Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kenyan visits - highlighting giants and safari

Kenya Safari
Last Saturday we visited three places - The David Scheldrik's Elephant Orphanage, the Animal Orphanage in NNB (Nairobi National Park), and the Safari Walk in NNB. We did not go to the Game Drive (wild safari).

The elephant orphanage is a place for baby elephants and rhinos which are orphaned in some way and live endangered in the forest. They feel so tender and cute and you will feel the same love that you feel for your own kid. The David Scheldrik's Elephant Orphanage is a private orgainzation. My child loves elephants most among all the wild animals; he found it the cutest and the most harmless among the wild beasts. I think Tarzan cartoon inhibited this feeling into him. So I felt he would be very happy to have a chance to see his favorite animal and touch by hand.

I regret I did not bring my wife's DSLR with me. These are the places where you need to take quick snaps and without SLRs you cannot take quick snaps.

The Nairobi National Park has a wonderful reserve of the wild animals. It has three things of interest inside - the animal orphanage, the safari walk and the game drive. The animal orphanage is just a place like a zoo, the safari walk is a secured walk through the wild forest, the game drive is the wild safari where you drive your car through tracks along the wild wide forest.

The animal orphanage has varieties of animals. From the name it seems that it takes care of the orphaned animals. And really we found some cheetahs, lions and a leopard which were brought up here from very young age. There were many lions and lionesses at different cages.

The safari walk was a thrilling one, but unfortunately the time we went there was a resting time for the animals. It was noon. The best time to go to a safari walk is at evening. In the evening animals come to drink water from nearby creek inside the jungle near the safari walk.

The safari walk is a secured walking path raised high and protected by electric fence. So that's cool, you are safe from the wild predators; but don't touch the fence... ;). There is enclosure for lions, leopards and buffaloes. The enclosure is juxtaposed by observatory which has bullet-proof glass with an added layer of electric fence outside. So don't worry. You can see the lion in front of you, but it can't attack you. Same is true for leopard and buffalo.

We found a different kind of zebra, called Albino Zebra or likewise. It has stripes white and orange. We met an Ostrich, baboons, Mr. Rhino, tortoise, buffalo and oh, I forgot the most interesting thing. We found two cheetahs just having a nap in the afternoon. They were lying some 20 feet ahead of us, we had only the electric fence separating us. It was a wonderful experience. Though the fence was there, it seemed we are on the same ground. When they started moving their faces, I was a little afraid. But anyway, just remember you are always safe, unless there is a really odd reason that turns the electricity off. But trust me, there is no such history. Just enjoy there.

We found hippos. One hippo was lying flat under a stream of water falling from the water tap. Looked like it was hot and it is enjoying the cold stream. When the water went off, it became very annoyed.

We saw some hyenas. There is a myth shown in the movie 'The gods must be crazy' that a hyena if alone does not attack something taller than it. I don't know about it. But I know, if hyenas attack, they do it together. They feed on left-overs of other preys. Sometimes if they find a poor prey, they attack on it and eat it alive. Hyenas can run and chase a very long route and have powerful jaws. However they cannot kill by biting at neck like lions/tigers. So they eat the animal alive and the poor animal dies painfully. Hyenas can finish a big prey in 15 minutes. I call them piranhas of the land.

The ostrich is a very big bird. It's egg is very big, too. One egg is worth of 24 chicken eggs. The egg is sold here for 2300 KSH (about 31 USD). The egg looked marvellous to me. The shell is pretty thick. The liquid portion inside is strawed out by making a small hole at one side and then dried in the sun. Sometimes wonderful drawings are painted on the egg, sometimes it is sold as is. The important thing is, if you buy an egg, the seller gives you a permit which you have to carry with you whenever you pass through customs. If you have the egg and not the permit then you are likely to be charged a good amount of fine as it would apparently mean you are an egg-thief (stole from the ostrich) and did not buy. So in a sense, the egg is more precious than gold. However, stealing ostrich's egg is not an easy job. The ostrich gets furious if it finds any sign of stealing its egg and it can run at a wonderful speed to grab the thief and teach him/her a good lesson to remember ever after.

