Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Africa & the Middle East
Reload this Page >

Our September Kenya Safari Exceeded Our Wildest Hopes

Our September Kenya Safari Exceeded Our Wildest Hopes

Old Sep 21st, 2022, 09:00 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Our September Kenya Safari Exceeded Our Wildest Hopes

Cast of characters:
Devastatingly handsome male couple, 66 and 70 (think Brad Pitt and George Clooney)

Dates:
September 2 through September 15

Safari planner:
Wayne Hammond at Gamewatchers (www.porini.com)

Thanks to years of traveling for business we racked up enough frequent flyer miles on American Airlines to book a business class Q-Suite on their partner airline, Qatar Airways, round-trip Los Angeles to Nairobi. We booked separate flights from our home on Kauai to and from Los Angeles. We stayed two nights in Los Angeles at an airport hotel to see family and friends, partly to be sure we would not miss our flight to Africa due to a delay from Kauai.

The Q-Suite was amazing and it made the 16-hour nonstop flight from LAX to Doha, Qatar a pleasure. The food and service were five-star. There was a large a la carte menu to choose from, and meals and snacks were served whenever requested. A tablecloth was sit down and meals were served by candlelight. One of the appetizers was a chunk of lobster topped with caviar. Entrées included surf and turf, lamb (that DH raved about) and lobster Thermidor.

Additional offerings included English tea with scones and clotted cream, finger sandwiches, and pastries. Cheese plates, fruit plates and much more were available. Cappuccinos, lattes, and fancy fruit drinks were delicious.

There were 4,000 entertainment options, and probably for the first time while flying, I got to see movies that I genuinely had wanted to see! The television screens were quite large for a plane.

But here’s best part … When it was time to sleep the flight attendant brought us pajamas and made up our flat beds with comfy mattresses. I slept soundly for seven hours en route to Doha. The transfer to the Nairobi flight was chaotic. Everyone needed to be herded into buses. There were special buses for those of us fortunate enough to be in business class. But it still felt stressful. The six-hour flight was about 20 minutes late and the pilot and crew apologized for this profusely.

The Q-Suite on the second flight was not quite as impressive as on the larger plane that handled the longer journey. There were no privacy doors and the menu offerings were somewhat more limited, but were still good. Most importantly, we had our flat beds to stretch out and nap. As my grandmother would have said, “Rich or poor, it’s nice to have money— or frequent flyer miles.”

When we landed in Nairobi we were met by Edith, a smiling Gamewatchers representative. She ushered us through the entire arrival process. We did not need to think about anything. We were driven to the Eka Hotel, about 20 minutes from the airport, arriving after 1 AM Nairobi time. Our Gamewatchers rep took our passports and completely handled the check-in process while we sat in a comfortable lounge. The hotel was quite nice and we quickly collapsed on our comfortable beds.

Breakfast the next morning was exceptional. It was buffet style with an omelette bar and eggs cooked to order, and the kinds of fruit sculptures that are often found on cruise ships. The options were way above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen at a breakfast buffet, and the room was beautifully decorated in an African motif. To give you a sense of how interesting and plentiful the food was, there were at least five varieties of croissants, as well as traditional African offerings, including exotic fruits, and breads and pastries I had never seen before.










We were picked up at 11 AM by our Gamewatchers representative and driven the short distance to our first destination, Nairobi National Park, where we were booked for two nights in the Nairobi Tented Camp, which is the only lodging within the national park.

Almost immediately upon entering the park we had our first wildlife sighting, a leopard that we glimpsed for all of about one second before it darted into the bushes. Still, very exciting.

The tent had been described as luxurious glamping – – and they were not kidding. It was a lovely setting and we had our own veranda. With solar lighting and an indoor bathroom (with flushable toilet) it was hard to remember that we were actually in a tent and not a hotel room.



Nairobi Tented Camp


After a delicious lunch we embarked on our first game drive. By the end of that drive, we had already exceeded all expectations for the trip. We had seen all of the big five, except for elephants, which are not in the national park. Our lion sightings comprised of one male who was mostly hiding too far away to get a decent photo and several sleeping females that we encountered after dusk, when it was too dark to get a usable photo. At least 40 safari vehicles crowded in to try to catch a glimpse of the male. This pretty much was how I expected the Safari to be. I was thrilled to have been relatively close to the lionesses.

I had no idea how much better it was about to become!

