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Trip Report Sept Private Drive-Fly: # of Cars/Sighting, Budget KWS Bandas, Birds & More

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A fantastic safari with lots happening. I met up with Sonali from Fodors and we shared views of a huge crossing and a magnificent sunset. Throughout the trip I kept track of the number of other vehicles at the various wildlife sightings and will share that. Kenya Wildlife Service Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya IMO; lodging descriptions are included. I had one run-in with some aggressive baboons, but security guards came to my aid. A rescue operation that I single handedly pulled off inspired the Quote of the Trip, a One-Act Play in which I star ;), and musical solo (by me) ;) in the bush.

Eastern and Southern Safaris in Nairobi, Kenya
I used Eastern & Southern Safaris but our route was north, then northeast, followed by due west with one shortcut to Somalia between Meru and Shaba (not really, but it was similar to what frequent posters Patty and Leely experienced with the same Driver/Guide Ben), southwest, and finally east, and I’m still confused, which is why there are no self drives in my future.

Driver/Guides Ben and Raphael each have unique talents that added to the enjoyment of the trip. Ben is a superb bird guide with amazing spotting skills that extend to all species and has tales that would make a fascinating novel. Raphael is great at avoiding the Mara crowds and searching out animals independently, maintaining respect for the wildlife even when the masses of vehicles do not, and maximizing time in the bush.

E&S is a great value.

Itinerary for this 3-week trip
The final itinerary took an embarrassingly large number of email exchanges initiated by me, re-workings, lodging changes, and finally a shift of an entire month, but Boaz of E&S was always responsive, helpful and patient with my many revisions and tweaks. If you correspond with E&S and receive no email response after a week, try again. Twice during our year’s worth of planning my e-mail message somehow never got through.

31 Aug – Depart O’Hare
1 Sept – Arrive Nairobi, o/nt Panari Hotel
2 Sept – Drive to Aberdare, o/nt Fishing Lodge KWS Banda
3 Sept – Day spent in Aberdare, game drive in Salient, hiking to waterfalls, o/nt Fishing Lodge
4 Sept – Morning game drive in Aberdare, drive to Meru, o/nt Kinnas KWS Banda
5 Sept – Morning and afternoon game drives in Meru, o/nt Kinnas
6 Sept – Morning and afternoon game drives in Meru, o/nt Kinnas
7 Sept – Morning game drive in Meru, drive to Shaba, afternoon game drive Shaba, o/nt Sarova
8 Sept – Drive to Buffalo Springs, morning and afternoon game drive Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba
9 Sept – Morning, mid-day, afternoon game drives in Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba
10 Sept – Half day game drive in Samburu, afternoon game drive in Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba
11 Sept – Morning game drive in Buffalo Springs, fly to Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree
12 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree
13 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree
14 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree
15 Sept - Half day game drive enroute to Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena
16 Sept – Full day game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena, night drive
17 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena
18 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena
19 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara enroute to Nairobi, depart Nairobi
20 Sept – Arrive in Chicago

The mid-day and full-day game drives were determined once I was in the parks, but I made sure that the option for all-day game drives at my discretion in each location was in my original itinerary for maximum flexibility. I also made sure that there were no restrictions on distances or kilometers traveled. Turns out it was too hot in Meru, Shaba, and Samburu (for us and the animals) to be out from about noon to three, and only one 11-hour day was needed in the Mara, thanks to Raphael’s willingness to routinely skip a hot breakfast.

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    Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya
    If you do your own meal prep and drive yourself, they’d be even more of a bargain, but I wasn’t willing to go that far. In comparing and contrasting the 2 Kenya Wildlife Service Bandas I used with some Premier Luxury Camps of Botswana costing many hundreds per night, the bandas come out very well.

    Fishing Lodge is in Aberdare and Kinnas is in Meru. Kinnas might also be known as Bwathernrongi Bandas, the nearby river. (Photos of Fishing Lodge and surroundings are with the Aberdare album, pictures #4-6. Photos of Kinnas are with the Meru album, pictures #15-19.) Both albums will appear later in the report.

    Similarities between low cost bandas and expensive luxury camps:

    Small, intimate setting--Fishing Lodge allowed 2 parties and Kinnas had bandas for 4 parties.

    Remote location without many vehicles—I saw 4 other safari vehicles during activities in Aberdare, all going the opposite direction. I saw 5 other safari vehicles in Meru, actually there were 4 separate vehicles, but we encountered one twice.

    Lovely setting with resident wildlife—Aberdare’s Fishing Lodge had 360 degrees of beautiful mountaintop scenery. Spoor indicated lots of animal visitors and I saw a Duiker, Jackson’s Francolin, and Waterbuck. With less rain, I’d have seen more wildlife around the banda. The nearby Magura River could be heard flowing, even from inside, but I was warned not to venture down the path to the river without an armed guard due to buffalo. Meru’s Kinnas Bandas were near the Bwathernrongi River and boasted an abundance of animals and birds—herds of impala, troops of baboons and vervets, agama lizards, two resident genets, woodpeckers, a variety of weavers, even several appearances of the Paradise Flycatcher with its flowing white tail feathers. Some nights there were non-stop baboon alarm calls and internal squabbles, plus lions roaring to each other. One night we could hear lions chase an antelope around the building and the tracks we saw the next day confirmed the pursuit.

    Personal service--If you have a private vehicle, guide, and chef as I did, then you cannot get more personal service than that. Each banda had KWS staff on site. At Fishing Lodge the staff frequently delivered wood for the fire. At Fishing Lodge I spent an entire day in a different vehicle with a driver and a KWS ranger, plus my own E&S guide so that was 3 people attending to moi—very personalized.

    Plunge Pool--Kinnas had one that I did not use and Fishing Lodge was way too cold for plunging.

    Rustic and authentic safari feel—That’s definitely the vibe. No electricity at either banda so we used lanterns. The E&S vehicle could charge batteries even if it was not running.

    Comfortable and clean—Absolutely.

    Mosquito netting—One is provided at Kinnas, but there was no “tie up” service each day, so I left it unfurled. It was tied upon my arrival. No netting is needed in the higher altitude Fishing Lodge.

    Ensuite facilities—Flush toilet, hot water, and shower all were available a few steps away in my own bathroom, all under one roof. Fishing Lodge provided towels. Kinnas was bring your own towels, so that is a difference from a luxury tented camp.

    Good food—Not only was the food good, but you can have personal requests with your own chef.

    Differences:

    The price!

    Bandas are not tented; they are solid wood or brick walls and floors. Most luxury tented camps are under canvas.

    Library, resources, and onsite CD backup of your memory card—None at the bandas

    Electricity—None at the bandas

    Afternoon tea and pastries—I think you could request this, which I did not. But the fancy desserts at the luxury camps and tea served on fine china would be tough to duplicate at the bandas.

    Wait staff and beautifully set tables—There was no staff at mealtimes, just Chef Martin. Some of the dishes and silverware he brought along and some were provided at the bandas. All were clean. There was no napkin art at the table but we did have some placemats.

    Beautiful furniture and decor—Fishing Lodge had some nice pictures on the wall and attractive furniture; Kinnas had an airy screened porch (that I forgot to photograph, darnit) but nothing stunning at either banda. The banda beds were comfortable, though.

    Raised wooden walkways—none at the bandas

    Towels—Fishing Lodge had fine towels; Kinnas was BYO. I arranged a stop in Nairobi to buy a bath towel enroute to Aberdare, rather than bring one from home, which would mean my luggage would be too bulky to carry on the plane. In contrast, the luxury tents often have terry cloth bathrobes provided. I left the towel with my driver before I flew out to the Mara.

    Laundry service—none at the bandas so I did mine in the sink.

    Hot water bottle at night—None needed at Kinnas. This would be a good item to request in advance for Fishing Lodge, especially if there is no additional source of body heat to warm the bed, as was my case.

    Wine and spirits—E&S asked me about beverages in the planning stages so that would be the time to request any special drinks. I did not ask for wine or other alcohol and didn’t see any.

    Mingling with others—Other than a nod or a wave, there was not much interaction with the other couple people I saw at the bandas. At the luxury camps, tea and mealtimes offered excellent opportunities to interact with others.

    Guide Quarters—The bandas had a common center area and bedrooms with their own bathroom were on either side. I stayed in one of the bedrooms and Guide Ben and Chef Martin used the other. I think at Fishing Lodge there was yet another little room near the kitchen for the chef. At the luxury tents, staff has their own quarters or village.

    Tipping the staff—At the end of the stay, I gave a standard daily staff tip to the guy who supplied us with wood for the fireplace several times a day at Fishing Lodge. At Kinnas, I left an amount on the pillow similar to what I would for maid service for my 3-night stay. At the luxury camps, there is usually a tip box for staff.
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    In sum, I loved the KWS bandas and not just as a means for saving money on lodging. The reason I did not stay at bandas throughout the trip was they are only available in the national parks that are operated by Kenya Wildlife Service. The reserves of the Maasai Mara, Shaba, Samburu and Buffalo Springs do not offer these bandas.

    Here is a link to banda rates. http://www.kws.org/export/sites/kws/tourism/downloads/KWS_Banda_Rates.pdf

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    What Kind of Vehicle? That is the question.

    4x4 Land Rover/Cruiser/Jeep or Minibus?

    Since I was going in the driest month of the year when roads should not be transformed into ponds or streams and since there was no offroading allowed in my destinations, I felt confident that the more economical minibus would be sufficient, especially since it would be just me inside. But to be on the safe side, I requested a 4-wheel drive minibus with pop top and not the standard 2-wheel drive minibus.

    The changing weather patterns meant there was quite a bit of rain and the extra power and traction of a 4-wheel drive was needed at times. There were even two occasions in the Mara where Raphael (a superb driver) did not want to chance advancing through running water and mud, despite the 4-wheel drive.

    My last afternoon in the Mara it rained so heavily for about 90 minutes that everybody in every kind of vehicle called it quits early and then the next morning all the vehicles stayed away from the muddier tracks. Just too risky. It is amazing what only 90 minutes of downpour and another 2 hours very light drizzle can do to the roads.

    In Samburu and Shaba, about half the vehicles were either Rovers, Cruisers, or Jeeps, and half were minibuses. The two places I stayed in the Mara--along the Talek River and the Mara Triangle--about 1/3 of the vehicles were minibuses.

    Interestingly, at the Keekorok Airstrip, the vehicle mix awaiting clients was half minibuses. The next stop at the Olekiombo airstrip, where I got off, mine was the only minibus in the crowd.

    I wonder if being the sole minibus had anything to do with a pair of rangers pursuing us in their vehicle and aggressively confronting us (and only us) shortly after we departed the airstrip. One of the rangers was armed with a rifle and they both boarded our vehicle, huddling into the front seat, and made us drive about 10 minutes to their station to review our park permits, all of which were in perfect order. I later asked my driver if extra money was requested and fortunately it was not. Odd, though.

    The two minibuses I had were in fine condition and had no problems. Between the pop top and sliding windows on the side, I felt I had unobstructed viewing and photo access to everything. Being alone I could move around inside easily for the best angles.

    In the future, due to unpredictable weather patterns and the likelihood of heavy rains at anytime which can really mess up the roads and tracks, the Rover/Cruiser/Jeep may become the most logical alternative, even for budget conscious solo travelers. Eastern and Southern told me they will be offering even more of those types of vehicles.

    Choosing Parks where Offroading is Banned
    While I find the greater access that is permitted by offroading to be more desirable, I have rarely found the requirement to stay on the tracks a deterrent to my viewing or photography. In part that’s because there are numerous roads and tracks for liberal access. It also means your guide may need more knowledge of animal behavior to position the vehicle in the right place so that the animals naturally cross your path. Or you may need more patience to wait it out until the animals move to an accessible area. That’s where good guiding coupled with a take-your-time attitude pays off.

    On this trip, there were only 4 instances in 3 weeks of safari where we were hindered by the no offroading rules, and only 1 of those resulted in foregoing the sighting altogether.

    (1) There was a small, distant herd of eles in the Mara that we bypassed due to no accessible roads or tracks, so in that case we just gave up.

    (2) There was one lioness with two tiny cubs that was off the track so we had compromised views; however, approaching closer would have been harassment anyway given their vulnerability. I still got nice photos.

    (3) One ostrich family with a brood of 2-month old chicks eluded until we traveled along the designated waited for it to pass nearby. So strategy and patience worked. But then it shouldn’t be too hard to outsmart an ostrich.

    (4) Finally one lion pride in Samburu was not very accessible for about 10 minutes of our 15 minutes of viewing due to the no offroading requirement, but there were great photo ops during the 5 minutes of accessibility. Those were the only limitations I recall during the whole trip.

    There were several times when I was thankful for the no offroading rules and thankful the other vehicles were following them because the predators were given some breathing room. In Samburu/Buffalo Springs I witnessed not one single violation of vehicles straying off the track. I did see violations in the Maasai Mara. My E&S guides stayed on the tracks and respected the animals, which was important to me.

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    Arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
    Since I was just about the last person off the plane and just about last in line for customs, I had the perfect perspective to oversee the 4 “Visa Purchase for Foreign Visitors” lines and the 1 “Foreign Visitors Already Possessing a Visa” line. The lines seemed to advance at an equal pace so by the time I stepped up, only a couple people were left in any of the foreigner lines.

    There is a money exchange before arriving at customs and a 24 hour exchange in the baggage area.

    Panari in Nairobi and other hotel options
    Of the many fine accommodations in Nairobi I have found Panari is a very nice hotel at a decent price and it is the closest to the airport, about 15 minutes away. I have stayed here instead of even more reasonably priced places further from the airport because I like to minimize driving at night, which is when my flight arrives. Getting to a hotel promptly to start recovering from jetlag is even more important when there is an early departure the next day. For any excursion in Nairobi National Park or for a flight out the next morning, the location is ideal.

    I’ve heard about a place at the airport, something like Aviator’s Club but you don’t have to be a pilot or anything associated with flying, where you can get an inexpensive room at the airport. That could be a very good deal but I did not purse that option this time around.

    Ole Sereni (not to be confused with Serena) is located at the previous US Embassy site and has been open about a year. It is only a few more minutes away from the airport than Panari and appears to have great views of Nairobi National Park. Panari has some rooms that overlook the park too.

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    Food, including Cucumber Juice, Sour Milk, Palette Cleansers, etc.

    All the food I ate was great, whether it was the extensive buffets at the lodges or meals prepared by Martin, the Eastern & Southern Chef who accompanied us to the bandas. I was not fond of the cucumber juice that was one of the many breakfast beverages at Mara Serena, but fortunately, that mealy green liquid was easily avoided and there was plenty of fresh orange, passion fruit, pineapple, carrot juice, etc. If you happen to be a fan of the cuke juice, I can assure you it was freshly squeezed and frothy.

    Martin told me he had always enjoyed cooking and loved his job, which was evident by the fine meals he served. As part of the pre-trip planning, I had requested that the chef prepare a few typical Kenyan meals and Martin obliged with some excellent ugali offerings and fish dishes.

    I found a new favorite beverage—sour milk. The name of this packaged, no-refrigeration-needed product gave me pause, but it was delicious—a cross between buttermilk and yogurt with a hint of sour cream. I did not think the Kenyans could teach someone who hails from the Dairy State of Wisconsin anything about butter fat, but I was wrong.

    I sure miss the daily fresh pineapple that I had become accustomed to.

    Mara Serena often served some very tasty sliced tiny Gherkins. Those Dairy State roots compelled me to pair the pickles with some of the soft and hard cheeses offered at the dessert table. I think the Swiss are fond of that combination as well, probably Après Ski. When another English speaking diner took obvious notice of my plate, I explained that the Gherkins and cheese were so good that they had been elevated to a palette cleansing course at my table. I said this with a laugh and thought that might be a good conversation starter in the buffet line. It was not.

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    Mixing with Others on a Solo Trip
    Bantering about Gherkins is not a successful strategy for mixing.

    Except for the brief shared vehicle at a river crossing with Sonali, I was alone this trip. At the bandas Driver/Guide Ben and I ate together, as well as at Sarova, where the policy has guides and guests sharing meals. At Samburu Simba, Fig Tree, and Serena the guides dine separately.

    Since I did not manage to get adopted by any other groups or couples, I had a table for one (except when Sonali and I met up). I noticed the staff paid extra attention to the solos and the conversations that ensued offered some chuckles and insights.

    In deciding what I would request at the made-to-order pasta bar, I asked the chef, “If this were your lunch, what would you get?” His reply was, “I am Maasai and do not eat any of this pasta.” He further explained that he follows the recipe exactly and does not need to rely on tasting. A few nights later when the meal was lamb, chicken, and spicy sausage barbeque, he assured me that he’d be sampling all of those items with enthusiasm.

    Another conversation with a Maasai chef turned to his upcoming leave from work. He shared that he was very excited to be heading home in a few days and described the route and transportation. I only recall the last leg of the trip, which was a walk of like 11 kilometers.

    “I’m sure you’ll be glad to see your family,” I said to which he replied, “I want to see my cows; I miss my cows.” He had 24 of them.

    When asked who takes care of the cows in his absence, his response was: “my mother.” No mention of missing her. Considering the importance that cows hold in the Maasai culture, I don’t believe there was any maternal disrespect meant by his comment.

