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Leaping Leopards! Another Kenya Trip Report -- November 2018


amybatt

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amybatt

For me, this was not meant to be a safari year.  In late 2017 I was planning to take this year off and focus on other parts of the world.  Indeed, I'd already booked Peru and London for the first half of the year and was eyeing Egypt or Eastern Europe for the fall.

 

And then the Kenya Airways flights from JFK to NBO were announced in January and I took it as a sign (however realistic) that I was meant to go. I mean, really, the fares were $800 or so, which is actually half what I usually pay to go via Europe in February.  Kenya was practically begging me to return by flaunting this fare.  This was truly a message from the safari gods that I was meant to go to the place I love most in 2018.  Come on, work with me here!  I decided to go the first week the flights were in service.  So I reached out to Bill Given at The Wild Source and told him I'm only going because of this fare and I want to keep the overall price reasonable, and I want to go back to Offbeat Mara (which I loved in 2017) and to the Emakoko (which I loved in 2016 but knew this would likely break my budget more than a little). I also wanted to try Enaidura Camp with Ping after hearing so much about it and him from @janzin, among many others.

 

So my itinerary went like this:

2 nights Emakoko (Nairobi National Park)

3 nights Enaidura (Maasai Mara National Reserve)

4 nights Offbeat Mara (Mara North Conservancy, pay for 3, stay for 4 special offer)

Dayroom at Emakoko

 

Short and sweet, this safari was meant to "get Kenya out of my system" and was sort of a greatest hits tour for me, returning to places I'd loved with an eye towards not being back in Kenya for a while, and despite my usual very rigid rule "not to repeat perfect".  But I did.  And this is the story....

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Day 2 -- Nairobi National Park -- the rest of the day   Sheldricks was wonderful as usual.  This was my third private visit there and I'm glad I did it.  They have 22 babies there now and wh

Day 2 -- Nairobi National Park -- Scene 2   I met up with Rashid about 10 minutes before 2:00 and he’d just gotten back from getting the truck serviced.  He said he ran into the Kingfisher p

Day 1 -- Nairobi National Park   Since I’ve never returned to some place over here that I’ve liked, it’s a really heartwarming feeling to be welcomed back like an old friend.  Anthony welcom

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amybatt

Day 0 -- Travel day

 

I ended up flying down to JFK from Boston the night before the flight and staying at the Courtyard near the airport.  I just didn't want the panic of a hurricane or other delay to have me missing the noontime flight (departure time was later changed to 1:20 p.m.).  I'd have had to leave my house at 4 a.m. to take a flight from Boston to make the noontime flight, so I just gave in and got a room the night before.

 

I also bid on upgrades to Business Class.  An unexpected bonus for a project at work came through in early October, which left me feeling slightly less guilty about it and in the end I was glad I did.  I'd never flown Business before and this was a quite reasonable price to do it.  Had I purchased it myself from the outset, it would have been about $4700.  My original fare plus my bids totaled $3200, and I had it both ways, although I wouldn't find out I had it coming home until I got back to Nairobi and my email on my last day.  That I got it coming home was a very, very good thing in the end (foreshadowing).

 

The flight left on time and I was settled in to my seat (31" wide and 72" of legroom!) next to a Kenyan gentleman.  We of course got to talking off and on throughout the flight.  When it came to talking about what we do for a living, he said he was a governor of a state just outside Nairobi.  He was impressed and also baffled that I'd done so many safaris, especially as a woman traveling alone.  He was also baffled that "a woman of my age" was also single and happily so and also a vegetarian.  He was surprised that I was not surprised that he had multiple wives and 14 kids.  I chalked it all up to differences in culture.  He'd never been on safari and hadn't even been to Nairobi National Park, so I did my best to encourage him to do so.  As the plane landed, he put his phone number in my phone and said if I ever needed anything in Kenya to call him.  I left him and went to wait for my ride to Emakoko.  As I waited, I saw this guy being whisked out of the terminal with 6 armed (as in, rifles and machine guns) guards encircling him.  The Kenyans out on the sidewalk all started yelling to him and walking towards him.  My guide and Anthony at Emakoko explained a governor is sort of like a Senator in the US and this guy was really a big deal.  To me, he was such a normal, inquisitive guy.  An unexpected brush with celebrity I suppose.  Over the course of my stay I'd ask other guides about him and got a very wide range of opinions about his intelligence and competence, which I guess comes with any political discussion.  But I digress.

 

The flight over was excellent.  They'd advertised a 14 1/2 hour flight, but it ended up being just over 12 1/2.  It departed JFK at 1:20 pm EST and arrived at 9:30 a.m. Kenya time.  I managed to lie flat and sleep about 7 hours straight, which left me feeling great on arrival.  The service was excellent.  I found the flight crew very friendly, always smiling and willing to keep a steady stream of bottled water coming my way.  The meals were quite good.  I'd requested Vegetarian of some sort and all were good, much more than just edible.  There was a main meal after takeoff, a snack mid-flight (I slept through that) and breakfast before arrival.  The in-flight entertainment was a bit dated, but I had a slew of video on my phone and a dozen books on my Kindle.

 

The flight route appeared to head out of JFK east and came in over the Azores, crossed over to Morocco and then down toward Kenya.  It was only about 5 hours to Portugal and the entire rest of the time was over Africa.

 

I did get the e-Visa ahead of time and being first off the plane encountered absolutely no lines, but in the new (to me) terminal there are very distinct lines for Visas and Other Passports.  I went through the Other Passport line since I already had my visa and was processed and on my way in less than a minute.

 

I was picked up by Rashid, who would be my guide at the Emakoko, and was entering Nairobi National Park within an hour of landing.  Let the game drives begin!

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amybatt

Day 1 -- Nairobi National Park

 

Since I’ve never returned to some place over here that I’ve liked, it’s a really heartwarming feeling to be welcomed back like an old friend.  Anthony welcomed me warmly back to the Emakoko and many of the staff not only look familiar to me but they remember me as well. That’s really nice.

 

We had a nice game drive through Nairobi National Park on our way from the airport.  Saw mostly birds, a couple giraffe, some eland and paw prints of lions, but no cats.  Rashid said that there is a pair of leopards mating nearby.  That would be a bonus, but I think I’d be happy with rhino and lions, especially since I’ve never seen lions here before.

 

One thing I was surprised by, but probably shouldn't have been, was the railroad line going through the park.  This has been built in the time since I'd last been here, to a fair amount of controversy.  I didn't realize that it was elevated (and quite high) and also that it followed the line that the international airliners take on approach into NBO.  The thought being (allegedly) that wildlife were already used to noise along that line, so a train going through twice a day (for now) isn't going to make that much difference.  I'm not saying I'm ok with the SGR, but it isn't as dangerous to wildlife as it would be on the ground.  All but one time when we passed under it, there was quite a lot of game under and around it; it seems as though they've adjusted.  But it is a tremendous eyesore.IMG_6179.JPG

 

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One thing I remember clearly about Emakoko is that I was extremely well fed.  And it continues now.  Lunch was a cucumber shot (tiny diced cucumber bits) with a warm ricotta sauce on top.  There was homemade focaccia, a barley salad with tomato and mozzarella, roasted veggie skewers with a sweet and sour sauce and a frisée salad with beets.  I chose rose wine and water.  Dessert, as if I had room for it (but I did!) was a wonderful passion fruit tartlet.  Oh boy.  It’s coming back very quickly why I want to retire here!

 

Rashid and I headed out at 3:30 for a game drive.  Of course we have lion or leopard on the mind but I was quite satisfied with 7 black rhino sightings, and two very close to the car and one was a mother-calf pair.  There is one thing this park is good for and that is rhino sightings.  Incredible.  Also saw lots of interesting birds, although I can’t say I’m a birder just yet.  It’s just nice to be here and warm and sunny after the cold and dreary of home lately.

