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!

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