“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Friday, 21 January 2011

Day 1 - Kicheche Acacia Camp

What an amazing day. It started with a fantastic buffet breakfast, followed by a quick time-killing tour of the hotel gardens with my camera, before the hotel’s driver, Steve, drove me to Wilson airport where I killed yet more time with a large fresh passion-fruit juice (15p) and a read of my new ebook guide to Kenya waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.
Thankfully they are all lovely – all female apart from David our photographic guide and tour leader. We are four. First there’s Judge Marian, who has been to the Pantanal on David’s tour three times before and is going straight from this trip to Rwanda to see the Gorillas along with the second member of our group, retired marketing and PR person, Sheila, who has also been on the same Pantanal trip four times now. Then there’s recently-retired Sandy who has a great sense of humour, is very down-to-earth and, like me, has not been to Kenya before. This is Sandy’s first tour with David, although she has attended a couple of his UK day courses in the past. And finally me; the youngest of the group, only one Pantanal trip under my belt, and the only Pentax user.
After introductions and anti-malaria drug discussions, we boarded the tiny 16-seater plane. The ride was a little bumpy, but the view was incredible. We were met at the other end by our guide, Daniel, in full Masai dress (the famous red ‘Shuka’ adorned with beads) complete with Tanzanian Yamaha sandals.
As soon as Sandy and I had finished peeing into a wasp-filled hole in a straw hut at the Mara Shukah airstrip we started the journey out to Kicheche’s Acacia camp where we will spend the next 5 nights. Daniel had word from the other guides at the camp that a Leopard had been spotted very close to our tents and so we all agreed (despite the lack of sleep or food) that we would go see if it was still there. It was! My first wild Leopard within an hour of arriving in the Mara! VERY happy bunny.
Along the way we saw allsorts and by the time we reached camp at 12:15pm we were all fit to crash. First though we had to listen to an informative and interesting induction talk given by the camp manager Andy. Because the camp is not fenced in at all and the animals are free to wander in and out as they please, the main rule which must be observed is not walking around alone in the dark. There are Masai Warriors (Askari) on hand to escort us around, all we have to do is flash our solar torches from the tent and they will come to get us.  We have two-way radios in the tent by the bed in case we have concerns and the Masai fill our bucket showers with piping hot water every evening before dinner.
After the welcome chat, we were taken to our tents to settle in and freshen up before lunch. My tent was some way away from the main camp and named Kiboku (meaning ‘Hippo’). David had the tent even further away than mine but both overlooking a tree-edged lugga, skirting plains covered in zebra and impala. Sandy had the tent to my right and Marian and Sheila were nearer main camp.
The tent itself is like a small bungalow with a flushing toilet, basin with cold running water and king-sized wooden bed. There are also two single beds one of which had monkey poo on it when I arrived. The monkeys had also been through my bathroom area and knocked over the jar of washing powder. (The masai do everyone’s laundry every day but understandably they don’t wash women’s undies.)
I barely had time to remove my boots when I realised it was time to make my way back to the mess tent for lunch followed by a photographic revision session covering metering, aperture and things to be aware of when shooting in the Mara and from the vehicle.
Before I knew it we were back in the truck and off again, shooting impala, buffalo, secretary birds and lions before settling on hyena cubs at a den just before sun down.
‘Sundownders’ are an old colonial custom which most white Kenyans continue with to this day. You basically find a nice spot on the open plains and set up a picnic table with bright red masai table-cloth before pouring everyone their drink of choice and handing round ‘bitings’ (crisps, nuts or finger food) to nibble on whilst watching the sun go down. I’m sure if we had the vast open plains, the wildlife to roam it, the enormous sky, and the evening warmth, we would do the same in the UK. But somehow standing out in your local park with freezing wind whipping your face and MacDonalds wrappers swirling round your ankles doesn’t quite have the same appeal.
As darkness descended, we packed up and headed back across the Mara to camp in time for a shower and a drink round the campfire before dinner. The food here is incredible, and all cooked on charcoal. Tonight’s dinner was fried fish with potatoes and mango followed by an attack from Siafu ants. Not nice. Funny looking back, but not nice at the time.
I was sitting at the table when I suddenly felt something bite my ankle, I bent down to brush it off and sat upright again only to be bitten again half way up my leg. Since I was wearing full length combats, I suddenly realised that something must be inside my trousers. Another bite on my thigh. Another slightly higher up. I leapt up and started frantically looking about for an Askari. I had ants in my pants and it felt like plenty of them. Sandy, who was sat next to me, saw more on me and followed as I ran to the communal toilet tent outside, where I stripped off in record time. The askari who had escorted us there was waiting outside the tent and must have wondered what on earth was going on... two women go into the toilet together, lots of commotion and then one shouts ‘take your pants off’ whilst slapping me with a serviette!
By the time we had returned to the table I could manage only a cup of tea. Exhausted, itchy and slightly embarrassed I headed off to bed. How comforting then to find my room attendant had put a hot water bottle in my bed and placed my piglet on the pillow. Day 1 finally over.

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