Serengeti Day 1 -early morning hot air balloon drive and afternoon game drive

Unbelievable. As with the gorillas we will let the photos tell the story. The trip was followed by an english style sit down breakfast on the Serengeti plain served by white gloved waiters. Straight out of the early 1900’s.


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It struck me today during our afternoon game drive of how perceptions of societies different from our own are often so wrong. While visiting a tribe that lived on the shores of Lake Victoria the woman who was our guide to the village told us that in North America money grows on trees and all we do is pick it – therefore we should give as much as possible to Africans. She was serious in her perception of North American lifestyle. Our perceptions of tribal life and societies different from our own are also often incorrect. What many people see as squalor and lack of order is actually a fully functional,complex society.

Elephants are gathering for their migration – today was elephant day as we spent time with two large families. Another complex society with strong relationships among herd members and cooperative behaviour.  Herd members included a newborn calf and many youngsters. A magical afternoon ended with a drive back to camp watching a glorious sunset.  We leave for Ngorongoro crater tomorrow morning.

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Lake Victoria to the Serengeti

Our destination for the night after our visit to Lake Victoria was a bush camp in the Serengeti. Things got interesting at that point. Our reservation ended up being lost, we got lost and we ended up driving around the Serengeti until about 11 pm looking for a camp that would take us. During our journey hippos, a pride of lions, a porcupine and bat foxes crossed the road ahead of us. After several hours in the middle of the night of being lost on the Serengeti looking for a place to stay, one of our fellow travellers had to answer the call of nature. Just as he finished on one side of the truck, a lion came up on the other to investigate the intruder marking in his territory. All ended well……

The night sky was incredible. Finally at 11:30 pm we found a camp that had room and actually opened up the kitchen to serve us dinner at midnight. Wonderful people here – I would like to come back to this camp. It is completely off the grid, in a beautiful location up on a ridge that catches the breeze all day. We got to bed at around 1:30 am – with a wake up call for 4:30 am and a balloon safari.

Kisii to Serengeti via Lake Victoria

If at some point in the future I am dropped at night into Africa I will know where I am by scent. The mixture of dust, mud, sweat, dung, cooking smoke, diesel fumes, charcoal, fruit and vegetation that is uniquely African.

After leaving Kisii we crossed into Tanzania. The drive through northern Tanzania to Lake Victoria was stunning – large sandstone formations or kopjes served as a backdrop for small villages and towns.

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A local village welcomed us at Lake Victoria with a boat trip and village tour. The lake is the second largest in the world and is surrounded by villages. The pressure on the lake is intense. Native ciclid populations have been decimated by the introduction of the nile perch which grows up to 2 feet in length. The fishing communities are organized around the women. The men catch the fish, the women buy the fish from the men and market it in the fish market. The women run the village, the orphanage, and the school. There are a large number of HIV orphans in the village as well as in other villages in the area. Our guide was a Uganda educated teacher who runs the village school.

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Maasai Mara to Kisii

This morning we headed out of the Mara towards the Serengeti. We had a game drive on the way out of the park. had a magical encounter with two cheetahs followed by a family of elephants. Once we had said good by to the elephants we visited a Maasai village. The Maasai still live as they have for centuries. they are herders – measuring their wealth in cattle. in the evenings they herd all their livestock inside large thorn fenced enclosures where they also live – in essence they live in a feedlot type environment – on a dung heap. their huts are made of cow manure and grass. a hut has a lifetime of about 8-10 years before the rains cause it to collapse – the owners then just build a new one. Village location is determined by the rains. Once feed for their animals starts getting scarce they pull-up stakes (literally) and move to an area with better grazing. We got the tour of a village and watched Maasai men dance. Definitely a patriarchal society. Both men and women are circumcised – it is a right of passage into adult status for both genders

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the drive from Maasai Mara to Kisii in western Kenya was a long one but interesting. About 1/3 of the way to Kisii we left Maasai territory. We ended up in tea growing country as we gained in altitude – very beautiful here. We got lost once we reached Kisii and inadvertently got a tour of the city. White people other than missionaries are not common here – the drive through the city centre and resulting traffic jam will make an interesting story when we get home 🙂 Anyways made it to the hotel. Our dinner was barbecued local goat and potatoes – excellent 🙂

Maasai Mara Day 2

This morning Carol and I went on a sunrise game drive. Amazing! Unlike the Serengeti you can go off road here and get very close to the animals. We were 30 feet from a cheetah with a fresh kill and then were blessed to see a lioness with three cubs

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The afternoon game drive was awesome. our first sighting was lots of Topi, and wart hogs. Our first elephant came along shortly after, followed by an ostrich family and a tortoise of all things. The immenseness of the Mara is incredible. The highlight of the afternoon was watching a large family of hippos wallow and play at the bend in a river. they were amazing to watch. the day ended with Eland sightings and some incredible zebra behaviour. It is impossible to adequately describe or photograph this place- you have to be here.

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Maasai Mara

7 hours took us from Lake Nakura to our camp in the Maasai Mara. The drive took us through numerous small towns giving us a view of Kenyan rural life. At the end we traveled through Maasai territory. gorgeous people – they share the park with their animals and the wildlife. The Maasai build large compounds for themselves and their livestock to shelter in at night. Family wealth is based on the number of livestock they own.

