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It's a start... Sandi's - Trip Report - Tanzania/Kenya, May/June 2006

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Here's the itinerary; below the intro and then the report... at least a start, and will fill in as it comes together. For those not familiar, this is my 12th year visiting Africa, mostly East Africa, though in Southern Africa in 2001. You won't find much about game viewing, as this was mostly an "educational" visit (Julian's reference), so much about our accommodations and people/friends along the way. Hope you enjoy, as we sure did!

Tanzania and Kenya – 2006

24 May, Wed Lv. New York (JFK) 6:10pm
25 May, Thu Arv. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (JRO) 8pm - Kibo Palace

26 May, Fri Day in Arusha

27 May, Sat Scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO)- House of Waine (in Karen)

28 May, Sun Scheduled flight (via Nanyuki); Private Charter flight to Kowop/Mt. Nyiru - Desert Rose
29 May, Mon Desert Rose
30 May, Tue Desert Rose

31 May, Wed Private Charter flight (via Nanyuki); Scheduled flight to NBO - Drive to Shompole - Shompole
01 Jun, Thu Shompole

02 Jun, Fri Private Charter flight to Tsavo, West - Finch Hatton’s Camp
03 Jun, Sat Finch Hatton’s Camp

04 Jun, Sun Scheduled flight to Nairobi; Scheduled flight to Masai Mara - Richard’s Camp

05 Jun, Mon Road transfer to Saruni Camp

06 Jun, Tue Saruni Camp; Scheduled flight to Nairobi; transfer to JKIA
Lv. NBO (via AMS) 10pm
07 Jun, Wed Arv. New York (ERW) 12N

On the road again… or should I say, “in the air again.” Began thinking about our 2006 trip, for period at end-May/beginning-June, upon our return from our 2005 visit...but, seriously in November ’05. However, business intruded and details as to where, when, how long, drive/fly, etc., we didn’t finalize our plans till late April ‘06. Though traveling in these months makes it relatively easy to find the accommodations we wanted... it’s always better to plan ahead and book early.

Once the itinerary was confirmed, we then had to buy our International flights and fortunate for us, departing a day before the fares increased due to the Memorial Day holiday week-end, were able to obtain reasonable airfares… a few dollars more than in 2005, at $1,250-$1,300.

Susan would be departing BOS (via AMS) me from JFK, both into JRO. My layover would be 3-hrs; Susan’s 2-hrs. Since we’d be on the same flight out of AMS to JRO, I called KLM for seats together (actually across the aisle from one another) … hakuna matata.

And, though Susan decided to get her Tanzania visa ahead of time and Kenya on-site; I’d get both visas on landing in each country.

Now we’re set for another adventure.

We decided on the camps to visit, based on our “dream” lodges/camps. Susan had been dreaming of Desert Rose for years and me of Shompole. Though both properties and areas are off the standard tourist routes, they are ideal for return visitors or those first-timers, seeking something “different.”

Finch Hatton’s was based on the fact that even though we hoped to visit years earlier, neither of us had yet managed to get there. We initially thought to visit Tsavo East, staying at Galdessa, but Galdessa would be closed in May... so that was out. And though the final schedule worked out where we could have visited Galdessa in June, by this time and being somewhat behind in planning, we stayed with Finch Hatton’s and were very pleased with this decision. Galdessa will have to wait till “next time.”

Unfortunately, Susan had limited time for this trip, so she wouldn’t be able to get out to the Mara. For my part, I couldn’t be in Kenya without visiting the Mara. So while she’d be departing after our stay in Tsavo, I arranged for 2-days in the Mara. Short yes, but I knew it would be worthwhile. So I added Richard’s Camp and a return visit to Saruni Camp.

Now we’re set... or not!

Exactly 10-days prior departure (a Monday), I got out of bed and experienced a shooting pain in my lower right leg. Immediate PANIC! Moving about or massaging the leg didn’t change the tingling and downright pain. All I could recall was 4 to 5-years earlier the same sensations, which at that time was determined to be lack of cartelidge in my right hip… not a fracture or break, but no gook for smooth movement of the joint – it was bone-on-bone. I had the hip replaced and was good as new in less than a week and have been fine since.

Not wanting to experience a similar episode, I called my surgeon for an appointment, but due to his surgical schedule couldn’t get into see him for three-days. In the meantime, reality hit and I began to think that if something was wrong with the hip, I wouldn’t be able to walk, but walk I could what’s up? But trudge on I did, till Thursday.

I knew that I did not want to cancel this trip and if I had to be drugged, then drugged I’d be. So the next call was to my personal physician for a double-dose script of extra strength Vicodin (no, I’m not related to or have any connection to Rush Limbaugh), which I had been taking for back pain for too many years. My doctor is wonderful and I had my pills next day.

Next day, Tuesday, I told Susan what was happening and like me, she didn’t want to cancel if for some reason I was advised “absolutely no traveling.” I also contacted the folks in Tanzania and Kenya about what was going on... that I might have to cancel, but would know for certain by Thursday. Everyone was understanding and hoped I'd be would be fine, as we were all looking forward to this visit.

Needless to say, until I knew what was what with the leg, I was very upset and not all that pleasant to be around.

Thursday couldn’t get come fast enough, but it wound up being a good day. X-rays showed that the hip was perfectly fine; the prognosis being a sprain, muscle trauma or one of those weird things the body does that makes one freak-out, which I was already doing... it would heal in its own good time. Giving the doctor, who I call “my Dr. McDreamy” a big kiss, I asked for another script for Vicodin which he was pleased to write. There was no way I was going to be thousands of miles from home, in constant pain, sans drugs. The last thing the doctor suggested was that I consider a collapsible cane (I was ahead of him on this). Agreeing with and telling him I’d be requesting wheelchair assistance at the airports, gave him a good chuckle!

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is very civilized, with moving sidewalks and ease of transfer from gate-to-gate and terminal-to-terminal, but not so at JFK or EWR. Call me lazy! Call me a princess! Just get me to the gate on time, and I’ll do fine from there. Once on board, I knew I had aisle seats on all flights, so plenty of room to extend the leg.

Next day, I had a lovely neon-blue cane, made arrangements for wheelchair assistance, notified everyone I’d survive, and would see them in a few days!


Day 1 - Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Day 2 – Thursday, May 25, 2006

Arriving at JRK with a duffle bag, the Skycap took my bag inside and placed it right in front of an agent, waiting my turn to check-in. Boarding pass in-hand, an attendant was waiting with a wheelchair while another brought my duffle to the scanner and off we want to my gate. All very simple. As usual, I'm flying KLM to AMS, we push back from the gate at 6:10pm, we taxi and sit on the runway, not airborne until 1-1/2 hours later. With very strong tailwinds, I was surprised how quickly we were across the pond, barely enough sleep… only 20-minutes late arriving AMS (instead of 7:30am, at 7:50am). Deplaning there was a cart waiting for me, but the connecting flight’s gate was immediately across from where we landed... so I thanked the attendant - I didn’t need it!

Figuring Susan would be arriving in about half-hour, I stopped for a cigarette, which in AMS is very easy to do. I checked my watch, 8:30am – no Susan; 9am – no Susan; 9:30am and still no Susan... no flight from BOS. So I hobbled over to the gate, went thru security and boarded the ongoing flight. Due to depart at 10:30am, it’s almost 10:20am when I see Susan negotiating her way down the aisle. Her flight had arrived at 10am, at the far end of the terminal... having been delayed over two-hours leaving BOS.

She had already been contemplating her options – how to get to JRO if she missed the connection: hopefully get on the flight to NBO (which departs 15-min. or half-hour later from AMS); on arrival NBO, connect, with luck to the last Precision flight to JRO. We both knew that last Precision flight would be long gone if she had landed in NBO... but you’ve got to consider everything. Thankfully, she didn’t have to resort to extremes.

Ensconced in our seats, we’re in the air on time. An uneventful flight - we took off, we landed. Just short of 8-hours, we walked out (no jetways at JRO) into the African night and taking a deep breath – well worth all that had transpired the past 10-days.

Down the stairs, into the terminal, Susan heads to the “got visa” queue, and me to the “have to get” queue. Three windows for the former, one for the latter. My queue was rather long, and me towards the end, but though Susan had her passport stamped before me, and out to collect her bag... I was the last person (took about 20-minutes) to Baggage Claim to find a lonely duffle bag. Onto a cart and when I walked outside there was Susan holding the placard with my name on it. She had already met our guide/driver, our dear friend Sal and decided to play welcome committee. With lots of laughs and hugs and kisses we walked to our waiting vehicle.

Susan so wanted to drive, having been on this road too may times, but Sal wouldn’t give up the keys. The night was beautiful, warm, clear skies – we were back in Afree-kah! With little vehicle traffic and some foot traffic, about 40-minutes later, we pull up to the entry of the Kibo Palace Hotel.

As we got out of the vehicle, we’re greeted by a little angel, up way past her bedtime, with lovely baskets of roses – one for each of us. She wanted to stay up to see her aunties from America! With welcome greetings all around, her parents took her home to bed, while we checked-in. But not before we were told “do not go to bed,” we’ll be right back for dinner.”

Dinner – food, too much food would follow this first meal wherever we were during this trip.

The Kibo Palace is a relatively new 5-story hotel, with lovely rooms, two three-quarter twin beds, sitting area, TV, mini-fridge, bathroom with tub, shower stall and hairdryers. Décor is contemporary, with African accessories. First thing we did was open the windows which did have screens, turn down our beds, freshen up somewhat and return to the lobby for dinner. Here we met the hotel owner for a brief chat, then into the dining room. By 11:30pm after a shower to wash off the "eau de Boeing" (or Airbus), we’re both in dreamland.

Day 3 – Friday, May 26, 2006

Jet lag or not… probably not, we’re up early and down for breakfast by 8am. By 8:30am we’re picked up and on our way to school. Yes, we’re taking the little one to her private school, where we were introduced to the teachers and all her classmates. We then head to the office and greeted by the staff and find coffee/tea waiting for us.

Spent about two or more hours with business and broke again for coffee, at which time I want outside for a break.

Interesting – when we entered the gate earlier, there was a guy (on foot) who looked at me and gave me a hearty “hello” to which I responded in kind. Who was that, I wondered?

Outside, I see the same guy who walks over to me, at which point I realize who it is. It’s Ernst, our guide from last year’s visit at Kirawira. How nice that he recognized me immediately and now I greeted him properly. He was in Arusha interviewing for a position as a guide/driver. Having spent 10-years in the bush, he felt it was time to be close to his family in Arusha. Conversation was great and nice to catch up.

Late morning, Sal met us for a drive across Arusha to the Arusha Coffee Lodge, which is on a beautiful coffee plantation; great cottages – large, with a sitting area, fireplace, separate well appointed bathroom and the sleeping area “just to die for.” A lovely pool and outdoor dining area.

Returning from here we head to our hosts home for lunch, where a lovely meal awaits. Food and more food, even a chocolate cake from a fantastic bakery in Arusha... a special occasion? Of course, Susan and I were visiting.

Lunch concluded, Sal met us for an afternoon of site inspections. Our first stop was to the Moivaro Coffee Lodge, also on a coffee plantation, with individual cottages with twin and king bedrooms, bathrooms with showers, a fireplace in a separate living room area. The rooms are smaller than those at Arusha Coffee Lodge, but another nice property (a bit less manicured), with a pool and indoor and outdoor dining areas.

Further down the road we stopped at Arumeru Lodge. A relatively new property, modern construction of their bungalows, spread out around beautifully large landscaped lawns. Accommodations are kings and twins, all with an alcove for an additional twin bed to accommodate triples. The owners happened to have been here and were pleased to give us a personal tour.

Concluding our visit, we thanked our hosts and drove a short distance on the same road to Rivertrees. Unlike the earlier property, this one is set under the trees, so it’s cool; many of the buildings are original of former private estate. The added buildings were built to match the originals. All rooms/cottages are large in every sense. Big bedrooms, most with king beds or two doubles/queens; day-beds available for triples/quads (adults or children). The bathrooms are large with showers, some with tubs, plenty of lighting.

The staff were in the process of preparing for an upcoming wedding as we could see from the tables settings and trimmings on the chairs; a dance floor. All areas covered if by chance it would rain.

Both of these properties are located on the road between JRO and Arusha, and excellent options for late overseas arrivals, if visitors rather not drive 40 to 50-minutes into Arusha.

The closest hotel to JRO is the KIA Lodge, right outside the airport, now under new management and due for refurbishing.

It’s late afternoon, so we're on our way back to Arusha, where we say our goodbyes. He’s leaving the following morning on safari... lucky clients.

Back in our room, we have our first real opportunity to relax until dinner. Oh so nice to put the dogs up and do nothing for awhile. But this doesn’t last. By 8pm we’re picked up for dinner and drive to Pepe’s where we again stuffed our faces. Choices were Italian or Indian fare, both excellent and lots of fun with plenty of elbow bending.

Dinner concluded, we went to pick up the little one from grandma. You guessed, first thing upon entering... we’re offered dessert and coffee. Please, please… no more food. This worldwide custom of offering guests food is wonderful and indicative of “we like you, welcome to our home, eat!” We were being liked a bit too much. We thanked our host, but there was no way I’d consider coffee (I’d never sleep and we had an early wake-up next morning). We chattered for awhile, then gathered up the little one and headed back to the hotel.

In the lobby, we said our goodbyes… too short a visit, but we were off to Kenya tomorrow.

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    Twelve years of traveling to Africa - you are my role model!! What a fortunate soul - however do you manage to make it so frequently?? Your trip sounds divine - the camps superb. I applaud you for venturing onward with pain - it would be a tough one to cancel and watch the plane go off without you (sniff...). The trip sounds wonderful so far, can't wait to see pictures. For a newbie like me, reports like yours set up my dreams!

