After our relaxing time in Shella we decided fly to the city of Mombasa.
I personally wanted to visit Mombasa (as well as Tsavo and Malindi) to see places that had been the setting for books that I’ve read. It also has two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Mombasa is a bustling large city with a population of 1.3 million. It’s the second largest city (Nairobi the first) in Kenya populated with locals, Arabs, Asians, Portuguese and the British. Normally our goal is to stay away from big cities but there’s always exceptions.
In so many countries around the world tuk tuks are a popular means of travel. If we aren’t walking to our destination we’re in a tuk tuk. Blurred photos as we whizz through the town.
We spent time at Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to protect the port of Mombasa and the surrounding Old Town (both UNESCO sites) with buildings dating from the 18th century. Like Lamu and Shella they too have exquisite old carved doors. The old town is crumbling but part of the attraction.
Mombasa rests on the Indian Ocean and we dined each night at the water’s edge feasting on large lobster dinners for only $15.00.
We drove out of Tsavo East and headed to the town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean where everyone but us got a Covid test for their return flights home. Afterwards we hopped on a plane and 25 minutes later landed at the Manda Airport on the Island of Manda.There is something magical and primitive about landing at a tiny remote airport. It’s informal – no jetways or sidewalks just earthen paths. Everything is dulled by a layer of red dirt. Our luggage was loaded into a old wooden pull cart and rolled to the nearby boat ramp.
We boarded a boat taxi and headed across the channel to Lamu Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site and Kenya’s oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement on Africa’s East Coast.Our reward for finishing the walk was to stay at the renowned family run Peponi Hotel in the adjoining community of Shella.
Carol and her daughter Elke run the hotel. I’m sure they don’t like the reference but I had visions of Mama Mia. Elke is stunningly beautiful, make up free and bare footed. Her mum is clearly a spitting image of the same girl just years later. They are hands on and make sure your every need it met.
Previously warned by Tropical Ice that we should extend our (included in the safari) one night stay and enjoy the pole pole (Swahili for slow, slow) lifestyle. We had booked two nights. A perfect end to a perfect walking safari.
Our original plan grew into five nights. Covid was starting to affect our trip. The flight to Zanzibar had been cancelled and the Islands of Comoros and Madagascar closed their borders to tourism. Coupled by civil unrest in others countries – we needed time to hatch a new plan.
First things first. We girls headed out just behind the hotel to explore the narrow streets and pathways that wind through the village of Shella. There are no cars and donkeys are used to transport goods and people. We set out with a map highlighting the “best of” and no sooner than we made the first turn and we were lost.
What a place to be lost. It was a maze with a muted palette of dusty paths and creamy buildings with stunning carved door, offset by bright bougainvillea, drying laundry and women in colorful hijabs and dresses.
It’s a certainty that every country has its one percent. This was evident at the Hemmingways and Peponi. Lots of lethargic people wearing $1,000. sunglasses and designer clothing. Safari clothes – not appropriate.
Shela and Lamu Island are Muslim communities. 50 mosques for 50,000 people. My shorts and skirts from the safari wouldn’t suffice so I was on a mission to purchase a modest dress. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. It was a request but not enforced. Light and airy dresses were what most woman wear. Scarves worn for coverage work as well. There was one boutique shop in town where all of us found a treasure. One dress worn over and over will suffice.
A lot of the homes and fenced walls are built with coral. They’re rough, porous and plentiful. 350 members of the Luo tribe live on a nearby island and spend their days harvesting the dead coral from under trees and transporting them by boat to Lamu Island. Beamed ceilings are made with Mangrove poles and therefore rooms are narrow since the trees do not grow tall. Floors and walls are mostly rough dead coral and the coated with coral limestone for smoothness. Many homes have a “daka” entry porch where men gather to visit. Inside are are small niches carved into the walls of stone structure. Inside elaborate “vidaka” walls – small niches carved into the walls of stone structures – are a stunning focal point. Decorative but also used to reduce echoing in the home.
Iain’s wife, Lou, flew in to join everyone. Our first evening, the last that we were all together, we had a Swahili feast. The setting was stunning. We sat in a lush area near the pool on ground height couches surrounded by vibrant fluffy pillows. The men were not quite sure what to do with their legs which prompted us to become silly children once again. The food was spicy, flavorful and bountiful.
After a luxurious night’s sleep six of us took a dhow (ancient Arab sailing boat) to the old town of Lamu. It’s within walking distance to Shella Village at low tide but the dhow was a more traditional means of entering this famous town. The bustling streets where “pole pole” meets the fast pace of commerce, donkeys are the beast of burden and hawkers try to lure you into their shops.
Lamu is bursting at the seams with cats, cats and more cats. Unique cats. The only place in the world to have the same physiques as the cats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The evening commenced with a sunset dhow cruise sipping wine and drifting by patches of mangroves. When the sun began to set we turned course and met up with masses of dhow boats where we all raced towards the sunset. It was stunning.
