Two brothers, two sisters, ten friends, four weeks, one grand adventure through Kenya and Uganda. First stop, two weeks in Kenya
It all starts at Tullamarine airport, where Donna tries to smuggle a cable through customs.
“Looks dodgy,” they say, and bar her access.
Not even her sweet smile can get her past these Melbourne security guards.
Meanwhile Ade, Di, Julie, Pete and Steve keep moving as far from Donna and Joe as they can. They push forward, past the Duty-Free section, past Hungry Jacks and past Kathmandu.
Soon enough they find themselves in a bar, of course, it was only a matter of time. Zoe turns up just in time for the first round. And meets her fellow travellers for the first time.
Diane leaves for her flight – not for her the second-class carrier Etihad, Emirates only, thank you very much.
But her flight choice comes at a cost, she’ll wander the corridors of Dubai airport alone and arrive into Kenya after the rest of her travelling companions have passed through customs in Kenya and have arrived at their home for the night.
Dave and Elyse had flown on ahead from Perth, part honeymoon part group adventure. They wanted some time to themselves, they said, before the Melbourne onslaught arrived.
Steve who had complained several times before leaving that he couldn’t sleep on a plane, falls asleep as soon as the Etihad plane leaves Tullamarine and proceeds to sleep for eight straight hours, waking long enough only to discover Julie and Pete have eaten the last lamb meal and the last of the eggs for breakfast.
In Nairobi, the group prepares for a quiet night, it’s gonna be a long drive to the Masai Mara and they’ll need to be up early.
We’re off on an adventure!
Plus, there’s the promise of elephants and giraffes first thing.
But then Brooke, our tour leader, head of Raw Africa Ecotours, and all round trouble maker, suggests a trip to a local meat bar where the main Masai dish is meat, meat, meat and a little more meat. A better option though, they all agree, than the other Masai delicacy – cow’s blood in milk.
The intrepid travellers are ushered into a side room where four tables are joined together to make one long narrow table. A carcass hangs in the window out the front and the wait staff are as bemused by their guests as the guests are by this experience of eating in a ‘Butchery’ that is also a restaurant.
There is a side dish of lettuce and a few chips, and plates full of beef.
After we’ve all had their fill and snapped selfies with the staff, photos of the kitchen and that hanging carcass, Brooke sends the women home.
She takes the men to a local pub.
While Dave and Steve clean up on the pool table, Joe gets out his earlobes – apparently they are sexy in Kenya. Medium simply can’t get enough of them and begs him to stay in ‘Wi-Fi corner’. Steve helpfully hands her Joe’s mobile so she can stay in touch with Joe while he travels through Africa and so the rest of us can have a good laugh.
Come morning we’re ready for our first African adventure and our first wildlife encounter. Our first stop is the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where we line up with hundreds of tourists inching forward to see elephant calves at play.
They don’t disappoint, we position ourselves along the ropes, Elyse squeals with delight as the first of the baby elephants make their way down the path and into the arena before us. When the baby bottles come out, so too do the cameras and we watch the babies wrestle, tussle, eat, drink and play as a Kenyan voice explains the life cycle of an elephant and the work of the elephant orphanage.
While the rest of us make a beeline for the giftshop madly searching for stuff to buy, Dave and Elyse adopt their own little elephant orphan.
Our next stop is the Giraffe Centre, where we learn about the conservation work of the centre, the life cycle of giraffes, Diane squeals with delight at getting a “kiss” from a giraffe and Steve almost gets knocked out by a giant giraffe tongue.
We take it in turns to feed the giraffes but Donna, who we soon learn does everything her own way, empties the bag of pellets into her hand ready to give them all at once to her lucky giraffe.
“One by one, one by one,” our guide cries.
We eventually get Joe’s earlobes out of Nairobi and make our way to the Masai Mara. Along the way we soon discover that Steve will stop to speak with anyone he can – armed guards, shopkeepers, children, military…
But the real surprise comes when, in the middle of Africa, we discover that what he really wants to know about this part of the world is what the prisons are like and where the prostitutes hang out.
Julie tries to get us all interested in a game, because the witty conversation and exotic views out the window just aren’t enough, but Donna gives her a withering look, there’ll be no made up games on this tour.
We reach the Maasai Mara and Zoe begins screeching, it doesn’t stop for three days as every five minutes John and Jaros find a hippo or two for us to photograph.