 

An absolutely wonderful dinner tonight.  I joined a lovely couple from Toronto who are on a three week journey through Kenya and Tanzania.   I’m jealous of their time off but I suppose that is what comes with retirement.  Dinner tonight started with a potato soup with smoked salmon amuse bouche.  Then the main was fish topped with a light cream sauce and thinly sliced zucchini with mashed potato and carrots.  Dessert was a white chocolate cheesecake.  I had a dawa (or two) for a pre-dinner drink and a glass of sauvignon blanc with my fish.  An absolutely stellar ending to my first day here.  In bed at 10 for a 6:00 a.m. start time tomorrow.

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A few black rhinos grazing

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amybatt

Day 2 -- Nairobi National Park -- Scene 1

 

Forgotten from last night (or lost in the haze of two Dawas and a glass of wine?!)...in addition to the ubiquitous rock hyrax here, new to the Emakoko experience are a family of genet cats and a bunch of bush babies who join the dining room crowd at dinner.  The genets seem familiar with Anthony, a relationship which is bolstered by the generous bowl of Friskies he leaves down for them.  Genets are a cross between a cat and a ferret, with an elaborate spotted coat.  And I’ve only ever seen bush babies on night game drives, and usually just the shiny brightness of their eyes from within a bush.  I had no idea until last night that they are quite similar to North American gray squirrels, with long bushy tails.

 

Today we headed straight out on a game-drive, choosing to save breakfast for mid-morning.  Rashid said that since it is Saturday, that the park would be crowded, but since we are already in the park and a fair distance from the gate, we would head to the most remote part of the park that day-trippers would take hours to get to and start there.  Later today we’d got to the other side that the day-trippers would have covered earlier, all to avoid the crowds, which is a great strategy.

 

Of course lions were on the agenda here, since I never managed to see them on my prior trip here.  I'd been corresponding with our good friend @Tom Kellie and the night before I received an email from Tom, who shares a love of both the Emakoko as well as Nairobi National Park.  He said that today is his birthday today and that I was to go out and “find something spectacular ”.  Early in the morning, we came across a newly born zebra, just minutes old, still wet and finding its legs.  Its mom was nuzzling it and licking it clean.  It chose today, Tom’s birthday, to enter the world.  To me that was just poetry.  I sent a photo to Tom to appreciate.  It’s funny how Mother Nature seems to offer up just what you need.DSC00811.JPG

 

We spotted about 4 black rhino along the way and then came upon a solitary male who appeared to be grazing near the road around the bend from where we were.  Rashid slowed the car to a crawl and got as close as he thought he could with a running engine and turned off the ignition.  We sat and waited a bit and the rhino got closer as it grazed and finally stopped and looked right at us.  At this point it was maybe 40-50 yards off, fairly close for a sighting in my experience.  I popped out the roof hatch and started to take photos when suddenly it was getting closer without my manipulating the lens.  I looked up from the viewfinder, puzzled, how was it getting closer without my zooming in?  My mind calculated this quickly, it was charging!  It would rush forward 10 steps or so, stop and snort at us.  Then do it again!  It ended up 20-30 yards off and stopped, staring us down, before it turned and ran in the other direction.  It was a spectacular encounter.  So between the newborn zebra and the rhino, I was rewarded by this early morning game drive.  As I say, I’m never disappointed when I get up early.DSC00793.JPG

 

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As I was out the hatch in the roof though, I heard a lion roar and told Rashid and pointed in the general direction.  So I knew now at the very least that they exist here!  We tried for a while to conjure them up but then just gave in to the natural rhythm of the drive.  We found a small lake that had zebras drinking and a pair of hippo floating lazily.  On the other side of it Rashid spotted a crocodile hatchling on the water’s edge, barely a foot long.  I’m used to the massive crocs I see in the Mara, so this was notably smaller.  I also spotted a rock agama lizard sun bathing in the road, and a second visited me on my deck at the Emakoko after breakfast, this one missing half his tail!

 

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Don't be fooled, this croc was barely a foot long!  A hatchling:

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This visit has already confirmed for me that, even without the cats, Nairobi National Park is a underrated gem.  In just two game drives I’ve seen: black rhino (7+), zebra, wildebeest, impala, grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, waterbuck, giraffe, duiker (spelling? A small gazelle), eland, hyena, hippo, jackal, ostrich, genet, bush baby and rock hyrax.  I’ve also seen a slew of birds, the exact names of which I cannot remember, but include doves, bee eaters (at least 2 species), roller, plovers, sandpipers, starlings, larks, kites, vultures and eagles.  I still cannot believe this is right in Nairobi and so accessible to so many people.  That the government doesn’t do more to protect and promote it is a sad situation.

 

Returned back to the lodge around 9:45 for a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, apricot scones (delicious!) and granola with a splash of yogurt.  I devoured a pot of coffee by myself (caffeine withdrawal headache be damned) and then took a shower.  I sat out on my deck enjoying the air before lunch and when we then headed out to Sheldricks for my private visit.  It would not turn out to be that straight-forward.

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amybatt

Day 2 -- Nairobi National Park -- Scene 2

 

I met up with Rashid about 10 minutes before 2:00 and he’d just gotten back from getting the truck serviced.  He said he ran into the Kingfisher pride, a lioness and her four sub-adult daughters, at the top of the hill.  Off we went.  Except the hill is pretty bumpy and slow.  We took maybe 15 minutes getting to where he'd seen them.  And no lions.  So we made a best guess, remembering that I have a 3:00 appointment at Sheldricks.  We went about 5 minutes and he said he saw an impala with a young baby in the same spot coming back earlier, so if the lions headed this way, the mother would have taken the baby off or been eaten, so they didn’t come this way.  We doubled-back and went another direction.  Rashid stopped and looked through the binos and somehow spotted them about 1/4 mile off.  “They’re hunting”, he said. OH NO.  I’ve done this before.  I’ve waited hours and hours (quite literally) and if a hunt happened, it failed.  I can think of at least twice I’ve invested time in failed hunts.  And I had somewhere to be anyway, I couldn’t invest that time again, but it would be very hard to leave if it looked like a viable attempt was in the making.

 

We pulled up to an area with knee-high grass.  Rashid could see where four lions were crouching, I could only see them as they poked heads up slightly and I could see the black backs of their ears.  All of them were focused on two male impalas standing in front of a small bush.  The lions spread out in a circle around their target.  They kept creeping closer so slowly, tightening the circle bit by bit.  I saw the middle female lion get so darn close to the impala I could hardly believe it didn’t see her.  Then the impalas both turned to exit the scene to the right.  Big mistake.  I’d have thought that middle lion would’ve gone right at it, but one from the side dove in.  After the fact, Rashid said that it was as if the lions didn’t have the same plan.  One went for one impala, another went for the other.  I thought that I was watching with my naked eye but I also felt my finger go down on the shutter. They got the impala!  Impala and lion flying through the air well above the grass from right to left.  The five lions somehow got the impala over to the far right, conveniently not more than 15 feet off a road (we must stay on-road in NNP, so this was convenient).  We pulled up just as they were tucking into the impala.  I watched a bit of the lunch, then realized we only had 40 minutes to get to Sheldricks and Rashid said that’s exactly how much time we needed.  So we left.  But not before noticing that the impala all of a sudden tried to move! It wasn’t dead yet, even after having most of its insides taken out.  Yikes.  As I’ve seen plenty of lion meals, I was ok with leaving.  But think about it, we caught up with these lions at about 2:12 and we were leaving at 2:20.  That’s how fast it was!  What was even better, we were the only vehicle there.  It doesn’t get better than that.  

 

Looking at the timestamp from the first shot I took until the tackle, it was 2:12:28 p.m. to 2:15:39 p.m.!!!  I cannot believe my luck!

 

(Note: admittedly these photos are not great quality.  I was shooting through the windshield and I don't even remember looking through the viewfinder.  But they are documentary evidence of what took place!)

 

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I recall now the utterly ridiculous jubilation I felt.  I remember saying to Rashid "I could go home right now, seriously" and I meant it.  I'd wanted to see something like this on every safari, and I never would have guessed that it would happen here, with just the two of us as witnesses, and that it was so damn fast!  So with my first lion kill under my belt, we left for Sheldricks.