We were the only guests staying in the camp that night, so we had a private driver for our two game drives the following day. It was interesting to see zebras, Buffalo, a wide variety of antelopes, and more, all framed by the Nairobi skyline in the distance.




Hippos!




Bee Eaters










lilac breasted roller











After an early morning game drive the next morning, we returned to the airport, and again, were ushered through by our guide who handled everything. FYI, we have always been DIY travelers, handling everything on our own. Being jetlagged, it was awesome having someone carry our luggage, which was carry-on only, and take us exactly where we needed to be. I had assumed the security checks would not be as extensive as in the US. Wrong! They were actually more entailed, including needing to get out of the vehicle and walk through a security checkpoint with an x-ray before even entering the airport parking area.

Our 12-seat plane made one stop before dropping us off at what passed for an airstrip. From there, our guide and driver took us on the almost 2-hour drive that became an incredible game drive to the Porini Amboseli Camp within the Selenkay Conservancy, which would be our home for three nights. These would be our guide/spotter and driver during our stay. There was no one else staying at the camp for the first two nights so again, we had our own private guide and driver. They were incredible, and I later learned that National Geographic had voted our spotter (Wilson) as one of the top 10 in all of Africa. He was amazing.

To be continued …

Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2022, 09:35 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,804
Likes: 0
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
Oh good!!! I'm so glad you started this and I can't wait to hear more. NNP is an under-rated gem (I've probably said that a million times all over the internet) and I've never been disappointed. I'm glad it delivered for you! Looking forward to the next installments, great photos so far!!
amyb is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2022, 11:53 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 22,695
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
So that's what the 1% live like
mlgb is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2022, 12:14 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
<mlgb: So that's what the 1% live like>
Yes. The 1% -- and those with FF miles. ;-)

amyb: NNP was fantastic, but as you will see, the other camps were even more incredible!

A disclaimer ...
I need to do some editing on the photos to sharpen them up, but if I wait until I'm done, it'll be another month, so just imagine the photos are sharper!


On our first game drive, our spotter spent a good part of the time hanging out vehicle studying tracks. The driver also used binoculars and leaned out of the vehicle. In order to follow those tracks, they went through fields and over rocks, bushes, potholes, and ditches that seemed absolutely impossible to traverse. We drove through dried river beds that felt like the ultimate Disney thrill ride. After about 90 minutes, I was thinking it was crazy to even imagine that we might spot a lion in this vast conservancy. At first, we did not, but we came upon a cheetah with three cubs that were posing atop a brilliant red termite mound. The light was perfection, the cats were magnificent, and I was almost brought to tears.




















Several times, the driver started the noisy vehicle and repositioned it for us to get better photos. I was incredulous that the animals seemed utterly unfazed by our presence. By the time we returned for dinner, I could have gone home happy, knowing that I had gotten views and photos that were better than anything I had hoped for. Then … our guide found us the two lionesses he had been tracking—a pregnant mother and her young adult daughter.











Porini Amboseli Camp in the Selenkay Conservancy. Amboseli is known for its high concentration of elephants. I think I probably saw all of them! The Porini camp has a viewing tower set in front of a trough that provides water for the many animals in that part of the conservancy. They were experiencing severe drought, so this was a very popular stop with the animals.

When we parked the Safari vehicle an elephant came so close to where I was sitting I could have reached out and touched it. As we sat sipping drinks and eating snacks in the viewing area I couldn’t begin to count the number of elephants, zebras, antelopes, warthogs, and other animals that came to enjoy drinks of their own. It was awesome to watch the baby elephants playing and rolling around and on top of there parents. Later that evening, five elephants came to the pond across from the campfire within the camp.











to be continued ...
Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2022, 10:22 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 4,540
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts



Wonderful, Songdoc !!!! Mahalo! Great photos! Great descriptions! Keep 'em coming! (I especially enjoy "after" trip reports, following the "before" questions and concerns about if a trip will be as good as hoped.)

I'm jealous, so please allow me to live vicariously via your report

Last edited by CaliNurse; Sep 22nd, 2022 at 10:24 PM. Reason: Didnt want to quote original post in reply
CaliNurse is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2022, 09:35 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 8,989
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I am really enjoying your report and beautiful photos. The cheetahs against the red termite mounds are gorgeous.
KTtravel is offline  
Old Sep 24th, 2022, 06:26 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 27,159
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Way to fly! And fabulous photos.
thursdaysd is offline  
Old Sep 25th, 2022, 11:40 AM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the nice comments!

