Kenya and Tanzania Backwards Trip Report

Old Nov 4th, 2008, 05:39 PM
  #21  
 
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wonderful pics of Tarangire too. I so loved that park

And as with the other pics I am really enjoying the commentary with the photos. The dik dik photo is great; not sure if I'd call the elephant carcass "beautiful" but that's just me being sentimental I guess - its certainly striking.

Great comment about Lehman Bros- ignorance truly is bliss sometimes isn't it
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 05:48 PM
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Are you going back to Kicheche for an extra 8 nights? How wonderful is that!!
I loved the Tarangire photos also, all your photos have a wonderful feel about them. Exceptional effort and I am enjoying them very much.
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 10:58 AM
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Totally wonderful twaffle... but getting very expensive high season next year as well, unfortuntely.

Fighting and playing everything this trip Lyn - we were pretty spoiled. And you can read it forwards.

Thanks, whiskey.

My wife gets a kick out of that photo too, Leely.

Anyway, it is here at last. The BEGINNING of the trip report..... pretend you have read and sen nothing yet. ;-)

I start.....

On reflection, for us, over three weeks of changing camp/lodge was a little much and next trip we plan to stay more nights in one place. On previous trips we did around two weeks and the camp changing (usually we try to do 3 nights each place, with occasional longer/shorter visits) was fine, but this time, we always felt we were leaving just after we’d got settled in and really into the swing of things (exceptions: Ngulia and Mara Serena). Every place we stayed had a different way of doing things, a different culture and a different kind of guest make-up. Of course, if we hadn’t visited as many different places we wouldn’t have seen so many different and fascinating things and wouldn’t have learned so much. I hope that’s not a sign of our becoming less adventurous.

Those who have followed my travels with Nam Wan (now Mrs Kimburu as it’s cute – kind of like a character from Wind in the Willows – and can be nicely shortened to Mrs K) will know that she’s the other part of the “we” and sometimes the thoughts here are partially hers, since personally I don’t care that much about food, accommodation or even service in a lodge or camp (well I think I do, but I realize that compared to many others I don’t). Some will also know that I do not take things that seriously so feel free to pull me up if you think I “dissed” someone or something. I’ll let Mrs Kimburu have the first word with a list of what’s hot and what’s not this autumn.

In
Canvas; Camp fires; Bush stops; Packed lunches; Communal meals; Fleeces; Sealskin boots; White wine; Big lenses; Cheetahs; the Maasai; Ruaha; Maasai jewelry ; big 4WD gas guzzlers

Out
Fences; the Stanley; soups; walls; Tsavo West; Swimming pools; Flushing after every use; Shopping; Gin & tonic; Serena service; Baboons; Budgets

So, now that’s clear and I’ve wasted 5 minutes of your day...

Things I left behind ………… left the charger for my laptop at my office – I bought a generic one near home the night we had to fly – and left the charger for my portable hard drive on the kitchen table, with the charger for my phone, mints and our itinerary. Guess which one of these omissions will be significant later?

We flew direct Bangkok to Nairobi with Kenya Airways. Slept most of the way. After the 9-hour flight we landed at 6 am and almost sailed through immigration with our visa on arrival. Mrs K usually gets a bit of grief from African immigration officials who get Thailand mixed up with Taiwan and suspect that Taiwan is no longer a friend of their country now that China is every African’s friend – or who have just never heard of Thailand at all and cover their ignorance with a fig leaf of officiousness However, this time she got through without any hassle and it was me who got quizzed about why I didn’t get her a “proper” (British) passport since she was apparently a “pretty little thing” and if I didn’t take proper care of her maybe someone else would. I took it as honest advice since it was 6.30 am and I just couldn’t be bothered explaining what would happen to him if Mrs K overheard the “pretty little thing” bit (of course when I told her later she was pleased as punch after a respectable period cursing his ignorance of why Thailand is MUCH better than pinchy-faced, lard-arsed, gloomy, wet and anally-retentive Britain). One day they’re going to just stamp our passports and say “Welcome”. We wait.





