In this journal:
- great African animal migration
- local Masaais wearing lions as hats
- bird is the word
[40MIN READ/Grab a coffee and get comfy]
I hopped on board my safari wagon, a minivan with a pop up roof installed on the top, probably something warranty-breaking but a standard practice. I was a bit taken aback, since I had absolutely no idea that lions and cheetahs idolize convertibles too. The crisp air of an early winter morning breezed through my hair, and we slowly picked up the rest of the group: a pair of old Aussie couple, a Peruvian and a US girl who apparently were dating, and Yin, a Chinese student living in Singapore. The gang was finally on the Kenyan “highway” driving towards the great savannah of Masaai Mara National Park around 10 am.
Our first stop was a giant cliff on top of the plateau. From the top, you can see the expanse of grassland to all corners of the horizon. This is actually the famous East African fault, stretching from Somalia all the way down to Tanzania. In a few million years, this fault will be so deep that East Africa will break off from the continent like a dried croissant that I had forgotten in my car before the car sales agent found out the cause of the family of opossums living in the engine compartment. I was quite hungry since I was awake since 5 am, so I bought a baked corn as my snack.
We hopped back to the van after the break, starting our decent into the grassy . However, before we could hit the normal African highway speed of 35 km/h, we found ourselves in a traffic jam, even though most people commute by legs. After being stuck for a solid 5 minutes under the scorching sun, which, trust me, was still very powerful in Africa during winter, we were more than impatient to figure out the cause of this curious traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. By walking towards the front of the commotion, the lazy group noted the driver to pick us up when it cleared. I led the charge as the COO, Chief Over-curious Officer, and we were quickly joined by hundreds of locals, marching down the slightly sloped highway like a group of menacing mafia patrolling its area. After a 2-km trek, the crowd, almost two hundred strong, were quick to discover the true reason of this major blockage. A few days ago, a truck was too fast while turning a curve, toppled with lightning speed and was completely deformed, kinda like the Venezuelan economy; its container became severely deformed, and now they are trying to put that container onto a different truck with a giant mobile crane. We watched them attempting may different positions, front, back and missionary, to no avail, and after half an hour or so, they had to give up, and let the line stretching as far as Sao Paolo to pass through. That was a smart move, since the little metal box was starting to become least of their concern compared to the humongous crowd yelling obscenities.
We were picked up by our van to continue, and soon reached a little town at a junction of the roads to have lunch. We, well, mostly, I, quickly found out the absolute deliciousness of the local food since I charged way ahead after hearing free food. The lunch buffet incorporates chapati, a kind of naan-like bread with a little bit of sweet taste, with chewy corn, vegetables, mouth-smackingly good sauces, and bony chicken. After a 5-am morning with no breakfast, I delved into the buffet like an Olympic diving gold medalist ready to claim his 6th championship. I was so happy that I did not take a picture.
We then spent the rest of the day on the road to the famous Masai Mara as it is quite some distances away from Nairobi. The landscapes we passed by were simply breathtaking, not necessarily because I got pushed back to the last row with minimal ventilation. Most of the land we passed by were simply arid grassland or savannah with no agriculture. Almost everyone is a shepherd here. Herds of cattle were driven around the land, and for them, the number of cows and goats symbolized prominence, power, wealth, and respect. While everyone was dozing off on the bumpy road in this dusty afternoon, Yin suddenly yelled: “GIRAFFE!!!” and behold! A giraffe was quietly eating leaves beside the road like it was nothing. It was our first time seeing any game of sorts, and everyone sprang up with 100% full battery, almost toppling over the fragile van already with a huge hole cut through its top, since everyone rushed towards the left side hoping to grasp a glimpse. We stayed vigilant, and we quickly spotted many zebras, wildebeests, and even some antelopes and gazelles.
We proceeded to pass some private checkpoints. They were simple tree trunks lying in the middle of the road, and they demanded around 200 shillings each, to the driver and the guide’s dismay. Well, that is a convenient way to make money. However, last time I laid a tree trunk in the middle of the highway demanding girlfriends I was handcuffed and charged with “picketing”, what a double standard!
