Thursday, February 18, 2016

Day Three -- Last Day in the Land of the Eles

Thursday, February 18

Another very restful night.  Even though I took the Ambien, I still heard footfall outside my bana, of the human kind, around 4 a.m.  I managed to go back to sleep and slept until the alarm went off at 5:40 though.  Today is the first day I actually feel human.  I think the volume of sleep I've been getting and finally relaxing is helping, not to mention breaking the back on the jetlag.  It's getting harder to do so as I get older.  I have to admit the last two days I've had waves of feeling quite unwell but it turns out it's likely a combination of dehydration and jetlag.

Oddly, when I heard footsteps outside at 4:00, I went to turn a light on to check the time and the light above my bed didn't go on.  When I got out of bed to get ready for the day, none of my lights had power.  So I had to get dressed and ready by the light of one flashlight.  No worries, it's not a fashion show here and I'd laid my stuff out the night before anyway, so it was just a matter of wetting my hair flat and brushing my teeth. 

This morning I was alone for the game drive, which was fine by me.  We headed out at 6:10 and it was nearly pitch black.  But I could see that the mountain was clear which is always good news.  Just as we got into the park, the first visitors in for the day, we turned to look back and the sun was just peeping up over the horizon.  I'm still blown away by how fast it comes up.  

I think Julius really wanted to show me lions today, even though I've not made a fuss over it, and have told him multiple times that I came here for elephants and would get my cats in the Mara.  We drove for over an hour in another part of the park that is known as lion country only to find nothing.  He said they are good at hiding, and they must be, because I couldn't figure out where they'd hide.  Parts of this terrain looked like moonscape and others were just very low scrub.  No bother, we saw a couple of lone hyena, two Thomson gazelle mothers with their babies and a bunch of baboons that we've been passing out near the old shut down Amboseli Lodge, which the baboons seem to have taken over for themselves.  They're so funny and so expressive and some of them are quite stubborn when it comes to getting out of the way of vehicles.

Finally we came across that massive herd of elephants that we saw last night that we couldn't stay to watch because the park was closing.  We determined there were nearly 90 elephants, likely 4 different families, and they were all gathered right beneath the mountain and heading to cross the road right in front of us.  I'm aware it might sound incredibly boring, but it takes my breath away to have so many of these gorgeous giants pass right in front of me, and they're completely silent as they do so.  There were quite a few babies in this group, and it's sweet to watch the moms guide them up over the hump on either side of the road.  Julius pointed out to me how cute they are when they flap out their ears, and I have to admit he's right.  They are really sweet.  And how the herd looks after them and surrounds them if they think there is a problem is very endearing.  It was such a privilege to sit and watch them.

We returned to camp for breakfast around 9:30 and made plans to meet up again at 4. Breakfast was the same as yesterday except instead of juice they had a mango smoothie which was nice. Today I ate a little less since lunch is right around the corner.  We had three elephants at the watering hole on the other side of our garden, and I couldn't help myself but abandon my breakfast to scoot over there and take photos of them, including a selfie!  They are so close and seemingly uninterested in us.  It was so pretty to see the elephant and the mountain right here at the breakfast table.

After breakfast I came back to my banda and sat in the sun on my private patio for a bit.  Then I shaved my legs in the soaker tub, luxurious, I know.  I figure this is the last opportunity I'll get for a leisurely shave; once I get to the land of bucket showers all bets are off.  I washed up some things to hang out to dry and laid out my clothes for tomorrow.  I also left the staff a couple shirts and a pair of pants to wash, so hopefully I'll have those back to pack tonight.  Tomorrow I fly to Nairobi at 9 and then connect at 10 to the Mara.  That's a tight connection!

Going to read a bit and maybe snooze before lunch.  I've finished one book and read half of another already.  I could get used to this!!

Back out to lunch.  I spent a little time over by the watering hole again.  Three elephants, 5 giraffe and a whole bunch of zebras were there.  I also watched a bunch of eland come in and a handful of baboons.  Julius told me that the plains game have wisened up and know that they are safe near the lodge since it patrols for predators.  So they are here pretty much all the time.  The elephants at lunch were bathing and splashing like mad and really having a great time of it.  Then when they come up out of the bath, the zebras bolt like they're going to get crushed by these massive beasts.  During my meal, one zebra let out a panicked bark, as they do, and all the others just rolled their eyes as if "chill out buddy, nothing going on here".

