Patty & Mark's Kenya Tanzania Trip

Reply

Dec 10th, 2005, 11:03 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Patty & Mark's Kenya Tanzania Trip

I hope you guys like your trip reports long!

Here's the 15 day Kenya portion. Days 16-20 in Tanzania still to come. I hope to get all of the photos uploaded by next week.

Hard to believe that it was only 14 months ago when we started planning our first trip to East Africa. At that time I had tickets in hand to fly to Nairobi 3 months later but was completely clueless about what we were actually going to do when we got there. Thanks to the help of this board, I was able to quickly put together a successful first trip to Kenya. At the time I honestly thought that it would be several years before we’d return to East Africa or any part of Africa. Little did I realize that 9 months later, we’d find ourselves there again (though I think Dennis has me beat on the quickest return ).

I spent most of that flight back from Nairobi in early February trying to figure out when we’d be able to go back and ideas for a return trip were in the works. From our experiences on the first trip, we knew that we wanted to stay longer, get somewhat off the beaten path, see contrasting environments, travel in a slower season, stay at small accommodations, and spend some time out of the vehicle. The hardest part was deciding specifically where to go and we literally worked through dozens of possible itineraries before settling on what we did. Even 20 days isn’t that much time, but the places that got cut just make good excuses for another trip.

We picked November primarily because it’s low season in East Africa, but also because I knew it would be easier to redeem award seats at that time of year. I now think it’s a great time of year to go. The weather was perfect. We experienced very little rain and what rain there was came in the form of short afternoon showers which had a welcomed cooling effect. We encountered very few other tourists. Even at Nakuru and the Masai Mara, there weren’t that many other vehicles. Elsewhere, we pretty much had the places to ourselves. Aside from a few visiting friends and relatives, we were the only guests at almost all of the places where we stayed. Most of the visiting friends and relatives were Kenyan residents so it made for very interesting conversations. We learned so much on this trip and felt that we got a glimpse of life in Kenya which we otherwise would’ve never seen. Only at Kicheche and the second night at Malu were there other paying guests.

Day 1 - Our trip started with 3 flights from LAX (via ATL and AMS) arriving at NBO around 8:30pm on the evening of November 15. The KLM day time flight to NBO is very scenic – we flew over the Alps, the cone of Mt. Vesuvius, the Nile – I somehow managed to miss this spectacular scenery last time. As before, since we were one of the first passengers off the aircraft, there was no line at the visa desk. While we were waiting for our luggage, I went over to one of the exchange bureaus to change some money and waved to Julius who was waiting for us outside of customs. We used the same tour operator, Eastern and Southern Safaris, as our last trip since we were very pleased with their services and requested the same guide. Outside of customs, I picked up a second SIM card and topped up both and off we went to the Hilton for our first night. Within an hour of our flight arrival, we were checked in and in our room.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:04 AM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 2 - The following morning after a quick stop at E&S’s office and an ATM, we set out on our 2 week adventure in Kenya. The first place where we’re staying is El Karama, a 14,000 acre ranch in Laikipia about 42 km from Nanyuki. Stays at El Karama are basically self catered. Included in their very reasonable rates are accommodations, a ranch guide for all game drives and walks, a cook, and your own private paradise. Our tour operator provisioned us, and Julius took us on game drives in the E&S vehicle accompanied by a ranch guide. The drive from Nairobi to El Karama took about 4.5 hours total (3 hours to Nanyuki and another 1.5 hours from there) with a very brief downpour enroute. On the way, we stopped for lunch at the Trout Tree just south of Nanyuki where the specialty on the menu was guess what? The restaurant is situated on an elevated platform built around a large fig tree in a forest setting with colobus monkeys and the trout was certainly fresh! We arrived on the ranch property by mid-afternoon and immediately see some zebra (both Grevy’s and Burchell’s), reticulated giraffe, dik dik, and baboons. Since there’s no signage, it took us a little driving around to figure out where we’re supposed to go but that just gave us a nice glimpse of this very picturesque ranch.

This combination game and cattle ranch has been owned by the Grant family since 1963 and our ranch guide, Joseph, has worked there for the last 14 or so years. The accommodations are set on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro river which also forms one of the boundaries of the ranch. On the other side of the river is neighboring Segera Ranch which by the way is on the market for around USD 4 million in case anyone is interested At the time of our stay, there was really only one guest accommodation, a stone rondavel with a separate adjacent bath, as Murray Grant was living in the other family cottage. They were in the process of finishing 4 new ensuite stone bandas replacing the original older bandas which should be completed or near completion by now. Murray said they had to be finished soon as they’d accepted bookings for them in December!

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the detached bathroom which was located in a nearby semi-open stone rondavel but it worked out fine, you just had to scan for eyes at night From the bath tub, there’s a lovely view of the river. The other rondavel which contained the bedroom is fairly basic consisting of a double bed, 2 single beds, a small dresser, and a few small side tables. Lighting is by kerosene (so where does the hairdryer go? ). A larger central open air stone building a short walk away housed the dining and living areas including a fireplace. The facilities are simple and casual (not for the traveler who requires luxury) but while you’re staying there you really feel like the whole place is ‘yours’. We actually love the place just the way it is and hope that the addition of the new bandas don’t change the character too much. We got settled in and went on our first official game drive at 5:00pm and stayed out until about 8:00pm with the loan of a spotlight from the ranch.

