After a month at the farm with no days off, the owner kindly offered to take us and the two volunteers to Samburu game reserve for a day safari. Samburu is approximately two hours drive north towards the Ethiopian border and so at 6 am we gathered our picnic lunch from the kitchen and walked, torch in hand to the main house and our waiting transport. We had been advised that it would be very hot in Samburu, so we lathered up with sunscreen, took our hats, plenty of water, binoculars and cameras. Although we had not been on safari before, we had traveled to rainforests and hot dry areas of Australia and knew that no matter how hot, we needed to cover up arms, shoulders and protect our faces! We wore shorts, our tough old legs being used to the Florida sun, but had undervests to keep off the early morning chill, long sleeved shirts, hats and I even had a scarf and padded jacket. Still, I had not expected the jeep to be open, with only canvas sidings and roof, and I fleetingly debated whether I should go back to the tent to change into long pants. The tent was too far away, and it was still quite dark, so I decided to go with the shorts. The cab was enclosed for the driver and owner so no worries for them.
The moon was still out, the sun only just appearing behind Mount Kenya, which looked spectacular as the day dawned. We loaded the picnic, and the two young female volunteers stepped up into the back. I thought they were a little scantily clad in short shorts and t-shirts, with just a sweatshirt to keep the fresh morning air at bay but it was time to go, and they had been advised about the weather conditions…I was done being Mum! We set off along the rutted road, bouncing mightily along, holding on tight, hoping not to fall out of the side. It was still only 6.15 am and dark, but we saw many young children in their school uniforms walking along the roadway. They had backpacks of books, were huddled in thick coats and blankets and walked with gusto, determined to get to school on time, so has not to be punished! No school buses here and the nearest school we could see was about 3 kms away. No street lighting either, so pitch black until the sun rose up from behind the mountain.
We finally made it to the main road but now we were able to speed up and the early morning wind whizzed past us and I wished I had made the trip back to the tent for those long pants. The road was busy as people made their way to work, walking, on boda bodas (motorcycles which act as taxis, that speed along weaving in and out of the traffic, along the sidewalks, and anywhere where they can to get in front of the next guy!). There were the customary speed bumps and at one point our driver misjudged and stamped on the brakes, lurching us forward and leaving us holding on for dear life once more. Again there were hordes of young children, dressed in all types of school uniforms, depending on which school they attended, walking, running and laughing alongside the road, waving to us as they made their way to school.
As the sun rose, it warmed our faces and we descended the foothills of Mount Kenya and into the valley below. Here the earth was much drier, dustier and the air now warmed our cold knees and the girls removed their sweatshirts. I kept my scarf and padded jacket on, not warm enough for me yet! We arrived at the game reserve, only to be told that the ‘ticket man’ was not there yet, but we could pay and get the ticket later (likely with another payment!). We declined and said we would pay on the way out.
The roads were rough, and as we travelled further into the reserve we came upon Grants and Thompson Gazelles, Impala, Waterbuck, herds of Oryx and around the corner, amongst the trees and bushes, elephants! These amazing creatures are so quiet and gentle, you would not know they were there if you weren’t paying attention. Only when they rip the grass and trees out of the ground do you realize they are so close! Steadily munching through twigs, grass and leaves, they turned there heads and looked at us nonchalantly, not giving a fig as to what we were doing, boring stupid old humans. We moved on towards the river and stopped to nibble on a muffin and a boiled egg for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee. On the river, sitting on the sandbanks we saw crocodiles sunning themselves in the morning heat, preparing for their day ahead….I could relate! I looked for hippos, but was told there were none on this conservancy, and besides, the water was not deep enough at this time for hippos. Oh well, another time. Climbing back into the jeep, we removed the roof and stood, binoculars and cameras at the ready! The trails were deeply rutted and our arms and ribs banged constantly on the rims of the jeep – I could feel the bruises blooming beneath my shirt. The day’s heat was slowly intensifying, so off came the padded jacket and on with the sunhat! The giraffes surprised us by sauntering past us right in front of the jeep, again looking down upon us as if we were just pesky little insects, not worth their attention. I love how elegant these creatures are, striding along, swinging their hips and bending and stretching their long necks to pick at the choice leaves from the trees. We saw many warthogs… little Pumbas bouncing along with their long hair, perky butts and flitty tails! The mature ones stared us down with their toothy, tusky grins and grunted loudly conveying their disapproval of our presence. Zebras grazed gently in their herds, both common and the rarer, narrower striped Grevis species. I somehow thought zebras were quite small, but these were really quite large, their hind quarters being quite tall, with their white butts reflecting brightly in the midday sun. We heard and saw baboons in the trees and we stopped for lunch further along the river only to be joined by a large troupe of Vervet monkeys. The males had a lovely bright blue scrotum, which they were not shy about showing off. The many females had babies hanging under their abdomens and they surrounded us as we munched on our salad and quiche, each waiting for us to be distracted so they could move in and grab whatever they could. We noticed they had jumped into the jeep and were diligently pulling out everything from the seat pockets, including my jacket! Marcel and the girls rescued it and whatever else they had managed to pilfer, secured the cab of the jeep, the driver prudently holding on to the keys! Not quite the tranquil lunch we had planned, but very entertaining!
