Tag Archives: lions

Horses for Courses.

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:

A safari minibus
(and a lion)

A bakkie.
(and a lion)

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.

Our Bakkie

Breakfast on the Mara with our bakkie kitted out with all the necessities

Moses and Robert prepare breakfast

Greg and I at peace with the world.

Our bakkie. A superb piece of kit.

Ed, Greg and Robert looking out for wildlife from the top of our bakkie

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.

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The Mara

We have returned from our holiday in Kenya. We went to see The Great Migration where 2 million (or thereabouts) wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, 400,000 Thomson gazelle and 12,000 eland cross from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. It all takes place in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which covers some 40,000 square kilometres. In reality, the migration is a never ending movement of herbivores in search of fresh pastures and fresh grass caused by the rains.

PIL and I have been to Kenya before. In fact, we got married there in 1992. Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Prior to the wedding though, we went on our honeymoon which was a safari in the Tsavo National Parks further to the East of Kenya. We did have a tendency to do things back to front! We always said we would go back and after much planning and saving of pennies, we did! The kids came too. We flew Emirates to Dubai on an Airbus A380. After a short stopover, we flew on an Emirates Boeing 777 to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. We stayed the night in an hotel next to the Nairobi national park. The following morning we went to Wilson Airfield on the outskirts of Nairobi and took an even smaller plane to an airstrip in the Maasai Mara.

Our luggage allowance was 15 kilos and hand luggage was 7 kilos. With the exception of one bag of 15 kilos which went in the hold, all of us carried hand luggage. Oh, plus PILs hand bag which weighed 19 tons. Fortunately, all of the places we stayed at offered a laundry service so it was possible to live with limited amounts of clothes. We couldn’t take hair dryers, hair straighteners or similar items as some of the places we stayed at were quite literally in the middle of nowhere and the generators couldn’t cope with the extra loads imposed by such items. Didn’t bother me because I’m bald and I don’t think anyone else was particularly concerned.

We arrived at Keekorok Airstrip.

We were met by Moses and Robert who were to be our driver/guide and spotter and taken to our safari base – Sala’s Camp on the banks of the Sand River and a few hundred metres from the Tanzanian border and just a few metres from one of the crossings used by the migrating wildebeest.

 

What a camp! It was just so staggeringly beautiful. We were staying in tents but what tents. Solid wood floors, windows, doors, bathrooms, a deck, a small pool and a view to die for.

There was a total of 7 tents and we had two of them. The girls stayed in one as us chaps needed our sleep and didn’t really wanted to be disturbed by the girls snoring, farting and belching in their sleep. There was also a “Mess tent” where we had our meals. The service and meals we had were first class and our thanks go out to Elliott and JayD, the managers, who ensured that everything was just spot on. George, Richard and Isaac took great care of us and quickly established what we preferred to drink when the sun went down (and sometimes, before).

 

 

During the night Askari guards patrolled around with their spears to keep the wildlife from coming into the tents. This was genuine bush country and during the night we heard hippos in the river which was 10 metres away from our tents. Lions, hyenas and elephants prowled the footpaths around the camp, again just a few metres from where we were sleeping.

Then, before the sun came up, we went on safari.

I am not going to go into detail here, I’ll let the photographs tell that particular story but Moses, our driver/guide (who is one of the nicest blokes I’ve met – mad as a box of frogs but by God he knew his business) and Robert, our spotter (who was a complete contrast to Moses but got on really well with Ed and Greg and called out different animals constantly) took us to some brilliant places and we saw masses of animals.

Moses took us within a couple of FEET of lions, cheetahs and leopard. Within a couple of metres of elephant, zebra and wildebeest. We kept well away from hippos and buffalo – they are bloody dangerous! We saw them all with the exception of Rhino and we witnessed (due in part to Moses’ skill) the horror, confusion and rapidity of 2 lionesses taking down and killing 2 wildebeest simultaneously about 30 metres apart.

We, with the exception of PIL who is not terribly fond of heights, went on a balloon safari which meant getting up at 0430 in the morning and travelling across the Mara in the pitch black so that advantage could be taken of the thermals at dawn.

We had breakfast in the middle of the Mara and it was sublime.

We visited a Maasai village and the boys joined in with the Maasai men for a dance and were taught how to start a fire while the girls joined in with the singing and dancing with the women.

Eventually and far to soon, it was time to go.

We hadn’t seen the massed herds crossing the Sand river nor had we seen the millions of grazing animals. Unfortunately, natural events don’t work to a strict timetable and the herds stayed in the Serengeti in Tanzania. There were a number of reasons given for this. The Tanzanians said that late rains had provided grazing for the herds who therefore didn’t need to move in search of fresh grass. However, the Kenyans had the hump with the Tanzanians who they claimed had deliberately set grass fires between the herds and the border.

