Last year Johan Badenhorst and his crew completed Voetspore on the Equator. This was Expedition No 8. It was definitely their most difficult journey to date. The journey tested their patience and resilience as never before. But it did not start out that way…
The first country we visited on the Voetspore on the Equator expedition was Kenya. We started at the picturesque coastal town of Lamu, just south of the border with Somalia. From there we travelled south along the Swahili coastline. It was absolutely gorgeous. Every town is postcard beautiful.
At Shimoni we turned inland and travelled to Tsavo. This is one of Kenya’s prime wildlife destinations. Tsavo West and Tsavo East, bisected by the Mombasa-Nairobi freeway, is famous for its red coloured elephants, its abundance of wildlife and more specifically its man-eaters — the lions of Tsavo.
To enter Tsavo you need a Kenya Wild Life Safaricard. This is a smart card. It is loaded with a credit in advance, and can be topped up at certain locations. You have to calculate how many people will spend how many days in the reserve, as any credit left over on a Safaricard is not refundable.
Prices are steep and are all payable in US dollars. To enter Tsavo you pay $65 per person per day. This allows entrance for at least 24 hours.
Accommodation in Tsavo is mostly to be found in the many lodges. Camping is available but limited. Most visitors are escorted by safari operators, who are keen and efficient. They mostly drive longbody four-wheel drive vehicles with roofs that can be opened to allow the clients to stand during game viewing. This is great for photography. Many of the photos nowadays are taken with cell phone cameras and can be posted straight away on social media to enable your friends around the world to have a taste of your African bush experience. There is good cell phone reception in large parts of the Kenyan game parks.
The lodge where we stayed is called Patterson’s. Our aim was to find out more about what happened in 1898 during the building of the Mombasa-Kampala railway line. More than 130 railway workers were said to have been killed by two lions, later named Ghost and Darkness. An engineer, Col Patterson, eventually managed to hunt down both of them.
At Patterson’s Safari Lodge you are welcomed by efficient staff. They greet you with “Karibu” – “Welcome” in Swahili. You are given a hot, wet towel to wipe the dust from your hands and face. Then you are introduced to your rafiki – a Maasai who follows you like a shadow, just to ensure that you are safe.
Dinner is excellent. The food is served by well-trained waiters. The beer is cold and poured with or without a head, depending on your preference. Every staff member speaks in a low tone and offers to address your every need. Kenyan tourism is very well organised.
From Tsavo we continued to Chyulu Hills. This is a game park situated just north of Tsavo West. It is the park that receives the least number of visitors, mainly because the dense bush makes viewing difficult. On the other hand, it contains the world’s second longest lava flow, and there is the opportunity to see Africa’s biggest mountain, Kilimanjaro. That is, if it is not covered by clouds.
On the south-eastern slopes of the Chyulu Hills, facing Kilimanjaro, is Ol Donyo Wuas. This lodge is one of Africa’s best, and offers wonderful accommodation at a mere $750 per person per night. (Somehow we could not find enough in our budget to allow the guys to spend a few nights in this wonderful establishment.)
We continued our journey in a westerly direction, all the way to Lake Magadi. It is a beautiful lake with thousands of flamingos and lovely hot springs. It is also the site of the world’s largest sodium plant, served by a railway built specifically for the plant.
From Magadi we travelled to the capital, Nairobi. Here we replenished supplies at well stocked department stores, filled up our gas cylinders and made final adjustments to our vehicles and equipment before leaving for Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Kenya you have access to everything the first world has to offer, yet you can experience a true African safari. The communications network is as good (if not better) than those anywhere in the world. There is access to medical facilities, and should you need to travel to another destination for specialised treatment, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport — one of the busiest on the continent — offers direct links to a huge number of countries.
Should one stay away from Kenya because it is becoming too commercial or popular? Perhaps not. Over the years the Kenyans have developed their tourism skills to a fine art. They are brilliant at it. Even in other African countries, Kenyans apply their craft. It is not unusual to find a Kenyan manager in a lodge in Rwanda, Tanzania or Zambia.
But one must be aware that this expertise and service comes at a price. Only in to the north of Kenya can one have a true wilderness experience. The game parks in the central region and to the south offer an excellent safari experience, but don’t be surprised if you are joined by hundreds of people from across the globe.
Kenya is Africa for beginners, and it is a good place to start.