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Kenya (Lewa/Mara) and Rwanda Report...in the Mara AUG 1-6


gatoratlarge
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gatoratlarge

Just returned a few days ago from Kenya and Rwanda. It had been 20 years since I last went to Kenya on safari which incidentally was my first trip to Africa. I was in Tanzania 10 years ago but it had been a long while since I had been in East Africa. Mostly we've travelled to southern Africa for safaris...the itinerary was as follows:

 

JUL 26 Nairobi Fairview Hotel

JUL 27-28. Lewa Safari Camp

JUL 29 Kigali Serena/Rwanda

JUL 30. Sabyinyo Lodge/Volcanoes NP

JUL 31 Kigale Serena

AUG 1-3 Mara Serena

AUG 4-6 Main Governors Camp

AUG 7 Ole Sereni - Nairobi

AUG 8 Depart for home

 

We had a remarkable trip---my dad and I are safari veterans you might could say as it was his 10th trip and my 11th trip to Africa, but we brought my niece and it was her first time...we wanted her to have the whole Africa experience from the wide open landscapes of the savannah to the forested slopes of central Africa...it was ambitious as time was limited but we had a great experience! My goal was to catch glimpses of the Great Migration. The last time I was in the Mara it was in januar 1992.. Still it was beautiful but I wanted to see the migrating herds...we had tried to catch this in TZ and the Serengeti in AUG 2002 but having seen what I've seen now, I know I only saw the tail end stragglers in the Grumeti area 10 years ago...

 

We began in Lewa and clearly rhinos are Lewa's specialty...it is perfect for them and in a short stay we saw plenty...more than 30 white rhinos and 6 black rhinos...but lewa is much more than rhinos...it has many of the species endemic to northern Kenya and we saw plenty of reticulated giraffes and Grevys zebras, a pair of cheetah brothers that have taken over the territory of the famous three cheetah brothers who have since died...the landscape is stunning. Immediately upon landing on the airstrip you are transported...a herd of elephants moved slowly across the terrain...giraffes browsed on acacia...within several minutes we spotted our first rhino. A beautiful yellow fever tree swamp...and then the cheetah brothers even before I reached camp.

 

The managers at safari camp were terrific...they alluded to some past problems as the conservancy tried to run them themselves and found they were much better off to do the conservancy work and let someone else run and manage the lodges...the camp reminded me a lot of so many in southern Africa. I appreciated it's small size. There was an electric fence which was different than what I've been used to in S Africa so no elephants next to the tent and the like...

 

Highlights included of course the great rhino viewing but also for the first time (after all the trips!) watching two lionesses ambush a herd of zebras...the lionesses staked out a waterhole and the zebra herd got closer and closer unaware of the danger...finally three zebras made their way toward the waterhole moving in between the two lions...one even rolled around for a dust bath! The lions sprung! They targeted the dust bath zebra but one of the other zebras came racing past which seemed to cause the lion to hesitate for a moment and lose momentum...the lucky zebras escaped with their lives...this happened as we made our way to the airstrip---was more of a transfer than a game drive but it wasnt over yet...we had no sooner left the lions than happened across a Somalian blue-necked ostrich in full mating fever...it was an amazing sight! He shimmied and tango'd for all he was worth! The female was still unimpressed and after a short pursuit, the male ran off in humiliation. Still as we neared the airstrip a black rhino was making his way up a hill and turned as if to bid us farewell---all on the way to the airstrip!

 

Rwanda was next and it was surprising. After the horrific genocide of the 90s I wasn't sure what to expect...the genocide memorial was just heartbreaking but I believe an absolute must to try and understand what exactly happened and how it happened. There are more than 250,000 people interred at the memorial site. Some interesting things I,

Learned is that 56% of the parliament is made up of women... Our guide was the only female guide in the country. A very impressive young lady. Plastic bags are outlawed there and Kigale is one of the cleanest cities I've visited in Africa. Each month there is a day set aside for community service and improvement. There seems to be a real positive energy and a new spirit. I was very happy to see this in the wake of such horror now 18 years ago...

 

The Sabyinyo Lodge was a several hour drive from Kigale through beautiful terraced landscape...Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country and the soil is rich but the terrain covered in hills...they said the hike up to the lodge was tougher than the hike to see the gorillas and threre is some truth to that...a beautiful view from the lodge though of the surrounding volcanoes. I really enjoyed the couple that managed the lodge. We loved the fireplace in each room!

 

My dad was concerned about the gorilla trek as he's 78 and has had double bypass surgery. They encouraged him to do it. They said they would request an easier group to visit, the group of eight would go along at his pace and that your time with the gorillas is not cut short at all as they put the slower in front and the group would have an hour with the gorilla family--- no problems!

