East Africa: Kenya and Tanzania Trip Report

Amcan Travel visits parks and convervation preserves in Kenya and Tanzania, December 2008.

During the 2008 Christimas break, we spent over two weeks in East Africa, half in Kenya and half in Tanzania, mostly stay at tent in camps in various national parks. Our tour group of 15 people included 7 Brits, 3 Irish, 2 Canadians, 2 Americans (us) and one New Zealander who calls London her home now. We set out our adventure with Geoff, our tour guide (a Brit himself living in E-Africa for about 20 years) a local cook and driver. Eight girls of the group posed in front of our truck (photo, half the tour group).

Crescent Island Private Sanctuary (Kenya): It is close to Nairobi with lovely scenery of Lake Naivasha, in the cernter of Great Rift Valley, as a batter scar caused by Mother Earth's attempt to tear Africa in two eight million years ago. This scar is several thousand miles long from Ethiopia to Mozambique. Kenya's portion is fertile in soil, rich in serrated escarpments and volcano towers. We had a guided walk around the island, which is actually a peninsula, saw unique fish eagles (photo, eagle in flight) and a powerful waterbuck (photo, waterbuck).

Loita Hills (Kenya): This is a very remote Masai Tribe village, with very little tourist footprints. We spent two nights here without toilet and washing facility. The locals are warm, hospitable. The chief Moses immediately assigned a couple of his warriors to dig out toilets, patrolling the area and set up 24 hours watch post. Ladies using toilet at night will be accompanied by a warrior with a torch to the certain point, for our privacy. The second day there, three Maasai guides including Moses led us to a 5 hour walk up the hill. It was a hot and steep climb, most of us sweated a great deal, drank gallons of water, while the guides in their celebrated Maasai blanket as a wrap around cloth, wore no hats, sun screen and drank no water. They showed us how to make fire from wood and their machete, identifying herbs for different remedies. The traditional Maasai is semi-nomadic depending entirely on their cattle and goats, plus hunting. Their daily diet includes cattle blood and cow milk. They are tall, dark, slim and very handsome, famous for producing the finest world class Marathon runners. The village women sit around with crafts they made for us to buy and we enjoyed a show of traditional dance (photo, dancing) by their youth and happily joined in at the end. It was quite an experience.

Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya): where Maasai can still live and herd their cattle, but no agriculture allowed, in favor of tourism. This massive area is the most popular wild park in Kenya. We were lucky to have the cabins (photo, nice lodging) in a camp for two nights, with running hot water for shower, toilets and real bed in each cabin. What a treat after Loita Hills. The game drivers afforded us the viewing of massive herds of topis (photo, mother and foal), lions (photo, lion) and a magnificent leopard (photo, leopard) who climbed up to the tree where his kill was (photo, with lunch). The next day, we saw four lionesses and four or five of their cubs ambushing five elands. It was such a fantastic hunting scene (photo, lions on the hunt) to see all four lionesses chasing their preys, that it made us short of breath. We also saw a serval doing his hunt (photo, serval) and a cute jackal licking his nose (photo, jackal). The sunset game drive gave us great view of hippos in the water (photo, hippos), while a vulture and a fish eagle sharing a tree top (photo, two birds). The next morning game drive out of the reserve, we saw giraffes walking gracefully with birds hanging around his chest and back (photo, giraffes), nursing elephants where the baby has to flip his nose up in order to suck on his mom (photo, elephants). Bonuses are hippos out of the water so we saw their gigantic bodies (photo, more hippos) and zebra mom and her baby (photo, zebras).

Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) : This park is most famous with its gnus and zebras semi-annual migration. Due to the global warming, the otherwise past short rainy season never came, thus messed up the animals habituated behaviors. We took a luxury hot air balloon ride (photo, hot air baloon) in the early morning and enjoyed aerial view of vast African terrain (photo, Serengeti from aloft), and caught our truck following us with Geoff popping up like a mongoose from the cab. The balloon company set up a real treat after our adventure - a full service champagne breakfast on the plain. During the afternoon game drive, we encountered a lion couple having sex which was hard to see, quite an eye opener (photo, satisfied lion), a suspending bridge over the river allowed us to take turns to get on it and view two giant crocodiles sun bathing on the river bank (photo, crocs). A few enormous cape buffalos made perfect ending to the drive. Next morning when we drove out of the park to get to Ngorongoro Nature Reserve, we experienced some amazing gnu and zebra migration, where thousand of these creatures lining up, walking slowly but steadily towards north and west towards Masai Mara.

Ngorongoro Nature Reserve (Tanzania) : The reserve includes a giant crater which was a mountain twice the height of Kilimanjaro millions years ago. After the eruption, the new terrain includes a giant soda lake, plus several smaller fresh water lake. The basin created a heaven-like utopia for a lot of animal here who does not even need to migrate for food or water, thus becomes year long, or decade long residents of the area. Out of these lucky guyes, we encountered a magnificent old elephant bull, a famous lonely resident in the area for several years () , we were told he was 60 yr old and will live there for another 10 years or so wondering alone. The drive down to the bottom of the crater was so steep that even our powerful Mercedes 4x4 truck could not do it. Instead, we were into 3 Land Cruisers driven by local guides. Around the fresh lakes, we had extreme luck of seeing a cheetah (photo, cheetah), who seemed to be just getting up in the morning on his way to breakfast. Since Cheetah is very rare to see, everyone in the group got very excited. There are only a few rhinos in the area, highly endangered specie. We saw a lonely black rhino rather far away.

Local culture emersion (Tanzania): Through the local community, we have a guide to lead us to visit Hadzabi Bushmen, who numbers only about 1000 altogether in East Africa. They are true hunter-gatherers in the area for last 10,000 years (photo, archery). It was truly amazing to see them working on their tools, practice. Barbara even learned how to shoot their arrow with the friendly Bushman help (photo, beginning archery) and bought a bracelet made by Bushmen women using quill of porcupines (photo, porcupine quill jewelry). About the only people they interreact with is Datoka people, who lives nearby and are semi nomad, doing some agriculture and some blacksmithing. We visited a local Datoka Blacksmith who makes arrowheads, spearheads, simple jewelry and jingo bells for Bushmen dancing, from scrap metals including old locks. Richard bought all the bells he had on hand. Finally we visited a Datoka family closeby, which includes an old ageless (they don't know their precise age) man with his nine wives with countless children, their wives, etc. The women are lovely with tattoos around their eyes when they come to pubic age (photo, Datoka women).

Amboseli National Park (Kenya): The park is small compare to others in Kenya, but it is unique because its location related to Kilimanjaro and a precious marshland. It is always a toss of coin for visitors to see the complete true face of the highest mountain in Africa since the glaciers on the top created its own weather, and most of the time, the top is covered by clouds. The melted glacier water, through underground tunnels, sips into the marsh in the central basin. It created such a paradise for animals as the drinking hold all year round. We saw groups of elephants, each one ranges from five to six to about two dozens, all walking towards the marshland (photo, more elephants). We saw zebras, gnus, hyenas, giraffes, hippos, gathering around the marshland. The local Masai cattlemen would also drive their herds, walking six hours each way, to get to the water. The global warming has greatly reduced the Kilimanjaro glacier, the marshland is getting smaller every year. The usually short rainy season did not happen and the drought is getting serious. As the last resource of permanent water hole, the marshland attracted so many animals that we were truly outnumbered.