Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunday Lunch

When we're able to get together, the Great Four (or Three or Two or however many of us are about) like to have Sunday lunch out.

African restaurants are of great interest to me. The "culture" - you might say - of eating out is a little different in Kenya than in Western countries. For one thing, not as many people do it. I've been told that in America as much as 65% or so of our food expenditures is spent on eating out. That is definitely not the case here, and I would suspect just about anywhere in Africa.

And what we would call "middle class"-type restaurants are very nice and, oddly, often not very crowded (and sometimes - as here - just plain empty). There's another group of restaurants, too, what we would think of as the "high-end" restaurants, catering to the muzungu crowd and the well-to-do, but this kind of place - spotted on the road as we drive along - is more our style.

Despite the name, this one is not a country club at all, in our sense of the phrase. The Small World Country Club (photos at Africa - Sunday Lunch) turned out to be a very pleasant stop on our Machakos sojourn. Good food, pleasant surroundings (very beautiful and well cared-for) plantings, even a rabbit hutch right in the middle of the tables but, alas, no rabbit on the menu.

And as I've discovered, when one travels, connecting with local art forms is sometimes not as simple as it looks. Could not quite make out what was going on with these two pieces of sculpture. Certainly not pretty, not representational, so I don't know. I suppose I could revert to the old tried-and-true "hmmm. very interesting." But worth a photo or two for a reminder later on.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Machakos: Water Runs Uphill and Cars Drift Uphill, Too

"Right!"  "Tell us another one, Guy."  "No way."

I can hear the skepticism.

OK. Got it. But bear with me and I'll tell you about it, even show you some pictures.

Yes, there is a place in Kenya where the water runs uphill, and if you turn the engine off and put the car in neutral, the car will drift along - uphill - as if it were drifting down the hill.

You can experience this phenomenon just outside the town of Machakos, not far from Nairobi (about an hour's drive or so) and it has a reputation. In fact, the whole area has a reputation for connections with magic (some say "witchcraft" but I think they mean magic), so it's not surprising that strange things happen on the roadway at its 45-degree (or so) incline.

I suppose it's pretty well known, because before Charles and Nerisa and I went there, other people had told me about how it's on the news from time to time and in fact, to see the water flow uphill was why Nerisa induced us to go there, as she had never been to Machakos.

And I had found this on a  travel site from an October, 2008 post:: "While in Kenya visit Kituluni Hill in Machakos.... You actually get to see your car moving uphill while in neutral gear. It is even said that cyclists experience ease of cycling once they reach that place, and also if you pour water on the tarmac you get to see it flow upwards!"

Let's go! We were game!

So off we went, driving through some beautiful countryside on the way and even, for goodness sake, spotting a herd of camels grazing in the field as we drove past. I knew there were camels further north in Kenya, but I was surprised to see them in this part of the country. They seemed very contented, and very much at home.

We drove on into Machakos. Not a very interesting place, but has some claim to fame, as a treaty of one sort or another was signed there a couple of decades ago. And when Princess Margaret came to visit in 1956 the town leaders erected what must be one of the ugliest clock towers I've ever seen. Presumably it did not have adverts hung on it when Her Something-or-Other visited, but I would have liked to have seen the look on her face when she was told the tower had been built in recognition of her visit. Poor Margaret!.

But the place did get interesting when we began hearing stories about strange happenings (more of that later), and when we made our way to where the water flows uphill. We asked several people and got a number of different directions, but Charles finally heard one that sounded trustworthy, so we took that person's advice: "about six kilometers on this road," he said, pointing "and when you get to a very sharp curve, you'll see where they are making bricks, and go on a little way and you'll be there."

