A Travel Story in Poems by Madeline Sharples
We went on Safari in the fall of 2013.
Preparing to Go
Even while I am on the elliptical
reading my New Yorker I wonder:
should I add more shirts?
should I pick out some silver jewelry?
do I need a pair of high heels?
While my Pilates trainer
says my form is excellent,
I visualize the piles of shirts, pants,
undies, jackets on the sofa,
shoes scattered on the floor,
and stuff bought
especially for this Kenya and Tanzania trip:
insect repellent, bite itch eraser,
and a new camera
with built in telescopic lens.
Even while I do my last stretches
I know I have more to do:
put my toiletries in travel containers,
get out my contact lens solutions,
lay out my travel clothes.
At least I distributed
my vitamins into separate baggies,
picked everything up at the cleaner,
and finished the last load of laundry.
Yet still weighing on my mind is
how much everything weighs.
Will we be able to board
those small planes in Africa
at or under the allowed poundage –
a measly thirty-three pounds?
A young person greets us at the airport
in a light blue and red dress
and hair in long tight braids
tied at the back of his neck.
So many beads in primary colors
adorn his head, neck, wrists, and fingers,
at first I think he is a girl.
No, he is our driver
in Kenya’s Samburu district.
Boni is also a tracker.
He looks for footprints
on the bumpy red dirt roads
and fresh dung that indicates
which animals last visited.
Every once in a while
he takes out his monocular
to check in and under the trees,
and relies on his short-wave radio
for sighting news from other safari drivers.
When one spots elephant
or giraffe family,
about twenty drivers race
their Safari clients over
to click and gawk.
The Cheetah sits
on its haunches
in the leafy shelter
of a fallen tree.
Thin black streaks like tears
line both sides of his mouth
While his large mournful eyes
with bright yellow centers
rimmed with orange
lookout for prey.
He turns his head
back and forth,
glancing quickly past us.
We are not what he wants for supper.
Herds and Prides
The cold pouring rain
does not stop the herds
of zebra, wildebeests, and other antelopes
– hartebeests, gazelles, topi,
tiny dik-dik, oryx, and impala
running gracefully and effectively
to escape our busy camera.
But the prize was the pride of five lions.
It didn’t matter that the cigar smoking braggart
informed us this evening
he saw 51 unique lions today,
making light of our success.
Masai Mara Cultural Center
Benson greets us outside the fence
in a red dress and beads
around his waist, neck and arms.
$20 please, he said, for each,
then led us in to share
a bit of his culture with us.
The children in western attire
the older folks in full regalia
sang and danced, and
put beads on us so we could join in.
Later we stepped inside a mud house
with a simmering fire on the floor.
In the kitchen area flanked by two beds
I wondered how this family could breathe.
But this home owner is so proud
of her space: low benches, a row of pots and pans
and two hard sleeping mats,
she latched the door
and locked it with a padlock when we left.
Zebra and wildebeest
march toward the Mara River
for their biannual crossing
in their quest for more water.
Hundreds of them come in long straight lines.
And as they get to water’s edge
they stop, look.
A few take the chance
and swim to the other side,
outracing the waiting crocodiles.
The others discuss
in shriek-y honks about when
and at which point to go.
Even though they don’t speak
the same language
heads nod in agreement
as they walk en masse in one direction
then to the other,
deciding which is the safest spot
to outwit the crocs
getting ready for their dinner.
A few zebras,
the nominal leaders,
step toward water’s edge.
They turn, they walk back and forth,
back and forth, and the others follow.
They return to starting point one
and outmaneuver the crocs again.
On the Savannah
Few trees populate this dry pale
land mass, called the Savannah.
The bumps we bounce upon
just trails made by wheels
digging into the porous ground.
across our path as we approach,
in our safari jeep.
The winds and rain
blow in as we
look from side to side
for animals, birds, termite mounds.
All safari roads are not alike
yet, they all lead us
to beauty, beasts, and
a chance sighting
of a mother rhino and her calf.
Lions in the Tree
We found four docile lions
in a little dell
high up on the tree
so relaxed to pay us any heed.
They looked like they didn’t have
a care in the world.
Or had they just come back
from a kill,
exhausted from tearing
their prey apart,
eating their fill, and leaving
the rest to the vultures.
No wonder they looked content.
They’ve done their day’s work,
and all that is left
is a big long nap.
on this last day of Safari.
I’ve seen more animals and birds
than I ever dreamed of – more
than Noah could ever board in his ark.
The geography varied
in each place we visited
from bumpy hills
with bare trees in Samburu,
a vast plain with little vegetation
called the Savannah in the Masai Mara,
rolling greens covered with dense rocks
and thunderstorms every evening on the Serengeti,
dust and hot dry air in Lake Manyara,
and now at our last place, Ngorongoro,
windblown red dusty soil covers
me inside and out.