The hippos kept me up last night. In between big loud yawn’s, munching grass, and a hearty, ‘heh heh heh’ they were having a great party beside our tent. When I peered out of the netting, I could just make out their huge giant forms in the moonlight. We’re on safari in Kenya and most mornings we’ve been up at dawn to catch the animals still active from their nocturnal activities. You never know what you’re going to find, but you can surely guarantee that if you succumb to a sleep-in you will miss something!This particular safari is special because we have Don’s parents with us. They’re here visiting us, seeing our new home in Nairobi, and celebrating their 45th anniversary. We started our safari on the Laikipian Plateau in Northern Kenya, at a place called Ekorian’s Camp in the Mugie Conservancy. We saw all the usual suspects; lions, elephants, zebras, and buffalo. Mark, our friend and wildlife biologist, who’s with us has told us that the animals are much more skittish in this area because of negative contact with humans. We’ve had some elephants making false charges and trumpeting at the car, all very exciting! Ekorian camp is run by Josh and his wife. Besides looking at animals, they took us fishing and to visit some bloodhound dogs. The dogs are trained to track the poachers who are a constant threat to any animal that is unlucky enough to have ivory. The kids took turns hiding in the bushes while the dogs found them.
Our plan was to go to the next lodge by horse, camping overnight halfway. Initially I was minorly worried about the kids. They’d never ridden before and certainly not for two days, not to mention that Kate is mildly allergic to horses! But she ended up being fine, and it’s amazing what kids are capable of if you give them the freedom. We rode for six hour the first day in the hot sun, and the kids barely complained, so thrilled to be in command of their own beasst. The horses were great, fanning out in a line, rarely nose to tail. Chyulu, our guide, led us over the open plains past zebra’s and into Samburu land. The Samburu’s are a tribe of semi-nomadic herdsman who keep cattle, sheep, and goats. We arrived in camp at around four o’clock, the tents and cots already set up by Chyulu’s hired Samburu’s. We relax with tea and pudding (cake), had a bush shower, and talked about the evening ahead.In thanks for all the help Chyulu’s family has given the Samburu in the past months, they invited us to watch a dance being held 1/2 a km away. Invitations like this are such a rare opportunity, and couldn’t be missed! We left camp at dusk, climbing up over the rocky escarpment, the sun just setting over a grouping of manyatta’s (mud huts). We passed children and their goats, all the while following low voices chanting in unison. When we entered the acacia thorn-fenced compound, at the centre stood more than 20 men and women dressed for the occasion. They were celebrating the return of all the moran warriors (~17-25 year old men) who have been out travelling, doing whatever it is moran do when not at home. The men danced and jumped, singing while the girls stood timidly by. We were the only people watching over twenty five, because this after all, was an event for teenagers. And when they get together, they dance and jump around. At first the elder had said,’no pictures’, because some of the Samburus are still under the impression that taking a picture can steal a piece of your soul, but eventually he relented. Most of the Samburu children had never seen white kids, but they were so engrossed by these stunning men, that they weren’t really that interested in our kids. After awhile, in the fading light, Gwen Kate and Ash wandered off into one of the many manyatta’s with Chyulu.
Inside the tiny mud hut, women fed them chai, warm sugar milk tea (mixed in a gourd that no doubt usually contains fresh blood/milk bled from a cow, their main source of nutrition). They happily slurped it up, Ashton of course wanting seconds. By the time we found the kids, they were sleepy and they said it would be nice to stay over in the manyatta, by the fire, with animal skins for a bed. What a night and what an experience!Our next stop was Ol Malo ranch, where we met with Chyulu’s family. The Francombe’s are a cattle ranching family, who can tell the kind of stories that involve man-eating lions, ornery charging elephants, and shrug off the many dogs they’ve owned that have been snatched by leopards through the parlour window (apparently it’s a leopards favourite treat and every story seemed to end in “…but, that dog was eaten”). They also have a pet zebra, oryx, and many little “pet” wild animals like hyrax. The girls were still keen to ride, so they woke early for hot chocolate and toast before going for riding lessons with Chyulu. Meanwhile Mark managed to catch a puff adder,’ to show the kids.’ This particular snake can kill in three ways heomo-, neuro- and cyto-toxicity. I wasn’t too keen on the thing but it was pretty. Shivers.Driving into the local village later that day, we went to the weekly market where the kids bought “1000 mile shoes” made from tire tread. This is Gwen’s second pair (the other passed on to Kate), and she was keen to have them custom made. The market sold other useful items like soap, veggies, cloth, and pots. I’ve been on the lookout for beaded jewelry, and the Samburu like the Masai are knows for their beading. We managed to buy a few cool necklaces. Experiences like this are so amazing, because you see people just living thier lives. They also sold an abundance of donated “gently used” clothes from the US. Buying new clothes in Kenya has proven to be difficult, and the second hand piles are starting to look appealing. Wouldn’t Ashton look cute in a Santa sweater?We are now in the Masai Mara in the Olare Orok conservancy. In this part of the world the sun rises at 6:30 every morning, and we are up before dawn to catch the action. One morning we managed to find a fresh kill by a lion pride, and then the subsequent ravaging by the vultures (133 by Gwen’s count). It was all over in less then 30 minutes, nothing left but the picked clean carcass of a wildebeest. The animals are used to seeing trucks, and as long as you don’t make a lot of sudden movements or loud noises they tolerate human presence. Most animals see only the truck itself and so we are invisible, clad in our browns and greens. The wildebeest are going south at this time of year, and so it’s a time of plenty for the carnivores, and skulls litter the ground in every direction. We bump along looking for the elusive leopard, all the while seeing elephants, hippos, giraffe’s, and zebra’s. It’s important to watch the signs; gazelle’s abruptly changing direction or baboons yelling their “danger call.” At one point we follow the vultures and discover a pack of hyena’s trying to defend their kill from a pack of lions. The lions lose out as they are outnumbered. Exciting stuff and then, David our driver, hears of some cheetah’s and we are off again on the hunt for more action.