The Circle of Life

Advertisements

East Africa Day 16 – Ngorongoro to Nairobi

I had to be up at 06:30 due to having to be out of the hotel by 08:00 so we could drive back to Arusha and Kilimanjaro airport. On the way we stopped at a souvenir shop for 40 minutes where I bought a wooden elephant. It should have been 35USD, but haggled down to about 25USD. Not a massive saving, but it’s the lowest I could get to. We’d been told previously that when haggling you should start off at about a third of the starting price and work up from there.

Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge

We arrived at a hotel in Arusha for lunch at 12:30. It wasn’t bad, but we kept getting asked if we wanted drinks on average every 5 minutes. The other group didn’t turn up for another 15 minutes which wasn’t helpful for them as they had to be on there way to the airport by 13:30. Over lunch one of the Somak managers met us and gave us pieces of paper detailing onward flights.

Ours didn’t contain all the information and she wasn’t much help in explaining it either. Apparently we could just show them this paper for Kilimanjaro airport and that would get us to Nairobi – no details on what would happen in Nairobi initially. After some time she decided we’d be able to show them this slip of paper in Nairobi International Airport to get our tickets for the flight to London Heathrow. This did however mean we couldn’t reserve seats on the plane, and that we’d need to collect baggage and then check it back in.

We then had to sit around the hotel we’d eaten at until 16:00 so that we wouldn’t be arriving too early at Arusha airport. It did make sense as the lobby in the hotel was quite a comfortable place to sit and read. Whilst in the lobby the friend I’d been travelling with was able to get Wi-Fi so using his tablet we were able to reserve the seats on the second flight to try and get some good seats. At this time we each booked a window seat on different rows where the two adjacent seats were free – this was in hope that they’d remain free so that we could sleep across them during the flight.

The Kilimanjaro International Airport is a 45 minute drive from Arusha. When we got there we were told we were too early but they let us go through anyway and the check-in only took around 5 minutes. The security desk did tell us that we were too early and seemed confused at first, but eventually let us through to what passed as the departure lounge.

For the next two hours we sat in the airport reading whilst waiting for our flight to be called. When the time came to board the plane we were directed outside but not actually told where to go. There were only two planes that could be seen, so as one of them was only a 4-seater it was pretty obvious which one we needed to head to.

The plane a few minutes earlier than scheduled even though it was a full flight, and landed in Nairobi International Airport 50 minutes later. Yet again we had to fill in an immigration card for arriving in Kenya, and then just 45 minutes later after collecting luggage we had to fill in the same card for the departure when checking in. At this time though my friend moved both of our rows of seats as his row had since had someone book a seat on it. In hindsight, if he’d only moved his own then I’d have had a much better flight home.

After getting through the security there wasn’t a great deal to do other than wait. As my friend was hungry we ended up sitting in a restaurant at one end of the airport so he could get some food. The flight finally started boarding at around 23:20 and didn’t take long to get ready as within 30 minutes we’d kicked back off the tarmac for the long flight home.

Sure enough I had a row of three seats to myself, but due to the arm rests not lifting up for this row and my seat not being able to recline it meant I couldn’t get much sleep on this journey. I did try sleeping on the floor in front of my seat but they weren’t too happy about that. By the time we landed back in London I was incredibly tired and still had the onward journey to Leicester.

It had been an impressive fortnight in which I’d seen more wildlife than I could have expected, with many closer encounters than I expected too. We’d seen landscapes like no other and met cultures so different to our own. Like all trips that had come before, our African adventure had come to an end.

East Africa Day 15 – Ngorongoro Crater

Another late start to the day, quite a change from Kenya being able to get up at 07:00. Despite the lateness of leaving most the group turned up 20 minutes late. The morning was then spent in the Ngorongoro crater on a game drive.

Inside the Ngorongoro Crater

To start with we were seeing mostly Wildebeest – adults and young, but eventually we saw a couple of Black Rhinoceroses at a distance. Apparently they don’t allow you to get too close as the ones in Tanzania are more likely to charge than the ones in Kenya. There are park guards all over the rim and the odd one inside the park to ensure none of the tour groups break these rules.

Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)

We also saw several groups of lions. The first group we saw had a very old male, a younger adult male and a number of females and cubs. The older male was being left behind and looked like he may not always get to eat.

