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!
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.
So we were watching these two sub-adults as seen in this video.
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.
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!”.
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!
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:
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:
Notice anything strange about the next pic?
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Reminder: we left our travelers after a long morning of travel to Rhino Camp on the first day of their bonus safari..
As I said in the last post, I made a little daily recording of happenings so I wouldn’t have to write notes or try to rely on my crappy memory. Lord knows that would end up being a two post blog. Anyway, listening to these recordings so I can write these posts has been interesting, to say the least. I was picking up where I left off, and the whole rest of that recording is just me saying animal names, often numerous times because the automatic transcriber would come up with some crazy interpretations of what I was trying to say (even when I spelled it). I thought it would be cool to list out all the animals we saw. Guys? I’m not doing that. We saw a LOT!
I don’t know in what universe I thought you guys would be interested in me telling you what the first dead animal was that we saw, but it was a buffalo. You’re welcome and I am sorry. The thing about the dead animals is 9 times out of 10 you smell them before you see them. Dead buffalo, as you can well imagine, are very stinky. As our time progressed we discovered quite a few dead buffalo there because there had been a bad drought. It was quite sad. The only other dead animal we saw at that camp was either lunch/dinner for someone else, or an impala that nobody had found yet (to eat – nobody cleans up the dead animals except the other animals that eat them) and had died from a fight with another impala. Through our travels we’d seen impala and other antelope fighting with their horns, but this was the first time we’d seen a casualty from that.
We made our way to the camp to discover that we were the only ones there. I was shocked because we were still technically in high season. We met the interim manager and got the daily drive and meal information and signed the forms saying if we were killed or injured we wouldn’t sue anyone. The schedule there was as follows:
* 6:30 a.m. morning game drive with breakfast in the bush somewhere * * 1:00 p.m. lunch * * 4:00 p.m. coffee/tea * * 4:30 p.m. afternoon game drive * * 8:00 p.m. dinner*
It started raining during check-in. The staff were so happy. We, on the other hand, were thinking: Rut Roh. Before we could fixate too much on being worried about the rain they fed us lunch. We had pork ribs, side salads, and mousse for dessert. We really enjoyed the food at the camp (other guests complained about it, but we had no complaints regarding the food).
According to my recording I went to exercise after lunch. Exercise for me on this trip was either walking in the tent, walking on the grounds, doing an exercise video I had downloaded from YouTube, or water aerobics if the camp had a pool. At one point I seriously googled if riding in a safari vehicle burns any calories. I was reaching for some side benefit of being in a vehicle 7-9 hours per day!
Only a few of you know that three months prior to this trip I began exercising daily and watching my calories with my friend (Hi R!). I was so worried that I was going to gain weight on this 3.5 week trip. Most safari camps are known for big meal portions, so I was concerned. Lunch was usually a buffet, so I could control my portions myself there, and for dinners I asked for smaller portions. It took a couple of meals before they understood what I wanted and then for the most part it worked. I’m proud to say I didn’t gain any weight on vacation. Matter of fact, I lost a couple pounds. Yeah, I can’t quite believe it, either. I am convinced, though, that riding in those crazy vehicles for so many hours a day surely must have burned off extra calories! I mean, come on holding onto something for so many hours so you don’t get ejected from your seat and eaten has got to contribute in some way to getting a little more toned! It’s got to!
Our tent’s position was excellent and we could see the waterhole from our bed! It was very exciting. Except it was raining, so nobody was interested in a drink there that day. Soon it was time for our afternoon drive. I never did the coffee/tea pre-drive thing during the trip because I was paranoid I would then have to ‘check the tires’ (pee in the bush or behind the vehicle).
Even though it was a bit drizzly, that afternoon the game viewing was pretty good. We were very happy to have our own vehicle, too. First up?
Giraffe subspecies are differentiated by their spot patterns. These giraffes are called Reticulated Giraffe, and they are only in north/northeast areas of Kenya. They are called a journey of giraffes when they are walking, and a tower of giraffes when they have stopped in the bushes. Next up was the whole reason we came to this particular camp:
One of the interesting things about the area is that there are farmers with cattle that share the area. The cattle are originally from Uganda and called Ankole and graze at certain times during the day with a herder, then they are put in their pens at night. The herder job is incredibly dangerous (hello, there are lions??) and oftentimes it’s a younger man/boy doing it.
