Nairobi to Samburu

This is a very long post, because it covers our initial impressions on Africa, and it is in the format of a diary. So I am putting the photos first.  There is a list of the animals we saw, but the photos are also annotated.

Wednesday 21 September

It was a long haul from Toledo, filling in a day with a visit to Aranjuez before reaching the airport in Madrid. We were concerned about the flight to Addis Ababa as we had been notified after we booked the flights that there would be a stopover in Malta, which left just 35 minutes to transfer to our flight on to Nairobi. As it happened we didn’t stop in Malta and we arrived early in Addis Ababa so easily made the onward flight to Nairobi, and so did our luggage.

After a long wait, we were picked up at the airport and we subsequently learnt why. Nairobi’s traffic is horrendous – just a massive parking lot. Apparently a train line has been built, but Kenyan’s would prefer to be seen in a car, and spend up to five hours a day commuting, than use the more convenient train.  It is a matter of the pride in owning a car, so city trains are not well utilised.

We met Mr Otieno who had arranged the next 15 days’ journey through Kenya & Tanzania. He suggested we spend more time in Masaimara rather than Serengeti as that is where the animals currently are. I hope that by booking through a local company in Kenya we can truly take advantage of this kind of flexibility.

Finally, at our hotel and my tiredness had made way to hunger. For some reason the staff in the coffee shop managed to stretch a request for a toasted sandwich into the slowest service I had ever experienced. Fortunately, they were quicker at the bar and Bruce managed to taste his first beer, a local lager called Tuska. On a Bruce score it rated ***.

The hotel restaurant also served good food. Goha fish curry and spicy chicken and vegetables which they promised were local flavours.

Gosh I slept well that night!

Thursday 22 September

After some very slow events yesterday we were a little surprised that Mwendwa our driver/guide was at the hotel to pick us up at the appointed time. As we drove north out of Nairobi on the super highway our surprise of his timeliness was coupled by amazement as we saw the traffic he had to battle to reach our hotel at the appointed time.

The first hour we drove past dusty villages full of high rise apartments, typically four to six stories high. And of course the suburban villages are serviced by cars and buses. Small minivan buses called Saccos with a driver and conductor appear to be the main public transport. The conductor typically wears reddish colours such as red, orange, brown, maroon. He hops out, makes way for passengers and then swings back into the van, sliding the door shut as it takes off again.

After an hour, the countryside looked greener and undulating. Crops were abundant. First pineapples grown for Del Monte, then mangoes, coffee and bananas. We crossed the Tana River, the largest in Kenya from where hydro power is drawn. More crops – coffee, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and eucalyptus plantations for wooden poles The land between Mount Abaders and Mount Kenya provide a wet and lush valley ensuring the area is eastern Africa’s premier food bowl.

The little stalls on the side of the road had fabulous produce – tomatoes, avocados, onions, all bagged up.

Pineapples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams. Bags of rice.

And other items – bags of charcoal, planks of wood, bamboo poles.

The reason you come to places like this is to see the rich tapestry of life and to value what they have woven into it.

Mwendwa summed up Kenya ‘God has given us very good land with sweet soil but no water. No 1 coffee. No 1 tea. No 1 flowers (to Europe)’.

We climbed out of the valley and into dry land. Of course the sky also brightened. That valley has rain all year around so clouds are common there. Cattle, sheep and goats graze. Either tethered or watched over by shepherds.

Crops such as maize and beans are grown here, when it rains. It was an area occupied by the British colonists. The old railway line built by British to transport their goods is now dormant.

We crossed the equator, south to north with a view of Mount Kenya in the distance. At the curio shop there were plenty of people willing to demonstrate how the water runs down a drain clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. A little research indicated to me that the whole demonstration is rather questionable.

As we travel, Mwendwa explained life in Kenya. Schooling starts at 5 years old. Kindergarten, nursery school and then primary school to year 8, nine years of compulsory education. Four more years in secondary school as entrance to university finishing at 17 years old. Then four years at university.

We passed a police training college. Mwendwa has little respect for the police force here in Kenya. It is hard to get in – you typically need to pay a bribe. After one or two years training they have the opportunity to make money on the side. In his opinion creating a caste system of bribery.

And after a long day in the car we finally reached the Nairobi-Samburu National Reserve. We were just inside the gate when a Yellow Savannah Baboon wandered past, a few Kenyan Tree Squirrels were feeding on grass and different birds flew past. For the next 10km through the park to our lodge it only got better. Giraffes, ostriches, gazelles, antelopes. And then the lion. Our guide quickly got onto his 2-way radio and in no time another five safari vehicles turned up. We got our pics and left the rest to get there’s. Then we found more lions a male and female.

And then some cubs. Our driver was doing well.

As we journeyed on to the lodge I spotted a kingfisher and then a beautifully coloured splendid starling bird, some vervet monkeys and the smallest of the deer family the Dik Dik .

And of course in our lodge there were more… water birds such as amacop as well as baboons, monkeys and grand gazelle.

And the night ended when two security guards and the chef had to escort us to our room to keep us safe from the two African elephants that were grazing on the grass outside our hut.

