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Published: March 1st 2014
Years dreaming, a year planning and an African safari is really happening! The best thing that happened during the planning process was connecting with safari partners in Vancouver and being steered in the direction that was ideal for our group - Kenya here we come.
The first leg for us was a short jaunt from YVR to Seattle and the trip started on the right note when all the passengers and crew were entertained by Habib Koite, a musical group from Mali
Among our group of 12 , the flight from BC to Nairobi via Amsterdam, was not without its trials and tribulations, including Kelly and I being chosen " at random" for an additional third degree by security at Seattle.
26 hours after leaving Canada, we arrived in Nairobi via Amsterdam at 8.30pm on Feb 9th. There had been a fire at the airport terminal in August and we were bussed to a makeshift arrivals area - where we stood in long, slow moving lineup. After stressing out over whether we had correctly filled out the three forms for arrival, it was a bit of a let down when the immigration officer simply checked there was a
signature and then dropped the forms onto the growing pile at his feet. $50.00 each for a visa and finger prints for some of the group and then it was outside into the fresh air ( 19 degrees and humid that had us taking off clothing layers while the locals had jackets on). The " Kelly John Dunn Group" was met by Eddie from African Horizons - the local operator for Safari Partners. Then it was into 2 passenger vans for our 20 minute drive to the Sarova Stanley Hotel. Maybe it was because it was now 10 pm on a Sunday night , but the roads seemed very quiet.
The Stanley hotel was built in 1902, primarily for railway personnel from Uganda Railways and East Africa Railways. Our introduction was a bag search and a metal detector, which turned out to be a typical occurrence in Nairobi. This was followed by hot towels and glasses of pineapple juice, a short briefing by Eddie and then it was off to the Thorn Tree restaurant for a post travel drink and then a very welcome sleep.
A Navaisha Acacia Thorn Tree was planted in the centre of the restaurant
in 1959 and its trunk was used to pin messages from travellers. The tree seen today is third generation and the messaging continues , especially well known as the Thorn Tree Forum at Lonely Planet
Breakfast was a buffet at the thorn tree where the food choices ranged from fresh fruit to omelettes to Indian breakfast items to white man ( with a twist) food - regardless what anyone had it was all delicious. After asking the maitre d (Martin) for the Swahili word for "good morning ", we got an impromptu lesson in the words for common animals and greetings. Whether we will remember them is another story.
Most people break up the long flight with a stopover in Amsterdam but we had elected to fly straight to Kenya and then have a day of relaxing at the hotel - besides, stopping Amsterdam would have meant packing warm clothing and we were already on a luggage weight restriction. Most of us hung out at the rooftop pool while 4 of the group went to see baby orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
By 2pm, we were in need of food again and thought to
go for a walk and find a local restaurant but by the time we got downstairs there was a torrential downpour happening so it was back to the thorn tree for lunch- a most delicious Zanzibari fish and coconut soup as well as chicken tikka makhani. We were already used to the slow food service, but the " seemingly chaotic" paperwork over the bills was something else! Someone had already come around and asked our room numbers but the waiter then asked for them again and after a bit more of a wait he came back with our orders neatly rewritten and needed our room numbers AGAIN!
Finally we were out of the restaurant and as the rain had stopped, a number of us went for a walk in the neighbourhood business district - while there really wasn't a lot to see we were very politely told we were not allowed to loiter outside the main post office ( we had stopped only to discuss which direction to go in) - and as for taking photos? Another no no.
The Exchange Bar at the Stanley is a most beautiful colonial type bar with dark wood, big plush chairs,
potted palms and ceiling fans as well as an electronic row of pukka fans. The fan above our seating area was creating too much draft and although we were told that "no problem" to turn it off, it actually took FOUR such requests to actually get it turned off. Of course, we promptly felt the heat and humidity bit didn't dare ask for it to be turned back on. My new favorite drink? A Stanley Dawa- vodka, lime juice and honey!!!!
