Our home for the next 10 nights, the One Ocean’s Russian expedition ship the Akademik Ioffe. With a maximum of 96 passengers and a staff to guest ratio of 1:4 we can all be off on shore excursions or zodiac cruises at the same time.
Yesterday’s adventures brought me to Bay St. Lawrence, Cape Breton to a crab festival and fishing derby. All you can eat crab in the local fire Hall!
This morning was our earliest start to the day yet, with a 430 am wake up to catch a long awaited balloon ride over the Mara. Unfortunately plans can change when relying so heavily on nature and due to the high winds this morning we were unable to take off! A rare incident, however unavoidable on this occasion. Safety always comes first!
Since we were up early we continued on our game drive with Timothy, looking for the more than usually elusive mara giraffe. We had spotted the odd mara giraffe from afar, however it was time to focus on this animal up close and find the feature differences to the Reticulated and Rothschild Giraffe previously sighted. There are much fewer trees in the Mara for them to munch on and in the evenings they would make their way to the comfort of the trees and back to the plains in the morning. Today we had no trouble finding them and we found a “tower” of 21 giraffes! 2 teenage males were practising ‘necking’ the art of giraffe fighting which can sometimes end in death!
After this final game drive in the mara triangle and saying goodbye to Timothy we were delivered to Little Governors where we took their “ferry” boat across the Mara river over to main Governors camp. Not quite like the wildebeest crossing, however an experience none the less! Especially in the rain.
Once we’d checked in and had a wonderful three course lunch at camp it was time to see the other Governors’ properties, game driving along the way of course. This was our first day of rain and everything was a little greener because of it. The dust had settled and the wildebeest were running around with delight. On this side of the river the wildebeest were plentiful! To us they looked abundant across the plains – we can only imagine what 1.5 million of them in September brings to the same area.
While at Il Moran camp, we bumped into a couple of Brian and Dee Keating’s friends from Australia, what a small world! An Antarctic expedition leader, it made perfect sense as to how they knew each other.
Our afternoon game drive took us to see two sister lions playing with each other. Lots of snuggles, playful slaps across the face and the odd pounce while the other one was napping! A little while later a big male lion, (one of the known 6 warrior males of the area) came over to greet the ladies and they approved, he was poa (cool) and could stick around. These same lions reside right by the camp grounds, only metres from the manager’s house. they had hidden their cubs in the thick of the foliage, only weeks old. They would greet all the guests as they set out for a morning drive right by the gate!
Duncan our new guide for this side of the Mara was keen to show us something new. While the rain slowly dampened the dirt, we watched on as a hyena family gathered outside their den also enjoying the cooler weather – a multi generational family of 15, the usual size. Who would have thought the babies could be so cute! At this age appearing black in colour and yet to adopt their spots! We watched them ponder about for an hour learning their behaviour and interacting with eachother. Playing and resting at the same time, depending on their age. The (matriarch) always patrolling the grounds, fascinating and hilarious creatures. As the nature book goes, known as ‘the land cleaner’, it is the 4th animal in line to feed after a lion kill, second is the jackel, third the vulture, and finally leaving only the bones and skin for the hyena.
Tonight we fell asleep to the wonderful sounds of the rain pattering on our tent, the hippos talking and roars of the lion as we were located ideally right by the river.
How does each day bring such reward? Because this is absorbing yourself in nature. Thanks again Africa, time is running short!
Timothy picked us up bright and early today at 6:20am and off we set for a morning of leopard tracking. We saw many paw prints on the dirt road but didn’t manage to track down this elusive cat before one of our compatriots had to fly out. Returning them to the airstrip and us to camp for a great buffet lunch. Timothy was set on a more active game drive for us, so we made a plan and headed back out to complete our wildlife experience and look for a cheetah before heading to a Maasai village.
We set off to the plains of the Mara triangle and to our delight we found a beautiful cheetah and her two cubs poised on a termite mound surveying the area for a lunch of their own. We stalked the cheetah and her babies as she followed her prey in the distance. The kids finding a lone tree to climb while mama looked for a bite, never straying far from her cute little fluff balls!
