Outside a tent, a comfortable one, set on the banks of a river, under the shade of doum palms, listening to the lilting calls of doves and the gentle creaking of francolins, watching an al fresco table being set for lunch, anticipating the taste of a chilled white wine – what more could you want when you needed a respite from the routine of the office and the din of the city?
We were in the Tsavo Safari Camp, thirty kilometres into the Tsavo East National Park from the Mtito Andei Gate on the Mombasa Road and under the new SGR Railway. It is a smooth sandy track along the edge of the park. After the rains the bush was green. Along the way we saw many pairs of the little and timid dik-diks, small herds of impala, a lone lesser kudu, and a confusion of bird species.
We wondered why we were being greeted in the car park with a hot towel, a cold juice, and an indemnity form to sign. But that became clear when we realised that, to reach the camp, we had to be rowed across the slowly swirling waters of the Athi River in a small rubber dinghy. That was a bit different, and it was fun.
We were welcomed by the owner and manager, Meera Desai. I had met her there almost twenty years before, when we made a night’s stop-over on the way to Mombasa. I hoped the camp hadn’t changed very much, because its charm had been its simplicity. It is one of Kenya’s oldest safari camps and, as I was pleased to see, it is still, as Meera herself put it, ‘a quirky little place in the middle of nowhere’.
The dining room and the bar are much the same as before, but above them there is a splendid lounge/meeting room overlooking the river. The tents are typical safari-style; they are covered by an mbati roof; they have a double bed, wardrobe and solar lamps; out-back there is a rustic but spacious bathroom. In the heat of the day you can refresh yourself in the swimming pool. And, if you must get in touch with the world outside, there is Wi-Fi and sockets for recharging your phone.
The first evening they drove us in an old but still strong Land Rover up a steep and winding track to the top of the Yatta Plateau for a sundowner. The view was stunning: a flat green sea of tree tops, cut only by the brown strip of the Athi River, and leading far to the misty shapes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulus and the Ngulia Hills. We sat on a rocky outcrop and had our drink till the sun went down right behind Mount Kilimanjaro.
At dinner the candle-lit tables were set out again under the trees. The food throughout was excellent: imaginative mixes of the soups, meats with fresh salads, and very tempting desserts. But the next morning it was a packed lunch because we were to go for a long drive along the river.
For the tourists to Kenya who want to see our famous big five in the shortest time possible, I wouldn’t recommend the Tsavo Safari Camp. For them a game drive has to be rather like a game of basketball – score, score, score. But a drive around much of Tsavo is more like a tight game of football – appreciated by those who enjoy suspense.
After nothing but antelopes and birds for half an hour along the road, a lone bull buffalo came out of the trees and onto the track. He stared us down for a minute or so and then slowly lumbered back to the trees. On the return there was an old bull elephant making his solitary way down to the river to drink. We stopped at a bend in the river where a pod of hippos were wallowing. We saw a crocodile swallowing a big fish he had snaffled. And for birds we stopped many times – for kingfishers, rollers, hornbills, hawks, eagles, and so many more.
The third treat of our two-day package was a bush breakfast. Again it was down the river and at the water’s edge. Bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade, and hot coffee – all this with the gurgling of the water over rocks, the rustling of leaves in the trees, and the songs of birds. Wonderful.
The drive to Mtito Andei from Nairobi on day one had been easy. The drive home was anything but – with so many trucks and so many mindless car drivers to avoid. But the Tsavo Safari Camp now has a package that includes the SGR to Mtito Andei, where you are met by a camp vehicle. The wilderness will be so much nearer.
To check on the various packages and the prices, go to the website, www.tsavosafaricamp.com, or the Facebook page, Meera Tsavo Safari Camp, or ring on 0729 613201.