Wednesday 15 August: Roger
After a leisurely breakfast Innocent picked us up at 9am Ugandan time and we headed off down the rather bumpy road to Kisoro. Along the way there were piles of stones harvested from the cultivation and ready for sale; we saw people popping these on their heads and carting them to waiting trucks. New houses were being built of both brick and stone.
Kisoro wasn’t as busy as it had been on the way in as it’s not market day. Arriving at the border we checked in at the security hut, where they guy remembered us and said we were already in the book so no need to fill it in again. Passports stamped at immigration and an Ebola temperature check and we were back in Rwanda with hundreds of people heading in both directions, heads and bicycles laden with goods. We stopped at a gorilla museum and discovered that during our gorilla track on day one we had definitely crossed into the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), sometimes refereed to by the guide as the Disorganised RC. I am still not sure of the weight and height of these mighty pre humans as here they said a silverback was 165kg and 160 cm in height. Maybe that was sitting as the big bugger that walked past me a few days ago well and truly dwarfed me.
We headed along a really good road into the thousand hills (which this country is often referred to as). The speed limit Is 60kmph and understandably so as there is a constant stream of pedestrians on the roadside.
The country is stunning with even the steepest hillside cultivated. How the soil doesn’t wash off into the valleys during heavy rain beats me. We passed many brick works, all tidy and well kept with hundreds of people toiling away building kilns out of sun dried bricks ready for firing. Everything here is tidy. Although many of the buildings are rustic they are all well kept. Huge markets dotted the towns along the way.
Arriving in Kigali we drove through a bustling old downtown then onto the markets we had visited last week. Sylvia selected some table mats then buggered off to leave me to the negotiations. According to Innocent we got a good deal. We then headed to the airport enjoying some good views across the city as most of the smog had cleared after a few days of wind. We were able to catch up on our strories and publish the past few days with better internet than we had had for a while.
We boarded a twin Bombardier jet for our flight to Nairobi. On arrival we were met by a guy, who summonsed our driver, and soon were on our way to the Ole-Sereni Hotel. The driver gave Sylvia a few lessons in Swahili along the way; interestingly a sign at the airport said “Uber in Swahili is Uber”
We were upgraded to the “Wardens Suite”, complete with two toilets and a lounge. A bit of a waste really for our less that twelve hour stay. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the deck overlooking the Nairobi National Park, some 20km long and 5km wide, right on the edge of town, although it was too dark to see the lions and other game that apparently occupy it.
Thursday 16 August: Sylvia
We had a leisurely breakfast at the Ole-Sereni hotel. It is amazing to see such a huge national park so close to the city although we didn’t see any animals this morning, just a few pretty birds. We were transferred to the Wilson airport for our charter flight to Segera. Hawkers plied their wares in the dawdling traffic. I could sort of see the market for steering wheel covers, candy and ties but struggled a bit with the bloke trying to sell wall mirrors, and even more with the guy with pruning shears. It’s hard to imagine someone heading to work in the morning thinking… ooh, pruning shears, I need some of those.
After an hour’s delay due to weather we were quickly airborne in our Cessna 206. Climbing out above Nairobi the contrast between the mansions and the slum areas was stark. Luckily we were in a plane that was instrument flight rated as we were able to climb through the clouds with zero visibility until we left them behind for clear skies at about 9,000 feet. Some 45 minutes later we approached the landing strip at Segera retreat under clear skies, enabling great views of elephant and zebra as we came into land.
This place is incredible. It is a two minute walk from the airstrip to the lodge, which is nestled into an old farm site. One of the main areas used to be the stables. All the rooms are beautifully finished with every amenity you could want. The grounds are lush and green and planted with an amazing array of flowers and cacti. They have a huge African art collection here with many ‘interesting’ sculptures dotted about the gardens and more sculptures and paintings in the old stables. There is a large swimming pool in the centre of the complex as well as a luxurious spa and even a gym. Our room is huge with a large outdoor stone bathtub and day bed as well as a swinging daybed downstairs. It looks out over the savannah, which is dotted about with small acacia bushes. I feel like I have arrived in paradise.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch, with much of the produce freshly picked from the garden in the retreat, while zebra, warthog and even a giraffe wandered by outside. Then after a bit of a siesta we met Paul, our guide at 4:30pm and headed out for our first game drive.
This concession is used for both tourism and farming. It is not the most plentiful or diverse game that we have seen but stunning landscapes with broad open savannah. There are several yellow-necked spur fowl running around the place, they seem like very stupid birds: they always run along in front of the car for a long time before finally flying off into the scrub – seems a pointless waste of energy to me. They do have pretty small wings so maybe they think they can outrun us.
