Day 1 & 2 (Monday, October 7th & Tuesday, October 8th) - Ottawa/Toronto to London to Nairobi
Uneventful flight from Toronto to London and spent most of the day at the Holiday Inn, once we found our way there. Did have some unplanned excitement though when I misplaced my packsack with all my travel documents but was still there when we went back.
Then off to Nairobi.
Day 3 (Wednesday, October 9th) - Nairobi
Another uneventful flight from London to Nairobi. Nairobi is a beautiful city with a fair amount of industry (e.g., Firestone, Michelin have tire plants in the area). We were picked up by Suntrek Safari Tours & Travel at the airport and taken to the hotel.
A lot of people expressed concern for foreigners walking around and while I didn't venture to far from the hotel, the people were very friendly - when I stopped for a soda, the clerk asked where I was from and when I said Canada he was surprised as his sister had just started with the agriculture program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton (he was concerned about the cold winters there, as she had never experienced a real winter). He also indicated he'd been accepted at U of T's political science program starting next fall (he'd also been accepted at UCLA but he had heard Canada treated people from Africa much better than the US). The questions he asked about Canada and specifically on Quebec showed good awareness of Canada.
Also went to the Suntrek office to go over the final details for the trip. Sultana, who we have been corresponding with on the planning, met with us, she has a sister who lives in Toronto and knows a lot of people from Kenya who have moved to Canada. We also met Lawrence (Lawrence & Lee at Lake Nakuru) who will be our travel leader for the next week, he was very nice and he's been working in tourism for 25 years and says its a great profession.
We're staying at the Nairobi Safari Club and have a nice 2 room suite - well laid out with the sitting room larger than most suites (having both a dining table and desk is a nice touch), bedroom was a little small (which is a good thing as I'd rather have the extra space in the sitting room). Since we're getting picked up at 7:00am for a 6 hour drive tomorrow we ate dinner at the hotel - good food and service, with a nice rustic / luxury setup and good live music (the 2 girls singing had such soft and well integrated voices that we didn't even realize until well into it that we couldn’t understand the words).
No luck picking up CBC International on my shortwave radio, so got my news fix from the BBC and Voice of America broadcasts.
Day 4 (Thursday, October 10th) - Nairobi to Samburu
Lawrence picked us up at the hotel at 7:00 for a 6 hour drive to Samburu. For the most part the roads were in excellent condition with little traffic. Its a divided highway from Nairobi until just past Thika, a good 2 lane road to Nanyuki but deteriorated a bit until Isilio then a dirt road until the park. So the drive was 6 hours, it went by fairly quickly, with the last 40 km on the dirt road taking ~90 minutes.
When we stopped on Nanyuki, we were right on the equator where we saw a demonstration of the Coriolis effect (water spinning clockwise south of the equator, counterclockwise north of it and straight down on the equator). Surprisingly enough there are many tourist shops there. Also of note, we ran into a large British Army group that was on a training mission just north of Isiolo.
There was a noticeable change in vegetation past Nanyuki, for the most part it had been rich red clay soil (like PEI) with many large pineapple, banana, coffee, barley, corn and pea farms but after Nanyuki it became harsher with little green vegetation.
Once we got off the highway towards Samburu National Reserve and the Samburu Serena Lodge we started to see some interesting wild life - a group of feeding Reticulated Giraffes blocked the road.
The lodge is beautiful, with individual cabins right on the river. So after lunch and a quick snooze it was off to an afternoon game drive. A few minutes in we all heard a loud growl, Lawrence immediately knew it was an elephant and quickly found a clearing where a few seconds later a dozen or so wandered by then stopped to eat. They couldn't have been more than 10 feet away ... additionally there was an assortment of giraffes, gazelles, gerenuk , impalas, antelope, oryx and Grevy's Zebras.
Lawrence amazed us not only with his knowledge of the animal and the various routes within the park ... but when we asked about 'Survivor Africa' which was filmed at Samburu, he said he was one of the drivers for the show, so he moved into hero status.
Then it was back to the lodge for a staged leopard feed (they are hard to find on there own but the lodge has setup a spot across the river from the restaurant where they hang food to entice them for a showing.