 

The hike the next morning took about an hour or so...we walked in the fresh footsteps of forest elephant tracks...our group was the Sabyinyo family which has the oldest and largest silverback (therefore they don't move around as much) there was a second silverback that might challenge one day, but for now, it was peaceable kingdom! 20 feet is the limit but the gorillas do not always oblige! They were all around...feeding, napping, wrestling, grooming, nursing, kissing, playing King of the Hill...it was one amazing experience! We stopped off at the twin lakes...just stunning beauty...on our way back to Kigale....had a great dinner at Republika restaurant to top off our time in Rwanda.

 

Back In Nairobi we lunched at Tomambo out at Karen Blixen's and enjoyed watching the ex pats and locals enjoy a Sunday afternoon...we also visited the giraffe center and the Sheldrick Orphanage...great fun to feed the endangered Rothschild giraffes and watch the baby ellies feed and splash around in the mud---warning you could get sprayed with mud on the front row!

 

We wound up the day in the Mara. The Mara Serena sits atop a hill and has magnificent views out over the Mara in all directions! From what we are used to it is also. A bit raucous with loud families and children on holiday. The reason we chose it was its location in the Mara triangle and the potential to see the migration and Mara river crossings. The migration has been delayed this year due to abundant rains in the Serengeti so I was anxious as to whether we might have arrived a week too soon...

 

But my request to be surrounded by thousands of gnuing wildebeests was answered in the affirmative as we made our way toward the TZ border....indeed, the wildies were pouring into the Mara! Some highlights: watching crocs feeding on a hippo carcass (the hippo likely died in a fight with another hippo) it was a grisly scene but still fascinating to watch, breakfast at a hippo pool where we watched a hippo chase off a large croc, lions with cubs, attempting to watch a zebra crossing at the main crossing point we spotted a leopard patrolling the opposite bank. We intercepted a mother cheetah and young cub, and witnessed the migration making its way into the Mara, wildies by the thousands...but the highlight was surely watching one of the first crossings by wildies of the year. It almost didn't happen as we arrived on our morning drive and some had already crossed...now they implored the rest to follow suit and cross as well...I thought witnessing this scene was one of the most interesting things I've seen watching wildlife...but it almost didn't happen!

 

An over eager landrover on The opposite bank drove right into the herd at the crossing point and got stuck!! The wildebeests scattered searching for another place to cross! Meanwhile the separated families called out their gnuing sound to follow...separated calves ran along the shore line looking for mum! It was frustrating to watch...they amassed further down and several even made it as far as the shoreline but doubled back...columns of other wildies ran around the river bend and disappeared. Meanwhile the landrover got unstuck and moved and the herd moved back to the original position...it was going to happen! The boldest one being a small calf intent on reuniting with its mother! But all of a sudden here comes that same landrover barreling toward the. Tossing point...where two others had stopped, this vehicle kept going!! Twice we thought this idiot was going to thwart the crossing! Luckily we waved our arms and motioned to get away and they actually left the scene altogether. The crossing began again in earnest complete with a croc taking out a young wildebeest --- it was like an Animal Lanet special but live before our very eyes...really incredible!

 

We transferred over to Main Governors seeing more than 20 lions on that day...saw a lioness hunting (and missing!) a warthog family...saw many more cheetah, another with one cub and another with two very tiny cubs! We saw one lioness with four young cubs as well, three of the Four Muskateer males that rule the territory....witnessed another crossing of mostly zebras, floated over the Mara on a hot air balloon which was incredibly beautiful to see this perspective and varied scenery including the river, the forest, the plains and the escarpment...we saw hundreds of. Thousands of the migrating herds as they poured into the mara from both the Loita Plains and the Serengeti...and ended our stay in the Mara watching a leopard feeding on its kill of a young wildebeest, a sign of plenty to come over the next few months...I'll attach links to pics from Facebook that I've posted and also some crude vids I took from my camera as well...hope you enjoy them!

 

We started off at Lewa:

 

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151170616033488.510214.610038487&type=3&l=bf6b5e794b

 

Next Rwanda:

 

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151170624018488.510216.610038487&type=3&l=4567133f04

 

Nairobi in between:

 

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151170635673488.510221.610038487&type=3&l=9edca818b0

 

Then the Masai Mara:

 

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151170629113488.510220.610038487&type=3&l=1d6306ce1b

 

Scenes from The Great Migration:

 

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151170626608488.510218.610038487&type=3&l=9215bf7752

 

And lastly, some cools vids I took with my camera, not high quality but I got some good action:

 

Wildebeest crossing and a croc attack:

 

 

Gorilla life:

 

 

Crocs on hippo carcass:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_1GJLsj81Q&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Lion hunt at Lewa:

 

 

An ostrich mating dance!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0TUnqVVld8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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Some truly excellent video action, gatoratlarge! Particularly loved that lion hunt and ostrich display. Lewa is high on my bucket list and always interested in stories and footage from there. I'm guessing your niece is now hooked.

