Posted: under Kenya.
It’s 5.30am, still dark and chilly as I get up. My goal is to see sunrise from the view tower. I dress quickly and get on the trail. It’s still very dark in the depths of the forest but by the time I reach the open hill on the which the viewing tower is located it’s quite bright. I arrived at the tower at 6. I could hear the forest waking up all around me. The birds and monkeys getting their day started. There was some movement behind me in the trees but I didn’t see who was making it. I was at the viewpoint a little early since the sun didn’t rise till 6.35am. It was an amazing sight to see the suns rays illuminate through the fog of the forest. I hung out for an 30 minutes taking photos and then went back to camp. I ate breakfast at the German camp. They were just getting ready to go to work. I rest in my tent after breakfast and then walk the main entrance road to some trails I hadn’t walked yet. I take the appropriately named colobus trail because I see plenty of colobus monkeys on it. I finally got a good look at one of them, though from a distance. The colobus is fast becoming my favourite monkey. They have a black body, white face and black tail with a bushy white tip but the most curious thing about their appearance is an O ring loop along the edges of their back of long white hair. I get some ok photos just to show what they look like.
Back in camp I finish lunch and a troupe of red tailed monkeys comes through camp. These monkeys, smallest of the 3 arboreal monkeys here, have a white belly and cheeks and nose, grey limbs and face, orangish brown back and contrary to their name, the tail is more of an orangy brown than red. Even colobus monkeys come to camp. I don’t even have to leave camp to see animals here, I really like that.
I prepare my teepee for my cooking fire. The Belgians left yesterday and nobody new has arrived. I have the whole campsite to myself. Fireflies fill the air after sunset. I hangout with the Germans for a while and then look at the day’s photos in my tent before crashing.
My forth day at Kakamega begins with breakfast around 9. I decide just to chill at camp for a while. I read and write my journal till 11 when a troupe of red tailed monkeys passes through camp. The debris from their tree crashing falls onto my tent.I get out onto the trail at 12. I take the colobus trail again and spook a red flanked duiker, a small brownish forest antelope rarely seen. It sees me and turns around and runs. I walk the trial through an arboretum where trees are labelled. The trail doesn’t take the 2 hours the sign indicated so I take the long way back to camp. A heavenly fragrance of strong perfumey soap permeates the air. It smells so good! The source is a small white flower, like miniature jasmine blooms. Clouds have gathered and there is a lot of thunder but the rain only sprinkles for a few minutes. I eat my last pb sandwich and put peanut butter on my Borio cookies, because I’m leaving tomorrow and don’t need lunch. It’s sad to see my foodbag so empty. I really enjoyed my time here and think 5 days was a good amount of time to spend here. As I signed the guestbook, I noticed that most visitors only stay 1 or 2 days. The guys at the German research camp really noticed I was a different kind of traveller, serious about my forest for staying for 5 days. I made another perfect teepee for my fire but the German’s invited me to dinner and I never refuse free food, not to mention they are good company anyway. They have their own cook. Tonight he prepared veggie lasagna (Yvonne, the only female researcher, was vegetarian) french fries and squash.It was all very tasty. We drank a bit of rum and hung out till the late bedtime of 9pm!
Dec 04 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
My second day at Kakamega I started walking the trails at 10am. Since I already saw most of the animals I wanted to see and that are possible to see, it’s not necessary for me to be on the trail super early. The animals seem active at all hours of the day because it doesn’t get super hot here where they need to rest. Today I took the waterfall trail and was a little disappointed at the ‘waterfall’. It wasn’t even 2m high! After this I followed the river trail for a few hours. The forest around the river is very nice with tall trees and seemingly undisturbed. Lots of the forest in Kakamega is regenerating secondary forest with shorter trees, many guava trees ( not a native species) and dense undergrowth. I don’t like secondary forest so much, mature tropical lowland rainforest actually has very little undergrowth and is easy to walk in and good visibility for finding hiding forest inhabitants.
It was almost an hour and a half before I saw anything but then some colobus monkeys made an appearance. They are very skittish though and usually retreat instantly to where they can’t see me anymore. I don’t make it to the end of the trail but turn around anyway because most of the trails here aren’t loops so I know I have to walk back the way I came. I was getting hungry and still had 2 hours to wake back.
