Monday, 22 April 2013
Saturday, 29 September 2012
We started this blog with the intention of encouraging people to take an interest in the wildlife of Kenya and to contribute to an organisation that plays a major part in preserving keystone species and the environments they occupy - Save The Elephants.
Our aim was to provide regular "from the field" updates during our safaris, so that people could follow the ups and downs of our safaris daily from wherever they were in the World.
We linked the blog to our fund-raising page for Save The Elephants, so that readers of the blog could easily offer their support to the preservation of these amazing places and wildlife.
In attempting to provide regular updates "from the field", we have faced significant challenges. Editing images and writing, proof-reading, formatting and uploading the blog, often by torch-light in the back of a Landrover or in a tent, added around two hours work at the end of each day. We had to organise and pay for local internet access and try to find signal hot-spots to upload the data. When those hotspots were not available, we had to revert to using a smartphone app and incurring significant "data roaming" charges in the process.
In a recent conversation, Howard mentioned our fund-raising and someone commented that they didn't feel inclined to contribute when all we are doing is talking about our "holidays". This seemed to be the concensus of most people present, so we felt it important to put the record straight.
When most people organise a fund-raising effort, they do a sponsored walk, a skydive, a bungee jump, or have their head shaved etc. They make a personal sacrifice to encourage others to contribute to their cause. It seems our problem in encouraging people to contribute stems from a perception that we are not making any personal sacrifice.
Blogging from the field over the two years of this blog has taken approximately 90 hours work. The cost of uploading the data has exceeded £1200 (British Pounds). We think this is a significant personal sacrifice. So...
Elephants are facing the greatest threat to their continued existence on this planet that they have ever faced. Poaching levels have reached and in some places exceeded the levels of the 1970s, when 80% of the population were exterminated to provide nothing more than ivory trinkets. The human population explosion that has led to the World population exceeding three times the planet's carrying capacity has placed massive pressure on Elephant habitats and migration routes, leading to much higher levels of human/elephant conflict. If we don't act now, act fast, act firmly and act universally to stem this decline, there will be no wild Elephants in less than 25 years time. How will we explain to our grand-children that we knew this would happen but did nothing to stop it?
This blog is just one of several ways in which we are trying to do "our bit" to prevent extinction of the Elephant (and all the other species that depend on them for habitat maintenance). The cost to us in both time and money has been significant but the cost to the planet of not doing something is infinitely greater.
Please consider making a donation to Save The Elephants. If you don't want to donate through our Just Giving page then you can contribute directly by following the link on the Save The Elephants website.
Sunday, 16 September 2012
Well, that's us back home in Scotland again. It was a shorter safari this year and there were many things that happened on this safari which were not in the plan...but that is Africa; things don't always go the way you think they will, so in Africa you make a new plan and that's what we did.
The late arrival of some of the luggage forced us to spend some time at the Ndololo Safari Camp instead of the nearby campsite, so we got to experience the lovely charm of a place we have long intended to visit.
The flash-flood forced us to abandon plans to camp in the Masai Mara and instead we spent a night in Siana Springs lodge and returned to Nairobi, where we visited the Nairobi National Park and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; both places we have also been meaning to visit for several years.
It has been yet another wonderful adventure and we have come home with plenty of tales to bore our friends with. We also have many people to thank for their contributions to our adventure:
- Patrick Muigai at Roving Rovers supplied the "Mystery Machine", which survived a drowning in the flash flood at Siana.
- Tiju Aziz, our good friend in Voi, sorted our internet connectivity problems again for the second year and also gave us a lovely coffee mug each (currently being used as we type!). If you need any tech help in Voi, then Ashtech Systems is the place to go!
- The staff at Ndololo Safari Camp, who went out of their way to make us feel welcome and ensure we had somewhere to sleep when some of the tents took three days to arrive.
- Everyone at Ngutuni Safari Lodge. A wonderful friendly place, with excellent food, beautiful rooms and everything overlooks a busy waterhole. A fine, relaxing place to sit with a cold Tusker and watch the many visitors to the waterhole.
