8th to 10th April: Kira Wira, Grumeti Western Corridor: Go West!
This is my first time in the Grumeti area in the west of the Serengeti. And it’s quite different, in fact, a different world to Gol. It’s a fair drive in the scorching sun, on the bright side (pardon the pun!) everything is drying out; just as well, as judging from tyre tracks and road conditions, this place must have been a complete bog a week or so ago.
We have booked Kira Wira Campsite #1 (at the main gate, Naabi). However, nobody informed us that its name has been changed to Kira Wira Extra. It appeared to us that the people in the booking office were used to dealing with operators and guides that know Serengeti very well but not well equipped to provide advice to the likes of ourselves on camp options or park conditions. So, make sure you do your homework beforehand.
On the road to Kira Wira, the GPS leads us on a merry dance. We took the road that goes past the Ranger’s quarters and it leads to an impassable creek that is about 70 degrees steep either side and completely sunken and eroded. What to do? We consider just wild camping where we are but go and discuss with the Ranger of the area. His English is really poor, we’re just not getting through, there just this vacant look on his face. Eventually, I decide to hack back to the main road and continue from where we turned off for a few kms in an effort to find another road that may lead us to the camp. Emma recalls seeing something about the name change in a book and voila, about 3 kms down the main road there is a sign to Kira Wira Extra.
We make camp under a huge Mahogany tree, just about 100m from the Grumeti river. It’s a nice spot, lovely views and once again, not another (human) soul in site. We’re both quite tired, we’d hardly slept the previous night due to very high winds whistling around the tent and lions calling (and vomiting!) very close to us.
Nevertheless, we’re pleased with our new home and go for a short game drive mid afternoon.
We’d only gone a few kms when we bump into 3 young lions cubs, sitting next to a big puddle on the main road. They’re about 6 months old and full of mischief. We give them respectful distance and watch the proceedings. It’s not long before we notice a large male lion; he’s the babysitter, just watching over them from a distance. After a while, the male gets up and strolls toward his brood. The cubs get very excited and jump all over him (see pix), until he’s had enough and lets them know in no uncertain terms. He crosses the road into the plains area, keenly watching something. It’s not long before we see the centre of his attention; it’s 3 lionesses. There are plenty of hugs and cuddles as they greet and then the lionesses are eager to find the cubs. The cubs bounce over the road, running straight up to Mum and the other lionesses, it’s such a lovely sight to see the affection between the whole pride. Besides the lion, we see herds of elephant, buffalo, zebras and the ubiquitous wildebeest.
We are a little bit concerned about the baboon presence in this area. As we return to camp, there are baboons all around and one side of the tent is on the ground. Oh poo, don’t tell me! Fortunately, it was only the wind and my own lack of diligence in not tightening one of the poles – phew! Must say, these Olive Baboons in Serengeti are being very considerate!
I didn’t quite know what to expect with the Grumeti river. It’s much smaller than I had anticipated, although there are plenty of crocs, just biding their time. And hippos that sound like foghorns, day and night. There are huge trees lining its banks and so many Sycamore Fig trees, attracting baboons and monkeys with their ripe fruit.
That night, once again the lion have chosen to pay us a visit! This time, it’s short-lived and the lion moves on and allows some well-earned kip! En route he must have come across the elephants as all hell breaks loose. Fortunately, it’s some way away from us but wow, what a racket, the elephants went berserk…….hope the lions is OK?! There’s a large owl hooting close by and as much as I try I can’t identify him. He’s the size of a Verreaux Owl or Spotted Eagle Owl but definitely not one of them.
Next morning’s game drive is through the plains to the north of us. It starts off pleasant enough but after about an hour, we’re going through very high grasses and plenty of water. I stop to attach the seed net to the front of the car. For those not acquainted with African travel; a seed net is just what it says, it straps over the front of the radiator and traps seeds that would otherwise enter the radiator and wreck it. What was it Lincoln said? “I’ll be prepared and one day my time will come”……..well you need to be prepared for anything and everything in this neck of the woods. We have mud / sand tracks, a winch, shovel, compressor etc. – I look at them as a kind of insurance!
We don’t need any of the above but this drive was quite a challenge, and a sphincter test at times, but we make it back without too much of a to do. For the afternoon game drive, we head back to where the lions were the day before. This time, there is just a young sub-adult male. We then notice the pride male, not too far away from him, just looking over at him, from time to time. Next, it becomes obvious what’s happening here. The big male is on guard watch duty again! The young male has a bad injury and cannot put any weight on one of his front legs. So. our hero is keeping watch ensuring he doesn’t fall foul of hyenae or buffalo and elephants. What a nice guy!!
