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Trip Report Patty & Mark's 2006 Kenya Tanzania Report

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I'm having trouble posting tonight, so apologies if this appears multiple times.

Our itinerary:

Nov 28 - LAX-ATL-AMS
Nov 29 - AMS-NBO/overnight Hilton
Nov 30/Dec 1 - El Karama/Laikipia
Dec 2/3 - Larsens/Samburu
Dec 4/5 - Joy's Camp/Shaba
Dec 6/7 - Elsa's Kopje/Meru
Dec 8/9/10 - Olea Africana/near Aberdares
Dec 11/12 - Hilton/Nairobi
Dec 13/14/15 - Sand Rivers/Selous
Dec 16 - Holiday Inn dayroom/DAR-AMS
Dec 17 - AMS-ATL-LAX

Here are the accompanying photos in case you haven’t seen them yet

For this trip we wanted to revisit a couple of places where we had stayed last year and include some new places which for various reasons had been dropped during the planning stages of previous itineraries.

The Kenya portion was planned as an all drive itinerary and we would again be using the services of Eastern & Southern Safaris. Hearing the reports of torrential rains in East Africa prior to our trip, I started to wonder if we were going to make it to all (or any) of our destinations. One of the camps where we’d be staying was even temporarily evacuated a few weeks prior to our arrival due to the overflowing Ewaso Nyiro and I had visions of us sleeping in the van ;)

I’m happy to report that things went much more smoothly than I was envisioning the weeks leading up to our trip and we made it to each camp with only a few minor detours enroute.

Nov 28/29 – As before, we took the KLM flight into Nairobi arriving on the evening of Nov 29th. Kristina (safarimama) had seen my itinerary and emailed to let me know we’d be on the same flight. We met up at the AMS gate and chatted about our trips. She was kind enough to take a book for us to Ross at Samatian Island which was on her itinerary and wished me luck getting across the river on the way to Elsa’s Kopje.

On arrival at NBO, it was a quick stop at the visa counter, then downstairs for the much longer wait for luggage. I changed some money, getting only 67 KES to the dollar, yikes the USD has devalued since last year! We got a chance to say a quick hello to Kennedy who was there to pick up Kristina before getting a very warm welcome back from our guide Julius. I picked up some credit for my Safaricom SIM and then it was off to the Hilton.

It’s drizzling outside and Julius informs us it’s been raining for about a month already. I stold him I’d heard that there’s a big river we have to cross to get to Elsa’s. To which he replies there are 6 rivers we have to cross to get to Elsa’s :O

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    Nov 30 – This morning we made a brief stop at Eastern & Southern’s office to see Serah, hit an ATM and were on the road toward El Karama by 9:00am. I decided that since we’d gotten an early enough start, there would be time to stop at the Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy on the way. After lunch at the Trout Tree, we headed to the Mt Kenya Safari Club where we had to buy a day membership to enter so the total cost was 1630 KES per person for the visit. We spent about 2 hours on a guided tour through the facility and saw one of the 37 bongo whose offspring they hope to re-introduce to Mt Kenya. There are also a number of other furry, feathery and spiny critters here which visitors are allowed to feed (though not the cheetahs! ;) ). I left with somewhat mixed feelings. Some of the animals don’t look very comfortable in their small enclosures, there’s more of a petting zoo atmosphere than I’d expected (it’s hard to imagine that animals so habituated will ever be released), but on the other hand they do seem to have some worthwhile projects going on. Children will LOVE it. I must admit that I LOVED feeding the colobus monkey that figured out a way to get in and out of his enclosure.

    Back on the road by 4:00pm getting to El Karama in the late afternoon. It sprinkled some on the drive up earlier in the day but the afternoon was clear and sunny. Driving through the ranch on our way to the cottages, we saw reticulated giraffe, eland, zebra, impala, hartebeest, warthog, dik dik and Thomson’s gazelle, which was more than we saw on our game drive the following day ;) We got settled in, showered and checked out the new additions, most of which we like. The 4 cottages were finished, new furnishings were added to the common area, and solar lighting was installed (though we kind of miss the kerosene lamps). It was so green compared to last year and the river was swift and LOUD.

    It was nice to see familiar faces again and we got caught up on what’s been going on in the area since our last visit. At dinner we met the only other guests, a Swedish couple who are doing research for a coffee table book on hotels around the world owned by Swedes. We weren’t quite sure why they were at El Karama except for the fact that the tour operator they used, JK Safaris, is owned by Swedes and has a close relationship with the ranch. Another change from last year is that they now offer a fully catered option which we took advantage of so we didn’t have to bring our own provisions.

    Dec 1 – This morning we had a horseback ride planned and were fortunate to have clear but cool weather, perfect for riding. Murray’s sister, Laria, is in charge of the riding and we did quick checkout before given the clearance to go on a game viewing ride. It was a beautiful ride and in addition to the game we saw the previous day, we came across a leopard tortoise, some type of hare, baboons, and admired a widowbird in flight. The giraffe are very curious about riders and as we rode through the herd, some of them would actually try to approach us from behind. At one point it looked as if there were two giraffe “stalking” Mark.

    Back to camp for lunch and a quick nap and then out at 4:30pm for an afternoon/evening game drive. Joseph, the ranch guide, accompanied us for the drive. We saw lots of hares and various antelope but not much else this evening. It rained lightly on the drive and I actually fell asleep for a good part of it :"> We did hear a leopard when we stopped for “clouddowners” (was supposed to be a sundowner only the weather wasn’t cooperating) but we didn’t find it. Our exceptionally good luck last year wouldn’t be duplicated tonight.

    This evening it was just us at dinner and we remarked on how nice it was to start this trip in a familiar place where we could feel instantly at home. We left a few funny, or what we hope will be interpreted as funny, “suggestions” in their guestbook. We had read through all of the entries since our last stay and found some that we thought were pretty silly suggestion. One example was to cut down the trees in front of the cottages in order to have a better view of the river. So we simply took it a step further and recommended that all the vegetation on the ranch be cut down in order to see the game better, the waiters have uniforms complete with fez and white gloves, the Out of Africa soundtrack be piped into all guest areas, and other equally nonsensical stuff >:)

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    Dec 2 – This morning we left El Karama at 8:00am. What started out as light rain in the early morning turned into a downpour and was on and off again for most of the drive to Samburu. On the way, we stop in Nanyuki where I buy 2 more rugs at the Spinners and Weavers and tried to take out some more cash at the Barclay’s ATM only to find more than a dozen people waiting in line. Oh well, I think I have enough until we make it back through Nanyuki again later in the trip.

    I talked to Petra (who we’re staying with later in the trip) on the phone and found out that she was in Meru this morning and by chance heading to Samburu later today, staying at the Sopa with some clients. We were told to be on the lookout for a green Land Rover on our game drives, though we never did end up bumping into each other.

    The road is good up to Isiolo but beyond that is washboard dirt. We entered the reserve through Archer’s Post gate arriving at Larsens just before 1:00pm. Samburu is lush and green (nothing like the images I’d seen or pictured in my head) and there’s a lot of standing water. As we drove into the reserve we saw a vehicle heading out with 12 passengers inside. We found out that their other vehicle was stuck so they had to combine the passengers into one vehicle. Half the passengers were standing, half were sitting and there were two squeezed into the front passenger seat. I just hope they didn’t have to travel too far.

    We saw two more stuck vehicles on our way to Larsens and later found out that one of them (from Somak) had been stuck there since 8:00am. A rescue vehicle from Samburu Lodge came to shuttle the clients back to the lodge only to get stuck as well! A second vehicle from the lodge had to be sent to pick up the clients. Finally around 4:00pm the Somak vehicle had gotten pulled out and was able to leave with their clients but still had a long drive to Mt Kenya ahead of them.

    As we were having lunch at Larsens, a big French group started to arrive. There were so many of them that they ran out of porters and pretty soon the waiters started running over to help with the luggage. We were assigned to Warblers which is on the last tent on the east side of camp (left if you’re facing the river). Being the last tent meant we could leave the flaps open on one side at night. I usually like to leave everything open but the tents at Larsens are a little too close together to do this except for the end tents and then you can only do it on one side. All of the tents are set along the river with the exception of Starling and Cormorant which were set back behind the other tents on the east side, so I don’t think the river view would be as good from these two.

