A brave camping attempt

Although I had camped once before in Bogoria with Richard and Philip [1] our first attempt at spending a couple of nights under canvas took place at the Sand River campsite in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. This pioneer effort took place way before I knew I would be working at Intona ranch in the Transmara, something that would require lots of driving through the Reserve as well as camping for many years.

We were still staying at Muguga House then and we hatched the idea together with Kevin, a young forester that was had arrived to work a short time at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) a sister organization of the Kenya Veterinary Research Institute, both of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

Aware that his time in Kenya was limited, Kevin wished to visit the well-known Maasai Mara before returning to the UK so he was the main promoter of the idea. He managed to convince our friend Ranjini to come as well so we created a four-person team for this rather new undertaking.

Kevin did most of the footwork for the trip, Ranjini borrowed some stuff from other colleagues and I borrowed a large and strong tent from our laboratory in Muguga. We rented the 4WD car we could afford and ended up with a Subaru van. Unfortunately, we could not pack lots of things in it so our safari lacked a few essentials we have learnt to love over the years we have spent camping in comfort.

We did not have a table, chairs or mattresses. Luckily we were able to borrow four sleeping bags, basic cooking utensils, cutlery and crockery and, wisely, the ladies decided to stuff four pillows (borrowed from Muguga House!) at the last minute! The rest, we thought, would be overlooked by our enthusiasm and excitement at camping in the open surrounded by wild animals!

The trip started on a Friday morning traveling about 30 km in the wrong direction as we needed to catch a matatu (packed public minibus) to Nairobi to get the car only to go back to Muguga to load it and start our journey. Kevin drove all the way as I had not driven a right hand drive car yet.

Although he drove rather fast to get to our destination before closing time, the trip went well. We got a bit of a scare when, trying to save petrol, he switched the engine off during a long descent and both the power steering and the brakes stopped working! Luckily this only lasted a few seconds until the engine re-started and all functions returned to normality! After a rather long journey, we arrived to the Maasai Mara rather late but luckily we managed to get in before the closing time and reached the Sand River campsite rather late.

Although we all had assembled tents before, putting up the large tent for the first time in the dark was a bigger challenge than we had anticipated. There was a lot of trial and error and, after our best combined effort we were very pleased when we managed to get something with a V shape erected that served the purpose for us to rest our tired bones after a quick supper.

camping ranjini kevin

From left to right: Ranjini, Kevin and Mabel (kneeling down) and a good tent badly assembled!

That night we herd grunting noises very close to our tent. Although we were sleepy and tired the situation demanded some discussion as, at times, the situation became rather nerve-wrecking with the grunts coming from an animal or animals very close to the tent! After a while we unanimously decided that buffaloes were responsible for the noise, as we had seen them nearby earlier on. Today I believe that we all knew which animal was responsible but that we took the decision for our own peace of mind and refuse to accept that there were lions inspecting our camp!

Lion grunts

Despite the nervous start of the night we slept through and, luckily, we were in a good enough shape in the morning. When we saw the way our tent looked, we had a good laugh and decided that it was worth spending some time reassembling it to manage to close its zips fully! We finally managed to get it more or less in shape and to close it.

We decided that it was time to explore the area searching, as any first comers to the Maasai Mara, for lions. However, before departing we walked to the dry river bed to check for spoor. The overwhelming lion spoor we saw left us in no doubt of the kind of night visitors we had.

We drove many kilometres through the bush, got lost a few times and, finally to our delight, we found a couple of sleeping lions. Although the objects of our desire hardly moved, they made our day!

Maasai Mara lions

Our first lions.

Again, we returned to our camp very late after our drive to prepare supper. Unfortunately, while we were cooking we heard Ranjini saying that she had just lost her contact lenses in the grass, just outside the tent while trying to clean them. We postponed supper and all joined efforts in search of the tiny lenses in twilight. After a while, luckily, Mabel’s eyes came to the rescue and she, miraculously, found both of them stuck to some blade of grass!

That evening we also heard our first hyena call and we could also herd lions roaring in the distance. Our British friends knew both sounds from the BBC documentaries. We believed them.

Hyenas calling.

Lion roar

That night the grunting took place inside the tent and it was equally disturbing to everybody except me, the cause of the noise. My snoring was such that both Ranjini and Kevin were planning to wake me up (or worse!) when we had a partial tent collapse that solved the problem as we all woke up and my roaring, apparently, ceased!

Although this first camping was very basic and limited in what we saw, it wetted our appetite for the bush and showed that there was a lot to explore in Kenya and that you did not need to pay a fortune to do it. We promised ourselves that, as soon as our finances allowed it, we would get camping equipment and start going out to enjoy beautiful Kenya.

 

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2018/02/22/pink-bogoria/

 

 

 

Uncomfortable tick

Working with certain ticks can be dangerous. As an example, it is possible to contract the severe Crimean-Congo Haemorraghic fever while working with its vector Hyalomma spp. Luckily, most of the work we carried out at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) dealt with the Brown Ear tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus), vector of Theileriosis, the most important and deadly cattle tick-borne disease found in Africa but not known to transmit diseases to humans. Over the many years my colleagues and I worked with this tick, we never had an instance of sickness that we could attribute to them.

R a on ear high resol

Heavy infestation of Rhipicephalus appendiculatus on a calf ear.

Ixodid (hard) ticks such as the Brown Ear tick bite but do not sting. They do not bite like other insects either but rather they attach themselves in a usually painless way so that you do not know about them until sometime later. Argasid (soft) ticks do bite, feed and go away to their resting place to come back and feed again after digesting the blood meal.

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The Argasid ticks (Ornitodhoros, Argas, etc.) shown will bite, feed and detach. Ixodid ticks (Rhipicephalus, Hyalomma, Amblyomma, etc.) need to attach to the host prior to feeding).

Although we did not get any disease signs, we did experience tick bites very often. We got ticks on while walking in the field and during our laboratory work during which we needed to handle them very often.

Although the adult ticks did not attach readily to us, the nymphs and larvae did. Their preferred body regions were areas where there was hair such as neck, armpits and genital area but the larvae picked while walking on the grass would mainly stay on your ankles (pepper ticks). Eventually I became hypersensitive to their bites that produce me intense itching that makes me scratch their bites intensely and often breaking my skin!

 

Counting immature ticks was a normal procedure for our work and -at the time- the procedure consisted in placing them on a white smooth table where immediately they would start moving. Being attracted by CO2 they would aim for you straight away and you needed to work very fast to be able to catch them -with an inverted tube- before they would get at you. Unfortunately and rather inevitably a few would break through your defences, fell on your lap or crawled up your arms with the consequence that later you would find them attached to you in the various places mentioned above!

