KENYA TRIP REPORT
7/27 – 8/16/07
Today, the day I have been waiting for, has finally arrived! Boston has been in the midst of a heat wave, HHH (hazy, hot and humid). I feel foolish heading for Logan Airport with a fleece jacket, but I know I’ll need it at Amboseli. While waiting in the airport a thunder storm begins and I watch with panic as I hope my flight won’t be one of the many that is cancelled! Where one looks out of the international terminal windows one can usually see hotels – but today the rain causes a total whiteout (like a heavy snow storm) and you can’t see any buildings. Luckily my flight to Amsterdam is not cancelled and we take off on time. The flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. I have only two hours between flights so I make a quick trip to the ladies room and then have a Coke with a couple of cigarettes to get me through to Nairobi. I also had to buy two lighters because the U.S. government’s TSA authority had taken mine at the Logan Airport gate.
The flight from Amsterdam was totally full. It was a good flight until we got about 1 – 2 hours from Nairobi and then we hit very rough weather with many air pockets. Thus we landed a little late at JKIA. I have always purchased my visa at JKIA and never had to wait too long. However, this time I think ¾ of the plane was buying their visa and it seemed like forever before I got my chance to plunk down my $50.00. It is hard to believe that they are still manually writing out receipts – no wonder it takes so long to get through the lines. Then off to the luggage carousel. We all waited for about an hour and one of my bags showed up but the other was missing. Back into another line to report it – another ½ - ¾ hour wasted. Finally I was told that the bag would be at JKIA the next morning (but too late to meet my 7:30 a.m. Amboseli flight). I exited the terminal and was met by Benson Maluki, the Southern Cross Safaris Airport representative who introduced me to my Nairobi driver. Benson promised to pick up my bag on Monday and put it on the plane for Amboseli to arrive Tuesday. Then I was off to the Holiday Inn Mayfair (because the House of Waine had no vacancies). The beds in Holiday Inn had nice duvets on them to keep one very comfortably warm. I slept from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then was awake the rest of the night chomping at the bit to get to Amboseli.
Arrived at Air Kenya about 6:45 for the 7:30 flight to Amboseli. Today it was an 18 seater plane and it was full. The flight was uneventful and finally my feet landed on Amboseli soil!! Rachel, head of Ol Tukai’s Guest Relations was there to meet me with Lemomo, my Amboseli driver/guide. Off to the lodge with a nice gentleman from Indiana and his two teen-aged sons. At check in I was met by many of Ol Tukai’s employees and had a chance to get caught up with many of them. I was shown to my favorite room and unpacked my one bag. A gorgeous bouquet of 32 roses had been placed in the room for my enjoyment and they were beautiful. I unpacked the one bag and had only one pair of long pants for dinner (the rest were in the other bag to arrive the next day). We headed out on our first game drive at 10 a.m. and saw thousands of animals; zebra, wildebeest, elephants (though not as many as I’ve seen there before – many are out of the park now), warthogs, jackals . I am going to love this entire week! The first night in Amboseli I awoke every two hours wanting to be up and doing things (but luckily I could get back to sleep), (the dreaded jet lag effect).
The next morning Rachel went to the airstrip to pick up my bag from Air Kenya and it wasn’t on the plane. She called Benson back in Nairobi. He had taken the bag to Air Kenya but they had failed to put it on the plane. Now I was getting worried because there were a lot of gifts in the bag and I was fearful someone would break into the bag and steal things. Benson called Rachel back and told her he had again picked up the bag from Air Kenya and driven it over to Safari Link and it should be in Amboseli later in the morning – and sure enough, it was! The bag had been shrink-wrapped and all intact, thank goodness. There was an earth tremor about 11 p.m. but I didn’t feel it in my room. I slept from 11:15 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. and then was awake reading until 3:30 a.m. when I again fell asleep. Do other people have this jetlag problem?
