Leaving Sosian and going to Mara part 10 2016
It is hard to believe that we are having our last dinner tonight at Sosian! How time flies when you are having fun. When Paul and I walk into the living room we hear a heavy British accent that is very familiar. Our British friends from Meru have arrived at Sosian as planned and things are already livelier. Mr. B gives me a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek and shakes Paul’s hand vigorously. Ms. J hugs us both and we inquire about each other’s sightings since we parted company. It isn’t long before Mr. B has me shaking my head and laughing although with his heavy British accent I do miss out on some of what he has to say.
Once our before dinner drinks and snacks (they call them bites) are finished we file into the lovely dining room for dinner. Again I feel completely under dressed compared to the other women around the table but with my limited clothes I have no choice in the matter. They serve lamb tonight which is not a favorite meat for me but it should come as no surprise that this lamb is delicious. The conversation around the table is varied, interesting and lively and we really enjoy the evening.
Before Paul and I return to our cottage Simon asks us to write a comment in the guest book which we are happy to do. Simon then tells us that we will need to leave early in the morning as the drive to Nanyuki takes around two hours and our flight is at nine. Rosie will be driving us to Nanyuki as she needs to stock up on groceries for the Lodge. When Paul and I return to the cottage we pack up everything we won’t need in the morning. Paul also prepares envelopes containing tips for Misheck, Patrick and the staff. Paul and I both admit that as much as we enjoyed our stay at Sosian we are ready to sleep in tents again, with the canvas flaps down of course!
Our alarm goes off early and Paul and I are up quickly, dress, and go to the veranda to eat a bowl of cereal plus some fruit and toast. Simon comes by to tell us that Misheck and Patrick will not be here to say farewell as they had assured us last night that they would be. Rats, we hate that we won’t be able to thank them in person for all they have done for us. Paul hands Simon the envelopes that are for our guides which in addition to their tips they also contain a written note of thanks, so that is good. Our British friends wander up from their cottage to say so long to Paul and me before they leave on their game drive. We wish each other great sightings on our remaining days in Africa and we then wave goodbye to these fun people. Paul and I return to the cottage, finish packing and sit the luggage outside the door where two of the staff are waiting to carry it to the vehicle. We walk to the office but Rosie is not quite ready to leave as she is attending to some last-minute duties.
While we are waiting for Rosie, Simon brings out some disinfectant spray and douses the soles of Paul and my shoes since we have been around livestock. We think this is a very good idea even though we will be at another place for four days before we start home. Rosie appears and we all climb into the crew cab pickup, wave goodbye to Simon and Daisy and begin the drive to Nanyuki.
The roads are pretty good this morning, there was no rain last night, but there is one rutted, greasy place that concerns Rosie a bit, however she maneuvers the truck through the muck with little trouble. We haven’t seen much wildlife when suddenly up ahead a few Grevy zebra are getting ready to cross the road. I’ll be darned, sometimes you just have to wonder don’t you? I can only take photos through the windshield but at least we now have proof that we have seen the muscular Grevy’s.
Our drive to Nanyuki takes us by Simon’s parents ranch where they still fence wild animals out so their cattle can range free like ours do at home. Rosie also tells us that without the stress of predators around, the cattle on his parent’s ranch gain some 25% more in the same time period than cattle that are raised alongside wild animals like those at Sosian. Well it is understandable that some people prefer to run cattle this way too.
Eventually we are driving on pavement and besides more traffic we see lots of uniformed children walking to school when we are near the villages. When we reach Nanyuki we drive by the military base where the British soldiers are stationed. We also drive by a medical center and hospital but somehow the coffin maker that is displaying his wares right across the street doesn’t give you a lot of confidence!
Rosie pulls into the Nanyuki Airstrip where a few wood frame buildings are scattered about. Rosie finds the manager and makes sure we are on Air Kenya’s passenger list. After Rosie has confirmed that we are listed, she takes us into the open air cafe where we are to wait until someone comes and gives us our boarding passes. Rosie asks if we will be o.k. on our own, (of course we will), and says that if so, she will be on her way as she has several hours of shopping to do. Rosie tells us that she hopes she will be back at the ranch by five this evening! That is over eight hours from now, that must be a long grocery list!
