We have returned from our 16 days in Kenya and Tanzania, including living through the heightened security at Heathrow and traveling all the way from Nairobi to US with only a plastic bag of travel documents as we hit the height of security and could not take even a book or eyeglass case. It can be done and all gifts, camera equipment, etc. etc arrived home with us completely intact.
I figure if I start this thread and at least a first post it will embarrass me into getting the actual trip report completed. (Un)fortunately our trip was relatively mundane compared to the likes of Imelda and others. We did not disembark in the wrong city, get bit my tse tse flies, or have any other frightening or near death experiences, except for a dicey boat ride across Lake Naivasha to Crescent Island.
We did see a wildebeest river crossing in the Mara, a botched lion hunt where the wildies actually chased off two young males followed by the same pride of lions attacking a mongoose until Mom decided to take down a wildie single-handedly, giraffe babies, 5 separate leopards at close range, rhino, cheetah at rest and cheetah cubs, and lots of other wonderful animals and birds that I will document as part of the report. We also visited five schools and a Samburu village at Sarara and delivered soccer balls and pumps to all which gave my son and daughter a great experience as they went into the classrooms and talked and played with the kids.
In terms of accomodations, the tented camps at Sarara, Governor's Il Moran, Larsen's and Swala were unbelievable, one better than the next. We loved Lloldia House on the shores of Lake Naivasha where we were able to horseback ride among herds of impala and gazelle and we luxuriated in the decadence that is the Crater Lodge.
I won't say that the Ark was "disappointing" because we knew what to expect, but the rooms were really pretty shabby and the place was freezing -- temperature inside and out a lovely 55F. The only truly disappointing accomodation was at Kifaru between Karatu and the Crater, but more later on the details.
For those first time travels struggling with packing and tipping and how much cash to take, or traveling with kids I have these few words:
We each had a wide mouth duffle bag with side pockets from Timbuktu that fit as carry on and a pack back and we were overpacked (and that includes each of us carrying 4-5 deflated soccer balls in the duffle along with our clothes). I didn't even wear all my shirts and could have packed less. I will say that winter in Africa (July and August) was much cooler than I expected and I could have used one or two thin light sweaters to have for dressing at dinner. There were many days when our zip off pants did not get zipped off and we were thankful for the hot water bottles in our beds at night.
I brought an extra empty nylon bag for gifts and that was perfect. I also loved my travel clothesline, my maglite flashlight (husband liked his headlamp even better), my Keen Newport shoes,my endless supply of small zip loc bags and my travel packets of baby wipes. One bottle of purell was more than enough (even a tiny bottle would have done).
Having never traveled with a guide and driver or stayed in tented camps and lodges with "butlers," I too was somewhat skeptical/confused by the general tipping guidelines that I saw everywhere that would have us averaging for a family of 4 about $40 per day for our driver and a littleless for the staff when we had already invested so heavily in the trip. After one day of driving from Nakuru to Naivasha in Kenya, it became clear that the drivers earn every penny of the tip that you give them. This is hard, hard work and if they are good, in addition to changing tires, driving over raods that are numbing, they are spotting animals and birds and showing endless patience. I am true convert on the tipping of drivers. Similarly, these lodges have a lot of staff and where the staff is very good, the tipping ranges are accurate, although I still feel a little high compared to the value that the drivers provide.
Bring more than you think you need. We decided to buy some tinga tinga paintings at a gallery only to learn after all of the selection and negotiations that they could not take our VISA. That one unexpected cash transaction had us searching for an ATM in Arusha (we found a Barclays where our Citibank card worked fine) and an ATM in Karatu (the Wells Fargo card worked but the Citibank did not, go figure). You cannot add staff tip to your lodging bill (it just doesn't work that way) and it really is hard to bargain at the curios if you are going to use a credit card, so bring extra cash.
We traveled with our 13 y.o. son and 11 y.o. daughter. They are well traveled and brought plenty of books to read, each had their own binoculars (KEY!) and ipods, although we did not allow them to bring ipods on the game drives. They shared a room or a tent and were completely fine at each place we stayed, even when there were lions roaring at Swala, and hippos and hyenas roaming at Governor's. My daughter did not like the school children touching her hair at first, but she got used to it. They did not like the bargaining at the curio places and so they chose to stay in the 4x4. A friend that had traveled with his children two years ago had an invaluable tip for me -- do NOT force them to go on every game drive because "we paid a lot of money for this trip!" Sometimes, they just need to sleep in or just chill. My daughter missed the wildie crossing at the Mara because she slept through the morning game drive . . she got over it in a few minutes and would have been awful to have in the car if we had forced her to wake up. The staff knew she was sleeping in and they kept watch on her tent until we returned and I never had any concern about leaving her alone. My husband and I enjoyed a great early game drive in the Crater (we were the second car down) alone because we told both kids they just needed a morning to re-charge and they listened.
All that, and I haven't even cracked my journal to actually start the trip report. As to pictures, we are old fashioned and use film, so that will be a little while.
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TRIP REPORT - Kenya/Tanzania July 25-Aug 13, 2006 (Including travel through Heathrow with travel restrictions)