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Kenya and Uganda: Saruni Samburu, Saruni Rhino Camp, Serian Nkorombo Camp; Baker's Lodge/Murchison Falls and Ndali Lodge/Kibale Forest


gatoratlarge

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gatoratlarge

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No question personally this has been a banner safari year -- While you never know, and you never say never, I certainly can't expect for it to be repeated -- three trips to Africa in 365 days will likely not happen again for me.  So I have reveled in the privilege of spending time doing what I love which is exploring wilderness areas particularly in Africa, observing wildlife in its natural place.  Going back to some areas visited in the past but also branching out and exploring new places---something I always try to include on each trip I'm able to take.

 

This trip was special for a number of reasons...it was 25 years ago (or 26) that I made my first visit to Africa with my dad.  He's 84 now and told me about a year ago that he wanted to go back to Africa one last time.  I decided we should retrace some of our steps from the inaugural safari and add a few new places as well.

 

The itinerary went like this:

 

ARR Nairobi AUG 4 -- Overnight at Fairview Hotel

AUG 5-6 -- Saruni Samburu

AUG 7-8 -- Saruni Rhino Camp

AUG 9-11 -- Serian Nkorombo Camp in the Mara

AUG 12 -- The Boma Hotel in Entebbe

AUG 13-15 -- Baker's Lodge in Murchison Falls NP

AUG 16-17 -- Ndali Lodge near Fort Portal (Kibale Forest)

then homeward bound....

 

We took my dad's wife (her second safari) and my niece (her first trip to Africa).  The goal was to show her the typical game of Africa of the savanna and plains as well as the forests.  In other words, Karen Blixen's Africa as well as Edgar Rice Burroughs... what was new for me, I had never been to Murchison Falls or seen the chimps in Kibale.  Back in 1992, when I visited as a backpacker, the Kibale Forest was newly designated and there were no habituated chimp groups.

 

Highlights included:

 

  • Seeing the "Samburu Specials": Reticulated giraffes, Beisa Oryx, Grevy's Zebra and Gerenuks
  • Tracking rhinos (a mother and calf) in the Sera Conservancy operated by the Samburu Community
  • Meeting Loijipu, the rhino orphan raised at Reteti and being released back into the wild at Sera Conservancy
  • Visiting the elephant orphanage at Reteti which is operated by the Samburu Community and strives to return the orphans back to their home range and families
  • Visiting the Mara during the migration (delayed this year) and taking a hot air balloon over the plains
  • Seeing the Victoria Nile in all its fury and power slicing through a narrow chasm to drop 100 feet below at Murchison Falls
  • Seeing the Shoebill in the Nile Delta near Lake Albert -- one of the most unusual and rare birds I've ever observed
  • Tracking chimps in the Kibale Forest -- and seeing as many species of primates as possible (ultimately we saw black and white colobus, red tailed monkeys, chimps, olive baboons, mangabeys, patas monkeys, vervet monkeys and lesser bush babies so eight species on this trip)
  • 52 species of mammals (including three species of giraffe: reticulated, masai and Rothschild's) I added a leopard tortoise and a hedgehog(!) to my list of sightings in 17 trips to Africa I had never seen one :D and birds (in addition to the shoebill) were too numerous but some notables included:  Ross's Turaco, Great Blue Turacos, etc...
  • We saw the Big Five including mother and cubs of cheetah, leopard and lions...Overall, we had quite a trip!

 

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Nam Wan still hasn’t got over you responding that you were in Kenya when she added you on her new phone and said hi. “How can he be back in Africa?” she said, as if it were a crime. 

 

Looks like Ike a great trip for your purposes.

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gatoratlarge

I'll not go day by day, moment by moment but I'll try to hit the highlights...and if I have some helpful advice I'll try to include that too.  The first night stay was at the Fairview Hotel which is the second time I've used this as the jumping off point for a Kenyan safari.  I rather like it and find it the right size and a place with some charm.  I'd certainly stay there again although it was really just for a few hours of sleep before we were off to the Wilson Airport headed to Samburuland.

