We made arrangements with Kenia Tours for a 5-day Safari that included two days at Lake Nakuru and three days at the Masai Mara, “one of the seven wonders of the world”, as we’d been told over and over. Lynette had been wanting to do this since she was a kid, and I have to admit, I was really excited as well. The East African Safari is certainly one of our trip’s highlights and we drove out of Nairobi with high hopes, and we weren’t disappointed.
We were up and packed fairly early as our pick-up time was 715am. After a quick breakfast, we met our guide/driver and our cook, both named Josef. We drove through Nairobi, stopping at what looked like an apartment complex to pick up some supplies, before heading out of town. The road out of Nairobi wasn’t too bad, but we’d soon learn that this was an exception, as opposed to the rule.
One the way to Lake Nakuru, we drove down a dramatic hillside with nice views of the Great Rift Valley. From about that point on, the roads deteriorated quickly. We ended up getting to Lake Nakuru National Park in the early afternoon. While we sat in the parking lot waiting for Josef to get our park entrance situated, we watched several Vervet Monkeys wreaking havoc on the cars in the lot (they’re known as terrific thieves). It was fun to watch since they were coming after us!
We drove into the park, passing some buffalo, Thompson gazelle, water buck, impala, and warthogs in the field in front of the cute little guesthouse where we would spend the afternoon gazing out at the field from the porch.
From the porch we sat and watched the wildlife - a buffalo in the water hole nearby, warthogs, impala, and gazelle in the distance, and we saw a couple of jackals hiding out in the grass. At about 230pm, a large herd (or gaggle, or group, or whatever the word is) of baboons crossed right across the yard of the guesthouse. It was quite a site!
Later that afternoon we went for a game drive on which we saw gazelle, impala, warthogs, buffalo, waterbuck, giraffes, white rhinos, lots and lots of pelicans (although no flamingos, which is what the park is famous for, because they had migrated elsewhere for the season), spotted hyenas, zebras, colobus monkies, and a mini-deer called a Dik Dik. We later learned that seeing rhinos is quite a rare thing, so we didn’t realize how lucky we were to see four in our first afternoon. In another exciting moment, a lone buffalo who had been startled by us as we approached, stared us down and as we went to leave, actually made a brief charge at the van. He quickly stopped, but it was clear that we were not welcome at his water hole!
We were served dinner back at the guesthouse by Joseph. The meals during our safari were pretty good considering we were on the budget safari. The next morning we drove straight out of Nakuru, getting caught up in baboon rush-hour on the way out (it was really funny to see probably a hundred baboons heading towards town along the road, especially the babies riding cowboy-style on their mothers). We had a nice drive through the countryside on a not-so-nice road. It seemed like everyone we passed was happy to see us and waved as we drove by, especially the children.
As we got closer to the Masaai Mara, we stopped for the “toilet”, but soon learned that the toilet was located behind a curio shop. We saw some dyed cloth paintings that we though would be nice to have, but when the bidding started at $200, we headed out. We eventually settled on about $25, which was a bit more than we wanted to pay, but not too bad (we later learned in Tanzania that we could have gotten it for more like $5 - we couldn’t believe that the bidding for a $5 article started at $200 - TIA: This Is Africa!).
We arrived at Kenia’s safari camp just outside the gates of the Mara (apparently the only places to stay within the park are the exclusive “camps”, which are anything but camping). We arrived just in time for Joseph to start lunch. After a lazy afernoon, we went for a game drive in the late afternoon/evening. Immediately inside the park we saw a large herd of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle. Also along the ride we saw hartebeest, topi, impala (all varieties of antelope), ostrich, and a cute little baby elephant with its mother. One of the herd of impala was mysteriously on the move and we eventually saw a jackal chasing them around. We rode up and down the side of a ravine for quite a while and eventually learned that Joseph had heard from one of the other drivers that there were a couple of lions that had been sighted earlier. We finally found them as the sun was getting low and the light fading fast. It turned out to be an incredible find - a male and female lion that were in the middle of their mating period. According to Joseph they meet up and mate for a two-week period, forgoing food. From what we saw, they mated once every 15-20 minutes! Now that’s a crazy couple of weeks - and you thought Spring Break at Panama city was crazy!
We left for an all-day game drive early the next morning, heading deep into the park. We again saw plenty of wildlife, this time including a few giraffe and lots of elephants, including one with 5 legs (if you know what I mean) and another baby. We also saw a fairly large land turtle in the road (maybe a foot in diameter), a cory bustard (the largest flying bird - or so we were told - about three feet tall), crown birds, and the tail end of a very large python that was scurring in the bushes near the road (apparently the truck before us had spotted him crossing the road otherwise we would have never seen him).
We eventually made it to the far side of the park on the Tanzanian border (marked by the Mara River). At the river we were taken on a guided walk by a park ranger with a large gun. He pointed out dozens of hippos in the river along with several crocodiles. We imagined what the scene would be like in about a month when the wildebeest migration arrived and hundreds and thousands of them attempted to cross the formidable river.
More wildlife abound on the return trip (after a sack lunch by the river). A jackal was kind enough to stop for a picture in the road.
We approached a van that had pulled off the road and stopped. They were checking out a couple of female lions on a couple of ridges. We sat and watched them for a while, yawning away. It was a cool sight, but soon became boring. Just as we were about to leave, about 5 cubs came over the ridge. It was so CUTE! They played with eachother and even the mother joined in on some of the playing. We sat and watched them play in the ravine right in front of us for about 10 minutes before another van came along and scared the cubs down the ravine and out of view. It really was awesome and certainly would hold up as one of the top highlights of all of our safaris (if not the top)!
On the way back we were also treated to a closeup view of a lonely female lion on the road and later two males, also in the road. We got some great close-ups.
Our final wildlife spotting was a group of overlanders (a popular way of making your way through Africa on long, overland routes riding in a semi-sized truck with 20-30 other people) who were gathered around their truck that was stuck in the mud for the second time that day. We helped them out, again. We made it back to camp at about 5pm, thuroughly satisified with the day. After dinner, Joseph the cook, gathered the staff at the camp and brought out a birthday cake for me. It was very impressive, especially since he was cooking over a fire!
The next morning we went on an early-morning game drive. This was puncuated by a large (20 or 30) herd of giraffe, battling Grant gazelle, three jackal pups, and 2 groups of ringed mongoose.
We breaked for lunch, then another game drive in the evening. This one was a bit less exciting (somewhat because of everything we had seen previously, but also because we didn’t see nearly as much wildlife). But, seeing a tiny baby elephant made the drive worthwhile.
The next morning we packed up and headed back to Nairobi. After a bit of an awkward lunch in downtown (the package included lunch on the last day, but we ended up being sent to a local cafe to eat) and filling out a questioneer at the Kenia office, we were dropped back at Wildebeest camp. Given the fact that it was by far the most budget safari we could find, we had a really great time and Joseph and Joseph (our guide and cook) were a pleasure. It was a great start to our East African experience, and despite game drive after game drive, we were ready for the next round!