Saturday August 15th
Alarm on phone goes off at 5.30 which it will do for the next 3 days, not much sleep, combination of excitement, nerves and the mosquito nets.
We trundle our case and cameras etc to breakfast, try not to drink too much then go out the front gate to meet Patrick our guide for the next 3 days. He is a lovely guy and very experienced , everyone asks for him from this company and I can see why in retrospect. First we have to head into Mombassa to buy our smart cards for entry into Tsavo East and West and then we will head on our way. Our vehicle is not a huge 4x4 but the same sort of vehicle we had as a taxi and the same as 95% of the others on the road, a Nissan camper with 9 seater mini bus 2wd with an openable roof, a large case of mineral water over the engine block so we can drink when we want, very comfy and felt like home for 3 days.
After we got our passes we headed out of Mombasa through the arched elephant tusks, erected in the 50s to celebrate a visit by the Queen , then we join the long winding A109 to Nairobi , this resembles a low grade A road in the UK single carriage way and has been opened only 3 years !! and in places is already beginning to crack and break, but it has revolutionised travel between the 2 cities, Patrick said before the road it would take an entire day to travel between the 2 but now it can be done in only 7 hours, you would not believe the volume of traffic on the road, so many lorries. Once out of the suburbs of mombassa we went through countless hamlets of straw and mud huts, a few small towns that were mainly corrugated tin shacks with the occasional cement building, often painted in the colours of the safaricom or orange mobile phone operators or bic ball point pens for some reason. The other point of note was no matter how small the town there was usually a mosque and catholic church. We passed a couple of Maasai villages as well and the people looked spectacular in their red and purple clothes, lots of kids waving at the cars as they went by, bare foot and playing with the livestock. People in the most meagre dwelling you can possible imagine sat by the side of the road selling charcoal in bags or small cuts of sugar cane. Again an unbelievably wonderful and humbling experience for us all. Highlight was a carrier bag containing 2 live chickens, that is the freshest meat I've ever seen bought from a butchers. Most bizzare was a few sticks held together by a poly bag and a sign saying 'mobile top up here'
After a couple of hours we stopped at a pre arranged comfort stop and were corralled into the neighbouring curio shop and did a spot of bartering but not too much considering all we had seen.
The soil slowly started to turn red and the scenery changed slightly as the miles slipped away and we started to drive past the Tsavo reserve. Tsavo is roughly the same size as Wales divided into West and East by the road and is a controlled game reserve. In the 1980s there were the poaching wars where Tsavos 40,000 elephant were reduced to 4,000 and it's 6000 rhino virtually extinct, the elephant have recovered a little since then but there are now just 60 black rhino in a special rhino sanctuary in Tsavo west, so the chances of seeing them were remote to the point of being impossible.
Eventually we arrived at Tsavo East , Patrick raised the roof so we could stand and one of the most amazing experiences of our lives began.
Now Tsavo has very strict rules about sticking to the roads, so we are driving at speed on a red dirt road, bouncing like mad in the back trying to spot animals left and right, and it feels a little like the Kilimanjaro safari at AK, except the animals are certainly free to do as they like, be as far away as they like from the road and if you do see them it may only be the back of their heads! I say this before anyone sees the photos.
Within about 3 minutes of entering the park we come across a small herd of Impala and Patrick shows us the difference between the male and the females, Yay ! Our first wild animal on safari in it's natural habitat, even impala are a complete thrill.
Shortly after we spot some 'Kenya Express' Or warthogs lying down along way off, they are called this as they are apparently really fast when they make a run for it.
The animals then dry up for 20 minutes or so until we turn a corner and see a whole herd of elephant drinking by a watering hole with babies and grandparents all jostling for position, pure magic and as we are fairly close the boys are gobsmacked. Wild elephants!
We sit and watch them for a while, take some pics and then head off.
It should be noted that none of these sightings are a 'given' they are wild animals and often if we drove the same road even a few minutes later an animal would have wandered off and the land would look like nothing had ever been there. It should also be noted just how amazing the guides are at seeing animals even though they are driving and often with the naked eye some of these animals are the size of a rice grain and he needed to be very patient for 5 minutes trying to explain where in the far distance the animals were, thank gawd we all had binoculars and I had a 400 mm lens.
