Kenya (15) – Maasai Mara

Our last day on the Mara, and for Mum and I, also the last day of our safari. In order to make the best use of the light, we set off from camp a little earlier this morning, so that we could get into the park as soon as it opened.

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We drove down to the river, where we found a huge pod of hippos, all grunting away, just like we heard at the start of our trip, when we were staying in Tsavo.

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We stayed a little while with the hippos, and then headed off in search of cats and other excitement.

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Driving through the long grasses, I was amazed when we saw the sunlight glinting of a large shiny body in the grass… could it possibly be? Yes, a hippo, quite a long distance out of the water. As soon as the hippo saw us, he did exactly what hippos are supposed to do in such situations and ran towards his safety zone – the river. A very good demonstration of why you don’t want to get between a hippo and the water. I didn’t really manage to capture the speed, but it was faster than you might expect such a large animal to move, and he soon disappeared.

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Continuing on, we ended taking an enforced stop in the middle of nowhere specific for our breakfast, as the other LandCruiser got stuck. After unpacking the blankets and breakfast, our LandCruiser was called upon to tow the other one out.

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Meanwhile, the rest of us used the opportunity to have a bite to eat, and to photograph the zebras.

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Just when I was beginning to think that we were going to have to head back to camp, without a single cat sighting on our final day, we struck lucky – we saw a vehicle ahead, stopped by a pair of ‘honeymooning’ lions. The pair were totally unperturbed by our presence, and got down to business as if we weren’t there. The female was definitely leading the show, after resting for a few minutes, she’d get up and the male, rather resignedly, would follow.

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As if to fit in with the theme of procreation, after moving on from the lions, we came across a couple young animals – a suckling zebra, and a newborn gazelle. If yesterday was a day where we came face to face with death, today was the day for new life – a wonderful note on which to finish our safari.

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Back at the camp we took lunch before heading off on the long drive back to Nairobi. After about 5 and half hours of hard driving we dropped off the main group back at the airport, before returning to the city centre to our hotel, for our last night in Kenya.

Kenya (14) – Maasai Mara

Our second full day on the Mara started out with a pair of Grant gazelles locking horns, just inside the park boundaries.

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We also had a lovely view of the sunrise hot air balloon rides… so much more fun to be in one, though!

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A new bird sighting, in the form of a pair of Kori Bustards, believed to be the heaviest birds capable of flight. They’re certainly rather large and solid looking, but we didn’t see one in flight to prove it!

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We haven’t seen all that many buffalo since we left Tsavo East, but there were one or two around today. This one looking rather grumpy.

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I continued trying to hone my running gazelle shots, and we also saw a group of mongooses (yes, that really is the plural, I checked!) Like the ones we saw at Satao Camp, they didn’t hang around long and quickly vanished into the long grass.

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We stopped for breakfast by a river, in a beautiful spot that afforded plenty of photo opportunities, both of the landscape, and fellow travellers.

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Continuing on and my resolve not to photograph any more giraffes was broken again, this time by a courting pair. The male was looking very affectionate, but the female didn’t seem too impressed by his advances and they went their separate ways.

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After the giraffes we came across the first decent sized herd of elephants we’ve seen so far in the Mara, and again, my intention not to take too many photos of animals we’d seen a lot of already was tested, this time by a young calf, and a pair of youngsters sparring.

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We followed the elephants after they wandered off and found ourselves in a grassy area filled with topi and gazelles. Where there were mounds, there were topis on top of them – a curious sight. In this photo there are a number, but most often we saw one topi per mound, dotted around the landscape.

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Our next sighting was rather less pleasant – we followed a large number of vultures to where they were feasting on a dead elephant. There were huge numbers of vultures with more constantly flying in, and squabbling with each other. Every time the wind direction changed we were hit with an awful stench. It was a sad sight, but a good reminder of the vital role that vultures play, and that nothing in nature is wasted.

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After the vultures, something completely different – we came across a small group of hyena cooling off in a little waterhole. One of the hyena was particularly bothered by flies, and kept submerging himself in the water to get some relief. Each time he emerged he shook himself vigourously, to the sound of 10 camera shutters on motor drive.

