January 11th, 2002
The Tsavo Parks
Tsavo West and East National Parks cover an area of 9,065 square kilometres. Together with adjoining ranches and protected areas, they all comprise the Tsavo Conservation Area. Tsavo West is a more popular destination on account of its magnificent scenery, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, and rhino reserve, rock climbing potential and guided walks along the Tsavo River. Tsavo East is known for its “red” elephants and more game.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the British began to colonize the interior of Kenya and built the Uganda Railway through the Tsavo region in 1898. The construction of the railway was noted for the killings of a number of construction workers in 1898, during the building of a bridge across the Tsavo River. Hunting mainly at night, a pair of mane less male lions stalked and killed at least 28 Indian and African workers – although some accounts put the number of victims as high as 135. The lions, dubbed “the Maneaters of Tsavo,” were eventually shot and killed by the bridge construction supervisor, Lt.-Col. John Henry Patterson. The skins and skulls are now displayed in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. You can read the book called “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo” by JH Patterson.
Tsavo remained the homeland for Orma and Maasai pastoralists and Waata hunter-gatherers until 1948, when it became a national park. At that time, the indigenous populations were relocated to Voi and Mtito Andei and other locations within the nearby Taita Hills. Following Kenyan independence in 1963, hunting was banned in the park and management of Tsavo was turned over to the authority that eventually became the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Upon arrival at the gate to Tsavo West NP, we said goodbye to Kevin and bought our passes for the national park. This park charges $52 pp and $3 for the vehicle. We entered the park at 3:10 pm and have a 24 hour permit (as all the parks in Kenya give).
Fran had found a safari lodge on Booking.com with a reasonable nightly price (most are hundreds of dollars a night but this one had cottages for about $80 with her discount on Booking.com). We only needed a place to spend the night and did not plan to spend more than one night. She found the location and found a road to it and it said only 27 km / 15 miles (this was according to two different mapping apps).
We began what we thought was a 40 minute drive. Down the road off the main park road, we came to a spot where maps.me told us to turn right and the name of our lodge was written on the road marker (as in Amboseli, Tsavo has the numbered markers) but the road was closed and not passable, even a gate was closed off just a couple of hundred metres in. Okay now what? We turned the other way and ended up at a small airfield where we saw an Oryx.
We turned around again and Fran had cell reception so she called the Severin Lodge. The gentlemen told us we were way off by quite a distance and that that road had been closed for ages. WTH? Why is the signpost still saying Severin? Welcome to Africa!
He told us to send him our location and he’d send us a pin on a map to get directions and in the meantime, drive back towards the main road and stop at Finch Hatton’s lodge and someone there could give us directions.
Now we’ve lost cell reception. Fran spoke to a safari guide at Finch’s and he began rattling off directions; after slowing him down, she took notes on her phone and we began following his directions. He told us to take a 4×4 to Poachers Lookout hill and that was where we ran into some difficulty.
Remember yesterday, when the cowling fell down? Well, today this road had a centre line of tall grass we were driving over and it pulled it down again and not just once. The first time Doug was able to rewire it up but the second time, the wire was gone. We searched through our belongings and found a wire organizer, some old headphones and a USB cable of which we had more than one of the same type. He managed to get it all back up with two of the three make shift “ropes/wires” and we were on our way again.
By the time we reached Poachers Lookout and a more well defined road, we had cell reception again and Fran got a message from the lodge with a map that wouldn’t open. But by this point we knew our route.
We arrived after 5 pm only to discover that our booking was not in fact at the actual lodge but at a sister property of cottages 1.5 km away (although we were told only 600 metres away). We did have to check in here and give our details and Fran expressed our displeasure over this whole thing – what should have been a 40 minute drive max, turned into almost 2 hours and car trouble. The front desk clerk was not all that apologetic and did confirm that yes, they should change the road signage but whether that will happen, who knows? He did offer his mechanic to look at the car but could not tell us what that would cost. He also offered us a swim in their pool but we were so dusty, we need to shower first and there was no way we were coming back here just for a swim so late in the afternoon. Although we did ask about dinner offerings, but for $37 pp, we declined; we weren’t going to give them any more of our money.
