Surfin Safari

Kenya Travel Blog

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My proclivity for traveling started at an early age, and the one destination that always enchanted me--even at that early age--was Africa; particularly an African safari.  Somehow I knew that my travel resumé would be inadequate unless I donned a downturn brim, safari khakis, and journeyed out to the endless plains of the Serengeti where I would see with my very own eyes the untamed animals I used to watch only through other people's lenses.  This past summer [and I thank the travel Gods] my safari aspirations were at last fulfilled.

The adventure begins in Nairobi, Kenya . . .

Nairobi is a bustling, modern city with 3.

Buffalo
5 million people.  It's probably not one of the safest places in the world (especially now), and our visit to the U.S. Embassy memorial for the 1998 bombing was a harsh reminder of this fact.  To be fair, though, much of Nairobi's crime isn't in the downtown district but in the outskirts where the slums are.  One quirky thing I remember about Nairobi is their city ban on smoking.  No one can smoke, even outside, unless they are in designated areas that are usually roped off.  Nothing quirky about that, but here's the irony--the city has no regulations on car pollution.  There were times when I thought I would literally succumb to the exhaust fumes belching out from passing cars and trucks.  Perhaps I'm missing the point, but I'd rather wish for someone to light up a Camel.
Zebra after the water
  But this is Africa, and the one thing you have to learn real quick is that Africa doesn't adjust to you--you have to adjust to Africa.  One more thing worth mentioning about downtown Nairobi are the shops.  There are tons of them, and if you're looking for some quality souvenirs, you're sure to find them here. 

From Nairobi we drove to the Masai Mara park reserve, which turned out to be a six hour trip.  Our lodge was approximately 5 miles from the park entrance, of course, the animals don't know about park boundaries.  Our first night there (we slept in huts; photos supplied) I woke up hearing some strange sounds.  Upon further investigation I discovered there were 4 or 5 giraffe grazing around the huts.  Two nights later, we had a herd of zebra pass through.

Here I am at the Mara Serena Lodge.

The Masai Mara reserve is relatively small compared to the Serengeti, and it isn't even the largest reserve in Kenya, but this makes it advantagous for people wanting to see lots of animals because the animals simply can't spread themselves out.  The Masai Mara and Serengeti are actually separated by the borders of Kenya and Tanzania, and the Masai Mara is often referred to as the northern expansion of the Serengeti.  Our visit came during what is called "the Great Migration", when millions of wildebeest, zebra, and a variety of antelope make their annual trip into Kenya.  It was so incredible to witness the unending lines of these beasts galloping across the plains as far as the eye could see.  And with the prey come the predator .

Eating a scrumptious supper in the dining lodge.
. .

The Mara West Camp, perched on the edge of the Oloololo Escarpment, and overlooking Masai Mara National Reserve, served as our home away from home.  Owned and operated by Andy and Deborah Aho, the Mara West Camp offered us all the comforts of home and the warmest hospitality you could ever imagine.  We had flush toilets, hot showers, delicious meals, and an incredible staff--many of whom are Masai.  If a personal touch is your particular brand of vodka, I would recommend this place without hesitation.

Our first morning was filled with anticipation.  My expectations were high and yet, I still had some concerns that we might not see as many animals as we hoped for.  Well, I should have known better, especially after my encounter with the giraffe the night before, not to mention the slew of animals (hyenas, zebra, impalas, and wildebeest) we had already seen just on our drive from Nairobi.

These giraffe were right outside our lodge.
  After a hearty breakfast, our group loaded up in two rovers with our cameras, binoculars, bottled water and set out on our path to adventure.  The one thing some of us didn't prepare for were the chilly mornings.  As we were just south of the equator, this was winter time, and although by midday it was almost hot, the mornings were rather brisk.  Another important item to have on hand is some kind of sun protection.  If you're fair-skinned, or even if you're not, the sun down here at the equator can crisp you super fast.

One of the great things about the Masai Mara, unlike many other reserves, is you don't have to stay on the roads.  Providing you have a capable vehicle, the beaten path is only used as a main route.  Our driver, a local Masai, was a superb guide.

