Monday, May 23, 2011

Animals, etc.

Thursday, May 18, 2011 and Friday, May 19, 2011

I’m going to try and keep this short and sweet to avoid rambling on about how wonderful our safari was. It was AWESOME. We ended up essentially getting a private safari, all inclusive with meals and a night’s stay at a hotel for just the two of us (thanks to Jane’s friends at the Ivory Hotel). On Thursday morning, we were picked up thirty minutes late (in typical Kenya fashion) to grab a quick breakfast and head out for our first day of African safari! I should note that this was our first time having coffee while in Africa. Given, it was instant coffee, but it was a very pleasant surprise :). Our first day was at Aberdare (sorry for the previous incorrect spelling) National Park, which we were told is the largest park in Kenya. It also exports an extraordinary amount of water. All of Nairobi is supplied with water from Aberdare National Park!

So, I think the best way to attack this blog post is to give you a run down of what we saw and focus on the highlights ;). First, let me begin by explaining that we were extremely lucky as Jackson (our guide and Jane’s friend) told us he had never seen so many animals at Aberdare in one day (especially elephants – we saw groups of five to 15 on about four different occasions!). So needless to say, we saw elephants! We also saw water buck, a TON of buffalo, baboons, and warthogs! It was BEAUTIFUL.
We drove along dirt paths up and down mountains, through the jungle, and bamboo forest. The atmosphere was so lush and green, Andi and I were each glued to our respective sides of the car, our eyes searching the thick jungle for a living creature. When we did we would yell in excitement, “STOP THE CAR!!!” I felt like a lunatic double fisting my cameras (I have a larger one and a smaller one here with me), quickly snapping pictures with one and then the next. I don’t even know how many pictures I took over the course of our two day excursion. In places, the forest was dense, while in other instances, we were able to see for miles and miles. I will have to post pictures at a later date to give you a better idea. Some of the trees looked like they belonged in a Dr. Suess book :).

On several occasions, in the more open parts of Aberdare, Jackson stopped the car and informed us that we could step out of the vehicle to snap a few pictures. Unsure as to the safety of this judgment call, considering a large herd of buffalo grazed nearby as baboons frolicked and elephants moseyed on in the background, we stepped outside, careful not to make any sudden movements. Jackson assured us that all would be fine, he was on the “lookout” and would keep the car running just in case. He also informed us that he was in possession of a “sword” also known as a wooden cane. We snapped a few pictures and safely returned to our seats in the car. As we drove up to a picnic area overlooking the valleys of Aberdare so Jackson could take a trip to the restroom, we were surprised to encounter about seven male buffalo enjoying a boy’s afternoon on the mountain top. Jackson decided it would be fine to just slyly make his way to the restroom as the guys gang of buffalo stared at both him and us in the car with expressionless faces. Once again, all was well as he returned in one piece. The most noteworthy point in the day, was when we faced death by elephant. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but also partially legitimate.

As we drove, we encountered a family of elephants crossing the dirt road from one side of the brush to the other. We slowly and carefully drove closer, patiently waiting for them to pass in their entirety. However, we noticed they had a baby in their presence. This causes the elephants to be increasingly aggressive in order to protect their young. An enormous elephant (easily three times the size of our small sedan) had crossed first. We assumed he was the leader of the pack. He soon reappeared, showing his huge head through the brush, ears fully extended. Jackson immediately pointed him out as being a potential threat for a charge at our car. As we slowly began to retreat in reverse, the elephant ran two to four steps in our direction and then luckily backed off and headed off into the brush.

Unsure as to whether or not he was waiting just beyond our sight to ambush as us when we drove by, we sped past the point where we had seen him disappear. This led us only to find that three elephants still stood between us and our safe escape. We waited patiently as Jackson kept his hand steadily on the gear shift just in case. Luckily two of the three became bored with us and headed off on their way. The third, however, began to extend his ears and whirled his trunk around in search of our scent. We had luckily closed our windows to avoid revealing ourselves. We continuously kept an eye on the rear view mirror, almost waiting for the initial monstrosity of an elephant to reappear to surround us. At this point, all 5’10” of Andi was curled up in the fetal position in the back seat pleading for retreat and I was hysterically laughing telling her that everything would be fine. In hindsight, I have no idea how I wasn’t even slightly afraid. I was squatting on the back seats trying to take pictures through the windshield. Absolutely nuts. Anyway, this elephant also threatened to charge by running a few steps toward us before backing off. After this, we sped past and made it safely beyond our first African safari life threat.
Not two minutes later, we came across a lone buffalo in our direct path. We knew, since the start of our excursion, that a lone buffalo is one of the most dangerous things we could encounter. A lone buffalo’s isolation means that it had been rejected by its herd and thus is maximally stressed, willing to attack anything as a means of stress management. Without a second thought, Jackson began to drive slowly in reverse. Quickly, the lone buffalo began to charge at us in full attack until LUCKILY diverted by Jackson’s sounding of the car horn. Woooooooooo Kenyan safari!! We live another day! We made our way to the exit, still enjoying the sights and laughing about our near death experience with the African animals of Aberdare.