Although, as I mentioned above, adult ticks generally did not attach to you, there were exceptions with certain species that caused the unfortunate incident that happened to a visiting colleague.

After a day of fieldwork counting and collecting ticks from local domestic animals in the Mbita Point area [1], we came back to our bungalow for a deserved shower before our dinner. I noted that John (not his real name) was walking with his legs slightly separated as if suffering from nappy rash but I attributed to the many hours we spent kneeling down searching for ticks and -with some effort- refrained from making any rude remarks!

It was only after the shower that he came to me and, very seriously, told me that he had a problem. This took me by surprise but nothing prepared me for what would come next. “I have a tick attached to me and I cannot remove it!” and, before I could comment he added, “because it is in a place that I cannot reach” and then added “do you think you can pull it out?”

Having suffered various tick invasions to my privacy, I immediately imagined where the invader was and -albeit unwillingly- agreed to do it. So it was that I ended up with my naked colleague spreadeagled on a bed!

I will omit further details of the intervention except to say that I did lock the door as I suddenly realised that the excuse “I was looking for a tick” if found rummaging my friends privates to a visitor would not be very credible! Fortunately, no one disturbed the procedure!

It was good that the trespasser was an adult female that had already started to engorge and it was easy to find and to remove it intact by turning it upside down before pulling it out. At that time I did not possess my “tick remover” tool that was sent to me as a present from the manufacturers.

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A “tick remover”. Please note that I neither recommend or do not recommend this product that i have never used.

Leaving mouthparts’ fragments embedded in the skin could have still caused further discomfort in such delicate body region! We were both very relieved with the outcome and celebrated the de-ticking with a couple of beers over dinner.

 

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/03/26/kenya-friends-and-foes1/ and https://bushsnob.com/2015/04/04/chicken-a-la-rusinga1/

Apartheid days

The Oxford dictionary defines Apartheid as ” … (in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race [1].

At the time of our arrival in Kenya Apartheid was in full swing in South Africa. As this Afrikaans name suggests, segregation (or literally “separateness”) between races had been official policy from 1948. The system promoted White supremacy over Blacks, Coloured and Asian South Africans the four main racial groups it recognised. Marriages (or sex) between races were forbidden and housing and employment opportunities were for Whites only.

At the time that our experience took place, there was a bitter struggle going on in order to obtain equal rights for black people but the news about this were not widely known and there was no social media in those days.

Before I traveled to Kenya my knowledge of Africa was negligible. As most people I pictured it as a jungle largely influenced by the Tarzan movies! I was aware of Patrick Lumumba’s assassination in the Belgian Congo and we did study the ideology of Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau movement but little else.

My concept of Apartheid was also very limited but I knew that it was the segregation of Black Africans by a White minority in South Africa and that there was some kind of sanctions imposed to South Africa because of this.

Once in the UK in 1979 while studying for my MSc in Wales I followed the negotiations between the UK and Zimbabwe that culminated with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement that granted independence to Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. Following the latter I learnt more about Apartheid, particularly that it included an arms and trade embargo as well as serious on-going conflicts of South Africa with neighbouring countries as well as a number of other sanctions that had various degrees of success.

In 1981, when we arrived, Kenya had obtained its independence in 1964 and Jomo Kenyatta had, by then, been succeeded by Daniel arap Moi after his death in 1978. All people were equal in Kenya but it had strong policies against what was then known as “the racist regime” of South Africa.

Very soon we had to deal with the Apartheid complications when Mabel traveled to Kenya as I already described [2] but this was a kind of remote perception of the issue that only became real when we returned to Uruguay after completing my FAO “Andre Mayer” fellowship.

At the time, to get from Nairobi to Montevideo you could not avoid a stopover in Johannesburg, where you needed to spend a night or two, depending of the flight connection. I believe that there were two flights per week between Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro, operated by Varig [3].

When the time to travel home arrived, we got our tickets from the Varig office in Nairobi. Those were the times of hand-written tickets! Varig informed us that we required a Visa for South Africa, even if we were to spend the night at the airport. This meant a similar procedure to the one undergone at the time of Mabel’s arrival for both of us.

As we were returning to Kenya after our holiday to work at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), they also reminded us that the Kenya Government would refuse entry to visitors with South African stamps in their passports. Again we solved this by getting Visas on a separate sheet of paper through the South Africa Trade Mission[4] in Nairobi after going through a lengthy questionnaire.

Now we only needed to get our money and pack our cases. As we did not have credit cards then, we went to our bank to get travellers cheques (TCs), an instrument rarely used today with the advent of the ATM machines! We preferred to carry TCs as these were safer than cash. Almost immediately regretted our decision when we immediately noted the stamp at the back saying “Valid worldwide except in the Republic of South Africa”!

Although our overnight stay in Johannesburg to connect with the flight to Rio de Janeiro would be paid for by Varig we realised that duty-free shopping would be out of the question!

On arrival at Johannesburg all our attention was focused on avoiding the infamous stamp in our passports as, although we had the paper visa, we needed to hand them over as well. We were relieved to get them back “clean” we tried to memorise the process for our return in a month time.

So, soon afterwards we were back traveling to South Africa on our return trip to Kenya. This time we decided to spend an extra day at Johannesburg to have a look at the city and buy a few essentials that we could not get in Kenya.

We managed to “survive” immigration managing to keep our passports “visa free” and we were taken to our hotel by its courtesy bus. During the whole time at the airport we dealt with whites and, believe me, that the driver of the bus was the first black man we saw!

The following morning we decided to catch a public bus to get to the centre of Johannesburg and the hotel receptionist advised us of the location of the bus stop. So we walked a short distance and found it. After a few minutes we saw a bus approaching and we tried -fruitlessly- to stop it. After a few more buses drove past, one finally stopped only for us to be informed by a kind driver that we needed to wait further for the correct bus. The one for whites!

A few minutes later the bus came and we got in. The drive was through among the cleanest streets we had seen (including those in the UK) and the city centre was no exception! Soon we were walking and being amazed by the number and quality of the shops we saw. We were coming from Uruguay going through bad spell and going to Kenya that did not allow many imports to get into the country and certainly none from South Africa!

It was time for us to change our TCs and we entered in the first bank we found to get some Rand. After some consideration we had decided to ignore the ban stamp at the back and handed them over to the cashier. Without showing any concern he counted them and gave us the equivalent in Rand. Unable to restrain my curiosity I asked if he did not mind the stamp at the back. He shrugged his shoulders and said something in Afrikaans that did not sound nice! “So much for the stamp and the sanctions”, I thought!

