Hide and Seek with Kilimanjaro – Amboseli, Kenya

Beach life has got the better of me and I’m afraid I am months behind with the blog.  Here goes to trying to catch up…  As always, Facebook has the most recent extracts of news and photos – http://www.facebook.com/london2cape

4th – 5th August 2013

Best photos are on the Facebook album, aptly named “Amboseli”

Amboseli Kimana Campsite; Woke up nice and early under the slopes of Kili at my basic campsite outside the gates of Amboseli. I unzipped and peered through the tent window up towards the general direction of the mountain but it was still completely clouded over.  All hopes of capturing that incredible image of elephants walking with Kili in the background was completely shattered when I realised that the “cold” season meant that the mountain would be covered in cloud, not just today, not just this week, but for months…

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

The previous evening I had been treated to a surprisingly warm shower and had brushed my teeth in the outdoor basin carved from an old tree stump.  The sounds of African laughter and smell of burning fires from their cooking area had lulled me into a deep sleep.  I felt like I’d slept for a week.

On registration at Kimana Gate, a friendly local guide called Salim started chatting to me.  He’d seen me at Kitani in Tsavo and had driven his clients, a honeymoon couple, from Tsavo to Amboseli with the earlier 10am convoy the day before.  Salim kindly offered to have me tag behind them for the day, he knew the park and was in contact with the other drivers. After slight hesitation and not wanting to put the honeymooners out, I declined initially but his insistence left me with no option but to accept the offer and so I hung behind his cruiser for the morning.  I chowed a bit of dust in return for the favour and generally saw things I might have done anyhow. It was a nice gesture nonetheless.  Amboseli is mostly open and plains stretch as far as the horizon at times, so spotting elephants, zebra, wildebeest and antelope is pretty effortless.

Amboseli, Kenya

After a few hours, we stopped at a lovely lodge called Ol Tukai, for a mid morning break.  The honeymooners, eager to snatch an opportunity to spend a moment without their driver of four days, took off immediately and left me with the Salim. Sitting at the lodge bar, coffee turned into beer (I felt it impolite to let Salim in on the fact that I throw up in my mouth when I drink beer) and he refused to let me buy the round, insisting that he cover the cost.  One beer, going down with hooks, turned into three I started to get slightly uneasy about the fact that the honeymooner’s driver was taking time out of their game drive to have beers with a random traveller.  They seemed fine though and were enjoying time to themselves, but I did have to strongly suggest that we didn’t have a fourth before continuing on with the game drive (at £80 entry fee per day, I was also calculating how much of that I had now spent on sitting in a bar).

Amboseli, Kenya

We pushed on and saw more of the same herding animals in the wide open plains; elephants wading deep in the marshy bog, hippos spilling out of themselves on the grassy banks of the lake and various cranes strutting about the grassy plains.  We stopped for lunch at Observation Hill, a fantastic vantage point and from which one can see most of Amboseli.  Once again, the honeymooners shot off to be with each other and I was left chatting to my new friend Salim.  Conversation had soon run it’s course and turned to asking me if I wanted to come to have dinner at the lodge his clients were staying at, and that the manager was a nice guy and would let me camp no problem.  I protested a bit but my campsite was pretty basic and the thought of possibly spending the night at a nice lodge with a campsite was extremely appealing.  A little concerned that I hadn’t made any plans with the lodge manager himself, I didn’t want to commit entirely.

The end of the day was spent racing around as whispers of a lion sighting made it’s way from driver to driver. Salim dove like a rally driver and I kept up, chowing more and more dust in his wake. Eventually we found the lions just off some remote little side road and had about 3 minutes alone with them before the cavalry showed up, churning up a sand storm of fine dust.  We left as more and more trucks descended upon the lion pair, the sky now filled with fine white dust, I sure they got some great photos of the whiteout…

Lions in Amboseli, Kenya

We were late leaving the gate due to a last minute cheetah sighting, and narrowly missed a fine, we got out at 6:15pm. After a brief chat with Salim and the honeymooners, I succumbed to Salim’s constant insistence that I camp at their lodge, Elerai.  It took almost a full hour to drive down the corrugated road and then into the bush on a really dire single track; over rocks, through thorn trees and down dongas…  It was dark, dusty and I was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, but driving into Elerai it was immediately apparent that this was an exclusive lodge and definitely not a place for camping vagabonds…

It was dark now and I was a good hour from my campsite (which, sadly was right next to the gate of the park where we left off).  The manager looked doubtful, Salim looked crushed, the honeymooners looked pitiful and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me and my blundering rig.  Salim started enquiring about room rates and discounts, but at almost £100 per night, there was no way I was staying here.  The honeymooners offered me the spare bed in their room…

Declining all kind offers and just wanting to high tail the hell out of there, I bode farewell to the honeymooners and to the camp manager.  I asked Salim to take me as far as the main dirt road that leads to Kimana Gate. After briefly getting lost on the small bush tracks, we finally made it to the main dirt road 40 minutes later.  In the dark of the night, I pulled up next to Salim and turned to acknowledge him before I put my foot down but he jumped out of his truck and came running over.

