Tag Archives: Elephants

The Great Walk of Africa Days 6 and 7


Sunrise happens quickly in these parts. Beyond our jambo wake up call the sun ushers in a yellow and orange medley of colors setting the tent aglow. To our surprise, on the way to the bathroom, the full brilliant moon was setting between the doum palms. Last night the palms were alive with baboons scurrying about shaking the branches and making the sound of a monsoon rain. This morning all is calm and peaceful.

I failed to mention yesterday that we walked down the Tsavo river toward its confluence with the Yati River which together form the emerald green Galana River.  You can see below where the color changes.  We had been using the Tsavo River water for showers but the water from the Galana is not used in camp.

This brings up the big question “Why are we wading through it?”  Yes, this too I failed to mention (on purpose) because I didn’t’ have photos.  We’ve been crossing the river. The body of water full of savage crocodiles. Crocodiles make alligators look like baby lambs.  They are bigger, stronger and look for trouble.  We paid for this shit!

So here are the rules:  We only cross at elephant crossings – never where there are smooth rocks where you can hopscotch across the river (because the crocs lurk there). We are to look BIG.  To do this we grab our partner’s hand standing shoulder to shoulder and then we hang onto the person in front of us – bellies to butts. No talking and walk briskly!

Lajori and Tioko test the water before we start.  They throw rocks in and then grab poles and stir the water.  The water depth is unknown but perceived to be okay.  The short women get an occasional douche and the guys mostly get the bottoms of their shorts wet.  I walk on tippy toes.  If we can’t bathe with this water I certainly did want it going where it doesn’t belong.  I have enough things to worry about.

Day six we walked a new trail for this safari.  Not only are we chum but now guinea pigs.  As we prepared to cross the river a crocodile slipped off the shore into the water. Red alert. My heart starts racing.  Iain walks 75  feet down the shore and says this will work!

Day seven our river crossing area was full of luxuriating hippos.  Iain had us walk down the shore and away from the herd but fairly close to a single hippo submerged in the cooling water.  I’m sure he saw the concern in our eyes and promptly exclaimed, ‘If we all huddle together and move quickly we might all make it!”  Some of our crossings are more than 100 yards wide so I’m sure even a hippo could catch us.

I think every one of us stared down that hippo and never even thought about the crocodiles.

From the Yatta escarpment to the Galana River elephants have forged a path for over a thousand years.  For Bill and me, this may be the first thousand year old trail we’ve hiked which was not built by the Romans.

The volume of game grows daily.  Especially the elephants.  Their nature is so human like. Witnessing up close the way they nurture and discipline their babies could keep me spellbound for hours.  A memorable moment was watching a female dig a hole in the sand to find filtered water.  She’d scoop it up and throw it over her shoulder.  In the meantime, her baby, thrilled to drink from the same hole, tried to get on the action only to be continuously pushed aside so mama could finish the task at hand.

Each evening while eating dessert Iain likes to tell us about what to expect the next day. Tonight’s briefing ended with a story about what happened on his previous safari two weeks prior on the same path we will walk tomorrow…

Of late the vehicles wait for us to conclude our walk and we drive back to camp.  Simon, the other driver, had gone to the pick-up site early.  As he waited for Iain and his group to crest a hill before crossing the river he witnessed a lion stalk and kill a zebra. Right in the pathway where Iain would emerge.  He had no way of warning them.  They were off the grid – no cellular service and the emergency radio only worked one way.

Iain said as he and the group were about to crest the hill he came face to face with a bloody mouthed lion.  Both stood there shocked.  Seconds later the lion turned and ran away.  Iain said one of the walkers fell over right there in his tracks.  I’m sure that’s the least of what I would have done.

We were left with this story.  Go to bed, sweet dreams and tomorrow might be real fun……

Photos from the day. Click to enlarge.

Driving to the starting point:

Walking.

Iain showing off his rock climbing skills.

Game drive.

 

Walking the Great Walk of Africa Day Five

During the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898, in nine short months, two man-eating lions killed over 135 workers. Colonel John Henry Patterson, an English military engineer with Indian experience was in charge of the project. He killed both lions.  They are known as the Man-Eaters of Tsavo and are now on display, in of all places, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. We hiked to the cave where Patterson said the lions would drag their victims.

click to enlarge photos…

Walking across Tsavo West ✅

Leaving the wetter more mountainous portion of Tsavo West will change the game encounters.  In Tsavo East there will be more lions and heavier concentrations of elephants.

Registering at the new park triggered a memory – the ranger approached the vehicle wearing a freaking face mask. Covid. Something that hadn’t crossed our minds for days. Living in the bush is an option folks!  Fiction is better than reality.  

We had to a short drive down the Nairobi Mombasa Highway, named the most dangerous road in Africa, to start the new portion of the walk. Iain said walking amongst predators was safer than crossing the road.

We walked through an old rail station. Closed in 2012 because the new fast Chinese rail would no longer stop here and 40 other stops along the way. Everything was left behind.  Ticket books still sat on the counter. It was as if time had stopped.

With breezy and often times overcast days and temperatures around the low 80’s walking has been lighter and easier than if the sun blared all day.

Some of us scaled the top of a huge rock embankment at one of he breaks. Check out the view.

A two hour drive got us to our camp.  Our new home for the next three nights.  

