Unforgettable Camping in Samburu
March 7, 2017
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Last December I was debating between going for camping in Elementaita with former classmates from photography school, and a Nature Kenya trip to Samburu.

Grevy’s zebra.
Grevy’s zebra: It was great seeing these guys, given that they’re threatened with extinction.

It had been a long while since meeting with those photographers, but I had also never been to Samburu before. On the other hand, the Elementaita option was cheaper. #TheStruggleIsReal Which to choose? I opted for Elementaita but as most group plans go, it was cancelled. People failed to pay in time.

Yellow-billed stork resting on one leg.
Yellow-billed stork resting on one leg.

I made a last- ditch attempt to join the Samburu tour. Only to be informed that it was fully booked. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I felt cheated. The Jamhuri long weekend was coming up and I didn’t want to spend it at home getting bored. After the birdwalk on Wednesday, I went to Nature Kenya for a different issue. One of the staff asked me if I would be interested in going to Samburu if a chance came up. I replied in the affirmative but didn’t have much hope since the slots were all gone.

A proud male Impala with his harem.
A proud male Impala with his harem.

On Friday I was chilling at home after taking breakfast when I received a call from Nature Kenya. Would I still like to go for the trip? Someone had forfeited their chance for some reason. Wow! I was disoriented for a few seconds. I had given up hope on going. After gathering my thoughts I accepted the offer, and just like that, I got my ticket to Samburu. More proof that God loves me very much! I had only a few hours to prepare though. Deciding what to wear, what products to carry and what to leave for my hair and skin (considering Samburu’s hot and dry climate), and also my gear. No serious photographer goes camping without gear!

A herd of Gerenuk.
The Gerenuk, aka the Giraffe gazelle.

We were to assemble at the National Museum on Saturday at 8 am. Meaning that I had to leave home extra early since I was using public transport (sigh). I made it there by 7.30 am and found my fellow enthusiastic campers already there. Spending a weekend in the wild is pretty exciting as I came to discover. The journey went fairly well apart from a massive traffic jam at Sagana. Of course in typical Kenyan fashion, people drove on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to move quicker which  only made things worse. We were on the road much longer than expected- 10 hours to be precise.

Samburu undulating landscape.
Check out that cool undulating landscape.

We arrived shortly before nightfall to the welcoming sight of some wild animals grazing. Glad to have finally arrived, I was ready to go to sleep straight away. But the daunting task of pitching tents awaited. Our campsite was right by the banks of Ewaso Nyiro river and everyone scrambled for prime locations to pitch. After much heaving and tugging of canvas, the tents were up. I immediately took a nap to relieve the throbbing headache caused by too much heat. It was 31 degrees celsius – imagine what daytime would be like? I woke up just in time for supper. With nothing much to do after that I crashed for the night and hoped to catch the sunrise the next day.

Elephants in front of hilly landscape.
Amazing sights that welcomed us to Samburu.

My day began at 5:30 AM. I could never forgive myself (and neither would other jealous photographers) if I didn’t shoot the sunrise. Being by the riverside made it extra exciting. I was so busy looking for the perfect spot and trying different compositions when our chef warned me that there were crocodiles in the river. I wanted to respond that I had to get my money shot but I just looked at him in silence. If the crocodiles got to me it would be said I left the earth while doing what I loved. Only fellow photographers understand that you do what you need to do to get the shot. Anyway I heeded his warning and backed away.

Sunrise in Samburu.
Sunrise shot = success.

By the time my fellow campers were waking up I had enjoyed the sun’s light show as well as an amazing orchestra by birds. A light breakfast started us off before going for a game drive. When it was announced that a heavy breakfast would follow the drive, foodies’ fears were allayed. The heat was already sweltering yet it was barely 9:00 AM.

Sunrise in Samburu.
Look at those tones.

