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The Offbeat circuit safari in Kenya, January 2016


mapumbo
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My wife, Mama Ndege and I have traveled to Africa on safari five previous times. All of these trips were organized by a young man who operates Cowabunga Safaris. He grew up in the lightly populated county in Kansas where we are from. Our first safari with his group was in 2001 to Kenya. We have not been back to Kenya since then. Most of the African safaris we recently have taken have been mobile camping safaris. Cowabunga Safaris was originally started by the Topeka Zoo Director Gary Clark, who is a legend in Africa.

 

Mzungu Mrefu is our friends Swahili name that he earned while going to school in Dar Es Salaam. He is now a college professor in international studies and only takes groups to Africa in the summer during school vacation. So Mama Ndege and I decided to try a winter trip and used the services of Expert Africa to help us plan our trip. Ellie Dunkels was the TO that we used and she did a great job. She was always very prompt with her replies and all our connections and camps were trouble free and top notch.

 

Most of the photos in this trip report will be from Mama Ndege's camera. We are a bit humbled by the fantastic photographers on safari talk. We actually met two really good photographers on our recent trip in Kenya at different camps. That would be @@tony Q and his wife @Thursdays Child at Offbeat Meru and @@offshorebirder at Offbeat Mara. It was fun to visit about our safari talk acquaintance.

 

We flew from Kansas City airport on a cold 4 degree Fahrenheit (minus 16 Celsius) day to Chicago. From there we flew to London Heathrow and then on to Nairobi. We landed about 9:30 PM a day after we left home, around 28 hours in transit. We were taken to the Nairobi Tented Camp in Nairobi National Park. While driving into the park we saw a leopard and hyena cross the road on the way to camp. What a way to start our Kenya safari!!

 

After a hot bucket shower we were in bed by midnight anticipating our early morning safari at 6 AM.

 

We met our guide, Andrew, and three fellows from California who were spending their last day in Africa after climbing Kilimanjaro and taking a short safari in Tanzania. The light was still not very good when we took off from camp but soon we were seeing game with the skyline of Nairobi in the background.

 

It wasn't long before we came on a black rhino family consisting of a large male, female and baby. Andrew mentioned it was unusual to see a male with a female and young one but we didn't complain. A little further on we approached 4 white rhino sleeping in the road. They were quite content to look like big couch potatoes.

 

 

 

White rhino sleeping in the road

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We stopped and talked to one of the few safari vehicles that we saw during our time in Nairobi National Park and he must have given Andrew the info that there was a pride of lions up ahead. We found them lying on a rocky outcropping set to sleep the day away. There were three females and five 9 month old cubs.

 

 

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We continued on with our drive and were astounded at the variety and quantity of game in this park. Here we were not more than a mile or two from the bustling city with the skyline in plain view, and we had fantastic game viewing of healthy, contented wildlife.

 

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After this first morning safari of less than three hours, we were overwhelmed with the wonderful sightings and had to pinch ourselves to think that less than two days ago we had been in freezing Kansas. Here we were in Kenya living a dream. What a privilege to be able to experience this!!!

 

It was now back to camp for breakfast. The guys from California who had accompanied us were soon off to fly back home. We had been having so much fun that we hadn't even thought about jet lag.

 

Here is the lounge tent and mess tent at Nairobi Tented Camp.

 

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@@mapumbo so thrilled for you to enjoy the park. It's just incredible to see the density of wildlife, posing against the city/ industrial and residential building horizon.

 

The picture of the three rhinos in a row is precious.

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Great start @@mapumbo ! Very eager to read more!

 

How did you experience Kenya? Was there any safety unease from your end? I keep asking people and collecting data/proof because I would love to go there but my husband feels it's unsafe at the moment.

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@@mapumbo

 

What a fantastic start to your safari. I'm always happy to see black rhino and even happier to see that so many safari talkers are visiting Kenya! There are lots of great Kenya TRs lately. I look forward to reading/seeing more.

 

@martywilddog

My wife and I just returned from our sixth trip to Kenya earlier this week (I also visited for work last year). We felt completely safe as most time was spent in the reserves. Security in Nairobi has been increased but as seen over the past 15 yeasr terrorist attacks happen everywhere (NY, Boston, London, Madrid, Nairobi, Paris, etc.). Security at the airport is very high - you need to get out of your vehicle about 1/2 mile away from the terminal and walk through a metal detector. While you are doing this the car is searched by security forces. You then get back in and drive to the terminal. Before entering the terminal the bags are x-rayed and you go through another metal detector. This process is repeated again before boarding the plane (twice if you fly BA). I guess that there really are no guarantees these days it's just up to one's comfort level. No one wants to go on holiday and be worried about security but it seems that anything can happen anywhere (including within five miles of where I live) so I don't let the prospect of terrorism deter me from enjoying life.

