Kenya 2013 Diary: Day 6

18th February

So it’s the final day and we went via a Masai village on our way back to Nairobi and the airport. It was going to be a long drive starting at 7.30am and arriving 2-3ish. I was glad I had my iPad and some music, but still spent most of the time looking out of the window.

Visiting the village cost us $20 each and I would highly recommend going if you get the chance. There’s a small market you can buy handmade gifts from and all money made goes towards the village. There has been some bad press in the past where tour guides would take a big chunk of all money for themselves but this was more a problem with hotel-based guides and hopefully isn’t an issue anymore. I certainly wasn’t a problem for us. The first thing which hit me (literally) was the number of flies everywhere. EVERYWHERE. You do get used to it but it drove me insane for the first 10 minutes. We were shown around by the son of the leader of the village who at the time “only had one wife”. His father was 99 years old, had 7 wives and was still walking about without a walking aid or anything. That’s a damn good life expectancy, so their diet of meat and milk and without many fruit or vegetables can’t be too bad for you. I joined in with some dancing which just capped off the holiday and we were back on the bus to Nairobi. Because I recommend this extra trip so much I won’t describe any more so you can find out about them all first hand. But here are some images.

I don’t know if I should be criticising Thomson or whoever schedules flights but we were dropped at the airport at 1430 and the next flight back to the UK was at 23.50. The other family with us for the week got a 1900 flight to the UK via Dohar and arrived about the same time as us and they booked through another agent so I don’t know which option I’d prefer. Theirs was a longer flight with transfers but I guess food would have been provided and a non-direct flight may have been cheaper (I’m assuming through my little experience of flying). Ours was less time flying but spending more money on food in the airport and potentially a more expensive direct flight. Maybe we’re spoilt by going to more popular destinations such as Cairo, Florida or New York where flights to and from the UK are more frequent throughout the day. We flew with Kenya Airways who I can’t fault at all; their food was delicious for plane food and the staff were courteous. If you plan on going, check out these guys as a price comparison to British Airways who also had a flight to Heathrow leaving just 10 minutes before us.

I arrived back in the UK at 5.30am (UK time) and since I switched to a window seat on the plane I slept quite well so off to work I went for an 8am start. The last two days had left me a little sunburnt and on the first day I’d bought some aloe vera moisturiser from a supermarket which really helped. It helped so much that the area on my back I had missed with this stuff is the only bit which has now peeled (grim, TMI) but it does say something for (A) keeping up a high factor of sun lotion and (B) having a good moisturiser for after-sun. I’d been on factor 30 for all the holiday apart from these last two days when that ran out and I only had a factor 15. Frequent application wasn’t enough, hence the burn so this is a message to all to be aware of what factor your skin needs no matter how much of a tan you’ve already accumulated.

Thomson’s Mount Kenya and Masai Mara tour is very well organised and I’d recommend Pollman’s safari guides to anyone. Don’t go for a relaxing time, perhaps a couple of days down at Mombasa would be a good idea before returning home if you have the time/money (or Zanzibar as my parents have done). Take American Dollars as well as Kenyan Shilling, and be aware that prices are about the equivalent as in the UK. Lastly, take a good camera or you’ll be kicking yourself!

If you’d like copies of any of my pictures please email me at h.clarkson89@gmail.com. For more pictures, see my facebook.

Kenya 2013 Diary: Day 5

17th February

We got up again early the next day for a dawn game drive. Having seen all five of our Big Five (gotta catch ’em all!) I wasn’t expecting anything to beat yesterday. It was a difficult morning as it had rained overnight so some tracks were cut off. We kept driving and came across plenty of pretty birds and two hyenas heading home after a night of hunting.

Things got really interesting when we were up on a hill and saw some vans congregating again just below us so we followed down the track. A cheetah was casually walking towards us and moved off into the bush as we approached. Another perfect position by Amos got us some great photos. There’s a type of bird which has a specific call to warn gazelles etc etc of a cheetah’s presence and you could tell she was getting quite annoyed at it, looking for it in the trees. It’s a tough life being a cheetah, everything but speed and agility is against you.

We came back for breakfast and some much needed relaxation by the pool before our final game drive at 4pm. A safari isn’t a relaxing holiday – early starts and long journey times between national parks take its toll, but it’s most definitely worth it.

I was hoping to get some general scenery shots since we’d seen all the major animals. It was peaceful just driving along as the sun slowly descended towards the horizon. With more luck we saw two very full cheetahs sleeping in the shade [PICTURES] and a male and female lion getting jiggy.

