Africa, Kenya, Vacations

Malaika Camp – Part I – New Camp Adventures

We had decided to stay at Malaika Camp for 5 nights as the prices were reasonable and it came recommended by the woman organizing the elephant portion of the trip. This would be the camp where we would meet up with most of the ladies I had chatted with online for over two and a half years. But first, before all of the elephant time, Sal and I wanted to do a bit more game drives and experience a new location. My online/elephant friend had been to the camp a few times and described it as very small, bucket showers, not fancy, but great game viewing. Perfect for us, really. Especially now that I understood a bucket shower wasn’t that big of a deal. To this day, though, I stand by my demand for a flush toilet. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when we got to camp and discovered it was larger than our last one. And not only that, they had….wait for it….running water in the shower! For a hot second I did wonder if we were at the right place. It seems they had done a lot of improvements during the pandemic.

Usually when you arrive at a new camp the camp manager is there to greet you and give you the spiel about the camp and have you sign the paperwork so you can’t sue them if a lion eats you. This time one of the quiet waiters started the spiel. It was a little obvious he wasn’t really used to doing it and he looked slightly nervous as he bounced from topic to topic. Eventually the manager showed up and asked us if we had any questions and if we could wait for our tent as the last guest hadn’t left yet. It was an odd introduction, and frankly it put me off a little bit. This manager couldn’t have been more opposite of the manager at Lion Camp. He wasn’t exactly a people person, let’s just say that. He was fine, but he was very serious and rarely smiled or said much to us in the five days we were there.

We didn’t mind at all waiting for the tent. A different waiter, Edward, gave us a tour of where we would eat lunch by the Mara river, then regaled us with a long fairy tale-ish story about a hippo while we stood next to a huge hippo skull. He was a character and really should have been the one to do the initial welcome. He was extremely friendly and had a teasing manner; I swear when he was telling us the hippo story his eyes were twinkling with every white lie he tried to get us to buy! He may have missed his calling as a story teller or a politician.

Soon we got to put our stuff in our tent, then go enjoy lunch. It’s an awesome setting to relax and watch the various animals on the other side of the Mara. After lunch we got a little exercise and then rested before the afternoon drive. The manager didn’t introduce us to our guide, he only said our guide’s name was Tony, so at the appropriate time when everyone met up for the tea before the drive, we were in search of him. Now, we drove with Tony for five days and I can say that he is the definition of ‘hakuna matata’, which means no worries, take it easy. And he said it often! As each guide would find their people and start leaving I wondered where Tony was. One of the waiters, when I asked what Tony looked like, told us he was a white guy, which literally made me laugh out loud.

When most everyone was gone, we saw a man, definitely not white, amble over to us in a hat I would have expected Crocodile Dundee to wear. This was Tony. We had gotten a private vehicle at the camp as it was actually reasonably priced. Our vehicle was really old and had weird seating. I wish I would have taken a picture of it. Poor Sal had to sit in the back because the first row behind the driver only had a single seat and Grandma (me) needed to sit there for less bumping on my back. It reminded me of a VW bus. I know it wasn’t, but that was sort of the shape of it. One side had the seats out and the open window for photography. I’m not going to lie…I was nervous about that vehicle as it was clearly the oldest out of them all, but it never got stuck AND we even helped a fancy vehicle get un-stuck at one point. So well done to Tony for that!

Tony asked us what we wanted to see. We had felt so fortunate because at that point we had seen most of what was on our bucket list. So now we added more specific things. Before when we had said leopard (and we had seen the two separate females at Lion Camp) so we said we’d like to see a male leopard. We had seen cheetah, but we hadn’t seen one run in person, only trot. So hey, why not? Could we see a cheetah run?

