Published: July 13th 2008July 18th 2008
I anxiously gazed upwards as the long patterned neck slowly lowered to where I stood. The giraffe hesitated, its angular head and large luscious eyes stared at me with interest. Ever so slowly, the giraffe’s lips parted and a thick bluish tongue of devilish proportions emerged. The small group of Japanese tourists near me audibly reacted to this event, and though a part of me wanted to quickly escape - personal pride ensured that my feet stayed firm. With one final movement, the giraffe’s head edged forward and I shut my eyes as the blue appendage came uncomfortably close. Its tongue pushed against me and began exploring the lower part of my face, and to my surprise, it was rough and dry, not wet and slobbery like a plump Labrador salivating over its latest meal. After a bit more rubbing, the tongue was withdrawn and by the time my eyes opened, the giraffe was already raising its elongated neck and moving away. Perhaps this encounter was true love, but the more likely explanation being the piece of giraffe food held between my tightened lips.
It was now time for the Japanese folk to commune with these beautiful Rothschild’s giraffes, but
all were unwilling to partake in a tongue experience, so instead, they placed a small pile of food in their cupped hands. However, this seemed a very traumatic experience for them, for a soon as the giraffe’s tongue slopped around inside their hand, they all squealed in a mixture of anguish and horror. It was reminiscent of those Japanese endurance television shows - remind me write to one these show’s producers and suggest that they use a giraffe in a future episode. After further amusing moments of viewing more pained Japanese facial expressions, my time at the Langata Giraffe Centre was at an end.
A brief visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage ensued, which allowed some great viewing of playful baby elephants at close quarters. However, my plans to witness more wildlife in Kenya were postponed as my friend, Shivani (who is currently undertaking research into lion-human conflict in the Ewaso ecosystem) was not ready for my arrival. So I made a short detour to Northern Tanzania for a week (as described in my previous blog) before returning to Kenya. After 12 weeks of solid travelling, this extended holiday was becoming tiring, and my calculations showed
Street scene - Isiolo, Kenya
Not sure why the Kenyans name their trucks.
that I had slept in 46 different places in 88 days; that means repacking my entire backpack and moving every second day - no wonder I was fatigued! I decided to rest for a few days, and so after consulting my guidebook, I concluded that the small town of Nanyuki near the foothills of Mt Kenya would suit my needs perfectly.
Nanyuki was a wonderful place to do nothing. Initially, there was some hassle from touts convincing me that I should climb Mt Kenya, but I had expended too much energy hiking the Simien Mountains and Parc National Des Volcans, and I was definitely not going to tackle a third mountain. After two days, the initial approaches from touts and souvenir sellers were replaced by greetings from curious locals who were keen to make conversation about their lives. It was quickly apparent that tourism was very slow - and that this was affecting the economy of the town. The post-election riots of late 2007 scared many foreigners, which was unfortunate since Nanyuki kept free of the conflict, and the rest of Kenya has long since returned to stability. Yet, as normally happens when there is the slightest hint of
trouble, cautious tourists veer away from an area for far longer than is reasonable. I felt sorry for the lovely people of Nanyuki, as they had been caught in a situation that was not of their making, yet still impacted them greatly.
After four days of minimal activity, a text message from Shivani informed me that she was ready for my arrival in the Samburu National Reserve. I boarded a minibus (again being the only foreigner) and took the 90 minute journey through rolling countryside to the dusty town of Isiolo. This was the absolute embodiment of a frontier town - a place that sits at the end of the civilised world from where one can step into untamed lands. The wide uneven dirt roads were inhabited by a constant stream of tribal people who trudged between the shops purchasing supplies for their village, whilst the women folk adorned in vibrant clothes would squat by the roadside in front of produce, plastic shoes or whatever else they had to offer. This amazing amalgam of humanity would arrive each morning crammed into the back of overloaded trucks before returning to their homes by the same method that evening. The whole
Here it comes!
Langata Giraffe Centre, near Nairobi, Kenya
scene was enhanced by the ever present dust that was whipped into a frenzy by blustery winds, and at times, the whole town was hidden beneath a hazy brown cloud of choking dust that covered everything in its path. Though Isiolo had absolutely no visual appeal, it had plenty of character to compensate, and this town ranks as one of my favourites for it looked and felt like another world from the one I usually inhabit.
Finally, it was time to depart for my final destination of this 100 day holiday - the Samburu National Reserve, and the adjacent areas of Buffalo Springs Nature Reserve and West Gate Conservancy. Shivani met me in Isiolo and she was accompanied by the jocular Samburu warrior, Lekuraiyo. Shivani’s driving prowess soon became apparent as we proceeded along bumpy, ill-made dirt roads - she was excellent. I eventually arrived at the Samburu Game Lodge, and after six weeks of sleeping in mostly dubious accommodation - this Lodge was a dramatic improvement in quality. Isolated and beautifully furnished cabins lined the bank of the placid Ewaso river, and I could sit outside my cabin listening to the trumpeting of elephants, whilst admiring the monkeys
Getting into the mud pool is quite easy...
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - Nairobi National Park, Kenya
and birdlife that passed through the area.
For two days, I fully immersed myself in the typical lodge-based safari lifestyle - leaving my lodge before sunrise and arriving back after sunset; only returning during the middle part of the day to eat and rest. I took to standing at the back of the vehicle next to Lekuraiyo in order to spot animals and it was wonderful to breathe the fresh Kenyan air and feel the warm African sun. The scenery was beautiful, and in some ways reminiscent of the Australian outback - with the most obvious difference being the sun shining brightly over the thorny Acacia trees. The differences didn't end there, for the fauna was remarkable - oryx and impala were everywhere, we witnessed three cheetahs stealthily hunting through the undergrowth, and even sighted that most elusive of big cats, the leopard. It was the elephant that impressed the most - these enormous beasts possessed the most graceful of gaits, and Shivani’s extensive knowledge of this region and the animals within it, led the highlight of these long, languid Kenyan days.
Knowing that elephants cross the Ewaso river late in the afternoon, Shivani was able to locate
...getting out is much harder!!
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - Nairobi National Park, Kenya
the exact site of one of these crossings. Ours was the first vehicle to arrive just as the herd termed “The First Ladies” were gathering on the far side of the river. Elephants of all sizes arrived singularly and in pairs until there were 17 of them - their giant ears flapping and trunks eagerly drinking from the river. One of their number shifted forward, and the rest slowly followed, though some occasionally paused to savour more of the river’s cooling waters. The herd formed a wedge shape as they plodded towards our location - it was a truly spectacular sight. By the time the crossing was almost finished, other vehicles arrived, but thanks to Shivani, we were able to witness the whole event. The elephants dispersed once they reached the river’s near side - and whilst they continued to rest, play and eat - we left and continued to scour for other wildlife.
Finally, this last safari was over and I returned to Samburu Game Lodge, which looked even more tranquil as the clear star-studded skies sat far above the silhouetted trees. Kenya is a gently intoxicating country, and the longer you are exposed to the slower pace
of life and the expansive plains with its magnificent wildlife, the harder it is to leave. On this final night in the country, I looked forlornly at the clothes, camera equipment and souvenirs scattered around my backpack. After more than three incredible months of exciting and emotional experiences through the Middle East, southern Europe and Eastern Africa, it was time to commence my long journey home - but this would be a journey made with a great deal of reluctance and sadness.
There are more photos below