To preface my trip report I must say that I have been to Kenya ten previous times and always travel late January-early February and then again late July/early August – always the dry season in Kenya. Thus I usually see thousands of animals of all species when I’m there and most particularly my beloved elephants.
This year Kenya had had heavy rains in November thru early January, so in preparing for the trip I had to be sure to have fresh antimalarial medication as I had been told by friends there that mosquitoes were many. I usually take pills with me, but since I’ve never seen mosquitoes before I never took it. However, this time I decided I would take the medication and bug sprays and Ultrathon with DEET to use against being bitten.
Typically I arrange my own trans-Atlantic plane tickets. Then I email Southern Cross Safaris in Mombasa giving my date of arrival and departure and telling them where I want to stay and how many nights at each place. This had all been done and taken care of. Then less than a week before I was due to leave they notified me that the Holiday Inn in Nairobi had bumped me because they had a large group coming in. They wanted to put me in the Panari Hotel, but since I looked it up on TripAdvisor and gotten negative reports, I requested being booked in the House of Waine in Karen. Luckily Southern Cross was able to get me the rerservations. So all was now all set.
I got to the airport with plenty time to spare and checked in. Then I purchased a couple of books and magazines to read in Kenya and started to unwind. I honestly have to say I felt more like a foreigner in my own country than I do in Kenya!!! No-one other than the people working behind the airline desks spoke any English. It was an odd feeling.
The plane took off and I was on my way. After eating dinner I promptly feel asleep and didn’t wake until we crossed over England. Not long after, we landed in Amsterdam. I had two hours between flights so I hurried to my favorite restaurant and had breakfast and a couple cigarettes before heading to check in for the Nairobi flight. I was getting closer!! I managed to sleep most of the way to Nairobi.
Upon landing I hurried to the visa desk and was only 5th in line so I didn’t have to wait long at all. Then on to the luggage carousel. It takes forever in Nairobi for the luggage to be taken off the plane, X-rayed again and put on the carousel (why does it need to be X-ray again since it was X-rayed before being put on the plane?). It usually takes about an hour. After finding my bags I tried to look nonchalant and headed out the “nothing to declare” aisle (hoping no-one would stop me because one whole duffel was full of gifts for friends). I was met by the airport representative of Southern Cross Safaris who introduced me to my Nairobi driver. We then headed off for the House of Waine in Karen.
The House of Waine is a truly incredible place to stay. I loved it and will stay there again. It was formerly a mansion for an individual family. The current owners remodeled it and made 11 guest rooms en suite, dining areas, living room, bar, beautiful gardens, etc. If anyone is interested, you can look it up at www.houseofwaine.co.ke and look at the rooms and other things. The only thing negative to me, but it would be positive to most, is that there is no smoking at the hotel. Thus there was a second floor terrace where I could go out and have a smoke when the need arose. Usually my first night in Kenya I sleep for two hours and then am awake for the rest of the night due to jet lag and the fact that I slept almost the whole way there, so I used the terrace a few times that night.
In the morning I was driven to Wilson Airport and caught the flight to Amboseli. I was met by friends there and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was water everywhere!!! Lakes where there weren’t usually lakes!! It was beautifully lush and green everywhere you looked. I checked in to my favorite Ol Tukai Lodge and started to enjoy my holiday. Mt. Kilimanjaro was in her full glory, as clear as could be. All the small herd animals such as wildebeest and zebra had left the park for greener pastures. However, many elephants were observed on all game drives. They would come into the park in small family groups and then amass with friends and other families and proceed to where they wanted to eat and drink for the day. On several occasions in late mornings I saw a herd of about 300 elephants. On one afternoon game drive we watched over 500 elephants leave the swamp area together. It was thrilling. I was told by the elephant researchers that there had been no recent Maasai spearings of the elephants. They looked healthy and happy.
Anyone who tells you that elephants don’t have emotions and feelings is a liar. I saw it for myself over and over again. Normally on other trips during the dry season you would see the families plodding to the swamp area to eat and drink. This time they weren’t plodding. They were happily bouncing along, sometimes swaying their heads and you could see the difference in their entire attitude.
Because I like to focus on elephants, the Ol Tukai driver, Lemomo, will normally take others out at 6:30 a.m. and let them see the lions they want to see. Then he comes back to the lodge, grabs a cup of tea and takes me out alone around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. to enjoy my elephants, which he also loves. One morning we drove along the Kitirua area and found a large waterhole, we later named “the beach”. Many small family groups were there. The older elephants would be drinking peacefully. The young ones ran into the water and were swimming, diving, climbing on one another and having a marvelous time. We watched them for two full hours enjoying every minute of it. We even saw two matings happening. We returned here on other occasions and saw the young ones swimming again. I’ve never seen this type of play, enjoyment and excitement when I’ve been there in the dry season.
One evening we took the drive around Tortilis Camp and found a sight new to me. I had seen Kori bustards on many occasions, but I’ve never seen one “courting”. The male was on the top of a hill with his neck unbelievably puffed up. It remained this way for about five minutes and then went back to normal.
