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Kenya - Elephants, The Mara, Lewa, I'm Their Leader- Where Are They?


Lois Hild Photography
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This was my longest, four weeks, safari, and the first time I was responsible for leading a group, unless you call my husband and myself a group. There were actually two groups. One group of eight visited three of the four David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust facilities, leaving out the Voi Reintigration Unit, and spent a week in the Mara at Kicheche Bush Camp in Olare Motorogi, and then a more serious group of photographers joined me at Kicheche Mara Camp in Mara North Conservancy for a week followed by a week at Lewa Safari Camp in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The first group consisted mostly of supporters of the DSWT who wanted to visit the orphan elephants they sponsor and add in a little safari. None had ever traveled out of the US before, let alone been on safari. I will spare you the details of the joys of managing that and stick to the facts you really want to know about the places we visited.

The arrangements were all booked through Bustani Safaris. It is a husband and wife team, the wife being native Kenyan. They only do custom safari arrangements, no pre-packaged trips. You tell them what you want to do and they make it happen. Jambi has a way of getting things done!

The safari really started in Karen with a visit to the Giraffe Centre to see the Rothschilde giraffes there. I know we all go to Africa to see animals in the wild, but there is also something about being really close.

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I mean REALLY close. (My beautiful daughter.)

 

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From there we went for a private visit with the orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the Nairobi National Park. Our group was allowed to mingle with the elephants at feeding time.

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Dinner and overnight accommodations were at Karen Blixen Cottages. Highly recommend. The group was in high spirits from the day's activities and in anticipation of the bush flight the next day.

 

The next day it was off to Wilson Airport. The completion of the Southern Bypass has definitely helped eased the traffic congestion. It's a shame though the impact it has had on the park. We chartered a Cessna 208 Caravan from Safarilink to fly us to Umani Springs in the Kibwezi Forest in the Chyulu Hills. There are no scheduled flights near here and with eight in the party plus extra photo gear the cost was reasonable. The even had a sack meal for us for the 45 min. flight! They took special care of my camera gear, two rolling bags, a large Gura Gear backpack and my 400mm in a soft case. They let me keep it in my possession right up until the time it was loaded into the cargo hold.

Our two guides and vehicles and Jambi and Peter had left in the wee hours of the morning with the food and the ALCOHOL in time to meet us at the grass airstirp. The DSWT properties are self-catering in that you provide food and beverage. They provide everything else, including a chef named Peter at Umani who in my book could cook at any 5 star restaurant. The waiter, another Peter, was friendly and attentive. Housekeeping and laundry was done with a smile by Lefty and Michael patrolled the unfenced grounds at night to make sure wildlife didn't cause any trouble.

It's about a 20 minute drive through Chyulu National Park and the Kibwezi Forest to the lodge, but it's not really a game drive. The bush is very thick and other than a few bushbuck and a squirrel that kept playing chicken with our Land Cruisers, we could spot very little wildlife. Tse tse flies were also in residence at the time, so the vehicles had to remain closed up. In other words, we were there to see the elephants, not go on game drives. The lodge itself rivals some of the finest in Kenya, as long as you enjoy outdoor showers and commodes for some of the units. Showers are running water, solar heated.

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Hyrax right outside my balcony

As guest of the lodge you have exclusive rights to visit the orphans at the Umani Springs Reintegration Unit. Most of the elephants here have special needs and have been brought to this newest unit in the forest environment which is less demanding that the Tsavo region of the other units where orphans are reintroduced to the wild. You can visit at 6am at feeding time until the elephants decide it is time to walk out into the bush, usually about an hour, again at 11 am at the mud bath right in front of the lodge, and again at the stockades at 5pm for their evening feeding. The keepers are with you at all times for everyone's safety and are happy to answer all questions. They are also very happy to take pictures of you with the elephants, especially if your camera is set on burst!

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While relaxing at the lodge we were able to observe many birds, butterflies, baboons, and a distant herd of wild elephants. We took a bush walk to the springs hoping to see the 12 ft python that is a resident, but no luck.

 

After three nights we packed into the vehicles and headed for the northern part of Tsavo East and Ithumba Camp. To be continued...

 

And I hope this green tint is gone once I post. It's not in my photos in Lightroom, only when I preview them here. My monitor was calibrated two days ago.

 

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Edited by Lois Hild Photography
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Great start. Looking forward to seeing more!

