19 September 2009

Lake Navaisha - relaxing at last

Day 15

Back to luxury at Lake Navaisha Country Club. We arrived early afternoon yesterday and spent the afternoon relaxing in the beautiful gardens of the country club. Took a walk down to the lake, which was just out the back of the club, and watched the birds flying around. Unfortunately there were no hippos to be seen, but apparently there are many in the lake, so we should see some!

Had a bit of a sleep in this morning, up at 7.30 to head to Hell's Gate National Park. Jackson had warned us not to expect too much – particularly after all we had seen at the Masai Mara, but it is a really nice national park, with high cliffs and a gorge running through the middle of it.

We saw zebra, impala, buffalo and lots and lots of warthogs! The site was formed from a local volcano Mt Longonot which erupted in the early 1900s. The jagged cliffs which surround the park give it a unique feeling to all the other national parks we have visited on this trip.

We drove around for a little while, spotting animals, admiring the cliffs then headed for the gorge. We did a one hour gorge walk with a Masai guide. The walk was amazing, you could do two hours, but we chose to just do the one hour, which stretched out to an hour and a half, as our guide didn't want us to miss anything, so showed us the highlights from the two hour walk!

We walked down into the base of the gorge, which had just a small amount of water flowing through it at the time we were there. Walking on we came across hot and cold springs in the gorge, so we had a bit of a warm shower, followed by a cold shower – very invigorating, though not great when you have two cameras slung around your neck as per paparazzi Duncan!

The gorge walls were riddled with salt which apparently the impala and other antelope lick off during the night, the leopards (there are about five in the park but we didn't see any) know the impala do this so lay in wait for an easy meal!

As we walked out we had amazing views back over the gorge and across the park. And then of course we had to visit the obligatory Masai market stall – it's amazing where these "markets" crop up!

Back to the van and Jackson took us to see the geothermal electricity station which is in the middle of the park and takes energy from the volcano to power the country. Jackson tried to get us inside the actual plant, but to no avail – apparently you need a prearranged tour. Not to worry, the station is amazing just to look at.

Headed back to the hotel for lunch before heading out to Crescent Island in the afternoon. After lunch we took a walk back down to the lake and saw a herd of hippos not far offshore. They weren't particularly active, but looked so relaxed lollling in the water, its hard to believe they kill more people than any other African animal!

We headed out to Crescent Island about 4pm. Crescent Island is actually no longer an island – a victim of climate change and the local flower growing industry (there are hundreds of greenhouses in the town which ship cut flowers as far away as India and Holland) - it is now more a peninsula off the major land mass. I suspect that it now joins the main island on both sides, breaking Lake Navaisha completely and leaving a dam on the inside of what use to be the island.

The island is owned by a white Kenyan, who was born in England but moved to Kenya in the 70s. She and her husband live in a beautiful homestead on the "island", you can take a walking tour of the island with one of her guides.

The tour takes about two hours and along the way are giraffe, wildebeest, dik diks, impala, cows and hyena. It's amazing walking among the giraffes – such graceful animals.

Day 16

We were up and out early today, our last full day in Kenya, with heavy hearts as our holiday was coming to an end!

But before it ended we still had a cruise on Lake Navaisha. Daniel, who owns Menengai travel, had promised "some of your most beautiful pictures" of the fish eagles feeding at Lake Navaisha, so we couldn't leave without going out on a boat.

We arrived at the mooring at 8am, and went out early after somewhat of a false start as climate change has dried up the lake to such an extent, and the area where the boats are moored is so shallow, our boatman had all kinds of trouble trying to turn the boat to get it alongside the makeshift pier.

Out on the water, we made our way through the sleeping hippo – hundreds of them, and given they head under water for up to five minutes, I was somewhat nervous about getting too close lest one pop his head up under our boat and tip us up!

After getting more pics of the hippo we headed to the opposite shore to buy our portion of fish before looking for the fish eagles sitting on top of the trees. According to our boatman fish eagles travel in pairs and mate for life, so there were always two sitting on the top of any one tree.

The boatman called the eagles with a whistle then threw the into the water. As the fish eagle swooped own we were at the ready filming and photographing like mad, but it's not easy to capture the birds, particularly when the little buggers fly off course!

We were on the lake for an hour, and by the time we got back, the boat mooring office was full of other tourists waiting to go out – there were certainly some well-fed fish eagles out there!

