Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Rhino Camp – Final Bits

Unfortunately we had so much rain at Rhino Camp that the last day was pretty much a ‘wash’ (no pun intended). There weren’t that many pics because it usually was raining, so the vehicle was zipped up with the canvas ‘doors’. This was what we saw quite often at the camp:

Raindrops keep falling on my head (and everywhere else)…

I have no idea when that was taken, or why it’s so funky. I gotta assume Sal put his artistic spin on it!

We have a few things that we saw between the rainy times:

Jackal!
Derp.

Notice anything strange about the next pic?

Excuse me, Ma’am? Why is this non-baby sized giraffe trying to nurse from you? Listen…we aren’t shaming you. We’re just giving you the side eye.
A quick sighting of a small family of ellies – ahh. Love them. The baby is too cute!

And finally, one of the strangest things we saw at that camp. It’s not strange when you see male gazelles fighting – whether practicing or doing the ‘real thing’. We were watching this fight, when we noticed this Impala was watching them and literally trying to break up the fight. It was the weirdest thing and the Impala did it twice. The second time he broke it up he hit the dueling fellas so hard one of them rolled over several times. They did stop fighting, though. We have no idea why the Impala had that strange behavior. Maybe he was all about the good vibes.

Notice the Impala watching? His actions said, “Not on my watch, guys!”

Since we are low on pictures due to rain, I thought I would tell a couple stories.

The Worst Was Done First…

If you’ve noticed I haven’t named our guides or listed specific people from this camp. You remember the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? I’m not trying to, as the kids say, “stop anyone’s bag” (meaning outing specific people that were not good and by doing that I could affect their income in any way). Gamewatchers sent us a survey after our trip asking for feedback. I shared the good AND the bad. I was quite surprised when I got a thoughtful and timely response from one of the owners. It was good to know he cared about their client’s experiences.

Because we went to two camps Gamewatchers is associated with, we got to meet several other people who had also booked the camps through Gamewatchers and even used the same stinky (but unnamed!) TA we used. Every person who used this guy complained about him. And every person later in the trip, when we told them which camps we had been to so far, liked Rhino camp the least… except for one woman. She literally worked for Gamewatchers, so she may have been slightly biased. Anyway, since the trip started out at this camp that was lacking in several areas, I was slightly worried how the next one was going to be. The great news is the rest of our guides were wonderful, so really we got the worst out of the way at the beginning of the trip :). Like the rain, much better to get the bad stuff over and done with at the start and then go on to enjoy everything else! And even with the bad, we still got to see those amazing rhinos, so I’m still glad we went there.

Do NOT Miss The Rhinos… I Repeat – DO NOT MISS THE RHINOS!

There was a group of four adults, two older couples, that showed up on our second day there. I affectionately referred to them as the ‘Grey Hairs’. I’m not exactly sure why I called them that, and of course never to their faces, because only two of them had grey hair. Anyway, the last night we were all having a drink in the tent before dinner…because RAIN, of course…and I asked the Grey Hairs if they had seen the last two northern white rhinos yet. Whelp, they said they didn’t have plans to see them and that they were supposed to go to the chimp sanctuary instead. They said their driver recommended it.

Well…

Anybody who has researched Tripadvisor for Kenya knows that this chimp sanctuary was a recommended MISS. First of all, chimps aren’t even native to Kenya. Secondly, you can’t get very close because of Covid. Lastly, we all know monkeys like to throw poop. Yuck. I was shocked that their guide had recommended it until they said their guide was new to the area.

I then spent at least the next 10 minutes telling them they needed to go see those last two rhinos because it would be the highlight. I promised them. I knew that they were going to the same camp next that we were, and I told them that I couldn’t wait to hear about how much they loved seeing the last two rhinos when I saw them next. Full disclosure, after really encouraging visiting the endangered rhinos and changing their plans, I was maybe 10% worried that they wouldn’t be as into it as we were. I mean, the one Grey Hair literally was wearing shorts and flip flops (while his wife wore a winter puffy coat, knit hat and scarf!) the first full freezing cold day he was at camp. So maybe they were a little ‘off’ (geez, I hope they never find this blog LOL – just joking, guys!). But I was still 90% sure they would at least like it and be glad they did that instead of having a primate throw feces at them. They changed their plans and you’ll have to wait a week or two to find out if they liked the rhino encounter or not… 😉 OK, OK. I’ll tell you now – they LOVED it. And when we saw them at the next camp it was the very first thing they said to us 🙂 Shew!

Sometimes Being Right Sucks

Our main guide was a disappointment, as I stated earlier. We didn’t feel like we learned much from him and he didn’t seem like he ever really cared about what we wanted to see or do (even though we were the only ones in the vehicle). Because of the earlier rain we were doing the occasional unintentional donut on our afternoon drive, as well as slipping and sliding so much that I was white-knuckling it while I was holding on. There was so much leaning and sliding that by the time we got to where we were stopping for a sun downer I asked the guide if we had to take that road again, because it was a doozy and I was afraid of getting stuck. He told me that yes, this is the main road we have to take back, but it would be downhill and these vehicle, “can’t get stuck”.