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    I can't wait until you report on Richard's's where we're staying in the Mara next month...hope you liked it. Great trip report so far...
    Cindy from California

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    cindy -

    I hope I get to Richard's Camp (which was next to last) before you depart on your trip. But, in brief, Richard's is lovely, with great hosts, guides, delicious food; fantastic gift shop with quite a few unusual items (reasonable prices). There's a salt-lick close-in on the property, so there are always animals nearby. And, the camp pooch! Oh, and do schedule a private splash in their Victorian clawfoot tub - very romantic (alone or sharing)!

    Gotta get back to writing more "in-between..........."

    Thanks guys for the encouragement.

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    Day 4 – Saturday, May 26, 2006

    We’re scheduled for a 9:30am flight from JRO to NBO, so it’s another early morning. I don’t even recall having breakfast… just too much food these past few days.

    At 8am we’re heading to JRO and on arrival find our flight is the only one scheduled… the airport is empty. Our wait is brief, we board and are airborne.

    Less than an hour and we’re landing in Nairobi, deplane and walk to the terminal. With application and $50 in hand, I head to the Visa window; Susan has to first complete her application. No matter, there were no queues.

    This done, we pick up our bags and once outside Baggage Claim meet our driver.

    Interesting note – effective the next day, May 27, a No Smoking law for public buildings was to go into effect in Kenya. At the beginning this holds for airports, hospitals and government buildings. Hotels and restaurants will have to decide on their own until further notice.

    Being Saturday morning, there was little traffic from the airport and we’re into downtown Nairobi in about 20-minutes, heading to Westlands out near Karen. Once downtown though, traffic is horrible which was expected, so it takes another 20-minutes before we reach our friend’s new offices.

    After a walk-thru of their new space, and some jibber-jabber, they learn that Susan is departing Kenya a few days ahead of me; that she planned to spend the time till my afternoon flight to the Mara, then being transferred to JKIA for her homebound flight. No no no, this is unacceptable – a miracle, Susan has a dayroom at the Intercontinental for the following Sunday till her departure. That done, we walk next door to the Pavement restaurant for lunch. Lots of laughs, a few beers, great food and then we say our good-byes. Too many short visits with friends, too many good-byes; at least we'll have a few days when we get up north.

    We’re on our way to the House of Waine to meet up with some of the gals for afternoon tea. More food… I can’t eat any more. On the drive, Susan comments about all the construction going on in Lavington and Karen. It’s quite amazing… you’d think you were back in the States... with both private free-standing very large homes and gated communities with town-houses. And prices aren’t the least bit shabby, starting at USD$250,000, being purchased by African’s, whites and Indians. Many who live outside of Kenya, purchasing retirement properties. It’s apparent there is lots of money here.

    Twenty-minutes later we pass through two security gates and find ourselves at the front door of the House of Waine. After my recommendation, Susan had stayed here a few times... it’s a first for me, and well worth the wait. We’re warmly welcomed like old friends and shown to our rooms. I’m given the Manyatta, the largest, except for the honeymoon suite... great décor, high ceilings and a balcony overlooking the pool. In the room next door Susan was checking her email on the requested laptop that was waiting for her. I wouldn’t even consider that and just enjoyed my surroundings.

    No computerized door here, rather the old fashioned skeleton keys, which we never even bothered to use, because we never bothered to lock our doors! With clothes for tomorrow unpacked, we head to the pool where we find tea has been set out for us and our guests. We were in heaven, if only we had days to stay.

    It wasn’t until about an hour later, that the light bulb went off. We’d be enjoying tea alone. The girls probably wouldn’t be meeting us... it was Saturday. And though we’re great company and lots of fun, why spend the time with us when they could have the day to themselves and families. I then realized why they originally said they'd meet us at about 10:30am, which would be the end of their half-day at work. I had advised them we wouldn’t be arriving until 10:30am, that we already had lunch plans and wouldn’t be to HOW till about 2:00pm... it now made sense.

    Oh well, they’d be missing out on tea and the wonderful spread House of Waine had prepared for us at the pool cabana. We had the pool, cabana, in fact, the entire place to ourselves, as the only guests. So, we made ourselves comfortable, ordering an iced tea... the goodies not too far away on the other table. I avoided even looking over that way, but I couldn’t resists the scones screaming “eat me, eat me.” And we did.

    At about 4:30pm, Eric, the “E” in Waine, joined us at the pool. Though he had greeted us on arrival, he wanted to change into something more appropriate for his guests. And he did, to a different pair of khakis and t-shirt. Tres tres informal. Eric was a hoot and the three of us laughed and told stories for about an hour till it was time for “my” tour.

    Needless to say, the hotel is a beauty. The original house built in the 70s though with features of years past; parquet floors, shallow low rise stairs; the 11-rooms spaced well on two floors. Eric's family purchased the property a few years back and with his sister manage the hotel. After renovations, mainly adding bathrooms and refurnishing you find this wonderful hidden retreat in quiet Karen.

    While upstairs, the butler arrives to announce that we have a visitor. I thanked him and ask that he escort our guest upstairs. A few minutes later, Helen arrives. Helen had made most of the arrangements for our visit in Kenya and up till now, it’s been months of emails only.

    It’s a pleasure making acquaintances as we continue viewing all the rooms. When finished we adjourn to the lounge where drinks are ordered all around. The next 1-1/2 hrs is fun with lots of catch-up and we’re given our air flight vouchers and whatever we need to present wherever we’re scheduled over the next 12-days. We asked Helen to join us for dinner, but, she had a 9pm appointment with other clients, so we walk her to her car and say our goodbyes. As she drives off and we walk back into the hotel, we look at one another and comment “it would be very easy getting used to this!”

    We head into the dining room which has been set for two... a bit overkill and very romantic, with a lovely table set in front of the fireplace, candles all around. It’s somewhat lost on us, but they sure know how to provide the right atmosphere. Dinner is outstanding; dessert even better.

    It’s getting on 11pm and (as usual) we have an early departure, so off to our rooms and well-deserved sleep.

    Day 5 – Sunday, May 27, 2006

    We have breakfast with Eric and at 8:15am our driver is waiting for the short drive to Wilson Airport. Twenty minutes later we’re having our bags weighed; combined we’re a bit overweight, but my smile works again and they just wave us through.

    At 9:05, we’re asked to board the flight to Nanyuki; on board are only six passengers. Forty-minutes later we land at Nanyuki. We deplane, as the others continue on to Samburu.

    Here we meet our pilot, Hamish, for the flight to the Desert Rose. But before leaving I inquire about Eston, our pilot from last year – “is he around?” “No, he’s flying”, when Hamish notices that Eston is having a bite at the coffee shop. As I head off to meet him, waving, he gets up and walking towards me (I can’t imagine he’d know who was signaling to him), he waves back and says “Is that you Sandi?” I’m surprised that he recognized me. We catch up for a few minutes, when he asks whether it would be okay if two young women from NYU in NYC, working up north, could hitch a ride with us when we return three days later? Sure, why not. That taken care of, we walk back to our Cessna 182 and are on our way north.

    The flight is smooth, the air clear, the scenery amazing. One-hour, ten-minutes later, we’re landing at the Kowop airstrip. Waiting here is Emma Hedges-Chen and some of her staff. Introductions are made all around. Before the pilot departs, Emma asks that on his (or another pilot’s return) they bring some produce she needed. What a great way to do your shopping!

    Susan and I get into the front with Emma, her staff in the rear and off we go. The landscape up this way is quite interesting. Though relatively dry... the Chalbi desert is due east, there is still plenty of green to be seen. Emma plays tour guide pointing out things of interest, i.e., “that’s the acacia tree seen in “Tomb Raider, Part II” – how interesting. I must have missed that film! But, the part of the film that took place in Africa, was actually shot up here at Desert Rose.

    There are small Samburu villages in the area, basically untouched by tourists. The children are smiling and waving, but not a one of them looking for "something, anything" from the visitors. A bit further down the road we come upon camels and we’re introduced to the youngest of the herd. He’s absolutely adorable – for a camel. These are lighter in color than others we’ve seen in the Samburu and Laikipia area. They blend perfectly with their environment. We spend a few minutes taking photos and then continue our drive.

    Around the next turn we come upon a sign indicating “4WD is a must” and so true as the road is almost at a 90-degree angle. No way, without 4WD could you make it. And one had better know what they were doing behind the wheel.

    Arriving at the Desert Rose parking area, we walk down a few steps into the main lounge and know we’ve arrived at a very special place. It’s all so welcoming, comfortable and beautiful... too much to take in at once. We’re welcomed with the traditional cold drink and then shown to our individual cottages. As we’re the only guests, we each have our own little piece of heaven - me the Wood Cottage, Susan the Stone Cottage.

    Both are reached from a path behind the pool, mine to the right, Susan’s straight ahead. The Wood Cottage is entered through a lovely wooden gate, down steps hewn out of the rock onto a deck platform offering the most amazing view. On the platform is a wooden tub with hand-held shower, nearby sink with both hot and cold running water. The cottage is large with a king bed, a few chairs, luggage rack, closets against the back wall and plenty of shelves for clothing; a large window opposite the bed which is opened and never closed during my stay. There is no door to close... open, open, open. The Stone Cottage is likewise, large with a king bed reached from a stone step-up. With stone walls, a tub/hand-held shower, closets, chairs – a duplicate of mine, with its’ own theme. Emma leaves us to freshen up and at our leisure, when ready, to join her for lunch.

    During the next three days we have too many wonderful meals to detail, but the bread and pastries are always freshly baked. The meats are tender, the vegetables from their own organic garden; water from the mountain and rainwater which have been boiled and bottled in unique vessels (bottled water also available), and tea twice daily. For sure, the Brits sure left their mark on East Africa. And, desserts, desserts and more outstanding sweets of one kind or another.

    After lunch, we spend the afternoon simply enjoying the views from every which way one looks. Ever present, when looking north is Oldonyo Nyiru, the Samburu’s holy mountain. Desert Rose sits at 5,000-ft, the mountain at 11,000-ft. Looking south, are mountain peaks of all heights and on closer observation you can make out road, heading south and east.

    At about 5pm we return to our cottages for a bath in the wonderful tubs. This is the best time, late afternoon just before the sun dips below the mountains. With the sun, especially on my deck still strong, it’s a lovely experience to be sitting in bubbles and more bubbles and just marveling at the experience.

    The weather was so comfy during the afternoon… warm, in fact, but for the evening it’s jeans, a sweater and an extra sweater, in case it gets cold at this altitude. As we learned, the wind can pick-up, even if briefly, so it’s best to be prepared.

    Up at the lounge for sundowners, the three of us adjourn to under the protection of the awning. Sundowners would be “dry” for the next few days, as Helen emailed us in Arusha, that since Emma has just opened for the season, she hadn’t yet stocked alcoholic beverages; did we mind bringing our own. Well, considering weight restrictions and the fact that Susan and I have our own preferences – me Absolute, she white wine – we laughed and decided we could do without for a few days.

    But, surprise of surprises, just as we get comfortable, and accepting it’ll be cola or ginger ale or water, Emma appears with a bottle of wine that happened to be in the fridge. A treat, and a fine one at that. Having only met a few hours earlier, the three of us found we had lots in common and really liked and enjoyed the new found company – fast friends were in the offing.

    Dinner was announced at about 8pm, when we moved to the dining table, beautifully set with a fire in the nearby pit. The one bottle of wine lasted thru dinner, and then another surprise – Tusker beer appeared. Now, I was a happy camper as we retire into the lounge around the fireplace. As women are apt to do, we spent a few hours jibber-jabbering about everything with great music coming from somewhere. Especially appropriate was Sting’s Desert Rose, which we played over and over.

    It was a hoot listening to some of Emma’s stories. As a borne and bred Kenyan, she had quite a number of interesting experiences in-country, elsewhere in Africa and many world travels – one of the funniest about when they were shooting Tomb Raider II… cooking for everyone, personalities, quirks of some of the cast. I just knew our howls of laughter could have been heard miles away at the local village... we were having such fun.

    Also interesting was a look through the photo album about the building of Desert Rose. There was nothing in/near the area… they just came across this spot and decided “here we’ll build.” There was no road to speak of, everything would have to be brought in – wood, stones, furniture, commodes, sinks, bathtubs, kitchen equipment, etc. etc. It took eight years until we have what one sees today, this amazing and beautiful retreat. When I asked whether they used dynamite to blast through the boulders to build the road, Emma replied “no, just pick-axes and Samburu.” And believe me, they could use more work on that last section of the access road.

    At about 11pm, we each retired to our own cottages, with lanterns to find our way. The cottages do have light powered by 12V batteries in the loo and at the bed. Arriving at the cottage, the mossie nets have been pulled around the bed, but in all honesty, at this altitude, one doesn’t worry about mossies. Besides, with the wind, no worry about mossies. And, it’s rather chilly at this hour - no worry about mossies. But the look is lovely, so you creep inside and welcome the sandman.

    ... to be continued

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    Yes, Foxy is adorable, isn't she? And we could tell that a number of animals had wandered through Richard's camp as evidenced by the amount of poo around on our visit ;) But I'm getting ahead of your report...

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    Oh, good to know, Sandi. Actually, I think I already may have asked you a question about Richard's...and I KNOW I've asked Patty. What can I say? I'm an overly excited first timer to Africa, I guess, and I want to hear every detail!
    Waiting eagerly for your next installment...great so far!
    Cindy from California

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    Day 6 – Monday, May 28, 2006

    Though I don’t do morning game drives... no problem here as game drives aren’t on the agenda this morning. So I asked for my coffee at 7am. And right on time, joila “coffee.” I had been up since before 6am, which is normal for me... the birds were singing and flying in/out of the cottage, the squirrels were scampering along the railings of the deck… Africa was waking up, and I didn’t want to miss anything.

