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TRIP REPORT - Kenya/Tanzania July 25-Aug 13, 2006 (Including travel through Heathrow with travel restrictions)

TRIP REPORT - Kenya/Tanzania July 25-Aug 13, 2006 (Including travel through Heathrow with travel restrictions)

Old Aug 16th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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TRIP REPORT - Kenya/Tanzania July 25-Aug 13, 2006 (Including travel through Heathrow with travel restrictions)

Hello All-
We have returned from our 16 days in Kenya and Tanzania, including living through the heightened security at Heathrow and traveling all the way from Nairobi to US with only a plastic bag of travel documents as we hit the height of security and could not take even a book or eyeglass case. It can be done and all gifts, camera equipment, etc. etc arrived home with us completely intact.
I figure if I start this thread and at least a first post it will embarrass me into getting the actual trip report completed. (Un)fortunately our trip was relatively mundane compared to the likes of Imelda and others. We did not disembark in the wrong city, get bit my tse tse flies, or have any other frightening or near death experiences, except for a dicey boat ride across Lake Naivasha to Crescent Island.
We did see a wildebeest river crossing in the Mara, a botched lion hunt where the wildies actually chased off two young males followed by the same pride of lions attacking a mongoose until Mom decided to take down a wildie single-handedly, giraffe babies, 5 separate leopards at close range, rhino, cheetah at rest and cheetah cubs, and lots of other wonderful animals and birds that I will document as part of the report. We also visited five schools and a Samburu village at Sarara and delivered soccer balls and pumps to all which gave my son and daughter a great experience as they went into the classrooms and talked and played with the kids.
In terms of accomodations, the tented camps at Sarara, Governor's Il Moran, Larsen's and Swala were unbelievable, one better than the next. We loved Lloldia House on the shores of Lake Naivasha where we were able to horseback ride among herds of impala and gazelle and we luxuriated in the decadence that is the Crater Lodge.
I won't say that the Ark was "disappointing" because we knew what to expect, but the rooms were really pretty shabby and the place was freezing -- temperature inside and out a lovely 55F. The only truly disappointing accomodation was at Kifaru between Karatu and the Crater, but more later on the details.
For those first time travels struggling with packing and tipping and how much cash to take, or traveling with kids I have these few words:
Packing:
We each had a wide mouth duffle bag with side pockets from Timbuktu that fit as carry on and a pack back and we were overpacked (and that includes each of us carrying 4-5 deflated soccer balls in the duffle along with our clothes). I didn't even wear all my shirts and could have packed less. I will say that winter in Africa (July and August) was much cooler than I expected and I could have used one or two thin light sweaters to have for dressing at dinner. There were many days when our zip off pants did not get zipped off and we were thankful for the hot water bottles in our beds at night.
I brought an extra empty nylon bag for gifts and that was perfect. I also loved my travel clothesline, my maglite flashlight (husband liked his headlamp even better), my Keen Newport shoes,my endless supply of small zip loc bags and my travel packets of baby wipes. One bottle of purell was more than enough (even a tiny bottle would have done).
Tipping:
Having never traveled with a guide and driver or stayed in tented camps and lodges with "butlers," I too was somewhat skeptical/confused by the general tipping guidelines that I saw everywhere that would have us averaging for a family of 4 about $40 per day for our driver and a littleless for the staff when we had already invested so heavily in the trip. After one day of driving from Nakuru to Naivasha in Kenya, it became clear that the drivers earn every penny of the tip that you give them. This is hard, hard work and if they are good, in addition to changing tires, driving over raods that are numbing, they are spotting animals and birds and showing endless patience. I am true convert on the tipping of drivers. Similarly, these lodges have a lot of staff and where the staff is very good, the tipping ranges are accurate, although I still feel a little high compared to the value that the drivers provide.

