Wednesday, October 25, 2017

KENYA SAFARI - OCTOBER 8, 2017 - OCTOBER 20, 2017 (Includes post for 1st day, Oct. 8)

October 8, 2017 - October 20, 2017  - KENYA SAFARI

SUN., OCT. 8, 2017 - GILMER TO DALLAS  - This trip began as many previous ones have with our loading the car and traveling from home to Dallas, TX for a flight. As planned, we first stopped off in Plano, TX for lunch and a visit with our friends, Larry & Wanda Bedford.  

By late afternoon we drove across the city to our reserved hotel in the area of Dallas-Ft. Worth airport where we would spend the night and leave the car parked for the duration of this trip.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

MON., OCT. 9. 2017 - DALLAS/FT WORTH, TX (DFW) TO NEW YORK, NY (JFK) -  We were up early this morning and getting prepared for our 10:20 a.m. departure, non-stop flight on American Airlines which arrived at 2:52 pm at JFK airport.  Everything seemed to be normal for us until Sylvia's luggage came down the luggage belt completely shredded open with clothes falling out of it.  The suitcases we had chosen for this trip were rolling duffel bags that we had purchased and used on our 2011 cruise to the Galapagos Islands. They seemed to be the obvious choice for this trip, meeting all the measurement restrictions.  It seemed from initial investigation that Jim's bag was still intact. Once our things were all loaded on a cart we proceeded to the American Airlines luggage help office for assistance.  There, Sylvia was given a very large suitcase ("it's all they had") and we departed and continued on to the hotel shuttle pickup area. Realizing that we could not use the suitcase given to us by American Airlines but would need to purchase a smaller suitcase for the trip,  we made inquiries of the hotel staff about possible stores in the area.  Our hotel was located near the JFK airport in the older, "blue-collar" town of Ozone Park, NY.  It's an older town that appears to be home to many generations of Italian families.  (Looking down the residential streets from the main thoroughfare, more than one street looked like the typical ones shown on the opening credits of the 1970's television hit show 'All In the Family').  Once we were unloaded into our room we set out walking to a recommended store where we could purchase a suitcase.  The walk was 2 - 2.5 miles, each way and we did find a rolling duffel case that we purchased.  Then walked back to the hotel, in the dark, stopping off at a neighborhood pizza place where we each had a large slice of pizza for dinner.  Once back in our room we compared the newly purchased bag with the ones we had brought from TX.  It was almost twice the size of one of them.  Soon we realized that we must return the new bag and get something smaller.  I guess the best part of this situation was that our flight on Tue. didn't depart until late afternoon so there was still time to shop

Sunday, October 22, 2017

TUE., OCT. 10, 2017 - DAY #1 OF SAFARI - JFK  TO ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - We continue shopping & then board late afternoon flight -  During the previous evening we had also closely examined Jim's case and found it had many large holes in the front of it, so we decided that we must buy two new suitcases.    Early this morning we set out walking to return to the store where we had purchased the large duffel suitcase with plans to exchange it for a more pleasing selection.  At the store, the return was processed and a credit was issued to our credit card.  Then, we closely examined all the cases that were available including the hard-sided cases and decided that we must locate cases that would be more substantial and nearer to the size of what is allowed for the trip.  After determining that nothing usable was offered in that store, we departed and walked another mile or so to a Marshalls.  There, we finally decided on two medium-sized, hard-sided cases.  Returning to our hotel we packed everything in those cases and prepared them for the flight.  

