, it was our job to clear the runway of zebra. Our Safarilink flight arrived 10 minutes early with the same pilot, but different aircraft as yesterday. We said goodbye to Julius and hoped that the situation would improve for his sake and all of Kenya. On board were 2 women from Nairobi headed to Tortilis. 20 minutes later we were touching down on a tarmac airstrip in Amboseli where they deplaned and 6 other passengers boarded. Four were a Canadian embassy family headed to the Mara and two were Porini guests continuing on to Lewa.

    We arrived Wilson at 10:00am and Ben from Eastern & Southern was there to meet us for the drive to Sandai. But first, we had to stop at the Aero Club so I could drop off a DVD containing the Kenya episode of Travels to the Edge http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35077685 that I’d promised Alexis I’d bring. I figure if I keep doing little favors for Alexis, I just might earn myself a flight to Turkana, oh, in another 20 years or so ((a))

    Then it was off to the Junction so I could stock up on sandals and handbags and Mark could get another belt from Zebu until next time. We also needed to get a replacement charger for Mark’s phone which had died earlier. I checked 2 mobile phone shops, the office supply place and an electronics store and had given up before we went into Nakumatt to get something else and found the exact charger we needed there. We picked up sandwiches to eat on the road and since we still had plenty of time, decided to stop by the E&S office to say a quick hello.

    We drove past Uhuru park and noticed more police presence than usual, but overall it was difficult to tell anything unusual had transpired if we hadn’t already known. Their office is right in the central business district on Loita St and it was even problematic to find parking. It was good to see Serah again and we got to meet Bernard, Boaz and Siema and only then did I realize Siema is a man ;) We had exchanged many emails but I’d always assumed Siema was a woman. I was sad to learn that we were their only clients at the time though another Fodorite, bfcurson, was arriving shortly.

    Around 12:30pm we left Nairobi for the drive to Sandai. The drive took about 3 hours passing through Thika, Nyeri, Mweiga and other towns along the way. Petra wasn’t home yet so the three of us had tea on the verandah before Ben continued home to Naivasha. Sandai is Petra’s “new” old place. She and her ex-husband built the place and she bought him out and moved back last year when her ex and his family moved to Pakistan. The location is very close to Aberdare Country Club and it’s more convenient for visiting the Aberdares than her former place, Olea Africana. Day trips are also possible to Solio and even Sweetwaters. Horse riding can be done right from the property although this trip we ran out of time for that. There are two duplex guest cottages each containing two ensuite rooms and another 2 rooms in the main house that share a bath.

    Petra returned shortly and we got caught up on things since our last visit. Unfortunately, Ray was still building a dam somewhere in Maasailand so we won’t get to see him or Museka this trip (Ray is 82 years old BTW). However, Tessa will be coming home from her school in Nyeri for the weekend. In addition to Tak and Nusu, there’s a new dog Oscar, an adorable jack russell and if I’m not mistaken a gift from Emma at Desert Rose. Sadly, Mr. Elliott, the cat disappeared shortly after the move, but there are many new cats around plus the horses and the same 3 plump donkeys. Petra had hired a driver/guide who is Luhya and he had returned home to Kakamega as a precaution as this is predominantly Kikuyu country. He most likely would’ve been fine had he stayed but they didn’t want to take any risks.

    The next morning we headed out around 9:00am for a day trip to the Aberdares. We remembered how much we’d enjoyed this park in 2005 and wanted to see some of the falls we’d missed. Upon entering the park I realized I left my camera back on the breakfast verandah #o I was sure this meant that today was the day we’d see a bongo and a melanistic leopard! Although that never happened, we did see two black rhino in the salient shortly after entering the park. Luckily, we still had the video camera with us.

    We made our way toward Karuru Falls and saw colobus and Syke monkey, Defassa waterbuck, bushbuck, buffalo, warthog, reedbuck and many scaly francolin along the way. We walked down to the viewing platform at Karuru and there in front of the falls we saw a small bird of prey fighting with a fish eagle. Unfortunately, it was difficult to video as they were quite far away and fast moving. Karuru was used in one of the fly over scenes in Out of Africa and we both agreed it was the most beautiful falls in the park.

