Home travelAfrica Laikipia–a safari, part 1

Laikipia–a safari, part 1

by Shawni

I better get my act together and write about our adventures in Kenya this past summer now that I finally have this blog format that will show off the pictures a little better.

We packed up and left on June 6th, met up with Elle from Utah and Max and Abby straight from their summer internships in China on a layover in Dubai, (all about that back HERE), and had a once-in-a-lifetime experience with our whole family. (That sentence made that whole deal sound like it was easy-peasy, but man alive, it wasn’t! So many logistics and Visas and vaccinations and reading and preparing and researching went into this trip!) We went to Uganda for the first week (which I talked about back HERE and HERE and HERE), and then we were off to Kenya for our safari.

And I am thankful every single day that we got go.

I think I mentioned before that one of our biggest pulls to Africa, (among many), was to give Lucy that experience while her vision holds out. She is so in love with animals and we really, really want to show her the world while we can.

Even then, we wondered if she would really be able to see a whole lot. But she exceeded our expectations and was able to soak it all in with the rest of us. Which was a beautiful thing.

The rest of us weren’t complaining either. Ha!

I should mention before we get into this that 1) there are approximately 734 pictures in this post, (HA!), and if you want to come along with me, get your finger ready to scroll. But I’m excited to take you along to Kenya! And also, 2) we found a great help to schedule out this portion of our trip. We did so much research and Dave found this great company called “Yellow Zebra Safaris” that helped us put it all together. That was a life-saver and we love them, especially our “guy” named Weis who helped us out so much with our hundreds of questions.

Ok, so let’s back up for a minute because the “getting there” was pretty exciting too. We took the tiniest little plane from our overnight stop in Nairobi. Claire’s eyes were as big as saucers when she saw the size of that plane waiting for us.

There was only one other passenger and we were sitting right next to the pilot.

Lu used this opportunity to give us her report on the Maasi Mara national reserve she had prepared. (We do “reports” when we visit new places, and this was Lucy’s portion of the trip she was in charge of…the other kids weren’t quite as timely and on-the-ball…) She tried to give that report over the whir of those loud propellers, so prepared and concentrated and I loved it.

This picture below doesn’t look like anything important, but is one of my favorites. That’s Dave’s face looking at me saying “we’re doing it.”

And we sure were.

We landed on a dirt airstrip, and from there oh my, what a different world we found ourselves in!

Two twenty-year-old Land Rovers with cushioned frame so we could sit on the top and spot all the wildlife took us on a long route to our camp. Four in each car, (which was one of my favorite parts since we went on so many drives and got to mix up our long conversations with every different configuration of family you can imagine). We forged through some pretty crazy rivers and deep ravines during our time there…this just gives you a little fraction of a taste:

On that first drive, Elle and Claire were in the same car with Dave and me. I loved hearing them just gushing about every little thing, so on-top-of-the-world to be right there, the sun shining (the forecast has called for rain every single day of the two weeks we were in Africa and it turned out to be so beautiful!) birds chirping, giraffes towering the trees in the distance, a huge herd of zebra spotted the horizon.

We stopped for little hot chocolate breaks here and there (well, they were coffee and tea breaks at first until they realized we only went for the hot chocolate:), and we were all just so dang excited.

We got to that first camp (the first of two different areas of Kenya where we stayed), nestled deep in the bush, and we were so excited. Loved that camp (Ekorian Mugie) so much, it was so tastefully designed with colorful batik tablecloths and bedding, our “tents” lined up in a row with warm, worn wooden floors, real beds, showers and flushing toilets and wide porches looking out on broad, open grassy area with little natural benches set up here and there looking out on the horizon. We happened to hit it just perfectly and were the only guests there with a staff of the best chefs and the best drivers. Oh my, we were so spoiled!

Here’s how one of the tents looked:

Inside the girls:

And right down below behind Grace was the “gathering” spot where we ate and hung out when we were at camp.

After being shown around to everything in our camp by the owner, a lady from Kenya with three small children (one of them up there with the kids), lunch was served. Little spinach tarts and fresh veggie-packed braided bread, the most beautiful little side dishes, everything incredibly fresh and it was so good!

This was the dining area:

The best times for game drives on safari are at sunrise (6:30) and then again at 4:30 for sunset. That is when the animals are most active and that is when the huge sky of Kenya is lit up so incredibly, almost every scene interlaced with “angel slides” as a backdrop on the horizon.

So at 6:15 each morning they gave us wake-up calls delivering hot chocolate to our tent doors.

Our first game drive that first evening brought us up close and personal with a herd of elephants. I couldn’t get over how beautiful they were, babies and mamas, all gathered under a tree.