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amybatt

Day 2 -- Nairobi National Park -- the rest of the day

 

Sheldricks was wonderful as usual.  This was my third private visit there and I'm glad I did it.  They have 22 babies there now and while I missed some of my regulars who have graduated to the reintegration sites all over Kenya, I still had a good time seeing the four I have left, Enkesha, Luggard, Jotto and Tamiyoi.  Enkesha was one of the first in and one of the first to eat and then dive head first into the mud bath and also the very last to leave.  She loves her mud baths! She didn’t leave it the entire time I was there and was the last to leave it.   Luggard with his blown out knee seems to be walking better but he stays off on his own because he doesn’t like getting pushed around by the others.  I didn’t take as many photos this time as it was more fun to just watch them interact.  So many personalities, like kids on a playground.  One of the larger elephants tried to push a baby out of the mudbath and the baby started to trumpet and Edwin went over and called the bigger one by name and it stopped right away!  Another time all it took was for Edwin to lift his finger and wag it at them and they stopped.  So funny.

 

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Enkesha, with her trunk still severed by a snare.  It doesn't seem to be holding her back!

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There is a newly rescued elephant Dololo who just came out with the herd for the first time today.  She was found in a shallow mudbath with only her trunk sticking up out of the water.  She looks so sunken, hollow cheeks and very thin but they think she will be ok since she’s done well so far.  The keepers were trying to get her to go in or near the mudbath so that they could cover her with protective mud to shield her from the sun and insects.

 

Dololo, you can see how emaciated she still is and that she's not the orange color of the clay at the orphanage yet:

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As the hour was up the babies started to get anxious to get back out to the park and they all lined up as if to tell the keepers, “come on now, let’s go”!  Somehow, in the rush for the park, Kuishi, a not small baby elephant, stepped on my foot!  Good lord was she heavy.  Edwin was right next to me, and he said one word and she moved.  I’m fine but it just goes to show you how not “baby” these babies actually are!

 

We got to meet Maxwell again.  Rashid said he heard that another released black rhino got pregnant and had a calf and brought the calf back to meet Maxwell and visit her keeper, which is really interesting given how anti-social black rhinos are.

 

Kiko the giraffe has been moved since he’s outgrown the barn he was in.  He’s such a big boy now.  I asked Edwin why he’s so shy about going out with the giraffes he sees in the park, and he said it’s because Kiko is a Rothschild giraffe and those in the park are Masai. Never the two shall meet, I guess.  His species are more up in northern Kenya so if they are going to release him I suppose it will have to be up there.

 

I also got to see a newly rescued 5-day old white rhino calf.  She'd gotten stuck in the mud and KWS rescued her and tried to get her mother to take her back for 2 days, but her mother wouldn't.  They could either leave her there to die or try to raise her.  They opted for the latter.  Edwin was unsure of the prognosis since they've not tried this before.  I haven't seen any updates on her on the Sheldricks social media since then, so I'm not sure how it has turned out, but often Sheldricks won't say anything until they are fairly certain the rescue will be ok.  Edwin felt that if they could get her to thrive, they could easily release her in NNP since white rhinos are so social.

 

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We left Sheldricks not thinking it could get any better.  I mean, really, right?  Rashid had a mission for either leopard or white rhino, neither of which we’d seen yet.  We drove through leopard territory with no luck.  He then saw through the binos about 5 white rhinos well over a mile off.  They were just speck under the horizon.  But he knew we had time as they were grazing and don’t generally move fast like cats can.  We started to head in that general direction and saw two vehicles stopped at the side of the road.  I saw one very large camera lens sticking out of the window closest to the side of the road.  They were watching something.

 

That something was two lionesses and four cubs lying in the tall grass.  I’d have missed it entirely if I didn’t know where to look.  And even from my vantage point sitting on the roof of the truck, I could only see the long indentations where they were lying.  Suddenly one lioness’ head popped up and she gave a long yawn. Twice.  That’s lion speak for “getting up now” and she did.  Followed by her sister.  They only moved maybe 20 feet, but I managed to get some shots of them both.  The cubs were impossible to see clearly let alone get decent photos of, but I did see them scurry to the one they were nursing from.  Six more lions.  So they DO exist in NNP!  My drought has ended!DSC01028.JPG

 

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But we weren’t through yet.  Off we went to the rhinos.  We first found four.  I managed to get a great shot of the rhinos in front of the Nairobi skyline and just some generally nice shots.  Then it seems that the four decided they were going to cross the road.  As we were the only car on the road, I got incredible photos.  You’d think four would be enough right?  No, we saw 12 more here, there and everywhere!  We saw another crossing with a 2 year old calf too!  It was raining rhinos.

 

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Our last sighting of the night was a bit sad.  There were two adult females, an adult male and a one-year old calf.  The male wanted to mate with what appeared to be the mother of the calf.  In order to do so, he felt he needed to make the calf disappear.  Just as we started to drive off well after the sun had gone down, the male charged the calf and kept poking it with its horn.  The calf was distressed and the mother didn’t seem to do much but offer cover when the calf ran behind it.  She certainly wasn’t intervening.  Rashid says that the other female is probably in estrus and the male wants to mate with both females and sees the calf as preventing that.  It was quite dark by the time this happened and to be honest I didn’t want to be there if the inevitable happened.  Rashid said that it had happened once before that he knows of, so it’s not unheard of. And sad.  I’ll drive off pretending they all live happily ever after.  It’s easier that way.  In a recent thread here about where to see rhino, someone, maybe @COSMIC RHINO said that there is a difference between just "seeing rhinos" and "seeing interactions".  Indeed there is...and between the mock charging of the black rhino this morning and this behavior tonight with the eager-to-mate male and the calf, I think that's proof you can find that in NNP.

 

The two females and calf crossing the road:

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The male crossing the road (apologies for the antenna!)

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The male charging the calf, well after dark so horrible exposure:

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We got back to the lodge and I came to the room to freshen up and look at my photos.  I was sitting quietly and through the room (all doors closed) ran a rock hyrax.  I wasn’t scared or nervous, just worried he wanted to get out and my room was closed up for the night.  I mentioned it to the guard as I went up to dinner and he said he’d take care of it.  Remember this hyrax....

 

Dinner tonight was excellent.  There’s quite a crowd here with a large family so it was a bit raucous.  I recognized one guy of a pair traveling together.  I went to sit on my own to eat (it’s not communal dining here) and they invited me over.  How nice!  It dawned on us both that we knew each other and it turned out he was camp manager at Encounter Mara, where I stayed for safari #3!  Andrew is a really nice guy and I appreciated the conversation and companionship over dinner.  Small world!

 

Dinner was as delicious as I’ve come to expect.  I had another dawa to get started.  Appetizer was grilled mushroom over polenta toast.  Main was ricotta and tomato tart with scalloped potatoes (the non-veg main was beef, so I got their potatoes too).  Dessert was a wonderful passion fruit meringue.  We washed this all down with a Malbec which was tasty.

 

I returned to my room to pack to move on to the Mara the next day.  I’d gotten that all done and climbed into bed only to hear a repeated "THUMP, THUMP, THUMP" somewhere in my room.  I looked up through the mosquito net to see the rock hyrax (remember him?) jumping up at the door knob to my deck. He wanted out.  I got up, he ran and hid, I opened the door, climbed back behind the mosquito net and waited.  It took him a few minutes but out he went.  I closed the door behind him or else I think I would have had an all-night rave of rock hyraxes in here.

 

And that was the day.  In total, 11 lions, 1 more black rhino (bringing my total to 8), 16 white rhino, 22 baby elephants and white rhino newborn.  I honestly can’t imagine how this can be topped.  To say I am insanely happy is an understatement!  Nairobi National Park really delivered for me!

 

A bush-baby in the Emakoko lounge:

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Great start @amybatt this will surely rank as one of you're greatest days on safari and one to always remember. Despite to many game drives to count I probably have 5 or 6 days that stand well above everything else and this would have to get on my list! It's always nice to read you're Kenya reports as you can clearly see you have such a love for Kenya so I hope for my sake that it's not to many years till Kenya calls you back.

