I was quite scared those first nights at Rhino Camp. I wear a Fitbit watch and my resting heart rate was a good 5-10 beats per minute higher than at home. In my voice recording I said, “I was so scared last night. Sal hasn’t been cuddled that much at night in years.” If only I could have warned myself that worse was coming…
This day was my favorite at this camp, in spite of the weather. We woke up to steady rain and it was very cold. Thank goodness we brought layers because the first part of the trip was the coldest. Everyone at camp was happy about the rain; the land and animals needed it. Well, almost everyone was happy about it. I think if the rain would have been at the end of the trip it would have been a real bummer… but because we were at the beginning of our vacation we knew we had plenty of time to (hopefully) see some sun! The roads were very slippery and at one point I had to explain to our guide what a ‘donut’ was, because he kept occasionally doing them accidentally in the mud. These pics will not be great because of the weather, sorry!
One of the first things we saw was a tower of giraffes – about 13. A couple younger ones were mock fighting.
Next up was breakfast in the bush. We went to this area by the water that was on the other side of an electric fence, so (relatively) safe. Sometimes you can see hippos in the water, but we only saw one far in the distance. I think they picked the spot because it was still drizzly and it was covered. Even in the sprinkles it’s always nice to eat outdoors.
This day was rhino focused. Our last trip to Kenya was the first time we’d ever seen a rhino in the wild – we never saw one in Botswana. We found them interesting to watch, and knew we were only guaranteed to see them if we went to areas where they were protected from poachers. Since we had gone to the Lewa area before (and it was rainy then, too!), we wanted to experience a new-to-us adjacent conservancy. While I was doing my research I saw that one of the side trips available was a trip to see the last two white northern rhino. When I read that the first time I had to pause and read it again. The last two? What?
Before we went to see the rhino we paid our respects at the rhino memorial that is sort of in the middle of nowhere, but still quite touching. As you can imagine, very somber.
I highly suggest giving this article a read re: Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, and the two remaining females that we saw. It explains things much better than I ever could.
There are two female northern white rhinos left: Najin & Fatu. They aren’t from Kenya – they were from a zoo. They brought them to Kenya in an effort to save the subspecies and the poor duo were afraid of everything and didn’t know how to be wild. They had to put in a southern rhino with them to teach them. Amazing.
They are mother and daughter; daughter and granddaughter of Sudan. When Sudan died, they had some of his sperm and were hoping to artificially inseminate to save the subspecies. The added twist is that neither female can carry a pregnancy as one has a hurt foot and the other has an issue with her uterus. Scientists from around the world have come up with one last ditch effort to try to save the subspecies… they are going to artificially inseminate a southern white rhino. They will take the sperm from Sudan and use the embryos from Najin & Fatu. It’s never been done before. It’s crazy to even think of it. A surrogate rhino! They picked rhinos that had had successful births in the past, and they are using a black male rhino to let them know when these surrogates are ‘ready’ for insemination. It’s crazy, but maybe they will get lucky and it will work. There are only 14 fertilized embryos left. All fingers and toes are crossed!
But first, we got to meet the girls and give them carrots…
And from inside the vehicle…
After we fed the girls and gave them a few scratches, we got to see a couple of the surrogates! Go, girls – you can do it!
Another part of this special visit was getting to meet Baraka, a blind male black rhino. He has one missing eye and the other eye is totally blind. He was quite sweet. And very BIG when you’re standing right next to him with no vehicle in between! We really enjoyed feeding him a snack of lucerne and petting him.
Next up was the little museum they had. It was really interesting.
We stopped by a hyena den and I was shocked by how may hyena there were, and of all different sizes.
The young ones were very interested in the vehicles. Some would sniff the car or crawl under it.
We got back to camp and found more guests had arrived – a family of four and two older couples. The family of four was from Australia and we enjoyed the rest of our meals with them, hearing about their travels and sharing our stories, as well.
After lunch we had our first bucket showers. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out being fine. I actually had enough water during my shower to both wash AND condition my hair, so that was a pleasant surprise. I have a pic of a bucket shower later at a different camp. My recording actually said, “I could never shave my legs here on a bucket shower, that’s for sure”. We rested after our showers and it was pouring rain.
We weren’t sure if we would even go out, but it’s rain or shine there and so off we went. I’m glad we did because we actually saw a striped hyena (rare in that area) from a distance.
We stopped back at the hyena den again. When it’s raining the animals are far and few between. Most things hide.
One funny thing we saw was baboons catching and eating bugs. There was some sort of flying termite after the rain (oddly didn’t go after us and we didn’t see them up close), but the baboons would be on their back legs and jump up and clap to catch the insects to eat them. The vervet monkeys and the jackals were also eating these bugs. It was like they were all at a buffet.
It was freezing cold once the rain stopped, so we didn’t bother trying to stop for a sun downer. There was obviously no fire, either, since everything was extremely wet. We just had a low key dinner, rain starting again, and enjoyed our conversation with our dinner companions.
Reminder: we left our travelers after a long morning of travel to Rhino Camp on the first day of their bonus safari..
As I said in the last post, I made a little daily recording of happenings so I wouldn’t have to write notes or try to rely on my crappy memory. Lord knows that would end up being a two post blog. Anyway, listening to these recordings so I can write these posts has been interesting, to say the least. I was picking up where I left off, and the whole rest of that recording is just me saying animal names, often numerous times because the automatic transcriber would come up with some crazy interpretations of what I was trying to say (even when I spelled it). I thought it would be cool to list out all the animals we saw. Guys? I’m not doing that. We saw a LOT!
