My Kenya Adventure Diary


Aug 10th, 2011, 06:45 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,160
My Kenya Adventure Diary

My Kenya Diary

A fantastic trip and way beyond our expectation of what a safari should be! I began planning the trip in mid June and luckily was able to book a couple of camps that I had previously researched. With the advices from the posters at Fodors and Tripadvisor along with my previous research made this trip a lot of fun and I would like to thank everyone who posted trip reports and help give me recommendations and advices.

The start.

I wanted to fly with Kenya Airways who fly directly from Bangkok to Nairobi but the flights were all full, in all travel classes, on the dates we needed. Ended up flying with Emirates which required a stop in Dubai but the benefit will be the complimentary stopover on our way back home in a 5 stars hotel. The flights went smoothly and we greatly enjoyed Dubai airport’s terminal 3 and the Emirate lounge there.

Upon landing in Nairobi I had a vision, based on several trip reports, of long lines at the Kenyan immigration and an even longer waiting time for the luggage to be offloaded. Well we landed at 2.45PM on a Sunday and to our delight there was waiting at all and the luggage came out within 15 minutes. The driver from our first hotel, the Giraffe Manor, was waiting outside with a rather delightful sign (a giraffe’s head sticking out from the top) which made it very easy to spot. The drive took around 30 minutes and we arrived at an English looking manor with wide open grounds.

The Giraffe manor was a delight and we love everything about it except for the disappointing food. The weather in Nairobi was unusually cold and overcast for the two nights that we were there. Temperature didn’t exceed 15C during the day time and at night it hovered around 10C, how English like! We met several of the resident Rothschild giraffes who visited us through the windows of the dining room and on the grounds. “Kissing” a giraffe is an experience everyone should try! Our other activities in Nairobi were shopping for my wife who found several locally made jewelries and other souvenirs at Utamaduni Craft Centre. Another activity that is worth mentioning is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant centre and we visited there at around 4PM with our new found friends, two ladies from New York, and ended up adopting a blind black rhino and a baby elephant.

After two wonderful nights in Nairobi it was time for the Masai Mara. I was so afraid of the weight limit that, with the advice of MaryW’s husband, I invested in a travel vest from “Scottevest”. The vest look rather “nerdish” but I was able to carry 16KG of computers, Ipad, batteries and other heavy items inside the jackets without showing it. Our luggage weighed in at a combined total of 26KG and with the extra 16KG in my jacket and 10KG in my wife’s purse we made it on to the plane without having to repack our stuff or pay any overweight penalty. In hindsight I probably didn’t need the special “vest” as I don’t think that they are that strict about the weight limit as no hand carried items were weighted.

Lacking an accurate weather forecast for both Nairobi and the Masai Mara I feared that the cold overcast weather will be at our destination as well since distant wise they are not that far apart. The Dash -7 took off on time and after 15 minutes we finally broke the cloud cover and saw the sun for the first time in 3 days. The pilot made an announcement that the weather at Keekorok, our destination, was good – sunny and I was elated with joy. The last 10 minutes of our flight we could see the grounds and wow no clouds! The landscape was barren, brownish and look devoid of life but as soon as we were low enough I could see groups of wildebeest roaming the land – yeah!

The Masai Mara.

To hedge our chances of seeing the migration I booked two camps that were relative far apart but both being inside the national park. Our first camp was Sala’s camp, a “real” tented camp with no permanent structures or buildings. We landed at what look like a makeshift airstrip with several 4x4 parked waiting for the arriving passengers. I looked at all the signs carried by the drivers and none were from Sala’s camp and then I walked around to all the vehicles and non were from Sala’s camp as well. Oh, oh a nightmarish scenario was happening to us! A local Masai guide from another camp came over and called the camp for us while I called my travel agent in Nairobi. After a few minutes I was reassured that the guide and vehicle from Sala’s was coming and they had mistook my arrival time to be 2 hours later! All the vehicles at the airstrip started to leave and the Masai guide volunteered to stay with us as he could see that we were quite angry and scared. The last vehicle leaving the airstrip stop by where we were standing with our luggage and a group of Chinese TV production crew got out and ask us what was wrong. Their vehicle was full of TV cameras and other equipment but they offer to take us to our camp and volunteered to stay with us at the airstrip as well. One of the Chinese documentary film makers was quite famous in China and the other one who called himself “Simba” was there to film Lions. What a great world we live in when total strangers offering to help us in our time of need!

Masai Mara day 1.

