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.

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