Jun 172013
 

Nairobi is one of the few cities with a national park right next to it.  The national park is actually right across the street from my office, and I often stare out at it whenever I go up our glass elevators.  It’s quite big–you can’t even really see where it ends from my office.  Some of my coworkers who live in Karen drive through the park every day to get to and from work, and they post photos of a group of lions by the side of the road on their way home.  Crazy right?  It’s typically hard to see wildlife from the road though, and to get a good luck, you usually have to get up by 6am when the animals are out.

You can drive around yourself in the park as long as you stick to the roads.  Mike and I haven’t really been though since a) we don’t feel like waking up at 6am on the weekend, and b) it’s a bit far from where we live and we usually stick close to our neighborhood due to traffic.  But one weekend my coworker invited us to his house for lunch and he lives even further from us than the national park, so we decide to visit the park before we go visit him.  Since we don’t wake up super early, we decide just to check out the Safari Walk, which is a sectioned off area of the park.  We have friends who bring their kids on the weekend.  You go through the entrance of Nairobi National Park off of Langata Rd (just past Wilson Airport), and the Safari Walk is on the right hand side of the parking lot.

But we get to the ticket gate and it’s more like a zoo.  Mike and I aren’t big fans of zoos at all since it’s so sad to see the animals locked up.  But we were there already, so…I guess if you were going to have a zoo, the Safari Walk is a better model.  The animals have a larger space to walk around and it’s their native environment, so there’s not a lot of fake habitat.  But what ends up happening is that since it’s natural brush, you can get to an exhibit and not see the animals at all since they are hiding in the bush or trees.  We were lucky to get a few peeks of some of the animals, so I’m sharing those photos here.

Baboon and Her Baby

Baboon and Her Baby

Cheetah With Nowhere to Run =(

Cheetah With Nowhere to Run =(

An Eland - This Thing was Huge!

An Eland – This Thing was Huge!

When we got to the lion exhibit, we couldn’t see any lions since they were hiding.  But after we left and were walking away, we heard these crazy loud roars!  We saw a groundskeeper and he told us it was the lions.  So we ran back and there they were, coming out of the bush.  The sound was like nothing I’d ever heard.  Much louder than you think.

Lion Coming Out of the Bush

Lion Coming Out of the Bush

Next time we are going to wake up early to drive around the park – no more Safari Walk for us!

 June 17, 2013  Posted by at 9:19 pm Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 072013
 

Over Easter weekend, Mike and I went to Rwanda to see the silverback gorillas.  We were deciding between Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo/Egypt, Victoria Falls, or Rwanda.  We went with gorilla trekking in Rwanda since that’s high on our Africa bucket list and it’s very doable in a long weekend.  The flight to Rwanda is only 1 and a half hours, direct, and most people only get the gorilla permits for one day.   Most people see gorillas in either Uganda and Rwanda and we chose Rwanda because it’s a quick 2 hour drive on tarmac to the National Park versus an 8 hour drive in Entebbe.  Rwanda’s permits are slightly more expensive but with the transportation costs they essentially come out the same. We originally tried to get the permits directly through Rwanda Development Board, but no one ever picked up the phone or replied to our emails.  So we ended up going with a tour operator who could arrange everything for us.  It’s nice because we get a discount for being East African Residents.

We arrive in Kigali that day and our tour operator is not there.  I call and I’m like “we’re here, where are you?” thinking oh great, I hope we didn’t just get scammed after we wired all the money to them.  The guy finally gets who I am and then says “wait, I thought you were coming on April 29, not March 29!”  DOH!  Crap.   I frantically check my emails from the week before and even though I had said we’re coming next weekend, I accidentally wrote April instead of March 29.  Pit in stomach.  We spend an agonizing 15 minutes waiting at the airport for the tour operator to call back to see if he can make it work this weekend.  I feel horrible.  But this is an instance where TIA (this is africa) worked in our favor.  Luckily, it’s low season right now since rainy season has just started, so they were able to get us permits for Sunday.  Phew!

