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Archive for April, 2009

Day 13: Sundowners Apr 20

2007_1107kenya0026I was promptly scolded by both resident managers for walking up to the central pavillion alone this evening. It’s true, I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had crossed paths with a wild animal. Stand still. Back up. Certainly not run and invite a chase.

Anyway, we’re here now and the open bar is open for sunset cocktails called sundowners, also enjoyed in the bush at sunset. Can I get you something to drink? 
A gin and tonic for my friend and a Shweppes Black Currant for me, please.
Let’s join the other guests and the managers in the lounge.

2007_1107kenya0112I did learn some interesting tidbits from the managers over cocktails and dinner. The staff is from the surrounding villages and there are also semi-nomadic tribes in the area. The camp uses solar panels to collect the energy that powers the camp. Provisons are brought in on the same air service we used. The Survivor Africa tv series was filmed in the immediate vicinity (3rd season/2001). 

While we were enjoying dinner, the butlers were providing turn down service – unfurling the heavy canvas flaps and tying them down; making sure the heavy gauge zippers were zipped up tight; unrolling the canvas covers over the net windows and leaving on the small night light to welcome us back. They appeared briefly in the dining area to inquire about our wake up call and beverage requests for the next morning. We had an early game drive scheduled before breakfast.

Several people decided to adjourn to the campfire for after dinner drinks and more casual conversation.

This is all-inclusive travel at its best – relaxed and relaxing.

I wanted to be well rested and alert for tomorrow. The managers insisted that I be escorted back at the end of the evening by the night watchman. I didn’t put up any resistance.

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Day 12: Game Watch Apr 16


So far, we have only seen a tiny fraction of the exotic wildlife that roams freely here. I have dozens and dozens more photos but you get the idea.

Kenya is home to more than 80 major animal species.  You can see many of these in their natural habitats in different regions of the country: the big cats – lion, leopard, cheetah; grazers – gazelle, impala, antelope, zebra; primates – colobus, vervet and golden monkeys and baboons; and of course, scavengers – jackals, hyenas and vultures to complete the food chain. The list goes on and on.

African Elephant

African Elephant


The Big Five – to review, lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard – were the most desired trophies amongst the old hunting clubs. Hunting is no longer permitted in the national parks and game reserves.  Endangered species such as the Black Rhino have been making a comeback due to conservation efforts.

Now we can only shoot them with a camera and it is a photographer’s dream location.



Birdwatchers have the opportunity to see some of the 1,000+ recorded bird species and 60% of all African birds here. It is not unheard of to spot up to 100 species in a single day. And Lake Nakuru is world-famous for its resident population of over 6 million flamingos.


termite mound

I asked Newton to get out and stand next to this massive termite mound for a size comparison.
He hesitated for a moment. He even looked a little nervous.
After he got back in the vehicle, he told us the snakes like to lurk around the base and sometimes curl up in the holes. I would NEVER have asked him to get so close if I had known beforehand.
It was definitely above and beyond his job description.

It’s been an exciting day but I’m looking forward to returning to the creature comforts of our luxury camp – a long hot shower followed by sunset cocktails and a multi-course dinner.

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Day 11: Animals Xing Apr 15
The Watering Hole

Water Buffalo

All activity slows down in the afternoon heat. People and animals take to the shade. We could stay here on the deck for hours mesmerized by the landscape and the animal activity around the watering hole. There are literally hundreds of different animals right before our eyes. Amazing.

Once it cools off a little, we’ll be heading out into the bush on a game drive to get a closer look.

2007_1107kenya0088Our trusty driver/guide Newton is ready to take us on our first game drive. There will be 4 of us today for a small driver to guest ratio (1:4)  You have to climb up and into these open air safari vehicles. I am tall so this is fairly easy for me. But Newton has  a step stool handy just in case you need a boost. Each of us has a “window” seat with a full view. No one is sandwiched in a middle seat.

