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First time Kenya - a Self-Drive Safari TR to 5 parks, August 26-September 16, 2021


KaliCA
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Tsavo West to Tsavo East

 

Lowlight: During our last night at Chyhulu campsite, we notice that the middle car door stays locked for good. I send a text to Peter who replies that he will see who he can send and will update me. At the end, Peter forgets about our locked door and we finish the rest of the trip doing gymnastics to access the gear in the middle of the car. Our rental agent let us down!

After an early morning visit to the river area in Rhino Valley where I only find cat footprints, but no cats, we drive East along the C103 towards the Tsavo Gate at the Mombasa road. It’s a scenic drive, with many curves and steep downhill grade at times and we see a huge number of Dik-Diks. We have a quick late breakfast at the gate before checking out and hitting the Mombasa road South towards Voi. Traffic is not horrible but still, there are many trucks who do dangerous maneuvers. We get to Voi and this town seems to be a lot nicer and calmer than some previous towns. We find out where the Lancet Lab office is located since we will need a COVID Test soon and we have already signed up for that online. 
After the negative camping experience inside Tsavo West, we decide to rather stay in a bungalow outside the entrance to Tsavo East. 

 

Red Elephant Lodge $50 per night for two

 

A Highlight: we find the perfect place at Red Elephant Lodge and we get so much more than on a KWS campsite. Sadly, because of COVID, we are the only guests and the restaurant is closed. We get a friendly welcome from Jacky and Anton who show us to a lovely bungalow surrounded by flowers, and with views of a waterhole. The National park border is right in front of our door marked by an electric fence. We are even allowed to cook on the porch. The inside is very clean, has a big bed, and a lovely bathroom, even a bottle of water for brushing our teeth. We are so pleased and feel very comfortable here. We see red elephants in the distance. When we come home for lunch one day, we see two herds of red elephants under the acacia trees right out the front door and some of them come to drink at the waterhole. The waterhole is lit up until the generator stops working at 10 pm. We also see baboons, waterbuck, giraffe, and bats from our porch. Plus, we have ample hot water, a flush toilet, and a comfy bed. Bliss!

 

Bungalow facing the waterhole inside Tsavo East

 

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The inside.. spic and span

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Much better than this at Ndolo Campsite inside the park

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Elephants in front of the bungalow hanging out under trees

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This is the closest we have ever been to wild elephants on foot. A very different perspective. They are curious, but relaxed.

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Camping kitchen on the porch

 

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Edited by KaliCA
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Tsavo East NP, $30 pppd

 

A Highlight: At noon, we enter Tsavo East and are welcomed by very friendly rangers. We notice that just like in Tsavo West, there are clear markers at junctions, indicating places with distances; something we appreciate. We immediately enjoy the red dirt look of the park as we drive towards Ndolo campsite, one of two areas where we can leave the car and eat lunch. As we are having lunch, quite a few red elephants appear and mingle around a water spot not far from us. We enjoy sitting there and watching their interactions. 
Lowlight: on Ndolo campsite, baboons and vervet monkeys are quite aggressive and the attendant is using a sling shot to keep them at bay. One baboon comes running straight at my husband who is holding a sandwich. He scares the would-be attacker off using his chair as defense, and the baboon veers off. One of the vervet monkeys enters our car and makes off with candy. That was my fault as I forgot to shut the window. 
After inspecting the dilapidated ablutions and seeing how the monkeys are pests, we are doubly glad not to be spending time camping here. 

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Sightings highlights: by Sentrim Lodge we find three cheetah, a mother with two almost grown cubs. The mother is giving chase but just misses killing an impala. We spend two hours with them without anybody else present. We also find the special species only found in a few parks, namely, fringe-eared Oryx, Lesser Kudu, Vulturine Guinea Fowl, and the most unlikely creature, the Gerenuck who couldn’t decide if it wants to be a giraffe or an Impala, so he is both. We see quite a few of these shy animals and two of them do us a favor and stand on their hind legs as they are browsing. Quite a sight to see. 

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The mother using a dirt mound to survey her prey

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And she is off! Notice how three legs are off the ground? It is truly impressive to see a Cheetah run. 

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All the herbivores scatter and because she enters a wooded area, we can't see if she made a kill.

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Neither can her cubs.  Clearly anxious, they follow in the same direction, stop frequently and call out.

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Finally, all of us spot the mother resting in the road in the shade. The three Cheetah reunite and rest under the trees. Better luck next time!

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Edited by KaliCA
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Maybe an African Harrier Hawk? Or most likely an Augur Buzzard (thanks, sister)

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Tawny Eagle?

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The arrogant looking Gerenuk

 

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This is the pose I was hoping to see...and I did... several times. No matter how many safaris we have done, there is always something new to discover in the animal world.

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Edited by KaliCA
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Back home, just outside the park, we enjoy elephant activity at our waterhole. It is such a pleasure to see red elephants right out the front door. We truly enjoy the location of our bungalow.

