We were up at 7am to pack, had another full English breakfast, and met George promptly at 9am for a bone jarring ride to the Samburu game reserve about 100 miles to the northeast.
Mt. Kenya was backlight in the morning sunrise, a jagged peak dotted with snow jutting up from the high mountain skyline; the only place on the planet with equatorial snow.
The road to Samburu was a road crews’ nightmare chock full of potholes, ruts, patches and everything else. It was another amazing visual feast with many small villages and people everywhere. As we came down the mountain, it began to rain, at times almost a torrent. We passed through wheat fields that almost looked like eastern Washington State save for the citizens walking along the road. A man, sitting by what looked like a large block of coal, pounding it into smaller pieces, soaking wet. A person dressed in black with no protection from the rain watching over a herd of cattle. People huddling under corrugated roof awnings. An umbrella at the side of the road, miles from the nearest building, hid a person crouched by the roadway, facing into the horizon.
The rains triggered the a rare release of millions of flying termites, splattering the windshields, and filling the air with insect wings while the birds had a heyday circling and eating while the getting was good. This happens only twice a year, carefully timed with the rains and designed to overwhelm any predators with sheer numbers in hopes that a few will survive to make new nests.
As we continued along the journey, George warned us that the last 40 km would get worse.
After about 60 miles, as we passed through a small town -- the last outpost of “civilization” George tried to find a replacement windshield wiper. While George was in the shop, we were surrounded by boys asking questions and men trying to sell us bracelets, and other very primitive handiwork. They all seemed to speak English fairly well and to know about different parts of the United States and also asked about the Golden Gate Bridge. I gave one of the boys my pen and one of the men the change in my pocket.
A guard post, made of gathered materials gave way to the wilderness. No more shops and stores. Just a road (with no intersections) going across a scrub savannah dessert with acacia trees, undergrowth, and an occasional hut or small structure made of twigs. A beautiful wild exotic expanse different than any other part of the world.
George was right, the road did get worse. The payment ended, and the red, rutted dirt and mud road wound its way through puddles and pools of all sizes. The trusty Nissan minivan, with a pop-up top so the people could stand and take pictures for safari view, took all that was thrown at it.
Samburu Game Reserve
In the distance a green ribbon of vegetation appeared, the Uaso Nyiro River, the heart of the Samburu game reserve. A variety of wildlife appeared as well. Helmeted guinea fowl, vulturine guinea fowl, about 30 female impala guarded by an impressive male with spiraling horns. Reticulated giraffe with their very distinct markings with abrupt boarders as if they were painted on were grazing on the acacia trees.
Just about a mile from the Samburu Serena Lodge, the swollen, raging, muddy torrent of the river appeared. Standing waves in the rushing river showed the terrain of the river bottom. Branches and trunks sped by as the river looked in full flood stage, but fortunately staying within its banks.
We arrived at the Samburu Serena Lodge, at 12:30pm, right on schedule. We were greeted by capable staff, a cool towel and a fruit drink. The open-air main lodge has a reception area and a dining area/bar that seats about 100 people. It looks out over the rushing river and nicely kept grounds with about dozen cabin-like sleeping rooms on each side and a refreshingly cool and clear swimming pool in the center on the lower level.
After placing our bags in our room, about 15’ square, with a peaked roof an a ceiling fan, two twin beds with individual mosquito curtains, and little mini heating element on the wall, on which to place a “mossi chip” to ward off malarial mosquitoes.
Then off for lunch. The food, although nothing to write home about, was amazing considering where it was. A full buffet meal in the middle of as remote of a spot from western civilization as one could possibly find – an oasis in the middle of the most abundant wildlife ecosystem on this planet. As we sat down, I saw the same Samburu warrior, Tisa, from last year watching over the eating area with a slingshot to keep away the pesky vervet monkeys from stealing the food. Tisa was dressing in the red flowing skirt, bare-chested, sheathed machete at his side, with beaded neck and ear ornaments.
