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Kenya on Safari

Kenya on Safari

Old Mar 29, 23, 6:55 pm
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Kenya on Safari

In March 2023 we took a short trip to Kenya for a photo safari. Our primary focus was to enjoy two safari camps -- one in Ernest Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa and the other on the plains of the Masai Mara. The trip was fantastic. We booked our international flights using American Airlines AAdvantage miles, flying Qatar Airways Q Suites for most of the segments.

I'll break the trip into four parts:
1: Getting to Kenya (this post),
2: 4 night safari at Ol Donyo Lodge (in Kenya's Chyulu Hills: Hemingway's Green Hills Of Africa),
3: 3 night safari at Kempinski's Olare Mara Lodge (on a private reserve adjacent to the Masai Mara), and
4: The trip home.
We've been to about 10 other lodges in Africa over the years and we find joy in watching these beautiful creatures in their natural environment. Over the years we've grown to appreciate even the smallest animals, and I'll include photos in future segments on two of the "Small 5" animals folks hope to see. We saw more lions and cheetah on this trip than possibly all of our other safaris combined. And at one location I had to laugh when a fellow guest had to put down his MASSIVE camera/lens and use his phone as the animals were just too close. Hopefully the photos will show this.

HOME to WASHINGTON DULLES

We live in Key West, Florida and flew to Washington's Dulles airport to start our international trip. The Key West airport is quite small. Since the pandemic, though, it is busier than ever. The airport was in the news this week when some Cubans took a motorized kite and flew it 90 miles to Key West, landing on the runway. This place is quite famous in US aviation history -- the first international scheduled flight departed from Key West to Havana. That was the birth of Pan American World Airways.

Our departure day started as any other, with a glorious sunrise over the Atlantic. I usually walk about 5 miles each morning, from Home on a loop that includes a long stretch along the Atlantic Ocean, an almost-as-long stretch adjacent to the Key West International Airport (since it's across the street from the ocean), and a walk under the typical take-off path for jets (many of folks have been scared when a jet roars into the air at what seems like feet above their heads). I could tell from the sunrise that it was going to be a glorious day.


The Key West Airport has just constructed a new (apparently) hurricane proof "beautiful" sign announcing the entrance. Local folks really dislike this sign.


You step from the car into the terminal building through one of a few entrances.


We were flying United to Washington Dulles and since we weren't checking any bags, we got to walk right past the short line at United's counter. We were through security in less than 5 minutes.


The Check-in area and Security are above the ground floor, and once through Security, you are sent back to a ground floor waiting area. The waiting area is quite small with all airlines sharing a single space. There were flights boarding for Atlanta (A319), Dallas (A319), and Washington National (E175) all around the time of our flight to Dulles (E175). Sorry I missed a photo of the waiting area; there were as many people standing as were sitting in chairs, and all chairs were occupied. Just before our flight to Dulles boarded, American Airlines notified passengers heading to Washington's Regan Airport that due to weight restrictions American was looking for up to 20 people to volunteer for a later flight. You could just hear folks groan. Once our flight was ready to board, we headed onto the tarmac.

The Key West Airport is one of those airports where you walk onto the tarmac and to your jet or airplane. Expected this decade is a new terminal building with jet bridges. Construction is underway with completion advertised for 2024 though I'm skeptical that It'll be complete anytime soon. The tarmac is a bit of a mess with empty shipping containers used to direct traffic and long walks between fences with construction all around.


Pick your airline! It's a bit crazy when multiple flight for multiple airlines are all boarding. We were lucky that only United passengers were walking to their jet when we left the terminal.






A United ground staff person was holding an "IAD" sign. I venture to say that a lot of passengers had no idea was IAD stood for.


And finally onto the jet. At least one of us was looking forward to the coming 24 flight hours.


We were all boarded early and ready to go. Our flight was delayed, however, supposedly because of some "paperwork" issues. I was getting nervous that we also had weight restrictions. Eventually the pilot informed us that everything was sorted and we were on our way. The flight was uneventful.

WASHINGTON DULLES LAYOVER

We had a scheduled 4-1/2 hour layover in Dulles, now shortened to under 4 hours since we departed late from Key West. Qatar wouldn't allow online check-in so we had to exit security, go to the main ticket counter and check-in for our flight to Doha/Nairobi.

The train tunnel in the Dulles Airport looks so futuristic.


Welcome to Dulles.


The Qatar ticket counter was already open, and there was no wait. We were checked-in in under 3 minutes.


Business Class passengers were invited to the Turkish lounge, but we opted instead to visit the Virgin "Clubhouse at IAD" Lounge using our Capital One Venture X cards for free entry.

I think this lounge only opens at 3:30pm; drink and food selections are very limited until about 6:30pm. We were hungry so we ordered a flatbread and some hummus, both of which were good. Drinks were also very limited. While premium brands could be seen behind the bar, only basic brands of liquor were available, until 6:30pm.






Magically, at 6:30PM, an enhanced menu was available. This new menu had a surprisingly large number of options. We tried both the Tom Yum Soup and a Poke Bowl. They were fantastic.




I did save some of the cocktail menu. I had the Bramble, which was delicious.




There were a max of 15 people in the lounge when we visited.

The Virgin lounge was across from our departure gate.




We left the lounge a few minutes ahead of our published boarding time and the gate area was empty. Everyone had boarded already! It seems that Qatar publishes an earlier boarding time for Economy passengers than for Business Class, allowing for the gate area to be mostly empty by the time Business Class Passengers board. We found our seats and got settled in for our long flight to Doha

FLIGHT TO DOHA

The flight to Doha took 12:43. And we slept through much of it. Food and service were both spectacular, and the Qsuite was awesome. Leaving Dulles...



I received the standard (and very comfy) pajamas, a nice amenities bag, and this box of Diptyque products:


I didn't get any menu photos; here's what I dined on. The table was set for fine dining. The breads were all warm and incredible tasty.


Here's the Amuse Bouche.


Selection of Tapas to start.


I was pretty full when I ordered dinner, so I went for a light selection of Chicken Pad Thai. It's really on the snack menu, and it made a perfect main course. I had no dessert, but I did try the port.




After many hours of sleep I awoke over Crete.


We took a detour around Israel. The other two big Middle East carriers now fly to Tel Aviv, but not Qatar.


Then it was time for breakfast. And more great bread, some Greek Yoghurt, and Quiche.






Love a bathroom with a window.


Almost there.


Touchdown in Doha. Love the three windows in my suite.


We arrived in Doha to a remote stand. There was a dedicated Business Class bus that whisked us away. We were through security screening and into the terminal in minutes.

DOHA TO NAIROBI

We only had a short stay in Nairobi and our flight was departing out of C62 -- one of the far off bus gates. We didn't even walk into the original part of the terminal or visit the lounge on this stopover.


We did walk around this end of the terminal for a bit, enjoying the new indoor garden.


Economy passengers were bussed first out to the aircraft. Between the 2nd and 3rd Economy bus, Qatar called Business Class boarding. Economy passengers had to wait while a special Business Class bus was brought around and we departed for the aircraft.


We were expecting a 777 with Q Suites and the flight was upgraded to an A350-1000, with Q Suites. The Business Class cabin was about half full.


The A350 was nice, though my seat only had 2 windows.


I love watching the tail camera.


Here's the menu from the flight.














On this flight I discovered my bottle of water in the little area to the left of my seat! I totally missed that on the prior flight.


Doha was beautiful at night as we flew off to Nairobi.


Of course I had some Champagne once we departed.


Unfortunately, the pillow on the ledge above the glass fell just after the flight attendant finished her pour (and before I had any to drink); the glass went crashing to the floor, drenching my legs in fine champagne.


After a bit of a cleanup, it was time for dinner. Amuse Bouche, Arabic Meze, and Traditional Mixed Grill with Pepper Kousa Mashshi. All was delicious, including the warm bread.






On this flight we took a detour around Yemen.


We landed in Nairobi around midnight and exited via stairs to a waiting Business Class Coach. As we only had carry-on bags, we were through immigration, through customs, and out of the airport in about 15 minutes. Our driver had yet to arrive! I called they place where we were staying and they tracked down the driver. Our mobile phone service, Google Fi, never fails us, connecting quickly in whichever country we land! The driver showed up in a few minutes and we were off to the other airport in Nairobi – Wilson. It was a 15 minute journey in the early morning hours.