I eat my pb sandwiches for lunch back at camp. A Belgian couple had arrived and are camping as well. They go on a hike as I’m resting and I see them later at dinner. As I’m resting in my tent I hear the telltale sign of monkeys crashing through the treetops. A troupe of blue monkeys are in the forest around my tent and I can see them without even getting out of my tent. I love watching wildlife from my tent. It’s the ultimate lazy man’s safari! Contrary to their name, blue monkeys are not really blue, from what I could see. They are more a greyish blacky silver.
I go back into the forest at 4.30 hoping for some close photo opportunities but no luck. I take a cold shower and wash some clothes. I don’t mind the cold shower, it has powerful pressure which always makes for a good shower no matter the temperature.
Jasna and Alex, the Belgians, are in the kitchen when I start to make a fire. We are both trying to start fires. I didn’t make a proper teepee for my fire and just used what was there and it was a mistake. It took me a long time to get it going. I should’ve known better since I’ve stared plenty of fires in the bush before at home, not for cooking but for light,warmth and something to hangout around. Jasna goes to bed and Alex and I stay up for a while. The sky is clear with no light pollution making for amazing stars.
My third day at Kakamega begins like the rest. Wake up at 8.30am, eat breakfast and get on the trail around 10.30 after talking with Neills for a while. It’s sunday, no work for him today. I walk to the viewpoint, about 40 minutes from camp. As I make my last step up to the base of the viewpoint tower, I’m really surprised to see a troupe of colobus monkeys all around the base of the viewing tower. They must have heard me coming but waited till they saw me to flee. They hung around for about 4 seconds deciding what to do. Of course they decided to retreat into the forest before I could get a photo. I hung around the view tower for a while and then wandered another trail before heading back to camp mid afternoon.
I eat lunch and then get firewood for tonight’s dinner. I make a proper teepee with super dead and dry kindling. I lit one piece of toilet paper, put it in the base of the teepee and instant fire, no hassle. My noodles are cooked in no time. I hang out with the Germans at their camp after dinner. They have solar panels hooked up to car batteries for powering their Macbooks, phones, headlamps etc. They let me charge my camera batteries, headlamp batteries and Ipod. It’s sunday night and they usually have some sort of entertainment. Tonight it’s 2 episodes of The Simpsons. The first is in English but the second is in German, but I had already seen both. It was interesting to hear how they dubbed the voices in German. It was so cool and kind of surreal to be watching my favourite show in the middle of the forest in Kenya.
Bushbuck, a medium sized brownish antelope visit the camp every night. We see their eyeshine near the forest edge. It’s a late night, 9.30pm and we all go to bed. I have an early start tomorrow morning to see sunrise from the view tower.
Dec 04 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
I set up my tent on the edge of the campsite as far away as I could get from the kitchen and everything else. I like my privacy and silence. Guides are available for the trails but not mandatory. The trails are not well marked but are easy to see and I thought I’d give them a go before I hired at guide, since a guide for a 4 hour walk was almost $13.
Kakamega is the the easternmost forest of the once great Guinean-Congolian forest and the largest slab of rainforest left in Kenya. It’s not a big reserve and is still under considerable pressure from locals for illegal logging, firewood collecting, encroaching agriculture and grazing from cattle. The forest lies at an altitude of about 1500m making it more a montane rainforest than a hot and steamy lowland forest. Temperatures in the day hit around 29 C and the coldest night dropped to 14 C.
Biota is a German research camp located beside Udo’s camp and I really got to know some of the scientists there. Some trails started from their camp so I always had to walk through it. I met Neills my first day and he gave me some info about the forest and trails. He is here for 3 months studying pollination and is part of the much larger 9 year long Biota research project encompassing all aspects of the forest.
I came to Kakamega mostly for the primates of which there are 5 duirnal species – baboon, black and white colobus, red tailed monkey, blue monkey and De brazza’s monkey. Baboons walked the main entrance road and I passed them on my way in. I was surprised to see baboons here, I thought they were mainly a savanna animal. But then again, I walked in the forest for hours everyday and I never saw a baboon. I only saw them around camp. The main monkey I wanted to see was the De brazza’s and was really disappointed to learn that it doesn’t exist in this part of the forest anymore. Kakamega is made up of fragments of forest and the De brazza’s suppposedly exists in the northern fragment, I was told. Though Neills had never seen one. It was too much $ and hassle to go the this fragment of forest but I will have more opportunities for finding the De brazza’s in Uganda and Rwanda.
