Emily and Lee’s Kenya Safari

I love starting trips on weekends. The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a traffic jam. Emily and Lee conveniently started their trip to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, meeting up very early at Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen. It was a reasonably normal trip, therefore, to Amboseli. The only potential for disaster arose when I firmly stuck my foot 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 fundraiser for an NGO.

But his mood remained intact, even after the 22 kilometers of undulating road on the last stretch to the park (it’s nothing compared to the road to the Maasai Mara, but without that as a comparison, 22 kilometers can be tiring too).

Our arrival at Kibo Camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me. First Charles, the supervisor, flashed a big welcoming smile as he saw us get out of the van. Francis had only been there a few days before, but he was pleasantly surprised to be remembered after several months.

We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent. The tents are paved with stone and covered with cowhide rugs. The four-poster bed in the center of the room is surrounded by a mosquito net that is set up during the nightly turndown service while we dine. At the back of the tent 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 lunch time

When Francis and I entered the dining room, our old friend Gona was setting the table. When she turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long lost friend. “Mama and Papa Overland” she yelled and shook both of our hands vigorously. Nothing is too much trouble for Gona – as he says “my name is Gona and I am gonna serve you.” Gona had christened us Mom and Dad Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013. The name tickled us silently and we were glad it stuck.

Safari in Amboseli

Emily and Lee went on 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 lots of elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.

Stepping out of our tents at dawn the next morning, we were greeted by a picture-perfect view of a bare Kilimanjaro. Usually covered in clouds during the day, early morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views. Francis 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 even heard of, including the secretary bird. We all laugh at Francis’ imitation of the Secretary Bird as he hunts. Amboseli National Park comprises a large swamp in the middle of a massive arid area and therefore attracts many water birds including water rails, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers and plovers.

After breakfast, we say goodbye to the amazing staff and head back to Mombasa Road. The highway between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is a single lane in each direction, with some trucks hurtling along at hair-raising speeds, while others barely make it over the gentler grades. It seems that the side mirrors are an unnecessary accessory and are rarely used. It’s not my favorite road to travel, so I like to turn around to talk to the people behind or pretend to be sleeping, anything so I don’t look at my impending doom over and over again! However, Francis is masterful, handling the craziness 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 when Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge turned up. A herd of elephants was making its way through the stilts of the lodge as they made their way to the watering hole. I had tried to describe what the watering hole in the reception area is like, but it’s hard to understand that the elephants can be only a few meters away when you check in, until you get there!

Once you’re there, it’s even harder to tear yourself away from the incredible proximity you have with these beautiful creatures. However, after enjoying the sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning, we felt it was a fitting ending to a drink watching the sun go down over the mountain. The only problem was that we were distracted by a pair of lionesses feasting on a zebra in our path. By the time 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 hours of romance we get in Melbourne! But Lion’s Bluff still has one of the best balcony bars in Africa, so we treated ourselves to a glass of wine anyway.

There is a rock outcrop at 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, searching for the leopard with no luck. On each subsequent visit I search desperately for that outcrop for the leopard. I look between the branches of the trees and in the cracks and crevices of the rocks, always suspecting that the leopard will be in the hardest place to see and raring to be the first clever cat to find it.

So on the third day of the safari he saw us on a morning game drive near this outcrop and I desperately craned my head to find the elusive leopard. As I searched carefully for the branches of a particularly large dachshund tree (a leopard’s favourite), everyone began to talk about something more remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed to be trapped under the same tree. if I had In fact Did you miss that? He was perched somewhat dimly on a ledge and munching on the leaves of the sausage tree. As he stepped back, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of how thick his skin must be. After watching him for some time and making sure he wasn’t really stuck, we continued our Leopard Rock circuit.

I looked in all the hides again when, a minute later, Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said, “Leopard!” And there, resting in plain sight in a Pride Rock style arrangement, was a leopard! Lucky! And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting. However, after several minutes another van pulled up, but too fast and too loud. The leopard sprang lightly from its rock hall and disappeared into the grass. (Note: Suggest your driver-guides drive slowly in the parks, especially when approaching another vehicle that is obviously looking at something, so they don’t miss out on exciting sightings.)

Regardless, we were happy with our sighting and headed back to the lodge for breakfast. This morning the zebras were having their turn at the watering hole, but not before having a little chase with the elephants.

the kenya coast

Then it was time to drive to Mombasa. To avoid driving through the city center, we made a detour at Mariakani and drove through rolling green hills. It turned into a rough road but the scenery was pretty beautiful (apart from the large garbage dump in one part). We finally made it to Nyali, where Francis and I found 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 can’t wait to welcome them back in 8-10 years when they bring their little girl on safari!

For us, we found a campsite and sat down over a cold Tusker and chatted about how long we were going to enjoy our beach vacation. The silver lining to the decline in tourism in Kenya is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari… how lucky were we?!!

After a leisurely morning, we head 11 kilometers 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 the merchants who sailed.

In the morning before leaving for Nairobi, we visit the Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Center. Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a handicraft workshop that employs people with disabilities. They design and produce jewelry, bags, clothing, wood carvings, and many other crafts. It’s a fantastic project that employs about 100 people (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis). Accommodation is provided for staff if they wish and there is a school and nursery for their children. Well worth a visit if you are staying on the North Shore.