Our first wildlife drive

Trip Start May 25, 2003
Trip End Jun 07, 2003

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Flag of Kenya  ,
Tuesday, May 27, 2003

5/27 Tuesday

Early morning rising for flight to Amboseli. About 30 minute flight by Air Kenya from Wilson Airport- a commuter airport in Nairobi. Great view from above of the clouds of Mt. Kilimanjaro. 12 seat plane.

First game drive! What an experience. I'm trying the digital zoom- too many shots seem too far away to get a picture. Lots of activity for our first drive.

Check in at Amboseli Serena. Small rooms with little window rubbing up against bushes. Supposed to resemble a Masai lodge. Wall paintings like a cave dwelling. Mine includes a hyena.

Evening Drive: elephants, elephants, elephants! Great herds of them, walking along the road beside us, crossing and heading off to the hills where they spend the night- and then reverse the crossing next morning.

Amboseli has become the great elephant reserve of Kenya. The population has actually begun to exceed the capacity of the area to support them. They are looking into alternatives to weed the herd without killing. Possibly capturing a family pod with knock out shots and then transporting them to an alternative site. I wonder if they'd wander back home again?

It was an unbelievable sight- the many, many groups across the very flat plain, traveling at a nice slow walk (for them), pulling great tufts of grass with their trunks as they walked and munching away- elephant "to go". All the pods had several calves of diverse ages- new born to 3-5 years. We could judge their comparative age by the sprouting of their tiny tusks- like baby teeth breaking out.

This part of the park is very lush and marshy with the heavy spring rain. We saw quite a few egrets, some gray crowned cranes, and a few sacred ibis. We stopped at one point for a mother Blacksmith Lapwing protecting her tiny baby on the road. Her voice was like a dog’s squeaky toy. She shouted over and over at us. Eventually, papa joined in as well. We swung way over to the road side and slowly eased by. I don’t know why they were on the road.

As evening fell, we came across more pods of animals settling in for the night including a pride of lions- just relaxing at the end of the day. Occasionally solo animals like the gazelle, young bull elephants, and the lonely male wildebeest staking out his piece of turf.

As we approached the entrance to the lodge, we could see a flock of perhaps hundreds of Helmeted Guinea Fowl gathering for the night. In the graying light, they moved amid volcanic rocks which they greatly resembled. It was wonderful camouflage for them.

We all gathered on the veranda to watch the night close in around us and drink a toast to a great day. Vervet monkeys settled in the trees above us. Later, bats whooshed around us- always more felt then seen.

Chip stood the round. We talked of many things- including why we travel. Chip and Lisa had begun their trip with 2 days in London, then a week in Egypt before joining us in Nairobi. They’ve made me eager to see Egypt now. Chip has traveled extensively. He’s been to Machu Pichu, which he loved, and encouraged me to walk the Inca Trail and spend the night there in the lodge outside the park gate. He said it was quite an ethereal experience to walk the ruins at night with a flash light. Though he almost died when a llama unexpectedly came out of the dark and severely frightened him.

The night air is alive with a number of creatures chirping away. It actually becomes a steady, rhythmic chorus pieced together from diverse unique sounds. A natural orchestra accompanies our walk into the dining room.

While we were eating, Lindsay and Howard noticed a tiny frog sitting just inside the sliding door leading out to a heavily lush lily pond (with just one very red "gold fish"). The frog was very still in its corner. Howard warned our waiter to be careful walking in that area. He immediately attempted to “escort” (his word) the frog away, but the door opening was in the opposite direction. He then slid the door open, but the frog took that opportunity to hop out of reach under the next table. The waiter went off and returned with a piece of paper. He attempted to scoop up the frog. It scampered further away, ending up we know not where. The intrepid hunter gave up.

A Vervet monkey made continual forays across the bridge in the dining area, trying to get to the nearby salad bar. The waiters kept an eye out for him- chasing him away. But as we finished our meal, he emerged the victor- for this night- jumping up on a table, quickly stuffing food into his mouth and making a grab for another handful before being chased away.

Electricity is turned off at midnight. It’s from a generator. I awake in pitch dark at midnight, but still the noisy chorus! Then I slept through until morning for the first time since leaving SF.

