(13 May – 17May)
The second country of our three country safari began early in the evening when we landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. Africa Serendipity arranged the Kenya safari thru Wildtrek Safaris. We arrived from Entebbe on Air Uganda and proceeded thru immigration, visa procurement ($50 per person) and baggage collection quite nicely. Then, just about the only “hick up” in the whole trip. No one was there to greet us. Frequently, I would walk across the “reception” area scanning for a staffer with appropriate sign but to no avail. After about an hour the extremely nice lady at the courtesy desk tried to call Wildtrek (offices were closed it being a Sunday) but did confirm we had a room at the Nairobi Fairview Hotel. Just before 7 pm when I was ready to take the courtesy staff up on the offer to drive us to the Fairview, Jacob and Allan showed up from Wildtrek. They were still under the impression (and rightly so) of our 7PM arrival. So, they were early and we were ready! Had I double checked the tickets provided to us several days earlier in Uganda I would have realized the time of our flight had changed! Excitement of the trip, maybe, but still my fault!
After a short ride we arrived at the Fairview Hotel. It looked much like it did in 2009 except the building construction we noted then had been completed.
The regal atmosphere began right at reception. We got a room on the second floor facing the outside atrium. Dan, with a last name of Mule served a delicious chicken schnitzel dinner with fries and steamed veggies. Two orange Fanta and two Tusker Beer brought the bill to $40.00. The sounds of a piano drifted up to our room and provided a nice background for falling asleep. In the process of checking out the next morning we turned in a survey for hotel management. A few days later when I checked our email I noted a thank-you from the Fairview for taking the survey and that Daniel would receive a small bonus for being mentioned as staff member who made our stay special.
Allan picked us up and we were off to Tsavo West NP. We traveled on the Nairobi-Mombassa Road which we learned is a major link to the Indian Ocean. As such there was a constant stream of large lorries carrying all sorts of cargo. And, we saw several wrecks where either the drivers fell asleep at the wheel or crashed as a result of improper passing. We made one pit-stop about midway and to stretch our legs while we browsed thru a local curio stand. Numerous people were working fields of vegetables. Also, it was interesting to note the venders selling snacks and drinks whenever a bus would make a stop. Allan pointed out various size rocks thrown during the eruption of Mt. Kilimanjaro quite a few miles away. And, soon we had a great view of the snow-capped mountain. Then, the presence of wildebeest, zebra, kori bustard and other wildlife signaled a change in land use and proximity of the park. After a drive of some 200 km (125 miles) we arrived at the Mtitio Andei gate to Tsavo West NP. Just inside the entrance while I focused my attention on a sunbird at a bush, Allan said staff had just seen a young spitting cobra in bushes right at the gate. Missed seeing the snake!
Dik-dik, elephants, zebra, giraffe, lesser kudu and numerous birds including red hornbill, wattled starling, helmeted guineafowl, and rosy-patched bush-shrike captured out attention while we drove to Severin Camp. The landscape was quite similar to that we saw in Mkomazi NP, Tanzania in 2011. Not the open grassy savannah type but more brushy woodlands .
Accommodations are a bit more limited in this the largest park in Kenya. We opted for the Severin as a treat knowing it to be a bit pricier than what we would normally select, it offers more privacy than others and May being the low season when prices are usually lower. We were not disappointed. We had one of the junior suites, more like a cottage with separate living room, sun deck with lounge chairs, private courtyard with shower, spacious bathroom (2 wash basins, separate toilet and shower stalls), minibar, coffee/tea makers and a very comfy bed. More features than we needed. Even matching his/her bathrobes! We could look out from the bed and see Kilimanjaro! A stone-lined gravel path made for nice travel to the lodge or the pool or massage tent. We were quite some distance from the lodge proper. It seemed like a ¼ mile walk one way!
We learned we were the only guests for the night with just a handful for the other two. The main lodge building had a gift shop, reception area, bar and dining area plus additional rest rooms and even a small courtyard with water area (even a couple of frogs/toads) and various plantings. Small ponds were dug near the lodge and in close proximity to the various cottages to attract wildlife particularly during the dry season. Also, lighting had been installed to illuminated wildlife coming to water during the night. While we ate breakfast/lunch we watched birds at a small water point a short distance from the dining area.
On one game drive Allan took us to Poacher’s Lookout for a grand view of much of the park including the lava flows. Later we had a closer look at those formations and could see individual rocks and layers of lava being colonized by various trees, bushes and other vegetation. For the two full days in Tsavo West we had morning and afternoon game drives exploring various reaches of the park. One included a trip to Mzima Springs with Cecilia, our armed guide explaining history of the area and showing us around. Much of the water is piped to Mombassa over a hundred miles away. The rest contributes to the Tsavo River. The walk included time in a below-water level observation room where we saw various fishes inhabiting the pool. Elsewhere we saw hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, and kingfishers.