We followed them for a while up-close and it was dreamy. I am amazed at the terrain our cars could maneuver…over huge boulders and through deep ravines to get right up eye-to-eye with those creatures. The driving itself was an adventure. And oh, those baby elephants!

Saw these gorgeous birds too:

And I’m sure there’s a good analogy about that gorgeous blue one, not afraid to be different perched in there among all those white ones. (ha!)

And I have to focus in on that tree for a minute, because they are everywhere. And ELEPHANTS EAT THOSE! Check out how sharp they are:

Yowzas that looks a little painful to eat. Found out giraffes eat them too. They must have some good, strong insides I tell you!

We stopped for what they call a “sun-downer,” where they stop the land cruisers right next to each other under a beautiful tree, with a big vista, pull out a little tray to attach to the front of one of the cars and serve us up mugs of hot chocolate as we watched the sinking sun fill up the sky with color. Everyone was so happy and the view was breathtaking.

One of Lucy’s favorite moments she talked about later, standing there with her Dad talking about all the world around them.

(that was Father’s Day…lots more Father’s Day pictures if you scroll down back HERE)

We came back to camp to find a fire built up set up with chairs, lanterns and blankets around it, and appetizers served while we sat and relaxed before dinner (dreamy), and we figured that would be the perfect place for “church.” (one of my sad things about this trip was that I didn’t plan well enough for us to be able to attend a real church in Africa…it would have been a highlight I know…but our “family church” had to do, and it was a pretty close “second” to the real deal I have to say). We had taken a few nights off of our devotionals with traveling and packing, so it was Claire’s turn and she gave the best thoughts about testimonies. She told about an experience at girls’ camp that brought the spirit in and everyone joined in for a little discussion there with the fire crackling and the crickets chirping.

They made up that magical little campfire spot for us all three nights we were there. Loved it so much.

One morning they offered to make our breakfast as part of the morning game drive and you can bet we took them up on it. After seeing herds of zebras and searching for lions, (and an adventure with one of our land cruisers getting SO stuck in the mud…I’m surprised that doesn’t happen more with all these muddy roads!)

…they drove us to such a beautiful table set up under a huge canopy tree, complete with a colorful batik tablecloth and laden with everything from muffins to fresh-baked bread and marmite (couldn’t get anyone to try that…ha!), and they whipped us up cook-to-order eggs, anything we wanted.

There was a dog in our camp who was relentless about being with us every second we were there. We named him Bruce. He somehow managed to make it to our “bush breakfast” too.

After breakfast we rode in a line of camels back to camp.

Thirty minutes on a camel is a long way to go I have to say, and those camels weren’t overly excited about it…mine gave Claire a little nibble on the back, but it made for a pretty funny/fun memory.

There is a little town in Laikipia (the area of Kenya where this Ekorian Mugie camp is located)…or maybe “hamlet” is a better word than “town” to describe it…just a handful of people live there. They rescued a giraffe a few years ago, abandoned as a three-day-old baby and took her under their wing, and named her “Tallah.” As soon as she got old enough to fend for herself in the wild the people who rescued her tried to get her back out there, but she just kept coming back. So now she roams around that little village and is so smart she knows when the buses come in and she goes and waits for them because she knows people will always feed her bananas. Ha!

We got to visit her one of our afternoons.

It was kind of magical.

Love how she’s “posing” with us for our family selfie:

We had her all to ourselves and got to feed her and pet her and follow her around. Giraffes are amazing! I think they’re my favorite except that apparently they’re not the best mamas.

More driving:

Another gorgeous “sun-downer” spot looking over herds of elephants in a gorge below:

…And back to a fire at camp and a giraffe-themed table set-up for dinner.

We were on the lookout for lions.

And the third morning we found them: a whole pride of females with their cubs and we were all in hushed awe at their beauty.

We attributed the lion-find to the fact that Lucy brought Leo, her stuffed lion along, which delighted her.

It’s tough to describe how exhilarating this is with only pictures to show for it. There’s something about the hunt, the beauty, the golden light, the breathtaking beauty of those animals, the family-togetherness all mixed into one whole that is just my favorite. Finding the lions was especially exciting after we had been keeping our eyes out hoping to see them.

We searched and found the male lions a little later.

One morning we went to visit a local village, an offshoot of the Maasai Warriors and we all learned so much. Our driver was awesome and gave us some good background en route to the little village, teaching me all about the three tribes of the Maasai people: the main group who migrated South and lives in the Maasai Mara today. Another group that wanted to stay put in the Samburu area (that was the village we were visiting that day), and the “Gem” people (I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but I didn’t clarify, darn it!…descendants from a small cluster of their people they left to die during their migration…too weak and small (they thought) to make the trek. But some of them survived. And one of our drivers was part of that survival clan.