Selenkay Conservancy/Porini Amboseli Camp/Amboseli National Park:

The trip was filled with many OMG magical moments. But one that almost took my breath away was when a large group of elephants were approaching from quite a distance. We sat in the Safari vehicle as they came closer and closer, enveloped in a cloud of dust. The largest male came so close to where I was sitting, I could have reached out and touched him. It was breathtaking.

We spent a long day in a Amboseli National Park, which abuts the Selenkay Conservancy. The roads were so dusty that we wore the masks we had brought to protect us from COVID, and we were glad we had them.

It was hard to drive even a minute or two in the national park without seeing a zebra, buffalo, or wildebeest carcass by the side of the road. These were not the result of kills. These animals were victims of the extreme drought. Terribly sad and a stark reminder of what is happening to this planet.




The bird life was astounding. We saw hundreds, if not thousands, of flamingos when we reached a lake. Wildebeests, zebras, hippos, and countless wading birds posed in the water. We also glimpsed an Egyptian cobra who was slithering at the waters edge.
















Our guides set up a table with a white tablecloth and served us a lovely picnic lunch while we looked out at zebras and elephants. I have no doubt that will be the picnic with the best view of my life...


view from our picnic





We later joined a herd of safari vehicles that were watching a cheetah with her cub. Tourism is strictly limited within the conservancies. When we left the conservancy and entered the national park the dramatic increase in vehicles was quite obvious. In most cases, when we found an awesome wildlife photo op in the Selenkay conservancy, we were the only vehicle there. The driver would phone one or two other spotters to inform them of the location of the animals. That was a far cry from the national park, where 20 or more vehicles jockeyed for a view. Despite the other vehicles we were able to get beautiful views and photos of those magnificent animals.




On the way back we stopped at a beautiful, upscale safari lodge for a bathroom and souvenir break. The lodge was lovely and had a swimming pool, but I had no doubt that staying in a place like that would have provided a completely different Safari experience – – and not one that I would have preferred.

The next morning, we did another amazing game drive followed by a guided walk. After lunch, a visit to a Maasai Village was on the agenda. We thought it would be touristy and hokey, and I did not want to feel like a voyeur photographing people as if they were in a zoo. We reluctantly agreed, and that was a wonderful decision.

We learned that Gamewatchers, the company we booked through, leases the land where the camps are from the Maasai. They also have an arrangement whereby the village gets paid for allowing guests to view their way of life. This afforded those in the village the opportunity to buy food and other items at a market held in another village.

DH and I were the only guests, so we were a bit overwhelmed when every person in the village came out, lined up, and greeted us with a welcome song. The children seemed so full of joy, waving at us and smiling. We were asked to go down the line to shake hands and greet each one of the villagers, rubbing the heads of the children. The villagers are either exceptional actors or the genuinely enjoyed our interaction. They do not speak English, but were able to communicate through our guide and driver.

We learned about their nomadic, polygamist lifestyle, and they demonstrated how they make fire from sticks and dried dong, and how they make the beaded jewelry and other beaded items they are known for. Their bead work was beautiful and we purchased a few items back at the camp. Nothing is sold at the villages and you are advised not to give them any items. Donations can be made separately at the camp, but there was no pressure whatsoever to do so.

We were able to enter several of their homes. It was truly a life-changing experience to see how other people live. Our guides assured us that this was not a show. This was genuinely how they dress and live, and was an honest glimpse into a life so profoundly different from mine.

Our departure was met with another song, this time with the men jumping as if they were spring loaded. It was adorable to see the young boys trying to copy that. Our guide had been raised in a similar villages and explained that the jumping is intended to attract the ladies. Back at the camp, several of the workers at the camp showed us their own jumping skills.























We left Amboseli with memories and photos beyond anything I could have hoped for. It was hard to imagine that anything could surpass what we had seen.

To be continued…
Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 25th, 2022, 08:49 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 10,076
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
I am really enjoying your report, which is taking me back to Kenya, such a stunning country. Glad you were able to make this trip at last!
Leely2 is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2022, 02:52 PM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks, Leely2!
Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 28th, 2022, 08:00 PM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Our next stop was the Porini Rhino Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. As we drove to the camp from the airstrip, I found myself wondering why I had allowed the Safari planner to book me into a conservancy where the focus is on rhinos, when I have no special interest in rhinos. I have nothing against them, so if you are a rhino, please do not take this personally. They are just not one of my favorite animals.