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Alexander33

Well, you’re certainly putting me to shame since I haven’t done a trip report from our visit in February!  But here’s another shout out to the Emakoko. However, we did not see a lion kill there.  You’re right, they can be very fast, and, for me, they produce conflicting feelings — until you see the cubs. And then, you just have acknowledge that it’s not about you and that nature must be allowed to take its course and that one must not try to interpose his or her own personal feelings on the situation at hand.

 

Great start to your safari. 

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@amybatt I only wish that it would have been more convenient for you to have met me because there are few things I enjoy more like meeting my fellow Safari enthusiasts.I once stayed Emakoko and was quite impressed not only by the lodge itself but by Nairobi National Park. I'll be making  a day trip to Nairobi National Park in January before I take my second trip to Uganda. I just love your photos of the rhinos and I am looking forward to seeing more of your trip report.

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Posing black rhinos and a lion kill in daylight...hell of a trip so far!

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amybatt

Thank you for reading along, @Big_Dog, @Alexander33 @dlo and @optig  If you can believe it, it got even better!  This was hands down the best of my 5 safaris, for many reasons, but primarily for so many "first" sightings for me and some very exciting ones.

 

@Alexander33, I said to Anthony at Emakoko that I want to be like the two old ladies on Fawlty Towers who just live in the hotel.  He laughed.  He thought I was joking.  I wasn't!

 

Back at work today so the next installment may have to wait.

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In the good news department, Sheldricks posted today that the baby rhino is doing well and has taken over the orphanage.  She's a cheeky little one!  Meet Maarifa.

Video here

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Thoroughly enjoying this TR. The various photos of the giraffe or rhinos juxtaposed against either the skyline and/or RR are startling. I've seen such things before, but am still always amazed. I also always enjoy your thorough descriptions of places and food. I did realize something today...I have noticed you saying you are a vegetarian and then you talk about the fish dish you ate....so I guess you are more of a pescatarian? It just always confused me. Either way- the food sounds fabulous and as I am neither (veg or pesc- I like my meat :)  ), I always like to hear what's on the menu.

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@lmonmm, yes technically pescatarian but that's just when I travel and the creative protein sources aren't abundant. At home I'm strictly vegetarian.  I just can't go 2 weeks with no protein!  But yes, the food is usually always good, even with my diet.

 

@mopsy thanks for following along, hoping to get back to this over the weekend!

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Great start to the report Amy. We were the first ever Emakoko visitors about six years ago so great to see it doing so well. We'll be there next November but just for a day room (and evening game drive) before our very late night home. Also staying 3 nights with Ping before 4 nights at Mara Plains so interested to hear what you think about the new location!

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offshorebirder

Wow @amybatt - what great sightings and experiences so far!   Thanks for sharing the details and the really good photos.

 

Your itinerary is jammin!   I look forward to reading about Offbeat Mara after the flooding and upgrades.

 

Did you happen to see any Suni in NNP?

 

 

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@philw in talking to Anthony, Emakoko is doing very well.  They had their best ever year this year and bookings are already up from that for next year.  They’ve built a house as another accommodation up on the very top and there are the makings for a funicular to get up the hill at some point too!  My day room on my return was up there and it was over 100 steps up, so I’d welcome the funicular.  Anthony and Emma are also expecting a baby girl in January, so 2019 will be a great year for them!

 

@offshorebirder, no, no Suni in NNP.  Offbeat bounced back wonderfully from the flood, but the story....did you know Chania was clinging to a tree for 6 hours overnight in the rushing water???

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No - I didn’t know that.   How terrible.

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Day Three -- Transitioning to the Mara and Enaidura Camp

 

Last night had me out cold once the adrenalin of the day wore off and I could finally settle down.  I slept right through to the alarm and had a hard time shaking the sleep off once I did get out of bed.

 

I took a good shower and had my coffee and cookies as I finished packing.  I joined Andrew and Thomas for breakfast and the three of us shared a ride to Wilson for our flights to the Mara.  Unfortunately that meant I had to say goodbye to Rashid sooner than I expected.  He is an excellent guide and when I return to Nairobi I would not hesitate to stay at Emakoko and be guided by him again.

 

Breakfast was the same as yesterday except we had strawberry muffins which were excellent.  I wish I’d taken some for the journey.

 

Leaving Nairobi National Park we saw quite a few birds which I admired but didn’t bother to dig my camera out for.  I did however get it out when we came across a lioness with four young cubs.  The cubs were pretty mobile and alert enough to be wary of the 5 or so vehicles parked along the road where they were resting in tall grass.  They scooted along first and their mother followed.  I don’t think these are the same as we saw before since this lioness was collared.  Not sure if I managed to get any good shots since the grass was so tall and it was a very quick encounter.  That brings my lion count up to 13 here at NNP, though.  Now I definitely know they exist here!

 

After saying goodbye to Andrew and Thomas since they were going to another part of the Mara, my SafariLink flight left at 10.  When I checked in my luggage was 2 kg overweight but they seemed to overlook that.  My flight was only 3/4 full and we stopped at one other airstrip before landing at Ol Kiombo which is the closest to Enaidura.

 

[I'll interject here and say that I was somewhat skeptical about spending any time in the Reserve proper.  My two day trips there on previous safaris ended up in vehicle malfunctions and next to no sightings worthwhile.  I'd had such incredible luck in the conservancies that I really just felt that they would continue to give me the better experience.  But I really wanted to meet Ping and be guided by him.  I knew this was his office, he's out here every day and knows it like the back of his hand.  So I had some expectations but really wasn't expecting a lot.  I just assumed my best sightings would come in Mara North.  Funny the assumptions I leapt to.]

 

At long last I met Ping.  He welcomed me like an old friend and I passed along many hellos from people at Emakoko and friends of mine who have been on safari with him before.  I’ve read so much and heard so many good things about him and his guiding that this was really cool to finally be with him.

 

I won’t be alone at Enaidura with Ping but the couple I’d be with weren’t arriving until later so we took a slow game drive to camp, passing a very dark Maasai giraffe and a leopard tortoise along the way.  He’s already shared so many cool stories and told us how Bill and he started Enaidura.  I immediately had a really good feeling here and absolutely loved the camp.

 

A bit about Enaidura:

He’s set the camp up right along the Talek River, which meets the Mara just down the way; he says it's less than 5 minutes to a river crossing point.  All the tents front the river, and when I mean right along, I mean RIGHT along.  10 steps outside the front of my tent and I’d be dropping straight down to river.  The water levels are quite low now but are higher during the rainy season.  He says there is still a chance I’ll get to see a crossing since the wildebeest are so confused this year and there are still good numbers around.

 

View from the dining tent:

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The camp and tents seem to have thought of everything.  The bed faces the front of the tent, the tent is more screen and less canvas, meaning really good air and sight lines to what is going on around me.  The bathroom has a light in the shower (hurray!) and the shelves and coat rack are logically right in front of the bathroom, giving a private place to dress or change and leaving the living area for resting or looking out.  And there are two (TWO!) power strips that are powered on all day.  TWO, I tell you!  It's as if they've stayed at a million camps and come up with a list of everything that annoys me, and addressed it!  No more scrambling for a plug in a communal power strip for just a couple hours a day!

 

There is a resident bush buck who lives right next to my tent (#1). He stood up and made like he was going to leave when Ping showed me to my tent, but he never did.  I spent a bit of time lying on the bed just watching him eat greens outside.  How relaxing is this?

 

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Lunch today was a pea and carrot salad, spaghetti with tomato sauce and lovely sliced peppers and a cake with a jelly filling and icing.  I saw zebras on the opposite bank, heard a hippo belching out down in the river and heard an alarmed impala quite nearby.  I’m back in the Mara!!  I can’t wait for the overnight!  As I was lying on the bed before lunch, the dwarf mongooses kept running by the front of my tent.  They chirped at each other and ran like the wind from cover to cover! 

 

We ate quite late after waiting for the other couple to arrive, and headed out at 3:45 for our first game drive. 

 

Ping had either lions or leopard on his mind for the afternoon game drive.  I certainly hoped for either or both but I was just trying to appreciate being back here, making mental snapshots of the gold and green of the landscapes and how vast and open and fresh it feels.

