Historical

Episodes of African history connected to wildlife or guides, hunters, explorers

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

tigoni house

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!

richard parrot

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!

mabel peter tigoni

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nguruman Escarpment

My earlier post on lake Magadi [1] brought to my memory the only trip I made to the Nguruman escarpment. I traveled there with Robin after a few years in Kenya, on a collaborative work with the Tsetse Programme of the ICIPE that was working on the control of tsetse flies and trypanosomosis [2].

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Maasai boys with their sheep and goats on one of the Magadi causeways.

The Nguruman Escarpment forms the western boundary of Kenya’s Rift Valley to the south near the border with Tanzania. The trip from Nairobi to Nguruman went through the green foothills of the Ngong Hills followed by a long descent to the semiarid plains on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, crossing Lake Magadi in a westerly direction.

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Lake Magadi.

After leaving the lake area there was a rather endless drive through dusty, rough and undulated dirt and very dusty tracks crossing very arid terrain.

As you finally approach its foothills about 60km after the lake, the vegetation changed and mango and pawpaw trees and other vegetables and fruits appeared thanks to some water available from the Entasopia and Ewaso Ng’iro Rivers that, coming from the Mau Escarpment, flow along the base of the Nguruman hills to end at Lake Natron in Tanzania.

The Nguruman -as this rather remote area is usually known- was inhabited by the Maasai and, as usual, they shared it with game. The pastoralists understood the benefits of controlling tsetse flies and welcomed the project to their land. As the main principle of the ICIPE was to avoid the use of pesticides, our entomologist colleagues were introducing odour-baited traps to control the population of the tsetse fly (Glossina pallidipes) in an area of 100km sq., groundbreaking work at the time.

The drive to get to the project area required some special arrangements. Because of the heat, it was impossible to drive with closed windows in a non air-conditioned car as our Series III Land Rover was. Very soon the white car bonnet would acquire a shade of gray because of the tsetse flies and very soon they would start getting inside!

So, while the driver focused on avoiding the frequent and challenging road hazards, the passenger in the front seat did not just seat there looking pretty: his/her job was to destroy flies, particularly those landing on the driver! This was a very specialized job. If you were too careful, the fly would survive but hitting too hard could startle the driver with unknown consequences. In addition the victim could start thinking that old scores were being settled by the procedure and retaliate…

The project was also original in that the Maasai themselves made their own tsetse-catching traps with project support. At the time of our visit one hundred of them, baited with acetone and cow urine [3], had been placed in woodland areas where this fly species aggregate during the dry season. The traps were checked monthly for maintenance.

Our visit was during the early stages of the work but towards the end of their intervention they managed a reduction of 98–99% relative to the number 3 km outside the project suppression zone. So, at the time of our visit this was still not known and the work had a feverish intensity and enthusiasm.

Our job was a minor one and consisted in identifying the ticks present on the Maasai livestock in order to complete the parasite spectrum affecting the animals. So, we spent a couple of days collecting ticks from cattle, sheep and goats to later identify them in the laboratory.

Apart from some ICIPE support staff, the project employed and collaborated with a substantial number of Maasai villagers. In particular I recall a young Maasai teenager that has just undergone the “Emuratta” (circumcision) when we visited and he was working still clad in his dark tunic with the accompanying head-dress made of stuffed birds hunted with blunt arrows as it is traditional. He also carried his bow and arrows with him all the time to shoot any unaware birds to add to his collection. He had become the main nexus with the Maasai community as he was good in English.

Over the couple of nights we camped there, we listened to interesting stories. We learnt that traps suffered from animal damage and also from theft so they required frequent checking to make sure that they were operating to their full effect. The “trap rounds” were done by car as much as possible but walking was also involved and, often these resulted in meeting dangerous game.

It was not the lions that were most feared but buffalo. These animals, particularly the old and lone males also known as “Black Death” can be extremely dangerous, and it is believed that they are responsible for killing more big game hunters than any other animal in Africa so extreme care was taken and the Maasai usually accompanied the technicians for protection or at least “early warning” so that a suitable tree to climb could be found! We saw some rather wild-looking buffalo bulls but always -luckily- from the safety of the car.

The soil in the Rift Valley has a great content of volcanic ash and it is common to drive through it in several places in Kenya. However, nothing prepares you for the driving at Nguruman. The abundant and very fine ash behaves like water and in some places it can be over 50cm deep. The car made waves of dust and in deep areas 4WD was needed to go through while the ash splashed the windscreen covering it and impeding vision unless the wipers were full on. You would breath and eat lots of dust while you wished it was raining although this would only bring a different challenge!

We heard lion roaring in the distance every night but we were extra safe camping in the heart of a Maasai community as predators kept their distance. So, to see lions you needed to drive quite a distance towards the Loita hills and then the Maasai Mara but that was not the purpose of our trip.

I do remember a story one of the project drivers told us while seating by the fire enjoying a Tusker beer. Some time back, when the project was still an idea, he was driving through the Nguruman woodlands when he caught a glimpse of red near the road. He went to investigate and found a piece of Shuka, the Maasai traditional tunic. Nearby he spotted its owner, dead and showing signs of having been mauled by a lion.

Wearily moving around he noted that the grass and bushes around the spot showed signs of a great fight. Eventually, a few metres farther he found a speared young male lion, also dead. Two dead braves were all that remained to show for the long-term enmity between Maasai and lions!

 

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2018/09/10/lake-magadi/

[2] Dransfield, R., Brightwell, R., Kyorku, C. & Williams, B. (1990). Control of tsetse fly (Diptera: Glossinidae) populations using traps at Nguruman, south-west Kenya. Bulletin of Entomological Research 80: 265 – 276.

[3] Buffalo urine was also used if available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A vet in Maasai land

“… Engai (the Maasai God – Ed) had three children to whom he gave three gifts. The first received an arrow to make his living by hunting, the second a hoe to dig the land and grow crops, and the third a stick to use in herding cattle. This third son, whose name was Natero Kop, was the father of the Maasai, who have since that time been the proud keepers of cattle.” [1]

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When I arrived to work at Intona Ranch, I did not know much about the Maasai, apart from having seen them walking in Nairobi with their unmistakable attire and, later, during my first trip to Intona with Alan. At the time, Billy Konchellah was about twenty years old and getting ready to become a world sport idol by winning the 800 metres world title twice (1987 and 1991) and becoming, I guess, the most famous Kilgoris-born citizen.

Later, as I traveled to and from the Transmara I got to know the Maasai better. As soon as they learnt that I was a “Daktari wa mifugo” [2], my prestige among them instantly improved and, as soon as I arrived to Intona they would bring any sick animal they would have.