After leaving these three speedy cats it was time to hit the village. But not before running into an extremely full lion family of 6 beautiful beasts panting heavily in the shade of a tall tree. They had just finished dining on a huge feast! Lions do not sweat and therefore dramatically pant so that they can cool off after eating such a large meal. Their bellies were stretched so tight you could see the veins and fresh blood on their faces…..what a smorgasboard they had finished. They were all so sleepy and would now nap for most of the day, so it was now time to again go on or way to the village. Like the Samburu, the local Maasai warriors danced and sang on our arrival, showing us into their community culture and homes.
Unbenounced to us, after leaving these lovely people we were on our way to an incredible sundowner. Perched on a hill overlooking the magnificent plains stretching far into the serengeti, with Maasai dancing, a large bonfire, drinks and some of the best guacamole we’d ever tasted. This really made for an incredible sunset. Each experience going further than our expectations!
The view we had overlooking the Mara, is where parts of the movie “Out of Africa” were shot!
As we arrived back at camp we had planned to go to our room and clean up a bit before dinner; to our delight we walked in to find a romantic surprise for 2! The managers at Bateleur Camp had kindly arranged for an exclusive surprise dinner on our own private deck. An experience they proudly provide on a special occasion. And wow did it blow us away, once we confirmed it was definitely for us and not for the honeymooners in the tent next door haha! We happily accepted the beautiful rose pedaled floor, covering every surface of our room. The deck was surrounded by lanterns….and all we had to do was take in the incredible sounds of Africa!
This morning we said goodbye to our gracious hosts in Samburu and hello to the Masai Mara. Flying over the landscape was a sight to be had, the winding rivers and small villages below being an incredible show for our 1.5 hour flight. On arrival to the Mara we could see herds of elephants and zebra. It was certainly a scenic flight!
A warm welcome awaited us at the airstrip with tea, coffee and cookies. This wonderful service continued all the way to Kichwa Tembo Camp where they sang and danced on our arrival. After checking in and seeing all the tents, including the beautiful pool view and stunning communal lounge and bar area, we were off on our first Masai Mara game drive. Directly leaving the camp we visited a den of hyenas, followed by a speedy drive down the gravel road to find two black rhinos, a couple grazing near the forest’s edge. A rare sighting in the area! After leaving them a slice of privacy we continued our drive. We were surprised by the large number of elephant families roaming in the area. With only a lioness sighting under our belt, we were estactic to come across two grand male lions feasting on a warthog, they were beautiful! Watching them feast while vultures from above and jackel from aside lurked for their turn to eat. Nature’s pecking order working its magic. It was not a huge feast on this occasion, however enough to warrant a nap as the 2 lionesses of the group walked on by them.
After a very successful game drive it was time to meet with our hippo friends for a full moon sundowner! As the moon reflected off the water we watched the hippos yawn and listened to the sounds of them bellow in preparation for their exit, as they started emerging from the shelter of the water to graze for the evening.
After a couple of gin and tonics the sky grew dark and we joined Timothy, our new guide, for an unexpected bush dinner. This event took our breath away even as we pulled up; lanterns were hung all around this wooded area by the river, and a special table was set for each group. A massive fire roared in the middle of the area, dinner cooked over huge bbqs, all next to a spectacular bar with every drink you could imagine. Everyone was abuzz with anticipation. The event started with a dance by local maasai warriors, singing, dancing and jumping around the fire. This is a welcoming dance and well received by everyone. What another fantastic end to a wonderful day! Time for bed!
What a way to wake up, coffee and cookies at the door delivered by a handsome Samburu Warrior. We joined Alois at 6am today for a morning game drive, at first all was quiet. After sighting the poisonous puff ader snake we got a call on the radio that a leopard had been spotted. No pun intended 🙂 We drove as fast as we could to ensure we didn’t miss the leopard…it was well worth it! Lying in the shade of a small riverine acacia tree was this stunning lady! After some time spent taking in this moment, we decided to find a spot for breakfast but not two minutes later we were off following a ‘hot tip’ there was a lioness in the area so we went to inspect. The lioness was hiding in the bushes, perfectly popping out to greet us for a wonderful viewing. After a short time she was into the bushes again…which meant it was really time for breakfast. Bush breakfast with the crocodiles by the river was just what we needed at this point. Never a dull moment!
