Postcards from Kenya (2011) - Chapter 5 by Hilary Hann

MOVING ON

 

A certain sadness sweeps over me as I look out of the windows towards the Nyumbeni Hills. A meandering stream runs gently through the ravine below our banda, edged with green grass and stately fever trees. On the far slope of the valley zebras graze whilst a giraffe enjoys the shade of an acacia.

Meru National Park lies beyond the Nyumbeni Hills where the clouds are building and I am reminded of its raw beauty as I sit in luxury at my new lodge, Wilderness Trails, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

I am surrounded by pleasant things, wonderful scenery, fantastic game, peace and tranquility but find I have a hankering for the peculiar state of adventure and discovery which we shared at Meru. 

A sharpening breeze rattles the glass, but it is calm inside and I begin to prepare to head out again.

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Postcards from Kenya (2011) - Chapter 4 by Hilary Hann

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL

A heat haze shimmers around the Murera Gate entrance to Meru National Park. An agama lizard lifts its feet from the searing road, head bobbing up and down in seeming agitation. The KWS officer processes our ticket purchases with the slow motion of someone who is used to working in the heat. After the coolness of The Aberdares and the Meru highlands, this parched ground is confronting. At last we move through the gates, which are unadorned by any metallic animal as if this park, once the star of the Kenyan parks, no longer warrants special attention.

Hot and hungry we head to the Murera Banda’s picnic grounds. Walking down to the river we move under palms and other moisture loving plants and it feels as if we have moved into another world. A large baboon coughs the terrible cough of the doomed and we all wonder about his ill health. He hobbles past, not even eyeing off our lunch, intent only on keeping up with his troop. The blessed relief of the cool shadows washes over us all and we sit around a sunken bar area, enjoying the respite.

The interlude is short lived and we continue our journey along dusty red roads. There is a vastness here, not just because of the size of the park but also because of the isolation and lack of visitors.

The reticulated giraffe peers down at us, the fine net of white drifting over it with definition and style. The long, dark tongue grasps at the acacia, stripping the feathery leaves from between the thorns. In the background, other giraffe tend to their trees with just as much attention, paying us no heed at all.

Skittish eland move to a safer distance as we pass and Grant’s Gazelle give only a fleeting glance at us before leaping to safety.

Our arrival at the bandas is unheralded and in the afternoon heat, the dusty, rocky site lacks any attraction. A small swimming pool offers a chance of relief for those who enjoy such things (or who have brought bathers). The caretaker tells us that “no, there are no cooking utensils available” and despite the office having checked up on this we find ourselves without the means to cook. Also, there are no beds available for Ken and Amos, even though the bandas have no other guests. Haimba, the caretaker, lends us some basic utensils which Amos uses to cook amazing meals in the outdoor, primitive kitchen. In return we feed Haimba. I help Ken put up the tents he had fortunately thrown in at the last minute so he and Amos have somewhere to sleep and after a cooling shower, all becomes calm.

Eating dinner under the verandah in the African night, we marvel at the clarity and vibrance of the stars, undimmed as they are by any manmade lights. The vervets and baboons are safely settled in their trees and a cooler breeze improves our comfort.

As I write by the light of my headlamp, a tiny flying insect lands on my paper. It has a body barely 2mm long with airy wings reaching out like an old jet fighter. Most extraordinary is the tail which is like a fine hair and is 3 times the length of the insect’s body. I gently blow on it, so my moving hand doesn’t squash it and it hangs on tenaciously. Finally it moves away and I wonder what it is.

We drive along lonely, dusty roads and I try to wrap myself in the sounds, smells and sensations of the park. The heat from the sun; the breeze through the window; the smell of the bushes as kudu brush through; the way the spider webs reflect light and shimmer through the trees and on the ground; the elusive scent of animals which drift past you, teasing you with the hint of their passing. All this I attempt to trap in the blanket of my memories, to open and re-discover in another time. 

The light in the kerosene lamp is dying down. Soon our time here will be over. The skies over Meru will shine again, but not on us. The animals will multiply in renewed safety, but remain unseen by us. The cool evening breezes will embrace other visitors, but not us. Our African time here has gone all too quickly and we leave the wilderness to other intrepid visitors with gratitude and sadness.

 Meru National Park takes you back to a time where pterodactyls fly and dinosaurs roam

Meru National Park takes you back to a time where pterodactyls fly and dinosaurs roam

 Dwarfed

Dwarfed

Postcards from Kenya (2011) - Chapter 3 by Hilary Hann

MOUNT KENYA WELCOMES US FROM AFAR

The crack of thunder sounds again, silencing the sounds of children walking home from school. A light drizzle turns into steady rain and slowly rivulets of dirty brown water form on the dusty road. We have our first sighting of a black rhino since leaving Nairobi, but its metallic gleam betrays its factory origins.

