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Trip Report Babies Galore: Kenya in April

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After our original spring break plans were changed, we ended up deciding upon Africa. After doing research and figuring out logistics, we decided to spend the entire visit in Kenya. Family includes me, surfdad, and the kids (DD1 is 16 years, DD2 is 15 years, and DS is 13 years). A great age to travel! The trip report was written while in Africa, so it may ramble a bit...

day 1 - Friday - arrive in Nairobi

After uneventful flights, we arrived in Nairobi. We had not done the e-visa in advance and I'm not sure it would have saved any time (lines looked to be moving at similar speeds). After waiting about 45 minutes, we were finished with the process and met our agency rep. We walked outside and waited about 10 minutes for the driver to pick us up.

We had decided to stay close-by - at the Eka Hotel. It worked out great. We got checked in, while the kids showered, we ordered room service, and were all in bed pretty quickly.

happy to be on the ground!

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    day 2: Giraffe Manor, Nairobi

    What a great day.... after a nice buffet breakfast at the Eka Hotel, we were picked up and delivered to Giraffe Manor. It is a house built in 1930 based on a Scottish manor. Ivy covered and all. Really neat! We walked around a bit and had lunch about 1:00. 

    Lunch was a starter of hummus and bread, and a lunch of sesame chicken; dessert was cream cheese and lime sorbet.  We walked over to the Giraffe center (part of the same complex) and fed the giraffes, learned about the species, and then took a nature walk. An interesting fact was holding the leg bone of a giraffe - surprised at the weight. We learned about some indigenous plants and trees and then walked back to the hotel. 

    The driver picked us up at 4:15 for a trip to the Elephant Orphanage. At 5, we watched all the elephants come into the orphanage from Nairobi National Park. They were led to their pens and had dinner waiting for them. We enjoyed watching them eat and the girls each selected one for adoption. They will get emails and updates for the next year as the elephants grow. The orphanage takes the babies whose moms have been injured or killed and nurses them until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. There is also one Giraffe and one rhino and a few warthogs running around. The rhino is blind and they thought they could do an eye operation on him, but cannot, so since he could not defend his territory, he is kept at the orphanage. 

    At 6, we were taken back to Giraffe Manor and since there were scones leftover from tea, we sat on the porch and had a snack. The giraffes came up to the manor, so we fed them there. They eat pellets that are compressed of dried grass and molasses.

    By then, we had a few minutes to freshen up and then dinner was served. Since they were full in the main building (we are in the Garden Manor building attached), we ate in the study of our building. We were served dinner by candlelight - arancini appetizer (rice and cheese in a ball deep fried) and then beef and chips for dinner. Dessert was chocolate lava cake and vanilla ice cream. We are all full!

    Tomorrow is an early wake up call - we can feed the giraffes from our room before breakfast ... about 6:30, then breakfast at 7, and picked up at 8 to head to the airport and Samburu. 

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    Thank you for this Surfmom.

    Question: since you also went to the Giraffe Center and fed giraffes there (I recall the elevated deck, which puts you at giraffes' mouths level, as great fun) would you recommend also staying at Giraffe Manor for the experience. It was way above my budget at the time, but I wondered if we missed something by not staying overnight. If you think it was worth the cost, in addition to both the Giraffe Center mouth interaction (-: and your sightings of giraffes on safari, I'll consider it a worthwhile splurge for next time!

    Thanks for starting the report; can hardly wait to read more!

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    Hi CaliNurse!

    Good question. I thought about it and asked the kids and they all say, "stay at Giraffe Manor". Honestly, we wished that we hadn't gone to the Elephant Orphanage that afternoon, because we didn't want to leave. We loved the house - the hotel - our room. We checked in about 11am - when you can - and immediately fell in love with it. We were able to send our traveling clothes out to the laundry (they came back that evening), so that also helped heading out on safari the next day. I just wanted to find an hour to curl up in a chair and sit and ready... but we were busy getting settled, eating, etc. It is also pretty neat to wake up at 6am and watch the giraffes come across the lawn heading for an open window :)

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    Day 3 – off to Samburu -


    Busy day! We were up at 6am and the giraffes were waiting as they opened the gates from the wildlife area to the manor house. The kids came upstairs to the adult room and fed the giraffes from the window. We then went downstairs and had breakfast - and Kelly, the Giraffe, leaned her head in to join us. They eat pellets of dried leaves and molasses.  We headed for the airport at 8 and when we got there, realized we weren't on the 9:15 Air Kenya flight, but the 10:20 SafariLink flight. So we hung in the lounge and waited, read and kids hopped on wifi.

    The flight was 6 people - us and a German guy.  Small prop plane. We landed on the airstrip - a dirt track - and the car was waiting for us. We met our driver, Julius, and were off. On the way to camp, we made a few detours to see animals. Saw giraffes, elephants, lions, impalas, dik-diks, oryx, zebras and some others.

    We are staying at Elephant Bedroom Camp - a tented camp next to the river. There are about 12 tents - and the camp is pretty full. We are split into two tents - boys (king bed) in one and girls (2 queen beds) in the other.

    Got to camp about 1pm - got settled and had lunch. Kids had noodles, I had beef lasagna, and surfdad had fish. After lunch, we had a break, so the kids used the plunge pool (refreshing!) and we hung out. We met again at 4:00 for the evening game drive.  We had two women from the UK join us and saw many animals but this time also saw a leopard. We then stopped at the river for a sundowner – drinks and snacks and watched the sunset. This sundowner was set up for the entire camp - all the vehicles came here and there were hot appetizers as well as a variety of drinks.

    We drove back to camp in the dark and when we arrived back at camp, we had to use the back way since an elephant was in camp. Luckily, he was near the other tents so we could still go freshen up at ours. We had to be escorted to our tents and then were escorted back for dinner. It was lemon grilled chicken for most of us. We retired (escorted) to our tents for showers, charging devices, and bed. We have electricity from 6:30-11pm which is nice. And then again in the morning before we go out. 

    Wake up is 6am with tea and biscuits and we leave at 6:30 for the drive. We are also visiting a Samburu village tomorrow.

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    Thank you, Surfmom! I love that for an opinion, you went to the resident experts--your kids!! It adds a whole new dimension to get the teen take! I was lucky on last safari trip to be with then almost-17 yr old grandson, so I know having your kids with you made the trip even more wonderful!
    Ah, Samburu memories!!!! Very special that you saw a leopard--they are particularly elusive in the hills of Samburu, according to our driver/guide. Did you see the "giraffe gazelles"--the gerunuk that stand on their hind legs? Part of "The Samburu Five" (vs "The Big Five").
    Keep the stories coming!! Continued thanks for sharing your great family trip

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    Thank you surfmom. I'm following along too and very much enjoying your report. Giraffe Manor sounds like a unique experience. What vehicles did you use at Samburu? Your own or a guide's? Did you see several other vehicles at the animal viewings?

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    @calinurse, yes, we did see the gerunuk.... it is a little freaky how they stand like that!

    I will post a photo. email me at surf_mom @ live . com and I will send you my photos... I have just started posting :)

    @tripplanner - at Samburu we were in an open canvas safari vehicle. I think it sat 8 people? two rows of individual seats and then bench seat across the back. I think when we were with the 2 other ladies, I sat in the front seat next to the driver so we could spread out. Looking back on it, that was the only time that we were with anyone else - I think camp was just full.

    At Elephant Bedroom Camp, we used their guides - so the one that picked us up from the airstrip is the one we were with the whole time. We liked him, but later on - when we had *fabulous* guides, we realized he was probably only good, not great. He gave us less background information about animals and behavior. Of course, we were just getting acclimated and that would have probably been overkill.

    At the animal sightings, we did see other vehicles. Samburu was the most 'crowded' in that sense. For example, we were watching lions eating a zebra and there were about 4 or 5 vehicles circling around. We were in a 4 wheel drive vehicle - so went wherever, but some of the others were vans with the pop up roofs and they stayed on the roads. They had everyone cramming in the opening to see. Our guide told us that the rule (unwritten maybe?) is 5 vehicles per sighting and if someone else comes up, they wait a bit away until one of them leaves. The only time we saw multiple vehicles like that was watching the lions eat a fresh kill and at the leopard sighting - and that was maybe 3 vehicles total?