Wildebeest

Later we saw a young adult male lion lying in the middle of the road. Eventually it got up and joined some other lions in the grass. We sat and watched these for a while, but they never really did much other than lay down and yawn. It was a great chance to get up close to the lions again though, and it certainly helped that they sat down next to the Land Cruiser so we could get close-up photographs without even needing a long lens.

Young Adult Lion resting in the road

Lion (Panthera leo): Roooawr

The days lunch was a packed lunch from the Serena. Strangely the ones marked “beef” were actually ham, so I’m not sure what happened there. Lunch was eaten at a hippo pool that also had birds of prey circling. We were told not to feed the animals, though that didn’t stop them from swooping in and taking food out of people’s hands.

One from our group did get told off for feeding the birds, and his excuse was that the sign said “Don’t feed the animals” and then said birds aren’t animals. Obviously he hadn’t got a clue, but me being me I explained to him that they were and that the kingdom Animalia has phylum called Chordates which birds, mammals, fish, etc. are all part of.

Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus aegyptius)

It was then close to two hours to drive from the crater back to the Ngorongoro Serena. The rest of the afternoon was left empty, once again with no available activities or anything else to do. It was however an opportunity to get suitcases packed ready for the homeward flight and to catch up on some reading.

Once again the clouds came in as the afternoon went on and the thunderstorm was intense. This time there was flooding on the boardwalks even though they’re covered. It was an amazing storm to watch, and for a while it did resemble a super cell. I was certainly glad at this point that we didn’t have an afternoon game drive or other unsheltered activities and by the time the thunder started it certainly didn’t seem safe to be out in it. Although I did go out onto the boardwalk to watch the storm for a while before the evening meal I didn’t take my camera with me as I didn’t want to risk it getting damaged.

The evening meal was a good one again – I went for the lamb and it was the best lamb I’ve had on this trip. It was a reasonably early night ready for the travelling the next day.

East Africa Day 14 – Serengeti to Ngorongoro

We were out of the hotel by 08:00 and on our way back to Ngorongoro. Along the drive we stopped a few times before leaving the Serengeti. Two of the times were in trying to photograph a Cheetah – in both cases there were factors affecting the possibility of a decent photo. The other group saw the first one in the road, rolling around in the dust, but we never saw one so close or unobstructed. By the time we got back there it was skulking away through the trees. The second was off road and quite some distance away on a raised piece of grass – too far for my 150-500mm lens to manage. Though that didn’t stop me trying of course.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

There were a couple more stops for a hyena, a very large herd of zebras, and some vultures. Though we didn’t have a proper stop until the security gate where our driver had to pay for entry into Ngorongoro.

Driving through a herd of Zebra

By 10:55 we’d left the security gate for the Serengeti and 20 minutes later we were in Ngorongoro. It was then a further 1hr30 to get to the Ngorongoro Serena lodge where we’d be staying. Once we got to the rim of the crater we stopped at a different viewpoint to where we had before in order to get a good view of the lake in the crater.

Ngorongoro Crater

When we arrived at the hotel the rooms weren’t ready so we had lunch first and spent a long time talking in the group so by the time we left the restaurant at 15:15 they were ready. As there was nothing scheduled for the afternoon, there was no pool, and nothing else to do, it was then an empty afternoon until dinner.

Me inside the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

The hotel is quite an impressive place with boardwalks between the different parts of the lodge and the entire place having an amazing view into the crater.

The sun sets over the Ngorongoro Crater

The dinner was a mixture of buffet and a set menu – if you wanted chicken or steak it had to be ordered and came with fries or rice, whereas the other options, the salad, and the dessert were self-service. The quality of the food was excellent, and they got the level of cooking (well done) for the steak perfect.

Over night there was an incredible thunderstorm that passed over us – we could see it roll into the crater and pass through – it seemed far more intense than the one we’d seen in the Serengeti – apparently their rainy season had come early.

East Africa Day 13 – Serengeti

The phone rang at 04:10 to tell us to wake up for our balloon ride. It was then a bit of a rush to be ready and we called for security to escort us to the reception as we’d been told to. The reason for this is that the lodge has no electric fence so animals can wander straight through the lodge. Some of the guards are even armed with AK-47s, though they’re not allowed to shoot the wildlife. The security guard hadn’t arrived after 5 minutes so we headed across by ourselves to avoid being late.

