Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kenya Day Ten -- Last Ride and the Long Journey Home

Wednesday, February 26

Woke for my  last day in Kenya at an even earlier ungodly hour.  A nearby lion decided to start roaring his head off around 3:15 and kept getting closer and closer to our camp until the Masai staff chased them off so we could get up and out for our game ride.

It was a beautiful clear morning and there was just a sliver of a moon out with the brightest star seemingly hanging off of it.  I was anxious to get out and see what we'd catch at 6:00.  Not far out of camp, Jackson spotted two female lions from the Enkuyani pride just strolling down the hill.  We tried to capture them as silhouettes against the sunrise, but I think while my camera skills have improved dramatically over the last week, thanks to the Norwegian wildlife photographers who tutored me over dinner for four nights, I don't think I've nailed sunrise yet.  As we moved on, we found a Double Crossing male lion who was on the hunt for these two Enkuyani girls.  As I mentioned before, these Double Crossing males are hanging out with two different female prides with no ill effects on the relations or the cubs.  In fact, this male was seen mating with both of these girls earlier in the week.  Nice life for him, I guess!

We decided to go back and see what Fig the leopard was up to.  Turns out she was up in that same tree, with her second impala kill.  She'd moved the first up to higher branches (long term storage, I guess) but she was in effect held hostage by a hyena who was circling the tree, hoping for either a dropped impala carcass or Fig the leopard herself.  We were right under the tree with a great angle and the gorgeous early morning golden light.  I took at least 150 shots here, so at least a few are bound to be enlarged and hung.  She is just such a beautiful cat.  I really felt honored to have gotten to see her in such a spectacular sighting, twice!  And with so few people around!

We had to take the New Zealanders to the same airstrip I'd be going to later in the day.  So we cut the morning drive off at 9 and went back for breakfast.  This morning they had a tremendously good museli of all dried fruit and nuts that was absolutely to die for.  We zipped off to the airstrip where I partook of some seriously good sunshine while waiting for the plane to land and whisk my new friends off to the next phase of their adventure.  We hit the road again and didn't take long to find Amani's three cheetah sub-adult cubs again, flaked out under a tree.  And right after that we found the Double Crossing females with the seven cubs again.  It was getting close to my having to return to camp again and get ready to leave myself, so this was an excellent way to say goodbye to the Mara.  These cubs were really hungry and the moms appeared too hot and bothered to want to nurse.  One cub in particular was really vocal, letting out these irresistible little squawks that apparently only I could love.  Once I saw that everyone who wanted to nurse could, I felt good about leaving them.  As if I'd be able to do anything about it in any event...

Jackson and Stanley wanted to stop at a topi kill.  It appeared that it was a natural death, as there was no sign of trauma or even that anything had tried to eat it before the jackals got there.  The jackal made a good start at it, but was chased off by different types of vultures and maribou stork.  Several individual jackals made an attempt at getting the topi back for themselves, but the vultures won out in the end. Not really what I wanted my last sighting in the Mara to be, but it was sort of interesting.  I think I'll just pretend my lion cubs were the last thing I saw.

Lunch was really good back at camp.  They have done wonderful pizza for us before and today was no exception.  They also had a three bean salad that was to die for.  I drank two more Tangwizi, my last while I'm here, and took a shower and packed up for the trek home.

It was sad saying goodbye to my guides and Joseph.   I really enjoyed my stay at Porini Lion and I think they did an excellent job at catering to my particular interests.  I'm still mulling over a return next year...I'm sure my photos will only fuel that desire.

A 45 minute flight on SafariLink had me back in Nairobi at 5:00, a full 5 1/2 hours before my flight. To kill time, my driver suggested trying dinner at Carnivore, which is world renown for their meat.  This place has about 20 kinds of meat cooking on spits; everything from sausage of all types (turkey, pork, lamb) to beef, ostrich, alligator.  They just keep coming to your table and carve it off right on to your plate until you tell them no more.  I didn't try anything too adventurous, but it was great meat and especially good sausage.  The pineapple pie with ice cream was good, as was the dawa drink, honey, sugar, lime and vodka, which was meant to help you eat more meat!

My flight out of Nairobi airport left on time at 10:40 and arrived early to Amsterdam, extending my already six hour long layover.  Argh.  Now that I'm headed that way, I just want to be home, but I still can't believe the trip I've just had.  So anxious to see the photos!!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kenya Day Nine -- The Best Day Ever

Tuesday, February 25

Alright, forget everything I may have ever said about having had the best game ride ever, because I actually think today may have been it.  No, seriously, this day was spectacular, and so evenly paced that it kept us going all day.  I'll have to explain.

We (the ladies from New Zealand and me) were up and out by 5:53.  Yes, it is astonishing that that's the time that I'm resisting getting out of bed for work when here I am dressed (not showered, just lathered in SPF 30 and bug repellant) and in a vehicle on the road at least an hour before there is any decent daylight.  But off we went.

Knowing that I am a big cat aficionado and in particular a Big Cat Diary fan, Jackson and Stanley whizzed us off to the west side of the conservancy on the border of the reserve where the Marsh Pride live.  Sure, most of the Marsh Pride stars of Big Cat Diary have passed on, but this pride is epic.  We pulled up to a shallow mound on which slept 10 cats:  nine females and one male.  All of them but one seemed to be sub-adult.  The other was the mother of this group, according to Jackson.  It was pretty cool to be there and try (again) to get a shot of lions against the sunrise.  I think I may have failed there but we were right next to the pride when the matriarch rose and roared her lungs out.  That is humbling to be sitting right next to.  What was funny is the pride didn't flinch.  They let her roar, she sat back down and it was business a usual.  I think she was just declaring this her turf.

We next came upon a young male cheetah out on his own.  He seemed to be just wandering a bit and not really committed to anything but he did look like he needed a meal.

Not too far from where the Marsh Pride was lounging about, Jackson and Stanley found a secluded island in the marsh on which was a lioness from the pride and her three young (under 6 weeks) cubs.  I about keeled over with delight.  This is, I think, the youngest lion cubs I've seen, perhaps younger than those in Tarangire last year. The lioness keeps them secluded from the rest of the pride until after 6 weeks of age, when she'll introduce them to the pride.  With other still nursing cubs in the pride, there is the risk that those cubs would nurse on her and deprive these newborns of milk.  All so fascinating, but bottom line, incredibly cute to watch her nurse and clean her tiny cubs.  Already this day was a huge score.

We came across the same male cheetah reclining on a mound nearby and spent some time taking the requisite photos.  It was a good angle and good light, so well worth the time.  Cheetahs are never "off"; even when they appear to be sleeping, they keep waking to check what's going on around them.  They need to be very aware of everything from predators to scavengers who would take their food.

Today seemed to be pretty full of warthogs.  I learned that a group of warthogs is a "sound" of warthogs.  And there is a tower of giraffe and a business of mongoose, I think.  Who says safari is not educational?

One thing I've seen quite a lot of is male antelope species standing alone on a termite mound or other elevation, looking very stoic and proud.  It's quite an impressive sight on a wide open plain.  Jackson explained that this is how the males indicate that this is their territory.  So it's not just all for show.

Fast forward through a half dozen or so birds...I'm not a big birder but the people I was with are, so I had to give equal time to the birds.

By this point we'd sort of wandered our way into the Masai Mara National Reserve again, only this time I was on the northwest side, so it was completely different from where we were on Saturday.  And of course, a huge part of the Mara experience is seeing the Mara River and imagining the insanity of the annual wildebeest migration crossing the rivers and dodging the hungry crocodiles to get to the other side and continue on with this annual rite of passage.  Today though, we got to see a mini-migration of three zebra.  As they approached the top of the riverbank, they saw that there were two old (and hostile) Cape buffalo right at the water's edge.  They probably also know about the enormous pre-historic looking crocodiles that live there; we saw them, they're hard to miss, more so if you could be their lunch, I suppose.

These three zebras apparently drew straws or did rock, paper scissors, and one was forced to take the lead and approach the water.  First obstacle was to get past the buffalo.  That was pretty easy.  The next was to test the waters and check for crocs.  The trio, led by the poor guy with bad luck, approached and retreated easily three times before they tread carefully across the river.  They made it and disappeared up the riverbank.  When we got to the top and saw them, I almost wanted to applaud.  It was so nicely executed.  And they live for another day.

Our next sighting worth mentioning (skipping a few birds and the Coke's hartebeest which I already gushed over at Ol Pejeta) was a female cheetah who had made an impala kill.  What made this notable was that it was Malaika, Kiko's daughter (another Big Cat Diary reference).  We pulled up to find the Norwegian photographer and his daughter watching it, and they kindly pulled back so we could see too.  It wasn't as clear a shot as the kill on the first day, but it would do.  Apparently this cheetah has made the chase and finished it off in thick hedging, which seems odd for a cheetah; they usually prefer open and flat with no obstacles.  Good for her, I say.

The warthog sighting at the mudhole was notable only because we'd never seen so many of them wallow before.  They would literally plop down in it and shimmy to get lower.  It was pretty funny and actually looked pretty comfortable.

Our guides with hyper-eagle eyes spotted cheetah under a tree and there appeared to be two males and a female, all of which were Amani's cubs from her second litter (we saw her with her solo cub from her fourth litter yesterday).  So it was good to see that she'd raised three to such good health.  At some point soon the female will go off on her own, as females live solo unless raising cubs and the boys will stay together as a coalition.

The next sighting was our Double Crossing Pride four lionesses with 7 cubs.  They were really flaked out in the heat of the day around a tall bush.  It was very difficult to capture them all in one photo but probably best experienced as we came upon them.  The cubs were in various states of rest; some out cold and some a bit awake.  We saw two actively nursing and another two approached a lioness with these pathetic little "mews" that almost had me getting out to feed them.  I think the kids were hungry and mom was too hot to give in.  Eventually she did but not before I could hear them plead for a teat. I've really enjoyed being somewhere to come across the same prides or cats day after day and watch their lives unfold, even if today it was just nursing and sleeping.

