Category Archives: Kenya

Even more lions and cheetahs

12, 13 December,  Porini lion camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Kenya

Situated on a conservancy adjacent to the Masa Mara, this camp is run by the same management as the amboseli camp.  The advantage to the conservancy is that there is limited access to just the few companies that work in the area, and those companies are not limited to staying on the park access roads like they are in the Masa Mara.  So we could go up close to the lions and cheetahs: they did not seemed bothered by us at all. 

They have two lion prides in the area, and also two cheetah mothers with their cubs. One of the lion prides is over 20 lions.  And one of the lion mums had three babies that were three weeks old. They were just learning to walk, and we could see the mum still picking them up by the scruff of their neck.

Like Porini Amboseli, there are no fences between the tents and the park. The animals are able to freely roam through the area. This is not a problem during the day, but after dark they require us to have staff walk us to our tents. Both nights,  we were awoken by very noisy grazing. The first night, it was a hippo, and the second night was a cape buffalo: we stayed in the tent!

We got to watch the cats very closely. It is amazing how similar their  behaviour is to house cats. One of the similar behaviors was how house cats play with mice, birds, etc. The mother of the 4 cheetahs had captured a baby gazelle… and the cubs were playing with it, learning how to hunt. It was a good life lesson for these endangered cubs, but it was hard to watch for more than a few minutes.

We were here for two days. Next stop is Moshi and Arusha in Tanzania to pickup Mark, Kirsten, and Heather. Next safari starts on Monday.  

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Flooded Again

11 December 2018, Intrepids Safari Camp, Samburu Park, Kenya

“Hello, Housekeeping” were the words that woke us up. “You have to get up now”. 

We’re more or less over the 10 hour time change from Calgary, but this was the first time we’d slept soundly through the night. The morning game drive starts at 6:30 and I’ve never had to be woken up before. I thought we’d slept in and I wondered why my alarm had not gone off. 

“You need to leave now”. 

I looked at my watch: 1:36AM. 

“The water is coming up and you need to leave now”. 

There are two rainy seasons in Kenya: the Big Rain in March/April; and the Little Rains which is around now. It’s rained overnight many times since we arrived a week ago, but the days have almost always been nice weather.  It had rained on and off yesterday evening, however, upstream it must have rained a lot.

The hotel area floods continually in the big rains, and frequently in the little rains.  It’s no big deal because everything is built on stilts.  But we had to leave our old tent, which was closest to the river, and come back to a more central one. One other guest was evacuated from the tent beside ours,  but the rest of the guests were fine. 

There was about a foot of water at ground level around the tent. We were carried to dry land with all our stuff. 

The water was within 6″ of needing to evacuate the entire camp… but by the time we got out,  the level was dropping and hotel staff were no longer concerned. 

By this morning, the water flow was still high, but the level was back within the banks. 

We had a great game drive this morning. With breakfast done, Sarah’s gone back to bed!

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Lions and cheetahs

10 December, 2018 . Intrepids Safari Park, Samburu, Kenya

We saw some new animals in Samburu: an Oryx, which my sister-in-law points out is both a type of antelope and a 14 point scrabble word. That’s 14 points  in only  4 letters ~before~ any multiple letter or multiple word scores. The giraffes here are reticulated giraffes, which means their spots are rectangular rather than round.  The ostrich and zebras are also different from their southern counterparts, although we have yet to see an ostrich. 

Forgive me for becoming  a tourist snob again when I say that the most special things we saw today were a cheetah on the prowl, and two lionesses and their 4 cubs (or are they kittens?).  Having a herd of elephant walk by within a few metres no longer qualifies as special!

The cheetah was oblivious to the 6 safari vehicles that leap frogged over each other along the roadway to give their pasengers a look as the cheetah walked parallel to the road.  It was also oblivious to the herd of impalas that were united in stamping their feet and growling at it from a safe distance.  

The lions were another find by a different tour group that Dom, our guide, heard about by phone. By the time we got there, it was raining and all the other trucks were gone so we had a private visit. It was two Mum’s with two cubs each. 

And we saw a leopard from a distance of about 100m. It dissappeared as soon as we turned the truck towards it. 

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A different take on safaris

10 December, 2018  Intrepids Safari Camp, Samburu Park, Kenya

We’ve left the Porini Amboseli camp and are now in Samburu National Park at the Intrepids Safari Camp. 
The Intrepids is a different take on tented safaries. There are 28 tent sites built on permanent stilted platforms, with concreted stone pathways connecting them all. The central buildings are enormous thatched roof structures that are reminiscent of an all-inclusive beach resort.   There is wi-fi, although it is broken and not expected to be fixed while we’re here. 