Because of the rains there were lakes where there weren’t usually any lakes. The entire area between Amboseli Lodge, Observation Hill, the Causeway and Airstrip Road was a lake (I’m told they called it Lake Leakey). It was full of pelicans and lesser and greater flamingoes. Just a beautiful sight. I hope that since they are dying in Lake Naivasha and Nakuru that the water will remain in Amboseli for awhile giving them a safe place to stay.
I had complained to KWS of cattle in the park in August. KWS replied that because of the drought they had to be a little understanding. However, on this trip we were again seeing hundreds of cattle in the park. Thus I have again written to KWS asking them what their excuse is this time. There is certainly plenty of food and water available everywhere for the cattle. In addition to this, with the prevalence of Rift Valley Fever in Kenya now, it is not wise to let any cattle move from one area to another. Three people had already died in Oloitokitok from Rift Valley Fever so we know it is in cattle close to the park.
Speaking of Rift Valley Fever, it was interesting to me so see how differently things went from one part of the country to another. At Amboseli no tourists ordered beef of any kind – it seemed like they couldn’t give it away. This was due to the fear of getting RVF. However, at Satao Camp in Tsavo East people were eating it normally. Though I LOVE beef,(sorry Pippa) I only ate it if it was in a stew or stroganoff where it was well cooked. Otherwise I ate pork, ham, fish, pasta, etc. Better be safe than sorry.
It would seem that the CDC’s estimate of a 1% death rate from Rift Valley Fever is way too low. While I was in Kenya 440 people had developed the disease and something like 180 had died, meaning a death rate of somewhere near 30%. It seems the government was way too slow on this one. With all the heavy rains they should have suspected this would happen, have the necessary medication on hand, and when it started immediately begin immunizing the cattle. They didn’t even move on it for at least two weeks, and didn’t have medication and had to borrow it from other countries. Very poor planning.
We also saw a number of very poor safari drivers in Amboseli speeding, driving off road which is illegal and crowding around animals. All of them were from Pollman’s safaris, and they have been reported to KWS.
I was fortunate enough to again go out with the elephant researchers while they were censusing the elephant herds, and they were able to find the famous “Echo of the Elephants” and her family for me. It was wonderful seeing her looking so well at 65 years old. I watched her two year old calf who must have been teething, because she repeatly tusked the ground as though she were trying to kill someone. I imagine the beginning of tusk growth hurts just like humans getting their teeth. I was told that there had been no recent Maasai spearings – so that is very good news for the Amboseli elephants. However, I was also told that the Maasai had recently killed nine lions, and the young moran found four tiny cubs and killed them also. A real shame, and again nothing is done about it.
We saw three large musth bulls while there, but they were staying clear of each other and not causing any problems at all. One, Tolstoi, we saw almost every day. He is a very gentle bull who normally wouldn’t hurt anyone. The young bulls were being a pain in the keister. They would be chasing, trumpeting and often times getting the entire herd stampeding. I can see why the females eventually push them out.
After a week it was time to move on. Ol Tukai had been as wonderful as always. The food was amazing. I never eat as much as I do in Kenya. The fresh fruits and veggies are better than I’ve ever had.
Normally when leaving Amboseli for Tsavo I fly to Wilson, change to JKIA, fly to Mombasa and then drive two hours into Tsavo, something that is getting harder for me to do as I get older – and a complete waste of a day. This time I decided to treat myself to a charter flight. Southern Cross Safaris has their own charter plane and I had booked this. How glad I am that I did this! Other than Kilimanjaro I assumed that most of southern Kenya was pretty flat. On taking off from Amboseli I was awestruck! The beauty of the hills, mountains, craters, green grass and trees everywhere was magnificent. I took pictures from the plane the entire way to Satao Camp.
Upon landing at the Satao airstrip I was again astounded. Normally Tsavo is very hot, dry and brown. This time everything was green with flowers, plants often taller than I, butterflies and birds everywhere. Upon crossing the bridge to camp, there was even water in the Voi River (which I had never seen in ten previous trips). After checking in to my tent and putting things away, the camp manager and I walked back out to the bridge and saw many catfish and tilapia in the river. What an unbelievable sight!
However, alas, there were no elephants at the camp waterhole in front of my tent! They had scattered and were everywhere in the park. It is interesting to me that in Amboseli the elephants continued to come to the swamp areas despite water being everywhere, and yet at Tsavo they dispersed from their normal waterhole. I don’t know the cause of this. I asked the Amboseli elephant researchers and they thought that perhaps because the elephants knew there weren’t any small herd animals, they would be getting the best grass before the zebra and wildebeest came back. The camp manager at Satao thought it was that they were probably saving the grass and water at the waterhole for when everything had totally dried up.
