My Journey into East Africa

A description of my travel through the countries of Kenya and Tanzania


My Journey into East Africa

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Mt. Kenya, Samburu, Masa Mara/Trans Mara, Serengetti, Ngorongoro${QuickSuggestions} Vintage Africa was fantastic, and I would highly recommend. I also have recommendations and otherwise for the places we stayed and the sights we encountered.${BestWay} Private Toyota Landcruiser (don't even think about a minivan shared with other travelers)

Samburu Serena

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Very impressive drive up, entry area and dining area. All very open air with lots of beautiful African art and spears. Very clean and well manicured. We stayed in the very spacious Rondoval-like rooms and found them clean but very run down. There were mosquito nets and you will need them! Plenty of working electrical outlets. Hot water did not work and management did not seem to try very hard to find out why. Rather buggy. Lots of heavily armed guards. They underplay the real danger of the area from local bandits. Our room had no phones and was so far back in the complex that security might be an issue. There is a large, well stocked gift shop. A medium size pool near the river. Very buggy at night. At night they have Croc and Leopard baiting for viewing pleasure. Game viewing not as good as across the river in Samburu. Staff not very friendly. Restaurant was buffet and OK but nothing special. Waiters were fair. All in all, it was a real let down after staying in the Intrepid tented camp across the river. My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms 2
Grounds 4
Staff 4
Dining/Restaurant 5
Location 5

Samburu Serena Safari Lodge
Samburu Game Reserve
Nairobi, Kenya
25416430800

Safari Park Hotel

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Located about 5 miles outside Nairobi city center and along a major highway, this hotel may be a best bet for those passing through and not wanted to deal with the noise, congestion and problems of downtown Nairobi. This is not a lodge but a hotel designed in a colonial Africa style. The grounds cover several acres. The main lobby is a very large rondeval with a thatched roof and a large replica elephant in the middle. There is a large fireplace and comfortable sofas in the lobby. Lots of friendly staff. Grounds are very clean, green, manicured and planted with native trees and flowers. Several very large pools including a river-like tropical pools with cloth cabanas. This is a large hotel with many rooms. The rooms are located in a series of several buildings facing quit park-like grounds. Rooms are mostly spacious. They are while washed with dark wooden beams. Furniture is dark wood and in the style of what Hemingway might have seen in the 1930s. Beds are comfortable and enclosed in mosquito netting. There is satellite TV. Bathrooms are modern and done in marble tile and brass fittings. However, they are a bit worn. Rooms also have cans of insecticide. No fans but not really needed as it is a cool climate and the windows can be opened as they are screened in. There are balconies with wooden furniture. Staff is very friendly and quickly responds to needs. Lots of security patroling night and day. Of note is that there is a medium size casino on the grounds with slots. And there are no less than seven very good restaurants (e.g., Italian, Japanese). But beware, their prices are at least as high as that of any fine restaurant in Europe and several fold more expensive than anywhere else we were in East Africa. There is also an assortment of nice gift shops that carry everything from the cheap, tacky to the one of a kind art pieces. Prices are surprisingly very good. I highly recommend not staying in the dirty, crowded city center of Nairobi. At least this location is quiet and the grounds are well-kept. Security is very tight. The hotel and accommodations, however, are very average but clean, and the staff is very nice.

The following are my ratings on 1-10 (10 best):

Rooms: 5

Grounds: 6

Staff: 5

Dining/Restaurant: 6

Location: 5

 

Safari Park Hotel And Casino
Kasarani on Thika Rd.
Nairobi, Kenya
+254 (20) 862222

Amboseli Serna Lodge

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

This is a gem of a lodge. It is located in the center of Amboseli National Park. One arrives by way of dusty tracks through large dusty flats heavily populated with large mammals. The lodge occupies a small, slightly elevated oasis in this dusty plains. There is a gate guarded by Maasai with spears. Once through the gate there is a small circular, tree shaded driveway. House staff meet guests with wet hand towels to wipe the dust off (and there is plenty of dust). The lodge has about two dozen rooms and is well equipped. The lobby and lounges are fitted with very comfortable chairs and coaches. African art abounds. This opens up to a medium size covered patio with many chairs. There is a view of another nearby oasis and the dusty flats. Game can be spotted here and there. Baboons and Velvet Monkeys scurry about on the lodge grounds. Maasai patrol to keep animals away. Note that the Maasai expect a dollar for any picture taken (and you must ask permission in advance). There is a small but well stocked gift shop with excellent prices. There is a small but nice tropical pool under the trees. The rooms are small but well appointed. The small beds all have mosquito nets. There is no fan but the louvered windows provide good ventilation in the night. Bathrooms are modern. Entire lodge is exceptionally clean. No TV or radio but they do have internet ready computers for a small charge. Electricity was abundant and so was hot water. Restaurant is connected to lobby by a small wooden walkway crossing a small stream. Very good buffets. Waiters are Maasai and are very, very attentive and friendly. Grounds are very small and you probably do not want to walk around without an armed escort. I thought the grounds were fenced but at night a large herd of elephants walked within feet of the restaurant. Nighttime entertainment is limited to the internet and any books you bring with. Excellent lodge, excellent staff, excellent location, excellent grounds, excellent food. Rooms are small but well appointed in African theme.

Here are my ratings (1-10, 10 best)

Rooms 8

Grounds 8

Staff 9

Dining/Restaurant 10

Location 10

 

Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge

Amboseli, Kenya

Mbweha Camp lodge

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

This lodge is located on the perimeter, just outside of Lake Nakuru National Park. While the Park fence abuts the property, the actual Park entrance is about a 15 minute drive away. Entrance to the lodge property is through a farm, over a very dusty road. There are only about a dozen lodge rooms. Each room is a separate Rondavel accessed by a gravel pathway. Rondavels are thatched with about the first 10 feet of walls made of stone. Each has a covered patio with comfortable, padded lounge chairs. Inside were two large, comfortable beds with mosquito netting. Some basic furniture. Bathroom was very large with only a cloth door leading in. Sink, mirror, toilet, racks for toiletry. An impressive stone shower. Plenty of very hot water. Doors and windows are not sealed very well so expect some insect and reptile guests.


The rooms have no fans but are surprisingly cool desperate the hot desert climate outside. The main building is not very large. It has a thatched roof and open sides and sits just below ground level. Large bar, a smoky fire pit and comfortable furniture. Restaurant is tiny and open air sides having perhaps 10 tables. Lights in the restaurant barely adequate and flicker while insects fly in circles around the light bulbs. The property (at least in July) was very, very dry. Lots of dry weeds and tall, impressive cactus. Staff is very friendly. In all, very primitive and basic. Clean, friendly, food was fair. No electricity at night. In fact, only a couple of light bulbs in the room and NO ELECTRICAL OUTLETS (e.g., recharge camera batteries). One can use the electrical outlets next to the bar when the electricity is turned on. Of interest is that Maasai patrol grounds carrying only a sharp spear all day and night, as no protective fence vs. wild animals.


My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms 3

Grounds 1

Staff 6

Dining/Restaurant 3

Location 2


Mountain Lodge Serena

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Incredible place! At 7800 feet elevation, this Lodge is in a very thick, cloud forest. It sits on raised pillars with wood slat exterior to blend into the forest like a gigantic hunter's hide. Rooms are shoebox shaped and rather small but very comfortable. Rooms are wood paneled. Beds are covered in African, woven blankets (you will need them as it gets VERY cold here). At night, staff place hot water bottles in the bed to warm them. Or, if you are like me, you wake up in the middle of night wondering what the warm thing is cuddling next to your leg. Bathroom is clean and adequate. Plenty of electricity and hot water. The important thing is that your entire Safari on this mountain is from your bedroom window. You are encouraged to sit at the end of the room where there are two large, stuffed chairs and peer out the large, louvered window with your binoculars. Below is a large clearing in the forest with a water hole and salt like. Large animals squeeze through the very thick forest and come into the clearing. We saw Elephants, Waterbuck, Hyena, Genets, Buffalo, Gazelle and lots of birds. Alternatively, you can observe the same from either a deck next to the upstairs bar or on a roof viewing area. A pretty neat experience. There is also an underground walkway to a small hide next to the watering hole. They even have hot tea, pillows, and electrical outlets in the hide for your viewing pleasure. There is a single computer with internet capability for a small fee. There are several staff members available to answer questions about the wildlife below. The gift shop is very well stocked with beautiful items and very reasonably priced. The restaurant is small, but the food is excellent, and service/staff were great. At dinner a staff member comes around with a clipboard to record what animals you wish to be awakened for if they make an appearance at the watering hole. There are lectures at night. During the day there is an hour long hike in the forest with armed guards. We saw lots of birds and Colobus Monkeys. It is one of the few places one can get exercise so might as well go for it. Most people actually stay only one night because the only thing you can do is peer out your window. The forest is far to thick for a Safari drive.

My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms: 8
Grounds: 10
Staff: 6
Dining/Restaurant: 6
Location: 10

Serena Mountain Lodge
Mount Kenya National Park
Nairobi, Kenya

Intrepids Samburu tented luxury camp

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Wow, what a place! Right out of a Hemingway novel. Hardly roughing it. Driving up it does not look impressive. it is situated right on the banks of the Ewasa Ngiro River. After leaving the vehicle one walks onto a large wooden foundation covered by a tall thatched ceiling. This area houses the reception, a couple of souvenir shops (good selection, and prices), a restaurant, bar, and lounge. Nearby is a nice pool. Large canvas tents are set up on wooden platforms with thatched cover. Tall trees provide plenty of shade in this very hot, arid place. Furnishings are 1930s mahogany replicas of what camping must have been like for rich American and European hunters. Unexpectedly modern and clean bathrooms attach to back of tents. Nice, large shower with plenty of hot water, double sinks and mirrors. There are a lot of electrical outlets. There is a ceiling fan in the tent. Mosquito netting surrounds beds. No TV, no radio, there are phones. Internet ready computers in the main lodge area for a small fee. Dining area looked like Disney had created it. Evening lectures and sometimes educational videos. During the day there are native dances on the property (for a fee). This place is very popular, hard to get reservations. Located in heart of great game viewing area.

My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms: 9

Grounds: 7

Staff: 6

Dining/Restaurant: 9

Location: 10

Samburu Serena Safari Lodge
Samburu Game Reserve
Nairobi, Kenya
25416430800

Mara Serena lodge

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

This is quite a nice lodge! Located on a large hill overlooking the Mara river on one side and a vast savanna on the other. Game can be viewed from the room balcony or any other location in this incredible lodge. Located near all the major game areas of both Trans Mara and Maasai Mara. With binoculars one could probably see animals crossing Mara river during migration. The lodge is composed of about 50 or so rooms. From the outside the lodge and rooms are designed to look like mud huts blending in with the hillside. The inside of the rooms are pure designer! Done in a modernistic African motif. Beds have mosquito netting built into the ceiling. Floors are tiled. Bathroom is nicer than most homes, done in marbles, glass and chrome. No TV or radio. No fans but the air temp in the rooms was very comfortable and the sliding doors on the balcony can be left open. Until near sunset when the mosquitoes come out and wildlife might find their way into the rooms.

There are internet ready computers. A nice pool overlooking the Mara river. Next to the pool is a deck with a view and a permanently mounted pair of binoculars. Gardens run between rooms. Friendly restaurant staff but hotel staff a bit stiff. Food is good. No problem with electricity and lots of hot water. There are Balloon rides that take off just below the lodge near the Mara river. A bit of a rip off. Costs about $350/person (includes champagne breakfast) and flies from the river up and over the lodge, then comes down not far from the lodge on the other side. This is a modern oasis in the middle of a vast, primitive wilderness. This was the best lodge we stayed in on our Safari.

My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms: 10

Grounds: 8

Staff: 6

Dining/Restaurant: 9

Location: 10

Mara Serena Safari Lodge
MASAI MARA GAME RESERVE
Nairobi, Kenya
2543052253

Serengetti Serena

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Located on top of a high knoll overlooking the Serengetti in area called Saronera. The rooms are designed to look like Rondovals. Each Rondoval is two guest rooms. Surprisingly, the rooms themselves are very plain. Really just four walls. Heavy, dark wood furniture: desk, chairs, and armoir. The bathroom is very ordinary. There is hot water and electricity. One of the few lodges to have a fan (floor fan). For some reason the room we occupied was much warmer than the warm outside air so we really did need that fan!

The rooms have a small balcony with nicely carved African designs in the posts. A great view of the sunset on the Serengetti. There are no fences I could detect, only armed guards night and day. So those strange sounds at night might be something to be concerned about. Anyways, we were advised not to leave the room without an escort. There is a small gift shop but not well stocked. The rondoval designs carry through to the lounge and restaurant which are semi open to the outside air and surrounded by circular covered verandas. Very Hemingwayish. There is a very active bar. Upstairs, in an open loft, is a TV and internet ready computer but neither were working when we were there. Restaurant is very beautiful. Very tall, carved, dark wood columns of African designs. Many spears decorate the interior. Romantic atmosphere. There is a pool with a beautiful overlook of the Serengetti and great sunsets. Problem is that despite the warm days, the pool is incredibly cold! Next to the pool a small band attempted to play native songs but was not very good.

There are limited paths around the property but, again, not advisable to stroll without an armed escort. There was a patio overlook near the pool with a permanently affixed Swarovski binocular. The porters were nice, the reception staff was luke warm. The staff of the bar pushy to sell drinks. The restaurant staff was unpleasant. After the staff sang Happy Birthday to a Chinese guest, we watched one of the waiters calmly but commandingly extort a tip from him for each of the 20 staff members who sang the song! The food looked good but we noticed that they put away uneaten food and took the same trays out the next day. This lodge was no where near as nice as the many we stayed in to date. It makes a great first impression but after a thorough exploration of the property and few hours to soak it in, it is really very ordinary. All in all, I really think one should reconsider this lodge and consider one of the luxury tented camps instead. It is also way out of the mainstream game driving tracks. Conde Nast placed this one on their Gold List as a top hotel. I think otherwise!

My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms: 4

Grounds: 6

Staff: 4

Dining/Restaurant: 3

Location: 8

Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge
P.o. Box 2551
Arusha, Tanzania
+255 28 2621519

Ngorongoro Serena lodge

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

A magical place that one will remember forever! Built right on the edge of the Ngorongoro crater. All rooms with cliffside view of the crater. Beautiful African motif rooms with nice sit down balconies. Dining has large glass window with views into the crater. At about 8000 feet. Cool, misty, cloud forest. I suppose one could walk around but the forest is thick and surprisingly filled with large mammals (e.g., Hyena) so probably not safe. Feels alpine. Staff nice. Manager extremely friendly. Reliable electricity, plenty of hot water. No pool, no fans (no need), does have built in room heaters. No TV. Does have internet ready computers. Nice souvenir shop. Often has evening entertainment of local Maasai dances. Food is average. This place is a must!

My ratings (1-10, 10 best):

Rooms: 8

Grounds: 9

Staff: 7

Dining/Restaurant: 6

Location: 10

Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
CRATER RIM NGORONGORO
Tanzania, Africa
574159

Carnivore Restaurant

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 18, 2005

Located near the Wilson Airport, there has been much to do about this well-known restaurant. Its fame comes from its reputation of BBQ African game served on a skewer to your table in endless quantities. The restaurant is clean, well appointed, the service is good and the food is excellent. However, note that as of several months ago, Kenya no longer permits the consumption of game. The restaurant is now restricted to chicken, beef, pork, lamb, croc, and ostrich. The restaurant primarily caters to tourists but that should not put you off. It is located within a fenced compound with guards at a gated entrance. Driving up to the front, it looks like any chic restaurant one might find in the US or Europe. It is large with seating both inside and in a covered outdoor area with green grass, small metal statues, and fountains. In the center of the restaurant  there is a large, round, modern BBQ area. The waiters are all dressed in zebra stripped aprons all with a great attitude. For those worried about food hygiene and sanitation (as well as the quality of the food), it is probably not an issue here. While game is no longer served, the food is actually very, very good. Adjoining the restaurant, there is a well stocked native crafts shop. Prices are higher than in hotel shops but the collection is unique. There is also a shop selling Carnivore logo products.
Carnivore
Langata Road
Nairobi, Kenya
(02) 501-775

Vintage Africa, Ltd.

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 19, 2005

I am so impressed with the work of Vintage Africa and especially its manager Evans Munanga. Last year we had to cancel because of a death in the family. Despite our insurance covering the costs, Evans went out of his way to get every cent back for us, despite the contract allowing his company to keep our entire deposit. This year, he put the trip back together. His office and people met us every step of the way. Their vehicles were first-class, and the lodges were excellent (for the most part). The driver-guides were incredible in their spotting of animals and depth of knowledge of the animals, people and land. While invisible to us, their central office tracked every aspect of our movement across two countries. They even knew when we missed a meal! And all this for about 1/3 of Abercrombie & Kent's price (whose guests were in our lodges and drove in similiar vehicles).
Vintage Africa, Ltd.
Kalson Towers, 8th Floor
Nairobi, Kenya

Prologue

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 25, 2005

Africa: Just the word conjures up mental images of a wild and primitive place with herds of the Earth’s last free roaming large mammals, colorful and interesting tribes, and spectacular scenery. I have dreamed of travel to the dark continent (a name that comes from early explorers that ventured into the jungles of the Congo basin) since I was a child. So many things got in the way later in life that I never seriously considered going. That is, not until recently.

I met a Maasai living in southern California who is a friend of my neighbor. I spent several afternoons talking to him about his homeland in Kenya. He was passionate and persuasive and eventually my family and I felt comfortable with plans to visit East Africa. He was frustrated by the media generated image of Africa as being a place of violence, disease, famine, civil wars, dictators, and crime run rampant. Africa is a big place and there are over 40 countries and each is different. After the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania tourism dropped substantially and that hurt the citizens of East Africa that were innocent victims. He also recommended Vintage Africa, Ltd., as a tour operator because of his close association on many missionary trips into the area. I was apprehensive about dealing with a company directly in Africa so I took out plenty of travel insurance (it turned out my concerns were unfounded but the insurance made me feel more comfortable). With this journal, I hope to give the reader a taste of what my family encountered in a 24 day safari through Kenya and Tanzania. I tried to paint a word picture of my feelings and what we saw. Each journal entry will begin with my feelings about the day. The journal will then proceed into an account of the day. In some cases I used repetition and careful word selection to intentionally drag on so as to simulate boredom. In other cases, I used quick, broken sentences to give a sense of fast paced adventure.