At Amboseli, most tourists do the 6:30 a.m. game drive because most care only about seeing lions. At that hour of the morning the elephants haven’t yet entered the park. Thus Lemomo arranges to take others out on the early morning drive and then comes back and takes me out around 9:30 – 10:00. We then see all the elephants heading for the swamps. Lemomo loves elephants as much as I, so we enjoy just sitting watching their antics. That day was full of watching all the animals. On the 4 p.m. game drive we again saw about 30 vehicles blocking both sides of the road to see five cheetahs tear apart a baby wildebeest they had just killed. We couldn’t move. Then we were watching elephants by ourselves and when they started moving to cross the road again many safari vans blocked both sides of the road – and suddenly another van drove off road to pass everyone and almost hit the matriarch who was leading the elephant family. They stopped in time within feet of the family, but the tourists were sitting on the roof being loud and talking and laughing loudly with the elephant directly in front of them. I finally had it and said “SSSH”. They finally got the point. They were darn lucky when they almost hit the matriarch that she didn’t charge the vehicle. I took down several license numbers and will report them. I finally get a full night’s sleep tonight this night.
On Friday of that week Lemomo and I again went out on a mid-morning game drive. Not only do I love this time because of seeing more elephants, but there are very few vehicles sharing the road with you. We were headed out toward Pelican Lake and the bush candle bushes when out of the high grass on the right side of the road headed a large male lion, about 7 years old. He walked directly in front of the bumper of the vehicle and plunked himself down at the edge of a mud puddle about 15 – 20 feet from my side of the vehicle and proceeded to lap the water just like a house cat. His belly was full so he must have made a kill that night. We watched him and I did photos and videos for about 20 minutes. He then got up and walked right behind our vehicle and the stench was unbelievable. WOW! PHEW!! Don’t know what he had eaten or if perhaps it was his fur which smelled but it was bad folks!
We proceeded to a small swampy area where an elephant family was eating. We noticed a young female refusing to get wet and standing on the edge of the water in obvious distress. As we watched her we noticed that her back right foot was swollen and she was obviously stressed. She kept swinging her trunk back and forth between her front legs. Then we noticed a huge tumor-like structure on the underside of her trunk. It was almost as large as a tennis ball. Two of Lemomo’s sisters are elephant researchers for Cynthia Moss so he was going to alert them so they could keep track of the elephant to see if she was getting better or worse. On the way back to the lodge we saw a black chested snake eagle that had just caught a snake and played with it with his feet for a little bit before swallowing the whole darn thing. Told you I was a snake magnet. Wherever I go in Kenya, snakes seem to find me folks.
That afternoon Rachel took me to her home to see her baby boy. When I saw him in February he was terrified of me (the first mzungu he had seen). Thus since then Rachel had been showing him a picture of me and saying “Mama Jan”. It worked. This time he ran and greeted me and wasn’t afraid at all! Loved playing with him and taking lots of pictures of him. He is now 18 months old and will be a big boy when he grows up. Is already tall for his age.
Saturday morning Lemomo and I headed out at 9:15 and just outside Ol Tukai road we spotted a dead zebra with no apparent wounds and not opened yet. Wonder if perhaps snake bite did it in. Later in the day we saw 100’s of vultures and a hyena who had already made a feast of her. We rode around the area of the Serena and there were very few animals and the grass was even drier there than in the rest of Amboseli. The area near the swamps still looks green but the farther away you get from the swamps the drier it is.
I had originally planned to have Lemomo and Rachel accompany me to Elerai Camp today to see the new camp and meet the new manager. However on my game drive Lemomo got a cell phone call for me stating that Torben, Managing Director of Southern Cross Safaris had had a change in plans and wouldn’t be arriving at Elerai until late Sunday. Therefore, they wanted Lemomo to drive me to the Kimana Gate Monday morning and they would meet me there and take me to Elerai for lunch and then fly on my charter flight from the Sopa airstrip to Satao and I agreed with the plan.
Sunday, my last day at Ol Tukai, is always the hardest for me. I hate leaving the park and “my elephants” there, but also hate leaving friends I have made at the lodge. Saying goodbye is always hard. There weren’t quite as many animals at Amboseli this time, but it certainly was a wonderful stay.
