Training

Training

22nd May

Having pets inside a conservancy isn’t for the faint-hearted, I’m not sure how so many people do it unless they are permanently on edge like I am or they are the bloody dog whisperer.
I’ll be honest dog walks aren’t relaxing, clearing your head, de-stressing from the day, enjoyable moments they used to be. They are in fact the opposite, they are the stressful moments of my day. Still, if that’s all the stress I have at the moment in these difficult covid times then I have no right to complain.
In the spirit of not complaining, just merely explaining… Yesterday we had an incident involving Rafa (and even Roo go caught up in the action) and some sheep which wasn’t very pleasant… let’s just say Rafa will not be off the lead again for a very long time.
As a result, today I went straight back on the training with full force and went on our morning walk equipped with Rafa on a long rope and harness, Roo on her retractable lead and a treat bag full of meat! Once Rafa knew I had meat with me he was (momentarily) all ears. We were practising ‘leave it, look at me’ which is supposed to be a way to distract them when they become alert to something which they can chase. The idea being they then forget about the chase and you can continue your walk in a calm state. It does of course require impeccable timing, catching them just as their ears prick forward but before they have locked eyes on the target.  Something which I discovered is very difficult when you have two dogs. Should you manage to avert their attention and get them to look at you, you then have to award them with a treat quick enough so that they don’t lose interest and go back to the chase. While thumbing for a treat to award the one dogs attention you do have, you are also struggling to stay upright as the other dog is giving you rope burns (guess which dog this is) as you didn’t manage to get his attention and he is still trying to chase the poor unsuspecting dik-dik. Getting the dogs to ‘look at me’ throughout the rest of the walk most of the time involved me waving some meat in front of their face and crouching directly in front of them to block their line of vision so they had no choice but to look at me, then rewarding them generously for forced eye contact. Think trying to talk to your boyfriend while Football/Rugby/insert sport here, is on the TV and thanking them profusely for taking 2 minutes out of the match to take their cup of tea from your hand.
The other element of training on the agenda, which has been on the agenda for about 6 years (guess how old Rafa is) is recall. Again the meat treats came in handy here but they were not always tempting enough to convince Rafa to come back. This is where the rope comes in, if they choose to ignore you, you are supposed to start reeling them in until they decide to come to you ‘of their own accord’. All very well except the harness, with the attachment on Rafa’s back, isn’t the best tool for this. When trying to reel him in he is pulled by his back instead of leading his head, as you would if it was attached to his collar. Commence Rafa trotting in sideways dressage style like a not so posh pony. Otherwise, twisting, hopping and skipping trying to get get the tangled rope out from under his belly, around his legs and under his tail. I am frequently getting stuck one arm on either side of tree trunks, legs tangled up with ropes and leads and spinning around in an attempt to not restrict myself straight jacket style, arms crossed in front, dog pulling either side. I feel if someone was to record our training sessions they would be used as the ‘how not to do it’ examples.
Disclosure: I am (clearly) by no means a dog training expert, yes my dogs can sit, lie down and give me their paw for a treat (Roo can even play dead when shot) but all of my training knowledge comes from youtube videos and good old Caesar. I would not advise you to try to replicate my training methods. In fact, if anyone has any advice or tips for me I would welcome them with open arms!
This evening was an equally unrelaxing walk, a repeat of rope burns, tangles, forced eye contact and bribes but with the added extra of fading light and Duma appearing behind us merrily trotting along at the point furthest from the house.
Duma then casually strolled behind us at her own steady pace, frequently stopping mid-track to stare alertly into the thicket. In contrast to trying to break her stare as I had been trying to do with the dogs, I was freaking out and attempting to follow her stare to try and figure out what she was staring at. Duma of course being prey as opposed to the predator I was worried she had seen something that could eat her. I attempted to speed up the pace to get home before dark and to try and avoid the resident leopard in the area. However there was no rushing Duma, it was also impossible to pick her up and hold two dog leads attached to disobedient chasing dogs. We continued on as fast as Duma would allow and managed to get home without any casualties.
I cannot wait for the garden to be finished. In theory, we can then allow duma into the garden and she shouldn’t be able to get out of the new bigger garden. I’m sure she will figure out a way eventually but it’s a start. The poles for the fence are all up and the wire is starting to go in. Charl has uprooted all of the aloes that border the current fence (great for attracting sunbirds to the garden) and we will then pull down the current fence and plant them along the perimeter of the new fence which should be finished in the next couple of days.
I may also have attempted to put paw prints in the concrete by the gate but I was too late ☹️ I remember my brothers and I putting handprints in the concrete at my Nana’s house when we were young.
Training to be continued…
Cat and Dog walk

