Saturday, 8 September 2012

At Last!!!

Here we are in Nairobi at the Milimani Backpackers and we can finally get a decent connection to Safaricom...So at long last, we can give you the blog as it should have been...

Day One...The Journey

We left Aberdeen in the afternoon and headed for the airport. Check-in did not go as smoothly as planned, as the cheap scales we had weighed our luggage on did not read the same as the check-in desk scales, so we were forced to unpack in the middle of the airport and jam several items into our camera bags.

Waiting in the departure lounge, we chuckled as the girl on the desk decided to step on the baggage scales and it flashed up “overweight”.

The flight to Amsterdam was a tight squeeze, as Howard's camera bag, with it's additional consignment of clothing, was now too fat to fit in the overhead locker, so he had to sit with it jammed between his legs for the whole flight; thankfully it was only a short flight.

After a five-hour lay-over in Amsterdam, we boarded the Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi. The long journey was made even longer because the in-flight entertainment system would not work and the people in the seats in front seemed to think they owned the aircraft.

The one fantastic highlight of the flight was a spectacular thunderstorm over Juba, in Southern Sudan, which lit up the night sky and looked breathtaking from 37,000 feet.

We arrived in Nairobi to find that Locks and Pam's luggage had never left Amsterdam. This left them with no tent, so we decided to spend the first night in Ndololo Safari Camp, which is right next to the campsite we normally use, whilst we waited for the missing luggage to arrive. Locks filled in the necessary forms and asked them to deliver the luggage to Ndololo.

The journey down the main Nairobi-Mombasa highway to Voi was straightforward for us but along the way there were numerous reminders that this can be a dangerous road. We saw several accidents, including one that certainly resulted in fatalities.

Because of the long delay, chasing lost luggage, we did not arrive at Tsavo East until 4pm, so we took a short game drive along the Voi River and headed for Ndololo. Along the way we saw Zebra, Giraffe, Elephants, Grant's Gazelle, Impala and numerous bird species. Locks asked us if we were just exceedingly lucky or if this was normal. We replied that this was actually a quiet game drive for Tsavo East! Thankfully they had room to put us up and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening with friendly staff in beautiful surroundings. During the night we listened to lions roaring, first about 2km away and moving closer to about 500m away. Magical Kenya!

Elephant and Impala

Later we would wish the Giraffe had stomped on the Baboons!

Day Two... Water for Elephants

Today we began with a visit to Kanderi Swamp, where we found many elephants browsing and searching the dry ditches for water. There were also lots of Zebra and Coke's Hartebeest there too. We also got a brief sighting of a gang of Banded Mongoose. We then took a drive up to Lugard's Falls, via the Pipeline Road and Mudanda Rock. It was a pleasant trip with lots of Elephants looking for water along the Pipeline Road and a large herd of Elipsen waterbuck at the pumping station, along with several Impala.

On the road across to Mudanda Rock from the Pipeline Road, we found several male Somali Ostrich. On reaching Mudanda Rock, we found that the waterhole at the base of the rock was completely dry, for the second year running. We also noticed how much the vegetation had dwindled due to the continuing drought.

As we neared Lugard's Falls, we were treated to the sight of one of the prettiest antelopes, the Lesser Kudu and on our way back to camp, we found a Lioness sleeping under a bush.

We discovered today that Kenya Airways had not delivered Locks and Pam's bags to Ndololo Safari Camp, as agreed but had instead tried to deliver them to Finch Hatton's in Tsavo West, before returning them to Nairobi! Several irate phone calls, many of which were cut off half way through due to patchy coverage eventually led to a promise that the bags would be delivered to the G4S office in Voi by 8am. This meant that we needed to spend another night in the Safari Camp instead of the campsite. With pleasant surroundings, good food, cold Tusker and lovely staff, this was no hardship but it did add significantly to the cost of this part of the trip.
Elephants splashing around in the water along the Pipeline Road

The Lovely Lesser Kudu

Lugard's Falls

Karen taking photos at Lugard's Falls

Lion having a cat-nap

Day 3 … Attack of the Baboons, My Precious

Today we began with a short drive around Kanderi Swamp, where we found the strange-looking Gerenuk, a family of Ground Hornbills, Coke's Hartebeest and the most magnificent Kori Bustard. Afterwards, Howard and Locks headed into Voi to pick up the missing baggage, whilst Karen and Pam took a game drive along the Voi River circuit. We met up again at the public campsite for lunch.