Incidentally, the other guests have their own driver/guides. A single traveler who had specifically requested and paid for  a private tour (1:1) and one honeymoon couple (1:2) had separate tours. This is a luxury safari camp. We were not expected to pile into one vehicle with 6 or 8 people (1:6 or 1:8 or more). This is not necessarily the case with all camps and lodges.

2007_1107kenya0072We are following in the footsteps of great explorers, adventurers, frontiersmen, writers, photographers, even royalty and there is no telling what we will see this afternoon. It’s completely unscripted and unpredictable. Fortunately, our trained and experienced guide knows where to take us for the best sightings and he has wealth of knowledge to share with us.

I’m going to stop “talking” now. Enjoy the view. More wildlife tomorrow.

Reticulated Giraffe

Reticulated Giraffe

African Elephant

African Elephant

Grevy's Zebra

Grevy's Zebra

Day 10: Veranda with a View Apr 14

If you pad out quietly, you won’t startle and scare off the wildlife grazing around the edge of the veranda. Several small gazelle, now aware that we are out here, eye us carefully but continue to munch on the grass.



It’s so still and quiet here.

The camp has been purposely built into the environment. There is no physical barrier – solid wall or high fence – to keep animals out and humans in. Each morning, you can see evidence that larger animals, even elephants, have walked around your tent. If you are a light sleeper, you might have even heard them roaming through.

Photo courtesy of Joy's Camp

Photo Courtesy of Joy's Camp

Let’s walk up to the public areas for lunch. I spy a swimming pool. That would be the watering hole for the people.
You just knew I would find the water.
The main pavillion is in the background on the right.

While we wait for the other guests, we can take a front row seat and watch the animals moving about at their watering hole in the distance.

pavillion viewing deck

pavillion viewing deck

 The camp is full board which means that all meals and beverages are included. We will enjoy morning and afternoon tea and evening cocktails at the open bar. Bottled water and soft drinks will be provided as well.

 A delicious and leisurely lunch will be served shortly in the open air dining area just to the left of us. Afterwards, we have some free time to relax or enjoy that pool before the afternoon game drive with our driver guide.

There are no restaurants in the wild. You are relying on the camp for your daily needs. Therefore, the quality and variety of the cuisine becomes very important. I should have guessed that the owners are Italian from the design elements and the refined menus. No hot dogs by the camp fire here.

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Day 9: Joy’s Camp Apr 13

2007_1107kenya00031The bush pilot climbed back into the cockpit, fired up the engine, turned and taxied and took off with a buzz. He had a schedule to maintain.

Meanwhile, Newton had placed our bags in the open air vehicle. We drove a short distance to the camp and then he walked us up to the reception area.

I have done hundreds of inspections of hotels/resorts, tour companies and cruise ships. Since I know that reality doesn’t always match the 2 dimensional brochure or website photos and descriptions, I try to reserve my judgement past the first impressions.

reception area

reception area

Joy’s Camp is a luxury tented safari camp in the Shaba National reserve. Each guest is escorted to their accommodations by their personal butler who explains the features therein. He will also bring your morning tea  and biscuits (or coffee or hot chocolate) at your prefered time before the early morning game drive. Oh, I already liked this place.


There are 10 spacious and elegant individual units set on raised platforms. Each is constructed with heavy canvas and decorated with bedouin-somali cloth and glasswork details. The modern bathroom facilities include hot and cold running water, a shower and flush toilet. We’re definitely not roughing it. On the contrary, we will be very comfortable and very well taken care of for the next day and a half.

interior view

interior view

Joy’s Camp was built on conservationist Joy Adamson’s original campsite. Some of you may be old enough to remember the 1966 academy award-winning movie and same titled theme song based on her book Born Free. The novel chronicled Joy & George Adamson’s personal experiences in Kenya raising 3 orphaned lion cubs. Hence the name and the significance.

The true adventure is just beginning. On our way up to lunch, let’s explore a little more.
Now I just have to check out the private veranda and the view. Come with me.

Day 8: Business as Usual Apr 10

A mere 24 hours after arrival, we were heading out to the Wilson Airport to make a short domestic flight. I had no interest in the crowded, congested capital city. We had big game to track out in the wild. Everything that had been “lost” had been found. I was ready to go. How about you?

