Day 20 Our last full day in the bush and we went back to the waterhole from yesterday. When we arrived the waterhole was empty and that means in times of drought that there must be cats around. And yes, when we got close we saw them. Two male lion were lying at the waterhole. We took a closer look and found out that they weren’t well. One of them was limping and he looked very dehydrated, skinny and his belly looked like a balloon. The other one didn’t look injured but very skinny too. Paul told me that they are brothers and we made the conclusion that one got injured and his brother stayed with him and shared the pain and struggle. It was very touching to watch them and very sad too. When the sun came out they tried to get some shade under a skinny tree about 100 meters away. It took them forever to get there and I was afraid they wouldn’t be alive for long anymore.
When we came back to the camp that morning we had visitors for lunch. A breeding herd of elephants was resting about 50 meters away from our tents under the trees. This was awesome. They allowed us to be so close to them and to share the site. It felt magical.
In the afternoon I wanted to go back to look for the two lions. They were still there under the tree and after a while they started moving again towards thicker bush, probably to find some food. It was very impressing how they carried on trying to survive and how the brothers stayed together. And it was also very sad to watch them and to feel their pain.
We had to go back to Nairobi. On one hand we looked forward to sleep in a bed, having a shower and being at home. On the other hand we had become a good team and we would miss each other and the bush. Anyway, we had to go and Paul drove furiously fast to get quickly back. He also wanted to be with his relative in the hospital and Alex and me wanted to relax, it was after all a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately the bats had left behind quite a mess in the bathrooms and it was really a shame that nobody had thought about nets to keep them out. The facilities were really nice, except the other visitors. I found out later that every morning people are coming to clean the whole place and it’s fine until the bats come back. Nobody seemed to be bothered by it.
Tsavo East is well known for the elephants and we went out to find some. It was very dry and then the best thing to do is going to a waterhole. According to Paul there was a big dam where we could find plenty of animals. When we got there the dam was dry. Even Paul was surprised. He had never seen the dam dry. Not far away was another smaller waterhole and there the elephants were. It actually didn’t look much like a waterhole, more like a mud-hole, but the animals seamed happy with it. The elephants were standing in the mud, enjoying cooling down. Zebra, warthog, jackals and ostrich carefully tried to sip water from the mud. We stayed for hours.
In the afternoon we cruised through another part of the park and also there were plenty of elephants. Beautiful red colored elephants, from the red soil in the park.
We had planned to stay the whole day out, with packed breakfast and the lodge would bring us lunch later. We were on a photo safari in the Sabi Sand in Kruger National Park in South Africa, the heaven for leopard photography lovers.
Staying the whole day out in the bush has the advantage that you can stay with the animal when you eventually found it and follow it the entire day. We had found a female leopard. She had two pretty “old” cubs of about 18 months old, two boys, still staying with her. Usually the cubs have to live on their own by this age, but the boys seemed to enjoy their mother’s care and were in no rush to live on their own and do all the hunting themselves. The mother is a good hunter and also this morning she had a kill hoisted in a tree. But there was no sign of the boys. After she had fed on the kill for a while she started calling for the boys. No response. She started walking away from the tree looking and calling for the boys. The calling is a gentle sound, heard by the cubs and telling them mom is calling and expecting response. But nothing. The mother kept going and calling and after about one hour doing so, she seemed to have enough. Now she was really calling, a loud, strong leopard call that made clear she will take no nonsense anymore. And suddenly one of the boys popped up, just a few bushes away from her approaching her in apologies and trying to sooth her anger. After a moment of accepting the cubs attempts to make it up again, they wandered off to the tree with the kill.
Day 17 We decided to have a quite day with our game drives and also a long rest around lunch. It was just so hot. It felt like being roasted on lave stone and at the same time it was so beautiful, so irresistible beautiful that one takes it all just to be there.
Day 18 We left the campsite at 8.15 a.m. and headed to the main gate of Tsavo West Mtito Andei to hit the road to Mombasa. It was a short drive to Voi where we did some groceries and I got myself some chocolate and a stroll through the market place. The main gate of Tsavo East was just outside Voi and the campsite Ndololo just 20 minutes from the gate. We arrived there before lunch and pitched camp.
When we were about to have lunch a troop of baboons was lining up to get our food. I encouraged Alex to make a statement with the catapult to make clear who is the boss. He would be the one staying in camp when we are out and they would make life for him very hard if he wouldn’t do something right now. He went after them and they got the message.
Tsavo East is huge and doesn’t have many roads. It felt to me like a paradise for the animals, because they can live their lives unbothered by vehicles if they want, yet we had great sightings too. The first afternoon we spotted already lionesses, actually quite close to the camp, on their way to hunt. It was a good start.
When we got back to the camp I wanted to take advantage of the good facilities of the campsite and went off to have a shower. It was almost dark and when I entered the shower I saw them, bats everywhere. I didn’t feel comfortable and hurried up to get away form them quickly.
We heard baboons alarming the whole night. We thought the lions must still be there then and we went straight to the spot where we saw the lioness. Nothing. Paul checked other roads he thought they might have crossed, but nothing. They were gone or deep in the bush.
So we drove over to Mzima Springs, a beautiful lake and drinking water source. They built some kind of a tower in the lake where one can see the fish swimming and look just above the waterline like a hippo. A lovely place and Paul took the chance while staying there to clean our vehicle from tsetse flies. He was not very patient and focused this morning and I heard later that a family member wasn’t well and he was worried. Next to that we had to go to the main gate to recharge our smart card to be able to pay the park fees. Still a consequence from the mixed up itinerary.
We tried to leave worries and annoyance behind when we headed out for the afternoon game drive and we got rewarded. Three klipspringers were playing around on the rocks just next to the road. That was a rare and awesome sighting.
