At last Africa

Old Nov 20th, 2022, 10:27 AM
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At last Africa

The great African adventure

Africa had been on our bucket list for a very long time. So when I saw our acquaintance James Adams of Natural Selections advertising a trip to Uganda focused on gorillas and birds, we were intrigued. If not now when? And once in Africa what else? The answer turned out to be Kenya and Cape Town.



So our itinerary is:

Nov. 14 - Dec 17

Fly DC to Nairobi via Ethiopian Air

Meet our guide and driver Justubus ((found thru a friend) in Nairobi.

Drive from Nairobi to Ikweta Lodge just outside Meru National Park for 2 nights

Drive from Meru to Samburu for 2 nights at Samburu Sopa lodge

Drive from Samburu to Opajeta (Sweetwater) for 1 night at Serena Tent Camp

Drive from Opajeta to Lake Naivasa for 2 nights

Drive to Masai Mara for 3 nights

Back to Nairobi to fly to Entebbe to begin Gorilla /birds adventure in Uganda.

After 9 nights in Uganda on to

Cape Town for one week.



It was a longgggg 12 hour plus direct flight from DC to Addis Ababa, some layover there and a couple more hours from Addis to Nairobi. All on Ethiopian Air, all went smoothly. I much prefer daytime flights, ours left dc at 10am.



Only customs was a mob scene in Nairobi. Slow. Made somewhat longer by fact that we had an East African rather than Kenya visa. Therefore, We needed an extra stamp at’ entry that required an extra wait.



We were met by our waiting driver at the airport and managed to get a SIM card and hit the ATM despite being brain dead. Driver ferried us to nearby airport hotel Hilton Garden Inn. Heavy security entering there. Ate nice dinner, great food, at hotel restaurant, then slept like the dead till 6 am or so. Delicious expensive breakfast at hotel.



Next am we’re met by our guide and driver for next 9 days - Justus of Justubus.

When we decided to add Kenya to our itinerary, we contacted several safari planners re itinerary and prices. When our friend recommended Justus and he gave us a good price for a fairly standard driving safari in Kenya, we decided to go with him. And he was just great- an excellent guide for all that we wanted: birds, mammals, and Kenyan culture.



It was a long 7 hour drive to Meru, but there was so much to see and learn about on the way- agriculture, village life, govt, politics, and history of Kenya. We never got bored with the drive.



Ikweta Lodge is a small tented ecolodge just 10 rooms just outside Meru National Park. After arrival, a good lunch, and rest, we went out on a late afternoon game drive in the park. It rained on the way, but stopped for our drive. It was a great first outing with constant sightings of new birds for us. Itkweta lodge was an interesting spot. Nicely laid out, but all the grounds were sticky mud, which was impossible to get off boots without a great deal of effort. So we trekked hunks of sticky mud from the dining room to our tent and back again. The lodge was not even half full. We met one of the owners- a Bostonian married to a Kenyan. Dinners, lunches, and breakfasts were all good, fresh food cooked nicely. Service was provided efficiently by quiet and shy locals. We slept well in our zipped up tents, listening occasionally to assorted bird and frog noises.



On day 2 at Meru we did an 8 hour! Game drive back in the park. It was fabulous! The weather cooperated, we saw 4 of The Big Five - missing only the ever elusive leopard - and more than 60 species of birds! Highlights were a beautiful Pygmy falcon eating a lizard, magnificent giraffes, a few running, elephants with babies…… and on.



Next day we bid goodbye to Meru and its sticky mud. Off on another interesting drive from Meru to Samburu. Outside Meru our guide explained the local Khat culture. Locals grow and harvest leaves from the Khat plant. They are chewed to produce a mild high. Since the crop is a money maker, many young people choose to cut and sell Khat instead of attending school. An interesting but sad story.



We go up and over mountains and down to the wide savannah that is Samburu. We leave a mostly Christian region and enter a mostly Muslim one at the town of Isiola. We are traveling the Great Northern Road that starts in Ethiopia and continues all the way south to South Africa. At least the part that we travel is a very good two lane highway.. with very little traffic. Eventually we leave that road and finally arrive at Samburu Park, where we are staying at the largish Samburu Sopa Lodge. We see a lot of great birds and animals on the way.



After a delicious buffet lunch and rest, we are off on a Late afternoon game drive with Justus. It’s a beautiful warm clear evening with a gentle breeze. Perfect for the drive. Again we are overwhelmed by the number and beauty of animals seen- gazelles, giraffes, a jackal, some foxes, several owls, too many birds to name, a small African wild cat, then a race to see a leopard! It was resting near the dry river bed. We watched until it got up and ambled down the river - fantastic! We’re so glad to have come at this time, less than a half dozen other vehicles in this part of Samburu and at the lodge now. The guides were helping each other spot animals via radio of course, but there wasn’t a single animal jam - even for the leopard.



Day 2 at Samburu: We chose to do an all morning game drive rather than a shorter pre breakfast one. So we were out for another 4 hours. Fine weather again and some great sightings: Gravy’s zebra up close- so beautiful, oryx, gerabuks, many giraffes, elephants with babies, some drinking at the river, a group of baboons, including one with what looked to be a newborn, still pink, wart hogs, impalas….. an owl with pink eyelids! More birds, many even new today after the 63 species we’ve seen just in last day or so. Just fantastic. All that followed by a really delicious lunch, this time ordered off the menu - nicely cooked red snapper with great roasted potatoes and gently sautéed mixed veggies. We are routinely wiped out after each safari and meal. We really need some exercise!



Then we were off for another several hours of late afternoon safari. It was a little quieter out there this time but it was very cool to see 2 hoopoes (interesting birds!)

more elephants and giraffes, looked for but did not find a cheetah that had been seen by some other folks, much more, and a genet cat right next to the dining room at dinner. Dinner this night was again very delicious, ordered off menu, no buffet this night as there were very few people staying. Like at Ikweta and Meru, the Sopa lodging at Samburu was considerably under half full, and the parks- lucky for us- were pretty deserted. But all that was about to change when we got to :



Sweetwater Serena tent camp at Ol Pejeta. More people than we’d seen since leaving Nairobi. It’s a beautiful place, albeit more like a large country club- lux tents close together, huge reception/dining hall, lots of amenities. Lots of guests, lots of staff, super service by all. Serena, like Sopa, is a chain. There are other smaller more intimate camps at Ol Pejeta, but we’re on what Ikweta lodge calls “the affordable safari.” (As if). We have come to think of the fly-in to private conservancies safaris, which are surely wonderful, as “the unaffordable safari.” All that said, at the moment we are enjoying seeing elephants, zebras, bush bucks, and waterfowl at a watering hole just beyond our comfortable patio chairs. A rather nice relaxing change from bouncing around the parks in search of animals.



We had a wonderful late afternoon drive at Sweetwater! We had super views of both a cheetah and a mama lion and cubs! So beautiful. Lots of elephants, gazelles, buffalo, hartebeests, and more. Also saw the beautiful cordon blue bird and others. We experienced our first of the trip animal”jam” at the cheetah- we counted 8 vehicles. Had another delicious dinner of too much buffet food in the large nice dining room. You’d think we were on a cruise. There’s that concept of having already paid for the meal - and so many interesting new things to try- so why not? This lodge was doing on the spot made to order stir fries - beef? Veggies? Ginger? Garlic?

And then there were those beautiful desserts…. At least they were small. Can definitely see why people say you gain wait on safari trips.



On to Lake Navaisha tomorrow.
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Old Nov 21st, 2022, 01:25 PM
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I'm so glad you're there and enjoying yourself. I hope the rest of the trip is as wonderful as it has been to this point!
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Old Nov 23rd, 2022, 11:39 AM
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Following along with much interest. You details are appreciated and I hope you’ll be adding some photos.

