Happy new month fellow Wanderlusters! You know what the first of every month brings, don’t you? Some Wanderinspo in the form of a new #Travellinkup topic. This month, my fellow bloggers and I are delving into “Journeys”. I am a big advocate of life itself being one big, colourful journey rather than a destination, but today I am going to take you on a different kind of journey, one that here in Kenya we call a “Safari”. Fasten your seatbelts dear Wanderlusters, as we go on a safari to discover and explore what makes one of my personal favourite national parks in magical Kenya so special. Welcome once again to the Tsavo West National Park, home to the ancient Chyulu Hills and more!
A couple of months ago, I shared a post about my first discovery of this park, and a quote in that post still rings true for me today.
“Everything in Africa bites, but the Safari Bug is the worst of all”…
In Swahili, “safari” literally means to take a journey, or to travel. But when we talk about going on safari in the wanderlust sense of the word, in my world it means donning my khakhi gear, putting on a safari hat and boots, and traipsing the national park in an open top jeep, binoculars in hand, scouring the landscape for game. The thrill of spotting an animal in its natural habitat, especially one of the “Big Five” is quite unrivalled and honestly, never gets old for me no matter how many times I have been on safari before! And, yes, once you have been bitten by the safari bug in Africa, I do believe that you will be happily infected for life. So, why do I love what is fondly known as “The Tsavo” then?
The very first notions I had of this park were associated with the man eaters of Tsavo. Yes, those very same ones that were made famous in the Val Kilmer movie, “The Ghost and the Darkness”, about the gruesome twosome pair of lions that would maul and eat (shivers, yes, eat) the workers who were building the railway line from Nairobi to Mombasa in the 1800’s. When I was a young lass, it was incredibly popular to travel to Mombasa by road and en route, we would stop at Maneaters, a restaurant built where the railway camp used to be for a break, and I always breathed a sigh of relief when we were on our merry way to Mombasa again because there was nothing I feared more than those man eating lions. It wasn’t until many years later when the penny dropped and I realised thankfully that we don’t have such crazy lions anymore, and I rediscovered the park anew, through fresh eyes.
Quite apart from the plethora of wildlife she has to offer, it is her landscapes that have me smitten. Tsavo West is set in Eastern Kenya, close to the border of Tanzania in the shadows of the once snow-capped peak of the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro. Here lies a diverse ecosystem where you will find one of the oldest volcano chains in Africa: the Chyulu Hills, which rise from the plains of the Tsavo like the beads of a green and pink necklace, their slopes studded with ancient forests and their peaks considered active volcanoes.
Other than the now long gone man eating lions, the Tsavo is associated with Denys Finch-Hatton and made famous by the popular movie “Out of Africa, which tells the tale of his romance with Karen Blixen in this rugged and wild place. Indeed, there are luxurious camps in this park that have retained this aristocratic flair and whilst exploring the Tsavo, I did spend a couple of days at the uber chic Finch Hattons. But today, with the colonial era well and truly behind us, what makes this park so magical is the diverse landscape that she has to offer.
Every moment on safari in this part of Kenya is a treat for the eyes and a dance of joy for the soul. You could be hurtling along the plains, being surrounded by thick bush one minute, with high chances of spotting a big cat lazing under the heat of the African sun and the next minute, in the blink of an eye the landscape has changed and instead of bush are tall trees as far as you can see, with giraffes and other browsers skulking around. Each moment that you amble along on your journey along these plains you see different species of animals and indeed, if you have watched Out of Africa you cannot help but identify with the awe felt by its protagonists in the presence of such mighty animals, especially the cats.
I honestly think that the Chyulu Hills are the crowning glory of this park. Located a couple of hundred kilometres east of the Kenyan Rift Valley, this range of hills is considered to be one that is volcanically active since their most recent eruptions occurred barely a hundred and fifty years ago, creating a lava flow which is today known as “Shaitani”. Indeed, the black lava plains occurring right in the middle of an ecosystem that consists of scrub and bush are at once both mysterious and alluring. Shaitani means “devil” in Swahili, and it is easy to see why the plains have had this nickname attached to them…they look like what one would imagine the work of the devil to look like. This landscape is unlike anything that you will have seen in your jaunts in various Kenyan national parks and because of this, lends an air of diversity to the ecosystem of the Tsavo. The terrain is composed of a sea of black lava with natural formations of molten lava rock jutting out from the ground, which to me, resembles a newly mowed field of black cotton soil ready for planting. The difference between this and a field ready for sowing seeds is that there are nimble and super cute looking klipspringers bouncing from rock to rock and slithering snakes hidden in the crags of the lava bed. With the green hues of the Chyulus rising in the background, this plain is anything but a field ready for planting!
Winding your way up the slopes of the Chyulus you traverse higher into the park, and further away from the hellish heat of Shaitani. The tree studded hills have a cool and crisp breeze flowing around, a welcome respite from the Kenyan sun. These green hills are flanked with ancient forests that you can hike in and explore with the guidance of a ranger, under a cool natural canopy created by the tall trees in the forest which is quite dark, with rays of sunshine filtering in through the spaces in the canopy giving it an eerily mysterious aura. Everything is so silent that all you can hear is the sound of your own breath coupled with the the crunching of the leaves beneath you as you walk, and the occasional twittering of birds and chirping of crickets. You cannot help but gasp in wonder at the diversity of the flora and fauna around you, from the tiny elements that you would overlook in everyday life like mushrooms growing from the ground to the larger ones like the ancient roots of trees that have come above ground and intertwined themselves onto the trunks! Indeed, this is an ode to how magical Kenya is and she does have a myriad of treasure to offer in her Parks.
WanderNuggets: What can you do in the Tsavo?
1. This one is pretty obvious, given the post but -go on a safari and enjoy looking out for the various species of animals found within the plains of the Tsavo West National Park. There are plenty of browsers and grazers such as giraffe, gazelles and you have a very high chance of spotting the elusive leopard in this park. Don’t forget to look up into the trees to try and spot this beautiful cat! Elephants are also quite common, often crossing over from Tsavo East to indulge in the cool waters of the Mzima Springs found in the West side of the park. Other game such as cape buffalo, wildebeest and Masai lions (not man eating ones!) are also quite easily spotted.
2. Visit the Volcanic Plains of Shaitani and explore the nearby caves to get a feel of what it is like to see and walk on a bed of ancient lava. Watch out for snakes though!
3. Hike up the Chyulu Hills and explore the ancient forests with a ranger, marvelling at all that Mother Nature has to offer. You can also camp in the Chyulus at designated campsites, however you will have to inform the wardens at the gate that you intend to do so.
4. For some true luxury and a throwback to the days of Out of Africa, check yourself in to Finch Hattons, recently voted Kenya’s Leading Tented Camp for 2017 at the World Travel Awards!