BILL AND DES AROUND AFRICA FOR BREAST CANCER CAMPAIGN
Our stay at the East Africa Flying Club at the Nairobi Airport was memorable for a number of reasons. The first was the historic accommodation - quite old but clean and very friendly. The fantastic chef, Neil, organised a special dish of chilli prawns for our last night’s dinner and kidneys for Johns 'special breakfast' which most of us also enjoyed. Secondly it's not often in life we get the chance (at literally arm’s length) to adopt a baby orphaned elephant each, so our daughters Chloe and Stef now are foster parents to Murit, an 8 month old who fell down a well and was sadly left by his mother, and a Mbegu, who is ten months old and rescued when his mother was killed is now Bill's family adoptee, (more about this wonderful human interaction / involvement later...). Thirdly, as we were departing Nairobi airport, just in the climb out on Runway 14, all of our electronics displayed huge red crosses over the screens stating we had no power, no fuel, engine temperatures ....but we had…., so a quick turnaround and immediate landing back at the same spot as we had left just 15 minutes ago, only this time we needed help, and ....we were in luck!
The Garmin guy was "only an hour away", but it had to be fixed, so we waited and contacted our colleagues to let them know our position. The fault had been caused by dust (probably from the Egyptian airstrips we've landed on a few times) together with a loose connection at the back of the glass screens and cabling. Two hours later and we were climbing out of Nairobi again towards Kilimanjaro, much happier and this time with no big red crosses or alarms!
Only 55 minutes later, we see the incredible Mount Kilimanjaro climbing out of the clouds alongside us. This is far higher than we were flying at, at "only" 9500' - the snow-capped monster protrudes out of white very high clouds to our left, and a smaller mountain of only about 10,500' is apparent on our right wing, again higher than we were travelling. An exciting and spectacular leg flying down a huge slim valley.....with more to come!
Back to the elephant story.....our co-travellers Clare and John realised as we arrived at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that they knew of the founders by mutual acquaintance. Clare explained to us that they had met an American the previous year who had rented a ranch near the Tsavo National Park nearby and he had been good friends with the Sheldricks, having helped Daphne after the sudden death of her husband David. Of course, Clare bought their very interesting book that was on sale to catch up on the full wonderful story! You can find out more about this wonderful place here http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org.
We landed at Kilimanjaro a few hours later than planned, and our team mates had waited for us! We were very happy to see them after a very quick 10 minute passport stamping (quickest customs clearance yet by far!). We were all curious to observe the Emir of Qatar with his 747 Jumbo on the same strip as our plane whilst his OTHER one landed to join the two already there. A huge Hercules had followed him to this remote destination. Apparently he owns a hunting lodge 'somewhere' nearby.....
We then set off altogether again to the Serengeti, and after another 55 minutes flying between two huge mountains and a few lakes, we were descending in preparation to land.
Having converged from differing heights on to Lake Ndutu in preparation for landing on the edge of the Serengeti, John and Clare were first to approach. After a very low 'fly past' to check for animals on the runway, he called in "turning on finals" as we headed slightly out south for a longer final to follow them into the strip shortly after their landing. Greg Franek, Gaetano and our newest member of the team, Dora, Gaetano's girlfriend, arrived a few minutes behind us. John landed safely on a very broken rubbled strip of dirt, the roughest 'runway' I've ever experienced. Our turn then came, and we called finals. With 100% flaps down and about 75 feet to go until touchdown, an inquisitive Impala popped out and stopped smack in the middle of the very beginning of the runway, just where we were going to touch down. There is only one course of action in circumstances like this, full power and a 'go around' ...which was a really good manoeuvre as we had the chance to do a proper circuit. After we turned left for a downwind leg, underneath our left lower wing tip were thousands of Wildebeest (a group of about 150,000), part of the 1.5 million on their migration to a wetter part of the area.....and following clouds as they do.....
After a very bumpy landing we were greeted by trackers /guides: Langeni from the Parie Tribe, and Dennis from Maasai - two of the 120 tribes in this part of Kenya. These guys were to be our trackers for the next few days. They all having their own language and dialect, the common one being Swahili - and of course, perfect English! They smiled happily saying ‘Karibu’ (‘Welcome’ in Swahili) and started cutting the low branches of the thorny Acacia bush that were nearby to cover all our wheels as we were going to be parked for a few days on a dirt strip in the middle of Ngorangora. This removes the risk of the local hyenas making short work of our tasty rubber tyres!
We set off for the camp, but literally minutes later came across a 4-5 year old elegant but fairly sleepy lioness casually stalking a towering adult giraffe who was kicking out with both back legs simultaneously to demonstrate to Sheba she was not going to pull this huge male down easily. As we watched and waited, the lioness dropped down and started napping - it was, after all, a warm sunny day and the Serengeti is in the rainy season so all wildlife is plentiful and plump! Good luck to this giraffe......for the time being......
