Perhaps it’s because I grew up in wide open plains that the vast landscape of ol Donyo speaks to me so strongly.
We left the frantic bustle of Nairobi early in the morning leaving the blaring horns and dusty streets behind and flew towards an ever-enlarging Mount Kilimanjaro above a landscape of snowy clouds. The flight didn’t take long and soon we saw glimpses of red soil as we flew over Tsavo and descended into a golden landscape of sun-bleached grass dotted with iconic umbrella acacias.
The early morning breeze carried a chill but with it a sweet smell of soil and wood, and our excitement grew as we stood in never-ending flat plains, looking out to the twin hills, Demau, sipping hot coffee and meeting our guide for the next week, Elijah.
Driving slowly towards the ol Donyo Lodge we headed towards the volcanic Chuyulu Hills spotting Kirk’s dikdiks, zebras, impalas and giraffes. Elijah and I were looking at a bird when Brian said, ‘oh look, there’s something underneath – it’s a caracal!”
Our luck has always been good but this was spectacular – an orange sand-coloured cat with ponytail ears was watching us but quickly went back to her task of stalking a dikdik. With a speedy jump she hared after it and the two disappeared into the thorny bushes. What a treat. This is only the second caracal I’ve ever seen and my disbelief and amazement was too much for my wits to get a photograph. Our expectations may have just gone up quite a lot!
Ol Donyo Lodge is stunning. Built from the volcanic rock of the area, there is a feeling of belonging in this landscape. Large airy rooms look out across the plains and the waterhole, which is teeming with life.
The giant tuskers are here of course – this is their domain. But around them, waiting their turn are an endless stream of giraffes, oryx, eland, warthogs and impala. This is a view that we shall certainly never get tired of. This is the epitome of bliss.
After an exceptional lunch and time spent close up with the elephants at the ol Donyo waterhole, it was time to head out into the wilds on foot. What better way to get a feeling for a landscape than by on your own two feet where you notice the direction of the wind, the smell of the animals and the trees, having giraffes tower above you and zebras kick up dust as they turn tail.
We stood silent as one of the enormous elephant bulls we’d watched at the waterhole earlier ambled slowly past us – his multi-ton frame making virtually no noise as he moved through the trees, oblivious to us with the setting sun behind us and the wind blowing from him to us. There is no elephant bigger than one which walks past you when you are on foot and we watched open-mouthed and in awe.
Dusty and happy we got back to the lodge with a set sun looking forward to the stars that will pop out, a sumptuous dinner and a well-deserved sleep. The only question now is, do we sleep inside or on the roof under a billion stars and a three quarter moon?