We left Lake Navaisha and headed on to Nairobi, through the Rift Valley where we stopped to get some pics – though it was very cloudy, so quite difficult to see much from the lookout – and, of course, once again went into the obligatory curio shop! There is a definite pattern here!

Arrived at Nairobi about 11am so after settling into our hotel, Kivi Milimani once again, we walked into Nairobi and headed straight for the Masai Markets. What a chore! It was not the fun shopping experience we were both hoping for. We hadn't even walked in the gate, when someone jumped on us telling us we had to go and look at the paintings in his shop – he had two shops apparently so we had to look at both. I thought that would be it and then we could walk around the stalls on our own. But no such luck, he and his sidekick stuck to us the whole way, telling us that we should pick out whatever we were interested in, then we would negotiate the price at the end. We had seen how this worked, they would give us an overall price – highly inflated of course – and pressure us to buy all the items.

If Ade and I tried to talk to each other in low voices so they couldn't overhear us, they would come up and say what are you saying, tell us, please let's have no secrets! However this didn't stop them speaking in Swahili to each other and to the stallholders ofcourse!

We saw other poor tourists who had fallen into the same trap as we had, but some, obviously more prepared than we had been, were walking freely and negotiating themselves with the store holders.

Ade and I don't particularly like haggling at the best of times, this made it even worse! We got to the end – of the market and our patience – and began discussing price. Their first price was absolutely ridiculous so we started negotiating and walked away a couple of times, in the end we removed one of the original items and paid a tenth of what they had asked for originally!

We left the market and went for lunch before taking a walk around Nairobi. For the most part we were left relatively freely to walk around – of course every taxi driver offered us a lift, and we had the odd tourist guide trying to offer us safaris, but there were few beggars and few people hassling us to look in their curio shops, which made a welcome change!

We were getting ready to head back to the hotel however, when we were approached by a well dressed man who started chatting to us, telling us how good it was that we weren't racist. We got chatting, he asked about the situation in Australia with our Indigenous population, then told us about his life. He was from Zimbabwe so started telling us about the political situation there, how his sister was raped, then asked us to buy some rice for his family to eat. We knew we were being scammed, but figured, how much can a bag of rice cost?

When we got to the local Tuskers, he tried to insist on us buying the most expensive, largest bag of rice, then said he needed sugar to go with it! We bought a smaller, cheaper bag of rice and pointed out that you don't need sugar to go with rice, then left him to it!

Day 17

Heading home today!
We had a bit of a sleep in, got packed up and headed into Nairobi for one last look around before heading to the airport.

Another holiday over!

Now onto planning for Mont Blanc, 2011!

Masai Mara: The elusive leopard comes out to play

Day 9

Had a bit of a sleep in and then left for the Masai Mara. On the way we stopped in town to go to the bank and ran the regular gauntlet of market stall holders trying to sell us everything from hats to postcards and wood carvings. We resisted them all. It would have been good to have a walk around town, but we had to push on to get to the Mara.

The trip was relatively short – about five hours, and would have been much quicker were it not for the bumpy roads. Our van certainly does it tough!

We arrived at camp, what can I say?! Jackson has been laughing about the differences between Sweetwaters and Mara Manyatta all week, but still I wasn't quite prepared for what we found. Very basic campsite compared with what we have become used to. The tent does have an ensuite and electricity and hot showers. The shower, when hot is actually better than Samburu lodge was, but the bathroom is very basic, just a sink, toilet (no seat) and shower head.

It's like being back backpacking around Europe the first time, when we weren't so fussy about our accommodation! At least this time we do have the tent to ourselves, and I must admit the views are very nice from where we are.

The meals are quite good too, though it does feel somewhat like being on school camp. I can't believe that after all the nice accommodation we have had, this is where we are spending five nights!
Ah well it is good to have different types of accommodation. We are right next to a small Masai Village, which is kind of interesting. The village immediately next to us is not traditional, but there is a traditional village quite close. We hear them herding their goats and cows past our tent of a morning and evening and there are always Masai hanging around the camp when we get in from drives. I'm not sure who actually works in the campsite as there are always different people hanging around.

We went on a late game drive on our first day here, left about 4pm and it wasn't long before we were well and truly rewarded.

