East Africa Trip - 2013
Posted By Linda Branham on February 22, 2013 @ 3:00 pm
2013 Trip To East Africa

We've just returned from a month of incredible safaris in East Africa.  We were excited to have Kathy and Steve Elliott and Mary and George Hall with us for almost the entire month of January.  We all met in Nairobi at the beginning of January where our good friend, Charlie Strachan, flew us in a TropicAir Caravan to the Maasai Mara and Richard's Camp.  Not like a previous trip, the Mara was lush and green, providing us with an abundance of well fed healthy animals.  We were totally spoiled the first day of the safari by seeing leopard, cheetah, lion and almost every animal and bird one could expect to see in East Africa.  You'd think it would all be downhill after that, but it wasn't. 

We stayed 4-days with Kiela and Sean as our hosts and managers at Richard's Camp, where we were treated royally, from nightly bonfires and sundowner's, to candlelit dinners under the stars.  At bedtime an unexpected treat of a hot water bottle stowed at the foot of the bed was indeed welcome. The food and service in the middle of the Maasai Mara was superb and would be considered fantastic in any city, let alone a remote area where you have to fly or truck in all of your supplies.

After 4-days at Richard's Camp we hated to leave, but Charlie was waiting for us at the landing strip and it was onward to the Laikipia Plateau in Northern Kenya and Lamarti's Camp.  This is an outstanding place and is more about a cultural experience, and what an experience it was; with Boni (Boniface Parsula) as our guide how could you go wrong?  We saw how the local tribes live, partook in a honey gathering that involved an extremely brave man climbing a tall Acacia tree with a fiery torch.  He smoked the bees out and brought down fresh honeycombs which we all ate until we were almost sick from the intense sweetness.  We visited the small village school where the eager students of all ages waited in anticipation for their next lesson.  The school actually has to be canceled when the elephants come into the area after the rains, as it is too dangerous to walk to school. We attended a circumcision ceremony one afternoon that was a 3-day event and we were there for the culmination.  Maasai and Samburu dancing which involved jumping to heights that American basketball players would envy; we even participated in some of the spasmodic neck movement dances; being almost hypnotic and making you feel as if you were one with them, if only for a brief moment.

Evenings were spent under the stars, sometimes with camels and goats ,and sometimes with singers strumming ancient African instruments around the fire at night.  Again, we hated to leave Lamarti's Camp and when we were ready to drive away the colorful warriors  performed a crazy, if somewhat theatrical, display to try and persuade us from leaving. We will be back, of that I'm sure. 

After shooing a herd of camels off the runway several times, Charlie was able to land and we were off flying low over the majestic Laikipia hills to our next destination, Sirikoi Lodge at Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy in the Northern foothills of Mount Kenya. This is a favorite place for us and is always an incredible experience.  This year Amory Macleod, nephew to Sue & Willie Roberts managed the lodge and is doing an excellent job.  Willie and Sue developed and built Sirikoi from the bare land; they have carved an amazing luxury  camp next to a large spring where elephants and other animals gather almost daily.  One morning while we were enjoying breakfast outdoors, a tame giraffe, (it lost its Mother when very small and Sue has helped raise it,) visited us at the breakfast table to see what we were having. It seemed rather surreal to have a large giraffe dining along side us.

Willie has done things at Sirikoi "the natural way" using what is available locally and experimenting with cement . . . it blends so beautifully with the natural habitat that you think these beautiful buildings have always been here.  They not only build magnificent structures but make their own furniture on the premises, cutting boards out of trees elephants have knocked over.  Less expensive then hauling furniture by truck from Nairobi and so much more beautiful.  The garden at Sirikoi has increased in size substantially since our last visit in 2006, supplying the kitchen and dining table with the freshest greens, fruits, vegetables and berries . . . certainly fit for royalty, but we enjoyed just the same.  The food is first class at Sirikoi, including the wines. 

You experience 2-game drives a day, seeing many different animals; it is exciting to see the Grevy's Zebra that are now thriving here at Lewa Conservancy, thanks to the care and protection they have been given.  They are the largest and most endangered of the three species of zebra, the other two being the plains zebra and the mountain zebra. Before the 70's and 80's there were over 20,000 Black Rhino in Kenya, but due to the horrendous practice of killing for the illegal horns, the numbers were reduced to a mere 300 Black Rhino.  Out of the estimated 620 Black Rhino living in Kenya today, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy  is home to about 70 of those.  Due to much support given by Ian Craig and his ingenious programs at Lewa, these animals will keep on surviving, in spite of the evil and greed in some souls.

At the end of our 4-days, that went by much too quickly, Charlie flew us to Nairobi where we took a commercial flight to Tanzania and another small plane to the Southern part of Tanzania, called the Selous Game Reserve.  We stayed at Beho Beho camp and as we landed on the small dirt strip we were rewarded by a rare siting of wild dogs.  What a greeting party it was! Of course we couldn't settle in at the lodge quite yet, as we had many photographs to capture before we called it a day.  Little did we know we would encounter the wild dogs again, thus being able to get many great photographs. 

The Selous is much hotter than Kenya, but it is so different, providing us with a constant change of different types of animal species and birds.  We took a game drive one morning to beautiful Tagalala Lake, where we boarded a boat to visit the incredible wildlife sharing this lake, with numerous migrating and indigenous species of birds.  The crocodiles here are huge and it is obvious they are getting more than their fair share of food. To our surprise, when we returned to the shore, a huge beautiful breakfast was laid out on a long table. . .they had even brought a small "out house" to the scene.  Oh, what spoiled Americans we've become, but it was nice!