First, I had to check out of the hotel.
My bed and breakfast stay had been prepaid but I had signed other meals and services (internet) to my room. I watched as the front desk clerk dialed the credit card company. (waiting on hold) He needed an authorization code for my account and the transaction amount. (waiting on hold again) A line was beginning to form behind me. Then he produced a metal plate from beneath the counter. He pressed down to imprint my card through several carbon copies. Next, he filled in my total in Kenyan shillings and handed me the forms.

We were in a time warp. I hadn’t seen this procedure in years. No electronic card reader to swipe. No instant approval. No keypad to sign. The system wasn’t “down”. This was business as usual here.

I remembered that carbons had been a security problem.  I didn’t want to return home to bogus charges or have my card denied while traveling due to suspected fraud. I asked that the carbons be removed and torn up. 

OK, I was done. Your turn.

For small amounts, I suggest you pay with cash. It would be faster and easier. I went through this a second time. By the third time, I would be taking my own advice.

Safari Link offers convenient flights all over the country. Much faster and more pleasant than bumping along on dusty roads for hours. We walked out to a  small 15 passenger bush plane and climbed aboard. Just 1 pilot, 3 other passengers, you and me.


An hour later, we circled Chaffa Airstrip once due to animals on the landing field before touching down on basically a flattened piece of land.
We were out in the open. No building or structure. Just a windsock.

And Newton waiting for us with a 4WD vehicle. (See Day 1 / April 1).

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Day 7: Oasis in the City Apr 09

I said a little prayer as I walked back to the meet and greet line. About 5 people in from the end, there stood Patrick my driver! “Where have you been?” we both chorused.
He had been waiting for me since 6am. After an hour and a half, thinking I had perhaps missed the flight, he went to double check. Good thing he came back one more time. Hallelujah, I had been found!

fairview-hotel-gardens1I was grateful to have my prearranged transfer to an oasis in the city. No, I wasn’t staying at a standardized, international chain hotel like the Inter-Continental. Kenya has many wonderful small, intimate places with personality. As we drove from the airport, through now thick rush hour traffic, he told me the company owner would meet with me at 4pm.

The Fairview Hotel is a charming family-owned country hotel set in 5 acres of beautiful gardens within the city center. However, I was surprised that we had to pass through several check points with armed guards and finally a security gate to get into the hotel grounds. I inquired about this. We were near the Israeli Embassy which required a constant and high level of anti-terrorism protection.

fairway-hotel-business-ctrI settled into my room. I was finally in Kenya.
After I freshened up, I went to the business center to send my husband a quick e-mail.
“Arrived safely. All’s well.” I needed him to be reassured, not worried about me long distance. I checked my e-mail for anything urgent. This might be my last connection until I returned in  a week.

fairview-hotel-gym3I explored the property, finding the well-quipped fitness center and an invitingly lovely swimming pool at the back. All the wings were gated with key card access. More internal security.

I knew this was a business hotel, not a tourist hotel. I noticed a business conference in one of the meeting rooms and the restaurants filling with local business people at lunch time. It was obviously a popular little place.

fairview-hotel-pool3I needed to rest and relax and think about what to do. My meeting with the safari company owner was crucial. I now had a question about the reliabilty of the company I was involved with.

And yet, here I was, in this well-chosen oasis in the city. Someone definitely had expertise and refined sensibilities.  A delightful surprise.
This was NOT one of the usual recommendations for visitors to Nairobi.

Note: professional photos courtesy of Fairview Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya.

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Day 6: Almost Found Apr 08

I decided to stay put and wait. Tick, tock. 10 minutes went by.  Tick, tock. 15 minutes never seemed so long. Tick, tock. 20 minutes and still no driver.

That’s when my brain went into a screaming panic.
Had I mentioned that I was traveling solo? I was on the other side of the planet, in a country I had never visited before, where I knew exactly no one. I was ALL ALONE, without the comfort of group or even a travel companion.
Now I questioned the wisdom of my decision and my singlemindedness.
I allowed this brief, silent meltdown in my head. And then I had to get a grip.