I’m just going to be my own transcriber here. This is the next part of the recording (all in whispers):
“Of course. We found lions.” “Shit it’s on my side.” “Oh my god it’s making a noise.” “Oh. Oh no. I don’t…” “This one is stalking a buffalo, we think.” “Oh crap. I think she’s stalking a buffalo. I don’t want to see a killing!” “I didn’t want to be in this section *laughs nervously* I hope this isn’t the last recording anybody hears of me.” *I proceed to repeat what I just said to the guide so he gets the hint.*
“It seems like we are looking for more lions…are we looking for more lions, Harold (fake name)? Haaaarold? You are dangerously close to losing stars! ” *Said in a joking tone, but completely serious!* “Still alive, but still in the bad section” (Bad section was the bushes and they could be right behind one.) “Bad. B-A-D!” “B-A-D!” “There was one behind us.” (See? BAD section!) “I’m gonna have nightmares about this section.” “Oh shit, now we’re going past…there’s another one right there!” “That one I’m not afraid of” (Only because it was relatively far away and on Sal’s side.)
Me, hoping to remain alive on my first day of safari
The only bad part of the drive was the lion part. Yes, I had told our guide I was afraid of lions and they were very low on the priority list of animals we’d like to see. Yes, we had our own vehicle, so I thought that meant we called the shots. No, that’s not what happened in some of these instances. I have found in general that *most* guides think everyone wants to see the lions, even if they specifically tell them they DO NOT. I don’t know if they think we are joking and that everyone on safari wants to see the big cats, but every single guide that I told I didn’t want to see lions brought me closer than I would have liked. It wasn’t until most saw the expression on my face that they understood, “Oh, she’s actually afraid and this could affect my tip!”
Our guide at Rhino Camp was no exception. So in the recording above we started following a couple sub-adults and I could feel my heart racing. I really didn’t feel like I was ready for it – it was our arrival day, for Pete’s sake! I asked if we could please stay back a ways, as I was afraid of them. We drove around bushes trying to find where the lion went and at one point I specifically remember the guide (and possibly Sal) pointing out it was behind the car. Now it could have been far behind the car, or it could have been close; I have no idea because I refused to look. We had already gotten much closer to one than I wanted and I was afraid if I turned around and saw that lion close on my side of the car my trip would have had a very unfortunate ending. OK, I’m being dramatic. But at that point I was still very afraid of lions and I felt extremely uncomfortable.
Lest you think I am the only one afraid of lions on safari, later in the trip I heard the story of a guy we were at camp with that had a panic attack because he didn’t realize how close the vehicle got to the lions. His guide drove them too close and then a car was in back of them so they were sort of stuck for a bit. He had to go back to camp once they could move the vehicle again. Before my first safari I knew how close we would get and there would be no vehicle doors – you were right there for the picking! I’m not sure if he knew or not, but the first time you experience it it’s very intense no matter if you like the big killers or not. I felt sorry for the guy after hearing that story. While I hadn’t ever had a panic attack from being too close to the lions, I think one of the worst things in the world would not only be feeling trapped and like you are going to die, but also literally being blocked in there so you actually were sort of trapped. That poor guy probably has nightmares about it.
I wasn’t at panic attack level. I was more at I-wasn’t-joking-when-I-said-I-didn’t-want-to-see-lions-this-close level. I think when I refused to turn around and look behind the vehicle to see the lion, our guide finally got the hint that the old white lady doesn’t wanna see lions! We only saw them from a distance at this camp after that. I thought, “Shew. Maybe I’ll be able to do this the whole trip without getting close again. Maybe if I just explain it to them…” If you follow me on Instagram I’m sure you are snickering right about now because you know what is to come.
Happily there were no other lions that game drive. Next up, some hyenas:
These pics were taken back when I thought hyenas were awesome. Sadly, that time has passed. Yeah, it’s another spoiler alert: hyenas are killers and I will never look at one the same way again. That story will be much later in the blog as it happened on the last night at the last safari camp.
After enjoying seeing the pups it was time for sundowners! We went to an open area and even though the sunset was crap because of the bad weather, it was still nice to be out in the open and on safari! We enjoyed our G&T’s and chatting with Harold and Elliot (another fake name). There are tests that are both costly and intense that guides take that are similar to a certification, I guess. We found out our driver, Harold, was a silver star and Elliot was studying to be a bronze star. The highest level is gold, but apparently that is very expensive and it’s hard to get a job at a camp when you are gold because a higher pay is required. Most gold stars are private guides. The conversation was interesting, but soon we heard the laughing hyenas, followed by another noise. When the guides started talking to each other in Swahili I just knew that meant the noise was something I wasn’t going to want to know about. I asked them what it was, and Harold said, “It was what we don’t want to hear – a lion.”. Eliott said he has seen one, but it was quite far and since we were right next to the jeep (I never got too far from it!) we were safe. It started to rain a little bit at the end of our sundowners, so we made our drive back wearing our ponchos (mostly for warmth). Luckily there were no lions on the way back because the only thing worse than seeing one in the day is seeing one at night.