As the day was drawing to an end, Stanley said "one more look around leopard country", to which I said "I'm feeling lucky!"  Since today was my last full day here, I had a growing sense of desperation about getting to see more than a fleeting glimpse of a leopard.  We looked and looked and looked.  Finally we were all staring with binoculars into a thick bush convincing each other that those were actually leopard spots deep in the thicket, although at times it felt either like Where's Waldo or having a sighting of the Virgin Mary on a slice of burnt toast.

We went over to the other side of the streambed and looked down, only to find we had the wrong bush entirely and there actually was a leopard, two bushes down the stream, and it appeared to be Fig, the daughter of Acacia (another BCD reference), who is well known to the guides.  She is also quite habituated to the vehicles so there might actually be the chance of seeing more than a spotted yellow streak or tail or back end this time.  So back over we went.  (This was no small feat since we had to cross the stream each time, which was running quite high due to the recent rains, but Stanley has proven to be an incredible driver).  We got back over and plunged our Land Rover down the top side of the embankment right next to the bush.  We stood on seats and peered down in, only to see....leopard paws.  And sometimes an ear.  In any event it was obvious from the breathing that this cat was asleep and not likely to awaken soon.  We passed around the area and discovered that there as a baby impala kill hanging high up in a nearby tree, which is leopard behavior, so Fig was likely sleeping off that meal for now.

 We decided around that time (5:00 or so) that we'd go for a ride, look for something else and check back.  I reconciled myself to making tomorrow's half day game ride all about leopard.  It was leopard or bust and I didn't feel like today was going to work.

So off we went and again our guides with eagle eyes spotted the tawny brown of lion up on a large flat outcropping.  We four-wheeled it over boulders and drastically uneven terrain and pulled up next to four lionesses in various states of REM sleep.  These were the only four females  of the Enkuyani pride, which did number 11 but since they forced the females out, are now just seven males.  The girls seem to be doing well for themselves and Jackson says they are courting a couple different male prides out there.

With not a whole lot of hope, Jackson four-wheeled it out of there as he had heard over the radio that people across the streambed saw Fig starting to rouse herself, licking, cleaning and yawning deep in that bush.  We quickly returned and took the place of honor right outside the bush (maybe 40 paces away).  Finally a voice on the radio said she was moving and out she came.  She stopped and preened and posed and looked her gorgeous self.  I was getting the exact leopard experience I wanted, this was practically a dream sighting!  She played this up all very well.  She'd go maybe 20 meters and stop and lie down, or yawn exaggeratedly.  Fig was hardly bothered by the 10 or so vehicles tracking her every move, some following her every step.  She went down the bank, crossed to the other side, climbed up, climbed down and then prepared to cross right under the impala kill in the tree.  We all braced for some dramatic leap across, all cameras set on multi-frames  per second.  In the end she tip toed gently across, quite obviously hating water, and only leapt the last few feet.

What awaited her when she got up to the top of the riverbank were ten vehicles with easily 50 cameras pointed at her.  This was paparazzi that only Princess Di would deserve.  We all expected her to go directly up that tree and finish off that impala.  Imagine our collective surprised when she passed next to us and under another car only to go further uphill and stare down the likely mother of this poor dead impala.  And when that was done, she went further still and laid down.  This Fig girl knew how to hold an audience captive and work a crowd.  Except we all hadn't peed since about 3:00 and it was now 7:00 and we'd been on the road for 13 hours.  We bailed out and headed for camp.  [We found out at dinner from other safari goers that she did actually kill a second impala today and drag it up the same tree; so Fig does quite well for herself.]

Heading back into camp, the light was so dim by this point but on my side of the vehicle, there was a very large open space and in the middle it appeared that there was what I thought was a cheetah sitting in the middle.  I pointed and said "cheetah?" and both Jackson and Stanley flipped out in unison and said "leopard!!!" and with that Stanley turned hard right and peeled out in the direction of the leopard while Jackson radioed the other guides about this sighting.  He was speaking Swahili, but I heard "Acacia" and knew we were on to something.  During our stakeout of the bush that did not contain Fig, Jackson had explained to me that Acacia went missing about two months ago.  When last seen she appeared to be pregnant, but no one was sure and no one had seen her.  Tonight she reappeared, and I spotted her.  It was much too dark for any good photos, but judging by how quickly all the other vehicles watching Fig got to our location with Acacia, this was huge news.  I think the guides were far more thrilled with this sighting than any guests were, and that made me feel good knowing that they cared so much to have that sort of reaction.

Coincidentally enough, Jackson said that Acacia secreted her last newborns away under tent #3 here at camp.  That tent is actually where I sit right now.  And the guard who walked me to the tent tonight said that a leopard was spotted right outside my tent after I left this morning.  Was it Acacia?  Is she really just down below this tent now in the streambed with her newest litter?

So that was our day, 5:53 am to 7:15 pm. Long duration but went by in a flash.  I can say unequivocally that this day was hard to top.  I'm glad it came at the end but also realize that this is only going to fuel the addiction to this safari thing.  There is such a rush in going out there and not knowing what the day will bring and when it offers up so much about what is right in nature in plain view, it is just so utterly fulfilling and addictive.   It has me plotting how soon I can get back.

Ah, for those keeping score, the meals today were:
Breakfast by the Mara River:  hard boiled eggs, toast, pancakes, sausage and a spice cake with OJ and coffee.
Lunch by a hippo pool:  chicken legs, pasta salad and cole slaw with raisins.
Dinner:  cream of pea soup, beef stew, rice, spinach and delightful banana fritters.

I sit here now, 11:05 at night, knowing I'll have to be up at 5:45 for one more time tomorrow.  I hear hippos out in the stream snorting and belching like they did behind my headboard all last night.  I have just heard a lion roar way off, letting the plains know this is his spot.  And I can't believe that I've just lived these last 12 days.  I'm so incredibly blessed by all of this good fortune.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Kenya Day Eight -- And The Cats Just Keep On Coming

Monday, February 24

Wake up call at 5:45 and we were on the road by 6:15 and almost immediately there was a call over the radio that the Moniko pride (known in the area) was nearby and coming in to roost from a night out.  If we were interested, we had to hold on tight as we tore across the plains.  We made it just in time to see 16 lions, almost all but the pride males, cross the plains towards the thicker trees.  What a sight it was, but still very dark as the sun hadn't yet made an attempt to come up in earnest.  We sat and watched as they made their way to snooze the day away.  One lioness in particular was very worked up over a flock of herons, and kept running into them to cause them to scatter, just like you see little kids do to gulls at the beach. I'm not sure what annoyed her about them, but she wanted them gone.  They'd scatter, circle and fly to another part of the clearing, where she'd go through the whole exercise all over again.  Fabulous sighting overall.  We were there long enough to see the sun come up and I think I may have a shot or two of her in front of the sunrise, but since I don't have my laptop finding out will have to wait until I get home.

We moved on now that it was daylight and caught another vehicle watching something in the grass.  As we pulled up we saw a female cheetah surveying the land and once we were quite close we noticed a small cub in the grass.  Jackson says this was Amani, a cheetah well known to them, and her only cub of her fourth litter.  So she's an experienced mother, but both she and the cub look think and in need of food.  Little did we know that she was going to try to remedy that.

We watched mother and cub for a bit.  The cub is rambunctious and runs circles around its mother but never strays too far.  It seems to love chewing on sticks and taking to the higher points of downed tree limbs or rocks to look over the land, often  mimicking its mother identically.   A few times it would try to initiate play with its mother, standing on hind paws and lashing out.  I caught it once trying to climb a tree...maybe it thinks it's a leopard instead!  Stanley would move the car to keep us just ahead of the pair as they made their way up the rocky outcropping.  At the top of the hill was a flat clearing with a slew of impala grazing.  Hiding in the shallow rocks and trees was perfect for Amani, and she spent about 20 minutes hiding in there selecting her victim.  Incredibly, the impala kept grazing closer and closer to her.  Surely, we thought, they were close enough now that she could take her pick.  We'd lost sight of her but if she stayed near where we last saw her, she'd be almost on top of them.

Suddenly, the impala herd scattered.  There were hundreds of them all moving rapidly in the opposite direction.  I spotted the cheetah in pursuit but could already tell she'd lost the race this time.  Her speed and streamline were impressive, for the 4-5 seconds I actually saw her.  She stopped almost as soon as she knew the game was up and circled back to where her cub was for a rest.  We moved back and watched her, panting heavily and clearly trying to catch her breath.  Jackson said she'd have to rest for at least an hour before she had energy to try again.  But by the time we left, the impala were long gone so she'd probably have to move again too.  It was a fabulous "almost" kill, certainly the best I've seen so far.  The chase was pretty spectacular.

We passed a few other excellent sightings which were cats so of course I'm not going to elaborate nearly as much on: lappet faced vulture, female agama lizard and six giraffe.  We did see a "business" of seventeen banded mongoose, which were sprinting for a termite mound on which to see the lay of the land better.

Breakfast this morning was on the savannah high up over the most expansive, beautiful view.  We had hard boiled eggs, pancakes, sausage and toast with mango juice and coffee.  It was rustic but filling at that point.  All the fresh air and excitement makes me hungrier than I should be just sitting in the vehicle.  I also used the bush bathroom yet again; I hate to admit I'm getting used to that and actually don't mind it.