There were so many tempting stores that we had difficulties choosing one to enter and, frankly, I do not recall their names. By the end of the our shopping we had managed to get a lot of items that we needed in Kenya [5] and I still have a strong rubberised torch (my “Black Apartheid torch” as I call it) that still survives today! Amazingly, all shop attendants were white and the blacks were nowhere to be seen!

Once in the street, we walked about through streets -again- vastly dominated by white pedestrians with very few Africans on sight, most of them involved in service tasks. Tired and to avoid being left behind by buses, we decided that a taxi would take us to our hotel to get ready to leave the following day after our Apartheid first hand experience!

Many years later, on 10 May 1994, the day Nelson Mandela became President I was in South Africa on a work trip related to my FAO work. While watching the vast African crowds celebrating the event, the memories of our first visit to the “racist regime” in the 80s came vividly to my mind and I really felt joyful at seeing that finally there was equality for all. But more of that later, when I deal with stories from Southern Africa.

 

[1] See: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/apartheid

[2] See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/03/26/kenya-friends-and-foes1/

[3] Varig (Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense), formerly the largest airline of Latin America and Brazil’s first airline, stopped flying in 2006. Varig was known and recognized worldwide for its quality. From: http://www.varig-airlines.com/en/

[4] I am not sure of the exact kind of representation that South Africa had in Kenya at the time.

[5] In the 80s imports into Kenya were somehow controlled and most of the stuff in the shops were local or from neighbouring countries.

 

===

Apartheid attracted lots of opposition not only in Africa but worldwide. Arms and trade embargo. During 1970-80s internal resistance to A became strong and several brutal crackdowns followed by the Nat Party government. From 1987 to 1993 the NP entered in negotiations with the ANC. In 1990 prominent ANC figures including Mandela were released from prison and all Apartheid legislation was repealed on 17 June 1991 and multiracial elections held in April 1994.

========

I needed to return to Uruguay for a vacation and later return to Kenya to take up my new appointment as a Research Scientist at the

 

started to notice that all employees at the airport were white, except those dealing with cleaning and other services, although we knew that the majority of the population were not!

 

 

Season’s greetings from Nairobi

Christmas 1986 and the new 1987 were approaching and a group of friends (us included) hatched a novel greeting cards plan. Instead of buying the cards as we did every year, we would make our own. The design was straightforward: we would pose like a bunch of Kenya settlers.

After some discussion on the idea and some other options, we stuck with the original one and we only needed to wait for the cost of the project. Soon we had a couple of quotes from printers and it became clear that our homemade cards would actually be cheaper than buying cards as we used to do in those days. So we decided to go ahead.

To be credible, the project required careful preparation. We needed to look like settlers, not only with the proper clothing and accessories but also ourselves. For the latter the men grew special moustaches, beards and longish hair while the ladies appealed to ancient haircuts!

Initially the costumes were an issue until someone mentioned the Kenya National Theatre. So a delegation got the Director to agree and, after a long selection session we borrowed the necessary items for a few days.

The next issue to be resolved was the location for the shooting. Again, several options were contemplated such as house gardens, Nairobi National Park and the National Railways Museum. As Nairobi was linked to the railways and we all enjoyed steam engines, we decided that we would pose by an old steam engine for two of the cards and at a garden for the remaining one.

When all was ready we realised that we needed a photographer! We found a professional photographer that was happy to take several pictures at each of the chosen locations so that we could select the best pictures. He would also develop them with a sepia tint to give a vintage feeling and add further credibility to the end product.

A Saturday morning, we gathered at one of the friend’s house where we had breakfast and posed for one of the pictures. Afterwards, we all traveled to the Museum. Our appearance created some commotion as it was not usual to have a group of people dressed in old clothes to visit the place! However, once we explained the reason for our weird looks, we were sold tickets and given the go ahead for the pictures to be taken.

A couple of days later the photographer brought a few samples and we agreed on three of them after examining all the pictures taken and ordered the cards. Unfortunately, I only found one of them.

Christmas card circa 1986 copy 3

In the picture a young Bushsnob is seen with a rather abundant beard (second from the left) and his wife Mabel (third from the left) both seated.

We shared the cards and the bill among ourselves and sent them to friends and relatives without giving details about the picture. We expected some rude or funny comments about our looks but we were disappointed as we did not get any!

It was only months later, when we went on home leave and asked our families and friends about the cards, that it became clear that they had not realised that we were on them!

I recall having to use a magnifying glass to confirm to several of them that indeed we were in the pictures!

Life in Nairobi

After a while in Tigoni Mabel decided to look for a job and Nairobi was the obvious place to find it. The idea was to capitalise on her Spanish and English knowledge. She started doing translations for Spanish-speaking embassies and very soon she got a permanent position at the Embassy of Chile. After a while she moved to the Commercial Section of the Embassy of Argentina where she remained for a few years.

Luckily, John, a neighbour at Tigoni gave her lifts to work mornings and afternoons, as I was busy at Muguga and regularly traveling to Intona. Despite John’s kindness and flexibility there were days that the arrangement was not possible and I needed to drive to Nairobi to take her or to collect her. Sometimes I would be delayed so she would be stuck in Nairobi! Although we enjoyed the relaxed and picturesque life at Tigoni we decided that it was time to move to Nairobi.

Although still very manageable at that time, Nairobi had moved on from its origins as an offspring of the Uganda Railways to a vibrant city. It had started around 1899 when the railways work arrived to the then known as mile 327, a treeless swampy area watered by the Ewaso Nairobi river that in Maa (the Maasai language) meant “cold water”. At that spot the railway construction work was delayed while the engineers tackled the steep and difficult climb to the highlands ahead on their way to Uganda and from a railway depot the city grew.

Through the landlord of the building occupied by Mabel’s office we found a suitable flat located on Bishops Road, behind the then Panafric Hotel. Our move was very simple as all our possessions fit in our VW kombi and we negotiated for the flat to be furnished with the essential gear and household appliances. We soon realised, however, that we lacked a few more “essentials”.

We did not have curtains, cushions and other domestic necessities so Mabel went to look for the needed materials to make them herself and this is how she discovered Biashara (Business) Street and its great assortment of cloth shops where she not only managed to find what she wished but also became a frequent visitor returning there again and again in search of materials for her dress-making as well as to get the colourful kangas [1] that she loved and still keeps to date! She was always well treated by their owners, mainly Indian settlers that were tough to bargain with. She kept visiting them to the last day as it was there that she got all needed materials for our move to Ethiopia in 1988.

IMG_4757 copy

One of the first kangas that Mabel bought in Nairobi still with us today! The inscriptions can be translated as “youngsters do not change their character”.

