December 2011 Trip to East Africa with Micato Safaris

 

We all have our bucket list and “Africa” has been at the top of mine.  We may be the last generation to see Africa in its true glory and I want to experience its magical sights and sounds of wildlife and tribal cultures while they still exist.  Our first experience with this huge continent is with the very best safari company “Micato Safaris”.  We are exploring East Africa, the countries of Kenya and Tanzania.

Day 1:

We touch down at the Nairobi airport after dark and were met by a representative from Micato Safaris named Thelma.  She greeted us with a warm and welcoming smile and escorted us through the busy airport to our transportation waiting outside. Exiting the airport there was a hint of wood smoke in the thick damp evening air.   We board our small motor coach and were driven to the Ole Sereni hotel for our first night in Africa.  Entering the hotel lobby we are introduced to our tour director’s Kennedy and George, our leaders for the next 10 days of adventure.  They presented us with a Micato Safari hat, our room key, and briefed us on the next day itinerary.  We are introduced to our Safari companions whom we joined for a nightcap and share our enthusiasm for the days to come.  I can’t believe we are really here!  It has been my dream to travel to Africa and I can barely go to sleep because of the excitement.

 

Kennedy and George, our leaders for the next ten days of adventure.

Day 2:

We rise early to avoid the traffic of Nairobi for our transfer to Wilson airport. I am surprised by the amount of people who walk in a city of 3 million people.  I could see why Kennedy wanted an early start the traffic was virtually stopped or moving at a snails pace. There are no trains or subways and traffic is bumper to bumper so many people walk over an hour to work everyday.  There were no paved sidewalks they just walk on the side of the road or on dirt paths worn from their daily trek.  Between the dust and car pollution the air was very stale and foggy.

Busy Nairobi Morning

Nairobi’s elevation is about 5000 feet above sea level, which keeps the temperatures cool.  It was in the high 60’s or low 70’s. These moderate temperatures came as a surprise especially being located so close to the equator.  We are going to board our flight to Samburu located in arid northern Kenya.  The Samburu Game Reserve borders the Ewaso Nyiro River, a key gathering area for wildlife. In addition to lion, elephant, reticulated giraffe and buffalo, it is home to several species only found north of the equator, including Grevy’s zebra and the long-necked gerenuk.

We arrive in Samburu late morning and I am immediately struck by the landscape.  It is not dry and arid at all but very lush and green teaming with birds and butterflies. The air smells fresh and moist.  Immediately after departing the aircraft I notice a tree full of hanging nests and I grab my camera to take a picture of these interesting creatures.

The Weaverbirds nests, Samburu, Kenya

Kennedy explains they are weaverbirds.  The male bird weaves a nest to attract a female.  If she doesn’t like what she sees he tears it down and starts all over again. Amazing the tree was full of them.  Kennedy and George introduce us to our driver Peter. He is a character but very good and great at spotting wild life.  We board our land cruiser with our safari mates and start out on our trip of lifetime!

On our way to Larsen’s Camp over rugged terrain we enjoy our first game drive.  Immediately our bond begins as we cross over the Ewaso Nyiro River enter the Samburu National Reserve. The sign to the reserve reads “Where Nature Defies Itself”, we would soon find out what this means!

Bridge over the Ewaso Nyiro River

This reserve is relatively small at 64 square miles and an excellent scrub desert of thornbush, forest and swamps.  It is located north of Mount Kenya.  The river was very brown and flowing swiftly with water levels higher than normal. The name of the river in Swahili means brown waters.  We are in awe as we soon spot giraffe, gerenuk antelope, oryx and the funny little dikdik.

With each new animal our enthusiasm is contagious and we are all finding ourselves laughing out loud like children with pure joy and excitement.  This is only our first day!

Bird cleaning an Oryx’s ear

Larsens Tented Camp is a peaceful camp right on the banks of the river.  Our tent is outfitted with everything.  Running water, flush toilets, a hot shower and a hair dryer.

 

Our home for the next two nights, Larsen’s Camp.

We have a hot lunch and few hours to settle in before we depart for another glorious game drive where we see even more animals and elephants!   You can smell their scent in the air when approaching a herd.  Kennedy explains they are a brown color because of the very brownish red earth of this region.

We return to camp for cocktails and a lovely dinner and then retire early because we rise at 5:30AM tomorrow for another game drive.

 Day 3

Today we rise early with a wakeup call of “Jambo” and a tray of piping hot coffee delivered to our tent. There is no better way to wake up in the morning.  We set out to explore more of the Samburu area.  We are on a quest to spot a lion or leopard.  While searching we see more giraffe, elephants, oryx.

We spot the blue necked Somali ostrich, martial eagle and ulturine guinea fowl but no cats.

We will be patient as our tour director promises we will see them.  The wet weather has pushed the game to the highlands and so we must explore more high ground.  The laughter continues as we explore the bush.  Back to camp for a hot breakfast a short break and we are off to visit a Samburu village.

We board our land cruiser and head to the Samburu Village on the way one of our safari companion’s spots in the distance two lion’s who appear to have just filled their bellies on a fresh kill.  With blood soaked mouths they walk through the bush toward our vehicle.  Wow what excitement they are females!  They actually cross the road right in front of our vehicle.  They looked exhausted from their feast and ready for a nap as soon as they find the right spot to rest or return to their pride. It was as though we didn’t exist they didn’t even look our way.  My mind is trying to grasp the idea that these lovely animals rule this land.  They are so beautiful and graceful.

The Samburu people are tall and slender like the Maasai people.  They both originally migrated down from the Nile Valley to Kenya and Tanzania about 1000 years ago.  The Samburu live in north central Kenya and their population is located well away from the main areas of tourist and government influence. They are nomadic cattle and goat herders. When pasture-land becomes scarce in this semi-arid land they pack up their small settlements and move to better pastures. Cattle are a sign of wealth and social standing for the Samburu people. They use them as a food source by creating a mixture of the cow’s milk and its own blood.  The warriors prefer to wear red blankets while the women wear beaded jewelry.

We are introduced to the chief of the tribe and his son who guide us through the village and explain the Samburu way of life.  The girls and boys dance for us to show us what they do when they reach the marrying age.  The boys who jump the highest are revered the most.  I embrace their beautiful smiles and the warm greeting we received.  We depart the village watching for game along the way and return to a hot lunch and a short break before our afternoon game drive.

The Samburu Village

Peter heads for the high ground looking for leopard and cheetah.  The road is bumpy but much dryer than down by the river.  We spot more game along the way.  The giraffe are common sights at this point and we continue to look at the rock outcroppings for the cats.  Unfortunately they elude us today.

Next we head for a look out point with beautiful vistas for our first “Sundowner “ in the bush.   We celebrate a wonderful day with a glass of wine while watching the sunset.  This is Africa… an alluring place where we are so lucky to have the opportunity to experience her wild beauty.  Mother Nature decided to end our Sundowner celebration early with rain and we take off in our vehicles again.  Our Micato team did not let the rain dampen the fun.  Kennedy and Peter decided to sing for us on the ride back to camp and our laughter continues, as we are now friends.  We all meet for dinner later at Camp.

 Day 4

The rain continued through the night and we have a change of plans, we are departing early for The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club.  We will be staying there for two nights instead of the original planned one.  Throughout the night we are awakened from time to time by the sound of rushing water.  With a 5:30AM wakeup call we pack our bags and place them outside our tents and head to breakfast.  Leaving our tent in the morning we are amazed by the current and rise in the river.  The river was roaring and overflowing its banks.  It literally had waves that were higher than it’s banks.  Tree’s stumps and all types of objects were passing by with great speed and power.  From the dining tent we literally watched the water rise into the camp and surround some of the tents and buildings.  Before we finished breakfast the water had risen to the dining tent.  We needed to make a quick exit so we could cross the bridge at the parks entrance before it is flooded and washed out.  It was the only way to the airstrip where we were to board our flight to Mount Kenya.

Ewaso Nyrio River “Where Nature Defies Itself.”