When we were given the camp tour and saw the huge photos decorating the walls, there was a picture of five cheetahs. It turns out these were called the ‘five brothers’. They had an interesting story and were extremely popular back in the day. These males had all formed their own coalition. What made that unusual is that they weren’t all biological brothers and it was almost unheard of that they would band together to hunt if they weren’t related. They did, though, and they would take down huge prey due to their number and speed. I asked if any of them were still alive and if they were around the area. There were two left. figured if we were going to add crazy things to the wishlist, I wanted to add that I’d love to see the brothers.

Finally, although we had seen rhino already at the first camp, that was in a protected area, so I added that to the list as well – rhinos in the wild.

I might not go through every single day at Malaika as I started slowing down on the recordings at this point and only have pictures to go by, but don’t worry – there’s definitely some good stuff coming up. What we would come to discover is Tony was the head guide and in the know a lot of times. People were often times asking where he was on the radio, because they knew he’d probably found something. More times than not they were right.

The first afternoon drive started off with a side striped jackal, which I guess isn’t that popular around there. Tony was pretty excited about it.

Then we enjoyed the different scenery and the usual suspects.

We were watching some elephants in the rain (yes, rain, because we are clearly rain gods bringing rain to every camp!) when all of the sudden there was a VERY loud CRACK. The elephant closest to us raised his head and flapped his ears at us. I tried to reassure him that we didn’t do it and it scared us, too.

Not a big fan of the windshield wipers – haha.

And our first sunset at the camp. Rainy, but still pretty.

Nothing too exciting, but it’s always nice to see new topography. Our tent was the one closest to the main meeting and dining area, which was a small miracle and the only time the whole trip that happened. When it was dark the warriors would walk us to our tents. I remember the first night saying to the waiter that we didn’t need to have anyone walk us to the tent because we were the closest. I truly thought the camp was fenced. He said something along the lines of, “Do you not want to see me again tomorrow?”. I thought he was being dramatic (and that’s saying something coming from me). A few minutes later we were walked to our tent and the warrior pointed out a hippo *in camp* not far from our tent. Turns out it wasn’t fenced. Oops! Lesson learned.

The next day I would try to explain to the what felt like the 125985th guide how I was afraid of lions. Let’s see how that one goes. Catch ya next week!


Goodbye, Sweet Boy

Writing this post is hard and I almost didn’t do it because I can feel the tears coming for what feels like the millionth time as I do it. I’m tired of crying and feeling this horrible mixture of sadness and numbness, however my boy deserves a tribute and I am going to do the best I can.

Please indulge me as I tell you about Chachi.

We got Chachi and his sister less than two weeks after our cat Fatty died. We weren’t trying to replace our former feline friend, but we discovered he had actually been keeping mice away. Who knew? We, unfortunately, found out when all of the sudden we had a *lot* of mice in our apartment and previously we hadn’t had any. As you know from this particular trip report, I love animals. Well, most of them (looking at you, lions!). But I draw the line at mice in the house. No, thank you. Stay out of my home.

After Fatty died, a few days later I looked into the kitchen and a mouse was drinking water out of our dog Scootch’s water bowl. I did a double take. It was like he was at a spa enjoying cucumber water. This mouse was *relaxed* and clearly not put off by dog scent or shrieking women…because once I saw it I let out a loud yell and told my dog, who was laying next to me at the time to, “OMG GET IT! IT’S DRINKING YOUR WATER!!”. The dog raised his head, looked at the mouse getting hydrated from his own bowl, possibly gave a little sigh, and put his head back down again. I guess he didn’t like mice either.

The next step was to call an exterminator. I remember him telling me, “You need to get a cat.”. I said, “We had one! It just died a week ago.” His response was, “When the cat’s away the mice will play!”. Up until that point I had thought that was just a silly rhyme. I’m telling you right now, guys – it’s an actual cautionary tale that just *happens* to rhyme.

Thus we needed a cat because I refused to live with mice if I could help it.