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Old Nov 24th, 2022, 04:48 AM
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Thanks for following along, all! Here’s more. It’s not so easy to keep up to date on this frenetic schedule- whew!
Ol Pejeta to Maasai Mara

We were up early as usual the next day for a day long drive from Ol Pejeta to Lake Navaisha. Made a pit stop at Thompson Falls, a lovely waterfall with a small park. Some local vendors around: the guy with a strange lizard on a stick, hoping tourist will pay for a picture, the guy in traditional dress of local tribe hoping for same, and and a woman selling jewelry. We tipped the woman who showed us to the very basic toilet and managed to avoid the others.

We passed by another lake, Lake Nakuru, on the way. Saw fish eagles and many, many pelicans and flamingos, as well as a hippo out of the water. It’s an alkaline lake whose water level has fluctuated dramatically over the years. We stopped at the Sopa Nakuru Lodge for lunch on a great porch with a beautiful view of the lake below. Business there was clearly very slow. Only one other table of guests. Nice food again, nicely sautéed Nile perch.

Justus warned us that the drive between Lake Nakuru and Lake Navaisha would be slow - lots of big trucks on two lane road. Wow. That was an adventure itself. Not for the faint of heart. It was amazing to watch Justus and other car drivers weave slightly to right when thinking of passing to check out oncoming traffic and either go for it or weave back in to wait for a better opportunity. It was a constant heavy stream of trucks weaving in and out passing one another just in time on the two lanes. Amazing. Fortunately Justus is a very skilled driver with nerves of steel.

At long last a welcome break. Nice dinner and chat with guide Justus last night with blissful strong hot shower before, Thank you Sopa Navaisha! Yes it’s a chain with 83 bungalows and buffet meals, but beautiful grounds with the lake beyond, great food, and super service by lovely staff. Large Rooms are in two story duplex bungalows with great balconies and patios looking out on the grounds that go out to the lake.

After a leisurely breakfast the next day with good coffee, Justus drove us a bit down the main drag to Sanctuary Farm, where the two us got in a boat with local guide, boatman Nathan, for lovely glide around a bit of Lake Navaisha. Saw Fish eagles, the Great kingfisher (beautiful), pelicans, herons, hippos, and more. He was a good guide. Lovely sunny weather and gentle breeze. Lovely hyacinth water lilies all around. Delightful!

Returned to the lodge for another great buffet lunch, good salads and some onion soup, and of course dessert. Tried a walk on the grounds, but rain started. An employee saw us, came running up and gave us his umbrella. Rain stopped so we went on walk out the long lodge driveway. Spotted some more birds. Noticed soul of my shoe had come loose so asked at desk if they might have glue. She said no, maybe wait for hotel store to open?…. A few minutes later another employee was in hot pursuit, saying he’d bring us some super glue. He arrived, cleaned shoe, gave it some glue, then took it back to office for further attention! May or may not hold, but wonderful of him to try! Most all the service has been like that- super attentive and friendly.

Next day we drove from early am to mid afternoon from Navaisha to Maasai Mara. Another interesting drive. Outside towns/villages most of the two lane roads were in very good condition with almost no traffic. So many goats! So many people, so many motorcycles! We had a minor hassle with park admittance that required some time and patience. Our guide was prepared to pay cash as usual, but now only credit cards would be accepted. Ultimately he arranged with our destination Serena Mara hotel to pay the park admittance and he reimbursed them on arrival at hotel. But all that took about half an hour or more to arrange. Meanwhile we enjoyed watching a beautiful green and purple agama lizard displaying for a nearby female.

Finally from the Mara Triangle Gate to the hotel we had a wonderful initial game drive. Spotted a few lions sleeping, several hundred zebras, elans, gazelles, topics, giraffes, spotted hyenas, and.of course many more birds. Such a wonderful beginning, and the wide open open vistas alone are just stunning.

At last we arrived at the Serena - beautiful large lodging with a fabulous location in the Mara Triangle set up on a hill. Every room has a spectacular view out over the savannah. Looking out today we saw a troop of elephants passing by in the distance. The first thing you notice walking into the lobby is a floor to ceiling window with a panoramic vista of the savannah. Again, the hotel has very few guests. Great for us, sad for them.

After buffet lunch and a way too short rest, we were off again on a game drive - another very successful one! We saw 2 lions eating at a zebra kill, two jackals, and pretty much all the rest of the characters, often in large numbers. Ate dinner and crashed!

Next day (Thanksgiving- we are so thankful to have the opportunity to see some of amazing Africa!). In the am we started with a nice view of a beautiful new bird, the paradise flycatcher. Later Justus was alerted that a leopard had been seen, so we we joined just a few other well behaved vehicles at that sight. Beautiful leopard was draped over a tree limb. A really nice view, got to see him come down from tree as well. Saw lots of hippos in the water, as well as a few crocodiles. Saw a large flocksof swallow on the ground (unusual!). Saw about 30 black headed herons together on the ground (also unusual). Watched as a dozen or so zebras came down to drink at a watering spot. Many eagles of different types, a lilac breasted roller, wart hogs, a veritable herd of zebra in the road in front of us. A really wonderful morning, and more to come later this afternoon after another too short rest.
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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 07:01 AM
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Last days at Mara and in Kenya

Thanksgiving afternoon: After too short a rest we set off again. Great weather and another fabulous drive. Stopped briefly at a site we’d scene earlier in the day that was ongoing…. A group of vultures, a stork, and the cool hammer cop bird had nearly picked a zebra carcass dry. Then we drove fairly quickly in the direction of the Tanzania border. Cheetahs had been sited, so we were off to find them, and so we did! We watched them for quite awhile and took lots of pix. Saw a large group of wildebeests near the Tanzania border. Also a beautiful serval cat. Lots of zebras. Beautiful impalas, topis, gazelles, elephants, ….. and probably more I’ve forgotten, so overwhelmed are we by the diversity of wildlife and the numbers!



More people at the lodge tonight, but still probably only half full. Someone in one-group celebrated an anniversary and a very big deal was made of it. There happened to be a group of Maasai dancers performing this eve, so they danced through and around the anniversary celebrators, followed by the whole staff, one carrying a cake.

Very festive!



Our final drive in the Mara this am. Again so much to see: a cheetah gnawing on a kill (gazelle), 2 male lions together, ultimately drinking at a small watering spot. Later two female lions. A large group of elephants with babies, the secretary bird (that was definitely a target), several jackals, large group of topis with babies, other birds, etc….

No doubt we’ll see more tomorrow on our way from Mara Triangle back to Nairobi.

We are taking this afternoon “off” to just enjoy some down time at the lodge. Visit the store, walk the grounds, sit out on one of the beautiful decks…..



Have a leisurely buffet lunch and then walk the length of the hotel property. Discover a yard of sorts at the one end of the chain of rooms. Check out some birds in the trees there and notice a couple wart hogs in back of one of the rooms, as well as a parade of mongooses scampering by. Walking to the other end of the property we notice a short path up to a viewpoint (as if such a thing would be necessary here!)

A marker at the top says this is where Prince Amyn Aga Kahn decided in 1969 to locate the Serena Hotel (yeah, I can see why). Google says he is the major shareholder of the Serena Hotel chain.



Passing by the pool area we stop and have a nice chat with another American couple - all about what we’ve seen while in the Mara and other travel tales. Later we go to the bar and order gin and tonics (something we never drink), but a brief nod to the departed (well mostly) British. Have a nice final dinner with our friend Justus and crash.



It was hard to say goodbye to the beautiful Maasai Mara this am! It’s just fantastic! We had great weather all 3 days and saw everything we could hope for and more!

And there was still more to see on our way out of the park on our way back to Nairobi!

Two more groups of lions, two cheetahs sitting in plain view, and another Leopard! Wow! Also loved seeing a herd of about 200 buffalo - as well as elephants, a couple jackals, topis……



It was a long drive back to Nairobi - much of it on 2 lane road with no traffic, but the last piece - out of the Rift Valley and up the mountains before Nairobi - was a repeat of drive a few days earlier - many many large trucks- cars and trucks weaving in and out to pass….. Entering Nairobi we had the opportunity to see the size and density of this city of 10 million. And the contrast between the large monied commercial buildings and some of the worst slums. We flew down the newish expressway back to the airport’s Hilton Garden Inn.



