Tag Archives: Kenya

The Great Walk of Africa Day 9

What you don’t know won’t kill ya. Apparently that’s not the way in the bush. 

This morning I felt like Emily Blunt in the The Quiet Place movie.  The predators are out there….  There’s no Jaws movie music Da dant da dant da dant.  Not only have we taken the oath of silence so have the predators.  It’s a quiet killing grounds in Tsavo. The only things making noise are the harmless birds.  HA!!! The stuff I think about…..

Lots of game sightings today – zebras – elephants – gazelles…

Click to enlarge photos…

It was a peaceful day with no heart pumping events.

Until we were about to cross the Galana River back to camp. Toiko and Washii started into the water when a crocodile’s tail took a swing at their ankles. Both jumped back to the shore quicker than a Kenyan runner. Toiko minus a sandal. He returned to camp shoeless. Poor guy.  It will be a long time before the guys stop teasing him about this one.

The surface beneath our feet is a bit of a conundrum – harsh, dry, and barren like the surface of the moon and closer to the shore there’s beautiful fine white sand. There are a few springs of greenery sprouting.  Otherwise, food seems either non-existent or inedible.  How any animal forages and lives in this area is baffling

Look who tried to wander into camp. Yes. That’s Bill at our tent.

Hello Bill – do you see the elephant?

On our evening game drive we drove up to a male and female pair lounging in the sun.  Jokes about the manly lion ensued… To prove his virility the male jumped on the female. Big her in the shoulder and did his thing. Who’s king of the jungle now?

Tomorrow is our last day of walking and it will be a full day. We leave at our usual 7 am departure time and will not be returning until 6 pm…..

The Great Walk of Africa Day 8

Once again we woke up thinking it was raining and it was a baboon in the palm.

Eight graceful giraffes passed by early in the morning. They generally can be seen with zebras grazing about.  If you look closely in the photos you can see that the top of a zebra is as tall as the under belly of a giraffe.

Our day started with a river crossing.  After the last hippo “stare down” this one went off without a hitch. We cross and on the shoreline stop to change our shoes. Usually the bank is an incline, and after a scramble, we are up on the plain. Upon cresting there was a hippo off to our right side several yards away. Immediately Iain and the men lined up and were at the ready with guns drawn. We were told to run.  ‘Stay together and RUN”.  The hippo had turned and looked like it might charge.

By the grace of God he changed his mind. Hippos are mean and fast. Iain said “They tend to get discombobulated and either run away or charge.”

Another thrilling event. I think I have said “Holy shit” about 10,000 times on this walk!

In all the years that Iain has led these safaris they have only had one serious incident where a hippo charged and knocked over a ranger and then picked up a woman client and flung her.  They weren’t unable to shoot it with the woman in its jaws.  It was in 1987, In the middle of nowhere and no way to communicate. It took them five hours from the time of the incident to the moment she got to a hospital.  She survived with a long recovery period.

With this crisis averted we began to walk again….

Approximately half an hour later Stephen spotted a female elephant in the saltbrush several yards away. A few days in the bush and he’s a tracker!  Lajori did his soft whistle to let Iain know. Normally we can pass undetected.  This elephant stepped out of the brush and made her presence known. She knew we were there.

Once again Iain shouted “RUN and keep running.”  Lajori directed us with a rapid wave.

Iain fired a warning shot into the air. The elephant hesitated and then started to charge.  Toiko then fired another warning shot.  All the while Washii is making a repetitive rhythmic sound from the bottom of his throat – as if he was trying to calm the elephant. 

She finally decided to turn.

Heart racing…. What now? Lions???

It was quite a morning – 10 mammal sightings and two heart racers in 1.5 hours.

The rest of the walk was uneventful.

The game drive was a lion experience. We first came upon two laying on their sides, out like a light, without a care in the world. Our Rovers drove right up to them and one barely opened his lazy eyes and closing them promptly as if he couldn’t be bothered. The lion beside him didn’t even budge. Moments later a maneless male came out of the saltbush – moseyed along and then fell to his sleepy side. Then another large maned lion came out of the bush.  He majestically sat for a brief moment, looked around and then curled up next to his brothers side.

Kim and I decided to check out the kitchen at the campsite. Kikuyu, camp chef for 40+ years makes meals that one would think came out of a gourmet kitchen. It’s hard to believe that they are made with such basic necessities.  The Dutch oven reminds me of an old metal ammunition box and bakes the bread and rolls to perfection.  Kikuyu uses a shovel to raise the box’s lid.  Here are some camp life photos.

Elephant tracks right in-front of our tent!

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.

 

Hard to blog when the internet is sketchy….

Days 2, 3 and 4.

It’s remarkable to see how efficient the camp crew is.  Right after our evening showers the crew promptly dismantles them.  At breakfast time the tents are broken down. Last to go are the toilets and while we walk, the the rest of camp.

click on photos to enlarge…

It’s great fun arriving at a new location each day.

Now early evening game drives have been added to the agenda so showers end in the dark and headlamps guide our course.

One night we stopped to climb a humongous rock with unparalleled views only to find wine and beer waiting for us at the top.

Cocktails by the river are the perfect way to wind down the day.Acacia, baobab and doum palm trees dot the landscape.

At night the baboons like to jump around in the palms making it sound like a big rain storm.