We ended up going to this house that fostered, I think, 400 cats; as soon as you walked in the door you knew exactly what was happening in there. They were hoarding cats. Just kidding. But it stunk to high heaven. We were there for a particular cat who was in the same litter as a cat our friends had gotten who got along with dogs. We ended up getting him and his sister.

Chachi’s original name was Stache. I have no idea why – he didn’t have a mustache. Through the years his name evolved. Stache to Stachey. Stachey to Stachey Muchachi. Muchachi to Chachi. Now that I write that out it makes a little bit of sense that even at the very end he didn’t know his own name; he would come when I called his sister. “How do you not know your name after all these years?”, I’d ask him. Maybe he was just nosey and wanted to be kept in the loop.

He was a big, lovable doofus of a guy who loved to talk. I could have full blown conversations with him. I remember one of our friends saying he’d follow her into the bathroom and tell her all our secrets. He was friendly to strangers; definitely not a ‘guard’ cat or skitterish to newcombers. He welcomed everyone at the door and if you sat at the table you just had to accept he might try to jump in your lap.

When I would walk indoors for exercise he would go on ‘walks’ with me back and forth from living room to bedroom, getting rewarded with pets at each end point. I would cheer him on and he would trot along, proud of himself. You don’t have to be a dog to go for a walk!

He was odd in that he didn’t care for people food and was fully content with dry cat food. He did love treats, though, but even those were crunchy.

When Sal would change the litter, he would tell Chachi, “I’m stealing your poops!”. Like clockwork he would go directly into the box and dirty it immediately. God forbid there was a clean litter box in the house!

He loved his Dad dearly. He slept by his feet almost every night before he got sick, and if I got up before Sal he’d move up to near his shoulder. I can’t count the number of times I’d look over and he was either rubbing against his Dad’s hand, laying next to his arm, walking across him, or even settling down for a little bit to lay on his chest. Towards the end he would lay there longer and longer. And the amount of times he would just stare at him. He just adored him.

He had a very loud motor. He didn’t just purr. He PURRED, and it was because he was a happy boy. You could hear the purring sometimes from a distance and not for any particular reason except that he was happy and I guess that is the absolute best reason there is.

Sometimes he would let me dance with him in my arms. He would rub against my head and snuff my ear, tickling it. He would sometimes give me back tickles, too, if I sat on the edge of the bed. He’d go from side to side occasionally getting on his hind legs to make sure to get the shoulders. Yes, please!

He hated going to the vet. He was mostly a healthy cat except he would get allergies or cat acne a couple times a year. As soon as he heard Sal get the pet carrier out he would run and try to hide, but he really wasn’t that great at hiding. He’d often end up in a corner where it was easy to get him. The last few years he wouldn’t run as much, but he added a pathetic howling sort of meow after a few seconds, giving up, like, “Aw, man! No!”.

When we got home in early December Sal took him to the vet as we noticed he had lost weight when we were on vacation. I don’t want to write much about his illness because it’s too fresh and that’s not how I want to remember him. Our big boy that we had called tubby ended up skin and bones and unable to walk steadily or jump without falling. He would barely eat and lost weight shockingly rapidly. We tried several things and saw that nothing was working and knew it was time to say goodbye. I looked to see if there were doctors that would come into the house to let the cat die at home, instead of at the vet, especially since he hated going so much.

So a vet came and did all the things that would have happened in the office. I couldn’t watch him get the shots, but Sal was there the whole time. Chachi went peacefully, somehow purring very softly at the end. Maybe happy to not be stressed or in pain any longer.. Maybe to tell us goodbye and he loved us, too.

Chachi was such a good boy and our home feels empty without him. I miss him rubbing against my legs and telling me about his day whenever I’d go to the bathroom. I miss him getting right in front of my feet, almost tripping me, because he wanted to be wherever we were going; we were a family.

I miss him.

I’m sorry I haven’t continued my trip report; I’ve found it impossible to write about a happy time when I’m feeling so…opposite. I will get back to it though, I promise. I just need a little time.