Very often we go searching for treasure in other places, not realising that we have acres of diamonds waiting to be mined in our own backyards. With this in mind, I have deliberately set out in a quest to explore my own continent, and what better place to start than the place I have been born and brought up in?
Kenya is as diverse as she is vast, making her a treasure trove of places to explore. I have visited some pretty unique ecosystems in the last few months: lodges and camps that have existed for many years but for some reason have been off my radar. With the exciting revamp of my travel adventure blog, I have made a conscious decision to spend a little more time exploring the place I call home and I hope to take you along in my footsteps as I explore away. Read on guys, and thanks so much for keeping it HarpreetsWanderlust!
“Everything in Africa bites, but the Safari Bug is the worst of all”…Brian Jackman
Safari. The very word takes you back to the days of “Out of Africa” and conjures up images of one sat in a green land rover driving along dusty murram roads amidst thick bush, clad in khaki coloured attire, hat on head, binoculars in hand (and in my world, maybe a fancy cocktail in the other) peering out of the window looking out for animals, especially elephants, lions and the larger game that scream African Safari. In Swahili, “safari” literally means to take a journey, or to travel. And a journey it is – unlike any other that you will be on, because the thrill of spotting an animal in the wild, in its own habitat, going about its business while you share its life for a while, is something you will not experience anywhere else. And, yes, once you have been bitten by the safari bug in Africa – you will be happily infected for life.
My dreamy safari adventure starts on the wooden deck in front of my tent. I am sat on the comfy sofa, trying to write. The stillness of the morning is broken only by the sounds of nature – chirping birds that have made their homes amongst the tree in the swamp opposite our tent, the splashing of a crocodile as it clambers up the river bank to bask in the glowing rays of the early morning sun, the grunting of hippos and the playful banter of the monkeys as they whisk from branch to branch, frolicking in early morning fun and games. I watch all of this unfold in front of me whilst enjoying a freshly brewed cup of Kenyan tea. The sun has just come up, the sky is clearing with its varying hues of blue and I can feel it in my bones – this is going to be a beautiful day!
I am staying at Finch Hattons, a luxury tented camp nestled in the heart of the Tsavo West National Park, bordered by the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro on one side, and the pink and green Chyulu Hill range on the other. And I can’t wait to explore this park today. If last night was anything to go by, then today is going to be even more magical! We had quite an adventure, having spotted a leopard on our game drive, calmly lazing around in the tall grass being stared at by a hyena! Those of you that have been following me for a while will know that M and I are afflicted with the “curse of the disappearing leopard” because try as we might, we NEVER see any leopards on our safaris at home. So much so that we had to travel to Yala in Sri Lanka to make this dream come true. Well, thanks to Finch Hattons, this curse has now been officially broken. Touchwood.
I have to tell you how this leopard was spotted. We had set out on our evening game drive, armed with pitchers of Dawa and Pimms, and were planning to head out to a spot to watch the sun go down, when one of us spotted a hyena. M had wanted to take pictures of a hyena, and so of course we stopped to let him click away. And then, I noticed that this hyena was busy staring at another animal lying in the tall grass, and casually mentioned that there seemed to be more in the grass….and the “more” turned out to be a leopard!!! Needless to say we stayed put at that spot, watching this leopard laze away, and then get up and casually stroll to a tree for a stretch and a scratch before slinking away into the dark night. Truly mesmerising!
So, the first order of business today is to go back to that spot and see if our lucky leopard is still skulking around. The sun has risen over the hills, and Kilimanjaro has lifted her veil and we can see what was once the snow-capped peak, with its now receding ice line but she still stands tall and proud, and as majestic as ever.
The Tsavo is teeming with wildlife. Hand on heart, I can say I haven’t seen this much game in any other park in Kenya – not even the Mara, which I have been to several times. It almost feels like something out of a wildlife movie, as we drive along the trails amidst dazzles of zebra, herds of dik dik and hartebeest, all the while tracking the paw prints of the leopard, hoping to find him lazing around somewhere under the African sun. A dozen or so masai giraffes, buffalo and waterbucks later, our tummies start to rumble and mission “find the leopard” is aborted and replaced with a bush breakfast fit for a king!