 

Pretty soon after we left camp we came across a tower of giraffes.  There were 6 or so and two males, an older and a much younger one, were necking.  This is a challenge for dominance and can get quite violent and even lethal.  Just recently there had been an instance in another part of Kenya in which both male giraffes died from the effort, both from heart attacks of some sort.  What we saw never got to that extreme but these males meant business.  It is really impressive to see the power and flexibility of their necks, and how they can contort themselves to take a shot.  I could hear the “thump” when a particularly hard hit met its target.  There was a lot of shoving and one trying to force the other up against a nearby acacia tree.  It was really interesting.  The pair I was sharing a vehicle with really found this neat too, so we sat there for a while just observing.

 

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As we were watching the giraffes Ping saw a herd of wildebeest streaming at top speed down a hill toward the river.  Since we were close by we decided to follow them.  Ping’s hope was that they were headed toward a crossing point and that we’d get to see a crossing.  He said it’s still possible based on the numbers still around.  This herd was easily 200 strong and that in itself was impressive.  They were all going full steam ahead toward the crossing and then two ostriches ran perpendicular to them and diverted them well inland.  Any attempt at heading to the river was thwarted.  Ah well.

 

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Since we were near the river we took a drive around for the Paradise Pride which tends to hang out there or near our camp.  We saw some relaxed impala nearby so knew there were no lions around.  We then started to explore a different part that is known for leopard and came up short there too.  Then on our right up on a plateau we saw a herd of impala and a few of them were looking intently off in the distance.  Then simultaneously all of their heads popped up and looked at the same point.  So of course that’s where we headed.  It seemed fruitless until I looked across the river to the opposite bank and at the very same time as Ping said “lion”!   And there was my first male lion of this safari.

 

Unfortunately, this male was sound asleep and facing away from us.  I could see mane, forehead and a bit of nose.  He also had a pretty deep gash where his mane started.  He was in a deep looking sleep and we were rapidly fighting the dying of the light.  We had maybe 20 minutes until sunset and every minute he kept his head down was a little less perfect of a photo I’d get.  To rub salt in the wound, I was watching him through binoculars and he seemed agitated by flies and even yawned once and that’s when I realized who this lion was, Scarface.  It was here I really started geeking out like the crazy cat lady I am.  I never, ever thought I'd see Scarface here.

 

(What I thought at the time was) my only glimpse of Scarface:

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Scarface is an old man likely nearing the end of his life.  His best years are definitely behind him, but he’s named for the rather ugly eye he has from a fight when he was younger.  There’s no missing him, there is practically a hole where his right eye should be, but he has a massive black mane.  Even before I confirmed the bad eye, Ping suspected it was him from the mane alone.  To see him was indeed pretty cool, even as fleeting as it was.  To have a photo would’ve been gravy.  I still have 2 1/2 days though...

 

What I love about Ping so far are his stories and his eye for a good photograph.  He moves the car into the perfect angle so the sun is behind us.  He’ll even frame a shot to get the elements lined up just so.  I’ve never had a guide so in tune to photos like this and I love it!

 

We came back to the camp and had a quick shower.  These bucket showers are awesome!  I’ve never had them like this that work so well and have such good pressure!  I forgot where I was momentarily and ended up out of water before I was done.  I don’t know whether I said it out loud or thought it really hard, but I said “oh shoot” when it ran out.  Next thing I know, I heard a voice of a staff member who asked if I’d like another bucket!  Oh heaven, this is great!! Yes please!

 

I headed out to dinner back in the common area and sat by the fire with my gin and tonic.  Flavian is a nice young girl who works here (Ping has a few women working here, which is quite different from most other camps). She comes from Narok which is about an hour away from the Mara.   Until she worked here, she never saw any of these animals. She said if they saw anything like this where she grew up, they’d kill them for food.  So she’s thrilled to be seeing them all now, but that when she started she was so afraid.  It was very enjoyable talking to her.  

 

Dinner tonight was butternut squash soup, vegetable stew (zucchini, carrots, tomato, spinach) over rice and a piece of cake with chocolate sauce.  Another great day of food!

 

My last note of the day said:

Sitting here in my tent now at 9:30, I just heard a lion roar!  Already!  Heaven!

 

 

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Day Four -- Maasai Mara National Reserve  -- Part 1

 

Last night the lions continued to taunt me all night.  I heard them several times but only looked at the time twice, to see how long until I could go find them.  Once at 4 and once at 5:30, just before I woke up.  I slept without the aid of Ambien last night but didn’t sleep through due to the feline raucous.  The hippos outside my tent also were quite loud and right under my doorstep all night.  They apparently never left the river to go eat, or if they did they left someone here at all times to keep up the hippo chorus.

 

I realized when my coffee was delivered that I’d forgotten my anti-malarial last night.  I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before.  Well, that’ll make things exciting....

 

We were in the vehicle for 6:15 sharp.  The sun was already up but it was still ahead of being that golden light, so off we went.  Ping pretty quickly found two lionesses from the Paradise Pride II.  This is half of the splintered Paradise Pride that lives quite near camp.  One of the two lionesses was perched elegantly on a termite mound in the perfect golden light so we were off to a promising start.  I never tire of just sitting and watching lions, even if this is all they’re doing.  At one point it seemed like she wanted to go hunt a warthog across the river but it ended up being sort of half-hearted when the warthog wouldn’t meet her halfway.

 

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We saw a large hippo out of the river with a large wound to his rump.  It looked fresh and Ping said it seems unlikely that the hippo would take to the water today in order to prevent infection and the fish getting into it.  There are also a lot more baby topi around here than I've seen before.  I'm noticing things like that since this is the first time I'm not here in February as I usually am.

 

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What is left of the famous (via Big Cat Diary) Marsh Pride, which I was eager to see if only in name, has recently been taken over by 6 strong males.  These same 6 have also taken over the Ridge Pride and are heading for the Double Crossing Pride in Olare Motorogi too.  They are a force.  We came upon one of those 6 males honeymooning with a female from the Ridge Pride lying quite near the road snoozing.  We stayed around to watch them mate, which only took about 1/2 hour to happen again.  It must be late in the honeymoon for them to be taking so long to get around to it again.  Early in their mating they’d be doing it every 15 minutes or so.  In three months’ time there’ll be some new Ridge Pride cubs.

 

Mating male:

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Tell-tale sign he'll be getting up soon...

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Walking on by, right next to the road...

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Only 3 vehicles at this sighting, right on the road

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Shall we?

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And moving on to nap again...

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Some random shots from this day

 

An agama lizard

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Day Four -- Maasai Mara National Reserve  -- Part 2

 

Ping then wanted to head to the Kiboso area, where Kiboso (aka Pretty Girl?) the leopard’s two two-year old cubs are.  We pulled up to a small cluster of vehicles (maybe 3-4)  and seemed to have just missed some action because a bunch of hyena were running around excitedly or nervously.  We waited a while because Ping really thought this would be a good opportunity to hunt because there were some warthogs with little piglets just ripe for the taking near her.  We circled the dense bushes where we thought she might be and finally I spotted her coming up out of the ravine. Then the madness ensued.  More vehicles materialized and I suspect the word was out because even more vehicles came, tearing through the Mara at very high speeds and stirring up dust.  In the end she was practically surrounded, with the ravine behind her and a tight circle of cars blocking almost all of her sightline to the plains.  If she wanted warthog she couldn’t see it yet.  Two vehicles from one operator (Africa Keys I’m looking at you) were really cutting her off and being aggressive in order to get in front of her as she stalked her prey.  A bunch of drivers tried to get them to back off but they wouldn’t. It was kind of sad.  Ultimately she gave up.  One of my vehicle mates was very upset and wanted to leave, but then as the leopard started walking straight towards us back to the ravine, she decided to take a few more photos of this beauty head-on before we departed on principle.  We got more than few laughs out of that.

 

This leopard, even though it is already two years old, was so much smaller than any other “adult” leopards I’ve seen.  She went right across the front of our vehicle so she was quite close to me.  Gorgeous creature.  I’m sorry for all the raucous that was caused, although Ping was incredibly respectful, the same can't be said for a lot of the others.  I would guess there were maybe 12 vehicles at this sighting at its peak.

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Day Four -- Maasai Mara National Reserve  -- Part 3

 

We stopped to have a bush breakfast overseen by five very inquisitive giraffes.  I had crepes, apple muffins, hard boiled eggs, beans and bananas with coffee.  It was delicious but even better to just get out of the vehicle and stand.

 

We went back to where the leopard had been (vehicles now all gone) and Ping got excited to see a mother warthog with 2 tiny piglets running around right in prime leopard territory.  He said that if the leopard saw the piglets she certainly wouldn’t let the opportunity pass.  We waited about 1/2 hour and the piglets went back into their hole.  Either the leopard was totally asleep or had gone elsewhere.

I'd never seen warthogs this little before.

 

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Our next sighting was quick.  I have in my notes that it was a Ridge Pride female with three cubs, two males and a female.  They were doing nothing but trying to keep cool in the shade of a small shrub.

 

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We also saw a handful of lions half-heartedly stalking some plains game in the hot sun.  Nothing really came of it, other than a parade in front of and around our vehicle.  We were the only ones there for this.  This sighting, which ordinarily would have been a highlight of my day, sort of got lost in what came next.  I don't even really remember where these lions were from or how many there were.  It didn't make my notes from the day.

 

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Not far from there we found a larger part of the Ridge Pride, with a pride male with a golden mane who is another of the six males that have taken over Marsh and Ridge Prides.  There was the pride male plus eight others.  One of the younger males, with just the start of a mane, was stuck sitting just outside the shade of the acacia tree.  Ping read the situation and said that the other weren’t going to let him into the shade because the pride male didn’t like him.  The younger male was at that uncomfortable point of almost getting kicked out and the pride still letting him stay.  The pride male had a different opinion.

 

All enjoying the shade but for the one almost-outcast sub-adult male:

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Pride male:

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Scent-marking his territory

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We sat here for easily 2 hours total in the hot midday sun.  It was worth it because the dynamics were amazing.  There was a palpable tension there, despite the fact that 5 female lions were passed out cold.  That pride male didn’t close his eyes long enough to lose track of the hot, panting young male out in the sun.  Ping told us to stay alert because an altercation was going to happen when we least expected it.  Eventually something triggered the pride male and he lunged at the younger male.  The young male pooped in his spot and the pride male peed against the tree, both an interesting display of territory.  And both sat down where they did that.  Strange.

 

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I shall pee here and then sit down...

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Ping felt like the battle wasn’t over so asked us if we wanted to stay.   We did, especially if there is a chance this could get more vicious.  Unbeknownst to us, he’d texted the camp and had a full hot meal brought to us, along with Flavian who served up the food and got to stay with us for the rest of the day.  We ate in the vehicle.  For me it was a lentil and carrot salad, potato salad and ziti with onion and fresh red and yellow pepper.  I didn’t think I was hungry but it hit the spot.

 

A female lion came over to greet the young male who had slowly crept into a small slice of shade.  She nuzzled him and then plopped down next to him.  Well, the pride male didn’t like this.  He eventually launched at the younger male and then the female (perhaps for her disloyalty?).  I caught the whole thing but since I never put my camera back on continuous shoot, I got exactly one shot.  It looks good, but who knows until I get back home on my PC.  Ah well.  I really ought to know better!  But I did see both encounters, which is a mental memory I can’t erase.  We decided to leave when all but the pride male were left under the tree.  He appeared to have earned no friends, but seemed happy enough being the only one to sleep in the shade.

 

I really, really love this shot:

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A man alone.  Notice all the lions moved out of the shade, leaving him here on his own.

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Next we headed over the marsh to see the Marsh Pride.  Yaya, a veteran Marsh Pride lioness has two 6 month old cubs that Ping hoped to see.  He found her pretty quickly along the edge of the marsh, but they were all sound asleep.  We waited to see if they’d wake, but other than stirring slightly and rolling over, they didn’t.

 

There was another mating pair in the marsh area, but they were sound asleep and hadn’t moved in a while, so we moved on. Ping spotted something else.

 

We saw a lone lioness heading away from the marsh and toward the plains.  It seemed she had her eye on some zebra further along the marsh.  Two other females ended up joining her. The first lioness seemed serious, crouching low, head down, creeping straight on to the zebra.  The second lioness didn’t seem to get the message and was sort of boldly strolling around, half intent on a hunt.  In the end, the eland and the zebra that was the target figured it out and the hunt was scratched.

 

We returned to camp around 6:45 tonight, so that was really a marathon day of over 12 hours, but somehow it seemed to fly by.  During the course of the day we were talking about crowds in the Mara Reserve and that I’d heard how crowded the Mara was but we just weren’t seeing that, other than the leopard this morning.  Ping said that it’s much more crowded where the Fast 5 cheetah coalition is and where Amani and her cubs are now.  I sort of quietly mentioned that I’d love to see both and Ping absorbed that and said “Ok”, which made me wonder if I’d planted a seed.

 

I took a nice hot shower, remembering that I have limited water this time, and got a lot of dirt and dust off me.  I’ve been sitting in the front with Ping where it doesn’t get as much cover from either sun or dirt but it felt great to be clean again.

 

While I was writing back in the tent before dinner, I heard a whole lot of commotion and loud splashing just outside the tent in the river.  Ping said at dinner that it was the hippos leaving the river to start grazing early.  While I was showering, the staff brought me a dawa (vodka, muddled lemon and honey) to my room, which really hit the spot after the day we had.  They also brought banana chips which were great!

 

Dinner tonight was again at a table set up out in the yard off the common area.  Our appetizer tonight was cream of broccoli soup.  The main was crusted baked fish with hollandaise sauce, potatoes and cauliflower.  Dessert was a nice orange marmalade cake.  

 

Right in the middle of dinner there were three lions roaring right outside of camp.  Ping said it was probably only 200 meters away.  He said that it sounded like contact calls, just to let the other know where they were, nothing confrontational.  Good to know.

 

After dinner, Ping said the plan for tomorrow will be the same wake-up and departure times.  Our destination will be another part of the Mara to try to find cheetahs.  He is going to research where Amani and the Fast 5 cheetahs were today, and hopefully we can see them.  I remember thinking "Oh please, big cat gods, that would just really top this safari!!"

 

Other shots from today

 

A very dark giraffe

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The perfect sunset palette

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Mara sunset

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Edited by amybatt
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Day Five -- Maasai Mara National Reserve 

 

Honestly, it’s days like the last three that make Kenya utterly irresistible to me.  Every day I’ve thought that the next day can’t possible out-do it.  And it does.  Even if it ended right now, this safari would likely go down as my best.  Not to say it hasn’t had its harrowing moments.  But then I put my faith in Ping, and it pays off.  My  notes from today say "when Mother Nature deals you a better hand..."

 

Ping left us last night saying two things:  he would do some research on where the Fast Five and Amani were and that it was going to be a very vocal night.  And was it ever.  No sooner had I turned out the light than the lions were roaring right across the river.  With the echo of the deep embankment, it sounded as if they were on my front porch offering me a dawa.  They sounded so close that I actually looked at the tent walls and wondered if they were enough to keep them out.  Then I decided to try to record the roars on my iPhone, so I was jumping from tent opening to tent opening trying to get it.  I guess that makes me a lion dork.  I can’t count how many times I heard lions all night, or express how close they seemed to be, not to mention a virtual non-stop chorus of hippos, but I did not sleep through and just got bits of sleep here and there.

 

Fear not, though, I sprang out of bed when the alarm went off at 5:30 and was dressed and nearly ready when my coffee was delivered at 5:45.  It was colder this morning than yesterday but we just tied shukas around ourselves and settled in.  This morning was less cloudy so we got to see the sunrise race up over the horizon.

 

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Ping said that most of the roaring last night was females.  I of course asked how he knew that and he said the female roar drops off at the end of the sound, whereas a male’s does not.  Good to know.  I need to pay more attention tonight.  And I learned something else on this safari.

