Thursday, July 24, 2014

African Adventure: Kenya - Nairobi And The Maasai Mara

June 16th

2014-06-16_Kenya_001We must have been tired from our stay in Morocco as we ended up sleeping some thirteen hours.  The news in Kenya was all about the terrorist attacks in northeastern Kenya.  We had the day free and we decided to stay on the hotel compound.

The Wife is a big "Out of Africa" fan so she was stoked that we were in the Lord Delamere wing.

We ate lunch, swam in the pool, and the Wife got a facial (The person who gave the facial did not wear gloves and the Wife said it felt wonderful ... like unprotected sex).

The weather in Nairobi was near perfect - sunny in the 70s.  You wouldn't know it by how the Kenyans were dressed.  Most of them were in heavy coats, hats, and gloves.  We were in shorts and t-shirts.

That night something caught up with the Wife.  She became sick as a dog for most of the night.  Fortunately it didn't last long and she felt better in the morning.  I suspect the British Airways sandwich.

June 17th

Today the tour/safari officially started.  We met the couple who we would be travelling with for the next ten days - a very nice couple from Pittsburgh (Ls and Gg).

We were picked up my our guide and driver and headed first to the Giraffe Center for our up close encounter with the endangered Rothschild Giraffe.  While these were technically wild giraffes, the fact that you could hand feed them took away from the wildness.
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A baby elephant.
After the Giraffes we stopped at a center that raises orphaned elephants.  All baby animals are cute but elephants have that stumbly way of walking that is so endearing.  We watched as they were bottle fed by their minders who are with them twenty-four hours even sleeping in the same elephant stable.

After watching them feed the elephants it was time for us to feed ourselves.  We were taken to The Carnivore restaurant.  We were brought a diverse selection of sauces to dip the meat in and then came the flood of meat of all types.  The meats varied from the common (chicken, beef, pork) to the less common (ostrich, crocodile).  They kept dropping off small servings of each onto your plate from a long barbecue skewer. If you got overwhelmed you could tip over the small sign signifying you needed a break.  The only non-meat product served was soup and a baked potato.  We finished it off with a dish of non-meat ice cream.

From there we headed to the airport to catch our bush plane to the Maasai Mara.  Unfortunately the Wife and I hadn't been informed of the weight restrictions on the bush planes.  While we were below the 50 lb (23 kg) per bag limit of most flights, the bush plane limited us to 33 lb (15 kg) per bag.  Fortunately we always carry small duffels to carry extra souvenirs.  We packed a couple of days worth in the duffels and left our big bags locked up at the airport.

The 12 seater bush plane was fairly small but the flight was not long and we had a chance to see the Kenyan countryside before we landed on the dirt airstrip.  We stretched out legs and looked at the tiny shop while we waited for the next plane that was bringing two more people who would be riding with us to the lodge and would be with us on our Safari drives.  That was all there was at the airstrip - bathrooms and a shop.  The guys,Ol and Gt, arrived on the next flight and were awesome guys who made the next few days even better.
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A yawning hippopotamus.
Once we were all together we got into the custom stretch Toyota Land Cruisers, the norm for the stylish safari drive, and we did a two to three hour safari drive on the way to the lodge.  It was amazing how many types of animals we saw on this first drive: hippopotamus, elephant, cheetah, ostrich, warthogs, jackal, and the ubiquitous herds of impala, thomson gazelle, zebra, and wildebeest.  The one thing about the Maasai Mara reserve is that drivers are allowed to drive off road and you can get right up close to the animals.
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To cheetah at the base of an acacia tree.
The lodge was beautiful.  The rooms were permanent tents i.e. canvas walls on a permanent floor.  They had electricity, hot water, and bathrooms better than most hotels.  I wouldn't even call this glamping (Glamour Camping) - too nice and not mobile.  The main lodge had a huge fireplace, a large screen TV to watch the world cup on, and a very nice restaurant.  There was also a pool that we did not use.  The whole thing was built along the Mara river where we could hear hippos grunting (The Wife accused me of snoring loudly until she realized it was hippos making the noise).
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I loved the acacia trees.  They are so cool looking.
June 18th
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Inflating our hot air balloon.
Today was an early start ... really early.  We got up at 3:15 AM to catch our ride to the launching point of our hot air balloon ride.  The drive was about two hours and totally in the dark.  We were amazed that our driver could navigate the dirt paths where there was absolutely no signs pointing the way.
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Sunrise from the hot air balloon.
We arrived, met our balloon pilot, and watched as the hot air balloons were inflated.  There were two balloons with large baskets that would easily hold twelve people plus the pilot.  Once the balloon was filled we climbed into the basket and away we went.  The sun was rising and it was near perfect weather.
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Hippopotamus wallowing in the Mara river.
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Our shadow.
An excited exclamation point which mirrors how I felt.
The balloon safari was different from what I'd expected.  The burner was not run as often as I thought they would be.  When the burner wasn't lit it was quiet and peaceful.  We also flew lower than I thought possible.  Over the savanna we flew some ten to twenty feet over the grass giving us an up close and personal view of the zebra and wildebeest.  We say hyena, hippopotamus, and gazelle.  We skimmed the tops of the trees and saw monkey, giraffe, and elephant among the trees.  It was amazing.

