Day 4 (cont.)
Aberdare National Park & Treetops
We drove away from Nyeri around a curving road that gave a good view of some of the outskirts of the village from above, before turning North and heading into more wooded land. For some reason, the view from that road is one that remains with me and I’ve highlighted the road on the map. Looking out at the village I remember thinking that it this was Africa, or at least Kenya – the real bit where people are just getting on with their lives.
We drove onwards. I seem to recall the weather was actually a little drab at this point. Nothing like Scotland, but certainly a little dull. However, that may just have been the change of colour pallette and surroundings from perfectly manicured lawns, through orange bordered roads and dust washed cream coloured buildings, then past rich green forrest before finally continuing along through fairly countryside on an uneventful road.
However, it wasn’t long before we turned of said road and, passing through a checkpoint gate, drove up into the densely wooded hills of the Aberdair National Park. Finally, I thought, some exotic wildlife surroundings that I was expecting. Okay, it wasn’t a rainforest or anything, but forests are my favourite types of biome and now I was in an African one! We were almost instantly surrounded by greenery that brushed against the windows of the landcruiser as we made our way along the track.
Not far into the park, we stopped. A moment later, one of the drivers from further up in our convoy appeared at the windows, walking along between cars and bushes. He handed us some coffee beans, not quite ripe, that he had plucked from the bushes growing around us. I thought that was pretty neat. I still have the beans.
After that short stop, we continued upwards and eventually emerged in a clearing. We parked next to a big yellow bus at the rear of a tall, wooden structure that, from where we stood, was raised up on stilts. We had been advised to pack a small bag for our stay at Treetops so, with backpacks at the ready, we disembarked and trudged out and onto a wooden boardwalk that led under the structure. It was there as we hustled ourselves towards the entrance stairs, that I saw my first buffallo. A herd of them, actually. They were wandering casually away past us, away from one of the large watering holes that Treetops Villa borders. They were Cape Buffalo, they were no more than fifty meters away, they were wild animals and they were Awesome!
It was at roughly this point that I realised that Treetops, which had upto this point just been some obscure reference that I felt that I was supposed to know all about, was quite possibly one of the most amazing places I’d ever been to. The best thing was, it was going to get better.
Walking into treetops, with genuine African Wildlife right there, was just the start of one of the best experiences of my life. Once inside we gathered briefly in a large, lush lounge while we were checked in by the tour leader. Huge windows looked out over the reed filled watering holes, but unfortunately the cape buffalo had sauntered off at our arrival.
We were soon given our room allocations and advised that dinner would be served in a few short hours. The hotel is made entirely of wood and certainly has the whole rustic thing going on. Our twin rooms were down a narrow corridor. I stepped into the little box room and, putting down my effects, noticed a large wooden grill placed across the window. That smacked far too much of Health & Safety to me; I wanted to see the wildlife completely unimpeded. Fortunately, the grill was only secured into the frame with two wooden wing nuts. I flicked them open and placed the grill down the side of my bed with only a passing thought of being attacked in by invading monkeys. Then I swung open the window, looked out and saw this:
Yup, there was an Elephant outside my window! It was below me and not more than ten feet away. It was, in the truest way possible, Awesome. I sat and watched this guy for ages. Watched him sniffing the ground, digging it up with his tusks and eating the dirt. One of the reasons that the watering holes are so popular for the local animals is because the area is also a salt lick. I loved this place!
We went eventually went off and the whole tour group got together in a private dinning room for a quality three course meal with some pleasant chatting and a friendly interrogation of our tour leader. Then we had drinks in the lounge, looking out the huge glass windows at the incredible view. All in all, it seemed that every lodge we stayed at got more and more posh. A little bit of me was slightly disappointed at this;I guess a part of me had been hoping for a bit of grass roots camping on this safari and it sort of felt a bit like cheating. But any disappointment soon passed away almost completely. Even more so when I discovered that the whole of the roof was a huge viewing area. Better, there were several ‘hides’ located at ground level. I left the oldies to relax and enjoy the view and went to get closer to the animals. There was perhaps only one other big tour group like ourselves and several other small groups. I’d guess no more than seventy people in total were there, and that might be an overestimate. Basically, it seemed to me that I pretty much had a lot of the place to myself, which was unexpected, but nice.
Some Bushbuck had appeared while we were eating and I spent ages watching these gentle creatures sniffing around in the dirt and licking the rocks. Again, they were no more than two or three meters away from me, with no glass between us. It was simply incredible.
A second elephant appeared. I watched the two of them twining trunks together in greeting before they went about sniffing, digging and generally rooting around in the dirt. At one point a solitary Cape Buffalo made a return.
Eventually, as night fell, the elephants wandered into the watering holes and shuffled about in the reeds. That might not sound all that incredible, but I was hooked and spent hours watching the animals.
The whole of the rooftop of Treetops Lodge is a viewing platform. I loved it. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I have a strange fascination for flat roofs. Add functionality and I’m sold. Bit of a tangent there, but this is another of the reasons why I love Treetops so. While the hides allowed one to get right down next to the animals, the roof allowed an unparalleled view of the surroundings. In the bushes, we saw Baboons going about their business.
This view (below), I was told at the time, was Mount Kenya, but it was rare that you caould actually see the almost perpetually cloud shrouded peak. Once again, I couldn’t see the elusive mountain. However, not long after lunch, the clouds did part for a short time.
With the aid of my uncle’s camera (which had much better magnification), I snapped this shot of the secretive summit:
Eventually, night fell. With the exception of a brief visit to the lounge to heat up, have a drink and be a bit sociable, I spent the night moving between the low hides and the rooftop – even when visibility was reduced to it’s lowest. There there were floods lights on the ground below which cast a light illumination on the watering holes. This allowed one to still make out the elephants as they lounged up to their flanks in the pools.
There had been rumour of a rare Black Rhino nearby, but it never made an appearance. The same for a Leopard. I wasn’t too disappointed, the place was still magical without them. In a direct hands-on interaction with the African wildlife, I found a Dung Beetle that had inadvertently ended up on the steps down to one of the hides. With a handy twig I chucked it out onto the dirt where I’m sure it would have no trouble finding some lunch.
I wanted to stay up all night and watch the dawn come up. Unfortunately, even I started to feel the chill eventually. Or maybe the shiver was one of genuine excitement. Either was possible. At around 3am, still thrilling over the fact that I was truly on an African Safari, I took myself to bed and went to sleep while the elephants wallowed outside the window.
The day started with a British style buffet breakfast. At this point I decided that my food worries – that my fussy eating habits would be problematic in this far away continent – had been completely unfounded. Sausage, eggs and bacon were keeping me going. I even had fruit juice so the whole experience was probably healthier for me than being at home.
After breakfast we went on a driving trip around the actual Aberdair National park (Treetops is pretty much ‘just inside’ the boundary). We saw Colobus Monkeys high up in the trees and a hell of a lot of baboons. I think we saw various antelope; Mountain Reedbuck, and possibly an Eland. Mostly baboons, though.
After that, we headed back out onto the main roads and headed North. It was a bit of a journey before we reached our next hotel, but the journey there was far from without it’s highlights.