The dining lodge.
  He had eyes like a hawk and could spot animals that we would otherwise never have seen.  It is worth mentioning here that your safari experience will only be as good as your guide, and the locals are the best.

There were certain animals that you couldn't avoid, simply because of their astounding numbers.  These included the wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, impalas, and antelope.  As mentioned earlier, we were there during the migration and on our first day we witnessed thousands of wildebeest stacking up at the edge of the Mara river.  This is a common occurrence and you may have seen this filmed on National Geographic.  The wildebeest eventually get pushed off the high banks, starting a domino affect.  The wildebeest follow those in front of them in order to cross the river.

Standing up in our Rover, shooting pics.
  Many of them die from the fall, from being trampled, or from the crocodiles that wait patiently in the river for dinner.  It really is a spectacle to see, especially in person.  While we were parked at the river's edge to observe this crossing we had a black-faced monkey climb on top of our Rover.  He was very persistent in getting a souvenir from us.  Our guide told us that the monkeys like shiny objects and if they can get their hands on something--whether it be a camera, binoculars, or glasses--you just as well kiss it goodbye.  Obviously, we guarded our valuables verly closely and finally offered the monkey a pen.  Happy with the offering, the monkey jumped to the ground and headed for his next potential victim--our other Rover.

Our first day also provided us a rare opportunity: getting a glimpse of a leopard with his kill up in a tree.  As we drove to the site, the leopard jumped out of the tree and sped away before we had a chance to realize what was happening.  As we approached and came closer we saw his kill hanging in the branches.  It was a zebra.  It's just amazing that a big cat could haul a 3 or 4 hundred pound animal up into a tree.  Leopards are one of the most difficult animals to actually spot since most of their hunting is done at night.  In this particular case, the leopard had caught his prey shortly before dawn and we just happened upon him in the middle of his breakfast.

The second day of our safari started out on a much better note.

If you look close you can see a Massai tribesman with his herd of goat in the distance, and satellite dishes standing out like a sore thumb.
  After purchasing a fleece pullover at a gift shop I was able to keep warm.  The highlight of this day was watching the zebra gingerly wading into the river to quench their thirst.  Unfortunately for the zebra, getting a cool drink of water carried with it a high risk of disaster.  On the opposite bank were several menacing looking crocodiles soaking in the sun, but once the zebras began splashing about the crocs quietly slithered into the murky water and disappeared.  I think everone in our group sincerely hoped that the zebras would get the heck out of there, but for those of us with our video cameras, well . . . you know, a surprise attack would make for some excellent video to take back home.  And so we waited . . . and waited .
. . and waited.  Nothing.  Where the hell did the crocs go?  A half hour passed and our guide started up the rover.  It was time to move on.  With the motor idling, the guide waited just a bit longer . . . and then it happened.  A croc blasted out of the water so fast that all we saw was a blur.  The zebras charged out of the water in a frenzy, all but one of them.  The crocodile had clamped down on the zebra's front leg.  Even though the zebra was putting up a gallant fight, we were all sure it was doomed to become just another meal.  Somehow, and I don't know how, the zebra got loose and joined the herd not too far away from the river.  All I can say is that was one lucky zebra.  Of course, it was difficult to say how bad its leg was mangled.
This was our plane that took us back to Nairobi. The landing strip was out in the middle of nowhere.
  Our guide said that it would undoubtedly become a prime target for another meal because the cats can smell the blood and sense when the prey is weak.

And speaking of cats, our next promising moment came later that same day when we stopped close by a small family of cheetas resting on a termite hill.  Approximately 200 yards behind them was a continuous line of wildebeest running across the plain.  The cheetas didn't seem bothered by us, at all.  But after a short time that we were there they suddenly became interested in the wildebeest.  The hunt was on.  Very slowly, two of the cheetas began zigzagging closer and closer to the prey.  They would move a few meters, stop and hunker down in the grass, then move again.

  They repeated this process over and over.  It seemed like it took forever, and I think we were all growing a little impatient.  The two cheetas were practically on top of the wildebeest before they made their charge.  Exactly as we had figured, they sprang after one of the smaller wildebeest.  It really wasn't much of a contest.  The wildebeest was pulled down almost immediately.  The funny thing about it was that the third cheetah was content to remain napping on the termite hill the entire time.  As I relive the moment watching the video I took, I can hear all of us quietly cheering for the cheetas.  I know, it sounds cruel, but the cats have to eat, too.  Right?

