“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Day 8 - Sadly our last day in Kenya

We woke at 545am and left at 615am alone in the truck with Charles. The New Yorkers have moved on to their next African camp (lucky sods) and this is our last game drive of the trip.
Whilst watching a bunch of lion cubs mucking about around a kill before dawn, we heard alarm calls close by coming from 3 black-backed jackals and decided to investigate. As we neared Charles worked out that one of the jackals (they always move in pairs) had been taken and he suspected a Leopard. The Jackals were surrounding a lugga and so we assumed the Leopard was still inside the bushes hiding somewhere within. Some clever maneuvering from Charles and we had a perfect view of what appeared to be Fig's sister staring out from the bushes at us; no sooner had I fired off a couple of shots when she bolted out of the greenery and across open space to the next group of shrubs. She was fast and without a kill - the Jackals continued barking and calling in a strange high-pitched yelp - but she was gone - and we suspect her kill well hidden for her return later. Getting hungry we moved off to a lovely spot for breakfast with frogs calling and spent some time taking background scenic shots which often get forgotten on these trips. I took lots of the various patterns that can be seen in the bark, the rocks, the mud and the grasses - but the temperature was rising fast and a seat in shade eating fresh fruit was much more preferable.
 After breakfast we ventured back to Fig's territory for last time and saw no sign of her kill, so either hyenas stole it, or she has brought it down and hidden it again. Bye bye beautiful Fig, wherever you are - and we hope after last week's events you are indeed pregnant!
Passing some truly stunning scenery we saw Africa's tiniest Kingfisher, The African Pygmy, which was another lifer for me. (I can't quite believe I am actually keeping a record of the bird's I've seen - how did that happen?).
The next creature we passed was even more obliging and wandered right up to the truck to Caro's waiting lens - A male leopard tortoise. Charles reckons it was about 50 years old! - certainly seemed friendly enough. Soon after we found Mohican (the male Lion) lounging under a tree with a young, but very dead, untouched buffalo at his feet. But the stench of his continual farting put us off hanging around and we headed back to camp. Sad to be leaving, but hopeful for the future of the animals in the Mara. They have some great protection and despite the two dead cheetahs, everything seems to be going ok for them right now.

Our last lunch was superb and we were joined by the new arrivals into camp - how jealous of them are we!?  they have it all to come - one couple were from Tunbridge Wells (or thereabouts), and so not far from us - one set go home and another arrive. We arranged with Darren for our driver in Nairobi to take us to the Ole Sereni for dinner (which overlooks Nairobi National Park), before going on to the airport as our flight was not until almost midnight. The same BA night flight as Richard and his student, Dave, in fact.
Thank fully we were pretty shattered by the time the plane took off and managed to sleep/doze most of the way home - but arriving in the UK was a definite slap in the face - we arrived at 6am in the dark and cold, and I was back at my desk in the office by 9am! Definitely time to book the next trip - Puma's in Patagonia maybe?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Day 7 - Narashas evening meal

Finally.... a stunning African sunrise, spent with "teenage" lions play fighting and taking turns eating their way through a dead buffalo. Charles excelled himself again by predicting the behaviour of the adolescents and getting us into the perfect position for this shot of the brothers sharing a morning slurp.
We left them as the sun started to heat up and the lions activity slowed down. We wanted to find more cheetahs as we didn't really have any action shots of these high speed cats - which are one of my favourites - they have so much going against them and with two males recently found dead through viral disease, their future in the Mara doesn't look bright. We set off in search and came across all manner of things... Vultures and Maribou stock fighting over a stripped carcass, (just a ribcage really), a Kestrel performing acrobatics and Egyptian Geese mating (which looked more like drowning) but we eventually found "Amani", a female cheetah - Imani's mother in fact. We sat with her a while, until a really noisy truck from another camp announced it arrival with squealing brakes and serious engine roar - it's a wonder the p
assengers have seen any wildlife at all!
Today's lesson from our American friends, (prompted by the mating geese), was that of a "Rapid Roy" - which equates to a British "quickie", something the African wildlife seem to favour - although the Lions apparently practise the "Rapid Roy" every 15 minutes for 3 days!!!!
We passed a 2 week old Thompsons gazelle with Mum, and another dead Thompsons that Amani had not eaten. We, however, ate very well, with Eagles flying overhead - this mornings 4 course picnic breakfast consisted of a fantastic mushroom and potato frittata with chilli sauce and sausages, yoghurt and cereal, fresh papaya, pineapple and melon, fruit juices, Earl grey tea, pastries and banana muffins - totally spoilt and totally stuffed!