We said goodbye to Justus. We’re so glad our friends put us in touch with him. He’s a gem- a great driver, has an eagle eye for spotting mammals and birds, and was just a pleasure to be with!



We have an early flight out tomorrow - we are off to Uganda!
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Old Nov 27th, 2022, 12:42 PM
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I am catching up on your report--very enjoyable! I love Kenya and am glad you had a good time. Looking forward to your Ugandan adventure.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 07:50 PM
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On to uganda!Take the hotel’s shuttle to the airport at 5:30 for our 7:45 flight from Nairobi to Entebbe in Uganda. Make what turned out to be a mistake by telling driver we’re going to Uganda via Kenya Airways. Airport is crazy busy. Driver points us in a direction. We go through security, then realize there’s nothing but Uganda Air in that portal. Guess driver heard only “Uganda.” Ask for more directions and guard leads us back out and points further down for Kenya Air. Go through security again there. Inside, Kenya Air is crazy. The line to check in - even with an online boarding pass and carryon - snakes back and forth for what looks like hours. Though employees are sometimes calling people with approaching flight times out of the long line, it becomes necessary to keep asking/telling whoever we can find that our flight will leave soon, and we won’t make it through that line. Ultimately we are funneled to a short line. But the woman in front of us has only a receipt for her visa, no visa. The patient clerk spends a great deal of time trying to solve that problem. And so it goes on and on. Finally we race to the gate and board the flight at about 8:05. Fortunately for us, but not for the already boarded passengers, the pilot waits for all the late arrivals.



The flight itself is short- just over an hour- and uneventful. Entebbe, smaller of course, is a dream compared to Nairobi. Go through immigration and customs pretty easily, and find Johnnie our guide and driver for next 8 days or so. He’s energetic, enthusiastic, and has a sense of humor. He’ll be great. He drops us off at a really lovely little boutique like hotel, The Boma, kind of a rambling estate of pink stucco buildings, surrounded by beautiful tropical foliage. Was built about 20 years ago, but looks much older, cozy inside with dark wood. Room is quite large with a nice little porch looking out on the yard. We have a great lunch in the small outside dining area - even a beer! Two beautiful salads. We meet the couple who will accompany us for our Uganda days and spend a little time with them looking at birds in the beautiful gardens. See several, including one spectacular one- a double toothed barbet. Watch a black faced vervet monkey on roof nearby eating a stolen ear of corn.



We walk down the road a bit outside the hotel entry gate. It’s a dirt road. There are a few other gated properties and some business establishments. People walking and riding bikes down the dirt road, probably returning from work/school. Our initial impression is that Ugandans are more reserved than Kenyans. No friendly greetings from passerbys, at least on this first dayHave a delicious dinner on the porch of the hotel with our new traveling companions, a well traveled 60ish couple. Exchange lots of travel tales, of course. Both are pretty avid birders and he’s an avid photographer.



Next day we are up and out of the hotel by 6:30 with guide Johnnie in his Toyota Land Cruiser with pop up top. We are racing to get on a car and passenger ferry across an arm of Lake Victoria on our way to get to Mwabama Swamp (to look for the shoebill bird) and then go on to Lake Mburo.



What an experience it was to see this ferry. Small metal shack for tickets. Crowd of Locals lined up on foot and cycles at muddy departure site until time to leave. Then all crowd on and we cross an arm of Lake Victoria. Maybe half hour ferry ride.



A short drive after disembarking we arrive at the Mbama swamp to look for the iconic shoebill bird. Get in wooden dugout boats with motor and guide and boatman.

Delightful slow glide thru narrow channels of papyrus swamp filled with beautiful hyacinth lilies. See lots of water birds and finally a great view of a shoebill. A bit of a jam with a few other boats looking. But just Beautiful.



No rest for the weary, on to Lake Mburo. Stop in school field for picnic box lunch prepped by hotel Boma. Group of shy giggly boys show up to watch us. We give them our leftover food. Stop to look at birds and animals, giraffes, ungulates, and zebras along the the way - a few rain showers here and there. Lodge Rwakobo sits on huge rock with great vista, open air dining room. Small hut like thatched roofed cement rooms spaced widely and named after local animals. We were in Warthog. 5 of us had nice dinner ordered from options, good food again.



Next day we are out early and do safAri like drive in Lake Mburo park - animals and birds. A little rain and a little sun, Back to lodge for lunch and off again to the lake for big boat ride round the lake. Great weather for the ride. Many, many pied kingfishers and African fish eagles as well as great views of lots of hippos and huge crocs. Then back to lodge for dinner on another big porch.



Sleep till 6:30, breakfast, thunderstorms, then off to Bwindi with stops to look at new birds on way. Beautiful scenery, rolling hills of green, lots of bananas, pineapples, and coffee growing. Small brick houses, lots of locals about on the road, on foot and some cycles. Herding goats, carrying produce. All the kids wave. This was a very long drive! 7 hours. Lots to look at as always along the way, but about half the drive was on “the new road, “ not the finished new road, but the barely excavated so far new road. “Usually they’re working on it so you’re not allowed to drive on it,” guide/driver Johnnie says. So he, along with just a few other vehicles and cycles, skillfully negotiates the very rugged rutted unfinished road. The African Massage. We stop and eat another box lunch prepared by the last hotel.



Once in the small village of Bwindi, we continue up another rocky road until we reach The Haven Lodge, a group of 8 or so stucco and brick cottages with sort of fieldstone rooves scattered among dense foliage- all with porches to a spectacular view of the often misty “Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.” It is a very dense forest, but as our guide laughingly said, “not really, because I’ve penetrated it many times.” We’re shown to our cabin, it’s called “”the shoebill.” All are named after Uganda birds here. We kick back for what seems like only seconds, then have dinner on another big outside porch. Only another cabin or two is currently occupied. Talk about tomorrow’s adventure, when at long last we will trek the gorillas. Feel somewhat apprehensive, as I’ve read by now many a story of how difficult the trek can sometimes be- like maybe hours and hours uphill in deep forest….. over vines, roots, etc.



Nevertheless we manage to sleep well and feel cozy under covers in cool mountain air. 6:15 comes too soon. After breakfast we gather our stuff: cameras, phones hats, garden gloves (recommended for safe grabbing of trees and vines when needed to balance and walk in forest). Tuck pant legs into socks to avoid ants that can be a nasty problem. Depart for short drive to the Gorilla Conservation center where we are treated to a welcome dance by local women in traditional dress. We then get an orientation by the ranger - wear a mask to protect gorillas, stay 10 meters away, follow instructions of guide, no flash cameras, whispers only. Next the assembled dozen or so visitors are assigned to groups (max 8). Each group will trek a different gorilla family. Our group of 4, along with another contemporary from Hawaii (remember the woman with the Visa issue at Nairobi airport?) are assigned to trek the 10 member Binyindo group - one silver back, a few other males, females, and a youngster or two. It’s all very well organized. Each group is accompanied by a ranger, two armed guards, and available porters ($20) if desired (and all of us desired!). The armed guards fire into the air to scare off the gorillas should they charge for any reason. Rarely happens since these families are habituated, but…just in case.



Our Binyindo family has been spotted by advance trackers (who go out each am about 7) in an area accessed by an hour drive. And so, we get back in the cruiser with Johnnie and drive to the appointed access point. Within 45 minutes of an uphill climb our ranger has found them! Lucky us! We spend the permitted hour watching/following, and photographing them from the required distance. Everyone is quiet and respectful. The porters and ranger are great- carefully helping us geezers remain vertical and making sure they position us all well for good viewing. Most of the time the gorillas are on the ground, but some of the younger ones climb trees and swing from branches.. We get lots of good views of all, including the silverback, about 30 years old and somewhere between 380 and 400 lbs.