The animals seemed to be playing games with us though. For the time we were there only two lions showed up . Those who had come for the trip specifically for big game were disappointed. However for birders, there was scarcely a dull moment for us. So many species were new to me: White-headed Mousebird, Red-billed Hornbill, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Wattled Starling, Laughing dove, Namaqua Dove, Vulturine Guineafowl, Grey-headed social Weaver…you get the point.

There was this guy Mwangi who knew all of them even without referring to a bird book. Yet he isn’t a field guide, just aggressively interested in birds. Wow! The non-birders just looked at us strangely, wondering what all the excitement was about. Fun fact: there are currently 1000 recorded bird species in Kenya, 600 of them being in Nairobi alone.

Red-billed hornbill in tree.
Now watch me itch: the Red-billed hornbill.
Spotted flycatcher in tree.
Spotted flycatcher.

At least elephants were in plenty. Twice we saw them agitated by vehicles and trumpeting to warn we clueless humans to keep off. Samburu elephants are brown because they bathe in dust/ mud. Mara elephants are grey. We headed back to camp for a hearty part two breakfast. Hats off to the chef – preparing well done tasty meals for so many people isn’t easy. By this time it felt like there were three suns in the sky. Some people opted to go for swimming. Others chose birdwatching. I was with the latter group but after an hour or so they also joined the swimmers.  I stayed by the poolside taking photos of my feathered friends.

Red-headed weaver with nesting material.
Red-headed weaver with nesting material.

Fast forward to lunchtime and there was yet another heavy meal provided. To top it all off, there was an elephant feeding across the river, as well as a large troop of baboons. Talk about lunch with a view! I could get used to such a life. There’s nothing quite relaxing like being in nature. After lunch we were due for another game drive and hoped to see more animals this time.

Baboons by a river.
Baboons by the river. The ones bending are having a drink.

However, the narrative remained the same. An oryx here, a herd of impala there…most people were bored and even others asleep! (Tired from the swimming). Only birders remained active the whole time. There was one lady – a foreigner – whose partner was a birder. While she was very upset at not seeing big game, and couldn’t understand why we kept stopping the truck to view birds, he was totally engrossed in birdwatching. It was an interesting sight. Just as darkness started creeping in, a Striped hyena appeared almost out of nowhere, and then a lion on our way back to the campsite.

Striped hyena on the ground.
Striped hyena chilling.

Supper was taken hastily as people were exhausted. Most went straight to bed – not even the roast goat ‘dessert’ could interest them. Only a few determined campers remained by the fire till the wee hours. Since I wanted to catch the sunrise again I didn’t stay up late – and catch it I did. It was breathtaking. Our tasty breakfast attracted unwelcome guests – baboons. Those guys are huge, vicious, and they have a nasty reputation of attacking ladies. A few of us almost became victims! After a lot of strategizing, one managed to grab a loaf of bread and run away with it.

Ewaso Nyiro riverbank.
A section of our campsite before the baboons checked in.

On the last day, our stay had come to an end. Sigh. The amazing landscapes, interesting animals, serene atmosphere…we had to say good bye. My service provider’s network was out of range so my phone was a clock the whole time. I didn’t mind because this gave me a chance to be immersed in nature. Consider taking a trip or two into the wild this year. It’s absolutely refreshing. On our way out we saw more cool birds and for big game enthusiasts, a lion.

Samburu’s brown elephants.
Samburu’s brown elephants.

What an experience. I still couldn’t believe I had gone to Samburu even after getting home, considering I had practically been locked out until last minute. Thumbs up to Nature Kenya especially for the great food! Oh and every camper got a free Nature Kenya calendar for 2017. How cool is that! I can’t wait to see what adventures the year holds- I hope for more and exciting ones!

Reticulated giraffe feeding.
The beautiful Reticulated giraffe. Did you know giraffes are silently going extinct? There are about only 95,000 left in the wild. In 7 African countries, their population has been wiped out.  

About author

Michelle Ajema

Michelle Ajema is an artlover who is deeply fascinated by the exciting world of DSLR photography. She loves shooting nature, and can often be found stalking monkeys and birds in her backyard.

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