We left for an early wildlife drive at 6:30 with only tea and a cookie to sustain us. Breakfast would be waiting for us on our return. When we awoke at 6 it was almost completely dark; by 6:30 it was almost completely light. Daybreak on the equator.
The early hour brought out lots of animal activity. Almost immediately outside the gate we can across a herd of buffalo. Job said they would be very aggressive if we dared to leave the car. They were certainly staring at us quite a bit. Slowly, first the alpha female crossed the road, then the rest followed her.
We saw giraffes, lazily plucking leaves from the trees, elephants devouring small and utterly dried bushes, various smaller and larger birds, and various deerlike animals, all graceful and quite skittish.
The highlight of this drive was when Elaine spotted a female lion which turned out to have two cubs with her. Our guide anticipated where she was heading and steered the car there. We saw the lions approach, and pass by, a herd of impalas, all standing at attention watching the lions. Even though the lions approached to maybe 20 meters, there was not a chance that they would chase down an impala. A mere flaring of a lion’s nostril and the whole herd jumped back another 10 meters. I saw one of the cubs look back wistfully as the mother lion didn’t even attempt to go for the impalas.
Coming back for a late breakfast we were the only ones in the camp. It feels decadent to have a 5-to-1 personnel to guest ratio in a hotel.
Our late morning trip was to a village nearby where the people still lived in a very traditional manner. They dress traditionally in bright colours and with many necklaces – though we spotted a toddler in a Winny the Pooh shirt – and make their own huts from braches held together with bark and covered with goat hides or plastic. Cow dung also features in this story. We were told that a woman can build a home like that in three days. No idea how long it takes a man, because building huts is what women do. In addition to cooking for the men, tending to the fields, raising the children. Makes you wonder what’s left for the men to do. Well, we twice got a demonstration of song and dance from the men of the village. The first dance was a welcoming, and we got to participate. Kind of an East African version of the Cotton-Eyed Joe. The second time was a more athletic affair, where men can show off for the women.
We got to see the local school, where a young woman was teaching a dozen small children the ABC and the numbers up to 20. They dutifully recited the alphabet for us, faultlessly. Children learn there until they can write their name; then they are ready to go to a real school, usually a boarding school. Mind you, this class room was nothing like what you imagine even the smallest classroom to be: the children were sitting on the ground in a space demarcated by some shrubs, and the blackboard was a two square feet piece of slate.
It actually felt a bit staged to us. However, the huts we were allowed to peek in were probably quite authentic. It’s hard to image having a whole family, with children and aging parent, in one or two rooms, but they seem to make it work.
We made a donation to the school fund. We had also made a donation to the tribe as a whole when we came in. And upon our leaving our path was through a “market”: two rows of girls and women selling jewelry and trinkets. Some of them, we later found, were coming from a village just up the road especially for the chance of selling to us. We bought a couple of necklaces and included a tip for the guide, for a total of about 20 dollars. God knows what that amount means to them.
At lunch a second couple showed up at the lodge, and when we came back from the afternoon wildlife drive there was a third party, this time of people who were driving on their own. While this may be very adventurous, we are glad we did not do this on our first trip. It would have taken much more preparation, and our guide knows these parks like the back of his hand, not to mention that he was constantly exchanging tips with his colleagues on where there was some good wildlife viewing to be had. When Elaine spotted her lion in the morning, Job alerted his colleagues and they were there within a few minutes. One of that party turns out to live in Kenya, owning a lodge of his own. They knew what they were doing.
There was time for an afternoon nap and/or swim. When I woke up from my nap, a large group of zebras was grazing just outside our cabin. On the other side of the electric fence, of course.
The drives we had taken so far have been on one side of the park, where the landscape changes character quite quickly and you can never see very far: you see the animals only when you’re fairly close to them. For our afternoon drive we went in a different direction where the landscape was much plainer and you could see much further. Most of the time we encountered animals we had already run into: impalas, zebras, and elephants, but on our way back to the lodge I spotted a hippopotamus in the stream. Job said he hasn’t seen one there in years. Close to the hippo was a large flock of Guinea Fowl. Thoroughly silly looking birds who run single file through the landscape, across the river bed, and on their way to god knows what. Also along the river was a hog with some little ones. Job says they are really stupid animals, and that was clear to us: our approach startled mama hog so she ran away from the stream with four of her babies, leaving three behind. After a while she realized that they were still at the water and she started running back. Then she paused, apparently having forgotten what she was running for, and returned to the first four baby hogs. Hogs, by the way, are also very ugly.
Dinner was good, the way the food has been consistently good at this lodge. I wash my dinner down with Tusker lager, which is excellent. After dinner a campfire is lit, and we are entertained by a young man in traditional garb whose first name is Kenneth and whose last name is a lot harder to remember. He plays on a traditional samburu flute. Well, the design is traditional, the actual instrument is made out of plastic, since not even the native tribes are allowed to collect animal parts like the Oryx horns that the flute is supposed to be made of. Elaine talks him into letting me have a go at the instrument. Kenneth uses something close to Turkish Ney technique which is too hard for me, but I get sound out of the instrument blowing it like an Anasazi /Shakuhachi.