Nairobi, Kenya – July 28th
Jay’s family arrived in Nairobi today. We were very excited to have some family here for some extra company and people to hang out with. The safari was also one of the first things we planned for our three month adventure, so we were eagerly anticipating this part of the trip.
Jay’s parents, Dan and Molly, and brother, Josh, were staying at the same Kenya Comfort Hotel as we were. We met them in the morning, and they got settled. Then we headed out to the Nairobi National Museum and Snake Park.
Jay’s cousin, Anne Elise, arrived later that night. However, it took a little finagling with the tour company driver via Jay to get her from the airport to the hotel.
Nairobi, Kenya – July 29th
We had another day in Nairobi before the safari began, so we took advantage and saw the sites in Nairobi. Jay’s family went to do the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Park today. Since Jay and I had already seen these sites a couple days before, we went on a nature hike on the Oloohua Nature trail. It was also a primate research center, so we had hoped to see some primates, but no such luck. We did see a small deer called a dic dic. Otherwise, the nature trail consisted of a man made waterfall, a cave, and a swamp. It was a nice trial, but after being in the Rwenzoris for 8 days, it seemed less impressive. I have to admit, it was nice to be out of the busy city. We basically had the trail to ourselves.
After our hike, we decided to see the Karen Blixen Museum which was a short walk up the road from the place we were hiking. Karen Blixen is a famous Dutch author whose most famous work is Out of Africa. The museum is her house which was preserved as she lived in it. Although I’d never read the book, or even heard of it, the number of streets, schools, and buildings named Karen in this area tell you that she is a big deal here. Out of Africa has been added to our list of books we need to read.
Depart for safari from Nairobi, Kenya – July 30th
Today, we left on our safari. If anyone has ever been on a safari, you know they can be quite expensive. So when we found one for a reasonable price online, we jumped at the opportunity. This particular safari had you sleep in tents rather than staying at lodges, so we figured this was the reason for the cheaper price. Soon after meeting our tour guide, Moffat, we discovered a couple of other ways money was saved on our budget safari. Instead of small land cruiser cars which are common safari vehicles, we piled 15 people into a large converted bus called Simba and took off to our first destination. We were also required to help cook and clean which turned out to be kind of fun. We helped our cook, Eunice, with the chopping and she taught us how to make some traditional African dishes.
Our first day on safari was a commute to our first site called Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai people are a tribe that used to live in the park, but were relocated outside of the park when it became a national reserve. It was the first of many long drives in Simba, but was broken up by a lovely stop at an overlook of the Great Rift Valley.
We eventually arrived at our first camp site location. After setting up our tents, we were greeted by a person from a nearby Masai village who was going to take us on a tour. There are a total of 42 tribes in Kenya, the Masai tribe being one of them. The Masai people are known for being tall and thin and wearing colorful red, orange, and yellow cloaks which help to scare off lions and other predators.
We walked a short distance to the village and then were shown some traditional dances done by the Masai men consisting mostly of rhythmic chanting, grunting, and jumping. Then, they included our men in a jumping contest. The highest jumper wins the best wife, so the Masai men practice jumping every day. Next we entered the village and joined in with the traditional songs and dances of the Masai women.
We were also allowed to go into one of their houses. We followed a young gentleman dressed in bright clothes to his mother’s house, and he showed us inside. Their houses are made of cow dung and our host continually patted the wall and said it was very strong material. It didn’t seem to have a smell that I could tell. They also used special olive wood and sandpaper trees in the construction of the houses which helped repel mosquitos.
We asked the Masai man giving us the tour about his culture. We learned that the Masai people are polygamous. The chief picks each man’s first wife and then the men are able to pick their own wives after that. Each wife gets their own house and the wives actually build the houses. In the houses, there is one place for the father to sleep, one place for the mother to sleep, a small space for the kids to sleep, and another small room to keep an animal such as a cow or goat. The middle area is where they cook their meals.
The Masai people revere their animals. They keep large herds, sometimes in the hundreds, of cows, goats, and sheep. When they need food to eat, the chief will chose an animal and that one will be killed and fed to the community. The Masai people are no longer allowed to kill wild animals.
In the past, Masai men would go out in the bush at 15 years old. They would not return until they were 25 years old and they would have to kill a lion before they returned. It is now not allowed for the Masai to kill lions, but the men can still choose to go out into the bush if they do not wish to go to school. When the men return from the bush, they are ready to be married and the chief will select their first wife. While men usually marry at 25 yo, women marry at 18 yo.