It’s 10th April and our last morning in the Serengeti. We have to exit by 09:30, so are up early to pack up camp, get everything aboard and make tracks. We plan to spend one night just outside the Serengeti but choices are very limited. It’s either Speke Bay Lodge, on Lake Victoria or the Serengeti Stop Over. Speke Bay is way too expensive for a stopover; it’s London prices, although it does have a lovely setting. We opt for Serengeti Stop Over. It should be called Serengeti Stop Overpriced! It’s very basic, they lose power and are very stingy with the generator power, constantly switching it off. The room is very basic and untidy, no hot water and the food is crap – plus the beer is warm! In the morning, we’re informed they can’t make scrambled eggs for breakfast as they don’t get the milk from the local cows until 10 a.m. – how about getting some from the supermarket boys?! We offer a full litre of our own milk so they can cook the scrambled eggs. It comes back virtually empty. We’re informed the chef used it for everyone else as well. Africa Wins Again 🙂
11th to 13th April: Tanzania border Siriri to Kericho Tea Hotel, Kenya – Do the Bump!
As usual, when in Tanzania, we get stopped by traffic police in bright white uniforms. It’s anything from once per day to five times. It’s always the same… “where have you come from?”, “where are you going?”, “where are you from?”, “Can I see your license?”, I think it’s just curiosity, they’re interested to see who the Muzungu is and what he’s about!
This time, a huge female officer enters the middle of the road and pulls us over. She’s standing at my window in her bright white starched shirt and peak cap, with half an index finger lodged up her nose. “Good morning Officer, care for a handkerchief?” …… that goes straight over her head (the comment, not the hankie) “eh?” …….. “don’t worry, how can I help you”, just praying she’s not going to handle any of my papers with that finger! She waves us on.
The road to the border, Siriri is very scenic; and it’s a good road. It’s rural Africa, lots of hills with huge boulders and rocky outcrops and we cross a very wide section of the Mara river, a place we are hoping to see way upstream in the Masai Mara in a few weeks time.
The border crossing is straightforward with minimum hassle and takes only 45 mins (that’s pretty good in Africa!). Once we are over the border and arrive in Kenya it’s a different story. It’s one squalid village after another. The road bumps are everywhere, unmarked and many are ridiculously steep. The end result is that we are averaging about 25 kph to avoid wrecking the underside of the car.
Our plan was to get to Nairobi tonight – forget it, we need a Plan B. We opt for Kericho. It’s only about 30kms detour and has a place called The Tea Hotel, that we’ve read about. Once we head north to Kericho and are away from all the villages, the scenery changes. This is tea country, it’s very beautiful, green rolling hills and tea pickers in amongst all the tea plantations.
The locals clock the Muzungus and come running up with their boxes and packets of tea at “bargain” prices. The one lad makes a beeline for us “hey Bwana, I give you great price, only $5.00 for this tea!”. A little further on, we stop at one of the roadside plantation shops and pay 80c for the same tea.
We arrive at the Tea Hotel. The receptionist asks am I resident or nonresident? It transpires that the nonresident rate is double that of residents. I protest and walk away, stating, “no problem, I’ve seen some lovely places we can stay down the road at local prices”……… “OK,” she says, “I’ll offer you resident prices.” Done deal. The Tea Hotel is the original Fawlty Towers, Cleese would have loved this place. It was built in the early 50’s by Brooke Bond, based on an Edwardian style. Bizarrely, nothing has changed since that time. The furnishings, sofas, curtains, bedrooms, bathrooms etc were all early 50’s – it was a time warp, I really felt like I’d stepped back in time. Give the staff their due, they had done a marvellous job to preserve everything and keep it working.
I did marvel at the quality of a few things, like the bathroom fittings, which made of steel and still operating fine. You don’t see anything like that today. Everything is made with a shelf life in mind.
The wooden parquet floors were waxed and polished every day and the staff were warm and friendly. The place grew on us and we decided to stay an extra night, it was good value, the food was good and it’s in a colourful setting, overlooking the tea plantations. Emma picked up a laundry list and it was full of items from the 1950’s……..things like petticoat, evening dress, handkerchiefs etc, all very nostalgic!
13th April to 18th April: Karen’s Camp, Nairobi.
Part of our planned itinerary was Lake Nakuru and Naivasha. The road from Kericho to Nairobi passes these lakes and we’ve now crossed them off our list. It’s personal preference but neither had a wild feel, being very close to large towns and cities (Nakuru is Kenya’s 4th largest city). I’d rather spend the time and money in the Masai Mara.
