Installment 9 – “It is too close, but I kinda like it!”

Jen: This was Ben’s response when I asked him if I’d parked too close to a group of lions sat under a tree in the Masai Mara. As we talked about the game viewing on our last instalment it seems only fitting to tell you about the finale of our safaris in Kenya. There were a few things we weren’t expecting from the Masai Mara
1) to get stuck on the roads that access the park
2) to get absolutely drenched in several torrential downpours
3) to pull up next to a group of lions and later a couple of
cheetahs with not another vehicle in site

We’d heard many good things about the Masai, in particular how easy it is to see cats (as you know something we’d mainly missed on previous safaris) but I’d also worried that it was going to cost silly amounts of money and that there would be a ridiculous number of cars in the park. Fortunately there were times when no one else was around and it wasn’t as expensive as we’d feared. Some lovely family members also gave us money towards the Masai as a Christmas present so thanks so much to all of you.

The whole experience started with us trying to stay at Talek Gate (one of the few areas where you can camp outside the park without paying the $80 daily fee). What we hadn’t quite realised is that the main roads to the park take you to other gates and you then have to drive through the park to get to Talek. As this involved paying the fee we were trying to avoid of course we didn’t go for that option …. instead we turned off the tarmac roads (also bear in mind we’d had quite a few days of rain beforehand to the point Ben started complaining it was too much like home) and asked a couple of safari drivers coming the other way what the roads were like. We were told “ a bit wet for 1km then they’re fine…”. It soon became clear that the road wasn’t “fine” after 1km, we waited for a landcruiser to pull a saloon car out of a flood and then took as many hints as we could, following him along, bouncing left, right, front and back (pretty much at the same time) through massive holes filled with mud. There was also a pink bus, complete with sofa on the roof that looked like he was going to topple over but somehow managed to make his way along.

Progress was slow worrying we were going to get stuck and we began to think that we weren’t going to make it to the camp in the light. The local Masai people didn’t seem overly friendly and we couldn’t imagine there was anywhere else to camp. Fortunately the road improved and I got a bit too confident that Sally Traffic (GPS) was correct in her estimated arrival time of 18:00 (Ben did tell me not to get carried away)… then we hit a big steep water crossing where the river had just washed the road away. There was a truck stuck in all the mud and we had to go through the water and take a very steep slope of mud up the other side. The disco wasn’t playing and we all recoiled as we heard her slide back onto the rocks in the bottom of the river a couple of times. Fortunately no damage was done. Ben wasn’t perturbed and after a few different attempts and the best part of an hour he managed to get the disco up the other side (we realised in the middle of all this that the diff lock had stopped working hence the difficulty).

We finally made it to Aruba camp just before it got really dark and got chatting to a lovely couple from Germany – Gerrard and Inge who had done lots of travelling across Africa and had lots of hints for us.

The following morning involved Ben getting covered in mud trying to fix the diff lock (which of course he managed) and a massive downpour before we entered the park around midday. Initially I wondered whether the drive was going to be like our earlier game viewing attempts but we met a very friendly mini bus driver who gave us very clear instructions of where to see some lions. Our first glimpse was a massive male, sat there with his mane in full view and looking straight at us. The one other safari vehicle soon disappeared and we had the place to ourselves, we then saw 4 other lions sleeping under a neighbouring tree and you could here them breathing. We turned the engine off and just enjoyed sitting watching them, it then seemed obvious for us to sit and enjoy our lunch at the same time and figured the lions wouldn’t be too interested in a potato salad!

MasaiLion

MasaiLion

After lunch we made our way onwards to search for other wildlife, it wasn’t long before we saw the same minibus driver and we thanked him for pointing us to the lions, in response he asked if we’d seen the cheetahs. We again followed his instructions and it wasn’t long before we saw a group of cars, as we pulled up there was no sign of cheetahs but instead a pile of vultures and underneath the carcass of the cheetahs dinner. We then drove a few hundred metres and Christine spotted the cheetahs lying on the ground, there faces were pink, covered in blood from their dinner, they were breathing really heavily, they had enormous bellies from all the food they’d just eaten and clearly had the meat sweats! The cars disappeared and again we sat for an hour or so just watching the cheetahs and soaking up the whole experience.

MasaiCheetahs

MasaiCheetahs

It was approaching late afternoon when we then saw a couple of hyenas, they ran towards the carcass, the next minute we saw a lion who was limping along, clearly injured with two open wounds that had clearly been made by the antlers of her prey. We followed the hyenas who ended back at the carcass, they soon saw the vultures off, a couple of jackals also tried to get involved in the action but the hyenas were having none of it. The injured lion just lay in the grass and we weren’t sure if she was going to try and take the remains, knowing that she was too weak to kill her own dinner. As all of this was unravelling we looked up and became aware that the whole place had filled up with safari vehicles and there must have been 30+ cars and minibuses all vying for position… we were now in the middle of a Masai traffic jam! As it was approaching time for us to leave the park we drove back to camp, not quite believing what we’d just seen that afternoon.