After a very bumpy ride over rugged terrain and constantly changing directions because of the rising water we finally made it to the bridge only to see it had already flooded and was not safe to cross.  Our wonderful team from Micato was in the process of a backup plan.  The drivers and guides were working together and talking on their cell phones with the Nairobi office working out a new plan.   As the water continued to rise around us we became restless with the thoughts of how will we escape this raging river.  Finally a decision was made we would drive to the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club rather than fly.  When traveling on safari you must always be prepared for a change of plans.  The new route would be exciting and we all welcomed the change where we would have an opportunity to see more of the countryside of Kenya.  After 90 minutes of detours, our Micato team helping stranded vehicles, bumpy terrain, driving through deep water and muddy gullies we arrived on a paved road.  It was like we had found the Kenya Interstate. Only a two-lane paved road where we passed more herds of cows and goats than cars or trucks, our driver, Peter did a wonderful job. We arrived safely several hours later at Mount Kenyan Safari Club.  As we started our climb up the slopes of Mount Kenya the flat plains gave way to lush hillsides with fertile farmland.  The air was cool and misty.  The Fairmount Mount Kenya Safari Club is an exclusive retreat.

Sunrise on snow capped Mount Kenya

Situated on the slopes of Mount Kenya it has a reputation for casual elegance.  Many of the world’s most famous names, be they royalty, film stars or merely the rich, seek it out as a secluded haven where, although you don your safari gear during the day, you always dress for dinner. Guests can go trout fishing, mountain climbing, go on game drives, horse back riding, play golf and tennis.  Our suite was well appointed with our own living room with a fireplace.  It was the perfect spot to relax after such a long adventure from Samburu.

Day 5

Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa.  It is an extinct volcano and its highest peak is snow covered and 17,058.feet.  This morning we were able to sleep in a bit and we didn’t meet for our game drive until 9:00AM. We visited the 24,000-acre Sweetwater’s Game Reserve, with its magnificent views on a clear day across the plains of Mt Kenya’s two peaks.  This game sanctuary is home to all the big five game, and has the highest ratio of game-to-area of any park or reserve in Kenya. One of Sweetwater’s’ main attractions is the chimpanzee sanctuary. You can take a boat trip through the sanctuary, which is only one square kilometer in size, and spot some of the 26-orphaned chimps that inhabit the forest. Another attraction is a resident tame rhino named Morani.  We spotted many Zebra, baboons, hyena, wart hog, topi, buffalo and waterbuck.

The new birds we saw were marabou stork, hadada ibis, grey crowned crane, secretary bird, and pied kingfisher. Our day ended with a dance during cocktails by a local tribe and a wonderful dinner in front of the grand fireplace in the main dining room.

Day 6

We climbed aboard our Micato Land Cruisers for our ride to the Nanyuki airstrip.  We bid farewell to our driver and friend, Peter.  He was part of the dynamics to our little safari group.  For the past five days he has been entertaining as well as informative and he will be missed.  There is a reason Micato Safaris has been picked as an eight-time winner of “ The Worlds Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter”. Their staff is hand picked and well trained and their attention to detail is unsurpassed.

Our flight takes off for the 50-minute flight to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  We touch down at the Ngerende airstrip and are met by our new driver for the next two days, John.  John is a very kind man with a warm smile and a great eye for spotting game.  He could spot animals in the bush long before anyone else could.  We board our Land Rover and head to the Fairmont Mara Safari Club.  A beautiful tented Camp located on the banks of the Mara River filled with hippos and crocodiles.  Our tent is very comfortable with all the comforts of home including a our own coffee maker, unlimited bottled water, hair dryer, hot shower and flush toilets. We have a lovely front porch with unobstructed views of the river.

The Fairmont Mara Safari Club.

While the river is higher than normal it is not as threatening as the river in Samburu.

The Mara River from our tent

Our porter explains there is a family of hippos that live right below us in the river.  After checking in we take off to visit a Maasai Mara Village.  We are greeted with a welcome dance and the chiefs smiling son.  He explains their customs and traditions as we tour their village and homes.  The day was very cool and wet and it surprises me how they live with constant mud during the rainy season.

The tribe had just moved to this area and they were in the process of building new homes. They use mud and cow dung spread over the wooden frames.  This keeps their homes cool when it is hot and warm when it is cool.

The Maasai Mara Home

I am fascinated their traditions have remained and little changes have been made in these modern times. All of the children do now attend school and I feel their ways will change greatly with the next generation.

The Maasai Mara Village people.

We enjoy some down time after lunch and meet for a game drive in the late afternoon.  The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a northern extension of the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania and has fabulous game viewing year round.  Here we see our first wildebeest and Maasai giraffe, which are a lighter color with a star pattern different from the reticulated giraffe of Samburu. 