Yep. There it was. As we climbed the pretty steep hill (as I say, about 45 degrees, as you can see in the photos at  The Machakos Adventure), we saw the curve up ahead, and then we saw the pile of bricks, and we pulled over. Pretty soon a young man came down to speak with us. He and Nerisa and Charles conversed in Kiswahili, and I listened very politely and they interpreted for me (which I appreciated but I felt very foolish later - as we were leaving - when the young man spoke to me and started a delightful conversation in one of the finest Oxbridge accents I've ever heard - I suppose he had been educated in England - or had had English schoolteachers!).

Our young man then got a jug of water and brought us over to watch, and sure enough, as he poured the water gently on the road, it started to drift uphill. Then he got a big jug of water and sloshed it down the pavement, and of course it flowed downhill for a bit, from his pouring it with so much force. But then - wait for it! - the water started to slow down and came to an eventual stop and, yes, starting drifting back up the road.

I am not making this up.

Then our host suggested Charles pull the car out into the road (directing him to the spot) and, yes, put the car in neutral and turn the engine off. This he did, and we all stood by dumbfounded as the car drifted up the road, with Charles running along beside it. Amazing!

Is it magic? Of course not. I presume it is some sort of anti-magnetic field under the road. Or some other scientific explanation (note to scientists reading this post: tell us what's happening!).

But it does happen. I saw it happen. And at the Muthaiga Country Club with friends a few nights later, I told my dinner companions about our experience and learned that there is another place in Kenya, nearer the coast, I think they said, where the same thing happens. In fact, one of the couples I was dining with (my hosts, as a matter of fact) was going there for a holiday the very next week-end. Interesting coincidence.

As for the magic? I don't know what I want to believe, but I heard some strange stories when we were driving about in the Machakos area. One will suffice: apparently there is no theft in the area and indeed people sleep with their doors unlocked. It's a very safe place and no harm every comes to anyone.


Because if anyone tries to do anything bad to one of the Akamba people, he will regret it.

An example: suppose you go onto a farmer's land and you steal a big bunch of bananas. You're walking across the farmer's land with the bananas slung over your shoulder and he sees you. Due to his powers, he can fix things so you can never - that's NEVER - take the bunch of bananas off your shoulder. Until he permits it, and if he wants to, the farmer can have you carrying the bananas for a long, long time. The Akamba people have these kinds of powers, they say. And there's more, for when the farmer does allow the thief to finally take the bananas off his shoulder, he is doomed, and he will die before too long.

There's another story, too, about the magic powers of an Akamba husband who has been cuckolded and what he can do when he catches the couple, but we'll save that story for another time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Africa: The Migration (9) - Serengeti and a Wrong Road

It's hard to say good-by to the migration safari and to the beautiful Masai Mara Game Reserve. I've come to love it so, and can't wait to explore it again in December - even without the migration - with American friends who are coming to join me. The Great Four will return to the Masai Mara, and visit many other game reserves and national parks as well, but the migration was special, and I'm so blessed to have been able to experience it.

So we leave the Great Migration with more views of the beautiful Masai Mara and, as we drove down toward the Tanzania border, some views of the Serengeti. We were not permitted into Tanzania. Barnard - our guide - tells us that going beyond the 1 kilometer limit beyond the Kenya border is strictly forbidden, but we could stand at the border and do our bit for inter-country relations. It was spectacular to look out over the Serengeti (and hope to go there one day).

We were interested to see how different this landscape is from what we had been observing a little farther north in the Masai Mara, but we should not have been surprised. One of the delights of this part of the world is the continually changing landscape. Nothing ever seems to be exactly the same. Drive a distance (even a very short distance) and you will see different things.

But this was special, and we were pleased to have a brief visit to this southern-most part of Kenya. Very, very nice to see, and to share with such lovely friends (as can be seen at Migration Safari - Endnote).

Unfortunately, as my personal experiences with the migration came to an end I
was saddened to read in my online edition of The New York Times an editorial from 30th August, chastising President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania for his plans to go ahead in 2010 and build a highway running straight through the heart of the Northern Serengeti. The highway, as planned, will directly bisect the route of the Great Migration, and it's a sad decision. As The Times says, it's based on a choice between the wrong kind of development and the right kind. This is not the right choice. For those of us who love Africa so, this is very, very painful news.