Instead of listing every species on each game drive, I’ll just list some highlights and any new species we encounter. This afternoon we saw more zebra, reticulated giraffe, hartebeest, eland, impala, kori bustard, a tawny eagle and at night under a full moon we saw an African wildcat, serval, genet, leopard, several white tailed mongoose, and lots and lots of hares though we were only able to get close enough to the leopard to get clear pictures. I don’t know how anybody else feels about night game drives but I love them. You get to see completely different species than during the day. Dinner was served when we returned from the game drive. We asked for Kenyan food so what we ate was very much ‘comfort food’ which we enjoyed. The ranch is located at an elevation of around 6000 feet and day time temps were warm but not hot. Nights can get quite chilly and I needed both my fleece pullover and windbreaker.

We’re the only guests here except for a few friends of Murray - Richard and Liz of Richard’s Camp in the Mara, their friend Maria, and a papillon named Foxy Cleopatra who all flew in for one evening.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:05 AM
  #3
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 3 – The next morning at 7:00am we went for our very first game walk. It’s a beautiful morning and what a different perspective to be viewing game on foot. We study lots of different tracks and scat and saw our first leopard tortoise. On foot, we were able to get closest to the giraffe. After about 2 hours we return for breakfast and I had a long, hot soak in the bath tub with the river view. During the day we just lounged around and Murray took us on a tour of the unfinished bandas and his own house which he was in the process of building. We also met his sister Laria who operates the horseback safaris on the ranch. We were supposed to go on another game walk this afternoon but a thunder shower started just as we were about to set out so the walk turned into a drive. I told Joseph he had to top last night by finding us a pack of wild dogs but it was not to be. We did however see a pair of aardwolf tonight and got a closer look at the white tailed mongoose.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:06 AM
  #4
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 4 – After breakfast we left the ranch around 8:30am. On our way out we saw a huge bull elephant even though we’d been told that the elephants had migrated off the ranch recently so it was exciting and unexpected! We stopped at Nanyuki Spinners & Weavers where we bought a large wool rug and had it shipped home. We’re expecting it any day now. We continued the drive down to Nyeri and back up through Mweiga (rather than cutting across due to the condition of the road). Shortly past Solio Game Reserve, we turn off onto a dirt road. 45 minutes and a few wrong turns later, we arrive at Olea Africana around 1:00pm. There to greet us are Petra Allmendinger, her 7 year old daughter Tessa, and the dogs, Tak, Pia, & Musa, and Mr. Elliott the cat. Petra has lived in Kenya for 17 or so years and has been in this current location for about 4 years. She has two guest cottages on the property and is a wonderful host. The cottages are decorated with Petra’s paintings. Each cottage has a double and single bed, table, chair, sitting area and outside patio, very dim solar lighting (I really don’t know what I was thinking when I packed a hairdryer for this trip ) and not much water pressure (understandable given what’s involved to collect both the water and the firewood used to heat the water but just thought I’d point that out).

In the surrounding area are mostly small farms, there are 3 horses available for riding and you can take walks and see life in Kenya. It’s very much a homestay type of place and the food is absolutely delicious (as a matter of fact, throughout our trip the best food was always on the farms where much of it is grown on site) – I’m drooling right now thinking about the homemade papaya ice cream ….mmmmm.

About a half hour drive away is Solio and another 15 minutes further is Aberdares NP. This afternoon we decided to go fetch firewood with Petra on a neighboring property getting stuck in the mud on the way back and having to push the car out. Do we pay extra for this ‘authentic African experience’? We’re the only guests this evening but some friends of Petra from Nyeri are coming to stay tomorrow night. Unfortunately for Julius this means that he gets booted out of the second cottage and has to drive an hour south to Nyeri tomorrow night as Petra has no driver accommodations (but perhaps he actually enjoys a break from us).
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:07 AM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 5 – This morning we head out with a picnic for a full day outing to Solio and the Aberdares. Solio is a privately run, completely fenced reserve and its primary purpose is a rhino breeding facility. There are approx. 150 rhino here with greater numbers of white than black. You’re guaranteed to see white rhino and if lucky or patient, you should find the black rhino. We saw lots of white rhino, many with babies, and a pair of black rhino. In addition we also saw hadada ibis, secretary birds, some kind of plover which I’ll ask for help in identifying later in my pictures, beisa oryx, defassa waterbuck, warthogs, and a cheetah relaxing under a tree just on the other side of the reserve fence. We were so intently focused on the rhino inside the reserve that we almost missed the cheetah right on the other side of the vehicle! I think we’re the only visitors this morning as we never encountered another vehicle. We unpacked our picnic lunch to find a vegetable quiche, a fresh salad from Petra’s garden, grilled chicken and rice pilaf, chocolate brownies, and a hot thermos each of coffee and tea. No cheese sandwiches and hard boiled eggs in this picnic!

After lunch, we headed to Aberdares NP for a game drive around the Salient. Right near the Treetops gate we see some blue syke monkeys. Other species seen were black and white colobus monkeys, lots of warthogs, herds of buffalo, bushbuck and the most exciting was a giant forest hog very close to the road who stood and posed for a second before trotting off into the forest. This thing is quite huge, almost like a mini-buffalo! What a great day, we loved what we saw of the Aberdares, such a different environment, and tomorrow we plan to drive through the park to get to Nakuru. We saw no other vehicles here either. We did attempt to visit both Treetops and the Ark without success. Why are these tree hotels so secretive anyway? At the Ark I was even told that they needed to contact the Aberdare Country Club for permission when I asked to use their restroom!

