We had an incredible afternoon drive in Lake Nakuru before we checked into our next lodge. Evidence of Africa’s drought was everywhere from Nairobi to Amboseli; however, Lake Nakuru’s area seems to be unaffected. The grass was tall and a vibrant green, the foliage full. In many areas it seemed like we were more in a jungle than a savannah. Immediately upon entering this national park we saw an abundance of wildlife.
Of course no trip to Lake Nakuru would be complete without actually visiting the lake and, we were surprised to find out, was the one area where visitors are allowed OUT of the safari vans. From a distance, the lake looks like it is tinged with pink -- upon closer inspection you realize that it is simply filled with flamingos. There were so many that my camera lens could barely capture them all. The pelicans seemed to enjoy the lake as well. Of course getting a closer look at these creatures meant walking through some pretty muddy grasslands. I was quite thankful to be wearing my boots that day!
A huge heard of buffalo were close by and didn’t seemed phased at all by the many visitors.
We drove to a high point in the park and were able to look down at the lake -- what a view! Right next to us was a large family of baboons who didn't seem to mind the company. We even saw a few hyraxes scurrying along!
At the end of the day we started back toward the lodge when Lawrence (our driver) got a tip that a python was sighted. He had only seen one ONCE and decided we were going back to the lake area to try to find it. Of course it started to rain at that point and the dirt roads were getting harder to pass. If I’m being honest, there were a couple of times that I thought we might get stuck in the water - not a great feeling when you realize there’s a python out there! Sadly we didn’t find it but it did make for an interesting story!
Our accommodations for the evening for quite comfortable. We stayed at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge for one night. The food was pretty good compared to our other hotel and the room was a little more spacious!
In the early morning we had one more safari drive -- alas the python eluded us again! We did see some other pretty incredible creatures though. I was THRILLED to finally see lions! The fact that they were relaxing right next to the road made it even sweeter!!
. . . OFF TO THE MASAI MARA
After the game drive, we strapped in for our next LONG drive -- this time to Masai Mara. The six hour drive had us pass many shacks and homes along the way. We saw many adults and children walking along the road - many waving to us as we passed. There were many goats and some thin cattle. Every now and then we’d even see a gazelle waltzing by. Although many of the children smiled at us as we passed by, we couldn’t help but feel terrible when we saw the extreme poverty conditions they were living in.
We stopped along the way, once again, for a picnic lunch (although this one wasn’t as good as the last one!) At least there was some good shopping. As we “neared” Masai Mara, Lawrence warned us that the road would be a little bumpy. We thought we had already been on some very bumpy roads so we weren’t quite sure what to think of his first “warning.” We learned quickly enough! It is apparent that the road to this park has not been paved since the British left Kenya back in the 60s. There were so many pot holes in the road that there was hardly any road to drive on! I kid you not, we often drove off the main road and onto dirt roads so that we could bypass as much of the paved areas as possible. It took us about an hour to finally reach the main entrance to the park and I , for one, was extremely grateful for sports bras at this point!
Masai Mara is the park that you usually hear about on those Animal Planet shows. It has more wildlife than most, if not all, of the other parks in Kenya. We arrived in time for an afternoon game drive and, once again, the animals did NOT disappoint!
Our accommodations for our first night in Masai Mara was at the Mara Sarova Game Camp. Unlike the other places we stayed, this was not a traditional room, but rather a tent. A large comfortable tent with electricity and a full bathroom, but, nevertheless, a tent. In case we got forgot we were sleeping in a tent, the sound of a shrieking bird at 2am reminded us where we were.
We had asked for an 4:45am wake-up call since we were leaving early in the morning for our hot air balloon safari. One problem -- there are NO PHONES in the tents. Still, we got our wake-up call -- a gentleman stood outside our tent (on the porch) and shouted to us to make sure we were up!
So in the dark wee hours of the morning, we (and about 8 other tourists) boarded a van that took us on a 45 minute ride to another lodge where we filled out some papers and, yet again, boarded another van (with even more tourists!) which took us on a much shorter drive to the balloon landing area.
OUR BALLOON SAFARI
We watched as they inflated the balloons.
The Captain (Roy) then asked each of us to CLIMB over the basket wall to get inside. We were packed in there pretty tightly, but once up in the air no one seemed to mind as much! The view was amazing! One of the coolest things was seeing the hundreds of thousands of wildebeests and zebras making their annual migration to Tanzania.
