Fun and a scare in the Tsavo National Park
By Peter Muiruri | January 28th 2016
I am a travel enthusiast. Given a chance, I can spend my entire life – or should I say what is left of it – travelling, discovering new places and meeting new people. I have visited the semi-arid North and dined on the crocodile-infested banks of Uaso Nyiro. I have swum with sea creatures in Watamu, enjoying the ever so beautiful coral, the last habitat for endangered marine life.
I have watched the dawn of a new day from the snowy caps of Mount Kenya. The list is endless. But there is one place that fascinates me the most. It is the vast Tsavo. Wildlife authorities in Kenya have segmented Tsavo into two — East and West. To me, however, the whole ecosystem is just but one wild destination.
Tsavo is the largest conservation area in Kenya. For decades, elephants roamed the plains, soaking themselves in the red mud and dust, hence their pronounced earthly colour. Sadly, Tsavo elephants have suffered the most from the poaching menace. From a 35,000-strong herd in the 1970s, the mighty beasts have been reduced to a few thousand.
Like those who kill rhinos in the false belief that their horns will act as an aphrodisiac, there are those who fancy a pencil holder made from the feet of an elephant.
A week ago, the wild nature of Tsavo pulled me in. Having driven my small VW Golf into more remote places such as Shaba in the equally wild North, I was ready for whatever Tsavo would throw at me.
Ten in the morning on Saturday. The sun in Voi seemed to have dropped a few inches, but not hot enough to dissuade me, my wife and our four-year-old son Jabali from exploring Tsavo East.
“How far are the Lugard Falls?” I asked the lady at the Kenya Wildlife Service cash office.
“Forty-three kilometres. You should be there in a little more than an hour,” she told me.
“Oh, have you been there before?” she asked.
“No. Why?” “Because...,” and on and our conversation continued.
I paid the park fees and headed to the unknown.
A path to the left of the gate takes you to Voi Safari Lodge, a picturesque lodge with an underground observatory where one can view big game at a close range. But I drove straight on, eager to view the famed Lugard Falls.
Zebras crisscrossed the dusty road at will. Birds of various colours and shapes darted from tree to tree, reacting noisily to our intrusion. On and on we drove, carefully reading the signposts lest we missed our destination.
Then the road sloped, a clear indication that we were heading towards a river. Doum palms heralded the presence of a water body. Galana River (that is what they call Athi River down here) snaked its way to the Coast. On its banks were healthy herds of elephants.
A nursing mother trained her sights on us, lest we disturb the peace. We take her warning seriously and move on.
As waterfalls go, Lugards may be not be anything to write home about. It is no more than a number of rapids cascading down through some rock sediments. Yet, its beauty lies in the fact that the entire river – the second largest in Kenya – is at its narrowest here, forced to go through a gap in these rocks that it is a few metres wide.
The strong-willed have attempted to cross the river at this point. Crocodiles await those who miss a step.
We took a brisk walk around the falls and took the drive back to Voi, our pit stop on our way to Nairobi. Then disaster struck.
At exactly two o’clock, the drive shaft on the car gave up, loosened by the rough road to and from Lugards. A quick peek under the car revealed the intensity of the damage. The shaft was shaking like a loose tooth. There was no power transmission to the wheels. This could not have happened at a worse place.
Repairing a vehicle in the middle of an animal kingdom with two other souls on board is not my idea of fun.
With every passing minute, truth was beginning to sink in that we might have to spend the night among the most ferocious animals on the planet.
My mind flashed back over 100 years ago. It was in this vicinity that two lions that had a fetish for human flesh wreaked havoc on imported Indian labour force building the “Lunatic Express”. The two may have been shot dead, but their descendants still roam the plains here. Were they watching this drama unfold?
“We shall get some help before dusk,” I assured my terrified family. But with no cell phone coverage and elephants foraging in the distance, I was stretching my optimism a bit too far.
That was until the arrival of Trevor Jennings, the field operations manager with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Jennings had been driving the whole morning, traversing the length and breadth of the park as duty called.
Jennings is a man of few words but with a big heart. He needed little explaining on the problem, having rescued many in distress on the same route.
He agreed to tow our car to Voi where he left us under the care of Home Boys, his trusted mechanics who repaired the car in a record one hour.
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