If you have never been to Amboseli before, please keep in mind that in June, July and August from around 6 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. it is quite cold. You will need a fleece jacket or sweatshirt to keep warm. The wind picks up around 6 p.m. and blows fiercely coming off Kilimanjaro and an extra blanket on the bed is often necessary. I had forgotten about the wind – it blows hard until about midnight and then stops almost completely. However, being around 55 degrees you still need something warm for an early morning game drive. Also for first-timers, you will not always get a view of Kilimanjaro. In February it was clear and we saw Kili every day. However, on this trip we only saw a few quick glimpses (clouds were obscuring the mountain most of the time).
This was the first time I can remember being in Amboseli and seeing no speared elephants. It was truly wonderful to think that perhaps things might be starting to improve.
Monday morning I checked out of Ol Tukai and we headed in the Landcruiser for Kimana Gate. At the gate I transferred to the Southern Cross vehicle and we headed to Sopa Lodge airstrip to pick up Torben’s mother-in-law. When I arrived and went to give Torben a hug, he backed away saying he had chicken pox so didn’t want to get too close. Indeed as the day went on he had more and more pock marks on his face. He drove me to Elerai and the work they have done there in the last five months has been incredible. Right now they have five cottages that are complete and ready for guests. They will be adding a total of 10 tents and a waterhole in the near future. I had hoped to meet Andy, the new Elerai camp manager, but the week before he developed bad kidney stones and the doctors in Nairobi didn’t want to touch him – so he flew to South Africa for treatment. Will look forward to meeting him on my next trip. I gave Torben the chilli pepper seeds (had also given some to Rachel and Lemomo), so lots of people will be growing chillies in the Kimana-Oloitokitok area. I just hope it works to help protect gardens and thus keep elephants from being speared in the future. After a delicious lunch with Torben, his pregnant wife Beth and her mother I was driven back to the Sopa airstrip and we took off for what I hoped to be a wonderful nine days at Satao. The flight was great but everything below didn’t seem nearly as green and pretty as it was in February. As we crossed over Aruba Dam one could see it was almost totally dried up. I guessed that the hippos would be at the Satao waterhole.
Upon landing at the Satao airstrip I was met by Bobby, the manager, in his 1962 LandRover and a driver/Guide in another vehicle. KWS and/or the park manager decided no-one could land at private airstrips and would have to land in Voi, pay the park fees and then drive to their destinations. Bobby contacted Kip at KWS and was allowed a dispensation for me to land at Satao – and thus the driver had to take my Smartcard and immediately drive to Buchuma Gate to put the charge through. Satao ‘s grass was also burned looking compared to the lush green high grass I saw in February. Upon crossing the bridge into camp I saw many elephants at the waterhole, so I knew I would have a wonderful stay. I checked in and was handed my walkie-talkie between me and an askari in case of emergency and proceeded to my favorite tent. I unpacked everything and proceeded to sit on my veranda watching hundreds of animals at the waterhole. Heaven for me! Indeed I didn’t go on one game drive the entire 9 days there. Why drive around looking for animals when they are right in front of you!!
I couldn’t believe the increase in waterbuck and impalas at camp. In February there were about 5 – 6 waterbuck – now there are about 40; one evening I counted 15 new impala babies – there must be a total of around 70 now. Both the impala and waterbuck are in the bush during the day but come into the center of camp at night for protection from lions. Lions were frequently seen – but strangely not heard roaring this time as they were in February. One night I heard the baboons barking and looked at the waterhole around 10 p.m. and saw a lioness with two sets of cubs approaching the waterhole. The elephants chased them away because there were many elephant babies there also. In February there were 3 –4 old buffalo residing near camp – this time I counted 20 – 25, all older bulls!!