    I ran into a couple of birders who were traveling with Guide Ben’s nephew’s company, Ben’s Ecological Safaris, that specializes in birding. Uncle and nephew are both named Ben. The clients were absolutely giddy with excitement over just seeing their 900th bird species in Africa. I told them that was worth bringing out the Jambo Bwana singers and dancers as bird #900 is as monumental as many other life milestones.

    Fig Tree had the most congenial after dinner bonfire and I chatted with some nice folks there--when my attention was not absorbed by the genet and bush baby that nibble on the fruit set out for them.

    Visiting with the head of a serious photography group, I took note of an interesting observation he made based on many trips to the Mara. He said he found the lions to be more active when the migration was NOT on. In his opinion, abundance made them lazy and therefore harder to get interesting photos.

    This photo group, traveling on a budget, was wrapping up a 2-week trip in the Mara, evenly split between Serena and Fig Tree, the same two places I was staying. I felt good that even if I lacked the skill and equipment of the serious photographers, I had booked the same lodging.

    Based on their experience over the 2 weeks--which they felt was very good, but not up to some of their expectations--and based on my Mara trips, if I were planning a fortnight photo shoot in the Mara and wanted to maximize my predator sightings, I’d stay at 3 different locations, not 2.

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    What to do during midday down time, especially traveling as a solo, but for anyone

    Here samples at 2 different locations.

    Midday at Kinnas Bandas in Meru which provided the longest break due to the intense midday heat and therefore the most unscheduled time:

    9:30 Arrive back at the banda
    9:30-9:45 Get situated, organized after morning drive

    9:45-10:15 Breakfast, although there was always something to eat available before we left in the early a.m.

    10:15-10:45 Visit with guide after meal
    10:45-11:15 Wander around grounds birdwatching, photographing lizards, looking at vervets, etc.

    11:15-11:45 Shower, wash some garments in sink
    11:45-12:30 Read
    12:30-1:30 Nap during the heat of the day
    1:30-2:00 Lunch
    2:00-2:30 Visit with guide after meal

    2:30-3:15 Review/delete photos, consult bird book, go over notes from trip, get ready for afternoon outing

    3:15-3:45 Relax, read, wait for departure

    Midday at Mara Serena where I spent from 6:30 am until nearly noon each day on outings, leaving less downtime:

    11:45 Arrive back at Lodge
    11:45-12:30 Walk around grounds, birdwatching, rock hyrax watching, etc.

    12:30-1:00 Get situated, organized after morning drive, shower and freshen up

    1:00-1:45 Walk to lunch and eat

    1:45-2:45 Walk back to room and nap after lunch
    2:45-3:30 Review/delete photos, consult bird book, go over notes from trip, get ready for afternoon outing

    3:30-3:45 Wander around on way to vehicle for afternoon drive

    If you process photos on a lap top, that would occupy a lot of the down time. The pools also can be a good way to spend some time. Serena had bird walks and spa services. It might seem like huge stretches of time with nothing to do, but the unscheduled time flies by, even when traveling solo. I never accomplished as much reading as I had planned on. The darn game drives always intruded.

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    Attire & Gear
    * At least at the larger lodges and camps in Kenya where guests remain in a vehicle anything goes now. I saw every color in the rainbow on both guides and guests during game drives. Hawaiian shirts, gold lamé, ruffled skirts, white chiffon veils fashioned into a flowing cape, sports jerseys with netting, black and white checks, fire engine red, hot pink, purple, royal blue. Bejeweled sandals were also popular.

    If it’s comfortable and not camouflage, (which is outlawed by the military) and it’s not tse tse-attracting blue (if tse tse infested areas are on the itinerary) pack it and wear it proudly!

    To think that prior to my first safari in 1994 I was so concerned about wearing the proper khaki colors that I worried my white socks might scare away the animals if light reflected off of my ankles at the floor of the vehicle. Despite my agent’s assurance that would not be the case, I wanted to take no chances and dyed my five pairs of white socks beige.

    In the evening at the lodges some people wore clean safari clothes or casual wear but there were also long dresses with spaghetti straps, strapless gowns, miniskirts, and those body hugging dresses that I’ve seen on the more curvaceous of the Kardashian sisters. Some of the lodges had a sign requesting no shorts for the evening meal.

    At lunch at the lodges I was the only person I noticed wearing a printed t-shirt and binoculars on a neck harness.

    * My practice of packing two hats paid off this trip as my trusted Tilley that had accompanied me during three decades of adventures suddenly went missing. These hats all look alike and maybe someone picked it up.

    My name and address were in a flap inside the hat, but not readily visible. Also there were a few faint ink stains on the brim from a previous pen explosion fiasco in my duffle that would differentiate my Tilley from the others.

    No hat was turned in to lost and found, so it looks like I’ll be getting one of those new lighter weight airier Tilley models. Guess I’ll have to measure my head again. Before I left I posted about someone who was very interested in whether I’d get a free hat in Kenya and I found it a bit silly. Apparently the hat gods were offended and exacted their revenge.

    *If going to Fishing Lodge, bring warm clothes and/or layers. You can see your breath inside at night. I wore 5 layers on top and 4 on the bottom to bed along with hat and gloves.

    *In really hot places such as Meru and even Samburu, consider bringing a hand towel from the room that can be doused in water and placed around the neck or on top of the head to keep cool. And not just for you, but for your driver, perhaps especially for your driver. The more comfortable the driver, the better your safari. I always bring my own bandana to serve as a wet rag around the neck.

    * Make your own bean bag (for camera stabilization) instructions that worked for me: I took a 16-oz plastic bag of dried beans and reinforced it with another plastic bag and duct tape. The bean bag could be used as is, but I preferred to stick it in the sleeve or hood of a garment or better yet--wrap it in a hand towel from the lodge, secured with rubberbands and/or safety pins. At the end of the trip I gave the beans to the guide. Hope he likes Navy.

    *Drawstring bag instead of a backpack: I thought I’d go with a less bulky option this time since I would be mostly sedentary in a vehicle. For my hiking in Aberdare I carried an around-the-waist camera bag. The drawstring bag and a camera bag were sufficient for the daily game drives. Even if I had shared the vehicle with others, those items would not have taken up too much room.

    * Spotted: Tourist wearing a pith helmet, along with a foot-and-half long sheathed Kukri knife attached to the belt. I won’t say where I saw the individual sporting this getup because it could reflect poorly on the establishment. But I can say with certainty that s/he was not strolling through either of my bandas. I write s/he not to protect the innocent but because I’m really not sure. S/he had tussled blond curls poking out from under the pith helmet that rested low over the eyes and the safari outfit was loose-fitting. Imagine Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies with a curly perm wearing a pith helmet and a complete safari costume. From a distance the gender would be hard to detect. And I didn’t want to stare. I thought about snapping a photo, but was afraid to provoke this character who wielded a huge knife.

    Aberdare and the actual safari is next

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    Wxcellent information provided atravelynn!

    Particularly regarding the bandas, cooking, socialising (or lack of it while traveling solo) is priceless!

    I support the photographer's statement regarding cat activities outside migration season!

    Looking forward to reading more and maybe looking at your pics.

    THX!

    ((@))

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    Oh lynn!
    I just LOVE reading your trip reports!
    I have actually been avoiding most trip reports because a return trip to Afreeeeeekah is not in my future for a looong time and reading them is too painful.
    But I will make an exception for one of yours!
    They're too good to miss!
    I'm looking forward to more!

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    Hi Atravelynn
    I have been researching Kenya off and on now for about 7 months (have taken a trip to Egypt and China in between!!) Your report is very interesting to read with so much info and I like the itinerary that you did and the manner in which you did it.
    What was the appromimate price of your trip? We (my husband and myself) will probably go next September 2011 Thanks Sandy

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    Great detail and love the solo perspective since I'm headed for my first sold trip to Africa soon. The bandas sound like a good way to save money and have an authentic experience.

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    Thanks for the nice comments. It is an honor to be an exception, Lillipets. Hope Africa returns to your plans soon.

    Interesting that Spassvogel experienced the same thing with lazy cats during the migration. Something to consider when deciding the pros and cons of traveling at different times of year.

    Sb1020, it will be less per person for you. The entire safari was $7934 (I only spent another $4 on beverages, so $7938) and that included flying doctors emergency medical and evacuation insurance, the internal flight, an additional Land Rover and driver in Aberdare, and one night drive at Serena. My domestic flight between Samburu and Mara meant I needed two vehicles and guides and one of the guides had to spend a day on the road and one night before my arrival--boosting the cost.

    Tips were in addition to the above price as was my Cadbury chocolate bar.

    Had I opted for less expensive lodging in Samburu; traded down from Mara Serena; and driven the whole way with one guide/vehicle instead of taking a flight, which would have altered the itinerary somewhat; a trip of the same length would have been around $6700. I still think that would have been a marvelous safari at even greater savings.

    One thing I liked about E&S is that I could get price breakdowns and even when I indicated a willingness to go for a higher cost option, they still discussed lower cost possibilities and didn't lock me in at the higher level.

    E&S did offer a banda and chef option outside of the Maasai Mara (don't think it was KWS lodging) where you could go into the park during the day, but I wanted to be in the particular areas of the park that I chose and was willing to pay to do so. If I were staying longer in the Mara, I would have considered the Mara banda/chef option for a several night stay. If I were going during non-migration times or was not trying to see a river crossing, I'd also consider the less costly banda/chef option in the Mara.

    Let me mention that Mara Serena books up early due to its good location. It was 100% booked during my 4 nights in mid-Sept. Also the bandas have so few rooms that you may want to get those reserved if you decide to use them. Samburu Simba & Shaba Sarova had plenty of availability. I was surprised. Even Fig Tree had openings. But not Mara Serena.

    Although the itinerary was perfect for me, if this is a first trip to Kenya, you may wish to make a few modifications to the itinerary I chose. For example:

    4 nights in the Shaba/Samburu area is a lot. I wanted to maximize time with the uniqe species there, which I did. You could spend 3 nights and still stay 1 night longer than most itineraries.

    I did not include a day in NBO on this trip, but I sure did on my first trip. Not only is it a good buffer day but there are unique attractions there both cultural and nature.

    A tree hotel with a floodlit waterhole is cool. The 2 nights I spent in Aberdare at Fishing Lodge did not include that. You could do one night in Fishing Lodge and one night at The Ark or Treetops in Aberdare. The waterhole attracts the forest species and lures them out of seclusion.

    You could enjoy the Mara with less than the 8 nights in my itinerary (on the other hand, you could make things easy and just go to the Mara for your whole trip, maybe 3 or 4 locations) and that would free up nights for other places like Amboseli with views (hopefully) of Kilimanjaro or Nakuru with its flamingo flocks and white rhinos.

    Good luck in planning those solo trips.

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    I've been waiting for this report, checking Fodor's and also safaritalk, thinking "When will Lynn post her report?"

    But of course your reports are so excellent--well worth the wait.

    I found Ben hilarious. Did he tell you about his vintage VW Bug?

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    Hi travelynn
    Thank you so much for your prompt and detailed reply that is extremely useful.
    I think that a trip that would include amboseli the mara and nakuru and a day in Nairobi would be the basis of an excellant first trip
    I would probably spend 3 nights in Amboseli. 7-8 in the mara and maybe 2 in the Nakuru area . I prefer to spend more time in fewer locations and less time getting to many different spots

    Thanks again Sandy
    By the way which agent did you work with in E and S?

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    Boaz was the E&S contact. I agree that more time in fewer places makes for a good trip.

    Some people return to Africa because they missed wild dogs, leopard, a pangolin, etc. I'll have to return to hear the vintage VW story firsthand. I was a little tardy with this report but I gave myself 60 days to make the first installment and fulfilled the deadline.

    How would your husband feel about that arrangement Raelond?


    **********ABERDARE***********
    From the Eastern and Southern office in Nairobi to the entrance of Aberdare National Park = 3.5 hours and that includes 25 minutes of stops along the way.

    From the park entrance gate to Fishing Lodge Bandas takes between 2.25 and 5 hours depending on vehicle breakdowns, rain, waterfall walks, and wildlife viewing. (Fishing Lodge is described in detail above under “Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya”)

    The first wildlife of the trip, besides the Marabu Storks in Nairobi, were two impalas at the Aberdare park entrance. These would be the only impala we would see in Aberdare because the forested terrain does not suit them. Not long after the first impala, we had the first raindrops of what was to be 30 millimeters of rainfall that afternoon and evening.

    To break up this long drive on Day 1 we had a picnic lunch at the Muringato River where an African Black Duck and ducklings were paddling around. Fortunately that was pre-deluge.

    To fully appreciate the stunning habitat of Aberdare, it is necessary to spend more time in the park than a short visit to one of the “tree hotels,” The Ark or Treetops. A 2-night stay at Fishing Lodge is perfect.

    Between the park gate to Fishing Lodge Banda, the distinctive zones include:
    Ecotone (transition from grassland to heavier foliage, Park Gate is here)
    Broadleaf
    Broadleaf-Croton
    Croton
    Bamboo
    Rosewood
    Moorland—where Fishing Lodge is located

    Aberdare is known for “The Salient,” the lush, thick forest, which spans from about Broadleaf-Croton zone to the Rosewood Forest and is inhabited by a variety of lesser seen creatures, such as Sykes Monkeys, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, and Giant Forest Hog—and I saw all of these. I was especially thrilled with the 4 Giant Forest Hog Sightings.

    Some of the troops of Sykes were shy and retreated into the forest when our vehicle approached, but other troops went about their business on the side of the road for 30 minutes while I watched. These are very attractive creatures, even more striking than the Golden Monkeys that share the gorilla’s habitat in Rwanda.

    The Salient must have more Bushbucks per kilometer than anywhere and its rich vegetation results in Bushbucks the size of Waterbucks, and Waterbuck-sized Warthogs as well. Shy Duikers appeared now and then, especially at the higher elevations, and we even got a quick view of a large, dark colored leopard as it sprinted across the road.

    On our trip out of the park, I mentioned it was a humorous coincidence that the two buffalos I was trying to photograph both decided to defecate simultaneously. Ben explained that it was no coincidence and they intended to do that to show aggression. Since the aggression was directed at us, it could quickly turn into no laughing matter, so we kept our distance and did not linger.

    I saw 2 distant elephants and no rhino. The waterholes and salt licks of The Ark or Treetops would probably attract more eles and rhino and allow for better visibility of them.

    The birding coup of the trip occurred in Aberdare and I know it is a coup because Bird Guide Ben wanted pictures that I took of the Crowned Eagle. We had over half a dozen sightings of this magnificent species, in pairs, on a nest and we even had audio when we heard a Crowned Eagle chick, hidden in its nest, calling to the parents.

    My daylong excursion in Aberdare was in a 4x4 Land Rover owned by William who specializes in trips to Mt. Kenya and Aberdare. An armed KWS ranger joined us and was necessary for the hikes. E&S Guide Ben went too. One thing that really impressed me about these three guys was on our walks if there was any litter, they picked it up.

    Our 10.5-hour outing included three easy hikes to three waterfalls: Karuru, Magura, Chania. With 6 trained eyes, plus mine, no Giant Forest Hog or anything else escaped us! This was a fantastic way to become immersed in the habitats of Aberdare National Park and The Salient it is known for, and to view the wildlife that call it home. What a worthwhile, quality outing. Truly, one of Kenya’s finer offerings!

    For tips, I gave William the same as I would give my regular driver/guide for a full day of service. I gave the KWS employee ¼ of that since he’d be working somewhere in the park anyway. I considered that day as a regular work day for Ben, my E&S guide, when calculating his tip at the end of the trip.

    The cost of arranging a day trip like this with an extra 4x4, driver, and armed escort was much less than I thought, maybe a couple hundred dollars or less. When I learned that William arrived the night before through pouring rain and stayed with the KWS staff so we could depart promptly the next day, and then drove back down through rain, dark, and ele herds, it was even more of a bargain.

    Other vehicles and photos
    All photos were taken with no other vehicles in sight. During my 3 days and 2 nights in Aberdare, I saw only 4 other vehicles going the opposite direction on the road, so we crossed paths for just a few seconds.

    The album has 25 pictures of Aberdare, #4-#6 are of Fishing Lodge Banda.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/AberdareToShare?authkey=Gv1sRgCPvTpbCH1e7rNw#


    Interesting Birds in Aberdare:
    Hartelaub Turacao
    Scaly Francolin
    Jackson’s Francolin
    Montane Wagtail
    Streaky Seedeater
    Crowned Eagle
    Hunter’s Cisticola
    White Eyed Slaty Flycatcher
    Alpine Chat
    Stone Chat
    Lesser Spotted Eagle
    Montane Buzzard
    Golden Winged Sunbird
    Gymnogene
    Crimson Tufted Sunbird

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    Your reports are always fun to read Lynn. I love the Jane Hathaway character. Would have loved to strike up a conversation with her/him. We ran across similar types on the river crossing from Zambia to Chobe. It was Sadie Hawkins Day apparently because this duo was dressed EXACTLY alike, head to toe in perfectly pressed dark green safari getups straight ut of central casting. The myrad chest pockets, bush belts nd fedoras, turned up on one side Aussie-style, with faux leopard bands. No knives though. Can't believe I didn't get a picture.

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    Wow! What an informative report especially for this solo, soon to be 1st timer.

    Note to self- no gherkin talk at buffet :)

    "To think that prior to my first safari in 1994 I was so concerned about wearing the proper khaki colors that I worried my white socks might scare away the animals if light reflected off of my ankles at the floor of the vehicle. Despite my agent’s assurance that would not be the case, I wanted to take no chances and dyed my five pairs of white socks beige."

