The 6 o’clock alarm wakes us, and I almost turn it straight off and roll over back to sleep until I remember – today’s Safari Day! It would have been impossible to come on holiday to Kenya and not go on safari, so after a bit more Trip Advisor surfing and bombarding various recommended safari companies with e-mails, we opted for F King Safaris.
Despite vowing to pack light (never a strong point of the Fletches I note…), Mr Fletche & I, two holdalls and a large camera bag are soon bundled into our Nissan safari bus. We are introduced to Abu – for the next three days he will be our driver, guide, animal-spotter, wildlife expert, protector and best friend.
It’s a long drive to Tsavo East, through the heaving traffic of Mombasa. Desperate for a toilet break and to stretch our legs, we make a stop at a ‘Curio Shop’ where Abu promptly disappears for tea with his driver friends leaving us to the souvenir shop equivalent of an African safari… except we – white, gullible English tourists – are the prey, and the ‘shop assistants’ are the lions, ready to pounce on the weak and vulnerable. One toilet break, one wander around the curio shop (“Looky, looky, it doesn’t cost…”) and one embarrassingly high credit card bill spent on Kenyan tat later, we’re back on the bus… We’re quite looking forward now to getting to East Tsavo and being surrounded by less predatory creatures…
Into East Tsavo… it’s not long before we spot our first giraffe! This was soon followed by elephants, zebras, elephants, antelopes, elephants, gazelles, elephants, elephants, elephants…. There was also a brief sighting of a lioness snoozing under a bush. Oh, and more elephants… It’s all very exciting, but out tummies are rumbling and we’re in need of a nice cool drink… Put those elephants on hold for a while, it’s time to check in at our first lodge.
Ashnil Aruba is located on the edge of the Aruba Dam, which is a popular watering hole for waterbuck, giraffes, zebra and of course the ever-present elephants. Lunch – and beer – is a welcome event and we chill in our room before the afternoon game drive.
As we sit and enjoy an afternoon coffee on the terrace, there is a flurry of excitement around the lodge. Before we know it, Abu has appeared like a genie from a bottle – binoculars in hand – and drags us down to the Lodge’s boundary by the pool. Two cheetahs have been spotted just behind the lodge. They are darting in and out of the long grass before disappearing. Turns out it won’t be the last we see of them…
On our afternoon game drive we tick off No 4 of the Big Five – buffalo. Of course there were also elephants (other animals made an appearance too…). Officially it is the leopard that forms one of the Big Five, but we considered cheetahs to be closely enough related to count instead. Just the rhino to go now for a Big Five Full House…
There’s a lot of excited chatter on the radio and suddenly Abu is putting his foot down and driving at speeds that would put Lewis Hamilton to shame. On a very bumpy road. All that advice about wearing a good supportive bra was very sensible. The reason for all the excitement? There are more lions! A brother and sister to be precise; Abu makes sure we are in prime position for the best photo opportunity.
The excitement isn’t over… more chatter, more pedal to the metal driving, to…. Our Lodge? No, just past the entrance are our friendly neighbourhood cheetahs. Except this time they don’t look quite so friendly… they’re on the hunt. In the distance, a group of gazelles are grazing happily, like they don’t have a care in the world… And then the cheetahs spring off on a run that I can barely catch with my binoculars. I manage to track the last gazelle in a fast receding pack… the cheetah’s gaining ground. It leaps, all stretched-out elegance and beauty. The dust kicks up, obscuring my view for a second. Who won? Does the cheetah have a good tasty gazelle meal tonight, or does the gazelle live to tell the tale?
It was a close run thing but the cheetah is slinking back towards the small gathering of Nissan minibuses empty handed. It slinks past between the traffic, embarrassed that it had the chance to put on a real-life wildlife show for us… and failed miserably. It’s a breathtaking moment to end the day’s adventure on. Dinnertime, a few drinks on the terrace, then off to bed for us intrepid travellers!
Safari Day 2 – Circle of life
This morning’s alarm makes yesterday’s seem like a lie-in. Who knew there was two 5:30s in the day? Still, it’s a tasty breakfast and then back in the minibus for the first game drive of the day, and then out on our journey ‘across the road’ to Tsavo West. We wave goodbye to our friendly neighbourhood cheetahs, zebras, and lot’s more elephants. There’s a flock of large birds up ahead, and just a second too late we realise what they are. Vultures. And where there are vultures, there’s….
Mr Fletche: “You might want to look away… there’s a dead giraffe ahead…”
Look away? Are you kidding? It’s like a car crash – or a really really bad movie – you know you don’t want to watch but you feel compelled. The giraffe – taken down by a pack of lions a couple of days previously – is almost hollowed out, with vultures poking out of its stomach. It’s both disgusting and fascinating all at once…
The giraffe carcass was the finale to Tsavo East as we exit back onto the main road. It gives a sense of how big these parks are when they are ‘across the road’ from each other but it still takes an hour to drive North from our Tsavo East exit gate to the Tsavo West entrance. There’s another curio shop en route, but this time we stay strong and do not even enter…. We haggled yesterday, we wasn’t very good at it, we’re not doing it again! We stop to hear the story of the ‘man-eating lions’ of Tsavo… the lions were in protest at the railroad being built so attacked the workers. According to Abu, if you’re ever faced with a lion, you should stand up still and straight… if you bend over they will think you’re an animal and will go for your face or your backside! Wise words Abu, wise words…
The locals gather around our minibus as we wait to enter Tsavo West, almost climbing through the windows to show us their fantastic hand-carved animals. I have taught the soft-hearted Mr Fletche well and he repeats “No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you” over and over again liked a scratched record.
We notice the difference in two parks straight away – whereas Tsavo East is miles and miles of scrubland and plains, where you could see the horizon in every direction, Tsavo West is bushland – making the animals much harder to spot. Even the elephants are in hiding! Luckily, we’re going to just the place where you don’t go and see the animals – they come and see you. (If that isn’t the Kilaguni Serena’s advertising line, then it should be…)
We check in to Kilaguni Serena and are seriously impressed by this place. And honestly, they could have made us sleep in a broom cupboard, or on a bed of nails but NOTHING would have stopped ‘that’ view being the highlight of the safari. We eat our lunch watching animals visiting the watering hole – giraffes, warthogs, baboons, elephants (of course), zebras, ostriches and buffalo. And the beauty is that our room is situated just a couple of doors down from the restaurant so we have that same magnificent view from our terrace. There are no fences either… just a sign that says ‘Do not go beyond this point’… Is that for the humans or the animals? (Clearly not the animals when I am faced with a stampede of baboons heading onto the roof of our lodge… I’m on the phone to my Mum back in England at the time who could have probably heard me scream without the aid of the telephone…)
At 4pm, after spending an hour or two gazing at this incredible real-life wildlife programme spread out before us, we head out to meet Abu, who is taking us to Mzimba Springs. This is a 1km walk accompanied by a rifle-toting ranger; we see monkeys, lots of hippos and a log in the water that may or may not be a crocodile. On the way back to the lodge, there are fantastic sunset views of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Dinner is a la carte, and after dinner, we adjourn to the terrace where a friendly security guard gives us an impromptu but highly informative wildlife talk while we nurse our after dinner drinks. As tempting as it is to sit up all night and watch the frequent visitors to the watering hole, it’s another early start and a long day ahead of us tomorrow, so we retire with images of wild animals dancing in our heads…