We just returned last week from a mind-boggling, incredible trip.
We booked our safari with Nature Expeditions International, which was a wonderful company with which to work. They used Akorn in both Kenya and Tanzania. The package we booked did not include international airfare, so we started seaching for bargain deals for that part. We finally went with South African Air, which flies direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg. The airfare was only a few hundred dollars less than a self-drive package, so we booked that and added a week to our trip. My husband and I are retired, so we can do things like that.
On August 12, we flew from Atlanta to Jo'burg, and then on to Cape Town. We had a rental car and 4 nights in CT. Enjoyed every minute of it--Day 1- we took it easy, recovering from the flight. SAA had booked us into City Lodge, which was within walking distance to The Albert and Victoria Waterfront. Lots of neat shops and restaurants. Day 2, we drove to the Cape of Good Hope. It rained a bit, which allowed us to see the most incredible double rainbow from the viewpoint there. Saw the Jackass penguins and drove the coast road. Day 3, we went into CT and took a city tour, visited some arts and crafts, places, and took it easy. Day 4 we drove to Stellenbosch and beyond,visiting some wineries. We are both golfers, so we enjoyed seeing Ernie Els's new place. We went down to the coast to see the whales. We had a rental car as part of our package, which we enjoyed.
On the 5th day, we dropped off the car at CT airport, flew to Jo'burg and picked up another rental car. We drove to Kruger. SAA had booked us for 1 night at Berg-en-dal Rest Camp and 2 at Skukuzu. It was late afternoon when we got to Kruger; much was made of the locking of the gates to the camps, so we drove without many stops. We took a night drive at Berg-en-dal, which was fun, but cold in the open vehicle. Saw a family of hyena, a pride of lion, to mention a few highlights. The next days, we did our own game drives, which were wonderful. Sat by a water hole and watched a large herd of elephant run in, splash around, and generally party hearty. It was nice to just sit there as long as we wanted to do so. The rest camps are very comfortable, not fancy, but very clean and well maintained. The 2 we stayed at both had restaurants which we enjoyed, but it is possible to cook a meal or two if one wished. Skukuzu actually has 2 restaurants. We were expecting Kruger to be really crowded, but it wasn't.
South Africa was a bonus week for us. When we realized how expensive flying to Africa was, we decided to get as much into our trip as possible.
The following day we drove our rental car back to Jo'burg and flew to Nairobi for the start of our 14 day safari with NEI. We were met at the airport by a rep from Akorn, who took us to the Norfolk Hotel. Unfortunatly, my husband's duffle was missing in action, which was a worry, since he did pack some camera stuff in it--a no-no, to be sure. Worrying about the bag marred our 1st day. It did finally arrive late the next day, untouched and fully there.
The Norfolk is worth a stay. I must say that the staff was most helpful with our luggage problem and made all sorts of phone calls for us. Their breakfasts were great, and we enjoyed the dinner we had there on day 1.
On Monday, we met our guide, Jospeh Njao, who made our Kenya trip for us. He was helpful, enthusiastic, and very knowledgable. We started Monday with a trip to Sheldrick animal orphanage, where we got close and personal with baby elephant and rhino. Next, to Langatta Giraffe Center, and then a tour of the Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) house. Touristy, yes, but that is what we were. Enjoyed all; ended up having dinner at The Carnivore. The food there was good--one could skip the whole exotic meat thing and still enjoy beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. We did try the ostrich and just a itty bitty bite of croc, which tasted like pork.
I do not know if I mentioned it, but ours was a private safari.
The next day, we drove to the Aberdare NP, had lunch at the Aberdare Country Club--beautiful day and location. An afternoon game drive in the park--didn't see as much game there because the grass and plants were thick and that made it harder to spot. We stayed at The Ark, a bit gimmicky, but we had a good time with some people from Australia, England and Germany at dinner. Our room was right by the waterhole that is lit up and salted. They will wake you with a buzzer in your room if any unusual game visits during the night. My husband didn't appreciate the loudness of the buzzer when the Giant Forest Hog and rhino showed up. We think his photos are of a rock, since he never woke up fully to focus on the real deal. You can shut the buzzer off if you choose.