So now for us it's the end of the Great Migration, looking out over the Serengeti and delighting in what we see, and what we have seen. And perhaps even thinking about what we will see the next time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Africa: The Migration (8) - The Crossing

Mission accomplished!

While the whole point of the migration safari is to see the animals, there's hardly any "piece" of the safari that is more exciting than to see the animals make the crossing.

It's not always a pretty picture, for early in the migration (probably up to within a few days of when we of The  Best Four were on our safari), the predators - the lions, cheetahs, and leopards in the grass and the crocodiles in the river - are a dangerous force, and the attacks on the animals is a gruesome sight to see.

We did not have to experience that, as I've noted, since our experience came late enough in the migration that most of the animals were not necessarily prey to their natural enemies. Still - probably by instinct as well as anything else - they were being careful in deciding when to cross.

When we got to the Mara River Gatehouse and completed our negotiations with our guide, we were ready to start out looking for animals getting ready to cross and hopefully - the goal on any migration safari - to see a crossing.

The guide - Barnard - was pretty astute about all this (he's been doing this for a while) and he had an idea where we might see a crossing, so we heading in that direction. The river was quiet today, and we drove for quite a distance, looking for the animals but not seeing any. Beautiful views, though, and we could see, with the height of some of the cliffs, why the animals had not chosen those spots to cross. And we saw several crocodiles in the sun and that was probably another deterrent. Sadly we were not able to drive close enough to the river bank to get photographs of the crocodiles. That will be the next time.

The photographs we took, though, tell the story of our day. If you take a look at Migration Safari - The Crossing you'll see that we were both unsuccessful and successful in our wait. As with any of the game drives, we learn to be kind of philosophical (and patient) because any success with our intentions is going to depend on the actions of the animals. We cannot - alas - will them to do what we want them to do.

So taking Barnard's advice, we drove along looking at the gorgeous scenery until finally we spotted them, all gathered on a bluff - still on our side of the river - and apparently trying to decide whether to come down the hill and come on across to where we we were. And by which spot they would have to pass if they wanted to cross the river near here.

So we waited. And we waited. And we kept waiting. We were there over an hour, and there they were, having a grand old time feasting on the  grass and I suppose having some conversation about whether they wanted to amuse the tourists by coming over and allowing us to see them cross the river.

If that was what they were thinking about, they apparently decided to give us half the pleasure, for suddenly we could see from the dust that they were starting to move, and coming in our direction. We were delighted! We would be able to see them line up and parade past. On they came - my companions estimated there were probably about two thousand of them, or perhaps more - and it was thrilling to see them go down into that dry gully, come back up and form into a line and come on past us. An absolutely splendid spectacle!

Then something stopped them. We don't know what it was, whether the leader at the front of the line saw something he didn't like (a pride of lions, perhaps, or a gathering of waiting crocodiles in the water? who knows?). And it was fascinating to see the line - before the animals began to bunch up again - keep moving. Every once in a while one of the animals a little farther back would pick up speed and go to the front, perhaps temporarily taking the lead. We don't know, but what we did know was that the line was coming to a stop. As the other animals gathered around and began to form themselves into a huge bunch, it became clear that we would not see a crossing here.

So Charles - good with his instincts - suggested we head off to the Serena crossing (so named because of a lodge located there by that name). As we drove along - it was about a 10 kilometer drive - we came upon another tour guide and asked if there was any action there, any crossing. He told us he had heard that the animals were lining up, so off we went.

