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Kenya June 2010


PT123
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We had a great few days in Kenya in the last couple of weeks of June. We visited Amboseli and the Mara. Although words and pictures cannot adequately capture what a great experience this trip was, below is a high level review of the trip…

 

Part One – Amboseli

On the flight in, we had some great elephant sightings but Kili remained hidden by cloud cover. We were met at the airstrip by our guide from the Serena. The lodge was great: very friendly staff, good food, a nice pool with pretty good views. We were lucky that we shared our Landcruiser with just one other person on all drives and the park itself wasn't crowded with visitors. She was an American woman that was staying in Kenya at a friend's house for a month and had traveled extensively in East Africa and other parts of the world. We had a terrific time speaking with her during the game drives. We settled into our room and then headed out on our first game drive around 11:00 a.m. We returned to the lodge around 1:00 and headed out for another drive at 4:00. The following day we had two drives as well.

 

Having read so much about the awful impact of the drought that struck this region for a couple of years I wasn't too sure how the game viewing would be even though the rains had returned. The area by the Ol Tukai section and the other swamps were quite green and lush and other areas of the park were dusty and dry. I am happy to say that there were ample zebra, wildebeest, tommys, buffalo, etc. about. If it is true that the concentration of these animals in the park is half of what it was before the drought, I can only imagine how spectacular this park must have been. (Of course there were many large herds of elephants as well.) Below is a very brief review of the different animals we saw on the two days we were at Amboseli.

 

Day 1:

Within ten minutes of leaving the lodge we saw a pride of lions (two females, several cubs and a couple of younger males whose manes hadn't completely grown in yet). One of the males was collared. We had some nice close up encounters as one of the females and both of the males crossed the road directly in front of our Landcruiser. Additionally we saw tonnes of elephants (poor pun intended), giraffe, cape buffalo, gazelles, warthogs, ostriches, spotted hyenas, waterbuck, etc. Although the animal sightings exceeded expectations, Mt. Kilimanjaro remained clouded over during the first drive and we were concerned that we wouldn't get to see the great mountain as we were told that it can stay clouded over for several days at a time.

 

The clouds cleared a bit during the evening drive and we did get some nice (yet hazy) views of Kili. The highlight of this drive was when a lone lioness crossed the road in front of our car (in a different part of the park from where we earlier saw the lion pride). She casually strolled toward a group of wildebeest and zebra and then proceeded to lie down in front of them and begin grooming. While the nervous beest kept a close eye on her the zebra made their exit. We observed this for about 20 minutes. At one point she got up and trotted toward them before lying back down. All this took place with Kili in the background. To the right of this a pair of crested cranes was engaged in a courtship dance and on the opposite side of the road (directly behind us) a large male elephant approached and obligingly posed for a couple of great pictures. The best part of this was that there was only one other car observing this.

 

We returned to the Serena for a bush dinner complete with Masai dance. The food was quite good however, it seems I've lost a bit of spring as I wasn't quite able to jump as high as some of the local morans. This was quite embarrassing as I had been bragging how in 2007 I was able to jump higher than a couple of the young Masai in the Ngorongoro highlands. I blame this on the heavy three course meal (complete with a couple of Tuskers). I've begun a strict training regime and will seek to rehabilitate my reputation when we return to East Africa. We retired to bed and were awakened by the loud and fierce barking of Hyenas accompanied by a few lion calls and roars. FANTASTIC!!

 

The next morning we had yet another close encounter with a lone lioness in another area of the park who was calling out for the rest of her pride (woooo, oooooh, oooh). As we stopped and watched her I looked to the right and Kili had cleared out nicely. As I was gazing at a fantastic view of Kilimanjaro, listening to a lioness that was no more that was twenty feet away from us call out, I thought how incredibly lucky we were to be experiencing this. We moved on and met up with a couple of hyenas nipping at each other and got some great shots of a large elephant in front of Kili (which by now was still quite viewable but a bit hazy). On the afternoon drive we went to Observation Hill. There were fantastic panoramic views of the park. You can really see how much the geography differs. Some areas are lush, green marshland, some green/brown grassland, other forested and other areas are dry and dusty (complete with dust devils blowing across the landscape). Near Observation Hill is Narok Swamp. There were lots of elephants wading in and grazing. This was pretty neat to see elephant almost completely up to their heads in water feeding.