One problem with the public campsite is that too many ignorant visitors, sometimes encouraged by poor guides have thrown food to or left food for the resident Yellow Baboon troop. These aggressive opportunists now associate humans with easy pickings and we have seen people attacked there before. Sometimes the only way to keep them away is to throw stones at them. As we were raking in the back of our vehicle for lunch and Locks & Pam were doing the same in their vehicle, Howard spotted a large male Baboon preparing to attack Locks. Grabbing a small stone, Howard yelled at the baboon but it was too far into it's plan to back off, so he threw the stone but missed, The Baboon then turned on Howard and was inches away from contact when Locks charged it from the side, wielding a panga and distracted it enough to make it hesitate, before kicking a heap of dust into its face. The Baboon then realised he was outnumbered and beat a hasty retreat.

Only after the Baboon was gone, did Howard realise he had lost his wedding ring in the scuffle. We searched and searched the area for over half an hour but could not find it. After lunch, as we were preparing to leave, Pam suggested we move the Land Rover back and search the area where it was parked. After several minutes searching, we were just ready to give up, when Howard spotted something in the dirt. With a cry of “I got it!” he grabbed the ring, held it up in front of his face and making his best Gollum impression said “My Precious!”.

That afternoon, Locks & Pam headed over to the pipeline road and we did a loop of Ndara Plains, where the highlight was seeing several curious baby Dwarf Mongoose popping their heads out of the ventilation holes of a large termite mound. Cute does not begin to describe the scene! Meanwhile Locks and Pam were having an altogether more intense experience, as an Elephant took great exception to their presence on the pipeline road. They backed off but she just kept coming towards them, eventually forcing Pam to take a sharp lesson in reversing, as she charged them for 500 metres back along the road.

The Baboons have got far too used to thinking of Humans as a source of food

Southern Ground Hornbill hunting in Kanderi Swamp

Day 4 … Elephants, Elephants, Elephants

During the night we were surrounded by elephants, browsing on the foliage of the campsite trees. Occasionally they would rumble but mostly the only clues to their presence were the sounds of branches snapping and being chewed up and a massive shadow blocking the moonlight from the reaching the tent. Just before dawn, the generator at the lodge kicked in and startled a nearby Elephant, who let out a massive roar. As daylight began to appear, we emerged from the tent to see another herd of Elephants arriving at the campsite. The lead female spotted us and faced us with ears wide and head high. We got the message and returned to our tent! After the elephants passed through, the Baboon troop attacked en-masse, with several of them on the vehicles, swinging from the door handles to try to open them and others in the trees above, shaking the branches and throwing half-eaten figs down. Karen clapped her hands loudly and they all scarpered.

After breakfast we had a drive around Kanderi Swamp, spotting a herd of Oryx on our way from there to the pipeline road. We then headed into Voi to see Tiju, who kindly helped us sort out the connection problem with a new sim card.

From Voi, we headed the short distance to Ngutuni Lodge, which we had visited for the first time last year. On the drive through this private reserve we were delayed for several minutes by an anxious female elephant, who was not comfortable with vehicles. We arrived at the lodge to be greeted with facecloths and fruit juice. After a shower and change of clothes, we headed to the terrace to watch the wildlife at the waterhole and sip a cold Tusker.