Thank the glorious Arceus that we did not pass too many of them, only 4, as I believe any more of them would force the driver to ask us to start walking. We arrived into a small village by the edge of Masai Mara National Park around 4 p.m. We did not rest, however, and we dropped our luggage to just jump right back to the van: WE WERE GOING IN!I repeat, Alpha 8, we are going dark! I was beyond excited, as I had always dreamed of running with beasts of Africa on the savannah into the burning sunset. We turned around a corner, and right in front of us stood the ultimate playground of life: Masai Mara.
We were harassed by a lot of local women trying to sell their little trinkets, especially to girls like Yin. But our driver quickly came to our rescue. As he started the car, he turned on a massive radio that I thought came straight out of a 1970’s military bunker that had fallen in the zombie apocalypse. The buzzing of so many voices quickly flooded the vehicle. It turned out that all drivers communicate with each other on a specific frequency, and share wildlife spotting info real time throughout this massive park. We were not alone, as many others were spotting the BIG 5 and that made it much more efficient. What a brilliant idea! 7 pairs of eyes cannot beat hundreds of pairs! Masai Mara is connected to Serengeti on the other side of the border in Tanzania, so this little piece of refuge is probably the best place you can be for game-viewing, stretching out for 40000 square kilometers along a long valley of corridors. Almost all the mammals you have seen in your childhood dreams can be found here, so this was my fulfillment of a promise I made to myself when I was 7, seeing the wild nature in action on a television screen that I was fixated upon. However, before I could snap some beautiful shots of a few wildebeests grazing right beside us, our driver suddenly hit the gas, tossing me to the rear and leaving a bruise on my already-not-so-good-looking face. Before we were able to yell at him, he shushed us with one word: “Lions.”
As our van sped down the valley, the sun had already dyed the grassland a golden hue, with its fresh air brushing through my hair like a loving mother brushing her newborn’s. We reached a little patch of grass surrounded by a dozen vans. The driver pointed straight into the middle, and we were taken aback as we set our eyes. We were ready for lions, but nobody told us it would be like THIS.
(oh, by the way, gruesome picture warning)
The lions had just hunted a buffalo, and the dominant male was feasting. Holy fuck nobody told us that they would be hunting! We were just ready for like a lion lying on the ground, purring loudly or something! Heck, I was even ready to pull out my lazer pointer and answer a question that I had harboured in my head since 2007! The male was concentrated on eating that he did not bat an eye on all the cameras pointing at him. Wait, I just realized, we had not seen even a buffalo before that! The first buffalo we saw, ironically, was a dead one… Its jaw was ripped open, and the lions were just starting with its ribs.
We spent a solid half an hour examining the lions’ actions. Besides the male, there were also a lot of female and cubs. They were simply playing, resting, yawning, or perhaps, purring, even though the lion equivalent of a buffet was sitting right down Aisle 12. They had to wait for the dominant male to finish eating in order to commence their meal. Then in the far back, under some bushes, were the other males. They were all just napping, as they had to wait for the female and cubs to finish to get the scrapes. Most of them were clearly not in great shapes, as some were young, or old, or injured, so challenging the alpha was not even possible.
We continued to drive around, aimlessly looking for animals, or more likely just wandering for being so lost in the beautiful sunset. Since everyone needed to vacate the park by dusk, we simply viewed the best sunset one could imagine, and started returning to our camp in the village.
We woke up to a full day of park viewing. Our cook prepared us a large breakfast, with chapati (yay~) and fruits, as well as a big boxed lunch for picnicking in paradise. We quickly did the same thing as yesterday: drove around the corner, got harassed by locals, entered the park, and sprinted towards the lions. Except after one night of devouring, the buffalo was, well, not so buffalo-y anymore.
well, what can I say? The lions eat almost as fast as me.
We then continued deeper into the wilderness. Discovering so many animals in their natural habitats was quite overwhelming even as a retrospect, so I will just briefly mention them from now on. We reached a hill where the airport is located. There are daily flights between the airport and many other safari places, as well as Nairobi, giving the rich an instant gateway to paradise. Who says money cannot buy you happiness?
