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Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

How wonderful is it when a family member or friend moves abroad for a job opportunity?  Suddenly, questions of where to go for the next holiday are solved and that exotic destination becomes much more affordable (as you “live like a local”).  Well I’ve been living in Kenya for over four years and no one in my family has taken advantage of the situation.  Freda, on the other hand, is currently doing a four-week residency at a hospital north of Nairobi and her mother, sister and brother-in-law made the trek from the USA last week to visit her and experience Kenya.

But it wasn’t Freda who organized the day trip, rather Novem her sister connected with us.  We planned a wonderful day of walking safaris and a boat ride – fantastic activities for perfect Kenyan weather.  However it was November, when Kenya has less than perfect weather, and it became prudent to plan a rainy day alternative.  That would also be a nice day, albeit with activities that would be bearable in a drizzle, but not a storm.  Kenya is definitely a fair weather destination!

We agreed to decide which itinerary to go with when we met on the day and inspected the clouds together.  The forecast said there was a 100% chance of rain in Naivasha, but our local guide assured us the sky was clear.  So we took the chance and headed to the lake.

First stop was Hells Gate National Park.  The group opted to walk instead of embarking on the more popular cycling adventure.  On foot or on a bike, Hells Gate has some spectacular scenery and rock formations to marvel at.  And animals of course – they saw waterbuck, elands, zebras, buffalos, a secretary bird, impala, Thomson’s gazelle and so many warthogs.

After the early start and the hike, they were definitely ready for lunch which we enjoyed at a traditional restaurant in one of the lakeside villages.  The chef had prepared a selection of dishes so they could try a bit of everything.  We had beef stew, chicken, fish from the lake (Tilapia), rice, chapattis, ugali, zikuma wiki, and kachambari.

After the feast it was time to walk again.  This time we drive around the lake to Wileli Conservancy where there are a lot more animals than in Hells Gate.  There are not many predators in the Naivasha area, and so the herbivores can graze in relative peace and humans can mingle with them….to an extent!  As well as zebras, elands and impalas (which were getting boring now) the family saw giraffes.  It is so impressive getting close to giraffes when you are on foot.  You can see exactly how tall they are, but so gentle and graceful.

As we drive to and from Wileli Conservancy, we pass through a wildlife corridor, which must be my favourite kilometre of road in the whole of East Africa.  And this day was especially amazing!  We saw so many animals as we passed by: giraffes, impalas, elands, zebras and warthogs.  And the awesome thing was they were all grazing together in a Garden of Eden-style setting.  Usually you see groups of like animals together; it is less common to see many species all together.  Not today!

The grand finale of the day was a boat trip on Lake Oloiden.  This little lake is adjacent to Lake Naivasha with a 5 metre inlet/outlet separating the two.  The fun fact about these lakes is that Naivasha is fresh while Oloiden is salty.  This is the boat ride you take if you want to see hippos, which they certainly did.

Lake Oloidon (6)

Novem, Chris, Freda and Lek, it was wonderful to spend the day with you.  And a few days later in Nairobi National Park.  We hope to see you again …. for a longer safari next time!

If you want your own Lake Naivasha experience, join OTA’s 13 Day Wildlife Wonder Safari in January 2019. Covering three of East Africa’s premier game parks, this trip circuits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.  Watching wildlife and visiting communities of different cultures, this trip shows all sides of life in East Africa!  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

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A Maasai Blessing, Skumfidus and Sparklers

A Maasai Blessing, Skumfidus and Sparklers

Skumfidus has to be one of the coolest words ever!  I learnt that it’s the Danish word for “marshmallow” when we took the Finke family on safari at the end of December.  Hanne, Jacob and their three children have recently moved to Nairobi for Jacob’s job and Hanne’s parents, sisters and their children came to visit for Christmas.  Hanne contacted us to help plan a safari that would suit 14 people over three generations and here’s their story to give you ideas for your own family holiday.

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Maasai Mara Safari

On December 28, six adults and eight children arrived at Mara Explorers Camp in time for lunch.  It had been a long drive and everyone was ready for some food and to stretch their legs.  After lunch there was the option to go for a walk with the Maasai to explore the area which some of the group did.  The rest found their tents, sleeping bags, luggage and a pool table and settled in.

The next day everyone spent all day game driving in the park.  We had prepared a scavenger hunt for the children with a lucky dip prize if they spotted everything on the list.  When they returned in the evening everyone of course got a prize and they had all written a bonus item on the bottom of the page: a cheetah!  We celebrated a successful day of wildlife watching by toasting marshmallows on the campfire.  That’s when I learnt the Danish word for marshmallow: skumfidus.

Seek shade for picnic lunch in the Maasai Mara

Seeking shade for picnic lunch in the Maasai Mara

Elephant, Maasai Mara

Elephant, Maasai Mara

Game driving in the Maasai Mara

Game driving in the Maasai Mara

Grandma and Grandpa went for a hot air balloon flight early the next morning.  Watching the sunrise over the savannah is one of the most magical experiences you can have in Kenya.