Leaving the airstrip with our very apologetic driver we started to see wildebeests, zebras and the other animals on the plain. Both my wife and I were very excited taking numerous photos and video and then driver advised that we should stop as what we were seeing was nothing in comparison to what is around Sala’s camp itself. I thought no way that what our driver was saying can be right as I was seeing Wildebeests in groups of a thousand or more and zebras groups of 50 or more. After a relatively short drive and with a few stops to photographs “sunning” lions and lioness that were only 5 feet away from our vehicle we arrived at safari heaven!

After climbing to the top of a small ridge the land below suddenly became black with wildebeests all tightly grouped together. What an amazing sight and we later learned from the owner of Sala’s camp and a visiting “gold” star guide who was accompanying a family from India that the herds around Sala’s is classify as a “Mega – Herd” and there are approximately 700,000 wildebeests plus around 100,000 zebras and other migrating and residential animals around the camp. We were speechless and spent several minutes just looking at the magnificent sight before we told the driver to head into camp.

Sala’s camp is rather small with 7 tents and situated on the bank of the Sand River. Upon our arrival at the camp one of the owners, Ronaldo, came out very apologetically about the late arriving driver at Keekorok airstrip. We told him that it was not a nice feeling not being met but at least the kindness of strangers made up for it. We were shown to our tent, number 6 I think, and found it very rustic being a real tent set up on uneven grounds and no electricity. I knew about the camp but I was so relieve that my wife found the camp OK and like it.

After a quick lunch with only just the two of us in camp we wanted to start the game drive immediately. Ronaldo told us that it was best to start at 4.00PM since it was too hot and the animals will not be active. I insisted and after his failing to meet up with us he gave the driver/guide the OK. Our driver was “Alex” and he had only just started working with Sala’s for a month. A very entertaining young man with a great sense of humor and I knew straight away that we would get along.

We drove out of the camp passing numerous Wildebeests, Elands, Zebras and numerous antelope type animals (Thompson’s Gazelles, Elands etc). Alex headed for the bushes by the river bank and I asked him what he was looking for and he said rhinos or leopards. After about half an hour later we saw on the other side of the Sand River several vultures standing by a freshly killed wildebeests. Alex wanted to investigate and explained to us that there must be a predator nearby as the vultures would not dare eat the wildebeest. While crossing the Sand River, mostly sand bank and half way across, we came by a big lioness crouching behind some rocks on the river bed. I asked Alex if the wildebeest kill belonged to her and he said he didn’t think so. We waited silently by the lioness and a minute or two later a leopard emerged from the bushes!

The lioness stood up and began to move towards the leopard and Alex started our vehicle to follow the now running leopard. I got off a few shots, photos, of the leopard in flight and all the time I could hear the lioness growling while in chase. All these events happened right beside our vehicles so it was a terrific first safari for us!

The leopard scrambled and disappeared into the bushes by a ravine and the lioness followed him, a “him” or male from later photo identification. I pointed to a tree that I saw the leopard running toward and Alex parked our vehicle directly below the tree hoping to spot the leopard while giving us some shade. A loud growl came from the top of the tree and we spotted the leopard up there while the lioness was circling below in the ravine! My wife got so cared in the open top vehicle and the driver realized the danger and we moved back a few meters for safety. We were now about 5 meters away but still so close and it was a bit scary for a first time safari tourists. We parked there for the next 45 minutes and with no sign of the lioness leaving or the leopard daring to come down we called it a day and headed back to camp. On the way back we passed by the mega herds of wildebeest again and we ask Alex to stop the vehicle for some nice sunset pictures amongst the magnificent herd.
Arriving at the camp at dusk a spritely young lady quickly walks to our vehicle to greet us. It was the camp manager who was out earlier with another group of guests and she introduced herself and then again apologized to no ends about not having someone meeting us at the airstrip on time. I extended the greeting from Sandi to Sissa who immediately remembered Sandi as Sandi XXXX from New York. Not knowing where Sandi is from I simply said I think so and Sissa asked that I convey a big hello to you Sandi.

There was a roaring fire right outside the mess tent and Sisa offered us some snacks and drinks but we wanted to return to our tent and clean up before dinner. It was a full camp that day we all sat in one long table for dinner and made friends with everyone in camp. A family of 3(grandmother, mother and young son) from Zurich, a family of 6 from Holland, a couple from India who live in San Francisco travelling with their parents and a private guide(gold star) and us. The food was good but the conversation was better and with the ever so clear night sky of the Masai Mara we sat outside afterward talking under the bright shining stars beside the smouldering fire.
Hanuman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 07:21 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 8,675
Great start, even if driver not at airstrip. TIA!

