24 August 2012
Arrived in Nairobi after an overnight flight from London - it's wonderful to be back in Africa.
We were booked into the Hill Park Hotel which looked (and was) quite comfortable. But contrary to the advice from Exodus the hotel reception doesn't book 'optional extra' trips. So we (eventually) booked a taxi to take us to the Karen Blixen Museum. However, we got totally snarled in traffic for nearly 2 hours so, and with nearly all other options being in the same direction, we ended up at the Kenya National Museum instead - interesting and worth a visit. Interestingly, even that was hard to reach because that day was graduation day for Nairobi University and the centre of the city was full of very proud families celebrating.
We had also asked our hotel to book us a table at the (touristy but apparently excellent) Carnivore Restaurant but they took so long to do it that the restaurant was full. We therefore booked ourselves a table for 2 at the Tamarind (best seafood restaurant in town) where we had a delicious meal.
Saturday 25 August 2012
At breakfast we met Jim, Tracey and Anna Wiles from Salem near Portland, Oregon who are also on the trip - what a journey they'd had to reach Kenya. They'd been asking everyone who entered the restaurant whether they were on the Exodus trip and at last were pleased (we hoped!) that they'd found someone to go with! They were a lovely, cheerful and friendly family and we struck up a jovial (and loud) exchange that continued throughout the next 16 days (it soon got much louder when Abdul, Andy and Emma joined us!).
The truck arrived from the airport at about 8.30 am with the remainder the group most of whom looked tired after their overnighter from Heathrow (thank goodness for the extra night's sleep we'd had even though we hadn't seen the best of Nairobi). Our group leader Moses introduced himself and the rest of the rest of the excellent crew, Jackson (driver), Kosmas (cook - whom we'd already met in the hotel reception), and Joseph (general all round helper). After their quick breakfast, we loaded our stuff on the truck and into our lockers and we were away, via a nearby supermarket for supplies. Some of decided to buy some beers and finding my way to the secure liquor shop in the heart of the store, I was surprised to see Richard (one of the group) with a trolley-load of beer and wine. My immediate reaction with 4 bottles of beer and a bottle of wine was - I certainly haven't got enough! But more on that later!
We headed north towards our first overnight stop at Crayfish Camp at Lake Naivasha, first of all stopping for great views over the Rift Valley. The Lake Naivasha area is famous for growing and exporting flowers (when we got home we noticed that flowers bought at Waitrose were in fact from Lake Naivasha). It was a nice campsite with basic showers a bar and a restaurant. After lunch we visited Elsamere, the beautiful home on the shore of Lake Naivasha of Joy and George Adamson (of Born Free fame) for tea and cake although we didn't experience the Colobus monkeys who'd been put off by the heavy rain. After our first delicious evening meal cooked in very basic conditions by Kosmas and the crew and in the heavy rain, we eventually settled into our comfortable tents for the night although some of us had a disturbed night due to very loud music from somewhere nearby until about 4am.
At Lake Naivasha it had become clear that most of the optional trips mentioned in the Exodus itinerary were simply not feasible in terms of the lack of time available. Two in this area were the Crater Lake hike and cycling through Hells Gate National Park both of which had featured in a TV programme we'd seen and which had stimulated our interest in the East Africa trip. Disappointing!
Even after less than 24 hours together, Margaret and I realised we were lucky to be amongst a great bunch of people who were already enhancing our trip. Apart from the Wiles family there were Abdul & Lorna, Andy & Angela, Emma and Simon (honeymooners), Philip & Sylwia (also honeymooners from Forfar), Zoe, Siobhan, Ian and Richard. Laughter, fun and games and great experiences were guaranteed!
