Atravelynn

Sept Kenya Private Drive/Fly

133 posts in this topic

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Throughout the trip I kept track of the number of other vehicles at the various wildlife sightings. I discovered Kenya Wildlife Service Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya. I had a harrowing run-in with some aggressive baboons and security guards came to my aid. A rescue operation that I single handedly pulled off inspired the Quote of the Trip, a One-Act Play in which I star, and musical solo (by me) in the bush.

 

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Itinerary

31 Aug – Depart O’Hare

1 Sept – Arrive Nairobi, o/nt Panari Hotel

2 Sept – Drive to Aberdare, o/nt Fishing Lodge KWS Banda

3 Sept – Day spent in Aberdare, game drive in Salient, hiking to waterfalls, o/nt Fishing Lodge

4 Sept – Morning game drive in Aberdare, drive to Meru, o/nt Kinnas KWS Banda

5 Sept – Morning and afternoon game drives in Meru, o/nt Kinnas

6 Sept – Morning and afternoon game drives in Meru, o/nt Kinnas

7 Sept – Morning game drive in Meru, drive to Shaba, afternoon game drive Shaba, o/nt Sarova

8 Sept – Drive to Buffalo Springs, morning and afternoon game drive Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba

9 Sept – Morning, mid-day, afternoon game drives in Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba

10 Sept – Half day game drive in Samburu, afternoon game drive in Buffalo Springs, o/nt Simba

11 Sept – Morning game drive in Buffalo Springs, fly to Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree

12 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree

13 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree

14 Sept - Half day game drive in Talek area of Mara, afternoon game drive in Talek, o/nt Fig Tree

15 Sept - Half day game drive enroute to Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena

16 Sept – Full day game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena, night drive

17 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena

18 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara Triangle, afternoon game drive in Mara Triangle, o/nt Mara Serena

19 Sept – Half day game drive in Mara enroute to Nairobi, depart Nairobi

20 Sept – Arrive in Chicago

 

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Posted (edited)

Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya!

If you do your own meal prep and drive yourself, they’d be even more of a bargain, but I wasn’t willing to go that far. In comparing and contrasting the 2 Kenya Wildlife Service Bandas I used with some Premier Luxury Camps of Botswana costing many hundreds per night, the bandas come out very well.

 

Fishing Lodge in Aberdare and Kinnas was in Meru. Kinnas might also be known as Bwathernrongi Bandas, the nearby river.

Similarities between low cost bandas and expensive luxury camps:

Small, intimate setting--Fishing Lodge allowed 2 parties and Kinnas had bandas for 4 parties.

 

Remote location without many vehicles—I saw 4 other safari vehicles during activities in Aberdare, all going the opposite direction. I saw 5 other safari vehicles in Meru, actually there were 4 separate vehicles, but we encountered one twice.

 

Fishing Lodge Photos

 

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Lovely setting with resident wildlife—Aberdare’s Fishing Lodge had 360 degrees of beautiful mountaintop scenery. Spoor indicated lots of animal visitors and I saw a Duiker, Jackson’s Francolin, and Waterbuck. With less rain, I’d have seen more wildlife around the banda. The nearby Magura River could be heard flowing, even from inside, but I was warned not to venture down the path to the river without an armed guard due to buffalo. Meru’s Kinnas Bandas were near the Bwathernrongi River and boasted an abundance of animals and birds—herds of impala, troops of baboons and vervets, agama lizards, two resident genets, woodpeckers, a variety of weavers, even several appearances of the Paradise Flycatcher with its flowing white tail feathers. Some nights there were non-stop baboon alarm calls and internal squabbles, plus lions roaring to each other. One night we could hear lions chase an antelope around the building and the tracks we saw the next day confirmed the pursuit.

 

Kinnas Photos

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Personal service--If you have a private vehicle, guide, and chef as I did, then you cannot get more personal service than that. Each banda had KWS staff on site. At Fishing Lodge the staff frequently delivered wood for the fire. At Fishing Lodge I spent an entire day in a different vehicle with a driver and a KWS ranger, plus my own E&S guide so that was 3 people attending to moi—very personalized.

 

Plunge Pool--Kinnas had one that I did not use and Fishing Lodge was way too cold for plunging.

 

Rustic and authentic safari feel—That’s definitely the vibe. No electricity at either banda so we used lanterns. The E&S vehicle could charge batteries even if it was not running.