Maasai Culture

When they returned, we headed for Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp.  The wildlife in the Maasai Mara had been pretty amazing, but Maji Moto was the highlight of this trip.  On arrival our Maasai hosts gave us shukas (the blankets Maasai wear) and performed a welcome dance.  The Maasai are famous for jumping as part of their dance and of course audience participation is a must.  Afterwards, we were shown to our “huts”.  The accommodation at Maji Moto is Maasai-style mud huts, which are very comfortable and attractive.

Maasai dancing

Maasai dancing

Once we lost the heat of the sun we went for a walk to the hot springs where women from the area collect water.  Some of our guests tried carrying the jerry cans and were full of admiration for the women who carry them several kilometres every day.  Next we walked up a rocky outcrop to watch the sun set.

"Maji Moto" means "hot water" for the hot springs

“Maji Moto” means “hot water” for the hot springs

In the morning, the family went for a walk up the nearby hill and then visited the widows’ village.  When a Maasai man passes away he leaves multiple wives with no financial means.  The Maasai Cultural Camp supports the widows with some of the profits from the visitors going to the women.  When guests visit the widows’ village they can see traditional Maasai life and visit the traditional healer.  Along the way the Maasai guys made the children spears and practiced throwing them.  For the rest of the trip, the spears came everywhere… we had to break the news to the kids that they probably wouldn’t be allowed to take them on the plane home.

Visiting the Widows' Village

Visiting the Widows’ Village

Warrior training at Maji Moto

Warrior training at Maji Moto

But the afternoon was to bring the absolute highlight of the whole five days.  We hiked four kilometres to the Ol Pul Bush Camp.  When we arrived at the clearing we found large beds made from leaves and a white goat tethered near the bushes.  We knew we were to be roasting a goat for dinner, but I hadn’t really thought though the whole process.  The kids were totally into it, except for Mathilde who I hung out with while her brother came and terrorised us with the goat’s head and other gross stuff boys do!  They all helped with the skinning and the butchering and even drank the blood straight from the neck!

ceremonial goat killing

Ceremonial goat killing

Drinking the blood

Drinking the blood

It was a long day!

It was a long day!

The elder Maasai gave Grandpa a blessing for his birthday.  Traditional brew was served to the adults – it’s made from honeycomb and Francis’ drink even had a bee in it, just to prove the point I guess.  And then the Maasai and the Danes sang their respective traditional songs for New Year and danced while the meat roasted on the biggest campfire ever.  Being New Years Eve, sparklers were compulsory and Karen distributed them to everyone.  As we held them to the fire they started sparkling, as they do.  But the Maasai had never experienced sparklers and got quite a start when they started sparkling!

New Years Eve around the fire

New Years Eve around the fire

Sleeping under the stars

Sleeping under the stars

It really was a unique way to bring in the New Year and to celebrate a special birthday.  And it was wonderful for the cousins to have the opportunity to have such an experience together when they have been missing playing together since Hanne and Jacob relocated to Kenya.

Are you looking for a special safari for your family?  Whether you are living in Kenya and have relatives visiting or you are all living in the same town but looking for a chance to reconnect, we would love to help you plan a holiday to remember.  Contact us today by emailing tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

Fantastic safari for 3 generations – Masaai Mara and Masaai cultural stay (Maji Moto)

Review by Hanne Finke Ferdinand

Going on safari in Kenya for the first time as a family group of 14 aged between 5 and 72 years makes for a challenge in organising. Tracey at OTA immediately made us feel safe by listening, suggesting, thinking along with us and very quickly providing an itinerary that made it a lot easier to grasp what an adventure it would be – even within our limited budget!
We had 2 amazing days in the Maasai Mara – camping in a really nice little campground and with delicious camper-food cooked and served by Tracey. The kids enjoyed the space to play, sit by the fire and run around when we were not stuck in the car watching amazing sceneries and wild animals in the Mara.
Afterwards 2 amazing days with Maasai in Maji Moto – warrior training, community projects, widow village, herbal medicine, bonfire without paper and matches, ceremonial goat killing, singing, dancing, sleeping under the stars in the bush etc. We learned SO much about the culture and young as well as old had the best of times.
THANK you OTA for finding these pearls for us in the jungle of lodges and camps in Kenya.

We would recommend OTA for your family adventure at any time!!!

Bonfire fun and singing

Bonfire fun and singing

Confessions of a Safari Operator

Confessions of a Safari Operator

It’s true, not every safari runs perfectly – gasp!  We rely on machines (i.e. vehicles) and they are just as fallible as humans – another gasp!  In August we had a trip that could have gone a bit smoother.  And, as I take a deep breath to calm my nerves about sharing a less than perfect safari with the big wide world, I hope that it will help you with your own expectations of travelling in Africa.

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Africa is unpredictable.  We tell our guests this about 37 times in our pre-trip documentation as they prepare for their tour.  The roads are bad, the police are disruptive, weather patterns are changing, and of course it’s called a “game drive” for good reason – either you win the game or the animals do, depending on who spots who first!  But as the safari operator, we don’t actually want to believe that we can’t predict (and prevent) what will happen.  Of course contingencies are in place to minimise the impact of any unpredictability on the guest.  But it still pains us to have to use those contingencies.