- Whoever the safari guide who told us about the Leopard near Kuldip's Ponds in Tsavo West was, asante sana! You ended a six-year hunt for us :-)
- All the staff at Rhino Valley Bandas in Tsavo West National Park, who made our short stay in this stunning setting in the beautiful Ngulia Hills a delight.
- All the staff at the Milimani Backpackers, who are always friendly and welcoming. This is a delightful place to stay, with simple but clean accommodation, helpful staff and a great atmosphere in the restaurant/bar. See you next year!
- The Masai community around Siana, who helped us when the Mystery Machine succumbed to a flash-flood; especially the families in Julius's village, who looked after the Rav4 that Lockhart and Pam were driving, as it could not get all the way to Siana Springs Lodge.
- Ray and Gail Damazo, who stopped to help us out in the flash-floods. With their driver William, they winched the stricken Land Rover onto drier land so that it could be recovered by the engineers at Siana. They also gave us a lift through the treacherous conditions to Siana Springs Lodge and checked up on us to make sure we were ok the following day before we left. Ray and Gail founded the Masai Dental Clinic, which provides important dental care to the Masai communities in the Mara and beyond.
- Everyone at Siana Springs Lodge, who went out of their way to make us welcome after our "dooking" in the flash-flood. We'd especially like to thank Emanuel, who made sure they had accommodation to fit us in and all the lads in the Land Rover Workshop, who toiled through the night to get the Mystery Machine back on the road.
- We'd also like to say a huge thank-you to the men and women of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Community Rangers, who put their lives on the line daily to protect the amazing flora and fauna of this incredible country.
|The Mystery Machine as the floods subsided.|
|Two days later we were driving round the Nairobi National Park in the same Landy!|
We now have thousands of images to sort through, so watch out for further updates with images from some of this year's safari adventures.
Friday, 14 September 2012
Last night we said our goodbyes to Locks and Pam with a bottle of Glenfiddich and many Tuskers. Today was the final day in Kenya for the rest of us, so we spent the time relaxing, apart from a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where we met lots of orphaned baby Elephants, ranging from a few weeks old to three years old and a blind Rhino called Maxwell. We had great fun watching them have their bottle-feeds and playing in the muddy water. We still had some of the dollars left from our planned camping in the Masai Mara, so we decided to donate the money to the Sheldrick Trust by each of us sponsoring one of the babies.
|Karen photographing the young orphans|
|Explaining the Elephants' life cycles and life stories to visiting school children|
|Bink snapping one of the larger babies getting a bottle-feed|
|The circumstances of each Elephant's rescue were explained to the visitors|
On our way back to the Backpackers, we had time to reflect on the plight of the poor Elephant babies, most of whom have been orphaned due to poaching or other man-made problems. Then we passed Kibera, the second-largest slum in the whole continent of Africa and were reminded also of the problems faced by many people in Kenya. It has been a sobering end to the trip but with an uplifting feeling, having seen first-hand the efforts of the workers at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
|Kibera, home to around a million people|
Tomorrow morning we fly home after another great adventure in Kenya. Some things did not work out as originally planned but we have been able to adapt to the circumstances and find alternative ways to make the most of the trip.
We hope you have enjoyed what blogging we have been able to do on this trip and that you will consider making a donation to our chosen charity Save The Elephants through our Just Giving page.
Look out for the postscript blogging after we have had time to look through some of the many thousands of photographs and contemplate some of the many memories we are taking home with us.
Thursday, 13 September 2012
After all the dramas of previous days, we decided to have a relaxing day on Wednesday. Karen and Bink headed into town in the morning and went for a rummage round the shops. On returning to the Backpackers, they presented Howard with a wooden model Land Rover. In the afternoon we all visited the National Museum of Kenya, which houses some of the most important artefacts of human history, like the early Homonid skulls and the Turkana Boy skeleton. We also visited the Snake Park next door.
