Lions and more lions. And some close encounters
Day 19. February 23, Thursday
Our departure from the hotel at 10AM was a welcomed change and we were grateful to sleep Ina bit. We drove south towards the capital city of Kigali on very winding roads through the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking, even better than Uganda I think. The terracing of the fields is amazing and the weather like our spring days at home. There are lots of school children walking to and from school, they go in morning and afternoon shifts. The children always smile and wave when they see a land cruiser with tourists.
We reached Kigali and Brighton took us to a hotel near all the embassy's, a very nice area with manicured landscaping and huge buildings. He left us for an hour and a half while we enjoyed a delicious salad bar and two cappachinos each.
Our flight to Nairobi wasn't until 7PM but we went early because of some problems with the reservation. At the entrance to the airport you have to get out of the car and take out all the luggage while they search the vehicle. Our bags were sniffed by a German Shepard and the car has the mirror check underneath .
Cleared to proceed we go to the parking lot and say our good byes to Brighton. We find that we can not enter the airport until 2 hours prior to our flight. There is a guard and a young man there checking to see what flight you are on and a screen telling you if that flight is being called yet. No one gets inside unless they are flying in the next couple of hours.
Arg. I need to speak to rwandair about my ticket. I booked Lana and I 9 months ago through expedia.ca. On Kenya air from Ethiopia to Uganda and then rwandair from Rwanda to Nairobi. Twice they have canceled my flight for no reason. Last night when I went to check in on line I found it had been cancelled yet again!!! I spent an hour on the phone with two different agents and the second one gave me a ticket number and said I was fine, but I want to be sure.
I was directed to a sales office close by and explained the situation to the woman and she stared at the computer screen for about 15 minutes, mumbling to the fellow beside her. Finally I hear the old fashioned printer and she hands me a new ticket number and confirmation and says I am fine.
I asked if I could send my friend over to check her ticket and she begrudgingly said yes
Lana also got a print out with a new ticket number
Finally it is time to go in to the terminal. We go through another complete x ray and screening before heading to the rwandair counter to check in.
The young man takes our tickets and stares at the screen for a long time. He keeps apologizing for taking so long.
Finally our bags are checked and we get our boarding passes. Now we go through passport control, then a holding room until our flight is called. We had a light meal and finally went through another control point. This time they took all Lanas loose camera batteries away from her.
We are in a big room with seats and doors numbered 1 to 6. There are two flights to Nairobi 10 minutes apart, one non stop ( the one I booked) and one that stops in Uganda
We are told to line up, we get on a bus which takes us to a small plane and after I ascend the stairs I ask the flight attendant if this is the non stop flight
No. we stop in Entebbe for half an hour
"Oh. I am on the wrong plane! Lana, we need to get off we are on the wrong plane"
He checks my boarding pass. No you are on the right plane.
" which flight is my luggage on ?"
I argue for about 10 minutes with him that I need to be on the other plane.
Sheepishly we finally take our seats, the entire plane has witness this drama. I figure out that the agent changed our flight and did not tell us. Worst airline ever!!!!!
The fellow sitting beside Lana let us borrow his cell phone to call the hotel to tell them we are an hour and a half later and so not to send the car for 9PM to pick us up.
Finally we arrive in Kenya at 1030pm
Nairobi airport agents checked everyone for yellow fever cards and also had a tv screen showing everyone in line and what their temperature was. If you were over 39degrees I guess an alarm went off.
The woman at immigration took my fingerprint scan on both hands and asked me lots of questions which I had a hard time answering because I was so tired by now. She never fingerprinted Lana or asked her any questions.
Our ride was waiting, we got some Kenya shillings at the ATM and headed to the Troy hotel. The room was so small you had to walk sideways past the bed to get to the bathroom and then stand in the shower to close the door.
But we were so tired we were just grateful to have a bed to lie down on
We are now in Kenya.
Moses from game watchers safaris picked us up at our hotel at 9 am and transfers us to the Nairobi game park entrance where we are met by Gordon our safari driver. As soon as we enter the park we see giraffes and lots of impala. This park is the only one of its kind, a massive wildlife park in the middle of the city. Lots of zebra and different kinds of gazelle but we are on the hunt for Rhinos, the reason we came to this camp. There are over 70 Rhino here, more white than black but a very good chance of spotting one or the other. White Rhinos are grazers and black eat the leaves of trees.
We did spot a lion sleeping at the side of the road and a couple of lioness not too far feeding on what was left of a zebra . They were taking turns guarding it from hyenas and other scavengers. Right now they are full but want to save the rest for later. Lions kill around every 3 or 4 days, but are also opportunists.
