lakes, elephants & hills / by Steven Kitoto

Hi guys, Hope you are well?  In all my time camping, never have I been to a place that I have had so much fun like the trip I made to Lake Jipe with Mutua aka @truthslinger, Noni (his wife), Steph (@stephkammy) & Whit (@whitnjeri). Brace yourselves this shall be a long one ...

For a couple of weeks we had planned for a trip to get away from the Nairobi hustle and bustle, initial destination being Lake Chala. Check out Mutua's post here. After scrutiny of the route, we realized, Lake Jipe is not too far from Lake Chala and it looked like a cool spot to set camp from the little we could find only about it. Being a place we had never been too, we were bound for an adventure.

Adventure is worthwhile.
— Aesop

The plan was to leave Nairobi at 5am, get ourselves past Machakos before the roads get really busy. It was a really cold morning as we set out and encountered thick fog on our journey there. We of course had to stop and take a few shots ...

To get to Lake Jipe and our campsite in specific, you will have to cross through Tsavo West National Park. The initial route we had seen was to go down till Emali and take the turn off that leads to Oloitoktok, just before getting to Oloitoktok town there is a murram turn off that leads to Tsavo West National Park.

This was just the beginning of our adventurous journey. On arrival at the Chyulu Gate in Tsavo, we were that gate is only for Safari Card holders, they are the only ones who can make payment from there. We were then told we can drive through the park but have to head straight to the Mtito Andei Gate (roughly 30kms) to make our payments then from there the plan was to go to the campsite. On arrival at the Mtito gate, we fueled and set off to Lake Jipe. One of the greatest lessons learn't from this trip has to be that KWS signage is VERY POOR. 

So here we are on this road, admiring the beautiful hills that are within Tsavo on our way to Lake Jipe to pitch camp and relax. We carefully followed the signs written and we had to brace ourselves for a 129km journey from the Mtito Andei gate. We approached a junction that said, 100kms to Lake Jipe ... little did we know that that was where our adventure was just about to begin. As we drove, we quickly got to a point where by the sign posts no longer had any writings on them and we just assumed we continue heading straight. At this point there is very limited to no network coverage, but it didn't quite matter coz we knew we were headed in the right place. The road terrain began to change and we found ourselves rock crawling and driving on paths that had been long forgotten. As we headed on confident that we were on the right track, Muts noticed that the cars brakes were not functioning at all with very slow close to minimal response. We had to stop in the middle of the park and check the issue, again in a place with barely any network signal we were basically on our own. After numerous tries, we get through to the mechanic for some on-the-phone diagnosis and we discover that we had burst one of the brake lines and all the brake fluid had leaked, from there on up it was just careful driving as we tried to get ourselves to the campsite. Wondering as to when these 100kms will come to an end, we kept driving straight ahead, before we knew it we approached what seemed to be the perimeter fence for Tsavo.

Upon reaching the fence it became clear that we were indeed lost, not just by a couple of kms we had overshot by over 100 kms. We had to search for help, by this time the ladies at the back were very anxious to be out of the car and by the campsite. Some rangers had a campsite by the fence and we asked them how we get to Lake Jipe, they told us the only way was to follow the fence all the way to the Maktao Gate (which is the entrance to Tsavo from the Voi side) you can already see how we have traversed the largest national park in Kenya. After driving along the fence, for quite sometime it was approaching dark and we were stopped and asked where we are going and why we are driving past park hours, we had to explain our situation of getting lost and they let us be but they said once we get to the gate we should wait for their boss.

Little did we know that we may have been mistaken to be poachers but of course innocent until proven guilty. When we got to the gate, after driving through really rough terrain with steep drops down river beds ... it was quite a ride seeing as we didn't have working brakes. When we got to the gate, it was like a scene out of a militia movie, KWS guards with rifles hiding behind pillars telling us to switch off our lights before they approached us. After talking with a KWS official at the gate he saw indeed we were lost tourists led astray by the poor signage and he was ready and willing to let us through to head to Lake Jipe because even though it was late to be driving around in the park there was no place for us to sleep around there  and the campsite was only 48kms away. We had to wait there for his boss to come because he said we shouldn't leave that gate until he arrives (I think he still suspected we were poachers.) When the boss came, he got us to introduce ourselves and narrate our story, at this point he gave us two options, to head on towards Jipe or go to Taveta town, sleep in a lodging then head to Jipe in the morning. The ladies were exhausted but Muts & I just had to convince them we can push on the remaining 48kms to Jipe and camp there. The guards called ahead to camp and told them we were en-route, they estimated our arrival in 1 and a half hours if we didn't get there on time, they were going to send a team from there to come look for us. Off we went and the KWS guards escorted us to a turn off which from then onwards it was just straight all the way to camp. We finally got to Jipe at about 10pm and began to search for a spot to pitch our tents while hippos grazing at night surrounded the campsite.

It wasn't until morning that we got to see the beauty that manifested by the lake and I was first to awake and I managed to capture the first elephant that came to the lake ...

The the big fella left, soon after some birds came flying past and then more elephants.

On this day we decided to visit Lake Chala which is about 35kms away from Jipe. Lake Chala, is a crater lake in a caldera on the borders of Tanzania and Kenya on the eastern edge of Mount Kilimanjaro, not far from the town of Moshi and 8 km north of Taveta. This place is a sight to behold ...

Underwater portraits of Muts, Steph & Whit.

@stephkammy cooling by the waters of Lake Chala.

Lake Chala in all its majesty ... A cool place to take a swim by the way. Upon heading back to camp, it was time to prep the dinner and wait for clear skies to shoot. This particular night was quite interesting, at about midnight cameras were set shooting the night sky and it was particularly loud that night. The previous night we did see hippos by the lake and could hear them grazing but this night it was extra loud to a point Muts mentions that the hippo be quite violent and noisy ... little did we know that they were elephants grazing.

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The campsite is very close to the lake, and being open ground the elephants roam freely around there, so while shooting I blacked out on the chair next to the camp fire as Whit & Mut were chatting before I know it Muts is waking me up and telling me to look behind ... a few meters away was an elephant just next to our campsite area I was freaked I literally froze then the elephant released a huge grunt that froze us all for a bit. Never have I been so close to an elephant but that is the beauty about this place, you get so close to wildlife it is amazing. One thing we realized, if indeed you visit Lake Jipe, there is no need to do game drives in Tsavo Park because you are guaranteed that these elephants are going to come to the lake at least twice a day and in some seasons huge herds come take there mud bath and head back to graze.

The following day was the day to head out, there was nothing much but sleeping in and the following morning realizing that we were slightly delayed in our departure mainly because, all this time our brake issue was still not sorted, and we intended to get a mechanic from Taveta but it proved complicated so we decided we shall drive back to Nairobi with no brakes. On the way out of the park, about 6kms from the main gate Whit screams "LION!" Of course we thought it was a joke until we braked and looked back and indeed there was a lioness and a lion by the side of the road. They were resting under a shade from the hot sun but these lions were panting so hard its like they were about to give up on life.

After a few shots and chilling with these lions, we headed out and straight to Nairobi. That sums up this long post of this trip I hope you enjoyed it ...

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