sleeping under Orion
We did not hear the lions, which our guard later told us had passed fairly close to our campfire, growling hungrily as they embarked on their nightly hunt. In fact, we slept like newborn babies, tucked into our cozy bedrolls, which had been warmed with hot water bottles and wrapped in canvas to keep away the dew that accumulates in the middle of the night. We had been on many safaris, but this was the first time we had the opportunity to spend a night under the open skies of the African plains.
When Rosie proposed camping, S was at first skeptical. The promise of hot water bottles and a roaring campfire helped win her over, so our second afternoon on the ranch we packed toothbrushes and a few extra layers before heading out on our sundowner drive.
D was focused on finding birds to capture as the afternoon light faded, but instead we spent some quality time with an elephant family that was busy kicking up a dust storm in a slightly overgrown clearing. Our guides explained that the clearing had served as a cattle enclosure and was a favorite spot for this elephant family because the manure had sweetened the grass. Unable to grasp the thin blades, the elephants kicked up whole tufts of grass and shoved them in their mouth, giant clumps of dirt and all.
Just before night set it, we got closer than we ever had to an entire pack of silver-backed jackals. They initially ran from our approaching vehicle, but one of the guides whistled and a couple of the younger males stopped and perked up their ears before returning towards the car to satisfy their curiousity.
Given how scrub-covered northern Laikipia is, one would think it would be impossible to find anything in the dead of night. The trick is to look for two beady, reflective eyes. The previous night, we found the rare African wild cat – a meaner, plumper version of the average house cat, and a genet that slithered into a tree when we approached. This time, our spotlight uncovered a flighty white-tailed mongoose, which bounded away into the night before we could snap a picture.
After roaming the open plains for an hour we arrived at our camping spot where a full bar and blazing fire awaited us. Rosie grilled a hunk of steak on the sizzling coals that was accompanied with various sides she had pre-cooked at the ranch and warmed on the coals. After gazing at the star-filled sky and picking out the few constellations we knew, we retired to our bedrolls inside a small enclosure that had been set up to prevent animals from creeping up on us as we slept.
Around three in the morning D woke up. Though sleep called him back he could not help but force his eyes to stay open. The moon, which at this point in the year rises in the early afternoon, was gone. Instead, he saw more stars than he had ever seen in his life. There were so many stars in the sky that it was impossible to pick out any constellations, and Orion — which shone brightly when we sat down to dinner — was nowhere to be seen, hidden by the brilliance of so many other stars one rarely sees with the naked eye.
In the morning, we awoke with the first rays of light, which illumed the far-away silhoutte of Mt. Kenya. The sun rose slowly over the horizon while we sipped tea, and the mountain was gone from view by the time we clambered back into the vehicle for an early morning game drive.