Uh huh.

So it started raining and we zipped everything up and got back in the car, making our way back to camp. Downhill. Where you can’t get stuck.

And then we got stuck.

And it wasn’t just sprinkling at that point. It was POURING rain and we were all zipped up again. First the poor spotter got out and tried to get us unstuck. Then the guide did, too. They were out there for so long trying to get this vehicle that “can’t get stuck” unstuck, that I told Sal we should make ourselves another cocktail if we were gonna be there for a while. Keep in mind that at that point it was after sunset and dark and I wasn’t sure how far we were from camp (we were embarrassingly close!) and thought if we had to leave the vehicle in the dark, pouring rain, the only way I was going to do it was to have a significant amount of gin in me for liquid courage!

We had just opened the bag to make a drink and the guide got back in the vehicle and tried one more time to get us out and we finally had success and were free! Thank you baby Jesus and the grown one, too.

I bit my tongue on that one and unsurprisingly the guide never brought it up. Sometimes it really sucks to be right. Getting stuck in the rain at night when you can hear animals howling is exactly as scary as you think it might be. I recommend gin.

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Extinction – Rhino Camp Part 3

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.

Young giraffes ‘necking’.
Hi, fella.

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.

Breakfast in the bush.
I think the hippo was waaay back there…somewhere.

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.

Rhino memorial.
Sudan, the very last male northern white rhino memorials.

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…

I knew they would get close, but…

And from inside the vehicle…

Up close and personal…
The square mouth of the white rhino is so strange looking!
A very large horn! It broke the mirror on the jeep – lol.
Soft ears.
Sweet.
She felt like an elephant near her mouth!
When they kept walking closer and closer it’s slightly unsettling because these ladies are BIG.

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!

The sleepy one was so cute.
Me, pointing out how cute the sleeping one was. Ha.

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.

Sal got to meet Baraka!
I got to meet the sweetie, too!
Note how different his mouth looks (more like a beak) than the white square-mouthed rhinos.
Sweet face.
I like this one because he looks like he’s looking at the camera (he’s not – he’s blind). But he’s so cute.

Next up was the little museum they had. It was really interesting.

See the differences? The girls were white rhinos and Baraka was black.
Thank goodness the black rhino population is slowly coming back. Here’s hoping it continues. We don’t need any more extinction!

We stopped by a hyena den and I was shocked by how may hyena there were, and of all different sizes.

So. Many. Hyenas.
Pretty dry for a dreary day.
This is how they usually look – wet and dirty! Still sorta cute, though.
Good time for a nap.
At the time I thought these noises were interesting/creepy. I saw worse later on, though.

The young ones were very interested in the vehicles. Some would sniff the car or crawl under it.

Close encounters with the curious fellas.
Tire sniffing!
Didn’t care about the people (food) in the vehicle, only the tire smells.
I see you!

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.

He looks like a weird mix of a few different animals.

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.

We went to bed to the sound of rain and frogs.

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Rain & Rhinos – Rhino Camp Part 2

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?

I’m watching you…
Hanging out by the thorny trees.

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:

Our first close look at white rhino! Look at the horn on the mama – yikes.
A closer look at the baby – dawwww!

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
Male sub-adult – looks full (good)
Don’t look at me…
Nice hair.

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:

Nursing time.
A little bubba.
So young and innocent. Too bad they grow up to be horrible killers!

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!

It was the only night we could enjoy a bonfire, because the rain had stopped for a little bit!

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.
Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Extra Bonus Trip – Rhino Camp Day 1

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.

Not a lot of masks, except for the smart & sexy people.
Wilson Airport

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.

I’m guessing it was a 20 seater maybe? They made people wear masks on the plane, thankfully. This was the only time Air Kenya made people wear the masks. Of course the smart & sexy people kept them on all the time.
Notice the hedge around the places to keep the critters out.

We had to make one stop before our stop and we saw our first Maasai of the trip picking up their guests.

What they wear (the plaid) is called a shuka.

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.

A blurry video snippet of the drive to camp. Very bumpy and dusty. I hope that guy in the background is waving. LOL.
Hey Google – play, “Looks like we made it!”
Karibu means Welcome.

An added bonus was we got to visit the equator. Super cool!

Facts re: the equator. Pretty interesting.
Both sides of the equator. Pretty cool!
Only 7,314 mile from home.

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…

I got a little verklempt.

The first wild ellies of the trip! AhhhhHhHhHHhHhhhhH! I was such a happy lady.

Look, Ma – elephants!!

Then we hit the mother load with a tiny baby!

The sweet little baaaaby!

The only thing better than one little baby?

Two!

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!

Africa, Kenya

Kenya 2022 – Getting There

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

We made it, Joe!

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.

Cheers!
First lion spotted on the trip!

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:

Yum, fruit!

Sal got his first (of many) Kenyan beer!

Maisha marefu! (It means, ‘long life!’ in Swahili)

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!

More to come 🙂