This trip is 3 years in the making. It had to be postponed twice. Thanks, ‘rona!
Guys… you know how I love the ellies and the highlight of the last Kenya trip was seeing those sweet babies for one hour of bliss at the Sheldrick Nursery in Nairobi? Well, I didn’t tell you much more about Sheldrick because it didn’t apply to the last trip, but it does to this one. The Sheldrick Nursery isn’t the only place the rescues live. They usually start out at the Nursery, where they get around-the-clock care. Their keepers even sleep with them! Elephant babies are precious and vulnerable and need a lot of help in their early years and Sheldrick is dedicated to trying to provide as much of that as possible. They do such good work. So the ellies eventually graduate from the nursery to their next location, which is sort of like a halfway house. It’s at these locations they are introduced to wild elephants and most of the rescues learn, through the wild ones, how to live in the wild and then most rescues eventually join them when they are ready – the ellies decide for themselves. Three of these locations also have camps that visitors/adopters can stay at, but you have to rent the whole camp out and you have to bring your own food. Of course, once I found out about these camps it became a dream of mine to stay at one. I wanted to meet our rescues that were staying at these locations. There is one fellow, Ndotto, we have adopted yearly for our niece for many years that I really want to finally meet and see how he’s doing.
Several years ago I discovered a site with safari trip reports called Safari Talks. Before our Botswana trip, this was another source of information about camps and just taking safaris in general that helped me plan things. I never would have guessed I would be *so close* to a wild animal, among other things, if it wasn’t for some of the pics and words written there. It really helped get me excited for Botswana and I continued reading the trip reports for other places sporadically after our trip. Once we knew we were going to Kenya in 2019, I focused on reading trip reports again so I could get an idea of what areas we should visit for the best experiences. As I was reading these older trip reports I discovered one that talked about visiting these Sheldrick halfway locations, and their experiences. I was so jealous! I would have totally loved to do that, but obviously we weren’t going to rent out an entire camp for two people! So I shot my shot and sent the person that wrote the trip report a DM that basically said, “Hi, if you ever need two more people…please consider letting us join your group!”. And long story short, eventually it happened! Lesson: Take your shot – the worst they can say is no.
The planning of a trip with 6 strangers is interesting, to say the least; especially when they all don’t live in the same country. Thankfully the organizer had two trips planned under their belt and had the contacts and experience to plan this trip overall. We’ve all been extremely grateful for them taking the reins of this trip. I tried to help in creating a budget where I could, so everyone could see what the projected costs were for most things to help them plan a little better. As you can imagine, we’ve had a *ton* of email exchanges over these last three years, so nuggets of information would be scattered in various emails and I tried to gather it all into one place for planning and expectation purposes. After the success of the proposed budget, one of the ladies requested I make a group calendar of who is arriving and when. I used to be a project manager (PMP represent!), so this stuff is right up my alley.
We decided if we were going all that way to see the ellies, of course we wanted to go back to the Masai Mara and go on a proper safari. We decided to add 5 nights at a budget camp that came recommended from the group. Very reasonably priced, too! We shall see – it will be our first experience with bucket showers, so I’m sure there are going to be some stories!
Then the first postponement happened. And the next year the second. We finally agreed 2022 was going to be the year. Since hubby had some vacation days burning a hole in his pocket, and we hadn’t been anywhere in quite a while, I suggested adding more safari time to the beginning of the trip. My excuse: it’s a long trip, we have the vacation cash, life is short, etc. So I found a new travel company and TA (not that warm, but very efficient, even after payment, which is more important). I chose one camp that is rhino focused near the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The other camp I chose is in the Masai Mara, however it’s in a different conservancy – the Olare-Motorogi Conservancy. I chose this one because they are supposed to have more leopard there and I really would love to see one again; they were so beautiful in Botswana.
So now we are looking at the following itinerary:
Nairobi (1 night). Focus: sleep.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy (3 nights) Focus: rhino – specifically the world’s last two northern white rhinos, that are under guard!
Olare-Motorogi Conservancy (3 nights) Focus: leopards and cheetahs.
Masai Mara (5 nights). Focus: leopards and cheetahs.