Early morning drive

After a cup of tea and biscuits we then set out into the dark to get to the balloon launch site. We arrived there at 06:15 to see four balloons in the process of being prepared. At first I had a mad search around in the dark for the lens cap that fell of my camera as I got out the Land Cruiser. By some miracle I did actually find it. We were then briefed on the safety procedures for flying in a balloon and was passed a belt with a clip to put on. We then had to tuck in hoods and cameras and was advised to wear a hat to keep the heat of the burners off our heads.

The sunrises over the Serengeti

The baskets started on their side and you have to climb in and sit laying down like an astronaut. Bags have to be placed between your legs and as the balloon is filled with hot air there are vehicles that pull the basket upright. Within minutes the basket gently lifted off the ground and our balloon ride begun as the sun was rising over the Serengeti.

Balloon ride

Inside the hot air balloon

For the balloon ride our pilot was Captain Nick, a former resident of England. To start with we moved quite close to the ground, but when we needed to head to the left of our position the balloon rose to 2,000 feet to catch wind in a different direction. From the balloon we saw giraffe, antelopes, a hyena, and some birds. It wasn’t long after we crossed the airfield that we landed as a number of Land Cruisers raced across the Savannah to greet us. The landing was quite smooth and only bounced once; it didn’t get dragged onto it’s side as we were told it likely would – so generally a good landing.

Me, Captain Nick, and the hot air balloon

The Land Cruiser then took us to a place where we were given champagne to drink. Once we all had a glass we were told a story of why it’s traditional to drink champagne after a balloon ride. Once the story was over we drove on to where breakfast was served in the bush.

Champagne breakfast

As we exited the Land Cruisers we were led across the savannah and welcomed by staff as they shown us to tables under a large tree divided by Captain. They then proceeded to serve a full English breakfast accompanied by fruit.

Lioness and cub

Once breakfast was over we were then driven to a tourism centre where we met up with our driver and the rest of the group. For the next two hours we had a game drive (from 10:00 until sometime just after midday), where we saw three lionesses travelling with four cubs, and we also saw a leopard cub in a tree followed by its mother about 800 metres away in another tree.

Sleeping African Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Lunch was another packed lunch provided by the Serena hotel, but wasn’t as good as the last packed lunch – partially because they hadn’t been kept in a cool box like last time. Whilst stopped here we watched some tree hyraxes scurrying around and walked around a quick nature trail.

Tree Hyrax

After this we continued on a game drive sighting a number of animals, but nothing spectacular. There was one point where one in the group started making clicking noises at a herd of elephants. The driver asked her if she wanted to die as the elephants wouldn’t recognise the sound and might attack; they didn’t though. The driver then pulled away and a baby elephant ran in front of us and instead of stopping our driver carried on behind it. There was then a loud trumpeting noise from it’s mother as she raised her front feet in warning. We carried on and the baby elephant moved out of the way without the herd charging at us.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

The afternoon game drive was over by 14:15, but it was probably for the best as after about an hour there was rain. It got heavier and heavier and the Land Cruiser was filled with what looked like either horseflies or tsetse flies. The closer we got to the Serena lodge the heavier the rain got. It got to the point where our driver couldn’t really see where he was going, but could see the tail light of a vehicle in front and so he followed that. The lightning bolts became more frequent and eventually the lightning bolts and rumbles of thunder were in sync as we reached the lodge.

We had to make a run from the Land Cruiser to the lodge reception and got drenched in the 20 metres between them. For a while I stayed in the reception to use their internet and to watch the storm. It was pretty incredible – I’ve never seen a storm so intense with so many bolts of lightning.

Despite borrowing umbrellas from reception we still got even wetter as we braved the storm to get back to the “hut” our room was in. A few hours later the storm had moved on and the thunder had become a faint noise in the distance.

We went for dinner at 19:30; this time the dinner was far better than the previous night and they were stir frying meat on demand as well. This time dinner was more sociable as the rest of the group joined us.

East Africa Day 12 – Lake Manyara to Serengeti

The bush breakfast was at 07:30, so was up by 07:00. They call it a bush breakfast, but it’s really just a picnic table on the grass overlooking Lake Manyara and the infinity pool. Once again champagne was served for breakfast – I got the impression alcohol at breakfast may be common in this region.

