|Tuesday, March 30, 2010
We left the ship at Mombassa and boarded 8-passenger vans (6 Exploritas members, Abdul the driver and John the guide) that would take us on a 4 ½ hour drive to Tsavo West a game preserve that is home to a number of animals.
Leaving Mombassa, we passed the same run-down shacks that served as road-side shops, most strewn with rubbish on the curb. Some stands are just sticks with a straw roof. Bricks are plentiful that people make with the red soil and cement them together with the same powdery clay type mixture, and covered over with this mixture. The “siding” might last a few years, depending on how much rain it can withstand. My knowledge of construction techniques are not that sophisticated, but this is what I understood from the guide. Houses of various sizes and condition are constructed along the highway that we drove, some barely just a meager structure, some in small groups that might constitute a village, others in isolation. People were walking long expanses of road, mostly women carrying piles of stuff on their heads, but where were they coming from? Where are they going? There doesn’t seem like a destination within miles. At another area of the highway we see men digging a trench at different intervals. We learned they are preparing to lay fiber optic Internet cable. There was no machinery in sight, like front-end loaders or other mechanized equipment; just picks. Men are making bricks out of coral and sandstone. We saw walls of these bricks stretching long expanses, but they don’t seem to be enclosing anything or excluding anything, just walls with grass on all sides. At times we see herds of camels, a different kind of cow called a zebu, goats and some baboons. It’s amazing how commonplace they now seem to us.
The landscape changes from a savannah with acacia to mountains in the background. We saw fields of sisal growing in very red soil that is used for rope, carpets and baskets. Then we see a plant that resembles white morning glories all over the place; they are truly invasive as they crawl up bushes, trees and spread on the ground. John stops at a site that was the scene of the lion killings in the building of the bridge that I mentioned in a previous blog, and we can see the bridge.
The two-lane road is smooth, but we encounter many trucks going in both directions, so passing isn’t always possible. We made one brief rest stop midway on the trip. The van is rather comfortable with the windows partially open, because there is no air conditioning, and the day is overcast and not too terribly warm.
As we make our final turn into the road to the reserve, we have about 15 more miles to go on a red dirt road and we spot zebras, vik-vik, which is the smallest antelope in Kenya, a leopard turtle, male impala and a dung beetle. Most of these are all pretty strange to us until John identifies what we see moving on the side of our van.
We arrive at our beautiful lodge situated by a watering hole and fields as far as the eye can see. Hopefully, we’ll see Mt. Kilimanjaro tomorrow morning from our room. We had a glimpse of it as we finished our afternoon safari, but one peak was cloud covered. After lunch, we got into our same vans with Abdul, John went with a different group, for our safari. The van had an open roof so we could stand up as we were driving and stick our head out over the top. It was like riding in an old rumble seat, if anyone still remembers those. We rode along, occasionally stopping with another van whoever spotted something. Some we were able to photograph, others we just made note of. Here’s the list of animals and birds: male giraffes, a yellow-necked spur fowl, female impala, nighthawk, nests of a Maribou stork in an acacia tree; Abdul called the acacia tree the leopard’s dining table because it could take its kill to the level outstretched branches and eat away. Abdul also called our attention to the letter that we see on the impala’s rear end. We could see a prominent M: that was the leopard’s McDonald’s. We also saw a garanuke, also known as a giraffe gazelle; it was a gazelle with the long neck of a giraffe. We saw a number of elephants, guinea hens and an augur buzzard. We hoped to see rhinos, but they were elusive today.
We made a rest stop in the park where a security guard was reading “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama (I can’t format underlining on this site; that’s why I put the title in quotes). I asked to take his picture and he agreed. I’ll send him a copy and try to send one to the president.
We traveled many miles over red dirt roads, sometime with big ruts (not as bad as Madagascar, though) and I had my head out of the roof most of the time. Often we were in the wake of the red dust from the van in front of us. As we drove along, most animals just kept on doing whatever they were doing while we stopped and clicked away, or just marveled at the wonder of it.
I can’t tell you what laughs we had when we got back to the lodge. Bill’s gray hair was red, everyone had streaks of red on their faces and hair, I wiped my face with a wet wash cloth and it was bright red, from all the red dust that was blowing in our faces.
We had a lecture from the director of the National Park who told us its history, what they are accomplishing as Kenya’s heart of conservation, what the park offers, how they monitor animals, especially the diminishing rhino population, which is making a healthy return, the challenges of wildlife and human compatibility, keeping livestock off the preserve that the community thinks is free grazing ground for their cattle, climate change, wildfires, water management (300 elephants died due to drought), illegal hunting, awareness of the judiciary to inflict stiffer fines for breaking the law. He also addressed the invasive species of the ipomia, which is the morning glory that is so widespread, especially in the park, also opuntia, prosopsis from South America and lantana.
We had a delicious dinner in almost darkness; Carol’s flashlight came in handy to see the menu, which included a wonderful cream of carrot soup with a hint of ginger. I guess the management kept it dark to reduce flying insects. There was no enclosure to the dining area; we were next to the outdoors. But I had to swat a large moth or two, and ended up with a little bug at the bottom of my wine glass that I didn’t see until I had to remove it from my mouth.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
YES! What a wonderful way to start the day with Mount Kilimanjaro in view - all 19,340 feet of it!. It almost made up for not seeing the Taj Mahal. It was as clear as can be with the moon still out.
I recorded some bird calls while waiting to leave. We were in our vans and on our way at 6:30 AM. It rained last night (you could have fooled me; I didn’t hear a thing) so the dust was settled on the roads. The first animals that we saw were some fox which didn’t look like the red fox, and I didn’t see a bushy tail. We saw a warthog, and guinea fowl, what iridescent blue necks they have. We saw a superb starling, some giraffes and a cheetah surprised everyone by making an appearance. They are not too frequently seen, so we were very fortunate. We did this safari before breakfast, so we worked up an appetite to have our breakfast and head out to Mzima Springs.
The ground turns from red to black as a result of a volcano that erupted about 300 hears ago and left huge boulders. In the distance are the Sister Mountains, five mountains with a similar outline. Then an ostrich stood on the road and turned its head in all directions as if telling us to be sure to get its best profile, and in the same view, a herd of water buffalo. So we saw three of the Big 5: lions, water buffalo, and elephants; we didn’t see the rhino or leopard.
We drove to a river fed by Mzimo Springs where we spotted some hippos in the distance and some barbela carp which were a lovely blue. We walked along a path of mostly volcanic rock with volcanic stones outlining the path. There were a number of trees that were well labeled with not only the species, but their uses. For example the Sausage tree, Kigelia Africana, is a savanna tree with a rounded crown and low hanging branches growing up to 9 m. in open woods, fruits very unusual like gray sausages up to 1 m long. Fruits are baked and sliced in fermentation of traditional beer. But be warned, one beer is enough to put you under. I also saw a cute monkey called a black faced volvet and a cormorant sitting on a log over the water.
We had to really speed along out of Tszvo West because our day pass expired at noon. The park is so big that it took one hour to get from the river to the exit going at a very fast speed and not stopping for any photos. Of course, the road is dirt and we had to dodge some ruts. Then it was another two-hour plus drive to Tsavo East, which is even larger than Tsavo West. The lodge is not as modern as the previous one, but it will be satisfactory.