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Shane's Kenya & Tanzania trip report and photos

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I'm feeling like this has taken forever to get even this out. Here is a link to the photos. The "favorites" folder has what I thought were the best of the photos. There is a lot, but gosh, it's hard to pick.

http://shane_m.winkflash.com/

I am nearly finished with the trip report, so will post that soon.

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    I preferred Kenya. Absolutely loved both Samburu and the Maasai Mara. I personally didn't care for Ol Pajeta conservancy (where Sweetwaters Tented camp is) too much. It felt a little "zoo-ish", with the chimp sanctuary, the tame rhino, and the "hippo walk." Then at Sweetwaters, with the water hole right there, it just seemed a bit staged and not as wild as the other places. To contradict myself a bit though, we had some really cool giraffe sightings at the waterhole and the warthogs running around were a complete hoot to watch. It wasn't terrible, but I don't feel compelled to return as I would to go back to Samburu or the Mara.

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    Hit post too fast. During my trip, the game in the Serengeti was notably scarce. Didn't see any cheetahs, and what was there was very dispersed. Although, in the Serengeti is where I saw the Leopard with 2 cubs in the tree. Cool? Yes, but still preferred the Mara - especially since you can drive off the roads in the Maasai Mara. That proved to be a huge "advantage." I'm sure there are times when the Serengeti is simply fantastic, but the Maasai Mara was much better during my trip.

    Too many cars/people in Ngorongoro. Glad I went but, again, don't feel compelled to return.

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    Shane,

    That's a great photo site and good idea to make a favorites photo along with the locations.

    You had wonderful luck with the elephants. They did a lot of drinking and showering for you. That stretched out gerenuk really displayed its muscles. Drinking giraffe! What waterholes were they at? The flock of pelicans in the water were nicely grouped. That was a classic shot of the 2 rhinos with the flamingos in the background. You had a great trip by the looks of the photos.

    Looking forward to your report.

    Simbakubwa, I've noticed the consistency in your questions lately. Can you go any time of the year?

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    Looks like another problem with a "underline _" in the link name, shane_m. Got around it by copying the link name and pasting in new browser window url.

    But yee gods a yellow green background in the photo window!!!! If you have choice suggest changing color to something neutral. That green blinds you from seeing the photos. But if you like it, then, never mind.

    regards - tom

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    Shane:

    Love the scroll feature in winkflash.

    In your Kenya/Tanzania 2008 Favorites Album, I cannot believe photo # 414!

    Incredible, do you have a story to go with that photo (forgive me if it is posted somewhere & I have missed it)?!

    Den

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    Meant also to say that your photos are terrific, especially hyena with hoof and, I think it's #280, the zebra in the foreground with 2 impalas (?) in the back--very artistic. And you got good bird shots, which I find absolutely impossible. Lions on kopjes--I am a sucker for those.

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    Shane looking forward to reading your trip report soon, it's a big job isnt it.
    The elephants, the obvious were Lesanju and Dida, do you know who the others were?
    And I'm assuming you were on a private visit, how long were you able to stay?

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    Thanks for the nice comments.

    Lynn - We had AWESOME luck with the elephants, which is right up my alley as I love, love, love the elees. The first several elephant pics were not even on a game drive, they were across the river from Larsen't camp while we were having lunch...before the first game drive of the trip. What a way to start. The drinking giraffes were at the waterhole at Sweetwaters. They came both days, but the one day, there were about 7 giraffes there - which elated my mom. Giraffes are to her what elees are to me, so she was loving it. I was so excited to get the gerenuk standing. We saw a few, but that was the only one I was able to get a picture of. Still in the process of getting the locations uploaded, but wanted to go ahead and post the faves. Also going to post them in folders according to animals. Then people can look at there favorite animals or location. Someday I might even get around to putting captions on them. Yes, it was a truly fantastic trip.

    Tom - wasn't given a choice, that I saw for background color. Will check into that though. Thanks

    Den - No story posted about that photo. Those genet cats "live" in the rafters/thatched roof of the dining area/bar at Ndutu lodge. They came out every night during dinner and sat up on those hanging beams. Apparently there are 4 adults and 3 or 4 babies. Didn't see the babies, unless they are not really baby anymore and perhaps a bit larger.

    Leely - I would have to agree with you, the bird shots are VERY difficult. I take my hat off and bow down to those that get those great shots of birds in flight, etc. The only reason I got any is I was determined. But there were a lot of "uglies" in the process. lol Kenya over Tanzania - just my pref, on another trip, who knows...Tanzania might kick butt all over Kenya. Just the way it happened this time. Both were great. No regrets whatsoever about going to Tanzania and I would go back to most of the places or try different ones.

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    Sally - they currently have 5 "babies" and then three a bit older that are getting ready to be released in Tsavo. Lesanju and Dida share there "stall" with Lempaute, who is quite the cheeky little character, and VERY friendly. Pic of me with the three babies, Dida is the smallest and Lesanju is the one that I have my right hand on. They are quite attached. Lesanju has taken Dida under her.....trunk (?). Lempaute is the in that photo. Sinya and Shimba are next door. I was on a private visit. There was one other gal there also and we were there for a little over an hour.

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    Ok, so a good portion of my trip report disappeared into thin air. I will go ahead and post the part that remains, with the remainder to follow soon.

