The message came the evening before that their flight was delayed by seven hours. Initially I felt relief at not having to be at the airport at 5am. But as I considered the impact to the whole itinerary, 5am became a much better proposition. However, there wasn’t much to do but succumb to the whim of the airlines and so at lunchtime on 31 August 2016, I met 16 photographers from Hong Kong at Nairobi’s International Airport.
Breakfast booked at Safari Park Hotel turned into lunch, which turned into lunch boxes scoffed the car by the time the group bought sim cards, we found our vehicles in the mess of a carpark currently at JKIA, and then we delayed another hour by two trucks who decided to collide head on in the middle of the bypass. That day, bypassing Nairobi was not quicker!
We arrived at Ol Pejeta finally after dark – not an ideal situation to say the least. We checked into our tents at Sweet Waters Serena Camp and enjoyed the spectacle of several black rhino at the water hole just outside the dining room as we ate dinner. OK, now the safari has started.
The next morning the group went out early for a game drive. No sooner out of the gate then they saw a couple of lions. This was the theme of the whole trip – this group had a good luck charm for animals (not for vehicles, but that’s another story!). After breakfast, we stopped at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary before departing Ol Pejeta for Lake Bogoria.
The road to Lake Bogoria was quite a bit longer than we had remembered, or perhaps it became longer the more I wished we were there already! A couple of the vehicles made it to the lake for sunset, but unfortunately one of the vehicles had a problem and was delayed. Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, I’ll be honest, is not worth the money you pay. They have the fortunate position of being the only hotel there so they can charge what they want without bothering about crazy things like customer service. Which was a shame as the guests had had a long day and probably could have used some customer care from lodge staff when notifying them about the scorpions they found in their rooms.
Watching the sun rise over a lake full of flamingos redeemed Lake Bogoria however and the group spend a few hours taking photographs. Sadly, the local children have somehow been “trained” to run into the water, scaring the flamingos so tourists can get a photo of the flock taking off. But this disturbs the birds and they don’t return for several hours after such an event, so that is the end of any photography session. It took some convincing of a few different groups of youths that our guests certainly did not want them scaring the flamingos! One kid almost got through our watch, but got shouted down by 16 angry photographers! I’m not sure how they learnt this behaviour, but I see it as a definite negative impact of tourism on the environment.
After a late breakfast, we headed to Lake Naivasha, arriving at Enashipai in time for lunch. Finally we were back on schedule after the flight delay. In the afternoon we headed out on boats to Crescent Island. We saw many many different species of water birds and the boatmen fed the Fish Eagles – another contrived tourist experience designed for good photos, but spectacular I’ll admit. On Crescent Island we enjoyed a walking safari where we saw zebras, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest.
And then the main event: the Maasai Mara! We battled the road all the way to Governors Camp, arriving at the Private Camp in time for a BBQ lunch by the river. This was to be our home for the next four nights, with no one but the hippos for neighbours. The days were spent on game drives – some of the group opted to take picnic lunches to go further afield on a full day game drive, while others chose to go for shorter game drives and come back to the camp for lunch and siesta. Six of them went hot air ballooning one morning.
Again the group were blessed with incredible wildlife sightings, with wildebeest herds crossing the river almost every day. We even saw a crocodile slyly take one down…. although to be honest I didn’t actually spot this event until I reviewed my video back in my tent that evening! We also saw two lionesses try to get a young wildebeest. But the wildebeest suddenly started fighting back, bucking it’s little horns at the lions and generally dancing around. It must have become confused or disoriented as it emerged from the long grass because it started headbutting its own reflection on one of the vehicles! The lionesses gave up on the little fighter and stalked off, probably in search of an easier meal.
We returned to Nairobi for a night, where we stayed at Nairobi Serena Hotel. In the morning it was a convenient stop to pause at a lookout for a view over the city centre before heading back out of the town to Amboseli National Park. My highlight for the afternoon game drive was watching a Goliath Heron defend its catch against a greedy Fish Eagle. The Fish Eagle got its come-uppance however when a plover took offence to it and dive-bombed the bigger bird. The Fish Eagle still eyed off the Heron’s fish dinner while ducking from the aggressive plover.
Mt Kilimanjaro revealed itself on the early morning game drive on the last day – a spectacular end to a packed ten-day safari. We returned to Nairobi for dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant before heading to the airport for a rather late flight home.
The safari was not without it’s challenges, not least of which were several mechanical issues which can always be expected on Kenya’s poorly-maintained roads unfortunately. The importance of an international guest reviewing ALL the information a tour operator sends was highlighted a few times when expectations were much higher than anyone could deliver (if you want to go to a national park please don’t expect a perfectly tarred road all the way!). However, the wildlife sightings and scenery the group encountered over their ten days was about as good as it gets and they were incredibly lucky! And we hope to welcome them again someday to experience some of Kenya’s lesser-known parks.