Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jambo bwana! Kenya - Here we come!

The most important question that needs an answer every Summer is "Where is our next Summer holiday going to be?".  After Cambodia in 2011 and Thailand in 2012, the family wanted a "different" holiday. I was merrily planning on the rain forests of Sumatra and then Bali and Lombok in Indonesia. It has been 16 years since our last holiday in Indonesia. However, one evening in January, the family got into a huddle (without me), looked up, and said just one word "Africa!".

That was the beginning of serious research and planning. Most details were worked out within about a month. Going through a Tour Operator (TO) was going to be a new experience, all our holidays having been DIY so far. That was a worrying factor. My brother-in-law offered to help, being in the travel business. He introduced me to Travel HTT. Two weeks into planning, after another huddle, the Memsahib's verdict was "You guys go on ahead, I don't think I will be able to handle the rigours of a safari". I am convinced this was all actually planned out well in advance.

There are numerous questions about TOs in the travel forums. The critical factor, in my opinion, is the knowledge, skills and attitude of the driver-guide. This is probably the single most important variable that can transform a safari into an average one or a terrific one, barring unforeseen issues and events beyond one's control.

Happy to state that Travel HTT executed the plans perfectly. James, our driver-guide, was caring, demonstrated ample knowledge of plants, trees, birds and animals, superb driving skills (being the rainy season) as well as amazing spotting abilities that made all the difference. He became our driver-guide and teacher over six days. It was like going back to school, only far more enjoyable.

My thoughts that guided planning were: how about ONE conservancy, ONE lake and (one and only) Mara, in the Triangle? After much thought, our itinerary was narrowed down to:
- Two nights at Ol Pejeta Conservancy
- One night at Lake Nakuru
- Two nights at Maasai Mara.

Travel HTT suggested a stop at Lake Naivasha between Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

Planning consisted of sorting out the following:
- Junior's passport renewal
- Finalize the dates (school vacation begins April 1)
- Tour Operator
- Parks
- Lodges
- Route
- Payment to TO
- Air tickets, Foreign exchange, Debit and Credit cards
- Yellow Fever Vaccines (huge challenge in India, due to shortage of vaccines)
- Course of anti-malaria tabs
- Hepatitis jabs and miscellaneous tabs
- First aid kit
- Sober, solid cotton shirts (mix of half-sleeve and full-sleeve)
- Comfortable, quick dry pants (these were put to the test after Naivasha's freezing drizzle)
- Light jackets (half-sleeve and full-sleeve, to counter the anticipated 10 to 28 degrees Centigrade temperature range, and to shield us from the season of the 'Long Rains')
- One India-to-UK Type G plug adapter (passive device)
- Three-socket Belkin surge protector strip (to recharge camera and mobile batteries)
- Cameras (we needed one each; so we bought a Fuji HS30EXR 16MP 30x zoom bridge camera to add to the Canon DSLR with two lenses, for a holiday without camera snatching)
- Binoculars (8*40 Olympus)
- Tripod (for night scenes)
- Walking shoes and a backup pair
- ...and so on...

We carried a fair bit of protective gear. However, happy to say that we did NOT use the following:
- Sunscreen (did not feel like it)
- Hand sanitizers (fairly 'sanitized' trip, no random stops, stayed at Serena and Sarova properties)
- Bournvita (packed by worried 'mamma' in case 'teenage baby' does not get adequate nutrition)
- Milk powder sachets (packed for the same reason)
- Tang powder (in case we get thirsty)
- Wet tissues (drives were nowhere near as dusty as we had expected)
- Tabs (cold, fever, allergy, upset stomach and about 10 other symptoms and conditions)
- Anti-mosquito patches and spray (did not encounter a single mosquito)
- First aid kit
- Floppy hats (the pop-up roof sheltered us well enough)
- Dark glasses (wonderful weather, sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, occasional light rain).

We reached Mumbai at 10 PM from after a short, 1.5 hour flight from Bangalore. Transfer to the international terminal was by airport coach. Immigration was smooth.

Yellow Fever vaccinations: We were asked about Yellow Fever vaccinations by the Kenya Airways staff during check-in and also by the Immigration counter staff in Mumbai during departure. They appeared to be satisfied with our answers, and did not ask to see the Certificates. We were not asked about YF vaccinations in Nairobi on arrival. However, a week later, our YF Certificates were closely examined during departure at Nairobi airport and also on arrival at Mumbai airport. Different countries have different requirements. Indian immigration does not have YF vaccine requirements for exit, but does check during entry. Recommended that travellers study WHO and country specific immigration and medical guidelines.

