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Majestic Moorlands, Peaks and Falls - a Return to the Aberdares


michael-ibk
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Last September we spent a wonderful 16 days in Kenya. On our way "From Meru to Mara" we completely fell in love with one of the country´s least visited parks - the Aberdares.

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And felt so much "at home" during our all too short two nights on Sandai Farm that we just knew we had to return. Soon. A few days before our departure to India in March we were joking around that we could always do a long weekend in Kenya, given the cheap flights from Europe. Well, just joking about Africa is certainly not in my nature, and we went serious in a matter of days. Sensibly we decided that it had to be at least a week, and after a few mails we were all booked. And so, last week we were overjoyed to see our friend Petra Allmendinger and her little corner of paradise again.

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Not your typical safari with an all predetermined itinerary this time, we were free to do what we liked whatever, wherever and whenever as we pleased. And of course, despite our best intentions to take it slow and also relax a bit more than we normally do on safari we just couldn´t help ourselves. So basically we were of course always "out there" from early morning till well into the evening.

Not only the Aberdares, we experienced the perfect Rhino haven in Solio:

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Had wonderful safari in Ol Pejeta:

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And explored the fascinating diversity of the Aberdares again.

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So let´s find out then how many car accidents we had. If we survived hiking Ol Donyo Lesatima through rain and hail. Or putting our hands in hungry Rhino mouths. And if we did find that Giant Forest Hog. :)

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I've been impatiently waiting for this :)

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The skies, the road, the safari-ers it's all there! You pose some questions to keep us hooked to this report.

 

The speed with which you have put this together, at least the intro, is amazing. But then I believe you've been called a gunslinger before.

 

Who gets credit for the title?

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I'm really looking forward to this report as I love The Aberdares and surrounding areas. Your initial photo selection is very inviting and I hope you have plenty more to share.

 

I'll be particularly interested in news from Solio as not many Safaritalkers seem to venture there. I spent some time with Mikey Carr-Hartley in the Southern Serengeti, and he spoke a lot about Solio and the other camps that he owns and runs and I've always wanted to visit. Closest I've managed is to drive past.

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FAB -U - LOUS.... :D

 

can't wait for more

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oh gosh, I've been waiting for this too and can't wait for more! Really really want to visit these areas - considered Solio on last trip but ended up making it an all Mara trip - all the photos look wonderful!

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Looks like a week well spent. Always keen to hear about all of these places.

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You still have to give me the story of that buffalo, Michael ..... ;)

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Cooooool. so glad you both enjoyed yourselves. and such a compelling set of photos and mysterious intro - accidents???? ooooh. just happy you are back.

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I hope that this is just the beginning of the report @@michael-ibk... It looks like you had a great time. Fabulous places and photos, thanks for posting! Looking forward to seeing more...

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Great intro - excellent inviting photos - looking forward to the report (and how do you get it done so quickly?)

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Arise, Sir Knight!


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Thanks everybody! :)

Our journey started in my hometown, Innsbruck. Just a few weeks prior winter had come back with a vengeance, and snow was still very reluctantly retreating from the mountains.

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We flew with Ethiopian via Frankfurt and Addis Abeba. Frankfurt to Addis was very pleasant since the plane was only half full, if at all - so lots of room to get in a good nap. Ethiopian was quite good, very friendly staff, good diverse entertainment programme (with properly working headphones - I hate it when they don´t!), quiet, and pretty decent food. Our flight back home would be a bit less pleasant since we shared the row with a very big guy. And a very irate guy. When our elbows touched (by accident) he went all "Don´t push me!! I won´t accept it being pushed" with his eyeballs popping out and it took many slow-speaking "Please calm down Sir"s to resolve the situation. First time I almost called the flight attendants for help.

Addis airport was ok in the morning since it was not very busy. On the way back, however, it became very apparent that it had grown much too small for the increasingly successful Ethiopian Airlines. Certainly not an airport where you can spend a few relaxed hours between flights, but we had quick connections both ways. And obviously they are already scaling up, this is right outside the international terminal.

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We arrived in Nairobi a bit before 10:00 am. Our time frame was very short but we had hoped that maybe, just maybe we could make it out very quickly to still get to Sheldrick´s, a place we haven´t visited so far and very much would like to. But no chance this time - Visa and getting our bags went very quickly, but the process of Ebola screenings took almost 45 minutes. We hadn´t been screened last September but then we had come from Istanbul and not from inside Africa. Apparently these checks are only done for inter-continental flights?

Anyway, our driver Peter was already waiting for us (always such a relief when someone IS there) and we were on our way to Nyeri and Sandai. The drive should be three hours (it was on the way back) but this was the start of a long weekend in Kenya so traffic was - as they say - murder. The A2 was completely congested so Peter decided to take a shortcut (the C71 I believe) but that was only a good idea in theory. Halfway some repair works were done so what happened was not only a jam but what I´d describe as a total breakdown of traffic. Since everybody was overtaking everybody suddenly five cars were going in one direction on and next to the road side by side. Not completely surprisingly the cars coming from the opposite side did pretty much the same and so when the two car streams met everybody just went "Oh". And then "Oh no."

