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surfmom Sep 22nd, 2021 08:49 AM

The Safari (Kenya) and Gorilla (Uganda) Trip Report from August 2021.
now that is one heck of an exciting title!

We had planned this trip in January 2020 - pre-pandemic. Our travel agent required trip insurance, which, in case of an issue, would have covered quarantine for covid. We hoped not to use it, but was a safety net there if needed.

We used Gamewatchers. I can't say enough good things about them.

Cast of characters (and sometimes I feel like a character in a giant play): Me (mom), Dad, D1 (21 years), D2 (19 years), and S1 (17 years). We were in Kenya 4 years ago, so have an idea of what to expect, but doing some different things this time.

warning: I can be wordy. feel free to skim. This is taken from daily emails I sent home to family, so there are things that experienced travelers are aware of.

and we're off...

surfmom Sep 22nd, 2021 10:41 AM

Day 1: Getting There: Saturday/Sunday: Newark – Frankfurt – Nairobi

After arrival at Newark airport, we waited in line for security. One new thing was a holding area we each had to walk through - there was a dog that circled around you wearing a DHS (Department of Homeland Security?) vest. After working for a bit, he took a break and his handler pulled out a toy and played with him. After his break, he was back to work. Once through security, we waited in the lounge, which was pretty full. They weren’t really serving food, but just had goldfish, chips, and Oreos and water.

The flight was delayed about 20 minutes, but arrived in Frankfurt on time. We were in the top deck of a 747 in business class. It was nice, because there were only about 40 seats up there, but they weren’t all full. Business class has lie flat seats, which are very comfortable. Food on the flight was prawns or carpaccio starter and veal or halibut main with ice cream or fresh fruit for dessert. D2 got lots of our fresh fruit to eat! Before landing we were given a small breakfast of either yogurt, fruit, and croissant or hot eggs. It was a smooth flight.

After arrival in Frankfurt, we had to show negative PCR test results upon landing and then connected to our second flight. We had about 3 hours and hoped to find a lounge, but they were all closed, so we just found seats at the gate. The kids went for a field trip and found tea and croissants for breakfast.

The flight to Nairobi was full. Again, we were in business. We took off and landed generally on time. Food on the flight was burrata starter, beef or ravioli main, and yogurt with lime and strawberry dessert. Most of us slept some or most of the flight. We were given a snack before landing which included warm soft pretzels. Very yummy and I had an extra since it was offered! Some turbulence on the flight.

Upon arrival, we showed a QR code that was required from a passenger locator form. We then had PCR tests checked again. Finally, passport control and we did something wrong with our visas, so we had to go to the immigration office, where they hand wrote some code on our visa and we were sent back to passport control. It was very confusing, because I never understood what we did wrong.

Once through there, we exited and found our driver. They had brought two cars for us, because of social distancing requirements, but we talked them into letting us go in one since there were enough seats and we are a family that lives together. The road from the airport to our hotel was under construction and crowded, so it took us about 25 minutes to get to the hotel. By now, it was about 9:30 when we arrived.

We ordered food since it would take a while (to be sent to the rooms), headed to the rooms. Dinner was a burger, grilled chicken, peanut butter bagel, and shredded chicken dish. We headed to bed about 11pm.

We all slept in fits and spurts but were up early for our first adventure!

bon_voyage Sep 23rd, 2021 11:44 AM

Following along and savoring every word

Leely2 Sep 23rd, 2021 03:26 PM

So glad you were able to take this trip! I'm following along and hoping for photos at some point...

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:01 AM

I should probably post the itinerary:

Day 1/2: traveling: Newark - Nairobi (overnight Eka Hotel)
Day 3: Nairobi - Amboseli (overnight Tawi Lodge)
Day 4: Amboseli (overnight Tawi Lodge)
Day 5: Ambosel - Masai Mara (Olare Orok Conservancy, Porini Lion)
Day 6: Masai Mara (Olare Orok Conservancy, Porini Lion)
Day 7: Masai Mara (Mara Ngenche)
Day 8: Masai Mara (Mara Ngenche)
Day 9: Masai Mara - Kihihi Uganda (Trackers Safari Lodge)
Day 10: Bwindi, Kihihi (Trackers Safari Lodge)
Day 11: Bwindi, Kihihi (Trackers Safari Lodge) - Entebbe
Day 12: Entebbe - Brussels - JFK

Thanks for reading along. I definitely will post photos. ◡̈
(note: all photos are 'as shot' ... I've not done any editing yet, so no judgement please!)

