Reliable Amboseli

Reliable Amboseli

Amboseli’s situation under Mt. Kilimanjaro insures good game viewing no matter what the weather. But avoid the heavy rains.

We traveled from Tsavo to Amboseli in the requisite armed convoy at 8 a.m. from the Chyulu Gate. This is a pretty anachronistic practice that was instituted in the 1980s when there were many shifta [bandits]. In fact, about a half dozen tourists were killed that decade in this corridor, but there’s been no incident for years.

The drive takes about 1½ hours and includes a few minutes over the interesting Shetani Lava flow, one of the last major volcanic events in Kenya in the last several hundred years.

The route skirts the major border town of Loitokitok which is the nearest any major road comes to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had been fortunate that the mountain had been out the previous evening, because it was now cloaked in storm clouds.

The area was quite dry. Normally, there would be many fairly mature sun flowers and knee-high corn, but some fields were bone dry, the sticks of the once young corn all that remained. Yet it had down poured the night before, and the typical erosion that is such a problem in Africa, had all but washed out several of our bridges.

I need to mention how bad the roads were. And this main route had been redone only two years ago. At one point when the tourist route linking the parks converged for several kilometers with a main road to Loitokitok, the road became almost unusable despite the fact that the traffic increased tenfold. Kenya’s greatest threat to improving tourism is the state of its roads.

I had told my crew that there as an interesting curio shop on the final stretch into Amboseli, but it had closed because there are so few tourists. No matter, we were besieged by sellers at the Amboseli gate, and quite a lot was bought.

It didn’t take long once inside the park to note that the dry spell had much less effect in the “wild” than in the populated areas we had just driven through. There was just as much dust, but there were also the numerous beautiful swamps that are fed by underground rivers flowing off Kili.

At our first one we positioned the vehicles carefully on the road to get a fantastic experience as more than 30 elephant walked across between our vehicles. They were headed into the swamp to water, and watching the young ones being tucked into the fairly rapidly marching line of massive jumbos was fantastic!

Later that afternoon, Blair Devermont told her driver/guide to “wait a minute, isn’t that something?” In one of the swamps there appeared to be a simple log, but Blair had noticed something else. Sure enough, it was a python that had apparently just swallowed an impala.

Of course everyone else got the word (nowadays by cellphone), so that no one missed it. In my 37 years on safari, I’ve only seen a python a handful of times.

The hippo and buffalo looked a bit distressed, and nowhere near as bad as their cousins we had seen in Tsavo. But everything else, including the lions and elephant, looked fairly good.

No matter what the weather, Amboseli usually provides an uniform game viewing experience. This is because it is essentially a huge soda lake with emerging marshes that are fed by underground rivers coming off Mt. Kilimanjaro. So even when as was the case for us there is a serious dry spell on the veld, Kili never stops pumping down the water.

But at the same time be cautious, because after heavy rains the huge soda pan floods very easily. This usually happens in later April and May. When this happens travel is restricted to only those park roads which the KWS has elevated, and this greatly restricts game viewing.