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@@Lois Hild Photography very interesting! Looking forward to more. I have been to DWST in Nairobi and wondered about visiting their other units so it's great to hear how it works. How amazing to have led a group that had never left the country let alone been to Africa! I'm curious how you happened to put that group together, i.e. how they heard about you and the trip? Did they all know each other?

 

And your daughter IS lovely :)

Edited by SafariChick
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Very interesting and looking forward to lots more elephant photos.

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@@SafariChick @girlinstilettos did this same trip visiting the dswt locations in Feb. @@Sangeeta put it together for her and her boyfriend. She had a fabulous time but I don't think she posted a TR. I also met a British woman at Emakoko who puts groups of 8 together a couple times a year and arranges it all. If you're interested I can put you in touch. She last wrote and said this years November trip and next January are already booked so she's looking to Nov 2017 as next available.

 

Lois, wonderful pics so far and what a great thing to do to lead that group! My private visit at DSWT was a highlight of my life so I can only imagine what it meant to them on their first trip out of the US.

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Thank you for sharing,

 

@@Galana one of your faves is coming up...

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@@SafariChick I put the trip together primarily through Facebook groups. Most no one except the married couple knew each other. In spite of this the group blended wonderfully. Perhaps not having safaried before and with me being the designated leader and setting the schedule did not leave room for discord between members. When a group of friends travel together often there is no designated decision maker.

I have another group going in June 2017. If you are interested I can send you info.

Edited by Lois Hild Photography
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@@amybatt @@Lois Hild Photography Thanks to you both. I already have a rather big trip planned for February 2017 so I'm not sure whether I will be able to do a second one next year but let me think about it :rolleyes:

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First, if anyone can tell me what's going on with the green cast to my images, I would be deeply grateful. My monitor is calibrated and this site is the only place they look sickly. I've tried changing my color space. It looks the same in sRGB, ProPhotoRGB, and AdobeRGB. So if anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.

 

Now on with the report.

 

I left off as we were packing up to leave Umani Springs, where I managed to leave my Bushnell binoculars. I hope people have been using and enjoying them, but leaving them there. I'll be back in June again!

 

We took the obligatory group photo:post-50670-0-68551200-1471547177_thumb.jpg

 

and head to Ithumba by way of Kwibezi town. We met up with Jambi and Peter who brought restocked us with food and Amarula on their way to check out Tawi Conservancy and Lodge in the Amboseli region. Ask me about that if interested. Don't go without asking. We stopped in Kibwezi for a short walk through the market. It was eye-opening for the less traveled members of the group, but I got two marriage proposals. Not bad for a 59 year-old woman.

 

The road to Ithumba Camp in the northern most part of Tsavo East is the typical rough, dusty African road, but better than the road into the Mara. We had a brief stop in a very small village to pick up our camp cook and headed to the park. We accessed the park through a ranger station that is not usually used for park access, but as guests of DSWT you can enter here. Camp is not far at this point. The stockades are a little farther from the camp here and are definitely driving distance for safety and comfort. Here the accommodations are Meru style tents with attached bathrooms- outside surrounded by rock wall. Water is solar heated. Ok, not my best Milk Way image, but how often do you get to take a Milky Way shot from your commode?
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Camp consists of eight tents, a large lounge area with an upstairs viewing area over looking a couple of small watering holes. The staff spreads seed daily to attract a variety of bird life and ground squirrel. The at the watering hole we saw the typical baboons, warthogs, various antelope, Greater Kudu. The camp is littered with Kirk's Dik Dik that you almost fall over going to and from your tent. There was great debate over whether we had a leopard in camp one night. Genet come each evening and try and steal food off the buffet table. This area of Tsavo is very remote and brushy. The best wildlife viewing is really from camp itself. We heard lions every night, but didn't see any. Wild dogs are in the area, more about that later.

 

Tent at night. Again not my best night work. I was a little hurried being concerned about the possible leopard sighting the night before I wasn't feeling too comfortable in the dark.
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Interesting standoff at the watering hole between a juvenile Tawny Eagle and a Vulterine Guinea Fowl.
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The schedule at the stockades here is the same as at Umani Springs. The big difference here is that this unit has been long established and has a history of orphans having been successfully reintroduced into the wild. Many return to the stockades and mud bath/watering hole to visit on an almost daily basis. Additionally, many wild elephants have found safety, water, and the ability to sneak some food from the orphans at the stockades, so you may see as many as 50 elephants at a time, so of them magnificent bulls. Because of this, mingling with the orphans can be more limited if the wild elephants ar]e around, but you are still VERY close for some unbelievable photo opportunities, both at the stockade and the mud bath.