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We hosted a large family group of nine in August: two parents, four sons and three wives.  They wanted to travel all together in one vehicle so we decided the best vehicle for them was a small overland truck.  The itinerary was five days – three in Maasai Mara and two in Amboseli.  It had been planned for several months and everyone was excited.

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Arriving in Kenya

The first hitch came on arrival.  The people arrived but the luggage didn’t.  Not a single piece of luggage from the whole group was in Nairobi when they landed.  I’m still not sure how that could happen, but it did.  The luggage was to arrive on the same flight the next day and so they requested a later departure to Maasai Mara.  We were to leave at 8am but by the time they returned to the airport and retrieved the luggage, it was 4pm!  And in a truck it’s a long, slow drive anywhere, let alone the bumpy road down to the Mara.

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The late departure meant that we were driving at night, which is something we never want to do, especially through the bush.  We finally arrived at midnight and the camp staff were so wonderful!  We had kept in communication with them throughout the evening and they kept dinner for us and served it very graciously at that hour.  Lesson learnt though: next time we won’t depart for Maasai Mara so late and instead leave very early the next day.

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Safari Begins

The next day our morning game drive didn’t start very early as everyone was tired from the previous night.  But Francis took them off around 8am and they spotted lions almost immediately.  A truck gives you more height and they got a great sighting of the pride in the grass.  Shortly after that though, the truck stopped.  And nothing Francis did would move it.  Again the camp staff were amazing and supplied a vehicle so our guests could continue with their game drive.  Then they supplied another emergency vehicle to tow the truck out of the park.

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Francis pulled the engine apart at the camp and discovered the piston had, as he described it, “turned into githeri” (a traditional Kenyan dish of stewed beans and maize, i.e. small round pieces in a bowl).  The trouble with engines is that, even if you regularly service them, there are things inside that you can’t see and that will fall apart with enough bumping along on these fabulous Kenyan roads.  (I recently discovered in Australia that bushes are something that are replaced every twenty years or so.  In Kenya we replace them after almost every trip down to the Maasai Mara!)

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So that was the end of the truck for this trip.  We organised a replacement vehicle to get the group back to Nairobi the following day.  The itinerary continued for the guests as planned, fortunately.  The only issue was that there was now no space for Francis and I in this back-up vehicle.  We tried to hitch a ride on the road nearest the camp, but it’s a quiet road so we didn’t have much luck.  So we got a motorbike taxi (boda boda) across the savannah (outside the park!) to the main gate of Maasai Mara where we would find more traffic.  I have to admit that the motorbike ride has been a highlight of my time in Kenya!  We have driven that route before, but on a motorbike it was something else!  Beautiful scenery, through Maasai villages, across rivers, wow it was stunning!

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Somehow we arrived in Nairobi before the guests, despite our waiting for a lift, and then getting public transport in Nairobi to their accommodation.  But they had a much more leisurely trip, stopping at the Rift Valley lookout, visiting a Maasai village and having lunch en route.  Nevertheless, they were as surprised to see us waiting for them as we were.  We made the arrangements for Amboseli the next day and called it a night.

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Amboseli

Thank goodness the second half of the trip went smoothly!  We had to split them into two smaller vehicles and they switched up their seating arrangements for the two days to spend time with everyone.  They saw hyenas, elephants, a large herd of buffalo in the swamp, saddle-billed stork, zebras, a big flock of ostriches, and of course Mt Kilimanjaro.  They also climbed up lookout hill for sweeping views over the park.

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All’s well that ends well and there really was minimal disruption to the safari for the guests.  It was just my own mortification that got in the way of me enjoying myself.  But Francis always tells me soberly that “Anything can happen” and he is right.  Perhaps we will add that to “Africa is unpredictable” in the trip preparation documents.

Please share your experiences of travel that hasn’t gone exactly to plan – help me realise that not only can anything happen, but anything can happen to anyone!

And if you would like your own well-planned but unpredictable African adventure please get in touch: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

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Darcy’s Kenyan Safari

Darcy’s Kenyan Safari

Amboseli campsite

Darcy is very lucky.  She has college friends scattered throughout the globe, making vacations with her two teenagers both affordable and exciting.  For the summer of 2015, Darcy decided to visit her friend who was on assignment in Kenya.  The friend contacted us first (expatriates are understandably protective of their visitors) and on passing the screening test we started planning with Darcy for the big adventure.

She had nine days for safari and, as with most family groups, the budget wasn’t excessive.  We agreed on a camping trip to keep the price down, with accommodation at her friend’s house for the nights in Nairobi.  The itinerary covered Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Lake Nakuru National Park, Lake Naivasha and finished with white-water rafting on the Tana River.

Wildlife Escapades in Amboseli

Amboseli was the first stop of their safari and the campsite unfortunately isn’t the best in Kenya, so it was a bit of a leap off the deep end into the Kenyan bush and camping scene.  But waking up at dawn and peering out the tent to a crystal clear view of Mt Kilimanjaro somewhat makes up for the lower comfort levels.  On their game drive they saw ostriches, crowned cranes, a Goliath heron and hippos.  But the highlight must surely be the baby elephants playing in the mud.  They jostled for position, but once lying down in the bath they were not moving for their friends!