    Just as we were setting up for a nice picnic it started to rain. We quickly moved everything back into the car and had our lunch inside. After lunch we stopped and visited KWS Fishing Lodge and Tusk Camp. Aside from the “tree hotels”, such as the Ark and Treetops, these are the only accommodations inside the park (OK, there’s also Sapper Hut but from what I understand, that one is extremely rustic). Fishing Lodge is located high in the moorlands at close to 10,000 ft elevation. It consists of 2 houses each having a living/dining room area with fireplace, kitchen, 2 ensuite bedrooms and a third small bedroom with a single bed. The accommodations looked quite comfortable and nicer than I’d expected. Tusk Camp is located in the salient at nearly 8,000 ft elevation and is more basic than Fishing Lodge. At Tusk Camp there are 4 small buildings, one housing the kitchen and bathroom, another a living/dining room with fireplace, plus two more buildings with two bedrooms each. The KWS accommodations operate on a self catering basis. There’s a caretaker onsite but you need to do your own cooking or bring a cook. Overall, Fishing Lodge gets the nod for accommodations and Tusk Camp gets the nod for greater possibility of having wildlife right in camp (we saw the evidence they left!).

    Toward the latter part of the afternoon Petra asked if we wanted to take a different route out of the park, warning that the roads would be steep. We analyzed the situation – it had been raining on and off + steep roads + we hadn’t seen a single other car in the park all day = yeah, let’s do it! :D

    To be continued…

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    Cybor, I’m not that fond of reality, but I think it has to be told ;)

    Patty, pangolin, pangolin, pangolin! Will Faryl and Zoie show their wild dogs here on Fodor’s or is it already done and I’ve missed it? I’m so jealous that you were stared at by a cheetah cub! It sounds like the tents at Finch Hatton’s are almost in the water with the hippos. I’m looking forward to reading about what happened to you in Aberdare NP.

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    Sandai Part 2 – So of course it started raining again, but we were still doing OK on the roads. Plus it was too late to turn back now. We came across a nice family of eles and watched them for a while. It started raining a little heavier. We went down a steep road and had started to climb up the other steep side (the last steep road we needed to make up before we were home free) when Petra’s Landrover started slipping and sliding. We made a few more unsuccessful attempts to get up that road before deciding to go back the way we came. We weren’t sure we were going to make it back up that way either but it was worth a try. At the lowest part of the road, there was actually a washed out area and as we were backing up the left rear tire went right in, oops! Petra and Mark got out and made several attempts in the rain to get the car unstuck. I, on the other hand, saw them slipping around in the mud and decided the best job for me was to document everything on video ;) The rain wasn’t letting up, it was getting late and after a while we decided it was time to call for help.

    Petra had to walk up the road to get a signal and called several friends to let them know approximately where we were. Some friends also called KWS to let them know we were stuck in the park. Then we waited. It got dark and continued to rain. We weren’t sure if anyone was going to be able to make it to the spot where we were even if they tried. But we had warm clothes, picnic blankets, leftover food and lots of leftover drinks so were fully prepared to spend the night in the park. As we were stuck near 7,000 ft, we figured it would only get down to the 40’s at night. Close to 7:00pm, we started hearing the sound of another vehicle nearby. Someone’s looking for us! There are a lot of roads in the salient so it’s a bit tricky explaining where you are. Plus nearly all of them have a stream running by so telling someone that doesn’t really help. I had my GPS but no one else did so giving them coordinates wouldn’t work either, so we just waited some more.

    Not long after, we see headlights! Then we see a car coming down the same steep hill we made down. Petra’s friend, Karl, and a KWS ranger, Vincent, got out and came over to check out our predicament. It was decided it wasn’t worth messing with tonight in the dark and we’d ride back with Karl, leave Petra’s Landrover and come back tomorrow. Now Karl just had to make it back up the road he came down. We decided his best chance was to drive up empty while the four of us ran alongside with Vincent carrying a big rock just in case Karl started to slip. Of course, Vincent ran faster than all of us carrying that big rock.