 

Comfortable and clean—Absolutely.

 

Mosquito netting—One is provided at Kinnas, but there was no “tie up” service each day, so I left it unfurled. It was tied upon my arrival. No netting is needed in the higher altitude Fishing Lodge.

 

Ensuite facilities—Flush toilet, hot water, and shower all were available a few steps away in my own bathroom, all under one roof. Fishing Lodge provided towels. Kinnas was bring your own towels, so that is a difference from a luxury tented camp.

 

Good food—Not only was the food good, but you can have personal requests with your own chef.

 

Differences:

 

The price!

 

Bandas are not tented; they are solid wood or brick walls and floors. Most luxury tented camps are under canvas.

 

Library, resources, and onsite CD backup of your memory card—None at the bandas

 

Electricity—None at the bandas

 

Afternoon tea and pastries—I think you could request this, which I did not. But the fancy desserts at the luxury camps and tea served on fine china would be tough to duplicate at the bandas.

 

Wait staff and beautifully set tables—There was no staff at mealtimes, just Chef Martin. Some of the dishes and silverware he brought along and some were provided at the bandas. All were clean. There was no napkin art at the table but we did have some placemats.

 

Beautiful furniture and decor—Fishing Lodge had some nice pictures on the wall and attractive furniture; Kinnas had an airy screened porch (that I forget to photograph, darnit) but nothing stunning at either banda. The banda beds were comfortable, though.

 

Raised wooden walkways—none at the bandas

 

Towels—Fishing Lodge had fine towels; Kinnas was BYO. I arranged a stop in Nairobi to buy a bath towel enroute to Aberdare, rather than bring one from home, which would mean my luggage would be too bulky to carry on the plane. In contrast, the luxury tents often have terry cloth bathrobes provided. I left the towel with my driver before I flew out to the Mara.

 

Laundry service—none at the bandas so I did mine in the sink.

 

Hot water bottle at night—None needed at Kinnas. This would be a good item to request in advance for Fishing Lodge, especially if there is no additional source of body heat to warm the bed, as was my case.

 

Wine and spirits—E&S asked me about beverages in the planning stages so that would be the time to request any special drinks. I did not ask for wine or other alcohol and didn’t see any.

 

Mingling with others—Other than a nod or a wave, there was not much interaction with the other couple people I saw at the bandas. At the luxury camps, tea and mealtimes offered excellent opportunities to interact with others.

 

Guide Quarters—The bandas had a common center area and bedrooms with their own bathroom were on either side. I stayed in one of the bedrooms and Guide Ben and Chef Martin used the other. I think at Fishing Lodge there was yet another little room near the kitchen for the chef. At the luxury tents, staff has their own quarters or village.

 

Tipping the staff—At the end of the stay, I gave a standard daily staff tip to the guy who supplied us with wood for the fireplace several times a day at Fishing Lodge. At Kinnas, I left an amount on the pillow similar to what I would for maid service for my 3-night stay. At the luxury camps, there is usually a tip box for staff.

 

In sum, I loved the KWS bandas and not just as a means for saving money on lodging. That’s why I considered them the Bargain of Kenya. The reason I did not stay at bandas throughout the trip was they are only available in the national parks that are operated by Kenya Wildlife Service. The reserves of the Maasai Mara, Shaba, Samburu and Buffalo Springs do not offer these bandas.

 

Here is a link to banda rates. http://www.kws.org/export/sites/kws/touris...Banda_Rates.pdf

 

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Edited by Atravelynn
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How cool! They are lovely looking.

Pricewise, can you offer a ballpark of what it costs for staying in a banda pppn?

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Wow - that's a BIG difference from the tented camps! Looks like a good alternative - how much additional were you shelling out for the guide/driver/vehicle/chef? I'm assuming that even with those expenses, the Bandas were a good deal?

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This has rates from last year. About $25 to $200.
Holy price savings! Those rates are great comparatively speaking!! :angry:

Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

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The cost of my arrangement at the bandas was still less than The Ark in Aberdare. It was hundreds less than Elsa's in Meru. In a park like Meru, where wildlife is sparse, there can be an advantage to staying at a place like Elsa's or Leopard Lodge (and paying more) to take advantage of the permanent guides who can keep tabs on the animals day by day. However, we did run into one Elsa guide without guests and he said they had not seen lions in several days either. I was very pleased with what my "transient" guide was able to find in Meru, especially his birding skills. This leads nicely into the next part.