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Lunch, and then another lone elephant sighting – this one took exception to the presence to our other vehicle, who appeared to be sitting on his preferred path. After a disgruntled shake of the head, the vehicle moved, and he continued on his way.

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We had a number of bumpy river crossings today – fortunately we managed them all without getting stuck anywhere.

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We spent quite some time along the river, finding first some hippos and then, we surprised a crocodile. We pulled up along the bank and a giant croc slid quickly from the bank down into the water. Just about 10 feet away, we found a second croc, this one sleeping and totally undisturbed by our presence. He was huge, and had a massive thick tail and huge feet to boot. Whilst we were photographing him, we were joined by another vehicle, who started asking us all sorts of random, and dare I say, dumb, questions about our cameras. The cracker, though, was when their guide was telling them about the crocodiles catching wildebeest during the river crossings during the migration. One of them piped up ‘so, do the wildebeest ever eat the crocodiles?’.

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Our sightings after the crocs leaned more towards the small, cute and cuddly in the form of a hare, and a nest of bat eared foxes, in the middle of the track.

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It was beginning to seem that the only thing we weren’t going to see today was the big cats, and certainly, trying to find them in the long grass is a challenge.

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Our two vehicles split up, and suddenly our guide and driver started talking together excitedly, and scanning the grass. In all the Swahili, I picked out one vital word – simba, or lion. Sure enough, we found a track through the grass, and started heading towards a lone tree. At the bottom of the tree was a lioness with a kill. There we were, with no other vehicles in sight, with our very own lion sighting.

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As we approached the lioness who was resting against a log, she stood up and started walking towards us. I was photographing through the lower window, and she walked right towards me, stopped at distance of about 3 feet, and lay down, taking advantage of the shade provided by our vehicle. I really felt like I could have reached out and stroked her – an amazing experience, a lioness so close by that you have to use the wide angle lens to photograph her!

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Eventually, after letting her cool of a bit, we moved the vehicle around so that we could photograph her in the beautiful evening light.

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She obliged us for a while, before walking off over to her kill, a topi, and having a bite to eat. Her stomach was already very round and full, so where she found the room I have no idea. (If you don’t want to see the pictures, I suggest you abandon this post now, or scroll to the bottom…)

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Because we stayed a long time with the lioness, we found ourselves racing the clock to get back to the park gates. It turned out that we were a long way from the exit, and we only reached the park boundary about 45 minutes after the park is officially closed. It has to be admitted that we did stop on the way to watch some sparring topi and photograph the sunset.

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Kenya (13) – Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara certainly lived up to its big cat reputation today.  After driving around for a couple of hours, and taking in the zebra, impala and giraffes, we were called by the other vehicle to a cheetah sighting.  Four cheetah – three males and a female, snoozing by a small waterhole.  They were very comfortable in the long grass, which made it rather difficult to photograph them without stray pieces of grass in front of their faces.

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We stayed and watched them for about half an hour, our attention to the cheetahs only broken when another vehicle got itself stuck in the thick mud, and could only be moved by being pushed by our other Landcruiser.  It took a few attempts and a lot of burning rubber to get them out.

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After the cheetahs we found ourselves a nice picnic spot for our breakfast, under a tree housing a couple owls.  I managed to get one quick shot before they moved.

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We’d hardly been going anytime before we found the one thing I really wanted to see, but barely hoped to – a leopard!  The leopard was doing exactly what the script said it was supposed to – resting in a tree with its legs and tail hanging down.  After a little while it got up and we thought we might see it leap down from the tree, but instead it jumped to a branch on the other side, a move which I unfortunately wasn’t quick enough to capture.

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The leopard looking like it wasn’t going to move again for a while so we drove off to another tree, where our guides had spotted a leopard’s kill hanging.  Can you imagine how surprised we were when we not only saw the kill, but a second leopard lying down nearby in the grass?  It’s unusual to find two leopards so close together, opinions as to whether it was a mother and young adult cub, or a mating pair were divided.

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Whilst we watched the leopard stood up and slowly walked up to the tree where the kill was hanging, and then climbed up the tree to lie down near it.