Charles' Swahili Lesson for today
Imani - Faith
Amani - Peace
If you call someone a....
Leopard, it means you are secretive
Cheetah means you are fast
Hippo means you are fat
Fisi (Hyena) means you are greedy
Warthog means you have a crap memory
"ooh-ka-joo" (no idea of the spelling) - means you're smart!

Charles' Wildlife Lessons for today
1) Hyena hierarchy dictates that the lower ranking females get left with the bones. The females are more dominant than the males as well as physically larger, yet still the entire family greet each other by licking each others bits!!!
2) Leopard and baboons live in the same habitat and have the same lifestyle which is why there are often disputes between them.

Tiredness is beginning to take its' toll now - seriously falling asleep behind the lens today.  I don't suppose the G&T at lunchtime helped - but hey ho - am on holiday this time instead of a purely photographic tour which is kinda nice. Incidentally there was nothing on the camera trap last night so Darren kindly reset it for us for tonight.
Noticed during our down time that both feet are now missing a fair amount of skin through scratching and sweaty socks, but the talc is helping - shame the anti-histamine isn't. Managed a 1h20m nap after lunch too which was much needed - and thankfully put me back on track.
All the Masai staff here have taken to calling Caroline, "Caro" which takes a bit of getting used to, since it is a new one she hasn't been called before - but I quite like it. So as we left on our sundown game drive, Caro joked with our amazing driver, and requested 3 things... As it was our last evening drive, she wanted a perfect buffalo skull with dark horns, a cheetah kill, and the perfect African sunset - she got them all within a couple of hours! Charles you are simply outstanding.
We were still within site of camp when we snapped away at a perfect buffalo skull, before spotting a massive herd of gazelles legging it across the horizon.... the chase was on.... moments later we were watching "Narasha", a lone female cheetah, looking very hungry and thin, hunting for a baby gazelle.
We learnt that gazelles hide their offspring in the depressions on the plains when danger approaches and they apparently remember exactly the spot they left them and the babies instinctively know to lay low and keep still and quiet. It was fascinating to watch all the mother gazelles trying desperately to distract the cheetah from where they left their young... drawing her away. Unfortunately for one mother though, Narasha stumbled in the wrong direction and came upon a very young Grants baby - which she quickly grabbed by the neck and started feeding. Surprisingly she didn't kill it first -
the baby remained alive a lot longer than I ever imagined it would - it was quite alarming as the mother was only 100m away looking on, clearly distressed. Jennifer was also slightly distressed - but equally fascinated. The mother continued calling her young - the baby continued replying. In fact, the baby was still moving and calling, even after its innards had been eaten! The stomach was still full of nutritional mothers milk, so Narasha ate it, before moving to systematically skin the foal over a period of 45 minutes, whilst vultures circled overhead. At one point, we realised the mother still wasn't sure, when she saw off a couple of approaching black-backed jackals in the hope that it wasn't her baby that Narasha was munching on. Narasha didn't seem nervous at all, she ate, scanned the horizon occasionally and then ate some more. Typically Cheetahs have to eat very quickly as scavengers will often steal the kill. But on this occasion she was able to continue till there was nothing but hooves and skin left - she even ate the skull and brain which would have still been soft because the foal was only a matter of days old.
The adrenaline and rapidly diminishing light caused some frustration with camera controls, particularly for Caro, but admirably she persevered and we both got some great shots. Amazing experience. We then raced to capture our last dramatic sunset, lying face down on the plains whilst our American companions took dodgey photos of us and drank wine - our last drive together as a group was rapidly coming to an end and we giggled our way back to camp with the wind in our hair. So going to miss this place. It's simply magical.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Day 6 - Fig Friday