As I mentioned before, Intona was given to Joe Murumbi, the son of a Maasai lady, as homage for his distinguished career in Kenya politics. He was a father figure in the area and he had many visitors, many of them Maasai. Most came by foot and on the way to the main house they all stopped to look at the cattle, their main interest. In particular they spend an inordinate amount of time observing the nice-looking Boran cattle a novelty we brought into Intona from Northern Kenya for our trials and I already narrated what happened to some of the latter when some unscrupulous Maasai liked them too much! [3]

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I also visited their dwellings known as manyattas [4] when called to check sick animals and I still feel the dung smoke in my nostrils at entering a dark manyatta for a visit. With no other ventilation than the entrance door, there was dense smoke as we sat down to talk while sharing a gourd of milk with the house owners. Occasionally I also participated in some of their ceremonies when my presence in Intona coincided with them.

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I inherited a strong dislike of flies from my father who fought a lifelong war against flies. He always had a fly swatter at hand but when he did not, he would catch them with one hand by placing it open and about 20cm from the fly and then sweeping it fast to catch it. He would then kill it by throwing it against the floor! I inherited this ability and became as good as him!

As flies bred freely in the cattle dung around the manyattas they were extremely abundant and annoying. As I did not have a swatter I defended myself by catching them with my hand to the amusement of my hosts that just ignored them or used a fly whisk to scare them away. So, on a lighter note I am proud to say that I had ample opportunity to demonstrate my fly-catching skills in Maasailand and once, with one move of my hand, I caught twenty-seven of the pests! This feat, regrettably, did not enter the Guinness and, frankly, it was more a consequence of the amount of flies rather than my skills!

The Maasai are well known for their ancient enmity with lion -that yesteryear they would kill to reach adulthood- as well as for drinking the blood of their cattle on special circumstances. However, what I remember them for was their amazing relationship with their cattle and how much they love them and cared for them. Regardless of the number of animals owned, each one has a name and ancestry and rarely they would part from them.

One of their tales says that at the beginning of time the Maasai did not own any cattle and that one day God called Maasinta, the first Maasai, and asked him to build a large enclosure. One the latter was completed God said that the early the following day he would fill it with something called cattle and Maasinta must stay very silent. In anticipation, Maasinta went to the enclosure and waited. Suddenly there was loud thunder and cattle of all shapes and colours started to descend.

Although Maasinta just managed to keep silent, his Dorobo [5] companion woke up with the commotion and when he saw what was happening he proffered a loud cry. Thinking that Maasinta had shrieked, God stopped the flow of cattle and asked Maasinta if all the cattle that he had given him were not enough so he would stop sending anymore and this is the reason that the Maasai love cattle so much!

As I mentioned before, they brought animals for me to examine. Although sometimes I could get to a diagnostic and recommend a treatment, others they brought animals that, regardless of how much I checked them, I could not find anything wrong with them. When I told them so, usually a discussion ensued during which the owner (through an interpreter, usually Tommi, my Maasai herdsman) would protest bitterly as he claimed that the animal was not well and eventually he would leave shaking its head and rather upset at how little I knew!

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Maasai and JC with Land Rover

The author (centre and starting to loose hair!) with Maasai visitors.

Almost invariably the same farmer would bring the same animal back the following day with a clear clinical case of acute diarrhea, pneumonia or trypanosomosis that required immediate attention. I would then treat the animal and a happy Maasai would leave with his animal after reminding me that it was the same animal of the day before! Luckily not many came and I was not embarrassed very often!

I spent many hours with them just watching our cattle in Intona and through Tommi I got an insight of what they were saying. In short, they would note every detail of each animal and comment about it. Some liked the absence of horns of the Boran animals while others argued against it!

The coat colours were also discussed hotly. Our Boran were predominantly brown and, while some thought that this was a good colour, others preferred others such as white, black or barred. The arguments prolonged for a time I did not have so I needed to excuse myself and continue with my work while they continued arguing for a long while longer, the same way we would do while watching a sports cars show!

The true highlight was to visit their manyattas to look at their cattle. The best time to do this was in the late afternoons when the cattle returned from the day grazing to the safety of the thorny enclosure to spend the night away from four- and two-legged predators.

It will all start by greeting the owners that were usually delighted and proud to host us when they learnt that we had come to see their animals. After a while of talking with the herders you would start hearing bells in the distance that some emblematic member of the herd such as a preferred ox or cow would wear around their necks.

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Maasai children looking after livestock.

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Maasai cattle highway.

The first bellowing indicated that the herd was close and soon you could smell them well before their arrival. They soon appeared among the dust in the dry season or stopping to get the last mouthfuls of juicy grass during the rains. The animals were of many colours but sometimes they reflected the preference of their owner and a colour would predominate. The stripped and grey ones were spectacular, particularly the latter when heavily branded.

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There were also different horn shapes and sizes, from the rather large ox horns to the rather unusual “scurred” horns only attached by the skin that moved loosely as the animal walkscattle magadi... back road ngong copy

Keeping on the side, not to interfere with this daily ritual, I watched as the docile animals entered the enclosure under the careful scrutiny of the owners -both men and women- that apart from the sheer pleasure of seeing their favourite animals- checked for signs of trouble (the same I would miss when consulted!).

They will follow the progress of those that were sick, check for any newly-born calves, usually carried by the herdsmen as they were not able to walk at the speed of the adults. After all was checked the time would come for closing the thorn-bush gate and start with comments and praise of some particular animals that are special to the owners.

Gradually and gently the animals started finding their resting places inside the kraal and soon they would lay down to rest and chew their cud and eventually spend the night protected from lions and other predators that surely would look for a come to have a look for a chink in the manyatta’s armour to snatch the unaware animal.

These were among the best moments I spent in Kenya. I really felt fulfilled, realizing that I had come a long way from my former cattle work in Uruguay. I still long to return!

According to their oral history, the Maasai originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana (Northwest Kenya) and began migrating south around the 15th century, arriving in a long trunk of land stretching from what is now northern Kenya to what is now central Tanzania between the 17th and late 18th century.

The Maasai are among the best known Africans internationally due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Rift Valley, and their distinctive customs and dress. There is even a theory that because their hair arrangements mimic the Roman helmets and that they wear a “toga-like” attire and a short assegai resembling the Roman sword, they had some Roman influence from some lost legions from Egypt.

While I worked in the Transmara, I met two of the people that were studying several aspects of the Maasai culture.

Fr. Frans Mol used to spend time at his Mission near Lolgorian where I found him and had a chance to talk to him, albeit briefly. I learnt that he had a great liking for the Maasai people and that he had been working as a missionary for the Mill Hill Church(?) for over 20 years at the time I met him [6].

He was fluent in the “Maa” language and got to know their cultural ways. Although he preached Christianity in several Maasai districts (Kajiado, Transmara, Laikipia and Narok), he also devoted his time to put his knowledge on paper and wrote a few books on the Maasai [7].”

Another character I knew that had great experience on the Maasai ways was a lady known in the Maasai Mara as Jacqueline. At the time we met her close to the Oloololo escarpment, in July 1982, she introduced herself as a French anthropologist that had come to the area to study the Maasai, fell in love with one of them and stayed behind.

