Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End Jan 09, 2007

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Monday, September 18, 2006

We arrived in Nairobi without any problems and had an afternoon to relax and get organized. We didn't venture out walking in the city because our Lonely Planet had some astonishing statistics on muggings in Nairobi. Apparently almost 40% of the Nairobi population had been mugged in the 12 months prior to our travel book being published. The city's nickname is "Nai-Robbery". The hotel tried to downplay it and said Nairobi was just like New York, London or any other big city, but did tell us not to wear even a cheap rubber watch if we were going to walk around! They also told us not to walk around after dark at all.

We ate at the Carnivore restaurant that night. It was the African equivalent of a Brazilian churrascuria with waiters bringing around different types of meat until you are too stuffed for words. At one point, it had very exotic game but the most exotic items these days are crocodile, camel and ostrich.

The next day we set off with our driver Peter to Lake Nakuru. He was to be our guide for the entire time that we were in Kenya. He was a very nice, well-spoken university graduate who had studied tourism. On our way out of Nairabi we drove up to 8,000 feet in elevation and had fantastic views of the Rift Valley where we would be staying for the next two nights. When we reached the valley floor, after two hours on good roads, we had to take a temporary road since the main road was being fixed and we bumped along in the dust for the next two hours. We did see our first wildlife though - there were baboons and zebra along the road.

During our afternoon game drive, we encircled the lake and saw deer, zebra, baboons, white rhinos, a giraffe, and lots of flamingos. It was amazing to see so many rhinos as they are a rare sighting elsewhere. We also saw a wild dog, which is apparently almost extinct.

Unfortunately, Mark fell ill during the night from a severe case of food poisoning. He wasn't worried at first, but as the accompanying fever started getting worse he became a bit concerned. Luckily, he recovered enough by the next afternoon to get back in teh jeep for our drive to the next lodge.

The next day we had to travel another two bumpy dusty hours to another lake, Lake Naivasha, and we spent the afternoon relaxing (and recovering for Mark). We could watch deer, water bucks and birds wander around from our balcony.

The next day Mark felt much better and we took a boat ride on Lake Naivisha. The boat driver said that there were approximately 800 hippos in the lake and I think we saw about 50 in our one hour boat ride. The boat took us to Crescent Island, which was a park that allowed self-guided walking safaris since there aren't any dangerous game in the park. We walked around deer, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and plenty of bird life.

Afterwards we took a 45 minute flight to the Masai Mara (a large park in Southwestern Kenya with the classic African savanna terrain). When we landed, we were happy to find out that we had caught the end of the wildebeest migration. Even from the plane we could see lines of them stretching out like ants on the plains. Our guide Peter said that the wildebeest were gathering up and might make a river crossing. We had both seen such crossings on the Discovery channel and knew how spectacular they could be. We went down to the river and waited but they decided not to cross. The sheer number of wildebeests were amazing. There were often 5,000-10,000 in a herd with lines of them as far as you could see.

The next morning we left at 6:30 am for our early morning game drive. Because of the safari we booked, we were the only two tourists in our vehicle for all of the game rides. This ended up being great as many vehicles were crowded and it was difficult for some people to see out both sides of their vehicles. We saw a pride of lions (3 mothers and 4 cubs) eating the remains of a small wildebeest. The cubs were extremely playful and would practice pouncing on each other. The lion cubs were our favorite animals to watch in the Mara. After they were finished eating, the lions seemed reluctant to leave the remains for the vultures (who were gathering in a nearby tree). Eventually the pride started walking over to some trees to nap when a group of unsuspecting wildebeests started walking to them. The grass was high enough that the wildebeests didn't see the lions. Two lions started to make their way to the wildebeests but didn't have time to surround them and the wildebeests managed to outrun them.

On the morning drive, we also saw a male cheetah eating a gazelle.

We also saw a serval (which looked like a large spotted house cat). During the day we relaxed by the pool which was situated on a hill overlooking the savanna. the lodges were very luxurious for Africa and all had great views.

In the evening game drive, we saw topi, gazelles, cape buffaloes, zebra, wildebeest, exotic birds and giraffes, and we finally found a big group of elephants. Unfortunately, just a minute or two later they ran away at high speed. We didn't know what had spooked them, but a few minutes later, a tour group on horseback came into view. The elephants have a long life span and could remember when people on horses hunted elephants. We would see plenty of elephants later.

The next day we left after breakfast to follow the wildebeests in the hope that we would see a river crossing. We drove for about an hour and found a group near the Mara river. Our guide estimated that there were 5-10,000 wildebeests in the group. We stopped for a while and they eventually decided not to cross at that point and continued to move alongside the river. They stopped again and we waited next to the river checking out the crocodiles and hippos. A few zebra went down to the river bank but the wildebeest did not follow. They continued to move down the river and gathered up in a third spot. Suddenly there was a cloud of dust and there were a few wildebeest on the other side of the river. Our guide maneuvered to get us a good view and we ended up in a terrifying position. The minivan was only a few feet away from a cliff that led down to the river, and there were several hippos down below. The left side of the van was higher than the right (which had a 25 foot sheer drop-off to the river below)and I thought we were going to roll down the hill! When I wasn't worried about rolling off the cliff and being trampled by hippos, the wildebeest migration was fun to watch. Thousands of wildebeests were making their way across the river as fast as they could even if it meant jumping on the one in front of them. The zebras were much more orderly; they crossed in a line and found an easy way up on the other side. Not all of the wildebeests made it; we saw at least one that had drowned and was floating down the river. After they had crossed, Peter managed to safely maneuver the van to higher ground.

In the afternoon, we were able to see an adult male lion with a full mane for the first time. (Their mane only comes in once they get to be 15 or so years old.) He was sleeping next to a female lion and we waited for a while to see if they would mate again. He woke up, walked around behind the female, gave her a nudge and mounted her, and thirty seconds later he was done. He was asleep soon after - the whole thing took about two minutes.. (Insert your own honeymoon joke here)

It started to rain and it turned into a heavy downpour. The dirt roads became more difficult to drive on and several of the vans ahead of us started to fishtail. A landrover was driving speedily towards us and went off of the road. After he got back onto the road, Peter flagged him down and spoke to him in Swahili for a minute or two. After the conversation we asked what he had told them. "I told that them just because you have a four wheel drive vehicle doesn't mean that you can't get stuck. You still have to drive it correctly." We are sure that they must have appreciated that advice.

The next day (9/24/06) we had our final game drive in the Masai Mara. We set off in a new direction and Peter spotted 5 young male lions. He said that they were brothers looking for territory, and one of them had big scars from fights with males from other prides. They seemed content to relax and did not attempt to make a kill on any of the zebras that were nearby. We moved along and Mark spotted another pride of lions feasting on a wildebeest. After breakfast, we flew to Nairobi and connected to a flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha.
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