Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Coco's Kenyan Adventure (Part 1)

When you're in a Masai village and you're told that grandparents are called 'cocos', you don't argue - well, not with a man who is carrying a spear and a knife (and I mean as in "that's not a knife, this is a knife" in the Crocodile Dundee sense of the word!) so our exciting Kenyan safari with my mother and child number 4 is henceforth to be called Coco's Kenyan Adventure...

It's hard to imagine twenty four hours of travel taking an 82 year old coco, child number 4 (some 68 years her junior) and me (the jam in the sandwich) from a snow and slush-covered Yorkshire to the warm heart of the Kenyan plains. Yet we have gone from our cold habitat to a land of giraffes and gazelles (or gazettes as the small one termed them!), where all around you wild animals are free and our guardians are the brilliantly clothed and beaded Masai warriors.

Our journey from the frozen wastes of Yorkshire included three trains, one plane and was topped off by a five hour drive in a mini-bus. We struck lucky with our companions in the mini-bus (which was fortunate as this was an up-close-and-personal tour) and Mike and Bev were excellent company throughout the trip. Our guide and driver, Nicholas was (apart from some interesting gear changes without, by the sounds of it, any use of the clutch, and overtaking manoeuvres which made your eyes water) was very friendly and knowledgeable and drove us, on our first day, to Amboseli.

We were welcomed at our game lodge by a Masai warrior who must have topped 6'6'' in sandals. He towered above the guests, welcoming each and everyone with a friendly "jambo" although fully-armed with a spear and machete.

Our thatched hut accommodation was large enough to include two double beds, one single and a bathroom - luxury indeed!

Our game drives took us to the Amboseli National Park some 20k from our game lodge but before we had gone far from the compound on the rough, gut-shaking track, we encountered our first elephant at close quarters. Nicholas refused to take the lid off the mini-bus until we had gone further down the road and left the adult bull elephant behind in case he charged whilst Nicholas was outside the bus. His caution was definitely for real!

Giraffes were next and soon we were at the gate of the Park where local women, wearing enough beadwork to weigh down mere Europeans, shouted "jambo" through the windows and tried to sell their wares. Child 4 was particularly taken with an older Masai lady who wore a wooden bowl on her head so she had her hands free for all the other items she was selling. We resisted and followed the advice of our tour rep (back in Nairobi) who had told us to shut our windows, otherwise the vendors are inclined to drop items of jewellery into the bus and insist on payment.

Each morning at Amboseli, we were greeted by the stunning site of Mount Kilimanjaro towering, snow-capped above the plains. During the course of the day, the mountain would become cloud-draped, its peak only visible now and again. And, as dusk fell, the peak would reappear in all its glory before turning dark grey and then black against the night sky.

Two days of game drives brought us sightings of a lioness and her cub, wildebeest, zebras, gazelles (gazettes!) of all varieties, pumba! (warthogs), waterbuck and fabulous, fabulous hippos - four wading nose-deep in swamp and one standing alone amongst the grasses. Birds from ostriches to the small, brightly-coloured (turquoise and red) ones which sat outside outside our dining room window each day - all for our pleasure.

On the drives, the shortwave radio would crackle constantly with chatter as the guides alerted each other to the whereabouts of game. "Simba!" was the cry to mobilise a whole pack of mini-buses and land rovers, each jockeying for position for the best view for the cluster of lenses.

Back at the compound, we were entertained by monkeys and mongeese/mongooses (?) playing together on the paths to our room and on our last night we went to a viewing platform where you can see hyena coming in to feed. A dead mammal of some variety was splayed across a stone and whilst we looked down into the shadowy clearing, first tiny kittens and then a troop of hyenas edged out of the darkness to feed on the entrails.

The next day was a long all-day drive back to Nairobi on roads which were alternately good and then, for no apparent reason, full of pot holes and unfinished. The rules of the road appear to be that there are no rules at all. Overtaking was on either side of the slower vehicle in front and sometimes we were 'playing chicken' with cars coming towards us as we laboured past heavy vehicles.

As we neared Nairobi, the townships became scruffier and more rubbish drifted across the roads. The clothes became more westernised until the frequent sightings of the colourful warriors became a memory and we were amongst the industrial sprawl of the city.

To be continued...

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