Later on I learnt that she was Jacqueline Roumeguère-Eberhardt and that she had occupied important positions of research in France and carried out groundbreaking investigations in Southern Africa on the Venda, Tsonga, Shona, Lozi, Bushmen, apart from her on-going studies on the Maasai.

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Before her death in 2006 Jaqueline amassed a wealth of knowledge on the people she studied and she produced many scientific papers, books and films in both English and French and interestingly she was involved in an interesting event when in 1978 she caused lots of excitement among the anthropologist community by claiming that she had found hominid that dwelled in thick Kenyan forests. She called them “X” and documented a number of encounters with them by Kenyans. Although she wrote a book about this discovery [8]. However, her finding was doubted by scientists and she failed to lead an expedition to find them and they were not seen again!

In her obituary [9] published by the … it says: ‘ …Despite their cultural differences – and the presence of eight other wives – Jacqueline Roumeguere-Eberhardt claimed that she and her husband got along famously: “Every time I’m with him I learn something new about human nature and problem solving,” she told an interviewer. All the same, standards had to be maintained, and, while living the life of a tribeswoman, she never went out without applying her red Chanel lipstick and nail polish.’

Although I am not able to say anything about the first issue, I can confirm that she was always elegantly dressed and looking great when we met her in the Maasai Mara bush although I cannot swear about the make of the lipstick!

 

[1] Ole Saitoti, T. and Beckwith, C. (1986). Maasai. Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd. Eds. 276p.

[2] Veterinarian in Ki-Swahili.

[3] See: https://bushsnob.com/2014/07/19/the-cattle-are-gone/

[4] “Manyatta is the name always used for these Maasai villages, but the correct term is “engang.” Manyattas were built especially for the warriors with their mothers and girl-friends while the engang was the family dwelling.” From: Ole Saitoti, T. and Beckwith, C. (1986..). Maasai. Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd. Eds. 276p. I use manyatta as this is the word I used at the time of the story.

[5] Hunter-gatherer groups of Kenya and Tanzania associated with the Maasai.

[6] Father Moll retired at 70 on 3 December 2002 after working 44 years in Kenya.

[7] Some of the books are: Maa, a dictionary of the Maasai language and folklore: English-Maasai (1978); Lessons in Maa: a grammar of Maasai language (1995) and Maasai language & culture: Dictionary (1996).

[8] Roumeguère-Eberhardt, J. (1984). Les hominidés non identifiés des forêts d’Afrique. Robert Laffont Ed.

[9] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1518217/Jacqueline-Roumeguere-Eberhardt.html Consulted on 27 May 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intona fun

There were a few years of work at Intona where we achieved some good scientific results. We managed to immunise cattle against theileriosis, the main cattle killer in the region and this resulted in keeping animals under relaxed tick control regimens as opposed to applying toxic chemicals two times per week as it was formerly done!

 

The trials required hard work not only for Alan and me but for the herdsmen that had the day to day responsibility of keeping activities going all the time. Although the work was demanding, we also found time for entertainment. We often went to the Migori River to try our luck at fishing although neither the Maasai nor the Kikuyu (or me) like to eat fish so we maintained a strict catch and release approach. In “Memories – A fishing trip” I described the most dramatic of these fishing outings but there were many others.

We also had some other fun that included the already described spear throwing (Javelin throwing), game driving and also walking around the farm. A great tour was the drive towards the back of Intona where you would meet the Migori river. This was one of the boundaries of the ranch. In that general area a large herd of buffalo grazed in the meadows before getting into the riverine woodlands to spend the night.

This herd was resident in the ranch and, to my amazement and concern, the cattle herd would intermingle with them while grazing! This buffalo herd did not show any aggressive behaviour towards our animals or the keepers, although the latter paid them great respect and kept a wide berth. When it was time for the cattle to start their return walk to the safety of the kraal/boma they would separate from the buffalo and start their walk following the loud whistling of the herdsmen.

By the river it was always enjoyable to spot the silvery-cheeked hornbills, large birds with large bony beaks flying over the river returning to their sleeping tree after foraging in the forest. The Transmara also had a special bird called the African blue flycatcher (Elminia longicauda), greyish below but bright blue on its dorsal part, including its head that has a small crest. Watching it its colour fluctuates with the light between blue and cyan, a magnificent sight. It also has the habit of constantly fanning its tail in a very attractive fashion. Although a common resident at Intona, it was a rare bird, always worth finding.

Walking about would take a purpose when Robin was around! He and Janet, his late wife, were very keen in collecting orchids from the tree islands. Because of the old and aggressive male buffalo that lurked inside the tree islands this was a rather risky endeavour, as we needed to enter the forest in search of the plants as well as climbing the trees to get them. Luckily, one of the young herders would do that for us!

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The tree islands where we looked for orchids.

When Joe learnt that we were going to do this, he designated his gardener as our “angel guardian” and ordered him to march with us carrying a fire siren to scare the buffalo away from the places we would visit. I always felt sorry for the poor man, as the contraption was a rather large metal frame with the siren mounted on it, looking like a large hand-cranked blacksmith’s bellows.

It was immediately apparent that the gardener knew what he was doing the moment he started turning its large handle. The pneumatic siren would then respond gradually with a grave sound that, after the machine gained momentum and the handle increased its speed, will get into a full loud siren, just like the old fire engines used to do before the new more ‘innovative” multi-tone electronic ones were introduced.

Luckily, we did not find buffalo during the few times we pursued this rather hazardous sport with a rather meagre floral reward. However, I still remember my neck hairs standing up when we heard crashing noises coming from the wooded islands preceding the sudden appearance of animals scared to death! In particular the very scared warthogs would rush out of their siesta places or burrows. A particularly hairy encounter took place when a large male came straight at us luckily veering off at the last second. A very lucky escape as these animals carry large tusks and can produce severe injuries.

Intona also hosted smaller animals and these were usually found at night. Although mongooses and hyenas were usually seen, there were others like genets, bush babies and African hares among others. To see the hares dazzled at the car lights reminded me that in Uruguay we would shoot them or even catch them while they remained stunned. We would later pickle them and enjoy their tasty meat. So, I decided that night “hare-catching” was worth a try.

I then managed to sell the idea to my companions, the herdsmen, as a different (and potentially tasty) way of spending our free time! “If we drive out after dinner, we may be able to kill a few hares” I said to my herdsmen and I added “The trick is that you dazzle them with the car lights and then you get out of the vehicle and walk slowly and silently in the dark towards them until you get close enough to grab them”. I assured them that they would be good eating as well!

The idea was accepted but the reply included that we should take one of the Maasai herdsmen as he would be the only one capable of finding the way back to camp after a while driving cross-country on the ranch! So we did and that is how Thomas also came on that venture as well as the fishing trip above.