 

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Wendy is an ex-orphan who successfully reintegrated and successfully bred to produce a female calf who is being called Wiva. She is being looked after by a group of nannies who she keeps very busy. She had them in a panic the afternoon that African Wild Dogs showed up at the stockades. She wanted to lead the charge against the dogs even though it didn't appear she knew what she was charging. She just wanted to join in the excitement. Four more calves to ex-orphans are expected at Ithumba over the next 18 months.

 

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One of the most incredible things I witnessed there I didn't photograph. Benjamin, a soft-spoken man, is the head keeper at Ithumba, One day at the mud bath and water trough several massive wild bulls had finished drinking but were not moving away and allowing the younger elephants to come and get a drink. Benjamin watched this for a few minutes, then walked over to these wild bulls, dwarfed by them and spoke softy to them. We couldn't hear what he said. They listened, and turned and walked away. Benjamin returned to us and our dumbstruck faces. We asked him what he said. He told us he just told them that they had had their turn and they were being bullies. It was time to let the little ones have their turn. We also witnessed wild bulls obviously interacting with the young orphans and teaching them the proper mud bathing technique, encouraging them to come into the mud bath when they were a little hesitant. It's an amazing experience watching all the interactions.

 

One morning after visiting the stockades we took a picnic breakfast and drove to the Tiva River which was not more than a few connected collections of water due to the recent dry conditions in the Tsavo region, but very pretty anyway. Good for bird life. We also saw some Lesser Kuda, and just to add some adventure, one of the guides got one of the Land Cruisers stuck in the sand. Now we've got ourselves a safari! Everyone accepted my explanation that this is just part of the adventure of traveling in Africa and took in stride as 11 of us (8 + driver + cook and assistant) piled into the remaining Land Cruiser and headed back to camp and sent help.

 

After four nights at Ithumba our charter flight came into the airstrip which is next to camp to return us to Nairobi to catch our flight to the Mara.



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Lovely elephant photos. I'm not seeing any cast.

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@@Lois Hild Photography, what a lovely trip for DSWT supporters and just dedicated Elephant lovers. Lots make it to the nursery in Nairobi, including me, but would be terrific to visit the other units too and seeing all those familiar names from the Elephant Diaries. I remember "Wendy" from the series.

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Great report, really enjoying this. The pictures don´t look green to me. Beautiful photo of the Lesser Kudu!

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This was my longest, four weeks, safari, and the first time I was responsible for leading a group, unless you call my husband and myself a group. There were actually two groups. One group of eight visited three of the four David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust facilities, leaving out the Voi Reintigration Unit, and spent a week in the Mara at Kicheche Bush Camp in Olare Motorogi, and then a more serious group of photographers joined me at Kicheche Mara Camp in Mara North Conservancy for a week followed by a week at Lewa Safari Camp in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The first group consisted mostly of supporters of the DSWT who wanted to visit the orphan elephants they sponsor and add in a little safari. None had ever traveled out of the US before, let alone been on safari. I will spare you the details of the joys of managing that and stick to the facts you really want to know about the places we visited.

 

The arrangements were all booked through Bustani Safaris. It is a husband and wife team, the wife being native Kenyan. They only do custom safari arrangements, no pre-packaged trips. You tell them what you want to do and they make it happen. Jambi has a way of getting things done!

 

The safari really started in Karen with a visit to the Giraffe Centre to see the Rothschilde giraffes there. I know we all go to Africa to see animals in the wild, but there is also something about being really close.

 

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I mean REALLY close. (My beautiful daughter.)

 

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From there we went for a private visit with the orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the Nairobi National Park. Our group was allowed to mingle with the elephants at feeding time.

 

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Dinner and overnight accommodations were at Karen Blixen Cottages. Highly recommend. The group was in high spirits from the day's activities and in anticipation of the bush flight the next day.

 

The next day it was off to Wilson Airport. The completion of the Southern Bypass has definitely helped eased the traffic congestion. It's a shame though the impact it has had on the park. We chartered a Cessna 208 Caravan from Safarilink to fly us to Umani Springs in the Kibwezi Forest in the Chyulu Hills. There are no scheduled flights near here and with eight in the party plus extra photo gear the cost was reasonable. The even had a sack meal for us for the 45 min. flight! They took special care of my camera gear, two rolling bags, a large Gura Gear backpack and my 400mm in a soft case. They let me keep it in my possession right up until the time it was loaded into the cargo hold.

