Travelogue : Kenya – The Safari Experience
The African wilderness is an amazing destination for any photographer who loves nature!
The options are endless – Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, Namibia… it goes on and on! But choosing the right place and the right time is crucial in visiting these places. We should also be aware of the present day political and health issues, if any!!
This time I chose Kenya, as I have always wanted to explore The Masai Mara Reserve and witness the world famous Wildebeest migration. The idea was to cover the main areas of Kenya by road in a short time span and to obtain maximum exposure of the amazing wildlife it has to offer. Yes… It’s simply too much to ask for!!
Ookayy! Let’s get going now.
Route: Abu Dhabi – Qatar – Nairobi
Finally the day has arrived, I’m leaving for Africa! The excitement was paramount! Thursday morning, my best buddies dropped me at the Abu Dhabi airport. As it was a long weekend, the Qatar airways flight was jam packed and the outside temperature was already peaking around 40 degree Celsius. My better half (B) and her brother (Ri) joined me from Qatar. The aircraft to Nairobi was an average crap and the enjoyment value of the flight was minimal. Still the excitement kept us alive even though the expectation levels were very low.
We reached Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after a very boring 5 hour flight at 5:40 pm local time (+3 GMT). The first impression or the initial feel of Kenya, while getting out of the flight itself was astounding. As learnt from books and other articles, we had the misconception that the weather is on the hotter side in Kenya and that the country is neither really developed nor safe for travellers. But the feel of fresh air and the cool breeze on our faces were just …heavenly! Especially, when we were going from a place where the midnight temperature is around 35 degree Celsius.
As soon as we got out, we had the feel of being in India; just that it was less populated & less polluted. It was very calm and quiet inside the airport. The immigration officials were very friendly and the folk music playing inside the airport gave us a very welcoming and merry atmosphere. We finished the on-arrival visa processing and the baggage claim in no time, and exchanged some currency from the airport. We walked out of the airport by 6:30 pm, but to our surprise we couldn’t find any placard with our name on it! Soon (Ri) spotted Godfrey (The tour operator in Kenya), a very friendly & talkative guy. He was actually expecting an elderly group, but still he welcomed us with something special, the traditional tribal cloths known as Shuka & Kikoy and a handmade necklace for the lady!
We then drove to the Hotel Boulevard, where Nancy (Godfrey’s Wife) joined us at the hotel reception and gave us some dinner options for that evening. We gleefully accepted the offer and freshened up in 15 mins. Being hardcore foodies, the main concern we had while planning the Kenyan expedition was regarding the food. How is it gonna be? Is it gonna be 9 food-less days just like the Himalayas!!
First we headed to Little India/Diamond plaza, where we roamed around a little bit and had Garlic chips, Sugar cane juice and Maru Bhajia. I should say that the garlic chips were sensational. We had a long chat with this very friendly couple (Godfrey & Nancy). The dinner was at Hashmi’s, a restaurant specialized in barbeques and tandoori; and we ordered – Tangerine juice, Fish Tikka, Poussin chicken tikka, mixed grill with Lamb ribs, butter nan and Falooda. It was truly finger-licking good! A Must visit place!
After a delightful dinner, we headed back to the hotel. It was raining quiet heavily; the roads, the weather, the hotel was very similar to India. We still haven’t had that feel of being in Africa yet!
Day - 2
Nairobi – Amboseli
After a good night’s sleep, by 7am we freshened up. In half an hour’s time, we finished our ‘not so great’ breakfast and were ready for our first day in Kenya. Alex, our guide/driver for the trip was waiting for us outside.
Alex introduced himself and briefed us about the day’s plan ahead of our 260 km drive to Amboseli. He also provided us with a local sim card for our calls during the trip. The transportation was arranged on a 7 seater Toyota Van, in which the roof can be opened or lifted up while going for a game drive. Nairobi is a very busy city. We did face some traffic and took about an hour to get out of the city.
The roads in Kenya are good, especially the Motorways. But inside the national parks/reserves there is no tarmac, but tracks with stones or mud. As a result, the drive will get a bit bumpy as we drive deep into the reserve. In the dry season it will be a bit dusty. Of course the bumps are directly proportional to the condition of your Jeep/Van. Thankfully, ours was not a bone breaker. The drive was along the Motorway towards Mombasa. The scenery was beautiful, even though it was not as green as we get to see in the UK or India; it has a charm of its own.
