Everyone says that, if what you want is safari, then Masai Mara is the best. It has the most game, apparently. More lions than you can shake a stick at (definitely don’t shake a stick at one). That may be the case. But what you won’t get at Mara is a bloody great volcano in the background. For that reason and that reason alone, if you’re only doing safari once, do it at Amboseli.
The landscape is unmistakably volcanic. Actually, I picked history instead of geography at GCSE and have no idea what a volcanic landscape looks like, but the rocks that litter the area, and used to outline all the parking bays, definitely look like the frozen remains of furiously bubbling lava to me. Even though the volcano is dormant, there was still a chance, no matter how negligible, that geography might happen all over us at any moment.
Our driver and guide was Animal, a big, cheery fellow with a musical laugh and delicate enunciation. He knows a lot about animals, which is just as well with a name like that. Here are a few little quiz questions for you.
1. Which is the most well camouflaged animal in an African national park?
2. What mustn’t you do if you see a cheetah?
3. Which is the most honourable animal and why?
4. Is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? (I got that one wrong. Well, I got them all wrong.)
During our visit to Nairobi National Park Orphanage, a keeper that seemed to have decided he no longer needed his hands had stuck his fingers through the wire mesh of the hyena enclosure only for the hyena to rub itself affectionately against them. Since then, the hyena has become my new favourite animal. They have a funny way of walking, as if they only learnt do it yesterday, and are embarrassed to do it in public. Funny as this is, they have nothing on warthogs. Warthogs have a two-minute memory. They’ll be running, running, running and then, after two minutes, they’ll stop and wonder what’s going on. Of all the animals in the national parks, the one I’d least like to be is the wildebeest. They look like food and they know it. The only animal to flee from passing cars, evolution has made them to be afraid of anything and everything, and they look very depressed about it.
Unlike tigers, which are terrifying in a terribly attractive way (if I were being mauled to death by a tiger, a small part of me would be thinking ‘pretty!’), lions look like thugs. Big, vicious, angry hoodlums. We were lucky enough to see them eating a wildebeest (which wears the same expression in death as in life), and making whoopee (for 2 seconds every 15 minutes, Animal told us, and I’m sure he was very relieved when, as we checked our watches, he was proved correct).
The campsite is very exciting; you have to go to the toilet (liberal sense of the term) in twos, just in case. At night, you can hear the hyenas giggling, and in the morning, you can spot all manner of animal tracks. And our cook, Joseph, cooked some of the best food we’ve eaten in Kenya so far. People seem surprised that we haven’t done Mara but looking at animals is surprisingly exhausting and, frankly, we’re all safaried out.