Friday, September 30, 2016

A relaxing day in camp. . . . . . . . . .

Topi antelope at sunrise 

At Mara Plains camp, the main thrust for most guests is of course getting
 out on early morning game drives, prior to sunrise, to view animals as they wake. 
Lions are especially active at that time. . . . .this cub below, one of three siblings,
 was anxious to start playing with mom as soon as it was light.

Armed with nothing more threatening than a camera and binoculars, and clothing
 layers which can be peeled off as the day warms up, we were ready to go by
 6:15 am with sunrise around 6:30 am.
Life in the bush hums with the quiet sounds of rustling in the very cool morning air.
 The bulky lumbering hippos have retreated to the river . . . . . one night they were
 within a couple of yards of our tent, grunting and snorting, a security guard, one 
of several Maasai who patrol the camp overnight, explained to me just how
 big and how close the next morning.
 A large monitor lizard creeps through the undergrowth, and one morning a monkey
 comes up the steps to check out my boots.
 Grunting, snorting, screeching, calling, and of course roaring, seems to occur
 mostly at night. Yes, nights in Africa are often quite noisy as the big cats and
 nocturnal animals go about their lives in the inky darkness outside the safety
 of the tent. Bush babies scurried and screeched across the canvas roof jolting
 us from sound sleep, making a lot of noise on several nights.
As day breaks, many loud birds become natural alarm clocks as they sit in
 the trees outside, awaiting the sun. They are the only ones you really need to
 get you moving. If you've also scheduled a 'wake up call' - and there are no phones -
 a tall, lean Maasai arrives at the tent flaps, tray in hand with coffee, tea or chocolate,
 with a cheery "good morning" and brilliant smile, making you feel instant warmth
 despite a definite chill in the air at 5:30 am.

The morning I took these photos, Bob and I had a free day to roam the camp
 and take things easy. Paula and Tirian had business to attend to at his community
 where we had already visited, so we opted to stay back, rest our backs from those
 rough rides, and enjoy leisurely breakfast and lunch and chat with staff and other guests. 

There are just seven tents at Mara Plains and 14 guests or less. 
The camp managers, husband and wife team Ken and Michelle, are from Australia. 
They are also wildlife photographers and photo safari leaders when not working as
 camp staff - they are really great at all they do and were a lot of fun.
The entire staff, mostly from the Maasai tribe, were friendly and accommodating, 
nothing being too much trouble.
Working with just solar-powered appliances in the kitchen yet still turning out very
 good food, beautiful fresh linens for bed and table, plenty of hot water, doing our 
laundry, lighting all spaces, and even supplying hairdryers (low voltage but they do
 the job) etc. is not easy. Makes one think again about how we are spoiled just
 flipping a switch and having unlimited electricity. Only the Internet gave us a few
 problems, at times slow or unavailable - but not really missed as we were there for
 more important things!

More pics of the interior of our tent - you have to agree that it's quite plush, and the
 bed was so comfortable, especially crawling under the covers after a busy day and 
finding the cozy leopard print covered hot water bottles waiting.
A couple of chilly, windy nights we requested the exterior canvas be dropped to calm 
the blowing linen drapes, but mostly just enjoyed the night air and sounds around us.

If you're wondering about the sisal doormat at the tent entrance, it's placed over
 the zipper closures at all times to prevent monkeys from entering - yes they know
 how to work zippers, but apparently not how to move heavy doormats!

We were interested in the history the wood used for steps and floors at the the camp. Apparently they are made from recycled railroad ties from Zambia.

Library at Mara Plains

Wildebeest grazing

Yes, a lovely day in camp - late breakfast in the sunshine looking out onto the open plains.
On other mornings breakfast was in the bush either packed and served by our guide
Tirian or, on two occasions, driven out and cooked for us by a chef and assistant in 
special spots in the bush. . . . . . . more on that in another post! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back to the beginning. . . . . . . . . . .

We're home again. 
Another long journey for the return. Left Nairobi at 11 PM, arriving at Heathrow, 
London 8 hours later just at sunrise. A layover of several hours prior to the
 almost 9 hour flight to Raleigh, arriving here at 2 pm.
Unpacked  and did a ton of laundry and odds and ends.

Now want to get going with posts and share so much more about this
 fabulous trip. . . . . . . . . . so I'll start at the beginning again, leaving Nairobi
in a small 12 seater prop plane, crossing the escarpment of the Rift Valley
and the flat bush plains, heading west.