As we took off through the gate Jackson was advised there was a leopard in a tree some way off. We took off, travelling at high speeds around the bends and curves of the Mara. I admit, I was somewhat scared that Jackson was going to lose control of the vehicle at any moment, but he didn't and we made it to see the leopard!
However, there is no evidence to suggest he was in fact speeding (travelling above 40kmh, legally speaking of course).

The leopard was amazing! He was sprawled out in the tree, with more than 20 cars all crowded around trying to get a view and the best pics!
We moved around a little to get different angles, then got stuck in a line up in which the van two cars in front of ours would not move forward. Our view was obstructed by the branch, and Jackson was yelling at the driver to move forward, but he didn't. He sat there for what felt like ages. Eventually he moved forward and we got a better view, just in time to see the leopard lift his head, then get up and turn around on the branch.

We eventually left the leopard, though I don't think Ade really wanted to! And began the long drive back through the park to our gate – travelling much slower this time so that we could take in the animals. Again, a fabulous surprise in the way of a pride of lions – at least nine lions in full view on a rock, and a big daddy a short way off relaxing in the grass.
Distressingly one of the lions had found a plastic bottle and was playing with it, while a second lion was trying to take it off him. Man's rubbish again making its way into nature and spoiling the beauty.

Not bad for a short afternoon's drive, in just over two hours we managed to see four of the big five as we spotted elephant and buffalo as we drove around. The only animal missing was the rhino, and we had seen so much rhino at Lake Nakuru and Sweetwaters that we didn't really need to see any more!
Day 10

Got off to a respectable start at 7.30 (is this really a holiday???) We were no sooner in the gates than we saw two large male lions lying next to a river. One had its head up when we got there but soon lay down, we moved on as they both looked like they had settled down for the afternoon.
We drove around for some time not seeing anything much – well other than plenty of zebra, wildebeest, impala and another lion with its kill. Then we heard word – through the cb radio of course – of a cheetah sitting on a mound. We raced along to try and catch site of it. We were busy photographing away when we discovered there were not one but two cheetah, a mother in full view and her baby hidden somewhat in the shrubs, but the baby kept poking her head out to see what was going on! I think we managed to photograph it from every angle.
We moved on and came across another pride of lions relaxing in the trees. There were about nine lions, cubs and mum all in the bushes playing and snoozing!

On to lunch which was sitting under a tree in the middle of the Mara – apparently there are no designated eating areas in the Masai Mara so you just take your chances wherever you can! We did, it was a lovely spot looking out over grazing zebra.
During lunch we got word of four cheetahs sitting on a mound! So we ate quickly and were off again. We found the cheetahs, a mother and her three cubs and just one other van was there filming it. We had a fabulous view. Jackson fell asleep, we were thinking of waking him as we had photographed the cheetahs adequately, however then the mother got up and started walking off toward, we soon realised, giselle up on the hill. The babies followed, as did we! By now a third van had joined us, but it was just the three of us, watching and waiting to see what she would do.
We didn't have to wait long for her to pounce and catch dinner for her babies – an amazing event to witness! She moved so quickly from crouching in the grass to accelarating to such speeds the giselle didn't stand a chance. Then watching her sit on a rock while her babies tucked into dinner and knowing we had seen it from start to finish was amazing! We were soon surrounded by other vans, so we moved on.

We headed to the Mara river where we saw heaps of hippos and some very large crocodiles! The hippos look so cute, difficult to believe something that looks so relaxed and gentle can actually be so dangerous!
The crocodiles on the other hand do not look cute or gentle! But are a very intriguing animal to look at. Funny to think that we have come all this way to see them when we have them back home!

We are planning to head back to the river in the next day or so to wait for a chance river crossing by the wildebeest.

Day 11

Another early morning, we had to leave the light on in our tent so that when the power came on at 6am it would wake us up! Power came on a little early – 5.45, so we were ready early, but then breakfast was a little late.
Not to worry, Jackson made up for any lost time. First up we saw a pride of lions. There were about six lions in the pride including a big male, all keeping an eye on buffalo hiding in the forest. The mother went for it, but the buffalo was too big and scared her somewhat so she took off. Apparently it takes two males to bring down a buffalo and there was only one male!
Got word that there was a rhino in the hills so we took off in search, but to no avail, by the time we got there the rhino was back in hiding – which makes me wonder, how do you lose a rhino? We were soon to find out the answer.