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    I know my verb tenses are all messed up, but I am too lazy to go back and fix them... I have taken this trip report from a series of emails that I sent home to grandparents. They like to follow along, so this was written as the trip went along.

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    Day 4 – Monday - Samburu

    We were woken up by tea and biscuits at 6am - and left on the game drive around 6:30. 

    Quick description of camp: we are in two different tents - boys in one and girls in the other. They have a balcony outside with two chairs and a little plunge pool (bathtub sized). Tents are on raised platforms since they are next to the river.  Camp has electricity (generator) from 5-6:30 am and then again at night from 7-11. There are hot showers during that time also. Meals are outside by the common tent area - breakfast was 4 kinds of fruit, various cereal, hot food like bacon, sausage, beans, tomato, crepes and donuts. They also had an omelet station. I am writing this while sitting on my balcony and the monkeys are going crazy - a dog from a nearby community just ran through. There are guards stationed around camp and at night, you summon one to leave your tent. The tent has running water which is great! The monkeys are all around and very smart - you lock your tent with a lock closing the zippers when you leave so they don't get in. Apparently they have figured out zippers without locks! The camp borders a river and we can see an elephant across the way.

    This morning, we saw many animals - the leopard is more elusive and harder to find so it is good to see him again. We saw elephants (and babies), giraffes, zebras, a pride of lions - including two cubs, and a leopard. It was a good morning. We left about 6:30 and returned around 9.

    We got back to camp about 9ish, had breakfast, and will be heading out to a Samburu village about 10:30. (I am writing this throughout the day so it is a bit of a running commentary).

    It took us about 30 minutes or so to get to the village - it was a good visit. They are nomadic and only move villages if searching for water ... or need grass for grazing .... or if someone dies. When someone dies, they don't bury the body, they leave it a bit away from the village for animals to eat. That way, the person is in all the animals around. If animals don't eat it within 2 days, they kill a black sheep and smear the fat from it all over the body. The body must not have been eaten because it did something bad.  By smearing the fat (or blood, I don't remember), the person is forgiven. 

    We were given a traditional welcome with singing and the boys had to do the traditional jumping. We saw a house - and how it is made, and then watched two boys make fire. They just used two sticks and rubbed them until heat and a flame. Makes us feel pretty pathetic when we can't light the grill with a flame thrower! The girls selected bead bracelets and the boy, a keychain. (They sold them of course).  We had brought a kickball, so the kids played with the tribe kids. We were there over an hour. Came back to camp and it had rained in camp, so we are eating on the deck instead of outside on the ground. During lunch, the elephant walked through camp again.

    For lunch, we had glazed pork chops and vegetable pizza. And then a small break and back out at 4 for another game drive.

    During our afternoon game drive, we saw the normal animals - elephant, giraffes, zebra, oryx, impala, grant gazelles, lions. We never found the leopard, but did see a Kudu climbing up a hill and a big fat tortoise. We first saw the lions and they were eating a zebra. We circled back and they were still digging in - the cubs had their entire heads in the body of the zebra. They popped out and faces were covered in blood. We could also hear them as they were ripping apart limbs and growling while eating. While graphic, it was fascinating in a train wreck way.

    After return, we cleaned up and had dinner. Kids had turkey medallions and adults had beef tournados. Eclairs and fruit for dessert.

    I can hear the monkeys jumping around outside as I write this. They use the tent roofs like a trampoline and bounce off them, we also saw one curled up on the edge in a nap.

    This ends Monday. Tomorrow we fly to Nanyuki - near the equator for a visit to Ol Pejeta.

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    Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, surfmom. What you are describing very much resembled our first and only trip to Africa (to South Africa and Botswana) last year. I was bitten by the safari bug and have thought about going back; Kenya is high on the list for consideration. Is this your first visit to the continent as well?

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    More great memories from reading this. Thanks again, Surfmom! The Samburu village (the one we saw was sadly, very dry and impoverished)the crunching and snorting from the animals at feeding time, so much more.
    LOL "fascinating in a train wreck way." It's interesting to see and hear them enthusiastically chow down, but I've no desire to see an actual killing. It was hard (at least for me) to watch the Mara river crossing deaths, which were fortunately few. (A collective "hurray!" went up from the assembled jeeps when a zebra escaped after a near-miss with a croc!) Interesting what each person most enjoys. Some especially love and search out "kills." I love the "awww" moments of animal family play time. What did you and your family most enjoy?

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    surfmom, keep the report coming. we too are taking our teens (dd 15 and ds 13) on our first 2 week Kenyan safari and we leave in 8 days so hurry with report!!

    what were favorites for kids? any helpful hints?

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    @tripplanner... our first visit to Africa and definitely safari bug has bitten! I'm already trying to figure out when we can get back, but with kids a year away from college, not looking good in the near future :(

    @Calinurse - we loved watching the baby lions play. There was a pride in Masai Mara that was about 15 - of various ages. Had some older sisters, with some teenagers (2 years-ish), and then little babies about 2 months old. They would jump on each other and "rassle", chase each other around, and just generally be like watching a family of little kids. We saw them multiple times - one time they were chasing each other around with a wildebeest tail - we called it playing capture the flag.

    @plambers - have a great trip! your kids will love it! One fun thing we did was to take a journal with us and label each page for an animal. As we learned fun and new facts, we filled in the page. Gave us an activity at night to remember the fun facts we learned during the day.

    I just asked my oldest for her favorite thing... and I got "everything". I guess one piece of advice is don't be obsessed with any certain kind of animal. We wanted to see leopards in Masai Mara ... and went into a nearby conservancy to find where they usually are. And saw way fewer animals (and were correspondingly somewhat bored) than if we hadn't specified that. We all wished we had let the driver take us somewhere else.

    Also, the kids can be good spotters - a few times they found things before the driver and/or guide.

    I asked my husband... and he said his favorites were the unexpected things. Seeing a lion get an eagle from the air as it was flying away because the eagle was trying to get their kill ... watching the grey crowned cranes dance around after the driver played a app with their mating call was hysterical ... seeing all the babies and especially the nursing ones.... seeing the pregnant lion settling in the bushes and checking on her each drive to see if there were cubs yet (and seeing her sister there to assist with hunting, etc.)... seeing a cheetah (unsuccessfully) hunt and chase a gazelle...

    We liked the Eka hotel - we would stay there again. We ordered room service for dinner and it was relatively fast (20 ish minutes) with only a small service charge (500 Kenyan shillings?) - it was a great way to quickly get everyone fed and to bed.

    Where are you guys going?

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    Day 4 – Tuesday – Ol Pejeta

    Woke up a bit later today - 6:45. Got packed up and breakfast at 7:30. We had to get up and move in the middle of breakfast because the elephant wandered through camp (we were sitting outside). We left at 8:30, and saw animals along the way to the airstrip. The most exciting thing was two male lions. They are new to Samburu and our guide expects them to challenge the males and take over another pride.  

    Before the incoming plane could land, our guide had to shoo some zebras away. There was a herd dangerously close to the airstrip.  Our plane flew into the airstrip and at 10, we were off.  Our pilot was an American who spent most of her life in Alaska before moving to Kenya to fly planes. We flew low - and could see the animals and farms easily. We even saw camels from the air! (We didn't know they were in Kenya). We arrived at Nanyuki at 10:45 and our guides were waiting. We left Nanyuki and headed to Porini Rhino camp.

