Tag Archive: Kenya



It’s a wrap! Done with my blogs on my recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania. And here’s the blog summary. Just click away.

 

Nairobi

Treetops Lodge in Aberdares

Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria

Hippos of Lake Naivasha

Balloon Ride Over the Maasai Mara

The Day My Camera Jammed

Not Exactly Roughing It

A Visit To A Maasai Village

The Great Migration

Safari Woes

Ngorongoro

Lake Manyara

 

Twelve blogs? I was on a roll 😉

Here’s more. Mi apologia, but can’t resist waxing poetic 🙄

 

I drifted through my Safari dreams

Long-kept, nurtured and cherished

Stayed awake through the long flight

Landing like a Zombie in Nairobi.

 

From Treetops Lodge to the famous lakes

Nakuru, Bogoria and Naivasha

We finally reached the savanna

Stretching from Maasai Mara to Tanzania.

 

Stopped by to huddle with Maasai Villagers

Just as well to jump with the lion slayers

Then off the next morn for a balloon ride

Over the plains, before another safari drive.

 

Lions feasting on a wildebeest

And another with a zebra foot

Circle of Life may seem harsh

But such is the nature of life.

 

Ngorongoro is so refreshing

Animals too happy to be migrating

Exactly how I felt in our luxury camp

It’s just too good, I wish not to move.

 

But alas, there is one last game drive

Not just off to the plains nor the lakes

Manyara has a little bit of all, around

Plus a swamp where hippos abound.

 

Maasai Mara and Serengeti

Jambo, Jambo can’t forget thee

Dusted and wasted we felt

Asan Masante, these memories won’t melt.

 

 

Kwaheri, Africa! 💕

The Great Migration


Just. Keep. Moving.

This annual spectacle involves up to 2 million wildebeests moving between the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. You may call it a “food trip”. After all, them wildebeests and zebras traveling, migrating together are seriously in need of greener grass such that they move from one side to the other, and then back. The herd crosses the Mara River where predator beasts lurk, searching for the weakest amongst the migrants, ready to pounce on its prey. We didn’t see any of such NatGeo drama where a lion 🦁 actually chases and kills and feasts on one poor wildebeest or zebra, but we had close encounters with some lions guarding its prized kill, calling on the rest of its pride to join the feast, and a junior simba dragging a zebra foot.

Animal tracks visible from a hot air balloon.

The Grand Migration follows a cycle. And those who wish to view this magical wildlife in its annual journey must heed certain rituals. Like waking up early. At sunrise, you stand a good chance of seeing a “kill” involving these nocturnal hunters. At the very least, you can catch them eating their prey with a vulture or two waiting for the leftover carcass. It’s not easy especially for the late risers, but the sacrifice adequately rewards. We spotted quite an assortment of these lionesses with her cubs but only a few of the alpha males with their glorious mane.

📸 by Ernie Albano
📸 by Ernie Albano

From the hot air balloon, we shrieked in delight watching the wildebeests and zebras running or just hanging around. So many of them, that it looked like colonies of ants from a distance. The animal tracks were so visible too from the air. The Maasai Mara has acacia trees looking like giant bonsai plants where we spotted elephants, lions, cheetahs and even a lone sleeping leopard hidden up on its branches. I’m sure you’ve seen many photos of these Safari animals. My iPhone cam shots are not bad but I didn’t pass up the chance to borrow some photos taken by a friend who is a hobby photographer. But what I want to share here are photos of how we went about these game drives. Like how about waking up at 3 am, leaving your hotel at 4am to arrive before 5am where your hot air balloon is being prepped for flight? Or eating tons of dust following land cruiser safari vehicles who responded maybe just a few minutes earlier to radioed alerts on animal sightings in the vast expanse of the savannah. And mind you, radioed animal sightings don’t mean you can get there in a jiffy. Some drives can be a half hour to an hour of bumpy rides along dusty paths.

The land cruisers have no air conditioning. With an open sun roof, this is understandable. The early mornings are fine but it gets warmer towards noon. And so you’ve got dusty, bumpy and hot by midday and it’s not a good combination especially if there are no animal sightings. At one point, someone in our group told the guides we’ve seen enough antelopes, wildebeests, zebras and birds. This is so so our guides can skip these searches and instead focus on more lions, cheetahs, elephants, leopards, rhinos, hippos and even hyenas. It was our 3rd day of game drives, and we were tired despite all the excitement. Besides, it made lotsa sense to restrict the game drives to the Big 5. If at all, we’d change the rules only if there’s a kill, a mating or some animal in labor to give birth. Fancy that?