 

Our two guides and vehicles and Jambi and Peter had left in the wee hours of the morning with the food and the ALCOHOL in time to meet us at the grass airstirp. The DSWT properties are self-catering in that you provide food and beverage. They provide everything else, including a chef named Peter at Umani who in my book could cook at any 5 star restaurant. The waiter, another Peter, was friendly and attentive. Housekeeping and laundry was done with a smile by Lefty and Michael patrolled the unfenced grounds at night to make sure wildlife didn't cause any trouble.

 

It's about a 20 minute drive through Chyulu National Park and the Kibwezi Forest to the lodge, but it's not really a game drive. The bush is very thick and other than a few bushbuck and a squirrel that kept playing chicken with our Land Cruisers, we could spot very little wildlife. Tse tse flies were also in residence at the time, so the vehicles had to remain closed up. In other words, we were there to see the elephants, not go on game drives. The lodge itself rivals some of the finest in Kenya, as long as you enjoy outdoor showers and commodes for some of the units. Showers are running water, solar heated.

 

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Hyrax right outside my balcony

 

As guest of the lodge you have exclusive rights to visit the orphans at the Umani Springs Reintegration Unit. Most of the elephants here have special needs and have been brought to this newest unit in the forest environment which is less demanding that the Tsavo region of the other units where orphans are reintroduced to the wild. You can visit at 6am at feeding time until the elephants decide it is time to walk out into the bush, usually about an hour, again at 11 am at the mud bath right in front of the lodge, and again at the stockades at 5pm for their evening feeding. The keepers are with you at all times for everyone's safety and are happy to answer all questions. They are also very happy to take pictures of you with the elephants, especially if your camera is set on burst!

 

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While relaxing at the lodge we were able to observe many birds, butterflies, baboons, and a distant herd of wild elephants. We took a bush walk to the springs hoping to see the 12 ft python that is a resident, but no luck.

 

After three nights we packed into the vehicles and headed for the northern part of Tsavo East and Ithumba Camp. To be continued...

 

And I hope this green tint is gone once I post. It's not in my photos in Lightroom, only when I preview them here. My monitor was calibrated two days ago.

 

I love Kibwezi. Though I was there before the sheldrick lodge was built. Beautiful photo's.

Edited by PHALANX
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"One of the most incredible things I witnessed there I didn't photograph. Benjamin, a soft-spoken man, is the head keeper at Ithumba, One day at the mud bath and water trough several massive wild bulls had finished drinking but were not moving away and allowing the younger elephants to come and get a drink. Benjamin watched this for a few minutes, then walked over to these wild bulls, dwarfed by them and spoke softy to them. We couldn't hear what he said. They listened, and turned and walked away. Benjamin returned to us and our dumbstruck faces. We asked him what he said. He told us he just told them that they had had their turn and they were being bullies. It was time to let the little ones have their turn. We also witnessed wild bulls obviously interacting with the young orphans and teaching them the proper mud bathing technique, encouraging them to come into the mud bath when they were a little hesitant. It's an amazing experience watching all the interactions".

 

This actually just made me cry when I read this :)

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@@Lois Hild Photography A real "theme" trip. Looks like you had a fantastic time and caught lots of beautiful elephant shots.

 

I see a bit of a green cast on my laptop, but nothing too bad. Ironically on my totally unsuitable work monitor the colours look fine!

 

And more importantly.... you casually mention that wild dogs wandered into camp - and only because one of the young elephants got excited!! I think I would have been more excited than the elephant! :) Are the pack frequently visiting camp?

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"One of the most incredible things I witnessed there I didn't photograph. Benjamin, a soft-spoken man, is the head keeper at Ithumba, One day at the mud bath and water trough several massive wild bulls had finished drinking but were not moving away and allowing the younger elephants to come and get a drink. Benjamin watched this for a few minutes, then walked over to these wild bulls, dwarfed by them and spoke softy to them. We couldn't hear what he said. They listened, and turned and walked away. Benjamin returned to us and our dumbstruck faces. We asked him what he said. He told us he just told them that they had had their turn and they were being bullies. It was time to let the little ones have their turn. We also witnessed wild bulls obviously interacting with the young orphans and teaching them the proper mud bathing technique, encouraging them to come into the mud bath when they were a little hesitant. It's an amazing experience watching all the interactions".

 

This actually just made me cry when I read this :)

I was ready to quote and comment too. But I see it is already here. This is just unbelievable. Making it more unbelievable is that it probably is commonplace for Benjamin and the Big Boys.