We then went to a 2:30 dance demonstration ($5US each) by 6 young Samburu women (ranging in age from about 9 to about 16) and 6 young men (about 15 to 20 years old). It was quite interesting watching the interaction between the men and the women. Before the dances, both sides were seated separately with no interaction. During the dances the women were deferring as the men touched their foreheads and showed attention. They performed five songs depicting a lion hunt, a wedding, and others. All were variations on the same theme. The songs were primal vocalizations, not in precise unison, rhythmic chanting. The women had dozens of hoops of bead around their necks. All were dressed in red patterned cloth. The women bobbed their heads out and back together, similar to how a bird would peck or bob their head as they walk.
In a few of the dances, the men jumped, or actually, sprung, up into the air, straight legged, more than 3 feet high, just with the strength of the arches of their feet. It is said that the higher the jump, the more attractive he is.
All seemed to be having a good time.
At the end of the dances, Aaron and I posed with them and thanked them for their show.
After a refreshing dip in the pool to wash off the day’s dust, it was time for our 4pm game drive.
We met George, and the white van had been washed (it had been two-toned white and mud red from the ride) and the top was up for safari viewing.
We ventured out in search of wildlife. Included were many birds, reticulated giraffe (unique to this area), gravy’s zebra (unique to this area with symmetrical stripes, white belly and rump, large ears and larger size), baboon, gerenuk (the giraffe gazelle with a long neck, standing on it hind legs to reach the upper branches), dick-dick (the world smallest antelope with huge eyes), about 30 oryx with their rapier-like 3’ horns and very distinctive markings.
The highlight on this relatively slow game day was a solitary leopard hanging out in a tree, surrounded by about 10 safaris vehicles jockeying to get a good look. The leopard seemed to totally ignore the commotion, and eventually, yawned, stretched like a house cat, climbed down the trunk and walked away.
We were back by 6:30 pm (a quick equatorial sunset) to watch a leopard across the river from the lodge take a bated leg of some animal while the hotel guest were served refreshments for the front lawn of the lodge.
Diner was at 7:30 and another interesting conversation with Aaron was had about the future. After nodding off during most of a naturalist slide show about the game in the region, we were in bed by 10 pm to get up for another game drive at 6am the next morning.
Tuesday 12 March 2002
Dawn over the savannah a wonderful site as the oranges and gold of the sunrise highlight the already reddish hues of the hills and mountains. The abundant rains may have driven the large game away – they don’t need the central water source, the river, as it is everywhere. It was a morning primarily of bird watching including sightings of yellow necked spar fowl, buffalo weavers, golden pipits, red billed horn bill, sand grouse, spar winged plovers, white throated bee eaters, helmeted guinea fowl, drongo black birds, nubinu woodpeckers.
A highlight was watching a secretary bird, marching through the territory looking for small rodents or snakes.
We did see oryx and grevvy zebra. And the biggest sighting for the morning, a solitary lioness, sitting the shade. After drawing the attention of about 4 safari rigs, she stood, yawned and stretched and walked between two of the safari rigs as if they posed as much threat or interest as a rock, and walked over to another bush and sacked out again in the shade.
After breakfast, George took us out two one of the three or four villages located near the lodge. It is like stepping back in time. Our guide, Gooramay, accepted our payment ($20US each), gave it to the tribal chief, and welcomed us to ask any questions or take any pictures we liked.
His village is comprised of about 135 people and about 20 huts; each hut built and managed by a woman. This was one of about 4 villages in the area, spaced about 1000 meters apart. Each village was ringed by a thorn bush fence about 4’ high and about 200 meters in diameter to keep the predators out, and especially guarding their capital (their cattle).
A man can have several wives, depending on his wealth (how many cows he has). The men do the protecting and the decision making while the women do most of the work (cooking, child rearing, hut building, wood collecting, etc.).
We went first to the “parliament”, an acacia thorn bush circle of about 15’ in diameter with a scraggly tree in the center affording some shade outside the village itself. This is where the men of the village gather to hold court and decide on village matters. A significant offense, say fighting, could cost a person a cow.
We then were welcomed into the main village through a 10’ gap in the “fence” where the thorn branches had been pulled away for the day. As we entered, several women were making their way each carrying what looked to be about 50 lbs of firewood (branches and twigs) in a sling wrapped around the forehead, and on their backs.
We were invited into one of the huts, about the size of a 6-person dome tent, made of twigs, mud, cow dung, and plastic tarp. The floor was covered with animal skins with 3 stones in the center with a few coals of fire. There room was very dark, and warm (it was about 90 degrees outside and warmer inside) and the smoldering fire didn’t help. Inside was a man about 30, a young pretty wife, a nesting chicken and two kid goats. Depending on which wife he chooses each night, he sleeps on one side of the hut, the women sleep on the other, and the children up to about 6 or 7 yeas old sleep between them. At about 8 years old, the children sleep in the far side of the hut.
The pillow consists of a wooden tripod about 4’’ high with a flattened horizontal piece supporting the neck.
We left the hut to see a fire making demonstration using two sticks, green dried donkey dung as the fire starter, and dried shredded black root. In about two minutes of twirling one stick between the palms into a depression in the other, and careful blowing, a flickering fire appeared to everyone’s applause.
After looking around a little more, we left through a gauntlet of trinket sales – mostly the women of the tribe holding out beaded ornaments, carvings, brass bracelets, and others. After buying a few items, we walked down the hill to the only square building in site, with a thatched roof, and open windows. Inside the surprisingly cool room was a tribal woman about 30 named Mary, about 10 children from 4-8 years old, and a blackboard with the first few letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case. They sang us a welcome song and the ABC’s.
We made a donation to the school and left back for the lodge with our head swimming with images that were as if in many ways we had been plopped down a thousand years ago.
After lunch at the lodge, a cool dip in the pool was refreshing and washed off the dust and sweat of the day.
We then went on the afternoon game drive, again with lots of birds (lilac breasted rollers, white-bellied go-away birds, African doves, ox peckers, white browed sparrow weavers, white-throated bee eaters, long tailed fiscal shrike, rosy patched bush shrike, rappel’s griffon vulture, drongo blackbirds, and others.). We also saw dik-diks, a family of about 50 baboons, vervet monkeys, a waterbuck, and several giraffe. As the sun started to set, we drove to the top of a hill to gaze at the expansive horizon with jutting lilac hills and mountains in the distance, and the flat topped umbrella acacia spreading from the foreground to the horizon.
As the sun set, we arrived back at the lodge, to see Nile crocodile come up to take bait to the amusement of about 30 lodge guests. The bait consisted of a few very large bones with a little meat attached, thrown about 2 feet on the riverside of a 30” stone fence that separated the eaters from the watchers, and a spotlight to highlight the action. The river had reduced in size by at least 50% from the day previous.
Three crocs slowly appeared, taking at least 20 minutes to traverse the 100’ distance of the bank from the river. They moved in slow motion taking 4 or 5 steps, then collapsing and resting completely motionless for about 2 minutes and then resuming. The largest made if there first, was at least 12’ long and weighed several hundred pounds. A cross-section of its huge tail alone must have been 2’ square.
After about 20 minutes, he reached the bones, and flipped a large one in the long direction was going down the gullet. Then a loud crack resounded, as the immensely powerful jaws crunched down as it positioned the food to be swallowed whole. Mid-way through this process, it stopped for about two minutes, in mid-chew, bone jutting out of the mouth, to take a rest.
The two other crocs repeated this with the leftovers, paying no attention to each other, one even moving between the open jaws of the large one to grab a morsel. No territoriality was shown.
With our appetites whetted with this wonder eating demonstration, Aaron and I had another buffet dinner, and some great conversation covering a whole range of topics including the history of Rock and Roll and the hippie movement until about 10:30pm – time for bed.
Previous Section Next Section Index