Jump to content

My Nat-Geo-Moments Safari


twaffle
 Share

Recommended Posts

If you should spend your life looking in the rear view mirror, it could indeed feel as if the best of times were fading into the distance. With all the negative stories coming out of Kenya, and the somewhat superior attitude of some tourists who choose to look down on the Kenyan safari experience, I was planning to title this report “Paradise Lost”, however, the reality was so far from that impression that I had to find a different description.

 

What can I say, everytime I consider visiting a different country I find my self transported to the wide open spaces and rolling hills of the Mara, or the expansive plains fading into rocky escarpments and mountains of the Laikipia district ... even the red earth and distant vistas of Tsavo seem more attractive than dense bushland and totally flat country. Braving the “mini van” mecca which appears to be Kenya, I courageously boarded the Qatar Airways flight to Doha, then on to Nairobi. QR being my preferred carrier, their newly introduced direct flights out of Melbourne really worked well.

 

The flight into Nairobi arrived 10 minutes early and despite its’ bad reputation I was through immigration, had collected my luggage and was out into the warm breeze of the car park in around half an hour. The airport may not be a glossy shopping mall, but as a relic of a different era of flying, it has an interesting place in aviation history!

 

I had planned to practise my Swahili at every opportunity and thus prepared, came across my first problem. Jeremy, my excellent driver, had a lisp. All his ‘r’ sounds became ‘l’s; I was a goner and we proceeded in English. I always enjoy talking to my taxi drivers as you get a good feel for how the ordinary people of a country are feeling about their politics, economy and future. So with glass half full we exited the airport carpark and I was greeted by some 5 or 6 giraffes browsing in the Nairobi National Park close to the airport fence. I’ve never seen wild animals this close to the airport and so it was a nice introduction. Jeremy saw that the giraffe were surrounded by goats and said “see, domestic animals can co-exist with wild ones” … it’s all in the way you look at it, I guess.

 

Everyone visiting Nairobi knows of the appalling Mombasa Road traffic, well not on this day. Although a working day, we only had a minor hold up near the stadium and that was it. Hmmm, someone was clearing a path for me.

 

I had decided to stay at Macushla House in Karen, just around the corner from the Giraffe Centre, due to its’ location and price. At $125 B&B, the Nairobi stone bungalow proved to be excellent value given that it also had a large garden with lots of birds.

 

There appears to be a gulf between the white Kenyan and black Kenyan’s view of ‘paradise lost’ which goes beyond the obvious. The mildly prosperous black Kenyan talks of the future with optimism and hope. As a tourist I have found them open to sharing some of that optimism. The white Kenyans appear to see so much more of what they have lost. The days of security, wealth and the glorious wildlife and wilderness which was almost exclusively their domain have, in the main, disappeared and in my experience the second and third generation white Kenyans who remain appear to view the tourist with some disdain. The mark of their superiority being their memories of that paradise, and the fact that they indeed lived in the promised land and somehow it slipped through their fingers, perhaps never realising that the seeds for this consequence were sown in the dust of an age and attitude long passed. That aside, those working in the tourism industry are forward thinking and working hard to preserve what is left of Kenya’s wildlife heritage.

 

The word on the street is that the Somali pirates are buying up big swathes of Nairobi and that future security problems will centre around these immigrants. Could be interesting times ahead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My first morning started inauspiciously as I missed a spectacular Hartlaub’s Turaco in flight, well quite frankly, I missed it sitting on the branch of a tree as well! But I did manage a Rufous sparrow. I had some fun wandering around the garden trying to photograph the ubiquitous vervet monkeys who thundered across the roof but would only peer over the roof tiles at me, so that I could see quizzical eyes and raised eye brows only.

kenya2010_0064.jpg

kenya2010_0042.jpg

kenya2010_0056.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the more inspirational places to go as a tourist is Kazuri Beads, somewhere I have wanted to visit since reading Thomas Rees ‘Daktari’ about the evolution of the Flying Doctor Service in Kenya. Wonderful book in which he talks about his co-founder, Mike Wood’s wife Susan (later Lady) Woods and the work she did to set up a cottage industry for single mothers. Now the business employs over 300 women, and to get a job they still need to be single mothers thus giving them an income, dignity and a feeling of pride in their work. The beads are simply beautiful and I bought many!

kenya2010_0159.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Accompanied by Kennedy Muthoka, who came highly recommended, we lunched together amid gales of laughter and frivolity, much to the disgust of some of the more uptight patrons, before heading into NNP for an hour or so. I had decided to visit there for the first time in over 30 years mainly due to Atravelynn’s excellent report from last year. The park looked lush and green and although I didn’t take a lot of photos, I enjoyed the sightings and the beautiful vistas of the place. We had good sightings … 7 or 8 ostriches, male and female involved in intricate courtship rituals, both Masai and Rothschild giraffe (or a combination thereof), quite large herds of Burchells zebra with foals, eland, many hartebeest, some magnificent buffaloes, impalas and a white rhino and calf. Finally we saw two bushbuck, not together, which was the icing on the cake.

