On a two-day visit to Serena Kilaguni Safari Lodge, I have dinner in the wild, and watch a young crocodile hunt.
At 4pm, I’m watching a tiny crocodile hunt. She swims to a small waterfall and opens her mouth, readying herself for that unlucky fish that’s just about to become dinner. It looks like an excruciating hunt, one more dependent on probability than a hunt should be. I’m leaning against a wooden barrier at Mzima Springs, in the middle of Tsavo West.
Every day, more than two hundred and twenty million liters flow through this place. From the Kilimanjaro, this massive amount of water filters through the volcanic rocks of Chyulu Hills, then to these springs and down to Mombasa’s water supply. But from the look of it, you can’t tell. It’s so calm that a baby crocodile has found a tiny waterfall to hunt from. It’s the end of an hour-long nature walk around the springs, most of it spent falling behind, running away from nosy monkeys, and spotting hippo snouts break the calm water surface.By the time I give up wishing her luck, twenty minutes later, she’s still in the same position.
I hadn’t travelled for a few months. My last trip, back to that gorgeous lake side town of Loiyangalani, ended in disaster. On the fifth and last night, my two roommates and I caught the stomach bug. We had to confine ourselves to within 10 meters of the room, with its single bathroom that had a curtain where a door should be.
Food had betrayed us.
This was after a laughable meal in Marsabit’s hottest restaurant two nights before. The owner of the establishment, a local legislator, couldn’t see the problem with giving eight people food that was 92 percent starch. Even the chicken bahati mix has a fairer balance of proteins to everything else.
After that trip, I took a break.
But then, on the long 238km road from Nairobi to the middle of Tsavo West, to a serene hotel called Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, I found my mojo. In a noisy van with laughter, beer and expectation, I remembered why I travel. The road is calm, but nothing beats sitting for hours staring at a watering hole with a glass of rum in hand. It’s total bliss. If only for a day or two.
Still, I was afraid of food, even though it had been more than five months since the small war in Turkana.
Kilaguni has been around since 1962, one year before Kenya became an independent nation. Its name means “the place of the young rhino” and should actually be spelt “Kilanguni.”It was the first ever lodge to be built inside a national park in Kenya. So it was built in the biggest park in the country, on its Western side. Both parks were established in 1948 and named after the Kamba name for the place, which means, rather unfortunately, “place of slaughter.” Although they share the Tsavo name, they are markedly different. The West, which we explored for two nights, is wooded and has the hilly landscapes of the Five Sisters and Chyulu Hills marking the horizon. The East is flatter and more deserted.
Perhaps the one story you know about Tsavo is that more than a century ago, two maneless lions grabbed over thirty men from their tents and into the dead of the night. No one knows why the lions were interested in human cuisine in the first place, but it’s likely because the old slave routes to the Coast cut through what is now the park. Almost two decades after the lions were hunted down, some of the fiercest scenes of World War I on the East African Front took place in the park, and in areas around Taveta. The battles of Tsavo and Taveta are still called “the greatest guerrilla operation in history” because the German Lieutenant-General who invaded Kenya in 1918, Von Lettow Vorbeck, was all layers of badass.
But that’s not the only history in this massive park, nine times the size of the Mara.
After independence, Kilaguni remained the only place outside of Nairobi with a Nairobi telephone number. It had the infamous red phone, the direct line between any place and State House. Every once in awhile, Jomo Kenyatta would be driven down to the Tsavo, to this lodge, to take a presidential break. There’s an image of him looking down on the watering hole, one foot on the wall, fly whisk in hand.
A presidency later, and Kilaguni hosted Kenya’s third president. There’s a scene from Miguna’s first book where he describes a disastrous meeting between the two top dogs in the 2007 presidential fight. There are tears at the end of that story, and a random mention of a conversation through the curtain. There’s no curtain in that room, but it’s right here, overlooking the watering hole and Chyulu Hills beyond, that that meeting took place one night in January 2008.
You could smell the nyama choma long before you saw it. It was our first night in Tsavo, and the itinerary said we were heading out to a bush dinner. So down the stretch, past the rock-paved swimming pool, through a dark stretch to a grassy patch. Now wasn’t the time for anyone to start recounting that old story of the man-eating lions of the Tsavo, and luckily, no one did.
You could smell the meat roast, and you could hear the music play. A glorious assault on all the senses, and the promise of a party in the wild.
When we finally made it, all my food worries were forgotten. Right there, in the middle of the wild, was nyama choma, the sizzling destiny of a goat serving up the food chain. There was kachumbari and mutura, and a bonfire. There were the usual frills of wine and a bar, and that top notch service Serena is famous for.
After we fed the beast, we walked off to one end of the grassy patchy to sit around a bonfire. That fire burned most of the night, fueled by wood and stories that should probably never be repeated anywhere.There are many things you can do in Tsavo West, like visit Mzima Springs and Shetani Lava, or go for a game drive, or a bush walk. But if you are ever there, you should have bush dinner at Serena Kilaguni. You can take your kids with you because the good staff at the lodge will take care of them for you. They’ll keep them busy as you and the spouse see the watering hole or go to do other adult things at the rock-built bar (*cough*, or in the room).
All images here are courtesy of Vionna of CurlyCheeks.Com. Read her stories on the Tsavo weekend here. [Link]
For rates and more information on Serena Kilaguni Safari Lodge, see the Serena Hotels’ website [Link]
One story is good,
till Another is told.