We found many many giraffes on the other side of the ridge, and then we found ourselves surrounded by thousands and thousands of wildebeests. There were also vultures circling above; zebras running free everywhere; ostriches taking sand bathes; buffaloes basking underneath the mighty rays of the sun… Life seems to be more like “life” here than whatever they call it in the cities.
What amazed me the most was the sheer number of wildebeests. They were EVERYWHERE. I mean, everywhere, and I would not even be remotely surprised if I found one sitting on the seat next to me suddenly. They moo just like cows, and that moo-ing symphony was probably one of the best orchestra I had ever heard. (that is if you can disregard their farting sounds that dotted around the lyrics.) While we were driving past the hilly grasslands, they occupied one hill after another without a visible end, and we were constantly surrounded by them in almost all direction my eyes could see.
We decided to lunch on top of a cliff by the river. We found even more animals in the muddy waters. A few dozen hippos were playing with the gentle current on this hot noon, with some babies being the roundest, cutest meatballs I had ever seen other than in my dressing room mirror. There were also a few crocodiles just sitting still like me in a math class, as if they were dead, like me in PE class. The driver told us they were waiting, and we will see what they were waiting for.
While waiting, we opened our lunch box: oh my holy ricecake, it was the most majestic thing I saw that day. It had a juicebox, 2 pieces of fried chicken, slices of bread, 2 sandwiches, fruits, shortcakes, besides some other random deli items. We were all exhausted from being amazed, and did not care much about our manners. Everyone started consuming like we had never seen a sandwich before. Yeah seriously what is up with sandwiches? It is neither made of sand nor witches. English is so confusing. While I was half way through my second sandwich, the ground slowly started trembling. First just minor vibrations like your neighbor 3 doors down were having passionate sex, and quickly it dialed up, like your neighbor 1 door down were having passionate sex. I looked up, with bread crumbs still falling from my lower jaw, (do not ask how it can get there) and I saw the most earth-shattering orgasm I had ever experienced: the grand wildebeest migration across the river, just as prophesied by our lord and savior David Attenborough in the holy scripts named National Geographic.
one of the wonders of the world: wildebeest migration
These majestic animals struggling to run, to sprint, to jot, to jump, and sometimes even swim, across the water. They all proceeded in a single file in an orderly fashion, but all of them seemed really in a hurry. I was quite perplexed for a while, until I turned around: the crocodiles were gone!!! They must be lurking somewhere in the muddy water waiting to feast upon a loner, a single wildebeest who might had gone astray… wait, we are not talking about me right? Before too long, one of the wildebeest sensed some kind of danger, probably a little shadow lurking in the murky streams, and quickly returned back to the bank. Suddenly, all animals decided today was not the day to die hard, and ran back to where they came from. They would attempt another crossing when they felt like the time was right, so this marked a tiny episode of river crossing on this thousand-mile migration saga. I still had bread crumbs stuck to my cheek, completely mesmerized by the sheer power of nature. The crocodiles still had to starve a little while longer, as it seems.
We continued with more exploration of the areas deep inside the interior, far from any human influence. We found herds and herds of grazing animals, and also warthogs, mongoose, monkeys and other smaller grazing animals. In terms of birds we just saw way too many kinds, and since I am not an ornithologist, I cannot really pinpoint which exact kinds they are.
In a remote ranger station, we found it was completely surrounded by monkeys. They move in giant groups of at least one hundred, probably much more since I was busy being amazed by the sheer size. The younger ones seem to have 0 idea of the fact that they live in one of the most dangerous environments for them, playing with each other nonstop, raising clouds of dust into the warm afternoon air.
There was also a baboon sitting on top of a tree, really not giving a single fuck to all the other things happening in this world. I asked him why he had his dick hanging in the open. Is it an open mocking to me who would never be able to be a proud bachelor or is it an act of protest against the exploitative clothing industry? He replied with “banana” so I guess it was a form of visual arts aimed at displaying nature’s purest creation, the masterpiece of body itself. I nodded with enlightenment, and carried on with newly found knowledge.