To get to the Serengeti National Park you have to first drive through the Ngorongoro National Park, so we had to get a transit permit to go straight through (this just skirts round the edge of the crater following narrow windy roads up the side).

Ngorongoro Crater

When we arrived at the entrance to Ngorongoro there was quite a wait whilst the papers for entering the park were sorted. It was then a slow ascent up the crater until we stopped on the rim of the crater to allow photographs of the crater itself – an expanse of grasslands.

Masai tribe

It’s quite a long drive through Ngorongoro, but you get to see some pretty stunning scenery. We made another stop just before midday for about half an hour to go around a Masai village. This time it’s one that Somak paid for us to go around. Their lifestyles, customs, and village are not too dissimilar to the Samburu people in Kenya. They too walked us around the houses and the school before showing us what they had for sale. This time though their English wasn’t as good so they were finding some things difficult to explain.

Olduvai Gorge

About 30 minutes after this we arrived at the Olduvai Gorge where we stopped for lunch. It was a packed lunch prepared by the Serena hotel we’d come from. It was quite good, and there was far more than what we needed to eat. However it made a nice change to have a sandwich and a chocolate bar.

This stop lasted far longer than we needed though and they got us to look around a very simple museum and wanted us to listen to a lecture on the history of the gorge. We opted out of the lecture though as we didn’t really want to waste any more time. Minutes after leaving we were told it’d be another 4 hours until we reached the lodge, so everyone on the Land Cruiser restricted their drinking of water thinking there would be no further washrooms until then.

It was then quite some time before we passed through the gates into the Serengeti National Park. Around this time we were told that there would be another washroom break after all and that there would be another gate to pass through at the top of a hill where the security checks are done.

At the gate whilst waiting for admittance, we climbed to the top of the hill as it acted as a good viewing point. We then stood around waiting for quite some time before we were able to continue into the proper reserve. Whilst waiting a dust devil formed around me sending dust everywhere – we’d seen them before, but never that close – they always looked like twisters in the distance, but this time it was a little too close.

As we entered the park proper, we noticed a sign at this time indicating that vehicles are not allowed off the road, so this obviously meant the closeness of animals would be restricted. We’d have to rely on them coming to us instead. In a lot of ways this does sound like a good thing as it avoids agitating the animals, it just meant photography might not be ideal.

Lion and Lioness

Our itinerary described the afternoon as being a “late afternoon” game drive, but the only part I would have referred to as one was 20 minutes we spent going off the main road and down a trail at 60kmph. We made one stop at the furthest point of the track but the driver couldn’t see anything so started to pull off. At that point I saw a lioness with her paws in the air so called for the driver to stop. It took about 3 attempts to convince the driver that there was a lion there, and it turned out there were 2 females and one male. The male mated with both and then went back to lying down. Apparently it’s quite rare for tourists to see that.

An island of rock

One the way back we stopped again for a lioness laying down on a rock and then returned to the main road with some haste. The driver really didn’t want to make any more stops, so I’m not sure how Somak can have the audacity to call it a game drive.

We then continued on to the Serena Serengeti Lodge which took about 2 hours to reach. By the time we got there the sun had set and it was getting quite dark. Along this leg of the journey we were told about the plans for an 08:00 start in the morning – our driver had no idea Somak had booked us on a balloon ride. That didn’t seem like a good sign, but he then proceeded to tell us that we’d be picked up at 05:00 for that and he’d collect us from somewhere at 09:00.

After checking in at the lodge we went to see the Serengeti Balloon Safari representative who explained that we’d get a wake up call at 04:15 and would then leave at 04:30 to head to the balloon site. Another difference we were told is that our driver would need to pick us up at 10:00, and the balloon ride would last for one hour. I’m not sure we were told how short the balloon ride would be when we booked it – it meant the price was actually quite steep.

When we got to our room we found the hotel had made a mistake and booked a double instead of a twin room. In all the years I’ve been travelling, and across 5 different continents (so far), this is the first time that this has happened. We got straight on to reception who explained they had no further twin rooms. We explained that wasn’t our problem – it’s something they’d have to sort. Their solution was to put a second bed in the room next to the King Size double which meant it was quite a crowded room after that.