Cat and Dog walk

19th & 20th May 

 

 

 

 

Today’s walk was slower than usual as we had an extra body with us, Duma decided to join us on our morning stroll, this is not unusual for Duma and something that is definitely needed. Since being an indoor cat she has put on a few pounds so it’s good that she is getting some exercise. It did mean we had to walk significantly slower than usual and less distance but I will take the dogs out again later for a long walk to make up for it.
                                                                                       
 
 
I have moved the blogging party outside today and my loyal dogs are laying calmly next to me while Duma explores the birdbath and bird feeder, so that might be the end of feathery visitors for a while.

 

 
 
 
I spoke to a friend yesterday about someone they know who works in a school in Nanyuki, he used to know her in Mongolia and has given her my number so we can get in contact. Her father also used to work in Lewa so she knows the area so hopefully, that will be a new friend haha. I feel a bit like a schoolchild again trying to make friends but without the opportunities provided at school to actually meet people and get to know them. Usually, when I move somewhere new I start a new teaching job and therefore there is access to potential new friends, I usually try and join a sports club also. Around here though we are a bit in the middle of nowhere so it is difficult to meet people at the moment. There are a few other lodges around which of course will have managers/owners so I think we just need to try and get to know some of them. If anyone else has any friends in the Nanyuki/Lewa area who you think I might get along with feel free to pass on my details! 
 
On the walking front, I am trying new techniques to be able to give the dogs a bit more freedom without actually letting them off the lead. This was the latest idea: 
 
 

 

 
Rafa is basically just on a long piece of rope, it’s not the most technical of leads but it worked ok on the bigger paths but as soon as we get to the smaller footpaths through the bush its a nightmare so I might have to go back to the drawing board on that one. Meanwhile, at home Roo has made the hole in the living room bigger to ensure she can get outside whenever she needs and never gets left behind. 
 
 

 

Whereas Duma is content to lay around on the bed like the queen that she is
 
 
Duma on our bed
 
 
The fence is coming along well and it will definitely be big enough so Roo cannot jump over it. 
 
New fence for the extended garden
 
Front of the house
Sunset at Lewa
 
 
I went on a game drive the other day but we, unfortunately, didn’t see that much except for this beautiful secretary bird, so named because they look like a secretary (of course!) Anyway I’m sure there will be more to see next time, luckily I live here so I will go again another day. Other than that I have been spending a lot of time on my website as I actually want it to be ready and finally online. The target is for it to be up by the end of the month so watch the space on that one! 
 
Sorry for the boring blog but that all I have for you for now haha! 
 
 
 
One word..diarrhea

One word..diarrhea

18th May 

I woke up early today with great plans (ok not that great – just the usual dog run/walk/stumble). However, Roo had made different plans for me. I spent the morning cleaning up Roo’s diarrhea, despite the fact that, as we did discovered just yesterday, Roo can escape any time she wants out of the window (she has figured out how to push open the velcro herself) evidently she did not think that diarrhea was reason enough to escape to be able to do her business outside. Instead she went in no less that 3 our of the 4 rooms (the door to our room was shut). Thus it ensuring that she soiled every room available to her, including 2 of the newly washed carpets. In the long term her not escaping in the middle of the night into the wilderness to do her business is a good thing, as it evaded the very real risk of being eaten by a predator, however when cleaning up 3 rooms of dog poo at 6:30 in the morning, one can’t help but wish she had taken the risk!
 
  
Sorry to keep on the topic of poo, but even Duma, despite now being able to go outside wherever she pleases (except at night) still decided to come back into the house to do her business, but at least she did it in her litter tray.
 