    Planning:
    This all started when a friend of mine and I started talking about taking a “really cool trip somewhere” as a graduation present to ourselves for finishing our MBAs. We were trying to figure out where to go, and then one day it just popped into my head to go to Africa. I had wanted to go on a safari since I was about 12, when a friend of my mom’s went. My friend was all for it…so now what. I knew nothing about planning an African safari. I called a couple local travel agents, which proved to be pretty useless. Then I came across Fodors.com. WOW…there was a TON of information. I started reading the threads here, and reading…and reading some more. Then I finally got brave and made my first post. Question after question popped into my head and several people spent a lot of time offering incredible amounts of information. A couple of weeks into the planning process, my friend and I had a big falling out, and were no longer going to be taking this trip together. “To hell with that,” I thought. There was no way I was giving up my trip now. So, I asked a few other people if they wanted to go. No was the answer all around – either because of lack of vacation time, money or interest. Ok fine, looks like I’m going to Africa by myself. A few days later my mom called me at work. “What if I went to Africa for part of the time?” was the first thing out of her mouth. Clearly this was my mother’s voice, but who had invaded her brain and caused her to say such a thing? “I don’t know…what if?”, I said. I did some checking, and there was no reason why this couldn’t be done. So it was set. Mom and I would fly over together, spend 2 weeks in Kenya, then she’d fly home and I would go to Tanzania for a week solo. Works for me. LET’S GO!!! And the 8 long months of waiting began.

    Final Itinerary:
    We left the U.S. on Jan 4th and arrived in Nairobi on the 7th. There was a day and a half in Paris, which I put in there just in case, since I live in Milwaukee, WI and our first connection was in Detroit. Didn’t want to chance weather delays, etc and if any time was missed anywhere, I preferred it be the time in Paris – NOT Africa. No travel issues, so we had our time in Paris and arrived in Nairobi on Jan 7th (which I’ll call day 1)
    Day 1 – Arrive NBO (early a.m.), transfer to Wilson for flight to Samburu – o/n Larsen’s Tented Camp
    Day 2 – Samburu – o/n Larsen’s
    Day 3 – Samburu to Ol Pajeta Conservancy by road – o/n Sweetwaters Tented Camp
    Day 4 – Ol Pajeta Conservancy – o/n Sweetwaters
    Day 5 – Ol Pajeta to Lake Nakuru by road – o/n Sarova Lion Hill
    Day 6 – Lake Nakuru to Nairobi Wilson by road, fly to Maasai Mara – o/n Mara Explorer
    Day 7 – Maasai Mara – o/n Mara Explorer
    Day 8 – Maasai Mara – o/n Mara Explorer
    Day 9 – Maasai Mara to Nairobi Wilson by air, road transfer to Amboseli – o/n Ol Tukai Lodge
    Day 10 – Amboseli – o/n Ol Tukai
    Day 11 – Amboseli to Lake Manyara, TZ by road – o/n Migunga Forest Camp
    Day 12 – Lake Manyara to Ngorongoro Crater by road – o/n Ngorongoro Sopa
    Day 13 – Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti by road – o/n EMC – Simuyu Mobile Camp in Seronera
    Day 14 – Serengeti – o/n EMC – Simuyu
    Day 15 – Serengeti – o/n EMC – Simuyu
    Day 16 – Serengeti to Ndutu (NCA) by road – o/n Ndutu Lodge
    Day 17 – Ndutu (NCA) – o/n Ndutu Lodge
    Day 18 – Ndutu to Seronera by road, Seronera to NBO by air – Kazuri Bead Factory, Sheldrick Orphanage, Dinner at Carnivore, and transfer to airport for flight home.