Here’s more. I’m a coffee lover and days don’t start with me without a good cup of coffee. But you need to watch your take of this fine liquid brew if you care not to do your business in the bush. In fact, you can’t actually pee in the bush! There are spots where there are toilets but while on a game drive, you just can’t tell your driver guide to stop so you can pee. No way, José. If you think your bladder is not in good condition, skip the morning coffee. 😭 Then of course, there’s the packed lunch. Unless you start very early and wish to get back to your hotel for a decent lunch, you need to make do with a packed lunch. There are designated picnic grounds (with toilets) where you can eat — sometimes with the dust 😔. Whether you’re in Maasai Mara or Serengeti Plains, enjoy the dust. It’s on your jacket, your shirt, your pants, your HAIR! I hardly touched nor ran my fingers through my hair after that first time that it felt hard and thick with dust. Yay! Finally, do remember that the hotels and lodges know exactly what should go into that lunch box that won’t spoil till noontime. I’m talking boiled egg, a piece of fried chicken, a simple sandwich, a banana, an apple, juice and water. If you’re in luck, there may be a small bag of potato chips in your box. One hotel packed us a really good lunch — a choice of a veggie burger, or noodles with stir-fried veggies or something I had for 2 straight days: mixed rice and stir-fried chicken with veggies. It may be a cold lunch but certainly better than a boiled egg and fried chicken. Only issue is you’d eat it in a picnic area infested with “pets” looking like giant rodents. I don’t know what they are, but here, have a look. I found a couple cavorting right under the table beside my foot.

Soooo, have I managed your expectations well enough? 😊

Going on a safari requires that one keeps an open mind. There are a lot of surprises, hopefully pleasant surprises more than disappointments. The animal sightings are not guaranteed. You may not see what you like to see, and then see what you’re not interested in. Everything is sooo natural, unscripted, spontaneous and even unexpected. There are rules to follow, safety procedures to observe. You may cut short your game drives but such are decided “in the field”. If you’re the type who easily get bored, I suggest you don’t go. Those NatGeo documentaries watched from your Lazy Boy may be good enough for you. Plus you can have your hot meal while watching. As our Safari guide Joshua would say, you need patience to truly enjoy this. Hakuna Matata!


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

📸 by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” 👌

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❤️


It was not planned and it wasn’t exactly a detour. Lake Naivasha was right along the way and it was a no-brainer to go for it. Some do this as a day trip from Nairobi. After all, this 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya is only 100 kilometers northwest from Nairobi and is along the way to Nakuru. Of course we didn’t know at the time that there have been hippo attacks in this area. Hippos being extremely territorial have attacked humans, with the latest incident just 2 days after our visit.

Blue skies and blue waters, with dead trees reaching up, and many water birds resting on a branch or twig. We took the boat safari and motored up to an island where we found a community of hippos lazing around. Most of them looked like they’re sleeping but every now and then, one or 2 would stand up snorting and grunting to stray a bit from the group. It’s hard (and scary) to imagine one of them biting into one Chinese tourist’s chest a couple of days after our visit. Read the tragic news after the wonderful morning spent here where we actually felt safe. A couple of hippos we found wallowing in the waters, peeking out, but our boat carefully observed a distance.

The water birds are another thing. The lake was teeming with trees sprouting out of the lake, providing resting branches for the pelicans, ibises, storks, and many more we couldn’t name. The trees by the lake shore bore many nests, mostly from yellow weavers. The entire place looks so serene and relaxing. The one hour boat safari was enough to see the resident hippos and birds. No wonder this place was chosen as one of the movie locations for “Out of Africa”. Remember that Redford-Streep starrer? I know, you must be humming the movie title’s song now. 🎵🎶

📸 by Ernie Albano
📸 by Ernie Albano

Some Hippo Trivia:

Hippos are 3rd largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos.

Hippos can run at 30 kms per hour.

Hippopotamus is a Greek term for “water horse”.

Hippos need to stay near the water to remain moist. If skin turns dry, it can crack.