Crowned Cranes Amboseli

Fish Eagles

Ostriches

Meanwhile, back at camp, I was fighting baboons.  The biggest baboon in Kenya (I’m sure!) came to check out the food boxes that we had thought were secure enough.  As he sauntered by on all fours, he looked to be about the size of a lion.  The secure boxes were nothing for him.  He crushed the lid of the balsamic vinegar, but must not have liked the taste.  He emptied the coffee tin, also probably not to his taste.  Finally he took off with the five-pack of 2-minute noodles – there is definitely no accounting for taste!  The Maasai who work at the camp heard my girly screams and came to assist, but a bit too late.  The baboon disappeared, but dropped noodles as he left which the Maasai rescued for me.  After that, we put the food boxes in their lockable, baboon-proof shed.  However, it seemed it wasn’t only the baboons I had to watch for; the cook’s assistant didn’t realise some food was ours and nearly got my cabbage (I caught it just in time!).

Safari in Maasai Mara

We returned to Nairobi for the night before heading to the Maasai Mara.  The road was especially rough down to the Mara and poor Darcy was a little green when we finally arrived.  In the afternoon they went for a walk up to the escarpment with the local Maasai for a stunning view over the game reserve.

Buffalo

Darcy, Faye and Kelton spent a full day in the park with Francis, enjoying a picnic lunch in the savannah.  They saw elephants, hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, and the most amazing leopard sighting ever.  It was sitting up in a sausage tree, but as they watched, the leopard descended the tree giving a clear view of this magnificent and most elusive creature.  They had already seen another leopard earlier in the morning sitting in a leafy tree, so they were already having an above average game drive, but this was a big cherry on top.

Darcy Faye Kelton Maasai Mara

Darcy Faye Kelton picnic Maasai Mara

Giraffe Maasai Mara

Leopard Maasai Mara

 

Kenya’s Rift Valley Lakes

Next stop was Kembu Camp for pizza night!  There was a large group from one of Nairobi’s international schools there as well, but Faye and Kelton were a bit shy to interact, preferring to stay cosy around the open fire with Darcy, Francis and I (which I can definitely understand, as it gets pretty cold there).  The pizza oven and open fire are not the only reasons we were at Kembu though; it is also convenient for reaching Lake Nakuru National Park, which we did the next day.  Buffalos wallowing in the mud, elands covered in oxpeckers (birds who feast on the ticks that dwell in the fur of most of Africa’s wildlife), giraffes, baboons and zebras were the highlights of the day.  They got all the way down to Makalia Falls at the south end of the park.

Faye Darcy Kelton Makalia Falls

That evening we arrived at Fish Eagle Inn on the shore of Lake Naivasha in the pouring rain.  The appeal of pitching tents in the downpour was not high and so they opted to upgrade to a room.  Cycling in Hells Gate National Park had been earmarked in the planning stages as something they definitely wanted to do and so that was the plan for the following day.  It is certainly a highlight of many a Kenyan safari!

The bicycles were selected and they rode the 2km on to the gate while we drove ahead to sort out the entry fees.  Unfortunately, when they got to the gate, Kelton was very unwell and continuing for a full day’s cycle was not going to be pleasant.  So we changed it to a drive in the park with a few stops along the way.  First we stopped at Fisher’s Tower, where Faye and Darcy tried their hand at rock-climbing.  Darcy made it all the way to the top!  We continued all the way to the gorge where the family went for a walk with the ranger through the gorge.  Francis and I found a checkers board with plastic bottle lids for checkers on one of the picnic tables.  Luckily Kelton returned in time to save me from embarrassment as he took my place against Francis.

Faye Hells Gate

The white-water rafting was to be the last activity before returning to Nairobi.  But it wasn’t to be.  Kelton wasn’t getting any better and rafting was the last thing he felt he could do.  It was a shame because it had been him that had been the most excited about it in the lead up.  So instead we went back early so he could get to a doctor.  They still had a trip to the coast organised and it was generally agreed that it would be way better for him to be able to enjoy his time there, rather than jeopardise it further with a rafting excursion.

All ended well and they had a wonderful time at the beach!  It was great travelling with Darcy, Faye and Kelton and we do hope they will return someday.

If you would like to plan the ultimate family safari in Kenya, please contact OTA via email: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  Or visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com.

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Walking safari at Lake Naivasha

Waaaaaay back in May 2014, I sat in Sheila’s lounge room with Sheila and Christine to talk about an African adventure.  They had travelled to South America a few years before and wanted to make the most of their Yellow Fever vaccination, so Africa was the logical next step for them.

Of course they had to come to Kenya, as that is where our little tour company is based and it’s the place for the best safaris in the world (I’m not biased!).  They also wanted to visit Botswana, being fans of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Victoria Falls.  They had three weeks to experience the best of the African continent and so we set to work planning an itinerary.

There were a couple of challenges.  First of all, Kenya has so much and we wanted to show them all of it, but we had to narrow the safari down to just a week.  Secondly was finding an affordable way to travel in Botswana.  Botswana caters to the high-end luxury traveller, and lodges are typically US$400+ per person per night.  For your average retired teacher, this is not affordable.  The alternative is a mobile camping safari and our intrepid ladies agreed.