That night I woke up and was afraid. Chewing noise very close to my tent and very loud. I thought this must be something big and my new tent was very small, 1,50 m x 1 m and 70 cm high. I was lying there thinking, if this something big steps on my tent I’m gone, but I told myself too that there was a little roof above the tent and that would prevent an animal from stepping on the tent. I fell asleep again and heard the next morning that it was a giraffe.
It was a clear morning. The wind had died and the Mount Kilimanjaro was beautifully visible. We went out to the little mountain/hill, serving as a viewpoint to photograph the Kilimanjaro. It was awesome and I enjoyed the serenity of that moment. A clear, calm morning in this majestic landscape, it was splendid. After a while we carried on with our game vehicle and followed for the rest of the morning the animals from swamp to swamp.
At lunch time the wind was back. 1.45 p.m. a rainstorm, 2 p.m. again a sandstorm, 2.15 p.m. sun and hot. This carried on for the whole afternoon rest time and there was no place without dust. At 4 p.m. I stopped practicing accepting and started thinking again. We need to change that. I got out of my tent and talked to Paul an Alex. We need to move the tents behind the bushes. They looked at me in unbelief but did move the tents, mine first still skeptical. But soon they were happy we did it. It worked!
4.30 p.m. we wanted to leave for the game drive but the battery was flat. With the help of a couple of Masai we got the car going and left the camp. Just around the corner on a smaller swamp was an elephant baby lying on the ground and two adults were standing next to it, watching and not moving. I thought the baby was dead and felt sad for them, but then arrived an elephant bull and the two adult females woke up the baby. It had been very deep asleep and needed some time to get up. I felt relieved.
The sand storms carried on that night, but we had a good sleep behind the bushes … until the mongoose came, shouting at each other and turning the whole place upside down.
Amboseli was very dusty, windy, flat and breathtaking beautiful. It looked like a moon landscape with craters of swamp where the animals meet and enjoy a day at the pool while it’s hot, dusty and windy around. The wind and the dust were challenging. The dust was everywhere. When I was lying on my mattress in the tent I had to close my eyes because of the dust coming in. It felt very much like Lawrence of Arabia. Alex and Paul took it like the Masai did and the animals, they accepted. I watched and learned.
I was awake and just about to get up when I heard a scream and another one and another one. What was it? A bird? When I got to the main house I heard that somebody saw a leopard next to my tent killing a duiker. I was excited. This was spectacular and I would have loved to see the leopard. We were all standing on the veranda with binoculars trying to find the leopard. Nothing. Suddenly while sitting at the table chatting, Richard (the manager) said, I can see him. We all jumped up. I got my camera and only with the big lens I could see “him”. The leopard turned out to be a cheetah and a female, just up the hill behind my tent, feeding on the kill. What a start of the day.
At 8 a.m. I met Paul and Alex at the gate. They managed to get us a new vehicle and new tents. Nonetheless we decided to go straight to Amboseli and to skip Mount Kenya and Aberdare. The first part of the drive would bring us back around Mount Kenya to Nairobi and from there down to the border with Tanzania. We drove back to Nairobi through Meru. It was very different from the other side of the mountain, lush and tropical with many plantations and colorful villages. Everything went well and we arrived in Nairobi at noon, had a stop at a supermarket, our packed lunch along the road and carried on towards the border, 251 km to Arusha and it was 2 p.m. at Ngong junction. One hour later we had a flat tyre, at 4.55 p.m. we arrived at Amboseli Gate and at 5.45 p.m. at the campsite. What a drive, but we were glad we did it. From now on we wouldn’t have to drive far anymore, except the way back to Nairobi, but that would be at the very end.
It was November 2006 and the time of the short rains in Tanzania, normally not the time photographers want to visit the Serengeti, but I thought it would be great to see the savannah during rains and to shoot with the soft light. At arrival in Arusha it was announced that our safari flight to Klein’s Camp in the Northern Serengeti would have a delay and would not be able to land at Klein’s. There had been too much rain and the airstrip’s soil was to soft for a plane to land. After a while a solution was found. We would fly to Seronera in the middle of the Serengeti and from there carry on by 4x4.
During our flight over the Serengeti we got a pretty good impression what was going on. The Grumeti River was full and the plains were flooded. The often-dry Great Plains were wetlands. From Seronera airstrip we carried on in our 4x4 Landcruiser, heading north towards the Kenyan border where Klein’s Camp is situated. The road we were driving on was still all right, although we had to be careful with the patches of black cotton soil, a tricky soil that looks dry and the moment you drive on it, its like driving on wet soap. After driving for a while we got a call via the radio that another vehicle from Klein’s got stuck and if we could help pulling them out. Their position was quite close and we headed to them to help. The vehicle had dug itself deeply into the black cotton soil and we had to be very carefully to not get stuck as well. The guests were standing next to the vehicle with a desperate look in their eyes, but it was soon clear that we couldn’t pull them out. We would get stuck too. So all the guests got in our vehicle and we carried on. The guys would find a solution for the vehicle later, at least the guests were off the road and on-route back to the camp.
In order to get to Klein’s Camp one has to cross the river. When we arrived at the river it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to drive through it, definitely not with all the people on it. We had to drive to a little pedestrian bridge, get out and walk with our luggage over the tiny bridge to reach the vehicle that was waiting for us on the other side. Masai people were awaiting us on the other side, dressed traditionally and with spear and with a big UMBRELLA! It was such a funny sight to see the brave Masai warriors with an umbrella to shelter from the rain.
Well, we finally arrived at the camp and our driver proved to be brave and a good driver as well. He drove through river with the empty vehicle and everything was fine.
We were the last guests arriving at Klein’s Camp for several months. They closed the camp after we had left. The short rains turned out to be very long rains and the camp was only reopened in August of the following year. Nature has always the last word, not matter what humans want.
