Down to the White Sand

A Safari across Kenya to the Indian Ocean
By David Kinrade


After two years, the longest break I have had from Africa since I started to travel with Fred, Elizabeth and Chris, it was finally time to return to my favourite of the East African countries, Kenya. Like my previous trip to Uganda (see Uganda – Pearl of Africa) this was to be a long trip of a month’s duration that would include us spending Christmas away.

With Chris joining us once more, Fred had organised a full and varied itinerary that would see us travel across the country from Central West to South-east, taking in a range of places both old and new. We would have plenty of time to spend with old friends at both Umani Springs and Ithumba, but also a chance to visit Kakamega Forest and the Indian Ocean coast at Watamu.

Some of the places on our journey would offer unrivalled opportunities to seek new and interesting bird species, some endemic to small forest areas of the country. When Fred, Elizabeth and I had last travelled through Kenya in 2011, we had just managed to see 300 species in a little over three weeks. Naturally we had high hopes of beating this total with more time and more interesting places to visit on this trip. To aid us in this bird-watching adventure, Emmy Gongo had agreed to cross over the border from Uganda and bring both his vehicle and expertise with him for the journey.

Because our flight was not due to see us in Nairobi until around midnight local time, Fred had arranged for us to have two nights in Wildebeest Camp to allow us time to get acclimatised and rest after the twelve hours spent on the plane.

Getting There

The journey is always a long one and this time we needed to have a stop-over in Manchester, choosing Bewley’s for its proximity to the airport and the fact that the food is usually good. Our flights this time were with Brussels Airlines, if for no other reason than being the cheapest. We had to change in Brussels and then had to endure a one hour stop in Rwanda, something now quite common on flights to East Africa. The change of planes in Brussels was a bit confusing, with us needing to change terminals and that needing a bus out to the new terminal that’s not yet connected to the rest of the airport.

Because our flight was not due to see us in Nairobi until around midnight local time, Fred had arranged for us to have two nights in Wildebeest Camp to allow us time to get acclimatised and rest after the twelve hours spent on the plane.
Our arrival and passage through immigration was fairly smooth, but we needed to be bussed from our plane to the new immigration office. Once we had endured the interminable wait for our luggage we had to endure an even longer wait as our driver had not arrived to transfer us to the city. After some minutes of standing around Fred went off to get access to a telephone and call the Camp. The vehicle had allegedly broken down with some sort of electrical fault along the way, but arrived a few minutes later and then all was well.

To add a little to our confusion, this was the new and improved Wildebeest Camp, now located further out of Nairobi along the Langata Road. After a good night’s sleep and with nothing planned for the rest day, we had plenty of time to wander around the grounds of the camp and start to look for some birds to add to our list. The new camp was much bigger than the old one, with more than 20 set-up tents and a campsite. Despite this, the grounds were extensive and there were very few guests.

This was something that seemed to be a problem for Kenya, East Africa and indeed all of Africa at the time of our visit, with various security and health scares making people reluctant to travel. I had been asked before I left about the perils of Ebola and after a quick measure or two on Google Earth had concluded that I was going to be further away from West Africa than if I had stayed in the Isle of Man. Fred commented that he had been speaking to an American contact on TripAdvisor and had pointed out that they were closer to the problem on the US East Coast than they would be if they came to East Africa. We were screened at the airport on the way into Nairobi, they had a thermal camera and a doctor to check for anyone who looked out of sorts, but apart from Fred needing to stand for a few minutes without his coat on to cool down, we were all passed fit.

Security is always something to be taken seriously, but we are always careful and the general level of security in the country has been enhanced. When visiting the supermarket, for example, we were quickly scanned before we were allowed into the mall. Police checks on the road are still common, but they are far more concerned with overloaded vehicles than they are with security and of course they are generally very positive towards tourists.