    We reached the top of the road, success! We all hopped in and proceeded on our unofficial night game drive. We did encounter a KWS truck along the way that was also looking for us. The 4 rangers in this truck seemed really deflated when we told them we weren’t going to try anything tonight. On our night drive, we saw more eles, 2 spotted hyena and some hares. Petra and I had each carried a large bottle of water with us because we still weren’t totally convinced we were getting out of the park tonight, but after an hour we slipped and slid our way to the gate making it back to Sandai by 8:30pm just in time for dinner.

    Karl stayed the night so he could drop us back off at the park early tomorrow morning. We were given a choice of going riding tomorrow or going back to the park to get the car unstuck. We couldn’t resist the latter option plus I wanted to go back with my camera this time.

    The next morning, we left at 7:00am to go back to the park. Karl dropped us off at the Treetops gate where we waited a little while for Stanley, the mechanic from Solio, to arrive. Vincent was manning the gate and let us all in. We rode with Stanley and were briefly delayed by an ele blocking the road before reaching the stuck spot. It had stopped raining during the night and the actual process of getting the car out only took about half an hour and we were all having tea by 10:00am. We thanked Stanley and his helper and continued on a short drive before exiting the park (didn’t want to push our luck too much ;) ). We saw more buffalo, warthog and bushbuck but unfortunately the rhino didn’t make an appearance.

    To recap our last 24 hours, we learned how to a) have a night game drive in a national park b) go on a walking, or is that a running, safari in a national park and c) how to get into a national park for free the next day :D

    On the way back, we stopped at Sangare Ranch to visit the newly rebuilt camp. We saw impala, eland, and Defassa waterbuck on the ranch. The camp re-opened last July with 12 new tents situated along Sangare Lake. They’re a little close together for my liking but otherwise very nice and it’s a beautiful setting for birding. We saw Egyptian geese, a hamerkop, and a blacksmith plover among other birds. Boats are available so you can paddle on the lake.

    Got back to Sandai for lunch and decided to hang out while Petra went to pick up Tessa from her school in Nyeri. Around 4:00pm, two new guests arrived. There had been a mix up with their tour operator and Petra wasn’t actually expecting them until the following day, but no problem, there were plenty of rooms available and we let them know Petra would return shortly. We also introduced them to Tak, Nusu, Oscar and the cats.

    The new guests were two women from Germany who were on their first trip to Kenya. They were spending one week here, another week in Nakuru, Naivasha and Amboseli and a third week on the coast. We told them we heard things had quieted down in the Rift Valley.

    Tessa came home and we gave her the present we’d brought, a Ratatouille DVD, but first we had to fix their DVD player. We were able to get it half way working but never got anything to play in color, only black and white. Nevertheless, Tessa was glued to the TV.
    We had a very nice dinner together and requested that the Out of Africa soundtrack be played much to Tessa’s dismay. “Not again!” she protested but she was out voted 5 to 1.

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    Galdessa sounds amazing! I could tell from the pictures, but now reading about it, I think everyone wants to stay in that honeymoon tent.

    So its called a hartebeest? Our guide in Kenya called it a HATbeest and told us it was called that because of the shape of his horns. Looks like he wears a hat. I have just googled this and found out that harte is from the dutch word, hert, for deer. Nothing to do with a hat!!! I guess I should have known not to trust him when he called wildebeest WILDbeest. That was much more forgivable than HATbeest though.

    I love the detail you give us about the different rooms at each camp. It will really come in handy when I plan a future (way far into the future!!) trip to Kenya, since I decided to steal your itinerary after seeing those amazing pictures! :-)

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    Patty, I think I’ve said this before, but getting stuck in Kenya is always a good idea.

    Jen, I too have been told it’s called a hartebeest because of the horns, but I was told it was because they are heart shaped.

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    I've heard the "heart shaped" explanation too. I'm finding a variety of explanations online though it seems to be agreed that the word is Afrikaans in origin.