Feb 11 was the real start to the safari - Local Operators African Horizons was picking us up at 8am so it was early breakfast and then time to get out of Nairobi. Each jeep took 6 - we each had a window seat and the seats were tiered front to back. Daniel was one of the drivers and provided a lot of useful tidbits on the two hour drive to Lake Navaisha. While the drive into the city had been easy the night we arrived, the incoming traffic Tuesday morning was a seemingly stationary line stretching for Kms - so glad we were traveling against the traffic. The road took us past shanty towns and open markets
where the ground was mud from the rain the previous day ( most unseasonable weather).
Our geographical destination was the Great Rift Valley which stretches 9600 kms from the Red Sea to Mozambique. The drive along the escarpment and down to the valley floor was slow and included a rest stop at a curio stand. Unfortunately we did not get much of a view as it was so hazy.
Walking in to the reception area of Sopa Lodge, all our mouths were dropping open - what a gorgeous place with a huge communal reception, lounging and dining areas while the accommodation was in 4 unit rondels looking out onto spacious grounds. We were all given ground floor units that opened out onto the 120 acres of grounds - there was a sign to make sure no windows were left open when we left the room due to monkey menace. The forecast was for rain later in the day so we were hurried off for our boat ride to crescent island and walking safari
About Lake Navaisha- the highest of the Great Rift Valley lakes is Lake Navaisha which lies at about 1800 meters. Lakes are not normally
fresh unless the water can escape but there is now no visible outlet to Lake Navaisha; the explanation is that there are underground seepages maintaining the movement of fresh water brought into the lake by the Gigli and Malewa rivers in the north. lake Navaisha is also a bird watchers paradise. There are over 450 species in the immediate area including the high escarpments, which surround the lake to the south and west. From October to March, palaerctic migrants generously supplement the resident bird population. On Lake Navaisha, pelicans and cormorants are numerically superior but pride of place must got to the African Fish Eagle whose haunting call remains as significant to lake visitors as does the razor of a lion in the parks. There is a sizeable population of hippos in the lake -Safari Partners
Donning bright orange life jackets and signing some sort of waiver ???? we headed out for the hour long ride to Crescent Island. I came to Africa to see the animals, never imagining that the birds would be so memorable. Meandering into various inlets and around submerged acacia trees, every few minutes the driver would point out yet another bird - my favorite
was the Malachite Kingfisher, the strangest was the snake bird. Safari Partners had given each couple an animal and bird guide and we were able to make to significant start in crossing off species that we had seen. Then we came across some hippos!!!! Such big animals that look so docile as they stand on the muddy bottom with their heads resting on another hippos back. And their funny little ears twirling around. A little further on, we came across a large!!! pair. One submerged fairly quickly and we could track it as the air bubbles reached the surface. Hippos can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes. There was a small bird perched on the hippos back and this was our first introduction to the red billed oxpecker. These birds are starlings with a deep bill that they use to comb ticks from the hair of large mammals - we were to see them on the bodies and in the ears of hippos, rhinos, giraffe and zebra.
Then it was ashore on crescent island for a walking safari - and a couple of hours of continuous smiles on everyone's faces despite the heat and lack of forethought in
bringing water or sun screen. Gazelles ( both Thompson and Grand), water buck, shy little dikdiks, impala, a python hole with slither marks and then the first sighting of giraffes. And we were able to walk so close to them too! Incredible. This was followed by wildebeests and then our first zebras - quite surreal really.
There were more giraffes where the vehicles picked us up at the entrance to the island (which is now connected to the mainland) and on the drive back to the main road we passed by heaps of zebra and giraffes ( a dazzle of zebras and a journey of giraffes) - huge amounts of photos were taken today but I will never tire of those two animals.
By the time we got back to the lodge (about 330 pm) we were all starving and made short work of the buffet lunch. Then it was time to relax for the rest of the day - swimming in the frigid swimming pool for some or wandering around the grounds - we could walk only so far without security because of the buffalo - not very friendly.
