The overnight found me getting a solid 7 hours, thank you Ambien. I don't get a solid block of sleep like that at home, so maybe this is the start of good things to come. My wake up call and coffee and biscuits came at 5:55 and Alan, Kay, Julius and I were on the road by 6:20. I was immediately hopeful for good sightings since Kilimanjaro was clear and unclouded as the sun came up. I was somewhat less impressed by a puffadder that Julius stopped for that was, thankfully, on the other side of the vehicle. I didn't move, didn't bear to look. But now that I know it is there, I was humbled, and scared witless. That's not that far from our camp at all!
As we turned on to the road that led to the national park, we bumped into a bank of very low clouds that burnt off as the sun rose higher. Julius had hoped to find our big bull with bigger tusks Tim to photograph in front of the mountain, but instead we found three or four good sized herds that lined up for us poetically in front of Kilimanjaro. I think somewhere in there I got some good shots. It seems as if we are seeing the same few families each time, and always headed in the direction of the swamp, so their daily activities pretty much revolve around getting to and from the swamp each day.
The biggest herd numbered about 30 I think and even had a tiny little baby, less than a month old, Julius said. They are expected to walk and keep up with the herd pretty much from birth. This cute little one didn't yet have control over its trunk and kept itself tucked in pretty close to its mother until it raced off ears flapping, then realized how far it had strayed and turned and ran back to its mom. There is truly nothing cuter than a baby elephant.
At one point Julius stopped alongside a guide in another vehicle who seemed very excitable. Apparently he'd just seen a cheetah far on the other side of the park. Julius felt that by the time we got there and found the location, the cheetah certainly would have moved on. Instead we drove around through the palm trees looking for lions, to no avail.
Amboseli has 56 unique elephant families and the census in 2013 counted 1600 individual elephants. There has been only one poached elephant here in 2013 and none since. They presume the numbers now likely reach 2000 as there have been a fair amount of births in the last couple years. I've noticed since I've been here that there is a pervasive marketing campaign against elephant poaching called "hands off our ivory", with posters and placards and bumper stickers everywhere, in the airports and air strips, on planes and on the safari vehicles. Awareness is critical and they have certainly stepped it up since I was last here. None of that was around when I was here in 2014.
We returned to the lodge at about 9:30 where a huge breakfast spread awaited us. I had yogurt with granola, scrambled eggs and grilled tomato (nicely herbed!), toast, coffee and mango juice. I think that'll hold me over well until lunch!
Spent the couple of hours between breakfast and lunch in my bana. I have a private sunporch and sat out there until it was too hot to take any more sun. Came in and finished a book and snoozed a bit. I think the fresh air is doing me in. It feels good but I'm also setting a world record for sleep on safari, I think.
Shared lunch with Alan and Kay again. They're quite nice and fun to talk to. They leave today after lunch, which is bittersweet for me, as I've enjoyed having them on game rides but will have a private game ride later on.
Lunch was quite good and we watched two bull elephants and a herd of zebra right in the trench outside the garden near the lunch area. That's just incredible. Our meal was a pizza caprese starter (small pizzas with a sweet tomato sauce, mozzarella and arugula), then a pasta with a carbonara sauce (minus the bacon) and grilled mushrooms. Dessert was a small plate of banana fritters. Delightful. It just hit the spot. The chef came out to say hi to us and I told him how much I appreciate what he does with vegetarian food. I know it's likely a challenge for him and I appreciate it so much.
It's become quite cloudy since we came in this morning, so I cannot see the mountain at all. It's still fairly hot though. All morning I felt as though I needed the fleece but after breakfast it really warmed up nicely. I hardly remember the -43 degree real feel at home on Sunday!
I've neglected to mention the dust here. It is insane. The earth here is just so incredibly dusty, more so than I've seen anywhere else. Now whether this is just a special feature of Amboseli or the result of an El Nino season, I don't know. But not long into the game drive today, I reached down to get something out of my day bag and a layer of dust poured off the bag on to the floor of the rover. And me, my hands, my face, are just filthy dirty by the time I get back. The elephants kick up the dust when trying to get stubborn clumps of grass up out of the ground and they will also give themselves a dust bath as sun and insect prevention. Remember that, it'll play a part later in the day.
It was just me with Julius this morning on the game drive. I got to learn a lot about him, how much he loves what he does and never gets bored after 7 years. He said every day is different, but he has learned the patterns and habits of different elephant families so he can pretty much tell when and where he'll find them.
We saw nothing but elephants tonight really. There were a few giraffes, a herd of wildebeest with some newly born calves (one of two herds in the park) and we stopped to see those funny orange weavers again, each male trying to outdo the other in nest building. But the highlight was well and truly the elephants. We saw three different families making their way either from swamp to where they'd spend the night or toward the swamp. The smallest herd we saw was about 20, the largest we saw was nearly 75 (likely separate families all in the same area around a swamp).
It is so heartening to see the number of very young babies. Just tonight I think we saw about 10 all under a month old. This bodes very well for the future of Amboseli's elephants. I love to see the wee ones, just barely tall enough to nurse from their mom, still unsure of how to use their trunk, so they just swing it wildly. They do so well to keep up with the family, which can move 30 miles in a day! One little guy was either asserting himself or complaining about the pace and he trumpeted boldly but it came out like a squeak. I couldn't help but laugh. Although it was "only" three sightings, they were majestic. It is humbling to be sitting on the road and have the herd come directly toward me to cross to the other side. That they move so silently but for their purrs and whispers amongst themselves in hard to fathom until you see it. To have a massive bull elephant coming head on is simply breathtaking. What incredible creatures they are.
The last sighting we saw was the biggest, but we were up against a time crunch to get out of the park by 6:30. I took a few hasty shots and we ran for the exit. As the sun was almost down, Julius said "that little elephant just ran across the road looking for his mamma". Then the elephant passed again to the side he came from. Then back and forth again. He was lost. There were no elephants in sight. Julius tried to reassure me (and it turns out, himself) that it was a young elelphant but not that young, it appeared to be almost 10 years old. Older, but not old enough to be independent. Julius slowed the rover down and crept along looking for a family. "Come on family" I heard him say. The elephant seemed to be heading in a solid direction, and it was running now. "He is focused, he knows where he is going", Julius said. Finally from a stand of trees, Julius spotted huge clouds of dust rising up, right in the path of where this elephant was headed. In the near darkness, we could see the shadows of at least two elephant families, both of which were kicking up a storm of dust. Hopefully one of the two was the lost elle's family. I said to Julius, "I would be heartbroken if we hadn't seen those elephant families". "Even me too," Julius said. It made me feel good that he was as worried as I was.
We returned in time for a gin and tonic and dinner. I chatted with a Dutch friend of Menno's and then had dinner on my own. The salad tonight was a yummy spicy cole slaw. The soup was a ginger carrot leek soup. The main course was a vegetarian curry (leeks, zucchini, snap peas) over jasmine rice. Dessert was a slice of tiramisu. I washed this all down with a bottle of water and a glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc. It was delightful. My worries about eating vegetarian here were definitely for naught.
Another wonderful waterfall shower tonight. It's so good to feel clean, even if only for the overnight. No lizard in the bathroom tonight but a mouse did just run across the rafters in the same place. Ugh. I wish there was a way to seal the mosquito netting around my bed!! In bed by 10, we're on the road at 6:15 tomorrow!