    Porini Rhino is in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It was originally founded as a cattle ranch, but now just a small portion is for cattle and the rest is an animal sanctuary housing endangered rhinos and other animals. There are 3 Northern White Rhinos here - the only ones left in the world. They were mistreated in a Czech zoo and brought here in 2004. They have been trying to breed them but unsuccessful. As a trivia point, Ol Pejeta was once owned by the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

    Our drive took us almost two hours from the airport - we crossed the equator 3 times and stopped and took pictures (and did cartwheels on the equator). We saw animals on the way to our camp - it is the far end from the gate we came in. After arrival, we dropped bags and had lunch - beef kabobs and naan and cucumber and tomato salad. Little apple pies for dessert. We had a few hours rest and then at 4, we went out on a walk with Masai warriors. We learned about trees and bushes along the way and they demonstrated their jumping and spear throwing. The truck followed us and we went on a drive. Saw lots of animals - some new ones include jackals, water buffalo, eland. A male elephant we passed by was slightly angry and not friendly, so we kept driving. (The guide commented that he was "in musk" and wasn't a good time to be potentially angering him or doing anything he may interpret as challenging. I was interested that we didn't stop right away - we got past him a little bit and then stopped and watched him cross the road where we were driving).

    We stopped for a "sundowner" - drinks and snack and watching the sunset from the plains. We could hear the lions roaring nearby, so we packed up quickly to try and find them (they weren't close enough to be dangerous but we wanted to see them).  We didn't have any luck, but it was fun driving as the darkness approached and we returned to camp in the dark. 

    We all showered - the girls managed to make one bucket shower work for all of us while the boys had issues (they left the lever open, so when the bucket was poured in, the water ran out before someone was in the shower... oops?). We enjoyed the campfire while they were finishing dinner and then ate. Dinner was lentil soup, then chicken teriyaki, crispy potatoes, grilled vegetables, and spinach. Dessert was a honey and chocolate eclair. 

    We were escorted to our tents and are happy to find hot water bottles in our beds. It is much cooler here - we all pulled out fleece.  In Samburu it was in the 80's - we are on the Laikipia Plateau and a much higher elevation, so cooler. We had a few minutes of rain on the drive, but it never impacted anything.

    Tomorrow, we are being woken at 6:00 for a drive at 6:30.  We will take breakfast with us on the drive.  We are the only ones in camp - there are 7 tents total. They will close for 7 weeks after we leave for maintenance and staff annual leave.

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    surfmom, I love the idea of the journal with the names of the animals and then fun facts. also, I will remember the leopard story.

    we go to ol lentille in lakipia north for 4 nights, then kicheche laikpia for 3 (near porini rhino) and on to kicheche mara for our last 4.

    was a fleece enough to keep you warm? packing is causing me angst!

    did you do the rhino sanctuary? did everyone like it? we have a private visit at sheldrick's on our departutre day.

    sounds like a wonderful trip so far.

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    @plambers - A fleece was perfect ... we actually all had a variation of these... same weight as a fleece. We usually shed them in the morning and then would be putting them on at the end of the evening drive. Our vehicle also had ponchos that were lined, so if we were really cold, we could pull those out. Every other vehicle also had a blanket at every seat - most of the time, I used it over my camera to keep out the dust. But I could pull out the camera at a moment's notice and be ready to shoot.

    http://www.patagonia.com/product/womens-better-sweater-quarter-zip-fleece/25617.html

    packing caused me massive angst! email me at surf_mom @ live . com and I can talk you through any specific questions?

    I found we wore less shorts than I thought we would. Our day went like this: pants & sweatshirt or fleece in morning; after breakfast, if hot, change into shorts for hanging out time at camp; for evening drive, put back on pants. One evening, we wore shorts on the evening drive and my oldest was unhappy - it was the only time she got bitten, but she is tall, so there was a lot there for them to eat.

    We did the rhino sanctuary at Ol Pejeta. The keeper gave the kids sugarcane to feed to the rhino and he banged the sugarcane for the rhino to come. We liked that better than seeing the chimp sanctuary - we couldn't see much and honestly, the stories were so sad that we left feeing very depressed. The rhino, however, is there because he was saved and he is blind, but still has a fairly large area to roam in. They got to feed him the sugarcane and feel what his horn was like, so that part was interesting.

    We also had a private visit at Sheldrick - be ready to keep the camera rolling! The babies are so cute... it was fun after they had eaten to interact with them. I have some funny videos of the keepers chastising one of the babies for being naughty. Look for the elephant with its trunk that has a cut - it was caught in a snare. My daughter follows them on instagram and already saw it is much more healed than when we were there. It was interesting that the baby elephants much preferred the girls than the boys - they came up to each of us and curled their trunk up our chest... they didn't do that to my son or my husband. We laughed that we were being felt up by a baby elephant.

    There is also a rhino at Sheldrick - but a much smaller pen and less area to roam. A little sad after the plush conditions the other one had.

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    My daughter just reminded me of something fun we did on our last drive - we counted how many different species of animals we saw on one drive. It was a way to make it fun and interesting. Here's the list:

    monkey
    zebra
    baboon
    impala
    mongoose
    water buck
    pumba
    eland
    hippo
    dik dik
    topi
    elephant
    lion
    thompson gazelle
    jackal
    hyena
    scrub hare
    spring hare
    giraffe
    grant gazelle
    cattle
    terrapin
    wildebeest
    crocodile
    lizard


    and here are the birds: (only 11)
    yellow throated longclaw
    hammerkop
    guinea fowl
    black eagle
    yellow beaked stork
    african fish eagle
    egyptian geese
    striped kingfisher
    african white backed vulture
    crowned lapwing
    martial eagle


    might be fun to keep a running list?

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    @Surfmom: I love your husband's eagle and lion story! Revenge of Big Cat on Big Bird! Is David still Camp Mgr at Porini Rhino? He is a great camp manager and great person. I found that managers set the tone for each camp. David was a tough act to follow!

    @Plamber: before going to Ol Pejeta, as a pretrip fyi, understand the different rhinos at Ol Pejeta. Unless it has changed in the last three yrs, the enclosure for the blind rhino is not the same as for the three white rhinos. The blind rhino is Baraka, whom you can feed. He is a black rhino. The endangered species--the last three in the world I think--are the white rhinos. (They are called "white" not because of color, but because of the word "wide"--as in their wider mouths. ) Scientists from around the world are at Ol Pejeta, working to save them. The white rhino male, named Sudan, has his own "Most Eligible Bachelor" page on the Tinder singles dating sight, as well as GoFundMe, as Ol Pejeta and other groups try to raise funds.

    You can enter the separate enclosure--in a different area from the chimp sanctuary or Baraka's enclosure-- and pet the three white rhinos for a brief time, if it is ok'd by the Kenya Wildlife Authority guide. there are 24 hour guards there,as well as their gamekeeper. If I recall right, we paid extra for this visit (vs seeing Baraka, which was included in the fees) but it is totally worth it, with the money going to aid in the battle for the species' survival.

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    Day 5 - Wednesday –

    We awoke at 6 am when hot tea and hot chocolate were delivered to our tents. Departed at 6:30 for our game drive. First we saw a male and female lion in their "honeymooning" time - they go away from the pride for about 2 weeks while they mate. We drove along the open plains and saw our first Rhino - southern white. They also have black rhinos. What is interesting is how they got their names - the white has a wide mouth and when the Dutch settled South Africa, they misunderstood the "wide" for "white". The opposite were just called black rhinos. 

    We also saw our first group of hyenas - including two cubs. They were about 50 feet away around their den. What was funny was one came about five feet away from our jeep - he turned his back to us and proceeded to poop. Surfdad commented "that's what he thought of us watching".

    We stopped for breakfast - they had taken orders the night before. We had scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausages, juice, cereal, and hot tea. It was fun to sit outside next to the river and enjoy breakfast!

    We then went to see Baraka - a blind black rhino. He was born in the conservancy, lost one eye after a fight, and lost the other eye to cataracts. Since he could not defend his own territory, he would be killed, so he roams in 135 protected acres. With a keeper, he came over and we fed him sugarcane and were able to feel his horn. We then went to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary where they house rescued chimps. Chimps are not native to Kenya but Jane Goodall established this sanctuary. They have had a few born here (surprise) but that is not the intent. They actually give them birth control. It was sad to see the stories.