We got to the Serena crossing just in time, and we got to see the animals begin their crossing. It was truly exciting, for there didn't seem to be any predators around, and we could see the wildebeests climbing out and making their way up the other side, to the rich grass that would sustain them well for two or three more months. It was an amazing experience and it, sadly, ended abruptly as two vans came into the area and, without knowing better, I suppose (I'm trying to be charitable) drove up to the herds waiting to cross. Of course they broke up and scattered in every direction, ending the crossing at that spot for the day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Africa: The Migration (7) - Hippos

Often referred to as "the most characteristic" of Africa's water animals, the lumbering hippopotamus is truly a wonder to see. Because they tend to stay mostly submerged most of the time (thanks to having their ears, eyes, and nostrils high up on their head) and do their grazing at night, we kind of forget just how many of these big guys there are around.

On our migration safari, The Four Best Friends were lucky to see hippos twice. On our first attempt at observing a crossing over the Mara River - the one when the wildebeests and zebras were not cooperating and took a couple of hours to decide not to cross - we were lucky to see, from our distant vantage point, a single lone fellow far away across the terrain. That was kind of unusual we thought, but our guide explained that the hippo is often found along, wandering off from his or her pod just to graze and then catching up with the rest of the gang (which can be up to 30 hippos) as dusk begins to fall.

In any case, we didn't see any others, but it was good to see him at the distance, beyond a line of wildebeests still debating whether to cross or not. The zoom shot at Migration Safari - Hippos isn't very clear, but I was trying to get some sense of the size of these enormous herbivores: up to six feet (150 cm) at the shoulder, and weighing in at nearly 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg). But we have to not give in to temptation and think their size keeps them from moving; I've seen it written that the common hippopotamus can attain speeds of up to 20 mph (32 kmph) and because it heads straight to the water when when it is disturbed, human beings are warned to stay far out of its way, as the hurrying hippo will cut down anything in its way as it moves to the water.

As it turns out, Geoffrey had better luck with his later photos of the hippos in the river, and his pictures really give a sense of the size of these animals. We came upon this small pod - resting in the sun - a little later in the day and even from this distance, we could hear the distinctive grunting sound the animals make. In the water or out, they let you know they are about, and if you happen to be staying in a lodge or campsite near the water when you're on safari, you hear the sound all day long and, especially, all night long. One of the expected sounds of the forest, and you get used to it (and by the way, if I have not mentioned it before, the Kenyans seem to all use the word "forest" instead of "jungle," reserving the latter for the rainforest-type setting).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Africa: The Migration (6) - Various Animals

One of the pleasure of the migration safari is the opportunity to see again some of the favorite animals, who now cohabit in the Masai Mara with the migrating animals (mostly wildebeests and zebras and some of the antelope family). As I've written, the numbers are amazing, but even as we observe the usual residents, there are some unexpected delights. And sometimes a frightening surprise.

For example, on one of our early morning game drives, we came upon a group of spotted hyenas, all very comfortable and relaxed and one of whom was not at all nervous about being right next to the road where we were driving. These guys weren't looking for breakfast (a not-unusual situation during the migration, as I've said) but they seemed particularly self-satisfied.

Then our speculation kicked in, for down the road a ways (as you can see in the first picture of the Migration Safari - Various Animals Album) we saw a stalled vehicle. As we approached, after we had left the spotted hyenas, we could see that the car had a broken axle, with the front wheels totally askew. So of course the wicked imaginations of the Great Four Safari Team kicked in, and for quite a distance we had considerable conversation about the possible sequence of events: a broken axle early in the morning, hungry animals wandering about looking for breakfast, inexperienced tourists (probably on a self-drive safari, not recommended) getting out to survey the damage.... You get the picture.

But we saw no signs of struggle and eventually decided to get the conversation back to more realistic comments, and spent the rest of the morning looking at a vast array of animals. And finding some unusual ones. This one-horned hartebeest, for example. Much speculation about why he has only one horn. A fight with another animal? A birth defect? An accident of some sort (and if so, why so evenly cut off)? Lots of things to speak about on safari. And of course always continuing to be amazed at the numbers of animals. So many animals enjoying the good grass!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Africa: The Migration (5) - The Naturalness of Death

In most of modern society, it's relatively easy to look the other way and avoid references to death, especially in the animal kingdom. We don't hear much about the demise of animals in the wild when we drive along a mountain highway like the Blue Ridge Parkway, or when we are travelling through one of the empty landscapes of America's great Southwest (unless, of course, something runs out on the interstate highway in front of us, and then we give the animal our full attention!).

