Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Amazing Kenyan Safari

When we planned the trip to Kenya, we weren't expecting much. We knew that there would be wildlife and we knew....Well, that's it ! The 'we' in here are Hari, Remya, Rajiv and of course Simi and me.
Remya/Rajiv's cousin and family, Usha, Harish and kid Shashwat stays in Kenya.(Well, that's a lot of names to remember, but don't worry, it's less of humans and more of animals from now on. 😉 )

It is Usha who planned the complete itinerary for us, that is from the moment we stepped on Kenya. Since all the planning had been already taken care of, we hadn't done much of a research from our part which made our experience even more enriching as everything was new for us ! Here goes our Kenya travel experience !

We landed in Nairobi on the afternoon of 23rd Dec 2017. 
We were quite surprised to listen to a Bollywood radio station in the taxi driven by a Kenyan. He later said that he watches Bollywood movies too and is an Akshay Kumar fan ! Another interesting part is that even in traffic they don't honk unlike in know where 😉. We overcame the traffic and were warmly welcomed over a hot cup of tea by Usha, Harish and Shashwat  in their beautiful home. After a round of cricket outside the apartment, a round of drinks and dinner, we were all set for the Safari to Masai Mara the very next day.

24 Dec 2017

We woke up early, freshened up and were ready for the drive to Masai Mara. Our driver and guide Eric had arrived with the Safari vehicle and we (Harish couldn't join us) started on time with packed breakfasts.It was a 6 hour drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara which seemed to be far less with all the games we played. The roads were mostly awesome exception being the last hour close to our destination. We started seeing some Gazelles and shouted aloud, 'Deer, deer' in excitement. Usha explained to us that those were Gazelles and also told us about the different types of Gazelles. Wow, already we are getting lots of knowledge. We were super excited to see a few zebras grazing around.

While we kept wondering how Eric was driving in the reserve area without any GPS, he took a quick turn on seeing a log lying in the middle of the savanna. 'That's our camp', Usha declared. So there we were, in Mara Olapa camp, a non fenced camp in the middle of the wild. We could just stand in front of the camp and see Zebras, Giraffes, Gazelles and Impalas grazing. What a sight !

Inside the Camp. That's the Dining area and the lounge (Click to Enlarge)

The camp manager introduced us to the facilities of the camp and also about the region in particular. The region was called Kaboso, which is also a leopard territory ! Yeah, we heard and you read that right ! A leopard territory. He was also smiling when he said that the leopard is a very friendly animal. 'Oh yes, it should, be, that is why it is called a predator', we thought. As it is a non fenced camp, there were Masais (The local inhabitants of Masai Mara) who guards the camp from wild animals at night. We were shown our tents.
Inside the Tent. It had all the facilities you need !. (click to Enlarge)

We freshened up and quickly had our lunch. We were going for our first game drive (safari drive) at around 3.30 PM. Usha had warned us that in wild life pure luck and power of thought is required to see all the animals, especially the big 5 of Mara (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino).

There were some other folks in the camp and we discussed with them about their experience in the morning game drive. They introduced themselves, and as soon as Usha told her name, they promptly responded, 'Oh, the photographer?'. We did know that she was an awesome photographer but after reaching there we realized that she is a celebrity ! Yeah, I was just waiting for the right time to reveal this, we were travelling along with a celebrity, an award winning wild life photographer, Usha Harish

We started our first game drive, fingers crossed. Eric got a communication on his radio device that the Kaboso leopard was spotted. So this is how it mostly works, any of the guide, when they spot an animal communicates it to the others. We quickly went to that location and ticked the first check box of the Mara big five. A female leopard has been spotted.

The female leopard of Kaboso  (Click to Enlarge)

It was an awesome sight to see a big cat not confined within the cages of a zoo, walking freely. It was walking within the bushes and seeing it's body language, Eric informed us that it was looking to hunt any moment. On the other side of the bushes, there was a group of Gazelles and Eric quickly took us far across the other side where we would get a good view and also we wouldn't in any way disturb the animals' movements.

So we waited there and started witnessing some interesting animal stories. 

The group of Gazelles consisted of one male and around 30 females. There were a few other 'bachelor' male Gazelles a few feet away and one of the females from the group was trying to walk over to one of the bachelors. The male Gazelle of the group would then walk over and block the female from leaving the group. Well, call it possessive or protective, it was a good sight to watch. 

From a larger picture, little did they know that the leopard was sitting on top of the tree watching all of this waiting for the right time to pounce on them and make one of them its meal.

The group of Gazelles. The male Gazelle is the one with the horn. The leopard is waiting on the tree behind. (Click to Enlarge)
The waiting game continued and suddenly the leopard pounced. Chaos. The Gazelles ran for their lives. It was a very short chase and the leopard failed to hunt anyone. Probably it was not that hungry or it was not fit enough to run for a longer distance. I guess the latter might be the reason because we had observed  the leopard practicing yoga earlier. It was building fitness I guess! 😏😃

Fitness regime of the leopard 😉 (Click to Enlarge)

Failing to manage a meal, the leopard then walked back to the bushes.