I obviously needed it so much, a relaxed day at Lewa Downs with a nice and dry room, a shower and everything just working. So, happily I went out on the game drive with my guide form Lewa and it was really fun. He made a Swahili lesson from the game drive and it was lovely.
Twende …Let’s go. My guide Joel was serious about teaching me Swahili. We started cruising on Lewa in the morning twilight when the rolling hills of Lewa are bluish and mysterious, an awesome light for magical shots. All together it was a very nice day and we saw twiga…giraffe, punda…zebra and pumba mingi … many warthogs and eventually simba … lion with ntoto ya simba … lion cubs.
After 9 days in a leaking tent and a long list of other unsolved basics we arrived around 10 a.m. at Lewa Downs Conservancy. Nairobi office was supposed to book me there for two nights, but didn’t. Anyway, they had a tent for me and I said good buy to Paul and Alex for two days. They went to Nairobi to get things sorted that we could reset the whole trip and have a fresh start.
Lewa Downs is beautiful. The landscape is made of rolling hills bordered by Samburu on one side and Mount Kenya on the other. It’s a Grevi’s zebra, rhino and cheetah paradise and it was a pleasure to drive there with only a few other vehicles. I stayed at the Safari Camp, a tented camp with lovely bathrooms attached to the tents, a real luxury of dry tent with shower. It was also a chance for me to reset, to rinse out the anger and exhaustion of the last 9 days and to get ready for the second part of the trip. It gave me the time and peace to reflect on the last days and what I had learned. There was one conversation we had one night at dinner, which had impressed me a lot.
Paul and Alex are Kikuyu. The Kikuyu tribe lives from agriculture and it’s a custom that there has to be always enough food in the house to feed the family and unexpected visitors. They don’t throw food away and it makes them happy and proud when they can feed others.
Paul said, in the village where he grew up was one family who had a TV and always when there was a football game, the whole village came to watch it at their place. He said this family was very lucky and I thought because they had a TV but he continued, because their food got eaten and not because of a TV. This was completely logical for him and I was quiet and touched by this approach. Thinking back to this conversation always helps me to put things in perspective and reminds me of the basic values of life.
We had just started our afternoon game drive in the Masai Mara when we spotted a herd of zebras. They were grazing on an open plain close to the river. Everything seemed completely normal until we got closer and had a better look. We noticed a young zebra lying on the ground and its mother anxiously watching it. It was soon clear that the young zebra was dead. Its neck had a bite mark, we thought maybe from a leopard, but it was strange that it was still lying there. Maybe the leopard got disturbed. The mother was looking at us as if she was asking for help. It was heartbreaking. She tried to make her youngster to get up and follow her and when the little zebra did not move she came back and tried again. It was terrible to watch her pain and not being able to do anything to comfort her.
After a while the herd started moving of the plain towards the river. It looked like they wanted to cross before it got dark. The zebra mother was still standing next to her youngster, still confused and anxious. Then something very beautiful happened. The herd had to pass her and the little one when moving towards the river and every group of the herd that passed stopped for a while and stood with her watching the little zebra. They shared a moment with her, probably also wondering why she was standing there and not coming. Nonetheless the herd comforted the zebra mother and with the final group she was eventually able to move on as well. And we did too, silent and impressed by the care of nature.
This was the morning I wanted to focus only on nature and photography. No signal-search, no phone calls, not even talking about the unsolved issues, just going to the airstrip at the end of the morning game drive to fetch the tents.
It was a lovely morning. We crossed the river and cruised through Buffalo Springs National Reserve, which is connected to Samburu. This area is a bit elevated comparing to Samburu and opens wonderful views on it. The landscape is magical and breathtaking. We saw also plenty of oryx with small ones, Grevi’s zebra and lovely bird sightings. Before we crossed back to the other side of the river we checked at the airstrip for the tents, but they hadn’t arrived yet. We would try again in the afternoon.
Back on the other side we finally found elephant. They were indeed walking along the river, back after the rain from the mountains. We tried to follow and got stuck. Fortunately other vehicles were around and tried to help, but they were mini vans and not strong enough to pull out a Landcruiser. It was digging. Suddenly a vehicles came back shouting at us that there was a lion coming. Ok, back into the vehicle and wait, although we couldn’t see any lion and with all the vehicles around we didn’t really feel in danger. The lion sighting we didn’t see brought also another Landcruiser to the scene and we were out of the dip in fife minutes. About forty meters further around a bush a lioness was lying in the shade. Maybe she was disturbed on her path and waiting that the vehicle was pulled out and gone, so she could continue or she was just enjoying the shade.
We carried on to follow the elephants and were just in time to watch them crossing the river. It was an awesome sighting and a great closure of a good morning.
Back in camp I used the time before we would have lunch to upload and process my photos. I did this in the vehicle, because it was the most comfortable place to do it, but this morning I forgot to close the car-door. Imagine a Landcruiser with two seats in the front and after a bar two seats in the back. I was sitting on a seat in the back with my laptop on the seat next to me. While I was sitting there looking at the screen I felt a presence, turned to the left and saw a baboon sitting next to me on the bar, checking out the front of the car. His back was probably about 30 cm away from me. My hand wanted to waive him away like an insect, but my mind told me it’s a baboon. The next thought was to jump out of the car, but that would have meant to come between the baboon and the door and what if he panics. So this wasn’t an option either. Next thought was to give him space, space to escape and that was what I did. He didn’t even look at me, just relaxed turned around and jumped out. All that happened within about 2 seconds and I’m still amazed how much a person can think and decide in such a short period of time and how long two seconds can be. I was a bit shaken, because he gave me a fright and also happy that I finally did the right thing by giving him space. Alex had watched the whole thing and went after the baboon to give him a fright back, which of course didn’t work. The baboons there knew us and just waited for a chance to check out what’s on the dashboard.