 

We dropped folks off at the Lewa airstrip before continuing on to Saruni Samburu -- I love the semi-arid landscape of Northern Kenya---it's simply stunning scenery and it just says "Africa" to me seeing the acacias and the rocky outcroppings, the multi-headed doum palms along the Ewaso Ng'iro River.  The last time we were here for a stay was 25 years ago at the Samburu Lodge.  Since then, there's been quite a lot of camps added in the park.  I was glad to drive in the opposite direction for about a half hour.  Soon we arrived at one of the most visually stunning camps I've stayed:  Saruni Samburu is perched atop a rocky kopje or small mountain and the view below stretched out in all directions. 

 

We took it fairly easy that first afternoon but had a short game drive and dinner in a dry river bed with signing and dancing.  Johan and Zoe were the camp managers and after dinner he took us on a brief 'scorpion safari' which can be a bit unnerving when you realize how easy they are to find with a black light!  He also knew a great deal about sky and the stars, so vividly clear and such an underestimated part of a safari.  Most of us live in urban areas with plenty of light pollution.  How wonderful to look up and see so clearly the Milky Way, Venus, Saturn, Neptune and Mars!

 

Our guide, Joseph, handled our crew very well---with two older people along he was great behind the wheel and minimized the rough roads we traveled.  He stayed with us for four days through Saruni Rhino Camp as well.  The next morning we headed into the national park and were able to observe the "Samburu Specials":  gerenuk, Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe and the Somalian blue-necked ostrich.  No doubt the game concentrations are best in the park but the closer we approached the river, the more we encountered pop-up vans zipping along often at high speeds chasing some sighting they likely heard via the radio.  So as much as I enjoyed seeing the unique wildlife of the Samburu NP, I was glad when we headed back to the conservancy outside the park.

 

As an aside---I recall seeing dik diks many years ago, but on this visit, we must have seen more than 100...they were the most common species of mammal we saw.

 

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gatoratlarge

Some of the "Samburu Specials":

 

Reticulated Giraffe

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Gerenuk

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Phone Home!

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The Somalian Blue Necked Ostrich

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Bat Eared Foxes

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Superb Starling?

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Vulturine Guinea Fowl

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Buffalo Weavers

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Grant's Gazelle---it's been years since I saw Grant's gazelles, but saw them here and later in the Mara

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Not exactly a Samburu Special but still pretty :)

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Edited by gatoratlarge
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It must have been rather special to share this safari with your family members. I especially enjoyed the eles in the water and group of foxes so far.

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amybatt

This already sounds like a wonderful experience, no matter what you saw.  How great for you (safari #3 in a year) and your Dad and niece, all for different reasons. The itinerary looks wonderful, so I'll follow along with interest!

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gatoratlarge

After two nights at Saruni Samburu we headed out late morning for Saruni Rhino Camp.  My recollection was that it was about a two hour sojourn by land rover over(at times)rough roads.  We broke it up with a Samburu village visit.  We actually passed The Singing Wells on the way to Saruni Rhino and herds of goats, camels and cattle were lining up to drink.  Again, we saw dik diks by the score---clearly the most successful mammal in the region.  I was obsessed with the multi-headed doum palms that lined the dry river bed of Saruni Rhino.  It is a fantastic setting just as Saruni Samburu---they know how to pick the dramatic setting at so many African Camps!

 

We visited the Sera Conservancy in the afternoon to check the progress of Loijipu, the orphaned black rhino abandoned by his mother.  He's looked after well and taken on strolls during the day where he can feed but also given milk at certain intervals.  He looks healthy and a bit spoiled :D but it was cool to be so close to what has always been one of my favorite animals.  The next morning my niece and i went out to track rhinos in the conservancy.  A microchip has been implanted in their horns however only a couple of them are still sending out signals.  I'm not sure what the plan is once those batteries extinguish.  I believe there have been three births in the several years the Samburu have operated the conservancy and three more females are pregnant so there is now a total of 16 rhinos with three more on the way!