We also got to see the fight of two impalas just before the sightings became difficult as the sun was about to set. 

Locking horns !   (Click to Enlarge)

As night  game drive is not allowed we started back to our camp. As mentioned earlier, wild life is always about surprises. This time it surprised us with the sighting of a male leopard which is quite hard to spot. It walked past very close to our vehicle and we were lucky enough to have a very close view of the big cat!

If an antelope gets blinded by the headlights of the vehicle, it takes around 15 minutes for it to regain it's sight, making them vulnerable to the attack of a predator, where they wouldn't even be able to run for life. Hence, even though it was getting dark, Eric did not switch on the vehicle's headlights. 

We reached our camp, had dinner after a shower and went to bed, all excited about the next game drive. We were already in love with the wild life!

25 Dec 

Christmas day welcomed us with the sight of the king of the jungle. (Big five of Mara; Lion: Checked. )
The lion and its pride were doing a morning walk out in the open. There were a few other safari vehicles to witness this majestic sight. 

The majestic walk  (Click to Enlarge)

The lion walked towards us and once it reached close to our vehicle it changed paths and came closer to our vehicle. It was all silence as the lion came very close to our vehicle, just on the other side of the window, it even glanced at me and then walked away. There were several Topis and Zebras at their disposal but they didn't bother to hunt at that moment and just continued their walk.

Not in the mood to hunt (Click to Enlarge)

We next went in search of 'Malaika' the cheetah, and her family. Eric had an awesome pair of eyes. He could easily spot wildlife from a very far distance with naked eye. Most of the time he didn't need a binocular to spot some action. I was wondering if his binocular had a life, it would be hoping for his eyes to spot things better ! 
So we spotted the cheetah easily. They were a group of 3 and were out in the open looking for prey. The sight itself was very thrilling as some action was bound to happen anytime soon. 
Cheetahs looking for food in all directions (Click to Enlarge)

They did see a group of warthogs and started walking towards them in slow pace. But the warthog family had already sensed the cheetah's presence and ran for their lives. 

Warthogs running (Click to Enlarge)

The cheetah's search for food continued. 

They walked around and when they reached close to a bush, one of the younger cheetahs was quick to catch a hare. The hare was too small for it and can't be called as a meal but maybe starters for the day? The younger cheetah who caught the hare, however was in no mood to share the food with the other 2. Probably Malaika hasn't taught them sharing !

Catch of the day !   (Click to Enlarge)

In between, we too had our breakfast stopping the vehicle under a tree, a bush breakfast in the middle of the wild ! We were told that the animals don't attack humans as they get their food from the wild. Also, they see the safari vehicle as a unit, which is much larger than their body and never dare to attack it. We just need to be silent and not make unnecessary noises when they are close to us.

This is our Safari vehicle and that's how we had breakfast   (Click to Enlarge)

The other interesting sights of the day were the giraffes having a family meeting over a drink, lots and lots of zebras and several other animals and birds of the wild including the elephant ( Big five of Mara;Elephant : checked) , Wildebeests, Elands, Dik-diks, Ostriches, Secretary birds, Crested Cranes, Egyptian Geese, Tawny eagle etc.
Giraffes have such long necks, wonder whether they will be able to see the future !  (Click to Enlarge)

Probably they had a difference of opinion in one of their discussions  (Click to Enlarge)

No Difference of opinion here  (Click to Enlarge)

Wildebeests  (Click to Enlarge)

26 Dec

This morning welcomed us with a hyena running too fast. We wondered where the hyena was running to and followed it. It ran for close to 2 kilometers to reach to a group of hyenas who were feasting on a dead zebra.There were vultures and jackals close by joining the post Christmas feast.

Post Christmas feast of the hyenas  (Click to Enlarge)

We met another cheetah family, a family of 5. They too were hungry and searching for food. 

The Cheetah family  (Click to Enlarge)

By this time we understood that the life of a predator is not so easy. Whenever they try to hunt, there would be birds making noise, there would be hyenas around; all of which are signals to these antelopes and they get alert. The predator has to overcome all that to catch their prey. The 5 cheetahs couldn't manage to catch any prey and went on to take rest.

Hungry and lazy. Hungry and alert.  (Click to Enlarge)

We had breakfast on the bank of Mara river which is infested with crocodiles and hippos. Before we started our breakfast, Eric got down and threw some stones inside a bush nearby to ensure that there were no big cats there. We got shocked and was wondering whether we stopped there to have breakfast or be breakfast !!

We continued our safari and saw a group of impalas. There was an abundance of grass but they weren't grazing. All of them looked to one direction which gave us a sense that something was there. And we weren't wrong. There was the female cheetah which had targeted this group of impalas. But it was very patient, took some rest,had some water and got ready to attack the impalas. 