I was thrilled to see the asparagus salad was back on the menu today.  I loved that the other day.  The main was a mushroom tart on puff pastry.  I'm not a huge mushroom fan but this was actually really good, with some arugula and shaved parmesan.  Dessert was a mango and watermelon salad.  It all really hit the spot as it's now a lot warmer mid-day than it has been.  It'll be nice to flop down and read in the coolness of my banda.  Heading back out at 4.

Finished my book and didn't nap after lunch, that's a first!  And when was the last time I read a book in three days?  Crazy.  Just as I got dressed to head back out, I heard raindrops but they never amounted to much more than a handful. 

Menno caught me in the reception area and said my flight back to Nairobi has been changed from 9:00 to 8:00 tomorrow, which is good in that now I have longer than 10 minutes between flights in Nairobi, unless my flight to Mara changed too!  I'll have to get there and see.  Menno also mentioned that other guests spotted four cheetahs today in Amboseli and Julius knows where they were spotted. Knowing how transient cheetahs can be, I assured Julius there was no pressure and I'd be happy for my last game ride to just find a whole lot of elephants.  And off we went.

The first hour or so was pretty slow, no sightings at all.  I could tell we were headed to the far side of the park again so I assumed we were heading for the cheetahs.  En route we saw a massive herd of elephants, and by massive I mean maybe 100-150 easily, but they had already mostly crossed the road we'd take to access them and by the time we got to them they'd be well past.  About an hour into the ride, another guide stopped Julius and there was some chatter in Swahili between them.  This happens pretty frequently and usually I never hear what comes of it.  But when the other driver moved on, Julius looked at me over his shoulder and said "we must go back, they have spotted lion."  At this time of year it is near impossible to spot either cheetah or lion and I reckon that Julius was opting for a sure thing with the current sighting rather than a shot in the dark with four cheetahs spotted hours before.  So back we went over the same land we just came over, doing it in half the time.  At 5:30 we arrived on the scene of the sighting, a lioness lying about 100 yards off road on a large sandy patch.  I could see her well with binocs but photos were mediocre to poor.  Still, I saw a lion in Amboseli.  Julius recognized her as a new mother who has two cubs.  I think he hoped the cubs would surface but they never did.  She changed locations twice, finally flopping down and throwing her paws in the air in tall grass, never to be seen again.  So we moved on.

Just near the entrance to the park there was another good sized herd crossing the road.  We made it in time to them to see the last 30 or so go by us. I've never felt so small and humbled as I did watching all these elephants so close to me.  I certainly got a sense of my place in the universe.  As they silently crept by us, one stopped and approached our vehicle, only taking a few steps to break from the path his family was cutting through the grass.  He paused a moment, then turned and rejoined the line.  I may be crazy, or perhaps wishful thinking, but he really looked a lot like the lost boy we saw running for his family last night.  It was in the same location and at the same time as last night, and he was roughly the same age and tusk size.  I hope it was him and maybe he was thanking us for worrying about him.  I'll choose to believe it was.

After we left the park, we came across a bachelor herd of four elephants right outside the conservancy.  The biggest of these was Greg, Julius said, and he's a very shy boy, meaning he moves pretty quickly when vehicles approach.

I was back early enough to shower before dinner and do most of my packing.  I finished my book and sat at the bar for a bit with Menno and his visiting Dutch friend over a gin & tonic.  Dinner tonight was pretty good.  I had a chef's salad, which was a pretty little stack of greens, cucumber, tomato, avocado and onion with a creamy vinegarette.  The soup was out of this world: a sun dried tomato soup using tomatoes both grown here and dried here.  Menno is a true Renaissance man!  The main course was a fish cake (I think) and french fries.  The dessert was heavenly, a chocolate fondant (similar to molten lava cake) that I was so tempted to lick clean.  I washed this all down with the South African Savignon Blanc.

Mid-meal we heard a big splash and the night light over the watering hole caught an elephant belly flopping in there by himself.  He carried on for a good few minutes and seemed to be enjoying himself.  That mini game park we have going on in the garden here is just spectacular.

In bed by 10, 5:50 wake up call!  Off to the Mara!

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