The buffalo is one of the big fives of Kenya. The horns span about 3 and a half meter and the adult might weigh over 800 kg - more than a small car; now guess the giant. I saw a clip in National Geographic channel where 7 lions got over a solitary buffalo. The poor beast fought back fiercely but could not escape death. The lions could not kill it by biting the neck and eventually ate it alive biting here and there and the poor buffalo had a painful death. Buffalos are said to have unpredictable behavior. They stay together help any wounded buffalo in the herd. There was an instance where there was a lame buffalo in the herd. The other buffalos often supported it, helped it to stand, move. The lame buffalo had a baby, too. Another instance shows an orphaned buffalo when brought up by a man, became tame like a dog. It always stayed beside the man, slept with him. But anyway, these are wild and one of the five bigs of Kenya. Stay away from them just as you would stay away from lions. There are very few people who were alive to tell the tale of a buffalo attack after that happened to them.

We saw a leopard in the orphanage. The skin of a leopard is said to be the best camouflage. Leopards are usually shy of human being. The leopard has its extreme feature in its jumps. Across it can leap up to 7 meters and above the ground it can leap 3 meters - that is really a splendid jump. So we can make examples of leopard when we talk about jump or leap like 'leap like a leopard'.

There were some cheetahs in the orphanage. The head of a cheetah is not so big. If you strech fingers of a hand, the head might be like that, but that doesn't mean one's neck is safer to it and it can't break one's neck. The tail of a cheetah is relatively thick. The cheetah uses its tail to balance when it chases at the tremendous 100 km speed. If you see an chasing clip, you will see its tail is raised above swaying this way and that way to balance the tremendous speed.

The rhino is the real giant and too thick and heavy. You might know the horns of a rhino are not horns really, they are kind of very much compressed hair. The lives of rhinos are at stake because of poachers poaching the rhino horns. One little fact I would like to tell you - the eyesight of a rhino is very keen. It depends mostly on its nose and ear to sketch around. So if you ever face a rhino in the wild (which is quite unlikely though), then don't be afraid, but slowly move away without making much noise.

There were many lions in the orphanage. It clearly shows that lions are copious in Kenya. You might know many facts of lions. A lion's roar can be heard 5 miles away. Lions mostly remain inactive for 21 hours of a day. The rest 3 hours are for hunting and eating. The lionesses make the prey and one attempt out of every four is successful. After the lionesses prey, the lion comes and eat first, then the lionesses come and eat and then the cubbies jump on the left-overs. A lion is far stronger than a lioness. Like dogs, lions mark its area of influence by urinating on trees.

In this regard when talking about lions and Kenya, I remember of the hollywood movie 'The Ghost and The Darkness' which was shot in Tsavo national park in Kenya. The movie was based on a true event that also occurred in Tsavo 100 years ago where two man-eater lionesses killed over 135 people when a railway bridge was being constructed over the river there. Patterson and Remington finally killed the lionesses. The movie is an extremely thrilling one. There is also appearance of Kenyan Massai warriors and probably there is use of some local Swahili language also. The lionesses are kept as stuffed animals in Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. The interesting fact about the movie is, it sketched the man-eaters as lions rather than lionesses. The stuffed lionesses in the museum clearly bear the history with them and so there must be lionesses really. But may be the movie wanted to make a devilish appearance of the beast which was perfectly portrayed by using lions and their fiercely ferocious appearance. Tsavo is 200 km away from Nairobi. I could not go to Tsavo this time.

About the prices - the orphanage fee is 15 USD for foreigners, 150 KSH for natives, the safari walk is 20 USD for foreigners, 150 KSH for natives, the game drive (wild safari) is 40 USD for foreigners, 300 KSH for natives. The elephant orphanage is 500 KSH for all irrespective of foreigners and natives. I failed to pretend to be local and hence had to pay international fee.