We booked a room for the next two nights at AeroClub, a private club for aviators; they make their "pilot" rooms available to visitors and when you stay there, you have full use of the gym, pool, and club. I'll post more pictures of the place in the next segment. They have 3 levels of rooms; this is their top level, the Capitan room.


It was a great place stay for us. We had an early flight out in a couple of days and didn’t want to have to fight traffic getting to the airport. It was clean and practical. There's a lot of history to the club, and the exhibits around the place are quite interesting. The private club was pretty exclusive for Nairobi, and the food/drinks were good. But it was not luxurious; If you’re looking for luxury, look elsewhere.
Stay tuned for more installments...the animals are about to appear.

Last edited by HouFlyer61; Apr 1, 23 at 6:06 am Reason: Changed the image resolution to be more consistent.
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Old Mar 29, 23, 8:08 pm
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Great start and very enjoyable to read, thanks. Looking forward to the next segment.
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Old Mar 30, 23, 7:21 am
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Excellent trip report so far! Thanks for sharing.
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Old Mar 30, 23, 7:18 pm
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Kenya Part 2A -- Day in Nairobi ahead of 4 Night Safari at Ol Donyo Lodge

This is a short post, covering only the day we arrived in Nairobi. The prior post ended with our arrival at the AeroClub at about 1am after our long journey to Kenya. We had nice warm showers and a short sleep as we had a 10am scheduled pickup for a visit to the Elephant Orphanage and a 1/2 day safari in Nairobi National Park. Before we departed for the day, we had to have a little breakfast at the AeroClub.

Here's what the entrance to the AeroClub looks like.


And here's the breakfast menu. Somehow I forgot to take a photo of breakfast. Breakfast was fine, nothing exceptional. And breakfast was included in our stay.


ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was established 45 years ago and is best known for its Orphans' Project, the first and most successful elephant orphan rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. You can visit the Orphans currently being cared for each day from 11am for an hour. You must book tickets ahead of time, and tickets sell out quickly. There's apparently a stealth option to visit the orphans prior to the 11am session if you stay at the top-end hotel Hemingways Nairobi. We met someone who was able to schedule such a visit. They had heard of this special session and wrote via email to the trust, with no response. Only once at the hotel Hemingways Nairobi the hotel was able to do some magic and get them booked. The cost was significant for the special visit but only about $15 for the general session that we attended.

There were 29 orphans at the facility, and we saw each of them get fed one or two bottles of milk. We heard the story of how old they were and under what circumstances they were found. After the age of three, they are brought to other facilities in National Parks and allowed to go into the wild.

Orphans coming for some milk


For the younger ones, the handlers hold the bottle


The older ones hold their own bottles


The elephants do get close to the spectators. You may see two hands in the right of the photo touching the elephant


It was quite hot this day, and we both got a bit of a sunburn after being in in full sun for about 90 minutes.

LUNCH AT SAKINA'S BBQ

Next stop was a 1/2 day safari in Nairobi National Park, but before we got started with that, we wanted to stop for some food. I'd found a local Barbecue place run by a Pakistani lady that had some great reviews. The restaurant was near the orphanage and in a high-end residential area of Nairobi. The food was quite good. The restaurant was called Sakina's BBQ.






1/2 DAY SAFARI AT NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK

After lunch and a very short drive we arrived at Nairobi National Park. The park it pretty large, about 45 square miles. It's somewhat surreal as depending on which way you are facing, you can see Nairobi's high-rise buildings in the background. We had very low expectations and were very surprised by the volume and variety of animals. We were really surprised to see about 7 rhino that day -- the only rhino we would see while in Kenya.

The safari vehicle we were in had a top that popped up. To see the animals best, you stood in the vehicle and looked out of the top. Here we are waiting for the paperwork to be finished for our entry into the park.


And here are a few animal shots from the day. We also saw Hippo, Zebra, Wildebeest, and a variety of gazelles. We also saw about 7 lion this afternoon, both male and female.








You can see the Nairobi skyline behind these zebra


The lions were really moving about as the sun set and we, along with about 8 other safari vehicles, stayed past closing time to watch these large cats come to life. It was a short 20 minute trip back to the AeroClub where after a shower we were ready for cocktails and dinner.