 

Anyway, despite the bad start, it didn’t take long before our day got better. The early morning cool (temperate wise, not status wise) dog walk turned into a later morning, slighter hotter, slow stroll, giving us time to take in our surroundings. A glance to the left along the camp road to see mount Kenya clearly in the distance, a little pause to admire her beauty, and along comes my favourite animal, a giraffe, followed by 2 other adults and a small baby (I just googled what baby giraffes are called – calves apparently) strolling nonchalantly in from of mount Kenya to make the perfect picture to put a smile on my face. Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me so a phone picture/video will have to do for you to get the idea.
 
If you look carefully you will see 3 giraffes

In the afternoon we went for a drive and to a little lunch place on the way to Nanyuki, it was a proper Nyama Choma (grilled meat) joint and I had a delicious Lamb curry and a lot of chips and Charl was very happy to get some decent lamb chops.

 

This place also had a beautiful shop, the type of shop where you want to buy everything in it! Lots of little trinkets and also useful things. It would also be the perfect place to try and stock our prints so we have taken the owner’s number to see if we can get in touch to speak to her about having our prints on display and them getting a commission if they are sold. If that’s not a reason to give me a kick up the arse with editing photos then I don’t know what is.

 
On the way home, we attempted to find the shortcut but took a wrong turn and ended up going the long way through the beautiful forest. Past some ostrich, zebra, oryx, etc every drive is a game drive ?
Duma’s release!

Duma’s release!

 17th May 

This morning I just went for a stroll with the dogs, less stressful for everyone involved. No real animal encounters today. You really have to get up and out before 7:30 to be able to get a decent walk in before it gets too hot. Basically, you have 3 hours to do activity in the morning (depending on what time you wake up) a whole lot of hot day time and then from around 5:30 in the evening its cool enough to exercise, however, as anyone who has been to Africa before will know, it gets very dark very quickly. It’s like someone switching off a light and bam it’s dark and you don’t want to be caught around here in the dark, especially with the animals, you really don’t know what predators might be lurking. Lewa is close to the equator so there will be only a small variation in the weather throughout the year and the sunset time doesn’t really change either. Lewa is cold at night and early in the morning which is actually quite nice, it makes it easy to sleep at night and also allows for cozy fires and cuddles with the cat as she is only nice to us when she wants us for warmth or food ?

Today we decided Duma can be let out, as I said she definitely has some wild cat in her, she is such an outdoors animal it would be cruel to keep her locked up in a house all day, every day. 

She was definitely on the fence about what to do with her newfound freedom: 

 

She spent a lot of time there, not really knowing where to go next… she then decided this was the place to go: 

 

Like a cat on a hot tin roof (sorry I couldn’t resist) she strolled up and over the peak and disappeared off into the distance. I was nervous about letting her just roam around, but I don’t think she really went far, she also decided by 9am it was too hot, and came back inside to lie around in ‘her room’. We have a three-bedroom house and there are just 2 of us, when we first got here Duma was put in one bedroom to get used to this being her new home, that room is now always referred to as Duma’s room, it probably always will be. If you’re planning to come and visit us be prepared for there being a cat in your room, should you dare to choose to occupy ‘Dumas room’

 

Duma in ‘her room’

 

In the afternoon I gave the dogs some freedom to roam around the lawn while I picked up my book for the first time since being here. The dogs ran around playing, sniffing, and chasing small creatures in the bushes before returning to me huffing and puffing, clearly very proud of themselves for protecting me from the mongoose and squirrels.

 

P.S if you want to understand animals and the bush then this is a great book: 

 

 

The Safari Companion (Revised and Expanded)

Click Here to buy 

While the dogs and I sat in the garden Duma decided the next place to go with her newfound freedom was the office to see Charl:

Charl and Duma hard at work.

The time between dog walks (my life at the moment feels a little bit like I’m filling time between dogs walk) was spent on photos. I would love to have typed ‘editing photos’ there but I’m not even at that stage. I’m still at the stage where I am deleting the crap photos and choosing which one of the 20 basically exactly the same photos (dam burst mode) is a teeny tiny bit better than the other 19 and is, therefore, the one I put into another ‘chosen photos’ folder…At this rate, my website will be ready in 2031. 

