Into the Savana

Longonot volcano. Photo: Niki Yotov

Fun fact about the African male buffalo (told to me by a local ranger): when they are a part of a pack, they have female mates, so for understandable reasons their testosterone levels are regulated and therefore they behave as calmly and safely to humans as cows; however, when a stronger male kicks another male out of the pack, this latter outcast can no longer copulate, so his testosterone (and therefore aggression) reaches such critical levels that he would attack and try to gore any human in sight for no reason other than his sexual frustration.  

“All the Time, God is Good” Photo: Yassen Savov

But the story starts more innocently.  We’re flying with Niki, approaching this huge cup of ancientness called Longonot volcano that’s looming bigger and bigger towards and below us, as the slowness of our aircraft demonstrates its charm and lets us appreciate the fullness of the moment.  Nearing the rim of the cup, we have to decide to which cumulus we’ll go – the one at the left end, or the one at the right end of the cup.  The wind is coming from the left, but the left cumulus is quite far, and also I see no roads in that direction.  So I choose the downwind side, but with a cumulus well within reach and the city only 10-15km away.  Problem is, when we reach the cumulus it’s already dissolving, so we slide down the side of the volcano, zig-zagging in search of some saving lift down, down towards the savana.  I see a dirt road with a big truck driving on it, so I tell Niki on the radio to go land there.  He just says OK, not mentioning then, nor having mentioned earlier, that this is in fact a national park (and this truck happens to be the only one we’ll see all day in the park…).  I see him landing next to a small flock of giraffes, and I follow, landing even closer to them, less than 100m away, as my body cinematically slides below the height of their heads and down the length of their necks, while my canopy stops moving forward at their eye level – so same height, a Zeolite and a giraffe.  

Longonot from afar.  Photo: Niki Yotov

…and zoomed in. Photo: Niki Yotov

Stalling the Zeolite GT to let Niki catch up. Photo: Niki Yotov

A baby volcano on the side of its mother. Photo: Niki Yotov

Stay there, guys! We’re coming! Photo: Niki Yotov

Now they see us. Photo: Niki Yotov

Classy landing. Photo: Niki Yotov

About that national park thing, though… As I walk to Niki, he mentions we are in fact in a park – one that has paid entrance, so we’ll probably be fined for having entered by the air, and, much more importantly, one that has several inhabitant species that can kill us, especially if we don’t get out by dark.  “What!?  Why didn’t you tell me that before?!”  Niki’s too blazé to be impressed by such practial worries, and prefers to enjoy the experience instead.  Picturing all the possible savannian creatures I remember from National Geographic that could devour me, plus the ones Niki mentions that he thinks live specifically in this park (lions, cheetahs, leopards…), I pack my glider as fast as possible and push Niki to walk faster the 7, or 8, or we don’t know (and Niki doesn’t care) how many kilometers we have until the fence, but I soon realise he won’t force himself to hurry much, plus the place really is gorgeous, and there are big vegetarian animals everywhere around is, and no vehicles, no tourists, no noise, only the big savanna and the one dirt road we keep sporadically touching while ecstatically drifting off into the endless grasses to its left and to its right, towards this flock of animals and then to that one, checking out this species and then that one and then another, and so on and so on, so very soon I also relax and start enjoying the experience with my friend.  It’s my first time in the savanna and I am genuinely struck, it’s the real thing, and as far as we can see we are the only people in it – walking with our paragliders, smiling, laughing, and now only vaguely hoping not to become the lunch for the odd carnivore who may be hiding who knows where.  


“This is It!” Photo: Niki Yotov

Photo: Niki Yotov

But then the clouds on both sides of us start overdeveloping, and so we have storms closing on both sides, but Niki is convinced they won’t reach us, and instead of heeding to my begging to hurry just a little bit, he stops and lies on the grass, soaking up the sun that’s beaming at us in between the storms, soaking up the moment.  OK, I can do the same then.  And it does feel damn good.

Photo: Yassen Savov 

Photo: Niki Yotov

Back to those buffalo.  Turns out the big cats only tend to hunt at night, so not much danger there.  But those sexually frustrated buffalo can kill you any time of the day they wish – they would ambush you from behind a tree, then they’d attack you and just keep going at you, and if they see that there’s a tree which you could possibly reach to climb to, they would run to that tree and attack you from there!  Second-most-dangerous animal in Africa only behind the hippo, turns out.  When we reach the gate, the rangers there tell us that a buffalo killed a worker in the park a week ago and only yesterday injured another worker, so the rangers had to kill it just hours before our visit.  Excellent timing!

Photo: Yassen Savov

Photo: Niki Yotov

Anyway, after a couple of hours of the best walk of my life, we reach the gate of a farm and there is a worker there and a small refuge-kind-of-shack, and, seeing the two storms closing in on both sides tightly now, we decide to wait there for our Kenyan friend and guardian angel, Isaac, who now has our location and will be trying to get into the gate and drive to us to pick us up.  First though comes the same truck that we saw from the air, now loaded with sand excavated from somewhere in the park, which apparently will be used for making concrete for some construction, and they pick us up and on the sand pile we ride to the gate, where Isaac is waiting for us and that’s where we hear of the buffalo story and, maaan, are we glad he didn’t spend his sexual frustration on us.  

Hitchhiking with the only truck seen all day.  Photo: Yassen Savov“See you next year, Longonot!”  Photo: Niki Yotov