When it was time to land the pilot looked for a dry spot.  It had rained the night before and the land was swampy with almost an inch of standing water.  The balloon slowly descended.  We assumed landing positions (sitting on the benches in the basket holding onto straps) and prepared for the bumpy landing.  The landing was just like our pilot had described it before we launched.  The basket bounced and hopped a few times until we stopped.  We were going to congratulate the pilot for an awesome landing until the basket slowly ... very slowly ... tipped over onto its side.  The roll over was so gentle we didn't even splash in the watery mud - I was expecting a mud shampoo.  We all laughed a bit before we carefully climbed out of the basket.

Jeeps picked us up and took us to a long table set up along the Mara river. The table was dolled up with fancy linen and silverware and we all enjoyed a champagne breakfast.
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A cape buffalo with riders.
After breakfast we got back in the jeeps and had a nice three hour safari drive back to our lodge.  On the way we saw a huge herd of elephants with babies, giraffes, and baboons.
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Elephants as far as the eye could see.  The green mound is a termite mound - they were everywhere.
At the lodge we ate lunch and had a nap before going out for our late afternoon safari drive.  That would be the pattern at all the places we went - a morning safari drive, a break over lunch, and an afternoon safari drive before dinner.  We rejoined Ol and Gt, who we'd met the day before (and were not on the balloon safari with us), and went out on out afternoon drive.  Ol and Ghad seen two leopards mating on their morning safari drive.  Our driver tried to find more so that we could see them but had no luck.  We did see other animals, of course.
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A large elephant.
We saw a couple of white rhinoceros.  The rhinoceros horns are often poached and these two rhinoceros were followed by three armed guards who stayed with them all day.  They were herded into a pen at night for their protection.  (The white rhinoceros are fairly non-aggressive but the black are very aggressive and cannot be herded/guarded like the white rhinoceros.)  Sad that the guards are need.
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A white rhinoceros who was accompanied by three armed guards for its protection.
Late on that day we found a pride of lions.  We stopped and watched them with a few other jeeps.  The animals were so used to the jeeps that they walked among the jeeps and really didn't care we were there.  I got an awesome picture of two cubs nursing less than twenty feet from out jeep.  We also witnessed a lion greeting.  A lone lion come over a hill.  The pride perked up and watched the stranger approach.  When she got close enough the pride recognized her as one of their own and they all went over to greet her and welcome her back.  It was a wonderful thing to see.  The pride was mostly female with one juvenile male with just the start of a mane.
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Cubs nursing so very close to out jeep.
There were four jeeps there and we all got a great view of the lions ... except for one teenage girl.  She must have been fighting with her parents since, while everyone was standing up and looking at the lions through the open tops of the jeeps, she was sitting down, ear buds in her ears, with her back to the lions.  Someday she may realize just what she missed.
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Loved the giraffes.
That night we had dinner (we being the Wife and I and our tour mates from Pittsburgh) with Ol and Gt.  They were great guys.  They made our experience in the Maasai Mara a better one with their conversation and humor.   Too bad we would be saying good bye to them the next day.

June 19th
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Impala.
We checked out of the lodge early in the morning and had one more safari drive on the way to the airport.  We still didn't see any leopards but we did see African Wild Dogs which are rare for this area of Kenya.  While Ol and Gt managed to see the big five in twenty-four hours, we only managed to see four.  The big five are the five animals most sought after by hunters: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and cape buffalo.
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African Wild Dog.
At the airport we headed to the next chapter of our safari.

A sampling of the pictures of Nairobi and the Maasai Mara can be found in my Kenya 2014 Flickr album.

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