 

The most nervous we felt on this trip is when we saw three lions hunting warthog in our camp early one morning!

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@mapumbo and Mama Ndege

Hello again! I am pleased you are posting a trip report - and what a great start to your trip in Nairobi National Park. It looks like an excellent choice - and to see the rhino and lions on your first morning - wonderful. Lovely photos - so I look forward to more!

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If I could afford it I would go back to Kenya in a heartbeat and take my family: going back over @@Safaridude's and my combined trip report, it mirrors @@mapumbo's trip. A night in Nairobi city, a night in NNP, (although at the Emakoko), Offbeat Meru, Sosian, Offbeat Mara and then a last day in NNP before flying home.

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Great start @@mapumbo ! Very eager to read more!

 

How did you experience Kenya? Was there any safety unease from your end? I keep asking people and collecting data/proof because I would love to go there but my husband feels it's unsafe at the moment.

 

Thank you @@martywilddog.

We found Kenya to be totally safe as far as our travels went. We were a little bit insulated by the way our tour was designed. We went directly to the Nairobi Tented Camp in Nairobi Nat Park from the International Airport. From that park we went to Wilson Airport which is just a few kilometers away to the Meru Park airstrip. Then we flew by charter from Meru to Sosian Ranch. The only time we were actually on a public road and city was when we were transferred from Sosian to the airport at Nanyuki. This was an hour drive to Nanyuki and then through the town out to the airport 10 minutes outside of town. From there we flew to Mara North Conservancy and back after our safari to Wilson with transfer to the International Airport to fly home.

 

The only regret we had as to how our trip was designed was that we might have driven from Meru to Sosian. It is at least a six hour drive, but would have given us more of a feel for the country. We are agricultural people so find interest in everything that we observe when traveling in a new country.

 

The airport in Nairobi has extreme measures of security. We were checked numerous times, almost to the extent that it was over the top but you can't blame them for being sensitive about security. I would say if you designed a trip like ours with all your transfers prearranged there would be little to no anxiety as far as your personal security.

 

The great thing about Kenya, at least in the time we visited, is that there are few tourists and you have guides, vehicles, and parks to yourself.

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@mapumbo and Mama Ndege

Hello again! I am pleased you are posting a trip report - and what a great start to your trip in Nairobi National Park. It looks like an excellent choice - and to see the rhino and lions on your first morning - wonderful. Lovely photos - so I look forward to more!

Thanks, @@TonyQ. I appreciate your help with a link to getting photos attached to the trip report. It seemed simple after I finally figured it out, but being technically challenged it took me a bit longer.

We are watching for more of your trip report as well. Mama Ndege said that she was embarrassed to have her photos posted after seeing yours..

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If I could afford it I would go back to Kenya in a heartbeat and take my family: going back over @@Safaridude's and my combined trip report, it mirrors @@mapumbo's trip. A night in Nairobi city, a night in NNP, (although at the Emakoko), Offbeat Meru, Sosian, Offbeat Mara and then a last day in NNP before flying home.

Yes GW, it proves the old adage that great minds think in similar ways.

We often talked to the staff at the various camps that we both stayed at about your and @sararidudes visit. You were fondly remembered and safaritalk is a major influence in African travel and wildlife conservation.

 

We were privileged to actually stand in the exact spot that was pictured where Game Warden styled his mankini at the Sosian Ranch pool. The staff is still somewhat in shock over the unveiling of your swimming attire so I refrained from putting my swimsuit on to blind them with my pale complexion.

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After breakfast we took a short rest and then at 11AM we went with Andrew to the DSWT elephant orphanage. They feed the orphans every day at 11 and give a presentation for the general public. One of the keepers comes walking down from the forest and a single file group of young elephants follow him into a roped off area. The keepers distribute the milk bottles to each orphan and in no time they have it sucked empty. When the orphans are done nursing they play and interact with the spectators while a fellow explains the program to rehabilitate the elephants back into the wild. He also gives a description of where the orphan came from and why they ended up there.

 

This group of youngsters is led off and another group follows down in the same way and they go through the process over again. This orphanage appears to be doing very worthwhile work. There is a real commitment involved with a keeper staying with the orphan day and night. They are eventually moved to Tsavo where they finally habituate into an established family of elephants and return to the wild.

 

Keeper leading the orphans to the feeding area

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Baby playing with ball

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After leaving the elephant orphanage we headed back for lunch and saw a suni at the edge of the road. This is not a very good photo in cover but it is not every day that you see a suni.

 

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For the evening safari we had Andrew and the vehicle to ourselves. As the vehicle mates in the morning were not birders, Andrew concentrated on birds for Mama Ndege. Of course we saw plenty of other wildlife along the way.