Soon a young man appears and hands us a plastic boarding pass that is color coded. After thirty minutes has passed the same young man comes and holds up a yellow ticket, that’s us, and we follow him out to the runway. We are the only people to board the plane that can hold twelve or fifteen people if I remember right. The pilot informs us that we will be in the air for around an hour and then we will land at a small airstrip in the Mara to pick up some passengers. Once we are in the air again the next stop, which is only a five-minute flight, is where we will get off the plane.
I spend most of the flight from Nanyuki to the Mara looking out the window where farm land and villages dominate the landscape so it is obvious when we begin to get close to the Mara as farm land gives way to grass land. As we descend towards the Ngerende airstrip there are a handful of wildebeest grazing on the verdant landscape below us. Once the two passengers are on board the pilot guns the plane down the runway and we are in the air again. We must fly along the boundary of the Mara as there are farms below us and I can see a man plowing a field with oxen. Yep, we are not flying very high. The pilot brings the plane in for a landing on what seems to be a pretty short airstrip, but the plane comes to a screeching halt before we run out of room:).
Paul and I thank the pilot for the smooth flight as he retrieves our luggage from the hold. Two men from Offbeat Mara camp come to greet us and grab our luggage. I guess it isn’t hard to figure out who your clients are when only two people get off the Air Kenya plane:). The men introduce themselves as David and Kapen and we shake hands and introduce ourselves. We walk to the vehicle and it will come as no surprise that it is a Toyota Cruiser! The guys load our luggage, we load ourselves, and then we are off on a game drive while we head towards Offbeat Mara camp.
We don’t even get out of sight of the airstrip before we see ostrich, warthogs that actually don’t turn tail and run, zebra, and Thompson Gazelle. Wow, all this game we see within minutes appears to be a good omen for our stay here. As we drive on Paul and I marvel at the beauty of this grassland and except for the exotic animals, acacia, and fence free land, we both comment that we could be in the flint hills of Kansas. When we showed Dominic, our guide in Meru, photos of our ranch he remarked that our ranch looked like the Mara.
About a half hour into our drive, Kapen points to a lone tree and states that there is a lion in the tree. Paul and I gaze at the distant tree and sure enough a lioness is standing in the crotch of the tree! David tells us that they aren’t allowed to drive off-road except for an exceptional sighting and a lion in a tree is definitely an exceptional sighting. We approach within a few yards of the young lioness and observe her as she tries to find a comfortable position in the prickly tree. David says the flies are so bad right now that he thinks the lioness is trying to get away from the pests. There are a few times when the lioness tries to change her position in the tree and steps on frail limbs that in no way can hold her weight. I think it is David who says she better be careful or she could fall out of the tree, so every time the lioness has a skinny limb snap under one of her paws I whisper “don’t fall!” We watch the uncomfortable lioness sit in the crotch, stand in the crotch, stand spread eagle with her back paws on one limb and her front paws on another. The big cat even lies down briefly at one point, (my photo was no good of this darn it), with her big head resting on her front paws but this position was not comfy for her either. When we leave the fidgety lioness she is sitting down again, looking as though she can’t quite figure out how she got into the tree in the first place.
One of the men sees another lion lying in a bush close by so we drive over to check it out. This is a young male and the flies are settled in his eyes, nose and over his face. He definitely looks like he is in misery with the little bloodsuckers biting him but the lion seldom tries to swipe them away, I suppose it is futile and takes up too much energy to constantly brush the flies away. When we leave the miserable lion, David drives us by a den where bat-eared fox are living but there is no sight of the mostly nocturnal animals. We are not complaining, a lion in a tree for crying out loud! We have seen this tree climbing lion phenomena before at Lake Manyara but that has been years ago. Moving on there are two secretary birds striding through the grass on their long legs looking for snakes or insects to eat. A jackal, carrying part of a baby impala, trots down the road in front of us for a little ways before loping into the grassland.
As we travel on we pass by vast tracts of tall grass with no animals in sight. Grazers don’t like tall grass because they can’t see a predator coming so prefer to stay where the grass is very short. We also discover that the roads have terrible muddy spots due to lots of rain here too, and I honestly don’t know how the vehicles get through the gooey black muck. As we draw closer to the camp we begin to see large expansions of short grass fields that are filled with Grants gazelles, topis, and impalas. We also run across a few of the cow-like eland which seem much more tolerant of letting humans near them than those in Meru. One eland has several hitchhiking oxpeckers riding her back. We also stop and watch a large group of bachelor impalas with many sporting impressive lyre shaped horns.
