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Sangeeta

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens from A Tale of Two Cities

 

As I start this report with Dickens’ opening paragraph from his book A Tale of Two Cities, I honestly feel like the author is looking over my shoulder and telling me hey, I wrote these words for this crazy, upside-down year 2020-2021 that we’re living through …

 

The best of times need no words from me – here are some images to illustrate the magic of the trip. The mediocre photos are mine. The good ones are Nina’s. And we’re waiting on some really good ones from Dave which I’ll add here as I get them from him.

 

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My trip was planned originally with 1 night at Ololo Lodge in Nairobi, 4 nights at Lewa Wilderness Camp, 4 nights at Laikipia Wilderness Camp, 3 nights at Olakira in Ndutu, 4 nights at Namiri Plains, 1 night in Nairobi with @optig, 3 nights in Lamu at Peponi’s and then home.

 

It ended up being 1 day/night at Frankfurt airport, 4 nights (barely) at Lewa, 3 nights at Laikipia Wilderness, 1 night Ololo, 3 Olakira, 4 Namiri, 1 @optig, 1 Naivasha, 1 Nakuru and 1 Sankara (in Nbo).

 

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I'll post the Kenya section of the trip in the Kenya sub-forum and the Tanzania section in the Tz sub-forum.

 

Dave of the Gabon mandrills photos intersected with me on some parts of this trip, as did my daughter Nina (who goes by the name Ayesha that you will see on some of the photos).

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Sangeeta

Conversely, the worst of times need plenty of words :D

 

The New Art of Travel - Learning to Roll with the Punches

 

Covid testing

 

The lunacy started well before the trip! My international flight was from Newark to Frankfurt to Nairobi – departing EWR on March 4 at 19:10 and arriving into FRA at 8:30 on March 5. Departing FRA at 11:15 am on March 5 and arriving into NBO at 11:50 on the same day. However, I started my trip in Santa Fe at 7:00 on March 4, so the testing schedule was even more cramped for me.

 

Kenya Covid-era requirements :

 

-          All passengers are required to have pre-approved e-visas (no more visas on arrival).

 

-          the US did not have testing requirements for departing passengers at the time I left (but they now do for un-vaccinated people).

 

-          Kenya requires a negative PCR test within 96 hours of arrival into Kenya (from time of sample, time of test, time of results?? From the time that the sample is received at the lab is the correct answer).

 

-          Kenya also requires all arriving passengers to fill out Health Surveillance Forms. Having filled it out, you then get a QR code that needs to be presented on arrival. (this is checked).

 

-          Kenya (and many other African countries) are also requiring people to upload their test results at a website called Panabios (an initiative of the Africa CDC & African Union). Panabios has a list of approved labs worldwide whose test results they will accept, and there is a certain (not complicated once you know it, but complicated otherwise) procedure to do all this and get yet another QR code. https://login.panabios.org

 

-          It is possible to use other labs as well, but then tests must be uploaded using a workaround. This is the Trusted Travel or TT code (which is different from the Health Surveillance code – you will need both).

 

-          Most US labs told us that while test results would likely come in sooner, we should assume at least 48 hours for the results. This leaves you with barely enough time to squeak into the country of you’re not taking a direct flight – and absolutely no time for long layovers!

 

-          I took 2 tests just to be on the safe side and with the hope that at least one result would come back in a timely manner.

 

-          I used The Covid Consultants (approved by Panabios) – they are a Colorado based company and their travel test costs USD 294. I ordered the test kit in advance and it was a no-hassle sputum test. I sent the sample back to them via FedEx (remember to use the special Bio Samples drop off box and not a regular drop off box) on March 1, so they could receive it on March 2, and get the results back to me quickly, March 2 at the latest. They were very efficient and I received my negative results the same day March 2 at 10:25 pm with the  notation that the test was completed at 4:10 pm (clock starts to tick there).

 

-          I also did a test at the local CVS drive through testing site on March 1 as their Minute Clinic is also approved by Panabios. This test was USD 140. This was a nasal swab and I got my negative test results back on March 3 via email. You need to make an appointment ahead of time for this, but it was all smooth and painless too.