Thursday was supposed to start bright and early with a 6am departure to the Nairobi National Park but Howard set his alarm for 5.30pm instead of 5.30am, so we didn't leave until nearly 7am. We were still at the park in time to catch the busy period early in the morning when most of the animals are more active. We headed for the Hyena Dam and found Hippos, Maribou Stork, a lone Buffalo bull and a family of Grey-Crowned Cranes, then we continued towards the Leopard Cliff. Along the way we found two large male Lions strolling across the plain. They flopped onto the grass about 150 yards from the trail and lay down to sleep, disappearing into the long grass. Moving on, we came across a herd of Impala and watched as they crossed the road in front of us. As the passed, we noticed we were not the only ones watching them; beyond the bushes we spotted the intent gaze of a male Lion, weighing up whether to have an Impala snack. In the end he chose not to and the Impala moved off. The lion turned out not to be alone, but to be with another similar aged male. The pair sat around for a while and then moved off into the bush, where they too layed down to sleep.
|Impala on the move|
|Spot the danger!!!|
|Something in the air...Could he detect a female in heat?|
Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we found another two Lions. This time it was a honeymoon couple. Every 10-15 minutes they would mate briefly, before flopping onto the grass to snooze until the next session.
|Bink photographing Lion porn|
|The Happy Couple|
Once we had taken all the Lion porn we could handle, we headed to the Baboon Picnic area for lunch, where we found Rock Hyrax. After lunch we headed slowly back to the main gate, finding large numbers of Zebra and Masai Giraffe along the way. One of the Zebra had a nasty wound on its flank, which appeared to be a Lion attack.
|Cute little Rock Hyrax|
Back at the Backpackers, we had time for a shower before dinner. Tomorrow Locks and Pam fly home and the rest of us are planning to visit the Sheldrick Trust Orphanage, then we too will head home on Saturday morning.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
...and into the hotel from Hell.
Repairing the Land Rover had cost us KES 29,000 (about GBP 250) but we decided after our rather unpleasant adventure, we would find a nice hotel for one night in Nairobi, just to relax and wind down. Howard looked online and searched for hotels in the Milimani area. The two that came up first were the Kenya Comfort and the Kivi Milimani. Google reviews had the Kenya Comfort at zero stars and the first review said that it was basic and over-priced but the Kivi Milimani had 3.5 stars and the photo looked good, so he booked us all in there. The girl on the phone quoted a price in Shillings of 2,700 for the doubles and 2,000 for the single but as soon as she realised we were foreigners, she changed the price to USD 130 for the double rooms and USD 90 for Bink's single, bed and breakfast only. We wanted a nice hotel and the Google review and picture made the place seem good; we also wanted to get on the road to Nairobi quickly, so we just accepted.
The drive back to Nairobi went without hitch but we had some trouble finding the hotel. We recognised the name and knew we had seen the name somewhere near the Backpackers but the Google map had the address as “off Valley Road” and the marker pin indicated it was opposite the church on Valley Road but we went round and round in the heavy traffic and could not find it. Every person we asked knew of the place but could not accurately direct us towards it. After over an hour of searching, we finally found it – on Milimani Road, about ¼ mile from the Backpackers!
We climbed the stairs to the reception, which looked lovely and Locks suggested we might book a second night, so we all extended our stay to two days. The first sign that all was not as it seemed came when the lift started, with a shake, a shudder and a loud groan. Reaching our rooms we were gobsmacked to see the state of them. The doors looked like they had been jemmied as often as opened, with various broken locks and only one that worked. A large disclaimer on the back of the door pointed out that the hotel was not responsible if items were stolen from your room. The beds were so worn out and the mattresses so old that they had huge depressions in the middle, then we saw the bathrooms! Hot water was provided by an electric immersion heater that you had to switch on and wait half an hour before running the hot water. Our bathroom looked like the grouting had been done by a blind man with Parkinson's and it was utterly filthy. There was a broken tile on the side of a bath that had filthy brown smears that looked like somebody had recently taken a dump in it; the worn and cracked linoleum was peeling up off the floor. The room was not worth 130 cents let alone 130 dollars!