Each day we would leave around 7:00 am and wouldn't return to the lodge until dark.

A small family of cheetas.
  The Mara Reserve rules maintained that you needed to be checked out of the park by 6:00 pm.  Most of us in our group were friends with Andy, the owner, and so he would go with us.  Our lunches were packed every day and we would have a picnic wherever we happened to be at noon time.  I remember one day, in particular, we spread our picnic out under a acacias tree and was surrounded by zebras in the distance as we ate.  That was way cool!

I believe we were able to see just about every animal you can think of on this safari, except one: the rhino.  It just so happened that while all the other animals were migrating to the north, the rhino was migrating to the south.  Oh well, 99 out of a 100 ain't bad.  My one regret on this trip is that I only brought my Canon Powershot digital instead of my SLR with more powerful zooms.

Early morning and we're ready to go safari surfin.
  But then again, I was more concerned with taking video than stills.

Our trip back to Nairobi was on a 10 passenger single engine plane, which we met on a landing strip in the middle of nowhere.  Naturally, in stride with African time, the plane was three hours late and so we played hacky-sack until it landed. 

One other consideration when visiting these parts for a safari are the hot air balloon rides, if you have the extra dough, that is.  You'll have to shell out a few hundred dollars per person for a one-day tour, but it looks fun. 

Swahili is the native language in Kenya so if you're going here's some important words to plant in your vocabulary: Hello - Jambo; How much money? - Bei Gani?; Food - Chakula; Thank you - Asante; How are you? - Habari Gani?; Good bye - Kwaheri; Beer - Pombe.

A small village we passed through on our way to the safari.

gwizzle17 says:
Great blog! My brother is a nature nut and dreams of going on an African safari. As I was reading this, I would read a few parts aloud to him because they were so exciting! =)
Posted on: Jul 19, 2008
mypictures4u says:
I went on Safari many years ago. '92 (or '93?) in Tanzania. Ngorongoro crater, lake Manyara and Tarangire NP. It was awesome! Hope to to it again with my children someday. :-)
Posted on: Jul 08, 2008
compassionlily says:
Great job!
Posted on: Jul 08, 2008
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Buffalo
Buffalo
Zebra after the water
Zebra after the water
Here I am at the Mara Serena Lodge.
Here I am at the Mara Serena Lodge.
Eating a scrumptious supper in the…
Eating a scrumptious supper in th…
These giraffe were right outside o…
These giraffe were right outside …
The dining lodge.
The dining lodge.
Standing up in our Rover, shooting…
Standing up in our Rover, shootin…
If you look close you can see a Ma…
If you look close you can see a M…
This was our plane that took us ba…
This was our plane that took us b…
A small family of cheetas.
A small family of cheetas.
Early morning and were ready to g…
Early morning and we're ready to …
A small village we passed through …
A small village we passed through…
This lioness is checking out a her…
This lioness is checking out a he…
Elephants and zebras.
Elephants and zebras.
Hyenas
Hyenas
Close-up of the infamous fire ants…
Close-up of the infamous fire ant…
Hippos
Hippos
A warthog and its two little ones.
A warthog and its two little ones.
Me and my friends standing on the …
Me and my friends standing on the…
What are you looking at?
What are you looking at?
Hot air balloons sailing over the …
Hot air balloons sailing over the…
Me and Charlie in our Land Rover.
Me and Charlie in our Land Rover.
Construction on new embassy. (Actu…
Construction on new embassy. (Act…
Our sleeping huts are in the backg…
Our sleeping huts are in the back…
A view of some of the Masai Mara.
A view of some of the Masai Mara.
Wildebeest crossing a river.
Wildebeest crossing a river.
Overlooking the Masai
Overlooking the Masai
Overlooking the Serengeti
Overlooking the Serengeti
On our little plane back to Nairobi
On our little plane back to Nairobi
159 km (99 miles) traveled
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