Camp of The Month: Sarara, Kenya

Camp of The Month: Sarara, Kenya

CAMP OF THE MONTH (DECEMBER 2016): SARARA, KENYA

 

Sarara is a community-based camp, owned by the Nyamunyak Community Trust, way up in northern Kenya, in the Mathews mountain range of Samburuland.

The camp is located at the foot of a granite hill, with all the ‘tents’ facing north towards the horizon over endless Acacia treetops and rounded granite hills.

Each tent is en suite, with spacious and hand-crafted interiors and outside showers as an option.

sarara-camp-8

sarara-camp-7

 

 

 

 

 

The public area is centrally located, overlooking the waterhole at the base of the slope, below the infinity pool built into the rock face with stupendous views over the woodlands. The dining room is friendly and enclosed by a low rock wall, beyond which the birds are fed at meal times to keep the hornbills, sparrows and weavers off the lunch table!

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The walks are accompanied by local Samburu guides whose knowledge of the area is born of a lifetime in the region. Activities are always exciting with elephant bulls, Reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, dikdik, and impala to name a few being seen here.

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The main attraction apart from the camp and walking in the hills is watching the tribesmen water their livestock from wells they dig in the dry river bed.  These are known as the ‘Singing Wells’. Read more…

Babakota, the Indri. The worlds’ largest lemur.

The forest was quiet as we walked quietly through the light rain, the drips on the pathway forming little puddles of liquid crystal reflecting the trees around us. The Birds’Nest ferns clung to the straight boles that towered up and away into the green layers above us. We admired a row of bracket fungi that had grown progressively along the angled tree trunk across the path.  A tree frog squeaked anonymously to our left……impossible to trace. We crossed a stream on a wooden bridge, the clear water flow steady and shallow.   Some sounds emanated briefly from the canopy on our right and the guide stood still for a moment his eyes scanning high in the trees. He pointed. We shuffled around trying to get a better view….and a trio of Black and White ruffed lemurs came into sight high in the uppermost branches of a fig.   They swung under the branches of a fig, carefully plucking the ripe fruit with a strong hand, whilst gripping the branches with their feet and other hand. Clearly no fear of heights! Their golden eyes peered down at us briefly, and finding nothing alarming ignored us and continued feeding. They were lovely, and their thick woolly white and black coats were speckled delicately with the rain. We watched them for about 15 minutes before reluctantly moving on.

Our first Black & White ruffed lemur.

Our first Black & White ruffed lemur.

 

 

 

 

A Cuckoo roller was flying high over the forest, the ringing song so distinctive in the morning air.  Then, far away to our left a series of loud cries echo’ed through the morning. These were Indri making their morning territorial calls.  Their were definitely two different tones to the calls….the high pitched one was the female, the guide told us.

We took a right fork in the path, away from the steep ridges, along the stream, and eventually we crossed over it. I glimpsed a pair of Meller’s ducks shyly slipping away from beneath the shelter of a tree that had fallen across the river, providing a dark hide-away.  They sped away and were lost to my binoculars.

 

 

 

The guide motioned to us to wait a moment for him as he wanted to sprint up a nearby ridge and check a different section. The three of us stood quietly, each of us watching and listening. For what we weren’t sure, but it seemed the right thing to do……..a cathedral air, for sure.  The next moment, from about thirty yards  behind us, a series of ear-splitting whoops and and shrill cries exploded in the forest!  We stood stock still for a moment, and then I grabbed Steve and Camille and rushed them up the steep pathway towards the sound.  I bounded up the hill, and looked back to see how far behind my guests were….”Come on, come on,” I urged them. The indri family consisted of a dominant male, and female, and an assortment of sub-adults and a baby still clinging to its’ mothers thick fur.

The Indri is the most vocal and largest of all lemurs.

The Indri is the most vocal and largest of all lemurs.

 

Indri like most large lemurs jump from upright branch to upright branch.