This evening we had interesting conversations with some Dutch friends of Petra while watching the bush babies jump through the trees. They had lived near the Mara for a year, another year in Nyeri and were leaving Kenya to move to Cameroon soon. They told us what areas of the Mara we should see and we really got a better sense than we ever had before of the reserve and surrounding area. We also heard about the robbery incident in the Mara in August (which we knew about) and the one in October (which we didn’t know about) that was kept much more hush hush. Here it’s also about 6000 feet in elevation and quite chilly at night.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:07 AM
  #6
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 6 – Today we’re heading to Nakuru the long way around! We were originally scheduled to drive the much shorter route via Nyaharuru but I thought that going through the park would make for a more interesting drive instead. Everyone was very keen on the idea including Julius who said he had never done it before, so it was a new experience for everyone. The only thing I would’ve done differently in retrospect is to have Petra pack us a picnic lunch as it takes several hours to drive through the park and there were still some areas that we didn’t cover. If we did it again, I also might opt to spend a night at one of the KWS Fishing Bandas in the moorland.

We entered through the Ark gate and exited the Mutubio gate. The park roads are well maintained and the landscape changes from forest to moorland as we climb to an altitude of about 10,500 feet. Today we saw lots of elephants – on a forested hillside (hard to believe they can climb such steep areas) and the highlight was arriving at a swamp in the moorland just in time to see a herd of elephants starting to cross. We sat and watched the procession until the last elephant crossed – magnificent! We made a stop at Chania Falls and in the distance saw one other vehicle, our very first ‘tourista vanicus’ sighting this trip.

As we were all getting a bit hungry, we decided to stop at the Lake Naivasha Country Club for lunch instead of continuing directly to Lake Nakuru. After lunch we took a short walk to the lake shore and found a hippo grazing in the middle of the afternoon! The drive from Naivasha to Nakuru was very bumpy, the worst stretch so far this trip. We entered Nakuru NP through the Lanet gate and immediately proceeded on a game drive. My first impression of Nakuru was how unnatural it felt as all of the animals were so habituated to vehicles that they didn’t try to move away at all. We were so close to one waterbuck that it felt like I could literally reach out and pat him on the head (not that I would do that). At first it bothered me a bit, but I started to appreciate the park more by the next day.

We made our way south around the lake and saw lots of flamingo, white pelican, marabou stork, some white rhino including a mother and baby, and a Masai ostrich. We exited the park through the Nderit gate to get to Mbweha Camp, located approx. 15 minutes drive outside the park, getting there just in time for a quick hot shower and dinner. Even though Naivasha and Nakuru are also in the 6000 feet elevation range, it feels warmer both during the day and at night on this side of the Aberdares.

Mbweha Camp consists of 9 stone cottages (we were again the only guests) each with a small sitting area/patio in front surrounded by euphorbia trees. As we only spent a total of 14 hours here, much of it asleep, it’s difficult for me to make too many comments. I thought the cottages themselves were quite comfortable and the showers had excellent water pressure! They were renovating the dining area so set a table for us in the bar area right next to the fireplace. We didn’t participate in any optional activities, but I know that they offer night drives, walks and hot air ballooning over the Rift Valley. Jonas the cat didn’t make an appearance during our stay.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:08 AM
  #7
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 7 – It’s election day but all is calm as we drive by several polling stations. There were also no incidents of violence during major rallies by both sides in Nairobi a few days ago. We left Mbweha Camp after breakfast for another game drive in Nakuru. We spent some time in the forest at the south end of the lake, saw many Rothschild giraffe, silver backed jackal, vervet monkeys, a fish eagle, but weren’t able to find any leopards. At the Baboon Cliffs lookout, we saw an agama lizard and rock hyrax. We left the park around 11:00am and drove north toward Lake Baringo.

The drive to Baringo took about 2 hours over mostly smooth road but with a few potholed stretches where we drove in a serpentine manner. We descend to an elevation of approx 3000 feet and it starts to get scorching hot in the mid day sun. We reach the shore side village of Kampi ya Samaki where the local community has put up a gate to collect entry fees for the purpose of… collecting entry fees! We drive to Roberts Camp where our boatman from Samatian Island is waiting for us and say goodbye to Julius for the next two days.

Like Naivasha, Baringo is a fresh water lake as opposed to Nakuru or Elementaita which are soda, except that the color of Baringo is always silty brown due to the ionization of particles in the water because of volcanic origins??? Most of the explanation for this was lost on me The crossing to the island takes about 15 minutes and we’re greeted at the dock by Ross Withey who with his wife Caro own and operate the island but Caro being pregnant with their first child isn’t staying on the island. Caro also happens to be the sister of Richard who we met earlier at El Karama. Their family has owned the island since the 1970’s but it’s only in recent years that they’ve opened it to guests. Included in the rates here are most activities, drinks, laundry and they even wash women’s underwear. Again we’re the only guests, surprise, except for Ross’s mom, Sarah, and here friend Janet who are visiting from Nairobi.

