Nairobi did not really live up to expectations. Despite a couple of interesting buildings, it was predominantly modern, and not very attractive. The outskirts of the city were surrounded by unregulated slums, and the few attempts at modern architecture were overshadowed by the reality of life for most of those living there. (I should state that this was a long time ago, and I am not commenting about Nairobi as it is today) The tourist shops were uninspiring and over-priced. Furthermore, the staff in the shops were either indifferent Africans, or very pushy Asians. As predicted by the cabbie, we were approached many times, with a friendly hail of ‘Jambo’, and asked to change currency, sell our camera, or be guided around the sights. We managed to brush everyone off with politeness, and never once felt actually threatened.
We were lucky enough to spot an unusual restaurant. They served local meats, such as ostrich, impala, and even crocodile. The menu said that these animals were farmed, so that saved whatever conscience we felt about eating such things. We made a reservation for that evening, and felt cheered up by brighter weather, and temperatures approaching the low 70s. After coffee and a snack in a clean cafe, (the coffee is excellent, Kenya Blue Mountain) we headed back to the hotel by taxi. I would like to add that there are some museums and other places to visit in Nairobi, but for reasons forgotten by me now, we decided not to visit them. Our overall feeling was that we were there mainly to see the animals, so we were not unduly concerned that the capital was something of a disappointment.
The restaurant exceeded our anticipation. We ate on an outside terrace, with views over the city. (I wish I could remember the name of the place!) I started off with smoked Impala, a bit like Braesola, and delicious, followed by steaks of Ostrich, some rice and local vegetables. The meat was very tasty, and they had a good wine list, as well as local beers. There was also a sweet trolley, with delicious pastries, and familiar desserts. We went there and back in a taxi, and on arrival back at the hotel, declared it to be a memorable repast. The next morning, we had arranged a trip to Nairobi National Park, so we were suitably excited.
After breakfast, we were collected by a minibus, and taken to the park. There were only four other passengers, so we all enjoyed a window seat. The vehicle had an elevating roof, so when we saw something of interest, we could look over the lip, into the open air. Our driver would also be our guide, and he assured us that he knew the best places to spot the wildlife. The park is less than seven miles from the city centre, and is very large. Despite its proximity to Nairobi, it felt isolated, and suitably exciting. The first encounter was with a herd of Giraffe. Used to seeing them in zoos in the UK, we were totally unprepared for seeing them en masse. Perhaps sixty animals were feeding on the tree branches very close to the vehicle. Nearby, we could see baboons running around, and wart-hogs too; very endearing pig-like animals. It was hard to contain our excitement at seeing so many wild animals so quickly. As well as Zebra, we also saw Wildebeest, Secretary Birds, and Vultures. Later on, we saw Buffalo, Eland, and Hyena, which were much larger than I had imagined. The driver took us to a ‘secluded’ spot. It seemed that everyone else knew about that spot though, as there were lots of other vehicles parked there. We saw a small family of Lions, mostly females, with two cubs, and a large male. All this just a few yards from the minibus. It was quite something. Our trip over, the driver returned us to the hotel, and waited for a tip. We gave him a good one, he had done a good job that day. The next day, we were going on an overnight trip to The Ark, in the Aberdare Mountains. We couldn’t wait.
The Ark is a purpose-built viewing area with accommodation, similar to the more famous Treetops. It is quite a distance from Nairobi, about 80 miles north, in the Aberdare mountains, another National Park. We had booked the trip before arriving, so it was already paid for. The plan was to arrive in the afternoon, check in, and get a seat on the viewing area. This balcony overlooks a large watering-hole. Salt blocks are laid out, to attract the animals, but they arrive mostly after dark. We had a very nice room; though basic, it had all we would want. Meals were provided, and we quickly ate, before getting to the viewing area. It had been raining all day, so the staff told us that there might not be that many animals as a result. Despite our disappointment at this news, we resolved to stay up, on the chance that we might see something. We could go to our rooms, and be awakened by an alarm, when animals appeared. Instead, we chose to sit on the verandah, in comfy chairs, with blankets to cover us. The feeding areas were well-lit, and staff supplied hot soup, or hot chocolate, on request. It was chilly and wet, not at all what we had expected.
After dark, the first arrivals were small Cerval Cats. They are omnivorous mammals, and we were advised to keep our hands away from them. They scurried over the balcony, seeking any scraps or snacks we had left. They were obviously well-used to people, and not bothered by our presence at all. We later saw large numbers of Wart Hogs, coming to the water to drink, but little else,for most of the night. When we were on the verge of giving up, the staff alerted us to be vigilant. They had seen Elephants, and they soon arrived, to lick the salt put out. It was amazing to see them in such numbers. Perhaps a hundred or more, jostling for the salt-licks. There were lots of tiny babies, juveniles, and large male tuskers too. Their arrival made our night, and made it all worthwhile. We were glad to have made the effort, and not too concerned, as we would soon be going somewhere where we could be guaranteed to see many more animals. After a good breakfast, we left tired but happy. It was an experience we would never forget.
After a day’s rest in Nairobi, we had a planned trip to the Amboseli National Park. This is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, close to the border with Tanzania. It is about 200 miles from Nairobi, so a long trip of more than five hours by road, livened by a brief stop at the Great Rift Valley. This had also been planned in advance, and would be a two night stay at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, with all trips and meals included, returning during the evening of the third day. The bus picked us up after breakfast, and we set off in good weather, hoping it was a taste of things to come.