Animal Sightings, Scary Walks, and Close Encounters
**I decided that since Europeans and most Africans take baths and not showers there exists a very simple way to tell how good/exciting your life is by examining the color of the bathwater! So, at the end of a bath you can tell if you've had a good day at Ol Malo by just how muddy the water is when you get out. :) I have tried to rate each of the following experiences by the color my water would have been after the day's events.
One night after dinner Chyulu and I started to make the 1/4 mile trek from the Guest House back to her place/my tent in the darkness with our flashlights. We had just finished telling the guests the story of Andrew running into a lion on the path back home one night and I was as a direct result not particularly excited about this walk. Chyulu said she didn't like walking at night without Andrew (he was away at the coast) and she stopped to pick up a rock. I laughed nervously, stuffed my belongings into my pockets to free my hands and picked up two of the largest rocks I could throw. We continued walking and about halfway we heard a very loud roar. She stopped and said, "oh, that's a lion." I thought, "no kidding!" and my next move was to turn around, but she said we needed to get home. I walked as quickly as I could to keep up and we decided to sing loudly and clap the rocks together to let the lion know we were very large and scary things not to be messed with. I was just hoping hoping hoping we didn't run into anything because even a small dik dik would have made me pee my pants. We made it home safe, but the next morning were horrified by the site of a large oryx carcus left by lions about 15 yards away from the path we were on. These things were so close, and we didn't even know it because of the cover of night. Bath water: fairly cloudy!
I was left at Ol Malo for one day and a half to run everything while the Francombe's went to a family gathering in Nairobi and I had to walk home to my tent from the Lodge in the dark...alone. My flashlight decided after about a minute into my walk that the battery was too low to go on and I was left in the dark trying to find my way. I thought all my good luck had finally run out I decided that I would need to just take a deep breath, let my eyes adjust for a minute and keep walking. Since there were hyena in the area I started singing "We all live in a Yellow Submarine" over and over marching along making big loud steps to let anything know that I was coming. I'm pretty sure anyone in Laikipia could have heard my horrible singing because I was shouting the words as loud as I possibly could. My heart started beating really quickly and I gave my flashlight a smack against a tree for being so stubborn. The battery must have just popped back into place or something because it came on and I pointed it forward to try and find the path again. All I could see were big yellow-green eyes. Six of them. I gasped and froze, trying to see if the eyes were big enough to belong to a cat. They were just to the right of the path, so I knelt down and picked up some large rocks to throw. My plan was to throw, scatter the eyes, yell and scream, and then run. This was the best plan I could muster and I tightened my head-torch and began throwing as hard as possible. I don't know what the animals were, but the combination of my fear of the lonely night walk and my previous experiences at Ol Malo made me certain they could have swallowed me whole. It might have just been a few jack rabbits but I was at my tent in such a short time it would have given any African short distance sprinter a good race. I laughed out loud at how scared I was and put the dogs to bed, fed the owls, and brushed my teeth without any concerns. Bath water: somewhat cloudy.
The longest night in Africa: I went to bed in the second week exhausted as usual and really looking forward to a good sleep. It had started raining and I was wondering how well my tent would keep me dry that night. I wrote down the day's events in my journal quickly and must have fallen asleep straight away. About two hours after I had gone to bed, around 11:45ish, I heard something walking around my tent. I thought it was the wind or just general night noises but then I got a sense that it was an animal milling about and it sounded larger than the average curious night creature. At one point I noticed there were several of them, and they were sniffing about. I tried desperately to go back to sleep and convinced myself it was just dik dik or the resident black-tailed mongoose on the hunt with a friend. About an hour later I woke up to a cold nose in my face (my cot was at the edge of the tent the mesh netting started right about bed-level). The nose sniffed twice hard and I immediately froze. It moved slowly along the edge of my tent and collapsed at the front of it, bending my tent in slightly. It was a small group of hyena! If anyone has seen the t.v. specials on hyena, they are disgusting creatures (they are actually quite amazing but I was upset at them for messing with my sleep). They are dirty, smelly, and efficient animals. They can bite clean through bone and my sturdy tent seemed more like a barrier made of paper when I realized they were sniffing at ME and basically had me surrounded. I could hear them going into my "bathroom" and running into the large drums of water for my shower, and just HANGING OUT. I realized they were getting shelter from the rain under the tarpola of my tent but I didn't sleep one bit. I was awake the whole night making a plan if one of them tried to get in and tried to gage how long it would take Andrew to get down here with his gun if I screamed. I coudn't remember from discussion if a hyena would get scared and run away or if they would get scared and attack. This lapse in my memory and concentration made the night very frustrating. I can honestly say that since I was alone with my thoughts and so scared about my bed making that loud squeaking sound similar to a wart-hog that I was absolutely terrified. The beasts moved on around 4am and I have never been so happy to see the sun rise. Chyulu and Andrew laughed at me since the hyena would have most definitely run away had I made any kind of loud noise, and Andrew had fun teasing me and insisting that it was probably only a lone hyrax (small rodent-like mammal) keeping me awake. Bath water: significantly muddy.