What luck! Great views on a blessedly short trek. We are back at hotel by 12:30 or so to eat our boxed lunch AND THEN DO NOTHING! Also had great luck with the weather in the am, never rained ! As soon as we return to the lodge it POURS briefly. It is, after all, the season of “the short rains,” which tend to happen in the afternoon. Let ‘s hope all that luck continues tomorrow, when we will go out again trekking a different family.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 07:51 PM
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On to Uganda

On to uganda!Take the hotel’s shuttle to the airport at 5:30 for our 7:45 flight from Nairobi to Entebbe in Uganda. Make what turned out to be a mistake by telling driver we’re going to Uganda via Kenya Airways. Airport is crazy busy. Driver points us in a direction. We go through security, then realize there’s nothing but Uganda Air in that portal. Guess driver heard only “Uganda.” Ask for more directions and guard leads us back out and points further down for Kenya Air. Go through security again there. Inside, Kenya Air is crazy. The line to check in - even with an online boarding pass and carryon - snakes back and forth for what looks like hours. Though employees are sometimes calling people with approaching flight times out of the long line, it becomes necessary to keep asking/telling whoever we can find that our flight will leave soon, and we won’t make it through that line. Ultimately we are funneled to a short line. But the woman in front of us has only a receipt for her visa, no visa. The patient clerk spends a great deal of time trying to solve that problem. And so it goes on and on. Finally we race to the gate and board the flight at about 8:05. Fortunately for us, but not for the already boarded passengers, the pilot waits for all the late arrivals.



The flight itself is short- just over an hour- and uneventful. Entebbe, smaller of course, is a dream compared to Nairobi. Go through immigration and customs pretty easily, and find Johnnie our guide and driver for next 8 days or so. He’s energetic, enthusiastic, and has a sense of humor. He’ll be great. He drops us off at a really lovely little boutique like hotel, The Boma, kind of a rambling estate of pink stucco buildings, surrounded by beautiful tropical foliage. Was built about 20 years ago, but looks much older, cozy inside with dark wood. Room is quite large with a nice little porch looking out on the yard. We have a great lunch in the small outside dining area - even a beer! Two beautiful salads. We meet the couple who will accompany us for our Uganda days and spend a little time with them looking at birds in the beautiful gardens. See several, including one spectacular one- a double toothed barbet. Watch a black faced vervet monkey on roof nearby eating a stolen ear of corn.



We walk down the road a bit outside the hotel entry gate. It’s a dirt road. There are a few other gated properties and some business establishments. People walking and riding bikes down the dirt road, probably returning from work/school. Our initial impression is that Ugandans are more reserved than Kenyans. No friendly greetings from passerbys, at least on this first dayHave a delicious dinner on the porch of the hotel with our new traveling companions, a well traveled 60ish couple. Exchange lots of travel tales, of course. Both are pretty avid birders and he’s an avid photographer.



Next day we are up and out of the hotel by 6:30 with guide Johnnie in his Toyota Land Cruiser with pop up top. We are racing to get on a car and passenger ferry across an arm of Lake Victoria on our way to get to Mwabama Swamp (to look for the shoebill bird) and then go on to Lake Mburo.



What an experience it was to see this ferry. Small metal shack for tickets. Crowd of Locals lined up on foot and cycles at muddy departure site until time to leave. Then all crowd on and we cross an arm of Lake Victoria. Maybe half hour ferry ride.



A short drive after disembarking we arrive at the Mbama swamp to look for the iconic shoebill bird. Get in wooden dugout boats with motor and guide and boatman.

Delightful slow glide thru narrow channels of papyrus swamp filled with beautiful hyacinth lilies. See lots of water birds and finally a great view of a shoebill. A bit of a jam with a few other boats looking. But just Beautiful.



No rest for the weary, on to Lake Mburo. Stop in school field for picnic box lunch prepped by hotel Boma. Group of shy giggly boys show up to watch us. We give them our leftover food. Stop to look at birds and animals, giraffes, ungulates, and zebras along the the way - a few rain showers here and there. Lodge Rwakobo sits on huge rock with great vista, open air dining room. Small hut like thatched roofed cement rooms spaced widely and named after local animals. We were in Warthog. 5 of us had nice dinner ordered from options, good food again.



Next day we are out early and do safAri like drive in Lake Mburo park - animals and birds. A little rain and a little sun, Back to lodge for lunch and off again to the lake for big boat ride round the lake. Great weather for the ride. Many, many pied kingfishers and African fish eagles as well as great views of lots of hippos and huge crocs. Then back to lodge for dinner on another big porch.



Sleep till 6:30, breakfast, thunderstorms, then off to Bwindi with stops to look at new birds on way. Beautiful scenery, rolling hills of green, lots of bananas, pineapples, and coffee growing. Small brick houses, lots of locals about on the road, on foot and some cycles. Herding goats, carrying produce. All the kids wave. This was a very long drive! 7 hours. Lots to look at as always along the way, but about half the drive was on “the new road, “ not the finished new road, but the barely excavated so far new road. “Usually they’re working on it so you’re not allowed to drive on it,” guide/driver Johnnie says. So he, along with just a few other vehicles and cycles, skillfully negotiates the very rugged rutted unfinished road. The African Massage. We stop and eat another box lunch prepared by the last hotel.



Once in the small village of Bwindi, we continue up another rocky road until we reach The Haven Lodge, a group of 8 or so stucco and brick cottages with sort of fieldstone rooves scattered among dense foliage- all with porches to a spectacular view of the often misty “Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.” It is a very dense forest, but as our guide laughingly said, “not really, because I’ve penetrated it many times.” We’re shown to our cabin, it’s called “”the shoebill.” All are named after Uganda birds here. We kick back for what seems like only seconds, then have dinner on another big outside porch. Only another cabin or two is currently occupied. Talk about tomorrow’s adventure, when at long last we will trek the gorillas. Feel somewhat apprehensive, as I’ve read by now many a story of how difficult the trek can sometimes be- like maybe hours and hours uphill in deep forest….. over vines, roots, etc.



Nevertheless we manage to sleep well and feel cozy under covers in cool mountain air. 6:15 comes too soon. After breakfast we gather our stuff: cameras, phones hats, garden gloves (recommended for safe grabbing of trees and vines when needed to balance and walk in forest). Tuck pant legs into socks to avoid ants that can be a nasty problem. Depart for short drive to the Gorilla Conservation center where we are treated to a welcome dance by local women in traditional dress. We then get an orientation by the ranger - wear a mask to protect gorillas, stay 10 meters away, follow instructions of guide, no flash cameras, whispers only. Next the assembled dozen or so visitors are assigned to groups (max 8). Each group will trek a different gorilla family. Our group of 4, along with another contemporary from Hawaii (remember the woman with the Visa issue at Nairobi airport?) are assigned to trek the 10 member Binyindo group - one silver back, a few other males, females, and a youngster or two. It’s all very well organized. Each group is accompanied by a ranger, two armed guards, and available porters ($20) if desired (and all of us desired!). The armed guards fire into the air to scare off the gorillas should they charge for any reason. Rarely happens since these families are habituated, but…just in case.



Our Binyindo family has been spotted by advance trackers (who go out each am about 7) in an area accessed by an hour drive. And so, we get back in the cruiser with Johnnie and drive to the appointed access point. Within 45 minutes of an uphill climb our ranger has found them! Lucky us! We spend the permitted hour watching/following, and photographing them from the required distance. Everyone is quiet and respectful. The porters and ranger are great- carefully helping us geezers remain vertical and making sure they position us all well for good viewing. Most of the time the gorillas are on the ground, but some of the younger ones climb trees and swing from branches.. We get lots of good views of all, including the silverback, about 30 years old and somewhere between 380 and 400 lbs.