We took off for the afternoon game drive early to go to the airstrip first. The tents weren’t there and there wouldn’t be another flight that day. We decided to phone the office. They told us that they didn’t know where to send the tents and couldn’t reach us all day, so it was our fault that the tents hadn’t arrived. We were speechless. They had sent flysheets earlier to the very same airstrip and now they didn’t know where we were. Senseless to say that this was the limit, but yet I wanted to focus on the game drive and to photograph. I would make a decision later and we continued with the drive.
At dinner I told Paul and Alex that I will pay and stay at Lewa for two nights and want them to go back to Nairobi to fix the vehicle, the tents and all the other things on the list. After that, they could pick me up at Lewa and we would continue our trip. Everything needed to be reset. Now even the cigarette lighter wasn’t working anymore and that meant no power at all.
Meanwhile also the nearby Samburu Lodge didn’t have power anymore. Their generator had exploded the night before and the rangers had to help extinguishing the fire.
Also this evening Alex’s mind was filled with stories. He told us that ones in the Mara at the very same campsite we stayed he was invited by a Masai to watch a football match on tv in the Masai shopping centre Talek. The guy came to walk him over and while they were walking in the dark at one point the Masai told Alex to walk more on the left. He did and after a while the Masai said, there was a lion. Alex started shaking and the first thing he did was buying a torch for the way back. He said, he couldn’t focus on the match. He was only thinking about the way back to the camp and that he had to pass the lion again. On the way back he was shining with his torch wildly and holding on to the Masai guy, afraid that he would run of if there was any danger and Masai can run fast and he would be left behind. He got back to the camp safely and the Masai said, just look in their eyes, they can’t have that. Mmm, I don’t wanna try and on my way to the toilet that night I was shining very carefully on the bushes along the path.
It was Monday and day 8 in a leaking tent. I was determined to fix it today.
We went out for the morning game drive. It was lovely sunny weather and Samburu was lying there in its breathtaking beauty. We were looking for elephants. Paul explained that the elephants retreat into the mountains when it rains, but should come down again with this wonderful weather. We cruised around to cover all possible paths they could take down from the mountains to the river. Another guide told us they saw them and we hurried to get to the area they were seen, but nothing. No elephant at all. After three hours search we decided to have breakfast, on a spot with a cell phone signal. The office would be open by now.
The breakfast was delicious as always and Paul phoned the office in Nairobi. He had to tell his story over and over again to different people. Nobody seemed able or willing to understand what was going on with the tents. They would call us back with the solution. We waited half an hour and then carried on with the game drive and our elephant search. That was actually what I was here for.
In the afternoon was excitement all around. Lions had been spotted and we headed to the area, but first we had to find a signal to phone the office again. Actually quite close to the lion sighting we had a signal and I just wanted to get things solved quickly to get to the lions. But that didn’t happen. Next to the tent issue was a change in the itinerary I didn’t agree with. I had booked a stay at Lewa Downs and because Lewa has no campsite we should camp just outside the conservancy. That just outside turned out to be 50 km away from Lewa, which made no sense at all and as an alternative they offered me a stay at a farm with game. It couldn’t get into their heads that that wouldn’t be bush and no alternative to Lewa Downs, a rhino conservancy between Isiolo and Mount Kenya in the Laikipia area. At the end it all came down to money. I could stay at Lewa, but had to pay the full rate, next to the amount I had already paid for those two nights. I was furious. Here I was, 8 days in a leaking tent, a vehicle with a couple of main issues, a mixed up itinerary, an unacceptable alternative for Lewa and no way that the company was taking responsibility. We ended the conversation with the result that the new tents would be flown in tomorrow morning and I would think about Lewa. And when we got to the lions, they were gone into the bushes. What a waste of time in beautiful Samburu.
Back in camp Alex had prepared again a lovely dinner. He is an excellent cook. No matter what the circumstances, he managed to create wonderful food, although Samburu got a bit on his nerves. He was very eager to have a fire all night, which wasn’t the case in the Mara and Nakuru. And this evening he came up with a couple of stories he had heard about cooks working in Samburu. One guy had kept papaya in his tent and got visited by an elephant. They love this fruit and can smell it from a big distance. The elephant smelled the papaya, but didn’t know how to get to it. So he grabbed the tent with his trunk and threw it up while the cook was sleeping in it. The tent landed in a tree and the cook was screaming. The other people just opened the zip a bit to see what’s going on, but didn’t dare to get out. Fortunately the cook was able to throw out the papaya, the elephant ate a couple of pieces and went off. Another guy had taken meat out of the fridge to defrost it during the night in his tent. The smell attracted a hyena and she managed to scratch open the tent to get in. At that moment the cook woke up and screamed, the hyena panicked, both were moving wildly, the tent collapsed and both tried to get out. Somehow the hyena managed to get out and ran off. Both cooks resigned and never went back to the bush again. Also this night we had our fire burning all night.
I woke up, still tired and exhausted, my mattress surrounded by rainwater. I had enough of that. This had to be solved.
We wouldn’t have a game drive this morning. The vehicle had to be fixed and the leaking tents had to be replaced. Paul and I went off to find a signal. He wanted to call the office in Nairobi and finding a signal for the cell phone was quite a mission. I was running out of patience and told him, enough now we are going to use the sat phone. The sat phone can be tricky as well, but we managed to get a signal and I got the operational manager on the phone. I made clear that the situation is unacceptable and that they have to send over new tents. He promised he would do that and the tents would arrive with the first plane. Next thing was the vehicle. The tank needed to be welded and Samburu Lodge workshop could do it. We drove there and I decided to have breakfast at the lodge. It didn’t take long and Paul came to tell me that the generator was switched off, so no welding and we had to come back after lunch. We went back to the camp and I collapsed on my “bed”, still surrounded by water. It was just so annoying that the equipment didn’t meet the basic needs and I was very angry and knowing that that wouldn’t help either.
