Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Peace on earth and elephants to all men

As I wrote this I was lying in the top of an enormous baobab tree in Arabuko-Sokoke forest on New Year's Day.
To celebrate the new year and get a bit of time to myself I've hiked out here to camp in the old tree platform A Rocha built. It was a beautiful walk, but slightly nerve racking as the were tons of fresh elephant droppings and footprints on the way!
Christmas and New Year passed in quite an exciting, but not particularly restful way. Mum and Dad came for 10 days over Christmas and we managed to fit in a lot! We had a great two day safari in Tsavo East, an enormous area of wilderness west of here. We saw tons of game from elephants, zebra, giraffe and a peek or a lion in the distance. On Christmas Eve we came into the forest with my old friend David Ngala who gave us a top notch tout. We saw everything we wanted from the Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew to the Sokoke Scops Owl. We even saw an Ele, but he got a bit close for comfort and I thought he was about to charge the car and we would never see Christmas day. Luckily he turned off just before reaching the car! David is really a legend forest guide. We stopped at the side of the track at one point and he merely said, “I know there are scops owl around here, wait a moment.” Ten minutes later he returned and we followed him into the trees until he said, “Stop!” and pointed straight up into the canopy of a tree. Sure enough, nestled in the branches, was the well camouflaged and smallest owl in Africa. It was really very special for me seeing as I spent so much time in the forest doing research with David, but never seen one before. The whole tour was my favourite day while Mum and Dad were here.
Christmas Day Dad and I went on a morning snorkel to the larder where you often see a lot of large predatory fish. We saw some lovely shoals of sweetlips and snapper and interestingly a 50 strong congregation of butterflyfish. As we zoomed along the palm lined, sun-drenched road on a motorbike back to Mwamba I couldn't help feeling a sense of great achievement that I had somehow landed myself in such a luxurious and beautiful place. Christmas Day was hot even by Kenyan standards, but luckily we were having dinner at Roni and Colin's so all we did was lie under a tree and be fed a delicious chicken braai.
It was really sad to see Mum and Dad go on the 27th and it made me quite homesick. Since then all the days have been blurred into lots of snorkelling and hanging out with guests. I swam south of Mida Creek twice, which is actually quite hard as a rapid rip current flows out of the creek to sea. I semi-rode the current, swimming perpendicular to it and popped out the other side and further out to sea. This brought me to a really beautiful area of coral, which I discovered while Bob was here and is now one of my study sites. One of the times I swam to the Southern Coast of Mida, which is much more remote than Watamu and quite undeveloped. It was so utterly peaceful over that side, no buildings, no people and wise empty beaches. The solitude of it was just delicious. Solitude is not a word in the African dictionary and they don't understand the concept. Francis thought the only reason I was coming to the forest alone today was to pray! Because of that culture and how busy Mwamba is anyway, I crave that solitude and am going to try to get away more and more.
Last night, New Year's eve, was lovely. I brought meat for all the guests at Mwamba and grilled it for a traditional Nyama Choma and bonfire celebration for New Year. At midnight we ran into the sea and played with the sparkling phosphorescence in the water. What a magical way to start the year.

9pm that night
Oh my gosh! Elephants everywhere! I started making a fire around 7o'clock about 50m from the tree in a clearing and suddenly there was a crack. Sure enough about 20m away there was an elephant. I crouched low in the grass and hoped it hadn't seen me, but the wind was behind me and must have smelt me. It came closer and closer until I ran for it through the bushes and up the tree. It didn't chase, but did amble over and stare at me in the tree for a while. When I finally had the courage I ran back to the clearing to get the wood and cooking stuff and made a fire at the base of the tree. The whole time and even as I write this a herd of elephants are trumpeting and roaring in the swamp. Both amazing and terrifying!

Male Impala in the distance

Big bull elephant challenging our car in Arabuko-Sokoke!

Christmas dinner

Mum and Dad visiting my friend Francis' house

Sokoke Scops Owl
Awesome coral near Whale Island


  1. Oh wow.... I don't think I can say much more!

  2. What an awesome place to live and work.

  3. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. It sounds wonderful. xx