 

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Eastern and Southern Safaris in Nairobi, Kenya

I used Eastern & Southern Safaris but our route was north, then northeast, followed by due west with one shortcut to Somalia between Meru and Shaba (not really, but it was similar to what safaritalk members Patty and Leely experienced with the same Driver, Ben), southwest, and finally east, and I’m still confused, which is why there are no self drives in my future.

 

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Driver/Guides Ben and Raphael each have unique talents that added to the enjoyment of the trip. Ben is a superb bird guide with amazing spotting skills that extend to all species and has tales that would make a fascinating novel. Raphael is great at avoiding the Mara crowds and searching out animals independently, maintaining respect for the wildlife even when the masses of vehicles do not, and maximizing time in the bush.

 

E&S is a great value.

 

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Posted (edited)

Food, including Cucumber Juice, Sour Milk, Palette Cleansers, etc.

 

All food I ate was great, whether it was the extensive buffets at the lodges or meals prepared by Martin, the Eastern & Southern Chef who accompanied us to the bandas. I was not fond of the cucumber juice that was one of the many breakfast beverages at Mara Serena, but fortunately, that mealy green liquid was easily avoided and there was plenty of fresh orange, passion fruit, pineapple, carrot juice, etc. If you happen to be a fan of the cuke juice, I can assure you it was freshly squeezed and frothy.

 

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Martin told me he had always enjoyed cooking and loved his job, which was evident by the fine meals he served. As part of the pre-trip planning, I had requested that the chef prepare a few typical Kenyan meals and Martin obliged with some excellent ugali offerings and fish dishes. I found a new favorite beverage—sour milk. The name of this packaged, no-refrigeration-needed product gave me pause, but it was delicious—a cross between buttermilk and yogurt with a hint of sour cream. I did not think the Kenyans could teach someone who hails from the Dairy State of Wisconsin anything about butter fat, but I was wrong.

 

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I sure miss the daily fresh pineapple that I had become accustomed to.

 

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Mara Serena often served some very tasty sliced tiny Gherkins. Those Dairy State roots compelled me to pair the pickles with some of the soft and hard cheeses offered at the dessert table. I think the Swiss are fond of that combination as well, probably Après Ski. When another English speaking diner took obvious notice of my plate, I explained that the Gherkins and cheese were so good that they had been elevated to a palette cleansing course at my table. I said this with a laugh and thought that might be a good conversation starter in the buffet line. It was not.

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(Although this is part about food, the pictures are not of food--no irony intended)

 

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Edited by Atravelynn

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Mixing with Others on a Solo Trip

Bantering about Gherkins is not a successful strategy for mixing.

 

At the bandas Driver/Guide Ben and I ate together, as well as at Sarova, where the policy has guides and guests sharing meals. At Samburu Simba, Fig Tree, and Serena the guides dine separately. Since I did not manage to get adopted by any other groups or couples, I dined at a table for one. I noticed the staff paid extra attention to the solos and the conversations that ensued offered some chuckles and insights.

 

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In deciding what I would request at the made-to-order pasta bar, I asked the chef, “If this were your lunch, what would you get?” His reply was, “I am Maasai and do not eat any of this pasta.” He further explained that he follows the recipe exactly and does not need to rely on tasting. A few nights later when the meal was lamb, chicken, and spicy sausage barbeque, he assured me that he’d be sampling all of those items with enthusiasm.

 

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Another conversation with a Maasai chef turned to his upcoming leave from work. He shared that he was very excited to be heading home in a few days and described the route and transportation. I only recall the last leg of the trip, which was a walk of like 11 kilometers. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to see your family,” I said to which he replied, “I want to see my cows; I miss my cows.” He had 24 of them. When asked who takes care of the cows in his absence, his response was: “my mother.” No mention of missing her. Considering the importance that cows hold in the Maasai culture, I don’t believe there was any maternal disrespect meant by his comment.

 

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I ran into a couple of birders who were traveling with Guide Ben’s nephew’s company, Ben’s Ecological Safaris, that specializes in birding. Uncle and nephew are both named Ben. The clients were absolutely giddy with excitement over just seeing their 900th bird species in Africa. I told them that was worth bringing out the Jambo Bwana singers and dancers as bird #900 is as monumental as most birthdays.

