Hiser Art Safari group met at Houston Intercontinental Airport on Monday afternoon, June 4th. The girls, Abby, Bianca, Natalie, Alva, and Gabby, were excited as Gayln and I got ready with our tickets to start the boarding process for the long flight. Finally Wednesday morning we arrived in Nairobi and were picked up by Classic Safaris and began the long drive to Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. On the way, the Art girls got to see their first wild Giraffes, white necked Ravens, and Zebras along the roadsides.
Day One at Kibo Camp Amboseli and our safari vehicle broke down, dead battery, we had to get out and push to restart it a few times. On this day we had plenty of zebras, wildebeest and ostrich up close. The Crowned cranes were abundant, coucals, thick knees, baby plovers, Thompson's Gazelle, Grant's gazelles, and yellow necked Francolins, and a pygmy falcon all highlighted the first drive. We saw some of the biggest Tusker ELephants I have ever seen in my life and one huge bull decided to bluff charge us a few times. That night I sat by the fire and reflected on the the first day with my art students in Africa. Their eyes were shining when they saw the first herds of elephants in Amboseli.
Day Two at Kibo Camp we enjoy an early breakfast and listen to the rumbling sound of a nearby zebra herd running from something, maybe lions, which we heard in the night. Driving along, Natalie yells and she spotted a big hyena sleeping next to the road, we had already driven past it. He was only a few feet from our window and finally he jumps up and disappears. Today we arrived at the lake and were lucky to get good photos of flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingos along with Buffalos, vervet monkeys, baboons, waterbucks, bush bucks, and our first lions.
Back at Kibo camp for lunch we saw bee eaters and paradise flycatchers. Gayln was visited at our tent by a dwarf mongoose, while some of us visited the nearby Masai village. Abby, Gabby, and Ms. Chang danced with the Masai and we toured their village learning their medicine, prayers, and bargaining skills. Gabby and I were charged by a Masai Bull but managed to side step as a warrior chased it away with a long stick. Birds on this game drive included, Spur Geese, Egyptian Geese, hammerkop, crakes, jacanas, storks, cranes, and a hoopoe. This drive also produced the girls first hippo sighting.
Day Three we depart Amboseli and arrive at Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort. Very impressive lodge with zebras and waterbuck roaming the grounds and giraffes at the entrance. The girls were excited and amazed. At night it was dangerous to wander about because hippos from the lake came ashore to graze and we spotted them with flashlights. That first day we took a boat trip to Crescent Island and observed African Fish Eagles fishing and plenty of big hippos fighting in the lake. Arriving on Crescent Island our guide took us on a walking safari getting extremely close to wildebeests, waterbuck, zebras, giraffes, gazelles and impalas. That night our meal was grand and the beauty of the lodge was so relaxing.
Day Four at Lake Naivasha and vervet monkeys were running everywhere. This morning we headed off to Lake Nakuru to find big herds of zebra, impala, and buffalo. Widowbirds showed off their long tails in the tall grass. Driving up the hill to reach the Baboon Cliffs-true to the name we find baboons hanging out. The overlook is awesome with the view of Lake Nakuru and I am astounded at the difference of when I was at this exact point in 2012. The Lake has expanded in size so much. Agama lizards showed off their exotic colors of blue and green and orange and pink heads on the rocks and Abby actually touches one-so tame for wild lizards.
Along the way we were lucky enough to find two leopard tortoises, and a baby gazelle. Spinning our tires and almost getting stuck in deep mud, it started to rain and that's when we found the white rhinos. Two of the rhinos in the rain came right next to the vehicle and of the five, we saw that one had a baby rhino. Getting that close to wild rhinos made the day for me.
Back at Lake Naivasha lodge Gayln and I take a walk and find a herd of zebras that she walks along with. We then found four tall giraffes and get really close up. While walking along the lake we encounter angry hippos grunting at us and to be safe we turned around and headed away from the water. Hippos are too grumpy to take chances with. That evening at dinner we were tired but the girls were excited about their day.
Day Five was a day of driving "hell" with horrible roads and long long hours in the truck. The highlight of the morning before we left were the troop of Colobus monkeys at Lake Naivasha camp which were a great find!..My favorite monkeys and the girls enjoyed their beautiful black an white fur. We saw pied kingfishers, waterbucks and yellow billed storks on our nature walk before we departed. Hours and hours later we arrive in the Mara, of course, bombarded by Masai women pushing their handfuls of beads at our windows, so persistent, not a pleasant experience. The first animal we find on the Mara was not what you would expect, FROGS.
The tall grass hides many animals but we found two big male lions, five cheetahs sleeping under a tree, our first herds of Topi, and hartebeests. Great encounters with some of my favorites, Secretary birds, GO Away birds,, Kory and White belied Bustards, Snake Eagles, Vultures, and Helmeted Guineafowl. and baboon troops walking along the dirt roadway. A big male surprised everyone when he attacked Gayln through the vehicle window, grabbing at the camera. Luckily he missed her but we all jumped and got a good scare with his big canines flashing and those long hairy arms grabbing at her. The sunset that night was incredible as we finally arrived at Ashnil Mara Camp .
Day Six we have a quick breakfast and set out for a game drive into the Mara. I had no idea of the what we were about to find. We first spot a Suni antelope, my first, very similar to a Dik Dik antelope, along with huge herds of Topi, Impala, Grant's and Thompson's gazelles. Along with huge herds usually comes the predators. We were not disappointed with the arrival of a big leopard stalking through the tall grass. The big cat was beautiful and even crawled up underneath a truck to rest in the shade. We spent some time with the big leopard and then left, to let him hunt in peace. He approached very close for good photos. A few minutes later we find two lionesses and have some good viewing time with them too. Two big buffalos wandered nearby and then we returned for a lunch at the lodge with many crocodiles and hippos in the river below our lunch deck. The open air lunch area had plenty of visitors, like bulbul birds and mousebirds.
After lunch Abby , Bianca, Galyn, Alva, Natalie, and Gabby all relaxed at the pool creating the word: "Africa"-- with our bodies and arms in the cool pool water.
That afternoon we drove out to the place on the Mara River where some of the Great Migration takes place, they were crocodiles waiting along the banks and the river was filled with hippos. Great close up encounter with a silver backed jackal who didn't seem to mind us at all.
Day 7 leaving Ashnil on a LONG drive back to Nairobi. The bumpy road known as the Kenyan Massage seemed to never end. Once back in Nairobi, hours and hours later, starving, we eat some familiar food, KFC and PIZZA HUT for a quick lunch. Our next stop that afternoon was the Giraffe Center. Gayln and I had been there before but the girls first experience went grreat ! Gabby was kissing endangered Rothschild''s giraffes on the lips and a big male decided to hook my shoulder with his horn. We saw the famous Giraffe Manor which is booked up--two years in advance.
Nest stop was to see Ambo, our adopted baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Orphanage for baby elephants. We met their orphaned black rhino who is blind and can never be released back into the wild. Gabby got to meet her giraffe she adopted named Kiko. The baby elephant running parade was great and we adopted more babies.
That evening we concluded our night with a meat eaters meal at the famous CARNIVORE restaurant. The girls had their first taste of Ostrich, Ox balls, and crocodile. We celebrated our last night in Africa.
The time in Africa went by too quickly and I enjoyed every minute of spending time with my art students as they experienced their first trip to the dark continent. We made memories, found the big five, and learned so much.