Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kenya Safari August 2014

Kenya Trip – August 13th to August 23

We have been planning a trip to Africa for ever…I mean FOREVER! When we were in Muscat (some 17 years ago) we almost made it to Africa, but had to change plans – (we went to Kerala instead ;)).

After our Spain trip in November 2013 – Renuka, Chandrika, Muneer and I decided we should do a safari in Africa. So in Feb 2014, I kick started the process and there began a chain of emails that numbered well past 150! We settled on Kenya and Muneer and Chandrika’s friend Pancham helped us set the itinerary for the trip.

Over the last month (July/August) we pondered over the issue of terror attacks in Kenya (Nairobi and Mombasa) and the Ebola outbreak in western Africa (Kenya is in the east, so we were not very concerned....until....on the morning of our travel we wake up to read BBC head lines,

Trip Details and some tips:

Best time to go and see the 'Migration' is June, July and early August. We missed the migration - but if you do plan on going for it, plan on spending some extended period of time around the Mara river waiting for the Wildebeest to take the plunge.
  1. We flew Emirates – SFO >> Dubai >> Nairobi >> Dubai >> SFO
  2. Visas are on arrival at the airport US$50.00 (Cash) Per head (they accept GBP and EUR as well).
  3. Yellow Fever Vaccines are not needed if you are a resident of USA, UK.
  4. We booked our trip through Catalyst Travels Limited (Ravi Chandarana:  asstmgr_tours@catalysttravels.com).
  5. Our itinerary was: Two nights in Nairobi, Two nights in Masai Mara, One night at Lake Nakuru, Aberdare and Amboseli.
  6. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner was included once we left Nairobi
  7. Carry bug spray. You will need it.
  8. Tip to tour driver is recommended to around $5.00 to $7.00 per head/per day, paid at the end of the trip (if you are paying in US$, make sure the note series is dated post 2000. The banks there do not accept US$ notes with pre 2000 series years). Tips to hotel staff was around 100 to 200 shillings ($1.25 to $2.25).
  9. Drinks are not included, so carry a credit card or cash for additional spending on drinks and gifts.
  10. Drink bottled water, carry purell, Lip balm, a scarf as the roads to and in the park are off road and dusty. If you like to have a few drinks in the evening – buy a couple of bottles at a super market in Nairobi (it will be much much cheaper than buying them at the hotel bars). Thank you Pancham and Madhav for these tips. 
 The actual itinerary:
August 13th – SFO to Dubai. We stayed two nights in Dubai, met Chandrika and Muneer at the Airport and we all flew into Nairobi on August 16th.
August 16th we arrived in Nairobi at 7:10PM – stayed at West house Hotel. This is a really nice boutique hotel which sits at the border of Karura forest. We stayed there 16tha and 17th night.
August 18th we drove 300Km to Masaai Mara Game Reserve, about a 5:30 hour drive. We stayed at Mara Sarova Game Camp. Lovely place, nice tented rooms and good dining, bar and pool areas.
August 19th we were in Masaai Mara all day – carried a picnic lunch and had lunch in the Mara; Zebras and wildebeest grazing around us. Very cool!!
August 20th we drove 300 Km to Nakuru National Park, about 4:30 hour drive. We stayed at the Lion Hill Lodge. This is part of the Savora chain. Again, a lovely place.
August 21st we drove 220Km to Aberdare National Park, about a 3:30 hour drive. We stayed at the famous Treetop Hotel. The rooms are very basic – but the place has an awesome vantage point where you can sit and watch Rhinos, elephants, Cape Buffalos, wart hogs and other animals come to the watering hole.
August 22nd we drove 420Km to Amboseli National Park, about a 6-7 hour drive. This is along the Mombasa highway (which is also the main port) so there is a heck of a lot of truck traffic on a 2 lane road. We stayed at Ol Tukai Lodge. Stunning place. Elephants right outside the property. Plenty of mosquitoes, so carry your bug spray. Pants and socks are recommended. Amboseli is warmer than the rest of the places.
August 23rd we left Amboseli at 2:00PM to head to the airport – 250 Km approx 4 hour drive.
(a whiteboard rendition)

Getting into Nairobi was interesting - after filling out 4 forms for the immigration - they just tossed the papers aside and after a quick finger printing we were given 3 month visas for $50.00 a head. We spent a day in Nairobi...this can be avoided as there really is nothing much to see. We visited the David Scheldricks center  (500 schillings/head) where they take care of orphaned elephants.

 David Scheldricks Center.
Giraffe Center

You could see the baby elephants up close and even touch them as they wandered around the enclosure. We also visited the Giraffe Center (1200 schillings/head)- this is where you can feed the giraffes. Unless you are traveling with kids...this place can be avoided.

Masaai Mara - August 18th
We reached Masaai Mara just before lunch - but, before entering the park we stopped at a Masaai Village to get the whole Masaai welcome and learn about their traditions. After a $30.00/per head 'tip' we were given the Masaai welcome and Jack (who spoke English) explained the various traditions.