On our way back from the deep interior, we were welcomed by an unexpected group of animals: elephants. Finally, we were able to find them in this giant playground of theirs. They grazed and rested without even noticing our presence. It is true, we stood in front them as if we were nothing. I guess if I were an elephant, I probably would not bat an eye as humans are too small even compared to my ears! They were so calm and tranquil, and staying beside them even made me so quiet, as I could not help but soak up on their serene grace, the glorious sun, along with the savannah bending its grass into waves with the crispy African wind…
We returned to our camp around 3pm, and we were thrilled to visit a local Maasai village. The locals took us to the village on foot, and during this long trek of 20 minutes, we got to know a lot of their culture, also we ran into a lot of animals being herded back as well.
They run a traditional society, so traditional that you may call it inhumane. Male is the dominant sex, and women were treated almost like property. Most of the times, only men get higher education, if you define education as some form of local elementary school then hunting taught by the elders. Each village selects a chief, and the chief is in charge of everything, carrying out the duties of clergymen, governors, judges, and FBI. Yes, they can spy on you if you live there. If you really like a girl, you can directly go to her father, and offer him… 10 cows. Yes, ten cows. And then she is yours to marry. It was as if I was visiting 16th century. But hey, that might be the only way I can ever get married! (Young so lonely halp plz thx) The first born sons are trained to become household managers, and to become so they need to prove they are worthy by… (get ready) … slaying a lion. Not a regular lion, a male one. Not a regular male one, a male one who is dominant and has majestic hair. Yes, every one of them needs to do so, and they are not going against any law since it is their tradition. The second born sons can get professional training to become a shaman, a herb healer, a huntsman, or anything as long as he can do some good to the village. And if you are third born or after, your chances of getting any kind of professional training is very slim, unless you count professional cattle herding, then you will get A LOT.
As we got a chance to enter the village, we were welcomed by the group of women, and they sang a rather catchy welcome song, with one of the little kids tagging along. We then were welcomed by the men, with their lion heads mounted on their heads. These first born sons wear the manes of the lions they slayed for life, as a symbol of reaching adulthood. They sang a song as well, but this one involved a lot of movements, as they hopped across from each other to form formations, and then each one of them had to go to the front and jump as high as he can. Why? How would I know, but I did it with them anyway, because I definitely needed to burn some calories after such a hefty lunch box earlier today.
And then they took us to the individual houses. But let me backtrack and describe the village. It can be barely called a settlement. It had around 200 inhabitants, and it is walled by a wooden fence on all sides. A door opens to each of the four sides, and in the middle is another fence surrounding a small door, which is used as a cattle enclosure. All cattles, about 200 cows and goats, stay in the small enclosures overnight. There is no electricity, running water, or gas stoves, and there is no shop, infirmary, village hall, or anything of the modern era. Dogs, chicken, ducks all roam free, and there is not any form of farming. It is patrolled by warriors around the clock, as sometimes hungry leopards want to grab a little lamb for a snack. All houses are very small, about 30 square meters I estimate, and they are not very tall at all, about 1.8 meters. They are all made of mud on top of a wooden branch frame, so these premitive constructions had to be rebuilt occasionally as these houses do collapse in a few years. As we entered one of the “apartments”, the first impression I had was: it was so, damn, dark! huh, darkness, my old friend, we met again, unexpectedly in Africa. There was no window in the first room upon entry, and it smelled quite unpleasant, since this room, the biggest in the house, was actually the place to protect young calf and lambs from the elements. Then, right next door, is the living room/kitchen/kids’ bedroom. It was the only one with a window, and to call it a window is being generous, very generous. It is about the size of a sliced bread, and has tiny branch bars on it. It also faces the west, curiously, as buildings from the Southern Hemisphere should face north in order to maximize daylight. But never mind, it can barely provide enough light for us to see each other’s face, and when I light up my torch, I immediately felt claustrophobic.
The household had minimalistic belongings. They had two pots, a pan, two plastic buckets, and some utensils for cooking: they eat by their hands. They should be awesome at backpacking. After lunch is done, this is where the kids sleep. Then there was the main bedroom for the man and his wives. Oh, did I mention they practice polygamy? There is also a guest bedroom, which is quite roomy. They have no beds, no mattresses, or blankets, or pillows if you want to be specific. They just sleep on an elevated surface covered by some straws.