One day in the car on our way to a Samburu Manyatta (homestead)we spotted three cheetah about 100 yards away. There was a mamma teaching her two young teenagers how to crouch and then sprint. We watched them sprint off and it was so amazing! Bath water: still pretty clear
I rode horses down to the river with Andrew, Chyulu and their friend Toby who was visiting. I am not very experienced on horses so I always think it's very exciting to ride. My horse was terribly disobedient and loved running through thick acacia trees covered in thorns and this particular ride I had to dig out about 12 thorns from my limbs afterward. The exciting bit of the ride started when my horse decided to gallop downhill and my saddle came undone. My feet came out of the stirrups and I knew I was going to get hurt before the day was done. I luckily hung on and finally got my horse to stop and Andrew and Chyulu stopped to help me get sorted out. Andrew was standing next to me when Toby's horse stuck his nose in Chyulu's horses bum. The horse freaked out and gave two great kicks. The second one was harder than the first and hit Andrew square in the shin. The noise that comes from a snapping bone I can tell you is enough to make you lose your breakfast. Luckily for me we hadn't eaten yet and we all scrambled to get off our horses and help Andrew. He is the toughest Kenya Cowboy there is, and we had to talk him out of continuing on horseback down to the river and waited for a car to come intercept him. [He is "fine" now and still insists that his leg isn't broken too badly at all. He limped about for only a few days and then announced he wouldn't limp anymore despite the pain because he didn't like the look of a man limping.] I rode on with Toby and Chyulu the rest of the way and a few hills from the river site we stopped because there were lion on the opposite hill. My horse figured out what we were discussing very quickly and decided to run the rest of the way since he already knew the path and wasn't too fond of lion. I lost the reigns after one of many sharp turns and had to hold onto the mane-hair for dear life. Once again I had accepted defeat when we arrived at the site and my horse stopped. I got down in the most ungraceful fashion and nearly collapsed on the ground. Samuel worked at the stables and was waiting for us and was pleasantly surprised by my early arrival. He could tell I had been over a few bumps and kindly squished his face at me to acknowledge my obvious discomfort, but laughed as I walked away without my usual smile. I thanked Chyulu and Toby for offering a leisurely horse-ride back after lunch and chose instead to sit in the big, predictable, diesel-fueled car with the guests and the guide with the gun. I thought I made the right decision and ended up seeing a pack of wild dogs, or African Painted Dog about 23 strong (one of the most rare animals in the world and the hardest thing to see in Africa) as they ran into two lion! We got about six feet away from a large female lioness as she sat on her kill also. It was the coolest ride back from the river ever! I was thankful for the traumatic horse ride because I wouldn't have chosen to sit in the car that evening on the way back! Bath Water: You'd lose the baby for sure.
Another day Chyulu and I took a young girl to Baboon Rock on horseback where she was to meet her family (they chose to walk). This was actually the first time I had trotted, and then cantered on a horse. It was very amusing to my two companions who are both very experienced on horses and loved watching me bounce uncontrollably and generally having a hard time holding on. Chyulu and I were to take the horses back quickly because the sun was going down and we didn't want to be stuck on horses in the dark. We had gotten pretty far and I thought I was used to the cantering when Chyulu said, "okay, if you're comfortable we will canter up to the top of this last hill to the planes and then canter back to the stables because we need to hurry." She gave me a few pointers and said "just hold on!" We started up the hill in the dim light and were galloping before I knew it. About 3/4 the way up Chyulu's horse slammed on its breaks and reared nearly throwing her off. My horse quickly stopped and luckily I was concentrating because he reared and Chyulu started yelling at me to turn around and go back down the hill...quickly. I looked ahead and about 45 feet up the road were two large elephants with ears raised and trunks swinging and shouting charging at us! I just thought, "oh goodness this was on the list of the worst possible things that could happen on a horse out here!" and then she reminded me outloud that it was THE WORST and I turned my horse and he knew how quickly I wanted to go back down. I knew I couldn't fall off. When we got far enough away we turned to look and the elephants had stopped and were on alert just looking downhill toward us. We noticed then that they had a calf with them and Chyulu said she didn't think they would come any further but that we needed to watch for the rest of the herd who would most likely sneak up on us in the dark. After rounding up the stray horse with no rider and creeping slowly up the hill we made it to the top without incident in about 35 minutes. It was very dark by this point, and the horses were spooked by every little movement in the bush on the way back. They knew it was past the time they were supposed to be out and we were all pretty tense for the rest of the ride. Chyulu exclaimed when we got back that it was the most exciting ride she's had here in years, and I was so happy to be alive I found myself giggling annoyingly for the rest of the night. I was definitely high on adrenaline, but thought how I will enjoy telling my kids someday how their mom is the coolest lady ever for having run from a charging elephant in Africa and live to tell the tale. I have never felt more alive. The closest experience I have that compares to the feeling afterward is from when I went either skydiving or bungee-jumping, and now putting all three of those things together my life seems more adventurous than ever! Bath water: Get out a shovel and the Draino.
Some other fun occurrences include:
Meeting the pet Kudu at Ol Malo for the first time (a kudu is about the size of a small pony and looks a lot like a very large deer), her name is Tendala which means "kudu" in Swahili and she crept up from behind me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. To my surprise, this HUGE animal had been curious about me and decided to say hello. I was sitting on the edge of the cliff at the Lodge and nearly fell off I was so startled.
Feeding the owls...these owls are so sweet and I will try to get pictures up but it was my job to catch mice, crush their skulls, cut them up, and feed them in pieces to the owls. It was a horrible job and the first time I didn't feel well after, but cutting up animals was something I unfortunately became accustomed to at Ol Malo. The owls are so big and beautiful and I loved petting them and greeting them everyday.
Seeing lion was always exciting, and it made walking to my tent at night interesting. I saw two lion very close up, and others from cars and on horseback. They are so beautiful, and more curious about humans than anything else.
Seeing the Wild Dog was incredible. Everyone gets excited because its such a rare occurrence, and I didn't have my camera on me when we saw them but they look like a cross between a dog and a fox, about the size of a coyote, deep black in color and every single one has a different pattern on its fur in either white or deep red. They are beautiful and very elusive animals. They are the most efficient hunters in Africa.
I was also lucky enough to see a large porcupine one night steeling dog food, scorpions, spiders the size of tennis balls, jenet cats, mongoose, impala, gazelle, elind, giraffe, zebra, and more! The cool thing is that I saw these things while either walking, riding horses, riding camels, or driving which is very cool and exciting.
I was also made to test an solar powered electric horse fence (yes it was definitely working and yes I was concerned about my heart murmur but when they tell you "no dinner unless..." I have to say I was always the "dummy").
I was made to run up Baboon Rock to deliver twelve cold Tuskers to a group of guests who were having sun-downers on top of the rock and in my sandals I slipped going up the steep face of it. I landed on my tail bone and immediately didn't care who needed beer. Ouch. I was sore but became a hero for delivering the beer with record speed (meaning it was still cold when I got to the top).
I caught a catfish with my bare hands from the river with Dixon-he said that since I did it without a hook and lure I am now truly a fisherman. :)
Went for a walk with a large group and Hussein, our guide, said that if they saw us started to charge we needed to strip off our bright clothes and run up the hill following him. There were some guests who didn't get the "no bright colors on nature walks" memo and Hussein at one point turned and said quietly but with gumption, "Take off the clothes and please go quickly with me." Like usual, I laughed after everyone was safe at all the things I would never hear in California.
As you can tell my time at Ol Malo was very adventurous and exciting. There are so many more gross and gory stories I have written down but these are some of the more interesting ones. If you want to know about scraping spider eggs out from under toes or drinking goats blood I can share them with you per request but thought they'd be too much for some people. I think I am now twenty five times more brave (times one for every day I spent at Ol Malo) and am going to have a hard time looking for adventure and trouble as exciting as I have experienced so far in Kenya. Had I been taking baths and not showers, I would say there was enough mud in my water at the end of each day to cloud a lifetime of bathing sessions. :)
With more to come and much love,