My second day at Satao I was enjoying watching elephants and noted several estrous females asking “check me out” to the bulls. Several of the bulls started chasing the females, but the females could run faster. Just about 6 p.m. an estrous female started running down the path adjacent to my tent when a bull caught up with her and mating began. The voyeur in me got the best of me and I (luckily) had my video camera running, when suddenly another bull ran up behind the mating bull and with his trunk knocked the younger bull off the female. He turned around astonished and then walked off with the bull!! It was a once in a lifetime-type video picture. I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole thing. Coitus interruptus elephant style.
What I found so interesting is the difference in the Amboseli and Tsavo elephants this time. Amboseli elephants are for the most part very quiet. The Tsavo elephants this time were not only doing their usual “lets go” rumbles but trumpeting a lot and being very noisy. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact that there is very little water in Tsavo now, and so many elephants are at the waterhole at one time. One day at lunch there were over 400 elephants at both waterholes at one time!!!
There is a new chef on the staff now named Moses (there are now seven chefs at Satao). Moses had made Bobby and me samosas the night before and I raved about them and said I would love to learn how to make them. The next morning I had my own private cooking class with Moses so I am now going to attempt to make them for my boys at home. I think the most difficult part will be folding the dough correctly to put the filling in.
One night just before calling as askari to escort me to dinner I looked across camp and saw a guy creeping on foot from his tent and he was half-way to the waterhole where there were many elephants. I called the askari on my walkie-talkie to alert him (because often the elephants come directly to the waterhole from the side of this guy’s tent). If one of them came in as he was out there he could have been tramped and killed. Again, tourists are sometimes stupid. Upon checkin they are always warned not to go off their verandas. Luckily this time the guy was fortunate not to have had a bad result.
On my fourth day in camp the hippos from Aruba Dam arrived, confirming that Aruba is now dried up. They walk all night to get to the Satao waterhole. Mama Hippo had another baby around three months ago so there are now four hippos sharing the waterhole with all the other animals. The elephants seem to understand that they have to share the space and there appears to be no problems.
The frustrating problem I did see was that many of the older bull elephants decide to bathe and they enter the waterhole early in the morning and stay lying there in the water all day long, thus leaving very little space for the matriarchal herds to get water. I wish there were some way a lazer or tazer could be used to give them a little “ZZST” encouragement to get out of the waterhole without hurting them.
At lunch on Friday 8/10 a British gentleman approached me saying he wondered who to report that he had spotted an elephant with a “rope” around it neck. I immediately called to Bobby and he and the gentleman went up in the Tower and Bobby confirmed the snare. He called Dr. Ndeerah, the Tsavo-Amboseli veterinarian who said he would be there from Voi in an hour. Luckily in the heat of the day, the elephants didn’t move from the waterhole. When the vet. arrived he and is staff went in his vehicle and Bobby and I went in his 1962 LandRover with the roof popped so I could stand and take pictures. We drove out on the far side of the waterhole and I knew Dr. N. had spotted the animals when I saw the Captur gun go out through the vehicle window. All of a sudden all the elephants started running and in the beginning I could see the elephant with the red-tipped dart in him. However, he was a wily creature and sandwiched himself between a matriarchal group and a huge bull and I lost track of him. Then he started moving pole, pole and I knew he was ready to go down. Dr. N. quickly chased the rest of the family away with his vehicle and went back to the young darted bull. The bull had gone down on his rump and front knees – chest not resting on the ground thank goodness. If that had happened you have only minutes to get the elephant on his side or else it is possible for the lungs to be crushed. Everyone got out of Dr. N’s vehicle and pull him over on his side after removing the dart. They then cut off an extremely long wire snare which luckily had not yet cut into the skin from around his neck and ear. Another save for Dr. Ndeerah!!! Another thrilling experience for me.