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We left him hanging there as though he didn’t have a care in the world, and carried on, stopping to photograph the occasional lilac breasted roller, and an elephant standing in the tall grass.

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For our lunch break, we picked a nice large rock, sheltered under a tree, with a view onto the large expanses of grasslands.

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After lunch, during the hottest period, we came across another pair of cheetahs, taking shelter in the grass.  They didn’t seem to have any intention of getting up to much action, so we left them there in peace.

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Some more sand grouse along the way.  Whilst we were watching we saw an interesting bit of behaviour – one of the grouse suddenly fluffed up all her feathers, and then rolled over onto her side.  She only stayed that way for a minute before getting up again and wandering off.  Whether this was supposed to be a bit of playing dead distraction behaviour, I’m not sure.

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Another giraffe on the distance, and as we slowed, I made myself promise that I wouldn’t take more giraffe photos, having so many already.  No sooner did I make decision then we came close enough to see that it was a mum and baby, the baby being so young it’s umbilical cord was still there.  Of course, there was no way that I wasn’t going to photography a baby giraffe!

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Leaving the giraffes, we finished our drive back with last night’s pride of lions. They were scattered about in the trees, mostly resting, but with some of the cubs finding the energy to play despite the heat.
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One more stop for a crested crane, and we went back to camp, where they’d set up a campfire for us. Unfortunately, I was the only person to enjoy it as everyone else went straight to the bar. Whilst I waited for them not to turn up, I had a nice chat with a couple of the staff, and my own private bar!

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Kenya (12) – Maasai Mara

On the road again early this morning. We arrived at the airport at about 6.30 where we met up with Chris, wildlife photographer and our tour leader, and met another of the participants.

We had a bit of a wait for the rest of the group – Arie arrived in from Amsterdam on time just after 6, but the flight coming in from London was delayed by about an hour. We quickly came to the conclusion that Nairobi International Airport isn’t the best place to kill time.

Eventually the whole group was assembled – 9 participants in total, and we filled up the 2 LandCruisers and set off for the Maasai Mara. We had one brief stop at a viewpoint over the Rift valley, where we were hassled by locals to come and look at their curio shops, and then we continued the journey.

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The journey ended up being longer than expected – about 7 hours in total, and we were all very relieved to arrive. As we’d been warned by someone we’d met in Amboseli, the last couple hours of the journey were along a very potholed road, thanks to which we had to make an unscheduled stop to replace a tire. For me that brought back memories of my time in Namibia, especially the rather painful moment when a side panel, along with the jack, fell off the LandCruiser and landed on my toes.

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We’re staying at a tented camp again, albeit tents with beds and showers! We didn’t waste much time settling in, but ate a quick as we could lunch (hard to make it fast when every meal is 4 courses!) before going out for our first game drive.

At the start of the drive we came across many of the critters that mum and I had already seen, so I did my best to restrain myself from pressing the shutter. One thing I did have to capture though was a bit of warthog mating!

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We drove on, and very quickly came across a huge pride of sleeping lions – 5 females, 3 males and 11 cubs. We sat and watched them until the sun went down and we had to leave the park. When we arrived the cubs were being babysat by a couple of the males, but slowly the females arrived back, and were greeted by great excitement from all the cubs who ran up to them. The reunions were accompanied by a lot of licking, rolling and very cute little growly noises. Unfortunately the light was poor and just as we arrived we were hit by a heavy rain shower. It didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the lions though.

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Kenya (11) – Nairobi

Today marked the end of the first part of our trip, and we left Amboseli at around 8am to return to Nairobi. It was a long hot drive of about 6 hours, and we didn’t stop anywhere en route. Whilst flying into the parks would definitely save a lot of time, you would certainly miss getting a more all round view of the country. Staying in the parks you’re very sheltered, and by driving you begin to get a better impression of how people live here. It’s a very good reminder just how lucky we are to take the basic things of life, like running water and sanitation for granted.

