Jambo everyone! Hello everyone!
We have just returned from a 10-day trip to Kenya (August 31-September 9).
Safari is Swahili for "journey", and it sure was a journey!
It was an incredible trip organized by a fine gentleman names Louis Spencer. He is a retired Aramco teacher from the US and is now back in the US volunteering in Yellowstone National Park. While in Saudi, he did over 60 safaris to Africa, mostly Kenya, taking students as well as adults. He has always loved Kenya, especially for it's people and it's anti-poaching laws. We found the same to be incredible as well! In fact, the penalty for poaching in Kenya is immediate death penalty. No messing around!
Kenya also just introduced the world's toughest penalty on plastic bags - producing, selling, and using plastic bags is illegal...a 4 year jail term or $40,000 fine. This is in an effort to help the environment. Awesome!
A couple of points about a safari...
- "there is no guarantee in the wild!" - you never know what you will see...or not see. It can be quite disappointing , as you could spend many days and not see a specific animal. For example, we wanted to see a male lion up close. We didn't get that - the closest was maybe 20 yards away. Others didn't see leopards or cheetahs.
- safaris are exhausting vacations - you are up at 5am to have a light breakfast and coffee and leave on the game drive by 5:30 - best time to catch animals awake and maybe grazing on last night's kill. Then you return back for breakfast and 'free time' like pool time, sleeping, spa, etc. We usually opted for cold beverages in the lounge or our patio. Then there's lunch and the afternoon game drive starts about 4pm and goes until 7pm, then back for dinner and refreshments.
- the other reason they can be exhausting? You are always aware - paying attention to look for animals and when you see one, you are anxiously awaiting for that 'perfect' photo. Exhausting but so rewarding!
We came back with many stories and photos - over 2100. We will try to be brief with the words and let the photos and videos speak for the experience. Enjoy...
Just a reminder that you can scroll over the images for captions and click on them to enlarge.
We flew from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi, and direct into Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. It is a large city, almost 4 million people. Nairobi is from the Swahili phrase Enkare Nairobi, which means "cool water", in reference to the Nairobi River running through the city. Although Swahili is widely spoken, English is also very common and spoken by almost everyone. Even the road and building signs are in English. There is a ton of traffic congestion in Nairobi - probably the worst we've seen. We arrived and stayed at the beautiful Southern Sun Mayfair Court Hotel to spend 2 nights.
Day 1 involved a city tour where we visited a Giraffe Lodge attached to the famous Giraffe Manor. You've probably seen images with giraffes reaching through the windows into a home to eat - that is Giraffe Manor. We had a chance to touch, feed, and even be kissed by a giraffe. Then we went off to a museum of Karen Blixen's home. She is a Danish author who lived in Kenya and loved it - she wrote "Out of Africa". We visited a famous bead shop called Kazuri Beads to see how the famous beads are made and then shipped all over the world. Lastly, we stopped at David Sheldrick's Elephant Orphanage, where they have raised over 150 elephants and rhinos who have been abandoned due to being lost, losing parents, or being injured by poachers. They raise and develop the young, even spending the night in their pens to feed them. Through sponsorships and adoptions, they get these animals ready to successfully be reintroduced into the wild. Pretty cool to see them being fed and to be able to interact with them. We adopted a couple of the little ones to provide funding for their futures. See the pics below.
Samburu - Mount Kenya, Trout Tree, Thika (Del Monte)
Day 2 - we got up and went via mini van to Samburu National Park. Our trip took us north past Mount Kenya. We saw a huge Del Monte pineapple plant at Thika (their 5th largest processing plant). Then it was on to the Trout Tree Restaurant, which was a very cool restaurant in a tree. Lots of crazy monkeys joining us for lunch too! Then we passed the equator to the northern hemisphere and onto an afternoon game drive at Samburu National Park.
We stayed 2 nights here, doing several game drives, even seeing lions and leopards for the first time in the wild. It was incredible to see lions and leopards stalking their prey, even catching a gazelle and proudly showing it off! See pics and videos below. Elephants, zebras, and giraffes were everywhere!
Our hotel had nightly crocodile feeding - you can see a cool video later.
