Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks
Amboseli National Park
Our next stop on the Kenyan safari circuit was Amboseli National Park and, yes, it is very easy to see why this is one of the top safari destination of Kenya. Its signature attraction is the sight of hundreds of big-tusked elephants set against the backdrop of Africa’s best views of Mt Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest peak broods over the southern boundary of the park, and while cloud cover can render the mountain’s massive bulk invisible for much of the day, we were very fortunate and rewarded with stunning vistas of an almost clear Mount Kilimanjaro.
You can drive to Amboseli National Park via two ways; all the way back to Nairobi or to go round Mount Suswa and stay below Nairobi, through the swamps to the highway that would lead us to Namanga. The plan was to stay below Nairobi since traffic is terrible in this city. However, since we did a game drive in the morning, we stayed over in Karen, one of the Southern suburbs of Nairobi at Wildebeest Eco camp. The next day we reached Amboseli quite early and found Mount Kilimanjaro still in the clouds. But, little by little, the clouds disappeared and at sunset, the whole mountain was ready to be photographed. As the campsite did not look too good, we tried our luck at several of the luxury lodges…at the Serena, we were not allowed to camp, but they made us a very good offer and we decided to spend the night with them. Like in Masai Mara, we saw plenty of wildebeest including many babies, elephants, antelopes, birds, plenty of lions, spotted hyena’s and a cheetah.
Tsavo West and East National Park
When we exited the park exactly 24hrs later, the guards were very amused. As it took a while to get the creditcard transaction processed, Judith gave them a currency calculation lecture that saved us 17 cents.
Tsavo West and East form the largest national park of Kenya. Tsavo West is more renowned for its huge variety of landscapes from swamps, natural springs and rocky peaks to extinct volcanic cones, rolling plains and sharp out- crops dusted with greenery. This is a park with a whiff of legend about it, first for its famous man-eating lions in the late 19th century. The lions killed more than a hundred people working in the railway line from Nairobi to Mombasa. They even made a Hollywood blockbuster about these incidents, called ‘The ghost and the Darkness’.
Although the road to Tsavo West was pretty good (for a dirt road), we entered the park late afternoon, around 05.00pm. Not really fancying to spend the night on a camping that has worse reviews than the one in Amboseli, we tried our luck again at a lodge. The lodge we chose was on the south side of the game area. On the drive we came across several wildebeest, antelopes, giraffes, dikdiks and zebra’s, but it became very clear that the density of the vegetation will make it very difficult to find any predators. At sunset, we reached the lodge, but unfortunately, there is no last minute deal possible and camping was not option either and we decided to drive through the park in the semi-dark to the campsite after all. At the end of our small night drive, we had seen several hares/rabbits and a large genet. Once at the campsite, we luckily found it unfenced and more importantly, without a locked gate. Even the ablutions are unlocked, but unfortunately the main water tap had been closed.
The next morning, we woke up very early to be able to enjoy the very diverse landscapes throughout the park. We had a small breakfast at Poacher’s Lookout overlooking the planes to the West towards Kilimanjaro. From there, we decided to go to the Mzima Spring that pushes through 282 thousand litres per minute into the small lake and river. Ten percent of which is enough to provide all of Mombasa from water. After the small walkway at the spring, we continued our way towards Rhino Valley passing Lava hill. Instead of exiting at the East gate close to the Rhino sanctuary, we made a short detour and also visit the ‘lava stream’ on the West side close to the campsite where we started our day. It was the right choice, as this turned out to be the highlight of our day in Tsavo West.
From the gate of Tsavo West, we take the high way towards Mombasa to the gate of Tsavo East. Tsavo East is markedly flatter and drier than the West park. The flipside is that spotting wildlife was much easier here to the thinly spread foliage. This was where we finally saw the generuk (giraffe neck) antelope for the first time.
Again we arrive late in the afternoon and we do a short game drive towards the campsite where we wanted to stay. On this short drive, we already encounter more animals than we had seen in Tsavo West in total…although the campsite did not look too bad, we decided to also check what prices the tented camp next door was asking for a full board stay (camping was about $50…). The manager started at $100, but after some negotiation, we agree to a tent, hot shower and full board for $85. After a really nice diner, we turned in for an early game drive. Little did we know…
The next morning, we found the car slightly out of balance and it turned out that we had our second flat tire. Not wanting to waste any time, Wilfred started changing the tire, while breakfast is being prepared. A small hour later than planned, we started our game drive and found ourselves following about six other cars towards a cheetah sighting. We did see a cheetah, but at a distance of about 200m…when we continued our drive in the direction planned, we came across several cars at the side of the road. It turn out that five cheetahs were in the area. To our surprise however, we also see a couple of gerenuk that actually seemed to have become the attention of the cheetahs as well.
A few minutes later, the gerenuks had disappeared out sight and we continued our drive towards the swamp and next to the dam. After lunch, we took the long way towards a more northern gate to exit the park around three thirty expecting to get to Nairobi around seven…traffic on this Saturday was however horrific. Even on a Saturday, there were plenty of trucks crawling up the hills…after a very long and horrendous drive in the dark, we finally arrived at the campsite little after nine.
Back in Nairobi
The next day, we hoped to get the tire fixed and get two new tires fitted. Unfortunately, the company that sells the tires we wanted, was not able to fix the punctured tire and we had to wait till Monday to sort in al out. So we did some sightseeing around Nairobi and visited the Karen Blixen museum (if unaware, please enjoy reading or seeing Out of Africa). She left after a series of personal tragedies, but the lovely colonial house has been preserved as a museum. It, along with the adjacent agricultural college, was presented by the Danish government to the Kenyan government at independence. We had lunch at her manager’s house (now one of the best restaurants of Nairobi). Our last visit was the Giraffe centre. This is one of Kenya’s good-news conservation stories. In 1979 Jock Leslie-Melville (the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish earl) an his wife Betty began raising a baby giraffe in their Langata home. At the time, their African Fund for Endangered Wildlife was just getting off the ground there were no more than 120 Rothschild giraffes (which differ from other giraffe subspecies in that there is no patterning below the knee) in the wild. Unlike the more common reticulated and Masai giraffes, the Rothschild’s giraffe had been pushed to the brink of extinction by severe habitat loss in western Kenya. Today, the population numbers more than 300, and the centre has successfully released these charismatic creatures into Lake Nakuru National Park (home to around 45 giraffes). At about five, we picked up our Belgium overlanding friends (doing about the same as we do, but then in an orange air cooled VW combi from the year 1989) at the campsite and went to the mall for groceries.
After an enjoyable evening and breakfast sharing stories and tips, we parted and continued our tire repair quest. Around 4.00pm, we had the tire fixed and two new ones fitted and headed once more to the house of our Nairobian friends for an another cosy and luxurious evening (likely our last till we are in the Emirates) and to be united with our passports that include the Ethiopian Visa.