Category Archives: Kenya

Ngorongoro Crater and Onward to our Serengeti Camp

When we were on the island of Manda in Kenya I bumped into a group of young women from Barcelona.  They were still on a safari “high” having just left Tanzania.  They were stoked about Lake Manyara and even better yet Ngorongoro Crater. “You have to go there!”

To be fair, our day before at Lake Manyara was wonderful but not earth shattering.  It’s not Disneyland even though at times it feels like someone in the background says “Cue the lion”.  It’s pure luck.  The wildlife are in their natural habitat and you see things when you do.

Off to Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest inactive caldera and another UNESCO site.

Per Wikipedia: A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the rock above the magma chamber is lost. The ground surface then collapses downward into the emptied or partially emptied magma chamber, leaving a massive depression at the surface (from one to dozens of kilometers in diameter).[1] Although sometimes described as a crater, the feature is actually a type of sinkhole, as it is formed through subsidence and collapse rather than an explosion or impact.

This crater collapsed on itself two to three million years ago! Today approximately 25,000 animals roam on its floor.

We drove down into the crater on a windy narrow road with steep drop offs. It was a one lane road handling cars traveling in both directions. Lovely….

Tourism is down 80%.

Imagine safari vehicles roaming every which way over the 100 square miles of the caldera.  This is what 20% looks like in one tiny part of Ngorongoro.  I can’t imagine what it would be like when tourism was at 100%.  We are very lucky to be here now when it is relatively quiet and we can help provide income to those who desperately need it. There is no unemployment from this government.  They’re on their own.

Click to enlarge photos…

The drivers use radios to tell each other if they have spotted something extraordinary. Although we couldn’t understand Swahili we knew something special had been spotted. Amon would put it in gear and dart off.   The safari vehicles grew en masse as everyone vied for a spot.

The wildebeest and zebra numbered in the thousands.  A lioness walked calmly next to the shoreline and upon spotting her the wildebeest lost their minds and ran in every direction.  I had a glimpse into what the “wildebeest migration’ would look like. The zebras stopped and watched closely seeming to be plotting out their escape.  A few gazelles followed closely behind as if they were toying with her.  A full belly must have kept this lioness disinterested.

It was unexpected but I did get to see flamingos.

Here’s the tally for today:
Grants gazelles
Cape buffalos
Hammerkorp bats
Vultures
Water buck
Elephants (Tembos)
Elan antelopes
Guinea fowls
Pumba warthogs
Thompson’s gazelles
Flamingos
Zebras
Caracal – cat family
Gray crowned cranes
Wildebeest
Ostriches
A lioness
Ibis
Marubu stork
Giraffe

We stayed in the crater about three hours then headed to the Serengeti – another three hour drive to get to camp. Some on pavement and the rest of the drive was on dirt roads in the Serengeti Park.

More about the Serengeti in the next posting….

Heads up – the first video loaded is the one I posted.  The one you see after viewing that are ones YouTube wants you to see….

Jambo and Hello Mombasa

After our relaxing time in Shella we decided fly to the city of Mombasa.

I personally wanted to visit Mombasa (as well as Tsavo and Malindi) to see places that had been the setting for books that I’ve read. It also has two UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Mombasa is a bustling large city with a population of 1.3 million. It’s the second largest city (Nairobi the first) in Kenya populated with locals, Arabs, Asians, Portuguese and the British. Normally our goal is to stay away from big cities but there’s always exceptions.

In so many countries around the world tuk tuks are a popular means of travel. If we aren’t walking to our destination we’re in a tuk tuk.  Blurred photos as we whizz through the town.

We spent time at Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to protect the port of Mombasa and the surrounding Old Town (both UNESCO sites) with buildings dating from the 18th century. Like Lamu and Shella they too have exquisite old carved doors.  The old town is  crumbling but part of the attraction.

Mombasa rests on the Indian Ocean and we dined each night at the water’s edge feasting on large lobster dinners for only $15.00.

 

 

Next stop Lamu Island, Kenya


We drove out of Tsavo East and headed to the town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean where everyone but us got a Covid test for their return flights home. Afterwards we hopped on a plane and 25 minutes later landed at the Manda Airport on the Island of Manda.There is something magical and primitive about landing at a tiny remote airport. It’s informal – no jetways or sidewalks just earthen paths. Everything is dulled by a layer of red dirt. Our luggage was loaded into a old wooden pull cart and rolled to the nearby boat ramp.

We boarded a boat taxi and headed across the channel to Lamu Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site and Kenya’s oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement on Africa’s East Coast.Our reward for finishing the walk was to stay at the renowned family run Peponi Hotel in the adjoining community of Shella.

Lamu and the Peponi are listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and rightfully so.

