Safari time! Since we loved our tour with Gate 1 Travel in China we decided to use them again for a safari. We flew into Nairobi and meet up with our travel group. There were about 14 of us split up in 3 safari vans.
Tim and I were paired up with Candy and her mom Elaine. We had a lot of laughs through the week in that van. Sadly, I don't have any pictures of the four of us. Here they are with Tim in the hot air balloon. Oh Sugar!
The rest of the group consisted of Tracey and her two sons Massimo and Giacomo from Jersey (don’t tell the others but these two boys were my favorite travel companions). Giacomo is probably my child in another life with his love of hotel/flight points, spreadsheets, and going after what he wants. We spent hours talking and laughing.
Their van also had Shannon, a super fun woman from Atlanta who loves to travel and will be taking the China tour we did later this year, and Vivian, a woman in her 80’s who has been all over the world but a little hard of hearing. The boys got a few chuckles from some of her actions and statements.
The third van had a family of four from Delaware who were fun to get to know, and Juan, an older gentleman from Peru who has been everywhere and had some of the best stories. He also doesn’t use email but gave me his physical address for letters. I found that endearing.
Off we went heading to Lake Elmentaita where we would stay for the night at the Sunbird Lodge. The lake is referred to the pink last as it fills up with pink flamingos during migration. Tim did some napping while we waited for our evening safari to begin.
That evening we headed off to our first game drive. We drove through Soysambu Conservancy Reserve where it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We drove to the side of the lake with the flamingos and saw so many zebra eating and running through the reserve.
On our way out we spotted a female and two male teenage lions relaxing in the grass. The teenage lions were just starting to get their mane in. They couldn’t care any less that we were parked in front of them watching.
The next day we moved on to the Masai Mara. Francis, or tour manager and driver, warned us the ride was going to be about six hours of which half of that would be on dirt roads full of large pot holes. He wasn’t joking. I think we all got out the van sore and exhausted from holding on for three hours. Regardless, we made it.
We had three full days of game drives ahead of us. The vans hove a top that lifted up so that you could stand up in the van and see over the top. As Francis drove we stood up and tried to spot the animals from vantage point.
The best part of this tour was how well everyone communicated in the game reserve. The vans had a CB radios where the drivers could communicate an animal spotting to the others. It was so exciting to hear something (granted we couldn’t understand Swahili) on the radio and Francis would tell us to sit down and he would rush off. He would never tell us what we were headed to but we always knew it was going to be great. He never disappointed.
We saw more zebra, gazelle, and heartbeest that I lost count. We were also introduced to Kudu (antelope family). They look like they have blue jeans and yellow socks on….or at least that’s how we were taught to recognize them.
We even saw Pumbaa and Shenzi, Banzai or Ed!!
I think the first big animal sighting was an elephant and a baby. This would only be one of many in Kenya and later in South Africa and Botswana.
It was the start of the migration season so we had plenty of wildebeest roaming around. We were told that in just a few weeks all the tall grass would be down to nothing because of the amount of wildebeest coming through the area.
We had some epic lion sightings. Our first big lion sighting was a few mom lions with a half a dozen cubs. We got to enjoy watching the moms guard their cubs, feed them and have play time.
Our second lion sighting was in the bush. There was a lion hanging in the grass. He had a full mane and was just hanging out in the shade. Francis made a few typical “lion” noises to get his attention to look up at us. After a few good pictures we drove off to let him enjoy the rest of his afternoon.
On of the coolest things we saw was up in a tree. Francis got a call on the radio and quickly headed off. We arrived at this large tree standing alone with just one other van at it. Francis made us hunt for it. After finally figuring out it was up in the tree we all spotted it. A leopard on one of the top branches with an extremely full belly. A few branches down was his dinner…or a hooves and hind legs of what was left of it. What an awesome sighting.
So how do you top the leopard in a tree? You find three cheetahs roaming around. They were out for their afternoon stroll and hill sitting.
We also had a bunch of giraffe sightings. We were able to get close to two moms and a little one. We even saw the little one run around awkwardly.
I was most excited to see the hippos. Francis took us to the river where they often hang out. I thought we would see like two or three hippos. Nope, there were at least two dozen in the river. Getting them all in one picture was impossible though.
One morning we got up at 5am and headed out to the middle of the Massi Mara to take a hot air balloon ride. This has always been something I wanted to do. If I had a bucketlist, this would be on it. Couldn’t ask for a more perfect place then Africa. Not going to lie but I did have a small fear of landing in the middle of a herd of wildebeest. No worries, we made it out alive.
When we arrived the basket was laying on its side and the balloon was being filled with air. We had to crawl in and “sit” on the bench and wait for the balloon to fill up with enough hot air to turn the basket ride side up. At this point we can’t see anything as we are sitting in the basket. Before long we were up in the air and told we could stand up and enjoy the ride.
The views were amazing. Seeing other balloons on the horizon, the animals running below us, watching the landscape change as we drifted along.
As it came time to land we had to sit back down and there were two types of landings- the easy one and the exciting one. The easy landing is a simple landing where the bucket lands right side up and the balloon falls behind you. The exciting landing is where the basket tips on its side because the wind is a bit to strong and it pulls us along a bit. We were pretty solid on the easy landing and then before you knew it we were on our side being dragged a little ways. Exciting landing is the way to go. The whole experience was amazing. One of the best things I have ever done!
Our trip to Kenya was so awesome. Of the big five we saw four- lion, buffalo, leopard, and elephant. We didn’t get to see the rhino as much as our eyes tried to. Towards the end everything we saw was a rhino. Wishful thinking. I still had the best time and can’t believe everything we did in such a short time.