My partners on this trip were my wife and our 12-year-old daughter. My wife agreed to the trip only by my promise that I would load us down with medications of every description and my certainty that we were not walking into an area of terrorists. I did my risk assessment primarily using government web sites of the UK, Australia, and Canada. I am sorry to say that I have little confidence in the US State Department site that rarely gives accurate information. From what I gathered the two major risks in the area were traffic accidents and wandering on foot in wilderness areas. There was also some concern about "banditry" in some areas of northern Kenya and along a north-south route toward the west of the country. I could find no information regarding incursions into Kenya from some of its more troubled neighbors so I took that as meaning it was not a serious problem. From the CDC and WHO sites as well as published papers in the medical journals, I assessed the risk of viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. I know from training and experience that immunizations and anti-malarial agents will protect the traveler from only a portion of the possible endemic organisms in Africa. The number one method to avoid illness is preventive measures. Wearing 3M Ultrathon (sustained release DEET) was high on my list. Liberal use of sunscreen and wide-brim hat to prevent burns under the tropical sun. Bottled water from a reliable source (I scratched my water purifier off my list as it probably has little effect upon viruses). Food from a reliable source (cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it). Mosquito netting sprayed with permethrin. Clothing pretreated with permethrin. With this preparation, we were off on an adventure...


Safari Day 1: The Journey Begins . . .

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 26, 2005

My travels always begin the same way. I plan for a year or more. Then, a few months before leaving, I begin a scavenger hunt to locate the items I need in the exact specifications I need them. It becomes a real obsession. The day of the journey is more of a relief than the beginning of travel. This time we probably went overboard in packing. We each had 71 pounds of luggage (the max for round-trip LAX/London). We each carried 30 pounds aboard (the max for carry-on). My camera equipment alone weighed in at 24 pounds.

But we had a plan for this cargo. First, we took old clothing that we could toss or give away along our route. That would not only help with the weight but leave room for souvenirs. I soaked all our clothing in permethrin to prevent insect bites. We bought a pair of socks for each day and tossed them after wearing (the cost of laundry in Africa is cheap but greater than the cost of socks). My wife came up with a brilliant packing idea. She bought several boxes of Hefty 2.5-gallon Ziploc bags. She folded all our clothes and placed them in the bags, then squeezed the air out, creating "vacuum packing bags" at a tiny fraction of the cost (this also prevented the permethrin in the clothing from dissipating). While the weight remained the same, we cut our volume by at least half. We arranged in advance with our overnight hotel in London to store some of our bags for the duration we were in Africa (there was no charge for this!). By doing this, we were able to make the round-trip London/Nairobi legs at 50 pounds/person (max for non-USA international flights). That left us with the problem of the 30-pound limit for flights within East Africa. We solved that when Vintage, Ltd. (our Safari operator) agreed to transport our excess luggage from our last land leg of the safari back to Nairobi.

So that was the plan. This is how we started the trip. At LAX our daughter ate a bad hot dog and began to vomit. Then British Airways announced an indefinite delay in our flight to London because of faulty hydraulics. Not a good start! We had planned to drop off our luggage at our hotel in London and take the subway to Kings Cross station so our daughter could see where Harry Potter was filmed. By being active immediately, we knew we would have less of a problem with jetlag. The flight was uneventful. We arrived in London 4 hours later than planned. As we departed the aircraft, the captain casually mentioned that all public transportation into London had ceased and that a taxi would be needed if heading into the city. As we lugged our carry-ons toward passport control, I saw several TV monitors showing fires, police, and people running in panic. I noted to my wife that it was a good thing we were not in that city. Then I saw a crowd ahead watching the news, and I had a sinking feeling. It was a terrorist attack in London! It seems we narrowly missed being part of the news by about the same amount of time we were delayed in LAX! Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day stuck in the hotel watching the news. Sleep was difficult. We made the decision to press on to Africa.


Safari Day 2: The magic carpet ride

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 27, 2005

Air travel can be a magic carpet that truly gives one a view of the earth over time and distance, with time dragging but distance shrinking. This 10-hour flight covered some of the most diverse areas of earth I had ever seen on a flight. We deftly rose above the green of the English countryside, moving quickly along the Thames River, then above the clouds into the blue, brilliant sunshine. In a relatively short time, we were looking down upon the farmlands of France, and a short while later, the blue Italian-French Mediterranean coastline. As we flew over the azure waters of the Mediterranean, I could see the rocky islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It seemed not more than a couple of hours later when I caught my first glimpse of the African coast in the Bay of Benghazi, Libya. There was such a contrast between the azure-blue Mediterranean, harsh brown desert, and the deep-blue sky at this high altitude. We continued over the vast, white rippled surface of the great Sahara Desert. Here and there were a sand dune, stony outcrops, and salt pans. There were remnants of rivers and ruins of small villages. A smoke column in the distance marked a lone nomadic camp. Desert mountains came into view. We were now over the Darfur region of southern Sudan as the darkness of the enveloping night caught up with our magic carpet. The peacefulness made it hard to believe that over 1 million Africans had recently been butchered below. The darkness was broken by lightning in the distance as we flew over the Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopian airspace corridor leading into Kenya. And now we descended from the darkness into Nairobi. I strained to see anything I could of this land, but there was only darkness, with a few street lights and house lights here and there.

Every kind of person was in the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: priests, nuns, missionaries, students, elderly with their grandchildren, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans in three-piece business suits, Moslems in drab traditional clothing, and Indians in bright traditional clothing. And there was us, decked out in safari clothing for the wilds of Africa. We were met immediately by a representative from Vintage Africa, who deftly escorted us through passport control, baggage claim, and customs. The airport was surprisingly clean. There were no beggars and nobody tried to attack or rob us or con us as so often is written. We climbed into a Toyota Land Cruiser. It was large and a light safari brown, built like a tank, with a large two-way radio antennae, rugged suspension, black steel bars protecting the front of the car, and three steel hatches for viewing animals. The interior was steel-reinforced, with military-green canvas seat covers and leather bottle holders with Vintage’s own labeled bottled water. This is safari!! I was excited but also dead-tired (in total, I had gotten about 2 hours sleep in the last 72 hours) as we drove the long distance around Nairobi and to the Safari Park hotel. I could not see much at night: roundabouts, some attempts at artwork, bars and night clubs, street signs in English, advertisements for all kinds of consumer electronics, very gaudy buses with florescent purple lights, and strange names imprinted in scrolling letters. Here and there was a very badly mangled car, with its occupants staggering about.

The manager of Vintage Africa, Evans Munanga, met us at the hotel. He gave us each a big bear hug. Not sure if he was glad to see us or had heard about the bombings in London and was glad to see us! He briefed us on what to expect on safari, but all I could think about was sleeping, and I could hardly remember my name, let alone what he was saying. Our room was four white-washed walls and dark wooden beams with old European maps of Africa, dark-wood furniture, dark-wood floor, and a mosquito-netted bed. The bathroom was marble but rather used. I sprayed the mosquito nets with permethrin and the rest of the room with insecticide. I needed sleep, and that is what I did next!


Safari Day 3: Nairobi (5,060 feet)

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on September 28, 2005

After arriving in the darkness of night to an exotic place, I am always excited with anticipation for what the next morning will reveal. So, at the crack of dawn, I was up, filled with excitement. It is like removing a blindfold after being guided to a prize location. I was first struck by the coldness of the morning I had not anticipated in the tropics. I stood on my balcony overlooking the hotel grounds. There were flowers, exotic trees, grass, African-style buildings, a few mosquitoes that had just bitten me, and the house staff moving about the grounds but no animals. I had to strain just to see a bird, and it was rather ordinary. What a letdown. No wild beasts roaming and no monkeys in the tree, not even colorful birds.

We wandered the hotel to one of the seven restaurants and were stuck between CDC recommendations for food avoidance in Africa and a buffet that looked very inviting. The waiter was very understanding of our need for super-heated coffee with super-heated cream, unpeeled fruits with a sharp knife, and bread with no butter. I believe he had plenty of experience with travelers who thought every crumb of food in Africa was an invitation to an intestinal infection. We wandered the grounds for the next couple of hours. It was not exciting, with no animals or colorful birds, but it was spacious and well manicured, with beautiful pools and a very friendly staff.

At about 1pm, our driver, Uticus, arrived in the Land Cruiser and we headed through Nairobi toward the Karen Blixen house on the opposite side of the city. The two-lane highway was crowded with small minivans (Matatus) packed with commuters, with some hanging out the door. We shared the highway with overcrowded buses painted with all kinds of strange designs. We drove past lots of shacks selling all kinds of foods, household goods, clothing, car parts, and coffins. There were stagnant pools of mud, dirt, filth, squalor, shanty towns, and rundown apartments. In between were walled fortresses with rows of nice flats and nice cars. Here a military base, there a beautiful Hindu temple, and people waiting for buses, lingering, going through the garbage. The people looked poor but not ragged or desperate. We encountered several horrendous car accidents. And here and there I could see, below the hillsides, miles of tin roofed slums. It was depressing to see and added to my thoughts that perhaps CNN was accurate in their portrayal of Africa. We skirted the city just long enough for me to see the modern Nairobi skyline of high rises, some with very impressive architecture. Several miles later, we entered a forested area with beautiful gated colonial-style homes, with obviously wealthy Caucasian people in riding clothes on horseback. The area was very clean, the roadway nice, and gardens well manicured. We entered the grounds of the Karen Blixen home ("Out of Africa" fame). The home was small but interesting. We drove nearby to the Giraffe Center. This is a sanctuary for transplanted Rothschild Giraffe. It is an interesting place to get up close with these animals, but about as interesting as a zoo. However, it gave me an opportunity to try out various shooting techniques with my new camera.

We drove back to the hotel, passing the depressing slums, shanty towns, dirt, filth, and the debris of the locals’ reality.


Safari Day 4: Nairobi city (Heart of Darkness revisited)

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 1, 2005

Jet lag played havoc with our sleep so we ended up waking up near afternoon. Today (Sunday) was a day where nothing had been planned. Rather than sit around the hotel all day, I called our Safari operator and arranged a tour of Nairobi. I did this despite warnings, from those that had been here, that a tour of Nairobi will ruin the vacation. But I had to see it for myself. We also were interested in changing hotels to something within the city so we could walk around there and explore. We did not understand why Vintage Africa had put us so far outside the central city. Well, we did get a good look at the city today and yes, it is depressing and yes we know why our operator placed us outside the central city!

My mental imagery of Nairobi was of an exotic gateway to Safari and a vestige of British colonial Africa. Travel magazines show a gleaming metropolis with tall, modern buildings. A beacon of success to the rest of Africa. What I saw changed that image, depressed and sickened me and made me rethink the definition of third world. I had adequate warnings from past visitors to Nairobi but had to see it and now I am sorry I did! I am not sure that even Paul Theroux’s description of the poverty in Dark Star Safari really prepared me.

There are three million people living here with less than half employed. The modern skyline is deceptive. Below the buildings are wide areas of very filthy, shanty towns. Refuse of every description actually layered and built upon! People linger about looking as if they have nothing to do. Interestingly, though, I saw no begging, most wore old but not tattered clothing, nobody looked emaciated, and I saw nobody lying sick on the streets. This may be the case deeper in the slums but I did not see it while crisscrossing the city. Our guide said that the tribes take care of their own. It was Sunday and slow but still filled with people. Most shopping areas were closed and the traffic was minimal. We noticed most of the poverty and filth along the areas abutting the Nairobi river. Nearby was the luxurious Norfolk hotel next to Nairobi University. The University looked clean and somewhat modern on the outside but very small. The national museum occupied an impressive colonial style stone building. On the inside it was interesting but remarkably small. But it was a good place to get an overview of the country as well as having a very good collection of stuffed native birds. Next door was a snake park. Very poorly kept and run down but a safe place to get a close look at some of the most venomous snakes Africa has to offer such as the Puff Adder and Black Mamba. The rest of the city was extremely unimpressive. Lots of wide streets, tomb of Jomo Kenyatta, hotels, offices of every description, banks, insurance companies, Parliament, British colonial buildings now used for city government, trade schools, shops of every description, and not much more. On a small rise in the city was a vantage point to take photos of the skyline. But on this day our guide told us not to as there was what appeared to be a Christian revival in a sports field below. These congregations seemed to be taking place all around the city parks today. I asked why I could not take a photo and our guide said that people are afraid we might be terrorists trying to identify them. In all, Nairobi does not look at all like the small town featured in the 1960s film Born Free. There is really very little here of interest for the traveler unless here on business.

We drove along the convoluted streets, traffic circles and highway back to the Safari Park Hotel. At the gated entrance to the hotel the guard placed a mirror under our vehicle looking for anything suspicious. He then snapped a smart salute and we passed into the luxurious grounds. We wandered over to a restaurant and met up with the Vintage Africa manager, Evans, and also our Maasai friend and his family from southern California here on another missionary trip. Our first question to them was what they thought we could safely eat as we were now 72 hours into our travels and had eaten very little. He laughed and understood our concern and went through a list of what he and his family had eaten safely (he recommended NEVER eating lettuce or vegetables while in east Africa). We talked all night about our experience in Nairobi and hearing their views on the political, economic, and commercial directions of Kenya. They said that the previous government had been very corrupt but there was great optimism that the new government was ready to pay attention to the needs of the people.


Safari Day 5: Nairobi to Amboseli (Elev 3400 feet). Game at last!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 2, 2005

The heat of the day gives way to the cool breeze of the night and the sheer blackness of the sky dotted with stars. The smell of exotic flowers mixed with the smell of burning wood from campfires. Insects swarm around kerosene lanterns that light the way in our island in this primitive world. The natural sounds of the night. The rustle of monkeys in the trees. A terrifying, almost human scream of baboons nearby. The deep roar of a distant lion and the squeal of unfortunate prey. The rhythmic chanting of native people. Away from the modern world and into an inner peace with nature. This is what brought me to Africa. These are the dreams of Africa. This is what I have come to find. This was the disappointment yesterday in Nairobi, but the dream that was found today!

Still not able to sleep the night. Mostly extreme jetlag but also the images of the reality many of Nairobi’s citizens face. In the early morning our guide was dutifully waiting for us in front of the hotel lobby. That Safari vehicle and his broad smile told me we were in for a thrill today. The sky was bright blue and sunny and the temperature mild as we drove along the highway leading into and through downtown Nairobi. The route he took today was different. We avoided the river area and actually saw a city that looked very normal and mostly clean and modern. People were dressed for business and moving briskly from buses and matatus and along sidewalks. Heading southeast along a pretty good road we left the city passing factories and small towns. About 20 minutes out of Nairobi we saw our first game. Zebras and ostriches grazing along with domestic cattle along the road. Excited, we stopped to take photos while our driver smiled pointing out this was nothing compared to what we will see soon. We drove through beautiful, dry hill country. Here and there we passed through villages with colorfully dressed Maasai along the road. We were warned that we should not photograph them unless they give permission. Our guide said that they feared their soul being taken from them. Then again, for a dollar, they will agree to be photographed (i.e., part with their soul). We passed more herds of zebra, ostriches, hawks, wildebeest, kori bustard, thomson gazelle, hornbills, and storks. We passed large farms and a few more factories. We left the hills and entered flat country. I cried out to the driver to stop the car and raced outside. There in the far, far distance standing alone on a flat plain was Mt. Kilimanjaro! We were at least a hundred miles from it and there it stood in all its magnificence, the icon of Africa. None of the perpetual clouds that normally cover its top. We could see clearly the white of the glacial crown of this spectacular mountain. We slowly descended onto parched hilly land. We approached a village sitting on the Tanzanian border where we took a sharp easterly turn immediately placing us on a dirt road. We followed this for the next 60 miles. Our Landcruiser took the road well and the ride was not uncomfortable at all. But the white, floury dust was very thick. We arrived at the entrance to Amboseli National Park after the three and a half hour drive. We entered the park on a very flat, very dry salt pan. This was a swamp in the rainy season but there was no signs of water today. Flat, white, no trees or vegetation of any kind, no visible water, the air just above the flats boiled from the heat and sunlight giving rise to mirage of lakes that disappeared as we approached. And here and there in the distance were tiny black moving objects. Our guide drove rapidly toward the objects. It was incredibly surreal. Elephants!! Huge African elephants wandering in this vast nothingness! Then, to my right, a herd of gray wildebeest. And there, cape buffalos. A herd of zebra raced along side us then veered rapidly away. Then tall giraffes lankly walking in long strides in front of us. And yet there was nothing here but flats of salt. It was incredible. Our driver smiled and said nothing. In the distance dust devils danced in front of our views of Kilimanjaro. We continued along the trail until we could see islands of trees in the distance. As we came closer I could see small fences around one of the islands. We passed by a lodge. Along the forested trail were troops of large Baboons. They were not bothered by us. Many just sat and watched us pass by. We continued out of this compound and across a dry, grassy savanna dotted with herbivores of many types all grazing together. We came to another green island guarded by colorfully dressed Maasai armed with spears. We had arrived at Amboseli Serena lodge, our home for the next few days. An oasis in this desert. The rooms are designed like native mud huts. While small, they were beautifully decorated with African artwork. Velvet monkeys ran wild through the compound. A beautiful tropical pool with a commanding view of the hot plains. A nice, covered open air veranda and restaurant with a small stream running through. Spear carrying Maasai stroll through the grounds with a watchful eye toward harmful game and mischievous monkeys and the occasional Baboon . It was warm, there was no air conditioning, nor fans but it was actually comfortable in the shaded areas. The rooms had screened windows that provided good ventilation. There was electricity and hot water. The lodge was filled with tourists, mostly Americans. The staff was very friendly and attentive. We walked around after lunch but the grounds were very small. I would say there was not more than perhaps 20 rooms in the lodge. We were advised not to venture too far without an armed guard.

