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Trip Report Kenya Aug 2006

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If I don't get started I never will.... so here goes....Its not as exciting as some of your experiances but nevertheless we had a wonderful family holiday. We will surely return to Africa soon!


Kenya August 2006

I dream of Africa:

Africa, has always been on our travel ‘wish list’, so for this year’s family holiday I started researching and joined Fodor’s and other travel forums in January. The question remained…..where in Africa??? We narrowed down to visiting Kenya as we have friends in Nairobi. I asked for quotes from 13 outfitters in Nairobi. Most were prompt and gave almost a similar itinerary and quote.. We chose AcrossAfrica who used to be a sister concern of the Sarova group but now have been bought over by Liberty Africa Safaris but is still known as AcrossAfrica.(their web site : http://www.acrossafricasafaris.co.ke/ ). Our friends in Nairobi had recommended them. In March 2006 we went ahead and booked our safari to Ark – Aberdare, Shaba (we also did game drives in Samburu and Buffalo Springs), Mt. Kenya Safari Club (we visited the Ol Pajeta Conservancy at an additional cost), Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara. We stayed at the Sarova lodges/tented camp wherever possible. In spite of booking in March our Mara accommodation was waitlisted till a week before we left in August!

With months and months of research (and drooling over other trip reports and photographs) and patiently awaiting our “D” day …..Our day arrived! Of course, before that we had to go through our Yellow fever shots…..it is not mandatory for Kuwait but our 14 year old son, Adim will be visiting Singapore on a school trip in November and S’pore is very strict about vaccinations…. so we all took it as a family….After all its once in 10 years so what the hell! We had packed in our neutral colored clothes, hats and mosquito repellent. My ‘just incase’ medicine chest was equipped with band aids, bandage, crepe bandage (our two boys were traveling with us-so had to be ready ), antiseptic cream, anti vomiting, anti diarrhea, anti histamine, Panadol( paracetamol), calamine lotion, our weekly mossie medicine, loads of wet wipes (used for almost everything)and waterless soap. I actually forgot to pack in anti biotic meds which I realized on the plane to Dubai and I hoped and prayed that we would not need them!

My husband AD, armed with his Fuji Pine Pix S602z pro with Raynox 2.2x tele and 7mm fish eye adaptor. He also used an 80 GB portable storage device to copy data from CFC card without having to connect to a computer. AD had also picked up a bean bag and a spanner. I would use my analog Minolta Dynax 505si, with 10x 200ASA film rolls and Adim would use the Samsung VP-DC 163i video cam. We carried 20 rewritable DVDs. And Aamer (our 9 year old) was the unofficial game spotter, thrilled with his 7x Olympus binocular.

We were flying Kuwait-Dubai on Kuwait Airways and Dubai- Nairobi on Kenya Airways.Unfortunately, our departure day was the day after the Heathrow incident (bomb threat) and we faced one major hurdle. Kuwait Airways was not allowing any hand luggage…..only tickets and passports in hand. Ooops! Our camera equipment, lenses, flash etc etc, Aamer’s PSP, Adim’s video camera and iriver …. AD was extremely troubled. How would we ever fit them into our check in luggage? We had a 7 hour transit in Dubai airport and we were minus a change of clothes. But what really troubled us was the equipment getting damaged. Repacking and reshuffling luggage in 1 hour obviously was not ‘good enough’ packing! All we could do was hope for the best.

We shopped at the Dubai duty free…. gifts for friends, AcrossAfrica travel consultant and our driver/ guide. We had booked a room at the Dubai International Hotel (DIH) just to relax and wash up before our next flight at 2.30 am. We ate at the Irish Village Pub. Great food. We don’t get pork in Kuwait so the family tucked into some very nice juicy pork chops.

Africa – here we come:

Kenya Airways was pretty good (however, we did have an issue on our return leg- more on that later). Our co passengers were a huge group of very colorful Kenyans. They were interesting to watch and our 5 hour journey ‘flew’. I think we were all too excited to sleep….the boys were tired and sleepy but I don’t think they slept a wink. AD was perhaps too worried about the camera equipment and I was a ‘lil worried about the antibiotic meds that I forgot to pack in…. so no sleep!

We reached NBO airport at 6.40 am and got our visas on arrival (we had downloaded the forms and filled it up before we began our journey and kept $50 x 4 ready). This was a great tip in the Fodors forum. We were out in less than 10 mins. To our surprise, we were stopped at the customs for a very unusual thing, a gift tax! No where had I read that there would be a tax on gifts! One lady custom’s officer asked very sweetly if we were carrying anything to declare. We told her about the perfume bottles for friends and gave her an approximate figure of $ 90. She spent almost 3-4 mins calculating on a calculator and then told us that we need to pay $ 60 as tax! I promptly told her to keep the gifts as it made no sense. We carried only what we were allowed (I had checked the inflight magazines) and all this polite exchange was done with a smile…. she actually let us off!!! 

We stayed with friends in Nairobi and got our first glimpse of wildlife on the way from the airport. We saw one lone giraffe and got so excited. Spent 2 days with friends and they introduced us to the way of African life. People in Kenya are so friendly and warm…. At the supermarkets, on the roads, the security guards….. All ready with a smile and a Jumbo!

