Friday, June 1, 2007

last day in Kenya

Our last day in Kenya. We are ready to go home, I think, and none of us are looking forward to the trip...

We spent the morning doing last minute shopping at Baboo's - a friend of Stanley's who has a nice craft store. Lunch at Java House and a "Coke Light" (Kenya equivalent of Diet Coke). Frantic packing. It was funny, because I had had a cold coffee drink AND a Coke, and I was wired up. My friends were teasing me -- I couldn't find things and then I had to pack and unpack to find them. It was pretty OCD on my part I guess.

We had dinner at HEART and loaded up, then we were off to pick up Stanley and on to the airport. Stanley will be in Nairobi for a few more days. He tries to make more connections for Tumaini everytime he goes.

What can you say about a 32 hour trip home? 8.5 hours to Heathrow, 5 hr layover, 10.5 hrs to Cali. I felt wrecked. I will give kudos to Virgin Atlantic however. Very nice flight, good entertainment (lots of movies), they fed you every so often, and came around with water and juice at least once an hour which really helped with the dehydration that usually bothers me on the plane. About half way through the flight, I said to one of my friends, "Just shoot me now..." I did the reverse of the jetlag program going out. We slept a few hours from Nairobi to Heathrow, and then stayed awake until Los Angeles (with some difficulty). (Later note -- it actually worked pretty good. I was a little tired the first week, but did not nap at all. I still slept alright and did not wake up at all wierd hours).

At least when we got home, it was smooth sailing through customs and Ron (Laureen's husband) was soon there to pick us up in the new Pathway bus! It felt good to be riding on the right (literally) side of the road again. We were home by 6 p.m.

I was high for days and I still can't stop talking about the trip. Ask me a question and I can go on for hours. When we visited Texas, I talked about the trip for two hours the first time I met Laura's boyfriend Juan Pablo. He's a traveler, so he seemed to appreciate my enthusiasm -- thanks JP for your tolerance...

And thanks again to all those who have followed my journey and to those who contributed to my "special need" fund. Who knew it was going to be education for two very special young people? We were thinking goats when I went...God had different plans -- I was blessed to be an "instrument of his peace." My prayer always.


last day of the Mara

5/2/07 - early!
Very early rising again, 6:30 a.m. and we were off - this time off to the border with Tanzania and the edge of the Serengeti Plain. The Masai Mara is the Kenyan continuation of this famous wildlife area. As we left the lodge, several Japanese tourists were getting ready to go on a balloon ride - we were told it was $300 per person!

We saw more beautiful animals this morning - my favorites, the giraffes in the sunrise light, two Secretary birds in the tops of the tree, and for a special treat, the "Helmeted Guinea Hen Jogging Club" out for their morning run. A group of about 10 of these large ground birds (like a large partridge) were running in front of the Land Cruiser and would not fly. Alex was following them pretty closely but they were not ABOUT to give up the road. You could see little puffs of dirt fly out from under their feet. Very cute. We also saw Maribou storks and a bat eared fox - a little guy with HUGE ears.

We ended up at the west gate of the park and a mile or so beyond was the border with Tanzania -- not a soul there, so we walked across for a minute and back again -- and of course took pictures.
Riding back, I couldn't get enough of the view all around us. I stood up the entire drive back - I just wanted to drink it in and remember everything. I was starting to become aware of the end of the trip approaching.

Breakfast, packing, and then a long wait for the plane. We said good bye to our friends, Joel and Ole Kuya, who again asked us to write to them. I asked Joel if he would like me to ask for a blessing on his family and he beamed and said yes, so I prayed for his little family's peace and continued health and welfare.

The trip back was uneventful and we were met by the rest of our group - after lunch in Nairobi, we returned to HEART. The afternoon was spent frantically repacking and weeding out items to give to Paul to take back for anyone who wanted them in Masii -- several of us had WAY too much stuff (myself included) and I sacrificed several items for the space I needed to pack.

In the evening we went to Carnivore, a restaurant that specializes in exotic meat in addition to regular barbeque-on-a-spit type items. The exotic meats for the evening were ostrich meat balls (very good) and crocodile. Now, some people I know have tried croc and liked it, but to me it tasted just like the smell from the bottom of a fish tank when you clean it out. Nasty. One bite, that was it.

And that was it for the day. I had had it. My stamina was definitely waning by this time. Three mornings in a row up at 5:30 a.m. didn't help either. The lights were out when we got back to HEART, so we all crashed early.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

late afternoon game ride

5/1/07 -- late afternoon

We met up with Alex about 3:30 and off we went in yet another direction! This time to the hippo river. On the way we saw Ostriches (another die happy moment for me), more Grant's gazelles, Crowned Plover, large herds of Thompson's gazelles, a solitary hyena and a pair of mongoose (mongeese?). The Lilac-breasted Roller is one of the most beautifully colored birds we saw, with a patch of lilac, obviously, but also with turquoise blue wings that flash when it flies - stunning.
We also saw a mom warthog with a baby, running along with their little skinny tails in the air. This of course inspired a song from Kerry -- "I'm a little warthog, short and stout, here is my tail and here is my snout!" which became the theme song of the day...