When we reach Offbeat Mara camp a very young couple is waiting to greet us with fruit drinks and smiles. Kyle and Lara introduce themselves, (we find out later they were married three weeks ago), and then Lara takes us to tent three. The tent site is stupendous with an unimpeded view of the plains and in fact there are a few giraffe that we can see browsing in the distance. Inside the tent we find a beautiful wood framed bed with cute towel elephants sitting on the king-sized bed. Like Meru the shower, bathroom vanity, and stool take up one side of the tent with curtains to separate this part of the tent from the bedroom. There is a desk in the bedroom while the wardrobe sits in a corner of the bathroom area. We have a sitting area in front of the tent furnished with two wicker chairs and a table so we can lounge outside the tent. Very nice. Lara tells us to come up to the mess tent for lunch as soon as we are settled in.
Our tent is a nice distance from the dining and lounge area which will give us a little exercise just walking back and forth between them. Arriving for lunch we find the New Jersians busy playing a game in the lounge tent and we exchange greetings. I ask them if they have seen anything out of the ordinary since they have been here and Mom says they saw an aardwolf on their night drive last night. My mouth drops open and I repeat “aardwolf” rather questionably. Mom tells me that everyone has had my awed reaction so I don’t think the family understands how rare it is to see an aardwolf! Wow, they are on their first safari and they have this kind of luck. This sounds very promising.
Kyle has family members visiting which include his parents, paternal grandparents, and uncle. We sit with them and visit before lunch is ready and Paul and I take an instant liking to his grandparents, not that we don’t enjoy his other relatives:), but you know how you just connect with some people. We eat another terrific lunch followed by a chocolate/caramel pudding type dessert and I have to refrain myself from scraping every last bit out of the cup. I will say that on this safari we have had an abundance of chocolate desserts which is heaven for me!
Kyle and Laura draw up the plans for the afternoon game drive and ask if it is o.k. if we ride with his grandparents and uncle because one of their vehicles is off picking up supplies. Paul and I assure him that this is not a problem at all. Kyle’s grandma pipes up and tells us that we must be lucky as the giraffe have only shown up today in front of the camp. The friendly lady then says maybe we will bring them luck this afternoon and we will find a leopard. I can’t remember how many times this couple has been on safari, (maybe five?), but they have never seen a leopard. Paul smiles and tells her that he and I are pretty lucky in seeing leopards and he predicts that we will find them a leopard! This prediction is pretty cheeky of my husband I think even though he has been laughing while almost guaranteeing a leopard!
Paul and I read, nap, go through photos, until it is time to leave on our afternoon safari. David and Kapen are waiting for us and we five passengers sort out our seating arrangement with Kyle’s uncle in the back, Paul and me in the middle seats, while Kyle’s Gram and Gran sit in the front seats. Mrs. G, who has a bad knee or hip, uses a cane and she also needs a plastic crate to step on so she can reach the high step that leads into the Cruiser. I admire the heck out of this tough woman, who I’m sure is in pain, for not letting this impediment keep her from enjoying life.
Driving out of camp we stop to look at the giraffe that are still hanging around which includes a fairly young one that scampers off as we draw near. David drives the track along the small, tree-lined river that is next to the camp and we see a pigmy kingfisher and a woodland kingfisher. The grass is very tall so there are no herbivores here and the trees are so thick we only catch a glimpse of the water now and then. The river makes a jog to the left and we drive around this point then continue searching the trees for birds or primates. Suddenly Kapen calls out leopard and points into the heavy grass between our vehicle and the trees. There right next to the door where Kyle’s grandma is sitting is a huge leopard lying in the grass and I am talking right next to us, like two foot away! I cannot believe my eyes and when the leopard sits up both Mrs. G and I instinctively scoot away from the edge of the vehicle. The sleepy leopard sits still and studies us through the blades of grass as we humans recover from the shock of such a close encounter. I sure don’t need a zoom for taking photos of this leopard! The leopard, tiring of the humans that interrupted his nap, stands up and strolls in front of the vehicle which gives us a brief but clear view of the enormous male as he crosses the track. The leopard is on the men’s side of the Cruiser at that point so I can only snap a partial body photo of the leopard through the window where Mr. G is sitting.
