Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sand Witch Safari

This summer, we managed to do what we failed to do in the past two previous summers, and got the heck out of here for a substantial part of Ramadan. You may have therefore noticed a significant reduction in this year's quantity of social media whinging about the summer heat in Dubai combined with the fasting-related restrictions that mean that you can't be seen eating or drinking in public during the day.

I can't recommend escaping highly enough for any of you Dubai stalwarts that haven't done the same. The weather has been a bit crazy since we got back, including almost unheard of rain, plus what appears to have been a miniature Shamal, and, despite the impending sense of doom I felt when I got on the plane at Heathrow, having been away means the heat it doesn't seem all that bad.

Part of the trip, apart from seeing our nearest and dearest in the UK, involved a trip to Kenya**** 

I have added a few of my favourite photographs, but, of course, I took hundreds and hundreds, so for a slide show that still doesn't come close to showing them all, click here, If you are at work, be aware I have selected an excellently appropriate soundtrack which you will need to turn off.

After a lot of fiddling around (were we going to convince someone to send us for free in exchange for me writing about it? A resounding "no", it turned out, being a self-facilitating media node is not all glamour, you know) we set off for Nairobi last month with Rhino Watch Safari Lodge, which was excellent, if you're thinking of a similar trip, and spent a week touring Aberdare National Park, Ol Pejata Conservancy (also known as Sweetwater) Solio, and walking amongst giraffes at Aberdare Country Club. 

For the sake of a bit of history, there was also a walking trip to the Mau-Mau Cave, where 100 Kenyan freedom fighters were bombed and killed by British forces in 1959. The guide, Jacob, told us that his grandfather had been among them and at the time of the attack, a meeting was taking place. The smoke that rose from their fire (it can get freezing cold in the Mt Kenya region in winter) gave their presence away. So, effectively, we were standing on the bones of his grandfather. 

Kenya celebrates 50 years of independence on 12th December 1963 and the country, from the point of view of someone who has spent a week happily being driven around in four-wheel-drives looking at animals, feels fairly self-confident. That is not to say there are not serious challenges facing it. The safari guide Ben told us that spiralling food prices, $1 a day for a bag of maize, combined with low wages mean millions spend their lives in debt just to survive. 

One day, I looked out of the window of the gigantic four-wheel drive and spotted a bunch of teenage boys sitting by the road, shouting at us for food or money. "Why aren't they at school?" I asked, expecting a reply that it had finished for the day, or they were too old for school. Nope. A government school teacher's strike meant that the schools had been closed for three weeks. The private schools remained open, apparently, but government school teachers want reform, because at present they are being paid between 7,000 and 10,000 Kenyan shillings (between 52 and 74pounds) per month. I suppose this is why one travels, isn't it? To see the world, and broaden one's horizons, and realise that one doesn't really know one's born and should really whinge a bit less about one's own lot.   

Far and away the highlight of the holiday for me was seeing the lion in Ol Pejata, who, you can see from the slideshow, caught and started to eat a baby warthog right in front of us. We saw her on our second day as lions in Ol Pejata are a lot easier to find because of the tracking collars worn in attempt to combat the serious problems that the park, and others in the area, have with poachers. The collar has an added bonus for tourism in that it means that rangers can tip guides off about the creature's approximate whereabouts within the reserve, meaning far more go away happy having had this rare sighting. Being on the hunt, as it were, for a lion sighting, is a curious experience. We spent four days in total touring the reserves and the lion sighting took up about 10 minutes of that, so you spend a lot of time driving around not seeing a lion. Luckily, him indoors and I are patient types, and are interested in all manner of other animals, including the incredibly rare black rhino, the ever amusing giraffes, the plant and bird life, but I can imagine it must be extremely hard work for guides who have customers who are more demanding than us, and feel cheated if they haven't seen the "big five" by the time they set off home.

Ours was excellent and endlessly patient in his efforts, and, not jaded to the extent that he too was genuinely impressed by the wildlife, including what I thought was a dispute between elephants, but he explained was "playing". If you take a look at this really quite adorable video shot by him indoors, and observe, the, ahem, under carriage of one of the elephants, you can see that he was enjoying it quite a lot.

At certain points on the trip, particularly during the lion hunts, I did wonder if I am any better than the "white hunters" the people who for some reason best known to themselves, like to travel to Africa, thankfully not Kenya so much these days, but nearby countries, and shoot the hell out of the beautiful and increasingly rare creatures that live there. When the hunt is on to see a lion, I think it does feel a little like you are actually hunting it, except you are armed with an SLR and a long lens instead of a gun.

The tension, I imagine, is similar, along with the sense of anticipation, and of course, the hint of danger. Because even though you are in a substantial vehicle which even the biggest and heaviest of lions would have difficulty getting into, it is still there, not least because I had a peculiar urge to get out of the vehicle when we were metres from the lion, which is similar, I imagine, to the urge vertigo sufferers have to jump off tall buildings. Luckily, him indoors stopped me. 
****Apparently as I write this there is a large fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi whicih may or may not make nonsense of my later comments about Kenya's self-confidence.

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoy the photos and commentary within this post. As I travel the world, it pains me to see such widespread poverty and I'm often left feeling a bit guilty.