    I want to see a hirola (also known as Hunter's hartebeest but later discovered to be a separate genus). There's a translocated population in Tsavo East, but we didn't see them. They're supposed to be most often seen in the Satao area. This is a good project for kimburu, to locate and document the 100 or so hirola in Tsavo East ;)

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    Nairobi – The last 12 nights had flown by and it was once again time to return to Nairobi. Petra and Tessa accompanied us to Nyeri where another driver, Peter, met us for the rest of the trip to Nairobi. A little boy in Nyeri came up to us and asked if we were the ones stuck in the Aberdares. News travels fast around here!

    Joyce’s SIL, Pam, who we met last year heard that we were returning to Kenya and graciously offered to have us stay at their house in Runda so that’s where we were headed. For the next couple of hours, we listened to 70’s country and western as we drove through the Central Highlands of Kenya.

    On arrival, Pam and Reggie were there to greet us and get us settled in before Pam had to drop Reggie off at school for the matinee performance of his school play. Hank came home shortly after along with their neighbor Kevin and the 4 of us had a very nice lunch of samosas, salad and quiche on their patio.

    In the evening, we went to Reggie’s school, got a tour of the campus and attended the evening performance of his play, The Wizard of You Know Where. It was a cute adaptation of the Wizard of Oz where the script went something like “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Mombasa anymore” and Reggie played the Mayor of the Munchies. Afterwards, we went to Village Market and had dinner at the food court. Mark and I split a philly cheesesteak from Prime Cuts that was pretty good. As we were leaving at 6:00am the next morning, we said goodbye to Hank and Reggie that evening. We told Pam to stay in bed too but she insisted on getting up and making us coffee and breakfast.

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    Seychelles Part 1 – Our Jimcab taxi arrived right on time at 6:00am and this being early Sunday morning, we got to NBO half an hour later. It took about 45 minutes to get through the security queue, get checked in and through passport control. We picked up some wine and gin at duty free which they put in a sealed plastic bag and proceeded to the Simba lounge to wait for our flight departure. It wasn’t until we got to the lounge that I realized they’d seated us apart at check-in so I had our boarding passes re-issued in the lounge with our originally pre-assigned seats next to each other. No big deal but why the check-in agent didn’t do that in the first place, I don’t know. Mark swiped a few cans of tonic water from the lounge and placed them in a shopping bag with our duty free stuff. At gate security, they told him no unsealed liquids were allowed, then added “remember that next time” and proceeded to let him board with all of the cans of tonic water anyway. Africa, love it! :D

    Our flight boarded by stairs with two boarding pass checks and a final announcement before closing doors that this was the flight to Mahe and anyone not traveling to Mahe should disembark now. An on time departure and 3 hours later we were in the Seychelles! Coming in to land, the scenery was beautiful. We disembarked by stairs and walked into the airport terminal where the first thing they checked were our yellow cards. The first person in line didn’t have a yellow card but said she’d only been in transit at NBO from Cairo and they just waived her through. Bags came off very quickly and 10 minutes after we deplaned, we were meeting Philippe, the Hilton driver, outside customs for the 25 minute drive to the Northolme. There were exchange bureaus and ATMs at SEZ but we didn’t bother using them (will explain later). On the way, we passed through Victoria and as it was Sunday, all of the shops and businesses were closed.

    The Northolme was one of the older hotels on Mahe and was taken over Hilton and completely renovated, re-opening sometime in late 2006. There are 14 single story oceanfront villas including the Fleming Suite and 26 mostly two story hillside villas set behind the oceanfront villas. We were assigned villa 214 which is an upper story hillside (recommend upper for better views and more privacy). Our villa contained a raised bedroom area, a living room area, a huge bathroom and a good sized balcony with a day bed, a table and two chairs, and 2 chaise loungers.

    We didn’t do much this afternoon except have lunch and watch the sunset. There are many gregarious mynahs around the resort and at dusk we watched fruit bats flying overhead. It was very breezy which made the temps comfortable. We were told they’d received some rain just before our arrival and the weather was a bit unsettled, but it never actually rained during our stay. We had dinner at Les Cocotiers, the a la carte restaurant at the resort (there’s another buffet restaurant at the resort), which was excellent. 2 course each plus a glass of wine came to about 100 EUR.