After visiting the houses, they showed us how they made fire by rubbing sticks together, and then took us to their “gift shop” where they sold Masai beads and wood carvings. Then we headed back to the campsite. That night, it poured rain which would prove to be challenging for our vehicle Simba the next day.
Masai Mara National Reserve – July 31st
Today was the first actual day of safari. We woke up early, ate some breakfast made by Eunice, and packed a lunch. Then we all loaded up into Simba and headed out on the drive to Masai Mara. The rain from the night before left the dirt roads quite muddy. Our driver, Steve, was taking the side roads because they were less bumpy than the main roads and that made it easier on Simba. However, when we got to a spot where we had to get back onto the main road, Steve turned the wheel and we slid backward into the mud. When we tried to get our again, the wheels spun deeper into the mud. We were stuck. After several unsuccessful tries, we all got out of Simba and started throwing rocks under the wheels to try to create a path for some traction. Some Masai men also came by to help get us out. They all carry machetes and were going and cutting branches to stick under the wheels. The Masai women came and tried to sell us bracelets. This didn’t help us get out of the mud, but it was entertaining to see these women pulling the jewelry off their own bodies to try to sell to us.
After about a hour and a half of trying to get out of the mud, we were still stuck. So Steve, our driver, hopped on the back of a passing motorcycle to head into town and get some help. He returned a short time later with a tractor and we were free!
Then we headed into the game park. We saw so many animals immediately – huge herds of zebras and wilderbeasts were speckled across the countryside. All of these animals had migrated here from the Serengeti to mate and would be heading back in about 4 months. We also saw giraffes, families of elephants, and water buffalos.
The big cats were what we were on the hunt for though. We got a tip from another car that there was a male and a female lion in some bushes, so we headed over. We were able to see them, but they were pretty obscured.
Next we started heading over to look at a family of elephants, when someone on the bus spotted a leopard in a tree. Steve turned Simba around and we darted to the tree. Unfortunately, Simba is not the quietest of vehicles, and it scared the leopard away before we all got to see the leopard.
The five brothers, which is a famous band of cheetah brothers in the park, were much more relaxed about Simba being around. They have been in the park for 10 years and always hunt together. You can imagine 5 cheetahs is much better than 1 at getting a wilderbeast for a meal. We drove up and they didn’t even flinch. They even walked up to some other jeeps near us and rubbed on the cars. It was amazing to get to see them so up close.
The final cat we saw was a male lion. It was sitting behind a bush on our way out. We “snuck up” on it, as much as a large noisy bus can. It got spooked and moved back behind another bush. But our driver Steve was persistent. We circled it in Simba until we got a good look. I honestly felt bad that we were disturbing the lion so much, but we did get a good look and some good pictures.
Right before we left the park, we did have one scary moment where we almost got stuck in the mud again, but Steve held steady and we made it out. It would not have been as fun to get out of the bus to help when lions, elephants, wilderbeasts, and who knows what else were right down the road.
We headed back to camp and Eunice had dinner ready for us. It was raining again by this time, so we huddled around a small table in the camping reception area and then headed to our tents for bed.
Drive from Masai Mara to Lake Nakuru – August 1st
Today was another commute day. It was raining again, but we packed up our tents and got back on Simba to head to our next safari spot. Moffat, our guide, assured us that Steve would stay on the main roads so we didn’t get stuck in the mud again. We arrived at our campsite, reset up our tents and helped Eunice cook some dinner.
Nakuru National Park – August 2nd
Today was our game drive in Nakuru National Park. We were very lucky because we saw a lot of animals. It started out with baboons and impalas. We wound up the mountain in Simba to the highest point in the park which overlooked Nakuru Lake. Here, there were many more baboons and we were able to get out of the vehicle and walk up to them. You just couldn’t have any food around or they would become aggressive.
There were also some rock hirax (large rat-like animals) that lived right under the ridge. After leaving the high point, we headed around the park and saw some Rothschild giraffes, water buffalo, and black-faced monkeys.
We were very fortunate to see some black rhinos which are very rare. Black rhinos eat the bushes so they’re usually more hidden. Plus, they are very shy and run whenever others get close.
Down by Lake Nakuru, we saw some flamingos. Then we took a turn down a muddy road to see several white rhinos. White rhinos eat the grass so they’re usually found out in the open and are much less skidish than black rhinos.
Unfortunately, the turn down the muddy road proved too muddy on the way out and we got stuck again. The entire tour group rocked back and forth on the bus to help our driver Steve get us out of the mud and it worked! The whole truck erupted in cheers when we finally rolled out of the hole our wheel had fallen into.