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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 11:04 AM
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Julius from Eastern & Southern Safaris was outside the airport waiting for us - this is our third time traveling with him and we do like his company, even if his van is getting old and is close to being on Mrs K’s list of things that are “out” . We have a 7-hour drive ahead to the far side of Tsavo East so we decided to have a coffee first. Following that a friendly policeman (very friendly later since I mistakenly asked Mrs K to “tip” him) showed us where we could illegally smoke (there is no smoking except in permitted areas now in Kenya, which I personally think is a good thing although it is chaotically implemented ). He enjoyed the irony too and we had a good laugh, but his was all the way to the bank. Before you ask, it wasUS10 – I had 50 shillings in mind. I let her tip once more on this trip and then we agreed she shouldn’t carry money unless there was a shop (“we agreed” really means we agreed – if there was a Tippers Anonymous, she would be a willing member).

We drove straight out to Tsavo along the now almost completely resurfaced Nairobi- Mombassa highway. Most of the first 100km is horrible (well, relatively normal for much of Kenya) but after that it’s now a real road without potholes, apparently all the way to Mombassa. As a tour vehicle we’re still restricted to a pretty mean 80km/h but, apart from regularly getting stuck behind trucks, you could travel at 120 or faster on this quite safely.

After nearly 4 hours (most on that horrible stretch) we had reached the Tsavo area (the highway basically divides East from West) but we had another hour to drive to our gate (it’s a big, big park) since Satao Camp is 2 hours from the coast in the eastern part of Tsavo East – about 30 km further in than the Aruba Dam. So we decided to stop for lunch (even though we theoretically had lunch waiting for us at Satao) and had ugali, fried chicken, beans, greens and pickled something (cabbage? – sorry I can’t remember) at the place where the Mombassa-Nairobi buses stop in Mtito Andei. It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t the Midland Hotel in Nakuru (reference to previous trip). With stones in our stomachs (ugali is nothing if not filling) we set off again and finally got into the park around 1.15 (left the airport before 8).

Tsavo East is red and white; dry and dusty and to me a rather a grand place altogether, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Although it was afternoon we weren’t seeing that many animals on the way to the camp. However I’d booked Satao Camp for its waterhole and so we took the optimistic view that they were all there waiting for us. In fact this was not so optimistic as realistic since I’d done my homework … and thanks for the reports contributing to that considerably, if you still lurk here, Jan.

The waterhole at Satao is pretty outstanding (at least in the dry season – I can’t say for other times of year since this was our first visit). For a lot of the day you can’t see it for elephants (and it’s a big waterhole) and the hundred or so you can see from your tent are just the start, since there are another 100 or more waiting their turn or doing a little dusting after their drink and bath, on both sides of the camp. Numbers varied throughout the day, and because of the U-shape of the camp and the fact that Tsavo East is bushy, and there are deep dry river courses galore where elephants hang, you cannot count numbers (or I can’t – the Tasvo staff apparently can). Anyway, there are more elephants there than you’d want to count and lots and lots of interaction going on. Even better is that elephant paths run right past both of the end tents (the “suites”) and so if you have one of them you can watch elephants walking past your tent from your verandah all day. There are good numbers of waterbuck, impala, baboons, jackals using the waterhole daily too, and the local pride of lions use it at night – they were sighted 3 of 4 nights we were there and we saw them two nights and one morning. It’s not always a close up experience since the waterhole obviously has to be 100 meters or so away from the (unfenced) camp, but a lot of animals are clearly used to the camp now and wander through it without any concern (as Jan mentioned in a report impalas use it as a safe haven - although this apparently does not always work, and there were unconfirmed reports of a lioness chasing impalas through the camp the first night we were there – for sure there were lions around the camp that night – Mrs K was a little unnerved and quite thrilled).

This is the attraction of the place, but it has a few other things going for it too. Food is good to excellent - buffet/ set dinner mix, with good choices - but I’m no foodie so I won’t go on about it. Service was the best surprise – we really liked the staff here since they made us feel welcome in a very unrehearsed kind of way. Things are well organised by Bobby, the camp manager and since he has good assistants (close enough to the coast to recruit key people from the hotels there), he can float around like a friendly ghost – which he does to good effect, finding unusual birds and animals and then finding guests to show them to. We stayed in a suite tent, but all are large and very comfortable with solar power and hot water delivered by bucket (a very big bucket) once a day in the evenings – cold water is on tap. The verandahs are large and comfortable – perfect for watching the elephants come and go. It is a fine, fine place, and spread out enough/mature enough that it doesn’t really ever feel like there are 20 tents there. Part of the reason for that seems to be that a number of guests are just in from the coast for a single night, and so with their two game drives and flexible dining times at separate tables, you barely even knew they were there. While there’s a campfire there is not a real effort made to get guests to interact, but that was fine by us having just arrived. There are some other negatives of course, but they’re taste things, with the exception of the electricity pylons that run 1-2 kilometers from the camp and can be a bit of an eyesore if you notice them (to be honest after a day I didn’t, although my camera still did and a couple of shots required some cloning as a result). The fact that Tsavo East has a highway, electrcity lines and the water supply to Mombassa running through it should add up to something quite negative, but somehow I never really worried about it. In any case it is only noticeable from a few spots and it’s a huge park.