Money:
Bring more than you think you need. We decided to buy some tinga tinga paintings at a gallery only to learn after all of the selection and negotiations that they could not take our VISA. That one unexpected cash transaction had us searching for an ATM in Arusha (we found a Barclays where our Citibank card worked fine) and an ATM in Karatu (the Wells Fargo card worked but the Citibank did not, go figure). You cannot add staff tip to your lodging bill (it just doesn't work that way) and it really is hard to bargain at the curios if you are going to use a credit card, so bring extra cash.

Kids:
We traveled with our 13 y.o. son and 11 y.o. daughter. They are well traveled and brought plenty of books to read, each had their own binoculars (KEY!) and ipods, although we did not allow them to bring ipods on the game drives. They shared a room or a tent and were completely fine at each place we stayed, even when there were lions roaring at Swala, and hippos and hyenas roaming at Governor's. My daughter did not like the school children touching her hair at first, but she got used to it. They did not like the bargaining at the curio places and so they chose to stay in the 4x4. A friend that had traveled with his children two years ago had an invaluable tip for me -- do NOT force them to go on every game drive because "we paid a lot of money for this trip!" Sometimes, they just need to sleep in or just chill. My daughter missed the wildie crossing at the Mara because she slept through the morning game drive . . she got over it in a few minutes and would have been awful to have in the car if we had forced her to wake up. The staff knew she was sleeping in and they kept watch on her tent until we returned and I never had any concern about leaving her alone. My husband and I enjoyed a great early game drive in the Crater (we were the second car down) alone because we told both kids they just needed a morning to re-charge and they listened.

All that, and I haven't even cracked my journal to actually start the trip report. As to pictures, we are old fashioned and use film, so that will be a little while.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 11:47 AM
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Great report-looking forward to hearing more! Guess we aren't the only ones using film for photographing wildlife-our agent even recommended it.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 12:16 PM
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Welcome back! Glad to hear all of your belongings made it home intact. More, more more!
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 12:34 PM
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Welcome back Amy.