    After that, we were driving around some more and saw a female lion who is lactating. There were some workers clearing a field not far from her, so we drove over and warned them. They did have an armed ranger with them in case of emergency, but they were happy to know since she was about 100 ft from them. We followed her for a while but lost her as she was hunting.

    We returned at 12:45 and at 1:00, ate a lunch of ribs, pasta salad, cucumber and mint salad, and quiche. Dessert was fresh fruit and yogurt.  We had a nice long siesta - with some card games, and everyone in a book. 

    After tea (and some fresh donuts we loved), we were off again at 5. We didn't go far and found two male lions - brothers - reclining under a tree. They had full bellies and were pretty content to just sleep after they determined we weren't a threat. In the distance behind them, we spotted another lion, so we drove around and found two females - one full with milk - and after waiting a few minutes, we saw cubs. Eventually three popped out - and we watched them cross from the other side of the dry riverbank to our side. They then went to mom and nursed for a bit before playing for a few minutes and then going back to a den to sleep. 

    The pictures are spectacular of the mom and cubs. We went back and checked on the male lions - still sleeping and could barely bother to even determine if we were a threat. As we were driving away, we saw a pregnant lion nearby - she was shy. Apparently, when lions give birth, they go away from the pride. Another female will come help her to protect the cubs when they are born. If another male (not their father) finds them, he will kill the cubs, so the other female will also help defend them as needed.

    We drove up to the plains and saw a family (herd) of elephants at the watering hole. There were about 10 and they ranged in size from older females to babies as little as less then a month old. The young baby was still fragile and even a little wobbly. We decided she looked drunk. 

    We watched the elephants silhouetted by the sunset - and then a line of about 100 zebras. They form a single file line and follow one another to the watering hole. These also are some neat pictures. 

    We then stopped and had another "sundowner" - and enjoyed the sunset. After it was dark, we packed our cooler up and drove back to camp. The spotter - Little John - used a red spotlight looking for animals. After arriving back at camp, we all showered (yay, enough water - the girls actually got two bags!) and time for dinner. Dinner was cream of potato and lentil soup followed by beef and couscous and vegetables with a dessert of Black Forest cake. We retired to bed about 9:15.

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    @tripplanner - yes we are fortunate to do a decent amount of travel. I am so thankful we pulled the trigger on this - it really was an amazing trip!

    @CaliNurse - yes, David is still the camp manager. He is wonderful and so kind. I enjoyed just sitting and talking with him and getting his perspective. I think one of the things about Porini Rhino is that I didn't feel like a guest - I felt like extended family coming for a visit (I'm sure they thought I was crazy Aunt Ethel!). I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I think about Porini Rhino and it is hard to put my finger on it why it is so special.

    great description of Baraka vs. the other rhinos. We only saw Baraka. Since we saw them in the wild, we decided not to pay for seeing the other ones. We did leave a donation for the care of Baraka though.

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    Day 6 - thursday

    A few random things we learned that I forgot to mention:

    There are areas of dirt that get churned up - and when the grass comes in during spring, it is new and sweeter and easier for older elephants to eat and digest. We saw an elephant enjoying one of those areas but there was a large tree limb broken off laying there. He used his trunk (40,000 muscles!) to pick it up and move it so he could get to the good grass underneath. Elephants are smart - and it was fascinating to watch.

    When zebras are young, the bottom of their belly is the same height as their moms - but their bodies are smaller. This has the benefit of allowing the young zebras to be hidden from predators when walking behind mom - since you can't see them underneath.

    We were the only guests at Porini Rhino. They have 7 total tents. It is very eco-friendly - for example for water, instead of individual plastic bottles, they have a large glass bottle with safe drinking water for drinking or cleaning teeth. The common lounge also looks out onto a watering hole and salt lick where we saw zebras, gazelles, impalas.... until a giraffe chased them away. The whole camp is run on solar power - there are individual panels for the lights in each tent and a larger solar area for the kitchen and refrigeration. At the director's tent, there is a power strip with charging stations so we charged camera batteries and phones at night.

    During the night, I heard steps and chewing and sniffling.... turns out it was a water buffalo who visits camp. When they get older, they get kicked out of the clan and are "retired". Sometimes a few retired male buffaloes will stick together for protection, but this one was solo. We saw him on the way out of camp.

    We were awoken at 6:45 with hot tea, hot chocolate, and a hot pitcher of water for washing. After breakfast, we packed up and at 8, headed for the airport. We saw a lot of animals along the way - including a lot of rhino. In fact, probably more than the previous days combined. We arrived at the airport with about 25 minutes to spare and waited for our plane.

    We saw the same plane that had delivered us to Nanyuki - she had 10 passengers going onward. But the airstrip is too small for her single engine plane with that many, so she took 5 passengers to a nearby longer strip, returned for the waiting 5, went to the second airstrip and picked up the first five and then continued on.

    Our flight was on time and when we boarded, there were 6 people on board. We will drop them at a different airstrip, then take us to Olare Orok - near our camp. It is funny to stop and have different people on and off. After dropping off the other passengers, we continued to our airstrip. We were met by the representative from our hotel and were off. 

    We did a small game drive on the way to the hotel - was fun to see 4 lionesses - one was stalking but unsuccessful - our guide thought she looked hungry. Her sisters were sleeping in the shade. Another new animal was topi - the legs are almost blue black in color.

    We arrived at the hotel - Olare Mara Kempinski. Wow. Big common space with a nice lounge, a library, indoor and outdoor tables for eating, a pool, and fire pit. This has twelve tents - we are in two tents that are combined by the balcony off the back. It doesn't feel much like a tent - hot and cold running water, electricity, charging stations, even a glass French door to the balcony. 

    After lunch - buffet style with a bit of an Indian flair, we came down to the pool to cool off during our break. It is hot and the flies are irritating if you are not in the pool, but the kids and surfdad enjoyed the pool. 

    The hotel is full - they have 12 tents and about 30 guests, so clearly there are multiple tents with kids. I am surprised at how young some of the other guests are (and they ate all the chocolate dessert before we got any the first night?!?)

    After a break when the kids swam, we met our driver at 4:30. We went on a game drive - saw lots of animals. The highlight, again was a pride of lions. They were snoozing in the shade, but the babies were moving around - first nursing, then playing a little. The males of the pride were on the other side of us and the pride all walked around our car - just ignoring us - to the males. We counted 12 or 13 in total. We watched them until it was too dark to take any more photos - probably 30-45 minutes.

    We returned to the hotel, cleaned up and had dinner. It was soup, salad, sides and pork chops and fish. Desserts were mini chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and strawberry jello. We were one of the first families to eat about 8pm and retired for showers and bed.

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    have loved this report since we are leaving in 8 days with our teens on our 2 week safari .

    you had said that your first guide, while initially fine, was not your favorite. who was and why? any hints with the guides.

    would you recommend the rhino sancytary? we are only there for 3 nights.

    lastly, we were only bringing sneakers and flip flops. we want to do a walking safari as you did. is this ok or do we need hiking boots?

    thanks so much for this great report

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    Day 7 - Friday

    We had an early start - woke up at 4:15am for a 4:45 am departure. This morning is a hot air balloon ride!!!  No one had a great night's sleep - between the lions roaring in the distance (about 2 km away) and the hippos groaning nearby and the wind shaking the tent, it wasn't our best night. We saw 3 hippos near our tent - a mom and two babies. We were wary and kept our distance.

    We called for an escort to the common area (it was still dark) and they sent someone to retrieve us. We met our driver at 4:45 and were off. We drove in the dark - when we encountered animals, he turned off his lights - apparently the lights confuse animals and they will either run the wrong way or be paralyzed in the road. It took about an hour drive and we arrived at the site before 6. The balloon was there - deflated - and our pilot arrived about 5 minutes later. 

    We were concerned that we wouldn't be able to take off because of the winds, but our pilot wasn't concerned at all. Instead of waiting for a fully inflated balloon, however, he had us climb in since he thought the take off might be windy. He mentioned that we go as the winds - and since Tanzania was 15 km away, we might have to touch down early if the winds blew that way. As it turned out, they didn't and we went west. 