Did I mention it was hot here? Mark and I are looking at each other and just hoping that it cools off enough to sleep. Surprisingly a very strong wind kicks up during lunch which cools things off, but we’re told that there’s no pattern to the wind and you never know when it’s going to start and stop, you just hope for the best! Ross is a great host by the way and you really feel at home here. After lunch, we check out the other cottages. There are 4 stone cottages with plans to build a 5th. All are completely open to the lake on one side and two have open air baths. One sits very near the level of the lake and the other 3 are more elevated. They’re all delightful but our favorite may be the one with a completely open air bath tub at the lake level. There’s also an infinity pool set at the edge of the lake which we make much use of, especially given the temperature.

This is the perfect place for a mid-safari break. It’s almost like a beach holiday without the beach. When asked what we’d like to do while here, we replied “Do we have to do anything?” There’s still wildlife around. We were told that hippo and crocodile come ashore but only on the other side of the island where it’s less steep. The other mammals on the island are 2 species of mouse, one of which likes to eat soap so you need to keep the soap dish closed. There are lots of lots species of birds, and there used to be a pet Verreaux’s eagle owl named Woo on the island but sadly he died a few months ago.

The island itself isn’t very big, a complete circle takes about 45 minutes. If you’re looking on a map, it’s the little island right above the bigger island in the middle of Lake Baringo. Island Camp is located on that bigger island. All other accommodations are located on the mainland shore. It’s really hard to put into words how lovely the place is.
The only potential drawbacks are the heat and the bugs. There were more insects here than any other place we went. So many that you get very used to the constant buzzing noise. I finally had to break out my 100% deet (first time I’ve ever used it) and even that didn’t keep all of them from biting. But despite these drawbacks, I’d still return in an instant and this is coming from someone who doesn’t handle heat or bugs very well.

Luckily, tonight we had a great breeze. From our bed, I watched the moon rise over the lake in the evening and the sun rise in the morning.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:09 AM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 8 – This morning Ross took us on a walk around the island. We saw African mourning doves, a goliath heron, fish eagle, and evidence of the hippos that had come ashore on the other side of the island last night. We also got a look at the small balsa wood rafts that are used locally. The raft is large enough for 1 person or possibly 2 at most and all of the paddling is done by hand. This is how some of the staff commute to work to the island each morning. We’re told that since the crocs here are used to eating fish and not meat, attacks on humans are almost unheard of – it’s the almost that has us skip the swim in the lake.

By 9:00am when we’re finished with our walk, it’s already extremely hot so much so that I have to take a cold shower before breakfast. Any activities here are definitely limited to the very early morning or late afternoon hours. Days here are very relaxed and we pretty much have a boat at our disposal for bird watching, visits to local Njemps and Pokot tribes, sundowners, whatever. The early morning bird watching is excellent. From here you can also visit Lake Bogoria National Park (another soda lake about an hour’s drive away) plus some other more distant activities. But it’s really the kind of place that once you arrive, you lose all motivation to do anything.

We did, however, manage to take a boat ride over to Island Camp for a visit. We met the owner, Perry, who showed us their one newly built, open air cottage. The plan is to eventually replace all 23 of the older tents with 10 new cottages. When those are completed, I think it will be quite nice but in the mean time, the rest of the accommodations are all in very small, slightly run down looking tents. We were happy with our choice to stay at Samatian.

The rest of the day alternated between swimming and eating. Dinner this evening was set under the stars by the pool surrounded by hurricane lamps. The food here is very good only second to the farms where we stayed. This evening was not as breezy but still OK for sleeping.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:10 AM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 9 – We departed the island early this morning by boat. The light is beautiful and the bird watching is fantastic (the two of us aren’t even really what I’d call ‘bird watchers’). We see African jacana, pied kingfisher, more goliath heron, and Ross tossed out some fish so we could watch the fish eagles swoop in. Also spotted crocodiles as we slowly made our way back to Kampi ya Samaki where Julius was waiting for us to head back toward Lake Naivasha. We wanted to get an early start to avoid driving during the hottest part of the day.

After a 3.5 hour drive we’re at Malu set in a forest about a half hour north of Lake Naivasha. Malu used to be an Italian owned fishing camp but was purchased by new owners, Tim and Sophie Farrell, who live in Nairobi about 6 years ago. They added 4 double cottages to the existing 2 two bedroom cottages and 1 treehouse. The food is still Italian and wonderful! All produce and dairy are from their own farm. This place is mostly frequented by Kenyan residents who come for the weekend. As we’re here during the week, we’re the only guests the first night.

In terms of creature comforts the cottages here are the most luxurious of the places we stayed on this trip. A four poster bed with feather duvet and pillows, separate bath and shower, and a fireplace lit each evening while you’re away at dinner. From the cottage verandah is a distant view of Lake Naivasha. The clubhouse which contains the restaurant and bar is a pleasant 10 minute walk from the cottages but you can also arrange for a car to pick you up which we did after dark.

Shortly after our arrival, the resident dogs, Tanga and Sidney, become our instant pets and accompany us to and from the clubhouse, on our verandah and later on the sheepskin rugs in front of the fire. Originally we had planned a drive around the lake tomorrow but are now unplanning everything and opting to stay right here.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:10 AM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 10 – Malu sits on 1800 acres of forest bordered by the Malewa and Mahindu rivers. You can go hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, and look for the resident troops of monkeys and other wildlife. This morning we went on a horseback ride down to the treehouse. The treehouse is a two story, two bedroom house located right on the river at the south end of the property away from the other cottages and clubhouse and can be rented as a self catered accommodation or you can take your meals at the clubhouse. Along the river we saw black and white colobus and blue skye monkeys and from here left the horses at the treehouse stable and took a 20 minute walk to a small waterfall set in a gorge. On the way to the waterfall we spotted a Narina’s trogon and hadada ibis and lots of dik dik on the ride.

