Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Kenya Day 1 - Travel and Nairobi National Park

Despite all of our travels, one thing has been sorely missing; Africa.

In part, this is because figuring out where to go in Africa was overwhelming due to the huge number of possible countries and options within each country. Not to mention the long journey to get there.

After doing a lot of reading on Safaritalk.net and other online research I was finally able to narrow down the country to Kenya.  Once I weeded out the sphincter tightening $1000+ a night per person places a common theme starting emerging in my research; Conservancies.

The conservancy model in Kenya struck a huge chord with us because not only did it directly benefit the local people and wildlife, but due to the restriction on the number of camps in most conservancies there would be less people, which meant less vehicles.  There was also the added benefit of more flexibility in the conservancies like driving off-road if needed and doing after dinner night drives.

So, with both the country and locations within the country picked, I looked at tour operators and once again one stood out; Porini.

The people at Porini pioneered the conservancy model in Kenya and every single one of their camps has hundreds of 5 star reviews.  Plus, the price was more reasonable since they were running specials at the time of my research.  A big added bonus was when a Porini representative reached out to me to offer a free private vehicle if I could get 4 total people for the trip.

So, an itinerary was built with help from Julie at Porini US that looked like this:

- 1 Night Nairobi Tented Camp - Nairobi National Park
- 3 Nights Porini Amboseli - Selenkay Conservancy
- 4 Nights Porini Mara - Ol Kinyei Conservancy
- 4 Nights Porini Lion - Olare Motorogi Conservancy

However, try as we might we could not find two other people to go with us so we decided to splurge on a private vehicle anyway.  While we always meet great people when traveling you never know if other people will be compatible with you and we didn't want to risk getting paired up with people that weren't.

A few months after booking everything, we got great news from our friends Tim and Andrea who originally weren't able to make the trip.  Their conflicts had cleared up and they were going to join us in Kenya!  I guess our joint trip to Borneo last year didn't scare them off.



3:30AM alarms are never fun.  But, they are tolerable when you have the added excitement of a pending trip.  So, on this occasion we didn't mind it much.  But, we did mind the 35 degree temperature at the Tucson airport that we were NOT prepared for.  Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for the shuttle.

Getting to Africa from the western US is no picnic.  You pretty much have to fly through Europe which, for us, meant flying to Houston, then Frankfurt, then Nairobi.  All told, it was 31 hours from our door to the Eka Hotel in Nairobi.

The flights themselves were OK except for the Houston to Frankfurt leg which had constant bad turbulence.  Despite splurging for business class on our Lufthansa flights there was no sleep to be found during that 31 hours so we were completely wiped when we arrived.  I did enjoy the German accents of most of the crew though.  They all sounded like Bond villains and it seemed like they were torturing me with their tasteless food.  "Do you expect me to talk", I would imagine saying and they would respond "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die"...

Thankfully, our journey through immigration and customs was only about 30 minutes and after a brief wait, a Porini representative was located and we were whisked away to the Eka Hotel which was pretty close to the airport.  Note that not one person even looked at our bags going through customs so we needn't have worried about the couple of plastic ziploc bags buried deep within.  Apparently, the plastic bag ban was not strictly enforced since we saw nobody's bags get inspected.

There was some serious security at the Eka Hotel which included a stop at the main gate where the vehicle was inspected inside and out.  Then to get into the hotel our bags went through an X-ray machine and we had to go through a metal detector.  That is something we haven't experienced in our travels before but I guess it's not much different from what most US high school kids go through these days.

After a short night's sleep and decent buffet breakfast, we were met in the lobby at 8AM sharp by our Porini driver who took us to Nairobi National Park.  As we entered the park, we saw a safari vehicle with two friendly faces.  It was Tim and Andrea!  They had spent the previous day in Nairobi National Park so this was our planned meeting location.  After big hellos and hugs, we all climbed into the safari vehicle.  Our guide and driver for our stay would be Gordon.  This was going to be the first ever safari drive for Karen and I.  We were excited!

Nairobi National Park seems like a great place.  It's filled with wildlife and is on the border of the city so you can actually see the skyline from most locations.  It's a great place to see Rhino which is why we decided to spend one night there.  We would get a morning and afternoon game drive in so the chances of spotting a Rhino should be pretty good.

Right off the bat, Tim spotted a very distant Rhino.  It was so distant and hidden by the tall grass that we could hardly see it.  So, we ended up not counting it but we were off to a good start.