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:04 AM

Day 3: Monday – Nairobi – Amboseli

Started the day early! We went to breakfast at 5:30, but they weren’t really open yet. The cooks hadn’t started the hot food, but there was all the continental breakfast stuff out, so we had toast and croissants for breakfast. Departed the hotel at 6am for Wilson airport.

Wilson is the airport used for internal Kenya flights. When we arrived at Air Kenya (every airline has their own little building), the lights were still off. Eventually, we came into the building. There is a strict weight limit of 15kg, which we were slightly worried about, but they only weighed our duffels, not carryons, so we were fine.

After checking in, filling out the passenger locator form (some more successfully than others), we waited. We were the only passengers in the terminal. At 7:30, we boarded our plane for Amboseli. The plane is a single prop plane with seats for 11 passengers and two pilots. We would cruise at a level of 9,000 feet on our 30 minute flight to Amboseli.

Economically, Kenya has been really hit by the pandemic. The representative who met us thanked us for coming and explained that he would be our contact during our trip if questions arose. The other two reps aren’t working right now. I get the feeling that people are thankful to have a job right now.

Upon landing, we were met by our driver/guide - Pillipilli. He had set up drinks next to the vehicle so we had tea and juice and some munchie snacks and biscuits. Then we headed out on the game drive.

This area is called Amboseli and we will stay at Tawi Lodge. Before getting to Tawi, we did a game drive. We spent a lot of time first in the swampy area - watching greater and lesser flamingos, herons, egrets, ducks, and many other birds I can’t recall. Saw a tawny eagle at one point. Then drove along the drier part and saw many many elephants, wildebeest, zebras, grant gazelles, Thompson gazelles.

Some interesting facts: in Amboseli, the wildebeest don’t migrate - they are permanent residents because there is always water and grass to eat. They have become a bit lazy and aren’t always on the move like in Masai Mara. There are about 2,000 elephants in this park - known for its elephants. All the families are named by a letter and every baby in that family start with the same letter. Like “A” family matriarch is Angelina and the babies are Anna and Alice, etc. They are named by an elephant researcher who has spent many years here.

About 11/11:30, we went to camp. Tawi Lodge is actually in the Tawi Conservancy, which is adjacent to the park. We have to leave the park and drive for about 15 minutes. It has a central lodge, with a lounge and swimming pool. There is a man made watering hole that it overlooks. We watched three big bull elephants rolling in the mud and splashing about. It was Ganesh (who only has one tusk), Equinox who was born without tusks, and Adam.

Elephants never stop growing, so as they age, they actually get bigger. Their tusks show you if they are right or left handed by the wear on that tusk. They have poor eyesight, but very sensitive skin, so the farmers protect their property by surrounding it with beehives. An elephant can move a tree or defeat an electric fence, but will stay away from bees.

We took a few minutes to get settled and then to lunch. Lunch was good - we were hungry. For lunch, we ate a starter of avocado toast, veggie frittata or lamb wraps with green salad and carrot and mango salad. Dessert was tropical fruit sorbet. After lunch, the kids swam and I took a nap at the pool area. We met again at 4pm for afternoon game drive.

We drove along different roads and watched a huge herd of water Buffalo. We have seen them before, but never such a large herd together. We had fun watching an elephant eat - he would pull a plant out of the water, eat the plant, and drop the roots back into the water. We also had fun watching younger elephants play fighting with each other. They “practice” for when it is time to really fight and get dominance.

Only about 40-50 lions in Amboseli total. We saw a lioness and male lion resting, but didn’t stay long. We later saw a lioness in a thicket of grass, and she was just watching the herd of elephants approach. She was solitary, so when they got closer, she ran away from them. It was fun to watch them get closer and finally see her run off.

We headed back to camp about 6:30 for dinner. We had a starter of farmers soup (which was really good), beef escalope or chicken, and chocolate mousse for dessert. We headed back to rooms for showers and bed.

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:18 AM
sunsets are amazing in Kenya!

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:27 AM

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:28 AM

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 06:29 AM
- stop touching me.
- no, YOU stop touching me.
- you started it.
- no, I didn't.
- Mooooooommmm.

Heimdall Sep 24th, 2021 09:45 AM

Did you get the classic photo of Mt Kilimanjaro with elephants in the foreground?

surfmom Sep 24th, 2021 11:30 AM

sadly, I did not. : ( there was only clear one night where we could see the top and no elephants around.

Leely2 Sep 24th, 2021 08:44 PM

Your photos are beautiful, thank you for sharing them!

I can only imagine how devastating the pandemic has been for countries like Kenya that rely so heavily on tourism.