    This cracked me up and so sounds like me right now stressing over the khaki clothing requirement. Made worse by not having a single beige piece in my closet and then wondering what to do with all that beige after safari. Now reading this I'm not going to stress so much.

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    atravelynn - I love all of your reports. There is such joy in all of your experiences - the great, the good and not so good. Thanks for reminding me why I love to travel. You should write professionally (if you don't already).

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    I so enjoy your reports, Lynn. I'm jealous that you met up with Sonali but won't visit the natives across the border. We'll put on pith helmets if that's an incentive. Maybe even a blond wig. No photos though.

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    Lynn, this report is fascinating! I'm with KathBC on the chuckles over the beige clothing (I bought a LOT of it for my upcoming trip), but the other details were most helpful, too.

    It's great to get a sense of the length of the mid-day breaks; you've convinced me that I should bring the adapter to recharge my Nook batteries, as it's entirely possible I'll read enough to drain them during my stay. (I had considered only bringing the plug converter on the belief that I shouldn't need the adapter if all I was recharging was my camera batteries, but I probably shouldn't risk that.) I'm going to try to just sit and do nothing for at least part of the breaks -- I seem to have lost my ability simply to relax lately -- but the Nook (and notebooks, etc.) will be good to have, too.

    And thanks for the tip about the beanbag. I keep forgetting to pack one, but I am adding it to my packing list right now. I just hope I come back with photos half as nice as some of y'all who have posted in this forum; they're lovely.

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    Re bean bag, is this used strictly for attached long lenses?

    My camera doesn't have any lenses to be attached so I'm trying to visualize what exactly the bean bag is used for and if I would have need of one.

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    Wow , your really had a great trip .

    Very Good, lovely reading and lots of detail .

    I don't think I missed any of your trip reports and I sure enjoyed this one.

    I will keeping following.
    Thanks for letting us all know about your adventure !

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    The Crowned Eagle is quite impressive.

    So are the bandas. They look really nice, like a cabin in Yosmemite or something. What was the bug-invasion situation in the bandas like? (In Rwanda at Kinigi Guest House your tip about pushing your duffel up against the gap between door and floor served me very well.)

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    What a nice compliment Christabir, but nothing professional.

    I'm making a 2011 resolution Marija and can't wait to see you in a pith helmet.

    Windowless, everybody gets great photos and you will too.

    KathBC, no changeable lenses for me either. You set your camera on the bean bag on top of the vehicle or on the open window. It steadies the camera, even with image stabilization.

    You had quite the adventures too Percy.

    Leely, I recall that mind the gap advice. Glad it kept the insects out. Fishing Lodge in Aberdare was too high up and cold for insects and I don't remember any in Kinnas Bandas. I slept under the mosquito net each night.

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    Hi travelynn

    Another question-as I am not entirely clear. When you are at a camp that has vehicles and guides (as most do I think) and you arrive with your own driver/vehicle-does that mean that you use your own driver/guide or the one of the camp? And if you use your own, is it cheaper for the stay as you do not use that camp's guide and vaehicle? Basically you pay only for room and board and save on the cost of safari?
    If you use your own driver/guide, where do they sleep and I suppose that this is all calculated into the cost?
    Also- If you are using one driver/guide , are they as proficient in sightings and where to go in many different areas as the guides in the private camps who basically stay in that one region?
    thanks Sandy

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    you are basically answering your own question Sandy; the camp guides are more experienced in that particular area most of the time, so people tend to use them. Especially because they are included in the price and as far as I know its not possible to pay less and use your own driver. When I was in Tanzania we did a mix of both; in some areas using our own vehicle and guide (also to be in full control what were doing) and in other areas using the camps vehicle.

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    Hi travelynn,
    Great report so far and I too, have been eagerly awaiting it. I have a question on your lodge picks in the Mara. You suggested that 3 or 4 lodges might be a good idea if time permits. What would your choice be after Fig Tree and Serena areas and would it make a difference if you were going in the Jan./Feb. time frame. I'm thinking about Kenya and Rwanda for 2012. I'm considering just flying into the Mara and then the gorillas for about 2 weeks. Can you fly onward from the Mara or do you have to return to Nairobi? This would be my 5th safari if that helps (3 Tanzania, 1 Botswana). Any thoughts? Thanks.

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    Sb1020,
    If you arrive by road with your own guide and vehicle, then you use them. You do not use the camp's guide and vehicle because you have your own.

    If you fly to the camp/lodge and are picked up by the camp/lodge staff, then you use the guide and vehicle from the camp. That means you either share with others doing the same thing or if you arrange in advance and pay extra, you have the camp's guide and vehicle to yourself.

    You can also have your own guide/vehicle that is not employed by the place you are visiting drive to the airstrip and meet you when you get off the flight. That guide and vehicle stays with you during your stay.

    I've done all of these and they all have produced good results. On this trip I left from NBO with and E&S guide Ben, and vehicle and visited Aberdare, Meru, Shaba, and Samburu. It was an unusual arrangement to have William in his own 4x4 take me on a separate outing in Aberdare with both my E&S guide and me as "passengers."

    Then I flew from Samburu to Mara and Ben drove back on his own. Guide Raphael was there at the airstrip to meet me in an E&S vehicle and we stayed together the whole time and he drove me back to NBO and dropped me off at the airport.

    You have a question on what is least expensive. Ans: probably flying to the camp/lodge and sharing a camp/lodge guide and vehicle with others. If I had flown to Fig Tree and Mara and shared a vehicle, that part of the trip would have been less expensive.

    But one thing to consider is that some of the camps that routinely employ that fly-in and use our camp vehicle/guide arrangement are inherently more expensive than the lodges where you arrive with your own guide. They are more expensive for a variety of reasons: They may own their own concession and offer greater privacy and seclusion because no one else besides the camp's guests can use it; the smaller, exclusive, more remote and personal tented camps are more expensive to run; there may be more expensive food, drink and amenities; and you pay for the guide's intimate knowledge of the area that is gained by remaining in a confined region.

    The added expense can provide added value to your safari, it just depends on your budget. You also have to decide whether you'd rather have your own private safari than sharing at a camp/lodge and then figure what you're willing to spend or forego to afford that luxury.

    So many decisions--but check the reports, nobody ever comes back and says, I screwed up my safari by choosing x over y. It's all good. The only screw ups I've seen involve people choosing really cheap shady operators.

    The arrangements for your guide/driver are part of your original quote. Each camp/lodge has accommodations for the guide. I noted at the bandas the guide and chef stayed on the other end of the banda. Usually they have their own village.

    Local vs. Circuit Guides: The guides who stay in one area usually have an advantage over roving guides because they know that one area extremely well. However, most experienced circuit guides from reputable companies travel to these parks repeatedly so they are not out of their element. The guides also communicate a lot with each other so they share the important stuff.

    Part of a good experience is having a guide that can spot animals and that can read signs/spoor to help locate animals. It's not like the animals always hang out in one secret place that only the local guides know.

    Nikao, Did you arrive at a camp with your own vehicle and driver, but use the camp's guide and driver instead? I have used local rangers that hop in the vehicle along with us (especially in Uganda) but have not exchanged my own vehicle/guide for one at the camp. I'd like to know more about that.

    Wildlife Painter, You cannot fly from the Mara to Rwanda on scheduled flights. Maybe you could in your own plane.

    I have not been to Kenya in Jan/Feb, but I think it is less important to be near the Mara River at that time because you won't see a wildebeest crossing and there will be many other sources of water for the animals. Twaffle had a fantastic trip at that time of year at Serian, which is pretty close to the Mara River. I think she is planning a repeat.

    That would make a good question as its own post and I'd be interested in the responses. Where to stay in the Mara in Jan/Feb?

    One thing I had considered about a future green season trip that I may take some day is staying closer to the park entrance from Nairobi, which is usually less expensive. It's less expensive because it can get more crowded. But Jan/Feb is not the busy season. It is also less expensive because animal concentration tends to be closer to the river, but the rains make water more widely available and tend to disperse the animals so why pay a premium for river front property?

    I'd like to know what other people who travel in Jan/Feb think about that strategy. Or where they suggest to stay.

    What also would sway me in Jan/Feb was deals being offered by various camps.

    Mara and gorillas would be a great combo!


    I'll resume the report after Thanksgiving.

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    *****************MERU*****************

    From the Aberdare Park entrance to the Meru Park Entrance = 5.5 hours including stops totaling 1 hour. From the park entrance to Kinnas Bandas = 30 minutes. Kinnas Bandas are described in detail above under “Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya!” but here are some additional Kinnas details:

    In my 3 nights there, the KWS staff offered to change the bedding.

    Midday was extremely hot in Meru (I’m guessing 90+ F) but the bandas remained cool and comfortable inside. The windows had curtains that could be pulled back for breeze or pulled shut over the screens at night.

    There was a lovely outdoor patio where we ate our meals, surprisingly without harassment from tse tses or anything else. I was told that Elsa’s is located in a higher tse tse intense area than Kinnas. I can’t attest to tse tses at Elsa’s, but they were not bad at all at Kinnas.

    Nor were the tse tses a real discomfort when I was standing up in the open-topped moving vehicle. They caused much more discomfort for Ben, who was confined to the dark interior. He brought a horse tail attached to a stick as a swatter.

    If not visiting Elsa’s grave while in Meru makes me a bad person, then so be it, but I did not pay my respects. We did drive by Pippa’s grave, an Adamson cheetah. Maybe that brought good cheetah karma for Meru, where we surprisingly saw a pair. I also did not visit the rhino sanctuary because I was on a Lesser Kudu mission, but the sanctuary would be another plus for a Meru visit.

    The evidence of lions was a constant yet we never saw any in Meru, so it was as if the mysterious spirit of Elsa was ever present but invisible. We’d hear them loud and clear at night and see numerous sets of tracks on every road. We even heard a chase around our banda at night and saw the tracks the next day.

    Lowdown on Lesser Kudu
    I kept track of the Lesser Kudus I saw and photographed for any other Lesser Kudu enthusiasts who may contemplating a visit to Meru. Though they are abundant in Meru, they are not easy to see (thank goodness for Ben’s sharp eyes) and even harder to get a picture of due to their shy nature and preference for browsing in thick brush.

    Drive #1 in evening as we entered park: 0
    Drive #2 in morning: 1 male, photographable

    Drive #3 in afternoon: Herd of 1 adult male and 1 young male with 3 females and 2 fawns running along road, all photographable; 1 female with fawn, no photos

    Drive #4 in morning: 1 female, no photos; 2 males and 2 females, no photos

    Drive #5 in afternoon: 1 male that I did not see but Ben saw;1 male and 4 females, no photos; 2 males and 4 females, no photos; mother and fawn, no photos; 1 male looking at a cheetah!! looking at a giraffe!!, photographable

    Drive #6 in morning: 1 male, photographable

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    QUOTE OF THE TRIP
    I am crediting myself with the quote of the trip in the form of a one-woman Way, Way, Way Off Broadway play.

    SETTING
    Kinnas Banda bathroom

    TIME
    Immediately after the short rains, so to speak

    ATRAVELYNN (in monologue)
    “What the hell?!”

    (Atravelynn exits stage left and the bathroom is empty for a moment. She returns promptly with a pair of reading glasses and peers into the toilet bowl.)

    ATRAVELYNN (in monologue)
    “There’s a lizard in my toilet!”

    The End


    Specifically it was a baby agama, about 3 inches long. Apparently it had lost its grip on the ceiling and had taken a plunge.

    The fact that a small lizard appeared in my banda toilet should in no way reflect poorly on the banda itself. The lovely Mara Serena lodge had many tiny lizards gripping the walls. Lizards can be found adorning the canvas of the finest luxury tented camps throughout Africa, adding to charm and contributing to the safari ambiance. The agama in the commode is completely a function of one reptile’s momentary lapse of suction and not a function of the caliber of the establishment.

    I did not take a picture of this poor creature in the toilet bowl for documentation because (a) I thought it would be in poor taste and (b) any delay could further jeopardize the survival of the lizard.

    The one act play turned into an action adventure as I raced outside to find a long stick, rushed back to the bathroom, and thrust the stick into the toilet bowl. The agama immediately grabbed onto this lifeline and I was able to lift it out of danger and whisk it outside.

    I gently placed the stick with the tightly clinging agama on the ground. Nothing happened. Oh no, had the cold water taken its toll on the little reptile? Was I too late in my rescue attempt? Ben assured me the agama just needed time to warm up in the sun. At this point I did snap a photo and it is #22 in the Meru album. In a flash the young agama darted off and as it fled, tears streamed down my cheeks and a song welled up in my breast and then sprang from my lips…

    “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart!”

    The tears and my crooning in the bush are silly figments of my imagination, but I did mention to Ben that it would be funny to sing the Born Free song as the lizard ran off.

    How fitting that I would enact my own little Born Free saga in Meru, the land of Elsa.

    Moral of the play: Keep the toilet lid shut.

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    Lol... Reminds me of my own experience where we heard something running in circles through our tent, but couldnt see what it was as it was before sunset... Like scared children we sat on the bed just until the creature jumped in the toilet compartment. I rushed out to shut that compartment and we told the staff 'something' was in our tent. Didnt see the creature since we had to go on a game drive, but the staff told us it was a giant beatle .. Lol

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    You saved the day and then some for that agama lizard.

    Cannot wait to see your photos of the photographable lesser kudu.

    When we were at Ithumba Ben had brought a book on spoor that he was studying. Sounds like he kept up his studies and it's paid off.

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    Lizard Rescue Service. Excellently excecuted!

    I've added a note to all my safari/packing/remember notes: a) always check the toilet (thinking of Patty's little frog, too) and b) always carry specialized reptile/amphibian rescue equipment while on safari.

    What a pleasure reading this - totally enjoyable. Thank you!

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    Perhaps my agama ate your beetle, Nikao, thanks to our respective efforts.

    We'll have to add SR/ARE to Lynda's packing list.

    Ben passed his spoor exam. Seriously, he is a bronze guide.

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    Sell Me on Meru
    In planning this trip, I posted the challenge “Sell Me on Meru in Kenya.”
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/sell-me-on-meru-in-kenya.cfm

    Sold!

    Other vehicles, sightings, and photos
    During my 4 days and 3 nights I saw 4 other vehicles, all but one in passing. I also saw about 4 patrol vehicles and the patrol plane passed over twice.

    A Somali Ostrich family with 13 two-year-old chicks was a highlight of Meru. Ben said the ostriches were doing very well in Meru, even better than in Samburu.

    Meru also offered the best Grevy Zebra interactions and photos that I saw on the trip. I believe about 20 were translocated from Lewa in 2002. I saw a few Grevy’s swatting each other with their tails, standing close to ward off the tse tses.

    One herd of about 15 elephants crossed the road in front of us and I also saw a separate single bull elephant.

    We saw a purple heron sunning with wings wide spread. The dark and light contrasting feathers reminded me of a dark and white chocolate truffle.

    We made a stop at the picturesque hippo pool where you can get out and walk on a wooden platform. We saw one submerged hippo, a Giant Kingfisher, and a buffalo that gave us pause, considering we were on foot.

    Other antelope besides Lesser Kudu included Grant’s Gazelles, Coke’s Hartebeest, Waterbuck, Dik diks, a few Gerenuk, and a relaxed herd of impala with nursing young.

    Meru has Baobab trees and I saw my first Baobab with leaves on it and not just bare branches.

    On our third afternoon drive Ben stopped the vehicle and looked at a gazelle bone in the road. “That was not there yesterday,” he replied. We then proceeded into an area where the animals were not accustomed to vehicles and fled at the sight of ours. One young giraffe almost veered out of control and into a tree in its frantic attempt to flee from us.

    I requested that we head elsewhere so we backtracked and arrived at the intersection with the gazelle bones. We watched a much more relaxed giraffe in great light. This was a shared sighting with the vehicle from the banda next to ours.

    Suddenly a cheetah sat up under a tree. “That’s why the gazelle bone is there,” Ben explained.

    The cheetah moved off slowly. We were thrilled with this unexpected sighting and shared a thumbs up with the other vehicle. The giraffe we had been looking at continued on its course and soon giraffe and cheetah were aware of each other’s presence. Then I noticed a Lesser Kudu also taking note of the giraffe and cheetah and of the vehicles. It was a hubbub of activity.

    The other vehicle drove off, but we remained to admire the cheetah, giraffe and Lesser Kudu. A second cheetah popped up right next to where the first cheetah had appeared. We watched both male cheetahs head off as the light faded.

    I expressed my delight to Ben, stating the cheetah is my favorite animal. He shared that it was also his favorite animal because cheetahs eat only freshly killed meat. I found that to be an interesting reason that is not often cited as a basis for admiring this popular animal.

    This is an album of 50 Meru photos. #15-19 are of Kinnas Bandas.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/MeruPhotosForOnline?authkey=Gv1sRgCO2Aj_-E1sjTsgE#

    Interesting Birds in Meru:
    Ben’s two favorites were found in Meru—the Saddle Billed Stork and the Red and Yellow Barbet. Ben is consistent in his color scheme for favorites.

