Recently I went the Airbnb route for affordable places to stay in while on safari. The one that fitted my taste and budget and had great reviews was Nyika Bird Sanctuary, 10 km into the interior of Mtito Andei on the edge of Tsavo East National Park.
In the 1940s when the colonial government set up protected areas, ‘nyika’ was a wild place full of wild creatures. Hence the two great Tsavos — East and West — were set aside as land ‘useless’ for humans — the soils were poor and sparse water apart from the rivers that flowed in spate during the rains and the wildlife thrived in the absence of people.
We reach the Tsavo Gate near Manyani into Tsavo West National Park, eager to escape trucks on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway. A herd of elephants enjoys s drink in Tsavo River. Doum palms line the river bed with centuries-old fat baobabs heavy with seed pods.
Apart from meeting one other vehicle, we come to a bush packed with baby elephants. We had chanced on a crèche — and ‘shooed’ away by an enormous female who lumbered at us from behind the bush and we fled. I am full of respect for the matriarch because she could have easily trampled us but was menacing without sound, so as not to disturb the little ones.
The park is enchanting after the rains with fragrant-filled shrubs in flower and giraffes nibbling on the acacias.
Onto the old Tsavo East gate. Turning in from Mtito Andei, the busy roadside truckers' town, the road turns red as big fat baobabs dot the landscape with scattered homesteads and wilted maize until we reach gigantic rock kopjes.
Wondering what a ‘mzungu’ is doing in such an ‘off-the-beaten’ track, we soon learn that Robin Macdonald is a third generation Kenyan, lived in the bush for most of his life and having lived here with his parents when he was young, speaks the local languages fluently.
Nyika House is a delight to discover and at night, we enjoy a beer on the veranda. Oddly by the outside veranda is are flashing lights strung around a tree.
“It’s for the elephants,” says our bushman. “They wander through the garden but don’t come near the house at night because they don’t like flashing lights.”
Sounds much like lions because the Maasai around Nairobi National Park also realised that lions won’t come to a cattle ‘boma’ when there are flashing lights strung around. “There is no fence here and we border Tsavo East National Park,” Mr Macdonald pointing to the bush a few feet away with just the thin flow of Mtito River between us. “It’s the Tsavo triangle bordered by Tsavo, Voi and Mtito Rivers and really rich in wild game.”
Our host recalls growing up in Mtito and Makindu when black rhinos were aplenty and spotting 25 in a day was no big deal; until the 1980s when poachers cleaned them out because the price of rhino horn shot up higher than gold.
The night is alive with sounds from the bush of owls and more. In the morning, loud sounds rend the air from across the river. Is it an elephant or a snorting hippo?
“No, it’s a big male baboon up the tree,” states Robin sauntering in with fresh ‘kienyeji’ eggs for breakfast.
Next time we will have him drive us into Tsavo East where people rarely venture — and enjoy sun downers on the rooftop facing the mighty Kilimanjaro.