After lunch in a local restaurant, we took the hotel shuttle to the JFK airport ready for our 6:10 p.m. departure on Swiss International Airlines.  Even though we had checked in for our flight online, we learned when we arrived at JFK that we were required to check in at the airline counter with our bags.  The problem was that the Swiss International counters did not open for another one & half hours.  Since JFK provides no seating for passengers before check-in and clearing security, we were forced to stand in a line until the counter finally opened.  Once checked in, we proceeded to a line of people for clearing security.  In the line were well over 200 people.  It reminded me of the queue we encountered, years ago, at Disneyland waiting to get on the most popular rides of the day.  Being "Pre-check" meant nothing; shoes,  belt, every piece of metal, electronic devices, etc. had to be removed and placed in bins.   Finally, we passed through the security clearance and then waited.  Our flight loaded and departed very near on-time and we settled down for the end of the 8-hour flight to Zurich, Switzerland. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

WED., OCT. 11, 2017 - DAY #2 OF SAFARI - ZURICH, SWITZERLAND TO NAIROBI, KENYA -  We landed in Zurich, Switzerland at 8 a.m. (local time) on Wed. morning.  After an almost 2 hour layover, we then departed on another Swiss 8-hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya, scheduled to land at 6:40 p.m. (local time). An hour or so before our scheduled landing time in Nairobi we were told that we might be encountering thunderstorms soon.  And, we did.  On the final approach to the Nairobi airport, rain was obviously coming down and there was lots of wind. The pilot continued toward landing and at about 5 seconds before the wheels would have touched down, he aborted the effort and pulled the plane almost straight up.  It was not a reassuring feeling.  We discussed if it was because of the weather or a bomb.  Everyone seemed rather shaken and disturbed.  After a few minutes passed an announcement was made that the weather was the reason for aborting the landing attempt and we would regain altitude and wait perhaps 30 minutes or so before making another approach. And, the rain continued to come down.  Finally, the plane was landed safely on what appeared to be a runway away from all buildings. We were told that those passengers who were flying "economy" should deplane through a back exit.  In the rear of our plane, the stairs were extended and with no umbrellas of any other protection offered we began to leave the vessel.  (It was still raining).  

Once on the pavement, we had to walk about 50 feet and board a bus that would take us to a building where we would pass through immigration control (Visa).  When we arrived outside the said building we found it was under construction.  To get inside we had to crawl under a wire barrier while water that had collected on the roof of a nearby building was pouring off the roof and hitting us.  It was not a very 'welcome to Kenya' moment!  Inside, we dried off as best we could and stood in line to pass through the Visa examination area.  The entire area seemed to be in a very chaotic situation.  People were being photographed and finger-printed prior to being "approved" for entrance through the gate.  Sylvia and I had applied online and obtained our "e-visa"  and waited with a printed copy in hand. Once it was our turn the process was very smooth, just present the form and almost immediately we were directed to walk through the gate.  Next, we took possession of our luggage and then continued to an area where obviously local residents were waiting with signs indicating they were meeting certain arriving passengers.  We located a man holding a sign for "Friendly Planet" (the group we had booked the trip with) and joined him to wait for others who might be arriving.  Soon it was determined that those of our tour group on this flight were present and we were told to follow the representative of the local contracted company, Pollman's, to a vehicle for transportation to the hotel.  

Stepping outside we found it was still raining and initially, pulling our rolling suitcases and carrying our other luggage, we had to walk down a long, steep, wet ramp to get from the building to the ground.  In the process, Sylvia lost control of her rolling suitcase and once we got it under control, we were now a substantial distance behind the Pollman representative and the other two passengers.  In fact, we almost lost sight of them in the darkness of the night and all the confusion of vehicles and people moving about. Finally, we spotted the properly marked vehicle and after leaving the luggage with the driver for loading we proceeded to climb into the van for the ride to the reserved Nairobi hotel.  

Arriving at the hotel our vehicle turned into a long driveway that ended at a locked gate.  After a verification of the driver & vehicle the locked gate was opened and we proceeded through it where we stopped in front of another locked gate.  Then, all the luggage was removed from the van and taken into an area for "scanning" before we were able to proceed.  Once the "all clear" signal was given we proceeded through the second gate to the front door of the EKA Hotel Nairobi.  After the check-in procedures were completed and verbal instructions were given for the following morning, we were taken to our room by a bellman. It was now after 9 p.m. (local time).   Inside the room, we really realized how tired we were, and decided to forgo the suggested dinner in the dining room instead snacking on some items we had with us.  We soon fell asleep.