    The next morning, we spent half an hour trying to figure out how to use our expresso machine before giving up and calling for help. They sent a “technician” to our villa (they really called him that) and he simply moved the lever from the steam setting to the coffee setting. Don’t we feel stupid! 6 different types of coffees and teas were provided and we loved this little gadget after we figured out how to use it.

    Breakfast is included here and is an extensive champagne buffet with cooked to order hot items served in the Hilltop restaurant. Most mornings we never even made it to the hot items. We spent the morning between the pool and beach (the water was a bit rough) and took the Hilton’s complimentary transportation (day time only) to Beau Vallon for lunch. It’s only about a mile away but would’ve been a hot walk back and forth. We asked Philippe to pick us up in 2 hours and settled on Baobab pizza for lunch. Mark and I split a ham and mushroom pizza (we wanted the prawns but they were out) and 2 glasses of wine for 100 rupees, a cheap lunch but nothing too exciting to write home about.

    Then we walked around the village and saw everything there is to see and still had half an hour to kill so we had a couple of drinks at the Coral Strand hotel which looked rather run down. There were some other small hotels, a grocery store, a trinket shop and of all things, a plastic bag store. There was an interesting looking shop across from Baobab but it was closed for lunch the entire time we were there.

    A few guys on the street asked if we wanted to change money so we changed $100 and got 1000 rupees in return (the official rate at the time was $1 = 8 rupees). It’s technically illegal, but I hadn’t read about anyone having problems and even the Hilton driver offered to take us to change money. The Seychelles has strict foreign currency controls as they have a foreign currency shortage. Local residents are only able to get $400 from the bank if they’re traveling outside of the country, so they must get the remainder of what they need on the black market. The money changers get foreign currency from the tourists, then re-sell to the locals. Everything tourism related is priced (usually in EUR) and must be paid for in foreign currency including hotels, tour operators, rental cars, etc. Even some restaurants outside the hotels want to be paid in foreign currency, so you only need a small amount of rupees for small expenses and you don’t want to change too much as you can’t change it back without an official receipt.

    Several people we talked to also seemed unhappy with the current administration which took power in a coup in 1977 and has remained in power ever since. The foreign currency shortage has led to a shortage of basic goods for sale. Philippe commented that it wasn’t uncommon to have to visit 4-5 stores before you could get what you needed. It’s a paradise but it sounded like a paradise with a lot of problems.

    In the afternoon, we took the sunset cruise which normally departs from the resort beach every Monday but because of the rough water today, they had to shuttle us to Victoria where the catamaran was docked to board. We sailed to the islands in the marine park and stopped at one spot for snorkeling. It was a cloudy afternoon and snorkeling didn’t sound inviting so we passed. Those that went in reported not much seen. But it was nice to be out on the ocean anyway and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.

    We thought about going to dinner at the Boathouse in Beau Vallon which serves a creole buffet but it was closed today. As they were also serving a creole buffet at the Hilltop restaurant at the resort this evening, we decided to try it. We have to give a thumbs down to dinner at the buffet restaurant and thought it was a poor value at 40 EUR per person (you can eat at the other restaurant for almost the same price and the food is so much better). We should have gone into Beau Vallon and looked for something else.

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    Seychelles Part 2 – The following day we’d arranged a private day tour via the resort with Philippe. We first went to Victoria and stopped at the market. Downstairs is fish, produce and spices with souvenirs and a restaurant upstairs. Reminded me of the market in Papeete only smaller. Acually, the Seychelles kind of reminded me of French Polynesia in general. Next to the market is a shop called Sunstroke which sells paintings and embossed copper by a local artist, George Camille, and beautiful painted silk items. I bought a large silk pareo with geckos on a leaf background. They had smaller size ones too which could be framed along with various items such as pillow covers.

    Next we stopped at the craft village which consists of several small buildings housing different vendors. Some of it was the usual tourist trinket stuff but a few were more original and sold artwork, pottery, soap, model boats and bark hats made on site. There’s also an example of an old Seychellois house and a restaurant on the grounds. Afterwards, we stopped at Anse Intendance where the Banyan Tree resort is located, but the water was a little too rough for swimming. Boy, does the Banyan Tree provide a nice public changing/shower/bathroom facility though!