I don’t know in what universe I thought you guys would be interested in me telling you what the first dead animal was that we saw, but it was a buffalo. You’re welcome and I am sorry. The thing about the dead animals is 9 times out of 10 you smell them before you see them. Dead buffalo, as you can well imagine, are very stinky. As our time progressed we discovered quite a few dead buffalo there because there had been a bad drought. It was quite sad. The only other dead animal we saw at that camp was either lunch/dinner for someone else, or an impala that nobody had found yet (to eat – nobody cleans up the dead animals except the other animals that eat them) and had died from a fight with another impala. Through our travels we’d seen impala and other antelope fighting with their horns, but this was the first time we’d seen a casualty from that.
We made our way to the camp to discover that we were the only ones there. I was shocked because we were still technically in high season. We met the interim manager and got the daily drive and meal information and signed the forms saying if we were killed or injured we wouldn’t sue anyone. The schedule there was as follows:
* 6:30 a.m. morning game drive with breakfast in the bush somewhere * * 1:00 p.m. lunch * * 4:00 p.m. coffee/tea * * 4:30 p.m. afternoon game drive * * 8:00 p.m. dinner*
It started raining during check-in. The staff were so happy. We, on the other hand, were thinking: Rut Roh. Before we could fixate too much on being worried about the rain they fed us lunch. We had pork ribs, side salads, and mousse for dessert. We really enjoyed the food at the camp (other guests complained about it, but we had no complaints regarding the food).
According to my recording I went to exercise after lunch. Exercise for me on this trip was either walking in the tent, walking on the grounds, doing an exercise video I had downloaded from YouTube, or water aerobics if the camp had a pool. At one point I seriously googled if riding in a safari vehicle burns any calories. I was reaching for some side benefit of being in a vehicle 7-9 hours per day!
Only a few of you know that three months prior to this trip I began exercising daily and watching my calories with my friend (Hi R!). I was so worried that I was going to gain weight on this 3.5 week trip. Most safari camps are known for big meal portions, so I was concerned. Lunch was usually a buffet, so I could control my portions myself there, and for dinners I asked for smaller portions. It took a couple of meals before they understood what I wanted and then for the most part it worked. I’m proud to say I didn’t gain any weight on vacation. Matter of fact, I lost a couple pounds. Yeah, I can’t quite believe it, either. I am convinced, though, that riding in those crazy vehicles for so many hours a day surely must have burned off extra calories! I mean, come on holding onto something for so many hours so you don’t get ejected from your seat and eaten has got to contribute in some way to getting a little more toned! It’s got to!
Our tent’s position was excellent and we could see the waterhole from our bed! It was very exciting. Except it was raining, so nobody was interested in a drink there that day. Soon it was time for our afternoon drive. I never did the coffee/tea pre-drive thing during the trip because I was paranoid I would then have to ‘check the tires’ (pee in the bush or behind the vehicle).
Even though it was a bit drizzly, that afternoon the game viewing was pretty good. We were very happy to have our own vehicle, too. First up?
Giraffe subspecies are differentiated by their spot patterns. These giraffes are called Reticulated Giraffe, and they are only in north/northeast areas of Kenya. They are called a journey of giraffes when they are walking, and a tower of giraffes when they have stopped in the bushes. Next up was the whole reason we came to this particular camp:
One of the interesting things about the area is that there are farmers with cattle that share the area. The cattle are originally from Uganda and called Ankole and graze at certain times during the day with a herder, then they are put in their pens at night. The herder job is incredibly dangerous (hello, there are lions??) and oftentimes it’s a younger man/boy doing it.
I’m just going to be my own transcriber here. This is the next part of the recording (all in whispers):
“Of course. We found lions.” “Shit it’s on my side.” “Oh my god it’s making a noise.” “Oh. Oh no. I don’t…” “This one is stalking a buffalo, we think.” “Oh crap. I think she’s stalking a buffalo. I don’t want to see a killing!” “I didn’t want to be in this section *laughs nervously* I hope this isn’t the last recording anybody hears of me.” *I proceed to repeat what I just said to the guide so he gets the hint.*
“It seems like we are looking for more lions…are we looking for more lions, Harold (fake name)? Haaaarold? You are dangerously close to losing stars! ” *Said in a joking tone, but completely serious!* “Still alive, but still in the bad section” (Bad section was the bushes and they could be right behind one.) “Bad. B-A-D!” “B-A-D!” “There was one behind us.” (See? BAD section!) “I’m gonna have nightmares about this section.” “Oh shit, now we’re going past…there’s another one right there!” “That one I’m not afraid of” (Only because it was relatively far away and on Sal’s side.)
Me, hoping to remain alive on my first day of safari
The only bad part of the drive was the lion part. Yes, I had told our guide I was afraid of lions and they were very low on the priority list of animals we’d like to see. Yes, we had our own vehicle, so I thought that meant we called the shots. No, that’s not what happened in some of these instances. I have found in general that *most* guides think everyone wants to see the lions, even if they specifically tell them they DO NOT. I don’t know if they think we are joking and that everyone on safari wants to see the big cats, but every single guide that I told I didn’t want to see lions brought me closer than I would have liked. It wasn’t until most saw the expression on my face that they understood, “Oh, she’s actually afraid and this could affect my tip!”
Our guide at Rhino Camp was no exception. So in the recording above we started following a couple sub-adults and I could feel my heart racing. I really didn’t feel like I was ready for it – it was our arrival day, for Pete’s sake! I asked if we could please stay back a ways, as I was afraid of them. We drove around bushes trying to find where the lion went and at one point I specifically remember the guide (and possibly Sal) pointing out it was behind the car. Now it could have been far behind the car, or it could have been close; I have no idea because I refused to look. We had already gotten much closer to one than I wanted and I was afraid if I turned around and saw that lion close on my side of the car my trip would have had a very unfortunate ending. OK, I’m being dramatic. But at that point I was still very afraid of lions and I felt extremely uncomfortable.