We were very glad to finally reach the outskirts of Nairobi, but the last few kilometres took us an hour or two to complete. Nairobi is a city which has rapidly outgrown its infrastructure. They’re busy building a bypass so that all the heavy truck traffic doesn’t have to drive through the centre of the city, but at the moment there are horrendous traffic problems, and the stretch from the airport in can apparently take 3 hours at the wrong time of day. Peter gave us some facts and figures as we drove through – the city has a population of about 3 million, of whom two thirds live in the slums. Apparently there is a proposal to give up on the city and build a new one. After reading a bit about Nairobi’s slums as part of one of my Open University courses, I can imagine that this may be the only practical option.

It was a big relief when we finally arrived at the hotel, although we were sad to say goodbye to Peter. He’s been good company and a wonderful guide to us over the past 10 days and taught us a lot about both the wildlife we’ve seen, and the country and its people.

We decided not to go into Nairobi itself, but to stay at the hotel and relax a little bit, and catch up with processing some of our photographs from the trip. It would have been good to take a swim, but one of the many (there were 5 or 6 in total) hotel restaurants had tables right next to the pool, and the thought of everyone watching was too off-putting. We did take a couple walks around the hotel gardens, and I was excited to discover a little kitchen garden, where they were growing rhubarb, lots of herbs (including lemon grass!) and salad vegetables. Apparently having an allotment has turned me into the sort of person that gets excited about these things 🙂

We finished off our day with cocktails and dinner in the gardens. Tomorrow will be another early start, as we leave the hotel at 6am to meet up with the arriving photography group at the airport.

Kenya (10) – Amboseli

It’s our last day in Amboseli, and it seems to have come around very quickly.  We started out with an early game drive, and the intention to try and find the lion we saw last night.  We didn’t succeed, but we did find something even more exciting – a group of 3 cheetah.  The cheetahs in Amboseli are very shy and so they’re quite an unusual sighting.  These 3 were certainly not keen on hanging around, and by the time we stopped the jeep they were already loping off into the distance.

Before long they were nothing more than specks on the landscape.  They were so hard to see that we ended up climbing up on top of the vehicle in order to get a better view.  By this time the word had got out over the radio that we’d found cheetahs and more vehicles kept racing in… alas, they saw nothing.  These were well and truly ‘our’ cheetahs!  We tried driving on further in the hope of intercepting the cheetahs, but unfortunately that was the last we saw of them.

After breakfast we had something different planned – a visit to the nearby Maasai village.  Of course, we couldn’t not stop when we saw some interesting wildlife en route to the village.

The visit was something we had mixed feelings about.  On the one hand it was interesting, and certainly a good opportunity to support the local people, but on the other hand it feels rather uncomfortable to visit a village of people who are all standing around on display for you. Additionally, there was rather an expectation that you would buy things at their market, and we ended up spending about an hour going from one person’s stall to the next, all the while not really wanting much of the goods on offer.  The standard way of trade here is negotiation, and that’s not something that either Mum or I are particularly good at.

We were shown around the village by one of the young Maasai men, and I have to say that we had some very interesting discussions.  I was particularly amused that when we left he wanted to exchange e-mail addresses.  To have the e-mail address of someone that lives in a village with no running water or electricity seems rather incongruous!

After the village we visited the school – one very small building, packed to the brim with children between the ages of about 3 and 6.  They were very keen to be photographed, especially one lad who pushed in front of all the others to be in every photo – a bit of a menace for the photographer!

Back to the lodge, where we were running late for lunch.  The lodge has really emptied out the last few days, and so the dining room has been mostly empty.  When we arrived, one of the waiters told mum that they were getting worried because we hadn’t shown up for lunch yet, and they’d been wondering where we were.  We were a little surprised, but thought no more of it.  When we sat down, we were told that there was a chef’s special that lunchtime.  To our surprise, the waiter brought over a few bowls, each containing a traditional Kenyan dish.  It turned out that they’d read the comment form that we’d filled in the night before, where I’d written that much as I’d liked the food so far, we’d hoped to try some Kenyan food.  They took the form to the Chef, and he obliged us!  The food was good, and very filling.  We had a beef stew, spinach and a mixture of potato, maize and beans, accompanied by ugali – a mixture of maize flour and water, cooked fairly solid, which is used to scoop up the rest of the food.

