Kenya Nairobi National Park, January 2016, part 1
Paul and I leave for Kenya tomorrow, (January 10th) and a quick explanation how this trip came about is warranted. Two months ago, Paul and I were picking up a stock trailer for the ranch in Waterville, Ks. It just happened that the owners had recently returned from Kenya and they had their photos of the safari looping on their computer. Needless to say an enthusiastic exchange took place between the four of us on the wonders of Africa, while enjoying the wonderful photos the couple had taken during their adventure in Kenya.
As we are driving home with the Titan trailer in tow, Paul asks what I think about returning to Africa. I ask when and Paul replies in January after which I incredulously ask, this coming January? When the answer is yes, I point out to my husband that January is only 2 months away and ask him how in the world you put a trip together in that short time span? Well, it seems Paul has been extensively researching safaris in Kenya through Safari talk and Trip advisor for some time now and knows where he wants to go. He just needs to find someone to put the safari together for us. Paul spends a lot of time reading trip reports on the Safari Talk website, but I had no idea that all those evenings when he was browsing the site he was actually doing research for a safari to Kenya! After our encounter with the elated safarists, Paul said he figured it was a great time to tell me of his plans! I am still a bit skeptical on the time constraints but also because we have another international trip already booked for August. However, it doesn’t take me long to reply “Sure, why not”.
We have always gone to Africa with Cowabunga safaris and Brian, so the idea of using another company feels a bit like a betrayal to our friend and safari leader. Paul calls Mzungu Mrefu (Brian) who immediately gives us his blessing, we knew he would, but it still feels strange going to Africa without Brian leading us. Paul contacts four different companies that people on safari talk have used and gives them the information about the area of Kenya he wants to travel to. In the end, Expert Africa, based in the UK, is the company we use due to their promptness in replying to us, meeting our budget and coming up with the best itinerary that took us into the conservancies that Paul was interested in. Thanks Ellie.
So there you have it, Paul and I leave for Kenya tomorrow and now all we have to do is hope that the wintry weather that is causing some problems at the Chicago airport today will be sorted out by tomorrow evening!
It is with relief that our flight is good to go on this cold Kansas morning (4 degrees, brr), and we arrive at KCI three hours before departure. Another first for us is that we are not checking through any luggage, we are carrying everything on the plane! We have marveled at other fellow safarists that have managed with only carry-on luggage on past safaris. We decided to try it ourselves partly due to the fact that we arrive in Nairobi late in the evening and how nice it will be not to wait and worry about checked luggage.
Our flight arrives in Chicago on time and we board our plane for London on time. We land in London as scheduled and board our plane for Nairobi as scheduled. What a relief this is because to me the most stressful part of a trip is wondering if all your flights will go smoothly. We arrive in Nairobi about 9 p.m.; get loaded like sardines on a bus that takes us to the arrivals area. We stand in line to get our visa for an hour, hand over our 50 dollars per person for that visa, and since we have no luggage to wait for we head for the exit. How great it is to see a smiling man holding a sign with our name on it!
We follow Dennis out into the street that is congested with people and cars. We end up waiting a long time for the car to arrive as the driver is stuck in the jam of autos trying to reach their customers that have disembarked from planes. Our transportation finally arrives and we are on our way to Nairobi tented camp that is situated inside Nairobi National Park. The park is literally on the outskirts of Nairobi.
On the short drive to the park, Dennis grills us on American politics, particularly all the candidates running for president. Honestly the man knows more about the candidates than I would guess 90% of Americans do! At the gates of Nairobi National Park, Andrew is waiting to take us on to Nairobi tented camp. We haven’t driven far on the dirt road when a pair of eyes is shining quite a ways ahead of us. I exclaim that it looks like a cat, and Andrew confirms that the fleeting shape crossing the road is a leopard. Wow, a great start to our African adventure. A big hyena is easily seen in the glare of the headlights, as it dashes off the road into the ditch and then disappears into the darkness.
When we arrive at the camp around midnight, the staff is waiting to greet us with the drinks and hot face towels that is a tradition in Africa. What we weren’t expecting is that they have a meal prepared for us, which Paul and I politely turn down while apologizing profusely for their trouble and for wasting the food. Still, we aren’t hungry and it is way too late to eat. All we want is a shower and to go to bed! We sleep well once we get over the blood curdling scream of some unknown creature just as we are going to bed. Since the screeching call is answered by a fellow screamer, we know that even though it sounds like some poor creature is in the throes of death this isn’t the case.
The next morning we are up early and a young man calls good morning from outside the tent. He brings in a tray containing tea and a few cookies when we unzip the tent door for him. Andrew is taking us on a game drive this morning along with three men from California. We leave camp in predawn light anxious to see what Nairobi National Park has to offer.
As we drive over the rough, red, dirt track, all of us spy the tiny animal that ducks into the grass next to the road. What was that? Although not much larger than the African hares it definitely wasn’t a rabbit. Andrew informs us that it is a Sunni, one of the smallest antelope in Africa and seldom seen. That is a new mammal for Paul and me so our safari drive is off to a good start.
As we continue driving through the park we come upon three black Rhinoceros, a mother, a baby and a big male. Andrew points out that Black Rhino are normally solitary but lately they have been seeing family groups like this one. The trio isn’t excited about having an audience so they amble off into the grassy plains. What a treat to see Rhino again! The armor-plated appearing beasts have been decimated by trophy hunters in the past and poachers in the present and they are literally teetering on the edge of extinction.
As Andrew drives us through the park we visit with the California men and learn that they have come to Nairobi national park for a little down time after having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. They were all very positive about the adventure which took them a week. The men did say that it was so cold at the peak, (-40 I think) that the hoods of their parkas froze solid and they couldn’t budge them, all they could do was wait for their hoods to thaw when they moved down the mountain! The fact that they made it to the top seemed to alleviate the misery of the freezing weather.
As we slowly drive through this grass filled land we see giraffe, three are lying down, which Paul and I in all our African safaris have rarely seen. There are Cape Buffalos; heads held high peering in our direction, narrow headed Koch’s Hartebeest in large numbers, impalas, zebra, and a group of four White Rhinoceros, all of which are recumbent alongside of the road. Unlike the Black Rhino these huge mammals have no fear of their human admirers and show no signs that they will even rise to their feet. There are birds galore but Andrew warned us last night while quizzing us on what we hoped to see here (our answer, “everything”), that our three companions have little interest in birds so we make sure that we don’t linger for long with the avian life. We will have an afternoon game drive on our own so we can take our time with the birds then. When we spy a Kori Bustard though, even the mountain climbers admire the strutting, puffy necked bird.
Andrew has a conversation with the driver of another safari vehicle and soon we are heading off in what seems to be a specific destination in mind. As we drive near a picturesque water hole and up an incline we soon see why Andrew is taking us here. Lions! Eight members of the Kingfisher Pride, three lioness and five half-grown cubs are sprawled out over the rocky ground. The lion’s stomachs appear to be full so very likely the satisfied felines are settled in for the day. For twenty minutes or so we have the Kingfisher Pride to ourselves as we snap photos of them sleeping, yawning, staring back at us, or occasionally standing up to walk a few steps before collapsing back down on the rough bed they have chosen. The light is not good as it is cloudy and we have even had a few sprinkles of rain but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the company of these magnificent animals. Eventually another vehicle arrives and soon we leave the premise to allow these safarists to enjoy the pride in solitude as we did.
On our way back to camp the four white rhino are on their feet and grazing. We spend some time watching the huge square mouths of the rhinos vacuuming up the lush green grass as the faint outline of a Nairobi high-rise can be seen as a backdrop. We also drive through a mixed group of Koch’s hartebeest, zebra and a lone ostrich.
We arrive back in camp more than ready for our breakfast. There is fruit, a variety of cereal, tea, and fruit juices laid out buffet style. After helping ourselves to this fare, we then order eggs, both of us order scrambled, which comes with bacon, sausage and toast. Paul and I both eat with gusto while visiting with the California trio and another couple from Australia. At one point during breakfast the screaming mystery critter lets loose with its ear-splitting yell and we inquire of the other diners if they know what in the world that animal is! They inform us that it is a tree hyrax, a small animal with a big voice. The man who is waiting on us says that this evening, between nine and ten o’clock the night air will be inundated with the tree hyraxes calls. For some reason they don’t scream too much after that time frame. Well that is something to be thankful for anyway.
The California men are leaving for the airport after breakfast, returning to California, so we bid them goodbye and they wish us a great safari. The Australian couple is leaving too, so Paul and I will have the camp to ourselves this afternoon and evening. We return to our tent for a brief time before we leave for a visit to The Elephant Orphanage
We arrive at the orphanage just before eleven; ( it is located within the park), along with a myriad of other visitors from tourists to native Kenyans, which includes lots of families. Everyone lines up to wait for the gates to open and we file in, handing over the entry fee which I believe is the equivalent of five U.S. dollars. We visitors follow an employee and we walk through a cluster of buildings which I suppose are offices and housing for the help. Soon we arrive in an open area where a single rope cordons off a large circle where the baby elephants will soon make an appearance. In this elephant arena is a couple of man-made water holes, freshly cut tree branches, a soccer ball, and a wheelbarrow piled high with milk bottles.
Soon the crowd of people, including us, sees a man in a blue-green coat walking towards us with a line of young elephants following him like he is the pied piper. Most of these elephants are under a year old (I think) but they are still good-sized. The cute rascals have been having great fun playing in the brick colored dirt because they tend to be more red than gray!
The handlers bring the elephants in small groups because it would be mayhem to try to feed all of this age group at the same time. Once the first ones are fed, another group is on its way. It is no different from bottle feeding a calf; the elephants greedily and noisily guzzle down the bottled milk given to them by the keepers. I must say that some of the little guys seem to spill a good portion of their milk out the side of their mouths onto the ground. All the while this is going on there is a man speaking over a microphone talking about each elephant and giving facts on the workers. The keepers literally stay with their assigned elephants through the night and feed them every three hours. That is dedication. The microphone man also relates how the orphans came to be here and I would say that the majority fell into “wells” often natural wells, not man-made ones, and then they could not get out and were left behind. One was swept away in flood waters and found on the river bank; one whose front leg is grotesquely swollen was rescued from a snare trap.
The smallest and youngest elephant in this group is full of beans and once it has finished nursing seems to go looking for trouble. It pretends to charge some of the handlers, kicks around the soccer ball, splashes in the water, attempts to go under the rope into the crowd, all to the delight of the audience. Occasionally an elephant misbehaves, trying to take over another elephants bottle, or getting physical with a group mate and one of the green-coated men will walk over and shake their finger in the misbehaving elephants face. Amazingly, this digit admonishment is all it takes for the miscreant to straighten up!
Once everyone in this group is fed and the history of them recounted they are led away and an older group is brought into the arena. These orphans are much bigger, some already growing tusks. This group can hold their own bottles and they are given two bottles of milk each. I would estimate most of them suck down both bottles in a minute or two! Again the history of each elephant is given and we are told how eventually they will be introduced back into the wild with some of their group mates. It seems they tend to form groups over time at the orphanage and this basically substitutes for the family group that they have lost. It appears that the reintroduction is working and I admire the time, effort and dedication that the staff have for this work.
As we leave the orphanage we come upon a man who is patrolling the edge of the brushy roadside with a slingshot. Andrew has a brief conversation with him which makes Andrew laugh heartily. It seems his friend left a window or door open in his house and a troop of baboons invaded his house and trashed it! Good grief. We haven’t driven far from the slingshot toting man when Andrew spots a second sunni hiding in the bushes. I manage to get a photo that at least shows some parts of the little antelope although the delicate animal is obscured to some degree by twigs and limbs.
After lunch, Paul and I retire to our tent and take a much-needed nap. We really have hit the ground running and after such a short night of sleep we are feeling the effects. Feeling refreshed by late afternoon, we climb into the open top vehicle and begin our second game drive. Andrew has an amazing eye and we make up for not stopping to look at birds this morning. Andrew points out fire finch, red-cheeked cordon bleu, a beautiful pintailed whydah, kites, herons, crakes, plovers, and so much more. We watch a White-winged widowbird busy weaving its nest on the stalks of tall grass that grows along the edge of a small lake. It is amazing what this bird can do using its thick bill which is easily compared to a human pulling thread and needle through a cloth. In the background is a sacred ibis rookery that is in an uproar because an African fish eagle is perched right in the middle of the ibis’ nesting area, obviously looking for an easy meal.
Andrew drives us to a small pond where hippo can be seen sometimes but they are absent today. There is a large crocodile sunning himself at the pools edge and by the looks of his abdomen the grinning reptile has had a sizeable meal lately. A yellow billed stork is pecking around on a small fish that is lying on the ground but seems unable or unwilling to eat the fish. Andrew identifies the fish as a tilapia. Occasionally a sacred ibis pecks at the lifeless fish only to be chased away by the stork.
As we wend our way through the park admiring the flora and fauna, we come upon an old male black rhino. The big fellow crosses the road in front of us and walks calmly on his way. Andrew stops the vehicle so we can take some photos of our fourth black rhino of the day! The elderly rhino has stopped a short distance away and has turned to face us. As the rhino stares at us he suddenly gives a snort and begins running at us, his head down! I guess Andrew knew it was a mock charge as he doesn’t drive off. The cantankerous rhino stops short of the Cruiser but it takes a while for my heart to stop galloping! I do gather myself to take a photo of the beast staring in my window. Black Rhinos are known for their short tempers by the way.
As we leave the old stinker behind, we come upon a much more tranquil scene. Several giraffes can be seen on the horizon as the sun is sinking low in the Kenyan sky. Their graceful serenity is a welcome sight after the encounter with the rhino.
Andrew drives back to where the lions were resting this morning to see if they are still there. They certainly are although they have managed to walk a few yards from their rock bed this morning and are sleeping in the grass now. The golden glow of the late day sun beautifully lights up the lions which makes for lovely photos. At one point all of the lions become very alert and stare off in the same direction. No matter how hard we try, we cannot see what has caught the Prides attention. Andrew surmises that the males of this pride could be close by and this is what the pride is looking at.
Andrew drives towards camp and he keeps us enthralled with stories of his youth growing up in the Masai culture. It is nearly dusk when Paul spots a serval cat sitting in the road. No way. The beautiful cat seems willing to sit for us but by the time I get my camera out of the case, set it for low light conditions, slowly stand up to take a photo, the small cat scrambles into the tall grass. Blast it; all I get a photo of are some spots among the stalks of grass. Oh well, what a great way to end our day in the park.
Andrew delivers us back to camp and we thank him profusely for a wonderful and enjoyable day. One member of the staff brings us hot water for our bucket shower. Feeling refreshed we wait for our escort to arrive to take us to the mess tent for supper. We are served a stuffed chicken breast, a delicious potato dish, and vegetables.
Clements the camp manager, a young woman, has received the info on our flight to Meru tomorrow. We must be there at 9:15 and because of traffic gridlock in Nairobi during morning rush-hour, we need to leave the camp by 6 a.m. We are flying out of Wilson airport which is only 5 km away! We are escorted back to our tent as the tree hyraxes are in full chorus. Good heavens, if the critters kept up that noise all night I don’t know how you could ever get any sleep. Once Paul and I fall into bed the night has become relatively still. I don’t know about Paul but I am still smiling as my head hits the pillow.
Coming soon (hopefully) Meru. Nancy