 

I had resigned to the fact that we probably would have to spend the night in the car right there, but after a while miraculously - as it always does in Africa - the problem resolved itself and cars started moving again. Well, at least we wouldn´t have starved, everywhere along the road when we would stop (or drive very slowly) we were bombarded with fruits. :)

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The closer we were getting to Nyeri the better progress we made. We enjoyed recognizing certain places and landmarks from our September stay. The town itself was remarkably clean and tidiy, and here we even saw our first Zebras! :)

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And then finally, late afternoon, we arrived at Sandai. Big hello again with Petra, and it just felt so right having Charly, Roxy and Lukas cavorting around us again. (The dogs, in case you were wondering. :)) Mt. Kenya, the elusive beauty, was exactly that. Hiding behind clouds, the mountain would rarely come out during our stay.

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After settling in we enjoyed a fabulous dinner and discussed what to do the next day with G&Ts at the fireplace. We had worried if the rains would be a problem for our Aberdares plans, but to our surprise Petra told us that it would be sensible to do Sandai in case the rains should increase - apparently there the roads can turn unusable pretty quickly when it´s too wet. The mountain roads of the Aberdares are always "fine". So the decision was clear - Solio for our first day!

And so, early next morning we were on the way to Safari again and very excited - despite the somewhat gloomy weather. Solio (about 75 km²) has a fine reputation as a Rhino haven, and as a very up-market place. The latter is true to a certain extent, the lodge inside is pricey indeed. But what is lesser known (and Solio doesn´t really market this) is that they accept day visitors, for USD 80,-- per person per day - unlike Lewa for example who don´t welcome externals. The reserve is open from 07:00 till 18:30. It´s only 20 minutes from Sandai to one of the Solio gates, so it´s a perfect base for visits to this extraordinary reserve.

Extraordinary because it really is Rhino paradise. We´d see lots and lots of them this day.

Two Black Rhinos after less than an hour of driving.
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Crowned Lapwing (or Plover in Kenya!)

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Solio also has a few of the more Northern species, like the Beisa Oryx. We´d see about five of them all day.

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Buffalo Herd

White Rhinos are almost like Impala in Solio. Ok, that might be a slight exageration, but I´d say we saw well more than 40 this day. Our first "crash" of them:

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Red-Billed Oxpeckers

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Here they go again - and as you can see from the watchtower in the background, Solio is well protected.

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I hate the traffic In Nairobi and swear I 'd never go back.

 

But I do!

 

Rhinos, lots of rhinos; can't wait for more! Abadares looks awesome.

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Despite the horrendous traffic which gets especially during the rainy season, I love Nairobi. It's a very exciting place to live, and outside of South Africa no other city in Africa offers better

amenities. I also love the climate. I sincerely appreciate the helpfulness, courtesy, openness, warmth, and above all the sense of humor of the Kenyan people.

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@@michael-ibk enjoying your TR and photos very much. Your description of G&Ts in front of the fire at Sandai sounds so cosy!

 

Thanks for the information about day trips to Solio and your views on flying Ethiopian Airlines and airport congestion at Addis.

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How lucky to be able to access "cheap flights from Europe" to Kenya, too bad about your cranky fellow passenger, armrest etiquette, or lack of, taken to a whole new level.

 

Solio looks magnificent, if only it was possible to see Rhino in those numbers everywhere, that is the cutest little baby Rhino.

 

Are you on the ground in front of that Buffalo??

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Of course there´s much more to Solio than Rhinos - with the exception of Elephants all the iconic African mammal species can be found here.

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Reticulated Giraffe. Not sure if they would be a "natural" here (though Ol Pejeta has this subspecies as well), I think their range starts a bit more to the North.

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Rüppel´s Long-Tailed Starling (easily identified from close range by its white eyes)

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Waterbuck (the Defassa subspecies here) are abundant in Solio, we saw hundreds of them.

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Waterbuck crèche

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Plain´s Zebras are all over the place as well.

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These ones were having lots of fun:

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The high number of Grey Crowned Cranes was a pleasant surprise, I love these truly regal birds. (But then, who doesn´t?)

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As common as Waterbucks and Zebras may be here, they are but a tiny fraction of the unbelievable number of Impalas in Solio. They are everywhere. And suffer the typical omnipresent animals fate - they are ignored. Except when they are doing something - ahem - special. :)

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To give them back their dignity, here´s a fight scene:

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En garde!

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With its roughly 75 km² Solio may not be very big but it encompasses very different habitats. There´s the classic open Africa look, and the White Rhinos especially love the open plains where he had encountered them earlier. Even most of the bushland looks very lush and green at this time of the year.

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Not a very good photo, but this was our only Hoopoe sighting, so it had to make the cut.

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A river (or rather creek) is running through the total length of the park (which is triangle-shaped), and so much of the area is lovely riverine forest, and in some parts even swamps.