Indri like most large lemurs jump from upright branch to upright branch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was difficult to get a clear sight of them as the glare of the bright sky made silhouettes out of their teddy-bear bodies and ears. They were quite relaxed with us, so far below them, and periodically one or two would bound effortlessly from up-right branch to branch, and pluck some leaves from a leafy bough to eat. I waited for them to call again, in answer to other groups calling in the distance, but they wouldn’t.  We stumbled around on a steep slope, ankles bound by the forest floor flora, trying the get better views of them. Eventually we left them and carried on, the cries of distant Indri still wafting through the cloud cushioned canopies far away from us.

We did find another group towards the end of the morning, and there was another two groups of guests already competing for space below the family because there was a tiny baby clutching its mother across her belly, and of course it was a big attraction.

A playful trio of sifaka.

A playful trio of sifaka.

We moved on and watched a small group of Diademed sifaka instead. One of them was collared and they sat feeding quietly, just a short distance above us. Then after a few minutes of stuffing leaves into their mouths, it was playtime and they jumped around chasing each other, then settled on a branch where it was time to groom each other. Note the one individual swinging calmly by his hands, feet crossed comfortably!

Mantadia Andasibe Reserves….after running the gauntlet on the main road.

We drove out of town the next morning. The reserves lay about five hours further north-east from Tana, and Vakona Lodge was our destination that day. The traffic was horrendous, and fortunately our driver, Tanzum was a mind-reader (being able to anticipate the on-coming drivers’  intentions) and we made it safely. We stopped at a reptile park along the way, and were able to see and photograph some of the rarer and rarely seen animals and reptiles of the forests.

Male Panther chameleons change into brilliant colors during the breeding season. This is demure by comparison.

Male Panther chameleons change into brilliant colors during the breeding season. This is demure by comparison.

 

 

 

This unique little animal, the Spiny tenrec is confined to Madagascar, foraging on the forest floor at night.

This unique little animal, the Spiny tenrec is confined to Madagascar, foraging on the forest floor at night.

 

 

 

 

The first Coquerel’s sifaka’s also appeared here, and a host of chameleons, geckos and even snakes. It was an advantage to see these here as in all the reserves it will be hard to find these creatures, so at least we knew more clearly what to look for.  The tenrecs, geckos and Langaha snake in particular were really interesting to me.

 

Vakona Lodge is located far in the forests near the reserves.

Vakona Lodge is located far in the forests near the reserves.

The lodge was high in the forest belt, and prettily located in a landscaped garden only 20 minutes from the reserves. We went on a night walk and located an Eastern woolly lemur, Goodman’s mouse lemur and a small frog. I was singularly concerned at the lack of life in the forest!   The next morning we walked with our local guide into Mantadia forest reserve, with a tad more success!  Black & white ruffed lemurs were feeding on figs at the very top of a forest fig, high above us, their smart thick-furred coats at contrast with the greenery. Diademed sifakas showed themselves as well. A blue coua briefly flashed his presence at us, a writhing centipede in its’ bill.

 

 

A beautiful diademed sifaka.

A beautiful diademed sifaka.

The Birds’ Nests ferns and Pandannis were huge in their presence, each creating safe hiding places for a number of small creatures. Moss and primitive plants coated many of the tree boles, and their massive buttress roots formed sheltered areas big enough even for me to hide behind.

 

Coquerels' sifaka is a strikingly handsome animal, and we found them in many forests.

Coquerels’ sifaka is a strikingly handsome animal, and we found them in many forests.

A small picnic lunch next to a small body of water in the forest, surrounded by dark, shiny green millepedes in their legions quietly going about eating plant detritus….and then we returned to the lodge.

The worlds’ 4th largest Island…Madagascar.

The flight from Johannesburg was a pleasant 2hrs 50 minutes, and relatively turbulence-free.  I had two guests with me who travel extensively around the most exotic destinations on the planet, and we had traveled before to Botswana two years previously.