    Travel Agent/Tour Operator – IMPORTANT
    I used Sardius Tours, based in Nairobi. Would I use them again? No, absolutely not. I will explain, but, before I go into this, let me say that this was an ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE trip. I had the time of my life…MOST of the time. The list of reasons that I would not use this tour operator again, may make it sound like I had a terrible time and was miserable. THAT IS NOT THE CASE. However, the things that were “wrong” were wrong enough that I would employ a different TA next time. Hope that makes sense. And here is the list of reasons I would do so.
    - When I first contacted Sardius, the emails couldn’t get returned fast enough. Response time was almost immediate. Once the deposit was paid, response time significantly dropped off. I understand that a few months of that time was during Kenya’s peak season and all, but I also feel that waiting close to a week, or longer is unacceptable.
    - When we were discussing the mobile camping in the Serengeti, they set it up at the Dik Dik campsite – a public campsite. I didn’t know that this was simply a campsite, and thought it was the name of a mobile camp. Once I was clear, I did not want to stay at a public campsite, and stated this to my TA. It took approximately 3 months for him to secure a different mobile camping arrangement. I emailed and emailed and emailed and continually got nothing but empty promises to “get right on it.” Of course, the whole purpose of mobile camping was to be amongst the migration. The first camp that was suggested was Mbalageti. “They have space”, I was told. Yeah, DUH, it’s in the Western Corridor area. Of course they have space. Then I was told Migration Camp…way up north. It was a very frustrating piece of putting things together, and took FAR, FAR too long to get straightened out.
    - I requested several times that he send me the confirmation numbers or reservation details or whatever for each of the accommodations during the trip. Time and time again I was told he’d get them to me soon. He asked if I preferred to have them faxed or emailed. I said email was fine. About a week later, he informs me that he found scanning the documents onto the computer to be too tedious and he would give them to me when we arrived in Nairobi. Ok, first, there would have only been 9 documents to scan. How tedious and time consuming can that possibly be? Second, when I’ve paid you nearly $12,000, I don’t care if it takes all day, I would expect a simple request like that to be fulfilled.
    - Upon arrival at NBO, we were looking and looking for a board with our name on it. Nothing. Nobody was there to meet us at the airport. The information desk called the TA and he was about 20 minutes or so away. He finally arrived over an hour after we had landed. During our pre departure briefing, I stepped away to the restroom and he told my mom that I had emailed the day before and told him our flight was arriving at 7:00, rather than 6:00. This was absolutely untrue and my mom knew it. We were in Paris the entire day before, and never got next to a computer. Didn’t appreciate the dishonesty, AT ALL.
    - Caught in a lie…#2. During the pre-departure briefing, TA informed us that in the Maasai Mara, we would be doing game drives in the Mara Explorer vehicles. This, he said, was because they don’t allow the tour company vehicles to do the game drives. I was VERY skeptical about that reason, but couldn’t dispute…yet. Don’t think for a second that I didn’t intend to find out the real deal, though. Well, of course, when we arrived at the Mara Explorer, I casually brought it up in conversation, and was told, “Of course, the tour company’s drivers and vehicles are allowed.” Just as I suspected.
    - In conjunction with the above point, we had paid for private vehicle use for the entire 11 days in Kenya. Now, all of a sudden, they are not driving us. To me, that equals, that they took money for services they are not providing. This was resolved by way of adding a flight. While in Lake Nakuru, we decided that we really didn’t want to drive to the Mara. Called TA and made arrangements to drive back to Nairobi, then fly to Maasai Mara. At first, he was talking about the additional charge to add the flight. I played my “we paid you for services you’re not providing” card and said we’d have to discuss when we met in person. When we did meet up in Nairobi on the last day, the additional charge for the added flight was never mentioned. Ok, problem resolved, but I still think he tried to swindle us a bit, and I knew enough to counter the “ambush.”
    - In Tanzania, the ground operator was outsourced, and I’m sorry to say I can’t remember for the life of me what the name of the company was. I thought I wrote it down somewhere, but I can’t find it. Anyway, moving on…the first night in Tanzania, at Lake Manyara, my itinerary and reservation was for Kirurumu Tented Camp. Without any explanation at all, we just ended up at Migunga Forest Camp. Not until the next morning, when I asked, was there any explanation at all about why the change had been made. I was told that Kirurumu was full. Um…how did anyone know that? We never went there. I’ve had a reservation for months.
    - When driving from Ngorongoro to Serengeti, the vehicle broke down. Fine, I completely understand that these things happen. What I don’t find ok was that we never had any radio contact with anyone during the 3+ hours that we sat there. The radio wasn’t even turned on. Maybe that’s normal, but I thought it very odd that with a broken down vehicle, there is no contact with anyone that might be able to assist. We had water and I had Power Bars, so were didn’t go hungry or die of thirst.
    - After having broken down…btw, the problem with the vehicle was that 3 of the bolts on the wheel hub broke, so the tire was wobbly and about to fall off. I looked later and both of the front tires only had 3 of the 6 bolts/lugnuts in place. Ok, so, after having broken down, we went on no less than 2 game drives and a 3 hour transfer drive with no water whatsoever. Had we broken down again, we just might have died of thirst. Not ok in my book.
    - The “outsourced” guide was not very good at all. He kept telling me we were going to go look for cheetah(s), but then we’d spend a good 80% of the drive in wooded areas. It was all I could do not to ask him if he was aware that cheetahs don’t live in trees, they are savannah cats.
    - Along the same lines, game in the Serengeti was notably scarce. We took a box lunch one day so we could go farther out and go to some new areas, but we never did. We drove all around the same areas, and continued to drive around the same roads all day. It was very frustrating. Granted, that was the day we saw the leopard with 2 cubs in the tree, but there was no way to know we’d get that lucky after seeing nothing in that area for the previous 2 days. In spite of the great/lucky leopard sighting, I think the client’s request should be met when it’s not unreasonable. I wasn’t asking to go to the Kenya border from the Seronera, but just to a different area than we had been driving circles in. Nuff said.
    - Neither our guide in Kenya nor my guide in Tanzania had binoculars. They either missed stuff, or asked me (several times) to use mine if they thought they saw something off in the distance. DUH!!!
    Ok, so I’m done with my rant about the TA.

