19/1/2016 3:30 PM
Brilliant blog Chania - lovely to read about such a beautiful part of Kenya.
My flight landed early and I filled out my immigration form clearly, but the lady didn’t even check this! Luckily, my bag was already there when I arrived at the carrousel and I was promptly met by my driver, Robert, who will be looking after me for the next 10 days.
We headed out, away from the Nairobi traffic, in our well-equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Traffic was slow - only one lane each way and a few large container trucks on the road – and two hours later we turned off the tarmac and onto good dirt roads. Due to heavy flooding at the end of last year the road we should have taken to get to the camp was not passable, so we were to meet a guy on a motorbike at a factory - all very cloak and dagger – but after an interesting journey passing through local villages and taking in the classic Kenyan big skies and epic scenery we arrived safely. I was welcomed on arrival with a cool drink and an offer of a shower – good to feel human again after my long journey!
That afternoon I headed to the village just outside the Selenkay Conservancy where guests have the opportunity to see how the locals live. I went along and was shown how they made fire, watched the ladies of the village making exquisite jewellery which is sold in camp and even had the chance to see a traditional hut where the locals reside which was extremely small, dark and very smoky.
Next we were back into the vehicle for a fabulous game drive in the lush, green conservancy with plenty of trees which has drawn the elephants from Amboseli here. The previous day they had seen mating lions so off we headed to find them as they do not go far and also don’t eat during the five or so days when they mate every 5 - 15 minutes. We did find them and so decided to have a sundowner when lo and behold they started again. I did feel a bit forward sitting there watching them, but what a fabulous way to end my first day in Kenya
After a good sleep (apart from the noise of the go away bird right outside my tent) and a hearty breakfast, I met with the head guide and assistant manager, Wilson. Along with an armed guard we set off for a short walk around the camp. If you do want a longer walk, then an all-day walk is possible, but alas, I didn’t have the time for this. It is so great doing a nature walk and see the little things. Well, that’s what I thought we’d be seeing… The first thing I saw as we left camp was a lone bull elephant just having had a drink at the waterhole before heading back into the swamp area behind camp! Wow. It was a beautiful day, and I love the smell of the bush and being outside, not knowing who or what is watching you. My guide was very quick showing me all the birds we saw ring-necked dove, the white-bellied go-away bird (which clearly didn’t live up to its name!) the brightly coloured sun bird and the superb starling which is one of his favourites. I was shown a number of tracks: we had seen lion tracks which he reckoned had passed this way that very morning and getting nearer into camp we also spotted leopard tracks.
Saying goodbye to the staff we headed out with a guide to show us the way to Amboseli National Park! Leaving the conservancy you can see the good it is doing as getting further away the land became dry, over-grazed and barren. Coming over a ridge the whole landscape opened up and you could see before you the flat plains that are the national park. Many years ago it was a huge lake which has since dried up leaving this park with a huge back drop of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro rising to the south. I couldn’t see the top as it was shrouded in mist, but hopefully I will be up early to see it in the morning.
The park is so much drier than Selenkay Conservancy even though they had plenty rain a few weeks ago. As soon as we started our drive we saw huge herds of elephants in the distance. The difference here is you can’t go off road to get up close and personal with the wildlife, but luckily for us one kind individual came up close! We saw another elephant cooling off with a mud bath and spotted a few more behind thinking they may do the same thing. Passing a huge swamp area that always has water in - even in the days of bad drought – our guide pointed out a huge variety of birds, and not bothered by all the birdlife was a hyena asleep in the shade.
Reaching my second camp for the night, was greeted with a cold face towel, a cool drink and shown to my fabulous tent, with views out towards Kilimanjaro, well that is what I am told but will have to wait to find out tomorrow morning.
Having arrived too late at my camp yesterday to see the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I got up early, (well, after my wake-up call of a mug of hot chocolate) to be greeted by a clear skies to get my picture of Kilimanjaro. Such a majestic mountain and an iconic backdrop to the beautiful Amboseli National Park. I think I should try and climb it, but then seeing how high it is close up, puts me off… Maybe another time.
Heading for the airport for my flight via Nairobi to Lewa Downs airstrip, we stopped every few minutes to try and get that photo so often seen with an elephant in the foreground and Kili behind it. Luck was not on my side today to get that photo. I did see a herd heading for water but not into my shot.