    African Blackheaded Oriole at Kinnas Bandas
    Aryes Hawk Eagle
    Bearded Woodpecker
    Black Bellied Bustard
    Black Chested Snake Eagle
    Black Faced Sandgrouse
    Blackheaded Plover
    Brown Snake Eagle
    Buff Crested Bustard
    Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse
    Cut Throat Finch
    Fisher’s Starling
    Giant Kingfisher at the hippo pool
    Golden Breasted Starling
    Gray Hornbill
    Grayheaded Bush Shrike
    Great White Egret
    Green Sandpiper
    Greenbul
    Greenshank
    Helmeted Guinea Fowl
    Pale Chanting Goshawk
    Paradise Flycatcher, a couple at Kinnas Bandas
    Purple Heron in a unique and beautiful sunning pose
    Purple Roller that I initially thought was a Lilac Breasted Roller covered in dust from the road
    Pygmy Falcon
    Red and Yellow Barbet
    Redheaded Weaver at Kinnas Bandas
    Saddle Billed Stork hunting
    Somaili Ostrich family
    Squacco Heron
    Three Streaked Tchagra
    Veraux’s Eagle Owl at Kinnas Bandas
    Von der Decken’s Hornbill
    Wattled Starling
    White Browed Sparrow Weaver at Kinnas
    White Crested Helmet Shrike
    Wooly Necked Stork

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    Lynn, perhaps the lack of Meru lions had something to do with the lack of reverence for Elsa. I shall bear that in mind for my upcoming trip, although visiting graves at the best of times is something I consider a chore and downright dismal at worst, being a melancholy person it really is a mood dampener. So perhaps I will resign myself to 'no lions at Meru' as well. I don't think I'll bother with the rhino sanctuary either as I surely will get many sightings at Lewa and Lake Nakuru. Lesser Kudu would suit and avoidance of tsetses as well. Magnificent vistas would be a big plus so any hints on which direction to take for stunning sunrise and sunset photos would be gratefully received.

    I like Ben's choice of favourite birds and I will be happy if I get good sightings of either.

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    If you are asking me for directions such as what faces east or west, you are asking the wrong person. I am direction impaired.

    For vistas, scenery landscape, here are some thoughts...

    I'm having technical difficulties and can't preview so will submit in small chunks.

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    Now I can preview, so no need for small chunks.

    Aberdare:
    The flora makes this place what it is and it changes rapidly as you ascend/descend. I stopped for a lot for wide angle foliage shots. It was hard to capture what I saw, though.

    There were some nice moss covered trees, flanked by forest that I took but didn’t post.

    In general, I’d suggest keeping your eye on the changing scenery and when good light peaks through the clouds for a nice photo, shout stop to your driver and don’t delay.

    The waterfalls offer nice scenery photos. One other thing, in the early morning, the dew on the hanging moss that covered a lot of the vegetation really sparkled. If you can position the sun in the right spot that can be a pretty picture, especially when the moss is hanging over the cliff with the waterfall in the background. All those variables never quite came together for me, but I noted the potential.

    Meru:
    There were some interesting kopjes that rose out of the flatness. I think near Elsa’s. If you coordinated being there with sunrise/sunset that could be nice, not sure how the sun hits them.

    I found the hippo pool (with or without hippos) to be very picturesque in an Amazon-like way. I know wrong continent. You could check on when the light is best there. I went in afternoon, if I recall, and there were a lot of shadows, maybe more because of many tall trees rather than time of day. Be careful of roaming buffalo as you approach the hippo pool on foot by way of steps onto a wooden platform.

    There are a lot of rivers, but in Sept they were more like creeks and not compelling subjects, except for the birds around them if you zoomed in. The terrain in Meru was kind of scruffy with some distant hills and I was focused on Lesser Kudu not scenery.

    Shaba:
    That’s coming up next but here’s the part about photographing scenery. “Near the Uaso Nyiro River it is quite lovely with expansive views, but otherwise the terrain seemed similar to Samburu or Buffalo Springs. However, one cannot fully appreciate the splendor of the copper color cliffs from way over in Buffalo Springs. Picture #4 in the Shaba album shows the cliffs as a hazy backdrop from way over in Buffalo Springs vs. Pictures #1-3 in the Shaba album that were taken in Shaba. While it is only 30-40 minutes between Buffalo Springs and Shaba, the best time to view and photograph the cliffs is near sunset (photos #1-3 in the Shaba album were taken at 6:15 pm and the park closes at 6:30 pm) so an overnight in Shaba is needed to capture the rocky backdrop at its best.”

    The album I referred to will be posted shortly.

    Buffalo Springs/Samburu:
    The river and the vegetation around it offer beautiful material with animals often present. There is a scenic overlook that is the second to last picture in the Samburu/Buffalo Springs album, which will be posted in a few days. I want in late afternoon, but if you went even later or earlier in the morning, maybe you could get a sunrise/sunset. Samburu and Buffalo Springs would offer the most material for vistas and landscapes from my recollection.

    Maybe you're doing Lewa instead of Samburu, so the above won't apply.

    Mara:
    You probably recall spots from last time. Positioning herds in the sunrise/sunset is good. For the Mara and all the parks, you’ll have a few extra crucial minutes to be in the right place at dusk and dawn as sunrise was 10 minutes before the 6:30 am opening and 10 minutes after the 6:30 closing times in Sept. However, in Dec-Jan, sunrise is just after the park opens and sunset is just before the park closes.

    If your camp has its own property, then exact opening and closing times are not as big of a deal.

    Also you may get some dramatic skies with the occasional rains. The rains in Sept, although uncharacteristic, did provide some nice photo ops in the Mara due to the skies and lighting that resulted.

    I'm sure you'll take the lenses needed for scenery.

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    **************SHABA

    From the Meru entrance to the Shaba entrance was 2 hours and 55 minutes and that included 10 minutes of stops to drop off Martin the Chef, who lived in the Meru area. Our shortcut (referred to above as the shortcut to Somalia) was rather bumpy but we did see a Gray Flycatcher and Fischer’s Sparrowlark and the good news is that soon the dirt paths we bounced along will be a paved road. From the Shaba park entrance to Shaba Sarova was another 20 minutes.

    Shaba means copper, so named for the towering red cliffs. I wanted to spend a day here to see those cliffs and the scenery the park is known for. Near the Uaso Nyiro River it is quite lovely with expansive views, but otherwise the terrain seemed similar to Samburu or Buffalo Springs.

    However, one cannot fully appreciate the splendor of the copper color cliffs from way over in Buffalo Springs. Picture # 4 in the Shaba album shows the cliffs as a hazy backdrop from way over in Buffalo Springs vs. Pictures #1-3 in the Shaba album that were taken in Shaba. While it is only 30-40 minutes between Buffalo Springs and Shaba, the best time to view and photograph the cliffs is near sunset (photos #1-3 in the Shaba album were taken at 6:15 pm and the park closes at 6:30 pm) so an overnight in Shaba is needed to capture the rocky backdrop at its best.

    Most people who stay in Shaba do the majority of their game drives over in Buffalo Springs or Samburu, which has a lot more wildlife, and of course more visitors. To get from Shaba Sarova to the Samburu entrance gate takes just over half an hour, with a mile or so on the highway. It is possible spend most of the day in Samburu/Buffalo Springs and arrive back in Shaba for sunset views with ample time to get to the lodge before dark and closing time.

    The animal action around Sarova and in the river in front of the lodge was abundant--water monitors scooting across the lawn, troops of baboons and vervets, flocks of Marabou Storks, a few sunning cros, Sacred Ibis, Yellow Billed Storks.

    I was so intrigued with the winding paths of Sarova and the birds and animals I encountered that I walked right through several operating sprinklers, covering my camera for protection of course. I ended up a little drippy—but cool and refreshed.

    My actions and appearance attracted the attention of one of the security guards who thought this wandering, sprinkler-soaked lady, squatting for a better angle on the baboons might need some assistance. I assured the dear lad that I was just fine and having a marvelous time, then continued on my way, dripping along the path.

    At night the staff tossed some vittles over the fence along the river bank. Not only did two crocs haul out to feed, but so did a turtle! They were a congenial trio as they dined. The crowd that gathered to watch was small enough so that views were unobstructed.

    I estimated occupancy at Sarova at a little over half.

    Shaba Sarova offered a beautiful setting during the day and it had an enchanting feel when it was all lit up at night. It has a stunning location along the Uaso Nyiro River, which during my stay was raging at about a Level 3--if one were to raft it--though rafting is not an option. The Sarova staff explained that the fast flowing rapids were the result of an incredible 30 millimeters of rain in the Aberdares that fell in an approximate 12-hour time frame a few days earlier. I knew firsthand about the 30 mm and 12 hours.

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    At dinner someone (not me) was having a birthday and the Jambo Bwana song and dance line was followed by cake for everyone. I was going to skip dessert that night but when a piece of cake was plunked down in front of me, I decided to partake. While an establishment should not be judged solely by the birthday cake it serves, Sarova would come out with flying colors if that were the criteria. This was not just a square of cake for celebration sake. It was a delicious chocolate trifle that could rival that of any fine pastry chef!

    The Sarova rooms included a couple of suites near the lobby, then rooms 7-10 were labeled non-smoking (I was in 8), located not far from the croc feeding site. One side of the property had rooms through #46 and the other side had #47-92, with 46 and 92 being farthest away from the lobby and dining area. The configuration of the rooms offered upper balconies and garden level rooms. An upper level would be more desirable than a lower if you can manage stairs well, but all rooms had unobstructed river views, and my lower garden level 8 was great.

    When I went in search of the sunrise the next morning, I found that in September the best location to view and photograph it was around Room 74. It’s not like a crowd gathered there though, disrupting the guests of rooms in the 70s; I was the only one out there.

    There was a lot of animal activity in the morning at Sarova, including close views of Marabou Storks who picked morsels from the banks where the croc feeding had taken place the night before. Our departure at 7:30, instead of the earlier and customary 6:30 allowed time to observe the goings on.

    I thought Shaba Sarova had a real wow factor to it. The general consensus on luxury (and usually pricing) goes: Serena, followed by Sopa, then Sarova. It would be too bad if anyone shunned Shaba Sarova, fearing the facility would fall short in comparison.

    Other vehicles, sightings, and photos
    I did one late afternoon game drive in Shaba and saw no other vehicles. Our sightings included a couple of gerenuk, some impala, a pair of Red and Yellow Barbets hidden in twigs and branches but unable to conceal their vivid colors, and the flying dust of a digging mole rat though the rodent itself was never seen.

    The album contains 15 Shaba photos. The wildlife seen on Shaba Sarova grounds is labeled.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/ShareShabaPhotos?authkey=Gv1sRgCKOhgeizxensgwE#


    Interesting birds in Shaba:
    Black Headed Social Weaver
    Common Scimitarbill
    Cut Throat Finch
    Golden Breasted Bunting
    Golden Breasted Starling—a beauty indeed
    Marabou Stork
    Northern Crombec
    Pink Breasted Lark
    Purple Breasted Lark
    Red and Yellow Barbets—a pair obscured behind branches, save for the brilliant colors showing through
    Red Winged Lark
    Sacred Ibis
    Somali Courser
    Taita Fiscal Shrike
    Yellow Billed Stork
    Yellow Spotted Petronia

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    Hi Lynn, great report with amazing detail and information.

    We went to Meru about a week before your visit. We spent 4 nights there and stayed at Elsa´s Kopje.
    Tse tses where not an issue at all. We did not see one at the lodge during our 4 days there . The lodge is build on top off a big hill ( there are 2 hills together ) and there is a resident female leopard with 2 subadult cubs living in the hills.One day our guide proposed us to look for them and we started to drive around the bottom of the hills but had to get out off there because tse tses where all over !!! Incredible that the lodge was so close and had no tse tses at all.

    Looks like cheetah are doing well in Meru , we also saw 2 of them , a female and her adult .

    I have pictures of 14 lesser kudus and we saw more i didn´t picture . We were not in a mission like you but i had the impression that Meru is full with lesser kudu and they are easy to find.

    We where luckier than you with lions.We saw one family of 4 two different days on top of the same kopje and then a day later a group of 3 different ones in the same spot.

    Your list of birds is fantastic , we didn´t have as many.

    The ostrich family we saw had 12 chicks same age , we counted them , maybe the same?? Are you sure about the 13 chicks ??

    You sold me on Aberdare , it looks very interesting and different . I like your photos of Giant Hog and the Crowned Eagle.

    Looking forward for the Mara part.

    Paco.

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    Paco, thanks for the info. Your experience with no tse tse flies at Elsa's bears repeating. NO TSE TSE FLIES AT ELSA'S KOPJE!

    The info I got probably was based on the surrounding area. I don't think my guide had stayed at Elsa's.

    Congrats on the lions! I do think in a place as vast as Meru that a resident guide, such as what you'd get at Elsa's, has an advantage in knowing territories of predators.

    We might have miscounted on the ostriches. I could see how there'd be one less by the time I got there, but not one more. Perhaps a neighbor ostrich chick came over to play?

    14 Lesser Kudu pics proves they are out there and can indeed be seen.

    Thanks for chiming in.

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    ****************BUFFALO SPRINGS/SAMBURU****************
    Distance from Shaba Sarova to Samburu gate is 35 minutes; from gate to Simba Samburu, which is actually in Buffalo Springs, takes another 20 minutes.

    The Uaso Nyiro River separates Buffalo Springs and Samburu, but the two reserves offer the same wildlife experience based on what I observed this trip and previously. Driving between the two used to be a quick hop across a conveniently located bridge, but the floods of March 2010 ruined that bridge and as of Sept 2010 it was not yet repaired.

    With the bridge out, to get between Buffalo Springs and Samburu, it was necessary to travel about 35 minutes, including a couple miles on the highway to get to the Samburu gate.

    Upon arrival in Buffalo Springs, Ben pointed out three Cape Buffalo at a distance. Had I known these would be the only examples I’d see of the creatures that bore the reserve’s name, I would have snapped a few shots. Instead, I missed that opportunity and had to be satisfied with pictures of the attractive White Headed Buffalo Weaver birds that reside in Buffalo Springs. Oddly, not many buffalos live in Buffalo Springs.

    The reserve gets its name from the springs created by a bomb dropped during Word War II. A ruse had been devised to confuse Italian bombers into mistaking this uninhabited area for Nairobi. The desolate landscape was lit up with numerous lights, making it appear to be the populous capital, the bomb strike’s intended target. The ploy worked, the bomb was dropped in the wilderness, and it created a spring fed crater. We visited the area and saw giraffes and two species of zebra grazing nearby this handy water source

    Simba Lodge had a lot of bird and animal activity going on most any time of the day and the photos taken at the lodge are labeled “on Simba grounds.” A waterhole, viewed from the dining area and most of the rooms, attracted herds of elephant, baboons, vervets, and a variety of antelope. Each morning a gigantic troop of baboons traipsed through, near the waterhole.

    My fellow diners and I noticed one baboon carrying something and debated whether it was a stick, a dead lizard, a trap (hopefully not), or what. The next day my photos confirmed that it was the carcass of a dead baby. Ben told me that carrying the corpse around was how the female mourned and that when the smell became too putrid, she’d drop it.

    Bird feeders were filled up at noon but attracted a variety of birds all day long that perched on trees at eye level from the dining area.

    Herds of elephant were visible from my room and balcony as they headed to and from the Uaso Nyiro River.

    Originally I was given Room #60. It did not have views of the river and had more generator noise, though the waterhole was very visible. Because I was staying for 3 nights, I asked for a change and ended up in #30, which was lovely and had picturesque views of the river that flowed about 500 meters away. Like Sarova, these rooms had balcony and garden options and I found my balcony room to be ideal. From what I could tell, Rooms #1-50 were on the river side with #50 being the closest to the river and most distant from the lobby.

    The place seemed to be about half full by the attendance at the evening meals.

    While a 2-night stay in Samburu is standard, I wanted longer to be able to spend more time with the unique species known as the “Samburu 5,” especially the gerenuk antelope that exhibits the unique behavior of grazing on its hind legs. I also wanted to be able to linger with the plentiful elephant herds found there. I did not find 3 nights (4 nights if you include Shaba) to be excessive and enjoyed exciting encounters with mammals and birds each day. A 3 or more night stay also allows ample opportunity for some cultural interaction with the Samburu, while not compromising safari time. Though I did not visit any villages this time, I recall enjoying a camel ride to a Samburu village on a previous visit.

    Samburu Lodge
    We happened to make a bathroom stop at Samburu Lodge and what luck that was! I ended up walking around the lush grounds with heavy vegetation for about 30 minutes watching some outstanding vervet grooming activity. This place has been up and running a very long time, which likely contributes to the relaxed attitude of the resident wildlife.

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    Other vehicles, sightings, and photos
    Overall, I’d break down the vehicle encounters in Buffalo Springs/Samburu as:
    85% of the time, no other vehicles in sight
    10% of the time, other vehicles were visible as we drove
    5% of the time, we shared sightings with at least one other vehicle

    * Just a few minutes after arriving, we encountered a small herd of oryx (1 of the Samburu 5) and watched a pair of young calves nuzzling each other. They were so adorable I could understand how that lioness a few years back had adopted one. Ben said she actually took in 4 different oryx calves and that well publicized incident led to Samburu’s slogan, “Where Nature Defies Itself.” No other vehicles present for the oryx calves.

    * A larger herd of about 50 oryx offered great views one early evening, including one mating pair. We shared the sighting with two other vehicles for about 10 of our 20 minutes.

    * Gerenuk (1 of the Samburu 5) standing up was something I really wanted to see again and we saw about 40 without any real effort, resulting in at least a dozen good photos, including bikini shots, which I learned about from a fellow poster. Those are shots with unobstructed views of the upright gerenuk’s abdomen to reveal black markings that look like a G-string bikini.

