Monday, July 4, 2011

The Monkey Ate My Buns

We left Nairobi yestoday - not too early. We had breakfast at a nearby hotel to fortify us for the drive, loaded the vehicle, and... blast off! Here's Fire ready to hop in.

Let me mention that there's a lot of road construction going in Nairobi. It also turns out that there's a lot of road construction going on on the road we take out of Nairobi towards Nanyuki (the nearest town to the place we're doing our research, Ol Pejeta Conservancy), the Thika road. It was quite a bumpy trip for the first hour or so. The other thing that was different about our trip this year is because I sold my own Land Cruiser last summer (, we rented a Land Cruiser. And because it's a rental vehicle, it's technically a commercial vehicle. And a few years ago, a new regulation was instituted: all commercial vehicles need to be fitted with speed governors, which are devices that cut out the fuel that goes to the engine at a certain speed. Here, it's 80 kilometers per hour. So our trip was a bit slower than usual.

But the good news is we had no car trouble on the way, and we got to our first stop within about 3.5 hours: The Trout Tree. This is a trout farm just outside of Nanyuki that has a delicious and tranquil restaurant on site, and we have a tradition of eating there  either on the way to the field site, or as we're on our way back to Nairobi at the end of the field season. Here are Fire and I relaxing during lunch.

Well, usually the restaurant is tranquil, but we had a bit of a kerfuffle this time... there are two kinds of monkeys that hang around the restaurant (besides the tree hyraxes, in the next photo): blue monkeys and black and white colobus.

The blue monkeys tended to keep their distance, but one of the black and white colobus wasn't being particularly shy. All of a sudden I see a flash of black and white, and the monkeys is ON our table! It grabbed two of the breadrolls (the only food on the table so far) in it's mouth, and knocked over all of our drinks. My instant mental reaction was "bitten by monkey = bad", which led to a physical reaction of jumping up and moving away from the table. Nick had a more valiant reaction, and seeing that the monkey had then sat down on the table and was staring at us, he basically shoved it off the table. After all this ruckus, it finally moved off into a nearby tree, chewing the rolls (or buns). and proceeded to have a snooze. Hence - the monkey ate my buns.

Later on, he jumped up onto an empty table and became fascinated with the salt shaker, opening it up, dumping some salt on the table, and licking it off.

Apparently, the monkeys haven't read this sign.

After all that excitement, we hopped back in the car and headed into the conservancy, with just a quick stop at the equator so Nick could get his picture with the sign (Fire and I have been there, done that).

We had a lovely game drive between the gate and the research center, where we're staying. We saw lots of bovids (antelopes): hartebeest, Thomson's gazelle, Grant's gazelle, and impala. We also saw warthog, zebra, and several kinds of birds: kori bustard, yellow-necked spur fowl, and guinea fowl (which have a special place in my heart since Peter did his PhD working with them). As a special treat, we also saw four white rhino, wallowing in a mud hole. Exciting! One of the Big Five down, four to go. :)

No elephants yet, but this sign near Elephant Bridge (over the Ewasi Nyiro River, which runs through the western part of the conservancy) always makes me smile.

It was great to arrive at the research center (a little after 4pm); it's a place I really like, and I've spent nearly a year here, cumulatively, starting in 2002 when I was here for about 8 months doing some of my PhD research studying how carnivores damage bones when they eat their prey. They have done some repainting and redecorating, and totally renovated the kitchen. However, on a practical level, there didn't seem to be a plan of what we were going to eat for dinner. We didn't bring a lot of food with us (just a few random things); I assumed since we let the conservancy staff know we'd be arriving in the later afternoon that they'd have made arrangements for the research center cooks to make us dinner. After much discussion, some of it in fast-paced Swahili so I couldn't quite follow it, we were confident that something would be worked out - and later on we had a delicious dinner of lentils, rice, and tomato and avocado salad. The only people around the research center this afternoon was a Princeton graduate student named Jennifer, who is doing a pilot study for her PhD on how the cows grazing in the reserve affect the wildlife, and Geoff, who runs the Earthwatch project here (

We spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and getting ourselves organized, and Fire and I had a post-dinner discussion about research goals, methods, strategies, etc. until we both got too tired to think straight anymore. Then, it was bedtime.

** Thanks to Nick - I usually only post my own photos, but this post contains his photos.