Ben and Abby’s African Safari adventure!!
Day 1 :
Arrive Mombasa airport at 07:00
Picked up by Pollman’s safari truck, taken to Shimba/Shimbu hills safari lodge. Through some fairly hectic slum like towns which appear to be the norm in Kenya, we weren’t really prepared for that, but when I think about it, what exactly were we expecting?
The lodge is an amazing wooden building in the middle of Shimba hills national park which is a rainforest in the XXXXX of Kenya/Mombasa, resting on a hillside next to what seems to be a man made watering hole. Because of all the poo and footprints we had high hopes of seeing loads of animals all around the watering hole but this wasn’t to be. Instead we saw a fish eagle and two monitor lizards and a turtle – all of which are not impressive when you’re hoping for Elephants and Rhino.
Apparently the Fish Eagle is a “VIP” animal and we were very lucky but it didn’t feel that way at that point!.
Red Squirrel that joined us for lunch is a welcome distraction.
We rest for a couple of hours before going on a game drive into the park – we’re looking for Sable Antelope which are apparently the holy grail of a visit to Shimba Hills. Our driver Ahmed tells us that people come for days and don’t see a Sable Antelope, so our expectations are suitably set.
nce we’re into the park, for the first twenty minutes it’s a bit like that part from Jurassic Park where they don’t see the dinosaurs – things aren’t looking great… Then out of nowhere we spot some baboons! Its not one of the big five, but good to tick off the list!
Next up after only a minute or so more we spot a herd of Sable Antelope – Ahmed insists this is a lucky event, we’re not inclined to disagree. From a distance – it’s pretty hard to see to properly.
Another distant spot is a giraffe – according to Ahmed Giraffe only sleep for 10 minutes a day due to threat of being attacked by lions. A lot of Ahmed’s “facts” seemed a little dubious, but on the other hand I’m going to guarantee he knew a whole crap load more about the animals than we did. Starting with the actual animal names!
On our way back to the lodge, we’re settiling back into the solid iron seats thinking the drive is over, when out of nowhere, a heard of elephants crossed the road ahead of us. It is too dark and is too hard to get any photos, but all of that does not detract from an amazing experience; seeing elephants in the wild for the first time.
Our night in Shimba was relaxing and peaceful, we desperately needed the sleep having been awake for 38 hours.
Day Two – Shimba Hills to Tsavo West
Wake up call at 6am, after a quick breakfast we are on the road by 7. Two straight hours along Africa’s dirt tracks is a bone shaking experience. Whatever padding the seats in the safari truck once had has been crushed into submission by the fat bums of western tourists.
After what seems like a lifetime we arrive at the Mombasa/Nairobi highway and start the three hour drive to Tsavo national park. We stopped after another hour or so for a toilet break and get mugged by an African street seller, bartering clearly not being my strong point. We drive away with a couple of thousand less shillings in our pocket and a couple of hand carved stone elephants.
We reach the gates to Tsavo West and face another hours bone shaking dirt track off road adventure before glimpsing the Ngulia Lodge from across the other side of the valley we are driving around. On the way we spot an elephant and a giraffe, things are looking up already!
Our room in Ngulia overlooks two watering holes and after the disappointment of Shimba Hills, we are hopeful but not expectant of seeing some action.
We sit down for lunch, and are immediately entertained by a troop of Baboons, some kind of African Squirrel and an unknown lizard.
As we explore Nguli Lodge, we marvel at the views and spot a distant elephant heard out on the plain. Back to room for a rest and to see what other delights this Lodge has to offer.
What happened next exceeded even our wildest dreams, we spot a small family group of elephants which we desperately hope are heading our way. They wander over to a small water hole about 500 metres away which we soon realise already has a Hippo in residence. The elephants seem to want to tease us as they wander back the way they have come, and leave us thinking that would be it.
The baboon troop is back, although we only have eyes for the elephants. Movement – and its in our direction!! The elephants are finally coming to drink at the Nguli watering hole. The large matriarch, 3 smaller elephants and a baby are less than 50 metres away from us, and we cannot believe it! They stay and drink for 10 mins before Nguli Lodge throws up its next surprise.
To give a sense of just how amazing the Nguli Lodge really was – this was taken from the balcony with a more conventional camera lens – this is effectively what it was like to look with your eyes rather than a massive telephoto lens.