 

We had a few weak or false reads before we were able to locate a female and calf in dense bush.  The rangers worked hard scrambling up rocky outcroppings with their tracking devices to locate them.  While it wasn't the best view, it was a great thrill to peer through the binocs perhaps 50 yards away and see them totally still, ears rotating in all directions, and when the wind shifted and they caught smell of us, they were off with a snort!  It required using your senses not often in use in a land rover.

 

The afternoon we opted to go to the Reteti Orphanage that does great work for elephants in N Kenya.  It's community run and community based---the Samburu people are employed to care for the elephants and I picked up a strong "equality" message from the female and male keepers which was cool.  They made sure we knew they were considered equals when they put on their uniforms for work.  There were 14 elephants in their care and we watched them come in from being out in the bush for their bottles which is quite a scene.  Then when the bottle is done, they head to the water, then the mud bath!  It's a blast to watch them wrestle with each other and otherwise act like big kids!  A nutritionist gave us a briefing on what goes into their formula which is not an uncomplicated concoction---it is a sophisticated operation and I would be pleased to support their efforts.  It seems they are making a lot of headway with their fellow Samburu and now they are called to come out and rescue elephants they find trapped in wells, etc...they act as the eyes and ears of Reteti.

 

Overall it was about an hour visit and it was a nearly two hour drive from camp.  We broke it up with sundowners and game viewing (giraffes, etc...) but some may not wish to spend that long of a time in the vehicle.  I think the orphanage is considered in the Mathews Range and more accessible via Sarara Camp.  We, however, were delighted with our visit.

 

My first hedgehog!  Didn't even know they were found in Africa!  This one was found at Saruni Samburu near the kitchen...

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Village Visit:

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Saruni Rhino:38680514_10157050734538488_7281540962109620224_n.jpg.c378b502fc4f8132f43d3a8615e6abd5.jpgIMG_5848.jpg.6c04414a1c1bd2cb1fa303967df4a95c.jpg

This:

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Is the view from here :D:

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Here's Loijipu---I was not trying to shake his hand :D

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Rhino Tracking---trying to locate that elusive signal!

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Reteti Visit:

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Sundowners!

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Passing through a town on the way to Reteti:

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Samburu boy shepard:

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Singing Wells:

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Leaving Samburu:

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Edited by gatoratlarge
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gatoratlarge

These videos give you an idea of the atmosphere and environment around Samburu in Northern Kenya:

 

 

 

 

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michael-ibk

Great stuff Joel, I'm happy to see you had such a good time with your family. I took my mom once, it's a really special thing to share Africa with the people closest to you. Great pictures, especially love the Gerenuks and that tracking shot, looks very cool. And a Hedgehog, fantastic - never seen one in Africa!

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Very nice videos. The running giraffe was especially fascinating to watch.

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gatoratlarge

Thks @Marks!  Sometimes video can convey things (like movement :D) better than a still photo.  I'm always switching between the two.

 

Next stop was the Mara...this time of year, it would be a shame to be in Kenya and not try to see the Great Migration or a River Crossing...inside the park itself, as folks here well know, the lodges and camps are quite large and vehicle traffic can be heavy.  That is still the case.  Last time I was in the Mara was about six years ago and we stayed at Serena Lodge in the Mara Triangle and then a couple nights at Governor's Camp.  This time we chose Serian Nkorombo Camp.  I absolutely loved this charming small camp on the Mara River.  Max occupancy is about 12 or 14 people which is in stark contrast to the others I've stayed.  The staff was great too.

 

 Unlucky for us, the main migration was delayed this year due to plentiful rains in Tanzania so we didn't really see the great herds that I had hoped for...some river crossings were occurring but we didn't see one this time around either.  Even those that saw a crossing would say it was small in comparison to what is possible to see.  I heard some  staff say that Kenya and Tanzania do not get along and that on the TZ side they had been burning the grass to initiate new growth and keep the herds around longer.  I hope that's not the case.  Best to let Mother Nature alone...Still, the Mara does not disappoint.  In our three days, we saw the plains game aplenty and I love how you may see five or six species together grazing in the long grass.

