If you're in Africa for an extended period of time, you do a safari!
Safari's were originally game hunting expeditions, but it's now much more passively observed. You'll only be hunting with a camera lens and your corneas, at least I should hope so! Traditionally an East African pursuit, you can now experience safaris all over Africa, from Namibia to South Africa.
Long before I left for Kenya, I knew I had to make an allowance for a safari! It had to be done, and in doing so I planned to score a huge hole in my travelling budget for this excruciatingly necessary travel essential.
I was already in Mombasa for 3 weeks doing my voluntary work. While the other volunteers planned to do the package safari of the Maasai Mara, Kenya's biggest game reserve, I had my eye on a much tastier expedition.
Instead of the grassy, flat plains of the Maasai Mara, I was determined to travel south, to see the red-earthed Tsavo national park and the salty, dried lakebed of Amboseli, grazed by elephants. Ultimately, I wanted to travel over the border into Tanzania to see the royal Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I set out with my dream itinerary to find the ideal guide who would be willing to work with me. It took a lot of shopping around and unsuccessful price haggling, but I found a guy who was happy to shake hands.
Just before sunrise, I ruffled some styling clay into my hair as I swung my rucksack into the back of Julius' jeep. We then went to collect our other passengers, a wealthy Austrian family, who I was to spend the duration of the safari with. My goodness, were they an attractive family! They all had sensual violet eyes and vanilla-blonde hair that was blonde as blonde can be, from root to tip. Only the father, Lukas, spoke a basic level of English. Having studied German to A-level, I could communicate with his family. Due to their thick Austrian accents however, I could barely understand anything they said, so we enjoyed a one-way communicative relationship throughout the trip.
Our first stop was Tsavo East, a gigantic natural park graced with rocky hills and earth as rich red as paprika.
(yes, I did take these pictures! the earth is actually that red!!)
The park is incredibly diverse!
Elephants are an extremely common sight. They're usually stick together and nurse their young, who are more preoccupied with rolling around in the dirt and ending up tremendously terracotta!
Can you spot the monitor lizard? Guess what it's doing...
It's hard, dat bush lyf.
The giraffe were occasionally seen grazing, usually alone. These big but docile creatures are so unassertive, they will never make a noise, even if they're being attacked by prey.
The secretary bird is something I first heard about as a kid in some encyclopaedia. I completely forgot it existed until this moment. It's called a secretary bird due to it's long, spiny quills which sprout from the sides of its head, resembling a secretary with a pen in her ear. Personally, I think it might also have something to do with the fact that it blatantly looks like it's wearing tights...
Impala and Gazelles are so frequent, they're like the Zubat's of a safari. I don't hold much fascination for them, but they're pretty perky and like to play the staring game.
Tsavo is home to all kinds, and they all co-exist very well. It's a hostile food chain though, and any individual animal's survival depends on a mix of good social units and intricately-programmed instincts.
Having just graduated in Psychology, it was bizarre seeing human-like social behaviour in groups of animals!
Groups of oryx sparring and locking horns to win social dominance.
Respect for elders.
Sticking together as family.
Sticking together as a society.
And protecting others from untrusted outsiders.
Lionesses sharing leisurely lady time.
Zebra sharing mutual friendships.
And rejecting them.
And patching them up again.
Just like actual people, eh?...
The terrain of the park changes, eventually introducing us to a wooded area home to an elephant family!
After taking in the elephant lifestyle, we were to head to our lodge for lunch. I had packed my sleeping back in preparation for a night of knubbly camping.
After a short uphill drive, we drove into the Voi lodge grounds. It immediately dawned on my that I wasn't going to be camping.
I turned out that Julius managed to give me a cheap deal because I was technically latching onto somebody else's safari package. Fortunately for me, it turned out that I got to share luxury perks with my Austrian buddies, without the luxury price.
Voi lodge is built into a mountain-face and was a stunningly modern. I didn't realise the gravity of my luck until I arrived at my hotel room, however...
I was shell-shocked.
I was standing in front of a floor-length window overlooking the entire park.
Yes! Those are elephants! And I could see them from my bed!
As soon as the porter left the room, I went into a hyperactive frenzy. I shrieked, jumped, thrashed and danced harder than I've never done in my entire life.
I headed for lunch, which I was gladly informed was an all-you-can-eat.
The restaurant was lined along a balcony which boasted a similar view to the room, with elephants bathing below. I didn't know how it could get any better, but it did.
They served all of my favourite meals: Moroccan tagine, ratatouille, jambalaya, Arabic mezze!
I should say, pudding was crap. Kenyans can't do desserts. The pudding trolley was a disaster on caster wheels.
Dessert didn't matter much really, I had a much nicer after-dinner treat. The view!
We did one last sunset game drive around the park, seeing herds of elephants bathing in the wet chocolatey mud, being looked upon by ostriches and other inhabitants of the park.
Sweaty and sun-brazened, I returned to my room and enjoyed an icy blast in the shower before grabbing dinner. I charged up my electricals and slouched around in the hotel lounge, alarmed only by the odd elephant roar.
I'd never encountered this kind of luxury, and completely unexpected at that. This was the icing on the cake for my Kenya adventure. At that point, the experience was far too good to just be a lucky coincidence at the caprice of fate. It genuinely felt like a present from the divine. I spent the rest of the night chatting to the hotel staff and swapping jokes.
I woke up the next morning extra early. I sat in my bed naked and watched the sun rising over the park, and remarkable it was.
My time in Tsavo East was over! It was time for me and my Austrian crew to board the jeep and make the journey to Kilimanjaro. We sped down the savannah roads, throwing a tail of dust high into the sky behind us.