    I was probably up the hill for breakfast sometime before 8:30am and greeted by a beautifully set table, with a direct view of Oldonyo Nyiru.

    The bread, yogurt, granola – all homemade, all delicious. Fresh fruit; eggs cooked to your liking with bacon or sausage, and, of course, wonderful Kenyan coffee and pastries.

    Concluding a leisurely breakfast, Emma takes us on a tour of the rest of the property. We did this today rather than on arrival, as the other rooms hadn’t been made-up. Emma wasn’t expecting other guests, so the cottages had been left to air out; she had housekeeping prepare the rooms for us so we could see how they would look… certainly better than bare mattresses. We take a path on the opposite side of the lawn to these two cottages. Like ours, they are each private – one has twin beds and large enough to be considered ideal for families, the other a king – each with lovely stone tubs, one of the cottages with its own very private stone garden.

    The 5th cottage or owner’s cottage is on the opposite side of the entry – lounge to the right, cottage to the left. Being on the same level as the public space is ideal for any who prefer not to walk the paths, up & down, to the more distant cottages

    We walk past the lodges own organic garden, which is quite large and well tended; growing all kinds of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, mango trees and lots and lots of avocado.

    A short distance from here is the recently created labyrinth with a view that is to die-for (I’ve said that before), but then every view is awe-inspiring. No sign of civilization in any direction, even with the few local villages, maybe you hear cow or camel bells in the distance.

    Back up the hill, we find an open area where they have a trampoline, which Emma tells us they used often for “sleep-outs” when the kids were small. The kids are now old enough and attending school in Nairobi.

    It’s 11am when return and it’s “tea-time” again! Please, no more food, though the pastries were tempting. Food, food, food and more...

    Instead we headed down to the lugga where the water from the mountain flows, the Samburu bring there herds to drink, a route from one area community to another, a private place, a romantic place, a place when water is flowing high, for kids to use as a slide. There have been times over the years when the wall of water has been 10-ft high, so you can imagine kids slippin’ and sliddin’ till there shorts were torn and their bottoms bruised… but, oh so much fun.

    Surprisingly, it’s not a really steep trail, but takes watchful eyes where one steps. Arriving here, we find a picnic table set under an alley of trees providing shade. Made of downed tree wood and highly polished with sufficient room for all guests, if a full-house, to eat around. Wooden benches set around the table, made of the same wood.

    Waiting for us are bottles of beer and other cool drinks – no wine (that was gone last night) – until our food is brought down by the staff; each course separately. Meaning the staff was up/down that hill for each course. No wonder they are all so thin.

    Concluding lunch, we make ourselves comfy on the mattresses and pillows that were placed nearby... perfect for a nap, reading or just contemplating the surroundings. Whether sitting here or walking along the lugga, finding special spots that are so quite and peaceful, who would ever want to leave.

    While sitting here, we see a few of the local Moran walk by, probably unaware anyone was near. During this period they are not allowed to talk to, let alone look at women. They didn’t even look our way, heading up the lugga to wherever; same on their return... eyes straight ahead.

    At about 3pm we started our climb up the hill, taking another route, not as steep as the one descending. Of course, when we reach the top, it’s tea time again, so we take tea before retiring for our late afternoon baths. I can’t wait to get into the bubbles.

    We enjoy another wonderful dinner and afterwards, in the lounge in front of the fire, there are more tales and probably some lies (don't a few of those always find their way into stories told again and again?) Tomorrow will be our last day and we’ve decided to do “absolutely nothing.” The pool has looked so inviting, so maybe that’s where will “hang.”

    Day 7 – Tuesday, May 29, 2006

    Coffee again at 7am, and up for breakfast. I’m in my swimsuit, have the book I started on the plane and ready for a very relaxing day. As if the first two days weren’t relaxing, it was just so wonderful not to be hearing a television, phones ringing, horns honking, traffic whizzing by, people talking... in other words, this was solitude!

    After another leisurely breakfast, we each took up a position near the pool, with the ever present mountain in perfect view. Susan on the pool edge, Emma on the cushions a few feet away under some shade trees, and me on this lovely bench made out of two slabs of granite. The sun was strong, the air warm, even hot, but it was dry, so easy to stay for hours. About an hour or so later, Susan and Emma decide to play pool boys and with long handled strainer are attacking the few leaves in the pool. Eventually Susan dives in. It’s cold, but oh so refreshing.

    For me, however, sitting on that bench with my legs in the grass, was a big mistake. Some biting things had a picnic on my ankles where I found tiny marks. These weren’t from mossies... probably grass flies or knats, none of which I could see while sitting there. It was not a pretty sight, but I used every ounce of control not to scratch. I did apply anti-itch antibiotic cream, which did ease the surface discomfort, but realized these would be with me for a few days, at least.

    Before lunch, we notice a trail of ants, the small picnic type near the edge of the pool area. Deciding to have some fun, we drop a small flat almond sliver from the nibbles Emma had nearby. It doesn’t take a minute before one of the ants locks onto this and starts pushing. Soon others join and before you know it there’s an army of ants pushing... even, almost lifting the nut and slowly and with patience maneuver it into a crack between a boulder and the pool. Fascinating, and accomplished in about 15-minutes.

    Another wonderful lunch and relaxing afternoon, each in our own space, enjoying the lovely weather, which for June, usually the wettest up at Desert Rose, was completely dry. We did see threatening storm clouds late afternoon the day before, but they passed. It might have showered over the hills, but not here.

    Late in the afternoon the wind picks up and by the time I return to the cottage for my bath, there are leaves flying everywhere. No worry, I was still taking my bath as the sun was strong, the water hot and bubbles were waiting. Dressing for dinner, I added a second sweater, had no idea how long the wind would be blowing or whether it would get cold.

    Thinking alike (and only after two days) we each added an extra sweater and even scarves, ready for whatever Mother Nature had in store for us.

    Tonight we had our sundowners in the lounge, but moved to the table outside for dinner. There was lightening in the distance and the wind was howling… no matter, dinner was another winner.

    When we returned to the lounge, we found the rugs turned over with leaves everywhere. So what? We put the rugs back in order and the leaves into the fireplace. More jibber-jabber, tales, Tusker, laughs… this was our last night in a place that turned out to be everything and more than I could have imagined. What a great alternative to the beach… ideal for pre- or post-safari.

    In the morning, we have to leave the mountain in time to catch our flight to Nanyuki for an 11:30am connection to Nairobi… so off to our cottages to pack and catch our Zzzzzzzs.

    ... to be continued

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    great report (as always). keep it coming. I will try to check until we leave for the airport tomorrow at 6 pm your time.


    P.S. Thanks again for your help in our trip planning.

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    Kevin, it was a pleasure on my end also. I'm sure you'll all have a wonderful time. Have fun!

    Thanks also for posting the link to my photos; had a reminder to do this myself, but I kept forgetting. The mind is the first thing to go!

    Safari njema!

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    Sandi, I have just caught up on your trip report and it is AMAZING!! I found myself salivating at those deserts:). Desert Rose sounds fabulous, can't wait to read more.


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    Here's more

    Day 8 – Wednesday, May 30, 2006

    Up again at 6am, deciding to dress for where we’re going rather than from we’re coming. It will be warm or downright hot on the Rift Valley floor at Shompole. So it’s just khakis and a cotton long sleeve shirt. I then finished packing, especially pleased with Emma’s gift to each of us - a camel bell… handmade/carved and which hangs on my front door. Whenever I hear the dull clang I’m transported back to this wonderful place.

    It’s actually kind of sad and quiet around the breakfast table, but believe me, there was conversation. Neither of us wanted to be leaving, but we must and know we’ll find ourselves back as soon as we can figure out how to do so.

    A note - the Desert Rose is known for their woodworking. Besides, the wonderful pieces found throughout the lodge, wherever one turns; constructed from downed trees found in the nearby forests, they also build furniture for many of the camps/lodges throughout Kenya. When this operation was first started, all work was done at the lodge, but with increased demand and the volume now being produced, they’ve moved the operation to Nairobi, from where it’s much easier to transport.

    Breakfast eaten, we say our goodbyes to the outstanding staff, especially, Maina, the cook for feeding us so well. It’s absolutely wonderful what he manages to prepare. He actually showed himself one morning to our surprise; otherwise he's back in his kitchen.

    Up the steps to where Emma’s vehicle awaits, the vehicle she will actually be driving back to Nairobi, on her own, after seeing us off. It’s easily 12-hours, but she won’t be going straight through… stopping with friends midway, continuing the next day. She is as comfortable doing this drive as anyone of us would be driving wherever it would take 12-hours. And within a few days, she’d be heading back north, where new guests would be arriving. You go girl!

    Moving down the road, about a mile along, we see some of the staff waiting. For what? For us? Apparently, as Emma explains, it’s easier to negotiate that hill with less weight, so the Samburu walked down, getting there before us; they jumped into the rear. They were coming to the airstrip to bring back items being delivered for the lodge… they’d walk back up to the lodge. Again, no wonder they’re so thin.

    Sure enough, the plane is waiting, with a different pilot. The produce Emma requested three days earlier, waiting on the runway. Surprisingly, the gals whom Eston indicated would be hitching this flight are not to be seen, nor for that matter is Eston. Apparently, other arrangements had been made.

    Bags loaded, good-byes, hugs and kisses, we board and there’s waving from the plane and from the airstrip. Rather sad, as this visit was delightful in so many ways, more than was expected, but exactly what the three of us needed.

    Another clear day, beautiful scenery below as I take the co-pilot seat, with Susan in the rear. It’s so interesting to see how the landscapes change, the areas where the rains that did come after the drought, are still pretty dry – Laikipia specifically; others, very green flying over Ol Pejeta and Sweetwater’s. And the Ewaso Nyiro is as brown as the name indicates and flowing beautifully. Next we know, down below is Nanyuki and we’re landing. It’s civilized now at Nanyuki, with the completed new lounges, restaurant and clean loos... work that was in progress when we visited last year. It’s a welcome change from what was here before.

    We’re early for our flight, so buy a coffee. There are other passengers... local families waiting for the same flight. I never did get to see Eston again; probably off in the wide blue yonder; next trip, I guess.

    Airborne, and landing at Wilson within 40-minutes, where we meet our driver for the trip down to Shompole. We could have arranged to fly especially after everyone said the road past Lake Magadi was terrible, we thought "hey, we’ve been on lousy roads in Kenya before, so why not check this one out."

    James, our driver has us loaded in a very comfortable vehicle for our “driving adventure.” Before heading out of Nairobi, we stop at a lovely, clean and very modern market, not unlike those found at home… whatever you’d want, they have. Especially, water – so many brands, sizes, prices. I pick up a few bottles of water, some munchies and we’re out of there.

    It's a short drive and we're outside of Nairobi proper, where we find the road to Shompole to be absolutely beautiful and green. It’s a two-lane blacktop road, descending into the Rift Valley. There’s no traffic and in a little less than three-hours we’re at Lake Magadi which is a big surprise. We had expected to see lots of green, but instead come upon a commercial operation, that extracts the salts from this very alkaline lake for shipment by a British company, to places far and wide. Oh well, at least we can say "we've seen Lake Magadi."

    There is a crossing point to the other side of the Lake, where gone is the blacktop... it’s a combination of lava stone/sand and then only sand for about an hour. There are no distinct roads, few tracks or indication of a vehicle having past this way in weeks, days, or even hours; I believe we saw one sign with an arrow, but an arrow to where??? Our good fortune, when James mentions that he seems to recall which direction to head, so we’re in his hands – what choice do we have?

    All things considered, it's not such a terrible road... glad we drove. A little less than 4-hours, and there it is. We’re passing a guards gate, are acknowledged and a minute or two later, pulling into the entry of Shompole. No way could we see any signs of life from the road… it’s just there, when you get there.

    We’re greeted by the Masai Mammas. Yup, the gals take our bags and as we walk into the shaded entry, I hear from behind me “what are you doing here?” It’s Susan referring to the guy who’s come to welcome us. I’m befuddled, before being introduced to Graham, camp manager who had previously been at Elsa’s, from where Susan knew him. Introductions made, cool drinks and cloths to freshen up, we want to be certain James is taken to his quarters. But he surprises us... he’s going to head back to NBO, staying overnight somewhere near Magadi, as he will be going out on safari the day after next. Well, there’s still at least 2+ hours of daylight, then he'll be back in NBO early morning with a day to himself; we say our goodbyes.

    My idea not to overdress when leaving the Desert Rose was a good one. The temps were indeed much hotter, everyone is dressed down - shorts, sleeveless, swimsuit or kikoi, are all one needs. In the shade and cool of the reception area, we’re introduced to Anthony, the owner and architect of Shompole. We also learn that Ava, who had been with Graham at Elsa’s has also relocated down here (we’d meet up with her at dinner). It’s like “old home week” for Susan.

    We’re then escorted to our “enkaji” – room in the Maa language; the only twin of the six very private open-plan houses. Yes, houses, not rooms in anyway, shape or form or what you would call a “room.” All are built on the hill, all very private... you can only see the roof of others, nothing else. And, of course, we’re at the top of the hill... not what my leg had in mind. But I managed the hills at Desert Rose, I’d manage here too, maybe?

    WOW! One word only. The entry is made of small 2” white stones for about 6’ where we notice the staff leave their slip-in rubber soled canvas shoes, before stepping onto highly polished cement floors. We do likewise, once we realize that every shoe leaves a mark on these lovely floors and as we saw the following day, the mammas, keep highly buffed. We walk down a flight of free-form wooden steps made from tree trunks where we find three-quarter size twin beds set under a mossie net tent-like enclosure which is presently rolled up. We’d see how lovely this is when they’re rolled down and zipped closed at dusk. WOW!