Without going day by day, we had a funny mix of game drives. We went out morning and evening days 2 and 4 and all day on day 3, up to the Galana River and Lugard’s Falls. Out of Satao there are basically three roads. Two of them head out towards the coast across the Dika plains, and we tried that one evening, but there was nothing there except for a few hartebeest and some dik dik – it is really dry there this time of year. This is where we might have found the coastal topis, but it was so dry I think they were probably a lot nearer the coast. There is a route towards the gate for Malindi, which we didn’t try, and the other route is to the Aruba Dam, which we did every other time. This is a half hour drive (an hour as a game drive) through fairly light bush (the influence of the elephants is obvious) and so populated by leaf and insect eaters and their predators. This is probably where the lions were hanging, but we never did see them except in camp – since off road driving is not allowed there are huge areas of the park that are unviewable. We saw plenty of dik-dik, impalas, Grant’s (Peter’s?) gazelles and elephants on this stretch together with multiple sightings of hartebeest, mongoose, oryx, gerenuk and lesser kudu. All the dry bush browsers, present and correct. Of course there were lots of rollers, bustards, korhens, secretary birds, hornbills and the like, feeding on the insects and grubs. Birding would be great here in the European winter, if there had been rain late in the year – I could tell that from what we saw even at this inhospitable time of year- but Tsavo West was more spectacular in that respect. I’m not going to do bird identification in this report, since I wasn’t keeping a list and I would make places seem less rich than they are. I’ll just mention the odd one in passing. In any case the overall verdict, which you may choose to ignore on the grounds of lack of supporting evidence, is that every park we visited was great for birds… easy!

The second evening we were driving along the Aruba-Satao stretch and I told Julius that we would like to see cheetah. I was just fooling around with him, but two minutes later we stopped and Julius said he’d seen something in the long grass about 80 meters off the road. We saw it and both knew what it was – two cheetahs. We couldn’t get a very good view because the grass was long and they were some way off, but it was two days in and we’d already seen cheetahs (always No.1 priority, so Mrs K can relax).

After 15 minutes Julius suggested we move on and come back in a little while to see if they would move to a more open position nearer to sunset. We agreed and I told Julius that was a good start, and we’d like to see the hirola next (Jackson’s harteebeest, which is rare and rarely seen, although there are a herd of twenty or so in Tsavo East moved there to help prevent extinction … in other words, I was still joking). We saw a hartebeest some way off the road, and since it was only day two we were interested enough to stop for a moment. Then some hartebeest came much closer to the road and were going to cross in front of us. We were looking into a pretty low sun and so we couldn’t see clearly but both Julius and I thought there was something funny about these hartebeest…they were light looking… and sure enough Julius saw the face stripe and said “these are hirola”. I’m glad he knew about the facial stripe because against that strong light I wouldn’t have been sure they weren’t just the more common Coke’s Hartebeest. There were about 10 of them (I didn’t count because I was fiddling with exposure settings on my camera). We’d also see a lone male the next day. Since there are supposed to be at least 20, maybe the herd has split and maybe the others were 5 minutes ahead and already over a rise that these 10 soon disappeared over as well. Maybe like the Grevy’s zebras in Meru NP, the local lions took a shine to them.

