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Trip Report - Kenya Feb '07

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Trip Report

We got back two weeks ago from a 12 night safari in Kenya. I won’t even attempt to come up with an appropriate superlative to describe how wonderful the trip was. Since I learned so much from the various trip reports I read when I was planning my trip, I thought I’d return the favor.

2 nights at Tortilis in Amboseli
2 nights at Lewa Safari Camp in Lewa Downs
3 nights at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru
4 nights at Saruni in the Masai Mara.

It was a private flying safari organized by Gamewatchers. There were two couples. I was the trip planner. Prior to this trip, I had been on both a one-day safari in South Africa and a 3-day tiger safari in India, so I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted -- open vehicles and to be as far away from crowds as possible. This will sound strange, but I was more interested in feeling like I was on the other side of the universe than in seeing massive amounts of animals. I guess I’m what you call a scenery guy.
Pre-trip I worried about all the typical things. Would there be somebody at the airport to meet us or would I arrive to find that we had been fleeced out of our money by con artists? Would we get carjacked on our way into town from the airport? Would Somalian bandits travel hundreds of miles through the night and kill us in our sleep? (Hey, those State Department warnings can get under your skin.)

I worried for nothing. Everything went off without a hitch.

We were extremely lucky with the timing of our trip. The recent rains meant that the typical migratory patterns were disrupted. In some cases, spectacularly so. Our first stop was Amboseli. The only reason I chose it was because I wanted to see Mt. Kilimanjaro before the snows disappeared completely. Well, in the words of the little girl from Poltergeist, “They’re back.” I don’t know anything about the science of global warming, but it seems that at least as far as Kilimanjaro is concerned, Mother Nature is fighting back. The mountaintop was completely filled with snow. It was a breathtaking sight.

As for Amboseli itself, I expected a dust bowl and not too many animals. Was I wrong. The elephants that usually desert the park this time of year stuck around to enjoy all the greenery. And what greenery. And what elephants. Hundreds of them at a time. On our drive to Tortilis from the air strip, our guide raced us to a spot where he had just seen two hundred elephants. I remember thinking rather placidly, “oh that’s nice.” Then we get there and the vehicle is suddenly surrounded by hundreds of elephants. I was completely blown away. The only thing I could think of was Jurassic Park. We spent an hour with the elephants before heading to Tortilis, our home for the next two nights.

I loved Tortilis. It’s a beautiful, friendly camp with a busy waterhole down the hill from the dining area. Speaking of the hill, I noticed some of the older guests having a moderately difficult time with the walk from the tents up to the dining area/lounge/reception area. It’s not a massive climb, but if you have mobility issues, you should be aware that the beautiful vistas at the camps perched on hillsides come with a price.

We saw few other vehicles during our stay. When I asked our guide about that he said he was keeping us away from the crowds on the other side of the park. Being away from the crowds certainly didn’t impact our sightings. One interesting story: we were driving along and noticed another vehicle parked on the road observing a massive herd of elephants a couple hundred yards away. We stopped to watch, as well. After a couple of minutes, the other car drove off. Our guide Joell (sp?) shook his head with what can best be described as disgust at the other driver and said, “I think they are going to move.” Sure enough, five minutes later the entire herd, led by Big Mama (my name for the matriarch) began lumbering toward us to begin their evening activities. Once again we were surrounded by a massive hundred plus elephant herd. They were on the move, though, so we didn’t get to spend that much time with them. But, man, what a rush. The young bulls jostling with each other, the baby elephants chasing after their mothers… I love the baby elephants. Baby elephants are my new favorite thing in the world. Baby elephants and cheetahs. Baby elephants and cheetahs and dik diks. Baby elephants and cheetahs and dik diks and… never mind.

In addition to the elephants, we saw the usual Amboseli suspects. No predators. We did the typical safari stuff: nature walk, sundowners, visit to a Masai village. I loved every second.

General observations:

It’s real easy to over pack. I was under the weight limit and still had too much stuff.

There’s this amazing new mosquito repellant called Repel. At least I think it’s new. Its primary ingredient is Lemon Eucalyptus oil, and it works extremely well. I’m a mosquito magnet, so I brought about a gallon and a half of DEET to serve as back up. I didn’t break out the DEET once. By the end of the trip, everyone was using my Repel.

Bring a back up camera. Anything can happen. In my case, I brought a 110 volt AA battery charger with me to Africa. Pretty stupid mistake. Luckily, I had my film camera as backup, and Elsa’s had a AA charger I could borrow. So even though I had to be slightly more judicious with my photo-taking than I would have liked, it all worked out in the end.

Up next, Lewa Downs…

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