Also glad to see someone else still using film!
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 01:07 PM
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HI Amy we are leaving on Setember and your report was very usefull...I sum things to my mental packing and take off other stuff as I read...
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 01:26 PM
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sounds like some great sightings.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 02:37 PM
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PLANNING:
We have close friends that previously traveled to East Africa with other families using Hoopoe Safaris. Although I did contact and received helpful information from CC Africa, ATR and Go2Africa, there really wasn't much doubt that we were going to use Hoopoe and that we were going to go with a private guide. The primary reasons for this decision were the desire to maximize the educational experience of the trip for the entire family by going with an experienced guide who would be knowledgable not only of the flora and fauna but of the culture, history and political climate as well. The second reason was safety and security, we wanted to be with a Company and a guide that would be able to deal with any emergency situation that may arise. As it turned out, we did not have any issues, but another group that arrived at the Crater when we were there had been held up at knife and gun point on the road between Lake Manyara and Kiririmu and lost everything of value on day 2 of their trip. Their guide and driver (also Hoopoe) were able to file a police report and start processing insurance claims within hours and they proceeded with their plans to climb Kili.
I have never used a travel agent in my life or traveled with a guide, so this was all a new experience. We worked together to create an itinerary that would include Kenya and Tanzania and that would include several different types of parks. The original itinerary had too many one night stops, so we worked to refine it to include as many two night stops as possible. I also kept coming back with questions about different accomodations as we wanted to include as many tented camps as possible. My final requirement was to stay at the Crater Lodge even though it meant a longer haul in and out of the Crater. As Patty and others witnessed and assisted, we went back and forth on starting in the lake district versus straight to Samburu or a detour to Tsavo, but eventually stuck with Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha and I am very glad that we did because it provided a very different landscape and more lush climate to start out the safari.
In hindsight, after visiting Sarara, a 60,000 private conservation area with only ten tents, I would have tried to include at least one more conservation lodging (Kirirumu, but it was booked more than a year in advance)as it offered by far the most quiet and personal game drives and opportunity to interact with the local Samburu families.
The decision to go with a private guide was, for us, a great decision. As we hoped, it added a depth to the experience that we simply could not have gotten just from going from lodging to lodging even with the most experienced drivers. More, as the report continues.
As to time of year, we were limited by school vacations, so we opted not to try and go to the Serengeti as the migration would hopefully be in the Mara. This made getting FF flight to from Denver to London a little challenging, but ultimately, we were able to get four tickets on the days we wanted to travel. We decided to spend a few days in London to acclimate and because we love the city before catching an O/N flight on BA to Nairobi. On the way back we did it on one long slog -- O/N flight on BA from Nairobi to London with a 4 1/2 hour layover (and we would need every bit of it) before the United return flight to the US.
Our final itinerary was:
7/23 - Arrive London (Holiday Inn Mayfair)
7/25 - O/N flight to Nairobi
7/26 - Giraffe manor, lunch at Rusty Nail, visit two schools. Norfolk Hotel.
7/27 - charter flight to Lake Nakuru, game drive in Nakuru. Drive on non-existent road to Naivasha. O/N Llodia House on the shore of Lake Naivasha.
7/28 - O/N Llodia House
7/29 - Full day drive through the Aberdares. O/N Ark. This is an unavoidable one night stop and as we discussed and discovered, there are no really good accomodations available on this side of the Aberdares. On reflection, this still wa a worthwhile day in the Aberdares. The alternative would be to fly to Samburu and spend an extra day at Larsen's or Sarara which would also have been very good options.
7/30 - Travel to Larsen's Camp in the Samburu National Park with stops at the Equator and in Nanyuki to visit the Nanyuki weavers cooperative.
7/31 - O/N Larsen's
8/1 - If we though the road between Nakuru and Naivasha was bad, it is a paved highway compared to the road between Samburu and the conservation area in the shadow of Ol Lokolokwe. O/N Sarara
8/2 - O/N Sarara
8/3 - charter flight to Wilson. SafariLink to Arusha. O/N at Arusha Coffee Lodge.
8/4 Lake Manyara and O/N at Kifaru, by far the worst accomodations of the trip. In hindsight, I would have pushed to get in and out of Arusha and pushed for two nights somewhere around Lake Manyara, either at Tree Lodge, Kirirumu or some other accomodation. We arrived at Arusha at 3 and easily could have driven 2 more hours to get to Manyara and we would have avoided two back to back one nighters. If I had know the distances and that the roads in Tanzania are so good, I would have pressed for this.
8/5 Afternoon game drive and O/N Crater Lodge
8/6 - O/N Crater Lodge
8/7 - O/N Swala
8/8 - O/N Swala
8/9 - Drive to Arusha, Fly to Kili,Wilson, Mara and still arrive in time for a late afternoon game drive (and lion kill). O/N Il Moran at Governors
8/10 - Il Moran
8/11 - Il Moran
8/12 - morning game drive and safarilink flight to Wilson. Walking tour of nairobi. Day room at the Norfolk and on our way home!

NEXT UP -- PACKING and STARRINT THE TRIP
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 05:34 PM
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Amy, It all sounds fantastic. I leave at the end of August for Kenya and Tanzania. The money part was difficult to figure out. So you think just following the guidelines provided for tipping is fine. I am only taking a visa for a charge card. I hope that is ok.

The part about the people getting held up is very scary.

Looking forward to your report.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 06:05 PM
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Amy:
I am glad that you had a great trip.

3 times I have started to post and 3 times I have deleted but IMO this requires more discussion:

"but another group that arrived at the Crater when we were there had been held up at knife and gun point on the road between Lake Manyara and Kiririmu and lost everything of value on day 2 of their trip."

Definitely not trying to be an alarmist--still more at risk in a car in the US, etc, etc . . .