Taking in all the scenery, we passed by some great plain fields and an extinct volcano crater. We stopped at a curio shop in Emali, before taking the main turn from the highway to the inroads of Amboseli.
At the Emali – Erimito Gate of the Amboseli National park, Alex stopped for taking the permit to enter the park. He asked us to close all the windows and not to buy anything from the local people, who were trying to sell some souvenirs, as they might try to pick something from the van. So we were like …Oh no! We closed all the windows and politely told them that we don’t need anything. After a while they lost their patience and went back to their seating positions under the bush. Alex came back and opened the roof and told us that we will do our en-route game drive from here on.
Our First Game Drive!!!! The excitement didn’t last long as we couldn’t even find a single living soul for the first 10-15 kms. Amboseli National Park is the second most popular national park in Kenya after the Masai Mara National Reserve. The park is well known for its free-ranging herds of elephants and the spectacular views of the Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. After 30 minutes of bumpy and dusty ride, we reached a swamp, which was flooded with wild life. There we saw the first of our Big 5 – The African Elephants! They were in a cute double-shade as they have just come out after a dip in the swamp.
Then we saw the second of our Big 5 – The African Buffalo! This guy was submerged… Almost!! 😀
From there on we saw a lot of life in that dried out Lake of Amboseli. The Lake dried out ages ago; hence we could see patches of salt sediments in different parts of the reserve. The reserve is at the mercy of Mt. Kilimanjaro; the only source of water for the survival of the vegetation and wildlife is from the molten ice of Mt. Kili.
You know what! : The snow on top of the Mt. Kilimanjaro will disappear soon, as 85% has already disappeared since 1912. Experience it before it disappears!
The mountain’s summits remain hidden by the clouds for most part of the day, dawn being the best time to catch a view of its snowy square head. From there, we headed straight to our camp – Sentrim Amboseli. We checked in at 1.30pm. While having our welcome drink, the locals were singing in Swahili –“Jambo Kenya.. n..a..e..a..oo..(OOops! I don’t remember this part!! J)e.. a.. Hakuna Matata”. Our room was kind of a tent setup, with tiled floor and a good toilet and shower system with hot water. Nice! 🙂 We had our lunch at 2, fish and vegetables were the order of the day!
As scheduled earlier we met Alex at 3 and headed towards the Masai village. The Amboseli territory belongs to the land of the Masai, the legendary tribe of nomad warriors and shepherds that feed on a mixture of blood, meat and milk. The Masai keep living today in the reserve surrounding the park the way they always did, grazing their herds around the plains and moving their household searching for the best pastures and water source. Along their migrations, restricted today by the encroachment of the outside world, the Masai build their settling, the enkang, using the Acacia wooden sticks and poles plastered with cow manure.
With their long and slender bodies, proud and hieratic faces, coloured clothes, shield and red-stained hair, the Maasai are a visually pleasant motif for the photographer, but for your own safety never take pictures of them without their consent. We paid 30$ p.p. to visit the village and came to know that this money will be used to educate their kids.They let me take all of these…
By 4.30 we started our Evening Game Drive… These are some of the views which we had…
The night sky was beautiful. After the dinner, we settled inside our tented room.
They were watching a movie on the laptop while I was deep inside the photos which I took that (long) day!
Day - 3
Amboseli – Nairobi – Sweet Waters!
The morning was amazing… cool fresh air, chirping birds, smiling faces, hot tea, toast, fruits and double Spanish omelette…this is what I call a GOOOOD Morning! 😀 Today we have to reach Sweet Waters for our Lunch at Serena Sweet Waters Tented Camp, which is more than 400 kms from Amboseli and it will take about 6 – 8 hrs drive. So we left Amboseli by 7:15 am. The day was basically a drive through all kinds of experiences available in Kenya – the National Parks, highways, city, traffic, people, road construction, potholes, crazy driving, beautiful weather, lots of fruit farms, mountains and wildlife.
