Trip Report - Kenya/Tanzania 9/2 - 9/23

Oct 13th, 2005, 08:20 PM
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Trip Report - Kenya/Tanzania 9/2 - 9/23

My wife and I returned from our East Africe trip on September 23rd. This is a bit tardy, but here goes...

Quick hits (questions I had before leaving that are no answered):

1.) Safari clothes - we looked either great or out of place as we were the only ones that missed the memo that blue shorts and t-shirts were allowed in the Serengeti (actually our driver wore this and was a tse tse fly magnet). Fellow tourists wore anything and everything and did just fine. Dirt was a problem in some areas, but in general clothing choise doesn't matter as you are inside the vehicle all day. Purchasing khaki clothing for the trip is not necessary (as we know now).

2.) Leopardmania - we saw 10 leopards in 12 days in all capacities. Although we were told that we were extremely lucky, everyone else seem to spot them without a problem. Cheetahs seemed to be our phantom menace (5 total).

3.) Food - the food was great everywhere we stayed, but grew tiresome. How many buffets can one person take? The last day we had our driver take us to Arusha to a local joint for wonderful ugali and greens. We ate anything that wasn't bolted down and had no GI problems. I would still recommend bringing Cipro 500mg.

4.) Mosquitos overrated - I brought 5 tubes of Ultrathon 30% deet and used 1/4 of one tube. I stopped applying after day 3 and had two small bites. Rather disappointing...

5.) Tse-tse flies a nuisance - only saw these in the Serenegeti but they do bite. It wasn't any different than a horsefly, but they are persistant. Oh, and Ultrathon doesn't work on these.

6.) Spiders/Snakes - saw one spider in our room (at Migration camp of all places- poor bastard ate a can of Raid) and one snake - a baby Black Mamba while on a night gamedrive in Sweetwaters. Overall, Africa seemed no different than California in this category.

7.) Roads - Tanzania wasn't bad but Kenya sucked. The roads to Lake Nakuru from Nairobi and the road from Isiolo to Samburu were horrible. The road to the Kenya/Tanzania border (Isebania) from the Mara was even worse. However, this was part of the experience - we finally realized we were not in the Western World while driving these roads. It was actually a great experience (for the first 4 or 5 hours).

8.) Electric adapters - every hotel uses the 220v Great Britain plugs. Bring a simple US to GB adapter without a converter (all camera chargers have built in voltage converters).

9.) Camera - I gave in and bought a Rebel Digital XT 8meg camera with a 300 zoom image stabilizer. I quickly realized it was absolutely necessary for the trip. Although I am a total photo novice (as may be evident with the pics), I shot some photos that would have been impossible without a zoom lens. I felt very bad for the many tourists using a 3x zoom lens on a leopard in a tree 50 feet away. Spend the extra two grand - it is worth it.

9.) Gift shops - try to avoid these if you hate to barter (as we do and did). Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of our trip, we were continually taken by these bartering pros. I ended up purchasing an ebony lioness for $100 that was $10 in the hotel gift shop. After accepting the hit to my ego, I realized that this money is relatively nominal for us compared to the gentleman that received it. It did become uncomfortable after the 6th or 7th stop and as we quickly ran out of money.

10.) Tipping level - absolutely unexpected. We brought one-hundred $1 bills and ran out on the last day. We perceived that tipping was expected at every opportunity (bags from room to check out, then from check-out to vehicle, at every meal, etc.). We generally tipped $1 per bag, $1 at every meal, and $1 at the bar. However, we did observe that most Europeans did not tip with the same fervor that we did.

11.) Money - U.S. dollars are gold.
vacationbennett is offline  
Oct 13th, 2005, 08:34 PM
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12.) Tour Company - we went on a private tour with Good Earth Tours and were very satisfied. Good Earth covered the Tanzania portion while Safari Line Africa was our company in Kenya and Zanzibar Tours in Zanzibar. The trip went flawless. We switched drivers at the Tanzania/Kenya border (that was a bit nerve racking, but he was there waiting for us). William was our guide in Kenya - he was an older, quiet man who was an excellent spotter. He was flexible with our itinerary and let us sleep in when we needed to. Kisali was our driver in Tanzania - he was younger and very talkative (taught us some slang words). He was a good spotter. I would recommend them both as drivers.