Then off to a BBQ dinner and bed ... but as I sat on our cabins porch doing my notes and listening to the BBC, some sort of animal jumped up on the stone fence ~15 feet away - a large dog sized with black/white stripes which I will ask Lawrence about in the morning (likely a hyena).
Of note -
Day 5 (Friday, October 11th) - More Samburu (all day)
Up at 6:00 for a morning game drive of 2.5 hours. Lawrence quickly spotted a large group of Grevy's Zebras and got us within a few feet. We also got a good show from a baby elephant trumpeting to try and scare off some birds from a bush it was eating. As well, there were plenty of giraffes, elephants, oryxs, antelope, etc..
Lawrence also drove us up on a ledge that gave us a panoramic view of the savannah, more majestic than my limited photographic skills can show. On the return to the lodge Lawrence spotted some fresh lion tracks in the road - all of the guides have been on the lookout for a lioness that just adopted a young oryx (latest of many she has adopted and she has never harmed any of them), but unfortunately we had no luck in finding.
Back at the lodge it was a fantastic breakfast (I think today’s lunch will be limited to a salad). And this mornings excitement while doing my notes was a walk by a series of monkeys (one of which climbed up on the roof of the cabin next door) and a group of elephants watering across the river. I brought 12 rolls of film which I'd assumed would be more than enough but already through 3 rolls 1.5 days in, with Maasi Mara still to go.
Afternoon game drive was good and adventours, as Lawrence and the other drivers kept going further into the bush looking for cats, without success. We did get some unexpected excitement when we can across someone on a self-drive tour had their vehicle breakdown - just the battery but could nave been more serious.
Most interesting site of the day was right from our balcony. A series of monkeys were trying to teach 2 infants to climb trees and jump between trees with one taking to it easily while the other was more tentative.
Day 6 (Saturday, October 12th) - Samburu to Mount Kenya
Looped back along the route to Nairobi until about Nyeri where we turned in towards Mount Kenya and the Mountain Lodge.
Stopped in Nanyuki along the way, as I'd missed calculated the exchange rate in Nairobi and had taken out $30 instead of $300, but Barclay's Bank is all over Kenya and they are part of a global ATM alliance with ScotiaBank which meant I had no transaction fees, just the exchange rate.
Beautiful lodge with uninterrupted sightlines to the mountain peaks (when not covered in clouds), with Mount Kenya being the spiritual home for the most Kenyans. No game drive at the Mountain Lodge, as it situated beside a natural salt lick/lake that draws the animals - Elephants (we even had a good elephant fight but it was too far away for pictures), Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, a Genet cat and many-many monkeys (one even jumped onto our balcony and took a roll of film, but it got returned when it realized it didn't taste very good).
Instead of a game drive, the hotel hosted a nature lead by William, who is part of the wildlife management team that is helping reforest the mountain.
Not only did William provide an excellent overview of the plants and animals, he provide a history of the people including showing us a foxhole that the Freedom Fighters (Mau Mau) used during their fight for independence from the UK in the 1950's.
The Mountain Lodge is at 2,199m (7,195') and we had been warned that it got very cold there (7c is not uncommon and the peaks of Mount Kenya are snow covered year round even though its on the equator - and along the 5 day walking route to the last camp before the summit has Curling Pond, where the occasional game has been played on some of the colder days). So being Canadian 7c was thought to be nothing in October, but I was well bundled up on the balcony after sunset and wished I had some mittens.
The salt lick/lake is soft lighted all night and you can tell the staff ahead of time what animals you want to see and the will wake you. But since we were leaving for Lake Nakaru at 7:00 we decide to skip that option.
We also had a chance to chap with Lawrence, while he's been in travel for 25 years before that he was a school teacher for 6 years - it really shows in his ability to not only state facts but to add insight to why things have happened and to do it all in an interesting, informative and humors manner.
Interesting occurrences -
Day 7 (Sunday, October 13th) - Mount Kenya to Lake Nakuru
Beautiful drive through the Aberdares Mountain range, past Thompson Falls, into the Rift Valley (which runs from Mozambique to Israel and includes the Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, where the Leakey's uncovered what is believed to be the first humans) and the Menenhai Crater (the cone of a huge dormant volcano).
And of course, being over prepared, I'd brought a spare battery for my camera, but of course I brought the wrong size one so I only had enough power left for one shot of Thompson Falls, one of the start of the Rift Valley and none of the Menenhai Crater. At least the gift shop at the Lake Nakuru Lodge had one (and it was actually a little cheaper than Ottawa's WalMart had been).
