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Trip Report Rwanda/Kenya Company Review and Trip Report

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Here is my trip report up until we get to Kenya for our safari. Gosh, i didnt know how much work this trip report would be. Just got in yesterday so hopefully ill work on finishing this weekend!

Rwanda and Kenya trip report. Yes, I was supposed to do Tanzania as well, but if you read further you will discover that budget camping was not as great as I thought it would be, so I changed my flight and had my friend come hang out with my sister in Tanzania while I came back to the comforts of the USA. I know that sounds crazy to many of you who would give anything to be able to spend as much time in Africa as possible, but I was just not as prepared as I thought I would be and needed to get home.


Camera used: Canon S3 IS
Setting notes: Try and keep the ISO at 200 or lower. During gorilla tracking I had it at 400 and you can see the noise it created. For the price, this camera is great though. If youre a novice like me, I would keep the setting on Program (P) instead of auto. Auto puts the ISO too high create noise and Program still keeps the settings pretty basic and automatic, but you can adjust the ISO.

Ill also be posting some videos on YouTube under the username Jenbertoni for those interested. I did a couple already but I guess they haven’t processed yet.

Company used: R&N Xplorer
Guide: Mobutu
Review: If you read the Rwanda section you will see we had issues with our permits and our guide. They outsource to a company called Mercator Assistance. I have emailed R&N and they were shocked to learn of this situation and are refunding us right away. I am pretty sure this is an isolated situation and I don’t think people should be afraid to use R&N because they have had other great reviews here. If anything, just book your gorilla permits directly through the ORTPN yourself to be safe, the rest was fine. I would still use them again.

Company used: Gametrackers
Guide: Steve
Cook: Peter
Review: Everything went according to plan and we got along great with Steve and Peter. We became a little family. I would use them again and would definitely recommend them.

Day 1/Travel Day
Today we were finally leaving for Africa and I could not believe it! I am 23 years old and never though I would be going to Africa, at least not this early in my life! We spent the day running around to banks trying to get new and crisp bills. Being right after Chinese New Year, this was proving to be very difficult. I wasn’t sure if I was expecting too much crispness from my bills, but these forums made it sound verrrrry strict, so I wasn’t taking any chances! Eventually I got bills that satisfied me and we headed for LAX for our British Airways flight. I am really scared of flying and was having a nervous breakdown before the flight. I am one of those people who always asks God for signs of whether or not I should go on certain trips. After checking in, we were in the security area where suddenly we heard yelling and everything stopped. Of course this scared me and I took it as a sign that I should not be going. Then, I was stopped by security and everything was searched thoroughly. This never happens to me, so of course this was another sign I shouldn’t go, right? After security, we made it to our gate and waited for a while. When they started boarding, my sister (jess) and I waited till the last second because we hate waiting in the line of people just to get on the plane. Suddenly I realized I didn’t have my passport! Sh*t! Did I leave it at security while I was being searched? I ran off to find out. They lazily told me to hold on and asked around if anyone had seen my passport. Then a woman said, are you sure this is the right security checkpoint? I looked around and said, hmm I don’t think this looks familiar now that you mention it. It was literally 2 minutes till my flight was to take off and I had to run off to a further security checkpoint. They too lazily told me to hold on. I was just hoping my sister had found it in my baggage somewhere that I missed in my panic. I told them I had to go since they couldn’t seem to find it and ran to my gate praying jess found it. Then I heard my name on the intercom saying I needed to come to my gate and my boarding info was there. Oh good, I figured this meant Jess found my passport! I was sprinting through the airport and ran into 3 BA staff members who told me to keep running. It was like I was in a movie or something. We were the last to board and the flight waited for me. This was definitely my 3rd sign that I shouldn’t be going to Africa though. That’s what my crazy mind though anyway. I was so tired from running that I didn’t care anymore.

We finally took off and me n Jess took our Ambien. Wow, no one here told me how amazing that stuff was! I had a small glass of wine with it, which was probably not the best idea, but it really knocked me out. It didn’t make me sleep right away, but it put me in this weird haze and I only remember bits and pieces. All I know is that me and jess woke up with food on us, our computer out (though we don’t really remember even taking it out) with only 2 hours left in the flight. Hell, we didn’t care what happened in the mean time, our 10 hour flight was almost done and we didn’t remember any of it! I did remember my sister trying to eat her chicken dinner before passing out though. She was like an animal and at the time I didn’t think it was weird at all. She just like picked up the plate and tried to bite the chicken without using a fork. It seemed so normal whilst in my Ambien induced coma, but looking back it was totally weird! Hopefully no one noticed.

We finally landed at LHR and waited for hours before our final flight to Nairobi. Boarding was about 20 minutes late, then they couldn’t start the engine for about 40 minutes (hmm another sign?!) but we finally left for Nairobi. We took ambient again, this time without the wine hoping we could be a little more appropriate this time. Jess was, but I wasn’t. We called it my wild woman look. My eyes get heavy and I do weird stuff basically. I guess I was trying to use my tv screen with my eyes closed. Pretty respectable! This flight went by in a flash too though. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I woke up with only a couple hours left yet again. I can fly around the world twice and not mind it with this stuff!

Once we landed in Nairobi we headed to the bathroom to but on our little secret money belts. Yeah, we were really gonna be pulling a fast one on those Kenyans that want to rob us! We went to the Visa line and some man whisked us away to a secret spot where there was no line! What a treat. It took less than 5 minutes. Ill be honest though, the original line was only a few people long, but I did like that special treatment. I was surprised at how small the airport was. I could watch the guys unloading the baggage, which was a bit weird to me. We were soooo excited to finally be in Africa. We were staying at the Hilton, so the shuttle was there to pick us up. I loved seeing my name on the little sign! Ive never had that before. Our driver was really nice, but there was this other guy who gave me his card and was talking about day tours etc. He tricked me into agreeing to a day tour of Nairobi. He suddenly says he will pick us up at 2:00pm and I realized what was going on. I told him nevermind and said I needed to sleep. He was so tricky, I didn’t know what he was saying until he said he was gonna pick us up!

Driving through Nairobi was strange. So many people walking everywhere. It was like 100 degrees and men were wearing suits. I was feeling uneasy because of everything on the news and was just waiting for scary men to come attack our car. I was nervous the whole car ride that one of these men in suits was gonna turn and carjack us. Sounds silly to most of you im sure, but I really had no idea what I was in for! We arrived at the Hilton and were upgraded because of low occupancy. I read really bad reviews on tripadvisor, but it was quite nice. It was clean and comfortable. We had arrived at around 9am and were so tired that we ended up napping for like 4 hours. When we woke up, I was feeling a bit nauseous. I figured it was just all the traveling and stuff that wore me out. I knew we needed to eat so we headed downstairs. I ate some soup but felt horrrrible and went up to my room. I immediately started throwing up. Hmm, that was weird. I was expecting to get diarrhea at some point, but throwing up? What a negative reaction to Kenya!

I spent that night missing home because I was so sick and in such a strange place. I had my cell phone (AT&T) but since I didn’t get a sim card, it was too spendy to call home to complain. We went to bed early because we had a flight to Rwanda the next day!!

Day 2 (Rwanda)
Today I was still feeling really sick. I hadn’t had anything else to eat and was really weak. We got a taxi to the airport and waited to board our plane to Rwanda. While we were all piled into the waiting area, I noticed a distinct smell. Guess deodorant isn’t high on the “to buy” list here. I figured I was gonna start to smell pretty bad during our camping safari, so I didn’t complain, I just got used to it. Boarding the plane, the people were very pushy! No one wanted to wait their turn to put their bag up and get to their seat. I really hated that. I like order to my things, and this was not orderly! I hated that bumpy flight. The food smell also made me feel even sicker than I was. I forced myself to eat a piece of bread because I was going to need my strength for the gorilla trek the next day (how I was gonna do it if iwas still sick, I had no idea. But I was determined)! The flight was short and we had to take a stupid shuttle to the airport building. I could hardly stand and an old woman gave me her seat. How funny, the older woman giving the 23 year old her seat. I couldn’t stand in line for entry. I was so weak. I threw up more in the bathroom. Finally the line died down and we got through customs. I saw a man standing with a sign with my name on it again! Success! His name was Mobutu and he was from Mercator Assistance. I guess that’s who R&N outsources to. We tried to talk to Mobutu a bit, but his English was very poor. No problem, I wasn’t feeling well enough anyway. We got in the minibus and were on our way. Wow, I thought Kenya was a little behind the times…that was nothing compared to Rwanda! I was seriously in shock when I saw the little towns. The country was so beautiful, but the houses were all made out of mud and sticks. I know I sound so ignorant thinking this isn’t a good way to live, but I cant help it. They all seem so happy and content though. The kids would all wave as we drove by. I loved it. There were people everywhere! All walking with stuff on their heads or babies on their backs. I couldn’t help but think how many brilliant people there are living here, but we will never find out about it because their lifestyle may not allow it to come out. The drive to Kinigi Guesthouse seemed like days. I was so sick still and just couldn’t stand it. Luckily I brought lots of plastic bags in case I threw up again.

Once we arrived at our hotel (which was actually really cute even though it was the cheapest option), Mobutu informed us we didn’t get permits for the 8th like we planned. What? How could this be? I had paid in FULL everything way back in June and was told everything was set and ready to go. We tried to ask him about it but he just said “it’s a problem” and couldn’t understand what I was saying. This was when I was pissed that he couldn’t speak English well. I had so many questions but could not get answers. I wanted to cry. The gorillas were the only reason I had come to Rwanda and I got two permits in case something went wrong or if the gorillas were too far that we couldn’t get to them one day. It was like insurance. I was not prepared for not getting the permit at all though. He told us we would track on the 10th instead. Ummmm no, we have a flight to catch. We told him we would need our money back but he looked confused at this idea and we weren’t sure if this would happen. Oh well, at least we had one day to track. I still felt that everything had been a disaster though. I was sick AND I was only getting one day of tracking. What can you do though? At this point, I was seriously considering coming home early. I just couldn’t handle this situation. And we hadn’t even started the camping yet! How was I going to last 10 days in Kenya and two weeks in Tanzania? We checked into the hotel (who didn’t even know we were coming, even though they should have) and went to sleep.

We went to the restaurant for dinner and thought everything was really expensive. It wasn’t until the next day we realized it was Rwandan Francs, not Kenyan shillings. Duh! Our itinerary said dinner was paid for this night, but it wasn’t. Nor was it paid for any other time it was supposed to be. I just ate toast and had some water. I threw it all up again. What the hell was wrong with me? This was such a nightmare.