13.) Tribal visits - very interesting experience, but felt "Disneylandish". It felt strange watching our guide direct people to dance for us. Overall, I would recommend it, but not what I expected.

14.) Pictures - let me know what you think.

I will post the our itinerary tomorrow.
vacationbennett is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 03:43 AM
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Hello Bennett,

Look forward to reading the rest of your report. One question about your camera -- exactly which zoom lens did you have? Was it the new 70-300IS?

jasher is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 04:07 AM
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Enjoyed your photos - thanks for sharing.
eenusa is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 04:54 AM
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Thanks for the report.

I can't get the slideshow link to work for the photo gallery but did view a fair number, though not all. Looks like you got some very nice shots there... glad the Rebel XT/ 350D worked out for you.
Kavey is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Great photos, loved those of the dhows towards the end. Appears that you were enjoying everything. Look forward to the rest of your report. Thanks.
Oct 14th, 2005, 06:06 AM
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Great photos (all of them opened for me). Five cheetah is actually pretty good. I have been to a lot of parks, and I have only seen cheetah in Masai Mara, Serengeti and Etosha.

But I really like the serval photo -- less frequently seen, in my experience, than the large cats.

Did you stay at Samburu Serena -- I stayed there and saw the croc feeding, but I didn't get photos as good as your's.
thit_cho is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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Great pics. The giraffes drinking were a favorite. I've always wanted to see that!

Your lion shots had such variety. And I liked the cat at the end. You were very lucky with the leopards!

Five cheetah in 12 days is very good and you have pictures. Those are not easy creatures to see.

I know what you mean about people and their 3x zoom. Seems a shame when a 10x or better on digital is not necessarily even $2000 but more like $500 for a non-SLR.

One photo question. When I went in to look at yours, there were thumbnail sketches of them all. That's how I want mine to initially appear in the Kodak gallery. But mine always starts out as a slide show with one big picture upon entering the site. Can you advise me on how to get the thumbnails, as you have? It is nice to have an overview.

Thanks for the report and the positive comments on Good Earth. Looking forward to your itinerary.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 10:03 AM
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Hard to pick a favorite, but I really like the hyena sitting down under the tree. And the bird in the rhino's ear sent chills up my spine!

Thanks for sharing. I'm looking forward to the itinerary.
Leely is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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Thanks for sharing your pics! I loved the sleeping cat Where were you when you went horse riding?

Appreciated your comments too. We also found that insects were much less of a problem than imagined. Never broke open our bottle of deet.

We debated whether we to do a village visit and ended up deciding against it. I think we both would've been uncomfortable with the whole performing on the spot for us aspect of it. I'd much rather see people going about their daily lives. If we ever have a chance for a village visit in a more off the beaten path location, I think I'd do it but we didn't have that opportunity last time.

We didn't feel pressure from lodge/camp staff to tip at every opportunity at all. On the contrary, on the occasions when we did give individual tips directly to staff members (most of the time we left a pooled tip at checkout), they seemed genuinely appreciative and we never felt that it was expected.

Glad you had a good experience with Good Earth and looking forward to the rest of your report!

I think the difference between your album and vacationbennett's is that you copied and pasted the link from an invitation you sent rather than copying and pasting directly from the address bar of your browser when viewing your own album.

I prefer it when someone posts a link from an invite, as that allows me to save their album under My Friend's Albums in my Kodak Gallery account for future viewing which I'm unable to do with vacationbennett's album.