    The camp is full of vervet monkeys and most of them looked like they were carrying babies. We spent most of our down time watching them including one that got into a neighboring tent and stole their sugar packets. We decided the camp should be renamed Monkey Watch Camp ;)

    At 4:00pm we went out on a game drive. It’s unusually cool for Samburu due to the rains. We saw lots of dik dik up close including one nursing, they’re not shy at all here! I’d never gotten good dik dik photos prior to this. Also saw our first gerenuk here. At one point we saw a group of vehicles and headed over there. I asked Julius what they were looking for and his reply was “someone claims they saw a cheetah”. Claims? Hmmm… we looked but couldn’t find anything and decided to move on as there were too many vehicles vying for position. Later when all of the other vehicles had left, we returned to the same spot and that’s when the leopard emerged. We watched as it briefly looked to be stalking something. Other vehicles had started to return but by then the leopard had moved up a distant tree. We headed back to camp by 6:30pm as Larsens doesn’t have driver accommodations and Julius had to drive back to Samburu Lodge before dark.

    Dinner here is a 5 course menu with 3 entrée choices generally consisting of a red meat, fish, or vegetarian option (everywhere else we stayed had a set menu). We thought that several of the dishes were very good but a few didn’t quite live up to their description. We both agreed however that the desserts were all excellent.

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    Patty, the giraffes at El Karama sound very interesting – I’d love to be stalked by them - but not as interesting as your comments in the guestbook. :-D Looking forward to more.

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    great start Patty! I was going to ask how the animals reacted to you on horseback. Do you get closer than in a vehicle, are they more relaxed, curious? How do the horses react to the other animals? Waiting for the next installment...
    Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

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    Thanks everyone!

    The giraffe seem to be more curious and allow you to ride up closer. Other plains game are harder to get very close to. We've never seen cats on horseback so I don't know how they would react. Have seen elephants but we don't try to approach too closely. Aside from the giraffe, I'm not sure that you actually get much closer vs in a vehicle but with horses you can make your way through terrain where you might not go in a vehicle. The experience is more like a walking safari only there are no guns carried and you're expected to be able to ride out of trouble if necessary. For that reason, we're beginning to prefer riding to walking as an alternative to vehicle safaris. I'd rather not put a guide in a position of having to shoot an animal to protect us, however remote that possibility may be. The horses used on game viewing rides are very used to and relaxed around other animals though they do occasionally spook for whatever reasons. When we were riding on Sangare, one of the horses suddenly reared up. We think it mistook a branch for a snake. Last year at Malu, a dik dik darted in front of us and startled our horses and they started to bolt. You don't need to be an expert rider but you need to be proficient enough to stay on and maintain control when something unexpected happens, otherwise it becomes more dangerous and it's always better to understate rather than overstate your ability when riding anywhere for the first time.

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    Dec 3 – This morning we awoke to the sounds of a lion around 5:30am. At 6:30am we headed out to look for them, found a large male close to the river not too far from Larsens and saw another male along the sandy riverbank on the opposite side. There was heavy fog and we could just barely make out the second lion. The fog gave everything a mystical quality and it felt like we were watching a ghostly figure rather than a real lion walking across the sand. We didn’t stay long with the lion on our side of the river as there were several vehicles and I felt we were crowding him. We saw more gerenuk this morning and our first vulturine guinea fowl. They have a beautiful iridescent blue.

    We went back to camp for breakfast and as the temps were fairly cool, we decided we’d like to go back out after breakfast. Julius had to drive back to Samburu Lodge in the interim because he was in possession of the only key to his room and had to let his roommate back in. It would’ve been better if we’d planned things in advance, then he could’ve stayed and had breakfast with us at Larsens and not drive back and forth. Not a big deal but just FYI for anyone staying at Larsens with their own driver/guide.

    At breakfast I asked if we could have 3 packed lunches ready in an hour and to my surprise, they did. Our backup plan in case that didn’t work was to see if we could stop at the Serena for lunch. Back out at 10:30am, we saw two young eles playing in a mudhole and scratching on the trees. Two male buffalo started walking toward the eles and even though these eles were already bigger than the buffalo, they quickly ran off as the buffalo approached. We started heading toward Elephant Watch Camp on the west side of the reserve. Along the way we came across a stuck Land Rover Defender and, in the ultimate of ironies, used our van to pull them out.

    EWC wasn’t open yet but they graciously gave us a tour of the camp as they were getting it prepped for the season and even apologized for not having any drinks to offer us. The camp consists of 5 tents under thatch, each very different from another, but all having a very organic design. The ones we saw also had open air bucket showers. I really liked the intimate setting and size of the camp though you do pay a premium for this! Shortly after leaving EWC, we caught a glimpse of an elephant to the left of us just off the road. As we were watching this ele, we suddenly realized that there was a big bull walking right along the road coming around the corner toward us. We quickly backed up and gave way until he decided to move off the road. This one had the biggest tusks I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen pictures of bigger tuckers but not in person). I was awed by his presence.

    Next we stopped off at Intrepids since it was pretty much on the way toward the bridge. The manager greeted us and asked if we were here on inspection. Once it was determined that we were merely plain ole tourists, we were quickly shuffled off to his assistant ;) The real agents had arrived just after us and they needed his attention. OK I’m ragging on him just a little. He actually did come out to thank us for our visit as we were leaving and said we could stop by their Nairobi office to see a mock up of what the new tents would look like (there are pics on the Heritage website). They’re supposed to start renos next year with a scheduled completion in June.

    We crossed the Samburu gate, over the bridge to the Buffalo Springs side, drove up to a viewpoint to have our picnic and marveled at how every boxed lunch in East Africa consists of exactly the same items :D. This afternoon we saw beisa oryx, crocodile, grevy’s zebra, common waterbuck, olive baboon, and watched a goshawk devour an entire bird while the unfortunate bird’s mate/parent/whatever dive bombed the goshawk from the air without success. It was gruesome and riveting at the same time. It ate the feet and everything! We also saw our first male Somali ostrich. He’s even bluer than I imagined and treated us to a mating dance.

    At 4:00pm we start heading back to the Samburu side. There’s a bit of a traffic jam on the bridge as it seems like everyone is going to Buffalo Springs this afternoon. The bridge isn’t wide enough for two way traffic so we have to wait a while until everyone else crosses over before proceeding. On the Samburu side, we go to a spot where cheetah were seen earlier and find the mom with 4 nearly full size cubs. It’s amazing she’s successfully raised 4 cubs. We return to camp exhausted after a very productive day.

    Tonight we had dinner with Bill & Christina from Menlo Park, CA. This was their first stop on their first safari. They were headed to the Mara next, then meeting their daughter who had spent the last few months in Tanzania on a school project near Arusha, before visiting Ngorongoro and a few other places in Tanzania.

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    Patty and Mark,
    I'm back from a month in Africa just last night. I successfully delivered your book to Ross at Samatian Island with a copy of your pictures inside that you emailed to me so I could find you in Amsterdam. I enjoyed meeting you there and to introduce you to Kennedy at JKIA.
    Caro was lamenting that now Ross will disappear 'til the book is finished! He says thanks. Little Charlie is so cute!

    How was Joy's Camp? You are the first one to report on it.

    Your trip sounds wonderful so far. I can't wait to hear how you crossed 6 rivers to get to Elsa's Kopje.

    FYI, we flew over Sarara and I met the owners in Nairobi at the Bush & Beyond office. They can't re-open 'til the rains stop, so I guess they're still closed as it was still raining when I transited through Nairobi on the evening of the 27th of December.
    We had rain almost every day in Rwanda and Uganda as well. Gorilla tracking was wonderful anyway. More about that in another post, later.

    Kennedy met us when we arrived from Entebbe and took us to dinner at his home between flights. Val, his wife cooked up a typical African dinner for us and we watched his wedding videos. Linda will be jealous!! He says it's still raining in the Mara and the rivers are impassable. We couldn't cross the Talek River between Ol Seki and Rekero and had to charter a flight to get there. More later,

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    Hi Kristina!
    I can't wait to hear more about your trip. It was so nice meeting you at AMS and thanks again for delivering the book. I guess we were lucky not to have been able to book Sarara in the first place. Joy's Camp should be the next installment, hopefully later today. I tried to pick up a few brochures but they didn't have any yet.

    Do I get a badge? :D

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    Dec 4 – A couple of details about the camp I’ve forgotten to mention. They have a generator which supplies 24 hour electricity (enough to power the supplied hairdryer) and there’s a fan in the room, though it wasn’t necessary while we were there. The generator is located on the west side of camp and you could hear it as you walked along the path to the tents so I suspect you can hear it faintly from some of the 8 tents on the west side. The other 13 tents are located on the east side. We hadn’t requested a specific tent but were very happy with the location we were assigned. It’s probably the tent we would’ve picked if we had a choice. There’s also a small safe in the room though the safe isn’t bolted down to anything!