Day 3
We got up early for breakfast, which was toast and water for me. I was still sick. Wow, maybe God was helping me out by not getting us our permits? I mean, I seriously would not be able to track at all that day. I wasn’t feeling any better and I was too weak since I couldn’t hold down food. Mobutu picked us up around 7 so we could do a tour of the lake Kivu area. I really didn’t want to, but what else was I gonna do? Sit in my room and pout? I should at least see the country a little. It took I think 3 hours to get to Kivu. It was cloudy and didn’t look beautiful at all. True I was in a really grumpy mood, but it wasn’t attractive in the least to me. Maybe on a clear day? I even got one of those little flies in my eye! What luck. Mobutu took us to about 5 different stops (literally) along the way. He would disappear and chat with friends for a while not telling us where he was off to. I hated it. I was not comfortable in this country yet and did not like being left alone. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I wanted so bad to eat something normal, but I just couldn’t. Toast it was! Mobutu left us to go meet friends. He said he would be back in a half hour, but he took an hour. I hated this too. I am a really nervous person, so maybe I expected too much, but I really didn’t like being left alone in this strange place. There was not a single other person there other than the workers. Kivu was fully empty. Is it normal for your guide to leave you and meet up with friends? After lunch I told him no more stops. I wanted to go back to the hotel. On the way back though I had to pee really bad. He stopped in one of the local neighborhoods and they let me use their toilets. It was a filthy hole, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe this was normal to them. Gosh, we are so spoiled here (USA).

We got back to our hotel and rested a bit. Maria, one of the workers and a great lady, asked us about paying for our room. We were confused about that since it should have been paid for. We told her what company we were with and she had never heard of them. It was awkward being asked for payment when you assume its all taken care of. We weren’t even gonna bother asking about dinner and lunches getting paid for anymore cuz we were too stressed about just getting our room paid. Dinner was the least of our worries. Plus it was really cheap anyway. I took my malaria meds and threw them up immediately (I took with what little food I could force in my stomach). I realized that it was my Malarone that had been making me sick. How did I not realize this from the beginning? I am so that person who always gets the negative side effects from medicine, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. I made the choice to stop taking them. I know that doesn’t sound smart, but I was so miserable that I would have rather gotten malaria and been able to enjoy the rest of my trip. I hadn’t really seen any mosquitoes yet anyway. I figured if I got it, I would show symptoms back in the states and would be able to get proper care. I actually started to feel better this night. I was relieved to discover it was my pills making me sick, so it felt like there was an end in sight for this sick crap.

Day 4
Gorilla tracking today!!! I cant even describe how excited I was. I was nervous though because even though I was feeling better, I still hadn’t had a real meal in days and wasn’t sure how my energy would be. Today I had two pieces of toast, a small banana, and some pineapple. This was amazing! I could eat again and was going to see gorillas. Mobutu showed up and we told him our room needed to be paid for. He said ok but did nothing. They asked about it later this day as well and we told them Mobutu said he would handle it. We had to give them his phone number so they could call him. He didn’t answer though. Great, was he going to leave us with this bill??? Back to the good stuff though, gorilla tracking!

So Mobutu took us to the ORTPN office where the trekking begins. He noticed I hadn’t been feeling well before so he asked if I wanted a shorter trek. I said yes that would probably be a good idea. Eventually we were broken up into our groups. We had Sam and Fred from the United States, Eva from Austria, Wolfgang the german living in London, and a couple from London whos names I don’t remember. Our guide was Patience. I have not heard of him on these forums, but I should have. He was nothing short of amazing, and if you read further you will discover he was the only reason I was able to finish the trek. We were told we were going to meet the Hirwa group. I hadn’t heard of them before, but Patience said there were lots of babies and that’s all I cared about. After the little briefing we went with Mobutu to the drop off point. He asked which group we were seeing and we told him Hirwa and off he went. We drove for about 20 minutes when we stopped suddenly. He talked to some other guides (who I noticed were with people who were NOT in our trekking group) and told us we were going to need to go a back way. Weird, we thought maybe road construction? We drove back 20 minutes again to the ORTPN office. I asked what he was doing but he ignored me. He picked up a porter who had to give him proper directions. The drop off point was on a back road I suppose, but it was really close to the office so he had clearly just gone the wrong way. Our group had to wait the 40 minutes for us. I was almost in tears thinking they were going to trek without us.

Finally we got to the part where we get our porters, walking sticks, and off we went. It was about a 20 minute little walk to the base of the mountain. I was feeling fine until we stopped. Then it hit me that I was really weak. I was so scared I wasn’t going to be able to make it. Patience had told us though that it was only about 40-50 minutes to the gorillas once we got to the base, so I thought I might be ok. I was dumb and didn’t bring any food with me on the trek, so Patience asked some people if they could help me out with food or a drink. Eva and Sam gave me a sandwich and juice. I felt so silly, but was really grateful they offered me their stuff. I don’t think I could have done without it. I was feeling more energized after a rest and the food and off we went. The trail was pretty clear and easy at first. There weren’t any stinging nettles off the bat, so I felt pretty lucky. We trekked for about an hour when we could hear the trackers up ahead. Patience told us they were with the gorillas so we were getting close. They weren’t that close though. Maybe another 30 minutes away. The trail got rougher and the nettles appeared. I was so exhausted that I seriously didn’t even notice them. I had short sleeves and no gloves and was fine. The guy from the british couple hated them though. He would bat them down with a stick. I felt like I was dying on this trek, but honestly I thought he was being a bigger baby than me.

After another hour of trekking, we were still not at the trackers. I was feeling like giving up soon. I was so so weak, and even Fred was falling behind. Patience was great and kept me motivated. He kept telling me to find my courage and wouldn’t let me give up. I couldn’t believe I almost didn’t get a porter. My bag was heavy and he was a lifesaver! The trail finally turned into the bamboo forest, but it was pretty thick still and they needed to use the machete to clear the way. After about another 30 minutes we got to the point where our porters stop and we carry on to the gorillas! The tiring journey was going to be worth it. Sure it was 2.5 hours, not 40 minutes like we were told, but they are wild animals so what can you do! Patience told us the area we had to get to was very difficult so we could keep our walking sticks. We had to slide down steep hills of dirt and grab onto roots and trees so we didn’t all fall. It was hard. I used to play soccer for like 15 years, and ive never been so tired, even in all my soccer years. We came to a point where I almost gave up again. I was spent. I had nothing in me. Even if I could make it to the gorillas, I couldn’t stay for an hour and then travel back down the mountain. Even though we were supposed to be close, and we could hear them, the gorillas were nowhere in site. We stopped for a few minutes and then Patience told us the bad news. The gorillas had moved to a place where it would be impossible for us to get to. WHAT? That was like unheard of in Rwanda. Hell, its why I chose Rwanda because I heard the chances of not seeing gorillas is like 0. I am such bad luck. At this point of my exhaustion, I was relieved. I couldn’t believe I was feeling this, but I didn’t care if I saw those damn gorillas, I was too tired to care. We paused for 10 minutes before Patience told us we were going to have to climb back up the steep area we slid down. Again, I wanted to cry. I had no strength. We were all really grumpy by now. I didn’t have a chance to come back the next day and the previous day had been a bust with our permits, so I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to see any gorillas.

Then…patience’s phone rang. After he got off, he told us we were gonna try and do it. We were gonna go up and back down across the valley and then back up again to find them. He said an hour at the most. I told him I couldn’t do it. Fred couldn’t either so I wanted to go back with him. Patience wouldn’t let me. He basically said he would carry me if he had to. He put me right up front with him and held my hand through it all, literally. After ohhh 45 more minutes of trekking and me almost giving up a million more times we saw them from across the valley!!! They were beautiful and there were so many, but they were not close. Patience said, “are you still tired?” and he was so happy I hadn’t given up. I was tired but was happy to see them. Then he said the unthinkable, “we are going over there, lets go!” No way, I was fine to see them from really far away. We would have to go down the wall of trees and nettles, across the valley thing, and straight up the wall again. No trails. All plants, trees, nettles, etc. Ok, so the way down and across the valley wasn’t SO bad, but up that wall? The group said I could go first so I could rest once I got up. We used the roots of the trees and 3 porters to traverse this wall. I did it. I was one step closer to actually being near gorillas! We had to go through tunnels of leaves and trees and I got really scared and claustrophobic. There was nowhere to go. We finally got to a clearing (and because Patience had to help me so much, I was right in front) and there he was!!! A beautiful silverback just munching away. I cant even describe the feeling. He was so close and I had worked so hard mentally and physically to get here. Patience was so proud of me. I could tell by his smile. He grabbed my camera from me and took a picture of me with the gorilla. Then, he said, don’t be scared, but there is one coming from behind. Yes, we were all scared. Out of nowhere comes a female with her baby, right over sam and Eva’s heads. It was amazing. They came from everywhere. Babies, Females, the silverback. One came riiiight behind me and nearly touched me. Patience said not to take pics at that moment, but I secretly filmed it with my digi. Its not a great view, but you can see how close she was. I couldn’t believe how close we were to all of them. I also couldn’t believe how difficult the viewing spot was! We were all cramped in one little area. Sam even fell between some tree roots with his legs dangling. Yikes! After about 10 minutes the gorillas moved on. It was ok though, it was the most amazing thing I had ever felt. My sister hadn’t really cared about the gorillas when I initially booked the trip. I had to talk her into getting two permits. She had a change of heart though. She couldn’t believe how she felt being with them, and I was so happy we decided to come here. When I was planning, we almost went to south Africa because I really wanted to see great white sharks along with animals. Then I discovered the gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda and that was it for me. I knew east Africa was my only choice.

We finally were on our way back down the mountain. Just when we thought we had seen it all, we came upon the silverback and his women and kids AGAIN! This time they were just resting and relaxing. Three toddlers were swinging in the trees, a couple women had their tiny babies nursing, and the male was taking a load off. Best feeling ever. I cant even believe I was there to witness it. We only spent about 10 more minutes with them before we had to head down again. We had been hiking for like 5 hours, so it was time. Shockingly there was no rain, which it had been raining like clockwork the last couple days around noon. We were lucky. The walk down was super easy. I couldn’t believe how fast we were down to where we started. Patience gave us a little talk about having to tell people about his country and its beauty. We all agreed we would. On the way back to the cars, we found a chameleon. I love those little guys and was really stoked to see one in the wild. I didn’t know they had them in Rwanda.

Once we got back to Mobutu, he gave us a smile and a handshake like we were buddies. I think he wanted to be like the other guides who were all friends with their clients. We weren’t really friends with Mobutu though, he annoyed us. Sorry to say, but he did. I tipped my porter and thanked him for his hard work and then we went to the office for our little certificates. How cute, I didn’t know we got those! Then we went to our hotel and had a little snack. We told Maria all about our day. She was seriously such a nice and quiet lady. At around 4 or 5 we went back to our room and both fell asleep until like 5am the next morning! Yeah, we were tired.