What luck! Great views on a blessedly short trek. We are back at hotel by 12:30 or so to eat our boxed lunch AND THEN DO NOTHING! Also had great luck with the weather in the am, never rained ! As soon as we return to the lodge it POURS briefly. It is, after all, the season of “the short rains,” which tend to happen in the afternoon. Let ‘s hope all that luck continues tomorrow, when we will go out again trekking a different family.
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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 05:32 AM
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Gorilla trekking, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Chimp Trekking at Kibale Park

Gorilla trekking day 2 was a pretty fortunate repeat of our first day. Once again we assembled at the conservation center for dancing by local people, followed by a good briefing from the ranger. Then we 5 geezers set off to trek a different family- the Habinyanja family- with 13 members including two silverbacks. We had a different but also very good guide (a woman) and our usual porters and guards. We drove to a different forest access point then walked in an open field and then forest for no more than half an hour or so and there were the gorillas moving around. We followed them a bit into a big open field area, where many of them sat down in the grass to eat for quite some time. As it was sunny on this morning, they began to move into bushes on the edge of the field for shade. But again we got lots of great views of them in different positions or walking in the field or staring at us through the bushes. Spent our allotted hour visit with them taking pictures and watching their behavior. After we emerged from the forest to an open area where we tipped everyone in sight and received our second certificate from the Uganda Wildlife Association in commemoration of our trek. Wonderful. Not to mention the open field path on the way back afforded beautiful views of the vistas beyond and below- such green fields of bananas, coffee, and tea.



By this time I’ve come down with the proverbial travel cold, and both of us are pretty ragged out. So after a late lunch back at the lodge we manage to get a little chill time in our room. At dinner Guide Johnnie notes I’m coming down with a cold and insists hotel staff must make me his no fail cure - juice of a lemon, honey, and a small purple onion in A blender. Ginger and garlic optional. Same thing of course befalls one of our travel companions, so he too must take the medicine for the next couple days.



Next day we are up early as usual and then off to Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda’s second largest national park. Another long but interesting drive with a few stops once inside the park to check out birds and animals along the way. We arrive at the Mweya Lodge in time for a late lunch and a very brief break before a 4pm boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, which joins the park’s Lakes George and Edward. The Mweya is a pretty fancy and larger place set up on A hill overlooking the water. But again, Almost no one else staying at the moment. We’re greeted by a wonderful large elephant statue and all the live resident mongeese. Room has a lovely patio with chairs for enjoying lake view, but no time for that.



A minute or two drive takes us down to lake dock and hotel’s own party like tourist : cruise boat. There is a minor scuffle regarding whether guide Johnnie can come along. Ultimately he is flushed by the boat captain who turns out to be a wonderful guide in his own rite. We have a nice 2 hour gentle glide round pArt of the channel - another sunny day, but a gentle breeze on the water. We see lots! Elephants and hyenas on shore. Hippos and crocs and a monitor lizard. Lots of birds: storks, spoonbills, skimmers, terns, gulls, small shore birds, beautiful malachite kingfisher, sea eagles. And, as we’re returning at dusk, swarms of swallows sweeping low over the water collecting the multitude of tiny lake flies. Very lovely.



A hotel employee leads us the 50 yards back to our room from the restaurant after dinner. This is standard in many lodgings, I was thinking - what we’re going to be attacked by mongeese between here and there? ……until we set out the next am for our next location and, barely beyond hotel gate, Johnnie cried out “Lion!” And there he was sitting right on the side of the road. We got a few pix before he stood up and meandered on out of sight.



Weather clouded over and we had a smattering of rain showers as we slowly made our way out of the park. Rain made parts of the dirt road immediately quite slick. Came upon tourist van stopped ahead. Turns out there was a large family of elephants on each side and traversing road in front of us. Happily there was nothing to be done (other than turning around) until the elephants decided to move on. We dared not come between them to pass. So we spent about half an hour just taking close up photos and watching them interact with one another. Mother with baby, some rolling in mud puddle….



It was the usual long day’s journey to our next stop in Kibale National Park. Stopped along the way for the standard box lunch prepared by the last hotel. Always choice of pb and j or ham/cheese sandwich, juice box, apple, banana, cake, sometimes a samosa. Also occasionally stopped when eagle eye Johnnie spots a bird on a wire or farther away at same time that he is negotiating sometimes crazy roads. Amazing!



At last we arrive at lodging for next two nights: Chimpanzee Forest Lodge. It’s another beautifully landscaped property with maybe 10 little cabins scattered across - all with porches and yards overlooking beautiful green fields of tea. This time we’re in “Elephant”. We spend the brief time remaining before dinner sitting on our porch watching wonderful blue turaco birds flying back and forth to the beautiful flame tree in our front yard. Dinners at the last several little lodges have been similar but good. Different soups: onion, carrot, pumpkin, mushroom, followed by a choice of veg or non veg entree (often tilapia) rice or potatoes, dessert of some sort - banana fritters were a fav. The servers,always local people, are so soft spoken we can barely hear them. Johnnie always jokes with them in local language and always manages to get a smile or giggle. He likes to make people laugh.



Next day we are up early as always and have a short drive into Kibale Park to the the chimpanzee center. We passed many, many baboons sitting in the road on the way they are fearless! Similar to the gorilla trekking experience, we receive a good briefing from the ranger. Kibale Forest is considered the monkey capital of the world, as it has 13 varieties of monkeys, as well as chimps. There are two communities of chimps, each containing at least 100 members, though they aren’t always together. There are considerably more visitors here than assembled for the gorillas. Again we’re divided into groups of 6 or so and assigned a guide for the trek. The ranger explains that though the groups will set off trekking in different directions, they may cross paths occasionally as chimps are located. We are just 3 this am since one of our travelling companions wasn’t up for this hike today. Therefore we are joined by a family of 4 from Spain. Our guide is Jessica and she’s full of good info on the forest. There had been rain earlier in the am, so the flat paths were muddy in the spaces among the frequent tree roots. This trek turned into a 3 hour muddy slog with rather little reward. We did see several chimps, but most were very high up in tall trees. At one location several visitor groups converged, and I would say there were probably 30 of us staring up into the trees. All waited for some time to see if the chimps would come down. Well, I wouldn’t, would you? Earlier we had seen one of the alpha males running along the path, but only briefly. The guides were reluctant to give up and head back, understandably hoping to give us all a better opportunity to see the chimps. But that was not to be, so we slogged back. The guide mentioned that the chimps favorite food - figs - weren’t abundant now and therefore chimps were more scattered looking for food and perhaps higher in trees.



After a late lunch back at the lodge and a too short break, we went out walking on the beautiful grounds of the lodge, admiring birds and plants. Discovered there was an area on the grounds set aside for camping! Currently occupied by 3 French couples (looked to be our contemporaries!), each with a small tent. Johnnie chatted with their guide, who was from Malawi. He was doing some cooking over an open fire. We were even more glad not to be among them when there was a big thunderstorm an hour later!



We five had our last dinner of the trip together and toasted our successful journey!

Said goodbye to another gorgeous Uganda site and set off early next day For Entebbe. The two of us were dropped off first at our Entebbe lodging for the night- the indeed precious Precious Guest House. They welcomed all 5 of us to eat our box lunch in their outside dining area. We got our new hosts to take a picture of our little band of travelers and guide, said goodbyes, made promises to stay in touch, and off they went to the airport for their flight back to the US. We checked into our cozy little room with porch and kicked back. The Guest house has about 6 separate cottages/rooms - close together - on its smaller, walled in, but equally lovely tropical grounds. It’s located just 3 miles from the airport. We have some conversation with young woman staff member, who again speaks so softly we can barely hear her. We order dinner for later. There is only one other couple at dinner. We split a huge veg salad with avocados from trees on the property. More tilapia - this time grilled with a tomato caper sauce. A pile of quite delicious French fries. We watch a bit of the Spain/Morocco World Cup match on the nearby TV and crash early. By now husband has come down with the cold as well.



Next am we hear that our flight back to Nairobi has been delayed a couple hours. Not a problem. All just as well because after we finish breakfast there’s another thunderstorm. Hotel gets us a taxi to airport. We go thru security 3 times! When entering airport grounds we are asked to get out of the taxi and step into a little office where we walk thru a metal detector. Then when entering airport building, we and all our luggage were scanned. THEN after dropping bags at airline check in, our carry ones were again scanned before the gate. It was all done smoothly fortunately and crowds were sparse.



Short flight back to Nairobi was uneventful. Even the female pilot’s voice was soft!