 

Wonder when they'll sort out the overcrowding on the Kenyan side of the Mara. Each year we hear about these idiotic drivers interfering with the crossings but nothing seems to change :angry: I share your enthusisam for wildies, so can well imagine how you felt surrounded by them and the air filled with their gnuing. It's a racket I could get used to...

 

Good info on the gorilla groups too. Thanks so much for sharing.

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I thought I'd commented here, great report thanks. Haven't had a chance to watch the videos yet.

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gatoratlarge

Thanks very much for your comments. I did send a photo of the liscense plate of the offending land rover to the Mara Triangle page on Facebook (not to be a tattle tail but it was ridiculous---and if it blew it for me, perhaps no big deal---but when the wildies are crossing and families are separated, calf from mother, etc...to me interfering to that extent with nature needs to be nipped in the bud!) ---I don't know if there's anything they can do about it, but all it takes is one unruly vehicle! There weren't even that many vehicles present but the astounding thing was it clearly had driven right into the crossing point and halted the crossing to start with---got stuck---then unstuck----moved off----the wildies returned to try and resume the crossing and I'll be danged if it didn't drive right past a couple other landrovers and sent them scattering again! We were about apoplectic! Thankfully, they were waived off and they left the scene entirely and we were able to see a great crossing with all the drama I had imagined from watching countless hours of Animal Planet and Nat Geo : )

 

You're right Sangeeta---I think my niece is completely hooked on Africa---all it takes is one trip! I'm not sure what the answer is regarding the crowded nature of of the Mara---the openness of it all certainly lends itself to not having a sighting all to yourself...you can spot several cars together a mile away...and it does seem like the Kenyan Wildlife Service has $$ signs in there eyes...one of our guides told us that the rhinos liked a certain place for their breeding area but the KWS gave yet another permit to build a safari camp in the exact spot...now the rhinos have to find another less suitable area...that was the only animal of the Big Five we didn't see in the Mara...we just missed them as they moved into the woodlands one day and another search of Rhino Ridge we were skunked...luckily Lewa was rhino heaven as the rhino is my favorite animal : )

 

Hope you get to Lewa--I think it is a special place and a well run conservancy---heck even Prince William proposed to Kate there! Thanks again for your comments. Hope the pics or comments motivate someone else to go to Africa---I believe more tourism helps ultimately to protect the animals...although more crowded than South Africa and Botswana, etc,,, it's hard to argue with the sweeping views of the African Plains, the escarpments, the acacia dotted savannah with golden grass, the migration and the other wildlife --- I may not have loved some of the lodges as much as the intimate settings of Southern Africa, but wow! the wildlife we saw on this trip!

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Hope you get to Lewa--I think it is a special place and a well run conservancy---heck even Prince William proposed to Kate there! Thanks again for your comments. Hope the pics or comments motivate someone else to go to Africa---I believe more tourism helps ultimately to protect the animals...although more crowded than South Africa and Botswana, etc,,, it's hard to argue with the sweeping views of the African Plains, the escarpments, the acacia dotted savannah with golden grass, the migration and the other wildlife --- I may not have loved some of the lodges as much as the intimate settings of Southern Africa, but wow! the wildlife we saw on this trip!

 

I think they will - your photos & descriptions will motivate someone to visit, I mean! I have only ever been to the Mara in Kenya, so Lewa is long overdue for me. In fact, was mulling over it when Zim happened and now all my plans have been overset all over again :( I'm finding it hard to argue against ANY topography in Africa at this point...

 

I really enjoyed your writing. Hope to read much more from you going forward.

Edited by Sangeeta
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  • 2 weeks later...

Great report G. what did you think of the Ol Sereni? Interested to know because we are looking at it for next year as i believe it is close to Wilson airport

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Great report G. what did you think of the Ol Sereni? Interested to know because we are looking at it for next year as i believe it is close to Wilson airport

 

Ole Sereni is close to JKIA not Wilson's. Very nice, modern hotel along the lines of most 5* style international hotels. You will still have a hectic drive to Wilson's depending on the hour of day.

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Thanks Twaffle I will bare that in mind

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Great report about a great family trip. It's really nice that three generations of your family got to go and share some fantastic safari experiences and stay at a good cross section of camps/lodges. You certainly went to the right places rhino, lions and wildies. I haven't been on a gorilla trek (yet) but some day! Cheers from Boston.

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marcianluanda

Great report G. what did you think of the Ol Sereni? Interested to know because we are looking at it for next year as i believe it is close to Wilson airport

 

Ole Sereni is close to JKIA not Wilson's. Very nice, modern hotel along the lines of most 5* style international hotels. You will still have a hectic drive to Wilson's depending on the hour of day.

