Monday, December 15, 2008

Criminally Inclined Monkeys, Lazy Pelicans, and Rhino Protocol

So I decided that after 12 consecutive days at the office, I needed a weekend off. And, as the only wildlife I had seen thus far in Kenya was a very non-descript mouse in my hotel room, it was time to go on safari.

I went to Nakuru National Park, about a hundred miles northeast of Nairobi towards Uganda. Nakuru used to be famous for the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that congregated there, but global warming has lowered water levels and the growth of the nearby Nakuru city into the third largest in the country, with accompanying pollution, has raised the toxicity of the lake to where flamingos were dropping dead in bunches. Perhaps clued in by this, most of the other flamingos took the hint and found other salt water lakes to hang out in.

But there were still some flamingos, and the suddenly available real estate encouraged the in-migration of large numbers of giant pelicans – which I actually liked more than the prissy little pink flamingos. But before we get to that, let me provide more anecdotal evidence as to why monkeys are the spawn of satan. I was in charge of watching the car while the guide paid our park fees and the other tourists hit the loo. As I stood in front of the open safari van door, a monkey jumped through the open driver’s window and started to pick through the luggage. “Bad Monkey! Get out of the car! Leave the nice Chilean lady’s bag alone!” Monkey just hissed at me. “Monkey, get out of the van now.” (I used the tone of voice usually reserved only for exceptionally stupid airline representatives.) Monkey hopped back and forth of the seats and hissed more. So I decided to stop playing nice. I took out my camera (and after a few snaps) swiped at him with the strap. “OUT MONKEY OUT!” The monkey, with all the attitude of an unjustly accused teenage girl, sauntered out of the van, stopped, hissed, and put a three fingered monkey scratch across the top of my ankle. Have I just been assaulted by a monkey?

As the guide came back, Monkey hopped off to work on the weather stripping of the van next to us. “Sorry sorry. Very naughty monkeys in Nakuru. They don’t respect women at all…” I very maturely flipped off the monkey as we drove out of the parking lot. Little simian bastard.

The rest of the safari continued basically uneventfully. We saw rhinos (blank and white), hippos, lion, hyena, jackal, baboons, buffalo, all things hoofed, and, of course, the birds. The aforementioned flamingos were nice, but I really felt more affinity towards the pelicans. They split time between the salty lake and the fresh water tributaries, eating the fish in the salty part, and bathing and chilling in the fresh water part. Can’t stay in one place, I like that in a bird.

But they were big and heavy. (They weigh more than 20 pounds, a significant accomplishment when you have hollow bones.) And they aren’t really great at flying. They are so awkward that they can only take off with a gust of wind for extra lift. And even then it is a bit of a challenge. Sometimes they struggle to get a few feet into the air before settling back down saying, “aw f*%# it, I wasn’t hungry anyway.” How could you not love these guys?

The only other really notable moment of the safari was the rhino battle. We found a group of white rhinos where three were happily munching grass in the middle distance, while one big one was right next to the road, sharpening his horn on a dead tree. We (and the other five vans full of tourists), happily photographed away as all the rhinos wandered over to only a few feet from our van. They put their heads together in a cute little rhino pow-wow, which the guide explained was their way of greeting each other and giving props to the alpha male. (Rhino protocol as it were.) Then two rhinos wandered away and cross the road, despite the traffic jam of safari vans. After we finished taking pictures of that, we realized that the big rhino hadn’t been sharpening his horn for shits and giggles. There was rhino arm wrestling going on. It was battle for supremacy between the generations! Unfortunately, I don’t know who won. About the same milli-second we realized what was going on, the drivers all slammed the cars into gear and we took off. Apparently the losing rhino usually takes out his frustration on the nearest smaller opponent. With his two buddies safely halfway across the savanna at this point, the next best thing is a comparatively light-weight safari van. (The guide apologized by saying that the company this year had fired a driver who had lost his van to a rhino charge.)

So I am back now in Nairobi, and after disinfecting my monkey wound, am drinking beer by the pool and watching the sun set. (Heard the weather was miserable in the Northeast. Must be awful. My shoulders are a little sunburned if it makes you feel better. See, I am suffering too.) Anyway, my Tusker is empty so I am going to sign off. Headed back to the States on Friday for awhile (seven weeks on the road, time to wash socks and underwear…) so Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and Wicked Solstice to one and all.


Anonymous said...

Your photos are so good. When we were in Botswana, we saw one rhino that was about a half mile away and the driver was so happy that we saw one. The photo of the rhino 'group meeting' is National Geographic quality !! gb/csh

C. Jason Smith said...

Attacked by a monkey and (almost) by a rhino? No wonder you handle drunken men so easily!