Our ride arranged by our airport hotel was not in evidence outside as hoped. Another driver standing nearby waiting for other passengers took up our cause, called the number we had for the hotel, and determined he was at another exit point. That snaffu was probably due to fact that those of us coming from Uganda had to go through a separate outside health checkpoint with a completed health form saying we hadn’t had any Ebola symptoms, handled any dead bodies etc…. Some folks had temps taken, but not us, who knows why. All that may have funneled us out a different exit than normal.. all that-was sorted quickly thanks to the kindness of that local bystander, and we were picked up and delivered back to airport hotel for a one night stay….. and then …. Tomorrow…. Off to Cape Town for a week!





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Old Dec 15th, 2022, 09:02 AM
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Great TR! I am exhausted just reading all you have done--good for you.
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Old Dec 16th, 2022, 04:51 AM
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Cape Town



It was always hard for us to imagine that our direct flight on Kenya Air would be 5 1/2 hours. A reminder of how huge Africa is. 5 1/2 hours without a video screen or power source. Note to self: when buying airlines tix check on plane to be used. Rather surprising that plane for this long flight was so dinky. 2 and 3 seats across, narrowest of aisles…. Lots of families, so kids up and down aisles to limited bathrooms,squeezing past flight attendants wheeling drink carts…. So crazy as to be funny really. But somehow we all got where we wanted to go!



Entering South Africa was done in record time. Late on a Friday eve there were very few flights coming in. Despite Ebola In Uganda, we weren’t required to complete any forms re Ebola or show Covid vax form even as we had been asked for upon entering both Kenya and Uganda. Instead “how long are you staying?” Then stamp, stamp. No visa required for US citizens. Through Immigration and customs in about 10 minutes, a record. Taxi driver arranged by our Cape Town lodging was waiting. Had time to hit the ATM and get some Rands. Driver gave us lots of CT info as we drove into town. Eg. He said CT has an unemployment rate of 40%. I see that Wikipedia says 23% - but whichever- extremely high. After a short ride he delivers us to the main location of our hosts- the Purple House inn, where we’re met by our host Henk and his partner Guido. Check in with them there, and then they help us carry bags around corner to our cool little apt on the ground level of an old restored bldg. We are in the De Waterkant neighborhood of CT. Colorful renovated town houses on cobbled hilly streets fast becoming city’s hip and gay nabe. Lots of restaurants in walking distance. Most houses, including ours, have roof space with seating areas and plunge pools. Looking out you can see activity on many roofs - and beyond- the famous view of Table Mountain - or the Atlantic Ocean.



After a great long sleep in our comfortable new space, we stroll down the street a couple blocks to The Charles Cafe, recommended by our hosts. Order delicious French pressed coffee, terrific French toast, and eggs Benedict. Spend the day getting lay of land/organized- find nearby grocery store for a few breakfast supplies and phone store for SA SIM card. Later, still feeling lazy, we take another host recommendation and go round the corner for Vietnamese carry out - pho, a noodle dish, and some dumplings. Consume in our little kitchen and crash.



Laze around next morning drinking coffee as usual. Have bought 2 days worth of Hop on Hop off City Sightseeing bus, so walk down to Waterfront stop and hop on! We love riding on open air top deck so much that we ride both of bus’s routes for several hours - seeing lots of city center areas, as well as fabulous coastal areas of Camps Bay, Houts Bay, and more. Returning to Waterfront, we schmooze just one of its many big shopping/dining spaces. Later we walk down several blocks for a really nice dinner at the recommended Il Mastrantonio. A charming small place with buzz, lovely service, and great Italian food.



Next day is a Sunday and purported to be cloudy, with rain possible. Decide to walk to Waterfront, catch beloved hop on, hop off bus and get off at Cape Town’s botanical gardens - Kirstenbosch Gardens. Interesting drive there as usual. Passing some of the beautiful vineyard countryside of Constantia, a suburb and wine area nearest city. The gardens are stunning, mostly because of their dramatic setting against the mountains. Because it’s a Sunday there are many families and friend groups out for picnics on the grounds. It appears that some may be settling in for a concert later in the evening. All very chill and congenial. We cover most of the territory- generally uphill. It’s the beginning of summer here and many flowers have finished blooming. Still we see jacaranda, some protea and lots of interesting succulents, and beautiful trees. Catch a glimpse of the long tailed sugarbird the gardens are known for. See some lizards of course and a local snake: the boom slang - 2 of those in fact. Cruise the lovely museum store, have lunch in nice outside cafe, where the food is, natch, delicious. Hop back on bus for ride back to town. Realize most restaurants in our nabe are closed on Sunday night. Too tired to go further afield, we stroll down to the one always open - The Manhattan Club, essentially a gay bar/cafe. Very lively place inside and out with eclectic clientele. Servers yelling to each other across room. Loudish music. Food’s still good of course.



We have bought an advance ticket to ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. It’s good for 7 days. But which day to go? It is often closed due to high winds and/or low visibility. Weather can be one thing down in CT, but something else altogether on top of the rock. It’s looking good and open for biz this Monday am so we call an Uber (amazingly cheap here). Lots of other people have same idea of course, some with advance tix and some without. Stand in ticketed line for maybe half an hour. Have a nice chat with South African guy (now living in Auckland) about our travels. He hypes touring SA’s wineries. Finally we’re in the car- all 60+ of us. It has one open -window- the others glassed in, but it revolves as it ascends the 4 mins to the top. Of course, it’s wonderful on way up and even more so when we reach the top. Visibility is “good,”. We walk all around the paths on the top, checking out interesting vegetation, lizards, and a few birds. The 360 degree views are fabulous - crags down to beautiful sea, some white sand beaches…. Some people do take a very steep trail and walk up and/0r down.



Uber back home. Sky and weather forecast look grim. And indeed when we get back home there’s a brief thunderstorm with rain. Boy, did we luck out! Take the opportunity to do some laundry in the machines on lower bldg level- shared by 3 apts.

later go up on our roof deck, admire the view, and chat with young German couple who are dipping in small roof plunge pool. Decide to walk few blocks in a new direction to restaurant called Utopia on 15th floor of one of the very few high rise bldgs in our nabe. Once there we find that inside is totally booked (a Monday night!). So we agree to sit outside. Big mistake. Apparently there are a couple big celebs going on this night inside - only a few smokers, and another couple or two come outside. Busyness inside means we get mostly ignored outside. But the view is gorgeous till sundown (when the sky turns black and ominous looking and temp drops). There is some serious people watching to do. Just when we’re starting to get annoyed with slow service and leave, food shows up and…. Of course…. It’s great. We get an apology or two from a few managers. Fortunately, despite dark skies, it never did rain. At some point while waiting endlessly for food, we asked server. “ so what happens if it rains?.” (No apparent space inside). He laughed and said, “it’s good to have a plan.” Indeed.



Next day we were off to Robben Island by ferry to see where Nelson Mandela spent 13 years. Bought ticket on line and walked down to ferry dock at Waterfront. Lined up for a bit and then we were off. Ferry ride was about half hour. Total tour time around 3 1/2 hours. Someone spotted what we all thought was a whale tail or two on three on them way over to the island. .Once on the island all are herded onto waiting buses, each with a guide. The buses transport visitors around the island, stopping several times at notable sites, a church, a cemetery, the quarry where Mandela and others were often forced to work, and lastly the cell block. We really enjoyed the commentary by our bus guide. Heard about the various groups who had been isolated here over the years- not only political prisoners, but also criminals and people with leprosy. Appreciated the way he started and created a sense of community among us - finding out what countries all riders were from and then weaving into his commentary the ways in which each of those countries had contributed, in some way, to help end apartheid in SA. He was a very good story teller…. Toward the end of the tour we were left with just ‘a short walk to the cell block, where we were met by another guide - this one a man who had actually been imprisoned there for five years - 1979- 1983. He was most interested in telling about the difference and tension between prisoners who arrived in the 60s and those, like him, who arrived in prison’s later years. The earlier residents believed in trying to improve prison conditions diplomatically/peacefully, the latter ones believed in more confrontation. Both guides had met Mandela.



