Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Postcard Africa

Flicking back through older posts I realise I have never done a post dedicated purely to African wildlife in all its forms. Of course this is one of the main things that is triggered in one's mind at the mention of the continent and for this blog I want to unashamedly brag about some of the cool stuff I've seen this past week. If you are sitting in the Northern hemisphere feeling cold and looking out on grey, I'm sorry for you, but if you willing, I will let you on a little African sunshine drenched wilderness. 
This past week I have been travelling around Kenya's "South Coast" which means everywhere south of Mombasa. Its an area I know hardly anything about and have only visited once before and I am here with my neighbour Dawn and a guy from her church called Jeremiah. There's no rational explanation for the trip or  the accompaniment other than it was worth coming and to see a new place. One area we visited is known as the Shimba Hills which rise up just inland up to 450m above sea level. Compared to the sticky hot coast they are that tiny bit cooler and fresher which is an amazing release and because they force all that hot sticky air up they have the highest rainfall on the Kenyan Coast giving them a thick blanket of forest which is almost like a rainforest. It also the best place on the coast to have a bit of the safari experience, with herds of elephant, buffalo, impala and even a few giraffe knocking about. The dramatic hills, with a patchwork of thick forest and savannah, look over towards the sparkling sea and Tanzania in the distance. At the moment with all the rain we have been getting, it is like a green jewel floating on misty clouds from below. Apologies for the soppy metaphors, in most places people are just exaggerating and trying to talk up their experience with these boring phrases, but this was the real deal. It really really was breath takingely beautiful. 
Below are some photos of animals I saw with the Kenyan safari guide code-name. They use these names to tell one another where animals are to show their guests, but are a little bit too cool for school to call them by their real names.  
Tortoise no. 1
Elephant - Maskio (ears)
Giraffe - Shingo mrefu (long neck)

Warthog - Nairobi express
Pygmy Kingfisher
Buffalo - Ng'ombe (cows)
After the game drive we wanted to do a hike down to a place called Shedrick Falls, which was a 2km hike through the jungle to a stunning waterfall. It was a really perfect little walk except for the fact that we had to go with a KWS guard in case the elephants mauled us, and seeing as he only wanted to go once a day, all the other people in the park came at the same time. This basically meant that there was a group of 15 Wazungu all trooping through the jungle as a pack, and as about 8 of them were a group of friends from South London all gossiping and making noise, it ensured we saw absolutely no wildlife on the way down. However it was quite satisfying watching them sweat on the way back up, puffing and wheezing, with red necks and drenched shirts. You have to spend time with Mother Africa before you can survive her! At the waterfall itself Jeremiah and I stood under the tumbling water and embraced the elements.

Kenyan Health and Safety

The other place we visited was (of course) a marine park. All three of us loooooove snorkelling (which is about the only major thing we have in common), so a trip to Kisite marine national park was a must. The park is slightly off-shore with most of the coral areas surrounding a small uninhabited island about 5 miles off shore near the Tanzanian border. We stayed there for 3 days and took the 1 hour boat ride out to the island twice. It has the best coral reef in the whole of Kenya by a long way and it was just stunning to behold. On the second day I felt like I had finally seen the reef I had always dreamed off complete with shelves of table Acropora stacked on top of one another and super abundance and size of fish patrolling around. On the second day I saw a couple of fish that had been on my wanted list for some time, namely the Palette surgeonfish, which is what Dory from "Finding Nemo" was based on and the Regal Angelfish, the most beautiful of this already very beautiful fish group. I also saw a turtle and a juvenile Oriental sweetlips with its 60s lava lamp patterns, which is a species my fish book and the internet says is not supposed to be in East Africa, but I have found it 3 times now! The colour and vibrancy of the life on the reef was outstanding. I could have stayed there forever and not got bored. 
Blue-line snapper
Juvenile Oriental Sweetlips
Palette Surgeonfish (Dory)
Smooth Grouper

Regal Angelfish