On day 3, we took some 'between game drive time' to go to the pool and have some spiced rum on our patio - amazing to see baboons joining us at the pool and playing right beside our patio.
Our first night, we were warned at our hotel, the Samburu Game Lodge - "don't walk alone with out a flashlight and a guard"...needed to be escorted to and from our rooms with an armed guard since we were literally right in the middle of the park. Cool...but a bit scary!
Nakura - Equator, Rift Valley
After leaving Samburu, we headed back south and stopped at the equator for some souvenir shopping and photos. We got a demo of the Coriolis Effect, where water swirls clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. It was pretty cool, as this trip provided us the first time in our lives to ever visit the southern half of Earth!
Then we were going further south into the Rift Valley (more on that later) and to Lake Nakuru National Park. There were many animals here, including our first sighting of hyenas, cape buffalos, and white rhinos. There was an incredible amount of flamingos - at times, the entire lake appears pink because of them. We stayed at the Sarova Lion's Hill Lodge and weren't too smart....skipped dinner in favor of more cocktails at the bar. Will be a little sluggish for tomorrow's drive!
We left Nakura and drove south to Nairobi. On the way, we stopped at the top edge of the Rift Valley for some more photos (see later). Pretty amazing! In Nairobi, we went to the famous Carnivore Restaurant to try a Brazilian-style meat restaurant. This place is famous because they used to serve all kinds of exotic meat like lion, giraffe, zebra, etc. 5 years ago, they stopped serving that meat to show their support for anti-poaching laws. Instead, we ate fish, pork, beef, ostrich, crocodile, ox balls. Interesting. We washed it down with Tusker beer, which we highly recommend. There was also a great cocktail called 'Dawa' - put vodka and ice in a hi-ball glass. Throw in some lime cubes and a bit of brown sugar. Then dip a thick stirring stick in honey and into the glass, squishing up the lime and mixing the drink. Tasty!
Then, off to a regional airport in Nairobi and off to the Masai Mara, the northern tip of the great Serengeti which runs from Tanzania up to Kenya. A 40-minute flight had us landing in the Masai Mara on a dirt runway, just like you see in the movies. Cool!
Masai Mara is home to the Maasai tribes. They speak a language called Maa. In Maa, mara means "spotted", which describes the texture of the Masai Mara with its alternating grasslands and thickets. Many words came from Maa, including serengeti which describes the wide and seemingly "never ending" plains.
We were picked up right there in our open air jeep (with a loaded bar!!!!!) and off on a game drive. This is where we first saw the last of the big 5 - the Black Rhinoceros. The Masai Mara is the most incredible area we have seen for seeing game. So many photos that have many species of animal in one shot.
Our home for the next three nights - a tent with open screens for fresh air at the Kichwa Tembo camp. When checking in and getting the tour, we see a monkey on our deck watching - checking what he can take. Little fucker! They say to hide all food, drinks etc because the monkeys have figured out how to open zippers and get in. Pretty cool to have an open air shower and toilet as well! At night, it's pretty wild - hearing hyenas howling off our patio, monkeys on the tent and staring in (perverts!), and then to hear something really heavy walking by - probably an elephant. Morning has a cool experience - wake up call for 5am, they knock and then open a hatch from the outside, slide in coffee and tea into a 'waiting area', we open it and get our drinks. Then quickly pour in Baileys and get ready for a drive.
Masai Mara also included our first ever hot air balloon ride (with a champagne breakfast in the Serengeti plains), a trip to Tanzania and the Great Migration, and a trip to a Maasai Village - see stories and pics later.
Our last full day ended with a 'sundowner', where 4 bars were set up on top of the ridge overlooking the plains. Everyone had cocktails and mingled. Then back for dinner and a night safari drive which was very cool. Pitch black and only seeing what was happening via a spotlight. Animals howling and wandering around. Very surreal!
Then it was back to Nairobi for a final night and hours of repacking our souvenirs.
Enjoy the pics and videos...
The Big 5
The 'Big 5' is a term from big-game hunters for the top 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot - the African Elephant, African Lion, African Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and the Black Rhinoceros.