Eighteen months later Sheila and Christine landed at Nairobi’s airport, looking quite fresh after the 22-hour flight.  We headed straight to the accommodation for a quick shower and then went to the mall to take care of some essentials – changing money, buying things that had been left behind and having a cold Kenyan beer as we discussed the week ahead.

Safari Begins

Our first destination was the Maasai Mara.  The wildebeest migration was in town, and Sheila and Christine could be forgiven for never wanting to see another wildebeest ever again!  But do you think we could find an elephant?  The night before, a herd of about 15 elephants had crashed through our camp, but there was not a trace of them or their friends until 5pm when I glimpsed a big grey face in the bushes.  Elephants do not like all the noise of millions of wildebeest and tend to disappear until the rowdy tourists have gone back to Serengeti (kind of like Philip Island residents on Grand Prix weekend!).  On our ellie hunt though, we were lucky to find five lions – two males and three females – supervising a herd of buffalo.  No one else had found this group, and so we got to enjoy the sighting all alone.  Magical!

Lionesses survey a herd of buffalo in the Maasai Mara

Lake Naivasha

From the Maasai Mara we went to Lake Naivasha for two nights.  The next day started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy where we got excited spotting many different birds (see the list below) and getting close to some giraffes who were necking.  Necking isn’t as romantic as it sounds; it’s actually the term for how giraffes fight.  From a distance they look quite graceful and almost gentle as they swing their necks against one another.  But once we got close, we could hear the thumps as they crashed together.  They can cause serious injury or even death as they fight for supremacy of the herd.

We had a very lovely lunch at Sanctuary Farm and then went for a boat ride around part of the shore of Lake Naivasha.  We requested our captain keep us a safe distance from the hippos, and despite his respect of the request, I was still very nervous – I don’t think I should do any more boat trips in hippo-infested waters as I suspect my nerves make everyone else a bit edgier.  But they are really big!

Cormorants in Lake Naivasha

Samburu Safari

Our final destination in Kenya was Samburu.  This is where Sheila and Christine got a bit of a taste of what was to come on their camping safari in Botswana, as we stayed in tents inside the park.  Camping in the park is such a great experience, even if you think you aren’t the camping type, it’s worth trying just once.  Samburu gets really hot in the middle of the day and all the animals retire to the shade, making game driving at that time a little boring.  Fortunately there’s a lodge near the campsite with a pool that one can use for a small fee.  While Sheila and Christine cooled off, Francis and I ducked out to Umoja Primary School.  Last year, Bev had spent a day teaching at the school and later sent some money that her students in Australia had raised.  We used that money to buy hoops and footballs for the school and at last we had the opportunity to deliver them.  The students remembered Bev and I heard murmurs about rockets (one of the activities Bev had done with them) as they gathered to receive the gifts.

Delivering a donation to Umoja School

As we headed back to Nairobi, there was one last stop to make: Kiota Children’s Home.  At our fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this year, Sheila had signed up to sponsor a Kenyan student.  Being in Kenya now, it only made sense for her and the student to meet.  Ndunda is a very shy young boy, but he graciously received the stationery that Sheila and Christine had brought for all the children at the home.  He then showed us around the home, pointing out the place where he kept his school bag and shoes, his homework, his bed, and common areas where they hang out.  We also met Samuel and Simon who are also sponsored by people who came to our Melbourne event.

Sheila and Christine hand over donations for Kiota Children's Home

I can’t write too much more about Sheila and Christine’s adventure, as they flew out of Nairobi the next day and left us behind.  They went to the mighty Victoria Falls for a few nights before heading to Botswana.  They had a night in the Chobe Safari Lodge where they did a boat cruise on the Chobe River.  That’s an amazing cruise as the animals come down to the water to drink in the evening.  Chobe has the highest population of elephants in Africa – it certainly must have made up for the ellies’ absence in Maasai Mara!

Seeing Sheila and Christine off a the airport

Then they joined their camping safari, travelling to Savute, Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta.  It was surely an adventure, and I hope that they have written about it somewhere so we can hear all about it!

What we saw

Birds

  • Common Ostrich
  • Great White Pelican
  • Great Cormorant
  • Long-tailed Cormorant
  • Cattle Egret
  • Common Squacco Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Purple Heron
  • Black-headed Heron
  • Hamerkop
  • Marabou Stork
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Sacred Ibis
  • Hadada Ibis
  • African Spoonbill
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Yellow-billed Duck
  • Secretary Bird
  • Lappet-faced Vulture
  • Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • African White-backed Vulture
  • African Goshawk
  • Augur Buzzard
  • Long-crested Eagle
  • Tawny Eagle
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Francolin
  • Yellow-necked Spurfowl
  • Vulturine Guineafowl
  • Helmeted Guineafowl
  • Black Crake
  • Red-knobbed Coot
  • African Jacana
  • Blacksmith Plover
  • Crowned Plover
  • Sandpiper
  • Gull
  • Yellow-throated Sandgrouse
  • Ring-necked Dove
  • Go-away-bird
  • Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl
  • Swift
  • Grey-headed Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Lilac-breasted Roller
  • Green Wood-hoopoe
  • Ground Hornbill
  • Red-billed Hornbill
  • Grey Woodpecker
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Common Bulbul
  • Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Long-tailed Fiscal
  • Brown-crowned Tchagra
  • Cuckoo-shrike
  • Common Drongo
  • Black-headed Oriole
  • Pied Crow
  • Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling
  • Superb Starling
  • Wattled Starling
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Rufous Sparrow
  • White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
  • Sparrow Weaver
  • African Golden Weaver
  • Baglafecht (Reichenow’s) Weaver
  • Red-headed Weaver
Vuturine Guineafowl