The drive gave us an idea about the Kenyan culture and the recent developments happening because of the tourism opportunities and expansion. We reached our hotel/camp at around 2:30pm. While checking in they told us to have lunch soon, as they were waiting for us to reach and have our lunch to close the restaurant for the day. Lunch was gooood! 🙂 We were all over the place, like hyenas feasting on a wildebeest after two days of starvation. 😉 After the lunch ‘B’ went to the curio shop. Me n ‘Ri’ settled on a cosy couch in the bar lounge, which had an amazing view of the water hole next to the camp. Suddenly the weather changed and it started raining… it was amazing!
I was simply enjoying every moment of it. We also thought of playing around in the rain, but it was just the 3rd day of our trip, so we didn’t want to take any risk of falling sick. We sat there the whole evening taking in the entire nature kinda feel and had some hot tea in between.
After the rain we went back to our tent to stretch our back. The tent was a nice cozy setup, the view of the waterhole and green wilderness was breathtaking! I simply roamed around for a while and took some pics.
The fence which is supposed to keep the animals from entering the camp site wasn’t too convincing for me, so I was expecting an exciting night as I heard a lion roar not so far from the camp! ;)But unfortunately, we slept off like babies after an amazing dinner, because of the long drive we had that day!
Day - 4
Sweet Waters – Samburu
Today is the day to explore Sweetwaters and reach Samburu for lunch. After breakfast, we left the camp by 8:30 am. We did an en-route game drive to the Chimpanzee sanctuary. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is incorporated within the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered and remarkably intelligent species can be seen. It has an area of 247 acres for 42 chimps!
We then visited the Ol Pejeta Conservancy which is the Largest Black Rhino Sanctuary in East Africa. There we met Baraka, the blind Black Rhino.
We reached Samburu through the town of Isiolo. The climate in Samburu is hot and dry during the day, and cool during evenings. We took the same precautions at the gate of Samburu National reserve, while we were on the gate of Amboseli. During our en-route game drive, we were using our binoculars and straining our eyes to see some big cats. And that’s when (Ri) spotted the King of the Jungle right next to our van!
One of the Big 5! It had very less mane and was resting under the shade. And then we saw a couple of cubs! 😀 Lions are majestic, and spotting them in the wild simply multiplies our energy and excitement. Samburu Simba is a Game lodge with proper rooms just like any other hotel or resort. The rooms were really nice and cosy. As soon as we stepped out on to the balcony, we saw a Nile crocodile by the water hole a few meters away, water bucks and baboons roaming around, and elephants and giraffes at a distance. The view from the lounge and the restaurant was even better, as it was much closer to the water hole.
Samburu National Reserve is a paradise for bird lovers, with over 350 species of birds already recorded. You can enjoy a colorful assortment of birds such as Hornbills, vultures, kingfishers, marabous, bateleurs, guinea fowl, Somali ostriches and many more. The lunch was with birds all around us. They were so cute and some of them were even standing on our table.
The game reserve is renowned for its rare species of animals unique to the park, namely: the long necked gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, Somali Ostrich, reticulated giraffe and Beisa oryx (also referred to as Special Five of Samburu). We took a short nap before our game drive at 4:00 pm. That evening, we were on the quest to spot the Special five of Samburu. We spotted the Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx and Gerenuk.
Somali ostrich is larger than its southern relative the Masai ostrich. It is more easily distinguished because of its indigo legs and neck. Alex asked us to keep our eyes open for leopards, as they are known to visit these areas in the evenings. Bateleur eagle along the Ewaso Nyiro river was an added attraction of the evening game drive.
The tracks were bumpy yet exciting! We got back just before sunset and took a dip in the swimming pool. After freshening up, we had dinner and settled down in the bar lounge, taking in the moonlit scenery.
Day - 5
The day is fully dedicated to explore Samburu and Buffalo Springs National reserve. Buffalo Springs National Reserve is one of the three en-joined parks in northern Kenya separated from the Samburu National Reserve by the Ewaso Nyiro river. It is less hilly and less dense in terms of its wildlife populace than Samburu National Park but it is equally beautiful. Game drives are recommended in the early morning, much before the sun starts scorching the earth and also later in the evening before dark. We got up at 5:15 am and were ready by 6 in the morning for an early morning game drive before breakfast. By 6:15 we were inside the park to spot the remaining species of the special five unique to this reserve. The first one to be spotted was the reticulated giraffe.
