Week 38 – Nairobi and the Masai Mara

I have finally made it to Africa! I am writing this post over month late so some of the details are lost a bit, but I think I can capture the main events pretty solidly. I decided to do a group overland tour in Africa because I thought it may be harder to get around on my own. There is not a solid hostel system and public transport isn’t as easy. I went with a company called Absolute Africa and I think I made a great decision. They are a budget company and the group has been between the ages of 20 – 53. You camp every night and everyone has rotating jobs like cooking, washing dishes, security, and cleaning the truck. Many of the safaris are included, but you can choose your own adventure from other activities you would like to do.

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Our truck Shaggy

I made it to Nairobi around 3pm after a stopover in Dubai. I applied for my East African visa and headed out to find my cab. I was staying at Wildebeest camp and so I had asked for them to provide transportation because I read that many cab drivers do not know where it is. The camp was about an hour and a half drive in traffic. When we arrived, I was exhausted. I went straight to my bed and got in for a short nap. I met an Australian girl named Sophie in my room who was really cool and we hung out for the first couple of days. She had just finished a similar trip to mine with G adventures, but she went the opposite way and did not do Uganda and Rwanda. So, she told me all about the trip and what to expect. We had dinner together the first night and then I headed straight to bed.

My dorm at Wildebeest Camp

The following day I was equally as lazy. I have been on the go so much that it was nice to take it easy. Basically my time at Wildebeest Camp was spent working out, blogging, reading, and watching the Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which really messed with my head and made me into an insomniac. While I was home, I had emailed my group to say hello and see if anyone else was arriving early. Some of them were there the second night, so we all met up for dinner. There was a couple Kylie and Cole from the UK (well Cole is actually from Zimbabwe, but they live in London), Agi and Joe from the UK, and Annie from New Zealand. After the first night I was so excited because everyone was so nice!

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View from the restaurant at Wildebeest Camp

My last day was equally as lazy. I spent the day talking to the people in my group, bird watching, and working out. That night, we all ordered Domino’s Pizza and sat around the fire eating together. We spent the whole night laughing and I knew this trip was going to be great. That night, our room filled up with others from our trip who we would meet the following day at breakfast. Our tour started out with only 11 people, but we were told our number would double in two weeks. The rest of my group were Kirsty, Ai-Lynn, and Freya from the UK, and Holly and Chris from Canada and Belgium respectively. They had met traveling in Venezuela and now were engaged.

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Mansion at the Giraffe Park

Our first day we were picked up at Camp and taken to the Giraffe Park. This is a type of reserve for giraffes and many live there. Here, you can go up into the tower and feed and pet giraffes. There is also a beautiful mansion on the property where you can stay, but it is very expensive. I had looked into it because I had seen pictures where the giraffes stick their heads in while you are eating breakfast and you can feed them from your room. Obviously, we did not do this, but we did get an opportunity to feed them and take some great pictures. The cool thing also was that if you put the pellet of food in your teeth they would eat it out of your mouth and give you a “kiss.”

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Feeding Giraffes at the Giraffe Park

We even went to a presentation on giraffes here and were able to hold some of their bones, which are so heavy. Also, did you know there are 3 types of giraffes? There are the Reticulated, Masai, and Rothschild’s giraffes, which you can tell my the types of spots and whether or not they have whit socks.

Giraffe Park in Nairobi

After the giraffe park we went to the elephant orphanage. They only open for one hour every day, but this experience was worth it. This organization finds orphaned elephants in the wild that have been abandoned, lost, or their parents have been killed. These elephants would not survive in the wild without their parents, so this organization takes them in. They feed them, take care of them, and teach them to be wild elephants. The elephants are grouped together and become familiar with each other so that when they are released back into the wild they have their own herd together to help them survive. They have a high success rate with this program.