Jackson spotted a lone male lion crossing the savannah, and we were on it.  So impressive it is to see a gorgeous male making its way across the expanse of the savannah.  He just strode as if he owned the place.   A nice shady bush became his rest spot, and he sprawled out panting, which is how lions rid their bodies of excess heat.  While it's not terribly hot today, the sun is out and it's warm enough I suppose for the cats.  We noted he had a nice round belly and there was a bit of blood on him, so he'd clearly eaten recently.  He is probably one of the two Double Crossing males, with a bigger older male brother, who we just so happened to spot lying on the plain not too far away.  He was indeed bigger and with a much darker mane.  The manes get darker as the male's testosterone kicks in, so the darker the mane, the older and more sexually developed the male is.  Female lions obviously prefer the darker manes.

What is hilarious though is when there's a lion crossing the savannah or even just lying peacefully, just about every other animal within eyeshot is turned and staring at it.  We've used that indicator before to discover cats, but it's just funnier still when you're sitting with the cat and look out to find an audience of plains beast staring back in your general direction.

The second male lion led us from the open savannah right to a thicket where two female lionesses were lying with two young cubs.  They too were all panting and hardly left the cover of the bush except one cub who came out to pee and scrambled back in.

Really, at this point I was feeling as if we could throw a dart and hit a big cat.  Our luck already today had been exceptional.  And then Stanley turned and said "there's a leopard sighting, do you want to go?"  Of course we said yes, so it was lights and sirens and top speed to the thicket where the leopard was.

There were only three other cars there, and we were fairly quick to spot the leopard. For once, I used binoculars first and managed to see her full face under the bush, but by the time I switched to the camera and focused, she was on the move and I got only a back view.  She shifted along the river through the densest of thicket.  We spotted her once crossing the dry riverbed, again another flash of leopard and no photo.  Leopards are notoriously shy and hard to see and this particular leopard was new to the guides watching her.  Where we were was an area notorious for its male leopards.  I hope she's not this elusive for them, but the guides maintain that it is really just that she's not yet habituated to vehicles yet.  I don't know, but with this type of sighting, where the animal is clearly dodging us with an attempt to escape our attention, I really do feel like we're not meant to be here.  That said, we did pull right up next to, within 10-12 feet, some other pretty spectacular cats already who didn't seem to mind.

So while I saw a flash of leopard, I'll count it as a partial sighting.  I still have two days to see one for real.

We returned back for lunch around 12:20.  It is amazing how quickly those six hours passed.  I can't believe how eagerly we all jump out the door for a game ride at that hour.

Lunch today was an onion quiche, lasagna, beets with mandarin oranges and beet root salad, which was sort of pickled.  A sliced apple and melon with honey was dessert.

The weather continues to be cool enough for a fleece in the early mornings but once the sun rises and heats up the plains it does get pretty warm.  Not uncomfortably so but it feels good and I'm getting some color.

Crashing now for my siesta, we head out again in an hour...

Well, we had quite the unexpected storm during the siesta.  It came in windy and dark and then poured torrentially until about 5:00, so we were late heading out.  Jackson said that the animals would be very active after such a rain, but it was sort of the opposite.  Maybe it is because it never really cleared up and remained rather ominous looking.  We came up short on most fronts, except for some birds, hippos and one notable cheetah sighting.

Fans of Big Cat Diary, like me, would know Amani the cheetah and her daughter Narasha.  Well, the female we came across tonight is Narasha's daughter, and she managed to make a kill earlier today.  She is on her own, as female cheetahs are, and with a quite distended belly and blood on her paws (literally), she seems to have made a great meal for herself today.  She is a very pretty cat and seems to be on top of her game.  She does however have some wound on her upper and lower lip on the left side.  It looks almost like a burn or an abscess, not a cut.  Jackson and Stanley have seen it before and said it will probably heal on its own, but if not the Kenya Wildlife Service will intervene.  We watched her clean up after her meal and walk around a bit before we moved on.

We had our sundowner on a scenic hill with another massive view of the area.  I'm getting used to these grand gin and tonics.  It was a quick trip back to camp and I  manage to fit a shower in before dinner tonight so all I have to do is write this and go to sleep.

Dinner tonight was good.  It was pork chop in a mango sauce over mashed potato, carrots and green beans and an orange cheesecake.  I met the chef tonight when we got back from our drive and I told him he's making me fat.  He said that's a sign of success and that makes him happy.  Everyone here is so sincere in my enjoying myself.  It is just such top quality service, it's worth every penny.  I'm already contemplating coming back just to Porini Lion next year....

Wind is howling again, I hope these storms pass in the night.  We're on the road at 6:00 tomorrow.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kenya Day Seven -- Cats Cats and Moving to Lion Camp

Sunday, February 23

Woke up today feeling like a new person, just happy to be able to experience all this.  Most of the night I heard the elephants huffing and trumpeting right behind my tent.  You'd think that gets annoying but all I could do is smile.  And this morning as I stepped out to leave for the day, there were vervet monkeys on my porch.  Seriously!  Where else in the world can you get this?  And this is precisely why I wanted to stay in the bush.

Funny what a difference a day makes.  Jimmy planned for the Kenyan couple and me to have an early morning drive before breakfast.  I'm never one to say no to the early morning drives, so after a great night's sleep I was eager to get out there.  Amos and Jasper knew how to win us over, saying that we'd go either to find the elephants that kept us up all night or the lion pride that lives nearby (I've since found out from Jimmy that is the Ol Kinyei I pride, which numbers 22 now).  I was definitely game.

The sun hadn't even creeped up yet over the nearby hills and we were hardly out of camp and the plains animals started popping up.  Loads of zebra, wildebeest, topi and antelope of all kinds just outside our door.  One lone giraffe amongst the shorter plains beasts made for a great photo.

Just as I started shooting the sunrise, Jasper noticed that there was a herd of topi on our left staring right.  All of them, frozen and looking straight across the plain.  In the silhouette of the sun I saw first a lioness, then a second and then 6 cubs.  Our Ol Kinyei pride from the other night was returning from a night on the hunt.  As they got closer to us, we could see some had blood on them and all had full, round bellies.  These females had killed and fed their pride.  There appeared to be two ages of cubs, not too far apart in age, but noticeably different in size.  That is common with females in the same pride, to conceive and deliver their young closely and raise them together.  These little cubs walked the savannah like they had a mission and they owned the place.  It was so hilarious to watch.  A couple stopped all tuckered out and one of the females would wait for it to catch up.  I was in lion heaven.

Amos kept moving the car up a few hundred yards so that we'd pass the lions and then they'd approach us again.  The last time he did this before the open plain turned to thick scrub, was right in front of a watering hole.  Oh good glory, was this really going to happen?  Was this pride going to stop for a drink?  I'd seen so many wonderful water hole photos online, I'd kill for my own.  So we were in position, I had the camera ready and as all nine approached I shot frames like mad.  The golden light of the morning and the perfect blue sky made the reflections in the pool excellent.  I think I nailed a few great shots, one for sure, that I'll treasure always.  I later told Amos on the drive to Lion Camp that that was an amateur photographer's dream.  I would die happy right now.  I find I keep saying that after a particularly great sighting.

We drove on, I suspect looking for leopard.  That seemed to be the sort of terrain we were in.  We were not successful with that, but did find a whole slew of vultures and maribou stork in a clearing, which meant either there was a kill or they were waiting for a nearby kill to be surrendered to them.  We found nothing concrete, but two damp bloody spots infested with flies quite nearby, so apparently whatever had happened there had already been cleaned up by predator, hyena, jackals and birds,

We headed back for breakfast where I had the old standard plus a cup of coffee.  I've resisted coffee to this point only because I don't want to have to use the loo more than usual out on a game ride.  I'm probably asking for kidney failure by limiting my fluid intake, but I get by.

Amos was driving me to Porini Lion Camp, so we packed up and headed out, saying good bye to Jasper and Jimmy.  They made me feel welcome and comfortable and for that I'm greatful.

It took about 2 hours to get to Porini Lion Camp, leaving Ol Kinyei conservancy and crossing Naboisho into Olare Orok and Motorogi, where I am now.  On the way we stopped to watch a herd of 14 elephants cross the plain, including a sweet little guy.  He did so well in keeping up with the larger eles until it came time to climb a steep muddy hill, then he needed a push from his mom's trunk.  It was precious.  I know, I'm a sucker for the little ones.

The landscape changed a lot out of Naboisho to really flat and clear of a lot of trees and it was just littered with plains animals. Honestly after seeing hardly any topi and no eland in Serengeti, I'm amazed now by how many I have seen.  It's not mobbed like Ndutu during the migration, but it's a healthy number.

I spotted a tower of giraffe coming towards us with the littlest giraffe I think I've ever seen.  Amos said it had to be just a few days old.  It was doing its best to keep up but its mom kept stopping to wait for it.  Much paler and about 1/2 the size of the adults, it was certainly a job for little legs to maintain the pace.

The roads and land transitioned to really rocky and when I mentioned that Amos said that it was now the plateau or steppe and we'd be descending back down off the plateau to get to camp.  It is just so incredibly vast and beautiful, I can't adequately put it into words.

We pulled into Porini Lion Camp and I bid Amos farewell.  He was a great guy who really did well in a tough situation yesterday.  I thanked him for all his efforts and then met Joseph, the camp manager here.  This camp is larger than the other two, I think with ten tents.  They gave me Simba tent, which is furthest from anything but under the shade of a huge tree.  The tents are larger and newer than at Mara and the linens newer and lighter.  It's clearly a lot warmer here, and now I think I can appreciate why the big cats lay under trees during the midday hours.

Sitting in the mess tent getting the check-in news and policies, I heard screeching like a cat fight.  It wasn't until I got back to my tent that I realized it was monkeys fighting, right next to my tent.  Joseph said we have hippo, elephant and the cats nearby.  Olare Orok means black salt lick, and we are right on a salt lick.  In fact, there's a stream with running water right under my porch, which will either be great white noise tonight or have me running to the loo all night.