All I have to do to view your album as thumbnails is click End Slideshow and navigate to your album under My Friend's Albums and it looks just like vacationbennett's photos.
Patty is offline  
Oct 14th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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Interesting comments, but the road from Nairobi to Nakuru isnít bad at all. At least not until after Naivasha. Iím looking forward to reading your itinerary.
I liked all the photos. Thanks for sharing them. I loved the flower eating little elephant, the cheetah on the rock, the dikdik, the gerenuks Ė especially the silly foreleg-lifting male, the hyena in the shade, the lion cubs playing, and of course the relaxed Zanzibari cat.
Nyamera is offline  
Oct 15th, 2005, 07:54 AM
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Itinerary -

September 4th - Norfolk Hotel: After arriving in Nairobi at 7 AM via Heathrow and SFO, we took a short nap. That afternoon, we stopped at the Giraffe Center and did the feeding. In my opinion, this is a great initiation to Africa - kinda like a zoo, but a great experience nonetheless. This was our only excursion for the day as it was Sunday and all the markets were closed (revivals were in full effect however). We had a wonderful dinner at the hotel and crashed. The Norfolk is a beautiful hotel with excellent food. A rather interesting contrast to the city of Nairobi - you definitely have that "privileged feel" (which I believe isn't a good thing in many cases).

Setember 5th - Nairobi to Lake Nakuru (Sarova Lion Lodge): We left Nairobi at 7:30 AM headed to Nakuru via Naivasha. Nyamera is correct - the road is nice until you near Naivasha. However, for about an hour it is very rough - apparently this road was built by Italian POWs in 1942 and hasn't been repaired since. The Kenyan government is building a new road that plans to open in Spring, 2006 - let's hope they stay on schedule. We stopped at two souvenir shops along the way and made it to Nakuru in 5.5 hours. Our driver forbid us from handing out pens to the children alongside the road as he stated that they should have been in school and this would only encourage them to avoid school. At Nakuru we saw our first "wild" giraffe (the first animal sighting other than the baboons all along the road to Nakuru). Nakuru was worth the trip as the "white" rhino were numerous and made for great photo ops. We watched a rhino family (mom, dad, 2-yr old baby) for quite some time - the youngin' was quite playful with the father. We were less than 10 feet from one rhino who didn't seem bothered. I guess he had seen the "migration of the Great White Vandebeest" once or twice before. We also saw the numerous flamingo, gazelle, cape buffalo, vervet black faced moneys, baboons (a recurring theme), and various birds. The highlight was of course our first leopard. Three hours into our safari, we had already seen 3 of the big 5 , and this guy was beautiful. After posing for the camera he disappeared into the brush. This was a capper on a great afternoon of driving. The Sarova was comfortable (the cement shower didn't do it for me) and the food was great. They also have a show featuring natives singing and dancing that was decent.

September 6th - Nakuru to Mt Kenya Safari Club: We did a quick morning drive in Nakuru before heading out of the park. The highlight of the morning was a large troop of baboons acting like humans without inhibitions (they tried to disprove that monogamy works). After leaving the horny baboons we came across a Black Colobus Monkey - as I set up my rice-filled sack (a great camera stabilizer), he promptly ran up the hood of the van and grabbed my rice bag and promptly ran up a tree. Of course I was already focusing my camera so he scared the hell out of me (it was quite the show for a van of Germans down the road). Our valiant driver jumped out and threw a rock at the climbing monkey. He dropped the bag and my camera was grateful.
The roads from Nakuru to Nanyuki were excellent. The Nanyuki Equator display was interesting and worth the stop. We arrived at Mt Kenya Safari Club just in time for a torrential rain storm. This limited our activities selection - we saw the animal orphanage which included a caracal cat (awesome cat that we never saw in the wild), various monkeys, and a cheetah feeding. It was great to be able to stand less than 2 feet from these amazing animals and watch them devour their vittles. The Mt Kenya Safari Club is NOT Safari, but it is an amazing hotel with great food. The rooms are very nice and include a fireplace that is lit before you return from dinner. Be warned - it is cold , perhaps in the 30s F the night we were there. Hot waterbottles in the bed made my wife very happy. The next morning we actually saw Mt Kenya (for about 15 minutes before clouds covered it again) and went horseback riding. Beware of English saddles if you are a novice like myself - my chances of having kids plummeted after this one hour ride. I would however recommend it if you saty here.