As we headed downstairs for the dinner we had to pay extra for, we all agreed we would cancel the extra day and try to get into the Backpackers instead. We were shown into a dingy room to be sat at a large function-style table with a table cloth so filthy and stained it can't have been washed for ages. Locks suggested that somebody had been using the table for amateur motorcycle maintenance! The “stuffed chicken and chips” was barely edible, with dried up chicken and chips that had been fried in very old, dirty fat. As we waited for dinner we ordered drinks. Bink's coffee took 45 minutes and two reminders to arrive.
Breakfast the following morning was basically awful. Most of the food was inedible, the croissants were rock hard and days old and the coffee was cold. We have run out of bad superlatives to describe this place! Before breakfast Howard and Karen ran along to speak to the Backpackers and they managed to fit us in for the rest of the week.
The staff of Kivi Milimani were all nice people but completely clueless about their jobs. Bink described the place as Fawlty Towers with a full staff of Manuels. We would definitely NOT recommend the Kivi Milimani Hotel to anyone.
Nairobi National Park
We have been visiting Kenya since 2006 but to our shame we have never visited Nairobi National Park before, so our extended stay in Nairobi offers an opportunity to right the wrong. We had a lovely day driving round the most amazing city park in the World, spotting Lion and White Rhinoceros and getting our first ever photos of the gorgeous little Purple Grenadier. We were both relieved to give Bink a good game drive after her horrendous introduction to Kenya.
|The King of Beasts|
|White Rhinoceros against the backdrop of the Nairobi skyline|
|Female Purple Grenadier (thanks Steve!)|
We hope you find this blog interesting. If you haven't already, please consider making a donation to our chosen charity, Save The Elephants through the Just Giving link on the right.
Sunday, 9 September 2012
... with a Land Rover.
We picked up Bink from the airport this morning and headed out towards the Mara. From Nairobi to Narok the road was nice and easy, with not much traffic, being a Sunday. Filling up, we asked the guy to check the oil and he pointed out that the vehicle did not have a cap on the oil filler. They didn't have a spare but he looked at the soundproofing on the bonnet and suggested that virtually no oil had leaked out, so we should be ok. We told him we'd already been driving the vehicle all around the Tsavos and he shrugged.
We had a short stop at the Rift Valley viewpoint and headed on, eagerly anticipating what the Mara would bring.
From Narok, the first 5 miles or so was reasonably good tarmac, then the bumpy, rutted mess of a road started. It;s a bone-shaking drive and that leaves you wondering if you'll have any teeth left by the Mara! About half-way along this road, the rain started and got heavier and heavier, with thunder and lightning. At the bottom of every road was a stream of water gushing across that we had to ford.
About half a mile past the turning for Siana Springs Tented Camp, we came across another flow of water. We looked for the fastest flowing area, which usually indicates the shallowest and edged the Landrover forward. The water did not seem too deep, so we edged a little further and all of a sudden the bonnet plunged forward and the engine died. The water then began to rise rapidly and we quickly abandoned the vehicle, wading through waist-deep water with the aid of a passing Masai Elder, who summoned help. At one point half of the Vehicle was under water but ten minutes later it had subsided to the point where we could see what had happened.
This was not just another low-lying bit of road where flood water flowed across! We had actually nose-dived into a stream! The area of relatively still water we had avoided as likely being too deep, was actually the bridge, which held the water back with its side-walls but the whole lot had been under water and the fast-flowing area we had aimed for was the stream turned to a raging river butting against the bridge.
The couple who run the Masai Dental Clinic at Siana stopped and their driver used his winch to pull the Land Rover out and we popped the bonnet. The water had flowed in through the open oil filler and flooded the engine, washing all the oil out all over the engine bay. They gave us a lift back to the Siana Springs, who found us rooms for the night. Their drivers then recovered the Land Rover and have spent the night working on it, to try and get the engine running again.
Not the best first day in Kenya for poor Bink!
We have decided that we will head back to Nairobi and find a hotel, spending the last few days in Nairobi National Park instead.