Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Long Rains (or lack there of)

This year has been a weird year for rain in Serena, plain and simple.  Instead of a drought until March and then the long rains starting – we got about a week of downpours in February when we thought the rains were early and another week of downpours in March when we thought the rains were on time.  Now we’re sitting pretty in the middle of April in the midst of a mini-drought with no rains in sight.  In any event, it seems like the rains are coming a little late this year.  In my opinion, this is pretty lame.  It rained just long enough to spring the grass from dormancy (which has now reached heights taller than the hood of the land cruiser) but given that it hasn’t rained in a month…it’s still dustier than Oklahoma in the 1930’s.  If the grass is going to be taller than the Empire State Building, it might as well be rainy to keep the dust at bay.

My guys from Toto echoing my thoughts on the rain situation in the Mara.

Even though it is incredibly difficult to locate our beloved Fisi under these conditions – actually it’s difficult to spot anything smaller than a bull elephant if I’m being honest – the grass and by extension the rains that give them life are what keeps this place ticking.  Without the rains, the grass doesn’t grow, the herbivores grow weak and search elsewhere for forage, and eventually this affects the carnivores at the top of the food chain.  I, for one, will be holding a nightly vigil until the return of nature’s lawn mowers and world renowned meals-on-hooves: the wildebeest.  The only species capable of wholesale harvesting two countries worth of grass and feeding two countries worth of large carnivores plus the ensuing scavengers, while managing to avoid the utter finality of extinction.  Local livelihoods are also affected by the lack of rain however, as any Maasai pastoralist will tell you.  At this time of year, many cows are just skin and bones as there isn't much grass in the rangelands to support the herds of cattle during the long droughts.  Some will eventually starve and this represents a real problem for those whose life savings is represented by these cattle.  
The now wonderfully bloated Talek River, with some Maasai modeling from Steven,
one of the camp ascaris (©Benson Pion).
In quite an extreme case of “be careful what you wish for”, the day I left to head to Talek in advance of the April 17th Nairobi trip the Mara decided to dump 44ml right over Talek Fisi Camp.  The Mara also decided to do this in the heart of Black Cotton Country, five minutes from of Fisi Camp.  With trouble ahead and trouble behind, the notion crossed my mind that I had no choice but to forge ahead into the fray.  In the little, old Maruti, also known as Gandalf the White to some, I did battle against the worn safari tracks that this behemoth meteorological event transformed into raging torrents of H2O, which could probably be categorized as Class 2 whitewater.  Despite the fact that the sun was still very much above the horizon at 02:00 PM, I could not see more than three meters past the hood of the car.  On top of this visibility issue, the windows needed to be at least partially open to prevent the windshield from fogging up and dropping my visibility to nil.  Let me tell you, the precipitation this storm was imparting upon the Mara was much less like rain drops and much more like sky-diving sucker punches.  Given all of these factors working against me, it was quite slow going.  My best friend became 4WD-low…and if one thing is for sure, I will never claim that the little, old Maruti lacks power ever again.  All 60 of those horses came out in force for me and they are the only reason why I made it to Talek at all. 

video
H2O invading Talek Camp! (©Rebecca LaFleur)

Unfortunately, although I got into Talek, getting out would prove much more difficult once the water mixed with the black cotton.  We were so delayed by waiting for the accrued water to evaporate that we wound up getting to Nairobi by 08:00 PM.  We were even forced to leave earlier than we would’ve liked by an incoming storm – a storm which dropped a mighty 74ml!  Had we delayed any longer we probably would’ve been stuck in camp for another few days at the least.  Fingers crossed for getting back into camp at the end of this Nairobi trip!

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