Africa, Kenya

Malaika Camp – Part III

It was on this day that I stopped recording notes daily. I’m not sure why. Good thing we have plenty of photos to tell several of stories. But let’s just start with some pics!

I know the lighting in this pic is horrible, but for some reason I love it. Good morning, Kenya!
Ellies and zebras and balloons…oh my!

Every morning there were a bunch of hot air balloons. It’s pretty expensive, but now I wish we would have gone up. Maybe next time. In the bumpy video below you can see them all and also get a lay of some of the land.

A jiggly ride and shoddy camera work. You’re welcome!

How about more elephants? This silly one had fun on a tiny mound getting belly rubs and just being goofy.

Time for breakfast!
All quiet except for the munching!

I thought you might like to see the sort of locations where we had breakfast:

A nice spot for a breakfast with Tony.

Now back to the animals!

Uh oh. Lions.

In this video you can tell I’m feeling a little more comfortable around lions. Emphasis on ‘a little’.
I see you, too, little cutie!

That day we also saw our fourth (and last) Serval Cat of the trip.

There were herds and herds of zebra.

We were watching them all and saw the cutest baby.

I don’t know if the guy on the left ever blinked…

This brings me to the first story. Zebra are weird. I had no idea how strange they were until we were watching a small group of bachelors. They were walking along in a line, then two started to fight. They would stop, then another couple would fight. One would run away, and from the other, and another fight would break out.

Weirdos.

Warning! If you are squeamish maybe come back next week…

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Malaika Camp – Part II – Here Kitty Kitty

I actually have a recording on this day and it starts as such:

"Today is September 11th. I woke up at 2 and then could not get back to sleep because a small hippo (Sal) was in bed snoring away with me. So we had our wake up call at 5:30 even though both of us were awake. Well, actually no that's not true. Sal slept for nine minutes *giggles while saying the next part* I don't even know why he tried when I saw there was only 10 minutes left. I looked over and saw him try to sleep and thought *whispers*, 'ten minutes?!'."

So even though this day started on limited sleep, at least it started out with a giggle, right?

We asked Tony if we could head back to camp early because we hadn’t gotten any sleep and wanted to nap in the afternoon. We asked to be back by 11, unless we found something really good. Even getting back at 11, when you leave at six, is five hours in a vehicle and that’s a long time. We figured we were going to be there for four more days and we didn’t want to get run down. He said sure.

Balloons at sunrise.

The first thing we saw were three male lions, sleeping. This is when I tried to tell Tony that I don’t like to get too close, but of course he got closer than I would have liked. What else is new?

Just a yawn. Shew!
Please don’t look at me.
Thank you.

Thankfully these were just sleeping and not really interested in us at all. They’d put their heads up every once in a while and open their eyes, but that was about it. Then we drove down a little further and saw there was a couple of cars watching two female lions. So apparently the story was that the three sleeping lions were sub-adult males. When the three got kicked out of the pride these two sub adult females went with them. The five formed their own coalition. I don’t know how normal this is, because I thought usually it’s only the males that get kicked out and form a group. Anyway, I found it interesting.

So when we drove up we saw the two female lions were trying to hunt while the lazy boys slept. They were walking around spreading out a little, watching zebra, but then would sit and watch.

All the sudden one, who had been in the tall grass a comfortable (for me) distance from the road, got up and started walking toward the road…AND US.

No no. Please just stay there.

Then, faster than you could lie and say, “I promise I am not food!”, she was next to us.

Sorry – no way to bleep out the last word. LOL.
Nothing to see here, Ma’am.
Whenever she would look our way my heart rate increased at least 30 beats per minute. It doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind it was already going at around 5429048590.

This was the closest I’d ever been to a lion. And she was a biggie. Sal put his head out a little bit taking pics and I whisper-yelled at him to bring it back in the vehicle because I was afraid it would distract her and put her attention on us. It didn’t, but again – this was the closest I’d been. I couldn’t blame Tony for that – she came right to us.

So this is a crazy story that happened right after she laid down. There was a vehicle that pulled past us and stopped. Now this car was in front of us, which means still in front of the lion. I would say the vehicle was only a few car lengths (certainly less than a city short block) ahead of us with no vehicles between us. Well. It stopped and the DRIVER GOT OUT OF HIS CAR TO PUT IT IN FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (he had to adjust something on the tire). You guys. YOU GUYS. This was one of the craziest things I’d seen someone do in a while. The lion perked up and watched him, too. Keep in mind that the steering is on the right there, so this means he opened his door, walked around the front of his vehicle, and went to the back tire – LION SIDE – to make the adjustment. I was blown away. Gobsmacked, if you will.

This lead to a quick disclaimer to Tony that went something like this:

“Tony, don’t ever do anything like that and expect me to save you because I’m terrified of lions and that would be a stupid thing to do.”

He readily agreed. At least we were on the same page!

Finally she got up and went with her sister and they halfheartedly tried to hunt a warthog. I’m happy to say they were not successful. Tony had told us just a little bit before then that when they kill warthogs they can’t suffocate them so….there are a lot of bad noises. No thank you!

We then drove all the way over to where the Tanzania border is on the other side of the river and saw all the wildebeest and zebra on the other side congregating. It looked like hundreds and they were potentially going to cross at some point. Now I did not have on my wish list that I wanted to watch a crossing because I am a wimp and don’t want to see all the guts and gore that I figured would be associated with it. No thank you. Also, people wait there for hours and hours, and I’d rather spend my time seeing other stuff! Like birds:

And giraffe!

Part 1
Part 2

And hyenas!