 The open grasslands are beautiful with sweeping vistas of game.  The Maasai villages can be spotted in the distance as we drive through the plains and a lone warrior in his red blanket can be seen in the distance watching over his herd of cattle. Our driver stops the car for a closer look at a group of buffalo we can hear the faint sound of cows bells in the distance from the lone warriors herd.  The buffalo is the most dangerous and feared animal in Africa.

They will attack a human for no reason.  How brave these Maasai warriors are to be out there alone protecting their herd with only a small club for protection.
Day 7

Half of our group rises very early to head out on a hot air balloon Safari.  Our vehicle will meet up with them at the end of the ride after we go on a game drive.  We spend the morning searching for a pride of lion’s.  John knows this region well and doesn’t disappoint us in our search.  He finds a huge pride hidden in some bushes and we stop the vehicle and park just a few feet from the pride. We watch the tiny cubs enjoying their breakfast.  This is the “Real Africa” my brain absorbs the sights, sound and smells of the moment.

We return to camp and after lunch have some down time.  Not for long from the inside of my tent I hear a sound that was not familiar.  It was the groan of the family of hippos playing in the river below.  The sound resonates through the camp and I can’t wait to grab my camera and take a look. I filmed and watched them for an hour amazed at how playful and light they seem in the water.  These huge animals move about in the water ever so gracefully how lucky I am to watch them interact.

We meet again for an afternoon game drive and spot a leopard for a second and then loose him.  These cats are very shy animals and one of our safari companions did manage to capture a photo.  What a day, but it was not over our vehicle climbs a huge hill where we meet the others and have a wonderful sundowner party and then take off to another spot where we enjoy a fabulous bush dinner complete with a bonfire and Maasi Warrior dancers.

Day 8

Today we leave our friends in the Mara region, bid farewell and fly back to Nairobi.  We check in at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel a landmark in Nairobi.  It is a welcoming oasis in the heart of the busy city. We meet in the lobby and depart for the home of Felix and Jane Pinto, the owners and founders of Micato Safaris.  They started the Safari company 44 years ago and have hosted many head of states including Mother Teresa.  Jane enthusiastically told us that she and Felix personally hosted the George W Bush Family the week before we arrived at Sasakwa Lodge where we will be visiting next. We had a delightful lunch and visit with Jane Pinto.  Many of Micato’s itineraries to East Africa start with a visit to the Pinto residence where they personally meet the Pintos and enjoy a meal and their warm hospitality.  We returned to the Norfolk Hotel packed our things and shared stories over dinner with our new friends.

Day 9

This morning we head back to Wilson airport for an early flight to Tanzania and the Singita Grumenti Reserve.   The Singita Grumenti Reserve is 350,000 acres located in northern Tanzania on the migratory route of the wildebeest.  It forms part of the Serengeti Mara ecosystem, on the western corridor of the Seregenti National Pak which is Africa’s number One World Heritage Site.  After several touch downs we magically land at the muddy Singita private airstrip. We are met by our new driver Joe and take off in an open air Land Rover and headed to Sasakwa Lodge for the next two nights.  The only member of the Relais & Chateaux in East Africa, Singita Sasakwa Lodge is one of three exclusive properties located in the reserve.  This stone Manor house offers pure luxury, back-dropped by the most breathtaking stage, showcasing some of the most fascinating creatures in the world.  Views of the Serengeti dominate every setting.  After a short tour and afternoon tea we are escorted to our private two-bedroom cottage. With its turn of the century style our home for the next two days was incredible to say the least. They definitely left the best for last.  Entering we passed through a grand entry with a fully stocked bar and small powder room.  This entrance opened to a spacious living room with a wood-burning fireplace, majestic views of the Serengeti and a patio with our own infinity edge private plunge pool.  The decor offered many African influences along with  high ceilings and stately furniture.  The grand master bedroom had an inviting four-poster bed beautifully appointed with crisp linens.  There were touches of wood, leather and glass along with an additional wood burning fireplace and crystal chandeliers.  Dan I decided we didn’t want to leave this fabulous spot but we were summoned to join the group for dinner.  The food, wine and service were superb…. what an exciting day and tomorrow promised to be another great day of exploration and adventure.