Still, have not heard of this before.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 06:08 PM
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OK already having recriminations about posting . . .

really not trying to be an alarmist but also think that we should be frank.
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Old Aug 16th, 2006, 06:51 PM
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Bat I wonder just how common this is?
I have not even heard a whisper of anything like that.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 02:25 AM
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Hi Amy,

Thanks so much for the informative report. Can't wait to see the finished product. I too still shoot with film, and, after thinking that I will be able to carry it on board with camera equip. for our Africa trip in Sept. I just got an email from a BA rep stating that I will have to check my camera gear.

She's wrong I think (I hope) and will find out more soon, but I wonder what reassurance you were given about having to check your film. Everything I've researched suggests that film is destroyed by the hi powered scanners used for checked baggage--unlike the lower powered xrays that are used for carryons which should not damage lower ISO films.

So, I will be anxious to see/hear how your pictures turned out--beyond my wish to experience your experiences vicariously. Thanks,

Jim
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 02:40 AM
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p.s. What airline(s) did you fly? Hoping that actually traveling on BA will prove to be a more positive experience than communicating with them.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 04:15 AM
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Oh this is very, very good Amy. Information AND opinion rich.. yum, yum.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 06:47 AM
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"held up at knife and gun point on the road between Lake Manyara and Kiririmu"

Did you mean the road to Kirurumu Tented lodge on the rim above Lake Manyara?

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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 08:24 AM
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Some quick answers -
We flew United to London and BA from London to Nairobi and back. What was fine to carry on for United (our bags and backpacks) was not fine for BA, and this was before the whole security thing on the outbound portion of our trip. They looked at our duffles and even though they fit in the little boxy thing, they weighed them and because they were about 10-11 kg each told us we had to check them . . very odd, but we really did not argue. What was strange but consistent with what has been posted is the my husband's backpack that has a frame and had all his camera equipment definetely weighed more than 10kg, but because that was his carry on bag (and he had it slung over his shoulder so maybe it was a little hidden) it was not weighed and he could bring it on. As to the film and how it survived being in checked baggae all the way home do to all the security measures . .we will know in a few days. We had both color, B/W and some HD film.

On the road bandits, it is definetely a reality and I was not trying to be alarmist at all. The story was told to us in front of our kids and they didn't even blink. It was on the road to Kiririmu tented camp from Lake Manyara Park. As I understand it, the bandits were actually waiting for a car that they knew was going to contain lots of cash as it was members of a local church group (not tourists). The 4x4 came along and interrupted the plot and so they got caught up in the robbery . . an added bonus for the robbers if you will. The driver remained calm as did the mother and two 18-20 ish kids. The Mom asked the robbers if she could have her passports back and they obliged! At one point it looked as if they were going to forget to take their cameras that were in back packs, but at the last minute one of the robbers remembered they were there and took the backpacks too. The driver was able to call ahead to the police station and two or three of the robbers were arrested withing 7-8 hours (of course, they were not able to recover any of the property).
That is really all I know, so I am not sure if we can have any more "discussion" of the incident or the topic in general. I will say that we were concerned/aware of the possibility of road bandits on a particularly desolate stretch of a washed out road as we drove to Samburu and again as we drove to Sarara camp. Our driver and guide made it clear on both roads that bathroom breaks needed to be taken before we embarked as we would NOT be stopping on this road. We got the message loud and clear as we passed trucks transporting tanks and armed soldiers up to the Somali border.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 08:56 AM
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"They looked at our duffles and even though they fit in the little boxy thing, they weighed them and because they were about 10-11 kg each told us we had to check them . . very odd, but we really did not argue."

