Meeting with rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

“If an accident happens money will not be refunded.” Warning from friends and travel websites came back to my mind when I read this message written on my matatu ticket. “Matatus are not safe,” I could hear them repeat in my mind. “They are cheap for sure but accidents are frequent.”

My stubbornness to always travel as local people do and the incredibly cheap price of the ticket still had convinced me to take a seat inside the small mini-bus parked in Nairobi station and heading to Nanyuki.

14741158_1444431795571397_1681766020_n

One thing to know if you ever decide to travel by matatu is that you’ll need a certain dose of patience. As I sat in the vehicle still half-empty, I quickly learned that the rule number one was: as long as there are seats empty the matatu won’t go anywhere. After a little more than an hour, the mini-bus was finally full and ready to go. Accompanied by the sound of chicken chirping at the back, we finally left Nairobi.

From all the rumours and stories I had heard about matatus‘ drivers, I have to say that my ride went swiftly despite some bumpy roads. I even managed to fall asleep for a while and woke up looking everywhere around me hoping to catch the sight of a giraffe or any other Kenyan emblematic species. After few hours we reached our terminus: Nanyuki. My final destination, however, was still awaiting for me further away.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy had arranged a taxi for me and after twenty minutes (and the realisation that I had assumed incorrectly that there was only one matatu station in town) my driver, Martin, picked me up.

img_2126

My eyes widened once we passed the entrance gate of the conservancy few minutes later. I could see antilopes all around and elephants in the background.

“What’s your favourite animal here?”he asked me. After a quick thinking, I answered him: “I love hyenas.” Martin just couldn’t stop laughing at my answer. He explained that people in Kenya usually did not like hyena very much. When asked about his own favourite he told me that he really liked giraffes. “They are tall and elegant. They can eat the leaves that no other animals are able to get.”

Once arrived at the Stables, formerly known as the Research Centre, I was warmly welcomed by the staff and shown the room I will occupy for the next two weeks.

I quickly realised that traveling around the conservancy during my free time (I was there as an intern) wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. I had no intention to be eaten by a lion or charged by an elephant while walking around so my freedom of movement seemed suddenly quite limited.

Over the weekend, however, I noticed the frenetic obsession that people at the camp seemed to have with rhinos. When asking around what exactly everyone was so excited about, I was made aware that a process called rhino notching had been going on for a while and was coming to an end on Sunday.

The notching involved two teams: one team in an helicopter shooting the rhinos to be marked with tranquilliser and a second one composed of various trucks on the ground tracking the rhinos, ready to act once the animals were asleep. Quite exciting indeed!

On the Sunday afternoon, I got lucky enough and was able to join one of the ground team. Packed with various staff members, the truck quickly headed toward an open plain where we watched the helicopter chasing a rhino. Leaning dangerously, the airplane managed to get close enough to the impressive animal allowing the vet to tranquillise it.

img_1367

Seeing the rhino slowing down and finally falling asleep was the signal that the ground team had been waiting for to get into action. Speeding through the bush following GPS indications, I could feel the tension and excitement building up among us. Everyone knew that the animal would not stay asleep for very long  so getting to the scene quickly was essential to the operation.

Once the rhino had been located, the wildlife team rapidly went on the ground and started buzzing with activity. While some measured the individual, others painted a white sign on his back, took some blood sample and finally pierced his horn to insert a GPS tracker inside. The process is completely harmless to the animal and the horn made of keratin will then grow back around the tracker.

The pressure faced by rhinos in East and South Africa from poachers make it essential to be able to track the animals inside the conservancy. However, the data collected also allow to gather information on the health, genetics, and distribution of the individuals present in Ol Pejeta.

img_2264
Sudan is the last male Northern White Rhinoceros on Earth

Five minutes later everyone has managed to do what they were supposed to do and the staff members quickly go back to the trucks. Slowly, the rhino starts moving again. Looking confused and dazed, the massive animal looks around him and gets up. Now firm on his legs, he quickly disappears in the bush: time to track the next individual on the to-notch list.

The rest of the afternoon was a succession of wild rides in the bush followed by frenetic activity for every asleep rhino that had to be marked. The sun was starting to drift when we reached the last individual to be notched. As for the others, the staff members quickly jump down the truck to start buzzing around.

They were almost reaching the animal when suddenly the rhino started to move and got up. A wind of panic blew across the team and everyone quickly ran back toward the truck. The rhino made few steps and fell asleep again on the ground, breathing heavily. That’s one this last adrenaline rush that a truly amazing afternoon reached an end.

img_1811

The ride home gave us the opportunity to watch the sun slowly making its exit through a beautiful spectrum of reds and oranges. While the day was coming to an end for us, the bush was still vibrating with life. I kept looking at the zebras and antelopes around us, trying to print in my mind as many details and memories as I could.