We drove on to near Aruba Dam without seeing much more of interest (are we never satisfied?) and then returned to the cheetahs, who were kindly waiting for us much closer to the road on top of a termite mound. We could see now it was a mother with two cubs maybe nearly a year old . The mother was cool with us stopping but the cubs were a little agitated (we were at least 30 meters away though) and were hissing and cowering a bit, and trying to hide behind their mother or the termite mound After a few minutes the mother either decided there was nothing more to see from the termite mound or got sick of her cubs' agitation, and they came down off the mound and disappeared again into the long grass, with the cubs trying to keep as low as possible all the time. Since they walked away from the road, we didn’t follow and Julius called in the sighting in case someone wanted to wait and see if they could find them again. Nobody heard - there are few vehicles out here.
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 03:52 PM
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Tsavo East is a wonderful place but not for those wanting to check off their mammal viewing lists. It certainly is rough and wild. I have always had a soft spot for it. I too was bemused by the Peter's Gazelle, but the scientiffic reasoning behind the changes to the Grant's over time seem to make sense. Glad you saw the Hirola. I believe that there have been 2 relocations over a long time and so there are probably more than the 20 you were told about. I had a feeling that there were closer to 100. But wonderful to see if you are lucky enough.
Looking forward to the photos.....
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 05:37 PM
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Really? Big thanks for the clarification about the hirola. Actually nobody told me about it - I had read about it before I went and then read an aritcle in SWARA while I was there... nobody in Tsavo seemed to know that much about them, except that they were occasionally seen. I guess they are not sexy enough to be a discussion item. And I see my brain decided to rename them Jackson's Hartebeest, which they are not. Hunter's, isn't it?
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 08:09 PM
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Antelope are never the exciting safari talking points but I think they are very interesting. Hunters is right. I have added a link here which you may find interesting.
http://www.edgeofexistence.org/edgeblog/?cat=29
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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Thanks for the link. Nice to know! I guess we saw the Mukwaju 2 group.

To complete Tsavo East....