Ade and Dave pull out their cameras, competing to see who has the bigger lens, who will use it better and who can take the most photos. But Donna and Elyse have them both covered, if only they could work out how to use their Nikon superzooms.
The wildlife comes out to play in the Mara. Our first lions are lying in the scrub on the opposite side of the Mara River, two adolescent males under one tree and one under a second tree. But we would soon come to expect more, if you’re not moving, entertaining us, we’re not interested.
We spy a large adult male lion by a river, a cheetah lazing in the plains and a leopard up a tree and watch as it gracefully ambles down the tree and across the river.
As we tick the Big 5 off our bucket list and watch the sunsets shoot colours across the sky, we bounce around in the back of our vans, getting our eyes used to searching the scrub for signs of animal life.
We stop for lunch in the middle of the national park and wonder, how do the wildlife know to leave us alone in this particular spot?
We pull over for bush toilets and wonder, how do the wildlife know to leave us alone in this particular spot?
We spy brightly coloured starlings and as Pete comments on their beauty and that we don’t have starlings like that at home, Julie pipes up with “our Rosellas are that bright”.
Pete says, “I wasn’t talking about rosellas, I was talking about starlings.”
“But our Rosellas are that bright,” Julie persists.
Pete shakes his head and we all move on.
Our mornings at Tangulia lodge begin with a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits, always biscuits, but Pete can’t quite work out whether his coffee is being delivered to tent six or at 10 to 6.
It’s not all wildlife, though, in the Masai Mara. Jaros takes us to visit a local village where Dave and Joe prove their jumping prowess, Ade and Pete fail to make fire and Steve scares all the kids with the drawings all over his arms.
Pete, not to be deterred by his lack of fire-lighting skills buys a set of fire sticks and Julie literally takes the Masai blanket off the chief’s back.
Jaros takes us for a morning walk, but the animals didn’t get the early morning wakeup call and only the giraffes and the dik diks come out to play.
Oh, there are signs of rhinos, of course, the unmistakable dropping signalling their presence, somewhere out there.
At night we hear the buffaloes and the zebras lolling in the wetlands just outside our resort. The droppings left on the pathways near our cabins make it clear why we need to be escorted to our rooms at the end of every day.
Reluctantly we leave Tangulia and head to Lake Nakuru in search of rhinos and flamingos.
But something’s not right. We pull over. One of the cars has a flat tyre and we need to change it. The Duncan brothers offer their advice, Joe pulls out the gimbal, meanwhile a crowd of students gathers at a safe distance, watching the ‘mzungus’ – white people – working.
Julie and Diane try to engage the kids in conversation, taking selfies and teaching them songs in a key no one knew existed.
The wheel is changed and as the vans drive off the students yell “Goodbye Julie”.
At Lake Nakaru we take separate vans, the girls chatting away in Jaro’s van, the boys stone silent in John’s.
We’re up early for a morning drive, but get there too early, before the staff have even arrived for their shift, so take photos from the carpark, while Steve calls out for coffee and Jaros looks for someone to pay our park fees to.
Inside the park it’s slow going, we see a family of baboons playing beside the road and an even bigger family camped in the middle of the road. Just try moving that group aside.
We see pelicans and flamingos gracing the mirror-like surface of the lake.
Read more about the beautiful flamingoes of Lake Nakaru here.
And then, off in the distance we spy a rhino.
As the girls follow the boys’ van they suddenly take a detour, Jaros waits while the girls all wonder what they’re up to. The girls toss up whether to head off on their own to the rhinos but decide to follow the boys and soon see the two rhinos they’ve spotted.
Pete squeals with delight – or maybe that’s just the story the girls tell themselves when they see the satisfied grin spreading across his face.
Dave and Ade take way too many photos, while Diane asks Jaros way too many questions about the life cycle and behavioural habits of a rhino.
We stop for lunch, Jaros strategically places the van to set up a women’s toilet, but the ‘business’ side is too slippery to be useful.
We find a better spot and send John with his van to create a barrier. Opting for breakfast first is a rookie error that we soon live to regret as van after van pulls up to photograph the flamingos.
Diane tries to move on some Chinese tourists who are in sight of the new toilet spot by telling them “the photos are better over there” but while two leave, two refuse to budge, they’re determined to photograph that spot from every angle.
Much like Dave and Ade would.
