East Africa Day 6 – The Ark

As it was a 07:00 departure it was necessary to get up at 05:55 to have time to finish packing. However even though we were told breakfast was from 06:00 when we got to the dining area we were then told it’d be another 30 minutes. By the time the breakfast was ready it had gone from being dark out to being daylight. We were then on the road more or less on time, though not quite due to the late breakfast.

At the Equator – Nanyuki

On the drive from Samburu to Aberdares we went back the way we had come a few days before. This time however we stopped at the equator where we saw them demonstrate the Coriolis effect on water in both hemispheres and on the equatorial line. We were then expected to look around shops for the second time that morning. I didn’t buy anything though as they were far too pushy – they kept interrupting our guide who was telling us about the equator so that they could try and sell us things. At the first stop prior to this we were there for an excessive 40 minutes, left to wander around the shop.

We got to Aberdares Country Club at approximately 12:00, and after checking in there for the Ark we waited for lunch. We had to leave our suitcases behind at the Country Club as you can’t take much to the Ark. This meant taking my camera bag and trying to take my wash bag along with it.

Lunch was around 13:00 and was followed by another short wait before getting onto a larger bus for a 40 minute drive. Once in Aberdares National Park we saw a Colobus (Mounted Guezira), more warthogs, and a couple of African Cape Buffaloes. The bus stopped at the top of some stairs that led down to some boardwalks.

African Cape Buffalo

Before venturing down onto the boardwalks we first had to have a briefing of what would happen and were then led down to the Ark where we were shown to our rooms. My room was probably one the best located ones as it was on the top floor and overlooked the drinking pool from two windows.

The Ark

Around the pool there were small African Elephants (which the guide incorrectly identified as forest elephants – but you don’t get them in this part of Kenya), many buffaloes, herons, coots, a waterbuck, and warthogs. You could also view these from various viewing balconies on each floor, and from a hide at ground level.

To improve the number of animals drinking at the pool they also scatter salt on the ground, supplementing what was already there. If there are any sightings there is the option to be alerted via a buzzer in the rooms. The more buzzes there are, the rarer the animal being sighted, or there is a sign of an impending kill.

Hartlaub’s Turaco (Tauraco hartlaubi)

Next on the itinerary was a bird watching session from the boardwalk. On this we saw numerous species of bird inclusive of a rare Hartlaub’s Turaco, a bush baby, an African Ground squirrel, and snipes. This left just enough time for a shower before the talk about Aberdares National Park. This time I was able to get some warm water unlike the previous two places.

Bush baby

As with previous days the evening meal was at 19:30. I had Italian Minestrone Soup, pasta, and mango strudel. It was a very nice meal, and one of the most enjoyable of the trip to date. Whilst waiting for the soup to arrived we saw a white tailed mongoose. After we’d eaten there were then bush babies and these cat like creatures on the fire escape outside.

Sunset at the Ark

I was then in the hide until about 22:45 watching hyenas, and a large number of elephants arriving. The arrival of the ten or more hyenas caused the bushbucks to leave the area fast as well. As we were told we’d be woken for any sightings I decided to go bed.

East Africa Day 5 – Samburu

Getting up at 06:00 was surprisingly okay; we were hopeful that we’d see a big cat in the morning’s drive as we’d not seen one the day before. Before the game drive they once again served tea and coffee – fuel to keep people going until breakfast was served after the drive. Almost immediately once out of the gate we saw more elephants, though that was all we saw throughout the drive apart from a solitary giraffe, a silver-backed jackal, and a kite. Our driver had hoped to find us a leopard and for a while was following lioness tracks, but alas neither could be found.

Almost immediately once out of the gate we saw more elephants, though that was all we saw throughout the drive apart from a solitary giraffe, a silver-backed jackal, and a kite. Our driver had hoped to find us a leopard and for a while was following lioness tracks, but alas neither could be found.

Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) with a baby

Unlike previous days it was not a buffet breakfast, but it did include juice and tea so at least there wasn’t the extra expense the other meals had. I went with the cooked breakfast option and it was actually very good, as was the mango juice. As I finished my breakfast there was a large number of baboons start to walk past the fence and the occasional one crossing into the camp. I did of course run back to the tent to grab my camera to get a couple of photos before they disappeared.

