My 1 Day travel jərnē to Amboseli National Park started with Sauti Sol singing, “change your mind and come back home.” By 5:00 AM in the morning, I already showered, stretched an Everlast activewear set over a body that has been loved with a lot more food than the last time I was active, realized that the frozen Samosas I bought required being pan fried, took my multivitamins, and blasted local music to keep me awake until the safari tour guide arrived. It was still dark outside as my birthday “twin”, Olivia and I quickly walked through the itinerary to ensure we had everything we would need to get us through the 12 hour day. The phone rang just as we were finishing up so we decided in real-time that we were as ready as we would be. We started to ascend the small hill that leads to the security gates that divides residents and visitors when our guide, Benson smiled at us and we were reassured that our latest adventure would lead us home again.
Amboseli National Park Tour Travel Tip 1: The roundtrip drive is a full day experience. Bring a large reusable bottle of water and prepped launch to remain hydrated and take a lunch break before returning back from your jernē.
The drive from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park is a scenic experience within itself that provides a brief, yet holistic view of various livelihoods in that region of Kenya. The various highways and byways wind through the heart of the city, adjacent to the over paths being built to accommodate the newly commissioned railway, and through tribal villages where fresh water is more anticipated than the daily newspaper. There were moments where the morning fog was so dense over the landscape that we appeared to be waterfront until the van pressed through it for us to progress to our destination. The in depth stories shared with us about the people who walk alongside the highway or hitch a ride to work every morning to the closest form of public transportation, local tribe trade specialties, wild animals who migrate in plain sight, international ownership of the contested new rail, and large tech hub being constructed just beyond the industrial districts made intentions of further of sleep a distant memory. The vividness of the diversity encouraged you to stay awake because closing your eyes meant that you missed an opportunity to learn about the surroundings that have directly and indirectly poured into the land you stood daily.
Amboseli National Park Tour Travel Tip 2: There aren’t any international ATMs beyond the last town before Amboseli. Withdraw the cash required for park admission and to support any of the local Maasai tribes before arrival.
The van turned at a fork in the road featuring a small “Amboseli'' sign where the path transformed to earth tones, tumbled stones started testing the 4x4 drive, and we started to see majestic wild giraffes freely roaming in the distance. We hadn’t even formally reached the park entrance and yet we were already in awe. Patiently, Benson would slow down at the early sight of each wildlife to walk us through what we had never experienced so up close and uninhibited. Endless questions were met with the same warm smile we received when we were greeted hours prior. He loved nature and all of the intricacies of Kenya that make him proud to call the country home. This love was evident with each answer. Comprehensive, informative, and humane.
Amboseli National Park Tour Travel Tip 3: You will be tempted to take pictures of everything in the lead up to the park gates like we were, which is great! However, you have a limited time so reserve stops for once you have reached the grounds.
We arrived at Amboseli National Park to a combination of National Park soldiers, Maasai vendors, and local birds where the contrast of their appearance formed a memorable welcome committee. The soldiers checked the van, Benson confirmed entry and popped the top to change the van into a safari vehicle, birds circled near, and twin made her first purchase from a local Maasai woman who could outdo any retail rep back in Brooklyn.
Amboseli National Park Tour Travel Tip 4: The Maasai vendors you briefly meet at the gate are from the neighboring village where you can visit after the Safari. Express interest with your guide of making a formal visit so that you have a chance to spend intentional time with their community, donate to a fund that will be distributed to all of the families, plus receive the backstories behind their signature crafts. Each donation and purchase goes directly to sustaining their autonomy and school grounds.
Amboseli is filled to the brim with wildlife and the Big 4 where the closest we have encountered most of them are on a National Geographic HD or Discover Earth documentaries. Benson radioed ahead to other tour guides who have recently ventured through the park to ask them which wildlife they saw and where they were located. He hadn’t fully finished his first call when the first set of curious creatures were already making their way alongside, in front, and in back of the Safari vehicle. Herds of Antelopes, Gazelles, and Wildebeests had the right of way as we slowly drove through in a manner to not disturb their morning routine. The abundance of water bodies also makes Amboseli a paradise for birds. An African Fish Eagle was spotted casually perched atop a sun scorched tree as we continued to take in all of the surreal sights and sounds around us.
The most hilarious moment happened as Benson was giving us a new lesson on ostrich dynamics. We were looking at the beautiful brown plume of a female ostrich when we noticed a male ostrich with a black plume quickly run after her. What we assumed was just another walk or run in the park ended up being us witnessing a mating ritual. The male mounted her and the vehicle fell silent until I joked, “what is the gestation period for ostriches?” The brief minutes of the feathers intertwined reminder us that we are merely visitors in this thriving habitat where life is created.
The most unexpected moment happened when the safari vehicle came to an abrupt stop in the middle of nowhere because it needed a jump. Benson quickly hopped into action by grabbing a spare battery out of the back of his trunk and walking us through where we could hold the frayed wires to get us enough of a boost to get us through the park. Twin and I braced ourselves for a shock that didn’t come. The engine came to a low roar and we were well on our way again.
The most majestic moment happened when we arrived at a watering hole reminiscent of most 80s baby’s Lion King dreams. Every animal imaginable were front and center as leaders of the herds tried to keep their communities on task, despite all of the stimulation. The contrast of seeing the silent strength of elder Bull African elephants in their solitude and the cooperative nature of the female dominant families. The balance of seeing small oxpeckers perched atop every other mammal. The sheer sight of nature unfolding before your eyes in a way that can always begin to be described as divine.
The most rare moment happened when we saw a lioness towards the tail end of our experience. My mother in the ancestral plane above is a Leo whose mane is a shade of regal gold and wisdom continues to shake the earth when she roars. In a national park that usually consists of up to 100 Safari vehicles, the current Covid-19 crisis reduced the area to only three. The second car filled with a beautiful Black Muslim family was driving directly behind us when we spotted the lioness so Benson kindly gave them a heads up so that they could enjoy a glimpse of her beauty. This dope moment was the Safari equivalence of the head nod you give whenever you see another Black person in proximity. Subtle acts of acknowledgment not only helps us be seen, it also helps us see the world more clearly.
Amboseli National Park Tour Travel Tip 5: Be as present as possible and pay it forward. “The park is the epicenter for some of the most important conservation work being carried out in East Africa.”
See you on the Safari trails!