It had stopped raining by the time we got back to camp, thankfully. We had two Maasai waiting for us and they escorted us to the tent to drop off our stuff. They also escorted us to the bonfire to enjoy the bonfire and a cocktail. All these camps have Maasai that escort you at night. None of these safari camps we went to have fences, so it’s necessary and appreciated! It’s scary out there at night!
We chatted with the interim manager a bit, then got to eat early since we were the only ones in camp. We enjoyed our dinner and got to bed early, also thankful for our hot water bottles that they put in the beds to keep warm! We really noticed the frogs in the waterhole at this point. No, we didn’t actually see any, but it was like you had a white noise app and chose ‘frogs’ and set the volume at 10. These fellas were LOUD LOUD. It was this night Sal coined the term, “Happy as a frog in mud”. We’ll see if it catches on or not.
I’ll end this post on my recording regarding sleeping the first night:
“Oh shit. There’s something out there. This is our first night in Porini Camp and we definitely hear something. There’s two somethings. Luckily so far I don’t hear any cat yawns. Aw geez. There’s definitely something. Maybe just a buffalo. Sadly, buffalo are actually worse, but for some reason I’m more afraid of the freakin’ lions. Looks like I’m going to have to wear earplugs tonight” *next day* “We survived. I was up for two hours in the middle of the night” *laughs* “There were lions and hyenas in the camp.”
Me, surviving the first night. Don’t call me a hero.
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
The Sound of Music
As you can tell by my quoting old musicals to start this epic recant of our trip, mama is *still* battling jet lag almost a week later. Also, the fact that I called myself mama is another strong indicator that my brain doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at this point. But you gotta start somewhere, so why not at the beginning? And why not with a musical?
I’m not sure how I’m going to break down this trip. I know it won’t be daily, because that would take too long to do and likely would never get finished. I know me. I know my track record. I never finished the Japan trip report, and there are non-existent New Zealand and Puerto Rico trips I never shared stories from. Maybe some day. Don’t hold your breath, dear readers, but maybe.
I think for this trip I will break it down into topics; getting there, each camp, ELEPHANTS, traveling with strangers, getting home, etc. Hubby suggested I post once a week to make it more manageable and I think that’s a great idea. So every Tuesday you’ll get an update. Maybe it will be one post, or it could be multiple. It depends on how the week went. These posts take some time creating, though, so we’ll start out realistically with once a week posts. Cross your fingers and let’s hope for the best!
Getting to Kenya in the year 2022 was easier than it would have been in 2020 (when we were originally supposed to go on this trip), but much more difficult than when we went the first time. There were three main pieces of paperwork that needed to be completed beforehand:
Obtain an online E-Visa. This was the piece that took the most time and frankly was a pain in the patootie to do. You had to upload certain sized pics of a passport photo, your actual passport, the cover of your passport (this one was a mystery to me as to why), etc.. There was so much extra information they wanted, too, like where your parents were (why?) and some other things that seemed quite strange when all you wanted was to visit their beautiful country! I didn’t remember any of that from when we went to Kenya the first time and could just get the visa at the airport. The other tricky thing with doing this online is there were a lot of fake websites out there and people on Tripadvisor were falling for them and losing out on money they thought was going to pay for their visas. We found out literally the day after we got rid of our old ink jet printer and bought a new black and white laser printer – because who needs a color printer anymore – that we needed a color printout of the E-Visa. Of course we did. The E-Visa is also only good for 90 days from when it is approved, so you didn’t want to apply too soon in advance just in case, but at the same time you weren’t sure how long it would take to get approved. It only took us 24 hours or so to get approved and we applied about a month ahead of time, which gave us an extra month+ just in case we got stuck in Kenya for some (potentially Covid) reason. See the non-existent trip report to New Zealand where we were stuck during Covid for a couple of months.
Vaccination Certificate. This one was pretty straight forward – you upload your proof of vaccine with your information and get a QR code. It was a lot easier to fill out than the E-Visa. The only strange thing about this is when you got the QR code it said, “Provisional”, which could be confusing. You never got another code after initially uploading your proof, so I’m not sure why they chose the word provisional. Maybe it means something different there.
Travelers Health Surveillance QR Code. This one was pointless. Basically you answered questions saying you felt fine and weren’t having any symptoms. As long as you have your plane seat number you could fill this out at any time. Some of the people we were meeting filled theirs out literally weeks before their flight. Do you see a problem with that? Basically you could say a month or more before your trip, “Nope! No symptoms!” and get your QR code. It made no sense. The other thing that didn’t make sense is that the actual code didn’t have your name on it or any identifier as to who it was for. And finally, the thing that really didn’t make sense? NOBODY CHECKED THIS IN KENYA. What was the point? It was a waste of time and paper.