So, we were able to see feeding time with the elephants. We saw two groups of the really young elephants aged from 1 to 3 and a half years old. They were hilarious! They ran down in groups of three of four and when I say ran, I mean they literally ran. When they arrived the handlers fed them  milk out of these huge bottles. Then, they just played with each other. They rolled around in the mud, pushed each other, drank water, or chased each other around. It was like watching a bunch of toddlers play and it was adorable!

After the elephant orphanage we went to a supermarket for our first shopping trip to buy food, tupperware, and pillows. Then, we drove out into the Karen region and went to our first campsite. Our guide’s name is Derek and he is from Ireland and our driver in Angelo from Tanzania. They are amazing! Angelo has to be one of the nicest human beings on earth.

Derek did our orientation meeting where he told us everything to expect from the tour and showed up the trucks and how to set up our tents. We ate dinner at the campsite that night and were all trying to get know each other. He assigned us tent mates and mine is Freya. She is 23 from the UK and she is awesome. I really lucked out getting her and we get along so well. I do feel bad for people who have their tents near us because we stay up giggling most nights.

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My favorite elephant at the orphanage

The following morning was our first official day on the truck. Our truck is named Shaggy. The truck is really cool because its not like a coach bus where all the seats are in pairs and face forward. Our truck has 5 sets of 4 seats that are little pods that face each other. We have a table where 4 people can sit and only 4 seats in sets of 2 facing forward. There is a fridge where we can keep some of our food cold and also a cooler to keep drinks cold. We each have our own locker under our seat where we can keep our personal items and just had to bring a lock. There is a stereo and charging system at the front and even storage for all our sleeping bags. Under the truck we store our bags, tents, mats, cooking supplies, and cook food. It’s a really amazing set up!

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View from viewpoint overlooking Nairobi

Our first stop was a viewpoint over Nairobi and the surrounding area. We saw a couple of the volcanos in the distance and watched the sun rise and light up the valley. Here was met locals and chatted with them a bit and just stretched our legs.

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Holly and Freya ready for our first game drive

Our next stop was a Masai village for lunch. Masai are a local tribe that reside in Kenya and Tanzania. We had lunch right off the truck and it was a beautiful sunny day. We had the option to pay $10 and get a village tour, but I opted out because I knew we would have another chance near the Serengeti. Instead, I pulled out my frisbee and we were throwing it around. This drew out a lot of the Masai children and we were teaching them how to throw a frisbee and it was really fun. Joe had even pulled some of the older ones aside and was starting his own little elite Masai team.

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Our Masai driver George

Then, we all piled into 4×4 vehicles where the tops were pulled back and so we could stand up inside of the vehicle. We were off to explore the Masai Mara, which is the most famous game reserve in Kenya. Our driver was named George and he was local Masai and really cool. He had huge holes in his earlobes and they dropped down really low. Also, another fun face about Masai is that the higher you can jump as a man, the more wives you can have.

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My first Topi sighting!

As we were driving up we were already seeing lots of wildlife and we weren’t even in the park yet! We saw lots of gazelle, impala, and even my first Topi. A topi is a type of antelope, but it has really cool colors and a really strong body. It’s now my favorite type of antelope. Finally, we made it to the park for our first game drive! Right away we started to get really lucky! We saw some beautiful giraffes, more antelopes, and lots of zebra.

Very soon into the drive we saw our first lions! We saw a female that was under the tree with a dead zebra and she was panting really hard. It seems at though she just killed the zebra and dragged it there and was waiting to catch her breathe to start eating. We didn’t get a good picture of this because she was back in the bushes, but as we drove on we saw another female across the street waiting.

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Photo we took of this same lioness eating later on

As we drove on we had a lot of other cool finds as well. We found two families of elephants. At the start of the drive we saw about 6 elephants around which were feeding. There were a couple of toddlers as well and they like to play in the trees. A notable thing about this was that I saw my very first what the Masai guide called a “5 legged elephant.” It was pretty crazy because he was just dragging it along on the ground.

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Later, we saw a female elephant with a toddler and an infant. The little one was so small! I don’t think that she liked how close we were to her children and she growled at our car a little bit. Yet, the little ones were so cute following after her and playing around with their trunks.

