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A misguided trip, you say? (Kenya Christmas 2021) (1 Viewer)

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
I was not planning to do a "real-time report" from this trip, because I was expecting to have exactly zero downtime, learning from the previous trip to Africa - when you have a 4x4, there is always something better to do than stare into my phone.

Well, that's the thing - our 4x4 is now in the middle of Masai Mara, with one wheel slanted under an unhealthy angle and we are sitting in Talek in a camp, while it's too hot for a walk at this time of the day, so let me give you some material to laugh at my expense.

The story of this trip started in October, when we did not really know where to go but knew we won't have this much free time probably ever again. With covidism rampant, I was desperately looking for something reasonably open and found out that several friends have been to Kenya. Upon learning, to my surprise, that self-drive is "easily done", the country really got my liking. However I had to cancel that trip on 48-hour notice because of an MS relapse which left me with no sense of balance (literally almost bedbound for a while). Since Kenya e-visa are valid for three months - and everything was already somewhat planned, we said why not, let's go to Kenya over the end of the year.

Everything looked peachy, until just a few days before departure, when the covid cases in Kenya shot up from next to zero to thousands within those few days. We decide to persevere, obtained a bunch of QR codes and flew over. A second overnight flight within three days took a bit of a toll on me, as did the two-hour process to enter Kenya, but we retrieved the car from Roadtrip Kenya around 3 pm on Sunday finally.

Already there some signs of trouble surfaced - the car turned out to be, frankly, an old beater. With 240k on odometer and many rusty places, the Hilux has seen better days. A bit more annoyingly it lacks A/C and is painted black, so not the coolest place to be in, it also has a "turbo timer" that delays engine-off by 30s and beeps the entire time (so no way to just stop and silently listen when an interesting sound appears), radio comes up randomly and handbrake is more of a decoration ... I don't really want to badmouth Roadtrip Kenya, as they have been nothing but nice and friendly - and they still may be the best option in the country (considering that the other cars we saw white people in on the roads didn't look that much better) - but just so people know what they may be getting themselves into renting a 4x4 in Kenya.

We set out for lake Naishiva to spend the night camping on the shore in Carnelley's, which is a pretty good birding spot and also had Mantled Guerezas. We bought a Safaricom SIM in the town (in like the 5th shop we visited) the next day and drove to Masai Mara. Quickly after obtaining internet we learned that UAE has banned passenger flights from Kenya because of Omicron worries - including transfers - so our return trip through Dubai seems now ... a bit uncertain?

The Mara Triangle visit was simply great though. Compared to Etosha and Chobe, the animals are a tad harder to see, but the landscape is just stunning (not like the endless boring flatland of those two aforementioned parks). And we got a Serval and Oribi - and the ubiquitous Olive Baboons - for our mammal lists. The camping in "Oloololo public campsite" was an experience in itself - the site is just a 50x50 meter meadow, with no kind of barrier around it whatsoever; one morning, Ivana had to abandon a trip to the toilet because a Hippo was passing too close to it ... The park is also quite birdy, but we have no list so far due to lack of time.

And then on the way back, already out of the Triangle, but still deep in the National Reserve, the steering wheel turned upside down and I quickly stopped. The nice thing about safari in Kenya is cellphone coverage (unlike Botswana, where we actually took a satellite phone with us) so I was able to call Roadtrip Kenya and they quickly arranged for some locals to come pick us up. There was some extended discussion about money and what do we pay on the spot, but after like 10 calls, the guys accepted Roadtrip's insistence that we don't pay anything on the spot (as they want to have oversight) and we left for Talek, where we now camp and wait. This is the real test of Roadtrip Kenya - will they try to put blame on us? I am not aware of any hit that could be responsible and I think it's just a tired metal, they said they are waiting for the mechanic to judge it. So let's see. In any case their very quick action that saved us from the middle of the park, paints them in a pretty good light.
 
