Magical Kenya - April 2015
Christina Astill – 02-04-2015
As spring arrives and the Devon countryside emerges from its winter slumber, my thoughts turn to the land where the circle of life is displayed in all of its beauty and savagery; Kenya.
Every year at about this time I feel the call to return to this vibrant country. In my 20’s I worked for an African expedition company , driving around East Africa in the back of a converted army truck, washing in rivers and sleeping in an ex Boy Scout 2-man tent with a hole in the ground for a toilet….. Not quite my style now! The safaris I do now are still under canvas but that is where similarities end, an ensuite bathroom with hot water, a comfortable four poster bed with mosquito net, and an a la carte restaurant are all essential parts of the trip!
Most safaris start in Nairobi - an eight hour flight from London. It is the only international airport located right on the border of a National Park - it is not unusual to see a giraffe as you land. Many leave Nairobi straight away and set off on safari, but the city itself is certainly worth some time. I recommend you try to arrive at the weekend as the mid-week traffic is dreadful, particularly with the odd lion deciding that the main highway is the perfect place for a nap! (As happened in September 2013).
The highlight of any trip to Nairobi is the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage. It is open every day for an hour between 11am and 12pm, where you can see the babies being fed and playing with each other. If you adopt an elephant you can return to the orphanage for free in the afternoon and help to put your baby elephant to bed- a real teary eyed moment.
When it comes to the safari, you can see that Kenya is so much more than wild animals, with changing landscapes, dusty towns & villages and colourful roadside markets. Most settlements have a shack with a sign stating “Hotel and Butchery” which always intrigues and worries me. Many of the roads are good but when the tarmac runs out the roads provide what is politely called an ‘African Massage’.
Kenya is a land where memories are made; the first wild elephant you see will stay with you forever. Watching a baby suckle whilst the rest of the herd protects it and the sight of a big cat are guaranteed to make your heart beat faster. There can be nothing more wonderful than sitting in your safari vehicle watching lion cubs play bathed in the African sunset while you enjoy a G&T – which for some reason always tastes better when drunk on the banks of the Mara River.
A safari is an adventure rather than a holiday, early morning starts are essential as this is often when the animals are most active. This year I had the privilege of watching two Cheetah brothers bring down a wildebeest. It was almost unbearable watching the kill but within two hours it had gone from beast to bones with no waste, feeding cheetahs, jackals, hyenas, storks and finally vultures, the refuse collectors of the African plains.
The best time to visit is September when you could be lucky enough to witness the mayhem that is the Wildebeest migration. Hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest risk their lives crossing crocodile-filled rivers en route to Tanzania. Last year I travelled in November however when many of the cats give birth – transforming the Masai Mara into a lion, cheetah and leopard cub nursery!
Travel in Africa often requires patience, but this will always be rewarded , the animals are wild but not interested in having you for dinner – I think they regard us as canned food in our vehicles and why bother with the effort when you have all the lovely fresh wildebeest about! So if it’s not on your travel list it really should be…Magical Kenya, I can’t wait for my next safari.