Ostrich are mingling with the zebra, the males being the darker ones and females a light grey.
Our camp is in the only one in the park, Nairobi Tented Camp and our hosts are waiting for us with a cold towel and glass of cold juice. We are shown to our tent and then settle down to have a wonderful lunch. It seems we are the only guests at the moment.
Gordon is our driver and he takes us for an afternoon game drive after a welcome rest in our tent.
We found the Rhinos! Two white ones who were eating non stop. They are funny looking animals, ears high on their heads to hear because their eyes are so small they don't see well.
We watched them for quite some time and then they passed right in front of the truck so we were able to get a really good look at them.
It is close to sundown and on the way back to camp we spotted a couple of lioness sitting across the way from a watering hole. Waiting for some unsuspecting animal to come for an evening drink.
Once again we must be escorted to and from our tent , Tonight we sat by the campfire for a half hour before dinner, which again was magnificent.
Gordon drove us to the park entrance after breakfast where we were met by another driver from gamewatchers who drove us to the small airport.
We are flying on a small 8 seater twin engine to a camp close to the Masai Mara. This is a conservatory called Olare Orok. The flight stopped twice on the way and provided great views of animals and landscape of the Maasai Mara.
We are met by James and Joseph from Porini Lion Camp in an open land rover. On the way to our camp we did a game drive and found a lioness with three little cubs, around 3 months old. We watched them play for quite some time.
There are lots of zebra and wildebeest and many with babies. This is calving season. Even baby wildebeest are cute. Wildebeest are one of the ugly 5. There is the big 5 and the ugly . The ugly are wildebeest , hyenas, vultures, warthogs and another really ugly big bird .
James says that God made the wildebeest last and just put together all the spare parts.
Porini Lion camp has 8 tented cabins. We are in number 3 "Simba'. It is quite large and faces the river. The hill on the other side has many animals roaming and we can sit on the chairs out front and watch them.
Lunch was served in the mess tent, there are 14 guests in total. The food is buffet style and very good . The staff is all Maasai. The conservatory paid the Maasai people (initiated by Sir Richard Branson ) and helped them to build fences and segregate their cattle and homes from the animals, as the lions were killing the cows. There's only a few camps in the conservatory and they all hire men from the local Maasai tribes to work in them as drivers, guides, hosts, cooks mechanics and cleaners. Only the guests staying at one of the camps in the conservatory can be there. The camps are so far from each other and so low impact that you rarely see any others.
Ours is run with solar power and compost toilets and is as environmentally friendly as possible
Resting in the tent I heard some banging and movement from the tent next door. A large troop of huge baboons were up in the tree and throwing down fruit to the others who would throw them on the ground to break them open. When they saw me they fell out of the tree on to the tent and used it like a trampoline bouncing a few times and then onto the ground. They are very comical.
At 4PM they call us for an afternoon game drive. While waiting in the 'living room' we see a few cameras on the chairs with two foot lenses that are massive. One woman from the group of 8 comes in wearing complete camouflage clothing with a matching humongous camera and another slung on her belt. These people are on a tour with a fellow from Canada, Jeffrey Wu who works for national geographic and comes here often. Everyone in the group has a camera lens worth more than my house! They are doing photography and a documentary for China.
A young couple on their honeymoon from New Delhi India is joining us in the truck. Driving across the great plain we see so many buffalo, giraffes and lots of animals from the deer family. Dik diks are the tiniest and the eland is the largest.
We are in a land rover now instead of a land cruiser. The land rover can go anywhere, it is like a tank going over huge rocks, through rivers and tackling the deepest mud.
Dark clouds are forming above us, we start to hear thunder and see lightening. In a matter of minutes the skies open up and the rain is pelting down. Joseph and James jump out to put the roof back up and put up the plastic windows . The rain is sideways now but they have fleece lined ponchos for us to put on.
We are sitting near a bush with a pride of lions we have been watching, but even they are finding the rain a bit much and move deeper into the brush. We just stay put until it subsides. They have had a draught until a few weeks ago, and now the rains have come with a vengeance at times . There were many buffalo and hippos that died during this period but now the grass is green again and they have lots to eat.
After some time the rain stopped and we continued our drive. On the other side of the river we spot our lions, they have come out of the bush.
Six cubs around 3 months old, four that are around 6 months and three lioness. They are running and playing, tumbling with each other. They jump on the moms who play as well. The older cubs are quite rough with the little ones but they all seem to be having such a great play time. They are so much fun to watch.