In the afternoon we went for our last game drive.  We had a valiant effort to try and find the cheetahs again, but they didn’t want to show themselves.  We ended up watching some elephants as the sun set, stopped to photograph a goliath heron in the dusk, and then called it a day.

At dinner this evening there was another surprise awaiting us.  We were just finishing our coffee when all the lights were switched off.  This had happened on one previous occasion, when a birthday cake was brought out to someone.  The cake was brought out as part of a procession of all the kitchen staff, with someone holding a burning torch at the front, and everyone singing.  As on the previous occasion, the procession came out and danced around the dining hall.  Mum and I thought that it must be for someone in the group at one of the other tables, so we were totally amazed when the cake was brought to our table.  It turned out that they’d brought the cake as a thank you for our long stay at the lodge (most people seem to pass through for one or two nights only, so our 4 night stay was quite unusual).  The text on the cake means ‘Goodbye and welcome back’.  We’ve certainly been made very welcome by the staff during our stay, and we were already very impressed by the trouble they’d taken for us over lunch.

Kenya (9) – Amboseli

Lots of young folk on our afternoon game drive today – first we happened upon a pair of crested cranes with a couple of chicks, and then a little further along, a pair of ostrich with a family of 11 chicks.

I’m glad I’m not an ostrich – those eggs are huge, imagine having to lay 11 of them!

We drove out to Lake Amboseli.  I’ve been a little confused since we arrived about the lake, as all we’ve seen are a number of swampy areas, none of which seemed to quite qualify for the title.  Today the mystery was solved – the lake is currently completely dry, although that could change any day now as there has been a lot of rain in the hills.  Normally, by this time in the year the lake would already be wet, and teaming with wildlife, it must really be spectacular.

We drove around the lake area for some time, but didn’t come across much wildlife.  This sand grouse was pretty much all we saw, so we headed off and found ourselves an elephant herd.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this trip watching elephants, there’s always something going on. This afternoon was no exception as we found ourselves watching one of the more intimate moments of an elephant’s life.  Or so you’d think… privacy is not really an option within a herd!

One of the elephants in the herd had come on heat, and was being courted by four hopeful suitors, all of whom were following her around hopefully.  It was interesting to watch how she flirted with the one, and scorned the advances of another.  It became clear very quickly who the lucky man would be, and he wasted no time in getting down to action, with the three runners-up, and of course, the three of us in the jeep, watching.

After the show was over, the four elephants all wandered off, although not before having a quick dust bath.

There are always more elephants to watch, though, and we turned our sights to a group which had just emerged from the swamps.

Leaving the elephants behind, we drove for about 20 minutes before coming across a gazelle running at high speed.  Since there was most likely a good reason for the gazelle to be running, we followed the direction in which it had come, and within a few minutes found ourselves a lion.  We snapped a couple photos with the engine still running, and then as the lion started moving off, Peter put his foot down and we tried to drive around to intercept it further along – a far less direct route for us, of course, compared to the lion who could just cut across the grass.

It appears, however, that just like buses, you wait ages for a lion, and then a whole group turn up at once.  We’d not gone all that far when we realised that there were a number of vehicles parked up ahead – a sure sign that there was something to see.  Yep, another two lions, one of which was collared.  We decided to stop to take a quick few photos, before continuing our hunt for the original lion.

We took off again, and tried to hunt down our original lion, but to no avail.  Lucky that we had such a nice photo op with these two.  After some failed attempts to get some elephants silhouetted in the sunset, we headed off back to the lodge.

Kenya (8) – Amboseli – Hot Air Balloon Ride

We were up at the unearthly hour of 4am this morning, as we had a treat in store – a sunrise hot air balloon ride.  Along with 6 others we were driven about 6km away from the hotel, outside the park boundary, to the balloon launch site, in time for a 6.30 launch.  It may have only been a short distance to drive, but because we were driving out in the bush, it took us about an hour, and was a very bumpy ride.

Getting the balloon prepared was a job for many hands, the pilot and about 10 others.  First they lay the basket on its side, and tested the gas burners – a spectacular flame throwing display, and then the balloon itself was laid out and filled up with air using a couple powerful fans.