    I recall sharing one sighting of two standing gerenuks with another vehicle briefly. Otherwise we had every single gerenuk to ourselves. The stamina of this antelope to remain standing for 10 minutes or longer allowed for some prolonged viewing and good photo ops.

    * We were able to spend about half an hour on four occasions with elephant herds and left only when it was time to exit the park or the eles moved away. One of the herds had an approximately 3-week old calf that was still pinky-orange around the ears and wobbly on its feet.

    A juvenile Somali Ostrich (1 of the Samburu 5) joined one of the herds briefly for a drink at the river. Along with a distant view of one adult Somali Ostrich, those were our only Samburu ostrich sightings. Ben said that seeing ostriches in Samburu is getting harder. As mentioned earlier, the Somaili Ostrich is thriving in Meru.

    At each of those elephant sightings between 1 and 3 vehicles came and went during for about half of our viewing time. The other half of the time we were alone with the elephants.

    *From a distance we watched a lone mother ele and a baby that Ben estimated was only a week old. In the 10 minutes they remained visible in tall grass, no other vehicle was in sight.

    *Only 1 photo with a hippo as the main subject made the final cut of photos this trip and that was on our only midday outing in Samburu. We went out from about 11:00 to noon at my request and honestly saw very little at that sweltering time of day, including no other vehicles. At the river a couple of hippos were cruising around and we sat and watched. One reason hippo action at Samburu was down was because the river was so high and fast flowing that it was harder to see them. We also had one sunning croc to ourselves on that outing.

    * Near the actual springs from which Buffalo Springs derives its name, we watched some Burchell’s and Grevy’s zebra (1 of the Samburu 5) mingle together, which made for a nice comparison, along with some Reticulated Giraffe (1 of the Samburu 5.)

    The Burchell’s zebra were introduced and have contributed to the survival of the rare Grevy because Burchell’s are easier prey for lions, which spares the Grevy. The Burchell’s also give the Grevy’s more opportunities to form herds, as these two species of zebra mingle well, but don’t breed. I did not get any Grevy photos I cared to keep from Samburu. There were 3 other vehicles near the springs, spread out over about a quarter mile.

    * A Tawny Eagle perched in a tree drew the attention of another vehicle besides ours. For all our other bird sightings and photos (except the young ostrich with the eles) no other vehicles were around.

    One exciting species was an endemic to Samburu and nearby areas: The Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow Weaver—and we had a photo op of three. We found the brilliant blue Vulturine Guinea Fowl in flocks with chicks and even mixing with the Helmeted Guinea Fowl for a comparison shot. An interesting behavior exhibited by a White Bellied Bustard and Crowned Plover was tilting the head sideways so one eyeball could look up in the sky and spot predators.

    * Our first lion pride sighting of about 5 members, including lionesses and cubs, was shared by up to 4 other vehicles, with some coming and going.

    * A pride of 6 lions that included one young male also had up to 4 other vehicles, with some coming and going.

    * A different pride of 6 lions was positioned to attract a whopping 8 other vehicles, so we did not linger. This pride was spotted right near the entrance to Sambura Simba about 10 minutes before the 6:30 pm park close. So everybody passed them on the way back and that contributed to the crowd.

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    * Ben expertly spotted a dead African hare that attracted the attention of another vehicle besides ours.

    * The next afternoon we were behind a vehicle, both of us advancing slowly, when Ben stated, “There’s a live hare.” When I asked for more explanation of the term live hare, he added, “to go with our dead one from yesterday.” The vehicle in front of us never saw it and drove on.

    We stopped and admired how the light shined through the thin membrane of the hare’s ear. My first ever photo of an African Hare! No other vehicles.

    * Of the many dik dik sightings, a few pictures resulted of these shy creatures and no other vehicle was ever present. Photo #9 offers a perspective in how small this antelope is.

    * No vehicles around Grant’s Gazelles either. There are no Thomson’s Gazelles in Samburu.

    *We saw one distant female Greater Kudu across the river. Meru had been good kudu spotting training grounds for me, as I saw her. Nobody else around to share this elusive sighting with.

    * We had finished up watching one of the ele herds when Ben announced, “I have news. Let’s go.” He had heard about a leopard just over the hill. In addition to the radio provided by E&S, Ben had bought his own--at his own expense--for more exclusive communication. I don’t know over which radio the leopard sighting was picked up.

    We drove to where a leopard was beautifully posed on a termite mound and pulled up for great views. When we left, about 3 minutes later, I counted 11 other vehicles. That’s a lot but all behaved in an orderly manner. As we were leaving, the leopard also moved off slowly.

    *A little later in the day we encountered the leopard again. We were alerted by trumpeting elephants who detected the leopard in their midst. The cat was unconcerned with the agitated elephants and was intent on hunting dik dik. Ben expertly maneuvered through the tracks that led around the brush and we watched a couple of chases before the leopard ventured into territory with brush too thick to follow.

    I counted 10 other vehicles negotiating the maze of tracks through the brush to see the leopard hunt. It did seem to get a bit hectic, but just as the leopard was unconcerned with the bellowing elephant herd it had infiltrated, it seemed oblivious to the vehicles and meandered next to them and between, peeking around the tires. This was one confident cat!

    *We had about 15 close sightings of Reticulated Giraffe (1 of the Samburu 5) with no vehicles around. Near the end of our stay we found a couple of giraffes sitting down and took pictures. After one got up, another vehicle also stopped for photos of the remaining seated giraffe.

    Here is an album of 112 photos. That’s a lot for one location, but I was there 3 nights, 10 photos are devoted to the unique gerenuk in various poses (#18-#28), and 25 shots are of elephants. Photo #9 gives a perspective of how tiny the dik dik antelope is. No Grevy’s Zebra photos.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/BuffaloSpringsSamburuSHARE?authkey=Gv1sRgCNP3ypj_qM-HNQ#

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    It looks you had a great time in the Samburu area , many nice elephant pictures , i specially like 13 and 100.
    Also nice orix herds with landscape and standing generucks.
    The secretary bird shot is fantastic with great light and momentum.

    You are becoming and expert getting photos of cats and big animals ( cheetah and giraffe , leopard and elephants ) what is next ...lions and hippos maybe.

    It´s curious , we also saw a mother baboon carrying a dead baby in Meru but ,if Ben is right , our mother baboon must have her sense of smell atrophied because the dead baby was skin and bones.
    More seriously ,it was very emotional for us to see how protective was the mother baboon going always the last of the troop and not letting other baboons approach the baby.

    Paco.

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    what a great sighting of that leopard? I hope I will be lucky when I go to Selous/Ruaha and have a chance to spot (and photograph!) leopard.

    Your pictures are very nice! Especially some bird pictures are outstanding, what equipment do you use?

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    atravelynn, just a terrific, informative and witty report! I'm just sorry I didn't read your tip about Gherkins not being the best topic for successful mixing. No wonder I was always alone during my late September trip to the Mara. :-)

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    Paco,
    We have very similar tastes in pictures. The Secretary Bird had perfect light. There were some other Secretary Birds in the Mara that posed nicely too. Thanks for noticing.

    Only one hippo shot this whole trip. Just an average swimming shot in the Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu. A hippo shows up in the background of a crossing shot.

    I suppose the grieving baboon mothers have different motivations and tolerances for levels of decay. It's a sad sight, regardless. Watching the mother not let the other baboons approach the carcass would be very sad.

    Somehow the numbering of the album got all messed up. The #s were supposed to be in order because I can count. I fixed it. Picassa seems to have a mind of its own on occasion.

    Will your account and shots of Meru and elsewhere be appearing?

    Nikao,

    I use a Sony DSC H2 with 12x optical zoom and a Sony DSC H9 with 15x optical zoom. The H9 is history though because the sensor on the right side is shot so everything is blurry on the right side at max zoom. I also used a bean bag with Navy Beans. I'll be trying the Great Northern or Pintos next time. Ha ha

    Previously you wrote this: "When I was in Tanzania we did a mix of both; in some areas using our own vehicle and guide (also to be in full control what were doing) and in other areas using the camps vehicle."

    Did you drive with your guide/vehicle to a location and then use the camp vehicle and guiude instead of what you arrived in?

    Sdb2
    I would have been happy to discuss Gherkins, Dill, Bread & Butter or Kosher Midgets with you during mealtime. I am also fond of pickled beets and olives--green, black, or burgundy.

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    Im surprised with some of the bird shots, that you were able to get it from a non-dslr camera.. well done! :)

    To answer your question; yes we drove with our guide and own vehicle to the camp, and there we used the camps vehicle and guide. Mainly because our guide hadn't been in that area before (Piyaya region, where we were one of the first to use that camp) so the campguide knew the area (and it's game) better. btw, this was were I witnessed the Wild dogs chasing a wildebeest (twice) and killing it (once out of the two times)

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    Very nice trip and writeup. Great to see names of bird species.

    In January, we are already planning to spend 3 days in Samburu (Ashnil Camp) and 1 at Sweetwater (after several days in Serengeti area). We have 2 more days to spend before returning to Nairobi. What would you recommend for getting a variety of birds and animals? Meru sounds interesting for Lesser Kudu or Aberdare for Giant Hog and forest species.

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    Nikao thanks for the additional info and Sdb2, I'd relish the opportunity for such a discussion. And I apologize for the pun.

    Az3,
    Recommendations for a variety--You've already taken care of the biggest recommendation, just book the trip. Next, if you are able, choose a privately guided trip so you can concentrate on what interests you and maximize your time in the bush and not cater to others who want 3 hot meals or time at the pool. Then, in your preliminary communications with the safari provider and at the outset with your guide, state your interest in birds and variety. The guides really want to conduct the safari according to your wishes, so let those wishes be known. Finally, take advantage of wildlife/birds around the properties. These are often more relaxed around people and offer nice viewing and photo ops.

    Take binoculars of course, so you can appreciate the details of the variety you see. You'll have a great trip.

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    Flying out of Samburu
    Ben emphasized the need to arrive an hour early at the airstrip because flights were known to arrive and depart well ahead of schedule. He recounted some frantic passengers (not his clients) that got left behind because they were merely on time and not early. Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Ben with parting gifts of chocolate covered cranberries from Wisconsin and the purple towel I had bought in Nairobi for Kinnas Bandas. Ben had provided a wonderful first half of the trip.

    Wisconsin produces enough cranberries to provide every person in the world with 26. Ben got more than 26 AND they were chocolate covered.

    Interesting birds in Samburu:
    African Orange Bellied Parrot—all over Simba grounds
    African Silverbills—at airstrip
    Augur Buzzards—courting and mating
    Black Faced Sand Grouse-- watching the families of these beautifully marked birds was a highlight
    Black Shouldered Kite
    Blue Napped Mouse bird
    Brown Hooded Kingfisher
    Burchell’s Starling—Simba grounds
    Chestnut Bellied Sand Grouse—watching the families of these beautifully marked birds was a highlight
    Chestnut Weaver
    Common Bulbul-Simba grounds
    Common Waxbill—Simba grounds
    Crowned Plover—including a fluffy chick
    D’Arnoud’s Barbet
    Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow Weaver
    Fisher’s Sparrow
    Gabar Goshawk
    Green Barred Woodpecker
    Helmeted Guinea Fowl
    Kori Bustard
    Malachite Kingfisher
    Red Billed Hornbill—Simba grounds
    Red Headed Weaver
    Rufous Chaterer
    Rufous Crowned Roller
    Secretary bird, including a juvenile
    Somali Courser
    Sooty Falcon
    Speckled Pigeons—Simba grounds
    Square Tailed Drongo
    Taveta Golden Weaver—Simba grounds
    Tawny Eagle
    Vulturine Guinea Fowl
    White Bellied Bustard, alone and in pairs—It was fascinating to see the male tilt his head, focusing one eyeball up at the sky in search of flying predators, then calling to alert his mate across the way to be cautious.
    White Browed Sparrow Weaver—Simba grounds
    White Chinned Prinea
    White headed Buffalo Weaver—Simba grounds
    White Headed Mousebird—Simba grounds
    Yellow Billed Hornbill
    Yellow necked francolin

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    ************MAASAI MARA, TALEK RIVER AREA*********
    The flight from Samburu to Olekiombo Air Strip was about 2 hours and included a stop at the Keekorok airstrip. Once we reached the Mara, endless lines of wildebeest could be seen from the air, but did not photograph well.

    Raphael was there to meet me and had been the first vehicle at the airstrip. We confirmed that by phone before I even left Samburu. And he had postcard stamps. Securing postcard stamps to the US was a major undertaking that Ben and I were not able to accomplish despite numerous attempts. So in one of Ben’s conversations with Boaz back in the office, I requested that Raphael bring 10 stamps, which I bought from him. Ben, Raphael, and Boaz all did their part, but a glitch somewhere in the mail means the stamped postcards are still on safari.

    Fig Tree
    This is a beautiful tented facility along the Talek River with a covered bridge from the parking lot to the camp. Raphael said they had done a good deal of renovating which included the driver quarters, which he said were now very nice--as was everything from the tents to the indoor and outdoor dining rooms to the pool area to the treetop viewing platform. Really lovely!

    All tents have a river view. I was in #4 and I thought 4-10 were ideal to minimize noise and traffic. Really, other than Tents 1-2 next to the lobby area, any were fine.

    There was entertainment in the dining room each night at Fig Tree, alternating nightly between a comedic musical routine and traditional Maasai dancers. When it came time for the Adumu jumping dance by the Maasai, even the chef wanted a turn and participated in his white uniform and giant chef hat.

    Having missed the opportunity to photograph a buffalo in Buffalo Springs, I wanted to make sure I got a nice Fig Tree photo at Fig Tree. I was thrilled to get a Common Bulbul perched neared some figs, with its tongue visible!

    The huge central Fig Tree attracted a variety of birds but I thought I’d see more birds in the area and wildlife near the river. A herd of zebra grazed across the river from my tent one afternoon, some vervets occasionally hung around in the trees, A genet and bush baby came some evenings for fruit offerings, and a troop of baboons (mentioned below) were active at times.

    Raphael said Fig Tree was not fully booked because for several nights he did not have to share with a roommate in the driver quarters.

    One nice thing about breakfast at Fig Tree was that despite the posted hours, there almost always was an early hot breakfast to accommodate those driving to Nakuru. Fig Tree catered to those who drove to/from the Mara in addition to flyers. So our early departures at 6:30 am (when the park opened) were usually on a full stomach.

    Aggressive Baboon Encounter
    My plans for an early departure on Day 2 were thwarted by a troop of baboons. I had just exited my tent, zipped it up, and stepped onto the raised wooden porch when I was confronted by two large male baboons from a passing troop. At least one hopped up on my wooden porch. I shouted and waved my hands to send the baboons off.

    The closest baboon approached me in an aggressive manner. Fight or flight instinct immediately overcame me. My first choice was flight—back into my tent—but turning around to unzip it would leave me too vulnerable. So the only other choice was fight.

    I instinctively did an angry King Kong impression. I bared my teeth and raised my hands in claw-like fashion and started to roar, standing my ground. I think I added a few shouts of, “Get out!” Go!” I must have been a humorous sight, but there was nothing funny about the situation.

    The two baboons continued toward me undeterred, as if they were stalking. This encounter lasted only seconds, when two security guards pounced onto the scene. They appeared so fast I looked to see if they were wearing capes and maybe a big letter on their chests. One had a bow and arrow and the other had a club, but the weapons were not needed because the baboons fled at the first sight of these guys. I have to give them credit for handling the situation well.

    Aggressive baboons (especially the males toward human females) can be a problem anywhere. The quick response is a plus for Fig Tree. The remaining mornings the baboons used a different route for their morning walk and I had no problem. But I did carry a big stick when exiting my tent after that.

    Fig Tree had several Maasai Warriors and guards that continually patrolled throughout the premises and were quite pleasant to visit with as they stood guard. Fortunately they were not always engaged in battle with the baboons.

    The first animals Raphael and I saw the morning after my baboon incident were members of that same troop, meandering along. There were some nice photo ops but all the photos I took were blurry. Despite the image stabilization device on my camera, my hands were shaking too much for decent shots. Not to get overly dramatic, I was fine within 15 minutes and completely composed for the coalition of three cheetahs later that morning.

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    atravelynn,

    I am so impressed with your bird sightings and identifications (and the beautiful photos). Do you make all the IDs yourself? with help from your guide? I'm assuming you have a bird book - but as a rank amateur bird watcher it always takes me a very long time to find the right page...Any bird watching tips for my safari in Sept?

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    Raelond,
    The baboons were indeed too close for comfort in that case. In contrast, a wonderful baboon encounter is the guided baboon walk in Simons Town, South Africa (near Cape Town) with Baboon Matters. I wanted to include my experience, but hope it does not freak out anybody considering a safari. If you research how many tourists have been attacked and hurt by baboons in Kenya, you'll probably find none. Problems arise when food is not not properly guarded or stored, which was not my situation.

    I hope you're continuing to plan for close encounters with the chimps in Mahale.

    PA Kathy,
    Sept was a great time to go. I'm sure you'll have a fabulous trip.

    Some of the common birds I knew and recognized. The guide did an excellent job in spotting and indentifying the birds too.

    For the birds around the lodge, I ID'd them with my bird book. I've also found it helpful to shoot some photos and then ask the guide later what he thinks it is.

