And so we end Safari Tales where my own African journey began in Kenya, the first country I ever visited in Africa. We went in September, hoping to see the Great Migration only to find it had moved on a few weeks before we got to the Maasai Mara, although we did glimpse the last remnant over the Mara River in Tanzania. I fell in love almost immediately, after we arrived at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi and our first wildlife encounter was at the hotel pool, with eagles floating high above us and all the trappings of Kenya’s colonial past around us (the Hotel was used as a set in Out of Africa, where Karen Blixen asks the Governor, Sir Joseph Byrne, for help when her coffee farm goes bust).
Things I didn’t put in the book… Elephants creeping silently out of the night to a water hole in Tsavo East as we were Milky Way watching over a duty free G&T, from the balcony of our room. Wonderful Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe and my spectacular solo ‘spot’ of a leopard (in a place where our otherwise splendid guide wasn’t expecting to see one) in Samburu. Baboons galore and a black rhino at Treetops water hole and the luscious afternoon tea ceremony at the nearby Outspan Hotel where Lord Baden-Powell lived out his last years. An advanced dissection lesson on a wildebeest, courtesy of a couple of lionesses, followed by two young male cheetahs out for a walk in the shade on the Maasai Mara one hot afternoon. Still on the Mara, one abortive and one successful balloon inflation near the Siria escarpment at dawn on the day our safari ended, followed by an unforgettably turbulent flight back to Nairobi in an elderly Dakota, much to the chagrin of the other people in our tour group, who had travelled long and dustily overland and found us contentedly sipping long cool drinks at the Norfolk at four in the afternoon…
Things that did make it… Samburu was also the place where we saw the leopardess and two cubs who kick-started Safari Tales as a project in the Watching chapter. She had an interesting history in that she’d been raised by world famous conservationist, Joy Adamson, she of Born Free fame and then set free in Samburu. The cubs we saw her with were likely her last litter as she was over ten years old by then. Dennis, our European Kenyan tour leader on that first safari, is also responsible for several of Harry Burton’s non-Kariba anecdotes, including the buffalo hunt and also the tale of the Dik-Dik and the Rhino that I took several liberties with in Onwards and Upwards…
I’ve been to Kenya twice more since that first memorable time and it will always be dear to me, especially in these latter days when it is still struggling on with the fight against big time commercial poaching, which alas appears to be a losing one at times, especially as the Middle Eastern and Asian ivory markets grow and prosper. Organisations like CITES ensure that the work of conservation enforcement continues, but with a constantly struggling economic climate, endemic poverty and neighbouring states at war, or battling with famine and drought, Kenya’s tourist industry and the crucial influx of international currency is increasingly under pressure to deliver on its reputation as the top safari destination on the planet and to maintain the infrastructure of its national parks.
Excerpt from Omega and Alpha
They fell into companionable silence again, sipping their drinks and watching the distant silhouettes of pelicans and darters on their way to roost, flying low over the darkening water that was just beginning to shimmer as the waxing moon rose high in the early night sky. After a while Luey took her left hand and brought it to his lips, then held it out for them both to admire their rings, which were finally in unity.
‘You are a very clever lady, Mrs Ogilvy Taylor!’ he murmured, his voice replete with contentment. ‘I thought that Harry would be teasing me forever over getting designer rings, but nobody in the whole world has anything like these. I love them almost as much as I love you…’
She snuggled into him as he spoke and his voice trailed off as he stroked her hair with his other hand.
‘Baobab’s are magic and precious – like you are to me,’ she whispered. ‘My tanzanite ring is very special, but it has too many sad memories. I needed to move on and make a statement. These ones are full of potential and built to last. Gold and diamonds from Tanzania. Our first home.’
Her engagement ring was a plain gold band with a larger, roughly oval shape in the centre resembling the cross-section of a baobab fruit. It held a dozen ‘seeds’ each containing a tiny diamond that glittered in the moonlight. The ring Luey wore had the same central design, standing slightly proud of alignment on one side of a wider band than Sophie’s, which was etched to look like the gnarled bark of the magic tree. Their wedding rings were again simple bands, but reversed, so Sophie’s had the bark effect and Luey’s was plain. They both slotted onto the engagement rings exactly, so they sat as one on the finger and would turn together.
David had given her the idea after he’d driven them out one afternoon, to a small lake a few miles out of Mgakera to look at malachite kingfishers, egrets and shoebills amongst other birdlife. On the way back they’d stopped at a little village where some enterprising local had set up a bottle shop in the hollows of an enormous baobab and David had regaled them with various stories about the magic tree that held water even when rivers dried, and nurtured life sustaining fruit and seeds. It also got her thinking about Syamenga’s tales in Kariba and how the souls of the ancestors inhabited the baobab’s branches, so they could continue to look after the living…
Milele Safari back blurb – Milele Safari – An Eternal Journey …twines around a single day, in an unremarkable border village that snuffs out the lives of four people and shatters many others, only to draw the survivors back to a different time and, perhaps, a hope of atonement and peace. Step out on the journey and discover an Africa that could have been, is and might one day come to be.
My bio – I live near Launceston in Cornwall, UK with Toby and Benji the Springer Spaniels – it’s a tie between us all as to who’s maddest, but as I outrank them in being weird anyway it’s not open to debate really.
I’m physically lazy with things that don’t hold much interest for me (so that’s mostly housework and, increasingly, cooking…), but I love where we live, mainly because I chose it for being so quiet and off the beaten track, very close to the moors and quite near to the sea.
I also love books, both to write and to read, the latter of which can be very eclectic (I enjoy Julian Barnes, Kate Atkinson, Jeanette Winterson and will happily admit to Jilly Cooper too) but in the main I’m heavily into SF&F, particularly Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Julian May, although I can pass on Zombie Apocalypses fairly easily…
…how I’ve chosen to write about Africa for my first novel may be something of a surprise to my friends, but if you read it you may find that all of the above information manifests in there somehow!
Future projects include a futuristic fantasy series, loosely grounded in Celtic myth – The Shadow Chronica, which is kind of stalled at present, but I’ll be dusting it off as summer gets in full flood with the first novel hopefully available at the tail end of 2016.