[PHOTOS COMING SOON...]
We woke up to a mist-filled riverbed, hardly even being able to see the trees on the other side. The sun started to break through after a while, resembling the moon as it did so, struggling to overcome the cloud. The birds are in a feeding frenzy after the rain – and in particular after the insect invasion – food aplenty for all. As usual the commiphora thicket behind the house, where we have been watering for several weeks to give the vegetation a head start, was alive with birds. The Bulbuls were all puffed up against the cold, like pompoms with beaks. The Sparrows and Black Headed (aka Village) Weavers were there in full force too. The Little Swifts were swooping overhead, gorging themselves on all the flying insects. The African Golden Weaver with their orange heads, red eyes and bright yellow bodies turned up too and I also saw them helping themselves to the bird food for the first time (we had seen them before in the reed islands in the river below the house, but this was the first sighting right by the house). It would seem these weavers are also nesting already – or at least starting to – as a couple of them were fighting, although you would think there was enough food and enough space to go round. Meanwhile another one was calmly getting on with collecting fresh green grass for its own nest construction. The tree squirrels also seem to be getting broody, as I photographed them collecting nesting materials too.
While in the kitchen making morning coffee, I noticed a bunch of weaver birds in the little baobab by our front door. Initially, I thought they were collecting grass from around the tree’s base for their nests, but then I noticed they were feeding on something on the tree itself. They were deliberately hopping around from leaf to leaf, and snatching insects hiding in or under the leaves. It seems that at times such as this, even seed eating birds like the weavers indulge in the bug-fest. (You can tell weavers are seedeaters because of their heavy thick set bills, compared with the finer longer bills of the insectivores – bulbuls and starlings, for example, which also love fruit but do not need heavy beaks for cracking open seeds.) Young weavers, still in the nest, are fed with soft insects and insect larva too, before they are big and strong enough to digest seeds.
Despite the grey light, I went upstairs to our flat-topped rood, where we have a rooftop garden – I’ve planted a couple of Aloes up there (one of which is still red but will turn green with regular watering and another which looks like a large speckled octopus). Some Star Grass has also self-seeded up there – this is the type of grass which is so favoured by Buffalo and which we hope will grow on our Hippo Lawn.
As I suspected, we do have Yellow Billed Hornbills on our property, as I spotted one today. It’s quite a large hornbill, with distinct black and white markings, and a heavy richly yellow curved beak.
Being Sunday, Ian and I drove up to Mtito Andei this afternoon – that’s our closest “proper town”, if you want to call it that. In reality, it’s a huddle of kiosks and small shops and bars, nestled along the main Nairobi-Mombasa road. There are more petrol (gas) stations here than you would think such a small town warrants, but they serve the thousands of trucks daily plying their way from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi, and further inland to Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, the Congo and even Somalia – everything comes through Mombasa, and the trucks just keep on rumbling. Sunday is market day in Mtito so it was crowded. Dozens of tiny stalls - some simply constructed out of rough wood, others laid out on old sacks on the bare earth - hawk their fresh produce – mainly potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and sukuma weeki (a spinach-like vegetable, whose name literally means “push the week” – or “gets you through the week”.) It was surreal because, in the middle of this mud splattered, rubbish strewn dirt square, there a spinning fairground wheel, with an old long haired white man sitting beneath it, collecting money from the gaggle of enthusiastic kids and young women, all eager to take a ride. It may not sound unusual to see a scene like this, but if you knew Mtito Andei, you too would think this was like some incongruous scene from a bizarre movie.
Shopping completed, we called in on our great friends, Danny, Nana and Chloe, who live in Tsavo West National Park, where Danny is the Senior Warden, in charge of looking after this vast and beautiful and environmentally important area for the Kenya Wildlife Service. I have known Danny (and his brother, Bongo, who is also one of our greatest friends) ever since I can remember, for he grew up in Tsavo West (his father was the Warden back then), while I grew up sixty miles down the road in Tsavo East. Nana is his beautiful and talented wife, a photographer by profession and wild cat foster-mother by vocation (having separately raised an orphaned lion, leopard and caracal cub to maturity, before releasing them back into the wild) with whom I’ve become very close friends over the years. Their gorgeous daughter, Chloe, was a flowergirl at our wedding and is the cutest little girl you can imagine. As I did, she is growing up “in the bush” and when she is old enough to realise it, she will understand what a remarkable childhood she has had.
It takes us an hour’s drive to reach Danny and Nana’s house from ours, but in this part of the world, we still call them neighbours. Apart from them, we have some other “part-time neighbours” who have houses several miles upstream from us (the closest house to ours is two miles away), but they are not in residence very often. And then there’s Lionel, another long-time resident of the Tsavo area and a real character, who lives about 15 minutes drive upstream from us. The staff who work for us and for the Film Foundation live on our property too – there’s Kyalo, Muthoka and Pius, who are all from the local Wakamba tribe and have looked after this property for 14 years since my father first bought it. In a few days’ time, Grace and Samson arrive, whose job will be to help us look after the house. Apart from that, it’s us and the animals, and the wide open space of Tsavo – which suits us just fine.
Today is a momentous day because the installation of our satellite broadband internet was completed – yes, this means that, as from today, we are in touch with the rest of the world. There is a part of me which is sad, for some fraction of our peace has been lost. The other part of me is delighted, for in order to live in this magical place, we need to be able to work and earn a living here – and being able to communicate on a par with the rest of the world is key to that…and key to posting this journal too, of course, and sharing this river with you, day after day.
We still have a few challenges to overcome before we are online 24/7, for we have yet to install our solar and wind power system to give us electricity during the day – so we are still only online for an hour or two a day, while the generator is running…so this story may yet take a few days to hit the world wide web.