Friday, July 15, 2011

Cyprian Fernandes: The Bathing of the Mind

The Bathing of the Mind

September is one of the best months to visit and tour Kenya. The mornings are fresh without any chill and the evenings are sublime, gives you that feel good kinda start to the day. Yep, definitely a spring in your step. In between dawn and dusk there is gentle warmth that opens your pores and lets out tiny sprays of perspiration. It is a kind of exhaust for the body.
Dawn: 6:06, sunrise: 6:26, sunset: 6:32 dusk: 6: 53. So you get 12+ hour days and a bonus dusk of 21 minutes. All this very important, especially if you are heading out on your first safari. So there you are all cuddled up in the warmth of your bed at the Amboseli Lodge. Yesterday, you fell in love with the lodge straight away and you got a little peek at Mount Kilimanjaro. Didn’t that make your day? Did not look like there was much snow on the ice-cream top, though. Still it was an awesome sight, took your breath away didn’t it? Felt like there was something divine in the air. Before dinner, went for a drink with the guys at the tented camp. They were all seated around a huge bonfire; someone was playing a guitar, all the drivers and staff were singing away. It was another memorable experience. Got back to the lodge and nestled in to watch the animals at the water hole. More of that in a moment but gave up fairly quickly because I was about ready to drop into the sublime, cat-purring sleep satisfaction. I was happy tired and delighted to be alive and with you. Dawn at 6:00 means that you will be out on a pre-breakfast game run by 6:30 at the latest. You will have had a perk-you-up morning tea or coffee in your room before you hear the gong go, the knock on the door, and a gentle voice saying: please wake for game run, the animals are waiting to greet you. Ah the previous night, now that was something else.
On the game run from Nairobi you visited three prides of lions. Your driver brought you so close you could touch them. Lazy weren’t they. Good everyone remembered to hold their breath, otherwise the lions would have caught the human breath and cubs would have started fidgeting the adults would have moved them on. God weren’t the cheetahs a sensation? Did you see them hunting in pairs. I saw that on television once, did not believe it could actually happen right in front my eyes. How lucky, how wonderful. What speed, what grace, what majesty, sorry about the prey. Guess that is what life is like in the jungle. People do it too. They call it War. Or they call it murder. You saw your elephants, lions and buffalo yesterday. Today you will hope to see leopard and rhino to complete the must see Big Five. We should have made a list, what else did we see yesterday? Zebra, giraffes (there are two types aren’t there?), gazelles, eland, impala, wildebeest, oh and those other things … bat eared foxes, looked so cuddly. Must make a list today. On your way to Tsavo East and West there is a great treat in store: Mzima Springs home of the mighty hippos. What a sight that is going to be!
And so it goes on! And you wonder where did the day go as you sit sipping your first drink just after 5 pm at Tsavo Lodge. Well you did start the day with a champagne breakfast by river. What a breakfast? You saw your first leopard and rhino and a bunch of other animals. But what took your breath away was the brief encounter with hippos at Mzima Springs. As the name suggests the watering hole with a resident herd of hippos is fed from a nearby spring. God they are huge, aren’t they? Very quiet, very serene. Yep, it is very peaceful.
After picking up your things from Tsavo East you headed for another game run and a bush lunch. There was nothing bush about it prawns, crabs, lobster, hams and roast lamb, pork, beefs and lots of salads. Wasn’t it absolutely fabulous. I saw you smiling to yourself a lot. You looked happy
You have showered and slipped into something cool and you are hungry but first there is the important tradition of pre-dinner drinks. Take it easy, it is going to be a long night, don’t know how much sleep we are going to get. After dinner, meet Joe Kavirondo, the man in charge of the animal orphanage at Tsavo (West) Lodge. At the moment the orphanage has three baby elephants, two black rhinos, six gazelles, two giraffe and a bunch of other smaller plains animals, and, oh, two orphaned lion cubs whose mother was killed by poachers. Aren’t they evil, the poachers I mean? Did you see the elephant carcasses, with the ivory tasks ripped off the heads. How sad, how in human? I will be heartbroken about that for the rest of my life. Joe’s mother was a Maasai and his father was a Kipsigis hunter from the north.
Some animals have an instinctive fear of Joe. He is a sort a human anti-baboon spray. Joe has to just enter an area where the baboons and monkeys are making a nuisance of themselves and they take off like their life depended on it. The Maasai Mara game lodge used employ a Maasai warrior to keep the baboons out of their dining areas. After dinner we are all seated around Joe.