    We left Larsens at 9:00am after breakfast for the drive to Shaba. On our way toward Archer’s Post Gate we saw large herds of eles. They were everywhere we looked. When we arrived two days ago in the rain, there were no eles to be seen but they returned to the park as it started to dry out. We were told the eles move to higher ground when it rains. One other thing I forgot to mention is that there were a lot of flies (just regular flies, not biting ones) in the early morning and late afternoon in Samburu. I don’t know if this is due to the rains or they’re always there.

    Once we exited Samburu, it was simply a few kms down the road to the turnoff for Shaba. Natorbi Ogura Gate is then just another few kms down this road but to get to Joy’s Camp requires an hour or so drive through the reserve. As the roads in Shaba were also very wet, it took us a bit longer than an hour as we had to pick our way carefully and detour a couple of times. On the way we stopped at the Sarova Lodge which isn’t far from the gate. From the Sarova’s location, you could do game drives in either Shaba or Samburu though I gather the majority of guests head to Samburu. The lodge is located on the river gorge with all rooms facing the river and we saw several monitor lizards around. We also saw some Grant’s gazelle and common waterbuck on the drive to Joy’s.

    On arrival, we’re greeted by Jamie and Lara, the managing couple, and get settled into tent 3 before lunch. A big Italian group had just left and we’re the only guests here for the next two nights. There are 10 tents at Joy’s with the layout being 1-5, dining/common area, 6-10. The tents are well spaced apart so keep in mind if you choose/get assigned the farthest tents it can feel like a long walk in the hot afternoon sun. 3 has the most expansive, open view among the tents on the 1-5 side and in general, the 6-10 side has more woodsy views. There’s a low fence around camp and we’re told an elephant has already learned to step over the fence.

    The tents are huge, larger than the ones at Larsens, with entrances from the back. Lighting is in the form of solar powered LEDs so those who like to read at night may prefer to bring their own headlamp. I liked the way glass globes are used in certain areas to “warm up” the color of the LEDs. A generator runs in the morning and evening to supply power for recharging electronics. Bush laundry is included but no women’s or men’s underwear is washed. Most drinks are included though we felt this part could’ve been better clarified.

    Lunch started with a pasta course followed by a cold plate of prosciutto, salami, tomato/cucumber/mozzarella salad, fried cauliflower and shredded carrot/ginger salad. Dessert was fried bananas with chocolate sauce. We thought the lunches were delicious and perfect for the climate in Shaba (as I’m writing this, I decided to make myself a prosciutto, tomato, mozzarella salad for lunch). We actually found the lunches to be better overall than the dinners though the soup and pasta courses at dinner were always excellent. I still remember the wonderful spaghetti with creamy tomato sauce we had the second night. I would’ve been quite happy to eat that all by itself for dinner.

    There was slight confusion as to where Julius would stay. At first he was going to stay at the camp and go on game drives with us but during lunch we were told he decided to stay at the Sarova Lodge. I’m not exactly sure what transpired and if there was some miscommunication, but in any case he’d return on the morning of Dec 6th to pick us up.

    At 4:00pm we went out on a game drive with Letaloi, the head guide at Joy’s. Previous to this, Letaloi had been guiding at Tortilis for 14 years. The scenery in Shaba is absolutely stunning! We didn’t find abundant game but did see more gazelle, waterbuck, gerenuk and lots of birds including a yellow-billed hornbill, pair of Somali ostrich, eastern pale chanting goshawk, secretary bird, golden pipit, and a male kori bustard with his chest and tail feathers all spread out in a courtship display, which we’ve never seen before. I think the heavy rains translated into abundant insects which in turn translated into lots of birds, birders would be delighted. On our way back to camp, we saw a lone giraffe standing under the full moon. Letaloi said that during the dry season, there would be much more game around (a comment we’d continually hear through the rest of our trip). I kept thinking “yes, we know they’ve left for Angola”.

    A nice dinner, though I thought it a bit strange that the managers didn’t sit at the same table with us considering we were the only guests, but perhaps they just wanted to give us our privacy.

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    Dec 5 – A very bright night with the full moon. It felt like someone left a big torch on outside. Good coffee here, forgot to ask them what kind they use. Since we’re the only guests, we’re free to do whatever we want as far as a game drive schedule. We decided to try and head for Sharinki Falls this morning and left at 6:30am with a packed breakfast. On the way we saw a pair of secretary birds in a tree, another puffed up kori bustard, and some Grevy’s zebra. The game here is shy and don’t allow you to approach closely, hence we have even fewer photos than what we actually saw. This behavior though seems much more natural than what we experienced in Samburu and it feels like a true wilderness. Really, a nursing dik dik shouldn’t be found on the side of the road!

    We did make it to the falls, but the overcast weather doesn’t make for the best pictures and for some reason, I thought we’d be hiking to the base of the falls, but I guess you just view it from above. Our most exciting and unexpected find of the morning happened after we left the falls. We came across 3 young aardwolves, a species which we’d previously only seen once at night, in an area with some rock kopjes. They moved very quickly and we followed for a little while. We were never able to capture any photos or video, but the experience will live in our memories. As a matter of fact, I think I was so caught by surprise and enthralled with seeing these aardwolves that I never even put the camera up to my eye. I believe Letaloi was also surprised to see them during the day.

    We then drove down to a beautiful spot along the river to have our breakfast. The Ewaso Nyiro looks completely different in Shaba than it does in Samburu. It’s more of a rocky gorge in most areas. I’d love to see a small camp built along river. BTW I should mention that the flies in Shaba were even worse than Samburu and they didn’t let up during the day. Again these were just house flies and not tsetses, but we were a little worried about having breakfast out. It turned out to be no problem at all as there were no flies down by the river. We had a light rain shower after breakfast and on the way back to camp, saw a steppe eagle.

    We lounged around, had another great lunch, explored the camp, and swam before heading out again at 4:00pm. In the guest lounge, we found a strange map of Shaba, Samburu & Buffalo Spring. It was printed in 2005 and had a couple of camps labeled which don’t exist. One was named Chaffa Gafessa and it was labeled next to Sharinki Falls (great location if there was a camp) and another was named Olla Oda(sp?) which was supposedly a small tented camp in Buffalo Springs. No one we asked knew anything about them or even why they’d be in this relatively recent map. The only plausible guess being someone was considering building these camps. There were even accompanying photos (from a mock up somewhere in Nairobi perhaps?) of the camps. Anyone know or hear anything?

    Anyway, back to the game drive… we saw a mom and baby gerenuk and another gerenuk posing next to a termite mound (Lynn your latest obsession would be well rewarded here). We drove up to a viewpoint near Funan springs which offered a spectacular view with Shaba cone and Lapendela as a backdrop (this latter formation had differing names depending on who we asked). We also came across 4 bull buffalo, a troop of olive baboon hanging out on a rock face, and large herds of beisa oryx and Grant’s gazelle down by the springs.

    An elephant came to camp tonight while we were having our dessert and we watched and listened in the darkness. Overall we like this camp very much. The small details I’ve mentioned are nit picky. I feel it lacks the warmth and personality of a camp like Elsa’s Kopje or Sand Rivers but believe that will develop with time and it’s probably not fair for me to judge such a new camp based on these intangible qualities anyway.

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    Dec 6 – Julius picked us up at 8:00am from Joy’s Camp. As we drove out of the reserve, we again admired how the area was carpeted with beautiful wildflowers. We’re supposed to be meeting Joyce and Rod who were coming from Samburu at a designated location so we could drive to Elsa’s Kopje together. We were late getting there and I could’ve attributed this to the condition of the roads (yeah, that’s it! ;) ) but the truth is I think we dallied too long watching an eagle trying to feed from a bird’s nest. In this instance the parents were successful at driving the eagle away.

    It was great to see Joyce & Rod again (we met at the San Diego Wild Animal Park prior to our trips) and we chatted for a little while before proceeding. From this point on, I could simply say “refer to Joyce’s trip report for what happened the next two days” :D

    The drive to Meru was on mostly good road except for one appallingly bad but thankfully short lived stretch. The drive took us quite high in elevation before descending back down. I think from gate to gate, it was about 4 hours but coming from Joy’s added an extra hour or so and getting to Elsa’s took about 40 minutes, so in total it was almost a 6 hour drive, more than I’d thought. It rained on and off during the drive and was still raining when we got to camp. We saw an ele on the Murera plains not long after we entered the park. Had I known it would be the only ele we’d see in the park, I would’ve stopped for pictures ;)

    We counted each river as we crossed, thinking the next one would certainly spell the end of journey to Elsa’s. However, most turned out to be quite small and there was only one sizeable one to cross. It was all rather anticlimactic after the buildup in our minds but perhaps I wouldn’t be saying that had it been raining heavily. Since returning home and reading the recent reports, I think we were just very lucky.