Nairobi (2 nights). Focus: Sheldrick nursery, and grocery shopping for Sheldrick camps.
Tsavo West (3 nights). Focus: ellies and whatever we happen to see on safari drives.
Tsavo West 2 (3 nights). Focus: ellies and whatever we happen to see on safari drives.
Tsavo East (3 nights). Focus: ellies and whatever we happen to see on safari drives.
Nairobi (1 night). Focus: Sheldrick nursery again, probably, then go home.
First 1/2 vs. Second 1/2
There are a couple of differences in the first half of the trip compared to the second half. The first half of the trip is safari focused, with the first two camps being in a conservancy. In a conservancy there are less vehicles and you are allowed to drive your vehicle off road. The third camp is near the Mara Triangle. It is not in a conservancy, so we will be required to stay on the road. As the trip progresses, I will be writing more about each camp with more details. We will fly to the first and second camps, and drive (I believe less than 2 hours) between the second and third camps. We will fly back from the third camp to Nairobi.
The second half is focused on the ellies and visiting the halfway locations. We will spend a couple nights in Nairobi and grocery shop and get everything together, then we have two drivers who will drive us all between each location. This should be interesting, because the first drive, I believe, is 5 or 6 hours and we’ve never ridden in a vehicle that long on Kenyan roads nor dealt with their traffic beyond Nairobi (we’ve always flown between camps).
Have you guys seen the trailer for that movie Beast (or something like that)? About the attacking lion? What the hell? Why did this have to come out right before my freaking trip? Come on, man. Of course I’ve seen this more times than I can count. It’s no coincidence I started having my lion nightmares. I’ve gotten them before my other two trips, too!
Secondly, remember how I told you about how I like reading trip reports to read more about the places I’m going to visit? I was really happy to read a recent one re: the area with the rhino. It had so many great pics of the two surviving rhino and talked a lot about the camp and how great it was to stay there. I’m pretty excited by everything they said, except…the writer wrote about how one night he heard a noise outside his tent and then heard the tell tale sound of two lions yawning, and then eventually bumping into his tent and hanging around there. He said he was terrified and it was hours before he fell back asleep.
You guys? I really, really, really, really don’t want that experience. And did I mention ‘really’? Because I really don’t. I know there are some crazy people that think, “Oh man, it would be so cool to have lions sleeping right outside my tent!”.
Me? I’m not one of those people. I’m sane in that respect. I’m praying to the safari gods to please not let my weird lion attracting powers kick in this trip. I don’t want to have to pop an Ativan to prevent soiled sheets or a heart attack.
I have no idea when I will start updating the actual trip report. I know the first camp doesn’t have WiFi. I can’t imagine any of them have very good WiFi, and we’re only bringing the iPad. It might be weeks. Hard telling. Keep an eye on my Instagram: Neeners815 & Neenerstravels. I’ll try to at least post pics/stories there in the meanwhile.
Before I go, I will leave you with this in case you’ve never seen it before. I do not want this to happen. No thank you. I’m putting it out there in the universe – NO THANK YOU! No lions outside the tent at night! I’d also appreciate none outside the tent during the day.
After our wonderful Botswana trip we highly recommended people go UNTIL we found out they allow elephant culling now, so we will be skipping a return until that changes. My love of elephants grew exponentially after seeing the African ellies. Seeing them in the wild is just a unique and special experience. I enjoy following elephant rescue organizations on the innerwebs, and the main two I follow are:
Elephant Nature Park: located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this organization focuses on rescuing adult elephants that have been treated poorly (logging, circuses, riding, etc.). We’ve been lucky enough to visit there twice and highly recommend it. They are doing great work and the actual park is absolutely gorgeous.
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: located in Kenya, they rescue baby elephants that have been abandoned by their herds/mothers for whatever reason. Usually it’s because of the mother being killed, or the calf falling in a well or being injured. They nurse and nurture these babies in Nairobi National Park. I somehow happened upon their Instagram several years ago and saw the pics of the babies wearing the blankets and that’s all it took for me to say, “I WANT TO GO THERE!!!”.
So once we had Botswana under our belts and realized that Yes, Africa is a wild, crazy, and distant place… but it’s wonderful and so totally doable if you do your research. Kenya was immediately added to the bucket list and in 2019 we made that dream of seeing those little babies a reality.