 

-          In hindsight, both sites delivered their results sooner than they had promised, I could have done my tests on March 2. But it is stressful to wait until the last minute knowing that you will not be allowed to board without a negative result.

 

And so it was that I embarked on the journey armed with 2 negative test results and optimistic about the rest. But Man proposes and God disposes… the flight from Newark to Frankfurt was delayed by several hours due to mechanical issues. We finally took off after spending perhaps 4 hours on the runway. I had not been vaccinated at the time of this trip (I have had my first shot since then & second one soon) and was traveling business as a way to mitigate contact with others. As it turns out, the plane was mostly empty with plenty of social distancing in all classes of service, and everyone was mask-compliant. I did not feel at all unsafe in the aircraft.

But yep, this delay meant that most of us missed our onward connections from Frankfurt The problem with international travel these days is that there are not a lot of options if you miss your connections since there are very few flights plying the skies at all. Lufthansa put all of us on the next available to Nairobi, which was an Ethiopian flight to Addis at 21:35 on March 5, arriving into Addis on March 6 at 6:25 am and leaving for Nairobi at 11:10 am, reaching Nairobi at 13:10 on March 6. Thank heavens for business class – that gave lounge access and access to a good hot shower and a comfortable sofa to sleep on. BUT, biz-class lounges offer NO food or drink in the lounges these days, and outside options are also very, very limited, so you have to make do with whatever there is…

 

But this delay meant not just a bunch of fruitless hours spent dawdling at the airport… it was much worse than that! Both the Covid test results I had would no longer fall within the 96 hour deadline that Kenya wanted, so now what?? Well, it turns out that Frankfurt Airport can provide quick turnaround PCT tests for passengers in exactly this situation, but it is not inexpensive. I ended up doing yet another nasal + throat swab test at the airport for 255 Euro Note that they do not accept credit cards and I had to make the payment via Paypal – it was all very complicated, and especially so for people without mobile phones and internet savvy. But yay, the results eventually came back negative and off to Addis it was.

 

-          Missed the overnight at Ololo on March 5 :( 

-          Missed the Air Kenya flight to Lewa on the morning of March 6 :( 

-          BUT managed to arrange for a car to pick us up from the airport and drive directly to Lewa.

 

And as if that were not enough, the brand new Land Rover broke down 4-5 times en route from Nairobi to Laikipia and we had to organize yet another car to complete the journey. There comes a time when one has to surrender oneself to destiny :) . This was one of those times. We finally reached Lewa after darkness had fallen. Exhausted but still smiling. For all the crap that had gone before, we were finally in Africa….and tomorrow would be a brand new day!

 

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marg

@SangeetaThank you so much for posting this.  For those of us who still have our fingers crossed that we might get to Africa this is both very informative and eye opening.

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Atravelynn

What a start!  Teaser for other readers--the complications and interesting situations continue.  I got a few updates during the trip.

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Kitsafari

:o OMgoodness! the trials and tribulations of just getting to Africa! it's just incredible how these all just melt away once you get yourself into the park. 

 

7 hours ago, Sangeeta said:

 

 

The mediocre photos are mine. 

 

 

I don't know what you are talking about. the photos with your signature in the first post look great to me. 

Just love the lion cub pix and the last pix of zebras and flamingoes. 

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Pictus Safaris

@Sangeeta- looking forward to this, and thank you for the update on the current state of travel to Africa. We still intend to get to Gorongosa in September, with tentative plans for Gonarezhou in October, and now that borders are opening the testing regimes are the biggest hurdles facing us. Unlike you I have not been able to get vaccinated yet, so fingers crossed the UK government doesn't red-list all of Sub-Saharan Africa and that testing is straightforward on our side of the pond.

 

Tom

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janzin

Definitely looking forward to this. We had a trip to Kenya scheduled for February and we hemmed and hawed but finally decided to postpone until next February. Reading about your experiences just getting there, I'm glad we postponed. (But sad too :( )

 

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michael-ibk

Oh cool, a new report. :) Looking forward to this Sangeeta, quite a lot so actually. Oh my, compared to these ordeals getting into Zambia back in October was a piece of cake. :blink:

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TonyQ

Wow, what a start!

