Kenya, Tanzania (1989)
We've wanted to go to Africa for a long time although I'm not sure what finally prompted us to make this trip. Maybe it was the movie "Out Of Africa". Maybe it was Jill's enthusiasm following her trip to Kenya last year. Or maybe it was the chance to travel with Ron and Gay Baukol, our favorite southern hemisphere traveling companions, again.
The Baukermans on Safari Lioness
Nairobi. We landed in Nairobi mid-morning on Saturday the 11th of February after an overnight flight from London, dropped our bags at the Jacaranda Hotel and took an afternoon tour out to Karen (Out Of Africa) Blixen's home in the outskirts of Nairobi. We returned for dinner on the veranda of the venerable Norfolk Hotel, which was exciting because of all the books we've read about all the people who have stayed there . . Prince Edward years ago, etc. etc. Very charming, English/American food.
Safari Begins. The next morning we got into a zebra-striped safari van with our driver, the Bauks and another couple, Jim and Cathy, with whom we spent the next two weeks. We drove south to the Tanzanian border and on the way saw our first gazelles, zebra and giraffes with Mt. Kilamanjaro in the distance. At the border we switched to a Tanzanian vehicle and driver. Our driver, Nageeb Mohammed, was from Mombassa and of mixed Arabic/ African parentage. He was quiet, polite and an excellent driver (important given the state of the Tanzanian roads) and spoke adequate English. We liked him a lot.
We drove to Arusha for lunch at the New Arusha Hotel. (We found a lot of "new" hotels and places and always wondered what the "old" ones looked like !?!) Arusha is a very dusty, poor little town with lots of people standing around, lots more trying to sell us things . . maps, jewelry, shoes, hats, etc. Every worker in the stores and hotels were black. Only the tourists were white.
We traveled in a group of two Land Rovers and two safari vans and stayed pretty much together all week . . six people in each. The four-wheel drive cars proved great for getting out of ditches, mud holes, etc. We continued our long, grueling, gravel road drive all afternoon until we finally arrived at the Lake Manyara Hotel, a beautiful oasis on the edge of the bluff overlooking the lake and sanctuary below. During the drive we didn't see much but native villages and arid fields . . no bathrooms anywhere but in the hotels. Desperate people have to use a shed with a smelly, dirty hole in the floor. The natives use the fields.
In the morning we went down into the sanctuary in the lake valley below. On the way down the steep, gravel road we saw our first elephants . . a small herd that had climbed half way up the cliff. We didn't know elephants could climb! The law prohibits the natives from killing wild game but if the animals get out of the parks (not fenced) and onto the farms surrounding the parks and trample the crops, the natives can kill them but must report the kill to the authorities. So, although wild game hunting has been outlawed in Kenya and Tanzania for more than ten years now, there are still a few elephant, lion, buffalo, etc killed in this way.
The Lake Manyara game reserve has a lake on one side and cliffs on the other, so the animals remain in the reserve near the water. We saw many varieties in our morning's game drive and we were thrilled. Lots of zebra, giraffe,impala, antelope, gazelles, hippos and baboons.
Impala Zebras Grazing
Serengeti. After lunch, we headed out for the Serengeti on a long, dusty and bone-jarring ride at top speeds. tThe food, incidentally, in Tanzania was certainly not the principal attraction of the safari. It was simple and basic with a choice of two entrees ie fish, roast zebra, or gnu (wildebeest) stew along with a side dish of potatoes and carrots. We avoided the fresh vegetables, salad and fruit other than bananas but, nevertheless, all of us eventually suffered from "Maasai's revenge" in varying degrees.
The Serengeti Nation Park is undoubtedly the best-know wildlife sanctuary in the world, unequalled for its natural beauty and scientific value. Almost the same size a the state of Connecticut and spanning both Kenya and Tanzania, it has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. The drive through the Serengeti was our first exposure to the vast herds of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest that cover the plains as far as the eye can see and number in the hundreds of thousands. It is a truly awesome sight and suggests what the American West may have looked like in the days the bison herds roamed the plains.