Friday, October 20, 2017

THU., OCT. 12, 2017 - DAY #3 OF SAFARI - NAIROBI TO SAMBURU GAME RESERVE - Our instructions for the day were to "meet the Pollman's representative with our luggage in the lobby at 7:30 a.m".  So, we were up and around early for breakfast before that.  At breakfast, we met two of our group of six, Hedy & Shelly Stern from Southern California.  After breakfast, we assembled and followed the representative of Pollman's to a small conference room where the Pollman representative proceeded to introduce our driver/guide, Amos, and to review our schedule for the trip.  Next, we made our way, with luggage, to the area outside the front door where the six-passenger van was parked.  Loading the luggage in the van was the first challenge Amos faced. Six "checked" (not to exceed 44 pounds) bags, one per person, were allowed. There was adequate space for those six bags in the luggage area of the van and it was full.  Each of us had our individual carry-on bags which were a specified size (18"X10" X8"), weighing no more than 11 pounds.  It was understood that we were responsible for storing these in our seating/floor area. Two passengers had, in addition to their personal carry-ons, two additional bags, both slightly smaller than the larger "checked" bag that was allowed, but not nearly the specified limited size for a carry-on nor weighing the 11 pounds.  One weighed about 15-20 pounds and the other 20-25 pounds.  Also, one passenger had very large photography equipment that was stored in a larger case.  She had already planned to store the photography equipment in her seat/floor area.  So, with two extra bags and no storage area for hauling them, it fell on the passengers in rows one & two to each have a good portion of their floor space taken up by these two extra ("not allowed") bags.  The presence of these bags was most inconvenient because the floor space allowed for feet & legs was very much diminished, and both bags had to be moved from the floor into seats prior to getting on and off the van.  Once we were all on board along with the bags in place we made a verbal agreement to "rotate seats".  At shortly before 8 a.m. we departed the hotel for Samburu Game Reserve.  In the two seats, row 1, directly behind the driver/guide were Hedy & Shelly Stern.  Sylvia & Jim were seated in row 2.  And, in row 3 were the other two passengers we soon came to know as Jo and Jan both from the Washington D.C. area. With the driver/guide Amos, that was our group of 7 until we returned to Nairobi at the end of our safari.  

The plan was to drive the 200+ miles to the Samburu Game Reserve and arrive at Samburu Intrepids Camp no later than 2 p.m. for a late lunch. That didn't happen.  We had delays of all kinds.  The horrific traffic of vehicles including many 8-wheeler trucks on the two-lane roads in Nairobi was our first delay.  It seemed we would never get out of the city of 4 million people. Then we had a flat tire that resulted in Amos and someone he hired at the site changing and replacing the tire with one of the two spare tires carried on the vehicle.  To get the weight off the vehicle for the tire to be changed, everyone had to get out of the vehicle and wait at the shoulder side of the road while all the luggage had to be unloaded next to the travel side of the road.  Then, I was designated the guard of the luggage while the Amos & helper changed the tire.  With the spare tire in place, it seemed to be the air in the "new" tire was low.  That resulted in more than one stop to get it checked and additional air added.  It was finally determined that the huge amount of weight from the luggage was causing the tire to look "low".  Also, Hedy & Shelly Stern had found in the Nairobi hotel that their electrical converter (220 to 110 volts) was not operational. So, 3-4 stops were made related to locating a new electrical converter for them before a new one was finally purchased.  As time passed, Amos continued to call ahead to the Intrepids Camp asking them to please continue to plan to serve our "late lunch" when we arrived.  That arrival came about 4:30 p.m. with lunch nearer 5.  

