Through the hazy light I see two eyes glowing. I turn to Eric and say, “I saw a cub back there, in the grass.” The day before, at virtually the same location, I had seen the same glow but it was so dark I didn’t know what it was.
Further down the road we come across a pride of lions. One of the females is agitated. Perched on a knoll, she huffs with the wrinkled brow of a worried mother. Standing in the jeep capturing photos and video of her anguish puts a knot in my stomach. I can feel her stress. I want to steer her around and direct her to walk about half a kilometer in the other direction. The pride circles her then waits, then moves a little further to the east and looks back at her. She catches up but stops to roar again, then waits for an answer. Once again the pride shifts its position, each time moving a little further east. “No, no, he is the other way!” I mentally call out to her, squinting into the sunlight. I stand at the back of the vehicle watching them grow small as we depart.
In a ditch beside the road an animal — a water buck or impala — is limp on the ground. A jackal is clamped onto its throat, working on suffocating it. It appears thoroughly dead to me. I am locked into a stare with the jackal. Its brownish-yellow eyes bore a hole into mine, yet I am sure it doesn’t see me: it is in killer mode.
The pack wastes no time chewing into the hide, ripping off hunks of fur and pulling out entrails in a flurry of madness. The ferocity makes the hair on my arms stand up. They abandon ceremony and grab at any flesh exposed, be it prey or family member.
We come away from the scene subdued, and go in search of something a little softer to remember. Eric breaks into a verse of a Swahili song, perhaps a current hit or even a children’s lullaby. We don’t ask and he doesn’t volunteer the information, but it is soothing.
Nothing like some beautiful birds to take your mind off unpleasant scenes. A pair of Lilac Breasted Roller birds allow us to step into their world for a while. They perch on the top of a shrub, staring off in opposite directions, preening and posing. Bickering like an old married couple. We all focus our cameras on them, waiting for the moment they take flight together. And then one ends the conversation — and spoils the shot — by taking off alone. The remaining bird stays, unfazed by its partner’s exit, and enjoys our company a while longer.
March 2nd Afternoon
The afternoon heat has all species of animals seeking shade anywhere they can. We wisely are taken to where the trees are plentiful and are quickly rewarded. A lone male lions pants heavily under a stunted bush.
It is indeed a big cat day: An unrecognizable carcass covered in flies lies in a heap under a tree; a lion beside it. The cat and the grass are both splattered with blood and fluids. He chews at the carcass from the side of his mouth, undeterred by the swarm of flies. It is not a pretty sight.
Off to the left two other males lie in the grass awaiting their turn to eat. One pulls himself closer by his paws and forelegs, dragging his belly on the ground. He appears to be almost begging for a share. The big male stops eating for a moment and raises his head high and the beggar retreats.
Suddenly, from the opposite direction a newcomer arrives on the scene. There are a few tense moments and I hold my breath, believing there will be a fight. They greet each other instead, like old friends at a bar. Eric says they may be related and it was a reunion. We stay and watch ’til twilight descends upon us and we turn back and close the book on our Kenyan safari.
Back at the lodge we have a celebration meal together. I am at one end of the dining table, Monique is to my right with her back to the window. The rest of our group, Ken, Bob, Dave, Pat and Joanne, Jim and Debbie, Steve and Julia surround us. We have made some great life-long friends. A welcome evening breeze blows in and with it comes a large black armored covered beetle. It makes one wide sweep of the chandler like a drone circling the sky. Then it drops down to complete another pass and zings by my ear. I scream and duck low, heading under the table. I don’t the see the landing but I hear Monique’s gasps of “Ah! Ah! Ah!'” I peek up and she is out of her chair, walking with her back arched, trying to get away from the beetle clinging to the back of her shirt.
Reluctantly, I leave my hiding spot and go to her aid. I keep as far away as I can, and reach out in hopes of shaking the vile thing free without enticing it to jump on me. I am unsuccessful at loosening its grip, but I am in awe of how composed Monique is under the circumstances. If It had been me, I would have been standing in my underthings in the dining room, my dress long since dropped to the floor.
Monique goes into the darkness of the hallway and the offensive bug flies away to the foyer. She returns to her seat like nothing happened. The rest of our companions laugh themselves silly, because that was a hilarious thing to watch.
One of the staff members starts a bonfire in the fire pit and Monique and I pull the chairs in close to ward off the evening chill. We stare into the flames and tell each other our favourite moments, sipping on our final Tuskers. Ken stops by and joins us for a beer, thanks us for coming and says we were fun. We are the first people he recalls that have ever enjoyed the pool on his tour. We all clink our bottles in a cheers, he downs the end of his beer and wishes us good night.
When the fire burns low, we too leave for our beds.
The jeeps pull out one by one, and I wave out the windows back to the staff of the lodge who are waving us off. Just past the sign we stop for group photos and shots of all the guides together. (photo credit to Steve Romine)
Our final stop is the Mara air strip. A charter flight will return us to Nairobi. We tell stories and laugh with everyone while we wait, but there is an undercurrent of sadness. As I look out over this land, I wonder if I will ever see it again. Until that time. I will cherish my memories and photos. In my mind’s eye, Kenya will always be an extraordinary place. Cheers to Kenya.
Happy Travels from Maritime Mac. Please join me for the conclusion of What Kenya did to me – Part 10. If you missed any of posts, here are the links.
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