The area is gorgeous. It is situated at the water’s edge of a muddy red river, with large acacia trees everywhere. Velvet monkeys are common on the hotel grounds, and we have to use a mini carabiner to hold all the tent’s zippers closed to keep them out when we are not in the tent. The food menu offers a selection to choose from for 4 courses, and the service is presented impeccably on trendy square plates. 

So far in Intrepids, all the guest groups eat at their own table. No drinks are included, which is fairly common in safaris.  At Porini, everything was included. The food was good, but much more utilitarian. And all guests ate at one large table at the same time, which I prefer because we very much enjoy meeting other travelers. 

The staff at both places have been exceptionally nice. Our driver/ guide and about 40% of the staff are Maasai, but they are required to wear the hotel uniform to work. 
The hotel is located in the middle of the Samburu National Park, which is in the northern part of Kenya. We’re here for two nights. 

Maasai village visit

8 Dec 2018 Selenkay Reserve, Kenya

We just had a very authentic cultural visit to a local Maasai village. This was not a re-enactment of traditional ways… they still live like this.  We were greeted by hunters and then walked into the village, where we listened to a welcome song. 

While this may seem contrived, and yes they would have repeated it for every visitor… there was no doubt that they actually lived in the mud huts we toured, and brought their sheep/ goats/ cows inside the compound every night to protect them from predators.  No electricity, no tv, no internet… but many had cell phones (not sure how they’d charge them).  They have an amazingly strong desire to maintain their own insular culture.

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Giraffes and more

Saturday, 8 December 2018, Selenkay Reserve, Kenya

Even though the Selenkay conservancy is very close to the Amboseli park, the fauna is completely different. There must be more rain, or better soil, because bushes,  trees, and meadows are in abundance… which attracts different animals from what we saw yesterday. Add Impala, Kudu, Dik Dik, Gerenuk, Eland, and Masai Giraffes to the list.  There are also some of the same animals as yesterday: elephants, gazelles, wildebeests, jackals, and warthogs. And we saw 3 male lions on the night game drive: literally 20′ away from the truck.  

In the 2 hour game drive this morning, I don’t think we drove more than 30 seconds before seeing another animal or herd of animals. To put that in perspective, when we drive the last 3 km to our cottage in the woods by a lake in Canada, we’d be happy to see maybe 6 deer and a small group of wild turkeys. In the same distance in Selenkay, I bet there were hundreds of animals. The biodiversity is amazing.

The Porini camps have exceeded our expectations. They are a low impact eco tourism operation.  We stay in large tents, which are lit with solar power. Before the rainy season, the entire camp is removed and  the area is allowed to return to nature. It’s set up again for the next season.  Porini does not own the land in the conservancy, but instead have leased it from the local Maasai. There is a very close relationship between Porini and the Maasai, and about 80% of the employees here are from Maasai tribes across the country. As part of the deal, the local tribes invite all guests over to a village once for a tour, which I’ll talk about in the next post. 

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Saw lion 10 minutes after leaving airport

Friday 7 December – Amboseli National Park, Kenya

The lion was probably 100 metres away, and it quickly disappeared back into the bush to go back to sleep.  I thought things would be more elusive than this.   We would see it again much closer later that day. 

The Park is almost 300 square miles. Picture a huge, flat,  grass covered plain with a few flat topped acacia trees, and next to Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain acts like a huge rain funnel, condensing moisture from the warm air as it rises and cools. Lake Amboseli and the surrounding swamps are permanently fed from the mountain streams.  There have been more rains recently, so the lake has expanded and everything is green. Pretty well everything living in the park eats grass: elephants, hippos, wildebeests,  thompson’s and grant’s gazelles, cape buffaloes, zebras, ostriches, and warthogs. Then there are the animals that eat the animals that eat the grass: lions, hyenas, and jackals. The Baboons belong to both groups because they eat anything.

Because it’s so flat, and the grass is so short, you can see the animals and they can see predators from a long distance away. They all contentedly munched their grass, secure in the knowledge that chances are that some other animal was slower/ older/ sicker.
We travelled in a toyota landcruiser that had been converted into an open sided softtop. I guess the animals are used to vehicles because they really didn’t get bothered by our approach. As a result, we saw everything in abundance, and up close. I haven’t had a day like that since we ventured by boat on the Kinabatangan river in Borneo. 

