With our time up in Ethiopia, we head to the airport in Addis Ababa where a sign stating we should have declared the USD$9,000 we’re carrying upon arrival as unlike the rest of the world the duty free limit here is only USD$3,000. Great in theory, except there was no-one to declare it to and no sign when we arrived. A quick word with customs sees Sarah sneak into the toilet, split the cash into two and give half to Matt, the theory being if we get caught at least we’re only a little bit over the limit and one of us isn’t carrying all the cash. No need to worry, nobody gives a shit as we pass through the final security check to our gate. As usual, the flight leaves 30 minutes late as nobody seems able to take their seat, one thing we won’t miss about Ethiopia.
Having investigated our options for travelling through east and south Africa, we ruled out buying/renting our own 4WD as too expensive, public transport as too much of a hassle and an overland truck safari as a nice balance of everything we were after. Itinerary and dates narrowed our choice down to the budget 73 day Absolute Safari from Nairobi to Cape Town with Absolute Africa. Our first stop was Wildebeest Eco Camp where we’d opted to get straight down to it and spend our first few nights under the canvas in a private tent. With dorm tents and luxury glamping options available, it’s a great first stop on the outskirts of town and we already felt like we were in Africa.
There’s not much around the actual campsite, but a 20 minute walk takes you to western style Galleria Mall. The huge two story supermarket was like walking into Tesco, with shelves full of English products including real Heinz baked beans. Picking up all our last minute camping necessities, we find ourselves outside the Sirville Brewery, conveniently located on the second floor of the mall. With it’s modern red, black and white decor, we take a seat on the outdoor balcony, shopping trolley and all, and down a couple of cold pints of bitter to take the edge off the afternoon Nairobi heat.
We spent the night chilling out back at the camp, which serves a surprisingly nice cask red wine, on the outdoor dining area which overlooks a small pond. Steveo, the local waiter, kept our glasses full and our stomachs from rumbling with decent beef and chicken burgers for dinner. We also met our first two truck mates, Ruth (UK) and Frank (Germany) so spent some time getting to know each other.
Our first morning on the truck started at 9am when we met up with Ruth, Frank and the only other two on the truck, Alex and Laura from Guernsey. With 28 seats between six of us, we make short work of spreading ourselves out. Our guide Kanyo does a quick run through before we hit the road for the short trip to The Giraffe Centre so meet some locals. With the city of Nairobi expanding, the giraffe population is being squeezed out of surrounding habitat, and these guys are doing what they can to educate local children on the importance of conservation. Eight giraffe, some cute baby warthogs and a small enclosure of leopard tortoise (including one which would fit in the palm of your hand) make up the centre, with the highlight being that we were the first to arrive for the day and the giraffe, which you can hand feed, were all starving.
We spend the next hour or so feeding these huge, peaceful animals as they whip their massive tongues out to gently take the pellets from your hand. They’re so gentle the guide tells us they’ll even eat from your mouth. Sarah’s the only one keen enough to take up the challenge, encouraged by the fact that giraffe saliva has antiseptic properties to help heal quickly as most of their diet is made up of acacia leaves, plucked from between inch long thorns. Matt spends the last half an hour ducking swift headbutts from the matriach of the group, Betty, who hates kids and for some reason also took a disliking to him.
After a short nature walk where we saw nothing we headed down the road to Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage. Home to around 28 elephants between the ages of 8 to 18 months, the orphanage aims to rehabilitate and release these gentle giants. Sad statistics see 20-30% of new arrivals die within the first few weeks, though 80% of survivors go on to be released into the wild. The elephants arrive in two groups, the youngest stampeding out first, and are only brought out for an hour a day with limited numbers of people. Keepers are waiting, each with two huge bottles of milk in their hands which the elephants haven’t yet learnt how to hold on their own. As they guzzle it down, a guide runs through each elephants, name, age and circumstances which led to them being here. These range from leg wounds suffered from snare traps, falling down abandoned mines, to a stab wound penetrating the forehead and one poor baby with no tail. When found, he’d been attacked from behind so badly by hyenas they thought he was a girl.
When the young ones are herded away and the ‘teenagers’ arrive, we couldn’t stop laughing at one cheeky guy who kept sneaking the running hose and putting it in his mouth. His keeper would take it away and shoo him off, only for him to tiptoe back, sneak the hose with his foot and whip it straight back into his mouth. It’s an informative and moving place and if the elephants come close enough you’re allowed to touch them. Even just spending some time to watch them interact with each other and the keepers is awesome. You can see the trust and rapport they’ve built with each other, amazing considering some of these animals were so badly harmed by humans in the first place.
Our first night of the tour is spent at Karen Camp on the outskirts of Nairobi. I little more rustic than Wildebeest, it’s our first night pitching and sleeping in our own tent. The showers are hot and the bar/restaurant had WiFi and excellent food (the chicken curry was a winner), though it did get cold as f*&k overnight, reminding us we need to get used to camping again.
Next up we go wildlife hunting in the famous Masai Mara.
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