Emily and Lee’s Kenya Safari
I love to start trips on the weekends. The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a rush. Emily and Lee conveniently started their trip to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, and we met early at the Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen. So it was a reasonably nondescript trip to Amboseli. The only possibility of disaster arose when I put my foot firmly in my mouth with a cynical comment on the aid industry … only after the words came out did I remember that Lee works as a fundraiser for an NGO.
But his humor remained intact, even after the 22 kilometers of corrugated road on the last stretch to the park (it is nothing compared to the road to Maasai Mara, but without that to compare, 22 kilometers can also be exhausting).
Our arrival at the Kibo camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me. First, Charles, the supervisor, gave a big welcoming smile when he saw us get out of the truck. Francis had only been there a few days before, but I was pleasantly surprised to be remembered after several months.
We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent. The tents have stone floors and are covered with cowhide rugs. The four-poster bed in the center of the room is surrounded by a mosquito net that is installed during the evening turndown service while we eat dinner. At the back of the store is the bathroom with a toilet and a hot shower. The water is heated by solar energy, part of Kibo’s green efforts. However, there is no time to stay in our luxurious tent; it was lunchtime.
When Francis and I entered the dining room, our old friend Gona was setting our table. When he turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long-lost friend. “Mom and Dad Overland,” he yelled and shook our hands energetically. Nothing is too much trouble for Gona as it says “my name is Gona and I’m hate “Gona had christened us Mama and Papa Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013. He silently tickled us for the name and we are glad he got stuck.
Safari in Amboseli
Emily and Lee had their first safari that afternoon. They got lucky with an early lion sighting! Even better, it was a couple of lions on their honeymoon. Of course, they also saw many elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.
Leaving our tents at dawn the next morning, we were greeted with a perfect view of a naked Kilimanjaro. Generally covered in clouds during the day, early in the morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views. Francis quickly took Emily and Lee to the park for a morning game drive. Over breakfast, Lee marveled at the incredible variety of birds they had seen on the trip, many of which they had never heard of, including the secretary bird. We all laugh at Francis’s imitation of the secretary bird while hunting. Amboseli National Park included a large swamp in the middle of a huge arid area and therefore attracts many waterfowl, such as water lanes, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers, and plovers.
After breakfast we said goodbye to the amazing staff and started back to Mombasa Road. The road between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is one lane in each direction, with some trucks moving at hair-raising speeds, while others barely make it down the gentler slopes. Side mirrors are apparently an unnecessary accessory and are rarely used. It’s not my favorite way to travel so I like to turn around to talk to the people behind or pretend to sleep – anything to not look at my impending death over and over again! However, Francis is masterful and navigates the madness of the other drivers with cool calm.
Leopards and elephants
Our destination was Taita Hills and Lumo Sanctuary. It took us about six hours from Kibo to Taita Hills, but it was worth it as Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge came into view. A herd of elephants made their way through the pilings of the lodge as they made their way to the water hole. I tried to describe what the water hole is like in the reception area, but it is hard to understand that the elephants could be only a few meters away while you check in, until you get there!
Once you’re there, it’s even harder to get away from the incredible closeness you have with these beautiful creatures. However, after enjoying the sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning, we felt it was a fitting end to have a drink watching the sun set over the mountain. The only problem was that we were distracted by a couple of lionesses feasting on a zebra on our way. When we got to Lion’s Bluff, the sun was almost gone. The thing about being so close to the equator is that sunset happens in about five minutes, not the two-hour romance we have in Melbourne! But Lion’s Bluff still has one of the best balcony bars in Africa, so we indulged in a glass of wine anyway.
There is a rocky outcrop at the Lumo Sanctuary where, on one of my first visits, another driver-guide told us that he had just seen a leopard. We scoured the outcrop, circling it completely, looking for the leopard with no luck. On each subsequent visit, I desperately search for the leopard in that outcrop. I look through the branches of the trees and into the crevices and crevices of the rocks, always suspecting that the leopard will be in the most difficult place to see and wanting to be the first smart cat to find it.
So the third day of the safari he saw us on an early morning safari near this outcrop and I desperately craned my head to find the elusive leopard. As I carefully searched the branches of a particularly large sausage tree (a leopard’s favorite), everyone started talking about something more remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed trapped under the same tree. I had Really Did you miss that ?! He was perched lightly on a ledge, chewing on the leaves of the sausage tree. As he backed away, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of just how thick his skin must be. After watching it for some time and making sure it wasn’t really stuck, we continued our Leopard Rock loop.
I looked back at all the hiding places when, a minute later, Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said “Leopard!” And there, resting in plain sight in a Pride Rock style arrangement, it was indeed a leopard! Lucky! And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting. However, after several minutes another van approached, but too fast and too loud. The leopard gently leaped from its rocky hall and disappeared into the grass. (Note: Suggest to your driver-guides that they drive slowly in parks, especially when approaching another vehicle that is obviously looking at something, so you don’t miss out on exciting sightings.)
We were happy with our sighting anyway, and returned to the lodge for breakfast. This morning the zebras were having their turn at the waterhole, but not before having a little chase with the elephants.
Then it was time to drive to Mombasa. To avoid driving through the city center, we turned off at Mariakani and drove through green hills. It became a bumpy road but the scenery was quite beautiful (aside from the big garbage dump in one part). We finally made it to Nyali, where Francis and I got our bearings from the dentist’s office he had visited in 2013. Since he had been under the influence of strong painkillers at the time, I suggested that he trust my instructions … and we finally got there. .
We had a great time with Emily and Lee and we can’t wait to welcome them in 8-10 years when they bring their young daughter for the safari!
For us, we found a campground and sat by a chilly Tusker and chatted about how long we were going to enjoy our beach vacation. The positive side of the decline in tourism in Kenya is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari … lucky you ?? !!
After a quiet morning, we headed 7 miles north to Jumba la Mtwana, the ruins of an Arab trading port. It was very interesting; the guide taught us a lot. And it was so beautiful: ruins of stone and coral buildings among trees of so many shades of green. The port was active between 1350 and 1450 and has three mosques and many houses, including a kind of hotel for sailing merchants.
In the morning, before leaving for Nairobi, we visit the Bombolulu Cultural Center and Workshop. Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a craft workshop employing people with disabilities. They design and produce jewelry, bags, clothing, wood carvings, and many other crafts. It is a fantastic project employing around 100 people (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis). Accommodation is provided for staff if you wish and there is a school and nursery for your children. It is worth a visit if you are staying on the north coast.