    If birds are important to you on a safari, mention that when booking so you can get a guide knowledgeable in birds.

    I know what you mean about paging through the book. Add a bumpy road and a need to put on the reading glasses to see the page, and the problem compounds. If you travel with like minded people, or book your own trip, then taking time to ID the birds and looking them up works better. The guide will likely have a bird book and will probably be able to flip to the species quickly.

    At the end of each day, or even the end of each game drive, you can review your bird lists. Otherwise it is easy to forget.

    What also helps is if you can review the most commonly found birds in an area in advance so you are familiar with what you'll be looking at. Sometimes travel companies will send a list to you in your pre-departure pack. You can even ask your guide at the outset to review in your book what you are likely to see to narrow the focus. Out of a whole bird book only about 5% is what you have a reasonable shot at. Looking at lists from trip reports is another way to prepare.

    I've wondered about the birdwatching download or app or whatever it is. That might be useful, but I'm ignorant of that technology. And would it work over there and would it cost a lot every time you looked up a bird?

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    couple more suggestions--

    Those little post-its designed as bookmarks can help for faster location of species in the book if you divide up the sections.

    Many camps and lodges have staff that like to share their knowledge and interact with guests. They can be good resources for bird watching or resident animal viewing. You can ask at the desk or sometimes informal conversations can lead to an impromptu midday bird walk on the premises--where an armed escort is not needed. Places like Mara Serena have a formal midday guided birdwalk for a reasonable cost.

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    Lynn I can't believe I completely forgot that I had a close encounter with a baboon as we stopped on our way to the Crater. As I was looking at the baboons out the left side of our vehicle, a baboon attemped to climb in the open window on the right side. When I noticed him I let out a scream that probably scared the daylights out of him. In my own subtle way I am working on my husband for Mahale in 2013 after I retire.

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    Will be getting there soon, Indiancouple. Can I use the excuse of being attacked by baboons again to justify my delayed report? Actually I just need to "sync" some photos on Picassa, a process I see you are familiar with. I will get there well before Raelond heads to Mahale.

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    I fought off the baboons and finished the Mara Talek part. Serena is next.

    Other vehicles, sightings, and photos
    Overall, I’d break down the vehicle encounters throughout the Mara, with the exception of waiting at the river crossings as:
    80% of the time, no other vehicles in sight—pretty good considering the landscape is mostly flat and it is possible to see for miles, viewing vehicles on the horizon
    15% of the time, other vehicles were visible as we drove
    5% of the time, we shared sightings with at least one other vehicle

    * Shortly after departing Olekiombo Air Strip we saw 3 vehicles off road, gathered around a clump of bushes. Looking through my binoculars, I saw about 4 sleeping lions. I requested that we continue on and I hoped I wouldn’t encounter a lot of this behavior in the Mara. Fortunately we were able to avoid it most of the time. There really was no need to drive offroad and crowd around to see lions, as we saw lions on every outing except one that was rained out.

    * Lioness with a pair of 1-week old cubs. Raphael had heard about this from another guide. Our first outing from Fig Tree was to seek out this special find. It was far away from everything else, which would make sense. After a couple hours of canvassing the general area and one false alarm of a lioness we thought might have been the mother, I saw them in a thicket of grass. We stayed a good distance away and there were no other vehicles in sight. I was pleased that not only did we find the youngest lion cubs I had ever seen, but we had worked on our own to locate them.

    Another 3 several hour searches yielded 2 more opportunities to view the lioness and hidden cubs. No vehicles were in sight during any of our visits. When we were departing from our last visit, another car approached to see what we were looking at.

    *Courting lions in the shade-no other vehicles.

    * Two 2-year old lion cubs out for a stroll—no other vehicles during our viewing, 1 other vehicle approached as we left.

    * About a dozen sightings of pride members of the lioness with young cubs and of members of another pride. Each lion sighting was alone or shared with one other vehicle.

    * A pride of 6 lions with up to 8 vehicles, spread out nicely so as not to interfere with the cats and allowing everyone good photos. When everyone behaves and disperses, then 8 vehicles does not overwhelm the sighting.

    *In 4 outings searching for a coalition of 3 cheetahs we were successful twice. Once we joined about 12 other vehicles, all behaving very well, remaining on the track. The cheetahs were permitted an unobstructed view of well over 180 degrees in front of them. Unfortunately for the cheetahs there was nothing to catch their attention, nor was there anything behind them. The entire area was devoid of prey. While some of the dozen vehicles came and went, we had about half an hour of civilized, quality cheetah viewing and photographing.

    It was when the cheetahs began to move out in search of better hunting grounds that all hell broke loose and vehicles started driving as if they were in a parking lot, right next to the cats. The worst offender was a Tanzanian vehicle with no company name displayed. Next was a green van with the name Moyo. Even a couple of Southern Cross mini vans were in pursuit of the cheetah.

    Raphael told me that usually rangers would prevent such antics, but in their absence, it was obvious the drivers were taking advantage. I later reported my observations to the rangers who were stationed outside Fig Tree and they apologized, explaining that the vehicle normally patrolling that area was unavailable that day but would be back in service the next day.

    As time passed and one by one the other vehicles left, we rejoined the cheetahs, staying on the road or track, and sharing the sighting with 2 other vehicles, then 1, then just us. At that point, one cheetah was sitting right next to a track and we drove up next to him, took a few photos and moved away.

    *For the second encounter with the 3 cheetah, we discovered them simultaneously with 2 other vehicles and enjoyed them for about 15 minutes before it started getting crowding with 10 vehicles and the cheetah started heading out, hopefully to better hunting grounds.

    *On one of our cheetah hunts, we did not find the cats, but did see a sizeable herd of buffalo quenching its thirst in the Talek River. The count was about 300 buffalo and no other vehicles.

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    *I was pleased that 5 other vehicles pulled up along with us just before sundown to view a Secretary Bird in a tree top. This was a picturesque photo op and it was nice to partake in this non-predator sighting with others.

    * Private viewing for all other birds, except one ostrich family with about 15 2-month old chicks, where another vehicle passed by briefly.

    *While watching a pair of jackals for about 10 minutes, another vehicle stopped for a moment and then moved on.

    *I wished I could have shared my bat eared fox pair sighting with other vehicles. During the 30 minutes that we sat with them and took many photos, at least half a dozen vehicles passed by these highly visible creatures that were conveniently sitting near the road. Only one vehicle even slowed down to check out what we were looking at. So, bat eared foxes had no other vehicles.

    * We drove along the Talek River in an area that Raphael knew was good for leopard. We searched with no vehicles in sight for about an hour when a relaxed leopard on a limb came into view and photo range. For 20 minutes we enjoyed the sighting alone as the leopard occasionally changed positions, opened and shut his eyes, and eventually stretched and hopped to the ground. About that time two other vehicles approached on the opposite side of the river. We tried to point out which way the leopard went, but it had disappeared.

    * Later in the day we joined 7 other vehicles watching a leopard on the move. That was too many for me and besides, the leopard was heading into thick brush. I managed one photo. As we left, I counted 15 vehicles converging on the scene of where the leopard had once been. I remarked at the stark contrast between the 15 vehicles and our peaceful morning sighting of a leopard.

    * We watched a huge troop of banded mongoose, all scattered over flat terrain. One other vehicle approached, stopped for a few seconds, and did us a huge favor. It caused a group of 5 mongoose of all ages to assemble in picturesque form as they observed the other vehicle.

    * Zero vehicles encroached on our antelope and wildebeest sightings.

    * Occasionally one other vehicle was around for giraffe and zebra.


    Mara Sarova
    Enroute between Fig Tree and Serena we used Sekennai Gate and made a stop for fuel at Mara Sarova. What a huge place this is with lovely grounds, bridges, and a place to go fishing. It was nearly 100% occupied so the only room they could show me entailed a 15 minute stroll through the expansive property. The tented camp room looked great and views from it were of brush covered terrain. On the roads we took that passed near Sarova, we saw hardly any vehicles—maybe 2 at most.

    The album contains 80 photos of the Talek area. #11-16 are of Fig Tree or wildlife on the Fig Tree grounds.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/TalekRiverAreaOfMaasaiMara?authkey=Gv1sRgCLfz8sny4JDPkwE&feat=email#

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    cant believe other vehicles didn't stop for the bat eared foxes! they are a lovely sighting!
    Very nice that you had the opportunity to enjoy such a nice leopard sighting! I can only dream and hope I will encounter one as well when I return to tanzania ;)

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    Let your guide know of your interest in these fascinating birds. I saw some about every 4-5 days in the Mara. There was a nice family that I saw one time around Fig Tree.

    Early mornings and late afternoons are good times for the bat eared foxes.

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    ***********MAASAI MARA-MARA TRIANGLE********
    Mara Serena
    I don’t recall my room number, but every room has a nice view that may include the vast wildebeest herds during migration months. When the light was right, the golden grass dotted with distant black wildebeests looked like chocolate chip cookie dough.

    Every single room was occupied during my stay. Even at peak capacity, the operations hummed along nicely, the restaurant accommodated guests without a rush (one night even offering menu service instead of a buffet), and the staff took time to interact individually with guests. I found Serena to be a very professional outfit.

    As an added bonus, the wildlife on the grounds was as plentiful as I recall—birds, agama lizards, rock hyrax, warthogs, impala, and bushbuck. One day I even requested returning early at about 10:45 am to allow extra time with the resident animals. All photos of these animals are labeled as seen on Serena grounds.

    A relaxed male and female bushbuck were an especially fortunate sighting, as these are usually shy, elusive, and obscured by brush. I wanted to share this lucky find with some of the pool enthusiasts who were lounging in their cabanas. I approached a couple cautiously on one of the stone paths and motioned in the direction of the bushbuck. I smiled, pointed, and said, “Bushbuck.” Not knowing their first language, I limited my interaction to the one key word. Perhaps “Bushbuck” is a vulgar insult in their native tongue because they glared at me until I retreated far away from their cabana. Then their glance returned to their magazines and I don’t think they ever saw the Bushbuck.

    In all fairness to this couple, the lovely gardens and pool, along with the bar service and good meals, could entice visitors who wanted a relaxing luxury getaway, regardless of the natural history aspects of the environment. I encountered a few people who mentioned that they had opted out of yet another game drive in favor of relaxing at the pool with a drink.

    The rooms were attractive and comfortable with their spherical boma motif. The Maasai themed vibrant array of painted colors and artistically placed window-sized cutouts, positioned in the walls for lighting and ambiance, reminded me of the wall on Laugh In, the popular and edgy TV show from the 70s. (For a nice Serena room visual: http://www.go-safari.com/Masai%20Mara/MaraSerena7.jpg )

    I was expecting Joanne Worley to pop her head through one of the windows and belt out her signature resonating note. Or maybe Judy Carne with her famous “Sock it to me” line. (“Very interesting but stupid. You bet your sweet bippy. Say goodnight Dick. And that’s the truth Phtttt.”) My apologies to those unacquainted with Rowan and Martin. But I liked Laugh In and I liked my Mara Serena room.

    And the shower was even better. Mid-shower on my last afternoon I decided I should also wash my hair so I reached out of the shower stall for the complimentary shampoo. I grabbed a bevy of bottles and once again was without my reading glasses in the bathroom so I couldn’t distinguish among the many toiletries. I used a little bit of everything provided, figuring the fragrant, sudsy concoction might approximate one of the 14 spa treatments that were listed in the room’s literature. The first thing my husband said to me when I got home was, “Your hair smells really nice,” and the next thing was, “What’s so funny?”

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    Meeting Sonali from Fodors at Mara Serena
    Sonali was able to arrange her last minute trip to the Mara to include a shared night at Serena. Because I did not have email access to follow her plans, this was a surprise to me. So on my way to my first lunch at Serena, I was stopped and asked if I were Lynn. Immediately I knew she had to be Sonali and we enjoyed a delightful lunch together. One of our first topics of conversation was the hilarious Crosscheck trip report.

    That afternoon we headed out in our respective vehicles but met up again late in the day at the Mara River where the wildebeest had begun to cross, using a route that obscured views of the river. Still, the massive numbers could be seen heading down the banks and then exiting on our side of the river. It was an impressive show.

    My vehicle had a better vantage point so Sonali hopped out of hers and joined me, allowing us to watch the huge crossing together. Just before sundown we drove in my vehicle back to Serena, stopping for some breathtaking sunset photos.

    We quickly prepared for our next activity together--the Mara Serena night drive, which departed at 7 pm. After only 20 minutes, one Dik dik, and an African Hare, the rain commenced. Typical of Mara rains, driving 3 minutes took us out of the drizzle, so we hoped that we could outrun the raindrops. But soon the downpour became heavier and more widespread and it was evident we would have to forego the night drive.

    Instead we headed to our table and enjoyed another meal and conversation. After dinner we continued to socialize back in Sonali’s room and even posted on Fodors. We had intended on including some wine to add to our merriment, but never got around to it.

    The next day I saw Sonali briefly at a lion sighting (of course—her favorite) and she was one her way to other parts of the Mara. What a lovely encounter that Sonali was able to arrange and I believe she had more Fodorites she was hoping to run into. Her report is here. Her cat sightings were in the 100s!
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/mara-migration-trip-report-sept-2010.cfm

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    Mara Serena Night Drive
    It was $90-$100 worth of good fun and nocturnal species. I had booked the night drive for my first night at Serena because it was furthest away from a full moon and I have found night drives to be more productive when it is darker. Night #1 was rained out after 20 minutes, so I went the next night and ended up with a private trip. The professionalism and enthusiasm of Paul and Simon (driver and spotter, I forget who drove and who spotted) was equally abundant whether there was a carload of 6 or just me. A ranger joined us as well, providing 3 pairs of trained eyes to pierce the night.

    Paul and Simon told me it would be easy to remember their names. I agreed with them and chuckled at the coincidence. I realized my laughter was misplaced when they explained, “You know, Paul and Simon are both from the Bible.” I was thinking more along the lines of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Graceland,” which may have been well before these young men’s time. Anyway, they did a great job and mentioned they do the day drives for Serena too.

    It is true you do not leave the Serena grounds, but those grounds encompass a large area and any animal that roams the Mara could appear. In our 7:10-8:55 pm outing (which delivers you back just in time for the latest seating of the evening meal) we had nice views of:

    Many African Hare
    Many Dik dik
    1 baby Bat Eared Fox
    1 White Tailed Mongoose
    1 Spotted Genet
    2 Jackals
    2 Hyenas

    That’s similar to what I’ve seen on some night drives near the wilds of the Zambezi River. We did have very dark, cloudy skies for most of the night, which I believe was helpful.

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    River Crossings

    1st River Crossing in evening:
    After waiting at the river for about an hour and watching the wildes retreat,we departed the crossing point since it was nearing dusk. A little ways away we noticed a lot of commotion across the river and realized the wildes were crossing at a point where vehicles and observation were very limited. I wondered if that was just coincidence or if the wildebeest chose a time and place that minimized vehicle interference. They do not cross in the dark, but just before dark, the number of vehicles diminishes.

    Sonali ended up in my vehicle (as mentioned above) and we watched the largest migration either of us had ever seen. There were about 6 other vehicles watching with us.

    2nd River Crossing:
    The next morning we arrived at the river about 7:30 after spending some time with nearby lions, and secured a nice spot along the bank. Other vehicles came and went, but I counted up to 46 on both sides of the river. The last photos in the Mara Triangle album below show the waiting vehicles across the river and a couple of vehicles are visible in the second to last migration photo.

    We had a lunch box so we could spend all day at the river waiting. Here’s how bathroom stops were handled... During the wait I observed several people relieving themselves next to their vehicles. What I did was this: at about noon when we were the only vehicle for a couple of hours at the river and there were no wildebeest on our side, I stepped behind the minibus. One stop sufficed for the day, but I did not drink as much as usual. Raphael stepped out once as I recall.

    The herd mentality and unpredictable behavior of the wildebeests is both fascinating and bewildering. A herd of thousands may stampede toward the river, halt at the edge, take a drink, advance a few steps, get scared off by two plovers, and tear out of site into surrounding trees and brush, only to repeat the process 10 minutes later.

    After about two hours of waiting we were rewarded by the largest crossing Raphael had ever seen. As is often the case, several zebras took charge, moved to the front and crossed, which set the wildebeest in motion. For 45 minutes thousands upon thousands of wildebeests galloped to the river and swam across.

    There was some drama as groups of young wildebeest who had successfully crossed gathered on the other side of the river and called for their mothers. Eventually some of these youngsters swam back across the river to locate their mothers and family. The zebras that initially crossed and galloped away later returned when they realized they did not have all of their herd members. They too swam back to find them.

    Depending on where the animals crossed, climbing the banks could prove difficult. The wildebeests and zebras that had made it could be seen peering over the banks and encouraging the rest of their herd. There was one mother and calf wilde that were really struggling with their final ascent and they gained the sympathy and support of all the onlookers. When they finally succeeded and galloped off, a cheer arose from the parked vehicles.

    Of the thousands that crossed, we detected only one that collapsed along the opposite bank and died. The crocs were not around so exhaustion was the only enemy.

    3rd River Crossing:
    About 2:30 a wildebeest-led crossing began. They did it without any zebras in sight. This crossing lasted about 20 minutes. Once it ceased, there was a mother and calf that really wanted to get across. They bravely entered the water and swam to the opposite bank alone.

    4th River Crossing:
    Around 4:30 one more small group of wildebeest crossed in a rockier area that required some cliff diving. They were all across in 15 minutes.