As I headed out on the trail Neills said I would see all the 3 other species of monkey and he was right. It was already 4pm when I started out and it gets dark in the forest around 6 so I just walked for an hour and then turned around. But this was enough time to see the blue monkey, actually right near camp and the red tailed monkey and black and white colobus further out in the forest. The blue monkey hung around long enough and low enough for me to get some ok photos of it. I was happy to have seen all the monkeys and now it would be my mission to try and get some photos of them.
It was friday night and there were a lot of people around the kitchen which is just some firepits in a large banda (native mud walled hut with conical straw roof). It turns out it was one staff members going away party. They invited me to join but I didn’t feel right about it. I just cooked my noodles and beans and chilled in my tent. The party went on till 2am, I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t keeping me up the whole time but I could hear them laughing loudly and was surprised when I got up for a pee break at 1.30am and heard them still. They asked me the next day how I slept!I said it was kind of loud and they replied, ‘ Yes, everyone was very happy!’
Dec 03 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
Friday was my last day in Kisumu and after breakfast I got the rest of my food and changed some money before heading to Kakamega forest. There is only a campsite, basic kitchen and long drop toilets there, so I had to bring everything with me. I estimated I’d stay 5 days and bought 5 days worth of food. I usually like any rainforest a lot so I thought 5 days would be good and if I really wanted to, I’m sure I could figure out to stay longer. I bought this maize cereal (corn flakes, basically) with powdered milk and coffee for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches and bananas for lunch, instant noodles with baked beans and milo to drink for dinner. I also brought some chocolate bars and cookies for snacks. I was set to go. I took a matatu to Kakamega from Kisumu, again getting the front seat but I found out later the conductor charged me twice the real price. I really hate that, they see white skin and the price skyrockets!
Not much of scenery along the way and I arrived Kakamega town after about 2 hours. A few people tried to help me get to the forest from the town but it turns out that thought I was going somewhere much closer when they suggested I take a taxi. The taxi then quoted me like $25! A little bit too much for me since it was only 18km away. I took a matatu heading towards Kitale and they dropped me off at the junction to Kakamega forest. From there I walked 600m to the gate and park headquarters. The price for daily entry had doubled since my LP guidebook was published. It was now $20 daily entry fee and $5 for camping, for a total of $25 everyday I stayed there. My food only cost me about $14 and I worked that into my daily budget of the day before I came to Kakamega, so essentially it was costing me just $25 a day to stay there. It was another 1.5km to Udo’s campsite on a road through forest, most of it in the shade because it was hot and sunny but still tough carrying all my things and about 5kg worth of food. I arrived at camp around 2pm.
Dec 03 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
Before I left Nakuru I wanted to visit Menangi crater, 9km out of town. I got up at 8am and went to the bus station to look for a moto to take me there. I could’ve taken a taxi but it’s more expensive and I prefer the open air of a motorbike. I found a driver quickly,or should I say he found me. He quoted me a supercheap price and I suspected he didn’t know where exactly I was talking about. It became clear when he wanted to take me the opposite way when we came to a roundabout. I made myself more clear ( I thought I was pretty clear before!) and this time he was sure. He doubled the price but that was still cheap so it was ok. He kept asking for directions the whole way there. About half way there, the road turned to dirt and ruts but my driver negotiated it well. The way was all uphill and we passed by some people and kids who were very friendly waving and screaming ‘hello’. I must say most Kenyans I’ve met have been very friendly and genuine.
We finally reached the crater edge with a panoramic viewpoint. The crater is extinct but vegetation can be seen growing in the crater floor on the old black lava flows. The crater is a few km in diameter and has most of its walls intact. Satisfied with the crater and my photos I went back to town to eat and try and change money. Breakfast went well but the $ changing not so well. Nakuru is a large town and I went to every bank and forex bureau and not one would change travellers cheques. I couldn’t believe it. Thankfully I travel with a bank card/visa and cash but I always try to change my travellers cheques first. I took some $ out with my bank which was painless and easy. Hopefully Kisumu, where I’m going next can change T/C.