Last night I had spent the evening chatting to 70 year old egg farmer, Ken Staverley, about Moba machinery and his factory in Lancashire. An interesting conversation with a charming, if a little tipsy, gentleman. So today, of course, the girls took the mick. Which made for a very giggly and lighthearted safari truck - right from the word go at 615am.
Charles excelled himself today, also from the word go.... even before dawn, he managed to get us into the best position, a foot deep in water, half way across the river, in perfect time for a pride of lions who were about to cross with their cubs. The ISO was bumped right up and both cameras had to be used as the cubs came a little too close for my borrowed Nikon lens, but I absolutely adore this shot of one of the cubs, growling at the water, as he tentatively padded from stone to stone right in front of us. Such a memorable moment.
After dawn, we found Fig guarding last nights kill (baby wildebeest), which was up a tree. Charles thinks the reason she stashed it instead of eating it last night is because she already killed and ate a baby impala right after we left her, so the wildebeest must have been a second opportune kill. Charles knew she would have to get the kill down at some point to hide it during the day, so we had breakfast in the van and waited to see what she would do. Trucks came and went - we stayed, and thankfully
our patience was well rewarded with three glorious hours of exhilarating "Fig" action. First she came from the bushes in front and trotted over to climb the tree and retrieve the baby wildebeest with immense jaw strength and grace - blink and you would have missed her get up that tree trunk - she took a little longer getting back down with the kill - tugging and pulling to free it from it's wedged position of safety 3 metres up. Then she caught her breath at the foot of the tree occasionally licking the kill before removing the innards and burying them in the dirt.

Next, just as we finished re-positioning the truck she dragged the kill right out into the open in front of us and into another bush 20 or so yards away from the first, but 2 metres from our truck! Charles is definitely worthy of his reputation as the best guide/driver - all other trucks had a blocked view behind us and no space left to re-position - we felt very privileged - and Fig did not seem to mind at all - casually going about her daily routine - she left the kill hidden from scavengers and went to a hippo pool for a crap before settling down in the shade under Richard Costin's van for a well earned rest - how funny that she chose the only professional photographers vehicle to hide herself under - totally out of reach of his lens.

Back at camp for lunch and the conversation was flowing much more freely from the shared Leopard experience - to the point where straight-laced New Yorker, Jennifer decided it was a good time to test out her use of the British word "w**ker!!!!" hilarious. Pretty sure she had no idea how rude a word it is in Britain!
Cleared and transferred my cards and Darren set up his camera trap outside our tent for us ready for the night watch. A 30 minute nap and I felt right as rain and ready for the afternoon drive. Caroline however cannot have felt as good as she mistook these two giraffes for elephants at one point! We saw quite a few elephants today, in a herd, young and old, scratching the ground with their feet to get at the minerals underneath, drinking seriously muddy water and splashing themselves to cool off and cake themselves in it like sunscreen. We also saw a massive troop of baboons, more lions with cubs, and during another non-existent sun at the sunset hour, we decided to stay with a large male lion called "Mohican". No sooner had we sipped our first and got the nibbles out when Charles suggested there might actually be a sunset after-all and so we grabbed hold of everything and sped off towards the open plains with moments to spare. We were going so fast racing across the grasses that Charles ordered Sam and Jennifer who were right in the back ~(the bumpiest seats) to ditch their wine out the side of the van in order to properly hang on - the look of horror on mine and Caroline's faces as Sam's full glass of white went sloshing to the ground told Jennifer all she needed to know about us two - we laughed and laughed but eventually we got our first sunset of the trip under dramatic African skies whilst the ladies polished off the rest of two bottles of wine. The perfect end to another incredible day.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Day 5 - Thursday, Malika and her cubs

Finally clear sky! when we left at 615am we could definitely see stars! not many, but they were definitely visible... our 1st sunrise of the trip!! closely followed by more lions and some hippos in the water. We spent a bit of time with one of the known female cheetahs, called Malika, and her four cubs - but they were pretty lazy and lying flat out on the plains for most of the time - worn out, so we left them and went for a picnic breakfast by a river under the trees which was just gorgeous. The rains had caused a few problems across the area as crossing points became a little more exciting than usual - this particular one we didn't bother with - Charles' gut instinct told him to cross further up - you didn't hear any complaints from us ladies in the back - we've already seen a massive Nile Crocodile disappear into the water as we plunged across in the truck a few just metres away.
There's been excitement in camp over learning (and subsequently managing to recall) the various names of collective creatures, such as a troop of baboons or my personal favourite, a dazzle of zebra... today we saw a journey of 12 Giraffes (when moving they are known as a journey and when stationary they become known as a tower). Camp guests have become so obsessed that Emma has printed out pages of lists for everyone - I can barely get the animal names right, let alone the collectives as well.