    In this house/suite only*, directly in front of the beds is a large deck, and the only place on the entire property, we found a guard rail, and another amazing view.

    *At Little Shompole, each of the two suites have their own sun decks.

    Facing the sleeping area, to the right, is a flight of steps of similar wood as the entry, which leads down to a very large bathroom, with flush toilet and two wash basins. The washbasins are quite unusual... no traditional faucets or water spouts. Rather the water flows from free-form concrete or stones/rocks. There are plenty of fluffy towels, a free-standing mirror for shaving or make-up.

    Back on the main level, to the left down a few shallow steps (these suites are what you’d consider split-level, though not in the traditional sense... three or four steps up/down... rather shallow 4” steps throughout, where there aren’t full flights of stairs, (i.e., going to the bathroom) at the far end is the shower, again very modern without a standard shower head... water flows from over a freeform or jug or pitcher... a very large area sufficient for more than one person.

    The floors in the main part of the suite are brown cement, in the shower they are white. Some, but not all areas where there are step-downs or in the shower you find rough cement to avoid slipping. Remember, very highly polished floors.

    Between the shower and the sleeping area, is another flight of wooden steps down to a free-form pool; actually located beneath the sleeping area and deck. WOW!

    In all honestly, you never have to leave your suite; there’s a small lounge area and table and chairs where you can choose to take your meals.

    And, as is evident, water is a theme in this climate and flows though the reception area and in every suite.

    Our butler arrived to take our drink order and was back in a blink. With Susan’s MP3 and mini-speakers, we didn’t need to move a lick for anything!

    However, I saw a problem. Or, my leg had a problem. These steps were going to kill me. I had been doing quite well since leaving New York. I used the cane briefly at Schiphol, waiting for my visa at JRO, only once navigating the steps at Desert Rose, but knew this “split-level” suite wasn’t going to cut it. At night, there were lanterns to show the way to the loos, even lights with switches hidden in the support poles throughout the suite... remembering where, was a game in itself, but I wasn’t going to be happy.

    Oh well, this could wait till later. It was time for sundowners and we had all intensions of enjoying these and the beautiful sunset.

    There was certainly no reason to dress for a cool or cold evening... not here. So in slacks and a t-shirt we’re down the hill to the beautiful fireplace at reception. Here, our drink orders are taken, wonderfully delicious hors d’ouevres served. We meet the other guests, a honeymoon couple from the UK, who will be leaving tomorrow for the Mara, but starting here, they’ve got a winner.

    Ava, makes her appearance and joins us. The honeymooners are escorted to the main lodge pool for a private romantic dinner, while we move to the main dining area. There are a few tables for two, a larger table for eight, and the table for us which seats six. It’s the two of us, Graham, Ava and Anthony.

    The chairs around the tables, made from tree logs are very heavy and there’s someone to pull these back so we can be seated. The meal that followed was outstanding. Appetizer, soup (I declined), entre, dessert and coffee or tea. Good conversation, catching up, who’s where, as there’s always movement from camp to camp. After, we all return to the fireplace, for after-dinner drinks.

    In the back of my mind I kept thinking of the walk up the hill, but didn’t say anything... why spoil a wonderful evening. But, I did, as we learned a family of eight were ariving the next day and if room assignments had to be changed, the lodge should know I wished to be lower on the hill. Granted I didn't know how I'd get thru the night, but best they be aware.

    It’s 11pm and I can assure you
    "we know where we are." We’re in Afree-kah! Can it get any better?

    Yup, returning to our enkaji, the lights are dim, those around the bed are lit... it’s quite impressive with the mossie net rolled down and zipped surrounding the sleeping area. This is a malaria area, so it’s best to keep those zippers zipped, meaning you’ve got to plan going in/out before finally retiring. There are lanterns on the walkway behind the bed, which can be dimmed, providing direction to the loo. There are switches for the primary lights, but who would want to turn them on. Of course, there are torches provided on the bed stands along with repellents. And, should it get too hot at night, there are ceiling fans at three-speeds... we keep the fan on the lowest and it’s quite comfortable.

    We've arrived at what I describe as "Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Meet Architectural Digest."

    Nighty, night Afree-kah!

    ... to be continued

    (it'll be awhile, so please bear with me... thnks.

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    I asked that you bear with me for more, but we've had sporadic power outtages, so even if I wanted to... no juice. As soon as we're back to full power, I'll start writing again.

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    Oh how I'm loving this report Sandi. I am worried though about your leg and those polished floors and stairs - oy!Hopefully my anx. is for nul.

    Your descriptions make these destinations come to life and sound fabulous. 8 years to build - amazing - kind of like here but for much different reasons. Love the ax and Samburu comment. Sounds like building pyramids.
    Look forward to more.
    Good luck with your power - no blow dryer, that would be a city wide disaster, oh no! :-<

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    Hi Sandi! - Just wanted to let you know I am catching up on my reading finally - just printed this out and will be reading yours and Julian's and Calo's on my bus trips to work! Didn't want you to think I had missed yours!
    Back at you soon-

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    and I just printed out pixlepower's report - just wanted to let you know the number of pages on this one printed out beats the record of 74 pages for your June 2005 report! Printed double sided, it is an inch thick - barely fits in a bulldog clip...

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    Day 9 – Thursday, May 31, 2006

    When I get up, Susan’s already taking pictures of the sunrise. It’s beautiful and quiet, though ears alert you can hear the birds and other signs or life.

    For me it’s shorts and t-shirt, though Susan sticks to long pants. The walk down the hill is easy enough, be I knew I was going to ask to have us moved. Breakfast awaits first and we have the company of Anthony who is appropriately dressed… a kikoy and a very thin safari vest, no t-shirt, just the vest and flip-flops. This outfit is de-riguer at Shompole. The heat dictates the attire... besides, he looks adorable!

    During breakfast I ask to have our room moved... no questions asked, though I did mention my reason. Hakuna matata. But, it’s not like we’re moved to the lowest enkaji, rather only one down from where we were. However, it’s all on one level, sort of, but definitely not a tri-plex.

    That settled, breakfast concluded, it’s time for our visit to the other enkaji. Slowly, we negotiate our way to the top of the hill… our new pad which receives my thumbs up. This is actually ideal for families as besides the king-sized bed (all are oversized at 7’... the ones at Little Shompole are 9’... a real playground), there are two three-quarter twin beds off to the side. The king bed is enclosed in the zippered mossie tent, while the twin beds each have individual mossie nets. The loo is situated on one side of the king bed, along with two washbasins. The shower, also with two washbasins is located on the opposite end of the suite... very large shower stall, completely open to the environment and no guard rail to be found.

    In front of the beds, down a few steps is the pool with a lounge sitting (sofa and table) area; and on the very edge of the suite is a small table/chairs if you wish to take your meals here.

    Continuing down the hill using the paths that the staff takes, thru the brush is fast and actually easier than the steps the guests would use. The four remaining suites were similar in design, some larger, some smaller, all with private sitting, dining and a pool. Except for the one guard rail surrounding the sun deck of our first suite, you won’t find another. Neither will you find doors... none separating rooms or providing privacy in the loo. Open design is just that “open.”

    While I happened to like the smallest suite... because everything was compact, requiring less moving between sleeping, bathroom and lounge, Susan has a preference for one of the larger king suites. Being smaller, still provided the same of everything as in the larger.

    My feeling was probably due to the fact that I live in a New York City apartment, where one doesn’t have to go too far for anything – living room, dining, kitchen, bedroom or bath. And for that matter, even when visiting friends who have large homes (as in 10-13,000 sq.ft), many on one level, I always planned my navigating in their homes in relation to where I am and have to go. Of course, is makes sense to have bedrooms on one end, living in the middle, kitchen on the opposite end. But, I wouldn't walk from a bedroom to get something for breakfast and bring it back, then return the dirty dishes... for me, just too impractical. Hey, I’d be more comfortable in the cockpit of a 747 with everything is at arms length! It’s all very personal, I guess.

    Walking through the suites, we noticed the “mammas” doing their housekeeping and marveled how much work they put into keeping those floors highly buffed.

    By the time we concluded our tour at the lodge’s infinity pool, it was about time for lunch. The large family had arrived, introductions were made, we all then moved to the dining area for our meal.

    After lunch and before our afternoon game drive, we decided to spend some time at the infinity pool, but I decided against placing my butt on one of the lounges in the direct sun. This was very surprising for me, a sun worshipper (naughty me); for when the sun shines, the temps are warm and even hot, I’m at the beach or elsewhere to enjoy the rays. But, here it was just too hot... reminding me of trying to sit out in Las Vegas or Palm Springs... just too brutal. Instead, I chose a lounge under the tree. Not a water person, though sometimes a dipper and a sun gal, Susan, however, was in the pool immediately. The water was cool at first, but just what was needed in the heat.

    We were scheduled to head out on our game drive at about 4pm, but first it was “tea-time.” Again, practical me, I don’t do liquid before a game drive, so declined tea or coffee. Susan did comment on the beautiful chocolate cake and asked if we could instead save that for dinner. Of course.

    Without nourishment, we met Anthony and our Masai tracker and were on our way. Anthony was driving, me in the seat next to him, Susan in the rear and the tracker on the top. And, of course, there on Anthony’s lap was Naju, with her head hanging over the window... too cute. A short distance from the lodge is the village where many of the staff live and who all came out to say hello when we stopped. Children, mothers, goats, dogs, the whole town… and though tempted to take photos, Anthony suggested not, that we’d have the opportunity once we got to Tanzania.

    Note: here on Shompole Group Ranch has been built a school, clinic, substantial homes (very few mud-type huts)... a lovely little manyatta.

    Ok then, onto Natron and Tanzania. This environment certainly is different than others in either
    country. Surrounded on three sides by semi-dry desert, little annual rainfall, along with the recent drought... it’s dry, but still plenty of green around. Lots of sand till we get to the dry lake bed. Animals can be seen at a distance, and not in great numbers, but against the backdrop, it’s quite amazing they survive. I’m sure when the water is higher and in this area, there are more animals, but from the footprints across our path, they’re here. We’re headed towards the pink line of flamingos, most of which are on the Tanzania side where there is water.

    Here at Lake Natron, the flamingoes arrive from the other alkaline lakes, such as Lake Nakuru, to birth their little flames! And when they do, the hyenas, especially, and other predators aren’t far behind.

    While Anthony is driving, Susan is taking photos as we bump along. I’m too engrossed in the scenery. Then, Susan decides she’d get better photos if she were sitting atop with the tracker; vehicle stops, Susan climbs up there and we’re off again. While maneuvering the vehicle, Naju jumps into my lap and then, as if this game drive is just another afternoon at the lodge, jumps from my lap to the seat behind - and just sits there looking about – she’s watching for game as are we. Animals, even house-pets are quite amazing.

    Not being a driver, especially in an automatic, especially on this type of surface, I’m watching where we’re driving and notice how Anthony avoids areas that are obvious danger zones, which could easily sink the vehicle. All of a sudden I feel this finger snap under my nose with a “wake up, are you with us?” It was Anthony, trying to catch my attention, wondering from his vantage point whether I had not zoned-out! Hell, no... just involved in where we were going and what I was seeing. Once he knew he had my attention, we continued towards Tanzania, when I see in front of us water, which my mind tells me “gotta go around that,” but no... we drive right thru it and that’s it! We’re stuck. No forward/reverse, would be getting us out of this.

    Ant (that’s what his staff calls him) is out to see what situation he’s gotten us into... we’re in the muck and will be for awhile! We’re resting at about a 90-degree angle, so Susan has to get off from up top, and I have to climb over the gears and out the driver side which is easily 5’-6’ above the ground.

    Once out, the guys went to work with the jack and nearby small rocks for traction. The two of use, in the meantime, took a mini-game walk nearby, though aware of our surroundings for animals... there were none close-by. Naju walked with us a bit, but she’s a one-man girl and we weren’t him... she kept running back to her protector. It took the guys about 20-minutes to get the vehicle upright and out of the muck.

    What a sight – both of them with dirty hands, and worse, their feet; and the smell - the water they were walking through smells from animal droppings. Looking down, my mocs weren’t in much better condition, and know these would go right into the sink once back at the lodge.

    There was still sufficient daylight to drive onto Tanzania, but we all deserved a drink. Tanzania and the flames would have to wait. Upright, all of us back in our places, we drive to a safe spot for sundowners. Here the chairs, tables, cooler and nibbles are set-up, but first it’s “wash-up time” for Ant and the tracker especially, and a drink of water for Naju.

    As they say “it’s not the destination, but the journey” and what a journey! Hey, in Africa anything is possible and not all that terrible, rather another adventure.

    I declined the wine or soda, but did dig into the chips and absolutely enjoyed the surroundings. Right there on Lake Natron with the sun setting in the Western sky, great company, conversation and laughs about “how the heck did you do that?”

    Packing up as it gets dark, we head back to the lodge. With spotlight out, we see lots of desert hare, bat-ear foxes, antelope, wildebeest, but no predators. With the light as focal point and Susan up top, the moths and other flying items served as appetizers for her soon to follow dinner. She ate more bugs in this one trip than ever before. Then crossing the small brook a short distance from the lodge entrance – we get stuck again. Again, the guys are out and in the water, searching for small rocks for traction... at least we didn’t have to get out here. Looking in the water, the light still on, we can see tiny catfish, which the guys said felt good as they nibbled on their toes.

    Up the bank, we’re a few minutes to the lodge, and into the bathroom to clean-up - dinner was waiting. The family are having their meal in the main dining area, while we’re escorted to the table at the infinity pool. What a great place for a meal... and so perfect for the honeymooners the night before. There are four of us – me, Susan, Ant and Ava (Naju, of course) – Graham is busy with lodge stuff... deliveries, sleeping accommodations for drivers, etc.

