Have you ever wondered why we tend to go on holidays, and as a Kenyan culture, all we seem to do is drive/fly to a different location, and export our drinking sprees there? Every time I’ve been on holiday with my friends (pole guys), most of what we’ve done is wake up at 3pm, hung-over from the previous night’s escapades, and repeated the same till 5am or thereabouts, a continuous vicious circle that ends on the day we leave our holiday destination. At the end of the trip I always wondered what I accomplished – nothing, other than an empty wallet. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do that, but for me it always felt like I’ve wasted valuable vacation time.
The first invite I got to ‘Tembea Kenya’ was for October, but I was restrained by work commitments, so I opted out. Of course I was delighted to receive a second invitation, to tour the coastal region. I jumped on the chance as fast as I could – you don’t get an all-expenses paid trip very often in life. With bags packed and in high spirits, I was set to get on an exhilarating ride amongst a team of five: ArcherMishale, Aheshy, TimNjiru and Muriux. I must mention this: none of us was paid to go on this trip. We were offered a chance to take the trip and that was it.
After driving through Mombasa and through the endless queue for the ferry crossing at Likoni, Shimba Hills was a welcoming oasis, cool, quiet and calm. We had left Severin and in true Nairobi fashion, tried to overlap at the ferry queue. Be warned. The cops here are no nonsense! They promptly sent us back to the derriere of the queue, where we had to sit in the sweltering heat and await our turn to get onto the ferry. It wasn’t all bad though: we managed to make a quick dash into the nearby Nakumatt store, get our supplies and stashes, and back into the car before it crossed on the ferry. I must say though – a high bridge, or some other route or access way must be found for this crossing, cause it’s getting too cramped for drivers.
Onwards and to Shimba Hills, I was amazed at the landscape in Kwale. I thought that Kwale would be a desolate, arid area, and was pleasantly surprised to drive through mostly green terrain, full of trees, which I later found out were cashewnut trees. We promptly checked in to the Shimba Hills Tree Lodge, fashioned in the style of the famous Treetops Lodge (and part of the same group of companies).
Shimba Hills National Reserve is described as ‘the last of the coastal rainforests, and a sanctuary of the sable antelope’. A mere hour or so drive from Mombasa, the lodge overlooks a waterhole in the middle of a tropical rainforest. Each of the rooms has a balcony overlooking the waterhole, and it’s fun to sit and have your drink and wait for elephants, buffalo and if you’re lucky, leopard coming to drink.
The place is full of activities to keep you busy, if you want to get out of the serenity of the lodge: a drive through the reserve will have you looking out for the rare sable antelope, and this reserve is their only remaining habitat. We went through the reserve and on to the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, looking out for elephants.
The landscape was dotted with lots of cashewnut trees, though none seemed ready for the picking. At the main gate, we were introduced to the sanctuary staff, who showed us how they were recycling elephant dung to create paper. Have you seen an elephant’s mound of poop? It’s huge! And it makes good paper. 🙂 The sanctuary also has honey farming and biofuel (jatropha) plant. The main aim of the sanctuary is to protect the wildlife that is essential to the area, as well as minimize the conflict between the humans and animals. Located at approximately 14 km from the main gate of Shimba Hills N.P., the Elephant sanctuary is linked with the National park by a fenced elephant corridor, so there are chances to see elephants crossing the main red-soil road. As we drove around in the beautiful landscape, we spotted what is called the ‘Millionaires’ Ridge’: sitting atop the ridge, in what seemed impassable rocky area, was a house, supposedly belonging to some rich person. Well, now you know where to build your house. I bet it has amazing views of the landscape, all the way down to the ocean, given the height.
Finding our way back to the Shimba Hills Tree Lodge, and having felt a little disappointed that we didn’t come close to any of the elephants that we had seen, we were driving in the dark, around 7:30pm when we ran smack into a herd grazing by the road! It was all I could do not to jump up and down in excitement. But seeing that there were a few mothers and calves, as well as some large bulls, we gazed upon the gentle giants and made our way slowly past them.
The next day brought an excursion to the Sheldrick Falls. It seemed like an adventurous walk, and we were warned to pack light. Thank God we heeded that warning. Walking 2km downhill was fun, and we enjoyed the warm sun on our backs. Even the chattering and shrieking group of school children behind us didn’t dampen our spirits when we got to the falls. The sight is amazing as a waterfall can only be. With water gushing down 25 meters down, the falls were named after David Sheldrick who (re)discovered them, and supply Tiwi and Diani with fresh water. Well, be prepared to make the 2km trek back, uphill. It took all my energy and willpower not to give up and lie on the ground in exhaustion, but it was a sweet victory. Thank God for those Bata Safari Boots, my feet wouldn’t have fared so well. Those shoes are made for Kenyan terrain! I promptly got into our car and slept through most of the way out of the park.
Next Stop? The coastal town of Diani!