Just back from Kenya-FANTASTIC!

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Nov 5th, 2001, 06:32 AM
  #1
chris
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Just back from Kenya-FANTASTIC!

Just returned from our first Safari. Everything was wonderful, people were friendly and very accomodating everywhere we went, and I did not feel unsafe at all, even in Nairobi. I am so glad we did not cancel this much anticipated holiday. Tourism is definitely down as all the lodges were only 1/3-1/2 full. Great for us, not so great for all the Kenyans who depend on tourism jobs. One American group I met told me that 27 of the 38 in their group canceled. What a shame.

We visited-
Amboseli-stayed at Amboseli Serena Lodge
Lake Nakuru-Sarova Lion Lodge (Leonardo di Caprio was there just 4 days before us)
Mt. Kenya National Park-Serena Mountain Lodge
Samburu-Samburu Serena Lodge
Masai Mara-Siana Springs Tented Camp

Every place we visited was very special and unique for what it had to offer. We enjoyed all the lodges. We were glad we had a combination driving/flying safari. We flew Nariobi-Amboseli-Nariobi, drove Nariobi-Lake Nakuru-Mt. Kenya-Samburu-Nanyuki, flew Nanyuki-Masai Mara-Nariobi.

Yes, it did rain (only a few days and usually only before late afternoon game drive time). Yes, we think a 4WD vehicle is necessary in the Mara during rainy season (not so much in the other parks). Yes, we saw lots of animals. Yes, the roads are that BAD (especially north of Isiolo to Samburu).

We had a mini-van with the pop up for the portions that we drove (Nakuru, Mt. Kenya, Samburu) and since we flew to Amboseli and Masai Mara we were picked up by the lodges and were given game drives by the lodges in the lodge vehicles-Land Rovers which was really needed in the mud of the Mara.

I will post more once I have recovered from the journey home.
 
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Nov 5th, 2001, 08:29 AM
  #2
Thyra
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Thanks for the post Chris!!! We are going to Kenya in April...and I can't wait. What company did your safari, if you don't mind my asking???
 
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Nov 5th, 2001, 09:45 PM
  #3
chris
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Thyra, after a lot of research using the internet and referencing a few guidebooks I decided which Parks I wanted to visit, which Lodges/Camps I wanted to stay in, and how I wanted to get there. I then emailed directly a few chosen Tour Operators with my desired itinerary (all based in Nairobi as it was important to me to keep as much money in Kenya as possible). Out of all the replies Let's Go Travel was the most satisfactory and most responsive to all my inquiries (Let's Go Travel is recommended by Lonely Planet and other guide books www.letsgosafari.com). I will say now though that most other people we talked to on Safari were just as satisfied with the companies they used too. But I think we saved quite a bit of money with Let's Go.

Another important factor is since this was a customized itinerary it was a private tour. We were the only 2 people in the vehicles (only one other time at a Lodge did we share the Land Rover with another couple during a game drive). I think this was a very important factor in our comfort and enjoyment. So many other vehicles we saw 6-8 people per mini-van. I think 4 should be the maximum.

For this private Safari We paid $1960 per person for our 9 day trip. This included all our lodging, all airport/lodge transfers, driving tour of Nairobi to Karen Blixen Museum and Giraffe Center, all 4 internal flights, Park entrance fees, meals while on safari, driver/guides, visa fees, taxes, etc.

Our Let's Go driver for the Nakuru-Mt. Kenya-Samburu portion admittedly wasn't the best of the trip (we found the Lodge drivers to much better and more informative-another reason to fly into some of your destinations) but he was ok, and we didn't need him at Mt. Kenya anyway as Mountain Lodge is a "Treelodge" with waterhole viewing.

I am also glad that we did the combination driving/flying because we saw so much of the "real" Kenya while driving and yes even the terrible roads are part of the experience-but trips between Parks are very long and tiring, and when you drive you lose a lot of valuable time. So for us the combination of Flying/Driving Safari helped us keep our costs down, see more of what we wanted to see and a compromise to save some money.
 
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Nov 5th, 2001, 10:30 PM
  #4
chris
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Our Safari was what I would consider a midrange-luxury tour. All the Lodges were top-notch. We really liked the 3 Serena properties we stayed at. Serena's staff were the best and the food was quite good. The Amboseli and Samburu Properties were really luxurious, while Serena's has just taken over Mountain Lodge and is now undergoing needed improvements and updating-but service and food were excellent and we had private bathrooms, rooms are just a little dated. We like the bunker they had that allowed you to get close to the waterhole.

Siana Springs Camp is about a 20 minute drive outside the Masai Mara Gate. This luxury tented camp is "old Africa" rather then "designer Africa" (a wonderful and adequate description borrowed from another post), very comfortable beds, lots of hot water, wonderful service and the best food of our trip. What really made this place was Robert the Camp guide/driver. Even though this camp is outside the Reserve there are still lots of animals around since the Mara is unfenced. It was also nice driving past all the Masai Manyattas on our way to/from the Reserve. We saw lots of local Masai activity (young boys poking sticks at a recent lion kill not far from the Camp, women repairing their roofs with cow dung and milking the cows, lots of Masai herders). The extra drive also extended each game drive by an hour. But the road was brutal. I won't ever forget showing a group of Masai Warriors some video of lions (one who was named Simba) while waiting for our flight to Nairobi at the Camp airstrip!
 
