Friday, February 19, 2016

Day Four -- Back to the Mara

I slept well last night except that it was somewhat hot.  I didn't take Ambien and managed to drift off anyway.  I heard rain at one point and woke up hot a few times but otherwise I slept well.  I had a nice breakfast (same as previous days) around 6:30 but was alone, both in terms of animal and people guest.  I'll miss that watering hole at breakfast and lunch!

As I got dressed this morning, my little lizard friend reappeared.  It stuck its head out from behind the window shade and didn't move (thankfully).  I hadn't seen it since that first night, so I thought maybe it had moved on.  I guess not.  I think it was mocking me as I departed.

Menno woke up early to settle my bill and wish me well.  I let him know he should visit Safaritalk and get more exposure there.  Tawi is a great getaway and was the perfect way for me to decompress between home and the Mara.  Julius is a wonderful guide and Amboseli is enchanting for her mountain and her elephants.  I really enjoyed my stay there.

The rain seemed to keep everyone inside this morning.  We hit the road for the airstrip at 7:00 and saw absolutely no one, not a vehicle or an animal for ages.  Julius says the rain keeps the animals from being as active, since the grass is wet and it's overcast and cooler (to them anyway, to me it was practically beach weather!)  So there were no significant sightings along the way to the airstrip.  It was a sedate, understated goodbye to Amboseli.

We got there at about 7:50 to little fanfare.  There's no checking in, showing of ticket, etc.  Julius checked and my SafariLink flight to Nairobi was to land at 8:08, but so was Air Kenya.  Only an Air Kenya flight landed.  It let people off and gathered up two, and I was left standing there at the edge of the airstrip with my two little bags and no where to go.  Finally the captain of the Air Kenya flight came over and asked my name, saying that I was on his manifest.  It appeared that SafariLink didn't have anyone to drop off and didn't want to pick up only one person, so they did a code share in essence.  In any event, it was an excellent flight, very professional and a nice plane.  

It dawned on me as we landed though that when I landed in Nairobi I'd have no idea where to go.  There are several small airlines operating out of there and I had no idea where SafariLink was in relation to where I let off.  No worries though, as I came down the stairs from the plane there was the nicest SafariLink rep who said he was here to pick up his "VIP" and take her to her plane to the Mara.  (That would be me!)  So he shuffled me and my carry-on to the SafariLink terminal where I waited about a half hour to take off.  

Naboisho, the conservancy in the Mara I'm staying at this time, was the second stop on this flight.  It was funny as hell to be landing and see zebra and wildebeest standing along the airstrip watching the plane.  Maybe not as funny if they attempted to cross the strip, but hey, I'm easily impressed.  I was met by an Asilia driver Nabala who took me on a nice 90 minute drive to get to the camp.  Along the way I saw some baby topi, baby warthogs, baby giraffes (all along with some adults).  The land is just as I have been remembering it these last couple years, all warm and yellows and blue sky and puffy white clouds.  It's just good to be back here again.

It turns out that I'll be having full day game drives with Porini guides while I'm here.  I'm not sure how that happened with Porini or how that works, but I guess I'll learn soon enough. I also found out that I'll be going out for full day game drives the next four days, which means the end to my 3 hour siestas every day!  Wah!  Although if I'm going to be out all day anywhere, it's the Mara!

One noticeable difference here is how high the grass is.  I guess everything has been effected by El Nino and the rains.  This makes game spotting somewhat of a challenge especially for the cats.  It is warmer here than Amboseli although it's also somewhat overcast.

Encounter Mara is a traditional tented camp.  While it is behind an electrified fence, that only keeps the elephants and hippos out.  Cats, zebras and wildebeest still scale it so I'll need to be escorted to and from my tent during dark hours.  I am in the tent that is almost the farthest from any of the common areas, which is good for the remote isolated experience, but not so good for the potential snake encounter climbing the path to this tent.  It is just like other tented camps I've stayed in, so no surprises there.  The other guests at lunch said that they heard lions and hyenas last night, so here's hoping!

Lunch was interesting.  There is an Indian family staying here and most of this lunch was Indian cuisine.  I'm not sure if that's the reason.  I enjoyed the tomatoes and the salad with the beets. I'm wishy washy on curried vegetables over rice, but it'll hold me over until dinner.

