Cycling with the Wild Things of Kenya

No matter how many times I get on a bicycle and head out on city streets or country roads or mountains trails, it is always Einstein I see. With his big lawless mop of white hair and his goofy “spent too much time in the lab” smile. And I hear his words about how cycling is just like life. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving,” the great physicist said.

It’s useful advice should you ever forget how to ride a bicycle, or, simply, how to do life. How to keep your balance in the continuous play.

You truly feel this balance when you’ve conquered something, like incline after incline, and when the smooth ride of the flats leads into a fast and glorious downward soar. It’s a feeling that is all the stronger when out in the wilderness, in big sky country like Kenya’s Chyulu Hills at ol Donyo Lodge.

Here, vast stretches of uninterrupted land surround you in every direction. Wild animals roam beside cattle and their Maasai herders – cheetah and lion, wildebeest and elephant.

Perhaps the most profound part about getting on that bicycle in a wild terrain like this is knowing that animals are out and about, while you move among them on two wheels.

The joy is in being closer to the land – as compared to game drives – and in finding yourself looking up at a journey of giraffe only metres away from where you stand. Because, needless to say, you will have to stop at some point and just take it all in.

The joy is in being able to move your body, your legs, and to feel not merely like a bystander, an onlooker, but a player, a member.

Our guides knew just where to lead us, along the sandy paths in the flat scrubland. We followed them to a giant boulder beside a thick canopy of trees (definitely a good place for a big cat, considering the bones scattered below) to catch the last rays of the day shining through an unruly swathe of clouds that looked for a moment like wild-haired Einstein staring right back at us, reminding us. Keep going, never give up.

The guides knew where to find the magic but they also knew how to keep us safe. In addition to that, it is said that due to decades of Maasai roaming the plains and living in and around the wilderness here, the predators have become used to people – used to knowing that they should stay away. On foot, they recognise us, but climb on a horse or into a game vehicle and watch the dynamics change.

We all ride for different reasons – some of us simply for exercise, for fitness, and some for that intense feeling of being alive. Alive among lions, giraffe and zebra, well that’s even better.

Discover more about ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya here and in our blog, 10 Questions with ol Donyo Lodge’s Jackson Lemunge.


The Beginnings of Love at Esiweni

I had been her before, the one in the safari vehicle with no clue as to the difference between an impala and a topi, a lilac breasted roller and a carmine bee eater. I had been the one with big eyes and a heart feeling everything a little too much for comfort, but incredibly alive for it.  And while, sure, sometimes today a lion’s gaze or nighttime roar still gets me, still makes me whisper to the driver, I think we should go, I am mostly at home in the wild.

Being alongside someone to whom it was all completely new, though, I realised many things – like just how otherwordly, even strange, it is to experience an African safari for the first time. To see your first wild animal. To hear your first African Fish Eagle and watch your first lion watch you. To try Amarula for the first time, biltong, warthog, rooibos…

She had come from a dry cold snowy winter in Canada, our safari fledgling, to find heat, beautiful humid heat at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa. She arrived in the night and joined us on a morning game drive. And, there, only metres from the steep winding path from the lodge into the wilderness, she saw it. Her first wild animal.

A giraffe. And then another giraffe. And another. A whole journey up on a hill. The impala followed, diligently as ever. And then the kudu, the zebra, the rhino, the buffalo, the elephant, the lion. The birds, the grasses, the flowers, the sounds and the smells, it all took on a new significance. I found myself attempting to bite my tongue to let ranger, Pemba, answer her questions, and failing, too desperate to share in what she was feeling, to share the hundreds of feelings I had had on every safari past.

In many ways it was new to me too. Used to the Sabi Sand, the Okavango or Maasai Mara, I was now moving through the Nambiti Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, a land completely different with a wild mix of bush and savanna, open plains and waterfalls, all in one reserve. It’s an environment with its own people and language and history.

This would be the land that would forever colour her thoughts when she spoke about Africa. She would compare every safari with this one. This was the starting point of nostalgia, the beginning of a new romance, like the first love we never forget, that imprints on us, changes us. That we still recall the outline of, the sound, the scent. And that we return to again and again, if not in body, at least in mind.

It’s the month of love and sentimentality is allowed free reign, so tell us what first sparked your romance with the African safari?

Discover the charm of Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge through images from our last safari below.

What Leopards Can Teach Us About Being Human

“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” ― Carol Emshwiller.

After three days spent beside a leopard and her cub in a foresty corner of the Maasai Mara, I’d like to add leopard to this mix. I’m sure Carol would welcome it and agree that wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and mildness are all traits of this big cat, and that it’s impossible not to question your own humanity after time in their presence.

I questioned a lot of things after my time with the leopard they call Fig and her new young thing perched in the trees at Mara Plains Camp in Kenya. After game drives, I returned to camp beneath trees of my own and pondered about life, sitting on my deck looking over the plains. In that way safaris make you look at life from a different angle, and think about things like what it means to be a mother, the importance of naps and how we really should climb more trees.

I thought that if anything, the leopard might just be able to teach us how to be better humans.

With these cats, as much as there was a time to chase her mother’s snaking tail while she slept, sloped along a fallen tree, there was a time for Figlet (Fig Junior) to collapse beside her, calm, quiet, still. A time for tenderness.

As much as there was a time to roll and tumble wildly together in the shade of their kingdom beneath the trees, there was time for that charm and elegance leopards are known for, the adults at least. Like wisdom, grace would find the cub in later years, when jumping out of the bush at unsuspecting butterflies with a little too much enthusiasm would become a slow, flowing, elegant stalk toward a lone gazelle.

It isn’t that humans need diluting, we just need some reminding, from the wilderness, from nature. Wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and tenderness – that’s all we have to hold onto, that’s all the leopards were showing me, that’s all that’s needed, Carol was saying, to make the world right again.

Discover more about Mara Plains Camp here.