Okay, be prepared for a reeeeaaaalllly long post (with way too many photos) – I’m not quite sure how to condense it any more than this 🙂 As I’ve mentioned before, Richard had to go away at the end of May for a month, for work. But, unlike most jobs where maybe you go someplace boring, his sent him away to Kenya! Not exactly great, being on my own for a month, but it meant that we could do a Kenyan safari at the end of his trip!
See, Kenya is surprisingly expensive! We were probably the only young people we saw at any of the places we stayed, other than a few couples on honeymoon. Everyone else seemed to be either there for work or retired. The only way we were able to afford the trip was because Richard’s flights were already taken care of, and we got discounts at the places we stayed.
I loved this cactus, it was seriously massive!
But enough about that, let’s talk about the actual trip!
I flew into Nairobi airport in the afternoon, and Richard came to collect me. He had rented a vehicle through work for most of our trip. See, while there are national reserves in and around Nairobi, some of the best ones are a fair drive away. Our first day was pretty much all travel as we drove from Nairobi to Nanyuki. It was a sort of halfway point from Nairobi to the Samburu National Reserve, which was our first safari destination. During his previous month there, Richard had found a nice little hotel in Nanyuki called Le Rustique, where we could spend the night. I’ll be honest, I was pretty tired after my long indirect flight and crashed pretty quickly.
The next morning, we drove to the reserve, and I began my new favorite game of “find the animals”.
If you know me personally, and especially if you knew me as a child, then you know I love animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian for the first 13 or so years of my life, as it meant being surrounded by animals. I asked to visit the pet store like most kids ask to go to the candy store. I may have also convinced my dad to buy a few pets while in said stores…
So knowing that you can imagine what going to Africa and seeing animals on safari was like for me. When we first drove into the reserve, I started scanning for anything in the desert shrubs. We passed these amazing little hanging bird’s nests in the trees and even saw a flock of ostriches in the distance, but it was mostly just an empty landscape everywhere I looked. 🙁 I was starting to feel like it was going to be hard to find animals, when we suddenly rounded a bend and I saw a giraffe in the distance! And then that one giraffe turned into three (!), and as we started driving towards them, we turned a corner and saw three elephants!
Suddenly it seemed as though there were animals all over the place! So we drove around a bit more before heading to the Samburu Game Lodge to settle in. The lodge was mostly empty, with the exception of ourselves and another group of about 6 people. We stayed there for 3 nights of our trip and were almost always the only people in the dining room. The staff there were lovely, and I loved how the whole resort was in the middle of the reserve. Baboons and monkeys ran all over the place, and the river running through meant that elephants were often to be seen. There was even one point where an elephant tried to come up on the riverbank beside our little hut and had to be driven back by the staff. We saw two genet cats (not a cat, more like a spotted mongoose) in the dining room; we think they lived in a small nook above the catering tables. The only slightly scary thing was hearing that leopards had been spotted in the trees at night before – we were always guided back to our hut at night by one of the staff members.
But despite the threat of leopards, I loved how the place was in the middle of the jungle, and was surrounded by wildlife. I swear, half of the staff employed at places like this, are there to shoot the monkeys away with slingshots. The baboons can get quite aggressive.
We stayed in one of the huts the furthest away from the main buildings, with a lovely view of the river from the patio. It’s not exactly five-star luxury, but you don’t expect that in the middle of a Kenyan National Reserve. The location couldn’t be beat, and the people were lovely.
Now, back to the safari! Most people, when they go on safari in Kenya, pay to be driven around in groups on tour. I personally hate being on a tour – I want to go where I want and see what I see. Even if it means that we might not get to see everything, I much prefer having our own vehicle and just driving around. So for us, when we got up in the morning, we’d scarf down a nice breakfast, and hop in our vehicle! Then we just drive out of the game lodge, and we’re on the hunt! We would just pick a direction and drive, following whatever trails looked promising, and see what we could see.