    What worked:
    - Drink “packets” for the bottled water. I am not a water drinker, by any stretch of the imagination. I took several different types of the drink packets (such as Crystal Light To Go). It worked out great. They are not that heavy and so easy to deal with while on game drives. Even if you like water, they could add a little variety to your beverage selection.
    - Wolverine for photo storage – I wasn’t going to invest in any such device, but at the last minute decided to go ahead and do it. I bought one of the Wolverine models. I can’t view the photos on it; it is just a storage device, but I’m so glad I got it. It has a great battery life – only had to recharge once in 18 days. YMMV depending on how much you’re downloading.
    - Daily downloading of photos – regardless of how much space I had used on my SD cards, I downloaded the pictures to the Wolverine every evening. They get put on there in files numerically named. So, file SD001 was day 1, SD002 – day 2 and so on. This left no question, then, as to where we were when we saw what animals, etc.
    - Buffs – You know, like they have on Survivor. A circular bandana/handkerchief sort of thing. I took 5. Probably could have gotten by with 3, but I used every one of them. They were great to cover your head from dust, or to cover up the morning bed head. :-) Also worked well to cover the face from sun a few times or from dusty roads. Loved them.
    - “Take and toss underwear” – One of the Fodorites posted a while back that they take old(er) underwear and just throw them away, rather than having to worry about washing a few pair. It worked great. Added benefit, for every day you’re there and throw away the skivvies, you make more room in your bag for souvenirs. Just sayin’
    - In country flights – This is absolutely the way to go. We did both road transfers and flights, and I would never do road transfers again. In the grand scheme of things, the added cost for the flights really isn’t that much – at least to the areas that we went to. The roads in Tanzania are MUCH better than those in Kenya, so road transfers were tolerable. The absolute worst was the road from Namanga to Amboseli. It was absolutely dreadful – 50km of driving on a washboard. It took 2.5 hours…and that was just to the gate of Amboseli. Then we had to go another 25+km to get to our lodge. Samburu to Ol Pajeta was a pretty long drive. The road to Isiolo is terrible, but not quite as bad as Amboseli. From Isiolo on, it was paved road, so not bad.

    What would I do different:
    - Take more small denomination bills – I had mostly 20s, some 10s and a small handful of 5s. I really wished I had taken more of the smaller, especially 5s.
    - For all those skeptics, LyndaS has something going with her stapler. I can’t even remember what for now, but there was definitely a few times when I had to chuckle to myself because I really wished I had a little stapler with me. You go, Lynda…defend that stapler with all you’ve got. ;-)
    - Small envelopes and note cards – Everyone else does it, but noooooo, not Shane. lol I thought about it and thought about it, and ended up completely forgetting to pack the dang envelopes for tips. DRAT!!! For those other boneheads who forget the envelopes, such as myself, all of the camps had envelopes in the tents, so it all worked out. Take envelopes!!!
    - Take even fewer clothes than I did – I am a notorious overpacker, and I thought I did a pretty good job of packing light. I was under my 33lbs. For 18 days, that’s good for me. But, I could have taken even a couple fewer short sleeved shirts. All of the camps, even the mobile camp had laundry services. I would have, however, taken 1 more long sleeved t-shirt. They were great for the morning game drives. I took 2, wish I’d have had a third.

    Kenya Camps/Lodges:
    Larsen’s Tented Camp (Samburu) – LOVED IT!!! This was our first accommodations and they truly set the bar high. I could gush and gush and go on forever, but let just say…It was fantastic!!! The tents were simply outstanding. They have 20 (I believe) tents, set up with 10 on either side of the dining area. It is a fenced camp, however there’s a long expanse along the river front that does not have a fence in place. Animals can still get in…and they did. The last morning we were there, there was very clear evidence (right behind our tent) that a buffalo had walked through the camp in the middle of the night. I’m just glad I was looking down at the path so I didn’t step in it. ;-) The food was excellent here and the service was just outstanding. Every member of the staff treated us as if we were old friends. The swimming pool was quite chilly, but the hot tub was just perfect. Directly adjacent to the pool area, there is an open sided “spa” area where you can get a massage. Of course, I had to get a massage in the open African night. During my massage, I heard lions roaring and a male elephant rumbling that high pitched, musth rumble. It was just awesome.
    The first night, there was one family (parents and either 1 or 2 kids, I forget) and another couple that was a mother and daughter traveling together…and my mom and me. That was it.
    The second night, my mom and I were the only people in the camp. We were sitting on our porch that last evening, watching the elephants graze, right across the river from our tent. It was time to go eat dinner and we were just about the get up to go to the dining area when we heard footsteps. We looked toward the path and two of the staff members were carrying a fully set table to our tent. We had dinner right on the porch of our tent…with the elees.
    Sweetwaters Tented Camp (Ol Pajeta Conservancy) – A reasonably nice camp. The tents are appointed fairly simply, but still comfortable. It was pretty cold, especially at night here. While we were at dinner, when they came to turn down the beds, they put a hot water bottle in the bed to warm it up. A nice touch, although my mom likes cold sheets so she would throw her water bottle in my bed as soon as we got back to the tent.
    We got back from a morning game drive after breakfast was over. They met us as we walked past and told us they were waiting for us. We apologized profusely for keeping them, but were very grateful for the generous bit of hospitality they extended. They were completely unphased (at least outwardly) and we had a very nice breakfast.

    To be continued…

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    Thanks Tom...and, btw, I emailed the folks at winkflash to find out if that background color can be changed. I hadn't even really paid attention to it until you mentioned it, but it is sort of disturbing. We'll see.

    Shane

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    Exciting report, please don't let us wait too long ;-))

    Very curious for Nakuru, Srova Lion Hill, and the Mara, especially the place of Mara Explorer Camp!!! Looking forward for more...

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    Thanks for starting your report! Am really enjoying it. I hope you have the part that disappeared saved elsewhere. I think there's a maximum post length and that might be what happened.

    Sorry you had issues with your operator. It's fairly typical for a Kenyan operator to outsource to a Tanzanian one for the Tanzania portion (or vice versa) if doing a combined safari in both countries. However, that doesn't excuse the problems you had. Was the operator in TZ Roots of Africa Expeditions? That name has come up on the Tripadvisor forums as the TZ operator used by Sardius.