What a day to celebrate our 43rd anniversary.

What we saw…

  • Kenyan tree squirrel
  • Yellow savanna baboons
  • Similar to Blesbok.
  • White bottom Ostriches
  • Grant gazelle
  • Giraffe
  • Lion
  • Red headed agama (colourful lizard)
  • Dik-Dik deer
  • Gray-headed kingfisher
  • Crested francolin (Partridge)
  • Vervet monkey
  • Dik dik deer
  • Superb starling
  • At the Lodge…
  • Vervet Monkeys
  • Duck
  • Waterbuck
  • And the elephants

Thursday 23 September

We made an early start for our morning drive. Mwendwa turned left out of the gate, telling us we’d hunt across the river, in the opposite direction to everyone else in the Buffalo Springs National Park. That sounded exciting.

After entertaining us with a hooded vulture, Giraffe Gazelles with their very long necks and Oryx deer and white browed sparrow weavers’ nests in an Acacia tree, Mwendwa pointed out our first zebras. The Grevy Zebra is not as common as its cousin the Common Zebra, and they are well disguised in the savannah.

There was plenty to see with feeding with the zebras, oryx with their striped faces and giraffes. We spotted our first warthogs and laughed at its funny shape.

There were birds too, such as the Fish Eagle and the Southern Yellow-billed hornbill. Mwendwa was amazed that we were interested in the birds as well as the animals. We found a family of elephants with one very small baby, Malibou Stork described as extremely ugly, sharing the river with hooded vultures.

Impalas live in two different groups – one male will have a harem of females and their young. The older males live together. On the river a group of juvenile male impalas were practicing for the day they would have to fight to lead a harem.

We spotted a giraffe with a flock of tick birds on its back. They are colourful with bright red beaks and hover around the giraffe who appears not to notice them.

Pretty Vulturine Guineafowls scuffed around in the grass, while we found more warthogs and a water buck.

After four hours on safari we returned to the lodge for lunch and a siesta, with an appointment to regroup at 4:00pm.

We drove along the river edge, at times I thought the van would slip down the sandy cliff and into the mud. We saw more of the tiny Dik Dik deer, weighing just 5kg. There was a purple flower I was attracted to – Mwendwa assured us it is dangerous, can permanently damage your eye.

We were now getting used to finding animals for ourselves. First a Kenyan tree squirrel, then some Helmeted Guineafowls having a sand bath. They brought back memories of a newly married teacher at school, Mrs Schiller, who became famous at church for wearing her ‘going away’ hat, which a was a mass of these guineafowl feathers. Poor birds.

Suddenly the radio was buzzing and Mwendwa reved up the van.  A couple of unsuccessful attempts to reach the excitement, as elephants were crossing the path. The last thing Mwendwa wanted was get between an elephant and it’s young.  They are considered the most dangerous of the African animals.

We arrived to find a half dozen other safari vans with eyes to the tree, and there it was – a leopard in the tree. Apparently there were lions nearby, and although not as dangerous as an angry elephant, certainly a danger to the leopard.

It was a circus – the leopard was well disguised in the tree and every safari van that came was juxta positioning for a prime viewing spot. Of course the photo-hunters are confined to the van, for their own safety. After getting the almost impossible photos of leopard disguised by tree and into the sun, we continued to find the lions heading to the hills for the evening.

We finished our evening watching a Gelet Cat in the dining room.  Too dark for pictures, but we really saw this beautiful spotted animal a little bigger and much longer than a domestic cat.

What we saw…

  • Hooded vulture
  • Two males stalking each other. Many young.
  • Grevy Zebra smallest tribe. Hard to see. Other are common.
  • Girrafe gazelle
  • Oryx deer
  • Lone giraffe
  • Warthog
  • Southern yellow billed hornbill.
  • Water Buck
  • (Red water river) awasu neru river
  • Grand kudu (at ranch)
  • Succulent with purple & white flower, big green fruit can damage eye.
  • Dik Dik deer approx 5 kg
  • Squirrel
  • Guinea fowl sand bath
  • Eagle
  • Leopard & the watchers
  • Lions
  • Gelet cat in the restaurant.

Friday 24 September

An advantage of staying within the beautiful Samburu National Reserve was leaving it next morning. We watched giraffes and elephants taking water on the river. Giraffes have to stretch their legs wide so their long necks can reach the water, a most vulnerable time for them. A baby elephant was feeding from its mum, while she continued her own feeding.  Elephants must feed for most of their waking hours to satisfy their hunger.

There was an opportunity to get a close up of the white-browed sparrow weaver and the incredible nest it builds in the thorny Acacia trees. The male will keep building nests in the tree until he gets the female’s approval.

We caught sight of the ostrich family again – father leading his chicks off for a day of foraging. We counted about 25 chicks – that’s one big brood to keep an eye on.

We were now off on another adventure – with a long drive to Lake Nakuru.

What we saw…

  • Lion family footprints near Hotel Savannah hare Lion cubs
  • Giraffes
  • Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl
  • Giraffes drinking
  • Elephants eating
  • Hornbill & weaver with nests
  • Ostrich family