BACK AT THE AEROCLUB

Aeroclub reception:


Some of the aircraft items on display, including an old motor and a propeller




Here's what one part of the club seating area looks like.



Dinner Menu:


Tonight's drink -- Tusker Beer


Fish and Chips:


Hummus:


That's it for the day in Nairobi. We called it an early night as we had to be ready the next morning for a 6:15 check-in with Safarilink for our flight to our first lodge.

The next bit of the journey was all Safari -- either at Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa (Ol Donyo Lodge) or adjacent to the Masai Mara (Kempinski's Olare Mara Lodge). Here's a graphic showing the relationship of these lodges to Nairobi and how close each lodge is to the Tanzanian Border. We could see Mount Kilimanjaro each day from Ol Donyo Lodge.

Last edited by HouFlyer61; Apr 1, 23 at 6:33 am Reason: Changed the image resolution to be more consistent.
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Old Mar 31, 23, 6:41 am
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Enjoying this. We did a similar "day in Nairobi" on our recent safari trip but went to the giraffe center instead of Nairobi NP. We also flew over on QSuites but just missed our connection in Doha so we ended up on the 1:45am redeye to NBO.
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Last edited by pjs; Mar 31, 23 at 6:43 am Reason: Added link to TR
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Old Mar 31, 23, 8:52 pm
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Kenya Part 2B The Green Hills of Africa Ol Donyo Lodge

The Chyulu Hills are located in Southern Kenya, and are known as Ernest Hemingway's “Green Hills of Africa”. Ol Donyo Lodge is a miraculous, lone lodge adjacent to the Chyulu Hills national park. It’s the only lodge for miles, so you likely won’t encounter any other lodge’s vehicles during your stay. We had a private vehicle, personal driver, and personal waitress for our 4 night stay.
There are plenty of animals around this park/lodge, though not as many large cats as you’ll find in other Kenyan parks. We saw both lions and cheetah, on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t on every drive. So if this is your first safari and you long to see an abundance of lions, cheetah and leopard, start elsewhere. That said, this was one safari experience we’d love to repeat – it was that good.

The lodge is Relais and Chateux branded. The accommodations are quite luxurious, with each room having its own plunge pool, outdoor shower, and rooftop deck. You can even have the bed on the rooftop deck made for sleeping should you wish to sleep under the stars.

The food was spectacular. Each dish was both flavorful and beautiful. Photos are below.

The service was also incredible. Jeremiah, our guide, and Carol, our waitress, both went out of their way to ensure we had the experience we desired. And along the way there were some surprises. We’ve had breakfast in the bush before…but not set up with full crystal, champagne, and a private chef to prepare our hot dish.

Besides the standard safari adventures of game drives and bush walks, this lodge offers hiking, mountain biking, and for experienced riders, horseback riding. It’s an all-inclusive place, including these extraordinary activities. While we have ridden horses many times, we weren’t deemed experienced enough to ride on the plains; this is the one disappointment we had with our stay…we’d hoped to add horseback riding alongside wild animals to our adventure list.

The terrain is mixed, with the lodge located in the green hills. The plains are a 10-minute ride away.

There’s one feature of this lodge that set it apart from all others we’ve stayed in. The lodge has a “hide” adjacent to a waterhole. Animals are so close you can hear and feel them breathe. You feel the elephants as they walk around. It should have been rainy season when we visited, but the rains are quite late. Everything was dry. Which made the waterhole very popular. Other than sleeping, eating, and being out on game drives, we were in the hide.

We do like to think we're getting value for money, and this lodge offered two items that we thought added value. First, if you stayed 2 or more nights, they organized and paid for your flights to/from Nairobi. Second, they had a stay 3, get 1 free promotion; stayed 4 nights on that deal, bringing the per night prize down.

"HIDE" AT THE WATERHOLE

Here are some photo’s from in the “hide”. It’s actually an empty shipping container partially buried in the ground. You see out through cut-outs just above ground level. The animals could sense us there, with the elephants blatantly smelling towards us with their trunks. And the giraffe were extra cautious. Giraffe have to do a bit of yoga to get down far enough to drink – a very vulnerable position for them. We’d watch them carefully kick out their front legs, then bow towards the ground, dipping their long necks toward the water. And often, just before they’d drink, something would spook them and they’d run off. Only to come back and try again.