The information supplied about this Samburu Intrepids Camp is as follows: Located 345 kilometers (about 240 miles) north of Nairobi, this tented lodge offers 30 modern and newly refurbished tents with a private view over the wildlife-rich riverbanks.  All the tents are large and spacious under palm-thatched roofs with netted screens.  This allows for the river breeze to keep them cool and give you stunning views of Samburu. Each tent sits on a raised deck overlooking the brown river where the elephants sometimes make an appearance or the crocodiles come out to lounge by the river's banks.  You can also choose to have private candlelit dinners on the deck of your canvas villa.  All tents are fitted with fans for the really hot days.  The bathrooms also offer twin washbasins, flush toilets, and sockets for shavers and battery charging.  The main dining room has a seating capacity of 60 and opens onto an outdoor terrace where buffet breakfasts and lunches are served overlooking the river.  Meals can also be enjoyed on your private veranda or at one of a series of specially selected 'bush sites' close to camp.  Intrepids also boasts a spacious lounge and bar area where our naturalists deliver fascinating slideshows on most evenings and an intimate conference room with a television for viewing wildlife documentaries.  Behind the bar, surrounded by a shady sunbathing area, is our free-form swimming pool, a soothing drop of blue in this otherwise arid land.  

One unique feature of this camp is that the electric power to be used is produced by a generator which is cycled off to save fuel during the night (midnight to 5 a.m.) and during the afternoon (2 p.m. - 6 p.m.).  In most situations that does not create problems, but sometimes adjustments have to be made.  For instance, getting up during the night for bathroom visits require that one has a flashlight nearby.  The afternoon we arrived we were "checked in" inside one of the buildings, with no lights.  Completing the proper forms for check-in was somewhat difficult with no light. 

Below, the dark green van is used by a group from other company.

Amos, Shelly & Hedy wait for the others to board.

The following pictures are of our room which had a number followed by S, which we eventually concluded meant "suite" because no one else in our group had a S after their room number and no one else had a living room.  

This picture shows the living room of our "suite" taken the night we arrived.

I think Sylvia was very tired the night we arrived.

Here is the "front door" also know as the "flap""of our living room.  The unique detail of this camp was that it had many small monkeys that roamed all areas.  One came inside our tent when we were getting dressed.  Sylvia stomped her foot and it ran away.  Anytime the flap was closed, all three zippers, (bottom left, bottom right, & middle) had to be fastened in a wire clip that was protected from being opened by a spring.  Otherwise, the monkeys could open it giving them access to the room. 

This is the bed inside the mosquito netting.

And, looking into the shower room.  Every shower on the entire trip was a rain shower.  I've always thought of a rain shower as a really luxury addition to a bathroom.  By the end of the trip I was glad to return to a stationary wall shower with the additional handheld nozzle. 

With a break of less than one hour after our very late lunch, Amos said we would meet for our very first game drive.  Here we are getting ready for a game drive. Amos is in the brown pants and behind him is Jan.  That is our 6 passenger van with the pop-up top for viewing and photography.

Visible in this picture:  L to R:  Jan (behind the door), Amos, Sylvia, Hedy, & with his back to the group, Shelly. 

Intrepid's Camp has this sign.  Above the Ranger's Club it has the following information:
Samburu 5 - Reticulated Giraffe, Grey's Zebra, Gerenuk, Somali Ostrich,  Beisa Oryz

 With very limited experience using my new camera, I can truthfully say that no pictures for this initial game drive were of any value.  However,  my skills did improve somewhat by the following day, so stay tuned.  

We returned from the game drive by the time dinner was served (about 8 p.m.).  Lunch at 5; dinner at 8.  Sylvia & I were not the least bit hungry, so we made our way to our room for the night as the following morning we had an early departure for another game drive.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

FRI., OCT. 13, 2017 - DAY #4 OF SAFARI - SAMBURU GAME RESERVE - Before we retired the previous night our dining room waiter walked to our tent asking if we wanted a "wake-up call" for the following morning.  We agreed on a 5 a.m. call so that we could have breakfast at 5:30 and be ready for the first game drive of the day by 6:15.  That "wake-up call" actually meant that the waiter walked to our tent, calling out "good morning" as he neared us, carrying coffee in a pot and a small plate of cookies.  With breakfast behind us, we all assembled for loading of the van for our second game drive.  