Many times I've had to wait for a driver (so I wait... at least I'm in Africa), but the other guide/drivers will always extend themselves to call to be sure he/she is on their way. Not unusual for info re flight arrival/departure times or even airstrips are "off" or the wrong one, as when I departed Sala's, it wasn't from Keekorok, but rather from Siana, so we had to high-tail it up that long road thru Sekenani Gate for my flight.

And, YES, it's Sandi from NYC.

How great that you came upon major herds at/near/around the camp. Even more exciting the lion/leopard encounter... the kind of thing we often only see on Nat Geo (or the likes).

More, more!
sandi is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 07:55 AM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 415
Oh you are killing me....I want to go bck sooooo bad!
Neuman605 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:12 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,160
Masai Mara day 2.

This was our only full day of safari at Sala’s so we started early after breakfast and took a picnic lunch with us. To our surprise there was another staff member accompanying us, a “spotter”, and so the more the merrier!

Alex made a point about seeing the big 5 but we didn’t even know what animals constituted the “big 5”. Well on our first half day of safari we already saw 4 of the 5 – a lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo. Being a bit naïve about the whole big 5 thing I did not really see the significant of finding the last big 5 that we haven’t seen, a black rhino. Alex asked what we wanted to see the most I told him a river crossing and he took us to several crossing points with numerous wildebeests crossings. The rivers or stream were so small, places like the Keekorok River etc and I told him that I wanted a National Geographic type of crossing with crocs killing whatever was trying to cross the river. I knew that this was a very difficult request to fulfill but he asked so I told him!

We drove by hundreds of thousands of wildebeests going at what I thought was a relatively fast speed but the animals seem to be able to “jump” out of the way of our vehicle just in time. Passed by more lions and lioness with cubs, must had been over 20 lion sightings by now but they were not hunting and were mostly sleeping or eating their kills. I told Alex that we don’t need to see anymore sleeping lions (a lot of them sleep like my dog on their back) or elephants or buffalos so we headed toward Keekorok camp.

The further we got from Salas the less wildebeests and zebras. While they were in their hundreds of thousands around Salas now all we could see where groups of ten thousand or less. I began to worry as we only have 2 nights at Sala’s and begin thinking that I should had booked the camp for a few more nights. While driving at 50kph our spotter spotted a chase and kill by a family of cheetahs but it was roughly about 700 meters away from us. I could make out a cheetah running a full speed and clobbered something in a plume of dust. We quickly closed in on the kill and by this time 6 cubs, all the same size as their mom, joined in for the feast. More and more vehicles started to arrived and by the time we got close to the event there were at least 50 vehicles surrounding the kill. Thank god for the park ranger who kept us tourists at a fair distant away! I looked around at the other tourists who where there and there were a few groups of serious photographers with 600 or 800mm lenses which made my puny 70 – 200mm with the 2x extender looked so puny!

After a few minutes we spotted more lion, lioness and their cubs and I told Alex that I didn’t want to see them as we had been up close with them around Salas already and in total privacy with no other vehicles around. Alex spotted a sleeping pride of 5 males and 1 female and he headed straight for them and he told me that there was a celebrity there. I looked around for David Attenborough but most of the people there were mainland Chinese or Indians. Alex parked our vehicle 5 feet away from a lion and lioness and pointed toward the big lion and said that his name is “Notch” and he is the KING of the Masai Mara. Notch is some sort of a celebrity with the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, a program which we haven’t seen, but I never fail to take a photo or two of a star.

Our next stop was “Lookout Hill” where Alex tried his best to spot a “crossing” on the Mara River. No wildebeests in numbers could be seen and no zebras as well. Oh well, cest la vie, so we headed to an area that Alex had picked out for a picnic lunch. The area was very arid and dusty thus with every bite I could feel or taste the sands in our food! After lunch I told our guide that we would like to go back to camp and rest so we headed out at “full speed” which translates to about 30mph in the Masai Mara. We took a short cut crossing into Tanzania for a while and then reenter Kenya at a border marking. The car came to a sudden stop and Alex whispered “black rhino”. I looked in the shrubs and there he was a magnificent black rhino and we were only about 50 feet from him. I told Alex to close in for a better shot and he said that we cannot as he would run. After several photos I told Alex to make the rhino run and he looked at me in puzzlement! I had mistook the rhino “running” as running away but what Alex had tried to tell me was that if we got any closer the rhino would charged at us – silly me!