Sunday 26 August 2012
The next couple of days were to be real highlights. Early in the morning, we were collected by 3 Landcruisers - us sharing with the Wiles family - and were off for the 4 hour drive to the Maasai Mara. We'd left the previous day's rain behind us and through changing landscape as we travelled south we eventually came across the Maasai heartlands where we could see the locals and their villages with sightings of occasional wildlife (giraffe and zebra). We were staying at Mountain Rock Camp (permanent with en suite tents and an open air bar!!) and after lunch we went out on our first game drive. On the way we confronted by some Maasai women selling some trinkets. Negotiating price is the name of the game here and Abdul and Jim excelled. Our first attempt at buying wasn't too bad - Eric managed to buy a carved wooden statuette and a photograph of the woman for US$1!
Shortly into the drive, while watching and photographing a Smokey Eagle and herds of zebras, we were suddenly whisked away at high speed to our first (and only) leopard sighting. As always at this (early afternoon) time of day, it was languishing up a tree which gave us a good sighting but perhaps not the best photo opportunity. But this was a thrilling start to an excellent few hours during which we saw, more zebras, wildebeest, Thompson Gazelle, a long period watching two cheetahs making their way across the grassland and right between our vehicles, two male lions resting for the afternoon, cape buffaloes, mongooses, etc. Back at camp it was time for exchanging stories over a few beers (our 4 beers and bottle of wine were still securely tucked away for that emergency moment).
Monday 27 August 2012
Up at 4.20am in the pitch black morning and straight into the jeeps to take us to the place where we would take our balloon ride over the Maasai Mara - something we have both wanted to do for years. But before we even got there we had the most thrilling encounter with a pride of 5 lionesses tucking into a fresh kill in the grass right by the edge of the track - what a bonus. Watching as the burners blasted hot and red in the early morning half light gradually inflating the balloons was a truly magical sight. Soon we were floating silently above the Maasai Mara and as dawn broke the massive scale of the wildebeest migration revealed itself. All around for miles and miles were thousands and thousands of wildebeest and their faithful travelling companions, the zebras (they travel together because one has good sight and the other good hearing which helps protect each other against predators).
We were lucky enough to witness the wildebeests making a river crossing and two lionesses making their way along a river bank. After about 70 minutes, we were back down to earth - with a bit of a bump I have to say - and rounding off a great flight with a champagne breakfast. Afterwards, on the game drive to the Mara River, where we'd have our picnic lunch, we had fine sightings of two male lions, Thompson Gazelle, impala, a family of giraffes, waterbuck, cranes, our first ostrich (albeit in the distance), flocks of vultures around a kill, secretary birds, bustards, guinea fowl, warthogs and bush pigs, and of course loads more wildebeest and zebra.
We lunched at Mara Bridge and as we crossed the bridge saw loads of hippos by the river. We also saw our first crocs and a wonderful view of a monitor lizard emerging from the water. Afterwards, we set out for a walk along the river bank (with a couple of armed guides) and while some of the group headed off for a much needed toilet stop, we took photos of the (dozens of) hippos many of which were keeping cool in the river. Suddenly there was a commotion and behind our Landcruisers, a very large bull elephant emerged from the undergrowth which put the frighteners on everybody (guides and visitors alike) as they dashed to get out of its path. Later on even the sunbathing hippos seemed scared and we watched amused as they all rose as one and made a hasty beeline into the river.
We continued with the game drive where we saw more giraffe, topi, ostriches (doing courtship dances), waterbuck, more Thomson gazelle, impala, secretary bird, lilac breasted roller, hartebeest, and had a stop at the border between Kenya and Tanzania (into which we dipped the proverbial toe). Towards the end of the afternoon, we visited a Maasai village, where we had a welcome dance by the young men (warriors), a visit into their village and inside their mud huts. A disappointing aspect to an excellent day was the Maasai women's "souvenir shop" which was much too hard sell and in fact put most of us off from buying very much. We wonder if anyone has suggested to the ladies that they could make more sales with a less aggressive sales pitch?