Kiki (Greek wildlife photographer) arrived today, but sadly, his luggage did not. We also have Richard Costin in camp at the moment, another impressive British wildlife photographer, here with his student, Dave, and his Nikon gear to try out - the same lens I have - 80-400mm f4.5. Excited to see what he makes of it.

Abraham, our Masai waiter, serving our table again today and since I am of course the piggiest of all the camp guests, I am always the first to the alfresco dining table with my plate of food -which also means I get to spend some time chatting to him about his life in the Mara and his family - truly fascinating. Depsite the leftovers being made available to these tribesmen, they prefer to eat only their typical diet of Ugali and Matooke with various relishes. Not the choice I would make given the delicious alternatives on offer here.
After a bit of a rest and the usual clearing down of cards and transferring to remote hard drive for safe storage we were off again at 4pm.... this time chasing Vervet monkeys, Olive baboons and Imani, an 18 month old Cheetah alone on the plains. Then by sheer accident we spent time with tiny lion cubs 2-3 months old... it seemed every place we chose for a pee stop, kept popping up lions!

We also had our first sighting of Fig the Leopard towards the end of the afternoon, and she didn't disappoint - bounding down the rocks in front of us, and pausing a few feet from the front of the truck before moving off on her way to hunt a baby Impala in the approaching darkness. Astounded how well the D4 performs in low light conditions - simply magic.
Whilst Kiki was shooting giraffe silhouetted against a lightning storm on the horizon (for his new book about light), we drank sundowners 200 yards away from Fig. What more could anyone want.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Day 4 - Wednesday's hangover and hailstorm

Ok on account of the camp manager, Tanyth, staying up drinking with us until the early hours, we were woken up at 545am by Daniel bringing our coffee as usual - Tanyth had completely forgotten to cancel him to allow us a lie-in!!! in a very grumpy panic I suggested to Caroline that maybe Tanyth had also forgotten to tell George and we were both therefore worried that he would be by his truck waiting for us at 615 - this called for our first use of the in-tent emergency walkie talkie - which I'm guessing Sean wasn't too chuffed about, but we just had to check George had been told. Sorry Sean!
We went back to sleep til 715am and thankfully found our coffee still hot in its little flask. We then had the most perfect hangover breakfast in camp under the trees at 830am - baked beans on toast with cheese and marmite - those Masai chefs are so obliging. We said our sad goodbyes to the camp managers and staff and set off for our second destination: Kicheche "Bush camp", across open plains, passing a Maasai village and school, and arriving around 1130am to another cracking welcome from Darren and Emma, the permanent camp managers from Leicester who have been living in Kenya for over 10 years. Unfortunately it wasn't until an hour later that I realised George had driven off with my well-traveled and well-annotated wildlife guide drying on the roof of his truck - oops.
After the obligatory welcome drinks and rundown of the camp rules, we were shown to our tent - Tumbili (monkey), which lucky for us was the closest to the mess tent, and absolutely huge, not to mention stunning.
Come 4pm, we were introduced to our new guide, Charles, who was not Masai, but Kikuyu, and had a reputation as the best guide in camp - something we later came to learn was 100% fact. We also met our two new truck mates, Jennifer and Samantha, from New York. If I remember correctly, Jennifer is some kind of teacher and Samantha a professional dog trainer. Both a little bit mad, but both great game drive companions despite not being fellow photographers. They seemed more than happy to spend time observing the same animals for hours instead of moving on after 10 minutes - they thankfully were a long way from the typical "list-tickers" most non-photographers are when on safari.
Our first game drive with them from Bush camp started with an incredible storm... a hail storm in fact. Bizarre. But one during which I spent a long and very frustrating time trying to capture a male lion shaking his soaking wet mane. After a number of failed attempts and then an unknown error message appearing on the camera I finally got the best chance I was going to get; - poised in position with the lens poking through a small gap in the plastic side windows, the rain lashing down, and backache from crouching in the truck for almost 2 hours in the same position, the lion
shook, and I shot - at exactly the same moment the female who was lying in front of him decided it was time to stretch her legs.... BLOODY HELL! better luck next time.
As the rain slowed, we left the mating lions and went for "sundowners" with wildebeeste and more lions elsewhere then drove back watching the lightning crack across the sky. When we returned to camp, the weather had proved destructive as we learned some of the tent poles had been bent and the power had been out for hours. A paraffin lamp had been placed outside our tent and dinner was to be served at 8pm as usual. Shortly after arriving back in our tent for bucket showers, the power temporarily came on thanks to some clever redirection of the generator. So so tired, hungry, and still slightly hungover, that we almost fell asleep at the dinner table.  We were both in bed and sleeping by 10pm.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Day 3 - Tuesday