Returning to the villa in the heat of the day after a wonderful game drive welcomes a moment to take in the luxury, relaxed atmosphere and stunning views from this hilltop oasis with its spectacular backdrop. We used this well deserved opportunity to experience the mountain top pool to cool off and the spa for a massage, all of which posess another spectacular vista.
To keep things interesting we opted for an afternoon walking safari with our Samburu warrior guide and, on this occasion, an armed guard joined us. It was lovely to see the smaller flora and fauna of the Kalama Conservancy. We stopped along the way to observe a cave, an important site for the samburu culture. Young men would use this site in the development of becoming a warrior. These caves were full of paintings used as a communication method and meeting point for communal meals.
After our walk and an early dinner we took off on our first night game drive. The twilight helped us spy on some nocturnal animals, a genet cat, a jackel, white tailed mongoose and an owl. A great end to a wonderful day!
We started off the morning touring the beautiful Samburu Intrepids Camp, the luxuriously large family suite and the
young explorers area where we found a mural of the Samburu Special Five, animals only specific to the Samburu Reserve. These include the somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk gazelle, grevy zebra and the oryx. By this time we’d already seen 3 of the 5 so we set off to catch the last two.
Right off the bat on our game drive with Albert we saw the gerenuk gazelle, bringing the count up to four, We didn’t figure we would see the ostrich but nearly to the park gate we saw another vehicle pulled over and what did we see? Not only one ostrich but a family of 7, mama, daddy and 5 little babies!
With the special five ticked off our checklist, it was time to head to a local Samburu village where the ladies welcomed us with song and dance. They danced both for us and with us, the warriors made fire, sang and jumped to a love song. And lastly we were invited inside their traditional home made of reeds and cow or elephant dung.
Before departure, the most rewarding part was giving them maps; all the kids and mothers gathered around and were ecstatic to see the new addition to their classroom.
After our visit it was time to say goodbye to Albert as Alois, our guide and Samburu Warrior, took us to our new home for the next two days. And what an amazing home it was; after driving up a rock faced hill, as we came through the archway entrance, it took our breath away! The view from the top of this heaven on the hill was stunning, desert plains set amidst incredibly green trees with a backdrop of Mt. Kenya. Wow! Once escorted to our room the amazement did not end, having the same view from the living room, bedroom and outdoor shower alike. Just incredible!
After a decadent lunch and quick dip in our mountain top pool we took off on a game drive with Alois where we quickly saw a lioness basking in the heat of the day. The highlight of the day however was viewing a herd of elephants, led by the matriarch, cross a rapid river! We watched anxiously as nature unfolded. A mother and her baby, only months old attempt to cross the water! Her trunk held high as a snorkel, the struggle was real as we almost watched her wash away! The mother was fast to act, dropping down onto her side to stop the current and allow the baby to cross unharmed. After such an adrenaline rush we stopped by the river for our first sundowner where we enjoyed some gin and tonic as the sun set over the water. What an amazing day, we can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!
What better way to start your day than with a coffee from your tent, watching the sunrise and animals gather at the waterhole! Eagerly awaiting our 630am breakfast, an incredible buffet with omelettes made to our liking, we did a walk through of their other luxurious tents. All of which face the watering hole with an awe inspired view. With Albert at the wheel we made our way to Samburu National Reserve, driving through towns and villages both large and small. Markets plentiful and different cultures at large, we pulled aside and mingled with some local farm children along the way.
Just after entering the gates of the reserve we experienced our first up close encounter with reticulated giraffes, happily munching at the high trees. Arriving at the Samburu Intrepids Camp, we had way past lunch time and were feeling rather hungry! We were welcomed with a delicious 4 course lunch and a Samburu warrior to protect us and our meals from the cheeky monkeys. ‘Peter’ was quite the shot! The porters helped us to the tent with our bags, unzipped the doors to our new home, and we were pleasently surprised by the immaculate beauty of these four poster beds, permanent bathroom and complimentary bottle of red wine!