One night, as we headed back to camp for cocktails and dinner, we rounded a bend in the road leading up to the camp, and there was a complete fairytale dinner set out under the trees.  With little white lights hanging from the lowest branches of the trees and lanterns lit on the tables, it was another reminder of how much joy these people take in making it the best experience they can possibly provide.  We sat around a big bonfire on safari chairs and had drinks and appetizers, then came a three course dinner, which was delicious.  However the one factor that gave this incredible dinner a completely different twist, was the fact that 6-8 hyenas were watching us from the tall grasses surrounding our dinner table.  It added an extra sense of adventure to the dinner. 

On our last evening at Beho Beho we decided to have one last game drive, even though the weather looked a bit threatening.  Not only did it rain the entire time we were out driving, but it was a torrential rain. When we were heading back to camp a lightening bolt struck so close to our Land Rover that we were momentarily deafened; not to mention the poor Impala that had been grazing near us, he took off as if he had been shot out of a cannon.  After that experience I think we were all happy to go back to the security of our warm and  dry camp.

From the Selous we flew to Zanzibar, which was interesting and different.  We snorkeled in the Indian Ocean, with dolphins frolicking alongside, we took a trip to historic Stone Town to see the old slave encampments, and some of the historical buildings.  We were also able to visit an active Spice Farm, which was most interesting, as we were shown each shrub, plant and tree; sampled roots, leaves, fruits and seeds of each and every one of them.  Didn't really need lunch after we were stuffed with so many varieties of tropical fruit. 

After Zanzibar, the Elliot's and Hall's flew back to Nairobi and back to the U.S., while Chris and I flew to Arusha where we had made plans to explore some out-of-the-way places in Tanzania.  We went to a small camp in the Serengeti first, which was called Lamai Serengeti, managed by Sasha and Tam; an interesting couple, originally from Zimbabwe. They do a phenomenal job dealing with life in the middle of the Serengeti, bringing all food and produce in from a neighboring village, besides making sure everyone is happy, which we definitely were.  We saw some amazing game here and were guided by Kakae, who knew so much about everything in the Serengeti. 

One day, while on a game drive, we were lucky enough to witness a hyena take down a full grown Topi, miraculously attracting about 34 more hyenas to share the meal. All done in less than 10 minutes, in which there was nothing left, not even a tiny bone, with the vultures, storks and other hungry predators looking for a small tidbit.  We did get this on video and it is surely not for the faint-hearted.

After another flight to Ndutu airstrip, we were met by our private guide, "Rem," (Remtula Nassary) who has the most incredible wealth of knowledge concerning the flora and fauna of Tanzania.  I might add, the guides in East Africa must attend guide school and not only learn all the many skills it takes to be a guide, but must know every animal, plant, tree, bird and insect, not only by it's common name, but it's Latin name as well.  We are very impressed by their knowledge, plus the stories and myths surrounding so many things in East Africa.

Rem then drove us to the Nduara Loliondo Camp, which is over a 100 kilometers on the roughest, dustiest roads you can imagine.  Through the endless Serengeti and eventually through Maasai country, and by nightfall we were at Loliondo Camp.  This was during the time of the famous Wildebeest migration and we were not to be let down.  Rem put us in the middle of a migration where photos could only begin to tell the story.  We did take some videos, which at least pick up the sounds of the animals as they make their annual migration to "greener pastures." 

After the Loliondo Camp we departed by Land Rover to the Serengeti Safari Camp, which was right in the heart of the Wildebeest migration.  Each camp was exceptional, the managers, the staff, and more hospitality and fantastic meals than one can imagine out in the wilds of East Africa.  We were never disappointed by something someone did not do, only happy with so much effort and good will done by all.  The night before we arrived at the Serengeti Safari Camp a family there had a lion take down and consume a Wildebeest right outside their tent.  I can only imagine the noise and excitement that entire scene brought about.  On the safer side of wild, we were lucky enough to see a newborn baby giraffe, it still had the umbilical cord attached. The Mother was very concerned and such a good Mother, she made sure it was walking properly, and when it had walked a small distance, she gave him his first drink of milk.  

From there we took off early in the morning for Ngorongoro Crater where we spent the day exploring all the unique animals that congregate here, some making it their permanent home.  I especially loved the foliage and trees surrounding the crater, even though the road leading out of the crater is narrow and one tends to hold their breath hoping you won't meet a giant petroleum truck on one of the hairpin turns.  However Rem was a great driver and seemed to take precaution seriously, of that we were thankful.  Our last night was spent in the little village of Karatu at a lovely place called Plantation Lodge. 

The next day it was off to Arusha with Rem, then on to the Kilimanjaro Airport and our flight back to Nairobi where we were met once again by Charlie, and our good longtime friends, Mark and Antonia Glenn.  We stayed at Hogmead, which is a beautiful place right outside of Nairobi.  It resembles one of those early British Colonialist mansions you might imagine from "Out of Africa," including grazing Warthogs on the lawns, and rooms that are definitely plush, (imagine a bubble bath in a bathtub large enough to tread water!)  Thanks to Kara, Richard and Chantelle, our stay was wonderful.  Our driver in Nairobi was Mathew, who was absolutely the greatest, taking us to shops in Nairobi the next day where skilled East African artisans create unbelievable works of art.

It was sad saying goodbye to everyone, but it was time to go home to Alaska.  However we are not finished, as our next East African safaris are now in the planning stages and we will be going back this year to see more of these beautiful places. If you are interested in joining us in the future, it is not too late to start planning that incredible trip of a lifetime.

Our total appreciation and gratitude go out to Charlie Strachan and Antonia Glenn for all their help in organizing this "first" safari.  And last, but not least, many thanks to the Elliott's and the Hall's, I've never seen such good-hearted troopers, they flowed with the unexpected and enthusiastically welcomed the unusual.