Lake Nakuru is famous for its hundreds of thousands of flamingos (both Lessor and Greater, ~60% of the worlds population due to the natural salt lake that produces abundant algea and few predators) and so many that the coastline has a pinkish hue from a distance, as well there’s White Pelicans, Burchell's (Common) Zebras, Maasi Giraffes, both white rhinos & black rhinos (we saw lots of white, which were imported from South Africa when the black ones were nearly extinct, but no black even though they are on the rise), as well as plenty of baboons, Cape Buffalos, Gazelles (both Grant and Thompson) and Waterbucks.
Unfortunately, we were again unable to see a lion (Lawrence tried really hard and our neighbors at the lodge had pictures of one feeding from their drive earlier in the day).
More great food and early to bed as off to Maasi Mara at 7:00.
Today's interesting occurrences -
Day 8 (Monday, October 14th) - Lake Nakuru to Maasi Mara
Up at 6:30 to get breakfast for a 7:00 departure on what Lawrence called a 5.5 hour drive on terrible roads. While the roads were not as good as the highways around Nairobi, I have driven on worse logging roads for longer distances to get to someone’s camp in New Brunswick. It was typical roads until Naivasha then onto Narok on bad ashfault, then fairly good ash fault from Narok until about half way to Maasi Mara National Reserve, then a not bad dirt road and finally a very bad dirt/rock road (but as I said about the drive to Samburu, it was worth the drive and improving the roads may actually hurt what we are going to see).
Along the road from Narok there were many group of Maasi boys moving their cattle herds.
The first stop we made was at a Maasi village, where we got to meet the people and talk to them about their culture. The Maasi and Samburu share a common ancestry and language but according to Lawrence the Maasi are more traditional.
The person who lead us through the village was a young man of 21 who was one of the first Maasi to go to school (he went from age 6 to 17 at the school in Narok, he was extremely well spoken - when I asked if he would have liked to have gone to university he said yes, but it would have been to expensive and for the money it would have taken to send him to university several children could get an education ... and much of the money collected for visiting the village goes towards trying to educate the young boys and girls). As part of the visit they demonstrated their dances (their wedding dance involves a contest of the young men to see who can jump the highest and showing off for the young girls from the other clans ... a clan consists of ~5 families and you have to marry someone from another clan and their clan had 28 people). The also showed us how they -
As an outsider its is a shame to see the Maasi people having to change, but as a realist it may be easier to feel more comfortable to see them make the adjustments on their own terms.
Then onto the Mara Sopa Lodge, where we received a beautiful semi-suite - huge bedroom with a shared common sitting room with our neighbors (made me feel guilty over what the Maasi have).
We did an afternoon game drive on the Maasi Mara - the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasi Mara are really one big park, with the Kenya/Tanzania border separating them and obviously the animals don't know where the border is.
And we finally got to see lion, several in fact - a male and female lounging under a tree with another male lurking nearby ... and a mother with 2 cubs and a freshly killed zebra.
In addition to the lions were wildebeest, silverback jackals, impalas, gazelles, hartebeests,topis, elephants, giraffes, buffalos, vultures ... not hard to see why Maasi Mara is referred to as 'Classic Africa'.
Then back to the lodge for dinner ... with an after dinner Maasi dance, but after seeing the real thing in the village it wasn't as good (and we recognized some of the dancers from the hotel and noticed they were wearing wigs so same of the realism may be missing).
Day 9 (Tuesday, October 15th) -
Up early for a 6:30 game drive - Lawrence gave us 3 options:
... with the first option maximizing game viewing with relaxation (as we are still on vacation)
Productive morning drive, with up close views of 3 more lions (male/female together and more active male nearby), a group of 4 adult cheetahs (Lawrence indicated the 4 adults together was rare, they were just hunting as one was still carrying some meat and one had an injured hind leg), and large groups of elephants (Lawrence directed a group of Japanese tourists to them as they we on their last drive and hadn't seen any where as we had seen them every day), cape buffalos, wildebeests, topis, impalas and gazelles ... then back to the lodge for breakfast ... just one more day in Africa and much better than I had expected ...
