Sunday, March 21, 2010
Running Away From Buffalo & Other Random Things, part #2
Running Away From Buffalo & Other Random Things
“How Scott Almost Got Killed While Hiking Through The Bush Of Kenya”
Jim’s Massai friend’s name is Simon. He is a small appearing man, but definitely a warrior at heart. He has killed numerous lions, cheetahs, and leopards during his lifetime. He gave me some ‘tips’ on how to kill a leopard should the need ever arise, (which hopefully it doesn’t). Who needs survival guides when you have a Massai warrior friend! He was our “guide” as we hiked to the top of Mt. Longonot, once an active volcano in the Great Rift Valley. It is now a national park, as you can hike up to the top of the enormous crater and often can see giraffes around the base of the mountain.
As we hiked up the mountain we spotted several giraffes far off in the distance. What ensued next was not a pleasant sight. We quickly discovered that these giraffes were being hunted, illegally. Simon related the tale that the game wardens often do not scour the surrounding lands, leaving opportunity for poachers to fetch huge money for giraffe meat and skin. The ten or so giraffes we spotted started running as they were being chased, and we watched in awe as three men ran after one giraffe in particular, separating it from the rest of the pack. Luckily, I think the giraffe escaped when it leaped over a huge crater.
We eventually reached the top of the mountain and had a spectacular view of the crater within and the area surrounding the base. As we hiked back down the mountain, Simon decided that he wanted to take us closer to the giraffes that we originally spotted far off in the distance. Seeing as how Simon is a Massai warrior, and he lives very close to where we were, Jim and I trusted his leading, unknowing of the danger that lie ahead, as we branched off the main path and headed off into the bush in search of giraffes. Simon was ‘armed’ with a big stick – a chosen traveling companion of many Massai men as they travel through the bush, as I learned, if need rises to ward of dangerous animals or deadly snakes.
As we kept walking through the thick scrub, deeper and deeper from familiar surroundings, I finally began to question, “Should we really be here? Is this safe?” I asked Simon if there were leopards or cheetahs in the area. His reply, “Oh yes, most definitely. We will most likely see one, but don’t worry, it will probably just run away.” Not exactly what I was hoping to hear. Did I mention that earlier in the day we spotted a man carrying a dead goat near Simon’s house – another victim of recent nightly attacks by leopards on livestock.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I love seeing animals in the wild: leopards, elephants, even lions. But I don’t particularly like being right next to them, or becoming the object of their affection. Imagine yourself at a zoo, but there are no cages. That is somewhat similar to how I was feeling at this point in our hike….
Then something happened that scared the crap out of me, almost literally!
Suddenly there was a flash of black and brown bolting through the bush in front of me as the ground palpably shook with the thundering sound of what seemed like a stampede. I froze behind a small tree. A few seconds later it was over. “Simon, what was that!”, I exclaimed. He calmly explained that it was just some antelope-type animals that were scared off. He was laughing and smiling non-stop as we trekked onwards towards the giraffes, now quite visible and not far from our current position. Remember, we are in the middle of the bush, surrounded by thick scrub, with only our trusted Massai friend Simon leading us with his stick in hand.
Then one of the scariest, yet most exciting, moments of my life happened.
Simon was very quite at this point, walking a few steps in silence, and then stopping immediately to listen. His sense of sight and sound is truly incredible. He could hear and see things several seconds before I recognized them. Each time he stopped he put up his hand for Jim and me to stop as well. Simon was in the front, followed by me a few feet behind, and Jim behind me carrying a backpack with water. And then it happened.
Simon walked a few feet and immediately dropped to the ground in a crouching position, turned around and sprinted by me faster than I have ever seen a 40 year- old man run, without saying a single word. My immediate thought, ‘a lion is chasing after us’, as I turned and ran faster than I have ever run before, blowing by Jim as I try to glance backwards to glimpse the impending doom. Then I remembered that Simon said there are no lions in this area. My next thought ‘ a leopard or cheetah is about to pounce on me’. So there I was, sprinting through the thick scrub brush, not knowing where I am going or what is chasing after me, getting cut and scratched by the branches, my only instinct to run as fast as my feet will carry me, yet trying to glimpse behind me to discover some sense of what I am running from – just knowing that Simon, our trusted guide and Massai warrior friend, was running away from something.
Simon slowed to a quick walk after a few minutes, and kept glancing backwards, then would take off running again back up the mountain. Still he spoke no words.
Eventually he paused long enough to tell us that we were a few feet from a large herd of buffalo that was in ‘charge’ formation. Apparently the previous stampede we heard was in fact the buffalo arranging themselves in ‘attack’ or ‘charge’ formation, lining themselves up next to each other with heads and horns lowered, awaiting the slightest sound or glimpse of danger to direct their fight. They were waiting to charge us! Had we gone any closer or made a sound, we would have been the recipients of their anger!
At this point in our adventure, Simon yelled at Jim to take his shirt off. Jim was wearing a white shirt, and Simon later explained that he was worried that the buffalo could see Jim’s white shirt so he made him take it off. Luckily I was wearing a dark colored shirt! So at this point, we continued to jog, run, walk quickly up the embankment. Simon was again laughing non-stop and smiling as he, I, and bare-chested Jim went straggling up the hill. He later explained that if a buffalo ever attacks you, you should run uphill, as it slows the buffalo down.
Once we were safely out of danger, or so we thought, Simon apologized profusely as he laughed and laughed. Jim and I were also laughing, though our hearts still pounding, as the reality of the situation was descending upon us. “Did we almost get trampled on by wild cape buffalo as we were trekking giraffes through the bush of the Great Rift Valley with our Massai warrior friend Simon?”
We still had to hike out of the park, and Simon suggested that we try an alternative route to get closer to the giraffes. My reply, “Sure! We’re still alive. Let’s do it! But can we avoid the buffalo this time?”
Lessons learned from time spent visiting a Massai village and trekking through the bush with a Massai warrior:
-I love Africa, and I am so thankful to be here.
-I really like Kenya.
-Giraffes are amazingly beautiful and peaceful, but best viewed from afar.
-I am usually very thankful when I take advantage of unexpected opportunities that present themselves before me, liking going to visit a Massai village. The lessons I learn usually outweigh the fear I initially have of new and different places.
-The Massai are a fascinating people, and I would never want to be in a fight with them.
-The Massai beads, body piercings, and jewelry are fascinatingly beautiful.
-Sometimes you find yourself in unexpected situations, sometimes dangerous ones, but if all else fails run fast. I am thankful I was once a fast runner, but I need to start running again as training for future episodes in which running fast would be helpful.
-You should always hike with someone that is slower than you. You don’t want to be the slowest one if buffalo, leopards, or lions are chasing you.
-When I do find myself in places or situations I never imagined, it is usually a good thing, but not always.
-I like adventure and exploration, and I am willing to take some calculated risks, but sometimes the unknown is a risk for which you cannot predict.
-Do not get anywhere remotely close to wild Cape buffalo; they are mean, angry, and ready to plow you over without any warning. They are also good at blending in with scrub bush. Giraffes like to be in the middle of a herd of Cape buffalo, as they serve as a protective barrier for them.
As we were leaving Mount Longonot, I was reading a Kenyan Traveling guide, detailing some of the highlights of Kenya. I flipped to the summary of Mount Longonot. I should have read it BEFORE we went hiking there. The last sentence of the description was remarkably ironic,
‘BEWARE OF WILD CAPE BUFFALO HIDING IN THE THICK SCRUB BRUSH!”