By Bert Duplessis
With Edwin Selempo at the wheel, it was not too long a drive at all from Ol Donyo to Amboseli. For anyone spending 3 nights at Ol Donyo, I would certainly recommend doing a full day excursion to Amboseli National Park, unless the reserve is on your itinerary as well.
Within minutes of driving into the park, we were looking at upwards of 60 elephants happily feeding and cavorting in the massive Amboseli swamp, some of them practically totally submerged in the abundant water.
Any Kenya trip should include a stay in the Maasai Mara. Samburu is a close second and Lake Nakuru would be my choice for the third most productive area. If anyone had the time and budget to add a fourth Kenya destination, it would have to be Amboseli.
ELEPHANTS AT AMBOSELI
The reserve might even be higher on the list for people who are fond of elephants. There are few – if any – places in Africa where elephants are as central to the experience as at Amboseli. They are almost everywhere to be seen, and seen as well as one could ever wish for. Sometimes semi-submerged in a swamp, they are beautifully offset by a flat, green expanse. In the late afternoon they may be captured in great light, making their way back to forested areas for feeding.
And everywhere they are as entertaining and engaging as always, almost human-like in their little spats and testing their strength, particularly the younger ones.
It was not all elephants all the time at Amboseli though – we saw a wide range of other plains animals including zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, some buffalo, Coke’s Hartebeest and also hyena, Bat-eared Fox, African wild cat as well as a beautiful serval cat. As at Ol Donyo, the birding at Amboseli was phenomenal. Here, some of the notable species included Collared Pratincole, Taveta Golden Weaver (very localized), Greycrowned Crane, Spurwinged Geese, Saddlebilled Stork, African Spoonbill, Goliath Heron and many other woodland species.
TORTILIS CAMP AT AMBOSELI
My Amboseli accommodations were at Tortilis Camp and then Amboseli Serena. Tortilis would certainly be my first choice due to its much smaller size, its setting overlooking Mt Kilimanjaro (when visible) and its access to a private concession area for game drives, not open to the many other vehicles which sometimes turn Amboseli into a very busy, very dusty place. The tents at Tortilis are not fancy but very functional with a small bathroom and shower, and a really excellent dining room and lounge area, with a pretty garden and nice views over the valley, even when Kilimanjaro is shy to show itself.
The Amboseli Serena was quite a pleasant place to stay as well, even though it is bigger than most properties we prefer. I have always found the Serena Lodges to be superbly managed, and this one was no exception. The friendly and efficient check-in set the tone. The room was compact but well-equipped with a king size bed, a bathroom with shower and a spacious corner desk/working area. More importantly the hotel had working WIFI – and relatively fast – in all the rooms.
Lunch at the Serena was fun with a huge variety of choices including several Indian-inspired dishes, rice, breads, sambals, salads and a dizzying variety of more conventional fare. Breakfast the next morning was even more impressive. Brioche, fruitcake, banana bread, Russian stolen, scones, farmer’s bread, muffins, croissants, several kinds of sliced bread for toast, 16 hot breakfast items, including 2 kinds of beans (baked and masala), plus of course bacon, sausage (pork and beef), cold meats, cheeses, 6 different fresh fruits, juices, cereals, yoghurt, and eggs or omelets every way you could possibly want them.
On the way back to the Amboseli airstrip for the flight to Wilson, I popped into Ol Tukai Lodge for a quick walk-about. It looked like a perfectly fine place and with a good location in Amboseli too. Definitely worth keeping in mind, if the price is right.
LAST WORDS ABOUT AMBOSELI
Amboseli is a 2-night destination at best, in my opinion. You could fly in or even drive in early out of Nairobi, and then fly out to Samburu or connect to or from Tanzania with a road transfer to the Namanga Border Post.
Amboseli is very, very dusty so bring adequate protection gear for your camera equipment. There is no off-road driving allowed but that is not a big impediment as elephants and most other wildlife can easily be seen from the existing – very good – road network.
The park attracts a lot of visitors as there are many camps – some of which such as Serena (60 rooms) and Ol Tukai (80 rooms) are quite large. Many visitors also come from the nearby Kenya coastal resorts. So don’t expect to be on your own, particularly in the dry season from about May through September, and also February – warm but a very good month to be there.