Here's our waitress bringing us down to the hide. We saw hundreds of animals at the hide over the 4 nights we stayed at this lodge.


More zebra:


When the elephants come, the other animals scurry away


The elephants know their hierarchy. The elder elephant always made the younger elephant(s) stop drinking until the elder was finished.

And then there were two. You can see here the one drinking has much longer tusks -- so is much older.


Now there are four.


They do love to give themselves showers.




The bottom of an elephant's foot…I would have never expected it to look like this.


The tusks up close are incredible as well. Just look how the left one is more worn....clearly this elephant favors its left tusk, as we favor a hand.


While an elephant was drinking, up pops a leopard tortoise from the watering hole. For those people who love to check things off lists, the leopard tortoise is one of the "small 5" animals to find on Safari.


We really were that close to the animals. Our phone cameras are good, and these photos are all from the phone's camera.


A few more from the hide (it was just fascinating):


Warthog family:


Elan, the largest antelope:


Oryx:


Usually the water hole was segregated. Here you can see the elan having replaced the zebra:


One final photo from the "hide" -- an oxpecker cleaning the bugs from around a giraffe's eye while the giraffe drinks. Camera phone. That close.


GAME DRIVES EVERY MORNING AND EVENING

We have a great time on the game drives. All those animals at the water hole, we saw them again walking up and down the hills to get to the water hole. And we saw other animals as well.

Cheetah:




Lion:




Newborn wildebeest. We saw plenty of adult wildebeest as well.


First time I've seen one of these, and it's not a great photo. The animal is commonly referred to as a giraffe gazelle as it has an extra-long neck and can reach tree branches.


Mother hyena carrying her baby


Night game drives are allowed, and are fantastic. The drivers always amaze me with what they spot at night. Here he found a chameleon.


And a final animal...another of the small 5. An antlion. That's right -- ANT LION. Our guide coaxed it from its home -- a hole in the ground.


We took an extended drive one morning out to a rock formation, which we then climbed. Of course we spotted animals all along the way.


We had a simple breakfast in the bush that morning.


Not to be confused with the elaborate breakfast in the bush they surprised us with on another morning. Carol, our waitress greeted us:


Sparkling wine was involved:


The food was great and the view even better. It definitely wasn't crowded.


THE ROOMS WERE AWESOME

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the rooms were really nice. Here are a few photos, starting with the sleeping part of the room.




The Tub, sinks and indoor shower. Of course there was also an outdoor shower.


Looking the other way, the tub overlooked the pool, which overlooked animals in the bush.




THE FOOD WAS FANTASTIC BOTH IN TASTE AND APPEARANCE

Here are a few food photos. Lunch was a set menu each day. You received EVERYTHING on the menu except for dessert, where you have a choice of a couple of items. And at lunch you made your dinner main course selection for that evening.

Here's one Lunch menu and photos of the actual dishes:




Dinner dishes both tasty and beautiful



The last night we had dinner with our driver, and dinner was held in the wine cellar. We opted for an African meal -- something the Masai would eat in their home. And we did it the local way, using our hands. The table was set with cutlery just in case;-)


Each night dinner was in a different location. This night we dined at the edge of the deck.


THE LOCATION IS STUNNING. THE SUNSETS SUPERB. ALWAYS MOUNT KILAMANJARO IS NEAR.

The location is just incredible. Mount Kilimanjaro is always near, sometimes shrouded in clouds, and sometimes dominating the skyline. If you look closely you can see Mount Kilimanjaro just left of center.


Each evening we'd stop for cocktails at sunset. They'd always ask ahead of time what you'd like to drink. We tried various kinds of Gins and Beer.






THERE AND AWAY

We flew Safarilink. We were impressed at their efficiency, the upkeep of their equipment, and their professionalism. We'd fly them again in a heartbeat.

Here was departure (6:15AM check-in):


Boarding:


Here's the plane:


This flight wasn't full, though others on our journey were.


And before we knew it, four nights had passed. It was time to catch a flight back to Nairobi and connect to a flight headed to our next lodge.