Eventually the team assembled a moonless Saturday evening and we set off armed with “rungus“[1] to stun the unlucky hares. We started after dinner and drove slowly searching for either the hares themselves or eyes in the darkness. It was soon apparent that looking for “eyes” was a fruitless exercise as the latter belonged to a number of different animals but no hares were detected.

Like this we bumped into topis, zebras, impalas, hyenas and white-tailed mongooses, among other beasts. It was clear that we would have to bump into them and hope that they would be dazzled by our headlamps!

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Impala like this were among the eyes we saw.

After a while, a suitable hare was spotted and eventually it stopped its run and looked at us. The “hare-catchers” jumped out as planned while I kept the car with the beam pointed at the hare. Despite our efforts, the hare must have caught movements in the dark and soon took off. The empty-handed catchers returned to the car and we continued our search until another hare was dazzled and off they jumped again. This time one of them went too close to the beam and his shadow interfered with the hare that also took off.

The hunt was proving more difficult than I anticipated so I decided to join the hunters for the next hare. It did not take too long to appear. I left the car running with the lights on and the four of us, two from each side, started stalking the prospective victim. I had my eyes on the hare so, when I heard a shout that I did not understand I was surprised and even more so when Mark, one of the hunters, rushed by me screaming “buffalo!, buffalo!” I did not wait and rushed to the car as fast as I could.

Thomas, the first to see the buffalo and responsible for the first screams, beat us to the car by a good margin and, luckily managed to open the back door fast, in time for all of us to jump in seconds later, ending up in a pile of hard-breathing bodies, still with the door open. Gradually we managed to talk and we all burst out laughing, releasing our fear while Mark explained that they have bumped on a few buffalo that, luckily and equally scared, run away!

I never saw anything and, as soon as we were able to move, we unanimously decided to abandon our hare chasing and return to the camp under Thomas’ guidance that, despite the encounter, still retained his bearings! It was when I turned the car around that the buffalo came to view. It was no other than the resident herd and we were lucky that we did not encounter the few large males that were also in the ranch.

The unanimous comments of the car occupants was that they were all in favour of continuing with their “hareless” diet of ugale (white maize polenta) and cabbage!

 

[1] In Ki-Swahili, a wooden club with a thick end, similar to the knobkerrie of South Africa.

Traveling to Intona

While in Kenya in the 80s, periodic trips to the Transmara were required to run the tick and tick-borne disease fieldwork. At the beginning we took turns with Alan (Alan Sidney Young) for visiting the area but gradually -as I learnt the ropes- he delegated the work to me. As a consequence -not at all undesirable- my trips became more frequent and I found myself driving to Intona every two or three weeks, depending on my other commitments at Muguga.

We needed to personally check the on-going field work and to collect the data gathered on a daily basis by our herdsmen that we would later analyse when back at Muguga. Luckily we also had a veterinarian on the ranch that Joe [1] had employed before I arrived. His name was Kiza and he was a refugee from Uganda that really helped a great deal with our work and he would radio us if there were any issues that needed our presence and, in that case, either Alan or myself would travel to the ranch to deal with them.

Equally important was to replace our field workers as we had a roster that we needed to maintain. In particular the Kikuyu workers found their stay among the Maasai rather trying and they were always ready to go home! After a while I realised that the trip to Maasailand was almost taken as a trip to a foreign country by them, used to stay in the highlands and to cultivate their land. As the trip to Intona progressed, their conversation became less animated! The reverse was also true, they became happier as we got closer to their home area, particularly the moment the Kikuyu escarpment came into view on the eastern wall of the Rift valley.

The trip would start in the early morning from Tigoni (later on from Nairobi) via Muguga where I would collect the herdsmen on duty for the period. Then there were two obligatory stops: at the local market near Muguga for them to buy vegetables, mainly humongous cabbages to prepare the ugale “relish” [1]. Cabbages would keep well and they were very popular. The next stop would be to load fuel at the junction with the main road (Nairobi-Kampala). Only then we were ready to go.

During the rainy season we would follow the tarmac through Nakuru, Kericho and Kisii to Kilgoris and then to Intona. Only the last 40km were dirt but passable most of the time. This way would offer superb views of the Rift Valley and its lakes (Naivasha, Elementaita and Nakuru) as well as its volcanoes (Longonot and Suswa).

We would also cross the large and tidy tea plantations of Kericho where we would normally brake the journey to stay at the colonial Kericho Tea Hotel. Need I say that the tea was probably the best I have ever drunk.

The dry weather route to Intona would take us North through Uplands and then we would start winding down the Kikuyu escarpment, pass the small Catholic church built by the Italian prisoners of WWII to continue until we branched off towards Narok. We then traversed the Great Rift Valley from East to West. In those days the savanna was dotted with antelopes and the only signs of human presence were a few small shambas [2] at the start of the road and, a few km further on, a satellite station with its giant white mushrooms.

The road skirted the lava flows from the dormant Longonot and Suswa volcanic cones and then we would climb the opposite wall of the valley where, a few km later we would get into Narok. The latter was, as expected, a predominantly Maasai town and it was the last large town on the way to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and beyond, where we were going. We usually re-fuelled and bought the last needed items there before continuing our journey

narok town and maasai cattle copy

Going out of Narok. Maasai cattle drinks at the dam while the traffic goes by. Note the red VW kombi, the dominant minibus at the time.

Out of Narok we would follow the road past Aitong –where the early trials against theileriosis were carried out by Matt and co-workers before my arrival- and continue skirting the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, until we reached the Mara River bridge. If time allowed we would go on, otherwise there was a nice camping spot by the Mara River, next to the Mara Buffalo Camp (prior to the bridge)  where we would spend the night under canvas.

While I camped, the workers would stay at the Drivers’ accommodation at the Camp, courtesy of its Swiss Manager that would let us use it. I usually invited the workers to come to my camp in the evening for a drink and noted that there were always an extra pair of people that would come with them.

The first time this happened I thought that they were taking advantage of my hospitality and I was surprised as I did not expect this from them. I was immediately proven wrong when, as soon as they arrived to my camp, the two “escorts” would turn around and return to the lodge only to return to fetch the workers one hour later. When I asked why two people came I was told that they feared the animals too much so that they would not walk alone in the dark under any circumstances!

The Mara River is the main natural barrier for the migration of wildebeest and zebra in the Maasai Mara/Serengeti ecological system. It ends its course at Lake Victoria with an approximate length of 400km after its origin in the Mau Escarpment in Kenya.

Hippos Mara river copy.jpg

Mara river in the Maasai Mara and inhabitants.

The river is the main water source for the large population of grazing animals both wild and domestic as it always carries water, despite its flow getting reduced in the dry season. More recently (after our departure) changes in land use that have caused decreased vegetation cover are triggering a faster run-off of rainwater and flooding has become more common, particularly in large parts of the Tanzanian Mara basin.