THE MAASAI MARA
On June 14 at just after 10:00A I was on my way back to the Mara after a quick and efficient turn-around at Wilson Airport. Ol Kiombo Airport was at the same spot as the last time, not far from Mara Intrepids and just a few kilometers from the edge of the Masai Mara National Park. After a splendid lunch with Lorna and Kim – and Richard – we set out on a game drive in the Olare Orok Conservancy. In a matter of less than 2 hours, we notched up no less than 17 mammals species, including wildebeest, zebra, impala, buffalo, warthog, giraffe, eland, dikdik, topi, Thompson’s Gazelle, lions, scrub hare, Grant’s Gazelle, banded mongoose, hippo, waterbuck and elephant. The next day we added cheetah, baboon, hartebeest and a several more species.
LIONS AT MARA TOTO
We watched the interaction between some lions (brothers and sisters, the latter now with pups and not at all impressed with the interest shown by their brothers). As the darkness descended, we hoped for the best for the many cubs of various ages and made our way back to camp.
The next morning we set off early for the spot where we had seen the lions the previous night, with packed breakfast and plenty of coffee. En route, we saw more buffalo, elephant, giraffe, topi and hyena. And then spent a couple of hours observing the lions (3 females and 9 cubs) eating, dozing, playing, hiding, rolling, drinking and jumping. Sometimes more than one of those at the same time. Very entertaining and very enjoyable. This is what safari is all about. No rush, no pressure – just you and nature and perhaps a camera. With enough time not be starting through the lens the entire time.
CHEETAH IN THE MASAI MARA NATIONAL PARK
That afternoon, James and I went out to find some cheetahs. Which we did – unfortunately not exactly where we wanted to see them. What drew our attention was a congregation of cars – this was inside the Maasai Mara National Park. As we approached, I noticed that there were two cheetahs on top of one of the vehicles. They were calmly surveying the surrounding plains. Not 3 meters from them was a guy in a hoodie, seemingly reading a book. He would occasionally look up the cheetahs to see if they were still there. Or something.
Eventually the cheetahs – first the one and then the other – jumped off the vehicle and walked fairly close to us, from our left to right. They were interested in some Tommies which we could see at the bottom of the hill.
The cheetah never got up to speed on this hunt due to the presence of some pesky Topi, known for their good eyesight. They are known to ruin things for a cheetah on the hunt because of their annoying habit of snorting which alerts everyone near and far to the presence of a predator.
In the end two vehicles from Mara Intrepids got in between the cheetahs and their intended prey and put paid to what slim chance they had of salvaging the hunt. It was not to be. We enjoyed a nice sundowner with two other guests – Mary Ann and Jo Ann – as well as with Lorna and Kim, and returned to camp in a happy mood.
Dinner was quite special with a delightful risotto as the main course. And then – surprise – authentic American S’mores complete with marshmallows, Hershey chocolate and Graham Crackers, toasted over the coals. Not 100% vegan but occassionally when in Rome, you’ve got to make like the Romans.
CHEETAHS ON FATHERS DAY
I started Father’s Day on a high note with the best game drive of the trip with just Edwin and me and the two cheetah females (mother and adult child), for well over an hour. Initially, under less than ideal light conditions, they both climbed atop an anthill to survey the scene. Shortly afterwards they engaged in an extended display of affection. Due to the poor light the photographs were good but not great.
The cheetahs then walked off, passing right in front of us and to the ridge of a nearby hill, well off the main track, close to the National Park boundary. In this spot there was little chance of any other driver finding the cheetahs – and all the more opportunity for us to enjoy their presence in solitude.
The cheetahs eventually sat up in good light, adopted a stalking posture and emerged from behind an anthill, even giving us a nice big fat yawn. Nothing much happened over the next few 20 minutes or so, so we decided to return to camp for breakfast and to finish up packing.
Before long, goodbyes were said and I was on my way with Safarilink to Nairobi, where I was treated to an excellent lunch with the always friendly and elegant Lydia at the restaurant at Wilson Airport.
Then it was off to Lamu in a Caravan with SafariLink – a solid 1 hr 45 minutes at around 165 miles per hour.
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