After the balloon landed we all enjoyed a champagne brunch in the bush! It was the icing on the cake!
Once we returned to our hotel we had time for an early lunch and then a wonderful afternoon safari. Once again we were treated to the sights of some incredible animals!
Our next hotel in Masai Mara (where we spent two nights) was at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge. OMG! This lodge had spectacular views. We opened the doors to our balcony and saw a bushbuck less than 8 feet away. We saw warthogs wandering close by, and a family of baboons as well. Off in the distance we could see herds of elephants and giraffes walking across the savannah.
Everything about this lodge was wonderful . . . except for the many steps we had to walk up/down to get to our room. The lodge was built in a “U” shape (similar to a Masai village). The reception and dining area was in the center which was on the top of his hill. The rooms went down the hill in both directions and we were pretty far down! Other than that, we really had no complaints!
We were lucky enough to have an afternoon safari (the balloon safari wasn’t enough for one day!) and then we had another full day (2 more safari drives) the next day.
We were able to unwind and relax a bit between the drives. Sitting by the pool was an nice way to decompress.
We enjoyed one last morning drive before heading back to Nairobi.
We were all a little sad to say goodbye to the parks. Also, none of us was looking forward to another bumpy ride. This was, by far, the LONGEST drive we would have - it seemed endless. At one point we were able to stop along the road to say hello to a little boy who had been waving to us. He was standing by the side of the road tending goats. He looked to be no older than 7 and was all alone. We hadn’t seen anyone for a mile or two. We offered him a piece of fruit and a juice box. He seemed so excited that we decided to give him ALL of our fruit (we had another 5 pieces in the van!). We watched as he ran up this dusty hill toward some cattle. We guessed that the rest of his family was there and we hoped that his family would be thrilled with his “haul!”
. . . BACK IN NAIROBI
Once back in Nairobi we said our goodbyes to Lawrence and settled in the our room at the Nairobi Serena Hotel. (it was nice to finally see it during daylight hours!) We were all pretty exhausted that evening and opted for a quiet night in our room featuring beer, wine, and burgers!
On our final day in Nairobi we met Charles, our driver/guide for the morning and afternoon. He drove us to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - an orphanage for elephants (most whom lost their mothers to poachers) and a couple of rhinos. While hearing the stories of how these animals each became orphaned is heart-breaking, seeing how they interact with their “keepers” (who act as a substitute family) warmed my heart.
Next we visited the Giraffe Center - a sanctuary that is trying to save the lives of the Rothschild giraffes. They have a successful breeding program there and enjoyed “meeting” several of the residents!
Nearby was the home of Karen Blixen (who wrote “Out of Africa”) and we enjoyed a fascinating tour of her home. In addition to many original artifacts, were pieces of movie memorabilia. As we toured the home we watched as a lavish wedding reception was taking place on the grounds.
Afterwards we enjoyed a light bite to eat at the Coffee Garden and Restaurant (on the property.) I learned that some of this land was used as a coffee plantation during her life.
Our final stop of the day was at a Masai Market. Once again we were impressed by the beautiful craftsmanship of some of these pieces. Wood carvings, beaded boxes and bowls, and sculpted sandstone pieces seem to be the most popular items.
At the airport we had a few hours to kill but, luckily, it was a lot nicer than Rome’s airport. There was ample shopping (needed to get rid of every last shilling!) and enough food to eat and drink. We met a few interesting people while we waited. First an Angolan man tried to convince Meredith to sponsor him so he could come to America and get a job. We also met a young Englishman (college-aged) who was returning home after a month in Tanzania and Zambia on his own. We traded some of our funnier stories and it certainly made the time waiting pass more quickly.
Luckily our evening flight on Kenya Airways from Nairobi to London was relatively uneventful. Our flight home on Delta Airways from London to NYC was a little nuttier. Once again we were on a full flight and the flight attendants were a bit nasty to some of the passengers. It definitely makes you see why some foreigners say Americans can act “ugly.” The attendants were rude and it made many of the passengers uncomfortable. Once we landed we had to wait a VERY LONG TIME to get our luggage -- but once it did I headed straight home and tried desperately NOT to fall asleep so that I wouldn’t be too jet-lagged the next day.
So now I’ve been home a little less than two weeks. I must admit . . . I do miss Africa. Somehow seeing a deer grazing on the side of the road just doesn’t hold the same allure anymore!