Plan B: I would have to find my own way to the hotel.
From my spot outside baggage claim, I scanned the lobby. Aha, there were hotel desks. I walked over and found one that listed my hotel. There was young woman behind the desk.

Me: I have a reservation at the (blah-blah) hotel. I cannot find my driver.
Do you know (so-and-so) from (such-and-such) safari company?
She: No.
Me: Do you have a transfer service?
She: No.
Well, this wasn’t helpful at all.  I stood there, thinking. It was still before 8am, too early to call the company office.
She: See if you can find him one more time. If not, we will get you a safe taxi.
She said “safe”. I knew what that meant. Someone they knew who would get me there safely. I had advised female travelers on personal security for years. I wasn’t about to get into a car with a complete stranger. If I disappeared between the airport and the hotel, it was possible no one I knew would ever see me again.

Would I ever get to the East Coast and the Indian Ocean?

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Day 5: Lost and Found – Part 3 Apr 07

I had brought the bare minimum with me – less than 33 lbs/15 kg of clothes with a few toiletries in a small soft-sided bag that could be smooshed into a small cargo compartment on a small plane. 

Since this was a structured business trip and not a leisurely vacation, I would be leaving for the bush the next morning, spending only a night or two in each location. I knew my bag would never catch up with me. If it turned up, it would have to wait for me to return to Nairobi at the end of the week to claim it.

Plan B: My driver would have to take me shopping this afternoon. Some companies do provide a “shopping opportunity” after arrival so you can get completely outfitted before you head out. 
This wasn’t  a true disaster but it was irritatingly inconvenient. And I really didn’t want to buy a second set of new clothing. I already had perfectly nice clothes in my size in my tote bag.

Then, I could see the last batch of luggage approaching, snaking its way around the carousal. I crossed my fingers. Finally, I spied my little bag and breathed a sigh of deep relief.
Now to exit customs and find my driver Patrick.

Where’s my driver?
It was now an hour and a half after arrival. I stepped out to a sea of greeters holding paging boards with names. As I walked down the line, I recognized the names of about a dozen safari companies that I had considered. I didn’t see mine. I walked back a second time. I waited  a few minutes and slowly paced the length again, reading each sign carefully.

No, my driver simply wasn’t there. I was stranded at the airport.
Was I ever going to get out to the countryside, to the good stuff?

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Day 4: Lost and Found – Part 2 Apr 06

2007_1107kenya02371So, I was really going. It was only a week away.
I knew about the wildlife. I started to think about the people – who I would meet along the way – local residents and other travelers. I planned to visit a Masai village but didn’t know what to expect.
I also wondered about the owner of the safari company. 

My flight arrived at Jomo Kenyatta international airport in Nairobi, Kenya at 6am. I sailed through the shorter immigration line for travelers with pre-issued visas and proceeded downstairs to the baggage claim area.

We waited and waited. And waited. All the passengers were now assembled around the carousal. We waited. We waited some more.

 The baggage had to be manually removed one at a time, loaded onto luggage carts one at a time, driven from the plane to the terminal and placed on the belt one at a time. A very labor-intensive  and time-consuming process. We had arrived on a modern aircraft at a less than modern airport. Finally, the conveyor belt started to roll forward slowly.  Individual pieces of luggage began to appear and make their way around.

Where’s my luggage?
It was now more than an hour after we landed. As I stood there patiently watching others pull their belongings off, it occurred to me that I didn’t know for certain that my small tote bag had made it onto the first flight or that it got transferred successfully from the first international airline to the second partner airline.

I glanced over at the long line of passengers from a previous flight at the airline baggage counter. That didn’t look encouraging. I had lost luggage before. I knew the procedure. Fill out the paperwork and hope that an airline emlpoyee sees your bag and sends it on its way to you.

The problem was tomorrow’s flight would be too late.
To be continued . . .

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