What we have noticed on this trip, which appears to be a result of older Elephants being poached for ivory, is that many of the family groups are being led by females that are much younger than a matriarch should be. We think this may be the cause of the increased anxiety we are noticing in herds that would previously have had an experienced matriarch to reassure them.

Fringe-Eared Oryx
Zebra trio at Ngutuni

A family of Elephants at the Ngutuni Waterhole

Elephant and a dazzle of Zebra at the Ngutuni waterhole

Day 5 … The Big Herd and on to Rhino Valley

We rose early this morning, planning to have an early game drive but there was so much action at the waterhole that we decided just to relax and watch the show and what a show it was. We had several Elephant families, warthogs, Zebras, a Jackal and a massive herd of several hundred buffalo. There was plenty of argy-bargy as Buffalo fought for the best spots, Elephants chased Buffalo, Buffalo chased Elephants and everyone chased the poor Warthogs.

We left Ngutuni around 11am and headed for the Tsavo River gate to Tsavo West National Park. We first tried the Tsavo River track, thinking it would be the most likely place to see game, being near to the water. However, part of the track had collapsed and the road was impassable to the Rav4 Locks & Pam were driving; it would have been a tough call for the Land Rover too, so we turned back and sought an alternative route. We arrived at Rhino Valley Bandas to be greeted with damp facecloths and fruit juice, just the thing after a long, hot, dusty drive. After dinner we sat on the balcony, watching the Elephants at the waterhole and listening to the chorus of frogs.

A massive herd of several hundred Buffalo barge the Elephants out of the waterhole

A stroppy Elephant chases the poor Warthogs away from the waterhole

Buffalo and Elephant squaring up at the waterhole

Junior has fun chasing the poor downtrodden Warthogs...again

A clash of tusk on horn as the Buffalo and Elephant clash

Day 6... Spots Before Our Eyes

We awoke around 6.30am and went out onto the balcony to check the trailcam but nothing had come past in the night. However, we were entertained by the antics of the half-dozen Unstriped Ground Squirrels capering about for ages around our banda.

Just after 8am, we headed out for a trip to Mzima Springs. Along the way we decided to take a quick look at Kuldip's Ponds and found a Saddle-Billed Stork. We passed a minivan tour and flagged them down to tell them where to find the Stork and their driver/guide replied by telling us where he had just seen a Leopard with a kill. It pays to share! After six years of trying to see a Leopard in the wild, we finally managed to see not one, but two!

We spent over an hour photographing a beautiful female Leopard in a tree with her Impala kill, then headed on to Mzima Springs. Howard went to sign us all in with the Rangers and told one of the tour guides, who was waiting for his punters to come back from their Ranger-guided tour of Mzima Springs, where to find the Leopard.

After about an hour at Mzima Springs, we had photographed Hippos, Crocodiles, a Cormorant, several species of Kingfisher and a wagtail and started to head back. Along the way, one of the other tour guides that had also been waiting, told us of a report he had received about two Leopards near to where we had previously seen one. We headed over and sure enough, we got there just in time to see a Leopard slinking into a thick bush to wait, as a few alert Impala spotted the danger and began to bark.

We got back to the Rhino Valley Bandas around 2.30pm and decided just to skip a second drive and opted instead for a shower and a relaxing afternoon at the bar, watching family after family of Elephants arrive at the waterhole, whilst “shooting the breeze”. A particular treat was the tiny baby Elephant, not more than a few days old, that appeared with it's family just before dark. We also enjoyed the craziness of a slightly older baby acting up and teasing the adults. It was very nice that several of the staff recognised us from last year and seemed happy to see us back. All in all it was a very successful day and a very pleasant evening. Tomorrow we head to Nairobi, where we will spend the night in the Backpackers' before picking up another friend at the airport and heading to Masai Mara on Sunday.
Unstriped Ground Squirrel on the balcony of our banda

Saddle-Billed Stork at Kuldip's Ponds

Our gorgeous spotted friend with her Impala kill

Close-up of our beautiful Leopard

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