This is Page 5 of the journal of my visit to Cameroon and Kenya.
I took all of these pictures. Most of them link to very much larger versions of same. Suitable as desktop images.
Safari Day! : February, 15, 2007
I'm so glad I finally got caught up my journal last night. Today I'll be out all day on safari. "Safari" means any sort of trip. It's used broadly. In my case it's close to the familiar meaning in that I'm going to see wild animals on a very large reserve. There are lions and elephants. With luck, it's even possible to see wild lions hunting.
I'm a little bit lucky to wake up before 7am because I got bothered by a huge insect flapping around in the dark. I'd seen it earlier but hoped it would go out through the open slats in the patio door, drawn by the security light outside. No such luck. It sounded like a big clumsy bird flapping around in here. So I got up and took a picture of it and then euthenized it with bug spray. It's the third time that's happened here.
Then, later, there was a lot of noise outside. Animal sounds, then people shouting, and vehicles. It was from the direction of the animal orphanage. It seemed like there was something interesting going on. But I don't venture out after dark. Leopards, hyenas, elephants. I'm better off inside. But I'll be curious to find out when I get I get collected for my safari pretty soon!
While I wait, I find something interesting in my email: Paul Biya, President of Cameroon, named the 19th worst dictator.
Big Five : February 15, 2007
In the past, the big game hunters only got to be that way by hunting all of Africa's Big Five trophy animals. Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino. Nowadays, visitors to Africa make it a goal just to see all of them in the wild. If you can see all of them in the wild on the same day then that is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Today I saw all of Africa's Big Five!
Boongee picks me up a little past 8am. He's already got Iris' nephew and his family on board. Boongee has a degree in wildlife management. A good degree to have in Kenya, I think! So he is over-qualified as our driver and safari director. It's also his birthday today. I think this is a little birthday bonus for him from Don and Iris.
The Sweetwaters Game Reserve at The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is only a 30 minute drive, on the other side of Nanyuki. (You can find it on Google Earth by searching on the Sweetwater name). The road is very bad but some of it is in the process of being upgraded. I'm surprised how dry the land gets in just this small distance from Mt. Kenya. It's totally different - but also more typical of the nature documentaries I've seen about Kenya.
Inside the 90,000 acre park is a small resort. That's where we collect a guide for the day, Jamil. Boongee knows his way around the park but not as well as Jamil. This place is privately owned - it's both a wildlife conservancy and a profit-making enterprise. In the early morning at the hotel I see a lot of overseas tourists readying their luggage.
We have barely gotten started and we've seen impala, waterbuck, gazelles, and a baboon in the distance. Jamil takes us to where the chimpanzees are kept and here, we pick up a specialized guide from among those waiting near the parking lot. They take turns showing people around as they arrive here. This chimp guide tells us that no chimps are native to Kenya. These chimps used to be at a reserve in Burundi until what he euphemistically calls their civil war.
All these chimps were orphans raised in captivity. And all the females have Norplants so they can't reproduce. We watch them play for a while. They need extra food every day, things not available to them in Kenya, to keep them healthy. Bananas I guess.
After that we see some baboons a little closer. And zebra. Lots of zebra. They're Burchell's Zebra here.
Time to go see the tame rhino. This park has a lot of rhino - more are being received this very day, in fact. But only one of them can you go up and touch with a reasonable degree of confidence that you won't get gored or trampled.
Again Jamil puts us into the care of a specialized guide. This one is a carrying a rifle... That's a little disconcerting, but at least I get to break my erstwhile unbroken African rule. I can take a picture of this man with a rifle. Boongee stays behind in the Land Rover, he's seen it all before.
After first showing us an elephant skull, shown in the photo above, we walk for a while in the bush. When we locate the Rhinocerous then, first thing, our guide tears some branches from a certain bush and approaches with a handful of them. The rest of us are, naturally, amazed.
Except for the younger of the two sons of the nephew. He has recently faced down lions and is now fearless. He is the first to feed the rhino.
After a while, we all take a turn touching the huge beast.
Back in the SUV, Boongee mentions that he came here with his wife and this rhino was ill-behaved that day. The guide had to hammer him on the head with the butt of his rifle to stop him threatening his wife. They said there were other males in the area and he had caught their scent.
I'm glad he didn't tell us the rhino has these mood swings before we went out there because it was a good experience.
I ask what is the going rate for a rhino horn and nobody knows exactly. But it's a lot. Jamil says they're well protected here, the park has excellent security.
In clear view of the parking lot at the rhino place are a lot of giraffes so we drive across the road for a closer look. We count 20. There is some salt here and they appear to be taking turns, alternately licking and looking.
I guess even a full grown giraffe must be vulnerable to predators while sprawled out like that so they look out for one another.
We often see African Buffalo. But we're not terribly impressed by those because, just like the rhinos, Iris has some of those back at the Game Ranch. Only you can't pet her rhinos, and you can only pet her one orphaned baby buffalo.
We're mainly looking for elephants and lions, two more of the Big Five. We see plenty of 'evidence' that elephants have been walking on the road and Boongee offers estimates of how long ago they were here based upon how fresh and moist the evidence appears to be.
As to lions, we already know how much they like the younger of the two boys and so we often joke about sending him to run across a field and back to see if he can lure any lions into view. These jokes would go over better if only he were not so eager. He readily agrees to every such suggestion!
Jamil says there are 180 elephants in the park. And six different prides of lions, one of which is comprised of 20 lions. There are also some cheetahs.
We see a big herd of big cattle. Boongee says they're Massai cattle. The Massai are a tribe of herdsmen. I ask if Massai cattle belong here and he assures me that they do. The tribesmen protect these cattle from the predators in the park. Besides that, most animals here don't kick quite so hard as these huge cows.
