Saturday, January 4, 2014

[Mosheh] Doctor’s Blog, Mpala date 1-3-14.

So, I embark upon my first blogging experience. The word “blog”, and the verb derived from it “to blog” (I blog, I blogged, I will blog, I will have blogged, I need to blog, dammit!), remind me of Star Treck “Captain’s Log, star date 3631”, so I will start this:

Doctor’s Blog, Mpala date 1-3-14.

We began our journey to the Mpala Research Station on the first day of 2014, in the midst of winter snow. As expected, there were delays. However, it turned out that the delays had to do with difficulty in loading a cargo bin, not with the snow, which had tapered off, and was expected to resume the next day. The airline gave up on the cargo, de-iced the plane, and we were off. Not yet to Mpala, mind you, but to the transit port of Amsterdam. Despite our delay, we arrived in time for our Kenya-bound aircraft, which, luckily for us, but not for other passengers, was also delayed an hour or so. We even had to wait at the terminal for a while. Worried because of our previous delay, Tanya asked a young gentleman who worked for the airlines (KLM) if he could check whether our luggage had made it to the Nairobi-bound flight. This young gentleman came back, and, with a totally straight face, informed Tanya that our luggage never left Chicago. He managed to keep that straight face for about three minutes. He totally got us. After about an hour in the terminal, we boarded our flight, and we were off. 71/2 hours later, we landed in Nairobi, and emerged to a nice warm evening. After going through passport control, and waiting an hour for our luggage, we were taken to our hotel for the evening. The hotel was, as Tanya, using her newly-acquired set of Britishisms, “Very Posh”.
We arose the next morning, and after a nice breakfast, we were picked up by a van , and taken off to Mpala, five hours away. The ride was very interesting. I started in the outskirts of Nairobi, a city reminiscent of Middle Eastern cities, out onto a modern highway. The farther we got from Nairobi, the more things became unfamiliar. To begin with, rather than bridges over the highway, you had some major speed bumps that forced cars to slow down so that they would stop for people walking across this major highway.  The crossing were general next to small groups of multi-family buildings surrounding open-air markets. Then the highway tapered off, and we eventually were on a two-lane road. The settlements all looked like larger versions of those markets and buildings. When we got into Nanyuki, it seemed like a much larger version of this. We stopped to take out some cash, and we accosted by sellers. It was a distinctly interesting feeling of being in a place where I was instantly recognizable as a foreigner.
At Nanyuki we turn off the road to Mpala, and signs of human habitat started disappearing. We only saw some entrances to personal ranches. Then, suddenly, I had my first truly African experience, as an animal ran across the dirt road. With a certain sense of unreality I realized that this wasn’t some familiar canid or something familiar at all, but a baboon. Not something you’d see driving in the hinterlands of New Mexico, Illinois, or even Israel. However, things just got more, shall we say, African, as we turned a corner, and not 30 m away, we saw a full grown Giraffe. It sort of looked at us, decided that we were not interesting, and continued walking. We saw a few more animals, and then we were at the gates of Mpala.
The first thing you notice in Mpala is the road conditions. Evidently, to keep people from driving too fast, they limit repairs to the roads. When you consider the fact that Mpala is full of 20something rangers, and researchers with little sense of personal safety, you get the logic of this. Driving across these roads in a van was, ummmm, bumpy.
We got to the offices, where Tanya was greeted like a prodigal daughter, we were introduced to the various people there, ate lunch, and walked around a bit. Nobody had arrived from the different researchers, so we had some time to ourselves. We were taken to our accommodations, which is the ranch House in Mpala.It turns out that these were, as Tanya put it, “very posh”. Eva has her own room, and our room is like something out of the colonial times. A huge bed facing glass doors that open to a view of Mt Kenya, a canopied bed (mosquito netting), etc. We walked around the grounds and met an agamid lizard in full mating colors (blue body, red head), a hornbill, a tree hyrax who decided to join us on the veranda, and then the amazing chef/gardener Githai showed us around his wonderful kitchen garden (the source of most of our food) and his fruit trees, which he never got to eat from since the monkeys always get to the fruit first. We also saw one of these thieves. At 5 PM, we were taken by the amazing Jackson and Chanana out to an evening game ride in Mpala.
Eva has described the ride, so suffice to say that it was amazing. It is not a tourist area, so the animals behave a lot more like wild animals, and there were no other rides around. We also were not limited to regular tracks, so we got to see all sorts of stuff that tourists don not get to see. Because I love lists, here are what we saw (in no particular order:
  1. Herd of giraffes (nothing really can compare to a heard of giraffes on the run)
  2. Zebras (Grevys and plains)
  3. Elephant
  4. Hippos,
  5. Dik-diks
  6. Impalas
  7. Grant’s gazelles
  8. Wildebeast
  9. Dik-diks
  10. A troop of baboons
  11. Jackal
  12. Secretary bird
  13. Did I mention Dik-diks?
  14. Bustard
  15. Egyptian geese
  16. Ibis
  17. Herons
  18. Cranes
  19. Some more dik-diks
  20. Guineafowl
  21. Hornbills
  22. Vervet monkey
  23. And, of course, dik-diks…
Excuse me for the fact that I wasn’t more specific (as in writing what species these were), a cardinal sin for an ecologist, but, hey, I’m new here. Anyways, we probably saw more, so I’ll need to go through the photos to see what I have forgotten
As you can tell, it was a nice drive.
Around the ranch there is also no lack of wildlife, I’ve mentioned the hyrax and the monkeys. There are also baboons and Impalas, at least three species of sunbird, a squirrel, bulbuls (the only species I know from elsewhere), and more which I’ll mention later.

Enough for now, I’ll write more later.

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