Thankfully I slept from 1030pm til 540am - felt a little groggy, but the African plains soon blew that away. We set off at 620am and saw little until 730am when we stumbled upon a Giraffe about to give birth - what a find!
Captured the whole thing including the bump as the baby hit the ground from a fair height as the mother was standing the whole time! Took the kid 12 minutes in total to learn to stand - incredible...graphic, but incredible all the same.
Just as she was about to deliver the placenta, when a radio call came in with a Leopard sighting... we didn't hang around. Sadly by the time we got there the female Leopard (called Fig) had retreated into the bushes and the sun was truly roasting so we decided to go take some scenic shots of the truck in the beautiful riverine lugga.
We ventured a little further and found some more lions with cubs before heading back for lunch - the sun was too harsh to shoot anything anyway and we were getting burnt. It was so hot that I broke my habit of a beer at lunchtime and ended up having two instead. Which meant I was fairly dozey by the time the lightning storm started at 330pm and we were gearing up to head out again. The rains started just as we found a pride of lions with 9 cubs playing in the mud - hilarious to watch. Then we decided it must be beer o'clock and I leant forward to the front cab and noticed the cool box was missing - "George..." I started... "where have you put my beer?". He stumbled for an answer before suggesting that one of the other trucks from Kicheche must have it, he said he would radio the others and we would have to go find them to collect it!? very unlike George, but I didn't twig at all.
A few minutes of travel later and we arrived out on the open plains where all the Kicheche trucks and guests we were waiting for us with a blazing fire, nibbles and champagne on ice!!! Caroline had arranged a 40th birthday party for me in the Masai Mara! How amazing is that!?!? :-) The icing on the cake was the thunderstorm that started with a downpour of torrential rain to which Caroline and I, in typical camping fashion, simply grabbed the ponchos from the truck and sat back down - everyone thought we were mad, but they eventually did the same and we guzzled another couple of bottles giggling away under the African monsoon. Brilliant. Then when we had packed up and all the trucks were making their way back to camp in the dark George let me express my thanks over the CB radio which started a hilarious conversation amongst the slightly tipsy passengers of each vehicle. What an end to an amazing game drive.
A much needed hot bucket shower and we were back in the mess tent for dinner and more drinks, followed by an awesome birthday cake - accompanied by Masai staff dancing, drumming and singing. Then of course, more drinks. We crawled into our tent at 2:30am! I will never forget my 40th.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Day 2 - first full day in the Mara

Daniel (our room guard) came with tea, coffee and biscuits to wake us up at 5:45am - it was still pitch black out so when we were ready to get going we flashed the torch out of the tent and Daniel came running back to escort us to the truck where George was waiting with hot water bottles on our seats and a picnic breakfast packed in the front. Unfortunately within a few minutes of setting off, my hot water bottle had leaked all over my trousers and the cool morning air had frozen my leg! marvelous. Didn't see the sun rise either as thick cloud was still covering the area. However we spent some time watching a hyena, a jackal, an eagle and a vulture all tucking in to a Thomspon's gazelle kill during which Caroline managed to drop her bean bag over the side of the truck! By the time breakfast rolled around, the sun had come up, we were baking hot and parked up beside the Mara river watching hippos fight with Crocodiles, where we stumbled on this happy birthday message written in sticks on the ground presumably to catch the eye of a passing plane passenger. Unfortunately for Caroline she's not a particularly good liar and so failed to pass it off as her own work for me!
I know it's only been 24 hours, but I have fallen head over heels with my new Nikon D4. The clarity is incredible and the controls are not actually as hard as I thought they would be.