kenya2010_0191.jpg

 

Naturally I visited Sheldricks, although only one of my four orphans is still in Nairobi, the others all having progressed to Tsavo East. I enjoyed chatting to the various keepers and we talked about the poaching, ivory trade and about how the impact of losing an orphan made them feel. Nothing quite like having a tiny elephant wrap its’ trunk around your arm and gently place your hand in its’ mouth so that the calf can suck your fingers. This is nothing like lion cub petting and these orphans do end up living a free and naturally wild life.

kenya2010_0075.jpg

kenya2010_0080.jpg

kenya2010_0122.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Determined to continue my swahili I decided to speak to my next taxi driver, David, but to my horror he also had a lisp changing his ‘l’s to ‘r’s. I don’t think I ever quite recovered from this set back.

 

Wednesday morning … time to get over to Wilson’s Airport and find me a wilderness. Feeling totally out of place as I stood next to a group of very smartly dressed tourists, I clutched my green boarding card (or was it white!?) as they proudly waved their purple, special charter cards. Elegantly waving a hand towards their unscratched Louis Vuitton luggage, they chatted about their up coming holiday. In the meantime I grumpily reviewed the fact that I’d had to pay $24 for excess luggage for my battered, scruffy bag and many cameras.

 

The flight was fortunately uneventful which is how all flights should be, and I was met at the Musiara airstrip by my driver Kimansi and my guide Daniel. The 45 minute drive to camp took approximately 90 minutes as I was hungry to see and smell the African wilderness again. This short intermission was filled with a large breeding herd of elephants, a lone bull elephant with no tail, a new born giraffe calf, a new born Thomson’s gazelle getting to its’ feet for the first time, many birds … most of which I didn’t manage to photograph.

 

Our first stop though, was with a small troop of baboons and whilst one surveyed the plains, another carefully extracted the seeds from the grass heads ripening in abundance.

kenya2010_0230.jpg

kenya2010_0235.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Between the Masai Mara Reserve and the Mara North Conservancy there is a narrow piece of land which I called the cattle belt. It is on a rocky ridge, fairly dry with well grazed land on which the Maasai tend their herds. Although it doesn’t feel beautifully wild at this point, it is only a short distance before the wilderness closes in and I tried to remember that the future of this wonderful land depends on a working agreement between the Maasai and the conservationists. More on those lines later.

 

This new born Thomson's gazelle was found on the cattle belt.

kenya2010_0254.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was greeted at Serian camp by the manager, Mark Gilks, owner, Alex Walker plus a handful of regulars and guests whose names immediately went through one ear and out the other. At first it was quite daunting getting to know everyone and I managed to totally confuse everyone, myself included, by introducing myself when they had already welcomed me by name! Memo to self, concentrate more.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How could I mind such a compliment … thank you! :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Serian proved to be a wonderful mix of quiet solitude; sounds of the bush mingling with the rushing river; the constant noise from the hippos and then the evening chat and laughter. It was certainly refreshingly relaxed and civilised in the same breath and the by-word was flexibility in everything which was offered.

 

After lunch (which like all the meals was varied, delicious but not pretentious … vegetables grown in their own vegetable garden gave added freshness) and a quick tour of the camp I was ready to hit the road.

 

The Mara North Conservancy is developing into a really superior conservation area as agreements with the local Maasai landholders come into effect and slowly the cattle leave the area. Maybe not well known is the fact that the bed/acre density is about a tenth of that in the Mara Reserve, less than Sabi Sands and that the wildlife density is greater than SS area. In the future plan is a banning of mini-vans and self drivers and from what I gathered, this is to preserve the conservancy from being over run with an excess of tourists as off road driving is still allowed.

 

Of course, the MNC also has its' own mini migration of some 150,000 to 200,000 wildebeest and zebra, the Loita herds, which move in a smaller rotation around the area. No river crossings with this lot but by all accounts an impressive sight. Whilst I was there they were some distance away calving and I just ran out of time to travel that far.

 

The area was certainly looking in great condition with short, green, lush grass, white flowers, new born babies and the Mara river in good flow. We left camp and went down to the river to watch some giraffe crossing, unfortunately the animals were back lit but it wasn’t possible to get to the other side of the giraffe before the last one crossed.

kenya2010_0309.jpg

kenya2010_0317.jpg

 

I managed to photograph a few of the birds, this being a Crowned Lapwing.

 

kenya2010_0260.jpg

 

Followed a little later by this Black Headed Heron.

 

kenya2010_0267.jpg

 

Remains of the day …

 

kenya2010_0285.jpg

Edited by twaffle
Loita migration numbers edited for accuracy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Following are a few of the animals we saw during this quite short drive, including some hippo action as we left camp.

 

kenya2010_0332.jpg

 

This rather large topi calf still milk dependent.

 

kenya2010_0367.jpg

 

A rather magnificent eland bull with a huge dewlap. We saw quite large herds of eland, not as skittish as I expected.

 

kenya2010_0378.jpg

 

 

 

A little later we came across a giraffe nursery which offered some quite nice viewing. I didn't even notice the great big tree trunk next to the three calves … really spoilt the composition.

 

kenya2010_0393.jpg

 

kenya2010_0399.jpg

 

We came across this young buffalo cow who had just delivered this calf which was still drying off.

 

kenya2010_0414.jpg

 

Our first of many hyaenas.

 

kenya2010_0424.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As we slowly moved across the plains we came across a small herd of elephants. The adults had an interesting technique to pull out the small clumps of grass and shrubs they were eating. First the trunk curled around the plant and then the elephant kicked its' trunk with a front foot. Quite efficient. The calf was having all sorts of trouble learning this.

 

kenya2010_0457.jpg

 

kenya2010_0440.jpg

 

These wildebeest were caught in the last rays of evening light.

 

kenya2010_0475.jpg

 

The day was coming to an end when we came across 3 lions preparing to hunt.

 

kenya2010_0492.jpg

 

 

 

As it was getting very dark we had to leave them and we bumped back to camp in the dark with me looking vaguely and unsuccessfully for some elusive nocturnal animal.

 

The sun sets on my first evening back in the Mara.

 

kenya2010_0416.jpg

 

kenya2010_0436.jpg

 

kenya2010_0470.jpg

 

I was well pleased with my first drive. Tomorrow we were leaving before dawn to head into the Mara Reserve for the day before heading into the mobile camp at Nkorombo on the Mara River in the reserve.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Twaffle. I'm just loving this report! I can hardly wait for the next instalment.

 

 

Jan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lovely start, Twaffle. Will be reading the rest of your report on work-day afternoons at the office.........

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am so happy Kenya ruined the initial title to your report. I've only read the first paragraph and I'm uplifted already!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...., I'm sure that was the figure Alex gave me but I will check with him by email. I wonder if your figures included the Loita herd. Always happier to check than mislead people.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A great read Twaffle. Looking forward to next chapter.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...., I have had a quick look on the net and have to agree with your figures. Perhaps I heard wrongly and am out by a factor of 10. Seeing that this is a high discrepancy I will amend my figure until I find otherwise so that I don't mislead any other travellers to the area. Certainly the people in the area still see the migration as significant, contrary to some of the internet reports. Like much of what happens in wildlife areas, information is hard to accurately verify at times.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A lisp was a dilemma that I never even had considered. Wouldn't you know?

 

Finishing up your first section, I see Paradise Lost returns as subtext. Very insightful and I have felt some of those sentiments you describe though I couldn't quite put my finger on them or label them with such a suitable phrase. The pirates as land lubbers threatening the peace is certainly unsettling.

 

A beautiful bead shot, and the vervets and zebra are unique perspectives as well. I'm glad NBO Nat Park worked out. Was there any trace of the cattle influx and die off?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lynn, I didn't see any cattle, only those few goats near JKIA. Didn't see any carcass remains in NNP although I saw quite a few in the Mara.

 

The park looked in very good condition, but I was only there for a very short while so didn't see all of it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Twaffle-

 

Thank you for the start of this beautiful report.

 

The text and the photos are excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yay!!!

 

This is indeed uplifting reading with beautiful photos, from the very first monkey. By the way, I'm glad you found Macushla acceptable as I have reserved there as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome back Twaff.

 

Glad you had a great time, and it exceeded your expectations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for your comments. I seem to be taking a long time getting into the reserve but there was so much happening and I just want to share all the excitement and joy I found in the Mara.

 

Leely, I'm sure you will find Macushla a relaxing place to stay. Far from the sounds of traffic and really pretty surroundings.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That first early morning wake up call and cup of tea comes too soon and is surely the hardest one. I hadn’t slept well, probably still adjusting, and fell into a deep sleep seemingly 5 mins before my alarm and tea disturbed me. With scrambled eggs for brains I stood outside my tent in the early morning glow trying to remember if Mark had said I needed an escort only at night, in the dark, or whether this half light constituted a semi safe zone for walking. As no one was around and I had both my bags with me for the camp transfer, I decided to live dangerously and make it on my own figuring that I’d hide behind my bags; clobber any predator on the head with my bags; or any combination of the two if necessary. Needless to say nothing remotely exciting happened and I arrived safely at the vehicle.

 

We set off at a great pace, heading towards a suitable landscape for some dawn photography. A leopard in the tree would have been the icing on the cake, but it wasn’t to be.

 

kenya2010_0499.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We ambled across the cattle belt and down the road towards the Mara Reserve gate but before we had travelled too far Daniel saw some movement on the ridge in the distance. We headed over that way to find a two lionesses, a young male in very bad condition and a few cubs, also pretty scrawny. Not knowing whether I would see many lions, especially cubs, I took a number of photos but nothing special. They were on a mission to some better place … hopefully somewhere which included a good meal for all the youngsters. In the very far distance we could see a large male lion heading towards the Marsh but as he was being followed by a vehicle already we decided to go our own way.

 

kenya2010_0519.jpg

kenya2010_0529.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy