An African SafariKenya & Tanzania
Famous for its rare reticulated giraffes, Samburu was my first immersion in the amazing african wildlife. Although I didn’t see any big cats until I discovered the Masai Mara, it actually didn’t matter. Seeing wild elephants, Buffalos, Oryx and giraffes for the first time is something you just can’t forget. As we were driving to the lodge, we crossed the path of an herd of elephants marching back to their evening location, for a classical shot that reminded me of The Jungle Book I watched in my early childhood. Right by the lodge, I even got a glimpse at the giant and terrifying Nile Crocodile, who was lying on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro river. The early morning safari was outstanding, especially the special sighting of giraffes with near perfect lighting conditions.
Never blindly trust your travel agent. You might ask why I bring this evident point here. Well the answer is easy. My wife and I were planning our “trip of a lifetime” to East Africa (actually not completely true, we didn’t get the chance to see the people the way I wanted, thanks to a long history of ignorance and idiocy from western colonists), and had no preference for timing, except to witness the great migration crossing the Masai river and more importantly the presence of millions of pink flamingos on Lake Nakuru, at the peak of the dry season, from mid August to the end of September. We were two months to early and missed the flamingos. But there is always a flip side, and it was a big one, it was prime time for new borns! And when danger is all around you, growing fast is a necessity so this period does not last long. And now I will have to go back!
This fairly small park is a must, with incredible wildlife, from monkeys to birds, Rhinos and all kinds of antelopes. I just can’t get over this amazing sight of a baby white rhinoceros feeding from his mom.
The crown jewel of Kenya’s national parks forms with the Serengeti in Tanzania and neighboring natural preserves one of the largest continuous conservancy area around the world. It has the biggest concentration of large mammals found on the planet and its ecosystem of savanna creates a unique environment where herbivores and their predators still thrives (well, for the most part!). This is the place to observe one of the most spectacular wildlife sceneries with the Great Migration. Well over a million wildebeests and hundred of thousands of zebras and antelopes cross annually the Masai river from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara to graze and mate before returning to the Masai Mara.
Thanks to great radio communication between guides, we got lucky enough to spot our first big cats: a group of four young male lions who had just killed an elderly buffalo and a cheetah. It was there that I witnessed what the food chain really meant. The lions were getting large chunks of meet from their freshly killed pray, while further away, hyenas, jackals and vultures were waiting for their turn.
Cruising the savanna was just as exciting as finally meeting the big cats. Seeing ostriches in their natural habitat was quite exciting and I did imagine seeing them running at full pace in this endless open grassland. Finally, the Mara river was very quiet and peaceful at the time we visited but it wasn’t difficult to realize the danger wildebeest and zebras alike take when attempting to cross: steep slopes on either side of the river and plenty of crocodiles waiting in the river or warming up on its narrow bank, large groups of hippos famous for their bad characters will defend their territory like nobody’s business.
Between early morning, late evening safaris and the long road trips between parks, it was time to stop and relax away from the car and nothing could have been better than a cruise on lake Naivasha. Sure, the word cruise is overstated, we only sat on a tiny pirogue after all, but it felt like one, despite the noise from the engine. Being on the water is very relaxing. Birding was clearly the highlight of our tour but we also got the chance to see hippos from close, at their level. And we felt very vulnerable on our tiny boat, when a big male hippopotamus lived up to his reputation. Our guide quickly turned the engine back on and left the area when the male disappeared under water only to reappear right where we were. He would most likely have flipped the boat over. Yes they are vegetarian but kill without warning. I was frighten by this brutality, especially after seeing fishermen in the water working together with large nest, hundreds of feet away from these animals. I have not mentioned any lodges up to this point but will not miss to recommend the Sopa lodge, giraffes have taken over its garden and we had to walked right by them, without any fences between us. Quite amazing, isn’t it? Armed guards will escort you to diner at night because guess what, hippos love to feed on the grass that lay right by your rooms.