On safari, though, the subject of life and death becomes a constant theme, and sometimes, when there are children to tell safari stories to (like one's grandchildren), there's a little confusion when one has to describe how natural and "normal" it is for the predators to seek out other animals so they can feed themselves. And since the animals they feed on are often beautiful zebras and other graceful animals (like the gentle antelopes), animals that children have come to think of as cuddly and "sweet," it gets a little difficult to talk about the wild chase that goes on when the lion or leopard is running down one of those pretty animals.

But that's the way nature is, and the point is very well made when one goes on the migration safari. With so many, many animals, there are often the remains of a kill just left in the field - or near the road - since the big cats have plenty of food (especially in August, when so many animals have made it across the rivers - even the crocodile-infested rivers - and there are hundreds of thousands of animals all over the place). At this time of year, the predators aren't particularly rushing to get their next meal, since they are already well fed.

But predators aren't the only cause of death in the migration. Again, it's the numbers, and with all those animals, some must simply have died, perhaps of old age, or fatigue, or simply of some illness (My driver Charles has become very adept at spotting a lone animal - especially a wildebeest or African buffalo - and determining that it is ill and has gone off by itself to die). There are plenty of dead animals around.

Animals also drown, a sight that surprised us when we made it to the Mara Bridge. It was a little sad to discover so many vultures and Marabou Storks sitting around on the rocks or on the edge of the water - themselves well fed - and then to see how many corpses were floating about in the river. It's just a matter of averages, I suppose. Among all those wildebeests and zebras, some must have simply drowned when they couldn't make it up the high cliffs on the other side, or they were just too tired to make it across.

So on safari, one is never far from death (as was certainly the case when my friends and I came upon the eight lions and the remains of their kill back in June). Viewing the migration, the safari-goer is going to be exposed to death even more often, to the extent of noticing that just in driving along the dirt roads and the tracks of the Masai Mara, one gets a frequent whiff of rotting flesh. Not enough to be disturbing (after all, we are in a moving vehicle) but there's enough of it to make one aware, which isn't usually the case when one goes on safari at other times of the year.

It wasn't always so easy to take. Many visitors to Africa - especially if they enjoy linking up to the "olden times," as one of my friends calls Kenya's early days - find time to read one of the classics of early exploration. Col. John Henry Patterson's The Man-Eaters of Tsavo tells the curiously fascinating story of the fight against the lions who attacked the camps of the railroad workers, carrying off men to eat for their evening meal. And the odd thing is that, as with the purported two-and-a-half millions animals of the migration, the large numbers seemed to make the horror of the experience somewhat less horrifying. Here's Patterson describing what he found in the camps, shortly after he came to be in charge (this was in 1898, as the railway from the Indian Ocean to Uganda was being built):

"...the camps of the workmen had also been surrounded by thorn fences; nevertheless the lions managed to jump over or break through some one or other of these, and regularly every few nights a man was carried off, the reports of the disappearance of this or that workman coming in to me with painful frequency. So long, however, as Railhead Camp - with its two or three thousand men, scattered over a wide area - remained at Tsavo, the coolies [sic] appeared not to take much notice of the dreadful deaths of their comrades. Each man felt, I suppose, that as the man-eaters had such a large number of victims to choose from, the chances of their selecting him in particular were very small."

I doubt that the wildebeests and zebras and antelopes think about it like that, but there probably is some instinctive sense of security in their large groups. Gives new meaning to the idea of "strength in numbers," doesn't it?

