Jenss Family Travels: Eyewitness Kenya

Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.

If you want to know the three most important factors that will likely determine the quality of your experience on an African safari, here they are:

1.    Skilled guides/trackers
2.    Location & time of year
3.    LUCK!

After spending almost two consecutive months touring the southern half of the continent, I actually feel pretty qualified on the subject.  And if you don’t want to take my word for it, my wife and sons would be more than happy to offer their insights on African wildlife viewing, having now become quite knowledgeable in their own right.

We landed in Nairobi having notched about 30 game drives in our belts in the six weeks leading up to our arrival. Back when we finalized our plans for this trip, there was some legitimate concern that maybe we were overdoing it with all the back-to-back safaris and that fatigue might become an issue, particularly with the kids. No problem! As it turned out, we were probably even more jazzed about our upcoming final week in the bush then we were when this whole whirlwind began back in South Africa. Sure, a little R&R after two weeks of camping in Tanzania might have been nice, but we were booked on a Micato Safari, considered to be one of the finest tour operators and safari outfitters in the world, so there would be no downtime. Lucky us, indeed!

What also made this week so potentially exciting was the fact that we’d already spotted almost every possible mammal, bird, and reptile one could reasonably expect to find in this part of the world, so everything from here would be gravy. For us, all the natural beauty and drama we had already seen only increased our appetites and we were hungry for more, especially for the one thing that remained elusive: a kill. We watched cheetahs as they stalked gazelle in Tanzania, saw lions chasing zebra in Botswana, and tracked down wild dogs hunting impala in South Africa, but seeing a predator actually take down its prey had remained unseen. This was the challenge we presented to our guide shortly after he picked us up from the airport, an invitation he gladly accepted.

Having a quality guide is crucial not only because they’re the ones who ultimately find all the wildlife that you’ll see, but because you’re in their presence almost the entire waking day. Our first stroke of luck came when we found out that Micato’s safari director, David Kamal, was assigned to be with us for our 10-day stay in Kenya. David fueled the boys curiosity and kept them engaged by offering interesting anecdotes and a fresh perspective to things they were seeing for the umpteenth time. Searching for nocturnal animals with flashlights after dinner was a dessert the boys and David looked forward to every night.

Compassionately, he waited until our last night to spot the mamba snake not far from our tent.

An exceptional guide was only part of what made this final leg of our African safari circuit so memorable.

Anyone who takes a Micato safari originating in Nairobi is invited to the private home of Jane and Felix Pinto, the company’s owners, for drinks and dinner. This personalized attention to each and every guest really adds a special touch to the overall experience and instantly made us feel at home in a city much more formidable than some others we had been in. Then throughout the trip, we all received little African curios as gifts from the Pinto family that reminded us that we were not just their guests, but part of the family.

As far as the actual game-viewing in Kenya goes, the biggest appeal has to be the diversity of settings available, although it involves a few internal flights to get to them all. Our Livingston Wing Safari itinerary split time between three uniquely different areas. The first stop, Amboseli National Park, is in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and particularly during the dry season, offers a large variety and herds of game, especially elephants, who remain year-round for the water supplied by the runoff from “Kili.”  Some of my favorite photos from Africa have been taken here thanks to the fact that the majestic mountain in the background can frame almost every shot. By contrast, the Masai Mara was not as scenic but certainly no less dramatic. The large numbers of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle attracts plenty of predators, so if we were to see a kill, our best chance would be there.

Sweetwaters Tented Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Mount Kenya Safari Club was our next sojourn.  The game drives in this private reserve were certainly fine, but the animals found in captivity provided the highlights.  A chimpanzee conservation program founded by Jane Goodall was easily accessible as was an animal orphanage center at the Safari Club.  There, we had a chance to get a close look at some of the animals that are very elusive in the wild, including bush pigs, caracals and bongo antelopes. They also featured the only two remaining ‘zebroids’ in the world – a cross breed between a zebra and a horse!

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Finally, we arrived at the Kenyan side of the Serengeti plains, the Masai Mara. David informed us that there’s no richer area for wildlife or a more eventful place in Africa for encounters, so this seemed like the ideal spot to draw our safari adventures to a close. As fate would have it, our very last game drive provided some of the biggest drama of the entire trip.

Although we didn’t see the actual kill, we did witness a scene that included a hyena stealing a fresh impala kill away from a leopard and a battle for its remains between its cub and some of the hyena’s friends.

As I said, luck plays a huge part in the outcome of any safari. Had we driven past the leopard just five minutes earlier, we would likely have seen the kill as it happened and observed the entire series of events unfold. But without the right guide, we would likely have seen nothing at all. And had we not lucked out or timed it just right, David would have enhanced the experience with something else, and we’d never even notice. But we did, and for that we now have memories that we can share together for the rest of our lives.

Want to plan your own safari? Check out Traveler’s Africa travel guide.

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