This quarantine downtime is finally giving me some time to add some entry to this otherwise inactive blog. It’s getting a little bit crazy out there so I need a little bit of distraction. Before the whole COVID-19 explosion, I managed to catch a trip to Kenya for a friend’s wedding. We were lucky that the wedding was scheduled early in February, otherwise, all the months of saving and planning would have gone to smoke. And well, while locked up, I have to painfully admit that this would probably be my last travel until this viral plague subsides. But let’s try to forget this somber mood for a second if we can.
After the wedding festivities, we managed to take a safari trip to Tsavo West and Amboseli National Parks where we spent a couple of nights in probably the most extraordinary tent accommodations. It takes about six hours to get there from Nairobi through occasionally bumpy roads but it was worth it. I’ve been to many zoos in my life, so the animals we saw were not too foreign. To see them, though, in herds and freely roaming around hectares of grassland is a different level of spectacular. They definitely look healthier and more vibrant compared to when you see them in constrained cages.
It’s not a walk in the park though to spot them. First of all, we have to ride these open-top safari vans on rough dirt roads, just stopping from time to time when the guide feels like the coast is safe for picture-taking. Half of our photos are probably trash but anyway, even if they’re not askew, they cannot really capture the fun and excitement our naive selves experienced in dirt and sand-smothered faces. Big animals like giraffes and elephants are kind of easy to find because they tower over anything (and in Amboseli, there’s like a gazillion of them) but the felines are super difficult to spot. Zebras and impalas are also almost in every 300 meters so even though at first we were a lot in awe seeing scores of them, eventually, we gradually ignored them and yearned for more unique species. They had already taken a big portion of the camera’s memory space.
Clockwise: A zeal of zebras having breakfast; a kori bustard, arguably the largest species of flying birds; and a confusion of wildebeests giving us the death stare.
There were also a few warthogs, a gang of buffalos, a couple of ostriches, and plenty of eagles and bird species scattered around but were extremely difficult to photograph in a moving vehicle. Sometimes, jackals are wandering about, some monkeys, lemurs, meerkats, and crocodiles. At night, bloats of hippopotamuses would congregate in one area of the park – which is quite amazing to witness since, during the day, they just hide quite isolated from each other in the cool swamps. Tsavo West had plenty of these seemingly gentle but actually quite dangerous beasts. In fact, we actually stayed in a lodge where the hippos are freely roaming around squealing at night and we did have a huge warning from the staff to not roam the grounds unescorted, for obvious reasons. We still managed to sleep uninterrupted though as we were so beat up from the trip.
Tsavo West also offered a night safari tour, which of course, we grabbed without skipping a beat. Some animals are nocturnal so we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some of them. Armed with a huge flashlight, our guide probed the vicinity left and right as we try to search for glowing animal eyes while painstakingly holding on to the rails of the van trying not to fall, with a camera clutched on one hand. It’s really taxing but once you see the animals, you tend to forget the pain. We saw cackles of curious hyenas rush along (indeed, this is a good way to also review your collective nouns; I had to google them of course) in addition to the usual finds. Apparently, some animals can’t sleep because they should be alert, otherwise, they will be a predator’s next meal. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see a pride of lions. We did see a lioness but six vans crowded its spot which overwhelmed it, forcing it to hide quickly in the bush. Luckily it did not go amok from the disturbance. Seems like the entire cast of The Lion King was there really. I couldn’t help but recall the tunes of Timon and Pumba over my head every time we see a character. I actually wanted to have a more educated approach to this but I can’t help it. It really awakens the child in you.
But ultimately, why we chose Amboseli for our limited time in Kenya was actually because it was close to the Kilimanjaro. In this park, the mountain is always in your frame when you look at the entire grassland. Most of the time during the day, its peak shies away behind the clouds but close to dusk and dawn, the sky clears up, boldly exposing the mountain’s snowcap that towers over the whole of Africa. It was a breathtaking sight. I wished we had enough time to hike the mountain because the weather then was spectacular but yes, another reason to come back.
The park is also home to one of Africa’s well known nomadic tribes – the Maasai people. We passed through one of their tiny villages. I think we went to one which was already tailored for tourists but they still seemed to keep everything a bit authentic. They still don the traditional colorful fabrics and live in these traditional huts made of a mixture of sand and elephant dung, and at the same time, they also showed us their traditional herbs and medicine. We had to also do their welcome dance which is a lot of jumping but yes, it seems kind of enlightening seeing how different cultures thrive in different settings.
It was my first time in East Africa and I am really overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and the kind hearts of the people. It was a fun trip and, as I always say, and this time I really mean it, I’m looking forward to coming back. There’s still a lot to explore in the country and next time, we’d like to take it really slow and hopefully, we will get to witness a parading pride of lions or the famous wildebeest migration. But yes, we have to deal with this virus first and if there’s any reminder from this whole situation, it’s that we all coexist with all the organisms around us so we have to really be wary of our actions as it will definitely trickle down to the very last cell in this planet. So I hope you are staying at home doing the best you can under the circumstances. It will all get better.