This arid, hot wilderness with so little to offer supports a surprising profusion of big game. Scores of Elephants, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Buffalo, Gerenuk, Impala, all kinds of colorful birds, Leopards, Lions, Dik Dik, and more. One slow-moving, shallow, brown river meandering through this otherwise dry wilderness seems to be the only life source. An abundance of colorfully dressed Samburu inhabit this foreboding wasteland. I am both amazed and a little uneasy. It is hot and sometimes humid. There are lots of armed and uniformed soldiers about patrolling for bandits that, they insist, do not exist. I have seen what I want in this part of Kenya and am eager to move on.
I am up at 6am, with our morning delivery of tea and coffee at our tent flap. I would have slept well last night, but the Baboons occasionally let out a scream, which they do when a Leopard is around. At 6:30am we were on our way. The morning was cool, still, and beautiful. The sunrise was seemingly slow but built up to a beautiful orange glow before the glowing disk emerged from behind a desert hill. We saw much the same animals as previous days. We saw a few more colorful birds. We saw a large Puff Adder that had just killed a rabbit and was preparing for a breakfast, but all the minivans that disturbed it into hiding. We spotted a very rare Bat-Eared Fox scurrying in the brush. There was a small Nile Crocodile sitting patiently next to a sand bar in the river. Lot of interesting birds with names I will never remember but colors I will never forget. And three not-so-rare camouflaged and well-armed park rangers trekking in the wilderness. We drove back to camp, had breakfast, and went back to the tent to pack. We planned on taking our time, but the porter showed up at 10am and said he had clients waiting for this tent. This is an extremely popular place. We had intended to stay three nights but could only get two, so we are staying in the Serena for the last night. Uticus had arranged for us to see an Samburu village last night, so we departed to see it on the way to our new lodge on the other side of the river in Buffalo Springs. The sun was now very strong, and it was getting very hot. The humidity was not as bad as in the South Pacific, but it was noticeable and added to the discomfort.
The Samburu village, from the outside, looked similar to Maasai villages we had seen. Thorn tree branches formed a circle to protect the village. Bread-loaf-looking huts made partially of dung and partially of card board trash were tied to the top and sides. These circular villages seemed to be scattered about a kilometer apart on the scrubby low hills. Uticus had negotiated an entry fee of 1,000 KSH/each, payable to the chief. The chief and his warriors approached us. The chief wore a bright red wrap and cape. He was a man of 60-something: tall and lean, ears pierced and elongated, most teeth missing, and suffering from cataracts of both eyes. His English was passable. He welcomed us and told us to follow him to the “White House.” This was a semi-enclosed lean-to made of tree branches. We sat on crude tree stump benches. He told us this was the meeting place for the elders. He showed us how to make fire with two sticks. Then he displayed a long animal horn used to call meetings and when there is danger. He said danger was when the Ethiopians steal their cattle. I asked how often that happened, and he started to tell me several recent incidents before Uticus discretely gave him hand signals to cut the discussion on dangers. We walked into his village through an opening in the thorn tree branches. This village was structurally similar to that of the Maasai but NOTICEABLY poorer. The huts looked more like trash boxes than living quarters. Children were either naked or wore a combination of traditional and Western clothing. We walked up to a mother who had just slaughtered a goat for dinner next to her hut. She was cleaning it in the mud with flies crawling all over the entrails and her arms. The goats internal fluids were draining into the soil at the entrance to her hut. There was animal feces all over the grounds. My wife commented that the people looked healthy. I noted that the age range was from about 2 to early 20s, then a large age gap, with the chief being the next oldest. I am not sure life expectancy is very high here. About 10m away was a group of teenage boys singing and jumping for us. They were wearing black wraps of very stiff animal hides. The Samburu women dressed colorfully and also danced for us. They seemed found of my daughter, but I think my daughter was getting a little uneasy in this very primitive village. We were invited into the chief's hut. It was actually more spacious than the Maasai hut we had visited. It was, however, filthy. Skins were on the floor rather than on a wood frame. There was a cooking fire with smoke filling the hut. The chief said this helps keep the mosquitoes away. However, it was sweltering in there! The chief kept talking about an American teacher who was coming to the village in August. He showed us a hut he was building for the school. He strongly urged me to donate money to finish the job. When I did not get the hint, he more or less got in my face and repeated the part about needed donations. I reached in my pocket, pulled out $7, and gave it to him. He took us to a line of women selling crafts. Most of the items were carvings probably purchased from other areas and being sold at a premium. However, there were beautiful beaded necklaces and bracelets my wife purchased. While she shopped, I took the opportunity to take dozens of portraits of these colorful people.
We went a little farther to a bridge crossing the river. On one side of the river was Samburu national park and on the other Buffalo Springs. Before crossing the bridge, a park guard checked that we had paid our admission fee. A kilometer farther we approached the well-armed entrance of the Samburu Serena lodge. The entrance to the lodge looked impressive. There was a large, circular drive with well-manicured grounds. The reception area was open-air, with a beautiful lounge and restaurant adjoining. I asked the reception why they wanted our passports. He said that they scan them for security purposes (to account for all foreigners). We were escorted to our room passing through the lobby, walking by the pool, and strolling alongside a wall separating the river bank from the lodge property, over a small wall, and finally to our room, a large rondoval in back of the lodge. The room was old, a little rundown, and buggy, and had no hot water. The lodge staff was courteous but aloof. We immediately set about to repack our luggage to conform to the 30 pounds/person limit for the flight tomorrow.
At 4pm we met up with Uticus for an afternoon game drive of Buffalo Springs. This area was even drier and more arid than the other side. The heat kept the animals resting and out of sight. We saw Dik Diks, Impala, Elephant, Ostrich, Eagles, and even a Parrot. But this area was a lot more sparse in wildlife than the other side of the river. Near 6pm we came upon two female Lions sitting along the roadside. We drove back to our disappointing lodge (after such incredible accommodations at the Intrepids camp, the Serena was a real let down). Back at the lodge we wandered down to a patio near the river to watch the lodge staff throw meat near the river to bait Crocodiles. After sitting for about 40 minutes and not seeing a single Crocodile, but being eaten by mosquitoes, we were about to leave when we saw a vehicle across the river baiting Leopards for our viewing pleasure. Dinner was bland. My complaint is not about the food, rather that we are feed three meals a day and have near zero exercise. We are really starting to gain some serious weight! We went back to the room and tried to sleep in the warm, humid climate. The lights outside, the animal noises, and my wife’s incessant desire to keep her flashlight on all night made sleep difficult.