Located on the foothills of the tallest mountain in Africa, the Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is famous for its magnificent views of this dormant volcano but also for its large concentration of free-ranging elephants. With very low rainfall, Amboseli is particularly dry offering great wildlife viewing but surprisingly enough, the park also protects two swamps ecosystem fed by the melted water from the glacier on top of the Kilimandjaro. Although I have not attempted to climb the mountain, it appears to me that doing so without stoping in Amboseli would be a great miss. Evening shots of the glacier above the clouds and early morning views of the entire volcano, before being covered, was certainly an highlight of our trip in East Africa. It reminded me reading “Le Lion” by Joseph Kessel when I was struck by its description of this mountain, a story that pushes you in visiting this wonderful place. I wouldn’t go further without thanking our Kenyan guide who spoke many languages, was so curious about other cultures and was so keen in sharing his deep knowledge of Kenyan culture and the wildlife that makes East Africa so special. He was so patient with me, an amateur photographer who was trying to get the best shots possible without getting off the car, not permitted in most places. I can hardly recommend beeing on your own if you want to obey to your on schedule: leave early, come back late and most imnportantly take your time.
Crossing the border to Tanzania was quite a lengthy process, as expected. Our Tanzanian guide met us in the international zone and we left to Arusha where we visited a coffee plantation, before going to the Tarangire national park. With hundreds of giant baobabs and a massive amount of giant termite mounds, Tarangire is not to be missed, especially during the dry season when the Tarangire river offers the only fresh water resource in the Manyara region, forcing animals to migrate from surrounding nature preserves.
I heard about this place long ago, when as a child I used to watch animal documentaries. I remember mentions of stunning wildlife diversity and we were not disappointed. It was spectacular. We even saw the pink flamingos that had left Nakuru without warning. What I didn’t expect was the breathtaking views of the giant 600m deep, 260 square km caldera, from the top of its steep flanks. We left our hotel sometime before sunrise and the view was obscured that morning. We started to go down along steep roads in the dense fog with very limited visibility. Our disappointment was growing, after all this was our only chance. Suddenly, we got out, found our way under the clouds for what will remain the greatest natural spectacle I will ever see. I am hoping I am wrong because it would mean that I am extremely fortunate. The crater was fully covered by a thick cloud layer, but for one spot. A drape of orange light was lighting a scene with herds of wildebeest and zebras. I didn’t manage a shot right a this moment because a large male elephant was not too pleased to see us stop. Our guide judged it wasn’t a good idea to stop, with a 600ft drop on our left and an unhappy 6 ton mammal on our right. I still manage a to take a great shot a little later.
What I found particularly intriguing with this place was the biodiversity and the number of different ecosystems, from fresh to salt water, savannah to forests… With such steep slopes all around the caldera, it is a mystery how all these large animals found their path to the flat bottom.
The drive from the volcanic region of the Ngorongoro the plains of the Serengeti was another highlight of this trip. Because we chose to stay in the northeastern part of this immense natural reserve, we got to see diversity in the landscapes but even better witnessed the great migration with groups of tens of thousands animals. For the record, zebras bark, are very social and act as guides to the lesser intelligent wildebeest who occasionally get lost, and forget what they are supposed to do. But number is a key to survival in this part of the world with large and fierce predators all around, therefore zebras lead the way and close the herds, constantly updating each other on the comportment of their wildebeest friends in the middle. Over ten days had passed being on the road, I nearly cancelled an evening safari to rest in our tent but didn’t travel that far in one of the greatest wildlife sanctuary to lie down without a better excuse. Good thinking because I would have missed the sight of a leopard who I was desperately trying to meet.
We left the park with the goal of reaching one of the tea plantations on the western hills of the rift valley and made it safely despite rushing at 70km/h on slippery dirt roads. I must confess, it was a very scary experience. Thankfully we managed to stop at Olduvai Gorge, the birth place of humanity with the earliest known specimens of the human genus, Homo habilis. Our ancestors are African and trully appreciated the opportunity to discover where they lived.
Our trip was getting to an end as we reached lake Manyara, one of the many lakes in the Great Rift valley. It was our chance to see lions who have an habit in staying up in trees, a rare behavior. And we got lucky with 4 cubs on branches just by the track. a great way to end what will remain a wonderful trip.