Female Lion (Panthera Leo)

At 10:00 we were back on the road heading to a Samburu tribe’s village. Moments after leaving camp we saw our first lioness wandering near the riverbank. She looked a little ragged though indicating she may have had a tough dry season with very little in the way of food. Before we’d even left the park we also encountered a crèche of 15 ostrich young being protected by an adult male and female. The female led the way whilst the male guarded the rear.

Me with a Samburu tribe

Once out the park the drive to the village was quite short, and it was an unexpected 30USD to go in; we hadn’t been told this beforehand, though it did go towards the needs of the whole tribe. We were welcomed by the chief, who was probably the eldest in the tribe and had elongated ears from ear piercings. They then did a “lion dance” and asked us to join in. I didn’t do any of the dancing, but I did have my photo taken with them.

A Samburu tribe’s camp

The women of the village then started to sing as they brought us into the village. We were then told about their way of life and shown inside one of their huts. It had two “mattresses” made of leather on top of the soil and a small fire for cooking maize and beans. The young men of the village don’t eat there though, they have to go out into the bush to eat their food. It is considered shameful for them to be seen eating inside the village.

This then took us on to learn about their education system and they asked for a donation towards sending their children to school – apparently a years education for a single child costs 2000 Kenyan shillings. They then demonstrated how they make fire from sticks and donkey excrement. There was then two opportunities to buy souvenirs from them. I had planned on buying from them, but after the entrance fee I decided against it as I hadn’t brought much money out with me for this tour.

When we got back to the camp it was lunchtime, and this time it was a buffet style. As we ate, elephants bathed in the river and drank. One thing I did note though was that the elephants also left their waste in the same place they drank and washed. Probably not the best of ideas, but it didn’t seem to bother them. As both elephants were bulls I did expect some conflict there, but they were quite laid back and just kept to themselves.

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

The next game drive was at 16:00; once again we didn’t really see anything – just animals we’d seen before but in fewer quantities. This did give us the chance to photograph more birds though such as the Secretary Bird and a Tawny eagle. We got back just after 18:30 as the sun was setting.

African Elephant Eye

Whilst showering I heard an elephant; it was the first time we’d heard one as when we encountered them earlier they were quiet. This time though, although we could hear them, we couldn’t see them. Before going for the evening meal I stopped by the gift shop and bought a tribal mask for 900KS and a fridge magnet for 350KS. This worked out as around 15USD so wasn’t a bad price; I would have bought a t-shirt too, but they had none in my size.

Sunsets on an Eland herd in Samburu

The evening meal was another buffet so I tried as many different foods as I could, all of it being quite tasty. This included their desserts where one tasted a little like a marshmallow. My friend bought a drink, but they tried to get away without giving him his change. He was a little miffed by this point so wasn’t going to let it pass and made sure he got it.

As the evening came to an end it was time to pack again ready to move on, but this wasn’t made easy by the lights flickering on and off. Apparently the generator doesn’t get switched off until midnight so we weren’t sure what was causing it.

East Africa Day 4 – Aberdares to Samburu

Finally I could have a lie in and didn’t get up until 07:40. I’d been bitten by an insect overnight though – hopefully not by a mosquito, though even if I had been I’d hope the anti-malaria tablets would work okay.

After breakfast we wandered up the hill behind the villa, looking for a tree hyrax that had been heard over night, but couldn’t find it. We did come across a tin hut at the top though where there was a large water tank – presumably a place for staff to stay. By 09:10 we were back on the road and heading to the Samburu National Park.

Mount Kenya

On our way there we crossed the equator back into the Northern hemisphere but we didn’t stop, apparently we’d do that in a couple of days time. We did however stop to take photographs of Mount Kenya as the skies had cleared considerably during the course of the morning. There was then a further stop at a shop so people could make purchases or use the facilities.

African Curios Shop

At the entrance to the Buffalo Springs reserve there are large zebra coloured gates, and whilst waiting there for the driver to pay for the entry it didn’t take long for people selling their wares to quickly descend on us and try to sell goods through the window.

Samburu

The road to the Ashnil Samburu tented camp was incredibly bumpy and at the speed the driver was going at the tyres were kicking up a lot of dust and stones. This made it easy to understand why the windscreen was chipped. On being welcomed to the camp we were given grape juice; as we drank it Black-faced vervet monkeys started to approach us. It was great fun to see some monkeys and I even managed to get some photos of one carrying a baby monkey whilst waiting for our room keys.

Female Adult Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) and baby

Each of the sleeping areas are like large tents with a wooden frame, with material covers for each wall. It does help to have the wind blast through the tent as standing outside in the sun gets very warm very quickly. The entire camp is surrounded by an electric fence which is used to deter animals from coming into the camp and apparently it’s powered by solar panels. However, monkeys can still get in and out by crossing over the trees, burrowing under, or being brave enough to jump over. Despite this they are kept away from any food in the dining area by one of the naturalists wielding a catapult.

Ashnil Samburu tent

It seems wrong for them to fire things at the monkeys to keep them away, but I can understand why they do it – it stops the monkeys from becoming lazy and not looking for food. If they were to become dependent on the food from tourists they could easily become pests and to lose the skills to find food for themselves – which would hurt their population and upset another delicate ecosystem.

Driving across the Samburu National Park

After dropping off suitcases it was lunch time. This was a set menu where I had lamb kebabs with rice, and an apple mousse-like dessert. Throughout this time various species of bird including kingfishers and starlings kept flying up to us. After eating I went over to the monkeys to get a few photographs of them before the afternoon game drive.

Savannah (African) Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The afternoon game drive started at 16:00, with tea and coffee served before it started. Almost immediately we saw an elephant feeding. As the drive went on we saw various species of birds and eventually a whole herd of elephants. The tracks that are driven down are very bumpy and kick up a lot of dust, yet the others in the vehicle still had the windows open despite being able to stand and look through the roof (which they were doing).

Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)

For the first part of the drive we followed the dried up river and saw gazelle and impala grazing near it. On the other side we saw giraffes, two types of zebra, ostrich (both male and female) and yet more impala like animals, including an Oryx.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

It was a great game drive, but it would have been nice to have stopped for some of the birds as well and not just the big mammals. We arrived back at camp as the sun was setting and had time to dust down our equipment and shower before dinner. The showers were cold again and by cold I do mean the temperature of a cold water tap in England, whereas the cold option for the shower felt like it had been chilled.

Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi)

The evening meal was another set meal; from the options available I went for a vegetable soup for starter, a steak for mains, and a very small portion of a crumble for dessert. I think the crumble was actually more like a cheesecake. After the food one of the ones dressed in the traditional clothes of the Samburu tribe then played a flute that only had two holes for notes. It was then an early night ready for an early game drive the next day.

One of the amazing things about the savannah is how it comes to life at night. You could hear bull frogs croaking and others croaking back a response. There were various other animals you could hear too, and you could see the insects crowding around the lights. As the tent could get quite warm we opted to keep the curtains open and the mosquito net in place.

East Africa Day 3 – Aberdares

The day started at 06:15 with a more sizeable breakfast than the day before; and this time it was included in the price of the tour. By 07:30 we were on our way to the Somak lounge which again was only 15 minutes away in rush hour traffic. At this point it seemed everything was 15 minutes away from the Nairobi Serena Hotel.

African Curios Shop

Along the way from Nairobi to Aberdares we saw a convict chain gang being put to work to dig away at an embankment on the roadside. This was the first time I’d seen something like that, previously I thought it was the territory of American movies, not real life. It was a long drive to Aberdares, but we did have a 25 minute stop just outside Karantina at an African Curios shop. This stop was primarily for stretching your legs but some of the group took the opportunity to buy souvenirs. Before that there had been a stop with an officer carrying a rifle where the driver was questioned about vehicle condition and frequency of travel down that road. Apparently these armed stops are just a survey about widening the road. They obviously take their road planning very seriously. We were back on the road by 10:50, and into the Aberdares Country Club by 12:00. It was quite a winding path to find the rooms, and they were quite basic but sufficient for a one night stay.

Me and some Giraffes

Lunch was served at 12:45 and once again there was no drink included with the meal – so much for all inclusive. I’d have expected to have paid for subsequent drinks, but not the first. Previous trips I’d been on included one drink per meal, so it would have been nice to have been forewarned. The food was quite a reasonable selection and the desserts were even better. Afterwards I went for a quick swim before the 16:00 nature walk. Around the swimming pool there were male and female peacocks wandering around and occasionally drinking from the pool as well.

Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

The nature walk went quite a distance from the country club, but this was it’s advantage. Although we’d seen warthogs wandering around,that was it in terms of mammals. In going further away we did see a few more birds and we got our first sighting of a large mammal as we saw a herd of zebra. In amongst the zebra were large warthogs, but also a solitary impala. We saw these all run a little – I’m not sure though if this was because they knew we were watching them.

The path eventually led to a large clearing where we could see a few impala in the distance, but more importantly we could get close to giraffes. This was a small family of them which included some young. We spent quite some time photographing these, and got back to the club for just after 18:00.

Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) running away

The evening meal ran from 19:30 to 21:30, and the meal actually did take that long. The first course, was a Thai beef salad, followed by a potato and leek soup. For the main course I chose Moroccan Chicken which came with basic vegetables and two roast potatoes.

For dessert I had an apple tart which obviously contained apple, but also contained raisins and some sort of puff pastry.

One of the nice things about being out in the wild is that you can hear so many different animals calling and you get a better view of the stars in the night sky.

Aberdare Country Club at Night

East Africa Day 2 – Nairobi City Tour

My attempts to sleep failed for the most part so when we landed at 06:10 local time I was quite tired. At first we queued to get a visa before we found out that you had to first fill in a form. This was mostly the same as what we’d already had to fill in for the entry form. The visa could be paid for in several currencies, so instead of paying 50USD we paid 30GBP – it makes sense to use the best rate. By the time the luggage appeared and we met the Somak representative over an hour had passed since landing.

The hotel and pool

Nairobi Serena Hotel

The drive to the hotel took only 15 minutes and we passed a site of pilgrimage where people were gathering for the upcoming election and praying. The hotel interior was quite nice – and gave an idea of the culture, or at least what their culture was like before Western influence. As we’d not had a proper breakfast on the plane we opted to have one at the hotel. There was a lot of choice, and quite a few different juices (including wine). Breakfast though was incredibly expensive for what little we ate – it came to 30USD per head. The bill didn’t come that quickly either, we were asked to wait outside by the pool until they had time. So we got to spend 20 minutes watching birds fly over head, attempting in vain to photograph them.

As our city tour didn’t start until 14:00 there was then time to try and get a few hours sleep before starting. The start of the city tour was at a museum where we met up with a local guide who would show us around the museum and snake pit. Photography is allowed inside except for where the paintings are, one of the many different sections covering different aspects of Kenya. The first section concentrates on tribal culture but then moves on to the wildlife with a large area for the mammals, and then row after row of birds. There is then more about the culture before moving on to their history, covering their occupation by different nations, their participation in World War 2 and their independence.

Sculpture in front of the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya

Nairobi National Museum

Next to the museum is a snake pit with many different species – some out in the open, but some are protected behind glass. You can also find tortoises and crocodiles in this area, some of them being species imported from the US; an alligator inclusive. The snakes were quite cool to see, and there was a good variety in both size, colour, and those which are either venomous or constrictors.

Nairobi Railway Station

The city tour then continued by road with the driver pointing out a lot of their important buildings or anything of interest. At one point the minibus drove down a crowded pavement to get to a railway station that no longer gets used much. It seemed to do this to avoid the larger coaches that were in the area. As we slowly moved past all the pedestrians, the driver asked us to lock the windows – he’d already locked the doors. It’s something that seemed mad, but it seemed none of the locals were bothered too much by it. We then headed back to the hotel with a 1hr30 break before dinner.

At 18:30 we headed to the infamous carnivore restaurant which surprisingly was only a 10-15 minute drive away from the hotel. As you enter there is the fire that they cook the meat on spits with. To start with soup is served; they didn’t say what it was but it tasted like leak. This is then followed with them bringing out salad and sauces, along with a hot plate for your meal that started with a jacket potato. The waiters then arrive one by one with spits to move meat on to your plate. At the rate they were coming round your plate would empty faster than you could empty it. When you’ve had enough you remove the flag from your table marker to show you’ve “surrendered”. By the time we were done we’d had a chicken, chicken wings, chicken leg, pork ribs, lamb, beef, pork sausage, beef sausage, crocodile, ostrich meatballs, fried chicken gizzards, and ox testicle. After this the meats were repeating so we surrendered and finished with a nice cheesecake.

The Carnivore Restaurant

Although early, it was finally chance to have a proper rest.

East Africa Day 1 – London to Nairobi

Airplane parked at airport terminal

The adventure begins…

Only a couple of weeks since I was last in London I found myself once more getting ready to set out on another adventure, though this time it wasn’t such an early start. First thing in the morning I started the course of Malarone, the anti-malarial tablets; it’d be important to remember to take these every morning for the next couple of weeks. I then drove down to Warwick late morning, not getting to Heathrow until 16:00. The check-in was pretty quick, though it indicated the boarding time for the 19:00 flight would be an early 17:45. This didn’t quite happen as boarding didn’t begin until 18:10 but we were seated by 18:20. The flight was only half full so there was space to spread out, and when refreshments were given out everyone got extra. After having a basic meal and watching a film I then attempted to get some sleep.

East Africa – Preparation

A safari is one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, so I’d planned quite some time in advance that I’d go on one in 2013. Not long after booking this trip though I also booked a trip to Norway which would take place only a few weeks before this one was planned to start.

This meant that in going to Africa two weeks after getting back from Norway I was practically going from one extreme to another with an estimated temperature difference of 60°C. For the safari I would be travelling to Kenya and then to Tanzania in hope of seeing as many different animals as possible.

For this trip there was very little preparation required once the trip was booked – just a case of making sure my immunisations were up to date and that I’d got suitable clothes for a safari. As it turned out the only immunisation I’d need beforehand was to ensure I’d got anti-malaria tablets. This was a bit of a challenge due to an incompetent GP, though got it sorted with plenty of time to spare.

About a week before I was due to fly out I bought a second camera body to take – a Canon EOS 5D mk3. I’d already got the mk2 but would be taking both so I could leave one camera on each lens to avoid any dust getting inside, or missing any shots whilst changing lenses. It seemed like a good idea.

Norway Day 7 – Tromsø to London

Finally it was time to head home, but before that we had a few hours to spare to look around Tromsø. As there was no great rush it meant getting up at 08:00 was possible. Breakfast was a welcome change from having mostly cheese and bread and by 09:30 we were ready to explore the city for a couple of hours.

The Arctic Cathedral

We were dropped off by Alister at the Tromsø cathedral and then walked into the city over the large bridge. As I wasn’t in my cold weather gear by this time the cold wind blowing across the peak of the bridge was chilling. From there we wandered around to try and find a way to the waterside so we could photograph the cathedral sideways on across the water. Eventually we found we could get down the side of the polar museum.

Whilst photographing the cathedral we spotted an Indian U-boat moored up so we headed around to it and stood for a while taking pictures. From there we wandered around town taking photographs of buildings and statues before catching a taxi from near the Catholic Church. It took 5 minutes to get back to the Scandic hotel, and as it was 11:35 we then had 25 minutes before we had to meet Alister in reception.

INS Sindhurakshak (S63) Submarine

The airport is so close that it only took about 5 minutes to get there. Once we were there we then had some “fun” with the Scandinavian Airlines ticket machine. It checked us in and printed boarding passes okay, but it crashed whilst printing our baggage tags. It flashed up with the Windows XP desktop and a DOS prompt before rebooting to say “Out of order”. We went to their services desk and after explaining it was a new system, and many attempts at printing they finally managed to print it. My luggage then had issues at the baggage drop and they thought it might be overweight, despite it saying 17.4Kg and the limit being 23Kg. I was a little unsure at this point if I’d see my luggage when arriving in London.

The flight left Tromsø 35 minutes late and got into Oslo at 16:05. This didn’t give us long to get to the opposite side of the airport, buy food and souvenirs in time for the 17:10 flight. I went for a chicken tikka baguette for 79 NOK and some water for 30 NOK. In terms of souvenirs there wasn’t a great deal of choices available so I went for a silver Viking boat or 299 NOK (approximately £34). As it happens the boarding for the flight was chaos so it didn’t leave the gate on time anyway.

We arrived 10 minutes early in Heathrow and to through customs and baggage collection very quickly, however due to heavy traffic on the M25 our lot had not yet arrived. By the time we left it was 20:00.

Norway Day 6 – Ravnastua to Tromsø

To get to the ferry crossings on time we had to go for breakfast at 07:00, and by 07:20 we were done. Oskar was good enough to provide some bags so we could make some sandwiches from the breakfast to take with us for the journey. Being the last to leave the communal hut I said goodbye to the Mexican girls and then started getting bags loaded onto the sledges. Whilst waiting for the others to catch up I took some photos of the huskies from a distance.

After an approximately 40 minute sledge ride we were back at the minibus to find they weren’t as snowed in as we expected so it looked like that area hadn’t had as much snow. It did however still take some digging and all of us pushing to get it out. Phil’s car however had a totally flat battery and about 20 to 30 minutes was wasted trying to get it to start, despite it being a hopeless case. We then drove to a house where Oskar was dropping of a snow scooter for the next tour and gave him a lift back. Our journey back to Tromsø had then begun in earnest.

Eurasian Elk (Alces alces)

The journey back was a longer route as we drove up to Alta and along the coast, driving alongside impressive fjords. Our first stop for photos was when we went through what was somewhere between a ravine and a valley. We then stopped again at a fjord where during World War 2 the German Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz was severely damaged before eventually being sunk.

Fjord

The Germans had thought this boat unsinkable, but on 12th November 1942 the Allied forces bombing run using Lancaster bombers equipped with “earthquake” bombs, more formerly known as the Tallboy bomb, was able to sink it. Months previously it had been at this fjord where a Tallboy bomb struck the ship and went straight through before exploding on the seabed.

Tolvik

Our next stop was in a small coastal village called Tolvik where we stopped for fuel. Here I took photographs of the different coloured houses, their church, and fishing boats. After this we didn’t stop again until we reached the first ferry crossing. Due to messing around trying to get the car to start earlier we thought we’d miss the boat, but we got there with 3 minutes to spare. On this crossing I had a hamburger for 55 NOK and it actually tasted really good. There was then time for a few photos outside before the ferry pulled into Lyngen. It’s then a 40 minute dash across the island to the next ferry which is a 25 minute crossing and took us about an hour away from Tromsø.

Ferry Crossing

As soon as our rooms were sorted it was great to have a shower again, but the relaxing didn’t last long as this was our last chance to see the Aurora Borealis. To save time we went to Burger King at 19:00 where I managed to spend 93 NOK on meal before we headed off to find a spot to hopefully watch the aurora from. By 20:00 we were set up on one side of a lake on a location that did have light pollution, but not much of it. Already we could see the northern lights dancing across the sky, even with the naked eye; a great improvement over Iceland already.

As the night went on it colder, but the aurora kept improving and then fading, then improving once more so we persevered. It was an amazing sight watching arcs and wisps of green light wave across the night sky, and through the camera we were picking up reds and yellows in the lights. By the time we’d done there had been incredibly bright displays, double arcs of light, and I’d seen my first ever “shooting star”. At 23:45 we called it a night and headed back to the hotel even though we knew it was likely to get better, the cold was getting too much for some.

The Aurora Borealis

At least we had seen what we’d set out to and got a performance better than we’d hoped for, and experienced so many things during the course of a week.