These two images though were taken with my little point and shoot because the only lenses I have for the Nikon are a hired fixed 500mm Sigma and an 80-400mm telephoto Nikon of much lower quality, neither of which can be used to shoot anything unless it's a fair distance away, but beginners can't be choosers.
Caroline's first battery ran out during the morning drive too which was a real surprise as they should all have been fully charged. So when we got back at lunchtime we tried to charge again and made the worrying discovery that either the battery was faulty or worse... the charger was not working. This could turn out to be a real problem as my Pentax K5 takes different batteries to her Pentax K10D and she only has 3 more charged batteries to last all trip. We worked out some small actions to take to minimise battery usage (reduce the chimping, leave it on instead of turning on and off each time which activates the auto-dust removal shaker etc.) will have to just keep an eye on it.
The sunset game drive was a bit of a wash out, no kills, no drama and no sunset again, but better luck tomorrow at dawn. Dinner was however quite comical as Caroline managed to get a little tipsy and a lot giggly - so much so that she fell off the back of her chair round the campfire and then fell up the steps to the tent where she was giggling so hard. Lord knows what Daniel makes of the pair of us - particularly as it was only 10pm! Took one of Carolines sleeping pills and stopped taking the Malarone - am determined to get at least 5 hours sleep if I can.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Day 1 - First sunset game drive

Most of the camp mates are David Plummer's students and so spend some of their free time having photography lessons with him before heading out in their truck ahead of us in ours. Such a luxury to have a customized truck, complete with beanbags, all to ourselves. George is an incredibly knowledgeable guide, as I'm sure they all are, but he's also a very easy going guy with a great sense of humour. We set off amidst a rainy thunderstorm and saw plenty of zebra, wildebeest and impala before stumbling upon a pride of lion with cubs having a standoff with a bunch of not-very-happy buffalo. George got us in so close we had an awesome view of everything as it unfolded. Caroline was simply stunned into excited silence.
As the light faded we ventured off to find a safe spot to drink our "sundowners" and take a pee which became known from the start as "checking the tyres". We had not long finished checking them when 3 black-backed jackal trotted out of the bushes behind the van and passed by right in front of us... the one time all day I had a beer in my hand instead of a camera! typical.
Just as George was done telling us about his family back home, he spotted a hyena chasing a baby wildebeest on the horizon - he grabbed my camera and managed to fire off a couple of blurry shots as we threw everything and ourselves back in the van and set off in hot pursuit. The baby had been separated from its mother and was wildly galloping towards a group of zebra (a "dazzle" in fact as we later came to learn)... thankfully for the foal he reached the safety of numbers before the hyena reached him.
With the sun well and truly down and dinner time fast approaching we headed back to camp for hot bucket showers and a gorgeous 3 course dinner followed by Amarula night caps and some campfire laughter. Unfortunately though, despite it being only 1030pm and after 2 nights with very little sleep, my luck was not about to change; a combination of Caroline's excited chatter, and subsequent exhausted snoring, sleep was tricky. When I finally did manage to nod off I was woken soon after by the sodding Hippo munching right outside the tent. Grrrrr.

Day 1 - Sunday - still travelling!

Gregory arrived on time to get us to Wilson airport where our luggage was scanned and weighed and deemed to be 11kgs over which meant 22kgs excess to pay for a return flight. The lady on the desk dropped it to 16kgs after a short discussion about the fact that she wasn't going to weigh both me and my sister, but added a few stern words about excess baggage only being possible today as the plane was not full. Utterly ridiculous. As we were sent upstairs to the office to pay, I was calculating the $5US per kilo charge and came up with quite a few more than the $35 they charged me so I kept quiet and dutifully trundled back through the scanning machines to wait for boarding.We bought maps of the Mara and freshened up a little whilst we waited....and waited...and waited. The plane was delayed somewhere in the Mara but each time the official wandered over, we were assured it would be "just 10 minutes now". Ten African minutes of course. By the time the plane arrived we were beside ourselves with excitement, only a 16-seater Safarilink plane with two pilots and no additional staff to accompany us, we were off. Sadly the weather wasn't great and so the view was pretty thick white cloud which is quite disconcerting when you are sat directly behind the pilots and looking straight past the Garmin sat nav (which had "no signal") and out the front window. We flew for 45 minutes with only the last ten giving that queasy funfair ride feeling which grew slightly worse as a zebra grazing on the side of the runway flashed past the window along with Topi antelope and the stunning Mara river. The airstrip we landed at (Mara North) was comical and Caroline was already in hysterics as she washed her hands in a bucket and we met our guide, George, who was waiting for us in his full Maasai robes.
We were welcomed to the Kicheche Mara camp by the relief managers, Tanyth and Sean (native white Kenyans), and given a drink and a quick rundown of the camp setup. 545am wakeups, picnic breakfast each morning out in the bush, back in time for lunch served al fresco under the Acacia trees each day at 1pm and then some rest time before heading back out 4pm for a game drive and sundowners. After sundown it's not permitted to wander the un-fenced camp un-escorted, so we were introduced to our Askari (camp guard) who would be looking after us for our stay. We were then taken to our tent, "Kanga" (meaning Guinea fowl) and left to unpack before a 3 course lunch with the rest of the camp mates.

