|Day 3, 4 July 2010: Baaaaby elephants
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Our destination on Sunday was Karen, an affluent ex-colonial suburb of Nairobi so named for the Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame - or possibly her niece. No one seemed to be completely clear on this. Since George & the bloke were on the motorbike, the rest of us could fit into a single taxi. Our driver was worryingly vague about the exact location of our destination, the Karen Blixen Coffehouse, but we assumed we’d be able to work it. We assumed badly. By the time we reached the coffeehouse, George and the bloke had been there for half an hour and consumed a gallon of coffee. Since we were on a tight schedule, we had to rush through a tasty breakfast of well-prepared eggs and fresh fruit.
We jumped back into the taxi to drive to the National Park, which houses the baby elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary only opens from 11 AM to noon daily, so arriving in a timely fashion is vital. On entrance to the sanctuary, a heavily armed guard inspected us briefly but thoroughly. We drove up the hill, kicking up a huge cloud of red dust that framed George and the bloke in a Mad-Maxian envelope. Hurrying up to the entrance, we paid our Ksh300 in time to watch the elephants parade around the corner away from us. For one heart-stopping moment, we thought we’d missed them. They returned with their keepers about 30 seconds later.
Dis mah bukkit
Best friends 4 eva
Practisin for the ballet
Dis mah stick
Nooo they be stealin mah stick
Ha, kept mah stick
Bye bye now
We watched them drink their “milk”, which is actually baby formula. This turns out to be the only thing that doesn’t kill them. Milk from other species does. When they’d finished feeding, they took dust baths and sprayed water at each other. They also mischievously kicked up mud at the crowd. The keepers told us their stories in a bid to encourage sponsorship. One was 21 months old and its mother was found with a bullet wound, unable to feed herself or the baby. Another was 28 months old, orphaned by poachers. Another had been pulled out of a well. The stories were all similarly sad, since no natural predator other than man can threaten an adult elephant. At the sanctuary, the keepers bond to the babies. They herd, clean and feed them and sleep in their stables at night. The babies are taught the rules of the herd as a group. They roam th park during the day, accompanied by the keepers, who have to protect them from the predators in the park - such as the lions.
In a few short minutes the babies were gone with their keepers for another day of learning to be elephants. We left slowly. The taxi driver took us back into Nairobi. Our route took us past Kibera, the largest sub-Saharan shanty town. We could see the roofs from the road. Over a quarter of Nairobi’s inhabitants live there, crammed together in corrugated tin shacks without access to proper sanitation or a regular supply of clean water. The guidebook says there is one open pit latrine for every 50-500 occupants. The bloke got a closer view of it with George, who skirted the edge of Kibera on his bike. He said it looked well-ordered, if a bit fragrant. Anything can be bought there, which turned out to be useful later when we needed charcoal from the barbecue.
Our next destination was the Nairobi National Museum. It’s well appointed, with fantastic sculptures and gardens as well as impressive displays of regional fauna. The highlight is the hominid skull & skeleton collection, including the bones of the famed Australopithecus, Lucy. I was also much taken with a near-complete Homo erectus skeleton.
Staircase at the National Museum (for seismic)
Museum entrance (with George & bloke)
Me, Anne, Liz, Duncan, George
The main hall
Kenya, in butterflies (detail)
After a final taxi negotiation, we tumbled home. Our SUV for the drive to the Maasai Mara arrived while we whittled away the rest of the day chatting and drinking rum. Its arrival sobered us enough to pack, as we had to rise early to escape Nairobi before rush hour.
PS I completely forgot it was US Independence Day, or Revolting Colonial Day as I like to refer to it in Britain, until a British person reminded me. Oops.
Next: To the Maasai Mara!