Along the path from the dining tent to here, there are two birds' nests at eye level, one recently vacated, but the chick is still nearby, and another on which the mother bird is still incubating. 

Going to read and snooze for a bit before my afternoon game drive....I'll miss my rest!

Well if any game ride had mixed emotions, it was tonight's.  I have been waiting for this and lions in particular for two years.  I made no bones about it, stressed to Nabala that I'm only here to see cats and there is no such thing as too many cats.  Apparently I wasn't clear.

So Gamewatchers did not send a guide over for me tonight so Nabala did the game ride for me.  I shared the vehicle with the Indian couple and their young (4 year old) son.  Bearing in mind how much I dislike kids, you can imagine that that set the tone.  They were only supposed to be with me for an hour until we could get them back to their vehicle, which had gone on a nature walk.

Nabala said we were headed to the river to look for lions and leopards, which we did.  It is almost discouraging how high the grass is, because we could be driving by bushes that have cats sleeping under them and never know it.  Good for the cats, I guess.

We then ended up at a hippo pool, which is interesting enough for a bit, and there were two wee babies floating on their mom's back which I'd not seen before.  But they weren't cats.

Finally we happened upon 8 lions, 5 males and 3 females, six of whom were sleeping off a meal while 2 others were still working on the carcass of an eland.  This was a substantial kill for these 8 sub-adults.  The males were just starting to get their manes in, so they were still young.  Nabala thought they are from the Enolari pride.  After about 10 minutes watching the action, Nabala suggested that we move on and give others a chance to see the kill.  We were the fourth car on the scene, and only 4 are allowed on a sighting at any one time in Naboisho.  This didn't go over well with me because I could see three of the sleeping lions yawning and making motions to get up.  Nabala kept insisting we leave while I thought since we were the last of four there, we should be the last to yield our spot.  Let the others who've been there longer leave.  I don't think the other woman in our vehicle wanted to go either, she kept suggesting other options for viewing while staying here.

Finally a fight broke out over the carcass (lions, not us in the vehicle) and the lions ran off to a clearing nearby.  We spun around quickly and got there in the aftermath.  I quickly spotted one lion who couldn't get up from where he was in the grass.  He was panting heavily and just not moving.  Three of the other lions were nearby watching him intently.  It turns out he was wounded in the fight, with a tear in his right hip.  He kept trying to stand but couldn't, and was still really struggling to breathe.  From the old scars and scratches all over his body, this wasn't his first rodeo, but it didn't make it any easier.  Nabala then decided these weren't all Enolari lions but perhaps also some renegade lions from the reserve who were trying to interlope.  Whatever, at this point I was sad for the lion and frustrated for me.  This wasn't really the game ride experience I'd hoped for.

I then found out that tomorrow I'd have a Porini guide, who just so happens to be Jasper, who I had in Porini Mara when I was last here.  Jasper of the "Broken Down in the Reserve" fame.  He was an excellent guide though, so I'll be good there.  So tomorrow is a day long drive to the reserve.

I asked Nabala how it was that I got Porini guides for this stay and he said everyone here is puzzled by that.  So I made sure to make it clear to Andrew, the manager, that I didn't ask for this and wasn't sure how it happened. It seems awkward to stay in one camp and use guides from another.

My first sundowner of the trip was nearby the lions,  It was a good gin and tonic and I needed it to take the edge off a fraught day.  We started to drive back to camp to be here in time for dinner, and with the roads so bumpy it was hard to drink my G&T. Every so often Nabala would stop the car and shout "Sip Stop" and make me sip my drink.  That cracked me up.

Took my first bucket shower of the trip just before dinner.  I miss my waterfall shower already!  Headed down to the fire pit and had my second Stoney Tangawizi of the trip, how good that is!  Andrew said the news of today out of Nairobi was that 8 lions had escaped from Nairobi National Park, where I'll be next week.  That filled me with dread, but then it was later reported that they were found and returned the park safe and sound.  Phew.  A happy ending at least.

Dinner was good, although I think Tawi did it much better.  We started with pumpkin soup with a bit of chili powder in it for a kick.  Then I had grilled fish over fingerling potatoes and spring peas.  Dessert was a fruit crumble.  I washed that down with a Gato Nero Sauvignon Blanc.

So I lay here in the tent, listening to crickets and the whine of hyena.  They said the lions were out here last night, let's hope I hear them tonight!!!  I've waited 2 years for this!

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