    As we were getting a bit peckish, we asked Philippe to recommend a lunch spot with an ocean view. He took us to Anse Soleil café where we had a yummy lunch of octopus curry, fried squid, papaya salad with rice and creole sauce by the beach (again the water was rough) for 300 rupees. The road down to Anse Soleil is basically a dirt path but you can drive all the way down to the café carpark. We passed by one couple who didn’t know and had parked on the road. They turned around and went back to get their car when they saw us drive down. Philippe called the road “rough” but it was nothing compared to Kenya.

    Not far from Anse Soleil, we passed by the Four Seasons under construction. Our last beach stop was Port Launay, finally a beautiful, sheltered cove with nice, calm water. Some resort is also going up here but I don’t remember the name. We took Chemin Sans Souci, a road that cuts across the island, back toward Victoria. We had basically traveled all along the coast starting down the eastern side of the island and up the western side, then cut across to return. The Hilton is located on the northwestern end of the island. On the way, we tried to stop at the tea factory but it was closed. The road climbs through Morne Seychellois National Park and being in the dense vegetation at altitude actually started to feel chilly. We stopped at the Capucin Misson ruins where there’s not much ruins left but has a beautiful viewpoint which looks across the island with white-tailed tropicbirds soaring. They have such beautiful, long tails. One swooped down really close so I got a good view.

    Back at the Hilton, we went for another swim and a nap by the pool. Neither of us was very hungry so we just got a quick bite at the bar for dinner. They have a light menu served all day with reasonable prices and actually better food than the buffet restaurant. From the bar, we could see the outlines of North and Silhouette islands.

    Our last full day in the Seychelles! We decided we wouldn’t do anything but veg today, alternating between the pool and the beach. The hotel beach is pretty shallow and only exists at low tide but was nice and calm today so it was perfect. We’d talked about maybe taking a day trip to Praslin during our trip, but we were only here for 4 nights and once we got here, didn’t feel like putting that much effort into anything.

    On arrival, we’d received a letter detailing our HHonors bennies, one of which was hats to take home. As we never received those, we decided to ask for them at reception, thinking they’d be logo’d baseball caps or something. Imagine our surprised when we found two giant straw hats sitting on our bed when we returned to our villa! We were kind of sorry we asked for them now, but they made for a funny photo op.

    From our balcony, we watched the bats come out at dusk again and had another excellent dinner at Les Cocotiers tonight. Prior to our trip, we had read about the high prices of food and drinks at Seychelles resorts, but we didn’t find it to be too bad. Perhaps we were just prepared for it, but we found dining costs to be comparable to resort areas elsewhere with drinks being only somewhat more expensive, at least that’s the case at the Hilton. Aside from the buffet dinner, we also felt the quality of the food at the resort was very good so didn’t have issues with the cost. And outside of the resort, you can have very inexpensive casual meals (there are some nicer restaurants too but we didn’t try any of them).

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    Seychelles Part 3 and Journey Home – Our last morning before our 36 hour journey home :(( This is the first time we’ve done a beach stay in conjunction with a safari, and we’d debated whether to add the Seychelles to the beginning or end of our trip. I have to say we were very glad to have this nice, relaxing ending and we actually wish we’d stayed a week instead of only 4 nights.

    We had our last ocean view breakfast, settled our bill, showered, packed and headed off for the airport at 11:00am. When I called to reconfirm our flights, I was told check-in closed at 1:00pm for our 2:20pm flight and this being a weekday, we wanted to give ourselves enough time. As it turned out, even though there was some traffic, it only took us marginally longer to get to the airport and we were checked in, through passport control and security in only 15 minutes with nothing to do but sit around for the next 2.5 hours.

    We found the lounge upstairs but were turned away. I guess KQ’s too cheap to pay for their passengers to use the lounge :( We went back downstairs and nothing in the departures area was open yet (hmmm… no wonder all those people were sitting at the café outside the terminal) but at least it’s air conditioned. I was really thirsty by now and went back into the lounge to ask if they could sell or give us a bottle of water but they refused saying that the bar downstairs opens 3 hours prior to departure. I tried to point out that it was already 2 hours prior departure and the bar still wasn’t open to no avail.