 

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Fig Tree had the most congenial after dinner bonfire and I chatted with some nice folks there--when my attention was not absorbed by the genet and bush baby that nibble on the fruit set out for them.

 

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Atravelynn a quality report and great photos, but I do think that the client and guide interaction in that last shot is perhaps too intimate for the next time I go on safari...

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Ha ha Matt, but I am glad you caught the significance of the pictures of paired animals for the topic of "Mixing with Others." I have heard that those big truck safaris offer numerous opportunities for reciprocal grooming, among other things.

 

Attire & Gear

 

*If going to Fishing Lodge, bring warm clothes and/or layers. You can see your breath inside at night. I wore 5 layers on top and 4 on the bottom to bed along with hat and gloves.

 

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*In really hot places, consider bringing a hand towel from the room that can be doused in water and placed around the neck or on top of the head to keep cool. And not just for you, but for your driver, perhaps especially for your driver.

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* Make your own bean bag instructions that worked for me: I took a 16-oz plastic bag of dried beans and reinforced it with another plastic bag and duct tape. The bean bag could be used as is, but I preferred to stick it in the sleeve or hood of a garment--or better yet, wrap it in a hand towel from the lodge, secured with rubberbands and/or safety pins. At the end of the trip I gave the beans to the guide. Hope he likes Navy.

 

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* Spotted: Tourist wearing a pith helmet, along with a foot-and-half long sheathed Kukri knife attached to the belt. I won’t say where I saw the individual sporting this getup because it could reflect poorly on the establishment. But I can say with certainty that s/he was not strolling through either of my bandas. I write s/he not to protect the innocent but because I’m really not sure. S/he had tussled blond curls poking out from under the pith helmet that rested low over the eyes, and the safari outfit was loose-fitting. Imagine Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies with a curly perm wearing a pith helmet and a complete safari costume. From a distance the gender would be hard to detect. And I didn’t want to stare. I thought about snapping a photo, but was afraid to provoke this character who wielded a huge knife.

 

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Posted (edited)

Atravelynn a quality report and great photos, but I do think that the client and guide interaction in that last shot is perhaps too intimate for the next time I go on safari...

 

That's a depiction of the new rules in the US for security pat downs before flying.

 

-------------

 

ABERDARE

 

From the Eastern and Southern office in Nairobi to the entrance of Aberdare National Park = 3.5 hours and that includes 25 minutes of stops along the way.

 

From the park entrance gate to Fishing Lodge Bandas takes between 2.25 and 5 hours depending on vehicle breakdowns, rain, waterfall walks, and wildlife viewing. (Fishing Lodge is described in detail above under “Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya!”)

 

The first wildlife of the trip, besides the Marabu Storks in Nairobi, were two impalas at the Aberdare park entrance. These would be the only impala we would see in Aberdare because the forested terrain does not suit them. Not long after the first impala, we had the first raindrops of what was to be 30 millimeters of rainfall that afternoon and evening.

 

To break up this long drive on Day 1 we had a picnic lunch at the Muringato River where an African Black Duck and ducklings were paddling around. Fortunately that was pre-deluge.

 

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African Black Duck and Jackson's Francolin with chick

 

To fully appreciate the stunning habitat of Aberdare, it is necessary to spend more time in the park than a short visit to one of the “tree hotels” of the The Ark or Treetops and a 2-night stay at Fishing Lodge is perfect.

 

 

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Between the park gate to Fishing Lodge Banda, the distinctive zones include:

Ecotone (transition from grassland to heavier foliage, Park Gate is here)

Broadleaf

Broadleaf-Croton

Croton

Bamboo

Rosewood

Moorland—where Fishing Lodge is located

 

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Aberdare is known for “The Salient,” the lush, thick forest, which spans from about Broadleaf-Croton zone to the Rosewood Forest and is inhabited by a variety of lesser seen creatures, such as Sykes Monkeys, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, and Giant Forest Hog—and I saw all of these. In fact, we had four Giant Forest Hog sightings. My hopes for a glimpse of this elusive, usually nocturnal creature were well rewarded with photos to boot.

 

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Notice the piglet behind the adult, above

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Some of the troops of Sykes were shy and retreated into the forest when our vehicle approached, but other troops went about their business on the side of the road for 30 minutes while I watched. These are very attractive creatures, even more striking than the Golden Monkeys that share the gorilla’s habitat in Rwanda.

