48 HOURS IN THE CHYULU HILLS

Chyulu Hills….magical, mystical Chyulu Hills, located between the Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems. I have always wanted to visit the high-end Ol Donyo Lodge, situated deep in the Chyulus and when the opportunity presented itself at the end of January, I grabbed it with both hands.

Having heard so much about the lodge and the numerous activities one can enjoy there, I knew that I was in for a fun filled, adventure stay. Most importantly myself, and other visitors to the lodge are contributing to the conservation of this magnificently wild area and its animals.

3 magnificent bulls at the waterhole

Getting there was a breeze – a 35 minute flight with Safarilink Airlines early in the morning got us to the Ol Donyo airstrip by 8.30 am, ready for our adventures. Our guide, Jackson (instrumental in getting us to visit the lodge) met us at the lodge and escorted us to the hide, where three large elephants were waiting to greet us. Although we were extremely close to them, and they knew we were there, the elephants were calm and enjoying the cool water at the waterhole. All the water used at the lodge, is filtered and routed to the waterhole for the use of the game that visits the waterhole.

The lodge has 2 hides, one on ground level and one below ground and both offer excellent photographic opportunities. Jackson, being an excellent photographer, also offered us some very valuable tips.

Ground level hide

The managers at the lodge, Abby & Edward, although quite new, are extremely competent and run a very tight ship….nothing escapes Abby’s eagle eye, and they are always on hand to greet every arrival at the lodge, be it new arrivals or guests just arriving from a game drive.

The rooms were a wonderful surprise – each of the suites and villas has it’s own plunge pool overlooking the plains, and a rooftop terrace with ‘star beds’ which can be set up for you.

Plunge pools overlooking the plains

Two of us in the group were given the loan of a professional Canon Camera each (normally inclusive when you pay for exclusive hire of the vehicle), and we whiled away the hours before lunch learning how to use the camera, hopefully getting some wonderful shots of the wildlife below.

Lunch was served in the pool house – a selection of fresh, delicious salads and a delectable dessert and cheese board. Drinks are inclusive at the lodge so while everyone enjoyed a chilled glass of rose wine, I opted for the fashionable Hendricks G & T.

A dip in the pool after lunch, and off we went on our first game drive. We came across lots of plains game, no cats unfortunately, and settled down, drinks in hand, for our first sundowner in the Chyulus. Driving back to the lodge in the early evening, the lodge radioed Jackson to advise him of lions at the waterhole – unfortunately we missed them as they had already left the waterhole by the time we arrived. A quick shower and then dinner served in the wine cellar – a veritable treat.

All of us decided to sleep out on the ‘star beds’ that night, as the stars were particularly bright in the night sky. Lanterns, candles and an open sky awaited us after dinner, but I am ashamed to say that I promptly fell into such a deep slumber, that not only did I miss out on the stars, but also on all the animal noises during the night.

Next day, early wake up call and off we went to the Ride Kenya Stables, to meet the team headed by John & Paul. After being fitted out with chaps and helmets, we mounted our horses and were given brief instructions on how to handle the horse. It did look a little intimidating at first but we soon got the hang of it.

Back in the vehicle, we drove out to the plains where we met up with the horses and set off on a gentle walk on the plains. It was a blissful 60 minutes….walking quietly on the plains, game in sight, with the iconic Mt Kilimanjaro in the foreground.

Soon it was time for a well deserved breakfast under some shady trees, and then back on the horses for the return journey. Jackson picked us up midway and then received an alert from the lodge that a black rhino had been spotted on the plains. There was pandemonium – this was the first time a black rhino had been spotted here in 20 years and everyone wanted to be a part of this historic occasion. All the staff from the lodge came out in the vehicle and we were there too (actually we were just a total of 3 vehicles which indicates how unspoilt this area is) but the shy creature retired into some bushes. We tried getting photos of the rhino but the high temperatures were creating a haze which was showing up on the photos. Big Life Foundation‘s Craig Miller came to see the rhino as well, accompanied by his dog, and it was a very exciting and charged 30 – 45 minutes trying to get a glimpse of the rhino in the distance.

Back to the lodge for another delicious lunch, followed by a dip in the pool and then onto our next big adventure – going into the one of the lava tube caves that crisscross the Chyulu Hills. The Chyulu Hills has the deepest known lava tube cave in the world, and one of the caves, the Upper Leviathan Cave has been measured at 11.15 km – one of the world’s longest caves.

Getting there took us about 45 minutes by car and then a short hike to the entrance of the cave. We were accompanied by a Maasai veteran carrying a rifle and a wicked short knife, and despite having only one eye, was said to be an expert marksman.

Descending into the cool, dark depths of the cave was like entering a another world. There were trees growing out of the lava, and the silent, eerie depths were home to many bats. Thankfully one did not feel claustorphobic as the cave was large and most times you could see open sky at both ends. We came across a few birds but no snakes or other reptiles, though we were all so focused on where we were putting our feet, that we may have missed a few. There were sections where the only way to get down was on the seat of your pants.

Coming out into the fresh, open air has never felt better, and we had to celebrate with the obligatory sundowner, this time the spirit of choice being Musgrave Gin.

Back at the lodge, I decided to try the outdoor shower in our suite, which I dubbed “Star Shower” , after which we had dinner by the pool….truly a magical setting! As everyone was knackered after the day’s events, and we had an early start in the morning, we all decided to sleep indoors – good choice as the beds were super comfy and conducive to a good night’s rest.

