I love starting trips on weekends. The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a jam. Emily and Lee conveniently started their journey to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, and we found ourselves bright and early at Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen. It was a reasonably unremarkable drive, therefore, to Amboseli. The only potential for disaster arose when I inserted my foot firmly in my mouth with a cynical remark about the aid industry… only after the words were out did I remember that Lee works as a fund raiser for an NGO.
But their humour remained intact, even after the 22 kilometres of corrugated road on the last stretch to the park (it’s nothing compared to the road to the Maasai Mara, but not having that for comparison, 22 kilometres can also be tiring).
Our arrival at Kibo Camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me. First Charles, the supervisor, cracked a big smile in welcome as he saw us emerging from the van. Francis had only been there a few days before, but I was pleasantly surprised they remembered me after several months.
We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent. The tents are floored with stone and covered with cow-hide rugs. The four-poster bed in the middle of the room is surrounded with a mosquito net which is set up during the evening turn-down service while we have dinner. At the rear of the tent is the en suite with flush toilet and hot shower. The water is solar heated – part of Kibo’s eco-friendly efforts. No time to linger in our luxurious tent though; it was lunchtime.
As Francis and I entered the dining room our old friend Gona was preparing our table. When he turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long-lost pal. “Mama and Papa Overland” he cried and shook both our hands energetically. Nothing is too much trouble for Gona – as he says “my name is Gona and I’m gonna serve you.” Gona had christened us Mama and Papa Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013. We were quietly tickled by the name and are glad it’s stuck.
Safari in Amboseli
Emily and Lee had their first game drive that afternoon. They were lucky with an early lion sighting! Even better, it was a lion couple on their honeymoon. Of course they also saw plenty of elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.
Emerging from our tents at sunrise the next morning, we were greeted with a perfect view of a naked Kilimanjaro. Usually covered in cloud during the day, early morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views. Francis whisked Emily and Lee off to the park for an early morning game drive. Over breakfast, Lee marvelled at the incredible variety of birds they had seen during the drive, many of which they had never heard of, including the Secretary Bird. We all had a giggle at Francis’ imitation of the Secretary Bird as it hunts. Amboseli National Park comprises a large swamp in the middle of a massive arid area and thus attracts many water birds including water rail, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers and plovers.
After breakfast we bid our farewells to the awesome staff and started back to Mombasa Road. The highway between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is only single lane in each direction with some trucks hurtling along at hair-raising speeds while others barely make it up the gentlest of inclines. Side mirrors are a needless accessory it seems and rarely used. It’s not my favourite road to travel on and so I like to either turn around to talk to people behind or pretend to sleep – anything to not look at my impending death over and over! Francis is masterful though and navigates the other drivers’ craziness 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 were wending their way through the lodge’s stilts as they made their way to the waterhole. I had tried to describe how the waterhole is at the reception area, but it’s difficult to understand that elephants can be just a few metres away as you check in, until you get there!
Once you are there it is even more difficult to tear yourself away from the incredible proximity you have with these beautiful creatures. However, after enjoying sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning we felt it a fitting end to have a drink watching the sun set over the mountain. The only trouble was that we got distracted by a couple of lionesses feasting on a zebra on our way. By the time we got to Lion’s Bluff, the sun had all but disappeared. The thing about being so close to the equator is that sunset happens in about five minutes – not the two-hour romance we get 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’s a rocky outcrop in Lumo Sanctuary where on one of my earliest visits another driver-guide told us he had just seen a leopard. We scoured the outcrop, fully circling it, looking for the leopard with no luck. On every subsequent visit I search that outcrop desperately for the leopard. I look among the tree branches and in the cracks and crevasses of the rocks, always suspecting the leopard will be in the most hard to see place and really wanting to be the first clever cat to find it.
So the third day of the safari saw us on an early morning game drive close to this outcrop with me desperately craning my head to find the elusive leopard. As I carefully searched the branches of a particularly large sausage tree (a leopard’s favourite), everyone started talking about something else remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed stuck under the very same tree. Had I really missed that?! He was perched somewhat tenuously on a ledge and munching on the leaves of the sausage tree. As he backed up, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of how thick his skin must be. After watching him for some time and satisfying ourselves that he wasn’t really stuck, we continued our circuit of Leopard Rock.
I returned to looking in all the hidey holes when a minute later Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said “Leopard!” And there, lounging in plain view on a Pride Rock-style arrangement was indeed a leopard! What luck! And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting. After several minutes however another van approached, but too fast and too noisily. The leopard jumped lightly off his rock lounge and disappeared into the grass. (Note: suggest to your driver-guides they drive slowly in the parks, especially as they approach 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 headed back to the lodge for breakfast. This morning the zebras were having their turn at the waterhole, but not before having a bit of a chase around with the elephants.
Then it was time to drive to Mombasa. To avoid driving through the city centre, we turned off at Mariakani and drove through rolling green hills. It became a rough road but the scenery was quite beautiful (aside from the large rubbish dump in one part). Finally we got to Nyali where Francis and I took our bearings from the dentist’s office he had visited in 2013. As he had been under the influence of strong painkillers at that time, I suggested he trust my directions… and eventually we got there.
We had such a great time with Emily and Lee and we can’t wait to welcome them in 8-10 years when they bring their baby daughter for safari!
For us, we found a campsite and sat down to a cold Tusker and a chat about how long we were going to enjoy our beach holiday. The silver lining of Kenya’s tourism decline is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari… lucky us??!!
After a lazy morning, we headed 11 kilometres 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 amongst trees of so many shades of green. The port was active between 1350 and 1450 and has three mosques and many houses including a hotel of sorts for the traders who sailed in.
In the morning before leaving for Nairobi, we visited Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre. Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a craft workshop employing people with disabilities. They design and produce jewellery, bags, clothes, wood carvings and many other crafts. It’s a fantastic project employing around 100 staff (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis). Accommodation is provided for the staff if they wish and there is a school and day-care centre for their children. It is well worth a visit if you stay on the north coast.