Stella’s Kenyan Adventure – Part II

October 20, 2014  By: Gretchen

Beisa oryxAfter an all-too-short visit in Nairobi, I departed from Wilson Airport on Air Kenya for my next destination, Samburu & Buffalo Springs Game Reserves. These famous reserves, along with their sister reserve, Shaba, are located in the arid and remote north central region of Kenya. The Ewaso Ngiro River (meaning ‘brown river’) divides the two reserves with Samburu National Reserve to the north and Buffalo Springs National Reserve to the south. During my time here I was looking for the “Special 5:” the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, Beisa oryx, and gerenuk (a long-necked antelope).

The “Special 5” are not spotted in other parts of Kenya and soon after landing I was ready to start searching—and this day luck was on my side. As we pulled away from the airstrip, standing under a nearby tree, we saw a Beisa oryx, sporting long, narrow ridged horns. It wasn’t long after that we came across a Reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra. The Reticulated giraffe are distinguished by large, polygonal spots outlined by a network of bright-white lines, and are my favorite giraffe out of the three found in Kenya. The other two are the Masai giraffe and Rothschild giraffe. The Grevy’s zebra has narrower stripes and is taller, with larger ears compared to the other species of zebra. This sighting was very special to me as it completed my checklist of zebra species in Africa, after having spotted the mountain zebra in Namibia, and the plains zebra in Tanzania. Just before we headed to camp for lunch, we spotted my favorite of the five, the gerenuk. The name gerenuk comes from the Somali language, meaning “giraffe neck”. Four down and one to go!Gerenuk (1)

We arrived at camp in time for lunch. Ashnil Samburu Camp is located on the Buffalo Springs side of the river. All 30 river-facing tents have en-suite bathrooms with hot/cold showers and flush toilets. The camp is surrounded by an electric fence to keep the wildlife on the outside of the camp grounds. It is a great option for groups and families, and the camp accepts children of all ages. The camp offers a kid’s club and babysitting if the parents want to get away for a game drive on their own. Activities offered by the camp include game drives, walking safaris, a spa, and a pool.

Elephants (2)One of my favorite things about this camp was the view; the river, the doum palms, and the mountains off in the distance. Every day we saw the elephants coming down to the river to drink and wade in the water. On my last evening here, three elephants came up to the electric fence and ate the doum palm fruits and played in the bushes. At one point, I stood 30 feet from them and watched them go about their night. When I went back to my tent that evening, they had made their way in front of my tent and I feel asleep to the noise of them playing in the bushes. The staff here was very friendly and assisted me with every need I had. All meals were served buffet style with new options daily. They are in the process of implementing an a la carte menu for dinner for guests who would prefer an option other than buffet.Larsens camp

After lunch I visited Larsen’s Camp, which features 20 river-facing tents, and Elephant Bedroom Camp, which has 12 tents all facing the river. Both camps are located on the Samburu side of the river. Neither camp is enclosed by fencing, and both accept children of all ages. Guards patrol the area at night to look out for wildlife in camp, but you will still need a guard to walk you through camp at night. Both camps have a spa and offer game drives and walks. Both camps, like Ashnil, had an amazing views as well. At Larsen’s Camp, there is a wooden deck located on the river’s edge that offers riverside dining and a great spot to watch the wildlife come through while you enjoy your meals. There is also a pool and Jacuzzi located on the property. Elephant Bedroom Camp is a smaller property with a more intimate setting, and is perfect for honeymooners. Each tent has its own personal plunge pool. Hammocks and hammock chairs were set up around the common area and on the riverbank where guests could relax and enjoy the river flowing by.

LionsThe climate here is hot, dry, and semi-arid. Most of the landscape is covered in small dry bushes and thorny acacia trees. The doum palm trees line the banks of the rivers and make the perfect hiding place for lions, and this is where I found them. Two lions, both sleeping with no care of the vehicle that had spotted them. In the heat of the day, it was nap time! I spent the remainder of the day game driving through the parks enjoying the scenery and wildlife found along the way. Off in the distance, surrounding the reserves, is the Mathews Mountain range. As the sun started to set behind the range, we headed back to camp.

My second day started with an early morning game drive and bush breakfast on the banks of the river. While I enjoyed breakfast, a herd of elephants made their way to the river for their morning drink. Following breakfast, I departed for Mopukori Village, home to a Samburu tribe. (More on my village visit and the Samburu culture in my next post.) Following the visit, we headed back to camp and en route, found the Somali ostrich. The “Special 5” were found! We arrived at camp in time for our afternoon walk along the banks of the river. Walks are one of my favorite ways to see Africa and I highly recommend them for most travelers. On this particular afternoon, I walked along the river bank and just 30 yards away was a small herd of about eight Somali ostrichelephants. It’s a heart pounding and exhilarating moment when nothing is standing between you and an elephant. I took a moment to take it all in, but quickly moved to a safe distance. While elephants are gentle giants, it is always best to keep a safe distance between you and them when you are on foot.

Up to this point, my visit to Kenya had exceeded my wildest dreams. I couldn’t wait to see what else it was in store for our next stop in the Nabiosho Conservancy near the Masai Mara Game Reserve.