Most likely it’s the acacia tree you think of in the quintessential Kenyan sunset photo with a tree and giraffes. They are often referred as an umbrella tree. However the long thorny bushes that we have been battling are another variety.  Weaver nests decorate many like ornaments.  We were told that female weaver birds chose the male bird who makes the best nest.  The males are known to build many nests to perfect their technique.

The baobab tree is called the upside down tree because their branches look like roots and the tree of life because 80% of their trunks are made of water. Bushmen use it as a source of water during droughts. They are huge and can live up to 1,500 years.

Also dotting the horizon are the might termite hills. This one is approximately 80 years. Part of the process in making a termite hill is to slowly devour a tree.

One could sit forever and watch elephant herds.  There is one matriarch who rules the family.  She is protective and mean when provoked.  Her responsibilities are huge.  She is responsible for the herd even down to whom is the best male suitor for the females. The bulls kowtow to her as well knowing she has the authority to kick bulls out of the herd.

Elephants can only see up to 40 feet away and use their trunks to smell danger.

Often times we’d see a lone female with a baby.  A sign that the baby can’t keep up with the herd and the protective mama breaks away. The odds of their survival greatly diminishes.

Herds of animals run past us – gazelles, zebras, dik diks and many more that remain nameless in my poor tiny brain.

 

 

Mzima Camp

Good Lord. Oh dark thirty. We had just fallen asleep.

Breakfast at 5:15 am so that we could be ready for our 5:45 start to Tsavo.

Our flight didn’t leave until 7:30 and the airport was only 15 minutes away. Leaving before gridlock would leave down time but ensure we made the flight.We boarded a 12 seater prop plane. Some of the guys had to crawl to their seats. It was a quick one hour flight to Tsavo West. The welcoming crew was two grazing giraffes just on the side of the dirt runway. The real deal. Not a zoo. Just two giraffes hanging out.

We hopped into a modified Land Rover Defender. Bill and Stephen sat behind the driver. Kim and I loaded up in the next row with Washii, our spotter, sitting on the back roof. Within no time we were standing on the seats with our heads and shoulders peaking out of the roof spotting game.

The rest of the crew loaded up in second Rover and we headed to breakfast at the Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge 45 minutes away.

Cape buffalo, warthogs and zebras (the Brits say zeb-bra) grazed while we stuffed our bellies.

Two more hours to the first camp – our jaws wide open as more wildlife started to appear.

Click on photos to enlarge.

According to Iain we were very lucky to see a leopard lying next to the road. A rare occurrence since they are nocturnal. Looks like he got in a scruff only hours before.

 

Meet our fearless leader Iain. Iain started Tropical Ice and the Great Walk of Africa 43 years ago. Born in Scotland and raised in Kenya since the age of six. A lover of the outdoors, modern day Indiana Jones, avid reader, movie buff, John Wayne impersonator, comedian and head man in charge. This will be his 93rd walk.

Yes, we fools paid lots of money to walk 100 miles across Tsavo West and Tsavo East. We’re the chum to the predator’s delight. No pussies allowed.

The safari of my dreams has been altered.

Yes, we have tents, twin beds and even woven rugs. It’s a throw back to safari’s from the golden years. Everything we need and then some. Bathtub and chandeliers are foolish childhood dreams. This is a big girl’s camp.  It’s like drinking black coffee.

There is a mess tent where we are served three outrageous meals a day with tea and crumpets each afternoon. It’s perfect. The only downside is we are in Tsavo which means “Place of Slaughter”. Predator’s stomping grounds…. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is scary!!!

This camp is named Mzima (alive in Swahili). That’s because it’s the start of the journey and at this point we’re all still alive.

Time to relax and settle in. The walk starts tomorrow.

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…

T minus 48 hours – Nairobi here we come.

Some of you know that flying is a white knuckle event for me. Much improved over the years I still feel some strange force like fog on a misty morning in the days building up to departure.

*stock photo- not mine

Yes, 130 countries and I’m afraid of flying. Actually – crashing.

Anxiety be damned. Power through it – have a martini or worse case pop a Xanax.

This time I am so excited to leave that I’ve even been talking about it. We have to – there are sooo many balls being juggled precariously in the air. Flights being cancelled – countries closing – Delta Variant – civil wars and protests…..

For now we’re:

Packed ✅ There is a strict 33 pound weight limit because of small planes. If I carry my 6 pound camera around my neck this is doable. Normally, a mixture of black, gray and splash of color are my go to items. Simple and quite effectively doesn’t show red wine drool.

This time. Beiges, light pinks, khaki green and creamy whites are what’s called for. The tsetse fly is a thing in Africa! I remember growing up hearing my mother say she thought she was bitten by a tsetse fly whenever she felt tired.

A couple of Google searches later and we’ve learned that this fly is attracted to dark colors. Apparently blue is its favorite color and black is its second. They bite – hard – through clothing and can carry a sickness. Sleeping sickness – as well as a bunch of ugly side effects including death when not treated. You didn’t have to convince me.

Covid test ✅ (waiting for our results – no time for delays). Like traveling to Hawaii – Kenya requires a negative Covid test within 96 hours of landing.

Countries for which we have non-refundable flights have recently restricted travel for tourism. No entry. Vaccinated or not. Covid test or not.

Covid, malaria, sleeping sickness and imaginary plane crashes… what’s a girl to do?

This will certainly be an adventure. Last time we left the country – altitude sickness, protests and a government overthrow kept us on our toes. This time we’ll get to experience new countries in the life and times of Covid and once again we’re going to be flexible like silly putty.