Advertisements

5 books that gave me the travel bug

I’m often surprised at how wanderlust suddenly hits me. From movies to conversations or even food, the drive to grab my backpack and go wonder is often difficult to fight. When I look back at my childhood trying to find out what might have started it all, it’s often books that come to my mind.

Here is a selection of five books that definitely gave me the travel bug and triggered long lasting obsessions for some places.

tintin-by-debarshi-ray-herge-wanderlust
Photo Credit: Debarshi Ray/Flickr

I. The adventures of Tintin by Hergé

From China to Peru, Tintin was to my eyes this amazing reporter and adventurer travelling across the globe to solve cases. My dad had the entire collection of albums and I remember spending hours and hours reading them as many times as I possibly could.

The great thing about the series was that being comic album it always felt like following the footsteps of the characters. In Tintin and the Temple of the Sun, I was totally transported to Peru. I could picture traveling with lamas and see myself climbing the Machu Picchu or meeting with the Incas.

The comics were also all about incredible friendships that Tintin developed during his adventures. I still remember how Tintin spent the entire album of Tintin in Tibet looking for Tchang, a young Chinese boy he had met in The Blue Lotus, after his plane crashed in the Himalayas.

Full of endearing characters, amazing destinations, and incredible adventures, The Adventures of Tintin sure had some flaws but overall it was a great collection to read as a kid.

donald-travel-wanderlust-booksdisney-travel-bug-wanderlustkenya-safari-disney-travel

II) Disney’s Small World Library

If my parents weren’t sure yet that I would become a travel addict, they sure encouraged it by reading me Disney’s Small World Library books. Following Disney characters, these colourful illustrated books are each focused on a specific destination.

These books are basically travel guides for kids: a touch of culture here, a bit of food there, and showing you the famous landmarks of each place. Funny and entertaining, Disney largely contributed to the development of my travel to-do list.

These books established in me two long-lasting obsessions: one for Kenya and the other for the Chinese New Year. Indeed after following Goofy on his safari I couldn’t take the lions, zebras and giraffes out of my mind. More than that, I also developed a passion for Masai culture and East Africa in general.

Sometimes diving into stereotypes about countries too easily, this collection is still a great way for a kid to discover the world and spark wanderlust.

3304

III) City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Sent off to NYC to live with his grand-mother while his mum faces cancer treatment, Alexander Cold has no idea of what is awaiting him. Kate, his eccentric grandma reporter for a magazine, embarks him on an investigation through the Amazon rainforest to find what locals call the Beast.

City of the Beasts takes us through an epic adventure in the heart of the Amazon. Deep friendships, unexplored wilderness, and spiritism are all brought to us by Chilean author Isabel Allende.

This book is surely the one that made me fall in love with Amazonia. Both the difficulties faced by the characters to reach it, the amazing wildlife described and the quest of Alexander to find his spirit animal completely won me over.

It was one of this book that I just couldn’t close before having reached the very end of it. Well researched, it made me very curious about Amazonian culture and the concept of animal spirit. If you want to be transported to the Amazon in an intense quest, this book is definitely for you.

Guernsey wanderlust book .jpg

IV. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Behind this intriguing title hides a curious story. While London emerges from WWII, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next subject. An unexpected letter from a man living in Guernsey is going to set up a series of correspondance between Juliet and various member of a literary club called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  

After a few letters, Juliet decides to head to the island to meet her new friends and falls in love with the place. Through the description of the island landscapes and living conditions, I have to say that Juliet managed to make me fall in love with the place as well! The book left me with the certainty that I had to go explore Guernsey one day.

This book is a proof that reading can definitely broaden our horizon and give us the will to see what is described through her own eyes. I had never really gave a thought about going there before but after reading the book, Guernsey is now definitely on my travel wish list.

golden compass book travel wanderlust.jpg

V. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

From Oxford to the far North, the brave and young Lyra will take you on an epic adventure. When her friend Roger goes missing among many other children, Lyra decides to do everything in her power to get him back. Her trip will take her from Gypsy boats to talking armoured bears and she will face serious threats across the way.

Brilliantly written, this book is a chef d’oeuvre of children literature. Philip Pullman creates an entire world filled with daemons, witches, and multi-faceted vilains. All the steps of Lyra’s journey are described in such a way that I felt like I was living it all while reading the book.

The vivid description of this slightly different Oxford left me curious to discover the real one while the scene of the Aurora Borealis left me in deep awe. In term of traveling means, I have to admit that Lyra got me jealous: flying over the far north in an air balloon and running on the back of an armoured bear sounded like pretty cool way to explore the region!