Then we continued to search for the Grevy’s Zebra. But then, Alex received a message from another vehicle in that area saying that they have spotted a Leopard, by the river. Wow! We all got excited. Alex tried to track it and we ended up on the wrong side of the river. We could see some of the other safari vehicles, halted at a distance across the river. That was very disappointing. 🙁 To miss out on an opportunity to spot one of the most elusive animals in the animal kingdom was truly a bad miss! Suddenly Alex raised a question, “Do you guys mind skipping your breakfast for the leopard?”, as we had to cross the river through the bridge which is around 10 kms away and from there we will have to drive another 10 kms to reach the spot. So if we go for this option there will not be enough time to get back to the Game lodge for our breakfast. We were like – Sure thing! Let’s go for it! Leopard was more important than breakfast on that particular morning 😉
Alex asked us to sit down and hold on tight, so that he can drive faster through that rocky road. That drive was really bumpy and dangerous. But we reached the spot in time to see that magnificent cat climb up and disappear into the mountain top.Thank you Alex; for making that wonderful sight possible. It was really special. It is really hard to spot a leopard in the wild. We also saw blue necked guinea fowls roaming round the bush, on our way back to the Game lodge. To our surprise the breakfast was still on! We took our own time to indulge in a very satisfying breakfast (after sighting the Leopard) and the visual treat on offer from the restaurant deck! Time was flying! After breakfast we freshened up, took pictures, then it was time for lunch. After lunch we backed up all our photos and were lying down in the cosy chairs in the balcony overlooking the water hole and the savannah.
By 4:15 we were all ready for the evening game drive! 😀 We still had to find the Grevy’s Zebra, the last one of the Special Five of Samburu. Alex took us to the famous spot of Buffalo Springs, an oasis which is to be found on the western edge of the game reserve. From Alex we learned that it was not a natural spring, but formed by the bombing of Italians on the British troops who had a fake camp in that very spot. The British deceived the Italians to bomb there by setting up a fake camp, which killed a herd of buffaloes.
We drove further inside the reserve close to the river, and finally we found the last member of the special five unique to that area. Grevy’s Zebras are much good looking than the normal zebra with their fine stripes extending to their legs. The tracks through the reserve gave me a variety of landscape photo options. The more the merrier. The game drive was a quiet one, but we covered a lot of area that evening. We got to see a lot more landscapes of Samburu and Buffalo Springs. After a quiet drive for about 30 minutes, Alex suddenly stopped the vehicle and said ‘I lost the track of the elephant herd’, and only then we realized that he was quietly tracking a huge herd of elephants. I stood up and looked around and found a herd of elephants just across the dried out river. Alex quickly turned around the van and drove straight into the river bed which was full of rocks and mud. He took us very close to those elephants.
My Nikon was working hard to satisfy my thirst for wildlife photographs. We followed them for awhile and drove past them to take pics of the whole herd from the front. Alex used his expertise to manipulate the elephant’s movements and led them to where we wanted them to be, without bringing any kind of harm or discomfort to the whole herd. That was a proud family. They walked across that vista majestically.
Once they left, we spotted the smallest antelope – the Dik-dik. They are hardly 40cm tall and are very cute with pretty eyes. Dik-diks don’t drink water; as they are herbivores and receive sufficient amounts of water from their food for hydration, making drinking unnecessary. They are also nocturnal, so they avoid the heat of the day and any unnecessary water loss. On our way back we found the carcass of a hyena, close to an opening in the bush which seemed like a lion’s den.
The sunset gave a very African kind of hue to the sky. I tried my luck on HDR photos and took a lot of pictures in the bar lounge.
We were really happy with the place we stayed and the game drives we had in Samburu. The people were very helpful and the food was really good (multi cuisine buffet – B, L, D). We spent some quality time in the lounge after dinner; the view of the savannah was amazing. The feel good factor is the fresh air and the tranquillity of the scenery. ‘Sit there in that cozy couch in the bar lounge, relax and enjoy the view and feel the cool breeze’ – Simba Samburu, a must visit place!
Day - 6
Samburu – Lake Nakuru – Lake Naivasha
As usual, we woke up at around 5 am, all dressed up and were ready for breakfast by 6.15. After a fully loaded breakfast, we left our game-lodge at 7. Just outside the Game-lodge gate, we saw two lion cubs and a sleeping lioness. That was too close for comfort, but that’s what a true African safari is all about – Being in the wild! Today we are heading to Lake Nakuru, but the accommodation has been arranged around 100 kms further in Lake Naivasha. So we had a long day ahead of us. But we still found some time to take pics in White islands. We drove past the Aberdere forests and stopped at the equator point at Nyahururu.