For the journey I never drove anything but a Series III Long Wheel Base Land Rover (the two door van type) and these were hard to ride but truly unbreakable. Despite traveling alone most of the time, I never broke down over the many years I did this trip. After a few journeys, I got to know the people at Kichwa Tembo Camp (Elephant’s Head in Ki-Swahili), one of the camps close to the Mara River bridge, and they were very kind repairing the occasional punctures that were my only concern!

After crossing the Mara River where there was usually a Maasai cattle traffic jam and, during the wildebeest season quite a number of wildebeest as well (both alive and drowned at the river), we climbed the Oloololo escarpment and, once at the top, we had a compulsory stop to take in the magnificent view.

Below us was the Mara triangle where the green ribbon of the Mara River could be clearly seen snaking its way towards lake Victoria. When the wildebeest were in the Mara the savannah was dotted with thousands of wildebeests and zebras walking in long lines as far as the eye could see. The scene of the poster of “Out of Africa” was filmed from the Oloololo escarpment, looking at the Mara Triangle below.

m mara and olooloolo cropped

The Mara river with the Oloololo escarpment at the back, seen from the air.

As we still had some way to go, we moved on on the now flat top of the Oloololo escarpment. After a few km the road would pass through wheat fields. This unexpected sight was the result of some Maasai communities that had leased their land to commercial farmers. Once we passed the wheat the road became a track that with great luck it would be dry and rough but more often wet.

mara wheat harvesting

Harvesting wheat in land leased from the Maasai.

The area was waterlogged and driving was through sticky mud. The car wheels would get into two parallel from where you could not deviate! So, while you kept the car crawling in second gear you hoped that no one would be coming from the opposite direction as the crossing would invariably end with one (or both) stuck!

stuck going to intona from kilgoris copy

Stuck on the way to the red hill on a Land Rover station wagon that I rarely used and about to use the spare to lift the car from the muddy hole.

It was on one of these wet drives that we met a Peugeot 504 [3] buried and, after lots of digging, pushing and pulling, we managed to get it going. Unfortunately while doing this we got stuck! I looked at the occupants of the Peugeot for their solidarity but all I saw was their backs and, oblivious to our requests of help, they ignored us and drove off leaving us to dig ourselves out for quite some time and therefore to arrive very late to Nairobi.

Further on the road had another infamous section: the red hill. As its name indicates it was a steep climb over a red muddy hill with a smooth and innocent-looking surface that when you were on it it was like driving on a gigantic soap. The car, despite the 4×4 would skid the way it felt like and all you could do was to hope that it would stop before going down over the side that looked like the end not only of that journeys but of all journeys! To go very slowly and to stop as soon as the car started to skid was the only way to negotiate it but it was not easy and required total focus.

If you were successful over the swamps and the red hill then you were almost there as, from then on, the road would be firm and you would arrive to Lolgorien. This was a small village where the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) had its veterinary project in support of the Government of Kenya. It was there that Gerhardt, a veterinarian, and Anne Marie, a laboratory technician, worked.

Past collaboration between them and Alan on the epidemiology of the cattle diseases in the Kilae area nearby, that gave Alan the idea of immunise cattle against theileriosis and brought him to Intona ranch.

moll kilai lab t mara showing changaa cans! copy 2

Gerhardt and Anne Marie bush lab. An amazing place in its simplicity and efficiency.

Gerhardt and Anne Marie successfully ran several interesting activities in support to the Maasai communities and they had an amazing field laboratory where they had all essential equipment, operated by generator and or batteries, as there was no electricity there at the time. It was a revelation for me to see how advanced work could be done under really basic conditions [4].

After passing Lolgorien the road did not offer great challenges but it was important to arrive at Intona before dark. Wild and domestic animals were very numerous while driving through the Maasai Mara and still plentiful once you travel through the Transmara and it was still common to find both Maasai livestock and herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles on the road! As the area was wooded, their presence was more hazardous as they would appear suddenly in front of the car!

It was during one of these occasions that we came across a herd of sheep and goats that suddenly decided that the grass was greener across the road. As much as I tried to avoid them, I knocked the last sheep when, suddenly it changed its small mind and decided to turn back! The herdboy in charge run away fast before we could talk to him. Tommi (himself a Maasai) laughed and said that he must have been truly scared and run to inform his father so we waited while the animal laid motionless in the  middle of the road.

As predicted, Soon his father appeared with a grave expression, followed by the boy a distance behind. A discussion between Tommi and the sheep owner followed and I was eventually informed that I was asked to pay a large sum to compensate for the loss while Tommi advised me not to accept it. I shook my head vigorously and the negotiations continued and things were heating up when, as suddenly as unexpectedly, the sheep moved, stood up, shook his head and run into the bushes to join its mates! We were all taken aback by the development and we burst out laughing at the situation to the clear relief of the boy, the responsible of the sheep! We agreed to only compensate the owner for small injuries and left fast in case the animal fell again not to get up!

The area around Intona had a high number of people injured in encounters with wild animals. Although the rivalry between the Maasai and lions may have accounted for some, buffalo caused the great majority. It was therefore not uncommon that, having motorised transport, we would be asked to take some injured person to the nearest hospital. In addition, cattle rustling was quite common and the Police (Anti Stock Theft Unit) were a tough lot and two or three times I needed to carry prisoners and even dead rustlers (corpses).

Back to the trip. After Lolgorien we would eventually cross the Migori River that flows in a south-westerly direction from south-west Mau joining the Kuja River in Central Kadem and ends in lake Victoria. On a lucky day, turning the bend before the bridge you could watch a family of the rare Giant Forest Hogs (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) grazing in the meadows by the water edge. They were mostly indifferent to the car and allowed us to have a good look before they slowly retreated into the riverine bush.

A few km further we would get to the large fig tree that indicated the entrance to Intona Ranch and soon cross the one plough furrow that was all that indicated its boundary! It was a full day drive but not all was over as I still needed to set up camp, have a shower, dinner and then get good sleep to recover from the long journey to be up the following morning at the crack of dawn to work with our cattle.

intona fig tree marking entrance to ranch cropped.jpg

The Intona fig tree.

Intona was under the influence of Lake Victoria and it usually rained in late afternoon. This was preceded by the most spectacular cloud formations and amazingly beautiful sunsets when the sun would go down through the cracks of enormous cloud formations. The drama would even increase when the burning of the land, prior to the rains, would take place. This would stain the sky with a red tinge that would give the landscape an eerie appearance, as the reddish sun rays would filter through the forest. If you were lucky, you could spot a flock of the large Silvery-cheeked hornbills returning to their roosting places by the Migori River.

The return journey would start as early as possible, after finishing the work with the cattle, always done during the early morning to enable them to go out grazing with the rest of the herd. There were two reasons for an early departure: avoid the afternoon rains while still on the dirt roads, either in the Transmara or in the Maasai Mara as well as to arrive in Kikuyuland before dark.

