Reading Time: 5 MINUTES
If you visit Angama and you’re at all gregarious and curious there is a high likelihood you are in for interesting adventures when out on a bushwalk with Neke
Caution: if you’ve scheduled a bushwalk for dawn the next morning you should not drink and stay up late.
Almost two years prior I’d taken a long and memorable bushwalk at Angama Mara guided by a Maasai warrior named Neke. On this morning – despite feeling not very hale – it gave me great joy to see Neke again. He is a happy, affable, instinctively talented naturalist. He wears a Maasai shuka and headdress. He is lean and quite handsome, and his assegai (spear) and orinka (throwing club) make him appear reassuringly formidable. I suggested to Neke that we just take an easy, not-too-strenuous hike along the escarpment and that on this trip I wanted to learn about the ‘little’ creatures (birds, lizards, invertebrates, etc.) and told him that I was especially curious about medicinal plants and how the Maasai make use of them.
Our first encounter was with a Silk Orb-weaver Spider. A big girl she is, maybe 6-7cm across. And note the two bitty boy spiders (red arrows) that would love to cuddle, but will more likely end up as her lunch.
Good old Neke! Probably he could tell I was suffering a bit because within just a few minutes of starting out on our hike he plucked off a stem of spearmint and handed it to me and said it was good for headache, toothache, nausea, ‘too-much-drinking’, etc. “ Try some!” he says. (Mara hangover cure: a walk on a clear and crisp morning, with excellent company, in a magically beautiful place with a wad of spearmint tucked alongside your cheek. Really. It works.)
I don’t remember the name of the plant, but Neke showed me how when moistened it makes a rich red-brown dye (my hand was stained for the next two days). Also, the pulp is rubbed on the gums of infants to ease teething-pains.
We came across a number of beehives hung in trees near settlements; most consisted of hollowed-out logs, but this one is made of rolled sheet metal with wooden end plugs. Usually we would hear the busy humming of these hives before actually seeing them.
Flame Lilies were in bloom everywhere: gorgeous and deadly poisonous. The white sap from the cut vine can be mixed with milk and set out to eliminate troublesome animals.
We encountered this handsome old woman on the path as we walked by a settlement. It’s probably just another day in her life, but she was dressed up like she was going to a party.
The pulpy red inner bark of the moth tree is infused and applied topically for cleaning and treating livestock wounds. It repels flies and kills any existing maggots. The infusion is also given orally as an abortive agent, or to treat cases of retained placenta. Neke says that only a few elder women know how to figure out a safe dosage when administered to humans.
Shortly after we made the turn starting our homeward loop back toward Angama we heard the sound of someone with a beautiful singing voice up on a hillside above us. We climbed the hill to find an attractive young woman swinging a heavy machete-like tool, falling and splitting trees – apparently for firewood. She was relaxed and friendly and readily shared information about herself. It was hard and sweaty work she was doing, and when she told me, with Neke translating, about her other daily chores of fetching water, tending her garden, taking care of her seven children (she is 27 years old) cooking, taking care of goats and chickens and dogs and husband, keeping her household tidy, and who knows what else, I had to marvel at her energy and cheerful demeanour.
Matabele ants surely are the ultimate warrior ants. They have ferocious mandibles and venomous stingers (essentially, they are wasps that have lost their wings). Periodically a raiding party consisting of a couple hundred ants will head out from the nest, bent on waging a never-ending war with termites, their favourite food source. Ants that are wounded in the attack but not too badly hurt get carried back to the nest by their fellow-warriors, where they are nursed back to health. So far as is known, these are the only animals besides humans that exhibit such nursing behaviour to wounded comrades. Ants that are still alive after the battle but deemed too badly wounded are abandoned. Sometimes ants will fake being wounded, apparently in order to get a free ride back to the nest.
These two young men were tending their herd of Maasai cattle. Neke knew them and enlisted their help in locating a mating pair of Ross’s Turacos that we’d been hearing and chasing for a while but couldn’t locate. They took us directly to a giant mango tree where we finally spotted the birds.
A gorgeous creature that becomes even more spectacular when it flies, as that is when it shows off its brilliant scarlet primary feathers. It is a bird that Dr. Seuss would have loved.
We got back to Angama just in time for lunch with family and friends. Neke is an excellent guide and a fine human being. I’ll go back someday, and look forward to taking another hike with him. I know I’ll learn something new.
Note from the Editor: We are delighted to welcome back Dan and share his second story describing a walking safari whilst staying at Angama Mara. Last time he clocked 18kms but this time embarked on a more fashionable ‘slow walking safari’ – so much more in the style of our guests.
TAGGED WITH: Botany, Birds, Walking Safari, Maasai Culture, Birding, Nature, The Small Things, Maasai