Kenya Part 2: Here kitty kitty kitty...Big Cats

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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What I did

Flag of Kenya  ,
Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 3 of safari started early. 6am wake-up call (my normal work wake up time) for 630am safari drive departure. Czech woman and I agreed that we would head off early to catch the sunrise and then stop for a bush breakfast so that we could maximise sight seeing for the morning before returning to the lodge for lunch at 1 pm. My puffy eyes opened at 6 am and I immediately regretted that decision to get up early. I hate mornings. I tip toed out of the tent with my boxer shorts on to get my wake up call tea and was stunned still by the morning sight that greeted me – Mt Kilimanjaro in full silhouette with an increasingly pink sky surrounding her. Camera in hand, I stumbled thru some scrub to get a better vantage point and absorb the moment. The early morning regret was wiped from my mind and the decision to pay $3,500 to stay here for 4 nights was vindicated. Every minute I spent here was a dollar well spent and the reason I scrimp and save in everyday life is so I can afford to do great things like stay here. [This price includes all meals, drinks, laundry (except underwear!), safari drives, flights, airport pick up]. The only negative comment I have of the lodge is that it lacked a social atmosphere and vibe; largely because of the sml number of guests and because it was a relief manager and not the normal one who would no doubt bring some more enthusiasm. When I stayed in Botswana 2006 we all sat together for dinner on a long table and talked about the day and the amazing things we'd seen. Every place is different, and this current lodge just had a much more sedate vibe. Also, the lack of night drives was a bit disappointing since most animals hunt at night and thus plenty of nocturnal animals were unseen.

The early morning drive was good. Different perspective with the animals at leisure in the early morning sun. We even got mock charged by a bull elephant all while I snapped away on my camera thinking "yes, flare the ears wider cause it makes a better shot". We drove to a high spot to look out for lions, which are more active in early morning. Great views across the plains, but no lions in sight. The guide drove down and around the tall grass anyways and low and behold there is a lioness resting in the open guarding her fresh kill – a wildebeest calf (hopefully not the newborn I saw yesterday!). She was still puffing from chasing down her breakfast! Lions are not intimidated by the vehicle, but she clearly wanted to eat in private and dragged the dead calf into the tall grass where we could hear (but not see) her heavy breathing as she devoured the meal. Literally a minute after this sight, we saw a Cheetah roaming the plains – the guide hadn’t seen a Cheetah for 2 months and he again had his camera out trying to get a good shot. Cheetah was very timid and shy and quite clever at hiding from us until he/she gave up and sat down so I could take some great pics. We then sat in the vehicle watching some Crown birds with a chick (they actually had 2 chicks and suddenly 1 simply disappeared; God knows what happened to it, but later the parents were calling for it and it wouldn’t come back...sad). Out strolls another lioness casually into the open. This one had a tracking collar for research – huge collar on the poor thing who looked very skinny as if she hadn’t eaten in days.

Finally it was time for breakfast about 930am. Very incredible set-up in the middle of nowhere with freshly cooked breakfast with everything u could think of and looking out across the plains. Right on cue, a bachelor herd (all males) came strolling by. I thought this was a frequent occurrence and why we were positioned at this point, but apparently it is more unpredictable than I thought and even the guides and cooks were taking pics. I had to put the camera down for a bit at this point and just get in the moment of how truly incredible this is that here is Ross in southern Kenya watching a herd of elephants stroll passed just a few metres in front of me after I’ve eaten a fantastic bush breakfast. A moment that makes me very happy with my life and the challenges I’ve cleared to get to this point. I do have my deep moments, and this 30th year will be one for much reflection I think.

The afternoon was spent by the freezing cold pool enjoying a few Tusker beers and then out for the arvo safari where I took a beer for the road. Safari tipsy style is great! We came across the same two lioness’ – the skinny collared one now had a kill (another wildebeest calf) and just lazing about in the shade and then the sun. The other had also just feasted yet again and lapping at the water lagoon where I could (with the help of my binoculars) see blood stains on her mouth and paws. These are some big big cats.

The final full day of safari also started at 630am with a picnic breakfast this time. Saw baby hyena at their den, vultures, another trip up to Obs Hill (first time for Czech) and a trip out to a Masai village. I knew very little about the Masai people, but now know about the Masai warrior tradition (they have to kill a lion; which is now against the law in Kenya), the one who jumps the highest is most attractive to women, the bright beads and red robes, dangly ear lobes. I recall some knowledge of this in the depths of my memory bank but didn’t know it was Kenyan tribes. So, it was an interesting tour for $20 USD and then I bought $40 of souvenirs. Of course u bargain with them, but when u’ve just toured their living standards, I wasn’t going to bargain them too hard considering the life I lead compared to theirs.

The afternoon safari saw a massive herd of elephants migrating back from the water to the trees in the distance. This routine is daily and what most animals do in the dry season since the wetlands are the only source of water in the region. The wetlands are fed from Kilimanjaro’s glaciers. Forecasts are that by 2020, Kilimanjaro’s glacier’s will be totally gone (they’ve receded 80% since first measured in 1918)...makes me wonder what the future holds for this ecosystem and glad I’ve witnessed it before climate change takes another victim. Back to the elephants – the numbers of them were seriously amazing and they all walked right passed the car. By this time, many vehicles had gathered to watch this sight. A dust storm had just blown thru and settled out in time for some good photos. The babies are playful and the teenage boys 'play fight’ as they go with the clashing of tusks so loud. Apart from that, it is remarkably peaceful and organised. Most of them just ignore the vehicles and pass thru without concern. When u see so many elephants in one place, it is easy to appreciate how they have changed the landscape here by eating and pushing all the trees over – this is why giraffe are not so common and have to migrate all the way from the trees on the horizon just to get a drink.

A fantastic way to end my final full day in Amboseli. I gave a generous tip to the guide for his fantastic work and professionalism. He’s worked here for 12 years and is still in awe of what he sees and the pleasure of showing off his country. So refreshing to see someone actually enjoying their work and he would say “Welcome Home” everytime we pulled back into the lodge driveway (although his accent did remind me a bit of Borat!). I enjoyed touring with Czech too and her sense of humour (we jointly laughed at the USAmerican guests who were dressed in full khaki like they’d just walked out of a Safari Holiday Brochure). Czech looked thru some of my photos and was very impressed and said that some are better than hers which she was annoyed at considering she has lugged all this camera equipment across the world. Made me pretty chuffed with my amateur photography skills! I was also glad to have her during the Masai village tour cause she asked heaps of q’s and knew much more than me. She also stopped their welcoming dance to redirect them away from the sun so our photos would be better! I would never do that, but was glad she did...she said in her eastern European accent – “if u pay $20, then surely u can stop and direct them” – I could only admire her confidence and assertiveness. We had a few ‘final night’ drinks with the lodge manager under the very bright stars and reminisced about the sights we’d seen and how close we came to seeing a pride of lions with cubs (after trying for an hour, we couldn’t get close enough to see them cause they were off the designated roads/tracks and our guide could lose his permit if he went off-road...those cheap pop-up vans did drive over to them and tear up the landscape!). It didn’t matter anyway, I am more than satisfied with my experience in Amboseli.

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