There we had a water demonstration; What the demonstrator was trying to say was that – the rotation of the Earth causes water draining from a container to spin clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere – (which is known as the Coriolis effect). To see the direction of the water flow, floating match sticks are used. The fact is that the Coriolis Effect is so minimal that it cannot be demonstrated with a small container of water with floating match sticks. But still they conveyed the idea of Coriolis Effect! Some say the demonstrators are faking it, but some say it is possible. Now that you know the fact about the Coriolis Effect, do not pay for the mockers. By 11.30 am, we reached the town of Nyahururu. Nyahururu is one of Kenya’s highest towns, at 2360m above sea level. The altitude is conducive for athlete training and some of the world’s best marathon runners are from this small town of Kenya (Samuel Kamau Wanjiru is one among them). Right outside the town at the Ewaso Nyiro River, lies the Nyahururu Falls.
It falls 74m deep into the dense forest below. You can check out the falls from above (entrance fee 200 Ksh per person), and there is a trail down to the bottom of the ravine. This falls is also known as Thompson’s falls. I took some pictures from above. There were some people in traditional African costume (Kikuyu I guess) who were posing for pictures for a fee. I was really excited to see a guy with two chameleons (his pets), who let us take pictures of them for 100 Ksh (He asked for 200, but I gave him 100). The view point of the water falls is right next to the Thompson’s Falls Lodge, which has a landscaped grassy garden that adds to the ambience. From there we went straight to the Lake Nakuru National park. By 1.00 pm we reached Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge for our lunch. That was our best lunch in Kenya. Truly Awesome!! It’s hard to explain the ambience of the place or the true flavours of the food. The view from the restaurant, the wildlife around and the awesome food (Mainly grilled fish and Lamb) complimented each other perfectly. After a heavy lunch we left for Lake Nakuru. We drove through the yellow-fever acacia trees for about 15 minutes to reach the shore of Lake Nakuru. My linguistic abilities are too limited to explain the view and the feel. It’s just WOW! Please have a look;
We spent about 2-3 hours at that very spot. You simply don’t get enough of seeing those busy pelicans and the beautiful flamingos. The fresh air, huge flock of birds, buffaloes, the scenery, we could stand there all day!
After that Alex asked us to get back in the van, so that we could reach our hotel at Lake Naivasha in time. With much hesitation, we all somehow managed to get in. It took about 1 hour to reach the final destination for the day. On the way, we booked an early morning boat safari through the Lake Naivasha and a game walk through the Crescent Island, recommended by Alex. By 6pm, we reached Lake Naivasha Simba – A beautiful Game lodge right on the shore of Lake Naivasha.
We checked in, freshened up and ventured out. There were lots of water bucks roaming about inside the garden.
Then we found a footpath leading somewhere deep into the bush. The excitement took us to a point where we found this warning board. Suddenly a security guard came to us and said it is not safe to go beyond this point after 6pm. So we said we won’t go far, we just want to see the lake. He said he will accompany us to the lake. While walking through the bush, he told us about the hyenas and hippos which roam freely in that area; after which we didn’t feel really comfortable, yet we continued to move towards the lake. It would have been a big miss, if we didn’t venture out to see the lake that evening. See it for yourself. Serenity personified.
We came back and had a shower; by then it was already time for dinner – which wasn’t that great to be honest. But still we had a great day altogether. I’m getting closer to one of my dream destinations – The Masai Mara.
Day - 7
Lake Naivasha – Masai Mara
After an early breakfast, we reached the dock for the boat safari by 6:50 am. Our guide – Anthony was waiting for us with 3 life jackets. We put it on and jumped into the small speed boat.
It was quiet and the fog was still there just over the water; which gave a mysterious look to that lake. Very soon we spotted the – Hippos, they were standing and sleeping in the water. It was an interesting sight. Different hippo families can be seen as groups in different parts of the lake.
