AMBOSELI, Kenya — Queen Victoria was so fond of her cousin, the German kaiser, that she gave him Mt. Kilimanjaro as a birthday present in 1898, moving the Kenya-Tanzania frontier so that one of Africa's greatest attractions was transferred from British Kenya to the kaiser's Tanganyika, now Tanzania.
It doesn't really matter that the boundary still jogs crazily to barely skirt Kilimanjaro, because both countries have national parks at the mountain's base, with plenty of excellent game viewing on either side.
Amboseli National Park and Game Reserve has long been a Masai stronghold, but pasturage was insufficient for both the reserve's game and Masai herds of cows and goats. So the Masai agreed to graze their animals outside the park, which they do until drought conditions force them back toward Amboseli's swamps and permanent water.
Game runs in Amboseli can be as exciting as those anywhere in East Africa, with plenty of zebra and wildebeest, elephants, lions, rhinos and other prey and predators sharing the natural crucible that is Amboseli.
And above it all, looking down from more than 19,000 feet, is the legendary "shining mountain" of Kilimanjaro, practically astride the Equator yet wreathed in a permanent mantle of ice and snow.
Here to there: Fly British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France or Pan Am to Nairobi. Take Air Kenya on to Amboseli (45 minutes) or make the dusty and rough overland run in about four-plus hours.
How long/how much? Most safari operators give you two days here, with morning and afternoon game runs on both days. Lodging and food costs are moderate, considering that most arrangements are for full-pension.
A few fast facts: Kenya's shilling recently traded at 17 to the dollar, about 6 cents each. March through May and November-December are the rainy seasons, with the latter usually having short showers. You'll need a visa, plus $10 in green for the departure tax. A malaria-pill regimen is a good idea. Many visitors take cholera, typhoid and yellow fever shots, the last required for entering Tanzania and returning to Kenya.
Getting settled in: Amboseli Serena Lodge (Box 48690, Nairobi; $140 double, full-pension) is built in the form of a Masai village, the separate cottages strung out on both sides of a flowery walk. The main lodge captures the feel of Africa beautifully with its traditional and rustic furnishings, colorful bar and dining room. There is also a pool and terraces for game viewing, although you may often see game right from your room windows. The bedrooms, while a bit small, were probably the most attractive we had in Kenya or Tanzania.
Every evening there is an entertainment program, usually Masai dancers, and African Heritage has one of its fine shops in the lobby.
Amboseli Lodge (Box 30139, Nairobi; $130 double, full-pension) has much in common with Amboseli Serena Lodge, including separate units and a pool. It has been renovated and enlarged since our last visit. There's a fine view of Kilimanjaro from the dining room when the mountain is not shrouded in clouds. Nearby Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge is run by the same people, and its accommodations (slightly less expensive) may be booked through the same P.O. box.
Regional food and drink: Hunting, for the table or otherwise, has been rigidly controlled in Kenya for more than a decade, so you won't find the "animal \o7 du jour\f7 " dishes on menus here that you do in Tanzania. Which means more reliance on beef, pork, other domestic meats and chicken.
African staple dishes may appear on luncheon buffets or at dinner, including: \o7 irio\f7 , a beans or peas, maize and perhaps potatoes mix, boiled and mashed, then served with a meat stew; \o7 ugali\f7 , another thick porridge of maize, also eaten with meat or a stew; \o7 mseto\f7 , rice boiled with lentils, onions and coconut, plus some Indian and Arab dishes brought to Kenya by early settlers.
The favorite safari beverage is Tusker, the Kenyan beer. There's nothing better after a hot game run. Its moderate price is controlled.
Moderate-cost dining: Most or all of your meals will undoubtedly be taken in your lodge, so that the hotel's reputation depends a great deal on its kitchen. We had some of the best food of the African trip at Amboseli Serena Lodge, including sumptuous buffet breakfasts lavish with offerings of fresh fruit, eggs and meats. Evening meals were first-rate, with steaks memorable for their flavor and perfect preparation.
On a previous visit Amboseli Lodge's fare was about the same as above. We remember fondly a Kenyan blue cheese from both trips; it isn't Stilton but it's excellent.
On your own: Most game viewing in Amboseli takes place around half a dozen "swamps" where the animals hang out. These relatively verdant areas receive water from streams flowing from the northern foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Lake Amboseli, which you cross entering and leaving the reserve, is a dry soda bed most of the year, a rather depressing moonscape and choking with dust.