Charl needed to go for a run this evening so he took one dog and me the other which made life a lot easier! 

 

However, it didn’t take long for the dogs to get tired (after running around on the lawn earlier) so I put them back in the house and took the chance to do my first run without any animals. Running without the animals felt like I had suddenly been released from dragging a tyre behind me (world strongest man style). I felt like I was going so fast and I was able to work up a proper sweat and run without having to stop every 2 seconds. I mean my watch’s statistics definitely didn’t match up to how fast I felt like I was running but it’s all about the perception right? I miss running with my dogs off leads!

Roo apparently also missed it as she suddenly appeared on my run, luckily while I was on the home stretch. She takes after her name, Roo as in Kangaroo can jump the gate in the garden (which I already knew) so I shut her in the house while I was out so I was very surprised to see her next to me. When I got home I discovered that she has found (and made bigger) a small gap between the mosquito netting (we don’t have windows – just canvas and nets for windows in the living room) and the wall and has squeezed through to freedom. 

Gap where Roo escaped


This is very worrying as it means she can also get out at night and who knows what she might run into at night. So now when we are both out, her, and as a consequence poor Rafa also, have to be shut in the kitchen so she cannot escape. 

Luckily the work is starting on the garden tomorrow to make it bigger and the fence and gate higher so eventually I will be able to leave them in the kitchen with access to the garden also! Hopefully, it won’t take too long to build the new fence!

 

Distractions while I try and update the blog

 

Lions and lead free dog walk

Lions and lead free dog walk

15th & 16th May 

Yesterday I made a conscious effort to have proper Kiswahili lessons and realised how many bad habits I have already picked up, the advice from my Mwalimu (teacher) was to ask everyone to speak to me only in Kiswahili so be prepared for lots of miscommunication and misunderstanding! 
 
In the afternoon I joined Daniel the guide on a safari, I sat up front with Daniel in an attempt to absorb all of his information and skills. One thing I definitely need to improve on in order to become a guide is getting eagle eyesight, he literally spotted a lion from miles away from a tiny movement of the lion’s ears flicking flies off. We traversed off-road (also need to improve my 4×4 driving skills) and found the originally spotted lion, plus 8 others including 3 cubs, 3 sub-adults and 3 adult females. It was amazing to be so close to the lions who were so relaxed. One of the adults was ‘bathing’ one of the older cubs while the three young cubs nursed and another adult rolled on her back away from the main pride, taking some ‘me time. 
 
I of course took a million photos and haven’t gotten around to editing them yet (unemployed life is so busy) so they will be added in at a later date. Heres two I couldn’t resist editing:

16th May 

Another run to start the day, I use to word ‘run’ very loosely, its more of a stumble but today 2 dogs and I stumbled 3km so we are slightly improving. It is difficult to run around the camp as there is limited space so to challenge ourselves and we ran the hill down and up from the hide twice, not managing to run all of it both times so that is something to aim for. Both times there was nothing to observe at the hide, but also we didn’t run into any Elephants or Rhinos today so thats a plus. 
 
Today I attempted to work on my website, for those of you who know me well, know that this website has been a LONG time coming, the website is supposed to showcase my photos and allow people to order prints, calendars etc, it has however been in a state of unreadiness for nearly a year now ?
 
It’s a combination of me not knowing anything about designing a website, not having fast enough internet to be able to load everything without wanting to throw the laptop through the window, and there being a million unedited photos on my hard drive, therefore not having them ready to put on the website.  The problem with living in Africa is that whenever you get time off from work you don’t want to sit in front of a computer editing photos, you want to go and explore amazing, wild places and take more photos… and that is how you end up in my predicament. I mean I literally can’t complain, I have been able to explore so many ridiculously amazing places, maybe one day I will sort through my photos and be able to share that beauty with the rest of the world. 
 