Nairobi, the capital and largest city in Kenya, is famous for having the world's
 only game reserve - Nairobi National Park - found within a major city. 
The name Nairobi comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nairobi, meaning
"cool water".  Situated at 5,889 ft above sea level, it is 87 miles south of the equator.
 This city with a population of approx. 4 million, has changed so much since its
 founding in 1899 by the colonial authorities in British East Africa as a rail depot
 on the Uganda Railway. During Kenya's colonial period, the city became a center
 for the colony's coffee, tea and sisal industry.

After the fun visit to the Giraffe Center and Karen Blixen House
both just outside the city, we were driven to the small Wilson Airport for the
 hour long flight to the Maasai Mara and our camp named Mara Plains.

This was the airstrip for our camp - just a flat area of bush on the top of a plateau. (This
 plane was actually ours landing to pick us up when we left).  Pilot, co-pilot, 12 passengers
 and a stack of duffel bags and back packs, with several flights coming and going daily 
back and forth to Nairobi.

Our friend Paula, and guide Tirian, met us for the drive to camp, Paula having arrived
 earlier in the day from her side trip to the Mt. Kilimanjaro region. I thought I had
 ridden over some pretty rough roads in my life, especially on former trips to Africa,
 but the road to the camp was even rougher. 
That big safari modified Toyota Land Cruiser really took a beating on the
 ride. . . . . . . . and all the others in the days ahead!
All I can say is, someone was looking out for me and my back, Bob's too, and we
 survived the rocks, gullies, boulders, river crossings (not a bridge to be seen!) hills,
 valleys etc., with dear Tirian calling out H.O.T. - hang on tight - so we were prepared
 when the roller coaster rides became unbelievably tough.
On the ride to camp that late afternoon we were thrilled to see animals immediately.
The fighting pair of Hartebeest (above) was amazing, it was over territory - and
 thankfully it was not 'to the death'. Eventually they ran off, a little bloody and very tired.

Paula and Tirian tricked us by saying they knew we were hoping to see
 the Great Wildebeest Migration, which this year has been unusually late
 due to the grassy areas remaining green because of rain.  Before cresting a hill
 they said we may just see a few, but suddenly the plains surrounding us came
 into view and there were hundreds of thousands of those odd looking animals
 (also known as the Gnu) everywhere, it was amazing.
  Did we see one of those long-awaited river crossings?  I'll keep you guessing for
 a little while!

 Wildebeest and Hartebeest - living in harmony.

As we reached camp the sun was low in the sky and our beautiful accommodation was
awaiting us - more on this with pics later.

. . . . . . . . and the sunset was perfect over the bush with a visiting lion to liven up
 the scene. What an amazing evening to get settled in, meet the staff, kick off
 the dusty boots and relax.
Daytime on safari is full and exceptionally busy, a lot of energy is required.
 The evenings are all about what was viewed during the daylight hours, sipping
 drinks and enjoying a tasty dinner.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Here's looking at you. . . . . . . . .

It's 5:30am, another cool Kenya morning. 
My game drive leaves at 6:15am and I'll be bundled up, BUT by around 11am
 the sun will be hot as we go in pursuit of more beautiful animals.
I love to capture the faces of animals, and birds, when they seem to be looking
 directly at you, or at least in your direction. Here are some photos from the current 
safari trip which I was able to add last evening - hope you enjoy!
Thanks for all your lovely comments on the lions in the last post. They really are
abundant and breathtaking in this area.
Must run now - have a great weekend - we leave the camp tomorrow and return
to Nairobi.

Burchell's zebra
Lioness with kill
Ring-tailed mongoose
Hippo with Oxpecker birds
Wildebeest - one of the million plus we viewed!
Yellow-billed stork
Dik dik
Bull elephants

Don't be scared!

Mara lions from sunrise to sunset. . . . . . . . .

Up early this morning for another spectacular day in Kenya.
It's hard to show you here just how amazing the Maasai Mara landscape is.
Very different from the other African countries I've visited on wildlife safaris. 
Much more open, with fewer trees and vegetation therefore game drives become
hours of animal viewing. The most incredible lion sightings have been nonstop,
starting before dawn - we are out of camp by
6:15 am each day - and lasting until sunset just before 7 pm.

Internet continues to be sporadic and slow, takes a while to load photos,
 so for this post I'll just share some of my shots of the Mara lions and
 lionesses. . . . . . . .and some adorable cubs.


This is how close lions often come
to the vehicle - that's the guide's
seatbelt in front of me!

Dear old Mohawk - more about him later.

Sunset - on our arrival evening - with a few of
the thousands of wildebeest we've seen.

Enjoy these beautiful big cats - and there will be more!