The Dawa was the drink of choice
for many of us during social hour before dinner. And we had to be escorted back to our rooms due to hippos in the grounds in front of the accommodation. We did get to see one - from a distance. The mosquito nets in our rooms had been pulled closed although the room was open to the bathroom where the window didn't close that well, so it seemed a little illogical. So far Mosquitos and bugs don't seem to be a problem - touch wood
Feb 12 - 930am departure which allowed time to wander around the grounds - zebras, dikdiks, water buck and lots of Superb Starlings. At the entrance, food had been put out to attract monkeys and there was entertainment all right - lots of vervet monkeys ( some with babies) and a number of black and white Colobus. Then it was off to Lake Nakuru and the Flamingo Hill Tented Camp. The drive was about 2 hours and was made a bit longer because the area is flooding and we had to detour - the lake is not evaporating and because it has two inlets and no outlets, the water is rising. En route there
Lilac breasted roller
National bird of kenya
were rhino and baboons - photos that were deleted later as we got SO much closer to both animals. Zebra, impala, gazelles and the rest of the animal kingdom, grazed by the side of the road.
About Lake Nakuru - entitled the greatest bird spectacle on earth thanks to millions of fuchsia pink flamingo that flock to feed on the teeming algae of its alkaline waters, the pink frosted shores and sky mirrored waters of Lake Nakuru yield some of the most evocatively beautiful phot images in Africa. As Kenya's first and largest rhino sanctuary, sightings of both black and white rhino are almost guaranteed, while plentiful waterbuck, warthog, zebra, gazelle and buffalo graze the shoreline. Echoing got the haunting cries of the numerous fish eagles, this is also the park in which you have the best chance of seeing a leopard - Safari Partners
Flamingo Hill Tented Camp was another jaw dropping place - tents on permanent platforms and beautifully furnished with mosquito netting draped beds and camp furniture-gorgeous. After lunch we were able to relax around the pool before the afternoon game drive.
Due to the flooding, we had to drive to the far side
of the lake. It wasn't long before we had become saturated with baboons - ugly bottoms and ugly little babies - but none of this compared to the sight of a large baboon sitting calmly by the side of the road chowing down on a gazelle - they don't kill their prey before starting to eat it. Shades of Gollum. Although we were parked right beside him, he was more worried about possible predators approaching through the long grass and was constantly checking over his right shoulder.
Around another corner and there were a bunch of other safari vehicles (a bit of a shock) watching a group of white Rhino who were grazing - weird creatures with little oxpeckers hanging off them and eventually hopping into their ears. Once again, they didn't pay too much attention to the tourists and slowly made their way closer and closer to the road. A little later on we were fortunate enough to see black rhino as well.
Then it was time to see the flamingos. Unfortunately they were not in the masses as expected as there is less algae than usual due the fact that the water is not evaporating and
so is it not as alkaline as the algae prefer - most of the birds have moved to Lake Natron - pretty spectacular all the same with storks mingling with the flamingos and with Cape buffalo sitting in the back ground.
The various safari drivers were constantly in contact with each other and suddenly we were racing off - obviously there was something worth seeing. And there at the base of the Makalia Falls was a lioness chewing on the gruesome remains of a buffalo. She didn't appear to be concerned at all about having us watching - just after our jeep left the scene, the other half of our group was rewarded with three more lionesses joining the scene
The park gates were closed at 630pm in an effort of hinder potential poachers (the other deterrent was armed guards patrolling the park). So it was a relatively fast drive back to the lodge. Dawa's at the bar and then it was time for dinner - this had been preordered at lunchtime with choices of lamb, tilapia fish or butternut lasagna. All the buildings were open to the great outdoors.
Returning to the tent, it was a
very pleasant surprise to find that the beds had been turned down and hot water bottles placed in each one. I could get used to this.
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