Day 5/Back to Kenya
Mobutu showed up a half hour early today. He did, however, pay for our room finally! We went to double check with Maria though. He had! He was wearing his normal day clothes which we found a little strange. We suspected he had been out with a girl the night before or something. This was confirmed when he had to stop by his hotel to pick up his suit case. Hmmm, shouldn’t he have brought it with him if he came from his hotel? Sadly, he couldn’t get in his room for some reason. We came to the conclusion that Mobutu is just bad luck and kind of an airhead, so we couldn’t hate on him anymore. Before the airport we stopped by the genocide memorial. I had been reading books about what happened, so it didn’t really shock me. The mass grave was huge, though. Its still hard to imagine all those people. I wanted so bad to ask mobutu about his experience during this time, but his English couldn’t handle it. We finally made it to the airport. The power went out and they had to check people in manually. No security check really. The flight was extra bumpy this time, but I was excited to get back to Kenya and start our safari. Getting off the plane was funny. People were pushy again. Im used to people letting you get off the plane in the order of the seats. So the people in front of me go, then I go, then the people behind me. Not so here. The girl next to us pushed my sister so she would get moving, but there was no room. I cant just push people to get my way. Finally a guy let us through, but he was not a Kenyan…he was from Europe where they have my standards of exiting the plane! We stayed at the Country Lodge for the night. It was great to have nice beds, a nice shower, and the internet! We called my parents on Skype and I changed my flight to come home early. I had decided in Rwanda that I for sure wanted to get home early. Even though I was feeling better, I just had a hard time being in a 3rd world country. I was constantly uneasy, wondering if something bad would happen. I figured I would enjoy the less is more concept. They told me to change my flight would be $200, but turns out it was free. Nice! Tomorrow would be the start of our budget camping safari with Gametrackers. Something I was really excited for months ago, but now that it was here, I wasn’t so sure. Im not a camper, what was I thinking?!?!

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    I am really really bummed about some of your bad experiences.

    I have been recommending R&N and have never had a bad experience from anyone. This outsourcing is definitely the problem. I am glad you talked to them and got it cleared up.

    This guide that you had seemed like a nightmare.

    Yes Rwanda is more, undeveloped that Kenya, but it has a wonderful charm and beauty that Kenya cannot touch.

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    Jen, I too am sorry to hear that you had such bad experiences. Sounds like you had a really rotten guide, and based on what you've said about Nairobi and what you've hinted about the next part of your trip, maybe you and East Africa aren't a good fit. Different strokes and all. Hope it wasn't all bad!

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    From the nearly lost passport, to your illness, to not getting one of your permits, to agent troubles in general, you had a rough go of it. Glad you got to see the gorillas and had a good experience.

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    Jen, this is the most shocking trip report I’ve ever read. How could you decide to go home earlier? It must be Malarone poisoning. Take Lariam instead!

    Sorry about your problems in Rwanda, but it seems the gorillas were worth it.

    Did you see drinking cheetahs in both Samburu and the Mara? The cheetah cubs look really tiny. Are the bigger brothers honey’s cubs? There’s a real topi fight among your pictures! The topi eye is lovely and so is the buffalo calf in the grass! The gorilla mother and child pictures are beautiful.

    Thanks for the camera tips! I had no idea …

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    You had such bad luck with your guide, but am happy you saw the gorillas though it sounds like it was quite a struggle.

    Enjoyed your photos. You had good luck seeing cheetahs. Looking forward to your camping report. As Leely said, sorry that East Africa wasn't a good fit for you.

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    Missed the photos. I'll have to check them out later.

    Here's one question that might explain the poor performance from R & N.

    When did you book and finalize your plans? Might this have been last minute or with insufficient time for R & N to get their act together? Not an excuse for them, but just wondering.

    Then to clarify, you said you got a refund? For me at least, money back in my pocket takes away a whole lot of disappointment. Though it cannot replace once in a lifetime opportunities.

    Looking forward to the serval and more.

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    hi everyone! I have to say that everything was not all bad at all and i hate that i sound like such a debbie downer!

    Leely is definitely right, its just that me and east africa were not right for each other. I really thought we would be. It was such an amazing experience though that i wouldnt trade for anything. Rwanda was such a beautiful country, so i hope i didnt make it sound like suuuuch a nightmare. It was really just our guide that was crappy (and the lack of a permit one day), definitely not the country. Even though we had a difficult trek, it was so beautiful and so worth it. And even though I came home early, it was for no other reason than the fact that I just wasnt cut out for it all. Rwanda and Kenya were filled with beautiful scenery and friendly faces. I just didnt plan right. I got so excited about just going to africa that i didnt even think things such as budget camping would be a problem for me. I want to go back again, but when i have enough money to stay in lodges. To each their own, right?

    Wayne- You are right about Rwanda. I didnt mean it to be a negative when i was describing the lifestyle there, by the way. It was just kind of my thoughts at the moment. It is one of the most beaufitul places i have been, and the people there are SO friendly and just love the tourists. I acutally wish i spent more time there. Next time for sure.

    lynn- we booked our trip way back in June, and even paid in full, so the timing wasnt the issue. I had confimed everything as well again in July AND a week before I left. R&N was so surprised to hear about everything because Mercator had told them they purchased everything way earlier and all was good. I have a feeling maybe they purchased the wrong permit dates from the beginning and just didnt realize it until it was too late or something. R&N has had great reviews here, so i really just think it was some bad luck. They are refunding us for the permits, but being a weekend we probably wont get it until sometime next week. The money helps, and since i was so sick i would not have been able to track the first day anyways, this really was all a blessing in disguise.

    thit_cho- this was not a disappointing trip. Some negatives happened in Rwanda, but i havent even finished yet! Give it a chance, things will perk up soon!

    Nyamera- Yes we saw drinking cheetahs in both places! Gosh, they are so much better looking in person than i could have hoped for. I'm not sure if those 3 boys were honeys cubs. My guide was ummm, not all that informative. You might call him the strong silent type. The topis were being so cute that evening! They were all fighting/playing and chasing each other around. The way they prance when they run is my favorite. One was even chasing after a gazelle, which proved to be pretty much the most action we saw with the animals!

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    Hi jenertoni,
    First I looked at your photos and I was blown away. Did you shoot with a tripod? You had such great clarity and color. I loved the closeup of the gorilla's face and the little girl, and especially, the baby zebra,\.
    So, it was shocking to hear how awful your experience was, and I can't imagine trekking like that while being sick. You're a real trouper! Keep up the great photography have a real talent!

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    Thanks for posting the good and the bad--it's helpful to others. And as hard as it is for some of us Africaphiles to believe, it's not for everyone. Although looking at your stunning photos, I can't help but think "Oh she liked it; she just doesn't realize it yet." ;)

    The Obstinate Optimist

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    In your particular case with your illness, I think it was a blessing in disguise. Just getting the price of the gorilla permit back is not enough, I don't think. If they had refunded an additional portion of the trip's cost for goodwill, then I think it would be more fair.


    I love your optimisitic take on this.

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    Hi Jen-

    I'm such a logistical, organized person in all aspects (OK, I know this is called something else, guys...) that I usually CAN'T bring myself to read a trip report 'out of order' - but I had to make an exception in your case!

    I am with Leely and Michael as an Obstimate Optimist, I know that one day, when you go back and stay in some of the upscale camps and lodges, you will love it.

    In the meantime though, I wanted to tell you that I can appreciate your experience, and I think you handled it marvelously!

    And, to tell you you are not alone in this. The daughter (she is 22) of our good friends saved for 2 years to go to Africa (she picked Ghana) as a volunteer aid worker for 3 months. Armed with lots of hope, tons of malorone and a heaping amount of enthusiasm, her family put her on the plane on the last Sun in Sept 07. She arrived tired, but OK on the Tuesday, her volunteer host met her at the airport. Leaving the airport she said she immediately felt sick, and later thought that it was 'culture shock'. Not in a million years, she said, had she ever thought it would be as she saw - the poverty, the chaos, the traffic, the amount of people, the image & sensory overload.

    She was sick, physically by the time she got to her hostel, and was very scarred. But, she did sleep, and the next day tried it again, to no avail - this time her host took her to the local hospital as she was still throwing up and couldn't eat anything. She stayed in the hospital for 2 days while BA arranged for a new flight home for her, and she was back having dinner with us on the following Saturday. I think this had to be the shortest trip I have heard anyone take to Africa!

    Interestingly enough, reading your report, I was thinking that perhaps it was the malorone doing this to her too? This could be a possibility, she started out taking the cheaper drug (doxycycline I think?) and was so sick from that 2 weeks before she left she changed over to the malarone.

    Even though we don't talk much about this, I think I may hold that out as a suggestion to her.

    Thanks Jen, for such an honest report, this will go a long way to help others as well!

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    Your time with the gorillas sounds wonderful--and since you worked very hard getting there, you must feel very self-satisfied. It is great that Patience kept encouraging you.

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    Hi jenber,
    Your pics. are fabulous. I get the feeling that you're more than a novice photographer.
    As for your report, I appreciate your honesty and am glad you will go back to Africa again, but differently next time.
    Your report will definitely be an asset for those wondering what type of trip may suit them.
    It's easy to see how the excitement of going to Africa may cloud the judgment of some of us who forget just how we like to travel and how we may react when out of our comfort zone.
    Becoming ill is something that I think we should all think about before going anywhere. I, as well, couldn't take malerone during my trip due to being nauseated. Luckily, we were able to stop at a great pharmacy on the way to our safari to purchase anti nausea meds. - they worked like a charm. This was probably the only med. I forgot to include in my own personal stash.

    At any rate, the travel books tell us where and when to go but do leave out essentials such as the valuable bits of information that you've shared with us.
    Thanks for posting.

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    if someone just saw your photos they wouldn't know that you had such a rough trip. you really had some wonderful photographs.
    i enjoyed reading your report and was really sorry to read how sick you were but glad you figured out the cause and made it to see the gorillas. Patience was the perfect name for your tracker.
    That is too bad that Mobutu was such a bad guide and that Mercator did not do all of what you paid R&N for.
    looking forward to reading your kenyan portion when you get it posted.

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    Really enjoying your report and photos! Sorry you were sick and had problems with your guide and operator in Rwanda. Looking forward to the Kenya installment and hope you get to go on that return trip!

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    Ha, you guys are funny. You optimistics are right though. I already do miss it, however im not regretting coming home early, but it has only been a couple days! I just keep thinking of all the amazing things i saw and its hard to remember any negatives.

    Lynda-I am so glad you shared that story with me. When we first got there, me and my sis thought maybe it was just the culture shock for me. Since the sickness stopped after i stopped with the malaria meds, i figure that was the bulk of it, however ido think the culture shock made it worse. Im sad to hear your friends daughter had to leave early, but glad im not alone in having such a negative reaction!

    Barefoot- THank you for the compliments! I didnt use a tripod or anything with the camera. Just my hands. With the gorillas we got really lucky and had really good lighting most of the time.

