You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when they send a ranger with a gun along on the nature walk. We checked into the Mountain Lodge in Mt. Kenya National Park and reported for a walk into the rainforest. It was a muddy slog in natty green gumboots, along an elephant path where we also saw the tracks of waterbucks and bushbucks members of the antelope family), hyena and Cape buffalo.
About those buffalo – they were the reason for the gun. They are the most dangerous of the wild creatures here and are known to attack. We encountered a small herd toward the end of the walk. The ranger and naturalist tightened us up into a group. We heard the buffalo as they crashed past, and saw the back half of one. We later watched and listened as a pair of male buffalo wallowed and splashed in the pond and salt lick outside our rooms.
Mt. Kenya is an extinct volcano, more than 5000 meters high, virtually on the equator and still with glaciers at the summit. These are disappearing now in the changing climate. It is the ancestral home of Ngai, the highest god in the old pantheon of the Kikuyu tribe. It was also the central location of the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in the 1950’s.
These warriors are more properly called Freedom Fighters. The men hid in this wilderness in caves and thick rainforest. Bomb craters from British assaults were still visible on our walk. Although the British ‘won’ the war by 1957, independence was negotiated by 1963. When we asked why the area along the road to the Lodge on Mt. Kenya appeared to be so poor, we were told that the Mau Mau rebellion led to a big loss of life among men and women in the villages, not just soldiers. This left villages with lots of orphans. Village stability and productiveness has been very slow to recover in this area.
Our lodge was built on stilts, with rooms with balconies overlooking the pond and salt lick, which was floodlit through the night. We saw a group of four elephants, those two splashing Cape buffalo, and dozens of waterbuck and bushbuck. The birds were lovely and strange to us. A large African Hornbill with its wicked beak appeared to watch us closely. Mosque swallows swopped around the pond and Egyptian geese complained noisily and stalked along the shore in the way of Canada geese in our part of the world. In the morning, a little Sykes monkey came to the window of our room, put his paws up on the window and asked if we had any breakfast. And the staff fussed over all these guests. Our nature walk was not just slog through the mud. Staff met us halfway through out 2 hour walk with thermoses of coffee and tea, some brandy, and little cakes. It is hard to imagine that Karen Blixen’s friend Denys Finch Hatton did safari any better.
Catherine Camp is currently retired. She served as a Consultant to the California Senate Budget Committee in 2001-02, reviewing Social Services, Employment Development, Aging, Community Services, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Rehabilitation and Child Support budgets. From 1989-2000, Catherine was Executive Director for the California Mental Health Directors Association. During that period, Catherine staffed the county mental health system’s restructuring of public mental health through Realignment of community and long term care programs from the state to the county, transfer of the management of specialty mental health Medi-Cal services to those counties that agreed to provide them, development of risk mechanisms for consortia of small counties, and advocacy and policy analysis for the operation of public mental health programs throughout the state. Her prior experience includes Executive Director to the California-Nevada Community Action Association, Principal Consultant to the Assembly Human Services Policy Committee, and Director of Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.