Lest you think I am the only one afraid of lions on safari, later in the trip I heard the story of a guy we were at camp with that had a panic attack because he didn’t realize how close the vehicle got to the lions. His guide drove them too close and then a car was in back of them so they were sort of stuck for a bit. He had to go back to camp once they could move the vehicle again. Before my first safari I knew how close we would get and there would be no vehicle doors – you were right there for the picking! I’m not sure if he knew or not, but the first time you experience it it’s very intense no matter if you like the big killers or not. I felt sorry for the guy after hearing that story. While I hadn’t ever had a panic attack from being too close to the lions, I think one of the worst things in the world would not only be feeling trapped and like you are going to die, but also literally being blocked in there so you actually were sort of trapped. That poor guy probably has nightmares about it.
I wasn’t at panic attack level. I was more at I-wasn’t-joking-when-I-said-I-didn’t-want-to-see-lions-this-close level. I think when I refused to turn around and look behind the vehicle to see the lion, our guide finally got the hint that the old white lady doesn’t wanna see lions! We only saw them from a distance at this camp after that. I thought, “Shew. Maybe I’ll be able to do this the whole trip without getting close again. Maybe if I just explain it to them…” If you follow me on Instagram I’m sure you are snickering right about now because you know what is to come.
Happily there were no other lions that game drive. Next up, some hyenas:
These pics were taken back when I thought hyenas were awesome. Sadly, that time has passed. Yeah, it’s another spoiler alert: hyenas are killers and I will never look at one the same way again. That story will be much later in the blog as it happened on the last night at the last safari camp.
After enjoying seeing the pups it was time for sundowners! We went to an open area and even though the sunset was crap because of the bad weather, it was still nice to be out in the open and on safari! We enjoyed our G&T’s and chatting with Harold and Elliot (another fake name). There are tests that are both costly and intense that guides take that are similar to a certification, I guess. We found out our driver, Harold, was a silver star and Elliot was studying to be a bronze star. The highest level is gold, but apparently that is very expensive and it’s hard to get a job at a camp when you are gold because a higher pay is required. Most gold stars are private guides. The conversation was interesting, but soon we heard the laughing hyenas, followed by another noise. When the guides started talking to each other in Swahili I just knew that meant the noise was something I wasn’t going to want to know about. I asked them what it was, and Harold said, “It was what we don’t want to hear – a lion.”. Eliott said he has seen one, but it was quite far and since we were right next to the jeep (I never got too far from it!) we were safe. It started to rain a little bit at the end of our sundowners, so we made our drive back wearing our ponchos (mostly for warmth). Luckily there were no lions on the way back because the only thing worse than seeing one in the day is seeing one at night.
It had stopped raining by the time we got back to camp, thankfully. We had two Maasai waiting for us and they escorted us to the tent to drop off our stuff. They also escorted us to the bonfire to enjoy the bonfire and a cocktail. All these camps have Maasai that escort you at night. None of these safari camps we went to have fences, so it’s necessary and appreciated! It’s scary out there at night!
We chatted with the interim manager a bit, then got to eat early since we were the only ones in camp. We enjoyed our dinner and got to bed early, also thankful for our hot water bottles that they put in the beds to keep warm! We really noticed the frogs in the waterhole at this point. No, we didn’t actually see any, but it was like you had a white noise app and chose ‘frogs’ and set the volume at 10. These fellas were LOUD LOUD. It was this night Sal coined the term, “Happy as a frog in mud”. We’ll see if it catches on or not.
I’ll end this post on my recording regarding sleeping the first night:
“Oh shit. There’s something out there. This is our first night in Porini Camp and we definitely hear something. There’s two somethings. Luckily so far I don’t hear any cat yawns. Aw geez. There’s definitely something. Maybe just a buffalo. Sadly, buffalo are actually worse, but for some reason I’m more afraid of the freakin’ lions. Looks like I’m going to have to wear earplugs tonight” *next day* “We survived. I was up for two hours in the middle of the night” *laughs* “There were lions and hyenas in the camp.”
Me, surviving the first night. Don’t call me a hero.
The Gamewatchers portion of our Kenya trip was an add-on for us. It wasn’t originally planned, but once the elephant-focused portion of the trip kept getting delayed we decided we deserved an even longer vacation since we were travelling so far and had waited so long. And by ‘we’, almost everyone reading this blog that knows us knows that it was me. And those same people know hubby didn’t mind extending, either! There was extra vacation time from having severely cut down on trips since 2020, so why not?
So the day after our arrival in Kenya saw us beginning this ‘bonus’ trip-within-a-trip. This part had been planned in 2022 with the help from a TA from Gamewatchers. He was helpful at the beginning and as it got closer to the trip and I had more questions (and my payments had been made), he got extremely rude. I debated using his name, but decided against it. I will share a little more info later on, but for now just know that we had an extra week planned out, that started the trip, with Gamewatchers. Our goal was to spend 6 more nights in safari camps. The first three were focused on rhinos, so we would be going to Porini Rhino Camp, and the last three were focused on leopards, so we would be going to Porini Lion Camp. Yes, I said leopards – that wasn’t a typo. Lion Camp wasn’t a typo, either. I’ll explain more when we get to that part of the trip, I promise! Patience, my dear readers, patience.
Getting to Porini Rhino Camp
I woke up first and had slept through the whole night with prescription help. I wanted to make sure I got a full night’s rest since I hadn’t slept on the plane. Poor Sal woke up for 2.5 hours in the middle of the night because his body didn’t know if it was coming or going. It was breakfast time, and I was afraid to leave the room because the hotel didn’t give us a key. You guys? I was all, “what kind of hotel just checks you in with no key???”. Please remember that I was jet lagged and also probably a little loopy from my sleep helper when I tell you that Sal went downstairs and got a key and when we were wheeling out an hour later we discovered the original key by the door to control the lights and air conditioning. Geez. It’s like we’d never stayed in a hotel before. I’m embarrassed for us on that one. I wonder what the front desk thought.
