The Nomadic Family Unit (less the two furry children) were invited to attend remembrance ceremonies in Kenya, to commemorate the fallen from the First World War. The end of the First World War in Africa came a couple of weeks after the British day of remembrance so we embarked upon an epic road trip to travel across Kenya to reach our location in good time to be present in order to honour those who gave their lives in the most ferocious of battles.
During the First World War, fought from 1914 until 1918, German forces ruled Tanganyika and they were pitted against British Forces protecting British colonies in British East Africa (now Kenya and Uganda), Nyasaland (now Malawi) and the adjacent Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and the Belgian Congo (now The Democratic Republic of Congo). It is believed that around 2 million Africans across East Africa were involved in the First World War either as soldiers or as porters (or carriers) carrying ammunition, food and other such supplies. Kenya went down in history as fighting on the British side so it was a privilege to be able to attend at the war cemeteries in Voi, Makau and Taveta to honour the fallen.
Our ultimate destination was Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary where our accommodation for the week end was to be found. The Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary can be found in Tsavo National Park amongst the Taita Hills some 9 hour drive away from our home in Nanyuki. The journey was long but incredibly picturesque and it was interesting to take in the changing scenery en route.
The Tsavo National Park is so vast in area that it is divided into two parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West and the dividing boundary is the famous rail way lines. Tsavo East National Park is around 13,747 square kilometres in size and is the largest and oldest of Kenya’s national parks, having been established in 1948. It is nicknamed the ‘theatre of the wild’ and it is easy to see why when passing through. There is an abundance of wild life and the road sides were littered with grazing zebra for most of the way. The Tsavo can be found some 240 kilometres from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and approximately 250 kilometres from the coast of Mombasa. It is found in the former Taru desert and is semi-arid. The Tsavo was the homeland for Orma and Maasai pastoralists and the Waata hunter-gatherers but such tribes were moved on when the national park was developed and now, there is a scarce human population giving the animals a very wide space of vacant land to occupy.
The Tsavo West national park is around 9065 square kilometres and is the second largest national park to be found in Kenya. It is a neighbour to Tanzania and the tallest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, casts its magnificent shadow over the land. It is regarded as the true wilderness of Africa and is called the ‘land of the maneaters.’ The famous railway divides it from the Tsavo East and it is the Tsavo West which is renowned for its amazing scenery with Mzima springs, rich and varied wild life, a rhino reserve, fantastic roads and fabulous mountain climbing opportunities. It has to be noted that driving through these epic parks was a pleasure as the tarmac was in good order and the traffic was minimal. The roads in Nanyuki are in a terrible condition and the tarmac is littered with giant pot holes almost crater like in size!
The construction of the railway in 1898 goes down in history for not just being an incredible passage across Kenya but it became famous for numerous killings of the construction workers during the building of the bridge across the Tsavo river. Two male maneless lions went on the rampage and stalked and killed a reported 28 Indian and African workers and although there are scant records of these killings, there were anecdotally suspected to be over 140 victims taken by these two errant lions. These giant cats became known as the ‘maneaters of Tsavo’ and they were eventually shot and killed by Lt. Col John Henry Patterson. The railway lodge that accommodated the workers still remains to this day and one can visit the place, known as Maneaters Lodge.
As the vehicle wove its way through Taita Taveta County, we came to fully appreciate how vast the place was, and after a seemingly never ending drive, we eventually came to our accommodation which was the Salt Lick Safari Lodge, nestled in the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary which was overlooking a water hole within the vast plains of the Tsavo.
The Taita Hills Wild life Sanctuary covers some 28,000 acres of mosaic habitat where the plant physiognomy is riverine forest, savanna wood and grassland. The vegetation formation is dense, stratified and dominated by Acaci/Commiphora trees. The sanctuary itself straddles the southern Tsavo West and is an important dispersal area and migrating corridor for wild life between Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks. The topography is generally mountainous offering breathtaking views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Pare, Uluguru mountains and clusters of the Taita Hills with a seasonal river dividing the sanctuary into valleys and lowland plains. UNESCO has inscribed the area as a biodiversity hotspot hosting a variety of endemic wild life species and a myriad of unique flora.
Taita Hills Wild life Sanctuary is host to an abundance of creatures including elephants, lions, buffalo, giraffe, eland, oryx, lesser Kudu, waterbuck, zebra, impala, dik dik, cheetah, leopard and hartebeest to name but a few. As we drove into the sanctuary, we caught sight of our accommodation and could not believe our luck as we could immediately see some of these animals for which the sanctuary was famous. Our lodge was on stilts and was literally on the doorstep of a natural salt lick attracting impala, hartebeest and zebra. We were awe struck as we pulled up into the car park at the natural beauty of the place. There was a distinct lack of fences and the wild life was free to roam wherever they chose.
Our feet barely touched the ground and we decided to take advantage of the remaining day light and went on a game drive into the sanctuary itself and we instantly came across a large herd of elephants. The landscape was stunning, and in the shadows of the Taita Hills, we were treated to a glorious rainbow which majestically hung over the elephants. It was a beautiful sight to behold and we were mesmerised, not taking our eyes off the elephants as they trundled on with their babies at foot. We were lucky enough to see hartebeest, eland, oryx, impala, gazelle and zebra as we continued round in the car.
We found a place to stop and alighted the car in order to watch the sun go down with a delicious beverage. We were accompanied by friends on this journey and we all took a moment to take in this most breath taking of scenes, but also to take stock and remember why we had indeed, made this most epic journey. We stared around ourselves in silence, in awe, in remembrance and pinched ourselves that this most beautiful of locations had a darker past which we were to re-visit over the coming days.
We retreated back to the safety of the car to return to the Lodge and noted a huge hyena hanging around only some 50 metres from the spot where we had been enjoying sundowners – a timely reminder that there are numerous dangers in this wilderness!
Upon our return to the Lodge, we were amazed to see that hundreds of buffalo had joined us and were hanging around the restaurant area. This was a joy! To see such wild animals getting incredibly close to us, lapping up the water from the watering hole only a matter of metres from us. It was astounding!
Half way through dinner, one of the waiters alerted us to the presence of elephants at the watering hole and although we were famished and it was now dark outside, we hurriedly left the table to creep down an underground viewing tunnel within the grounds of the hotel to spy on the very same elephants that we had seen only an hour or so ago on the plains. The tunnel offered a different perspective and we watched the elephants from ground level. It was an amazing place!
We had arrived in this most magical of places, where our bedroom overlooked the roaming wildlife in the most magical setting but we mentally readied ourselves to visit war cemeteries to remember the dead, the battle fields at where the gallant were slaughtered, to commemorate their bravery and to honour their memory and to pay homage to those who remain unidentified to this day but yet still paid the ultimate price in the Great War. This sobering journey was to be like no other.