At four, we left on an afternoon game drive. We headed out across the dusty, flat savanna. We saw lots of zebras, wildebeests, and Thomson gazelles all grazing together. Few took notice of us. We approached a herd of elephants crossing the road. The largest elephant was standing guard at the roadway helping to escort the others across. We passed through some green swampland and saw a number of elephants, each with a white bird on its backs, and up to their stomachs munching on the grasses. Close by were hippopotamus lounging. There were many types of water fowl; Egyptian geese and egrets. We also saw a number of birds that I cannot name but were surprisingly colorful. Our driver had several good books of birds and animals that he continuously showed us. The driver was eager to show us big cats. So we continued to drive. He monitored the crackling Swahili coming out of his two-way radio for the word "simba" to indicate a lion spotting. He scanned the land for not just cats but also swarms of cars that might be observing something of interest. Every time a car came in the opposite direction, both would stop and observations were quickly exchanged in Swahili. Our driver now pushed on hard. He had heard something from the other driver. He swung onto a very dusty road following a group of vans heading to the edge of the savanna to a large area of wild date palms. The vehicles gathered at a clearing. There below a palm lay two sleepy, young male lions. They occasionally lifted their heads, then feel back asleep. I wanted to be excited about this find but it was hard as these Kings of the Jungle just lay there like tamed house cats! We sped away. It was getting near 6pm, the time all vehicles must be off the roads. We briefly stopped to see a family of spotted hyenas. A couple of cubs and the parents prowling about. I had pictured hyenas as being mangy but these looked well groomed. We stood up through the roof to enjoy the rid, catch the cool wind and watch the sunset on the savanna on our speedy ride back to the lodge. Once back, we were completely coated in white powdery dust. We had a great dinner and talked the night about what we had seen. Back at the room, I sprayed the mosquito netting with permethrin and sprayed the rest of the room with insecticide. There was no entertainment of any kind except for the books we brought and my small short wave radio.


Safari Day 6: Exploring Amboseli

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 3, 2005

Another night with difficulty sleeping. The animals screaming and howling all night did not help. Having not slept for so many hours finally caught up with me. I felt ill but without any symptoms of an infectious disease. So I decided to sleep very late. We went out on a game drive about 11am. We essentially saw the same animals as yesterday. It was warmer and the animals were lounging around. I was definitely not feeling myself so I spent most of the drive seated. We spotted our first cheetahs by the road eating a freshly killed Thomson gazelle. They were beautiful! Smaller than a Lion but much larger than a large dog. Beautiful black spotted fur, long tail, small cat-like face, and a hump between the shoulders. We continued along the dusty track spotting all kinds of finches, storks, Fisher King eagle, a herd of beautiful oryx with its long, slender, curved horns, male and female lions. We saw lots of big, black Cape buffalo often covered in mud. They seemed to be the only animals that took notice of us. As we slowly drove by the buffalo would stop, stare intensely at us as if to dare us to get out. They are known as the biggest killer of humans in Africa. Our guide said they are the only animals that will chase a human if they spot a human. That is except for Maasai. He said animals fear the Maasai so they stay out of their way. Continuing on we saw plenty of herds of zebras, wildebeests, elephants, hyenas, egrets, and Grants gazelles. We came back to the lodge for lunch. I did not eat much, rather, I just sat on the veranda mindful of Monkeys trying to rip off my camera gear and watched some gazelles grazing in the distance. At 4pm, we were back on the trail. We saw much of the same as earlier except for a few more giraffes. Back at the lodge our guide was very concerned about my health and insisted that the lodge nurse come see me. He was insistent so I agreed. The restaurant staff was also very concerned. So at about 6pm, unexpectedly, lots of food arrived from the restaurant. A male nurse also arrived. He was dressed professionally, had a very good bedside manner and came equipped with a medical bag but his skills were not up to western standards and I will leave it at that. Fortunately, I am capable of treating myself but what I really needed was a good, uninterrupted, night’s sleep.

Safari Day 7: Amboseli continued...

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 5, 2005

The sights and sounds of this land harkened me to the early age of mammals when man was but another animal competing on the food chain. As far as the eye can see are lush grasslands with Wildebeest and Zebra mingling, grazing, and herding together. In the distance, great lines of brown, dirt covered Elephants moving slowly, gracefully. They stop, graze, then the leader raises her trunk and trumpets a signal. The line reassembles and the procession continues. Here and there pairs of tall Giraffe. Lumbering Elephants and Hippos in swampy grass grazing and lounging. Fleet footed, beautiful, delicate Thomson and Grants Gazelle prance alongside and away from us as if to race the steel animal sharing their road. The ugly looking, ugly sounding Wildebeest dot most of the animal landscape. Here and there a mother Warthog and her piglets scamper across the savanna with tails raised high like antennas. Here and there beautifully colored birds. Herding with other herbivores and looking out of place are the huge, flightless Ostrich. Some dancing their mating ritual showing off plumes of soft black and beige feathers. And nothing made by man save for the roads. But shared with this land are the Maasai. With great herds of their precious cattle tended by the colorfully dressed boys and the goats tended by the girls. They graze their cattle on the open savannah within view of wild and dangerous game. They are armed only with a short saber and long spear. Their heads are shaved. They are adorned with large, colorful, beaded earrings in their cut and stretched, elongated ears. They wear colorful (mostly red but also purple and yellow) wraps and many beaded bracelets and necklaces even when tending cattle. Many have okra coloring on their face. All have brilliant white teeth they keep clean with twigs. This is a harsh, dry land and they get their water mostly by damming up small streams that run down Kilimanjaro. Maasai land is recognized by the government and is controlled by local village elders. For our lodge to exist on this land, arrangements have been agreed upon by the Maasai. The lodge gives the local villagers water.

Finally got the sleep I needed and woke up feeling better than I had in days. As I was getting into our Landcruiser my wife summoned me back to the lodge. She found a teenage girl passed out in the restroom. She was now laying on the lobby sofa. She had been very sick with both vomiting and diarrhea. There was an older lady with her but not her mother. Seems they are medical missionaries from Texas that had worked the slums in Nairobi. I gave them some treatment advice but the older lady said they were in good hands with their leader. However, the girl was not so certain and was pleading as they took her off to their awaiting vehicle.

We started our morning game drive about 10am. The day was partially cloudy but warm. We drove the dusty roads seeing much the same wildlife as yesterday. Lots of Elephant, Giraffe, Gazelle, Ostrich, Baboon, Cape Buffalo, Hippo, Oryx, Warthog, Wildebeest and Zebra. We also saw several Cheetah and Spotted Hyena. We observed two Lions feasting on a freshly killed Buffalo. Close by was a Hyena waiting to take the left over.

About 4pm we set out for one of our most interesting trips. After leaving the lodge grounds we turned down a very narrow, rocky trail and drove a few kilometers from the lodge to a Maasai village. This part of the park was in very stark contrast to the savanna and swamps. It was bone dry and strewn with dark, volcanic rocks. We had seen several villages from a distance but this was the first one we saw up close. The village was circular with its perimeter composed of cut Acacia tree branches (Thorn Tree). The thorns of this tree are about 5 inches long and extremely sharp. We were greeted by about fifty colorfully dressed Maasai. These are a very tall, lean, muscular people, with beautiful ebony skin and extremely handsome features. They greeted us with some dances including their famous jumping contest with some springing two feet in the air. The Maasai are considered a rich people because of the number of cattle they have. They believe that all cattle on earth belong to the Maasai. This apparently has gotten more than a few of them in trouble with the law when the distinction between God’s gift of cattle and cattle rustling became blurry. We were asked to kneel while the chief said a few words in his native language. We paid about $10/person in advance to enter the village. The money goes to the chief who, we are told, uses it for village expenses. The advantage of paying this money is the opportunity to not only take unlimited pictures of these incredibly picturesque people (right out of the pages of National Geographic), but the Chief actually ordered his people to comply with the picture taking. I took full advantage and must have shot at least 200 photos of the people. We were shown a demonstration of making fire using only the friction of rubbing a stick against wood. We were then invited into one of the huts. Women are charged with hut construction. The materials include Acacia wood frame and straw plus cattle dung for the siding and roof. For such tall people, then entrance is only about four feet tall. The height of the hut was perhaps six feet. The entry was a little convoluted with about four feet forward with a hairpin turn of about three feet and then another turn to enter the main room. The room was not particularly spacious and was rather dark with only a small amount of light coming from a tiny window. There was a large, cowhide bed for the father and a tiny anteroom for the wife and children (the Maasai can have more than one wife). There was little room for much else, yet the cooking was also done here. The dung gives the hut water repellence and surprisingly did not have a smell. We left the hut and headed behind the village where everyone had turned out with souvenirs to sell. These are very tough negotiators. While my wife shopped, I shot portrait after portrait of each of the villagers. I stood for a moment, looking over the vast, dusty, arid scene. Nothing modern. An ancient people living an ancient life. I have traveled farther in my life, but at that moment I have never felt so far from home. I have traveled back in time away from all I know, all that I have grown used to to make me comfortable and in control of my world. I am in a place where nature is in control and one adapts to the environment, not control it.

We departed the village and headed back to the savanna to spy more game. We saw many animals. Near sunset we stopped alongside other vehicles and watched a very large herd of Elephants running across the road. One seemed to be counted each that crossed, and occasionally trumpeting to the rest to hurry up. Breathtaking was the background of Killimanjaro with its snow capped peak coming out from under the clouds. What a picture with the Zebra and Elephants in the foreground! On the way back to the lodge we found a Spotted Hyena watching the passing vehicles.

During dinner, we noticed a commotion taking place near a window. Half the restaurant got up and walked through the sliding glass doors to see something. We followed and were treated to a herd of Elephants walking not more than fifty feet in front of the restaurant in single file illuminated by the lodge flood lights.


Safari Day 8: Amboseli back to Nairobi

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 8, 2005

We skipped breakfast (we get nearly no exercise but eat as if we were on a cruise) and gave tips out to various staff (yes, it is true that tipping is not required, but Kenyans DO EXPECT to be tipped!). We were on the road early in the morning. We saw the usual animals on the way out of the park. We stopped to observe a pair of male lions eating a freshly killed buffalo. We stopped again to see a herd of about eight giraffe eating acacia leaves in the middle of a vast, dry desert. We drove the same bumpy dirt road along the Tanzanian border until we arrived at a village where the asphalt road began. We headed north stopping once for a Coke and to look through a shop selling African wood carvings. Our driver must have been conscientious of our first impression of Nairobi, as he took us via a different route, avoiding the slums. We arrived back at the Safari Park hotel in the early afternoon. The sky was a brilliant blue and the air temp in the mid-70s. We walked around the hotel with little to do. We could have driven directly from Amboseli to Lake Nakuru (our next Safari stop), but our Maasai friend from Southern California had suggested to Vintage Africa to give visitors a break from the roads by having an overnight in Nairobi between the two destinations. Frankly, I think skipping Nairobi is a better idea if short on safari time. In our case, we are on an unusually long safari, so we can afford to take the time out.

In the evening, our driver and an escort from Vintage Africa arrived to take us to the famous Carnivore restaurant near the Wilson airport. The trip took about 45 minutes because of rush-hour traffic. We, again, passed some absolutely horrific traffic accidents, truck smashed into a telephone pole at a high rate of speed and a truck and a Matatu that had a head-on collision. We sat in traffic sucking on the exhaust-filled tailpipes of every passing bus, observing lots of people waiting for their buses, people searching through piles and piles of garbage and filth, several women’s futile efforts cleaning the side of the roadway with makeshift brooms, and children playing in stagnant pools of mud. Along the way our escort, Sheila, talked about the latest Oprah Winfrey show with my wife. She was also well informed about the Michael Jackson court case. Her impression was that Americans get their entertainment trying to bring down big stars. I suppose that in this age of satellite TV and radio, I should not have been surprised that an English-speaking country would be tuned into English-language programming from so far away. I queried her more on her knowledge of world news and was saddened to hear how much they know about the world’s impression of Africa. These people seem to be trying hard to build a country in the corner of a troubled continent and must also endure very bad publicity.

We arrived at a heavily guarded gate leading into a very chic-looking restaurant entrance. The restaurant was large and partially indoors and partially outdoors under an awning. It was very festive. The waiters all wore aprons with Zebra prints. We passed a large BBQ area with all kinds of cooking meats. The smell was out of this world (in a good way). The restaurant was clean and modern, decorated in something of an African-European-BBQ fusion. The picnic-like tables all sported a small "Carnivor" flag. While the flag is up it means, the guest wants more meat. The waiters continuously make the rounds of the tables with skewers of all kinds of meat, serving as much as the guests want. Well, the disappointment is that game is no longer served! It seems the Kenyan government now outlaws all game. The guests are left with beef, chicken, pork, ostrich, camel, and crocodile. I was actually looking forward to trying game, but I certainly understand the concerns of the government and begrudgingly acknowledge that they probably made the right decision. After dinner, we went next door to an African craft shop. The selection was almost museum-quality, but unfortunately, so were the prices.


Safari Day 9: Pressing on to Lake Nakuru (elev 5900 feet)

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 9, 2005

A land of contrasts. Parched, arid savanna, serene chill of mountain air. City dwellers, primitive peoples. Wild animals, domestic cattle. Tall Acacia of varied shapes, and giant cactus. And moving about the land are endless numbers of minivans and SUVs filled with travelers in a sterile metal bubble gawking at the sights, people and animals.

Up about 8am. Jet lag is over and I am feeling 100%. Our driver and escort were waiting at the hotel lobby. A quick breakfast then on the road. Bad traffic jam heading into Nairobi. Another terrible traffic accident. Where I come from we certainly have fatal accidents. I suppose it is the way they drive that makes me wonder if all drivers here have a death wish. We headed northwest out of town through a nice, forested suburb. Passed many embassies including the US Embassy (moved to the outskirts of town after the bombing). Passed several British colonial style estates as well as very nice looking shopping centers. All were behind guarded, high walls.

As we traveled, the green became greener, and the forest became thicker. Soon we were in mountainous pasture lands of vast farms of tea, flowers and vegetables. It seemed that every few meters were colorful vegetable stands. We climbed in altitude reaching 8,500 feet. The air was crisp, clean, the sky blue with billowy clouds. It was a beautiful place and not something I expected in the tropics. The road was remarkably good. We passed small, outdoor markets with colorfully dressed people selling everything from clothing to produce. This is the land of the Kikuyu tribe (of which our driver, Uticus, is a member). They dress in western style clothing. We stopped at a turnoff for a view into the great Rift Valley. We were immediately descended upon by locals selling souvenirs. It was a little hazy in the valley, but we could see that it was large, barren and surrounded by dormant volcanoes.

As we continued, we dropped in elevation. It was now hot, dry and the plant life was no longer lush but scrubby. The Acacias gave way to tall cacti of a kind I have not seen before in the desert I come from in the U.S. These cacti are as large as an Oak tree, with long arms reaching upward to heights of about 10 meters. Very unusual, very picturesque. We drove along the dry valley floor occasionally passing herds of zebra. Along the road were dirty looking troops of babboon covered in dust from passing cars they were watching. Looking like bums, some were fumbling with discarded beer cans, food wrappings, and cigarette butts. The locals ignore them but I was fascinated. We were slowed by the many pot holes and rough road as well as many slow trucks. We turned west off the main highway heading in the direction of Lake Nakuru. The road went from bad to dirt. It was hot and dusty but, despite being in the tropics, at least not humid and muggy. The landscape was dry, mostly flat but some hills, and wide open fields of tall, golden weeds. We turned into a guarded, dirt road. We drove a few miles along the perimeter of a cattle ranch. On the barbed wire fence, along the road, sat a number of very colorful birds.

We came to the Mbweha Camp Lodge. My impression was neither one of being pleased nor disappointed. The lounge was an open fire pit in the center of a thatched roof rotunda opened to the outside along its sides. Adjoining was a bar. Gravel pathways connected the lounge with the nine cabins. There were large cactus on the perimeter of the very dry and warm grounds. The restaurant was simple, small, semi open air rondoval connected to the lounge. The cabins were rondovals with stone sides for about 8 feet up met by a very peaked thatched roof. Outside the entry was a pleasant covered veranda with a few padded chairs. Inside were mosquito netted queen and double beds. No chairs, closet, or fans. The bathroom had a drape for a door. It was spacious with a rather unique open, stone shower. There was plenty of hot water. There were large gaps around the heavy wooden doorway and also some of the windows. Otherwise, the room was adequate and spotless but hardly luxurious. Lighting was inadequate and there were NO electrical outlets (outlets for camera recharging are at the bar). Electricity was solar-generated, as was the hot water. The staff were few but friendly.

We had lunch, but as usual, were very picky with what we ate. Uticus took us for an afternoon game drive. The lodge was about 8 miles from Lake Nakuru national park. We entered the park and crossed a hilly, dry, dusty savanna. We spotted animals in plenty including; Zebra, many Buffalo, birds of the most magnificent coloring, Rothschild Giraffes. We saw no Elephants, nor Wildebeest. Standing up through our roof ports we entered a very thick, tall forest of Acacia. Despite the warm temperatures, dust, lots of nasty flying insects it was a tremendous thrill driving through this wilderness. The trees were filled with curious Velvet Monkeys. Along the forest roads were large troops of Baboon. Some groomed one another, some with babies seemingly shooting the breeze with another mother babboon. Some furiously attacking others. As we approached, all scurry back into the dense undergrowth.

We emerged from the forest onto a savanna leading down to a salt flat and Lake Nakuru. From a distance the lake had an orange cast along the shoreline. I thought it was a reflection of the sky color as we neared dusk. However, as we approached I could see the color was from thousands of Pink Flamingo! Just as I became excited over this curiosity, we stopped and we saw our first Rhinoceros. We were not more than 5 meters away from a mother, father and baby grazing. Huge, dark, lumbering but seemingly docile. The adults had white Egrets on their backs (as did Buffalo). These were white rhinos, so-named because the Dutch of South Africa misunderstood the English word "wide" which describes the animals mouth (Black Rhino have a hooked front lip). We drove to the shore of the lake where I stepped out and watched the Flamingos with amazement. What a sight, and with the colorful reflection of the African sunset. Every so often, a large group of these colorful birds took flight, their images reflected in the shallow, salt lake below. I could have stood there forever, but it was time to head out.

In the Acacia forest, there were a number of minivans lined up along the roadside. Uticus deftly maneuvered our large vehicle in the best spot. There, in the distance, we saw our first Leopard. He was resting on a dead tree about 30 meters away in a forest clearing. He was beautiful and I must have taken another 100 photos of him. He just sat there and barely moved. Time was running out (park closes at 6:30pm) so we drove off. Shortly before leaving the park we spotted another group of minivans and Uticus joined them. There was a huge male lion sleeping on a small hill about 20 meters off the road. I could only see his back and some of his main. Just as I was deciding whether to take this photo he raised his large head and turned toward us. I fired off two shots before he went back to sleep. He was magnificent!

We drove back to the lodge watching the sunset all the way. We sat around the smoky fireplace, drinking coffee and talking about the day’s adventures. We ate lightly at dinner being, again, cautious with what we ate. The last of the sunset disappeared as the generator kicked in and the lodge lights flickered on. The restaurant was buggy and the lights blinked so much that it might have been better if they used candlelight. After dinner we started to walk to our room but were stopped and told that guests must have an armed escort at night. So a Maasai armed with a spear walked us by kerosene lantern. There was absolutely no entertainment, and it was only about 8pm, so I decided to read a book, but the light so dim I gave up. I sprayed the mosquito nets with permethrin and sprayed insecticide around the door and window frames. The bed was comfortable but the pillows were of the magical type that look large, but when ones head hits it they turn into tiny pads that wrap around the face. All night were the sounds of exotic birds. I slept well but occasionally was awakened from the heavy foot sounds of the Maasai guard that patrolled the rondoval’s perimeter with a lantern every hour.