After a while we realised that we also needed a carpet for our sitting room. As new ones were rather dear to us we searched for a second hand one. We found one at an auction place and we managed to outbid the competition rather easily. When we put it in place we realised that it stank of dogs and it would be difficult to keep it at the flat. So smelly it was that our cats would refuse to step on it and would stay well clear of the sitting room! We sprinkled a couple of kilograms of coffee on it to try and neutralise its stench but, eventually, it had to go.

We were now living in a large capital city and we enjoyed the experience. Nairobi had a nice air about it and it was not yet as large and car-choked as I found it to be more recently. The amount of people walking around was, however, staggering. Particularly in the mornings while driving to Muguga I could see the long lines of people that were walking from the outskirts to their jobs in the city and the impression was such that these became imprinted in my mind to the present day!

We had not visited the Nairobi restaurants very often while in Tigoni as we were reluctant to drive back home at night. So, moving to Nairobi meant that we could start dining out. Although we found the Tamarind beyond our reach, there were others we could enjoy such as “El Patio” a place that served some nice dishes including paella. We also gradually started to visit some of the Indian restaurants that were accessible and served excellent food.

We also found a special local restaurant on River Road (not really a safe place at the time) that was opened all the time and where we sometimes dined while returning from safaris. Amazed at it being always open we eventually learnt the reason: its door had been removed!

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A newer kanga from Kenya. It is written “your patience is a worship of god”.

Soon, Mabel also discovered “La Trattoria”, an Italian place that made excellent ice cream and reasonable pizzas and, with Ranjini, she would frequent some of the hotels such as the Hilton and the well-known Norfolk (built in the early 1900’s) that offered good Kenya tea (served English style) accompanied by first class cakes. I also enjoyed the occasional Kenya coffee and the New Stanley hotel with its huge fever tree was my favourite.

After a while Mabel also started a “Cordon Bleu” cookery course. During each of the classes she would return home with the dishes she had prepared so we took this opportunity every Wednesday to invite friends to join us for a meal!

Gradually we got to know good supermarkets and butchers and, again, Mabel began to explore the latter in search of the meat cuts that she preferred from our South American days. She found a “tame” butcher that allowed her to venture into the cold room to choose what she required. That was the way we acquired “matambre” (flank steak)[2].  This is a superficial and thin ventral muscle that -if not care is taken to remove it- it can be damaged or even removed with the hide. Mabel managed to get it and it became known as “Mabel’s cut” among the Latin American consumers that soon were ordering this speciality as well!

Fruit and vegetable markets were really fantastic and it was great fun to shop in them. The Westlands roundabout area offered a great shop run by a Sikh gentleman that had great quality and excellent client service as your shopping would be carried by a “helper” in a “kikapu” basket [3] to your car.

kikapu

A kikapu.

Outside that shop, a gentleman we came to know well constantly shouted “sweet peas madam, sweet peas madam” as he would follow you to the car. It was difficult not to buy his fresh peas as they were the sweetest I remember! The Central Market on Muindi Mbingu Street was also an enjoyable experience as there was an amazing abundance and variety of produce that was staggering for us, some that we had never seen such as mangoes, papayas and other tropical fruits.

Peter, our housekeeper, came with us to Nairobi on loan from our Tigoni landlord until we found a replacement as he was needed back at our former house. He stayed a few months traveling all the way from Uplands and basically helped Mabel with the cleaning of the flat. He insisted on walking with her every morning to her office in the centre of town and back home in the afternoons as a true bodyguard!

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A newer kanga bought in Mozambique in 2012. Its message refers -as far as I could gather- to Valentine’s Day! Things change…

Eventually we found someone to replace him and we sent him back to Tigoni with a heavy heart as he was a good man. So, a Peter left and another one arrived. The new Peter was a “supercharged” one and luckily for us, he only lasted for six months! It happened that he was the cook at the Canadian High Commission but, as there was no Head of Mission at that time, he was idle and wished to earn some extra money until his new boss would arrive.

We took him on the understanding that he would return to his permanent job whenever he was needed while we looked for a permanent worker. Not only Peter could cook well, do the shopping for us and kept our small flat squeaky clean (I am sure he cleaned it about three times a day as it was very small compared with the Ambassador’s residence!). He was constantly walking on “polishing shoes” shining our floors that looked as shiny as slippery to walk on! He brought to our lives the usual colonial custom of waking you up with a tray of tea at 6 am. without hearing anything, we would find the tea tray ready every morning.

The time for spoiling came to an end after about five months when Peter announced that a new High Commissioner was about to arrive. Fortunately, he brought a replacement that was also a Peter! The third Peter was somewhere between the previous two and perfect for us. He could cook well and did not bother with polishing the floor at all times. We liked the early morning tea and we asked him to continue with that tradition! Kenyan tea was very special and we really enjoyed it. He stayed with us until our departure for Ethiopia when we passed him to our good friend Susan.

The move to Nairobi also took us out of the British- and settler-dominated Tigoni into a cosmopolitan city. There were already international organisations based at Gigiri and their number was increasing. It was like this that we got new friends from other parts of the world, including a few from Latin America, of course. In particular we befriended the very few Uruguayans and Argentinians with which we had more affinity.

As some had “proper” houses with BBQ places, we re-encountered some of our culture through weekend gatherings to enjoy good “asados” (wood grilled meat) and some excellent Argentinian wine to go with it, courtesy of a few diplomatic friends we made. Carlos, one of them from Argentina had persuaded one of the main butchers called Gilani to make sausages following his own recipe from Necochea in Argentina. These were “real sausages” unlike the ones we found in the Nairobi shops that were made following the British recipe, something totally different and -for us- inferior.

It was with a group of Argentinian friends (headed by the Ambassador at the time) that we managed to organise ourselves to watch the 1986 World Cup games where Argentina played. Most of them were during the small hours of the morning and we “negotiated” to go an watch them at the studios of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) where a small crowd of us (as well as some Kenyan employees of KBC) would seat in front of their recording monitors!

Argentina did well and reached the final that was broadcasted live by KBC and that we all watched at the Argentinian Ambassador’s residence after enjoying a great reception at lunchtime. It was a very dramatic final but Maradona helped Argentina to beat Germany and we forgot our regional rivalries to celebrate the title together as a Latin America community far from home.

I also started playing tennis on some weekends at the Nairobi Club and we also discovered learnt the Carnivore restaurant in Langata where, for a fixed amount of money, you could eat as much meat as you wished. The menu included meat from domestic and wild animals and we went there a few times although we found it to be too much meat! However, it was a very popular eating venue for the Latin American community. Eventually, as the winners in the casino, some of them were from entering the restaurant as they consumed too much meat! Being a resourceful bunch they managed to circumvent this problem by booking the place under fake names and continue to visit it!