    Needless to say, dinner conversation was a hoot! We’re through our appetizers, soup, entrée (with a small plate on the ground for Naju), then served dessert - the chocolate cake that Susan requested from earlier. Surprisingly, crepes had been on the menu Ava had arranged and when we saw the cake all but Susan commented “doesn’t look like crepes to us.”

    Finishing our coffee, Ant asks “night drive anyone?” I look at my watch and notice it’s 10pm. I’ve done night drives before, but never this late, so why not. Everyone make a potty stop before departing. All three vehicles, one for us and two for the family, head out in different directions.

    Susan, of course, is up top again. I’m next to Ant... don’t believe Naju is with us. It’s rather difficult in the dark to be sure she’s safe, especially if we come upon predators, which from this afternoons interrupted drive, notice Ant keeps her close when cats are around.

    Again, we come upon hares, impala, wildebeests, bat ear foxes, scampering in all directions. On the radio we hear that the other vehicles have spotted leopard, so we hope that the next clump of bushes we drive through, we’ll find this spotted beauty, but no such luck. In fact, it seems they spotted two different leopards... still no luck for us.

    But, we do come upon another beauty in front of us... Simba! Boy, is he gorgeous, healthy, and huge, but it’s immediately obvious that he’s not very pleased that we’ve got the spot lit on his territory, nor that we’re tracking him. He’d trot, then stop, look back at us... trot some more as if he had a destination in mind... stop again, look at us. I could only imagine his thinking “get outta my face, I’ve got places to go, things to do and don’t need or want any company.” Ant, recognizes him as the youngest of three brothers they’ve named The Three Kings, this being the shy one, not quite comfortable with humans in their vehicles.

    We track for a while, hoping to come across his siblings, but no. It’s getting on midnight and it doesn’t look like we’re going to find the leopards either, so we head back to the lodge. It was a great evening day and full day; amazingly warm at this late hour. We’re still in the clothes from first light and I never gave a further thought during this day as to “what to wear.”

    Back at the lodge we thank our wonderful guide and tracker. We’re leaving next morning, so with Lala Salaama’s all around, we trek up the hill to our suite where that shower stall is most inviting. As large as the stall, but with no rail, I stay close to the back wall... sissy me!

    … and what a great shower. Then zipped in, with the fan on low (and cools even the area where Susan is sleeping in one of the twin beds), I’m asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

    ... to be continued

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    Loving this report, Sandi. I feel like I'm there with you - so many great details and descriptions.
    And the pics are great - wonderful accommodations.
    I had been thinking Zambia for my next safari, now I'm starting to think East Africa.
    Look forward to the rest.

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    ... sorry folks, just realized I messed up on the dates, but the day is correct.

    Day 10 – Friday, June 2, 2006

    Same routine, up at the crack of light, shower, dress and finish packing. We’re headed to Tsavo West today, an area of Kenya that neither of us had yet visited. But, sure do wish we had another day to spend at Shompole... to meet up with the other two brothers of The Three Kings, and even leopard.

    Unfortunately, we didn’t do the short walk to Little Shompole as the place was “a mess” as we were told, getting ready for the season and some “special” guests due in July. Shompole is wonderful for weddings, though small can between the main lodge and Little accommodate a wedding party with family... and, of course, great for a honeymoon. We had to settle for photos, but just imagine bigger or more lux than main Shompole has to offer. Guess, it’s another reason for a return visit.

    At least, this is the last walk down the hill and the leg has held up... some pain, but still attached. However, those bites I got when at Desert Rose are now bigger than ever, itchy and it’s taken all the control I have not to scratch... been very good, if I must say so. I’m a big girl now!

    Waiting for my eggs, I run upstairs to the gift shop and buy a t-shirt, returning for my meal just as Ant joins us. It’s been quite an interesting, if another too short a visit. Bookings here are for a minimum of two-days and considering the drive, let along if you choose to fly, to justify the cost; three days would be better.

    Breakfast eaten, good-byes to Ava and Graham, Ant drives us to the nearby airstrip. While waiting, we see some of the younger members of the family arrive on the flats with their bikes and a guide who off for a ride around the area. A short wait when we see this very colorful small plane circling for a landing.

    We’re being flown by the owner of the company who booked our trip... a private charter to Tsavo. On landing, it took all we had not to laugh at the colors of the plane, which he claimed “is what you get after a night of beer drinking at the Aero Club” at which he is President. A big stocky guy with a hearty laugh rolls out of the pilot seat and walks over to us. While he’s doing this, I notice a passenger in the co-pilot seat, wondering who that could be as we were to be his only passengers. Once introductions are made, he explains that his passenger, a women, as a sole passenger to Tsavo, instead of the scheduled flight for a single paying passenger, offered to fly her... and we’d be getting a refund... her fee for the flight! Wowee! Not much, but some extra money to spend somewhere.

    Good-byes and thanking Ant for his hospitality, Susan and I board and are on our way again. Always, when airborne, I’m in heaven - flying over Africa is sensational. Flight time is a little over an hour, on another clear morning. We’ll be flying over Amboseli to Tsavo and of course, we had a pretty clear shot of Kili in the distance. Amboseli, as expected was pretty dry below, but as we reach Tsavo, it’s different... very green.

    Upon landing here, we finally meet our plane mate, a women from the States who will be spending about three-weeks in Kenya… five of which here at Finch Hatton’s (she’s been before), up at Kuki Gallman’s Mukatan Reteat, also for about five-days…and a few other stops. Where? I can’t recall, but it wasn’t a shabby (read: inexpensive) itinerary, though June has its benefits in Kenya... low prices. We do spend more time on the airstrip here as Kenya Wildlife Service is very detailed about who lands, papers that have to be checked, so hang out till we’re ready for the short drive to the camp.

    The camp is about a 5-minute drive where we’re welcomed with cool drinks, then escorted to our tents. Again, a long walk to the far end of a group of tents overlooking one of the hippo pools. As three women, we are shown tents adjacent to one another... I don’t know whether I’d want to be in this particular area, when there are so few guests around, but then, I have been in years past.

    Finch Hatton’s is a typical camp, with 30-tents in three sections, all around the natural hippo pools, with plenty of hippo pods in each; also crocs. And, you can’t beat having these pools to look upon and hear while in/at your tent. We have a twin bedded tent, with nice size bathroom in the rear; flush toilets, running hot & cold water, mini-bar, nice size shower stall and electricity. How wonderful, I can wash and blow-dry my hair, which I haven’t don’t since leaving House of Waine. Hey, if I can survive this, anyone can; it’s especially easy, as the air is clean that neither my hair nor scalp felt dirty during these six days. Admittedly though, those words “yes, hair blowers work here” sounded like winning the Lottery!

    The camp is unfenced with plenty of vervet monkeys, baboons and antelope about; at night the hippos do leave the pools, so walking with an askari is a must. During the day, guests are fine walking alone as long as you’re aware of your surrounding, especially the crocs which sometimes leave the water and place themselves on the walkways. It’s a non-event walking back to the dining area for lunch which is served on the terrace.

    Before taking our seats though I take a turn to the manager’s office and ask for some kind of “anti-itch” cream, as the ankle is really annoying. Efficiently, the manager extracts their medical supplies, hands me a tube which I liberally apply to all the bites. Fingers crossed, I hope this helps.

    With only about six occupied tents, lunch goes quickly, from a menu and served; dessert is great. From the terrace we have a view of one of the hippo pools and know there are crocs on the other size of a downed tree with a sign reading “Caution: to not pass over the other size of this log.” Enough said.

    After lunch with have a game drive to Mzima Springs. So along with a gal from the UK, working in Kenya and wanting to get in last minute safari until she can figure a way to return, we’re on our way. The drive is uneventful, but quite interesting in that this environment is new to us. There are lots of antelope, and baboons near the roads; we even see Oryx which is a rarely for me, but they’re too far from the road for good photos.

    It’s just short of an hour when we pull into the parking lot, hit the loo first, then meet a guide who will escort us through the area. The walkways are cement and stone, with signs describing the various tree and plant life until we come to the springs which have beautifully clear waters and lots of hippos. I recall from a National Geographic program about the resident pod and a newly born hippo and his ability to survive, which he doesn’t (not from a croc attack though they tried, but from a big big male hippo). There is a tower off a pier with an underwater viewing area to view the activitiy. All I saw were fish, no hippos. Once up in the air, it’s easy to spot the hippos and crocs... the funniest of the latter which looked like a log at the bottom of flowing water, Not! It was a croc with it’s mouth open, just waiting for the fish to flow in. Smart croc and funny to watch.

    We spent a bit over an hour, before meeting our guide at the parking lot; meeting and chatting with a local family, visiting here, on a first safari. Even here, with what appeared to be a middle-class family, locals don’t travel too far from home. They were enjoying their time very much on a self-drive trip in their big SUV. Saying our goodbyes, we’re back in the vehicle for return to camp.

    Along the way, we came across giraffe, ostrich, those Oryx again (too far away, but lots of them), zebra, antelope, baboons, vervet monkeys. Surprisingly, the roads were in pretty good condition for dirt... we’ve been on worse. We arrive back at camp at about 6:15pm and return to our tent for showers and change of clothing for dinner. Now, dinner is what I’m looking forward to, as everyone has mentioned that Finch Hatton’s has outstanding menus. We’ll see.

    Back at the tent, as we walk up onto the deck we find lots of makuti palms... those darn vervets are at it again. They play on the roofs and just “tear up the place.” At least, someone has a job, replacing the palms.

    What a relief to open the minibar for a drink. On the honor system, you just mark down what you’ve taken and they charge accordingly; and it’s very inexpensive. I go for the Tusker – what else? And then it’s in for a hot shower, as there’s plenty of water in a real shower - just what's needed.

    Before dressing I slather on more of the anti-itch crème on the ankle, which doesn’t look too pretty, but it seems to be helping, thus avoiding my desire to scratch. Once this has soaked in I can put on my slacks, a lightweight sweater and a shawl; the night is comfy and warm, but nowhere as in Shompole. We finish our sundowners on the deck, while watching in the dark the shadows of the hippos and crocs swimming back and forth. We do notice that the hippos are floating down from the other three pools to the one in front of us. Only a few minutes later when the askari comes to escort us to dinner that we see where the hippos are going. Under the foot bridge we cross, we see where these blubberettes leave the pools to graze during the night; return at dawn to the water.

    Another reason not to be walking alone, as you don’t want to come face-to-face with one of these guys, cetainly not in the dark. And, since the camp isn't fenced, we see shadows of baboons, vervets and eyes of impala.

    Arriving at the dining room, where the few guests are already seated, I must say, this is a lovely room. With high beamed ceiling, crystal chandelier, set tables with silverware, crystal glasses, table cloths and napkins and flowers – true to what Karen and Denys would expect.

    Seated near a French-door window which is open (though not to walk thru as there are no steps), we’re presented with appetizer, celery soup (for a non-soup eater, I can still, three months later taste it...outstanding), entre, and desert with coffee of tea. Each course, separated with lemon ice to clear the palate. And, of course, the wine flowed. Service was flawless and quiet... I enjoyed very much. And, yes, their food is excellent... simple, but creative.

    Finished, we walk into the African night to find our askari waiting to escort us to our tent. It’s a beautiful night and though the leg is annoying me somewhat, I truck on. Boy, does that bed look good... it’s been a long day from early at Shompole, flying to Tsavo and a full day here.

    At least I don’t have to be up for an early game drive; Susan will. I have a date with the hair dryer.

    ... to be continued

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    Great read - I'm really enjoying it! Do you recall - your pilot Hammish that took you to Desert Rose - was he a slight man, dark wavy hair, from New Zealand??

    Hope your ankles have recovered from those bites!


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    cyn -

    Yup, that was Hammish. Did I say OZ earlier, or New Zealand. The latter is correct. Oh, to be a bush pilot in Africa... a great job. And, they're either cute or just so darn good looking.

    Nyamera -

    No gerunuk, but a pet kudu at Saruni... more on that later.

    Cindi -

    After another day at Tsavo, it's onto Richards... hopefully, before you depart!

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    I don't think you said either way - but Hammish is such an unusual name - how many bush pilots named Hammish could be flying out of Nairobi? He was our pilot when we flew from Nairobi to Solio Ranch. We had a great flight with him - and you're right, he was kinda cute!


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    Loved reading the report thusfar. You and Susan together are a hoot!

    You'll have to teach me your special smile at Wilson. I just got charged an extra $60.00 one way for over weight luggage!

    Can't wait to read more.


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    jan -

    Susan and I do have a lot of fun and good times on our trips.

    The Smile! I don't know what it is, but it seems to work. But in all seriousness, recalling your former posts, you do pack/bring lots and lots of goodies for your friends in Kenya; it's gotta add up. Have you considered leaving some of your clothing out? You know you can have laundry done.

    Believe me, both of us brought gifts or items that were requested and for all of these extras, something had to give when it came to our own clothing. Granted mine was only children's clothing (w/ the gift boxes folded flat); Susan had some heavier items which she couldn't wait to part with once in Arusha. In both cases, when it came to weighing our own clothing, they came in at about 25/lbs. And, I know I returned home with a few items of clothing not worn... getting better with each trip.

    Aren't you lucky, the fee charged is on the first leg, not on each and every one of them. In the scheme of things and number of flights, it's a small amount for your generosity.

    Guess, you'll just have to practice some kind of sweet innocent smile in front of the mirror before your next visit.

    percy -

    Glad you're enjoying. Still another day at Tsavo, then Richard's and Saruni. Work takes priority, but they'll be coming soon, I hope.

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    Sandi, I'm so reassured that traveling with a bad leg is doable. I'm leaving for Tanzania next week, still rehabilitating my injured leg, and am a little nervous - but determined to make things work.

