We had left our Nairobi hotel bright and early (well perhaps not too much of the "bright") and weaved our way across town to Nairobi Wilson Safari Link. The traffic was pretty busy and it soon became obvious why we had to leave so early for our 10.00 am flight from Nairobi. We saw queues of workers waiting for their transport to work and of course the "obligatory" vendor waiting at traffic lights for them to go to red so they could hassle drivers and their passengers. We sat back and enjoyed the journey.
Having arrived at the airport of Nairobi Wilson (it’s the largest civil airport in Kenya and about 18 kilometres west of the international airport of Jomo Kenyatta) our guide strongly suggested that we leave our hand luggage in the vehicle and we proceeded to the check-in desk / main office 7 administration centre of this two runway airport. Our luggage was weighed in and although our international allowance was 30 kilos we’d been advised to carry only 15 kilos per person for these small airlines. We travel light so it wasn’t a problem but I now knew why we’d been advised to leave our hand luggage in the van. It was, of course, to help tourists who weigh heavy as they set off for their Safari holiday. Having checked in we headed back to collect our hand luggage and then went to the tiny waiting room until the plane was ready to load.
My wife, who is not real keen about flying and although she is now fairly confident on a big plane she still seems to get a little unsettled when we have to get into a small plane. I reminded her that the one we were about to board was far bigger than the one we’d flown in to see the Nazca Line, and with that thought in mind she grimaced and headed for the plane. It was, compared to the aforementioned, huge and I was soon settling in just behind the pilot, next to a window and looking forward to getting the odd photo or two as we headed off towards Amboseli close to the Kenya / Tanzanian boarder and in sight of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Certainly as we chugged down the runway I was conscious of my wife gripping my arm but after a time, just before the circulation was cut off to my fingers, she relaxed. We were air bourn and the outskirts of Nairobi were in our sight. Soon we’d left habitation behind us and below us was barren land and the remnants of an old river, then the barren land was behind us and a healthy meandering river could be seen. For a time I was mesmerised by the river but then a buzz went around the plane as almost at eye level we could now see the top of a mighty mountain. This was the summit of Kilimanjaro which at over 19,300 feet is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest "free-standing mountain" in the world. It is composed of three distinct volcanic cones and although two of them are declared extinct Kibo, the highest, is classed as dormant and gas is still emitted from its sides.
I’d first heard of Kilimanjaro from the evocatively named short story by Ernest Hemingway, the Snows of Kilimanjaro. Indeed the site of this superb natural structure has made me determined to re-read this 1930’s classic story.
The ground now looked lusher and soon we started on the descent to Amboseli and now in front of us were elephants. Now I’ve seen elephants before but never from above and never on their own territory. Our Safari had started and now it seemed that we had grounds to be excited. The single runway of Amboseli was in front of us and after a fairly bumpy ride it was evident that the tiny airport in front of us made Wilson look huge! It took a couple of minutes for the plane to come to a stop and within 5 minutes of the wheels touching the runway we were clambering out of the plane and on to the tarmac to be greeted by our guide taking us to the Lodge.
A fact board just off the runway told us that the area had been listed as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO on 19th April 1991 and that the 390 square kilometres rose to a height of 1150 metres above sea level. Beneath the notice was a pile of skulls - a reminder that the food chain operates for reality at Amboseli. There’s no intervention by man and "only the strong survive"!
Before I could philosophise for too long we were getting in to the Safari Truck and heading past Buffalo, Wildebeest, antelope, zebra and the odd monkey or two. We’d seen all that lot and we were only travelling to the Lodge. What a great start and now I know that my fear of not seeing wild-life was not about to be realised.
I think I’ll be happy with the next few days’ experiences. Roll on the first Safari!