Time for another game drive with our wonderful Albert! With a site inspection to Elephant Bedroom camp on the cards, we made the most of our trip getting there while on safari. We encountered our first multi generational herd of elephants marching right toward us. To our overwhelmed state of excitement, a baby elephant appeared out of nowhere through the bushes and safety of its mothers giant legs……it was so tiny and so cute! These guys were at eye height and walked past our vehicle like we weren’t even there!
At the Elephants Bedroom Camp by the rivers edge and sunset fast approaching, we took this opportunity to embrace our 1st sundowner with a local beer called White Cap. We watched the baboons run up the trees for nightfall and the giraffes wander down to the waters edge.
Little did we know what was about to come! Driving home in what was now pitch black, Albert with his sharp eye suddenly jammed on the breaks. He told us to be very quiet and we immediately perked up to see what was happening. As Albert turned the car, to our amazement, there was a beautiful male leopard gazing right at us! These spotted friends are exceptionally rare to see! This was the perfect finale to our day at Samburu Intrepids Camp.
Leaving the Boma in Nairobi took us 3.5 hours to arrive at Sweet Waters Tented Camp, our destination for the night. Traffic in the city was horrendous! The drive took us through changing landscapes from dessert to lush greenlands, back to dessert.
On route we visited the Fairmont Mt Kenya, which has 70 acres of lush beautiful gardens. Located right on the equator it houses an animal orphanage and even a 9 hole golf course. And the birdlife was plentiful.
Arriving at Sweet Waters was incredible! They have a water hole right in the center of the tented campsite and there were already zebra and waterbuck waiting for our arrival. It didn’t feel real!
After settling in we headed straight to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Project where they house 35 rescued chimps. Some of which were in horrible conditions, arguably the worst being Poco. He was put in a cage so small he had to stand on his hind legs for 9 years. To this day he stands in this unnatural position, now in the sanctuary with his family.
We took off to the Rhino Sanctuary where the last male northern white rhino is kept where they are trying to maintain the species. Here we were able to feed and touch Baraka, a blind, one eyed, 25 year old black rhino.
Today was Karen’s first ever game drive and we were able to see a herd of elephants, a handful of rhino, Some zebra, the grant and Thompson gazelles, buffalo and impala. What an incredible first day of game driving!
Yesterday, thanks to jetlag, we woke up early and enjoyed a lovely buffet breakfast at the Boma Hotel with a huge variety of different foods from all around the world. After breakfast and a walk through the grounds we took off with Albert our personal guide and our hosts Liz and Tenai to explore the city of Nairobi, one of the only cities that shares its grounds with a national park and where lions have roamed the streets.
We set off skirting the national park to bring us to our first stop, the Giraffe Center, which shares the grounds with the historic Giraffe Manor. This is a breeding center for the endangered Rothschild Giraffe and you can get up close and personal, if your lucky even sneaking in a kiss. After sanitizing, we drove over to David Sheldricks Elephant Orphanage and spent the hour watching baby elephants that ranged from a few months old to 3 years be fed by their handlers and play in the mud. These animals were taken in as orphans from poaching, drought, and starvation just to name a few and will be released back into the wild at as young as 5 years old.
As we continued to explore the Karen region, we visited the peaceful and serene grounds of the Hemingways Boutique Hotel, saw beautiful jacarandas in full bloom and visited Kazuri beads which employs almost 340 local women in a coop style organisation that aids them with housing and healthcare. The story of the area brought us to the Karen Blixen museum, for which the area is named.
It was now time to hit the heart of Nairobi, and fortunately it was a Sunday so the traffic was light with most people walking. We escaped crazy downtown to explore the lush gardens of the Fairmont Norfolk. From this well located hotel, right across from the National Theatre, we toured a small corner of downtown.
Finally the airport called with good news and we headed to the arrivals terminal to pick up our long awaited bags!