Tues 28 August 2012
Another long drive, this time returning to Lake Naivasha to meet up once again with our truck. After saying our goodbyes to Samuel, our Landcruiser driver/guide and a quick lunch, we were off on the drive north to Lake Nakuru. At Nakuru (town) we stopped for provisions and were engulfed by street vendors trying to sell their wares. Once again in the lead was Abdul and after he'd "softened them up" Eric stepped in to a Kenya baseball cap for US$1 and Jim, who couldn't see green cheese, also had to have one for the same price! Abdul was proving to be a real character.
This being the start of the wet season, Moses alerted us to the possibility of rain in the area that could affect our overnight camping arrangement for the following night. However, that night we were staying in our ground tents at Kempu Farm, an old colonial dairy farm and horse breeding stud set in the Highlands about 6,000ft above sea level. The landscape was beautiful but not at all as you would imagine Kenya to be. In fact it was very reminiscent of the English countryside with its dairy cows, sheep and fields of grain crops. On arrival, while the crew were setting up camp, we were taken on a walk round the farm and met some of the horses and young calves. There is also a women's knitting co-operative where the local women gather to dye the wool and knit all sorts of stuff to sell. Being so high it got very cool at night, but the camping area had a great bar with a lovely big warming fire that more than made up for the drop toilets! Kempu Farm's sign is a chameleon and that evening, Emma, Slywia and others found some stirring for the night in the hedgerows.
Wednesday 29 August 2012
This was another big game day with a game drive into Lake Nakuru National Park. As suspected the heavy rain had flooded some roads and the campsite where we were due to camp that night so it would be a return to the Farm. The decision made, we drove on into the park along the lakeside where we encountered troops of baboons. In the distance we saw a small herd of black rhino (we later saw - from a great distance - the Kenya Wildlife Service fly in by helicopter and sedate one of the rhino for research).
It was a beautiful lake, rich in birdlife mostly famous for its flamingos, but unfortunately with the rains and higher water level that affected the alkalinity there were very few flamingos in evidence (some would argue that farming methods and tourism are the main causes for the reduced numbers of flamingos). But on our drive we came across loads of species of birds, pelicans, storks, and buffalo, zebra, white rhino, hippos, Rothschild giraffe, waterbuck, and many more. We lunched at Baboon Cliffs overlooking the southern end of the lake then made our way further into the park through several very flooded road sections before being able to go no further. Another road took us to the Makalia Falls, 25km from the main gate and the furthest point we would reach. As the rains came, we returned 'home' we encountered large numbers of white rhino at the roadside.
We eventually made it back to Kembu Farm where we had a hairy ride up the track with Jackson doing his best to keep the truck on the road - at one point it seemed as if the rear was going to spin off the track and we might turn over. Well done Jackson!
Thursday 30 August 2012
Our drive from Kembu farm at Lake Nakuru to the Naiberi River Campsite at Eldoret, took us over the equator (without any notice or celebration). Eldoret is at high level (approx 8,000 ft) and is famous as the area where Kenyan runners live and train, and return to buy property with their prize money. Naiberi was a night for camping but we (and some others) took the opportunity to upgrade and stay in one of the log cabins. It was a chance to do some washing and charge the equipment. It had a lovely swimming pool where a few of us lounged around and some took to the (slightly chilly but refreshing) waters. An attraction was the slide which a few of us took straight into the refreshing water. However, that didn't include Jim whose 'hippo' hips had him stuck fast. When he eventually managed to wriggle free he slid ever so slowly down until his feet were dangling the water. Obviously Kosmas was feeding us all much too well!
Once again it rained and as we were at higher altitude it got much colder. But the campsite bar had a massive central log fire which we all huddled round, some of us drinking warming Kenyan 'brandies'. Even after only a few nights in a tent it was good to snuggle up in a big warm bed.
Friday 31 August 2012
This was our last day in Kenya as we crossed the border into Uganda at Malaba. This crossing is fairly notorious for its long delays, but we managed to overtake the long lanes of lorries and export traffic (this is the main route into Uganda from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast) and were soon in no man's land. It didn't take too long to get through Ugandan immigration and shortly after at Tororo, we pulled into a roadside area for our lunch.