Disembarking from our Robben Island cruise we came upon a huge store I’d read about: African Trading Port - 3 or 4 floors of African crafts/arts, housed in a beautiful old? building. Didn’t buy much, but had fun looking…. Walked back “home.” Decided to try another of neighborhood restaurants from our host’s list: Tagine, a few blocks down the hill from home, in fact next to the Italian restaurant we’d tried a few nights earlier. It’s a large open to street space - definitely in need of our business. Only a couple other of the many tables were occupied. They were delighted to have us. Rather than Tagine, we had a few small plates: hummus and delicious pita, a mild local white fish called King Klip, lamb kefta, and roasted cauliflower. All great as usual.. I’ve taken to ordering a glass of Pinotage wine since it’s unique to South Africa. Husband is working his way through the SA beers on offer. As usual the bill for a fair amount of great food and a couple rounds of drinks plus tips comes to no more than $50.



Next day we’ve bought advance tickets to do the hop on hop off bus company’s day long tour of the whole peninsula. More private tours are available of course, but we so like the ride and efficiency of this company - and the price- we sign on. Unlike the other”topless” tours, this bus is a big closed coach with large windows. Had read on line a strategy for getting best seats- request pick up at stops that precede the big popular one at Waterfront. So rather than walk to Waterfront, we call cheap Uber to take us to Greenpoint Lighthouse stop. Waiting there allows us to take in some beachfront lodging and early am action- joggers, bikers, walkers along lovely green path between beach road and beach itself. Beautiful palm trees line the road. Sure enough along comes our bus exactly at appointed time, 9:16. And sure enough we get very front top seats with wide expanse of unobstructed window facing us. Wonderful view. Comfortable seats too. And onboard Wi-Fi. And sure enough a pile of others get on at next stop- Waterfront. Our guide for the day is Charles, and he does a very good job of laying out precisely how the tour will proceed, what we can expect, what options are, and providing good commentary along the way. Love the coastal ride once again, this time down the east coast and through the nice little towns of Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simon’s Town. We stop at Boulders Beach where there is a resident colony of African penguins. Opt not to buy extra ticket to view and hear penguin commentary in enclosed sanctuary area. Have been advised that there are usually a bunch of penguins standing around in the corner of the beach itself, and so there are. We’ve seen penguins before in Patagonia and in New Zealand. But we take photos as these are our first African penguins! Those like us on bus who wish to have lunch at beach restaurant called the Seaforth do so. Share table outside with another mid aged couple on tour, nice couple from Durban who are, rather surprisingly to us, on their first trip to Cape Town. Have great fish cakes and fish and chips…. Then we are back on the bus and off to next stop Cape Point. We are advised to take short very up hill walk to a no longer functioning light house, where of course there are yet more fantastic views of the coast to photo.. Back down again to meet guide Charles and others on our tour interested in taking the 45 minute hike from the Point to the Cape of Good Hope. The way out to Hope is pretty easy, mostly flat, even some boardwalk. The way down on the other side is a little dicier, some rather steep step down on rocks etc. But, clad in our hiking boots, we manage. Younger folks in flip flops passing us by 🙂 - so we can take touristy photo of ourselves at sign denoting the most southwesterly point of the African continent. Still feeling those quads and hips a couple days later…. Our bus is fortunately waiting for us hikers on road on other side, already loaded with those who chose to be driven to bottom of Hope rather than walking out on top. We see a couple of ostriches - male and female as we are driving in park, which is a beautiful wide expanse of savannah cut by just the road we’re on. Nice ride back to town with great new views of city itself. We are back at Waterfront stop at 5:30 , precisely as advertised. Manage to walk back home.. chill and shower till our 8pm reservation at Osteria Tarantino Restaurant, just a few blocks down our street. This little Italian restaurant came highly recommended as serving some of best food outside Italy. Cozy with only about 10 tables. Chalkboard menus of anti pastas, pastas, a few mains- mostly veal, and a few desserts. On advice of very hands-on owner Enrico we share Tuscan cigars (prosciutto rolled around cheese and arugula), followed by 4Ps pasta (pappardelle pasta, porcini mushrooms, parmigiana, and pancetta), followed by veal with mushrooms, followed by desserts: affogato and chocolate salame, which turned out to be an interesting cold cake like slice with almonds - which did, in fact, resemble a slice of salami. A great little place indeed.



After dinner we went up on the roof of “our house” briefly as it would be our last sleep at 106 Waterkant. Just wanted a last night view over the city! Next day we lingered over coffee, scarfed down remaining breakfast food and packed up. At 11 we rolled our luggage just round the corner to The Grey Hotel. 106 Waterkant was only available Dec 8-15, so we had an extra night to arrange before our flight home.

Had thought about finding a room by the ocean or maybe at a wine estate outside of town, but in end felt like we wanted another day in town, so Grey had availability and was easy. It’s a funky little boutique place better known for its Sky and Piano Bars than for its lodging. Later we discovered why. We left our bags in storage there for later check in and walked back down to Waterfront to really give it its due. Sunny, hot, beautiful clear day. Walked around Silo Distict - huge old grain silo that has now been rehabbed and expanded into fancy hotel and restaurant. Perused the lovely store of the Zeitz Modern Art Museum. Didn’t do museum itself. Sat and listened to some of many buskers who perform at Waterfront. Got a panini and smoothie from a Food Market vendor and sat outside to eat. Shopped around in some of stores. Returned back to our nabe and new hotel. We’re delighted to find they’d moved our bags into our small but nice room. Hotel is a mostly old building rehabbed, narrow hallways, high ceilings, a few small open courtyards, tiled floors. Shabby chic decor. Enjoy great shower in possibly smallest bathroom ever, then walk back down a few blocks for another meal at Tagine. But first a stop at last night’s restaurant where they were fortunately holding the sweater I’d left on back of my chair. At Tagine have some really good Fattousch (Mediterranean bread salad) this time along with some prawns, crispy potatoes and the King Klip fish we’d really liked before. The nice staff was delighted to see us again. They were only slightly more busy than on our previous visit.



Returned to hotel and took narrow winding staircase up to The Sky Bar on roof check it out. Only a small lighted plunge pool and a handful of occupied tables there. Turned right around and exited by a different less treacherous staircase, passing the Piano Bar, which was rocking with live music and a crowd. Not up to that, we retired to our room, where we could easily hear all the music in any case. Though quite loud, it was at least good jazz. And “only” went on till midnight. They have live music 7 nights a week. Not sure why we never heard it on Waterkant street just round the corner….. rest of night was quiet though, so we slept well.



Next day we walked round the corner to the Charles Cafe where we’d had great coffee and breakfast on our first morning. Had their amazing French toast on croissant. Hotel checkout was at noon, and our long flight home isn’t till 8:55pm (16 hours nonstop on United yikes), so our plan was to leave luggage and Uber out to Heart Museum, a place that had been touted by tour guides, where Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant. Sounded like an interesting tour and something different …. But tried calling there to no avail. Hotel employee finally determined that museum was closed because this day is a national holiday. Turns out today is National Reconciliation Day. Obviously we hadn’t heard a word about it…. Researching the holiday, Wikipedia has this to say about this holiday that was originally a religious holiday of sorts dating back to colonial times….



“ The day gained additional significance in 1961, when the military wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), chose the date to begin an armed conflict against the ruling government’s policy of apartheid. After the first democratically elected government was established in South Africa in 1994, the holiday was officially renamed the Day of Reconciliation. The holiday is now meant to foster a sense of national unity and racial harmony.”



But not much seems to happen to commemorate the day. Could be folks aren’t feeling reconciled? Hotel staff says if anything festive is going on, it would be down at the Waterfront, but we have been there and done that now.



Add to the closed museums, our first fully rainy day! So we are ending our wonderful month long trip here in the Grey Hotel lobby (having had to check out at 12), catching up on correspondence etc, awaiting our taxi to airport in a few hours for the loooonnnngggg flight home.



So very glad we braved COVID, Ebola, airline woes, etc etc to do this wonderful trip - while we’re still able to negotiate hilly cobblestone streets, bouncing safari land rovers, rocky climbs, hotels with loud music and lonnnnggggg cramped flights!!