 

 

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The Salient must have more Bushbucks per kilometer than anywhere and its rich vegetation results in Bushbucks the size of Waterbucks, and Waterbuck-sized Warthogs as well.

 

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Shy Duikers appeared now and then, especially at the higher elevations, and we even got a quick view of a large, dark colored leopard as it sprinted across the road.

 

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I saw two elephants at a distance and no rhino. The waterholes and salt licks of The Ark or Treetops would probably attract more eles and rhino and allow for better visibility of them.

 

The birding coup of the trip occurred in Aberdare and I know it is a coup because Bird Guide Ben wanted pictures that I took of the Crowned Eagle. We had over half a dozen sightings of this magnificent species, in pairs, on a nest and we even had audio when we heard a Crowned Eagle chick, hidden in its nest, calling to the parents.

 

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Edited by Atravelynn

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Posted (edited)

My daylong excursion in Aberdare was in a 4x4 Land Rover owned by William who specializes in trips to Mt. Kenya and Aberdare. An armed KWS ranger joined us and was necessary for the hikes. E&S Guide Ben went too. One thing that really impressed me about these three guys was on our walks if there was any litter, they picked it up.

 

Our 10.5-hour outing included three easy hikes to three waterfalls: Karuru, Magura, Chania. With 6 trained eyes, plus mine, no Giant Forest Hog or anything else escaped us! This was a fantastic way to become immersed in the habitats of Aberdare National Park and The Salient it is known for, and to view the wildlife that call it home. What a worthwhile, quality outing. Truly, one of Kenya’s finer offerings!

 

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For tips, I gave William the same as I would give my regular driver/guide for a full day of service. I gave the KWS employee ¼ of that since he’d be working somewhere in the park anyway. I considered that day as a regular work day for Ben, my E&S guide, when calculating his tip at the end of the trip.

 

The cost of arranging a day trip like this with an extra 4x4, driver, and armed escort was much less than I thought, a couple hundred dollars or less. When I learned that William arrived the night before through pouring rain and stayed with the KWS staff so we could depart promptly the next day, it was even more of a bargain.

 

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On our trip out of the park, I mentioned it was a humorous coincidence that the two buffalos I was trying to photograph both decided to defecate simultaneously. Ben explained that it was no coincidence and they intended to do that to show aggression. Since the aggression was directed at us, it could quickly turn into no laughing matter, so we kept our distance and did not linger.

 

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Other vehicles

All photos were taken with no other vehicles in sight. During my 3 days and 2 nights in Aberdare, I saw only 4 other vehicles going the opposite direction on the road, so we crossed paths for just a few seconds.

 

Interesting Birds in Aberdare:

Hartelaub Turacao

Scaly Francolin

Jackson’s Francolin

Montane Wagtail

Streaky Seedeater

Crowned Eagle

Hunter’s Cisticola

White Eyed Slaty Flycatcher

Alpine Chat

Stone Chat

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Montane Buzzard

Golden Winged Sunbird

Gymnogene

Crimson Tufted Sunbird

Edited by Atravelynn

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Lovin' it, Lynn. And your photos are wonderful!! :angry:

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Posted (edited)

Thanks Divewop.

MERU

 

From the Aberdare Park entrance to the Meru Park Entrance = 5.5 hours including stops totaling 1 hour. From the park entrance to Kinnas Bandas = 30 minutes.

 

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Kinnas Bandas are described in detail above under “Bandas are the Bargain of Kenya!” but here are some additional Kinnas details:

 

In my 3 nights there, the KWS staff offered to change the bedding.

 

Midday was extremely hot in Meru (I’m guessing 90+ degrees F) but the bandas remained cool and comfortable inside. The windows had curtains that could be pulled back for breeze or pulled shut over the screens at night.

 

There was a lovely outdoor patio where we ate our meals, surprisingly without harassment from tse tses or anything else. I was told that Elsa’s is located in a much higher tse tse intense area than Kinnas. I can’t attest to tse tses at Elsa’s, but they were not bad at all at Kinnas.

 

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one male Wattled Starling in breeding plumage

 

Nor were the tse tses a real discomfort when I was standing up in the open-topped moving vehicle. They caused much more discomfort for Ben, who was confined to the dark interior. He brought a horse tail attached to a stick as a swatter.