I packed up my stuff and walked to the bus station. I got into a minivan, known here as a matatu, right away going to Kisumu. The driver said it was leaving in 40 minutes. Yeah, I had my doubts about that since it was already noon and most vehicles leave in the morning. We left 3 hours later! They gave me the front seat and I sat and read while I waited. There were tons of hawkers selling all the same shit – locks, combs, jewellery, wallets, electric razors, hats, water and candy. I was a prime target being white and stuck in the matatua. Everyone selling something must have approached me. All were friendly and some even left after I expressed no desire to buy anything but some hung around to talk. Then they were some that gave me their sob story and told me just to give them money because they had a ‘pure heart’, whatever that means. I was glad when we finally got going.
The journey took about 3.5 hours to Kisumu and the road was pretty rough for most of it. We passed through the tea growing region of Kericho. Neatly pruned valleys of tea blanketed both sides of the road and some were even being harvested. We descended the central highlands down to Kisumu on the tropical slopes of Lake Victoria. I took a moto taxi, known as boda boda because they used to be the main transport to take people from the Kenyan border to the Ugandan border. It’s all about the way they pronounce the word border,like boda, and then the boda boda was born. There are motorized boda boda and bicycle boda boda’s with a bug cushiony seat over the rear tire. I took the boda boda to the Western lodge but thought it was a bit pricey and just didn’t like the way the guard who showed me the rooms acted. I couldn’t get a straight answer out of him and I don’t have much patience when I’m tired, hungry, dirty and carrying both my packs. I checked a few other places and ended up settling at the Lakeside Hotel, not in the guidebook but a big room, attatched bath and the rate included full breakfast. Kisumu has my kind of climate, it was 28 C when I arrived and only dropped to 25 C during the night. The only problem was that no hotel had any fans in the room. They said the breeze from the lake is the fan. I don’t know about that! I prefer a fan, it was borderline trying to sleep and I was just on the edge of lying there sweating but I didn’t and slept ok. I was just so damn thirsty all night and finished my 600mL bottle of water beside my bed before morning.
Thursday morning I had to get up before 9 because that’s when breakfast stopped being served. It’s ok I was up anyway and had plenty of rest. Since I’m on the shores of Lake Victoria I thought I should go down to the waterfront for some pictures. To do this I walked 3km to the village of Dunga, which is supposed to have the most pleasant access. I could have stayed in town but it was something to do. It was sunny and a very agreeable 30 C. I got my haircut really short, no more thinking about hair for a few months now! I came to Kisumu because it’s on my way to my real destination of Kakamega Forest Reserve, western Kenya’s only rainforest. I started to buy supplies because there is no restaurant there, I’ll be doing all my own cooking. The forest has trails and I think I’d like to stay for 5 days so I’m buying enough food to last for that. After Kakamega I’m going to make a break for the Ugandan border so I’m not sure when I’ll be back online. But rest assured if you don’t get any updates from me for a while at anytime, it just means that I’m out doing stuff and nothing to worry about.
Nov 27 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
We had breakfast before 7 and we all met out front at 7.15am. The park is only a 10 minute drive from this part of town. After the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru is Kenya’s most popular park, due to the prescene of many birds, guaranteed sightings of white rhino and other wildlife. As soon as we entered the park, huge herds of cape buffalo were lying in the grass in the distance. We drove through some forest surrounding the lake and saw many waterbucks. In the open grassland we came very close to a white rhino family, 2 adults and one young. Zebra, impala, grant’s gazelle and thomson’s gazelle were all fairly abundant. A pair of spotted hyena’s walked briskly in the distance and we were able to intercept their direct path a while later. One of them walked close to the back of our van and I was able to get a decent photo. We ascended a hill that leads to a viewpoint on a cliff. I could see the whole park and lake from here, since the park isn’t that big.
Rock hyraxes are often seen here according to Animal. The rock hyrax is a small animal that looks kind of like a groundhog/guinea pig and is more closely related to elephants, believe it or not, due to its dental arrangement. This animal produces a blood curdling scream at night and I heard them while in our camp in the Masai Mara. There is also the tree hyrax which lives in the rainforest and I heard their scary screams in the forests of Ghana. Unfortunately I haven’t seen either one of these mysterious animals yet. I scanned the cliffs and was lucky to spot 4 of them just relaxing down below on some rocks. I was so happy to finally see them.