Waiting for lunch now and the arrival of the Rosemary and Jennifer from Porini Rhino camp.  And our first afternoon ride...

Lunch was quite good.  We had kabobs with meat and mixed peppers and onions, a spinach tart, avocado and oranges (who knew?) salad, mixed salad and a fruit salad for dessert.  I'm ODing on Tangawizi because I know my days here are numbered.  As long as they have it, I'll drink it.  And damn it's good.  After lunch I caught up with the ladies from New Zealand and the Norwegian photographer and his daughter and his friend for a bit, but then a nap called.  It's not oppressively hot here, but hot enough that a siesta feels good. I read for a bit and slept until just before 4.

Can I just say, I think I could get used to this schedule.  Up at 6:00, out at 6:30 for the game ride, back for lunch at 1:00, reading or nap from 2:30 to 4:00, back out at 4:30, gin and tonic on the plains at 7:00, back for dinner at 8:00, shower at 9:00, bed by 10:30.  I'm resting and sleeping here better than I have for a while, which I guess is the point.  It feels so good.

And our ride was really outstanding    Jackson is our guide and Stanley is our driver.  I think they are a really good team.  I've actually read about them on Trip Advisor, so that's a good sign.  We headed out at 4:30.   The road out of the camp isn't as twisty and treacherous as at Mara, so we actually head out into some flatland straightaway.  We came across some eland straight away.  I still can't get over how I saw maybe one in the Serengeti, yet I see them and topi everywhere here.

I next spotted a small herd of about 5 elephants with the littlest calf I've seen in the wild.  He or she was the cutest thing ever.  He just fit under his mom and followed her about everywhere, except for one older sibling he was intent on mimicking.  He had almost no control over his trunk, which was funny to watch as he tried to copy what the adults were doing.  It was so good to watch, until the mom got a little too close for comfort, but Stanley is good about moving us pretty quickly, and thankfully the Land Rover starts and moves reliably.

This was all so memorable and exciting, and so crazy that we found yet another family just a little bit further on with an even smaller calf!  We paid them equal attention and photo opportunities and moved on.

One community that has become interesting to me to watch is the impala.  Especially a male with his harem.  He will only be master of his harem of 30-40 or so ladies for a short while, but while he is, he spends most of his time reining them in and keeping them together with short little barks.  It's funnier still when there is a bachelor herd of impala quite nearby and he knows they are a potential threat to one of his women.  It's quite the sociological experiment if you have the patience to watch something other than cats.

We stopped for a bit to zoom in on a bachelor eagle, which is quite impressive and colorful, at the top of a nearby tree.  I'm not one for birds but this one was quite interesting with its bright orange beak and legs.

Just after that, we screeched to a halt because a monitor lizard was crossing the road.  Apparently their numbers are decreasing and they are not seen so often so we paid it proper respect.  From the rear it looked like it was swimming the way its appendages moved.  Snakes with legs, is what I say.

I think our guide had a mission since I told him how into big cats I am.  We set right out to find a lion pride, and find one they did.  This one is the Double Crossing pride.  It lives right on the border of the conservancy and the reserve, and the males who protect it regularly cross over and fraternize with females on the other side, with no ill effects to anyone involved.  The members of the pride we saw tonight were four lionesses (one was already far afield keeping an eye on the horizon) and five cubs.  When we pulled up, three cubs were nursing.  They were all born in November, so just three months old.  It was incredible to hear them purring as they nursed when one mom moved close to the truck to get away from a playful cub biting her tail.  Or when one lioness sat up and was more intent on watching the warthogs on the horizon than nursing again, one little cub chirped in frustration at not being able to get at a teat.  Finally we saw each lioness move into position and plan to converge on the warthogs.  The slow, low stalking, the taking of strategic positions, it was all so fascinating and like sitting in the middle of a live National Geographic show.  I'm so hooked!   And they walk by us like nothing, as if we're not even there.  Ultimately the hunt was thwarted when the warthogs caught on and scurried.  The lionesses flaked out away from their cubs, probably assuming that they'd left them in the good hands of three crazy tourist ladies oohing and ahing over them.

We moved on to try to find a leopard, but weren't successful.  We did find a hippo pool with a lot of big hippos, maybe 12 or so.  Then we stopped on the open plain for the traditional safari sundowner.  The guide and driver break out the gin and tonics and wine with cashews and chips and we enjoy a drink out in plain air.  God, it is good watching the sun go down like that.

It was a quick trip back home and we freshened up quickly and then sat by the campfire with a drink until dinner was ready.  For the first time at any camp I've stayed at, there is a man in military fatigues with a rifle walking around us near the campfire.  The ladies from New Zealand said they saw one at Rhino camp but I didn't.  I guess that's just an indicator of how close to wildlife we are.

Dinner tonight was lamb with roasted potato and squash, broccoli and turnip and a fruit tart.  Again, can't complain about this food!

Early to bed, 5:45 wake up call to be on the road by 6:15!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kenya Day Six - Who Needs a Fuel Pump??

Saturday, February 22

Last safari, I had a cranky day and I think it happened right around this point in the trip.  Five days in, things are settling and I'm a bit tired.  I woke up this morning feeling ok but just cranky.  It happens.  But today was the excursion to Masai Mara, so I needed to bounce back and enjoy one of the wonders of the animal world.

"The fuel pump is going..."  Oh those are really not the words I want to hear when I'm en route to a day-long journey to a 100 sq mile national reserve.  Really.  And how self-fulfilling those words would be.  We were up at 6:00 for my now usual breakfast at 6:30 and hitting the road at 7. The "only half hour to the gate of the park" was well over an hour due to the Land Rover never really wanting to get out of first gear.  Start, stall, drive a bit.  Over and over.  Once inside the park, a friendly guide stopped and all three guides looked under our hood and tinkered, and we were good for a while.  Until we started to leave the park.  But let's cover the wildlife first.

Being in my cranky mood today and already irritated by both late vehicle-mates and the failing vehicle, I wasn't holding high expectations for the reserve.  Once we got there and the sun started to warm the day up, it was really quite enjoyable, and warm, and sunny, and not a drop of rain in sight, which was a joy after Ol Pejeta and all of its mud.  Truth be told, Masai Mara is really just the same as the Serengeti was last year, what with all of its expanse of yellow grass, gorgeous blue skies and big white puffy clouds hanging over low acacia trees.  This was the Africa I'd been dreaming about since I got home from last year's safari.  That Masai Mara is virtually identical to Serengeti is no surprise really, as they share a border and are commonly referred to as being part of the same ecosystem.

One thing I was struck by was the number of elephants we came across.  Not necessarily huge herds but handfuls here and there which really added up to a lot of elephants.  When I mentioned this to Jimmy tonight, he said that they migrate too and the recent rains have made this area favorable for them.  In fact, as I type this, I am hearing the huffing of elephants right behind my tent.  When we pulled into the driveway tonight, right outside the common tent was an elephant walking away from camp.  I supposed he'd tried to get in for dinner.

Anyway, we spent some time following a family of five elephants of varying ages, including a little one who appeared to be following an older sibling everywhere.  The male in the group used his trunk as a siphon and a hose to suck up water out of a shallow puddle and then turn it on himself as a shower.  Pretty smart, these guys.

We passed by some hartebeests, which are still sort of interesting to me and always good for a photo with their heart shaped horns.  We then snuck up on a cheetah sleeping under a short bush.  Yay! Big cats!!!  But as soon as I'd started taking a few photos, Amos declared that we'd spent plenty of "intimate time" with a cheetah yesterday and he moved on.   This didn't sit well with my cranky mood but I needed to pick my moment.

What I haven't seen much of around here are Cape buffalo and today we came across them in a very large herd, and managed to stop in the midst of them which is kind of fun.  I love how they stop and stare back at us, sniffing the air as if that will help them determine how worthy we are.  I learned today that if I see single of a couple of older buffalos alone, those are "widowmakers", old crotchety buffalo who have left their herds because they can't keep up.  They are widowmakers because they become so volatile that they have a history of aggression that led to the death of many humans.

Speaking of which, Amos said that a human was eaten by a lion here last week, apparently a guy out tending his cows. All that was left of him was his forearm and hand.  Honestly, I can't make this up.

And along the same lines...driving to the Mara this morning, we saw a huge development going up on the hills right outside the park, which appeared to be all Asian architecture.  It's going to be a huge complex for Chinese tourists.  Because when you leave your home country to visit a foreign country, you want it to look exactly like home?

We stopped for coffee/tea in a clearing quite near where a herd of topi were hanging  out.  It is still somewhat disconcerting for me to get out of the vehicle when there are animals milling about.  Sure, you haven't heard of a topi mangling a human lately (or ever) but I am trying to take steps to ensure I'm not the first.  I have photos from this coffee break which help prove I was here, but also show that I did brave the plains, topi or not.

Anyway, back to the animals.  We did finally come upon some lions, in a mini jackpot we found seven together, about two years old.  Asleep of course, but we did manage to convince one or two to raise their heads.  See, this is the danger in going out for game rides any times other than early morning or around sunset.  The lions are doing pretty  much exactly what I'm missing in my own home:  cat is asleep.  We managed to stay with this sighting for a bit longer, until other vehicles realized we'd stopped and crashed the party.  Then we left.

Not too far from that, we came upon four lionesses also lounging about lazily.  Since it was nearly noon I really couldn't blame them for being totally sacked out.  This was sort of a funny sighting because I'd been shooting photos of this very tree when all of a sudden Amos dropped the binoculars and headed right to it.  I'd no idea who was under it, but he saw right away.  Again, other vehicles copped on to us being stopped off road in the middle of the grass and came charging down.  This is the hazard of being in the reserve which is open to the public and not the conservancy which isn't.  I almost felt bad stopping to look at what we'd found, because it would do nothing but cause more traffic for the animals.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in a small clearing which was well shaded and cool.  Jasper set up the table and chairs and all the fixings.  Lunch was tomato and cucumber sandwich, carrot and raisin slaw, pork (I did not partake; the picnic basket wasn't thermal or chilled) and bananas.  They packed Tangwizi for me, so that was my treat.  It was a tasty lunch and we had a good chat amongst ourselves, talking about crazy politics and travel.  I had my first bush pee of this trip (I'm always so proud of myself when I do that) and off we went.