Kenya spa

I loved that every day we had breakfast outdoors. After our meal we drove down a little bit and saw two steenbok (antelope) at the Sand River. This river is very shallow and mostly sand, so no crocodiles. We saw both males cross. So after that, we told Edward (who loved to tease me) that we had seen a crossing. We just didn’t tell him it was only two antelope until he congratulated us. Those antelopes were smart fellas to cross in the no-croc zone.

And let’s not forget the goober wildebeest interaction we had…

He got separated from his pack who crossed the road quicker. He decided to race us and cross in front of us…as opposed to just waiting one second for us to drive away. What a ding dong.
Warthogs (they call them Radio Africa because they run with their tails up) are not easy to get a good shot of because they are never that close and they are almost always running. Good job, Sal!

We then went back to camp for lunch and met two of the people who would be joining us for the elephant portion of the trip. We went back to our tent and I could not sleep, but Sal slept for an hour and he was a little hippo again, snoring happily.

At the very beginning of the afternoon drive I was very sleepy. There were a couple things to see:

This guy was there almost every day to greet us!
A window with a view.

I woke up quickly when we got the best sighting at Malaika thus far… a male leopard! His name was Lorgorgol and he was magnificent! He walked past our car a few times and we got to spend a good amount of time with him. I was so excited because this was the first male leopard we had ever seen in Kenya, and second overall. They are so much bigger than the females; still smaller than lions, though. And let’s not forget the main reason: they are striking!

He was walking around a lot, going into the ravines, walking by vehicles, etc. He gave us all a good show. There were quite a few vehicles there and towards the end I felt a little bad. It was clear he wasn’t bothered by the cars, but I wanted to give him a break. Prepare yourself for a lot of leopard pics/videos and meet Lorgorgol:

Beautiful boy.
Loved watching him.
One happy Neeners!

We left then and spent some time with ellies.

We then had sundowners and had a beautiful sunset. Probably the best one of the trip.

Sunset and a cutie!

There were thunderstorms in the distance and even a rainbow.

We drove back in the dark, had a quick dinner, then went to bed at 8 PM hoping to get some sleep. What a great day it was, and we already crossed off something on the extra wish list – a male leopard – score!

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Malaika Camp – Part 1 – New Camp Adventures

We had decided to stay at Malaika Camp for 5 nights as the prices were reasonable and it came recommended by the woman organizing the elephant portion of the trip. This would be the camp where we would meet up with most of the ladies I had chatted with online for over two and a half years. But first, before all of the elephant time, Sal and I wanted to do a bit more game drives and experience a new location. My online/elephant friend had been to the camp a few times and described it as very small, bucket showers, not fancy, but great game viewing. Perfect for us, really. Especially now that I understood a bucket shower wasn’t that big of a deal. To this day, though, I stand by my demand for a flush toilet. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when we got to camp and discovered it was larger than our last one. And not only that, they had….wait for it….running water in the shower! For a hot second I did wonder if we were at the right place. It seems they had done a lot of improvements during the pandemic.

Usually when you arrive at a new camp the camp manager is there to greet you and give you the spiel about the camp and have you sign the paperwork so you can’t sue them if a lion eats you. This time one of the quiet waiters started the spiel. It was a little obvious he wasn’t really used to doing it and he looked slightly nervous as he bounced from topic to topic. Eventually the manager showed up and asked us if we had any questions and if we could wait for our tent as the last guest hadn’t left yet. It was an odd introduction, and frankly it put me off a little bit. This manager couldn’t have been more opposite of the manager at Lion Camp. He wasn’t exactly a people person, let’s just say that. He was fine, but he was very serious and rarely smiled or said much to us in the five days we were there.

We didn’t mind at all waiting for the tent. A different waiter, Edward, gave us a tour of where we would eat lunch by the Mara river, then regaled us with a long fairy tale-ish story about a hippo while we stood next to a huge hippo skull. He was a character and really should have been the one to do the initial welcome. He was extremely friendly and had a teasing manner; I swear when he was telling us the hippo story his eyes were twinkling with every white lie he tried to get us to buy! He may have missed his calling as a story teller or a politician.

Soon we got to put our stuff in our tent, then go enjoy lunch. It’s an awesome setting to relax and watch the various animals on the other side of the Mara. After lunch we got a little exercise and then rested before the afternoon drive. The manager didn’t introduce us to our guide, he only said our guide’s name was Tony, so at the appropriate time when everyone met up for the tea before the drive, we were in search of him. Now, we drove with Tony for five days and I can say that he is the definition of ‘hakuna matata’, which means no worries, take it easy. And he said it often! As each guide would find their people and start leaving I wondered where Tony was. One of the waiters, when I asked what Tony looked like, told us he was a white guy, which literally made me laugh out loud.

When most everyone was gone, we saw a man, definitely not white, amble over to us in a hat I would have expected Crocodile Dundee to wear. This was Tony. We had gotten a private vehicle at the camp as it was actually reasonably priced. Our vehicle was really old and had weird seating. I wish I would have taken a picture of it. Poor Sal had to sit in the back because the first row behind the driver only had a single seat and Grandma (me) needed to sit there for less bumping on my back. It reminded me of a VW bus. I know it wasn’t, but that was sort of the shape of it. One side had the seats out and the open window for photography. I’m not going to lie…I was nervous about that vehicle as it was clearly the oldest out of them all, but it never got stuck AND we even helped a fancy vehicle get un-stuck at one point. So well done to Tony for that!

Tony asked us what we wanted to see. We had felt so fortunate because at that point we had seen most of what was on our bucket list. So now we added more specific things. Before when we had said leopard (and we had seen the two separate females at Lion Camp) so we said we’d like to see a male leopard. We had seen cheetah, but we hadn’t seen one run in person, only trot. So hey, why not? Could we see a cheetah run?

