July 15, 1987

7/15/87 Nguruman Escarpment

campsite on Orkerii River

Last night we had a hard rain, the worst of the summer. It didn’t take long for us to realize that this old tent just wasn’t going to work. We had leaks everywhere, especially on the sides where I was sleeping. But to our surprise, we were all pretty dry in the morning. After a quick breakfast, we hit the trail.

Today was going to be real tough as we were entering the forest. Because of the trees, it was very difficult to see enough terrain to figure out where we were on the map. After a short time, Robert took us off the trail to see where he had lived as a morani. That was over four years ago and part of the lean-to was still standing. There was a sleeping area and a place to store meat. Even after the heavy rainfall the night before, that meat area was still dry. Robert told us he lived there for two months with seven other morani and two girls. The hunted elephant, buffalo and lion.

Back on the trail, we had what was thought to be our toughest section, up and over a ridge to get to a trail on the next ridge. It was incredible what we had to go through, thick dense underbrush, mostly stinging nettles and what they called a ngoja plant (from the word "wait!"). We were grateful we had walking sticks to hack through the brush and try to knock any nettles or ngoja down. The girls were at a disadvantage because they were hiking in skirts, this being Maasai country. I had nettle stings and thorn cuts on my arms while they also had them on their legs. The cuts only sting for a minute but from the nettles it can last an hour or longer.

We were greatly relieved when we found the trail on the next ridge. The trails we use in Africa are all made by animals and used by humans once in a great while. Sometimes they can be as wide as a car and then suddenly vanish. They branch off constantly, creating a maze in the forest. At one point, Maria and I were following closely just behind Robert when he stopped. He started to take off his backpack, I thought he might be stuck on a branch. Then he quickly got into a crouch, ran down the trail a few yards and heaved his spear. It was amazing watching it arc through the air.

The only thing we heard next was an incredible pounding on the ground. What ever it was, it was very heavy and running extremely fast. Robert came back to get his pack and we all set out to look for his spear. "A buffalo" he said. You could see the deep hoof marks in the ground as it made it’s getaway. The whole incident gave everyone a buzz.

All day on the trail, we had seen troops of baboons on the ground and more columbus monkeys in the trees. The black and white coloring makes them hard to see when they don’t move, but very easy to spot when flying through the treetops. It doesn’t seem that they favor their arms like other monkeys. The almost move through the branches like a dog running on all fours.

From the ridge we could see the river we were supposed to camp by. It just didn’t look easy to get to. The valley sides were very steep, some places pretty damn vertical. The problem was that we needed water and it was getting dark. Frustration levels peaked as we mostly slid down into the valley. A closer look at the map showed this hillside was a cliff. The grade was so steep, the contour lines couldn’t all be shown because they were to close together.

The only way to the river was to slide down this hill.

We made the river just at sunset, very tired and sore. The flat spot we found was barely big enough for two tents side-by-side. That didn’t leave much space to make a fire and cook. You had to very careful. Not two feet straight out from the tent was a drop-off into the river. Not ideal but the only way to put the tents. I think we were all glad to leave that campsite as early as possible in the morning.