Paul went to the airstrip to fetch the new tents. He came back with flysheets. I thought I must explode when I saw that. These flysheets were lighter, but to small to cover the tents and new tents were promised. I fetched my sat phone and called the operational manager and the owner. Nobody answered the phone. After all it was Sunday.
We tried to make something out of it and some kind of a weird flysheet construction covered Paul’s and my tent. It had to do till Monday. Phoning the office would be first thing in the morning.
After lunch we went back to the lodge to fix the fuel tank and we could go off for the game drive at least in the afternoon. Samburu is so beautiful and that made the disturbance by poor equipment even more annoying. Samburu’s landscape is breathtaking and the light was awesome because of the rain. Everything looks soft and bluish, which gives completely different shots. Eventually the animals made our day by rewarding us with beautiful sightings like fighting giraffes in front of a blue/gray sky and the green of the acacias. After all a peaceful closure of the day.
Again the night ended at about 4.30 a.m. with hooting matatus and the mullah calling for prayer. We got up to find out there was no water. Fortunately we still got some in our jerry cans. We left the campsite at 7.30 heading north to Samburu National Reserve. The first stop was after an hour and a half at Thomson Falls. A nice place with a small hotel, good facilities and the waterfall. We had breakfast and a walk to the falls. We were awake now for what promised to be a long day.
From Thomson Falls the road goes along Aberdare National Park and then north around Mount Kenya. It’s a clime up to about 3.000 m through a fertile agricultural area. Although the altitude is high the rain and the soil make everything growing in abundance. After two hours and a half we reached Nanyuki. I liked the name and the place. A colorful buzzing African place. Nanyuki is Masai and means “place of red water”. I didn’t see water, but maybe when the Masai first arrived, they found the water colored by the red soil of the area. We stopped and did some shopping to have enough food for our stay in Samburu.
From Nanyuki we drove to Kenron Grill, a restaurant just about one km away from the road to have lunch. When we got there we were the only guests except the local police officers, having their lunch as well. Because our itinerary was mixed up from the first stay in the Mara, the restaurant had expected us yesterday and not today, what meant that there was nothing prepared, what meant the meat was still in the freezer. So we got grilled frozen chicken, but we were hungry, we ate it all.
We left Kenron Grill at a quarter to two and started descending to Isiolo from about 3.000 m to about 1.600 m altitude. It was a beautiful drive, down the slopes of Mount Kenya with a view over the Laikipia area. The vegetation changed. It was dry land, desert like. Isiolo felt different. The market was along the road, it was buzzing, people herding their camels and yet it felt more poor than other places. Maybe because it’s not a fertile agricultural area and people have to fight every day to get food on their plate. We had to register our vehicle before we could continue to Samburu. There had been incidents in the past with bandits on this road and registration is for security. If you get lost they know where you were last and when you departed for Samburu. It was a weird feeling. I had read about this in the Rough Guide and now I was there. Alex told me that there was nothing out there when we left Isiolo, only desert with poachers from Somalia. But he said quickly, that was in the past. It’s much better now. Anyway I was sitting in the vehicle thinking what am I going to do when we get ambushed. Nothing actually. Give them what they want and hope that they are happy with it.
We carried on to Archers Post. There would be the gate to Samburu National Reserve. It was the most horrible road I experienced throughout whole Kenya and the only way to make it bearable was to drive very fast. There were roadwork’s going on to provide a wonderful and comfortable new road, but it was far from being finished. The good thing was, that the roadwork’s had brought many people there working. Small settlements were along the road and it turned out that the drive didn’t feel as unsafe as I had expected. There was something out of Isiolo.
We reached the Archer’s Post Gate at 4 p.m. and lost our fuel tank. Paul had filled up both fuel tanks (the Landcruiser has two) and the rear one had just fallen off. Rangers, Paul and Alex were underneath the vehicle fixing it with ropes that we could continue. It was actually just another thing that didn’t work properly, the fridge (repaired in Nakuru), the leaking tents (still not fixed!!!), my car door (when I closed the window the door fell open) and now the fuel tank. Half an hour later the fuel tank was roped up and we carried on to the campsite. It was 4.30 p.m.. A truck was driving in front of us, it had rained, the truck got stuck and we got in his trail and got stuck too. Everybody out, spates out and digging. We pitched camp at 5.30 p.m. The public campsite in Samburu is next to the river and also next to the rangers headquarter. Alex choose a spot next to the river and close to the facilities. They were challenging.
It started raining again and even with the flysheets (still the heavy ones) my tent was leaking badly. I kept everything packed and in the middle of the tent in case I have to get my stuff out quickly. We all had an early night after an exhausting day. At about 11.30 p.m. I woke up from voices next to my tent and then I heard THE noise. The river. When we arrived the river was low and small, now it was a dangerous stream. This is also called a flash flood. It had rained in the mountains and all the water came suddenly like a wave. My tent was the closest to the river and now just about two meters away from the water. I rushed out, gave Alex and Paul a shout to wake them up, got my stuff in the vehicle, broke down my tent together with Alex and Paul and set it up again on higher ground. That all happened in 10 minutes. It probably sounds quick, but it isn’t. If the flood had got to me, there wouldn’t have been any time to get out. It was about midnight when I was in “bed” again and it was still raining and my tent still leaking. I woke up a couple of times from heavy rain and the noise of the waves coming down the river. This day taught me once again what it means to be in the bush. No matter how tired or exhausted you are you got to take on the challenges.
It was a noisy morning. About 4.30 a.m. the Matatus started hooting and at 5 a.m. the mullah called for prayer. Waking up by city noises in the bush felt weird and suddenly the Nakuru National Park felt like a zoo to me, which is a pity, because it’s beautiful.
The group from the truck got up, packed and took off within 15 minutes. Amazing. We were not that fast, but off for the drive with packed breakfast at 6.30 a.m.
