Friday, May 30, 2008

Memories of a great tour gone by

In high school I already knew that I wanted to be a safari or wildlife guide. I grew up in the remote bush, and loved it. When we were in town (Nairobi) I would long for the bush.

As I grew up, I started to have a little more freedom to go visiting the wilds of Kenya on my own, with friends, or to do some organized tours. Many of these experiences were treasured experiences.

One such tour sticks out in my mind. My best friend at school was Chuck. Chuck and I shared two great passions, sport and the bush. My parents lent us their Land Rover for a few days while they were in town. Chuck and I set off for Tsavo National Park.

We drove out of Nairobi on the Mombasa road. That road was insane. The poor design of the road meant that the trucks heading from Mombasa Squeezed the hot tarmac into a molded shape. Mombasa is a very important port, not only for Kenya, but also several land-locked countries in the interior, such as Uganda. It was a crazy road, and you had to keep your wits about you.

Once in the park we drove to the self-catering place we were staying. It was such fun. We had buffaloes outside almost constantly, in huge herds.

Each morning we were there, we would head out early. We did our best to stay away from the crowds and get off the beaten track.

We had amazing wildlife sightings, took photos and talked way into the night, while listening to lions in the bush. We got amazing views of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Those experiences have had a big influence on how I operate tours today. More personal, more about creating the emotional attachment to the experience of the African Bush.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family in the mud and African Wilddogs

Growing up in the wilds of northern Kenya, the travels of the family on small dirt roads have always remained as important family memories. On one occasion in the early eighties we had been visiting in a town about thirty kilometers from where we lived.

There had been a little rain, and the two track road had occasional spots filled with water. My dad had been missing most of them as we drove, but at one point my brother and I, keen for some fun, asked him to drive through a long track with water. The rain had filled the track, but not yet softened the ground in the middle. This meant that it was really easy to get stuck, with the middle of the car sitting on the harder ground. You guessed it, we got stuck.

There was no big issue with time, and we had some food in the vehicle. So when it got late we decided to spend the night in the car, in the puddle. It was my parents, my brother and I, my younger sister and a couple of people who worked with my parents. We cooked on a fire (without any pots or anything, it was somewhat challenging.) Not much light meant an early night.

The next morning we were up early. While we were busy getting the water away from the wheels by making little channels, a family of African Wild dogs ran up to behind the vehicle. We had a fright for a while, but soon they moved on from us. About three hundred meters on they killed a Dik Dik, and then moved on. This was such a special sighting, as we have never seen Wild dogs in the are since then.

We soon got out of the mud, with the help of a passing car, and made it home without any misshapes. To this day, this remains a special family memory.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lions and small tents

Many years ago I was doing camping tours in Namibia. We would spend a little time in Botswana in those days. In Botswana we often camped at a wild campsite called Serondela (don't know spelling???) It was a great time.

We would come from Namibia, pick up a Botswana guide before going into the park. For the new two days the guide would do all the guiding, and I would be left with my camp assistant to manage the campsite.

In the mornings we would prepare coffee/tea/etc for the guests before they would leave for game drive. They would be out for about 3.5 hours before coming back for a brunch.

After the guests would leave, we would quickly work to prep the brunch, then pack it away in a trailer (there were legendary baboons in those days - they got to everything.)

After that we would have a couple hours to kill, and we were seriously into birding (still am.) My camp assistant and I would start working our way through the campsite, looking for birds.

On this particular day we noticed that there was a small tent people still in it. We noticed that there were lion track around, but that's normal for Serondela.

As we walked closer the couple in the tent called out to us, saying we should not be walking around. It was now properly daylight and there had been a number of vehicles driving past. We told them it was fine. But they insisted. Finally we went to chat to them to find out what was going on.

It turned out that in the night a lion had been walking along the road through the campsite. A kudu had come up from the river, through some bushes on the edge of the campsite and literally walked into the lions right next to their tent!

The lion had killed the kudu and spend the rest of the night right next to these peoples small tent. In the morning it dragged what remained of the kudu away into the bush as people woke up. It took us some time to convince the couple in the tent that it was now safe to get up. When they came out of their tent they gathered it up, without packing anything - still with the sleeping bags and their personals inside, pushed it into their car, and left.

I seriously hope that they overcame that shock to return to Africa, but it was certainly an amzing experience for us, and a bit of a reminder to be a bit careful in the African Bush!!