Peri-urban Tana is scenic and colorful. A veritable mix of squalor and middle class living.

Peri-urban Tana is scenic and colorful. A veritable mix of squalor and middle class living.

‘Tana had grown exponentially since the short time I had been away, and busy winding streets were filled with cars, pedestrian traffic and undisciplined drivers. There is a reason for the white line down the middle of the road….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our hotel for the first night was 14km from the airport, and located overlooking a shallow wetland filled with Red billed teal, herons assorted, moorhens and ibises all fringed with lovely purple and white flowers similar at first glance to cosmos. The reflections of a nearby modern complex look positively ‘English countryside’!

This distinctive granite feature is known as 'The gorilla'. Note the cluster of very traditional style houses.

This distinctive granite feature is known as ‘The gorilla’. Note the cluster of very traditional style houses.

We head off into the countryside today, east bound for Mantadia and the home forests of the largest (and smallest) lemur, the Indri. En route we will visit a reptile sanctuary. More later.

Linyanti Au Revoir

A movement in the shadows of the huge Jackalberry caught the guides’ eye…..he looked through his binoculars…..’Painted dogs’, he smiled. We had been staring at the leopard who didn’t wish to be seen….and now the ‘dogs’ were a scant two hundred yards away.  No question…we set off following our ‘sister’ vehicle.

he remained motionless until he realized we had seen him

He remained motionless until he realized we had seen him

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They had killed an impala about twenty minutes ago…in fact whilst we had been trying to find the leopard!  They looked in great condition, and were filled with meat. To see Painted dogs was a bonus…to see them on a kill was the ‘cherry’!

The dogs had killed the impala whilst we had been searching for the leopard

The dogs had killed the impala whilst we had been searching for the leopard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon we went on the river, on the Linyanti Queen…a cliche…but a great lazy boat experience. Birds, hippo, elephant and views across the Linyanti ‘Swamps were our reward. The sky was particularly good that evening, and we watched the night herons heading off as silhouettes across the marsh.

An afternoon boat trip was a welcome change from the vehicle

An afternoon boat trip was a welcome change from the vehicle

We sipped our drinks, saturated with colors, comfort and goodwill.

The Last few Days…

Kings Pool was our final tented ‘home’, and no-one expressed disappointment at the choice of venue!  Landing in the middle of a dry, silent mopane woodland, one has had the benefit of at least catching sight of a ribbon of green some way away to the west.  Several small herds of zebra were drinking at two of the remaining pans in the mopane, their stripes at odds with the greens and yellows of the mopane leaves.

Zebra families were using the remaining pans

Zebra families were using the remaining pans

The fabulous views and calming ambience of the Linyanti river was magical. Namibia was just a horizon away, a line of dark trees a few kilometers away over waving reeds and grass. Hippo, crocodiles and elephants moved in the river and around the camp continually. Warthogs rested in the shade of the cabins and under the walkways during the heat of the day.

 

 

Game drives focused along the riverine belt, such as was left of it. Decades of years of elephant feeding effects had destroyed the riverine vegetation and the majority of the trees. A few massive jackal berry and fig trees remained among the dense, scarred Croton thickets. Impala were abundant providing an important food source for leopard and Painted dogs.

 

 

Calm and peaceful, the view over the Linyanti.

Calm and peaceful, the view over the Linyanti.

 

One afternoon we sat entranced as a herd of elephants crossed the river in front of us, coming over to Botswana. Fabulous! In all, we counted about 150 animals, and there was another stream crossing further downriver from us. That’s a LOT of elephant tummies that needed feeding that night!

 

Warthogs rested in the shade of the walkways and the cabins..unafraid of humans

Warthogs rested in the shade of the walkways and the cabins..unafraid of humans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephants, and MORE elephants!