Once all the paperwork was completed and the colored E-Visa copies were procured from a local shop, it hit me. This trip was actually happening. It was hard to believe after the multiple postponements!
The last stressful piece was the packing. There is a weight limit of 15 kg/33 pounds per person, including carry on luggage, for the internal Kenya flights. You are also advised not to bring luggage with wheels as there is limited cargo space in the small planes and they often try to squish everyone’s luggage together to make it fit. For our main luggage we used the duffel bag and large-ish backpack that we used the last time. We also had a backpack with the camera stuff and a backpack for medicines, liquids, and stuff for the plane (Kindle (Sal left this in the pocket of his seat on the flight *to* Nairobi, so he didn’t have it the whole 3.5 weeks – yes, there will probably be a story about that), headphones, i-Pad, documents, etc.). No wheels for this duo! You guys – three or four of the main people we traveled with for the second half of the trip had luggage with wheels. I was shocked! Especially because the organizer that had been to Africa over 20 times. Nobody mentioned any trouble having it! I think they all adopted the, “ask for forgiveness, not permission” mentality. I’m thinking next time we need the wheels.
We always try to pack everything at least a week ahead of time in case we need to order anything else and to make sure everything fits. We were sure we were doing so well on the weight, until we actually weighed everything and the night before we were trying to figure out what we really didn’t need because we were over by about 4 kg/8.5 pounds. We decided not to bring the extra camera and paraphernalia that went with it. It was a risk. It paid off, though, because we didn’t need it. Phew.
We flew Kenya Airways, which is also who we flew last time. This time would be different, though, because we would be flying in Business. We decided to splurge at the last minute. Full disclosure – I was concerned about Covid. Even though for the flight to Nairobi masks were supposedly required, I didn’t see any flight attendants ask people to put their masks back on. Most people complied and it wasn’t an issue, but our original seats were going to be by the bathroom in bulkhead, and I remembered the last time we flew KA and had those seats that passengers liked to hang out and stretch there. I was really worried about getting sick before the trip even started, as this trip was very expensive and we had waited so long for it.
We flew out of JFK. From where we live, JFK is a pain in the butt to get to. It can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours. It’s a bit hard to plan. We used Blacklane care service, which isn’t cheap, but is reliable. Again, I wasn’t taking any chances. The car arrived on time and the drive was about an hour. The only thing I will say is that the driver didn’t know how to turn the radio on, which was weird. It makes the hour drive a bit uncomfortable because someone is listening to everything you are saying because it’s dead quiet in the car and they can hear everything. I resorted to texting Sal if I wanted to say something private, like ‘awkward!’, but Sal didn’t have his notifications on and I would have to motion to him to check his phone. Thinking back, I’m sure the driver probably caught my signals in the rear view mirror. Awkward!
At JFK we went directly to security as we had checked in online. Since KA has a code share with Delta, we asked the attendant if the Sky Priority line was the correct line for us. To be fair, on our ticket it literally said Sky Priority, however when I saw a list of the airlines in that particular line it didn’t list KA. She ushered us through and after maybe 10-12 minutes waiting it was our turn. Our TSA agent was quite frustrated when trying to scan our ticket, because guess what? We weren’t in the right line. The good thing was she was not frustrated with us, but with the attendant that told us to go in the line in the first place. She called her manager and had us step to the side. I would say we waited 5-10 minutes at most for the manager to mosey over, take our passports, go to another empty station’s computer and do a bloop bloop bloop on it that would allow him to let us through to the carry on scanning. I literally said, “Don’t you need to scan our tickets?”. Nope. He just needed our passports. We are probably on some troublemaker list now for people who don’t get in the right lines at JFK. The security itself was fine, except KA doesn’t have TSA pre-check so off with the shoes and out with the liquids.
One thing about JFK is that they actually have signs for terminals/gates and estimates on how long of a walk it is to them. Some of those distances can be up to 18 or 20 minutes, which is nuts to me. We were Business class, so we could use Delta’s lounge. The lounge was in a different terminal than our flight. Remember, our luggage didn’t have wheels? And on the way there we didn’t check anything because we had read some horror stories about lost luggage, etc., so poor Sal had to lug everything except one backpack. So 55+ pounds of luggage. Again, with no wheels. I still don’t know how he did it. He’s scrappy!
We enjoyed the lounge for a while, I’d give it a solid ‘B+’ rating.