Back at camp early we rested and left camp again at 5.00PM to see some more beautiful sunsets. We drove out and were immediately in the middle of hundreds of thousands of wildebeests. Amongst them were the usual elephants, elans, hyenas, jackals, gazelles, dik diks, warthogs etc. We sat on the roof of our vehicle drinking beer and soft drink while the driver took a few pictures of us. The elephants came ever closer to us and we could see that it was one male and 6 female with 4 young ones. The male was “obviously” excited and ready to mate but none of the females would let him. All of the sudden he knelt down on his hind legs and began shaking his head! Alex said that he was begging the female to mate and I could not believe my eyes at such a sight! After the elephant got far enough from us we left the vehicle to some pictures amongst the animals and what a surreal moment standing on the Masai Mara at sunset with hundreds of thousands of animals around you.

Our last evening at Salas was wonderful as by this time everybody knew each other a little and we were talking as friends instead of strangers meeting for the first time. We exchanged emails with several people and retired to our tent with an armed guard accompanying us for the short walk. During the night, even after I’ve taken a sleeping pill, I awoke to sounds of wild animals and some creature brushing by our tent. The next morning we saw elephant “poo” outside and knew who our late night visitors were. Most of the guests were at the mess tent at 6.30am and all of us were leaving that same day. We bid goodbye to all and then set off for our onward journey further north in the Masai Mara.
Hanuman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:16 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 2,619
Sounds wonderful! What dates were you there?
ShayTay is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:29 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,597
What a wonderful trip! I can't wait to read more.

I had to laugh at you asking the driver to make the rhino run!
Kathie is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 123
Couldnt agree more! What an amazing safari and I have smiled through the entire report- love your writing style- cannot choose between the 'make the rhino run', 'he asked so I told him!' and 'never fail to take a photo or 2 of a star'! Look forward to more.....
tanya_1976 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:45 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,123
When are you returning? I'm enjoying reading about your adventures.
Marija is online now  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 09:10 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,160
I'm glad you are all enjoying my report! I will try and finished it ASAP as I have a lot of photos to processed, video editing and catching up with my work! Please excuse my English as well!

ShayTay - we arrived in Nairobi on July 31st. At Sala's Camp from August 2nd - 4th and at the Mara Explorer from August 4th - 8th.
Hanuman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 09:13 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,160
Masai Mara day 3.

The transfer from Sala’s Camp to our next camp took 1.5 hours by car while going as fast as we could. We arrived at The Mara Explorer shortly after 9.00AM and talked for a while with the manager there, Mariana. The Mara Explorer is definitely more resort or hotel like in comparison to Sala’s Camp and was a lot more luxurious as well. The only drawback IMO is the location as this part of the Masai Mara seems very crowded to me.

We rested in our tent listening to “nature” or sounds from the animals to the water flowing from the Talek River. Every now and then we could hear planes takeoff or landing at the nearby airfield and when the planes are not flying overhead it was very peaceful and relaxing. Our first lunch at the Mara Explorer was quite a surprise! Multiple choices were on offer for the 4 course lunch! The food was well presented but was not really “gourmet” IMO but quite surprising for where we were.

At 3.00PM we were introduced to our guide/driver – “James”. He will be our guide for the next 5 days and his demeanor and manner was the total opposite from our last guide. Very proper, polite and not very talkative. I wondered if he would be a good guide for us and we soon found out for ourselves how good he was. We told James that we had already seen a lot of animals by Sala’s Camp and he immediately told us that the herds were not really there in numbers yet. James also cautioned us that there will be many vehicles on game drives where we are and asked what we wanted to see the most. I told him that I was not interested in seeing sleeping animals or the big 5 but would rather see the predators hunting or perhaps a river crossing on the Mara River.

We left camp and I could see straight away that the wildebeests were thinly scattered all over the plains and thought to myself that I might ask James to go back to the area around Sala’s Camp. After about an hour James spotted what we thought was a lone lioness by some bushes. We drove close to it and it stood up and viola it was a young male lion. The lion starred intensely into the open grounds and to the river bank on the horizon. James got out his binocular and started scanning the area, for what I don’t know but he said that he was trying to figure out what the lion was interested in. We drove away in the direction the young lion was looking at and after a while my wife spotted a pride of lions sleeping by some bushes next to a ravine. James headed straight for the pride and parked our vehicle 5 feet from 3 male lions and a lioness. Two of the males were sleeping on their backs while the lioness was trying to seduce the other lion. I took some pictures of the them and then told James that it was OK to leave. James said let’s wait while he scanned the horizon with his binoculars.

After awhile James noticed that the young lion that we had spotted earlier was slowly approaching the pride. He would walk cautiously closer and then stop and looked and then proceeded to come closer. James explained to us that the young lion wanted to join the pride but was scarred to do so. My wife felt sorry for him and mentioned that he must be very lonely!