Back at the main stable, we meet Bob, the zebra, who 4 years ago decided that the horses would be his ‘herd’. Since then, he follows them everywhere though he is still wild and won’t let anyone approach too closely. For lunch, we decided to have a picnic by the natural spring fed plunge pool. A car picked us up at the cottage and drove us to the pool on the north end of the property. We didn’t expect that we’d be served the full lunch menu carried by two guys who had to cross over streams and set on a table by the pool. I’ve tried to refrain from listing everything we ate throughout the trip but I’m making an exception for today – our ‘picnic’ consists of freshly baked foccacia dipped in the most delicious hummus I’ve ever tasted drizzled with olive oil, a salad of slices of tender grilled beef, zucchini, eggplant, French beans, and mozzarella, and fusilli puttanesca. After lunch we took a dip in the warm pool. At a pre-arranged time, they came to pick us up and take us back to our cottage.

It’s cooler up here than at the lake and we’re enjoying the weather. We didn’t see much of the lake shore areas except a small part near the town of Naivasha. But from what we did see, it looked like the southeast shore was very over developed. It’s not a particularly pretty area and the road going to it is very bad. I’d definitely recommend staying at either Malu or Malewa River Lodge both 30-45 minutes north of the lake or at Crater Lake which is a small lake west of Naivasha or possibly the north shore of the lake, but avoid the southeast shore if you’re going to stay in the Naivasha area.

Tonight there’s a rain shower as we head to dinner. I think this is only the third time it’s rained on our trip, all very brief. Dinner was bruschetta, spinach ravioli, chicken marsala, and since I skipped dessert last night, I sampled both yesterday’s cheesecake and today’s toffee pudding – all delicious!
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:12 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 11 – An early morning departure today as we have a long drive to the Masai Mara. We say goodbye to Tanga and Sidney who spent half the night in our cottage. They’re supposed to sleep in the main house at night, but they got out sometime during the night and came to our cottage. I awoke in the middle of the night to barking and growling and decided we’d better bring them inside before they got eaten (there are several leopard on the property).

We proceeded to Kicheche Mara Camp via Narok making a quick stop at Elementaita Weavers where I picked up a couple of throws. They also have nice rugs here. From Naivasha to Narok is bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. At Narok, the roads divide, one going to the western side via Ngorengore and another going to the eastern side of the Mara. The road to Ngorengore is a surprisingly smooth, paved road (one of the best we’ve traveled on in Kenya), then we turn off onto a fairly well maintained dirt road eventually making our way in a round about manner to our camp in the northwestern area outside of the reserve. Halfway through our 6 hour drive, we decided that we’d prefer to fly back to Nairobi and I called Serah and asked her to arrange a flight and pick up for us. Even though we’ve enjoyed the drives, that last one just seemed like one too many, especially when we’re told that the eastern road we’re supposed to take back to Nairobi via the Sekenani gate was in poorer condition than the one we drove in on.

We arrived at Kicheche in time for lunch, our first buffet, but not bad – some interesting salads, particularly a chickpea, mango and coconut one. This is the first place on our trip where there are lots of other guests, about 18 or so including us, which seems like a lot compared to the rest of our trip. Dining is outdoors and all guests sit together at 2 long tables. It was quite enjoyable for a change to meet other travelers. Everyone except for us has flown in, all are from the US or UK.

There are 11 tents at Kicheche and we’re assigned to Kiboko. The tents are very simple with flush toilet and bucket showers which are filled in the evening with hot water after you return from the afternoon game drive or at other times if you wish. There’s a double bed and a single bed, outside the tent are two chairs, a small table and a wash basin which is filled with hot water in the morning. Nearby is a hammock strung from trees. There’s a tent which serves as a lounge and another which can be used as a dining tent in case of inclement weather. From the lounge tent we saw some zebra, gazelle, warthogs, and a view of the Aitong hills. It’s a nice set up and a well run camp though it took us a bit to get used to things like having meals at set times rather than being asked when we’d like to dine. A little more regimentation than we were used to.

At 4:00pm we head out on a game drive. I was initially under whelmed with the flat, open plains when we first arrived. I know it’s supposed to be the ‘classic’ image of East Africa, but something about it just didn’t appeal to me. I think that I prefer to see more vegetation, even if it means that the animals are harder to spot. But in the afternoon light I learned to appreciate it more as the dry grass took on a golden glow. We’re told there’s been very little rain and the vegetation is dry and it’s much hotter during the day than we expected.

Very near camp, there’s a lioness that has recently given birth to cubs so we head that way but there are several cars already on site, so we have to wait our turn for a good viewing position. The vehicles that are already there are staying put, and we weren’t able to get a very good view so decide to come back tomorrow. On our drive, we also saw Masai giraffe, a family of 3 elephants including a baby, two lions and one lioness having a stare down with a buffalo, and our first topi.

