Armed with a substantial picnic lunch provided by the cook at 6.00 am. we sadly took our leave of the coast and headed for Amboseli Game Park via the ancient historic town of Mombasa, which had served as the administrative centre at the turn of the century after the first European explorers and missionaries arrived to establish trading posts inland. It was also the starting point for the construction by the British Government of the famous railway line through to Uganda (dubbed the Lunatic Line because of the enormous task and huge cost for what many people thought was a lost cause – how wrong they were!). The historic ancient Arab quarter of Mombasa town with its narrow, winding streets, old dhow port and the impressive Fort Jesus were intriguing.
The journey was to become increasingly stressful once we left the safety of the main tarmac and headed across country from Mtito Andei through the Chyulu hills on the most horrendous roads I had ever encountered, merely described as “rough” by anyone whom we had asked. A conventional road it was not! A 4WD would have been the most sensible vehicle for tackling this seemingly “off road” experience, and we only had an admittedly sturdy and reliable hired Mazda to rely on (rudely dubbed The Light Bulb). How it stayed in one piece was a miracle, coping with the gullies, ridges,and gigantic crater-like pot holes, mostly covered with a deceptive covering of a deep layer of red dust, disguising the true state of the terrain. One further hazard was that the local cattle would wander, un-shepherded, over and along the road, taking their time and /or changing direction on a whim, causing great difficulty in anticipating their next move. I regret to say that one of them suffered a minor “bump” when it veered towards us while we were passing on a particularly hairy stretch. A quick glance in the mirror indicated that nothing was amiss with it, so thus re-assured, we didn’t stop. It was only when we returned the car back to Nairobi did we notice a slight dent in the wing – luckily this was ignored by the car hire firm as normal wear and tear. How glad we were to reach the relatively good National Park tracks and comfort of Ol Tukai camp.
Amboseli was a complete contrast to the scrub/parkland of Tsavo, being mainly bleak, open, dusty plains with views in all directions, punctuated by swampy areas with occasional belts of acacia trees, all dominated by the imposing dome of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Elephants were easy to spot as were giraffe, and the herds of zebra and wildebeest. We were delighted to find a group of fringe-eared oryx, which some say gave rise to the mythical stories of the unicorn – their long, straight horns look like a single horn when seen sideways on.
We enjoyed nightly visits from many different animals, when zebra and buffalo would graze right up close, enticed by the short, well-watered grass surrounding the camp, and one night we heard, and then saw through the gloom a group of hippo munching their way noisily up from the swamp. The dried up Lake Amboseli which we crossed was covered by a shimmering heat haze creating mirages – at other times it was a complete dust bowl – either way not an area in which to linger.
Altogether it was our least favourite Park, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that it was one of the most frequently visited, with consequently much damage having been done to the terrain by tourists’ vehicles continually going “off road”. Having said that, the wildlife in Kenya is unarguably one of the finest sights on any tourist’s itinerary, and the Kenyans can be justly proud of their enviable heritage.