 

Ping said that the lions around here are weird, in that once he hears them that vocal, he never finds them, and today was no exception.  We couldn’t find a lion near camp to save our lives.  It’s a good thing we didn’t depend on that, since cheetah was on the agenda.

 

We passed a small herd of elephants that was very wary of us.  He said ordinarily the elephants are as skittish but these really didn’t like us.  He suspected that the elephant had passed through a nearby camp and had a negative encounter with humans.  Gosh, I hope not.  They were great to watch, nonetheless, because they had two little ones.  The littlest one was so cute though because it had enough trunk control that it was able to browse on the greens successfully, but when it wanted a particularly tasty bush of some sort, it would just face plant and eat it right off the ground with its mouth.  Too funny.

 

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Scratching an itch!

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A male ostrich ready to mate; their skin turns a violent pink when they're in this state. I'd not seen this before.

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Oxpecker on foot

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He’s found out that the Fast Five were on the side of Lookout Hill closest to us today, and that ended up being nearly an hour drive from camp.  He also heard where Amani and her new cubs were last night and it wasn’t that far off from there, so we headed in that general direction, unsure of which we’d do or if the cats would even still be there.  He was using a channel on the radio to talk to his cousin and two other trusted guides and they were working together for the same cause.  Ordinarily I’m not a fan of the radio thing but this was the best way to guarantee we were at least headed in the right direction.  Finally Ping’s cousin called to say he’d found the Fast Five.  They were on the other side of Lookout Hill and they looked hungry; he thought that they were going to try to hunt.

 

It took another 40 minutes to get near there, but we did stop for breakfast, photos of various things and at Lookout Hill itself for the vistas towards Tanzania (remember that I’m not alone here in this vehicle. and we need to balance the first-time safari-goers experience with mine).  In the end I could do a lot of “we shouldn’t have had a second cup of coffee” or “we shouldn’t have done the photos at Lookout Hill”.  But we did, and in doing so, missed the Fast Five fighting amongst themselves and then dispersing.  By the time we got there, there were no Five to see.

 

The Fast Five are a five male cheetah coalition, which is extremely rare.  They formed in December 2016 and experts at the time said it wouldn’t last.  Now it’s become the stuff of legends.  It’s on everyone’s want-to-see list, including mine.  The five are made up of two sets of brothers, two who are Naborr’s sons (I saw her in Naboisho a few years ago) and three who are of an undetermined mother.  Ping seems to think the mother of the three was from somewhere in the Reserve because when they lead the pack, they go there and when the two do, they go back toward Naboisho; they retreat to where they were born.  Lately I’d noticed that Ping has been posting on social media that there have been a lot of fights between these boys, which he doesn’t think is good for their longevity.  That’s what had happened today, and the sets of brothers split up.  It wasn’t long however until we found Naborr’s sons sleeping under a tree.  So I saw 2/5 of the Fast Five!

 

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It was starting to heat up and I didn’t want all of us to hang out there just waiting for the cheetah boys to wake up, so we moved on.  Ping thought maybe we could find a cheetah mother with five cubs (I’m unsure who this might be) so we started heading into her territory.  That’s when Ping’s radio started to go wild.  Beyond that territory, a cheetah was starting to hunt.  Around the same time, another guide let Ping know that two leopards were mating.  Ping had already made the turn towards the cheetah mother/cubs territory and he quite literally stopped the vehicle and said “We have a decision to make here, we either go see a single cheetah attempt to hunt or we go see leopards mating.”  I voted for the leopards but said I would commit to whatever we as a democratic unit agreed.  Beverly and Rick (my vehicle-mates) said they didn’t really care, so Ping headed towards the leopards.  He said at dinner tonight that that is what he really wanted to do.  My thinking was a cheetah hunt had a lower probability of happening than leopards mating.

 

Without the benefit of understanding Swahili, I had no idea what the guides on the ground were telling Ping but when we pulled up he told us that there were two male leopards vying for the mating rights to a single female.  Unfortunately they were in a ravine surround by shrubs.  We managed to get a spot initially from which we could see one of the two males.  We drove around a cluster of vehicles and saw the other male.  The female was meandering about in the thicket.

 

The adrenaline was pretty high by now so what took place over the next hour went so fast but was so fraught with anxiety.  I wanted to see them mate and I wanted the photos.  There was no telling what they were going to do when or where.  Sunshine was turning to clouds and eventually looked like rain.  Ping said if it rained, the leopards would come out into the open.  A reserve warden showed up and booted us all out of the thicket (maybe 5 vehicles, that’s all that could fit).  Ping parked us along the road with an eye on one leopard so he’d know when they were moving.  It started to rain, the leopards started to move, but in the opposite direction.  Ping rolled down our windows and told us to cover up with a shuka so as not to get wet.  Through binoculars to the open field, I saw that one male appeared to give up on the female when she was following him, but as soon as she turned her attentions to the male who was following her, he was all interested again.  We tried to find a quick way to cross the ravine to get to the cats in the open field, then they doubled-back and headed back.

 

When the leopards had passed back over the ravine, we were right where the mating male stopped to wait for the female.  He was really close off the passenger front of the trunk.  I had a perfect shot.  The female showed up and lured the male away from us and into some grass where they promptly started mating. I tried to stand to get a better view but to no avail.  I was not pleased and immensely stressed.  Ping told me not to worry, “we’ll get this”.  He moved the car yet again, along with the other handful of cars following this, to where he thought they’d eventually come out of the thicket.  And wouldn’t you know, out came the mating male and he plopped down about 25 feet directly off the front of our vehicle, and a perfect clearing.  The female came over, flashed her tail in his face and that was all he needed.  He mounted her and I heard the voice in my head saying “push the shutter release”. I’d remembered to keep the camera set on multi-frames per second and just let it go.  I got the whole thing!  I didn’t screw it up!  The shots are excellent.  And I just saw one of the rarest sightings for a safari-goer, mating leopards.  Better still, two males aiming for the second female, which even Ping said he’d never seen.

 

During all this Ping was assessing the situation and said the female is Lorian’s daughter and this was her territory.  What likely happened is she’s gone into estrus and has been scent marking all over the place.  Both males wandered through and decided to try for her attentions.  One male was larger; they were both huge compared to a female but one was just enormous.  They’d had some skirmishes before we got there.  The mating male was limping and the other had a gash on his cheek.  The non-mating male was literally worked into a lather, he was drooling heavily and was quite agitated.  All three cats were growling deeply and persistently.  After the mating session we got to see, the males moved on to another area of thicket and Ping thought for sure there’d be a fight.  The female did too, I think, because she followed to a point and then sprinted off, not wanting to be caught in the cross-fire.  We’d seen plenty at this point so Ping suggested we leave before the warden returned again.  I agreed.  This was so much more than I could have imagined.

 

The first handsome male:

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Notice the wound on his front paw from the ensuing battle:

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The female and one male out in the tall grass.  This would go back and forth for the entire sighting: them following her, she's uninterested, she follows one of them, they're uninterested.

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The other male (look at that neck!) with a wound on his cheek

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When the scene returned to the bushes, Ping positioned us here.  Somehow it's as if he knew they'd exit the shrubbery and stop right in front of our vehicle.  Which they did.

 

Shall we?  (Mating felines again???)

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The lucky, lovely lady...

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The loser sat nearby foaming at the mouth

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And to add insult to injury, the victorious pair walked right behind him...

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Honestly, if you had told me at any point that I'd see mating leopards, let alone dueling males and three at a time, I'd have told you that you're nuts.  This was a sighting of a lifetime for me.  And that we waited it out and had it pretty much to ourselves in a prime position is just gravy.

 

We headed away from the sighting to use the bush bathroom and have a hot lunch packed for us.  It was now 3:00 and I was astounded how quickly the day had gone.  We had rice, a curry vegetable stew with zucchini, carrots and onion and rice.  I think we were all exhausted from another long day in the vehicle but the excitement was enough to carry us.

 

After that we saw a few more sedate but memorable sightings.  There was a fairly impressive line of wildebeest moving along the plain and Ping positioned us so that the wildebeests were coming right at us with an artistic acacia tree right next to them.  I also managed a great shot of an in-flight vulture.  I’m impressing myself with my photography skills, when my stupidity doesn’t screw it up.

