I had been in Kenya for a week and yet, this was the day I most anticipated. I had already experienced several game drives in two different areas. Being on safari allows you to view animals in their natural habitat. It’s exciting, unpredictable and amazing – but it’s often from a distance. Today, I would be participating in a trio of touring visits that would include close animal encounters and a classic love story. I was part of a small group travelling in 3 vehicles. The Kenyan government considered our delegation to be Very Important People and as such were afforded a police escort. I’m sure that it was partially for protection but it also enabled us to zip through any red light that dared slow our pace. Our first stop was the David Sheldrick Elephant Wildlife Trust. I had read about the wonderful work and successful rehabilitation efforts by the organization. Their main focus are orphaned and injured elephants, but they also care for injured Rhinos. The eles*, as the locals affectionately refer to the behemoths, are housed in a private area and brought out to a public viewing ring. Hundreds of tourists and school children line the roped off arena as the young adult eles, trunks swinging, eagerly trot to the center. It’s feeding time! The handlers, dressed in long green lab coats and sturdy rubber boots, push wheel carts to the center of the ring. The carts are mounded with jumbo sized “baby” bottles. Daphne Sheldrick was the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent Elephants and Rhinos”. That’s quite an accomplishment that has saved un-told numbers of lives. The older calves drink while holding the bottle with their trunks and after draining their nourishment drop their bottles to the ground.
Due to the crowding and my lack of height I was unable to secure an open space to take photos. The audience was 6 people deep and pressed tightly together, all eager for the best view. I weighed the options of pushing my way to the front of the group or going to the other side of the arena. I didn’t want to further the image of the pushy American and extracted myself from the mass of people. The crowd thinned the further I got from the elephants but I had an unimpeded view and was able to take photos. The juvenile eles were rolling in the red clay mud, scooping it up with their trunks and spraying it on their bodies. This is a natural way of protecting their hides from both sunburn and insect bites. It’s also probably just good fun. Surveying my surroundings revealed that I was positioned next to a worn path. I wondered if I had gotten really lucky. If my guess was correct, that path would be the entry and exit route for the elephants. The resulting photos prove that I was in arm’s reach of the elephants. Indeed, I was able to gently touch these baby behemoths leaving me too, happily covered in red mud.
If you’d like to support or learn more about the orphaned elephants or just see some great photos access this link:
A.F.E.W. Giraffe Sanctuary
I would have spent the rest of the day watching the elephants roll in the mud but I had a date with a giraffe! Our group departed the elephant sanctuary and travelled to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe Centre. If, like me, you thought: if you’ve seen one Giraffe you’ve seen them all – you’d be wrong. The first thing I learned is that there are several types of giraffes and the Sanctuary housed four: The Reticulated Giraffe, Northern Giraffe, Masai Giraffe and Southern Giraffe. The second thing I learned is that, to sub quote the popular Katy Perry song, – I kissed a Giraffe and I liked it! Actually, the truth is more along the lines of I put a treat in my mouth and the giraffe gently took it from me. Since our lips didn’t actually touch I guess it wasn’t a real kiss. But, a girl can dream. I don’t often support this type of interaction between human and a beast that is supposed to be wild. However, it’s hard to ignore that affection for and protection of an animal is often symbiotic and therefore more likely to be successful.
Karen Blixen House – “I had a farm in Africa – at the foot of the Ngong Hills” If you’re a fan of “Out of Africa” you will recognize this as the opening line of Karen Blixen’s memoir. The last stop on our touring trifecta was a visit to The Karen Blixen house. It was of less interest to me but many in our entourage were ardent fans of her book and the film, also entitled “Out of Africa” starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. The popularity of the love story between the married Karen Blixen and her paramour remains strong as was evidenced by the crowds present that day. The manor home, originally known as M’Bogani House, is situated on a beautiful piece of property overlooking the Ngong Hills. I had not seen the incredibly popular movie but the tour guides offered a gentle caution to all newcomers that “Denys Finch Hatton was no Robert Redford.” I suppose I could be generous in my interpretation that they were trying to convey that Mr. Hatton was not an actor by trade. However, side by side photos of the two men provide confirmation that the comment referenced each man’s physical attributes. Robert Redford is handsome. Dennis Finch Hatton was not. Still, Karen Blixen fell in love with him and their love story is what draws thousands of visitors to the house annually. There’s a romantic appeal to the grounds which are well kept and expansive. Much of the original furnishings remain in the home, further bringing their story to life. The house carries the hallmark of once upon a time wealth which eventually evaporated and unfortunately fell into disrepair. In the 1980’s it was refurbished with financial help from Universal Studios, the producer of the film Out of Africa, and opened as a public museum.
The solitary grave of Denys Finch Hatton marked by an obelisk and garden, is located on the slopes of the Ngong Hills, overlooking the Nairobi National Park.
If you’re an Out of Africa fan access this link: