Few places in Kenya are steeped in myths, legends and half truths as Tsavo, the vast wilderness in south eastern part of the country. There is the story of the man eaters – two lions that had a fetish for human flesh. So devastating were the lions that the Indian coolies believed these were no mere lions but souls of departed African chiefs that had come to haunt them for trespassing through their land.
Exit the man eaters and enter the First World War soldiers. Tsavo saw some of the most vicious conflicts between the British and Germans. Areas around Maktau were the epicentre of the battles and are now tourist attractions on their own.
But in the midst of the seemingly unforgiving terrain lies a tranquil getaway that offers solace to the weary traveller. Kamboyo Guest House is a former warden’s residence that was renovated by the Kenya Wildlife Service for use by individuals and families seeking a holiday in a home-like setting.
Two weeks ago, I managed to convince three other families to accompany me on a tour of Tsavo West with Kamboyo as our base for three days. There were the usual apprehensions: How comfortable is it to spend the nights here? Won’t the animals get into the house? What shall we eat?
Some of my friends had never ventured that far into the wild. What was more, we were to be accompanied by seven children, some of whom were less than three-years-old. Enough to get the nerves on edge!
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But the apprehensions evaporated the moment the group set eyes on the house. Like a desert rose, Kamboyo stands out in the parched ground that constitutes Kenya’s largest conservation area. As the four men in the group surveyed the immediate surroundings, the ladies got into the first business of the day – room allocation.
Kamboyo has four bedrooms: a master ensuite, a double, a twin and a single. With clean linen, tidy toilets and bathrooms (with hot water), these rooms could as well be in any five-star establishment. Kamboyo’s nerve centre is the kitchen that comes complete with a gas cooker and all requisite utensils.
The main entrance overlooks a waterhole where elephants frequent to quench their thirst. This they did every single day of our stay, minimising the need for extensive game drives. The shared sitting and dining area opens up to a verandah that served as the playing field for the six little children. Wooden steps lead to an upper game viewing deck, an area the big boys turned into a “quiet getaway” from the head-splitting rattling from the young brood.
From Kamboyo, we explored the surrounding terrain, starting with the famed Mzima Springs located 23 kilometres away. Fed by an underground aquifer emanating from the Chyulu Hills, Mzima spews out 50 million gallons of water daily and is the main source of water for Mombasa City.
The springs were made famous by Alan Roots who documented his close encounters with resident hippos and crocodiles in his 1983 film, Mzima: The Portrait of a Spring.
However, I strongly suggest that you get there early and book a spot in the underground observatory and view the fish – barbels, “mud suckers”, eels and other water-based creatures in their natural habitat.
From Mzima, we headed to Shetani Lava, the eight-kilometre long lava flow from the Chyulus. The uneven chunks of solid magma that go five metres deep contain razor-sharp rocks that and must be approached with care. (By the way, who named some of Kenya’s beautiful landscapes after the devil? Hell’s Gate in Naivasha, Hell’s Kitchen in Marafa, Kilifi...)
Caleb, the affable caretaker at Kamboyo, suggested that we test our stamina by hiking Chaimu Hill, another extinct volcano whose loose lava rocks can test the most resilient. (It also has something to do with some evil forces according to local legends). Despite my underestimating some team members, all, including the youngest, made it to the top.
Well, the next time you and your friends decide to get away from the city, why not consider Kamboyo, a real diamond in the rough?