Thursday, October 28, 2010

Out of Africa

Here’s a blog post from my eldest daughter Nikki, who just returned from an amazing trip to Africa.

My journey to Kenya was an astonishing experience! I arrived and was transported to the domestic airport by a driver who did not know where it was. I spent an hour traveling between terminals, asked a random guy from the street to direct us. Eventually returned to the terminal we tried first to find a pilot looking for us after writing my name on a scrap of paper. It was time to board, with luggage.

A forty minute flight on a tiny plane and myself and seven others were deposited in the middle of nowhere and obviously there was no one to meet us. The arrival of the plane prompted a few lone Masai to appear from nowhere offering us beads and bracelets, carrying their stock around their necks. The pilot stayed with us in case of lion attack, of course!

Eventually two vehicles arrived and our journey to our first camp began. We immediately saw zebra, giraffe and ostrich and the excitement began to bubble. Our first camp consisted of tents, shared or individual with a tiny bed and solar lamp. A basin of river water (browner than brown) warmed by the sun was provided to freshen up and each tent had its own toilet tent, a hole dug in the ground with a makeshift seat on which to balance and a stick to shovel soil on top afterwards. We had bucket showers of (yes, you guessed it), sun warmed river water and sat round a camp fire in the evening. The camp had staff and grooms for horses. They cooked, set the table made afternoon tea, cleaned your boots, polished your chaps, put hot water bottles in your bed a night dug out your loo, washed your clothes (no thanks) and brought you coffee at 6.00am. All very ex pat.

We broke camp every 2 to 3 days and the vehicles would go ahead and set up the new camp.

We had tiny but fit Somali ponies, I trusted my little man “LoDieger” (catchy name) and we rode for 50kms a day, jumping and galloping over obstacles in the blistering heat. We encountered herds of wildebeest and herded groups of galloping zebra, we rode quietly through herds of gently grazing giraffe and in leopard gorge played hide and seek with a large family of hyena.

On day 2 we rode at dusk to lion rock. We had encountered bush buck, wildebeest and giraffe on the way. We were all chatting happily when our guide hushed us “sshhh we are being stalked by a lion right now” he pointed and there she was, the lioness, crouched low at the base of lion rock, only a few metres away, her cubs hidden above, dusk being the time that predators hunt. The atmosphere was electric, you could have heard a pin drop. Our guide asked us to group together as close to each other as we could, so no one could be picked out. We all had to stay perfectly still as movement stimulates the chase.

Our leader approached the lioness carrying a bull whip as his weapon (!!??) and a stand off commenced. She seemed so huge, her eyes so cold, her presence so calculating. I felt very small and insignificant just one mouthful when face to face with this ferocious hunter! Time ticked on she circled behind us and our leader kept advancing towards her, gaining ground, our back up rider became agitated as the lion passed behind our group. At this moment I looked down and somehow on the ground in the middle of this vast wilderness was a single tattered shoe! Aagghhh!!! After what seemed like an eternity the lioness retreated and took cover. It took me some time to find my voice after that. What an experience!!!

Game drives were also offered where we would go out at night with “Netty” our Masai spotter to kills we had found earlier and watch the lions feeding in the vehicle spotlight. Driving across the vast plains at night where all the herd animals huddled for safety watching aardwolves, zorillas, springhares and mongoose scurry along in our lights, some of these animal species I have seen only in pictures.

We traveled to the heart of the great migration and were in the presence of over half a million animals we watched both zebra and wildebeest make a river crossing where hundreds swarm across and many do not make it, becoming overwhelmed and unable to climb up the bank, falling in their droves back into the water where the crocodiles roll and snap and the lions pick them off and suffocate them as they emerge, the water awash with floating corpses.

We were inches away from cheetah kill where three brothers took down an impala, opened it up and devoured the innards like they were sucking spaghetti. Powerful stuff.

The horses were terrified by elephants and we were chased by huge trumpeting flapping beasts every time we approached, galloping after our back up rider for the escape route as our lead rider stood between us and them.

At night the lions roared and the hippos sounded so close I was convinced I would open the tent and come eye to big pink eye with one of these lumbering giants. The horses were tethered at night on a long line and guarded from the lions by local Masai warriors with spears and bows and arrows (!!). If I emerged from tent at night the comforting glow of my oil lamp would reveal conversations, all was protected, safe and at peace.

It was astonishing, terrifying, incredible, electrifying, breathtaking and I loved every single second of it. I am buoyed up with happiness, floating as if I’ve got balloons inside.