    Shortly after we took off, we saw two male lions walking along - then we saw elephants - so had two of the big five immediately. We eventually saw giraffes, gazelles, zebras, buffalo, impala, topi, and warthogs. Even saw a baby elephant nursing.  There were 3 other balloons in the air at the same time. We landed after about an hour - bumpy landing! By now, the winds had picked up, so we sat down in the basket for landing. As we came down, we bumped along - up and down 2 or 3 times and then the basket tipped sideways, so we landed laying on our backs. We climbed out - met the chase car - let the crew deal with the balloon - and drove about 5 minutes away to breakfast. We had a full staff there waiting - with a gorgeous set table and juice and coffee and tea, cereal, yogurt, bacon, sausage, and a chef making omelets and eggs and crepes (pancakes). They even had a portable toilet with walls put up with a sign "loo with a view". 

    After filling up, we spent the hour or so driving back - we did a game drive along the way. Once back at the hotel, we relaxed - I took a nap and the kids all read. At 1, we went for lunch - main course was lamb and fish, and the French fries were a hit. We swam and read, had tea at 4pm, and met our driver at 4:30. He knew we were in search of cheetahs and a kill and almost got both!

    We pretty quickly found 3 cheetahs - a mom and two cubs. The cubs were older - over a year - but not ready to leave her yet. Cheetahs are solitary animals. They were stalking across the plain, but not really hunting. They looked hungry, kept an eye on the wildlife around, but since it was mostly wildebeest, weren't interested. There was a gazelle in the distance, but pretty far away. After watching them for a bit, we went back to see the lions from the night before. We had heard them roaring throughout the night and heard they had a kill. They were going to town on a wildebeest. We watched them for at least 45 minutes!  This was the pride with some 2 months old babies and also some older ones - the males weren't around. The babies were so much fun to watch - one was dragging around the tail and we laughed that they were playing capture the flag with it as others chased him around. Another one was running around with a hunk of meat and others would chase it. They would tackle each other and roll around and lay on mom. After a bit, they went back to eating the wildebeest and then played all over again. 

    We came back to the hotel, escorted to our tents, and then back for dinner. Dinner was steak and prawns as the main courses. In general, the food here is not our favorite - it seems to have an Indian flair. Lots of curry and spiced foods - maybe it is an African flair. 

    great day, looking forward to the next one....

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    @plambers, thanks! glad it is a help, your trip will be amazing in its own way - so just let it unfold and enjoy it : )

    Why wasn't the first guide our favorite?
    We liked him when we had him and thought he did a nice job of spotting. However, as the trip went on, we just had guides that we connected better with or were more personable or told us more information. He was perfect for our first safari - we probably would have been overwhelmed, but we learned so much more with our later guides. So not really a knock on him, just found others we liked more.

    hints with guides? Just connect with them how you are comfortable. Don't be afraid to ask questions or stress what is important. But trust them - they know the local territory.

    rhino sanctuary?
    We didn't go ... we saw them in the wild. If you feel like you've seen them, then don't go. Our guide recommended against it for this reason, so ask them.

    walking safari and shoes?
    Each of us had Keens or "running shoes", regular sneakers, and flip flops for around the tent. You will most likely be fine - I think I was the only one in the Keens for multiple days (remnants of a past broken foot - they are comfortable!). Our sneakers did come home way dirty so if it will bother you that they get dirty, then don't do it. Some people wear flip flops in the safari vehicle when it gets hot - I was fine in sneakers.

    We did less walking safari's than I expected. Primarily because you really can't cover a lot of ground and it limits you to what is around camp. Sneakers were fine - not worth taking extra shoes for. (I just asked my kid and she said, 'sneakers were fine'.)

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    Surfmom, ditto to tripplanner. Enjoying this so, so much..perhaps even more, because we did the same Samburu-Ol Pejeta-Masai Mara (in a conservancy) route, and even stayed at some of same places as did your family. (Rhino Camp and Eka). Thank you for sharing what you observed and learned about the animals. What a trip, in every way!!!

    Plambers, as Surfmom said, let the trip unfold and enjoy it! You and your family are going to have an amazing trip!! Each safari is different, and each person takes both the same and different impressions /memories (as with anywhere). Re your question about the rhino sanctuary, I'm sending my thoughts not to in any way steer /pressure you one way or the other, but just to give a bit more info that may help you decide. And NO need to decide now--you can wait until you're t Ol Pejeta!

    Apologies if some of this is repeated from whatIwrote in an earlier comment. Two of many stories about these animals:

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/africa/kenya-northern-white-rhino/index.html

    https://www.vice.com/en_id/article/the-most-eligible-bachelor-on-tinder-is-this-endangered-male-white-rhino-id

    Three nights is a fine amount of time at Ol Pejeta. Most people I met there (including me,and Surfmom per her report)) stay two nights. If you go to the chimp sanctuary, and Baraka's (black rhino) area, and the Northern White Rhino sanctuary--all three are quite near to each other and are all together seen within a couple hours time (our visits were combined with outdoor breakfast).
    Please note that re: sanctuary with the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino (article above) those you will definitely not see on safari. This is the ONLY place you can see them, and what is even better, touch them. Furthermore, if you want to pet them, or (in separate area) feed Baraka from a deck which puts you more at his face level, you of course can not do that from a jeep. So, decide based on if that appeals to you and the kids, and also, I recommend, asking others at your camp--travelers, guides, manager-- if they have done it , and was it worthwhile hour for them. The very close-up encounter with the white rhinos is something my teenage grandson treasures, especially after seeing the "Last Bachelor" news stories abut Sudan. In two trips separate to Ol Pejeta, one of which was at a very large camp in which many travelers talk about their activities, i met only one person who didnt think going to the rhino sanctuary was worth while--he really wasnt interested in rhinos in general. Wach person has different "must see"s among the animals and birds.

    Surfmom, I'm kind of surprised at what your guide at Porini Rhino said, because David (mgr) gently encouraged it. It cost extra, but for us and our travel companions, it was so worth it. I have photos of us petting and standing with one of the three Northern white rhinos. Before going I didnt realize how much I'd treasure this. Plus, conversation with Mohanmmed the KWS guide/guard who's devoted to Sudan and the two others, was tremendously informative and moving.

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    CaliNurse, that is a great story and explanation. Much better than I've read other places. After further reflection, I don't think it was David - I think it was our US based tour operator that recommended against it with the caveat that we could change our minds.

    We also did a full morning - with breakfast away from camp and then the visit to the Chimp Sanctuary and to see Baraka. They are a bit of a drive away from camp, so a full morning away.

    One thing kind of fun about Ol Pejeta is that there are more landmarks to get to camp. Past the bridge with the funny elephant sign, past the lodge (former house?), past the maribou storks outside the slaughterhouse, past the open savannah with the watering hole, down the hill to camp.

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    Inspiring, Surfmom!! You're motivating me to "virtually" wade/search through hundreds (at least) of pix from Kenya, including one of the elephant bridge sign!!
    Very true about the landmarks at Ol Pejeta. The first time there, I stayed at the large Serena Sweetwaters tented camp, which I enjoyed as much as Rhino, but for different reasons. Its location is very close to the chimp/rhino centers, and watering "hole" is more like a small lake, attracting enormous numbers and variety of animals. You'd have passed near its Morani wing tents along the "landmark" route. Apologies, as I digress down memory lane!

    Does Porini Rhino still have gingersnaps with morning wake-up? Oh, how we dreamed of those after returning home...

    Did you find the walking "safaris" a nice change after sitting for long periods in the jeeps? It felt good to us to to be on solid ground. For safety reasons, the jeep followed us from a discreet distance! We couldnt see it unless we looked for it, but in retrospect, it was reassuring in case some hungry lion wanted to sample Yankee stew!

    I open this thread every day (until you're "back home") looking forward to your newest adventures. Looking forward to more from the Mara.

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    awww, thanks CaliNurse. you are sweet.