    We arrive at Elsa’s in time for a late lunch and are greeted by our hosts, Anthony and Emma. I noticed a gamey (but in a good way) smell immediately and started to see the many rock hyraxes around camp. The camp is located atop a kopje with sweeping views. Each of the 8 cottages is very different and built into the rocks. We’re in Bisanadi (cottage 2) which is across a swing bridge from the dining area. I’d requested either Bisanadi or Ura (cottage 1) both of which are located across the swing bridge and have a bathtub on the deck.

    The outdoor bathtub turned out to be a better idea in theory than reality. First, it was a little chilly during our stay because of the rain. But the bigger problem was that thousands of ants poured into the tub when I tried to fill it. I cleaned it out once, tried to fill it again and the same thing happened. At this point, I could’ve summoned for help but the weather was not very conducive for outdoor bathing so I gave up on the whole idea. Joyce & Rod are in Kinna (cottage 7) just below reception which is also very nice with a sunken seating area and an indoor bathtub with a view which I was very envious of ;) and apparently there are some giraffe and zebra that like to hang out on that side.

    Laundry is also included here with the same restriction of no underwear. The drink policy is the same as at Joy’s only it was handled better here, but really I think the best solution is to just include everything. At this price bracket, I don’t feel a minor cost increase for a more inclusive experience is going to deter someone from staying here <minor quibble over>. Lunch was a buffet of pasta, moussaka and different salads, all very good. Joyce and I both lamented how we should’ve booked 3 nights instead of 2 and hoped that the rain would strand us here for an extra night.

    The rain stopped and at 4:30pm Joyce and I went on a game drive. The guys decided to stay back at camp and have a “game sit” at the bar. John was our guide at Elsa’s and Julius rode along in the front passenger seat. The area around Elsa’s is heavily forested with many rivers. The only area in Kenya I’ve seen with more growth is the Aberdares. In many places the tall vegetation was right up against both sides of the road. Consequently, most of what we saw (and we saw more than I’d expected) were fleeting glimpses of game before they darted into the brush. We saw giraffe, impala, waterbuck, gazelle, warthogs, dik dik, baboon and many birds including a white throated bee-eater, grey headed kingfisher, white browed coucal, pied wagtail, bateleur eagle and both helmeted and vulturine guinea fowl, see how good I’m getting at birds? ;)

    At one point we got out of the vehicle and walked down to the river bank to look at the hippos. Had we tried this the following day, I think we would’ve slid right into the river. Julius also spotted a bush baby in a tree along the side of the road. It took Joyce & I awhile to spot it. We looked and looked and finally saw its big eyes staring back at us. We got back to camp after dark around 7:00pm to find Mark & Rod waiting at reception to escort us back to our cottages.

    Dinner tonight was served on the lawn and I feared for my already very bitten up feet and ankles. No wonder Anthony & Emma both wear boots with heavy socks! It turned out to be OK and really, I’d stopped counting the bites by then.

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    Patty, great report. We'll be at Elsa's in about six weeks. Reading your impressions is making me even more excited.

    One question: Do you request specific tents at all of the camps you go to? Don't know if I should do the same. If so, Kinna seems like it might be up my alley.

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    I've made requests at a few of the camps where we've stayed and find that they're usually very good about accomodating our requests.

    Have you seen my camp photo album?
    There are some photos of Kinna (#312-317).

    Also check Joyce's report
    I think she has some more photos of Kinna.

    Have a great stay! Would love to hear your impression when you get back.

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    Dec 7 – A couple of things I forgot to mention about the activities at Joy’s Camp. They’re still working on the program but at some point there will be visits to Magado crater which is located outside of the reserve (somewhat of a longish day from what I understand) and in the dry season guided walks can be taken along the river gorge. Right now it’s possible to stay out on game drives until 8:00pm but they’re negotiating with the Isiolo council to see if they can stay out later.

    Back to Elsa’s… in the information packet in the cottage is a list of possible destinations for game drives and their approximate distances. We were somewhat limited in where we could go due to the rains but decided to try for the rhino sanctuary where no one had gone for the past 3 weeks. Joyce, Rod, Mark and I left camp at 6:30am with a packed breakfast. We made it there just fine and on the way saw zebra, hartebeest, giraffe, impala, gazelle, baboon, buffalo, a black bellied bustard and male Somali ostrich. After entering the fenced sanctuary, we came upon this beautiful valley littered with dozens of rhino! We picked up our binocs and oops, those aren’t rhino, they’re buffalo. Surely the ones over there are rhino, uh… no they’re not either. OK the ones to the left must be rhino. This went on until we realized every single one was a buffalo :">
    John must have thought we were the most clueless bunch he’s ever taken on a game drive. Deflated we continued on. We saw many rhino tracks and finally did come upon 5 white rhino grazing in an area with very tall grass. We decided to stop for breakfast right there and John set out a picnic for us on the bonnet. I sat on top of the vehicle and designated myself the unofficial lookout. Species seen at breakfast – a hammerkop and a frog.

    A rain shower started as we were leaving the sanctuary after breakfast. At one point it got heavier and John was very concerned about us getting wet and insisted on putting the top and side panels on. The roads were getting very wet and John decided to take a detour in the grass and this was where we got stuck. John got out and started putting brush and rocks under the tires each time saying “I’m sure this time it will work” :D Mark and Rod decided they would try to help. They have to climb out the front passenger side because the rear door won’t open with the side panel attached. Rod gets out of the vehicle and immediately slips and falls right into the mud. Mark already had one foot out of the vehicle when this happened and sat right down in the front seat and proclaimed “someone has to hold the low range in gear”. Rod is now coated in mud but otherwise fine and we all have a good laugh. Eventually we got unstuck. No one wanted mud caked Rod back in the vehicle so he had to put on his rain poncho and strip the rest of his clothes off, riding the rest of the way in only his rain poncho. It was the most hilarious game drive I’ve ever been on.

    We continued driving around and come across a KWS truck. Joyce & Rod ask me what they’re trying to tell John. I reply that I think they saw cheetah between marker 10 & 11, explaining that kumi means ten and kumi na moja means eleven. Rod asks me what the Kiswahili word for cheetah is to which I reply duma. He then asks if that’s how I know it’s cheetah. I said oh no, I know because he said “cheetah” :D

    We head over to try to find the cheetahs but no luck. We did however see a turtle, 3 bat eared foxes, eland, a grey duiker, spur-winged plover, water thick-knee and marabou stork before returning to camp. At one point a lesser kudu jumped across the road in front of our vehicle into the thick bush. Of these, I was only able to photograph the turtle and a few of the birds. Here in Meru, we also have our very first tsetse fly sightings. Luckily, there aren’t too many of them and they’re slow moving and easy to kill.

    Back at camp, Rod goes to wash up and we all meet later for lunch. Lunch was quiche and another nice selection of salads. After this morning’s adventure, we all decided to stay put and relax at camp for the rest of the afternoon. Mark and I spent some of that time setting up a scavenger hunt for Paul (kimburu) and his wife who were arriving on the 9th. We’d tried to find a set of big 5 trinkets throughout the trip for this purpose but ended up having to settle for hippo in lieu of buffalo. We found out they would be occupying the same cottage as us so the first clue was easy.

    Emma invited us to watch the Tsavo Story DVD in their cottage. As we were sitting there watching, rock hyraxes kept running past the entryway. Another rain shower started and we decided to wait it out in their cottage and do some more hyrax and vervet monkey watching. Emma also showed us a photo of the leopard cub that was in Ura cottage back in April.

    I’d been wanting to go for a swim all afternoon but each time, it would start raining. It was getting late and I was determined to try out the pool and decided to brave the weather. I couldn’t convince anyone else to join me and Mark, Joyce and Rod all sat at the bar. The view from the edge of the pool is magnificent and if I sat quietly, the rock hyraxes would start coming around. I stayed in until I couldn’t stand the cold any longer.