 

Upon landing, we drove directly through a breeding herd of Cape Buffalo probably 500 strong.  We saw wildebeest and zebra, eland and Tommy's and impala and Grant's gazelles as well as Topi.  The cats particularly lions were plentiful as usual but we didn't really see them doing much other than napping...twice we saw a leopard and its cub, as well as a cheetah her cub.  A big cat though draws a big crowd this time of year and so I would be lying if I said that didn't take away from the experience somewhat.  We added the hot air balloon over the Mara and that's always a thrill...the one that leaves from Governor's is particularly good as it spends a lot of time crisscrossing the Mara River (thus crocs and hippos) and the forest that surrounds its banks: elephants and giraffe.  After sunrise, It winds up sweeping across the plains and landing in time for a big breakfast.

 

Scenes from the Mara:

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Nkorombo Camp was intimate, charming and had a great staff!39024254_10157065999803488_1347282153573974016_n.jpg.768a77e96d196f9ad23411dbb5138c47.jpg39929221_10157092228843488_1021775253749104640_n.jpg.dce4f43a8f830696771bbfe4bce8bbff.jpg39998650_10157092426523488_5364451239746600960_n.jpg.212601f6de3c874673807b8870fe1ef4.jpg39871929_10157092426438488_214468736659226624_n.jpg.3b2ebe380289e3f80de3ef1cfa05ccbf.jpg

 

Wildebeests on the move...the herds were late arriving to the Mara this year...39724999_10157092457333488_8086802177118437376_n.jpg.e41c4bed57d4ec3c81656ce9e9864140.jpg

 

A balloon ride is a cool way to see the Mara from above...

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Croc gets to close to a hippo---from the balloon39981922_10157092425483488_1732626061025345536_n.jpg.500b5dc667cec15131f54a64791d9827.jpg39965749_10157092425753488_3252099178687365120_n.jpg.cbc08ee9527deff0b0eea7bb5ced4927.jpg39864458_10157092457433488_5158323273741631488_n.jpg.5cfd736b09d926e0197b477b74fd53f6.jpg39821906_10157092427633488_2263507525166956544_n.jpg.7d11f65067b76a53fc93ae362fdd84ba.jpg39835085_10157092478598488_3666229004928548864_n.jpg.b6910474d72c4bef0a45cc9f2bc07c7f.jpg39742756_10157092229918488_2151722213785468928_n.jpg.37646c5bc6177748e8c9963004fb8204.jpg39878756_10157092427583488_5246791040169410560_n.jpg.b520824a4808762701098202c52f2d04.jpg39861949_10157092456988488_3226244540717334528_n.jpg.745efd9b632f7d3b5458b4ae35a3a0d2.jpg39862001_10157092229818488_1565295170260303872_n.jpg.f5a6977834d33c72f3da1e3dcaca3d88.jpg39887126_10157092426703488_3484508861325377536_n.jpg.62a9688301062761dbd2f4588174557e.jpg

 

Well fed crocs...39891410_10157092457123488_8497516602416168960_n.jpg.2a790fb9dfbcb3cc0811ff016c81a8ee.jpg

 

Grimacing hyena

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gatoratlarge

Some vids from the Mara (warning: my videos have been known to make some people dizzy!) :D:

 

 

 

 

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gatoratlarge

Couple vids from Serian Nkorombo Camp:

 

 

 

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great pics. love the one eye leopard! we were there late june/early july but in the conservancies. when we drove through the reserve the grasses were so high. still look likes that was the case.

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gatoratlarge

@plambers yes the herds hadn't arrived in full force to mow the grass! :D

 

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gatoratlarge

After three nights and multiple game drives in the Mara, we whiffed on seeing a "crossing" or seeing the sheer masses or numbers of wildebeest I had seen six years ago in the Triangle.  Still, any visit to the Mara is worthwhile.  A crossing should probably be viewed as a bonus of a Mara visit but certainly not the main point, the sheer abundance of wildlife and the beautiful grasslands bordered by the escarpment are quintessential Africa and certainly a place everyone wanting to experience Africa to its fullest should put on their itinerary at one time in their life.