We drove the high road behind the cliff and saw a white rhino, the adorable Kirk’s dik dik and the rothschild giraffe, a subpecies different that the masai giraffe in the mara. We descended back to lake level and drove close to the waters edge. We stopped here and were able to get out of the van. Just back from the shore were reclining rhinos and buffaloes, so we stayed away from them. Lake Nakuru has huge nubmers of pelican, storks, and lesser and greater flamingoes. The lesser flamingoes feed on the algae which in turn gives them their pink color. Their numbers rise and fall with the lake levels. We continued driving around the lake, through more forest. Leopards and monkeys are often seen but with all our scanning we couldn’t find any.
We left the park around noon and went for lunch in Nakuru town. We ate a delicious lunch of breaded tilapia fillets and french fries. Gala and Colandra would be heading back to Nairobi but I’m going west, no need to go back to Nairobi. I’m so glad I’m done with that city until I leave to go home. I won’t be going to any other city as big or as potentially dangerous. Animal took me to the Muko Hotel and I got a room literally on the roof. There was only 2 rooms on the roof and I took the one. This worked out great too because I had a lot of clothes to wash and there was somewhere to wash and tons of clothes lines. I washed my clothes and took a nap and when I awoke they were all dry. It was a sunny day and most of my things are light and quick drying. I went out to write the blog and then have dinner. It was about 8pm when I finished writing and the town seemed almost asleep. As Kenya’s third largest town with a population of 163,000, I didn’t expect this. I did find an open restaurant and had another tilapia with chips washed down by the local tasy brew, Tusker. Things aren’t super cheap in Kenya, it takes some effort to find cheaper prices but even then they aren’t that cheap. I’ve had my cheapest bottle of Tusker last night actually, about $1.50 for a 500mL bottle. Tomorrow I will be leaving Nakuru to head west to Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Nov 27 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
My last day in the Masai Mara, I was awoken at 5.40am for breakfast at 6. After breakfast I packed and was ready to go, we all were but Animal was missing. He finally showed up at 7.15 and we left. We brought everything with us so we wouldn’t have to return to camp. Our last drive was nothing amazing.Sure, we saw animals but nothing remarkable and we exited the park at 10 through a different gate than were we entered. The road after the gate was worse than the other gate road. I hardly thought that was possible! About an hour later we drove off road to avoid a huge muddy area and got stuck ourselves. The terrain was short grass and didn’t look as muddy as it was but it was like quicksand. Everyone got out to help. Some put branches under the wheel to help with traction. We all got a bit muddy but the 2 guys from camp got really muddy. We finally got unstuck after 40 minutes and headed to a small junction for lunch. From here Emma, Sara and Henry would be returning to Nairobi and Gala and I would be heading to Lake Nakuru National Park with Animal. I was glad that we were keeping Animal as our guide and not getting put in with another inferior guide. Colandra from New Zealand joined us now. She said her guide in the Masai Mara wasn’t good at all.
From the junction it was 100km to Nakuru town, all of it on a very smooth road. We got there in 1.5 hours. We stopped at The Stem Hotel for the night. It was a nice hotel with swimming pool, though I didn’t swim. I was pretty tired from getting up so early and all the driving. My room was nice with hot shower and a mosquito net inside a mosquito net! Dinner was the usual buffet style with no food to brag about but it was ok. It was a little warmer here though due to a slightly lower elevation so I liked that a lot! Everyone went to bed early because it would be another early morning start tomorrow.
Nov 27 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
My second day in the Mara began at 6.45am. We had a breakfast of sausage, omelette, toast and coffee and then entered the park at 8. Most the same animals were hanging around the entrance gate again. Now is the low season for visitors, the high season being the wildebeest migration in June and then again in December and January, so even though there were 15 vans watching the lion pride yesterday, we often drover for a while not seeing anyone or just seeing vans in the far distance. At times it felt like we had the park all to ourselves.