    Cybor-i cant believe i didnt even think to get antinausea meds. I brought SO much medication, but i should have brought that, or at least purchased it somewhere. Ah, hindsight is always 20/20 right? PS: i am a novice! This was my first camera that zoomed more than 4x and i never even took a photo class in high school. Im flattered that you think otherwise though! :-)

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    Ok here is most of the Kenya portion. I just have the Masai Mara left to write about, but i just cant type anymore right now! Also, im not sure if i mentioned it, but the cell phone i used was just my one from home that i have with AT&T. I didnt get a sim card, just had my international capabilities turned on. It wasnt cheap, but i only needed for emergencies. It worked everywhere by my camp in Samburu. It worked in the park though. It would go back and forth betweeen Celtel and Safaricom. In rwanda it went on a couple different networks. It was really convenient though.

    Day 6/Start of the Camping Safari
    Today I woke up really excited/nervous. We were actually gonna be done with the waiting portion of the trip and be with the animals! I was pretty sure nothing could compare to seeing the gorillas, but I knew it was not going to take as much effort to find these animals, and there would be a variety. Plus, these animals were gonna be the ones I had been watching on TV for years and wishing I was there in real life. We stopped at the little gift shop at the Fairview to pick up some post cards for our family and sent them off. Not sure if they would ever get home, but we would find out I suppose. We looked at the souvenirs there and didn’t really like them so much. I promised the girls at work I would bring stuff back from Africa, but I really wasn’t a huge fan of the style of the items. This was just a little shop though, so I was wondering what else was out there. Anyway, even though I was really excited to start our safari, I couldn’t help but be nervous. I had been keeping up with the news and the places we were going had not been effected at all, but for me, it was still scary. I figured once I got out there and saw things were fine I would calm down a lot.

    Around 9am we check out of the Country Lodge, where I was sad to say goodbye to running water, electricity, and internet. Our Gametrackers guide showed up right on time. His name was Steve and I couldn’t tell if he was going to be really nice and fun, or really quiet and boring. Our cook, Peter was there as well. He was tall and kind of goofy looking. Reminded me of Snoop Dog circa the early 90s. Just a little darker! I knew I was going to like him. The vehicle was pretty much what I expected. Definitely not as nice as some of the companies, but it was just fine. We had to stop by the Gametrackers office so I could meet Damaris, the one who had planned this whole trip for me and get a briefing about what was going to be happening. This whole time I had though Damaris was a man, turns out she was a woman. That will teach me to make assumptions about African names. I wonder if that was obvious to you experience Africa visitors? Anyyyyway, we got to the office which was in the middle of bustling Nairobi. We went up to the office while Steve and Peter finished loading the car. When we met Damaris I told her I was not going to Lake Nakuru. She tried to convince me it was safe, and I have no doubt I would have been, but I promised my parents I wouldn’t go there, and I knew if I did I would just be stressed and nervous the whole time. What was the point? We decided to stay in Nairobi one night instead, which was fine with me since it meant a hotel where I could charge my phone and camera. It would be a long drive, but I was looking forward to seeing the scenery of it all. So we bought our water, rented sleeping bags, and off we went to Amboseli!

    At this point, we hadn’t been anywhere in Kenya other than from the Airport to the hotel, so we hadn’t seen much of the poverty areas. As we were driving out of Nairobi, though, we stopped for something at one of the gas stations in one of the poor areas just on the outskirts. I saw graffiti on the wall of a building that said “Kibaki Again” in Swahili. I wondered if this area had been effected by riots at some point, but I was too nervous to ask. The buildings were made out of that crimped tin and there was trash everywhere. The goats and cows looked very unhealthy, especially compared to the ones I had seen in Rwanda. People looked at us, but not in a threatening way. I mean, we were the only white people around, so we definitely stood out. So even though I was nervous to stop here, I stayed calm and figured that the guys I was with knew the areas, and I didn’t. They would not stop us in a dangerous area. I just had to trust them. ***Again, remember this is my first time to any Africa, let alone any third world country, so seeing this is completely new to me and quite shocking. The internet forums cant really prepare you for how you will react to seeing this way of life.*** So we finally really got on the road after this pit stop. I soon discovered that every neighborhood I passed was going to be like the last one I had seen. Maybe im naïve, but I really didn’t know that basically everywhere but Nairobi was like this. I was really sad for these people. I know they are used to this and its probably not a big deal to them, but I live such a charmed life compared to them. I almost felt guilty for it. Like why do I deserve to live the way I do?

    We stopped for lunch a few hours into our drive. At this point the ride had been smooth and on a pretty normal road, just a few bumps here and there. Peter made us a nice little spread of sliced tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, and ham to make sandwiches. That wasn’t so bad I thought. I was wondering what was in store for our meals the rest of our trip. Our rest stop was at one of the many curio shops. We looked around but didn’t buy anything. I did admire the brightly colored paintings on those fabrics though. We moved along where we had to stop at a gas station before the final leg of the drive. Steve told us women might try and sell us stuff, but not to worry. They were harmless. Ummmm yeah, I had no idea what was in store for us. Jess and I thought it was strange that we had to stop for gas though. There were gas stations along the way we could stop at, and we really didn’t need any. Jess suggested maybe Steve was in on the whole selling scheme and they sort of work together. I said no they wouldn’t do that to us! However, I later changed my tune.

    We sat at the gas station for a few minutes where we became surrounded by Maasai women trying to sell their jewelry. A simple no was not good enough. They kept trying. “Madam, how much you pay for this?” “Madam, I give you all for 500.” Ill never forget the sound of their voices saying Madam over and over. I can see how some people would feel nervous or threatened with these women, but this is just how they work. I had fun with it and just tried to enjoy the new experience. I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything, so I didn’t even look and tried not to make eye contact. Jess, on the other hand, is much weaker than I. The second she even took a look at their stuff they were on her. They started throwing rings at me telling me it was free and to remember them when they came back. Yikes, was I just cursed?! After about 15 minutes here we actually left. I really had no idea why we stopped for so long so maybe Jess was right. Maybe this is all part of the scheme.

    However many hours after we had left Nairobi, we finally made it to Amboseli. Me and jess had a little competition on the way, seeing who could spot the most animals. I spotted some zebras and giraffe before getting to the gate. She didn’t do as well as me. I think she counted the donkeys as sightings just to get ahead! There were more masai women at the gate trying to sell stuff. They made the mistake of trying to sell us jewelry. We really wanted knives. Jess found a nice one with a wooden casing that was pretty cool. We figured we could use it for protection. I still didn’t like anything so I didn’t buy. We were finally going through the gates of our first reserve! We drove over the dried up lake for just a few minutes before spotting some zebras in the distance. I was so excited! They were everywhere and within a few more minutes we were so close to them and wildebeest. I was confused though. Where were the lions? Arent animals like the zebra and wildebeest in a fight for their life at all times?! Hmmm, guess not. Guess that’s just fine TV editing. I knew actually seeing a kill was very unlikely, but I really didn’t know how chill the life is for these animals. I think I saw 1 lion for every 200 zebra/wildebeest. That’s nothing!

    Then we saw them…wart hogs! Clearly Steve wasn’t a fan because he didn’t want to stop, but we loved them. They are so ugly and weird looking, but I don’t hold that against them. This was our first game drive. It was later in the afternoon, so we would do this drive on the way to our camp site. We saw baboons, which steve also hates, and me and jess love. I understand they can be a bit annoying, but they are so fun to watch. Especially the little alien babies! I had come to Amboseli for the elephants, and finally in the distance I could see them! They were massive. I knew they were big, but they were in huge families with 20+ of them at once. So amazing. We also saw buffalo, hippo, and a big male lion with his kill. I chose not to take a picture of the dead buffalo because his ass had been eaten. I didn’t want to humiliate the poor thing with a pic of it. The smell was horrible though. I had no idea. Another thing I was misinformed about were the hyenas and vultures. I thought the lions had to devour their food in minutes of else hyenas were going to get them right away. None were in sight, maybe cuz this male was so big and guarding it? I dunno.

    After some veryyyy close encounters with the elephants we were off to our camp site. By the way, I didn’t realize how nervous I would be about being so close to elephants. They didn’t mind us at all, but there were so many and they were so big that if they wanted to just topple our car over, they could do it with no problems. However, I think they were too busy eating to even notice our presence half the time. Ok so we were on our way to the camp site. Could I really handle this I was wondering? I was actually close to just telling them, “actually lets just stay at a lodge instead.” It wasn’t so much roughing it that was bothering me. I don’t mind being dirty, and I don’t really mind using drop toilets. I just felt so vulnerable out there in a tent. So we get to our site, and it really is in the middle of nowhere. I actually liked that it was because I figured it would be hard for animals to get to us, and I doubted people were going to make their way out here to rob us. We were camping, the money is with the people in the lodges! However, I am making it sound like I wasn’t terrified to spend the night here. Im not sure why, but I was. I seriously needed a xanax!

    So this was one of those safaris where you help set stuff up. Peter started dinner while Steve showed us how to set up a tent. It was pretty easy stuff, but jess put a hole in a pipe which cause a flood, so we had to move it all. We had a camp fire all set up and it was starting to get dark. Really dark. The toilets were a short walk away, but you better believe I was not walking to them at night. Jess and I decided we would just pee outside our tent if we had to go in the middle of the night. We tried talking to Steve a bit, and he loosened up. He wasn’t as serious as we had thought. Hes just kind of quiet. Finally Peter called out and said the soup was ready. Wow, we get soup with our meal? This is not so bad at alllll! It was a really good potato soup which was followed by fried chicken and potatoes. I had my appetite back, but after eating so little the days previously my stomach had shrunk and I couldn’t eat much. Peter thought I didn’t like his food, but I did, I just couldn’t fit anymore in! Great, now there was all this pressure to eat more! I was actually hoping to lose weight on this little trip, thinking camp food would not be great, and there would be no snacking like I do at home. However, with delicious fried chicken and potatoes to eat, I was definitely gonna gain some weight!

    We called it a night around 8:00pm. I was very nervous to sleep, but was so tired I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Plus I knew once I made it through the first night it would be just fine. I decided that neither of us should leave our tent at night. It was just too sketchy with animals around. We cut the top off a water bottle and use it as our emergency night toilet. Well, it was only for #1, so we hoped a #2 would not need to happen since we didn’t have a plan for that one. My sister was writing in her journal with a little night light on, so I fell asleep really fast. However, that only lasted an hour or so. I started to hear animals rustling about, animals howling, and just all sorts of things. I was up until 3am before going to sleep again. I could not wait for the light of day! Not to mention I was so nervous at these sounds, that my stomach started feeling a bit funny and I thought I was going to have to use our emergency toilet for a #2. There was no way I could go outside in this state! Luckily the tummy calmed down and I made it through the night ok! I honestly cant believe how nervous I was. I was so excited about all the sounds I would hear and just being in the wild. I cant believe I had messed up my planning so bad! I cant believe I didn’t even think this sort of thing would not work for me. ***At least I learned now I figure. For many people, Africa is THE trip of a lifetime. For me, it’s just one of many trips of a lifetime I plan to take. I’m only 23, so going back to Africa is something that if I want to do, I will definitely do. That’s also why it was easy to come home early. I know I will come back at some point, just in a different way of course!***

    Day 7
    At 6:00am my travel alarm went off and it was time to wake up! I was alive and had not been eaten by animals, what a glorious day! I saw a beautiful sunrise from our camp. How could I not love this place? Yeah, it was growing on me now and I was really happy to be feeling a lot more comfortable. Steve mentioned to me that the howling I heard was Hyenas. I suspected it was, but was really hoping not because they scared the crap out of me! Today we saw lots more elephants, some ostriches with babies, a jackal, the standard zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, and impala. Seeing the large family of elephants against the Mt. Kili backdrop was beautiful. Ive seen professional pictures of it, so it was amazing to be there myself. Around 9:30 we went back to camp for breakfast. Another delicious meal from Peter of crepes, fried eggs, and some other tasty treats. Hmm, I was beginning to think this was not roughing it so much.

