We left Samburu a bit late due to the leopard that was lounging in the tree with his tail dangling down. The rangers finally made all the vehicles leave so the big cat could have some peace. It was back on the road for our next destination: Ol Pajeta Conservancy, three-and-a-half hours away.
February 23- 24th,2016
The sky is a hazy blue and the grass more like the colour of straw. As far as the eye can see there is a line on the horizon dividing the two, not a hill in the way to spoil the vista. The morning is cool and I am glad I wore an extra layer. I dared not drink much water or coffee at breakfast because Eric has warned us there are no toilets in the bush and few safe bushes to hide behind. Pee breaks will be at the back bumper (he promises he wouldn’t look).
“Jambo!” We greet all the guides in the parking lot and make our way over to Eric. Jo is joining Monique and me this morning. Her safari partner Pat, has opted to take a cultural excursion into the village. Eric helps us get up into our jeep. “What do you want to see today ladies?” he says. It is a rhetorical question, but we play along, asking him to bring us to the ostriches and warthogs first and then we’d like to see the leopards and rhinos.
Eric chuckles at our request then says something along the lines of “Right away!” He puts his foot down on the accelerator and the motor revs to life. We drive for a bit following the established trail, until Eric gets that look we are starting to recognize and pulls the vehicle over to the side and pops up over the windshield with his binoculars. He points forward ” White rhino.” Far off at the tree line is a mommy rhino with her baby.
“We need a bit of education about this white rhino verses black rhino business Eric. How can we tell them apart?” I ask. He uses his hands to give details: the white rhinos have wide, strait mouths and their heads are elongated and dished, he says. Black rhinos have triangular mouths and rounded heads.
I am still not quite understanding what he means, and he says he will find us some to compare. Trekking around the large conservation, we have long spans where the animals are far off of the trails and/or not visible, so we do some bird-watching instead and get an avian education. One strange-looking bird we think Eric is calling a curry bastard, which gives us a good laugh. We get several rollers, which are beautiful pastel coloured birds He rattles off names and we try to keep up. We got the guinea hens down pat. Horn-bills and weavers, bee eater. I photograph every one he points at.
Within the hour we roll up on a group of rhinos. I am snapping photos of the interaction between a couple of white rhinos with a baby when a robust female black rhino joins them. The two species were cordial, they don’t normally interact. I had an aha moment watching them; they seemed like a group of ladies meeting at a playground, one proudly showing the other her child, the other asking questions about motherhood. I am starting to see the difference in their build. I understand now they are a difference species so inter-breeding them gives a hybrid, which does nothing to improve the number of either species.
The radio crackles to life and Eric speaks into the mic in Swahili, then the jeep skids to a stop. He grabs his binoculars and perches above the windshield, squinting and straining to see the land in front of us. Within moments we are off, shifting gears and racing toward another jeep in the distance. I am standing on the seat watching the scenery fly by, enjoying the breeze.
We pull up behind the other jeep and the engine sputters and falls silent. We wait.
“What are we looking for, Eric?”
Murmurs from the other vehicles hint there is a lion. I fret, “I don’t see anything.” Another caravan pulls up behind us. Still nothing. The seasoned photographers are all focused on the same spot so I mimic them. I do not want to miss seeing a lion, not trusting my own eyes after the trouble I had spotting the leopard on the rocks in Samburu.
Without warning a massive male lion slips from the grass and saunters right in front of me. There was no missing him. I am trembling so bad, I can’t find him in my view finder. I put the camera down and just watch him walk towards us. I finally steady my hands and get him framed in some shots.
My heart is thumping, I’m sure a heart attack is imminent. He walks the road for a bit, then as easily as he visited us, he departs to the cover of the bushes. Still breathing and ecstatic with joy, Monique, Jo and I land some high-fives for our first up-close encounter with a male lion. While I was prattling on to the others about how he looked right at me, one of my fellow tour group members was photographing me in full animation.
We are wowed by the lion but the sun is at its zenith in the sky and the light is bad. Time to head back to the lodge for lunch.
Whatever has been prepared has the aroma of Indian and African seasonings. I ladle some soups into a bowl and search for a roll. There are lentils, curries, sweet potatoes, salads, fruits, breads and desert. The buffet is a safari itself. ( I’m vegan, I don’t care about the meats and cheeses.) The early afternoon is time to catch up — charging cameras, doing laundry, bits of reading, writing, and napping. It is too cool to go to the pool here.
When 3 PM rolls back around we are ready at the jeep. We travel in wide circles around the water hole and let the animals come to us. Zebras cape buffalo, lots of rhinos. A jackal dashes across the field keeping an eye out for some dinner.
Eric zooms us about the fields for miles. We stop at the equator sign for photos and get our first experience of being out of the jeep and walking the land. We have been told, “When you are in the jeep you are a predator to the animals, out of the jeep you are prey.”
Then off to see a cemetery. The names of the deceased are not guides, rangers, benefactors or staff that love the reserve. They are dedications to the rhinos that have been poached since 2004, right here where they lived and were protected. Brazen killers pick them off and carve off their horns. It angered me deeply and it is a graveyard I wish did not exist.
We come back to lodge with stories to tell that make for a lively conversation over dinner. Many people never see all of the Big Five, and we have been lucky enough to see them two days in a row.
When darkness falls, Ken holds a clinic on night-time photography for those with cameras capable of taking low-light images. We share wine and watch the animals congregate at the watering hole visible from the our accommodation
Morning February 24th.
There is a side excursion to the Black Rhino sanctuary and the Jane Goodall chimpanzee research center.
A time stamp on my photos say it’s 10:40 AM when we meet Baraka. He is an old gentlemen and we are invited to his pad, where we take turns stroking his horn and feeding him alfalfa. In return he nuzzles our hands with his leathery triangle lips and shows arousal for being petted. We joke with the caretakers that we have teased him — they should bring the fillies over, he is ready to breed.
Baraka was born at Ol Pajeta and became blind in one eye after a fight. He developed a cataracts in his other eye that made it necessary to remove it too. He has his own enclosure and is well cared for. His job as an ambassador is important work and he does it well. Visiting him was the highlight of my day. His presence will never leave my heart.
After lunch we break away from the other jeeps and set out four-wheeling on an overgrown path into the bush. The truck gets jammed up on a high stump for a moment but after some rocking back and forth we break free and find another way around. Rounding a tree we come upon a male elephant blocking the path. I ask Monique to take a photo of me with him in the background. I am smiling for the shot and I see Monique’s expression change and she gasps, then the transmission whines as we reverse hard and I am plastered up against the railing. I turn to see the elephant hustling towards us, closing the gap quickly. He trumpets his threat then stops his pursuit. Guess we were in his space.
Our last surprise is just before sunset. Eric drives us to a place called Lake Laikipia, The sun is starting to set and the baboons are heading up the tree to roost for the night.
With four down and one to go we need a leopard to complete the Big Five and just as we are on our way home, one is resting in a tree. He was well-shielded from view and my photos showed nothing but a leg and a tail hidden among the tree but it counted and we make the count for a third day.
Departure to Lake Nakuru.
At breakfast we heard the terrible news; a rhino was poached overnight. The “Jambo” greetings are heavy with sadness as the porters load our luggage into the vehicles.
On the drive out we see the carcass of the dead rhino. Lions are gorging themselves on its remains. A large male and his lady are laying in the grass, bellies extended and well fed. The only part of this rhino that will go to waste is the horn the bastard took.
Please join me as we head to Lake Nakuru, in What Kenya did to me-Lake Nakuru Part 4 Happy travels from Maritime Mac
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