 

We headed for the airstrip back to Wilson Airport then transferred to Jomo Kenyatta for the next portion of our African adventure.  We ended the day in Entebbe at The Boma a small hotel with a garden oasis in close proximity to the airport.  We checked in, freshened up and were dropped off at Faze 3, a good local restaurant also close to the hotel.

 

The next morning we took a small plane northward to Murchison Falls NP.  We stayed at Baker's Lodge which was right on the Victoria Nile.  It sits about 15 minutes from the barge crossing to enter the park for game drives, probably 45 minutes by boat to the falls themselves.  The next morning we took a boat to the falls---passing giant crocs and hundreds of hippos along the way...also, elephants, Rothschild's giraffe and waterbuck as well as plenty of birds.  The next afternoon we drove to the top of the falls which is also possible.  To describe the falls is difficult---to think that the Victoria Nile in its entirety narrows and plummets through this chasm dropiing 100 feet below is felt and heard as much as seen.  The fury and power of the falls is one impressive sight!

This gives you an idea---the quality can be set to HD if you want a clearer view:

The boat ride up to the falls was a safari unto itself:

A few from Baker's Lodge:

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wifi mesmerizes young folks these days though I'm not much better :D

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There was quite an active and vocal hippo family just off the shore of the lodge...

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The falls were as impressive a sight as I've seen:39929231_10157092227923488_4128442905603866624_n.jpg.f75d86714c65af6e0e8e313f255060c8.jpg

A barge takes you across the Nile into the park for game drives---it runs on a schedule so you have to make it or risk being stranded---of course the lodge can always send a boat if that happens.  I saw a barge that they referenced with regard to oil exploration though it did not seem like it was in action...I really didn't see anything that indicated any aggressive action regarding oil drilling which I had read about prior to our visit.  Of course, I hope it stays that way.  It is a stunningly beautiful park.

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The savannah is dotted with Borassas Palms.  As I said--it was a different look than I had seen other places in Africa and it was beautiful.  And the plains were loaded with game....oribi, kob, buffalo, Jackson's hartebeest, elephants and Rothschild's giraffe.  We didn't see lions or leopards but our game drives were not lengthy and our focus was on the river, falls and shoebill...so I can't say we gave it a fair shot.  I loved the park though...39814945_10157092427098488_6838249394555322368_n.jpg.ef57b1a6b45f45b37a95ec8dec192344.jpg

The Kob and the Crowned Crane are symbols of Uganda39835056_10157092427158488_6520859824006103040_n.jpg.01e82b208924ad1cfbed4e776bfe3933.jpg39869180_10157092228858488_7861073475023142912_n.jpg.35a15b26a99826ced0d0129dcd28efb6.jpg39876181_10157092427293488_3671082438232113152_n.jpg.d0f1f1c3c9b155410d7e492a7b0128e7.jpg39891265_10157092427168488_4862459675553038336_n.jpg.9ecb99e85f3dc2285559e765efed3a8e.jpg40376870_10157116098753488_1618681270152200192_n.jpg.a9b4cf5535058378aafc298cf23b94c0.jpg40410418_10157116098708488_3692875660637765632_n.jpg.0d4d1275e7ba949838d670df3dd5c87b.jpg

 

River views:40449683_10157116098733488_1306859819759566848_n.jpg.38cd9bfd5219e7a2d1484fbde2855a8f.jpg40466588_10157116098553488_4542206899415678976_n.jpg.8499a282e01d0178d7b701a9c826c76c.jpg

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Edited by gatoratlarge
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gatoratlarge

Some of the birdlife along the Nile:

 

The impressive saddlebill stork:

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The Goliath Heron:006.jpg.0bdb1c60e99f63722be34ecd7357844d.jpg

 

The next morning we set out toward Lake Albert to the Delta to search for the shoebill---it was definitely one of the top birding highlights to see one of these fascinating, strange creatures fishing for lungfish---we sat on the roof of the boat as we glided past islands of papyrus:

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The wait was over---and well worth our efforts:

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Few more shots of the Nile and its denizens and the beautiful scenery of Murchison Falls NP:

 

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Amazing batch of photos. I really like the first shot of the ele by the water in post #16 - and of course the shoebill.

