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"Africa? Are you mad? With all that Ebola? What? KENYA?!? Completely mad? With all that terrorism I hear about on the news? Haven´t they even issued travel warnings?"

Normally when I tell friends and familiy about my safari plans they are pretty positive. Though they think I must have seen enough animals by now and are not really getting it, it´s mostly "Wow, safari! Really cool, must do that sometime." (Sometime=never in a million years)

Not this year. All my "Africa is huge, Spain and France are closer to the Ebola countries than Kenya" and "Really, trust me, I´ve researched this, it´s totally safe where we are going" did little to convince anybody that I was not out of my mind.

A minor nuisance for me. A heavy blow for Kenya´s tourism, and therefore devastating for the country.

Bloody shame. What a fantastic country it is, and how much it has to offer. I always felt completely safe and people were friendly and welcoming everywhere. On this 16-day-trip I was totally blown away by the many facets one can experience in Kenya, and how different all those magnificent places are I was lucky enough to visit.

The unspoilt wilderness of Meru:

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Samburu with its unique Northern animals:

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The Aberdares, the surprise highlight of this safari for me. Wow, did I love this place.

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Lake Nakuru, good for rhinos and - yes! - still flamingos.

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No need to say anything about the Mara. A gnu´s world there.

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And of course THE place to see all the big cats.

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And some smaller ones. :)

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You know what they say. Relax and go to Kenya! I will again, that´s for sure. :)

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Looks fantastic! Is this a teaser with more to come?

Love the gerenuk and little cheetah. You raise good points about the sad effect (aside from the obvious and catastrophic loss of life) of the ebola outbreak.

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Really good, diverse itinerary and it looks like you saw plenty. Ebola worriers... Yes, had lots of them too. Looks like all the cute animals are in the jaws of something. Oops. I am really looking forward to hearing about this.

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Wow! your intro and the pictures are so enticing. it sounds like a superb trip. can't wait to hear all about it too.

 

yes, had my fair share of "ebola worriers" and everyone telling me "don't bring it back home".

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Lovely introduction, indeed ......... This is going to be another stellar report from you. Can hardly wait!!!! :)

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Thanks, @@madaboutcheetah , @@Kitsafari , @@pault and @@Atravelynn .

 

@@Marks

 

And to you of course. Yes, there´s more to come. I will find out as I proceed if this report will turn out to be a day-by-day account or something a bit shorter, don´t know yet. :)

Edited by michael-ibk
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Fabulous Michael and yes, Kenya has so much to offer. Lovely selection of introductory photos although I find the Meru ones particularly special. I also love the Aberdares, so wonderful. I must go back.

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I will find out as I proceed if this report will turn out to be a day-by-day account or something a bit shorter, don´t know yet. :)

 

a day-by-day account will be excellent. feed us the details please. I for one :rolleyes: want to go along with you on your game drives.

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@@michael-ibk, what a stellar intro! Love all your shots of the various areas of Kenya. So many places to go...and it seems you managed them all!

 

And yes, we'd all love more! :D

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Pictures are indeed an excellent introduction.

 

We are just waiting for the "more to come".

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Great start @@michael-ibk.

 

Lovely gerenuk photo, with a baby lying at the side?

 

Good to see some Aberdare photos, and looking forward to hearing more about this park.

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Thank you very much, @@graceland , @@twaffle , @TonyQ , @@Bush dog and @@Treepol

 

The itinerary (from Sept 5th to Sept 22nd) was

2 nts Meru National Park, Murera Springs Eco Lodge
3 nts Samburu National Reserve, Samburu Game Lodge
2 nts Aberdares National Park, Sandai Farm
2 nts Lake Nakuru National Park, Flamingo Hill Camp
6 nts Maasai Mara National Reserve, Mara Bush Camp

We booked this trip with Sunworld Safaris (http://www.sunworld-safari.com/en) and were very happy with all the arrangements. It´s a Kenyan-based company but owned and run by an Austrian family . A second office is in Vienna (to cater to the German-speaking market) which made communications by phone easy (and cheap).

I had a pretty clear picture of what I wanted (how many nights in which parks) and was aiming for more budget-friendly accomodations. The most important factor for me was unlimited mileage and time out in the parks with the jeep. That´s exactly what we got, their advice was very helpful, and the price reasonable enough for a 16-day 2-person jeep safari. The trip was perfectly organized, so I would gladly use Sunworld again and do recommend them.