There is a road going around the lake with just a few side roads. It’s an easy course and even school buses come and take the children out for a lovely day with the animals. And there were plenty. In the first place plenty of birds and specially flamingos, thousands along the shore. Our drive took us around the lake through a beautiful fever tree forest. Paul told me that there is one part of the shore where we can get close to the flamingos and we made our way to that spot. As we approached the shore we saw a hyena next to the road. She didn’t respond like a healthy animal usually does, being alert, keeping distance or even run off. This hyena must have been injured. She could hardly walk, her eyes were looking empty, she was behaving like in trance, focused to get to a hiding place, what we figured was a dip next to a drainage pipe, where she lied down, looking exhausted and stressed. We let her alone to avoid more stress for her (we actually didn’t know if it was a male or female, difficult to say with hyenas) and decided to come back later. I thought she was dying.
Just about a 100 meters from the hyena was this broad part of the shore with thousands of flamingos. Vehicles can get there very easily and the rest you can walk and this is actually the interesting part, because there were not only birds, but also rhino and buffalo. At this lake one can really forget very quickly that this is the bush and drop guard while busy with the tripod and focused on shooting birds in the most beautiful interaction and suddenly the photographer becomes an easy target for a buffalo. Nothing like that happened, but it crossed my mind and I kept an eye on the buffalo and rhino. Shooting the birds was awesome and the memory cards were filled quickly. We decided to drive a bit closer to the big mammals and had our breakfast between the rhino, buffalos, zebras, pelicans, flamingos and plenty of other bird species. This was also a good moment to set up office to upload the photos and check emails. Yes, check emails. I can’t imagine a more beautiful location for an office and thanks to the satellite technique nowadays this is possible.
For our afternoon game drive we started again our round trip around the lake and we were very lucky to see colobus monkeys. This is a rare sighting and they were just next to the road jumping in the trees. I actually got a couple of good shots to find out later that I lost them somewhere between uploading and backup. Again a lesson in staying focused and being careful all the time.
Our drive brought us to the dip where we left the hyena in the morning. We approached carefully and yes she was still there and for a moment I thought she was dead, but then she tried to lift her head. She was in a very bad shape. There were no visible injuries, so we assumed there could probably be internal bleedings, maybe a kick from a buffalo or something like that from interaction with another animal. There was nothing we could do.
How do lion cubs learn? Just as children by playing, falling and standing up and teasing the adults. We were on photo safari in the Masai Mara when we spotted a lion pride with a little cub, as it turned out later the little star of the family. There were more sub adult young lion, but only one little cub, the baby of the family. Just as young children, little lion cubs love to play and by doing that they learn important skills for their life in the bush. In this case the little lion cub felt very confident with his mother and aunts around to explore the mount they were lying on. Unfortunately the mount had a whole on one side, what made a good rim to sit on, but for a “feeling confident” little cub it became a trap, not a dangerous one, but he made a good role head first into it. His mother watched him calmly and maybe even amused when he lost his balance and fell over into the whole. But no worries, he was just learning about his balance. He climbed out and found a new target, his older brothers. The first brother’s tail became the subject of learning how to bite in moving objects. His brother made in a gentle way clear that this was not what his tale was there for and the little cub moved on to the second brother. He did that by stalking him carefully, just like he would do during a hunt and then jumped on him, biting in his neck. His brother didn’t even move, the little one was to little to heart him and only practicing hunting. However, the little cub seemed very pleased with his results and took a nice nap using his brother’s belly as a pillow, before he embarked on new adventures of his young life.
The night was quiet. I heard again the breathing next to my head, which was a hippo according to Alex, grazing at night around the tents.
We left the campsite at about 8.30 a.m. and headed towards Nakuru, our next stop. Paul said we are taking a short cut to Narok, but this wasn’t really the case. We headed away from Narok and made some kind of a circle back onto the tar road. My guess was that we had to avoid driving through the reserve, like we did on the first day, The itinerary was mixed up and we hadn’t paid the park fee for the last day. Anyway our drive brought us along lots of animals and led us through a flood plane, which was the less nice part. All black cotton soil and wet, which is like driving on wet soap and one makes a good chance to get stuck. But we made it without bigger difficulties and hit the tar road to Narok. From Narok we followed the road back to Mai Maihiu and instead of turning right to Nairobi we headed north towards Naivasha and Nakuru. The drive was without any incidents, at least for us. There was a turned over Matatu on the side of the road. Fortunately nobody seemed to be hurt, although the faces looked in shock.
We arrived in Nakuru and to my surprise the Lake Nakuru National Park is only 10 min away from the city centre. The campsite was just behind the gate next to the ranger post under the cover of fever trees and in sight of the lake with its pink ribbon of flamingos along the shore. It was so tempting to just go there and have a look at the flamingos, but Paul reminded me that just recently a ranger got killed by a lion just in front of the ranger post.
We pitched camp and it was raining again. There was supposed to be somebody from the office in Nairobi with flysheets and a new fridge. He arrived just before dinner and the flysheets turned out to be impossible to use. They were big and heavy, made from some kind of synthetic leather, you use in car interiors. The first difficulty was that we needed trees to hang on the sheets, because there were no poles. When we fixed that, the sheets started soaking water and became even heavier what made them hanging down on the tent which collapsed, because of the weight. Anyway, it was late, we were tired and I just wanted to sleep in a not leaking tent. We postponed the sheet issue to the next morning.
We had dinner and suddenly a truck arrived on the campsite. Such a big lorry transformed into an overland bus. I learned that these trucks are doing tours from Nairobi to Cape Town and stop at the campsites in the National Parks. It was like watching a show. Maybe about thirty people pitched camp and had dinner. This happened like a military operation. Always two people fetched and pitched a tent until the camp was set, without any space between the tents and in a correct circle around the cooking area. It took them 15 minutes to do that. Then a designated group started cooking other groups looked after the table settings and other jobs that had to be done. There was no waste of time and manpower. After dinner within 15 minutes everybody was in the tents and ready to sleep. I was wondering if those people were on holidays.