 

Photo of Andrew our guide at Nairobi Tented Camp

 

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Black rhino bull that we saw on our evening drive that mock charged us.

 

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Mzee Kobe Tortoise

 

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Grey Crowned Crane

 

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White-winged widow bird with a really interesting nest

 

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Hartebeest

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Eland

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We went back to see the lion pride and they had not moved from their resting place. On the way back to camp it was just starting to get dark and we spotted a serval at the edge of the road. We did not get a good photo of it after it slowly slipped into the grass.

 

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We really enjoyed our stay at the Nairobi Tented Camp and it was a good start to 12 more nights in Kenya.

 

Inside of tent

 

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We had a 9 AM flight to Meru National Park and we were advised that since the Nairobi traffic is so bad that we should leave at 6 AM to have time to get to Wilson Airport which is only 9 kilometers away. As we pulled up to the highway, Andrew exclaimed that we were in luck, the traffic was not so bad this morning. The cars were actually moving at a snails pace and this is better than the norm. It took less than an hour to get to Wilson and we said our goodbyes to Andrew, a really neat guy and waited for our flight.

 

After a one hour flight to Meru Park airstrip we landed and did not see anyone waiting for us. The very helpful copilot accompanied us to the hut where amazingly there was someone sitting inside. The lady copilot made sure a call was made to Offbeat Meru camp to have someone pick us up. They said someone was on their way and the plane took off. We waited about 10 minutes and a vehicle pulled up with a couple of tourists in the back. It was the other vehicle from Offbeat and Stanley was the driver. They had been eating their breakfast nearby and saw the plane land and came over to rescue us.

 

We were invited to jump in with our luggage and finish the game drive with a very friendly British couple. We felt a little awkward intruding on their game drive but they put us at ease. We had several good sightings as we slowly made our way back to camp.

 

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Nile Monitor

 

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Common Waterbuck

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We made it to camp and Craig the manager was waiting and apologized for not being at the airstrip to meet us. He said the airline had given him the wrong time for our arrival. We did not care in the least we had a nice game drive with a fun couple. What could be wrong with that.

 

We checked out our tent. It was the family tent with lots of extra room. It had two small beds in a side room along with the king size bed.

 

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Mapumbo in the lounge area reading their nice selection of African photo and reference books.

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It was time for lunch. Craig ate with Mama Ndege and I along with the British couple. We were visiting about all the things folks on safari talk about. The gentleman asked us how we came to pick this camp and Meru Park. i said that I had done a lot of research on safari talk and this place appealed to us for the wildlife diversity, description of the beauty of the park, and lack of tourist crowds. He got a big smile on his face and said they were safari talkers too. So we had the privilege to meet @@TonyQ and his wife @@Thursday's Child. This chance meeting made our visit even more interesting as we talked about GW and @safaridudes visit to Meru along with other safari talk topics.

 

 

 

 

Edited by mapumbo
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It bears repeating that Post #1 is Nairobi National Park! Wonderful sightings. Those guys who had climbed Kili got a full safari in a short time.

 

"We were taken to the Nairobi Tented Camp in Nairobi National Park. While driving into the park we saw a leopard and hyena cross the road on the way to camp. What a way to start our Kenya safari!!" The only way to see this enroute to your hotel in NBO is to stay in the park.

 

Love those 3 rhino with the building in the background! It really shows off the unique characteristic of Nairobi National Park.

 

It is encouraging to see such abundance in the park. I so hope roads and railroads don't chop it up.

 

Do post the whole Offbeat itinerary at some point.

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Really impressed with all you saw in Nairobi NP, really need to try it out myself one if these days. Especially like the photo with Zebras, Ostrich and Hartebeest - great diversity. Very lucky with the Suni, and a shot well taken. Must have been tricky to focus. Looking forward to mseeing more of Meru. You had a good start there - meeting fellow Safaritalkers must have been fun.

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Loveley pictures from Nairobi NP - and at the elephant orphanage. I really like the one of wheelbarrows full of milk bottles! Howspecial to see a suni, and the widowbird nest is fascinating.

We were very happu to share the game drive with you - and to discover fellow safaritalkers!

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Wonderful trip report @@mapumbo - and Mama Ndege's photos are top-notch. Please give her my compliments on the photography. I especially like the photo of the three lounging Rhinos. And the photo of the Elephant looming ahead of the vehicle and the driver's bright shuka in the rear view mirror are a neat contrast.

 

I also like the over-the-shoulder portrait of the Nile Crocodile. Good portraits of the Grey-crowned Crane and Coke's Hartebeest as well. And I like the Black Rhino closeup too!

 

Thanks for this trip report, I know they take time; you are bringing joy and information to many people.