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Our intro to our tented bush camp in the Maasai Mara was the discovery of a spitting black cobra in the men’s toilet by one of our co-travelers. Woke us all up…… After a lot of excitement the snake met its demise, a couple of safari members had a stiff drink and our tents got a pretty thorough check. The day ended with a sunset game drive – highlights were Topi’s with young, a female cheetah with two cubs feeding on an antelope and a mother and young giraffe. Definitely family night in the Mara. It has been raining here at night so the frogs are out. Some interesting calls last night – one sounded like a jeep stuck in the mud, and another like hey!, hey!  Got a bit old by 3 am. Our tents are the real deal, with mesh sides so whatever walked around outside during the night sounded like it was in the tent with us.

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Nairobi to Lake Naivisha and Lake Nakura

After meeting the other three people on our safari, we left the city quickly 🙂 and our first stop overlooking the Great Rift Valley was spectacular. Lake Naivisha a large freshwater lake in the Rift valley and Elsamere – the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame – was our first stop. The house is now a hotel, museum and charming restaurant right on the Lake. I read Born Free many times as a child and the museum was fascinating. After tea we had a boat ride around the shores of the lake. The lake itself is under a great deal of pressure from the large number of flower growing operations that irrigate using lake water. Lake levels are beginning to be negatively impacted. Turns out that a lot of flowers from here are sent to European middlemen who then distribute them. In all likelihood the flowers you think are from Holland may well be grown in Africa. Several hippo families live in the lake and we found three of them. Apparently they do not venture out into deep water, so we got fairly close as the lake drops off quite quickly in some areas along the shoreline. The boat trip was also an amazing first encounter with just a few of the thousands of bird species in Africa.

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The Safari company we are with is a strong supporter of the East Africa children’s orphanage located near Nakura. We paid them a visit on the way to our lodge accommodation near Lake Nakura Park. What an inspiring place. It was started 20 years ago by a wealthy Australian couple who still live at the orphanage. At the moment they have 25 babies there, as well as dozens of older children. The property is remarkable, almost self sufficient in food, the children are educated to their fullest potential, loved and sent out into the world. We had a wonderful visit that ended far too soon.

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The Sleeping Warrior Lodge near Lake Nakura was our destination  for happy hour, dinner and the night. It is a private lodge with incredible views that was built by a retired French economist. There is about 200,000 acres here. The lodge is straw bale construction – I had read about that type of construction but never seen it before. The walls are about a foot thick and the lodge stays cool in the summer months without any AC. It is off the grid, using solar power. Water off the roof is filtered, stored and used for cooking. We were in individual guest house or tents away from the man lodge. Our shower was right out on the deck overlooking one of the game waterholes around the lodge. Showering watching the sun rise and animals at the waterhole was another uniquely Afican experience 🙂

Lake Nakura National Park is amazing. Lake Nakura itself is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes and is home to the famous Lake Nakura flamingos, as well as many other bird species. The park is a rhino breeding centre and we saw both the non-native white and the native black rhino. The male black rhino was busy marking his territory by spraying just like a cat does. Cape buffalo let us come up close to them, as did baboons, wart hogs, gazelles, elands, waterbucks, giraffes. It was like the wild kingdom 🙂 The sundowner that evening was on top of a small mountain overlooking the entire park and adjacent areas. A fire in the fire pit, full bar set up with appetizers and a red liveried server – all on top of a mountain. We felt like we were in a Karen Blixen novel…..

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We spent the morning touring Kigali and visited the genocide museum.  the museum and surrounding gardens were a fitting tribute to that terrible time in the countries history. Rwanda has made incredible progress since the mid nineties and is a country Carol and I would return to.  Electrification is proceeding, lots of building going on, families and genocide widows living in poverty are receiving assistance.

The country is extremely clean. Our guide told us that every Saturday, everyone in the country has to spend three hours of community service sweeping streets, cleaning yards etc. They have a pass book that needs to be stamped after they work – otherwise they are fined. A bit unorthodox but it sure seems to work.

Following our city tour we flew to Nairobi – we begin the East Africa portion of our trip tomorrow .

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Karisoke and Dian Fossey’s grave site

The hike up to Karisoke, Dian Fossey’s camp and grave site took 2 hours. It was a hard scramble up to 10,000 feet over steep rocky trails and mud. Beautiful hike. the jungle was magnificent. The Virungu mountains are cool enough so that there are no spiders or snakes. many of the trees and plants have medicinal uses. Karisoke was destroyed during the genocide, however outlines and some footings of the old cabins remain. Dian’s grave is next to those of a number of her beloved gorillas. Although Dian and the gorillas died violently, there was a sense of peace in the graveyard – it was a very spiritual site.  After making our way down Carol and I met our guide after our hike and we headed back to Kigali. Ice packs came along for the ride 🙂

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The Mountain gorillas

Wow, wow, wow – what can we say! An early morning start led us within an hour to a group of 19 gorillas –  the Agushya  family. The group included young males, the silverback male, 9 females, young ranging from 5 days old to 5-6 months and up. At one point the entire family group was round us, sleeping, playing, nursing, grooming one another. To look into their gentle eyes was an amazing experience. The weather was perfect – hazy with a nice breeze. We’ll let the photos tell the story.

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