The students’ safari begins with an uncommon sightby kenya on Jun. 25, 2013, under Life
Editor’s note: Students from St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson are joined on their journey to Kenya by students from two other schools – Catalina Foothills High School and Atlanta Girls School.
June 22, 2013
By Bella Newberry, Atlanta Girls’ School, Class of ‘14
We all awoke with excitement and anticipation of our safari to Samburu Game Reserve. Much to my surprise my roommates were doing an abs workout, and attempting (and failing) to get me to join them.
In the next room the girls were scrambling to get their things together since they neglected to pack the night before. At 8:30 a.m. we headed down for breakfast and learned that Mr. Roberts had already left for Nanyuki, running with one of his Kenyan running friends. For those who don’t know, Nanyuki is a 30-minute drive, so imagine running it!
We all hastily got ready to leave, packing our last few essentials for the three-hour trek. We pulled into Mother’s Café, a local chai joint on the main street in Nanyuki, and waited for Mr. Roberts, who we passed near town. At Mother’s we ordered our usual: eggs, chai and samosas. We have grown to love the eggs there, and whenever we have a chance, will order them off the menu.
Satisfied with a meal only Mother’s could make, we climbed back into our vans and settled in for three hours of driving.
Not much happened in those three hours, at least not in the van. Outside the environment changed dramatically. From Nanyuki the road contoured the western side of Mount Kenya, reaching an elevation of 8,500 feet. We passed through the town of Timau and traversed through farm after farm of wheat.
I was amazed to learn that one farm consisted of 16,000 acres. We then descended from the mountain and into an environment that our Arizona friends said was much like the area between Tucson and Nogales, Mexico.
It was very arid and acacia trees and a variety of shrubs dominated the landscape. The last town we passed through was Isiolo, which was nothing like Nanyuki or Naro Moru.
Here the people were mostly Muslim and many of Somali descent. The clothing was different and the people’s facial features were different. We passed several mosques, and along the road vendors were selling everything from plastic shoes to goats. Groups of young men stood under the trees along the road, several perched on motorcycle taxis waiting for their next customer. It reminded me of a town in the old West.
We continued along the paved road until we arrived at a very small town called Archer’s Post. Here we left the smooth road and bumped along a sandy track to the entry gate of Samburu Game Reserve.
To my surprise there was a very nice restroom with a flush toilet! (Funny how such a small feature is now so important to us!) We all got out of the vans and compared impressions of the trip with our friends in the other vans. After about 20 minutes of much-needed leg stretching, we hopped back in and finally were given the OK to open the roofs of the vans.
Standing tall in the van was a welcome change especially for Finian Lowery from St. Gregory, who is 6-foot-5. We excitedly viewed the Samburu landscape before us. We were finally on safari!
Now the first hour or so of our drive into the park to our campsite was not terribly exciting, to be honest. It is not like lions and elephants are on display here, as this is their territory and they do as they like. And in the mid-day sun it was hot and dry, and no animal in their right mind would be just sitting there. However there were a few impala, gazelle, dic-dic (the smallest of all African antelope), and many guinea fowl for us to see.
We did have a few exciting moments on our way to camp. Our driver, Mwaniki, was cruising along and out of the corner of his eye saw some movement, and he instantly knew what it was.
Mwaniki left the main track and followed a less traveled route to intercept a herd of elephants. When we came to a stop we were less than 20 yards from the herd. It is one thing to be close to an elephant in the zoo. Here the impression of these majestic animals is much different and much more real. Surprisingly the elephants paid no attention to us, but we, on the other hand, watched them very closely. After 20 minutes of “oohs and aahs” we continued on to camp.
Our camp was on the bank of the Ewaso Nigro River, which was very full due to the recent rains on Mount Kenya. Our welcoming committee in camp wasn’t a group of humans, but a troop of baboons and a group of small verve monkeys that seemed to circle us waiting for a scrap of food to fall from our hands. While it was a totally new experience for us to see the primates up close and personal, Mr. Roberts cautioned us that in the drop of a hat one could make a run at our bagged lunch if we left it unattended for even a second.
To level the playing field, Mr. Roberts quickly solicited the help of two Samburu men to keep the animals at bay.
We set up camp, had afternoon chai, and relaxed a bit before going out again to see what we could see. It was much cooler now and we hoped there would be more activity in the African bush.
Not far from camp we found a lioness lounging under the shade of a large acacia tree next to the river. She posed for a few photos, yawning to show off her pearly whites, which was amazing. No wonder the lion is the king of the jungle! We continued on seeing more elephants and taking our time to watch them graze and interact with each other.
The highlight of the afternoon was our sighting of a leopard, which I learned was an uncommon event. We were tipped off to where the big cat was by several vehicles near a dense thicket. We pulled up to see what the excitement was all about and after watching the bushes for a good half hour, began to question if the other van occupants were playing a joke on us. Mr. Roberts had a pair of binoculars trained on the thicket and announced that he thought he saw what looked to be the tail of leopard.
We all took turns looking, with some of us seeing the tail and others not. The jury was still out on whether or not the leopard was real or a figment of our imagination. And then just like that, the animal bolted from the foliage and ran to another dense thicket. Even though it was only a glimpse, not long enough for any of us to get a photo, we all knew what we had seen.
We moved the vehicle near to where the animal had again hidden and waited. A second later the leopard was on the move again, and we all got a second sighting of the animal, and then it was gone.
Even with only a short glimpse of the leopard, it was exhilarating beyond words. It is no wonder that the leopard is considered the most elusive of the big cats. I can honestly say that this was one of the coolest things that I have ever seen in my life. And it was only the late afternoon of our first day.