    During the middle of the day, there is nothing to do. It starts to get really hot and you cant even go in your tent. We wrote in our journals and read some. However, this was not enough to pass the time. I had really wished I brought cards and some games. Not sure if its ever mentioned on the forums, but if youre on a camping safari, bring games!!! So finally it was time for our afternoon game drive. Boy was it hot still. We saw our fist hyena laying around. Boy are they ugly. I wanted to see them really bad when I came, but after they kept me up all night I was feeling a little bitter towards them. We saw our lion friend from the day before with his buffalo. Still just sitting there, but this time much more had been eaten. Poor guy. Steve took us to the lookout point area where you can see for miles. It was really windy and I swear I thought every rock I saw was a hyena, but that was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Nothing exciting really went on with this game drive. Steve told us about animals as usual in his unexcited voice. Me and jess talked about wondering if he was a good guide or just an ok guide? As boring as his job can get, I still felt like it would be nice if he at least pretended he was excited about seeing some stuff. Now that its over and we got to know him and all, its just that hes a really mellow guy, but we sort of could tell he was bored. However, he was NO mobutu, that’s for sure! Steve still showed us a really good time.

    Tonight at dinner we got to know Steve even better. Peter kept to himself. His English was good, but he just liked to hang with himself more I guess. We talked to steve about having multiple wives, which of course he thought was a good idea, paved highways, being gay. We learned that Steve had a 2 year old baby girl and hadn’t worked since November. It was so interesting to hear other takes on these ideas. He was definitely not a fan of the gays. We tried to tell him how we felt and how we looked at it, but he was pretty set in his ways about it. Night had fallen and I was still much more comfortable than the night before. I was looking to get a good nights sleep. However, the hyenas made that impossible. Like clockwork, they started chiming in around 10:00pm. This time they were even worse. Oh, and it was really windy and even rained this night which just gave me the creeps. So anyway, not only were the hyenas howling, but they were doing their psycho laugh. Oh my gosh I cant even describe the fear that puts in me. I laid in my bed with my ears covered for hours. Sometimes the rain would drown it out so I could sleep for some minutes, but not for long. They were SO close. The reason they scare me so much is cuz they seem so spazy like if they are in their group they will kill anything. I heard lions roaring, but I know they aren’t just gonna attack me in my tent. They are smarter than that. Hyenas, though, I wasn’t so sure. I kept my sister up all night asking, “did you hear that?” over and over. I started the night outside my sleeping bag because it was warm at first but now I was cold. I didn’t want to make any sudden movements and noise though so I wouldn’t get in! I am so like my mom I discovered. I worry about any and everything. At around 3:30am my sis made me listen to her ipod to put me to sleep. It worked until she got up with a terrified look on her face. There was something right outside our tent. What it was, we had no idea. She wanted to go look and I wouldn’t let her. It could have been anything. Then we heard Steve’s tent open. He must have been woken up too. Eventually it passed and we went to sleep. Hopefully steve would know what it was in the morning!

    Day 8
    Yay, morning had come again! I vowed to take Ambien every night from now on to put me to sleep. I just couldn’t handle all those sounds. I admit that I miss them now that im home, but sleeping through them while youre in the middle of them is another story. Steve told us it was a huge family of elephants that came through camp. That explains the loud noises. Glad it was just elephants and not the damn hyenas. Today we were off to Mt. Kenya for a night before heading to Samburu. During our game drive out of Amboseli, Jess asked Steve if he had hit anything ever. He said no and we went on our way. We didn’t see anything particularly exciting while driving out of the park. Right when we left, though, Steve hit a bird! I put my hands over my mouth and made a little scream. It was just one of those ugly brown pigeon birds, but I love animals so I hated it. He didn’t even slow down or jerk the wheel. He just kept going. He looked back at me all seriously like he was possessed. Me and jess looked at each other like, “What the F***?” Then I saw it’s wing, it was still alive! I screamed, ahh, hes still alive. Steve just looked at me again with that crazy look. Finally after a few minutes he stopped. Uhhh guess he just wanted to make sure it was good and dead? He pulled it off the grill. He told us he didn’t mean to kill him, but it was his time to go. Ehhh yeah. Whatever you say. Me n jess just kept giving each other those looks. Steve seemed to have more than one personality!

    The drive to Mt. Kenya was really pretty. It was totally different than the drive to Amboseli. The drive to Amboseli sort of reminded me of Southern California or a drive to Vegas. However, the drive to Mt. Kenya was more like Rwanda. All green through hills and stuff. Really nice for a change. Oh, and it was gonna be a lot cooler here since we were gonna be at a higher elevation. The only problem with this drive was that it was just the one lane roads through hills, so it was hard to pass slow trucks since you couldn’t see what was coming. For lunch, we stopped at yet another curio shop. Now I know these are the places that are rest stops, but Jess still thought they were in business together. Like maybe Gametrackers get a commission from these places? I still had faith that that’s not how it was!! After lunch we made it to Mt. Kenya. We pulled into this little lodge place with tons of horses on really pretty property. It was a little run down, but they gave Peter a kitchen and there was a bar. Not so fun when youre the only guests, but it was a place to charge my phone and watch the G Prime network with Spanish Telenovelas dubbed in English. Boy are those addicting! Me and jess were still staying in a tent tonight. Since we weren’t at a game park, though, the only animals that would visit were monkeys and horses. Not a problem for me. Plus, the grounds were so pretty, it was easy to stay here. Oh, maybe it was the running toilets and hot water? Today was pretty uneventful, so we went to bed around 9:00. I took my Ambien as promised (yeah, my sis didn’t like me waking her up at night!) and fell right to sleep. Nothing woke me up all night and it felt amazing to have a full nights sleep.

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    Day 9
    Today we woke up and were going on a nature hike. I wish I had written down the name of our guide this day but I forgot. He was so great. We finally knew was it was like to have someone enjoy showing others their knowledge of the plants and animals. We were originally going to the MAU MAU caves. We started walking through the forest which was beautiful. Our guide would point out plants used for different ailments which was really interesting. We were definitely following the trail of some elephants, though we couldn’t see them. We got to a point where a tree had fallen, the work of elephants our guide told us. Then we heard a really loud sound off from the elephant. He did NOT want us there. We had finally caught up to them and couldn’t go around. We had to quickly walk back to where we came. It was kind of exciting since we were on foot. I knew if the elephant charged we had to jump to the sides, so I wasn’t nervous. Plus, he didn’t charge, so it wasn’t such a big deal. So we couldn’t make it to the mau mau caves because it would be too dangerous to try and pass the elephants, but we had a nice visit to some Columbus monkeys which was nice. The more monkeys the better. We also met a huge troop of baboons which were all around us. It was so fun being on food for a change!

    Today was supposed to be a 3 hour drive to Samburu. I have learned, though, that a Kenyan 3 hour drive is more like 5 or 6 hours. Its like they tell you the time based on good roads and no slow trucks in your way. However, they have horrible roads and one lane, so im not sure how they don’t calculate for this kind of slowing! Steve told me that the Hyenas would be back for me in Smaburu. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew ambien would solve all my problems. The areas we drove through to get to Samburu seemed more Muslim. The women were covered in a totally different way than the rest. When we had to stop for some unknown reason yet again, a man came up to sell me stuff. I liked his stuff though. It wasn’t those beads that t he maasai women sold, his stuff was metal and much better in my opinion. Instead of jewelry, though, I spotted a knife I had to have. The handle was so pretty with some metal detailing and a nice leather case around it. Now both Jess and I had our knives. We were starting a small army!

    Driving to Samburu I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I had felt that with Amboseli, but now I really knew what I twas to be in the middle of nowhere. The road was just dirt with nothing around for miles and miles. It was so different from Amboseli. The plants and everything. It was even hotter too. We finally arrived at the gate and made our way to camp. It was a permanent camp run by Gametrackers and it was great. The tents were all set up for us and they kept it really clean. The toilets were drop, but they made a box thing so it felt like a normal American toilet! It was right by the river as well, so animals were always around. I also liked that we had a guy who was our night guard. In case any animals came around at night he would keep us safe and scare em off. Me and jess watched a little monkey try getting into one of the tents. It was so cute. He would look around to make sure the coast was clear. We didn’t tell the guys cuz we knew they wouldn’t approve. We just watched smiling. Eventually he was found out and scared off though. We did an evening game drive and saw lots of elephants. I really cant get enough of them.

    That evening around the camp fire it was nice to have some new faces. People who worked at other camps in the area came by and hung out with us. No clients though, just us everywhere we went! I took my ambien again and went right to sleep. No hyenas or lions woke me up. I really should be a spokes person for Ambien after all this!

    Day 10
    Today we woke up early as usual for our game drive. Daniel, our night guard, told us elephants and lions had come through here at night. How great. I loved knowing it happened, but I loved even more that I could sleep through it! These tents had windows so I really didn’t wanna see it all. Too scary for me! Right after leaving the camp we came upon some lions with their oryx kill. There were 3 girls and a male. Of course the male got the food even though the girls did all the work. Since this was my first real lion sighting I was super excited. I had seen that male in Amboseli, but he just sat there and then fell asleep. These guys were walking around and roaring and being just generally amazing. One walked right toward our car as I was videoing and I got really scared thinking she wanted to jump in. She didn’t. We were just stopped over her little bit of food. I learned then that they REALLY don’t care about us. The male started moving his kill away from the girls cuz they were getting too close. It was funny. It was sad, though, because all the other Oryxs were gathered around watching. They knew one of their own had just been killed. They are so pretty too. I’m glad I wasn’t there to actually watch the kill happen.

    After this game drive we headed back to camp for the usual afternoon laziness. I tried to take a nap and just lay still, hoping it wouldn’t get too hot. I watched the temperature on my alarm clock rise and rise to 95 degrees and had to get out. It wasn’t THAT hot in the shade outside, but it was just boring and uncomfortable. No comfy seats to sit in, but what can you do? I read some more and walked over to the river to watch the animals pass by. Unfortunately there was just a masai woman bathing in it, and no animals. Not what I bargained for! After 10 days of wearing the same 3 outfits and not washing them, it was time to do laundry. Luckily I had brought about a million pairs of underwear, but I still needed clean clothes on the outside! It was so hot that they dried in a couple hours. Ahhh, it was nice to feel clean again.