When we were given the camp tour and saw the huge photos decorating the walls, there was a picture of five cheetahs. It turns out these were called the ‘five brothers’. They had an interesting story and were extremely popular back in the day. These males had all formed their own coalition. What made that unusual is that they weren’t all biological brothers and it was almost unheard of that they would band together to hunt if they weren’t related. They did, though, and they would take down huge prey due to their number and speed. I asked if any of them were still alive and if they were around the area. There were two left. figured if we were going to add crazy things to the wishlist, I wanted to add that I’d love to see the brothers.

Finally, although we had seen rhino already at the first camp, that was in a protected area, so I added that to the list as well – rhinos in the wild.

I might not go through every single day at Malaika as I started slowing down on the recordings at this point and only have pictures to go by, but don’t worry – there’s definitely some good stuff coming up. What we would come to discover is Tony was the head guide and in the know a lot of times. People were often times asking where he was on the radio, because they knew he’d probably found something. More times than not they were right.

The first afternoon drive started off with a side striped jackal, which I guess isn’t that popular around there. Tony was pretty excited about it.

Then we enjoyed the different scenery and the usual suspects.

We were watching some elephants in the rain (yes, rain, because we are clearly rain gods bringing rain to every camp!) when all of the sudden there was a VERY loud CRACK. The elephant closest to us raised his head and flapped his ears at us. I tried to reassure him that we didn’t do it and it scared us, too.

Not a big fan of the windshield wipers – haha.

And our first sunset at the camp. Rainy, but still pretty.

Nothing too exciting, but it’s always nice to see new topography. Our tent was the one closest to the main meeting and dining area, which was a small miracle and the only time the whole trip that happened. When it was dark the warriors would walk us to our tents. I remember the first night saying to the waiter that we didn’t need to have anyone walk us to the tent because we were the closest. I truly thought the camp was fenced. He said something along the lines of, “Do you not want to see me again tomorrow?”. I thought he was being dramatic (and that’s saying something coming from me). A few minutes later we were walked to our tent and the warrior pointed out a hippo *in camp* not far from our tent. Turns out it wasn’t fenced. Oops! Lesson learned.

The next day I would try to explain to the what felt like the 125985th guide how I was afraid of lions. Let’s see how that one goes. Catch ya next week!

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Transfer Day To Malaika Camp

It wouldn’t have been a night at Lion Camp, especially at our tent location, without a bit of drama.

Picture it: you’ve just had a wonderful night drive, gotten to know your guides better, and ended up laughing so hard you were crying. You get back to camp for a delicious final dinner. You say your goodbyes to the gray hairs because you get to sleep in the next day since it’s transfer day. You get back to the tent for a great night’s sleep.

You must be new to this blog. If so, welcome! Things do not necessarily go according to plan here, and this was no exception. The last night at Lion camp for one of us was terrifying. For the other, it ended up being confusing. Sal slept soundly and quickly after saying goodnight. Sal slept so soundly he didn’t hear THE TENT ACTUALLY SHAKING AND CREAKING FROM THE ANIMAL RUBBING AGAINST IT.

You guys…

After a very long day in the vehicle I was tired and thought I would sleep quickly, but when you hear the noises of a large animal near the tent, followed by creaking and actual shaking of the tent? You will not be sleeping any time soon. I was fervently trying to remember two things: 1) where the emergency whistle was, and 2) how our tent was set up. I knew the whistle was on Sal’s side and I was afraid to get out of bed in case the tent collapsed. It sounded like someone was going to climb up to our little front porch. I was wondering what animals would use stairs and if the porch would support their weight. I was more concerned about the actual moving of the tent though. I didn’t think anything would be as scary as hearing the big animal munching right outside the tent the first night, but this was definitely more alarming.

I would say this whole thing went on for about ten minutes. My fear, again, activated my bladder. I had to go so badly, but I was imagining going to the bathroom and the tent collapsing and me literally being discovered with my undies down. In other words, I held it until the coast was clear. My FitBit monitors my heart rate and the speed in which my heart was going made it think I was exercising.

Sal woke up when I got up to go to the bathroom. “Are you OK?”, he asked. No, Sal. We just had some major kaka happening and you slept right through it. I had to tell him what happened. How he never woke up when the actual tent was shaking was way beyond me. I can count on Sal for a lot, but this just solidified that if something happens when he’s sleeping I’m out of luck and it’s been a good run.

We got up the next morning and told David about the shenanigans from the night before. He said it was buffalo! Apparently they like to rub against the ropes that keep the tents up to scratch themselves. He said they tighten the ropes daily because of it. Interesting. What an experience!

We had our breakfast and then packed and said goodbye to the staff. I was quite sad to leave. I felt like I could have stayed there longer. I just really enjoyed all the people, the location, and the drives. I would go back to Lion Camp in a heartbeat.

This was our first land transfer of the trip; the others had all been flights between camps. Malaika Camp was only a few hours from Lion Camp so we would do a game drive between the camps, with our trusty Lion Camp guides, Wilson and Wilfred taking us. Neither had been to the camp before and didn’t know all that much about it. This was going to be interesting!

Being out in the bush driving between camps isn’t exactly like being on the interstate. We did drive by an air strip at one point and our guys were able to ask how the roads were and for directions (I think). It had rained the night before and apparently there was going to be water crossings to get to the camp, so they wanted to make sure they could use that route and the water wasn’t too deep. They were told it was passable, so away we went.

We saw some meerkats on the way!

Cute little bubbas.

We came across a hyena who was sitting in a little mud puddle in the grass.

He/she got up when we were driving by.