The young lion crept closer and closer to the now sleeping pride and I wondered what he wanted. When he got to about 50 feet two of the sleeping males stood up immediately to my surprise as I thought that they were deep asleep. The third lion stood up as well and then all hell broke loose! Our vehicle was parked 5 feet from the pride and directly behind us was the young lion. The three big males roar like thunder and took us by surprise as they started to walk toward the young lion. The alpha male crouched and stalks or crept toward the young lion who was now in a submissive pose, like the equivalent of a human fetal position. The roaring of the lions got more and more intense and all of the sudden the alpha males strike out at the young lion with his paw but the lucky young lad managed to “duck” just in time. I was standing up on the open vehicle taking photos while my wife was next to me with the video camera.

The young male ran down a ravine while the alpha male gave chase. The other two males roared constantly and ran towards our vehicle in pursuit as well. One of the big male brushed the side of our jeep and my wife scrambled to the floor of the jeep in fear! I stopped taking photo after the other male got too closed as I had a telephoto lens and could not focus. I felt scared as well as I have never been that close to angry lions before and comforted my wife while putting on a brave face.

The three lions went after the male down the ravine and all of the sudden another vehicle joined us followed shortly by 3 more vehicles as they could hear the lions roars. They were too late to see anything and we try to follow the fighting lions with our vehicle but could not get close. About 10 minutes later the 3 males returned and James spotted the young lion on the horizon again and he looked bloodied but still alive and moving away. Wow, wow,wow what excitement! By this time the sun was setting and I took more photos of the alpha males with the setting sun in the background – beautiful photo and a beautiful end to another exciting day.
Hanuman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 10:38 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,597
Wow - what an experience! I want you to know that I'm on the floor of the jeep with Dang!
Kathie is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 10:49 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
Brilliant report Pook, but I really wouldn't have wanted to see those lions chasing that poor lonely male. Give me sleeping animals everyday.......
Smeagol is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 12:16 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,892
I'm enjoying the play-by-play, Pook. Sounds like you had some exciting moments. Your not being picked up at the landing strip is typical Kenya - hasn't changed since we were there 16 years ago.

Looking forward to more and to seeing your pix and videos...
Craig is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 12:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,924
fantastic experiences... good thing dang was there to protect you..
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 12:39 PM
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 57
Fantastic report - as if I wasn't already excited enough to leave Sunday now I won't be able to sleep thinking about all the good stuff to come.
sperraglia is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 01:58 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 8,675
pole! pole!
slowly, slowly!
have patience

... even if you think you want to leave somewhere/something, if you've got a good guide, wait on them to say "it's time to go!" Give them the benefit of doubt... more often than not they know what's happening (or about to) on the plains and out of nowhere... surprise! I love when lions are that close you can smell them and when angry hear them!

Notch! Notch! Notch! Still a terror out there when we thought your time was up. Good for you ole fella!

Believe that black rhino hangs around Sala's. We drove back-n-forth in/out of brush and that one kept one step ahead of us. It's not like I hadn't seen lots of black (or even white) rhino before, but the guide/tracker were so intent that I did with them, they were so insistent. So, we'd get a quick look and then he was gone. Still an interesting afternoon.

As to the volume of wildies on the plains - know that from hour-to-hour and place-to-place, they move. You were fortunate to see large numbers around Sala's, but they can just as easily disappear as a ghost a mere 15/minute drive away... then large herds appear elsewhere. Those crazy wildies!

Glad to hear Mariana is back at Explorer. She had been when I visited a few years ago, but then left for awhile and now returned. Nice lady! As to Explorer being "more resort" - well, you should see the Mara Safari Club in the Mara North Conservancy... that's a resort, with manicured lawns... ugh! Explorer is just different than the more rustic Sala's. Both excellent choices.

More, more... and can't wait for the pics.
sandi is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 05:12 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
What exciting accounts you had and even a group of Chinese documentary makers. Great report!
atravelynn is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 07:40 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Sounds great Pook. Makes me want to go but I'm with Smeagol on the sleeping lions bit.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 08:06 PM
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 689
Hanuman can't believe you're back already! Wowza sounds like such an exciting time you had with all those cats. Love it!

Wondering if the kitchen @ Giraffe Manor might be having difficulty keeping up with the added guests from the new building. Where was breakfast? In the older manor or the new one?

Can't wait for those pics!
KathBC is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2011, 09:33 PM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,473
And Alex delivers a leopard (plus lion) on your first game drive--very nice!

Great report! This Kenya-lover is looking forward to the next installment.
Leely2 is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 06:01 AM.