The housing, as mentioned previously, isn’t the only thing to have changed during our journey, there is noticeably less greenery in the landscape, and the brown soil has been replaced by a vivid red dust, hard to believe we’re only an hour or so’s drive from Mombasa. Hills rise up steeply out of the ground, and in the distance white faced cliffs just impressively at right angles to the arid red landscape, my first thought not of our Dover equivalent but what a marvelous and obvious refuge for wildlife they must provide. I’d love to explore them.
A railway line has sidled up to join us in our journey, the first I’ve seen in Africa so far. The signalling dotted along the line is very familiar, that of the traditional semaphore system employed during the steam era with arms that rise and drop to indicate safe passage ahead. A little further up the line is another familiar railway site, though not one seen on the mainline UK network these days, a water crane which would allow the tenders of steam locomotives to be replenished with during their long journeys.
We stop at a curio shop for a toilet break and to allow us to purchase any drinks or souvenirs we might want. Whilst we’ve not been to this shop before the routine is the same, where we are offer various goods at special prices. Even if wanted something such as the waist height ebony elephant or water buffalo offered to us for £50,000 we have already reached our limit for luggage allowance and couldn’t take anything back with us if we wanted.
We take this time to enjoy the sunshine and more importantly stretch our legs. Walking around the walled compound, there are unfamiliar sights and sounds of wildlife all around us. In a nearby tree that encroaches over the walls into the compound I can just make out two creatures darting around the branches. Expecting them to disappear as soon as I approach I move cautiously nearer and nearer the tree, checking the undergrowth in front of me for any cold blooded hunters that might mistake my size 9 feet as a possible threat and decide to bite me in a pre-emptive strike. Unfortunately, or not, there aren’t any snakes in the vicinity, but I do manage to get within a stones throw (you haven’t seen me throw!) of what I can now see look like Grey Squirrels but with much thinner tails… dang, they get everywhere! (Actually, they’re African Ground Squirrels which are actually quite cute!). At the other end of the compound there are more intricately constructed Weaver bird nests, however unlike those seen previously at the Fig Tree Camp these are not dangling from strands bound to a single branch but built to take advantage of a number of branches with the entrance hole one the side rather than underneath. The builders of these nests also appear very different from those seen along the banks of the Mara river, though we’re not afforded a clear view of them, as they’re in deep cover.
After twenty minutes, we all get back in the vehicle for the last stint of the journey. There are, noticeably, a greater number of birds visible from the road, varieties I’ve not seen in Africa before and without a guide book they will remain nameless until I am able to access some reference material. It’s very easy to think, when you spot something you don’t know, that you will remember every subtle nuance of the bird/animal/reptile (etc) but when faced with innumerable variants of the same family staring out of a reference book (or web page) it then becomes nigh on impossible to correctly identify the individual in question. Did it have such a long eye stripe, were its feet this shade of red or that shade of red, were its tail feathers three or three and a half centimeters long? I have to come up with a better way of remember or recording my sightings… actually I might see if I can make an App for that.
A short way down the road, a large billboard obviously erected by the Kenyan Government announces that we are entering a wildlife corridor, and that drivers should slow down. Wildlife Tourism plays a major part in the Kenyan economy and with such a heavily used road bisecting two major Nature Reserves there is a need to ensure that this cash crop is not adversely affected. Several miles down the road, on the opposite side, there is a similar board to warn those driving in the opposite direction.
We pull off the road to the most innocuous looking thatched gate house were a guard checks our documentation before raising the barrier and allowing us into the reserve. At this point we don’t know what a treat is in store for us.