During our time the National Museum offered a great introductory course to Kenya known as the “Know Kenya” series of lectures. In this was we enjoyed great educational lectures on many aspects of Kenya, including those delivered by Mary and Richard Leakey on the evolution of humankind. Mary’s husband (and Richard’s father) was the famous Louis Leakey that had already died by then. He was a famous anthropologist that was born in Kabete and greatly advanced the study of hominids. He was also responsible for bringing Diane Fossey and Jane Goddall to Africa to study large apes.

Another hitherto unexplored asset of Nairobi was its National Park located a few minutes from our house. We started to frequent it and, after a few visits we bought a year permit for our car to enter the park freely so this became a favourite outing. As the place was on the way from the airport, from that time onwards we started bringing our overseas visitors home by driving them through the park to give them a taste of the bush a few minutes after leaving the airplane! They loved it and helped making their stay even more memorable.

We spent many hours at the park as it offered all desirable wildlife with the exception of elephants. I will tell you a few stories about our visits in future posts.

Before we handed back our beloved kombi to FAO at the end of my FAO Fellowship, we managed to acquire a Land Rover and I described the process in https://bushsnob.com/2017/07/20/buying-a-car/. Later we bought our first new car, a Peugeot 504, together with Paul (see: https://bushsnob.com/2018/01/21/simbas-bush-baptism/). The Peugeot was, at the time, the most sought after car in Africa, known as “Simba” because of the lion of its make. We enjoyed both good and bad times with it.

With the new car we were able to travel faster and longer trips became more feasible, particularly reaching the coast where we managed to explored a few places. I also had a spell of bad luck when I had the only crash I had ever had (see: https://bushsnob.com/2018/04/28/collision/) and also the only robbery we suffered during the years we lived in Kenya: my spare wheel was stolen while the car was parked at our parking place in our flat! So much for the security guard!

The “Drive-In” cinemas, in particular the Fox Drive-In on the way to Thika, were places we frequented often as we did not have a television at home. It was a popular place where you could enjoy a tasty meal while watching a good movie. The food had Indian influence and the potato “bajhias” were fantastic. There was another drive-in cinema on the way to the airport that we also tried but only once. We were very impressed about the Indian food served but did not suspect that the programme was aimed at the Indian community showing Bollywood movies! We left during the first interval after finishing our meal!

So, life was going great for us and I am sure we would still be in Nairobi if it would not have been -again- by FAO. The manager of a project in Ethiopia had suffered a serious heart attack and needed to be evacuated for medical attention and FAO needed a replacement rather urgently to continue with a tick survey and population dynamics study. When the position was offered to me, after a lot of thinking I accepted it.

It was a risky decision as the contract was for an initial period of eighteen months but the salary offered was very good for my standards so, after over seven years in Kenya, we took the short flight to Addis Ababa to re-join FAO, this time as a fully-fledged employee. Little I knew then that I was going to stay with FAO in various capacities for twenty-five years.

 

[1] In Ki-Swahili a kanga is a piece of colourfully printed cotton fabric, about 1.5 m by 1 m, often with a border along all four sides (called pindo and a central part  the mji which differs in design from the borders.

[2] The panniculus adiposus is the fatty layer of the subcutaneous tissues, superficial to a deeper vestigial layer of muscle, the panniculus carnosus. Together they make the cut. It is also known as the “fly shaker”, because it is the muscle used by the animal to twitch to repel insects.

[3] Several kinds of baskets were in use in Nairobi those days. A kikapu was a simple straw-woven open basket.

 

Vundu fishing in Kariba

Introduction

My brother and I have fished together many times over the years. Our shared passion started when we were still very young and fished in the River Plate and tributaries and extended to the present expedition in search of the vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis) in lake Kariba.

We have fished in several places of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers on a catch and release basis. We have been very fortunate to catch a few of the two most coveted fish: the dorado (Salminus maxillosus) and the surubí (Pseudoplatystoma corruscans). My wife and I had our first experience fishing for dorado in Paso de la Patria, Corrientes in the 80s[1] and have fished more fish in the Corrientes province with my brother afterwards, always on a catch and release basis. Accompanied by my son and I, my brother caught a large surubí at Ita Ibate that is still the family record to be broken!

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Holding the surubí estimated by the local guide to be around 40kg.

We have also fished in the upper Amazon tributaries in Bolivia and earlier in Zimbabwe in Kanyemba where we caught the also sought after tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus). Despite this, the vundu has remained elusive for my brother although my daughter and I managed a few as described earlier [2]. This, together with tales of gigantic specimens, became intolerable so we went there to try our luck!

Before I go on I need to be honest up front, my brother Agustín is a fisherman with unlimited patience and a passion to get things out of the water. I am not patient and therefore only function when the fish, preferably large ones, are biting. However, I enjoy his company and we have good laughs together and as a late great fisherman of Paso de la Patria, Don Luis Shultz, always said ” the worst day fishing is better than the best day working”.

Preparations

Still following earlier advice from my wife’s dentist and our own experience mentioned above, again we hired a boat to sail lake Kariba up to the Ume River like the last time. On this occasion, in view of the fuel situation in Zimbabwe, we decided to go for a smaller houseboat so we hired the “Harmony”, a cruiser, for a week.

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The Harmony, our home for one week.

Apart from booking the boat, getting food and water to last us for the whole period was the priority. We also needed bait. This consisted of dry kapenta (Limnothrissa miodon), earthworms [3], ox heart and liver and more exotically: green soap! The latter was a favourite of the vundu and my wife secured a couple of bars from the local supermarket just in case. The soap was so stinky that, after a few days, we needed to wrap it tight to avoid its stench pervading all over the garage. Needless to say that it traveled -together with the earthworms- on the roof rack!

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The stinky green soap bars.

Days before the expedition we secured some extra hooks, sinkers, steel trace and line just in case. We were going after large fish and did not wish to fail due to lack of equipment! That prove to be a good precaution as we will see. So, finally all was ready and with the car packed we went.

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Loading the car.

The trip

We left Harare at the unacceptable time of 03:30am. This early start was needed to be able to board our cruiser at 09:00am in Kariba Breezes harbour. After an uneventful trip we arrived in good time and met our supplier of drinks (mainly water) and our crew: Message, the captain and fishing guide, Eddie, the deckhand, cleaner and helper and Smart, the cook.

From the start we realized that we were lucky with Message and Eddie but faced some difficulties with the cook. The latter was used to cooking for the local fishermen and we had brought ingredients for Mediterranean cooking! Therefore it is not difficult to imagine that Mabel, being Italian, needed to closely supervise the food preparation and, although she kept a close eye on the action, we still suffered a few small cooking tragedies!