Elephants live in family groups led by the oldest female, or matriarch. Our driver, Julius, could see one group coming towards us, and parked the vehicle where he thought they might pass. The matriarch stopped, and you could almost hear her think:  “ok, humans are in my path. But I really want to go that way. But the humans are there.  Maybe I should go this other way. But I don’t really want to go that way because it’s not a straight line to where I want to go…. ” It took about a minute and a few steps in the other direction, before she decided to it was ok to continue towards us. When she restarted her journey, she was near the lake and must have startled a nearby flamingo, because it took off. That caused about 1000 other flamingos to take off, which caused the elephant to stop again and wonder why the flamingos were alarmed. But the sky didn’t fall, and the whole family walked by us no more than a few metres away from where we were sitting in the truck. They did not seem concerned in the least. 

We revisited  the lions when we were on our way out of the park at the end of the day. They were awake, and we stopped within about 20′ of them. They looked at us with dis-interest, which in hindsight was a good thing. The lioness wandered off. The male seemed to go through this wakeup routine where my camera caught a range of facial expressions. 

We are staying at the Porini Amboseli tented camp in the private ~13,000 acre Selenkay reserve , which is about a 1.5 hour drive out of the park. I had read that these eco-tourist areas were important to the national park animals because it keeps the normal migration routes open and undeveloped.   Essentially it makes the park bigger. But that will be the next post. 

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Nairobi day 2&3

We hired a car and driver for two days: Martin Maina – Nairobi Specialists.  He was certainly one of the best guides we’ve had, and we would highly recommend him to take you around Nairobi.

The first day, we did the usual tourist things: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Nursery,  the Giraffe Centre, Bomas of Kenya, & Karen Blixen house.

The elephant nursery rescues abandoned and orphaned baby elephants from around Kenya, raises them for a few years, and then slowly reintroduces them into the wild. Since inception, over 200 elephants have been saved – quite a success story.

The Giraffe Centre is nextdoor to Giraffe Manor, and allows you to get up close and personal with the Rothschild Giraffes.

The second day we drove around Kibera, one of the slums, and then a middle class neighbourhood called Langata. Then we went a short distance out of the city and saw tea and coffee plantations.  We ended the day with a meal at a Kenyan restaurant called K’Osewe Ronalo, where you eat everything with your hands.

There are two major no-no’s in Kenya:

  • Smoking in public; and
  • Using plastic bags.

Ronalo’s had a small kiosk for smokers. It’s a cross between the Tardis and the Cone of Silence… but people can retire there for a quick cigarette legally.

It’s been an interesting few days… but the first safari starts tomorrow and that is way more exciting!

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This is just a quick post to check out how to upload  photos and posts on our wordpress site.

We arrived in Nairobi at 10PM local time on monday December 3 after an uneventful 21 hour trip from Calgary via KLM.  We’re staying at the Sarova Stanley, a colonial remnant from 1902 that has a very similar feel to the original Fairmont hotels in Canada.

Today is overcast with occasional showers. Knowing that we’ll hit the jetlag wall sometime, we planned an easy day and are just going to the Maasai  Market, a snake exhibit, and the National Museum.

We had an excellent buffet breakfast in the Thorntree Cafe this morning.  It included passion fruit, and some of the best pineapple we’ve ever had. But the highlight was a drink they made by grinding sugar cane, fresh ginger and lemon: amazing.

The museum was ok, but I think it could have been much better with all the cool things that have happened in Kenya: from the discoveries of early man millions of years ago, to the amazing wildlife, to the rise of nationalism and independence from England. The snake farm was not that interesting, although we did see some snakes that LIVE up TREES.  No more tree climbing for me in Kenya.

The Maasai market was annoying, and we should have given it a miss: it was about 200 vendors all selling the same tourist stuff at ridiculous prices.

Here’s the overall  plan for the rest of the trip:

We’ re in Nairobi for 3 days, and have organized a driver to take us around for two of them. Then we join a safari and go to Amboseli, Masa Mara and Samburu parks.

In the middle of December, we fly to Kilamanjaro airport in Tanazania and meet up with Mark & Kirsten, and Heather. We all go on safari to the Serengeti, Tarangire, Lake Eyasi, Lake Manyara, Lake Ndutu & the Ngorongoro crater.  Then off to Zanzibar and Mafia Islands for diving / kite boarding and beach sitting.  Heather leaves just after New Year’s  and the rest of us go on one final safari in Ruaha and Selous game reserves in southern Tanzania.  For Sarah and I,  it will be 6 weeks of travel,  and we’re really looking forward to it. Click here for a map of where we’re going

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