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Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse

 

If not visiting Elsa’s grave while in Meru makes me a bad person, then so be it, but I did not pay my respects. We did drive by Pippa’s grave, an Adamson cheetah. Maybe that brought good cheetah karma for Meru, where we surprisingly saw a pair. I also did not visit the rhino sanctuary because I was on a Lesser Kudu mission, but the sanctuary would be another plus for a Meru visit.

 

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

 

The evidence of lions was a constant yet we never saw any in Meru, so it was as if the mysterious spirit of Elsa was ever present but invisible. We’d hear them loud and clear at night and see numerous sets of tracks on every road. We even heard a chase around our banda at night and saw the tracks the next day.

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Brown Snake Eagle, Hammerkop, Green Sandpiper

Edited by Atravelynn

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Fanbloodytastic!

Loving it!

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Posted (edited)

Lowdown on Lesser Kudu

 

 

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I kept track of the Lesser Kudus I saw and photographed for any other Lesser Kudu enthusiasts who may contemplating a visit to Meru.

 

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Though they are abundant in Meru, they are not easy to see (thank goodness for Ben’s sharp eyes) and even harder to get a picture of due to their shy nature and preference for browsing in thick brush.

 

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kudu is looking at a cheetah that is looking at a giraffe

 

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Drive #1 in evening as we entered park: 0

Drive #2 in morning: 1 male, photographable

Drive #3 in afternoon: Herd of 1 adult male and 1 young male with 3 females and 2 fawns running along road, all photographable; 1 female with fawn, no photos

Drive #4 in morning: 1 female, no photos; 2 males and 2 females, no photos

Drive #5 in afternoon: 1 male that I did not see but Ben saw;1 male and 4 females, no photos; 2 males and 4 females, no photos; mother and fawn, no photos; 1 male looking at a cheetah!! looking at a giraffe!!, photographable

Drive #6 in morning: 1 male, photographable

 

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Edited by Atravelynn

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Loving these photo edits: it's like watching the Woodstock Concert film :angry: And it certainly brings back fond memories of the cheap trips gang...

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QUOTE OF THE TRIP

 

I am crediting myself with the quote of the trip in the form of a one-woman Way, Way, Way Off Broadway play.

 

SETTING

Kinnas Banda bathroom

 

TIME

Immediately after the short rains, so to speak

 

ATRAVELYNN (in monologue)

“What the hell?!”

 

(Atravelynn exits stage left and the bathroom is empty for a moment. She returns promptly with a pair of reading glasses and peers into the toilet bowl.)

 

ATRAVELYNN (in monologue)

“There’s a lizard in my toilet!”

 

The End

 

Specifically it was a baby agama, about 3 inches long. Apparently it had lost its grip on the ceiling and had taken a plunge. The fact that a small lizard appeared in my banda toilet should in no way reflect poorly on the banda itself. The lovely Mara Serena lodge had many tiny lizards gripping the walls. Lizards can be found adorning the canvas of the finest luxury tented camps throughout Africa, adding to charm and contributing to the safari ambiance. The agama in the commode is completely a function of one reptile’s momentary lapse of suction and not a function of the caliber of the establishment.

 

I did not take a picture of this poor creature in the toilet bowl for documentation because (a) I thought it would be in poor taste and (b ) any delay could further jeopardize the survival of the lizard. The one act play turned into an action adventure as I raced outside to find a long stick, rushed back to the bathroom, and thrust the stick into the toilet bowl. The agama immediately grabbed onto this lifeline and I was able to lift it out of danger and whisk it outside. I gently placed the stick with the tightly clinging agama on the ground.

 

Nothing happened. Oh no, had the cold water taken its toll on the little reptile? Was I too late in my rescue attempt? Ben assured me the agama just needed time to warm up in the sun. At this point I did snap a photo.

 

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The rescued baby agama, and member of the supporting cast of the play

 

In a flash the young agama darted off and as it fled, tears streamed down my cheeks and a song welled up in my breast and then sprang from my lips…

 

“Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart!”

 

The tears and my crooning in the bush are a bunch of silly nonsense, but I did mention to Ben that it would be funny to sing the Born Free song as the lizard ran off.

 

How fitting that I would enact my own little Born Free saga in Meru, the land of Elsa.