Safari Day 10: Exploring Lake Nakuru

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 10, 2005

Dust coats everything. Exotic sounds from the jungle--birds, insects, and an occasional mammal--stimulate and invigorate me. Cool, comfortable, refreshing morning air but sweltering by mid-day. A parched landscape as foreign as I have ever seen. Now the herds of buffalo, zebra, and gazelle seem so familiar and commonplace to me. Ostrich run across the road, troops of Baboon along the road looking quizzically at our metal beast. It all now seems so common. I have to keep reminding myself I am 10,000 miles from home in Africa. I stand through the hatch of our vehicle, seemingly riding my metal chariot through Earth’s early years of the Age of Mammals. To my left a large armor plated Rhino, a little farther to my right a bandy legged Giraffe eating Acacia leaves. None seem to care I am only an arm’s length away. It as though I am invisible. The sounds, the sights, the crisp, pine smells remind me that I am but one more animal on this planet.

We got up with a 7am wake-up knock on the door (no phones, no radio, no TV). We fumbled getting dressed and out for a light breakfast. Uticus wanted us on the road by 8:30AM to avoid the afternoon heat. At this lodge the drivers sleep in a large, communal tent behind the kitchen area. I asked how he liked the accommodations and he only smiled and said it was fine (he never complained). I have a feeling it was not so fine but I think he enjoyed the company of other drivers he knew. We entered the park and saw Zebra and Buffalo foraging together on the savanna. I stood outside the hatch and rode through the plains in search of game. My neighbor had been to Africa. When I asked him if there were any regrets after his return, he said he wished that he had spent more time looking at the smaller animals and birds.

Uticus was an excellent birder. Every so often we stopped and he identified an interesting and often very colorful bird and showed us a picture and description in his book. We spied several groups of both Black and White Rhino in this park. All with large, impressive horns. We saw lots of Rothschild Giraffe running along the edge of the forest in the distance. Uticus steered us along the dirt roads running in and around the very buggy forest and muddy streams spotting herds of large and impressive carnivorous flies and mosquitoes but no Lions. We saw herds of impala, Grant's gazelle, Thomson gazelle, and waterbuck. Near white, salty shores of Lake Nakuru we were able to drive very close to foraging Rothschild Giraffe. I could have reached out and touched them. We went to the shoreline and observed the flocks of Pink Flamingo and Pelicans. What a sight! We reentered the Acacia jungle and continued to sight for big game. Noises of the jungle abounds with birds and insects forming a beautiful cacophony.

We drove to a high bluff overlooking Lake Nakuru below. The rocks were filled with interesting creatures. We saw several large lizards with bright blue bodies and orange heads doing push ups on the rocks. We saw several Rock Hyrax. About the size of a cat, these animals are said to be a distant relative of the elephant and look kind of like, well, I don’t know! Very fury, rounded head, possum-like body, three toes. It was pleasantly breezy with few insects nor dust. We had a great view of the pink masses of Flamingos along the shoreline. We had a box lunch from the lodge. Continuing our over cautiousness we ate very little of the lunch giving Uticus all that we did not eat. We drove back down to the forest and saw pretty much the same animals but got baked and coated with fine dust while doing this.

After six hours of game viewing, we were finally cooked, shaken, and baked well-done. I believe I gained a few pounds from the high calorie dust I have been eating in large quantities. Back at the lodge we cleaned up and watched the sunset. I commented, to one of the staff, about the comfort offered knowing there was a protective electrified fence around the property. He looked puzzled and said that the fence was between the lodge property and the national park only. The rest was unprotected which is why they have armed Maasai. We sat around the fire pit playing cards and awaited the 7:30PM dinner. Just after the food arrived my wife began to do a rather peculiar dance. I thought it was entertaining but could not understand why she picked that moment to dance. Turned out a hairy caterpillar had crawled up and bitten her on the leg. To make matters worse, she squished it, pushing the sharp spines into her skin. The locals said it was nothing to worry about. A Maasai escorted us back to our room, where we cleaned, treated, and dressed the affected area. That night, I awoke to find my wife’s flashlight continuously on. She wanted to make sure nothing else was crawling around the bed area. The night was filled with strange sounds of birds, insects, and the low moan of an animal in the distance. Occasionally, the hushed voices of Maasai patrolling with their spears and lanterns as they passed by our window.


Safari Day 11: Lake Nakuru to Mount Kenya

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 13, 2005

My mind waffles between my decision to go on a long safari and whether it might have been better for a shorter journey. When I see the animals, I am glad to be on this long trip. But when I experience the draining heat, eat the never-ending dust, deal with the insects, and experience the discomfort of my face slathered in sunscreen and DEET and frosted with dust, well... Moving to a cooler climate, as we did today, made me feel much better. As we drove, I did a quick mental inventory of all the things, through the years, I have ever wanted to see in Africa. On a shorter trip, I might have forgotten about these must sees until arriving home. I look around and still must remind myself that I am in Africa and these are not animals in an open zoo. As I write this passage, I am looking out my Mountain Lodge window, seeing Bushbuck at night drinking so quietly at a watering hole next to a pack of six elephants. I hear the elephants give a brief trumpeting after they have drunk their fill.

Our 7am wake-up knock came at 7:20am at the Mbweha Camp Lodge. We were mostly packed, so we moved quickly. I had a good night’s sleep despite my wife’s insistence to keep her flashlight on all night. We had a brief breakfast, settled our bill for the few drinks we had, left tips, and climbed into our vehicle. I was glad to be out of there. I liked Lake Nakuru Park but did not like the Mbweha Camp Lodge at all. We drove over a dusty road to a bumpy road, then to a very good road. Just as we approached the town of Nakuru, we turned and headed northward. We slowly climbed into the green, forested highlands. We passed farms of corn, coffee, tea, cabbage, and flowers. We passed herds of cattle. We were now in Kukuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya, country. Everyone we saw was dressed in Western clothing, and this being Sunday, they were coming and going to church in their Sunday best: women in nice dresses with umbrellas to shield against the sun, men in business suits, and children in uniform. But most were dressed in ordinary clothes. We passed more well-groomed farms, worker’s thatched huts, and lots of churches, missionary schools, and hospitals (very small, primitive, and staffed by missionaries). It is very clear that Christian missionaries have had an extremely strong influence on this country. Most of the people are Christian with Christian names. It seems that the very infrastructure of the country is supported by a missionary system. The towns we pass begin with a gas station, tiny grocery store, barber shop, butcher shop, and hardware store. Streets are dirt. Stores and houses are cinder block with metal roofs. The air was very cool, clean, and refreshing as we varied between 6,500 and 7,000 feet elevation. The road meandered northward and began to crisscross over and under the zero latitude mark at the equator. We did not stop for pictures, as Uticus said that we would cross again tomorrow at a better spot. We finally turn left onto a dirt road, climbing even higher. We passed through forests and pastureland and even saw those peculiar cacti we found at lower altitudes. We climbed higher and veered onto yet another road. Finally we were on a narrow one-way road climbing ever higher. We came to a fence and guard station. A little farther we stopped to photograph a couple of silvery cheeked hornbills. We finally reached the entrance of the Mountain Lodge (Serena Hotel) of Mount Kenya.

Situated in a very tall, thick forest, Mountain Lodge is very unique. Constructed on pillars, with an exterior of wooden slats, it is designed to blend into the forest as if it were a large hunter’s blind. The rooms are rather small and rectangular and actually looked liked shoe boxes. The sides are all wood paneled and bathrooms are adequate. All rooms face an open watering hole. Each room has a very large window with two cushioned chairs to sit and watch game. We saw elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, grants gazelle, and storks. Incredible! It was amazing that the larger animals exist in such a thick forest. Most travelers spend only 1 night here, so there were lots of people arriving and departing.

At 3pm we joined a hike ($20/person) in the forest. The park staff escorted us, carrying automatic weapons to protect us from the animals. This is the only way one can hike in the parks of Kenya, and it was our first exercise of any kind since our arrival in Africa, so it felt good. The guide spoke about the native trees and medicinals gathered by local people. He showed us lines of dangerous ants. We saw several colobus monkeys in the trees. They looked like skunks with monkey faces and very long, furry tails. There was a lot of very exotic insect and bird sounds. Every so often a loud scream of hornbills came from far above but got lost in the trees. It was cool, a little humid and a little buggy, but there were few, if any, mosquitoes. We walked to a small clearing to see Mt. Kenya, but it was clouded in. In another clearing, some lodge staff had prepared coffee, tea, and cakes. We were encouraged to sit on logs while the guide discussed more about the forest. He noted that we were sitting on a certain type of leaf that prevented ants from crawling near. Moments later most of us sprang to our feet when we found ants crawling all over us. These, fortunately, were not stinging ants. At the end of the hike, the guide showed us some rusting bomb parts from British air raids during the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950s that lead to Kenyan independence.

We came back to the lodge, stopped in the gift shop, and found some great African carvings at very reasonable prices. While waiting for my wife to complete her shopping, I found a computer and finally got a chance to send out several emails to my friends. During dinner, a staff member came to our table with a clipboard to ask if there were any animals we wanted to be awakened to see at the watering hole. At 9pm, there was a 45-minute slide show on the area. Back at the room we continued to watch the slightly floodlit watering hole. We saw a genet (kind of like a large ring-tailed cat). There were several hyenas circling the pond. It was actually getting extremely cold, but the room was comfortable and there was even a hot water bottle placed to warm the beds.


Safari Day 12: Mt. Kenya to Samburu

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 15, 2005

There are risks and dangers in Africa, but not to the degree I had imagined or prepared for. My perceptions lead to a greater degree of apprehension than other places I have traveled. This uneasiness has been slow to dissipate, with my wife and daughter developing new fears as fast as the old disappear. We are, in the end, having a good time and acquiring an education about not only the wildlife but also life in East Africa. My only apprehension is that I may have planned too long a safari. I always fear boredom more than anything else. This is why I hate cruises, and I fear that this trip is starting to have that feel. We observe without interacting, we move from place to place without moving our legs, everybody wants to please us, we have the potential to stuff ourselves with food, and we always end our safari days with a clean bed in a small, well-manicured room safe from the environment. We have found the people of Kenya to be kind, considerate, and polite. The food and accommodations are mostly better than that in Europe. The roads, so far, have been very tolerable, but that is probably because we are in a large 4WD and not the tiny, packed minivans I see all over. And the animals? More plentiful then I expected. We have seen far more animals in a very short time than I anticipated. I hate to say it, but the game drives are getting boring because I am seeing more of the same but in different poses.

We woke up at about 7am. It was very cold. The watering hole had only a few waterbucks and nothing more. As we were packing, a Sykes monkey scurried to our window and reached inside before running away. We went to the restaurant for breakfast. We continued our restricted diet of only hot coffee, hot milk, dry cereal with nothing on it, unpeeled fruits, and lots of bread, in spite of other tourists having an absolute feast! My wife and daughter are complaining about deprivation, but I remind them that we still have a couple of weeks to go, so this is not the time to experiment. We went out to our vehicles, followed by six porters carrying our luggage. We made a course due north. The mountain air was cool, crisp, clean, and refreshing, but I knew that would soon change and we would enter another hot, arid area. We passed wheat and cornfields, small towns, and cattle, but no game. Our journey took us to an altitude of 8,100 feet before starting our descent down into the Kenyan heartland. The sky was cloudy and it started to sprinkle. Uticus was surprised. He told us that it is usually very hot and he has never seen rain here before. The landscape was now very parched and desolate. We passed colorfully dressed Turkana tribal people. The road was full of pot holes but our 4WD handled it well. As we drove on, we saw lots of traditionally dressed Moslems and several mosques. Uticus said that hese are refugee Somalis (we are 300 miles from Somalia). The road petered out to some potholes, but was mostly dirt, as we approached a military checkpoint. Uticus registered us and we were allowed to proceed north. I asked if there was anything to be worried about in the northern region. Expressionlessly he said, "No problem". Hmmm... not according to Paul Thoreaux in Dark Star Safari, where he wrote about banditry in this region and shots fired in a place called Archers Point. Uticus and I had several candid discussions about my concerns for my wife and daughter. He was very reserved and reassuring that this area is not dangerous. He would only say that the military wants to keep track of all vehicles coming and going from this area. As we continued, the land became even more arid and desolate, dotted with Acacia and scrubby plants. Occasionally we saw mud huts surrounded by Acacia branches, a few colorful Samburu, and a few Moslems with herds of domestic camels in the distance. Vegetation was very sparse and now the only remains of civilization was this dirt road. Nothing out here at all!! A sign to our left noted the direction of the national park. We headed in this new direction. Before long we came upon a small bridge crossing the only wet river we had seen. There were several Moslems in the river with their herd of camels drinking. We entered a tiny flake of a town called ARCHERS POINT! Well, at least I did not have to wonder how close I was to an area of banditry. We entered the Samburu park entrance. Immediately we saw many colorfully dressed Samburu with painted faces. Except for the black skin, the people reminded me of Native Americans. Not much farther we saw herds of elephants and impala. About 10km farther we came to an oasis of trees beside a shallow, slow-moving river. This was the Samburu Intrepids Club tented luxury camp. I looked right out of Disneyland. There was entry, dining, lounge, and gift shop all on wooden platforms, with tall, peaked thatched roofs. Rock walkways lead to tented rooms. Tents were canvas, large, on wooden platforms, with thatched roofs, all under the shade of tall trees. Inside the spacious tents were teakwood furniture (desk, poster beds, and chairs), ceiling fan, and lights. A solid wall separated the bed area from a modern bathroom (two sinks, large shower, and a flush toilet). There was plenty of hot water and electricity from 4am to midnight. The perimeter is guarded by an electrified fence and Samburus armed with spears (very comforting!). We were warned that the river area is unguarded and that we should be vigilant for rogue elephants, which can be dangerous. They also told us to ignore gunshots as they are blanks to scare elephants away. We went on a game drive at 4pm. The first animals we came upon were most peculiar, called gerenuk. Looks like an impala with a very elongated neck and cute, long ears protruding straight at right angles to the head. What is also amusing is the way they stand on their hind legs, for long periods, eating acacias. We saw lots of dik diks, which are the smallest of the antelope family and about the size of a large cat (but with longer legs). We saw lots of giraffe wandering this barren wilderness eating acacia. There were herds of dark, gray elephants. Lots of interesting birds including; eagles, vultures, guinea fowl, colorful, small bee eaters, buffalo weavers making hundreds of nests in the acacia, hornbills of several species and colors, and ostrich. Lots of impala, waterbuck, grants gazelle. Wildlife not as concentrated as other places we have been but interesting nonetheless. We drove quickly over the dusty-sandy trails as Uticus used his radio to find some big cats. As usual, there were lots of other vehicles out as well. Mostly minivans, some 4WD LandCruisers, and even some huge diesel trucks filled with campers. We were all driving furiously through the bush in search of cats. Something came over the radio in Swahili that had Uticus driving more fervently and us holding the grips of the hatches we were standing in for dear life. We pulled into a group of about a dozen other vehicles as we too gawked at a lioness and another small female lion lounging on a dead, low-lying tree. They paid us no attention as the cameras clicked. A few feet below them were two other lionesses lounging. After awhile, we moved down the road and encountered another pair of lionesses lounging. We drove back standing in the hatches savoring this surreal experience and feeling the comfort and exhilaration of the humid air rushing passed. We relaxed in a large, leather skin and wooden chairs in the dining room, and atmosphere and food were first-rate. It seemed so out of place in the middle of a vast wilderness and being surrounding by luxury. We were escorted back to the tent by a Samburu with a spear and kerosene lantern. Before he left, I asked if there were any dangers at night we needed to know about. He said that we need not worry. It seldom happens that leopards come into the camp, and if one does comes close, we will hear baboons scream. I sprayed the nets and room. So there I was, writing, sitting in a comfortable teakwood bed surrounded by mosquito netting and a ceiling fan. Outside were the exotic sounds and howls of animals. This is right out of Hemingway’s "Green Hills of Africa." The howls of the animals put me to sleep. At about 1am I heard what sounded like a human scream. I listened closely and heard troops of baboons moving quickly by screaming. I placed my flashlight and Swiss Army knife under my pillow and went back to sleep.


Safari Day 13: Exploring Samburu National Park

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 17, 2005

It is a peaceful feeling to be in this truly wild place, that is, once one gets over the fears instilled by modern society toward all things wild. It is no longer boring. It is adventurous finding something new and exotic. While many might have preferred clear, sunny skies, I am grateful that it is cool and cloudy. It can get sweltering hot here, so I am able to enjoy it more. The exotic sounds of birds and animals fill the air and are a treat to hear. Our tent is a throwback to the time of Hemingway and others of the early 20th century who came here to hunt but wanted their luxuries as well. This is living at its best, enjoying the outdoors and seeing new lands, animals, and cultures. Back home, one day blends into the next. Here, each day is something new. This is travel. Safari is a Swahili word for journey, and that is what we are doing. We journey with the mind as well as the body. It is also sport. In those bygone days, hunters came armed with their 9 mms and shot game for excitement and wall trophies. I come for the same reason, but armed with a 720mm. I stalk my pray. I watch their ever move and manner. I anticipate their movements. Then I line them up in my sights and squeeze the trigger. There is a sharp sound, and I’m recording them for my wall trophy. I have shot lots of game over the last several days, and it is very thrilling.

It is serene, comfortable, stimulating, and exotic here. But it looks different then I had imagined. I thought it was all savanna. Here, it is scrubby, desolate, dry, and not very buggy. Monkeys are climbing about, then stop and stare at me, hoping I will give them food. Tweeting birds are in the trees, cooing and singing. Then an occasional shriek and scream from something unseen and exotic. A stillness, cool, and sometimes humid.