We had been driving for about an hour when we were slowly climbing a rocky hill when I spotted our first elephant on the opposite side amongst some trees. I told Animal and he stopped and then I showed everyone where it was. I received ‘good spotting’ comments all around, that makes me feel good when I can enrich everyone’s experience by helping to find animals they might not have seen. This is why I always stand up. It was everyone else’s first time on safari. Even though I have only done a few safaris like this in the African savanna, I seem to have the eye for spotting.
We saw the odd troupe of vervet monkeys and olive baboons during the day. We drove to a posh lodge in the middle of the park to stop for a bathroom break. On the way I saw giraffes in the distance we drove towards them. It was a herd of a dozen masai giraffes, including young. All the animals we had seen so far had young with them. This time of year has that added bonus. The giraffes were quite close to the road and a few even walked right in front of us. I don’t think a lot of people know this but there is more than one type of giraffe. The masai giraffe is a subspecies which occurs in this area but is not the same giraffe I saw in South Africa or that can be seen in other parts of Kenya even. Zebras are the same with a few supspecies with subtle differences but for those that are ‘animal mad’ (as I’ve been called here already), it’s important to know exactly what they are looking at.
Throughout the day we saw all 3 types of bucks present – Defassa’s waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck. Animal spotted 3 cape buffaloes lying down around some small trees so we drove up to them. It was the closest I had ever been to these potentially dangerous animals. Oxpecker birds were all over them. These small birds feed on a lot of larger animals, eating ticks and other parasites and most animals let them go about their business. I think they know that they are helping them. One oxpecker was on the buffalo’s nose and feeding right inside in his nostrol ! Must be some good eats up there!
Gala spotted our first lions of the day in some srcubbing bushes. We followed them out into the open, 2 lionesses. They stopped for a rest on a small hill and we pulled up almost right beside them. Sometimes they would look at us but mostly they payed no attention to us. It was like we were not even there, they are fully habituated to vehichles and ignore them. I again was treated to another amazing close up experience and this time we were the only van around. Being this close I could see all the details of the lionesses. I felt bad for them because they were constantly plagued by little flies around their face and their eyes. They often closed their eyes or shook their head to get temporary relief. After a while another van pulled up. While trying to get in a good spot for viewing, their front tire got stuck in a hole. Not the best place to get stuck with 2 lions only 3m away! Animal pulled our van inbetween them and the lions and got out to help. He came back to our van to get something and when his door slammed the lions got spooked and got up. Everyone got out of the stuck van and it was easily moved back out of the hole. A bit of excitement though, more for the others than us! All the time we watched the lions, Sara was terrified. She thought they were going to jump into the van and start feasting on us of push the van over. I tried to tell her there was no reason to be afraid but she wasn’t having any of it. Lions aren’t known for attacking vehicles. I said if anything, she should be afraid of elephants, rhinos and buffaloes which can and do charge the occasional vehicle.
While driving to the Mara river for lunch we spotted some elephants. Animal drove off road and got us up close again to about a dozen animals. We headed back to main road and it rained heavy for about 15 minutes. We had a packed lunch at the Mara river. We could see a few crocodiles and some hippos in the muddy brown river.
After lunch we drove by our first male lion, lying not far from the road. Animal didn’t see him so he turned around and we parked right beside him for a while. I can’t believe how close we get and how unbothered the lion is. It’s really like were not even there if we keep quiet.
We came across a tree full of vultures and a half eaten carcass of an eland, the largest of the antelopes. A lioness was lying nearby in the shade of a small tree. About 100M away was another male lion lying in shade as well, both apparently taking a break from eating.
It was a full day of safari driving so all these events might not be in chronological order but I do know the next sighting happened on our way back around 4pm. I spotted 3 lioness lying a distance apart from each other in the open short grass. We pulled up to each one for photos and then noticed there were also 3 cubs lying almost on top of each. All the lions seemed to be pretty relaxed with their heads down. We got close to the cubs and I got some amazing shots. I also have plenty of pics of yawning lions! In the distance on the opposite side of a huge hill was a lone spotted hyena, the first time I’ve seen one. Although I’ve seen many animals I’ve wanted to see, I still have some on my wish list and hyena was near the top along with wild dog and cheetah. Most of the others are nocturnal animals which I won’t see here because there are no night drives. I was so happy to finally see a hyena, even if it was at a distance.