    Glad you had a great time despite the problems. Looking forward to your next installment and off to view your photos!

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    I'm really enjoying your report and loved your photos! Thanks for posting so many! We fell in love with Samburu too -- it was one of our favorite places. It looks like you visited many of the same spots in Kenya that we did, so it's especially fun for me to read about your trip.

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    Knowing the eles were right outside your camp makes me like the photos even more. So you had two separate giraffe drinking encounters. That’s really amazing. How wonderful that each of your favorite animals would be seen in abundance doing interesting things.

    That’s good you and your friend had a parting of the ways before your trip. Similar to you, when my friend and I finished our MBAs we planned a celebratory trip. Unfortunately we did not realize that we were not compatible until several days into a 3- week trip to Europe. Better to know beforehand. But it enabled you to go with your mother is such an added bonus!

    Reason #3 for Sardius emailing you the information: It’s their business! Don’t other clients want info emailed to them? I would think this is a routine request that they should be able to easily accommodate. No MBA needed.

    When your contact is not present upon arrival, there is a certain dread that grips you, am I right? I’ve had that experience and it does not start the journey on a good foot. But lying to your mother behind your back is unbelievable.

    I agree they tried to swindle you with the vehicle thing in the Mara but your added flight and the fact that they knew you knew what was going on prevented the swindle.

    I wonder if your driving in circles in the Serengeti was because Sardius pays only for that area and not for a wider range.

    Your rant was justified. Using two operators, one for each country is typical, but it appears the quality of the guides employed by those operators was also an issue. That's good you still had such a marvelous trip.

    I didn’t notice the green background on your photo site because it was not apparent in the slide show. It is ugly, though, upon first entering the site.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Part 2

    Kenya Camps/Lodges continued

    Sarova Lion Hill Lodge (Lake Nakuru) – The lodge is built on the side of a hill. There are duplex style “cottages” and there are a lot of them. I want to say there are about 75, or so, rooms. Again, during our trip, this was a pretty irrelevant factoid, as there were very few people at the lodge. We stayed here only one night. It’s a comfortable place to stay, but just simply not the same as staying under canvas.

    Dinner was served buffet style, as was breakfast. The food was good, but nothing sticks out in my mind as outstanding.

    Out afternoon gamedrive was pretty exciting. After making the stop at the shore of the lake to see the flamingos, pelicans and various other birds, we continued our drive around the lake. During the drive we saw 12 rhinos – most adults, but this is where we saw both of the babies in the photos. The very young one was so fun to watch. The mother was grazing and the little one clearly had had quite enough. He was just lying there, every few minutes picking “his” head up to apparently check the distance that mom had wandered. Eventually, he must have felt that she was just a tad too far away, so he stood up and walked over to her. He remained up for several minutes, but then he was done again and just flopped down onto his side for another little nap. Very cute.

    Not too far down the road is where we ran into the other mother and youngster. Again, we watched for a little while. They eventually crossed the road in front of us and were heading toward the lake. We started to proceed and as we moved up between them and the road, the mother swung around, nearly knocking the baby off “his” feet. She quickly “pawed” at the ground a couple times and made a short but quick beeline for us – not a full charge, but she was definitely letting us know who the boss was.

    Mara Explorer (Maasai Mara) – This was another great camp. We spent 3 fantastic nights here and really enjoyed it. Explorer is not fenced, so after dark we had to be escorted to and from the tent. There are 10 tents in the camp, all built right along the bank of the Talek River. The camp is built at a sharp bend in the river, so tent the middle number tent(s) are farther from the “common area” than #1 or 10. We stayed in tent #1, closest to the dining area. I can’t give a lot of insight as to whether or not noise would carry from the dining/common area to the tent as nobody was in the camp except my mom and me for most of the stay. On the first night, there were 4 other people there. They were travelling together, but each was staying in their own tent. They left the next morning and we were it for the remaining 2 nights. The camp was supposed to have been full, so they had experienced a 90% cancellation rate due to the political situation.

    Explorer is a “sister” camp to Mara Intrepids. Intrepids was completely empty for two nights. Such an unfortunate situation. We did go to Intrepids to go to the gift shop, as Explorer does not have a gift shop of their own. It was a nice gift shop and pretty reasonably priced. When we arrived at Intrepids to visit the gift shop, they had the generator turned off, so we had to wait for the lights to come on. We sat and visited with the camp manager, Bonafice, on the the deck in front of the bar and had sundowners. Due to the camp being empty, he was actually going over to Explorer to oversee things while their “normal” camp manager was away for a couple days. We saw Bonafice again at Explorer and he always had a big smile and was very nice.

    The food at Explorer was excellent, and my lord there was a ton of it. On the first night of our stay, we came back from the game drive and were sitting in the common area chatting with the other clients that were there that night. They were going out for a bush dinner, which would leave my mom and I to eat in the camp. As they were getting ready to depart for their bush dinner, the staff approached us and told us to follow along. In spite of the fact that we hadn’t requested or paid the extra charge for the bush dinner, they took us with them – an unexpected surprise. It was so much fun. I suppose it was just easier to take us along rather than serve another meal in the camp for just 2 people. Regardless of who received more benefit from it, it was great. As we were eating dessert, we starting hearing some noises and all of a suddent there were several Maasai warriors coming through the trees. They did some dancing and put on a great show for us. It was a great experience – probably more so since it was such a surprise for us.