The first elephant herds would arrive at the camp waterhole at about ten in the morning. The last animals would leave at dusk……and in-between these times, there would be a constant stream…like ships or barges moving through a canal….interspersed by dazzles of zebra, impala and loping baboons who would drink with pursed lips, shifty eyes and bottoms much elevated.  Piles of dung lay scattered around resembling a myriad termite mounds on a gray plain, literally scores of them on the well trodden, flat gray soil around the waterhole.

Elephants at Somavundhla Pan

Elephants at Somavundhla Pan

Wherever we drove there was sign of elephant feeding behaviors. Broken shrubs, debarked trees of several kinds, dung piles, pathways like smooth two foot roads crossing the sandy track either leading to or from a waterhole, even a distant one.  Shuffled sandy crossings were common on the road, and silent gray forms often stood like shadows, motionless except for a periodic ear movement during the heat of noon. The younger members lay down to be rounded lumps amongst a cathedral of pillar legs.

The best part was at sundowners.  We would be drawn to the larger pans like Somavundhla and Little Sam’ to see what animals were there….apart from elephant. Sable, roan, buffalo and baboons were the common creatures found there. Lions too, once. Then herds upon herds ….family upon family, each lead by a matriarch would either be marching in or be there already, sucking the water up through their trunks and blowing into their mouths with gusty, watery sighs.

 

 

Drinking herds

Drinking herds

The smokey atmosphere created ideal conditions for photography, and I made the most of it, despite the limitations of my small camera.  All three evenings we stopped to enjoy G&T’s at waterholes, and each event was memorable for some particular reason. The reds of the sky, changing hues with time or the proximity we allowed ourselves to be to the bustling, skin-rubbing, dribbling animals. It was a great privilege to be able to be so close to them without their concern.

Water was far more important!

 

 

 

 

 

Last sundowners with elephants

Last sundowners with elephants

 

Broken tusk

Broken tuskAt one waterhole we found a piece of tusk, broken during a tussle perhaps or digging for minerals, lying on a bed of dung and sand. We left it there….part of the scenery in this wilderness of elephants.

At one waterhole we found a piece of tusk, broken during a tussle perhaps or digging for minerals, lying on a bed of dung and sand. We left it there….part of the scenery in this wilderness of elephants.

 

Zimbabwe first stop…Land of the Giants!

Bulawayo receded into the smoke-hazed distance as the Pilatus climbed steadily to a safe 20 000 feet, above the layer of brown haze thickened by the seasonal bush fires that proliferate in July and August.

The patchwork subsistence cultivation patterned the dry bush below us and we dozed in companiable silence. I glanced out of the oval window and recognized some of the local landmarks of this national park, which is an area the size of Wales. The waterholes that lay like carelessly scattered coins across the bush had tiny dark dots clustered around the edges…..I smiled as I recognized them for what they were….elephants!  I leant forward and tapped one of the ladies on the knee as she dozed…’Hey Diane, we have your first elephants..’. Immediately, her eyes sprung open and she peered out of the window.

We spent three nights at Little Makololo, and saw possibly 1000 elephants in that time!

We also saw a respectable number of other herbivores and carnivores as well, but first, let’s land and drive to camp. The aircraft flared and landed perfectly, the bumpy runway announced a Zimbabwe touch-down. The pilot had thoughtfully banked over a waterhole on the approach, exposing about sixty elephants drinking there! The first antelope we saw were a goodly herd of eland which skittered off a short distance as we slowly approached, the elephants ignored the vehicles as they drank and pushed and squealed at the round concrete trough.

Matriarch and calves at a waterhole

Matriarch and calves at a waterhol

 

 

I looked around at the faces in both vehicles…..a rewarding sea of smiles and excitement. I sighed happily….THIS was going to be good!

Pamberi ne Zimbabwe.

 

 

 

 

 

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

We spotted a group of lions at the next waterhole en route to camp. They lay replete, confident and ignored us too…later we discovered they were full of sable meat. A female by the look of the mane we found in the bush.  Whilst we watched the lions in awe, a large roan came strolling warily out of the bush and immediately spotted the lions. He stared fixedly at the cats, and then trotted off a distance before turning briefly once again to stare at the lolling lions.