We used Turkish Airlines for the flights (Salzburg – Istanbul – Nairobi) and were pleasantly surprised. Not only ridiculously cheap (less than EUR 550,-- per person), but quite comfortable, very friendly and professional flight attendants, user-friendly entertainment-system and surprisingly good food. (Though it was pretty weird of them serving breakfast(!) at one o´clock in the morning after leaving the airport.) Istanbul Airport is very modern and incredibly busy but there are a few decent restaurants and it´s fun watching people there with so many different cultures and ways of life coming together.

Still, it is an economy long-distance flight, so it would be somewhat of an exxageration to claim that I was wide awake and well-rested when we arrived in Nairobi at 07:30 in the morning. Immigration procedures didn´t take too long, we waited about 30 minutes to get our visa. My usual will-our-bags-come-out-fear kicked in then but all was fine, and after exchanging some Euro into Shillings we were all set and ready to start our safari at about 09:00 o´clock.
It was very cold and grey when we left the airport. Great, our summer hadn´t really deserved that name at all this year and now Africa didn´t cooperate with sun neither!

Did not matter, though – I was back in AFRICA! And that just felt good. :D

James, our guide and driver for the next two weeks was waiting for us, and quickly we were on our way out of Nairobi. Just two minutes after leaving the airport we saw two giraffes near the road. Must have gotten out of Nairobi National Park.

Not a sign of things to come on the way. I knew that Kenyan wildlife is very much in trouble outside of protected zones, and I knew that it is a densely populated country, very different from Botswana (where I was this March). Still, in my naiveté I had somehow expected we would see lots of animals „on the road“ between parks, I had pictured zebras crossing, grazing gazelles and maybe even the odd elephant or two.

Nothing like that. For the next seven hours we saw lots of plantages, grainfields, acres, pinewood and gumtree monocultures, greenhouses and farmland. Goats, Sheep, Donkeys and Cows. And no wildlife at all. While I enjoyed the landscape, especially the lush vegetation between the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya, I found this a bit sad. This, and the amount of plastic waste which is everywhere near the roads.

Studying the map I had expected that we would drive up to Meru east of Mt. Kenya – certainly the shortest route as the crow flies. But not as Kenyan roads allow, we used the A2 up north, passed the equator at Nanyuki and then Lewa before we drove East (and South again) to Meru. Till Meru (the town) the road was in almost perfect state, from there the good old African massage made a big comeback. As did something a bit more welcome – the sun, albeit only for a little while!

It was a long drive, we arrived at the Lodge only at about 15:45 and had only made a short 10 minute-stop on the way. Lodge looked good, and we enjoyed a very quick lunch (some soup and fruit). We ditched the main course because we wanted to get into the park as soon as possible. (Felt a bit guilty about that afterwards when we found out we were the only guests in camp and the cook had prepared the meal only for us.).
It´s less than five minutes from the Lodge to the Murera gate, and at 16:15 we were finally there:

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Some Hornbills around, a Lilac-Breasted Roller, even some Orange-Bellied Parrots, so I even enjoyed the (short) waiting part for opening the gates.

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Meru is as uncrowded as it gets in a Kenyan National park, we saw one other vehicle this afternoon and would meet only two others the next day.

Which also means animal behave very naturally here - they are skittish and run away most of the time they are approached too closely.

Not all of them, however, these buffaloes near the gate were very relaxed:

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Other than Buffaloes we saw a few Impalas, Waterbuck and Grant´s Gazelles. Helmeted Guineafowl, Superb Starlings and Yellow-Billed Hornbills, Yellow-Necked Spurfowl were among the more interesting birds.

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A nice sighting of two elephants which should remain our only one of the pachyderms in Meru.

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Zebras (the Grant´s subspecies here in Kenya) were reasonably common. The more interesting Grevy´s Zebra, however, remained elusive. From what I remember from previous trip reports covering Meru they are not doing all that well here.

The (all too short) afternoon drive ended with a sighting of some Beisa Oryx pretta far away.

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After a very nice dinner in camp at the bonfire we soon went to sleep, worn to the bone from the sleep-light overnight flight and the long day. Tired but excited - 15 days in Africa were waiting for us!