    I've considered skipping some game drives if I'm feeling tired or overwhelmed. I notice you skip the morning ones. Is this because you want to "sleep in" or are the morning drives less "lucrative" in sightings?

    Again, great report -- and great pictures!

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    nevermind -

    I don't do morning game drives because I just prefer not. I'm up at 6am (often earlier) and go about having my coffee, showering, dressing and heading for breakfast. It has nothing to do with game sightings as the animals aren't going anywhere. I've had travel companions tell me about their early game sightings and when we go out later have often found the same animals where they were seen earlier.

    Being on a private safari, while a travel companion may go out at 6-6:30am, I often choose to go out later on game drives after breakfast - 9am till lunch. The only time I'm "active early" are on those days when we're moving from one park/reserve to another (whether road or air), though I still don't do the morning game drive.

    Even on my very first safari 12/hrs ago, I recall going out early the first morning, then asked "why am doing this on my holiday?" - subsequently decided to pass on these.

    Glad you enjoyed the photos.

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    Thanks for your response to my question about skipping morning game drives. You offered an important reminder -- the safari is a holiday. I want to savor every moment, but not be obsessive. Just being in Africa will be such a gift.


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    Day 11 – Saturday, June 3, 2006

    I’m up along with Susan when coffee is delivered. She’s out early and I enjoy my coffee on the deck. That finished, it’s time for serious business. I’m into the shower for a good hair washing and then my favorite friend. Plugged in set to go, I’m in heaven, with clean hair and coiffed. After putting more crèam on my ankles, I dress and walk up for breakfast all by myself. It’s beautiful seeing game about and hearing the monkeys in the trees.

    Susan isn’t back from her game drive, so I have breakfast. Once she’s back I’m filled in on her sightings… elephants, the first seen on this trip, she got a photo of the oryx, antelope again, turtles, hippos, buffalo, zebra and on and on. She had a good time.

    Breakfast concluded, the manager arrives to take us on a tour of the camp. Realizing just how large a property in three different sections, I know that my leg will not hold up, so ask Susan to take good notes, while I retire to a pool lounge where I could be off the leg. The pool is big, clean, with plenty of lounges; a honeymoon couple on the other end, both deeply engrossed in reading and I actually fall into a light sleep.

    When Susan returns about an hour later, with the following: there are a few tents close to the dining area for those with disabilities or choosing not to walk long distances; each section has a few king bed tents and one or two family and/or triple tents. The tents are well maintained and spotlessly clean, especially the kitchen, which she said “you could eat off the floor.”

    We hang out at the pool till lunch and afterwards we’re heading to the lava fields for our afternoon game drive. Lava fields? Yes, that’s what we’re told. Well, this is a surprise, lava! Are we certain this isn't Hawaii? Of course not, as we saw lava dust at Shompole, on the roads coming into Finch Hatton’s and on our game drive yesterday… something must have blown it’s top.

    We spent time at our tent watching the antics of the hippos and the crocs floating by until it was time for our “lava experience.” It’s just Susan and I going out with our guide, having to unlock and raise a gate that crosses the road we have to take out to our destination. Again, we come upon interesting flora… lots of palm trees, lots of lava sand, animals skipping across the roads or curious about the vehicle heading their way, mostly antelope. The baboons are out in the fields and the vervets in the trees.

    In the distance we can see the Chuyla Hills in all shades of green and that’s where we’re heading. Surprisingly, the road was in good condition and within an hour, we come to the very sandy Mombasa Road, that cuts across from Nairobi all the way to the coast. Any vehicle along this way kicks up quite a bit of sand/dust.

    And, there it is, right in front of us all these black sharp rocks that go on for about 4-miles in all directions; the hills in the distance, still very green. These are the Shetani Lava Fields, created from an exploding crater estimated back about 200/years; pretty recent for a “blow.” You can see where the Mombasa Road travels between the lava having created it’s own way over the years (though sure with some heavy equipment moving the lava to allow a passage.) In the distance you can see where, over the years, green shoots and trees are popping up and regenerating this vast space.

    On the return drive we come upon giraffe, oryx, lots of zebra with little ones, often nursing. Not a great amount of game, but some really interesting landscapes. Through the gate, we relock it and continue to the camp.

    It was a fairly warm day, so the hot shower back at the tent was welcomed. The night was comfortable, still warm and a pleasant walk to the dining area with our askari leading us. Again, still few guests, so we take the same corner table. At a great vantage point enabling us to see the entirely of this very pretty room.

    Needless to say, we had another wonderful dinner with another soup - broccoli which was good, but it wasn't the celery from the previous night still lingering on my tongue. Entre was breast of chicken wrapped in bacon and perfectly baked; and, another delicious desert with Kenyan coffee. Over the years, I had determined it was drinking coffee late in the day keeping me up at night (and not the Lariam I had taken years back), so I now had sleeping pills, so even though I tried to avoid coffee after mid-day, it’s just too good. So with a combination of hot coffee and sleeping pills and my date with the sandman I've been sleeping very well.

    Leaving the dining room our escort is waiting for the walk to our tent. Time seems to have gone too quickly! This was Susan’s last safari day. She’s leaving tomorrow night, while I have two more days and will be off to the Masai Mara.

    While you count the days until you depart on safari, then forget the days as they pass while on safari – who needs a watch or care about schedules and just go about each day – till you realize time is getting close when you either 1) wish you could stay on for an indefinite amount of time, or 2) can’t wait to get on the plane and be on your way. I opt for #1, but it’s #2 that wins out.

    Time is running away even though I have two more days.

    ... to be continued

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    As always, a delight of a way to have a cup of coffee, vicariously traveling the Mombasa Road through lava fields in Kenya!! Thanks, Sandi - what interesting tidbits you share!!! Deb

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    I loved the safari with Naju. More vehicles should be equipped with a safari pet.

    You are so right about counting down the days until the safari, then forgetting what day it is on safari.

    It's good your leg is holding up.

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    Day 12 – Sunday, June 4, 2006

    We finish our packing so the porters can bring our bags up to Reception. Susan and I go for breakfast on the terrace. It’s a lovely day, as have been all. Unlike last year, we haven’t had any rain, though the skies did look threatening at times. Mid-day temps have been comfortable throughout, even warm to hot at Desert Rose and Shompole; nights comfortable needing only a light sweater or shawl except for those two windy nights at Desert Rose. You couldn’t ask for anything better.

    Breakfast eaten, we straighten up our bill for our mini-bar and alcoholic drinks. Having used the entire tube of anti-itch cream I pay the manager for the tube (there had been a sticker on it with a price in Kenya Schillings = USD$3). A bargain as this ointment worked very well. Though when I looked at my ankle, it still seemed to need work, but the desire to scratch was gone.

    At the airstrip, our Safari Link flight is circling for a landing. It’ll be only Susan and me flying to Wilson where we land an hour later. Here we’re met by our friend Joyce with our driver/vehicle; can’t believe she’s here on her day off, but she’s such a delight and always goes out of her way for us and her clients. We load up, and drive down the road a few hundred yards to the entry for Air Kenya flights. This is where I will wait for my 3pm flight, while Susan goes into NBO for her day at the Intercontinental till her evening flight via AMS to Boston.

    Arriving at Air Kenya, we see the waiting room is full which can only mean “a late flight” to somewhere, probably the Mara. I had the option to check if there would be room for me, but I had no idea if there’d be anyone to pick me up as I wasn’t due till about 4pm. Besides, it was so hectic inside, I wasn’t in the mood to confuse anyone; instead choosing to wait my turn. I had a good book, there’s a coffee shop if I wanted something to eat, and a small souvenir shop if I needed any anything. I’d wait.

    We say our goodbyes… the two days would go far too quickly and Susan and I would in touch with one enough in no time once I was home on Wednesday. The guys weigh my bags and as usual give me that look of “lady, you’re overweight” (but only by a few pounds w/printed material) which I leave to the guys to arrange as they put my bags to the side for the later flight. This time I didn’t have to work the wonders of “my smile.” All taken care of, they all depart and I find a spot in the waiting room for myself till those being delayed depart.

    Yes, it was the flight to the Mara that was late. Once the season begins, though June is early, it’s not unusual for there to be some back-up, though I’ve never seen it running this late.

    By 11:45am, the entire waiting room is mine. So too are the coffee and souvenir shops. I find a corner, make myself comfortable against the cushions, open my book to read through a few chapters.

    During the next few hours, there is the flight coming back from the Mara, continuing onto Kili; flight going to Lamu; return flight from Zanzibar for those continuing safari in Kenya or last afternoon till evening flights homebound. Then the place empties out again.

    I’m now sitting near the window and door leading out to the ramp, where I see a small plane pull up... it’s 2:40pm; see my two bags placed in the small belly; when the agent signals to me by my first name, to board (they’re probably glad to see I’m on my way somewhere); my own plane, not another soul, just me and another cute bush pilot. You won’t get a complaint from me.

    FYI! – Pilots working for Air Kenya and Safari Link are in uniforms, whereas those who fly for Tropic Air (out of Nanyuki) doing mostly private charter and their own scheduled route are in more casual dress, though all seem to have a brown leather jacket.

    My winged chariot has seats for 8, but it’s just me. The pilot welcomes me aboard and then looks at me having made myself at home and says, “looks like you’ve done this before!” “sure, I have.” Then mentions, we should be landing in about 45/minutes. The views are beautiful, lots of green and a clear sky. Exactly, 45/min. we land at the Safari Club airstrip. Deplaning, I’m met warmly by Val from Richard’s Camp. A tiny little thing, in short skirt and tank top... it’s obviously hot here. While we wait for my bags to be offloaded, I turn to see that the pilot is boarding passengers and their bags, and don’t see my bags on the grass. When I walk over to inquire, he say “no bags.” Ok, I saw my bags loaded in Nairobi, so I calmly ask that he have the new bags unloaded so I can take a peek inside the compartment. Sure, enough he unloads bags and mine aren’t there; when I notice another compartment and sure enough, there are my two bags and when I turn to look at the pilot, he’s got this wide sneaky smile from ear-to-ear. To which I respond, “lucky I’m not a first time safari guest, or there would be one very upset person standing here.” He gives another sneaky smile when I realize, he’s flirting! Well, well... a bush pilot. I smile back and just hand him my business card, we shake hands and I head off with Val. Once in the vehicle, I turn for a last glance to the runway and sure enough the pilot it looking our way, I smile and wave. Then as Val and I turn out of the airstrip we break up laughing! I’m laughing as I write this. You’ve gotta watch out for those bush pilots, they’re such flirts.

    I can’t drive manual/stick, I’ve tried (though maybe if it meant saving my life), but Val was a star over some really lousy road, which she mentions happen to be the worst to the camp, but the shortest. Sawa sawa! About 15-minutes and then, there it is a wide open green lawn... not what I expected. Boy, is this refreshing, where all the tents are surrounding this expanse of green – the public tent/lounge, then the tents with plenty of distance between them.

    During the drive I had mentioned to Val that when I arrived at Wilson, the Mara flights were delayed and thought to give a try to get the earlier flight, but had no way to contact the camp for a pick-up. To which she said, she actually had guests on that flight, and it would have worked. I was surprised by this as prior leaving NY I had checked the occupancy for both Richard’s and Saruni; Richard’s only showed 3/tents occupied. Well, that was correct, but for some last-minute bookings; they had a full house.

    I was escorted to my tent, #1, closest to the public area, but far enough away that it was actually quiet. These were traditional canvas tents, with sleeping area up front and bathroom in the rear, with an additional area between both as a dressing room, easily 7-10’ in depth, with lovely handcrafted metal armoire, hangers and shelves in place of a closet. A nice extra.

    I take out a few items for later and join the other guests at the lounge with a great selection of cakes, tea, coffee and soft-drinks, before our game drive. The other guests consisted of a family from Santa Barbara, CA – mother, father and two college-aged daughters; parents had been on safari before as had one of the daughters, but a first for the second daughter. Also a single guy from Amsterdam and another from Germany or maybe Switzerland (couldn’t quite tell from his accent and didn’t learn later). And a young guy, maybe 17 or 18, from the UK, an avid “bird-man” spending part of his GAP year traveling; very well spoken, personable and very very smart for his age.

    While finishing my nibbles, approaching me is a familiar face who seems to recognize me and as Val is about to introduce us, we reintroduce ourselves. It’s Daryl, who was with us at Cottar’s last year. Recognition at first sight. Seems Daryl made the move in January after having spent about 5/years at Cottar’s. It’s not unusual for guides to move from camp-to-camp... they need periodic changes, as do most of us living anywhere.

    After the formalities of catching up, I join the family, with Daryl as guide for our afternoon game drive. I’m seated in the front, the parents behind us, the daughters on the row, and one last where the tracker was seated.

    From the beautiful sunny, warm, in fact hot weather when I landed, it’s now turned gray and nasty, looked like rain. But off we went. There’s a spattering of antelope, wildebeests, topi, and jackel out there, when we spot at a distance, three vehicles in one area. Naturally, they’ve come across something, so we drive over but keep our distance. It takes only a second that I spot the cheetah, but thru the nocs Daryl could see two cubs... very young/tiny cubs. To me, those other vehicles are just too close, as the mother is up and down and seemed agitated. Thankfully, one of the drivers was smart enough to back off and the others followed giving her enough berth and she settles down. As the sky turns dark, a few drops of rain show on the windscreen and the other vehicles head off. Good, now we can move up though keep our distance.

    The cubs sure are tiny with barely open eyes... meaning they’re between 2-3/weeks old. Their eyes usually open by 3/weeks. They’re so far down in the high grass, it’s somewhat understandable why the other vehicles came in so close, though still not a good idea. For whatever could be seen on the photo I took was with the zoom and the father in the rear seat with a larger zoom didn’t do much better.

