Day 15 Ė August 12
We sleep in well past sunrise, which is a very late awakening time for this trek. A leisurely ďfat manís breakfastĒ of scrambled eggs with tomato and bacon was a nice change of pace. I stroll down to the river and we see water buck, an eagle, yellow billed stork, green back heron, and the baboons return for their morning drink. What a beautiful morning. The rest helps my legs which have been feeling a bit fatigued. We have hiked nearly 135 miles!
I take care of a few chores like updating my journal when Roger asks if we want to go wildlife viewing. I think about not going as it has been really nice to kick back this morning. If I go, I will have to really hustle when we get back to get all packed up in time for the afternoon hike. Phil and I decide to go. We follow the river to try to catch up with the zebra Roger saw a short while ago.
We return to the spot we saw the elephants yesterday, Phil spots the zebra. They have caught our scent or sight of us as they soon take off on a good run. What a nice viewing and just a short way from our camp. We watch a stork across the river and then take off to see how far the zebra ran. We follow their tracks for about half a mile with periodic stops along the river to see if we could spot any hippos or crocs or what ever might be out this time of day. A short while later, Roger carefully walks down towards the river and puts up his hand to signal he has seen something. As we get close to him he points and there is a good size elephant on the other side of the river with several others close by. She has smelled us or heard us and notifies the others about our presence.
Their communication is amazing. She slowly flaps her ears and makes a very low soft noise telling the others what the situation is. They can communicate at such a low frequency which humans canít hear. She is obviously the matriarch of the group and she keeps a close eye on us. When she is convinced we are no threat she comes down to the river to get a drink. She places her trunk in the river and fills it with water, then places the trunk in her mouth and the water is transferred.
Roger and I head back up the embankment and travel down river about 35 yards before going back down behind a tree. There are quite a few more elephants including some young calves. We watch as a mother and her calf approach the rivers edge and see the calf plunge in. The water is moving fast enough it starts to tip the baby off balance and carry it down stream a bit. The mother reaches down with her trunk and steadies her calf and helps the baby get up the shore. Itís amazing how attentive and gentle she is with her calf. More elephants head down to drink. I count 18 in all and whisper that to Roger. He says he thinks there are well over 2 dozen as he noticed some that are back up in the brush and trees.
All the time, the matriarch has kept her eye on us. I step out behind the tree and show myself to her. She doesnít flinch but just looks at me. I take some pictures and stand very still just watching. After getting her drink and spraying herself with cool water she turns to her right and walks to the large group and lets them know it is time to go. They all obediently turn and head into the trees. Roger later says, ďWhat would you have done if that elephant had charged right across the river at youĒ? I said, ďMade sure I out ran you and PhilĒ. He laughed and shook his head.
What an incredible encounter with the elephants. They are such mystical creatures with family ties like ours; they are said to mourn when a family member dies, and they are said to possess amazing memories of things such as routes to a watering hole they havenít visited in years and years. It feels like a religious experience having shared this time watching this great herd.
Roger has been amazing at spotting game, maybe due to his early years spent in Kenya as he didnít leave until he was 17 and frequently went out on safari to photograph animals. I nickname him BGR (Big Game Roger), although Iím not sure what he thought of the idea. In fact, I think there were times Roger didnít know what to make of me. I sure liked him, a real gentle soul and a manís man.
It was time to head back to camp and get packed up. We would be heading out within the hour and in addition to packing, I needed to eat and water up. We were about a mile out of camp and soon we looked down at the camels as they grazed along the river. We have had amazing camp site after camp site. We tried to come up with our favorite the other night but each site had its own flavor and advantages, we finally gave up.
It had warmed up considerably and I start sweating like crazy. I am trying to change into nice clean freshly laundered hiking clothes when three young Samburu girls come up to my tent looking for some sweets. Michael is laughing as he sees my dilemma in changing clothes. After convincing them I didnít have any sweets they move along to see if anyone else will accommodate them. I should have sent them to Phil right away. He would have obliged them as he is just about as nice a person as you will ever meet, even though he has made many babies cry all over Kenya.
I finished packing, ate lunch, filled my water containers and then tried to talk with thethree girls again. I found one sweet I shared with them before Steve and Michael joined me in heading slowly out of camp. We walked down to the bridge and slowly crossed over watching the Samburu women washing clothes on the banks. I always wonder what they are saying about us because they inevitably giggle as we go by them. Michael speaks to some Samburu men on the far side of the bridge in Swahili. We look down the river and see that the handlers have the camels packed and are preparing to take them across the river near our camp. The camels donít really like the metal bridge floor. Phil is crossing the bridge behind us as we casually make our way to the road heading up the hill. We continue a slow pace up the hill and my shirt is already soaking through with sweat. Steve looks at his birthday whistle and reads that it says 40 Celsius which would make it just about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Todayís hike will be a scorcher.
We continue up the hill until we come to a small acacia tree that provides some shade. We decide to wait here at a junction of roads and we arenít positive which way to go. Phil is nowhere to be seen and we thought he was right behind us. Soon Amanda comes along with Roger and they join us in the shade. I ask if they have seen Phil and they said he was talking with the Samburu women we passed. A few minutes later here comes the camel caravan but still no Phil. We are about ready to send someone to look for him when he comes quickly walking up the hill. He didnít realize the camels had crossed the river and he had been waiting for them at the bridge. I asked what he talked to the women about and he said he showed them pictures of his wife and daughters and showed them his ever present laser pointer. What a charmer!
We take off up the road to the right and get into our normal quick pace. We pass a number of manyattas, always wave or greet the inhabitants and get quite a few smiles and waves in return. We finally take a break near a manyatta to get everyone back together as we have gotten separated. About 2 dozen Samburu come out to see what is going on including a number of small children. The youngest are pretty scared of us as they havenít seen many mazungus. I reach out my hand and one of the boys about 8, I would say, shakes my hand. Then one after another the kids shake my hand including the little one who is so scared. An older boy has a Boy Scouts of America shirt on so I comment to him about that and try to tell him I was a Boy Scout. Our communication is pretty sketchy. He takes my hiking pole and passes it around. They donít seem to have seen ones like the TEKIs I have.
As we neared the manyattas, Amanda was approached about paying a camping fee by several Samburu chiefs or their representatives. She told them we didnít know where we were going to camp but that they were free to tag along. We had a few extra travelers this day and they would have walked with us for a very long time to get their camping fees. We still had a ways to go and the sun was starting to get low in the sky. We came to a wide lugga by the lone mountain we had aimed for all afternoon. We circled behind it to a road and began looking for a suitable site. It was becoming dusk when a site was found and we set up camp in record time. Even though we had not gone a large number of miles we were all very tired as the heat really took it out of us. We were very glad to get our tents set up and to sit down and drink tea, a beer, water Ė anything that would make us feel better.
That night, Phil led a ceremony dedicating a star to Kibbibi, one of the orphans who died of AIDS and was said to have had a very special, kind soul. She was one of the early children Winnie had become very attached to. Phil said some appropriate words, read from the star registry, and pointed into the sky with his laser to show us the constellation where Kibbibi's star is. We each toasted Kibbibi and the other children who have died from the disease.
Shortly after dinner we retired and went to sleep. Tonight, Phil was the one snoring the loudest.