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Nov 6th, 2001, 06:22 AM
  #5
Ursula
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Chris hello and GrŁezi!
Welcome back home in Switzerland.

Enjoyed reading your nice trip report.

Just one little question: Did YOU bring this cold weather over here? ;-)
 
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Nov 6th, 2001, 10:40 PM
  #6
chris
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Our itinerary:
Day 1: arrived Nairobi early morning KLM flight from Amsterdam, met by driver and transferred to Hotel Boulevard where we were able to check in right away-thank goodness. Rested in the morning and taken by driver in the Afternoon to Karen Blixen Museum and the Giraffe Center, an enjoyable afternoon. started to rain very heavily so decided to eat at the Hotel. Hotel Boulevard is a good alternative for those who don't wish to spend 3-4 times the price. Nice lounge areas, clean, comfortable, pool and bar, internet service,restaurant, secure, just down the road from the Norfolk.

Day 2-picked up by driver and early morning flight to Amboseli. Picked up by Lodge, taken on mid-afternoon Game Drive-lots of Elephants and plains animals. Late afternoon game drive saw lots more elephants and a pride of 6 lions with 3 cubs. We were invited to the Bush Dinner, where I was presented with a birthday cake by the Maasai Dancers-what a surprise! The Tour Operator must have told them this trip was for my 30th birthday.

Day 3-early flight back to Nairobi, fun watching herds of elephants marching close to the runway. Met in Nairobi by Let's Go Driver and drive 4 hours to Lake Nakuru with stops at a Rift Valley lookout (stunning with very expensive gift shops) and a carving shop near Naviasha (good quality work-I bargained hard and got a decent price on a beautiful piece). The flamingos were at Lake Nakuru!!! Nothing can prepare you for seeing a hundred thousand flamingos rimming pink this Lake. late afternoon game drive was raining and quite chilly but successful. We had close encounters with 2 leopards, 1 male lion, and saw 10 white rhino. incidently, This is the only place we saw rhino.
 
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Nov 6th, 2001, 11:32 PM
  #7
chris
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Day 4-another early start, 3-hour drive to Mt. Kenya National Park with stop at the Equator and Thomson Falls (relentlessly hounded here by shop owners and costumed Kikiyu Tribesmen so couldn't really enjoy the Falls anyway). Arrived at Mountain Lodge right before lunch-they gave us one of their best rooms with large picture window overlooking waterhole. We were perfectly happy not to have to drive the rest of the day and were entertained by 40 buffalos and 18 elephants at one time, they stayed for 3 hours. Also saw lots of genets, waterbuck, warthogs, pesky Sykes Monkeys, mongoose. It was great having time to really observe the animal behavior and interactions between them. The food here is very good. Alas, we were not woken in the night as none of the animals we chose made an appearance.

Day 5- a 4-hour drive to Samburu. The last 1.5 hours were brutal and once you are past Isiolo the "road" is a complete joke. Lovely lodge next to river. Better food here then at the Amboseli Serena. Late afternoon Game Drive produced our first 2 cheetah (and only of entire trip) and more lions. They feed Nile Croc's at the Lodge in the evening and a Leopard did come to the baited tree during dinner.

Day 6-Samburu-Early morning game drive was very quiet. Watched a large family of Baboons a while and found a large herd of Reticulated Giraffe. Lunch time we took the Lodge's Bush Walk with the Naturalist, It was interesting watching the Samburu people next the river collecting water and bathing, lovely lunch next to river. Late afternoon game drive highlights were a group of Grevy's Zebra and a beautiful young leopard.

Day 7-up early for 3 hour drive to Nanyuki for flight to the Masai Mara. Arrive at the Mara and have to change planes at the first airstrip. Met at the 3rd airstrip by the Siana Springs Driver, but horror our bag with camera equipment and already used film from the week cannot be located amongst all the other bags going onto Nairobi. The Air Kenya baggage handler refuses to move the bags to look underneath. Our Driver assures us that they will find it. We are not happy.
On the hour drive to Siana Springs we discover just how muddy the Mara can get after rains. We're happy we have a Land Rover. We also ran into a "honeymooning" lion couple.
It rained again in the afternoon. Air Kenya confirmed that our bag had indeed gone onto Nairobi so they would fly it back to us on the afternoon flight so we would have to drive all the way back to the airstrip for it during our late afternoon game drive. Well, bag was not on afternoon flight, grrrr. highlights of drive included being stalked by a young male lion (our driver said this behavior was unusual and dangerous for us-yikes! and us in an open-sided vehicle), close encounter and warning from a Mama Elephant, listening to the "honeymoon" lioness calling for the brother to come and take over from the male lion. Hearing the Male Lion roar. On the drive back we had to tow 2 mini-vans out of the mud. All the local Masai came out to watch these proceedings. The night was very cold.