    Finally time for our afternoon drive! Here we ran into some strange birds, crocs, and cheetahs! The two cheetahs were so beautiful. We were one of the first cars to find them, but then within minutes we were surrounded by about 7 or 8 other cars. We still had the best view though. There was a croc sunning himself right near them. They were staring him down and we wondered if they were planning on eating him? At one point they got a little too close to the croc who snapped and hissed at them. They decided to move along after that. Not sure where they were heading to, but they just traveled the dry riverbed for a while. After maybe 30 minutes or so we left them to be on their way alone. Shortly after we came upon some reticulate giraffes. They are really good looking. Much better than the standard ones I had seen before. What a good note to end our drive on.

    Back at camp we continued to talk with the guys. One asked us if we had a moon in America. Jess thought he meant like, “is it night time right now?” But he really meant, do you have a moon? We told him yes. Then he asked if we had stars. We told him yes, but not as bright where we are. Too many city lights. Steve told us he wished he had married a white woman. He says they seem much more affectionate with their men than Kenyan women. He didn’t talk about his wife at all. I asked if they talked on the phone while he was gone and he said not really. I cant imagine that. He would always be on his phone with people, just not his wife I guess. A genet and a wild cat came for a visit this night. They both kept going through our trash to get food. I love cats so I loved these guys. I was excited tonight because we were going back to Nairobi for a night before heading to the masai mara. I was just really ready to finally have a clean and hot shower and nice toilets and beds. It wasn’t so bad camping. Definitely not as “rough” as I had thought, but a hotel for one night was gonna be great. Plus I was craving sweets. I needed a desert of some sort and hopefully pizza!

    Day 11
    Today we were going back to the Country Lodge. Jess jokes that it was my favorite place in Africa. However I have to disagree. The masai mara definitely was, but we’ll get to that later. Today was just a super long day of driving. We had a game drive out of the park where we saw a cheetah and her 3 cubs. They were so cute, but I wish we could have been closer. I notice the mother doesn’t make them follow as closely as I had assumed. They were actually traveling pretty far behind her. I was a bit worried for them. As per usual on this drive, all our rest stops would be at curio shops where Steve seemed to know everyone. Shoot, was jess right about the commission thing? Neither of us cared if that was the case, I mean everyone needs to make a living, but it was more curiosity.

    At one of the stops I decided to purchase some of the banana leaf art and the fabric paintings. I HATE the pressue these guys put. They tell me no pressure then they say, pick what you like, ill give you good price. No pressure! Ok, then leave me alone to pick what I want! They run around picking all the jewelry to show us and I pretended I liked it to be polite, and then he tries to put it in my basket. Ahh, no I don’t want it! Being in Africa, I assumed the stuff would be pretty cheap. The guy tried to sell me 2 banana leaf things and 2 big painting things for $250. Ummm not a chance buddy. It sucked though because I didn’t wanna totally low ball the guy, but I also didn’t know what a fair price was. Eventually we settled on a price I was willing to pay, but I still think it was too high. After that he rushes me over to the back to show me something. He puts some necklace on me which I lie and say is really pretty. Then he asks me how much ill pay for it. EXCUSE ME? I just spent how much money here and you are trying to sell me more?! Ah so annoying. I got really grouchy after that and left. What a trickster! And of course I didn’t buy the necklace.

    We got to our hotel midday. The first thing I did was shower. I was so dirty! I had showered some while camping, but not daily by any means. I scrubbed and scrubbed and I was STILL dirty! I needed an exfoliator. It was so nice to wash my hair. And as usual, it was nice to have the internet. We were able to send pictures to friends and family. We also went to an early dinner at the Fairview. We had the best mocha shake ive ever had anywhere. It was SO good. Then we had some pizza, just like I wanted, and I got a chocolate éclair which really hit my sweet spot. I ate so much. By this point, though, I was sick of camp food. There is no refrigeration, so you are kinda limited in your options. I was sick of carrots and tomato with EVERYTHING. If I never eat another carrot again, it will be too soon. I cant believe neither me or Jess got sick from the food though. Im used to everything being refrigerated, so its amazing I didn’t have a reaction. Plus I have a really weak stomach, as you learned with my malarone issues.

    After dinner we hung out in our room for the night. Watched the local news and G Prime of course. I really miss that channel! We web-camed with my parents for a while which was fun. I was really missing them which was strange to me. Normally they get on my nerves, but being away from them made me miss em a lot. I missed my cat too. I just missed having a pet to cuddle with at night. I was with so many animals, but I couldn’t cuddle with any of em! We went to bed where I couldn’t sleep because I had been reading a book about Rwanda for the last few days and kept having nightmares about someone bursting into our room with a machete. Tomorrow we were off to the grand finale. The masai mara!!!

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    I'm glad you continued your report -- your writing style, with its detail, really involves the reader. It really seems like you had a nice trip, and as you wrote, there are many "trips of a lifetime" and you'll now know what to expect when you get back to Africa.

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    Looking forward to your next installment. I admire your writing honestly about your reactions to everything you see. I think your report will be a useful reference to others planning their first trip to a country, any country, where poverty is very visible.

    You were lucky to see the lions in action. Most often they are snoozing or just lying around.

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    Jen, I really love your report. I have to hand it to you that you did something most of us here haven't done, a real camping safari!

    I can't wait to read your report of your next trip of a lifetime: I recommend India. If you think seeing a male lion is great, nothing compares to a tiger.

    By the time I got to Africa, I had already been to India & Cambodia, so I was not as affected by seeing so much poverty.

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    I forgot to mention our experience at the equator on the way back from Samburu. We stopped and got a little presentation about how at one side the water drains counterclockwise and on the other side it drains clockwise. I learned something about this in middle school, but i learned it about toilets flushing. Same thing though. So after his presentation that used a pitcher and a cereal bowl with a hole drilled in it (which took all of 5 minutes) the guy asks if we wanted a certificate that showed we had been to the equator. I knew he just wanted money for it so we said no. Then he says, ok i'll just take whatever you want to give me. Huh? Steve didnt warn us about that! We gave him a few dollars but were not happy about it. I would have forgone the whole thing had i known he wanted money. It wasnt about not wanting to spend the few dollars, that was nothing, it was just the fact that it was a stupid sneaky scam.

    Wayne-I have been thinking about India actually. Big cats are absolutly a favorite of mine and Tigers top that list. For my next third world experience, though, i wouldnt mind doing a group tour or if traveling privately, im bringing a man, not my sister!

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    India is just the best. Be forewarned tiger safari is very very different from tracking lions. Lions are naturally social and a huge pride will gladly lay out right in front of your vehicle.

    Tigers are solitary, they are more skittish about people and prefer to stay hidden. People have gone on tiger safaris, driven for days and not seen anything. But the sixty seconds or so that I saw a male and female tiger skip through a field together was one of the very greatest moments of my life.

    Going with a small group is fine. Six or less. But things are cheap enough in India that you and one other person can hire a private guide and driver to take you everywhere.

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    Jen, you’re so funny! Maybe I’m evil, but if I were your sister, I’d have to mention hyenas every time a saw you. I’m looking forward to your adventures in the Mara.

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    <<We stopped and got a little presentation about how at one side the water drains counterclockwise and on the other side it drains clockwise.>>

    I think the scientific term for this is bullshit -- its a scam, a charade. I saw it, and when I questioned/challenged the charlatan, he asked me to leave -- they tilt the bucket, apply subtle pressure to the matchsticks.

    While the Coriolis effect is real, its not strong enough to influence the rotation of water only a few meters from the equator.

    Here's an analyis from a scientist -- The first couple times I saw this, I was truly amazed. When I was altered that it was a scam, I had to see for myself one more time. In the small bowl there is no way that the Coriolis Effect could determine the direction of the spinning water so I watched the presenter carefully. I noticed that he guided the direction of the water in two ways: (1) When he set the bowl down, he spun it in the direction he wanted to the water to spin and (2) he guided the matchsticks to the middle with his finger and simultaneously started them spinning. His tricks were well practiced and unnoticeable that it is no surprise that he continues to wow the tourists and make a good yearly salary for Kenya. I tried his tricks at my house as well and was able to get the water to spin either direction.

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    Jen, I'm someone who likes camping. I do it 1-2x a year for 2-4 days just for fun. But here's a tip: on my first safari we camped (budget camping) the first two days to keep costs down. Then we stayed at lodges the rest of the trip. Happy campers. :D

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    I loved knowing it happened, but I loved even more that I could sleep through it!

    What I loved was this comment of yours about animals in camp at night.

    You and Jess will have memories adventures to discuss for a lifetime. I hope she gets to see this report to relive the trip. Years from now, you'll get a charge out of it too. Very entertaining.

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    ok finally I finished. I really had no idea what kind of work went into these trip reports until i just finished this one.

    Thit-i had no idea i was an acutal scam! I just thought it was a sneaky way to trick tourists into giving money. Now that i know its all fake im pissed! I wonder if they pull this crap at all equatorial tourist stops?

    Day 12

    We got to sleep in a little today since we weren’t going to leave for the masai mara until 9:00am. Having been waking up by 6 almost every morning, this was a nice change. On the flight back from Rwanda, one of the magazines had a whole feature on the Masai Mara. I have researched it and read lots about it, but it made me even more excited reading the little story about how much people love it. I had liked the other parks I had been to, but I wasn’t in love. At least not with the scenery. Anyway, the mag said that the drive from Nairobi was only 3 hours, and our safari planner told us that too. Hmm, not bad! Why didn’t I realize that they were using Kenyan hours? If I did, I would have known it was gonna take us 5 or 6 hours in actuality. We were used to long bumpy drives though. I have to admit, though, I was in a horrible grumpy mood this day. I was excited to be going to the mara, but I had like no sleep and I was just not someone to mess with that day.

    We told Steve we needed to purchase water. He passed by many larger gas stations that would have taken USD or credit cards but he chose to stop at the smallest one. He knew we didn’t have Shillings so im not sure why he stopped here. Well they had one of those visa/mastercard stickers on the window so I figured, oh they must take cards then. Great. So we take our water to the counter and I ask if she takes USD and she says no, so I gave her my credit card. She looked at me really confused and said they don’t take those either. I pointed to the sign and she just looked at me even more confused. Guess they didn’t get the memo that the reason you put those signs up is to let customers know you accept credit cards. So I told steve that we couldn’t get water and he took us to one of the curio shops where he knew everyone. We bought a couple 3 liter bottles at $5 each. What a racket! At that point my mood just continued to go downhill.