We then escaped the dark horror that they call home, and were offered some local souvenirs that they made in the village. I kindly declined even before they spelled out the trauma-inducing prices. I had already donated to the village, so no thanks I will not bleed more today. While waiting for the others, I walked to the edge of the village, away from all the commotion. I watched the crimson sun slowly descend into the mountains. I have watched so many sunsets in my life, in all continents of this world, in all kinds of sittings, under all kinds of circumstances. Each and every single one of them reminds me how lucky I am, how much courage it takes to do something like this, and how appreciative I should be for this giant blue ball spinning in the vast emptiness…
We were brought back to our camp, and let me introduce my tent which I shared with Yin. It is just a giant tent sitting on concrete. It had solar powered light in limited hours, a shower with neither doors nor hot water, and a bathroom with a broken toilet. The camp had a canteen for everyone to dine in, which was basically a giant shack with walls as thin as my patience. It also had a fireplace for night stories, and a tiny shop to buy basic necessities. Wifi is as a foreign word to these people as cheese fondue, and the mosquitoes attack with the same fury as kamikaze fighter jets. Yin and I took a shower, which we had to promise each other not to look into the general direction of the bathroom during the process. We had some chats in the fireplace before falling asleep after this arduous yet rewarding day in our beds underneath the mosquito nets with as many holes as the first Pokemon movie’s plot.
We woke up to our last day in Masai Mara. After breakfast, we quickly reached the buffalo and lions, but there was only a skeleton left. The only “major” action we got to bear witness on the third morning was one of the non-dominant males busy licking off the last scrape bits from the corpse. He was significantly thinner and smaller than the dominant male, and its hair was definitely not shining. After he was done, the corpse was swarmed by a clusterfuck of vultures.
We were quickly thrown off balance by our driver hitting the gas paddle, and this time, we knew, something big was nearby. We stopped on a grassy slope facing the sun. We quickly saw a lion running, but it was nothing too stunning given what kind of things we had seen in the past few days. The driver quickly told us: look at what the lion is chasing! We found that it was not chasing a small animal, but a mighty cheetah! Apparently, the lion was trying to steal some little kill, maybe a fox or a rabbit, from the cheetahs. Huh, so who is the real cheetah here? (hahahahaha! Oh? Oh, okay, I will show myself out) The cheetahs quickly ran towards us, as if they were seeking refuge alongside these giant metal elephants. The lion gave up the pursuit, leaving the cheetahs incredibly close to us. The mighty speed champions on land seem to be so slim, yet so robust, and their camouflage worked greatly in the grassy terrain.
We were more than satisfied when the cheetahs decided to move on to the next mountain range, and after some more hours of absolute perfect game driving, we decided to head back. The cool, crystal clear air skimmed through my face, waking me up deep inside. As mostly a city boy who did not get much countryside while growing up, I never felt so in one with nature. The world feels truly amazing when you realize you are breathing the air that your ancestors millions of years ago breathed, traversed the lands that they hunted, loved, cried and died. Time and space seemed to wrap together to form a singularity of clarity, as you could feel the essence of living, being alive, in every corner of your body…
goodbye, Maasai Mara
On our way back, we shared a lot of stories about our careers, and we found ourselves rescuing a fellow van which had three occupants. One of them, a Russian guy, was crammed into our van since he had a similar itinerary as us. The other two, a Dutch guy Joao and an Estonian girl, Ausarine had to wait. In a few hours, we found ourselves at our lunch spot, and this one was absolutely gorgeous. Still lunch buffet, but their green lawn was too perfect for a picnic.
We dropped off the Australian couple and the Peruvian/USA couple, as they had finished their trip and would head elsewhere, as we continued west back to Nairobi. However, do not fret. We were not done yet! After a few hours, the Russian dude, Yin and I reached the beautiful Lake Naivasha, a completely different place on its own. The now much smaller gang boarded a boat that was more like a giant canoe. Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by hippos, or as I call them, river meatballs. I even saw one of them opening their mouth wide to yawn!