The next morning after breakfast, we had a horseback ride at Aberdare Country Club, included in our package. I pooh-poohed it at first, but it turned out to be a highlight. We were able to get right in and among zebra, giraffe, impala. The animals didn't seem to mind the horses at all. it was a whole new perspective.
And then it was on to Samburu, which we loved. We stayed at Intrepids, had a wonderful tent down near the end. Lots of privacy--just us and the Vervet monkeys that live to get into the tents. On our last morning there, the staff member who brought ginger snaps and coffee as a wake up call, left the tent flap open about 3 inches. In lightning speed, one got in and swiped the last cookie. Too quick to be photographed...
Anyway, the game in Samburu was fabulous; leopard, lion and cheetah with kills, jackel, everything. So many beautiful birds. Our guide, Njao, as he asked to be called was really good at finding things. We told him we wanted to see a leopard, and within an hour, he found us one stalking 20 feet in front of our vehicle. Same with the cheetah. He didn't deliver on the unicorn, however!
We did visit a Samburu village while we were there. Interesting, but not necessary.
Now, the next part of the trip: we left Samburu, drove to Sweetwaters. Doing it again, I might opt to not drive over the road to Samburu more than once--it is bad. But, on that drive, we had beautiful views of Mt. Kenya; we visited a women's self help project in Nanyuki, Nanyuki Spinners and Weavers. This is a project that was introduced by the Presbyterian Church in 1977 to help women who were abused or in need to become self-reliant by teaching them to spin, weave and knit. They take raw wool, wash, spin, and dye it; and then turn it into sweaters, rugs, etc. It was a most heart warming and moving experience. They started with 7 women, now have over 100 who have learned these skills. Their prices were excellent and their work is beautiful.
Anyway, back to Sweetwaters, which by the way is now owned by the Serena chain and was undergoing refurbishing while we were there. We visited a Chimp sanctuary, and got to pet a rhino that was orphaned and adopted as a baby--now 31 years old. Sweetwaters was nice; it was included in the itinerary becsuse it is close to the airport to fly to the Masai Mara. We did get to take a bushwalk with an older gentleman who was a very interesting and knowledgable guide. He pointed out things that you just don't see from a vehicle, like the size of an elephant's footprint, how the elephant dung carries Acacia seeds wherever it is dropped. He showed us the ants that live in the galls on the Whistler Acacia and how they protect the plant. So I'm not sorry we went there. They had a great gift shop and the lowest prices we had seen for soapstone. It's just that we loved the Masai Mara so much that we wished we could have had more time there.
The next morning we said goodbye to Njao--he was a wonderful part of our safari-and off we went to the Mara. Stayed at Governor's Camp. We arrived in time for the afternoon game drive. Again, our guide was great. Solomon had a lot of experience and was a tracker as well as a driver. He would take out his binoculars, look at zebra, tell us that the zebra were all looking to the left, and drive to the left and find a lion pride. In the Mara, the guides drive off-road, which enables you to get very close to the game, which is an amazing experience. At Governor's you get 3 game drives daily. We did have a taste of sharing a safari vehicle with others, as NEI had told us that Governor's does their own game drives and would not be private. It was a problem only for one drive when a couple with their 12 year old joined us. None of us wanted to sit in the center seat.
Anyway, each game drive was more incredible than the last. The wildebeest were amazing. We saw a hyena kill a baby gazelle and then fight to hold it. We saw the aftermath of the wildebeest crossing with the dead animals washed on the shore of the river. We saw a mother cheetah with one cub, standing on termite mounds crying out for her lost ones. We only stayed there for 2 nights. More would have been better. Governor's Camp was not our favorite as far as service, food, etc were concerned, but I do believe they had the best location of any place we were. The crew from British TV were there filming while we were there. One night, we heard a talk by one of the photographers, which was excellent.
When we left the Masai Mara, we flew to Tanzania, which I will save for part 2.
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We just returned last week from a mind-boggling, incredible trip.