Travel in Kenya: Nairobi and Maasai Mara

Getting there: To get to Nairobi from Austria I flew with Qatar airways. The flight time was around 10 hours, with a layover in Doha. I arrived in Nairobi airport early morning where I went through immigration and customs. An East African Visa is issued on arrival for Americans, which covers entry into Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda for 100 USD. The tour company advised our group to bring cash with us to Africa, so after paying for my visa, I also exchanged money into local currency, which is Kenyan Shilling. Both the money and visa looked cool, covered with wildlife. 🙂moneySomething interesting is that the 1,000 KSH is the highest bill they have, which is essentially 10 USD! I think that says a lot about the state of their economy here. What’s also interesting is that they will not accept dollars dated before 2004. That’s because they had a problem with counterfeit bills a few years back, so they’ve withdrawn that money from circulation.

Anyway, after currency exchange I met the driver who would take me to the lodge. For security and peace of mind I opted for a private car, which cost 25 USD. My driver Giorgina was wonderful, and had worked many years for Absolute Africa, my tour company. On the way to the lodge I saw my first wildlife sighting, which was unfortunately zebra roadkill. I heard it’s uncommon, and I guess these things can happen, since they run very fast like deer. :/
On the drive we also passed a lot of local transport. Here, the buses are painted in bright colors and seem to send a very powerful religious message as well.prayer

Guest lodge in Nairobi
After 45-minutes I arrived at my accommodation, the Wildebeest Eco Lodge, which was nice for all budgets. My dorm bed was 18/ night, which included breakfast. The facilities were very clean, plus they had free Wi-Fi and a pool. Bonus! 🙂IMG_20170111_180549_500wildebeestI spent the afternoon chatting away with the 18 other people in my group. Surprisingly the majority are Americans, which is uncommon, since we typically don’t get much vacation, and can’t travel for this long. Turns out they had all quit their jobs in order to do this type of trip. Most of the group is in their late 20s to late 30s, but we also have a few that are retired as well.
The next morning was officially day one, so we all got up early to have breakfast, meet our tour guide, and check out our safari truck for the first time. 😀IMG_20170112_171500_046

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papaya, banana, passion fruit and watermelon with toast and coffee

Sightseeing in Nairobi

Giraffe Center
The first place we went to visit was a giraffe sanctuary, which cares for the Rothschild Giraffe, one of the tallest subspecies, and apparently a diminishing kind.DSC_7854DSC_7858 When the place opened there were only 112 giraffes left, and now they have over 300. DSC_7842DSC_7856The sanctuary is supported by donations, but also by their on site accommodation, Giraffe Manor. Guests pay about a grand per night to stay in this boutique hotel, where Giraffes can pop into your dinning room during breakfast. So cool!DSC_7853DSC_7852 https://www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/giraffe-manor/

Anyway, as visitors at the park we were able to hand-feed two giraffes, Betty and Helen. They loved the pellets, and even took them from our mouths!DSC_7840Helen basically gobbled my whole face! 😛IMG_20170112_101458_299Her tongue was dry and rough like sandpaper. Luckily, they only have bottom teeth in the front of their mouth, so there was no chance of being bitten. Fun fact: Helen does like to head butt if you try to pet her. Hah! What a spicy little lady. 😛DSC_7860

David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
From there we headed to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. This sanctuary is a place for abandoned baby elephants, most of which have lost their mothers due to poachers. 😦DSC_7897DSC_7876

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resident warthogs at the orphanage 🙂

As visitors at the park, the center gave us a speech about all 24 of the baby elephants, including their names and history. For example, one of the babies was found stuck in a watering hole, and had broken his leg. Although his leg is still swollen, he is now doing much better and bearing weight on the foot. DSC_7877While they talked we watched the elephants play in the mud and throw around soccer balls.DSC_7896DSC_7883DSC_7910They were also very gassy from all that formula, which is apparently a human milk powder specially formulated by David Sheldrick himself.