    We had seen 3 crossings in one day and for a couple hours during midday, we had been the sole vehicle observing the tentative herd that advanced and retreated on the opposite bank. Perseverance and a lunch box can bring great rewards. Some luck is needed as well. To compare, in my previous 3 Mara visits (in Aug), I had seen two river crossings that each lasted 5-10 minutes.

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    Other vehicles, sightings, and photos
    Overall, I’d break down the vehicle encounters throughout the Mara, with the exception of waiting at the river crossings as:

    80% of the time, no other vehicles in sight—pretty good considering the landscape is mostly flat and it is possible to see for miles, viewing vehicles on the horizon

    15% of the time, other vehicles were visible as we drove

    5% of the time, we shared sightings with at least one other vehicle

    * Enroute to the Mara Triangle we waited as a herd of elephants lumbered across the savanna for a drink in a small pond that was formed by the abundant rain. No other vehicles.

    *There was a pride of about 9 lions hanging out near where the wildebeest exited the river. We witnessed a little stalking but no serious hunting. The cubs were more interested in chasing vultures or playing together than hunting wildebeest. The proximity a likely crossing point that meant that up to 13 vehicles could be present in the general area, but they were generally spread out. A sleeping male lion from this pride attracted a row of 6 vehicles, all staying on the track.

    * We happened upon a cheetah one afternoon with one other vehicle. The cheetah was on the move and we enjoyed it about 5 minutes.

    * Near dusk I spotted a serval not far from the road. There were no other vehicles during the bulk of our 2 minute sighting of this mobile cat. One other vehicle arrived for the last few seconds of viewing.

    * We watched a herd of zebra move from the horizon to the waterhole next to us for a quick drink. During the half hour, one other vehicle stopped briefly.

    * We spent 15 minutes watching a warthog family at a distance with nursing piglets. It was an unshared sighting.

    * Herd of about 25 eland with no other vehicle in sight.

    * Private viewing for all the antelopes and giraffes.

    * Zero or one vehicle at about 5 hyena sightings.

    * A half day search for a rhino yielded no rhino but a nice baboon family shared with one other vehicle.

    * We were briefly part of an atrocious leopard hunt that resulted in no leopard seen by me (although Raphael got a glimpse of the cat on at a distance on a high slope in heavy vegetation) and one fender bender between 2 of the other 12 vehicles.

    * We spent 20 minutes with 2 pairs of bat eared foxes and no vehicles and then the rain began.

    * On the way back to the park entrance we spotted a male and female lion near the road. A herd of wildebeest grazed contentedly behind them, apparently aware that a mating lion pair are not hunters. No other vehicles.

    *Our first and only leopard tortoise, just before exiting the park was all to ourselves and our last wildlife sighting in the Mara.

    The album contains 112 photos from the Mara Triangle. #4-#14 are at Serena. From #66 to the end are wildebeest crossings.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/VioletteWood/MaraTriangleInSept?authkey=Gv1sRgCN2lxvu3v_71gQE&feat=email#

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    Interesting birds seen in the Mara:
    Helmeted guinea fowl
    Superb Starling
    Wattled Plover
    Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture
    Hooded Vulture
    Lilac breasted Roller
    D’Arnoud’s Barbet
    Burchell’s Starling
    Fish Eagle
    Baglafecht Weaver (Serena Grounds)
    Ground Hornbill family
    Black Headed Heron
    Little Bee Eater
    Yellow Throated Sandgrouse
    Ostrich Family (Raphael’s favorite bird)
    Marabou Stork
    Sacred Ibis
    White Browed Robin Chat (on Fig Tree grounds)
    Paradise Flycatcher (on Serena Grounds)
    Grenadier (on Serena grounds)
    Common Bulbul (on Serena grounds)
    Speckled Mousebird (on Serena grounds)
    Whiteheaded Mousebird


    Mara to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
    Drive time from Serena, stopping frequently for game and 40 minutes for lunch and breaks = 8.5 hours. Only 3 hours out from Nairobi were expansive fields with giraffe and antelope. Our Sunday trip had noticeably little traffic until we got about 90 minutes from Nairobi. Raphael remarked we would have had more cars other days of the week.

    The time had flown by from my excited arrival at the Olekiombo Airstrip in the Mara to my parting gesture of presenting the farewell gift of chocolate covered cranberries (and the beanbag) to Raphael.

    Wisconsin produces enough cranberries to provide every person in the world with 26. Raphael got more than 26 AND they were chocolate covered.

    Conclusion
    I take satisfaction in knowing that as a result of my safari, somewhere in Meru an agama lizard can bask in the sunlight.

    “Stay free, where no walls (or porcelain bowls) divide you. You’re free as the roaring tide (or swirling flush) so there’s no need to hide.”

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    @indiancouple had asked the same thing; "Sony DSC H2 with 12x optical zoom and a Sony DSC H9 with 15x optical zoom. The H9 is history though because the sensor on the right side is shot so everything is blurry on the right side at max zoom. I also used a bean bag with Navy Beans. "

    Atravelynn shows thats its not about the camera but about the photographer, allthough Id love to see what you would do with a 'proper' DSLR and nice lens ;)

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    Thanks for the kind comments.

    The serval was on the move and visible for just a couple of minutes. Did not see it get anything.

    Don't think a 'proper DSLR' is in my future, but I may upgrade to Pintos in the bean bag.

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    one silly question talking about beans; did you bring the contents of your bag? I was just wondering about that, seems silly to do but since I'll be going straight from Dar to the camp I might have to bring my own beans on the plane :P (or do they have them at the camp?... wouldn't want to steal some english folks their tomato sauce beanbreakfast ;)

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    I should have thought about the English baked bean breakfast as my source of bean bag contents. Could get a little mushy and messy, though.

    I brought along a 16 oz. bag of beans that I had reinforced with another bag and lots of duct tape. If I had been asked by airport security to rip open the bag, that probably would have been the end of my beanbag. However, I could have handled a tear or rip because I always take about 2 feet of duct tape wrapped around a pencil. That can come in handy even if you don't take a bean bag.

    I usually either shoved the bean bag in the hood or sleeve of a jacket. At places that had hand towels, I wrapped the bean bag in a hand towel and kept it secure with a couple of rubber bands and/or safety pins.

    I've heard of people taking ziplocks and then once in Africa, filling them with pebbles or sand. I did that once.

    Serena grounds were quite productive. I asked to return about an hour early from one game drive to try to get those mousebirds, along with anything else. I was rewarded with mousebird flocks and a bushbuck pair on the grounds.

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    Another great trip and report under your belt. Where are you off to next or what is calling you back? Could you possible list your favorite trips and why you liked them? I always look forward to your insights.

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    I could be my own NGO, Nikao, as long as I'm toting a bean bag.

    Thanks, Wildlifepainter and Renoduck. In March I am going to India for the first time to Bandhavgarh, Kahna, Corbett, and Taj Mahal. I'm hoping to visit S. Tanz, especially Mahale in about Sept. I just noticed--Mahal and Mahale in the same year! That's living high!

    Below is a hijack of my own thread for an off-topic response to Wildlifepainter, which I'll put in tan

    I've been fortunate to have no bad trips so favs are hard to determine. Of course Africa is where I return so it is at the top, but here are a few other favorites. Not a complete list and in no order:

    Empire Builder train across Northern US with stops in Glacier Bay and Seattle. Via Rail Train across Canada with stops in Banff, Lake Louise, Vancouver. Train travel is a great way to see the country and get to these beautiful destinations. My husband and I like the compartment for more privacy.

    Some of the best canyon scenery was the rail trip through the Copper Canyon in Mexico. Again, the element of rail travel added to the experience.

    Polar bears in Churchill--The community along with the bears, makes for a good trip. I happened to be there for Halloween night. The town’s 3 squad cars turned on their lights and sirens and shined spotlights as they continually drove through the streets on the perimeter of town. All this to scare away any polar bears that might be lurking about as the kids went trick-or-treating. It is so cold by the end of October that the kids have to buy costumes two sizes too big so that they’ll fit over their parkas. All the houses had their Christmas lights up for Halloween. Everybody puts up lights about the end of September because it gets too cold later in the year.

    As we would drive to the tundra each day, several small shacks were noticeable about one to three miles from town. These were retreats for the residents who just had to get out of Churchill and away from the other 800 residents every now and then. City life was too hectic.

    The Katami Coast of Alaska for Brown Bears (grizzlies)--Whether on staying on land or on a boat, seeing these creatures at fairly close range is an honor.

    Closer to my home is Orr, Minnesota and the Vince Shute Black Bear Sanctuary where it is also possible to get fairly close to black bears in the wild and watch them go about their business.

    In Holbox, Mexico near the end of July, start of August the whale sharks migrate through. When I was there in 2007 the town was delightful and the whale sharks were unbelievable. I probably saw 100 and swam with 15-20. I went with some people I met in Africa and we had a blast, even though we were there just 4 days.

    In Indonesia I did a boat trip to some of the islands, including Komodo, where there were some. Always wanted to see Komodo Dragons. Then I volunteered briefly at an orangutan sanctuary, (you can still do that) Tanjung Puting, and even briefly met Birutė Galdikas (she was sponsored by Leaky for orangutans like Fossey was for gorillas and Goodall for chimps). These creatures are so endangered, it was a special opportunity to see them. The orangutans were followed by the most remote thing I've done--a week in a long house in the jungles of Borneo, just hanging out in the village. I had a guide.

    Round Island for walruses in Alaska, along with the pre- and post-island stay in Togiak at Esther's B&B (about the only place to stay) was a great taste of rugged, remote Alaska along with tremendous hospitality and beauty. I ran into someone last summer in Alaska who was going to Esther's and I was thrilled to have them deliver a warm hello from the guest Esther went hiking with and saw a porcupine with.

    Kodiak, Alaska, is one of that state's best kept secrets. Maybe because it takes an extra several hundred dollar flight to get there. Again the warm hospitality is amazing and so is the hiking, wildlife along the coast, and kayaking. It's all right there. I was amazed at how compact the thrills were in Kodiak.

    I slept on the Great Wall for a night (that just started a few weeks before I went and you can still do it) before heading to Mongolia. Staying with a nomadic family was a highlight, especially helping them herd their semi-wild horses to bring in the mares for milking.

    Wolong Nature Reserve has recoved well from the earthquake and is again allowing volunteers for the pandas. That was a week of great times and lots of poop and bamboo hauling. It was a really special place and a privilege to be able to help in maintaining panda numbers with the goal of returning them to the wild.

    The Pantanal in Brazil has so much nature activity going on that it can get annoying trying to take it all in. You can be concentrating on one sight and another distracts you.

    The Galapagos lets you get closer to birds than probably anywhere on Earth. The proximity and amount of time you have to linger with lizards, boobies, sea lions, is unique anywhere. The added element of snorkeling, which most trips offer, makes this a well rounded wildlife destination. A real camaraderie develops on the boat. I made friends that I visited and kept in touch with for years along with some travel partners for an Africa trip.

    I'd never swim with captive dolphins, but I've spent a week in the Bahamas a couple of times swimming with wild spotted dolphins. It's up to them whether they want to check you out and swim with you or not. They are free to roam the entire ocean and are not enticed with food. My two experiences were probably on the low end of the spectrum in terms of duration and number of encounters, but those moments were magical.

    The only time I was moved to tears was in Costa Rica at Tortugeuro when we were on the beach about midnight watching a Leatherback turtle lay eggs, then return to the sea at midnight.

    I know the above reads like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, except for the panda poop; and lots of places I've gone are even omitted. But it goes to show that an average person with an average husband (who I of course view as well above average) can do all this. We both had careers in low to middle income jobs and both of those careers were cut short well before peak earning years, followed by part-time jobs that are still in progress. But prioritizing, saving, and our shared love of peanut butter makes all this possible.

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    What a great list of adventures and several I've never heard of. I'll keep them in mind... as you always find the best in every situation.

    Now I'm sure both you and your husband are above average and isn't peanut butter wonderful. It's all about choices.

    I would love to hear your wish list for African safari. Since I live in the US, traveling to Africa is about as hard as it gets so that is my preferred destination while I am still able. I plan on exploring my own backyard when I'm fed up with air travel and have fewer dollars but more time.

    So besides S. Tanzania where else do you love or plan to return to in Africa? I'm making my 3rd trip to N. Tanzania in February and I'm thinking about Kenya and Rwanda in 2011. I have been to Botswana and loved it but prefer Tanzania to Bots when dollars are factored in. There are so many choices! Help!

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    Wildlifepainter,

    There are indeed so many choices. We'll never get to them
    all, especially with the tendancy of some of us to return to places. Back to Tanzania for you I see! I think Borneo may be even tougher to get to than many places in Africa. Round Island certainly was. But I understand your plan of where to go at what stage of life and am doing that myself.

    Just bought a new jar of peanut butter today at the store. All peanuts no vegetable oil.

    For some savings, consider Zimbabwe. I have not gone recently but if an opportunity presented itself I would feel comfortable going again. Hwange has waterholes that attract elephants, giraffes, and other animals at sunset for beautiful views. The most sable I've ever seen were in Hwange. Mana Pools is tremendously picturesque on foot, by canoe, or by vehicle. Elephants, lion, kudu, honey badgers, an occasional leopard, and recently people have been seeing cheetahs there. In the south is Matopos where you can track white and black rhino on foot from dusk to dawn. Very exciting. There are also fascinating caves with ancient art.

    Next door is Zambia, which you've visited for the falls. There are so many great opportunities all over Zambia. One I hope to take advantage of in Nov or Dec of 2012 is the fruit bat migration in Kasanka. Kasanka has the elusive sitatunga antelope and black lechwe. Nearby (though Nov/Dec is not the ideal time) is the Bangweulu Swamp with good chances at shoebill stork. I'd like to try that in about May or June, a better time for Bangweulu and shoebills.

    A more accesible place to see the shoebill stork, though, is in Murchison Falls in Uganda, along shallow pools formed by the Nile. The wildlife life (esp hippos and crocs) along the Nile and the unique giraffe and antelope species on land make this a vast paradise without many people. Murch Falls would fit will if you went to see chimps in the Padabi Forest (mentioned below), as this forest is actually part of Murch Falls.

    Back to Zambia again--one of the coolest things I've done in Africa is an all day canoe trip on the Chifungulu Channel of the Zambezi River between Sausage Tree and Old Mondoro in Lower Zambezi. The narrow channels were spectacular with flora and fauna. Overall, I thought Mana Pools on the other side of the Zambezi was more picturesque than the Lower Zambezi side of Zambia, but not by much. The Chifungulu Channel was tops on either side, though.

    My favorite camp is Kutandala in North Lugangwa, Zambia, which is all walking. In my Penguins to Puku report I go into great detail of why it is my favorite camp with an asterisk next to each reason. In short it's the, people, location of the camp, remoteness of N. Luangwa, walking focus, food.

    South Luangwa has a lot more wildlife than North Luangwa and some outstanding walking opportunities. It's worth combining some time in S. Luangwa if also going to N. Luangwa. Some people spend their whole vacation in South Luangwa walking from camp to camp and I can see why. It's the only place I've seen a leopard on foot and leopards on most night drives. There are many excellent camps that you can mix and match.


    If you are into unique antelope, try Busanga Plains, Zambia in late Aug to early Oct. I was there in July and still saw oribi, roan, and sable, plus puku galore. You can have a lot of quality time day and night with the resident lion pride that starts climbing trees as the dry season progresses.


    When you mention Tanzania, I don't think you've been to Southern Tanzania. Neither have I but that will probably be my next Africa destination. Mahale and Katavi for sure. Ruaha and Selous maybe some other time. Katavi is very wild with huge herds and I'd like to see that. Tracking chimps in Mahale is good to do while you are young and fit (which seems to be your philosophy). Mine too.

    If you go to Kenya and Rwanda in 2011, you can track chimps in Nyungwe, Rwanda. Even more exciting than the chimps in that location were the other primates such as the colobus monkeys, mountain monkeys, gray cheeked mangabyes, etc.

    Other great chimp locations are Kibale and Padabi Forest in Uganda. See if you can do the "habituation walk" in which you find the chimps in the morning, watch them wake up, then stay with them throughout the day and watch them make their nests at night. The nest making is incredible and takes just minutes, maybe seconds. Bradt Guide labeled this one of the best primate activities on the continent and I'd have to agree.

    You can get even more involved with the chimps at Ngamba, a Jane Goodall project, on an island off of Entebbe, Uganda. A highlight is doing a chimp walk where you escort young chimps into the island forest,let them roam around for an hour or two, then escort them back to less expansive quarters. I volunteered there for several days and was lucky to go on 3 walks. If you are a paying guest, you are virtually guaranteed a walk. Those walks with two and three chimps hanging on me and a dozen other chimps running along side, grabbing at my ankles, tumbling over each other, and swinging from vines have to be a highlight of all of Africa! To qualify for the chimp walks you must submit extensive medical documentation that can require expensive tests.

    If you are going to Kenya, I really liked the bandas in Aberdare and Meru. The all day drive in the Aberdare's Salient is wonderful in its abundance and leisure and not typical of most itineraries.

    If budget allows, the smaller more remote tented camps are preferable to the larger lodges, but I chose lodges for savings on this last trip and was satisfied. Lots of nice wildlife around the premises. Lewa Downs is a special place in the Laikipia area of Kenya and one of the best places to see black and white rhino. The camel ride there was truly a half-day camel safari, led by Samburu warriors. Better than other camel rides I've done. Excellent opportunities for cultural interactions that benefit those you are visiting or staying with.