 

Twaffle, I havent been there but am booked for a night in November and it seems its in between JKIA and Wilson- roughly 5 km to either of them and just off the Mombasa road overlooking the Nairobi National Park? Moi better cross check again but had heard this from few sources and also thats what the websites say.

 

We stayed at Ole Sereni on Aug. 13th after our safari and thought the location was great as we had stayed at a small country inn, Macushla House in Karen at the beginning. It took us 2 hours to reach Karen on the day that we arrived, as the traffic was terrible! Since it was dark when we arrived at Macushla and we left very early for our flight out of Wilson airport, we wished that we had stayed at Ole Sereni on arrival. I would recommend it as a transit hotel to others.

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Sorry---I was away for a few days----I really liked the Ole Sereni Hotel....the fact that it borders the Nairobi Natl Park meant that the outdoor deck looked out into the blackness into the park. It's a large hotel but I thought it was a very good option to be very close to the International Airport. Traffic can be bad and so it was especially convenient to the aiport when we departed back to the US...

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A few more videos...

 

The Sheldrick Orphanage is a treat...we went twice...once during the regular visiting hour and again for the evening after hours...you can do this by adopting an orphan... I enjoyed it a lot and my niece just loved meeting her adopted Ellie:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHk02zkSOOg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Feeding time is fun..a real joy to watch the orphans return for a bottle of milk and how excited they get!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIpX8LR_dVo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Here despite some shaky camera work (not entirely my fault as folks move about the landrover) some zebras crossing the Mara and nervously skirt around two large crocs on the opposite bank:

 

 

Ballooning over the Mara is an amazing experience...our captain said its one of the best places on earth weather wise and the variety of scenery is particularly good in this part of the Mara...We saw elephants, giraffes, topi, hippos, crocs, waterbuck, most of the plains game ....Again I'm sorry for the shaky camera work but trust me it was awesome

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG_7oCnTVCo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Last but not least my niece meets Her orphan Ishaq B:

 

 

 

 

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What a diverse and successful trip. Even the particpants were diverse. You ended up in a great spot to see the migration despite that push Rover that got stuck. Fantasic gorilla shots, after a relatively short effort to reach them. The Lewa rhinos really showcased themselves for you, again and again. Your mother/baby cheetah and lion shots could be mirror images.

 

You had to have 3 generations of smiles at the end of this trip!

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Thks Lynn---it was one of our best safaris---saw some fantastic stuff!

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Forgot to congratulate you on the gerenuk in Lewa. I did not see even one. Maybe they are getting more prolific. Another lodge in rhino breeding territory?

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Hi Lynn---we did not see a gerenuk at Lewa---I understand that they are there as well as a particular kind of Hartebeest I was keen to see but we did not see either---it turns out most of the Jackson's hartebeests have been translocated elsewhere and there were only seven or so left at Lewa with one having been recently taken by lions...the only time I've ever seen gerenuks was in Samburu and some nice sightings at that, but that was on my only previous trip to Kenya 20 years ago!

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Lynn---I think you were referencing my comments about a camp or lodge in the Mara near Rhino Ridge...I'm repeating what our guide told us. he said that a favored area for the black rhino to breed was granted a permit to build a camp by the KWS----I'm not sure which camp it is, but it's more difficult to find a rhino because of it according to our guide. Always sad to hear when tourism and the thirst for foreign currency pushes out the wildlife its trying to save ---especially within a national park!

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Somewhere in the Safaritalk archives is a discussion from when this camp was built a few years back...

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I know Ashnil was the culprit a few years back. Probably lots of people go there and have no idea the background. Sad.

 

So no gerenuks in Lewa for you either. Well, plently of other good stuff there.

 

Looking forward to the rest.

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  • 7 months later...
gatoratlarge

Thought I would post a couple more vids from our trip---buried so deep I don't know if many will see them but the rhino one i thought particularly interesting as a rival male had just trotted through his territory....we had been following him and enjoying watching a rhino on a mission...it also was a nice spot to get out and stretch our legs and pour some sundowners...our drinks were interrupted however as the territorial male was in hot pursuit of the intruder...with fresh rhino scent around, and notoriously poor eyesight, out landrover looked like it might be the offending party...it was awesome to watch as the rhino circled our vehicle, swiveling those ears all directions to get a read on the situation...we had to climb into the rover before he decided we weren't what he was after : )

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujiZFoziUPo

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvKldJDwUhg

 

These were the coalition of male lions near Governors Camp that so many folks are familiar with....I think they called them the Muskateers or something like that...

 

 

The balloon flight was a great way to get a perspective of the landscape---and the Mara near Governors Camp is a particularly good place to do it as you see the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, you float over the Mara River and the riverine forest and then eventually land on the acacia dotted savannah...this little vid is near where we landed and to see elephants from that vantage was awesome...they seem to float like great ships themselves...

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RWfC9aLzc0

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