DSC_7880Anyway, the babies have individual caretakers that hand-feed and care for them. It costs 900/ year to house and feed the elephants, so they really rely on visitor’s support and donations.

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group of school kids lining up to visit the orphanage

People are also able to foster one elephant for 50/ year, where they receive a certificate, watercolor elephant painting, and monthly updates on their elephant. By adulthood, they plan to release all the elephants back into the national parks. 🙂

https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

From there we made a very unconventional stop at the mall to stock up on snacks, drinks and supplies. The mall was very western and expensive. I bought sunglasses for 6 USD, but saw many pairs for 100 USD. I also bought some soda for 50 cents, bottled water, and instant meals for lunch. Here are a few supermarket shots. Also, the power went out twice when we were at the mall. Apparently most Kenyans can’t afford to go there, so it mainly caters to the upper class.grocery

This is also where we learned that we needed to be exactly on schedule, since our truck pays for parking. One of the guys was three minutes late leaving the mall and our truck had already left. Luckily the guy spotted us as the truck was pulling out and he hauled a** across the lot to catch us. 😮

Camping in Nairobi
After the shop we went to our accommodation, Karen Camp. We learned how to set up the tents and received a roll mat to go under our sleeping bag, which is heavily cushioned. Very comfortable! 2017-01-13 03.53.42In the evening, we were given 6 USD each to spend on dinner at the campground restaurant.

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first night at camp, loading up on beers and boxed wine 😛

They had a large variety, like this curry with rice and veg. 2017-01-13 03.50.20The camp also has nice toilets, hot showers, tons of outlets and free Wi-Fi.

Side note on safari jobs: In our group of 20, we were split into four groups and given daily assignments. The jobs are either cooking, kitchen cleaning, truck cleaning or security (i.e. locking up). We also have two designated fire starters that make the fire each morning.

On day 2 we woke at 5 AM to roll up our mats, bags, and take down our tents. The air outside was freezing and I actually ended up wearing my parka until midday. While the fire was roaring, the cookers boiled water and put out a light breakfast of bread, boiled eggs and fruit with coffee. We began our drive passing through the Great Rift Valley, a 4,000-mile intra-continental ridge that stretches from Lebanon to Mozambique, giving birth to many of the surrounding lakes and rivers.DSC_7917DSC_7939 DSC_7916

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artwork at the Great Rift Valley viewpoint

While at the viewpoint we saw a few birds, a Rock Hyrax and a squirrel-like mammal.DSC_7922DSC_7920DSC_7934From there we made our way to a small mall to stock up on food and drinks for the next two days, as we would be heading into the bush. 😮 A typical Kenyan dish is called nyama choma, or barbecued meat. We found goat, but it can also be more exotic, like ostrich or crocodile.DSC_7950
In the afternoon we began a very bumpy and dusty journey to Maasai Mara. We joked that the most dangerous thing we’d run into in Africa is the branches! The thorns are about the length of your pinky finger, and they smack through the open truck windows as we drive by. We also passed loads of small villages where everyone waved to us. DSC_8039DSC_8041DSC_7960DSC_7946DSC_7947DSC_7969We handed out some pens to a few small kids as we made our way to a Maasai village.DSC_7956

Sightseeing in Masai Mara

Maasai Mara Village

This semi-nomadic tribe is well-known for their traditional checkered clothing and unique traditions, like the high jumping dance.DSC_7980DSC_7990When we arrived, they greeted our group with a welcome dance, then a jumping dance. They even invited some of us to try jumping.DSC_7996

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He’s only 22-years-old. Very friendly guy. 🙂

Afterwords the woman sang us a song, then they showed us the inside of their homes.DSC_8019Their village is polygamous and each wife gets her own hut. The chief has eight wives, and we went into of their huts. DSC_8020DSC_8021DSC_8023The dowry for a wife is 4 cows, 2 sheep and 2 goats. We think one of the little kids was flirting by trying to offer us a goat. So cute!DSC_8029DSC_8026The Kenyan government initially tried to prohibit the tribe from practicing their traditions, encouraging them to adopt a more modern lifestyle. Recently; however, Oxfam has told the government to embrace the tribe for their unique skills, such as farming in a desert climate.