On Friday, we woke early for breakfast at 6:00AM, which naturally ended up being about 6:35AM (Kenyan time, you never cease to surprise me). By 7:30AM we were on our way to Lake Nukuru (it is much further away than Aberdare). Along the way we stopped to admire an aloe plant, pay our respects to the equator (again), and take in the view at Thompson Falls. It was beautiful. At Thompson Falls we took a picture with some tribally dressed Kenyans, held a chameleon, and took a few picturesque photos.
Andi and I at Thompson Falls.
For our last stop on our way to begin day two of our safari experience, we stopped to admire a road side overlook. The name escapes me, but you could see forever. It was really pretty and, aside from the familiar sales men/women attempting to sell their goods (preferably, it seemed, to wazunga), we really enjoyed it. Oh! I almost forgot that along the way, we passed a synagogue, covered from roof to ground in absurdly large Jewish stars… needless to say, there left no question as to what it was. Pause for reaction. The Jew in me leapt for joy. Soon later, we also saw a Jewish market. I have no idea where they came from or who they are, but I do believe I can confirm that there are Jews residing in Kenya. This is contrary to the previous experience I have had with Judaism being a completely foreign concept to many of those here in Kenya.

Finally, we arrived at Lake Nukuru. While Jackson arranged for our entrance to the National Park, we reveled in being surrounded by monkeys (who were FAR from shy) who interacted with all the visitors, most predominantly through theft. Some jumped on our car and literally peered inside. We had purchased some peanuts to share with the monkeys. I had the bag with me as I prepared to open it to share. We watched as a monkey stole a lollipop from a school girl (there were several busses of children on a field trip) and eat it exactly as a human would. I was so focused on this particular monkey that me, nor Andi, realized that there was a monkey no more than 12 inches from me. As I was unaware, when it jumped up on me, I screamed. The entire two huge busses worth of school children turned their gaze in my direction. I was hysterically laughing both of embarrassment and of complete and utter surprise that I couldn’t even react when the monkey jumped up a second time just to grab the entire bag of peanuts right out of my hand. The monkey took the whole bag, for himself alone, up into the tree, proceeded to open it and eat the peanuts one by one. Crazy.
Upon our entrance in the park, it was easy to see how different Lake Nukuru is from Aberdare. There was much more open space, far less forest. The most fascinating plant life was the yellow tree. The majority of the forests were populated by trees with mustard-yellow colored bark. They were beautiful in conjunction with their lush green leaves. As we drove around to see the lake, we were astonished by the beauty of the colors, animals, and landscape we saw. There were thousands of pelicans and flamingos, zebras grazed calmly nearby, buffalo basked in the sun… all of whom were framed by the distant mountains and quietly observed by the plump and weightless clouds. It was a perfect picture. Don’t worry, I took a debatably obnoxious amount.
Beyond our awesome start, we went on to see three white rhinoceros (they are so rare there are only 50 of them in all of Kenya!). We also saw baboons (one of whom decided to take a seat on the roof of our car), again a ton of buffalo, many antelope, water buck, warthogs, and giraffe from afar! Oh… I almost forgot we saw a lion :). It was about five feet from our car enjoying its day old buffalo carcass. Aside from the smell of rotting buffalo, it was awesome. We were so lucky to see everything we did over the course of our two day safari. It was unbelievable.
We said goodbye to the park to begin our lengthy trip back, consisting of driving around 60mph about 100 yards before slamming on the breaks to avoid car damage due to pot holes that could easily be mistaken for craters. Needless to say, this left me slightly nauseated. Upon arriving back at the centre, it did not take us long to fall asleep. We were absolutely exhausted, but what an unbelievable experience! Wait… we were on an African safari?? Lucky girls :).

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