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I find vendors crowding our vehicle quite intimidating and can well imagine that, during Covid times, it would have been far more worrisome.

After nightfall, those lava rocks would be a wee bit of a hazard. Lucky you didn't hurt yourself. 

Pity KWS doesn't take better care of their campsites. Thank goodness they don't run the Triangle. 

The view from Roaring Rocks is lovely. Yup - our kind of place!

Pity about the baboons at Ndolo. They can be such a nuisance and tiresome. 

Cheetah hunt and all to yourselves. Win! Win!

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Love the lion bags in the last picture🦁😂.... As well as all the other great shots. 

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@Birdie, Tsavo West would be perfect for you two. Lots of areas to explore. There is a backway to get to Amboseli and Tsavo West, in case you want to consider those parks one day....

 

@wilddogHaha, great detective work! we loved them too. They are sold at the Carrefour for when you don't bring your own shopping bag. They served us well throughout the trip.

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More from Tsavo East

 

We find two lionesses in the early morning lying at a waterhole on Pipeline Road. It turns out that the water in the leaking pipe is actually transported via a pipeline all the way from Mzima Springs, quite a distance away. One evening we find red elephants at the same waterhole. Red elephants and red zebra are the stars in Tsavo East. We see the most herbivores grazing on the green flood plain where they find water in artificial waterholes. The Voi River is all but dry. 
We explore this park for two and a half days. We decide not to drive the three hours north to the Galana River as we have just come that distance on the paved road. This park is immense and one could easily spend two weeks here, exploring all the different areas. 

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After this beautiful early morning lion encounter, we have to drive to Voi and take our PCR Covid test at the Lancet lab there. It's easy and the two people helping us are very friendly. After the test, the receptionist offers to take us to the open market so we can buy bananas and tomatoes and the phlebotomist is leaving us his personal phone number in case we are having trouble receiving the results. Great service!

Then we drive back into the park for our last few game drives. We find an abandoned picnic site and have a late breakfast there. Later, we go back to Ndolo campsite to have a late lunch and watch the red elephants while having a picnic. In between, we see some more of the specialty species this park has to offer: Vulturine guinea Fowl, Fringe-eared Oryx, Lesser Kudu, and more Gerenuk.

 

Happy to be after another PCR test. We found out by chance from a fellow traveler, that a PCR negative result is mandatory in order to even enter Nairobi airport! Otherwise we would have done only a rapid test required by United to fly back to the USA. The things you learn with this Covid mania!

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Watching the red elephants at Ndolo Campsite

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This is a first ever sighting for us: pretty in an ugly sort of way

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Isn't he handsome and delicate? No "lesser" there...

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Edited by KaliCA
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Towards the evening, we head back to Pipeline Road in hopes of finding more lions. We don't see any, but instead get treated to more red elephants having spa time at the same waterhole we saw the lionesses. They slosh around in the red mud and then dust themselves with red dirt, lastly, they congregate around the leak in the big pipe and curl their trunks so that the clean water runs into it and then gleefully drink this clear spring water we have seen days earlier up in Tsavo West.

Our very last sighting is of a Kori Bustard, all poofed up, courting a tree trunk!!! Too funny!

 

Some of you might recognize Voi Safari Lodge in the background. 

 

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And then it is back to the bungalow for our last night at the Red Elephant Lodge. We get some more elephants at the waterhole as we are preparing dinner. Just before bedtime, I check the lit-up waterhole one more time for visitors and there is a lone big tusker present. What a great good-bye sighting. Thank you, Tsavo East.

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Edited by KaliCA
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Love that photo of the two lionesses in that grand landscape.

See you sported a red table cloth to watch the red elephants!

Excellent sighting of the lesser kudu.

 

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Tsavo East to Wildebeest Lodge, Nairobi

 

Better than we thought: Early morning, we say good-bye to our beloved bungalow and our lovely hosts and head north on the Mombasa road towards Nairobi.

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At Emali, I decide to take the longer but less crazy back road via Mashuru and then we get to Karen via the back roads, thus missing the construction after Athi. This is a good idea, except the last leg is a problem when the GPS is directing us to take Magadi Road. We pass many shanty towns and a bustling market at snail speed. This chaotic environment together with the busy market and abject poverty on all sides, is what leaves us rattled, at the end of a super long driving day. We left Voi at 6:30 am, had breakfast and lunch along the way, but only get to Wildebeest Lodge at 4:30. 

 

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But… we are so happy to have made it safely back into the cocoon of the lodge. We are just too exhausted to go out again and look for a different place to eat dinner. Did we get another stomach ache after dinner? Yes. Did the rooster wake us up past midnight? Yes. IMG_9536.JPG.5d18435ef1964bed9891e996c8ea0a87.JPG

 

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Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage visit $15 pp

 

A Highlight: my husband was not keen of having to enter our dusty vehicle one more time and drive us to the elephant orphanage, just a few kilometers from the lodge. But he agrees with me that having seen baby elephants drink from a bottle, interact with each other and us tourists, is certainly a highlight of this trip. We enjoy touching the trunks of these precious creatures, knowing we are doing some good having adopted an orphan elephant a few years ago. After our ellie visit, we stop for coffee and cake at a Dutch bakery nearby. Great decision. 
A lowlight: the adoptee visits at 5 pm that would have been more of a one-on-one interaction have been suspended because of COVID.

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Returning the Vehicle

A Lowlight: After our ellie visit, Peter says he will meet us back at the lodge and we could return the vehicle to him. At the last minute, he skips out on this responsibility and sends two employees that we have not met before. All Peter cares about is that both tanks are full and that all the camping gear is back in the car. Truthfully, we are a little insulted that he would not have a chat with us about the vehicle and our trip. So this, too, leaves a bad taste. In conclusion, we can not recommend Roadtrip Kenya and we would not rent from them again. Like I said in my feedback to them, we paid a lot of money for substandard camping gear, a vehicle that had some problems, and I’m adding now, lack of support from their agent, Peter, during part of our trip. 

So, as you can see, this trip was a mixed experience. We are glad to have seen what Kenyan Parks and Reserves have to offer. It’s an abundance of wildlife, especially big cats, we have not previously seen in those numbers in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. However, driving in and near the major metropolitan city of Nairobi and driving the roads between the parks, is what landed us outside our comfort zone as did the amount of traffic at sightings in the Reserve. In addition, the lack of acceptable camping facilities was also a negative for us. So if you asked me would I rather self-drive in Kenyan parks or the Northern Circuit parks in Tanzania, I would probably prefer Tanzania for its more rural access roads to National Parks, better facilities, and less congestion at sightings. I am disappointed that Kenya will probably not become my go-to safari destination, because of the reasons mentioned. The one place I would like to visit again is the Mara Triangle. Maybe we could fly in during migration, have a car delivered to the Mara Serena Lodge, thus, still enjoy self-driving, but also have creature comforts after game driving. It may happen…will see…
Next big trip? An Arctic Expedition around Svalbard in June in search of Polar Bears. 
 

We did need a negative PCR test in order to enter Nairobi airport! Late the same evening, Lufthansa is taking us to Frankfurt and then United is flying us safely back to Florida. Our 10th African safari has come to an end.

Thank you all who have "liked" my posts and written comments. I hope you have learned a thing or two how self-driving and camping in Kenya is in itself quite an adventure.

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Edited by KaliCA
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Thanks, @Kalica, for this interesting and informative report about your self-drive safari in Kenya. Allthough I loved our self-drives in South Africa and Namibia, I must confess that I am spoiled after experiencing fly-in safaris and the company of good guides and drivers. And as my next safaris will be solo trips, the self driving will  have to wait for a couple of years. Enjoy your Arctic expedition in June.

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  • 4 months later...
On 11/5/2021 at 3:44 AM, KaliCA said:

The next few minutes are a first for us: We watch a successful cheetah hunt. First, we meet a cheetah with her three subadult cubs, just lounging under a bush. It's almost 10 am, time for breakfast.  After a nice viewing of sleepy cheetahs, we leave them to have a picnic breakfast a little below their bush. 

 

Pile of cats

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a little more alert

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We set up and start our breakfast

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Not five minutes into our meal, Ken yells out, "She is hunting!" grabs my husbands camera and shoots the next shot. All I see is a gazelle and a flitting shape following it. Ken urges us on, "Let's go see... " he hops in the car and we follow, leaving our breakfast things behind as he races up the hill making his own track. And this is what we find:

The mother is panting heavily, the kill is barely visible under the bush and two cubs are with her. Where is the third cub? In my iPhone video, I see later, that the third cub was actually very close to us, trying to help in the hunt by running left instead of to the right. So he now appears, meowing and calling his family. Finally, the group is reunited and the feast can begin. 

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Incredible! And such wonderful phots.

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)

Page 1

Glad this came up in the queue again.  Your stills and video of the crossing are astounding. 

"Big mishap! Brakes fail at the gate and we avert crashing into the wall, but instead, bend back the plastic barrier. the agent had to send $180 for a replacement barrier."  My goodness what an entrance.  One of the lowlights for sure.

 

You are quite intrepid to drive yourselves.  Good idea to hire the guide for a couple of days.  Had to laugh at the dog outside your tent.

 

Page 2

Great cheetah activity!  Good thing you followed Ken's directions.  And then the leopards, which appears you found without a guide.  I like the Talek anti-littering sing.

 

Page 3

So many family shots.  The decorated hippo is hilarious.  If you did a ratio of number of animals seen/dollar spent, you'd come out with one of the highest numbers ever!

 

Edited by Atravelynn
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