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starting fire with wood

DSC_8017Visitors to the villlage give a donation of 10 USD, plus they also sell handicrafts for additional income. Afterwards we headed to the Maasai Mara National Park.DSC_8033
Maasai Mara National Park 

This wildlife reserve stretches across almost 400,000 acres, from southern Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s home to the big five: African lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, African elephant, and rhino, the most dangerous predators to hunt. It’s also home to a unique variety of fauna, including a subspecies of zebra, which has thin stripes across their flank and no stripes on their bellies.15937239_10106240266732327_369939706817873776_oDuring our afternoon game drive we saw African elephants, Banded Mongoose, Hartebeest, Impala, Eland, Thompson’s gazelle, African deer, vulture, warthogs, and giraffe. DSC_8154DSC_8259DSC_8150This is the birthing season in Africa, so there were plenty of babies. 🙂DSC_8342

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Baboons with babies
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zebra with babies

DSC_8307Some zebra looked black, while others looked brown. DSC_8100DSC_8114

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Bandeed Mongoose

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Hartebeest with heart-shaped horns
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Eland

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African deer
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hyena
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birds of prey

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vortex of vultures ready to swoop down

16107519_10106240209816387_4429616792371589134_oIn addition to the birds of prey, we also saw loads of animal carcasses, which foreshadowed our next sighting- two female lions and seven lion cubs! 🙂15975303_10106240152586077_2342106512934471213_oDSC_8171DSC_8194They seemed so calm with four trucks and about a hundred spectators watching them. The lions lazily lounged in the shade with their cubs, only making small movements to yawn and stretch. 🙂DSC_8183DSC_8173

We ended the evening with a stunning sunset view as we made our way to camp. By then it was nightfall, and we set up our tents, while the cooking crew prepared spaghetti bolognese, which was eaten by torch-light. The next morning we awoke at 4:45 AM to pack up everything and head out for an early game drive. DSC_8220Breakfast included a British staple of beans and eggs on toast. After such an incredible visit to Maasai Mara the day before, we weren’t sure it could be topped. Boy were we in for a surprise! 16107131_10106240174552057_8167497017675092081_oFor starters we saw Water buffalo- one of the top five most dangerous animals in Africa. They feel more secure when they travel in packs, and they become more defensive and aggressive when found on their own. Apparently, if a buffalo ever chases you, you’re supposed to make constant sharp turns, since they are unable to follow this pattern.
16112607_10106240296572527_1653619589337612743_oWe also spent over two hours watching a lioness both stalk and attack a herd of Wildebeest! After multiple false alarms, as she would slowly prowl toward the herd, gazing upon the weak ones of the group, she finally took a shot at them.DSC_8365DSC_8272DSC_8288The air was filled with dust and adrenaline as she went flying after her prey. The wildebeest stormed off in chaos, and our group went into a wild uproar of shouts. She didn’t catch anything this time, but it was interesting enough just to watch her observations, as she slowly inched her way to the herd unnoticed.

The landscape here is semiarid, with mostly tan desert plains, making it easy for the lioness to camouflage herself. Nature is so amazing!

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semiarid landscape
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desert plain with a small warthog

Anyway, after another rip-roaring day we began a 7-hour ride to Lake Naivasha. It was quite possibly one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever ridden. It was almost like we were making the ascent up a rickety roller coaster for five hours straight. Luckily we were able to drink beers on the bus and blast good music to make it bearable. And of course it was all worth it to make it to Lake Naivasha and explore the surrounding national park, which was the inspiration for Disney’s, Lion King. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Travel in Kenya: Nairobi and Maasai Mara

    1. Yes, we are off to a great start. It is the dry season in Kenya, but it will be the wet season in other countries on our route. Thanks for checking out the post. 🙂

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