From Lake Nakuru we take the long drive to Sweetwaters at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
We take a wrong turn and pull over to ask for directions. Steve wanders over to the “girls’ van” to ask if we’ve got the cups. They want a drink of rum, but as he starts to walk away, cups in hand, we call him back, we’ve got the rum in our van as well.
And as we take off across the bumpy dirt African roads the girls watch in horror as John’s van fishtails its way along the road in front of us, and then laugh imagining the boys trying to pour and drink their rum as the van bounces over that road.
We finally get to Ol Pejeta and a herd of about 20 elephants is there to greet us. Silhouetted against the sunset, the elephants watch over us from the rise that surrounds the grounds.
Diane and Donna do an anti-rain dance, but in the days to come, as the rains fall in abundance everywhere we travel, and the locals tell us the rains don’t usually arrive until November, a good month later, we soon realise something must have got lost in translation and the Gods only heard “rain dance”.
We arrive at Sweetwaters just in time for dinner and prepare for an early morning drive the following morning. We go in search of rhinos, and find the rhino graveyard, where tombstones tell sad tales of the rhinos that have been killed for their prized horns.
We see rhinos, giraffes, buffalo, zebras.
We sit and watch as two giraffes attack each other, using the full power of their long necks to strike each blow.
But John wants to get back for breakfast, so we move on.
From Ol Pejeta, we make our way to Ngare Ndare Forest, where we’ll spend two nights immersed in the forest surrounded by wildlife.
John and Jaros tell us there are lions and there aren’t lions, there are leopards and there aren’t leopards, which leaves us feeling a little uncertain about what we might find in the forest and how safe we will actually be.
One thing’s for sure, there are baboons. And we hear them screeching all through the night just behind our tents.
Luckily there are two rangers stationed nearby to keep us safe. We just hope they can’t see into our makeshift showers.
The tents are up when we arrive and there’s tea, coffee and ginger biscuits laid out for us. Now, this is camping, we think. And when the hot water bottles come out our camping experience reaches new heights.
With an eye out for elephants and hyenas, and an eye on the clouds threatening a downpour we spend the night sitting around the open fire. We become experts at moving the chairs to our “balconies” where we watch the “rains down in Africa”.
We take a long hike to the sparkling blue river and waterfall, but when we get there the water is muddy brown, the rains have literally pushed the surrounding mud into the water making it dirtier than the Yarra River. We take the trek to the edge of the waterfall, picking our way across the rocks, and sliding down walls.
Julie and Donna decide Diane isn’t dirty enough, so attack her legs with a mud-tipped stick. Zoe proves that while she’s strong and athletic, she’s not particularly good at balancing as she ends up on her backside, yet again.
We make it across the river and back again.
Meanwhile Steve has spent the morning bonding with John and four-wheel driving through the forest. They promised they would come and meet us at the falls, but never turn up. Tracks at the bottom of the steep muddy hill, that same hill that bested Zoe, show us the tale of their failed attempts to join us.
When nightfall comes so does the rain and we sit under our tent canopies, trying to stay dry. Elyse gets stuck in the toilet, but Dave takes Ade’s plastic poncho and rescues her. Zoe gets stuck into the limoncello and Julie tries once again to strike up a game.
Our cooks bring dinner to our tents while we all wait for the rain to pass slurping some of the best soup we’ve ever had.
When the rain passes we move back to the open fire and Julie entertains us with her dancing, after trying, and almost succeeding, to organise yet another game.
The tree top canopy walk beckons. Steve’s already done it, so knows what to expect, despite this and despite his fear of heights he heads up the tower in front of Ade and Joe.
One of them rocks the ropes, sending Steve’s fear levels up. He blames Ade, over and over, but soon realises Joe, who looks so focused on his gimbal action, is actually rocking the walkway. Steve tells them off, again, and teaches us all how to walk gently across the treetop chicken wire walkway “like you’re robbing a house, little steps, little steps” he whispers.
All that rain means we can’t go to Il Ngwesi, so we detour via Samburu for the night. We arrive just in time to listen to a cultural talk on the local warriors and to see their colourful dress.
At Samburu Ade and Dave find a new batch of wildlife to photograph, Grevy zebras, gerenuks and reticulated giraffes…
We get stranded for the morning while we wait for the water to subside and watch monkeys jump around the dining area in search of food.
Eventually we hear that the water has subsided and we should be able to get through, so we make our way to our next stop.