    Finally, the bar and shops opened and we were able to get something to drink. As we’d missed the tea factory, I picked up some citronelle tea at the duty free store (no rupees accepted here either). We were getting kind of hungry and bought one of the mystery sandwiches at the bar. It consisted of stale bread with one paper thin slice of ham and some shredded carrot. I’ve never had a sandwich that tasted quite like, well, nothing! We put our remaining rupees except a few coins in the SPCA donation bin and were very happy when our flight arrived early and we left the airport.

    On arrival in NBO, we headed for the lounge where we were informed of the cancellation of our flight to Paris. We just said “yeah, we figured”. They told us we’d been protected on this evening’s flight to AMS, then AMS-CDG and our original CDG-LAX flight, and they’d print us new boarding passes and re-tag our bags. We handed over our eticket receipts and passports while they went to work on our re-accommodation.

    We had 6+ hours to kill until the 11:10pm flight to AMS but had met a couple at SEZ who were returning home via London, chatted with them the whole time and the time flew by. They were on a month long vacation and had done a safari in northern Tanzania with Roy (which they only had good things to say about), spent time with friends in Dar, and finally 8 days in the Seychelles on a bareboat charter. Midway through our layover, a different agent came by and asked if we wanted to be put on the nonstop AMS-LAX flight. We answered yes before we actually really thought about it but decided against it when I checked the schedule and realized we’d have an 8 hour layover in AMS and get home later than our double connection through AMS and CDG. The agent didn’t look too happy when I asked to be put back on our originally rescheduled flights.

    At 9:00pm, they were still working on our flights. By 10:30pm, we received our boarding passes, a FIM for our NBO-AMS-CDG segments and were still waiting for another FIM for the CDG-LAX portion plus our new bag tags. At 11:00pm, I asked if the flight’s delayed. To which the agent replies “no, they’re waiting for you” and finally writes out our last FIM and tells us we keep our original bag tags. I thought she was waiting for someone to bring this stuff to her. What the heck was she doing this whole time? I think she was just getting back at us for making her change our flights again ;)

    We made it to our gate just as they’re paging us, went through gate security and boarded as a bunch of crew members stood at the end of the jetway looking at their watches. Wasn’t our fault! One of the FAs found two empty seats together for us and we pulled away from the terminal before I even got my seat belt on. I passed out and slept until an hour before arrival in AMS. The rest of our flights were uneventful and we were able to get another passenger on the CDG-LAX flight to swap seats so we could sit together.

    On arrival in LAX, there was no line at immigration and I only got questioned briefly about the passport I lost in 1993 (usually I get more grilling, I swear, loose a passport and it haunts you forever). Just as we got to the baggage carousel, we heard Mark’s name paged and figured none of our bags made it. They had the paperwork all filled out already and we walked out of the terminal before the first bag even came down the carousel. At least, they didn’t make us wait! Our bags were delivered the next day.

    The end.

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    Thanks, everybody!

    Paul,
    From my understanding, the Satao area is where they've been spotted, so you have no excuse ;)

    I read an extensive article in one of last year's Swara magazines while I was there. I believe it was the 2nd quarter issue.

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    Patty, thanks for another great report! You definitely gave me some ideas for a future (fantasy) trip to Kenya. Loved seeing your pictures, too. You do such a great job of capturing the essence of your travels and providing useful details for other people planning trips. :)

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    Patty, what a wonderful trip report! I loved the photo of the bushbaby and the baby cheetah - now that's a baby. Also the earlier cheetah is nice and impressionistic.

    Great details in your report... I feel like I did it with you. Wonderful photos. I'm so happy that good samaritan turned in your camera bag!

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    Thanks again, Patty. What a nice trip. I am not a "beach person" at all, but I agree that one appreciates breeze, cool blue water and a lack of dust after safari. Looks like you got all that and more.

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    Patty, I enjoyed reading the report. I am glad you got to experience Swara Plains. Yes, they do accept day visitors as I was one last August. A pretty nice place to visit...

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