Africa, Kenya

Past Africa Trips – Part 2

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 🙂

Here’s a video of the first time I saw a rhino (bonus – it was a little family!).

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.

The first time I got to see the babies I had watched for years online.

If this pic doesn’t warm your heart, please seek a cardiologist immediately!

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?

The absolute highlight for us in Amboseli.

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.

Breakfast in the bush is very fun.
This is considered fancy. Usually, you’re out in the vehicle and you have to go to the back of the jeep and squat over the dirt. They call it ‘checking the air in the tires’. Men have it so easy.
My phone case pic – ellie with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
Cheers to Kili and Amboseli!

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!

Sometimes you gotta itch.
It was soooo overcast and rainy there most of the time, thus the cruddy pic.
Rhino in the grass.

Rhino isn’t all we saw. When we first were driving from the airstrip to camp, we came across a lion.

My expression says it all.

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:

Our first time seeing cheetah in Kenya! A mom and her five babies.

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.

Cheers to cheetahs!
Views from House in the Wild.
I see you reading this!
Hi, guys!
Do you see his boo boos? He was a mating lion (lioness off to the side not in pic) and it could have been from her. They get a bit growly and nippy when they have sexy time.
Wilson always found beautiful spots for us to get out, stretch our legs, maybe check the tire air ;), and enjoy the views.

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:

We even got to see this sweet baby take its first steps! They have to learn how to walk quickly, or they will be eaten, sadly. I hate the circle of life.

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).

At least it’s on his side.
She’s hoping for a bit.
This I can get on board with.

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!

Hello, sweet baby.
He went for a wallow.
Lotsa hippos down below.
Because of the rain and overcast for at least 1/2 of the trip, getting a good sunset pic was very difficult. It’s still beautiful, though.

Africa, Botswana

Past Africa Trips – Part 1

Before I tell you about our plans for Kenya, I thought I would tell you about our other two trips to Africa:

Botswana 2016

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.

View from the hut
Beautiful Victoria Falls

After Zimbabwe we made our way to a houseboat safari:

Our home for a few nights

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.

My favs

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!

Lagoon Camp – situated on a lagoon with laughing hippos. This was our view.

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…

Definitely still a chicken. Definitely miss vehicle doors. Definitely wondering how many clean underwear I had left at camp.

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.

Sleepy pup

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:
Pre-dinner entertainment!

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!

I think he is my favorite memory from Botswana.

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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>>>WARNING – GRUESOME PIC AHEAD!!<<<

Ick.

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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.

Lots of skinny dipping in Botswana!

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!

After that chase, heart still pumping, I asked them if they had straight tequila. No? I then requsted they hit me with the straight champagne. I also made sure I was in the middle of a group of people or right next to the vehicle the whole time we were there. I didn’t want to be anyone’s meal.

That was our last camp and our very first safari vacation. We absolutely loved it!