Through the connection with Ben at Far & Wild we were put in touch with Diamond, the managing director of Kearsley’s.
Our request was unusual: being two (always hungry) cyclists travelling from Kenya to Cape Town on uncertain timetables (given our peddling speed is very terrain dependent) with two large bikes and pannier bags in carry around with us.
Diamond fully lived up to his name - everything went flawlessly. Our driver for the 2(ish) days was to collect us from the closest village to the park, (and be ready and waiting for us to cycle up whenever our legs could get us there) we would have the whole vehicle to ourselves so the bikes could join the safari and lunch would be a priority. It’s important to add that this whole plan was dreamt up, formulated and put into place over just 24 hours.
Once everything was set, we rode the 100km to Tarangire in no time, no doubt propelled by the excitement of a safari adventure.
From the second we met our Kearsley’s guide - Sebastian (on the road from Arusha to our meeting point) we knew we were in safe hands. We would come to learn that Sebastian is incredibly knowledgeable, funny, kind and has an over-flowing and infectious love for his country and the animals that call it home.
Within minutes of piling the bikes into the safari vehicle and driving into the park came our first encounter - elephants! So close you could almost touch them, just going about their business having lunch. Talking of...our rumbling tummies did not go unnoticed and in fact had been considered in advance. Diamond had organised a sitting at a lodge serving a delicious all you can eat buffet (too much for a couple of hungry cyclists to fathom) with the most spectacular views over the whole park. The lunch service was due to have finished at 2pm, but given our over excitable photographing of the elephant we arrived a little late. We were in no doubt that Diamond’s relationships with the lodge helped keep the place open for us to sip our beers with the restaurant and view to ourselves whilst laughing at how unreal the situation felt.
Again, it is clear that the connections between Kearsley’s and Sopa Lodge (where we were to spend two luxurious nights being spoiled rotten by the most wonderful staff) enabled the last minute booking and lead to the celebrity treatment we received from those who had been informed of our cycling adventure.
A full day on safari was nothing short of magic. We are pleased to have the photographic evidence because otherwise we wouldn’t believe it happened. The most amazing sighting was as a direct result of Sebastian’s keen intuition - a slight movement in the grass told Sebastian that lions were around. The lion seemed to be pretty far away but Sebastian’s patience paid off. He manoeuvred the vehicle and told us to wait as he had seen the tip of a lion’s tail. Before we knew it a huge lioness emerged from the long grass and prowled directly behind our vehicle. Then another lion followed directly behind. Then another! And yet another! Four of them strode confidently past us as we were holding our breath and trying to contain our excitement. They climbed a tree to our right before clambering down (less gracefully so by the younger members of the group) and striding back into the grass where Sebastian spotted a full mane-sporting male. Incredible.
Our bragging later at the lodge was met with disbelief given the difficulties of animal sightings in the long grasses of the wet season. Well, they clearly didn’t have a Sebastian.
There were too many animal encounters to detail. But with each and every one, from the smallest bird to the biggest elephant, we gained from Sebastian an insight and understanding into the very character of the animal. It was always naturally informative and interesting with added humour and incredible stories.
By the time we had to say goodbye to Sebastian, we knew we would truly miss him! The care and attention to detail undertaken by both Diamond and Sebastian was the best we have ever experienced. Our time planning and travelling with Kearsley’s was so smooth and stress free that by the point that we were dropped, exactly where we had been collected, to recommence our cycling, we had to ask ourselves - can that actually have happened?
Right... time to get back in the saddle and head south. We'll be in touch with another update soon!