We then left the room to be sorted whilst we went for dinner. This didn’t help tempers much either. When asked which of the meats we’d like we didn’t get the ones we asked for, and what we did get was mostly bone and fat. It was a little reminiscent of our experience on a boat in China. The drinks we ordered before the meal then took 15 minutes to arrive, and they only arrived then because we were asked if we’d like drinks and my friend replied with something along the lines of “yes please, I’d like the ones we ordered 15 minutes ago”.

The bread rolls to use with the soup (i.e. the starter) then didn’t arrive until I’d just finished eating my main course. The waitress delivering the bread said “enjoy your meal”, to which I responded with “I did thanks”. To top that all off, when we wanted to pay the 5000 Tanzanian Shillings for drinks they wouldn’t let us because they didn’t have the 1000 change required so we had to bill it to our room instead. Previously we’d been asked not to do that so we could check out quickly on days we needed to drive – so we had no choice but to go against the drivers wishes because of the lodge.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair to be too angry at them though, I imagine they were trying their best but compared to the rest of the hotels and the previous days, they had made a bit of a mess with this one.

By the time we got back to the room it had been sorted, but was only 6 hours until the wake up call for the balloon ride.

East Africa Day 11 – Lake Manyara

I got up at 07:00 and went over to the main building for breakfast. It was quite basic, and they never specifically ask if you want bacon and sausage, just if you want egg preparing. If you don’t want egg they don’t give you bacon. It was nice to have a late start though as we weren’t on the road until 09:00. Before this we wasted a bit of time wandering around the grounds to take some last minute photos.

Serena Mountain Lodge

In the car park of the hotel we met up with the drivers of two Somak Land Cruisers and the rest of the people that would be in this group – there were 7 of us, excluding the drivers. Once loaded up we then headed out on the road for the drive to Lake Manyara.

We were supposed to be travelling in convoy, but the second land cruiser one kept stopping. We thought we’d lost them and stopped at the side of the road for quite some time expecting them to catch up at any minute. Eventually they caught up with us at a shop where it was planned to have a stop anyway.

This shop was very different to the ones we’d seen in Kenya. You could tell these ones were wealthier as the shop was clean and was better organised on shelves and well lit. This was also the first time this trip we hadn’t been constantly asked to buy something.

Lake Manyara Serena Infinity Pool

We arrived at the Lake Manyara Serena not long after 12:00 and went more or less straight for lunch. The lunch was served as a buffet which included spaghetti bolognaise. The waitress forgot to charge us for our drinks so we paid for these during the evening meal instead. After this we had a quick look around the place – the pool was right on the edge of the mountain overlooking Lake Manyara, just as each of the rooms were. The pool was what is often referred to as an infinity edge pool as the water seems to stretch towards the horizon and are often built high up in rather precarious places.

At 15:00 we went on a 3 hour game drive through the Lake Manyara National Park. It was only a few bird species and blue monkeys we saw in there that we hadn’t seen before. We’d been told this game drive would only last 2 hours so as it overrun it meant we missed the acrobatic show.

Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)

Lake Manyara

The evening meal was part set menu, part buffet; but it wasn’t too bad. This was the first time the whole group had eaten together and was a chance for everyone to discuss their experiences so far. Whilst we ate we could hear a thunderstorm a number of miles away. This led to one of the hotel staff asked us what we thought they should do about the following days bush breakfast if the rain continued in the morning. I’m not sure why he thought we’d know, it’s not like we know what their policy is on the matter. They should be telling us.

Banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) crossing the road

By the time we’d finished eating the rain had arrived – we borrowed a couple of umbrellas to get back to the rooms, probably not the best of ideas when lightning bolts are involved though. The storm subsided at around 21:30 which improved the chances of having breakfast outdoors.

East Africa Day 10 – Masai Mara to Kilimanjaro

We had to be out of the camp by 07:00 but was running 10 minutes late. On the way we took a stop overlooking the Great Rift Valley to take photographs. We were back in Nairobi at around 13:00 despite a 20 minute stop at another shop, and a 45 minute stop to get petrol.

The Great Rift Valley

Upon arrival at the Somak Lounge they served us fish and chips and prepared the flight paperwork for us. We then had to leave for the airport at 14:30, and we were waiting at the gate by 15:05. Strangely they didn’t mind water being taken through. The security desk confirmed that our existing Kenyan visa would get us through for transit when passing back through from Tanzania a week later.