The old male, his tail twitching in irritation, strides into the grass and when he plops down again the grass swallows him from view. Mrs. G is beside herself with happiness, as we all are, and she credits Paul and me for the fact that we saw the leopard. Paul laughs and tells her he doesn’t think it has anything to do with us and that Kapen is the one who deserves the credit. Finally Mrs. G becomes so overwhelmed with the event that tears start to run down her cheeks. As she dabs her eyes with a tissue she apologizes for her tears of happiness. Paul and I insist that no apology is necessary and soon our own eyes begin to well up in empathy with Kyle’s grandma. Darn, my eyes are a bit teary just typing this as I recall the joy Mrs. G felt upon seeing her first leopard.
David and Kapen continue down the track as they try to locate the leopard where they think he laid down. You can imagine how tall and thick the grass is that has allowed this mega male cat to just disappear from sight. Paul is certain the big cat is near as he too watched where the leopard laid down. He directs David a bit further down the road and sure enough we can just see a portion of the spotted cat’s side and back legs if we stand up and look down into the grass. David drives a bit closer but not too close and we wait, hoping the leopard might sit up again. As we are watching and hoping for some leopard movement, Kyle and the New Jersey family who are on a bush walk, appear a few hundred yards away. The walking party halts and Kyle looks at us through his binoculars. I assume he has a pretty good idea that with one vehicle parked and two other vehicles driving our way this likely means that a predator is the reason for all the interest, and it is best that humans on foot don’t approach. The five of them continue to walk, angling away from us leopard watchers.
Once our company arrives, we decide to leave the snoozing cat and let the other safarists have their chance at watching the big fellow. David continues down the track but then turns onto another road that leads up a brushy, rocky hill. We drive by more giraffe as we explore this higher vantage point. I don’t know if our guides are heading in this direction on purpose but soon we see a trio of parked vehicles below us obviously watching something. As we near the vehicles, David says that a cheetah named Amani is sitting in the grass. It takes Paul and me a bit to sort the distant cheetah out from the grass that screens her but sure enough the slender cat is there.
I have never heard the term “cat trick” before but Paul says that on Safari talk the bloggers use this term when you see a lion, leopard and a cheetah on the same day. Well, I like the term and I like the fact that we can say that we had a cat trick on our first day in the Mara. We can’t get very close to Amani and the satisfied cheetah never does stand up or move while we are watching her. We stay for quite a while but it is late in the day and we are expected for sundowners so we move on as do all the other observers. I might add that Amani is not far from the camp either so who would have guessed we would see a leopard and a cheetah within a quarter-mile of our camp!
We arrive at the sundowner site where the two men from South Carolina that we briefly met at tea this afternoon are already waiting. Lara and some of the staff have a bonfire burning and chairs set around the crackling fire. Soon Kyle and the New Jersians arrive on foot so they have had a lengthy walk. As drinks and snacks are served another vehicle arrives and a group of Masai alight from the Cruiser. It seems Kyle has arranged quite a farewell for his relatives who are leaving camp tomorrow. Curious Topi stand close by our gathering while eland and Thompson Gazelle grace the horizon around us. What a gorgeous view.
The brightly clad Masai begin to chant and dance as the light fades and it is almost surreal to watch them leap and dance as the sparks from the fire occasionally leave orange smudge marks in the air around them. At one point the dancers start parading in front of us and try to convince the young girls to join them. The older girl refuses but the youngest girl has no qualms about joining the Masai and soon she is dancing in step with their rhythmic moves. When they finish we all clap enthusiastically and give kudos to the youngster from New Jersey for being a good sport. What a wonderful way to end this magical day in the Mara.
I must add this aside to the Masai warriors. When the dancers are walking back to the Cruiser, Kyle and Lara’s dachshund takes a dislike to the young men and runs snarling and yapping after them. An excited chatter springs up as the poor entertainers scatter and run to escape the short-legged dog while Lara runs after their pet scolding and trying to catch the little rascal. Since these young Masai are famous for facing down lions seeing the running from a weeny dog just doesn’t fit the tough guy image! It was pretty funny though. Later, Nancy