September 7th - My Kenya to Sweetwaters (Tented Camp) - This was a short trip (45 minutes) to Sweetwaters were the highlight was the Black Rhino, "Morani" (warrior in Swahili). It was chilling speaking to the young guides who said that they hated their job because their life is less important than the rhinos. They are actually instructed to take a bullet for the rhino, who brings in decent income to the park. Sweetwaters is one of the few parks that has all of the "Big 5". We saw them all except for lion. A few highlights: 1.) being alone with two elephants who were about 10 feet away, 2.) Tracking a leopard during a night game drive (one of few highlights on a night game drive since it rained the entire time), 3.) Seeing the Crowned Crane up close - my favorite bird on the trip, 4.) Giraffe walking by our tent. The tented camp was nice and once again the food was superb. This was our first sighting of "Large Groupus Obnoxious Americanas" (LGOA) - these are the moments when you can understand how sterotypes are formed. Can I make a plea to my fellow Americans - keep it down while you are eating! Many of us don't care about your daughter in Peoria who married a doctor. Anyway, I hope that drunk bastard had a hangover.

September 8th - Sweetwaters to Samburu (Serena Hotel): The road to Isiolo is very nice and scenic. It is amazing how the landscape turns from green to dry in a matter of miles. At Isiolo, it becae very dusty and desolate. The police checkpoint is a surreal experience - one road heads NE towards Somalia and one heads N towards Ethiopia. People sit on top of cattle trucks that drive about 15 miles/hr and arrive at the border in a speedy 2 days. After the checkpoint, the term "road" is a misnomer - large rocks strewn among dirt serve for a "free massage", a term used jokingly by the guides. For more perspective on this road, you must read "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux. This was one moment when I knew that this trip was worth every penny I spent. We entered the park and quickly saw Oryx, Giraffe, Somali Ostrich, Elephant, and monkeys. On the afternoon game drive I went solo as my wife needed to rest (a small touch of heat stroke). Here I saw numerous Gerenuk (incidently - the gerenuk lifting his leg is trying to mate), Martial Eagles, Elephant, two Cheetah bathing each other, and two leopards. The second leopard was the hightlight of the trip - he was on the ground in the Samburu walking through the bush. I asked my driver about all the commotion ahead - he said he think it is a leopard. At that moment, the leopard walked out from the bush less than 5 feet from the car and proceeded to literally brush up against the front bumper and walk away. I had the 75-300 zoom attached and was unable to fit him into the shot! This was especially disturbing since my wife "manned" the point and shoot and was not present. Had she been there we would have had numerous up close shots - instead I got a great picture that I will call "Ass of the Leopard" . At any rate, I did get a few good shots and was amazed at what I had just seen. That night we had a great dinner and retired early.
vacationbennett is offline  
Oct 15th, 2005, 08:58 AM
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thanks for all of the great descriptions--and advice on how to avoid being LGOA.
bat is offline  
Oct 16th, 2005, 08:06 AM
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Did I read correctly that it took you 5.5 hours from Nairobi to Nakuru? Any particular reason why it took so long? This drive normally takes more like 2.5 hours.

I'm jealous you saw a leopard on your night drive at Sweetwaters. We didn't see a leopard our entire trip though we did see both an aardvark and a zorilla on our night drive

I got a kick out of your LGOA reference. We encountered a similar situation at dinner only this group was of another nationality (which shall remain unnamed ). I don't think it's Americans who are particularly obnoxious but rather it's the nature of being in a group. No offense to anyone, but you could easily replace the A with a B or G or D
Patty is offline  
Oct 16th, 2005, 08:37 AM
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Ass of the Leopard!
=D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D>
Kavey is offline  
Oct 16th, 2005, 10:08 AM
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Re: Drive to Nakuru - this was the total time that included stops at two shops and the 20 minute drive to our lodge once we entereed the park. Also, our driver was perhaps the only guide in Kenya that FOLLOWED the speed limit. I would recommend having your driver skip the shops and head straight to the lodge.
vacationbennett is offline  
Oct 16th, 2005, 09:56 PM
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Haven't checked out your pics yet but I'm dying for the rest of your report as we are going to TZ w/ Good Earth just over one month from now and I am starting to get so excited I can't stand it! Can't wait to read what you have to say about the TZ part of your trip.
lisa is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 02:47 AM
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Thanks for the great comments. I leave Saturday for Tanzania and this was great last minute information. Your pictures are wonderful, I hope get a few as good as yours. Thanks again.
summers is offline  
Oct 18th, 2005, 12:39 PM
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Vacationbennett, weíre still waiting for the next part of the itinerary. Iím topping this up now so that you canít sneak away to ďnext 50 messagesĒ.