Plane arrived on time and was loaded up well but I did see a few people with huge suitcases, clearly not having read the 15kg limit and soft bag email. We landed in Wilson airport, and walked through the planes on the tarmac onto our next vessel. Don't fancy doing that at Heathrow! It was a bit quicker transferring this way though, and we were off within about 10 minutes.
I’ve been wanting to visit Lewa for years and was getting pretty excited by this point. Flying over the seemingly never-ending suburbs of Nairobi we continued until the roads dwindled out and buildings lessened and we flew passed Mount Kenya. It was getting drier and hillier, ok big hills and not much vegetation, why would people farm this harsh land?
Finally, I landed at Lewa Downs airstrip to be greeted by Norman, my guide, asking me how many times have you been to Kenya. “Lots” I replied. “How many times to Lewa?” he continued. “None”, I said. To this he replied, “Well, you haven't been to Kenya until you have been to Lewa.” I think the man was right. Even from the airstrip I could see that, rolling plains with forested hills rising up as though making a border for this bit of green paradise, it was beautiful. Thanks to the rains last month it was extremely green.
I was told along the way of the conservation journey this area has taken into order to extend their population of white and black rhinos. They have also built schools for the communities - built, run and also sponsored children through higher education. Norman was given a bursary to continue his education and is so passionate about saving the animals in his conservancy. Clinics have also been set up along with micro finance - giving loans to ladies’ businesses which encourages them to set up a shop or something like basket weaving as traditionally the men are more supported in the community.
Arriving in camp was like coming home. As I have friends in Kenya sitting on the veranda overlooking the lush gardens and chatting to the friendly staff it felt like a home from home. My tent has the best view and is the furthest away from the main area, I love it. After lunch we were off on another game drive where I got to see a white rhino and a black rhino within 30 minutes of each other. Very happy to see this endangered species doing so well in this corner of paradise. And I can’t forgot to mention the female lion we saw with her kill! Norman found this by looking out for the vultures sitting in wait for the lion to be finished! What a fabulous day. It leaves me wondering what took me so long to visit here…
Fairly leisurely breakfast, before heading out on a game drive en route to check out another lodge. Quiet morning on the drive but we did see two reticulated giraffes necking – no, I don't mean kissing, but using their necks to hit each other in what I think was fighting for the right to breed. Yes, it is that time of year after some good rains the area is looking green so thoughts turn to reproducing. We also saw a few young impala too. Got to the Sirikoi for a quick inspection – it’s fabulous! Had lunch with Sue and Willy the owners, their niece and partner who were planning their wedding out in Lewa, and Sue's friends. It was as is typical a Sunday curry and was made to feel part of the family. I was then shown round the back of house which is great to see and their well-stocked organic veggie garden with mangos and avocados - two of my favourites.
Headed off to my next camp by way of another game drive seeing plenty of zebra and the odd looking but much rarer Grevy's Zebra with its huge ears, thinner strips which don't go all the way under their bellies and slightly bigger than the normal zebra. Looking at them made my eyes go funny like watching a TV back in the day when the programmes have finished!! Saw a few more white rhino (which aren't white) and black rhinos (which aren't black!). The name comes from the white rhino having a wider mouth and the Dutch translation for wide, became white, so obviously they called the smaller one which browses rather than grazes, black. Obviously, right…?
Checked in at my next lodge for the evening, but only time to throw my bag down and have a quick cup of tea and cake before heading out again for a game drive. All over the conservancy there are areas that have electric fencing and some areas with strands of electric fencing hanging down to stop elephants and giraffe coming in as, elephants in particular, are very destructive killing many trees. Imagine our surprise when we saw a giraffe that had made it into this lush oasis and was having the time of its life!
The highlight of the day was seeing a mother cheetah with four nearly fully grown cubs with her trying to hunt. They had other ideas and we're play fighting, stalking and jumping on mum when all she wanted to do was feed her big and boisterous family. No such luck, they were havng none of it. By running around like lunatics the crowded plovers were giving their positions away by flying over them and squawking. She tried to get them organised to show them how to hunt but to no avail. I felt guilty heading off back to my lodge for my three course meal...
We were almost back at camp when we saw three young lions that had kept camp awake last night lying in the middle of the road, not letting us pass. That is karma.
