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. 🙂Something 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 That’s because they had a problem with counterfeit bills a few years back, so they’ve withdrawn that money from circulation.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.
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! 🙂I 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. 😀
Sightseeing in Nairobi
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. When the place opened there were only 112 giraffes left, and now they have over 300. The 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! 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!Helen basically gobbled my whole face! 😛Her 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. 😛
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. 😦
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. While they talked we watched the elephants play in the mud and throw around soccer balls.They were also very gassy from all that formula, which is apparently a human milk powder specially formulated by David Sheldrick himself.
Anyway, 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.
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. 🙂
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.
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! In the evening, we were given 6 USD each to spend on dinner at the campground restaurant.
They had a large variety, like this curry with rice and veg. The 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.
While at the viewpoint we saw a few birds, a Rock Hyrax and a squirrel-like mammal.From 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.
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. We handed out some pens to a few small kids as we made our way to a Maasai village.
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.When we arrived, they greeted our group with a welcome dance, then a jumping dance. They even invited some of us to try jumping.
Afterwords the woman sang us a song, then they showed us the inside of their homes.Their village is polygamous and each wife gets her own hut. The chief has eight wives, and we went into of their huts. The 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!The 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.
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.During our afternoon game drive we saw African elephants, Banded Mongoose, Hartebeest, Impala, Eland, Thompson’s gazelle, African deer, vulture, warthogs, and giraffe. This is the birthing season in Africa, so there were plenty of babies. 🙂
Some zebra looked black, while others looked brown.
In 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! 🙂They 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. 🙂
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. Breakfast 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! For 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.
We 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.The 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!
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. 🙂