Dad walks out of the bush. He walks with such an air of confidence and superiority. He really is the king. He approaches and acknowledges each lioness. The cubs play around him but he lets them know that he has no time for their nonsense.
He lays down for a while while all the other play around him, running and jumping, and then he stands up and starts to roar. The lioness roar as well, they are marking their territory and letting everyone know they are there.
What an amazing show. We head back at dusk and have a few minutes to clean up before our 8 pm dinner. Our table mates are the young couple we went on safari with and another couple about our age from Norway. We had some great conversation and lots of laughing.
Saturday feb 26
During the night we heard lions roaring and hippos grunting. We still managed to get some sleep and at 530AM we hear
Our tray of hot lemon ginger and honey drinks and some shortbread cookies are being delivered with our wake up call
615AM and we are in the truck with our newlywed friends and head out in the dark to find some excitement. My wish list includes a cheetah with cubs
Joseph our driver is a budding photographer and has had lots of instruction about light and position because he drives professional photographers and national geographic people as well. As the sun is rising he takes us to this tree to catch the glowing sky.
Baby zebras start off with brown stripes and then turn to black. We find a herd of elephant on the hill and watch them for a while. We are looking for a place to have our bush breakfast when the radio crackles and Joseph asks if we want to see a cheetah kill or go for breakfast.
Cheetahs of course.
He races off across the plains and we find a couple of other trucks there as well. There are two cheetahs on their own and one across the road with a fresh kill. It is very hard to see her so we ask to go back to see the two on their own. They are six month old twins and are still fluffy and crying for their mom.
Finally she answers and they race off across the road. We follow
She shares the meal with them and we watch for quite some time until they all seem full.
Now it is our turn to eat and we find a spot on the plains where Joseph and James pull out a table, tablecloth and breakfast foods. It was a great spot and we took our time and talked a lot
Heading to the river after breakfast , a tributary to the Mara, we sat at the edge to see a herd of wildebeest and zebra approach from the other side. The zebra started down but stopped. They spot the large crocodile on the bank.
A few minutes later they decide to cross anyhow, zebras first followed by the wildebeest and many baby's.
The crocodiles are moving towards the herd. One is on the bank and gets trampled by a bunch of wildebeest.
A crossing this time of year is rare so we are very lucky. At the end of the group are a few zebra. Almost to the other side one falters and looks like it is struggling. The croc has him by the leg.
The zebra puts up a really good fight, the croc keeps trying to drown him, but the zebra keeps his head up. He is being pulled down stream now, every once in a while looking like he will break free, but the crock has a good hold on him
We see hippos watching the drama unfold and saying " why aren't the hippos helping him?"
Gaurav ( our Indian friend) says " that only happens in marvel comics "
Well. The hippo charges at the croc and the zebra breaks free. The hippo saved the zebra!!! We were all cheering and so exited in the car, we could not believe it!
Well that was our version
James has a different one. The hippo and crocodile are mortal enemy's and the hippo was defending her baby.
We like our version better
The zebra came up the hill and onto the grass, looking around for her group who is long gone by now. She is in very bad shape unfortunately, a big gash on her leg and her stomach has been torn open
She won't survive and will be easy prey for the hyenas or lions, having to go though all of that again.
It would have been better if she had been drowned by the crocodile, and James says he feels bad for the croc who worked so hard for nothing.
Feeling sad and exhilarated at the same time we make our way back to camp. We stop on the way to watch two topi fighting.
After lunch we had a siesta for a couple hours then back on the road again. Lions and more lions. They are so interesting to watch.
Once again we are woken to our ginger lemon honey drink at 530AM and set off in the dark in the landrover to see what we can find.
A few minutes from camp the radio crackles and Joseph starts racing the jeep across the plains.
" did someone spot something.?"
Hyenas are trying to take a lions kill
Dozens of hyenas are on the plain and also lining the ridge overlooking the lions with their cubs and the fresh kill. A baby wildebeest and a mom ( probably trying to protect her calf so she died as well)
The male is there too so the hyenas are staying their distance somewhat but inching forward. It is pretty hard to watch the lions eating, especially the baby, but this is survival of the fittest.
We hear roaring from up on the hill, then the male beside us starts roaring as well. He gets up and calmly but majestically walks to the top of the hill. We follow him
His brother is at the top with the remains of another kill and is surrounded by hyenas trying to steal his food.
The other lion just lies down close by and goes to sleep. That is all he needs to do to keep the hyenas away. His brother was calling him for backup.
We went back down the hill and watched the cubs and lioness for a while, the sun is rising and casting a beautiful glow over the coats of the lions and the grasses.