We found the Kitani Cottages and Cosmos met us to direct us to our cottage. He asked if we were going to dinner and we said, no, we had something to eat and wanted the fridge in the kitchen running. It was here we got bad news: power is only from 6-11 at night and 5-9 in the morning! That meant there was no way our water bottles were going to freezer overnight in a fridge that wasn’t even turned on yet let alone going to be turned off most of the night. Oh well, first world problems, right?
The cottage was quite spacious with a king bed (we’d booked a cheap 3 twin bed room so they must have upgraded us and that made sense because we were the only ones there) and a large bathroom with a solar power shower – sadly we never got hot water so it was like a Latin American “normal” shower which in this heat was not so bad. The bed had mosquito netting around it and was pretty comfy but was lacking in pillows (we each like – especially Fran – two pillows). Cosmos told us not to leave the windows open at night due to bugs but we saw that one of the two sets of windows did in fact have screens and it was far too hot not to leave them open. So Fran closed the curtains but left the windows open and we used the netting and never even heard more than one mosquito all night.
We had happy hour on the patio – which was also quite big and then had a light dinner and called it a night about before 9pm. Surprising we slept pretty well although as usual we were awake early – like 5:30 am today – but that was not a bad thing as we hoped to get out to see the animals around dawn.
We enjoyed tea out on the patio as the sun rose and packed up and left to explore the park.
As mentioned above, this park is more known for its landscapes and is quite full of vegetation over most of the park making it difficult to see animals. It does however, have 4 of the big five. We did not saw a considerable amount of wildlife but especially not a lot of big game.
As soon as we left the lodge, the first thing we came across was zebra then 2 jackals and the largest herd of eland we’ve ever seen so that seemed a good sign but we had long periods with no sightings and with no map, did not have much direction as to where to go.
We saw a turn off to Mizma Springs and went to check it out hoping there were crocs and hippos.
Sadly no wildlife but a vervet monkey family and chirping birds.
The first destination we knew of from our guide book, was the see the Shetani lava flows which were cool and we actually saw three dik diks there on the sharp lava – we guessed they felt safe there with their hooves and lions wouldn’t venture out to hunt them – ?
We found the road down to the river which we hoped was more promising but found NO game down there and only small antelope and birds on the way down.
On the way down we had good vantage points for viewing far out but could spot nothing. On the way back, we finally saw elephant but not that close.
However, some of them were red coloured – which is something we hope to see in Tsavo East – what it’s famous for: red clay covered elephants.
There is a large black rhino sanctuary here but our guide book told us that they are more nocturnal and the place is only open from 4-6 and it was still late morning when we decided to call it and head for the gate as our ticket was only good until 3:10 pm anyway. You can’t be lucky at every park, right?
We made it to Voi by lunch time. We had some info on a few hotels from iOverlander as AirBNB and Booking.com had slim pickings. We prefer a place with a kitchen so we have a fridge and can make our own meals so the place we found on AirBNB for $55 a night looked promising but we wanted to see it. Doug found it off AirBNB and we went to check it out after having some lunch at a restaurant.
Impala Safari Lodge was bit out of town (3 blocks) but had a pool and offered both apartments and safari tents. The smaller apartment (2 bedrooms) only had a mini fridge so we asked to see the one we’d seen on AirBNB with a full kitchen. Strangely, they lock their kitchens here (like at Kitani) even if it’s inside the apartment and they couldn’t find the key for the kitchen! After learning it had a full fridge we said we’d take it and Doug negotiated a rate of $38 a night for three nights. We decided we were ahead of schedule and could use a day without driving and to have some catch up time online and do no driving.
The rate was acceptable to the owner so we left them to find the kitchen key, asked that they put the stuff from out cooler into the fridge when they did, and off we went to run some errands. We got groceries and a large envelope to mail our signed original documents to France and found a mechanic to have the cowling put back in place more securely. They also found that the bumper was loose so we paid to have that epoxied as well (we’re not sure we did that but WTH).
This took nearly an hour and then we returned to the Impala Safari Lodge for a refreshing swim and a cold beer from their bar.
Our apartment has three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a long bathtub – but no hot water?), a decent sized kitchen with lots of appliances, a dining room with tea service area and a living room. There is decent Wi-Fi (except in the afternoons for some reason) and we love the temperature of the pool. They do offer meals here especially breakfast but it’s not included.