Last edited by HouFlyer61; Apr 1, 23 at 6:38 am Reason: One photo out of line
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Old Apr 1, 23, 6:07 am
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Mistake reply...please ignore

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Old Apr 1, 23, 6:46 am
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Originally Posted by pjs
Enjoying this. We did a similar "day in Nairobi" on our recent safari trip but went to the giraffe center instead of Nairobi NP. We also flew over on QSuites but just missed our connection in Doha so we ended up on the 1:45am redeye to NBO.
Indeed I saw your most excellent post before we left. Thanks for sharing. Your post helped to validate our plans in Nairobi, particularly the orphanage. We planned to visit the Giraffe center on our return to Nairobi but were giraffed out by that time:-)
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Old Apr 1, 23, 9:16 am
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Originally Posted by HouFlyer61
Indeed I saw your most excellent post before we left. Thanks for sharing. Your post helped to validate our plans in Nairobi, particularly the orphanage. We planned to visit the Giraffe center on our return to Nairobi but were giraffed out by that time:-)
Wow I'm super impressed with that lodge. We had four of us so I expect it would have been out of our price range for two rooms and all the airfare back and forth. We did have something similar to the hide at the Ark near Aberdare.
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Old Apr 1, 23, 5:27 pm
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I love the Mocktail-selection at Qatar.
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Old Apr 2, 23, 5:43 pm
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Kenya Part 3 Lions Everywhere Olare Mara Kempinski Lodge

Courtesy of our last lodge, we had reservations back to Nairobi. We booked a separate reservation on the same airlines to our next lodge, the Olare Mara Kempinski, and that reservation was from Nairobi Wilson airport to the airstrip on the Olare conservancy. We had 40 minutes to make the connection at Wilson. Id written to Safarilink to confirm they were aware we were making this connection and they said they were aware and would ensure folks on the ground that day knew. All was good as we departed the Green Hills of Africa and headed to Nairobi. We even landed a few minutes early. Wed joined a large family on our return flight they were also headed back to Nairobi and on to the Masai Mara but to a different camp and a different airstrip. Our onward reservation looked exactly the same as the family. So everyone on the flight, all 10 of us, were connecting, all with a 40 minute connection. When we landed the ground staff in Nairobi said they were not aware of any passengers with connections. Heres where it got a little confusing. We had to identify our bags, and the ground staff kept the bag aside. Then we had to exit the airport. And not through the nearby door into the Safarilink waiting area. We had to walk 5 minutes or so to the edge of the tarmac and exit to baggage claim. We then had to walk 5 minutes back along the road to the Safarilink area, where we cleared security and then checked in for our flight. By the time we got to the check-in agent, it was maybe 10 minutes to our scheduled flight departure time. The agent said, well, we almost left you two. Weve been paging you. LOL. We just shook our heads and headed back out to the tarmac, where we identified our bags (they suddenly had luggage tags on them) and took the last two seats on the plane. Whew. We made the connection. As for the large family, they had yet to clear security when we headed out to our flight. They werent in any hurry. Not sure what happened to them, and clearly our flight wasnt waiting for them as there were no more seats.

In the safety briefing before takeoff, where the co-pilot turns around from her seat and tells people where the emergency exits are (plus other things), she quickly said where we were headed. The next destination didnt sound exactly familiar, but I was all the way in the back, so I just sat back and tried to relax on our flight to where ever. Id downloaded Google Maps for much of the country and I could follow our location as we flew. And we werent heading to the right airstrip. It was a 40 minute flight and I sat wondering how we were going to get to the right place. When we landed, a Kempinski guide was the first person I saw. Whew. As it turns out, the Mara area had a large rainstorm a couple of days earlier and the most local airstrip was being repaired. So indeed we were routed to somewhere other than what was originally scheduled. Just wish someone had told us of this change.

Leaving the Green Hills of Africa. You can see the rock formation we visited and climbed (in the middle of the photo) and Mt. Kilimanjaro towering above everything.


Somewhere over the Masai Mara.


Masai jumping (it's the tradition to jump) upon our arrival.


