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Week 17: Kenya/Tanzania: From Mt.Kenya (KEN) to Lake Victoria (TZN)

Happy happy 40th birthday to me tralalalala! And what a birthday week it has been…from watching the sunset from the foot of Mt.Kenya, to listening to fish eagles and hippos at one of our favorite campsites at Lake Naivasha, to hiking the Longonot crater, to searching for lions in the Masai Mara, to…the ultimate birthday present – hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara at sunrise on my birthday! Oh Africa…you make my heart sing! On that lyrical note, first our stats so far: • Total days travelled through Africa: 114 • Total distance travelled from Cape Town through Africa: 16,227km • Total borders crossed: 10 And then the Aardvark stats for Week 17: • Best drink: Bubbly from the Swartland (aka back home), whilst looking out over the Mara plains! • Best food: Camp Carnelley’s pizzas just stay amazing…even the second time round! But their fresh salads were also hitting a couple of spots, especially as we were both still recovering from our “Asian bugs”. And then obviously my birthday cake – who doesn’t like a birthday cake in the middle of Africa! • Best view: This is an easy one…sunrise over the Masai Mara, from our hot air balloon basket! 2020 got off to a flying start, with a hike to the waterfalls at the Castle Forest Lodge & Campsite. Making our way through the fern forests, it was easy to forget that we were at the foot of Mt Kenya, and just get lost in the lush green wonderland. This campsite (and lodge) is a “well-known” local secret getaway, and having spent 3 days there, we can definitely recommend adding it to any Kenyan itinerary…as the views are just spectacular! We spent the evening of the 1st having belated new year’s celebratory bubbly overlooking the vistas of Africa, and reminding ourselves just again how incredibly blessed we are! On day 109 we took the very scenic route back to Lake Naivasha, enroute to the Masai Mara. The scenic route meant rolling green coffee and tea plantations, hitting 2,600m in altitude whilst feeling as if we were the only people on the rocky dirty road at times…far removed from the tarmac and highway going back to Nairobi! We were still not exactly fighting fit after our showdown with the bugs, and decided to rather take the next couple of days very slowly to recover completely. And Camp Carnelley was the perfect place to do so…this was our first “repeat” campsite, as we also stayed here for a night on our way to Nairobi in mid November. This time round there were a couple of other campers underneath the massive trees as well, which just added to the happy holiday atmosphere all around – it was a lot nicer seeing a couple of campfires at night, than just having our own little fire blazing away at the darkness! Anyway, our two days of R&R were completed with Irene spending the biggest part of day 110 fishing on the pier…and to her utter delight she caught 5 small tilapia in the process (and yes, all of them were released back into the lake to grow some more!) On day 111 we left the peace of Lake Naivasha behind, and decided to hike up Mt. Longonot, an old crater that is now a fairly popular day-hike…and the views from the top was definitely worth the burning lungs! We are super unfit at the moment (the bugs didn’t help either), but watch this space…we have a plan 😊 Anyway, after our morning hiking excursion, we made our way to the Masai Mara National Park…all the way on a lovely brand new tarred road, an absolute joy to drive (we were very weary beforehand of the road conditions, having heard a couple of really bad stories!). Anyway, at the end we had to drive for about an hour through the National Park to our camp just outside the Talek gate…and what a spectacular drive that turned out to be! Imagine the vast open plains, filled with “mixed crops” of buffalo, zebras, elephants, giraffes, antelopes, etc all grazing in the lasts sunrays of the day…and then a brazen hyena or two just cruising along…our hearts were singing, and we were so happy to be back in Africa! Early the next morning we set off on our first game drive, searching for some lions. But we obviously didn’t have the locals’ insight in the preferred predator spots, and we got ourselves lost in the Mara on more than one occasion…we were essentially just following our noses, and cruising through the beautiful open fields…not a bad way to avail oneself of a Sunday morning even though we didn’t find any lions! After returning to camp, one of the Masai warriors that we met along the way gave us some pointers on where to find lions, leopards and the like. So we had a leisurely lunch back at the Aruba Mara campsite, before we headed back out again to follow Edward’s advice. And true to his word, this time we encountered a group of 5 lionesses just sleeping their big hearts out close to the Talek river…obviously very well fed and lazy as can be! On our way to back from the river, planning to stalk out one of the known leopard spots, we however encountered one of the lodge’s game viewing vehicles that was stuck in a deep mud hole (with the 8 tourists still sitting in the back, not wanting to climb out into the mud 😊). And with nothing else to do whilst watching the sunset, we ended up in a “three-in-a-row” landcruiser recovery party…always a nice feeling to help someone out of a pickle, learn a couple of recovery techniques, with Aardvark having a ball (and showing off his strength a bit) all under the watchfull eye of a couple of buffalos 😊 The next morning was…my BIRTHDAY…and Irene decided to spoil me with a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara – how lucky can one girl be! We woke super early to be ready for our pickup at 5h30, and then had some coffee whilst watching the massive balloons being inflated…all whilst the colour of the sky was slowly turning into an orange hue…and just before sunrise we took off! I’m still struggling to adequately describe the entire experience, but suffice to say that it was my absolute highlight of the entire trip, and the best way to celebrate a birthday!! We were flying at times barely above the ground, and then again back up high in the sky for a bird’s eye view…all the time with an incredible feeling of freedom. And joy. And being alive! A champagne breakfast (with some birthday cake that Irene organized!) later, and we were ready to take a leisurely cruise through the park to the Mara river, crossing at the bridge into the Masai Mara Triangle conservancy. The tracks were still super muddy at places, and we were just very lucky wrt timing, as I’m sure the majority of our little tracks would not have been passable even just a week prior. But luckily Aardvark is not afraid of a bit of mud, and we made it to the Mara Serena Lodge with a very dirty, but happy, car! And just for a last little special birthday treat, we drove past three massive lions just lazily sleeping in the sun next to the road…hallo Simba! That afternoon we were lying next to the pool, overlooking the plains, when a massive thunderstorm rolled in…a perfect end (read show) for a perfect day, and a free car wash as a bonus! On day 114 we had to bid farewell to the Masai Mara, as we headed back over the border into Tanzania. This was our 10th border crossing, and we would like to think that we are getting better at the ineptitude of some of the officials, but nope…it is still a frustrating process to say the least! But back on Tanzanian soil, with a cold Kilimanjaro beer in hand, its easy to put it behind us and just laugh at the random chancer who wanted us to pay a “gate-fee” in order to be allowed to drive through the gate to enter the border post! I’m writing this from next to Lake Victoria, listening to the small waves lapping at the shore. Tomorrow we are off to the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater, and beyond…who knows where we will be at the end of the week! All we can be assured of, is that we again have a week lying ahead that promise to be filled with new experiences and adventures…how lucky are we!! Till then! J

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