Kenya Safari Experience as Narrated by a Happy Client

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“A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle the quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight…..”

This tune in my head is as fresh as the morning mist . I can bet most of us (atleast for those born in early 80s ) have grown up watching Nat Geo and discovery channel wildlife documentaries  . Being a wildlife enthusiast myself , I have travelled a lot across wildlife sanctuaries in India . Though I haven’t always been lucky to spot much, as forests are pretty dense here

My luck changed when I visited Kruger National park South Africa 2 years ago. It was an overwhelming experience to watch such incredibly rich wildlife  , however only rue was  we couldn’t spot all of the Big 5 in Kruger . That year I decided to visit all national parks on African continent in search of Big 5.That’s how I pinned my travel on Kenya this year .

Dreams do come true !! If someone asks me about my Kenya experience now , i have just one thing to say ” Africa is a Magical Continent and Kenya is the capital “

Most of my friends , colleagues , acquaintances were astonished, when i told them about my plans to visit Kenya . Most of them didn’t even know Masai Mara is in Kenya . I guess all of them believed that it exists only in Discovery channel 🙂

Planning for Kenya 

Some of the  important things to keep in mind :

1. Get your yellow fever vaccination done minimum 10 days before departure . For Indians , polio dose is also required . Do get it done from government authorized center only. This is required mainly at the time of return at India immigration . One might get quarantined if found without a valid yellow fever card .

2. Carry mosquito repellent lotions specially for lower altitude regions like Amboseli . Also full sleeve clothes will help .

3.Unlike South Africa you might need a travel agent to do bookings.

Itinerary  

We were a little constrained on time,  as this was the second international holiday of the year.It’s a little hard to manage leaves when you are a corporate life slave. I hadn’t told my boss about the bookings , coincidentally he also had his vacation during the same period . One day after the review meeting in a good mood  he said ” I am so looking to my vacation ” to which I instantly replied ” Me too ! ”  : )  Damn !! I meant my holiday which he didn’t know about 🙂 . So that’s how I told him and somehow got an approval

So we had 8 days including travel .This is what we planned

  • Day 1: Arrival at Nairobi Airport at 10 am . Head to Amboseli and night stay
  • Day 2: Amboseli
  • Day 3: Move to Nairobi and stay
  • Day 4: Fly to Masai Mara and stay
  • Day 5: Masai Mara
  • Day 6: Masai Mara
  • Day 7: Fly to Nairobi and stay
  • Day 8: Fly back to India

I am glad that I didn’t go with the standard itinerary that most of the agents will suggest, which is Nairobi -> Lake Nakuru-> Masai Mara-> Lake Naivasha –> Nairobi . I would strongly recommend visiting Amboseli National Park as it has very high density ,heterogeneity of wildlife with breathtaking views of mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Company

Generally i don’t prefer using a travel company to plan my trips . But Kenya is different, as you can’t do a self drive , actually you can, but i won’t recommend due to reasons like bad traffic, nagging cops and need of a safari vehicle with guide. One of my wife’s college friend recommended a Nairobi based travel company called ‘Globetrotter’ .  That’s how i found two rockstars who made this to be the most memorable , successful and by far the best safari experience yet. 

John Kinaro : He is the best travel planner i have ever met ever, He is full of energy , consumer focused and a great planner. Here is his picture

 

Here is a list of things I liked about him :

1. He understands your taste , requirements and budget properly and then suggest itinerary

2. Relentlessly tries to find solutions whenever ask a query or put across a request

3. Fast response and very accessible . Example- He went out to way to buy stuff for us like mosquito repellents , medicines etc

4. Understands Kenya well. For example – Unlike other guys , he recommended Amboseli over Lake Nakuru and Naivasha . This turned out to be the best decision .

Issac : He is the best Wild Life guide  i have ever met , Actually he is a magician !!

Here is a list of things I liked about him :

1. He knows the jungle better than anyone else . For example-  We were one of the very few to be able to witness  Big 5 among our fellow travelers in the lodge .

