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Kenya/Rwanda Trip Report: Lewa, Sabyinyo, Mara Serena and Govs Camp


Aug 12th, 2012, 06:45 AM
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Kenya/Rwanda Trip Report: Lewa, Sabyinyo, Mara Serena and Govs Camp

Just returned a few days ago from Kenya and Rwanda. It had been 20 years since I last went to Kenya on safari which incidentally was my first trip to Africa. I was in Tanzania 10 years ago but it had been a long while since I had been in East Africa. Mostly we've travelled to southern Africa for safaris...the itinerary was as follows:

JUL 26 Nairobi Fairview Hotel
JUL 27-28. Lewa Safari Camp
JUL 29 Kigali Serena/Rwanda
JUL 30. Sabyinyo Lodge/Volcanoes NP
JUL 31 Kigale Serena
AUG 1-3 Mara Serena
AUG 4-6 Main Governors Camp
AUG 7 Ole Sereni - Nairobi
AUG 8 Depart for home

We had a remarkable trip---my dad and I are safari veterans you might could say as it was his 10th trip and my 11th trip to Africa, but we brought my niece and it was her first time...we wanted her to have the whole Africa experience from the wide open landscapes of the savannah to the forested slopes of central Africa...it was ambitious as time was limited but we had a great experience! My goal was to catch glimpses of the Great Migration. The last time I was in the Mara it was in januar 1992.. Still it was beautiful but I wanted to see the migrating herds...we had tried to catch this in TZ and the Serengeti in AUG 2002 but having seen what I've seen now, I know I only saw the tail end stragglers in the Grumeti area 10 years ago...

We began in Lewa and clearly rhinos are Lewa's specialty...it is perfect for them and in a short stay we saw plenty...more than 30 white rhinos and 6 black rhinos...but lewa is much more than rhinos...it has many of the species endemic to northern Kenya and we saw plenty of reticulated giraffes and Grevys zebras, a pair of cheetah brothers that have taken over the territory of the famous three cheetah brothers who have since died...the landscape is stunning. Immediately upon landing on the airstrip you are transported...a herd of elephants moved slowly across the terrain...giraffes browsed on acacia...within several minutes we spotted our first rhino. A beautiful yellow fever tree swamp...and then the cheetah brothers even before I reached camp.

The managers at safari camp were terrific...they alluded to some past problems as the conservancy tried to run them themselves and found they were much better off to do the conservancy work and let someone else run and manage the lodges...the camp reminded me a lot of so many in southern Africa. I appreciated it's small size. There was an electric fence which was different than what I've been used to in S Africa so no elephants next to the tent and the like...

Highlights included of course the great rhino viewing but also for the first time (after all the trips!) watching two lionesses ambush a herd of zebras...the lionesses staked out a waterhole and the zebra herd got closer and closer unaware of the danger...finally three zebras made their way toward the waterhole moving in between the two lions...one even rolled around for a dust bath! The lions sprung! They targeted the dust bath zebra but one of the other zebras came racing past which seemed to cause the lion to hesitate for a moment and lose momentum...the lucky zebras escaped with their lives...this happened as we made our way to the airstrip---was more of a transfer than a game drive but it wasnt over yet...we had no sooner left the lions than happened across a Somalian blue-necked ostrich in full mating fever...it was an amazing sight! He shimmied and tango'd for all he was worth! The female was still unimpressed and after a short pursuit, the male ran off in humiliation. Still as we neared the airstrip a black rhino was making his way up a hill and turned as if to bid us farewell---all on the way to the airstrip!

Rwanda was next and it was surprising. After the horrific genocide of the 90s I wasn't sure what to expect...the genocide memorial was just heartbreaking but I believe an absolute must to try and understand what exactly happened and how it happened. There are more than 250,000 people interred at the memorial site. Some interesting things I,
Learned is that 56% of the parliament is made up of women... Our guide was the only female guide in the country. A very impressive young lady. Plastic bags are outlawed there and Kigale is one of the cleanest cities I've visited in Africa. Each month there is a day set aside for community service and improvement. There seems to be a real positive energy and a new spirit. I was very happy to see this in the wake of such horror now 18 years ago...

The Sabyinyo Lodge was a several hour drive from Kigale through beautiful terraced landscape...Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country and the soil is rich but the terrain covered in hills...they said the hike up to the lodge was tougher than the hike to see the gorillas and threre is some truth to that...a beautiful view from the lodge though of the surrounding volcanoes. I really enjoyed the couple that managed the lodge. We loved the fireplace in each room!

My dad was concerned about the gorilla trek as he's 78 and has had double bypass surgery. They encouraged him to do it. They said they would request an easier group to visit, the group of eight would go along at his pace and that your time with the gorillas is not cut short at all as they put the slower in front and the group would have an hour with the gorilla family--- no problems!

The hike the next morning took about an hour or so...we walked in the fresh footsteps of forest elephant tracks...our group was the Sabyinyo family which has the oldest and largest silverback (therefore they don't move around as much) there was a second silverback that might challenge one day, but for now, it was peaceable kingdom! 20 feet is the limit but the gorillas do not always oblige! They were all around...feeding, napping, wrestling, grooming, nursing, kissing, playing King of the Hill...it was one amazing experience! We stopped off at the twin lakes...just stunning beauty...on our way back to Kigale....had a great dinner at Republika restaurant to top off our time in Rwanda.

Back In Nairobi we lunched at Tomambo out at Karen Blixen's and enjoyed watching the ex pats and locals enjoy a Sunday afternoon...we also visited the giraffe center and the Sheldrick Orphanage...great fun to feed the endangered Rothschild giraffes and watch the baby ellies feed and splash around in the mud---warning you could get sprayed with mud on the front row!

We wound up the day in the Mara. The Mara Serena sits atop a hill and has magnificent views out over the Mara in all directions! From what we are used to it is also. A bit raucous with loud families and children on holiday. The reason we chose it was its location in the Mara triangle and the potential to see the migration and Mara river crossings. The migration has been delayed this year due to abundant rains in the Serengeti so I was anxious as to whether we might have arrived a week too soon...

But my request to be surrounded by thousands of gnuing wildebeests was answered in the affirmative as we made our way toward the TZ border....indeed, the wildies were pouring into the Mara! Some highlights: watching crocs feeding on a hippo carcass (the hippo likely died in a fight with another hippo) it was a grisly scene but still fascinating to watch, breakfast at a hippo pool where we watched a hippo chase off a large croc, lions with cubs, attempting to watch a zebra crossing at the main crossing point we spotted a leopard patrolling the opposite bank. We intercepted a mother cheetah and young cub, and witnessed the migration making its way into the Mara, wildies by the thousands...but the highlight was surely watching one of the first crossings by wildies of the year. It almost didn't happen as we arrived on our morning drive and some had already crossed...now they implored the rest to follow suit and cross as well...I thought witnessing this scene was one of the most interesting things I've seen watching wildlife...but it almost didn't happen!

An over eager landrover on The opposite bank drove right into the herd at the crossing point and got stuck!! The wildebeests scattered searching for another place to cross! Meanwhile the separated families called out their gnuing sound to follow...separated calves ran along the shore line looking for mum! It was frustrating to watch...they amassed further down and several even made it as far as the shoreline but doubled back...columns of other wildies ran around the river bend and disappeared. Meanwhile the landrover got unstuck and moved and the herd moved back to the original position...it was going to happen! The boldest one being a small calf intent on reuniting with its mother! But all of a sudden here comes that same landrover barreling toward the. Tossing point...where two others had stopped, this vehicle kept going!! Twice we thought this idiot was going to thwart the crossing! Luckily we waved our arms and motioned to get away and they actually left the scene altogether. The crossing began again in earnest complete with a croc taking out a young wildebeest --- it was like an Animal Lanet special but live before our very eyes...really incredible!

We transferred over to Main Governors seeing more than 20 lions on that day...saw a lioness hunting (and missing!) a warthog family...saw many more cheetah, another with one cub and another with two very tiny cubs! We saw one lioness with four young cubs as well, three of the Four Muskateer males that rule the territory....witnessed another crossing of mostly zebras, floated over the Mara on a hot air balloon which was incredibly beautiful to see this perspective and varied scenery including the river, the forest, the plains and the escarpment...we saw hundreds of. Thousands of the migrating herds as they poured into the mara from both the Loita Plains and the Serengeti...and ended our stay in the Mara watching a leopard feeding on its kill of a young wildebeest, a sign of plenty to come over the next few months...I'll attach links to pics from Facebook that I've posted and also some crude vids I took from my camera as well...hope you enjoy them!
gatoratlarge is offline  
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Aug 12th, 2012, 07:15 AM
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Sounds like a fabulous trip! I've also spent most of my safari time down in Southern Africa, and am looking for a reason to head back East. I'll take a look at Lewa Safari camp.
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Aug 12th, 2012, 11:24 AM
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Some narrative is provided

We started off at Lewa:


Next Rwanda:


Then the Masai Mara:


Scenes from The Great Migration:


And lastly, some cools vids I took with my camera, not high quality but I got some good action:

Wildebeest crossing and a croc attack:


Gorilla life:


Lion hunt at Lewa:


An ostrich mating dance!


Feeding Time at the Sheldrick Orphanage:


Hippo devoured by crocs:


There are plenty more, but to end on a fun note, the elephant 

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Aug 12th, 2012, 06:12 PM
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What a great trip - gorillas, rhinos, the Mara and the migration - perfect! And how great that you and your dad and niece went together. You have wonderful pictures, too! Love all the little babies.
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Aug 15th, 2012, 01:03 AM
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You must have had a one-in-a-lifetime experience here in Kenya. Nice narration and pictures.
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Aug 16th, 2012, 12:47 PM
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Gatoratlarge, who did you use to organize this tour? Thinking of doing a similar trip in the next couple years.
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Aug 16th, 2012, 02:45 PM
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We used Cooney World Adventures and Eyes On Africa...mike Cooney is a local guy here in FL and Vanessa Hensley with Eyes On Africa is marvelous. She helped us with our last safari in South Africa a couple years ago. I have to say, I really don't like to rank our trIps, but some of the sightings this trip were some of the best wildlife viewing we've had...I sort of like the small camps of southern Africa but the scenery and wildlife of eastafrica is hardto beat. We really enjoyed the gorillas too.
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