01 February 2009

Olive Baboons I Tell You!

Being that we all had a free day, we thought it best to make another venture into the Malava forest with the hopes of seeing some new wildlife.  Michael and I met Jean and Sue at the tarmac walked together past the petrol station into the forest.  Last time, Sue and I did not see a whole lot when we walked on the path.  In fact, the pictures that I shared came from the outside of the forest.  Today's trip proved to be just as fruitless.  We walked around and wound with little actual direction along the paths.  Crossed a stream or two and then happened upon a section of planted trees.  I say they were planted because they formed perfect lines at even intervals to produce a web of straight angles in each direction.  The lower 4/5 branches were cut off to create a canopy over the trunks that stood like Lincoln Logs perpendicular to the ground.  Each of us took pictures of this strange site as farmers relaxed and cows busily ate away at the grass. 

Michael and I lagged back as Jean and Sue kept pressin' on to take in the entirety of the surroundings as well as frame a few pictures that turned out terribly.  One of the men who was with the cows and introduced himself to the two of us.  He said that he had something to show us.  From his back pocket, he removed a small bandanna with skulls and other indiscernible designs.  At the end was a tight knot protecting a small object.  He spoke English very well, but Kenyans tend to be  soft-spoken and often impossible to understand.  All I understood was that he believed the object to be of great value, but when he took out an ugly black rock I was astounded.  How could such a rough rock have any value.  I honestly thought he was gonna pull out a piece of gold, maybe diamond, and least something that shone a bit or was an exotic color.  I turned my focus to what he was saying so that I could find a polite way to continue on our hike.  "I think it is uranium.  Can you take this and find out if it is?  I have tried to get it tested but have had no success.  I wrote Cambridge University and heard no response."  A once worthless piece of gravel was now seemingly valuable.  Having never seen uranium, Michael and I said that we could be of no help in identifying the rock but would let him know if we found a way to be of aid.  I would love to find out of the man was in fact right.  Finding uranium could be pretty lucrative for him.

The hike progressed for a bit more and we decided to jump across a small river to hike towards the road.  Near the road we passed a group of children.  All were together save two collecting wood.  They poked their heads down the path as we came upon them.  Without thinking they turned to run and hide in the bushes.  As we passed, there was no way seeing them as they hid probably watching the four of us walk by.  We came to the road with the intention of possibly turning back when somebody noticed that the path continued across the way.  Figuring it wouldn't hurt to poke around on the other side, we crossed the road and started on the path.  Not ten feet in the shaking of trees caused eight eyes to glance up as monkeys launched themselves from tree to tree.  There was nothing graceful or awe-full about this.  The monkeys would run at full speed and leap from tree to tree in a sloppy manner.  Each landing was a massive crash with branches and leaves.  Causing the tree to bend in ways it was not meant.  Some would sit for a few seconds only to bound to another crash landing.  I told Michael that they were so awkward and actually resembled the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.  The movements were more human-trying-to-be-monkey than monkey.  Immediately Animal Planet mode kicked in as I searched for ways to get closer so that Michael could get a better picture with his superior camera.  I enjoyed the role of leading the path so that the rest could get the best angle.  It allows me to spend more time watching the monkeys rather than photographing them.  As we made our way into various paths and bushes to get closer Jean held her right hand back to signal stop.  She delicately turned backwards and pressed her pointer finger against her lips before creping forward.  We followed not sure what was being intimated when I saw what she was signaling. 

A group of baboons were playing no more than 75 feet away.  We inched closer as Jean took the lead.  Knowing that my camera was useless, I stayed behind Michael and Jean and took out my video camera.  Michael took each step with his best American Indian impression while Jean was 10 inches away from going full on army crawl (when the soldier is crawling on his elbows and knees, belly on ground, gun outstretched, under barbwire).  Much more bold than I, Jean and Michael pushed on to get closer and closer to the group.  Of course the baboons would retreat 25 feet every so often.  Knowing that it was not the best idea, we kept on trying to get a better view of the baboons.  After a few minutes of this back and forth step dance, we heard the baboons begin to call out.  The sound they made was much more like a dogs bark that some oohhing and ahhhing.  Unbeknownst to us, this was the signal that came before one came charging at us.  Jean was furthest ahead, followed by Michael 5 feet back, myself another 10, and Sue 5 behind me.  Michael was crouching to take a picture when Jean stealthily ran past him.  He looked up to see her now behind him and a primate charging.  At this sight he calmly said, "I think we should move.  I think we should run."  Unsure whether he was just kidding around or serious, I hesitated long enough to see that he was in fact running from a baboon.  Survival mode kicked in and I just ran.  Thoughts of being tackled from behind by a baboon raced with me as I moved probably the quickest in my life.  Shortly after, logic kicked in and I realized that it was probably a short charge to scare us away.  After a few hundred feet I stopped to look back and noticed that it had done just that.  Thoroughly elated, we all panted curses and exclamations at the stupidity of our actions.  We agreed that it was probably best to end the hike and go home.  Seeing olive baboons was a treat, being chased by one was an experience. 

As if they did not have enough, the baboons were out on the road as we walked.  Over ten just hung out on the far side of the road as matatu's sped by and bikers glided next to them.  They ran when we came near, but this time we were just on opposite sides of the street in the clear as they ran.  If the monkeys in the trees were awkward, the baboons were repulsively ugly.  Their butts are disgusting looking.  It is as if they once had them put on correctly and then some God, in punishment, turned them inside out.  The icing on the day's cake came a few minutes later when we spotted some Eastern Black-and-White Colobus sitting in the trees.  They are worth looking up.  Their under layer of hair is a jet black, but long white hair grows from the back like some sort of superhero cape.

Home was time to enjoy a cold Sprite as a super-group of the usual girls watched the four of us in the courtyard.  Tomorrow is our day for brunch.  Pray that we make good food for everyone.