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Wonderful trip report @@mapumbo - and Mama Ndege's photos are top-notch. Please give her my compliments on the photography. I especially like the photo of the three lounging Rhinos. And the photo of the Elephant looming ahead of the vehicle and the driver's bright shuka in the rear view mirror are a neat contrast.

 

I also like the over-the-shoulder portrait of the Nile Crocodile. Good portraits of the Grey-crowned Crane and Coke's Hartebeest as well. And I like the Black Rhino closeup too!

 

Thanks for this trip report, I know they take time; you are bringing joy and information to many people.

Wow, thank you for the nice compliments. After looking at your fantastic bird photos we really appreciate it.

Looking forward to more of your trip reports and the shots you took in the Mara North Conservancy where we met you.

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@@mapumbo, great to see Nairobi NP delivering for you too, it's a very special Park I think. We had two great nights at Nairobi Tented Camp and loved it, first trip to Africa, pulling up at the Park entrance late at night and having those big gates opened just for us, then driving through the dark of night to the Camp was a very special experience. Someone had told us it was one of the best places for Rhino, glad you got to enjoy both Blacks and Whites, as did we. It's a great way to kick start a safari, and very handy for Sheldricks too, what not to love about those orphaned Eles.

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You continued to have excellent sightings in NBO National Park. I am wondering if having a guide from a camp at the park is part of the reason for your 5-star-top-of-the-line-high-end type sightings in the park.

 

Do you know if there are 2 places to stay either in or on the border of the park? The Emakoko and Nairobi Tented Camp? Did you consider The Emakoko?

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@@mapumbo great start to your trip report. Excellent sightings in Nairobi National Park and really good photos. I especially liked the photo of the elephant, turning a potentially awkward viewing position into an original photo.

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You continued to have excellent sightings in NBO National Park. I am wondering if having a guide from a camp at the park is part of the reason for your 5-star-top-of-the-line-high-end type sightings in the park.

 

Do you know if there are 2 places to stay either in or on the border of the park? The Emakoko and Nairobi Tented Camp? Did you consider The Emakoko?

As far as I know The Nairobi Tented Camp and the Emakoko are the only places to stay in the park. The way I understand the Emakoko is that you enter the park and drive over to the lodge, park in the parking lot which is in the park and walk across a bridge to the lodge, which is outside the park. That is why I would guess the tented camp advertises that it is the only camp "inside" the park.

 

Did not consider the Emakoko because I didn't really research it, although in subsequent readings,especially from @@Tom Kellie we might have looked in to it a bit more. Although we really prefer tented camps so that would have been the decider.

 

I am not sure how they compare on price. We were not sure how any of our camps priced individually. We were given a total price for our requested itinerary and just averaged it our per day per person.

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@@mapumbo great start to your trip report. Excellent sightings in Nairobi National Park and really good photos. I especially liked the photo of the elephant, turning a potentially awkward viewing position into an original photo.

@@Thursday's Child thank you for your kind words.

 

Is that a photo of an aardvark in your avatar and where did you see him?

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It's a Giant Anteater from our trip to the Pantanal - an animal I really wanted to see after realising from other ST's trip reports this was perfectly possible. The Pantanal suddenly shot from a place I have to confess I'd never heard of, to top of our list ?

Edited by Thursday's Child
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Yes, a very interesting critter. We also saw a Giant Anteater in the Pantanal along with a couple of Tapirs, but alas, no jaguars. <_<

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I realized I hadn't included our itinerary when I began this report. After all the title referenced the Offbeat circuit so obviously there were some Offbeat Camps involved. We ended up booking three Offbeat Camps because they fit the three regions we wanted to visit and they had a special that was a nice reduction. If you stayed 4 nights you paid for 3. So in essence we stayed 12 nights and paid for 9. I figured this justified flying from camp to camp with the trade off of a free night with the flight price. Although looking back, we might have enjoyed a drive between Meru and Sosian Ranch in Laikipia.

 

Arrived In Nairobi January 11, 2016

2 nights stay at Nairobi Tented Camp in Nairobi Park with a full day safari

Transfer to Wilson airport with a flight on AirKenya to Meru Park airstrip

4 nights stay Offbeat Meru

Private charter flight Meru Park to Sosian Ranch airstrip

4 nights Sosian Ranch, Laikipia

AirKenya flight from Nanyuki airport to Mara North Conservancy airstrip

4 nights Offbeat Mara

AirKenya flight Mara to Wilson then ground transfer to International airport

We had half board the first night at Nairobi Tented camp because of our late arrival, then full board everywhere else with unlimited safari. Most of the time we had a vehicle and guide for just the two of us since there were normally not more than one other guest or couple in each camp or we were there alone.

 

All of this organized by Ellie Dunkels at Expert Africa

 

 

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Very nice itinerary. Thanks for posting it. And it seems you got a private safari the majority of the time without the private safari premium! How did you end up with Expert Africa?

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