The wildlife was everywhere in the park and encounters happened quickly.

Impala:
Impala

Thomson's Gazelle:
Thomson's Gazelle

Hartebeest with Baby:
Hartebeest and Baby

Boy, the Hartebeest is an "interesting" animal isn't it?

Our driver mentioned that some lions killed a Wildebeest so we headed off in that direction and got our first look at wild African Lions.   They were very impressive but we couldn't get that close since we had to stay on the road:

Lion

Lion Feast

Before the drive ended, we had some other nice spots as well.

Common Warthog:
Common Warthog

Karen immediately became a bit "smitten" with the warthogs.  They would always run away with their tails straight up in the air.  Then they would stop and seem to forget why they were running.  But, then they would see us again and take off running.  This would sometimes repeat a few times.

We also got our first looks at one of Karen's favorite animals.  The always regal Giraffe.

Look at that Tail

There were a couple more good photos ops before reaching camp.

Helmeted Guineafowl:
Helmeted Guineafowl

Angry Impala?
Impala Close Up

We arrived at the camp where we met Moses the manager.  Moses is very personable and did everything possible to make our one night stay as nice as possible.

Our tent for the night would be #7:
Nairobi Tented Camp

It was VERY nice inside with just about everything we could need.  Notice the nice touch of the rose petals since it was Valentine's Day.

Nairobi Tented Camp Room

Nairobi Tented Camp Bathroom

The only small complaint I had was the low roof over the toilet.  I had to do my best Quasimodo impersonation in order to stand and pee at the same time.  But, that was a small issue compared to a couple pleasant surprises.  Namely, you can flush toilet paper in Africa!  Who knew?  After so many trips to Latin America and Borneo recently we just took it for granted that we wouldn't be able to do that.  Plus, all the tents at each camp had tissue (the Kleenex kind for your nose, not the Charmin kind for your tushy).

The rest of the camp was equally nice and it didn't take long to find their stocked bar.

Dining Tent:
Dining Tent

Lounge Tent:
Nairobi Tented Camp Lounge Tent

The bar!
Oh Yeah!

Our afternoon game drive wasn't until 4PM so after lunch I walked around the camp to see what wildlife I could spot.  During lunch we spotted a little deer like animal but we never could get a decent look.  After lunch, I managed to find it again and it held still so that I could photograph it and later identify it.

Suni:
Suni

I also managed to get a good look at a new bird that was common at most of our camps.

Common Bulbul:
Common Bulbul


We had a really nice afternoon drive which included a Rhino sighting.  In fact, there were two White Rhinos but both were far from the road (you can't drive off road in Kenya National Parks) and they were back lit on top of it.  But, I managed a proof shot.

White Rhinos

Since we had Rhino covered now, the rest of the drive was stress free so we just let Mother Nature decide what to throw at us.  I think she did pretty well.

Impalas About to Spar:
Impalas with Nairobi Skyline


Seeing animals with the Nairobi skyline in the background was really neat.  It's not the sort of thing you typically see.  They also had some cool signage in the park.

Nairobi National Park Sign


Masai Giraffe:
Masai Giraffe

Giraffe Close Up



Eland:
Eland

Plains Zebra:
Plains Zebra

Baby Zebra:
Zebra Foal


Something interesting we learned from one of our guides at another camp was that the baby Zebra are born with legs just about as long as the adults.  This was so they wouldn't stand out as babies to the predators since when looking from down low all Zebras would be the same height.  The best shot I have of this is of these two Zebras.

Hiding Behind Mom

Male Ostrich:
Male Ostrich

Female Ostrich:
Female Ostrich

Yellow-necked Spur Fowl:
Yellow-necked Spurfowl


That ended our first full day on Safari and I think it was a pretty good day.  We saw 15 mammal species in Nairobi National Park and that's not bad at all.  There didn't seem to be a lot of bird life and we saw no reptiles but it's certainly worth a visit if you have a day to kill in Nairobi or really want to see Rhino.  Tim and Andrea saw a lot of Rhino (both White and Black) the day before so we were just unlucky on this day.

Dinner was just as good as lunch so we hobbled off to bed well fed.  Unfortunately, it wasn't the best night's sleep since there were tons of weird noises and screams throughout the night (No, not from Karen).  Not to mention stuff falling on the tent roof from the trees.  Gordon said the noises were likely Herons or Bush babies.  It would have been nice to see a Bush baby but you aren't allowed out of your tent at night since there are no fences to keep the wildlife out.