Tuesday, September 2, 2014


The first camp, Elsa’s Kopje (Swahili for "gravesite") was in the Meru National Park. It was where George & Joy Adamson’s lioness, Elsa lived and was buried. They were authors of Born Free. It was a hilltop and our room was the best of all the places we stayed. It was built into a rock wall with an expansive view and two large rooms.

The hydrax climbed the trees outside our window. They’re sort of like guinea pigs. There the highlight was probably the elephants - although in this park all the game was unused to vehicles and would move away from us.

We saw one maneless male lion. Some lions apparently don’t grow manes due to the heat. We also went to a rhino reserve and saw a white rhino with a baby - which I was able to film.

In this camp we had a guide named Philip, who had been a guide for 28 years. He would move us along from one game sighting to another a little too fast, but we had some great picnic breakfasts on the road - a spread by a river.

Later we had a guide describe stopping when game was sighted with a group of Japanese tourists who had already taken their quick snapshot and wondered why he’d stopped. They apparently insisted a hippo was a rhino so this guide subsequently referred to hippos as "Japanese rhinos".

The camp staff, Lucy, a woman of English parents, who grew up in Kenya and spoke Swahili; and Chloe who regaled us with stories of working on a yacht for the super rich - that rented for $600,000 a week. They were both in their twenties, and were relief staff while the regular hosts were on their own vacation. We also shared a meal with a couple of interesting newlyweds, Alex who was French, Amy who was British, who were living in Hong Kong.

Meru Park is full of a red dust that gets everywhere on us, our clothes and cameras. It was a particularly dry country where the trees shed their leaves to conserve moisture in the heat. The acacia trees also protect themselves with sharp spiked thorns. But that doesn’t deter the elephants who strip them to get to the tender insides. We were told elephants need to eat 400 lbs of vegetation a day, and consequently only get 2-3 hours of sleep a night.

The second lodge was Larsen’s Camp in Samburu National Preserve. Here we had a large tent by a river and had to be careful with the door zippers, as the vervet monkeys had figured out how to open them.

 At this camp we had my favorite staff and guide, Ezekial - Izzy (who thought it was very funny that Frank’s dog had the same name). He is the one who tracked down the lionesses - first sighting just a head peaking up in the distance (only really visible with binoculars). Then there were Kelvin, our monkey shooting Samburu warrior and Cyrene our waitress (pictured here). The first night in the camp we were the only guests.

The Samburu park was along a river which concentrated the game. Besides the lioness hunt, the biggest animal event was probably seeing male oryx fighting for dominance. They have very long, sharp horns and try to stab one another.
The countryside was greener than in Meru, but reminded Frank and I of the land around Buena Vista, CO - but with lots of game.

Between camps we flew on a Twin Otter prop engine plane that held about 20 passengers. While waiting for the last plane a group of school kids arrived. They were on an outing to see our plane land and take off. They were all dressed in green uniforms, and I mistook the girls for boys because they all had closely cropped heads. In my naivete I asked the school principal why all these boys were wearing skirts! We took photos with them, and they sang to us - a church hymn.

Our third camp was the Kichwa Tented Camp owned by And Beyond (who arranged the whole trip for us). It was quite large, housing about eighty-five guests. Our tent was #31, which was a very long walk from the dining room, over a stream and bridge and through the jungle. The first few times it took getting lost to learn the way there. We had to allow ten minutes to get from our tent to the main part of the resort. We thought twice before making the trek. In the tent next to us were a couple from Kansas City, Doug and Chris. We had an instance of "six degrees of separation" as it turns out their son lives in Stapleton within a half mile of Judy & I.

Chris was a retired cardiac nurse and Charles sold a medical supply business, and has been retired for ten years (since he was 55 y.o.). He had some angst spending his kids’ inheritance on their travel - but if his son lives in Stapleton ...

The Masai Mara National Preserve is where Out of Africa was filmed, as well as the Disney’s 2011 documentary, African Cats. It had magnificent vistas that I think of as stereotypical with expansive plains and trees that looked like mushrooms because the leaves were only on top. The bottoms had been eaten away by elephants and giraffes. And there was some concern the elephants would eventually knock all the trees down to get at the top branches.

It is also a place with large herds of zebra (I love their signature whinny), giraffes and all sorts of gerenuks, gazelles, impalas, cape buffalo, and so many others listing them would be too much. One morning we also witnessed two black rhinos, as well as regularly visiting a herd of elephants.

And of course birds were all over in many varieties. Just in the class of raptures there were many different types - more than I’d seen in Botswana. I was able to catch several birds in flight in photos: a tawny eagle, a bateleur (a type of eagle that is used by And Beyond for their logo), a go away bird, and a red billed hornbill.

In this park there are so many safari vehicles the animals ignore them. Park rangers are in evidence and cars can’t go off the roads. And when a cat is sighted a maximum of five vehicles is supposed to park to watch in an attempt to limit the impact. If more than five vehicles arrive they are supposed to stay only fifteen minutes. This was not always abided by, but we weren’t subject to crowds of tourists.

A couple of mornings we ate breakfast by a river full of hippos and crocodiles. The hippos grunt and squeal like pigs, but much louder. They also hurt and kill more people than any other animal. They weigh three tons and it’s easy to see how you could be trampled.

We were unsuccessful sighting a leopard and our fruitless search on three evenings meant we saw little else as well. I was less patient with this than others seemed to be. When I was not on an all-day game drive because I was visiting a Masai village Frank and the other two couples did find a leopard, but he was apparently some distance away.

Ironically, one of my best photos was after a long game drive when we came back to the resort and parked, and in the tree above us was a colorful pied kingfisher with a frog in its mouth.

The Masai Mara and our Kichwa resort were quite manageable despite the number of tourists - 85 in our lodge alone, and a neighboring lodge had another 40. I was told there were 40 resorts in the park - or was it 140? It didn’t feel like we were overrun with people in the Park. It’s size reminded me of Yellowstone.

On our last day we took a Twin Otter prop plane back to Nairobi. We weren’t flying out until 10:30pm so we had a driver for the day and visited a giraffe rescue center, featuring the endangered Rothschild Giraffe (versus the Masai & Reticulated Giraffes). But the Center wasn’t as nice as our own zoo in Colorado Springs where you can also feed the animals and see them at eye level.

We then went to a place which makes thousands of beads for jewelry called Zakuri. It is set up to help women who are single moms, and provides them with stable employment. We got a tour of the process from making the clay, to shaping the beads, to the kiln, to the hand painting, to the glazing.

And finally and best of all, we went to the elephant orphanage, which unfortunately, allowed us to stay only an hour. It is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where they take in baby elephants who have been orphaned often after their mothers were the victims of ivory poachers: http://sheldrickwildlifetrust.org. Their caretakers spend time with the babies 24/7, and sleep in their stalls. One caretaker told me his baby would wake him up in the middle of the night for a bottle by pulling his blanket off.

We saw them all run in and get a bottle of milk and then some branches to eat. They ranged in age from a few weeks to a few years. They are gradually re-introduced into a wild herd, a process which can take as much as ten years. I "adopted’ Kithaka who was quite social and smudged my camera lens with his trunk. He liked air blown into his trunk. I transferred his "ownership" on to my grandson, Ben.

For more on Kithaka go to his profile:

In the evening I’d typically have a double Amarula on the rocks, a liqueur I was introduced to in Botswana. This was followed by dinner. Each meal came with several courses, three times a day. I ended up gaining about four pounds - which I have yet to take off.

It was quite a luxury! And was a great time to be with Frank, my best friend of 37 years. It is something we may not be able to do again.