musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 6 - Tsavo East

Tsavo West and East are generally one big national park divided in half by the Nairobi-Mombasa highway (which coincidentally loosely follows the aforementioned railroad). Turning off the highway that morning, it wasn't long before we arrived at the gate to Tsavo East. I was very impressed with the Kenyan authorities with respect to registration of visitors and maintenance of the parks. Michael even confirmed that poaching was not a big issue anymore and that the park service was quite efficient.

I quickly realized that Tsavo East was going to be my favorite of the three parks. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the other two, it's just that Tsavo East was very green and savanna-like, not to mention full of animals. One gets the sense that, due to the vast amount of hiding spots, and the fact that visitors must stay on specific driving paths (this was the case for all parks - no more off roading), the animals here were just a bit more wild. Periodic hills of brown rock and greenery complemented the open savannas and strategically placed shade trees.

Since we had 'limited time' in his mind, Michael opened the top of our van so that the drive to the lodge would, in essence, be another game drive. We very much appreciated it partly because we got to see more animals but mostly because we slowly made our way through the park, soaking it all in.

Catching a glimpse of some buildings wedged into a hillside overlooking a vast landscape, I secretly prayed that this was Voi Safari Lodge, our destination. It was.

Not a wonderful lodge amenities/facilities-wise (it very much had a 1970s backpacker feel and was in need of some updates) and definitely not up to the Serena standard, Voi made up for all deficiencies with its glorious view. We immediately went swimming in the pool that sat just below the main buildings, which leads me to the #1 recommendation I have for Voi.

Dear Voi,
When you update the pool, please make it a negative edge pool. Oh, and there were a lot of flies, fyi. Thank you.
Kind regards,

We started our afternoon game drive a bit early hoping to catch as many animals as possible on what was to be our last outing. We were not disappointed. Less than 15 minutes into the drive we came upon a large family of elephants escaping the heat in a muddy pool of water. It had mercifully rained the past two nights so this family had come out to feast on the lush greens and cool down, turning their normally gray skin into an earthy brown. We stood in our vehicle for probably 10 minutes watching them play with and generally enjoy one another. All of this was happening less than 100 meters from us and I felt for a moment like I was witnessing a silent film that was created just for us and screened only once. Elephants are incredibly loving and expressive animals and I felt honored to have been a part of their afternoon fun - even though they probably had no idea we were even there. Later in the drive we were lucky enough to spot an elusive leopard hiding between two trees. The next day Michael told us that he was pretty sure we were the only folks in Kenya to see one that day.

That evening, back at Voi, Lauren and I hiked down to the viewing platform that had been built (although not well-maintained) for guests to get close up views of animals drinking at the watering holes situated at the bottom of the hill. Dinner was not as good as we had come to expect from the Serena lodges but, once again, the view made up for it. Lauren conned me into a post-dinner beer but being the old man I am it wasn't long before I crashed.

We found out the next morning that shortly after we went to bed a lion showed up at the watering hold and marked its territory by roaring loudly... thanks to my sleepiness we had missed it all! Doh!

Ratings for Voi Lodge and Tsavo East are:

Room amenities: 2 (bathroom was weak but view from the room was nice)
View from restaurant: 5
Staff: 3 (borderline non-existent except for the guy that Lauren kept tipping)
Animals in park: 5
Scenery in park: 4 (great, but not as stunning at Tsavo West)
Overall lodge quality: 3 (only this high because of the location)