You're right, that's very odd since BA eliminated any weight restrictions on carry on baggage effective July 5th so as long as you were within size limitations, they should not have made you check them.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 08:59 AM
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PACKING AND STARTING OUT

I really won't spend too much time on packing as there as so many packing threads on this board and they are very good. As I stated, even though we packed very lightly, I still could have packed a few less t-shirts but also needed one more light sweater as the evenings were so cool. Basically, I had the following-
2 pairs zip off pants (Mountain Hardwear)
1 pr lighweight short (also Mountain Hardwear
1 pr lightweight sweats for sleeping and sleep shirt.
2 sports bras
2 reg bras
5 pr underwear
2 button down 3/4 cotton shirts for dinner wear.
4- t-shirts
2 tank tops
1 long sleeve polartec shirt with thumb holes (The kind you wear for skiing or running in cold weather). Should have had 2 of these.
rain jacket in a stuff sack about the size of a soup can. Only used once, but it hardly took up any room.
1 pr flip flops (Keens w/ toe cap)
1 pr of lighwight wedge shoes (for dressing up my clothes for dinner).
And I wore my Newport sandals on the plane and my fleece, along with a pair of capris and a three quarter T.
I meant to take and forgot a cheap-o dollar pair of knit gloves for morning game drives and I missed those, along with a thin ski cap, hubbie had his and I was jealous.
I also would have taken out a t-shirt and replaced it with a nice thin long sleeve sweater or even two.
In terms of gear, each person was responsible for their own stuff in their back packs. I had the usual array of CIPRO, immodium (this got used), tylenol, band aids, tissue packs, toothpaste, toothbrush,shampoo and conditioner mini bottles, a few tide packets, my laundery line,mag lites, bug spray and sunscreen, purell and several packages of baby wipes along with lots of zip loc bags that could be used to hold used tissues and wipes if making emergency bush toilet stops. Books and binoculars -- Nikon 7x35, about $50 each pair -- ipod, and a small journal notebook and some extra pens.
My husband had our Bose travel speakers for the ipod which also serves as a charger. It was nice to be able to put on some classical music as we read in the afternoons. He was also in charge of all the prescription meds -- malarone, and ambien and CIPRO and zithro for the kids.
We brought and did not need travel towels.

On game drives, I would have my binoculars and the following only in my back pack: Sunscreen, bug spray, purell, baby wipes and a few plastic bags. Kids had their binocluars only. We are mean parents and did not allow ipods on game drives. Hubby had the big pack with all his camera gear . .I can't even tell you what he had but it was pretty basic. The cars were always equipped with drinks but I don't know if that is true in all cases.

STARTING THE TRIP

Flights to London were uneventful and we took the Tube from Heathrow right to the Green Park station, only two blocks from the Holiday Inn Mayfair -- one of the few hotels in London that actually has rooms with two double beds and can fit a family of four .. comfortably. We have stayed in Mayfair before in a rented flat so we knew our way around. It was nice to have two days in London to hang out before our night flight to Nairobi. We again took the tube, but had to transfer to e shuttle bus as the Terminal 4 stop is not open. Again, no big deal, even with the bags.
Check in was fine and we did not mind that they checked our duffles until they were the last ones off the carousel in Nairobi and at this point we were so anxious to get going! J and our driver James were waiting for us with cold drinks and the LandCruiser and we were off to check in at the Norfolk . .

Next up, Nairobi, Nakuru and Naivasha.


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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 10:47 AM
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Amy
Enjoyed your posting - especially interested in Larsons Samburu - I have just booked to go there with our Son his wife and our two teenage grandchildren!

Any further info re Larsons would be very much appreciated.
Thanks
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 01:13 PM
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Hi Amy,
I haven't actually gotten 'round to reading your report (except for the very first bit) but I wanted to say WELCOME BACK AMY!!! I am really glad to hear that your trip was uneventful and you didn't 'pull an Imelda' as someone described our experience! And FIVE leopards <b> AT CLOSE RANGE</b>, I'll say it now - I'm envious!! Please tell where you saw them?? I won't ask any more questions yet as I don't want to spoil your report but I'm itching to know about the leopards.

Hopefully I will catch up with your report soon. I'll have to 'do a Lynda' on it and print it out although I'd better not try to read it on the way to work or the guy in the next lane might get a fright

Imelda
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