    We drove a little more and came up to the rift valley viewing area. Steve pulled over so we could take pics and stuff. Then he disappeared as usual. Jess and I aren’t the kind that like to stop forever. We get out, take a couple pics, move along. We didn’t wanna shop at any of the many curio shops lined up. We wanted to get on the road again but of course steve couldn’t be found. He was off chatting with one of his buddies. Normally this was fine with me, but my grumpy mood was definitely not feeling it. I also was getting pissed at the guys who would come up and ask me where im from, what state, and will obama or hillary win the election…which was always followed by, “come to my store ill give you good price.” Normally these guys annoyed me, but I always played nice and didn’t really mind. Today I was SO over it though. We went into a store just to look because we were bored of waiting for steve and had nothing else to do. One guy got mad at my sister and said, “all you do is touch touch touch and no buy!” Ohhhh this really pissed me off. Sorry we don’t like your crap, a**hole. Ok, I didn’t say that at all, but I wanted to. I kept my mouth shut though.

    It felt like the road we took was the worst one yet. It was bumpy, dusty, windy in places. There was also construction going on which made things much worse. We eventually got to Narok which made me nervous. I read about some issues there, and even though things had calmed down, I was a bit on edge. We stopped to get gas here and I hated that of course. Obviously nothing happened and I was worrying for no reason, but I didn’t know! So we passed through narok without a single issue. We saw maybe one tourist car on the whole drive to the Mara. Guess they are all flying. Unfortunately im terrified of planes, especially small planes, so I just couldn’t do the flying. Plus as bumpy and crappy as the roads can be, I got to see so many towns, people, beautiful scenery. It was worth it.

    We stopped for lunch where steve said the gate was only about an hour away. I asked him if it was a real hour or a Kenyan hour. He said a real hour…but it wasn’t! I could tell the Mara was going to be beautiful by the scenery that was around us at our rest stop. Things were so green here. It wasn’t like samburu or amboseli at all. So after more like 2 hours, we arrived at the gate. As per usual, we were greeted by masai women trying to sell us stuff. I was not in the mood for it. I just ignored them so they would go on jess’ side of the car. Mostly they did, but a few stayed on mine. They tried to unzip my window so they could throw their jewelry in but I kept closing it. They didn’t try very hard though because they left within a couple minutes. We were finally through the gates. I was so happy because this place was beeeeautiful. It was green and you could see for miles. There was a giraffe crossing in front of us almost right away. I love giraffes and the way they move. I was in such awe, much more than any other park. I felt like I was in Jurassic park because I was just so in awe of everything. We did a little game drive as we drove to the Talek gate, which is where our camp was.

    All of our other camp sites had been within park grounds. This one was just outside the gates though. I didn’t like that because I just feel safer being in the reserves. The town of talek was run down and looked sketchy like most the other towns. I really hated that our camp was right in this area. It was still pretty hidden, but when we arrived, the grounds were not nice and clean like the other ones we had stayed at. The grass was overgrown and I just didn’t like it for whatever reasons. We weren’t staying in tents this night. Gametrackers owns this camp, so they built little shacks to sleep in. I hated these too. I was just so tired and grumpy that I don’t think anything could have made me happy at this point. You can see how much I loved it in my pics…take a guess which one it is! After we put our stuff down and settled in, I calmed down. There really was nothing wrong with this place, I was just in a shi*t mood. There was even a lizard in our room which I loved.

    We had like 4 guys at any given time working at the camp. 2 guys were like security guards and would stay up all night, and the other 2 were just making sure things were clean and stuff. Having the guys stay up all night keeping things secure also made me feel safer. Tomorrow we were going to be sleeping in a bit and not starting our game drive until around 8am and staying out later. Fine by me, I needed my beauty sleep!

    Day 13
    Our first real game drive in the Masai Mara. I still couldn’t help but smile the whole time because it was so pretty. I really loved it here. At this point is when I realized why people can want to come back time and again. For some reason this is the place that stuck with me. Within minutes of entering the gate, we saw a female cheetah. She was eyeing some gazelles that were way far away. Our guide told us she was going to be going after them, but it would take a while. We waited around for about 40 minutes with her. She would stalk a little then sit down or have a drink for about 5 minutes. Then she would move again. At one point she wanted to cross over a big puddle and sort of stepped in it, but decided she didn’t want to get dirty and muddy. She was like my cat at home, I loved it! Eventually, it got boring and I really didn’t want to see a kill (if that was ever going to happen) so we moved on. On this drive, and the remainder of our drives in the mara, we got our own Masai spotter. My sister even had a little crush on him. After the cheetah, we came upon a big pride of lions resting in the shade. I could see there were some younger ones in there, but no real cubs. That was something I was hoping to see, but never actually did. The lions were being pretty unimpressive just laying around so we moved on. After the lions was a massive herd of buffalo. Steve thought he was being funny because he put us right in the middle of it and they were extremely close. I was terrified because they had lots of babies with em and I didn’t want them to charge us thinking we were after their babies! Don’t get me wrong, if I really wanted steve to move he would have, but I was just nervous and I know he knows those animals way better than me so im pretty sure we were safe. We just sat and watched them for a little while. They were just staring at us and I had grown to love these guys. Then, steve noticed a baby who had JUST been born minutes before. The mom had the afterbirth hanging out of her and the baby could hardly walk and was all wet. It was beautiful to see. Since we were the first to come upon this little guy we named him Baby Bertoni after me n Jess’ family name! We watched him try walking around and nursing for about a half hour. Eventually more people came so we called it quits, but we were very happy about this sighting. After the buffalo came 3 cheetah brothers. I wish my guide knew more about them like some people seem to know. Maybe they are masai mara celebrities! They were clearly on the move and wanted something to eat, but there was not a single gazelle or anything in sight. Maybe WAY off in the distance, but it was gonna take em forever to get there. They were so great to watch. I thought the lions would be my favorite of the trip, but the cheetahs really made a sneak attack with me because they win by a land slide. They are so graceful and not nearly as lazy as the lions. I always thought they had kind of awkward bodies, but in person they are amazing and not awkward at all. After the cheetahs, our spotter spotted a black rhino in the brush. I was pretty sure it was just a rock he was looking at, and then it moved and I saw his horn and he was much bigger than expected. He didn’t seem to want to move much though so all we really saw was his head. I was pretty pleased though. From what he said, they aren’t the easiest to come by in the mara, so it was nice to see.

    This was such a great game drive, so it was going to be pretty hard to top it. Hmm, maybe if we saw a leopard. Steve knew that was the last thing on my list of what I wanted to see. I didn’t want to count on it, though, because I didn’t want to be let down if I didn’t see it. First, steve took us to the hippo pool because he knew we really wanted to get a good sighting of hippos. We were allowed to get out of the car for this, which was a nice change. The hippos proved to be a bit boring though. I knew they spent most of their time in water, but I didn’t realize not a single one would be out. They just kept bobbing up and down. All I could see were their little eyes and noses. There was a baby which was cute, but again, all I saw were his eyes and nose. After the hippos we came upon a group of topis play fighting. At least I think they were playing. They were all butting heads and running around and prancing. One even started going after a gazelle and it was so funny. No sure if you all have seen a topi run, but sometimes they do this bounce thing and it is adorable. I really started to fall in love with these guys. We called it a night after this and headed back to camp.

    Me n jess tried to chat it up with our masai guardsmen, but they didn’t speak very good English. I asked one what he does with all the cows and he said sometimes they drink their blood if they have no food. Yikes! Another ran off to get a small branch from a tree. I asked what he was doing with that and he said making a toothbrush. Pretty cool. We all joked around with the masai men asking how many cows we would be worth and it was fun. They would ask us if we could handle getting water in the river with crocs in it and if we could count all of the cows. Steve asked me if we have to pay dowries and the only reason I even knew what that was is because I learned about it in an anthropology course I took. I told him most Americans probably don’t know that word and no we don’t have to do anything like that really. Steve had also told us about how beating the women in the masai culture is fine. We asked what sort of thing would lead to that. One masai man said that if he is out working, he leaves his wife with the cows and goats. When he comes back, he counts his livestock. If one is gone, she is punished. SO we called it an early night tonight because we were heading out by 6:15 tomorrow! It would be our last full day in the mara and my last full day in Africa since I would be flying home the same night we returned back to Nairobi.

    Day 14
    We woke up and got into the mara before the sun came up. It was such a beautiful setting for a sunrise. We came upon a pride of lions who were just laying around in the road. They didn’t have a kill and didn’t appear like they planned on making one. They were slightly more active than the ones we had previously seen in the bushes the day before, but not exciting. Ive learned that lions can be the most boring animal to watch, even if they are one of my favorites. There was a group of cars from Mombasa and Steve told us he could tell by the way they drove. The people in the car were being very loud and the car was going off the road where it shouldn’t have. When we went off the main road we kept ourselves on the designated paths. These guys just created their own. I don’t like when people are disrespectful to the animals at all. I wanted to yell at them but I just gave them the stink eye. Seriously, were watching lions be so mellow and its early in the morning, why are you yelling and being obnoxious?

    Steve was really working on finding me a leopard. We found a tree with a gazelle skeleton in it, but it was really old. No leopard in sight. We came upon a serval cat who was so pretty but moved very fast, so I only got a pic of the back of her. Oh well! Then steve said he had spotted a leopard but he lost it! We spent like 20 minutes in the area trying to find her again with no luck. Kinda disappointing since we almost had it but it was taken away. All the other animals had just sort of fallen into our laps, so I knew actually trying to find one wasn’t going to pan out.

    At one point we met up with a family of mongoose. Steve stopped in front of their burrow and we watched them peer their heads out to see if the coast was clear. They were communicating with a single mongoose across the road. So we moved our car to appear like we weren’t their anymore. Finally they all moved to one hole and then got out together and made a run for it. They were so fun to watch. One got left behind though. Poor little guy. And when they were running, they all stopped at the same time and stood up together. No pics of this really since I was manning the video camera. These guys were a favorite to watch though. So tiny, but they are entertaining. We eventually came up to a group of giraffes, resident zebra and wildebeest, gazelles, warthogs. I plethora of animals. I loved seeing everyone together like that. This is what I pictured Africa like in my head! Overall, our last game drives were less than amazing. We loved to see anything so I wasn’t disappointed (except for not seeing the leopard). I really didn’t want to see any kills either, so I was pretty happy with everything.

    On the way to our evening game drive, Steve took one of the camp staff members into town. The guy gave steve 100 shillings and I joked with myself in my head, hmm secret drug deal? Then steve gave the guy a larger amount of money (that I didn’t see) and I saw a rolled up bill under a map. WTF? I was just kidding when I said secret drug deal! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding I though. Me and jess looked at each other and didn’t have to say anything. We were both thinking the same thing. But seriously, can these people really afford drugs? Plus, steve seemed really responsible and not like that at allll. I figured I was just seeing things incorrectly. Later that night in camp, steve would not put down his little blue bag. He never carried it with him, but tonight he did. Hmmm, very fishy when your clients already suspect you made a secret drug deal!!! THEN, him and the guy we took into town went into steves little cabin. They made sure the curtains were shut. Me and jess went to investigate. If it was pot we would smell it. We didn’t smell anything and we don’t speak Swahili so we couldn’t understand them. They were only gone a few minutes. According to gametrackers, its against their policy to allow staff to drink alcohol while with clients. Me and jess came to the conclusion that they were secretly drinking alcohol instead of doing drugs. Seriously, can you buy any of those powdered drugs for like 200 shillings? And is it even available in a little town like Talek? Maybe the rolled up bill I saw was something else? I just cant see any of those guys we were with doing anything more than drinking! During dinner we had some lions hanging around the outskirts doing their little roars. For some reason it was really comforting. I love the sound they make. Its so relaxing to me. You know, just when im finally getting used to the animal sounds, its time for me to go home.