Our Nissan Patrol is heavy with supplies including eggs from Mweiga which were added to the supplies purchased in Nakuru. Enough to last our stay? Amos will have to cook in the rain but perhaps there will be some shelter. Fanwel was wise not to come on this road trip.

Drought is once again in the news with relief supply trucks passing us at regular intervals on their way North. One can’t begrudge the country some rain so we move through the Treetops gate with good cheer even if slightly daunted.

We wind down the final rutted track to find the Tusk Bandas sitting in a clearance with beautiful views towards Mt Kenya. It is after 5pm and weary with travel we go in search of the caretaker. The place is empty, locked up and desolate. The equatorial twilight will come and go in a short time. Luckily, we have mobile coverage as long as we stand on one patch of worn down grass.

Phone calls to the safari company’s base, contact with KWS headquarters and still we wait. The bushes are alive with birds and streaks of blue sky appear in the clouds. As the light diminishes further the noises in the bush become more ominous and we sit perched on benches on the verandah trying to look composed and calm.

We are, after all, on African time.

IN THE END, ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE ADVENTURE

The light disappears quickly on the Equator and as Mt Kenya fades into the twilight zone we hear distant voices coming up through the thick forest.  I try not to imagine poachers and bandits as the voices become louder and louder when finally out of the bushes come a man and woman carrying supplies.  They are profuse in their apologies, and the caretaker explains that a Kenya Wildlife Service vehicles was supposed to bring them to camp with their supplies but didn’t turn up so in desperation they walked.  All I can think of is how brave they are, walking through dense undergrowth where the danger from buffalo is very real, just so we aren’t left stuck in the dark on our own.

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Postcards from Kenya (2011) - Chapter 2 by Hilary Hann

ON AFRICAN TIME

The morning sun burns through the glass windows as we sit patiently outside Tuskys Supermarket on Kenyatta Avenue, Nakuru.

Patience is the key as we wait for our chef Fanwel to purchase some grocery items for our journey to our self catering bandas in The Aberdares and Meru. A steady hum of conversation surrounds us as the busy inhabitants of Nakuru jostle and bustle about their business. We are intrigued by the elaborate hairstyles of the women and fascinated by a pair of shiny red shoes which wander past. A car siren sounds but no one rushes to attend. Young girls in their school uniforms wander past and one young man crosses the road dressed in school blazer, jumper and crisply ironed grey pants. We wonder how he manages in the heat as the sun rises further.

A man walks past with a large panel of fibre board balanced on his head, another juggles many coloured buckets whilst a young woman walks using rubber thongs on her hands as her legs appear unusable.

The open door to the supermarket lockers carries on a brisker trade than the boy selling maps. The map he tries to sell us today is the same one he tried to sell my sister two days ago. In contrast, many lockers are filled with small bags of shopping and shoppers come and go keeping the attendant busy.

The yellow jackets of the parking attendants are all around but their users seem unable to cope with the traffic and wayward parking habits of the busy locals.

Occasionally, we battle with a man wearing eleven hats, carrying armloads of ties who tries to persuade us that we need yet another souvenir.

A young girl leans against a doorway, her braided hair frames a happy face and we smile gently at each other.

A doorman in a smart red hat and jacket sits by the doors of the Avenue Suites and Hotel but no one comes or goes.

A surly young man with no hope in his eyes yells at us “NO PICTURES, NO TAKE MY PICTURE” and I wonder what it would take to turn around lives like that.

Yes, Nakuru is a busy town but we are ready to move on, but African time means African patience and I slowly let the sounds, smells and sights of this thriving place consume me.

We wait for Fanwel until a man appears at our door carrying groceries. Now we know why Fanwel’s taking so long, Fanwel isn’t coming.

Postcards From Kenya (2011) - Chapter 1 by Hilary Hann

BEGINNINGS

 

Walk gently through my dreams, lest my expectations make you fearful. 

And if thoughts of golden dawns and ancient lands make you tremble, leave me to my dreams. 

But if you hear the distant drums pounding in your heart, walk beside me in joyful anticipation.

… … …

 

What follows are snippets of stories from my travels during January 2011, accompanied by my sister and her handmade Scottish bear.  For my sister, it was her return to Kenya after 40 years away and was, therefore, a trip filled with meaning and nostalgia.

Unlike most of my safaris, we were travelling to quite a few places using a 4x4 vehicle, a driver/guide and for the self catering parts of it, accompanied by a cook.  