Coming back intona with Benson and J Ndungu copy

Coming back from Intona we take a rest after reaching the Oloololo escarpment. The muddy waterbag hanging from the mirror tells the story of the journey.

The herdsmen that were due to go home did not need to be reminded and they were ready well before departure time as they missed their places and families. The ones that remained looked rather gloomy and, although I reassured them that I will return in two weeks, their moods remained somber until our leaving.

Mid afternoon would normally find us refuelling at Narok and, without wasting time, go on and cross the Rift valley. As the trip progressed the herdsmen would become more talkative and the moment that the Kikuyu escarpment came into view, they became excited and happy and they would start talking and laughing among themselves, no doubts planning their stay with their families.

Eventually we would climb the escarpment and enter in what was then still known as the “Kikuyu Reserve” to deliver the herdsmen to their homes. This was a long and tortuous drive through dirt roads to find their houses and, eventually when I was alone, the way out! As I am not too good at bearings, this would often take the wrong turn and get lost in the increasing darkness, delaying my return even more!

Although I never had a problem driving through the area, I recall an opportunity when I was driven by one of the ICIPE drivers that refused to drive inside it. He was from the Luo ethnic group, traditional enemies of the Kikuyus. He asked me to leave him at a shop on the main road and I drove, delivered the herdsmen and fetch him for him to drive me back!

 

[1] Ugali, a polenta-like dish-  is the main food in Kenya and other African countries. Maize flour is used and prepared using boiling water to form a semi-solid paste, served with a meat stew and/or vegetables known as relish.

[2] Shamba in East Africa is any field used for growing crops. (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/shamba)

[3] At the time, a 504 was “the car” to have in Africa and it was commonly known as “Simba” (lion in Ki-Swahili) for its symbol in the front grille.

[4] Known sarcastically among us as “ILRAD 2” comparing it with the International Laboratory for Animal Diseases of those days, a multi-million USD state of the art institute based in Kabete, Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

A short trip to Ngorongoro – Contributed

Kenya and Tanzania – February 1988

1-TZBorderPainting88mumBeautiful and promising wall-painting in a petrol station at the Kenya-Tanzania border!

The trip in a few words.

Itinerary

Nairobi City (Kenya) – Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) – Manyara Lake (Tanzania) – Nairobi City (Kenya)

Participants

[1] 4WD – driver; [2] Xray – wife and game spotter – in Land Rover; [3] ScoutSpirit – driver; [4] PinkShade – partner and story teller; [5] Khanga – mum of PinkShade – in Isuzu Trooper.

2-NbiDepSafariNgoro88The team getting ready, early in the morning, around the Land Rover (PinkShade missing)

 The trip in detail.

Saturday, 20th of February – Towards the mythical crater – Getting in the mood and freezing!

In two cars, on a beautiful Saturday morning, we left Nairobi for Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. A light spirit invaded me as we set off. Initially nothing special to mention, except for the very good road conditions up to Namanga, on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

After passing through the Kenyan and Tanzanian border posts we were on our way to Arusha. The landscape was quite green despite the dry-area type of vegetation. We tried to spot Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, but the clouds were totally hiding the mountains, not as usual just the top.

For lunch, we stopped in Arusha, briefly visited the Mount Meru Lodge, and refuelled. We eventually found ourselves on the road to Babati and Dodoma. It started to rain, so we rushed to Makuyuni on a zig-zag-track mixed with some parts of the old road – roadworks in progress!

Along that road we encountered some young Maasaï boys. They were dressed in black khangas over their shoulders and around their waists, their faces painted with white clay. Huge ostriches feathers were held on the back of their heads with headbands. They seemed to appear from nowhere, walking in small groups, an impressive and beautiful sight. I had never been lucky enough to see these young, newly circumcised boys in Kenya [6].

3-TZTowardsCrater88mum-1A cultivated area on a wide plateau, before the entrance gate

At Makuyuni, we turned right, towards the lake and the crater. The traditional Maasai became scarce, and after the climbing above Manyara Lake we saw almost nobody, but that was the start of the collective cultivation: a vast plateau stretching out as far as the eye could see, all broken up into long and wide rectangular shapes. It might be a good thing for Tanzania, but it is a very disappointing landscape for those who wish to discover the wilderness.

We passed the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservation Area [7] and started the long climb to the rim of the crater, which peaks at something like 2,600 m. As we passed the gate we started drinking the usual mate [8]. From the viewpoint, the inside of the crater was striking and everybody was surprised as it somehow didn’t match what each of us had imagined. We all agreed that it was much better than our expectations, quite GORGEOUS in fact.

Friends had described the crater to me so, I expected it to be small, crowded, with animals standing shoulder to shoulder. I had been told that it was much like a zoo and that I might be disappointed. Thank God, it wasn’t like that at all! It was big but not too big, just the right size to be impressive, but still on a human scale! We spotted buffalos and some patches of other undetermined beasts, but they did not cover the whole crater floor like a wall-to-wall-carpet. We wanted to go down immediately to see it all from close, but, as it was late we chose instead to rush to the campsite because it was getting dark.

4-TZviewInsideCrater88mumFirst view coming up the outer rim of the crater… almost at dusk

 The “Simba” campsite wasn’t that easy to find. We spent one hour driving around the crater looking for it and arrived at 8 PM on the dot; the temperature was already freezing. There was a lot of soft and thick grass for our comfort, and a lot of cold and rough wind for our misery! We then forgot about it all, and after unloading the cars, we started to cook as soon as possible. Of course the gas-cooker wouldn’t stay alight with such a wind, so we settled it on the grass in between a few crates, to keep it away from the thick grass. After the meal, we felt warm again for about 10 minutes, but started to freeze again very soon. So we disappeared into our tents, and inside our sleeping-bags.

5-TZNgorongoroCampTree88 copyThe Simba campsite as we discovered it on the next morning…

 Sunday, 21st of February – Visiting the garden of Gods – Getting down the rim and enjoying!

I froze at the beginning of the night, Scout Spirit froze a tiny bit in the morning, and Khanga froze the whole night! X-Ray sweated the whole night and 4WD was apparently alright! I was told later that Khanga didn’t get the sleeping-bag that was meant for her. Obviously X-ray got it!

Anyway, the sun came up and heated our tents and surrounds, but three of us (no names!) stayed in their beds. That is why we were very late going down into the crater. Well, not only that, we also lost some time by having two punctures on the way out of the campsite. This brought us to the Park’s garage or workshop. We had to go there anyway to meet the warden and ask permission to go down without a guide.

6-TZCrater10Lions88mumThe pride of lions that 4WD and then Khanga spotted…

 At 11 AM or so, we descended from the rim to the bottom of that old volcano and by the time 4WD stopped, he already had spotted ten lions! He didn’t tell us where just to tease us. And it took us nearly a quarter of an hour to find out what it was. Khanga spotted some funny beige things, many of them, and thanks to her we saw the lions that 4WD was talking about.

