Thursday, 4 September 2014

Our Kenyan safari begins


Lindsay spent quite some time researching for a safari in Africa that would allow us to focus on our photography, more time in places and more time on each animal. He found Freeman Safaris in Kenya, an outfit run by Brian Freeman who has an 85% return customer rate. One morning I asked three people how many times they had been to Brian’s – 7, 6 and 3 times!  I wanted to go on “the best of Kenya” safari which took us to Samburu, Nakuru, Naivasha and the Masai Mara. Lindsay wanted to spend 2 weeks in the Mara, so we compromised – the Best of Kenya with extra days in the Mara.

We arrived in Nairobi at 1am and were taken to the Country Lodge which had a security fence and boom gate. With the troubles in Nairobi of late, we had no intention of exploring the city. We stayed two nights as we couldn’t face flying out with only a few hours sleep. Kenya’s biggest industry is tourism which is being hurt by the bad publicity – people are staying away in droves. I checked the travel insurance web sites before we left as I didn’t want not to be covered. They reported that going on safari was safe, just not east to the Somali border or Mombasa. At no time did we feel unsafe.

We ate at the Fairview hotel which is behind our lodge, we just had to walk through a locked gate at the end of the garden that opened with our room key. There were five restaurants to choose from and the setting had a very colonial influence.

Day 1 - Samburu
Our flight to Samburu left at 7:30am, and took about an hour or so to get to our first camp. We were met by Michael at the terminal who took our luggage, but we went with our guide Andrew straight into a safari before arriving at our camp at lunchtime. That morning we saw a troupe of baboons with babies, Gerenuk Gazelles; which have a long neck and they stand on their hind legs to reach the tops of branches, a Spectacular Starling; a gorgeous blue, black and yellow bird, water buck, reticulated giraffes with their stunning pattern, and a white bellied bastard bird.

Samburu Airport
The camp is nonpermanent inside the Samburu National Park, so everything has to be portable. So that means a porta-loo, water in a bucket for washing hands, a sink that drains into a bucket, a bed, table and chairs with 12V LED lighting and a inverter to charge batteries etc. Luxurious compared with what we normally camp back in Australia!

We are woken up at 5:30am for breakfast and leave at 6:30am when the sun is just starting to rise. The landrover 110 series has been modified for photographers – all the side and rear windows have been removed. A roll cage has been installed and the roof replaced with canvas that can is usually rolled back. When it rains all the open parts are covered by either canvas or a clear thick plastic cover. This allows you to take pictures out the sides or the roof. There are ‘bean bags’ to rest your camera on, that take place of a mono-pod or tripod, an absolute must to get sharp photos.

Superb Starling
Greve Zebra

Gernuk Gazelle
Morning tea is at about 9:30, back at camp around 12:30 to have lunch, transfer photos and if you are lucky, take a nap. Then out again around 3:00 to 3:30, then you have to be out of the park or back at camp by 6:30.

White bellied Bustard

That afternoon the new animals we saw were Impala, Grave and Burchell’s zebras (common), the Grave zebra has thinner vertical stripes, a white area underneath and a white nose. The Common zebra has a black stripe underneath, a black nose, and odd thicker stripes. Beisa oryx are beautiful and look very regal. The Secretary bird has quill like feathers on it’s head, we got some shots of the Tawny Eagle as it flew away. We saw two African Cape Buffalo and as there are only 5 left in the park, we were very lucky to see them. The Reticulated giraffe are very beautiful with markings that look like a spider web or tiles. We saw two, most likely siblings that were practicing sparring. They fight using their necks and whack each other, but as this wasn’t for real it looked very graceful as if they were doing palates. The Lilac breasted roller birds are very colourful and are one of my favourites. We only saw a herd of elephants at a distance, so we’ve put that on the list to look for the next day. The Vervet monkeys are cute cheeky monkeys that have a dark face and taupe body, we learnt in Botswana that they will steal anything they can get their hands on!

Reticulated Giraffe
Tawny Eagle

Our prize spotting for the day would have to have been the Lioness who was jumping over the puddles even though it was raining, don’t get those feet wet!

Lion - I can jump puddles
Samburu should be dry and hot at this time of year, but they have been having rain for a few days before we arrive, so it is quite humid.  The first afternoon it rained heavily for a short time and we had to roll out the canvas roof and clear sides. We were still able to see but couldn’t photograph anything. The sky became quite grey, so there wasn’t enough light anyway. We were grateful that we had a 4WD as we could negotiate the wet slippery roads without getting stuck, unlike some of the other tour companies that had 2WD mini vans. At one stage we thought we would get stuck but as I only have one pair of shoes I wasn’t volunteering to push, but Landrovers are good in the wet and disaster was averted!

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