Early wake up call at 5.30 a.m.. I wanted to shoot a sunrise. We were up quickly and off into the park. Paul had a tree in mind which would make a perfect picture with the sunrise in the back. We were racing. The sun came up quickly. And there was the tree. One of those beautiful umbrella trees set out as dots on the big planes of the Mara. While racing there I had mounted the camera on the tripod and was ready to shoot when we got there. It was awesome. This gracious tree in the golden light. I was happy. It was a good start of the day.
While getting back into the vehicle we heard a lion roaring. We thought immediately of the pride of lions we had left the previous night and headed towards the area. Unfortunately when we got there we only had to follow a trail of vehicles. The lions had settled around a mount. The females and males were lying around in the shade of bushes. The cubs were climbing the mount with their full tummies. They must have had a kill.
It should have been ideal for photography. Blue sky, sun, a pride of lion with playing cubs, but it was hectic. Many vehicles were there and made a half circle around the pride. But when more vehicles arrived the circle became close to a full circle and this is not the background for the lions you want. Some vehicles arrived and drove through the whole scene, the drivers were sometimes very close to drive over a lion’s tail, but it didn’t look like the lion were irritated by that. Maybe we were a sighting for them and they were amazed what a competition was going on in front of their eyes.
In sight a few hundred meters away, another group of vehicles was watching something. The group was growing, so we assumed it must be a cat and they were all looking at a tree, so it must be a leopard. We left the crowded lion sighting and drove over to the tree. Yes, there was a leopard in the tree, but the sighting gave only space for two vehicles and the visual was 2 out of 5. Nonetheless there were six vehicles fighting for a good view on the leopard. It was ridiculous and we decided to come back later and drove back to the lion. We were not the only one to drive back and forward between the lion and the leopard. It was an absurd scene of vehicles racing between the two sightings trying to get in a good position. The whole scene felt like it was all about the humans and their competition and not about experiencing the beauty of wildlife. After a last attempt to get to see the leopard we left. A vehicle had parked in front of the animal, blocking the space for another one, people sitting on the roof and moving constantly, so that parking in second row made no sense too. I had enough.
We heard that three cheetah males had been seen and we went there. It was in a different area and a bit of a drive. Another vehicle followed us. It was a guy on his own cruising around in his Land Rover. He asked Paul to stop and talked to him in Swahili. After that we carried on and he tailed us. I asked Paul what this is about and he told me that the guy doesn’t know the way to the cheetahs and asked him to guide him there. I stopped the car, stepped out, walked towards the Land Rover and stopped him. What did he think speaking sneaky in Swahili to Paul and using a guide I had paid for to get to the sighting. I wouldn’t mind, but ask me too. Obviously the piled up anger from the vehicle sighting race of the morning came onto that guy. I apologized, but since then he kept his distance.
The cheetah were in rough territory. Rocks were lying everywhere and access was difficult. Also there the same story. The sighting gave space for two vehicles and one was blocking it. Sometimes I’m not sure if the drivers just don’t know how to handle a sighting. This one felt like that. The cheetah were beautiful, but my photographs were not. I guess the emotions of the morning distracted me and I wasn’t focused, but the animals were awesome.
We drove back to the camp to have lunch and a rest. That would be the chance to reset for the afternoon game drive. And it did. The lunch was nice and I had a shower and a nap. I was ready to go out again.
The strategy for the afternoon was to go back to the lion and to see what more is coming on the way. Rain came and the light went bluish and soft. The lion were still wide spread around the mount. We decided not to go anywhere else. Just to stand our ground and see what’s going to happen (there was enough space for about twenty more vehicles). It was lovely. The cubs were playing with their mums, some of the females were taking position on the mount to scan the area for prey and the male lion were lying in the bushes. And then the rain started again. I loved to watch one female who was on the top of the mount, trying to hide her head between her paws against the rain. She closed her eyes, waiting the rain to stop. She was beautiful.
We too closed our “eye”, the hatch and went back to the camp, were leaking tents needed attention and Alex was waiting with dinner.
It was a good first night in the bush. The sleeping bag I had brought with me was to warm, but that was little concern. Everything else was fine. It hadn’t rained that night, so the tent was dry too.
We got up at 6 a.m. and had a quick breakfast. We planned to stay in the bush for the whole day to see a crossing at the Mara River and it’s quite a long drive to get there. Alex made us a packed lunch and we were off.
We drove to a part of the river where wildebeest had been seen and that meant there could be a crossing. Very few vehicles were waiting in a safe distance from the river to give the animals the space to gather together and get ready to go. It’s all about patience. They start moving and everybody gets excited and then they change directions and the waiting starts again. After a while we thought, just let’s try another usual crossing spot and we headed further up the river.
On our way we heard about a leopard in a tree and we went there first. A female leopard had a kill and was feeding on it. Only three other vehicles where there and it was a relaxed sighting. The female was a bit restless and annoyed by birds that were shouting at her. She went off and on the tree, getting a drink and thinking what to do next. She decided to stay in the tree and to have a nap. The birds carried on with their noise and her ears were flat in annoyance. We enjoyed being with her for hours. The other vehicles had gone to their lodges for breakfast and we stayed alone with her, enduring the increasing heat and the camera always ready in case she was going to move.