Vuturine Guineafowl

Animals

  • Cape buffalo
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Spotted hyena
  • Burchell’s Zebra
  • Grevy’s Zebra
  • Maasai giraffe
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Eland
  • Impala
  • Thomson’s gazelle
  • Grant’s gazelle
  • Wildebeest
  • Hartebeest
  • Topi
  • Waterbuck
  • Bushbuck
  • Beisa’s Oryx
  • Gerenuk
  • Dikdik
  • Rock hyrax
  • Warthog
  • Olive baboon
  • Vervet monkey
  • Hippopotamous
  • Crocodile
  • Skink
Lioness in Samburu

Lioness in Samburu

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

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I love starting trips on weekends.  The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a jam.  Emily and Lee conveniently started their journey to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, and we found ourselves bright and early at Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen.  It was a reasonably unremarkable drive, therefore, to Amboseli.  The only potential for disaster arose when I inserted my foot firmly in my mouth with a cynical remark about the aid industry…. only after the words were out did I remember that Lee works as a fund raiser for an NGO.

But their humour remained intact, even after the 22 kilometres of corrugated road on the last stretch to the park (it’s nothing compared to the road to the Maasai Mara, but not having that for comparison, 22 kilometres can also be tiring).

Our arrival at Kibo Camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me.  First Charles, the supervisor, cracked a big smile in welcome as he saw us emerging from the van.  Francis had only been there a few days before, but I was pleasantly surprised they remembered me after several months.

We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent.  The tents are floored with stone and covered with cow-hide rugs.  The four-poster bed in the middle of the room is surrounded with a mosquito net which is set up during the evening turn-down service while we have dinner.  At the rear of the tent is the en suite with flush toilet and hot shower.  The water is solar heated – part of Kibo’s eco-friendly efforts.  No time to linger in our luxurious tent though; it was lunchtime.

As Francis and I entered the dining room our old friend Gona was preparing our table.  When he turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long-lost pal.  “Mama and Papa Overland” he cried and shook both our hands energetically.  Nothing is too much trouble for Gona – as he says “my name is Gona and I’m gonna serve you.”  Gona had christened us Mama and Papa Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013.  We were quietly tickled by the name and are glad it’s stuck.

Safari in Amboseli

Emily and Lee had their first game drive that afternoon.  They were lucky with an early lion sighting!  Even better, it was a lion couple on their honeymoon.  Of course they also saw plenty of elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.

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Emerging from our tents at sunrise the next morning, we were greeted with a perfect view of a naked Kilimanjaro.  Usually covered in cloud during the day, early morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views.  Francis whisked Emily and Lee off to the park for an early morning game drive.  Over breakfast, Lee marvelled at the incredible variety of birds they had seen during the drive, many of which they had never heard of, including the Secretary Bird.  We all had a giggle at Francis’ imitation of the Secretary Bird as it hunts.  Amboseli National Park comprises a large swamp in the middle of a massive arid area and thus attracts many water birds including water rail, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers and plovers.

After breakfast we bid our farewells to the awesome staff and started back to Mombasa Road.  The highway between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is only single lane in each direction with some trucks hurtling along at hair-raising speeds while others barely make it up the gentlest of inclines.  Side mirrors are a needless accessory it seems and rarely used.  It’s not my favourite road to travel on and so I like to either turn around to talk to people behind or pretend to sleep – anything to not look at my impending death over and over!  Francis is masterful though and navigates the other drivers’ craziness with cool calm.

Elephants and Leopards

Our destination was Taita Hills and Lumo Sanctuary.  It took us about six hours from Kibo to Taita Hills but it was worth it as Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge came into view.  A herd of elephants were wending their way through the lodge’s stilts as they made their way to the waterhole.  I had tried to describe how the waterhole is at the reception area, but it’s difficult to understand that elephants can be just a few metres away as you check in, until you get there!

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Once you are there it is even more difficult to tear yourself away from the incredible proximity you have with these beautiful creatures.  However, after enjoying sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning we felt it a fitting end to have a drink watching the sun set over the mountain.  The only trouble was that we got distracted by a couple of lionesses feasting on a zebra on our way.  By the time we got to Lion’s Bluff, the sun had all but disappeared.  The thing about being so close to the equator is that sunset happens in about five minutes – not the two-hour romance we get in Melbourne!  But Lion’s Bluff still has one of the best balcony bars in Africa, so we indulged in a glass of wine anyway.

There’s a rocky outcrop in Lumo Sanctuary where on one of my earliest visits another driver-guide told us he had just seen a leopard.  We scoured the outcrop, fully circling it, looking for the leopard with no luck.  On every subsequent visit I search that outcrop desperately for the leopard.  I look among the tree branches and in the cracks and crevasses of the rocks, always suspecting the leopard will be in the most hard to see place and really wanting to be the first clever cat to find it.