Kenya – November 2019
Trying to find a TA was a lot more difficult in Kenya than for Botswana. I think because there were a lot more choices, or maybe because I got super lucky with our TA from Botswana. I’m not entirely sure. I sent inquiries to probably 5 or 6 companies and then eventually chose one based on reviews and tripadvisor feedback. The company I chose was good. The individual TA was just OK (she left the company a couple of months before our trip and was a bit MIA even before that once she got our money). I think I was spoiled by the wonderful woman from Botswana who helped us with that trip, but it mostly worked out, so it’s all good.
I’m not going to go into a ton about this trip because our upcoming trip is back to Kenya and we’ll be going to a few of the same areas. But I’ll do a short recap of the stops:
Nairobi National Park – we stayed at Ololo Lodge that was right inside of the park, which is actually right in Nairobi city. It’s crazy to see these roaming wild animals, with telephone poles and buildings in the distance. One goal for going to that park, for me, was to see a rhino. We didn’t get to see any in Botswana. NOTE: these videos are under my personal account, so if you want to see them please let me know in the comments your Instagram name and I will add you once you request it 🙂
Our real primary goal was to go to the Sheldrick Nursery!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, it was so exciting to me that it deserved a gazillion exclamation marks!) Way back then (you guys – it was literally only 3 years ago – what is time?), if you were an adoptive parent they had an hour set aside each day and you could reserve a spot to come and see the babies when they come in from the park for the night. Spending time with the babies with such a small group was bliss.
You can definitely hear the excitement in my voice. I just re-watched that video 3 times. Hahaha. I just love those little babies so much. It’s not that often, it seems, that we experience happy tears, but this was one of those for me. Did you ever go on a trip and experience something so amazing that you thought, “Wow. I could go home now and can honestly say it’s been a great trip!”? Well, that’s what happened for me after spending a single hour with the babies at Sheldrick. And this was just the very beginning of the trip! Writing this out is making me SO EXCITED for the upcoming trip! Aiyeeee!
Our first destination, after Nairobi, was Tortilis Camp in Amboseli. I’ll give you one guess as to what that particular area is known for? Is there an Elephants Anonymous group I need to consider joining?
It was absolutely amazing watching 100’s of Ellies silently walk in front of us. Some people got bored and left!! For me that just didn’t compute. As I said in the video, “elephant heaven”. These gigantic creatures are amazing.
Our next stop was Lewa Downs. I think they may have renamed the camp or maybe it closed? I’m not sure and I can’t find it in a search now. Anyway, our main goal for that area was to see rhino. We did see them, but we also saw a lot of rain, rain, rain. Rain is the worst on safari because there’s nothing else to do besides sleep or play a game. Normally that’s not an issue at all and sounds like a nice relaxing day, however safaris are hundreds of dollars a day, and it’s not like you get your money back if it rains. One fun memory from the rain is the time we were out on a drive and it really started coming down hard, so we were driving like a bat out of hell trying to get back to the camp quickly, bouncing around like crazy and giggling nervously in the back seats, with the sides all zipped down so we couldn’t see what was going on and out the front windshield it was pouring rain! Thank goodness the guides have such good eyesight. That drive was a heart-pumper, but still sorta fun.
Lewa was also where we had our absolute worst experience with another traveler. We had to share a car with 4 or 5 other people, and she was one of them, and she was a trip. And not in a good way. She was alone and our first experience with her was when she was peering into our tent (all the paths are to private tents, so she was lost or nosey (99.9% sure it was nosey)), whilst I was in my underwear. EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? Our next interaction was when we were all in the vehicle with her. She apparently had no idea that when you went out on safari you couldn’t just stop your jeep whenever you wanted to go for a walk…unless you wanted to be somebody’s lunch. She also explained to us that she got car sick so didn’t want to be out long. What in the heck, lady? You are on a safari where you will be driving around for literally hours. She was a very strange character, who clearly didn’t do any research before coming. I think she was a Vegan, because I remember her telling a story about a bug that burrowed under her skin, and once she realized what it was SHE LEFT IT THERE WAITING FOR IT TO HATCH BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T WANT TO KILL IT AND SHE WAS A NUT. Lord, I just got PTSD remembering that. Even hub, who gets along with 98% of people, after that story was like… “nope”. Imagine our pure joy when we realized we would be at another camp with her in a few days time? My heart? It filled with dread. It was the first time I dreaded a new stop on a trip. I just knew I’d get stuck in a vehicle with her again, as we hadn’t paid for a private one.
