Tag Archives: the Great Walk of Africa

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.

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

First day walking the Great Walk of Africa

Our day starts with Jambo Jambo – the 6:00 am wake up call spoken by the man who fills our bowls with hot water every morning.

Hot coffee, tea and breakfast are waiting in the mess camp.Departure time is 7:00 am.

While we walk our campsite is completely broken down and set-up at a new location. Our laundry is washed as well.

Walking rules: Single file with no large gaps between us and don’t make a sound. The person who is at the front of the line is to rotate to the back every half hour or so. Don’t be kind to the people behind you by holding a branch to allow others to pass. Just move through it.

* click on photos to enlarge

Guarding us is Iain and five skilled Samburu bush men (wearing sandals made of tires), with weapons, as follows:

Iain – Rigby Ruger 416
Washii (he and Lajori switch places every other day) – spear and machete
Tioko – Rigby Ruger 416
We’re in between
Ekutan – Bruno 458
Lajori – spear machete
Lokori – Bruno 458

The red laterite-rich soil is uneven beneath our feet. The ground is stamped with hippos, elephants, lions and giraffes (many more) tracks.  Dung is everywhere.

I know it’s called “the bush” but better terminology might be “the thicket”,  “the brush” or “the bramble”.   It’s thick and unforgiving.After a half hour of moving branches and thick brambles out of my way I channeled Mohammad Ali and started dodging, weaving and ducking to avoid being pierced by long thorns.  It became quite fun and just when I started getting cocky I’d get slapped square in the face by a catapulted branch. Oh, to be humbled…

We had a challenging river gorge portion of the walk. Lots of rocks and sand with a steep drop to the river. A crocodiles refuge. It was challenging and rewarding and none of us fell in.

Iain had warned us about charging hippos and how dangerous they are. Our first big sighting of hippos were ahead in the river. I figured we saw them in the distance and that was good given their danger level. That’s not Iain’s attitude. We needed to see them up close and personal.  As long as we remained silent they wouldn’t know we were there. It was spectacular and scary.  Hippos forage at night. During the day they submerge themselves in the river to avoid the sun which burns their sensitive skin.  Often times you can’t see them in the water and then suddenly they pop up like a bobber after a fish has eaten your bait. Weighing about 3,000 pounds they can run remarkably fast. Certainly faster than humans.

Every hour or so there is a rest stop and potty break.  Out of caution we only go to the bathroom in the direction we came from and only a few feet away.

We stumbled upon a zebra carcass that Iain suspects was killed in the last week.  Notice how they left the legs untouched.

It was an invigorating day and animal sightings were plentiful. The mandatory vow of silence was not only for our safety but good for the soul.  Time passed quickly.

We finished walking around 12:30 pm. Just in time for a fabulous lunch.  Tea time at 4:00, hot showers at 5:30 followed by campfire cocktails and dinner.

Off to bed.  Rinse and repeat.