Day 8-up at 4:30 for hour drive to Keekorok Lodge for Balloon Safari. Gorgeous morning. The Mara is a soft green from the rains. We spot several lions and part of the Great Migration. All amazing. the Champagne breakfast is enjoyable and our fellow passengers are delightful. The Migration passes directly in front of us during our meal. A great way to begin my birthday.
yeah, our bag arrives during lunch.
Late afternoon game drive we watched 2 lionesses heading towards the Migration and almost saw one go for a Warthog. After dinner the entire staff came out singing "Hukana Matata" and presented me with another birthday cake. What fun!!

 
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Nov 6th, 2001, 11:55 PM
  #8
chris
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Day 9-early morning game drive we found 2 recent lion kills and a large pride of lions. Late morning Flight directly out of Siana Springs Airstrip back to Nairobi. Met by driver (whom the airport police tried to extort money out of at the gate) and taken to dayroom at Hotel Boulevard. It was downpouring so we were very happy just to relax in our room until we had to leave for our night flight home.

What we would've done differently:
-would have checked into flying directly out of Samburu to Masai Mara via Nairobi, even if it did involve having to change planes in Nairobi or elsewhere in order to avoid having to drive the terrible 3 hours for direct flight from Nanyuki-Mara.
-Since the Mara is so big and you never have as much free time in the afternoon as you think you will-would have added a third night in Siana Springs and 2 more nights in another Masai Mara Lodge closer to the Mara River or another area.

What I'm glad we did:
-flew into the Mara and Amboseli
-had a Land Rover for the Mara
-brought my warm pullover (it got cold)
-brought our dv camcorder!!!!
-had a day room for our last day in Nairobi

I've posted a few captured images at our homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mathews_dalton/
 
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Nov 7th, 2001, 04:48 AM
  #9
Kelly
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Wow Chris, awesome photos!!! What lens did you use to get such great shots?

Also thanks for the trip report, sounds like you had a great time, I am hoping to get to Kenya someday soon!
 
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Nov 7th, 2001, 08:21 AM
  #10
Thyra
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Chris...second the above... fantastic photos!!!!! Will my vacation never arrive!!!!! Thanks so very much for sharing all your info and the photos.
Question, since you mentioned that you brought a camcorder, may I ask a few things.
Was it cumbersome to lug around?
Was it relatively easy to recharge?
What type of electrical converters did you need? (I have a standard set that I use throughout Europe and Australia)
Did you carry it on the plane or check it?


We are new to the camcorder world, (just got one for our trip to Kenya) and I am not very confident in it's use or the logistics of taking one around.

Thanks so much.... I love the photos!
 
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Nov 7th, 2001, 12:21 PM
  #11
kavey
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Ditto the photos...

Love the group of 4 elephants (you have it on two web pages btw) and also teh zebra group, the lion yawning and many others...

Fantastic!
 
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Nov 7th, 2001, 09:13 PM
  #12
chris
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Thanks for the compliments-but I'm afraid the photos have nothing to do with my skill but with the wonderful animals and how close we got to all of them. They were all taken from our video shots using an editing software. The camcorder we used was a Canon Ultura with 16x/(320 digital) zoom, the important thing was the built in optical image stabilizer!

Electricty outlets are the British type. Our Camcorder plug already has an automatic convertor just needed the adaptor. We had 2 battery packs, would normally only use up 1 a day and recharge it fully while we slept at night (at least at the lodges, recharged right after late afternoon game drive and during dinner at the Camp as electricty was shut off after midnight). Note that most of our video shots were taken using only the viewfinder, as opposed to using the built-in video screen as that uses up batteries MUCH quicker. If your preference is the video screen get at least 4 battery packs-and make sure they are all recharged every night.

Our camcorder is very light and compact, of course took it as carry on. We used 4 DVcassetes but took 6. We had heavy duty medium sized padlocks for all our bags (not the flimsy ones anyone can open) as well as special locks with a lightweight cable on them for securing our luggage to a heavy piece of furniture in our rooms-so while at meals, the pool, sleeping, we just put all our camera equipment and valuables in our luggage.

On drives I handled the Camcorder while my spouse took SLR shots.

Laundry was available everywhere, advise only use when staying more then one night in the same place though. And it's not as cheap as some people before have suggested. Average $1 per piece. Things dried fairly quick on the dry days, as I'm sure you will have in Feb. I packed a bit too much (mainly because it was really too cold for shorts) , you don't really need that much on Safari. What I really did appreciate was my Safari hat and long sleeve-shirt that I bought from Campmor.com (both about $30). Wore them both every day. The Safari shirt was a blessing when it was hot, it surprisingly kept me much cooler having it on and arms fully covered, well designed and it worked as just the right amount of warmth when I needed it. baseball hats don't really work-too windy on the drive

We're already planning our next Safari!
 
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Nov 7th, 2001, 09:17 PM
  #13
chris
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Additional note to Thyra-absolutely take your camcorder, you will regret it if you don't.
 
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