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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
At the end of the day, my feelings are a bit mixed. Roadtrip blames the defect on me, because I drove with 4x4 engaged on a "road" (a stony dirt track) at "speed" (of maybe 40). Any 4x4 I ever drove had no qualms with that - yeah, it increases wear a bit, but over vehicle lifetime, not two hours. On the other hand, the grand total for towing, material and repairs was just $230 and it was all arranged swiftly and Roadtrip staff spent hours on the phone dealing with the local bandits disguised as vehicle mechanics, who constantly tried to extort more money from me, so I am willing to call this a valuable lesson for myself in driving very, very old trucks. At least we will be on the way again!

I know this is birdforum, but frankly, we are mammalwatchers first nowadays and while we really enjoy the variety of birds, we are very far behind in making a trip list - one reason being that there are just so many birds to keep track of! So I can now only report that we have found a very interesting small mouse during our night ride through the surroundings of Talek (in the area between protected areas) and a Senegal Bushbaby, directly in the Aruba Mara camp where we are camping now, thanks to the advice of a Masai "camp security guard", who also offers guided tours and does indeed know animals quite well - and is a very fine gentleman overall.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
The two main reserves of western Kenya - Kakamega and Mt. Elgon are absolutely fantastic places to visit and also have almost zero cellphone coverage, so sorry for no updates. The birding is next to impossible anyway, the birds just refuse to be seen! But the bat caves! And the scenery!
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
I think we have completely lost any chance of tracking birds seen during the trips, there are just too many and we barely keep up with the mammals, so only the flashiest birds are identified - Hartlaub's Turaco in Mt. Elgon, Ross's Turaco in Saiwa Swamp for example! Or black-and-white-casqued hornbill?! But also Silverbird in Kembu farm. Did I mention Kembu farm? Visit Kembu farm! A place where we came, the owner immediately grabbed us and took us for a night game drive around his farm, with Servals, Jackals, Duikers ... and later we even found a Dormouse! They also have a nursery for orphaned Tree Hyraxes ... in their bedroom!

So lacking more obvious birds, let me tell you about mammals: Potto and Red-tailed Monkeys in Kakamega, Otter in Mt. Elgon, De Brazza Monkeys, Sitatunga, Civet, Giant Squirrel in Saiwa Swamp ...
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
A list of what we saw in Samburu and Meru can be found in the New Year's list thread. Samburu in particular turned out great for everything, birds and mammals, with 8 mammalian lifers in one night's stay. Meru was a little quieter, but it was also much quieter on the human front, which was a great plus - in Samburu, the beggars pretending to be camp wardens were quite annoying and there were many tourists. Another fun thing about Meru was that many roads saw no vehicles since the last big rain, so there was an unexpected level of adventure - we were basically just following washed out clearings between the trees - well and sometimes quite through the trees! Then there was a tree that couldn't be dealt with and we had to go find another way out of the maze, which just lead through more trees ... but we made it!

Finally, we reached Tsavo East. The huge expanse of the park makes a visit a very dift experience to the smaller parks - there is open country from one horizon to the other and absolutely no other people to be seen, as only few venture far from the lodges and main roads. Looking at that expanse, one suddenly finds the idea of finding some of only 80 Hirolas still surviving in the park completely insane (with the statistics of one Hirola per 200 sq. km) but we found 7 of them quickly, right next to the GPS coordinates from Jon Hall's report from July. Guess they don't move around that much - and they deliberately choose to stay near enough to a road to be seen!

Cutting through Tsavo East, it's fast to teach the coast, but is it a good idea? The heat is just oppressive here, one of the worst I have seen. And despite all the great things I heard about Arabuko-Sokoke, the park was the biggest flop of the trip with almost no birds and only split-second sightings of unidentified mammals. Maybe this is a terrible season to come? Despite all the water damage seen in other parks, here it looks like after a huge drought, as many water bodies are empty and the supposed "rainforest" looks like it would go up in flames upon a louder sneeze. Well, you win some, you lose some.