Most other game drives were fine – always something to see…. but we did not really see anything outstanding. We got chased away by a huge bull elephant for no particular reason, and although Nam Wan insists it was a charge, it was only a mock one – although by the speed with which the bull took offence to our being there I definitely agree it was wise to move on promptly. Some of the elephants in Tsavo are very grumpy indeed – allegedly a product of memories of the poaching here and/or being orphans released into existing groups here…. I can’t say how true that is, but it makes sense. We also saw very large herds of elephants at a waterhole near to Aruba Dam, where there is a new lodge. If you are looking for fenced, lodge-style accommodation it has a very nice location and it seems to be quite well spread out. The dam is not what you may imagine – it must be a fairly shallow reservoir even in the wet and it was totally dry in September – not a drop. Its resident hippos had moved into the Satao waterhole and their getting in and out of the waterhole, through the small gaps between elephants was a daily highlight. One of them just strolled right in and usually the elephants moved, although one day a young bull charged him. The other two would stand together and wait for a gap, then sprint in or out – different elephant avoidance strategies among hippos – there is nothing like a good waterhole for watching animal behaviour.
On the third day we left after breakfast and drove up to Lugard’s Falls on the Galana River. It was a good two and a half hour drive, and in this season frankly not that interesting. However, once we got to one of the minor (now more or less dry) rivers we saw a fairly large group of buffalo (hundred or so) more elephants, some turtles and numerous interesting birds, including our first fish eagle (we’d see fish eagles just about every day after this ). The Galana River is a permanent river and although it was low, it was still a proper river. It must be beautiful in the green season. We did the tourist route, since there was nobody else there – we saw one other vehicle in six hours. Crocodile Point had a few crocodiles and a good view, but isn’t really worthy of a trip on its own. However, it is easily combined with Lugard’s Falls, which are rapids rather than falls for the most part, and an attractive spot – the worn and candy-striped rocks are particularly interesting and would be very photogenic in the right light. Being around here was quite reminiscent of being at Adamson’s falls in Meru. I had a tiny flash of déjà vu. We stopped to take a little walk, and then had lunch there. We watched two hammerkops mating and there were also some hippos and baboons and impalas and waterbuck coming down to drink. No elephants surprisingly, but there is no reason why they would choose this area to drink and bathe, I suppose – the rock was probably quite slippery for them too. However, it was hazy and cloudy that day and in the middle of the day the place just wasn’t as attractive as it would be on a nicer day. The riverine environment is quite a surprise after the overwhelming dryness of most of the park, and it was strange to see different birds and more relaxed hippos. After two days of white, red and faded yellow, the amount of green almost hurt our eyes. Lunch was the normal chicken, boiled egg, sandwich, banana and juice, which was a bit disappointing. We dutifully ate it all though – we were hungry.
We were a little tired and hot and weren’t really looking forward to the drive back. Julius decided to take a different route, since the way we had come was two hours of dreary, fairly thick bush broken up by a couple of sand rivers that bloomed green and were full of life. There had also been tsetses, but not really that many. However, the route back was not much more interesting and we were glad to get back to the game drive cricuits around Aruba Dam and the Kanderi Swamp . We drove around the Kanderi Swamp area the next day, but apart from more vehicles and lots of lion tracks, didn’t see that much of interest. We tried to find the lions, but where their tracks went off the road there was no sign of them… it was hot – they were almost certainly sleeping under the bushes. There are noticeably more vehicles in this area, but it is hardly busy. I think it is a good area for wildlife, but we were just unlucky.
The last night we asked for and had dinner at our tent, and that was very nice, with our own waiter (the suites have a dining table on their extra large verandahs). The stars came out for us too – it had been rather hazy and cloudy for much of the previous two nights. And we saw Kilimanjaro for the third time in the late afternoon (we’d had a good view of it on the Mombassa-Nairobi highway and it can also be seen – albeit rather small – from Satao Camp when it is reasonably clear). We got pleasantly drunk on decent nand reasonably priced wine and went to bed happy. In fact I’d say we were very happy at Satao in general. The seven hour drive is a bit off-putting, although it should be 5 or so by the end of the year and they do have an airstrip if you have a plane.
Other memorable things at Satao included when a big bull elephant decided to come into camp to feast on the trees that provide excellent shelter for the camp – why walk all the way out into the desert again when there was food right there around those tents? Makes sense to me, too. Bobby later explained to me that if they let elephants do this, they would eventually lose a guest, since they had quite a number of people coming in from the coast who did not have much of an idea about the bush and might casually assume that they could get closer to the elephant for a “good shot”. So, first there were two people shouting at the elephant. He saw them off with a charge and returned to his tree. Then there were four people and a horn. That just got him mad and soon the staff were scattering (but scattering with dignity, I should add – these people are used to this). Eventually they got a big bucket on the end of a rope and that spooked the elephant just enough that, combined together with stones, horns and shouting from multiple directions, made him decide to leave. Picking up a branch the size of one of his human tormentors he retreated back to the waterhole – but slowly, and waving the branch around - to show he wasn’t scared and that he was just missing his pals back at the waterhole a bit, so he may as well go back and see how they were.
Meanwhile, with all the staff occupied, the baboons and vervets had moved in on the guest tents – we heard a couple of human squawks from our side of the camp and ourselves had a vervet attack, involving a female sitting on the rail of our verandah while a big male sneaked around behind us and onto the roof of the tent, ready to pounce on the sugar when we tried to chase off the female. A third female was waiting by the side of the tent as a back-up. When the male was rumbled (which he knew because I was taking pictures of him) he did the dignified thing and aimed some of his fresh excrement at me – fortunately missing me and my camera by a few inches. By that time the normal staff patrols had returned and the vervets had to run for it. The staff here chase off the baboons and vervets twice a day and whenever else they can, but they are bold and keep on coming back- also the staff understandably appear to have a few favorites who don’t seem to get chased quite as hard as the others. However, they usually keep their distance, and the baboons are yellow baboons, which to me seem less aggressive than the olive variety. Having said that, one day during our morning coffee at the tent a big male jumped up onto the verandah and then onto the coffee table right in front of us, before I chased him off with my monopod (didn’t work unextended, but once I extended it half-way his eyes popped and he ran for it), while Mrs K stowed the sugar in the tent - although not unfortunately herself for some reason because she’s quite fearful of baboons and it kind of committed me to be all macho with the monopod (I had turned on my flash as a back-up weapon). Anyway, I found it quite nice to get that experience out of the way – there had always been someone to chase off baboons for us before. But although I think Kimburu – Scourge of the Baboons would not be a totally uncool title for an autobiography, I have concluded I prefer it when someone else does it.
Tsavo East is a fine park all round and I’d love to return. However, away from the very immediately impressive waterhole action, it is a place for exploring – what you see is what shows itself that day to a large extent, and you better stay awake. The more eyes the merrier. If you want guaranteed this or that, this is perhaps not the place, but there are huge numbers of animals here, and excellent variety. I wouldn’t come here for a couple of days (well, of course I would if I my choices didn’t include 4, 5 or 6 days, but you no doubt know what I mean)
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 09:25 AM
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Being around here was quite reminiscent of being at Adamson’s falls in Meru.

I thought of your Adamson's photos when we were at Lugard's.

The seven hour drive is a bit off-putting, although it should be 5 or so by the end of the year

You're very optimistic.

When the male was rumbled (which he knew because I was taking pictures of him) he did the dignified thing and aimed some of his fresh excrement at me

Next time throw some back at him. I'll leave it up to you whose excrement you use

Sounds like a fun time at Satao.