We also saw very far away a big black-maned lion walking across the plain. We watched him for some time, a very nice sight, in fact majestic. After a while, I realized that he looked quite thin and I wished we could have seen him better because I wasn’t sure that he was alright. We had with us a rough map of the crater, quickly drawn by the warden when we were at the office and we discovered that we could do a circuit. So we left for the North-East.

That itinerary gave us great pleasure as there were a lot of ponds along the track. This meant we saw many water birds and amongst them, a few of the famous Abdim’s storks. We saw three more male lions on the bank of a big pond, beautiful black-maned lions. We spotted a lot of Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and zebras and wildebeest. As we wished to eat our picnic, we spotted a hill that we thought would provide us with a perfect view. On climbing the slope, we encountered the biggest herd of buffaloes we’ve ever seen. They were drinking around a waterhole, surrounded by hundreds of cattle-egrets, ibises and crowned-cranes.

7-TZCrater3BMLions88mum-2Three black-maned lions lying by a small pond

8-TzCraterYellowTerOrchid88-JJYellow orchid found on the hill (4WD’s picture)

9-TZNgorongoroLake88 copy

View of a big pond at the bottom of the crater

As we sat down, we noticed a male ostrich guiding his seven chicks along the foot of the hill. The buffalos had already finished drinking and moved off quickly. As 4WD threw his bone (from a chicken) away, a kite dived to fetch it, but missed! ScoutSpirit and 4WD played with him for a while, throwing the bone in the air again and again. After several misses, the kite managed and left, obviously exhausted, with the bone in his claws as a trophy. After that, we continued our game-drive around the top of the hill where we saw fantastic flowers such as red hibiscus and yellow orchids in the high grass. We reached a point where we had a view over the eastern side of the foothill, and a herd of elephants appeared, great! Not far from there, we came across another lion on a sandy shore and another elephant, standing alone in some low bushes. All that from that one hill. What a lucky and happy time!

From there we zigzagged between the shore of Lake Magadi and small tributaries where some spotted hyenas were lying and rolling in the mud, as disgraceful as usual! One golden jackal passed by and as we went East, and lost sight of 4WD’s Land Rover, we nearly drove over two sleeping rhinos. We waited there for 4WD and X-Ray to join us but they had spotted some maybe– cheetah, so they were waiting for us to come [9]! In the end, we all met up to watch the rhinos for a while.

A little bit further on were two more rhinos, and lots of wildebeest and eland. Scout Spirit thought that he spotted some tiny bat-eared foxes and Khanga pointed out two lion-cubs. We curved downwards to the West to join the track climbing out of the crater. The light was splendid, just GORGEOUS of course! I don’t know what was spotted and then lost, but the point is that we used this very stop to start the mate. Khanga became friends with a small Bustard. She could approach it so closely that she shot a picture with her 35 mm and it came out quite nicely. After that, we were able to get quite close to some hippos, another fantastic view.

In the late afternoon the lake and the mountains were covered by a gentle yellow light. There were plenty of water birds, mostly Egyptian geese and ibises. To the West, the yellow fever trees were also brightly illuminated and as we drove through them we met some elephants again. It was a pretty magical time! But while we were surrounded by magic we realized that some of our suspension leaf-springs were broken! We had to get to a garage so we started to climb up the rim very slowly, staring down at the crater, beautiful in the last sunrays. We went through a thick forest with lianas and then along a rocky track with wonderful flowers and plants on all sides.

10-TZCraterBustard88mum-2The famous bustard, good friend of Khanga!

11-TzCraterAegyptianGeese88Egyptian geese feeding and resting near a pool

12-TZCraterYellowFever88mum-2bThe big yellow fever trees (acacias) in the evening light

13-TZNgorongoroCrater88 copyYellow fever trees near a spring and crater’s rim

14-TZNgorongoroZebras88 copyZebras grazing the abundant grass near the tree

15-TZCraterUp88mum copyA mythical view climbing up the rim of the crater – much faded picture alas

We reached the garage where we had to collect the tyres at night, but now needed to also ask for repair of those leaf-springs! It was of course too late for any repair to be done, but the tyres were mended and after some discussion about prices, we went away with what they called a “good price” which they agreed to because we had picked up some words –essentially numbers– of their excellent Tanzanian Kiswahili.

After that, in the dark, we drove pole-pole [10] to the campsite and started to prepare our meal. It was quite late again. But the ascari [11] had already prepared a really huge fire for the evening and we were better off than the day before with such a wonderful source of heat combined with the calories from our dinner. On top of everything, the wind finally dropped and we felt much warmer and more comfortable than the previous night.

Monday, 22nd of February – Such a tough transition – Getting out of bed roasting and boiling!

On that night, nobody froze, maybe somebody sweated, maybe somebody snored? But we didn’t really want to know about that. Soon after a glorious breakfast, 4WD and ScoutSpirit went to the garage and Khanga, X-Ray and I stayed at the campsite, cleaning and packing up. We also got slightly burnt while talking in the sun in our swimming suits at an altitude of 2,600 m! When 4WD and ScoutSpirit came back with the car repaired, we packed up both cars and left. It was too late to think about a way back through the Serengeti [12]. So we decided to go to Manyara for a game-drive and the night.

16-TzCampsiteNgoro88-2At the campsite after breakfast.. 

We were still on the rim at around 2 PM. We had a particularly unpleasant picnic lunch there because we had chosen the spot quite badly. First of all, there were no trees to offer shelter, and the grass and bushes were high enough to hide the great view. Then, hundreds of biting flies invaded the place, a total nuisance! On top of that, the Land Rover got stuck trying to climb over the ditch towards the picnic spot. It was then pulled out by the Trooper (polite return for the help received in Shaba [13]).

After this not-so-brilliant rest we rushed down the slope towards the park gate. Just after the gate, as the forest ends, we found migratory European storks, impressive clouds of them, hundreds in the sky and hundreds on the ground, for a total estimated at about 3 thousand! We felt a deep emotion gazing at this extraordinary meeting and thought that some of them might even come not far from our home back in Europe!

We reached Manyara at 5 PM, just in time for the traditional mate! Once out of the car, we were very surprised by the heat. We went for information and for the usual entrance and camping fees and then we rushed for a late game drive, hoping secretly for a view of some of those lions hanging from the trees, the speciality of Manyara National Park [15)! But none were to be seen. Instead we saw lots of baboons in the forest and then water birds and hippos near the river. Not much more to see except a jackal, a few zebras and antelopes. This seemed rather dull after the diversity and abundance of wildlife in the crater, but the sight of hippos in the shallow pool was tremendous. As usual we had to hurry out of the Park as it was closing down. Again the mild yellow light of evening was so enjoyable…

17-TZTowardsManyara88mum-2On the dirt road towards Manyara…

18-TZboard88-JJ copyImportant sign board to read at our arrival… (4WD’s picture)

19-TZManyaraSprings88 copyManyara Springs, near the entrance…

20-TZManyaraMabel88 copyPinkShade and X-ray watching the hippos…

21-TZManyaraHyppo&all88mumAt dusk at Hippo Pool, so quiet!