One of the first animals we observed was the baboon. 

Note the large dark red mound toward the left side of this picture with a baboon sitting on the top.  It is a termite hill, similar to others seen all over this area.

And below are the African Guinea fowl with their beautiful blue feathers.
In the same area as the Guinea fowl, we found Impala, one of the 10 varieties of antelope found in Africa. 

In this picture of the Ostrich, the two black & white birds are male; look closely at the right for the female who blends in the surroundings

Another of the 10 varieties of antelope

This is the smallest of the 10 varieties of antelope, the Dik-dik; we felt it's size compared to what we know in the USA as a Chihuahua dog

And the Reticulated Giraffe

A group of giraffes is called a "Tower".  This is a tower; there actually were more than the two animals shown in this picture

Followed by another variety of antelope

This beautiful terrain...
 ...was occupied by this antelope.

And a warthog...

The driver/guides in the park communicated with each other using CB radios.  Anytime one had spotted an unusual animal or very interesting situation involving a rather common animal they would "put the word out" of the location and every driver/guide would immediately take his group to that place. 

The word went out that a cheetah had been spotted lying in the shade of a tree.

We watched another antelope, the Gerenuk, for a short time before receiving the "word" that an elephant had been spotted.

With a noticeable change of terrain, we began watching an elephant.

After that we came across this warthog, preparing to get into a water/mud.  (we learned a "hard" lesson).  In our anticipation of this happening we made entirely too much noise and startled the animal.  He ran away!
Our final sighting of the morning was this herd of antelope eating hay that was obviously provided by the camp shown behind the trees.  We returned to our camp for a short break. 

After our short break we departed again, this time for the village that is home of the local Samburu tribe.

The men of the village are under a tree playing a game as we arrive.

 Here, the young warriors are showing us their strength.

 One shows how high he can jump.
A group picture
mother & child

children in front of home

closeup picture of home side wall

 tribe market

We returned to our camp about 1:30 p.m. for lunch.

Below, two warriors are employed to keep the monkeys away from the dining area.

After a 2 hour break we gathered about 6 p.m. for our evening game drive.

Initially, we began by visiting all the places we had seen various animal on the morning drive.

large termite hill

And, then there's that lone African tree...

and the beautiful sunsets! 

It seemed like we were just "wandering around" searching for anything to look at when Amos got a message over the CB radio that a lion had been spotted.  He started driving toward the given location as swiftly as possible.  That meant not slowing for bumps or any over rough road spots and driving through creeks and running water.  We just held on for all we were worth! And then there it was.

As we watched, the lioness & her mate walked away.

I got these two pictures of the mate.

 As they got out of sight, Amos moved the van so we could continue to watch.

These are the best pictures I got of the lioness. 

And, of the lion.

And, finally of her again.

We watched until dark and then drove back to the camp for dinner & shortly after we went to our rooms.  It's an early start we have for tomorrow!

At this place in this blog I would like to address an item that was agreed to on the very first day in the van, "we will rotate seats".  The issue was not mentioned the very first day away from Nairobi, but after the "wild" ride on this evening to get to this lion sighting it had to be on most of our minds.  We were still in the same seats that we started in.  The day following this "wild" lion ride, Hedy made the announcement to the effect that, "Because of her medical condition there was no other place in van where she could ride".  So, we all stayed in the same seats throughout the entire safari, with Jo & Jan riding in the most cramped spaces with very little foot room and feeling all the bumps almost double what the others of us felt.  And, we continued to put up with the extra suitcases taking our floor space and having to be moved to seats before we could exit or enter.