Re the road to Nakuru: if you donít enter the NP by the main gate but instead use the Elmentaita road to go to Nderit gate or, even worse, Mbweha Camp at the southern tip you sometimes have to drive at the side of the road because itís impassable Ė at least it was in June.
ďMoraniĒ is Maa and not Swahili (I think this is called being ďanalĒ in English).
Iím jealous that you took the Isiolo road to Samburu (I went by plane) and that you had good leopard sightings. I suspect there will be more of those in part 2 of your itinerary. Iím happy (?) Iím not the only person who sometimes hear chilling remarks about the value of human life in Kenya.
Thanks for this informative and entertaining HALF report.

Nyamera is offline  
Oct 18th, 2005, 08:30 PM
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Itinerary (continued) -

September 9th - (2nd Day in Samburu): This was the first day that we were not headed to another park. We were able to get up early and do a morning game drive before breakfast. This morning we saw lots of elephants, gerenuk, various birds (which quite frankly are underrated, however damn difficult to remember all the species), gravys zebra (sp?), oryx, and the most magnificent cheetah that we saw on the trip. Ironically, he was perched on "Leopard Rock" watching some gazelle in the distance. We watched the cheetah for 15 minutes as he gazed intently at his prey; he is now currently gazing at me on my desktop wallpaper. After a quick breakfast at the Serena, we headed out for a quick late morning game drive (nothing eventful) and then to a Samburu/Turkana village. I have rather mixed feelings about the "It's a Small World" experience. For a tribe (technically two tribes that live together as one) that puportedly shuns Western values, they sure understand (and value) the U.S. dollar. We paid $60 to tour the village of huts made of cowdung. After watching the sacred firemaking process that involved valuable tools "passed down through generations", we were promptly solicited ("make fire in U.S. for your friends"). We were then led into the Chief's hut and watched the Chief's wife make lunch while we sat on their bed. Since we "inconvenienced the Chief's wife" we were asked to make a small donation. After watching the tribeswomen do a traditional dance, we walked through a market (a line of about 50 women sitting on the ground pleaing with us to make a purchase) and made a donation to the school they were building. Overall a very interesting and worthwhile experience, but not the "feel good Africa" I was expecting. In my opinion, the Chief and few elders that know English were exploiting the entire village. Of course, I am looking at this from a Western perspective (let's not even talk about female circumcision).

After lunch, our driver left us for the Mara. He drove from Samburu to the Masai Mara in order to meet us the next day when we arrived by plane (rather unfair for him in my opinion). This gave us some downtime and a chance to have a massage and pedicure. At 7 PM, we caught the crocodile feeding - rather controversial I know, but quite fun for the tourists. Hearing a croc crack a cow femur in half is unbelievable. The drunk Brits (after all, it was already 7 PM) let out a roar as the croc devoured the meat less than 4 feet from us. After dinner, we retired. Overall, the Samburu was quite distinct due to it's terrain and different species (gerenuk, oryx, etc.). I highly recommend this park and the Serena Samburu (decent rooms, good food, excellent service).