So the third day of the safari saw us on an early morning game drive close to this outcrop with me desperately craning my head to find the elusive leopard.  As I carefully searched the branches of a particularly large sausage tree (a leopard’s favourite), everyone started talking about something else remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed stuck under the very same tree.  Had I really missed that?!  He was perched somewhat tenuously on a ledge and munching on the leaves of the sausage tree.  As he backed up, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of how thick his skin must be.  After watching him for some time and satisfying ourselves that he wasn’t really stuck, we continued our circuit of Leopard Rock.

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I returned to looking in all the hidey holes when a minute later Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said “Leopard!”  And there, lounging in plain view on a Pride Rock-style arrangement was indeed a leopard!  What luck!  And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting.  After several minutes however another van approached, but too fast and too noisily.  The leopard jumped lightly off his rock lounge and disappeared into the grass.  (Note: suggest to your driver-guides they drive slowly in the parks, especially as they approach another vehicle that is obviously looking at something, so you don’t miss out on exciting sightings.)

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

We were happy with our sighting anyway, and headed back to the lodge for breakfast.  This morning the zebras were having their turn at the waterhole, but not before having a bit of a chase around with the elephants.

Kenya’s coast

Then it was time to drive to Mombasa.  To avoid driving through the city centre, we turned off at Mariakani and drove through rolling green hills.  It became a rough road but the scenery was quite beautiful (aside from the large rubbish dump in one part).  Finally we got to Nyali where Francis and I took our bearings from the dentist’s office he had visited in 2013.  As he had been under the influence of strong painkillers at that time, I suggested he trust my directions…and eventually we got there.

We had such a great time with Emily and Lee and we can’t wait to welcome them in 8-10 years when they bring their baby daughter for safari!

For us, we found a campsite and sat down to a cold Tusker and a chat about how long we were going to enjoy our beach holiday.  The silver lining of Kenya’s tourism decline is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari…. lucky us??!!

After a lazy morning, we headed 11 kilometres north to Jumba la Mtwana, the ruins of an Arab trading port.  It was very interesting; the guide taught us a lot.  And it was so beautiful – ruins of stone and coral buildings amongst trees of so many shades of green.  The port was active between 1350 and 1450 and has three mosques and many houses including a hotel of sorts for the traders who sailed in.

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque.  This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach...although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque. This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach…although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

In the morning before leaving for Nairobi, we visited Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre.  Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a craft workshop employing people with disabilities.  They design and produce jewellery, bags, clothes, wood carvings and many other crafts.  It’s a fantastic project employing around 100 staff (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis).  Accommodation is provided for the staff if they wish and there is a school and day-care centre for their children.  It is well worth a visit if you stay on the north coast.

If you would like to experience a safari like Emily and Lee, please contact us today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to start planning your Kenyan holiday.

Emily and Lee collage

The McDonnell Family on Safari

The McDonnell Family on Safari

It was Ashley who first wrote to me about a safari for her family.  I assumed she was the mother of this Irish family of six, but it turned out she was the 20-year-old daughter, older sister to her three brothers, and super-organised in getting the family’s Christmas plans into shape.  She was clear on time frame, travel goals and budget (most importantly) and with that information we were able to put together a holiday that fitted their needs.

It seemed to be going so well in the lead up and we were very excited to be spending Christmas with a big family ourselves, albeit cooking the dinner while they were off enjoying themselves.  But that’s our job and we love it!  So it was a bit of a surprise to meet only four rather than six people at the airport on Christmas Eve.  The youngest, Ryan, had a passport that was to expire in five months rather than the recommended six.  Although Ryan was only nine years old, the check-in agents in Ireland had suggested that it would be better he go and find another passport because the Kenyan authorities would not have many qualms in detaining a child (I still don’t really want to believe it to be true, but better not to test the theory).  So Ryan and his father set off to the passport office to try and get a new passport (on Christmas Eve!) and be on the flight the next day, Christmas.

Meanwhile the rest of the family landed in Nairobi and settled into their campsite.  We discussed the options of staying an extra night in Nairobi versus continuing with the trip and having the other two catch us up.  They decided to do the latter – we weren’t travelling too far the next day and it was very easy to organise another vehicle to meet them at the airport and bring them to Lake Naivasha.

1. Ready for safari!

We didn’t expect Ryan and Fergus to arrive much before dinner, so the rest of the family went for a bicycle ride around to Lake Oloiden, a soda lake adjacent to fresh water Lake Naivasha.  There is an incredible array of birdlife and several hippos residing in the lake and a boat ride is the perfect way to enjoy it.  But as if that wasn’t enough, you will never guess what else they saw…… a leopard!!!  Yes!  It was climbing in a tree close to the shore.  It took me five months in Africa before I spotted my first leopard and here were the McDonnell family just 24 hours on the continent being spoilt with the most awesome sighting!  Just don’t tell Ryan and Fergus, who were still battling their way through immigration.