    At Explorer was where I had my first taste of Amarula…YUM!!! Hehe I’m hooked. As soon as I got home I went to the liquor store to see if they had it. I was kind of surprised to find it at the first place I went to, being that I was out in a far out suburb of Milwaukee.

    The staff at Explorer was fantastic. They were very attentive, but not overbearing at all. When we first arrived, they escorted us to our tent. We got to the tent and…1 bed. Hmmm…empty camp, etc, etc so I asked if they had a tent with 2 beds. No problem. They took us to the new tent, then a few minutes later, came back and asked if we wanted to move to tent #1, which also had 2 beds. If more people had been there, I probably would have said no, but since it was going to be so quiet, we did move again. As it turns out, our tent was directly next to the trail that a few of the hippos use to get to and from the river. The morning after the first night, my mom asked me, “Did you hear the hippo walk by this morning?” I hadn’t. Then she got all excited and said, “He walked right by the tent, and did that ‘hippo grunt’ RIGHT next to the tent. It scared the s**t from me.” She said. LMAO…it was so funny. The next night I gave her a pair of my socks to chuck at my head so she could wake me up if he came by again. She’s a very light sleeper…me, no so much. He did some by again so BAM, socks in the face for Shane at 4:30 in the morning. WTF?!?! Then I heard him. It was very cool.

    Our guide at Explorer was Joseph. I can’t say enough good things about Joseph. He as ABSOLUTELY GREAT!!! His spotting skills are just amazing. He is funny and very personable. We talked and talked with him. He was quite the jokester, too. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide. Thanks to all of the reading and discussions here on Fodors, some of our discussions centered around things I had learned or heard on here. We talked about Honey and how her cubs are doing; we talked about the tragic accident at Richard’s camp last year and lots of other stuff. Joseph looked at me once when we were talking and gave me this sly smile and said, “You are very hard to trick. You have studied before you came to Kenya.” We got a good laugh.

    On our last afternoon drive with Joseph, he had his binoculars out (his OWN binoculars, lol) and spotted a cheetah. Off we went, as we approached, there was 2 cheetahs. We got closer yet…NO WAIT…3 cheetahs. Joseph turned back to me with a GIANT smile on his face, “Those are Honey’s boys.” He said that there is another trio of brothers in the Mara, but they are older. It is pretty certain that these were Honey’s cubs. It was very exciting. We watched them for a long time. They were looking VERY interested in a few gazelles on the hillside. Problem was, the gazelles were more or less surrounded by zebras. The boys got more and more interested and started stalking away. The anticipation of maybe getting to see a hunt was killing me. It was getting late in the afternoon, closer and closer to 6:00. They stalked and hid and stalked some more, but never made their move. Joseph was pretty certain they had given up for the night, but given the opportunity would probably hunt first thing in the morning. They were only about 10 minutes outside of the camp, so we headed back over there early early, but they had gone, apparently driven off by a few lionesses that were now very close to that same area. Then it was time to head to the airstrip for our flight back to Wilson. That was the last cheetah sighting for the entire trip, but what a nail-biter.

    We just loved the Mara and Explorer. So many cool animal sightings, including Honey’s boys (probably), Bella the leopard (also featured in BCD), 2 lion cubs hiding in the grass while mom was off hunting, a couple elephant charges, lots of giraffes, etc, etc. LOVED IT, LOVED IT, LOVED IT!!! Definitely a highlight of the trip.

    Ol Tukai Lodge (Amboseli) – A very cool lodge. We really liked it. The lobby is huge, and they have a wall that is all carved with elephants. It was pretty amazing. There are photos, but not in the “favorites” folder. They are in the Amboseli folder, or will be asap. I believe there must have been a German company having a meeting at Ol Tukai. There were far and away more people here than any other place in Kenya. But out on the game drives, we didn’t really see them, so perhaps they were in meetings or something. Don’t know. The rooms are set up duplex style. There are 80 rooms, separated into two sections – the “Mountain View” rooms which face toward Mt Kilimanjaro and then the “Elephant View” rooms which face toward the Longinye swamp area (I think) where the elees congregate to eat and drink. Well, how lucky were we that we ended up on the elephant side? YAY!!! As we walked back to our room, there were many elephants right along the fence line eating. I found that little fence quite amusing. One little wire…hehe. Unless that thing is packing one HELL of a wallop of voltage, I’m pretty much thinking it’s not doing a whole lot. ;-) That was the only thing really disappointing about Ol Tukai, was the fence. It was just right there, blatant and in clear view.

    My reason for wanting to go to Amboseli was to get that “classic” safari photo of elephants or giraffes in front of the mountain. I got it, although, it’s not a super fantastic shot, but I got it none the less. I can probably play with that photo and make it look better. Having been there now and getting the photo that I really wanted, I would not feel the need to return to Amboseli – unless Cynthia Moss wants to let me come work with her. :-D I’d be all over that. But as far as overall experience, there were just as many, if not more elephants in Samburu, plus all of the other things that made and makes Samburu a special place.