Considerable rainfall had recently occurred as evidenced by flood debris along the stream. And, grassy vegetation was quite lush. Excitement ran high when Allan showed us fresh leopard tracks. It was interesting to track the cat moving along the road. But, no luck. We did hear lions during the night while at camp. I was always looking forward to seeing snakes and we did! But, the one being eaten by an eagle and another quickly crossing the road as we drove down from Poacher’s lookout could not be identified.
The nightly “show” of mammals coming to the water holes and moving across the front of the dining area. As we ate we saw hippos, giraffe, impala, zebra and hyena. The pesky African gray hornbills and superb starlings. They would roost on the rafters in the dining area and swoop down to steal bread, toast and even the balls of butter! We thought we had them beat by keeping the bread covered and being discrete in eating. But, at lunch one day a hornbill while on the fly took the better part of Darla’s sandwich from her hand!
Food at camp, second to none. A typical lunch of garden salad, farmer’s creamy soup, meatballs in BBQ sauce and herbs over spaghetti with a swiss roll and sauce for desert. The evening meal was a four course event with salad, soup, entrée (with various sides), desert and of course tea/coffee. One could also have bottled water, soda, wine, beer and various mixed drinks. Place settings reflected all the necessary silverware and stemware for a 4 course meal with different drink options. I teased our server that at our house we normally used three utensils, a fork, a spoon, and a knife. I am sure he thought, crazy American. One evening the choice of meals included cooking one’s pork and beef on a heated stone at the table. Our server seemed particularly pleased when we selected that option. Sure enough, he brought out a stone under which were two cans of sterno. With tongs we cooked thinly sliced pieces of meat and enjoyed them with various sauces, fried slices of potatoes and other vegetables followed by a banana crumble. At another evening meal we opted for only the soup and desert having eaten a late lunch which was very filling. The chef came out to see if anything was wrong given our passing on salad and the main dish. He was okay once we explained our reasoning.
A variety of birdlife. Saw a minimum of 70 species including several African hoopoes, Darla’s favorite. We were surprised to see both helmeted and vulturine guineafowl in the same general area. And, where the helmeted ones usually scurried off, the vulturine guineafowl hung around even on the road as if to say, hey, we will pose for you. While at the dining area we added waxbill, barbet, blue-napped mousebirds and others to our list and often had more of a relaxed setting for study and photographing.
Mammalian life was varied and often a surprise. Just when it seemed an area was void of life, we would come upon a herd of maybe 100-plus cape buffalo, a black-backed jackal munching on something, or the shy eland or kudu. Within a few hundred yards of camp we saw a small group of oryx with youngsters, warthog and impala. And, along the road coming down a steep hillside covered with huge boulders we came upon klipspringer almost too close for my telephoto lens. The reddish colored elephants were impressive in size and also how quiet they could be.
Finally, the last morning arrived and we had to leave Severin Camp. We settled our bar bill (1 liter bottled water 220 kes, Tusker Beer 310 kes, Fanta/Sprite/Coke at 160 kes) for something like $30 which I thought was very reasonable for a 3 nite stay. Again, the accommodations, food, and service at Severin Camp were second to none. We really appreciated interactions with various staff members.
En-route to leaving Tsavo West we had great views of Kilimanjaro with the occasional giraffe, lilac-breasted roller, secretary bird and a male greater kudu along the road. Once we exited the park, evidence of “civilization” became more obvious-the old railroad bed, plots of cultivated land, small villages and road traffic. The dirt/gravel road was barely passable as a result of recent rains. Sometimes room was available for only single lane travel and this made for interesting jockying for positions not only for regular vehicles but also the motocycles and large lorries. Deep, squishy ruts often filled with water required serious attention. Heavy equipment in the form of a grader and roller were attempting to make conditions better but only seemed to create more confusion with the resulting traffic jam. Looking ahead at the border crossing we noted the road in Tanzania was paved!
Soon we came to the border.
Would we return to Tsavo West NP? Probably not. Should we get back to Kenya I think we would like to try Tsavo East NP if for nothing else than the different habitat there.
Would we use the services of Wildtrek Safari again? Probably not. Looking back, we felt the quality of guiding particularly in regards to birds fell short of our expectations. Granted any guide can have an “off” trip and our expectations might have been elevated with the great experience we just had a few days earlier in Uganda and what we already knew about our guide in Tanzania. But, since WT knew of our interest in birds (certainly not to see every species in the park) we were disappointed early into the safari but opted to not make a big deal of it as “what it is it is”. Our thoughts were also reinforced by previous experience with WT in 2008 during a one day trip to Nairobi NP when we felt the guide simply drove the vehicle.
All-in-all the safari in Tsavo West NP was quite enjoyable and we are glad we went. It was refreshing and relaxing.
lti-page report. Photos to be available sometime in near future.