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.

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