The route after lunch took us along the Mara River, the scene of some of the violent river crossings of wildebeest and zebra when the migration hits this part of the Mara.  It was sort of neat to see the same paths they use year after year carved into the sides of the river.  The river itself has more than a few crocodiles who look a lot like logs and many hippos who keep to themselves under water, eyes breaking the surface the only real hint they are there.

Our next cat sighting was a pair of cheetah brothers under a bush, again sleeping.   Both managed to raise their heads to at least acknowledge us and get the requisite photos taken.  They appeared to be somewhat young since they still had that soft fuzz that runs up their necks to the top of their heads.  But sticking together in the coalition with each other is good for them and they looked well fed and healthy.

As we started to head back toward the gate (and the Land Rover started to fail again) we spotted three lionesses lying out on a rocky outcrop.  Why they'd think that lying on hot rocks with no shade is a good idea is beyond me.  They looked darn hot though.  Ultimately two of the three moved to some shade before we pulled away.  I think perhaps they were part of the four lionesses we saw earlier today as it was somewhat nearby where we'd seen them under a tree this morning.

And if I'd not had enough lions for one, day, we spotted six more, I think all female, but they were sprawled out in and around hedges so I'm a bit unsure of that until I can look at the photos.  A couple raised heads, but for the most part it was flat out lions with the occasional paws in the air or bellies up.  So indeed, the Mara is delivering on the cats.

Even with not being able to move more than a few yards without stalling, we still managed to spot a cheetah that was right under the nose of other vehicles and totally missed.  We pulled up and stalled right next to yet another solo cheetah (unsure of the sex) who was just sort of hanging out there until he got annoyed with us and promptly rolled over to show us his very handsome back view.  Ah yes, cats.

I realize in reading this back that it seems like I had an awful lot of cat encounters that seem a whole lot the same.  But bear in mind that this is the cat capital of Africa.  No other place really has the density of cats that the Mara does, which is specifically why I chose to come here.  So to tally up my day and see how blessed I've been to be so darn close to so many of them really turns my cranky day right-side up again.

Long story short with the vehicle, it died for good about 15 km from the gate.  Our guide had already called for a rescue, so at 6:30 we got picked up and made it back here around 7:45.  That was about 2 hours longer of a day than I'd expected, but it still turned out really good, at least for me as a cat aficionado.  Still no leopard though, Porini Lion better deliver on that!

Had a quick shower on our return and a gin and tonic before dinner.  Tonight we had cream of celery soup, curry chicken, rice and mixed veggies and an apple crumble dessert.  Pretty good, I must say.

Early to bed to be ready for another early game drive, then transfer to Porini Lion for my last three nights.  Hope these elephants don't keep me  up!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kenya Day Five - Playing with Cats

Friday, February 21

Well apparently my screaming like a girl over a snake (which is exactly what I did, I will admit) was the talk of the Masai tent overnight.  The Masai who walked me back to the tent was a bit of a gossip and told them all, as Benjamin and Nicholas both knew the entire story this morning.  Excellent.  I owned up to it completely, reminding them that I'd told them I'm no fan of snakes, so there's no way they couldn't have known.  Nicholas did try to make me feel better telling me he hates snakes and dogs.  Somehow I doubt that he runs screaming like a girl in the other direction at the mere mention of either.

I got to sleep in this morning, as my flight out of Nanyuki was supposed to be at 10:00.  Supposed to be.  When I got to breakfast at the prescribed 7:30, the other Benjamin told me my flight was at 9:20, and we are about 90 minutes from the airport.  Ummm....I didn't realize there was any urgency so casually ate my cereal, scrambled egg on toast and pancakes.  I even finished all of my hot chocolate and the two chocolate peanut butter bars left with my wake up call.

Across the salt lick this morning we saw a mother giraffe with her littlest baby chasing her.  It was really quite cute and just amazing that they are right there.

Nicholas drove like the Land Rover was the General Lee through the muddy roads of Ol Pejeta, and somehow we arrived with 15 minutes to spare.  It was the fastest navigation of Ol P I think anyone will ever see.  I managed to see some animals along the way, but nothing I felt worth stopping for, which was a good thing.

I had one flight from Nanyuki to Mara North, which took about an hour.  Then I stood on the airstrip and waited for a second flight which took about 8 minutes to Naboisho.  It was the easiest transfer between flights I've ever done, about 10 minutes total, including the waiting time for the second flight to come in and land.  The flights were fine and I really tried to take in the landscape from the air, how green and vast and open it seemed from up there.  And I couldn't help but smile when I spotted herds of zebra or impala from way up.

Jasper and Amos met me and I joined another couple from Kenya in the vehicle.  We did a short ride of about 45 minutes on the way to camp.  The landscape here is quite different than Ol Pejeta.  While there is still a lot more scrub than in Serengeti, it's less than in Ol Pejeta.  And there are more of the umbrella acacias that I expect now in Africa.  Also due to the early rains (not expected until March) things are a lot greener than I expected, both here and in Ol Pejeta.

We crossed through Naboisho to get to Ol Kinyei conservancy.  Porini Mara is the only camp in the conservancy so in essence, this is all ours.

Right out of the airstrip, we saw a flock of vultures waiting patiently on the ground.  We drove over and found a lone hyena, munching the skull of a wildebeest who had been taken down, most likely by lions, during the night.  Hyenas' jaws are so strong that they can eat bone like we eat hard candy.  Their excrement is actually powdery white, due to the high amount of bone they consume.  This guy wasn't giving up the skull to anyone, including the vultures or us, and as we drove past him to leave, he grabbed it and scurried away.

The plains animals are really varied, more so than the Serengeti.  Zebras, giraffes, eland, topi, impala, Thompson's gazelle and my old friends the wildebeest were all abundantly apparent on the drive, living in perfect harmony.  We saw about a dozen giraffe just in the short drive here.  There were no wildebeest at all in Ol Pejeta because of the altitude; there they had hartebeest instead.

We came across a herd of male elephants crossing the road and Jasper managed to position us so we were right there as they crossed up the hill.  It was amazing to watch them, especially when the used the shorter acacias to rub up against and give themselves a massage or scratch, or just push them over like cheap toys.  It turns out that all the downed trees here are due to elephant damage.  They don't know any better and just seem to be having a good time.

There are six tents here and it's more compact than Porini Rhino.  The tents are closer to the common areas and this seems more landscaped than Rhino.  The tents are smaller though and seem a bit older.  But the setup here and how everything works in terms of showers and wake up calls and all that, is the same, as it must be across the Porini camps.  Astonishingly, as I unpacked my things and even as I sit here now, I heard a snort.  Looking out my wide window, I see zebra not 30 feet from my tent, on the other side of the short trees from me.  Wow.

We arrived just in time for lunch and met the staff.  Jimmy is the camp manager and just as big of a personality as Harry was.  Very friendly and so accommodating right away.  For lunch, we had tomato pizza, antipasto, a cucumber and mint salad and salad with sundried tomato and cheese.  Fruit salad for dessert.  And Jimmy already became my hero when he produced a Tangawizi, the ginger soda I fell in love with in Tanzania.

It's much warmer here with the sun out, so much so that I'm contemplating shorts and sandals for the game ride, but I know it can turn cold fast, so maybe my zip off pants.  I'm hoping for more sun here and less rain.  And lots and lots of lions, leopards and cheetah....

The chronic cynic in me had me with not very high hopes for the afternoon ride, and I'm not sure why.  I think these guides have to prove themselves to me before I really buy in.  I know that is totally irrational, but that's just the way I am.  I remember that I thought Benjamin couldn't possibly be as good as Said was, and he was.  Now I have Jasper to learn to trust.  He is after all the expert at this while I'm just a twice going safari freak.  So off we (the couple from Nairobi and me) with Jasper joking that another mass elephant sighting would surely top a lion sighting.  I wasn't laughing.  I came to Mara for cats, and I made that clear from minute one.

So we had more plains game, which is really great, but unless you are a zebra-phile can get really old.  Then another elephant sighting, some baboons, some vervet monkeys...all very interesting and not what I was here for.  Then all of a sudden we spotted the guy from lunch who is a Norwegian wildlife photographer.  They had spotted a male cheetah on an impala kill, and we arrived just in time for the cheetah to start the second course of his meal.  The impala was barely recognizable unless you intimately know the innards of an impala.  The cheetah tore into it with aplomb and certainly will be sleeping off a food coma tonight judging by how distended his belly was when he was finally done.  It was a learning experience though, watching this cheetah keep an eye on his surroundings.  Because not paying attention and only eating leaves him open to becoming lunch for lions or having his kill stolen by hyenas or jackals.  So I was fairly happy with this sighting.  Within a half hour of leaving camp, they'd found us a cheetah.  I was even more surprised when Jasper said we were off to find lions.  Lions!  TOO?  In addition to the cheetah???  Heart be still.  But I was still doubtful.

