Kenya Part 1: Hunting Elephants on Oz Day

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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What I did
Mt Kilimanjaro, elephants, lots else

Flag of Kenya  ,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

I type this while sitting at the lodge bar with not a single soul around me looking out at Zebra, Baboon, Gazelle, Ostrich and dust devils across the Kenyan plains. There is of course the reason I came here too, but she (Mt Kilimanjaro) is doing what she does best and hiding behind a blanket of haze and white puffy clouds. I'm drinking the local beer (Tusker) and just ate a delicious lasagne with stuffed zucchini. No idea what is happening in the world right now because of a complete lack of telecommunications or newspaper/tv. Blissful ignorance in a setting that is tough to beat.

My journey here was quite straight forward. The usual bus trip from site, a bit of work at the guesthouse in Accra, and then transfer to airport at 6 for an 850pm departure to Nairobi. I even had my work performance review with my manager before departing on the flight! Not the ideal time to do it, but it went well. My Gold Status with Emirates is still yet to come thru, so I sat out at the tacky Accra airport bar waiting for boarding. Loving my new phone for these moments, especially cause the internet is sonic speed in Accra compared to many apps to download! I got my window seat on Kenya Air, all snuggled in ready for the 5 hr flight (and therefore the 5 hr potential sleep time – all that I will get for the next 24 hrs), when a tap on my shoulder from the stewardess "did u order a diabetic meal Sir?". Darn. Just when I decided to skip the meal to focus on sleep, I remembered that when I booked, I asked for a  diabetic meal cause of my new-found strategy to do that so u get your meal quick and before everyone else (I am not diabetic). So, the meal was great – better than majority of what I’ve eaten for the last 6 wks; the food at site has turned ridiculously bad since Christmas. I then dozed for the next few hrs. The flight got in 45 mins early cause of early departure and I guess better flight time; rare thing indeed and the shortest flight I’ve had in many many trips. $50 later I had a Kenyan visa (watching Obama give State of Union address while waiting in queue...I can’t seem to escape USAmericans...oh and they don’t say queue, so of course it is my new fav word to use around them) and my bag was right there when I came down the escalator and within seconds I saw my name on a big white sign and was whisked away by my escort or whatever u would call him. He gave me a wide brim hat, bag of goodies, and a bottle of champagne. At 540am, the champagne was tempting but better saved for later.

The dude/escort drove me across to the domestic airport all while telling me quick facts about Kenya and Nairobi and himself. Well developed city by the look of it. My next flight to the lodge was not at the main terminal, but Air Kenya which has its terminal off the side similar to the FIFO aviation companies in Perth. Really simple check-in, casual and relaxed. My dude/escort waited with me until boarding, bought me a croissant and tea, dribbled some more facts, and then left me to it. The aircraft was small but very comfortable and new. Maybe it was the early morning, but I was not nervous at all during take-off. I could see all the pilot controls, feel every bump, but too fascinated by the views during the 45 min trip to be worried about crashing. Glimpsed my first sights of Kilimanjaro above the low cloud before descending into Amboseli National Park and landing at the bitumen airstrip – simple, but authentically African. Even saw elephants just metres from the runway watching the plane come in. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Africa. Real Africa. Ghana to me is not real Africa, so coming to Kenya immediately brought back memories of my first overseas trip in 2006 to Botswana/Victoria Falls. My favourite trip so far (probably cause it was my first). This Park tho is different: dry, brown, flat and sparse. The flattest terrain I have ever witnessed. Lion King country. And with Kilimanjaro’s snow capped peak looking down across the entire panorama, it was beyond spectacular.  I have had the song 'Africa’ by Toto stuck in my head now for days! I love that song.