    Dinner this evening was back under thatch, a nice pumpkin soup, stuffed chicken and orange chocolate mousse for dessert. We’re leaving tomorrow which is much too soon. You know it’s a great place when you can’t bear to leave.

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    I'm really enjoying your report, Patty. And your pictures are great also.

    I'm off to Kenya in 16 days (meeting divewop there) and the rains sound a little worrisome. I hope I don't end up like Rod and fall in the mud.

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    Reading your account and Joyce's account of the same events gives an interesting perspective. Kind of like the Bible. I recalled that huge herd of rhino that turned out to be buffalo. And then, so that's where you both got those good bush baby photos.

    I am impressed with your birding knowledge. Soon you'll be doing photo IDs of the unknown birds captured on memory card. Thanks for staking out the gerenuk hot spots too. Between the gerenuk and your humorous comments in the log, I may have to make a getaway soon and see for myself.

    Visions of stampeding horses spooked by a dik dik are haunting me.

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    Yummm, pumpkin soup - such memories that you're bringing back with this well done report. Appreciate the time your putting in. Look forward to more and concluding whether or not this trip was as spectacular as your last.
    Thanks Patty;

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    Thanks for all the info on your trips. Makes planning a lot easier.

    We are planning trip for JUne 2007 and are considering Eastern & Southern Safaris for a private safari. You are evidently very satisfied with their service and price since you have gone on multiple trips with them. Are they good at solving any problems so your trip is not interupted? Who would you suggest for driver/guide for Kenya? Tanzania?

    We are in 60s, first trip and are considering:
    2 days Giraffe Manor
    2 days at Chui Lodge(Lake Naivasha)
    1 day Sweetwaters
    2 days Elsa Kopje
    2 days Elephant Watch or Larsens
    (would we do better to spend longer at Elsas and forego Ele Watch/Larsens?
    4 days Mara, [email protected] Moran/Little Governors and [email protected] Explorer
    2 days Amboseli Tortilis
    2 days Finch Hattons
    1 day Tarangire (Swala,Treetops,or Olivers
    1 Ng Crater Lodge
    4 Serengeti, Mara Sayari Mobile tented

    We want to see as much as possible since may never be able to go back. Some of this will be flying but any trip under 3 hours will be driven. Any other places we shouldn't miss as far as wildlife is concerned(this is our focus)
    Did you book safaris with E&S from the US? Any problem with this? How was money transferred?

    Any suggestions and comments you have would be greatly appreciated.

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    Ha ha Patty! Real fun in the rain. Glad you've got past Meru now so i can start posting my own report. ;-) I like your pictures by the way... you get better every year, but surely you've taken the S1 to the end of its useful life now?

    OCTraveler... you should post your question on a new thread - Patty reads them all anyway! Your questions are a topic on their own and you're more likely to get some varied feedback. Eastern & Southern are very reliable in my experience, by the way. One thing you need to take into account is that even by air travelling between parks usually means lost game drives - or else a really punishing schedule. If gameviewing is your priority I would think about that and balance it with your desire to see so many different places.... but like I said, post your own thread - it's a nice looking itinerary and I'm sure people will have lots of interesting things to say.

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    Hey kimburu,
    I can't wait to hear about your trip and the goodies that Patty/Mark left behind for you - so much fun and so amazing that 2 people from 2 sides of the world could do this.
    Only from Fodor's.
    Welcome back!
    sorry for the hijack - Patty

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    I agree with kimburu that you should start your own thread. You'll get more input this way and with the many difference places you want to visit, you'll want multiple heads working on this.

    As for your specific questions, we haven't encountered any problems during our trips that needed solving. Our flights, transfers, accomodations, everything have always been exactly as I booked down to the specific tent locations whenever I've made such requests and fortunately for us, no unforeseen problems have ever occurred. In Kenya, we got on very well with Julius on our first trip and have requested him ever since. In Tanzania, I can't make any recommendations because we've had camp guides.

    You'll actually be using camp guides and vehicles the majority of your time as your trip looks to be mostly flying. They're are only a few legs of your trip which might be 3 hours or less. On game drives conducted by the camp, you may be sharing with other guests depending on the occupancy level of the camp and size of your party unless you choose to pay for a private vehicle. If the camp occupancy is low or there more than 2 of you, it's very likely that you'll have your own guide and vehicle anyway but this isn't guaranteed.

    I'd choose more time at Elsa's in lieu of Samburu (sorry Lynn!) but if you have a specific interest in elephants, maybe you should keep Elephant Watch in your itinerary and cut some place else. Also I don't know if what you listed is the order you plan to visit these destinations, but you may need to adjust that based on flight schedules. For example, I believe the flights to Amboseli depart in the early morning. Therefore you wouldn't be able to fly back from the Mara and then fly to Amboseli (unless you chartered) and driving to Amboseli would be more than 3 hours. You may also need to make adjustments based on availability as June isn't too far away. You'll want to confirm availability soon.

    I booked our trips from the US entirely via email. For our first trip, I paid our initial deposit by credit card (there's a surcharge for this but I felt more comfortable doing so for our first trip) and our balance on arrival in travelers checks. For subsequent trips, I've just wired both our deposits and balances in advance. BTW Wamu offers free wire transfers with their free checking account.

    Hope this helps.

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    Dec 8 – A very sad morning as we finish packing up our stuff and get ready to leave. I will miss the screeching of the rock hyraxes and everything else about this place! We said our goodbyes to Joyce and Rod for now. They’re flying out later this morning and we talked of possibly meeting up later in the trip. As we were leaving, Anthony and Emma asked about the Taylors and that’s when we revealed that we’ve never actually met them before. I could tell they thought we were a bit odd.

    This morning’s agenda was to try to find Offbeat camp before leaving the park. On our way we also stopped at Leopard Rock Lodge for a quick tour. An assistant manager at the lodge wanted to see if he could get a lift to Nairobi and said that he knew the way to Offbeat, so off the 4 of us go. The road to Offbeat is very overgrown and wet and it doesn’t look like too many vehicles have traveled this way recently. “It’s a miracle we made it here” is how Julius described our journey ;) The camp was still being prepared for the season when we visited, but it looked like a nice, traditional bush camp with 6 tents set along the Bisanadi river.

    We left the park around 10:30am and didn’t travel too far before our vehicle started to overheat. Nothing fatal, just all the debris that had accumulated on the radiator from driving to Offbeat. A brief stop to clean it all off and we were back on the road again. We’re treated to a clear view of Mt Kenya today. We stopped at Kentrout Grill near Timau for lunch where they had picnic tables set up under the trees by a river. The food was OK, we think Trout Tree near Nanyuki has a bit better food with nicer atmosphere. It was very chilly and windy at this elevation.

    After lunch, we tried the Barclay’s ATM in Nanyuki again and this time I was in luck with no one waiting. At Naro Moru we take a short cut to Olea Africana. Last year we’d decided against taking this road as it was a bit wet and made a detour through Nyeri. Surprisingly, this year it was totally dry! We drove along the edge of Solio and spotted a few rhino and some plains game. With the help of our GPS, we knew exactly which turn to take off this road arriving at Olea Africana about 4:30pm.

    We say goodbye to Julius as he’s driving back to Nairobi tonight. He’ll be heading back to Meru in a few days to pick up Paul and Nam Wan from Elsa’s to continue with the rest of their safari. Paul booked his trip before me so I had to do a little creative planning around their schedule ;)

    Petra isn’t back from Nairobi yet (I’d let her know not to expect us until late) but we made ourselves at home. It’s a beautiful day today, the first without a cloud or hint of rain. Petra returns shortly along with Ray, an 80 year old cowboy transplanted from Wyoming, and Ray’s semi-adopted son, Museka. Museka is a deaf Maasai boy who has been living with Ray for 3 years. No one really knows how old he is but we guess he’s around 10. His mother had 7 children and could no longer care for all of them after his father left. They’re currently looking for a new tutor for him who can teach sign but it’s not easy to find someone out here. He’s a really bright, bubbly kid and is totally spoiled by Ray, Petra and their guests.

    We catch up over tea and sundowners, pausing to watch the bush babies jump from the trees to the roof and back into the trees, and discuss the next few days riding over dinner. We missed Petra’s daughter, Tessa, this time as she’s in Lamu with her stepmom. And sadly, we found out that Pia, the yellow lab, died shortly after giving birth earlier this year but Tak and Nusu as well as Mr. Elliott, the cat (looking just as battle scarred as he did last year) are still around.

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    Patty, What is Wamu? Does Eastern & Southern use their own vehicles or do they have a specific ground operator?

