The camp that blends into the wilderness. We were greeted by incredibly friendly, happy, welcoming people. What a great introduction to Kenya – we flew into Mombasa and transferred immediately to Camp Tsavo – our home for the next six days. We really feel like this is home - the staff really take an interest in how we are feeling and what we are doing.
The tents were here, ready for us and the camp facilities were surprisingly good – showers, toilets and mattresses were discovered with much delight. The food is fantastic – plenty of it and a good range of dishes, with lots of fresh fruit.
EDP (Elephant Dung Paper) - it was such fun – bizarre but fun. Who would know that we would be so hands on? We felt out of our comfort zone but it was a good introduction to a very different culture. It was great to hear about the importance of EDP from a member of the local community and to see how much the community values the product. We were grateful for the ability to be able to personalise some pages for ourselves.
The Kishwahili lesson was very useful – the phrases that we learned will serve us well throughout the rest of our stay. It was delivered in an entertaining way – Peter and Andrew were very patient with us.
Wildlife monitoring – we were sent out to follow some transects through the park, looking for mammals and birds. We recorded elephants, dik diks, impala, gazelles, zebra, marshal eagles, black bellied buzzard and lilac breasted rollers. GPS was used to pinpoint the position of the sighting, allowing the staff to track the movement of these animals.
At the end of the wildlife monitoring, we went to the watering hole at the ranger station close to the entry to the reserve in order to wait for the arrival of elephants. A large family group of females and calves was wary of us and waited patiently. However, a bachelor group of males strolled straight down the road and drank for ten minutes only metres away from where we were watching in the truck, cameras clicking while we desperately tried to keep silent.
Day two involved us going for an adventure in the bush. This started with tracking animals by their footprints and their droppings. Peter and Uncle Andrew demonstrated an impressive ability to identify the animal that had deposited a particular dropping by its size, shape and texture – yup – they were picking up poo and rolling it between their fingers. The rain shower didn’t dampen our spirits and we moved on.
A particularly moving moment was our visit to an elephant cemetery. An adult had died last November and by now, all that was left was a few pieces of skin and cartilage, the entire skeleton and a rather strong smell. It was touching to hear about how the relatives of the dead animal had stayed at the cemetery mourning the loss of their family member and even crying. The fact that we had witnessed this on the day after we had seen these magnificent animals up close was certainly poignant.
From here we moved on to the bush for lunch. Camps staff brought us a hot meal which we ate, sat in a huge circle on the red Tsavo soil. After this, two groups from the team competed against each other in a series of bush challenges. The Dik Dik Rulers and Pride Rock went head to head in a competition to build a shelter capable of accommodating the entire team. This was an important bonding exercise, bringing the team members closer together – a valuable opportunity so early in the expedition. The girls also bonded in their group visits to the bush toilet – it’s all about shared experiences!
The next challenge was to make fire without matches or a lighter. This turned out to be yet another use of elephant poo. It also involved the classic two pieces of wood apparatus, twirling a stick in a hole in a plank. Octavian made it look ridiculously easy but it turned out to be anything but – only one team managed it without any help.
The final challenge was bush bow and arrow – a convenient dart board perched in a tree was not at all threatened by some pretty shoddy marksmanship form the team – thank heavens for Camp Kenya, as it is clear that these team members would not be able to survive if left to their own devices in the bush!
At the end of the afternoon, we climbed to the top of “Pride Rock” (not actually called Pride Rock, but its resemblance to Simba’s home in The Lion King was too strong to overlook). Team photos on the summit involved the teachers laden with cameras taking multiple versions of the same shot.
Day three – Safari at Tsavo East. The bumpy drive there was entirely worth it. The park is home to Africa’s largest population of elephants and we had so many sightings that the team became rather blasé about seeing them. The highlight was certainly coming across a pride of lions sunning themselves on a rock outcrop. Three adults and six cubs posed for photos for more than half an hour. We were able to get soooooo close and everybody in the party was completely blown away by this experience. Warthogs, giraffe, zebra, several species of gazelle, buffalo, secretary birds and ostrich were all added to the photographic record.
In the middle of the day, we visited a camp within the park for lunch. To eat our sandwiches whilst watching elephants wandering past the fence was pretty surreal, not to mention the Mexican standoff between the staff and two very persistent baboons, intent on stealing our food!
Best day so far – the first day at a Primary School. The children are amazing and look so smart in their uniforms. After a gentle start to the expedition we rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty, continuing the work on a new kitchen. Previous groups had laid foundations and a couple of layers of bricks. Our task was to collect more bricks and stones, and to raise the building out of the ground by adding three more courses. Our bricklaying skills improved dramatically!
After a small wall had been built, we filled in the spaces in front and behind with soil and filled the centre with the stones that had been collected from another part of the school – having first removed the tarantulas and scorpions. To see the difference in the building at the end of the day was really satisfying.
Another team were tasked with digging holes for tree planting. The group vented their anger on the Kenyan earth, digging 1m x 1m x 1m holes with hoes and shovels. This was back breaking work but each member became extremely possessive of their hole and was determined to finish it before the end of the day.
Our visit to Buguta Primary school ended with us playing their students in a football and netball match. Their cunning plan was to make us work hard all day and then challenge us to two sporting fixtures. Needless to say, the Kenyan students’ skills and fitness were vastly superior to ours and they obliterated us on the netball court. The football match was a closer fought affair, with the Wisbech team going down narrowly, 3-2.
The expedition team were overwhelmed by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the Buguta students. Indeed, we were totally engulfed by children, eager to shake out hands and see their faces on our cameras. Their excitement over a piece of technology that we take so much for granted was humbling – a memory that will linger for a long time.
Wisbech writes from under the Tsavo stars...This blog is being written beneath the unspoilt Kenyan sky, scattered with stars whilst sitting around a roaring campfire – a fantastic end to a most rewarding day. Bring on the rest of the expedition.