In the next morning safari, I was shamelessly focused on spotting the big cats. Tom wasn’t enthused, he knew cats are elusive, but out in early morning meant more chances. We hadn’t gone much, when we came across a small herd of elephants and in Africa, you couldn’t help but stop when you come across elephants. There is nothing ‘enough of it’ for elephants. As we looked, a young male started walking towards us. He raised his trunk up in the air to familiarize itself with our scent, walked towards an acacia tree, knocked it down to show his prowess and looked at us with intense gaze. It wasn’t giving any signs of a charge, but his actions, by that time, had scared me. He walked closer and was soon within a meter of distance from us. We literally shared glances, like first time lovers on a valentine’s day. I don’t know if elephants smile, but I would still prefer calling that a smiling gesture: or rather a welcoming one. He raised its trunk again, blew a low trumpet to which Tom responded, he jerked his trunk and flapped his ears and the next moment was running his trunk on my face. No issue that my face was covered with elephant’s mucous (being an ardent hindu, I would take that as a blessing of Lord Ganesha). He moved around the car with his usual gesture, seemingly enjoying our company. It was a too close, too personal moment for me.
The knee high dry grass glistened like burnished gold as first light stretched across the hills. The sky exploded into brilliant shades of oranges and yellows and a cold tension hung in the air. I pulled over my hood and shimmered in the anticipation of heat. It can get unbearably hot in the afternoons and dead cold in the nights here. I had set off for an early morning safari to watch the big cats’ play. We paused, as we moved, to scan the forests, peering hopefully through our binoculars.
The vehicle paused. I looked around unwary of the pause but certain that it was justified. Tom, my safari guide, must have seen, heard or smelled something. And while he tried making out the source of sound or sight, I breathed in the moments; the raw appeal of a rugged mountainous landscape, the rolling meadow like savannah grassland, with acacias playfully interspersed; culminating into basalt hills, with a stunning Mt. Kenya standing as a royal guard. Ah! With every breath I took in the charm of Laikipia: central Kenya is so different from southern. Occasionally, I would ask – “Did you see something?” and then survey around to see that myself.
From the beginning, I was sure, day 2 was going to be as exciting as day 1. We had by now, tick marked three of the #bigfive of Africa and we prefixed our agenda to first lookout for the remaining two of the big five and then try our chances on the migration yet again. And to a certain degree both looked achievable. We soon added a third wish to this list – spotting a Cheetah. And James smiled, the sort of smile only Gods or elves are allowed to have.
Confession: Two of our wish were fulfilled.
So we filled our tummies to the extent possible with left-over fruits and sandwiches and every variety of edible thing available with us and set off to second round of our incredible journey. With full day in hand, we were pretty confident of having all our boxes tick marked.
James wanted to start the morning with Rhino spotting or else we would miss the habitat. We spent almost an hour in the morning to spot a rhino but we weren’t just getting lucky. We however, spotted a big herd of hundreds of buffaloes; the day before we had mostly spotted lone buffaloes. Driving through the grass as they stand mooing was a sight.
From our camp we could watch baby hippos splash and swill in the waters, while the adults watched us with suspicion. This was my first experience of camping in the wild, and we started with choosing the wrong place. It was only when Leena said “What if hippos come this way to graze?” that we realized, we were way too near the mighty hippos. And in Africa, you don’t mess with the hippos. So we shifted, to a safer place, near the Serena hotels, with the researchers of Hyena Research Center as our neighbors; and practically in the territory of the hyenas. We again smiled at our choice, but our experienced Masai guide James was convinced.
And then setting up of camps begun. Candidly for the first time campers it’s an experience and especially when you are not given enough tools to set up your camp and you have to manage with twigs ‘that can easily bend’ to use instead of iron rods to set your camp. Anyways you don’t learn to manage, you get infected with this art, as you are hit by safari-bug.
And once we were done with setting our camp, we were off to the thing we were there for – game drive. Continue reading
Off in the distance some figures in bright green coats and crumpled safari hats were calling out names in high, shrilling tone: ‘Kitirua’, ‘Alamaya’, ‘Reo’ ‘Lasayen’ and slowly one by one, baby elephants emerge out of the bushes in a single line, trolling and trumpeting, but never forgetting to follow their keepers – a straggled procession of brown faced eager elephant orphans, flapping their ears, wearing a hypnotic grace and fiddling with their curious long trunks.