    You are doing Namibia next, am I right? Do you mind stating what company you used for Namibia?

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    Wamu is Washington Mutual. I had to convert my old free checking account into their new free checking account in order to get free wire transfers but I think any new account you open comes with it. Eastern & Southern is a small tour operator in Kenya with their own vehicle and guides. Serah and her husband are the owners and they currently employ 10 guides. In Tanzania, they use Leopard Tours as the ground operator.

    For Namibia/SA, I've booked my accomodations directly with the camps and lodges where we'll be staying. All of the ones we picked took direct bookings and I have a rental car reserved through Hertz.

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    Dec 9 – I slept in until 7:30am, the latest on this whole trip. After breakfast, we set off for Sandai, Petra’s ex’s place, about 45 minutes away where we’ll be riding from today. Museka comes along and immediately proceeds to put on Mark’s hat, chaps and gloves.

    We started from Sandai and rode toward Sangare Ranch. Shortly into the ride, I hear the James Bond theme playing. All I could think of is where on earth is that coming from? I’d forgotten I was carrying Mark’s phone. It was Joyce calling and they’d just arrived at Aberdare Country Club. Even though we were very close by, they were leaving right after lunch for the Ark and we’d just started our ride, so we decided to try to do something back in Nairobi later.

    We rode through beautiful rolling hills, crossed a stream and onto an area of open plains. We saw Thomson’s gazelle, Defassa waterbuck, impala, zebra, eland, bushbuck, buffalo, giraffe, a hamerkop and widow bird. At one point, my horse’s bridle came off as we were riding past the herd of buffalo. Ray thought it was OK to dismount near the herd and really there wasn’t much of a choice anyway. It was a slightly unnerving, although looking through my pictures now, I guess we weren’t really that close, it just felt like we were.

    We also rode to the small lake in front of the tented camp at Sangare, a lovely spot. I asked but no one really knew what the status of the camp was. I’m still trying to find out so if anyone knows, please post.

    After the ride, we had a nice picnic on the verandah in the afternoon. It’s another sunny day with clear views of Mt Kenya. I wasn’t quite prepared for this and got a pretty bad sunburn on my arms and hands. It’s a long sleeve shirt and maybe even gloves for me tomorrow! At dinner tonight, we met Petra’s boyfriend, Jim, who had driven up from Nairobi for the weekend.

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    OC Traveler, I agree with patty that Meru is preferrable to Samburu. In June, you should see plenty of elephants there as they will come back into the park.

    Patty, welcome back. I was a bit worried about Meru because the game tends to disperse toward higher ground (Bisanadi) during the rains, but it sounds like you saw a lot. Awesome trip...

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    Do you think Meru is preferable to Samburu all year round? Do you prefer it for the amount or type of game? The remoteness? The accommodations? You can see I want you to expand your comments.

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    I have been to Samburu three times and Meru once -- all during the dry season. Although I have not been around during the "green" season, I do know that the game tends to disperse at both places.

    I do have a clear preference for Meru (at least during the dry season). The game is similar -- most the northern species are represented in both parks (gerenuk, beisa oryx, Grevy's zebra, somali ostrich, etc.). At Meru, you have a brilliant chance of seeing lesser kudu -- but only 7-8 Grevy's zebras left from a translocation. At Samburu, lesser kudus are only occasional vagrants, but you get greater kudu -- and a brilliant chance of seeing Grevy's. Samburu is better for leopards and cheetahs. Lions are well represented in both parks. Meru has translocated white rhinos.

    Most of all, I think Samburu is a more condensed experience (you can see everything in a day and half). Meru is much bigger, so you have to cover more ground to see everything -- but the roads are very good for getting around. The scenery is more diverse and interesting at Meru. The best of all there are no throngs of mini-buses at Meru. You can have the whole park to yourself. I am going back to Meru in August.

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    Great report Patty - I am enjoying this so much. Excellent information rgarding Petra's, Samburu and Meru.

    I'm looking foward to the Selous 'chapter' as the Southern Circuit is also on our itinerary.



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    Patty, Wamu sounded so Swahili. Can you post your Namibia itinerary or put a link to it if you've already done so?

    Safaridude, thanks for your elaboration on Meru and Samburu.

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    Dec 10 – I woke up at dawn this morning and took some photos of Mt Kenya as the sun rose. Today we rode from Petra’s place through farm land and villages. Petra wanted to show us a plot of land she’s thinking of buying so we stopped there for a picnic. After lunch, Ray, Petra and Jim wanted to visit another property and we decided to tag along. We all hopped in the Land Rover and started driving along what was supposed to be a 45 minute short cut on back roads. 2 hours later after getting lost and nearly ending up in Rumuruti, we arrive at what was once a guest ranch but has been closed for many years, not far from the Aberdare NP Rhino gate. The ranch buildings have seen better days but driving through the property, we could see lots of zebra, gazelle and other plains game. I momentarily fantasized about living the non-politically correct lifestyle on a Kenyan ranch before snapping back into reality ;)

    On the way back to Olea Africana, a heavy rain shower started, turning what had been a relatively dry road to a slick mess. We made it back by driving along the ditch, occasionally scrapping along a barbed wire fence as we passed. It wasn’t pretty or elegant, but at least we weren’t stuck out there after dark.

    At dinner we met Petra’s friend, Alexis, who is a pilot and was flying a client from one end of Kenya to the other. They had been to Kalacha, Desert Rose, and Samatian and were headed to Shompole in a couple of days. Alexis needed to fly back to Nairobi in the morning to change planes, so we’re given the option of hitching a ride with him if we want instead of driving back to Nairobi tomorrow. He’s quite a funny character and spends most of the evening entertaining Museka with his antics. We think he’d be great to go on a safari with.

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    Dec 11 – In the morning, we said our goodbyes as everyone came to see us off at the airstrip on a neighbor’s property. Museka is coming along for the ride and Alexis will bring him back when he returns in the afternoon. I half jokingly volunteered to be co-pilot and after reaching cruising altitude, Alexis has me take over the controls (mind you I’ve never piloted an aircraft before). OK, up, down, left, right, I think I got it. This ain’t so hard ;) I got to fly for about 20 minutes and descended to 6500 ft before Alexis took over again and landed at Wilson – what I don’t get to land on my first flight? ;)

    What a thrill and unexpected surprise to be piloting a plane over Kenya with Mt Kenya on one side and the Aberdare range on the other! I thanked Alexis for the opportunity and we said goodbye to him and Museka. Now that we had the remainder of the day free in Nairobi we had to figure out what to do. We hadn’t expected to be back until later in the afternoon. While we were waiting for a taxi, I called Sheldrick to see if I could change tomorrow’s appointment to today. They said no problem, come at 5:00pm. That settled, we decided to head to the Junction first for some shopping and lunch.
    I did some Christmas shopping and stocked up on sandals for myself, and Mark bought another beaded belt. We picked up some more Java House expresso roast and decided to give Dorman’s another try (conclusion – we’re sticking to Java House in the future). Lunch was at Mediterraneo, great Italian food. I had tuna tartare to start and a porcini mushroom risotto. Mark had the paparadelle with roasted duck and penne with prosciutto and mushrooms. Not knowing their portion sizes, we ordered way too much food but it was all so good.

    After lunch, we were at a loss for what to do until our Sheldrick’s appointment. We didn’t want to head downtown only to fight traffic back down to the park later. I’d heard of a butterfly center somewhere in Karen and our driver, Martin, said he’d taken some people there a few years ago and knew about where it was. We drove around and around looking for the place, I tried calling the number in my Bradt guide but there was no answer, and we asked several people on the road who’d never heard of it until we finally came across someone who told us it had closed down :(

    At this point, somewhat reluctantly we decided to go to the animal orphanage at Nairobi NP. Admission was free for children today so the place was very busy. It was nice to see so many kids here as it may be the first time they’ve seen a lion or cheetah. At the same time, I was very sad for the animals that were housed there due to the limited amount of space and somewhat neglected facilities. There were lots of people petting and having their picture taken with an ostrich. A keeper kept coming by and asking them not to touch the ostrich but as soon as he was gone, the ostrich petting resumed (although I must say the ostrich didn’t seem to mind).

    We moved on to the safari walk which was equally busy but much more pleasant in contrast. At least here there was a somewhat natural setting and much larger areas for the animals. Raised wooden walkways take visitors through much of the facility. Being the only wazungu wandering around, I think Mark and I were as much of an attraction as anything else!