The amazing variety of bird-life around the lake is phenomenal. It was hard to right down all the names of the birds…
After a slow ride taking in the scenery for about 15 minutes, Antony stopped the boat and took a small fish, dipped and washed it in the lake water. He stood up and whistled and waved the fish in the air, in the direction of the tall trees on the lake shore. He threw it into the water not so far away from the boat. Suddenly we spotted some movement in the tree top. Yes! It was a fish eagle. He came like the wind and picked the fish in style. That was something which we don’t see every day. We made Antony throw all his fish here and there, one after the other. We really enjoyed that. If you are a photographer, go with a basket full of fish; keep some big ones too for a better shot.
After feeding all the fish eagles in that area, we headed to Cresent Island for our game walk. The island is immune from predators. So we can walk with all those wild but herbivorous animals like zebras, giraffes, antelopes, gazelles and wildebeests. We can walk very close to these animals, but it is always better to keep a safe distance from wild animals. It was a refreshing experience to be walking amongst the wild instead of sitting in the car and watching them. Most of the animals were shy and moved further when we walked closer to them. We also got to see the stunning sight of wildebeest running together gracefully through the golden brown dust.
After spending around 40 minutes on the island, we headed back to our boat and back to where Alex was waiting for us. So that was a very good morning for us. From the Marina Boat club, we left for the Masai Mara. It was about 4 hours drive from Lake Naivasha. But the last one hour drive is really bumpy as the roads are not at all good. On that road, our van broke down, but luckily we got a lift in another van with a couple – Heido and Romina. The guide/driver (John) of that van was a good friend of Alex. Alex promised to join us for the evening game drive. We were chatting all the way to Masai Mara National Reserve gate with that very friendly couple. We reached the gate of Masai Mara National Reserve at around 1.00pm. There were local people who were trying to sell things, but we kept refusing them politely. We waited for some about 30-40 minutes in front of the gate for the permits as Alex had forgotten to handover our entry permits to John. It was nice meeting them – Heido & Romina. They were dropped at Mara Sarova Game lodge and John took us to our game lodge – MARA SIMBA. On the way, the place was greener and there were lots of zebras and wildebeests everywhere.
We reached our lodge by 2.30pm. We were already late for our lunch, so we checked in and immediately had our lunch (it was good). We had to walk 10 minutes through the bush to reach our room. The room was good but the atmosphere in and around the Game lodge wasn’t as great as Samburu Simba or Lake Naivasha Simba. I don’t mean to say that it was bad, it was good but comparatively it was a bit over crowded and the ambience tends to be a bit on the darker side. By 4, Alex called us to say that he has reached and was ready for the evening game drive. That evening we had our first sighting of a cheetah and a black rhino in the wild. There were a lot of wildebeests and zebras all around.
After a 1 ½ hour drive we reached a bit of a highland. Meanwhile Alex received a message that Leopards have been spotted in that area. Alex suddenly turned the van and took a bit off-road to reach a nearby track. We followed the track uphill for about 5 minutes and we saw a van stopped further away on the same track. Suddenly I spotted one Leopard walking in the bush parallel to the track. You beauty!
Then we spotted another one, well camouflaged on a tree top. At a glance, one would never guess that such a mighty cat is resting on a tree branch like that. We got some good pics and we tried waiting for some action from the leopard but we had to head back by 6.30pm, the rules of the national park.
The wildebeest population was amazing. They were all over the grassland. We reached our game lodge by dusk. We booked our Hot air balloon safari for the next day early morning (450$ p.p. – expensive it is!!). It’s quite a long walk to our room. After our showers we went for our dinner, which was good. Masai people were performing in their traditional costumes and jumping around making wild noises. It was interesting. After a while, the security escorted us to our room. I checked out all my pics, backed up and slept off in no time.
Day - 8
We woke up and were ready by 4.15am. We went to the assembly point (the restaurant) and had tea. Edward came over to our table and introduced himself as our driver for that morning. It was still dark and cold. On our classic ride, a Land Rover Defender just for the three of us; we headed to the Hot air balloon launch site. On our way we could see hundreds of whitish yellowish glassy eyes glittering in the dark, impalas or may be zebras staring at us. After about 30 minutes drive we reached the launch site; where our Captain Mike from Alaska, briefed us about the flight and the do’s and don’ts.
