Sunday August 15th
Alarm goes off at 5.30 again and we get up in the dark to get ready for our very early morning game drive. Patrick says he likes to be the 'early bird' and get into the park first as the sun rises, so we pile back into our van at 6 am and it's still pitch dark but there is a hint of dark grey on the eastern horizon. 20 minutes later we are deep in the reserve and the blood red sun pokes up above the horizon 10 minutes later and it is high enough in the sky to be yellow I can't tell you how fast it moves here, Patrick was amazed when I told him in the summer in England it is still light at 10 pm.
Anyway haven't seen any giraffe at that point and we are just saying this when we round a corner and there are a small herd munching on some trees, these are Masai giraffe and they are beautiful creatures in every way, shame the light is too low to take a decent pic, but a lot of this safari was about putting the cameras down and just watching and being there, that sounds really pompous as I write it but it was definitely true, Lisas eye wanders away from the giraffe and she gets very excited, OMG lion she says and I see what she's looking at and zoom in, Patrick is put out as he hadn't seen it but it turned out to be a lion shaped bush. However he does spot ( god knows how) that there are lions sleeping under the fallen tree just to the right of Lisa's lion bush, we get the bins out and sure enough there are 3 lions all snuggled up asleep under the tree, again very very dark, and very far away, we couldn't even see them with the naked eye, they did look at us at one point before rolling over and going to sleep. That brought our lion count up to what was to be a final tally of 9 which must be pretty good. The game drive proceeded for a couple of hours and we saw some more animals but nothing quite like that, then we headed back for breakfast, on the way he slams on the brakes and points into the far distance, 'buffalo down there' it is a good 5 minutes with binoculars sweeping before we can even vaguely see the tiny ant like buffalo which must be 2km away at least, how he sees these through a dirty windshield I have no idea.
We check out of the Voi and head towards the exit to go into Tsavo West for our second day. On the way we go over an 'Elephant Grid' , which is much the same as our cattle grids back home, only bigger, much bigger.
To show how big the parks are, we exited through a much more northern gate than we entered , we then drove, not slowly, up the A109 for a further 2 hours or more. Before we enter we duck down a side street to look at the river and Patrick tells us the story of the man eaters of Tsavo, a story of 2 old lions who ate over 100 railway workers while they slept over a month before the British boss got fed up losing workers and set about a hunt to kill the lions, he got the first straight off but the second was a stalemate and they killed each other, Patersons lodge is named for him and it is timely reminder that habituation of these animals does not in any way mean domestication.
We go through the gate into Tsavo west and this park, even though only a short drive away is markedly different , the sides of the road have dense vegetation and the landscape is spectacular as it is volcanic, soaring cliff faces and plunging gullies , it is visually very different from it's brother and Patrick says it is his favourite park, he says he has to drive fast to make it less bumpy for us but we will still be 'disco dancing ' a lot in the back, and he's right it is veery steep and very bumpy. After some mountain goat bobbling about we start heading down the long straight fence of the rhino sanctuary, this massive area is only open for 2 hours a day so as to minimise time that the rhino are disturbed and it's where we will be doing our evening drive tonight between 4 and 6 , we carry on for about another 2 hours but see nothing so Patrick gives it up as a bad job and we head for our second lodge stop, Ngulia lodge. The main draw to us of this lodge was that at 6.30 they put out bait for a leopard and most nights they come and take it, the bar and restaurant are arranged so that everyone gets a front row seat. Leopard are nocturnal and the hardest of all the cats to see, in our guide it says you can be in a densely populated leopard territory and drive around it for months without even seeing a nocturnal glimpse of one so this is our best chance of seeing this member of the big 5 but even that isn't guaranteed , they have said at checkin that if it comes in the night they will come and knock our door. We have lovely rooms here overlooking the Savannah and after lunch the boys get plugged into their DS's so they can recharge their batteries, they have done incredibly well to cope up until now as we are both exhausted and dehydrated ( can't drink much as you can't stop for a pee when there are lions around) Lisa and I sit on the balcony with our feet up first watching a herd of elephant come to the waterhole and drink then after they walk away a troupe of baboon comes down off the hill to eat something from the elephants poo, the sound of crunching is amazing, no idea what it is presume it's some kind of nut, this attracts more baboon and by the end there are easily about 50 or so. Out by the bar Matthew decides he wants to take home a rock hyrax as one come right up to him.
No Matthew you can't , mind you he finds something else he wants by the end of the night.
At the lodge there is a vantage point to look into the rhino sanctuary with a pair of mounted massive binoculars there is a permanent guide their who has been looking for 2 hours and not seen any rhino today, hmmm doesn't bode well.
Evening drive starts at 4 and we head to the reserve to try and spot an elusive black rhino, the 60 that remain are very shy so we are not planning on seeing one, and we don't, but it's not for lack of trying. Patrick takes a different route from the other drivers and is looking out the window at the ground most of the time,at one point he shows us fresh rhino tracks and poo, but that is all he can show us. With 10 minutes to go until the sanctuary closes the long wave radio crackles into life, words are exchanged, and he heads off at full pelt. By now both the boys have fallen asleep as they are exhausted and there hasn't been anything at all to see for 2 hours or more. We round a rock and we see another vehicle stationary by a large outcrop of rock, his friend has 'saved us a space' thanks to some good parking and we pull up in front. Patrick looks round and grins ' can you see him?'