A herd of water buffallo approaches. The elephants and the bufallo have a stand off that looks like it might escalate, before the elephants decide that they’ve had enough to drink for today, and leave the buffalo to enjoy a drink on their own.
We watch the buffalo for a while, and then before we know it, it’s time to go on the evening safari drive.
Tonight’s target is a black Rhino, one of the most endangered and reclusive animals in the park. Word comes over the radio that a Rhino has been spotted so Ahmed attempts to dislodge our fillings, zooming through the dirt tracks to get us to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. The Rhino here have round the clock armed guards as the Kenyans fight to protect the Rhino population from extinction.
Immediately on entry to the sanctuary we spot a heard of lesser spotted safari trucks all clustered in the same small area, so something must be occurring! It seems we are to be disappointed, because try as we might we cannot spot the female Rhino and baby, which is apparently lurking a few feet away in the bushes. I’m convinced I can see a quarter of a Rhino’s bum, Abby can’t see it though. I’m crossing Rhino off the big 5 list, even if I only saw 1/32th of a Rhino…
Reluctantly we press on, another call on the radio means we have a date with a leopard in a tree.
This time we are luckier, because the Leopard is on full display, and having a kip in the tree. Even luckier, it wakes up, grooms itself for a bit, then spots dinner in the bushes and heads off in pursuit. Once it’s out of the tree we can’t see anything, but we’re dead pleased to have seen a Leopard at all.
Sadly we don’t encounter any further Rhino, so we’re ready to call the evening’s drive a qualified success.
Another 06:00 start sees us having a quick breakfast before another safari drive. This time it’s a belter! We see zebra, giraffe, another leopard, and more elephants than we can count!
The leopard in particular stands out as a memory. It was digging out a jackal borrow, whilst the jackals watched on barking plaintively.
The leopard just took it’s time, eating all the jackal’s babies, and the then wandered off.
Ahmed tells us he’s never seen anything like this in all the time he’s been doing safari drives – I hadn’t expected to see anything like this myself! We move on, this time on our way to the next stop which is Mzima Springs.
On the way we encounter a few more animals – Zebra, and some Ostrich.
Next up it’s a visit to Mzima Springs, where we get to see some hippo and crocodiles. The hippo aren’t co-operating and spend most of their time underwater – my vision of an amazing photo of a yawning hippo is not to be realised.
Nevertheless the scenery is quite something to take in and enjoy.
Now we head out of the park and catch a few more elephants on the way.
After this it’s another 3 hour drive to Tsavo East.
The lodge here sits on the top of a hill – and is another impressive location. We eat lunch then sit in the bar drinking coffee and enjoying the incredible view.
The views at Tsavo East really are the best yet.
Tsavo East is our last park – and our last chance to see Lions. We set out on the evening safari drive with our eyes peeled – and not long later spot a pair of lions! They’re mating, and not doing much interesting, but it’s a great start to the evening.
Just moments later we spot two lioness’ feeding on a water buffalo they have just killed. They’re too far away for even my monster lens to get anything decent, but it’s still something to see lions feeding. The rest of the evning drive is fairly bland, but we’ve seen some exciting things today.
We head back to the lodge, and for our final night before going to the hotel.
Tsavo East to Watamu (and our hotel).
Yet another 06:00 start, which we certainly don’t feel we will miss. After breakfast it’s our final safari drive before heading to the hotel. We feel as though we’ve been lucky and seen some amazing things, so anything that happens today is a bonus. By the end we’re almost immune to the sight of elephants – almost, but not quite.
We cross a bridge, round a corner, and are faced with a whole pride of lions, all relaxing in the sun. This is a fantastic moment for us.
On the way out of the park we see many more elephants – we stopped for this which initially looked like it might be some sort of elephant fight, but turned out to be just two elephants standing together.
So that’s it for our safari, but we’ve got one more treat in store – a trip to a Masai village. We stop, and pay our respects (and 1,000 shillings each) to the tribal chief. They give us a tour of the village – and again we’re struck by the poverty, but also the pride that the people clearly have.
We get to see many traditional Masai activities, including some dancing.
Not so traditional when I get dragged up to dance with them – no photos of that, I look like a moron.
An encounter with this little chap wraps up our Masai experience and we’re back in the truck for about 4 more hours of toil on Kenya’s roads.
When we arrive at the hotel, we can see we’ve made a good choice. The view from the bar is pretty good:
And the pool isn’t bad either. Our home for the next 10 days – lovely.