At the risk of this appearing to become a travel or holiday blog, I felt the need to relay a story of something that happened during our time on safari in the Masai Mara a couple of years ago. Fear not though, the topic for my next post is already starting to formulate in that cluttered area of my head known as ‘my brain’ and it has almost next to nothing to do with holidays. Ok maybe a bit but not much and only as a by the way.
Now I must warn you that I fancy myself as a bit of a raconteur, or as some people say about me, “a gobby old fart that likes to rabbit”. So I would suggest you go and make yourself a cup of tea and make yourself comfy before going any further. I will wander off topic, beat about the bush and use far too many words before I actually get to the point.
Ready? Good, then I will begin:
You can, if you really want to, take a walking safari. After all, ‘safari’ in Swahili means ‘journey’. However, the vast majority of safaris in East Africa are undertaken in a vehicle. The majority of those vehicles are either Toyota or Nissan mini buses or converted Toyota Land Cruisers or Land Rovers known as ‘Bakkies”. They look like this:
Now when PIL and I first went on safari for our honeymoon (and before we actually got married) back in 1992 we travelled across the Tsavo National Parks in a mini bus and it was ideal. We were with four other tourists, Paul and Mary a young couple that were to become the witnesses for our wedding in Fort Jesus and an older couple that we four youngsters referred to as Daktari because he wore the full blown safari outfit and his new wife we called the Black Widow because Daktari was her fourth husband, the other three having died! Our driver/guide was a bloke called Gerald and the lenses in his spectacles were about half an inch thick. They looked like a couple of beer bottle bottoms in a wire frame but my goodness that man could spot wildlife like a leopard lounging in a tree half a mile away! Anyway, the mini bus was ideal for purpose with plenty of seats and room for us all, holes in the roof so we could take photos from there as well as out of the windows and while it bounced about a bit (actually it bounced about a lot) it was spot on for our purposes. What must be remembered though was that apart from the holes in the roof, it was a pretty bog standard mini bus – front wheel drive, no up rated suspension and a run of the mill manual gearbox. Now in the Tsavo parks of which there are two – East and West. Tsavo East is about 13,700 square kilometres and Tsavo West is about 9,000, there are a multitude of bumpy tracks running through the bush. The A109 road and a railway divide the two and the park is named after the Tsavo River which runs through it. Despite the river and Mzima Springs, the national park is a semi arid area formerly known as the Taru Desert and has, in recent years, suffered from terrible droughts. We were there in February and day time temperatures were over 35C so our days there were hot, bumpy and very dusty. Mzima Springs is a magical place, wonderfully peaceful with just birdsong and hippos snuffling and the sound of water rushing over rocks. There is a structure there where you can go below the surface and watch the hippos swimming about. There’s a lot of hippos there and a shit load of crocodiles too! Horrible beasties that would eat you given half a chance. It was also the place where we ran into some of the most inconsiderate tourists ever. A bunch of Italians rocked up pretending to be Tarzan or Howler monkeys. The fact that Howler monkeys live in South America escaped their small minds. Their arrival cued the disappearance of the many types of birds there, the hippos disappeared and my faith in God disappeared when he refused to listen to my prayers that the crocs scoffed the noisy tourists. Anyhoo, the mini bus we were in and in which a great many other tourists were travelling about in were more than adequate.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’re in Kenya again on safari with the three grown up kids in tow. This time however, we’re in the Masai Mara to see the Great Migration where millions of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and sundry other ruminates follow the rains to find fresh grazing to eat and to be prey for an assortment of meat eating predators such as lions, leopards, cheetah, wild dogs, hyenas, crocodiles and other sharp toothed carnivores. We stayed at Sala’s Camp on the Sand River close to the border with Tanzania. This time our mode of transport was a Toyota Bakkie and what a piece of kit it was. 4 Wheel Drive, low transfer gear box, beefed up suspension with miles of travel, plenty of space for the five of us plus Moses the driver and Robert the spotter. And it had a table and chairs and an entire kitchen with all the pots and pans, burners, cutlery and food needed to supply breakfast and lunch out on the plains. Idyllic just doesn’t cover it adequately. It was just beautiful. Our own little heaven on earth. This is our Bakkie when we stopped for breakfast early one morning.
We had already seen lions, elephants and giraffe along with buffalo,
zebra and wildebeest. We would see much more during the day:
It was while we were here that we came across the new kids on the block as far as loud, irritating tourists were concerned – the Chinese. There is nothing wrong with the Chinese per se but as tourists they are bloody awful. It seems that they turn up in their hundreds, almost as if several 747 Jumbo jets land at Nairobi airport from China, they all pile into dozens of mini buses and fuck off on safari! And every one of them has a selfie stick. I know where I would like to put them! And they don’t stop talking. You would happily be looking at a leopard chewing on a gazelle in a tree
when you would hear a murmuring in the distance that gets increasingly louder and suddenly, over the brow of a nearby hill, 30 mini buses full of Chinese tourists all nattering away to each other and waving their bloody selfie sticks would appear. They would cajole their driver to get closer and closer until a) you can’t see anything and b) the leopard thinks “Fuck this, I’m off” and clears off somewhere quieter.
Whereupon the Chinese all bugger off to ruin the peace and quiet of someone else’s safari.
We covered a great many miles in our bakkie. We crossed rivers and streams, bumped over bumps, cleared new paths through long grass, drove through thick gooey mud and only got stuck once. Moses engaged the low ratios and off we went again. Much wetter in the Mara than it is in Tsavo so we were glad to be travelling in a vehicle suited to the conditions.
A few days into our safari we came across a couple of lionesses with some young cubs. This is them:
They were on little islands of dry ground surrounded by boggy ground. Moses got as close as he dared without getting stuck as even 4x4s can get stuck. As ever, as we took photos and enjoyed the sight of the cubs playing, a murmuring was heard in the distance and all of a sudden, a shed load of Toyota mini buses filled with chattering Chinese waving their selfie sticks about appeared and promptly started to surround the area where the lions were. One, possibly pressured by his clients, ventured closer than he should of and as you’d expect, got stuck. No amount of wheel spinning was going to get it out. The Chinese in the other mini buses took their photos and, waving their selfie sticks in the air, fucked off somewhere else. We drove away in the opposite direction.
A couple of hours later we passed by the little islands in the swamp and that minibus with its occupants was still there, still spinning its wheels and the lionesses were prowling around. We drove on towards Salas Camp, our evening meal and a few gin and tonics
and as we disappeared over the horizon, Robert called out to Moses;
“They’re still there.”
“Hmmmm”, said Moses and, as we bumped along the track in our bakkie at 15kph in 2nd gear, Moses turned to us and said;
“Looks like the lions are having Chinese for dinner tonight.”
Have a tremendous day wherever you are.
More Dick soon.