Admirers of Ernest Hemingway's "Green Hills of Africa" are often drawn to the Chyulu Hills in Kenya. Here, in 1933, the author spent nearly a month on safari hunting kudu (large impala), lions and rhinos.
In her memoir, "Out of Africa," Isak Dinesen aptly described the Chyulu Hills as "picturesque and mysterious." Along the crests of the range the nightly cloud formation's condensation nurtures the forest , while during the day, the clouds burn off. Thirty-five miles to the south, 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro slumbers in a cloud of its own.
The Chyulu Hills, a 50-mile-long range, rises above a semi-arid part of Kenya's southern area that borders Tanzania. It is a place of vast vistas across plains of golden grass dotted with whistling-thorn acacia trees. Nearby are other distinct landscapes such as black lava flows and rounded hills.
On my first afternoon at our safari camp, Campi ya Kanzi, my fellow travelers — four Americans and two Italians — and I headed out for a hike in the Chyulu cloud forest. Along with two Maasai trackers, we drove half an hour in Land Rovers to the trailhead.
On the way, zebras — their white and black flowing patterns covered every inch of their bodies to perfection — scampered before the slow-moving lead vehicle. We saw dozens of giraffes, as well as several hartebeests (large grassland antelopes) and elands (also antelopes).
At the trailhead, the others elected to take a rigorous hike to the top of the Chyulu Hills, while I chose a leisurely walk that would give me time to take photographs. Pashiet, one of our Maasai trackers, led me.
He wore his indigenous tribal clothing of red fabrics knotted around his shoulders. The men wear necklaces of tiny colorful beads, while the beadwork is more ornate on the women, who, in addition, drape brightly patterned cotton fabric over their shoulders.
Pashiet also carried his impressively long spear in place of a gun to protect us in the event we encountered a predator. He took an elephant trail, a compacted path of dark, loamy soil, into the forest, where we were enveloped in its cool and marvelously lush, intricate ecosystem.
Tall trees filtered sunlight onto diverse growth. Fig trees towered above with long vines that twisted around the trunks and branches. Magnolias, hydrangeas, miniature flowering hibiscus and fragrant mint also thrived in this environment. The density of plants reminded me of a jungle.
I was excited by the prospect of meeting wild game lurking in the forest, so I stayed close behind my guide as we hiked on, yet nothing stirred except a spiraling leaf, and the only sounds were birds' songs.
Pashiet halted in an area of disturbed soil.
"Dug up by wild pig family," he said with a big smile.
Further on, his tall, thin body swayed forward as he dipped the point of his spear into a plate-sized, 3-inch-high mess.
"Fresh buffalo dung," he said.
Rustling leaves in nearby bushes placed him on full alert since Cape buffalo are actually one of the most dangerous animals to surprise in the bush. We waited for a few moments before the sounds diminished into the distance. We continued uphill and came upon huge elephant footprints. Pashiet pointed to a smoothed area in the gully running alongside the path.
"Elephant skidded down here and climbed out over there," he explained with a laugh.
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