Probably the only time we saw an unnerving death scene was when we came upon the corpse of a zebra, all surrounded by the big vultures and the Marabou storks. It was a pretty nasty site, but we were careful to keep the photos for this album (Migration Safari - The Naturalness of Death) from being gory. Usually after a kill, it's a lot cleaner, since the predator and his/her clan will eat most of the flesh. When the cats are finished, the vultures and the Marabou storks will come in to pick the bones pretty clean, to be followed by the hyenas, who with their strong jaws will simply eat everything that's left, bones and all.

That sequence didn't seem to be the case here, and, again, it was probably because there was such an abundance of flesh to be eaten. We had the vultures, and from my limited experience I figured it was probably the Lappet-faced vulture, who along with five other vulture species can be seen hanging around when there's been a kill (or in this case, as my friends and I suspected, simply a natural death). The big guys here - even bigger than the vultures - were the Marabou storks. That one is a real scavenger, and one authority describes how the Marabou - and the vultures with whom it hangs out - have naked heads and necks simply because their bodies have adapted over the years, since having feathers would get a little messy when the head has to dig into a large corpse to eat. Thankfully we did not get close enough to inspect their heads.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Africa: The Migration (4) - The Wildebeests and the Zebras

The Best Four came on safari to see the Great Migration and we certainly were not disappointed. We'll get to the numbers later, as we try to describe our adventures with finding the animals crossing the Mara River to continue their migration on up into the Kenya grasslands.

For the present, let's share some of what we saw on our first game drive. In addition to the elephant excitement of our afternoon, we saw much more, and addicted safari-goers that we are, we just couldn't get enough.

As noted in other posts, the migration is generally associated with the wildebeests (in some countries the Afrikaner pronunciation is used - vil'-de-beest - with the accent on the first syllable) and the zebras (sometimes - pretty often, as a matter of fact - referred to as zeh-bras instead of our American zee-bras), and here at Migration Safari - Wildebeests and Zebras are some photos of the first herds we saw. Often the African buffalo gets mingled in, but I think that's just because they were already onsite and were enjoying the juicy grass before the wildebeests and the zebras migrated from the Serengeti to join them. Some authorities make a big deal about other travelling companions, such as the Thomson's gazelle, Grant's gazelle, topi, Coke's hartebeest, and eland, but it's the wildebeest that makes up the numbers, along with the many beautiful zebra that join them for the journey.

Also known as the blue wildebeest (I suppose because of its grey-brown coat), this member of the antelope family is a funny looking animal. The long, spindly legs give it an odd shape and seem hardly capable of supporting the wildebeest's upper frame. On the other hand, it's not a heavy animal, and I'm always surprised to see how thin the animals' upper body is, how slightly built the animal is. Another distinctive feature is the shaggy beard, which makes for some silly remarks from time to time amongst safari-goers. Known as a very gregarious animal, it's not surprising that the wildebeest herds travel together in the migration as they head for better feeding grounds. But that characteristic gets shoved aside a little as the migration moves forward. For some reason, as the animals go toward their new grazing grounds, the wildebeest move "into formation," positioning themselves into a single file, a line of moving animal bodies that can go on for the longest time (reminding me of my childhood in Virginia, watching the long freight trains moving forward, sometimes with a couple of hundred boxcars). My friends and I didn't try to count the wildebeest, but it was clear that any one line could have several hundred of them, only herding together and bunching up when there was some impediment to moving on. Very curious.

We have two types of zebras in Africa, and from what I can tell from my photographs, what we're seeing are the ones known as the Plains Zebra (sometimes called Burchell's Zebra), since their striping goes right around under the belly. the Plains Zebras are all over the place, from Ethiopia to South Africa.

The other species, Grevy's Zebra, has a different look, with narrower striping that stops when it gets to the animal's belly, leaving a broad white expanse under the zebra. Sadly, the Grevy's Zebra is now found almost exclusively in Northern Kenya, and their numbers are diminishing, down to between 1,000 and 2,000 animals according to one count.

