There are few things that can make a 4:45 AM wake-up call tolerable, but the beauty of the constellations in a clear sky is definitely one of them. My good spirits were decreased somewhat by the extreme coldness of the tap water in which I washed my face, by were lifted again by the very nourishing pre-hike breakfast served up by our kitchen staff.
The students on my bus also seemed to be quite energized about their impending journey up Mount Kenya; they periodically burst out into song during the drive between our campsite and the national park’s front gates. For the first time since I began coming to Kenya, we pulled over halfway to the park in order to take photos of the mountain; after three years, I finally have images that are not bisected by power lines and telephone poles.
It always takes a while for officials to process our paperwork at the entrances to national parks, but the wait is quite pleasant (if chilly!) at Mount Kenya since it allows us to look for some of the mountain’s many interesting bird species. On this occasion, we saw red-eyed doves, montane white-eyes, and red-fronted parrots. Once inside the gates, we quickly expanded our lists to include mountain buzzards, Hartlaub’s turacos, mountain greenbuls, and Kendrick’s starlings.
Because I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I volunteered to be the staff member who accompanied our non-walkers up to the Met Station during the shuttle’s first trip up the mountain. I was sad not to make my annual journey up through the eco-zones, but I’d rather be safe than sorry, and this gave fellow instructor Jan a chance to walk up the mountain for the first time in several years. As it turned out, the shuttle journey was actually a pretty exciting affair; we kept encountering ruts and patches of mud, and needed both four-wheel-drive and a bit of luck to make our way up the steep track. Unfortunately, our luck ran out at the very top, in the “driveway” to the Met Station; there, our vehicle got stuck and remained in place for another couple of hours until the sun dried out the mud and gave the tires a bit more traction.
We wandered around the station for a couple of hours, waiting for the others to arrive. As always, there were a variety of birds to watch—Jackson’s francolins, an orange ground-thrush, augur buzzards, dozens of streaky seed-eaters. Unusually, however, there were also many wildflowers to enjoy; the weather has been so mild and rainy that the plants are blooming more abundantly than I have ever previously seen. I saw some type of strawberry, St. John’s wort, clovers, and violets, as well as a number of species that I couldn’t recognize. I was obviously not the only one who appreciated these blossoms—I saw a female sunbird visiting a flower past its prime in order to steal some fluff to line a nest.
After lunch, I continued my role as chaperone to the shuttle-riders. Our journey down the mountain was slower and more careful than our trip up (perhaps because more damage could be done to the vehicle in that direction?) but otherwise uneventful. As the first people back to the campsite, we were able to avoid standing in line for a shower; we could also nap, or otherwise relax, for a couple extra hours. While I predominantly used the time to read my novel, I also managed to find a way to entertain the kitchen staff: I ran after a female baboon who had invaded our camp in an effort to loot snacks from our tents; unused to seeing either women or mzungus (white people) dealing with baboons so directly, the staff had a good chuckle at my antics.
While we waited for dinner, staff member Sarah retrieved the motion-sensitive cameras she’s been placing around our campsites throughout the trip. So far, most of her recordings have been of people or waving branches, but on this occasion she finally hit the jackpot. She had two clips of baboons using a fallen log to cross the river, and another couple clips of a waterbuck family browsing directly in front of the camera. It was exciting to finally see some wildlife on the footage; we could only hope that it was a sign of more good things to come during our impending stay in the Mara.
The grand finale to the day was our Africa-related pub quiz, which featured questions about wildlife, politics, culture, and staff members. The students probably got the most enjoyment out of the final two rounds; during these, course leader Brendan Godley performed snippets of songs whose names and performers were to be named, and lecturer Dave Hodgson mimicked animal calls in the hopes that students would recognize the original organisms responsible for these vocalizations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team that won included both a Kenyan and a South African; their reward was a free round of drinks, though, really, anyone who got to hear our staff performers was also a winner.
After the quiz, the bar’s DJ tried to create a party atmosphere with an unusual mixture of old and current dance music from around the world. Unfortunately for him, people were pretty weary from their long trek and even longer day; it did not take long for people to dissipate and head back to their tents for some well-earned rest.