When we found the lions they were asleep under the bushes but Amos (with all his terrific knowledge) suggested we wait a few minutes. For the first three days of courtship lions will mate up to 80 times and it is always the female who initiates it. We only had to wait two minutes for her to wake up, walk over to him and give him a headbutt like domestic cats do and they were at it. 30 seconds later and they were asleep again.*cough*

Further on we met some more giraffe and elephants, but there’s only so much time you can spend watching the same animals. That sounds quite spoilt, but I would’ve been quite happy to sit and watch them but we had a 7 year old with us who was impatient and excited to see something different so we moved on. The last thing we hadn’t seen was an ostrich. Just as we were commenting on it, there some were by the road.

 

Making our way back to the lodge for 7pm we went through a huge herd of buffalo. There must’ve been 40-50 of them all crossing the road, complete with ox-peckers eating the bugs off of them. Many a disgruntled look did we receive!

Kenya 2013 Diary: Day 4

16th February

Dad’s birthday! And what a bloody great day it was.

We had another early start at 5.30am to get to Lake Naivasha – a fresh water lake where we’d all chosen to take an extra excursion. We took a boat ride out to see hippos and birds. Across the other side of the lake we got out and walked through the location for a scene from “Out of Africa”. They left behind some of the animals used in the film (they took the lions away) and they are all now quite used to humans. So much so we stood a couple of metres away from a male giraffe.

Back in the boat, back to the van and onward to our next hotel in the Masai Mara. That trip cost us $30 or 2500KSH each. Not bad! Amos always gave us the option of these extra trips but we were under no obligation to take part in them. He presented us with this one, a hot air balloon ride and visiting a Masai village. Luckily the other family and us all agreed on what we wanted to do and declined the hot air balloon ride. It’s very expensive and probably well worth doing, but mum, dad and I had done a similar thing in Luxor and I realised I wasn’t a fan of hot air balloons themselves so we wanted to spend our money elsewhere. I think we all appreciated the lack of pressure to do these extra activities after the experiences we’d all had in shops.

The Masai Mara is the same plain as the Serengeti but called a different name to distinguish between Tanzania and Kenya. There wasn’t a huge amount of traffic, but there was some:

The roads varied quite a bit on the way and our tyre received a slow puncture which Amos thankfully noticed before our game drive. Nobody wants to get stuck in a game reserve with lions and a flat tyre!

Keekorok Lodge was charming and the first to be built in the Masai Mara in 1963, although now the number of hotels has reached over 70. The age of Keekorok is somewhat noticeable in the windows and doors but the interiors of everything is quite modern. The grounds are full of wildlife – monkeys appeared on the grass outside our lodge and tried to go up to people but they’re still wild so I wouldn’t trust them.

There’s also a waterhole owned by the hotel with resident hippos who make their way into the grounds at night. Later that night a hippo from the waterhole came onto land and walked right down the path outside our room. A ranger at the hotel took us to see them by torchlight which repeated the next night too. They were next to some impalas who were freaked out by torchlight. It’s comic how nervous they are, but it must be terrifying to be hunted.

We did our second game drive of the holiday at 4.30pm and had amazing success. We weren’t far into it when Amos heard something on his radio, did a quick 3 point turn and zoomed off in the opposite direction again. The bumpy roads are half the fun but this was to the extreme! Such fun! He apologised but was chasing something which was “very elusive”. We arrived at a clump of bushes where two other vans were already congregating. A solitary leopard is incredibly hard to see but we were lucky enough to spend about 15 minutes manoeuvring around the bushes to get some brilliant shots. More vans soon turned up but as always we were always in the best position.

Can you spot him?

It was only fair to let others get a view and onwards we went feeling very fortunate, buzzing with a rare sighting. Very soon we bumped into 5 female lions chilling in the afternoon heat. I can’t believe how close they let us get to them without being bothered.

As one walked past our van, she looked me directly in the eyes and held a stare. That’s the most peculiar moment I’ve ever had… she was studying me just as much as I was her… almost letting me know that she was fine with me being there.

It’s such a sparse plain with rolling hills to give occasional elevation that you can see all the other vans like ants clumping in certain areas when there’s something to see. Right before we had to get back to the lodge for the 7pm curfew everyone rushed off to the base of a hill where a male lion sat with his female counterpart.

 Male Lion

That evening, Dad had a birthday treat after dinner with a Masai tribe bringing him a birthday cake and chanting around our table. There’s something quite primeval about their chanting and we experienced more of this on the last day. Great 60th!