    We got to Sheldrick just before 5:00pm. There was already a family with 4 kids waiting and after a short wait they let us all in. We were free to watch the eles come back in and walk around and visit with the 12 nursery babies and their keepers. We also got to see Shida, the rhino, again. A tiny 2 month old baby greeted Mark twice with her trunk. We stayed for about an hour before heading back to the Hilton.

    Martin initially wouldn’t quote us a price for the day saying that he’d give us a good price at the end of the day. While I normally wouldn’t recommend setting off without agreeing to a price first, we thought it was OK since Alexis had called him for us. When we got to the Hilton, Martin asked for 5500 KES which I thought was a fair price for driving us around for 8 hours.

    We checked in, I went to the internet café across to street to check email and we had a light dinner at the pub in the Hilton as neither of us really felt like going out.

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    Hi, Patty,

    Thanks for the report - it makes great reading, especially as we are considering a safari in some of the same areas, with eastern and southern.

    your time with them was clearly a good one, but i am a little concerned that their web-site talks about them using converted minivans, not land-rovers. What was your experience?

    Are there any tips that you would like to pass on to 1st timers like us?

    Thanks a lot,


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    Eastern & Southern uses 4WD vans. Late July should be dry and you shouldn't have any trouble getting around the areas on your itinerary. Even with amount of rain this December, we made it everywhere. I'll post some more comments on your itinerary thread.

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    You might remember my comment about the drive to Elsa’s being “anticlimactic”. Be sure to read Paul’s recent account of their attempt to cross the same rivers getting out of Meru a few days later if you haven’t already (quite a difference a heavy rain makes)

    Also I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this already but one really nice thing about the rain, beside the green landscape, is the absence of any dust on this trip!

    Back to the report…

    Dec 12 – Joseph from Eastern & Southern picked us up this morning (originally this was our free day in Nairobi to go to Sheldrick, etc.). I really wanted to visit the National Museum, but it was still closed for renovations. We decided to do a little more shopping and headed to Village Market, an open air mall in the northern part of Nairobi. They have branches of some of the same stores you’ll see elsewhere like Kazuri, Kitengela Glass, that kikoy and t-shirt place that I forget the name of. There was a curio store called Blue Rhino that looked interesting but it was closed for Jamhuri day. Some of the stores are on the expensive side and we didn’t actually find anything new to buy, but they do have a pleasant open air food court which would’ve been a nicer place for breakfast than our hotel.

    We left and went to Sarit Centre next as there was a curio/craft store there called Banana Box that I wanted to check out. They have a nice collection of items from different parts of Africa and I bought a few Christmas ornaments and some more gifts here. We went to Tamambo across the street at the Westlands Mall for lunch. I don’t how to describe the food exactly, perhaps African fusion? Anyway I tried the carpaccio (OK so nothing particularly African or fusion about this) and Mark had roast duck with green peppercorn sauce, both were quite good and this is another restaurant we can highly recommend.

    After lunch, we stopped by the Norfolk for a look and a drink and headed back to the Hilton for a swim. Swimming didn’t turn out to be such a great idea as the afternoon sun was completely blocked by the British Airways building across the street. I sat for a little while by the pool with a towel wrapped around me and watched a few brave guests venture in. Joyce called in the late afternoon and said they were back from Naivasha and invited us to Pam and Hank’s house for pizza. We took a cab to Runda and found their house easily thanks to Pam’s excellent directions (our cab driver would’ve never found it with just the address). We got caught up on everything since Elsa’s and enjoyed our last evening in Kenya with new friends.

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    A great read, Patty. Flying the plane(!!!), and it sounds like Kenya is a kind of second home to you and Mark now.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Selous.

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    It's been a great read. Waited till the end, but it's not yet the end. Also waiting to read the Selous portion. Whenever, you're still faster than I am with my reports.

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    Dec 13 – We had a 7:50am flight to DAR this morning so Joseph picked us up at 5:30am. I woke up feeling slightly queasy but didn’t give it much thought as I assumed it was just because I got up so early. No traffic at this hour and it was even too early for the “porters” who usually hang around outside the terminal. There was a longish queue for the baggage x-ray to enter the terminal as there are several intra-Africa flights departing in the morning, but it wasn’t too long before they opened up the second x-ray machine.

    We got checked in, went through passport control, Mark grabbed a coffee at Java House and we waited at the one empty table we could find at the snack bar next to gate 4. I was starting to feel a bit worse by this point, so we waited until the last possible moment before going through security to enter the gate area. We boarded a very full flight and took off just a few minutes late. We arrived in DAR just after 9:00am and went straight to the visa counter. They required both landing cards and application forms here. There’s one guy who collects each passenger’s documentation, passport, payment and after reviewing it, passes it onto one of the immigration officers behind glass. Then each party waits in a small seating area until their names are called.

    While I was waiting for our visas to be processed, I saw a sign that stated transit visas were $30. I asked the “collector” guy how long they were good for. He replied 7 days. I asked if we could change our application from a single to a transit visa only to get a response of “no, no, no, very dangerous”. The whole process took about 10-15 minutes.

    We picked up our bags and were met by Joseph from Leopard Tours outside. We immediately noticed how much warmer and more humid it is in Dar. I changed most of my remaining Kenyan shillings into Tanzanian shillings. We looked for an ATM and found 2 but both were Visa network so weren’t compatible with my card. I’d brought enough USD just in case and it turned out that we could easily get by with that for what we needed to pay on this trip. I was surprised to find even the taxi drivers took USD.

    Joseph gave us our DAR-Selous tickets and drove us to the Coastal terminal which is in another part of the same airport just a 2 minute drive away. There were Coastal baggage handlers outside the terminal who took our bags from that point on. We checked-in, paid our $5pp departure tax and waited for our charter. When the flight to Zanzibar was called, everybody but us cleared out of the waiting area.

    When I was planning the trip, I had contemplated how best to get to Selous. Neither of the Kenya Airways NBO-DAR flights that day connected well to the scheduled flights to Selous. We could’ve taken the afternoon Coastal flight to Selous leaving us with a 5+ hour layover in DAR but decided to splurge for a charter instead. This turned out to be an excellent decision because 1) I was feeling much worse by that afternoon and 2) I got my second flying lesson :D

    We take off shortly after 10:00am with Thomas as our pilot. I asked if I could co-pilot mentioning that I already had prior experience on the same type of aircraft ;) I flew for about half an hour this time, we reached a max altitude of 6500 ft and descended to 2000 ft before Thomas took over for the landing at Kiba airstrip. Another wonderful experience flying over the Rufji and lakes of Selous, priceless!

    Rem, our guide from Sand Rivers, met us on arrival for the half hour drive to camp (he drove very, very slowly). On the way to camp we saw a very lush and green landscape with lots of vegetation (no surprise!) and some impala. Rem asked what we’d like to do this afternoon and I said “let’s see how lunch settles” as I hadn’t tried eating anything yet. I also need to mention that it’s very hot in Selous in December! I asked Rem if it cooled off much at night and he replied that it did. Later we came to realize that Rem’s idea of “cooling off” must be very different from ours ;)

    On arrival at camp, we were greeted by Antonia, Antonia (no, that’s not a typo) and Squack. I’m not sure if they always have 3 managers there or if someone was just temporary but they were the hosts during our stay. We were shown to cottage 1 which is the one closest to the lounge. I’d requested a cottage near the lounge based on comments by Eben and others that these had better views of the river, and cottage 1 had been confirmed to us back in July. I was very happy with this choice not only for the view but also because I don’t think I could’ve made the walk to a farther cottage over the course of the next few days. Despite its close proximity to the lounge and dining area, this cottage is still very private and you couldn’t hear the other guests (well, not until the 7 kids showed up!).

    While showing us the various features of our cottage, Antonia gave us a “How to Deal with Bugs in Selous in the Rainy Season 101” course. Particular emphasis was placed when we came to the box of assorted insect paraphernalia in our cottage. We were advised to use its contents liberally and that our mosquito netting would be Doomed at turndown but that we should Doom it again before going to bed. We were also told about the blister beetles and that if one should land on us, we should quickly flick but not brush it off as brushing might lead to its secretions getting on our skin causing red welts (hence the beetle’s name). Another guest had fallen asleep in the lounge last night only to wake up with welts on his chest. What have I gotten myself into was the first thought that came to mind?! :-O

    This day is getting so long winded I’m going to have to do 2 installments.