We stopped for a visit at Richard’s Camp which is very near Kicheche though it took us a while to find it. All of the camps nearby are hidden in thickets of trees and there’s no signage. We had to ask for directions a few times though I don’t know how you’d even give directions around here! We finally knew we’d found the right camp when we spot Richard’s plane and Foxy Cleopatra comes running out. Richard showed us around his camp which normally should be closed this time of year but they had a previous booking of 7 guests so re-opened it for them. There are 7 tents here, a main lounge, and a long dining table set outdoors.

We head back to Kicheche for a quick shower. We found that the bucket held just enough water for two people if you were quick. Cocktails were served around a fire and dinner under the stars. The only minor disappointment at this camp was the food which we thought was just OK. Everything sounded great when they told us what we were having for dinner each evening but somehow it just didn’t taste as good as it sounded. I should point out that because we stayed at very small accommodations, every meal throughout our trip was a set menu which was fine with us as we eat everything, but anyone with specific dietary requirements should inform the camp or hosts possibly in advance. Laundry was included in the rates here, and we were specifically told that they don’t wash women’s underwear. Strangely though, Mark’s underwear was returned unwashed. We never did inquire as to why.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:12 AM
  #12
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 12 – At 6:30am we set off to try to get a better look at the lion cubs. This time we’re in luck. There’s only one other vehicle already present and they were gracious enough to leave shortly after we arrived to allow us to see the cubs (the cubs are hidden in thick brush and there’s really only one good viewing position). While we were there, mama gets out and leaves the cubs alone for a short while. We stayed until other vehicles started arriving. Other animals seen this morning were wildebeest, a pair of silver backed jackals, one of them carrying what looked like the head of a gazelle, and a warthog family with 4 tiny piglets.

In this area you also see many herds of grazing cattle. As we aren’t inside the reserve, the Masai graze their livestock here. I have no problem seeing cattle and actually enjoyed the soothing, melodic sounds of the bells in the background, but I do think that’s also the reason why you don’t see as much game here as you do inside the reserve. Admittedly our observations are limited to having only spent 2 days outside and 2 days inside the reserve, but it seems to me that the livestock would compete for food with other grazing wildlife. We also noticed both mornings that the Kicheche guides were taking their guests on extended game drives and heading south into the reserve. They were usually out at 6:30am and back to camp around 1:00pm. So from a strictly game density point of view, I think it’s better to be inside or closer to the reserve, but then you can’t do things like go on walks in the reserve. We were happy with our decision to split our stay.

After breakfast, we headed over to the rhino sanctuary at the base of the nearby hills. There are 3 white rhino here that were born on the sanctuary, thus they are very habituated to humans and you can get out on foot and walk fairly close, but not too close, to them. There’s a 7 year old male, an 11 month pregnant 8 year old female, and an 11 year old male. Benson, one of the sanctuary rangers, takes us for a short walk to see them. It’s quite incredible to see them up close on foot and at the same time a bit nerve wracking knowing that they’re habituated but still wild animals. At one point, we’re a little too close (we were completely still but the female started walking toward us) and have to slowly back up.

After we returned to camp, I requested that our shower bucket be filled with cold water which felt great as it was already quite hot. At lunch we met our Kicheche guide (also named Julius) who would be accompanying us on our walks and at the fly camp this evening. We’re the only guests going. We have a choice of either walking to/from the fly camp or driving to/from the fly camp and starting our walks from the camp. We opt for the latter. At 4:00pm we set off for a game drive toward the fly camp which has been set up earlier in the day about 8km from the main camp. We’re accompanied by Kicheche Julius and an armed ranger who turns out to be Benson who we met earlier at the rhino sanctuary (he’s been up all day and is supposed to stay awake all night guarding us… hmmmm ). Camp consists of a dome tent with 2 cots, a small table and washbasin outside of the tent, and nearby separate shower and toilet tents. It’s very comfortable and cozy and surprisingly I slept better at the fly camp than I did anywhere else.

Shortly after arriving at the fly camp, we set out on a 2 hour walk. On our walk we encounter spotted hyaena, impala, some type of duiker, but mostly we study the tracks and vegetation. There’s lots of burning nearby (intentionally set so that when the rains arrive, there will be new shoots for grazing) and the air is very smoky. It starts to really irritate my throat by the end of the walk.

Back at camp, they filled our shower with hot water, we sat next to the fire and listened to the hyaena, and ate dinner under the stars. I could get used to this kind of camping!
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:13 AM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 13 – This morning we’re up early for another walk. We disturbed a hare in its nest, studied bones and skulls, and found the remnants of a 1 day boma, built as a temporary shelter for livestock. This morning there’s no burning which makes for a much more pleasant walk. Sitting around the fire in the morning, we could hear lions. Kicheche Julius is a bit on the loquacious side and regales us with stories of getting gored by a buffalo, Lauren Hutton jumping out of the vehicle in front of an elephant, as well as all manner of gossip about some of the Kenyan residents we’ve met on our trip (which I think is best left to the imagination). Anyway we’re not sure how much of it we should actually believe After breakfast, we drive back to the main camp.

Today is our day to transfer from Kicheche to Ilkeliani Camp just outside the Talek gate. We decide to take the long route through the reserve, down to the hippo pool bridge, and back up through the Talek gate, leaving Kicheche around 10:00am. We drive south crossing the Mara bridge and enter through Oloololo gate, passing many villages along the way. We see herds of zebra, eland, and wildebeest. We stopped at the Serena for lunch to check out their gorgeous view. Nice location, very well maintained lodge (we asked them to show us a room), but too busy for us. Many, many agama lizards all over the property.