Because of the robbery I had in August, Southern Cross had brought in a couple walkie-talkies. I was given one and an askari had one from about 6 p.m. through 6 a.m. It worked out well. I had no real emergencies, but one night the askari was coming to pick me up for dinner and I heard the lions roaring not too far behind my tent. I called and warned him. He said they were back at the bridge and he would be OK. Then I looked out the tent window and the lion was right beside my tent! I again called him on the walkie-talkie telling him the lion was much closer than he thought and to wait. He did make it to my veranda and we stood there watching as the lion moved off toward the waterhole before we left for the dining hall. We heard them roaring all night long, and it was wonderful (as long as they don’t attempt to get into my tent)!
One of the two waterholes had a lot of reeds, and in the reeds were hundreds of tiny frogs. These frogs were suicidal. On a few occasions when one flushed the toilet a tiny frog would start swimming for his life. He them would climb up under the lip of the toilet until the next flush. The tent steward was kept busy trying to rescue all these baby frogs!
Another new thing for me was hearing a humming noise that I couldn’t identify. At first I thought it was from the high-tension power lines not too far from camp. When I mentioned it to the manager he said it was a ground hornbill. At first I enjoyed hearing it, but after about three days I was ready to strangle the bird!!
On my fifth day in camp the water in the Voi River was almost gone as were most of the fish. The marabou storks, ibis and heron had flown in to camp and spent almost all day every day that week eating the fish.
By my fifth day in camp the elephants were gradually coming back to the waterhole. Bulls at first in groups of two or three. I had elected not to go out on game drives here and just relax around camp before heading home for the stress I knew was to come. Therefore, this was probably the most relaxing part of any trip I’ve had. I just didn’t feel the need to be rushing off looking for animals. I would let people who’d never been on game drives before enjoy themselves while I rested.
However, on my last day in camp, as the manager was driving me to the airstrip in his 1960’s LandRover, I spotted an absolutely HUGE tuskless bull elephant in a waterhole. We stopped to decide it it was safe to go by him since he was very close to the road, and found him truly magnificent. He let us pass safely with no problem. We got to the airstrip and got out of the vehicle to watch for the plane arriving. Lo and behold this huge bull walked right up the hill and was heading right for us. He got close enough that I jumped back into the vehicle, not knowing for sure his intentions. Very few elephants come looking for someone! He kept approaching as the plane was getting ready to lane and I was worried perhaps he’d get angry and go after the plane. The plane landed, taxied down the airstrip, turned and headed back to our vehicle. It was then this big guy decided to move off. I’ve never seen a bull with such a huge trunk. I suppose because he has no tusks to defend himself with, he would push or slap with his trunk, thus developing muscles in the trunk that most bulls don’t have. It was great seeing him. I’ve seen many tuskless females and babies, but I’ve never seen an adult tuskless bull before. This guy was 45 – 50 years old. Having him come to see me off was the perfect end of another wonderful safari.
On arrival back in Nairobi I spent another wonderful night and a day at the House of Waine. I had a different room this time (each room is decorated differently). They offered to bring a laptop to my room so I could check my email, which I did, and deleted over 350 emails from stores I’ve done business with! On February 8th I made my usual trip to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust at Nairobi National Park. They now have 13 baby orphaned elephants in Nairobi as well as their usual wart hogs and a new rhino. The rhino is about one year old and was just found two days prior in Nairobi National Park. They don’t don’t what happened to his mother. They think he is blind and are wondering if a snake could have spit in his eyes (the reason being that had he been born blind, the mother probably would have abandoned him long ago – but this guy physically is in good shape). Thus they think he was just recently abandoned or lost. The human eye doctor was coming that night to see if he thought the blindness was permanent or was something that could be helped. This little guy is in a stable. He takes his milk bottle from the keepers just fine and enjoys having them pat his head from the “dutch door” in the stable. However, if one of the keepers goes in the stable to clean up, the poor little guy goes crazy charging everything (because he can’t see what is in there). Therefore the keepers are going around wearing shin pads to protect their legs from his horn. Let us all hope and pray he does well and that his sight can be restored. The rest of the baby elephants are doing very well.
After visiting with Daphne and Angela and dropping off a little something for them, we headed over to the Kazuri Bead Factory. I am very glad I went here. It was set up originally by Lady Susan Wood (wife of one of the founders of Kenya’s Flying Doctors Society) when she noted how many single women with children needed help. There are now 300 single women working at the factory. Before you go in to shop you are given a tour of the factory. I am so glad I did this. In the past I did ceramics so I have a basic understanding of what goes into making ceramic items. There are so many steps involved. The women were hand rolling the clay or forming shapes in molds. Some were putting holes in all the beads so they could be strung after baking. All these trays of beads go into a kiln where they are baked, then glazed, then baked again, then strung. It was very interesting to watch. After the tour I went into the shop and picked up necklaces for the ladies who had covered my job for me in my absence. The necklaces are very reasonable – about 1100 KES (roughly $14.00 - $15.00) . They sell here in the US for $80.00 and above (I suppose because of the customs and shipping charges). I will be sure to go here again and in a small way contribute to the single mothers in Kenya.
All in all, it was another wonderful, but different trip. I am already dreaming of returning again in late July/early August. Hopefully the wildlife will be doing just as well as when I saw them this time. We can only keep our fingers crossed.