After heading back to camp, we were scheduled to go to an orphanage that was adjacent to the campsite we were at. Molly, Jay’s mom, had been planning for this part of the trip for months. She brought soccer balls, bubbles, books, crafts, and all kinds of things to give to the kids. We met with the toddlers first, then we played a soccer game with the older boys. We lost 0-2. Then we met with the older girls. The girls took us to dinner. We ate vegetable stew and chapati with the kids. Then they sang us some songs and we called it a night.
Drive from Lake Nakuru to Kerecho – August 3rd
Today was another commute day from Lake Nakuru to Kerecho. As we drove, we saw the countryside turn more hilly. Here, there were many tea farms. When we arrived at our campsite, which was on a tea farm, we set up our tents and then got a tour from a tea plucker.
Many people in this area are employed as tea pluckers. The company will give you a house, water, and a small stipend to spend on food and other necessities. Then, you pick tea leaves for 6 hours a day, every day except Sunday. The tea pickers are extremely fast and pick between 35 and 60 kilos of tea leaves a day. They also have to be precise because only a branch with two leaves and a bud is good for making tea.
Although some farms do have machines that can pick the leaves more quickly, they are not liked because they take away jobs from people, they are heavy and hurt the plucker’s backs, and they pull all the leaves instead of just the new leaves and buds. Therefore, the time saved on plucking with the machines is lost on sorting the good leaves from the bad. We bought some tea from our guide, thanked her, and then headed back to camp.
Tonight for dinner, our cook, Eunice, taught us how to make traditional African chapati and ugali. Although I really liked the chapati which is basically fried flat bread, the ugali is a corn mash without much flavor. We ate with our hands that night and had an authentic African meal with beef stew and cooked greens. The ugali and chapati are traditionally used to scoop up the stew and greens in place of utensils.
Drive from Kerecho to Lake Victoria – August 4th
Today was another commute day from Kerecho to Lake Victoria. It was also our last day in Kenya. We left the Great Rift Valley and headed to a town called Kissii. We left behind the tea farms which were replaced with fields of banana trees and sugar cane. They also have a lot of soil rich in iron which makes it red. You can see red bricks being made and fired on the side of the road.
While the smell of the bricks being fired was present, we started to notice a different smell like burning rubber. We pulled over to the side of the road a short time later and started seeing smoke from the right side of the truck. Steve got out and started to inspect what was going on. It appeared our breaks were on fire.
So, Steve put on his mechanic jumper and got ready to take off the tire to inspect the breaks. He poured water on the breaks for awhile until they cooled off. Then we replaced the tire and were on our way like nothing happened. I did find out later that Steve made some adjustments to the break pads, but it was a little unsettling that the breaks were on fire and we were still riding in the bus. I guess that’s how they do it in Africa. I have been very impressed with the ingenuity and outside of the box problem-solving skills the people have here.
A short while later, we reached the border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. We all filed out of the truck with our passports and yellow immunization cards. We had to first leave Kenya and were filed through a line to do so. Then we had to go to another part of the building so that we could enter Tanzania. Overall, it took less than an hour, but it took a lot longer for Simba to get through. While we waited for the bus to be inspected, Eunice showed us a place to buy some beers.
Then we were off into Tanzania. Along the drive, Moffat showed us a spot which inspired some scenes from The Lion King.
We arrived at Lake Victoria later that afternoon. We camped at the beach at Lake Victoria. It was nice to be on the beach and hear the waves. We couldn’t swim in the water, however, because Moffat said we would get parasites.
Drive from Lake Victoria to Serengeti National Park – August 5th
Today we drove from Lake Victoria to the Serengeti. We were camping deep in the park, so we basically did a game drive on the way to our camping site.
Moffat had warned us the day before not to wear blue because it attracted the tse tse flys. Tse tse fly bites are very painful, and they can cause sleeping sickness, so we didn’t want to get bitten. Steve, our driver, warned us when we got in the tse tse fly zone and almost immediately there were flys swarming everywhere. We would swat them out of the windows and people were using sandals to squish them on the windows. Moffat told us to be careful because the fat ones were full of zebra blood. Sure enough, you would here a splat and blood would be smeared across the windows. It was quite comical to see everyone swatting at flies. I managed to escape without getting bitten, but not everyone was so lucky.
On our game drive, we saw hippos, water buffalo, impalas, warthogs, a hyena, and a jackle.