We got back to camp at 5.15, 9 hours after we left. I was feeling a bit tired near the end from getting up early and still getting used to the time difference. I will admit I didn’t stand up the whole 9 hours but when I started to feel tired I stood up to wake up and it really helped. I crashed for an hour and showered before another bland dinner. It had been another amazing day. I couldn’t believe all the lions we saw and how close we got. The Mara rocks! Tomorrow we have an early morning drive and then 2 of us carry on to Lake Nakuru National Park.
Nov 25 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
I got up at 8am saturday morning for breakfast because I was getting picked up at 9 for my 4 day safari. They picked me on time and then we picked up our 4 other passengers. Tour companies put people together on a tour if they only have one person going, even if you booked through another company. Sara and Emma, 2 young ladies from Ireland doing a round the world trip, were already in the van when they picked me up. Then we got Gala, a Russian/Canadian from Toronto on a work holiday and then Henry, a young travel agent from Nigeria.
We finally got on the road at 10. We stopped on an escarpment for a lovely view over the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley stretches from Ethiopia to Mozambique and is where Africa was almost ripped in 2. It contains many valleys,deep lakes and volcanoes. The road had been ok up to this point but then it turned into a diaster of potholes with a bit of road inbetween! We stopped at Narok for lunch and then it was another 1.5 hours on a horrible dirt road to our camp on the edge of the Masai Mara. Along the way we saw some giraffe in the distance and some zebras quite close to the road. We arrived at camp at 3.30. I got my own tent with 2 beds, similar to what I slept in in Kruger National Park in South Africa. After settling in we went out on our first game drive at 4. The gate for the park was only 2 minutes from camp. Immediately after entering the park there were many animals, zebras, wildebeests, grant’s gazelle and thomson’s gazelle. A bit further in were topi and hartebeest. I’m not really going to describe what many animals look like because there’s just too many. I understand many people might not be familiar with all these animals but you’ll have to wait for me to post photos or you can look them up on google images.
The landscape of the Masai Mara is the stereotypical savanna with long rolling grassy hills and Acacia trees and some scrub brush. I had never seen any landscapes like this before and it was great for wildlife viewing. It was my first time doing a safari in a minivan and I was a little skeptical on how it would be. The roof opens up about 60cm high and you can stand up and have an elevated 360 degree view, which I quite liked. The only downside is that you have to stand up. It’s fine to sit down and look out the window but I prefer to see everything to have the best chance for finding animals. The minivan sat 7 but with only 5 of us there was plenty of room for everyone to stand. Everyone did stand up for the first bit while there was a lot of animals but then they sat down. I stayed standing. It was a good thing I did to because I was the first to spot a pair of black backed jackals in the grass. Our guide/driver, who liked to be called ‘Animal’ told me it was some ‘good spotting!’. We drove closer to the jackals, who look like happy dogs, but they stayed on the move and wouldn’t let us get too close. There are tons of vehicle tracks in the Mara,some of them main roads, other just faint tracks through the grass but vehicles pretty much just drive where they want. So, whenever we saw an animal we wanted to get closer to, Animal would just drive up to it, terrain permitting. I know, not so great for the ecosystem but good for photos! Most of the time though, Animal did his best to stay on existing tracks because there is the possibility of getting stuck going off road and we’re only in a minivan.
Around 6pm we started heading back to camp because it’s dark by 7. I could see in the distance a gathering of minivans, this usually means something good is there. As we got closer I could see large beige animals and thought….hopefully it’s lion. I was right, a pride of 9 lions was understandably attracting all the attention. There were 3 lionesses and 6 cubs of varying ages. Right after we parked a lioness walked right in front of our van and just stood on my side of the van, about 1.5m away! She just stood there, intensely staring at something. It was amazing and an adrenaline rush to have this huge cat standing so close. I had seen lions before in Kruger but it was in tall grass and only a glimpse of their heads, nothing like this. One lioness stood guard under a tree while the rest starting slowly moving away from the vehicles. None of them seemed to pay any particular attention to the 15 vans parked all around them. The cubs played with each other while most of the vehicles began to leave. We stayed a little while longer because we were the last to arrive. We arrived back at camp at 6.30.