On our way back towards the camp Joseph spots the missing lioness from this pride. She has two month old cubs and will keep them away from the pride for a while longer before introducing them . The young ones are very rambunctious and these little ones are not big enough yet to play that hard.
She comes out of the bush with her three little cubs. We are so excited as we have been looking for them for a couple days.
Ash and Gaurav have to catch a flight this morning so we start driving back to camp when we see lions on the side of the hill. They are stalking buffalo. There is a small family with a newborn and the lion has her eye on it.
It was fascinating to watch. The lioness would stalk and then run towards the group but one of the biggest buffalo would charge at her and chase her away. All the buffalo were surrounding the baby. The lion tried a few times then headed back to the hill and signalled another lioness who came down. The two of them stalked and rushed the group, each time being charged by the biggest buffalo.
Then the lions let the buffalo chase them, towards the hill where the other two lions were.
The buffalo were now on their own in a small group and the four lions surround them. They try to get the baby but the adults are not letting them near him
Finally the buffalo ran to the safety of all the other zebras and buffalo and the lions gave up. It was incredible to watch. All the other animals were just standing there watching too.
What an exhilarating morning
After lunch we had a rest until our 2:30 PM Masai village visit. I am not sure how these guys find anything, I would be lost for weeks out here. They seem to know the way, a built in GPS in their brains I guess. We drive through rivers mud and over lots of open plains as well as acacia brush forests
We soon see the small village of rectangular shaped homes inside a compound surrounded by a fence made of branches and prickly acacia tree branches. This is to keep the wild animals out. There are as many openings (gates) as families inside. This village has 5.
We are met by a. Masai man of around 30 years or so who calls himself Stanley, and then his helper who was also called Stanley. They told us their Maasai names but I don't remember them
We paid our 2,000 Kenya shillings ( about $20 usd) and he told us some information about the tribe and this village
The houses are made of sticks mud and cow dung, and built by the women as they are in Tanzania.
Inside there is an area for animals and another area for sleeping and cooking. It was very smokey so I did not go inside.
The men came and entertained us with a traditional dance of rocking forward and back accompanied by low humming. Each young man does a jump, to see who can jump the highest. They are all very good but our guide James was the highest jumper. There are sometimes competitions and the winner can get a bride for free without having to provide a dowry
Lana and I were invited to join them and we had some fun.
I made fish faces to the kids who thought it was fun and tried to do the same. I then played a counting game with them and hi fives which they enjoyed.
Lana was learning how to make fire.
The women came dressed in traditional clothing and performed with some singing and swaying forwards and back
Lana filmed me while I joined them, I tried to figure out the words, the lady beside me was trying to help but she kept laughing so I don't think I got the words right.
Then a woman came beside me and encouraged me to dance, and I complied with a great deal of enthusiasm which had everyone in stitches. They hi fived me at the end. It was great fun.
Now comes the market. All the women spread out blankets arranged in a semi circle with goods for sale , lots of beaded jewelry and crafts. We did not bring much money so i only bought some ear rings and a keychain. Lana bought one of the Maasai necklaces. The prices were fairly high.
Driving back to the camp we were lucky enough to find a 'tower' of giraffes which were great to watch for about an hour. I love to watch them walk and run. They are so graceful
Ten minutes later we came upon a big herd of elephant that included a one week old baby. He was so cute following so close to mom. He was getting really tired and tried to climb up her leg, lying down when ever he could. We stayed and watched them for about an hour as well.
(this hippo was walking past our tent when we came back)
Of course we saw more lions . The male was 'courting' one of the females, following her around and letting her know he was ready, but she was playing hard to get
A juvenile was hanging with the couple but the male let him know he needed to get lost.
It was taking a very long time so we headed back to camp
Tuesday February 28
At 5:00AM a bush baby ( monkey) starts squealing outside our tent and wakes us a half hour before our wake up call
Today we are on the hunt for a leopard. There are a few here but they have been elusive and no one has seen them for quite a while. It appears everyone has the same agenda this morning and we see a few trucks scouring the bushes along the river bed.
A truck from our camp passes us and said they just came from seeing the leopard so we race off towards another area of bush and river. Two other trucks are already there
The two year old leopard came out of the bushes and walked in front of our truck towards some other brush. He is in the hunt position
Behind us we hear a big noise and it is coming from the tiny little Dik Diks warning the other animals that the leopard is near, look out
Soon all the animals are making loud noises letting every know to be careful
The leopard gives up. All the animals have scattered now
Behind us is a large troop of baboon. Quite often you will find a leopard near baboons, they are mortal enemies. Baboon is the favoured meat by these cats and they usually go after the young ones.