We also saw the usual suspects…

We enjoyed the views…

And then we got to the water crossing, which wasn’t bad at all!

The real highlight of this drive was seeing her, though:

They managed to find the camp. I still have no idea how, as it was deep in this wooded area before the river. Before we left I asked if we needed to call the camp to let them know we were coming, but they said no that the camp should be expecting us.

I don’t think they were expecting us.

They acted a little surprised to see us and nobody really greeted us, but they all spoke to each other in Swahili. It seemed slightly confusing. The Masaai at the new camp were a little intimidating, as well. At the time they seemed very serious, but since then I’ve come to understand that most Kenyans in general look serious until you smile at them and then their whole faces can light up with a smile in return.

We hugged Wilson and Wilfred goodbye and thanked them. We even exchanged phone numbers. Wilson normally works at a different Porini camp and he really wanted us to go there next time we are in Kenya. I think we will. He was the best. And of course we will go back to Lion Camp to see Wilfred and the rest of that amazing gang.

So we walked through to the main lounge building and I was absolutely shocked to see how big it was. Lots of furniture with big safari photos covering the walls. See, I was under the impression this was going to be smaller and more roughing it than Lion Camp. I was wrong! This place also had a dining room for dinner and breakfast, and two open tents near the water where you could have your lunch. We had running water again, which was also shocking as I fully expected bucket showers. This place was actually bigger than Lion Camp! To be fair I hadn’t done a lot of research on this camp as one of the ladies that was going to be with us on the elephant portion of the trip had been there before and recommended it.

I’ll have more information on the camp and our time there in the next installment. I’m not going to do a day by day account there since we were there for five days, but I will break it into stories and sightings from the camp.

Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks for your interest in our travels. It’s continually shocking to me that more than three people are reading this!

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

The Last Day – Lion Camp Part 4

You can always tell how good the camp is by how sad and pre-nostalgic you start feeling when you are on the last couple of drives. I was feeling a little down because Lion Camp was such a good camp that I didn’t want to leave! But we had one day left and we were determined to see all we could see. We decided we would do a night safari, as well, and during the day we would try to see other parts of the conservancy that we hadn’t seen yet.

The morning started off nicely with a pretty sunrise.

Kenya is so beautiful.

A really cool sighting we had was seven small jackal pups. We drove up as they were scampering around and into their den. Unfortunately the den wasn’t big enough and only fit five of them!

They really needed a bigger den. I felt a little bad because the other two then went off in different directions, hiding. And it was chilly and windy, so the poor things were shivering behind grass/bush. We didn’t watch long. We had never seen a group that big before, though, so that was pretty cool!

We were driving along, enjoying the scenery, when we rounded a corner and there was this giraffe that was standing in the middle of the road.

Our guides kept driving towards him, hoping he would move off the road. 95% of the time that’s what happens. I don’t know if this guy/gal was kicked in the head or got into one too many fights, but it decided it would move forward. Still on the road.

Our guides were not concerned at all. Clearly they’d never seen the crazy giraffe video on YouTube where the giraffe started chasing the vehicle. We kept driving steadily forward. The giraffe started running forward. Still on the road. I’m just going to say this was probably a male because the common sense just wasn’t there. Ha! Giraffes look sorta funny when they run/gallop. This guy was no exception. He thought we were chasing him, when all we wanted to do was drive on the road. I may or may not have yelled, “Get off the road, ya ding dong!”, which is the polite version of what I would have said back at home to vehicle traffic.

We got to spend more time with ellies, of course.

I could do a coffee table book on elephant butts. Look how cute these mamas and babies are!
A leeeeetle baby.
I see you!

Then it was time to set up for breakfast. I asked our guides if I could take their picture.

Wilfred (spotter) and Wilson (driver). Excellent guides!

We enjoyed breakfast in this new location and decided to look around a bit, and guess what we found? Serval cat #2. Wow! It was hunting for its own breakfast.

We watched it for a while with only one other vehicle. It would walk from shrub to shrub trying to find something. This was a younger cat than we saw the day before. We were all like, “Holy cow! We got to see two!”. I thought to myself, “If I have to see a kill in the wild, this is the type of kill I could handle!”. It would be like seeing a pet cat catch a mouse or a bird or something and not all blood and guts like I’d heard about with the kills the other animals can make.

This serval had no luck while we were watching, but some other people in the camp that drove up as we left did get to see it catch something. Good job, buddy.

We decided we were going to look for cheetahs or leopards in this new area. I mean, why not? At this point we had seen everything at the top of our lists, including not one, but two serval cats. We felt pretty lucky. It wasn’t long before the following happened:

Wilson yells, "Cheetah!"

Neeners (grabbing binoculars and looking frantically) responds,"Where?"

Wilson, pointing straight ahead in the distance, answers, "There!"

Wilson puts the pedal to the metal and races to see the cheetah.

Neeners looks and looks.

Neeners doesn't see the cheetah, but also rarely sees the actual animal until the 
vehicle is pretty close.

Neeners is old.

Neeners says, "I don't see it, but yay! Good job!"

Wilson drives closer.

Wilson realizes it's a Secretary Bird.

Neeners teases Wilson and nicknames him, "Secretary Bird Wilson".

Wilson nicknames Neeners, "Serval Cat Stephanie".

We had a lot of fun teasing Wilson after that. We had a discussion with him regarding the difference between a secretary bird (the flying things with feathers and beaks) and a cheetah (the land things with whiskers and four legs). Poor Wilson. It was all in good fun and we all had a lot of laughs over it.

Before lunch they took us to see the pink hippos.