Now that's the end of my wild encounters. Following are some descriptions of Kenyan environment.

Arabic seems to have a deep impact on many of African languages. On of the words might be 'Subhun' (pronounce soobhoon) that means dawn. In Gambia, they say 'Naka subasi' to mean 'good morning' and in reply you say 'Subah sangfi' to mean 'it is a great morning'. In Kenya you say 'Abari Asubui' to mean 'Good morning'. Can you find 'subhun' with its literal meaning in both places? See, these are totally opposite places of Africa - one is in West Africa and the other is in East Africa; with thousands of miles of distance and 10 hours air time. But Arabic seems to be well-scattered all over. You might know Arabic is one of the 6 official languages of UN.

Some more Swahili words/sentences:

Tunane Keshu - See you tomorrow. Tunane means see you. Keshu means tomorrow.
Simba - Lion.
Ndovu - Elephant.
Abari Asubuhi - (Good) morning, how are you?
Abari - how are you?
Mujuri - I am fine.

I found one other word common with Bengali language that is 'baba' to mean 'father'.

Kenyan people are very friendly. When you first go there, they treat you as a guest and they entertain you. From the next day you are supposed to work with them and be one of them.

The weather is mostly pleasant. The unpleasant time here is December, January and February when it is a little hot.

The staple food of Kenya is called 'Ugali'. Kenya produces a lot of maze. They make flour from the maze and then make kind of mashed thing with the maze flour. I thought of tasting it one day but eventually forgot with passage of time. Fish seems to be costly and mostly unavailable at Nairobi. They are found in coastal areas like Mombassa.

Kenya has many high-rise buildings. The roads are neat and clean. The inter-city connecting roads are about 200 ft wide. Nairobi has a lot of traffic and hence traffic jam. But overall, it's a very pleasant experience.

If you like to work in Africa, I would like to give you one advice - please learn French before coming. Countries in Africa have either English or French as national language. And mostly people who speak French, don't speak English. Same is true for people knowing English. So once you go in a French-speaking country, you are very helpless. So learn French. Also it will increase your chance to get a job in UN as French is one of the six official UN languages. Think big. Also, language learning is fun.

Gospel and Reggae are two among the various pouplar kinds of songs here. Traditional African music has a calm dance beat and easy-going move. No heavy instruments are used with the songs, so there is no metal sound. But modern songs are introducing metal instruments as well. Guitars are used by many artists, but with no metal noise. They use their local musical instruments to compose. There is a Nigerian song 'Yori Yori' which is popular in Gambia and also in Kenya. The artist/band (named BRACKET) must be very happy that his/its song is being played across a vast region throughout Africa. I heard the song. It has its easy African beat. People love the beats and flows mainly. The song is sung in English, but with an African accent, hence might sound different.

From among other popular singers of Africa is a Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (pronounce yasun dor). I heard his songs in Emirates; I mean Emirates Airlines keeps some of his songs in playlists. If you travel in Emirates, you can give it a try. Of course Emirates is not the only solution. I think you will find some in mp3raid.

Last day I forgot to mention three things about the Giraffe Centre and giraffes. First, a giraffe can elongate its gestational period up to a few more months if it doesn't find a suitable place for delivery. Second, giraffe's saliva is non-toxic, non-sticky and has anti-biotic effects; that's why you can feed it with no worries at all. The third one relates to the second one - the same fact can be utilized if you want to kiss the giraffe. That is, if you hold a nut in your lips, the giraffe in the Giraffe Centre sticks out its tongue and will get the nut from your lips. Well that should be a totally unique experience of life, but may be I was not adventurous enough to try to have a kiss from the giraffe. But some people loved to do it; I failed to capture the moment in camera.

Sorry for the long writing again. This is a travel diary... :)

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