We drove past several dazzles of zebra, and a number of defassa water bucks before spotting an impala carcass up a tree. No leopard at that point but one must be around. We drove on and came across a number of reticulated giraffe browsing. These giraffe are unique to the northern part of Kenya and have exceptionally beautiful markings. They started to get a bit skittish and we wondered why then had a lovely encounter with a couple of hyena, which were no doubt causing the nervousness. Paul gives a very good hyena impression and one curious beast came right up to the car sniffing and looking warily at us for a number of minutes before going back to crunching up old bones. We headed back to camp and this time spotted the large male leopard back up the tree enjoying his kill. Such a treat on our first evening out.
On arriving back at the lodge we were escorted to the Explorer’s Lounge upstairs for dinner. The owner of this concession is clearly a collector and the room contains loads of memorabilia including an old German bible, letters from Ernest Hemingway and a long memo from Theodore Roosevelt organising a hunting trip back in the early 1900’s. He had already shot a dozen lions, giraffes, black rhinos etc and was after white rhino and elephants. Such a different time. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the room – most of the ingredients are fresh from the gardens and the flavours are fantastic.
Friday 17 August: Roger
We met at the stables for a brew at 6am. Fifteen minutes later Paul had us on board heading east with Mt Kenya in the distance.
Rolling through the euclia brush, which incidentally is not eaten by any of the game, and, only growing a couple of meters high provides good shelter from sun and wind. Lurking around were a bunch of cape buffalo. Next was a herd of eland alongside a bunch of oryx.
A couple of ostrich pranced along as though they were in charge.
A herd of elephant wandered by, one having an altercation with a warthog that must have crossed the undrawn boundary. We stopped by the river that is on the boundary for a brew. On the leisurely drive back to the lodge we spotted five jackals trying to catch one of a flock of helmeted guineafowl. In spite of the birds not taking to the air success was not to be.
A large bull elephant, complete with tracking collar, grubbed the short grass with his huge foot before sifting the dirt out with his trunk and placing it into his huge mouth. Apparently the short grass has more nutrients than the long stuff.
We spotted a grey-headed kingfisher and rock agama lizard.
A hyena lurked in the creek bed looking for scraps.
A few hundred meters from the lodge two male giraffes battled it out for their standing in life, their long necks striking each other with a loud crack. Eventually the darker and smaller of the two gained the upper hand.
Arriving back, a tasty breakfast was organised by Peter before we withdrew to our bungalow to catch up on writing and picture editing. At four, after a brew, we headed out with Paul, heading south. The concession runs 2,500 cattle and employs about 150 people on the farming side of the business. The main reason for the cattle is to try and control the ticks, which play havoc with the wild game. Ticks are attracted to cattle so twice a week the cattle are yarded and sprayed to control the ticks.
At one point a large nada ashes spitting cobra lay across the track basking in the sun.
We stopped at the bomas (or yards), where the cattle are kept at night. Basically the cattle are let out to graze during the day under the watchful eye of the herders. In the evening they are rounded up and put into the yards, about 250 in each mob. They lose the odd one to a lion by day but the herders chase off the the lion and the carcus is removed so the lion doesn’t get used to eating beef. At night the lions are quite cunning; they don’t jump in the yards to get the stock but stalk around the outside upsetting the cattle so they break out, becoming easy prey. The herders, who camp out with the cattle, counter this with a big stick and a torch to chase the lions away.
After checking out the cattle we headed to the bird’s nest, an elevated deck including a bed, where we will spend the night. There is a back up bed underneath the deck in case it rains.
These people do it really well with superb food, a selection of wine and a mosquito net-clad bed lain out on the deck, which overlooks a waterhole and the surrounding savannah. As we lie here under the stars we can hear a lion roaring close by.
Saturday 18 August: Sylvia
We woke this morning up in the bird’s nest. We had both slept well despite hearing a large herd of buffalo heading to the waterhole right next door to drink and some elephants too. Paul arrived just after 6am with hot chocolate and coffee and we headed out on another game drive.
This time we drove north until we reached the edge of the concession. A few years back during a time of drought the people from the neighbouring community lands tried to graze their cattle on this land and it created a bit of conflict. At one point they burnt down one of the ranger stations and cattle yards. Once an agreement had been reached the Segera team decided to dig a 3m trench along the boundary to stop the community cattle coming in and to keep the wildlife safe in the concession. Apparently in one of the other neighbouring concessions 37 wild dogs died of distemper carried by the community dogs.
Along the way we spotted several elephant as well as small mobs of eland, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle and several dazzles of zebra. We also spotted two lionesses with their cubs well camouflaged in the long grass.