Because there was a fairly strong wind, the pilot made the decision that we should get into the basket whilst it was still lying on its side, rather than first getting the basket and balloon upright and then climbing in.  That was a bit of a challenge – it meant climbing into the basket, and lying on our backs with our feet in the air, and holding onto ropes.  Once everyone was in, the pilot blasted the gas burners a few times, which felt like my ears were going to be singed, the balloon lifted, and the basket slowly righted itself.  A couple more blasts and we slowly lifted off the ground.

What an amazing experience!  I was slightly nervous beforehand, as I have no head for heights (put me two steps up a ladder and I start to panic), but like flying, this was fine.  The ground slowly dropped away, and before long we’d spotted our first wildlife – two elephants up ahead.  As we gained height, so did the sun, and we were treated to the most beautiful warm light, our finest sunrise so far on the trip.

We slowly ascended through the cloud up to a height of about 7500ft above sea level.  In practical terms, about 3000ft above ground level.  Once we were through the cloud, the peak of Kilimanjaro revealed itself.  After enjoying the view, and learning something about hot air balloon flying, we descended through the clouds again, and floated along looking for wildlife and a good landing spot.

Because of the recent dry weather, the area we were over, which is an important wildlife corridor, was not as populated as normal.  Still, we saw gazelle, rabbits and genereks.  The poor gazelle were quite alarmed by our presence and ran every which way.

Our trip was planned to be one hour, but because of the winds, it took us longer to get lined up for landing.  In fact, we had to first rise up again to catch the winds blowing in a different direction, and then when we were lined up better, start another descent.  The balloon carries enough gas to keep it flying for about 2 hours.  As we approached the ground, our pilot pointed down to a tree which had something colourful around it – ‘that’s breakfast’, he said.  Indeed, once we landed, we were driven to the very same tree, under which was a table set for breakfast, a waiter, and a chef, ready to cook omlettes and crepes.

The landing itself was a little bumpy.  We touched down, and then skipped across the ground a few times before the basket finally sank down gently onto its side, and the balloon collapsed.  Still, it was a lot less dramatic than I might have imagined!  After enjoying the breakfast, which was accompanied by champagne, we all piled back into the jeep and bumped our way back to the lodge.

Since we didn’t have a game drive planned until the afternoon, we thought it was a good opportunity to take advantage of the pool, and to sort through some of our photographs.  In reality, though, we both sat down on the bed and fell asleep until lunchtime.

Kenya (7) – Amboseli

The clouds have cleared a little, and we got our day off to a good start with some elephants, and a nice view of Kilimanjaro in the background.

After leaving the ellies, we continued driving, and I had a lot of fun trying to photograph running wildebeest.  It’s quite a challenge when the jeep is moving fast as you bounce around an awful lot.  I’m amazed that I haven’t yet gone flying when the jeep made a sudden swerve or stop.

We spent a bit of time driving around by the swamps, which are filled with bird life.  As well as the egrets and grey heron, we spotted a goliath heron, a couple squacco herons and a pair of pied kingfishers.

There’s a small hill next to the swamps with an observation tower at the top.  We parked the van and took a walk up there.  There was a good view down to a small group of hippos as well as wildebeest coming in to drink.  Unfortunately they were too far away to get really decent photos.

On our way back to camp, we spotted a pair of silver backed jackals.  They’re very shy and they didn’t hang around long enough for us to turn off the engine – very hard getting sharp pictures when the van is vibrating around you.

After lunch, our first few find were still inside the camp – a hoepoe, and some of the resident baboons.  The baboons are really a pest around here, and there are plenty of them on the grounds.  Given half a chance, they, and the vervet monkeys, would be inside your room in no time.  These baboons were on the drive away, and much as I’m not a great fan, I had to admit that the baby was rather cute, as it took a ride on its mother’s back.

We spent most of the afternoon hanging out with a couple herds of elephants.  Most of the elephants here are accompanied by large numbers of cattle egrets, which feed on the insects that are disturbed when the elephants tear out the grass.

Towards the end of the day, we waited for the elephants to come up from the water and make their way back to their night’s resting spot.  They crossed the road right where we were waiting, and flowed around us.  It was amazing to see elephants in every direction, and particularly to enjoy the young ones, who were running around in all directions and trumpeting triumphantly as they crossed the road.