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Black-Necked Heron

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We also explored a bit of the more arid bush and scrubland but didn´t find too much there. A few Buffaloes and Mousebirds mainly as I recall. We searched for lions but had no luck with predators. There are three prides in Solio with about 40 members total, and they are pretty regularly seen - but not this day. With much luck one might also stumble upon a leopard, they are there. As is one male cheetah. Poor guy, I felt sorry for him, all alone in the reserve, apparently the last female died a while back.

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Here´s Safaribird, the Lilac-Breasted-Roller. Yes, they are seen all the time everywhere you go in Africa, but they are just so beautiful, I still always stop when one is around. :)

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Probably some kind of Carissa Edulis, Simple-Spined Carissa. (Not that I´d know, I haven´t got a clue about plants, but @@Tassilo is helping me out. Thanks for that!)

This Vervet Monkey was very happy with licking the resin of this tree. Baboons, Colobus and - interestingly - Patas Monkey are also around, but we didn´t see any.

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Out on the plains again we had a very nice sighting of a Secretary Bird:

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Then there was this lonesome Hartebeest. Solio calls them "Kenya Highlands Hartebeest", they are a hybrid between the Coke´s and the Lelwel hartebeest (Jackson race). As such, it exhibits intermediate characteristics. It is "larger and lighter in color than the Coke hartebeest, being light buff rather than reddish tawny on the upper parts of the back. The head is longer than in the Coke subspecies, the frontal pedicel more pronounced, and the horns (both sexes) heavier and longer, rising from the pedicel in a modified V-shape rather than in the shape of a bracket when seen from the front."

 

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Unlike Crowned Cranes Warthogs are not very common in Solio, I don´t think we saw even ten of them.

 

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And here on the plains we of course found more Rhinos. We spent a long time watching this family, completely undisturbed. Other cars? Few and far between in Solio, we encountered two all day. The ones from Solio lodge are a bit weird, they have reconfigured the roof, and people are actually sitting ON it. Don´t know why that would be much enjoyable, must be quite shaky and can´t be good for photography. And I didn´t think it could be particularly safe. The one Solio car we saw had children up there. Maybe they had seatbelts, didn´t see.

But enough of cars, here´s the next Rhino crash:

 

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The one on the left was an intruder, and for some time the situation was a bit tense, looked like a fight could erupt. But being the docile creatures they are they settled their differences peacefully and just returned to gracing and sleeping.

 

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It was lovely watching this youngster:

 

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In the distance we saw a Black Rhino with calf. Even here, where they are numerous it´s not easy to see them, let alone get close to them - they are very shy.

 

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Time for lunch now. And Sandai food is always mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmh! No little boxes with sandwich, chicken, fruit juice, an egg and an apple here, Petra always packs the most delicious home-made lunch for her guests. And a whole cooling box with all kinds of drinks to choose from. We enjoyed a hearty pasta casserole with fresh salad (dressing provided), potato salad with Tusker of course. And orange cake with coffee for dessert. And all that under a beautiful shady tree in Africa - life is good. :)

 

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Paul Kung´u Mura, our fabulous guide for all our time at Sandai.

 

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The Aberdares in the background

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Some kind of Hibiscus

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Really enjoying this, sounds wonderful. When you first mentioned Sandai recently, I thought it might be somewhere I could combine with a stay at Laikipia Wilderness Camp. Do you think a visit to this area in early May, would be adviseable? I know it is generally not considered a particularly good time to go.

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Who gets credit for the title?

 

@@Atravelynn

 

I saw these words on a poster - in the toilet of Sandai Farm! :) Then I wrote them on the first page of my travel diary. Michael saw that, and so the title for this report was born.

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"White Rhinos are almost like Impala in Solio" Thank goodness there are a few spots of abundance around. They pose better than impala, though your fight scene was impressive. The zebra action shots are great too with the rolling zebra.

 

What is the story behind the cape buffalo looking DOWN at you? Hopefully you didn't take a tumble but maintain perfect control of your focusing skills.

 

Don't you just want to rub noses with those adorable baby Waterbuck? I didn't know Patas were in Aberdare.

 

""Kenya Highlands Hartebeest", they are a hybrid between the Coke´s and the Lelwel hartebeest (Jackson race)." Calling @@Safaridude.

 

Hoopoe, you got your hoope!

 

What an oddball on the flight home. They're out there, just a matter of time before you run into some.

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Who gets credit for the title?

 

@@Atravelynn

 

I saw these words on a poster - in the toilet of Sandai Farm! :) Then I wrote them on the first page of my travel diary. Michael saw that, and so the title for this report was born.

 

Perfect! I thought the toilet theme had ended in India--Michael's conversation with the wealthy and previously even wealthier gentleman in the men's room & me almost mistaking a temple for a toilet. But I see it is alive and well. One seizes inspiration wherever one can find it, right?

 

I noted a classic road shot in your pics. Should we refer to those as Andrew's Avenues?

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