Flight to Amboseli
Mon's First Twin Otter
Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda but that is a story for another day.
Last Monday (2 January 2012) we said goodbye to Mon's family and friends (Christian had already set out for his Kili climb) and took off for Nairobi, Kenya and Amboseli National Park - the land of Blixen and Finch Hatton (of Out of Africa fame for those who don't know those names), David and Daphne Sheldrick (orphaned elephant rescuers), the best views of Kilimanjaro, Cynthia Moss (elephant researcher extraordinaire) but most of all, elis, elis and more elis.
With some travel delay but our wits (and luggage) intact, we arrived at dusk and took a roundabout route to our lovely hotel, seeing a bit of the city as we went. In a city that is considered rather unsafe (it has the unfortunate nickname 'Nairobbery'
, we were astounded by the ultra-high security surrounding our immediate next door neighbour, the Israeli embassy. Security so tight we were not even allowed to photograph it. So we felt pretty darn safe.
The other thing of note about Nairobi was that we finally got a bit of relief from the heat. At 5,889 ft. above sea level, the nights were blessedly
cool and bordering on cold while the days did warm up to the now-predictable 30s.
Rest and sleep were for another time. Groaning as we awoke at 5:30 AM, we left soon after for our Twin Otter flight to Amboseli National Park. Flying at only 9000 feet we got a great view of the changing and increasingly stark landscape and after only 35 minutes or so, got our first view of the mountain. As the locals say 'Kili was awake.' Often it is shrouded in blankets of clouds and is 'sleeping' but during most of our visit, it was gloriously awake. One could clearly make out its two peaks; Kibo (the one most seen in photos rising 19,341 feet above sea level) and the lesser peak called Mawenzi. We were greeted by our guide Rubin and immediately whisked off to our first game drive before heading to our lodge for a late lunch.
What a park! At only 151 sq. mi, Amboseli is considered a small park but the lack of human encroachment (mostly), Kili at its southern border and barren surroundings makes it seem much larger. It also has a significant wooded section (close to Kili) and
a series of mountain water-fed swamps that are the ideal habitats for 'tembos.' Amboseli boasts about 1200 elephants and during our 4 game drives, we must have seen them all. Otherwise, the park is somewhat less populated than the Serengeti but we did see lions, hyenas (mum with 6 pups), Grant's and Thompson's Gazelles, zebras, warthogs, wildebeest, giraffes, baboons and vervets, Cape Buffalo and hippos as well as passing close to the site of Cynthia Moss's research camp (private - no visitors) and what was reputed to be her most famous subject Echo's burial site. Rubin informed us that when she died, they buried her, tusks and all (not far from our lodge) as a token of the affection they all had for her. Also stunning was the birdlife (we finally broke down and acquired a bird book). To top it all off, our lodge was situated right in the middle of the park and we awoke (for game drives at the ungodly hour of 6 AM) to a hippo, some buffalo and Guinea Fowl out our front door (ok, past the electric fence, but you get the idea). We also got to 'climb' what is known as 'little Kili'
(Observation Hill) from which you can get a complete 360 degree view of the surroundings. And to our relief, the temperature remained cool at night (Amboseli Airport is 3,757 ft. above sea level) while hot, hot in the afternoons as well as dusty. For more on this park, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amboseli_National_Park
Too soon, our Amboseli safari came to an end and we returned to Nairobi on Thursday (5 January). We took in three unique features of the city - the Giraffe Center, the David Sheldrick Baby Elephant Orphanage and the Karen Blixen House.
The Giraffe Center (google it for more info) is more than just a 'zoo.' It actively works to bring back up the numbers of endangered Rothschild Giraffe and promote conservation and respect for Kenyan wildlife to local (and mostly underprivileged) school children. But the Giraffes are astounding and it was a total thrill to be able to feed, pet and see them up close and personal (their calm eyes are billiard ball sized and veiled in long beautiful lashes).
Next we went to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Started by longtime park ranger David Sheldrick's wife Daphne, the center rescues juvenile elephants orphaned by poaching and
Mum and Baby
A Helping Trunk Across The Road
other elephant/human conflicts. Visitors are invited in for one hour each day to view the elis being bottle-fed, playing in a pool and generally acting cute. Some might consider it a bit schmaltzy but they do great work (Daphne was knighted by the Queen and is in fact Dame Daphne) and I for one did not mind forking over the fee. One got to see their sleeping quarters (which they share with their assigned human 'mummies'
and learn that at about three to four years they are moved to a second site (in Tsavo Park) and eventually released to the wild. No chance of survival without this great work. And the thrill of seeing the 8 week old baby was not to be missed!
Lastly, we visited the Karen Blixen House. Ok, I am a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing but it was very interesting to get a view into colonial life and get some inside notes about the movie 'Out of Africa.' And the gardens were too lovely for description with the famous Ngong Hills in the distance.
All in all a too short trip to Kenya and we started daydreaming about a
'next trip' to go to the other parks, Lamu and too many other places that we missed. But whoa, we better get this one done first. Cheers all.
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