After some food/drink/relaxation, we made our way to our gate. We took some breaks along the way because it was quite a jaunt. At one point I wondered about getting one of those little beep beep cars that takes the celebs and the hoity-toity around in airports, but despite my dreams, we are neither celebs nor hoity-toity. Boo.
Pretty soon they were saying it was time to board. We got to load up first since we sold a kidney each to upgrade to Business. Just kidding – it was only stock – but you can’t take it with you so why not for a 13.5 hour flight? We tried to scan our tickets on our phones, but no bueno. We had to get a paper ticket. Why? Who the heck knows? We got the printed tickets fairly quickly, got back in line, showed our E-Visas/passports/new printed tickets, and were allowed to pass. Shew.
Before our flight I had pre-ordered a fruit plate instead of whatever the main meal was going to be on the flight. I had been doing great with food/exercise for weeks before the trip and I didn’t want to blow it. I was pleasantly surprised when meal time came, and I was presented with this:
Sal got his first (of many) Kenyan beer!
Little would I know after that first fruit plate that they would bring me a fruit plate for every meal. You guys! I could only handle two fruit plates before I was begging for a carb or piece of cheese…anything but more fruit! For breakfast they actually gave me a fruit plate instead of a sandwich, but my fruit plate came with…fruit! Way too much fruit, gang. Wow.
We deplaned pretty quickly, got through the first security – where all they checked was our immunization QR code – then made our way to the main event. Somehow we got lucky and literally had no wait before handing over our documents. I had a nice friendly chat with the Customs agent. I was in such a good mood because we actually got there. I’m sure I was working on adrenaline at that point, as well, because I hadn’t slept the whole flight!
After scanning our bags yet again, we made our way out, finding the currency exchange. There was a bit of unnecessary pre-trip drama regarding USD bills. On Tripadvisor they said that Kenya would not accept bills more than 10 years old. Our TA for the first part of the trip gave us information that said Kenya accepted currency after 2000. So which was it? I checked with our surly TA to have him double check as quite often on Tripadvisor it said the opposite of the information he gave me. He couldn’t get a straight answer from the higher ups, so instead insulted me by saying something along the lines of, “common sense would tell you to bring bills no older than 10 years old then”. This is why I called him surly. I will write at least a partial post about this dickhead in the future, but just know this was the straw that broke the camels back for me with him. We bank totally online with a financial services company and have for over 15 years. They don’t have a bank where you could pop in and say, “newer bills only, please!”. No ATM just gives new bills, either, regardless of what this British twat tried to tell me. So this pompous wingnut didn’t know what he was talking about. You better believe I matched his energy in my reply. We spent probably the equivalent of 3-4 weeks in Asia just for the week before the main part of the trip. The least we could get was civility and patience.
I had decided to bring all of the USD I had gotten, no matter what the year. It was a good choice, because when I asked the woman working at the currency booth what the rules were as far as currency dates, she had no idea what I was talking about. By the third time of me repeating the question I decided I would just hand over everything and hope for the best. It worked. Yay!
Once out of the airport we went to the bank to get more Kenyan Shillings. I tried the ATM first and was denied. I was sure there was going to be an issue with our debit card until Sal tried and had no problem. They give you some differently named account choices and apparently I picked the wrong one. Thankfully just a user error!
We found our guide/driver to Eka Hotel quickly. The paperwork had said it was 5 minutes away, but it was more like 15 with traffic. To go from the airport to the hotel you had to go past this section where people sell almost anything you can think of in the street, and that area is always very congested and slow. The driver and guide that took us to the hotel were both very friendly and we were there before we knew it. We had to scan our bags before we could enter the hotel, then they had us sit down and have some juice while the guide took our passports and checked us in. Looking back, I wonder if it was smart to let this guy I met 15 minutes beforehand take our passports (I had copies of everything separately just in case)? I think normally I would have thought twice about it, but at that point it was like four in the morning back home so I just smiled and handed them to him.
After a bit of a wait we eventually checked into our room and didn’t leave again until the next morning. Understandably, we were too tired to explore. I did some exercising in the room, read, we ordered room service, then slept. Nothing exciting. But you know what actually was exciting? The fact that…holy cow we were finally in Kenya!
After our wonderful Botswana trip we highly recommended people go UNTIL we found out they allow elephant culling now, so we will be skipping a return until that changes. My love of elephants grew exponentially after seeing the African ellies. Seeing them in the wild is just a unique and special experience. I enjoy following elephant rescue organizations on the innerwebs, and the main two I follow are:
Elephant Nature Park: located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this organization focuses on rescuing adult elephants that have been treated poorly (logging, circuses, riding, etc.). We’ve been lucky enough to visit there twice and highly recommend it. They are doing great work and the actual park is absolutely gorgeous.
