Driving to the Aberdares Forest near Nyeri in the rain is not for the faint of heart. After reaching the Rhino Gate and paying our entrance and camping fee, we drove through red Kiambu mud, passing herds of Cape Buffalo and an occasional Hyena who was laughing at us. They must have known what was in our future.
Five hours of being stuck, sliding sideways and pushing the fully loaded Isuzu Trooper while it was in 4 wheel drive.
In pitch black, we arrived at a house that was lit and found a sleeping Warden to guide us to the Rhino Retreat where we stayed. The gentleman who tucked us in, Sammy, was ready with fires to heat water and a generator for a couple of hours of electricity so we could cook some food.
After a day of rest and more rain, we woke to a nice day, Mt. Kenya’s snow shining on the horizon.
Three bongo guides met us for the two-hour hike to the hide, a treehouse in the forest. Led by Boniface, who has seen the elusive Mountain Bongo and also helped build the treehouse we were to stay in that night, his friends Josphat and Hilum with two park rangers carrying automatic rifles, we were escorted along a buffalo trail through the bamboo, giant stinging nettles and safari ants. When we approached a herd of buffalo I was reminded of Robert Redford’s character, Denys Finchatton, in Out Of Africa commenting on Meryl Strep’s word, “Shoo”. Throwing sticks and whistling, we “shooed” the buffalo so we could proceed.
Arriving just before the rain started again, we climbed up into the tree and started settling in for the night. Huddled into the dry parts of the treehouse, we watched a bull elephant whose tusks could easily have weighed 70 lbs each, as he grazed the brush. A Bush Buck tiptoed into the natural salt lick spot that has a wildlife camera aimed at it. The camera is secured to a tree to catch photos of the animals that visit the site. This is where we were hoping to see a bongo.
As night fell in the forest, we spread our sleeping beds, dodging a few leaks in the roof and tried to get some sleep. The camera went off occasionally during the night. We kept our fingers crossed one of the shots would be of a bongo.
The next morning, cries from the Colobus monkeys woke us to a beautiful sunrise. A little damp and cold, we waited for the guides and rangers to retrieve us. They came bearing hot tea and cakes which we gobbled quickly and thankfully. Upon inspection, however, Boniface told us that none of the tracks in front of the camera were bongo.
Heck. I’ll bet the elephant had a couple of great headshots though.
I am on the way to a big Boran Cattle ranch and conservancy on the other side of Nanyuki. Might be a couple of days but I’ll have more then.