the journey

So thankfully this time it wasn't me waking up late, but Caroline's driver! she still made it to ours on time though and the M25 was kind enough to allow us an easy journey to terminal 5.
Western omelette for breakfast in the Giraffe restaurant washed down with an Earl grey tea and not one, but two, glasses of Prosecco! a perfect start.
All was going well, the plane was fully boarded on time and ready to take off (complete with celebrity in World Traveller class in the form of big cat expert and BBC wildlife presenter, Jon Scott), but we still did not leave on time as a very tiny, timid looking female, in a hijab, carrying a baby decided it was a good time to start squawking her religious beliefs at everyone as she walked up and down the plane asking who was muslim and declaring that charity started at home - eventually her, her baby and her husband were removed from the plane and a good 30 minute wait followed whilst they removed their luggage from the hold for safety reasons. I have nothing against muslims, but I won't say I wasn't relieved when they were removed. 

The flight passed fairly uneventfully (two spilt wines, three movies and a fair few foul aromas) and I had not managed to engineer a situation to talk to Jon Scott in the next cabin up - so I was even more annoyed when Caroline told me I had dozed off right at the point when Jon was queueing alone to use our bucket and spade class loo right in front of me! bugger.
We eventually arrived at the Fairview hotel at half eleven by our kind driver, Alex, and attempted to get straight to sleep. Unfortunately sleep was not really on the agenda.... too much noise, heat and excitement. So this morning we got up at 630am and went for breakfast and a stroll round the gardens. Now waiting for our driver to take us to the Wilson airport for our titchy plane to the Mara - bring on the big cats!

Friday, 13 February 2015

now we are counting in hours!

It always feels real when the queasiness kicks in after your first Malarone. Gone are the days when anti-malarials were started a week before the trip and gave weird hallucinations - these new (and cheaper) tablets hardly affect me at all. (Or is that on account of already having had Malaria once?).
So the bag is packed - it's about 7kgs over - but what the hell, I will argue that point when I get there (or probably not actually - I will more likely make a pathetic attempt at fluttering my non-existent eye-lashes, go bright red, and then just pay the man as is the African way). Whatever happens, the lenses are coming with me, along with both cameras and the Chromebook - I simply know I will not cope being unable to look at my pictures each day before going out to shoot again. I know, I know, I hear you all spouting off about the days of film and how much more difficult it was then. I remember. ....I remember the weeks of saving the pennies just to be able to afford to get the images developed only to find out they were crap, but we don't live in that age anymore and I need to see them. On a larger screen than the back of my camera. I've paid too much for the trip to have regrets when I get home. The Chromebook may even allow me to blog whilst I am there, I know there is no wifi, but there is an intermittent phone signal, so with a Kenyan SIM card inside there is a chance I will still be able to update you all (negating the need for a heavy notebook of course).
Skyped Simon from the Kicheche camp yesterday who also informs me there is bug spray in every tent but no mossie nets- so that lowered the weight a little more. My net weighs nothing, but the bug spray was fairly heavy duty (on all fronts). So excited. We leave at 7am for the airport tomorrow morning. So fingers crossed for a good nights sleep and a perfectly behaved M25 tomorrow and we will be sipping champers in "Giraffe" for breakfast.
PS: I have finally added a "follow by email" box on the right for those of you who have been asking!