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: located in Kenya, they rescue baby elephants that have been abandoned by their herds/mothers for whatever reason. Usually it’s because of the mother being killed, or the calf falling in a well or being injured. They nurse and nurture these babies in Nairobi National Park. I somehow happened upon their Instagram several years ago and saw the pics of the babies wearing the blankets and that’s all it took for me to say, “I WANT TO GO THERE!!!”.
So once we had Botswana under our belts and realized that Yes, Africa is a wild, crazy, and distant place… but it’s wonderful and so totally doable if you do your research. Kenya was immediately added to the bucket list and in 2019 we made that dream of seeing those little babies a reality.
Kenya – November 2019
Trying to find a TA was a lot more difficult in Kenya than for Botswana. I think because there were a lot more choices, or maybe because I got super lucky with our TA from Botswana. I’m not entirely sure. I sent inquiries to probably 5 or 6 companies and then eventually chose one based on reviews and tripadvisor feedback. The company I chose was good. The individual TA was just OK (she left the company a couple of months before our trip and was a bit MIA even before that once she got our money). I think I was spoiled by the wonderful woman from Botswana who helped us with that trip, but it mostly worked out, so it’s all good.
I’m not going to go into a ton about this trip because our upcoming trip is back to Kenya and we’ll be going to a few of the same areas. But I’ll do a short recap of the stops:
Nairobi National Park – we stayed at Ololo Lodge that was right inside of the park, which is actually right in Nairobi city. It’s crazy to see these roaming wild animals, with telephone poles and buildings in the distance. One goal for going to that park, for me, was to see a rhino. We didn’t get to see any in Botswana. NOTE: these videos are under my personal account, so if you want to see them please let me know in the comments your Instagram name and I will add you once you request it 🙂
Our real primary goal was to go to the Sheldrick Nursery!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, it was so exciting to me that it deserved a gazillion exclamation marks!) Way back then (you guys – it was literally only 3 years ago – what is time?), if you were an adoptive parent they had an hour set aside each day and you could reserve a spot to come and see the babies when they come in from the park for the night. Spending time with the babies with such a small group was bliss.
You can definitely hear the excitement in my voice. I just re-watched that video 3 times. Hahaha. I just love those little babies so much. It’s not that often, it seems, that we experience happy tears, but this was one of those for me. Did you ever go on a trip and experience something so amazing that you thought, “Wow. I could go home now and can honestly say it’s been a great trip!”? Well, that’s what happened for me after spending a single hour with the babies at Sheldrick. And this was just the very beginning of the trip! Writing this out is making me SO EXCITED for the upcoming trip! Aiyeeee!
Our first destination, after Nairobi, was Tortilis Camp in Amboseli. I’ll give you one guess as to what that particular area is known for? Is there an Elephants Anonymous group I need to consider joining?
It was absolutely amazing watching 100’s of Ellies silently walk in front of us. Some people got bored and left!! For me that just didn’t compute. As I said in the video, “elephant heaven”. These gigantic creatures are amazing.
Our next stop was Lewa Downs. I think they may have renamed the camp or maybe it closed? I’m not sure and I can’t find it in a search now. Anyway, our main goal for that area was to see rhino. We did see them, but we also saw a lot of rain, rain, rain. Rain is the worst on safari because there’s nothing else to do besides sleep or play a game. Normally that’s not an issue at all and sounds like a nice relaxing day, however safaris are hundreds of dollars a day, and it’s not like you get your money back if it rains. One fun memory from the rain is the time we were out on a drive and it really started coming down hard, so we were driving like a bat out of hell trying to get back to the camp quickly, bouncing around like crazy and giggling nervously in the back seats, with the sides all zipped down so we couldn’t see what was going on and out the front windshield it was pouring rain! Thank goodness the guides have such good eyesight. That drive was a heart-pumper, but still sorta fun.
Lewa was also where we had our absolute worst experience with another traveler. We had to share a car with 4 or 5 other people, and she was one of them, and she was a trip. And not in a good way. She was alone and our first experience with her was when she was peering into our tent (all the paths are to private tents, so she was lost or nosey (99.9% sure it was nosey)), whilst I was in my underwear. EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? Our next interaction was when we were all in the vehicle with her. She apparently had no idea that when you went out on safari you couldn’t just stop your jeep whenever you wanted to go for a walk…unless you wanted to be somebody’s lunch. She also explained to us that she got car sick so didn’t want to be out long. What in the heck, lady? You are on a safari where you will be driving around for literally hours. She was a very strange character, who clearly didn’t do any research before coming. I think she was a Vegan, because I remember her telling a story about a bug that burrowed under her skin, and once she realized what it was SHE LEFT IT THERE WAITING FOR IT TO HATCH BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T WANT TO KILL IT AND SHE WAS A NUT. Lord, I just got PTSD remembering that. Even hub, who gets along with 98% of people, after that story was like… “nope”. Imagine our pure joy when we realized we would be at another camp with her in a few days time? My heart? It filled with dread. It was the first time I dreaded a new stop on a trip. I just knew I’d get stuck in a vehicle with her again, as we hadn’t paid for a private one.