Our lodge (Seronera) in the Serengeti was built into a rocky outcropping in a very creative way. You had to pass through a cleft in the rock to get into the dining room. Some of the animals came very near the lodge. A baboon slept hunched in a tree outside our window and we took pictures of water buck and Thompson gazelles from our room.
We typically made two game drives each day . . . one early in the morning and the second in the late afternoon. We returned to our lodge at noon for lunch and rest during the hot mid-day hours. The very strict anti-poaching regulations required everyone to be out of the park by sundown.
It was in the Serengeti that we saw our first cats . . lions, cheetah and leopards . . . along with bat-eared fox, jackals and lots of hyenas.
Baby Leopard Male Lion Cheetahs
Ngorongoro and Olduvai. After two days in the Serengeti, we headed east to Ngorongoro Crater with a stop off at the Olduvai Gorge. This was Ron's biggest thrill. It was here that the Leakey family after thirty years of "digging" found skulls, skeletons and fossilized footprints proving man's (homo sapiens) existence as much as three million years ago in this valley. There is a small museum with reassembled skulls and bones and casting of early man's footprints. As we looked over the valley, we wondered if we weren't looking into the true Garden of Eden.
Out next two days were at the Ngorongoro Lodge overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater. This is one of the biggest (ten mile diameter) enclosed craters in the world. It has a soda lake and a small fresh water lake and because of the steep walls, the animals born there stay there . . a protected ecosystem that dates back many hundreds of years and another Garden of Eden in its own right. We spent one whole day (with picnic lunches) down in the crater and saw some more wonderful sights . . a pride of seventeen lions lying on the road, elephants and our first rhinos and cape buffalo. A beautiful place, lovely day and great pictures. We hated to leave but finally retraced our route back to Nairobi over the same tough, dusty, pot-holed, teeth-jarring roads we'd traveled at the start of the week.
Back in Nairobi, we had a farewell dinner for Ron at the venerable, old Norfolk Hotel as he departed the following morning for St. Paul and his new job as group vice-president. This left Paul with two wives for the second week. Fortunately, this is still practiced widely in Africa so little note was taken of Paul and his two women.
Tree Tops. The three of us left the next morning with our new, Kenyan driver, Shadrack and headed north towards Nanyuki, Meru and Tree Tops. We passed through Thika on the way where Elspeth Huxley settled with her family. We reached the Outspan Hotel for lunch . . a wonderful old British mansion, near the former home of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. It is a very gracious, almost Elizabethan style with great rolling lawns and wonderful English Gardens (African-style). It is where you leave your luggage when heading to "Treetops" for the night. Then we all - fifty or so tourists - piled into busses for the twenty minute ride to "Treetops". This famous place was built as a simple, two room tree house in about 1910 at a watering hole so hunters could watch the animals coming to drink at night without disturbing them. Many famous people have enjoyed the Treetops including Queen Elisabeth, who stayed there the night her father, King George VI, died in England and so they talk about the night Princess Elisabeth went up into the hotel a princess and came down the next morning a queen.
It is on a high ground in sight of Mt. Kenya. The busses are unloaded down the hill and after instruction from a rifle-toting `Hunter'. . Talk softly. Stay together . . the group walks up to the lodge. It really is still an oversized tree house (rebuilt in 1974). You enter up a wooden staircase and are assigned a `room' . . a cubicle with two narrow bunks. Although you can see the waterhole from your room, most of the viewing is done from viewing balconies and the roof verandah. We were served high tea and soon the animals started their daily trek to the `lake' for water. We saw an elephant, a dozen hyenas and forty Cape Buffalo, numerous water bucks, bush bucks, Grant's gazelles, a bush baby, a genet and a mongoose. Gay and Val stayed up until 2 am watching a fantastic drama . . a band of hyenas attacked and almost killed a day-old cape buffalo while the mother tried to defend it. By morning, the baby was weak but still alive as we departed the hotel and walked down the hill but the `hunter' didn't rate its chances for survival as very high.
Samburu Country. The next day we continued north, past Mt. Kenya (we thought about Jill climbing it last year) and William Holden's Safari Club and crossed the Equator into the Samburu Reserve. This area is close to the Northern deserts and very dry and dusty. I wouldn't recommend this northern leg of the trip (past Nyeri) for older people or anyone with respiratory problems. The dust was incredible.