 

Amboseli Summary -

We were lucky to see lions on three of the four drives as well as many very large individual, and large herds of elephants. There were times when we were stopped and I would scan the horizon in all directions with my binoculars (spinning around 360 degrees) and see elephants in all directions. The park is green and wasn't crowded. Most times we were the only car around an animal sighting. Other times there were one or two others. Amboseli was great and lived up to its billing (elephants, elephants and more elephants; plus good views of Kili and good general game viewing). We joked that our guide (a gentleman named Victor that worked for Serena and was terrific) had an easy job as the wildlife was so prolific that “spotting” wasn't really necessary. Just driving along the roads we easily saw lions, elephant, zebra, beest, gazelle, warthog, hyena, Hippo, buffalo, waterbuck, etc. This was two days very well spent. – we couldn't believe how easy the game viewing was as compared to our previous experience in Tanzania (Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti).

 

We had some more good views of Kili as we were flying back to Wilson. As we headed off to the Mara we thought how fabulous these two days were. Although we knew the Mara would be great, we thought that there was no way that the game viewing there could compare with the wonderful experience we just had: a high concentration of animals, easy spotting and few other people. I'm happy to say that our fears were unfounded and the four days we spent in the Mara did indeed exceed expectations in all ways. I'll post part two of this report in the coming days.

 

 

Please see the gallary I recently created with a few images from Amboseli

Edited by PT123
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A good start, looking forward to reading more!

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Looks like Amboseli was very kind to you and your photos certainly show how lush it is. Looking forward to more.

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Great start. I'm looking forward to the next installment. I was in the Mara 22-25 June--fantastic to see the migration so unexpectedly! Were you there then? Maybe we crossed paths.

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Hi Leely,

 

Yes, we must have passed the same ground around the same time. We were at Kichwa Tembo from June 19 -23rd in the mara triangle. It was totally unexpected and just fantastic that we were fortuate enough to see the migration. Where you in the western part of the mara as well?

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PT123, I stayed on Olare Orok conservancy at Kicheche Bush Camp. I thought the conservancy was great but this was my first visit to the Mara so I have no point of comparison. We went all over the place so we may have crossed paths anyway. Also I only saw Amboseli flying through on safarilink, so I enjoyed seeing your photos.

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Great, here's the report! Looking forward to sharing your recent adventures with you. And your pictures.

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Hello all,

 

Apologies for the delay in posting this! Lynne and Kavey, I look forward to reading your reports and seeing all the pictures. I hope that you both have great trips.

 

Lynne: We drove by the Serena and it looks like it's in a really good area - high up on a hill with what I bet will be spectacular views. I'll be interested to get your review of this lodge. We enjoyed our stay at the Serena lodges in Arusha and in Amoboseli.

 

Please see the attached link for pictures of this trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/51609909@N02/

 

 

Part II: Masai Mara (Kichwa Tmbo)

 

We spent four nights at Kichwa Tembo which is located just outside the reserve, (just north of the Mara triangle by the Oloololo gate). We went to Tanzania in 2007 (northern circuit) and were completely enamored and couldn’t wait to get back to East Africa. This was our first trip to Kenya and I was eager to experience first hand what I’ve heard so much about. I have to admit that although I’ve always heard how great the game viewing is in the Mara, I was leery that the reserve would be overrun with minivans and other safari goers and would not have the same remote feel as Tarengire or parts of the Serengeti. We tried to plan our trip on the shoulder season to minimize this, (as well as save a few $$$$!). Apparently, the eastern part of the Mara is the most congested as it is most accessible from Nairobi and the triangle is the least congested. Between location and timing of our visit it didn’t seem crowded at all. With one exception, at most there were two other vehicles when we were viewing an animal. We were blown away by the concentration of animals and how close we could get to them. And most importantly for me, I finally got to spend some quality time with a few rhino! Some of the other animals we saw were –

 

Loin (many sightings: males, females and cubs)

Leopard (one sighting for a few minutes)

Cheetah (many great sightings)

Serval (very brief encounter)

Jackal (black-back)

Rhino (mother and calf plus a lone male)

 

Plus the usual - giraffe, hippos, zebra, wildebeest, Nile crocodile, elephants, topi, waterbuk, bushbuck, reedbuck, thomson and grants gazelle, impala, cape buffalo, banded mongoose, warthogs galore, trotting troupes of olive baboon, blue monkey and red tail monkey. We were also quite fortunate that the migration was ahead of schedule and we got to experience part of it as well.

 

We had some great experiences where we were able to sit and observe the animals for a longer period of time (as opposed to getting the obligatory photo, checking the animal off the list and moving on to the next sighting). This allowed us to not only enjoy and learn more about the specific animal, but also see how it interacted with other animals; observe other animals and birds as they happened into the area; listen to and enjoy the sounds and tranquility of the Mara; observe and learn about some of the “smaller” species, flora and fauna as explained by our guide, etc.