    For scenery, elephants, birds, and interesting species, I like Samburu and think you can enjoy yourself for a good 3 days there. If you like to sit and watch elephants without intrusion, Samburu is the place. No crowds of vehicles at the ele herds even at the peak time of Sept.

    The Maasai Mara offers wonderful opportunities for such a variety of wildlife. There was no way to avoid crowds for wildebeest crossings though. Maybe you could get lucky, but in general, lots of witnesses. For everything else you can avoid crowds either by going to a private concession or steering clear of groups of vehicles and looking for animals on your own.

    If you have enough time in Kenya and you're interested, you might be able to stay with a Maasai family for a few days for a truly fascinating perspective. I found it worked best to arrange things after arriving, kind of on a spur of the moment. Too much planning in advance can upset people in charge due to liability and such.

    Some other places in Botswana include my favorite Botswana concession--Duba Plains, where the lions hunt buffalo during the day and there are often lion and buffalo interactions and confrontations. This is also a great canine location for bat eared fox and the elusive aardwolf. The Makgadikgadi Pans of the Kalahari are also magnficent. San, where I stayed may not be operating now, but Jack's at the high end and Planet Baobab at the other end, and some more in between are still there. Meerkat colonies are a fascinating highlight there.

    I really enjoyed Chobe in Botswana, especially for the activity along the river and the wildlife viewing by boat, which is unique in its abundance and variety of mammals. I'd like to return and spend 2 nights in Botswana in Chobe (either a tented camp or at Chobe Game Lodge which is where the boats take off) and then two nights along the Chobe River in Namibia at Savanna Lodge.

    In South Africa Sabi Sands offers tremendous, sometimes unbelievable viewing, especially that elusive leopard. You could pack the easle and brush and come back with art from this place. But I found the more managed, sparser wildlife reserve of Phinda in KwaZulu-Natal even more compelling than Sabi Sands. Maybe it's because it was a cheetah sanctuary or because I was able to do numerous rhino treks. Maybe it was the people, such as my guide Thulani and the interactions I had with his family. Or maybe it was the frequent nyala sightings, my favorite antelope. I really want to go back--maybe because Phinda means "The Return," returning the wildlife to its original habitat.

    Let us know what you decide Wildlife Painter!

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    Another epic report, Lynn. Thanks so much, thoroughly enjoyable and informational too.

    Have you been to Yellowstone? I haven't and am thinking of visiting in the fall.

    Curiously I was creeped out by the egg-laying in Tortuguero. But I was much younger then. :D

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    Leely,
    One person's creep out is another person's epiphany. Such is the wonder of travel. One person's epic is another person's "will this ever end?"

    I've gone to Yellowstone in early and late summer and had a super time, but I think fall or spring would be great times to visit, along with the cold of winter. Imelda from Ireland went in winter.

    I did escorted trips that involved some volunteering--things like tracking collared porcupines and mapping grazing patterns of pronghorn. I think the company that did those trips got absorbed by the Teton Science School.
    http://www.tetonscience.org/

    Even though I am hesitant to do a lot of my own driving, I would feel comfortable renting a car and doing my own thing in Yellowstone. To make it more worthwhile, I think you'd want a decent spotting scope. We used one constantly especially for wolves, which I saw a lot of on each trip. Maybe you can rent one if you don't have your own.

    I know you'd want to get off the roads and hike and explore and having some hiking partners is a good idea I think. In fact I heard a stat something like 90% of the Yellowstone visitors never get more than 100 feet from the road. Or maybe it's only 10 feet from the road.

    Let us know what you find out about your Yellowstone plans. Maybe we could even team up in Yellowstone.

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    atravelynn, thanks so much for your thoughts! I have spent hours researching some of your ideas and having a ball. I also printed it out to keep.

    I should clarify, Kenya & Rwanda would be Jan/Feb 2012 not 2011 since we are doing Tanzania Mar 2011 and a group trip to S. Africa in Oct 2011. I also got side-tracked on your Capetown report and things to do there. You have me interested in Zim/Zam but I understand that would be a better trip in the second half of the year and the same for S. Tanzania. I really refer to travel in the beginning of the year when it is cold in California.

    I really don't want to hijack your Kenya report. Can you post links to your previous reports that are more than a year old? Thanks again!

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    Wilidlife Painter, I am tremdendously flattered. Thank you.

    Something you should consider if you like Botswana but not the cost is a mobile safari. I don't have a trip report, but many others do. I went with Wilderness on an itinerary no longer offered, but there are lots of options. Masson's has me intrigued.

    Here are my Africa reports from Fodors. If you are interested in Zambia I have a report that was never posted on Fodors. I could even email it to you. My screen name is my hotmail email.

    The Botswana reports cover some places you've been.

    KENYA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Atravelynn’s 1st Safari
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/atravelynns-1st-safari-report.cfm


    BOTSWANA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    A trip for the dogs… and kats Atravelynn to San and Chitabe
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=34690768

    BOTSWANA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Atravelynn to Duba, Vumbura, Zib
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=34859832

    SOUTH AFRICA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Mala Mala Minute by Minute—Trip Report
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35033366

    SOUTH AFRICA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Phinda, where the h is silent but the rhino flatulence is not—Trip Report
    http://fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35037046

    SOUTH AFRICA AND ZAMBIA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Penguins to Puku: Report on Cape Town and S & N Luangwa
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35151238

    GREAT WHITE SHARKS (PART OF PENGUINS TO PUKU TRIP)
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/great-white-sharks-at-seal-island-in-false-bay-departing-simons-town-with-african-shark-eco-charters.cfm


    RWANDA, UGANDA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    Have Orthotics Will Track…12 Assorted Primate Treks in a 3-week Safari

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/have-orthotics-will-track12-assorted-primate-treks-in-a-3-week-safari.cfm

    KENYA, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
    A 3 hour Sunday drive on Aug 2 in Nairobi National Park
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/a-3-hour-sunday-drive-on-aug-2-in-nairobi-national-park.cfm

    Some short takes from me and other Fodorites on Africa
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/recollections-tales-sightings-photos-from-past-safaris--please-add-yours.cfm

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    I also have been researching some of the places you've visited Lynn. All I can say is WOW! When I told my husband all the places you've been, he said "Too bad you don't like peanut butter Raelond."

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    Double WOW! Reading your list of adventures takes my breath away!

    I've been warned that I will soon run out of places to go, which I can't imagine because the more travel, the more destinations I add to my wishlist.

    I'm hot on your heels. Loved cruising on the Chobe river, only found out about Baboon Matters (one of my all time favorite activities) through you. Swimming with the dolphins (in New Zealand) was only so-so. Watching the great white sharks from Gansbaai was mind-blowing. Loved Hwange!

    I'm looking forward to Phinda next year. Katmai, the Pantanal, Mongolia and Madagascar are high on my list. India (Banhavgarh & Pench) is somewhere in the middle.

    Your fantastic trip reports are fully to blame! Now I'm off to research the magical, travel-enhancing properties of peanut butter!

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    Raelond, we've been to several of the same places and our list of similar destinations is growing.

    Femi, if you go to Madagascar, I'll be hot on your heels.

    Here are some different peanut butter sandwich variations.
    http://www.peanutbutterlovers.com/

    Spread and save.

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    I searched for information about going to Meru for a safari. Not that many people go to Meru it seems but you did. The toilet lizard and song was funny but you did not even see the grave of Elsa? Too bad you did not see any lions in the place where Elsa is from. I would think this is a good place to see lions and I want to go to Africa and see lions. If I read the other parts of your trip maybe there are lions there but I am surprised you only saw tracks of them in Meru. That would be so disappointing.

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    True, I didn't see Elsa's grave. But if it is important to you, then definitely go and spend time there.

    It would have been nice to see lions, but we did hear the thudding paws of one that was chasing an antelope around our banda lodging. Maybe it was a distant relative of Elsa's. Safaris are multi-sensory, sometimes you hear things, sometimes you see them, sometimes you smell them. When a lion roars nearby, you feel it.

    Lions showed themselves in other Kenyan National Parks--Samburu and the Maasai Mara. Those would be good places to look for them. It is easy to combine Meru with each of these parks either driving or flying.

    Not seeing lions was not at all disappointing because my expectations were not that I'd see lions in Meru. Prior to your safari, which appears to be in the planning stages, establishing expectations is important. I would think seeing Elsa's grave is one of your expectations and one that can be met with certainty. While seeing any specific animal in the wild cannot be guaranteed, if you spend several days in the Mara, you should be able to see lions. So plan for some days there.

    As for disappointment, the only disappointment I would have experienced is if I had not been able to save the "toilet lizard." Fortunately mission accomplished.

    As your planning takes shape, I suggest you ask your questions and post your updates on the thread you started about wanting to go to Africa and Elsa and Born Free.

    Good luck.

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    I did ask some questions about trips in my other section about needing help. Do you think the trip you took would be a good one for me if I want to see lions and other animals and go to Meru to see Elsa's grave? Are there extra parts in this trip that I might not need? Why do you think this company does a trip with Meru when a lot do not? When I went to the website of Eastern and Southern Safaris I saw something about climbing Mt. Meru but the page is under construction, but no trips Meru like yours. Would they have stopped offering the trip to Meru like you did? I have no interest in climbing any mountain

    Where is the best place to hear lions roaring at night so you can feel it like you wrote in the last answer?

    I'll look at your writings some more and maybe they answer my questions already.

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    Do you think the trip you took would be a good one for me...?

    If you have 3 weeks and lions (and other animals) are the goal, plus Elsa's grave in her home of Meru, I'd do

    KENYA
    3 nts Meru (fly or drive from Nairobi)
    3 nts Samburu (fly or drive from Meru)
    5 nts Mara (fly from Samburu, cannot drive)

    1 day in transit between Kenya and Tanzania--fly between or take ground transport

    TANZANIA
    2 nts Ngorongoro Crater
    4 nts Serengeti--where in the Serengeti depends on what time of year you are going.

    Add 4 days of international flights and that's 3 weeks.

    Whether you started in Kenya or Tanzania first depends, again, on what time of year you are going.

    Re: Eastern & Southern
    This was an itinerary I requested from E&S. Most safari companies can design an itinerary per your request that deviates from standard trips you'll likely see on the website. With your goal of lions and Meru, a custom trip would likely work best.

    Best place to hear lions roaring at night
    Safe and secure in your vehicle or lodging. ;) Can happen anywhere there are lions. They call more at night than day.

    If you sent the above outline of days to several African specialists, that would be a great start.

    Check out this index for a variety of companies to contact:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/new-east-africa-trip-report-index.cfm

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    Thank you for the answers. I looked at some of your pictures and really liked all the animals, especially the tiny baby lion cubs. I looked at the information in the index and the pictures and it seems like everybody really does see a lot. The advertising you always see for safaris in Africa is not just fake pictures.

    Why didn't you go to Ngorogoro and Serengeti? Is it easy to go between Tanzania and Kenya?

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    I didn't go to the Crater or Serengeti on this trip because it was a Kenya-only trip. I have gone to both and will be back in the Serengeti on my next trip, which will be Tanzania-only.

    As to the ease of going between the countries, check out this link, which shows you there are numerous options. The agent you are working with will assist you with these flights.

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    What is the link? But now I am thinking of doing a trip in just Kenya with our zoo. Maybe I could go to Crater or Serengeti after the zoo trip. I have to go to Meru too before or after the zoo trip probably.

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    I don't need the link after all because I will be going with my zoo and they will take care of everything which I like because then I AM not worried about how to get to all the different places. At the end I let them handle the extra trip to Meru so I won't need to figure out flights over there for that either. What you wrote for my other questions helped. I think I'll go to some of these places but I don't like to write about it when I get back.

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    atravelynn,

    Fascinating reading for me, since I haven't visited that part of eastern Africa since the 70's. When do you leave for India? Maybe we'll be some place where we can break bread or have a drink together, if we have the same time table. Keep in touch!

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    I'm sure things were far different in the 70s in Kenya. Maybe we can break chapati! Late March to mid-April are my dates. I think I saw your departure as early March. I fear I'll be sweating more than you. You can email me for more specifics. It's on my profile. Have a great trip if I don't see you for chapati.

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    atravelynn,
    What a fantastic trip report! What a gift for writing and story telling you have-- Just the right amount of detail and information balanced with humor that I'm sure so many of us could relate to (conversation starters that go no where, things we do when the readings glasses aren't close by, Laugh-in decor and antics).

    Loved reading about all of your adventures, and especially liked the cheetahs and the tale of the agama lizard rescue.

    For some reason I couldn't open the links to your photos though. Hmmm,,,I'm not only directionally impaired but have a certain knack for IT screw ups. (I'm still trying to figure out how to post my pictures from Kenya trip last August). I wonder if something I did (really wouldn't surprise me) is preventing me from being able to open the link for your picures since I keep getting the home page of Picasa but nothing else.

    I do want to visit Meru after reading your trip report, but for some reason a trip to Tanzania is calling for this next one.

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    Thank you so much Live Aloha and I am glad you found the ratio of nonsense to useful stuff to be acceptable.

    I clicked the photo links on two different computers, one using Firefox and one using Explorer and they worked for me. You can try copying and pasting the links. Sometimes computers just have a mind of their own.

    Googling this phrase from the title "# of vehicles per sighting, budget bandas, birds, and more" will bring up this report on another Africa forum that not only allows photos withinin the report, but there might be someone who knows the answer to your basket question.

    As for posting your photos, have you put them into an online album yet?

    If Tanzania is calling, maybe you'd like the Flycatchers trip I am going on that includes Serengeti and Southern Tanzania.

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    Wow! Great pictures--Thanks for sharing the alternative links so I could see them.

    Loved the expression on the face of the rescued baby agama--so indignant ("damn toilet")!

    I checked out the Flycatchers website and the Serengeti and Southern Tanzania itinerary---looks like something I would be interested in. Have you used this tour group in the past?

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    Flycatchers will be a first for me. I know of other people who used them and were satisfied.

    I noticed you were in Kenya about the same time I was, Live Aloha. Please post a little more about your trip. There are lots of people who can help you make your photos available in the report.

    There's another recent report on Meru "over there," with Postcards in the title and lots of photos.

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    I've really wanted to post my trip report, but
    (a) didn't want to do it without also attaching a few of the pictures I really liked (especially the one of the mama lion who called out for her little ones, and about 7 came out of the bush running to her and the other female lion) and
    (b) couldn't figure out how to post the pictures (and didn't have the patience or the time to work on it)

    So, for the Flycatchers trip--what time of the year are you going? Are you joining a group or going solo once again?

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    Aloha, as Lynn has said in the past ;) , all it takes to post a report is a photo link, an itinerary and 100 words
    For the photos you could consider uploading them to a web album like Picasa http://picasa.google.com/

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    Thanks both to atravelynn for the wealth of useful information and to whoever revived this thread. I was off on some adventure in Asia and the Rhone Valley when this first appeared; I'm very happy to have found it now.

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    Femi, those words are familiar.

    Thanks Twaffle and Rizzuto.

    Live Aloha, you already have a start to your report with that wonderful description which contains 30% of the 100-word requirement. Picasa is a nice free source. Kodak is good too, but requires an occasional purchase of prints from any of your albums.

    The Flycatcher trip is in Sept 2011 and is a group departure of 4 people max. I don't know the other participants. I think there are 2 others, though not certain. You can email me on hotmail with this name for more info.

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    Thanks to all of you for your encouraging words on the trip report and photo uploading....will check it out this weekend.

    atravelyn, I'll touch base with you via hotmail

    mahalo!

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    Your insights are amazing. One need not read much further about a safari then your posts. I must make one exception regarding clothing and your "any thing goes" attitude. Do you want to add to the international "Ugly American" image? Two gospels of travel are travel light, stay long. I have traveled extensively throughout Latin America on the "Gringo Trail". Always six weeks plus. My backpack never exceeded 17 pounds! Always super lite, quick drying clothes. Convertible pants/shorts an absolute must. Three changes of clothes cuts it every time. 2 gallon zip-lock bags and a length of rope another another must. A Hawaii shirt works in Oahu you blend in. Neutral/earthy colors IMHO are the only way to go in a 3rd world country. No jewelry other then a cheap watch. I carry a fanny pack with out of date passport, out of date credit cards and perhaps $50 worth of local currency. I also have a belly pouch beneath my underwear that contains my current passport & credit cards. In addition I also have money belt, photo copies of passport, reservations, credit cards. My e-mail contact list records all relevant info about insurance, flights, lodging, credit cards.

    Lynn, you have a great talent. I believe all you need to do to get published would be to recoup all of your Fodor postings and their replies and present them to a publisher.

    We are not rich but like you have simply made our priorities. I enjoy a 5 star lodging as much as a hostel.

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    Thanks Billymead. I love your decoy fanny pack! The email to self is a great idea too.

    Funny you should mention ugly American clothing because the Hawaiian shirt and red basketball jersey netting were worn by Kenyan guides, the ruffled skirt I saw was on an Australian (who was not at all ugly), the flowing chiffon veils were on an Asian lady who may or may not have been American, the black and white checks were on a young Japanese girl, the blues and pinks were on Indians, the gold lamé was on a woman speaking a language I did not understand, and the bejeweled sandals seemed to be rage for all the ladies.

    I prefer neutral colors, though, like you.

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