The captain asked one of the fishermen just casually standing a few subway sandwiches down the hippoes in the lake for a fish, saying that he would pay him later. The fishermen begrudgingly thrown on board a small, scaly fish, which was still hopping around. Why do you need the fish you ask? You will see soon. The little unstable canoe circled around the perimeter of the large body of water for siome giraffes, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and impalas, all grazing in the fertile swampland, and there were thousands of birds looking for a bite to eat, while staring at our dying fish with laser eyes. They occupied almost every dead tree along the shore.
We stopped by a shore with a giant bird perched on top, which seemed to be larger than all the other ones we had encountered. The captain gestured us to lay low, prepare the cameras, and quickly threw the fish into the river. He whistled loudly, and suddenly the bird spread its wings as if it got the signal to attack. It circled around the fish a few times, and suddenly plunged into a quick dive. I realized: it is the majestic African fishing eagle. With a splash, the eagle was out of the water before I could see it going in, with the fish grasped firmly in its sgarp claws. It made a loud caw, as if expressing its gratitude, and swallowed the fish whole on a stump nearby
We finished our boat trip after a little detour on an island in the middle of the large lake full of capuchin monkeys. As we disembarked the horribly unbalanced canoe, everyone exhaled a sigh of relief, while being completely stoked about seeing one of the fastest birds on the continent catching a fish. Well, the fish was barely moving like me on my bed during Sundays, but hey it still counts! The van continued to the city of Nakuru and we were settled into one of the few hotels in the city. Coincidentally, we found the Dutch guy Joao and Estonian girl Ausarine in the same accommodation just chilling in the dusk air pollution. The wary pair explained to me that they were rescued by another van, and arrived early because they skipped the boat trip! The new members and we had a great time talking and chatting in the hotel’s bar since the gates were locked after sun sets in order to maintain security. Sadly, everyone was all off sleeping due to fatigue and alcohol before we wanted to.
Lake Nakuru National Park
We woke up to a magnificent breakfast buffet, and started our day in the lush green Lake Nakuru National Park. The Russian guy had departed yesterday as he had done all he had planned to do in the country. Now it was just me and Yin. This area of wilderness was a complete 180° twist of the previous savannah experience we had in Masai Mara. Lake Nakuru provided all the water a lush green highland forest would ever need, in contrast to the arid climate barely enough to support weeds we had seen in the past few days. The weather was slightly chilly, and the air was so fresh that it swiftly rid my lungs of all the bad air I accumulated growing up in Shanghai. Before too long, our driver pushed the gas paddle down hard again. By Pavlov’s predictions, Yin and I were more than excited. Something that we never expected to even get close to quickly appeared in the thick underbrush in front of the van as it came to a screeching halt: a rhino. A black rhino in the middle of the damn road!!! We screamed with excitement, and before we could snap a few good photos, it started running away, probably due to my horrible-sounding, shaking voice.
We tried to follow it, but to no avail. It ran quite fast given that it was the size of a sedan car and weighed more than my sister. I suddenly had this kind of morbid curiosity that it would be quite an exhilarating experience to actually get rammed by this small organic tank. I also remembered that I had similar thoughts while seeing some rhinos in Nepal way back in 2012. We were not disappointed though, and in fact we were quite opposite of that! Now we had experienced all Big Five animals! (We found a lot of carnage wrecked by leopards before, such as a carcass hung on a tree, thus completing the leopard sightings) We found more monkeys and even more buffaloes on the way. They seemed to be especially peaceful, as we were able to approach a buffalo to a dangerously close distance without it bothering to move. I guess such a favorable habitat does make one lazy about moving, like me on a sofa.
We could also find herds of grazing animals on the side facing the lake. The grass was especially tall on this side with so much nutrient supporting growth. Buffaloes roamed by the dozens, and antelopes moved in by hundreds upon hundreds. These large herds were unseen in the open grasslands, probably because of the large space available and also the scarcity of their food source. We also found a harem of gazelles, with 1 male and 20+ females and babies.
By the waterfront, we found a giant swampland inhabited by almost every kind of water fowls. There were also herds of zebras roaming in this deep marsh, and of course there was a group of Chinese tourists. One of them wandered off really deep into the swampland with her own selfie stick, and almost disappeared in the treeline before someone noticed. It was ill-advised to say at least, since nobody knows when a well-camouflaged leopard decides to go Chinese for dinner. We did hear her screams as she ran back with mud all over her back, and as it turned out she fell into a large sinkhole dug by warthogs, and water started rushing in. She deserved it as she went way out of bounds admonished by guides.