22-TZManyaraLake88 copyManyara Lake with flamingoes in the far…

Baboons were occupying most of the campsite, so we had to choose within what was left! Again the meal arrived somehow late, but everybody was happy and much refreshed by a cold shower. It didn’t take time before we were all feeling very hot again as the temperature was quite high. The heat put us in a sleepy mood and helped us to go to bed early.

23-TZManyaraFrançois88mum copyScoutSpirit preparing the camp fire to cook our meal

Tuesday, 23rd of February – If only it could never end – Getting back near the farewell!

The baboons seemed to quarrel all night and none of us had a good nights sleep! This may help you to understand why these safaris are so tiring. It is not the travelling on bumpy roads in the heat and dust, looking for the right track and avoiding the ditches, pools or rocks, or trying to stay in the middle of the road when it is slippery like black-cotton mud. It is not the buying, preparing, cooking, packing of food, water and other survival supplies or doing the washing up, not even the setting up of the tents and sleeping attire. It is simply and basically the lack of sleep! And you would think, when people say they haven’t slept, that it was because of some exciting events or noises, the sight of lion’s footprints around their tents or the roaring of them in the neighbourhood or the belly rumbling of an elephant nearby. But you never ever think, nobody dares to say it as it is, that it is because of cold weather, hot weather, shouting baboons or persistent mosquitoes. Yes, these are the most common reasons for sleepless nights in the bush! Remember this clearly.

Well, anyhow, in spite of that short night, we woke up as early as possible in order to go and look for those famous lions and enjoy the dawn. We covered the entire length of the Park, up to Maji moto [16], number two. We saw nothing special except an unusual sunrise on the mountain’s slope on our right hand-side. Around us, there were very big baobabs, herds of gazelles, many giraffe and even some hippos out of the water grazing peacefully. It looked like the beginning of the world, a magnificent and quiet world, just before the baboons and the men took their place in the evolution!

At the hot spring (Maji moto), a ground hornbill greeted us from a big rock and flew away noisily. It was 9 AM and we were sweating like hell. I guess that is why the place is called “hot springs” since there was, by that time, no water really springing there!

24-TzManyaraHornbill88-JJA ground hornbill taking off (4WD’s picture)

25-TZManyaraMorningBuffalos88mumBuffalo!

26 TzManyaraSunset88-3A beautiful African scene at sunset

27-TZnearMtMeru88mum-3A clear Mount Meru, appearing on our way back!

Well, as we had to reach Nairobi on the same day, we quickly turned back towards the campsite for a big brunch. Yet it was a nostalgic meal as is every last moment before packing and leaving a nice place. We were interrupted in our nostalgic mood as we noticed that the baboons, probably wanting to show us disapproval for camping there, had jumped on our tents, and had opened one of our boxes and spread everything around with their dirty hands and feet. We really didn’t approve of their idea of using our tents as trampolines, especially our brand new one which looks now and forever “used”, much used! Near 11 AM we were all ready, the Land Rover had even been washed! So we moved off on our return journey.

This was such a clear day that we felt absolutely sorry to leave. We headed for Arusha where we hoped to acquire some meerschaum-pipes and khangas. [17] After some circuits around the town –roadworks still in progress, we arrived at the very place where the shops were. A man was selling raspberries, a treat that is not to be found everywhere! When we had enough of hanging around, losing the others, looking for them, finding them again, we took off for Namanga where we had to stop for the customs and police checks.

Once on the Kenyan side, we went for a drink and stayed until dark because we couldn’t bring ourselves to end this safari. We all knew that it was most probably the last safari of this kind together as 4WD and X-Ray would leave Kenya for Ethiopia very soon. But ScoutSpirit and PinkShade planned to go and visit them there [18]. Anyway, the prospect of not living in the same country anymore was a bit hard to overcome. That is how we ended up in the Maharajah’s restaurant on Muindi Mbingu Street, in Nairobi, hungry and speechless. But despite our continuous efforts to appear cheerful, we were all half-asleep over our excellent dishes. We were sure that that night we would fall asleep very fast, and baboons could have danced on our bellies, or shouted in our ears, none of us would have noticed them.

THE END

PinkShade

[1] 4WD (four-wheel drive): as he can make his way through everywhere and possibly through every situation. 4WD is an ancient nickname of the well-known today’s Bushsnob!

[2] X-ray: as she has a very accurate eyesight and the ability to spot before anybody any living creature for miles around in the bush!

[3] ScoutSpirit: as he is so calm and well organized that you could always count on him to provide what you did not bring or to have some spare place in his boot to host your things even If very heavily loaded!

[4] PinkShade: as she used to wear particular sunglasses that makes you see everything pinkish and also because she tried very hard to see the positive things although sometimes very anxious in that period of her life!

[5] Khanga: as she is very keen on this typical East African cloth, and passionate for the birds of the same name (guinea-fowls)!

[6] More information on Maasaï circumcision under “Upset Maasaï” by BushSnob, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2016/07/16/upset-maasai/)

[7] NCA: “the jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20 km across, 600m deep and 300 km2 in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder (Wikipedia + NCA’s official website = http://www.ngorongorocrater.org/).

[8] Mate: see “Swiss-Uruguayan Eastern Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2014/09/24/swiss-uruguayan-easter-safari-rally-kenya-16th-to-20th-april-1987/)

[9] There were no cell-phones in those days. We had to guess what to do!

[10] Words in italic are Kiswahili terms that we adopted as we found them more expressive or poetical than ours. Pole-pole means slowly, cautiously.

[11] Ascari is a Kiswahili word for a security guard.

[12] And through “Olduvai Gorge”, an interesting archaeological and paleontological site where the famous Leakey family made important discoveries.

[13] See “Easter Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (see above)

[14] Dudus are the equivalent of troublesome insects or pests in Kiswahili!

[15] MNP: “the Park is a “Man and Biosphere Conservation Area” since 1981 and consists of 330 km2 of arid land, forest, and a soda-lake which covers as much as 200 km2 of land during the wet season but is nearly non-existent during the dry season. Its name comes from a plant called Emanyara by the Maasai (Euphorbia tirucalli) used for hedges to protect the cattle” (Wikipedia + MNP’s website = http://www.tanzaniaparks.go.tz/).

[16] Maji moto literally means “hot water” and usually indicates some hot springs.

[17] A khanga is a typical East African cloth (150 cm wide by 110 cm long) made out of light and colourful fabric, with a border all around, a symbol in the middle and bearing a Kiswahili saying. A post on Pinkshade’s mother Khangas’ collection is being prepared on those beautiful pieces of East African culture.

[18] A future safari to Ethiopia, to be read soon in this blog, hopefully!