Still not completely convinced that our leopard isn’t around somewhere, we head back to the dry pond after breakfast to see if we can find him, but this proving futile, we head back to camp to enjoy the beautiful weather by the pool, with some chilled wine and great company, the heat of the day being balanced off by taking a dip in the cooling waters of the pool and sitting under the mist from the cleverly placed misters around the pool area!
I think by now you can tell that I am completely smitten by the Tsavo. Every moment is a treat for the eyes; she has a landscape so diverse. Hurtling along the plains, one minute being surrounded by thick bush, and the chances of spotting a big cat lazing around are high, and the next moment you are surrounded by tall trees and you see tall giraffes skulking around them, and each moment that you amble along you are seeing different species of animals and it feels like something out of a movie. And when I tell you the curse of the leopard is broken, it truly is, because on our afternoon jaunt exploring the Tsavo we spot yet ANOTHER leopard basking in the sunshine! Two leopards in less than 24 hours is indeed something surreal for us, but heck, I am not complaining!
In every journey, there is a pivotal moment that ensures that the memory of that place stays etched in your mind and connects you to the place forever. For this wanderluster, the mysterious black lava plains of Shetani in the Tsavo ecosystem win this coveted spot. The terrain is literally a sea of black lava with its natural formations jutting out from the ground, resembling a newly mowed field of black cotton soil ready for planting, except that is has these uber cute klipspringers bouncing from rock to rock, and the green chyulus framing it in the background. So, it is anything but a field ready for planting and very much wild terrain! Shetani means “devil” in Swahili, and it is easy to see why the plains are nicknamed this…they do look like what I would imagine the work of the devil to look like. This landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen before – definitely a first for me in Kenya, and it is honestly wonderful to discover that we have such a diverse ecosystem waiting to be explored.
Having hung around Shetani long enough to feel the hot sun burn us, we head up into the range of the Chyulu Hills for a completely different experience of the Tsavo. These green hills are studded with ancient forests that we start to hike in and explore with the guidance of a ranger,* with the tall trees forming a canopy of sorts. A complete contrast from the heat of Shetani, the forest is dark and cool, giving it an eerily mysterious aura. Everything is so silent that all we can hear is the crunching of the leaves beneath us as we hike, and the chirping of birds and crickets. I feel like Alice in Wonderland with the diversity of the flora and fauna around me, especially when I spot mushrooms growing from the ground! I almost expect to see something saying “eat me” lying around, and I have to pinch myself to convince myself that this is real and not just a figment of my imagination, which, admittedly does tend to run amock sometimes…
The cherry on the cakes of my adventure at Finch, yes there are more than one, is a sundowner like I have never experienced before. High up in the hills, the sun sets behind Mt. Kilimanjaro as we arrive at a site especially selected for us. We are welcomed by a butler wearing a red cap, who gives us a hot towel before we enter the sundowner site. I feel like Karen Blixen in Out of Africa as I amble from tent to tent. There are three, laid out gloriously in front of us, perfectly decked out as if this were a regal dinner party. The star tent displays the ENTIRE bar, yes – you read right – the entire bar from the camp which houses the finest whiskies, spirits, champagne and wine. The other tents are decked out with irresistible nibbles – crudites, canapes and bites, and I soon perch myself on a safari chair, eating away and sipping champagne and being treated like royalty. There is no hurry in Africa and when the sun has set, we watch dusk turn into twilight and the stars in the night sky start to twinkle away, before we decide that it is time to bid adieu to this magic and head back to camp. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true African safari without running into a herd of elephants on the way back, crashing around unapologetically from one bush to another, chomping on leaves as they head towards the springs where they will spend the night!
My safari adventure has been everything I dreamed of and more, and though I have been on safari many times, in so many ways this felt like a first because of all the out of the ordinary experiences that I have had.
Finch Hattons has indeed provided this wanderluster with a safari like no other with a dash of luxury and a touch of class, being the kind of place where every sunrise, sunset and moment in between feels magical, while you are experiencing nature at her finest. This is Kenya. I can see how endless books have been written and movies made to try and capture her beauty. But this is the kind of beauty that is hard to put into words – and can only be experienced. And indeed, once you are bitten by the safari bug, it is hard to put your experience into words. Come to Kenya. And experience this for yourself…
*We explored Shetani and the forests with Rangers, organised by Finch Hattons. Don’t try this on your own!!