Let’s lighten the mood with some rhinos!
Rhino isn’t all we saw. When we first were driving from the airstrip to camp, we came across a lion.
Guys, what is it with me and lions? Yes, they scare the bejeezus out of me, but my real questions are: 1) why are they all over the place when I don’t want to see them, and 2) why does it almost always seem to happen on my side of the vehicle? Most people would be absolutely thrilled with both of these things. Most people. Not me.
Quick aside story from Botswana: we were lucky in a couple of camps to be the only ones in our vehicle, so we could say things like, “we like other animals besides lions, so we don’t need to concentrate on those – let’s find something else!” when they asked what we wanted to see. And when I felt more comfortable and less embarrassed about my fear of them, I would ask, “If we come across lions and there is any way we can do it, can we please make it so they aren’t on my side of the vehicle, kind sir?”. Yes, I’m that big of a chicken with them and would swallow my pride to preserve my heart rate. None of this makes sense, because I just looked it up and lions kill 200 people a year while ellies kill 500! My brain just doesn’t like lions, ok? The one exception is cubs – so freakin’ cute I could watch them for a while without my pulse rocketing.
Back to the Botswana story – so we were on our way to the airstrip to transfer camps, but we had time so we had a mini safari while we were going along. Our goal, of course, was to find some ellies. We were enjoying our ride, got to watch one elephant bull for a bit, then carried on forward a ways, around a bush corner, to end up right next to sleeping lions. And I mean right next to sleeping lions. We startled them a little (but only enough to raise their heads – all cats are lazy and sleep a lot) and they definitely surprised us and the guide. He immediately stopped to watch, then also apologized to me for coming upon them. The poor man – he knew I was a fraidy cat (nyuck nyuck) and felt bad that he came across one and it was on my side of the vehicle. It was fine. I think at that point in that trip (it was the very end) I was more used to lions and less afraid of them as long as they were laying down. But he was so kind and felt so bad.
The main point of that story was showing that we run into lions often (at this camp before we even got to the camp itself), but I wonder if it’s because I don’t want to and just have bad luck with them!
Let’s talk about the next stop – House in the Wild. There was only one negative to this place – the road to get there. It was so bad that even hubby thought he’d lost his kidneys in transit. It was the worst road we’d ever been on on safari, and there have been some doozies, lemme tell ya. But it was all worth it because this camp had so much going for it.
It was right on the river so you could hear the hippos.
The grounds were beautiful.
The camp itself, the only camp on our itinerary, was within a fenced/walled area and you had to stop at the front gate for a guard to open it (who always waved to us when we went in and out). The area didn’t just include the camp. It was almost like a little subdivision: there was a little lake and some other homes, so it was safe to walk around by yourself without worrying about getting attacked or being something’s meal. One day when we were coming back to camp from a drive there literally were lions on our side of the gate, so we had to be careful going in and out so they couldn’t get in.
We were the only ones in the camp, so we got extremely good treatment!
We had an absolutely wonderful guide, Masai Mara warrior Wilson. He was our favorite from that trip. What a gem. Knew all his info and was a delight to get to know.
The food was delicious and we somehow had a butler, which was sort of funny. I had no idea the place was going to be *that* nice. But it was.
We met the owner and had nice chats with him. Very cool guy, who was also a pilot, so hubby enjoyed talking to him as well.
The highlight from that camp was this sighting:
It was our first time seeing cheetahs and it was wonderful and we were the only vehicle there! It happened to be time for our sundowners. Sundowner time is basically cocktail hour in safari talk; every day in late afternoon/early evening you get a stop somewhere safe with a sunset view, get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, and have your cocktails/drinks and a few nibbles. Wilson asked us if we wanted to have our sundowners in the vehicle while watching the cheetahs. Absolutely! How many times in your life can you say you got to have a gin and tonic with 6 cheetahs? One for me. And yes, that is a flex! I’m old – I gotta flex where I can LOL.