Charl got some time away from work in the afternoon so we explored outside the conservancy a little which meant we were finally able to let the dogs off the lead, giving them some much-needed freedom and a chance to run around and use up some energy. There was of course still plenty of goat and cows to chase, something Rafa sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t do… you get a split second to make a dash for his collar when you see his ears prick forward and if you miss that split second he is off! Anyway, it was worth the risk, I would rather he chase goats than lion or giraffe or anything else found in the conservancy. Disclaimer, he doesn’t chase to kill, he just likes the chase. We are working on it with training but at the end of the day dogs like to chase things! 

 

 

We jumped back in the car to get home, again you can see the difference in the dogs, Ruu is just needed and thinks she is a lap dog and all Rafa is interested in is jumping out the window and chasing anything with a pulse!

Duma is beginning to enjoy being a house cat, she basks in the sunlight and meows loudly when she wants food, being in the house all the time allows her to demand food 24-7! 

I’m looking forward to Duma being released into the wild! 
Walking Safari

Walking Safari

14th May 

Today I was joining a guest on their walking safari which I was looking forward to, however it meant a very early rise to be able to walk and feed the dogs before 7am!
 
 
7:00am turned into 7:30am (a mild case of Swahili time) and then we were off. We were brief by the man with the gun, told to walk silently and in single file, never in front of the man with the gun, seems to make sense to me. Immediately out the gate we saw Hartebeest, Impala and Grants Gazelle, who were ‘pronking’ away from us. Pronking is the springing jumps they do where they have all 4 feet in the air simultaneously. 

 

Grants Gazelle pronking
 
We discussed the types of gazelle found in Lewa (not Thompson apparently – due to the type and length of the grass) and then continued our walk. Walking safari are amazing for reasons different to your normal safari;
  • for one you are not stuck in a vehicle, 
  • you get to do some exercise, which is quite difficult on normal safari holidays which usually comprise of light breakfast, game drive, real breakfast, rest, lunch, rest, afternoon tea, game drive, dinner, bed. 
  • you get to take time looking at the little things, including termites, ants, droppings, tracks etc 
  • you learn a lot 
There are of course many other reasons but this isn’t a walking safari advert so I won’t go on. 
 
However I really enjoyed the safari and quickly learnt that should I ever achieve my dream of becoming a guide I have a LOT of learning to do! For example, our guide taught us about intimate social structure of termites, I learnt there is a queen, a drone (who mates with the queen) workers and soldiers within one colony. I learnt that when the Queen can no longer produce offspring she is fed  a special diet to help her, if that doesn’t work she is licked to death by the rest of the colony, its a termite eat termite world out there! We investigated Rhino middens (a place where Rhino go to do their business) and identified if it was a male or female who had been there (males leave kick marks where they kick back their poo to spread it around) and which type of Rhino the midden belonged to, white or black. White Rhino are grazers (eat grass) and black Rhino are browsers (eat from bushed and trees) therefore Black Rhino middens have twigs and stick in their poo and white rhinos don’t. We identify Hyena poo by the colour (white) due to the calcium in the bones it eats as well as various other types of poo by size, shape and texture! Our guide, Daniel knew every name of every tree, what it is used for and its Latin name… I have a lot of studying to do! 
 
A tree that I can’t remember the name of

 

Studying the termite mound (mount Kenya in the background)

 

Mout Kenya
 
We walked to a small waterfall within a cave and studies some rock art which was drawn by Maasai with red ochre many years before (don’t ask me how many years). 
  
Studying the rock art
 
Once through the cave we came out the other side of the valley and started heading back to camp. The walk was about 2 hours and I returned home to try and do some training with the dogs and have some breakfast. 
 
 
In the afternoon we went for sundowners and saw all the cars (the guest go on safari before the sundowners, while the staff set up the bar and chairs etc) stopped on the road at the bottom of the hill. They all came through eventually after excitedly telling us about the 3 lion cubs within eye sight of us, needless to say when we tried to go see them after sundowners they were gone ? Oh well, plenty of time for lion cubs in the future. 
 
sundowners set up

Another thing I will need to learn about if I wish to become a guide is the star constellations and I also want to learn how to photography starts at night, although I am quite impressed by my phones ability…