The family reunited in time for Christmas dinner (roast pork, vegetable skewers, rice, brussell sprouts, carrot mash and Christmas cake) during which we were regaled with the tale of getting a new passport during the Christmas holidays.  It all worked out and here everyone was.

2. Christmas Dinner

Boxing Day was much more relaxed and the family could settle into holiday mode properly now.  We spent the day at Lake Naivasha and started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy.  There aren’t many predators in the Naivasha area (never mind the leopard from the previous day!) so it is one of the few places in Kenya where you can enjoy walking and cycling safaris.  I think jet lag and the general stress of the passport problem caught up with everyone in the afternoon because they all disappeared.  Everyone except Ryan that is, who had hired a bike and was zooming around the campsite at top speeds startling the Marabou Storks.  Rain threatened and Francis diligently ensured all the tents were closed up, thinking the family were in the bar.  Half an hour later a red-faced Chris emerged from one of the tents looking like he’d just come from the sauna.  That’s when we realised we had shut everyone inside their tents as they slept. At least they were dry!

The following day Francis took the McDonnells to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  Kenya’s premier tourist destination, the Maasai Mara is home to the famous Wildebeest Migration and has the highest population density of lions anywhere in the world.  It wasn’t the right time of year for the migration, but animals they spotted included lion, elephants, impala, topi, and a giraffe who wandered in at lunch as the family picnicked under an acacia tree.

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3. Who's hiding in the bush

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4. Giraffe crashing the picnic

At the Mara River there is a good opportunity to stretch legs as spending a full day game driving can get tiring.  There are rangers at the river who will escort you for a short walk to see crocs and hippos in the river….. Just don’t get too close!

Back to Nairobi to explore properly and rest a bit before beginning the big drive to the coast.  The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is one of Nairobi’s “must sees” and that is where we could be found at feeding time the next day.  The baby elephants are too cute, but their stories are sad.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does excellent work looking after the young orphans and eventually rehabilitating them back into the wild.  They are bottle-fed a special milk formula at 11am everyday when visitors are allowed to come, meet them and pat them if you are lucky.

5. Setting up camp

Ashley and Grace McDonnell

Chris, Ryan & David McDonnell

After the elephant orphanage we stopped at the mall for lunch (the boys wanted a KFC fix) before heading to the Kibera slum.  Amani Kibera is a community-based organisation that works with young people through sport, education and economic empowerment to give them opportunities for a better future.  The McDonnells had bought several non-fiction books at the mall to donate to Amani Kibera’s library including an atlas.  Students of all ages study at the library after school and at weekends and the books are a key resource to assist them with their studies.

Ashley & Grace McDonnell @ Galleria

To cap off the day, the McDonnells opted to have dinner with a Kenyan family.  We went to the home of Barack and Elizabeth where we were greeted with far too much food!  Barack’s son Collins was around the same age as Ryan and we barely saw the two boys for the rest of the evening.  They continue to be pen pals.  Elizabeth had cooked up a storm of traditional Kenyan dishes including mukimo, matoke, rice, tilapia, cabbage, sikuma wiki, githeri, chapatti, beef stew, sweet potato and ugali.

6. Dinner with a Kenyan family

7. At Amani Kibera's library

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The next day was a long drive to the village of Itinyi where we stayed at Mama Mercy’s Ndoto Bandas.  Mama Mercy works in her community assisting girls to get an education and be safe in the process.  She is helping to establish a boarding house at the girls’ secondary school.  Girls often get into trouble with men, sometimes by choice and sometimes not by choice, as they travel between school and home.  Eliminating this travel by having the girls accommodated at the school is vital to the success of the girl into her future.  Mama Mercy also personally sponsors five girls, paying their fees and hosting them in her home.  She is truly a woman who practices what she preaches.  The money she raises by hosting guests in her bandas (a Kenyan word for a small hut) helps her in her sponsorship. She also assists women in the village by selling their handicrafts in a small shop co-located with the bandas.

New Years Eve at Mama Mercy’s was a bit of a quiet affair; after the long drive everyone was a bit tired to stay up to see 2015 click in.  Most of us made it though.

Finally we got to the coast.  In order to avoid the horrendous traffic through the middle of Mombasa we took a detour through the Shimba Hills – it was a longer drive distance-wise, but beautifully scenic.  We pitched our tents at a campsite right on the beach; a perfect conclusion to this safari.  Everyone disappeared to the water almost immediately.

8. Camping on the beach

After a morning of snorkelling, Chris and David were ready for something more adventurous.  So we headed to Amani Tiwi Beach Resort for lunch and whatever activities could be found there.  Chris and David found diving, Ashley and Ryan found beach volleyball, Fergus found wi-fi and Grace found a glass of wine.  Something for everybody!

10. Breakfast at Twiga Camp

9. Playing beach volleyball

And then it was the end of the trip.  The tents were pulled down for the last time and we headed to the airport.  It was such a fun ten days for all of us – it’s why I love my job, it doesn’t really feel like work when we get to travel with such a fun family!

Chris McDonnell

Ashley’s review on Trip Advisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g294207-d3561827-r249596251-Overland_Travel_Adventures_Private_Day_Tours-Nairobi.html#REVIEWS) and the video she made (https://vimeo.com/120882066) also tell the story.

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