Walk in the Mathews

Walk in the Mathews

Mark, Emily, Glen and Debbis on the great forest walk.
Our half day walk in the Mathews Mountains was fabulous!

There is always tension on an African foot safari, and especially here in East Africa where the art isn’t as developed as in the south. But I felt confident with the camp manager, Patrick Reynolds, in the lead with his rifle, and Samburu askari both in the front and back with spears.

We had heard lion in the night, and had already seen evidence of buffalo and elephant on the paths the afternoon before.

The rains have been so heavy that many of the streams have become rivers and many areas that were dry have streams. By the end of the safari we were all pretty wet as a result of traversing quite a few. But the day was warm and the sun bright, and spirits were not any way depressed.

The high forests of croton and podyapacrus were spectacular. It seemed there was a Hartlaub’s turaco on every one. Giant Ficus, much larger than I remember seeing in the Aberdare and more similar to what I’ve seen in Manyara, were common.

Patrick has been guiding safari walks for decades, beginning in a remote part of Tsavo East. We discovered very quickly he has a passion for insects, and by the end of the trip we had seen some spectacular spiders, learned all about termites and found a wingless wasp.

John and his two sons are geneticists-cum-chemists and we had quite a long discussion of the web produced by the brilliant golden orb spider, apparently the strongest web in the world. We found quite a few different ones, and we all tested the strength with our fingers and I must admit it was unbelievable.

We stopped at several streams to rest and drink and each area seemed more beautiful than the next. One of the real treats of an East African safari is how many incredibly diverse habitats exist in a relatively small area.

Finally we found fresh scat from the lion, and the Samburu trackers were ordered up front as we maneuvered through some very high grass. But alas, no animals were seen, until towards the end of the walk…

There not twelve feet in front of trackers was a 6-foot long black-necked forest spitting cobra, serpentined with its head up challenging us. These cobras are deadly, and it wasn’t going to move out of the center of the path.

Just a few dead branches thrown at it, though, made it scurry away.

Shortly thereafter we were back in camp after a grand 4 hours in the magical forest. After a late lunch, there was no doubt what everyone wanted to do in the afternoon: nap!

Overland to the Mathews

Overland to the Mathews

Before we left Saruni, Emily danced with the Samburu.
It’s a shame that so many safaris just fly from place to place. They miss all the wonderful things we saw, today.

Admittedly the drive was longer than I or either of the camp staffs expected. We left Saruni around 8:30a and expected to be in our camp, Kitich, in the Mathews Mountains by lunchtime. In fact, we didn’t get there until 2 p.m.

We returned to the reserve and then traveled west past Intrepid’s and out the West Gate. This has never been an area with much game nor very attractive. And I was particularly disappointed that West Gate was in such disrepair.

Once outside the reserve it was typical rural Africa, with a number of local Samburu villages. Later we emerged onto the unpopulated basin not far from Wamba, and that was where we saw Grevy’s zebra.

This was a real bonus. We know from the March KWS survey that the Grevy’s like most northern antelope were decimated by the drought. We saw two groups for a total of a dozen animals.

The drive from the Wamba road into Kitich is really the pretty part of the safari, but the road is terrible. We went through two small villages, one of which was having its market day. There were a large number of Samburu warriors, many newly painted and dressed to the nines. It was an incredibly colorful experience.

The Mathews in many respects resembles the lower altitudes of the Aberdare. It was an incredibly stark contrast to the semi-arid scrub of Samburu, but note that in terms of driving time, the Aberdare is actually closer.

Much less is known about the biomass of the Mathews than the Aberdare, because it is so remote. We passed a car from the Northern Rangeland Trust that was beginning a survey of the ecosystem, long overdue and anxiously awaited by many. For years it’s been presumed that deBrazza’s monkey is found here, but many wonder if it really still exists.

What I immediately noticed was actually a greater diversity of birdlife than the Aberdare. Both plains birds, like the sooty boubou, and forest birds, like the tropical boubou, were calling as we entered Kitich camp. Later we’d see other examples, such as the chinspot and white-eyed batis.

We took an afternoon walk of about an hour, down an elephant path! And there was evidence there to be sure. The camp manager, an old hand, Patrick Reynolds, led the walk with his loaded rifle.

The rains have been very heavy here and the grass was very high, but that also meant the forest was in full bloom. It was truly outstanding, with tiny flowers from all colors of the rainbow. Can’t wait until our longer walk, tomorrow!