I opted for no food because I figured there would be a two hour drive from the airstrip to the camp (after close to a two hour flight) and I really didn’t want to have to, “check the tires” (i.e. pee behind the jeep or behind a bush) on my first day. Spoiler alert: I never had to the whole trip! Good job, bladder!
We discovered that in transit our deet bug spray had leaked and the clear plastic cosmetic bag it was in partially melted. You guys – there was a hole in the bag now and deet all over everything else in the bag. How can deet do this to plastic, but somehow our skin is ok? Anyway, Sal washed everything off and we brainstormed how to pack the liquids now that we were down a bag. Then I remembered that Kenya Airways gave the hoity-toity wannabes in Business Class a little bag with toiletries in it. I had taken mine for some unknown reason, even though we were at capacity with our weight limit. Confession: it was because it was a cute bag…almost like a purse. It was a bag that could now carry the items that were previously in the cheap plastic cosmetic bag! See? Upgrading to Business already was paying off. Sure.
We packed up and met our driver and other guy that worked for Gamewatchers. I’m not really sure why there were two guys to take us to the hotel the day before, then to the airport the next day. Isn’t it a job for one guy? Maybe the other guy is like me and doesn’t drive, though. I would hate to drive in Nairobi. It’s a nightmare. I’m rambling. Anyway, I feel slightly strange calling him the ‘other guy’ as he was very helpful once we got to Wilson Airport. He got us through security very quickly and had us checked in without any issue.
As I stated in the last post, I had been worried about the weight limit and we had gotten rid of a lot of weight (extra camera and accessories) the night before the flight to Nairobi. Sadly, we still were over weight (story of my life). We had this grand idea of how to make the flight without penalty weight payment. Basically we were going to carry our cameras around our neck, maybe the binoculars, too. I read about it on Tripadvisor, so it had to work/be true. (A little bit of sarcasm there as some things posted on Tripadvisor are severely dated now.)
So the plan was to carry as much on person as possible to avoid a couple of dollars of penalty. Make it make sense after spending our retirement on Business Class to get there. Just kidding. Sorta. Anyway, the ‘other’ guy had our stuff through security scanning and before I knew it had grabbed our two big bags and took them over to get weighed. EEK! I didn’t have a chance to take anything out of the backpacks for our grand idea to work. It’s amazing how much time I spent thinking about what to pack and how to make it so we weren’t over weight, only for it to go up in smoke. Oddly, I accepted it pretty quickly; I mean, what else are you gonna do? So we get penalized. Big deal. It’s only going to be a few bucks, right? And after all this time I was actually in Kenya and going to see ellies soon. Once I reminded myself of that I smiled at the baggage guy, who gave me a big smile back, and said, “Jambo!”. He smiled back and then said we didn’t need to weigh our backpacks since our other two big bags were fine with weight. Say what, now? Our other two backpacks were more than this man thought, for sure, because we had weighed them the night before. I’m convinced that we just got an instant blessing because we were so grateful to actually be there and very friendly to the baggage guy. That guy was the best.
So I was riding on a very temporary high, thinking, “We did it, Joe!”. We were sitting waiting patiently for our flight while charging our headphones. Then I found the only real mistake, besides being a rude jerk, the Gamewatchers TA had made. He had in our paperwork that we would be flying into an airstrip that was 1.5-2 hours away from the camp. This wasn’t correct. Our tickets had us flying into a different airstrip that was apparently 15 minutes from camp and nobody had told us. Well, well, well. Look who wasn’t actually all-knowing after all! Sure, it looked like a mistake in our favor. At least for a few minutes.
Unfortunately it was raining and that airstrip was flooded and the plane would not be able to land there. Spoiler alert – every time we try to go see rhino (ok, it’s only been twice now, but humor me!) it rains in that area. So they switched our flight to the airstrip I originally thought we were flying to; that meant our flight was going to be a few hours later. Boo. I spoke to who I thought was the camp manager (it was the interim manager) on one of the nice employees phones (they offered) so I could understand what was going on. I was confused because I was a jet lagged zombie and what they were telling me at the airport and what the paperwork said was confusing. The airport employees couldn’t have been nicer. I found my favorite baggage guy and he made sure to get my bags from the other plane and put the new tags on the bags. He was a gem. Sal and I decided to hang out at the new upstairs cafe and within like five minutes I got paged. I walked back downstairs and back to the check-in only to have them tell me they were changing our flights. No, they weren’t changing them again, they just hadn’t talked to each other to know someone had already told me all this and we had already gone through the rigmarole with the bags, etc.. Man, I needed a Diet Coke and some caffeine. It was definitely too early for anything stronger. So I walked back UP to the cafe, got a Diet Coke and some coffee and danish thing for Sal, then proceeded to spill the Diet Coke all over the table. Sheesh. I told you that happy high after avoiding paying over weight baggage was temporary!
The cafe was quite nice, though.
I’m quite happy to report that there was no other drama and no rain Wilson Airport. Before we knew it we were boarding our new flight.
We had to make one stop before our stop and we saw our first Maasai of the trip picking up their guests.
At the next stop we had finally made it!
Our guide and spotter picked us up in the game drive vehicle and (thank goodness) it wasn’t raining 🙂 We left immediately to get to Porini Rhino Camp.
An added bonus was we got to visit the equator. Super cool!
The gate was quite far from the camp. I guess I didn’t realize that when I booked it. But that was OK because that drive to camp would be our best game drive (due to weather and animal sightings).