    On the last morning here, mom and I went up to have breakfast before we left. We were gone for only about 25 minutes or so. When we returned to the cottage, I looked at the window and one of the little screens was pulled out. “Hm, that’s weird.” I said, I didn’t notice that before – when I opened the window, or any of the times I had stepped out for a smoke. Well, duh, that’s because it wasn’t like that before. We opened the door and during our brief breakfast outing we were invaded by monkeys. LOL We had no food sitting out or anything. My stuff hadn’t been touched, but mom had a ziplock bag that had cough drops and bubble gum in it. The cough drops were in their own bag inside of the larger bag, and likewise for the gum. Everyone of the cough drops was gone and all of the bubble gum, too. What was really funny was the papers were not all torn up and shredded. There were no teeth marks…nothing. The monkey(s) sat there and unwrapped each and every cough drop and piece of gum…AFTER punching in the screen on the window. LOL. Wonder if he/she was ok? There were about 30 or so cough drops in that bag and not one was left.

    So, it was an easy cleanup. Just scooped up the papers and put them in the trash. Everything else was there and basically untouched. Monkey must have just had a little tickle in his throat and didn’t bother to read the dosage instructions. ;-)

    Then it was time to take mom to the airstrip for her flight to Wilson. When she got on the plane, I have to say, I got a little choked up and teary. We had had such a FUN, FANTASTIC, AMAZING, (insert every positive adjective) time together…and now it was over. It was so great to get to share the first sightings of all of the animals and that initial excitement of being in Africa. It is something we will share and talk about for many years to come. We talked a few days ago, and she told me as the plane was pulling away toward the “runway” she cried, too. I’m so glad she went with, and I’m pretty sure she is too.

    So, off I go to Tanzania…again, down that dreadful road to Namanga. UGH!!!

    Tanzania Camps/Lodges

    Migunga Forest Camp (Lake Manyara) – Like I said earlier, this was an expected stop. I was supposed to be staying at Kirurumu Tented Camp. Oh, well…I try to be pretty low maintenance, so I just go with the flow. Migunga wasn’t bad, anyway. It was quite secluded and quiet. There was only one other tent occupied, by a couple of ladies from either Germany or Holland.

    When I arrived, during the camp briefing, they warned more than once about mosquitoes in the camp, so I did put on repellant…for the first time of the trip. I never saw any mosquitoes, so either the bug juice worked, or they were on vacay. ;-)

    The tents here are nice. Only a couple of the tents would be within ear shot of the common area. I was in what I think must have been the farthest tent from the common area. It was quite a little walk to get back and forth, but flat and lantern lit after dark. I honestly don’t remember if the mattress on the bed was a “regular” mattress or a thick piece of foam. At any rate, it was comfy. Pretty standard tent as far as I saw.

    Food was very good. Dinner was off a menu and breakfast was a pretty standard choice of eggs, meat, juice etc.

    Over all, I was quite happy with the camp.

    Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge (Ngorongoro Crater) – For a lodge setting, I really liked the Ngorongoro Sopa. The views into the crater are beautiful. The rooms are very large (the largest I encountered). There was a small sitting area in the room, that I would call a sunroom type thing.

    My server at dinner was delightful. She was very personable and had a nice wit. All of the staff was very attentive. The food here was quite good, beds were comfortable, room was clean.
    Overall, a pleasant stay. Nothing extraordinary by any means, but good value for the price I would say.

    EMC/Simuyu Mobile Camp (Seronera, Serengeti)
    After the vehicle breakdown, I have to admit that I was a bit cranky by the time we finally arrived at the camp here. I had to give myself an internal smack upside the head and remember that it wasn’t the camp staff’s fault. Once I had checked myself, I was able to fully embrace the camp and I really enjoyed it. It was setup WAY off the “main roads” and took close to 45 minutes to reach, once we turned off the main road toward the camp sites. That road was not so bad, except it was loaded with tsetse flies. That was the only place I saw any, but they were abundant in that area. I did get myself one or two bites, but the guide seemed to take the brunt of the tsetse attack each time we drove through.

    Anyway, back to the camp. The tents were larger than I had expected them to be and quite comfortable. Of course, being a mobile camp, it was not fenced. As soon as we returned from the afternoon gamedrive, I would go take my shower and change clothes for dinner. Before it got dark, I then went to the campfire to relax with a book, a bottle of Amarula (yes, they brought me the bottle every night. Lol), and my smokes. Aaaaahhhhh, now this was living!!! I was the only person in the camp, which made for a very peaceful experience. It was wonderful.

    The only running water was for the toilet. There were 2 large bottles of water for brushing teeth, etc. I never used them completely, but I’m sure they would have replaced them if I had. The shower was a bucket shower. As soon as I returned in the evening, one of the staff would ask if I was ready for my shower. “Yes, please,” and off he went to fetch the water. Shortly thereafter, I would hear him behind the tent, filling up the shower bucket. In an attempt to conserve the water, knowing there was a maximum of 5 gallons there, I quickly rinsed off and turned off the water. Washed hair, rinsed, and turned the water off again. Washed hair again, and the bod then rinsed. On the first night, in spite of my conservation efforts, the water ran out about half way through the last rinse. “Holy crap,” I thought. “What to do now?” Well, without a hitch, I hear, “Are you ready for more water”? “Yes, thank you,” I said with a huge grin on my face. Clearly they’ve done this before. Lol

    The only time that second batch of water didn’t work was on the last night. There must have been a big air bubble or something in the line. I just could not get the water to start. “Oh well, I’ll make due.” Thank goodness for those BIG water bottles. So I stepped out and grabbed the water bottle and used that to rinse off. It was a bit chillier than the nice warm water from the bucket, but hey, the soap was gone. ;-)

    The food at the camp was excellent. It was a set menu, so I just ate what they brought – much like being back at home. Hehe The only thing I didn’t particularly care for was the pizza, and it had nothing to do with the taste. Actually, I didn’t try it. It was loaded with all kinds of yucky veggies that I don’t eat. Lol

    On the first night in this camp, the camp manager walked me back to my tent after dinner. There was a small herd of buffalo no more than 40 or 50 feet behind my tent. I went in the tent, got ready for bed and went to sleep to the sound of the buffalo snorting and grunting. Loved it.