We slowly made our way around the park, and found a pair of crown cranes. They are famous for their flamboyant head feathers and the fact that these beautiful creatures practice monogamy for life. Oh what romantic lovebirds! How romantic, you might ask? Well, if one crane of the partnership dies, the other usually would become so heartbroken that it commits suicide. (so if I am a crown crane I will never have to commit suicide!) That is just so cool and totally not morbid at all!
We slowly pulled out of the Lake Nakuru National Park after a long morning of pure amazement, and started driving towards our last destination in Kenya. It had already been a long, long journey, and there would be even more grounds to cover today. However, just thinking about the fact that this is just the first out of the 12 countries that I would visit on this trip alone brought shivers down my spine. You never know how large of a scale of a trip is until you are knee deep in exploration! The weather during this entire safari so far had always been quite pleasant, but slowly it turned cloudy.
We eventually reached a flat road that is well maintained and correctly signposted. Trust me, this is very very rare in Africa, as our van could easily go into 120km/hr on this road, while on most “highways” we could barely reach 50km/hr. There was also no other cars on this road, which was extremely bizarre, as it turned out that this was one of the many random projects China commissioned to build in order to facilitate the materials needed for the trans-Kenyan railway, another project they were in charge of. These are all part of their One-Belt-One-Road policy, which is widely criticized as a form of neo-colonialism, but honestly, it benefited the local people, so that is definitely a vast improvement over the old colonialism, right?
We reached the camp of Amboseli at about 9 pm, after a long long 10 hour drive. The van had taken a worse-for-wear look as the last 20 km into this camp could barely be called road, as my skeleton must had been shaken away as I slid down my chair like an overcooked rice noodle. After a gigantic dinner, Yin and I were also escorted to our tents, which was a great upgrade from the one in Masai Mara. There was a fireplace, and there was nothing better than a fireplace under the starry sky. We were able to see the dark ominous shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro hanging around to the southwest, and even at night, its mighty presence was enough to fill you with awe and fear. Yin and I talked a lot, and being stuck in the same moving metal box for the past 5 days did not diminish any of that. I don’t know why, but a fireplace always makes talking to each other much more enjoyable in the dark, cool African night. I am very glad that I at least made a great friend out of this adventure. As the moon descended into the sandy horizon, the wood for the bonfire ran out. The fire flickered a few times, and suddenly diminished into a puff of smoke. I bid good night to Yin, and went back to my tent. We didn’t know what time it was, and we did not care. All it mattered is to enjoy my day, every day.
Amboseli National Park
We had a great breakfast the next day, and got ready to explore this National Park. This locale is another drastic change from the previous ones. This patch of wilderness is much drier, as the land is mostly just sand, and “amboseli” means sandy in the native languages. There was little grass, yet in the middle of the park, there was a giant belt of lush green. As it turned out, the tall Kilimanjaro mountain sitting at its back supplied an abundance of melted snow water into the underground aquifer system. And one of those underground rivers emerges in this area, making it the lifeline of the desert. All animals converge on this green belt, making it an oasis with extremely high biodiversity in this otherwise lifeless wasteland.
We had the luck of seeing some elephants crossing the road. The mothers and the babies all walked while swinging their heads around like me when I was completely immersed in my electronic dance music collection. They kept close watch of our van and each other, as they approached quite closely to us, so close that I could count baby elephants’ eyelashes. Their white glistening tusks were so outstanding that made me understand why it was the most coveted material back in the days.
The most amazing thing, however, was witnessing the phenomenon called dust devils. It looks like a tornado but it is not even close in principle. Luckily, my degree in atmospheric science gives me the professional knowledge to explain why. The ground is heated by the sun, and the air rises as it expands due to heating. The Earth is rotating, and that causes anything moving to experience an apparent force called Coriolis Force. It is the same reason why the typhoons spin in a specific way. In Southern Hemisphere, something rising will be forced into a clockwise spin. This upwards motion is quite common, since you just need a sun heating up the ground. But in Amboseli, it is very dusty, and the rising air brings the sand with it, making us see the otherwise invisible movement. This is why dust devils only can be seen in hot, dry and dusty places during hot afternoons.