“I have caused you too much trouble tonight.  Please can I come with you to help you set up your tent”

Uhhh, what?!  “No thanks Salim, you have been kind enough today.”

“I know it’s dusty and you need to cook”

Be nice…  “Yes Salim, it’s 8pm, it’s dark, and my roof top tent is thick with dust.  But no thanks, you have been kind enough today, and your guests need you.”

“I’m off the clock now.  Can we go and get some nyama chomma (roadside braai meat) together”

“No Salim”,  Eish! patience wearing extremely thin, “you’ve been very kind but I need to go now.”

“Ok, but we’re good friends now, can I have your email address”

I scribbled an email address down on a scrap of paper and shot off into the night.  Good luck to whoever is receiving emails from Salim…

After a day of driving, and all that drama, there was no way I was going to unpack my roof top tent, thick with fine powdery dust.  I skipped dinner altogether, lay down a kikoy, crawled onto my back seat, covered myself with a towel and got a pretty shitty night’s sleep…

Misguided kindness – it’s all around you in Africa – knowing when it’s happening is the hard part!

2013.08Amboseli (269)The next morning there was a frantic jostling for space in the park just near the gate as hordes of game viewing vehicles piled up on the side of the road.  It was Kili opening up for a brief moment.  The clouds had separated just enough for you to see her glacier capped summit, and to top it all off, we had a group of pachyderm grazing roadside.  Now, anyone who knows anything will be able to tell you that happening upon a herd of elephants in the foreground of your Kilimanjaro shot is one of the most coveted photos – and comes with huge bragging rights… Unfortunately the elephants had inconveniently chosen to hide behind the most unattractive vegetation and you could barely see Kili’s white peak amongst the clouds of a similar hue.  No matter, we all screeched to a halt, heads popped up through vehicle roofs, cameras cocked and aimed, recommencing another round of lens showboating.  I don’t even have a decent picture to add to this blog it was such a poor scene.  Gutted!

Kilimanjaro, above the clouds – from Amboseli

I took a drive into uncharted territory in search of more elusive game.  My GPS marked the route as “off road”, and I soon understood why.  I ended up on the worst track imaginable and to throw a spanner in the works, the Beast was clunking on every small rise and fall.  It sounded like the shock at the back was going to fail completely.  For over 3 hours I crawled over martian rocky landscape, following an imaginary path guided by my GPS.  I limped passed a Masai village and eventually ended up back near one of the larger lodges where tried to get a mechanic to look at the problem. He couldn’t find anything, tightened a few bolts and told me I’d be fine. On leaving the lodge, I went over a small speed bump and CLUNK, nothing fixed… so I decided to leave the park and head back to Nairobi as soon as I could to get it looked at.

On my way out, I was super lucky to see Kili open up again, just in front of a herd of zebra and wildebeest – you can barely see the summit but it’s there…!  (See photo above – you can just make out Kili at the top!)

Corrugations, what’s not to love about them?

It took ages to get up to the northern gate at Eremito.  The roads are in pretty bad condition in the park, and worse was to come on the 20kms from the park gate to the tar road.  It felt like an eternity on this hellish road with some of the deepest corrugations yet.  I felt myself being shaken to pieces and was worried about back shocks but couldn’t hear anything over the noise.  Once on smooth tar, the shocks seemed ok but the trade off was more typical crazy Kenyan driving and near misses.  I couldn’t believe the traffic leading into Nairobi and was so grateful for my Tracks 4 Africa map on my Garmin.  Without a navigator, and not a single street sign, I would have been completely lost.

6th August 2013

I found Upper Hill campsite no problem, and immediately drove to Engen where they took over an hour to wash car out and wipe down inside.  My fellow car campers at Upper Hill were Bruno, who had been traveling the world since 1989 in his Land Cruiser, and Mike and Carol on their way up from SA.  I also met Steve Halton, an English guy who was cycling from Cape Town to wherever up north…!  Always admire these cyclists – they carry just what they need and live on next to nothing.

Upper Hill Camp in Nairobi

It was super cold in Nairobi.  At 17 degrees, my one warm jersey just wasn’t enough so I wore layers of what I could. I had a hot shower, scrubbed the earth off my body and rinsed 6 days of dust and bush from my hair.

I got the car looked at Engen again the next day and we found a massive bolt missing from the roll bar at the back.  The mechanics were amazing and spent half the day driving around looking for the right bolt.  They gave everything a check, cleaned out the air filters and checked my tyres – everything came to just under £15! Bargain Kenya – asante sana!

Next stop: Naivasha and then hunt for flamingos!