I slowly opened my eyes and looked up through thick fly wire netting sown into a heavy green canvas window, momentarily confused about where I was. A wide toothy grin on the face of a young man greeted me with another “Jambo” whilst pouring tea into a white cup and saucer on a small table outside. “Jambo” I replied sleepily, “Mzuri”.
The Tusker haze receded as I sat up to gaze past the waiter to the fast flowing brown Galana River. It wasn’t a dream but I still had to pinch myself. Yes – I was in Tsavo East National Park, Epiya Chapeyu Tented Camp on a mini safari with Ruth and Stirling. It was all coming back to me now. What am amazing place. In this beautiful spot under tall shady trees I had enjoyed a full four course meal with silver service on an outdoor terrace with my two new friends and a few too many Tuskers.
I had heard about Tsavo many years ago when I met with Bill Jordan, founder of Care for the Wild, in London. He had told me all about the work of Daphne Sheldrick and how the elephant orphans were introduced back into the wild at Tsavo National Park. It had always been a place I wanted to visit! And here I was!!
Last weekend Ruth and Stirling treated me to a drive around Nairobi National Park and this weekend we ventured 300km south to Tsavo, leaving early Saturday morning and taking the Mombasa Road, along with convoys of trucks.
Our drive took us through incredible wide open plains of low lying semi arid scrub land dotted with boab trees standing out like swollen thumbs. On the side of the road men tried to sell us live chickens and roosters by holding them up by their feet and waving them at us.
Children sat dangerously close to the edge of the road minding a motley crew of goats and cows as they grazed on the slim pickings on the verge.
We passed through many small towns where young men and women walked precariously down the middle of the road between opposing traffic, raising bags of purple onions at us, animatedly trying to convince us to stop and buy some.
I couldn’t help but reminisce on the last time I travelled this road. It was in 1998, on a public bus from Nairobi to Mombasa and the roads had been dug up for resurfacing, making our ride very rough! The journey of 440km took 11+ hours! Despite having to negotiate many trucks, this trip was much smoother and faster.
We passed several police stops, but they were not too interested in us. They stopped all the trucks, and just as Ruth was explaining to me this was their method of income, I saw a police lady do a bad job of surreptitiously taking a wad of notes from a driver and slipping them into her pocket whilst smiling up at him. The roads run on bribery – bit like driving in Malaysia!
Passing the bridge of the Tsavo man eaters we headed to the Manyani Gate where Sterling handed in our passes. As residents they both have national park cards and Sterling had charged my $65 fee to his. Locals and residents get a significant discount for park entries but for tourists it ranges from $50 for Nairobi National Park to $65 for Tsavo East National Park.
Ruth and I went off to the washroom for a pee, clapping and stamping as we entered to scare off any baboons who might be enjoying the cool interior. I was quite amazed at the size of the park. At 12 000 square km, it represents 40% of Kenya’s total national park area, and this was only the Eastern part. As we drove into the park I resumed my favourite spotting position on the roof of the Landrover, my feet dangling through the sun roof.
Heading towards Mundanda Rocks we spotted one lone elephant, two giraffes and a zebra. Arriving at the 1.5 km long ancient Pre-cambrian outcrop, we walked up to the ridge and looked down on a dam and were treated to three warthogs prancing along, tails high and a group of waterbuck chilling by the water’s edge.
Within minutes of enjoying the view across the water and the sheer vastness of this wilderness, a giraffe sauntered into view and peered up at us to determine whether we were close enough to pose a threat. After reassuring himself we were probably too far away, I was delighted when he splayed his legs and dipped his long neck to take a drink – what a magnificent sight!! What fascinating creatures!! No wonder most kids in the world are able to identify African animals ahead of their own local animals – they are just such classically interesting creatures!
Heading towards the river, we went off the main track and onto a rough dirt road that challenged Sterling’s driving and the capabilities of the Landrover, negotiating dry creek crossings and detours around caved in sections of the track . We followed the Athi River to where it joins forces with the Tsavo River, forming the fast moving Galana River.
We stopped several times along the river to admire families of hippos, lazing in the water and groups of waterbuck with their unfortunate toilet seat bum markings (“Hell of a birthmark, Hal!”!).
We saw a few lonesome dik dik, knowing their life partners could not be too far off. We also surprised a bandied mongoose.
At about 4pm we arrived at the campsite, 50 km into the park. Sitting by the river in directors chairs, we croc spotted with our binoculars as we enjoyed cold Tuskers.
In the early evening we were treated to appetizers of mini pizas cooked on a small outside oven. At 8:30 we were led to the dining area where I was somewhat surprised by the setting of 4 knives and 4 forks. Were we expecting 4 courses? Well as it happens – yes! We started with parma ham in a crispy pastry bowl of chutney, followed by ravioli then beef and vegetables and roast potatoes. For the final course the lights went out and the waiters proudly entered with flaming flambé chocolate crepes filled with chocolate mousse. Ruth and Sterling wondered if this special treatment was due to the group of Italian tourists and the presence of the Italian owners, Oscar and Walter. But how did they produce this out here in this bush kitchen?
We headed off to bed in our large tents with ensuite bathrooms, falling asleep to the sounds of grunting hippos. What a great deal. The whole package was bed and breakfast plus this amazing meal for 6500 KSh ($79 AUS), the only extra being our Tusker beers.
We headed back out of the park in the morning, driving parallel to the clear outline of the 270 km long lava flow that is the Yatta Plateau. We also stopped to allow three young elephants to cross the track as they headed to the river.
What an amazing weekend! Enjoy the rest of the pics………. and below a little video of precious moments from my vantage point atop the Landie.
And here is a little video footage from my vantage point….