Friday, 30/09/2011: Nairobi
We woke up early and indulged ourselves in the excellent buffet breakfast. We then cleaned out the car and took all our belongings out. The amount of dust in that car was incredible! When we had done this, we did a bit of shopping in the hotel’s shop and then set off into town. Traffic was as horrific as ever - apparently there was an agricultural fair taking place on Ngong Road, just around the corner from the hotel. We didn’t find the right turn onto Ngong Road, so we crawled along in the traffic jam, trying to head in the right direction. After more than 30 minutes with cars overtaking us on all sides, we suddenly came to a point where the road split into a left-hand and right-hand lane. In order to get into the left-hand lane and not to block the traffic wanting to go to the right, Mick overtook a couple of cars on the outside and then pulled into the left-hand lane. Immediately, a police man pounced on us, demanding to know what we were doing. Before we could even answer he declared that he would charge us with the offence of “causing obstruction by overlapping” and that we had to appear in court that afternoon at 14:00. Great! What a crazy accusation given that pretty much every single car had committed the same offence and got away with it, but the policeman obviously thought that he could extract something from us muzungus. We said that as a matter of fact we couldn’t go to court this afternoon as we were leaving the country. Not quite true, but who wants to spend the last day of a Kenya holiday in some crazy court for a “crime” that every single driver is constantly committing in Nairobi? The policeman appeared to be somewhat puzzled by this statement, but when he saw Mick’s UK driving license, he realised that he had hit on tourists rather than locals! Oh oh, big mistake Mr. Policeman! He obviously felt rather foolish, wished us a good day and told us to get on our way. harassing tourists is not exactly the best advertisement for a holiday in Kenya! We were just glad to get away without further complications.
It took us nearly one hour to get to the KWS headquarters, where we did some shopping in the little gift shop before continuing to Nakumatt in Karen. We had a quick snack of samosas before heading to Dagoretti to drop Charles’ things off and pay him. Charles was rather surprised that we found the way to his place ourselves, but by now we had been there a few times. Within minutes we were surrounded by lots of kids, who all wanted to know if Maren’s reddish hair was real and wanted to touch it. They all were very excited. Victoria wasn’t at home, but she left Maren a gift of a hand-knitted white and pink handbag. We kept our visit relatively short and, after offloading all of Charles’ belongings from the car, we returned to Karen. We went to a curio shop to buy some carved animals and picked out a pair of fighting elephants as well as another carving for Maren’s mum. As we had only 7000 shillings left, we offered that to the salesman (who’s price started off over double that) and said take it or leave it, in order to avoid any lengthy bargaining. We then had a coffee in a café outside Nakumatt, where the unmistakable figure of Jonathan Scott walked past us! He was greeted enthusiastically by the waitresses and disappeared inside the café.
We then paid our last visit to the DSWT nursery, where we met Tal again a bit before 17:00. She was very pleased that we had enjoyed the Ithumba experience (minus the car troubles). Before all the other visitors were let in, she took us into the bush to catch up with the elephants before they returned to the stockades.
They were still pretty calm despite the milk feed coming up. We saw Rombo, who looked much better, but apparently hadn’t yet bonded very well yet with the others. He’s got a big scar on his ear, so it should not be too difficult to recognise him when we meet again. There were two new arrivals since our last visit four weeks ago: Kihari and Kasigau, the little bull from Tsavo. Kasigau was still a bit kali (fierce), so we were told to be careful.
At some point Sities walked up to Maren, grabbed her hand with her trunk and shoved some of her fingers into her mouth to suck on them! What a strange feeling that was! And she was sucking really hard! One has to be careful not to get the fingers between their teeth though! Who would have thought that we would even end up having our fingers sucked by an elephant? What a great end to an elephantastic trip! Much better than going to court…
As soon as the message came through that the milk bottles were ready at the stockades, the elephants were off! We followed them back to the stockades, where Tal had to leave to get to a party on time.
Once the elephants get into their stables not much more happens and Rombo seemed rather shyer than last time and didn’t want to interact with us. Little Naipoki, the baby of the group when we visited, was already asleep. So, as David had called to say he was waiting for us at the gate to collect the car, we didn’t hang around much longer.
David had taken a taxi to the gate of the National Park and he took over our car while we got in the taxi. After the troubles of the last days, we were not too sad to see the car go, but one has to say that it performed very well and was much better than the Range Rover we had during our last trip. Of course, being in a taxi meant that we didn’t have to worry about the manic traffic. Back at the hotel we repacked all our bags and had spaghetti and sushi for dinner.