There were a couple of instances where we decided to follow a group of vehicles. See, all of those tour groups have radios, and when they find a big cat (which is what everyone wants to see, and the hardest to find) they let everyone else know where it is. So when you see a cluster of vehicles, you know there’s something worth seeing. The first time we saw a cat, it was because we had rounded a bend and saw two large vehicles stopped up ahead. We pulled up alongside the anti-poaching vehicle, and they let us know what it was. Turns out, it was a couple of cheetahs just sitting in the brush! We sat back and waited for the vehicles ahead of us to move on, and then drove a bit closer to get a look.
Cheetahs are a lot smaller in real life than you’d think, but so so beautiful. We sat around for a bit, until the anti-poachers told us to move on, as the cheetahs needed to go off and hunt. So we drove around a bit more, trying to find something else before the sun went down. On our way back to the lodge we actually spotted the cheetahs in the distance, hunting, which was cool.
The other time that we found big cats, was quite a different experience. See, on our second full day in the Samburu Reserve, we decided to go out before breakfast and catch the sunrise. We drove up to a nice spot and just watched it from the sunroof of our vehicle. It was quite pretty. But, as we started driving away to find some animals, we got a flat tire! Driving around before the sun was up meant that we drove over something we couldn’t quite see, and popped a tire! So we pulled into the nearest resort and attempted to switch to the spare tire.
I say attempted because the manual that came with our vehicle had the wrong instructions for removing the tire, which was located underneath the rear of the vehicle. Eventually, some of the staff from the resort came out to help, and it took us ages to realize how to use the limited tools that we had to lower the spare. In the end, we got the tire on just before breakfast was about to finish, and raced back (carefully – we only had one spare) to the lodge to eat.
But before we got very far, we saw the tell-tale group of vehicles clustered. So we drove up to see what they were looking at. Turns out, it was three young male lions, and their lioness mother! Just lounging around with their freshly killed zebra! However, the other groups were everywhere and completely in the way of us being able to see anything. We tried to sit back and wait for them to move on, but other tour vehicles kept coming up, and just driving in front of us. It was so rude, and frustrating. 🙁 Finally, we had to go because we were going to miss breakfast, and there was no sign anyone was leaving soon.
With the exception of our beautiful sunrise and a brief glimpse of a lion, it was a wasted morning. After we ate, we asked around if there was somewhere we could go to repair the tire. We were directed to one of the safari guides, who apparently knew someone in the area who could help us. So two guys hopped in our vehicle with us and guided us to a nearby camp. The owner there did a patch job on our tire while we waited, and made some new friends!
One of the anti-poaching guys who we’d met the other night stopped by as he was heading out, and he and Richard got to chatting about the local weaponry. It wasn’t long before they had me trying out his rifle to see how heavy it was. A little while later (and a fair few shillings) we were back on our way to the lodge.
We decided to try and make the most of our afternoon by heading back to where the lions were, in the hopes they might still be around! Well, they weren’t. But then we got an idea… what if we came back just before dusk, and parked the car by the kill? Scavengers like hyenas only come out at night, so maybe if we waited we might see something?
So we did just that, spending the day driving around before returning as the sky began turning. But to our surprise, it wasn’t hyenas waiting when we got back. The three young male lions had returned! And we were the only vehicle in sight! We were able to simply drive slowly into the middle of the group, and park up. Then we just sat there, watching them relax, eat, and generally be the laziest lions around. It was awesome. We stayed for a good while before our old friends, the anti-poaching crew, turned up to tell us that we had to go back to our lodge. All, in all, a great end to a very frustrating morning.
On our last day in the Samburu Reserve, we had a leisurely morning breakfast, before one last drive through the reserve to the gates. We were on our way to the Shaba Reserve, to spend a couple days relaxing in a bit of luxury (nice pool and food). As we drove through the familiar trails, we happened upon a massive herd of zebra, and spied something unusual! There were different zebra! Now, I had stupidly thought of zebra as only one type, not really thinking there were multiple varieties. Turns out, there are three main types of zebras out there! The rarest ones are the Grévy’s zebra, which is the most common type in Samburu Reserve. The zebras we were seeing in large herds everywhere are actually the most endangered! The smaller ones we saw on our last day (which were rare to us) are actually the more common plains zebra. You learn something new every day!
plains zebra (above) + Grévy’s zebra (below)
And so, we drove back through the gates to the reserve, on our way to the nearby Shaba National Reserve, for the next part of our trip…