I may have saved the best continent for last, but I think I may have experienced my favorite park first up on our Kenyan tour. I don’t know if it was the quantity and variety of animals we saw in the park, the beautiful camp where we stayed, or simply the fact that it was our very first safari experience. In truth, it was probably a combination of all of those things.
After our 5 hour drive from Nairobi our first view of Amboseli was quite impressive, yet very unexpected. In order to get to the camp where we were staying we drove over a huge dried up lake bed that floods every rainy season. The flatness of the lake bed combined with the massiveness of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background was like nowhere I had ever been before. I imagined that’s similar to how the salt flats of Bolivia or Utah would look (minus the reflections of course). It was beautiful in its own way, but certainly not what I expected to see on an African safari.
Soon enough we were past the dried lake bed and were greeted by giraffes, an ostrich, and zebras. I think I was surprised by how soon and how many animals we saw just getting to the camp.
Upon arriving at the camp, we were greeted by the staff with cool, wet towels and a refreshing drink. This wasn’t going to be a standard camping trip (and I was very OK with that). The camp was beautiful and had incredible views of Mt. Kilimanjaro (which is just across the border in Tanzania). The second day we were there the camp manager told us that we were quite lucky with the clear views we had of Kilimanjaro. He said it’s often quite cloudy and the mountain isn’t visible. The last day we were there we experienced what he was talking about, and I was quite glad to have taken so many pictures of the mountain while I had the chance.
Our ‘tent’ was an actual canvas tent setting atop a wooden platform. While the walls to the bedroom were made up of canvas, the bathroom at the back of the tent had four permanent walls. The bathroom had a semi open shower, double sinks, and all the typical amenities a 5 star hotel room would have. In front of the tent there was a porch that probably had about the same square footage as the bedroom. It had 2 chairs on one side and a chaise lounge on the other that was perfect for napping. To top it all off, the view couldn’t have been more picturesque. Our tent was directly facing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
My parents and aunt stayed in the private house which had two bedrooms and a common living space open to the elements in between. It really was like having your very own vacation home in the middle of Africa. I think they were quite spoiled after leaving Amboseli because their lodge at Tortilis was by far the best lodging any of us had on the entire trip. Being able to relax on the couch in your living room while watching the dik diks graze in your backyard just a few feet from you is pretty amazing. My dad is an early riser, so in the mornings while my mom and aunt were still sleeping he got to enjoy tea while watching and listening to the birds from the comfort of his living room table. The one odd thing about the rooms in the private house were the bathrooms were wide open to the bedroom. No such thing as privacy when you’re ‘camping’ I guess.
The public spaces in the camp were all equally as enjoyable as the lodgings. All views pointed to Kilimanjaro, and there were plenty of outdoor spaces to take advantage of the views. There was a small watering hole just outside of the camp’s fence that was lit up at night and within view of both the lounge/bar and the dining room. An outdoor fireplace surrounded by seating also faced the watering hole and Kilimanjaro, but we didn’t take advantage of it. We also didn’t use the small pool there, but it looked quite nice. Instead of swimming during our afternoons off we usually took naps to relax in between our early morning and late afternoon game drives.
The food at the camp was good, but it certainly wasn’t the best out of the three lodges we visited. Lunches were buffet style, and they always included both a salad and a dessert of some kind. Each night for dinner there was a set menu, and there were no choices. It was served family style as the waiters brought the food around to place on your plate. I’m by no means a picky eater, but I could see how if someone was picky not having a choice may be a bit of an issue. Certainly, though there was enough food served at each meal that you wouldn’t go hungry even if you didn’t like the main dish. After dinner each night a server would come around and take our order for tea or coffee in the morning, and ask us what time we wanted to be woken up. Waking up to a server bringing you tea and biscuits to your tent was something that occured at each lodge where we stayed. It made me almost look forward to getting up at 5:30 or 6 am while on vacation. Almost.
I knew we wouldn’t be roughing it on this trip, but I don’t think any of my family or I knew how good we’d have it. Every little thing was taken care of for us, and many things that we never would have thought of really added a lot to the experience. Little by little I’m becoming more used to luxury travel (mostly thanks to my miles and points hobby), and I’m hoping I don’t become too addicted to it where I don’t want to stay in hostels or fly coach. I don’t think there’s too much danger in that, though, as I think I’m too cheap for that (plus I really enjoy staying in hostels, it’s my wife I’ve got to convince they’re a good time and not just a way to save money). Amboseli is a beautiful park, and Tortilis Camp certainly exceeded our expectations.