The Nairobi airport is quite basic and the shops are overpriced. As an example, a box of quality street you’d expect to see in the UK for around £3.99 was 13USD. To be fair though this is pretty typical of airports all over the world.

When the gate opening time came there was no announcement like there had been for other flights; luckily we saw others going through the gate. It was then a 40 minute wait, 10 minutes after the gate had closed before there was any sign of boarding. We were then led across the tarmac, past several large planes until we reached a 68-seat plane with propellers.

To Kilimanjaro!

The flight landed 13 minutes early, and we had disembarked within minutes. Before entering the terminal you have to present your yellow fever vaccination card; I couldn’t remember where mine was (I did later find it), but they let me through anyway. For immigration you have to fill out a card, pay 50USD for the visa, go to one window and get the visa approved, your biometrics taken, and then proceed to another window to have it checked. Even though this process of going from one window to the next only took 15 minutes our luggage was waiting for us on the belt. We also by pure chance met up with a couple who would be on the same tour as us for the next week.

There was then a 45 minute drive to the Serena Mountain Lodge. Here I changed some money into Tanzanian Shillings and went for an evening meal at 20:45. It was a very slow served meal, especially compared to the Ashnil Mara Lodge. We sat talking to a couple on the same safari with Somak as us and didn’t leave the dining room until 23:15.

East Africa Day 9 – Masai Mara

Our day started with an early morning game drive before breakfast. Early on we came across a couple of lionesses resting in the tall grass. We stopped and photographed them for a few minutes before starting to drive off. Moments later, we’d only travelled 200 metres at best, we saw some antelopes bolting across the savannah in the direction of the lionesses. We knew they were done for, but our driver didn’t seem to realise what was happening. We urged him to reverse back, but in the blink of an eye one of the antelopes was gone, followed by its feet up sticking up in the air.

Lions eating an antelope

By the time we got back there the lionesses were already feasting on their kill with some ferocity. This was short lived though as three hyenas approached and challenged them for the meal. The hyenas dug straight in, fighting for the meat and soon after the hyenas had seen the lionesses off – with them slowly skulking back into the tall grasses. This left the hyenas to happily feast on their prize, and with each passing minute more hyenas arrived, followed by silver-backed Jackals and a lone vulture.

Challenged for the kill

At this point the noise from the hyenas was incredible – I’ve never heard anything like it. One of the jackals managed to get hold of some of the organs and dragged them off up the road and buried them for later whilst the others tried to sneak away with more meat. Some of gorged hyenas, bellies swollen from too much food, wandered off having satisfied their hunger.

Jackal

As the time went on the hyenas started to fight between themselves for the remaining meat and bones. Before we knew it there was nothing left, not bone or skin – they had eaten it all.

Hyenas feeding

The rest of the game drive was quiet and ended with a bush breakfast overlooking a hippo pool. As we arrived they gave us champagne, and the rest of the breakfast was buffet style. It’s quite surreal to sit having our breakfast in the middle of the Masai Mara surrounded by nothing but savannah, and watching hippopotami bathing in the Mara river.

Vulture

With the late breakfast and the heat I barely bothered with lunch, and spent the next few hours doing very little. Eventually 15:30 came and it was time for a pre-game drive drink. The drive itself was very unsuccessful as we didn’t really see anything.

It was so quiet that when we got to a high point of the Mara we were actually allowed to get out the vehicle for once and wander around. From this viewpoint we could see the savannah that made up the Masai Mara in Kenya, and the Serengeti in Tanzania. We saw some smoke billowing from the direction of the Serengeti and we were told it was the people of Tanzania trying to stop the wildebeest migrating back into Kenya. I suspect this wasn’t true though.

Me in the Masai Mara

When we got back the electricity wasn’t yet working which meant sitting in the dark for a few minutes until they turned the generators on. For the evening meal the whole group sat around a fire followed by having food together for one last time.

Our trip through Kenya was at an end and we’d soon be moving on to Tanzania.

East Africa Day 8 – Naivasha to Masai Mara

The day for travelling to the Masai Mara was finally upon us. This was one of the places I’d insisted had to be part of the trip due to it being an iconic part of Africa. We were told to be ready for 07:30 yet the other group was told 07:00 so ended up rushing anyway just in case. The breakfast was a buffet pretty much the same as we’d come to expect.

