Saturday, November 17

Families At A Water Hole

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The children are overexcited and squabble in the back of the Land Cruiser. We show them the huge termite hills that towering from the red soil characterize Tsavo West National Park. The terrain is as dry as can be expected for February.

We round a corner to a green oasis. It’s Kilaguni Serena Lodge. Over a welcome, cool drink and an even cooler towel, the manager gives a brief overview of the lodge. “Would you like an evening game drive?” he asks. But I am not paying attention, I look over his shoulder at a watering hole.

Mesmerized, I plant myself on a comfortable seat on the verandah which overlooks the waterhole. There must be at least nine different species of animals there. My teenager has already connected to the free Wi-Fi. Paradise, it seems is not the same for all of us.

We make our plans for the day; lunch, a quick nap and then an afternoon game drive. Granny has tottered off to ask about Spa appointments and the children are already in the swimming pool.

Although the khaki-clad resident naturalist had said, “You will see so many elephants, you will get tired of them,” I bolt from the dining table, lunch forgotten, to the balcony when my little niece shouts “Elements! Elements!” There they are, a family of magnificent tuskers lumbering up to the waterhole, close enough for us to count their eyelashes.

In the late afternoon, nap also abandoned, we tear ourselves away from the watering hole to clamber into the lodge’s open-top safari vehicle. My heart soars in the open terrain, framed by the purple-blue Chyulu Hills.

There are steaming mounds in the middle of the road. “Who dung that Mummy?” the kids ask, then laugh uproariously.

First stop; Mzima Springs, made famous by Alan and Joan Root when they filmed “Mzima – Portrait of a Spring.” Filming it underwater in 1969. Joan had a narrow escape when an irate hippo ripped her snorkeling mask off her face. But today we watch from a much safer vantage point, behind thick glass in the under-river viewing point. We giggle at the comic tiptoeing of an underwater hippo, surrounded by swirls of fish.

We drive across the Shetani Lava Fields, an eerie relic of the volcanic eruption of the Chyulus a few hundred years ago. Acres of black rock stretch before us; the Devil’s Fields support no vegetation.

The kids tick off animal after animal in their notebooks and we crawl back to the lodge. A large family of elephants is waiting for us at the watering hole. We settle down on the veranda, Gin and Tonics in hand; it is a perfect way to watch the sun setting behind the Chyulus. We feel a very brief pang of sympathy for my sister-in-law, as she grapples with kids and bibs, but the draw of watching the animals is too strong.

Built in 1949 Kilaguni is the oldest lodge in the country. Looking at the black and white photo gallery in the lobby, I think about how different Colonial Kenya must have been back then.

Even the animals have changed, with poaching and their ecosystems under threat, their numbers are reducing at an alarming rate. Nobody knows how long these beasts will still be around for; we are lucky to have seen them.

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