circle of life

Written on the road (literally) while traveling from one city/town/forest/mountain to another.

Jambo from kenya…

Day 1. Nairobi is a slow and calm city. The weather for most of the day was cool and breezy, like early fall in new york. Our first day was wrought with delays – the flight was late by 2 hrs, our driver showed up late, checkin took ages, we got stuck in traffic everywhere and almost missed the sheldrick (which closes at 12). But by hook or by crook, we made it to all the places we wanted and we did so despite cold clammy rains that chose to precipitate in the afternoon. The rains were somewhat of a blessing in fact because the sellers of beaded paraphernalia were eager to get rid of their wares and so haggling was easy. Dinner was at abyssinia – a seemingly modest ethiopian restaurant nestled in the Westlands on its own property – and it was spectacular. Copious amounts of soft rolls of injera complemented by spiced shiro silse, lentils (missir k’ey), kale and spinach (gomen kitfo), homemade cheese (zimamojat), eggs in tomato sauce (Enkulal we’t) and more. Each dish bursting in flavour, flavour that the ernest wait staff was eager for us to understand and appreciate with our bare hands, which, needless to say we were no stranger to. Our waiter also joked that the spicy shiro silse (a wet shiro – powdered chickpeas cooked with tomatoes, onions and peri peri chili) was consumed by them regularly because it prevented malaria. I somehow have no trouble believing that, mosquitoes may not appreciate the complex sauce as I do.
We were served much more food than we could have eaten and he was so keen to wrap everything up to go, too bad that we were unable to.

Day 2 and 3 – Amboseli and Mount Kilimanjaro
We are in the car heading to Amboseli and still raving about our fantastic dinner.

Amboseli is not your average safari. Nosiree. Flanked front and centre by “papa” snowcapped Kilimanjaro and “mama” Mawengi, the vast plains of Amboseli national park are home to teeming herds of rather plump zebra, Thomson’s gazelle (tomes) and Grant’s too, galloping wildebeest and the formidable, graceful African elephant. The sparseness of trees is baffling here but it allows for unobstructed vistas that will remain in memory for years. The sun rising, the clouds unveiling the Kilimanjaro, and the elephants grazing at the foot of the mountain… or giraffe walking gracefully in single file…It’s not exactly something you see everyday and its not something any camera, no matter the calibre, can do justice to. And I am so not a lets-watch-the-sunrise-person.

We see impala, gazelle, water buffalo, giraffe, ostrich and several species of tall birds and two sleeping lionesses (or young lions, I can’t tell). The calm elegance of the long strides of the giraffe is nothing short of poetry in motion. My videos are as if they move in slo-mo.
Bird sightings have been immensely successful and the family’s keen knowledge of ornithology has led to very rare sightings like the massive kori bustard and the fantastic and strange secretary bird.

The evening game drive of our second day has proved to be way better than we expected. 2 lionesses parked on a solitary path one of which took a piss right before my eyes (there is room for humour in the strangest places), a dozen giraffes together, 8 zebra ponies playing catch with each other and racing parallel to the van and a young male tusker who wanted to play with us, then flapped his ears, did a playful jig, trumpeted and ran away. Yeap. Way better than expected.

Day 4 – mt kenya

Good morning africa. It’s an early start today as we head to Mt. Kenya. The road from the park upto namanga is absolutely horrible, bumpy gravel makes for an uncomfortable ride. It’s sunny today but Kilimanjaro remains hidden from view. This is one thing they don’t tell you – that mama and papa are rarely ever visible from behind the thick veil of clouds. Nonetheless I was able to capture a rare postcard-worthy photo of scores of zebra grazing against the backdrop of Kilimanjaro. It is however on a point and shoot, so do bear with.

The journey to mt kenya was harrowing, traffic jams galore in nairobi and a 60kmph speed governor on our new and very well equipped safari vehicle dampened our speed and our spirits as we finally reached the glamourous mount kenya safari club only at 430. Most of the day was gone. We had to substitute lunch with high tea which was actually not a bad trade. Scones with cream and marmalade, cakes and sandwiches in “zebar” (a clever and quite literal play on zebra as zebra print was all over) facing the mountain with peacocks and marabou storks mere feet away. This place is heaven and decidedly decadent one at that. Booboo and I rent bikes and pedal around the scenic club with its ponds, stables and cottages. Dinner is sumptuous too and I taste for the first time a “tree tomato” – an even tangier, more sour cousin of the tomato (if indeed that were possible). Too bad we are only staying the one night (it’s cold and our beds are warmed with hot water bags, very luxe).

Day 5 – Lake Nakuru
On the road now, I watch the flamboyant secretary bird taxi with its massive legs and take off like airplane – this is not your average bird flight. Sights like this, you can’t capture on video for they happen too quickly. Elephants trumpeting at you or a herd of gazelle 10 feet away from you getting frightened without reason and bounding away, jumping 3 feet in the air one after the other like ballet dancers so graceful that I can’t put it too well in words.

This morning we also crossed the equator, more than once. The safari club was set on the equator itself and the road to nakuru also crosses hemispheres. We had the cutest demo from a “professor” (who was also very cute, he said converge like KHON-verge) on how magnetic fields cause water currents to spin in different directions in the 2 hemispheres – clockwise in northern, counter clockwise in southern and none at all at the equator. So this year I’ve crossed hemispheres, been on the brazil argentina border and the kenya tanzania border. Not bad all !

The rift valley is decidedly picturesque, breezy and green – tall mountains, green plantations and fresh mountain air. The fruits here taste sweet and juicy – apple mangoes, avocados, passion fruit and the strange tree tomatoes.

Lake nakuru is massive and filled with teeming flocks of flamingoes, pelicans, several other waterfront birds, tree birds and rhinoes among the other usual grazing lot and carnivores. It is not unusual to see 2-300,000 flamingoes in one go but the tricky bit is they don’t stand as close to the waterfront as the happy pelicans do. They all seem pretty oblivious to humans. Rhinoes are few, we saw five of them, all white, none black and this bummed me out a little. The rich variety of bird life is present but so hard to spot from a safari vehicle that I wonder if I can return one day to channel Dr. Salim Ali, set up one of those little camouflage coops and sit inside armed with a 2 foot long zoom lens and a notebook so I can mark off all 300+ (or is it 500) bird species. There are quite literally hundreds, thousands of ferocious looking waterbuffalo feeding on the lush green rain-soaked grass here. They too are unafraid of humans and remain close to the paths as do the cute baboons, speaking of which the baboon cliff offers a beautiful viewpoint (which would have been ten thousand times better had it not rained). For the same reason the birds refused to stay in one place. Nonetheless the sight of little families of pelicans swimming in groups dotting the entire lake like polka dots on my sweater is a cute one.

Day 6 and 7 – The Masai Mara
We had an early start – 630 am – for the very long journey. The mara set expectations very high because no sooner had we entered the park territory than we saw 3.5 cheetahs (a pregnant mom with 2 cubs), another cheetah, 4 lions, hartebeest and the rarely-seen elusive eland. This led us to believe that seeing big cats and rare beings was almost too easy and this is why were disappointed. Our actual game drives were disappointing and we didn’t really see much – the mara conservancy where we were staying had not the profusion of wildlife we expected and we were once more upset that we hadn’t gotten our original hotel of choice. So dad paid the driver extra to take us on an midmorning – afternoon game drive outside the conservancy and here we did get lucky in that we saw the blackbacked jackal and 7 lions (mostly lionesses and young unmaned males but with one sleepy maned male).

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama

We did not see the leopard nor the black rhino so no, we did not see the so-called big five. Maybe we shouldn’t get comparitive nor get upset about the stories other people tell about how they saw leopards attacking gazelle and what not. Mistaken identities also abound – cheetahs are mistaken for leopards, mongoose for meerkats and white rhinos for black and spotted hyenas for striped (some of which don’t, in fact, inhabit the mara). I later realized that in some way we had “won” with sheer variety of species that we’d spotted. Being a family full of zoology and ornithology nerds helps.

We are on our way back to nairobi now and hoping to reach well ahead of our return flight as to fit in another ethiopian lunch and some last minute shopping.

We did fit lunch in and it was amazing. What was not so amazing was on our bumpy journey back to Narok, the windows of our van fell off (on both sides); it made for a few laughs regardless. Notice our new ghetto glass made of tape and cellophane?

Asante sana kenya for the wonderful memories!

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One thought on “circle of life

  1. Wow…it seems like you had an amazing trip! I can't believe you saw all those animals – man, that would have been something else to see them that close…!Can't wait to see more pics :D(and welcome home to HK :P)

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