We were lucky enough to see all 5 - here are some stories and pics...
They were everywhere. So impressive and the babies were so cute.
- watching a bull elephant ram a tree to knock down leaves and berries to eat
- seeing a mid-size elephant rubbing heads with mom as mom was sick and about to die. So sad!
- driving along and running into a bull elephant face-to-face. If their ears flap up it is for intimidation, meaning get away from me. If they then fold back against their head, it means they are about to charge. We saw the ears flap, and then once they folded back, our driver got us out of there before any damage could be done. Pretty cool!
We saw several lions, both alone and in prides. It was incredible to see them with their lion cubs, as the cubs are so playful and momma is so caring for them. What was so impressive?
- watching a lioness stalk a group of gazelles but then being scared off by an overzealous photographer in his jeep
- we didn't see the actual kill but got the video of it (below) from Steven, who was in our group and saw it
- seeing the lioness proudly holding her "kill" and walking with it - holding it by the neck until it died...tapping her head to it to honour it, and then carrying it off
- seeing cubs playing while momma and her other lions watched an oncoming herd of cape buffalos. Once momma sensed danger, she called the cubs over. They followed her to safety while the remaining lions had a staredown with the buffalos. Awesome!
African Cape Buffalo
Impressive animals. So big and calm but apparently super aggressive if caught alone.
Such an elusive animal. They are often alone and camouflage very well so many safari people don't even see them. They also hang out in trees and also blend in. We were lucky enough to see one hunting an impala. Beautiful animals.
Sadly, this rhino is very endangered due to poaching. They are the most threatened large animal on the planet. Here is the population of black rhinos in the Masai Mara:
1960's - about 150
1970's - about 120
1984 - 18
1994 - 35
1999 - 23
2010 - 20-25
2017 - 11
We were lucky enough to see 2. The white rhino was a lot easier to find! They are actually the same color but the black rhino has a prehensile lip which allows them to chew trees and shrubs, as opposed to grazing on grass like the white rhino.
We only saw one but it is such a beautiful animal. Would've loved to see one running after some prey. We missed seeing this up close but one actually jumped onto someone's jeep roof ...what a cool pic that would've been.
Saw a few of these predators and definitely heard them. They feed on prey that is already dead as well as being quite a killer themselves. Saw several babies as well - pretty damn cute!
Beautiful animals. Can not believe how long and sharp their horns are.
First time to see them in the wild. Talk about lazy, lounging, dirty animals. But also highly aggressive and dangerous!
Saw several of them sunning themselves along the river banks waiting for prey. Almost saw two kills - a pack of goats and then also at the Great Migration.
Beautiful animals - so graceful and incredible to see them feed and also run.
We were blown away by how many zebras we saw. They are literally all over the place.
What was memorable?
- being involved in the Great Migration run with them and the wildebeests (see video later).
- seeing them drop down on the road in front of our jeep and roll around to scratch
- seeing them "cross necking' - an interesting behavior where they cross necks to show friendship...pretty cool
- sad moment - saw one walking very slowly and in pain - he had a wire wrapped around him, most likely a failed poaching attempt by some jackass
Monkeys were all over the place - mostly Columbus monkeys and Baboons. Was very cool to see them run into our buffets at the lodges to grab buns and then be chased away by workers with slingshots. Their babies are also very cute to watch.
Also known as pumba's. They were all over the place as well, including by the pool and restaurant at our hotel.
We aren't exactly bird fans, but there were some pretty cool looking birds, including ostriches running around. Did you know that one ostrich egg is equal to over 12 chicken eggs? One big friggin' omelet!
The vultures were amazing! To see them circle and devour fallen prey was pretty cool!
There were many other animals - grazers (aka "Cheetah Food") like Topi, Impalas, Gazelles, Dik Diks, Water Bucks, as well as monitor lizards, mongoose, and even a cool Walking Stick insect.
We crossed the Equator for the first time. Not really any impressive sign or anything, but a cool demo and souvenirs.