Early morning wake up call to go and meet my transport for the next hour. His name was Spice and was a chestnut gelding. Yes, I was to go horse riding the first time this century! I am told they offer horse riding for all standards from beginners to advance. Not that I am a beginner, but having not ridden for over 20 years, a tad rusty. As mentioned earlier, we had seen lion not a two minute drive from camp and the horses had smelt them. They were therefore a little reluctant to leave the safety of the stables. After a bit of persuasion they were ready to leave but were soon spooked by a rock, by elephant droppings and a flu pandemic of grass. We only went at a walk as the ground was rocky, but managed to get close to a couple of giraffe which was amazing.
Back to camp for breakfast and we enjoyed some amazing Kenyan coffee before heading over to Ol Pejeta Conservancy. On the way heading via Nanyuki I was told that under the road was an underpass to allow the elephant to pass under the road in a corridor to Mount Kenya and onwards!
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is 90,000 hectares originally as a cattle farm but elephants destroying the fences made intensive cattle farming impractical. Cattle still play a part but as a managed livestock within the conservancy. They move the cattle to areas where the grass is long and unpalatable or too long for other animals. Put in bomas at night they fertilise the ground too!
A short walk from camp where we were then met by our guide and vehicle and headed off to see what we could find. We spent about 15 minutes with a black rhino which are normally skittish and grumpy, and move on pretty quickly. This one couldn't suss us out so it was like a Mexican stand-off. She would move a step forward. The guide would start the engine, just in case. Then she would take a step back back - just like the hokey kokey!! We decided to move off before she changed her mind and charged. Great to see. Later we enjoyed our sundowners near a herd of elephants with a very tiny baby. They couldn't quite make out if we were good or bad so moved off as a group with baby firmly in the middle of the herd for safety.
We had a leisurely breakfast in camp before heading to my lunch appointment at another bush camp in Ol Pejeta, one of four camps that were asked to set up camp in the newly formed conservancy. Lovely camp by a small stream with views over grasslands dotted with trees.
The mess tent is separate from the sitting/relaxing area with many interesting books (given half the chance I would have stayed and read them all!). One lady I believe is staying for two months as she loves the peace, quiet and of course the food. Lunch was quiche with fresh salad with avocado - delicious, followed by homemade ice cream. I could have easily been tempted to stay months too. The game viewing wasn’t too bad either, with one client saying he had seen an aardvark!!
Tearing myself away to continue north to the Laikipia region of Kenya which got drier as we continued our journey - beautiful scenery with small rocky outcrops, similar to those found in the central Serengeti – kopjes – and finally crossing the Ewaso Ng’iro.
Arriving into my bush camp for the next night. This area has a lower density of animals than Lewa, but the more unusual animals, such as regular sightings of wild dog. Here they offer a variety of activities, including the usual game drives as they want you out and about to explore this wilderness and much wilder part of the region: walking, canoeing, scrambling over rocks, swimming in the river, birding and if you have time, fishing. I wonder how many I can fit in…
Then back in the vehicle where we see a giraffe that was killed two days ago by two male lions. As we drove away we could see a few hyenas making their way towards it. A fabulous bush dinner, some if the best beef I have tasted before a night drive back to camp where we caught sight of an aardwolf, the smallest hyena - the first time I have ever seen one!
A day of activities - how many can I fit in, in one day! Early wake up call with a hot chocolate ready to set off at 0630 looking for dogs. I know they had four dogs at the lodge, was one missing? No, they were referring to the painted dogs, known as wild dogs. Once hunted and killed as thought to be vermin, they are now slowly making a comeback and two collared packs are to be found near and around the lodge. Off we set with our guide holding what I thought looked like an aerial, trying to get a better reception for the TV. This was the tracking device fitted to one of the dogs. Let’s try and find these highly successful hunters. Steve, the owner of the camp I was staying at, was well versed in wild dog behaviour having had many film crew at the camp trying to film these dogs. We knew where the den was as they were raising two sets off pups. Normally it is just the alpha male and female who breed, but with the pack in disarray due to the alpha female being killed, the new pack didn't follow the rules. Two ladies had bred and with many mouths to feed they had to hunt twice a day. We picked them up on their way out to hunt and trying to follow them wasn't easy. We did lose them several times but thought after hunting they would need water so we waited at the dam for them. We tracked them up but moving away from the dam and towards their den. They had obviously killed something we didn’t see, and were snaking back with full bellies to feed the many mouths. Very exhilarating and we were well rewarded.