These hippos were pink from sunburn! Because of the drought, there wasn’t enough water to always cover their bodies. I felt so bad. Apparently because the water is shallow it’s very dirty and a lot of them were dying, too. It’s very sad. This is why everyone (except us) was so very happy to see the rain they said we brought. After seeing the poor hippos I didn’t mind the rain after that. Water was definitely needed.

We drove back to the camp for lunch, and on the way we got to see my favorite antelope, the dik dik!

They are 12-16 inches tall and they are usually in pairs.

I think this was the first one of the trip. They are so cute and tiny.

We enjoyed lunch, exercised, then had bucket showers. Then we did something that we hadn’t done the whole time at camp to that point (due to weather, mostly). We went to the little area by the water to enjoy the hammocks. It was wonderful! We had a slight breeze so it had cooled off. It was the perfect location to read. I just wish we could have enjoyed it sooner!

The afternoon drive we were looking for leopards or cheetahs. We didn’t have much luck at all to begin with.

More animal butts.
Scratch scratch.

My sense of direction is subpar, to say the least. So when we saw this troop of baboons…

Lotsa butts.

I didn’t realize that we were pretty close to camp. Great. I was hopeful that it was the opposite end of camp, because remember our tent was on the end. It was not the opposite end; they were headed towards our tent. Wonderful. Luck was on our side and either the workers scared them off, or they weren’t interested in getting into our tent to poop and take our medications. Yes, I’ve heard several stories of them doing such a thing.

We saw some lion cubs hiding in the grass/bushes.

We couldn’t see them well because they were right in the bushes, but that was fine by me because I really didn’t want to hang out there anyway. The mom wasn’t around.

Then we noticed a vehicle watching something semi-nearby, and it was a leopard! Not only was it a leopard, but it was Fig’s youngest daughter, Faulu. So even though we didn’t get to see Fig, we got to see her daughter. I was so happy!

Before we knew it everyone from our camp, as well as a few other vehicles, were all around this tree watching her and waiting to see if she would come down. She didn’t seem stressed or anything, so we stayed.

We sat there waiting and waiting. We decided to just have our sundowners there. I really, really wanted to see her get down from the tree!

We had the best conversation with Wilson and Wilfred. They told us about the Maasai, their lives, their families, and just general chit chatting. I’ll never forget showing them both a picture of who their names reminded us of back home. Wilson got the volleyball from Cast Away, and Wilfred for some reason (probably because this was after a gin and tonic or two) got a picture of Wilford Brimley. I’m laughing remembering their reactions. We were all laughing a lot. I was laughing so hard I had to wipe away the tears.

Faulu would switch positions occasionally and we’d all think she was going to come down. She tricked most of her viewers. One by one the other vehicles left. At this point we were having a great conversation and waiting for the leopard was our excuse to continue. So eventually there was only Faulu and us.

A beautiful face.

It was getting into our official night drive and at that point I said, “Let’s stay here as long as we can and hope she comes down.”

Once it was pretty dark she started yawning.

Then she actually stood up!

And then she was both standing *and* yawning, which apparently is the International sign for, “I’m coming down!”

And before we knew it, she came down.

And yawned again.

We did it! We outlasted her and got to see her come down. It was dark and we had to use the red spotlight to see anything at that point. She was very considerate, though, and got down before our dinner time, so thank you Faulu! We only watched her for a little bit because once she was in the bushes there was little chance we were going to find her again.

It was very dark and the drive back to camp was exciting…mostly because you couldn’t see all that far ahead of the vehicle. Between the red spotlight that Wilfred had and Sal and I using our phone/flashlight we tried to see as much as possible.. The bad thing about night safaris is it’s almost impossible to take photos unless you have really great cameras, which we didn’t. The good thing is you get to see some things you haven’t seen before. We saw a white-tailed mongoose, which apparently is pretty rare. You can always tell how rare something is by the excitement the guide shows. We saw a spring hare, which they call the African kangaroo. We also saw a bush baby (very cute with big eyes). All of the sudden there were two hippos, which at night can be scary if you are between them and the water. Thankfully we weren’t and they didn’t even pay attention to us.

Mom and baby hippos out of the water!

And last, but not least…

Yes, that makes three serval cats. Three! They don’t call me Serval Stephanie for nothin’.

We got back to camp and enjoyed dinner and went to bed early because we were tired. It’s amazing how 9-10 hours in an open jeep can wear you out!

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Her Name Is Akira – Lion Camp Part 3

After our wonderful morning sightings of the mama/baby cheetah and the serval cat, we headed back to camp for a yummy lunch, some exercise, and a bucket shower.

Nathan would fill the bucket/bag with water that had been heated, then you get that much water for your shower. At first I was nervous about taking a bucket shower and thought that I would end up all soapy or whatnot because I wouldn’t have enough water to rinse everything off. I was pleasantly surprised to find as long as you only keep the water on for rinsing, and turn it off in between, it was fine. I even had enough water to condition my hair with a bar I had brought with me. It added to the adventure!

After a bit of a rest it was time for the afternoon drive. We were still on a high from an awesome morning drive and figured anything we saw the rest of the day would be a bonus. And what a bonus it was!

I love these trees.
I see you.
I see you, too.
Hi, fella.

The lilac-breasted roller (LBR) is Kenya’s national bird. It’s a beautiful, small bird that is often really hard to get a pic of in flight. They startle easily, so sometimes even getting close can be a challenge. Sal tried his best.

Lilac breasted roller
Wing colors.

As my luck would have it, we soonran into two male sub-adult lions who were at the bottom of a hill.

This is an example of how close I’m willing to get to the lions (as long as there is someone between us to eat before me, no problem! Sorry, Wilson & Sal!).

Right up from them were some buffalo. It was a strange sort of stand off. We think the buffalo must have climbed down the hill then saw the lions blocking their way. They were two sub-adult lions, so they weren’t going to take down a small group of buffalo, but nobody was moving. The one big buffalo just kept staring at the lions. So really, he was just being a typical buffalo because all they really do is stare at you.

We See Each Other!

Wilson asked if I wanted to get closer…

We were close enough. Thanks, though!

We left the lions (yay) and went in search of leopards. Yes, we knew Fig (RIP) was gone, but she had successfully brought up some babies to adulthood and we were hoping to see one of them or another leopard in the area. As you guys know, leopards were #1 on our wishlist since we hadn’t seen any last time we were in Kenya.

We drove around enjoying the scenery. Then we noticed a family of ellies in the grass, so we went to join them. There were no other vehicles around, so we had the family all to ourselves. I’d discovered most people don’t stop and watch elephants; they’d rather watch the lions. It makes no sense to me because the lions almost always are just laying there sleeping, and elephants at least are always moving. Oh well, more elephants for me!

Gotta stay hydrated.

We got pretty close…

For once the animals were on Sal’s side. I remember he asked me if I wanted to move to that side of the vehicle. I declined. While I love ellies, I didn’t feel that comfortable that close to them yet. Especially wild ones. Our guides were *extremely* comfortable and not even watching the elephants. And they just kept getting closer and closer as we sat there parked and quiet.

Then we were sort of surrounded – front and on the left side. I was very happy I didn’t switch spots because this is how close one got…

That empty seat would have been where I was sitting. That empty seat would have gotten wet.
She (?) walked by very closely while we were sitting there, engine off, watching the family in the grass.
He’s nuts.
Holy Crap Indeed.

Watching this video back, after having learned much more about elephants, I think this elephant is probably 4-6 years old, so not fully grown. Still, when you’re sitting down and it’s *right* next to you, oh yeah, and don’t forget WILD, it’s definitely a holy crap moment.

We stayed with them for quite some time, then decided to try by the water for leopards. Wilson and Wilford really were trying their best to find one for us. We drove very slowly down a full length of river, everyone with their eyes peeled out for the big cats.

We had no luck and it was getting to be sundowner time. We stopped to take a few pics of the sunbeams through the clouds and enjoy the view.

We heard some weird noise while we were sitting there. I think we all said, “What was that?”. A vehicle of park rangers drove by around that time and they chatted with our guides. They drove off in the direction we had just come, and before we knew it they were telling us great news – they found a leopard!

We took off, back where we came from, and they pointed to where it was. Then we saw her. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited we all were. We were racing to find her before a bunch of vehicles showed up. Finally, we were going to see our first leopard in Kenya!

Sooooo excited!

Her name is Akira and she is the daughter of Tito. No idea who her mother is. Isn’t she a beauty?

It’s beyond thrilling when she would get right by us.

We were very lucky to have her to ourselves for a bit of time. We never would have gotten that alone time if we hadn’t stopped to enjoy the view and take the photo above.

Our radios only transmitted between our camp vehicles and most of the people at our camp were on the other side of the park and it was getting dark. The rangers called the sighting in to some other camps. Too soon there were other vehicles joining us. We all gave the beautiful girl space and enjoyed watching her.

More vehicles arrived.
She walked right by.

Every time she would walk near our vehicle my heart would beat out of my chest. Not from fear, from excitement! For some reason I am not as afraid of leopards as I am of lions, even though I know what leopards can do…(spoiler alert – awesome leopard story coming up in your future reading!).

Hello and I love you, pretty girl.
Everyone was happy to see this beauty!
Gorgeous.
Blending in at sunset.
Hello, again.
She looks very soft, but no petting!
Nice profile.
And another.

It was getting dark and we decided to leave to leave her.

What a joy it was to see her. I actually teared up. I just find leopards incredibly beautiful and I was happy to get to see my first one in Kenya.

We rode back to camp with a smile on our face. We had such an absolutely amazing safari day between the cheetah (#2 on the list), serval (not even on the list), and leopard (#1 on the list) sightings. I felt incredibly lucky and thankful.

We got back to camp and there was a fire waiting for us.

We shared stories with the gray hairs while enjoying an adult beverage. Dinner was delicious, and then it was bed time. What a fabulous day at Porini Lion Camp!

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

The Good Cats – Porini Lion Camp Part 2

Excuse from the author: so sorry for the delay, I was on a long vacation with very slow WiFi – now where were we?

Picture it: a wonderful (albeit wet) afternoon/evening in a new camp. You’re loving everything about the new surroundings and are walking around with a big contented smile on your face. You go to bed and find a hot water bottle under the covers to keep you toasty. It’s pitch black and the rain is pounding on the tent. Perfect sleeping conditions, right?

Remember how I said that they joked about our tent being 1/2 a mile from everyone else and it wasn’t? Well, it *was* on the end of the row and it *was* next to a path where animals could climb up the bank from the river. There was a well-worn path that was basically directly behind our tent. *Gulp*. So let’s just say the nights at Lion camp came with, uh, surprises. The first night, while Sal slept soundly next to me, I was wide-eyed listening to something very big and very close.

This was not Sal. Although at one point he was snoring a duet with the unseen beast.

You guys – I had to pee so bad I think the fear of being eaten activated my bladder. I held it until I heard the beast move on and poop by the tent (yes, seriously). Once I thought I was semi-safe I very slowly crept into the bathroom without turning the lights on and did my business as quietly as I could. I didn’t know what would happen if whatever creature it was heard a sound or saw a light and I did NOT want to find out. Even though it was raining, it was not easy to sleep that night at all. Well, for some of us. Sal slept through it. Somehow I was the most scared of the trip so far, and Sal was snoring away like it was a typical Tuesday back in the good ol’ US. To add insult to injury I could also hear a little bit of hippo ‘laughing’ in the distance. Yeah, the joke was on me that night.