A huge geographic trench running over 6000 km from Lebanon's Red Sea to Mozambique in southeast Africa. It was created from the shift of two tectonic plates, and created a massive valley with ridges on both sides that offer amazing views. Saw some rock hyrax on the side - small animals that look like rodents but are actually closely related to elephants. Strange! Also - weirdest part of the trip? Found a Canada postcard for sale in their gift shop. A postcard with a bear on it...is that what Canada is known for? And why was it here. Guess everyone loves Canada!!
Hot Air Balloon ride
Wow! Fucking Wow!
Neither of us had done one before. It was $500US per person. Jeff signed up right away and Lisa was a bit scared. The night before the balloon ride, after chatting with someone at the bar who had done it a few times and reassuring her, Lisa decided to do it. It truly is something everyone should try once. The ride is so peaceful and you don't feel the height at all.
- such a peaceful liftoff
- flying over the river and seeing hippos bathing and thousands of dead wildebeests - see explanation later
- flying over zebra and giraffe herds
- seeing the incredible sunrise
- landing and having a breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, potato, and champagne...in the middle of the Serengeti plains. What a location!
We will do more hot air ballon rides - hope to do Cappadocia, Turkey and Myanmar (over the temples) one of these days.
Hot air ballon ride? DO IT!
The Great Migration is one of nature's phenomena where over 1.5 million wildebeest, over 500,000 zebras, and many other animals migrate from Tanzania to Kenya in spring to graze on the plains where there is more moisture and then in late July-early September they cross back into Tanzania over the Mara River.
This journey is part of nature but also quite risky - thousands of these animals get killed while crossing the Mara River, either by drowning, by being trampled on by each other, by being killed by lions/leopards/cheetahs/hyenas before or after the river, or by crocs and hippos waiting in the water. Yes, sounds like nature's version of the Frogger video game!
So we missed the large version of the migration but drove to try to catch some of it. We ended up seeing thousands of the animals crossing. What a spectacle!
On the way, we had a funny moment ..Lisa had to pee, so our driver stops at a tree right by a pack of hyenas and what is in the tree waiting? A vulture. Jeff was waiting for a video of this one. No excitement however!
Driving over the bridge of the Mara River was almost enough to make you throw up - hundreds of dead wildebeest carcasses were decaying and being eaten by vultures and crocs. The smell was one of the worst you could experience.
Then we get to the river bank and there are hundreds of jeep awaiting to watch and capture images and videos of the Great Migration. It is a game. One wildebeest goes to the water to cross and all jeeps rush to the edge to watch. If he goes in, all of them follow. If he turns round, they all leave. We waited 45 minutes...finally one went and all hell broke loose! Wildebeests running into the water and jumping off cliffs all over, scurrying through the water avoiding hippos and crocs, to get to the other side and safety! The pics and videos don't do justice as to how impressive this was!
Afterwards, we stopped for lunch and to celebrate this event with a Tusker beer and some gin and tonics, right in the middle of the plains. Then we hit the Tanzania border for some pics!
Photos with Multiple Animals
There were so many beautiful shots that captured many animals in one picture...enjoy.
On our last day in the Mara, we visited a Maasai Village. Wow! Crazy experience. These tribes moved south from Sudan about 500 years ago and now inhabit the Samburu and Masai Mara areas. They live in tribes, herding goat, sheep, and cows. They only eat the meat from these 3 animals, as well as their milk, and blood. No veggies, no fruit, no other meat.
Their homes are all hand built by the women, using branches and cow dung (since it is termite-resistant). The men are herders and have many wives. The women raise the kids, look after the homes, and make crafts which are quite nice.
They have some interesting dances, especially one where they jump around.
What was interesting, and quite humbling, was how happy they were with such little.
You can see by the stories and pics that we absolutely loved this trip. Unfortunately, anything you just read and saw does absolutely no justice to how amazing it is to view in person!
We highly recommend a true safari to everyone and would love for people to join us on our next safari adventure, hopefully in 2019.
OK, time to post this so we can go enjoy our weekend. Off to Abu Dhabi for a long weekend Sept 21-24. We will provide an updated blog then with some 2018 travel plans.
Cheers everyone...we'll end with some favourite pics from the trip.
All posts are updated by Jeff & Lisa