Back for a hearty breakfast at camp before heading to the Ewaso Narok River for a bit of canoeing. Even after the good rains the water levels were dropping and with a foot or so of water in some places our canoes did get stuck but a nice hour or so floating down the river gave us another angle on game viewing. Saw some black ducks which are only found in certain areas of the river, but the highlight for me was seeing the local guys coming down to the river to water their goats or cows. Noisy, colourful, but not sure what they make of us in our canoes…
Onto my next lodge which is an old colonial farm house with the huge verandah which is where it all happens: drinks, tea, coffee, breakfast, reading or just looking at the amazing views. Formally a cattle ranch that ended up as being collateral for a bank loan that went wrong. Held by the bank and over grazed, it was bought by a group of friends who stopped the illegal grazing and slowly things grew back. They still have 1500 head of cattle but as the game came back they thought they could turn it into a lodge for guests as a side-line and this has brought employment to the area.
They have thirty houses and offer all standards of riding, so I thought I would have another go, my third activity for the day. Within the first five minutes had seen two bull elephants heading towards each other. Not knowing if they knew each other we had our “feet on the accelerator”, just in case. The horses didn't seem to mind being so close. The elephants greeted each other by placing their trunks on the other’s tusks. Riding on through the scrub I was slightly concerned who might be watching me. Thankfully only giraffe, which were slightly concerned to see these strange animals with very short necks! I managed a canter which was amazing and the country is so beautiful, with the big skies and changing landscape.
Lovely breakfast on the verandah and a quick look at the vegetable garden. They are fairly self-sufficient here, just buying in eggs and beef. They have a couple of pigs too. They thought about getting a couple of washing machines, but decided to employ someone from the local community to do this instead in order to give them more opportunity.
Most people put the majority of their money into buying more cattle rather than putting their money into banks. However, this means the wealthier they get the more cattle they have, but this then leads to over grazing (similar to what happened to the ranch years ago). The team have set aside community land for locals to graze their cattle in which they are encouraged to manage, keeping the grazing, water and management of the cattle in check so overgrazing doesn't occur. Things are looking up, the land is much greener.
The next lodge was close by and their main road is a sandy track with loads of roads off it all heading into the bush! Eventually we found the lodge were we had lunch before continuing to my bed for the night. A stunning lodge overlooking the Ewaso Ng’iro River.
A short walk down to the river where we saw klipspringers jumping across the rocks as skilfully as ballerinas, being shown the views were amazing but was out of breath which I was told was due to the height here which is 5,000 feet, so no chance of me doing the Lewa marathon anytime soon.
My room was open and I was lulled to sleep by the water and woke up to the same relaxing sounds. Today I went on a camel, to be honest I prefer horses, but this was fun. My steed for the ride was Kijana, a male who was a tad grumpy and making noises when I started to get on. Apparently that was him communicating (or so my guide told me). I managed to stay on when he got up and it felt like riding a drunken horse, well, what I imagine that to feel like! Swaying side to side with a very loping gait, ears pricked, he was looking around but remaining at a plodding pace. Got a good view from up there though and saw an elephant in the distance. We also came across a few other camels who are turned out when not being used (I think he would have rather been with them!!)
We carried on for an hour or so before I dismounted, without falling off, to stretch my legs. I then walked in to a table set up for my bush breakfast!! As I was casually eating my eggs and bacon, I was told that wild dog has been spotted on the dam, so breakfast was forgotten so I could head to the rock for a great vantage point to see a wild dog heading back to its den. Not sure if he was the leader or lagging at the back of the pack but still fabulous to see!
Onto the next lodge where I was to have the chance to stay in a koboko star bed. I have known about these for about 10 years and now it was finally my turn. I have slept under the stars many times in Africa, usually on a uncomfortable roll mat under a cheap mosquito net. This was nothing like that. I walked into my room which seemed just the same as any lodge apart from the bed which look like a tuk tuk! It had two wheels (maybe from a Land Rover??!!!) and what looks like a seriously comfortable bed with a frame around it for your mosquito net. This is rolled out onto your deck after dark – I couldn't wait.I went for short walk to the dam to see a small pod of hippos which I hadn’t yet seen on this trip. As we started to make our way back to the lodge saw a herd of giraffe and a youngster just watching us in quiet amusement. The sky got darker and darker as time went on. I could see lightning and thunder - this was not looking good for my star bed!! Was pleased for the animals and the land but bad timing for me.
19/1/2016 3:30 PM
Brilliant blog Chania - lovely to read about such a beautiful part of Kenya.