We moved further on, and were treated to another elephant sighting, this time with playful babies fighting and teasing each other. They ignored us and as we drove off, we passed so close to them I could have touched them. Of course I didn’t want to frighten them or cause them to move quickly, as they could have easily pushed the jeep over on it’s side. More giraffes graced us with their presence and we found a sleeping female lion. We could only see her back and the rise and fall of her abdomen as she slept soundly through our numerous drive-bys. We believe she may have had cubs sleeping deep in the thicket as we couldn’t see any other females or males around. We were temporarily hemmed in by another herd of elephants which were eating the grass in the middle of the track. They were in no hurry to move and we were unable to go around them due to trees and bushes. Then more came up behind us and we had to sit for a good 10 minutes until they decided to move off to one side; not before the male immediately in front of the jeep decided to relieve himself with hay bales of poop dropping right in front of us and yes, we were downwind….Ugh.
We headed off towards the hills and looked back across the dry expanse of the valley, using the binoculars to see the herds of antelope and elephants slowly walking across the plains in the distance. The dust was swirling and on the horizon the hills rose steadily up into the deep blue sky.
All too soon it was time to head back and we made our way to the gate via the deeply rutted roads and stopped for one of our volunteers to scoop some Samburu sand and a hunk of elephant poop! She thought her parents would appreciate something ‘natural’ from Kenya. We wrapped it in the aluminum foil from our picnic, grateful to have picked it up after our lunch!. We arrived at the gate and paid our entrance fee, and got the promised ticket! As we left the conservancy, we passed local communities with huts made of straw and any piece of plastic garbage that could be found for the roof. Obviously this was good to stop any water leakage, but all I could see were islands of garbage under which families lived. Large tarpaulins were set out along the roadside piled high with the rest of the worlds cast offs…clothes, shoes, and anything that could be salvaged to plug, or tie up anything that needed fixing. I saw sweatshirts from almost every US University and department store on sale for $1, shirts from every UK soccer club, and sneakers of every description, baseball boots, Converse, Adidas, Sketchers, all second hand, all scrubbed clean. It was a case of buy one and the other one is free….if you could find it in the pile! Every piece of plastic, every length of string and every scrap of metal was saved for future use. Once again we saw sofas being carried on small motorbikes, trays of eggs piled 3 feet high on the pillions of many and of course whole families lined up behind each other, sometimes 5 at a time, on a motorbike made for two! Such is life here.
We climbed the foothills of Mount Kenya once more, the sun losing its heat, and the air cooling with the clouds swirling down and around the peaks. The padded jacket back on, the scarf snuggly tied and the hat safely stowed, we gathered speed and the wind whizzed past our ears. We were tired and dusty and as we motored towards the Farm we closed our eyes, felt the heat in our cheeks from the daytime sun and reflected on our day, acknowledging the privilege of seeing the African wildlife in their natural habitat. It was an amazing day and we hope to have more days such as this in the coming months. No lions, rhinos or hippos, but there will be another day for those!
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