Amboseli (Part 1 of 3 Safari Adventures with Sunworld)
Americans used to mostly get their notions of safari from the movies – big game hunting with Teddy Roosevelt or John Wayne glowering back at a charging rhino in
Daktari. Thank goodness game hunting is illegal now throughout most of Africa. Safari as a vacation of discovery is the best and most wonderful way to see beautiful wild creatures in their natural habitat – some of them unfortunately in dwindling numbers, but there are still areas of great abundance.
And it also opened up for us the emerging world of eco-tourism.
Although you can experience safari in several African countries, we decided to go to Kenya thanks in part to fellow elephant advocate Siggi Hosenfeld of Kenya Travel Ideas (www.kenyatravelideas.com). She advised us that Kenya has some of the best safaris, landscape and people - especially elephants! It is also the best place to see the great wildebeest migration, the largest migration of animals anywhere on earth.
Arriving in Kenya for the first time can be daunting. We didn’t know what to expect of the people or the accommodations. We were thrilled to be met at Nairobi airport by Leonard and Raphael, friendly representatives from Sunworld Safaris. They ushered us into our first experience with the famous Kenyan hospitality. Raphael would be our personal guide throughout our nine-day safari, introducing us to the wonders of the land.
They took us from the airport to our first night’s stay, which they had booked at the beautiful Nairobi Safari Club Lillian Towers hotel. Our hosts greeted us in the lobby with fresh native juices – orange, mango and passion fruit. Mmmm. When we got to our room we couldn’t believe the spaciousness and classiness of the suite, with every amenity. It was a great antidote to the long plane ride and enabled us to sleep comfortably and soundly in preparation for the beginning of our excursion early the next morning.
After a lush breakfast buffet, Raphael awaited us in a sturdy 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser with an adjustable top, which can be lifted to permit standing up for wildlife viewing. We learned that Raphael has been a safari guide for many years, and he knows the land and the animals very well. He was full of information and, even more important, he was savvy about discovering hard-to-find wildlife for our viewing. He was careful to follow park regulations and knew how to respect the animals’ privacy and territory. We learned that all the safari guides at Sunworld go through intensive training with the Kenya Wildlife Service (www.kws.org) and have earned at least bronze and silver status as wildlife experts.
Roads are bumpy, filled with exhaust-spewing commercial trucks leaving Nairobi. As we left the city and made our way to the famous Amboseli National Park, we traveled a great distance on dusty dirt roads. Lucky that we were in such a nice vehicle with a good driver, although at times we had to close the windows to avoid breathing in dust.
Hopefully the Kenyan roads will be improved in the near future. There was an important national event that took place while we were on safari: A new constitution was signed by the president, after many years of hard work by the reform movement. August 27 is the new constitution day holiday for Kenyans. Now the resources and power of the government ought to be spread more democratically throughout the country. Everyone we met was rejoicing over this victory and had high expectations for the future. In Nairobi on that day, there were parades, 21-gun salutes and huge, cheering crowds.
We finally made it to Amboseli in time for a late lunch. The park is framed by snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately there was a haze and we couldn’t quite see the peak. Sunworld put us up at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge. Again, we were taken aback by the high style and class of our lodgings. The main area and its cottages were designed so that every detail was artistic and reflected an African motif.
Everything from the chandelier made of hanging gourds to the curved shapes of the buildings was a wonder to behold, topped only by the unbelievable service and friendliness of the huge staff, and the superb food. We were amazed that the buffets were so extensive, filling two rooms, and with every imaginable choice. We learned that Kenya has a sizeable Indian population, and there were always many choices of Indian food included. That Indian cuisine tasted better than any we had had at home in Los Angeles. I was worried before coming that I wouldn’t find enough vegetarian food, but there were always ample choices of vegetables and fruit, as well as meat and fish. Truly it was the best overall dining experience ever, and every one of our six meals at the Serena proved to be just as outstanding. We joked, "Come for the elephants, stay for the food."
We were also happy to learn of the conservation programs practiced at the lodge. Serena has a program to educate neighboring villagers not to kill the lions that steal cattle, sheep and goats from the homesteads. Today the government will compensate the farmers for lost domestic animals to prevent them from killing protected wildlife. The lion population is down 30% in Amboseli, and the wildlife service is working with organizations like Born Free to try to restore previous numbers.
"Amboseli is a paradise for elephants," Raphael told us. Indeed, we came upon huge herds of the magnificent animals, as many as 50 traveling together. Amboseli is rather dry and not full of tall brush, which makes it easy to find and watch a lot of wild animals. Also, we were told, the snow from Mt. Kilimanjaro melts underneath the volcanic soil and surfaces as pools of water throughout the fields, where the animals can drink and play. We saw quite a few research groups in the field, as well. The famous Cynthia Moss has been headquartered there, as well as our friend, Dr. Joyce Poole, who has been doing elephant research for 30 years. On her website, Elephant Voices (www.elephantvoices.org), you can listen to sounds she has taped and labeled of the elephants’ communication with one another.
We also saw many minibuses packed with tourists braving the bumpy roads. We were grateful to be in a new 4x4 with our own escort, as is the way of Sunworld. They will book you with however many are in your party from one on up, and rarely with strangers. They work with you to design a safari that is completely to your liking, going anywhere at all in the country.
While in Amboseli we saw not only elephants, but also hyenas as they were feasting on a fresh kill. As they are mostly scavengers, dead buffalo, must have been killed and partially eaten by a lion, leopard or cheetah. After the predator finishes, the hyenas move in, followed by vultures and Marabou storks, which were waiting their turn. We saw hundreds of gazelles, antelope, lions, buffalo, rhinoceros, giraffe, zebras and much more. One early morning, we even saw a couple of elephants grazing close to our patio at the lodge.
From the hotel, we went on a nature walk with a naturalist, along with the protective guard of a local Maasai tribesman. After three days and two nights of viewing and dining, we headed out of the park towards our next adventures with Raphael. In Part 2
of our three-part series on Sunworld Safaris, we cover our trip to see the flamingos and rhinos of
Lake Nakuru, by way of
Lake Naivasha, where – no joke – we had a close encounter with a truly fearsome beast. Click
here to continue the story.
And in our third article
, we venture into the expanse of the great
Maasai Mara, where we stay in a bush-camp tent, just a few feet from a river populated by hippos and crocodiles. Please click here to see that one.
Photos by Georja Umano
Sunworld Safaris, Ltd.
Off Riverside Drive
On Riverside Lane
P.O. Box 390094
00623 Nairobi, Kenya
Ph +254 020 444 5669 / 444 580 / 444 5673 / 444 5850
Mobile 0722-525400 / 0733-614055
Fax +254 020 444 5673
email [email protected] / [email protected]
Mara Bush Camp http://www.marabushcamp.com/en