Take your pick as to the reason. I do think that we possibly invaded Tanzania on a couple of occasions though! I guess we all felt slightly disappointed but we had all had an absolutely fantastic time. We had seen a gradual increase in the number of wildebeest, zebra, “Tommies” and topi but not the millions we had hoped for. We had seen numerous elephants, giraffe, warthogs (pumbas), lions, cheetahs and a leopard. We would have preferred to stay but no doubt we will return. Kenya has that effect.

Please be aware that some of the photographs that follow are pretty gruesome but demonstrate (I think) both the beauty and the brutality of the Mara. The first group tell a story all of their own. The previous day while PIL and Moses were driving to meet us at the balloon pick up, they came across a lion feasting on a wildebeest. It was probably 500 metres from Sala’s Camp. The following evening, we were returning from the afternoon safari when Moses decided to check out the kill site. We found 2 lionesses with 3 cubs. They were chilled and relaxed. We stayed awhile and then went to check on a small herd of wildebeest just up the road. Not much occurring there either so we returned to the lions. They were still sprawled out on the track when suddenly the 2 adults became very alert. The cubs moved to a place of safety while the lionesses went off and disappeared into the grass. We knew where they were but they were incredibly difficult to see. Then we saw the reason. A long line of wildebeest, probably a hundred or so, was approaching. When the lionesses attacked, it was devastatingly quick and totally confusing for the wildebeest and us. Cries of “Whoa! Over to the left” and “Whoa! Over to the right” left us swinging from side to side in the truck trying to see, watch and photograph. Very quickly the 2 wildebeest were overcome and we saw two male lions coming down the hillside to claim their part of the kill. We returned the following morning to find all the lions still there and still eating.

The big male lion has a huge hole in the top of his skull, showing that they may be the top predator in the Mara but they don’t always have it their own way. We suspect that he may have tangled with a buffalo.

We returned to Nairobi where we stayed in the very luxurious Giraffe Manor. Within the Manors grounds is a herd of endangered Rothschilds giraffes. Rothchilds have no markings from the knees down and are very distinctive because of this. They also like to join you for breakfast!

While there, we also visited an elephant orphanage. Baby elephants who are orphaned or become separated from their herd are brought here and after being cared for are then taken to another place on the Tsavo parks where they are assimilated with wild herds in the area. So far over 300 young elephants have been successfully returned to the wild. A brilliant achievement in my eyes.

Back at the manor we were joined for high tea by the giraffes.

 

Giraffes have incredibly long tongues and drool a lot!

 

After a couple of days enjoying wonderful food and being kept occupied by the giraffes we went back to the Wilson airfield and left on a small plane to go to the beach and do what we do best on holiday – slob.

We stayed in a beach house on Diani beach. Once again, the accommodation was first class. We even had a butler! The owner, Fabrizio, came each morning and discussed the days menu. Hand made ravioli, gnocchi, lobster, yellow fin tuna, prawns, soups, pizza. All fresh and prepared to perfection. The G&Ts were superb. The wines splendid. We walked along the beach and collected shells, saw pregnant starfish, crabs and fish in the rock pools. Wonderful. We messed about in the pool and we indulged in our favourite holiday pastime of not doing much at all.

All good things come to an end apparently and we flew back to Nairobi, We flew to Dubai for a few hours before continuing our journey home.

Once again we had the time of our life and that is primarily down to PILs planning and organisation ably supported by the staffs of all the places we stayed at and visited.

We were advised to take plenty of photographs and that we did. The main camera used was a Canon EOS 5D MkIV using a Canon EF 28-300mm lens. We took over 1500 photographs with this camera. None of them have been enhanced in any way.

We also took over 500 photographs using the iPhones that PIL, Ed, Greg and CJ had with them. My phone stayed at home.

Would we go again? Absolutely. It will take a few years of saving the pennies again but Kenya and the Mara in particular is a fantastic place. Safari is hard work. If you want to see the animals, you need to be up and out quite literally at the crack of dawn. Get back to camp for lunch and out again mid afternoon until the sun goes down. Then it’s meal time, a few sundowners and early to bed for another early start the next day. The tracks in the Mara are not maintained to any great extent so a game drive involves a great deal of bouncing around. It can be quite cold first thing in the morning despite being almost on the Equator. It’s rainy season now although we didn’t see much rain at all. By midday the temperature has risen to the 30s centigrade from 12 -15 in the early morning.

Now we’re home and the normality returns. I have to mow the lawn and get ready for work tomorrow. Bummer. Time to take up wildlife photography and learn the language of stops, aperture and speed settings. Looking forward to next years holiday already. I wonder where we’ll go.

Have a brilliant day.

More Dick soon.

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Ye Gods. I Have Stretch Marks!

 

Saturday:

Today we visit one of my favourite places: Animal Kingdom.

