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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.

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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

A wonderful great experience

Last August Matthew and Mathilde came to Kenya for their honeymoon and we were honoured they chose us to take them to Amboseli for the special occasion.  This is what they said about their trip:

“To start our honeymoon, we spent two days in the stunning Amboseli National Park. Tracey and Francis took wonderful care of us, and booked us into an amazing room at the Amboseli Serena Lodge. The elephants were a highlight of our whole trip, and getting up early to see Kilimanjaro was well with it.

I have only good things to say about making the arrangements for the trip. Tracey always respond quickly to my emails, and we’re really pleased that we chose OTA.”

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And this year in May,Ashton and her mother Sandra travelled with Francis to the Maasai Mara, describing it as a “Great experience!”.

“We traveled with OTA for 3 days from Nairobi to Masai Mara and back and overall it was a great experience. Tracey had sent us all possible information before our trip and was very helpful and flexible with planning. Francis was extremely informative and helpful during the trip – plus the lunches that he set up under the trees overlooking the plains was just a lovely little touch. Would definitely travel with them again!”

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We are so grateful for your positive reviews and for supporting our company and Kenyan tourism!  We hope more of our friends and fans will come for a safari soon!

Bev’s Trip

Bev’s Trip

In June 2014 Bev arrived in Nairobi to start a month-long journey through Kenya and Uganda.  One of the main reasons for her visit was to meet Jared, a Ugandan university student who she had been sponsoring for the past 18 months.

Bev’s timing was perfect: the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival was to take place a couple of days after her arrival in Kenya and so that was the first destination.  Moses and Laura, friends of OTA and owners of Mara Explorers camp in Maasai Mara, were in Nairobi and were cajoled into joining the trip north.  They then invited Scott and Helene, a British couple driving their Land Rover around the continent while they figured out how to spend their retirement.  And so our small band of intrepid travellers started the two-day journey to the far north-western corner of Kenya.

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We encountered a few sceptics who were dubious about the ability of the OTA van to get to Loiyangalani and to cross the desert to Marsabit.   But Francis handled that Toyota like a true professional despite the rain, mud, steep ascents and descents, loose stones and every other obstacle imaginable.  In Maralal we had to find our police escorts to accompany us further north.  There were only a couple of times when Bev found the need to gently push the young soldier’s gun away from pointing directly at her – he was very relaxed about carrying such a weapon, but we perhaps would have been more comfortable had he been a little more attentive.

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The first morning of the Turkana Festival was fantastic.  Fourteen ethnic groups from northern Kenya gathered in Loiyangalani, each setting up a traditional house, donning traditional costumes, dancing traditional dances and singing traditional songs.  The atmosphere was fun as each tribe tried to out-sing and out-dance each other.  Unfortunately, this was the first year the Marsabit County Council was running the festival and it seems that they did not take much advice or assistance from the organisations who had been involved previously.  The program was ignored and we found ourselves doing the scheduled 8am hike up a mountain to see rock art in the heat of the midday sun.

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The second day was even less organised as we all waited for Deputy President Ruto to arrive before any activities could start.  His scheduled arrival at 11am didn’t occur until 3pm and the scheduled activities turned out to be a political rally – it was great for the locals who do not often see their MPs, but for foreign tourists it was not the most exciting “cultural event”.

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From Lake Turkana, we headed east to Marsabit where we had a slight accommodation disaster but a great food find.  While Bev, Francis and Tracey headed into town for dinner, Scott cooked at camp for the rest of the group, including our police escorts.  Pasta with vegetables – not quite what soldiers in northern Kenya are used to and they were a little nervous about this mzungu food.

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Continuing south, the next stop was Archers Post where Bev spent some time at the Umoja School.  It’s a brand new school with only 14 students, and so Bev spent the morning teaching science to the whole school.  They made rockets and learnt about air pressure.  In the afternoon Francis took Bev into Samburu National Reserve where a lion walked not five metres past the vehicle!

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We said good bye to Scott, Helene, Moses and Laura in Nairobi before travelling west to Busia.  There we stayed with Chrisphine and spent half a day at the Blue Bells School, again dragging all the students outside for a science lesson.  A lot of education throughout Africa is taught straight out of the text book, sitting in class and answering questions.  So to get away from the desks and try things out for themselves was a bit of a novelty.