We continued south to the hippo pool. In addition to hippos, we found a huge crocodile at the edge of the river and watched a herd of elephants crossing the river. We drove around the marker that divides Kenya and Tanzania and I took a picture of the Serengeti. There were still some herds of wildebeest in the south of the Mara that hadn’t crossed into the Serengeti yet (the herds we saw in the north were resident herds). We came across a family of elephants with 2 youngsters and watched the two of them climb up an embankment. I don’t know if they were struggling to get up or just goofing off, but they looked like they were having fun. We also saw a side striped jackal, yellow billed stork, Egyptian geese, African pied wagtail, and a hyaena with a radio collar and ear tag. There’s a hyaena research station very close to Ilkeliani. This entire day we only crossed paths with a few vehicles and none were at sightings, just driving by.

We arrived at Ilkeliani around 5:30pm and were greeted by the camp manager, Riz, who had just arrived a month ago. We’re the only guests for the next two evenings and are assigned tent W3 overlooking the Talek river. Our tent has a double bed, flush toilet, 24 hour hot and cold running water (theoretically), and a patio with 2 chairs, a small table, and 2 chaise lounges. Aside from El Karama, I think this is the only place we stayed where hot water was available throughout the day. Elsewhere it was usually available at set times once or twice a day or on request at other times which worked out fine for us as we usually took our showers in the early evening before dinner. Also most places had solar electricity (El Karama had no electricity) except for Malu and later Makoa Farm which were on the local grid, but being on the grid presents its own set of different problems. Where there was solar electricity, it was usually only on at certain hours of the day.

There are 15 guest tents set along the river divided between east and west sections with a tented dining area and lounge in the middle. Sundowners and bitings are served around a fire in front of the river. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the food itself as half way through dinner the first evening, I started feeling queasy and sick and didn’t really recover until after we arrived in Tanzania, thus I skipped almost all of the meals here. I don’t think it was the food here, must have been something I ate earlier in the day or perhaps some bug I caught. I don’t really know. Mark says the food was very good. Again set menus except for the second evening where there was a BBQ with a selection of different meats and fish and salads. Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat any of it! They were very accommodating in trying to prepare something that I could eat, so the next day’s lunch I asked for a plain crepe and for dinner, pasta with a light tomato sauce of which I was able to eat a tiny bit.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:14 AM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 14 – I spent most of the night awake and got out of bed at 6:00am in an attempt to go on the morning’s game drive. I really, really wanted to go but was just feeling too awful and went back to bed. I told Mark I didn’t want to know what he saw but he forced me to watch the video anyway – two leopards, one of which was dragging a freshly killed impala into a thicket of trees and eating it, lions mating, large herds of buffalo and elephants, hippos, hyaena, you name it. They stayed with the leopard for 40 minutes without a single other vehicle around. Mark took video while Julius took still photos for me.

My activities for the day are limited to sleeping and walking between our tent and the dining tent. At this point, I’m a bit worried about our planned horseback safari in Tanzania. Well, we’ll just have to see. At lunch we met Willie, one of the hyaena researchers. Mark skipped the afternoon drive to stay with me at camp.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:17 AM
  #15
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Welcome home! Loved your report. A pair of aardwolves is a great spot. And a giant forest hog, one of my favorites. It appears you had the national parks to yourselves. What a treat.

Were you planning Africa trip #3 on this plane ride back? Or might Mongolia sneak in there?

Looking forward to Tanzania.
atravelynn is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 11:18 AM
  #16
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Day 15 – Our last day in Kenya! I can’t believe how quickly two weeks has gone by. I’m feeling a bit better this morning though not enough to risk eating breakfast before our scheduled flight at 11:00am. This morning we listened to George, the resident hippo, in front of our tent. I went to shower only to find no hot water. Apparently a leak had sprung in the line last night and all of the hot water leaked out. To their credit, when we informed them, the staff immediately set out to try to remedy the situation. Despite their attempts though, the hot water was never restored before we left. Makes you appreciate the simplicity of the bucket shower

We left camp for a short game drive on our way to Olkiombo airstrip near Mara Intrepids and saw the same pair of lions that Mark saw yesterday napping under a tree and looking extremely content. We also stopped at neighboring Basecamp for a visit where we were given a very extensive tour of their facilities including their kitchen, refrigeration, electricity storage, composting, and waste collection. I think they’re very proud of their ‘eco-ness’.

Basecamp is also set along the Talek river, though not all 15 tents are river front. Half of the tents have been newly upgraded with the remaining scheduled for completion during the long rains season next year. The new tents are very nice with a large verandah with a hammock, an outdoor shower with a river view (in the river front ones). Only the bedroom itself is enclosed under canvas. There’s a large thatched central dining area with a fire pit outside, two viewing platforms along the river, and a small gift shop with some beaded items for sale made by the local women’s group that works on site. 5 days a week around 20-25 women who rotate daily come in to make beaded bracelets, necklaces, belts, and 75% of the sale price goes directly to them. We really like the camp setting and it will be great when the conversion is completed.