    Porini Rhino still has the ginger snaps. yum. and the hot water bottles at night (I know everyone does it, but it is still very nice there). In fact, a good example of why they are special in my heart is that I commented to David how much my son liked them... he got two of them that evening! My husband made a point of telling me about the big grin son had as he climbed in bed. It was all of about 3 minutes before son was asleep - and was practically still grinning while sleeping.

    We only really did one walking safari - we left from camp (Porini Rhino) and walked up the hill. The other guides in camp walked with us and gave us a traditional song, had a spear throwing demonstration (we were taking bets among us on who would be the best... we couldn't remember their names, so they were "orange one", "tall one", "skinny one"... The jeep followed us after about an hour and picked us up and we headed off for our day.

    I guess I never really felt "stiff" from sitting. Maybe because I was always climbing out to "check the tire pressure" ? We also had sundowners every night at Porini Rhino, so the girls did handstands and cartwheels and we just all got our wiggles out. I think in the am, we were all a bit waking still, so we were ok being more still.

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    Day 8 - Saturday

    We got up late today - 5:45 for 6:15 tea and 6:30 departure. We all had a better night's sleep - a combination of less wind and exhaustion was the reason why... It was also a little cooler, so the kids liked the hot water bottles in their beds. I have given mine away since I always wake up hot.

    We went on our morning game drive - and saw the pride of lions that we had been watching from the night before. Their bellies still looked pretty full. It is fun to watch the little ones (2 months) play and pretend fight with each other. They also think nothing of laying on or stepping on each other or mom. I actually have a great photo of a cub stepping on mom's face. 

    We decided to go over to Olare Motorogi - the conservancy adjacent... but it was much quieter and less animals. We looked for a leopard mom and cubs that our guide has seen around, but there were hyenas in their favorite rocks, so they weren't around. We saw the usual animals - giraffes, elephants, impala, gazelles, topi, wildebeest. We also saw quite a few hyenas and jackals. And about 10 vultures circling around. 

    Instead of returning to the hotel for breakfast, they had moved breakfast outside in the woods. They moved it outside for everyone in the camp and had set up a handful of tables to eat at. There was a full hot breakfast - coffee and tea, 5 choices of cereal, yogurt, baked beans, potatoes, onions and mushrooms, corn, and then omelets and toast on the grill. We were close enough to camp that we walked back (with a guard in full camo carrying a gun on his back following us). 

    When we returned, we organized laundry and sent a big pile to be washed. We then went to the lounge - to download emails and books for reading. The girls had gotten a sunburn on their feet and lower legs - missed that when sitting outside - so we asked if they had any aloe vera... one of the Masai actually went out and got a aloe plant and put it on the girls legs - they said it helped.

    Fun fact of the day: we learned about the whistling thorny acacia tree. It is a favorite of browsers (i.e. Giraffes)... but has developed a defensive mechanism against them with large spikes. However, there are animals that will still eat, so it has a second layer of defense. There are big purple looking berries - about the size of a cherry. Ants create little holes in them and live there and when browsers come to eat, they come out and sting the animal. In fact, on our bush walk, the tribesman tapped on them and got a whole bunch of ants to come running out. Since there are the little holes from the ants, when the wind blows it makes a whistling sound.... hence the name.

    We had lunch - salads and sides and fish or chicken in a skewer. After lunch, we read, napped, swam, chilled.  (Not everyone participated in every activity!). Today was probably the hottest day here... we were all pretty warm. There was almost no breeze and lots of flies out - they say that means the rains are coming. At 4:30, we went down for tea and cookies and then left at 5pm for our game drive. 

    Almost immediately, we saw the 3 cheetahs - mom and two cubs. The cubs are almost ready to go out on their own. They looked pretty full, and didn't seem interested in hunting, so we didn't stay long. We went off and found lots of animals.... and then had a "sundowner" - drinks and munchies on the savannah. Our guide called it a "rain downer" because the sunset wasn't spectacular due to the rain in the distance. it was still a gorgeous night. 

    After sunset, we continued on a night drive for a bit - the guide has a red light since the cats' eyes are too sensitive for regular headlights. He drove with regular headlights, but when we came to animals, he switched them off and his red spotlight on. It was really neat seeing the animals at night. The most exciting was our pride of lions - we think we counted 13. It was the family with the little babies who were so playful.... and yes, they were still playful. They were moving, so we followed them a bit, but they didn't seem interested in hunting.

    Another fun fact: cheetahs will teach their cubs how to kill by maybe breaking the leg of an antelope so it is wounded, but allowing the cubs to finish the kill. 

    We had a little rain while we were driving, but not enough to send us in early.  It actually cooled things down nicely. Before that, the flies were all getting to us, so our guide stopped and got us each a small branch of a tree... it has natural odor that repels flies. In fact, the lions usually sleep under it to keep them away. It smelled almost like camphor? Between using it as a fan to keep them away, we rubbed some of the oil from the leaves on our hands to also help. It definitely did!

    We returned about 8:45 - so just went straight to dinner. Tonight was a menu to choose from - we think because so many were in game drives, it would be too hard to keep a buffet warm. John and I had turkey and mashed potatoes and the kids had noodles (we had asked for them in advance ... they just wanted something basic). While at dinner, a rain shower rolled in, so when they walked us back to our rooms, we had to use umbrellas. Showers and bedtime for all.... tomorrow we have a morning game drive, then move to Mara North.

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    I agree with CaliNurse and read with excitement each time. It's funny how we look forward to each and every safari outing even though we may be observing the same species of animals engage in the same activities - oh, how I miss our time in Africa!

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    Hi tripplanner! thanks... you guys make me trying to finish up the last few days to get them posted (I lost the emails...)

    Its funny - when I would read other trip reports, I would think "oh, how cool. I hope something like that happens." And something exactly like that didn't happen - but some other really cool things did. That is was makes it YOUR trip - those small moments.

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    Day 9 - Sunday

    Normal wake up time - 5:45 for 6:30 game drive. We saw the sun rise at 6:45 and found our favorite pride of lions about 10 minutes later. They had two kills overnight that they were working on - two topi. The kills were about 100 yards apart. About half were still eating on each, but some were full and walking away. There were hyenas watching - waiting for an opening - and jackals watching - trying to sneak in, but if one of them got to close and the lion too far away, one of the lions would turn around and chase them away. 

    The cubs started playing again - tackling each other, the teenagers, the moms.... and then they all walked away from one of the kills and three tawny eagles came in. Unfortunately, that wasn't a great idea, because the lions chased them and brought one of the eagles down. It didn't really kill it  - the eagle fought valiantly with talons and used its beak to fight back.  The young cubs came over and started playing with it - and would jump in surprise when it tried to fight back. The eagle actually did get up at one point and try to fly away, but the lions caught it again. They continued to toy with it until they lost interest and just left it. At that point, it got up and tried to fly, but had a broken wing, so just stood there. When we left, it was just standing there - probably wouldn't last the day though.  The lions weren't interested in eating it, just wanted to protect their kill.

    In the meantime, the vultures were circling one of the kills and one of the lions was dragging the other kill towards the woods. The sun was starting to get warmer at this point, so we expected them to head for the woods and shade and a nap. As the vultures went in for the attack of the unattended kill, the lions charged back over and stopped that. They decided to take that one for the woods also. It was amusing to watch them try to drag it into the woods... it was like someone trying to carry a big box - they couldn't carry it sideways without tripping over it, then they couldn't carry it straight without tripping.... it was trial and error dragging it into the woods. Apparently, topi is particularly good meat (according to our guide), so even though the lions were full, they didn't want to leave it behind.

    (as a side note, I was shooting photos the whole time and just kept hoping that I got something cool... as it turns out, I did and these are some really neat photos)

    We continued on the rest of the game drive.... and saw lots of animals. We returned about 9am to camp, had hot breakfast, went to our rooms and packed up and our ride to Serbian Ngare was waiting.

    Our new driver would be Steve - who grew up with one of our guides from Porini Rhino! He is dressed in full Masai clothing - red plaid cloth wrapped around him and a different red plaid blanket over his shoulders. We spent some time along the way looking for animals... saw a young cheetah stalking, then full speed ahead trying to get a gazelle. No such luck, so he curled up for a nap under a tree instead.  It was fun to watch a cheetah in full run - wow, they are sleek!