Our flight basket can accommodate 16 persons, grouped into 4 on each side. We all climbed in, group by group, as instructed by the Captain. He kept up the fire for about 10 minutes and we were up! The feel of floating in the air, the tranquility was amazing. In a short while, the sun soared beyond the horizon, peeping through the thick clouds. The beauty of the Masai Mara landscape can only be absorbed entirely from a certain height, which can be obtained only on a hot air balloon.The view was stunning!
The wildebeests migrate from Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya. The migration has just begun; millions of them have already reached Masai Mara and it kept coming. We could see wildebeests all over the grass plains as far as our eyes could reach.
We saw a lot of activity down below, while floating over the one of the World’s Greatest Plains. We saw a young lioness scaring off 5 hyenas, as they were trying to snatch her kill. In a short while, the hyenas found another carcass for their satisfaction, and left the lioness alone with her kill.
The only control the captain has on the balloon is to take it up and down. The speed of the balloon is the same as the wind. So anything is possible. After a 90 minutes flight, we landed safely on a grass land.
Then we drove off a little further for our bush breakfast. We were greeted with champagne, to celebrate our survival!!
The Bush Breakfast was also interesting, having food in the middle of nowhere and being a part of the food chain. What if a hungry lion or a leopard comes that way? Definitely we can’t out run or hide. We received the Certificate of Balloon Safari from Mike (the captain/pilot). The sunrise, the landscape, the wildlife, the cool breeze, the fresh air and the other coloured balloons in the air – The hot air balloon ride was a wonderful experience. We left for our lodge by 8.45. It was supposed to be a 1 hour drive, but we saw a lot of animals on the way and it took a bit longer (2 ½ hours). Edward took us to the Mara River. We saw some crocs and a hippo on the shore. We also saw topis, dik-diks, impalas, wildebeests, zebras, marabou stork, elephants and buffalos.
We went quiet close to the buffaloes; Edward was willing to take us even closer, but then I said – Lemme use my zoom lens dude, I don’t wanna change my lens now 😉
We saw one young wildebeest running along with one car. Edward said that the lone calf is trying to escape from the lions, by running along the safari vehicle. After a short drive we saw a lion and a lioness. Our first lion with proper mane – The Hunk! They were sleeping, but we waited there for a while hoping for some action.
Bee climbed on to the roof of the land rover for me to take a good photo with the lions in the background; suddenly the sleepy lioness’s eyes lit up and stared at her on the rooftop. So she climbed down and took video of the lions. The lion & lioness walked closer to our car and they started to mate. After a couple of minutes, the lioness walked further into the bush and the lion followed her.
So we left from there and on our way we saw two cheetahs, sleeping under a tree along the roadside. They did peep occasionally and went back to rest. We waited there for some time, hoping for them to wake up and go hunting. But they said – not today!! We reached the lodge by around 11. Alex was already waiting for us for a full day game drive, with packed lunch. We freshened up and set off by 11.30.
It was quite warm by now. We went searching for the same cheetahs, but couldn’t find them. After a while we saw lions – 5 of them. Two of them were lazing under the shade and three of them were in the bush. We stopped there to have lunch with the lions. The lions continued to laze around so we left in search of something more active and hoping to see a kill.
At around 2, we spotted seven cheetahs sleeping under a tree. It was a sight, to see seven of them together. Right next to them was a brown Land cruiser. We wanted to go close to the cheetahs too, but then we were told that we don’t have the permission to go off-road. The land cruiser had researchers for a cheetah project and they had special permission. We waited for an hour at that very spot hoping to see some action. Alex slept off in between. By 3, we went in search for more cats.
Shortly we saw a lonely lion, a handsome one, but had some bruises on his body. It had that powerful look on its face. We were admiring the muscular body and beauty of that nomad. He was walking and we followed him.
It was quite a sight to see a few grazing zebras, suddenly stand close to each other on high alert, watching this lion pass by.
But this lonely beast was in its own world. He stopped at the water hole to take a sip and settled inside the bush nearby. So we headed back to check if the 7 cheetahs had woken up. They were still lazing. We waited for another 20 minutes and decided it is better to leave –The Cheater Cheetahs!! We went to explore more of Masai Mara. On our way we saw Jackals, very small animals. Shortly we experienced the real migration again. Zebras and Wildebeests were coming down the hill from Tanzania, in a straight line to join a huge herd below the hill. It was a stunning sight to see these animals like black dots running down the hill in huge numbers. We were told that the zebras lead the migration and the wildebeests follow, and that they all walk together so that they’re not chosen as an easy prey by the cats. We waited there for a while admiring and clicking.