 

 

 

 

 

The warmth and soft glow of the fire.....

The warmth and soft glow of the fire…..

The campfire held us all in its soft glow that evening, as the temperatures slid down the scale to minus 2C!

 

 

 

Photographic moments from the trip…

During any safari there are opportunities, most of them unexpected mind you, when whoever has a camera handy captures a particular image that is ‘notable’.

I have been very fortunate to spend more time than many people in the field, and therefore have learnt to have my camera handy in most situations. These are a few images from this last safari, and of course each image carries a short story! I have enlarged some of these in order to get the most effect from each image, as that is how I imagined the picture to be when I captured it, given the limitations of equipment!

Sunsets are always a great end to any day, and its a part of every safari to celebrate, normally with some crisp, beverage!  As our dry season progresses the accumulation of smoke and dust in the atmosphere creates conditions for lovely red sunset colors. Over water of any large surface area, the golden pathway looks wonderful. We had been watching a herd of buffalo grazing peacefully on Sedudu island, and were chugging quietly away towards the wider channel to head home, when I took a few pictures of the sunset, and was helping one of the family adjust their camera, when I heard a skimmer. Grabbing my camera I scanned the water for the bird and managed to capture one as it flew rapidly through the tail of light on the water…Bingo, just got it.

Skimmer

Skimmer

I did not manage to look at the image, and was more concerned that my guests captured some of the ‘show’ and only later saw what I had in the camera. Fabulous.

 

As we finished our drinks and were heading up the channel, another speed boat crossed our bows several hundred yards ahead of us and I managed to get several cameras lined up on it’s progress…..success, some great results.   We toasted our success and a terrific safari to boot, as this was our final night in the bush, so to say, as we left for the Falls on the next day.

 

Heading home

Heading home

 

 

 

We still had some minutes to go before we landed and so I changed my settings to ‘tungsten’ and shot another ‘keeper’, as the tungsten setting lends a lovely blue to any image with bright light or sky area.

It looks great and I was very happy with the result.

 

Indelible

Indelible

 

 

 

However, not all these images are about sunsets, but some came from some of the drives we did in the early part of our safari.  One morning a troop of baboons had been coming down out of the trees where they had been roosting the previous night, and there was the usual screams, barks and hectic chasing of each other as young males bullied females and some older males reasserted themselves in the male hierarchy. It was a little hectic, and as we drove slowly through the scene, the rank stench of their roost site wafted over us and we moved more quickly past the trees. A short way further on we were parked watching waterbuck and impala on a flood plain, when a slight scuffling sound next to me made me look around, and there next to the vehicle was a large baboon sitting quietly in the lee of a dead log. Clearly this fellow was taking time out and resting. He sniffed and licked a front ‘hand’, a small wound from a scuffle perhaps. I swung the camera around slowly, focused on his face, and as he looked at me, pressed the shutter button twice. Moved the camera off his face. I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable with the lens in his face. He sat there for a while longer before loping off to rejoin the cohort of males to one side of the scattered troop. His likeness captured forever….amazing.

 

Not long after this close encounter, we found the drag mark made by a leopard who had killed an antelope (an impala?) and dragged it 50 yards down the slope to a large, dense Capparis bush and was hidden away in its depths, way out of the view of trespassing humans or baboons.  We scanned the bush minutely hoping to catch a glimpse of this wary cat, the prince of predators, to no avail. Moving on we passed kudu, impala and elephants coming down to the river. A herd of impala were feeding in the taller grass of an island, and we had spotted a few puku amongst them and I was pointing these quaint antelope out to the family and highlighting the differences between them and the impala. Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of something bouncing on a grass stem near the car. It was a beautiful Little bee eater. Eyes alert and head twitching this way and that as it looked for small insects to hawk it was a pure gem. I managed to collect a few images before it trilled and flicked away on pert wings, to snap something and drifted to rest on a small branch well away from us.