I take it you didn't like either Ngulia or Tsavo West? OK I'm getting ahead of your report now.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 02:49 PM
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Loved your photos from Ruaha and Mara both!!!
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 03:12 PM
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Kimburu,

Great report. Yes, hirolas used to be referred to as Hunter's hartebeest -- but no longer. There are 100+ at last aerial count in Tsavo and perhaps 300+ on the Kenyan coast bordering Somalia. I hope to go see them in March.

It was reclassified as Beatragus Hunteri. Beatragus being a new genus. If we lose the hirola, apparently it will be the first genus lost under our watch...
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 03:20 PM
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Hi Kimburu,

I'm really enjoying this grrreat report. Tsavo East sounds like a fine park to visit - next time maybe for me.

Thanks for the Ruaha and Mara photos - you certainly had some marvellous cheetah moments, and saw some good lion action as well.

Eagerly waiting for the next instalment,

Pol



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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 07:50 PM
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..."there were unconfirmed reports of a lioness chasing impalas through the camp the first night we were there – for sure there were lions around the camp that night – Mrs K was a little unnerved and quite thrilled."

Only Mrs. K, eh?

Great report, whether forward or backward.


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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 07:15 AM
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Leely... I slept like a log - didn't hear a thing - much to her annoyance.

Patty... No, I liked some of both - you'll see.... and yes - maybe by the end of next year we'll get to 5 "or so" Both Kenyans and Thais are very optimistic about this kind of thing. And he didn't throw it... he dumped it straight from source - I'm sure you don't want me to do that. :-") Anyway, here are the photos... he's on page 3 and you can see how he did it - but not graphically!

Tsavo East
http://tinyurl.com/5hukbg

Safaridude ... That would be very sad, and I hope they continue to do all right in Tsavo. They've got a decent location there...although those lions are big and tough looking. If you're going to the Kenyan border near Somalia in March, that would be very interesting to hear about.

Thank you treepol and pattyroth

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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 07:18 AM
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Patty... I put in the wrong smiley by mistake ... although it may not look like that. I wanted the shy smile!
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 08:58 AM
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Most sincerely, utterly blown away with your images. Truly an absolutely great collection. Not that I'm not always longing to be back on safari, but more than many collections I've seen, yours made the longing surface more strongly than usual!
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 10:04 AM
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Kimburu, if you have a quick moment, would you mind very much dropping me an email so I can contact you directly? Many thanks...
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 12:29 AM
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Sensational photos of Tsavo East … loved the big tusker!
Thanks.
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 04:15 AM
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Thank you twaffle - yes, he was very impressive.

Here's the next part of the trip report, for Tsavo West. After this I am just going to post a few anecdotes and impressions about Tarangire, Ruaha and the Mara, and then we are finished... see, I told you once I got started it would all come together quickly.

Here are the Tsavo West photos with some commentary. Not all captions are complete right now, but close enough.

http://tinyurl.com/58fcbg

From Tsavo East we were going to Tsavo West, and after about 80 minutes to get to the gate we then had to drive a couple of hours on the highway to get to Tsavo Gate. From there it was another 30 minutes or so to Ngulia Safari Camp/ Ngulia Bandas/ Rhino Vallley Lodge (the same place!). Ngulia Bandas has 11 bandas, with No. 1-6 overlooking the Rhino Valley and A1–B2 built behind these. There is also one permanently pitched tent (looking abandoned) and one more luxurious “honeymoon” room on its own further up the hillside, built into a “cave”. We were put in B2 the first night and while it was adequate, it really was a little sad and rundown – more than TLC is needed… maybe demolition would improve things. We complained to the staff about a broken zipper (all the rooms here are open at the front with zippered canvas covers and mosquito screens installed like a tent) and they said we could move to a banda at the front the next day. This banda was much better, and reminded me of the bandas at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru NP (not quite in the same class but a very similar concept – significantly cheaper would be an understatement). The view from the verandah is very pretty indeed, down to a waterhole where you can watch some bushbucks, a reedbuck, a hippo and occasional baboons and other visitors. Not quite Satao, and an unusual view of the animals looking down from a height of about 50 meters, but it’s cool.