So far, we have spent 17 nights in Kenya, saw 68 mammal species at least and 192 bird species - but the bird list is VERY incomplete (and most of it exists only thanks to the New Year's list thing).

Technically we have 6 more days, but our flight is still cancelled and our agents don't talk to us, so we don't know how long the trip will actually be yet ...
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
My wife's bird list is at 226 species with 87 lifers - there are many missing, we have just left the harder ones for home to do from photos. Especially raptors, weavers and cisticolas are a nightmare to ID! So it's gonna be quite rich, but not as much as the Southern Africa trip from 2018 - but we also covered less than a half of the driving distance, this will "only" be around 5000 kms.

We have just been to Tsavo West, which is spectacular in terms of scenery, but less in terms of animals. Before that, we did Rukinga (Wildlife Works), which was amazing - it's a private conservancy which allows independent night drives, a very rare sight in Kenya. And they have so much to offer for those drives - we saw Genets, Civet, Jackal, White-tailed Mongoose, Cheetah, Lions, melanistic Serval, endless Galagos, Jerbils and many antelopes during 10 hours of night driving, it was really excellent. Also an African Eagle Owl and many Nightjars, probably several species. We are at 78 mammal species at least for the trip, despite having not seen Leopards nor Rhinos.
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
My wife's bird list is at 226 species with 87 lifers - there are many missing, we have just left the harder ones for home to do from photos. Especially raptors, weavers and cisticolas are a nightmare to ID! So it's gonna be quite rich, but not as much as the Southern Africa trip from 2018 - but we also covered less than a half of the driving distance, this will "only" be around 5000 kms.

We have just been to Tsavo West, which is spectacular in terms of scenery, but less in terms of animals. Before that, we did Rukinga (Wildlife Works), which was amazing - it's a private conservancy which allows independent night drives, a very rare sight in Kenya. And they have so much to offer for those drives - we saw Genets, Civet, Jackal, White-tailed Mongoose, Cheetah, Lions, melanistic Serval, endless Galagos, Jerbils and many antelopes during 10 hours of night driving, it was really excellent. Also an African Eagle Owl and many Nightjars, probably several species. We are at 78 mammal species at least for the trip, despite having not seen Leopards nor Rhinos.
How has it been for the rest of this fantastic trip?
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Working on it :) The preliminary bird list at 410 - quite a lot were added in the last two days on Amboseli, which is fantastic for birds (and as a general safari as well).
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Working on it :) The preliminary bird list at 410 - quite a lot were added in the last two days on Amboseli, which is fantastic for birds (and as a general safari as well).
I did not mean the bird list but the mammals and the route you took. I liked the qualifications you made about the places you visited.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
As for the mammals, the rest of the trip wasn't too eventful. In Tsavo West, we added just a Bush Hyrax - we actively looked for places where the tracks go near rocks and there was just one sitting there! Next stop was Chyulu Hills, a very peculiar reserve, with one Bushbuck, one Hartebeest and some Monkeys - a really surprisingly animal-less place, but with really cool scenery of rolling grassy hills - and a lava cave with bats.

Finally, having been given an extra day by the change of flights, we went to Amboseli, which was really swarming with mammals, including many Bohor Reedbucks. We had some trouble finding the campsite, which was apparently moved recently (is now next to the eastern entrance), but a night walk around the camp then produced a chameleon and a Bush Duiker which is reportedly very rare there. In the morning we met another Civet, but the biggest hit found only on pictures later - what I thought to be a "weird jackal" was a Wolf!

We also briefly stopped at Nairobi park, but poor planning and traffic jams meant we had only 2 hours and we found nothing of interest. We didn't even realize that this was the place for Mountain Reedbuck, so se missed them ...

Overall 84 mammals, our best trip for both mammals and birds!
 

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