As the sun started to set we saw a group of vehicles together in the distance.  We raced over to join the party and a found a group of 3 young lions walking away from us.  They found themselves a quiet spot in the palm trees, and stopped for a lie down.  We watched and waited whilst the sun disappeared, but eventually had to give up and head back to the lodge.

Kenya (6) – Amboseli

We had a fairly early start this morning as we had a long drive ahead to our next destination, Amboseli National Park, located on the border with Tanzania, and famed for its view onto Mount Kilimanjaro.  Despite the fact that Peter was worried about us reaching Amboseli in time for lunch, he was determined that we should have one last attempt to find some lions before leaving.  Accordingly, we took the drive through to the park gate at a leisurely pace, and once we approached the exit, took a few detours to maximize our chances.
Suddenly, there was some noise from the radio, and Peter shouted to us to hold on tight, and then put his foot to the ground.  We raced along the roads, thrown from side to side on every bend, rounded one final corner and spotted the giveaway sign of something interesting – another couple vehicles stopped together.  Yes, it was a pair of lions, and not only that, but further back in the bush, barely visible through the trees, they had a fresh kill.  One lion was resting in the shade of the tree, whilst another was having a bite to eat.

Of course, after savouring the fact that we’d finally found our lions, we couldn’t stay too long as we needed to get back on the road.  Most of the drive was back the way we’d come, along the main Nairobi-Mombasa highway.  I quickly appreciated how lucky I was to have slept most of the way down, because the constant ‘truck overtaking truck with another truck bearing down upon you in the opposite lane and then the van in front slamming its brakes on, or suddenly cutting in front of you to join in the overtaking fun’ was rather nervewracking.  To be fair, it was not quite as spectacular as the driving we experienced in India, but it came a close second.  Eventually I distracted myself by burying my nose in the Sunday newspaper, and used the opportunity to find out a bit more about Kenyan society.

After 6 hours of so of driving we arrived at Amboseli.  We were held up at the gate to the park for a while whilst Peter organized our entry.  Mum and I waited in the van and were quickly surrounded by people determined to sell us beadwork and odd trinkets.  They were very persistent, and we got rather fed up as they wouldn’t leave us alone, no matter how many times we said we weren’t going to buy anything.

The park itself is totally different from Tsavo East – a very open and much drier landscape.  There are a number of lakes, and swampy areas which are fed by the run off from snow melt from Kilimanjaro.  The advantage is that it’s much easier to spot the wildlife, but the scenery is rather less appealing, especially when Kilimanjaro is hidden by clouds.

The park is home to some wildebeest herds – the first we’ve seen since we’ve been here, and there are also quite a few zebra.  Because of the swamps, there are a lot of water birds here, including many types of heron.  After spending 5 days looking at red elephants in Tsavo, it was actually a bit of a surprise to see grey ones here!

The elephants here are far more relaxed around people than in Tsavo, and will happily stand very close to the road.  We’d hardly been driving for any time on this afternoon’s safari before we came across a small herd, waiting for us at a crossroads.  They obviously weren’t in a hurry, because the smallest decided to lie down for a nap.

After spending some time with the elephants, we decided that it was time again to concentrate our efforts on the lions.  It hardly took anytime at all before Peter spotted one, and we raced in closer.  Unlike Tsavo where we hardly saw any other traffic, there was a constant stream of vehicles stopping, looking and continuing in the time we spent with the lions.  We’d found a pride of 8, and we stayed for about an hour and a half, watching the lions slowly wake up and become more active as the light faded.  Whilst we were waiting, we were watching the wildebeest in the area, one of whom was slowly wandering towards the water and the waiting lions.  After a while, one of the lions, we assume the boss lioness, left the rest behind and started stalking the wildebeest.  It was amazing to watch her, but as the light faded it became harder and harder to see her.  Eventually we had to leave because of the camp regulations stipulating that you have to be in camp after sunset.

Driving back to camp, we saw a huge herd of zebra streaming past us, all making their way down to the waterhole, and of course, the waiting lions.