Despite my wife lying in bed with both the light and flashlight on, I was somehow able to sleep. Maybe at 5am I awoke to the shrieks of animals. This was followed by the sound of gunfire. I was told later that elephants were attempting to cross the river into our camp and blanks were fired. At 6am a servant arrived with coffee, tea, and biscuits to awake us for the morning game drive. Each evening the drivers work hard to thoroughly clean the cars for the morning drive. Within a short time, we were off in our safari vehicle. We saw lots of beautiful birds, gerenuks, impala, waterbuck, and elephants. Uticus was tuned to the radio, trying to get a hint of where he could see big cats. At about 8am, he heard what he was waiting for and we made a mad dash to a large tree surrounded by a dozen other cars. About 10m up was a large leopard sleeping on a branch. His markings were unique to this area: a black spot with a brown spot radiating from the middle. They call it a rose, but it looks like a small paw print. We drove down to the river looking for crocodiles. We did not find any but saw a herd of elephants digging holes next to the river, then sucking up the fresher water. They covered the holes to prevent other animal access to clean water. The morning was cool, humid, and overcast, but it beats the burning heat!

While my family was getting some extra Zs, I walked along the river to spy for wildlife. I saw a couple of storks and monkeys in trees, and there was a samburu tending his cattle across the river. I sat around until a samburu came up to me and convinced me to see a tribal dance on the Intrepids grounds. I attended with a couple of others ($8/person). The dance lasted maybe 20 minutes. The costumes were very colorful, as were their beads and other adornments. They did the jumping contest, as had the Maasai. They were tall and lean but not as handsome a people as the Maasai.

At 4pm we went out on another game drive. For this drive, we saw the same animals as before, with a few new things: grazing Cape buffalo across the river, an owl, eagle, two different trees with leopards lying atop, herds of beautiful oryx, giraffe, and lots of nice Hornbill. We entered, with other vehicles, into a very large herd of elephants. We watched them tear apart and eat various vegetation. Uticus was concerned about a couple of the elephants that looked aggressive, so we pulled out a little farther from the herd. Near the end of our game drive we pulled into another herd of elephants with lots of other vehicles. It was amazing to see these behemoths so close walking around the car. Their steps were so quiet and peaceful. I was able to get lots of great photos and even a close up of an elephant’s eye an arm’s length away. They were adolescent males, and they started to trumpet and look aggressive. Uticus sensed the situation, so he pulled out quickly. Then a young male charged swiftly toward one of the minivans. We really thought he was going to take a hit, but the driver managed to quickly pull out just in time. We drove back facing a beautiful orange sunset.

In the evening, we watched a wildlife video in the bar lounge. During dinner, our waiter showed us a genet cat sitting in the restaurant rafters. While the afternoon had been very warm, the evening was actually getting cold. We quickly fell asleep.


Safari Day 14: Continuing to Explore Samburu

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 24, 2005

This arid, hot wilderness with so little to offer supports a surprising profusion of big game. Scores of Elephants, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Buffalo, Gerenuk, Impala, all kinds of colorful birds, Leopards, Lions, Dik Dik, and more. One slow-moving, shallow, brown river meandering through this otherwise dry wilderness seems to be the only life source. An abundance of colorfully dressed Samburu inhabit this foreboding wasteland. I am both amazed and a little uneasy. It is hot and sometimes humid. There are lots of armed and uniformed soldiers about patrolling for bandits that, they insist, do not exist. I have seen what I want in this part of Kenya and am eager to move on.

I am up at 6am, with our morning delivery of tea and coffee at our tent flap. I would have slept well last night, but the Baboons occasionally let out a scream, which they do when a Leopard is around. At 6:30am we were on our way. The morning was cool, still, and beautiful. The sunrise was seemingly slow but built up to a beautiful orange glow before the glowing disk emerged from behind a desert hill. We saw much the same animals as previous days. We saw a few more colorful birds. We saw a large Puff Adder that had just killed a rabbit and was preparing for a breakfast, but all the minivans that disturbed it into hiding. We spotted a very rare Bat-Eared Fox scurrying in the brush. There was a small Nile Crocodile sitting patiently next to a sand bar in the river. Lot of interesting birds with names I will never remember but colors I will never forget. And three not-so-rare camouflaged and well-armed park rangers trekking in the wilderness. We drove back to camp, had breakfast, and went back to the tent to pack. We planned on taking our time, but the porter showed up at 10am and said he had clients waiting for this tent. This is an extremely popular place. We had intended to stay three nights but could only get two, so we are staying in the Serena for the last night. Uticus had arranged for us to see an Samburu village last night, so we departed to see it on the way to our new lodge on the other side of the river in Buffalo Springs. The sun was now very strong, and it was getting very hot. The humidity was not as bad as in the South Pacific, but it was noticeable and added to the discomfort.

The Samburu village, from the outside, looked similar to Maasai villages we had seen. Thorn tree branches formed a circle to protect the village. Bread-loaf-looking huts made partially of dung and partially of card board trash were tied to the top and sides. These circular villages seemed to be scattered about a kilometer apart on the scrubby low hills. Uticus had negotiated an entry fee of 1,000 KSH/each, payable to the chief. The chief and his warriors approached us. The chief wore a bright red wrap and cape. He was a man of 60-something: tall and lean, ears pierced and elongated, most teeth missing, and suffering from cataracts of both eyes. His English was passable. He welcomed us and told us to follow him to the “White House.” This was a semi-enclosed lean-to made of tree branches. We sat on crude tree stump benches. He told us this was the meeting place for the elders. He showed us how to make fire with two sticks. Then he displayed a long animal horn used to call meetings and when there is danger. He said danger was when the Ethiopians steal their cattle. I asked how often that happened, and he started to tell me several recent incidents before Uticus discretely gave him hand signals to cut the discussion on dangers. We walked into his village through an opening in the thorn tree branches. This village was structurally similar to that of the Maasai but NOTICEABLY poorer. The huts looked more like trash boxes than living quarters. Children were either naked or wore a combination of traditional and Western clothing. We walked up to a mother who had just slaughtered a goat for dinner next to her hut. She was cleaning it in the mud with flies crawling all over the entrails and her arms. The goats internal fluids were draining into the soil at the entrance to her hut. There was animal feces all over the grounds. My wife commented that the people looked healthy. I noted that the age range was from about 2 to early 20s, then a large age gap, with the chief being the next oldest. I am not sure life expectancy is very high here. About 10m away was a group of teenage boys singing and jumping for us. They were wearing black wraps of very stiff animal hides. The Samburu women dressed colorfully and also danced for us. They seemed found of my daughter, but I think my daughter was getting a little uneasy in this very primitive village. We were invited into the chief's hut. It was actually more spacious than the Maasai hut we had visited. It was, however, filthy. Skins were on the floor rather than on a wood frame. There was a cooking fire with smoke filling the hut. The chief said this helps keep the mosquitoes away. However, it was sweltering in there! The chief kept talking about an American teacher who was coming to the village in August. He showed us a hut he was building for the school. He strongly urged me to donate money to finish the job. When I did not get the hint, he more or less got in my face and repeated the part about needed donations. I reached in my pocket, pulled out $7, and gave it to him. He took us to a line of women selling crafts. Most of the items were carvings probably purchased from other areas and being sold at a premium. However, there were beautiful beaded necklaces and bracelets my wife purchased. While she shopped, I took the opportunity to take dozens of portraits of these colorful people.

We went a little farther to a bridge crossing the river. On one side of the river was Samburu national park and on the other Buffalo Springs. Before crossing the bridge, a park guard checked that we had paid our admission fee. A kilometer farther we approached the well-armed entrance of the Samburu Serena lodge. The entrance to the lodge looked impressive. There was a large, circular drive with well-manicured grounds. The reception area was open-air, with a beautiful lounge and restaurant adjoining. I asked the reception why they wanted our passports. He said that they scan them for security purposes (to account for all foreigners). We were escorted to our room passing through the lobby, walking by the pool, and strolling alongside a wall separating the river bank from the lodge property, over a small wall, and finally to our room, a large rondoval in back of the lodge. The room was old, a little rundown, and buggy, and had no hot water. The lodge staff was courteous but aloof. We immediately set about to repack our luggage to conform to the 30 pounds/person limit for the flight tomorrow.

At 4pm we met up with Uticus for an afternoon game drive of Buffalo Springs. This area was even drier and more arid than the other side. The heat kept the animals resting and out of sight. We saw Dik Diks, Impala, Elephant, Ostrich, Eagles, and even a Parrot. But this area was a lot more sparse in wildlife than the other side of the river. Near 6pm we came upon two female Lions sitting along the roadside. We drove back to our disappointing lodge (after such incredible accommodations at the Intrepids camp, the Serena was a real let down). Back at the lodge we wandered down to a patio near the river to watch the lodge staff throw meat near the river to bait Crocodiles. After sitting for about 40 minutes and not seeing a single Crocodile, but being eaten by mosquitoes, we were about to leave when we saw a vehicle across the river baiting Leopards for our viewing pleasure. Dinner was bland. My complaint is not about the food, rather that we are feed three meals a day and have near zero exercise. We are really starting to gain some serious weight! We went back to the room and tried to sleep in the warm, humid climate. The lights outside, the animal noises, and my wife’s incessant desire to keep her flashlight on all night made sleep difficult.


Safari Day 15: Samburu to Maasai Mara

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on October 30, 2005

When I was a child, I had a National Geographic map of the world on my bedroom wall. I must have spent hours studying the exotic names on the map, imagining exploring through foreign places. I imagined what it must have been like hiking through the jungle followed by a hundred porters,  not knowing what lie ahead The map was from the 1950s and displayed Kenya as a British colony. The Serengeti plains include the Serengeti of Tanzania and the Trans Mara and Maasai Mara on Kenya. The name Serengeti is synonymous with adventure, safari, wild animals, mysterious people, and long treks through unexplored wilderness. Now I am here. It is wild and beautiful with herds of animals and just as I had imagined it so long ago when I was a child: a vast, golden plain with gentle hills, golden, wavy grass dotted with tall Acacias right out of adventure books on Africa. It is peaceful, fulfilling and open. It is a far cry from the hostile, desolate landscape of Samburu. The mornings here are cold, and it is very hot during the day, with a cooling breeze at night. Ah, the night! The vast plains are illuminated in the white moonlight. And even with moonlight, there are more stars in the sky than I have seen in years back home. Unseen animals call out in a dissonance of cries. The low but distinct moan of a lion. The scream of a baboon. The trumpet of a bull eephant. Deep, thunderous moans of a hippo. The air is clean, but the smell of burned grass is ever-present.

Sleep did not come easy in the hot, humid Buffalo Springs. The ceiling fan I so needed apparently kept my wife awake all night. I could just as easily have not used it as the mosquito netting kept the breeze from reaching me. She, again, left her flashlight on all night. That did not matter, though, as the strong lodge security lights shown through our windows. No animals noises this past evening.

We were already packed so we lugged our things out of the room. No porters offered their assistance until we reached the lodge front desk. We checked out of this mediocre lodge and were on the road by 8:15am. The air strip was only a couple kilometers away. Uticus got us there in about 15 minutes. Next to the gravel air strip were several safari minivans and SUVs packed with travelers awaiting their flights. There was a short row of makeshift stands with the locals selling all kinds of poorly made trinkets (they called it duty-free shopping). I noticed that many of the travelers were using old T-shirts to barter for souvenirs. I think these people need money more than old T-shirts. A couple of small planes landed and departed. Finally, our four-propeller Kenyair aircraft landed. Uticus brought our bags to the cargo hold. We said our final farewell to Uticus, who had been like family to us (although I still had a hard time understanding his English). I gave him an envelope with his tip. Many travel books suggest $5/person/day as a tip. Vintage suggested $10/person/day, which is what I went with, because Uticus had really done such a superb job with our safari. We shook hands and departed without much fanfare. He drove back to Nairobi with our excess baggage. We rose above the already baking landscape of Samburu. Within 20 minutes flying south, we were crossing green pastureland, pine trees, and mountain country.

We landed in Nyuku (near Mt. Kenya). To our surprise, we were asked to transfer to another plane. We disembarked, identified our luggage, and then ran over to a Twin Otter for the flight to the Maasai Mara. The aircraft held, tightly, about 20 people. We flew for about 30 minutes, landing twice in various parts of the Maasai Mara to drop off passengers at various lodges. From the air the Mara appears as a vast expanse of golden plains dotted sparsely dotted with Acacia trees. It somewhat reminded me of the central valley of California. The Mara river meandered through the golden plains like a brown snake, fringed with green trees. Scattered about were herds of zebra, wildebeest, and an occasional ostrich.

We finally landed at the Serena airstrip, where we got off and were promptly met by our new driver, Fredrick. We were glad to see the familiar Vintage 4WD Toyota LandCruiser. Fredrick’s English was impeccable. He was a Quaker from a tribe on Lake Victoria. We drove the red, dusty trail a short distance to the Mara Serena lodge on a tall bluff covered in green trees. What a place! Has the appearance of a traditional Maasai mud huts. All rooms have a magnificent view of the Trans Mara below. The rooms are decorated in a beautiful African decor with lots of smooth curves, recesses, African decorations and furniture. The bathroom was small but had stunning tile, marble, chrome, and glass, with an African motif throughout. We followed our usual precautions at lunch. The problem we are having is taking in calories but not exercising to work it off.

At 4pm Frederick took us on a game drive. It was hot, a little humid, and very smoky from grass fires in the distance. Frederick said that the fires were set by the game wardens in Tanzania with the pretense of helping to generate new grasses for the game. He said the real reason is that Tanzania competes with Kenya for tourists, and they believe that burning along the border during the migration will prevent the animals from crossing into Kenya, which, apparently, it does not. The fires, unfortunately, cast a very distinct orange hue over the landscape and animals, making viewing, especially photography, miserable. We did see two cheetahs in some bushes chewing on a freshly killed wildebeest. We were able to get within feet of the animals, and they did not even seem to notice us. We also saw a pair of female lions eating a wildebeest (the Cheeseburger of East Africa!). Others animals included zebra; Thomson gazelle; impala; a crocodile sitting next to the Mara river, waiting for dinner to cross; herds of billowing hippo congregated in the muddy bends of the Mara river; mongoose; wildebeest; giraffe; eephants; and lots of beautiful birds. It was all fairly easy to spot in the low, flat grasses.

We were rapidly becoming irritated with Fredrick. Besides having a rather jaded attitude toward us, he was reckless in his driving and seemed more interested in giving us the usual experience and getting his dinner on time instead of giving us the private drive we had paid for. He seemed to want to do the basic and nothing more. He gave very short answers to my many questions and misinformation on the animals when he would offer any information at all. He followed other vehicles rather than spot animals himself. We ate lots of dust from the other cars. Talking this new situation over with my wife at dinner, I decide to take action. I located Fredrick in the parking area and confronted him over this state of affairs versus my expectations and really chewed his ears off. He agreed to improve. I met back up with my family, and we strolled into the cool, refreshing breeze of the evening and sat next to a bonfire by the pool. The moonlight covered the plains with a white glow, showing the contours of the lands and a hint of the Mara river. We could not see animals in the dim light but could easily hear them in the distance.


Safari Day 16: Exploring the Trans Mara

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on November 5, 2005

My anxiety over East Africa has subsided. This is a place of great peace and tranquility and is refreshing. All kinds of animals and birds exist against a backdrop of endless golden expanses of grasses. This is quintessential Africa! I like this and understand why so many come to visit this gentle land.

Our wake up call came promptly at 6am. I slept amazingly well listening to the animal cries through my window all night. I heard the moan of lions, barking of hyenas, trumpeting of elephants, and a new sound, low moans of hipposfrom the Mara River below. The morning was surprisingly cold (about 50 F). We dressed, had that great Kenyan coffee, then met up with our guide, Fredrick, for a morning game drive.

We drove out into the beautiful morning and golden grass spotting the usual wildlife but this time with a stunning backdrop of grasses and scattering of acacias. All the wildlife looked so much better in this landscape, in this illumination. We stepped out of our vehicle on a bank above the Mara River to observe huge, lumbering hippo. Looking like large black boulders, they just lay motionless, partially submerged. The bulls watched us closely. A few came down the steep, muddy embankment on their stubby legs. They forage a few kilometers away from the river at night. We saw a few crocodiles near the hippos, but they kept their distance. We drove away from the river and over a few lions relaxing on a small mound. Two of the pride members left the mound and headed casually in the direction of a large zebra herd. We watched with binoculars hoping to see some action. Within a few hundred meters of the zebra, the lions separated and moved more stealthy, crouching down just below the tops of the grasses. The zebra occasionally lift their heads and the lions would freeze their motion. When the zebra continued to graze, the Lions moved ever closer. Within 50 meters, several of the lookout zebras let out a loud bray and the herd divided quickly into two and ran in opposite directions. One of the lions sprang forward at a fast pace but the zebras were much faster and after a very short chase the lion gave up and casually walked back toward her pride. We drove back to the lodge for breakfast.

After breakfast we drove to a Maasai village on outskirts of the park. The Maasai are not permitted to live in the park. On the way to the village we passed fields of grass and picturesque acacia. We passed herds of buffalo, occasional wildebeest, herds of tope and impala, giraffes, zebra, and Warthogs. It was getting hot and a little humid. There was a haze now settled upon the plains obscuring an otherwise great view. The village was about twice the size of the one we visited in Amboseli. I counted 30 dung huts. The tribe consisted of a number of brothers, their wives and children. The elders welcomed us and took us into the village. We were brought to the center which was deep in cow dung. Beside their cattle, this tribe counts the dung as a valuable asset which they sell. We were shown, the now, usual demonstration of making fire with wooden sticks. There was the usual welcome dance by the women. We were then invited into one of the dung huts. It was more spacious then the one in Amboseli. There was a small outer room for some domestic animals. Inside was a cooking fire giving off smoke to keep the mosquitoes away. It was stifling hot inside and I could not wait to get out. Outside the men performed a dance that included the jumping contest. We then went behind the village where the villagers sat in a large circle selling their wares. My wife went to each person and made her selections while her personal shopper stood by. While she was shopping spoke with a Maasai. Of interest is that the Maasai seriously believe that all cattle in the world belong to Maasai. He said that they are entitled to rustle cattle from other tribes. Fredrick, however, told me that the Kenyan government treats cattle rustling as a serious crime so the Maasai have restricted rustling between Maasai tribes keeping it away from the attention of the police. My wife was in heavy negotiations with the tribal elders over her proposed purchases. We finally settled the bill for the treasures and headed back to the lodge.

It was now mid-July, and we were well into the famous migration of ruminants from the Serengeti to the Masaai and Trans Mara. Paralleling this the lodge prices increase by two to three fold on July first. While we have seen lots of animals we have not seen anything resembling a migration. Our guide said that the migration has not yet reached this far north. Since our journey covers the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Trans Mara I am hoping to spot the herds at some point.

Our afternoon game drive was much the usual. It was now very hot, and very dusty. We stopped by the portion of the Mara River made famous by nature documentaries for crocodile attacks upon crossing migrating wildlife. While the masses of the migration have not reached this far, there were lingering herds of grazing zebra and wildebeest near the river. While we watched a couple of Zebra moved cautiously to the river’s edge. They watched the river, sniffed the air, were startled at the least noise or movement. After about half an hour one started to walk ever so slowly into the river stopping every few inches to look around. I could plainly see two very large Nile crocodiles on the opposite shore and wondered why the zebra had not noticed. Finally, the zebra moved into the water up to its stomach. Suddenly, the large croc jumped into the water rushing toward the zebra. Not a very good hunter, as there was at least a 10 meter gap to cover. The zebra practically exploded out of the water, giving almost a human-like scream as it ran. That caused the large neighboring herds of zebra and wildebeest to instinctively run in the opposite direction, despite not knowing what the alarm was about. We hung out a little while longer, but none of the animals returned. We spent the next half-hour watching the hippos at the bend in the river. I was particularly interested in photographing them yawning to expose those massive saber-like teeth. We drove out into the savannah and ran across a female lion on the hunt. It walked within inches beside our slow moving car and did not even seem to notice us. I gave much thought to reaching out and touching its backside through the window but not know how fast it might react I thought better of it. We came upon the biggest Elephant we have seen so far. It was massive. Fredrick thought he might be in his 50s. He was alone, incontinent and not very happy about our presence. We pulled to the side of the road and I photographed him. He was getting angry. He flared his ears, threw dirt on his back, moved his legs up and down and his head rapidly from side to side. I was in hysterics over these “scary” antics. Finally, he gave an eardrum-crushing trumpet. Fredrick was laughing until the elephant trumpeted and said it was time to go before the elephant damaged the car. We headed back along the dusty trails toward our lodge. Along the way was the most stunning sunset I have ever seen. A beautiful orange sky, with a large orange solar disk and, just on queue, a quickly moving herd of Giraffe. I was in photography heaven as I clicked away. Fredrick drove faster to head off the herd so I could get the right angle for my shots. One of the photographs I took was probably the best I have ever taken. What a beautiful scene!

My wife and daughter went to dinner while I went to the room. I wanted to write this passage. I was also stuffed from all the eating and no exercise, I was cooked from the heat, and I was coated with an inch of dust. While writing this there was distant thunder, then lightening and finally a very strong rain. An hour later it was gone and the barking of hyena and noise of the insects were back as was a cooling breeze. It is this rain that makes the north side of the Serengeti plains attract the migration this time of year.


Safari Day 17: Exploring the Maasai Mara

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on November 15, 2005

With the exception of the African animals and the Acacia trees, the Trans Mara and Maasai Mara look nearly identical to the rolling brown-golden grass hills of Santa Barbara county, California, back home. Seeing this countryside made it even more difficult for me to feel the reality of being in Africa. The animals are now so common to me. But what is special about this place this time of year is the migration. And that is what we came to see. However, having observed it, I would say that the migration seems more an adjective than a verb. There are vast, rolling golden plains with no visible life. Then over a rise will be a herd of a few hundred zebra and wildebeest grazing lazily in a pastureland. If one is lucky, one will see a lead animal start to slowly walk a few hundred meters, then stop and graze. The rest of the herd will then slowly move in single file to where the lead animal is grazing. This is the migration! Crossing of the Mara river is not expected until August (it is late this year).

Slept unusually well with a cool breeze coming through the slats in the balcony door. The sounds of animals now are so soothing to hear at night. I awoke before dawn and watched a hot air balloon being inflated down below near the Mara river. As the burners flared, the balloon lit up, looking like a giant light bulb illuminating the rolling savanna and river banks. My family was still asleep when I wrestled out the short-wave radio from my backpack. I plugged in the earphones and adjusted the radio to tune in any news I could get (we have not heard any news since leaving Nairobi). I got all kinds of bizarre talk shows in English from all over central Africa. Most sounded very heavy handed politically. Finally, I tuned into Voice of America--there had been a suicide terrorist bombing of a large hotel in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt! I listened to the details. My wife was waked, saw me with the radio, and asked what was going on. I told her that there was no news of interest. We dressed, had breakfast, and were on the trails by half past 7am.

Because of the rain last night, the dust was down. We drove passed zebra, a few wildebeest, hartebeest, giraffe, Thompson gazelle, and waterbuck as we headed southwest to the Maasai Mara. The Mara is divided between two counties split along the Mara river. Our side is called the Trans Mara, while the other is the Maasai mara. We crossed the Mara bridge, where Fredrick showed his pass to the guard. We continued a short distance then to another road, where we encountered a crude concrete marker. Vaguely scratched on one side was a vague “T” for Tanzania and on the other side “K” for Kenya. This is the border. We drove long, sometimes bumpy stretches of road over a vast, rolling golden countryside dotted with lone Acacias and islands of Sausage trees and what looked like Croton plants. Surprisingly there were few animals to be seen. In the distance we saw a giraffe and herd of elephants. Then we came upon a herd of hundreds of zebra with some wildebeest. Driving a little farther, nothing. Absolutely nothing, and that is unusual, as we always see at least some animals. Then there was another huge herd of animals on a hilltop grazing. We drove on and found a group of vultures pulling apart the remains of a wildebeest.

How vast this country, how familiar it looks, how varied and exotic the animals and birds. Outside of the mosquitoes, flies, and the vicious caterpillar that bit my wife, I really have not seen many exotic-looking insects. Impressive are the ant and termite mounds that dot the landscape. Some of these mounds are well over 2m tall. It is interesting that each has a chimney to remove the heat built up inside. So instead of using printed blueprints, these insects depend upon genetic blueprints for the knowledge to construct such sophisticated housing. We have seen a number of butterflies: while/black, yellow, and some purple. This morning on our doorstep was a black dung beetle about a fourth the size of my fist. It had large pinchers in front and looked every bit like an ancient Egyptian scarab. When I nudged it with my foot, it made a loud hissing noise.

We continued our drive meandering up and down the bumpy dirt tracks. We stood for most of the drove through the roof hatches, catching the clean breeze in the heat of the day. I could not seem to get the “Lion King” song out of my mind. I felt a great deal of freedom with the breeze in my face and the great African savanna before me. We encountered several more large herds of zebra and wildebeest. Most the time it appeared the zebra were the leads and posted guards. One herd had wildebeest as guards. They are such stupid-looking animals and seem to be the meal of choice amongst predators. We wondered whether lions just walk between the wildebeest guards and eat something without the guards noticing. We saw a few herds of elephant far in the distance walking through the low grass. We saw cheetah, tope, hartebeest, giraffe, all kinds of birds, gazelles, a couple of jackals, buffalo, and dik dik.

We stopped at a lodge to have some drinks. There was a warthog sleeping under a tree. The guard said that he had found the warthog when it was very small. He encouraged us to pet him. The skin was very hard and tough. The bristles on its body were thick, stiff, and very sharp. In all, it was not my idea of the ideal pet. We left the lodge and drove out into the hills in search of some lions that had been spotted in the area. We searched around some metamorphic rock mounds that are said to be favorites for lounging lions. We found a male lion lying next to a stream absolutely covered with black flies. His main was full but his face hidden in the brush. To get a good photo, I started yelling at him. After several minutes, he lazily and unemotionally looked in my direction just long enough for me to fire my camera. He rolled over and went back to sleep. We drove a little farther upstream and found several females also covered in flies. We were able to get within a meter of them. I yelled again to get their attention. This time, one of the females perked up, looked straight at me, and let out a blood-curdling snarl that startled our guide and caused him to accelerate out of this pride.

We drove to an airstrip and had lunch under the cover of a wooden shack. While the lunch had been prepared by our lodge, we still followed precautions and ate very little. On the long trek back to our lodge, I reminded our driver that a hike along a hippo pond was included. He insisted it was not until I displayed the Vintage itinerary. This has been the story with this guide, in that he does only the minimum until I prod him to do at least what had been promised. He drove to a clearing next to the Mara river on a bluff. Below were at least a dozen hippos. A ranger armed with an automatic weapon escorted us on a short hike along the bluff. He said that this is the only area where one is allowed out of the car because of dangers of wild animals. I saw a couple of good-size crocs in the river. We walked through an area where hippos come in and out of the river. Afterward I stood and watched the hippos, but the sun was beating down and we were really cooked. Frederick took us to a part of the Mara river nearer to our lodge  where dozens of hippos were lounging. We picked a good spot and just watched. It was interesting to observe their habits. The bull is about the size of a normal car! They raised half their face above water, snorted out air, dove for a minute, and then slowly raised their heads. A dozen can completely disappear for a minute, then surface, filling the bend in the river with their masses. Every so often, one will gave a loud grunt that touched off others down stream to do the same. Occasionally one would open its mouth to 180 degrees, exposing huge and dangerous dagger-like incisors.

We drove back to our lodge, cleaned up, had dinner, went to the room played cards, wrote journals and then to sleep. Our days are surprisingly filled with activities. Our evenings are filled with reading, writing and talking over the day’s journey.


Safari Day 18: The long "road" to Serengeti, Tanzania!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on November 20, 2005

Traveling days are rarely a delight. Getting everything in order, checking out, wolfing down breakfast, making the flights. Traveling with less luggage and sending souvenirs and dirty laundry back to Nairobi with Frederick made the ordeal easier. Having a private Safari with no fellow passengers to negotiate with also helped. I had pondered over this part of the journey for several months. The distance between Serena Mara lodge and our destination in Serengeti was about 75 miles. To get there, we had two options. We could take several flights over five hours covering 450 miles (a slightly higher-cost option), or we could drive. Driving seemed the better option, but Vintage (and others) advised that the roads are rough, slowgoing, and impossible if it rains. We would then have to exit Maasai mara, drive near Lake Victoria to a border crossing (with specific hours of operation), then cross into Serengeti national park for a long drive to our lodge. Both options result in a change of guides in Tanzania.

We took the conventional wisdom and flew the semi-circular route. So this day ended up feeling incredibly long because of the multiple plane flights making multiple stops, heat and cramped quarters aboard the small aircraft. Once in Serengeti, I was very content with the animals and scenery I saw, but I was also getting weary of the same animals, dust, biting insects, heat, food precautions, constant moving, and lack of diverse entertainment options. My wife and daughter were very much enjoying the experience and holding up very well.

My bed faced in the direction of the Mara river far below. I could hear the morning ritual of the hot-air-balloon-filling. I laid in bed and watched it slowly rise. Instead of its usual course south, it seemed to be coming straight toward the lodge. At first, I thought it was going to hit the hill just below, but it gently rose. As it did, it headed straight for me! I grabbed my camera and took several shots as it barely missed. The people onboard smiled and waved as they passed just feet away. A little while later, my wife and daughter awoke, and we finished packing. I settled the bill, and we ate breakfast. We told Frederick we preferred waiting at the air strip rather than sitting in the lodge lounge, inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke.

The morning was clear and beautiful. There was a herd of zebra wandering back and forth over the airstrip. Our plane was about an hour late, which, I am told, is typical for Airkenya. We parted company with Frederick and found a seat on the Twin-Otter. We made one more stop in the Mara. The hour-long flight took us over beautiful, wavy, golden savannah grasses. Along the way, we saw circles of Maasai villages. We flew over green farmlands, then large palatial estates, then some slums, then Nairobi landing at Wilson Airport. As soon as we left the plane, we picked up our bags and were escorted into a small waiting area. The ground staff gave us box lunches delivered by Vintage. It was nice of them, but we had missed our flight, the next one was in six minutes, and we were not hungry, so we gave the lunches to the ground reception. We went through a very quick Passport Control, then back to the waiting area. We boarded a four engine plane for a comfortable 45 minute flight over the border to Kilamanjaro International Airport near Arusha, Tanzania. It was mostly cloudy along the route but occasionally I could see the arid landscape below. For a short time the clouds parted revealing the grand snow capped peaks of Kilamanjaro. As we landed I searched, through my plane window, for the city of Arusha, but it appeared that the airport was in the middle of nowhere, with no signs of civilization anywhere near.

The airport was surprisingly modern. We were met by an airport escort who showed us through Passport Control, then around the front of the airport and back through to the domestic side. We went through x-ray and metal detector screening. Then another x-ray and metal detector. I wondered if this was because of the recent terrorism in Egypt (Tanzania’s population is half Muslim). We boarded a tiny twin-engine plane. In this cramped plane, we flew south and landed somewhere, then changed to another cramped aircraft. We landed at Lake Manyara, then took off again, heading west. The land below gave way from dry and desolate to lush, thick forest and mountains. We flew over Ngorongoro crater. Before long, I could see flat, dry grass and herds of zebra.

We landed on a dry, savannah strip called Seronera. We were promptly met by Richard from a Vintage Africa partner. The vehicle was the familiar Toyota LandCruiser with a canopy shading the hatch. This part of the Serengeti plains looked different from that of the Mara in its flatness broken only by Kopjes (large rocky protrusions). Scattered about were the unique Umbrella Acacia giving this savannah the quintessential African look. It was hard to believe that any animal could hide in such low grasses. It was beautiful, and looked every bit right out of the movies. The air temp was wild and slightly humid. With the canopy cover we were shield from the tropical sun. After a short distance we found female Lions sleeping under a lone Acacia. We saw a few Zebra a little further. Most of the herds had moved north to the Mara. The ones left behind are resident animals. That was fine with me as we had been on an unusually long Safari and have seen pretty much everything we came to see. I am now more interested seeing scenery, unusual things, perhaps a predator vs. prey scene.

No sooner than I casually asked Richard if the area had Tse tse flies then I was bitten by two! Obviously the answer was “yes”. I had studied about the diseases these insects carried in a tropical medicine section in school. I had to remind myself that acquisition of Sleeping sickness also depends on the filarial organisms being present which might, indirectly, be measured by a known epidemic. Nevertheless, I quickly got out the DEET. This helped a great deal and so did my Buzz Off Ex Officio shirt. But the clothing I treated with permethrin did nothing to deter the Tse tse flies from biting. My daughter went nearly hysterical over the Tse tse flies and bundled up under a jacket. Richard killed a fly to show us what they looked like and to not be scared. He rightfully reminded my family that if they were carrying disease, he and others would be dead by now. The fly was fascinating and looked a little like a streamlined house fly but with scissor-like wings. I really could not feel the fly until it bite me and its bite was surprisingly painful. The flies can race a moving car, land in the wind, and bite through jeans.

We traveled along a very bumpy, dusty road into an Acacia forest. We spotted a Leopard in a tree a great distance away. We saw several trees loaded with Vultures and occasional Eagles. There were some very colorful Love Birds, Guinea fowl and several other birds I cannot name. We drove about 10 kilometers along dirt trails toward the Serena Lodge. Along the way we saw a very beautiful orange sunset with a magnified sun setting into the savannah. Shortly after we saw a herd of Elephants literally cracking trees in half while they ate and dug for water. We drove to the top of a tall hill to the Serena lodge.

The lodge compound was multiple, separate rondoval rooms shaped in the traditional manner with thatched, pointed roofs, stone walls, ornate wooden carved pillars and a veranda overlooking the vast Serengeti plains below through a thin Acacia forest. The room, however, was disappointing and mediocre. Certainly not as bad as the run down room at the Samburu Serena but not nearly as nice as the Serena Maasai Mara. Basically it was four walls with some hint of sparse African architecture. The dinner room was very ornate. Same type of round, thatched structure as the rooms and with tall wood carved pillars and stands of traditional spears. Very classy. We registered, changed some money, cleaned up, and ate dinner. Like the other lodges, the meals were buffet style. The food was presentable but bland. The beers, Serengeti and Kilamanjaro, were outstanding (so was Tusker beer in Kenya). An Asian family was serenaded by about 20 staff for their child’s birthday. As we were leaving one of the staff was quietly, but aggressively explaining to the father that each member of the staff expected to be tipped for singing the birthday song. That left a bad impression with us.


Safari Day 19: A jaunt around the Serengeti

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 2, 2005

I have become jaded to much of what I see; the animals, the landscape, the people. And yet this new place has rekindled my spirit of travel and adventure. Less than a hundred miles from Maasai mara it could just as well be in another continent. Most of this land is flat with a soft waving sea of golden grasses. Umbrella acacia dot the land as if painted there by an impressionist artist. And then there are the islands of gray Kopjes spaced just right looking like islands in a perfect Zen garden. Seemingly no place for animals to hide. There are tiny, delicate Thomson gazelle darting in front of me as we drive the dusty tracks toward an endless horizon. The strange half barking, half braying sound from a distant herd of zebra. Colorful birds of green and blue and orange following us by darting from branch to branch. Dust devils dance across the arid plains. The cool of the morning gives way to relentless heat during the afternoon magnified by the lack of shade and the heat reflecting from the light colored surface of this parched land. Beautiful yellow acacia forests fringe the plains hiding biting Tse tse flies. Much more persistent than mosquitoes, they bite through clothing. An African sunset is like none other and here it is better yet. An orange ball shrouded in a lacework of clouds. As it sinks it grows in size then falls from the bottom of the cloud veil to glow one last time before falling below the East African hills. The night sky is a starry spectacle. So many bright stars that the constellations are hard to discern especially since I am now below the equator. Then the low, deep thunderous moan echoing up to me reminds that I am in a wild place far from civilization. I am escorted by an armed guard back to my cottage sanctuary to await another day.

Our room was hot all night despite using a fan. I stepped outside before sunrise and was surprised to find it was actually very cool and pleasant so I stayed on the patio to write this journal. We have a view onto the plains below although it is partially obstructed by acacias. No visible animals but lots of beautiful birds especially several variations of the curious looking Hornbill. We had breakfast and were at the vehicle by about 8AM. It was already hot and dry. As we left the lodge Richard pointed out an old buffalo staring angrily toward us. He said this buffalo was "retired" and had been alone in this spot for as long as he had been a guide. We drove a very long distance toward the west end of the park. As we drove along the edge of the acacia forest we saw a herd of elephants digging for water. We were also attacked by more Tse tse flies. We saw herd after herd of darting, tiny, delicate Thomson gazelle as they raced and crossed in front of us. We pulled into a wooded area to watch a female Lion stalking two grazing impala. She moved slowly, stealthy and crouched down for several minutes as she stalked her prey. The impalas knew something was up because they would stand still and look around. This went on for about 30 minutes. Then I felt an almost imperceptible breeze on my back. It blew from where the lion crouched to where the impala were grazing. It took a split second for the impala to sniff the danger and they took off like lightening. The lion stood up and then walked away slowly. We continued our drive out to the plains. We saw two male lions with full manes crossing the road, casually walked into the distance ignoring the zebra only meters away.