    We arrived at camp.... what a neat place! It is only four tents next to the river...the boys are next to the hippo pools, so can watch and hear them constantly. We are further down closer to the main building. We are not fenced in so needed guides at night to go back and forth. Our room has two queen beds - what is interesting is that the bathroom is outside... a toilet, hot and cold running water for shower - and bathtub. There is also a large deck with a couch and chairs to relax in. It has a power strip to charge batteries and a few lights in the room. Nothing terribly bright, so we were happy for our own flashlights, but enough to find your way around. Like other rooms, it has mosquito netting around the beds as well as zip doors to keep out the mosquitos and flies.

    To get to camp, you cross a rope bridge.... it is actually longer than I expected (I measured it – 90 steps). It goes across the river where you can do fishing at camp, and listen to the hippos groaning. Apparently there are also crocs in the river. We only had to carry across our small bags and they carried across our luggage. 

    We arrived at camp about 1:45, had time to clean up and had lunch. There are four tents total, but we are the only ones in camp. Lunch was the African version of chipotle .... tortillas (almost like naan), meat, rice, and almost like a salsa. For dessert, it was a little cup of fresh fruit and a folded paper bunny with some chocolate eggs in it!  Happy Easter! On our way to camp, we could hear the thunder and see a storm in the distance, but luckily, the rain came and went during lunch. Good timing! After lunch, we had about 45 minutes before tea and our game drive.... so we got settled in our tents.

    At 4, we had tea - and the chef had made homemade scones and marshmallows (yum!). We went on a game drive.... and saw lots of lions. The most interesting one was two sisters who have hidden themselves in the bushes. There were also two cubs with them. One is very pregnant and they are waiting for the birth. The sister will help protect her and he newborns when one of them goes hunting. We learned that the pregnant one was just given a name – Nairoshi and her sister – Callie – is with her.

    We stopped for happy hour "sundowner" and had chips and drinks watching the sunset. We used the red light in the way back to camp to look for animals. Saw lots of hippos - including a very large pregnant one! Her belly was so big, it was almost dragging. We walked across the rope bridge (in the dark!) and arrived at camp about 7:30. Rather than be escorted back and forth to tents for cleanup and dinner, we just stayed at the mess hall/ common area. It was lit with lanterns and had a nice little campfire going. Dinner was pork roast and zucchini and rosemary potatoes and carrots. Dessert was a ginger and lemon cake. After dinner, we all went to the boys tent to get something and while waiting, a warthog (pumba) ran in front of us. We were happy we had a guard with us! We all showered (it had cooled down by this point so could see the steam from the hot shower) and went to bed.

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    Continued delight Sufmom, while reading your descriptions.What great sighting stories!! Kudos to you for writing while memories are fresh, even after you lost the emails to the grandparents (which is a great idea by the way!)
    Re the hot water bottles--memory/gift suggestions if you've not ready done it. Get son a hot water bottle with fabric cover. Big variety, including zebra print and red plaid. Available on Amazon, etc.
    Re "safari walk" the one we took (in addition to the shorter one at Porini Rhino) where the jeep followed from a distance, was from Porini Lion to the Masai village where the guide and spotter lived, Great fun. Just an idea for you next trip (-:
    Rope bridge in the dark--with hippos right under it??!! Wow!!

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    Day 10 – Monday
    (I can’t find this full day, so I am resurrecting it from memory 2 months later. Probably lost some of the details).

    Routine wake up time about 5:45. … such a nice treat to be woken by someone with a tray of hot tea and hot chocolate (and biscuits). I usually try to get up a few minutes earlier so that I can unzip the tent and get the tray and not make them feel odd about it.

    We went and checked on Nairoshi – no cubs yet. We watched our favorite pride moving from one place to another – they moved as a group, but a few of the cubs were interested in a bunch of gazelles on the next plain, so they wandered over there. Most of them came back, but there was one who wandered a bit longer … when he came back, the pride had moved on. He found their scent and was following them, but then got confused and went back from where they had come. At the same time, we could hear him calling out for the rest of the pride without any answers. Our kids were very distressed that this little cub (2 months?) was going the wrong direction from everyone else and were worried that he would become someone’s lunch. I hope our guide reassured them that once everyone was settled, someone will come back and find the lost one. Hopefully, before a pack of hyenas!

    While out on the game drive, we stopped for breakfast. We love eating ‘in the wild’. It is like setting up a tailgate – out comes a table and some stools, and bowls with lots of choices. On this day, we had to scare away quite a few animals who were hanging out ‘under our tree’.

    Nothing spectacular to report about break and lunch. During break, I spent some time organizing clothes for the trip home (and talked the girls into doing it also). I just figured it would be dark when we get back and while there is indoor lights, they aren’t great and things can be hard to see. Much easier to do packing and organizing during the daylight hours.

    The kids were supposed to sleep in the nest treehouse this evening, but after much discussion with the camp manager and our guide, we decided against it. Rain was scheduled to come in – and it won’t be much fun in the rain. We have seen more rain here than other locations – mostly off in the distance. A few times, we have seen threatening rain clouds and storms in the distance, but it has either passed around us or it has rained during meals or break.

    The camp is located between the river and a mountain ridge. As mentioned, you have to cross the rope bridge to get into camp. It was interesting to talk with the camp manager and hear stories she would share. We asked if they’ve had anyone afraid of heights or had problems crossing the bridge – there was one man who always counted his steps as he crossed and when he was more than halfway, he could breathe easier. There was another man who was booked in camp as a special treat by his travel agent – who didn’t know he was afraid of heights. They were able to move him to Serian Original. The most frightening thing coming across the bridge was the refrigerator – it was too wide to fit in-between the hand railing of the rope bridge, so it was carried about waist-high. Sophie (camp manager) said it was very nerve-wracking watching it come across. You can access the camp via road – but it is a 3+ hour drive down to a bridge and back up the other side. When camp was built, they had trucks deliver the supplies, but since then, everything comes via the rope bridge.

    So one of the problems with tonight’s plan is that if the kids would sleep in the treehouse, they have to go there before dark – about 5:30. It is about a 20 minute walk from camp – and they would have taken dinner with them to eat in the treehouse. Essentially means that we would not do an evening game drive. Given the fact that rain was looking more and more likely (and threatening clouds weren’t going away) and the fact that we couldn’t do another game drive, the kids decided not to eat there. Sophie offered us the chance to eat breakfast in the treehouse, and we decided that would be fun. While the treehouse has a covered area in case of bad weather, it isn’t large and would be tight. We are planning on breakfast in the treehouse as a compromise.

    We headed off on the game drive – it was still threatening rain. We checked on the pregnant lioness – no cubs yet, but she is deep in the bushes. We saw the same family of elephants that we have previously seen – a group of four – seems to include an “elder”, parents, and a smaller child with them. We parked directly in front of them and they practically walked right up to the vehicle. Elephants grow their tusks about 2 years old – and they continue to grow as the elephant ages, so that is one way to see how old they are.. Also, you can tell if an elephant is ‘right-handed’ or ‘left-handed’ by the tusks – if one is broken or used more, that is their dominant side. It is fun to watch them eating while walking across the plain – how they use their feet to give a particularly stubborn plant encouragement to come out of the ground!

    The rain came and we all pulled out raincoats. We were glad we had brought them in the backpack with us on the trip. We also had the blankets from the vehicle and some of the family also used them. (I used mine on my lap to protect my camera). One of my favorite moments was seeing Callie and her two boys (about 2 years old?) – as it was raining and rained harder, they were all grooming each other – easier to lick the water off your sibling than to find a water hole. They were so sweet in how they all kept grooming each other and their mom.

    A few fun cheetah facts: they don’t have retractable claws like the lion or leopard. Also, they won’t consume the fur or bones of the animals they kill. We think they also groom themselves less – they can’t (or don’t?) cough up hairballs like lions or leopards, so the fur could be more dangerous for them to ingest.