We peer in the direction he is pointing
Suddenly in the middle distance the shapes clear ( like looking at a magic eye picture) and reveal a huge male leopard sat staring right at us, in daylight. Absolutely gorgeous in every way. The boys are almost in tears, as am I it's beauty personified, and although we may see one later, this is 100% the real deal, we watch him as the sun goes down and we head back to the lodge for tea. We arrive at 6.30 ish just after they have baited the wooden poles by the water hole, an hour to go until food so we crash in the room and talk about what we have just seen. 2 minutes later a staff member comes running down the corridors shouting 'leopard leopard' he has come early tonight.
It is nearly full today so there are 80 people all trying to get a good view and point their lenses at this amazing animal that is tearing the goat meat and pawing at it with no regard for the flashes and moans of pleasure from the surrounding crowd who are about 20 ft away, and no there is no fence or any obvious means of stopping him should he decide he is bored of goat, health and safety would go mad in the uk.
Basically it's pitch dark so taking photos is somewhere between impossible and pointless yet we all snap away as it's such a rare opportunity to see one, before long he is joined by his mate !!!!!! So that's 3 we've seen in an hour, they continue to feed for an hour, bizarrely the German Chinese and French get bored after they have taken their pics and wander off while they are still feeding.
Time for our dinner and we get a table just across from the leopard so we eat ,together with him for a while. Our table is positioned just by a small wall and we hear rustling, we peer over and there snuffling around the bushes is a porcupine!! Massive thing rustling it's quills at something. This brings a huge contingent of the guests over to our table where we are eating but 'hakuna matata'.
A lovely English lady at the table next to us has been chatting with the boys, Matthew tells her he wants a rock hyrax and she says that's a good choice but has he seen what's up in the rafters by the soup man, no says Matthew and goes off to look . He comes back wide eyed saying ' I want one of those things, they are my best now'
Above the soup chap is a small fluorescent light which is attracting moths and bugs, and using this to her distinct advantage is a Bush Baby !! Cuteness personified. Another 2 unexpected animals this evening.
By this time the bullfrogs of Africa are in fine voice and man they are loud, and I mean LOUD, luckily we are exhausted so after we work out how to make Matthews rubiks mosquito net work we collapse into unconsciousness.
August 16th Monday and the end of the safari
Not much safari time left now so Patrick wants to get an early start, we are up dressed and packed by 6 and breakfasted and checked out by 6.30. After the end to the day yesterday we are all up for the last game drive with fingers crossed for something new. We had already added hyena to the list just by opening the curtains and looking out our window !!! So we felt lucky.
Dawn is again stunning and we are easily the first in the park again watching this way and that as we bounce along . We round a corner and end up amidst a huge herd of buffalo , the only time we have seen this member of the 'big 5' was at 2k distance now we are amongst the herd raising huge amounts of the Tsavo dust, babies with no horns and males butting heads , an amazing sight in the dawn light and mist. Again the massive herd crossed and disappeared instantly into the thick vegetation so the people who came a few minutes later would see nothing. We pressed on and saw quite a few of the now usual suspects pass us by, lots of antelope, giraffe and elephant. Patrick again finds fresh rhino prints and also fresh lion prints but the vegetation is too dense to see through. Time is passing but we have one final treat in store. Patrick swings the vehicle around in a 180 and we head back up a hill and see 3-4 vehicles stopped which is always a good sign , and there, right there, by the side of the road was a cheetah !! Feet away.
Whether it was time for him to move on or whether it was Matthew shouting 'oh my god it's beautiful' mr cheetah got up and started walking so we followed him for 20 minutes or so. Awe inspiring animal. Tingly feelings being so close to the animal Lisa and I wanted to see most of all, and easily the closest encounter of all the cats.
Time coming to a close now so we head for our last stop off which is Mizma springs. On the way we come across a silver jackal running down the road another stunning animal, but the flipping thing is late for work or something and won't stop long enough for me to photograph him.
We arrive at the springs area which is a short walking safari around the waters led by a guide with a rifle. It is a beautiful lush green oasis and we see 3 crocodiles and a very distant hippo, well , a pair of wiggly ears that pop up for a second or so every 10 minutes. Apparently until the last couple of years there were hundreds of hippo here, but droughts over the last year or 2 have starved them of their food supply and they have all but died out now. Sad.
We drive now for the gate and see a squirrel on our way, our last animal on safari is a squirrel. The animal I had been practicing taking pics of in the garden, so perhaps that was quite apt.
It is with a heavy heart that we exit the park, although we crave a warm shower and a lie in I could genuinely do this all day every day it has been one of the defining experiences of my life and the words and photos will never be able to convey quite how magical and overwhelming the whole sensory experience was leave alone the emotional journey as well.
Tired but exhilarated we head home via lion hill lodge for a quick lunch overlooking Tsavo East
The drive was just as fascinating going home, there were lots of lorries being stopped, Patrick said, to look for cocaine , a major problem here, but a problem the government is making too much money from to stop completely.
We stop for a wee half way along the road and Matthew is rather alarmed to see the loo has a frog in it.
Back to the hotel and we are welcomed like returning heroes which is lovely , Nellie one of the staff comes over and says ' Thomas , Matthew I have missed you, welcome home, did you have a lovely safari? The staff here really are spot on.
As I write this there is a band playing songs to the guests outside the window at 10.30 at night
Personally, I'd give up the warm shower for bullfrogs right about now