Moving on we spotted an owl in the trees – so wise looking! He was sitting right above us, which made photographing him quite difficult, not so pleasant when he decided to shit, fortunately we were off a little to the left, so we weren't quite within aim!
A quick stop at Sarova lodge – stunning lodge – for the bathroom, our guide keeps stopping at five star lodges for us to use the bathrooms, it is tough knowing that at the end of the drive we have to come back to our, generally lesser, lodge!

A quick stop back at a couple of lions we had seen earlier. Jackson spotted them from a mile away hidden in the trees, I did get a little freaked out as we moved in closer and then just about got stuck! But we managed to get away. The lions had a fresh zebra kill nearby, but had obviously had their fill and were now relaxing. On our second trip to see them one had moved down to a nearby watering hole so we followed her for a little before moving on.
Plenty of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, antelope of all manner, a hyena and lots of vultures and we even saw two giraffe lying down – quite a sight!

Day 12
What a day, 12 lions before 8.30am and seven cheetah in total! We spent the whole day out in the Mara and took with us the younger sister of one of the women that works at the campsite we are staying at. Anissa was 10 years old and didn't speak! She was very shy apparently. It wasn't really a good day for her to come out with us. We spent four hours sitting by the river waiting for the wildebeest to cross!
And this was her first experience in Mara National park, so she really hadn't seen anything before!
But we did manage to see a lot of lion and cheetah! We headed over to the Tanazania border where we were right on the crossover between the Masai Mara and the Serengetti. The two are separated by nothing but bollards – but then I guess if they put up fencing it would make it very difficult for the animals to cross!
Headed down to Sand River where we saw the zebra and the wildebeest crossing. It was only a small river – not much water, so the crossing wasn't up to Jackson's expectations! Though Ade and I did find it amusing watching the wildebeest jumping from the high banks into the river!
We sat and watched four cheetah sitting under a tree, sure they were about to get lunch, but Jackson was keen for us to see the wildebeest crossing the Mara River – a much wider river which has crocodiles and hippos in it!
So we left the cheetah and went to watch the wildebeest. The wildebeest follow zebra, who act as a guide for them, As the vans piled up we sat and waited...and waited. The zebra went down the steep embankment, then went back up again, another went down, then returned to the crowd. We could see below us a crocodile on the bank of the river, but he was well out of view of the zebra and the wildebeest. Thousands of wildebeest had gathered waiting for the go ahead to cross from the zebra.

Four hours later, still no crossing where we were, a couple of vans began to move as apparently wildebeest just around the bend were crossing. We zoomed off, hoping to see at least some kind of crossing, apparently the group at this point was smaller than where we were, but at least we would get to see a crossing.
That we did – it was one of the most distressing things I have seen. The zebra and wildebeest had crossed, but where they were trying to get up on the opposite river bank was nothing but slate, the animals' hooves struggled to get up the side, and they all kept slipping back down and into the water. One wildebeest couldn't make it up, another made it up but had clearly hurt his leg, he limped off – destined no doubt to be dinner for a lion that night.
By this time the animals on the original bank had stopped crossing, they could see the difficulty those that crossed were experiencing, one very young zebra came running back up the bank – soaking wet. It's mum had crossed but he had been unable to, we could hear the mother calling out from the other side and the foal answering – it was all alone in a sea of zebra and wildebeest on this side of the river. Again zebra wandered down to the river and looked like they may embark on the crossing, but by the time we left, there had been little, if any further movement. Meanwhile on the other side of the bank, those that had made it up the slate waited for the rest of the herd.
We moved on, back to the cheetah, by which time they had indeed killed an impala and were enjoying lunch!

Day 13

We were awoken early to the Dulcet tones of Kenny Rogers' "You don't have to fight to be a man..." followed soon after by "You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em...". Seems Kenny Rogers has made his way to every nook and cranny of the globe!
A quick cup of tea and then we were on our way for an early pre breakfast game drive. We spotted the pride of lions early – we had seen this same pride pretty much daily from the time we got in. This time we had them to ourselves, so we stayed and watched for a while.
Moved on and drove around for a while, not seeing a great deal, but then we came across another pride of lions – this time 12 lions, inlcuding two babies, two males, a few lionesses and some older babies. The young ones were eating a kill. We were the only van around so stayed to watch them for ages.