Just before entering the reserve, we stopped off at a Samburu tribal village. The heavily ornamented people are terribly poor and primitive but they have learned that tourists have money! They separated us and took us into their huts and subjected us to their version of the `hard sell'. Buy something or you can't leave. The huts were built of sticks and cow dung and were about four feet high and six feet across and windowless. We bought.
Masaai Tribesmen Samburu Chiefs with their Wives
The Larsen Tent Camp in the Samburu reserve was probably the nicest and most `jungley' lodging experience of the two weeks. The tent camp is on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River, which is home to crocodiles and hippos and lined by a jungle full of lion, leopard, etc. The reserve is dry and scrubby with only thorn bushes and in the distance, beautiful rocky mountains. By now we were getting so knowledgeable on our animals that we started noting sub-species, for example, Grevy's zebra and reticulated giraffe.
The tents were luxury-style, 10' x 30' with a rear section which included a hot shower, sink/vanity and flush toilets and even terry cloth robes provided for after the shower . . not at all like the camping we used to do. There were large awnings stretched over the tents to keep them cool. Meals were served in the dining tent with white linen tablecloths, silver, candles, a choice of entrees and fine wines. We felt like British royalty.
After breakfast and a swim in the pool at the nearby Samburu Lodge, we watched them feeding the crocodiles at the river's edge. The trip south took us through Nanyuki and Nakuru to Lake Naivasha. These areas were settled by British immigrants and there are still good sized farms. Lake Nakuru, a `soda' lake is home to thousands of pink flamingos and other birds as well as a well stocked game park. Naivasha Hotel on the fresh water Lake Naivasha was a very comfortable hotel with old tiled floors. We had individual cottages with rustic decor and mosquito net curtains on our beds.
I haven't said much about the birds of Africa but they were a revelation in themselves and ranged in size from the large ones - ostriches, vultures, crowned cranes, secretary birds, marabou storks, bustards, eagles, hawks and guinea hens to many tiny jewel-like little birds that caught our eyes as we drove past them.
Maasai Country. The last two days of our Kenyan safari were spent in the Maasai Mara on the Kenyan side of the great plains of the Serengeti, thus completing a giant circle in our two week trip. It was refreshing to be back on the lush green plains and rolling velvet hills. The animals were a little sparser than on the Tanzanian side of the border but this will change with the northward migration of the great herds during the rainy season in March through May.
Keekorok Lodge was another architectural gem in a primitive setting - a central dining and lounge building with nearby pool and the guest rooms in outlying buildings. As we dined in a open patio, the zebra appeared and grazed beside the pool. Early the last morning, I was awakened by a lion roaring in the distance and looking out the window across our patio, I could see wildebeest, gazelle and buffalo grazing on our lawn!
Perhaps the most interesting discovery to us was, not the animals, but the tribal people, especially the Maasai. They are a nomadic people, who live as they always have following their only `wealth', their herds of cattle. They are extremely tall and graceful with fine features and mahogany skin and are always robed in red or ochre cloth. They are a warrior tribe and originally ruled the land from Nairobi down to the center of what is now Tanzania. As the land was settled by the British and later the black Kenyans, the Maasai were pushed south and westward and further restricted by the setting aside of reserves for the protection of the wild animals.
They refuse to be assimilated into modern civilization and live on the milk and blood and occasional meat of their cattle. They don't send their children to school and believe that God (N'gai) gave them the land to live in harmoniously with the wild animals. In some ways there story is not unlike the American Indians of 150 years ago. I hope their story turns out better although it's hard to envision a happy ending. We photographed, bartered with and admired them . . a perplexing enigma!
We got the last of our slides back today and are anxious to show them off. But as great as the pictures are, they somehow can't fully capture the sights we saw . . . the vast herds of the Serengeti stretching as far as the eye could see, the drama of the lions on the hunt, the gracefulness of the giraffes drifting across the open savanna, the stateliness of a red-robed Maasai standing along the side of the road or the majesty of the African landscape. You'll just have to go yourselves.
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