From The Bull to The Buffalo Part 3 The North Shaba
An early start after a Mt Kenya sized breakfast we sadly departed from The Stanley.
Driving in Kenya is best accomplished by local experts. Even early morning trying to get out of Nairobi, when most were trying to get in, is a challenge. Road works are everywhere. Our driver told us the government are trying to replace roundabouts with “Superhighways.” We survived local transport mini-busses having Enterprising Routes, that is cutting in front of us and doing emergency stops to pick up a fare.
Eventually we were North of Nairobi; the road frequently had more potholes and craters than tarmac. After many hours we had our first comfort stop while our guide filled the tank with diesel local children offered to sell us wood carved animals. We set off again and hardly covered any miles when the driver sensed problems. The front offside wheel bearing was overheating. We piled into our second safari bus and ours went back to the diesel station for repairs. Thank heavens there were 2 safari busses and so many of these Nissans that the local workshop had spares. But it hardly inspires confidence in Pollmans that at the start before even reaching the first Lodge there was a poor maintenance failure.
We seemed to skirt round Mt Kenya seeing many British Army Bedford Lorries and Kenyan Army Isuzu Lorries towing field guns. We passed the Kenyan Army Artillery School. Cultivation was fascinating large areas of greenhouses growing flowers and food for Europe.
We rejoined our guide and repaired safari bus in time for the ride that makes Alton Towers a kid’s playground. Leaving the highway we hit dirt to reach Sarova Shaba Lodge. The dirt track or at times lack of track can only be regarded as a compulsory Kenyan Safari experience. There was a British Army Bedford left hand drive lorry (Ex Rhine Army) and platoon close to us. Suddenly the track ended there was an entrance gate to Shaba Lodge and a decent track.
Wow what a location, river with sandbanks and crocodiles formed a natural boundary. We were checked in, taken to our cottage type rooms and invited to lunch. Our room was beautiful no travel lodge here. A first class bed, a fine bathroom with a more than adequate shower. Views of forest with many monkeys coming to our windows to rear and river to front. The Lodge was quiet and bird song audible very relaxing, perfect so we might recover in no time after the challenging Marathon from Nairobi.
The Restaurant was elevated on wooden stilts to afford views of crocodiles and any other animals that might approach the river. Late lunch was eaten with relish and a very fine dine with loads of choice. Time for a brief siesta or wander, or to try out the pool, keeping doors and windows of our Chalet rooms locked to keep out local monkeys.
Local Sarova management were first class. I suffer sleep apnoea and have a breathing machine. They readily agreed to keep the electric generator running all night so I would have proper sleep. A fellow safari party member, a lady “with child” was also most grateful as this kept her room fan moving all night and gave her better sleep.
Then the first afternoon game drive began, with the long drive back to the main road. Surely Sarova Management, The Local Kenyan Authority, Pollmans the Safari Operator and TUI could sort out this problem a decent track would help deliveries and those with back problems. Given how well the Tsavo Safari Park roads are maintained we were disappointed at the lack of maintenance here.
Our first game drive was beyond all doubt the best that Shaba had to offer. I love elephants, I will never complain that one sees too many. This game drive (see pictures) provided the magnificent sight of two separate herds watering at their local river. There must have been recent rains as the river was fast flowing and vegetation green. But there is something almost magical seeing extended families from baby elephants to old tuskers standing on the bank drinking. Sadly these elephants did not enter the river to wash. We kept moving and encountered lion on a little hillock surveying a herd of antelope grazing by the river. She was patiently waiting for the Safari Busses to get out of her way before supper. As light was fading we returned to Shaba game lodge delighted to have seen so many elephants but just a little worried that compared to Amboseli, Masa Mara and Tsavo 2007 & 8 there was a scarcity of game.
Time for a convivial drink with our British Army instructors, then another enjoyable Sarova Buffet dinner again plenty to satisfy carnivors, vegetarians and fussy eaters. Frankly we were exhausted, perhaps a small nightcap and off to join the African Mahoganies.
The Thomson Worldwide / Hayes and Jarvis itinerary may well have been written in United Kingdom. It mentions a traditional pre-breakfast game drive. No not from Sarova Shaba due to the disgraceful road we have breakfast then game drive by which time animals will be resting after their dawn patrol. We ventured out for what till then was the most disappointing Game Drive we have undertaken.
Our Polman’s Safari van had a duff radio. We entered a park through impressive “Zebra Gates” but struggled to find more than an odd giraffe or zebra. Towards lunch time we did encounter a few more heading towards a water hole. No elephants, no rhino, no lions, no leopard, no buffalo. Those with prior safari experience all returned to Shaba Lodge wondering did we miss game while at breakfast. Or have years of drought after 2008 left the northern parks empty?
Back to Shaba Sarova for lunch, fondly remembering those full day game drives with picnics that Wesley organised on the Masa Mara 2008 from KICHWA TEMBO. Regret there was no such versatility here in Shaba too late to leave too little to see.
Sorry if the morning was disappointing, the afternoon Shaba game drive was even worse. The afternoon game drive was nil points. Not a single animal seen. We were taken to an elevated platform with views of the river, no elephants, nothing a total waste of time. Could Polman’s driver guides not have compensated us with a return to the previous day’s park? Could we not rise early next morning and try an extra game drive? No, fixed time table and itinerary could never be adapted for conditions. We had paid a very high price for this safari, yes accommodation was good but I would rather stay in Kenyan tents and see game than luxury accommodation and empty game parks. Someone in authority at TUI must have been aware of this situation and should have intervened. Would we repeat this safari? No. Next stop Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge Lake Nakuru.