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    We heeded Antonia’s warnings, doused ourselves with repellent and headed to lunch where we met the two other couples at camp, Judith & Allen and Miranda & David, both from the UK. Lunch was a buffet of pork ribs, rice with cashews and raisins, avocado salad and breadsticks. The ribs looked delicious and tempting but I didn’t dare touch them instead settling for some rice and a breadstick. I got steadily worse after lunch so skipped the afternoon activity. Mark didn’t feel like going out either and stayed at camp with me.

    I went back to the cottage and took a nap in front of the fan. Thank God for 24 hour electricity. That and the pool are the only things keeping the afternoon temps tolerable and the fan also helps to keep the bugs at bay. Everyone was very concerned about my well being and worried that I’d get dehydrated. Squack even mixed up a pitcher of rehydration salts for me which I can only describe as awful, nasty stuff. We went for a late afternoon swim and stayed past sunset watching the hippos, storks, herons and other birds in the river. The camp is perfectly placed on a bend in the Rufiji and the sunsets over the river are spectacular.

    I wasn’t up for dinner and went to bed early. Mark dined with the other guests and reports a bush baby in the lounge attempting to sneak food before being chased away. Game viewing reports from other guests are that they’re seeing sparse game though someone at camp did spot wild dogs about 6 days ago. We slept with the fan on all night.

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    Dec 14 – We awoke to the loud thuds of monkeys jumping on our thatch roof and the grunting of hippos. The cottages here are all open air and apparently we had company sometime during the night as we found the pitcher knocked over in the morning. I don’t think it liked the rehydration salts either. More cottage visitors included two large millipedes mating and there was a resident frog in our shower which we were very careful not to step on.

    At breakfast I was feeling a little more energized and ate a bit of granola. As far as doing anything, that still wasn’t going to happen. This would be another day of napping in the cottage and lounging by the pool. Lunch was in our cottage. Mark had pizza, beet salad and cole slaw and I asked them to make some plain crepes for me. Unfortunately, I hadn’t even gotten much of it down before everything came back up. Antonia found some anti-nausea pills for me but I promptly threw that up too (you didn’t want me to leave out any details, right? ;) ).

    Everyone felt really bad for me, but I assured them that I couldn’t think of a better place to be sick. We spent the afternoon at the pool and saw some waterbuck on the opposite bank of the river and rain and lightening in the distance. We met a newly arrived family with 3 girls who had just come from the Serengeti and stayed for another beautiful sunset before going back to our cottage.

    We returned to find the laundry we’d left yesterday clean and neatly pressed. Sand Rivers wins the award for best bush laundry. I didn’t think I should chance eating anything so stayed back at the cottage while Mark dined with Miranda, David and our hosts. I fell asleep on the sofa only to be awoken by a lizard crawling across my leg. I decided it was best to move under the mosquito netting, not because I minded the lizard but I was deathly afraid of those blister beetles.

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    Dec 15 – I was feeling much better this morning and we went out for an early morning boat ride and headed upstream. We saw lots and lots of hippo, crocs, giraffe and waterbuck along the banks and too many birds to name. Just a partial list of the birds we saw consists of goliath heron, black-headed heron, fish eagle, green-backed heron, pied kingfisher, black-headed plover, yellow-billed stork, hooded vulture and white-backed vulture. Being on the river is so peaceful and relaxing. Of the limited activities we were able to sample here, the boat ride was definitely my favorite. I wasn’t up for a long morning out so we turned around about halfway to Stiegler’s gorge. I hear that’s a very nice 4-5 hour trip.

    I was famished when we arrived back at camp and ate a little bit of everything at breakfast which all seemed to settle well. We watched a monitor lizard on the bank by the dining area and I went back to the cottage for a nap. Just before lunch, another family with 4 kids arrived bringing the camp to full occupancy.

    Lunch also seemed to settle well which I think was as much of a relief to our hosts as it was to me. After another swim, we went out on a game drive at 4:30pm. As with the boat ride, it was just the two of us with no other guests and each party had their own guide. We drove a circuit around the lakes near Sand Rivers and back along the river front. In addition to what we saw on this morning’s boat ride, we saw impala, zebra, eland, buffalo, baboon, one adolescent ele and the silhouette of many marabou stork perched in the trees as it was getting dark.

    We returned to camp at 7:30pm. I was feeling tired from the day’s activities, so we had dinner in our cottage. There was more lightening in the distance across the river, but no rain so far on this side during our 3 days here. We made sure to put our leftover dessert in a box before going to bed.

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    Dec 16 – It was muggy and overcast this morning with rain on its way. We had breakfast, packed, and went on a game drive before heading to the airstrip. We found a very not shy warthog and a herd of buffalo. Rem said we should come back in the dry season when there’s much more game around. Our plane back to Dar was a big 12 seater Caravan. Unfortunately, they already had a co-pilot on this one :p The only other passengers were two women on their way to Sable Mountain Lodge, so we made a quick stop at Matambwe airstrip to drop them off before proceeding to Dar.

    You’re probably wondering what I thought of Sand Rivers and Selous in general. As for the camp itself, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. They do every little thing right and really take care of you. Having our own private game activities even if we could only take limited advantage of it was a real plus. Would I recommend Selous at this time of year? Only if you like heat and humidity 24/7 ;) The air was also very still so there was nothing to mitigate the heat. Would I recommend a stay at Sand Rivers in the green season? Not if game viewing is a priority, but if you simply want a really nice place to relax and unwind in a beautiful setting with some game thrown in, you can have a very enjoyable stay.

    Back in Dar, we took a taxi to the Holiday Inn where I had booked a day room. Our driver, Jackson, asked if we needed a ride back to the airport so we arranged a pick up time with him this evening. We spent the afternoon by the pool, rearranged our packing for the long trip home and had dinner and a nice long shower. We left the hotel at 9:15pm and arrived at the airport 15 minutes later, Jackson would make a good matatu driver ;)

    Security, check-in and passport control were very quick and we waited for our flight in the Tanzanite lounge. Our flight to AMS was slightly delayed and departed around 12:30am. I slept most of the way and woke up just before breakfast was served. Two more flights and 30 hours after we left Dar, we were back home.

    Next up for us is a trip to Capetown and Namibia in September, but I find my thoughts drifting back to East Africa. Don’t know when we’ll return yet but I already have a few favorite spots picked.

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    Patty, sorry you were so very sick, but I'm a little disappointed you weren't more graphic in your descriptions of your illness. I didn't even see the word VOMIT. Next time try to do better.

    Thank you for another terrific report. I appreciate your insights, your humor, and your willingness to really get out there in the field and do good Fodor's research.

    Watch out Cape Town! Watch out Namibia!

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    Now if these most recent comments had been in the Fodorite Lounge, they would be blasted. That's how things have been going over there lately.

    Thanks, Patty, for your candid remarks on Sand Rivers, Selous, mid-December. Actually a non shy warthog that is not a camp resident is quite a find.

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    Thanks for another well-written, fun trip report, Patty! Really enjoyed reading it, and seeing your photos too. I'm sorry you were sick for part of the trip, but having been in that boat myself I can vouch for how much more you appreciate your lodgings in that case. I had a horrible, bone-shaking case of the flu during a 5-week trip around New Zealand a few years ago, and by some stroke of good fortune it hit me exactly at the point where we had a cabin (with private bathroom!) at Mount Cook. The rest of the time we'd been staying in hostels, on boats, or camping... so I'm sure you can imagine how grateful I was for that cabin! Sounds like you managed to enjoy yourself even while sick (and, you know, I really don't mind that you left out the vomit details...)

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    My level of French is quite basic. Sure, I can manage a menu and gracious amenities. Can also kind of figure out what a new word might mean. So, walking thru the Roman amphitheatre in Nimes, I noticed signs on the walls reading "vomitoir." Okay, yeh, got it, but what is that word doing in this environment, and it wasn't in my dictionary. So, I asked. Well, surprise, surprise... you learn something new every day... it means "exit" - Who would have thunk!

    So Patty, whether is was or wasn't projectile, it was still vomit. We're all friends, so we share everything. It's terrible for anyone to be hit with the grippers, more so in strange and distant places without our expected comforts. But, if you have to choose a place to vomitoir whatever is bothering you... Sand River and many other of this year's stops were ideal. Rather an upset tummy, than not to be in Afree-kah!

    Again, thanks for a great read.

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    Thanks for providing such a descriptive report of your experiences. For a first timer, would your recommend Larsen's camp at Samburu or Joy's Camp at Shaba...this would be for the end of Jan/ early Feb timeframe. If it makes any difference, I have a bird I'm not interested in birding...rather avoiding them as much as possible! Thanks for your help.

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