Kenya Safari 1: Amboseli National Park

Our first Kenyan national park safari (of four) is Amboseli. Our Nairobi host Charlie joined us and a driver from Kairi Tours and Safaris came out to the house to pick us up.

While we were aiming for a budget safari, which means sharing the ride, this portion of the tour was private as Amboseli doesn’t get the customers in this low season as much as Maasai Mara National Park does. So there was only one pick up; however, we still had to head downtown to the office to drop off a wad of cash for the coming week. Safaris, even budget ones, are pricey. (A separate post on this later, budget travelers.)

The office experience was odd. The van dropped us off and began circling the block. We were met by someone from the office who took us into a building, up some stairs and then through an endless maze of halls, at one point I believe crossing into the next building, until I was rather certain we were on the other side of the block. Back to the van with the receipt and… the driver was gone. Where’d he go? He had to go to the office. To get some money. Huh? Whatever. We are going on safari and we are excited. We wait quite some time, but eventually Steve joins us and off we speed – right into Nairobi traffic. Half of any time estimate for a trip to a national park is your time in Nairobi traffic I’d say.

First animal sighted in Africa. A cow! And not just ONE cow, but a whole herd of them! Sometimes on the road. Donkeys, goats, people. Come on, let’s see it! We know inside the park will be awesome, but we also know that these are wild animals. They go where they want in most cases, like deer in Wisconsin. Then finally we see one. A giraffe. Then some zebra. Like deer in Wisconsin, our “zoo animals” just wandering about, into someone’s field, trying to cross the highway, and surely ending up flattened on the pavement from time to time. Incredible.

Click here for the Amboseli Photo Gallery

We leave the main highway for another stretch before arriving at the park gate. Steve goes to the office to handle entry matters while we sit in an aquarium on wheels and a crowd of Maasai surrounds us, tapping on the window with bracelets and little carved animals. “Papa! Papa!” they cry. “Madam! Mama!” I try not to look at them but they bear the stretched earlobes of their culture’s fashion. Huge drooping, gaping holes. One person has his lobes looped up over the top of his ear. Another fashion statement or utilitarian for windy days?

One man asks if any of us have a pen. Well, what harm is that? I give him a pen. He thanks me grandly. How can he ever repay me? He has an idea. I must pay you back. Here, you can have this wooden elephant… (my eyebrows rise) …for 1000 shillings. I discount for you 500. For the pen. Steve arrives. Time to move on.

Steve pops up the top of the Toyota van and we stand as we crisscross the park taking a late afternoon game drive. The fields are filled with herds of animals. Impala, Thompson gazelle, storks, crested cranes, zebra, giraffe, elephants. The clouds of the day have disintegrated just in time for sunset and Mount Kilimanjaro, just 10 km to the south in Tanzania, rises over the plain. Toto immediately starts playing in my head. The snowy top emerges and we stop, trying to figure it into photos of the animals.

Can a person ever get tired of seeing elephants? If it is possible, then it is going to happen at Amboseli. The light is fading and we rush about checking animals off the What’s to see? list. But you can’t rush this – so we stop to absorb the moment of elephants staring at us staring at them, just ten meters from the roadside.

The day is ending and the snows of Kilimanjaro are bright with a sun we no longer see when we reach the other side of the park, just before the road to our tented camp. (More about our accommodations on this trip in an upcoming post.) Charlie spots a fish eagle in a dead tree and we both cry Stop! to Steve and he does, throwing us halfway forward in the van. But he nails it: we are right in front of the narrow opening between two acacias with a clear view of the eagle – and a rather attractive backdrop…

See some of my other photos and blogs from safari.

Go to the main site of The Mad Traveler for an Amboseli photo gallery and more!

(Read/see more about our Kenya safari accommodations.)

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

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