We have a large troop of baboon at our camp so I ask the question. Yes there is another leopard who lives very close to the camp
The cat moves on through the bushes and it takes us some time to find him again, he is camouflaged so well.
The baboons are still hanging around and finally one of them spots the leopard and calls to the others.
Six or seven baboons surround the leopard and a couple of them are huge. They are taunting him.
The cat does not move a whisker and lays perfectly still, playing dead almost but ignoring the baboons and not rising to the challenge
He would lose
Baboons are ruthless and will rip apart another animal quite easily, the leopard is quite outnumbered.
Eventually the baboons leave, the cat stays still for a while but then gingerly makes his way to bushes on the other side of the field, keeping an eye out for the baboons. We see that he has a nasty gash on his stomach, most likely from his last kill putting up a fight.
James said it could most likely have been a wart hog.
A table and stools are set up at the side of a river and we enjoy fruit, little pancakes and toast while watching the hippos
More game viewing and back at 1pm for lunch. There are a number of nurses and doctors from the USA who come every year to volunteer at hospitals and are taking some r and r before returning home
The wait staff are wonderful and very attentive to my no meat fish or egg requests. They also joke around a lot and we have great fun.
This afternoon we did not want to do another game drive but just relax at the tent and catch up on my writing etc. The boys insisted however so we compromised on a short one, 5:30 departure instead of 4. We wonder if maybe they get paid by the game drive so we don't want them to lose out.
It seems to rain every day around 6pm and today was no exception. It didn't last long however and there are fleece lined rain ponchos in the truck to bundle up in
Hyenas are a very ugly animal, but even baby hyenas are cute. We found two little ones on the way
'Fig' is a female leopard and quite famous in this area. She is six years old and the mother of the one we saw this morning. Right now she is moving a lot to keep distance from her son who has just been sent off on his own. Leopards are solitary animals and leave their young when they reach two years.
We find Fig in a tree just hanging out. She is keeping out of the rain. We watched her for quite some time and she eventually came down and walked for about 10 minutes to another tree where she had the remains of a kill from the morning.
Leopards are quite small, smaller than cheetahs. We hung out with her until it got dark, had some snacks of cashews and home made potato chips and then headed back to camp.
Even baby heyenas are cute
The sky is a light show with the lightening brightening up the black horizon.
Dinner was great at usual and the conversation interesting with the many guests from all over the world.
After dinner we had a dance performance by all the camp staff, 12 of them, dancing singing and doing the jumping. It was a wonderful last night
2: 30AM I woke from a deep sleep to hear something big walking across our plastic patio on front of the tent. Then a loud roar.
Lana is awake too and says. "Those are lions"
They are right outside our tent, there are at least two of them. One has a loud roar and the other a softer one. A male and female I think
This goes on for about an hour. We can hear others roaring in the distance,. These ones are calling them
Then it is quiet. We know from watching the lions over the past four days this means one of two things. They have left or they are lying down in front of our tent
I realize now that I did not ask about night security. We are one of three tents that are far from camp. Is there a guard nearby?
I was just dozing off when I heard a loud trumpet from an elephant, followed by a lions roar (yes they are still here)
Lions roar in the distance and then the ones out front answer. More elephants trumpeting.
This went on and off all night till 5:30AM. I dozed in between.
This was our morning to sleep in ! We decided against a game drive in favour of more rest, but it was not to be. The game drive came to us
Then came the hippos, very noisy and hyenas squealing
At first light we looked out of the tent. The elephants are standing on the edge across the river. No sign of lions, but that does not mean that they aren't still there
Out hot drinks came at 7 which we enjoyed outside on our patio. We could see the huge paw prints on our patio.
Patrick the manager of the camp came by with one of the VIP guests to show him where all the action was last night. The entire camp could hear it. He told us that an elephant gave birth and the lions were after the newborn. The hyenas were after the placenta.
What an adventure!
Breakfast was all a buzz with the excitement of last night
On the drive to the airstrip we detoured to see the newborn. So tiny ( for an elephant) three of the adults would surround the baby and travel in a tight circle with him in the middle at all times. They are nowin an open field and there are 10 or more elephants in the herd as well. The baby can hardly walk, wants to lie down and rest all the time, tries to nurse once on a while
What an amazing last day send off. This is the most exciting trip I have ever had that is for sure.
In the Nairobi airport now waiting for our flight to Europe. Doing this quickly as we didn't have internet for a week so probably lots of typos and maybe some pictures are out of order.
click here for video
here is a video of my safari