They took us on a little tour or where they live. This little house was under construction:

I loved that we got to spend the whole morning with these people and got to ask them so many questions. The women had the most beautiful beaded collars and sang and danced for us (and showed us their homes which they make with mud and dung), and the men had us drink sheep milk from their own personal cups.

I was sure hoping that no one would get sick from sharing that same cup, standing in the middle of goats butting heads in that beautiful morning slanted sun.

This main guy of the village let us know that for the majority of their growing up years they eat/drink nothing but milk mixed with the blood of their cows. They just bore a little hole in the cow’s belly that drains some blood to mix with their milk and they get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from that.

The women did this singing for us:

Love that they included us in their dance:

The men joined in:

…and showed off their famous jumping:

Fascinating discussion on the way home about education and how those who leave the tribes to get educated are looked down on and thought of as “lost” to their tribes. Education strips so much tradition away. Sometimes parents will send kids to school as a “punishment” if they shirk on their tasks with herding the livestock and earning their keep around the village. Our driver was sent away to get an education as a youth because all of his village’s livestock was stolen and there was nothing for him to do. He is so grateful and now understands the value of education for his own children, but his growing-up family feel that he is “lost” to them in a way because of that education.

Such an interesting thing to think about.

Here are a few pictures from the ‘in-between-drives” back at camp:

We went kayaking in this little lake where two hippos live. As we pulled in we could see a hippo in the distance which freaked everyone out since they made us well-aware that hippos are the meanest and most deadly of the animals in these parts. Claire was my kayaking partner and she’s a fraidy-cat of everything so she was so stressed about those hippos but I distracted her enough to have a good conversation, loved it.

They had us stay on the edges of the lake because the “hippos probably wouldn’t come there,” (yikes!) and we rowed around the whole thing.

…and made it out alive! 🙂

They had lunch all set up in this little treehouse type lookout, again, beautiful table all set up so nicely and a buffet set out filled with the yummiest foods.

But the view! Every kind of animal you could think of was in view from elephants to impalas to zebras to giraffes towering above the trees following each other in a line along the horizon.

That night we went back to watch the lions again. But our car filled with Elle, Grace, Claire and me, followed some elephants first. I think that will chalk up to one of my favorite memories ever, the sun slanting, those elephants so playful, so many of them, trumpeting and passing along right next to the car, the babies chasing the white birds, my girls SO excited. It was just like those elephant cartoons but right there live in front of us. It was incredible.

This is kind of a long clip but skip to the middle and watch that baby elephant chasing those white birds if you want to see something cute:

Sure enough, the lions were right where our drivers anticipated and we sat and watched them along with the females and the cubs in reverence for an hour as the sun set, one of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve seen as a backdrop for those beautiful creatures.

See those black tips on the backs of their ears? Those are to help their babies (and the rest of the pride) see them and follow through the high brush.

A couple male lions were with them this time:

I think the “teenage” males are kind of cool with scruffy manes starting to frame their faces:

This picture (above) doesn’t give that sunset glory since it’s horrible quality (and it was also kind of sunken by this time), but this was our last “sun-downer” stop where our eyes were as big as saucers at what we had just witnessed. We were all so happy!

I haven’t said much about our guides. They were phenomenal. Just so knowledgeable and patient and we learned so much from them.

I would so recommend that camp to anyone who might be looking.

After those days there, we packed up and headed to the airport:

Ha! Best airport ever!

We waited for our teeny plane to land and get us (after our jeeps ran the course of the dirt/grass runway a couple times to be sure there was no wildlife in the way)…

And then we were off…

…Laikipia fading in the distance behind us, Maasai Mara looming ahead for part two of our safari adventure coming up!

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23 comments

Anne September 17, 2019 - 7:11 am

The little girl whose family runs the camp … I want to read the autobiography she’s going to write in 30 years. What an amazing way to grow up!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:27 am

I know, right??? What an amazing life!

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Sarah Roman September 17, 2019 - 9:35 am

Hi Shawni,

I loved all of the photos- what a magical experience! What lens did you use for your animal photos?

Thanks!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:29 am

I used my Canon 24-70mm 2.8 lens as well as my 70-200mm 2.8 (that one is so dang heavy to carry around…well, they both are actually, but so worth it for me!)

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Sarah Roman September 18, 2019 - 10:43 am

Thank you! Yes- so worth it!

