Leaving Tanzania & Heading for Amboseli, Kenya

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
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Trip End Feb 04, 2012


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26, 2012 – Day 6

Wakeup comes at 4:30 AM. Breakfast at 5:15 AM. We leave for the airstrip at 6 AM (a one hour drive). Our charter flight (a Cessna 208B, Caravan I) meets us at 7 AM.

The hardest part of this morning is saying goodbye to our Tanzanian guides: Severin, Menase and Kombo. They are thoroughly professional and amazingly knowledgeable. They also happen to be genuinely nice people. I feel privileged to have met them.

We fly back (45 minutes) to Arusha. We are met by the same bus that met us the night we arrived in Tanzania. Our baggage (which went ahead several days ago) is on top of the bus and is soon reunited with the Tauck duffel bags from our plane. Half way through Arusha, traffic stops. There is a bad accident ahead. Our driver somehow turns the bus around and goes off road through the dirt back streets and alleys.

Back on the highway, we begin the drive to Kenya. Kori has snacks of local cashews and potato chips to munch on during the drive. I remember the old blogs recounting how horrible the road from Arusha to Kenya was. We are lucky. The Chinese have just finished paving the entire length of that road.

As we approach the Kenyan border, I reflect back on our six days in Tanzania. I've been to a lot of countries but Tanzania will rank among my all time favorites. The country is beautiful and the people are as kind as any I’ve ever met.

Leaving Tanzania was uncomplicated and quick. We climb into new safari vehicles and drive the 100 yards to Kenya immigration. The lines are long but move quickly. I had to laugh at Beth because she was fingerprinted again; and, I wasn’t.

As we exit the Customs office, we are besieged by Maasai women selling all manner of bracelets, statuettes, and other trinkets. Beth and I negotiated several very favorable purchases. These women are persistent to the point of swarming the prospective customer. If you can keep from being trampled, you can do quite well.

By 11 AM we are in Kenya and on the way to Amboseli National Park. The one hour drive to Amboseli’s gate is akin to driving over an old fashioned washboard. A hot – dusty – uncomfortable - kidney busting ride is the only way to describe this part of our drive. Did I forget to mention none of our safari vehicles have air conditioning?

We arrive at Amboseli gate. Our driver leaves to complete some paperwork. We are left to fend for ourselves with a new group of Maasai women thrusting their wares through our windows and under our noses. Twenty minutes later the driver finally returns and we are on the last leg to the Amboseli Serena. Whew!

That leg begins with a "short cut" across a dried lake bed which is supposed to be less bumpy. Wrong! The drive might have been less miserable if there had been game to distract us. There was almost none. We did spy three rare gerenuks. These small antelope have unusually long necks.       

Amboseli seems dry as a bone. Our spirits are not high. We eat lunch and take a short nap. That was enough to rally us for a 4 PM game drive. Our guide corrected our impression that Amboseli was in drought. “There’s plenty of water here,” he said.    

  

He was right. We find small streams, swamps and bogs throughout the region. We also find large herds of gazelles, wildebeest, ostrich and elephant. There are 1,500 elephants in Amboseli. That sounds encouraging and, indeed, it is. However, twenty years ago there were many, many more. Amboseli, in my estimation, is in trouble. The Park depends on snow melt from Mt Kilimanjaro. And, there has been no new snow on the mountain in ten years. That does not bode well for the Park or its animals.

As we drive through the Park, we see a herd of elephant led by a huge female. We stop to take pictures. The matriarch cooperates by leading her troop across the road in front of our lead vehicle. Then, several other safari vehicles pull up and get between the matriarch and part of her clan. The female goes ballistic. She lifts her trunk and trumpets her displeasure. She charges toward our vehicle with ears flapping and screaming with rage. She pulls up short…then charges again. Fortunately, she stops some 20 yards from our vehicle. It was a tense moment and one we will not soon forget.

Our group gets together for drinks and dinner this evening. We rehash the excitement of the day. As we sit on the veranda, a wild elephant walks directly in front of us…followed a few minutes later by a lone hyena. Very neat…and unexpected.

We are off to bed early. We leave at 6:30 AM for a tour of a local Maasai village.
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