Place of cold

Pedro figured he'd sleep with the leopards our first night at Lake Paradise. Photo by David Lansing.

The name Marsabit means “place of cold” in the local language and last night it certainly lived up to that moniker. After traveling for so long through the Kaisut Desert, it’s hard to get used to being up here in this cloud forest, even though our camp elevation is only about 4,200-feet, which is 2,000-feet lower than we were at Calvin’s safari camp in the Mara-Serengeti.

But the air here is crystal clear and last night we had a hard time tearing ourselves away from the campfire even though we were all so tired that we were mostly silent, just taking in the night sky and listening to the cacophony of yips and growls and shrieks all around us which, Calvin said, were mostly baboons.

“They’re either annoyed that we’ve pitched tent in their private little forest or there’s a leopard nearby. Probably both.”

The night sky was such a riotous extravaganza Pete announced he was going to sleep by the fire, which Calvin had instructed Karani to keep going throughout the night as a way to keep the neighborhood leopard at bay. Fletcher decided to keep Pete company by the fire but the incessant barking of baboons and the cough of a leopard from somewhere up on the cliffs directly above us eventually drove him back into his tent.

Not that a thin layer of ripstop nylon and mosquito netting would do much to prevent a late night visit from a carousing leopard. Despite being exhausted, I had a hard time going to sleep what with the barking of the baboons and the love songs coming from thousands of frogs down in the bog. The frogs and other animals in the bog were so loud that I thought about getting up and searching for some ear plugs, which I knew were buried somewhere in my drop kit, but after awhile it all just became white noise that was as soothing as rain on a roof.

I woke up just before dawn from the sound of Karani pouring a pail of hot water from a sooty aluminum pot into the canvas washbasin set just outside my tent. A low cloud cover hovered over the caldera and a cool breeze rustled the silver gray-green leaves of the trees in the grove. As I ran a steamy wash cloth over my dusty head, I watched massive dark shapes—elephants—come out of the forest on the far side of the bog and tromp slowly through the mud, wondering how they manage to not get stuck in the goo. On the edge of our camp, a troop of baboons kept a watchful eye on me as they foraged in the trees. No doubt this was the same band of miscreants that barked and screamed all night.

Pete, wrapped up in a Maasai shuka, was sitting up in his sleeping bag, looking out at the elephants in the misty morning. I asked him how he slept. Not very well, he admitted. “It gets a little freaky when you hear that leopard getting closer and closer to camp,” he said. “And then I started dreaming about it and you wake up from that and you can’t tell if those noises you hear are real or not. Very freaky.”

Still, you have to give him credit for being the only one to sleep out in the open last night. Even the baboons took cover in the night.