40 in style
It was Jon’s turn to celebrate the big 4 zero and we managed to find a suitable place for the special celebrations – Ithumba in Tsavo East. Ithumba is a lodge run and built by the David Sheldrick Foundation, better known perhaps as the elephant orphanage. As we foster our gorgeous girl Kamok, we were able to book this beautiful spot located in the wild and remote northern section of Tsavo East.
Very similar to Umani Springs in the Kibwezi Forest where we stayed previously (see Umani Springs and The great migration), this is another location close to elephant stockades from where the orphans learn how to become independent and roam free again. Ithumba has been running for 12 years (since 2004) and some of the ex-orphans, now living fully in the wild, still visit the stockades from time to time. They always show up when new orphans arrive from Nairobi, proof there is communication between these giants as they are often seen waiting for the truck to arrive…!
Female ex-orphans have even chosen to give birth in the stockades as they feel safe there and many others ex-orphan mothers introduce the keepers and of course all the elephants to their new-born baby only hours after birth, check out Mulika‘s, Yatta‘s and Wendi‘s success stories. Even injured elephants come for treatment to the stockades, including wild elephants who have never been orphans! Read the stories of these three wild elephants seeking treatment for poisoned arrow wounds, it’s an amazing story!
It truly is a very special place. When you stay at the lodge you can visit the stockades at 6AM to see the orphans get their first bottle of milk for the day. After that they are fed some hay next to the stockades (only during the dry season) before they head out with their keepers to forage in the wild.
At 11AM, the same time as the Nairobi elephant orphanage, they get their second bottle of milk for the day at a local waterhole. You can visit them there again and watch them take their mud bath, scratch themselves on the surrounding trees before slowly heading out again with their keepers. Sometimes wild elephants visit the orphans at the waterhole, showing how much they still have to grow!
Then, at 5PM you can pay a final daily visit to the stockades where the orphans get their last bottle of milk before they go to sleep. There were 12 orphaned elephants there when we visited. And hopefully one day soon our tiny baby Kamok will join them too. She is 2.5 years old now and developed into quite the naughty girl in the Nairobi orphanage. At around 3 they usually start the long process of re-integration into the wild at one of 3 locations. Hopefully we can come back and see her at Ithumba on the next step of her reintroduction into the wild.
It’s a long drive to Ithumba and to avoid the horrible traffic on Mombasa Rd we left very early on Jon’s actual birthday and arrived just after 11AM at the waterhole, we had just missed the morning feed, but did see the elephants slowly disappear into the bush. We paid our entry fee for the NP and drove to the lodge. It was the most amazing lodge we have ever seen!
The entire lodge is built on stilts slightly elevated on the side of a massive kopje with wooden walkways between the 4 tents (bedrooms), the living area and the pool area. It has views to die for from every location, including Kilimanjaro in the distance. There is not a single road that can be seen from any location, not a single powerline. Just nature at its best in all directions. The infinity pool with floating bean bags, the outdoor bathrooms with showers underneath the stars and toilets with sensational views all add to the feeling of being in paradise.
Due to its remote location you are required to bring your own food and drinks (including water), but once in camp you don’t have to lift a finger. All meals and drinks are prepared for you by the team living there and all we had to do was enjoy ourselves. Not very hard in this setting!
We explored the area, hiked up the rocks behind us, went on some game drives, floated in the pool a lot and watched the squirrels, monkeys and birds in the enormous baobab trees right in front of the lodge. And of course we visited the elephants every day.
When on our way to the visit the orphans before bedtime one day we spotted a group of ex-orphans by the side of the road. Obviously knowing the routine of the orphans, they were clearly hanging around waiting for the orphans to pass by so they could say hello. We decided to stop and wait. It was lovely to see the greetings between the now ‘wild’ group and the 12 orphans. They all walked together along the road and we followed slowly until they took a shortcut through the bush and we drove past to get to the stockades before them.
The orphans go straight to their stables as they know they get a bottle of milk, which they love. The ex-orphans also love the milk, but they don’t try to get a bottle anymore because they have been weaned off the milk slowly by diluting it with more and more water, until in the end there is just water in the bottles. A clever way to ensure they don’t come asking for more milk when they visit the stockades!
Certainly a memorable experience for Jon to ease into his forties. Hopefully we can come back one day to spend some more days in this ultimate Kenyan paradise!