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Published: June 13th 2017
Geo: -2.57817, 37.2244DAY EIGHT (Friday, September 11, 2009)
The Road to Mandalay ... no, Amboseli
A word about the roads in Africa. Atrocious. Worse than Ireland. And that's saying something.
- The best road we have encountered here is the "superhighway" that runs from Dar es Salaam through Arusha to Nairobi. It's asphalted (this is noteworthy) and is a single lane each direction, with very little shoulder. May I repeat? The best road. And a far cry from a superhighway.
· Next best are the mud roads we have traversed for three days in the national parks. At least someone has graded them in my lifetime.
· The roads to and from all hotels are dusty, one-lane and horribly pot-holed. They jar your teeth and your stomach. Rachel tells us the tour companies pay $200 per vehicle, for instance, to use the road to the Ngorongoro Serena Hotel. They scream because their road money is never actually used for roads.
· The Chinese have been contracted to build another “superhighway” and they have promised it would be ready in another month. Laughable. We drove three hours on a road that had not been graded, had massive rocks in the underbed for a road, but it hasn't
been tended to. The potholes and the large rocks frequently threw our 4x4 off road.
· But those were the better roads. Let's talk about the REALLY bad one: the main drag once you have entered the gate into Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Well, I would talk about the road if I could, but since there isn't one, I can't. Each vehicle goes wherever the driver thinks his passengers will be the least jarred. Can't happen. The dust pours in. Your neck snaps. You get thrown into the handle on the windows. And if you're like Patrick, it produces a migraine.
OK, I'm done on the subject. For now.
We had 5:30 breakfast and 6:00 am departure for the 30-minute drive to the airstrip that services Serengeti. Dawn balloon launches were going on around us as we boarded our 12-passenger planes to Arusha. The flight was pleasant, taking us near a still-active volcano (Lengai) and over the Ngorongoro Crater.
We landed in Arusha at the same 1950s air strip as last Sunday and boarded a bus for our drive to Kenya and Amboseli. Enough about that ride, except there is no place to stop and no restroom facilities.
At the Kenya border, we had
to process out of Tanzania. Rachel took our passports, visas and exit paperwork and handled it all in 15 minutes. In the meantime, we met our Kenyan guides and boarded the Tauck Kenya vehicles and drove five minutes to the Kenya border patrol where we all had to disembark and have our photos taken by the Kenyan authorities.
The Kenya vehicles are a major downgrade from the ones in Tanzania. These are Nissan vans, with tighter quarters, smaller windows and no suspension. When the roof top is popped, they are too short for Patrick (6'6”😉. And when he sits down, the windows are too short for him to see out. He was miserable until he resorted to riding in the front with the driver.
The border crossing went fairly smoothly. We were told we could take no photos here, and that was killing me because there were so many interesting “hawkers”. Most irresistible of all was a big rig completely decorated with Obama portraits. Guess he's their president too.
As soon as we cleared border patrol, we went to a “curio” shop to use the bathrooms. It had been several hours so Tauck arranged for this retailer to allow us to use
their facilities. In return, they hawk their wares.
It was actually amusing. I looked at an item I had seen at another store and wanted for our master bath in Florida. A carved wooden wall hanging, about 36” high. I asked how much and he told me a price that was outrageous. I laughed. He pursued me, writing numbers on folded newspapers, scratching them out and writing new ones. I kept telling him he was way out of the ballpark. After a dance that involved more than a dozen steps, we got in our vehicle to leave and he and his manager came out and handed it to me for the price I had intended to pay … 70% off his original asking. He's probably STILL making a lot of money. It was amusing. But I like my purchase and I finally liked the price.
The road to Amboseli was everything Rachel promised and less. The road from the park entrance to the hotel goes through the most desolate land I have ever laid eyes on. No exaggeration. It makes Gary, Indiana and Barrow, Alaska look like garden spots. It is flat, flat, flat, with no water and no greenery. It
makes Kansas look like Ireland. There are carcasses everywhere, mostly due to drought. The dust is a foggy haze and there are dirt devils everywhere. It's appalling.
Somewhere off in the dust, we spotted some giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, warthogs, elephants, baboons and monkeys. (Did you know baboons are apes without tails?)