For sure, it was all worthwhile. So very glad we got to experience some of all that Africa has to offer!
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 06:02 AM
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Your African journey filled many of my morning coffee times.

We only had a short couple of weeks in that beautiful country in Sept. 2022 but would love to return in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to describe your adventures in detail.
These trip reports on Fodors are a big part of what this site is all about.
You made us feel like we were right along with you.

Any chance you will post some photos?
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Old Dec 23rd, 2022, 10:36 AM
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Here are some photos. Not labeled, but in order first from Kenya, then when they become green and lush- Uganda, and lastly Cape Town.

Kenya, Uganda, and Cape Town photos
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Old Dec 27th, 2022, 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by glover View Post
The great African adventure

Africa had been on our bucket list for a very long time. So when I saw our acquaintance James Adams of Natural Selections advertising a trip to Uganda focused on gorillas and birds, we were intrigued. If not now when? And once in Africa what else? The answer turned out to be Kenya and Cape Town.



So our itinerary is:

Nov. 14 - Dec 17

Fly DC to Nairobi via Ethiopian Air

Meet our guide and driver Justubus ((found thru a friend) in Nairobi.

Drive from Nairobi to Ikweta Lodge just outside Meru National Park for 2 nights

Drive from Meru to Samburu for 2 nights at Samburu Sopa lodge

Drive from Samburu to Opajeta (Sweetwater) for 1 night at Serena Tent Camp

Drive from Opajeta to Lake Naivasa for 2 nights

Drive to Masai Mara for 3 nights

Back to Nairobi to fly to Entebbe to begin Gorilla /birds adventure in Uganda.

After 9 nights in Uganda on to

Cape Town for one week.



It was a longgggg 12 hour plus direct flight from DC to Addis Ababa, some layover there and a couple more hours from Addis to Nairobi. All on Ethiopian Air, all went smoothly. I much prefer daytime flights, ours left dc at 10am.



Only customs was a mob scene in Nairobi. Slow. Made somewhat longer by fact that we had an East African rather than Kenya visa. Therefore, We needed an extra stamp at’ entry that required an extra wait.



We were met by our waiting driver at the airport and managed to get a SIM card and hit the ATM despite being brain dead. Driver ferried us to nearby airport hotel Hilton Garden Inn. Heavy security entering there. Ate nice dinner, great food, at hotel restaurant, then slept like the dead till 6 am or so. Delicious expensive breakfast at hotel.



Next am we’re met by our guide and driver for next 9 days - Justus of Justubus.

When we decided to add Kenya to our itinerary, we contacted several safari planners re itinerary and prices. When our friend recommended Justus and he gave us a good price for a fairly standard driving safari in Kenya, we decided to go with him. And he was just great- an excellent guide for all that we wanted: birds, mammals, and Kenyan culture.



It was a long 7 hour drive to Meru, but there was so much to see and learn about on the way- agriculture, village life, govt, politics, and history of Kenya. We never got bored with the drive.



Ikweta Lodge is a small tented ecolodge just 10 rooms just outside Meru National Park. After arrival, a good lunch, and rest, we went out on a late afternoon game drive in the park. It rained on the way, but stopped for our drive. It was a great first outing with constant sightings of new birds for us. Itkweta lodge was an interesting spot. Nicely laid out, but all the grounds were sticky mud, which was impossible to get off boots without a great deal of effort. So we trekked hunks of sticky mud from the dining room to our tent and back again. The lodge was not even half full. We met one of the owners- a Bostonian married to a Kenyan. Dinners, lunches, and breakfasts were all good, fresh food cooked nicely. Service was provided efficiently by quiet and shy locals. We slept well in our zipped up tents, listening occasionally to assorted bird and frog noises.



On day 2 at Meru we did an 8 hour! Game drive back in the park. It was fabulous! The weather cooperated, we saw 4 of The Big Five - missing only the ever elusive leopard - and more than 60 species of birds! Highlights were a beautiful Pygmy falcon eating a lizard, magnificent giraffes, a few running, elephants with babies…… and on.



Next day we bid goodbye to Meru and its sticky mud. Off on another interesting drive from Meru to Samburu. Outside Meru our guide explained the local Khat culture. Locals grow and harvest leaves from the Khat plant. They are chewed to produce a mild high. Since the crop is a money maker, many young people choose to cut and sell Khat instead of attending school. An interesting but sad story.



We go up and over mountains and down to the wide savannah that is Samburu. We leave a mostly Christian region and enter a mostly Muslim one at the town of Isiola. We are traveling the Great Northern Road that starts in Ethiopia and continues all the way south to South Africa. At least the part that we travel is a very good two lane highway.. with very little traffic. Eventually we leave that road and finally arrive at Samburu Park, where we are staying at the largish Samburu Sopa Lodge. We see a lot of great birds and animals on the way.



After a delicious buffet lunch and rest, we are off on a Late afternoon game drive with Justus. It’s a beautiful warm clear evening with a gentle breeze. Perfect for the drive. Again we are overwhelmed by the number and beauty of animals seen- gazelles, giraffes, a jackal, some foxes, several owls, too many birds to name, a small African wild cat, then a race to see a leopard! It was resting near the dry river bed. We watched until it got up and ambled down the river - fantastic! We’re so glad to have come at this time, less than a half dozen other vehicles in this part of Samburu and at the lodge now. The guides were helping each other spot animals via radio of course, but there wasn’t a single animal jam - even for the leopard.



Day 2 at Samburu: We chose to do an all morning game drive rather than a shorter pre breakfast one. So we were out for another 4 hours. Fine weather again and some great sightings: Gravy’s zebra up close- so beautiful, oryx, gerabuks, many giraffes, elephants with babies, some drinking at the river, a group of baboons, including one with what looked to be a newborn, still pink, wart hogs, impalas….. an owl with pink eyelids! More birds, many even new today after the 63 species we’ve seen just in last day or so. Just fantastic. All that followed by a really delicious lunch, this time ordered off the menu - nicely cooked red snapper with great roasted potatoes and gently sautéed mixed veggies. We are routinely wiped out after each safari and meal. We really need some exercise!



Then we were off for another several hours of late afternoon safari. It was a little quieter out there this time but it was very cool to see 2 hoopoes (interesting birds!)

more elephants and giraffes, looked for but did not find a cheetah that had been seen by some other folks, much more, and a genet cat right next to the dining room at dinner. Dinner this night was again very delicious, ordered off menu, no buffet this night as there were very few people staying. Like at Ikweta and Meru, the Sopa lodging at Samburu was considerably under half full, and the parks- lucky for us- were pretty deserted. But all that was about to change when we got to :



Sweetwater Serena tent camp at Ol Pejeta. More people than we’d seen since leaving Nairobi. It’s a beautiful place, albeit more like a large country club- lux tents close together, huge reception/dining hall, lots of amenities. Lots of guests, lots of staff, super service by all. Serena, like Sopa, is a chain. There are other smaller more intimate camps at Ol Pejeta, but we’re on what Ikweta lodge calls “the affordable safari.” (As if). We have come to think of the fly-in to private conservancies safaris, which are surely wonderful, as “the unaffordable safari.” All that said, at the moment we are enjoying seeing elephants, zebras, bush bucks, and waterfowl at a watering hole just beyond our comfortable patio chairs. A rather nice relaxing change from bouncing around the parks in search of animals.



We had a wonderful late afternoon drive at Sweetwater! We had super views of both a cheetah and a mama lion and cubs! So beautiful. Lots of elephants, gazelles, buffalo, hartebeests, and more. Also saw the beautiful cordon blue bird and others. We experienced our first of the trip animal”jam” at the cheetah- we counted 8 vehicles. Had another delicious dinner of too much buffet food in the large nice dining room. You’d think we were on a cruise. There’s that concept of having already paid for the meal - and so many interesting new things to try- so why not? This lodge was doing on the spot made to order stir fries - beef? Veggies? Ginger? Garlic?

And then there were those beautiful desserts…. At least they were small. Can definitely see why people say you gain wait on safari trips.



On to Lake Navaisha tomorrow.
What a wonderful trip, hopefully in the future I will also be able to do that route!
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