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Toto Safari

August 3, 2010

So last weekend we went to Amboseli National Park and stayed at the Serena Lodge for the first safari of our stay. Amboseli is south of Nairobi and fairly accessible in that it only takes a few hours to get there and you don’t necessarily need a 4×4.

The drive there was hilarious; what passes for highways round here are pretty laughable, or they would be if they weren’t so scary. The joke goes that some president or other managed to get money for a 3 lane motorway but only 1 lane ended up in Nairobi and the other 2 are in a Swiss bank account. Again, laughable AND scary.

So yours truly got the delightful task of driving first and it took us TWO HOURS to get out of town and travel 50km! Traffic really is worse than London. And the roads have no markings or signs pretty much, sometimes they’re 2-way and sometimes 1-way, full of trucks and 4×4’s all overtaking madly and then there’s the potholes and police checkpoints and roadside market stalls selling nothing but onions and oranges for miles, it seems. Very colourful and exotic all round.

Which is nothing compared to Amboseli. We made it eventually (it really was a hairy journey, not least because we had to get to the gates before dark and made it by a whisker) and whilst Pete sorted out our passes Alfie and I got accosted by some Maasai ladies who were selling their finery, which of course was like passing silver in front of a magpie. Alfie immediately came alive, beaming at the toothy ladies and grabbing their necklaces much to their delight. Thankfully we managed to get away with only a small beaded bracelet for him which he loved for all of a minute before pulling it off. Driving from the gate to the lodge took about an hour and much of it dark but we managed to see a lovely family of giraffe, several wildebeest, an oryx, some zebra and gazelles on the way. Not a bad start!

The following morning we were up at 5.45am and even had to wake Alfie, who thought this was all a great adventure. After grabbing coffee for the adults and a bottle for him we set off in the rapidly emerging light. Amboseli is lovely, quite flat with wide expanses of savannah and few trees, which means it’s easier to spot the wildlife. Also a fair number of swamps which means the animals will eventually come to drink at some point during the day. So I saw my first hippo! And cried, of course. I always cry when I see a new species, so that’s nothing to worry about. As I was training my bins on the lovely big hippo Pete counted another 5 next to it in the water; though you could only see their eyes and ears, so cute! While we might refer to ‘the tip of the iceberg’, in Africa one refers to ‘the tip of the hippo’. Think I may steal that one!

But that wasn’t all that magical morning, for around the corner we spotted another vehicle on a small bridge and wondered what it may be looking at. As we got nearer we saw him; a beautiful young male lion right by the front tyres. He was looking expectactly into the swamp below and as we waited with baited breath, we saw a female emerge. Yep, they were engaging in that age old ritual of courting, though the female was avoiding his attentions at all costs, hence hiding in the swamp. It was just amazing. The male passed by us close enough to touch and circled the car a couple of times. When he was a little farther away Alfie leant out of the open window and gurgled with delight. (As he got closer I made Pete close the window even though the lion could not have taken less notice of us). At one point the other vehicle left and it was just us and the lions. Truly magical. Eventually the female loped off , still in the swamp which must have been really uncomfortable for her, and the male ran up and down on the road, not wanting to jump in and get his paws wet. Wuss!

Then back to the lodge for a mega brekkie, including a glass of sparkling wine, why not? Alfie loved his pile of eggs, sausages and croissants (current fave food) and then we let him loose on the terrace surrounding the lodge and overlooking the bush, while we finished our coffees. He had such fun chasing leaves and eating ants (not really Nannie, honest) and climbing steps and charming the Maasai warriors that we called it his Toto (baby) Safari. Probably as much fun as watching the miaow’s and the neigh’s out in the bush! The staff thought it hilarious and from then on, whenever they saw us, they pointed and said ‘Toto Safari’ in a very loud voice.

That afternoon we went on another lovely drive and I got VERY excited when we happened upon a family of elephants by the side of the road; mummy, 2 juveniles and a little baby having a mudbath. How amazing? But that was only an appetiser, because half an hour later we landed in the middle of a MASSIVE herd; at least 80 elephants all around us!!!!!! So magic again.

We did see other animals, of course, a sedate family of giraffe; a bachelor herd of impala and plenty of birds; egrets, ibis, spoonbills, eagle (1), bee-eaters, ducks, flamingoes and pelicans. But it was all about the lions and the elephants that day.

We were so exhausted that we fell into our beds after out traditional African ‘nyama choma’ (grilled meat) and were up once again at dawn the next day for another drive. This time not quite so spectactular, we’d probably used up most of our credits on the first day, but lovely nonetheless. Alfie was fabulous throughout, even though we spent a lot of time in the car. Although within the park he climbed all over us of course, there being no restrictions except a max of 40kph. And he LOVED helping mummy and daddy to drive, something to do with his obsession with the car keys I think… All in all he did very well in coping with it all, and had some spectacular naps which is always a good sign. Though in fairness, he may well have been equally fascinated by a herd of donkeys or the flock of pigeons in Walthamstow town square. Ah well, we all had a superfabulous time and can’t wait to do it again!

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