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Family of elephants

About halfway through our time, our guide looks out into the distance and asked for binoculars. He looks for about 2 minutes then we take off really quickly. He tells us that he thinks he see another lion across the river. So, we drive for about 15 minutes (I still have no idea how he spotted lion from so far away). We arrive and we find 3 lionesses with 5 cubs. The cubs were playing and then they all went over to one of the females and started to suckle. It was really adorable!

After, we went on a look for rhino and we found some African buffalo. All the buffalo had yellow-billed oxpecker on top. Birds like to stand on buffalo or some of the other animals and eat the bugs off. Speaking of birds, African birds are just so cool. Many are really colorful, they have really great mating dances, and many are very large. Towards the end of the day we saw red collared widow birds jumping up and down in the high grasses as a mating dance. We saw crowned crane, saddle-billed stork, and Kori bustard which are all large beautiful birds. We also saw a black-chested snake eagle and vultures in their nest. The final huge bird was saw were ostriches, which were much larger than I expected.

On the way out of the park we had one of the most amazing viewing experiences. We passed again by where the lioness from the start had her zebra. At this point, across the road was a lioness watching over 3 lion cubs who were even smaller than the cubs we saw earlier. They were hilarious chasing each other, jumping on each other, and even trying to chase down some unsuspecting helmeted guinea fowl. I think the lioness wanted to bring the cubs to eat on the other side of the road, but the cars were in the way. On the other side was a lioness eating the zebra that was caught earlier. You could hear her ripping at the flesh and breaking the bones. It was a crazy sight to see! To add a little comedy to the situation, when we looked at photos we saw that she was cross eyed.

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The three tiny lion cubs that were playing

Nearby waiting for the lions to finish eating were two vultures and even a silver-backed jackal. Jackals are really adorable and remind me a little bit of foxes. Then, when we didn’t think the day could get any better we saw a couple of hyena on the way out of the park. It was an amazing day!

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Jackal and vulture waiting their turn for the kill

The following morning we woke up early and had another game drive in the Masai Mara before continuing on. Right at the start of the drive we saw the same 3 lionesses with the 5 cubs from the day before walking around. The cubs were playing and our driver went off road to get right up close to them. Then, Cole looks off in the distance and sees a Cheetah on the horizon, so of course we race over there.

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Lion with cubs in the early morning

We saw a lone male cheetah just roaming around the plains. We even saw him take a pee. We were so close and we could see all of the muscles in his back. Cheetahs are gorgeous animals!

After, we headed over to the river to see the hippos. We found two huge families of hippos! Our guides even let us get out of the car and go sit on a log close to the river. We found out later that we were not supposed to do this, but we didn’t know that at the time. Hippos are aggressive animals, but they don’t leave the water during the daytime because they are really prone to sunburn. So we just watched and listened to the grunting noises and watched 2 adolescents play fighting. There were even babies!

Then, I saw a male continue to look at us and start to get agitated. Then he started coming out of the water really quickly and I freaked out a little because he was close and was starting to charge. So, I jumped off the back of the log really quickly to try to get back up the hill. Well, I jumped into a bush of thorns and ended up ripping the bottom of my pants and cutting myself up. Also, the hippo had only mock charged and he was already back in the water. So, I ripped my pants for nothing, but I would rather that than get charged by a hippo.

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Kirsty and I on the log near the hippos

Finally, on our way our we saw another cheetah that was walking along the road. It was a female this time and we saw her starting to stalk something. I think it was impala in the distance, but all we saw were some crowned crane. She got low ready to charge, but we really bothered by the noises the crowned cranes were making so instead she just laid down in the grass. The Masai Mara has been one of our best game drives and I highly recommend this park to anyone!

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Our second cheetah spotting

After we left the park, we came back, packed up, and then drove the rest of the day to Lake Naivasha. We arrived around 5pm, worked out, showered, and then ate a local dinner in their restaurant. It was an amazing first week in Africa! 

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African sunset

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