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michael-ibk

Fantastic, such a cool Shoebill sighting! Great shots Joel. Murchison Falls looks beautiful indeed, love that photo with all the palm trees.

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gatoratlarge

We left out after three wonderful nights at Baker's Lodge and flew down to Kasese...there we took the hour or so drive to Ndali Lodge.  We drove through numerous small towns along the way.  Conditions seemed quite poor but there was no doubt agriculturally you could grow almost anything.  After getting off the main road, we began to climb into the hills.  Surrounded by banana plantations and other crops.  On this trip between the views from Saruni Samburu and now Ndali Lodge, we had some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen in Africa.  We had a flat tire on the way, but it was soon fixed and we continued on our way.  Soon we entered a forested area and after rounding a few corners, a view of paradise!

 

The land Ndali sits upon was purchased by the current owner's grandfather in the 1960's for a tea plantation.  Soon after, Idi Amin confiscated the property which sits nestled between two crater lakes with views of a third in the distance.  The family reclaimed it in the 1990's and Aubrey's father built the lodge atop the rim of the lake.  Sadly, he passed away soon after and Aubrey (the son, grandson) and his wife have run the lodge now for 20 years.  It's a homey place with three dogs that roam around: Basil, Sybil and Polly named for the TV show Fawlty Towers :D  It's such a relaxing place and only a short (and beautiful) 45 minute drive to Kibale Forest through tea, coffee and banana plantations to reach the "Primate Capital of the World" ....we swam in the pool, hiked around the crater lake and toured the farm and the vanilla plantation (supplier to Ben and Jerry's) when we were just relaxing around the lodge.

 

The place itself deserves a few pics but it's far more captivating and charming than any picture I took...

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Basil, Sybil and Polly were never too far away :D

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gatoratlarge

And lastly, we visited Kibale Forest.  I came here about 25 years ago when I believe they had just designated it a National Park.  They had no family groups of chimps habituated to humans, so while we saw about five species of monkeys during the visit, we only heard the chimps, we did not see them.   Kibale is sometimes called the "Primate Capital of the World" as it is home to 13 species of primate!  On the drive back to Ndali we saw three species of primates--maybe four---feeding in one tree.  Red tailed monkeys, mangabeys and black and white colobus...baboons were on the roadside as ell and we had just come from the chimps.  The chimp experience was outstanding.  Probably my best experience observing chimps even having visited Mahale (which I absolutely love) twice!  We saw a large family group of more than 20, babies, feeding chimps, drinking chimps, grooming chimps, resting chimps, even displays of dominance with the shouting and screaming and mock charges (a bit terrifying)...all the stuff you hope to see.  Initially I wondered, we located a chimp feeding on palm fruit but he was quickly down to the ground and walking at a fast pace which was difficult to keep up with...I began to wonder if this would be the sum total of our experience that morning.  We were at times tromping through large mud holes imprinted by elephants in this swampy area!  We never came across elephants but saw their evidence all around---the next morning, the group from Ndali went chimp trekking and the guide had to fire off four shots to scare off a group of elephants that began to come toward the trekkers----forest elephants are notably irritable and aggressive.  

 

The shower felt great back at Ndali and we were most satisfied with our visit to the forest...

 

On the way to Kibale:

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Black and white colobus monkeys:

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Mangabey chilling out:

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gatoratlarge

Forest light conditions are pretty impossible and the chimps seem to absorb the light and become black blobs so pardon the vids and pics as I'm sure they could be a lot better...just wanted y'all to have an idea of what the experience is like... :D

 

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Great videos! It's amazing how easy it would be to miss them altogether.

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Game Warden

@gatoratlarge I've just edited an image into your top post so as this topic will appear in the latest trip reports ticker, and am now enjoying reading through the report.

 

Matt

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gatoratlarge
8 hours ago, Game Warden said:

@gatoratlarge I've just edited an image into your top post so as this topic will appear in the latest trip reports ticker, and am now enjoying reading through the report.

 

Matt

@Game Warden Thank you sir!

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