I’ll have you know it took me three days to shake having to look for predators while traversing the garden lawn from our room to the restaurant!
We said goodbye to everyone on day three and it once again became the Bill and Paige show. Time was spent exploring Shela and Lamu Town, walking the beach, lounging, catching up on emails, posting a few blogs, making plans, eating too much food and having sunset cocktails.
Tioko showed up in fancy sandals way too small for his feet. He must have borrowed someone’s clubbing shoes!
Today we walked 17 miles.
Click to enlarge photos.
Our campsite. Zoom in.
A large group of elephants were spotted on the ridge line. Iain headed in their direction but the wind was blowing our scent towards them so they started to turn in a different direction. We changed course and ran across the plain to meet up with them. This time undetected. With the Henry Mancini “Baby Elephant Walk” playing in my head, we followed them towards the river. Walking briskly to keep up then running around the saltbushes to watch them at the water.
It seemed strange in our given environment of not seeing another human or non-wild animal on this journey to walk into a huge herd of cattle and goats shepherded by children appearing to be 6 to 14 years old. They are from the Orma tribe near the Somalia border. Supposedly rich Kenyans own the animals. It was fascinating to watch. The kids were bathing and cleaning their clothes in the river. Their life is dreadfully hard and often short lived.
At lunch time we crossed the Galana to a grove of palms where the crew had set-up a tent and brought lunch while we walked. To relax, cots had been placed under the palm trees. We rested and then headed out again.This time we walked to the finish line! 100 miles in 10 days.
Stephen and Kim
Barbara and Rick
It was an adventure of a lifetime. The crew at Tropical Ice has this down to a science. We were so lucky that the three additional walkers were fantastic, lovely people. A couple from Colorado and a 84 year old retired doctor from San Francisco. We giggled so much.
What you don’t know won’t kill ya. Apparently that’s not the way in the bush.
This morning I felt like Emily Blunt in the The Quiet Place movie.The predators are out there….There’s no Jaws movie music Da dant da dant da dant.Not only have we taken the oath of silence so have the predators.It’s a quiet killing grounds in Tsavo. The only things making noise are the harmless birds. HA!!! The stuff I think about…..
Lots of game sightings today – zebras – elephants – gazelles…
Click to enlarge photos…
It was a peaceful day with no heart pumping events.
Until we were about to cross the Galana River back to camp. Toiko and Washii started into the water when a crocodile’s tail took a swing at their ankles. Both jumped back to the shore quicker than a Kenyan runner. Toiko minus a sandal. He returned to camp shoeless. Poor guy. It will be a long time before the guys stop teasing him about this one.
The surface beneath our feet is a bit of a conundrum – harsh, dry, and barren like the surface of the moon and closer to the shore there’s beautiful fine white sand. There are a few springs of greenery sprouting. Otherwise, food seems either non-existent or inedible. How any animal forages and lives in this area is baffling
Look who tried to wander into camp. Yes. That’s Bill at our tent.
Hello Bill – do you see the elephant?
On our evening game drive we drove up to a male and female pair lounging in the sun. Jokes about the manly lion ensued… To prove his virility the male jumped on the female. Big her in the shoulder and did his thing. Who’s king of the jungle now?
Tomorrow is our last day of walking and it will be a full day. We leave at our usual 7 am departure time and will not be returning until 6 pm…..
Once again we woke up thinking it was raining and it was a baboon in the palm.
Eight graceful giraffes passed by early in the morning. They generally can be seen with zebras grazing about. If you look closely in the photos you can see that the top of a zebra is as tall as the under belly of a giraffe.
Our day started with a river crossing. After the last hippo “stare down” this one went off without a hitch. We cross and on the shoreline stop to change our shoes. Usually the bank is an incline, and after a scramble, we are up on the plain. Upon cresting there was a hippo off to our right side several yards away. Immediately Iain and the men lined up and were at the ready with guns drawn. We were told to run. ‘Stay together and RUN”. The hippo had turned and looked like it might charge.
By the grace of God he changed his mind. Hippos are mean and fast. Iain said “They tend to get discombobulated and either run away or charge.”
Another thrilling event. I think I have said “Holy shit” about 10,000 times on this walk!
In all the years that Iain has led these safaris they have only had one serious incident where a hippo charged and knocked over a ranger and then picked up a woman client and flung her. They weren’t unable to shoot it with the woman in its jaws. It was in 1987, In the middle of nowhere and no way to communicate. It took them five hours from the time of the incident to the moment she got to a hospital. She survived with a long recovery period.
With this crisis averted we began to walk again….
Approximately half an hour later Stephen spotted a female elephant in the saltbrush several yards away. A few days in the bush and he’s a tracker! Lajori did his soft whistle to let Iain know. Normally we can pass undetected. This elephant stepped out of the brush and made her presence known. She knew we were there.
Once again Iain shouted “RUN and keep running.” Lajori directed us with a rapid wave.