Bull elephants are known to hang out and walk through this site. Iain refers to them as the “retirement group”.  Today, at tea time, one such male decided tho walk up to the mess tent.  Thank God Iain had popped his head in only moments before the encounter. He ushered the few of us there into a group and we moved around like frogger trying to avoid a visual face to face with the big guy.  It was quite exciting and not to mention scary.  My heart was racing. 

 


While driving today Lajori whispers “simba” Swahili for lion.  Only a Samburu bushman with an innate sense of what, I have no idea, could have spotted lions resting in the distance under a bush.  The same bushes we walk by 100,000 times a day! It took me several minutes with Lajori pointing in their direction and binoculars to find them. Iain drove closer for a better look. This man has no fear!  This is only a few hundred meters from our campsite.

Nighttime pees take on a whole new meaning!

 

 

Karen, Kenya

Adiós Hilton we’re heading to Karen.

The drive out of the bustling city of Nairobi pumped new blood into our systems. The Hilton was so depressing that the excitement of the actual movement of the car felt like we were experiencing our first flight on the Concorde.

The outskirts of the city reminded me of La Paz, Mexico where tall buildings turned in to short ones and outdoor markets sprung up like weeds in the desert selling everything from nursery plants/pots to bedroom furniture and homemade BBQ’s. The difference here was the speed at which the cars moved and no place to park and shop.

Markets became stone houses behind tall fences and concrete sidewalks became lush country lanes. Grass and flowering bougainvillea abutted the roads – clean air once again.

I couldn’t help humming – country roads take me home to a place I belong – the West Virginia part part didn’t quite fit but you get my drift.

First stop. The Karen Blixen Museum which is actually her second Kenyan home. If you haven’t seen Out of Africa I highly recommend it. Produced in 1985 it starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Ms. Blixen’s namesake and 6,000 acre farm, wood lands and coffee plantation occupied the land where the suburb of Nairobi now stands.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Next stop the Giraffe Center in Langata. It started in 1979 as a place to preserve the Rothschild Giraffe. Now it educates thousands of Kenyan school children every year and tickles the fancy of giraffe loving tourists.

It’s like feeding ducks in the park on steroids. Most entertaining was watching giggling adults act like unabashed children. Reaching skywards towards these towering gentle giants with their fingered food pellet saying to themselves “Pick me, pick me, pick me.” Giddy when a bristly, long, pointy tongue lowers to greet their fingers. Slurping. Leaving a trail of spit like a spider’s web. A sign of treat well received.

Our final stop before our 5 pm meet and greet with our safari tour was the Kazuri (small and beautiful in Swahili) Bead Center. Founded in 1975 by two single moms. They grew a work-force (pre-Covid) to 340 mostly single women chosen out of the slums. These ladies were taught how to make clay by scratch, fabricating pottery and beads for jewelry. Sadly, now only 60 women are employed and shops were closed due to lack of funds to pay the rent. Normally the tour is closed on Sundays and only the store is open. Luckily Kim and I were given a private tour where we learned about each step in the process from earth to end product.

The four of us checked into our stunning suites at the Hemingways Hotel and promptly met our guide Iain along with three other brave Americans (coincidentally) that we would be joining on our safari.

I had dreamed about an Africa safari for years. A luxurious tent with chandeliers, rugs, fluffy bed and a bathtub where giraffes would stroll up to the side and drink from the bath water while I lounged in bubbles sipping champagne……

After an hour of introductions and getting the low down on our journey out of Karen the following day – we departed with a reminder to be in the lobby at 5:45am.

A leisurely (Kenyan way) al-fresco dinner gave us barely enough time for a quick bath before bed.

Not much time to enjoy our Suite.

Such is life…

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – where tourism is in it’s infancy after the end of a 30 year civil war in 2009. Beautiful scenery, UNESCO World Heritage sites, super friendly people and flavorful food make this country a must see.

It feels like India without the hectic, overcrowded atmosphere.

Trains clank and shuffle through rainforests to stunning beaches. Slow travel. In contrast the tuk tuks buzzing around as if they were on a race track jockeying for a first place finish.

*click on any photo to enlarge.

Bats the size of eagles and the sounds of thousands of crows ring in your ears no matter where you are – both giving you the sense that Alfred Hitchcock must be filming nearby. My mother’s fear of birds would have left her horrified.

Colombo’s (capital city) historic landmarks include Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple housing a Hair Relic of Lord Buddha and Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara where Buddha visited Sri Lanka his third and final visit – 8 years after gaining enlightenment. The peacefulness and custom of leaving flowers as gifts left a lasting impression.

The temple’s elephants left us feeling like children.

 

Kandy’s UNESCO Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic found us unprepared for their dress code. I brought a scarf which was too sheer, my skirt which covered my knees too short, Bill’s Buddha t-shirt blasphemous and his shorts just a wee big too short. For $2 we rented colorful sarongs and made the Buddha gods happy.

The monkeys around Kandy Lake were charming for all of 5 minutes until we realized what pesky animals they really are – stealing food from people and attacking with vigor.

Galle is a stunning beach town at the southern tip of Sri Lanka attracting hundreds of surfers.

Unfortunately, I was sick and spent the whole time in bed – missing out on photographing the famous stilt fishermen. Next time…