Memories flooded us as we moved from the Rift Valley to the Aberdares, to the Laikipia Plateau and beyond. The highlight for me being a return to Meru National Park, an area I hadn’t seen since camping there as a child in the 1960s. 

“Everything changes but the scent of a place not forgotten stays the same.” 

 The three sentinels … Masai Mara National Reserve 2011

The three sentinels … Masai Mara National Reserve 2011

PARK WARS

 

The gates of Lake Nakuru National Park loom up before us. Driving down the neat avenue from Nakuru we find the wide grass verges and tall trees quite appealing, especially after the dusty, noisy, bustling township. Many local residents obviously agree, and the shade under the trees is occupied with resting workers taking a break from hectic lives. It is really quite warm.

 

Choosing Lake Nakuru to begin our safari was really designed to give us a short drive and some good birding opportunities but it has never been my favourite place because of the crowds so as we approach the entrance I have mixed feelings.

 

Ken (our driver/guide from Sunworld who guided my family in 2005) hops out of our 4x4 to deal with entry requirements and we wait feeling relaxed and happy. The KWS ranger comes out and looks at our windshield, earnest discussions are taking place and we look at each other doubtfully, wondering why the delays. Back and forth they go, gesticulations, phone calls, more discussions and still we wait in ignorance. Finally, Ken gets back into the vehicle, shrugs his shoulders and sighs. "War" has broken out between the KWS & TANAPA and we are caught fair and square in the middle.

 

Apparently the Tanzanians have prohibited entry of any Kenyan registered vehicles into their parks and consequently the Kenyans have responded in kind. As of yesterday (or maybe even today, it isn't quite clear) no foreign registered vehicles will be permitted entry. I look blankly at Ken, we are using a Kenyan company right? Kenyan vehicles right? Ken begins the explanation which sounds logical, I suppose (why does Africa have to be so complicated?). Sunworld has an associated business arm in Tanzania and we have begun our journey in one of their newest vehicles which happens to be one of their Tanzanian registered Nissan Patrols. Ouch! Wrong answer for us. We are sitting on the wrong side of the fence, albeit in a great deal of comfort … fridge keeping our water and Tuskers cold, proper power points with inverter to keep batteries topped up … everything except for the right coloured number plates and registration disks.

 

Fortunately, Sunworld have about 40 vehicles and Ken spends some time speaking to the office in Nairobi. We wander into the nearby cafe to stretch our legs. We sit in the shade surrounded by vervets, contemplating our situation. Neither of us too perturbed, we are, after all in Africa and the hot equatorial sun is beating down making us feel somnolent. We know that it will be resolved, things always seem to sort themselves out here, one way or another. In the meantime, Ken can be seen still on the phone re-arranging our lives. As we return to the Patrol, he tells us that a new vehicle is heading out towards us and in the meantime we will drive up to the nearby Flamingo Hill Lodge and borrow one of theirs so that we can enter the park.

 

More waiting (this is the national past time, after all) at the Flamingo Hill car park as our new vehicle is cleaned. I see a slightly worn, yellow 4x4 approaching … could this be it? Oh yes, this is it and I try not to laugh. We climb in with our cameras, leaving our suitcases for the Sunworld driver to transfer to the new 4x4 he is bringing from Nairobi. The vehicle smells rather nasty, the windows sort of work and the engine decides to start on the 3rd try. Interesting.

 

It’s a relief when we all make the executive decision to cut the game drive a little short so that we can check in at the lodge. Relief from the overpowering assault on our olfactory senses. 

 

I wonder how Sunworld have managed the rest of their safaris. Ken mentioned one 4x4 was almost at Tsavo when we rang in with the new rules. Sunworld have sent out exchange vehicles across the country. This decision by the authorities would appear to have caught many people by surprise and just how many have been inconvenienced we will never know.

 

Fortunately for us, our Kenyan vehicle arrives before we have to spend too much time in the yellow peril and we can say a hearty farewell to it.

 

We settle down for the night knowing that we’ve overcome two unexpected hurdles already and thinking that this should be the end of it we look forward to our safari commencing in earnest. 

 

I mean, what else could possibly go wrong?

 The flamingoes have left Lake Nakuru since the floods but in 2011 there were plenty

The flamingoes have left Lake Nakuru since the floods but in 2011 there were plenty

 Pelicans enjoying the early morning sun

Pelicans enjoying the early morning sun

 An unexpected surprise to find a handsome lion resting somewhat uncomfortably in the yellow fever tree forest

An unexpected surprise to find a handsome lion resting somewhat uncomfortably in the yellow fever tree forest

 White rhino viewing at Lake Nakuru was superb

White rhino viewing at Lake Nakuru was superb