The following morning we drove for a couple of hours without seeing much wildlife although the open African savannahs were pretty impressive none the less. It was approaching the time we needed to leave the park when another nice mini bus driver asked if we’d seen the 20-30 lions!! We then went on the hunt following his advice and it wasn’t too long before we saw a car pulled up next to a tree, underneath it were 4-5 lions, the tree next to it had 4 or so adult lions and lots of little babies. Each tree nearby seemed to have a group of lions under it and we realised the driver hadn’t been exaggerating when he said how many there were. As we drove out of the park we saw elephants and giraffe in the distance and it was a lovely way end to our whole Masai experience.

Ben – I said I wanted to see Cats (not the musical) and the Masai really delivered, after our unexpected mud bath on the way in, it was great that the experience was so good. It also generated the quote of the trip for me so far, from Jen within the first hour of Masai’ing …. “Look over there on the horizon, animals, animals over there, look………., err no it’s a car……………..Please pass my glasses”

Before the Masai Mara we’d met Chris (my sister) in Nairobi, us girls had a lovely afternoon catching up over lunch and then heading back to her rather nice hotel room for the evening. It all became a bit surreal for me after 3 months on the road. Chris’s room had bed sheets that fitted, a duvet, a hot shower that didn’t flood the bathroom and a toilet complete with a seat! We nattered away whilst looking through fashion magazine she’d brought from home and we watched Come Dine With Me and Nigellas Christmas dinners – all very very strange and it made me realise that I don’t miss the mags or tv at all really.

Ben – This was strictly a girls night in, I had a mad lads night in with the Disco & Cedric at the same Overland Camp we’d use on the first Nairobi visit (Jungle Junction). I went mad and had a couple of beers, but Cedric went a bit crazy and 3 or 4, all he could do the next day was sit on the dashboard! Lazy Cedric.


From Nairobi we headed out to Lake Naivasha, all our fears of not finding nice, affordable accommodation at Christmas were unfounded as we camped up lovely little spot called Carnelleys. We camped right next to the lake and there was a lovely bar and restaurant on site. We had a couple of pretty chilled out days, visiting Elsamere Conservation Centre (the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame) where we had some rather nice tea and cake. Chris also treated us to a Xmas Eve boat ride where we saw loads of birdlife where Ben and my knowledge consists of “little blue one”, “green beaked one”, “pelican looking one” although we did manage to identify the fish eagle as it scooped up the fish out of the water just next to our boat. We then saw loads and loads of hippos and it made for a lovely Xmas Eve excursion.

 

Christmas day consisted of a cooked breakfast from Carnelleys restaurant, some games of cards and backgammon and some chilling out with books before we got the camp fire on the go to cook up our nice fillet steak for Christmas Dinner. We all really enjoyed our dinner, complete with mince pies for pudding.

XmasDinner_Naivasha

XmasDinner_Naivasha

From Naivasha we popped into Kericho and visited the Kenyan tea plantations. We spent New Year in the largeish town of Kisumu where we had a very nice meal and went to an expat type bar, run by a dutch lady for new year celebrations. We also spent a couple of days in some smaller National parks/ reserves in Mount Elgon and the Kamecha Forest where we got to do a little leg stretching, learn about some medicinal plants and saw a lot of baboons and Columbus monkeys. From Mount Elgon we put Chris back on a Matatu (minibus) for her to make her way back to Nairobi before we drove on to Uganda where we are looking forward to experience the white water in Jinja.
Happy New Year to everyone, thanks for reading our blog and please continue to stay in touch as it’s lovely to hear from you all whilst we’re on the road.

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14 Responses to Installment 9 – “It is too close, but I kinda like it!”

  1. Carnelley’s – great pizza and all very close to the hippo. Not a bad venue for Christmas!

  2. Anonymous says:

    haha Masai traffic jam. We had one on the M25. Good blogging. I’ve done nowt today but read it all…………

  3. Congrats on your journey so far!

    I’m planning on doing a similar journey as you’ve done and I’d love your advice. Mine will be a 3-year road trip through all 54 African countries. My dilemmas are:

    1. What kind of SUV/4×4 I should get. I’m leaning toward a Toyota Landcruiser/4Runner/FJ Cruiser or a Range Rover. I don’t want anything so big. What do you think?