The accommodations were similar to those at the other Porini camps and I loved them. As at the other camps, the staff, guide and driver were impeccable, as were the delicious meals. The view from the veranda in front of our tent was of a bucolic field where zebras and impalas grazed.


View from the tent

We did indeed see quite a few rhinos, including a mother and her baby. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The wildlife viewing in the Conservancy was incredible. We had multiple encounters with all of the big five and I took some photos that I could hardly believe. During our twice-daily game drives, I got some amazing views and photos of lions, cheetahs, baboons, zebras, giraffes, and so many more animals. Lunch was a picnic by a lovely river.
















Selfie


























We stopped at a chimpanzee orphanage. I had not realized that chimpanzees do not live in east Africa. Those in the sanctuary had been rescued. Many of them had been kept as pets and had been terribly neglected, in some cases spending years in a small cage. It was interesting to learn about their plight and to celebrate their relative freedom. But I had expected to get close with some of the animals, but I only saw two of them, and they were quite far away.

Our next stop was to meet Baraka, a blind rhino who is kept in an enclosure where he is safe. He is completely used to humans, as they have fed and cared for him for many years. I was amazed that he ate from my hand and posed for pix while I scratched and petted the surprisingly soft area behind his ears. It was a special moment.

On the way out, in the distance, we glimpsed the last two remaining Northern White rhinos. We learned that they are both females and that before the death of the last remaining male, his sperm was harvested. They are attempting to use surrogates to give birth to babies that would continue the existence of the species.

A sobering stop was the memorial garden where markers detail the heartbreaking end of many of the animals that were killed by poachers. Very moving.

I hated to leave because it was hard to imagine that the wildlife viewing would surpass anything we had seen. But after three nights we took the short flight to our final destination—the Porini Lion Camp in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, abutting the Maasai Mara.

To be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 29th, 2022, 10:58 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 4,540
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you Songdoc for sharing even more joy!!!!
Glad to hear Baraka is still there!
Sudan (RIP) the male Northern White Rhino was at Ol Pejeta in 2014 --a privilege to meet and pet him.
Apologies, I digress...have to restrain myself, as your great photos and report bring back wonderful memories of Ol Pejeta and Rhino Camp (with a fantastic mgr, David--is he still there?).
Sounds like, after assorted delays, this trip was well worth the wait!
CaliNurse is offline  
Old Sep 29th, 2022, 05:18 PM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks so much for the kind comments, Calinurse. The trip was far beyond "worth the wait." It was better than anything I could have imagined.

Yes, Baraka is still there. I can't recall if the manager at the Porini Rhino Camp was named David.

I'm sure I will cherish the memories, as you do.
Songdoc is offline  
Old Sep 30th, 2022, 06:09 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 7,049
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
Looks like were in Africa at the same time but different places.
I thought my photos were good until I looked at yours. Mine are great tourist memories, yours look professional. You have a very good eye….and a very good camera.

That said, it was a wonderful experience. I will treasure every moment. If there is a next time, I’d like to go to Kenya.
TPAYT is online now  
Old Sep 30th, 2022, 12:05 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,612
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
AWESOME photos songdoc!
Melnq8 is online now  
Old Sep 30th, 2022, 09:10 PM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
TPAYT: Yes, we had vert similar trips in different countries. It looks like your trip was awesome, also.
Thank you so much for the comments about my photos. I have a pretty basic camera (a Nikon D3500) with a 70 - 300 zoom lens. It seemed like everyone else I encountered had much better cameras with lenses as long as their arms. Here are some of my photo secrets:

- have game spotters and drivers who are terrific photographers and are sensitive to getting the best views and the best light;
- have AMAZING models;
- edit and crop afterwards;
- practice by photographing more than 2,500 cats as a volunteer for Humane Society's website; and most important ...
- take more than 3,200 photos -- and share less than 20% of them!

Melnq: Nice hearing from you!!! Thanks for that super kind comment.
Songdoc is offline  
Old Oct 3rd, 2022, 10:52 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 3,386
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Songdoc I'm enjoying your report - glad to hear it was a great trip! more please!
(and the photos are snazzy also!)
surfmom is offline  
Old Oct 3rd, 2022, 06:09 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 7,049
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
Volunteering to photo 2,500 cats? That’s a person who is meant for good things. I love cats and can’t imagine living without one. No wonder you got such good shots of those cheetahs. They knew you were one of them.
TPAYT is online now  
Old Oct 6th, 2022, 08:02 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,041
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Olare Motorogi Conservancy/Masai Mara

I am finally coming up for air long enough to share about the final camp we visited – – the Porini Lion Camp.