Iain fired a warning shot into the air. The elephant hesitated and then started to charge. Toiko then fired another warning shot. All the while Washii is making a repetitive rhythmic sound from the bottom of his throat – as if he was trying to calm the elephant.
She finally decided to turn.
Heart racing…. What now? Lions???
It was quite a morning – 10 mammal sightings and two heart racers in 1.5 hours.
The rest of the walk was uneventful.
Following the animal trail
Lion and elephant tracks
The Galana – crocodile love these flat rocks
The game drive was a lion experience. We first came upon two laying on their sides, out like a light, without a care in the world. Our Rovers drove right up to them and one barely opened his lazy eyes and closing them promptly as if he couldn’t be bothered. The lion beside him didn’t even budge. Moments later a maneless male came outof the saltbush – moseyed along and then fell to his sleepy side. Then another large maned lion came out of the bush. He majestically sat for a brief moment, looked around and then curled up next to his brothers side.
Kim and I decided to check out the kitchen at the campsite. Kikuyu, camp chef for 40+ years makes meals that one would think came out of a gourmet kitchen. It’s hard to believe that they are made with such basic necessities. The Dutch oven reminds me of an old metal ammunition box and bakes the bread and rolls to perfection. Kikuyu uses a shovel to raise the box’s lid. Here are some camp life photos.
Sunrise happens quickly in these parts. Beyond our jambo wake up call the sun ushers in a yellow and orange medley of colors setting the tent aglow. To our surprise, on the way to the bathroom, the full brilliant moon was setting between the doum palms. Last night the palms were alive with baboons scurrying about shaking the branches and making the sound of a monsoon rain. This morning all is calm and peaceful.
I failed to mention yesterday that we walked down the Tsavo river toward its confluence with the Yati River which together form the emerald green Galana River. You can see below where the color changes. We had been using the Tsavo River water for showers but the water from the Galana is not used in camp.
This brings up the big question “Why are we wading through it?” Yes, this too I failed to mention (on purpose) because I didn’t’ have photos. We’ve been crossing the river. The body of water full of savage crocodiles. Crocodiles make alligators look like baby lambs. They are bigger, stronger and look for trouble. We paid for this!
So here are the rules: We only cross at elephant crossings – never where there are smooth rocks where you can hopscotch across the river (because the crocs lurk there). We are to look BIG. To do this we grab our partner’s hand standing shoulder to shoulder and then we hang onto the person in front of us – bellies to butts. No talking and walk briskly!
Lajori and Tioko test the water before we start. They throw rocks in and then grab poles and stir the water. The water depth is unknown but perceived to be okay. The short women get an occasional douche and the guys mostly get the bottoms of their shorts wet. I walk on tippy toes. If we can’t bathe with this water I certainly did want it going where it doesn’t belong. I have enough things to worry about.
Day six we walked a new trail for this safari. Not only are we chum but now guinea pigs. As we prepared to cross the river a crocodile slipped off the shore into the water. Red alert. My heart starts racing. Iain walks 75 feet down the shore and says this will work!
Day seven our river crossing area was full of luxuriating hippos. Iain had us walk down the shore and away from the herd but fairly close to a single hippo submerged in the cooling water. I’m sure he saw the concern in our eyes and promptly exclaimed, ‘If we all huddle together and move quickly we might all make it!” Some of our crossings are more than 100 yards wide so I’m sure even a hippo could catch us.
This are just hippo photos not from when we walked across
I think every one of us stared down that hippo and never even thought about the crocodiles.
From the Yatta escarpment to the Galana River elephants have forged a path for over a thousand years. For Bill and me, this may be the first thousand year old trail we’ve hiked which was not built by the Romans.
The volume of game grows daily. Especially the elephants. Their nature is so human like. Witnessing up close the way they nurture and discipline their babies could keep me spellbound for hours. A memorable moment was watching a female dig a hole in the sand to find filtered water. She’d scoop it up and throw it over her shoulder. In the meantime, her baby, thrilled to drink from the same hole, tried to get on the action only to be continuously pushed aside so mama could finish the task at hand.
Each evening while eating dessert Iain likes to tell us about what to expect the next day. Tonight’s briefing ended with a story about what happened on his previous safari two weeks prior on the same path we will walk tomorrow.
Of late the vehicles wait for us to conclude our walk and we drive back to camp. Simon, the other driver, had gone to the pick-up site early. As he waited for Iain and his group to crest a hill before crossing the river he witnessed a lion stalk and kill a zebra. Right in the pathway where Iain would emerge. He had no way of warning them. They were off the grid – no cellular service and the emergency radio only worked one way.
Iain said as he and the group were about to crest the hill he came face to face with a bloody mouthed lion. Both stood there shocked. Seconds later the lion turned and ran away. Iain said one of the walkers fell over right there in his tracks. I’m sure that’s the least of what I would have done.
We were left with this story. Go to bed, sweet dreams and tomorrow might be real fun……