Bush gem.

Bush gem.

 

Some will say sunsets are so cliched now but I would differ.  Capturing a sunset is an art, even with the ‘Auto’ setting on our cameras and iPhones or whatever we carry. Normally it is associated with an event of sorts or a group of people or family and evokes a fond remembrance.

Capturing any image that pleases us (the photographer) is an achievement of satisfaction, something harmless and non-invasive too…that satisfies a hidden part of each one of us…..a trophy of sorts.

So, if you are coming on safari make sure you have some way of taking a small part of your experiences home with you………….you will regret it if you don’t!

Charging hippo before tea….what more, I asked myself.

The morning started with a spectacular sunrise over the lagoon…..hot oats porridge with amarula, a hot mocha-choca and the sound of a lion roaring somewhere in the distance, way away in the mopane. I stood watching the starlings as they flew over the lagoon, the wisps of smoke from the fire was heaven in my nostrils, and I absorbed every nuance of the moment. This was why I lived….to have these moments in my life.

The baboons were up to their usual antics of strife and screams, and a few impala were out collecting the few leaves drifting down from the jackal berry trees, a result of the baboons chasing each other around the fruiting trees. The vehicle followed the hyena spoor down the deep sandy track, and the cold wind bit into our faces and made our eyes weep. The radio warbled a bit, guides checking in for the mornings drive, and we snuggled into our seats, wrapped in blanket-lined ponchos. Giraffe and zebra, impala, leopard and hyena pups (cubs, kits?) we enjoyed them all, We tracked a lion for much of the morning…even following his roars until the mopane became too thick for comfort…..and we left the spoor of a whole female pride and cubs heading east on a mission. We gave up. Tea time is always fun…….normally both vehicles together. The chat and banter of competition between the cars was witty and rapier swift……..on some mornings anyway.

Tranquil moments

Tranquil moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other vehicle was away from us when we decided to stop at a lonely pan deep in the mopane. The stark back of a lone hippo lay unmoving at the far end. Bohdy asked if he could go around there to see if it was still alive…’NO..’.I growled. ‘Under no circumstances…..they can outrun you.’ He looked skeptical…as young boys do when challenged by something that looks harmless. The guide, Ona and I climbed out, stretched our legs, and stared at the hippo’s form. The assistant started putting the tea things on the wire fold-out table, part of the vehicle front screen. The hippo woke up and the eyes and ears appeared, stared at us briefly. It started moving towards us, the dark water swirling a little behind it. I watched it as it moved, ears forward, eyes fixed and intent. My ‘warning lights’ came on. It was still far away. ‘Bohdy, please get in the car. Now.’ He paused in play, and looked at the hippo…..and climbed into the back. The assistant had the thermos flask in his hand, looked at the approaching hippo, put the flask down, walked to the other side of the car. Amy (still in the truck) and I took pictures of the hippo moving towards us. Ona and I stood side by side watching.

The hippo charged.

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge.2

Hippo charge.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

A series of bounding leaps, starting about 50 yards away, with water foaming about his neck as he came through deep, and then progressively shallow water. I took pictures at each stage.

 

Closer and still coming!

Closer and still coming!

 

Committed!

Committed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On he came. I took pictures….and then realized he was not going to stop. In fact Ona and I realized this at the same time, and went to my door…we both tried to open my door……but I was standing on the side rail! Ona took off around the car, and I stepped back, opened the door, stepped in and closed it and moved onto the centre console, in case the hippo bit the door! The hippo came thundering out of the water straight towards the car, and swerved…..a stride from the vehicle side, and carried on past us, circled around the tree next to us and went back into the water. He paused at the edge of the water to look at us once more, before disappearing into the pan.  A close run thing.

Amy was shaking….everybody was talking…….and so we changed venues for tea, and joined the other vehicle.

We joined the other vehicle for tea...somewhere safer!

We joined the other vehicle for tea…somewhere safer!