"The Wilds of Africa will stir your soul and warm your heart. Once you get the dust of Africa on your boots, you will always find a way to return."
Visiting Africa has always topped both my life AND travel bucket list. After everything that happened this past winter I didn't know if it would actually happen, but it did, and it was just as amazing as I thought it would be. It was the most perfect experience.
When planning for our trip Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana were at the top of our list for safari destinations. We had a limited budget though (as well as time off work) and we also knew we wanted to travel as responsibly and sustainably as possible - all of this really narrowed down our options on both country and outfitter. After a significant amount of research, we settled on Gamewatcher's Safari Company as our outfitter and Kenya, the birthplace of Safari, for our country. I'll devote an entire post just to Gamewatcher's and safari planning advice after all the recap posts.
When our trip became a reality, what made it even more fun is a good friend of ours invited himself....errr.....I mean, decided to join us! To add to the fun, he invited one of his close friends who not only joined but brought her brother along. Our little group of five had the BEST time traveling together. I think we made quite the impression everywhere we went. Not only did we have one of the most magical experiences but we left Kenya with more friends than we had arrived with. I've decided to break up my recaps by camps and conservancies/national parks. The posts will probably be way too long and filled with way too many pictures but I took ~4,500 pictures so consider yourself lucky I was able to narrow them down. Now, I hope you've grabbed a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settled in for the recap of our first 3 days.
Saturday, July 1st
Our first leg of the trip involved a quick flight from St. Louis to Chicago at 12:30 pm. We were able to get up leisurely, have breakfast, and get ourselves and the dogs ready. This was such a treat as usually we're on the first flight out of dodge. After dropping the dogs off at the boarders (insert ugly crying face here- it's so hard to leave them) we met our friend at the airport for the start of our travels.
Our friend was headed to London via Dallas. We were headed there via Chicago and had a three hour layover at O'Hare, so we made the most of my priority pass membership, and hung out in the KLM lounge enjoying the free food, drinks, and WiFi. We flew British Airways to Kenya - part of the BA crew was striking at the time of our flights but thankfully we had no delays or cancellations! We left Chicago at 5:30 pm and landed at London Heathrow early, a little before 7 am. This was my first flight on a double decker plane and we had the two seats in the exit row bulk head- HELLO leg room. #wortheverypennyoftheupcharge
Sunday, July 2nd
We landed early at Heathrow and literally made it from the plane, to another terminal, through security in under 30 minutes. #hallelujah We had three hours before our next flight so we sat down for a nice breakfast, hydrated, and walked laps in airport. By this point it was 1 am "our time" and we were ready to be in Kenya. Unfortunately, this was the leg of our journey where we were supposed to meet back up with our friend, however his flight wound up being significantly delayed out of Dallas and he wouldn't catch up with us until the next evening in Kenya.
After another 8 hour flight we finally landed in Nairobi at 9 pm! This flight felt long. Luckily the crew was not strict and I spent a few hours walking around and doing yoga in the back of the plane with the flight attendants and a few other passengers. No DVTs for this girl. We could not get off this plane fast enough. We were exhausted and smelled disgusting. We deplaned (which took forever) and made our way into immigration where we were met with 300+ people, unorganized, in a non air-conditioned room. It was impossible to tell which line to be in. For those who know me know I live by the saying, "better to ask forgiveness than permission". This served me (and a few fellow passengers we befriended) well as we cut into the line for Kenyan Citizens and diplomats. No one said anything to us and we saved ourselves easily an hour. We had been warned that sometimes custom agents looks for "easy target" tourists to try and demand money from them to pass. We walked through customs "with a purpose" and out to meet our Gamewatchers Rep. The air was cold and it felt WONDERFUL. July is winter in Kenya and although several locals thought I was crazy, at this point I had never been happier for the chilly temperatures. We arrived at the Eka Hotel around 11 pm, showered, and CRASHED. I loved landing at night as I was so exhausted that I was able to fall right to sleep and essentially adjusted immediately to the 8 hour time difference.
Monday, July 3rd
I woke up at 6:30 am from a DEAD sleep. We quickly changed and headed down to breakfast to meet our friend's friends! He wouldn't catch up with us until later this evening but luckily we hit it off right away! We enjoyed several items on the breakfast buffet while people watching and sharing secrets about our mutual friend. ;) One thing about going on safari, despite what you see on Instagram, you don't need to purchase a whole new wardrobe to dress in "safari" gear. Almost all the Americans/Europeans in the lobby were dressed head to toe in khaki, with hiking boots, and looked ridiculous. There was also a group of girls who appeared to be "Instagramers" dressed in khaki and safari green jumpsuits, heels, and large floppy hats. While I will say a wide brimmed hat is everything for the late afternoon when the African sun is in full force, they looked quite ridiculous. Not the most practical outfit for the bush.
Our driver picked us up from the hotel, drove us through Nairobi, and over to the entrance of Nairobi National Park where we met Gordon, our guide for the day. We had a short drive through the park to Nairobi Tented Camp (the only available camp within the National Park) where we were welcomed with warm towels and cold juices. To our surprise we were the only guests booked for the night and would have the entire camp all to ourselves! We had about 30 minutes to relax and then it was off to the Elephant Orphanage! A quick note, this elephant orphanage was one of the main reasons why Kenya was on my list. It is such a special place, we ended up visiting twice during our stay in the country, I'll be dedicating an entire post to it.
Scroll through by tapping or clicking on the photo for pictures of our tent. It was gorgeous and so comfortable. Very "Out of Africa". After 24 hours of flying, one night in an airport hotel, this was the perfect way to start our trip before we headed out for a week of camping. I also loved that Gamewatchers Porini Camps give out water bottles to be refilled during your stay! Also, a fabulous souvenir.
After the elephant orphanage we returned for lunch. We were served fish, salad, rice, veggies, and a DELICIOUS bean stew with passion fruit sorbet for dessert. We had 2 hours to relax before the evening game drive. We made good use of this time napping and lounging in the tents. The camp is in the middle of the national park and not fenced so we could see some small animals wandering near our tents- so fun!
As we were getting ready to head out for the evening game drive, we got word that our last traveling companion had finally landed and was en route to the camp! We asked our guide if we could wait to head out so he could join us. We were trilled he made it in time. He was such a trooper after a long two days of flying and handled it in stride (much better than I would have). In actuality, I think I probably jinxed his flights! Sorry, Sumon!
After dinner, drinks, and some time around the fire we headed to bed. The staff heated up water for those of us who wanted bucket showers and took our orders for tea or coffee in the morning. We had an early morning wake up call for our flight out to Selenkay the next day so it was quick to bed for most of us. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of nocturnal animals roaming near the camp. It was perfect.