We continued our journey watching white storks that had travelled all the way from Poland like our cohorts Franek and Greg… These birds actually flew all the route from Poland like their beautiful C210 Turbine aircraft but I'm sure not at the same altitude! I think Franek knew a few of them by name!
Dinner was most welcome as we'd missed lunch due to our late arrival following our unfortunate 'little technical fault' in Nairobi. After a nip of John’s extremely good rare whiskey, I found out he and Clare live so close to where I've salmon fished for many years above Aberdeen on the River Devron. What a small world!
An after-dinner wine at the fireside was interrupted by what initially sounded like a huge weird strong wind arriving. To our amazement, literally 2m the other side of three large bushes in front of us and around 12m from us and the fire, 50 to 100 wildebeast or zebra (it was pitch black out there so we couldn't actually tell) were stampeding VERY QUICKLY past us apparently "being chased by a pride of lions" according to our guides. They had heard the hooves crashing down and had come down to the fire to see that we were alright. We were again warned, whatever you hear outside of your tent, under NO circumstances must you unzip, as it's very, very dangerous after dark! As they bid goodnight for a second time, a lion roared so loud it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end! We were reassured that "he was a fair distance away" ...but it certainly didn't sound like it to us!
Around 04.00 am that morning, a pack of Hyenas swept through our camp, taking and eating everything that was left outside, I was awoken by their brushing past the tent I was sleeping in and squabbling at each other ....Nelson our host and Camp Manager was not impressed as he explained what had happened!
After an early start for breakfast in the 'mess' tent following a gentle "Acuna matata", at 06.00 am we all departed for a day's drive through the 23,000 kms of the Serengeti National Park and its neighbouring Ngorongoro reserve. The first sightings of wildlife were the Kori bustard, then jackals (who we understand mate for life), a lone hyena out hunting, and many zebras. We watched the beautiful yellow Weaver birds making their nests, around 20 in a single bush. Red Kites circled above, then we saw a pack of hyenas out for brekkie and Abdim storks circled us.....all this before 07.30 am!!! More giraffes followed, then we watched a Secretary bird, quill on top of head, black tipped tail, who 'type' with their claws as they kill snakes for lunch!
A big lone bull elephant stood starkly against an incredible backdrop of Serengeti savannah as we approached a huge 'Sausage Tree' which we're told is a favourite snack of the elephants. The huge veggie 'sausages' hang down from the tree and these are also used by the locals to make very strong alcohol.
All around us there is an abundance of Topi and Hartebeest (species of Antelope) alongside fit, healthy and very pretty Grant's Gazelle and Thomson's Gazelle. Black Shouldered Kites appeared constantly and we all marvelled at how incredibly colourful and extremely healthy every animal appears, great for the food chain...and our cameras! We heard of a single leopard sighted in a tree some way off and 'rally style' shot off to capture this beautiful cat literally sprawled over a branch. We thought we'd seen everything now, but as we departed this area (this is being written as we travel between sightings on a bumpy ride...) many Masai giraffes are spotted as they are abundant here (smaller patterned, largest species). We then came across a pair of cheetahs, actually brothers, scanning the area, at 86cm and 50kg they were majestic, and as we photographed them, one slowly climbed atop a termite mound for a better look at us and the surrounding. We snapped away as his brother joined him - what a picture!
Our travels then brought us upon a herd of hippopotamus lazily wallowing around a large water hole. They were clearly in deep muddy heaven, and as we snapped away, one of these big 300kg beasts yawned for the shot!
Buffalo abound, we saw Shrike, more Spotted Hyenas, then just before our lunch we heard on the radio a pride of lions were attacking a large lonely Cape Buffalo. We arrived on the scene to witness a large male, four large lionesses and a pack of cubs all jumping and climbing and eventually dragging down the moaning groaning ‘fighting for it’s life’ 785kg bull. The largest lioness chomping its throat as it went down, whereupon the pack of cubs tucked in to a very bloody lunch. It was a raw, surprising and very basic experience that reminded us all exactly who is top of the food chain!
Lunch was a lovely picnic surrounded by exotic birds, Hyrax, marsupials of all shapes and sizes - then we set off to check on the other lunch....the cubs had bigger bellies than you could imagine having worked their way into the buffalo's stomach and the four lionesses were absolutely covered in buffalo blood, with one cub so far into the buffalo we could only see her back third of her body, never coming out for a breath!
I'm writing this next bit having 'camp showered' which is ten litres of warm water poured into a hessian bucket aloft the bathroom, they shout 'ready' from outside and you jump in for a wonderfully received and necessary albeit brief shower ! It's SO quiet, apart from the occasional roar, absolutely incredible!
We all fall asleep, thinking of what's to come… For some it's the pleasure of flight, to us in particular what the electronics have to offer on our continual journey south.....
More to come!