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 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.


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 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.


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


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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Kenya Day 2 - Porini Amboseli

We had breakfast at 5:15AM which is super early.  But, it was necessary since we had a 7:30AM flight to catch.  We said our goodbyes to Moses and learned that we would see him again at Porini Lion later in our trip.

Our flight left from Wilson airport which handles all the domestic flights.  It was a short drive from the park to the airport.  When we arrived we were escorted personally by an airport employee all the way from our van to the plane.  The service was exceptional.

At this point, I need to back up and mention that for all these domestic flights we were told we would be limited to 15kg (33 lbs) of luggage including carry on.  We figured this would not be an easy task since my camera backpack was 20 lbs all by itself and Karen's snacks probably weighed that much as well.  So, not only did we have to buy a new lightweight bag but we practiced packing to be sure we could hit that limit.  Let me tell you we left quite a few items at home in order to make that weight limit (like my yellow ducky pajamas).

Well, all that trouble was for naught because they didn't even weigh our bags at the airport.  They just went in one end of the X-ray machine and quickly out the other.  The same was true with our next flight out of Wilson too.  Heck we could have packed 50 lbs of plastic bags and no one would have been the wiser.

Anyway, the flight to Porini Amboseli was only about 30 minutes and since all the passengers were ready at 7AM, that's when the plane left.

Arriving at Porini Amboseli:
Arrival Plane

Shortly after our arrival a couple vehicles showed up dropping off folks that were leaving and picking up us new arrivals.  We met Daniel and Amos who would be our guides/spotters for our time at Porini Amboseli and we liked them both.

It was now about 8AM and time to head out for what would be about a 3 hour game drive.

We didn't get far before we found one of my must see animals of the trip.

Gerenuk Pair

These are one of the coolest antelopes around.  They are slender with great looking horns and their ears stick out "Will Smith style" from their heads:
Gerenuk Closeup

But, the coolest thing about them is that they have really long necks and have evolved to stand upright to reach more tender leaves.  No other antelope can do that and it's awesome!

Gerenuk Standing

The Selenkay Conservancy had a lot of birds so here is a taste of what we saw on this drive.

Buff-crested Bustard:
Buff-crested Bustard

Little Bee-eater:
Little Bee-eater

Red and Yellow Barbets:
Red and Yellow Barbets

Black-faced Sandgrouse:
Black-faced Sandgrouse

Superb Starling:
Superb Starling

Long-tailed Fiscal:
Long-tailed Fiscal

Black-shouldered Kite with lunch:
Kite with Lunch

European Roller:
European Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller:
Lilac-breasted Roller

Black-headed Heron:
Black-headed Heron

We also saw some good looking Warthogs (No, I don't think that is an oxymoron).  They must have just come back from the salon.  Check out those blonde highlights:
Common Warthogs with Blonde Highlights

Giraffes were abundant on this drive so we got some great looks.  The coloration of the Masai Giraffe is really pretty and their tails were spectacular.

Masai Giraffe

Masai Giraffe with Young

There is a watering hole close to camp that has a a platform set up so you can get out of the vehicle and see some of the animals from a higher vantage point.  It didn't take long for the elephants to show up.

African Elephants

Showing some nostril:
Nice Nostrils

They made a bee-line for the water.
Elephants Drinking

And they took some mud baths...
Elephant Taking a Mud Bath

The Elephants were great fun to watch.

After watching them for a bit, we climbed back in the vehicle for the short drive to the camp.  Just like at Nairobi Tented Camp, the tent we had was very nice. Notice the Gerenuk curtain to the bathroom:
Porini Amboselli Tent

En-suite Bath:
Ensuite Bath

The Throne:
The Throne

Now, I know you are wondering if I was able to stand up and pee in this tent.  The answer was "yes".  But, photo evidence has been withheld for obvious reasons...

The camp itself was very nice.  The Selenkay Conservancy is filled with large bushes but the camp was built among some cool looking trees.  Before our afternoon drive, I wandered around camp and found lots of things to photograph including the camp itself.
Porini Amboseli

Dining Tent with the Masai "gift shop" back and to the left.
Dining Tent

This little bird bath attracted lots of birds to the camp.

And here's a shot of the typical Safari Vehicle.  This one had OK leg room but the back row did not work for tall people so Tim and I had to sit elsewhere.
Safari Vehicle

The trees around the camp were not only occupied by birds but they were also occupied by Vervet Monkeys.
Vervet Monkey

Northern Pied Babbler:
Northern Pied Babbler

White-headed Mousebird:
White-headed Mousebird

Unstriped Ground Squirrel:
Unstriped Ground Squirrel

Beautiful Sunbird (That's actually its name):
Beautiful Sunbird

Vitelline Masked Weaver:
Vitelline Masked Weaver

White-bellied Go Away Bird:
White-bellied Go Away Bird

Nubian Woodpecker:
Nubian Woodpecker

And finally, another Vervet Monkey:
Vervet Monkey

Our afternoon game drive left at 4:15PM and we got back at around 7:30PM.  We saw quite a bit in that time.

Lesser Kudu:
Hidden Kudu

Von de Decken's Hornbill:
Vod der Decken's Hornbill

More Giraffe of course:
Masai Giraffe

A pair of Black-shouldered Kites:
Black-shouldered Kites

White-browed Coucal:
White-browed Coucal

Our first Dik Dik!  This is a Kirk's Dik Dik and it was really cute but they don't tend to stay still long.
Kirk's Dik Dik

Emerald Spotted Wood Dove:
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove

Black-chested Snake Eagle:
Black-chested Snake Eagle

Male Lesser Kudu:
Male Lesser Kudu

As the sun was going down, we headed back to the camp to have sundowners on the platform by the watering hole.  The light was just about perfect.

Blue Wildebeest:
Blue Wildebeest

If you ask nicely, the Elephants do tricks...
Elephant Balancing Act

Our first African sunset wasn't that spectacular but I liked the cloud formations.
First African Sunset

Some Zebras came in to drink:
Zebras Waiting Their Turn

Plains Zebra

As did some Giraffe.  Although the young one in the back never got up the nerve to actually drink.  Because they are so vulnerable when they drink, the Giraffes were really cautious around the water.

Giraffe Drinking

Drool Much?

At that point, we lost too much light for photos. But, it was certainly an exciting day and we saw tons of wildlife.  The trip was certainly off to a great start.