A trip over New Year to see the wildlife in Kenya, especially the elephants. We weren't disappointed, seeing a huge variety of animals including lots of lazy looking lions and whole herds of elephant.
Starting from Nairobi and ending with an unusual (for us) three days relaxation on the coast at Mombasa.
We stayed our first night in the Nairobi Hilton and had a really excellent dinner - homemade tomato soup followed by steak. With only a short time in the city we couldn't really get much impression of it - my journal reads "walked around Nairobi, looks a clean city but many lepers in the market area".
The next day we travelled to the Aberdare Country Club via a tea plantation. We didn't stay long, however, just to leave most of our luggage and move out to the Ark for the night.
The Aberdare Country Club is about two hours drive north of Nairobi and set in the Aberdare National Park. The grounds of the club are beautiful and the horizons seem to stretch forever. There are plenty of different types of primates to be seen including beautiful white-tailed Colobus Monkeys - I think we were quite lucky to see these and they were some of the most beautiful creatures we saw on the whole trip.
The main attraction was a night spent at the Ark where there is a watering hole and salt lick, and if you're lucky animals will come and you can get good close-up views. We stayed up most of the night and were rewarded with sights of water buck, lots of African Buffalo and a lone rhinoceros, plus billions of "bally moths" as one of our fellow travellers put it! This was an escorted group of twelve, split into two mini-buses whose roofs lifted up for the game drives.
The thing is to spot as many of the "big five" as possible - that is African Elephant, lion, African Buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. So we bagged two of the five - not bad for first timers!
No elephants though.
Crossing the equator and via Thomson's Falls near Nyahururu to Lake Nakuru National Park. Stayed at Lake Nakuru Lodge in a little cabin with a mosquito net over the bed.
We were here to see the vast numbers of flamingos, like pink foam on the shores of the lake. We couldn't get terrifically close to them, but the experience was wonderful.
Apart from the beautiful flamingos there are lots of other birdlife and animals to see on the game drives, particularly antelope.
Still no elephants.
On to the main event, so to speak. We drove from Lake Nakuru to the Masai Mara where everything was very wet! It had been raining recently and the roads were washed away in places. Ben, our driver, was very skillful at negotiating the muddy tracks of water-filled pot holes.
We stayed at Keekorok Lodge which was excellent - some at Cotters Camp were not so comfortable!
Driving in we saw our first elephants - hoorah! - as well as zebra and giraffe - the bird life is superb too. In the afternoon on our first game drive hyenas - vicious looking creatures - topi, more zebra and giraffe.
Over the next few days we had half a dozen game drives and saw so many wild animals, including large numbers of elephants and lions. From the lodge we could even see a pride of lions on rocks and there were zebra nearby too.
The most beautiful gazelles inhabit the area. We'd seen quite a few already but never got tired of seeing these shy, graceful animals.
The Bare-faced Go-away bird was another favourite - wonderful name!
We saw a pride of lions with a kill, a giraffe, though probably not freshly killed.
Mostly the lions we saw were not very active until later in the day when it was much more difficult to take good photographs.
The hippos were very difficult to see well as the river was quite high due to the recent rains, so we saw lots of ears,snouts and backs but little else!
One of the most attractive creatures was a little jackal. I'd always thought they would look vicious but they don't at all.
We saw lots of birds just at the lodge, and a monkey with a baby on the roof! The ostriches are also a wonderful sight - quite stately birds.
But the most memorable, for me, were the elephants and, in particular, on our very last drive when we saw a complete herd of elephants on the opposite side of the valley with the females and youngsters together and the young males on the outskirts of the group. It was too close to dusk to get good photographs but the memory will stay with me always.
We flew out of the Masai Mara back to Nairobi in an eighteen-seater De Havilland (with British pilots!), landing a couple of times to pick up passengers.
It was a fantastic experience, flying low over Kenya we saw lots of elephant, Masai villages and the Great Rift Valley.
From Nairobi we flew on to Mombasa for three days relaxation on the beach. This isn't really our scene and three days is quite enough.
However, we had lovely rooms at the Jadini Beach Hotel with stunning views over Diani Beach and the Indian Ocean. Diani beach is a vision of paradise: an expanse of beautiful white sand, fringed by tall palm trees, practically deserted except for a few locals trying to sell sarongs and trinkets to the occasional tourist. Small boats and traditional dhows with triangular sails dot the waters near shore.
It had been overcast for much of our stay in the Masai Mara so it was wonderful to see continuous sun and blue skies.
Mombasa is situated on an island and is the cradle of the Swahili culture. Today Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after Nairobi but it has been an important trading centre for about two thousand years. Arab domination was curtailed by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. The Portuguese built the fort on the coast here to protect their trading interests in spices, cotton, coffee and slaves.
The Omani Arabs threw out the Portuguese in the eighteenth century and they in turn were replaced by British colonial rule at the end of the nineteenth century.
The vast majority of the inhabitants are Muslim and mosques form some of the most distinctive architecture. The Mandhry Mosque, said to be the oldest in Mombasa, built by the Arabs in the sixteenth century, has an unusual obelisk minaret. Some research (Lighthouses of Kenya) indicates that this could originally have been a beacon, one of many along the coast. Or maybe the mosque came first and the Portuguese used it as a beacon!
The journey back was rather eventful. At Mombasa airport our first attempt at take-off was aborted as we were going down the runway with complete instrument failure - a bit scary! Still, we had a fine view of Mount Kilimanjaro and the famous snows on its peak when we did finally get airborne.