    We sat there awhile, when we noticed the mother up and actually moving away, eyes in all directions; she actually went a good distance, leaving the little ones alone. But the skies were dark, threatening and it wasn’t 5 o’clock, almost as the skies would be at about 6:45-7pm. We all wondered whether the rain would blow over, but moved away from the cubs about half a mile where we came across lots of giraffe. They all seemed to be focused on one thing, the African gardenia trees where about five or six giraffe would nibble, then move to another tree; another group came over and nibbled and more, then another. It was quite interesting watching this, all taking their turns, but from our distance and the dark it was difficult to see just how many blossoms were there to nibble.

    Moving on, there was a small clump of trees and bushes and this is where we find Simba - three females moving about. One walked in front of us, the other two coming up from the rear. It seemed as if they were ready to hunt, but for what as there wasn't much out there. And though for us it was dark, they may have seen something of interest. But, then they turned back to the trees and bushes and stayed for the duration. We, instead moved away from the cats to a nearby desert date tree for sundowners. Well, the sun had sure gone down, but custom is custom and the bar was open. Or as I say “does it really matter the time, the flag is up over the yardarm somewhere.”

    While I declined a beverage – I don’t drink when out on drives – the others did partake while I dug into the chips. Conversation was fun, especially from the daughter for whom this was her first safari who was certainly enjoying herself. By the time we finished, the sky hadn’t lightened and it was difficult to see much, even with the spotlight, so we headed back to camp.

    Val met us with the camp dog, Foxy on a leash (good idea in the dark), with a light directing us to where the guys were already seated around the campfire having returned just a few minutes ahead of us. Once seated, I was glad to have a drink. I know I mentioned this earlier, but the young guy from the UK on his Gap year was quite amazing. His knowledge of birds was something else; he was looking forward to spending sometime at Elephant Pepper Camp for a few weeks working with the guides and camp management. He actually got himself a job! Good for him.

    The few drops of rain we had on the plains, were all there was. Though the sky was threatening the rain went elsewhere and we were sitting under a beautiful star-filled sky where we were to have dinner. We adjourned to the beautifully set long family-style table under the trees. With a full house and equal number of gals and guys, we were able to sit boy-girl-boy-girl all around. I was at the end of table with Daryl to my left, the husband across from me, the rest down the table.

    Dinner was excellent (don’t remember what I ate, but there was no celery soup); conversation even better, especially listening to the “kids.” Then there were us “older” folks who were getting such a charge out of them. As we were enjoying dessert, Val came over to the husband and whispered something to him… “hey, we’ve filled the Victorian tub for you and the misses, anytime you’re ready” at which he excused himself, as his wife passed behind me. How cute!

    Finishing with after dinner drinks, Daryl and I caught up. I then took my leave as it was getting on about 9:30. Early for me, but I was really tired tonight, maybe because of the waiting at the Wilson. The rest of the gang was retiring to the lounge. Surprisingly, though my tent was closest, once I hit the pillow, I didn’t hear a thing and was out with the lights!

    Tomorrow is my last day! Awe shucks! be continued

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    Oh, thanks, Sandi...this is the part of your trip I was waiting for! I want to try the Victorian tub- I wonder how we'll accomplish that, though, since we will be 3 couples together...have to take turns, I guess..sounds very romantic! Can't wait for your next installment....

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    cindy -

    Unless you're very very very good friends or very very very tiny people, it's going to have to be individual romantic baths. Just advise management what you wish and they'll coordinate for you.

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    Day 13 – Monday, June 5, 2006

    As usual, no morning game drive for me, but I do have my coffee brought at 7am. After a wonderful hot shower and dressing, I unzip the net portion of the tent to a beautiful sunny morning.

    Though most camps and lodges tend to close up everything for sleeping, I always request that the inside flaps not be closed as I prefer nature to be as close as possible. Most tents have both canvas and mesh/mossie net closings, so the canvas is left rolled up (the entry) and I have a clear view and can hear whatever is outside. Same here… who cares if someone can look in, I’m usually decent.

    Once outside, it’s very quiet as everyone is out on game drives or walks; some are having breakfast out on the plains. So it’s just me and Foxy the dog at the table. Daryl, of course, is out with guests, but Val joins me for breakfast. She asks whether the “kids” kept me up last evening? Duh? No, should they have? This is when she tell me that they had all congregated in the lounge and were a bit loud so they retired to one of the other tents to continue their partying. I never heard a thing. The thought of the “kids” partying was too cute!

    Finishing breakfast, we did a walk-through of the camp. The tents are all pretty much the same, though nicely spaced from one another, each very private. There are both twins and kings; the honeymoon suite at the far end of the property. Adjacent to this tent is a salt-lick, where it’s not usual to see antelope, zebra and other animals, only a few feet away. And, of course the Victorian bath – a footed tub in a secluded area with lanterns and/or candles and a dressing area... very romantic, to say the least.

    I then took a peek into the camp gift shop and found some interesting items. Liz having been in the fashion business has designed items exclusively for Richard’s camp, though some are similar to those found elsewhere, she’d add her own touch such as a Velcro pocket on the terry-backed Kikoy - where to put an ID, car keys and mad money – this was a great idea. And with their new baby, there was a nice selection of children’s clothing (other than t-shirts), not seen at other camps/lodges – impressive. And best, the prices are quite reasonable.

    As we leave the shop, the husband and wife are returning from a game walk, it’s coming on 11am and they’ve already got their sweatshirts or jackets tied around their waists. It’s getting warm out there. The young guy from the UK has already gone to Elephant Pepper, the guys are out on the plains somewhere and I believe the girls slept-in. I guess, too much partying the night before; hey, they’ve got the afternoon and another day before moving on.

    Val did mention that Richard and Liz and the baby should be here (their own plane) before I leave; I’m looking forward to meeting them.

    Lunch is served out on the lawn and it’s delicious. Time is moving all too quickly, when Val comes over to let me know that Ric is waiting on me at Saruni. Boy, is he impatient to see me again? Doubt it, but if I plan to go out on an afternoon game drive (not) I had better get my butt moving.

    Richard and Liz hadn’t yet arrived; later to see their plane flying in from the deck at Saruni. Guess, with a baby, schedules go askew. But, we’ve since exchanged emails.

    Saying my goodbyes to the couple and the girls, to Daryl also, Val and I get into the Range Rover and are off to Saruni Camp. As the crow flies these camps are practically opposite one another, a few miles apart, but by road, it’s not a straight line. We go down one road, across the plains, up another road, then climbing into the forest where Saruni is situated; about 30-40 minutes.

    It’s about 3pm as I’m greeted by a lesser kudu (not enough stripes) nudging up to me, ready to lick my face. I was so taken aback with the animal so close, till I learned this was an orphaned fella that the camp adopted and has raised to his 9-months. A big guy, if I must say.

    Here, I’m greeted by Ferial (who has since left for a PR job somewhere in Africa), the camp manager and while I say my goodbyes and exchange emails with Val, I was too caught up to take a photo of this adorable "pet" - I could kick myself.

    I’ve stayed at Saruni previously and absolutely love this camp. Quite an unusual location, how the chalets are built on the edge of the mountain, in a forest-type setting, with amazing views in all directions, especially into the Mara. The chalets are also probably the largest I’ve seen. Unlike the standard tents, even large ones, these have hardwood floors, handmade furniture (most all Desert Rose produced), thick mattresses, down comforters, fluffy pillows, large closets, Persian or Asian carpets, African art pieces, antique chests,a writing desk, plenty of walk-around space in the chalet itself. With a very large bathroom with two wash basins, commode and bidet and large shower. And cathedral beamed ceilings entirely covered in canvas with large mesh windows. Outside is a deck with a few chairs, a lounge and recently added, a hammock. There are six chalets, plus the public area (lounge, fireplace, dining areas and deck) and, as mentioned last year, an amazing library in a quiet free-standing room, if one wanted to escape for awhile. There is a gift shop and best of all their Masai Well-being Spa with the wonderful hands of Cecilia for massages and other beauty treatments.

    I’m so glad to have arrived, having selected Saruni as the place to chill before my very long day tomorrow for my return home. As we sat in front of the fireplace with coffee and tea set, I had no intention of going on a game drive, so it’s “just us gals.” Beats me where Ric was after the rush for me to get there.

    It was quite at the camp, only three (3) chalet occupied. A honeymoon couple and two gals from the States, currently working in Abu Dhabi for the State Department and moi! That’s it. The honeymooners and the girls were going out, so I had time to kill... how wonderful.

    Ferial and I chatted for about an hour about "stuff." Cecilia came to greet me and offer her wonderful hands for a massage; a complimentary one for each chalet. She was kind of disappointed when I declined, but I was so relaxed I didn’t need any more relaxing. I then learned that Cecilia was expecting in a few months, her second child to her 8/yr old son. Goodness, she still looks like a teenager, but with great hands, who learned to speak Italian before interviewing for the spa position, then trained in Italy... quite an amazing tiny go-getter.

    It was then interesting to listen to Ferial while she arranged the meal for dinner as the honeymooners didn’t eat pork – he a Muslim from Pakistan, she from Iceland, both living in Denmark speaking Danish. The girls earlier indicated they’d like the same wonderful hamburgers they had for lunch, and for me, except for fish or seafood, was up for anything. It was settled – lamb! So nice to have attention paid to individual guests dietary wishes. I then excused myself, went to my chalet to unpack a few items and freshen up for dinner which was to be out in the bush. Last year I missed the bush dinner, it was the night after Eileen and I departed, so I was looking forward to this.

    As Ferial was walking up to gather me, I was walking down from my chalet and there behind her was Ric, running up to give me a proper welcome! With hugs and kisses and wonderful hellos, we laughed all the way to the Range Rover. Though we only had met last year, we’ve emailed regularly over the year; kind of nice to see an email on a Sunday morning while I’m enjoying my NYTimes, bagels and Kenyan coffee on a Sunday morning in New York. He’s a hoot!

    Into the Range Rover and about to pull away, we have company... the kudu is about to follow; Ric has to call to have someone pull him back so we can depart. I'm in the front seat, Ferial behind, we head to the Yaile Conservation area, about a 40-min drive from the camp and where Saruni’s Campi Ya Tembo “fly-camp” is located. The Camp has recently been completely redone, with new larger tents, furniture from the Desert Rose, nicely spaced for privacy, flush loos, bush showers and running water. Only three (3) tents with a staff of 6 providing a 1:1 ratio that includes cook, butler, guide, askaris. Though referred to as a “fly-camp” they are leaning towards keeping the camp open year-round.

    We're the first to arrive at about 6:30pm. It's getting dark, but the fire is blazing, chairs are set around; the table set for dinner, the chef doing his thing behind the bushes somewhere. It’s beautiful here. By the time it’s dark, the other guests arrive and we enjoy our sundowners around the fire. Then the Masai dancers arrive for their performance which is just great. I’ve seen many of these, but for some reason, this was different; probably because of where it took place. I was also surprised that I was able to get some great photos of their performance. Though the fire took the chill out of the night, one of the dancers actually had on a red jumper (to match his red garb), but once he got into it, the jumper disappeared.

    Entertainment over, glasses refilled we moved to the table, set square for the eight of us, including Philip, one of the outstanding guides. A perfect table set with cloth, lovely china, crystal and silverware, directors chairs for seating. I, however, felt as if I was sitting in a hole, barely reaching the table, so out come the cushions (they used a few shukas as a booster seat)... now I can enjoy my meal. Appetizer is an eggplant parmigana (though when I asked specifically, Ric gave me some Italian name... to my tongue it was eggplant and excellent for someone who doesn’t jump for joy over eggplant. Entre, for most was the lamb, with veggies and potatoes; followed by a great desert and coffee and tea.

    Getting late and with a 40-minute drive back to camp, the girls are scheduled for hot-air ballooning the next morning. So all left, while I stayed behind. I wanted to see those CYT tents. With a torch, Ric and I walked through the high grass which they were in the process of manicuring, to see this lovely little camp. Granted it was dark, but I got the idea. Wow! They’re real nice and certainly away from the crowds. Truly close to nature. Yeh, here we were in the dark, walking thru the bush and didn't give a thought to what might be prowling close or nearby! Boy, am I getting brave!

    Back at the fire, it’s a beautiful night with a sky full of stars. So full, that as we talked about every and anything, I kept my eyes peeled skywards... rude? Nope! Just enthralled. As the fire dwindled we figured it was time to call it a night. Saying goodnight to the askari who had been there all the time... silent, but ever present, we head back to camp.

    Before leaving for dinner, I had requested they leave the flaps of the chalet rolled up, when Ric mentioned that I shouldn’t be surprised (read: upset) to find them rolled down. Apparently, it's been windy these past few nights, and a bit chilly; but there were plenty of extra blankets if I needed. Ok, at least I knew before arriving. And sure enough, once back at camp, Ric drops me in the good hands of the askari to walk me to my chalet.

    As to the cold, though I was more than comfy, one of the gals from Abu Dhabi was uneasy with the wind blowing and chill she felt the previous night; Ric had one of the two or three extra (guest) rooms made up in his house nearby. Guess, being out in the heat changes your body temp. She’ll sleep well tonight.

    Entering the chalet, sure enough the flaps were down, but I didn’t hear any wind and it didn’t feel cold. If I had been taller, I would have rolled them up, but didn’t chance climbing on a chair to do so. The leg finally seemed to getting back to the way it should feel... wasn't about to try acrobatics. There’d be time to roll them up in the morning, as I knew I’d be up early enough to watch the sunrise.

    Though I had coffee at dinner, once my head hit the pillow, I was out cold and warm under the down comforter with the obligatory hot water bottle as my bed mate.

    ... to be continued

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    Thank you so much, Sandi.... You finished the Richard's Camp part of your trip before I leave next Monday. I loved reading it...and your whole trip was wonderful to read...loved it!