Saturday, 8/11 the newspapers are brought to my tent. I was irate when I read article that KWS is raising park fees from $40.0 per day to $60.00 per day and the money will be going to “the communities”. I think KWS is naïve if they think this will change peoples thinking and cause them to take better care of wildlife. When poaching, snaring, spearing, poison arrowing are so prevalent – putting a clinic or school in a given area won’t change their habits and thinking. The raise in prices should be going for wildlife/park preservation. Not once in either Amboseli or Tsavo have I seen one ranger!! Not acceptable!!! Makes one wonder what they have been doing with all the funds they have already received??!!! I wish instead they would build a 2,000 man prison and start throwing those that illegally kill wildlife into the new prison for a long time. It is only when the word gets out how bad it is in prison and being without family that the word will get around to the rest of the people that they had best think twice before taking action. I know it works very well here. Laws were passed here some years ago that no-one could touch beavers (they formerly used to get them in “have a heart” traps and move them to other areas. Now people will be arrested if they destroy a beaver’s dam or kill or trap a beaver. Guess what – no-one dares touch them now despite the fact that the beaver dams are now causing havoc in the streams and people are now getting water in their basements. They know all too well what the consequences are – and they don’t act.
Monday, 8/13 I was brushing my teeth when I saw something moving on the floor out of the corner of my eye. I turned around and there was Paka, one of the camp genet cats. She immediately scooted into the tent. I am not afraid of her, but I don’t know the best way to get her out. She settles on the shelf in the armoire behind my T-shirts. That clues me in that it is indeed Paka and not one of her babies. Paka is the only one that used to climb on Bobby's shelves in his tent and sleep during the day. I call the askari and ask him how to get her out of the tent without scaring her. I don’t just want to unzip the whole front of the tent worrying about a snake getting in. The askari comes, unzips the front of the tent and slowly chases her around my bed several times before she just leaves. Makes me wonder though if she is there because she knows snakes are around. HUM!!! Better watch more carefully Jan.
Bobby had to call KWS again to have me cleared to leave from Satao airstrip on Wednesday. All is OK’d.
That evening Paka again showed up. I was in the tent and when I went out and zipped it she was sitting under the table at the edge of the veranda. When I zipped the tent and walked toward her she didn’t run away. Now I am really getting paranoid about nyoka!! I feel honored by her presence – and yet I wonder why she has been there twice today. Perhaps she knows something that I don’t.
Tuesday, last day at Satao, a lady showed up at lunch who had just checked in and they found a snake on the netting outside the bathroom between the makuti roof and the solid wood wall. She was nervous (as I would have been). On walking toward my tent I noticed the tent steward and an askari trying to get the snake. I mentioned that Bobby had a snake handling stick and to get him, and then I proceeded to my tent. I sat for awhile and then thought I would see if they had gotten the snake. As I walked to the foot bridge over the dry Voi River Bobby, the askari and the steward were there and Bobby didn’t have his snake stick but just a plain stick. He grabbed the tail of the green snake, ? green mamba, and pulled catching the snake on the stick. That snake twisted back on herself and struck very quickly just missing Bobby’s arm. Perhaps that is what Paka was trying to warn us about. Things turned out well for the guests and the snake – but these incidences don’t help me overcome my fears of these reptiles. Though Bobby has been catching snakes for 35 years in Kenya, I told him he is stupid to continue to do it now. Bobby is in his early 60’s and what he isn’t thinking about is that his reflex reactions, timing and eyesight aren’t what they used to be 35 years ago and he shouldn’t take chances with his life. I guess I am still the snake magnet. Whenever I’m around they seem to show up, though they haven’t seen any in a couple of months.
Again today at lunch I spotted another tourist walking out to the waterhole! I spoke to a waiter who immediately called the askari and he went over and yelled at the guest. I really find it hard to understand the stupidity of these people.
On my last dinner in camp Bobby and I are at the bar talking – me with my Coke and he with a beer. Then a lot of employees show up in the dining room (before guests sat down). I was called to the dining room and Bobby said “this celebration is for you”. Some of the employees spoke thanking me for my continued loyalty to Satao Camp and its employees. They gave me a hand carved Mama Elephant with baby and a beautiful painting of elephants autographed by all the staff. I was so very touched by this. I don’t want the men doing things like this for me, but I really appreciate all the care they give me when I am there. It makes me feel like part of their Satao family.