BACKGROUND ON THE AREA AND THE LODGE

We stayed in the Olare conservancya private conservancy adjacent to the Masai Mara; Masai Mara is a large national park adjacent to Tanzanias Serengeti national park. There are no fences between the above-mentioned places. If you stay in the Mara proper, your driver is limited to the roads for animal viewing; in the Olare conservancy, known for is large lion population, game vehicles can go off-road. I must say folks had some MASSIVE cameras and lenses in the other vehicles we saw. One vehicle, for a different lodge, was specially designed where the sides folded down and the photographers could lie down. We saw this in several locations, and I can see if youre a professional photographer or a serious hobbyist, this could be useful. There were some serious photo safari folks around

We were originally drawn to Virgins lodge in the conservancy; its called Mahali Mzuri and it is architecturally stunning. Its also gotten some pad press that the tent frames are beautiful and dont exactly blend into the landscape. Thats a fair assessment. And when we looked at their accommodations, they were nice but didnt seem to fit the stunning frames. So we looked elsewhere. Wed already decided this area was where we wanted to camp and the next lodge I looked at was Olare Orok, managed by Kempinski. The tents were large and well appointed; the tents definitely blended in more with the landscape. It was all inclusive, like the other camps. And it was available. So thats where we booked. Would I stay there again? I would stay somewhere else first. The animal viewing was spectacular. The tent was awesome. The food was fine. And each staff person was clearly working hard. But the place didnt create special moments like other places weve stayed. I had an email conversation with the manager after wed left.she said she visits the camp every 4 to 6 weeks. I think that says a lot. There are other lodges in the conservancy.we had such a great time at the first lodge in Kenya, managed by Great Plains, that we would definitely look first at their lodge in this conservancy were we to return. After our three night stay, at the airstrip for our departure, we saw some guests arriving for the Virgin lodge. The driver whipped out a cold bottle of champagne and served each guest. They were clearly excited. Thats the special kind of moment I missed at the lodge where we stayed.

THE GAME

Drives were each morning and evening. We shared a vehicle at this lodge with others mostly a couple on honeymoon from India; it was their first safari and their excitement was infectious. Ive grabbed some highlight photos below. We saw A LOT of lions. Cubs. Prides. Lone Males. Lions eating. We saw several female lions hunt a baby wildebeest. The baby got away this time. We also saw a leopard and several cheetahs. We even saw three cheetahs hunt, kill, and devour a small antelope. We saw other animals as well. But if youre looking for large cats, this may be a great place to start.

Here you can see two males patrolling their territory. Behind the males you see zebra clearly on high alert at the threat of the lions. These lions were brothers, so it was okay for them to share the pride. Otherwise one male, one pride.


Lion mother and cubs. There are various cubs in the photos...we saw lots of cubs.














Dad and cub


Young male. His mane is just growing out


Males. We saw lots of male lions. One pride had two (brothers). Another pride had three (brothers). Other prides had lone males. We saw a male breeding with one of his lionesses. Its a multi-day event with the woman in control. She needs action every 15 minutes or so. And the action is over in seconds. Theyre apparently both very tired at the end

Lions everywhere.




This one just lounging about, then yawning, and finally licking his giant paw






Various prides....big prides. So many lions.










Twice we saw lion eating. We first saw a lone male finishing up a zebra kill.


Another kill had three female lions somewhat sharing food. There was a lot of growling and swatting going on between the three. When other lions from the pride arrived those others were clearly told to wait.


Leopard are normally quite difficult to spot. We had the fortune of seeing one on our first day. We followed it for quite some time as it meandered along the side of a stream.


The last of the big cats that we saw here where cheetah. We saw a lone cheetah and then three hunting (and eating) together. We saw the trio on multiple days. The hunt and kill were quite exciting. Eating was done in under 15 minutes.






Of course there were other animals. Lots of zebra and antelope that I didn't take any photos of. Wildebeest. A hyena or five. They had lots of hyena here.

Owl. The nearby ground birds (guinea fowl) were squawking up a storm alerting about the nearby owl.


Elephants. We saw some each and every day. We especially loved watching the young elephants.




Hippos. These two were out of the water and near our tent at the lodge. We also saw a large pod in the river. Several of the pod suddenly stood up and began moving. There was a lot of bellowing going on.