Day 10

After breakfast we set out on a game drive and a visit to the other two Singita properties, The Sabora Tented Camp and the Faru Faru Lodge.  We spotted several large herds of zebra and giraffe on our drive across the vast plain on our way to Sabora

The air was fresh and the ground was very wet due to heavy rains over the past few weeks.  The roads were much smoother than the Mara or Samburu regions.  This is a private reserve and they have done a good job of maintaining the roads.  On our way we stopped and visited a school and local village.

The Singita Reserve has made a commitment to making a sustainable difference- with a substantial contribution to its people and the neighboring communities. They have helped to build schools, micro-finance small businesses, supported agricultural initiatives as well as training local people in becoming involved in conservation and hospitality.

Sabora Tented Camp is a 1920s inspired explorers camp located in the grassland of the savannah.

 

Totally inviting with it’s mix of Colonial styles, Persian rugs and local influences. You will feel right at home with brass and crystal decanters atop African antiques mixed in with Maasai blankets and beads.  You have all the comforts of home while in your canvas cocoon.  Lunch was wonderful in our open-air setting looking out on the beautiful savannah teaming with wild life. This is an ideal and most sought after spot during the great migration.

We sadly leave Sabora and head for Faru Faru Lodge but continue to watch for game. Soon there is a herd of elephants grazing in a bush area and we stop to watch in our totally open-air vehicle.  It is amazing how close we are to these amazing animals.  Our driver Joe sees a large bull elephant that he teases by driving forward and backward in our vehicle.  The bull raises his trunk and lets out a loud trumpet warning us to stay back.  He stomps his feet and pretends to charge.  It was quite exciting.

We move on towards Faru Faru Lodge but hope to spot a male lion.  We have not seen a male lion yet and we ask our driver Joe to please find one for us.  We soon see many vultures in the trees which is a good sign there must be a fresh kill near by.  We’re in luck! We spot a male lion next to a half eaten zebra.

It is amazing how nature takes care of itself.  The vultures were waiting for this king of beasts to finish before they were going to have their dinner.  Africa is still so wild …where survival depends on strength and luck.

We arrive at Faru Faru Lodge just before the afternoon rain.  The air was heavy with moisture and the sky was turning dark.  The Faru Faru Lodge offers every luxury for travelers seeking something different and unconventional. The Lodge sits on the Grumenti River where guests can spot animals who come down to drink from the watering holes in front of the lodge. Contemporary pieces are integrated into the landscape where the interiors create a marvelous fusion of rustic elegance and cutting edge design.

We enjoy afternoon tea with the sound of rain all around us relaxing in the open-air lounge as the sun slowly starts to set.  We climb aboard out Land Rover and head into the sunset for Sasakwa lodge for our last night in Africa.

The air is cool and we wrap up in our Maasai blankets provided for warmth in our vehicle.  In the distance we see the last light of the sun with beautiful colors and a huge thunderstorm on the horizon.  There are flashes of lightning and the silhouettes of the dark acacia trees are instilled in our memories.  Will we make it back before the rain?  Who cares this is Africa and I want to experience all that nature has to offer.  Alone on the savannah our vehicle continues until we see the lights of our lovely lodge ahead. We were greeted with warm smiles and cups of hot chocolate as we walked into the lodge.  Tonight we celebrate our 10 days of adventure and get ready to head out for our long journey home.

Day 11

This morning I rise early to try and get some great photos of the sunrise.  The vistas from Sasakwa are endless.  I see the manager Chris on the verandah of the great house greeting other guests who were getting an early start with a cup of coffee before their morning game drive and he explains I should go near the tennis court for the best shot.  He escorts me for a bit and calls on an askari (an armed guard) to follow me as there were fresh buffalo tracks next to the walkway.  Such an untamed place one must always watch out for what may be around the corner.

I was able to get some great pictures and enjoyed the silence and calm of this early Tanzania morning.  Looking out over the Serengeti there was a mix of clouds and clear blue skies. The day was full of promise for those who would remain.  I was trying my best to absorb every last sight, sound and smell of Africa.  Sadly we would begin our journey home after breakfast.

What a marvelous adventure! We saw and experienced so much to numerous to mention it all.  This will not be my last trip to Africa.  I have only seen a fraction of what she offers but for now no longer will I imagine Africa from a feature film or a documentary.  It is deeply rooted into my mind and I have taken away my own personal adventure that will fill hours of reflection for years to come.  Thank you “Micato” we experienced the “Real Africa” you have exceeded my expectations on every level and I cannot wait to return to this fascinating continent!