Especially interesting (and almost worthy of a visit in his own right) is the Hippo, who leaves the waterhole in the morning, just after sunrise, and returns in the afternoon at 3.45 sharp! Not only did I find it unusual that the hippo would graze during the day and stay in the water at night (of course he may have got out very late at night too and returned before dawn – we didn’t stay up beyond 11 to check) but the timing was what was really amazing. Arrival times in the afternoon were 3.44, 3.45, 3.45 and 3.54 (of course the day we invited Julius down to our banda to observe this phenomenon, the hippo was late). In fact the whole place was pretty good at first but as the guests disappeared (we were almost alone by the third night) service and food got more and more erratic… it’s not that staff were not helpful and polite – just that they didn’t seem to know what to do with so few guests around…… and somehow they still expected us to stick to the fixed schedule whereby the maasai would come to pick us up from our room at 7.15, we’d come to the deserted dining building (which is really rather a nice bit of bush architecture and very popular with birds, squirrels and rock and bush hyrax) and then return to our room when it got too cold - there is no fire here and on the exposed hillside we could have done with one. Talking to the staff was possible, but not really much fun. They had that problem of not being quite sure how to treat us when chatting about general things. It would also have been better with some choice of (a little too simple) food. Mrs K calls it the Boarding School, complete with school meals, school rules, a timetable and lights out, and has sworn never to return. I think it is very, very good value, but if I went again I might self-cater (you can since some bandas have very nice and well equipped kitchens).

The location is currently very quiet (animals are hard to see in the thick bush in this area of Tsavo West and we did one game drive when we were struggling to see even relatively common birds) but there are apparently plans to release a large number of rhinos into Rhino Valley below the lodge from the rhino sanctuary, and that would certainly liven things up a little. In any case, the second day we found a really nice game drive where you turn left as you come out of Ngulia Bandas, soon after turn right off the main road by a waterhole (saw three types of eagle, an eagle owl, elephants, ground hornbills, kudus and waterbuck there, and there were sure signs that lions frequent this waterhole too) and follow a stream (quite a variety of birds plus various animals, from jackals to hyrax) that runs down to another waterhole, favoured by waterbirds and from which we saw a number of birds of prey (I mean a “wow” number). Then you turn left and return to the main road, coming out in the territory of a fairly regularly seen leopard (although we never saw it – just the remains of its kill in a tree). I could quite happily do that game drive every day – always saw something different and interesting and saw one other vehicle in a total of well over two hours on that trail. There’s magic there (unlike Rhino Valley, which until its rhinos come appears pretty lifeless).

Talking of the leopard, I want to gossip a little. Note this is driver/guide gossip and take it as such, but I wouldn’t pass it on if I didn’t think it was true/ amusing. The story is that a white guide from the coast chased off that leopard the first morning we were there, so that only his clients at the lodge would be seeing that – hence boosting his reputation . He also tries to get the lodges to give him a guest room for free. He wears ladies underwear too. (I made one of these up.) Just passing on the gossip that Julius passed on to us. There’s lots more but to paraphrase Julius “You don’t want to know” (he was generally right). This is pathetic gossip because it’s trying to be balanced, but I’ll leave it in anyway.

Back to the game drives. The second afternoon we decided to go to the rhino sanctuary. Our game count for that drive reads Rhino:0; Dik dik:4; Impala: 8 Wild dog: 10. Anything else:0 This is Tsavo. We were just driving in the rhino sanctuary when we came across a vehicle stopped in the middle of the road. Lying right in front of it were the dogs. I counted six adults and five pups from the prior year’s litter (guessing) but they were coming and going and going and coming and so there could have been more (my photos confirm definitely no less). We gave them 20-30 meters’ space, which was basically where we had ground to a halt after spotting them (and we couldn’t later give them more anyway because it was a narrow road and after two minutes another vehicle had come and stopped behind us. In the end we had to move in five meters closer in order to give the people behind us a better view- Julius was worried otherwise some idiot would drive around us to get a view and spook the dogs. You could tell who the alpha male and female were and also see that some of the dogs were suggesting a hunt or just moving on, but the alphas were not ready (bless them). As soon as they got off the road the bush was so thick you could only see their ears, so we missed a lot of the interaction going on, but we also saw quite a bit. Then another vehicle moved in front of us – too close to the dogs and cutting off my view, meaning I had to shoot leaning over the side of the vehicle, but since two wrongs definitely do not make a right Julius agreed we should not move any more. After 20-30 magical minutes (I’m making that up – it could have been anything from 15 to 40 - who’s keeping time?) the dogs got concerned by a vehicle moving from the other side (I do not even want to remember what happened, never mind write it, but I do remember thinking that some guides probably deserve to be stripped naked, coated with honey, have pictures of dung beetle larvae painted on their most sensitive parts, and staked to the ground near a honey badger den) and the alphas agreed to move on, to the obvious pleasure of some of the others who’d been agitating for a while. This was the first time I’ve seen wild dogs really, truly in the wild. I want more. If you look at the photos you’ll see some look a little thin in the hair stakes, and there is a bit of mange, but they otherwise looked very healthy and full of beans. Perhaps most importantly they were not uncomfortable about the people or vehicles, suggesting they stay within the protected areas.