I am looking forward to your next steps 

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AKR1

Hi Sangeeta,

 

Congratulations on pulling this safari off during these tough times. And your lucky daughter got to experience this due to her mum. The tough travel was par for the course and hopefully getting to Africa was the prize worth “suffering” through.
The fact that being in the front of the plane that we previously took for granted would guarantee a comfortable journey is now only a somewhat helpful component to the overall ordeal of the journey, is the current reality. 
Look forward to your on the ground experiences which were hopefully/likely  wonderful. Please ask your daughter to write one passage on what she loved about safari during Covid with mum. 
Thanks for sharing your trip. 

 

 

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shazdwn

How can you not love a trip report that starts with Dickens?  Another one looking forward to following along

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gatoratlarge

Very interested in this report!  It will be interesting to see if any of these requirements will change over the coming months. 

 

Having just re-watched "Out of Africa" I'm really interested in that plane!  How cool would that be to fly over the African landscape like that! 

 

Also Laikipia has got to the best African Wild Dog experience around...I want to know more...:D

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Sangeeta

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for tuning in & very sorry for the vanishing act. I promise, the rest of this will be much much quicker - an installment every 2 days is my goal, and TR ended in a week!

 

@marg - I hope this helps everyone. I know the details can be a bit boring, but hopefully they can be helpful as well! The situation is so fluid, things change on the dime.

 

@AtravelynnHaha, it was certainly not a boring safari :D 

 

On 4/13/2021 at 12:01 AM, Kitsafari said:

:o OMgoodness! the trials and tribulations of just getting to Africa! it's just incredible how these all just melt away once you get yourself into the park. 

Just love the lion cub pix and the last pix of zebras and flamingoes. 

You're so right @Kitsafari- I am living on those memories already. The flamingo picture was Nina's.

 

 

On 4/13/2021 at 7:53 AM, Pictus Safaris said:

@Sangeeta- looking forward to this, and thank you for the update on the current state of travel to Africa. We still intend to get to Gorongosa in September, with tentative plans for Gonarezhou in October, and now that borders are opening the testing regimes are the biggest hurdles facing us. Unlike you I have not been able to get vaccinated yet, so fingers crossed the UK government doesn't red-list all of Sub-Saharan Africa and that testing is straightforward on our side of the pond.

 

Tom

@Pictus Safaris- fingers crossed, Tom, fingers crossed! I have my second shot this weekend, a huge sigh of relief after that. We have some trips upcoming too, but Nov and Dec. Your Gorongosa-Gona combo sounds lovely.

 

 

@janzinI think it was wise to postpone, and now you've got something to look forward to in the not too distant future!

 

@michael-ibkNow looking back, I think we'll all agree that you snuck into Zambia at the best possible time, really, really, really.B)

 

@TonyQ- thanks, Tony - I decided to do this one warts and all :D

 

@AKR1- will def ask Nina. She's a young lady now & a far cry from the little thing she was on all the old trips we did together - her last safari was our Gonarezhou trip in 2014 (college and life intervened after that), so I think she really enjoyed this one, never mind the hassles.

 

@shazdwnthank you so much - trying to think of 4 clever Dickens titles for the 4 parts of this report, but not there yet! :D Btw, I love your sifaka :wub:

 

@gatoratlarge- haha, you'll soon see that it isn't that easy to be Meryl Streep in real life!

 

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Sangeeta

While I am waiting for Dave to send me some of his nice Laikipia pics, here is a lovely Serengeti action sequence from him to keep you all interested in the report:D

Nina and I were not with him at this sighting - which took place in Kusini, just on this side of the Maswa border. Need a caption for that last image, don't you think....

 

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Kitsafari

wow! what a series of shots, Dave! that lion was flying in mid-air in the second last photo but I can hear him think.... "What the Heck?!!". 

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AKR1

Exceptional series of shots. Assume Mr. lion was unsuccessful. He appears to have received a hard kick ( or series of kicks) we do not see,  in-between the shutter firing. 

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Julian

An amazing series of photos of the lion and eland. The last but one is my favourite, it is superb and unique.