We wound our way through a tight maze of short trees.  Lots of starts and stops and restarts and redirections, when Amos whispered loudly "SIMBA" and pointed straight ahead.  There lying barely under one bush was a male lion sleeping pretty much out in the open.  He was out cold though and barely raised his head.  Snapped some photos and moved on.  Further along we found another male, a lioness and two four month old cubs.  Ok, NOW we're talking lion.  They were all somewhat obscured by bush or brush so I didn't get a ton of great photos, but I was within about 25 feet of the most majestic beasts on earth.  So psyched.  After a bit one cub got up, moved a little ahead.  Then the other cub did the same and roused his mom.  Then a third (somewhat older) cub came from another direction and greeted the foursome and they all headed off in that direction, so we did too.  And we found three more cubs and two other lionesses.  I was sold.  This was more than I could ask for on my first short game ride here in the Mara.  This was a pride at its best, with three females tending to cubs and two males making sure they all grow up healthy (Jasper says there's a third male somewhere).

They all appeared ready to sack out for the night in this clearing, when the wildlife photographer showed up again and took out his remote control car with camera mounted on it.  And yes, he did put it on the ground and yes, he did play with the cats.  Well, to him it was work, to me it was great fun.  There was one lioness who was most protective and most inquisitive and also had the most hissing and attitude for the remote car.  The cubs were mostly inquisitive but eventually settled back down to rest or nurse.  As the guy drove his car around the lions, it was fun for me to just see how they reacted (mostly hissing or growling if they got too close, unless it was an adult male, and then they couldn't be bothered).  I could have watched it all day but eventually it got much too dark and the lions even started to lose interest.  I hope he got some great shots out of that experience.  He's taking it to Porini Lion, where I'm headed in two days, so we'll see how he does.

Jasper did keep asking us if we wanted to leave for our sundowner drinks, and of course none of us wanted to go.  I was relieved that my travel companions didn't want to leave but also that Jasper was that flexible that he didn't mind.

Driving back tonight there was lightning in the distance and I had forgotten how in the Serengeti the lightning would dance along the tops of the cloud banks in this silvery blue light.  I saw that tonight and smiled.

Our vehicle lost brakes about 200 yards from the camp, so we had to be rescued, but other than that the day was without incident.  I enjoyed a gin and tonic with the others at the campfire and we headed up for dinner around 8:00.

Dinner tonight was vegetable soup, beef fillet with green beans, carrots, mashed potato and a soft warm brownie with sauce.  I could get used to this.

Heading to bed now since we have a full day drive in reserve tomorrow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kenya Day Four - Meeting Poco

Thursday, February 20

Let me be clear, I'm all for folks not wanting to live the safari style I prefer (which is do as damn much game driving as possible) however I do take offense to it when it affects me when you don't want to.  To wit, self-righteous twenty-something who demands to sleep in this morning but be picked up by the vehicle I'm in at 8:30, meaning the rest of us get practically no early morning game ride because we are tethered to this location.  Just a note for those reading this, go along with the group.  No, seriously, just shut up and do it.

Rant over.  In all honesty today didn't turn out so bad, but I am still riding high from yesterday, which was just about perfect, what with me having all day game rides and a walk to myself.  I will continue to savor that.

I slept so well and without assistance from Ambien.  It was much warmer last night and the hot water bottle became oppressive, as did the light fleece I slept in before.  I woke a few times to noises outside, mostly hyena, but at 5:30 I heard the familiar roar of my lion friends, and smiled.

Off I went with one other guest at 6:30, after my hot chocolate and oatmeal raisin cookies delivered by a faceless voice at 6:00 am singing out "good morning Amy".  Ah, I could get used to this.

As I said, we had fairly limited room to roam on this game drive and Benjamin said most of the predators would be on the east (opposite of west, where we are) in the morning.  Still, we managed to sneak in a spectacular but fleeting sighting of a black rhino, standing stoically in a clearing for a split second before he darted off into the bush.  That was quite memorable.  They are so skittish that they are hard to spot and have a sustained sighting, so to have one at all was pretty cool (our other sightings to this point were of white rhinos only).  There are 102 black rhinos roaming Ol Pejeta and only 7 white that are not in the sanctuary (I've seen 5 of those).

Other than that, we had some pretty standard sightings of hyena, jackals and birds. Today would be a pretty notable day for birds.  This morning we saw a step eagle, weavers, tawny eagle and a whole bunch of vultures who we think were looking over a kill, but damned if we could find it.

We returned for breakfast at 8:30 and I had cereal, some of those awesome pancakes and a scrambled egg on toast.  Good glory that was fine!  As always, I'm eating extremely well here.  Oh and did I mention the giraffe that was out on the salt lick near the mess hall as we ate?  Yeah, that's pretty cool too.

All of us headed out for the second half of the morning game drive.  Our first sighting was of a giraffe who turned out to have a broken front leg, which was quite sad.  She was hardly putting any weight on it and Benjamin said she'd most likely become someone's meal as she can't get away and will be easy prey.  That was really the first heartbreaking thing I'd seen here.

We passed some waterbuck with Grant's gazelle and saw in a flash two more of the elusive black rhino running across the road.  By the time we got to them though, they were already well under cover in the bush.

Our next stop was the the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which was founded by Jane Goodall.  Chimps from other parts of Africa have been rescued and brought here to live out their lives.  Although chimps are not native to Kenya, the sanctuary has been designed and planted to resemble their natural habitat.  There are two quite large enclosures, one holding 24 and another holding 15 chimps.  The place is so big, we only saw two chimps total!  Poco and Socrates are two of the oldest chimps there.  Poco has terrible cataracts and shields his eyes from the sun, but he loves attention from the ladies.  My first instinct when he approached the fence was to get on my knees and talk to him.  He seemed to respond to the attention somewhat but ultimately moved on to recline in a shady spot.  Later on, we came upon him again, and I again got down on my knees and spoke to him for several minutes.  When I stood to continue along the fence, he walked along with me, the entire length of the fence, as if entertaining me right back.  I was really touched by this. Poco had had a hard life, living nine years in a cage hanging over a gas station, only being able to crouch or stand upright (indeed now he can actually walk upright as a result!).  So to have given him some positive attention made me feel pretty good.

Leaving the sanctuary, it was now quite warm again and the sun was out.  We continued our drive looking for any form of cat, but passing drivers were telling our driver Nicholas that they weren't having much luck either.  We found the two rhinos with the baby from yesterday again, as well as the five oryx.

One thing that was a new sighting for me was three bull elephants (males live apart from the females and young). What made this sighting interesting was that two of the males were fighting each other, banging heads and tusks, swinging trunks and pushing each other.  Benjamin said it wasn't serious fighting but probably just play.

The only other notable sighting today was the African Fish Eagle, which looks a whole lot like our American Eagle at home.

By this time it had well clouded over, gotten significantly cooler (after being uncomfortably warm walking around the chimp sanctuary) and was about to pour down rain as we pulled in for lunch.  Two new arrivals from New Zealand had arrived, Jennifer and Rosemarie.  They are making a 6 week journey around Africa and I'll be catching up with them again in Porini Lion at the end of my stay.

Lunch today was beef kabobs, carrot slaw, rice and a tomato and cucumber salad with a mango ice cream, which was delicious.  As it was pouring down hard now, we took a quick break back in our respective tents and gathered up again at 4:30 for a game ride, which only the new arrivals and I were interested in.  We waited until about 5, sitting on the covered veranda eating cookies and watching the rain, when the rain lightened up enough to not need to close the vehicle up.

We had Daniel as a driver and Little John as the guide, so I wondered if perhaps they had terrain I hadn't covered here yet.  This would most likely be my last game ride in Ol Pejeta, so I was hoping for something great.  Just after the rain it seemed like the only ones interested in being out were the zebras and a handful of impala.  We found another sullen hyena, looking like he hated every minute of being wet.  Daniel kept stopping to use binoculars to scan the horizon, and not too long after we went out, he pointed straight ahead of us, where I could see on the crest of the hill a magnificent male lion standing there waiting.  Better still, his brother was with him.

These two young males (still had the cub spots on their legs and very thinly grown manes) were sitting with each other just surveying a very open plane.  They took turns sitting, standing, surveying and finally cleaning each other, rubbing chins on foreheads and licking each other dry.  I was in cat lover heaven...and I was only about 25 feet away from all of this.  What was just incredible was that they kept looking right at us, completely seeing that we were right there watching them, and they didn't do a thing about it.  I felt blessed to be there at that minute, as the light of the day faded away, watching these two brothers look after each other.  After a few yawns and a couple of attempted cat naps, they stood up and strode proudly away, two boys getting ready for a night out on the savannah, I guess.  I was in heaven.  Just a perfect ending to my stay here.  And, for Ms. Self Righteous who didn't join us on this ride, karma.

While waiting for dinner, I discovered gin and tonic.  This was the first drink I'd had since I've been here and figured I'd cap my three nights at Ol Pejeta with a traditional safari drink.  Good glory, I'll need to look that up more often.

Dinner tonight was roasted chicken with sweet potatoes, steamed rice and zucchini.  Dessert was a really nice cheese/orange souffle.  We sat and talked for a while, which was really nice, then bid each other goodbye and retreated to our showers and hot water bottle warmed bed, which will feel nice after the cool dampness of the game ride.

The staff here have been wonderful.  Benjamin as a guide was great.  Daniel and Nicholas as drivers were wonderful in some very tough conditions.  All of the house staff were friendly and knew me by name from minute one.  Harry the Roving Manager and Benjamin in particular were just great, always remembering what we'd forgotten and looking after little details for each of us.  I will be sad to leave here, but the Masai Mara calls.

One rub, the Masai guiding us back to our tents and pointed to the ground.  All I heard was "snake" to whomever told me they don't come out at night, you lied. Technically I did not see it, but I know it's out there.  So I shrieked like a sissy girl and pushed the Masai ahead of me down the path to my tent.  He laughed and zipped me in tight and wished me good night.  And so ends my stay at Porini Rhino.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kenya Day Three - Meeting Baraka

Wednesday, February 19

After an absolutely solid night's sleep here -- practically 8 hours which never happens at home -- I woke to the gentle voice of one of the Masai staff saying "good morning" and silently slipping a tray with hot chocolate and peanut butter and chocolate bars into my tent.  He slipped away as quietly as he came, leaving me at 6:00 to hurriedly get dressed and ready to face the first half day game ride at 6:30 a.m.  At this ungodly hour, it was tough to get out of bed, especially since under the covers was still so warm from the hot water bottle left there last night and it was pretty darn cool outside.  For all my complaining about bringing a fleece jacket, I was damn glad I had it this morning.

If I learned anything on my first safari, it was to never, ever, ever miss an early morning game ride.  And today would be no different.  I dare say (and apologies to my travel mates on my first safari) that this will most likely go down as the best game ride I've ever been on, which was a relief because I have to admit, yesterday left me skeptical.  I just didn't know if Kenya or this area, even, could deliver.  But deliver it did, in spades.

The chef packed us a picnic breakfast for later, so no messing around and out we went.  I immediately zipped my fleece up to my chin and laid the flannel and rubber poncho around my legs.  With all the sides wide open, it was drafty out there and moving created a bit of a chill, but again, all things being relative, it was still a hell of a lot warmer than Boston this time of year.

We started out with a gorgeous view of the sun coming up behind Mt. Kenya, which is a dramatic steep peak nearby.  We passed a couple of elderly Cape buffalo who'd abandoned their herd because they couldn't keep up and now were living the rest of their lives peacefully sleeping in brush together.  Then Nicholas saw an elephant heading toward a watering hole, so we stopped to watch him approach and then disappear again into the bushes, they are so silent in their movements, if you weren't looking you'd surely never know they are there.  We spotted a giraffe and managed to get fairly close.  These giraffes seem so much bigger than the Masai giraffes we saw in Tanzania.  There was a pretty good sized herd of Cape buffalo we drove through and stopped to take photos at they looked on inquisitively.  There is something about them that makes me think "stoic and proud".  So already, right out of the gate I've seen two of the Big Five, a few times over.

I'd told my guide Benjamin and driver Nicholas that I came here for rhino.  Hint hint. And Ol Pejeta has a mission to protect and conserve them, including a rhino sanctuary with black and white rhinos.  We drove on for a bit and came across two rhinos out in the conservancy, a mother and a four year old baby.  They are just gorgeous to watch even as all they did was graze.  I cannot fathom how anyone could harm them.  The mother rhino had quite an impressive and sharp horn on her.  I was fortunate to have seen these two and at good range too, when Benjamin's eagle eye saw two more on the horizon, so off we went.  These two turned out to be three: a mother, her older child and a young, three month old baby.  I about keeled over, the baby was so darn sweet.  We sat and watched for a good while, taking in all that is good about nature and conservation.  I'd no expectations whatsoever about how many rhinos I'd see but was beyond thrilled with these five, especially the little one.  These older rhinos had had their horns filed down because at one point they lived in the sanctuary and since it is a contained space, the rangers didn't want to tempt poachers with the horns.  So, no horns, no poachers.

I asked Benjamin if poachers had managed to get in here, despite the security both around the conservancy and the sanctuary and he said yes, as recently as last year, when one poacher was killed trying.  Fair play, I say.   But my day wasn't done just yet.

We stopped for breakfast at an approved picnic spot (can't eat just anywhere) and it really quite extravagant for a picnic:  fried egg with cheese, thick pancakes, sausage and bacon, coffee and water, fresh fruit and toast.  By this time (and in all honesty I have no idea how late or early it was) I was hungry and the food gave me a boost.  Between all the excitement and the fresh air, I think my appetite has gone into overdrive.

The good news is by breakfast it had warmed up enough for me to shed my fleece and just wear a t-shirt.  And I seem to be getting some color too, despite wearing SPF 30.  That's more like it!

As we moved on, I noticed two vehicles up a hill so we went to see what they were stopped for.  There was an elephant moving through bushes, just eating away very nonchalantly.  And off to the side was a lioness crouched down keeping watch, with about 10 young cubs and two other lionesses behind her!   I was over the moon, I could not believe my luck!  The lions eventually moved about 20 yards farther away, and we did as well.  As we pulled up about 30 feet from them, the protective lioness growled at us, I suspect as a warning more than anything, but ultimately she plopped down and relaxed in the sun, hopefully realizing we were no threat at all.  When it became too warm, she joined the rest of the pride under a thick bush.  I couldn't get an exact count on the cubs, because they were lolling about all under and deep inside the bush, but Benjamin and Nicholas know them to be members of a pride of about 15.  The cubs seemed to be about the same age and had those darker stripes and spots that the younger lions eventually outgrow.  When finally all the heads dropped down to sleep, we moved on.  How incredible was this day already?

As we hit the road again, Benjamin pointed out three adult and 2 young oryx, which is just a type of antelope but not one I've seen before.  They are sort of like topi, only with black knee pads instead of socks.

Eventually we came upon the rhino sanctuary, which is lined entirely by electric fence, patrolled on foot by rangers and marked with observation towers along the way.  These folks mean business.   Not only do they have rhino but also the rarer Grevy's zebra, which has much thinner stripes and a white belly and legs as compared to the common zebra.  We pulled into the sanctuary lot and were met by Jamie, a ranger here. He took me on a short walk to meet Baraka, the resident blind black rhino.  Baraka was injured in a fight 6 years ago and lost an eye to an abscess and then contracted cataracts in his other eye, so now is completely blind..  But as rhinos have poor eyesight anyway, he is doing pretty well with just his hearing and smell.  The rangers take really good care of him and use as an ambassador for his kind to meet people like me.  Yes, I met Baraka, and fed him, and petted him!  Seriously, how much better can this day get already???  Baraka was sleeping in the sun as we approached and his ranger went out to rouse him with the promise of hay.  He came right over to the wire and I met him with a snack.  He really seemed to be a gentle guy, and Jamie explained that they coddle him and treat him well so he'll continue to serve as ambassador for the rhino cause.

What, you may ask, is the difference between the white (more common) and black (less common) rhino?  It actually has nothing to do with color.  The white rhino was called "wide rhino" by some Dutch, who were misquoted as saying "white".  The "wide" refers to their mouths, which are very wide and straight across.  The black rhino, on the other hand, has a hooked lip that is pointed.  White rhinos graze on the ground (which is easier with a straight flat mouth) and black rhinos tend to eat at eye level, bushes and shrubs.  Whites have heavy, low hanging heads and straight backs; blacks have lighter, smaller heads and concave backs.  White are known to be more passive and larger than blacks, which are smaller but more aggressive.

I left the sanctuary a mile high.  This was just a too good to be true first full day on safari.  We meandered on, heading back toward camp where we came upon 6 giraffes, with one male actively trying to mate with a female, who really would have none of it.  It was sort of funny watching him trying to keep her separate from the rest and the others looking away out of modesty.

We got closer to camp and lunch and both Benjamin and Nicholas noticed a large herd of impala standing and staring in the opposite directions.  All of them, fixated on one point.  So off we went in that direction and came upon a female cheetah lying under a tree.  So she was what all the panicked stares were about!  We sat and watched her lie peacefully for a while, her familiar teardrop face looking right at me. Oh how I have missed this!  She was gorgeous.  Known to Benjamin, he last saw her with two of her three surviving cubs.  It seems she's now pushed them off to adulthood and was living the solitary life of a female cheetah again.  Honestly, I don't know what else I could ask for today. Leopard maybe?

I returned to camp and sat out on the veranda with another Benjamin, who works on staff and was dressed in his Masai garb.  They are all so friendly here and attentive to every detail.  Benjamin was interested in politics and religion in the US and is especially fond of our President Obama, being a fellow Kenyan and all.  It was great talking to him and I'm sure we both learned a lot from each other; I know I did.

Lunch was served late as the new arrivals had not yet arrived, so I ate on the veranda overlooking the salt lick.  It was a cold pea soup, cold tuna salad with sundried tomatoes over a slaw, couscous and a salad.  Dessert was key lime pie.  It really hit the spot and was delicious, as all the food here is.

I only had an hour's rest today.  At 4:30 I headed out on a walk with the Masai members of the staff who were all dressed in traditional garb.  We walked about 20 minutes.  Benjamin (the guide) came with us and joined in the dancing and singing, as he is Masai also.  He pointed out the thorny acacia bush that is ubiquitous here, and how the ants infiltrate the bulbs on it, burrowing holes top and bottom that become whistles when the wind blows.  He also noted that the sandals the Masai wear are made from tires, because they are durable for a lot of walking.  Since there is no transportation here for the most part, when the Masai need to get somewhere, they walk.  We got to a clearing (within eyeshot of where we left our cheetah!) and they showed me how to throw spears and dance and sang for a few songs.  Benjamin explained to me that the songs are the method Masai use for both celebrating circumcisions and marriages, as well as pass the oral history of the tribe down to youngsters, stressing the importance of owning cattle over time.

From the walk, we were picked up by Daniel, another driver (Nicholas was serving as mechanic on another vehicle).  We headed back out again in search of cats.  I think even for the guides that is where the excitement is.  Even while I kept my expectations in check, I secretly held the wish to see more, as perfect as today had already been.

I got to see yet another animal I'd not seen before in the patas monkey.  They are similar to the vervet monkeys of Tanzania, only they are orangey in color but just as playful and quick.

Driving on, we saw a few heads poke up out of a dip in the ground and drove closer to find a mother hyena nursing an almost newborn puppy with four older puppies nearby.  We're not sure who the older puppies' mother was, but it was fun to watch them play with each other and some scrap they had.  Hyenas are adorable as puppies!  Just as we were thinking of leaving, another female arrived and caused a stir.  She spooked the other mother and the pups.  Looking closely, she was covered in blood, which was why they were all a bit freaked.  It looked as though she'd been in a fight and her nose was torn up.  Poor thing!