September 10th (Samburu to Masai Mara) - We were transported to the airstrip expecting to take a charter straight to the Mara arriving by 10:30 AM. Apparently Safari Line put us on an Air Kenya flight to Nairobi which then proceeded to the Mara. I have two words to describe domestic air travel in Kenya - Monkey F***. Make sure to keep a good eye on your bags at all times. When we arrived in Nairobi and were transferred to the other plane, bags were tagged for 5 different Mara stops. Tourists were strewn throught the airstrip trying to explain to the handlers where their bags should really be going. When we finally boarded the flight for the Mara it was 11 AM - we then learned we were stop 5 of 5. At the first stop, I jumped off the plane and noticed my bags were tagged for that stop - I made sure they were tagged for the final stop. At the second stop (Governors Camp), we deposited the wealthy Americans and Japanese and started to taxi. Sitting in the front row, we couldn't help but hear the pilot tell "Sh!t" in a perfect South african accent. He quickly opened the door and said "We have a flat, but no worries we also have a spare. Give us 20 minutes". We jumped off the plane and one hour later, the two pilots and handlers finally had us on our way. We waited in the hot sun watching these bozos try to jack-up a 50-passenger plane in soft soil. Luckily they found a spade and dug a large enough hole to put the new tire on. After nearly having a meltdown during this 5 hour tour, we finally landed at Keekorok airstrip at 2 PM. Our poor driver had been waiting for 4 hours. Needless to say, all was well as we headed towards the Sopa Lodge in the Mara. Wildebeest were all over the place. We saw topi, zebra, elephant, Mara giraffe, and gazelle everywhere. After checking in and lunch, we did a 3 PM game drive. The Sopa has a great view of a valley, however it is outside of the park. It takes about 15 minutes to get into the park from the lodge. Once inside the park, we saw our very first Lion. He was a solo male with a flowing mane. After getting a few great pics we ditched the other vans. Although our driver was slow and methodical, he had one up on the younger guides. As they stuck to their radios and hopped from sighting to sighting, we cruised actually in search of animals. This is an important point - many people in the Mara are on a 8 or 9 day trip, so therefore need to see everything. The tour guides are aware of this and therefore drive like New York cabbies in order to satisfy their customers. They also drive off the paths, which we were told was illegal and we didn't do (it was frustrating seeing vans off in the distance watching a leopard or cheetah while we were following the rules - not sure who enforces the law in the Mara). As we "cruised" we came across three lionesses and six cubs! We were able to watch this pride for over an hour with only one other vehicle present. The cubs would pair off and tackle each other, while the lionesses bathed each other and watched for prey. They seemed unbothered by our presence and the constant clicking of the camera. Meanwhile 20 or 30 vans could be seen off in the distance smothering the male lion we had just left. At about 5:30 PM, we left the cubs and started heading out of the park (it supposedly closed at 6 PM), while the vandebeest were all just arriving. Seeing game in the wild by yourself is a selfish but very satisyfing experience.

September 11th (Day 2 of 3 in Mara) - This day began with a 4:30 AM wake-up call. We left for the balloon ride at 5:30 AM and arrived at the launch point at 6:30 AM. This was perhaps one of the best experiences in Africa. I highly recommend the balloon. Forget the cost - you are already dropping big money to get to Africa. Go ahead and enjoy one of the best experiences of your life. Seeing the migration from above is a special experience. Our English ex-pat pilot was witty and enjoyed banter with the Americans (we were the only 2 of a total of 40 passengers b/t 3 balloons). From the air, we saw wildebeest, vultures perched in trees, elephants atop a hill, giraffe, buffalo, lion, gazelle, and many zebra. After making a perfect landing, we headed to the designated spot for the champagne (actually asti spumante) breakfast. It was great getting buzzed (ok, drunk) at 8 AM in the bush and meeting people from all over the world. "Marking your territory" in the bush is an unnerving experience. After breakfast, we met our driver and headed to the hippo pools. We saw hippos mating, some crocs sunbathing, and more giraffe, lions, gazelle, warthogs, and of course, zebra and wildebeest. After a late lunch and quick nap, we went to a local Masai village. This was a nicer experience than the previous village. The Masai village was much cleaner and more organized. I was approached by the Chief to buy a wooden club and graciously obliged. It is interesting to note that the Chief was no more than 50 yrs old and was the oldest in the village. Our guide was one of his many sons who spoke perfect English. He said that the Masai become junior elders at age 30. You really begin to appreciate modern medicine and sanitation after touring these villages. While in the village it began to downpour, so we headed back to the lodge early. Of note, this was the 6th day of at least some rain while on our trip. It even rained in the Samburu on our second day (our driver didn't believe us). The balloon pilot told us it was the wettest September in the 25 years of him living in Kenya. Bottom line - you can never predict the weather.

Lisa - this is taking me forever and Zanzibar still seems far off. Email me ([email protected]) if you have any specific questions about Z'bar.
vacationbennett is offline  

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