Full Camo, AK, and Shower Sandals
Sorry for the short drought in blog entries. The past few days we have been on safari and without computers. So the E-Design team spent the last 2 days, May 27th and 28th, on a safari with the rest of the Penn State group. It was an incredible experience none of us will soon forget and a much needed break from our projects.
Day 1 started at 5:30 waking up for a 6:30 bus that boarded at 7:30. By now it should be clear…this is Kenya. We loaded two enormous buses that looked more like Soviet-era military trucks than anything else. A far cry from the beige Land Rovers that normally come to mind when thinking about an African safari, these monstrosities required the climb of a ladder to enter them.
Nevertheless, we left close to 8 am and began an 8 hour journey to Meru National Park. While this might have been a grueling drive had it been one down I-95, it was probably one of the most gorgeous drives any of us had ever taken. We rolled up and down winding mountain passes covered in lush green foliage and through vast plains of long golden grass. For the first half of the trip, the jagged snow-capped peak of Mt. Kenya loomed pale blue in the distance, completing the already breathtaking scenery.
Halfway through, we made a pit stop at a curio, a very common roadside shop in Kenya where visitors can purchase beautiful handmade carvings, jewelry, and traditional East African crafts. While the stop was intended to be a bathroom break, a few students tried their hand at bargaining for souvenirs. This is something that is commonly practiced in Africa, in fact, paying for an item at its given price is somewhat insulting to the vendor. Liz was able to argue down a souvenir to half its original price.
After this, our route took us through another 4 hours of picture perfect countryside and at long last, to our destination. We arrived sometime after midday for a well-deserved lunch at the entrance of the park. Some of us did a bit of exploring, making sure to first toss our bananas into the weeds so the roaming baboons wouldn’t venture too close.
An hour or so passed and we loaded the bus again to start the safari. Within the first 10 minutes we made our first encounter with the magnificent beasts of Africa. We rounded the top of a small hill when we spotted four zebras standing about 100 feet from the side of the road. The bus halted, shut off, and everyone swarmed the right side of it. After a couple minutes, we began to venture deeper into the park again. Another 15 minutes passed before our next sighting occurred. Driving along, someone saw something massive on the other side of the large bushes that lined the roadside. Seeing huge floppy ears on the side of a big grey head we immediately knew it was an African elephant. The entire bus was full of excitement, straining to keep from making any noise that would disturb the creature. Once cameras stopped clicking, we moved on, en route to our campsite located in the middle of the 1600 square km park. Over the next two hours we passed water bucks, water buffalo, gazelles, and even giraffes, hippos, and rhinos. As the sun set behind a mountain range to the west, the moon rose against a purple painted sky.
We arrived at camp around 7 pm with the sun completely set and pitched our tents. We spent the night enjoying each others company; many joined in song as students passed one of our professor’s, Dr. Butler, guitar around the camp fire. Many of us stayed up into the wee hours of the morning exploring the surrounding area around our site against the discretion of Andrew, who warned us animals were prowling and watching our activity. It wasn’t until he shined a flashlight in their direction to reveal a dozen pairs of eyes twinkling a hundred yards out that we were scared enough to return to the tents for the night.
Day 2 started at dawn, the time of day that the animals are most active. The goal of the day: to see one of Africa’s most revered big cats, the lion. Although we were unsuccessful before we stopped for breakfast at 9, we did manage to experience many more close encounters with the animals of the previous day. Our goal for the day seemed to be growing evermore untouchable as we entered our final leg of the safari. We continued traversing the bush when, with a half hour left, the driver pulled off the road. Everyone was pretty confused because not only had we never done this before, but it was strictly against park rules to do so. We slowed to a stop when someone shouted “Lion!” There was a rush to the windows that we hadn’t seen since the first day when the wildlife was entirely new to us. It was a lioness and her cub sitting less then 50 feet from the bus. She calmly posed for us a few minutes before becoming interested in something and walking off. This couldn’t have worked out better; to achieve our goal within the last half hour of the safari. Like a grand finale, as we drove out of the park, we saw a group of 15 giraffes, a few elephants, and zebras all together like we had never seen before.
The rest of the day riding back to Nyeri lacked the excitement of the previous 36 hours, but it gave everyone a chance to catch up on rest. We got back to Ivory Hotel around 10, at which point we took some showers and called it a day.
– Jeff Manns