Oh yes…. The camera arrived safe n sound!

Stepping into another world:

Our vehicle (a mini van with a pop up hood) picked us from our friend’s res. Our driver/guide Rueben was going to be with us for the next 9 days. Our AcrossAfrica representative had come over to give us the initial brief. He had patiently answered all my queries for the past many months and appreciated his little gift.

Day 1-Our first stop on the way to the Aberdare Country Club was at a curio shop. We used it as a toilet stop…. . got our first taste of Kenyan artifacts and handicraft and some very polite hard selling. We weren’t ready for any shopping as yet! The drive was rather enjoyable…broke the ice with Rueben and traveled up North passing near Thika which boasts of the world’s third largest pineapple plantation. Aberdare Club is approx. 170 Km or 3 hrs from Nairobi. Aberdare Country Club is a lovely place, well maintained with well manicured garden… with some great lunch. Sat out with beer amidst peacocks, peahens and wild boars…… We would need to store our main luggage at the Club locker carrying with us only small overnighters.. The Club transport took us to the Ark which was a 45 minute drive.

Ark is a uniquely shaped lodge for about 120 guests tucked away in the Aberdares National Park forest .There is a large watering hole besides the lodge where animals come to drink. We got to see an elephant, several buffaloes, giant forest hog, our very first leopard, hyena and a genet. It did get very cold and they provided with hot water bags which was greatly appreciated. Dinner and the next day’s breakfast were very good. The long tables had to be shared and we shared ours with an American family .Our meal times turned out to be fun and interesting. There were tourists from Spain and Italy and they were in big groups. The rooms are very small but one needs it only to sleep. I found the rooms rather shabby. The central place or the glass covered viewing area was quite full. A lovely fire burning, making it warm and cozy….the atmosphere was quite like a ski resort. However, the whole place did have a very ‘restricted’ feel to it. It was fine for a night’s experience but not to be repeated again.

Day 2-3:Shaba : We set off from Ark after breakfast. Met up with Rueben at the Country Club and proceeded up North to Shaba Sarova which was approx 4-5 hour drive.. We crossed the Equator and the dusty outpost called Isiolo. We stopped at the equator for photographs and some souvenir shopping. We saw the water demonstration and the boys had fun with one foot on the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. We even got a certificate for crossing the Equator. Very touristy but some things entertain 9 year olds. I know, I was told not to shop at the Equator but I decided that if I liked something I would just pick it up saving myself a ‘self butt kick’ later. I sweetly bargained and whatever price they quoted (I insisted in getting the price in KES) I brought it down to one third. I then converted it to the currency that I am comfortable with (currently it is KWD) and if I found it reasonable I bought it. My son picked up 6 medium sized dismountable spears for his friends at 200 KES each. We did pick a few other stuff….which amounted to 3000 KES. Our guide, Rueben thought we got a good deal. So the Equator stop was fun for the kids and we continued our journey. The roads were very good in some places, terrible in others, some places the off road was better than the tar roads…. But I guess its part of the African adventure. I wanted the boys to experience ‘roughin’ it out at the cost of breaking our back. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as our desert driving in the Wahiba Sands of Oman. There, you get literally completely rattled, swinging from one side to the other.


On reaching Sarova Shaba, we were assigned our rooms and our table for the rest of the stay. This property is absolutely fantastic. The rooms were large and we were given two adjoining rooms. Sarova Shaba lies on the banks of the crocodile infested Ewaso Nyiro River and in the heart of the Shaba Reserve. We could see crocodiles from our rooms and was often visited by the vervet faced monkeys. They are so adorable.
After lunch (a fabulous spread) we set off on our afternoon game drive.The animals seem to be less in the Shaba region than in Samburu but it is pretty and picturesque. The northern parks are dry and dusty. and shrubby unlike the savannah grasslands in the Mara.. We saw the dik dik. They are so tiny and cute and they reminded us of our Chihuahua back home. We saw a lovely sight of several gerenuk( antelopes who stand on their hind legs) stand and eat in a line …it did remind me of a line of men standing and peeing! Sorry about that, guys! The reticulated giraffes are really good looking with very distinctive patterns. They are much better looking than the Maasai giraffes. The Grant’s gazelles and the Thompson’s gazelle which had a swishy black tail. And loads of zebras and elephants. The zebras were dusty( ‘coz of the soil) and seemed brownish in color and I felt like running a hose on them. Rueben was in contact with the other drivers on the radio and he must have heard of a lioness with cubs but did not mention anything to us. He suddenly swerved the vehicle about 10 ft into the off-track and stopped suddenly in front of a bush. There was our first lioness! It was so close that initially we could not see it. We were looking for something at a distance. Both AD and I had our telephoto lens on and had no time to change the lens as Rueben explained that he was off the track and might get fined. But we did get to see the mother and her cub who was hiding behind another bush. Back in the lodge, the kids relished their hot chocolate and we enjoyed our drinks, dinner, crocodile feeding and a Samburu dance show. What a great day!

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