After arriving back at camp and enjoying more food (breakfast) Roger headed out with two of the rangers to act as the poacher for the daily training of the tracker dogs (three year-old bloodhounds, fed on PEDIGREE). I headed back to the room to drop some stuff off and disturbed some vervet monkeys playing on the downstairs day bed.
About thirty minutes later the rest of the trackers and I set off in pursuit of the “poacher”. The bloodhound had been given a rag rolled in the dirt where one of Roger’s footprints had been found. Despite the trail winding and weaving, and even at one point jumping a stream, the bloodhound made fast progress with the armed trackers jogging along and me running behind trying not to think too much about the potential snakes hiding in the long grass. It seemed no time before the poacher had been apprehended, the trackers deployed at the perimeter and the site secured. The dogs and trackers go through this process every day but Sunday. There have been no major poaching incidents in the last several years although there have been snares found from poachers after bush meat. All have been successfully apprehended. It was a fun experience to be part of.
Next Paul took us up to the main compound area where the vegetable gardens are well tended. We were each given a tree to plant in the garden, which we did before heading back to the luxury of our room for our afternoon siesta.
We headed off again at about 4pm for another game drive. We have been searching for the grevy’s zebra, which are endemic to these parts of Kenya but no luck again this afternoon. We mostly saw common zebra, reticulated giraffe and lots of birds but we did at one stage surprise a herd of elephant who ran off up the hill. They look so funny when they run.
Back at camp we had another delicious meal in a stunning location. You certainly cannot fault Segera on service or style. While we have seen some different wildlife here, I do not think it compares on the wildlife front to some of the properties we have visited in Southern Africa and, while Roger has really enjoyed learning about the workings of the ranch side of the business here, I personally prefer to do safaris in areas reserved specifically for wildlife preservation.
Sunday 19 August: Roger
As this was to be our last day in East Africa we decided on a late start. Meeting in the stables for coffee at 9am, Paul picked us up and we headed south in search of the elusive grevy’s zebra. We came across herds of elephants, dazzles of common zebra and most of the animals we had already seen. Sounders of warthogs hung out with both zebras and elephants.
We spotted a couple of hartbeests and a steenbok, neither of which we had seen before.
We spotted a white bellied turaco but the grevy’s zebra remained elusive. We reached the south boundary and the river, which we had visited a couple of days ago. This time four hippos lazed about staying under the water for what seemed much longer than the supposed 6 minutes.
We headed back to the lodge, where I ran in to get the spare camera battery, leaving the door open. As I turned to leave a vervet monkey was well inside the door, his feet skidding on the floor as he made a hasty withdrawal.
We headed past the airstrip, proceeding down to the creek a km or so to the other side of the lodge. There in the shade of acacia trees was laid out a pretty amazing picnic, set up by Peter who had organised all our meals with the assistance of a lovely lady chef. A toilet tent sat off to one side.
We sat down to a beetroot soup, which was outstanding, followed by chicken and a large assortment of vegetables. A chocolate brownie to finish set Sylvia’s taste buds drooling. I stuck to the Chardonnay one of three wines on offer. We then lay on the cushions provided while a bearded woodpecker tapped away at the tree above us, almost in competition with two cardinal woodpeckers on a tree nearby.
All too soon it was time to move but not before wandering over to check out the Veraux’s eagle owl, which sat in its nest above where the ranger was discreetly parked insuring we were all safe.
Back at the lodge we packed up and headed to the stables to wait for our plane. Jens, the manager, joined us for a chat. He outlined that the large trench we had seen yesterday was actually built to stop illegal grazing. A couple of years ago during a big drought people from far away and many different tribes drove nearly a thousand cattle onto the concession. They were all heavily armed, often shooting at each other. The rangers at Segera were too out-numbered to stop them. Interestingly, when tourists at the ranch drove past them they would hide their guns and smile and wave, as threatening tourists is terrorism and carries a ten year jail sentence. Shooting at each other and such crimes leads to only a few days in jail.
Just after 3 we strolled to the waiting Cessna 206, the staff lining up to say goodby. Georgina our house keeper, Elizabeth the chef, Peter the food organiser and waiter, Thomas the barman, Paul our guide and all the staff had done a great job contributing to a great stay.
In no time at all we seemed to be flying over the rusty roofs of the Nairobi slums and coming into the international airport. Large jets waited as we flew well down the runway, touching down just before the taxiway.
The plane parked up on the edge of the apron, a van picked us up and drove us to the domestic terminal from where a lady escorted us right through check in and immigration to the lounge.