The fact most people remember about zebras - aside from their simple equine beauty - is that each stripe is as distinctive as a human fingerprint. I'm impressed about how they always seem to show up with other animal groups, and from our earliest safaris our group has been surprised to see zebras in or near the herds of elephants, giraffes, and other groups we run across. They seem to be very affectionate animals, and it is not at all unusual to see them nuzzling each other as they go about their grazing.

Enjoying the zebras as much as I am, I think I shall re-focus a little as I continue to build my knick-knacks collection at my flat in New York. Although I'm not a rider, for years I have admired the shape of the horse and I have a tiny collection of sweet horse statuettes I've gathered during my travels (or that people have given to me). Doesn't the collection need some zebras now? I thought I had completed my African souvenir shopping a long time ago, but these beautiful zebras might inspire me to head back into the shops.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Africa: The Migration (3) - Our Safari and Our First Elephants

The Best Four took off for Masai Mara to see the migration, and we were hardly out of the campsite and into the game reserve before we were amazed at the numbers of wildebeests, zebras, and other migrating animals that had made their way to this magnificent grassland. We were immediately excited, and expected to spend quite some time driving around looking at all the animals that had come looking for food (and yes, probably more than those two-and-a-half million talked about by the experts), but we had an immediate distraction. And our first adventure.

When my pal Tom Rink read my first post about the up-coming safari to see the migration, he had written: "I think this would be awesome to witness, but don't get too close!"

So guess what we did on our first afternoon. We got too close!

Okay. Perhaps we are a little over-awed about elephants, and I'm happy to admit that of all the animals I see, it's the elephants that sort of win my heart. So even though we weren't particularly looking for elephants as we moved into Masai Mara in the mid-afternoon, Mr. Charles - elephant-spotter extraordinaire that he is - had hardly driven twenty minutes before he suddenly turned off the road, off the tracks, and was moving slowly and carefully down toward a gully and up the other side. He admonished us to be quiet and as we drove across the grass (now very short - unlike the visit last May, when it was shoulder-high, the grass now having been "mowed" by the many wildebeests and others who had come north looking for it), it was obvious we were heading for something special.

Charles got us back on another track and we moved - still as quietly as we could move - up the hill to what he had spotted: as you can see in the first photo at Migration Safari - Our First Elephants, we saw - we thought - a single elephant munching away at some green branches in the bush.

So we drove a little closer, turned off the engine to watch a while, and we were surprised to discover that it was not just one big bull elephant but apparently a group. It had been a trick of the light and the placement of their enormous bodies that had tricked us into thinking it was just one elephant, so not wanting to disturb them, we switched the engine on again and began to move slowly on the track (you can see how close we got in the photo showing the track).

It was then that we realized we had perhaps made a pretty serious mistake. At this point Mr. Elephant began to look up at us, not pleased with our being so near, and as we looked to the right, that big brown blob - which we had assumed was a rock or a big tree or something (we obviously had not paid any attention to it) was in fact a young elephant. We were suddenly not too happy to be there, and as Charles put the vehicle into reverse, we saw that Mr. Elephant wasn't very happy either, and he was moving in our direction. Those elephants milling about behind him - which we had first thought were just him alone - were in fact his family. For all we knew Mrs. Elephant was there as well and who knows how many other young ones - perhaps from other families as well - were there in that herd. We tried to move away gently, and we were really frightened now, for Mr. Elephant was clearly moving in our direction. In fact he was getting pretty close, but I couldn't resist one last zoom shot - determined as always (and foolishly I now realize) to try for one memorable picture.

It was memorable all right, and muttering to ourselves about all the stories we had heard about how fast an elephant can move - and remembering that we had (accidentally, to be sure) broken one of the inviolate rules of game by coming too close to a parent's little one - we got away as fast as we could. We other three kept looking back while Charles drove across the grassland, gradually picking up speed until we got past the ravine and up the other side. Now we could see that Daddy Elephant had turned around and gone back to join his family, so we felt safe, and we all promised not to get too close for the rest of the safari.