As the vehicles cross each other they often stop wind down windows and pass on tips of animals they have seen, clearly they all know each other and everyone knew Patrick , one driver leans in and whispers to him and following this we head up a side road
We turn the corner and Lisa says ' wow a giraffe carcass' and sat about 10 ft away from us are 2 lioness' dozing in the sun sleeping off a heavy giraffe meal. Stunning, I can't really do justice to it in words or pictures , but to be in the presence of a real wild lion on their turf moves you, well it did me anyway. The boys just sat with their mouths open and had to be prompted to take some pics before we moved on. That was to be our closest encounter with lions on the whole safari, but talking to others very few got that close. In other places you are allowed to off road but not here as it damages the habitat.
Just up the road from the lions we came across a vehicle stuck in a dried up river bed it took about 20 minutes lots of strong backs and a tour bus and a rope to get it out, we were next and Patrick expertly crossed then the vehicle behind us got stuck so we had to help that one as well, so just because there was no off roading don't think it's all tarmac it is very much like the AK ride in that respect.
I wont list all the animals we saw one after the other, I may list them all at the end as I like lists but I will make a note of any memorable encounters.
Just before we headed for lunch at our first lodge stop we (patrick )spotted a male lion about 500 m away lying under a tree, too far to take a decent picture of and our only male of the safari but we saw one, shame it wasn't closer, but in 3 hours we were 2 lions up which had go be good going.
What I haven't mentioned so far is the birds, I know I am a total bird geek but I challenge anyone to go on a safari and not go ' wow' there were thousands of them erupting from every bush we passed, so many species I lost track, exotic bright colourful magnificent large and small. Hornbills everywhere weavers, rollers, superb starlings, secretary birds, herons, eagles, Goshawks, kingfishers, bee eaters, sunbirds, stork, shrikes and one that looked like fawkes from Harry potter , didn't get a picture of him but red and gold with a crest, every single tree was draped in them , I could spend months just looking at them alone, too many species to even begin to count. Even the ones that looked like collared doves, when they took off had a brilliant blue stripe on them, and they all shone and glistened in the sun. Unlike the animals they didn't need to be sought. If you love birds you will froth at the mouth like I did after 10 minutes on safari.
After a magnificent first session we headed to the Voi safari lodge for lunch, we checked into our room for the night and dissolved into raptures at the view we had, high on a cliff you can see all the way to the horizon and right below us was a watering hole with about 30 elephant , in the distance a family were leaving and another were arriving, all in a smart line, on the plain an ostrich was grazing and a troop of baboon was playing under a tree, all this from your bed!!!!!
Well... and the bar, as it transpired, so we headed there after our yummy buffet lunch. We had a luxurious 3 hours to spend, but true to form after 10 minutes we decide to explore the lodge grounds and gape at the stunning view ( sorry I may overuse that word but it's true) hundreds of lizards on the rocks, skinks geckos and agumas and our first of many encounters with what Matthew sometimes calls 'his best' depending on his mood a Rock Hyrax these are about a foot long and are grey and furry with black spots, cute snuffly animals that fill the void in this trip left by the lack of gerbils. We find out there is a photo hide at the bottom of the cliff right by the elephant down a long tunnel , Thomas is a little freaked as there are 4 or 5 large baboons that don't want us to go in and the male has a swipe at his foot ( nothing serious just a pat on the trainer), but they back off when I stamp on the stairs and make a low guttural noise, so glad we persisted ( as were the other people who had been scared off by the baboons) as the hide was right next to the elephants, you could get within a few feet and watch some amazing behaviour, when we got tired and hot we climbed the stairs for a nice cool drink, let the boys play DS while we watched the comings and goings at the water hole. One weird thing was that an elephant family going away would sometimes stop dead still and listen, the cessation of motion was so sudden and they were so still that it looked unworldly, like they had been paused and it made your senses go strange, you had to look round to make sure the rest of time was still going, this led to Lisa having a strange dream that night about the safari being implanted in her brain by doctors and being upset as she wanted to go on a real one, bit like Total Recall.
4 pm came around and we headed out for our evening game drive. Now again ahead of the photos, most animals are active in the evening and in the morning. In Kenya, as it is on the equator, there is a 12 hour day and no perceptible dusk or dawn, therefore a lot of the animals were seen in very low light as well as great distance, there, just want to get the excuses in early.
Lots more animals on this drive, dik dik were beautiful, tiny tiny deer. Ostritch and the highlight was a lioness walking her 2 cubs along, we kept up with her for 40 minutes or so but eventually the light was gone and we had to head back to the lodge for a cold shower ( well it is the middle of the Savannah ) and dinner before an early night. Went to sleep listening to the elephant trumpet, life is not bad, it really isn't.