Our only source of electricity during the safari (also in the camps) was the vehicle. An inverter transformed the power from the cigarette lighter into power to recharge the laptop and batteries. That meant one had to be very conscious about using battery powered equipment. When and for how long do I need the laptop? When can I recharge the laptop again? The laptop couldn’t be recharged while being in use and only when the vehicle was driving or the vehicle’s battery was full after a longer drive. It would drain to much power from the vehicle’s battery and the inverter switched off automatically when it became critical. For that reason any chance of battery power had to be used wisely. That made me setting up “office” while we were with the leopard. A couple of memory cards were already full and it wasn’t even lunchtime. I had to upload them to the laptop. So while I watched her and had the camera ready to shoot, the laptop was running and the processing had to be watched too. I was tired by noon. We decided to leave her alone and carried on to the river.
Paul and I had different opinions on where a crossing would be possible. I thought let’s go to the main crossing where they usually gather and he thought let’s check first other possibilities. So we first checked on other spots and got to the main crossing as the last option. There were probably about 12 vehicles and they had the good news for us: just half an hour ago about a thousand wildebeest had crossed. We stayed to watch the last 5 or 6 to cross the river and Paul became cross with himself. It made no sense to get angry. It was gone and that’s just how it is with looking for wildlife interactions, you never know for sure what and where it’s going to happen. It’s on their terms.
We started heading back to the camp, a long drive and a thunderstorm building up at the horizon. It started bucketing in an instant. You could hardly see the road and Paul got nervous. He told me later that he panicked a bit, because the road had a couple of deep dips and getting stuck was the last thing you want. When the rain stopped we were on safe roads and were rewarded with the sighting of a big pride of lions. The light just after the rain was soft. The playing cubs and mums looked smooth. A serene scene of family life.
From the lions it was just a short drive to our camp. It was about 6 p.m. when we arrived and still raining there. I fetched toilet paper and dried my tent, organized the luggage that I could remove it easily if it would start raining hard at night, had a shower, a quiet dinner and wanted nothing more than to sleep. I was so tired.
I was on safari in Africa and it was pouring rain and it was hot. It was tough and it was beautiful and it all started in Nairobi.
Departure 8.15 in the morning. The safari vehicle was waiting for me with Paul the driver and Alex the cook. Alex was tired. He had worked a lot and fell a sleep as soon as the vehicle started to move. We headed towards the Masai Mara through the suburb Muthaiga to get onto the road to Mai Maihiu, a more scenic road than the A104 they said. I’m actually not sure if the road was more scenic. For my feeling it took longer than the highway and it was probably not such a good idea, because it was already a long drive to the Mara. Anyway we took this road and it was a good road, built by Italians after the war. After Mai Maihiu the road was really bad. I guess lots of traffic to the Mara from Matatus, safari mini vans up to trucks and 4x4s like us. It was hot, dusty and bumpy. The road went through dry land. Every now and then a settlement or market and some animals, most of them cattle, little wildlife.
We reached Narok after a three hours drive and had a break at a gas station. Narok is a busy town and it seemed that everybody took a break there to get ready for the Mara. Lots of mini vans with tourist, having a last or first (depends where you come from) bathroom stop, a drink and a snack. A good business for the inventive, friendly and persistent vendors. The gas station was fine, except that there was no gas. So, Paul went off to get some somewhere else and we hit the road again.
The tar road stopped shortly after Narok and from there it was a bumpy dirt road to one of the gates. After an hour and a half we entered the Mara through the Sekenani Gate and it was like a miracle. It was dry land until the gate and from there it was green with plenty of wildlife. It almost felt like entering a zoo, like the animals know they are supposed to be there, because it’s the famous Masai Mara with lots of wildlife. It made immediately everything worthwhile, just to be there with the animals. Another 40 minutes drive brought us to another gate, the Talek Gate where we pitched camp just outside the gate at the Crocodile Campsite. This was after a 6 hours drive, including the stop in Narok and we drove just 245 km. The campsite was next to the river Talek and a bit further was the Masai shopping center. We choose a nice spot and two Masai came to help setting up the tents, which was nice, I guess for all of us. Alex the cook was very strict with the kitchen stuff. Nobody was allowed to touch it and he set up his kitchen in a secure cabana, which has the function of a kitchen. Secure means for the food. The animals can’t get to it and that makes the life of the cook much easier. The facilities where ok. Simple but tap-water, shower, a sink and dry toilets. And my tent looked good as well. A light dome tent with enough space for me and my equipment. So, everything looked good and I was ready for a small snack and off on the game drive.
We drove for 15 minutes and there was a leopard in a tree and we drove another ten minutes and there was a pride of lions and a cheetah with three cubs. This is unbelievable. Three big cats in one game drive just around the corner from the camp. But that’s also a result of the Mara of the cell phones and because it’s so crowded with vehicles. The Mara is quite flat and open and when you see more than seven vehicles looking at something you know it’s a cat sighting. If there are no vehicles in sight, just call other drivers and they’ll tell you. I was struggling with that a lot. On one hand you see really lot’s of animals and on the other hand it’s a disaster with all the vehicles on the cat sightings. About fourteen vehicles fighting for the best spot making a game drive a competition and stressful event for all, the drivers, the guests and the most for the animals. There are rules, some kind of, but it seems a sport to get around them. It annoyed me a lot that I had to spend so much energy on anger about vehicles blocking a sighting forever, driving through the picture and getting so close to the animals that they almost drive over their tail. It started raining, or no actually it was bucketing. Great to see and lovely shots of wet cheetah cubs playing with mum. And I was worried about the tents.
When we got back to the camp the rain had stopped and unfortunately there was reason for worry. My tent was leaking. It came through the stitches where bottom and top were stitched together and it was all around. The nice tent became smaller. Luggage and mattress in the middle and toilet paper around as a safety belt to soak up the rain. I told Paul and Alex about the leaking and Paul had the same in his tent. We would call the office in Nairobi the next morning to ask for flysheets to cover the tents and the fridge was also not working, so this was on the list too. The dinner was delicious and I had an early night. A leopard was calling next to my tent. I thought, yes, that’s what I’m here for. Wonderful.