Day 3 (September 12, 2013)   Amboseli


Ruta a Amboseli

   This day we must go to Amboseli as soon as possible. The leaving time will come by the tasks we missed the previous day, as we must leave Nairobi with the goodies and appropriate cards for parks and reserves. We would visit Giraffe Center in our way out of the city and, if we have time, we could pass by Karen Blixen museum.

   We will spend the rest of the day in the car, lunching in route. We would drive South for a 150 Km until the end of the country, in the border city of Namanga, there we will take the road to Amboseli National Park where we will spend all the spare time exploring the park, watching animals and enjoying the views of Mount Kilimanjaro until 6 PM when the park gates are closed.

   A great dinner will be waiting for us at Amboseli Sopa Lodge, as well as a swimming pool and a comfortable room.


   The day doesn’t start good: while in breakfast I’m told my car has a flat tyre. It should happen when we were going around looking for the hotel. But when I’m trying to pay the hotel bill by card it is refused and I must do it in cash.

   I change the wheel after the breakfast. Passing by Karen Blixen farm is out of the table now. Our plan now is going to the shopping mall in Langata to solve the problem with the phone and taking the street with the sign pointing to Giraffe Center. We will try to solve the rest of the problems in our way.
Shopping Mall in Langata Road 
   The shopping mall is pretty modern and there is a gas station where I’ve read in a sign they can fix tyres, so first thing I do is taking the wheel as the guy is telling me it is going to be ready in 30 minutes by 200 ksh. Then we go to Saraficom store, where they can fix my problem with the cell phone. But the problem with the credit card persists as I cannot use it in any of the three ATMs there. As here is an exchange office I go to there for getting 200 euros in shillings with a rate of 112ksh per euro. It is enough for our next expenses. Somehow, when I ‘m watching how the lady on the other side of the glass take the big pack of 1000 ksh bills and put it in the counting machine and, at the moment she clicks the button all the bills are launched to the ceiling making a rain of money, I’m started to think this trip is kind of cursed. The young woman takes all the bills, some in the air, the most of them from the floor, and says to me, embarrassed: “I’ll count them manually”. I agree by nodding.

   We leave the place to the Giraffe Center and finally feel we’ve started our itinerary. It’s going to be 12 PM, so the visit must be quick. This is easy as the place is quite small. We pay 1000 ksh each and go up to the platform where we’re given giraffe candies. The problem is only one of the five giraffes here is attending tourists. When our turn comes we can check the voracity of this animal which, we’re told, eats 65 kilos of leaves per day.

Giraffes at Giraffe Center
Giraffe CenterGiraffe Center

   Now we’re definitively leaving Nairobi, but we need to be back to Langata Road because we cannot find the right road. When we’re on it, the truck just in front of us cannot take the turn and we leave the place with a long queue of cars stopped because of that. We won’t miss these things of Nairobi.

Queue of cars in NairobiDriving through Ongata Roi

   We drive our way to South checking our GPS for not missing the road connecting to the motorway to Tanzania border. In the way, we meet the apparently chaotic live in towns.

Business in streets of KenyaChilds coming back from school

Street in Ongata Roi
   When we are in the road we were looking for we meet the first potholes, which I avoid in my driving as well as the small stones which we think could get another blow in our tyres. Somehow, the tarmac floor is getting worst and we find places where we cannot avoid the potholes as they are all along the road. We’re surprised by seeing our first zebras so soon, but we realize animals are an important part of this country and we must drive carefully, here and even in the main motorways, to avoid hitting cows, sheep, goats and donkeys crossing the roads quite often.

Rough roadZebras in our way

   Just before reaching the motorway to Namanga we stop in a lonely gas station to use the toilets and make the sandwiches which are our lunch.

   The stop is short as we are so out of time. The time for this afternoon’s safari is getting shorter and shorter, but the priority is getting the park before 6 PM, as the gates are closed at this time and we couldn’t get our luxury lodge.

Taking over in front of a speed bump in Isinya

   This motorway allow us a high speed driving, almost 100 Km/h, and it seems we’re reaching Namanga on time. But it couldn’t be today and I can hear the clear sound of a blown tyre. It is the one I’ve put this morning and, as a result of that experience, I can change it by the fixed one in 10 minutes. On that time two Maasai kids have appeared walking curious about our situation. I’ve confirmed from them Amboseli gates close at 6 PM and we need to pass through it for getting the Sopa Lodge. But we’re almost reached Namanga and it’s just 50 Km from there to the gate, so we can get it before the limit time.