Our wake-up call was at 5:45 a.m., which meant I got about 13 minutes of sleep after listening intently to the creatures outside our tent. I was dragging. The man with a spear (our morning protector) who was going to walk us to the vehicle because it was dark showed up a little early, but I didn’t see/hear him coming; it was dark and they are very quiet walkers! I had just survived the traumatic noises from the night before (wink wink) and his, “ready?” when I didn’t see or hear him approach scared the bejeezus out of me and made me jump.

The morning drive started out slow, but at least no rain!

I challenge you to try to take a clear phone pic while on a moving safari vehicle!

But then it got *really* good.

Our first good sighting was hyenas eating a kill. I know it’s weird to refer to something like that as ‘good’, but when you get to observe something by yourself, and with a lot of animals and not much gore, you appreciate it!

If squeamish, don’t watch!

And almost anywhere you find hyenas eating, you’ll find a jackal or two waiting around or trying to steal a bite.

Then we got to see a small family of ellies, including a cute little baby.

Cuuuute!

Then we really hit the jackpot and found a female cheetah and her baby girl cub! Cheetahs were #2 on our wish list so we were extremely happy! Apparently the adult female had two cubs, but one had been killed recently by lions. You guys – 9 times out of 10 we can blame the carnage on the lions. After that story I was officially done with lions. OK, I guess I can’t say that because I never really liked them to begin with, but it made me dislike them even more. First Fig, then the baby cheetah?? In general, they don’t kill cheetahs and leopards for food…they just don’t want them in their territory taking any of the pride’s potential food. It obviously makes sense, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It makes me sad because cheetahs and leopards have significantly fewer numbers. Sometimes the circle of life really stinks. But back to the beautiful cheetahs!

First all we saw was the mama…
Mom hides her baby girl in the bushes.
Then we moved our vehicle and saw the cutest little baby girl there ever was.
Our first look at mama and baby. I had to get a quick video even in the sun! So cute!
Did you know cheetahs can climb? This little girl could!
Impressive!
Bath time.
A little nibbling…
Her energy was picking up, for sure!
Guess who, mom?

And unlike the cheetahs we saw last time in Kenya, these two actually got up and started moving. I was really hoping to see them run, but because they were together and trying to stay out of the sight of the lions, the most they did was trot along. It was extremely fun to watch the baby playing with the mom and following her.

The mom would get ahead and the baby would be playing around or not paying attention, then the mom would call and the baby would trot to her. I had never heard a cheetah call before and it was so unusual and cute!

These little chirps and the little ‘growl’ surprised me!

There was a particular point where the baby was near our vehicle on one side, and the mom crossed in front of us.

The grin on my face when this was happening: 😀

A few more pics of these beauties:

She was playing with elephant poo…
She was so freakin’ cute!
Yawn!
Streeetch!

We hung out with these two for well over an hour. There were several other vehicles, but most didn’t stay as long and all were respectful of the animals and other vehicles. The only reason we stopped watching them is because they went into this bush area and were going to cross some water.

Bye, guys – stay safe!

These two were a joy to spend time with. I was so happy to see the cheetahs again. They are beautiful cats and at that point I decided they were my favorite cats. Maybe.

After they cheetahs went into the bushes we decided it was time to have breakfast.

Our guides, Wilfred and Wilson, had almost finished setting everything up when one of them said, “SERVAL CAT!”. They told us to hop back into the vehicle as these cats were shy and apparently not seen all that much in that area. They were very excited, which made us very excited. We got in the car and drove to the cat (who was extremely close by). They said this cat was older. The cat wasn’t shy at all. It was pretty close to where breakfast was set up and I told her to feel free to go grab a sausage, but clearly her hearing wasn’t what it used to be in her old age. Welcome to the club!

Sal and his new friend.

On my recording I said, “They’re more rare than leopards around here, so I think that’s a good sign and we’re going to see a leopard next. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”.

You’re going to have to wait and see what happens 😉

Africa, Kenya, Vacations

And Now For Something Totally Unexpected: Lions – Porini Lion Camp Part 1

When you are someone who is extremely afraid of lions common sense would tell you to avoid camps with ‘lion’ in the title, because there’s probably a lot of lions around! The problem was that we really wanted to see leopards and this camp was also known for them. Since we hadn’t seen a leopard yet in Kenya, it was #1 on our wish list. There was a famous leopard in the territory named Fig that I had seen in a few films/stories that I knew I wanted to see in person, if possible. I was excited when we knew we were going to be in the same vicinity as her, so of course I chose the camp (even with lion in the name!) to increase our chances of meeting this legend.

Well. A few months after booking, a lion killed Fig. I was so sad and disappointed to learn she’d been killed…and of course it gave me another reason to hate lions. At this point we were committed to going to this camp, so I was hoping to: a) see a relative of Fig, and b) avoid lions if we had a private vehicle.

Because of the rain at Rhino Camp we couldn’t leave from the close airstrip again and ended up at this large airstrip that was actually quite nice. I was very surprised when our plane showed up – it was a big one!

The largest plane we’ve ever been on for flights between camps in Africa.

No masks were enforced, however most people were smart and sexy and wore one, except for two dummies who sat across from us (of course). I didn’t say anything, but my eyes told them they had low IQs and were ugly. Just kidding – they avoided eye contact with everyone. Ha ha.