Joel, my full time dedicated guide, collected me at the airport. He went off to pay park fees and I stood there by myself...wondering if I should be on guard for a lion. Joel then informed me that we would start safari straight away. A part of me sunk as I just wanted to get to the lodge, unpack, shower and relax. But, that thought faded once we were off in the open land cruiser in the hunt for elephants. Amboseli is famous for its abundant elephant population and renowned research project that takes place here. Within minutes I’d seen elephants, zebra, ostrich & wildebeest (1st time I’ve seen them), gazelles, hippo, and many colourful birds. Then a tea break at Observation Hill where I was in sensory overload at the beauty of the park and its majestic setting. The photos hopefully tell the story (I took many and this is just a selection to ‘feel the moment’ with me). Funny thing was that I have mobile phone reception in all of this isolation! And several networks to roam from – can u imagine that in Australia?! And people say Africa is 3rd world when we can’t even get reception in a lot of rural places.

Lunch at the lodge was much better than I expected. Delicious soups, salads, buffet, desserts. Very friendly staff too and unbeatable views of Kilimanjaro. There are only 6 people staying at the moment (out of a possible 42). The manager said the lodge normally maintains 80% occupancy, but because of the terror threat and security risk in Kenya, everyone has been scared off. Good for me! I was never scared of being in southern Kenya (the risk is in the north and Nairobi), and if u live in fear, you’ll never live. My first views of my room were just as I imagined and more. As close to camping as I ever want to get! The only annoying thing about the lodge is that the accommodation is all down in the valley and you have to walk up a hill to main area – in the 35C heat it makes for a very hot walk, lucky I like the heat. I had a nanna nap after lunch before a 4pm afternoon safari where we saw a bull elephant with the biggest tusks, even the guide was amazed and taking his own photos! One tusk almost touched the ground! After watching the sunset, we returned to the lodge about 7pm (dinner starts at 8pm) and I was impressed at having an exclusive one-on-one safari day. The sunsets here are beyond compare. Every sunset has been better than the previous.

I slept like a log this first night following a very full 24 hrs. If there were people in the neighbouring tents they would no doubt have heard me snoring my box off! I woke up to Australia Day in Kenya with a wake-up call at 830am. Wake up call consists of a member of staff standing outside the tent gently saying good-morning and leaving your choice of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate on the outdoor setting. I wish I could be woken like this everyday in ‘real’ life. A cooked breakfast and then a morning safari to see a freshly new-born wildebeest calf stagger to its feet and a massive herd of giraffe heading to the water for a drink. Watching them spread their front legs and bend down to lap at the water looks truly awkward for this animal. But apparently rare to witness; especially when a hyena wanders passed on territory border patrol.

I was joined on the afternoon safari drive by the newly arrived solo traveller from Czechoslovakia. She’s lived in LA for the past 20 yrs with her husband. He hates being away from his work longer than 3 days so she has come for an African safari experience on her own for 6 weeks. Her 9th safari trip to Africa and she’s clearly in love with the place. Good to share my safari drives with someone so passionate and plenty of stories to tell. She’s lugging this huge camera around – the lens is half a metre long! To celebrate Australia Day, I opened the bottle of champagne given to me on Kenyan arrival. No one else liked champagne so I drank the whole bottle myself like only a true Aussie would.  I had to explain what Australia Day was to the others, so it didn’t have any real feeling. Aust Day is my fav holiday, but this one was unlike any other but one I will always recall where I was for Aussie Day 2012. I haven’t even checked Triple J Hot 100 winner or who got Australian of the Year. World War 3 could’ve started and I wouldn’t even know here in this isolation. A nice feeling actually.

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Amy C on

Wow Ross... This has been my favourite blog entry of yours to read so far! My jaw was dropped almost the entire way through reading it. It sounds amazing! I wish I was there with you!
And I know exactly what you mean about Americans and queues! haha

travellingross on

Glad u liked it so much! I reckon u would've loved every minute. Just wait til u see part two ;-)

Jesse on

I'm in Elko in the snow and loving your photos; once in a lifetime experience.

travellingross on

Could be more than once in a lifetime for me! I'm pleased to hear from u, i've been wondering lots about what's happening. I'll arrange to call u when i'm back at site. I want to know everything.

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