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    Hi Sandi - A quick tipping question. While this will probably not come up on our trip, since it sounds like you have some special connections. From your trip report, it looks like the owner/architect of Shompole (Anthony)drove you around on your a game drive? Just want to be prepared...How would you tip something like that?
    Just a guess, but I would feel obligated to tip more.

    Great trip report. You keep giving me ideas for our next trip. I also loved your pictures, as you know. I can't wait to come back and report on Shompole myself! I will be sure to keep a very close eye on the kids there. Hopefully we will get a room with a small railing. Overall the kids are pretty cautious about things like that. It scares them.

    Thanks, Heather

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    Heather -

    We certainly didn't expect Anthony to be there. We didn't even know he was the architect/owner before arriving or being introduced. Susan was just so surprised to see Graham and Ava (previously from Elsa's) that Anthony was a complete surprise. Whether he was there "just for us" who knows, but it was wonderful that he was.

    But, for that matter, I can't say how often he is at the camp, though he has his own enkaji here, he may be in Nairobi during "the season." Nor, would I assume he takes guests out as their guide. We just lucked-out! They do have resident guides and trackers whose job it is.

    As to the tip, hey, as owner, we didn't even consider it (he probably wouldn't have allowed/taken it), but we did leave our general tip for everyone else - camp staff tip - including the tracker, the housekeeping mamas, waitstaff and whomever else.

    As to the twins - there are no railings, but for that first enkaji we were assigned, the one at the top of the hill. And, here, only because they have the large deck where if one looses balance or has been bending the elbow too much, once you loose your footing - bye, bye!

    Shompole is aware you'll be there with two little ones (a mention in one of my emails), so I'm sure they'll be well taken care of. As I mentioned in another post, if you wish to have an ayah (babysitter) do let them know on arrival (or send an email to our outfitter ahead of time requesting one)then you can arrange a schedule that works for you.

    I'm sure you and hubby will find the place so romantic, you'd like the opportunity for some private time and also give your dad a break!

    Have fun and enjoy!

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    Day 14 – Tuesday, June 6, 2006
    Day 15 – Wednesday, June 7, 2006

    It must have been cold last night, as I awoke wearing the bathrobe provided. Must have gotten up for the potty, felt cold, and grabbed the robe. Regardless, it was so warm and comfy I didn’t want to get out from under the comforter. Then, right at 7am (I had been awake since 6am; rolled up the canvas flap) my coffee was delivered. The attendant was cheerful, but broke out laughing when he saw how I had attempted to roll the flaps (hey, I'm short, and still avoided the chair to get higher). He proceeded to redo them properly – the one leading to the deck and the ”window” flaps next to the door and those on the sides of the chalet.

    Asante sana! Now I was happy. But I didn’t stay under the covers for long, instead opened the deck doors where I enjoyed my coffee. Watching the baboons creeping around the brush; could also see some antelope near the salt-lick. I love waking up with Afree-kah!

    Back inside for shower and dressing; packed my bags, I went for breakfast. Arriving, I found the table is set for me alone. Everyone else is out on game drives. Ferial then joins me and when finished, as I’m ready to settle on the deck with my book, Ric comes looking for me.

    “Come-on, let’s go!” “Where, what?” “I’m driving out to CYT, assume
    you want to see it in the daylight?” Of course, I do, so grab my bag and camera and off we go. It’s another beautiful morning, warm, almost cloudless sky and sunny. We’ve really had lovely weather throughout our visit – north, south, east and now in the Mara. Just as I was ready to ask about the game, there they were… 20+ giraffe and the first time I actually saw a giraffe sitting. I had seen this in photos, but it was a first real sighting. They look so comfortable, but I did wonder what they look like when they attempt to get up. We’ve all seen how awkward it is for them to take a drink, with legs spread, the strongest heart beating (pushing blood thru that very long length of neck) with head in water. This guy/gal wasn’t about to show me as it was probably just too comfortable being off those long legs. The other giraffes stood about staring at us while we sat there staring at them.

    Along the way, more giraffe, baboons, antelope, waterbuck, zebra, lots of birds; elephants are known to be around (thus the name “camp of the elephants”) but it must not have been “drinking” time. On we went to CYT. Boy, it sure looks different in daylight, but again that first impression of being so close to nature... nothing but these three tents. Completely open, no fences or protective wires.

    The staff with machetes were cutting and clearing the high grass, creating pathways to and between the individual tents; with very subtle divides, still providing privacy for each. We opened all the flaps of the tent closest, the one we had seen last night; open on one end/side and front allowing entry from either. Unlike oft seen Bedouin style relatively square main sleeping area tents, these are somewhat longer/deeper and narrower, but more than ample room to walk around the beds... no bumping into things or another person.

    Now, I could see these lovely beds, twins, but with a mattress topper become king size, as needed. On the far end (opposite open flap) a bathroom with flush loo, bucket shower and a sink on a lovely vanity (also made by Desert Rose) with running water. Outside, two directors chairs with cushion fabric coordinated to the bedding.

    While Ric was testing his new 12X digital for website photos, I walked around the site, to the other tents and took a few photos myself. It was absolutely lovely out here. We stayed about an hour, before returning to Saruni, for lunch.

    The gals had returned for lunch. The one who had slept in the “massa’s house” I heard was almost late for her early hot-air balloon pick-up, but made it and seemed to have enjoyed being up in the air. The honeymooners, who never seemed to be happy, not a smile, a word, not even during dinner last night... very strange; maybe performance problems? One wonders! Though they had no complaints to management about the camp! Yes, strange maybe or cultural??? They were out in the Mara somewhere having a bush lunch.

    Lunch complete and before leaving I popped into the gift shop for a shirt, then it was time to say my good-byes, again. These one day stops just don’t cut it, business or not, one has to spend at minimum two days wherever, preferably three. But leave I must, as I’m scheduled on the 4pm flight and Ric insists I get in a game drive on my way. I don’t protest as I leave with tears in my eyes; Ric gives me a big hug, knowing we’ll be exchanging Sunday morning emails with bagels and Kenyan coffee. And he’s happy as his gal will be arriving any day. So, all’s good with the world, but for the fact that I’m leaving. Boo-hoo-hoo!

    The kudu wasn’t around for me to get a photo; into the Range Rover with Philip, an outstanding guide. All the guides here get raves. I did miss William whom we had metlast year; seems he was getting some vacation before the season.

    Down the road, through the forest, out on the road that comes in from Nairobi, past the small village with the infamous “New Hotel” – a small 12’x12’ cinderblock building, that always makes me laugh; and out onto the plains. We come upon antelope, waterbuck, jackals, topi, a few resident wildies and giraffe sitting. We’re close enough that I managed to snap a few; also a large flock of crowned cranes. Philip mentions there are about 30 in this group. Driving past the Mara River, which is quiet but for the hippos, the wildies won’t be anywhere near for at least six to eight weeks.

    We arrive at the airstrip, where I pop into the loo. Have no idea how many stops in the Mara before we arrive at Wilson. Philip and I sit on the running board, on the shade side, talking about family, children and the upcoming season. There are a few passengers waiting, when the plane lands and it’s time to board. This last flight means I’m heading home and can only begin to think of where and when for my next visit. But, goodbye it is; I thank Philip and get my butt on that plane.

    Aloft, we make three stops and then onto Wilson. Lazarus is waiting to transfer me to JKIA, but first I have to stop at House of Waine. When departing 6-days ago I had forgotten to leave my tip for the staff and had left a small bag with brochures. I’m welcomed at the entrance like royalty, everyone outside, WOW! And Eric, of course, with his bright smile is there also. I give the guys their tip, then grabbing my bag; but first remove my jean jacket and pack into my duffle, sure that it’ll be warm (if not downright hot) back in NYC. We then head to JKIA.

    It’s rush-hour and there is traffic; still the drive is only 45-minutes, and though my flight isn’t until 10pm, I’ll have time to pick-up a few gifts, which I hadn’t time to do elsewhere. The airport is quiet as passengers won’t be arriving for at least 1.5/hrs. Thankfully, no long winding queue of people; easy enough getting through first baggage screening, right up to the agent, receive my boarding pass and proceed to Immigration. Though I had a wheelchair arranged, I declined when the agent asked. There was no rush, I could take my time, besides the leg wasn’t bothering me all that much. So with cane extended, I went upon my way. Up the escalator and “ready to shop.”

    Naturally, what I really wanted I couldn’t find, but did buy some small batik paintings (little ones about 4”x6” or 6”square), in pairs for which frames are easily found by recipients; of course, coffee. I then found my way down to the only smoking area, till it was time to board.

    Opening my book and minding my own business, a guy asks if I had a lighter, which I did and handed to him. As I looked towards the voice, I thought I knew this person. Do understand, that I can’t ever recall bumping into someone I know when traveling, anywhere. It’s always my travel partners who invariably run into someone when we’re far and away from home.

    He was probably in his late 60s, the face familiar. So I asked his name, which when I heard it, inquired “do you conduct or host tour groups?” To which he responded, “yes, I do.” That’s when I remembered where and when - it was Egypt in 2000. Six years ago, what a memory! He was surprised, let along that I remembered the group he had been escorting and the fact that one of them had taken ill.

    We talked for awhile, their BA flight had already been delayed, so had more time than they needed to hang out. For me, it was getting close on checking in, so we exchanged business cards. I proceeded back down the terminal for gate check-in, another security check, then taking a seat in the waiting lounge. We boarded and pushed back on time. Next stop AMS.

    For me, flights need only to take off and land and I’m a happy flier. Don’t care much about the food or entertainment. Have my drink, something to eat, read a bit and then pop a pill to sleep a few hours.

    We arrive in AMS at about 5:30am; a layover of 4-hrs until flight to EWR which is certainly better than the 8-hrs if I chose to return to JFK. No way. Newark will suit me just fine, though not my favorite airport, it’s better than hanging out in AMS, even if Schiphol is the most civilized of airports.

    I did go upstairs where they have lounges, great for catching some Zzzzzs, but they are all occupado! Few shops are open, so wait till 7am when I can pick-up some Lancaster products not available in the States. Then find a corner to read till it’s time to board my flight. Like the first flight this one boards and pushes back on time. Again, a drink, a bit of food, read, pop a pill and sleep. For those who remember my report from last year, I’m happy to report “no maggots” on this leg. Nothing eventful, but take off and land.

    Landing in EWR there is a wheelchair waiting for me, and this one I take as it’s a long hike through the terminal up and down escalators to Immigration and then to baggage claim. The attendant took me via elevators, gathered by bag and waited till I called for my car and where to meet my driver; then waited with me outside for about 5/minutes.

    Outside, it was cold and raining, and was sorry I had packed my jean jacket. So unzipped the duffle, out came the jacket and into the limo and drive into Manhattan, which due to weather and mid-day, mid-week traffic took a little over an hour rather than 45-minutes.

    Home at last! As much as I hate leaving Afree-kah, home is just that and I’m glad to be so I can start planning my next visit, which I’m already doing.


    Though my visits to Kenya and Tanzania in the past years have been somewhat more hectic than my pleasure visits when I first ventured to the dark continent, I always return totally rejuvenated. Afree-kah is good for me!

    As to the leg, well, I was still taking my pills and applying crème to those ankle bites. I returned on Wednesday; then on Monday I awoke and found the bite marks were gone – best, though, the leg was perfectly fine. Just as Dr. McDreamy had predicted… “in it’s own time, the pain, whatever it might be, would be gone.” Whoopie! I can now kick butt! How wonderful!

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    great report sandi, enjoyable reading. sounds nice to just be able to sit around at times and enjoy Africa instead of always being on the go. hopefully with a few more trips, i'll be able to do that also. glad the leg is better!
    thanks! dennis

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    After one heck of a long bus ride home last night (heavy traffic, it was raining) I have finally caught up to you Sandi. Just read the last little bit at lunch - a great report as usual. Your descriptions and stories are great - now I want to go to all those places too!

    And Leely - guilty as charged - I will finish my report this weekend!!! (hopefully...) And not only that, but maybe even catch up on the index....

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    Great report with wonderful details with that down to earth Sandiesk humor that we all love. So sad the saga is over, gal :S-
    I did wonder however, what the bit about the worms was about - had to read that 2x - kinda looked like you had worms on your leg ewww =; Oh no,I feared, she pushed too far this time and her leg started to decompose (things like this do happen often in Afreekah, although not in places like Shompole or the Desert Rose) - sorry, I'll stop.
    Anyhow, glad to know the limb has healed.
    Where next? Or do we have to wait for a surprise destination?

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    Thanks for all your comments. Sure seemed to take way too long to get thru this, and without notes. So neither the mind nor the hearing are gone or going.

    Sherry - "worms" or "maggots" the latter the episode on our return flight last year. I'm always amazed at what passengers take onboard. At lease now with limited carryon items (till they restrict us again... or by some miracle unrestrict), hopefully no creepy crawlies. The worms - well, the tingling in the leg this time, did almost feel if something was crawling through the lower leg. Something like scabbies can cause a similar sensation, but alas, it wasn't. Just a muscle pull of some sort.

    dennis - absolutely wonderful to just enjoy the sounds and sights from your tent; take time to absorb the surroundings without a schedule to keep. You'll get there yet, and I'm sure appreciate "down time" as I do.

    sharon, lynda, lynn - working on "where to next" and when. Was hoping for early Dec, or late Mar, but it seems like it'll be same ole, same ole late/May-early/June for 2007. Will keep you posted.

    everyone else - glad you enjoyed. I sure did!

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    Oh, I had forgotten about the worms (maggots?) on your plane the last trip. Sheesh, sure am glad you don't have those in your leg!

    Thanks for the wonderful report. I'm looking forward to living vicariously through you again. Hopefully soon.

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