We passed a pond with a crocodile and a couple of sleeping Hippos. In the distance, was a line of Elephants marching single file through the grasslands dwarfed by the vast plains and the escarpment beyond. There were giraffe quietly eating tops and sides of Acacia. Richard told us that hunters once camped under yellow acacia not knowing that mosquitoes and Tse tse flies live on the bottom of the leaves. The trees became known as Fever trees because they thought the tree was the cause of their disease. Driving on we saw zebra and wildebeest walking in long lines toward a watering hole. We saw plenty of waterbuck, buffalo a few small jackals, herds of tope and a family of warthogs. We drove out to a small soda lake in the grassy plains and saw large birds and a crocodile. A little further, under a shade tree, seven females lions sleeping.

We drove out to a kopje and hiked up to an area where ancient Maasai camped out while trekking these plains. They used it as a kind of fortress and viewing platform scanning the horizon for enemies. There were several large boulders with indentations that when tapped with a rock made a loud hollow sound. Richard said they were used as musical instruments by Maasai. We drove further down to another kopje. We climbed up to a rock cave and saw some ancient Maasai paintings depicting war shields, elephants and buffalo. Richard said the Maasai brought goat and cattle meat here and ate for a month as part of their rituals. The day had turned very hot. We drove back to the lodge. As we approached the acacia forest leading to our lodge Tse tse flies invaded our space so we spent the rest of the drive swatted flies.

We had lunch then went to the room and rested. At about 4pm, we went on an afternoon game drive. This time we headed to a Hippo pond. There must have been over 50 hippos crowded into this tiny place. The pond was completely filled with the Hippos waste! Occasionally one would start billowing, followed immediately by others joining in. Periodically one would raise its bulk above the water and expel feces with the force of a fire hose while its short tail acted as a quick windshield wiper spraying the feces in 180 degrees. The stench of the pond was something to behold! We headed back to the lodge. I went to the surprisingly cold pool for a swim. Swimming to the edge of the pool I marveled at the beautiful African sunset into the distant savannah. After dinner I went to the bar to watch TV but it was not working and neither was the internet so I went back to the room and caught up on my journal.


Safari Day 20: Another Spin around the Serengeti

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 5, 2005

There is hot, dry, dusty, and flat endless grassland, kopje, yellow acacia, umbrella acacia, and sausage tree. Small rivers, dry ponds, dry stream beds. Herds of tiny thomson gazelle. Bumpy roads. Bird watching, mammal spotting, big cat tracking. Tse tse flies, mosquitoes. Constantly hot, I am often thirsty, dirty, sticky from sunscreen and DEET, and tired from sleepless nights, changing environments and waking early. Vigilance for safety, clean rooms, safe water and food, self-assessment for signs and symptoms of exotic disease, wild-animal penetration into lodge compound. Stress absorbing it all, seeing it all, doing it all and recording it all on tape, memory cards, postcards, and journals. We see typically the same animals each day. I am looking for new animals, new surroundings, new action. We eat three meals a day (sometimes large meals) but rarely exercise. Starting to feel like we are on a cruise, we sit or stand all day. Hiking is not permitted, except in a few designated places and only with an armed escort. No TV, newspapers, no outside world. Contact with locals is minimal. Dates and days of the week are irrelevant. The sun is our clock. We could be on another planet. Silence at night broken by exotic sounds so alien-sounding. The sky is filled with more stars than I could imagine. But always the dust, heat, herds of animals as we press on, on safari.

Slept reasonably well, waking at about 5am and laying motionless in the quit morning. Room was warm despite pleasant cool temperatures outside. We went to breakfast: breads, cereals, cheeses, cakes, and coffee, all the same each morning. I spend my breakfasts quietly observing the colorful birds and hornbills and monkeys on the veranda. We were underway by about 8:45am. We passed the same group of elephants still digging for water and destroying the forest trees. The morning air was reasonably pleasant. Today’s game drive lasted all day and took us about 30 miles southeast of the Serena Lodge (which is approximately in the center of the park). We were thoroughly coated with DEET and wearing permethrin-treated clothing. For the most part, the tse tse flies left us alone and we did not get bitten today. We saw all the familiar animals. Thomson gazelle were out in numbers and constantly flitting alongside and in front of our car. We saw lots of colorful birds and many more lions (both male and female). I cannot believe how many carnivores there are in this park. How much fresh kills are needed to support so many? At one point a female lion walked onto the road and we followed alongside her. I could have reached out and touched her (and I really did contemplate doing this several times during the trip but was unsure how fast lions react). She was in good shape, with muscle on her powerful shoulders pumping up and down as she strut her large paws indifferently along the road. She moved off the road and casually into a small brushy ravine (probably a small stream). A moment later, an impala exploded nearly straight up and out from the small ravine at high speed, as if fired from a canon. The cat slowly emerged from the other side to find a less vigilant potential meal.

We traveled along dried river beds, seeing a crocodiles occasionally and small herds of hippo often. Large birds sat glued next to the rivers endlessly, motionlessly watching the water. We drove out onto the savanna. There were waves of gold but absolutely no mountains, hills, or trees as far as the eye could see, just very flat savanna. Hot and dusty, it went on forever. Then here and there was a large umbrella or yellow acacia, sometimes lions, sometimes elephants, sometimes giraffe lounging beneath the tree’s shade. Then the Maasai kopje looking like distant islands. Large boulders clumped together with cactus or acacia growing in between the large black-gray rocks. Sometimes predators including cobras lounge here, but not today.

At noon, the apex of our drive, we pulled into the Serengeti Visitor’s Center. Serengeti is a Maasai word for an ocean of grass. The center was built with funds from the EU and is considered a World Heritage Site. We had a picnic lunch under a thatched umbrella table at the center. All around us came begging mongoose. Also appearing was a hyrax. After lunch we walked a small marked trail on a kopje next to the center. Along the hike was an assortment of native plants and explanations of the ecosystems of the savanna.

We drove an indirect route back to the lodge. Here a hippo, there an elephant, everywhere a lion. We saw a leopard in a tree and two cheetahs on the ground. All were relaxing, no action. We saw a newly born giraffe next to its mother; we saw a baby elephant suckling from its mother. We saw dik diks, lounging buffalo, and Coke’s hartebeest. Grasslands, thin acacia forests, small swamps, reeking, stagnant ponds, and dusty roads. Richard was a real talker. Sometimes it was difficult to understand his accent. But he had a deep knowledge and passion of everything we would like to learn about and provided the information continuously without our asking. We always end our days dirty, tired, and drained. No regrets, though!!! Problem is that with long trips like this we do not loose our energy, but the exhilaration and enthusiasm of seeing new things. But we also know we will probably not come this way again, and that it is a privilege that many dream and few experience. And so we press on also knowing that we have 5 more nights before rejoining our tribes in the Western world via London.

We had dinner, showered, and went to bed anticipating a departure at about 6:30am (good thing we are on a private safari, as being late is not a true problem).


Safari Day 21: Journey to the high country. Serengeti to Ngorongoro via Olduvai gorge

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 14, 2005

From a dark wilderness abounds exotic sounds as the light of early morning unveils the stillness of this vast and wild land: a cool breeze, the flutter of a bird’s wings, the chirping of frogs, the braying of zebra, the skittering of monkeys in the trees. The land now awakens. An old buffalo we had passed several times now lay dead while a satiated lion sits near with tell-tale blood on her face. A reminder that nothing is allowed to grow old in this jungle. Lions, lions everywhere but few game to eat. A lion sits vigil on a tall termite mound scanning the vast, flat waves of the Serengeti, but nothing can be seen. We cross an arid, dusty plain with no signs of water and vegetation only inches tall, yet life is here. Ostrich and grants gazelle dart about in herds in contrast to the little sustenance present. It is hot and dry, with more dust than I have seen before. But here, here is where our species began-- the Olduvai Gorge. We emerged from the milieu of mammals to stand on two legs, form rocks into tools, start fire. Our birthplace visited yet a memorial to the rest of the animal kingdom as we emerged to take absolute control of the planet. We travel on, rising up, up the very volcano that buried evidence of our beginning. At the top we look down into a caldera of life. This is Ngorongoro. Our last game stop on this long safari.

We packed, ate a small breakfast in the room, and were on the road by about 9:30. We headed SE along the dusty road. A few gazelles were prancing about. A few zebra were among the acacias. A couple of cars pulled over looking at something. We pulled alongside. There was a freshly killed buffalo. This was the same one we had passed a couple of times over the last few days and the one Richard had said was old and retired. About 10m away was a satiated female lion with blood on her face. Another scene of predator-prey played out last night, answering my question about the ultimate disposition of old animals in the jungle. Sad, but a graphic representation of the circle of life. We continued out of the forested hillside and into the open savanna. Flat as a pancake. A couple of lions here and there. There a lone female lion sitting on a termite mound scanning for prey. But there was absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. We pressed on. We passed the Simba Kopje, named so for lions that sit on the rocky outcrops awaiting an easy kill during migration. We came to the park exit miles before the true exit, because this spot is the only shade within 100km. The park visitor center was located next to a kopje with a trail leading to a 180-degree vista of the flat, endless Serengeti.

It was hot as we pressed on. The road was bumpy but good enough to do about 80km/hour most of the time, although the dust was thicker here than anywhere in east Africa we have traveled. There was a surprising amount of cars on this seemingly very remote road between Serengeti and Ngorongoro, giving rise to endless clouds of dust. The vegetation was now only inches tall, but we saw herds of grants gazelle and ostrich. They get their water from the small vegetation they eat. After kilometers of eating dust, we entered the great rift valley again and eventually to the Olduvai Gorge area.

The Olduvai Gorge is about 50km long. The name comes from a plant the Maasai call Oldupai. This plant was used to make rope. We began seeing colorful Maasai in this region, such a contrast of color against the light-colored, stark wilderness. They wander the roadside hoping to have their photo taken for money. We turned left off the main track onto an even dustier road. After several miles we came to the Olduvai Gorge Museum dedicated to Dr. Louis and Mary Leakey, who, in 1959, found a skull, jaw fragments, and tools from our oldest ancestors (3.5 million years ago). The exhibit is tiny and consists mostly of photos and reproductions but was well written. Footprints were also discovered about 40km from here but were reburied to protect them. All of this was preserved thanks to volcanic ash from the ancient Ngorongoro volcano. A shady viewpoint looking over the 80m-deep gorge provided a panorama of layered strata and tufta. Our guide brought over an “official” guide, who, for $20, would guide us to the actual site of discovery (no one is allowed in the gorge without such a guide). While pricey, he spoke English very well and was extremely knowledgeable. We drove about a kilometer down a bumpy dirt road to the floor of the gorge. We turned left and drove into a weathered, excavated canyon arm and got out to look around. There was a concrete pedestal and plaque marking the site of the fossil discovery. Nearby was a small marker where another piece of skull from Zinjanthropis homohabilius was found. No other remains were found in the 40 years the Leakey’s excavated. They did find many more hand tools, as well as numerous animals bones from the Pliocene and Pleistocene eras. Several Maasai appeared mysteriously on our perimeter looking eerily like aliens. As I did a panorama with my video, my guide quietly mentioned that if I photograph them, they will ask for money.

We departed the area and continued several more kilometers before starting a steep ascent from the Rift valley. We passed several Maasai villages sporting wood slat fences instead of the thorn tree walls we have seen in Kenya. We plateaued at 6,300 feet seeing giraffe and ostrich in these highlands. There was a fertile depression with a Maasai village on the edge. We started to climb one last time to about 7,300 feet, then pulled into a clearing. Far below was the smooth volcanic caldera, 20 miles across. In the center was a great salt flat with a tiny lake. Various hues of brown and green, streams snaking through, green marshlands near one end, a think forest near another. I could make out some black dots on the floor of the caldera, perhaps wildebeest.

We drove a little farther to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge. The lodge was impressive. Located on the heavily forested rim of the caldera, it has a river rock face, with all rooms facing into the caldera. Lots of rustic woods and cave paintings throughout. The decor almost looked American Western-style (cowboy). Each room had a private balcony. We ate lunch before going back to the room for awhile. We met up with Richard about 4pm. No drives at this time of the day. We talked with him for a long while on a variety of subjects. I am not sure he went to college, but I am sure he is an educated man. He was a former engineer in the Tanzanian Air Force for 15 years during the cold war. We talked a lot about some of the political problems and wars in Africa. The upshot of the conversation was that European colonization created artificial borders that did not necessarily relate to tribes. That Africa is a tribal place where friction between tribes, greased with Western weapons, can and does create war. The beneficiaries are Westerners that come in for the natural riches during conflict. We went back to the room. At about 8pm we had a light dinner, returned to the room, and worked on our journals.


Safari Day 22: A caldera of life, Ngorongoro

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 15, 2005

I awoke to a blanket of cool mist cloaking everything around me and making the caldera below invisible. It was actually cold in this tropical place. We descended from the modern to the Pleistocene age at the floor of the caldera. The grasslands stretch, inches tall, across the floor surface. Walls of the caldera are steep and forested. A large white dot at the center of the caldera is actually soda with a small lake in the middle. Small, thin yellow acacia fringe the edges of the crater floor. A marsh, a dried, cracked pond, a beautiful pool that bubbles from the ground to begin its long journey to Lake Victoria and then through the Nile to the Mediterranean. What could live in place where cover is hard to find? Herds of zebra and wildebeest migrate from one end of this enclosed zoo to the other. Hippos bask in the mud. Buffalo coat themselves in the ashy, white mud. Lions and their scavenging leaches, the hyenas, roam very openly. The last vestiges of the black rhino lumber solemnly in the distance. Elephants trample down what trees there are. Ostriches strut their stuff crossing the road. A clan of warthogs, with their antennae-like tails, run passed us in a hurry. Lone jackals move stealthily near the hyenas, hoping for leftovers. The monkeys and baboons prefer the safety of the forest trees. A slight cool breeze blows the ash from a 3-million-year-old volcano across this unlikely refuge to so many mammals and birds. We exit this world, moving up, up into the cloud forest to, once again, look down upon this tiny ecosystem.

We were up and dressed by 9am. Richard said that anytime is a good time for viewing in Ngorongoro. The temp was in the high 50s F, with a very thick foggy mist wetting all it touched. We drove in such thick fog, there was no way of knowing whether there was oncoming traffic. Not much farther we came to the gate where our pass was checked. Tanzania has started a program to allow only 4 hours on the caldera floor. However, as they are in competition with Kenya for tourists and Kenya has not instituted such a program, they are not yet enforcing this rule, so we were free to stay all day. We moved down the one-lane dirt road, passing Maasai herding their cattle near the steep slopes. We dropped below the clouds and now could see the plains of the caldera floor. Very steep, lush walls, maximum diameter of the caldera is 16 miles. Animals here are perminant residents and do not migrate outside the caldera. We could now see that the black dots from our lodge were herds of wildebeest and plenty of zebra.

We took the road hugging one side of the caldera through a think yellow acacia forest. We saw amazing evidence of elephant strength, with entire large trees toppled. We saw a few baboons and velvet monkeys in the trees. A very distant black rhino. Upon exiting the forest, we encountered a mud flat with several hippos strolling and loafing. Farther down we saw a number of parked cars. In the distance were a couple of female lions, but the attraction was a pack of spotted hyenas fighting over the carcass of a dead baby wildebeest. The fighting and eating went on for awhile. The lead hyena emerged from the grass carrying a wildebeest head in her mouth trying to run from the pack. A small jackal appeared and tried to snatch the pieces of carcass while the hyenas were distracted, fighting amongst themselves for the head.

We drove on crisscrossing the caldera seeing lots of lions, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, warthogs, and a few buffalo. We came to a mound with cave-like holes in the side. Richard said there are 500 hyenas in Ngorongoro, and that all were born in this mound.

We had lunch by a beautiful pond. We counted 75 vehicles parked here for picnic lunches. In the pond were a few small shy hippos occasionally raising their heads and snorting out water. For a change, the picnic lunches were good. The weather was cool and absolutely perfect! The sky was a brilliant blue. The caldera rim was decorated with white billowy clouds.

We drove on seeing scores of Crown cranes, an ostrich, and an occasional huge kori bustard. We stopped when Richard spotted a large black rhino in the distance. There are only about 25 rhino in the caldera. The rhino apparently did not like the cars, so he kept his distance. We encountered a pride of young lions lounging in the open. We saw so many lions today.

We exited the caldera at 4pm, rising up a steep one-way road with a couple of switchbacks. We passed a large herd of cows, mixed with some zebra, on the rim. At the lodge we rested, had a mediocre dinner, and then went to the room. Tomorrow is our last safari day. We have really seen everything we came to see and more. Today just confirmed that. That only thing we have yet to see is successful predator-prey kill. Chances of that happening tomorrow are unlikely.


Safari Day 23: Venturing about Ngorongoro on our last safari day

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 27, 2005

White settlers had asked Maasai the name of this place and were told “Ngorongoro.” But the Maasai had misunderstood and gave the name for the sound their cow bells make. It is truly amazing to be in such a special, world-renowned place with such a wealth of truly representative African wildlife, enjoying it in such a perfect climate and sitting, as I am now, looking down into the caldera, contemplating it all. Very much the feeling I get when viewing the Grand Canyon back home.

It is a catch basin of so much typical wildlife and can be enjoyed in the relatively small, very open area. It is such a quiet, meditative place that reminds me how far humanity has drifted from the natural world. We have seen vast herds of wildebeest in zonal migration being lead and supervised by zebra. We have seen huge hippo wallowing in a picturesque grassland with zebra grazing nearby. Baboon, monkeys, Thomson gazelle, jackal, ostrich, elephant, wart hogs, hyena, and lions, all in life and death struggle in this small, contained area. We watched as five lions chased and killed a zebra while fellow zebras looked on vulnerably. We watched hyenas stand by, along with vultures, for leftovers, with even jackals wandering in for some fresh meat. This happens every day here, as evidenced by the number of dry and weathered bones scattered about. But here I sit, god-like, looking down on the lives of thousands of animals, and hear nothing.

It is so still, calm, and relaxing. The scene is so still and serene. I see a vast plain with a large white center, a small lake to one side of the white soda center, fingers of green splashed on this artist’s palette. Nice and cool, no sound at all, not even a breeze, mountains surround this basin, but the rim is somewhat obstructed by mist. It is hard to believe I am in the center of the African continent and even harder to believe our safari, our journey, to Africa will be ending the day after tomorrow, when we leave for London. While long and somewhat arduous, I have tried to keep reminding myself where I am and how special this experience is and keep my sense of adventure kindled. Sometimes even the most special things become mundane when one gets such a big dose over and over. I suppose I will have to await being home, seeing our photos and videos, to realize how special this was. We have seen a lot, done a lot, traveled great distances, and have been treated very well. Was it worth it? Yes! It was worth every penny! When we travel we learn about our world, the environment, people, ecosystems, nature, and history. We see it and hear it from those who live it. We also learn about ourselves and our place in the world.