We were picked up at the airstrip along with another male couple. They became our game drive companions. Like all the other Porini camps we visited, we were warmly welcomed, and we loved our glamping accommodations. As we had come to expect, the staff were wonderful, happily complying with any of our requests.

This camp is within the 35,000 acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy that borders the Masai Mara national game reserve, and they share the same wildlife and ecosystems. The difference is that being within the conservancy, there were very few other tourists and safari vehicles. Most of the time, we were the only vehicle getting up close and personal with those magnificent big cats, or we would be joined by one or two other vehicles that our driver would notify about the location of our sighting. There was only one time when we were among three other vehicles.

We had planned to spend a full day within the actual Masai Mara national game reserve, but other guests and the camp manager advised against it. They said our wildlife viewing would be better in the conservancy and that the park was extremely crowded. Those who had recently visited said that 40 or more vehicles were jockeying for the best views of the big cats. So, we confined all of our game drives to within the Olare Motorogi conservancy. Good choice!

As the photos below show, we were rewarded with the most astounding views and photo ops. I couldn’t begin to count the number of lions, cheetahs, and leopards that we viewed. I credit our awesome guide/spotter and driver, not only for finding us the animals, but for being sensitive to provide us with the very best views and angles for photos.

My primary interest on the Safari was viewing and photographing the big cats, and I got far more than I ever could have dreamed of.





































There were lots of animals in addition to the big cats. We got some great views of baboons and hippos.



waterbuck
























We had pre-booked a hot air balloon ride for our second morning in the camp. We booked the trip with Hot Air Safaris and paid for it in advance through our safari planner. It required a 4:45 AM wake up call and a more than 90 minute drive to where the balloons would takeoff at sunrise. It was an pricey addition – – $455 per person, which included a champagne brunch upon landing. Could it really be worth that much money plus the 4:45 AM wake up -- and 90 minute drive?

The answer is a big resounding OMG YES!!!!























Eight balloons took off simultaneously. There were 16 passengers in each balloon. The balloons had four compartments that each held four people. I had no idea that the balloons takeoff and land with the basket sideways, requiring the passengers to crawl in and lie flat on their back for takeoff and return to that position for landing.

The weather was perfect and we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the Masai Mara with views of Tanzania and the Serengeti quite close by. Seeing the sky filled with these gorgeous balloons was unspeakably beautiful.

We had planned this trip hoping to see some of the great migration river crossings. This location was where we would have the best chance of getting those views. But it was not meant to be. Possibly due to climate change the migration had taken place much earlier. Still, we were able to view large herds of wildebeests, buffaloes, and zebras below us, as well as several elephants and giraffes.

The ride was a combination of thrilling, exhilarating, relaxing, and breathtakingly beautiful. We had perfect weather conditions. There were some bumps when we landed, as we bounced over some termite mounds, but nothing to complain about.

I was expecting our champagne brunch, which would be served right where we landed, to be cold items, such as croissants, fruit and yogurt, served from picnic baskets. WRONG.

All the balloons landed relatively close to each other and the servers and chefs had already arrived by truck. Tables were beautifully set with linen tablecloths. Buffet stations were set up with exotic fruits, and every imaginable breakfast item. Crepes and omelettes were cooked to order.




It was a perfect ending to one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I bought a video and still photos of the trip for $55 and am thoroughly enjoying reliving it and sharing it.

I very happily could have returned home at this point and said that the trip had exceeded my wildest hopes. But there were three more game drives during which the big cat and other animal sightings were simply incredible.

While we enjoyed every camp, this one takes our number one spot.

It took more than 40 hours to get from our camp to our doorstep in Hawaii. We once again luxuriated in a Q-Suite from Nairobi to Doha and from Doha to Los Angeles. Up to that point, the travel had been a pleasure. But the seven-hour layover in Los Angeles followed by the cramped, packed flight among the peons in coach felt grueling. But the travel was more than worth it because this trip truly was even more than I ever dreamed it might be.

Thank you to all who answered my questions and helped in the planning.
Songdoc is offline  
Old Oct 7th, 2022, 11:16 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 22,695
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Spectacular! Leopards are the most beautiful animal I've ever seen.
mlgb is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information -