This version of the story is the full one - the version with the pictures is abbreviated.

Another day we went to Mzumi Springs and although I’ll let you read about the springs elsewhere it is a place well worth visiting. Apart from the greenery and novelty of so much water, there are a lot of birds , hippos, crocodiles and viewing the fish underwater is surprisingly nice. Plus, getting a walk in the shade is a real treat – not be underestimated just for itself. I wouldn’t go to Tsavo West because of Mzima Springs, but it adds to its attractions.

From Ngulia to Mzima is quite a long drive (40 minutes or so without stops) but it’s an interesting drive to take whichever side of the park you are staying on because it takes you up over one of the lava flows, which form pretty large black hills in Tsavo West (the volcano is reputed to have exploded only a few hundred years ago). We saw three klipspringers up here and leopard are fairly common (mmmmm, a shot of a leopard against that black rock would have been something, but no luck).

On the third night we were the only guests and so we had dinner with Julius. Next morning we left after a fairly unappetizing breakfast, drove about 20 minutes out towards Finch Hattons and came across 4 lions sitting on the edge of the road (there is an edge of the road to sit on due to grading). So we finally got to see some lions up close, a week in. After this we’d see another 70 or so different individuals in two weeks. These ones had very red eyes and a definite, distinctive look to them all round. The drive down to Taveta took us well over two hours, but we stopped for the lions and a couple of other times for our first wildebeest (what were they doing down there?) and for the Zawani Gate, where the Zawani Camp is. This part of Tsavo West is rarely visited, despite good roads, and although there are some very interesting parts (there is a very pretty river, which I think runs to Finch Hattons, but as you go south the other side of the river is cultivated and the animals get scarcer) it is mostly scrub bush, without too many animals and with a few tsetses too. Worth passing, though – it’s one of those areas where you’re bound to see something interesting, but not what you were expecting (like the wildebeest and the red-eyed lions).

Immediately outside the park was a huge plantation and they had built villages for the workers, in the African style, but as authentic as most lodges. Seeing these, the “big house” and the nice cottages with lovely gardens and high fences no doubt occupied by management, I was drawn to thinking of a slave plantation. Of course it is not like that, I think, but it was an unpleasant feeling to think that agribusiness was making Africa look like the West Indies or Southern United States of 150 years ago… I’m only saying “looking”, although maybe I’m thinking a bit more.

Taveta is a busy, dusty African border town – straight out of a book of stereotypical images. Nothing of interest there and border formalities were quick and straightforward. Goodluck from Good Earth in Tanzania was waiting for us on the Kenyan side and got into our vehicle so that we could drive over to the Tanzanian side and load the bags into his vehicle. Julius was green with envy when he saw the big stretch-SUV Goodluck had and told us so. Tanzanian border formalities were a bit more time-consuming since everything has to be entered into ledgers by hand and he was of course a little confused by the Thai passport. However, he did not ask any strange questions to his credit, except to confirm three times it was a Thai passport, as if hoping my wife would tell him she was only joking, and here’s the American one. He eventually found Thailand on the list of countries allowed to enter Tanzania on a visa-on-arrival and with a nice flourish and a shake to dry the ink (you just don’t see that much anymore, do you) handed uis back our passports. A queue of about 30 people had formed behind us in the meantime, but there was never any rush – these things have to be done properly – including using a ruler to draw new lines in the ledger. There was an air conditioner and a fan in the office, but neither were working. It was a border crossing from another time, when I was a very young man, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mrs K, who only visited places like Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland in her youth, and even then entering via big airports, was goggle-eyed.
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 06:54 AM
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Still smiling about the baby baboon with the ears - love it. Love also your expansive landscape shots. Most of us forget to do that and focus only on tight wildlife shots. Your landscapes really give one a good sense of place/terrain.
Glad your still plowing thru. Did you take detailed notes or do you have a photographic mind? LOL.
Carry on!
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