The Kenya Airways flight took off from Mumbai at 3 AM. Barely any sleep that night, but who cared, we were on our way to Kenya, after all. The dinner and drinks were quite good. We watched documentaries and movie clips along the way. Soon enough, sunlight appeared beyond the wing. 

The Boeing 777 aircraft was powered by huge engines.

The flight landed in Nairobi at 6:30 AM, right on time. Immigration and Visa-On-Arrival was a breeze. We had filled up the forms and signed them well in advance so there was not much to be done except find our way to the counter, and hand over the documents with a crisp US 100 note. The immigration official asked about a few Indian cricket players, stuck the visa stickers, stamped the passports and welcomed us to Kenya. Our bags arrived on the carousel soon enough. Now that we had our bags, it was time to exchange some USD at the counter in the hall, approx 75 KES per USD for 'old' notes, and 80 KES per USD for 'new' notes. So far so good! 

Walter and James of Travel HTT met us at the hall on arrival. We bought a prepaid Safaricom (Vodafone) GSM SIM card from the store in the arrival hall. A copy of one of our passports was needed as identity proof. The process took less than ten minutes. James would be our driver-guide for six days.

We were soon on our way to Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nanyuki, a drive of about 4 hours.

The standard practice is to stop at a 'designated rest stops' on the way, for tea/coffee and to get enticed by the huge range of curios on sale. You need to wade through the handicrafts on the way to the rest rooms. All our stops during the trip were to be at 'designated stops' only. I tried otherwise, but James politely refused to make random stops.

Food: For all those who are worried about food, like my Other Half was before our trip, the buffet meals were all about abundant food. We did not exactly live in huts and eat berries. Junior loved the variety of Non-veg and Dessert choices, and studiously avoided all Greens and Veggies, like most teenagers do. Both of us ignored the Indian corner that was available at all the properties. Who on earth would want to eat Indian food while on holiday? We eat that most days, don't we? 

Kenyan cusine: For those interested in Kenyan cusine, like I was, we found none at Ol Pejeta Serena Sweetwaters, a reasonable amount at Nakuru Sarova Lion Hill, and a vast amount at Mara Serena. 

So, where on earth are our binoculars?

We realized on the second day that the newly online-acquired 8*40 pair of Olympus Binoculars (again after significant 'binocular research'), was 'missing'. My mistake. I had forgotten to include it during the final phase of packing. Junior nonchalantly said "Ok, next time". Hmmm, is he set for another safari already? 

Happily, we did not feel the need for Binoculars except on one or two occasions. Most of the time the wildlife is quite close by, sometimes barely 2 metres away, mostly 10 to 50 metres away. At other times, we could look through our camera zoom lenses for a closer view. 

The following posts describe our experiences. Many pictures, very few words. Words are quite superfluous. Each picture probably tells (more than) a thousand words. 

I hope you enjoy the pictures, as much as we enjoyed clicking them and compiling them. 

Please click on the links below to follow us around our Kenya experience:


  1. This is quite hilarious, your expectations: living in tents and eating berries. Welcome to Kenya Jyoti, we are glad to have been at your service.

  2. Good write up, Jyoti. Am looking forward to our trip

  3. Nice to read your blog. I too will soon make a trip to Kenya. I love Kenya.

  4. Marvelous, Jyoti! e you been to America--you write like a Yankee!!!
    I was at Serena Sweetwaters and Mara Serena also. Terrific places. At Sweetwaters, I stayed in one of the newer tents in the Morani Wing (if you looked out from the dining area, they were down the path to your right). Very posh--even "The Memsahib" would love it!!

    Ok, back to your text and photos. Darn, i want to get back there!!!

  5. Terrfic Jyoti. I love your great writing style, the report, and the photos. Darn, I want to go back!!!!

  6. Now that I am in Kenya for my trip, I have the pleasure to experience the good weather and lots of site seeing. I love Kenya. Now in Mombasa, came from Masai Mara and Nyanza. Next week will go to Tsavo and Malindi.

  7. Thank Mr Jyoti for taking your time to write a lovely blog of your safari. Thanks to use your great deal of time, energy, and effort, and all is much appreciated
    Thank you for sharing and to note the safari was a fantastic one. We’ll do the same to your colleagues and referrals

  8. Hi Mr Jyoti...I 'm writing to you from Travel HTT. Once again thank you for the positive feedback. We would like to repost this article on our blog ( Kindly let us know if it is possible. Thank you.

  9. Please go ahead and post this link on the HTT blog.
    Best wishes..!!


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