Slept OK, although my wife left the entry way light on. We were up, dressed, and ate breakfast on time. Cool mist again shrouded most of the crater. We rolled out of the lodge about 9am. We drove down the way we did yesterday. At the bottom we went through the same acacia forest but followed a slightly different route. As best as I can tell, we explored the northern portion of the caldera. We saw vast herds of wildebeest in a zonal migration to better watering holes. Always they were lead and escorted by zebra. In fact, we saw zebra braying at wildebeest that ventured away from the single-file march.

Then it happened! About 500m away, we witnessed our first successful lion kill of a zebra. It happened so quickly. Five lions were in fast pursuit of a swift zebra. The zebra maneuvered from side to side trying to throw off its attackers. The lions worked as a well-orchestrated team moving in unison to the zebra, but always gaining ground in this life-and-death drama. The lions were very focused and the zebra was quickly tiring. One lion leaped forward and caught the back of the zebra. The other four lions quickly jumped on its back and toppled it into a swampy embankment. It was over so fast. The lions hovered around the zebra, obviously killing it. One lion emerged very muddy, with the zebra lying dead behind it. This in front of a herd of zebra frozen still. While the lions were feeding, both hyena and jackals moved into the perimeter. Then came a couple of hippos that temporarily scared the lions away, only to return when the hippos moved on. My daughter was sad  but understood that this is real life in nature.

We drove on seeing more lions, hyena, and jackal. We continued to see herds of zebra and wildebeest. We saw more gazelle, lots of ostrich, and elephants. I noticed lots of bones drying in the open. We saw an elephant skull at a distance.

It was surprisingly cool all day, despite some sunlight. We were cold at times, so we stood up for only short periods in the wind. We picnicked at the same pond as yesterday. While eating, a very large elephant casually strolled to the edge of the where the cars were parked. I guess he was heading through, but when he saw all the cars and people, he changed his mind and hung out at the edge of the pond, apparently waiting for everyone to leave.

We drove toward the center of the crater to the edge of the small lake next to the soda flats. There were about two dozen flamingos wading in the water. Most were white, some pink. We then drove a little farther to a pond among some green reeds and large green grass grazing land. The pond had about a dozen hippos of sizes up to that of a car. Many were doing complete rolls in the water. All were continuously using their short, stubby tails to splash water on themselves. Every so often, one would make a very loud trumpeting sound, which was then joined by others. In the background was a very large herd of zebra. The lighting was right, the blue of the water was perfect, the grasslands were greener then green, and the contrast of the stripped zebra grazing and the dark gray hippos was absolutely perfect for photos. The advantage of a private safari is that I was able to ask our driver to stay at this spot for half an hour while I just stood and took in the whole scene.

We then drove toward the exit in the crater, passing a Maasai tending his extensive cattle herd. Most try to either sell tourists trinkets or collect money for photos. It's hard to believe that these people once stretched from Cairo all through Africa and were as fierce as the Zulu.

We passed a very large troop of baboons on our way up the very steep road out. Most did not want to move for our vehicle, so we just watched. Several males were fighting and screeching. There were several females with tiny cute babies clutching their chest while they seemingly conversed amongst themselves.

We ascended from 5,500 feet elevation at the crater floor to 7,300 feet at the rim. We passed by the very expensive Ngorongoro Crater lodge. Nearby was the Simba campground, where a few years ago an American child was attacked in his tent while sleeping and killed by a hyena. At our lodge we rested and packed for the long day tomorrow. We went to dinner. As we finished eating, we heard the familiar song by the dinning room staff, “jambo, jambo bwana ...” To our surprise, it was for us, accompanied by a cake. We were thanked for staying with them for 3 days. We went back to the room, showered, and went to bed.


Safari Day 24: Ngorongoro to Arusha to Nairobi

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 31, 2005

As we drove through the mist of the African cloud forest, I became contemplative, reflecting upon our journey, our safari of the heart, spirit, and mind, and how expanding and liberating the act of travel is. This was a special place with special wildlife, people, and scenery, an area we humans protect to remind us of our humble beginnings. I came, I saw, I shot (photographs). We treasured our moments here.

We moved from the misty highlands to the arid wilderness of the Great Rift Valley. Moving farther we entered Arusha. Beyond, the airport. Then flying on we arrived in Nairobi. We were shuttled to the Safari Park Hotel, our circle, our safari, now complete. It has been first-class, it has been worth it. My lifetime longing to see the great African animals has now been fulfilled. I shall never see a zoo the same way again. While others imagine a safari, we lived it.

We were up at 5:30am, getting everything together. At 6am a small breakfast arrived at our room. I stepped onto our patio. It was cold and very misty, heavily socked in with clouds. A porter brought our things to Richard, who was waiting and in his usual jovial spirits. His enthusiasm for showing us the wildlife and his country was contagious, but this is a sad day. Our last day. We drove somewhat the way we came along the crater rim. Here a lone buffalo, there a lone elephant in the mist. We descended along the hard-packed dirt track toward Arusha. Richard drove safely but fast and passed other vehicles despite only meters of visibility.

We came to the park checkpoint, then drove beyond. Immediately we drove onto a very modern asphalt road. We passed wheat, corn, and coffee farms. We stopped at the T-Shirt Shack, where we bought several shirts. (It is recommend that the reader skip this shop. Their shirts are expensive and the printing comes off with the first washing!). We then drove a little farther, where Richard stopped for fuel. I got out and stretched my legs. Nearby, a little boy was playing along the road with a homemade rolling toy. He motioned with a writing gesture in his hand. I pulled out a pen and he smiled. I threw it to him. I was soon descended upon by dozens of children who depleted me of all my pens. We drove on descending to about 3,000 feet into the Rift Valley. We saw Lake Manyara from the bluffs above. It is a large salt lake surrounded by heavy forest and cliffs. We descended on the highway to the forest level. This is another popular national park. There is a very touristy kind of semi-shanty town catering to tourists. Fruits, souvenirs, carved wood. We continued to about 2,800 feet into an arid wilderness. We passed many Maasai villages. There were no fences except for the animal corrals. The huts were wood with conical roofs. We passed many Maasai children herding cows. The barren landscaped was filled with an amazing number of tall gray (from the volcanic soil) termite mounds.

Along the way we saw an occasional ostrich. I finally saw a Baobab tree. These trees were numerous at altitudes below 3,000 feet. No leaves this time of year because they are deciduous. Richard told me that Tanzania had been a German colony from the early 19th century to the end of WWII, when the British acquired a mandate. He noted that there were German farms all around and even in Ngorongoro. Tanzania provided food to Germany during WWII. He pointed out some shops displaying Nazi swastikas. He said some old Tanzanians even have a swastika tattooed on their arm. He said many Tanzanians fought with the Germans against the British. We came to a flat, arid area with an Army post. He said a major battle between the British of Kenya and the Germans was fought here and the dead were buried in a cemetery on the post.

Driving on, we saw more humans, garbage, and people meandering along the road. We were nearing Arusha. Richard stopped to let us browse a souvenir shop he warned had “American prices” (the stop was our idea). The shop was very large and loaded with mostly wood carvings. The quality was poor and the prices outrageous. We looked at some zebra skins, but they cost $500 and more. Tanzania (unlike Kenya) still allows some limited game hunting in designated area (except rhino and elephant).

We continued to drive to the edge of Arusha to the “cultural center,” actually a large souvenir shop owned by a white South African. The selection was large, the prices not bad and somewhat negotiable, and the quality very good.

We continued our drive to the outskirts of the city. The area was hilly, jungly. Not as trashed as Nairobi but still trash, shanties. We passed colorfully dressed women balancing baskets on their head. The airport was 50km away from the Arusha. Despite my pleas to get us to the airport and skip lunch, it appears Richard was under orders to get us a lunch, so they arranged one with a lodge 0.6km from the airport. After sitting down and beginning to place our order, I looked at my watch and noted our departure in 45 minutes, so I made an executive decision to leave without lunch (I found later that Vintage had been informed that we skipped lunch). Mt. Kilimanjaro airport was not very busy. We passed through a couple of X-ray and metal detectors, checked our luggage, waited a bit, and then boarded a twin-engine Otter. It was overcast during most of our 55-minute flight to Nairobi. About 10 minutes out I could barely distinguish the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I continued to observe the mountain for the next 20 minutes. The last 5 minutes of the flight took us over the flat, green bush of Nairobi national park. My last view of wildlife on this journey was of a single-file herd of brown-gray elephants as we descended farther to a landing.

We quickly passed through Passport Control, X-ray of carry-ons, then out into the tiny terminal. Faithfully awaiting was a Vintage driver. It was lightly drizzling as we made our way through downtown Nairobi. A strange sense, but I felt as if I had arrived back home. Ironically, it was a familiar, comfortable place despite its mean, bleak appearance. We arrived “home” at the Safari Park hotel (our third time). Peculiar feeling of being home again. At any rate, a full circle was now complete. We were given a room similar to the one we started with. All roads, for us, seemed to lead to this place. I thought about our first days here and how it now felt like years ago. We were so careful about disease-carrying mosquitoes, tense not knowing what harm might be just around the corner. We starved ourselves the first day because of potential for infectious food. Now we were very relaxed, casual, and knowledgeable about our surroundings. We shopped for last-minute souvenirs in the dozen stores on-site. We met up with the Vintage manager, Evans Munanga, and had dinner and talked all night about our safari experience. We said our final farewells and headed back to the room. We had either thrown away or given away about a third of what we had packed with us, yet we still had lots of luggage. We packed carefully throughout the night, then went to bed.

We were up at 4:40am in readiness for our long return to the West. This travel day took us from the early 20th century to the early 21st century and from the third to the first world. And, unfortunately, from the less expensive to much more expensive in London. I am pleased to have fulfilled my lifetime desire to see east Africa but am happy to return to my part of the world and culture.

Our driver and escort took us through the dark, drizzly Sunday morning streets of Nairobi. The airport security was very tight, with multiple X-rays, questioning, and metal detectors. Very little room to sit at the airport. Our plane was guarded by several soldiers. Our flight back was uneventful. From Heathrow we took a $110 taxi ride to our hotel in downtown London. We checked into the Park Lane Hotel. I stood at the room window peering out onto Piccadilly Road, watching well-dressed people walk by, the modern and expensive cars lined up at the intersection, and the highly manicured Green Park. The contrast could not have been greater from the last 4 weeks of travel. We stayed in London for another 10 days, but I could not get my mind off of our adventure in Africa. And so this seems a good place to end my journal on my sojourn to the wildlife of east Africa. I thank my three loyal readers and bid you good travel.


Recommended reading and references

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on December 31, 2005

Must read! 1. Estes RD. The Safari Companion: A guide to watching African mammals. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1993. (big paperback, but find room in your luggage for it anyways)

Planning the trip 1. Blindloss J, Parkinson T, Fletcher M. Kenya. 5th ed. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.; 2003. 2. Fitzpatrick M. Tanzania. 2nd ed. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.; 2002. 3. Nolting MW. Africa’s top wildlife countries. 6th ed. Ft. Lauderdale: Global Travel Publishers, Inc.; 2003.

Colonial period 1. Churchill W. My African journey. London: The Holland Press Neville Spearman Ltd.; 1962. (note: Out of print) 2. Hemingway E. Green hills of Africa. New York: Simon & Shuster; 1996. 3. Conrad J. Heart of Darkness. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics; 2003.

General background 1. Theroux P. Dark star safari. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; 2003. 2. Quammen D, Wainaina B, Kotch N, Mendel G, Salopek P, Fuller A. Africa: Whatever you thought, think again (special issue). National Geographic. September 2005.

Health and safety information 4. Young I. Healthy travel Africa: 1st ed. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.; 2000. 1. United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (excellent): http://www.cdc.gov/travel/ 2. WHO site with health information (excellent): http://www.who.int/ith/en/ 3. UK site with political information: http://www.fco.gov.uk 4. Australian site with political information: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/ 5. Overseas security information: http://www.ds-osac.org/


Photography tips

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on January 2, 2006

1. Leave the tripod at home. I brought one and used it once. You will not be allowed outside your vehicle and a tripod does not work well in a car. A bean bag is ABSOLUTELY essential! Some companies carry at least one, but you should bring your own just in case.

2. Forget film cameras. So many X-rays will destroy your film. This is the time to go digital.

3. I brought an Epson P-2000 to download my compactflash chips each night, a good idea in case you have a malfunction.

4. Purchase MORE DV tapes at home then you think they need. In the US they go for about $3/each. The lodges have some in the gift shops, but it will cost you $35/each!

5. Outside of Nairobi you will not find memory cards, so buy all you need before arrival.

6. Charge your batteries whenever you have the opportunity, as the lodge electricity (220v) is unpredictable.

7. The primary lens on safari is a telephoto. Many of my shots were with a 300mm, which became 480mm when used with my digital SLR. 300mm is also an exceptional lens for villager portraits. I seldom used my 1.5 converted. Wide angle is good for the sweeping landscape, especially at sunset. A 50mm is good for village shots.

8. Bring something to cover the camera gear, as it is incredibly dusty and the equipment can be harmed by so much very fine dust. That also means carefully cleaning your camera equipment each evening.

9. As with everywhere else, your best shots are dawn and dusk. Some of my best shots were at dawn using a 1200 ISO setting (amazingly, there was not much noise in the photos).

10. Don’t forget your flash. Daytime shots up close with a flash produce a nice sparkle in the eyes of the animals. I also used a Project-a-flash (essentially a Fresnel lens on a box that fits on the flash), which allowed me to use my flash to capture leopards in tall trees and also distant birds.


Safari tips

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dr. Mitch on January 2, 2006

1. After experiencing a 24-day safari, I would highly recommend not going on a safari longer than 14 days.

2. Having a 4WD vehicle to yourself makes a world of difference on safari. Next best is a shared 4WD. This is followed by a private minivan. The least desirable but most affordable is a shared minivan. The reputation of very bad roads is true but very, very tolerable in a 4WD.

3. If traveling between Maasai mara and Serengeti and it has not rained, and you are traveling in a 4WD, consider doing it over land and ignoring your tour operator’s advice to do it by air (see my journal entry to understand why).

4. Between July 1 and around October, you pay 2-3 times the normal lodge rates simply because it is high season. It is high season because of the migration on the Serengeti plains. However, it is hit-or-miss whether you will actually see the migration. Consider lowering your costs by traveling in June. Chances are, it will not be raining in June, and you can enjoy lower rates.

5. Most lodges have telephones. Your driver will most likely have both a CB radio and cell phone. Your North American cell phone (except for certain models) is useless here. Most lodges have Internet-ready computers (for a small fee). Consider setting up a temporary Hotmail address and communicating with friends. Also, consider sending a e-mail to the Hotmail address (before leaving home) with a list of important phone numbers and other information. In an emergency, you might be able to download this information.

6. Dress is always casual, as if you were camping. I wore a hat, thin hiking pants that zip off at the knees, a T-shirt, and a hiking shirt (ex-Officio with roll-up sleeves and vents) and hiking boots. I also brought a sweater and nylon windbreaker, which I needed in the evenings and especially at Ngorongoro and Mt. Kenya. A bathing suit is desirable, as most of the lodges have pools. Do not even think about swimming in local creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. Not only is there a real risk of parasites; you also have to contend with some large and angry animals that may not be visible when you step in.

7. The big game, especially the cats, are a treat to see, but do not forget to look for and photograph the other interesting animals and especially the colorful birds that are found in plenty.

8. Don’t believe what you read about tipping not being expected. It is highly expected! Interestingly, they actually prefer their local currency to dollars, pounds, or euros. Bring plenty of small bills for tipping. Sometimes the tipping get outlandish. For example, if you have six small pieces of luggage, you might well end up with six porters, all expecting a tip.

9. “Luxury” tented camping (i.e., permanent camps) is often better than lodges and is a real treat. They have all the comforts of a lodge and the feel of old safari. Be sure to secure your tent and belongings, as monkeys have apparently learned how to untie the tent flaps and enter. We are told their favorites are snack foods and medications.

10. Bring old clothing that you can throw away and lighten your load and laundry. The locals will gladly take your old clothing. Lodge laundry is fairly inexpensive and has overnight service.

11. Bring books, journal, short-wave radio, cards, or other distractions as there is very little entertainment at most lodges at night.

12. Leave the purifier at home. The bottled water provided by your reputable safari operator and/or reputable lodge will be plenty, and it is safe.

13. Have a packing system that allows breaking down the luggage into the allowable limits from U.S. outbound flights (70 lbs), international flights (50 lbs), and intra-east African flights (30 lbs). Consider using Hefty 2.5-gallon zip-lock bags to store, protect, and “desiccate” the clothes to reasonable size.

14. Most hotels allow you to store luggage for a few weeks with them for free. Might keep this in mind if you are departing and arriving in the same European city before heading to Africa.

15. Keep in mind you are in the tropics and often at higher altitude so wear a broad rim hat and lots of sunscreen. Don’t forget to drink continuously throughout the day to avoid dehydration.

16. The safari operators often bring binoculars but you should bring your own just in case.

17. Bring lots of pens to give away to the children you will see in the small villages.

18. Bring any needed medications with you. You will not find quality medications and healthcare in this part of Africa. Take out insurance that allows you to be evacuated to Europe in a medical emergency. Do pay the small, up-front fee for Flying Doctors. Even if you do not use it, it is going for a good cause.

19. Avoiding disease may be as simple washing hands before eating, using hands wipes, and noting that your shoes have been in some bad areas so wash your hands after handling them.

20. Here is how to keep the insects from biting: a. Soak all safari clothing in permethrin before use. b. Bring Ex-Officio Buzz-Off shirts and pants for the tse-tse flies of Serengeti. c. In most areas, you can probably get away with short-sleeve shirts and shorts during the day, but reconsider if the area is buggy. Wear hiking boots and never sandals. d. Use sustained-release DEET products (I recommend 3M Ultrathon). Don’t even think about entrusting your health to herbal products; DEET is very safe. e. Bring a can of permethrin to spray mosquito netting in the rooms (no need to bring netting, as it is supplied by lodges but bring safety pins to close any rips in the net) f. Bring a can of indoor insect spray to coat rooms (although most lodges actually provide this).

21. Some of the best buys in African crafts are actually in the lodge stores. The locals sell the same things at very inflated prices. In the Maasai villages, the best buys are the beaded jewelry and bows/arrows.


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