Then suddenly, there in an irrigated oasis was Amboseli Serena Lodge, decorated in a style similar to our previous hotels. No huts here but nice rooms decorated with local crafts … lamps decorated with beaded necklaces, hand-made sisal wastecans similar to purses in the gift shops, murals of local game and more. Very clever.
The greeting committee consisted of a variety of primates, mostly black-faced vervet, cute little critters that we were warned could cause mischief. Our friend Stephanie soon learned first hand. She stepped out the back door of her room to take a picture and a little monkey swept in and scavenged her cashews and potato chips. She and Carol screamed as they excitedly try to get him out of their room. (I had a similar reaction this evening when a 4” bug flew by my ear while I was writing this entry. Still can't find it –
just hoping the mosquito netting will keep him somewhere where I am not.)
We had lunch in the main dining room and were left to relax in our rooms until our four o'clock game drive.
We are reunited with our luggage for just a night. So we had just enough time to unpack and repack with fresh clothes. We will meet up with our luggage again in 48 hours. So the break was spent figuring out what was still clean and what dirty clothes we need to take along to have cleaned during our next two-night stay.
At 4 pm we went out for a game drive. WHAT A BUMMER. We saw no new animals, although we were able to get photos of a few things we had seen previously but hadn't nabbed … the jackal and the water buck. The two things that were new for most:
1. Seeing Mount Kilimanjaro. The clouds cleared and you could see the peak, although the photos make it hard to distinguish between sky, clouds and peak.
2. Seeing (AND SMELLING) dead carcasses … hundreds of them. Mostly zebra, Cape buffalo and wildebeests, many lying on the ground untouched by their natural predators. The drought has caused
the problem. It's very disturbing. Hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies strewn around the park. (Their policy is the let Mother Nature take her course, so they are supposed to disappear naturally, but it seems there is more food and more waste than anyone can handle.)
In case I've been too subtle, I don't like it here and I wouldn't recommend Amboseli as a safari destination.
1. The road to the park and the length of time it takes to get here are real downers. Trust me when I tell you it's not worth it.
2. It's the ugliest national park I've ever laid eyes on. It's disgusting and you can't believe people pay good money to come here. Of course, we did.
3. We saw no new game. Everything was a repeat of previous days, set in an ugly and desolate setting.
That having been said, I do like the hotel. It is tribal and kitschy at the same time. The food is delicious. The gift shop is better than others; and animals walk through the rear lawn day and night. As we headed back to our room, a dazzile of zebras (love that phrase!) meandered by. How fun is that!
An aside about the
Serena hotels: I had never been exposed to this chain prior to Africa. Having now stayed at 5 of them; we are all in agreement we love the décor. Each one is different, with an intentional effort to decorate in the culture of the area.
1. Mountain Village, near Arusha, had those cute thatched roof huts and loads of bougainvillea, all situated on a lovely lake that attracted flocks of birds. The keys were brown barrels that resembled hand grenades. They don't have plastic cards to enter the rooms (how could they when they keep everything in a turn-of-the-century ledger book. The keys are the 1950s kind that you put in a see-through key hole and you turn the key into the desk when you leave the building.
2. Ngorongoro Safari Lodge was situated on the rim of the crater with magnificent views of the crater floor. It was trimmed in black rock from the crater, the walls were hand-painted with primitive animal artwork and the key was a leather ring hand-decorated with Maasai beading.
3. Serengeti Safari Lodge featured two-story thatched huts that were sort of podlike. They had carved headboards, heavy wooden trim and keys that resemble the
Me, wartgod, Stephanie
Stephanie Foot and me with warthog statue in curio store
Maasai talking stick.
4. Amboseli was the most fun of all, with lots of things hanging from the ceiling and decorating the walls. All were products made and sold by Maasai. Sisal waste cans with beaded trim. Beaded necklaces trimming the light fixtures. And like all the properties, fascinating wood carvings adorning the bars and buffets.
5. Samburu is incredibly colorful … in the bright colors the Samburu tribesmen wear. And lots of warrior décor … fascinating spears, war drums. The keys were leather logos of the Samburu people.
Not fun: I can't get Wi-Fi to work, so I guess it will be tomorrow night before my blog readers will get to see today's boring photos. Time to reapply my DEET.
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