On Friday morning I was invited to join a safari to Amboseli National Park (which I later learned means dust by a mountain) by my friend E that would be leaving in less than twenty-four hours. I thought it over a little, but pretty spontaneously decided I wanted in. I did not know what to expect, but knew that it was an opportunity I would not regret.
At 7am on Saturday I was picked up in a huge safari jeep. It had three open sunroofs that would allow us to stand up to get better views of the animals (although it made me car sick standing in these while the car was moving so I had to pop up and down a lot). I met E’s other two friends I would be traveling with and we embarked on a 3.5 hour drive to the Park. It was a beautiful and warm day! I was told we would be staying in tents, but when I arrived at the hotel I knew that these tents were not the ones I was used to. Upon arrival we were greeted with warm towels and juice. We were escorted to our “tents” and they were incredibly cozy and adorable. There were two little beds, lights that worked (at certain hours), a front “porch” with chairs, and a bathroom with a toilet and shower. If this was the budget safari I wanted to see what the fancy safaris were like. I wish all camping was like this. We ate lunch at the hotel and then had a free hour that we decided to spend sitting by the pool in bathing suits. This was not an activity I was expecting to do on a safari and was thrilled to get some sunbathing in!
We then embarked on our first “game drive.” When our driver, Kim, went to pick-up our entrance pass we waited in the car and were swarmed by Msai people selling goods. They might have been the most persistent salespeople I have ever encountered. It was an interesting contrast of traditional culture (outfits, jewelry) and modern day details (cell phones). See picture of Msai man using his cell phone.
Our first game drive was simply stunning. I truly felt as if I was in an episode of Planet Earth. The environment was yet another set of contrasts. At points it was an expanse of dry and dusty plains, then there was a huge bright green marsh where all of the different animals hung out, and there was even a lush forest in one section of the park. Kim told us that Mount Kilimanjaro was shy and only came out in the morning and evenings. Half-way through out evening drive we saw the mountain and its snow topped peak. I truly felt like I was in the middle of nature. Although there were certainly other safari vehicles the park felt so huge that you could be in areas where you would not see another van in sight. You would just look across and as far as you could see if it was shadows of animals and wildlife. It wasn’t that you would see individual animals here or there, but we saw herds and herds of them together. Kim told us they were usually families. Amboselli National Park is known for its elephants and we saw packs of them across the park. We were able to get up close and just gaze at them. We learned that when they put their trunk on their tusks (see picture) it means that they come in peace. I am not sure if that was a reaction to us or other elephants. Kim filled our silence with fascinating facts about the animals. The sunset that evening was spectacular and this was the perfect first visit to the Park.
That night we were exhausted, but still managed to do damage at the buffet. I have never heard so many people over the age of ten seriously use the phrase “Hakuna Matata,” (staff and Wazungus alike). I think the staff must have heard that this is a favorite of tourists. Usually I don’t notice stars, but once someone pointed out to me just how full the sky was with them I could not stop starring. There was not an empty space in the dark sky and it was beautiful. Despite wanting to go to bed at 8pm we went to the campfire to watch the Msai dance show. Even though it was probably a kitschy tourist show I still enjoyed it. Msai dancing entails a lot of extremely high jumping. The show wrapped up with all the kids joining in the dance. We left before another sales pitch of jewelry and crafts began. Even though it had probably been around 80 degrees that day the temperature dropped a lot that night. I bundled up and went to bed early in our adorable tent. I woke up several times that night to animal noises, I couldn’t tell what animals, sounded like dogs barking, but I would like to think it was something more exotic than that. I felt safe in our sturdy tent.
The next morning we woke up at 5:30am for our early morning game drive. The day was cloudier and we did not get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. We saw new animals and got to hike up a small hill to get a view of the park. The hill was actually formed when Mt. Kilimanjaro erupted. From the top of the hill we could hear hippos noises and throughout the day spotted their heads bopping in and out of the swamp, but we later discovered three hippos completely out of the water. Next to one hippo stood a hyena and there was some sort of stand off. This really felt like being a part of a nature show because we had no idea what this interaction meant or what could happen next. They were staring at each other for at least ten minutes each taking turns moving closer to the other. The other hippos were watching from a distance and opening their huge mouths (yawning?). Finally it seemed that the hippo won this confrontation and the hyena retreated.
The safari was truly magical and I am so glad I was spontaneous enough to join this at the last minute. I certainly feel as if I got my fill of the safari experience and at this point probably wont have an urge to go animal watching for awhile. I can officially check a safari off my bucket list.