Carol and her daughter Elke run the hotel. I’m sure they don’t like the reference but I had visions of Mama Mia. Elke is stunningly beautiful, make up free and bare footed. Her mum is clearly a spitting image of the same girl just years later. They are hands on and make sure your every need it met.

Previously warned by Tropical Ice that we should extend our (included in the safari) one night stay and enjoy the pole pole (Swahili for slow, slow) lifestyle. We had booked two nights. A perfect end to a perfect walking safari.

Our original plan grew into five nights. Covid was starting to affect our trip. The flight to Zanzibar had been cancelled and the Islands of Comoros and Madagascar closed their borders to tourism. Coupled by civil unrest in others countries – we needed time to hatch a new plan.

First things first. We girls headed out just behind the hotel to explore the narrow streets and pathways that wind through the village of Shella. There are no cars and donkeys are used to transport goods and people. We set out with a map highlighting the “best of” and no sooner than we made the first turn and we were lost.

What a place to be lost. It was a maze with a muted palette of dusty paths and creamy buildings with stunning carved door, offset by bright bougainvillea, drying laundry and women in colorful hijabs and dresses.

It’s a certainty that every country has its one percent. This was evident at the Hemmingways and Peponi. Lots of lethargic people wearing $1,000. sunglasses and designer clothing. Safari clothes – not appropriate.

Shela and Lamu Island are Muslim communities. 50 mosques for 50,000 people. My shorts and skirts from the safari wouldn’t suffice so I was on a mission to purchase a modest dress. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. It was a request but not enforced. Light and airy dresses were what most woman wear. Scarves worn for coverage work as well. There was one boutique shop in town where all of us found a treasure. One dress worn over and over will suffice.

A lot of the homes and fenced walls are built with coral. They’re rough, porous and plentiful. 350 members of the Luo tribe live on a nearby island and spend their days harvesting the dead coral from under trees and transporting them by boat to Lamu Island. Beamed ceilings are made with Mangrove poles and therefore rooms are narrow since the trees do not grow tall. Floors and walls are mostly rough dead coral and the coated with coral limestone for smoothness. Many homes have a “daka” entry porch where men gather to visit.  Inside are are small niches carved into the walls of stone structure.   Inside elaborate “vidaka” walls – small niches carved into the walls of stone structures – are a stunning focal point.  Decorative but also used to reduce echoing in the home.

Iain’s wife, Lou, flew in to join everyone. Our first evening, the last that we were all together, we had a Swahili feast. The setting was stunning. We sat in a lush area near the pool on ground height couches surrounded by vibrant fluffy pillows. The men were not quite sure what to do with their legs which prompted us to become silly children once again. The food was spicy, flavorful and bountiful.

After a luxurious night’s sleep six of us took a dhow (ancient Arab sailing boat) to the old town of Lamu. It’s within walking distance to Shella Village at low tide but the dhow was a more traditional means of entering this famous town. The bustling streets where “pole pole” meets the fast pace of commerce, donkeys are the beast of burden and hawkers try to lure you into their shops.

Lamu is bursting at the seams with cats, cats and more cats.  Unique cats.  The only place in the world to have the same physiques as the cats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

The evening commenced with a sunset dhow cruise sipping wine and drifting by patches of mangroves. When the sun began to set we turned course and met up with masses of dhow boats where we all raced towards the sunset. It was stunning.

I’ll have you know it took me three days to shake having to look for predators while traversing the garden lawn from our room to the restaurant!

We said goodbye to everyone on day three and it once again became the Bill and Paige show. Time was spent exploring Shela and Lamu Town, walking the beach, lounging, catching up on emails, posting a few blogs, making plans, eating too much food and having sunset cocktails.

Sand life and art:

 

The Great Walk of Africa Final Walking Day 10

Tioko showed up in fancy sandals way too small for his feet.  He must have borrowed someone’s clubbing shoes!

Today we walked 17 miles.

Click to enlarge photos.

A large group of elephants were spotted on the ridge line.  Iain headed in their direction but the wind was blowing our scent towards them so they started to turn in a different direction. We changed course and ran across the plain to meet up with them. This time undetected.  With the Henry Mancini “Baby Elephant Walk” playing in my head, we followed them towards the river. Walking briskly to keep up then running around the saltbushes to watch them at the water. 

It seemed strange in our given environment of not seeing another human or non-wild animal on this journey to walk into a huge herd of cattle and goats shepherded by children appearing to be 6 to 14 years old.  They are from the Orma tribe near the Somalia border.  Supposedly rich Kenyans own the animals. It was fascinating to watch. The kids were bathing and cleaning their clothes in the river.  Their life is dreadfully hard and often short lived.

At lunch time we crossed the Galana to a grove of palms where the crew had set-up a tent and brought lunch while we walked. To relax, cots had been placed under the palm trees. We rested and then headed out again.This time we walked to the finish line!  100 miles in 10 days.