Once we made it to our stop, the Olare-Motorogi Conservancy in the Maasai Mara, we were picked up by Wilson (our driver) and Wilfred (our spotter), both silver stars. Impressive! This is where my recorder really came in handy, because why did they both have to have W names? We met so many new people at each camp that if I didn’t record the names I probably would have never remembered. Anyway, these two men couldn’t have been nicer. The first day or so Wilfred, the spotter, did a lot more of the talking. This was unusual to us because at the last camp the spotter rarely spoke except to occasionally point out an animal we had already discovered ourselves 3 seconds beforehand. Ha.

Wilfred was fantastic and he had the absolute best smile. The odd thing was that his smile really reminded me of our nephew, just the brown version of him. I wasn’t going insane – Sal said he could see it when I pointed it out to him. I’ll post a pic of them both further in the report. Wilfred was very smart and shared so much information, which we appreciated much more than just pointing out an animal. I made the mistake of saying something to Wilfred when I first met him like, “so you are the spotter and Wilson is the guide?”. He quickly corrected me by saying, “We’re both guides.” Wilfred definitely proved that time after time. Honestly, I thought he was better than our last driver, who it turns out was the head of the guides at that camp! I could tell right away that the situation at this camp was going to be completely different. Hurrah!

On our drive to camp we got to see a few animals we hadn’t seen yet – ostrich, wildebeest (antelope) and topi (antelope). We also got to see a cute family of ellies. No pics, but believe me… you will be absolutely sick of elephant pics by the time this trip report is over as the second 1/2 of the trip is focused only on them!

We were greeted warmly by Daniel, the head of the camp, and James, one of the wait staff. Daniel was fantastic as he loved to joke around – particularly when I asked him which tent was ours and he said the furthest. When I responded, “oh no”, he told me our tent was something like a half of a mile away. In my head I figured a lion was definitely going to eat me there. Then Sal told me he was joking. They both got a chuckle out of that one. Our tent was the furthest, but it still was pretty close to everything. And like last camp, our first night we were the only guests there!

They had a nice surprise for us with lunch by the river. The food was really good. It was quite windy and we weren’t sure if the weather was going to cooperate as it looked like – you guessed it – rain! The rain held off until it was time for dessert, so we went to the back porch of the mess tent that had comfy couches and protection from the elements and enjoyed looking at our new surroundings, even in the rain. They had a media tent here, so we went there afterward to connect a little bit and charge things up. Sal took a bucket shower after, courtesy of Nathan, our tent keeper, and I exercised. The rain had stopped at that point. We relaxed a little bit, and right before our drive the rain started again. Argh! It was only a little sprinkle to start, but once we were driving it started pouring. So our first game drive there was raining the whole time – sometimes pouring and other times sprinkling so you could at least keep one side open to see things. Again, everyone (except us) was happy to see the rain because it was very dry there, too.

So can you guess what the first thing we saw at lion camp was?

Yes, we saw seven of them. Two of which were adult males. We had to drive up this big hill with very large rocks to get to them. In the pouring rain. Now I know I had told these guys I didn’t like lions, but it’s like nobody believes you until they see your face. Ha. Obviously the lions weren’t doing anything because of the rain, so I suggested maybe we go somewhere else. I’m not going to lie; part of me felt more comfortable looking at them being zipped up in the vehicle since it was pouring at that point, and the other part of me was afraid we were going to get stuck up there because of the rocks and the rain. We didn’t get stuck, but it was very tricky for him to get back down. I’m just really thankful no other vehicles were around. One sort of funny thing is he accidentally beeped the horn a few times when he was moving the steering wheel trying to get us out of there. It was only sort of funny because those were the times the lions didn’t ignore us and actually looked at the vehicle. Hey, man – let’s not point out to the lions where the food is, OK? Of course I had to tease him. It was maybe 50% teasing and 50% really not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.

We didn’t see much once we got down the hill. Eventually we saw about four other vehicles so went to investigate. Guess what we saw? Yeah, yeah. The camp was really living up to its name. This time the rain had lessened so we could take some pics.

Wilfred was there when Fig was killed. He said there was no way to intervene as she was across the river and the lion attacked her while she was getting a drink. She was pregnant at the time. This is the guy that killed her. I hate this guy.
A young one (you can see the spots) on the prowl.
Quit looking at us.

So we were watching these two sub-adults as seen in this video.

“A small boy”. I think we have different definitions of small!

Now we were close to these younger ones, but Sal was on the side closest, so it was OK. LOL. Sorry, Sal. You signed up for this.

When I think about lions, I think the ones I am more afraid of are actually the sub adults. These are the ones that are actually more interested in , or at least look at, cars. The fully grown ones usually ignore all vehicles. In the video above, there was a noise at the end of the video, which was actually a different vehicle. It startled the sub adult and he started walking towards it. Eek. It drove off and ll was fine, but those sub adults are a little too curious for my liking!

We got back to camp and Daniel told us we were a blessing for bringing the rain. At this point on our Kenya trip it had rained so much that Sal looked at me at one point and said, “Hey hon? What if we are indeed rain gods?”.

We had a little intimate dinner inside the smaller communal tent. All was lovely until we had a visitor that kept flying back and forth.

I’m Batman.

Luckily Sal didn’t get a picture of me trying to eat dinner with my napkin on my head. James did come in while serving food and saw it. Lord only knows what he thought. Probably, “Too much gin!”.

We really enjoyed the desserts there!

On my recording I mentioned that this camp was definitely a step up – the tents were nicer as were the vehicles and the communal spaces. We loved it there (well, except for the vast amount of lions). It was slightly bigger than Rhino camp, and usually I prefer the smaller camps, but it didn’t feel large and everyone was lovely. And boy did we have some adventures there! Stay tuned!

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

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.