Let’s lighten the mood with some rhinos!
Rhino isn’t all we saw. When we first were driving from the airstrip to camp, we came across a lion.
Guys, what is it with me and lions? Yes, they scare the bejeezus out of me, but my real questions are: 1) why are they all over the place when I don’t want to see them, and 2) why does it almost always seem to happen on my side of the vehicle? Most people would be absolutely thrilled with both of these things. Most people. Not me.
Quick aside story from Botswana: we were lucky in a couple of camps to be the only ones in our vehicle, so we could say things like, “we like other animals besides lions, so we don’t need to concentrate on those – let’s find something else!” when they asked what we wanted to see. And when I felt more comfortable and less embarrassed about my fear of them, I would ask, “If we come across lions and there is any way we can do it, can we please make it so they aren’t on my side of the vehicle, kind sir?”. Yes, I’m that big of a chicken with them and would swallow my pride to preserve my heart rate. None of this makes sense, because I just looked it up and lions kill 200 people a year while ellies kill 500! My brain just doesn’t like lions, ok? The one exception is cubs – so freakin’ cute I could watch them for a while without my pulse rocketing.
Back to the Botswana story – so we were on our way to the airstrip to transfer camps, but we had time so we had a mini safari while we were going along. Our goal, of course, was to find some ellies. We were enjoying our ride, got to watch one elephant bull for a bit, then carried on forward a ways, around a bush corner, to end up right next to sleeping lions. And I mean right next to sleeping lions. We startled them a little (but only enough to raise their heads – all cats are lazy and sleep a lot) and they definitely surprised us and the guide. He immediately stopped to watch, then also apologized to me for coming upon them. The poor man – he knew I was a fraidy cat (nyuck nyuck) and felt bad that he came across one and it was on my side of the vehicle. It was fine. I think at that point in that trip (it was the very end) I was more used to lions and less afraid of them as long as they were laying down. But he was so kind and felt so bad.
The main point of that story was showing that we run into lions often (at this camp before we even got to the camp itself), but I wonder if it’s because I don’t want to and just have bad luck with them!
Let’s talk about the next stop – House in the Wild. There was only one negative to this place – the road to get there. It was so bad that even hubby thought he’d lost his kidneys in transit. It was the worst road we’d ever been on on safari, and there have been some doozies, lemme tell ya. But it was all worth it because this camp had so much going for it.
It was right on the river so you could hear the hippos.
The grounds were beautiful.
The camp itself, the only camp on our itinerary, was within a fenced/walled area and you had to stop at the front gate for a guard to open it (who always waved to us when we went in and out). The area didn’t just include the camp. It was almost like a little subdivision: there was a little lake and some other homes, so it was safe to walk around by yourself without worrying about getting attacked or being something’s meal. One day when we were coming back to camp from a drive there literally were lions on our side of the gate, so we had to be careful going in and out so they couldn’t get in.
We were the only ones in the camp, so we got extremely good treatment!
We had an absolutely wonderful guide, Masai Mara warrior Wilson. He was our favorite from that trip. What a gem. Knew all his info and was a delight to get to know.
The food was delicious and we somehow had a butler, which was sort of funny. I had no idea the place was going to be *that* nice. But it was.
We met the owner and had nice chats with him. Very cool guy, who was also a pilot, so hubby enjoyed talking to him as well.
The highlight from that camp was this sighting:
It was our first time seeing cheetahs and it was wonderful and we were the only vehicle there! It happened to be time for our sundowners. Sundowner time is basically cocktail hour in safari talk; every day in late afternoon/early evening you get a stop somewhere safe with a sunset view, get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, and have your cocktails/drinks and a few nibbles. Wilson asked us if we wanted to have our sundowners in the vehicle while watching the cheetahs. Absolutely! How many times in your life can you say you got to have a gin and tonic with 6 cheetahs? One for me. And yes, that is a flex! I’m old – I gotta flex where I can LOL.
Our last camp, Elephant Pepper Camp, was close enough that we only had to drive between them. It was about an hour and a half to two hours away. I remember being on a dirt road and having to check the tires, so paranoid someone was going to drive by while I was doing so and get a startling surprise.