The young ones were so playful, jumping on the male lion's back, playing in the grass, one grabbed a piece of the meat and ran off, continually outrunning its older, bigger brothers and sisters! It was quite a sight watching it being chased by the larger lions who tried to steal his meat, and seeing him get away each time!
A male and female from the pride were courting and eventually mated while we were there – seems there is a lot of love in the African wilderness at the moment!

The second male decided it was time for him to eat and roared to get the other lions to move on from the kill, that set off all the other lions roaring – it was quite a sound (I had to ask Jackson whether that was our cue to leave, but he said no, they were just all letting each other know they were on heat!).
We had the lions to ourselves for some time, but then a couple of other vans started arriving – Ade and I were amazed it had taken them this long, but I suspect Jackson had deliberately not told anyone else so that we could have the experience to ourselves.

As the vans piled up the courting lions – a massive male and his equally large lioness – came and sat right next to our van; we could just about reach out and run our fingers through the lions' mane and had we reversed, we would have run over the lioness's tale!

It was amazing, but made photographing them a little difficult. One of the babies soon joined them, so we had a full family shot right next to the van!

A very successful morning of lion watching. On our way back to the campsite we passed two cheetah, but as they were way off in the distance, and we had seen and photographed so many cheetah previously we pushed on.

Before lunch we headed off to visit a Masai village and take a walk up the mountain with a Masai warrior. The Masai – Sami, had asked if we wanted to do the walk on our first day, we did so we tentatively arranged it for the next day, but then we were out all day, we put it off three days running but finally got to do it on our last full day at the Mara.
First we walked up the mountain so Sami and his friend Raphael could point out Masai herbs and medicines to us. They took us to the spot supposedly where male youth must go and spend three months before returning to their village a man.
Once at the top of the mountain we had amazing views across the Masai Mara, and as it was market day in the main town near our campsite, the town below was awash with red masai all attending the market.
The walk took a little over an hour and then we went into the village where we looked inside their homes – so dark and small it's amazing they can live in them! Of course the men danced for us, followed by the women, then they showed us how they make fire.
The village was really interesting and Raphael, who took us through was fantastic letting us know how they live, what they do, etc. There were 120 Masai living in this village and the men can have up to 10 wives, apparently they move every nine years as termites get into the huts and destroy them. However they don't move far as there is a school and town close by.
Of course, once the dancing and looking inside the homes is complete there is a small market for you to look through and hopefully buy some Masai souvenirs. We both liked the leather men's bracelets for Ade, but we didn't thinki we would get them into Australia, so I just bought a bracelet for me (no leather!) Once I had decided I might buy one, I was surrounded by women trying to put bracelets on my wrist hoping I would buy theirs. We settled on a price – 200 shilling and the deal was done.
Looking back I wish I had bought more bracelets, but that's the way it goes, you can't buy from everyone!
On the walk back to our campsite we stopped in at the school, however school is closed while the students are on holidays, this school was much more substantial than the one in Tanzania that we looked at! Apparently about 500 students from the various Masai villages in the area attend the school from Grade 1 – grad 8. There are about 50 villages, just in this area.

We got back to the campsite in time for lunch then had another drive in the afternoon.

We got word again that there had been a leopard sighting that afternoon about 2pm, so we took off for the area, apparently it had dragged a zebra up a tree! The leopard was gone, but the zebra was still there.

We headed over to the tree in the hope that the leopard may return and to see the zebra up a tree! When we got there the leopard was nowhere in sight so we photographed the zebra, then moved onto some lions which were nearby.

We stayed with them for a short amount of time – there were only two and they were lying in the grass not doing much at all. It takes a lot to impress us now after all that we have seen!
Jackson got a call on the cb to say the leopard was back, fortunately we were just around the corner so we headed back to the tree. The leopard was sitting at the bottom of the tree, we were further away this time, but there were far fewer vans jostling for position. The leopard soon jumped up into the tree, stretched, turned and sprawled out in the branches where he remained the rest of the time we watched him. A very satisfying end to our game viewing in the Masai Mara – we started and finished with a leopard! But boy are they elusive!

On our way back to camp we passed more lions so stopped to have a look and get some pics.

Day 14

Travelled from Masai Mara to Lake Navaisha. Took some Masai warriors with us who were stopping in Narok for business. What a trip, I'm sure these were the worst roads we have experienced yet! Dirt roads with huge ridges - Jackson had obviously found some short cut that was off the beaten track