The lake was, as usual, a beautiful blue and, although we have seen it and navigated it a few times before, still very impressive. The Kariba dam was built between 1955 and 1959 by an Italian company that poured one million cubic metres of cement into it.

IMG_4734 copyWith its 617m of length, 13m of width and 128m of height. It has always amazed me that such small barrier can create a lake of 280 km long with an average width of 18km (widest 32km) and two thousand km of shoreline! Its deepest point is 120m but it is also very shallow in some areas so the average depth, if of any use to know, is 18m.

When the dam stopped the waters of the Zambezi, animals got trapped in islands that were going to get submerged so an operation called “Noah” was launched headed by Rupert Fotherhill, a well known conservationist. Today Fotherhill island in the lake remembers him that sadly passed away in May 1975[4].

Enough of data and history and back to the story.

The fishing

We left the harbour with a farewell organized by the resident hippos and navigated for about five hours. We stopped beyond Elephant Point as it was not possible to reach the Ume river with good visibility that day. We fished there but had no luck. The same bad luck stayed with us during the couple of nights spent at the Ume river, although we had a couple of bites (suspected by vundu) that we missed and we had to be happy with a couple of small bream (Oreochromis spp.) that we kept for the pot and tasted great!

Fishing in the African rivers is never boring, even if the fish do not bite. Apart from the abundant birdlife that can always surprise you as we will see below, the abundant hippo population is always keeping you “entertained”. Either you watch their water antiques and interactions while letting you know that they are there or outside when sunning themselves when you discover the very small babies that you miss in the water when they travel in the backs of their mums.

In addition, apart from the usual antelopes, there is always the possibility of seeing some of the large predators and the certainty that elephants will turn up and also keep you amused.

Disappointed after having fished at the Ume river we decided to move off the following day. That night we decided to leave two rods baited with green soap from the stern of the house boat with the hope that we would get some fish during the night. We set the reels with their alarms with the idea that we would hear the fish taking the bait and running. Although we tried to stay long, very soon, tired after a whole day under the sun, we forgot about the rods and retired to bed rather early.

Although neither we nor the crew heard anything that night, both rods had fish on them the next morning and we were very excited! It was immediately clear that we were on large fish as the rubber tie that held my rod had been cut by the fish pulling! Sadly, our lines had also become entangled in the many submerged trees and we could not see what we had as both lines needed to be cut!

So, that morning we went out fishing seeking revenge but, again, we drew blanks but my brother continued fishing from the houseboat after lunch and his efforts were rewarded with a vundu. It was a very small one but at least it was good to confirm that vundu were not yet extinct!

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Agustín’s first vundu.

This small success, together with the night episode, was sufficient to prompt us to stay fishing that night. Needless to say that our enthusiasm gradually waned and by 01:00am, in the absence of fish activity, we gave up as a result of a combination of feeling cold and sleepy!

Following our lack of success during our night fishing, in consultation with Message, we decided to depart from the Ume area after lunch as we would still try to catch something in the morning. Message was sure that we would catch what we were after at Elephant point so, after yet another luckless morning we departed at midday of day four.

Once moored safely at our new location we resumed our fishing. The water was very calm but we saw lots of dry trees in our new location as the water of the lake was very low. Although we joked that with less water the fish would be more concentrated, the hidden trunks were a menace to our lines.

We decided to go all out and put all our rods out with different baits to care for all possible tastes! After a while I had a fish on the green soap that I missed by striking it too early and taking the soap away from its mouth (apparently). It was a good start and a while later I had another strong run. This time I waited but stroked too hard and broke the line, causing great hilarity all round as I nearly fell backwards out of the boat! It seemed that Message had been right, there were some interesting fish at Elephant point.

The following morning (day five) we hooked a couple of fish that we also lost as they would go around submerged trees causing the lines to snap. The situation was getting desperate when, luckily, Agustín hooked a vundu that ran towards a treeless area and, eventually, was brought in. It weighed 6.5kg and it was returned to the lake to continue growing! That was something after the effort we had put in so far and it was celebrated that evening with some whisky on the rocks.

During day six, while I was busy losing hooks, sinkers and line for various reasons, my brother caught another fish that at 11.6 kg was quite decent and, although still far from our expectations, made as (and mainly him) very happy. Of course Agustín still claims that my balance was faulty and that the fish must have weighed about 15kg but I ignored his comments as I used my luggage balance and it has worked well for many years! The new fish provided another good excuse to give our bottle of whisky another hard time!

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Agustín with the 11,6 kg vundu.

That day, while my brother was busy fishing and I entertained myself losing gear, my attention was called when I herd loud honking coming from a sand bank about 60m from us. Through the binoculars I saw that two Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) were having a fight. This was not the usual confrontation in which posturing and threatening displays end with the withdrawal of one of the contenders. The fight had gone physical!

They were holding each other by their heads while strongly hitting each other with their wings. Several other geese had formed a crowd around them (no doubt cheering their favourite wrestler) honking madly.  Just before the scuffle broke up, a Fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) swooped down towards the fighters and, when I thought it would take one of them, it changed course at the last second and flew off to a perch nearby, unnoticed by the furious fighting geese.

About a couple of minutes later the contenders separated and, one of them flew off very close to the water. This was spotted by the eagle that attacked it again at full speed forcing the flying goose to crash into the water to avoid the killing talons of the eagle that did not made contact. At that point I thought that the goose was a goner and waited for the predator to return. Surprisingly, the eagle did not press the attack and flew off!

The final drama

It is mandatory that the last night on the lake is spent near the harbour at Kariba town as the boats must be back by mid morning. That s the time to re-fuel and settle all expenses with the suppliers. Usually that night is spent at a rather nondescript area called Antelope island where we had not fished anything before.

This time we discussed with Message whether it would be another place where we could stop where we could still have a chance of getting large fish. He proposed to go to the Sampakaruma island. As the name sounded quite exotic, we instantly agreed to go there.

We arrived at Sampakaruma late afternoon and went for our last attempt at catching a vundu. It was not to be although I had a good pull that eventually lost, nothing unusual in this trip. So it was time to return to Kariba the following morning but we still decided to leave two rods from our tender boat to see if we could catch anything at dusk and leave them until after dinner when we agreed that we would pack our gear and end our fishing.

Fed up with losing equipment I decided to leave my reel brake rather tight so that the fish could not take much line in case it decided to take the bait. This in my mind would avoid it running far and getting entangled in the submerged trees. Satisfied, I went to have my shower to prepare for the last dinner on board.