We then went in search of snakes and leopards. This time Alex took us along more remote rocky hills. Snakes are hard to find and we didn’t see any leopards either.
By 5.30 we went out of the national park to exchange some currency. Upon reaching the hotel, we freshened up and left for our dinner. We were famished, as we didn’t have proper breakfast or lunch that day. We ate well; spend some good time in the restaurant. We paid for Wi-Fi at the hotel but the service was bad. We ended up using the internet service available on the local sim with the iphone to check in for our flights.
Day - 9
Masai Mara – Nairobi – Doha – Abu Dhabi
By 7, we finished our breakfast and left the lodge. On the way we stopped at the Great Rift Valley view point. The view wasn’t very clear but we spent some time there and also in the curio shop nearby. We bought some souvenirs made of soap stone for our family and friends. Meanwhile Nancy asked us about our lunch plans; we didn’t wanna take any risk at all and so we settled for Hashmi’s. She agreed to meet us there for lunch. We met her at Nakumatt at 1.30pm and had some awesome mixed grill @ Hashmi’s.
We finished at 2.30 and Alex dropped all of us at Masai Market in Nairobi. Very nice place to buy souvenirs at a cheaper price ofcourse! Nancy had this gifted talent of bargaining. She helped us buy a big African map box made of soap stone for 300ksh, which we had bought from another Curio shop for 1500ksh. And it went on and in the end; we ended up buying 30kgs of souvenirs. Yup!! Too much!
We told our goodbyes and left for the airport. We reached there by 4.30 and had more than 2 hours left for the flight. Everything went smoothly in the airport and we were in the boarding room in no time. It was a bit warm inside the airport and I started sweating for the first time in 9 days. We were then called to board the flight. We stepped out and it’s hard to explain the feeling of being out in the nature in Kenya. It was such a relief, the cool breeze was pampering us. ‘We are gonna miss this climate!’ – told each other. The flight was the same, but the atmosphere inside the flight was much better because of the awesome climate outside! It was time for me to rewind all the 9 special days of my life. I think the best was kept to the last in this trip for us. Till Samburu, it was kinda very normal trip, but after that it just got better and better.
Let me wind up with some final glimpses of the amazing great plains of Masai Mara Reserve.
Samburu, Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha and Masai Mara were simply and truly awesome. If you are thinking of visiting Kenya, never miss out on these 4 places. You have a lot more to do in Kenya. There are a lot of trekking trails in Kenya for the hikers. We even met some guys who were preparing for the past couple of weeks for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Mt Kenya is also a favourite destination for hikers. If you need a bit of sun and beach, you can always add Mombasa or Zanzibar to your itinerary.
The Kenya safari experience was entirely different from our last trip to the Himalayas. From a photographer’s point of view, this trip was phenomenal. The pain of carrying huge lenses and patience has paid off, I guess!! For Himalayas we can do everything with a normal zoom and a wide angle lens. But for African wildlife we should put our hands deep into our pockets and get some good performance tele-zoom lenses.
In Kenya, if you are thinking of souvenirs, think of buying them from Masai market. Do not fall for the drivers who take us to some curio shops on the way to different national parks as they receive commission for each customer; and these curio shops will rob us by tagging huge prices for each and every single piece of souvenir. Kenya is also the same as any other country; our safety is in our own hands. It is not advised to walk around at night alone.
It’s always good to choose 4* or 5* hotels or game lodges for our own safety. We chose a mix of 4* & 5* lodges and we enjoyed all of them. It was something we didn’t expected while travelling to Kenya. We had these misconceptions that it is hard to find good safe drinking or bathing water in Kenya and the tourists use only bottled water for bathing purposes. These were some of the ridiculous things that we had read about Kenya. There is nothing like that.
The water in these lodges are safe and bottled drinking water is available in every good supermarkets. It is strongly recommended to carry lots of bottled drinking water while on a Game-drive or safari and not to use tap water.
These are the few things you should consider while travelling to Kenya. The rest, you can imagine from my experience I’ve tried putting into words.
All I can say now is that, God willing I’m definitely going back there again!! 🙂