Saturday, 01/10/2011: Nairobi – London Heathrow
We got up early again, had breakfast and set off for the airport. The taxi ride was swift, as there was hardly any traffic. It would seem best to time any future arrival and departure dates in Kenya with a weekend as this is a lot less stressful in terms of traffic. At the airport we immediately had to go through security, where the lady at the big X-ray machine asked if we had a stone in our kit bag. We did – one we had collected in Samburu. She insisted on seeing it, and when Mick dug it out, it was in a bag full of sand. The lady pounced on that right away, saying we were not allowed to take minerals out of the country. It’s obvious and right that they don’t want you take animal products and gem stones and the like, but sand??? The sand suddenly seemed much more important than the stone, which she never actually looked at. A long discussion ensued and we told her that we take sand to give to family and friends as a small piece of Africa and that they all love it, blah, blah, blah… Eventually she seemed to get tired of it and let us go through with it, although only with the reminder that we should never do it again! We were not sure if she was maybe hoping for a bribe. After the check-in we did a bit more shopping before boarding the Kenya airways plane.
At Heathrow the Sheraton Skyline had spacious rooms and a large comfortable bed. Turning on the TV news we learnt that a French lady had just been kidnapped from Lamu. That was the second kidnapping in three weeks! As it was Saturday, the main restaurant was closed, which was rather annoying. We ended up in the Sport’s bar - the only eatery open – and had some nice but very expensive steaks. Back to European prices.
Sunday, 02/10/2011: London Heathrow - Home
We left the hotel early and had breakfast in the lounge at Heathrow Airport. Maren stayed well clear of bacon and eggs, which Charles had served us in very large quantities (we must have eaten about 100 eggs in this one month!), but Mick had a good dose. The flight to Lisbon wasn’t very long, but there we had to wait for nearly five hours. Fortunately, we could use the lounge again and we had free internet. All our bags arrived at Faro and our neighbours were waiting for us to take us home.
Overall we had an absolutely amazing trip: we drove more than 4260 km; we saw the great migration which was very impressive; we got up close to lions and cheetahs (but unfortunately, leopards evaded us for the entire trip, so we have to return one day to find them!), we met friendly wild elephants and could go and cuddle the orphans. We saw some amazing scenery; camped in very interesting places and had car problems only right at the end of the trip. Compared with the many punctures we had last time, that was pretty good going! We took some 9,000 photos and lots of video, some of which you can see on this web site. And we are already thinking about going back to Kenya one day, but then probably again in December/January time, when the light seems to be better and the landscapes may not be quite as dry as they were during this trip.
We want to give a special commendation to Charles. It’s always difficult to hire staff without a personal recommendation, but if you are planning an independent safari to Kenya, we can wholeheartedly recommend him. Charles welcomed us on arrival with a ready prepared shopping list and took pains to shop carefully and economically. He was up well before us every morning to have a big breakfast ready about half an hour before sunrise. Lunch was always waiting for us when we returned from morning game drives and he rarely repeated his tasty menus, unless we specifically requested one of our favourites. The same went for evening meals. And of course we never had to do any washing-up! He looked after the camp when we were out and helped with the often tricky navigation when we drove from one place to another. He maintained a scrupulously clean kitchen, despite the bush conditions, and on the two occasions we have taken him on month-long safaris we have never suffered any tummy upsets. A self-drive camping safari could have been rather exhausting: taking Charles gave us a touch of luxury at an affordable price. You can contact Charles through his website.
After our return we compared the photos of the three male cheetahs that we encountered in the Masai Mara on 03/09/2011 with those we took of the famous “Honey’s boys”, on our previous trip in December 2008. Based on the pattern of their spots we could match them! They were indeed “Honey’s boys”, well known through the BBC series “Big Cat Diaries”. Unfortunately, we learned that one of them was killed by a lion only about a month after we saw him! That was very sad news indeed, but the other two seem to be coping okay for the moment.
Not only was there sad news about “Honey’s boys”, there had also been some recent upheaval in the Marsh pride, where Romeo and Clawed had been ousted as pride males by a coalition of four young males called the "Four Musketeers”. The easy life they had when we saw them is now over, and by the beginning of February 2012 Clawed was killed and Romeo was presumed to be dead as well, as he hadn’t been seen for a long time.
A couple of months after our return it started raining in many parts of Kenya, and we have now seen some amazing photos of a totally green landscape in Meru, Samburu and Tsavo! It looks incredibly pretty, but it must make spotting the animals even more difficult, as they can just disappear in the lush greenery!
We managed to sell some of our photos taken when the Ithumba orphans took their red dust bath to several of the British daily newspapers! See the Publications section for more information.
In Ithumba, Mulika gave birth to a healthy female calf called Mwende in November and Yatta had her first baby, a girl called Yetu, in January. Both immediately brought their calves to meet their human family. This is amazing proof that the rehabilitation of the orphaned elephants really works! Poor Kora on the other hand returned to the stockades with wounds from two poison arrows, but fortunately survived and is out and about again now with the others.
As of 10/10/2011 we are now proud foster parents of Rombo! And our herd is still growing, as we also fostered Sities as a Christmas present for Maren’s goddaughter.