The next morning my charter flight arrives and after fond farewells we take off for Kijipwa airstrip north of Mombasa. I was met by a Southern Cross Safaris driver and we head for Moi Airport. On the way we are stopped by one of the Southern Cross representatives who ran across the highway to get me some Satao shirts. They had some shirts I liked well over a year ago with the Satao logo and either an elephant or giraffe on the pocket (giraffe is satao in Waliangulu dialect) but only in children’s sizes. I told them they ought to get in adult sizes as they were really nice shirts that I thought guests would buy them as souvenirs. Finally they got them in the morning I left, so he handed me 3 shirts, I asked him to charge my card and we got to Moi in time for my flight.
The rest of the day at Holiday Inn was quiet and already I was missing Satao. The next morning Southern Cross picked me up for my trip to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see my adopted orphaned elephants. I talked with Daphne and Angela and gave them little gifts I had taken for them. I had found some beautiful watches with metal bands with elephants all around the band. The ladies loved them.
Daphne told me of another orphan they had gotten in within the week. Elgon is a one year old female who fell off a 26 foot cliff into a dis-used pit latrine, having to stay there all night during freezing rain in the filthy, mucky, smelly fluid. KWS managed to dig a ramp-like thing the next morning and drive her four hours in the back of a pickup truck with her legs roped together to an airstrip where the Sheldrick team arrived by plane. She was flown to Nairobi and greeted by all the other orphans and within a day was quite calm with her keepers. However, both left legs were injured, the left rear so badly she couldn’t bear weight on it, and the left front leg badly swollen. A Nairobi vet. saw her and doesn’t think the bones are broken. She has many cuts and bruises. To read her history go to: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphan_profile.asp?N=170http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphan_profile.asp?N=170.
When I got to the Trust the other orphans were at their daily 11 a.m. mudbath. However, because Elgon couldn’t walk very far, she had been kept back in the forest. Daphne asked me if I would like to see her – and you know what my answer was, YES! One of the keepers led me out to the forest and I could see this little elephant standing amongst the trees with one keeper. The keepers were talking quietly and I kept my distance because she didn’t know me and might be frightened of a stranger. I just started talking quietly to her telling her what a good girl she was and that the keepers would make her all better. To my amazement she walked right over to me, wrapped her trunk around my right arm and stood there!!!! What a thrill and an honor. I’m telling you folks, I don’t give a damn about what the scientists say, elephants have an understanding and intelligence that we humans haven’t even figured out yet. Some how this little one year old elephant, in that situation only one week, knew I was no threat and was a friend and she trusted me.
Two quick ideas for gifts. Before I left for Kenya I didn’t know what to get for the men there that go out of their way to make my trips so special. Then I came upon Face Time Watches
http://www.facetimewatches.com/. I went through all my pictures and picked out a picture for each special guy depending on their interest and location, sent off the order and the watch was made with the picture on the face of the watch under the glass and was mailed to me within 10 days. These are unique and fantastic gifts to give anyone. I was very impressed with the quality and service. If you have someone difficult to buy for, try this.
While in Kenya if you are looking for gifts to take to people at home try the Kazuri Bead Factory near Sheldrick Trust. I have been there twice now. This business was started by Lady Susan Wood, wife of Dr. Wood who helped create Flying Doctors Service in Nairobi. She noted the need to create something the single mothers could work at to make money with which to feed their families. They make very nice ceramic bead necklaces and bracelets. They cost anywhere from 1,200 KES to 2,000 KES and the same brand – same necklaces are sold here in the U.S. for $80.00 each. It is a nice way of buying a gift for someone and at the same time helping Kenyan families. This time I bought 12 necklaces to bring home with me for some of the ladies I work with. You can investigate further by going to: http://www.kazuri.com/index.php. The Kazuri Bead Factory is located on what used to be part of the Karen Blixen Estate. It is well worth your trip there. If you haven’t been before, they take you through the factory and show you how the Kenyan ladies make the beads. Then you go into the shop and make your purchases.
All in all it was another wonderful trip, albeit not quite as exciting as some trips. I can’t wait to get back again the end of January.