Cheetah having a drink, getting ready for the attack.  (Click to Enlarge)

It was a spontaneous attack. The cheetah chased the impalas for a good 100 meters. The impalas scattered and ran in all directions. The cheetah probably couldn't finalize one single target and lost track and failed in the attempt. Lack of focus, you cheetah! You too should start yoga lessons. Another failed attempt but a very thrilling one.

In another sight, a group of lionesses and cubs were having a competition with a group of buffaloes ( Big five of Mara;Buffalo: checked). The buffaloes were running head on towards the lionesses and cubs, frightening them. The lionesses would then have a go back at the buffaloes and this continued for a few minutes until the lionesses decided to stop the game and walk away.

The rest of the day was far more peaceful and we came across a family of elephants and just observed them till the sunset.The Mara sunset view was breathtaking and after enjoying the view, we headed back to our camp for out last night at Masai Mara.
Sunset at Masai Mara  (Click to Enlarge)
Silhoutte. Sunset at MasaiMara.  (Click to Enlarge)

27 Dec

We checked out from the camp and started our journey back to Nairobi. Masai Mara did give us some refreshing sights on the way back too which included another two majestic lions, their cubs and also the cubs of the Kaboso leopard. We were overwhelmed with all the enriching experience we had with all the wildlife sightings. 
Mara bid us farewell with this awesome sight  (Click to Enlarge)

The only disappointment we had was that we weren't able to spot a rhino. Eric informed that the number of rhinos in Mara is comparatively less and it is very difficult to sight one.We continued our journey back to Nairobi in a slightly different route than we came hoping to get better roads until we reached the main road. Later we understood (chose to believe) that this deviation was due to our collective power of thought.There were 2 huge rhinos walking towards us ! What a sight ! It was 4 rangers taking these two rhinos to a nearby rhino conservancy. We were truly lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be able to see them. ( Big five of Mara;Rhino: checked)

The 5th of the Big Five, The Rhino.  (Click to Enlarge)

That completed our sightings of the big 5 of Mara, which is a difficult sight to see in one trip and with that sense of completeness we continued our journey to Nairobi.

Harish welcomed us with a refreshing lemon shot and we had a wholesome dinner to mark the end of the day.

The next day was relatively free for us and we decided to visit the elephant orphanage and Giraffe Centre within the Nairobi city.

The elephant orphanage is a rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants who are separated from their families mostly due to poaching, drought or natural death of the mother.It was an emotional experience to see all the elephants running down to have milk from their feeding bottles.

Elephant feeding

Kiss of the Giraffe @ Giraffe Centre

29, 30 Dec

We headed towards Amboseli which is a 4 hour drive from Nairobi and this time, we had Martin as our driver and guide. Amboseli is situated on the border of Tanzania where we also get to see the Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mount Kilimanjaro in the backdrop  (Click to Enlarge)

Over the next 2 days in Amboseli we witnessed a lot of elephants, a lot ! The great thing we observed about elephants were that they were so disciplined that they always walk in a line, on the same tracks daily.

 (Click to Enlarge)

 (Click to Enlarge)

There were also a variety of birds in Amboseli and it was a treat to watch all of those. Another surprising sight to see was a group of flamingos.  It is rare to spot flamingos here at this time of the year and even Martin was surprised by the sight.

Living in harmony  (Click to Enlarge)

Since Amboseli had predetermined tracks for the safari drive, unlike the Mara, we missed hunting actions here. However Mount Kilimanjaro is a difficult sight to see if the sky is cloudy. As there were no clouds for a good 5-6 hour period, we were able to see the Mount Kilimanjaro very well.

The hunt we managed to see in Amboseli  (Click to Enlarge)

And some love scenes  (Click to Enlarge)

Another good experience was the Masai dance at the Kibo Safari Camp, where we even got to participate in the dance. 😊
The Masai dance (Click to enlarge)

We reached back Nairobi on the evening of 30th. We knew this was our last day of the vacation as we had to return back to India the next day.We did feel a sense of emptiness and never wanted the vacation to end. Harish was an awesome host and also a great cook. Usha too was a great host and helped us throughout the vacation with her valuable safari and photography tips. And Shashwat the 7 year old was super cool, we had lots of fun and an awesome time with him; he in fact is a very good Safari guide too. He knows a lot about animals and wildlife and we certainly learnt a lot from him.

The whole team, Usha, Harish, Rajiv, Remya, Simi, Hari, me and Shahwat
On the 31st, we headed back to India with all the good memories we had in Kenya.

So that is how the year ended with one of the most amazing trips we had! 

The life, stories and discipline of the animal kingdom is something each one has to witness, and seeing each one of them so close not confined within any cages and in their own territory is a once in a life time experience... In fact, I am wrong, its not once in a life time experience, Kenya definitely calls us back for another Safari ! 

Enjoy Some Videos: 

The Lion Walk:

Cheetah doesn't share food !

Buffalo vs Lions

View from Elephant Orphanage :

Experience in Masai Mara

This travelogue is a very short account, to see more stories from the trip, do check out the Google Photos Album.

You can follow Usha Harish through her Website, FacebookInstagram, Twitter profiles for some super awesome wildlife photography pics.