Final game drive at 4pm with 8 more lions (female/large male together, two female with two very small cubs and two medium sized cubs together), hundreds of Cape Buffalos in a group, large number of wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, a dikdik, an elan (but too far away for a picture) and more giraffes and elephants.
Then back at the hotel, in the evenings the dump the scrap meet for the hyenas at 22:00 (very staged though as the hyenas are waiting), definite priority feeding basis for hyenas with genets around for the leftovers.
Only animals that were on the 'to see' list we missed were black rhinos (few left), hippos and leopards (we did sort of see one in Samburu but it was a baited feed from the hotel and too far away to get a good view, same with hyenas but they were closer - leopards and hyenas are hard to spot on a game drive at any time).
Day 10 (Wednesday, October 16th) - Maasi Mara to Nairobi and London
Since Wednesday is the travel day back to Nairobi for an 22:00 flight to London we decided to skip the morning game drive for some extra sleep, checked after breakfast and lounged around the pool/patio until lunch before our 13:00 departure for Nairobi, back through the rift valley again ...
Overall interesting occurrences -
Kenya is rapidly modernzing and inevitably changing because of it ... but it will continue to be one of the most beautiful places to be for a long-long time ... Its a must visit for any animal, nature or culture enthusiast ... I can't wait to go back again, and next time around it will be with Lawrence & Suntrek and likely a much longer stay (even if that means more spartan accommodations) ...
Now the London portion of the trip may be a let down, even though it includes Les Miserables, much sightseeing and a side trip to Bath Spa ...
Day 11 (Thursday, October 17th) - London (all day
Uneventful flight to London and got in ~15 minutes early, which didn't help much as that meant we still had to wait 30 min for the London Travel Information booth to open (for our Heathrow Express, London Transit and London Pass/sightseeing) but still managed to get to the Hilton/London Docklands before 7:30 so got some sleep before doing some of the tourist stuff.
Visited Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace (closed for renovations), The London Dungeon (neat little spot with displays plus role playing characters) and London Bridge.
Day 12 (Friday, October 18th) - London (all day)
Took the train out to Chislehurst for the Chislehurst Caves - a 40 km series of manmade caves dug by the Druids, Romans and Saxons. During World War II ~15k Londoners lived in the caves to escape the bombing and during the '60s a series of concerts were held in the caves (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Adam Faith). Tour covered less than 2km but very informative.
Returned to London for Westminster Abby, Trafalgar Square (lots of construction), Jewel Tower and other touristy stuff before heading out to see Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre. Show was good but not spectacular and came out of it with a better respect for the Toronto theatre (being typically Canadian - the London and New York theatre must be better than Toronto but Les Miserables, while still very good was no better than a high-end Canadian production).
Day 13 (Saturday, October 18th) - Bath Spa and London
Took the train to Bath Spa which is a city ~90 west of London that contains a series of natural hot springs upon the Romans and the Georgian era English bath houses for the aristocrats. Took the guided bus tour (interesting/informative) and visited the Roman Baths/Pump Room (beautiful and fairly well preserved).
Also visited the Jane Austen Centre but was very disappointed (her parents were from the Bath Spa area and she lived there for ~6 years in her early 20s, she didn't like it much, the few references she made to it in her novels were not favorable, the facility is not in any house where she lived, and the displays where what life in Bath was like when she lived there rather than about her life in Bath/in general).
Overall, Bath Spa was enjoyable and a 'must see' but I wouldn't want to spend more than a few hours there ...
Day 14 (Sunday, October 20th) - London to Toronto/Ottawa
Noonish flight back to Ottawa, very enjoyable trip ... but 2 weeks and lots of moving around made it feel long.
In retrospect maybe going to the Mountain Lodge at Mount Kenya first, then 2 days at Samburu, a day at Lake Nakuru, then Maasi Mara for 2 days may have helped the pace a bit ... and less time in London (or none at all) to offset an extra day or 2 in Kenya may have been good as well ...
Interesting situation at the Toronto airport though, where my bags went missing between Terminal 3 and Terminal 2 and Air Canada wouldn’t let me board the flight to Ottawa until my bags were found, so was delayed an additional 4 hours in Toronto ... but only problem/dissapointment of the trip ...
But back home in Ottawa and experience of a lifetime ...
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