Stay away from a “yawning”, honking, snorting and grunting hippo — such are signs that they’re marking their territories.

Life span is up to 40 years.

Closest relatives are whales and porpoises.

One of dangerous animals in Africa because they are highly aggressive especially when you get between them and the water.

Although they largely wallow in water and come out 4-5 hours only to graze, hippos can’t swim nor float. They can however hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Even while sleeping, hippos can resurface from the water without waking up.

Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as moisturiser and sunblock, but gives the appearance that they’re bleeding.


I have been to Africa before, but never in Kenya. The Great Migration and River (Mara) Crossing is top of mind, but we were eager to see those long pink legs in Kenya. Lake Nakuru was first on the list. Never mind that the flamingos have moved to Lake Bogoria where pink flamingos found a more abundant feeding ground. Algae forming in the lake bed attracts these flamingos with thin, long, pink legs and just as thin, long necks. Still, the few who remained in the area of Lake Nakuru managed to present quite a spectacle amidst cape buffaloes frolicking by the fringe of this soda lake. An iconic image of both Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria is a swathe of these birds feeding as a flock thus carpeting and turning the lake pink or taking flight thus turning the sky pink. To say such scenery is breathtaking would be an understatement. But the numbers have dwindled and the lake in Nakuru is hardly pink.

Still, not all is lost in Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley some 150 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, home to both white and the more elusive black rhino with hooked snouts. The threatened Black rhinos number 25 here, the biggest concentration in Kenya. It also abounds in game animals like leopards and prides of lions who’ve decided not to make an appearance during our visit. 😔 But we were rewarded with sightings of zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles, elands, baboons and many species of birds we couldn’t even name. Birdwatchers will have a heyday here.

By the time we’ve reached Lake Bogoria, it was late afternoon. The “kill” we’ve been praying for happened here. Nothing as grand as a “wait, chase and kill” of hunter beasts seen in NatGeo videos but rather, an unexpected predator bird patiently waiting by the edge of the lake. The whole drama unfolded before our eyes. A Marabou stork threateningly flapping its wings, scaring them pink flamingos to take flight. Flying as a tight flock can be disastrous as these birds may accidentally break their wings as they collide into one another especially in a sudden flight. And a pink flamingo with a broken wing is this stork’s easy next meal. How tragic. The marabou stork lost its charm with our group as we witnessed this lone stork feast on this lovely bird, still moving and flapping its better wing while its predator pulled out what looked like its intestines. Ouch!

(Trivia: Pink Flamingos have pink eggs (inside) and pink milk. Would their intestines be pink too? Must be their diet of brine shrimps, Blue green algae and crustaceans.)

📸 by Master Photographer & good friend Ernie Albano

📸 Ernie Albano

We can only watch with mixed emotions as the “kill” provided excitement and the slow death made us cringe with disgust as the stork delighted on its meal. We tried as best as we could to soak in the whole African credo that such is the “nature of Nature” — an acceptance of the circle of life. Survival of the fittest may sound harsh, even cruel, but Nature is a universal law of life here without question. We share this same acceptance but seeing Marabou storks the next few days on this trip reminded us of the sad plight of one pink flamingo with a broken wing that lay dying in front of the entire flock, seemingly indifferent to the whole drama. Sad. But such is Nature.

https://youtu.be/Jb-bgXIbxA8


It doesn’t look much – may even be overrated – but it lays claim on history as the Safari lodge where “Elizabeth came as a Princess and left as a Queen.”That’s right. Queen Elizabeth was billeted here in 1952 when her father, King George VI died in his sleep. Her bodyguard at the time wrote on the Visitors Logbook these now-famous lines:

For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.

She acceded to the throne and remains Queen of England to this day. Mom to Prince Charles. Grandma to Prince William. That’s a long time to be Queen. And she sure looks like she’d live to a hundred.

Treetops Lodge is located right within Aberdare National Park in Kenya. A waterhole and salt lick renders the lodge an almost sure pit stop in the elephant migration pathway towards Mount Kenya. This magnificent wildlife can be viewed from the deck, windows or even from the ground, day and night! During dark nights, the hotel lights up a thousand watt “artificial moon” for the animals stopping by the waterhole. But we didn’t have to wait long till a herd of cape buffaloes, elephants, and some antelopes we couldn’t name, dropped in. From nearly 5pm to 9pm, we never grew tired watching them as they passed, stopped, drank, frolicked in the mud. A buzzer in the room can be activated to alert guests that the animals have arrived. Initially, we were happy to see so many cape buffaloes and waterbucks…. until whole families of elephants came. We jumped out of our beds to view elephants seemingly marching down in a line like following their leader who made a thunderous noise exactly as he passed our window!