After a long time seeing nothing but zebra and gazelle we decide it's time to head back to the hotel for lunch. I'm just sort of lazily looking at the antelope up ahead. Been there done that.
Among the Big Five is the leopard and nobody seriously thinks that we might see one here today. They're mostly only seen at night. Suddenly, there is a Leopard stalking the antelope. It's very near to the road, and to us. It turns as we approach and retreats back toward the bush. It pauses at one point to look back at us and something in the way it moves makes me think it might wait there long enough for me to get my camera ready. But it quickly disappears.
None of us has got its picture.
At the hotel are some camels for riding. The boys express an interest but lunch is more pressing right now. It's an elegant buffet with windows facing onto a watering hole. We watch zebras and warthogs, along with a variety of birds including an enormous stork.
About halfway through lunch one of the storks lands right outside our window. It looked better at a distance. Very ugly. But also very interesting-looking.
We have some more time before Jamil comes back and so we sit on a bench looking at the birds and other critters at the watering hole. It's quite a nice tourist resort. It features a sign just like at the Safari Club, stating that the equator passes right through here. (I have my doubts.) In place of rooms are individual bungalows, all spread around the water. It's a real nice place.
In the gift shop I buy a safari hat. Now we're sure to find the elephants and the lions.
The camels are gone so the boys never get to ride them.
It's close to 4pm now. I begin insisting that there really are no elephants here. Boongee points out the dung in road. I dismiss it as fake. We all begin accusing Jamil of faking the dung and the elephants. He laughs.
And we threaten to tie the boy to the back of the Land Rover and drag him. Both boys have by now covered their freckles in sun screen, to protect from the equatorial sun, and climbed through the safari roof to ride on top.
Even so, they don't see anything but critters we've already seen before.
I mention that in South Africa we also had a hard time finding elephants but in the end, there were too many. And we had a hard time getting past them to exit the park before closing time. Boongee suggests that we may only find them after we've given up and are about to leave.
We drive all over the park but we don't find any elephants or lions. The afternoon almost feels like a waste of time. But we do see a big mansion that used to belong to world famous arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi, a friend of the Hunts from way long time ago.
And some vultures - if they'd been circling it might indicate proximity to lions, but they're just sitting in a tree. And soon a different type of vulture. And then I see a Marshal Eagle and we see a Fish Eagle flying around.
It's getting late. And Boongee has birthday dinner plans. We drop Jamil back at the hotel and drive to the gate. But the man there tells us there is a recent report of elephants. Boongee asks if we want to drive back there? Yes!
So we're returning to a spot near the chimp sanctuary. Close to the area where the elephants were seen we come upon two vehicles parked together. We ask what's up. Most often today in this circumstance the answer has been there is a rhino in the distance. This time, they tell us there is a lion. Yippee!
Sure enough, there is a big male Lion sleeping in the grass near some trees well away from the road. It's beginning to get dark but the color is certainly very lion-like. Every once in a while, it lolls its tail over itself. The tail sure looks like a lion. At one point, it rolls over and now there can be no mistake. It's a lion.
We command the boy to run over there and wake him up for us. He doesn't hesitate, and begins to climb down from his perch. We need to restrain him.
A little of this lazy lion goes a long way. And it's close to dark. So we decide to drive on in search of elephants, and we'll check back here.
Further down the road we see some buffalo with the setting sun behind them. I take what I hope will be a fabulous picture. Now it's nearly dark and we give up again. We pause for another look at the lion and he still has not moved. He could be like that for days, by the look of him.
I suggest we drive off road and wake him. Boongee says it's against the rules and we could get into trouble. I hate getting into trouble so nevermind that.
Practically right around the corner from the lion we come upon a group of Elephants.
We have lost most of the light but these sure as heck are elephants. They're right by the road. Two of them are particularly enormous. I take photos using regular shutter speed, and those turn out dark. I use the slow shutter speed and those turn out blurry. But the point is, we have finally found the elephants. I take one picture of them with Mt. Kenya in the distance behind them. That sure would look good in good light. Oh well, I do my best. (And Photoshop helps muchly.)
Boongee has seen all five of the Big Five before in one day. But not many times. And not before on his birthday! I credit my lucky safari hat. Boongee says Jamil was our bad luck and we should have dropped him sooner.
Iris is in Nairobi. But by email she tells me, "Now I am of course deeply jealous!! Do you have any idea how lucky you are... We will have to celebrate over the weekend."
Iris' office manager has lived here nearly all her life and she has only ever seen leopards twice. She is jealous too. We have achieved the near impossible - or at least the highly improbable. All five Big Five in one day on our first outing.
I'm going to wear my lucky safari hat to the casino when I get home to Las Vegas. What can it hurt? [It cost me $30 to discover the hat does not work for this purpose.]
Hanging Around the Club : February 16, 2007
Did I mention the Safari Club was owned for a time by Adnan Kashoggi, world famous arms merchant? By all accounts, he was a gracious host, a good friend, and a very responsible Club owner.
I spend the day Friday working on this journal, and beginning work on Iris' Powerpoint presentation which she will deliver at an international conference in India. It's in support of a project to protect the Asiatic Lion. Iris and Don have no experience with that particular lion species but they do have an enormous amount of relevant experience with wildlife in general, so that's why they were invited.
At one point, I feel like going for a walk and so I take some more pictures of the Safari Club grounds.
Hanging Around the Orphanage : February 17, 2007
I'm still working on that Powerpoint presentation when the power goes off. The power goes off pretty often in the third world, I've noticed. Anyway, I take it as a sign that it's time to go for another walk. This time I go visit the animals in the Orphanage and, naturally, I take along my camera.
It's so nice to have such fantastic places about two minutes walk from my door!
I took all of these pictures. Most of them link to very much larger versions of same. Suitable as desktop images.