Holiday Trip, Part 1: Amboseli National Park

 

We were driving through the Kapiti Plains, where Theodore Roosevelt spent a good portion of his 1909 safari, when we saw our first animal: giraffe. It was a good start to our big holiday trip exploring Amboseli National Park and the Swahili Coast of Mombasa. Our driver and guide, David, took us south from Nairobi, past the Athi River and the Kapiti Plains, then through the Great Rift Valley. The paved road wound through small market towns and past cinder cones, remnants of valley’s volcanic history. As we turned off the paved road the farms and towns gave way to dry scrub and sporadic Maasai villages. We descended down into a large bowl, the center of which is Amboseli National Park. The park borders Tanzania. Beyond this border rises Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. Kilimanjaro was shrouded in clouds as we arrived at Amboseli, as it would be for most of our stay, but we were greeted by herds of elephants and a hippo.

The best views of the mountain were at dawn when the pink light of sunrise colored the snow-capped peak. We took several game drives during the early morning and late afternoon. Amboseli is famous for its elephant herd and it did not disappoint. The park, situated at the low point of the bowl below Kilimanjaro, has several spring-fed wetlands. Elephants come from miles around to wallow in the cool mud, eat the wetlands grasses, and give birth to their babies. Hippos and Cape buffalo also congregate in the wetlands while gazelles, wildebeest, impalas, and numerous birds graze the dry, grassy plains. The grazers in turn attract predators including lions, leopards, hyenas, and many birds of prey. Jen and I saw some kind of large predator (a leopard, perhaps) one evening as we sat outside our room. The cat walked right along the fence line on the edge of the spotlight. The lodge we stayed in is situated inside a small acacia-tree forest and has vervet monkeys and baboons. The monkeys can be troublesome and one stole a roll right off a woman’s plate during lunch. The lodge staff were constantly shooing the monkeys away.

The moonless darkness of the Amboseli night was incredible. We gazed up at the innumerable stars above while, just yards away beyond the fence but invisible, a lone bull elephant audibly munched on the grass.

Jen and Linnea visited one of the nearby Maasai villages (and saw a lioness stalking a gazelle). The Maasai met them with a greeting dance then invited them to visit one of their huts. The Maasai are cattle herders and in this arid environment, they rely on the cattle for just about everything. The walls of the huts are made of dried cow dung. The bed is made from cow hides. The children drink boiled, thickened cow milk. One of the men taught Linnea how to start a fire by friction. Finally Jen and Linnea joined the women for the Maasai jumping dance. They purchased some nice handicrafts from the villagers before heading back to the lodge, where Garrett and I were enjoying the pool.

The Ol Tukai lodge was fantastic – the food, the location, and the service were first rate. Our guide David was very knowledgeable about the local environment and knew just where to spot the wildlife. After a couple of days at Amboseli it was time to trade the cool shadows of Kilmanjaro for the sandy beaches and bustling port of Mombasa. As we left the park, we saw a jackal chasing a hare at full speed. The two disappeared out of sight. We drove back through the Rift Valley to Nairobi where we caught a plane to the coast.

The images below at just thumbnails. Be sure to click on the image to see the whole picture.

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