 

Moral of the play: Keep the toilet lid shut.

 

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adult agama near Kinnas Bandas

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Lynn, those are great shots of the Kudus running! We also found them very difficult to see clearly, let alone photograph, as they were very shy and usually in amongst the bushes. Gorgeous animals, though.

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Thanks everybody!

 

Other vehicles, sightings, and photos

 

In my 4 days and 3 nights I saw 4 other vehicles, all but one in passing. I also saw about 4 patrol vehicles and the patrol plane passed over twice.

 

A Somali Ostrich family with 13 two-year-old chicks was a highlight of Meru. Ben said the ostriches were doing very well in Meru, even better than in Samburu. No other vehicles.

 

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Meru also offered the best Grevy Zebra interactions and photos that I saw on the trip. I believe about 20 were translocated from Lewa in 2002. I saw a few Grevy’s swatting each other with their tails, standing close to ward off the tse tses. No other vehicles.

 

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Posted (edited)

I just got back on line after a couple of days. Great stuff!

 

Sounds like you had a great time. The "short rains" is a classic. And I, being old enough, had already pictured Jane Hathaway as soon as you described a female in a pith helmet.

Edited by Pangolin

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Lynn,

 

Thanks a lot for reporting and truly some great photos.

 

You fared better as far as Grevy's zebra in Meru is concerned than I did last year. I just saw one.

 

I was luckier with Lesser Kudus, having had 82 (eighty two!) sightings in our 4 nights stay. I guess it might have helped that 2009 was a much drier year. Actually, we had a family and a couple of handsome males residing in the close proximity of our camp.

 

We encointered 1 other vehicle throughout our stay (in the Rhino sanctuary, where we saw 7 White Rhinos and 2 Black Rhinos, the latter fighting)

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I'm glad at least somebody got the Jane Hathaway reference. Thanks Twaffle. Paolo, I may have had good luck with Grevy's in Meru but saw hardly any and no photos in Samburu. 82 Lesser Kudu is fantastic and to have them as neighbors. I bet you are right about a drier year being more favorable for sightings. Good input on the rhino sanctuary.

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One herd of about 15 elephants crossed the road in front of us and I also saw a separate single bull elephant. No other vehicles.

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We saw a purple heron sunning with wings widespread. The dark and light contrasting feathers reminded me of a dark and white chocolate truffle.

 

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We made a stop at the picturesque hippo pool where you can get out and walk on a wooden platform. We saw one submerged hippo, a Giant Kingfisher, and a buffalo that gave us pause, considering we were on foot. No other vehicles.

 

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me at the hippo pool

 

Other antelope besides Lesser Kudu included Grant’s Gazelles, Coke’s Hartebeest, Waterbuck, Dik diks, a few Gerenuk, and a relaxed herd of impala with nursing young. No other vehicles.

 

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Meru has Baobab trees and I saw my first Baobab with leaves on it and not just bare branches.

 

We had a classic view of a grazing buffalo herd.

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On our third afternoon drive Ben stopped the vehicle and looked at a gazelle bone in the road. “That was not there yesterday,” he replied. We then proceeded into an area where the animals were not accustomed to vehicles and fled at the sight of ours. One young giraffe almost veered out of control and into a tree in its frantic attempt to flee from us. I requested that we head elsewhere so we backtracked and arrived at the intersection with the gazelle bones and watched a much more relaxed giraffe in great light. This was a shared sighting with the vehicle from the banda next to ours.

 

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Suddenly a cheetah sat up under a tree. “That’s why the gazelle bone is there,” Ben explained. The cheetah moved off slowly. We were thrilled with this unexpected sighting and shared a thumbs up with the other vehicle. The giraffe we had been looking at continued on its course and soon giraffe and cheetah were aware of each other’s presence. Then I noticed a Lesser Kudu also taking note of the giraffe and cheetah and of the vehicles. It was a hubbub of activity.

 

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The other vehicle drove off, but we remained to admire our cheetah, giraffe and Lesser Kudu. Then a second cheetah popped up right next to where the first cheetah had appeared. We watched both male cheetahs head off as the light faded.

 

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I expressed my delight to Ben, stating the cheetah is my favorite animal. He shared that it was also his favorite animals because cheetahs eat only freshly killed meat. I found that to be an interesting reason that is not often cited as a basis for admiring this popular animal.

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