 

The elephant whisperer. Wow.

Edited by Atravelynn
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@@pault - yes, the Wild Dog sighting was special, though at a bit of a distance. I've seen them much close, and later in the trip (stay tuned) saw them much closer. The first time I saw them was in the Tsavo regions, so they are definitely there.

 

Thanks for the info about the green cast. I'm working off my laptop. I'll have to check my desktop monitor when I get back to work. It's just so odd that it only shows up once I post and changing color space has no effect.

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Trip Report continued-

 

We left off leaving Ithumba on our charter flight back to Nairobi to catch our scheduled flight to the new Olare airstrip in the Mara. This time, I assume because it was not a charter flight, I was not allowed to keep my checked luggage camera gear in my possession until boarding, but a small tip did get it put in a secure area and watched over by the head of baggage handling.

 

Flying into the Mara was a sight as the migration had reached the Mara, though had yet to start crossing the Mara River. The guides were busy driving the airstrip to keep it clear of wildebeest. By this time the guests that had been a little nervous about the bush flights were enjoying the adventure and videoing landing "selfies" starring themselves as "Bad Asses." LOL

 

As usual the drive to camp was a game drive in of itself.
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Kicheche guide Charles Wandero displayed great patience and persistence in helping me get these shots of a bee eater that had not read the behavior sections of the book that state that they return to the same branch.

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Soon we came upon members of the Enkoyanai pride with a fresh wildebeest kill.
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This was the first lion sighting for the newbies, and it was a good one.
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A few more giraffe and some zebra and it was off to Kicheche Bush Camp for lunch.

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Charles? Where is Nelson? :o

 

By the way, when is all this taking place?

Edited by pault
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  • 2 weeks later...

It is a pitty that visiting the orphaned eles in a Tsavo is so expensive

 

there was a couple from Austin ,Texas at Lewa Safari Camp when I was there.

 

the access is only by charter flight

 

also they were taken by someone to a market to buy all their food and clean water for drinking and cooking , which had to be taken in by vehicle

Edited by COSMIC RHINO
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@@COSMIC RHINO. I am pretty sure you can drive in if you have someone to take you or a good with GPS, and I don't think it is necessarily that expensive. If you want to fly in then an expensive charter flight may be the only practical way - although it is possible to fly to Tsavo West and then drive (again if you have a guide with vehicle) and if you are coming from e.g. Lewa, that might make sense. And if you drivie in you can take all the food and stuff with you. It is self-catering accommodation.

 

I am sure Lois can confirm that (or not).

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the Lewa visitors had been to ele rehab as an earlier part of their trip

 

sounds rather expensive

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Charles? Where is Nelson? :o

 

By the way, when is all this taking place?

 

@@pault

 

Nelson was with two other regular Kicheche guests, they have over 160 Kicheche nights under their belts, when we got there and they always request Nelson. We had Charles for the first two days and then Nelson. You really can't get a bad guide at Kicheche. The other members of my group had Patrick and they enjoyed him immensely.

 

June 23, 2016 was the first day of the safari and it ran continuously.

Edited by Lois Hild Photography
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It is a pitty that visiting the orphaned eles in a Tsavo is so expensive

 

there was a couple from Austin ,Texas at Lewa Safari Camp when I was there.

 

the access is only by charter flight

 

also they were taken by someone to a market to buy all their food and clean water for drinking and cooking , which had to be taken in by vehicle

 

@@COSMIC RHINO - There are two options for staying at Ithumba. One is Ithumba Camp. It accommodates a maximum of eight in four tents and you must book the entire camp which does make it expensive if you don't have seven friends you want to spend a few days with. It is self-catering in that you must supply food and beverages. They supply all staff including the cook and all utensils, bedding, towels, etc. There is also the posher Ithumba Hill Camp. You don't have to hire the entire camp, but you must have at least four people. I'm not clear if it is self-catering or not. It is fairly new.

 

As far as getting there, you may drive or take a charter flight. With eight a charter with Safarilink Cessna 208 isn't much more than a comparable scheduled flight AND they serve you a little brown bag snack on the 45 minute flight from Wilson! Since it's a charter you could fly direct from wherever you are, say Lewa.

 

If going through Nairobi there are companies that will do the shopping for you and meal planning so that you would just have to pick up what you need already packaged up for you.

 

The easiest would be to just join us July 2017 and let us make all the arrangements for you!

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