Side note: rather than try to type each day out, Sal suggested that I record it and use the transcription from it to save typing/time. It was a mostly good idea, until I noticed that the transcription was wrong in a lot of places – sometimes in hilarious ways. I realized I would just have to listen back and write from there. It did still save me from typing out daily notes, though. I have to tell you, listening to me repeatedly whisper, “elephants!” because the transcriber is transcribing incorrectly is actually pretty funny. Maybe some day I will release the recordings for a little giggle. Now is not that day, though, so back to the story.
According to my voice recording, a waterbuck (antelope) was the first animal we saw. No, there isn’t a picture. Then a baby warthog and mama in the distance, followed by a Secretary bird. No, there’s no pictures of any of this. I told you I was a zombie. BUT I do have a video of the next sightings…
The first wild ellies of the trip! AhhhhHhHhHHhHhhhhH! I was such a happy lady.
Then we hit the mother load with a tiny baby!
The only thing better than one little baby?
We saw more animals and the stand out was a buffalo who mock charged us! This was before we even made it to the camp. What an exciting day. No worries, though, because it was on Sal’s side. He said he didn’t have time to get anxious because it all happened so quickly. P.S. Buffalo is one of the most deadly animals. Keep this in mind for one of my future blogs (spoiler alert: nobody dies, thankfully, but I have a good buffalo story).
I feel like this is a long post, so we are gonna stop right here where we haven’t yet made it to Rhino Camp. Stay tuned for Part Two!
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
The Sound of Music
As you can tell by my quoting old musicals to start this epic recant of our trip, mama is *still* battling jet lag almost a week later. Also, the fact that I called myself mama is another strong indicator that my brain doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at this point. But you gotta start somewhere, so why not at the beginning? And why not with a musical?
I’m not sure how I’m going to break down this trip. I know it won’t be daily, because that would take too long to do and likely would never get finished. I know me. I know my track record. I never finished the Japan trip report, and there are non-existent New Zealand and Puerto Rico trips I never shared stories from. Maybe some day. Don’t hold your breath, dear readers, but maybe.
I think for this trip I will break it down into topics; getting there, each camp, ELEPHANTS, traveling with strangers, getting home, etc. Hubby suggested I post once a week to make it more manageable and I think that’s a great idea. So every Tuesday you’ll get an update. Maybe it will be one post, or it could be multiple. It depends on how the week went. These posts take some time creating, though, so we’ll start out realistically with once a week posts. Cross your fingers and let’s hope for the best!
Getting to Kenya in the year 2022 was easier than it would have been in 2020 (when we were originally supposed to go on this trip), but much more difficult than when we went the first time. There were three main pieces of paperwork that needed to be completed beforehand:
Obtain an online E-Visa. This was the piece that took the most time and frankly was a pain in the patootie to do. You had to upload certain sized pics of a passport photo, your actual passport, the cover of your passport (this one was a mystery to me as to why), etc.. There was so much extra information they wanted, too, like where your parents were (why?) and some other things that seemed quite strange when all you wanted was to visit their beautiful country! I didn’t remember any of that from when we went to Kenya the first time and could just get the visa at the airport. The other tricky thing with doing this online is there were a lot of fake websites out there and people on Tripadvisor were falling for them and losing out on money they thought was going to pay for their visas. We found out literally the day after we got rid of our old ink jet printer and bought a new black and white laser printer – because who needs a color printer anymore – that we needed a color printout of the E-Visa. Of course we did. The E-Visa is also only good for 90 days from when it is approved, so you didn’t want to apply too soon in advance just in case, but at the same time you weren’t sure how long it would take to get approved. It only took us 24 hours or so to get approved and we applied about a month ahead of time, which gave us an extra month+ just in case we got stuck in Kenya for some (potentially Covid) reason. See the non-existent trip report to New Zealand where we were stuck during Covid for a couple of months.
Vaccination Certificate. This one was pretty straight forward – you upload your proof of vaccine with your information and get a QR code. It was a lot easier to fill out than the E-Visa. The only strange thing about this is when you got the QR code it said, “Provisional”, which could be confusing. You never got another code after initially uploading your proof, so I’m not sure why they chose the word provisional. Maybe it means something different there.
Travelers Health Surveillance QR Code. This one was pointless. Basically you answered questions saying you felt fine and weren’t having any symptoms. As long as you have your plane seat number you could fill this out at any time. Some of the people we were meeting filled theirs out literally weeks before their flight. Do you see a problem with that? Basically you could say a month or more before your trip, “Nope! No symptoms!” and get your QR code. It made no sense. The other thing that didn’t make sense is that the actual code didn’t have your name on it or any identifier as to who it was for. And finally, the thing that really didn’t make sense? NOBODY CHECKED THIS IN KENYA. What was the point? It was a waste of time and paper.
Once all the paperwork was completed and the colored E-Visa copies were procured from a local shop, it hit me. This trip was actually happening. It was hard to believe after the multiple postponements!
The last stressful piece was the packing. There is a weight limit of 15 kg/33 pounds per person, including carry on luggage, for the internal Kenya flights. You are also advised not to bring luggage with wheels as there is limited cargo space in the small planes and they often try to squish everyone’s luggage together to make it fit. For our main luggage we used the duffel bag and large-ish backpack that we used the last time. We also had a backpack with the camera stuff and a backpack for medicines, liquids, and stuff for the plane (Kindle (Sal left this in the pocket of his seat on the flight *to* Nairobi, so he didn’t have it the whole 3.5 weeks – yes, there will probably be a story about that), headphones, i-Pad, documents, etc.). No wheels for this duo! You guys – three or four of the main people we traveled with for the second half of the trip had luggage with wheels. I was shocked! Especially because the organizer that had been to Africa over 20 times. Nobody mentioned any trouble having it! I think they all adopted the, “ask for forgiveness, not permission” mentality. I’m thinking next time we need the wheels.