We stopped for lunch and Eunice made us some special guacamole which was a treat. Almost everywhere in Eastern Africa that we’ve gone, there have been avocado trees and avocados as big as cantaloupes for sale for about 0.20 cents! It’s a hipsters paradise.
We arrived at our campsite which was a grassy area in the park. While our previous camp sites had electric fences surrounding them, this one didn’t have any fence. Moffat warned us not to have any food in our tents because there were hyenas. That night, we watched the sunset on the Serengeti.
After the sun went down, at Molly’s suggestion, we went to the edge of the campsite and shined our flashlight out into the darkness to look for glowing animal eyes. We saw a couple which were just Thompson gazelles upon closer inspection. But we heard the hyenas. Their howls were like sad awkward dog howls most of the time, but they also sometimes sounded like humans laughing which was a strange.
Anne Elise asked Moffat how many times hyenas had come into the camp in the many years the company had been camping at the site. At first he said never. Then he changed his mind and said there was one “incident.” A man had taken “crisps” into his tent at night and he woke up with a hyena pulling on his leg, but was otherwise unharmed. We all managed to make it through the night without any incidents.
Serengeti Park Game Drive – August 6th
Today was our Serengeti game drive. We basically drove out of the park a different way than we came in. We saw a lot of similar animals as the previous days including hippos, a crocodile, and a hyena.
The highlight of the Serengeti was definitely the family of lions we saw. We followed them all the way down the road. There were several adult females and a couple of lion cubs. They came across some Thompson gazelles and started stalking them. They chased them for a little bit, but with 15 cars and a big bus following along, it’s hard to be stealthy, and the gazelles got away.
After leaving the Serengeti, we drove on a very bumpy washer board road to our next site which was Ngorongoro Crater. The Masai people of Tanzania live outside of the crater. They used to live in the crater before it was made into a reserve. The crater used to be full of thick grasslands and the Masai people’s cows would get lost. So, the Masai would put cow bells on their cows so they wouldn’t get lost in the thick brush. Ngorongoro is a Swahili word named from the sound the cow bells made.
Our campsite was at the top of the crater. This was one of my favorite campsites because zebras came roaming through the campground at night. It was quite an experience to look out of your tent or walk to the bathroom next to a zebra.
Ngorongoro Crater Game Drive – August 7th
Today was our game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater. This is a volcanic crater which many animals have made their home. For 9 days now, we have climbed in Simba and endured the bumpy grated and pot hole speckled roads of Africa without any suspension and listened to its loud Diesel engine as we tried to “sneak up” on animals so as not to spook them. But today, we got to trade in Simba for some Land Cruiser jeeps. Simba wasn’t able to make it up and down the steep roads into and out of the crater, so we got an upgrade. We were all very excited to be in the smaller vehicles with the roofs that opened up so you could stand up and look out at the animals without dusty windows obscuring your view.
Our jeeps arrived, albeit a little late, and took us into the crater. It was a great day just because of the jeeps. We saw the typical animals that we had seen before – lions, hyenas, water buffalo, jackles, hippos – but today we saw them a little bit closer and without the loud roar of an engine.
After our drive, we headed back out of the crater and met up with Simba again. Then we started the long journey back to Nairobi.
We stopped and got some red bananas along the side of the road which coincidentally taste exactly like yellow bananas, but it was still a novelty.
We also saw the house of a Masai King who had 20 wives along the side of the road. We stopped and took some pictures of a baobob tree. Then we headed to our campsite for the night.
Drive back to Nairobi, Kenya – August 8th
Today we finished the safari and drove back to Nairobi. Some of the people were continuing on with the safari to Zanzibar so our bus was a lot more spacious on the way back.
We saw Kilimanjaro out the window as we drove by. It was not the majestic mountain I thought it would be. It’s actually quite flat on top. But it’s still a huge mountain none the less.
Then we crossed back across the border to Kenya and headed back to where we started. The safari was over and no matter how much I disliked riding in Simba every day on the safari, it was a little sad to get off the bus one last time.
We Ubered to a very nice Air B&B that Jay’s parents found for us. We cooked a spaghetti dinner and reminisced about the trip.
Overall, We had a great time on the safari. It was cool to go to the different campsites every night and see animals that we’ve only ever seen in zoos or on tv. However, it was lacking in several key areas. First of all, Simba was not the best vehicle to take on the roads in Kenya/Tanzania. After hours on washer board roads, you start to get rattled. Our tour guide also was not too knowledgeable when we asked questions. But we saw the Big 5 (lions, leopards, water buffalo, rhinos, and elephants) and so many more animals and had a great time with Jay’s family.