Back on the road it was starting to get dark.  We drove for a bit in silence and suddenly I looked straight ahead and saw a cheetah sitting proudly in front of us.  Of course Daniel and Benjamin had seen it long before I realized it was there, so my surprise was funny to them.  This girl was younger and smaller than the cheetah we saw earlier today; she still had the soft fuzz of a youngster on the nape of her neck.  But she was old enough to be on her own.  Benjamin thinks she might be the newly liberated (he says "dropped" when the mom pushes the babies away finally) daughter of the cheetah we saw earlier.  Well, we sat and planned to wait her out, but after about an hour, and with next to no daylight left, she had the last laugh and laid down next to a dirt mound to keep warm.  Her day was over, as was ours.

Arriving back at camp I met three British folks, parents and an older daughter, who'd arrived during the day.  There was a bit of a difference in opinion about the plan for the day tomorrow, but I'll be up and out at 6:30 so that's all well.

Sitting around the fire tonight, the staff flashed their lights out into the salt lick right behind us and there were two elephants, literally right in camp.  How crazy is that?

Dinner tonight was mixed vegetable soup, lamb with a gravy, roasted potatoes, thinly sliced peapods and carrots and brownies with chocolate sauce.  It all tasted so good, but I was glad for the meal to be over so I could take a nice warm shower and climb into my bed with the water bottle.  All told, I think I spent 11 hours on game drives today, and believe it or not, it's exhausting!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kenya Day Two Part Two -- Finally there

The trip on SafariLink airline was thankfully short.  The plane seated 13 and only had a nose propeller.  It was sufficiently cloudy today so as to create the precise type of bumpy air I seek to avoid.  Thankfully I was the first stop of three at Nanyuki airstrip, which was the proverbial patchy of rocky ground in a cleared area.  The others on the flight were somewhat uptight that they weren't getting off here either.  Apparently they enjoyed the flight less than I did. I was both mildly amused and alarmed by sitting behind the pilot and co-pilot and watch them grapple with plugging the airstrip coordinates into the GPS.  Each thought they knew better and neither knew they shouldn't be texting while driving.  Meanwhile, a plane full of back seat drivers looked on...

I was greeted by a guide and driver...I wish I had a knack for names, but right now I just don't remember.  They drove me the 20 minutes to the gate to Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  On the way, we crossed the equator twice, once to go north and then to go south again, I mean really, how many people can say they crossed the equator twice in one day?  As I'm impressed by those sorts of things, I already considered today a banner day.  At the gate to Ol Pejeta, they checked me in for the next three nights.

The whole concept of the conservancy is the preservation of the wildlife, and in this case, more specifically, the rhino.  There are 105 rhinos in Ol Pejeta itself, which is a good chunk of the total rhinos left in Africa.  Ol Pejeta has electric fence around it, which is solely for the benefit of the rhinos.  There are passageways for animals other than rhinos to come and go as they please, but the rhinos are closely looked after.  There are armed guards here to protect them from poachers and a head count is taken every morning and night to ensure that they are all accounted for.  The particular species here are mostly white rhino (white is not the color, but rather the mispronunciation of "wide" for their wide mouths, as opposed to the hooked lip of the black rhino).  Seven (I think) black rhinos are here, some of which came from a Czech zoo in order to encourage them to procreate here, either with each other or a similar strain of white rhino, in order to prevent them from going extinct entirely.  So it's down to these seven.  But no pressure there, kids.

The Porini Rhino camp, where I'm staying was clear across the conservancy in the western side.  We entered on the eastern most side, so it took about 90 minutes to traverse.  Right out of the gate, an impala and Grant's gazelle stood impressively on the horizon, sort of daring me to start taking photos, which of course I did.  Right after that we happened upon five Cape buffalo giving us that inquisitive "what are you looking at?" face that I've come to love.  But they were right next to my third equator sign of the day, so yes, I did cross over it three times today.

One peculiarity we saw along the way was a stillbuck, which seems a bit bigger than a dik dik (very small antelope).  I took a few shots of him and he looked odd, then when I played my photos back, I noticed he was missing an ear!  I've seen other antelopes missing horns, but an ear is a first.  Poor guy.

There are six tents here and I'm in #3, which from my bed and the front porch, has an expansive view across the area.  I'm about a minute's walk from the mess tent and other people, which is sort of nice (remind me of that at 3:00 a.m. when I'm wigging the hell out here by myself!)  The room has a queen and a single bed.  It is quite obviously a tent but furnished more like a hotel room.  The shower is on wooden platform, not the plastic grass like in Tanzania.  The toilet is as well.  There is running water for the sink (no more pitchers of water there) but still the bucket shower.  Oh how I already miss the waterfall shower from the Eka!

I was met by Harry and Fernandes, the guys who manage the camp.  After a nice drink of juice and a chat, they walked me to my tent and I set up shop here.  Lunch was served right after that.  There are Canadian two families staying here, each with some young teen kids.  I think by the sounds of it they've all been in one vehicle for their stay here and my arrival will require a second for this afternoon's game ride, which is fine by me.  They are leaving tomorrow.  I'm wondering if I'll be here on my own after that?!?

Lunch was really good, as I expected.  There was a cold celery soup, and then a cold buffet of vegetarian pizza, a carrot and cucmber sliced salad, chicken with sundried tomatoes and rice.  A slice of lemon meringue pie ended the meal.  So off to a very good start in the food department.

So now I'm passing time until  the afternoon game ride.  Catching up on the blog and just listening to the sounds around me.  I honestly cannot believe I'm here!

The afternoon game ride didn't really get off the ground until about 4:45 everyone getting their acts together.  I shared a vehicle with all the adults of the Canadian party, and we sent the five teens off with two other Porini employees in a separate jeep.  God love them. However, I did say out loud that that would almost assure that the one of the two would see lions, how right I was.

The game ride was pretty standard, but for the three rounds of torrential rain that passed over us, causing us to zip up one side of the vehicle as well as don flannel lined rubber rain ponchos.  Yes, I kid you not, I'm on the equator and bundling up.  Granted, it's not the 10 below of snowy Boston but it is like an early May damp day at home.

Of note was a pair of eland, which I think we only saw from a distance in Tanzania.  These are massive elk-like antelopes, very impressive.  We then saw a warthog poking its head up out of a hole, and as we got closer, she jumped out, followed by four of her piglets...a clown car of a warthog hole, it seems.

I learned a Grant's gazelle is similar to the other gazelle types but notable for the white on its behind that goes up over the top of the tail.  Now if only I could tell a Thomson's from an impala...again.

As the rain began to beat down, we found five ostriches playing in it and a hyena lying with its head on its paws. about as happy looking as I am after a soggy morning commute.

At one dry point, we stopped to admire about 10 hartebeests, known for the heart-shape its horns seems to take.  They seemed to take a keen interest in us, or did they.  They stood and stared, and we chalked it up to their being inquisitive beasts and moved on.  Since the Canadian folks were only here two days, they really had their heart set on lions and it seemed as it got darker we wouldn't pull that off.  And then Benjamin's, the guide, cell phone rang.  The vehicle with all the kids had two lions in their sights and were having a great time, right about the spot where we'd just left the hartebeests about 20 minutes before.  So backtrack we did, and at this point it was well past sunset and overcast to boot, so we had trouble finding their vehicle and were tearing through thorny acacia plant (I have laceration on my skull to prove it) as if we were on the most important mission in the world.  But ultimately, we came across two brothers who were just out of the juvenile stage judging by how short their manes were.  One appeared to be limping but it was so dark at that point we could barely seem them, let alone that level of detail.  One of the kids said that it had a slice on its back leg.  Oddly, that was the fatter of the two brothers, so either he was still a fairly good hunter or his brother took care of him to his own detriment.

The brothers posed for us for only a short time before they moved off into the thick brush.  Not to be outdone, we followed, and managed to find them tearing into a kill (not before passing a jackal running off with the victim's head and neck, a small impala it seemed).  The lame brother (and I mean that in terms of ability to move not tendency to eat everything before his brother) was tearing into the kill to such an extent that we could hear bone crunching.  Very impressive.  It was much too dark now, but I pushed my ISO up to 1600 and prayed for at least one good photo.  Still, it was an experience I'd not had before.  As a jackal and his own brother stood nearby, this lion had his fill and moved on.  The pair moved a short bit off and we followed yet again, pulling up about 30 feet away and using a red-filtered spotlight to see longer in the non-existent daylight.  Finally we moved on, but not before spooking them a bit first.

The return to camp was tedious given how muddy the roads were.  We ended up riding off road parallel to the main road for quite a bit which slowed things down but not nearly as much as pushing through the muck or getting stuck.  Benjamin used the red light a lot of the way and pointed out an eagle in a tree, some herds of impala and zebra, and bush babies, which are like small primates, but I still can't see what they saw.

I'm wishy washy on the game ride after dark.  It's not done in Tanzania and I didn't get a lot out of the one we did tonight.  Had we not found those lions before sunset, I doubt we would have at all.  I'll have to see if it's any better when it's less rainy and damp, admittedly factors in how good the experience is.

Dinner tonight was excellent as usual.  We had a cup of hot chocolate around the fire first, then pea soup (yes, Mom, you read that right) that was pretty tasty.  The main course was a very tender teriyaki steak and green beans, sweet potato and mashed potato which I think was mashed with coconut milk, it was delicious.  Dessert was a small cone like a canoli filled with a sweet cream.  All in all just perfect to end the day.

Here, unlike in Tanzania, they will fill the showers after dinner, so I took a nice hot shower and climbed right into bed, which the prepared with a hot water bottle with the turn down service.  I could get used to this!

Laying here now listening to all the night sounds, which so far are mostly frogs and birds by the sounds of it.  I wonder if our no-longer-hungry lions will talk tonight.