2. Very polite and gives you time to enjoy to moment .

3. I call him a magician as he can do anything when it comes to tracking down an animal . For example

we were at fag end of our trip just a day to go . Last evening we were causally chatting and i said ” I wish we could see leopard and black rhino too ” . They are the most elusive and no one had seen them in our lodge . Next day he somehow tracked both Leopard and Black Rhino !! That’s unbelievable

Interesting Moments 

1. Lion Sightings 

First Encounter 

This was our first morning at Amboseli National Park . Those of you have heard of Amboseli , It is known for two things  : Largest Elephants in Africa in big herds and breathtaking views of mount Killimanjaro . In anticipation of some action ,we drove out of our lodge for safari at 6 am . We were scouting for a sight of mighty Killimanjaro snow covered peak , however we couldn’t find it as there was a cloud cover at the top . With eyes back on grasslands we spotted a  herd of giant tuskers , I organized my camera to take nice close -up shot but Issac didn’t halt the car . I was a little exasperated after few minutes but didn’t say anything . Every now and then we spotted something but still Issac did’t stop the car . I could see the growing disappointment on faces of my wife and daughter ,but i did’t say anything as i knew Issac was upto something . He had his wireless on and was incessantly talking to someone in Swahili ( local language ) . All of a sudden he stopped the Van and said there are lions on the right . All of us jumped on our seat but couldn’t locate a thing . I asked him ” where are they ? ” . ” In front of you on the right ” he pointed . Then we saw some movement and there they were . Group of 3 lions , 2 Lionesses and 1 Male Lion . They were stalking a young gazelle . Actually lionesses were on a chore whereas male lion was lying down relaxing .

They were at a distance of about 50 meters so i had to take out my SLR lens to get a closer look . We had ample variety of gear with us for wildlife viewing . Besides a 500 mm SLR lens I had  80mm Celestron Spotting Scope and a pair of Vanguard binoculars . We all took turns to zoom in  .I had my gaze fixed on a lioness who was straight looking into my lens as if I was the prey .

Unexpectedly  i started feeling as if she is moving towards me , i looked up momentarily to check and realized that both lioness were running straight towards our van .

* Safari Van: These are safari customized open top vehicles apt for wildlife viewing . 

Generally lions don’t appear intimidating at first , moment you lock eyes  a chill runs through the spine . Honestly I saw ferocity in her eyes  . For a moment, we were little scared but excitement got better of us  . We  were hanging out of roof top looking straight at the lioness . She was at touching distance to our van , She paused , looked up and moved past us as if not really interested . This was a breathtaking moment !!

When both lionesses crossed to other side i realized that they were trying to  close in on large herd of waterbucks who kept moving further . Male lion still oblivious to everything was basking in the sun, he yawned few times and then got up to check whereabouts of females lionesses and ensure his kingdom is unsullied

2.The Hunt 

This was our second day in Masai Mara . By now we had seen many lions .  Thanks to magical sixth sense of Issac ,wee saw lions every-time we stepped out .No one talks about Lions at Amboseli but we saw them repeatedly.

It was little late in evening around 5.30 , we hadn’t seen much today . This was turning out to by a bad day and to make it worse It started drizzling , within 10 minutes this drizzle turned into heavy rains .I looked up in the sky a cursed some African rain gods.Few minutes later I was dejected as the prospect of spotting any big cats diminished for rest of the evening . It was getting darkm  Issac started driving back towards the lodge . Suddenly  he applied breaks and whispered something . I couldn’t hear anything nor see anything . He asked us to keep quit, in a bleak pitch he said “there is a lioness and she is on a hunt” . This was the first time we saw Issac so animated . He has been in the wild for last 19 years . He has seen it all ,but still gets excited on a prospect of witnessing a kill . Further down the road we saw a lionesses lurking on a group of 3 Zebras .

You can see the stealth and focus in the picture below

She was not alone there were 3 more lionesses at different positions . This was a well coordinated effort .

First lionesses moved in stealth mode for around 25 minutes . It was fascinating to watch how careful and patient she was while moving every inch . We were right in the middle of action . Isaac had turned off the engine to ensure there is no disturbance .

Here is another shot from another angle . In these picture , we are right in between lioness and the prey . Look how camouflaged she is .

Zebra’s had an inkling that something is wrong . They were very still but looked confused , unaware of the

predators closing in . When one of the lioness was close enough , she leaped forward . There was chaos . All 3 Zebras ran in one direction but not together . Lead lioness drove the lagging Zebra in one direction , rest 2 closed in from other sides . Within a few minutes kill was executed . They were quick to kill the prey . Lioness have large canine which they aim on the neck so the death is fast .

Here is one of the pictures from the pursuit  :

When you watch a live hunt by any predator , it’s a mixed feeling in the end ! Anyhow this is how it works in a jungle . We are just a interim cameo

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