 

My attempt at a vulture taking off, quite pleased with this one.

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Roller on zebra-back, with a photo-bombing friend

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The mini-migration of wildebeest.  Ping positioned us just so to get the acacia lined up for us.

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We got back around 5:30 and had time to pack and shower before we sat around the campfire with a drink, which was really nice on our last night here.

 

Dinner tonight was a Kenyan themed buffet, with ugali (like polenta, a Kenyan specialty) and then something like tortillas with something like salsa.  Barbecue was the main course for the others, I had fish similar to last night’s.  There was something I think Ping called pizza that was so good, lots of cheese and veggies.  There was orange cake for dessert.

 

At dinner tonight we were asking Ping all sorts of questions and Rick said that one of the guards mentioned that there were lions in camp once.  And yes, Ping said, they were there walking up the path to our tents last night!  Yee ha!  I can’t even imagine.

 

As I was in bed typing this at the end of the day, the chorus of lions was carrying on.  Near and then farther each successive time, and then it would get closer again.  I’ve never stayed anywhere that the lions have been this reliable and close.  I was already sad to leave here the next day, as much as I was looking forward to Offbeat again.

Edited by amybatt
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amybatt

Day Five -- Maasai Mara National Reserve -- last half day with Ping, transitioning to Offbeat in Mara North

 

The first half of today ended up being quite emotional yet still one of the best mornings I’ve had on safari.

 

There was a fair amount of noise overnight, but no where near what it was the night before.  I got more sleep but when I did wake up I definitely heard lions each time.  Ping says he never has a night here without hearing them.  Staff told us that a couple of lions and a rhino cut through camp overnight, up near our tents.  That still amazes me that that happens while I’m sleeping.

 

We all were packed and ready to leave camp since we were all checking out today.  Dinner last night was a little longer for all the chatting and this morning I felt a touch of nostalgia as we gathered at the vehicle for the last game drive.  We’d really become an interesting foursome over the last few days.  Our bags would catch up with us later this morning along with our bush breakfast.

 

We headed out looking for the four big male lions, the Four Muskateers, that roam around the Paradise Pride area.  One of them is Scarface, who we saw from a distance lying asleep on our first night.  I was happy then to have seen him at all, and considered that enough.  We had a delightful drive around the camp and the light was absolutely perfect since it was just 7:00 a.m. and within that golden hour of the morning.  Up over a rise we came and there I saw a beautiful male posing regally in the morning sun.  I pointed him out to Ping (it was my spot!) and he said “It is Scarface.”  I could not believe it, I got an absolute picture perfect experience with him, not 25 feet away.

 

I took his portrait (as I do) and admired him in all his awesomeness.  Even with the injury to his eye, he is still a beautiful male. Ping thinks he’s one of the most handsome there have been in the Mara.  He is close to 13 years old now and his days are coming to an end.  I’d read in a few places that he’s slowed down and isn’t well.  I think people suspect he will be gone any day now.  Never was this more apparent than when he started to roar right next to us.  He did a contact roar and it wasn’t answered.  No lions replied or came to him.  Ping said there wasn’t the same power in that roar that there once was, the type of power that would ordinarily rattle the mirrors of our vehicle.  We decided to wait until 7:30 to see if he would move.  A few minutes later he did, and we saw that he cannot walk on his hind right paw.  He was limping badly.  He changed positions twice and moved into the shade of a bush to sleep.  We’d find him there still a few hours later with a few vehicles around him admiring him.

 

I put the camera down for a bit and just watched him.  I saw in him all of his legend and history.  He was an epic male of the Marsh Pride and now the Paradise Pride.  Ping said he’d reigned from one side of the Reserve to the other.  And now he’s here, thin and lame, sleeping by himself, his calls going unanswered.  Tears started to stream down my face as I couldn’t hold them back.  It seems such an undignified way for such a personality to go.  As a big cat fan, I am blessed to have seen him so close and so handsome.  I will choose to remember that profile in the soft golden glow of this morning, when he looked as if all this is his kingdom.

 

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We moved along and came across a large herd of wildebeest who looked like they might be trying to cross the river.  Off in the distance was an even larger heard headed our way.  We sat and waited and watched the indecision of the “would they, won’t they” nature of the river crossing.  Ultimately we never found out because Ping spotted another of the Four Muskateers on a nearby hill.  We were too far off for a photo but I watched through the binos and he was big and fat and round, likely having just eaten.  Another sign that either Scarface can’t keep up or they’ve just chosen to leave him; he clearly had not eaten by the looks of him.

 

Ping wanted to show us the main river crossing, and on the way we passed a large herd of zebra all looking in one direction.  That is always a sign of something to investigate, perhaps a leopard hunting.  It turns out that a wounded zebra was lying just off the road and they were all watching him.  It appeared that his rump was torn into by something (which Ping thinks was a lion).  While the zebra may have escaped the lion, he appeared to be dying, which was hard to see.  But the social and emotional response of the zebras, nearing it closely and watching intently, was really something to witness.  There was nothing they could do for it, it was a helpless situation.

 

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The mood changed a bit when we got to Mara River crossing point.  There were a fair number of crocs in the river and a pair were idling near a wildebeest carcass that would be their meals for the foreseeable future.  Across the river though, was a large croc that had a Thomson’s gazelle carcass, and it kept taking it and whipping it from one side to the other over it’s head, beating it against the water to make it smaller to consume.  The splashing was something, but the photos of the act are quite impressive, with a very dramatic arc of water around the croc itself.  Not the greatest light on these, but I do like the circle of water drawn by the action.

 

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We were off now to meet up with our breakfast and our bags.  Breakfast was the same as the others: pancakes, hard boiled eggs, croissants, fruit and coffee.  Just enough to keep us going.
 
I said goodbye to my vehicle mates and wished them fair winds and smooth flights home.  We had some good laughs the last couple of days.  I wasn’t lying when I said I wished they’d be coming to Offbeat with me.
 
Ping took me in the direction of Offbeat in Mara North.  Conveniently the area we saw the young female leopard on Monday was on the way.  This is also the territory of the son of Kiboso/Pretty Girl.  In contrast to Monday, there were only 2 vehicles there when we arrived, and they’d found the son.  He was perched up in a tree surveying the plains and the scrub bush around him.  Ping thought for sure he’d come down to hunt.  And of course he did.  We followed him all around this area as he stalked prey.  It was exciting to be just one of 3 or 4 vehicles there, and all of them were behaving perfectly, giving him a wide berth to move around and see as far as he could.  After 90 minutes of this, we had to move on to Offbeat so I could have lunch and before my permitted time in the Mara Reserve ran out.
 

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I was filled with a sense of sadness and even dread as we got closer.  I had an absolutely epic three days with Ping.  I saw things I didn’t even think were possible.  FIVE leopards?  Leopards mating? Lions mating? Lions fighting?  That croc? Two leopards hunting?  Ping told me that he finds the last day difficult because he’d built up a relationship with his guests and then he has to start all over.  I gave Ping a big hug and thanked him for exceeding my expectations.  I didn’t think the Reserve could be as productive as this, but now I know you just have to have the right guide.  Suffice to say, I’m already thinking in my head about when I can get back.  Again.

 

There are a lot of things that made both Enaidura and Ping so incredibly good.  First, Ping is the best guide I’ve been with.  He can interpret a situation or animal behaviors like no one else I’ve been with.  A couple times I foolishly doubted what he said only to find out he was absolutely right.  We’d be positioned in one place waiting for animals to turn directly towards us while everyone else on the sighting was facing a different direction, and we’d end up being in the perfect spot. I was always perfectly positioned to frame a shot, take advantage of light and avoid shadows from the vehicle.  I was always closest to the sighting.  If Ping was shooting too, he was behind me.  His guests come first, and this shows.  The detail in the tents with two power strips for charging batteries, lights in every necessary location (closet area, toilets, shower) and his staff with their non-stop care and attention were all absolutely perfect.  I can’t await to go back.  As if you couldn’t tell.

Edited by amybatt
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