Edited by michael-ibk
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Murera Springs Eco Lodge

Undoubtedly the Nr. 1 accomodations you are recommended when going to Meru is Elsa´s Kopje. Offbeat Meru and Rhino River Camp are good options as well.

However, with budget still strained a bit from Botswana I was researching for more cost-friendly options and Sunworld came up with Murera Springs Eco Lodge. Here´s their website: http://www.wildernessgetawaysea.com/murerasprings.php

I was very, very happy with it. As already mentioned it´s less than five minutes away from the Murera gate in the west of the park, the sector of the park with the highest wildlife density. The Rhino Sanctuary is there as well. So the "not inside the park" factor is really no issue at all.

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It´s neatly nestled in a grove of big, old trees, the fallen leaves give the place a very relaxed, "autumn" feel, and there´s always a welcome, refreshing breeze. Only ten tent-cabins with comfy beds and a good shower, so everything you need is there.

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It´s fully solar-powered which is also responsible for the only (minor) downside: It´s just a bit too dark inside, but other than that I found no fault at all.

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Staff and Managers were very friendly and really did all they could to make us feel welcome and at home. Of course we had the huge advantage of being the only guests so we felt a bit like royalty. Dinner was very good, especially the sides, and was served, once next to the bonfire, once at the pool. Packed lunch at breakfast was less convincing but still absolutely ok. On our second day we left camp at 06:20, and they even served us a little breakfast before, which was very nice of them.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise, a lodge which did everything right and great value for money. Very much recommended!

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With our time in Meru (too) limited we went for an all-out-day next morning and arrived at the gate at 06:30.

Some Elands were a nice morning surprise, although they were of course gone the moment they saw us. A few giraffes and an Eastern Chanting-Goshawk and some Tawny Eagles were next. Again, it was a very cloudy day, only sometimes would little specks of blue and a few sunrays make it through.

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This Grey-Headed Kingfisher was resting on the fence separating the Rhino Sanctuary from the rest of the park. "Sanctuary" may sound a bit zoo-like but it really is anything but. Meru is a big park, 870 km² of unspoilt wilderness, and the Sanctuary is more than a tenth of that. Just to compare - Samburu National Reserve is just 104 km², only insignificantly bigger, and there are plans to increase the size of this Rhino stronghold even more.

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Ellipsen-Waterbucks are abundant in Meru, they seemed to be the most numerous ungulate. We also saw Olive Baboons, quite some Buffaloes and (Grant´s) Zebras before entering the sanctuary.

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The fence of the sanctuary.

As mentioned before this is a large areal, so I´m not really sure if seeing rhinos is even a given on a visit. Most of the time you´re far away from the fence so it really does not feel like being in an enclosure at all. Fortunately we saw three (white) ones during our few hours there.

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We had no luck with the so much harder to find Black Rhino, although we tried.

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African Hoopoe. Always a highlight for me.

Waterbucks, Zebras and Buffalo were regular sightings. Other than that two (shy) Bushbucks.

The showpiece of Meru, the Lesser Kudu, was a bit frustrating. We saw five of them jumping over the street and then hiding deep inside the shrubbery. The next sighting later in the day was jumbled by ourselves because we applied suncreme at the very moment when an impressive bull and his lady admirers chose to elegantly cross the road. And then were gone of course when cameras were ready again. "§(&$"§(&/)=)=/Q§857. Damn!

Much more accomodating was another Meru key-species, the Reticulated Giraffe. Arguably the most beautiful subspecies, and they were very common and relaxed, we saw dozens of them.

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Edited by michael-ibk
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Beautiful landscapes, which to me is another delight of Africa; good sightings in a short time; love seeing the rhinos and of course the Reticulated Giraffe. Hooppe has unusual coloring; I don't think I've ever seen one!

 

The lodge looked like "old Africa" which can be a very charming aspect of a safari; feeling Hemingwayish.

 

 

Great beginnings, Michael!

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We left the Sanctuary shortly before noon and then passed Elsa´s Kopje.

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For whatever reason, animals seemed to be shyer here than in the Sanctuary and closer to the Murera gate. We found a very impressive herd of a few hundred buffaloes, but it was impossible to get closer - they always stampeded off. Dust and dust and dust in the air!

 

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Trumpeter Hornbill.

