Longonot

Picnic in the Rift Valley

For months Paul mentioned the idea of going for a picnic to the Rift Valley. He claimed that along the Narok road there were a number of large acacias that would offer the necessary shade while we could not only enjoy watching game but also looking across this vast depression presided by the Longonot and Suswa volcanoes.

Rift valley from Kinangop

The Great Rift Valley seen from the Kinangop area.

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Mout Longonot.

Eventually we were convinced and one Sunday morning we gathered at Paul’s house to travel to the chosen picnic area. Apart from Paul and us other participants were Timothy and his fiancée Jill and a few other friends that filled Paul’s long-wheel base Land Rover. We were not only humans in it as Timothy (the egg cleaner of my earlier post! [1]) decided to take along his red setter called Bitch despite our advice to the contrary!

So, we took the rather dangerous old Naivasha Rd. down the Kikuyu escarpment and eventually branched off towards Narok. Once at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley we started looking for the appropriate spot.

lorry on naiv road...

An accident along the Kikuyu escarpment near the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. A frequent occurrence then.

After a few km we spotted the “selected” trees and headed for them across the dry savannah where a few Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles stopped browsing to briefly watch us and try -unsuccessfully- to determine our intentions (we were not entirely clear either!) but soon decided to ignore us. As we got closer to the special trees we noted -with some concern- that they had already been booked: flocks of sheep and goats were stationed under all trees we saw!

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The occupied trees…

Aware that coexistence with small ruminants over a picnic would be rather difficult we set off to find the owners of the animals to negotiate with them for one tree. We soon found them nearby as they left one of the trees to meet us. A small committee left the car to meet with them and then, the unexpected struck!

The moment we open the car doors, Bitch took off at full speed! And behind her Timothy also departed trying to stop her shouting “Bitch, stop! Bitch, stop!” to no avail. Bitch had spotted game animals and she would not miss the opportunity to get one!

As we stopped hearing Timothy’s shouting first and then watched his silhouette disappear in the horizon, we decided to focus on our negotiations with a pair of Maasai boys that felt rather intimidated by us!

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After a while the herdboys could not resist their curiosity and the flocks also came in!

Despite our language barrier they soon understood our request and agreed to release one of the trees for us to have our picnic.

Bitch and Timothy quickly forgotten we started to get ourselves comfortable and assembled our temporary “al fresco” banqueting area. As the tree had been used for generations of Maasai livestock it did not only reeked livestock but also its soil was composed by tons of compacted dung! So much for the idea of the shady tree!

Luckily we noted that the shade was starting to cover some of the adjacent grassy area so we placed our table and chairs where we calculated the shade would be as time went by and we were prepared to follow it.

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The picnic area being moved following the shade.

After an exploratory walk in the surrounding area we finally settled down to drinks and some food. The chat was animated and we did wonder about Bitch and Timothy’s whereabouts (for a few seconds!). Luckily, about an hour after lunch we saw a speck on the horizon and a debate started of whether it was Timothy or some other Maasai people. After a while, through the binoculars, we identified Timothy. He eventually arrived, walking slowly and carrying the dog on his arms (not because of love for the dog or because it was injured but because he did not have a leash and he was fed-up with the dog running away every time she spotted a moving animal!)

While we waited for Timothy to recover and while he locked Bitch inside the car, we decided to engage ourselves into some target shooting (some of us still believed then to be “white hunters”!!!). Paul kindly sacrificed an old white enamel plate that we placed on the tree as our target. Then we lined up all chairs so that we would shoot from a similar distance.

rift valley picnic 1

The Bushsnob failing to ht the target watched by female participants already chuckling.

As good gentlemen (?) we started shooting from a short distance to give the ladies an opportunity to hit the plate before we moved farther away and things became more difficult. So, the shooting started. Surprisingly, all the men missed the target and most women except my wife that had rarely handled a gun in her life (but has good eyesight!).

After declaring her winner of the first round -with badly hidden embarrassment- the men took the decision of moving further back in the belief that they would recover from the earlier setback. We all missed again but, when the turn of my wife came, we all heard the “ping” of the lead shot hitting the plate! Beginning to feel uncomfortable with the state of affairs we moved back quite a long distance for the final round.

Do I need to tell you that the only “ping” we heard again came from my wife’s shot? After that the men suddenly lost interest on the shooting and developed a sudden curiosity for birds. The ladies had a good laugh and celebrated among themselves.

So a great picnic day ended leaving us with the memories of Timothy chasing his dog and my wife hitting the bull’s eye every time! The latter event is still remembered today by the participants, almost forty years later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green eyes in the wild

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My wife has beautiful green eyes and she has always been very careful with them, looking after them all the time. I noticed this and -being myself- could not avoid mentioning this to her early on during our married life as I thought she was exaggerating… She is a very tolerant lady and patiently but firmly explained that her eyes were her most important asset. I did not ask again and made sure that her eye drops were always handy!

Lake Naivasha in the distance.

Lake Naivasha in the distance.

While in Kenya in the eighties, on a Saturday we decided to travel to lake Naivasha to spend the weekend at the lake shore at Fisherman’s camp (http://www.fishermanscamp.com/) on our first outing to the area. It was a beautiful drive down the Kikuyu escarpment, passing by the Longonot volcano and the little church built by the WWII Italian prisoners.

Longonot Volcano.

Longonot Volcano in the Rift valley.

Then, the magnificent Rift Valley came into view, with lake Naivasha glimmering in the far end (see first picture, above). Once at the bottom of the valley, we crossed Naivasha town and then followed the lake shore road for about 20 km to reach the camp. At the time the road crossed mainly private farms and cattle ranches.

It was mid-morning and I was enjoying the drive in our loyal Volkswagen kombi, taking in the great landscape when I heard: “There was an antelope up a tree!” announced in a rather calm way. I did not react immediately as it was a ridiculous announcement. I was about to ask my wife to pour some more water on her head as it was clearly overheating when she reacted to my indifference with “I am not joking, there is an antelope there!!!” She was pointing at a yellow barked acacia about 100 m from the road, on our right. I stopped the car and looked. I could see the acacia well but that was that. I reversed, still incredulous, until I parked in front of the tree. Following the directions given and with the aid of my 8 x 40 binoculars I managed to identify the head and neck of a male impala placed across a branch.

A view of the tree with its unlikely inhabitant. Please note that this is already a close-up view!

A view of the tree with its unlikely inhabitant. Please note that this is already a close-up view!

The expected “I am glad that you believe me now” followed. My immediate thought was that it was either placed there by a farmer to attract and kill a leopard or by a leopard! Neither were visible nearby as we were alone on the road. As the situation clearly demanded further investigation, we got out of the car and walked to the tree. Although half eaten, the impala was quite fresh and it was probably killed and placed there the night before. The question was solved -at least to our satisfaction- by finding deep claw marks up the tree trunk where the reddish inner part of the trunk was visible where the yellow and velvety bark had been removed!

On closer inspection, the impala was clearly visible.

On closer inspection, the impala was clearly visible.

After taking pictures we proceeded to the camp with great excitement and speculated on the finding. Our holiday break now clearly influenced by the find, we agreed to return to the tree at dusk to see if the impala owner would come back to the kill. We kept our secret and at about 18:00 hours we set off to sit and wait by the tree. We were prepared for a long wait so we took our dinner and drinks with us, parking the car at a secluded place to avoid being too noticeable to passers by. None of the cars or pedestrians that happened to pass by ever saw anything! To my eyes that knew that the kill was there, this now seemed impossible!

Our wait lasted until midnight but to our disappointment, the leopard did not come back. Tired of the wait, bored and sleepy, we returned to the camp. We spent a great Sunday exploring the lake shore until it was time to get back to Nairobi before dark.

The carcass was no longer there when we passed by in mid-afternoon. Further inspection of the tree trunk showed additional paw marks and bits of  fur were also found in the bush nearby.

The secretive East African leopard pictured at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

The secretive East African leopard pictured at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

This was the first demonstration of my wife’s keen eyesight. I have shared safaris and game viewing with lots of people and I can assure you that she rates among the best! If there is an animal on a game drive, she will find it!

(Written on 2 July 2014 and posted on 24 August 2014)