We always try to pack everything at least a week ahead of time in case we need to order anything else and to make sure everything fits. We were sure we were doing so well on the weight, until we actually weighed everything and the night before we were trying to figure out what we really didn’t need because we were over by about 4 kg/8.5 pounds. We decided not to bring the extra camera and paraphernalia that went with it. It was a risk. It paid off, though, because we didn’t need it. Phew.
We flew Kenya Airways, which is also who we flew last time. This time would be different, though, because we would be flying in Business. We decided to splurge at the last minute. Full disclosure – I was concerned about Covid. Even though for the flight to Nairobi masks were supposedly required, I didn’t see any flight attendants ask people to put their masks back on. Most people complied and it wasn’t an issue, but our original seats were going to be by the bathroom in bulkhead, and I remembered the last time we flew KA and had those seats that passengers liked to hang out and stretch there. I was really worried about getting sick before the trip even started, as this trip was very expensive and we had waited so long for it.
We flew out of JFK. From where we live, JFK is a pain in the butt to get to. It can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours. It’s a bit hard to plan. We used Blacklane care service, which isn’t cheap, but is reliable. Again, I wasn’t taking any chances. The car arrived on time and the drive was about an hour. The only thing I will say is that the driver didn’t know how to turn the radio on, which was weird. It makes the hour drive a bit uncomfortable because someone is listening to everything you are saying because it’s dead quiet in the car and they can hear everything. I resorted to texting Sal if I wanted to say something private, like ‘awkward!’, but Sal didn’t have his notifications on and I would have to motion to him to check his phone. Thinking back, I’m sure the driver probably caught my signals in the rear view mirror. Awkward!
At JFK we went directly to security as we had checked in online. Since KA has a code share with Delta, we asked the attendant if the Sky Priority line was the correct line for us. To be fair, on our ticket it literally said Sky Priority, however when I saw a list of the airlines in that particular line it didn’t list KA. She ushered us through and after maybe 10-12 minutes waiting it was our turn. Our TSA agent was quite frustrated when trying to scan our ticket, because guess what? We weren’t in the right line. The good thing was she was not frustrated with us, but with the attendant that told us to go in the line in the first place. She called her manager and had us step to the side. I would say we waited 5-10 minutes at most for the manager to mosey over, take our passports, go to another empty station’s computer and do a bloop bloop bloop on it that would allow him to let us through to the carry on scanning. I literally said, “Don’t you need to scan our tickets?”. Nope. He just needed our passports. We are probably on some troublemaker list now for people who don’t get in the right lines at JFK. The security itself was fine, except KA doesn’t have TSA pre-check so off with the shoes and out with the liquids.
One thing about JFK is that they actually have signs for terminals/gates and estimates on how long of a walk it is to them. Some of those distances can be up to 18 or 20 minutes, which is nuts to me. We were Business class, so we could use Delta’s lounge. The lounge was in a different terminal than our flight. Remember, our luggage didn’t have wheels? And on the way there we didn’t check anything because we had read some horror stories about lost luggage, etc., so poor Sal had to lug everything except one backpack. So 55+ pounds of luggage. Again, with no wheels. I still don’t know how he did it. He’s scrappy!
We enjoyed the lounge for a while, I’d give it a solid ‘B+’ rating.
After some food/drink/relaxation, we made our way to our gate. We took some breaks along the way because it was quite a jaunt. At one point I wondered about getting one of those little beep beep cars that takes the celebs and the hoity-toity around in airports, but despite my dreams, we are neither celebs nor hoity-toity. Boo.
Pretty soon they were saying it was time to board. We got to load up first since we sold a kidney each to upgrade to Business. Just kidding – it was only stock – but you can’t take it with you so why not for a 13.5 hour flight? We tried to scan our tickets on our phones, but no bueno. We had to get a paper ticket. Why? Who the heck knows? We got the printed tickets fairly quickly, got back in line, showed our E-Visas/passports/new printed tickets, and were allowed to pass. Shew.
Before our flight I had pre-ordered a fruit plate instead of whatever the main meal was going to be on the flight. I had been doing great with food/exercise for weeks before the trip and I didn’t want to blow it. I was pleasantly surprised when meal time came, and I was presented with this:
Sal got his first (of many) Kenyan beer!
Little would I know after that first fruit plate that they would bring me a fruit plate for every meal. You guys! I could only handle two fruit plates before I was begging for a carb or piece of cheese…anything but more fruit! For breakfast they actually gave me a fruit plate instead of a sandwich, but my fruit plate came with…fruit! Way too much fruit, gang. Wow.
We deplaned pretty quickly, got through the first security – where all they checked was our immunization QR code – then made our way to the main event. Somehow we got lucky and literally had no wait before handing over our documents. I had a nice friendly chat with the Customs agent. I was in such a good mood because we actually got there. I’m sure I was working on adrenaline at that point, as well, because I hadn’t slept the whole flight!
After scanning our bags yet again, we made our way out, finding the currency exchange. There was a bit of unnecessary pre-trip drama regarding USD bills. On Tripadvisor they said that Kenya would not accept bills more than 10 years old. Our TA for the first part of the trip gave us information that said Kenya accepted currency after 2000. So which was it? I checked with our surly TA to have him double check as quite often on Tripadvisor it said the opposite of the information he gave me. He couldn’t get a straight answer from the higher ups, so instead insulted me by saying something along the lines of, “common sense would tell you to bring bills no older than 10 years old then”. This is why I called him surly. I will write at least a partial post about this dickhead in the future, but just know this was the straw that broke the camels back for me with him. We bank totally online with a financial services company and have for over 15 years. They don’t have a bank where you could pop in and say, “newer bills only, please!”. No ATM just gives new bills, either, regardless of what this British twat tried to tell me. So this pompous wingnut didn’t know what he was talking about. You better believe I matched his energy in my reply. We spent probably the equivalent of 3-4 weeks in Asia just for the week before the main part of the trip. The least we could get was civility and patience.