Heimdall Sep 24th, 2021 11:16 PM

Amboseli is brilliant! We stayed at the Serena Lodge in the park on the way to Serengeti in Tanzania. As you wrote, weather doesn’t alway cooperate, but I did get the shot of Kili in the end, and was lucky with the elephants, although a longer lens would have been better. Another memory is the sight from Observation Hill of the thousands of flamingos in the lake below.

Good start on your trip report, and I am looking forward to reading more. I did my gorilla trek on a different trip to Rwanda, but my daughter and SIL saw the gorillas in Uganda. They also had a day with chimpanzees, which my daughter enjoyed as much as the gorillas. Africa is addictive isn’t it?

Lolazahra Sep 26th, 2021 04:56 PM

Great start to your trip report. Thinking of Kenya again. It’s been 5 years. Looking forward to more. Your pics are fantastic so keep posting! Along for the ride!

amyb Sep 28th, 2021 09:23 AM

So glad you had a nice time at Tawi Lodge. I stayed there in 2016 and loved it. I've enjoyed following along here, vicariously going on safari with you!

surfmom Sep 28th, 2021 10:13 AM

Heimdall The flamingos were amazing in Amboseli! That was a surprise for me - I knew they have the tuskers there, but didn't realize the quantity of water birds.

Africa IS addictive!

thanks everyone - new installment up next. (and will continue to try and add photos).

surfmom Sep 28th, 2021 10:17 AM

Day 4: Tuesday – Amboseli (Tawi Lodge)

Our wake up call came about 5:30 - they bring in a tray with hot tea/coffee and a few biscuits (i.e. cookies) for breakfast. They had asked us to allow someone to bring it in (rather than leave it on the porch) since the baboons in camp will get it otherwise. During the night, we had heard animals, when I described how they sounded, our guide thought one was an owl and the others were hyenas. The camp has an electric fence, but when we walk at night, it is recommended we ask for a guide since there are scorpions around.

In the tents, there is a large wooden box to put any food that you may have - the baboons have figured out how to open zippers, but can’t lift the lid. The rooms are nice - they are individual little “huts”. They have a thatched roof and solar power. They turn on the generator from 6-8am and 6-8pm daily as a boost. There is mosquito netting around the beds for evening.

We met our driver at 6am and headed out. We saw a very pretty sunrise heading into Amboseli. We were on the hunt for lions or cheetahs, but didn’t have any luck. We saw lots of animals, but no cats. Saw a pair of jackals and had fun watching male zebras fighting. Jackals mate for life - if their partner is killed, they may stop eating or will just live solitary.

Camp is in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it is obscured by clouds most of the time. It cleared enough this morning that we were able to see the top. There is a little snow on it, but not much remains. While the sky seemed promising initially, while on our drive, it got cloudy and cooler. We were happy to have blankets in the vehicle.

We got back into camp at 8:45am, so just in time to eat breakfast. Breakfast was yogurt, fruit, cold cereal, toast, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage. D2 finally found a meal she liked and ate seven pancakes (crepes). The rest of us were lucky to get one each!

After breakfast, we had some chill time - reading and emails. The adults ended up taking naps, which were awesome. At 1pm, we headed to lunch. It was Mongolian pork stir fry, with veggie rice, cucumber and mint salad, green salad, and tree tomato sorbet (some kind of dark red sorbet). After lunch, everyone else sat in front of the watering hole and watched the elephants (Equinox, Ganesh, and Adam). At 3:30, we met the camel boss, and went for a camel ride. Dad went solo, D1 and D2 shared, and S1 and I shared. It was about an hour ride around the conservancy.

After we returned, we had about about 30 minutes and then we met a local Masai who took on us a nature walk. We saw many animal prints, animal droppings, and learned about plants. My favorite was the wild basil - local tribesman use it to make brooms out of and the smell also acts as an inspector repellent. We also saw a “toothbrush tree” which locals use to break off the branches and use as a toothbrush.

At the end of our walk, we met our driver/guide, PilliPilli, for a sundowner. He had brought drinks and munchies and we watched the sunset. And finally, a clear shot of Mt. Kilimanjaro! It has been obscured by clouds most of the time we have been here. It is the tallest free standing mountain in the world and the tallest in Africa.

We returned to camp and decided to shower before dinner. After showers, we headed to dinner. The dinner options were tilapia, lamb, or eggplant parmigiana, which weren’t great options. The staff had asked us earlier about dinner and they were willing to make us a grilled chicken breast. Starter was bruschetta and there were potatoes and broccoli/cauliflower sides, dessert was pineapple pudding. After dinner, we sat in the lounge and read and hung out until we headed to the rooms for bed.

surfmom Sep 28th, 2021 10:19 AM

surfmom Sep 28th, 2021 10:35 AM

some more photos... (I cheated... and may have screen shot a kids' IG!).

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