Two weeks ago, Kenya lost Tim, the iconic tusker who roamed the plains of Amboseli for 50 years. Wildlife conservationists are still mourning the jumbo. He was among the few elephants in Kenya you could approach at close quarters and live to tell the story.
I never met Tim personally, but I have been close enough to other elephants and lived another day. In the 28,000-acre Taita Hills Sanctuary lies the picturesque Sarova Salt Lick Lodge where visitors can come to within inches of these mighty creatures.
I first drove to the region close to seven years ago after a random coastal safari. Back then, the Voi-Taveta road was under construction. I meandered through local farms so as to avoid the heavy earth-moving machinery. A big chunk of the road resembled the lunar landscape.
My latest drive to Taita Hills was different. The road works have since been concluded. The new road traverses Tsavo, one of Kenya’s most beautiful ecosystems. It is not unusual for motorists to stop and give way to wild animals.
Back to the Salt Lick elephants. The beasts are the key reason people visit the lodge that sits on stilts. An architectural marvel, Salt Lick is in good company with other unique lodges in Kenya such as The Ark in the Aberdares and the Treetops in the same vicinity made famous for hosting Queen Elizabeth II in her inaugural visit to Kenya. There is also Mount Kenya Safari Club where part of a room sits in the northern hemisphere and the other on the southern hemisphere.
At Salt Lick, the terraced bar and restaurant provides excellent views and photo opportunities of the animals that hug the wooden barricade as they drink water a breath away from diners. To get even closer, an underground tunnel and bunker with ground level windows provide unbelievably close yet safe access to the elephants.
During the evenings powerful floodlights illuminate the waterhole making sure that night owls do not miss any piece of action.
But there is more than just elephants here. In my solo evening here, I sat with the lodge manager Willie Mwadilo who not only seems to know each elephant by name but the region’s tumultuous history as well.
The area surrounding the lodge, Mwadilo told me, was badly scarred during the Second World War as the British and the Germans took aim at each other. Though the war had nothing to do with Africans, they are the one who suffered most casualties.
The irony was that even after the war ended in Europe, Africans in East Africa continued fighting as the news about the end of the war did not reach here in good time. Mwadilo and his team have since erected a monument in honour of the fallen black soldiers.
Guests at the lodge do not have to walk or drive around in search of game. Or the panoramic view of the Taita plains with the entire splendour. No wonder this is one of the most photographed spot in the country.
Despite the room ambiance, I still had to drive around the expansive wildlife sanctuary to see more of the country’s vaunted beauty. Watching the sun set on the horizon, the orange hues reflecting over Taita Hills was magical.
Next time you feel like doing a long drive, head to Taita land and meet the salt licking elephants.