5/28 Wednesday

Our first early morning drive; assembly at 6:30; coffee, tea and mini cake slices offered. Albert made a sandwich from 3 of them. Then off we go.

Elephants, elephants, elephants! We came upon a large herd crossing the road. We sat and watched them with Albert occasionally backing up as their slanting traverse of the road brought them closer. Or as one or the other mother decided we were too close to the babies and began to flap their ears and tails and move directly toward us.

At one point we were trapped with a smaller herd passing behind us. Albert took the opportunity of a gap in the traffic to turn around. Some of the younger bulls play-acted at fighting, but not very aggressively and not for long.

We spent a good deal of time watching a mating pair of lions. They had a ritual mating dance- the female would get up and walk slowly away, flicking her tail high in the process. The male would immediately follow. She would stop a short distance away, where the male would rejoin her. Then they would lie down for a bit before the female would get up and repeat the process. Eventually, they worked their way very close to our van on the road where she crossed over to the other side, the male close behind her. There they settled in again to begin the dance once more.

We spotted a napping hyena right beside the road. It appeared to have carved a den out of the undergrowth of a dense palm grove. Although we were quite close, it just looked at us a moment and then tucked its head down again to nap after sniffing the air as two warthogs passed in the background. We returned about 8:30 to a good breakfast with champagne to celebrate our first morning drive.

We made a short drive over to the near-by Masai village. We were met by a chief’s son named Joel, a young man in his 20’s who had attended a missionary school in Nairobi through high school. The Masai men and women greeted us with song and dance. We then entered their hedge-enclosed village which consisted of a circle of tiny cow dung daubed huts circling inside the outer hedge. Then another inner circle of hedge plants/bushes to form a large inner courtyard. The inner courtyard is where the cattle, sheep and goats were brought for the night for protection. Joel answered our many questions about Masai life. An elder demonstrated fire making. Joel brought us in to his wife’s house (all wives are obligated to build a home for their husbands. If there is more than one wife, then there’s more than one house in which he is welcome.) The entry was a very tight u-turn into a single enclosed room. A raised bed set on the wall to the left and its mirror on the right. Left side occupied by the children and right by parents. Bed is covered in hides.

Between beds next to wall across from the doorway is an open hearth with embers kept going all day. There are a few small round holes in the walls high up to let out some smoke. Since the smoke prevents invasion by mosquitoes, they’re not very interested in ventilation. Because of this, the room is very dark and takes a while to adjust to visibility levels.

Masai are pastorals- they do not grow any crops, although they will occasionally trade cattle or hides for foodstuff. Their breakfast will consist of blood freshly drawn from a cow added to the heated cow’s milk. Dinner is meat from a cow, sheep or goat. Some eat 3 meals daily.

We were shown to their schoolroom- very small and sparsely supplied- very old cracked remnant of a blackboard. This is all the formal education they receive unless they are selected for missionary school.

We hang out by the pool after lunch- post cards, reading, napping. Pool is very clear- supplied by a spring- but very cool. Only the guys went all the way in.

The afternoon drive was much the same animals- mating lions again and herds of elephants. We spotted hippos bathing, but all we could see was the top of their heads; nostrils and ears. The rest was submerged.

We all were going to meet for cocktails before dinner again on the veranda. I was the first to arrive and secured a table under the trees. The waiter brought chips and peanuts along with the Tusker beer. As I was happily drinking and staring off into the woods, I wasn’t paying attention to a marauder sneaking up behind me. A Vervet monkey jumped to the chair and then to the top of the table. He started "fisting" the goodies into his cheeks. Startled, I shouted and then pushed him. He jumped to the chair across from me, scattering chips on the table and ground. I continued to shout at him and rocked the chairs, but he ignored me and continued stuffing chips. A man at the next table with heavy, leather shoes ran over and stomped and shouted until the monkey headed for a nearby tree. But he wasn’t really intimidated by all the ruckus. He later attempted another foray after the rest of our group had arrived. He was again chased from the veranda, this time by a waiter.

All packed now and ready. We head out to Tanzania in the morning.
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