Some people call them cute, some people campaign for their welfare and some people even take them into their own home where, for some reason I cannot fathom, they feed them and love them without any real benefits except a larger hole in their wallets…I’m talking about ANIMALS.
Now, I make no qualms regarding my blatant dislike for all things furry, call me heartless but my feelings are a direct result of many a bad experience as a child. Allow me to explain…
It started in the summer of ’96 when I was innocently feeding the ducks at my local pond. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Mallard saw red and decided to ferociously chomp on my thumb …and then chased me out of the park before you could say ‘Peking Duck’.
Fast forward to the spring of 2001 and I am now 15; older, wiser and increasingly cautious of the animal kingdom in general. An ill-advised trip to the zoo culminated in my ankle being savaged by a passing ring-tailed Lemur, leading to a check-up for me, a human being, at the parks’ vets (apparently the medical centre was ‘just too far away’!). Before you ask, no, they didn’t take my temperature….
So, given my track record, why, oh why did I decide to go on a safari in Kenya? Because David Attenborough has a VERY persuasive voice indeed and he can’t be completely wrong about the wonderment of wildlife…
Kenya itself is well worth a visit and as one of Africa’s safest tourist destinations it acts as an almost ‘Africa for beginners’ for first time visitors. The country is a land of absolute contradictions; the rich and poor live side by side and the landscape is a mixture of beautiful golden plains and garish graffiti marked high-rises, but it is also a land where Anna met the animals…and loved it.
For my safari experience we opted to stay overnight in the Maasai Mara National Reserve known for being one of the most densely populated wildlife parks, otherwise known as one of the ‘more-chances-for-Anna-to-get-bitten-or-attacked’ reserves. My apprehension was high as we flew into the Kichwa Tembo Safari camp, situated smack bang in the middle of the ‘Mara, safe and sound. And I couldn’t help but think to myself, safari….so good! (Sorry).
Settled into camp life surrounded by wild boars with a bowl of traditional (wild boar!) stew, it all felt very civilised and I was actually pretty excited about seeing the animals in their own habitat. As we ascended our Land Rover, a Maasai warrior carrying a ridiculously large machine gun followed me up – this man was Ekke; my protector and now my new best friend.
Everyone comes to Africa to see the ‘Big 5’ - I wanted to avoid them like the bubonic plague, but I was eased into the big, bad and dangerous by a sight that will forever make me feel warm and fuzzy inside – a gloriously slender cheetah nesting with her 5 new born cubs. I cannot explain how adorable they were, my cold animal-hating heart melted into a thousand pieces. If you have never heard the call of cheetah cubs, they ‘chirp’ wildly like baby birds, instantly dissolving any fears I had about these big cats and certainly a once in a life time spectacle.
Full of hubris from the attack-free viewing of 6 live cheetahs, we went on to see a herd of Elephants (far more intimidating than one would imagine), zebras, scores of antelope and luckily, white rhino.
We also found a rare ‘lesser-spotted drunk Kenyan man’ asleep in the middle of the ‘Mara, surrounded by fermented coconut juice… about 300 ft from a local lion hangout. Ekke dragged him onto the defender and I just stared at him in utter disbelief all the way back to camp.
Back at Kichwa Tembo I bathed in the rays of the stunningly auburn sunset, surrounded by the guttural snorts of the local warthogs, and felt surprisingly reflective.
Animals are not evil…nor are they out to get me, they are instinctual and beautiful in their differences – I think I just never gave them a chance before. Much like Kenya welcoming me with a big friendly smile, I promised myself I would go straight home and embrace the animal kingdom. Maybe buy myself a cat…no, not really, but you get the idea.
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