We arrive at the airstrip about quarter to eleven and a 19 passenger Air Kenya aircraft lands shortly thereafter. We’re the only pick up at this airstrip. Our aircraft makes stops at Keekorok and Siana before continuing on to Nairobi Wilson airport arriving around 12:30pm. Outside the airport, we met Jamal, another guide from E&S, who is taking us shopping for the afternoon. Since I still wasn’t feeling that great we only stopped at a couple of places, Kazuri which is a local women’s cooperative that makes lovely beaded jewelry and pottery, and then onto the Junction, a newer shopping arcade on Ngong Road. It turns out there’s a branch of Kazuri at the Junction, so we could’ve just stopped here (except of course anyone wanting the see the tour wouldn’t be able to do so here).

The Junction has mostly higher end boutiques and we went there specifically to check out a leather goods store recommended to us by Ross’s mom, Sarah. I’ve now forgotten the name of the store (it’s the 2nd or 3rd one on the right as you enter), but they had beaded belts, skirts, sandals, handbags, as well as non-leather items like jewelry. All unique designs and higher quality (and higher prices) than what you’ll find at curio shops. It’s a good place to shop if you want something a little nicer for yourself or as a gift. There’s a Nairobi Java House here where we pick up a couple of kilos of coffee (it was the best of what we tried last time) and also a branch of Dorman’s (another coffee brand that was recommended for us to try). We’ve found that the quality of the other brands can be dicey. The Java House is also a good place for a quick lunch.

Afterwards we stopped at the E&S office so I could pay Serah for our flights and show her our pictures. We were originally going to stop at Banana Box (a crafts shop owned by Ross’s mom) in the Sarit Centre but I was too tired by then. Oh well, next time. By the time we headed back to the Hilton, Julius was already back from the Mara. We picked up our bags which we’d left in the vehicle and went to check-in only to be told our room isn’t ready yet, so we did a little more shopping. I was looking for more beaded baskets but I didn’t find any that I liked as much as the two that I picked up from roadside vendors in Narok, who were the only vendors that approached our vehicle the entire trip. We expected to be approached by lots of vendors, but they seem to disappear in low season. I wasn’t going to buy anything from them at first but am now glad I did and wished I’d bought more. Their baskets were the prettiest and cheapest. I picked up a few other knick knacks – wooden utensils, bowls, spice holders, leather notebooks – from the Collectors Den and other shops in the Hilton arcade.

Back at the Hilton, the only room they have ready is one with 2 twins which we gladly take at this point. I’m too exhausted to head out anywhere, so we go for drinks in the lounge where in a moment of utter stupidity, I left my bag with our passports, plane tickets and cash right on the back of the chair as we leave. Luckily for us, there was a knock at our door 5 minutes later and my bag was returned before I even realized I’d left it. Potential disaster averted! Tomorrow morning we fly to Tanzania

Some misc. notes and ramblings – I think I mentioned in an earlier thread that the ATM’s dispensed various size notes - wrong, sorry. We were only able to get 1000 shilling notes which turned out to be OK as it was small enough to get change when necessary, and since we mostly gave pooled tips to camp staff, 1000 shilling increments seemed to work well for that anyway. Exchanges rates were about 74 KES=$1 for ATM withdrawals, 72 KES=$1 at the airport exchange bureau, and 71-72 KES=$1 for credit card transactions depending on the card used. I didn’t check the camp exchange rates this time, but they’re generally less favorable than the above. I’ve already started my list of places to see ‘next time’ – some that we had to cut from this trip like Samburu, Shaba, Meru. I’d like to explore more of Laikipia and return to Tsavo. The Chyulu Hills, Mt Elgon, and the Kakamega Forest all sound interesting. We met a couple who highly recommended Porini and Shompole, though the latter may be a bit out of our budget range until I win that damn lottery or my Nigerian connections make good on their promises Of course, it’s not possible to see them all even on the next trip.

That's it for now! Feel free to ask any questions. I'll try to get the Tanzania stuff up by early next week.
Patty is online now  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 01:08 PM
  #17
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 2,309
Thanks Patty. This was a very interesting report and now I can look forward to the Tanzania part. Reading about so many places I have to visit is a problem though.

I’m sorry that you got sick at Ilkeliani and that you didn’t see Jonas the cat at Mbweha Camp. I just hope a bigger cat hasn’t eaten him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a great forest hog on television – only in books. It sounds like a mythical creature. Did you get a photo? Once I got into trouble because of great forest hogs. Do you know who is the manager of Basecamp now? Did you make any interesting observations at The Collector’s Den? Did you see anyone called Mahesh?

Nyamera is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 02:14 PM
  #18
sandi
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Patty you did good with this off-the-beaten-path itinerary. And, like you, my preferred time of travel is November for the same reasons you detail.

I enjoyed reading your report very much and look forward to the Tanzania portion.

... and then your photos.

Thanks.
 
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 02:17 PM
  #19
sandi
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Oh, forgot... for a fru-fru gal, you did better than I would have without a hairdryer. I would need a day in between rustic to feel human again.

You go girl!
 
Reply With Quote
Dec 10th, 2005, 02:25 PM
  #20
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,800
Thanks, Nyamera. I did manage to get one pic of the forest hog though it's a bit fuzzy. It'll be in my album when I get everything uploaded. I inquired as to the whereabouts of Jonas and was told he is alive and well, but just wasn't around that evening or the next morning. I didn't meet the manager of Basecamp so don't know who he/she is. The woman who gave us the tour was a student from Sweden who's working there for 2 months as part of her education in tourism. Is Mahesh the owner of the Collectors Den? We had a quick browse through all of the rooms in the store. They have quite a selection.
Patty is online now  
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


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:29 AM.