 

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madaboutcheetah

@Sangeeta- I think you should put the Kenya section off for later and start the Tanzania section ;) ....... You know exactly why I'm asking !! :) 

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Sangeeta
1 hour ago, madaboutcheetah said:

@Sangeeta- I think you should put the Kenya section off for later and start the Tanzania section ;) ....... You know exactly why I'm asking !! :) 

Promise I'll be done in 2 days here, @madaboutcheetah

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Sangeeta
4 hours ago, AKR1 said:

Exceptional series of shots. Assume Mr. lion was unsuccessful. He appears to have received a hard kick ( or series of kicks) we do not see,  in-between the shutter firing. 

Actually, @AKR1, this male was eventually joined by another big male, and the two together managed to take the huge bull down :( I had not thought to post the kill, but let me complete the story since I started it (although this rightfully belongs in the Tz forum). Note the size of the bull and the size of the 2 male lions. Incredible :o. Dave said that his neck was so big that even between the 2 of them, the lions were not able to occlude his trachea, so they eventually suffocated him by clamping down on his nose :( He was so big and heavy that when he went down, his horns stuck 4-5 inches into the ground!

 

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AKR1

Wow! Quite a sequence. Will wait for the Tz segment for details of where this occurred - presumably in the Serengeti. 

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Sangeeta
Posted (edited)

Great Expectations from Lewa Wilderness Camp

 

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KWS recently announced that 2020 was the first year since 1999 that 0 (Zero) rhinos have been poached in Kenya. Yay!

https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/environment/article/2001402891/kws-no-rhino-was-poached-in-2020

 

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Private conservancies - like Lewa - with their robust rhino monitoring programs have played an immensely positive role in the survival of this iconic species in East Africa.  We had great expectations for rhino sightings in Lewa, and Lewa did not disappoint. Both black and white rhino, often with calves in tow, were easy to see (we saw 50+ animals in our 3 full days there). Lewa and the adjoining Borana conservancy have recently dropped the fences dividing them, making this landscape even larger, so we did 1 full day drive to Borana as well (there is a small additional fee for this). Solio, Ol Pejeta, Ol Jogi are the other conservancies doing stellar work for rhinos, and KWS recently granted permission to Loisaba to house rhinos as well. Kenya counted about 600 Eastern black rhinos in 2020 – that’s a fraction of the roughly 20,000 population from the 1960s, but double the pitiful 300 that remained in Kenya in the 1980s. I believe KWS has a goal of 2000 Eastern blacks to create a stronghold in Kenya. Lewa & Borana together are home to 14% of the current number.

 

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Talking of rhino, we saw several rhinos – both Eastern black and Southern white – at NNP from our base at Ololo Lodge. All in all, more rhinos on this trip than I have ever seen on my travels to East Africa before this.

 

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Some other Lewa highlights:

 

-          Two rhino bulls in a serious fight. They kicked up a terrific dust-storm, gored each other repeatedly, blood flecks everywhere and almost flattened Dave in the process :D 

 

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-          1 of the only 2 known Grevy’s-Plains hybrids on the conservancies. The markings were beautiful. It was interesting to see the mixed zebra herds that hopefully provide greater predator protection to the gorgeous but apparently hapless Grevy’s.

 

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-          Meryl Streeping it in the Waco – what a wonderful experience! Dropping my phone from the plane into a canyon – not so wonderful!

 

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-          Reticulated giraffe here (Rothschild’s at Nakuru and Maasai in the Serengeti) – it was pretty cool to see all 3 of the Kenyan giraffe species in their natural habitats on the same trip.

 

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-          Lots of lions, a few gerenuk, Jackson’s hartebeest, Beisa oryx, large herds of eland, Cape buffalo, eles (breeding herds as well as many bulls).

 

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-          The original Pride Rock at Borana

 

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Bleak House

 

It must have been 10 am or so when I called my family on the East Coast from Will Craig’s phone. It was 2am in Washington DC so I suppose they were entitled to be annoyed with me...

 

Sangeeta - “Hello guys. Emergency here. Could you call AT&T or Apple for me please? I dropped my phone from a plane and need them to geolocate it so we can send out Samburu trackers to look for it.”

