Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Malaika Camp – Part IV – Brotherly Love

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone out there reading this. I have no idea how some of you found me, but hey – hi! Clearly we all love animals and reading about them. Or maybe we love to travel and don’t care about the animals. Either way, welcome. Please do me a favor and give this post a comment or a like. I like posting, but it is quite a bit of work and I want to make sure you still want to hear these stories. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

Good morning, Kenya!
Selfie of my hair every morning.

Have I mentioned that every day at Malaika Camp had great sightings? Because it truly did. While we saw everything in general on our wish list even before we got to Malaika, Malaika delivered on every single extra bonus viewing we had added just for kicks. Male leopard? Check! Cheetah running? Check! And my favorite extra bonus…The Brothers.

Yes, I am giving them caps, because they are that important to parts of Kenya and its history. I had no clue about these five male cheetahs until I saw their photo displayed in the dining tent. It drew me in. They were all walking in a line, projecting all of the confidence in the world. Looking at the photo all I saw was power. These Brothers were not all biological brothers, and that is what made them special and unusual. The bush is a very hard place, though, and even with all their success with hunting, nature would take its course and each would eventually die. Luckily for us there were actually two still alive! I was surprised when I found out and so I immediately added them to the wish list and figured it would be pretty unlikely we’d see them. I underestimated Tony, our guide. I was wrong, and it was fantastic (for the most part – more on that later!).

I remember Tony saying had heard the brothers were in a certain area that was a bit of a distance away; were we up for a drive? Of course we were. We were absolutely shocked by how many vehicles there were. This is how many people wanted to see these beautiful boys. I was sort of surprised it was allowed, to be honest. You see some pics of a gazillion vehicles watching an animal sometimes, but this is the first time I experienced it. I did not like it. We didn’t stay around them all that long, and to be fair they didn’t seem that bothered by cars. I was happy that I got to see them at all, but wished it would have been in better circumstances.

Narrator’s Voice, “Don’t fret, viewers; it happens later in better circumstances!”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here are three videos of the superstars.

I realize that it looks like there are only three vehicles watching them right now, but all of the vehicles were on our side except for a couple. There were so many.

How about some pics, too?

Tony wasn’t sure which of the two are left. I’m sure someone has the information. They looked identical to me!

When people ask me what my favorite thing I saw besides elephants was, it’s hard to decide. Going back through the pictures, though, I am reminded of how drawn to these Brothers I was, and how much I truly loved observing them. They were definitely a top three of the trip for me…besides my elephants, of course.

Yes, they get close…

This day was unusual, though, because we also got to see our pregnant cheetah that we saw run. I don’t know what would have happened if they had all run into each other…

Hello, Ms. Pretty!
Cat nap.

We were so fortunate to see three cheetahs in one day.

We also had some fun encounters with ellies. First, we had a small group of them walk by, which is always exciting.

Quietly walking through the grass, past our vehicle.
Two things to note: broken tusks & whiskers.

On the afternoon drive we saw them by the water. There was one in particular that was actually playing in the water and moving stones with his trunk. He was having fun.

He, not she.

There must have been something in the air, because a couple of zebras were really getting into a dirt bath.

The other excitement, (well…) was seeing two ostriches mate. It lasted about two seconds, and after it was over the male literally ran away. Imagine teaching your massai warrior safari guide the saying, “Hit it and quit it”. I’m side eyeing myself now, remembering that little lesson. I blame it on the lack of sleep.

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day, so I had to get some sort of love story in this trip report other than brotherly love ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’m saving the best drive for last as far as Malaika Camp is concerned. My plan is to tell that story next week, and then move on into the elephant portion of the trip. Have a great week!

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 I – 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

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: ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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… ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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

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 ๐Ÿ™‚