Rhino

hippo

Gorilla

Added to which is a visit to The Rainforest Cafe for lunch!Rainforest1

I really do like Animal Kingdom. PIL and the kids do too. Travelling around the park in a truck on a pretend safari is great fun. You can get very close to the animals. In fact, this time we were within 10 feet of a rhino, a fantastic experience. There are lions, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, hippos and all kinds of deer and antelope. Once you’ve done that, you can wander around different parts of the park to see other animals. PIL has a particular soft spot for gorillas and once again we were fortunate to get close to a female and its baby albeit behind a glass screen and further on we saw a number of males. In another area we saw tigers, although they were some distance away. It was fantastic and we had a great time. Lunch was booked at the Rainforest Cafe and once again the food was great and the portions stupendous. The skin around my tummy is feeling quite tight now.

After eating far too much again I decided an afternoon nap was in order

After eating far too much again I decided an afternoon nap was in order

We got back to the house tired and still stuffed with food but we managed to jump into the pool for a game of volleyball where I was, once again, berated by Greg for being rubbish.

Sunday:

All these theme parks are bloody exhausting so once again we had a day off. Once again I went for a run although I was joined by Greg this time.

Jesus. Running is hard work!

Jesus. Running is hard work!

I suspect that PIL may have had a word and suggested he volunteer to come with me in case I had a coronary. This time I ran a bit further and walked a bit less although the overall distance was the same. Greg finished as fresh as a daisy while I was a sweaty, dishevelled, breathless mess.

“Come on Dad! It’s all down hill now.”

Fuck off” I thought as speech was impossible.

“Nearly there now Dad. Probably about 300 metres to go.”

Fuck off” I thought again as I was still unable to speak, breath and run at the same time.

“Here we go Dad. Only seven more houses to go.”

My thought processes had ended  round the corner and I was on autopilot so thought nothing at all but I made it back.

We showered and guess what? We went shopping again but before we did, we had a mess around in the pool and spent some time catching some rays. While I was doing my imitation of a beached whale PIL called out to me:

“Er. Can you come here for a moment? Like now!”

So I struggled to an upright position and walked over to the house and there, standing on the arm of a sofa was PIL. On the floor, inside the house was a snake! The kids,hearing us talking, came to join us and immediately leapt onto the sofa with PIL. Now I don’t have a problem with snakes. In fact, as a child I used to keep snakes, lizards, frogs and toads but they were British snakes and we only have one poisonous snake and I know what that looks like. We’re in the United States and there are many venomous snakes here, none of which I recognise. I persuaded Ed and Greg to get off the sofa and get me one of the many shopping bags we had or a shoe box so that I could capture Sid the Snake and chuck him outside where he could slide off and live happily ever after.

Sid the Snake

Sid the Snake

Sid was soon placed in a very posh Michael Kors bag and then put into some shrubs outside where hopefully he met Sandra the Snake, they married, had hundreds of baby snakes and lived happily ever after. Greg has a mate who is into snakes in a big way so we checked with him and Googled snakes. Turned out Sid is a Garter snake and completely harmless.

Sid the Garter snake

Sid the Garter snake

Strict instructions from PIL were issued: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LEAVE THE PATIO DOORS OPEN.

We left and went shopping. Greg is desperate to find a Philadelphia 76ers NBA vest.

Photo courtesy of: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Photo courtesy of: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

None of the sports shops seem to stock it. They stock all the other NBA shirts plus all the college shirts but not the 76ers. Greg says it’s because they’re crap which, in turn, is why he follows them! Odd logic but sound in his mind I’m sure.

We returned home again without a 76ers shirt once again. We had a meal while we were out and had gone to the Publix supermarket to buy more essentials – beer and donuts again. As the rest of the family unloaded the massive vehicle, I went and opened the front door and as I returned to help bring the shopping in, I had an overwhelming desire to indulge in my sister Boos favourite pastime and for no reason whatsoever I fell over! (Actually, I stumbled on the path and went down like a sack of poo). The impact was impressive. While I was down on the deck PIL made an observation:

“You need to cut back on your food intake. You have stretch marks!” (Offering me absolutely no assistance in my efforts to get vertical again.)

“Nonsense.” I replied while desperately trying to regain my feet and look to see if I really do have stretch marks.

“I merely have a stripey tan effect in the region of my stomach caused by an almighty overhang. I could do with a hand here.”

“Whatever. Looks like stretch marks to me you fat bastard. You look like a bloody turtle on its back” (Still offering no assistance.)turtle1

“Charming. I’ll have you know that mountaineers live in fear of that overhang and a great deal of good (and not so good) food and gallons of beer have been consumed to achieve that effect.”turtle

“That’s as maybe but you still have stretch marks. No more donuts for you Sonny Jim.”

By this time I had assumed a more or less upright position and decided to keep quiet. There is no photographic evidence that I can show you as a) it’s far too disgusting and b) it’s far too gloomy down there.

It’s Magic Kingdom tomorrow, so we have an early start and after having a few beers we went to bed after another great and very full day.

Have a great day.

More Dick soon.auto