Thursday, we took as a day off from our safari – we had two days of fat in our schedule and with Amboseli’s day being shorter than expected and Tsavo West being a bit of a letdown and we only have Tsavo East left so we’ll do that on Friday. Doug reached out to the AirBNB we have in Nairobi for Sunday and he said we could return a day early and pay him in cash on arrival on Saturday.
The weather here is the hottest we’ve had in Kenya hitting the low 30’sF / upper 80’s F and it doesn’t cool down much a night – about 19C / 67 F. At least this place has ceiling fans in most rooms as well as portable ones. We decided not to be too greedy and only used one bedroom and one bathroom although the ensuite is closer for pee breaks at night. 😉
Wednesday we felt we might just be back on track sleeping wise so the 8 days for 8 hour time difference might in fact be true.
So Thursday, Doug went for a run which he was quite happy with and Fran took a walk into town in the morning to find the post office and get our documents air mailed to France. She was told it could take up to 3 weeks so it will be interesting to see how long it actually takes.
We think there might have been a few others staying overnight because we weren’t the only cars in the parking lot this morning but we had the pool to ourselves everyday. When Fran went out to the car that morning to get something, we discovered that the security guy had washed our car – a nice surprise, so we’ll have to remember to tip him before leaving. Fran got back within an hour of leaving for her errands but although it was still mid-morning it was getting hot – high of 33C /91F today. We had a nice afternoon reading by the pool, taking a dip as needed and then a quiet evening. We had happy hour sitting on the pool’s edge dipping our feet in while drinking our beer.
Friday we were up early and made our way to the Tsavo East National Park gate outside town. As usual, it’s a slow process to get your tickets ($52 pp here again). Fran chatted with a ranger outside the gate and he “guaranteed that we’d see elephants, giraffe and hippo and so much more”.
When you actually get to the gate with your car, they register your plate. Par for the course as well is no park map but they did lend us a not very good laminated one to be turned in upon our exit from the park.
We saw elephants about five minutes into the park but they were far away; they looked red though!
Next was giraffe:
So two of the three he promised!
Then it was longer stretches of nothing as there was too much vegetation like Tsavo West but we did come across other small herds of elephants
After reaching the river, and seeing nothing in it, we came upon another small herd elephant at a mud/water hole and watched for a while as they covered themselves in red mud – fantastic!
Now if that wasn’t exciting enough for you, within five minutes we spotted a hippo on the left side of the road in the grass – he had just raised his head otherwise we wouldn’t have seen him as the grass is quite tall.
We stayed back some and then watched as he crossed the road in front of us towards the river:
We saw some waterbuck:
There is one bridge across the river you can cross (built by the Europeans) but you can’t go far. It seems to have been built to replace a destroyed causeway about 700m away – we saw the north end of it when we drove on the north side of the river.
We lucked out coming upon, not one, not two, not even three but sixteen hippos in the river below! We went across the river where we saw the destroyed causeway and then upon returning to the bridge, sat in the car in the AC (it was now 36C / 97 F and way too hot to be outside with no shade cover) eating our lunch watching them. We have seen another car for nearly two hours so we’re not worried about sitting in the middle of a bridge.
Next stop was Crocodile Point which had no crocs but did have a few hippos:
Then it was on to Ligards Falls which was a cool formation:
It was now past noon and feeling only hotter – the animals had to be feeling it too and we figured we’d had a good day and began to plan our route out. We headed east along the river then south to Mudanda Rock (described as a small Ayer’s Rock like in Australia); here there is a watering hole that does not go dry as a rule.
We got out and man the sun was scorching! But it was worth it as we saw a few elephants there and more were coming, a hippo in the water, several baboons and a few water buck.
The same elephant even came back and took a dip!
There is an antelope we’ve never seen (as well as a type of ostrich) that this park is supposed to have. While we did not see the latter, we did catch glimpses of the Gerenbuck aka the giraffe gazelle (for its long neck). It’s very skittish and we barely got this shot off:
Finally before leaving the park we came upon a secretary bird which we’d not seen in any of other parks.
We got back to our apartment, into our bathing suits and spent the rest of the afternoon poolside enjoying a few cool ones from the bar. It was a hot evening and the dinner we planned did not pan out so Doug asked the chef to make us a veggie pizza which we ate under the living room ceiling fan and two portable standing fans pointed on us.