Buffalo. We saw lots of them. Somehow I only got a photo of this one.


Giraffe.


We did a bush walk one day. I've always done these at other camps with our driver/guide. At this camp the security guy took us. With a semi-automatic gun. And a Masai person came along (carrying bottles of water in a bag). It was sort of odd. But the walk was interesting. We focused mostly on plants. We looked at the various woods and materials used to start fire (elephant dung is a key item), at plants that produce leaves you can use to file your nails, and at plants that produce drops for adding moisture to your eyes.


We did stop for sun-downers on the 2nd and 3rd night. Not sure what happened on the first night; it was the first time ever I was on a safari where we didn't stop. I don't have any good photos, because there wasn't a great setup to photograph. The first time we stopped they only had red or white wine. Were not big wine drinkers but did have a snort to be sociable. For our last night, I asked that they have some gin and tonic for us. Which they did. They apparently forgot the wine and had to call for someone to shuttled over wine. One person wanted white wine but they only had sent one bottle of wine, a bottle of red. And there weren't enough wine glasses. We were happy with our gin and tonics and glad we had specifically asked for them. This was not a special moment.


THE TENTS WERE GREAT

The tents were spacious and well appointed. The bed was comfortable. There was an old fashioned soaking tub, an indoor shower, and an outdoor shower. The tents were kept spotlessly clean.
Here are some tent photos.the main area, the tub in the bathroom, and the seating area adjacent to the bed.






THE FOOD

The food was all delicious. There were choices for every meal. Below are sample menus plus some food shots. The soups were particularly good. The presentation was fine but wasnt nearly as fancy as the prior lodge.









FLYING BACK TO NAIROBI
The nearby airstrip had reopened during our stay and we could use it for our departure. And it was raining in the Mara. Which apparently snarled up some air traffic. So we were sent back on a different flight than which we were scheduled. This was fine by us, until we got back to Nairobi and the ground staff wanted to know who we were. I had to give them my flight confirmation email. It was a bit odd. Like we just decided to hop on the flight and the pilots let us?

We had to walk to the end of the tarmac to exit the airport, and we collected our luggage at baggage claim.

Our Kenyan Safari was officially over, but we still had a nice lunch planned for Nairobi plus the long flight home. These will be covered in the last installment of this trip report.
HouFlyer61 is offline  
Old Apr 3, 23, 5:43 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: NBO, MEL
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Love this report - I live in Nairobi, and quite enjoy reading other peoples experiences in Kenya.

Sadly any of the "international" safari camps have a poor idea of what a safari is all about, which Asilia Africa, Elewana and many other private camp operators understand. I feel Kempinski Mara lacks any genuine romanticism.

Glad you had a great time overall.
roadwarriorafrica is offline  
Old Apr 3, 23, 6:42 am
  #13  
pjs
 
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I can assure you that the drivers/guides will go off-road in Mara and they all keep each other informed of the location of patrol vehicles.
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Old Apr 3, 23, 12:58 pm
  #14  
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Join Date: Jul 2011
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Originally Posted by pjs
I can assure you that the drivers/guides will go off-road in Mara and they all keep each other informed of the location of patrol vehicles.
LOL. Wasn't risking it. The rules are clear for the national park. But the private areas -- they write their own rules.



https://www.maasaimarakenyapark.com/...0the%20reserve.
HouFlyer61 is offline  
Old Apr 3, 23, 1:03 pm
  #15  
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Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Key West, FL
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Originally Posted by roadwarriorafrica
Love this report - I live in Nairobi, and quite enjoy reading other peoples experiences in Kenya.

Sadly any of the "international" safari camps have a poor idea of what a safari is all about, which Asilia Africa, Elewana and many other private camp operators understand. I feel Kempinski Mara lacks any genuine romanticism.

Glad you had a great time overall.
Thanks for reading the post, and that's a very eloquent way to say it -- the Kempinski camp was without romanticism. I'll put in the final post in the next day or so. We found a well rated farm-to-table restaurant in Nairobi that we thought was FANTASTIC -- Cultiva. When I'm back in Nairobi I'm definitely going to return. I'm interested in what people who live in Nairobi think of the place. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Aeroclub too .... what a great local experience.
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