The rest of the team planned to take their showers in the morning so they preferred to sit at the table to enjoy a sundowner. However, their relaxation was abruptly interrupted by an ear-splitting noise coming from the stern of the boat. It sounded as if another boat had crashed against us so all able seamen and women, except me that was enjoying my shower, ran towards the stern.

“Julio!, Julio!” I heard my wife calling “come quick, something happened at the tender boat!” and added “they are there trying to see what is happening!”. I put my clothes without drying myself and run to join the rest of the team, rather confused at the news.

“Your rod is gone” were the words my brother greeted me before I reached the tender boat. When I could look at the scene I saw Message and Eddie illuminating the boat and the water. The rod had indeed gone and so it had the rod holder, hence the loud noise herd.

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The first view of the place where the rod was. The outline of the holder and screw holes are clearly seen.

I saw that Message and Eddie were busy assembling a few hooks together to rake the bottom of the lake in the nearby area to see if they could hook the line.

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Message and Eddie attempting to recover the rod.

All efforts were futile and the rod and reel were gone forever! A suitable end to my constant losing of gear!

Speculation immediately started on whether the responsible for the damage was a very large vundu or perhaps a hungry crocodile. As you can guess, the discussion of the cause of the rod departure is still being hotly debated and it will be for a few years to come as it could have been either of the two suspects.

However, I am about to reveal a different explanation, fruit of careful thinking that considered the local mythology, the history of the lake and the location where the incident took place.  

The Tonga ethnic group that lives in the Zambezi valley believe that a River God known as Nyami Nyami lives in Lake Kariba. It is a serpent-like creature of very large proportions, so long that no one dares to guess his length. The dam separated Nyami Nyami from his wife and this has angered him. He has  remonstrated in the past by causing severe floods and even some earth tremors. 

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Nyami Nyami and the dam.

Apparently, when Nyami Nyami passes the water stains red and Chief Sampakaruma saw him on two occasions many, many years ago, but the River god has been in hiding since the white men arrived.

I believe that what happened to my rod was nothing to do with a vundu or a crocodile but that it was the River god remonstrating against us being there trying to remove its creatures from the lake! After all I am sure it was in this area of the lake that Chief Sampakaruma saw Nyami Nyami and I swear that I saw the water turning red towards the end of that day. Although it may have been the effect of the dying rays of the sun on the still lake, I am convinced that Nyami Nyami was around!

 

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/01/28/a-fishing-expedition/

[2] See: https://bushsnob.com/2018/01/15/vundu/

[3] Amusingly earthworm sellers have different names for them while they advertise them on the road. “Puffadder worms”, “Black mamba worms”, “Men worms” and “Worms of note” are some of the names that come to mind.

[4] See: https://www.nytimes.com/1975/05/28/archives/rupert-fothergill-is-dead-at-62-led-rescue-of-animals-in-africa.html; https://www.safaribookings.com/blog/operation-noah-rescue-of-the-kariba-wildlife; http://operationnoah.blogspot.com/ There is also a book: Robins, E & Legge, R. (1959). Animal Dunkirk: the Story of Lake Kariba and ” Operation Noah, ” the Greatest Animal Rescue Since the Ark. Jenkins publisher. 188p.

 

Mana Pools reception

The unexpected is commonplace at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe! Below are the receptionists!!!

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We just waited a bit while they approved of us…

Later Mabel, my wife, experienced a close encounter with another elephant while sitting at this bench checking her WhatsApp!

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The unique experience of Mana Pools!

Boswell’s genes

Three years back I wrote a post about a really iconic elephant in Mana Pools known as Boswell [1]. At the time I mentioned its ability to reach heights that other elephants (and even giraffes if they would exist in Mana Pools) cannot by stretching and standing on its hind legs. I showed a rather bad set of pictures that I took on an island in the middle of the Zambezi river and regretted that the animal did not “perform” closer to us.

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Undoubtedly Boswell is the best known of Mana Pools’ elephants and it one of the classic sights of the park.

My brother Agustín and his wife Gloria had visited us in Zimbabwe in the late 90s and, to our delight, they decided to come back this year. As we had taken them to Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls in their previous visit, we decided this time to visit Mana Pools for game viewing and Kariba to attempt to fish for vundu.

In the previous visit we failed to find any lions at Hwange despite our great efforts so one of the goals at Mana was to find wild lions. Fortunately we achieved this goal and spent sometime watching them. As lions are normally sleeping and these were not the exception, we soon decided to move on and return later to see if they decide to be more active.

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Luckily, after a while in the distance we saw the unmistakable shape of Boswell and we noted that it was slowly walking towards the river and we happened to be on its path. We placed the vehicle in a discrete spot not to interfere and waited for its arrival. Luckily we were alone! Boswell was accompanied by a few more elephants, two adult but younger males, a couple of females with babies and a young male.

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Boswell.

Mana Pools was extremely dry as last year’s rains had largely failed so there was little greenery apart from the large trees. Further, the preferred food for the Mana elephants, the pods of the Apple-ring acacia (Faidherbia albida), we not yet mature so we were curious to see what would Boswell do.

As usual the very relaxed group came really close and when they were under a Sausage tree (Kigelia africana) Boswell started to lift its trunk clearly sizing it up.  Clearly satisfied with what it saw it started to stretch, arched its back and it was on its hind legs trying to secure a good grip on a branch! I desperately grabbed the camera and shot while it remained standing. After sometime we heard a mighty crack and down the elephant came with a huge piece of the tree!

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Boswell starting eating the large branch while keeping the young males away by a combination of aggressive gestures, vocalisations and, with the too daring, pushing and shoving and some trumpeting as well. It did not liked to be disturbed during its meal! Conversely, he did allow the young females some bites and did not mind if the youngster came really close to him to feed, the latter often getting between its legs!

After a while, although there was still greenery left on the branch, it moved on leaving part of its bounty behind and, while it started to find another arboreal victim, the followers got busy finishing the spoils.

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The event was repeated a couple of times slightly further from us and trickier to photograph. As the group continued its placid sojourn towards the water we moved off, very pleased with our luck and trying to explain this to our visitors.

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Perhaps we had driven five km when we found another elephant, much smaller, also feeding. We then watched in disbelief when it also stretched and stood only on its hind legs! We made a comment to a safari car that was watching the action with us and the driver told us that this particular elephant was known as Harry! We were really lucky and elephants was the conversation at camp that night, despite the visits by vervets, baboons and hyenas!

The following morning, following the tip of a kind tour driver we found a large group of lions at a dry river bed and, after watching them for a while, we continued our game drive. While commenting on the very few greater kudu that we had seen we spotted an elephant standing on two legs. As we saw it from its back we thought it was Boswell again as we could see a radio collar. In fact it was a much smaller male that clearly knew how to look for the tender leaves of the Mana Pools’ trees!