Our last breakfast at the lodge, goodbyes to Abby, Edward and the staff with promises to return and then Jackson whisked us off to the airstrip. No sooner had we arrived, when we saw the lights of the Safarilink plane coming in to land. No byes for Jackson…for him it was ‘see you soon’ and then a wonderfully smooth flight back to the city.

I do think I will need a stint at the coast to recover from all that activity.

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN AFRICAN SAFARI

  1. Accommodation

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Although you may be booked to stay in a luxury Camp or Lodge, the accommodation will not be like staying in a city hotel. This does not mean that you have to ‘rough it’, but do take note that most Camps do not have airconditioning. A lot of the Camps don’t have proper shower facilities but use ‘safari showers’ – a contraption where water is filled in a canvas bag which is then hoisted up and fitted with a shower nozzle. Also a lot of Camps do not have running water in the individual tents, or even 24 hours electricity. However, all this serves to bring you closer to nature and you will enjoy your safari even more.

  1. Driving there

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If taking a road safari, the ride is likely to be bumpy and not very comfortable, as you will be travelling in a 4WD safari vehicle, more suited to savanna grasslands than tarmac roads.

  1. Flying there

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Flying to the various game parks and reserves is an awesome experience, but do know that if travelling in East Africa, these small planes can make upto 3 stops before landing at your airstrip. This is to drop off and pick up passengers from other Camps & Lodges, and is true for the return journey as well. If you are nervous about flying in smaller aircraft, you need to check on this to take this into consideration.

  1. Mobile reception

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Most places in the bush have poor cell phone reception, so more often than not, you will not be able to upload pictures and other digital data. In extreme cases, even calling out is difficult and you may need to stand in a certain spot to capture the elusive signal, just to make a phone call. Once you are out on a game drive, the reception seems to get better.

  1. Bugs, bugs and more bugs

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There will be bugs in your room, your bathroom and your vehicle, as well as the dining and reception areas of the Camp/Lodge. If going on a walk, you will be accosted by flies, mosquitoes and all sorts of flying insects. Well, this is Africa ….so get used to them.

  1. Food, glorious food

You will never go hungry on safari – there is an abundance of food, starting from the early morning cookie with your wake up tea/coffee, to the breakfast buffet, salad lunches, decadent afternoon teas, sundowner nibbles, and delicious dinner menus. Your day is filled with fresh, tasty and yummy cuisine.

  1. Early starts

Being on safari means waking up before dawn and leaving your tent as the sun starts to show in the sky. However, don’t worry….you won’t be sent out without sustenance as early morning tea/coffee is served in your tent before you leave for your early morning game drive, or balloon safari.

  1. Rest room stops

There are no toilets on game drives which could last upto 4 hours, and the only alternative is to use the bush. Don’t forget to carry spare tissues and practice your squats beforehand. If you are squeamish about going in the bush, try to restrict your fluid intake until you are back at the Camp/Lodge.

  1. Extremes of weather

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You may be exposed to extreme weather conditions, ranging from chilly early mornings on morning game drives and balloon safaris where you will need a light jacket or sweater, or gloriously hot, sunny late mornings and early afternoons, where even a t-shirt is an intrusion. Temperatures will drop at sunset, so if heading out for a night game, don’t forget the blankets, Maasai or otherwise. The key to comfort here, is layering.

  1. Hydration

Drop Falling into Water

It is very easy to slip into a routine where drinking water does not play a role, especially in Camps & Lodges where soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits are included in the cost. But do remember to keep hydrated as this will prevent illnesses that come about due to dehydration.

 

Take these 10 things into consideration for your African safari, and get ready for an epic safari!

 

 

5 TIPS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR AFRICAN SAFARI

A safari in Africa is an incredible experience, and for the safari newbie it can be a little overwhelming. The right safari etiquette will allow you to take maximum advantage of the wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as ensure your fellow travelers enjoy the trip. As a tour operator, I have witnessed literally hundreds of people on safari, and I know the importance of the right safari etiquette. If you are travelling to Africa for the first time, there are 3 articles I have identified that will help you with the right etiquette.

The first article is from GoAfrica – What NOT to do on Safari in Africa, where the writer gives some tips on things to refrain from doing on safari, based on her personal experiences as an Africa Travel Expert.

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The second article is from Sabi Sands Reserve in Kruger National Park – 5 Things not to do on a Safari, and this highlights some relevant safety tips while on safari.

Basecamp Eagle View 187

The third article is from Landlopers – 5 Things you should know before going on Safari. This article touches on some misconceptions people may have about African Safaris.

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Drawing on my experience as a tour operator, I would recommend these 5 tips for correct safari etiquette on safari.

  • Don’t expect to see the Big Five on your first game drive – wildlife are unpredictable and there are no guarantees that you will see it all.
  • Keep your distance from the wildlife – remember these are wild animals, and will charge if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware of the people around you – refrain from shouting or talking too loudly and using your cell phone on a game drive as loud noises can scare away the animals. Muting your camera is a good practice.
  • Leave no trace – ensure you don’t throw away plastic and other rubbish in the bush, as the animals might eat and choke on it.
  • Always listen to your guide – he is responsible for your safety, while also looking out for the wildlife and the environment.

Follow these 5 simple tips to get the best out of your African safari.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination, https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/ and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .