The Adventure Begins!
I arrived at my lodge yesterday in the late afternoon and I’ve been resting ever since, conserving my energy for the exploration of Nairobi I have planned. Now, it is early morning and I sit propped up in bed, the light of dawn has begun to reach in through the windows of my room, and I know it is time to get up. I plan to spend the morning on safari in Nairobi National Park, some 45 minutes away. I have a light breakfast before heading down to the car - black coffee, a couple of slices of buttered toast, a peach, and I’m on my way.
What I hadn’t expected was for the park to be this adjacent to the city. Normally, a safari takes you out into the middle of nowhere, the horizon blank of any skyscrapers, void of any flashing lights and sirens. The border between city street and Nairobi National Park married concrete jungle with the wild jungle in a way I had never thought possible. It was unique, and not an aspect of my trip I’ll soon forget.
The road under tire quickly transitioned from firm grey concrete to a rough and red dirt track, spraying a thin film of dust over the windscreen. One other lone traveller sat in the seat beside me, and the sudden change in terrain caused us to softly bump shoulders intermittently. Bracing myself better, I leant into the passenger door, resting my temple on the cool window. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a couple of small animals ducking into the grassland running parallel to the track in the right-wing mirror. I had read extensively about the wildlife of East Africa, so I was sure what I would be looking at in the week to come and felt as though this was not a rabbit and slightly larger than an African Hare. I asked the driver and he confirmed my thoughts, it was in fact a Sunni - the smallest antelope to be found in Africa, and somewhat seldom seen. Already, the day seemed to be filled with promise.
Heading deeper into the park, I glanced behind me. The clouds were sitting low today and the city had transformed into a smudge of grey on the horizon, tall shapes blanketed in light smog. There were no overly tall trees to obscure our view, and for the most part, the park was flat and easily accessible to the eye, punctuated only by large shrubs and overgrown patches of grassland.
The car rolled slowly to a halt, and our driver placed the tip of his index finger against the glass of the window. Twenty metres or so from where we sat were a family of rhinoceros, two parents and a child. My fellow traveller is the first to break the silence - strange to see them like that, isn’t it? Black rhinos are normally solitary creatures, or have I got that wrong? Our driver nodded slightly in confirmation; yes, it was strange, but more and more they had been spotted in family units like this one.
Unimpressed with their new audience, the family ambled off, heading into the wild of the grassy plains. I couldn’t help but smile - I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a rhino on safari, they’d been teetering on the edge of extinction for so long, I’d almost given up hope.
We continued on through the grassland. In places, the bush reached up to the windows, sweeping the glass gently as we passed. Just ahead and to the right, we spotted the strong necks of three giraffes lying down. I had been on a few African safaris over the years, and never had I seen giraffes lying down together like this, relaxed and unbothered by our approach. They bowed their heads occasionally before returning it upright, as though they were trying to keep from nodding off in the swell of mid-morning heat.
Just behind them, an eclectic herd stood by the side of the road. Buffalo, impala, and zebra all stood just ahead, their heads held high and towards us expectedly. Buffalo, impala, and zebra all stood just ahead, their heads held high and towards us expectedly. Among them we spotted a couple of white rhinoceros, resting like the giraffes beside us. As our guide edged the car closer towards them, the herd scattered for the most part, leaving behind the rhino, apparently fearless of their oncoming intruders. I had never noticed the overall squareness that makes up a rhino. Their jaws were strong and set at sharp angles; even the outline of their muscles under grey skin seemed overtly box-like, as though they were only a rough sketch of themselves and the gentle curves would be added later.
The moment is broken by the shrill ringtone of our guide's phone. He murmured an apology to us and exchanged a few words with his caller before hanging up, putting the car in gear, and setting off with intent. We took a route that curved slightly, giving us a panoramic shot of the park set against the hazy city skyline. It was surreal and quite beautiful to observe the harmony of man and nature in a way not many get to. A couple of zebras stood with their backs to us, shoulder to shoulder, watching the blinking lights of the cityscape.
Ahead, I saw the glint of water winking under the sunlight. The scene at the watering hole unfolded before us. A crescent of dark water stretched out, a few trees marking its banks here and there.
The bush and grassland around it lay flat to the ground, trampled by the comings and goings of the park's residents. But what the eye was really drawn to were the eight lions crouching beside the water's edge, lapping up the water so gently it was as if they were house cats. Our guide told us that they were part of the Kingfisher Pride, pointing one by one to four lionesses and four adolescent cubs. See how round their stomachs are? They’ve likely just eaten. They’ll settle here for the rest of the day. We agreed with his assessment, they did all look very languid and satisfied with themselves.
We settled into silence, taking photographs here and there as the lions slowly changed their positions. Mostly, they slept. Occasionally they would yawn, stretch out their large padded paws in front of them and lean back to stand. They would take a couple of steps, and collapse suddenly, satisfied with the site of their new bed. As we watched them, the skies overhead began to change. Clouds settled in, blotting out the sunlight that had beat down not even ten minutes before. The air around us was still thick with heat, and I knew before long that rain would be upon us. Another jeep full of safari-goers pulled up and parked beside us. We took this as our cue to leave and headed back towards the entrance of the park, thinking it polite to let them enjoy the sight of the lions in solitude as we just had.