19 September 2009

Charging rhinos and playful chimpanzees

Day three postscript

Our encounter with the rhino hadn't quite finished, as we sat enjoying our dinner at Sweetwaters Lodge, we looked out the window only to see a black rhino looking in. I'm sure he'd come back for Jackson!

We went back to our tents that night only to find hot water bottles at our door – this is my kind of camping!

Day four

Up again at six for a morning game drive. This time we saw a pair of white rhino, which despite Jackson's assurances that the white are not as aggressive, charged us. This time we weren't even doing anything. Well ok, we were photographing them, but we were stationary, not following them!

Saw many giraffe, buffalo, zebra and warthogs.

We went back to the lodge for lunch then off for an afternoon outing which included a trip to the chimpanzee sanctuary. The sanctuary was excellent. We had no idea how much it would cost, itis only open a couple of hours each day – in the morning and again in the afternoon. As soon as we pulled up a guide came out to meet us, wewere the only car there. Jackson stayed in the van to read his paper.

Our guide, Timothy, took us onto a viewing platform and told us all about chimpanzees and how they came to be in Kenya. They are native to Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, but not Kenya. The santuary was opened in the 90s to look after chimpanzees that have been abused – ie kept in cages, sold illegally as pets, etc.

There are two large enclosures in the santuary housing two different sets of chimpanzees. They do not aim to breed the chimpanzees, although they do have a couple of babies, and are not planning to release them back into the wild, but rather offer a sanctuary to those that have been mistreated. The oldest chimpanzee, Poko, was 29 (apparently they live to 40 in thewild and 50 in captivity).

Timothy took us for a walk through the sanctuary so we could see the second set of chimpanzees – they were excellent, we watched them across a river which separated the two sets. There were between 40 and 50 in each of the two sets.

Walking back around to the start we saw many different chimps, playing, sleeping, laughing and running away from us! One even "posed" for Ade as he was taking photos.

Throughout the tour I couldn't help but wander how much this was going to cost as there had been no discussion about money at the start and we hadn't thought to ask – stupidity on our part!

But when we got to the end and went into the information centre we realised there was no charge! We tipped Timothy – but as always were faced with the dilmma of what is appropriate to tip?!! Then "adopted" a chimp for just $50 a year to help them run the santuary. We adopted Poko.

After the chimp enclosure we went to Hippo hide where we had to get out of the van and walk along the side of the river, we had a different guide again, this time I could see there was a fence, though it wasn't a particularly high fence!!

We reached a bend in the water and sure enough, there in the water were hippos, I only saw two, a baby and a grown up, but the guide told us there were seven in this part of the river.

They are so cute, and while I know they can charge, they certainly don't seem any threat whatsover.

Day five

Onto Samburu. The drive from Sweetwater to Samburu was about four hours. We stopped at the equator to get some obligatory pics, one foot in the southern hemisphere, one in the northern that kind of thing. We had the water turning demonstration by a local and got suckered into spending $8 on a certificate to say we had crossed the equator, it was all good fun, though I'm sure we could have bargained him down on the certificate.

We then "had" to go into one of the local shops where they persist until you buy something, their first price was four times what we had seen the goods for in the shop at Kibo resort – our first campsite, so we bargained them down somewhat, but still paid a little more than what we should have.

On our way again and our next stop was Isoilo, a small town not far from Samburu, where we stopped for petrol. The town was nothing more than a cluster of shops lining the main road. We were approached by a man selling jewellery and letter openers and knives, so bought a bracelet and letter opener for $5.

Further on and our guide said we had to stop to sign in before going any further. Apparently people frequently went "missing" from the road ahead, still not really sure what that means, are we safe? No idea, but we pushed on ahead, and Jackson said it so matter-of-factly that I didn't really have time to process it until we had moved on. Apparently there is a river (the Iwasara) that separates the Somali people from the Samburu people. The border to Somalia is actually about 600 kms away, so we are no where near the border, but there seem to be a few regions where the Somali migrate to.

We made it safely to our lodge, with a bit of a game driving in between. The lodge is beautiful, possibly even more so than Sweetwaters, though it is a little more run down. When there is rain the lodge backs onto a river, it must look beautiful, and the animals – elephants, buffalo, crocodiles - come to feed in the river. Now however the river is dry, some of the animals still come to the river, but there is no water.
We did another game drive in the afternoon and saw lions, elephants, giraffes and cheetah, the cheetah was very difficult to see – hidden in the grass, but we managed to get some photos and video nonetheless.

Day 6

We were up early for a pre-breakfast game drive. Got out in time to see lions with their kill, though we had obviously disturbed them as they had stopped eating! There were about five lions all playing and moving around. You could still see the blood in the lions' mouths, they had killed a zebra and a buffalo – hungry obviously!

After our breakfast – back at the lodge - we watched a Samburu tribal dance which was fantastic then had a swim before heading off for another game drive. Managed to see a leopard, finally. They are bloody tough to spot! Much bigger than I expected. This was our first real leopard, we had seen one in Tanzania five years ago, but it was so far off in the distance that we could barely make it out. This one walked right behind our van.

It is distressing to see all the vans jostling for position as the animals move around. We saw one van – a Private Safari company van – drive straight toward an elephant that was blocking the road to try and get a better position! This is disgusting, unfortunately everyone wants to get the best pictures and the tour drivers know they will get a better tip if they get the best spot for their tourists. Our driver tries to get a good spot, but stopped to wait for the elephant to move and is respectful of other tourists and vans wanting to see the wildlife.

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