    2. Although you’ve only been to a few countries so far, what kind of fuel is the best in Africa? Diesel or unleaded?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Francis
      I’ll state an interest before I start !!
      Our Disco will probably be FOR SALE come September, let me know if your interested.

      We have to recommend the Discovery 300TDI, I considered the Defender, but Comfort steered us at the Disco. Diesel is easier to find everywhere in the world in my experience (Trucks & Buses use it), It’s more efficient which is a big consideration when you know that fuel is 1/3 of your on-road cost. The 300TDI was the last of the non-electronic (very simple) diesel engine Landy used.

      Also its the perfect size for 2 people, you’ll see we have very little on the roof. I find the Toyota’s unnecessarily big, you just end up carrying a load more stuff (weight) you don’t need.

      So far its been really reliable, only the shock mount problems, and that is just bad luck. We met these guys in another Disco 300TDI who have been on the road for nearly 4 years & had very few issues:
      http://catsitchyfeetcom.ipage.com/CaTs_Itchy_Feet/Home.html
      Toyota lovers will tell they are more reliable, but in reality I think Land Rover / Toyota are similar, although finding parts for Toyota is usually a bit easier. Land Rovers are more capable off road in my experience, both here & in the Borneo rain forest (I await a shower of abuse from Toyota lovers).

      Our Disco has been perfect, it belonged to the guy who started Footloose 4×4 for years, so it has all the right bits in the right places.

      Sales pitch over, let me know if you want more info, either about our car or generally, I’ll try to be impartial!!

      Ben

      • Ben,

        Thanks for your great advice. I’ll keep my mind open, but it comes down to what kind of deal I can find in Spain. If a Toyota is a deal, then I’ll go for it. It looks like I can’t lose.

        What do you recommend for insurance? I suppose I’ll insure it in Spain, but I can’t imagine how I can collect insurance if the car is stolen or in a major accident in Congo. 😦

      • Hello again
        We went through the trawl for insurance much like everyone does who plans a trip like this.
        I dont know about the Congo, but we are “Covered” for accident & theft for all our journey through a UK company called Clements, look them up, I think the anual policy was about £700 which seems fair enough, but if we had to claim, who knows what sort of service and payout we would actually get. You’ll have the 3rd Party Insurance debat too at some point, I found only one company in Europe who’d cover this Alesi (spelling?) in Italy, but like most people I didnt take 3rd party cover before we set off, we buy it as we need it at borders.
        Cover for us was the other big concern, we ended up going with “True Traveller”, I cant remember the guys name now, but when I spoke to him, he was the only insurer I found who understood what we were going to do! The premium was also about £700 for both of us. If you want more info I’ll try to dig it out.

        We had considered shipping the Disco back to Europe (spain was an option!!) and driving up to the UK, she is a Left Hand Drive Too! When are you looking to buy your vehicle?

        Ben

      • Francis Tapon says:

        Ben, I’m confused on the insurance question. You had Clements AND another insurance that you bought at each border?

        I need to buy the vehicle in mid-Feb 2013 in Spain/Morocco. I assume prices and selection in Spain is better than in Morocco. You agree?

      • At home you’d have insurance covering “Third Party, fire & Theft & Accident Damage”
        “Third Party” is a legal requirement that pays someone else if you damage them or their property
        “Fire & Theft & Accident damage” pays you if the car is damaged or stolen

        My Clements policy covers only “Fire, Theft & Accident”. They and all other companies (Accept Alessi) I spoke to will not cover you “Third Party” in Africa

        In each country the rules on “Third party” cover are different. In some it is not required at all, in others you can buy a policy at the border. For most of east africa a “Comesa” policy covers you, we bought this in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, you can not buy it before you arrive. It is all a bit confusing I know, hope that helps, let me know if you want more info.

        Regarding vehicle purchase, I guess Spain is a better bet, but dont really know.

  4. Hi Ben and Jen! Just thought you’d like to know that we have set off and are currently driving through France… Thank you so much for all the useful info, we’ve printed out the ferry details – it all looks fab. We’re super excited and have been inspired reading your blog… Thank you.. keep going!
    Harry and Anneka xx

    • Great news that you’re on your way – exciting times ahead!

      I hope all the ferry info is still relevant. I know we printed out info from another blog only to get to Mersin to find it had all changed. From what I’ve heard from other guys following us I think it’s still ok (there is also meant to be a ferry from Mersin now) but I can’t promise… it all adds to the adventure – good luck with it all!

      Happy travels and let us know how you’re doing!
      Jen & Ben

  5. Louise Riding says:

    Hello Ben & Jen,

    I have no news to share or questions to ask. I just wanted to say hello and your trip sounds fab. Stay safe and have lots more fun. Lots of love from the rainy Wirral.

    Lou xxx

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