I had decided to bring all of the USD I had gotten, no matter what the year. It was a good choice, because when I asked the woman working at the currency booth what the rules were as far as currency dates, she had no idea what I was talking about. By the third time of me repeating the question I decided I would just hand over everything and hope for the best. It worked. Yay!
Once out of the airport we went to the bank to get more Kenyan Shillings. I tried the ATM first and was denied. I was sure there was going to be an issue with our debit card until Sal tried and had no problem. They give you some differently named account choices and apparently I picked the wrong one. Thankfully just a user error!
We found our guide/driver to Eka Hotel quickly. The paperwork had said it was 5 minutes away, but it was more like 15 with traffic. To go from the airport to the hotel you had to go past this section where people sell almost anything you can think of in the street, and that area is always very congested and slow. The driver and guide that took us to the hotel were both very friendly and we were there before we knew it. We had to scan our bags before we could enter the hotel, then they had us sit down and have some juice while the guide took our passports and checked us in. Looking back, I wonder if it was smart to let this guy I met 15 minutes beforehand take our passports (I had copies of everything separately just in case)? I think normally I would have thought twice about it, but at that point it was like four in the morning back home so I just smiled and handed them to him.
After a bit of a wait we eventually checked into our room and didn’t leave again until the next morning. Understandably, we were too tired to explore. I did some exercising in the room, read, we ordered room service, then slept. Nothing exciting. But you know what actually was exciting? The fact that…holy cow we were finally in Kenya!
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!
Before I tell you about our plans for Kenya, I thought I would tell you about our other two trips to Africa:
Honestly, I am a big chicken and safari had never been on my bucket list until a health scare, and then all of the sudden I was pretty much up for anything because life is short and why not? When we decided we wanted to go on safari it was pretty difficult trying to figure out which countries to go to, but somehow we ended up on Botswana. I can’t remember why – I’m lucky if I can remember what we had for dinner last night!
We had to hire a TA for the trip, which is pretty unusual for us, but I’m very thankful we did as there are lots of moving pieces if you are flying between camps, etc.. It worked out wonderfully and was worth the cost.
Botswana is gorgeous. We began the trip in Zimbabwe staying at a hotel in a leaky hut overlooking a canyon. The three main things I remember about Zimbabwe are: 1) No guard rails or safety measures – I remember wondering how many people fell in the canyon each year. I also remember thinking law suits must not be a thing there. Ha! 2) Going into the main town and seeing warthogs for the first time – our first true African animal sighting! 3) Seeing Victoria Falls – simply amazing and worth the trip to see.
After Zimbabwe we made our way to a houseboat safari:
It was just us and two other ladies on the boat for a few days. They were very nice and we really enjoyed meeting them; one was an author and had interesting elephant stories. The boat safari was the first time we saw lions and elephants. From the main boat we would go on a smaller boat and motorboat (not that kind) up and down the river looking for/at wildlife. The ladies knew it was our first time and had us sit in the front for the best views. That’s what they told us, but I have to say the first time we pulled the little boat up to shore to see lions, I really wondered if we were at the front in case something bad happened and they’d eat us first. I mean, we were in this *boat* on *shore* with the motor off and there were at least four lions close enough we didn’t need our binoculars to see them.
My favorite memory from the boat was coming across a group of ellies for the first time and just floating there listening to and watching them. I couldn’t stop my smile. I knew I loved elephants before this trip, but getting close to them and seeing them in the wild for the first time? That was next level.
We would watch them come over the small hill and walk into the water and drink and splash. It was my first experience with discovering how *quiet* these huge creatures are. I could have watched them all day.
I remember the boat safari had a major bug issue. Somehow these really big flying bugs were in our room. Yes, we were on safari and expected bugs, but this amount were the things nightmares are made of! Hubby snores and sleeps with his mouth open a lot and all I could think of was him choking on a bug in the middle of the night. Actually, they were big enough that I don’t know if they would have fit. Yuck! Thankfully the next night before we went to bed they sprayed our rooms to kill the majority of them. We just had to hope the spray wasn’t harmful to us because when they sprayed, THEY SPRAYED. That boat was hot and buggy, but we still had a great time – especially since it was our first actual safari experience.
From the boat we would go on to four different camps. Between all of the camps we got to see all of the animals we could have hoped for with the exception of rhinos (rare where we were) or cheetahs (just not lucky, I guess). The tents we stayed at were nicer than some hotels we’ve been in – it was glamping at its finest: running water and a flushing toilet!
Remember the story about being in the little boat and going to shore with lions not all that far away? Well, that was nothing compared to the first time seeing them in a safari vehicle…
One of the highlights from the first camp was seeing wild dogs. These aren’t that common to see as these dogs are mostly running around constantly in packs. We actually got to see them napping, so they obviously felt comfortable around vehicles.
Since we went in November, we were lucky enough to be there during the green season, which is off season, so lower pricing. It’s off season, though, because of rain (hence ‘green’). Because it was off season and the camps were slow, we got to have our own private vehicle at Duba Plains, the second camp, for the first time. Usually you have to pay a pretty hefty fee for something like that.