    We had to break into our second 3 liter bottle of water today. It tasted like I was drinking toilet water. It was so nasty. All the other water I had been drinking tasted like normal bottled water, but this didn’t. I noticed that the brand was different than the other 3 liter we had just finished. And our 3rd 3 liter didn’t evne have a lable on it, so I didn’t know what brand it was. I decided to open that one, hoping it would taste better than whatever I was just drinking. It didn’t. The label of one of them said it was cartridge filtered with uv lights or whatever. I dunno if that’s not as good a filtering system as others used or if we just got a bad batch but it sucked. We had Peter boil us rain water instead. That tasted much better.

    Day 15

    We had one more minigame drive before heading back to Nairobi. It was definitely bittersweet that this was coming to an end. On one hand, I was so ready to return to normal life (and comforts) of the states, but on the other I was just starting to feel comfortable in my surroundings and it was time to leave. Since I hate flying so much, I was on edge the whole day. I didn’t like that later that night I would be on a flight. It was hard for me to enjoy my remaining hours just thinking about flying. Before leaving Jess and I made our daily tea with milk and sugar. Peter knows we always put milk in our tea, but he asked if we did today. We said yes and he told us it was bad milk. Crap. I took a cipro for good measure. I really didn’t want to be having pee butt on my flight home. I prefer my uncomfortable seat thank you. Steve was clearly looking for a leopard again. After like 30 minutes I told him it was fine. Maybe he thought he would get a better tip if he found one for me, but it wouldn’t have helped. I was ok not seeing my leopard. I met one at an animal rescue center in florida, so its not like ive never seen it. I just wanted to see one in the wild, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles!

    We took one of the camp staff members with us for some reason. Steve didn’t ask if it was ok if he joined us on our 6 hour drive back. Obviously this was fine, we had plenty of room in the car for him, but we paid good money to have our private car, driver, and the gas. I would have just liked steve to make sure it was cool that he came. About an hour outside of Nairobi we stopped for lunch. I noticed steve left his blue bag in the car and everyone had gotten out to go to the bathroom and stuff so I reeeally wanted to investigate things. I was trying to call Jess’ name to ask if I should look in the bag but she was busy searching through something in her bag and didn’t hear me. Then I noticed the guy looking at me so I panicked and didn’t look. When I told jess what she missed out on, she was very upset that this would haunt her for the rest of her life. What was in that blue bag?! At this curio shop we picked up another guest. Again, Steve didn’t ask if that was ok with us. This guest was the owner of the curio shop. He was going to the gametrackers office. Jess was right! They were all in this thing together! I called steve out on it and asked if they work together. Like it’s a set up thing that we will stop at his shop and he pays gametrackers a commission? Steve played dumb, like he always does when he doesn’t want to answer a question. He just said the guy is a friend of gametrackers. Finally I knew at least. That’s why steve knows all these guys all the time. They all secretly work together. Or maybe its not so secretly and I just didn’t get the memo that this is how it works?

    We arrived at the panafric without any problems. Surprisingly this whole trip was pretty problem free. No flat tires or mechanical problems. The Panafric was pretty nice. A little outdated, but the staff was great and it felt safe and clean. Of course I took a shower right away. It was so great relaxing on a bed again. We got internet access there, so I wanted to check into my flight online and make sure everything was on time. As soon as I log in, I see a story saying there is a baggage problem at terminal 4 and anything traveling through there cannot check luggage or they wont be able to travel. Great. I knew I had to travel into terminal 4 since I was flying BA, but I wasn’t fully clear on if I was just transferring, could I check my bag? I had my mom call to find out since skype wasn’t working well. The lady said I could bring my bag, but they would have to like ship it to my house. Since all I had were safari clothes that I would never wear in the real world, I just said screw it and only did carry on. I did, however, have to leave my precious knife with my sister who was continuing on to Tanzania. Since I brought like ALL of my underwear with me, I picked my favorite pairs to bring back and left the uglies. Hopefully no one has to search my bags, right?

    We had a delicious meal at the restaurant in the hotel. I made a little video diary thing to remind myself of all the thigns I would miss, and all those that I wouldn’t miss. Figured it would be fun to watch later since you tend to forget the little things.

    I arrived at the airport without issue. I have heard people say not to go out at night, so even though it was a hotel cab driver, I was nervous about car jackings and stuff. I was totally fine though. At check in, many people were rerouted due to the terminal 4 issue. They were all confused like wtf? I told them about the news story and they were confused as I was. How can you not be able to check bags because of a computer thing. Isnt there a backup system? Guess not. Luckily I wasn’t rerouted!

    Because of the rerouting issues, our flight was about 45 minutes delayed. I didn’t care since all that was doing was decreasing my wait time in heathrow. We finally took off and I was sitting near some great people. Im not a big talker on flights, I like to keep to myself, but I couldn’t help it. There was an older woman who had been doing orphanage work in Rwanda and a nice Kenyan man who had businesses in the USA. We talked abour Rwanda and he had never been there. He travels the world, but not his own backyard! The flight was super bumpy to start out with. I looked out the window and there was a beautiful yet terrifying lightning storm outside. We were not in it, but I could see it in the distance. It would go straight down and light up the land below it. If I wasn’t so scared, I would have taken a picture. The Kenyan man could tell how scared I was and he said, its just like when you drive a car. You hit a bump in the road do you get scared? I said no, but if my car crashes I might survive. If the plane does I wont. Then he said, Well you are here now and cant do anything about it so just relax. It was nice of him to try and comfort me, but I was so scared it didn’t help. Even my ambient didn’t help. Eventually, though, the ride was smooth and I slept most of the time. I waited for my layover in heathrow and then got on my plane to LAX. For some reason the couple next to me moved seats. I got the whole row to myself. I made sure to make myself comfortable and it was such a nice flight. This happened to me on the way back from Japan and Florida too. Im really lucky I guess! As soon as I got through customs, I was greeted by my very happy parents. The end!

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    Jen, that's a great report, and really gives a good sense of what its like to be on safari (you didn't sugarcoat anything, which is very welcoming). I think I've even been guilty of sugarcoating since I tend to write my trip reports while basking in the glow of warm memories, and I later think of things I should have added.

    Your report is very refreshing -- thanks for sharing.


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    Thanks for finishing your report, Jen! It is a lot of work which is why I've been putting off starting mine ;)

    I read that same in-flight mag article and thought these guys have got to be kidding! Have they ever actually driven to the Mara? It's 5-6 hours on a good day.

    Glad you got to see the rhino and the newborn buffalo calf.

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    I found this to be a really interesting report. I am a little surprised that you would recommend Steve after some of your experiences, though! I laughed at your description of taking your first Ambiens on the plane. When I flew to South Africa with my sister last summer, I took an Ambien and she didn't. When I woke up, she told me that I'd been saying "this isn't working at all! I'm not even tired!" in a totally out-of-it voice, before suddenly passing out.

    I'd be curious to know at what point in the trip you made the decision to come home early. Did your sister enjoy the rest of her time in Tanzania?

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    Hi Jen,

    Thanks for your report, and for being so honest and detailed about your experiences. I really enjoyed reading it, and I think you've done a great service for people who are researching different types of trips to Africa. Like Leely, I'm also a big fan of camping at home but wasn't so sure I would have as much fun doing that in East Africa. It's so important to know yourself and be realistic about what you'd be most comfortable with when you're traveling (especially when you're spending such a big chunk of your hard-earned money and vacation time!). You showed us that you have a good sense of humor, and that probably helped a lot during the rough patches. Now you know some new things about yourself... and that's part of what's great about travel, too.

    You had some wonderful animal sightings, and I'm sure you will never forget them. I'm so jealous of your serval picture! We saw them several times on our trip and never could get a decent picture.

    To answer your question... yep, every time we crossed the equator (4 times in our trip), we ran into those guys with the water demo and the certificates. :)

    And, following up on Wayne's suggestion about India -- tiger safaris are incredible, but as he noted you do have to work a lot harder for your sightings than you do in Africa (and you need to be prepared that you might not see a tiger). Also, if you thought the culture shock in East Africa was something, wait until you get to Delhi! ;)

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    Great report jen. Glad you enjoyed the rest of your trip in the Mara. You certainly had some adventures, hope you'll be laughing about them in the future. You're an excellent writer...keep it up!

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    What an entertaining trip report! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I'm sorry it all wasn't perfect for you. The gorilla permit mixup is really inexcusable since you booked and paid early but at least you did get to see them. You have some great pictures, too. Thanks for posting.

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    Thanks for the report, Jen. You really know how to tell a story. I’m glad you understood the Mara and I’m sure the topis helped you in this. Guides have been getting commissions from curio sellers for centuries without telling their clients, so it’s really not such a big deal, or maybe it is. I don’t think your guide used any illegal drugs, at least not anything worse than taking antibiotics as a preventive measure. ;) I like the canvas top Gametrackers vehicle because you could both have a road safari and an open-sided vehicle. Could you look out well through the soft plastic windows when travelling between parks? I’m sorry about the lack of leopards, bur so jealous of your black rhino sighting.

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    well im glad everyone enjoyed my report! If it helps just one person to understand what it will REALLY be like on a camping safari, then i have done my job! :-) Oh and i will definitely make sure my sister posts a report here. Shes not a fodorite, but i think ill turn her into one.

    Nyamera- yeah the vehicle worked out really nicely. They washed it every few days, so the plastic windows were fine. They were easy to unzip and roll up though if we wanted to do that between parks. Yeah i dont think its a big deal that the guides get commission. i mean, if we wanna buy the stuff anyways then i guess its a win win situation for all parties involved! :-D

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    Just and FYI to some of those interested:

    1. R&N has arranged a wire to us and has been extremely apologetic. They told me that this is the first time they have had any problems with any of their tours. They ended up firing our guide, Mobutu. They have done a good job, in my opinion, of trying to make this right for my sister and me, so i hope my one negative experience doesn't stop people from using this company. Their prices are the best i found on the internet and they really have had nothing but positive reviews here.

    2. My sister just returned yesterday from Tanzania and said how amazing it was. She said their guide was so much fun and some of the tents they stayed in even had flushing toilets! So much for budget camping. Ill make sure she posts a report here soon!

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    glad your sister enjoyed her stay in Tanzania. maybe you could link her report to yours when she is ready to write it. it would make it easy to find her.
    glad to hear that R&N has made things right for you.


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