The drive is slow going, the roads are still wet and as we search for yet more wildlife John slides the car and gets bogged on the side of the road, Jaros uses his van to push us out and we all thank our lucky stars it wasn’t any worse.
We take four hours to make the two-hour trip to Il Ngwesi as Ade calls for a stop every time a branch moves.
And Steve yells, “not another bird! Don’t let him photograph any more birds”.
When we reach Il Ngwesi conservancy John and Jaros accelerate through the grounds, trying to cross the river before it rains again, they say.
We come to a river, Jaros crosses, John’s car follows, but gets stuck before the back wheels have even hit water. As snatch straps are attached to connect the two cars, those in Jaros’ car set up a makeshift media pack on the other side of the river – cameras at the ready.
John gently eases across the river with the help of Jaros and that snatch strap.
The crossing is a success, we take off again thinking we’re through the worst of it. Wondering why we’re still in such a rush if we’ve made it across the river.
But then another river blocks the road in front of us. Jaros gets out so we all get out. It looks deep and is moving quickly. There’s nowhere else to cross. Jaros assures us the water is subsiding and keeps suggesting “we go”.
Di keeps saying no.
So, we go.
Jaros takes off but he’s gone to the left and before he reaches the opposite riverbank his wheels get bogged.
Pete asks for the 80th time, “why didn’t he go right?”
Jaros accelerates and the back end of the car drops another foot. Elyse yells “lift everything off the floor”, Zoe screams as water seeps in.
Pete shakes his head and asks again “why did he go left?”
Diane tells anyone who will listen, “we shouldn’t have gone”.
Another vehicle turns up. The staff from Il Ngwesi pile out of the safari truck and help push Jaros out of the river before walking us all through the still rapidly moving waters.
Just take what you need, they say. So, Diane takes her handbag, her backpack and anything else she can carry.
Paradise awaits us at the lodge. Dave and Elyse stay in the honeymoon suite fit for royalty – well Kate and Wills anyway. Donna sits on the toilet – to park her backside on the throne formerly used by a Prince and Princess.
Steve wants to put on his go pro to get some underwater shots in the swimming pool, but Diane responds with what are you filming under there? And forbids all go pros from the water.
At night we head out on an impromptu safari and sundowners in the African savannah. As Fred opens the bar, by pulling down the grill on the front of his four-wheel drive, Dave and Elyse discuss the next purchase/alteration to their own four-wheel drive and Diane decides now is a good time to go back on the alcohol. It doesn’t stick, one sip in and she tips the cup into Julie’s wine glass.
Steve, who has made the front seat of John’s four-wheel drive his own, calls on Adrian’s medical expertise. The belt buckle has caused some kind of sore on the back of his leg and he needs Ade to take a look.
It’s just under his ass cheek.
They chat with the Il Ngwesi staff, with Jaros, all trying to figure out what it could be and how to deal with it.
Ade’s pretty sure it’s a boil.
He gets a pin from Steve’s first aid kit and on a bed overlooking the plains of the Il Ngwesi savannah he crouches over Steve’s ass, with Pete providing moral support and a glass of rum for them all.
In walks housekeeping ready to change the bed, but she beats a hasty retreat when Steve’s ass comes into view.
The boil is lanced, the three men are scarred, and the rest of us have a good laugh.
Pete finally gets his wish to walk with the rhinos as Ade and Dave take way too many photos and Diane worries that they’ll all be charged. Elyse calls for yet another pic of her and Dave and Zoe laments the lack of hippos.
Elyse too is wondering where all the elephants have gone but gets her fill after Jaros races against time, and one huge traffic jam to get her and Dave to the David Sheldrick elephant sanctuary so they can play with the elephant they’ve adopted.
And so ends the first leg of our grand African adventure.
But not the end of our adventure.
After figuring out how we’re going to pack all the things Steve and Julie have purchased throughout Kenya across our luggage, and with Zoe cradling a beaded mirror, we make our way back to Nairobi airport.
As we sit for coffee in the airport lounge, Steve looks into taking a flight home and finally acknowledges that maybe Di does actually work harder than he suspects.
Julie wanders into every shop, searching in vain for something, anything to buy.
Di finally gets to sit next to Ade on the one-hour flight between Kenya and Uganda as Steve finds a row of three to stretch out in.
We co-designed this tour and travelled with RAW Africa Eco-Tours.