 

One afternoon around 5:00 we came across a female cheetah lounging in the grass at the base of the Oloololo escarpment. There were about 20 – 30 tommys and a few topis (plus one grants gazelle) about 100 yards away from her which she seemed unaware or uninterested in. At first there was one other vehicle which left after about ten minutes so we were alone after that. We stuck around to see what would develop (keeping a respectable distance so that we did not interfere with her activities). We stayed there for about 1.5 hours observing her and enjoying the tranquility of the African evening as the sun slowly began to set. We just stayed there alone watching her, (sometimes sitting up, sometimes laying down and grooming, sometimes sleeping), and learning from our guide about cheetah behavior, this part of the Mara, the other animals/birds that came and went, as well as his family, background and life in Kenya. Some people would have been board by just sitting there – I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour or so.

 

After about an hour and a half the cheetah popped up and started moving over towards the gazelles and other grazers. When she got close enough the topis and gazelle all formed a line facing her and began snorting loudly (the grants gazelle was also stomping his front hooves). As she was slinking in closer she spotted a warthog and gave half hearted chase. It escaped and she turned her attention to the tommys. As she was positioning herself closer to them, we could see something weaving its way through the taller grass in the distance. It was a lone hyena lopping along. As it got closer (and as it was getting dark) the cheetah gave up the hunt and moved off and we headed back to camp for our dinner.

 

This was one example of the many great game viewing experiences we had. Briefly, some of the other highlights are –

 

1. Close encounters of the lion kind: part one. There were three or four times where we surrounded on two or three sides by lions while they lounged around in the afternoon hours. At times we got within 20 feet or so, sometimes a bit closer. There was one time when we were watching some females and cubs lounging in front of us under a tree and the tall grass around the tree. We happily were enjoying them when we heard a little sneeze right beside our Landcruiser – two cubs popped up out of the grass and meandered their way over to the rest of the pride!

 

 

2. Close encounters of the lion kind: part two. We had spent some time with another large pride (10+ cats, females and cubs) that were also lazing the afternoon away. A short distance from where the cats were lounging was a recently killed, partially eaten (smelly) buffalo. The next afternoon we returned to the area and most of the buff had been consumed. The lions (this time joined by a large male) were lying around. There was a large herd of buff in the area. Our guide immediately told us to watch them as one of the buff was scenting the lions and guiding a group toward them. As they got closer they formed a line and charged the lions. Needless to say the lions took off – with the females going in one direction and the male in another. As the buff continued to pursue the large male a couple of the females circled back and looked for a possible opportunity to get a buffalo (or calf) from the now somewhat dispursed herd. The buff seemed to realize this, gave up the chase and regrouped into a tighter herd.

 

3. Close encounters of the lion kind: part 3. We went down to the Tanzanian boarder and crossed the south Mara bridge (this was congested minivan hell). In addition to experiencing the migration (massive numbers of wildebeest moving in a somewhat orderly procession) we had a close up view of another lion pride. It was fantastic being surrounded by the massive and never-ending herd of beest (oddly enough there were only a few zebra travelling with them). During this we spotted a bunch of other vehicles and went over to investigate. There was a large pride under a couple of trees on either side of narrow jeep tracks. We pulled up and had lions on either side – one was only five feet way. This was thrilling (and a bit nerve racking, especially when you make direct eye contact!). Although they seemed completely unperturbed, there were way too many vehicles near these lions and we moved off after about five minutes. After, we crossed into Tanzania for about twenty minutes and watched the wildebeest cross the Sand river. Earlier in the day we spent a couple of hours by the Mara river watching the big herds of beest mass at the banks and observing a large crock do a death roll with an unfortunate beest.

 

4. Close encounters of the lion kind: part 4. Lions mating – it was that time of the year and on two consecutive days we saw two different male lions doing their best to keep the species going. I won’t go into detail except to say that there was a lot of hissing, grunting, growling and an occasional tail bite. Let your imagination fill in the blanks.