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Sabrina September 17, 2019 - 9:46 am

This post made me cry – what an amazing adventure with your family. Thank you for sharing!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:30 am

Aw thank you Sabrina. It really was something I will treasure forever and ever. And something I think about and am filled with gratitude for pretty much every day. Thanks for appreciating it with me. xoxo

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Jen September 17, 2019 - 10:42 am

Shawni…this post was SO well timed. We are going on a simliar african adventure next year to Kenya and I have ALL KINDS of anxiety (and excitement) about it. This post just brought me PURE JOY. Would love if you could answer a couple things. Did you always feel safe? Like how do you feel safe surrounded by tens or more lions?? Surreal..Amazing. But was it so stressful? Secondly, food. I am anxious about the food. I am not well travelled and I am just so nervous and don’t want to be the one in our group that can’t handle eating the food…was it pretty normal stuff? Please share any details about it in your next post. Oh and I also really really want to know about equipment you brought? I am torn in bringing my pro Canon camera with a couple lenses or just my lighter mirrorless Sony one (also great quality). Did you find you wanted telephoto or wide angle more?

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:35 am

Hey Jen, so excited for you! Yes, we always felt safe. The lions were right next to us but they are used to the Land Cruisers cruising around. In Laikipia they didn’t want us standing up on top of the cars when we saw the lions because they didn’t want them to get used to seeing the human form. There is a town nearby and they didn’t want them to not be frightened if they saw that same human form in the little town…does that make sense? I did see a video of an elephant charging a safari car when we got home though…yikes! We really did feel safe though!

I wish I had more pictures of the food. It was incredible. I think it probably will depend on your camp but I think in general most safari camps are pretty praised for their food.

See above for which lenses I used, and my camera is a Canon 6D. Worth the weight of lugging it all around a hundred times over in my opinion, but I’ve carried it everywhere for years so I’m pretty used to it!

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Sheri September 17, 2019 - 12:30 pm

Absolutely incredible pictures and family time!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:35 am

Thanks Sheri!

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Lisa September 17, 2019 - 1:17 pm

What an amazing adventure! It was great to see all the smiles. I loved seeing our Abby in your pics. She fits right in with you all. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad Lucy got to see all those wonderful animals and sunsets.

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:36 am

Oh we love that Abby more than I can say! She does fit right in and rolled with all this traveling like a pro!

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Jennifer September 17, 2019 - 5:01 pm

Like some of the previous comments re the photos – I want to know did you have to zoom for many of these shots ? I can see the lion ones near the end of the post, you are very close. With the elephant ones – were you quite close, or have you zoomed in ? It is a fabulous post and your photography is so good. I think some-one else has already asked what sort of camera did you use.

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 7:38 am

Yes the camera information is above. We were able to get up close and personal with so many animals I didn’t need to zoom a ton. But there are some pictures in the next post that are cropped down to show more detail of the leopard and the roaring lion we found. I shoot in RAW so I can crop without loosing too much quality.

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Gabriella Wilson September 18, 2019 - 7:32 am

Awesome!!!

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Tracy September 18, 2019 - 8:06 am

Beautiful pictures! What an amazing experience. That village giraffe is my favorite. How cool is that?

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Tracey September 18, 2019 - 1:42 pm

Hi – we are in the process of of planning a safari for our family as well. I went to the link you had in your post, and was a bit overwhelmed by all the options- they were also longer that I was planning. Since Dave already did so much work and research would you mind sharing which safari you guys chose? Thanks!!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 3:07 pm

The first camp was called Ekorian Mugie (in Laikipia) and there is a link in this post but just google it if you can’t find it. LOVED it. The second camp was called Serian, The Original. It was located in the Mara North Conservancy. Dave and I went on a safari in the national reserve when Claire was a baby and we were only there for a couple of days and we still saw a ton. We were in Kenya a total of six days but you definitely don’t need that long!

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Shawni September 18, 2019 - 3:08 pm

I guess I should explain that the difference between staying in the national park is that you have to stay on the roads and you don’t have quite as much freedom to roam around, but I think it’s pretty great there too!

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Tracey September 19, 2019 - 6:01 pm

Thanks!!! 🙂

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Jenny September 18, 2019 - 3:36 pm

Stunning photos and videos! Thanks for sharing.

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Mom October 11, 2019 - 7:22 pm

This is my second time through these safari blogs and I have to say that every photo should be framed (I’m sure you’re working on that haha). It was glorious to see the incredible animals, that cute pet giraffe, the trumpeting baby elephant and Lucy in her glory! So loved seeing this . The Masai men and women looked so much happier than the ones we saw when we were there. It was a joy to see every picture. That takes a lot of time so thanks for sharing! Hugs

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