We spend a day and a half in Kigali and meet up with one of Mike’s coworkers for dinner one night.  Kigali is a beautiful city – extremely clean and safe.  There are parts where you feel like you’re in a suburb in the US.  It was really nice to be able to walk around at night (something you can’t really do in Nairobi) and not have to worry about getting mugged.  The weather is cool like Nairobi also.  I can see why it’s so popular with expats!  It’s amazing that just 20 years ago the country was torn apart by genocide, they have come a long way.  People liken it to the Singapore of Africa – it’s very clean and safe and there’s little corruption, but there’s not a lot of political freedom either.

We went to a nice cafe called Shokola near our hotel and I was obsessed with this one wall they had covered in kanga fabric.  Kanga fabric is a type of cloth worn in East Africa and they are very bright and colorful and usually have Swahili sayings on them.  I want to duplicate this in our apartment!

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

The next day we did the two-hour drive to Volcanoes National Park and relaxed for the afternoon.  We walked around Musanze, the town we were staying in and got to see a church preparing for their big Easter event.  Men and women were singing and children practiced dancing.  So much fun to watch.

The morning of the trek, we met our driver at 5:30am and headed over to the National Park.  While the tour operators are sorting out the permits, we got treated to a local dance group.  They were killing it!

Catching Air

Catching Air

There are many gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and the tourists get split up into groups of 6-8 and are assigned a family.  Your guide then radios with the trackers who stay with the gorillas all day to know where to lead you in the park.  The trackers essentially stay with the gorillas from dawn until dusk for safety from poachers and also ease of tracking.  We got assigned to the Sabinyo family which has the oldest and largest silverback gorilla in the park – 42 years old!  And we also got to see the youngest gorilla at 2 days old.  Pretty amazing.  The groups usually just have one silverback but our group had two, the 42-year-old one and a younger silverback.

We hiked for about an hour through bamboo forests – the paths were very narrow and muddy.  Our hiking shoes pretty much got demolished and we’re lucky they were waterproof.  Although at the end I did step into a massive puddle and my socks got drenched.  The bamboo forest is gorgeous and it’s amazing how much of it there is in Africa since you always associate bamboo with China.  There are parts that are so dense that they have to hack through with machetes so we can pass through.  You’re constantly ducking to get through and getting tangled in vines.

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

How long you hike really depends on where the gorilla family is.  We had heard stories of people hiking anywhere from 20 min to over 4 hours.  We were lucky and had it just right – 1 hour.  The climb gets pretty steep at parts but it wasn’t too bad.  With the permits, once you get to the gorillas you’re allowed 1 hour viewing time and then you have to leave.  The gorillas get visitors every day so they’re pretty used to humans and it’s as if we’re not there.  We got really lucky that it didn’t rain either since it’s the start of rainy season.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla - Oldest in the Park

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla – Oldest in the Park

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

 

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Whatchu Lookin At?

Whatchu Lookin At?

 

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

 

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

 

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

These gorillas seemed very gentle but you quickly remember their strength when the silverback reaches up to snap thick bamboo stalks in half like they were sticks!  What an amazing experience.  Definitely worth it and no matter how much it was hyped up for us, it was still surreal to be that close to the gorillas.

Jul 112012
 

I was so impressed by all the wildlife we saw in Sequoia.  Usually in the more popular National Parks, you don’t see much wildlife since they are overrun with tourists, but I felt in Sequoia they had really good conversation measures in place.  We saw 3 different black bears, 3 marmots, deer, tons of chipmunks, and a baby woodpecker.  All over the place we saw these caterpillar nests—covered with baby caterpillars!  Never seen anything like it.

Bear on the Trail!

Chunky Marmot

A Ranger Pointed Out a Baby Woodpecker To Us

Caterpillar Nest