The final act in this saga was yet to unfold when we were about to end the game drive and go back to camp for a well deserved branch. A dust cloud called our attention and we saw two elephant bulls clearly settling some kind of dispute. After a while we saw that one of the contenders gave up and moved off at a speed.

The “victor” stayed put and after a few minutes it decided to look for some food. It was at that time that we saw it well and the large notch on its left ear identified it as “Big V”, another of Mana’s “specials” that we have seen stretching to bet acacia pods before[2].

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So it was Big V that delivered the final act when it also decided to go for some juicy branch and, lo and behold, before we knew it it was also standing on its hind legs!

We were now really impressed with the Mana Pools elephants and agreed that we have had our quota of elephant stretching while we can happily confirm that Boswell has been able to pass its genes to its heirs that will keep future visitors to Mana Pools amazed at their feeding habits!

 

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2016/08/17/boswell/

[2]: See: https://bushsnob.com/2016/08/31/big-v/

Too close!

During our recent visit to Mana Pools National Park we saw a Yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis) feeding in one of the pools that give the name to the park. This was nothing strange as we often see these birds in that pool.

What was unusual was that the stork was feeding very close to a semi-submerged crocodile of a size that could have gone for it!

What else can I add? My immediate thought was that the stork meat must be so bad tasting that this is its best defence!

Poor housekeeping

While staying at Muguga House (see: https://bushsnob.com/2015/06/30/life-and-work-in-kenya-muguga1/) I used to upset Richard with my parrot stories from Uruguay. I later regretted having done so when I discovered that he owned an African Grey parrot!

Richard found us a house in Tigoni where we moved after a few months living in Muguga House, once we got our VW kombi to move around. We were neighbours for about one year and we shared time together. So, when Richard’s time to go on annual leave came, we agreed look after his house and, more importantly, its occupants.

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The house in Tigoni and our VW kombi, our all terrain vehicle.

Richard was very proud of his collection of African fresh water fish that he kept in tanks all over his sitting room area and, of course, he kept his parrot! The fish required feeding and cleaning and, in addition, the parrot required some entertainment as it was rather neurotic and pull its feathers! Luckily, his housekeeper would take care of the daily chores and all we needed to do was to get the necessary food and, whenever possible, keep the parrot amused by talking to it. This consisted of exchanging the phrase “silly old parrot” and submit to its loud and almost deafening whistling!

As it is customary in these cases, Richard gave us a briefing about some special details needed and also about a last minute addition to his menagerie: a small terrapin that he had found during a walk that also required attention. Although the new beast occupied its own tank and it should have been easy to keep, he was worried that the housekeeper was not familiar with it and asked us to keep a special eye on its welfare.

We listened patiently to all his recommendations and reassured him that all was going to be well so, the following day he left for one month to visit his family in the UK and we added the monitoring of his house to our ongoing activities.

We kept visiting his house daily at first but when we saw that things were going well, we relaxed our visits as we gained more confidence. Very soon there were only a few days for Richard to come back and we were pleased with ourselves as all was still in order. Clearly, we celebrated too early! Two days before Richard’s return his housekeeper, looking sick with worry, came to see us after we returned from work.

“The parrot is gone”, he said almost crying and not daring looking at us. As these were really bad news, we sprang to action immediately and walked with him to Richard’s house while we interrogated him on the way. Apparently, the parrot was gone since the morning and, as he could not contact us the poor man lived through agony until we returned in the afternoon. He said that he had looked for the feathered one all over but failed to find it!

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A bad picture of the parrot!

We fruitlessly searched the house from top to bottom and found no signs that the bird had been there and the investigation gave us no useful clue on where or how it could have gone out of the house. So our search moved to the rather large and bushy garden, open towards the river that run through the valley below, the same valley where I had my earlier encounter with the “siafu” (See: https://bushsnob.com/2016/04/19/fire-down-below/ ).

We were not very optimistic but continued with our search!

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Searching for the missing feathered one. (Sorry for the bad shot but I was shaking with worry…)

That day darkness came faster than we wished and eventually we found ourselves in darkness without finding it or having a reply to our “silly old parrot” calls directed to the apparently empty bushes! I do not wish to know what anyone that heard us saying that with a parrot accent could have thought! But that is only an afterthought of today as the situation then did not allow for these kind of mental exercise!

After searching for about two hours in the dark we gave up and, with a heavy heart, returned to our house. Clearly a hand-reared parrot used to live in a cage had a very slim chance of making it through the night where we knew mongooses, genets, civets and probably other predators inhabited. We had a somber dinner while we discussed the issue and prepared for the worse, particularly how to break the bad news to Richard that was arriving in two days time!

The following morning we did not go to work and we asked Peter -our housekeeper- to join us in the search. We started looking as soon as there was daylight, admittedly more as a token gesture than with a real hope of finding our -hopefully still feathered- fugitive! While walking towards Richard’s garden, I still kept thinking on how I would break the bad news to him!

We decided that our chances of success would be higher if we separated and each one of us took an area to search while shouting “silly old parrot” again and again! At about mid-morning and after a few hours of walking around in the bush, it was Mabel who heard something and called us. We ran towards her and, as we got closer we heard “silly old parrot” in the inimitable voice of the missing parrot. There it was, perched low from the ground on a small bush, preening itself and removing a few more feathers from its already almost bare belly!

It seemed that the parrot had spent the night at about 60cm from the ground and survived! We soon grabbed it and brought it back to its cage where we left it with renewed recommendations to the keeper. We left for our house, quite relaxed and happy about our find.

Finally, the day of Richard’s return arrived. Still pleased with our parrot success, we went to his house to have the last check on his wildlife and wait for his arrival.

Then the last act of this play unfolded…

All fish looked fine but when I checked the terrapin tank, I saw it rather quiet and unresponsive to the touch! It was dead. This was an unexpected blow as we had seen it the afternoon before looking fine! Rather upset I took it out of the water almost at the same time that we heard Richard’s car arriving!

I was in a tight spot with the terrapin in my hand! Those of you who are familiar with these beasts would know how they smell when alive and you can only start to imagine how they stink when dead! So, I moved fast to the toilet to both dispose of the body and the waft from my hands while Mabel greeted and entertained Richard.

I tried to flush the small reptile about three times unsuccessfully and eventually, in desperation, wrapped in toilet paper and stuffed it in my pocket while, and washed my hands hoping that the soap would do its job.

So, with my best possible smile I emerged from the toiled to greet Richard and to break the news of the terrapin’s demise. Luckily, he took it well and, a few minutes later, after leaving him to settle in his house, I managed to bury it in our garden to close our rather poor experience at housekeeping!