We’re staying at Karen’s Camp in Nairobi, in the district of Karen. Karen still feels very colonial, huge houses and gardens, high hedges, tree lined and colourful avenues and garden boys and domestics everywhere. I didn’t see the razor wire and electric fences that are synonymous with Johannesburg’s suburbs and whilst there were some complexes and condos, the plots in the main were still very much for bog old houses. We paid a visit to Karen Blixen’s house. It was used in the film and looks just the same. It’s only the surroundings that have changed! The film depicts it at the foot of Ngong hills surrounded by coffee plantations and close to the wilds. Not the case today, it’s right near the heart of the city, surrounded by shopping malls!
Karen’s camp is well situated. There is a good pub next door called The Purdy Arms and opposite the pub is Mud Rovers. I am able to get the Landy fixed up and serviced by Simon from Mud Rovers. He’s excellent, so knowledgeable and exceptional value. He has a very good reputation in Nairobi and I can highly recommend him.
We manage to re-stock and get all the menial things done in Nairobi. We did go to the world famous Carnivores restaurant. Last time I was there was 1992; it’s changed beyond recognition. Then it was a funky, rustic kind of place with an eclectic mix of people. Today? Well, it’s all very upmarket, with a price to match. The food and service were excellent but I did feel it missed the atmosphere of old and simply isn’t the characterful place it built its reputation on.
18 / 19th April: Voi Stopover
It’s time to head to the coast. I’ve been warned about the drive from Nairobi to Mombasa but never dreamed any road trip could be so bad. If you’re on a death wish or fancy seeing if you can survive a head-on crash; then this is the place for you. If you’ve never sworn in your life and wonder what it might be like, just take this road and see. Or if you’d just like to experience what it’s like sharing the road with a bunch of suicidal lunatics then just follow me! No Shit Sherlock, we were confronted by cars and lorry’s overtaking on bends, blind rises and chicanes. Incredulously, as they are careering towards you at 100 kph, on your side of the road, in head-on fashion, they flash their headlights at you as a warning for you to get out of the way. Can you Adam & Eve it? Suffice to say the air was blue but it did help me recall all manner of obscene gestures I’d long forgotten!
We both arrived at Voi (halfway) rattled and a bag of nerves. We found the Lutheran Institute to stop the night. It was quiet, off the beaten track and a little haven amongst the madness. There is a huge railway being built by the Chinese that goes right through Tsavo National Park and Voi. It is elevated way above ground level and the jury is still out on its impact on wildlife. I’ve heard good and bad opinions and simply don’t understand enough, at this juncture, to warrant an educated point of view.
19th April to 1st May: Watamu – White Sands and Coral Beaches.
A new north road has been built, not too far from Voi. As soon as we reached it, the madness stopped. It was a nice, relaxing drive to Kilifi and on to Watamu.
We’ve managed to get a simple but comfortable self-catering chalet just one road back from the beach. It’s next door to a large resort, Ocean Sports, who have kindly allowed us to use all of their amenities. It has a beautiful outlook, right on the Indian Ocean and very close to a reef with blow holes that you can walk out to at low tide. The sand is white, soft and the beach fringed with palm trees.
The blow holes are really interesting. We have seen numerous Moray Eels that expect to be fed! I’ve only ever seen them whilst diving but these guys pop up from the blow holes to greet you…….and there are some huge ones. I also managed to see my first sea snake while I was out paddling! It was getting it’s dinner under the sand but came up and went on its merry way. They have the same venom as a Cobra but as they have no predators, are not in any way aggressive (or so they tell me!). We also saw Lion Fish, Octopus, and countless exotic fish, like the Clown Fish up close. Lovely way to spend the morning walking around trying to find these things.
1st May to 1st June: Malindi – Beach Bums for a Month!
We have now arrived at Malindi and have rented a lovely 2 bedroomed beachfront cottage for a month with swimming pool, service, and security. It’s right next to the Kenyan Wildlife Services HQ of Malindi Marine Reserve with its stunning beaches and turquoise waters.
It’s now the rainy season in Kenya (Nairobi has already had terrible flooding) so we’re battening down the hatches and sitting it out at the coast. The weather here is fabulous though (fingers crossed) and it will (hopefully) ensure we avoid the rain and mud in the Masai Mara during the month of May. Of course, it’s impossible to predict the weather but at least we are hedging our bets and erring on the side of caution will give us a better chance of good conditions when we next venture back to the bush.