    The location, with regard to the migration, was less than optimal. They were getting ready to move south in a couple weeks. That was the only real downside to the camp, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the camp, which I found to be truly excellent.

    Ndutu Lodge (Ngorongoro Conservation Area) – This was a very nice place to stay. There are a few rooms that are stand alone and a few that had 3 under one roof, but most were duplex style. There’s a nice little porch with a wooden bench. I didn’t find the bench particularly comfortable, and it was too far away from the little wall to put my feet up, so I brought the chair from inside the room out to the porch when I wanted to sit out there. It’s all about kicking the feet up. The dining area and bar area is very comfortable. There were a lot of people staying here, the most I saw anywhere, other than Ngorongoro Sopa. In the dining area is where the genet cats in the last photo were. They were pretty amusing to watch.

    Just in front of the dining area, there is a nice little bird bath area, and the birds clearly loved it. Lots of lizards running around, too. I really liked this lodge. One evening as I was walking back to my room after dinner, there was even a dik dik standing next to one of the bushes right next to the path. Of course, as I approached, he didn’t stick around for long.

    The staff here was friendly, but I didn’t find them quite as friendly as other places. Not sure if it was just because they were very busy, and I had been spoiled by having an entire staff to myself on several occasions, or what. At any rate, I would definitely stay here again.

    On the last morning, as we were leaving Ndutu to head back to the Serengeti for my flight to Nairobi, the most wonderful thing happened. As we drove out, every type of animal (except cats) was out, right along side the road – elephants, giraffes, zebras, impala, wildees, etc, etc. It was as if they had all come out to say good bye. It was a truly remarkable and memorable way to have my time on safari end, and I couldn’t have asked for a better send off. I didn’t even have my camera out, I just rode along and relished the sight of all the friends coming to wish me farewell.

    The flight to Nairobi was a long one. Up and down 8 times from the time I got on the plane in the Seronera until I was in Nairobi. Upon arrival at Wilson, my guide for the day met me and off we went. We went to Kazuri Bead Factory and the Sheldrick Orphanage, then to the Carnivore for dinner.

    I didn’t arrive in time to visit the Sheldrick for the public time, but had adopted one of the orphaned elees, Dida, so went in the afternoon. First, I met Max(well) the 2-year old rhino that is blind. Got to feed him a couple bottles and hang out with him while we waited for the elees to come back from the bush. Finally, it was time to meet the elees. We walked over to the path where they would come walking. Within a few minutes, here came the little parade of babies. It was so cute to see them all in a line walking back to the stalls. They were pretty focused on the task at hand. I’m thinking they clearly knew that it was dinner time.

    We followed them to the stall area, and watched as the keepers fed them their bottles. Dida doesn’t drink her bottle nearly as fast as the others. She gets easily distracted and wanders a bit during the process. Eventually, she got the bottles down, though. Then the keeper asked if I wanted to go in and meet them. WELL, DUH!!! I went in the stall to meet Dida, Lempaute and Lesanju. It was an incredible experience. I was at the orphanage for a little over an hour, and it was definitely one of the best hours of the entire trip.

    We then went to the Carnivore for dinner, which was fun. It is much like a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, with the waiters coming around with the various meats on large skewers, and slicing of pieces of the meat directly onto your plate. Everything was really good – well, everything I tasted. I was fairly adventurous, but didn’t eat the crocodile and a couple other things. The ostrich meatballs were pretty tasty.

    It was then time to head to the airport for the flight home. Upon arrival, I learned that my Kenya Air flight to Paris had been cancelled. After an hour of standing at the check-in counter and waiting to find out what was going to happen, I was rebooked on a KLM flight to Amsterdam. I was still in biz class, which was the most important thing to me, so it all worked out.

    The last leg of my return trip, even after the re-route was left unchanged, so I would still get home as planned. In fact, when I got to Detroit, I was able to make an earlier flight, so ended up getting home 5 hours earlier than expected.

    WHAT AN INCREDIBLE TRIP!!! I can’t wait to go back.

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    How wonderful you got to go on safari with your mother. I have tried to convince mine to go (she loves animals!) and she won't do it.

    You had an amazing trip. Thanks for sharing it!

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    Hi Shane,

    Thanks so much for this wonderful report! I loved it, and it brought back so many great memories. I had a dream the other night about taking my mom on safari -- you're so lucky you got to do that in real life! :) I'm glad she enjoyed it, and I absolutely loved the story of her throwing socks at your face to wake you for the hippo. We also "adopted" Dida, so it was great to read your account of meeting her, and to see your pictures (we didn't get to do the behind-the-scenes visit).

    I think my favorite part of your report was when you described how it felt to see all the animals coming out to "say goodbye" at the end of your trip. We had a smiliar experience in Tarangire, and I know the feeling! Thanks again for sharing all of this with us. Hope you get to make another trip soon!

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