“Welcome to Tsavo Lodge. I hope you will enjoy your stay enough to want to come back. I want to talk to you about the next few hours at the viewing from where you will be able to see a procession of animals who come for their daily drink, mud bath, frolic, and, of course, the all-important salt lick. You will see the elephants come, have a drink, take protective mud bath against fleas and other insects, and spray protective dust on their bodies. They will leave once they have had their fill. The will be followed by the lions, zebra, rhino, cheetah, other plains animals until every species has had its fill. This procession is repeated every night.
“There is one rule you must not forget: Do not talk, sneeze, cough or make any kind of human sound. The wind is likely transfer the human smells to the herds below and they will stampede. You will have spoilt it for everyone. Very late into the night we are expecting a visit from a couple of leopards. One of my colleagues will be going around the lodge with a gentle gong in hand. We have put up several game baits in the trees. You are sure to see a leopard or two tomorrow. In fact, if the animal gods are good to you, you might even see a leopard family we have been keeping an eye on.
“There is a special way of making the next few hours absolutely unforgettable. While you sit there, holding her hands, you are together yet you are alone. Your thoughts are your own. It is your very own private suite to the world. As you become one with the environment all around you, two things happen: your eye sight becomes sharper and your hearing keener. I do it as often as I can. There is a kind of magic out there. It is not just eyes that see, or your nose that smells or your hands that touch, it seems as if every part of your body is do any one of those tasks. It would seem like an out of body and in to wilderness experience that makes at one with everything around you. You are the night, you are the wildlife, you are the insects, you are the music of the night, you are everything and you are completely at peace with it all. Try and see if you can catch that exact neon second when dusk becomes twilight and twilight becomes night. The photograph above comes close to catching one of those moments.
“You may not notice it immediately, but you suddenly feel utterly and completely relaxed, at peace, you are home. There is a kind of languidity in your body, the limbs seem at rest. You feel it first in your shoulders. The head seems to come to rest, completely at ease, on your shoulders and it seems to rest deep into the shoulder as the night goes on. Oh, and that drink in your glass never seems to end, it is always there. First you hear the sounds of the animals. You play a game with yourself trying to identify each species. In the far, far distance, you can hear roar of a lion or two, or even the stampeding footsteps of a plains animal, perhaps someone’s dinner.
“So you stretch your legs in gay abandon. You feel good about yourself. Never felt so alive at this hour of the night, you tell yourself. But it is your own personal window into the world that you find so narcotic. As you watch for the departure of dusk, the arrival of twilight, and eventually the dark of night. The night sounds change … hear, hear it is the orchestra of the night, a billion, trillion insects playing their nightly symphony. You have to listen carefully. Don’t try to analyse it, just go with it.
“Isn’t that beautiful? How do you feel, how do you feel. Like I am in heaven you say. I saw that look on your face, you tell her, it had love written in large capitals all over it. Love it. Love you.
“We call that whole experience: The bathing of the mind. Please enjoy the experience of a little bit of Africa loving life to the maximum.”
He did not exaggerate one bit, did he?
What a night? What time did we slip away? Did you hear the gong? I wonder if the leopards came. Did you see that second pride of lions having a bit of squabble? Weren’t the elephant cubs just awesome? The rhino seemed a bit shy, but it was great seeing them again! What were those pigs, warthogs? Tsavo Lodge I love you. Thank you darling. Did we, last night? Felt like it … I mean I feel truly fulfilled.
Tsavo West you are my heaven.

So you stopped off in Voi, another overnighter, before gently arriving in your beloved Mombasa. Went to Malindi but the white sands had disappeared in a flood. Watamu Beach Hotel is even more beautiful than we remembered. Off to Masaai Mara, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Tree Tops, Secret Valley, The Ark, Mount Kenya, Nyeri, Nanyuki, Aberdares, Lake Baringo, Ol Donyo Sabuk, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, a plane trip to Lake Turkana before heading for Tanzania, Arusha, the Serengeti and lots more.

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