Our last camp, Elephant Pepper Camp, was close enough that we only had to drive between them. It was about an hour and a half to two hours away. I remember being on a dirt road and having to check the tires, so paranoid someone was going to drive by while I was doing so and get a startling surprise.
This was the camp where the crazy lady was going to be. We showed up one day before her. Every time you arrive at a new camp you meet with the camp manager, who tells you about the camp and what happens when, etc.. It’s also when you sign the waiver that states you will not sue the camp if something eats you. Not joking. Ok, maybe it doesn’t use the word ‘eat’, but *I* know exactly what they mean. And this camp was not fenced in, so it was back to armed-with-spear warriors who would take us to/from the tents when it was dark. These guys were very serious.
Anyway, we were really lucky in that we had actually already met the new camp manager here because he was at Amboseli when we were there and was getting ready to move. Having an established friendly relationship, we decided to ask him if it was planned that once the crazy lady showed up we were required to share a vehicle with her. He said yes. We told him what happened at the other camp, and beyond the crazy part we were worried because this woman only liked to be out on the drive for a short time, while we will stay out as long as we can because watching animals is fun and interesting and there’s always something new to experience. I think this was what made him decide to give us a separate vehicle and he was tipped nicely for it! Hallelujah – we ‘only’ had to see her during meals. We were the only ones at that camp and it was group meals there, so we still got our fill, believe me. The good news is one night we got a surprise private meal in a tent for our anniversary. It was so sweet!
We saw two different births while at Elephant Pepper Camp. There is some blood and uck in this next pic, but if you’re a mom you can handle it! I’m looking at you, Dawn! LOL. The happiest one we saw was this:
There was also a different birth we saw. We sat for over an hour watching a giraffe give birth. It’s a sad story, so I’m not going to share the pic, sorry. We all celebrated when it finally happened and named the baby, a combination of both of our guides names. We went back to camp on an absolute high! Then the next day when we were driving around looking for game we passed another safari vehicle and our guides (we had two great ones – the main guide and one in training) and the guides from the other vehicle had a quick conversation in Swahili. Come to find out an hour after the baby giraffe was born a pride of lions killed and ate it. The mama giraffe has a hard time defending herself *and* the baby and just couldn’t this time. And after all that work she went through to have it, too. I learned two valuable lessons from that experience: 1) don’t name anything because there’s a good chance it’s going to end up being dinner, 2) lions are assholes. Granted, I already knew #2, but this really made me dislike lions even more. I get it. It’s the circle of life and everything needs to eat. In my perfect world that would mean that the meat eaters only ate the ugly things. LOL. Welcome to my cute utopia!
We really tried at this camp to find a leopard since we hadn’t seen one all trip, but we had no luck. Of course we saw lots and lots of lions. Those fuckers. (Sorry, Joann).
Cubs are really fun to watch when they play and irritate their mothers, and it’s probably the only time I actually enjoy watching lions with a normal heart rate. Now having said that, let me tell you a little story about this particular scene…
Picture it: cubs playing with each other, then they start playing with their moms. This leads to the cubs chasing the moms, and the moms playing along with it because, a) it’s fun and, b) cubs need to learn how to chase dinner. So they are all playing with each other, chasing, etc. Well, one cub starts chasing their mom and as you can see, we were very close to where they were. This is when I am eternally thankful I was not on the side of the vehicle closest to the cute cubs because the mama started running away from the cub and directly at our vehicle. Logic tells me there surely is no chance the lioness is going to try to jump through our jeep to get to the other side. But when you see this very large lioness start running at you, logic is asleep in a tiny corner of your brain, because the rest of it is filled with a voice screaming, “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!” as she gets closer and closer. This all happened in like 3 seconds, again, because we were very close. She dodged at the last second, of course. But wow. Talk about getting your pulse going. Hubby says he wasn’t scared, just surprised. I would have peed a little if it had been on my side, not gonna lie.
We saw plenty of other things, as well. I’ll share a few pics and then the next post will be about the upcoming trip!