We also found a flock of flamingos. They were resting deep in a saline lake, similar to the ones that they inhabit in northern Chile. We were of course unable to approach, but thanks to my slightly-better-than-shit camera, I was able to capture a brilliant dance of pink as they were startled by a propeller airplane.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch on top of a hill in the middle of the park. All kinds of animals could be seen from the distance, along with even more dust devils all over the flood plain. It was probably one of the best lunches I had ever had, and Yin completely agreed. It made me wonder: nature is just too beautiful and fun, why would anyone be uninterested? Everyone should revel at these stunning occurrences, as they just all appeared to be random but actually highly regulated by a system of universal laws and rules of nature. Why would anyone hate our environment so much that they do not care if we destroy it just for a little bit of our comfort? Why are there people who I have talked with only interested in mega-cities and neon signs?
We continued to drive through the sandy fields for the rest of the day. I really cannot tell you any more about this place. It is not because I run out of details to shove down your throat, but because I realized that this kind of beauty is not suitable for words to describe. It is just a vast space of apparent nothingness, but so full of life and energy underneath if you even put in a tiny bit of effort to peel back its veneer. It is a kind of awe-inspiring blank space that I find difficult to even understand myself, let alone recording for you. Life is too great, and how dare I trivialize life itself on my little blog? This kind of beauty, I realized, is something that you have to immortalize in your heart and soul, in person.
Yin and I spent the evening talking by the fire. Even though the cloudy sky shunned the mighty Kilimanjaro and the stars from us, our little pit of fire was as warm as always. The cracking of burning wood accompanied by the wind that swept through the plains with sandy waves. Dogs barked vehemently on the other side of the camp, scaring possibly a leopard into the pitch black grasslands. This was the last night of our safari, and we both knew that. For us both, it was some kind of experience that we would never understand, as we spent our significant chunk of our lifetime in cement forests, busy worrying about zeros and ones on a piece of silicon. So many are like us, completely unaware of the grandiose that awaits us outside the subway maps, and inside our deepest innate selves, forcefully locked away by our subconscious in order to suppress ourselves into a daily nine-to-five. We sighed in unison, as we both lamented that everyone should have got the chance to re-discover themselves in the beautiful land of African once in a life time. The conversation came and went, and so did other campers, but we kept our seats by the fire, only with cups of tea being refilled again, and again…
We took an early morning for our last day in Kenya, and hopped onto the van for one last ride in the Amboseli National Park. The morning was cold and fresh, as the sun was struggling to penetrate the clouds. We did not take many pictures; I guess we both realized the best part of this safari could not be captured by big boxes with a long lens, but by our innate desire to be free. There was a family of elephants that just finished a mud bath, and you could still see the water line on their bodies.
After a few hours, we passed by a dried up lake that stretched beyond the horizon, which was supposed to be filled with water. Global warming and climate change strike again during my travels, and sadly, there was nothing that we could do. In an hour, we approached the town of Namanga. At this border towns facing Tanzania, we said goodbye to our driver, as operators could not cross borders.
Here I come, Tanzania!
Looking back, I realized Kenya was probably the perfect place to start this trip around the world. The great people that helped me with my passport issue, the wind carving waves on grasslands in Masai Mara, the crazy housing condition of the indigenous people, and the roaring dust devils blowing through plains filled with animals, all made the country so memorable and unique that I could never forget. I shook hands with my driver after I finished the border formalities, and walked across the road separating the two countries.
Yin and I were welcomed by a bus driver from the Tanzania side, who was only responsible for getting us to the town of Arusha. We hopped onto the bus to realize it was extremely crowded. Nearly 40 people were stuck in a mini-bus that was obviously designed for a small group, and I could not help but gasp when a lady with 3 children on her lap smiled at me. As I struggled to sit down on the floor covered with mud in the aisle, I smiled. Seeing the mighty Kilimanjaro in the distance, and thinking being on top of it in a week, I realized, the real adventure was just ahead of me.
Kilimanjaro, here I come.