Donkeys in Namanga motorwayCows in Namanga motorway

   We are in Namanga about 5 PM and don’t leave the road until having the border pass in front of us, when a sign is pointing to Amboseli National Park 50 Km at left, so we turn and take that way.

   But now we’re going to find out something I couldn’t read in any guide: in this country it is a mistake calculating the distances by kilometers, it must be done by time, as the main information about driving to a place is how the road is and 50 Km can be covered in 30 minutes, but can also be3 covered in several hours, as is in this case. Our speed is 20 Km/h here and it seems like the car is going to break into pieces. We’re also concerned about not having spare wheel now and knowing we’re going to be late for the gate.

NamangaRoad to Amboseli's Meshanani Gate

   We drive watching gazelles and zebras and a beautiful sight of Mount Kilimanjaro in the horizon, but we don’t know what is going to be our future today as it will depend on what the rangers at closed gate will tell to us. I think we can end this day sleeping at car in the middle of nowhere or the rangers taking us to some safe place, but I think is unlikely we’re going to enjoy the dinner buffet and the big bed at Sopa Lodge.

Mount Kilimanjaro

   We finally reach the gate in this sort of desperately run away from the sunset and there is still daylight, but just for some more minutes. We could see yesterday night comes between 6 PM and 7 PM in a way that at 7 PM it is dark night, and we’re just 20 minutes to that time.

Kilimanjaro at duskdawn in Amboseli

   The ranger can see our desperation, listen my explanation and answers the local motto: hakuna matata (no problem). They’re going to open the gate and allow us to drive all through the park by night. I cannot believe it. They explain us the quickest way in the map, which is the main road, take our KWS card to mark the entrance and even give some advices for watching animals tomorrow. The ranger makes a clear gesture of “give me some money”, which I answer with a 500 ksh bill asking to share with the other guy as I’m feeling as they’ve saved our lives. I also ask for a phone number to call in case we get some problem with the car as we don’t have spare wheel, but they simply answer nothing is going to happen on that road.

   Now we’re looking to a new future: we finally are going to enjoy our lodge, but before we must cover another 50 Km, at dark this time and through a park full of big animals, including lions, Giraffe in Amboseli by nightleopards, hyenas… At least we’ve been told this road is much better than the one we’ve just passed.

   And it is, but not a lot better. At least I can drive at 50 Km/h in some parts of it. But as safety is the priority I must drive slow, paying attention to holes and animals. The first of these is a giraffe crossing the road close in front of us. A hyena cub stands for some seconds in the middle of the road looking at out lights. It’s totally dark out there and we can feel more living “things” on the nearby, out from the car lights. We meet zebras, wildebeest, gazelles… but we’re not in a safari, but crazy about getting our room and ending this suffering.

   Sometime before 9 PM we reach the gate in the other side of the park: we’ve getting in by Meshanani gate and are now in Kimana gate. We cannot see anybody here and I use the horn, then I hear a scream asking me to stop it. A ranger woman listen our story, open the gates, says using horn is forbidden and tells us there are 20 Km to Sopa Lodge. I also ask her to check if the tyres are fine, it’s not only for the 100 Km of potholes and stones, I’ve got the right wheel in a big hole and it resulted in a big hit. We haven’t looked at it for fear to the answer. As far as the car could go forward… She answers is seeing nothing wrong in the tyres. And we’re almost surprised about it.

Giraffe shape in Amboseli at night

   We’re in the last stage of a long drive – at least in time -, but it result in a biggest torture if that was even possible. What the ranger told us as the best road is something seems designed for avoiding cars passing over it. I’m sure we would go better anywhere out of this. On one of these evil configurations in endless undulation, like in the wave chips, which makes us fear our internal organs can end each in a different place, our car is taken to the side of the road. The left part of the car is out of the road, in a lower level, and when I try to get that side up back to the road the wheel is slipping and cannot move the car. I go down to look what the problem is and my wife suffers. The wheel is turn to the direction of the steeped rise and half buried in sand, so I go back to the car, put the wheel straight and drive the car bent for a short while until I find an easier place to go back to the road. It’s been just a fright, but it makes me drive even slower than before.

   It is not until minutes past 10 PM that we arrive to Sopa Lodge, with a bit of confusion in the way to the lodge as we could see different tracks in the mud to different places.

Amboseli Sopa Lodge roomAmboseli Sopa Lodge room

   All well if ends well. We can take our dinner buffet and be in our beautiful bungalow. This is a paradise for two travelers full of dust. We will enjoy it tomorrow as we’ve already changed the plans for it.