 

5. Rhinoceroses – This was what I was hoping for and was so happy to see. Based on what I’ve read, there are less than 50 rhinos left in the Mara and our guide said that he thought that in reality the number was closer to 40. On the second day we set out and after searching for about an hour saw a mother and calf. We were the only ones around and stayed with them for only about 10 minutes as our guide said that they do not want to stress them. The next day we spotted a large male. He had the top of his larger horn cut off. This was done by the rangers as apparently this young male was a bit aggressive and they did not want him to hurt another rhino given their low numbers. (3 rhinos in 2 days = very happy PT123)

 

6. Hippo and elephant charge: On an early morning game drive we were by the Sabringo river watching another cheetah weave its way through some tall grass. As we got closer to the river we ran into some commuter traffic. Some elephants were headed way from the forest along the river bank and a hippo was headed back to the water. Even though we were not between the hippo and the water, it briefly charged us - which startled us all given what we heard about how dangerous they can be. He was a lot faster than I would have thought for such a big creature. A while later, as we were slowly passing a herd of elephants, one of the baby elephants charged our car. This was very cute and somewhat comical given his size. He had his trunk up in the air, ears out and was trumpeting away as he ran toward us. He ran for about 20 feet stopped and then ran back to his mum.

 

7. Journeys of Giraffe: They were everywhere. I do like these creatures and particularly enjoyed seeing so many of them. We had some nice close ups as they would come quite close to the camp at times when they were grazing. Additionally, we had a couple of nice sightings of them necking which is quite an experience to watch as they were landing some pretty solid body blows. Also, while watching a large herd of elephants on one of the morning dives, we got to see several giraffe congregated around a waterhole. It was pretty cool to watch as they each took their turn kneeling down to drink. One other thing that I noticed is the darker coloring on the backs of some of the giraffe’s necks. This was interesting as the giraffes we saw in Tarangire and the Seronera area of the Serengeti were lighter than the ones we saw in the northern Serengeti and Mara. (Just a totally random observation on my part…)

 

8. Cheetah on the rocks: On one afternoon drive as we were leaving camp, instead of taking a right turn and heading to the Oloololo gate and into the Mara, we went left and headed off road and up the side of the escarpment (valley wall). This was somewhat steep, grassy/rocky terrain interspersed with small ravines. We spotted a large female cheetah walking around. This seemed completely incongruous as this was not ideal hunting ground for her since she wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of her speed. Our guide did explain that she would move back down to the valley floor to hunt and that more than likely she moved up the hillside to get away from other large predators (hyena, lion, etc). Also present was a group of four giraffe that were further up the hillside, separated from Ms. cheetah and us by a small ravine. Although I don’t think that she was seriously hunting, the cheetah did hop over the ravine and trot towards the giraffe. The giraffe did trot off a bit while keeping an eye on her.

 

We had all of the above experiences on the first three days. Initially we shared our car with one British couple (which we got along quite well with and had a great time hanging out with) as well as a very nice young American woman doing missionary work in Nairobi. After two days the she returned to Nairobi and after three days the Englanders went off to Zanzibar. For the last two drives we had the car to ourselves. This was quite nice as we felt there was no “pressure” to see specific animals, or do specific things since we already saw so much. As our guide said we just observed “whatever nature provided”. This was a nice and relaxing way to finish up the visit.

 

Thoughts on the camp (if anyone is interested):

We were quite happy with Kichwa Tembo and our guide Benedict was unbelievable. Within three minutes of leaving the airfield we had our first cheetah sighting and on the first drive (that afternoon) we saw a leopard on a termite mound for a couple of minutes before he moved off into the bush. The camp itself was quite nice (really good food and very friendly, yet unobtrusive staff). The tents were comfortable and had full plumbing, (showers and toilet), which we appreciated more than the “camp” toilets and bucket showers on our last trip. While a pool on safari is really an unnecessary frivolity, I do have to admit that it was pretty cool to swim in a pool that overlooks the Masai Mara (while giraffe and buffalo are grazing close by and farther off in the distance you can easily see elephants, topis, gazelles and an occasional hyena or two).

 

Summary: We have one thought – when can we go back?! We’ve cancelled the other trips scheduled for this year (my baseball trip to see the Sox play in Seattle and our new years tip to London, plus a possible bear viewing trip to Alaska) so that we can return next June or July. Only 350 days to go! Now I understand what all the fuss is about and why people (on this forum and others) are so keen to return again and again to the Mara. There were times when we would pull into large groups of animals and be virtually surrounded by buffalo, elephants, gazelle, etc. and at times have lions on three sides of us. This was indescribably cool: it was exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. To see animals in their natural environment going about their business as they are meant to be was incredibly satisfying.

 

Please see the attached link for pictures of this trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/51609909@N02/

Edited by PT123
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PT123, I'm so glad you had a great time in the Mara, isn't it just beautiful? I stayed at Kichwa Tembo in '05 and we had excellent sightings. I'm glad the area delivered for you also. You have posted some really nice photos, but I imagine that you have many more to enjoy over the coming months whilst you wait for your next trip. I thought June was a good time to travel, both for price and viewing. My last trip was in January and my next will be also, due to work commitments and I found this a good time as well but I think there can't really be a bad time for the Mara. Thanks for the report, really interesting.