At some point during the previous day I’d lost my cap; I looked everywhere in the room and even searched my suitcase and backpack thoroughly in hope of finding it. Fortunately someone had handed it into reception, meaning I’d left it in the lobby when we arrived the previous day. Considering it had been with me to a large number of countries I didn’t really want to lose it.

Mantled Guereza (Colobus guereza)

Outside the hotel were a number of colobus monkeys; we’d seen one previously on the way to the Ark, but that one had been impossible to photograph. These were quite numerous and were sitting around, some of them eating, and others just watching from the roof of the building.

Along the drive was the usual stop at a Curios shop to use their facilities and allow people to buy souvenirs. This stop took 50 minutes instead of the planned 5-10 minutes due to our driver being stuck in a queue to get petrol. This was apparently down to a fuel shortage in that town, the last before reaching the Masai Mara. We didn’t know that at the time and it felt like we’d been left there – other tour groups had turned up and left in the time we were waiting.

Not long after leaving the town we also ran out of tarmaced road, having to travel the rest of the way on bumpy dirt tracks. This part of the journey lasted around an hour, but we eventually made it to the gate into the National Park. At the gate there were locals once again trying to sell their wares, and this time they just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Shame we didn’t know the Swahili for it.

Hyena

Not long after entering the park we saw an injured lioness resting underneath a tree. Despite her injury she seemed to be in a better state than the one we saw in Samburu. Not that long afterwards we saw a hyena crossing the path – we hadn’t expected to see one of these during the day as they hunt mostly at night.

After this the drive went on a while winding all over the place, but eventually we arrived at the Ashnil Mara camp. Once again these were tents, though this one was slightly less substantial in terms of building material. In addition to the mosquito net over the door, the beds had individual mosquito nets too. On the far side of the tent it had a balcony overlooking a river.

Almost immediately we then had to have lunch, by the time were done this gave us just over an hour until the drinks before the afternoon game drive at 16:00.So once again it was a rush to get camera equipment ready for a game drive. After a couple of unlucky drives in Samburu we were hopeful of seeing species we had not yet seen.

This drive was quite eventful; as we approached a steep path that led down to the river my friend joked that because the driver was on the phone he was probably on the phone to the RAC for when he gets stuck in a river in about 5 minutes time.

Stuck in the river

Surprisingly we did go down to the river, and sure enough we did get stuck as the vehicle slid sideways further into the water. After several attempts to move we realised we were totally stuck in the river. I was imagining us being stuck there for hours and missing the rest of our game drive.

The driver then got out and started to put loose rocks under the wheels to try and give them something solid to get traction on. By this time at least 3 other vehicles had joined us and their drivers had gotten out to help too.

Eventually they realised the rock approach was not going to work, so the driver of the Land Cruiser got his passengers out (bear in mind we’d seen lions about) and got a tow rope out. This would have helped if the Land Cruiser hadn’t got stuck; but with the other drivers pushing they got that one freed and managed to fasten the tow rope to ours.

Masai Giraffes

It took a couple of attempts due to the steep bank, but eventually they managed to jolt us back a few metres. Our driver then had another go at crossing the river and was finally able to cross. We made a further two crossings after this, but for only one of them did we get stuck again (followed by the driver exclaiming “oh no!). This time though he was able to get it out by himself. In the meantime we stayed in the vehicle and watched the hippos in the water just a few metres away. The smell coming from the water was incredibly bad.

Lions feasting on a hippo

Not long later we came across a male lion before realising there were a further two behind us that were eating a hippo that had apparently been killed by one of the males the night before. There were quite a few other vehicles watching too as the lions took turns to rip the soft insides out of this hippo.

From there we moved on to where a lioness had just caught a fairly young buffalo she must have managed to separate from the herd. We watched for quite some time as she laid on her back holding the buffaloes head down trying to suffocate it. Eventually she turned it over and put her whole man over its mouth to stop it from breathing. Once killed she let out a low noise to let her cubs know that dinner was ready.

Lioness suffocating a buffalo

We then headed back as the sun set after one of the most eventful and longest game drives yet. It didn’t leave much time before dinner, but that didn’t bother me – I was quite pleased with what we had seen. When we got back housekeeping had lowered the mosquito nets ready to keep the insects out. The evening meal was served very quickly with each course being replaced with the next with literally no pause in between.

Giraffes “worshipping” a windsock

This had been one of the most eventful and brilliant days of the trip so far.