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Crossing into Uganda was something of an event with Tracey nearly getting arrested thanks to the Kenyan insurance company failing to fill in the Comesa insurance certificate correctly.  We still need to express our thanks to Amaco Insurance for putting us in that predicament!  However, after a few hours we were able to clear the border and get to Jinja.  After the stress of the border crossing, it would have been wonderful to get a good night of sleep, but it was not to be.  Normally Tracey can sleep through anything, but a bagpiper wandering through the campsite at midnight managed to wake her.  Sticking her head out the tent, she asked “Really?” and the bagpiper apologised….. only to start up again!!  Is it necessary to say that we may have lost our tempers a little bit?

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The next day was much better though with a boozy lunch cruise on the Nile.  The birdlife was spectacular and the new camera has proven itself to be an excellent purchase.

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In Mbale, on our way to Sipi Falls, we finally met Jared.  Bev and Jared had been communicating extensively via email for 18 months but this was the first time they were to meet in person, so it was very exciting.  We got lunch and continued the journey to Sipi as the two chatted in the back of the vehicle.  All seemed to be fine – which was a relief!

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At Sipi Falls we met Punky the cheeky Turaco.  At first we felt incredibly privileged to have this beautiful bird come so close.  Then we realised that the only privilege being afforded to us was that we had been able to eat the majority of our breakfast before Punky came to greet us!  Having fallen out of the nest as a chick, Punky has been raised by Minette and Andy (managers of Sipi River Lodge) but has freedom to fly away now he is fully grown.  But it seems he has too much fun bullying the dogs and cat so he stays.

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Jared, Francis and Tracey hiked two of the three waterfalls that make up Sipi Falls.  The third involved ladders and steepness that we decided wasn’t necessary – we got a fine view from where we were.

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Across Uganda to Murchison Falls National Park where we enjoyed a cruise and a game drive.  The Nile thrusts itself through a 7 metre gorge, creating the most powerful waterfall in the world.  And we saw it!

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In western Uganda we spent a few nights in Fort Portal where we ate pizza and played cards.  We also did a hike in the Rwenzori Mountains up to a school.  The guides took a look at Bev and said the school was too far and we probably wouldn’t make it.  But we did and kudos to Bev for pushing her comfort zone!  We were trying to be quiet so as not to disturb the children in the classroom, but curiousity obviously got the better of them and just before finishing time, suddenly they all rushed out to greet us.  Bev got bombarded with children wanting to shake her hand and just generally be near her.

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The next day we went chimp trekking, but did not have much luck.  Our guide was a little gung-ho in the beginning and the chimps were on the move rather than sitting somewhere convenient for us to take pictures.  We saw three black blobs moving through the bush over the several hours we wandered in Kabale National Park.  Once we told the guide we were OK with not seeing any chimps, he relaxed and even cracked a smile.  He cracked more smiles as we neared the end: we asked how far we were from the road and he said “About 600 metres”.  After about 2km, we asked again and he gave the same answer.  After a few repeats of the pattern we just had to laugh and ask him “So only 600 more metres?”

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Driving south, we passed through Queen Elizabeth National Park and were quite shocked at the speed several police trucks were swinging themselves around an escarpment, especially as they passed by a school.  We stopped at Uganda Lodge, a project started by a Ugandan man and British woman where there is a school and a new clinic.  Bev taught a few more science classes and we went with some volunteers to deliver bananas to the children’s ward at the nearby hospital.  Jared is studying public health and was very keen to visit the hospital and ask lots of questions.

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Finally we reached Kampala where Bev was to spend her last week seeing Jared’s life.  We dropped Jared at his home where his aunt gave us two of the biggest avocadoes you have ever seen and a bunch of sweet bananas.  Then it was back to battle Kampala’s peak hour traffic to get to the hotel for a final dinner together.  There we met Ishmael, who was to take over driving responsibilities for Bev’s week in Kampala while we rushed back to Kenya.  From all accounts, Ishmael became as much a part of Bev and Jared’s week and we had been a part of their holiday.  Jared showed Bev plenty of universities and hospitals, he invited her to his house for a meal, his family came to town for another meal and they went to a school sports day and cheered on the Parrots…Ishmael joined the cheering as well!

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What a journey!  Bev and Tracey had travelled together for five weeks in 2009 from Beijing to Istanbul and here again was another month of new experiences, incredible memories and plenty of laughter.  Bev and Jared have cemented their mother-son relationship and Jared’s university education is assured (so long as he keeps getting good grades!).  And we all look forward to Bev’s next visit….or will it be Jared, Francis and Tracey coming to Australia to visit Bev?!

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