This was the camp where the crazy lady was going to be. We showed up one day before her. Every time you arrive at a new camp you meet with the camp manager, who tells you about the camp and what happens when, etc.. It’s also when you sign the waiver that states you will not sue the camp if something eats you. Not joking. Ok, maybe it doesn’t use the word ‘eat’, but *I* know exactly what they mean. And this camp was not fenced in, so it was back to armed-with-spear warriors who would take us to/from the tents when it was dark. These guys were very serious.
Anyway, we were really lucky in that we had actually already met the new camp manager here because he was at Amboseli when we were there and was getting ready to move. Having an established friendly relationship, we decided to ask him if it was planned that once the crazy lady showed up we were required to share a vehicle with her. He said yes. We told him what happened at the other camp, and beyond the crazy part we were worried because this woman only liked to be out on the drive for a short time, while we will stay out as long as we can because watching animals is fun and interesting and there’s always something new to experience. I think this was what made him decide to give us a separate vehicle and he was tipped nicely for it! Hallelujah – we ‘only’ had to see her during meals. We were the only ones at that camp and it was group meals there, so we still got our fill, believe me. The good news is one night we got a surprise private meal in a tent for our anniversary. It was so sweet!
We saw two different births while at Elephant Pepper Camp. There is some blood and uck in this next pic, but if you’re a mom you can handle it! I’m looking at you, Dawn! LOL. The happiest one we saw was this:
There was also a different birth we saw. We sat for over an hour watching a giraffe give birth. It’s a sad story, so I’m not going to share the pic, sorry. We all celebrated when it finally happened and named the baby, a combination of both of our guides names. We went back to camp on an absolute high! Then the next day when we were driving around looking for game we passed another safari vehicle and our guides (we had two great ones – the main guide and one in training) and the guides from the other vehicle had a quick conversation in Swahili. Come to find out an hour after the baby giraffe was born a pride of lions killed and ate it. The mama giraffe has a hard time defending herself *and* the baby and just couldn’t this time. And after all that work she went through to have it, too. I learned two valuable lessons from that experience: 1) don’t name anything because there’s a good chance it’s going to end up being dinner, 2) lions are assholes. Granted, I already knew #2, but this really made me dislike lions even more. I get it. It’s the circle of life and everything needs to eat. In my perfect world that would mean that the meat eaters only ate the ugly things. LOL. Welcome to my cute utopia!
We really tried at this camp to find a leopard since we hadn’t seen one all trip, but we had no luck. Of course we saw lots and lots of lions. Those fuckers. (Sorry, Joann).
Cubs are really fun to watch when they play and irritate their mothers, and it’s probably the only time I actually enjoy watching lions with a normal heart rate. Now having said that, let me tell you a little story about this particular scene…
Picture it: cubs playing with each other, then they start playing with their moms. This leads to the cubs chasing the moms, and the moms playing along with it because, a) it’s fun and, b) cubs need to learn how to chase dinner. So they are all playing with each other, chasing, etc. Well, one cub starts chasing their mom and as you can see, we were very close to where they were. This is when I am eternally thankful I was not on the side of the vehicle closest to the cute cubs because the mama started running away from the cub and directly at our vehicle. Logic tells me there surely is no chance the lioness is going to try to jump through our jeep to get to the other side. But when you see this very large lioness start running at you, logic is asleep in a tiny corner of your brain, because the rest of it is filled with a voice screaming, “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!” as she gets closer and closer. This all happened in like 3 seconds, again, because we were very close. She dodged at the last second, of course. But wow. Talk about getting your pulse going. Hubby says he wasn’t scared, just surprised. I would have peed a little if it had been on my side, not gonna lie.
We saw plenty of other things, as well. I’ll share a few pics and then the next post will be about the upcoming trip!
I know I’ve been horribly absent and never finished the Japan trip. I’m sorry! Maybe some day? I also have a New Zealand trip to include at some point if I can get my act together…
But this post is because I’m getting ready to depart for our first big trip (KENYA!) since all the madness started and I’m wondering if anyone is interested in reading about it? I’ll have to take notes daily, and then upload it when I get home as where I am going will have limited/no WiFi.
Please comment if you are interested, otherwise I will just post some pics on Instagram.
We’ve finally gotten this blog together, and just in time! Our big trip begins in a week and a half to Asia. That’s very strange to see written out as I’ve been planning this trip for so long it’s hard to believe it’s finally here.
We will be updating as WiFi allows. I’ve read bad things about Bali WiFi, so you might not get any updates until we get to our second destination. I was thinking of listing out everywhere we are going, but it might be more fun for you to discover it as we are discovering the actual destination. So first up, Bali.
Are we insane for doing this, or is it the best decision we’ve ever made? Stay tuned!