Out of Africa, Again – Lions & Leopards & Lizards, oh my!

2 April 2016 – A warning sign in my ‘room’ at the Sentrim Mara Lodge reminded me that I was in a National Reserve and that here “animals have the right of way”.  The whistle attached to my room key was evidence that real danger lurked in the shadows and bushes around my little house.

Warning sign in my room

My journal entry for Day Two began, “Lucky, lucky girl!  My first ever, anywhere in the world, game drive, began at 7:45 am and within two hours we had seen zebra, three kinds of antelope, a jackal, and a hyena.”

“I would have gone home happy but the Universe, Tom, and the Masai Mara were not finished.  By the end of the day, I had lost count of how many different animals we had seen.  We saw so many different kinds of antelope that I am going to have to do some post safari research to identify them all. We saw a lioness with cubs, elephants, turtles, wild pigs, ostriches, a leopard, several kinds of flying birds, a buzzard, several kinds of lizards, monkeys, baboons, and I have probably omitted some of the animals that we did see.”

Leopard – Photo by Andrea Brandle



Lioness – Photo by Andrea Brandle

I had just commented to Tom that I only needed buffalo and rhino and I would have my ‘Big Five’ when we came across an entire herd of buffalo.  Tom commented that I am really lucky because it is rare to see a whole herd.  The day ended with a visit to the Masai Cultural village.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.


Out of Africa, Again – Nairobi to Masai Mara

1 April 2016 – Tom, my guide and driver for my first ever safari, is of the Luo tribe and has four children. Prior to this trip, I only knew about the Masai and Kikuyu. Tom told me there are 42 tribes of Kenya.  Clearly, I had a lot to learn.

One of the reasons I had chosen Right Choice Safaris was because they did not charge single passengers twice as much as individuals travelling in a twosome. As it turned out, in keeping with my ‘luckiest girl in the world’ status, I was getting a private safari for the price of being part of a group.

Day one of the six-day Mara, Nakuru & Amboseli itinerary took us from Kenya’s capital to one of it’s most famous tourist destinations.  The start of the path led through one of Nairobi’s slums.  The day was mostly driving with the mind-blowing exception of a pit stop with a view. The highway leading from Nairobi to Masai Mara has a strip that affords an awe-inspiring view of the Great Rift Valley. Wherever the shoulder of the highway was wide enough, people had built souvenir shops.  We pulled into one that also had a coffee shop.  I stood for a long time staring out to the horizon, across an expanse that was as flat and vast as an ocean. There were some mountains off in the distance which are actually dormant volcanoes. There was almost no sign of human habitation.

My coffee (instant made with hot milk instead of hot water) was 100 KSH.  The souvenirs I bought at the gift shop cost me 5,000 KSH.  It is the fault of my ignorance that I overpaid. The system for buying souvenirs in Kenya goes thusly; first, you put everything that you would like to purchase in a lovely basket, then you are given a price for it all. You are expected to negotiate. Because it was my first purchase in Kenya, I did very badly. The lady shopkeeper said 6,000 KSH and I asked if she would take 5,000 KSH.  Of course, she would!!!!  Anyway, I paid approximately the equivalent of $50 USD for a map, some hand-made cards, a fridge magnet, and a pair of orange bead earrings.

Due to our late start, we were unable to make it into the Masai Mara for lunch so we stopped at the Kusbor Restaurant in Narok.  Tom told me to help myself to the buffet.  There was a salad made of cabbage, carrots, and onions.  There was also steamed spinach, as well as, noodles and flatbread. The meat dish was chicken.  It was ok.

After eating lunch and adding air to the tires to make them fatter, we left the highway and our adventure began.  The road from Narok to the Masai Mara is the worst road I have ever travelled on.  I am not exaggerating – I have been on dirt roads in Canada, Botswana, and Australia and I can say without a doubt, this road was worse than any of those. On top of that, it began pissing down with rain.  Tom said that I was good luck because the rain was a blessing for the land.

The original itinerary was that we would have lunch at the camp and then go for a game drive in the afternoon.  I told Tom I didn’t want to go for a game drive.  I was exhausted from clenching my entire body and could only imagine what it was like for Tom who was wrestling to keep the vehicle on the road.  He seemed disappointed and said, “Don’t you want to see elephants?”  I told him there would be plenty of time to see animals the next day. One of the benefits of having a private safari is that you can say no to more time spent driving.  Tom told me later at dinner that when he first started driving on that road, he would fall into bed immediately upon arrival.  Fighting the road would suck out all of his energy.

I don’t know if it was because I was a woman travelling alone, or because of the little mix up that had me waiting at the airport, but the boss told Tom to upgrade me so, instead of staying at the camp, I stayed at the Sentrim Mara hotel for two nights.  I had my own little house complete with a four-poster bed with mosquito nets.  I slept like a baby!

Out of Africa, Again

Exactly one year ago today, I boarded the Kenya Airways flight bound for Nairobi. This was to be a trip filled with firsts: first visit to East Africa, first safari, and first time meeting my friend Krista’s children.

The actual purpose of the trip was to attend Krista’s surprise 50th birthday party in Malindi, Kenya on the beautiful coast of the Indian Ocean but I am getting ahead of myself.

I arrived at NBO (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) at approximately 5:45 am. Getting through customs and immigration was a breeze. They did not ask to see my yellow fever card but they did fingerprint all my fingers and thumbs on both hands (Singapore is just one thumb and Malaysia is index fingers).  I was through the whole process so quickly that I was outside before I knew it.  I had not seen a single shop, restaurant, or exchange kiosk.  I also had not changed my clothes.  I had to go through the screening process in order to go back inside so that I could go to the ladies room.

Back outside after having changed my clothes, I waited and waited. Several people approached me to ask where I was going.  There were people holding signs but none had my name on them.  I reminded myself that I was early.  I had anticipated a longer process to get through immigration.  I also needed to change money and would have probably bought things but there was no place in the airport to do that.  So there I was waiting.  It was 6:45 am.

George, my contact at Right Choice Safaris, had indicated my pick-up time as 7 am. At about 7:20 am I remembered that I had suggested 7:30 am in order to accommodate my need not to have anyone wait for me. I waited some more. It occurred to me that some women travelling alone to an unfamiliar country in Africa might be a bit freaked out by the prospect that they could be stranded. I approached a young woman who was holding a sign in such a manner that I could not read the name upon it. The person she was waiting for was Peter something. I am clearly not a Peter.  She suggested I get a SIM card and call the company that was supposed to pick me up.  I asked if there was somewhere in the airport where I could change money as I had been unable to get Kenyan shillings in Singapore.   Her companion walked me to a place at the far end of the arrivals area where I could change US dollars, then I walked back to the Safaricom kiosk to buy a SIM card.  I was told that I had to have Kenyan ID to buy one and that I should try a place over in the departures area.

I waited a bit longer and then dragged my suitcase along the sidewalk to the departures area.  I stopped in at a convenience store to ask if they had SIM cards, they did not but they sold African souvenirs and alcohol.  I walked a bit further and was about to turn back when a security guard approached me and asked what I was looking for.  I told him I sought a place to buy a SIM card so that I could call the company that was supposed to pick me up.  He used his own mobile phone to call.   Three more people, including a taxi driver, got involved but eventually, I was in the heart of Nairobi at the office of Right Choice Safaris.  Here I met Tom, my guide and driver, and the first day of my six-day safari began.

In a taxi from NBO to Nairobi