Waaaaaay back in May 2014, I sat in Sheila’s lounge room with Sheila and Christine to talk about an African adventure. They had travelled to South America a few years before and wanted to make the most of their Yellow Fever vaccination, so Africa was the logical next step for them. couches melbourne
Of course they had to come to Kenya, both to visit me and because it’s the place for the best safaris in the world (I’m not biased!). They also wanted to visit Botswana, being fans of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Victoria Falls. They had three weeks to experience the best of the African continent and so we set to work planning an itinerary.
There were a couple of challenges. First of all, Kenya has so much and we wanted to show them all of it, but we had to narrow the safari down to just a week. Secondly was finding an affordable way to travel in Botswana. Botswana caters to the high-end luxury traveller, and lodges are typically US$400+ per person per night. For your average retired teacher, this is not affordable. The alternative is a mobile camping safari and our intrepid ladies agreed.
Eighteen months later Sheila and Christine landed at Nairobi’s airport, looking quite fresh after the 22-hour flight. We headed straight to the accommodation for a quick shower and then went to the mall to take care of some essentials – changing money, buying things that had been left behind and having a cold Kenyan beer as we discussed the week ahead.
Our first destination was the Maasai Mara. The wildebeest migration was in town, and Sheila and Christine could be forgiven for never wanting to see another wildebeest ever again! But do you think we could find an elephant? The night before, a herd of about 15 elephants had crashed through our camp, but there was not a trace of them or their friends until 5pm when I glimpsed a big grey face in the bushes. Elephants do not like all the noise of millions of wildebeest and tend to disappear until the rowdy tourists have gone back to Serengeti (kind of like Philip Island residents on Grand Prix weekend!). On our ellie hunt though, we were lucky to find five lions – two males and three females – supervising a herd of buffalo. No one else had found this group, and so we got to enjoy the sighting all alone. Magical!
From the Maasai Mara we went to Lake Naivasha for two nights. The next day started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy where we got excited spotting many different birds (see the list below) and getting close to some giraffes who were necking. Necking isn’t as romantic as it sounds; it’s actually the term for how giraffes fight. From a distance they look quite graceful and almost gentle as they swing their necks against one another. But once we got close, we could hear the thumps as they crashed together. They can cause serious injury or even death as they fight for supremacy of the herd.
We had a very lovely lunch at Sanctuary Farm and then went for a boat ride around part of the shore of Lake Naivasha. We requested our captain keep us a safe distance from the hippos, and despite his respect of the request, I was still very nervous – I don’t think I should do any more boat trips in hippo-infested waters as I suspect my nerves make everyone else a bit edgier. But they are really big!
Our final destination in Kenya was Samburu. This is where Sheila and Christine got a bit of a taste of what was to come on their camping safari in Botswana, as we stayed in tents inside the park. Camping in the park is such a great experience, even if you think you aren’t the camping type, it’s worth trying just once. Samburu gets really hot in the middle of the day and all the animals retire to the shade, making game driving at that time a little boring. Fortunately there’s a lodge near the campsite with a pool that one can use for a small fee. While Sheila and Christine cooled off, Francis and I ducked out to Umoja Primary School. Last year, Bev had spent a day teaching at the school and later sent some money that her students in Australia had raised. We used that money to buy hoops and footballs for the school and at last we had the opportunity to deliver them. The students remembered Bev and I heard murmurs about rockets (one of the activities Bev had done with them) as they gathered to receive the gifts.
As we headed back to Nairobi, there was one last stop to make: Kiota Children’s Home. At our fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this year, Sheila had signed up to sponsor a Kenyan student. Being in Kenya now, it only made sense for her and the student to meet. Ndunda is a very shy young boy, but he graciously received the stationery that Sheila and Christine had brought for all the children at the home. He then showed us around the home, pointing out the place where he kept his school bag and shoes, his homework, his bed, and common areas where they hang out. We also met Samuel and Simon who are also sponsored by people who came to our Melbourne event.