    We also continued on and made it a nighttime game drive – yes, in the rain. At the start of this game drive, we decided to make a list of all the animals we saw. It was pretty impressive!

    (the list was posted above... from just one game drive)

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    Day 11 – Tuesday

    We slept in a bit - until 6:45. Will miss being woken up with hot tea and biscuits! I was up early and had organized clothes during daylight hours, so had some time to sit on the front porch and listen to the hippos and the birds singing. We had planned to have breakfast in the treehouse, but I had told Sophie, our host, if it was raining to make an executive decision and skip it. The rain was starting to clear though, but still too much to have breakfast there. At 7:30, we walked to the mess tent for breakfast, had tea, cereal, toast and muffins, eggs and pancakes, and fruit. 

    By the end of breakfast, the rain had totally stopped, so we asked to walk to the treehouse to see it. It is really neat! You start by going up a full ladder to a platform, then a half ladder to the sleeping area. But small, and would have been rough in the rain, so the kids all felt they made the right decision. There is a double bed on the platform, and they would brought an extra bed for the third kid. Inside, there was room for a double and not much more. Would have been tight with an extra bed in there.  And while there is a bathroom, it requires going outside and down a half ladder (outside) to get to it. Not fun in the rain.

    We walked back - said our goodbyes - and left across the rope bridge one last time. Everything comes across that bridge. They bring luggage, supplies, food, everything. I paced it and it was about 90 steps across.

    We did a small game drive along the way - saw two spectacular male lions as we left. But they were being a bit lazy and just watching us. Drive to the airstrip. We had counted the different varieties of animals we had seen the night before and were at 18 for that one game drive. Ironically, we didn't see any wildebeest or giraffes, so we wanted to see them. Which we quickly did - and at the airstrip, we counted a tower of 12 giraffes in the distance. 

    We stopped for a cold drink on the way along the river - watching the hippos and the crocs swim.  We drove to the airstrip do we're happy the plane was only a few minutes late. Our guide shared that sometimes this plane runs an hour or two late which gets warm waiting next to the runway. There was another family that boarded, and the plane had a few passengers on it, so we were at 16 (max of 18). We stopped about 10 minutes away and dropped off a passenger and picked up one or two more and were off to Nairobi. We arrived in Nairobi about 12:45 and our driver was waiting. We stopped at the hotel (had two day rooms), dropped off bags and continued on our day.

    First, we went to the Art Cafe for lunch - it had been recommended. Everyone found something they liked - we shared a pizza margherita, and the kids got milkshakes. We had to go back to vigilant food eating - no lettuce, salads, etc.  We were told that at the camps, they know how to prepare food, but to be extra careful in Nairobi and especially the airport. There was a mall attached mall, so we walked through there and got some snacks for the trip home.

    Our driver was waiting for us, and we were off to the Sheldrick Orphanage for a private visit. We were lucky to be able to arrange this and all were looking forward to it as a last day Kenya thing. We were clearly instructed to stay out of the way as the elephants come into camp looking for their milk. Once they had finished their two bottles of milk, we were allowed to interact with them. The keepers kept a close eye on us and ensured that no elephants got too aggressive with us. It was fascinating how they came up to us and just wanted an ear scratch. We all did our best to oblige. The other interesting thing was how the elephants preferred the girls. I had one elephant come up to me, rub her trunk all over me – just checking me out … left her trunk all over my shirt, but then started licking the milk from my pants – where her trunk had left a trail of milk on my clothes. I laughed that I was being felt up by an elephant!

    The elephants also preferred our daughters (16, 15 years) to our son (13 years). They were very engaging with the girls, but almost ignored our son and my husband. I can only assume that they are intuitive and smell that we are females and it is comforting to them? One cute video is of an elephant wrapping her trunk around my daughter’s leg and pulling – like they pull weeds out or wanted her to go with them. Ironically, that was Esampu – who that daughter had chosen for the adoption process when we were there 10 days prior.

    After leaving Sheldrick, we returned to the Eka Hotel and everyone showered and we sorted and organized for the flights home. We knew we would be checking bags, but also wanted a change of clothes for our layover enroute and had to make sure we had all the chargers and books and gear organized for the flights home.

    The last part was our only hiccup … and we had jinxed ourselves. We had talked over dinner how awesome everything was and that everyone showed up on time … ugh. We were scheduled to be picked up at 7:30 for our 10:15pm flight. We had noticed that the rain had started, so we were at the front entrance early – about 7:15pm. While our driver wasn’t there, we didn’t worry too much, because we were early. Unfortunately, we waited… and waited. And called our travel agent who promised that someone new would be coming. And waited. Eventually, at 8pm, the hotel arranged transport in their van after many conversations with the agent.

    By this time, the traffic was awful. Our driver was amazing! He did some fancy driving to get us there. We were also more stressed than normal, because I hadn’t been able to check in online. I would get all the way through the process and get an error message. I finally was able to check in online while enroute to the airport… and we arrived there about 8:45pm. The desk for checked bags closed at 9pm, so we were anxious to get there. Luckily, we were there in time and continued along to our gate. The airport was chaotic – but the flight departed relatively on time.

    We arrived in Frankfurt – I had arranged for a hotel room at the Sheraton (you can walk there). Since the day rates didn’t start until later – maybe 7 or 8 am, we just booked the full night before (which actually was cheaper). Due to our group being 5 people, we got a suite, which was great for our layover. A few of us took naps, the kids cranked on homework, we showered, changed, and had use of the breakfast lounge. We also liked being able to shut and lock the door and not be constantly vigilant about belongings. It was well worth it!

    Flight arrived home on time, and it was back to real life.

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    I can absolutely recommend Gamewatchers. Other than the hiccup at the end – and we had conversations when we returned and they were very gracious – it was flawless. We loved the variety of the locations, the hotels, the wildlife.

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    surfmom..How did you get private time at the Elephant orphanage? We will be visiting Nairobi in February and plan to visit the orphanage before we go to the Masa for our safari. We plan to 'adopt' an elephant. With adoption I understand that we can have some evening time with our elephant. Is this the same as your private time your spent there? I would love hear how you managed this and what it cost for this experience. Thank you for the info.

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    surfmom, thanks for completing. you were such a big help to us. we, too, loved our first family safari-so much that we are returning again next summer!! i have never seen my entire family so animated and engaged! my husband, initially so apprehensive, absolutley loved it!!

    we also did the private sheldricks visit. a perfect way to end an amazing trip!

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    Hi michele, our travel agent was able to set it up for us - are you working with anyone ? If you aren't, I would contact Sheldrick directly.

    The afternoon time at 5pm is when they admit maybe 20-30 people? That is with the adoption of an elephant. The elephants come running in from the park and are disbursed to their individual pens. You have the opportunity to 'interact' with them - if they are interested. They are in the pens - my girls each took a photo against the gate and their elephants came up to them - one flicked my daughter's pony off her shoulder and the other put its trunk exploring along the side of her shirt and rested it on her head. Fun to see with live view on an iphone!

    The private time is different - it was us and one other individual. After they were fed, we walked around the area around the little pond and took pictures and scratched lots of ears. This time is shorter and you are watched more closely since the elephants haven't gone to their pens for the evening yet.

    plambers - glad to hear how much you loved it! I wish we could go back... but we will soon have a college student, so even if the budget could afford it (?), we will struggle to find the time!

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    Surfmom, I continued to love you trip report. Thank you.

    Interesting about your GW issue at the end. Ours came at the beginning of the trip, when the person who was to meet us at the airport was nowhere to be found. He showed, eventually, claiming he'd been there all along ...but wasnt. You know that feeling of getting off a flight, going through immigration, and wanting to get as quickly and easily as possible to a real bed?

    At end of trip, another family , using the same company, was in the identical situation as yours...waiting and waiting and waiting at Eka. They made it to the airport but told us it was a stressful end to a great trip.

    Sill, I'm with you. A hiccup can be forgiven--and discussed--in the overall context of a great trip!!

    Asante sana! Thank you for the email address way back at the start. I may just take you up on your offer of a photo viewing!

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