I’m writing this while seated by a large window watching them elephants. There’s a big one I see now. The alpha male dominates the scene. I am not sure he’s the same elephant I spotted just before sunset. I can skip dinner just watching these animals. I even spotted one peeing! I would have wanted to snap shots from the open balcony overlooking the watering hole, but it has grown too cold for comfort. Also, I feel I’ve taken way too many shots and it’s time to just sit by the window and watch. And listen. So happy for this experience! 😊

Postscript: It’s 12mn now and we have an early wake up call tomorrow. Still looking out the window from our hotel room viewing a couple of elephants and something just passed under our window that I couldn’t make out. The buzzer is quiet. But I’m still fully awake, waiting if I’d get lucky to spot a hyena or a leopard. Another look at the electric fence separating our hotel from the animals around the waterhole gives comfort. 🙄

Some Trivia that’s fun to know:

Cape buffaloes and elephants have exceptional memories. It is said an elephant never forgets while a Cape buffalo never forgives.

Buffaloes have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. They are also known to kill lions and their cubs as “preventative punishment”.

Elephant females can have babies till 50 years old.

Elephant trunks can pick up very tiny objects like single rice grains.

The African elephant has bigger ears than its Asian cousin. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks; only Asian male elephants grow tusks. It is said that African elephants have ears that bear the same shape as Africa. Asian elephant ears resemble the shape of India.

Touchdown, Nairobi


My excitement started long before I boarded that Qatar flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya. I have long wanted to experience this after that first African Safari in South Africa in 2012. At the time, I was tentative, hesitant, dripping with excitement, adrenaline pumping, nearly out of my wits. After all, it’s not everyday you see wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, zebras, kudus and cape buffaloes having a “party” out in the open Savannah, hear a roaring lion, sit still while a rhino crosses your path, or wait till the pair of cheetahs grow tired of the shade under a lone tree in a vast field. It’s wild. And then and there, I knew I’d never ever want to see any of these beautiful animals in a zoo or caged, whipped like in a circus.

Our tour escort sent a video a week before our departure. The video was captioned “spotted near the border” where we are headed for. Read: “happening now”. Just enough to whet our appetites for the long-coveted Great Migration or Maasai Mara. We pocketed those “dreams” as we struggled during our long flights via Doha, Qatar. The Doha airport looks so much better than the last time I was here in 2008. And it’s a very busy airport too.

As we tried to dismiss the same thrilling thoughts of animal sightings, we touched down this one bright afternoon in Kenya’s capital, just south of the equator. Almost anti-climactic as there isn’t much to do upon arrival. We felt wasted, post-flight, and needed to recover our energy. Not even a quick city tour of the capital’s historical landmarks perked us up. We did spot some really huge birds though up in the trees lining the roads leading to our hotel. Birdwatchers would have a heyday here. It would also have been lovely to visit the Karen Blixen House and Museum but there isn’t much time. Besides, we’re told much of the furnishings in the house were really production sets from “Out of Africa” — a movie based in Ms. Blixen’s book of the same title. I’m really quite happy with the movie and the house at the foot of Ngong Hills would have been interesting. But that visit can wait for another day. Instead, we headed straight for Sarova Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. I wasn’t confident to venture out of the hotel after freshening up. A few of us braved walking towards the market and narrated their encounter with a couple of “aggressive” locals who kept asking them where they came from. They promptly returned to the hotel after that episode. As for me, I stayed in the room and decided to rest till dinner. I just knew I’d doze off as soon as my back touched the comfortable bed, with my head snuggled between the soft pillows. And so, it was a quick soak in the tub before the dinner inside the hotel. The adventures can wait. My apologies for a very uneventful day. These long trips really suck my energy. Tomorrow we head for Aberdares where we booked at Treetops. Should be quite a relaxing day in a very historic place. Karibu, Nairobi! Goodnight 💤 💤 💤