Africa’s wildlife thrills or chills

Re­porter re­caps her time in the beau­ti­ful yet chaotic coun­tries of Kenya and Uganda. From run-ins with wild an­i­mals to an im­prove­ment in hag­gling skills, her three weeks were jam-packed with won­der, ex­cite­ment and awe.

Hawke's Bay Today - - Local News -

Ge­or­gia

I never thought I’d find my­self in a sit­u­a­tion where I would ac­tively avoid a star­ing con­test with a 115kg sil­ver­back.

The go­rilla con­fronta­tion took place deep in the im­pen­e­tra­ble Bwindi For­est, Uganda.

It didn’t last long, as he was more in­ter­ested in in­spect­ing his hands af­ter a 40-minute fight with an­other male.

This is just one of the many in­cred­i­ble things you can see should you visit the old­est con­ti­nent in the world.

Our trip started on the dusty yel­low plains of Kenya as we set off in chaotic traf­fic through Nairobi and on a sev­en­hour jour­ney into the Maa­sai Mara.

Along the way I de­vel­oped a new knack for sales and hag­gling skills as we were dragged into mul­ti­ple tourist shops.

Tourists are clearly easy prey for the ex­pert Kenyan sales­men and I cer­tainly felt like a ze­bra among lions, but in a mar­ket­place.

I at­tempted to buy a wooden maa­sai mask for US$5, even though the sales­man wanted US$30.

Snatch­ing the mask from me so hard it nearly broke, he ap­peared flab­ber­gasted at my of­fer.

“Sis­ter. This is an­tique!” he shouted, as the shop came to a stand­still.

I looked at the 200 iden­ti­cal masks ly­ing on the ta­ble, then re­turned his stare. He read my doubt­ful thoughts.

“The tree . . . the wood. The wood is an­tique.”

He didn’t make the sale.

Our drive to and from the Maa­sai Mara was like driv­ing over jagged rocks in a dust storm.

Our guide told us the sus­pen­sion in the ve­hi­cle was changed ev­ery time he made a trip as the roads were so bad.

I could see why — the front axle of our car snapped clean in half on the last speed bump at Nairobi Air­port a week later. See­ing an­i­mals in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment made me feel ex­tremely in­signif­i­cant, es­pe­cially when meet­ing the pow­er­ful yel­low eyes of a bat­tlescarred lion as he slumped down un­der a tree, avoid­ing the blaz­ing African sun.

Kenya’s wildlife is the ma­jor money maker, but they still have ma­jor is­sues with poach­ing and il­le­gal hunt­ing in na­tional parks such as the Maa­sai Mara, not to men­tion the ten­sion be­tween Tan­za­nia and Kenya re­gard­ing the tourism in­dus­try.

De­spite that, it’s clear to the peo­ple that they’re very much in the an­i­mals’ space, a mix­ture of fear and re­spect widely felt for the wildlife that roam freely through their com­mu­ni­ties.

Ele­phants tear at trees on the side of the road, ba­boons hoot and weave be­tween traf­fic as ze­bra graze in groups on the out­skirts of town.

It be­came even more abun­dantly clear I was in the way one night as a hip­popota­mus banged into our hut at 2am dur­ing its early morn­ing feed, not once but twice.

Al­though my heart nearly burst through my chest, I re­mained calm and thought of hap­pier times rather than its jagged jaws and 91kg of mus­cle through cen­time­tres of wall by my head.

The ex­cite­ment con­tin­ued as we dis­cov­ered a large paw print by our car the next morn­ing.

It be­longed to a young, wild leop­ard who of­ten used the out­door din­ing room to rest dur­ing the evenings.

A staff mem­ber told me that he ar­rived ear­lier than usual one evening, scat­ter­ing scream­ing guests from their ta­bles.

“We shooed him out and he fell asleep be­tween two tents in­stead,” he laughed at my awestruck face.

“He must have been full, he wasn’t too both­ered.”

Through all these in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences there’s a dark side to Africa too.

Rub­bish lit­ters the streets, un­em­ploy­ment in Uganda is un­be­liev­ably high, not to men­tion the 80 per cent loss of its wildlife dur­ing the civil war.

There are still problems with lo­cals poi­son­ing lions as they at­tack and kill their live­stock.

Kenya has banned plas­tic as it con­tin­u­ally lit­ters the streets in towns, cities and vil­lages. Then, of course, there’s the poverty.

In say­ing that, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the dusty flats of Kenya to the sun­set-red soils of Uganda, with its quilted fields blan­ket­ing steep hill­sides with tea plan­ta­tions and maize, the coun­tries are chaotic, but the colour­ful buzzing kind of chaotic that you can eas­ily fall in love with.

Africa in all its wild beauty re­ally is a must see, no mat­ter what time of life.

PHOTO / SUP­PLIED

Maa­sai war­rior Jona chal­lenges Ge­or­gia May to a jump­ing com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the border of Kenya and Tan­za­nia.

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