It was an adventure of a lifetime.  The crew at Tropical Ice has this down to a science.  We were so lucky that the three additional walkers were fantastic, lovely people.  A couple from Colorado and a 84 year old retired doctor from San Francisco.  We giggled so much.

We’re two very grateful people.

The Great Walk of Africa Day 9

What you don’t know won’t kill ya. Apparently that’s not the way in the bush. 

This morning I felt like Emily Blunt in the The Quiet Place movie.  The predators are out there….  There’s no Jaws movie music Da dant da dant da dant.  Not only have we taken the oath of silence so have the predators.  It’s a quiet killing grounds in Tsavo. The only things making noise are the harmless birds.  HA!!! The stuff I think about…..

Lots of game sightings today – zebras – elephants – gazelles…

Click to enlarge photos…

It was a peaceful day with no heart pumping events.

Until we were about to cross the Galana River back to camp. Toiko and Washii started into the water when a crocodile’s tail took a swing at their ankles. Both jumped back to the shore quicker than a Kenyan runner. Toiko minus a sandal. He returned to camp shoeless. Poor guy.  It will be a long time before the guys stop teasing him about this one.

The surface beneath our feet is a bit of a conundrum – harsh, dry, and barren like the surface of the moon and closer to the shore there’s beautiful fine white sand. There are a few springs of greenery sprouting.  Otherwise, food seems either non-existent or inedible.  How any animal forages and lives in this area is baffling

Look who tried to wander into camp. Yes. That’s Bill at our tent.

Hello Bill – do you see the elephant?

On our evening game drive we drove up to a male and female pair lounging in the sun.  Jokes about the manly lion ensued… To prove his virility the male jumped on the female. Big her in the shoulder and did his thing. Who’s king of the jungle now?

Tomorrow is our last day of walking and it will be a full day. We leave at our usual 7 am departure time and will not be returning until 6 pm…..

The Great Walk of Africa Day 8

Once again we woke up thinking it was raining and it was a baboon in the palm.

Eight graceful giraffes passed by early in the morning. They generally can be seen with zebras grazing about.  If you look closely in the photos you can see that the top of a zebra is as tall as the under belly of a giraffe.

Our day started with a river crossing.  After the last hippo “stare down” this one went off without a hitch. We cross and on the shoreline stop to change our shoes. Usually the bank is an incline, and after a scramble, we are up on the plain. Upon cresting there was a hippo off to our right side several yards away. Immediately Iain and the men lined up and were at the ready with guns drawn. We were told to run.  ‘Stay together and RUN”.  The hippo had turned and looked like it might charge.

By the grace of God he changed his mind. Hippos are mean and fast. Iain said “They tend to get discombobulated and either run away or charge.”

Another thrilling event. I think I have said “Holy shit” about 10,000 times on this walk!

In all the years that Iain has led these safaris they have only had one serious incident where a hippo charged and knocked over a ranger and then picked up a woman client and flung her.  They weren’t unable to shoot it with the woman in its jaws.  It was in 1987, In the middle of nowhere and no way to communicate. It took them five hours from the time of the incident to the moment she got to a hospital.  She survived with a long recovery period.

With this crisis averted we began to walk again….

Approximately half an hour later Stephen spotted a female elephant in the saltbrush several yards away. A few days in the bush and he’s a tracker!  Lajori did his soft whistle to let Iain know. Normally we can pass undetected.  This elephant stepped out of the brush and made her presence known. She knew we were there.

Once again Iain shouted “RUN and keep running.”  Lajori directed us with a rapid wave.

Iain fired a warning shot into the air. The elephant hesitated and then started to charge.  Toiko then fired another warning shot.  All the while Washii is making a repetitive rhythmic sound from the bottom of his throat – as if he was trying to calm the elephant. 

She finally decided to turn.

Heart racing…. What now? Lions???

It was quite a morning – 10 mammal sightings and two heart racers in 1.5 hours.

The rest of the walk was uneventful.

The game drive was a lion experience. We first came upon two laying on their sides, out like a light, without a care in the world. Our Rovers drove right up to them and one barely opened his lazy eyes and closing them promptly as if he couldn’t be bothered. The lion beside him didn’t even budge. Moments later a maneless male came out of the saltbush – moseyed along and then fell to his sleepy side. Then another large maned lion came out of the bush.  He majestically sat for a brief moment, looked around and then curled up next to his brothers side.

Kim and I decided to check out the kitchen at the campsite. Kikuyu, camp chef for 40+ years makes meals that one would think came out of a gourmet kitchen. It’s hard to believe that they are made with such basic necessities.  The Dutch oven reminds me of an old metal ammunition box and bakes the bread and rolls to perfection.  Kikuyu uses a shovel to raise the box’s lid.  Here are some camp life photos.