Family - “What do you mean you dropped the phone FROM the plane? You mean you dropped it IN the plane? Have you looked between the seat cushions carefully?”

Sangeeta – “No, no, I dropped it FROM the plane…I was…”

Family – “Are you telling me you cracked open the exit door? How are you even alive??”

Sangeeta – “No, no, listen please, it was from an open cockpit plane. Can you hear me, I dropped it out of an open cockpit plane!”

Family – “When did this happen?”

Sangeeta – “Just 10-15 minutes ago…”

Family – “Samburu trackers? Seriously, are you feeling okay?”

 

I guess I sounded like a drunken sailor but every word that I had said was true :D 

 

Perhaps some of you know the Waco already? It is Will Craig’s yellow biplane at Lewa Wilderness Camp and I had been longing to fly in something like this ever since I saw Robert Redford piloting Meryl Streep around Kenya in a plane that looked just like this one. Will, one of the founding members of Lewa and an erstwhile crop-duster pilot, is busy with other projects these days and doesn’t have much time to fly guests around any more, but he was kind enough to take me up for the flight of a lifetime… (FYI, there is a new commercial pilot Darryl at Lewa now and they are taking bookings for the Waco going forward).  

 

I excitedly threw on the sheepskin jacket they provide, then there was the obligatory photo with foot on wheels, clambered into the small front seat, pulled on the headphones, adjusted the speaker/mike, the thumbs-up signs to the people on the ground, and whoosh, we were off the ground, finally, finally Meryl Streeping it over the stunning gorges and valleys of Laikipia, with Mt. Kenya shimmering on the horizon and a beautiful, cloudless morning to boot.

 

The front seat of the open cockpit is surprisingly warm and cozy, and feels very safe…and it lulled me into a false sense of security. I had my iPhone with me and decided that it would be fun to take a couple of videos of all the swooping and looping that Will was engaged in so effortlessly… so I stuck my arm out the side, holding the phone in one hand between thumb and forefinger, trying to film the shadow of the graceful movements the plane was making on the canyon wall and…it only took a split second – the Wind God scoffed at my foolhardiness, firmly prised my fingers apart and snatched the phone away from me! I turned back aghast and looked at Will, who looked back at me, equally aghast. Errr…clearly no real way to go back for it, so after a moment of complete panic, I slumped back into my seat, came up for air once-twice-three times, breathed deeply and said a sad farewell to the phone.

 

So much for Ms. Sangeeta Streep.

 

The phone has since been replaced, but not so those wonderful memories. And what I can tell you is that Lewa have a crack team to handle the wildest emergencies. I was idiotic enough not to remember my iCloud password, but had I remembered & had we found the GPS coordinates quickly, they had a team of Samburu trackers ready & willing to hike into the gorge to try to retrieve the phone for me. Not many places will offer a service like that. Plus, the camp itself is beautifully tucked away into a hillside, the rooms are huge & comfortable, the showers are hot, the wildlife is exceptional, and the food and guiding are all good too. A big thank you to Rosemary, Karmushu, Johnson and  Will Craig for your warm hospitality. I hope you are swamped with guests soon.

 

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Edited by Sangeeta
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AKR1

What an outstanding post - stunning Rhino pictures, testament to Lewa’s extraordinary conservation efforts  and truly entertaining story of losing your phone- dropping from an aircraft and calling the family at 2 am. Hilarious 🤣 

thanks Sangeeta!

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JayRon

What a great report and photos! The lion sequence is simply just amazing. And also some stunning pictures of rhinos, good to see that there still some left ;) And your recount of you calling back home at 2 am just made me laugh :) Looking forward to the next installment... 

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gatoratlarge

Oh myyyyyyy!  That is too damn funny!  Like a scene from "The God's Must Be Crazy"!!

 

Those pictures are just spectacular --- the rhinos doing battle!  I hope they didn't mortally wound one another....!  And those lions taking down the eland!!!  That is just extraordinary!!!  The last frame of the lion getting kicked....he is seeing stars!!!!  Thanks for taking us along...we are safari starved!

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