My dad’s visit: Safari at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

The New Year started out with a visit from my dad, Bob. He arrived on New Year’s Day after welcoming 2013 with a mid-flight glass of champagne. After spending a few days adjusting to life in Nairobi, we all struck out for Laikipia, a dry grassland nestled between Mt. Kenya (Africa’s second highest peak) and the Aberdares range. On the way there we drove across the equator back into the northern hemisphere. There is a sign and, of course, a gift shop. We stayed at the Sweetwaters Tented Camp inside the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. These tents were the most luxurious tents ever – they even had flush toilets inside. Expertly crafted meals awaited us after each game drive, a bar overlooking a wildlife watering hole. We were hardly roughing it.

The game drives were incredible. Ol Pejeta is a private conservancy, one of several on the north side of Mt. Kenya (another, the Lewa Conservancy, is where Prince William proposed to Kate). We drove around the conservancy looking for the Big Five: elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard. We did see four of the Big Five there. The leopard continues to elude us. We were amazed with density of the conservancy’s wildlife. At one point we stopped to admire a one-tusked elephant right on the side of the road. Suddenly, a huge bull elephant charged out of the bush into the road right in front of our van. It stopped, looked right at us, and then moved on.

We drove up a long ridge out of the scattered acacia trees and into a high dry grassland. We saw a man herding ankole cattle, a breed native to Uganda that can have horns up to eight feet across. They are being raised at Ol Pejeta. Further up the ridge we came across a pack of African hunting dogs with pups. Just then, a spotted hyena approached the pack from the other side of the road. The pack leader saw the hyena and the pack mounted a defense. The dogs drove off the hyena – it was something right out of a nature documentary. We were told that we were very lucky to have seen the dogs because the pack moves every day.

My dad, Garrett, and I, along with our driver Alex, went out for a morning game drive. We saw a pride of six lions, three males and three females. They were lounging in the early morning sun and did not seem bothered by the throng of tourists watching them from their vans.

One animal we never expected to see was the bush baby. At dusk each night the bush babies would wake from their daytime slumber and scamper through the low acacia trees inside the camp. They hopped from branch to branch just a few feet above our heads calling to one another. Unfortunately it was dark and we couldn’t get a good picture. We also learned the call of another nocturnal critter, the tree hyrax. The hyrax look a lot like a groundhog and are the closest living relative to the elephant. Its blood-curdling nocturnal call sounds like a banshee’s scream followed by a metal crank. One made itself comfortable above my dad’s tent and kept him up all night. You can hear one for yourself here.

We happened to be there for my 40th birthday and celebrated with a cake and a chorus of “Jambo Bwana”. We also met a woman named Shona Mitchell who was there with her husband and grandson. Her grandson Max and our kids played together well – they actually introduced us. Shona is the executive director of a human resources firm and also runs an organization called Aspire4Africa. Her firm hosts executive leadership training sessions at Ol Pejeta and, through Aspire4Africa, is working to extend training in conservation leadership and skilled trades to the communities around Ol Pejeta and other conservancies. Shona and I talked quite a bit and I even met up with her and the rest of her group back in Nairobi before they left for Scotland. We hope that we collaborate in the future.

We all had an incredible time at Ol Pejeta. The memories of wildlife, the food, and the people we met will stay with us for a long time. We had some more adventures with my dad which we’ll share in a separate post.

Click on the thumbnail pictures below to see the full size images.

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