 

Since I really wanted to get a good viewing of Lesser Kudu, James decided to drive South. The area here reminded me a bit of Tarangire:

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Little Bee-Eaters

 

Lots and lots of Hornbills here, and even some Golden-Breasted Starlings. But even though the area looked like perfect Kudu-land they remained elusive. All the little creeks and streams had dried out, so they had possibly gone for greener pastures.

 

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We reached the Ura gate in the South where we took our lunch. And found this very educative poster.

 

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Certainly very good to know for all card-carrying Safaritalk members! :)

 

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Von der Decken´s Hornbill

 

The way back from the South was similar to going down, lots of Hornbills and Starlings, but other than a few Dik-Diks no mammals at all.

 

In the area around Elsa´s and getting closer back to the gate we saw many zebras, buffaloes, waterbucks and giraffes again. Some very fresh lion tracks brought our predator hopes up, but we didn´t find lions - nor any other cats and dogs, except for a few jackals. (Just a bit unlucky there I believe, and too little time - lions, cheetahs and leopards are certainly a possibility, and apparently there´s even a fighting chance for wild dogs and striped hyenas.)

 

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The Murera

 

One female Lesser Kudu had a bit of mercy on us and stood still at least for a few moments before she ran off. Some Kudu-proof at least!

 

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I got very excited when we found our first (and only) Gerenuk in Meru! They had been a big reason for me to go the Northern parks, I always found their long necks and their stand-up-for-your-leaves-trick absolutely fascinating.

 

This one just froze in the bushes pretending he wasn´t there.


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Grant´s Gazelle, all of them impressively horned here in Meru. Subspecies "Northern Grant´s Gazelle" if I remember Safaridude´s excellent essay on them somewhere here on ST correctly.

 

And, unfortunately, that´s already it for Meru. We left early next morning for Samburu already, and so it was only one full day and two hours of afternoon drive after our arrival. Of course, that´s simply far too little time for a park like this (and the weather could have been a bit better as well), and that was certainly the main flaw in our itinerary - would have been wiser to spend 4 nights either here or in the Aberdares, and not 2 and 2, both parks deserve much more.

 

But still, it was great at least getting a glimpse (that´s really all it was), and there´s always a next time - Meru is already high on my "want to return" bucket list. (And I expect at least 84 Kudus to show up then.) :)

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Michael, thanks for this very interesting report. We haven't been to Meru or the Aberdares yet and I am very much enjoying hearing about your impressions of these location.

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Ah the wonderful landscapes and vistas of Meru :)

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Yes, I agree that you need more time in Meru but I also think that you were a little unlucky as well. Lovely photos.

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Beautiful little bee eaters, and excellent spotting on that gerenuk!

Many of your photos have the road leading enticingly away into the distance or around the corner - it makes me want to travel along and see what is ahead.

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Beautiful little bee eaters, and excellent spotting on that gerenuk!

Many of your photos have the road leading enticingly away into the distance or around the corner - it makes me want to travel along and see what is ahead.

 

Well said, @@Marks -I was trying to figure out how to say this but you've said it already, and so very well!

 

Yes, lots of anticipation in your road images, Michael. And your landscapes are really lovely. Love that ele on the road - was that in the Aberdares? I can almost feel the cool and moist mountain air in that shot.

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the murera looks very inviting. I too hope that I will get to see a gerenuk one day - they are so very unique. are they only found in Meru?

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Thank you all, hope to get on with this sometime next week.

 

Hooppe has unusual coloring; I don't think I've ever seen!

 

@@graceland

 

No hoopoe ever?!? Inexcusable, a good thing you can rectify that in 2015. ;)

 

 

 

Yes, I agree that you need more time in Meru but I also think that you were a little unlucky as well.

 

Well, our guide James was not very familiar with Meru yet, I think it was only his third visit. That did probably factor in as well.

 

 

Love that ele on the road - was that in the Aberdares? I can almost feel the cool and moist mountain air in that shot.

 

@@Sangeeta

 

Yes, that was in the lower, Easter part of the Aberdares, the Salient.

 

 

the murera looks very inviting. I too hope that I will get to see a gerenuk one day - they are so very unique. are they only found in Meru?

@@Kitsafari

 

Fortunately no, we saw lots of them at Samburu, and I think they are easy to see in Tsavo as well. Not very much else, they mainly occur in the arid areas of Kenya, Northern Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia.

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