Kenya 2013 Diary: Day 1

February 16th would mark my dad’s 60th birthday and he planned to do a family holiday since we’re rarely all in the same place at once. “We” includes my mum, dad, brother and I. My mum and dad had been to Kenya together 3 years earlier and loved it but hadn’t seen some animals on their safari they really wanted to and since my brother and I hadn’t ever been we were to undertake our first family holiday in 6.5 years. We booked through Thomson but our tour operator when we were in Kenya was Pollman’s. I didn’t let myself get excited for the trip until after new year, because 6 weeks was enough excitement for everyone around me to take. So here’s six days in Kenya in six blog posts…

Our van for the week. They're much tougher than they look, it takes a battering on the roads

Our van for the week. They’re much tougher than they look, it takes a battering on the roads

Day 1: February 13th

We arrived at 6 am Kenyan time into Nairobi and shed three layers of clothing after coming from the UK snow. It took 2 hours to get to the hotel; traffic on the Mombasa road into the city is just as bad as the M25 with people travelling to work early. Immediately after exiting the airport you drive alongside the Nairobi national park – the first national park to be established in Kenya in 1946. Giraffes were silhouetted against the morning horizon, quite the appropriate welcome to Kenya.

We were on the same plane as the Kenyan rugby team who had been in Las Vegas according to our driver, Michael. That’s one hell of a flight. They got a fancier welcome than we did…

The Kenyan rugby team getting a warm welcome

The Kenyan rugby team getting a warm welcome

Nairobi’s population is estimated to be about 4 million and lies just below the equator. In 1899 Nairobi was an open plain when the railway from Mombasa to Kishmu was built. A small town grew around the railway and expanded through becoming the British Provincial capital in 1905, the the British East Africa Protectorate, finally gaining its independence in 1963. From all this, English is the second official language.

After arriving we made our way over some shaky roads to the Seldrick Elephant Orphanage. They feed the 20 orphans between 11-12 noon each day and anybody can watch for a fee which goes directly back into the running of the orphanage. All but one of the orphans arrived here through human activity (poaching, traps etc). It was reassuring to see how much the elephants enjoyed being rehabilitated and all of them end up back in the wild with new families eventually. However they’re not just abandoned – they know where to come back to if they need help. We were told stories of previous orphans who have grown up but returned with sickly young or poison arrow heads in them to ask for help before returning back to their herd. They sleep in stables with one staff member sleeping on a bunk within the stable each night. Staff members are rotated so an elephant doesn’t get too attached to one member of staff (and so the humans can spend time with their own families!).

You were kept behind a rope but they could come very close to you

You were kept behind a rope but they could come very close to you

They were fed using the same milk formula used in the UK for human babies

They were fed using the same milk formula used in the UK for human babies

They all had their own personalities

Elephant Orphanage 5

Elephant Orphanage 6

Elephant Orphanage 7

And some got on better than others

And I was bitten by something! The bite mark is still present at the time of typing this up (almost one week later) but I don’t have malaria or any other illness so all is fine. At least so long as I keep taking my anti-malaria tablets. We returned to the hotel 1pm-ish exhausted and starving having been served breakfast on the plane at 4am Kenyan time so 1am UK time.  We were staying at the Nairobi Safari Club Hotel opposite Nairobi University and just off the Mombasa road. The food at the hotel was good with small,medium and large portion options for everything on their menu. I barely slept on the plane and their additional jet lag meant I slept for 2 hours having missed alarm I’d set for myself. That was a first.

We’d been told to be careful of muggers in Nairobi but we ventured a couple of streets for water supplies. The cost of water in hotels is about 300KSH (Kenyan Shilling) per litre bottle. It’s worth getting some in local supermarkets – we paid 60KSH for a litre instead. The heat was a wonderful change from the snow in the UK so we ended up in a bar for a drink and some dinner. Everybody was really friendly and always asking if it was my first time in Kenya. They’re certainly a people who want to make you feel welcome!

You can't' see it but all Kenyan number plates start with a K. True story.

You can’t’ see it but all Kenyan number plates start with a K. True story.

My initials impressions of Nairobi were that I’ve been shocked at how much English is used. I expected a lot more Swahili… although everyone speaks to each other in Swahili, but adverts, tv, road signs etc are in English. A bizarre mash up. The price of things in Nairobi is pretty much the same as the UK but converted into shillings so don’t be fooled when £40ish changes to 5200KSH. It doesn’t go far! There is the option in most places to pay in American Dollars which actually seems to be the preferred way of doing things. I’d take a mixture of shilling and dollar if I were to go again.