Highlights/memories from this camp:
The young woman who had recently started working there showed us to our tent at night after dinner was definitely memorable. On safari, when it is dark, someone will walk you to/from your tent early in the morning and at night. Night time is scary there. Lots of crazy sounds and your senses are really heightened. At the first camp, we had big unbothered men take us to our tents. Here, it was the small young woman who admitted she was also scared at night. I was sort of shocked they had her do it, to be honest. Once she dropped us off I was concerned about her getting back to her own tent alone OK! And one of the big reasons for that was because of the next point…
Casper! That’s the name of the elephant that hung around the camp and caused mischief. Some of the team had told stories about him coming into camp and eating the fruit from the marula trees. I remember the first time we saw him it was literally at pre-dinner drinks:
I was shocked how close he was – and it wasn’t dangerous because we were on an elevated platform and he was ignoring everything except his mission to get the fruit from the trees. We would see him a couple times during our stay, and each time brought excitement.
The second time was when we were walking from our tent to the jeep to meet our guide. We were walking and then someone yelled out to us. Holy crap, there was Casper literally in the middle of camp eating the fruit – we hadn’t seen him. We quickly got into the jeep alone – because he was between us and our guide! I thought I had read you aren’t supposed to look elephants in the eyes (I am so embarrassed to write that now), so since I was sitting closest to him I stared ahead, trying not to blink so maybe he wouldn’t see me. I am both a chicken and a ding dong.
The third time we saw him was when we were surprised with a lovely breakfast in the bush at a surprise location, and all of the sudden he came around the corner. Luckily we had two jeeps – the one in the pic is the chef’s jeep. Eventually he walked away and he didn’t disturb any of the breakfast stuff.
The last time we saw Casper, we were on the back deck after lunch, getting ready to leave for the airstrip to go to our next camp. We were out there sitting in the shade, trying not to bake, and I remember saying I wished Casper would have showed up to tell us goodbye. And then he did!
On to the next camp, which was Selinda. We had the best guide at this camp. My back went out one day and he went above and beyond to get pillows/cushions so I could keep going on drives. He was also our favorite guide as he was like the animal whisperer and was an excellent tracker. He was also extremely respectful of the animals and gave them distance, which I appreciated.
The highlight of this camp was seeing wild dogs again, and when they had *just* killed an impala. 1) I was glad we didn’t have to see the suffering of the impala. 2) It was pretty amazing and gruesome seeing how fast they ate it. Predators steal food from other predators all the time, and so if you’re pretty low on the predator food chain you have to eat quickly before someone else shows up to steal your meal. Adding some space for a significant warning…
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The only real low point of the entire trip was the camp manager at Selinda. She was extremely rude to the guests and everyone actually complained about her and then all of the sudden she wasn’t around anymore. It was wild. We did see her when we left, but she wisely avoided everyone after her initial horrible behavior.
Our last camp was at Vumbura and they had two camps, Little Vumbura and Vumbura Plains. We were supposed to stay at the smaller one, but found out before leaving that they were doing maintenance/construction, so they moved us over to the larger one. It was our fanciest camp, by far. We had a private plunge pool! It turned out great because it was so hot there.
The thing I remember the most about that camp was that while we were there a coalition of four sub-adult males lions (I might be getting the terminology wrong, but these males did not have fully grown manes yet) that were trying to take over the territory from two adult males. One morning we were out driving around and all of the sudden the action really started and the two adults had gotten separated and the four subs were after one of them. It was a flurry of fur and roaring, and several vehicles were chasing along, including ours. Well, our guide didn’t see one of the four running to his left and he cut him off while driving, because he was ahead of him. The lion looked me in the eyes, very agitated – he definitely didn’t like it. Lions are used to vehicles, but they are not used to vehicles being aggressive; they usually see them as noisy moving rocks. I wasn’t sure how he was going to act after that, and was actually pretty scared until he started running again away from us. Everything was pretty much happening all at once and I think that was the fastest my heart rate went the whole trip. Our guide apologized to us and explained why he was driving so quickly – the camp was surprising guests with a mimosa & pancake meal in the bush and some workers were in the direct path setting up, where the lions were running. We were trying to get to them to warn them! It was a crazy time. Everyone was contacted in time and they saw the lions run by while they were in the back of their pickup truck!
That was our last camp and our very first safari vacation. We absolutely loved it!
I know I’ve been horribly absent and never finished the Japan trip. I’m sorry! Maybe some day? I also have a New Zealand trip to include at some point if I can get my act together…
But this post is because I’m getting ready to depart for our first big trip (KENYA!) since all the madness started and I’m wondering if anyone is interested in reading about it? I’ll have to take notes daily, and then upload it when I get home as where I am going will have limited/no WiFi.
Please comment if you are interested, otherwise I will just post some pics on Instagram.
I woke up in middle of the night unsure where I was. My stomach not-so-gently reminded me I’m a woman of a certain age who should icks-nay on eating wasabi on an empty stomach.
Today we were going to check out a garden after we cancelled our tea. We went to the front desk to have them cancel, and they told us no problem. We then made our way to the bus stop, which involved walking through the mall connected to the hotel, then up an escalator that brought you to the bus stop. Imagine our surprise when two of the ladies from reception were at the top of the escalator, flagging us down! They must have run and taken some shortcut to beat us. It was sort of funny, until they told us that we could not cancel the tea because they had booked us in the wrong one. Oops. Oh well. Good thing we liked the first tea ceremony!
The bus, which I had read was very easy, was very confusing here. At least for me. I thought that it was worse than the buses in Kyoto, which is really saying something. Right then and there I decided there was no way on God’s green earth I would be taking any public bus in Tokyo.
We got off at Kenroku-en gardens, one of the most popular gardens in the country, and walked a bit. It was extremely hot out. The gardens were really large and very popular. The reason we came to Kanazawa was to visit these gardens. While they were pretty, the crowds and heat took away some of the enjoyment for me. I also expected more flowers, but there weren’t hardly any. I think it’s more about the greenery and water. I still enjoyed it, but it really wasn’t what I expected. After the whole Japan trip I decided my favorite gardens were the small, quiet, intimate ones. Still, Kenroku-en garden was picturesque: