Kenya trip

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Jan 21st, 2005, 04:11 AM
  #1
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Join Date: Feb 2003
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Kenya trip

Just returned from one of the best ever safaris in Kenya with family and friends. I will try to be brief but that might be difficult.

I organised the trip through Vintage Africa who are an exceptional outfit. Our programme was 4 nights at Siana Intrepids Tented Camp which is 30 minutes from the game reserve proper, however, one should note that there are no fences between the game reserve and the outlying areas which means wildlife is free to roam virtually everywhere in the Mara region. From Mara we flew to Sabuk for a 3 night camel trip, yes with the children in tow, and it was the best thing everyone has ever done! Finally we ended up on Lamu Island at a resort called Kipungani. More on that later.

Choice of camp - Siana is a delightful fenced camp set by natural springs. This attracts spectacular birdlife to the camp. We specifically chose this camp as we had children in the party but beyond that it is smaller than other Mara camps and lodges in Eastern Mara, has an excellent setting and ambience and a welcoming pool, has great staff, is good value for money and is on a private conservation area, where off-road game drives are permitted. In the Mara some areas permit off-road game driving and some don't. The eastern Mara does not permit off-road driving but it appears this will soon be extended to the entire game reserve.

We flew straight from Nairobi to Masai Mara. This is the advantage of flying Kenya Airways which arrives early morning in Nairobi and allows you to connect to the Mara flight at 10.00. The plane landed late but Vintage Africa met us right inside the airport and saw us through visa formalities quicker than anyone else - fill your visa forms in advance. As we came out of the airport we were surprised by an african dance troupe which Vintage Africa had arranged for our welcome. This got everyone dancing and in the safari mood - what a welcome to Kenya! We freshened up and had breakfast at Intercontinental Hotel before going to Wilson airport. This really revitalised us after the overnight flight.

Rather than drive,, we flew to Siana. We were met at the airstrip by 2 gorgeous 'brunettes' and their 'minders'. These were the brand new Landcruisers from Vintage Africa and as we discovered during our stay they were the envy of the rest of the Mara pack.

We had booked the 4-wheel drives as we were keen to go to areas where minibuses could not. Vintage Africa landcruisers are stretched and sit 6 people in great comfort and each seat row has access to its own roof which stops the crowd of six banging into each other. There were 3 sets of binoculars for each row and thank goodness they were good quality ones as some of ours were barely worth having. Good binoculars are essential for birding as well as in poor light conditions. As the Landcruisers do not work out much more expensive than the minibus, especially if one is in a group, I highly recommend them.

On the first day we had our first game drive in the afternoon. We left at 3.00 , a little early to compensate for the drive to the game reserve proper. We saw elephant, buffalo, giraffe, the usual plains game and a cheetah. But we were dissapointed by the number of cars. Although the cars were well behaved, to see 15 to 20 vehicles on the road observing a lone cheetah was not our cup of tea. We left the reserve in a state of gloom - is this what we had come to the Mara for? The gloom was lifted as the drivers drove us straight to a sundowner on a hill near Siana which revealed the mesmeric beauty of the Mara landscape. To this day I believe Mara is the most beautiful park in Africa. If you ever go to the Mara try to find an elevated vantage point for a glorious view of the Mara under the the huge African skies, frequently lit up in hues of orange and red at dusk.

The next day we set off for the game drive a little late so that we could have a lie-in and recover from the London flight. The day resulted in the best game drive I have had in many years. Who said the best game drives are early morning ones and late afternoon ones. They are if you are a keen photographer but not if you want to avoid herds of cars.

We set off at 9.30 and 5 minutes from Siana spotted a large group of giraffe, warthog, gnu, topi, ostrich, impala, grant's and thompsons gazelles and hartebeest. And we had a close-up view of all this wildlife as we could go off-road. As we watched the wildlife, there was not another car in sight! Most tourists had returned to the lodge to relax until the afternoon game drive. Throughout the day we encountered only 6 cars and 5 of them on our way back to the lodge at 7.00pm! The Mara was to be virtually ours for 10 hours. The 4-wheel drive played an important part in keeping us away from the crowd.

We had not seen lions yet so the two drivers were keen to keep us happy. Our driver was Euticus, a brilliant birder and spotter who had worked as driver guide for 25 years or so. The first lion sighting was at 11.30, a pride with cubs that sat under a tree to cool off. Not another car in sight and we stayed with the lions for nearly an hour!

Our plan was to head from Fig Tree/Mara Intrepids area towards the Serena area. It had rained heavily the previous night so our landcruisers had a definite advantage over the minbuses as some of the tracks were in a bad state and the rivers were fuller for any minibus to drive through.

As we drove through the Mara we spotted a black-maned lion with several battle marks. A few meters further Euticus spotted a black rhino! Indeed a rare find these days in the Mara. Once again no other cars so we watched the rhino for 20 minutes. Several sightings of elephant and buffalo followed including one with 'five legs' which had the children amused.

A point to note - the landcruisers had open roofs (no cover) so one has to cover onself with sun cream and hat and wear long sleeved shirts for a full-day game drive. I still prefer open roofs as they afford unhindered views of the plains and provides you with a sense of freedom that pop-up roofs don't.

We finally got to a picnic spot at 3.00 - a lone acacia tree with miles and miles of savannah surrounding us - a scene straight out of the film 'Out of Africa'. We were in the Transzoia district which permitted off-road driving. The picnic was wonderful. Vintage Africa had arranged a special one with Siana and instead of the usual boxed lunches we found freshly baked quiche, salads, cold meets, chicken, samosas... They had arranged wine, beer, sof drinks... Here we were in the middle of the Mara with no other car or people in site having a most delicious picnic lunch. Behind us were impalas, zebras, topi and dark clouds with rain heading towards us. The air was heavily scented, remined me of sage. We couldn't have asked for a better lunch venue than the one we were at. Everyone thought it was the best picnic they ever had.

At 4.30 we set off for the Mara River. It was getting late and the light poorer so we were keen to spot the crocs and hippo before heading back home. Our first croc was a massive monster with a big girth probably carried over from the migration period. Hippos were not easy to come by as we followed the river and came across lions instead. Eventually, we spotted tons of hippo pods snorting and groaning as they continued defining the heirachy and establishing the territory. The hippos are always a fab sight and the children were reluctant to leave. But at 5.30 with the light fading we had to make a move for Sekenani gate which was another hour away. That is until we spotted 2 hunting lionesses. On watched the target, a warthog mother and her babies, while the other manoeuvered stealthily behind the warthogs. We watched this from a distance not wanting to disturb the hunt and thanks to Vintage Africa binoculars we were clearly able to witness the lioness game plan. It was exciting while it lasted. Fortunately the warthogs escaped and the lionesses regrouped with a slight loss of pride.

By now it was 6.00 and we had nearly another hour to drive to the gate. We had to push it a bit but kept on sighting game after game including hyenas lying in mud pools on the road and blocking our path. Fortunately the rain which had threatened to drench us eluded us and we managed to reach the gate at 7.15. After a slight rebukefrom the warden , which we could handle after such a fabulous day, we were allowed to continue onto Siana where we arrived well after dark. It was well worth it and the drivers had done a marvellous job!

The next day was the balloon safari from Fig Tree and we thought it couldn't get any better than today...
king is offline  
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Jan 27th, 2005, 02:37 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 9
Great trip report. Seems like a full daily game drive is the way to go.

I've got loads of questions but will post on another thread since my trip will be in August and migration time.
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