Video: of the welcome dance

 Muneer and yourstruly with the Masaai men - just outside the village.
 Jack (with the 'clubs' shawl), Masaai man with a lion hat and Muneer trying to blow the horn.
 Masaai welcome dance.

The women were asked to come out and give us a welcome dance (similar to what the men did for us outside). It took a while for them to come out...they had chores to do and kids to take care off...this was a serious imposition on their time...and they showed it :). It was interesting to see them line up (rather lack luster) and eke out a halfhearted welcome singsong. We then went into a hut to check out the living conditions - it was a small, dark hut...full of smoke. Apparently that home had a kid born recently so all the women of the village were helping out with the cooking and other chores. With our eyes stinging from the smoke and barely adjusting to the darkness we got out. The place was no different from some of the huts I've been to in India. Men are allowed more than one wife and the going rate is 10 cattle for a wife. The woman, once married, has to build the house with no help from anyone. Each wife gets her own home. They do most of the work in the village - from gathering firewood to cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids. The men take the cattle grazing into the Mara after 6:00PM and return before 6:00AM. New rules have curtailed their rights to hunt or kill lions...except in protection of their herd. They hard sell trinkets, and almost forced us to buy the 'fire starting' equipment. At the park gate they stop just short of asking for money. There seems to be an underling poverty which is hidden under the guise of tradition.

We got to the hotel in time for lunch and after a resting for a bit were off into the Mara for our first Safari. It was jaw dropping - Wildebeest, Zebras, Giraffe, Impalas, Cape Buffaloes, Lioness...incredible!

Video (Giraffes/Wildebeest): Masaai Mara

Zebra and the acacia tree

Day two was even more brilliant. We had opted for an all day safari - so the hotel packed us picnic lunches. With our guide/driver, Benson, getting us to each spot and ticking off the 'Big Five' we had a great day. Constantly on the radio - each driver radios the others when they see a big cat. We did get to see a lioness chase two cheetahs - absolutely brilliant. We drove along the Mara river - Hippos, crocodiles lazing along the edges. We had lunch overlooking the Mara...spectacular views...what a great day. We got back to the hotel by 6:30PM and had a great time with some other tourists singing at the bar.

Video: Cheetas (Masaai Mara)

Video: Lioness (Masaai Mara) 

 Cheetah, looking for the lioness
 Lioness chasing cheetahs
 Hippos - Mara river
 Cape Buffaloes
 Picnic lunch (Baboon in the background)
 Lions resting

We left for Nakuru at 8:00AM -  Got to Nakuru in time for lunch - at 4:00PM we went in search for Rhinos...about half a mile from our hotel we were told that there was a leopard - we hung around for 20 mins before we saw it stalking a Waterbuck and baby...what a thing of beauty - we saw the leopard cross the road...5 feet from us!! We then went and saw a bunch of Rhinos - what an amazing country! Although Nakuru is known for its flamingos - there were none. This was due to the lake being too full...this happens every few years. Although we were disappointed it was fine as, if there was one thing we could miss out on seeing in Kenya, flamingos was it.

Video: Rhinos at Nakuru

Video: Leopard at Nakuru 

 Waterbuck being stalked
 Stalking leopard
 Cape Buffalo

Next morning we made our way to Aberdare - had lunch at Outspan and then headed to Treetops hotel to see the animals come to the watering hole. Treetops is an interesting place, we sit in the hotel and the animals come to us. Our room was within touching distance of the elephants walking by! Fantastic place. Elephants, wart hogs, cape buffaloes, rhino dueling it out for space at the watering hole...while we sat sipping gin and tonic and taking photographs!

Elephants and Cape Buffaloes squaring off at the water hole

We headed to our last stop Amboseli the next morning. This was a long drive and Amboseli area was a lot warmer than the higher plains we were in thus far. The road leading up to Amboseli is on the main Mombasa road and Mombasa being the main port, there was a heck of a lot of traffic on the two lane highway. We got to Amboseli by late evening - did a quick drive through the park - plenty of elephants, zebras. As hot and dry the place was, there was a huge marsh in the middle which is a magnet for all animals - 100s of elephants. We got to the hotel at 6:30PM - dinner, drinks and freshened up. We took our chairs close to the fence (the hotel is enclosed in electrified fence) to star gaze and hear the animals. We had an early safari the next day - 6:30AM - and got back in time for breakfast. relaxed till lunch and then headed to the airport at 2:00PM.

 Elephants with Kilimanjaro in the background
 Amboseli Elephants
 Hyena and zebras in the background
 Us, leaving the hotel on the way to the airport.
Amboseli at dusk

An unforgettable experience! Definitely a trip to be made with good friends. This vacation is up there...at the top of the best trips thus far. Thank you for stopping by and I apologize for any grammar, spelling issues. :)


Anonymous said...

What a great report! Through, detailed w maps, links, descriptions, suggestions, photos, videos and even chartoons! If I ever have the good fortune to visit, this will be a great resource! If I never, this will suffice. TFS :)

Rajeev Char said...

:) Thank you Rupa.

Unknown said...

Great 'Race report' Coach. :) .

Anil Rao said...

awesome!!! I will surely dig back if and when we plan that side. thanks