Camp consisted of about a dozen tents surrounded by small trees and a fence of euphorbia cactus to keep any curious intruders hopefully at bay. There was power from a generator and even hot showers and a powerbar to charge whatever. Dinner was at 7 and consisted of rice, beef, cabbage and chapathi. Most of the food I’ve eaten so far is very bland, maybe it’s just where I’ve eaten but I don’t think Kenya is known for its cuisine!
It rained earlier in the day on our drive to the Mara but the sky was clear now and full of stars. It shouldn’t be raining now, Animal said. The ‘short rains’ come and end around september. But I don’t mind some rain, it makes everything more fresh and lush and keeps down the dust. I went to bed around 9.30. My thoughts focused on what an amazing first day I’ve had. 10 species of animal, 4 of them new for me and the best lion experience I’ve had…..so far!
Nov 25 2008
Posted: under Kenya.
I arrived safely in Nairobi thursday night at 8pm, exactly 24 hours after leaving Toronto, including a time change of 8 hours ahead. My flight left Toronto 2 hours late at 8pm due to the snow. It was a smooth 6 hour flight to Amsterdam where I had a couple of hours before my next flight. This flight also left a little late but wasn’t nearly full. I had a window seat with an empty seat to my left and then a nun in the aisle seat. My first flight was full and only had larger strategically placed TV’s instead of the personal TV on the back of the chair, which is what I’ve become used to. Thankfully the second flight had the personal screens with mass movies to choose from. I watched Step Brothers, slept and then watched Wanted. The food was the usual ok airline food. Usually I don’t care what it is because I’m so hungry!
After landing in Nairobi I got my Visa for Kenya and then took a taxi to Terminal Hotel. I was very surprised by the lack of hassle at the airport, no one bothering me for a taxi or anything. It is almost summer in Kenya and the weather is very comfortable. It’s around 26 C during the day and 16 C at night. Most people would think these are ideal temperatures and I’m not complaining compared to the snow we had when I left, but as I usually say ‘ could be a little warmer!’ The reason for the milder temps. is that Kenya and most of East Africa inland from the coast is on a plateau. Most areas are about 1000M in elevation which tempers the ‘should be’ steamy tropical climate. My taxi driver last night said that Jun, July and August it gets cold at night, probably around 10 C sometimes.
I got up at 8am this morning after a 10 hour sleep but it wasn’t a heavy sleep. I kept waking up every few hours for a pee and a drink. I think the reason for the unsteady sleep was that I was going to bed at 2pm Canadian time, not exactly when I would be hitting the bed back home! It will take my body days to acclimatize. I read somewhere that it takes the body one day for every time zone crossed to be fully acclimatized.
I got up at 8am because the front desk guy said it was a good time to get up to start looking for safaris, which is why I’m here. He arranged for a friend of his to take me around to a bunch of tour operators, no pressure if I don’t like one of them. My city guide’s name was Alex. We went to a bunch of places and after breakfast I joined a 4 day tour of Masai Mara leaving saturday. I would be joining 2 others who were already booked. Masai Mara is the Kenya section of the famous Serengeti plains in Tanzania and one of the best places for wildlife in Kenya.
As for Nairobi, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I don’t really like it but I’ve been in much worse capital cities. No one was hassling me, maybe because I was with Alex, I’m not sure, but I didn’t see many beggars and the city is surprisingly clean of litter. I don’t think it’s because Kenyan’s don’t litter but because the city has a budget to pay people to keep the city clean. It felt nice not to be dodging litter around the streets. The city has a lot of tall buildings and also a lot of nice trees, many of which were in flower.
The major hassle I experienced was trying to change Travellers cheques. Alex and I went to tons of places before I found one that would change them. After booking my safari I relaxed in my room. My room is large with soft bed, private bath, towel, toilet paper, soap and desk. It’s a nice room but at $19, a little more than I wanted to spend but I’m treating myself for my first 2 nights.
There’s a great place to eat right across from my hotel and I had a huge breakfast of toast, sausage, omelette and home fries for $4, again, not supercheap but will do for the first day.
Sana Highland Expeditions picks me up saturday morning at 9am for my safari. They will drop me in Nakuru town so I don’t have to come back to Nairobi. I will have more to write after my safari. Bye for now.
Nov 21 2008