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Instead of you losing some of the spring in your step, PT123, maybe the Maasai have been practicing to beat you. So Kili peeked out for you after all!

 

The cheetah were on parade for you! How nice your vehicle mates were compatible and could share the excitement of your fine sightings. And how nice of the wildebeest to migrate early!

 

I'll be back to check photos in a couple weeks.

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Lynn, have you done your bear trip yet? I seem to remember that you were visiting them again. Sorry for the hijack!

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What a terrific gallery. I am SO jealous of your rhino sightings. Thanks for posting!

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Other holidays cancelled ... only 350 days to go! :)

 

Enjoying all the detail and you certainly have had an excellent trip so far.

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PT123, I've very much enjoyed your trip report. Lots of good photos and a very enthusiastic feel to your

 

whole experience. I have not visited the Mara since the late 70's, and it makes me feel that perhaps I

 

should go back there. I travel on my own these days, but perhaps I should get out of my 'comfort zone' of

 

Botswana and return to places from the past.

 

Thankyou for your report.

 

From a 'Brit'

 

Jan

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Thanks for this great report and pictures! Very good to learn, that Kichwa Tembo and the Triangle are still holding on to great wildlife experiences.

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Thanks for your report! It sounds like you’ve made the right decision cancelling all other trips and returning to the Mara next year.

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Cheers everyone...342 more days to go. Until then I'll have to content myself by reading everyone else's reports!

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Thanks for the report, PT123. Hope to one day get to Amboseli. Would love to get some pics of the ellies with a Kili backdrop.

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There were times when we would pull into large groups of animals and be virtually surrounded by buffalo, elephants, gazelle, etc. and at times have lions on three sides of us. This was indescribably cool: it was exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. To see animals in their natural environment going about their business as they are meant to be was incredibly satisfying.

 

Yes, it's a strange contradiction isn't it? It IS exhilarating, exciting, thrilling and yet it's soothing, peaceful, relaxing...

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  • 3 weeks later...

All those rhino made me think you were in South Africa. The lions pursuing the wildebeest was a great action shot. Elephant in front of Kili, you got it! Congrats!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Great trip report makes me long for September - only about 6 weeks to go! Did you stay at the Serena in Arusha? Now that is a beautiful place especially if you like gardens and birds. You ask about the Mara Serena well I love most Serena establishments but I find the Mara Serena, although in a good position, is just a bit like a hotel rather than a lodge. I found the dining room very hot and claustrophobic and if you are getting on in years you dont want to be allocated a room at the bottom of the hill because its a heck of a climb up to the bar!!!!!

I hope my report will do the Mara justice as yours has.

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you dont want to be allocated a room at the bottom of the hill because its a heck of a climb up to the bar!!!!!

 

But you can just slip off your bar stool and roll on down the hill at the end of the night. Almost as good as a night drive. Maybe I'll try it. Thanks for the reminder.

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All those rhino made me think you were in South Africa. The lions pursuing the wildebeest was a great action shot. Elephant in front of Kili, you got it! Congrats!

 

 

Thanks! We were super lucky! I can't wait to see your pics from the mara - I bet it will be teeming with beast while you are there.

Edited by PT123
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Great trip report makes me long for September - only about 6 weeks to go! Did you stay at the Serena in Arusha? Now that is a beautiful place especially if you like gardens and birds. You ask about the Mara Serena well I love most Serena establishments but I find the Mara Serena, although in a good position, is just a bit like a hotel rather than a lodge. I found the dining room very hot and claustrophobic and if you are getting on in years you dont want to be allocated a room at the bottom of the hill because its a heck of a climb up to the bar!!!!!

I hope my report will do the Mara justice as yours has.

 

 

Merci Samburumags,

 

I bet that you are in the final count down to your trip. We did stay at the Serena in Arusha and agree that it was quite nice. The lake and grounds were quire tranquil. The lodge itself was pretty nice too and we've also stayed at the Serena Amboseli which we enjoyed as well.

 

I'll be interested to hear Lynne's official review of the Serena Mara!

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But you can just slip off your bar stool and roll on down the hill at the end of the night. Almost as good as a night drive. Maybe I'll try it. Thanks for the reminder.

 

Oh this isn't an activity that needs to be safari-only. Enjoy it in every hilly locale.

 

Thanks again for the great photos, PT. I need to go on a rhino-focused trip because I never seem to see very many.

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