The hippos were just hanging out in the river -- they seemed to be snoozing...they would float up and down in the water, and we never saw much more than their backs and noses. They are mostly nocturnal. The hippo river was one of the few places in the park that tourists are allowed to get out of the vehicles - so of course we took a picture. I nearly fell out of the vehicle when we got out at the lodge, my foot slipped on the step and I ended up with one foot in the van and the other about 3 feet down on the ground. Good thing I have long legs.
Dinner is late -- after everyone returns from their excursions. Tonight Tom awed us all with his dessert -- a big bowl of caramelized bananas in a thick syrup with a big chunk of bread pudding on top. The man can eat.
Norm and Gloria saw a huge owl in the tree at night.
Full moon tonight over the Mara. Wow! What a place.

Maasai culture

5/1/07 -- afternoon

After lunch, we met with Ole Kuya (also known as Charles -- his English name) who gave a very interesting hour and a half lecture on Maasai culture. There was way too much to write about here and many books have been written about their culture, but here are some interesting points:
  • The Maasai believe that they were put on earth by God with their cattle, which are a sacred part of their culture and very important to them. They believe that all the cattle in the world belong to them. I was showing Joel some of the pictures I had taken in Masii, and showed him a picture of a Brahma cow, and he goes "hmmm, nice cow..." -- I loved it.
  • They have migrated from northern Kenya to the south over many years, due to pressure from other people groups and colonists, most of them are now in the south of Kenya and the northern part of Tanzania
  • Maasai "warriors" are a certain age group of young men (I think about age 15-22, approximately) who do not cut their hair for seven years and during that time, spend most of it herding the cattle and "learning to be men" as Ole Kuya says. After this period of time, they "graduate" in a huge ceremony and become "young elders" who are then allowed to cut their hair and marry. Joel was a "young elder."
  • First marriages are always arranged by the fathers of the young men and women. Men may have more than one wife and the group practices male and female circumcision. Joel said to me that he is only going to have one wife now that he is a Christian. Ole Kuya says that you have to have many cows to be able to have additional wives. The Kenyan State is fighting against the practice of female circumcision.
  • Their religion is monotheistic, based on a system of sacrifices. It seems that this is why Christianity is appealing to the Maasai -- the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God makes a lot of sense to them. Joel says that there are many churches in his area.

Both Joel and Ole Kuya went to a local town to go to school for primary, but left at about sixth grade as far as I could tell. They are both very well spoken and extremely intelligent, but have not been exposed to much of the outside world. They both read and write English very well and asked us to write to them. I have not yet had an opportunity to write but hopefully will soon. These two young men were one of the most interesting and unexpected joys of the trip.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

EARLY game ride

5/1/07 - early morning

Last night, after dinner, Joel and about 7 or 8 of his Maasai warrior buddies came to the lodge to chant and jump. These guys can jump 18 inches to two feet off the ground from a flat footed stand. They were great. Afterwards, we talked to another warrior, Ole Kuya (son of Kuya), who told us a lot about Maasai culture -- he gives a daily lecture about Maasai culture. We said that we would come tomorrow. He and Joel told us that all the chanting and jumping was developed when they were still raiding other groups of Maasai for their cows, they were egging each other was a kick.

After we were done last night, Alex said, we'll leave tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. That meant we needed to get up at 5:30 a.m. Ohhh. I did not sleep well the first night, either. Coffee was the first item on my agenda.

Once we were out, though, it was gorgeous and beautiful. This morning, we headed in a different direction, towards a little plateau (or a pla-too, as the Kenyans call them) -- we saw giraffes (lots), zebras (more) and a lone wildebeest hanging out with the gazelles. He must have been left behind because in June and July, they have huge herds of wildebeest that migrate from Tanzania. I guess it is really an astounding sight, and many people go up in the hot air balloons to watch them. Apparently many Americans come in those months to see the migration. According to Alex, this is a bit of the "off "season, but you could have fooled me. We still saw huge numbers of all different types of animals...Today we saw many elephants all day long -- there was a small herd of different ages that hung out around the elevated boardwalk area -- Norm was fascinated and spent most of his time out there before we went out again in the afternoon. Other animals and birds this morning -- dik dik (a very small gazelle), Grant's gazelles, Gray-crested Crane, Yellow-throated Longclaw (like a meadowlark), Egyptian goose, Wattled Plover and the Lappet-faced Vulture (very ugly).

We also saw an interesting tree with large sausage-shaped fruit hanging off it, apparently the locals make beer from these pods. I don't think the giraffes like them, because they are not eaten up to giraffe neck level like the acacia trees are (the "lollipop" trees). Alex also told us a lot about Kenyan politics -- the current president is very popular because he has made elementary school free for everyone. He also says that most Kenyans like Americans -- we certainly have felt welcome here.

We finally returned to a great breakfast (as all the meals were). I learned more Swahili -- "Asante sana" means thank you very much and "Caribou sana" means you're welcome, very much!

While we were looking for the hippo in the pool at the "Hippo Bar", Joel and Ole Kuya came to find us. We found that they really enjoyed talking with us and when we were just "hanging out", they would show up! I think many of the tourists treated them as "exhibits" but we were all very interested in them as people and they in us. They mentioned that they really did not like all the posing for pictures so I only took one of them (see above) -- they were enjoying Gloria's MP3 player -- Ole Kuya (on the left) wanted her to send him one! They really liked the Latino music she had and were fascinated by the whole thing. They had never heard most of the different kinds of music she had on her player.

Kerry was teaching them American idioms, expressions such as "I could eat a horse!" and "I'm stuffed!" and I told them about "Out of the frying pan, into the fire!" for getting oneself into worse trouble than you are already in, they liked that one as I guess it made sense to them.

Another meal! Lunch! I'm starting to feel like the lioness in that picture!

First game ride

4/30/07 - afternoon

Alex picked us up for our afternoon game ride and off we went -- we went on a total of four different trips to different areas of the park and saw something different every time.

The Land Cruiser has a "pop top" which was great for standing up and looking out of. Alex had great eyes and could see an animal at several hundred yards. He was an excellent driver and guide. When he found out that I was also interested in the birds, he started stopping to point birds out. The others weren't prepared for all the bird life -- it had not really occurred to them that there would be so much -- we saw hornbills, bustards and vultures, Secretary birds, pintail Whydah, Lilac-breasted rollers, Snake Eagle, you name it we saw it...I was in heaven. By the end of the first ride, my friends were starting to understand the bird "wow" factor and why I enjoy them as much as the large animals.

We saw plenty of big animals too - elephants, giraffes topi, impala, Thompson's gazelles, Lions and a cheetah. Jackals. The cheetah was the best story. We were watching a big old bull elephant when Alex said '' look at the black spot" -- it was a cheetah's head, about 200 yards away. We casually drove away from the other group of vans and Land Rovers and drove up to within a few feet of him, he just chilled for a while then casually stood up and took off. After I saw the cheetah, I made some remark about the fact that I could "die happy" so of course everyone wanted to know when that was going to be...ha

The animals are not afraid of people, since they have a very strict code and rules for the vans and drivers. No one is allowed out of the vehicles except in a very few places. Any one found walking can be shot on the spot (discourages poachers) and no one is allowed to yell or throw anything at the animals. They basically didn't care if we were there or not.

We stayed out until it was almost dark, the moon came up as the sun was going down. It was gorgeous.

It just about killed me that Bill couldn't be there. He would have loved it.

Masai Mara

4/30/07 - morning

Before I went to Kenya I had no idea about what a safari entailed...I figured we might see a few animals. I bought a Kenya bird book, just in case. I really wasn't prepared for the "Mara" as they call it in Kenya. It is a National Wildlife Preserve in Kenya at the northern end of the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania -- not that big of an area but oh my, what a place!

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. on Monday morning - a bird was singing beautifully in the night. I never did see what it was, but I didn't go back to sleep, either. I finally got up and got dressed and went downstairs to email home -- 40 minutes to log on, read email, send one email to family and that was it. Slow, slow, slow. Boy are we spoiled by high speed internet. After breakfast, we were off to the airport -- Joseph was there at 7:30 sharp and it took us nearly an hour to get to the airport. Only six of us are going on this part of the trip, Norm, Kerry, Gloria, Tom and Teri and myself. As I told several of my friends before I left, I couldn't go to Africa and not see large ungulates (biologist joke -- I think I used it before, oh well, too bad).

The plane was a small "Twin Otter" type, about 14 seats, you nearly had to double in half to get on. Gloria and I sat in the back row, by the door. Kerry climbed into the seat next to the pilot. Now, my sister's ex-husband was a pilot and they had a small plane when I was a little girl, and we went on many excursions -- for some reason, I feel very secure in a small plane, flying doesn't seem such an affront to nature as the big planes are, but Teri and Gloria were not as sanguine about the trip as I was. As we took off, I noticed that Gloria was hyperventilating (first step to a panic attack) and I told her to take some deep breaths and she did pretty well after that. The trip was uneventful, beautiful views of the Rift Valley and small villages on the plain.

The duty free shop and the airport terminal were quaint to say the least, a couple of shacks in the middle of nowhere (I will add my pictures if I can find them) -- we were met by Alex, our driver, who was another one who was "one" with his vehicle, a 10 passenger Toyota Land Cruiser.

We drove a few minutes to Keekorok Lodge -- one of the first safari lodges built in the area -- a truly beautiful place, were dropped off and instructed by Alex to be back out front by 4 pm. Well, we settled into the rooms and since it wasn't time for lunch yet, we went for a walk around the grounds. There is a marshy area to the west of the compound (which has no fence by the way, more about this later), which has a raised walkway, and several seating areas, where you can relax and observe animals. I had taken a picture of a giraffe taking a snooze under an acacia tree within a few minutes of arriving, and there was a beautiful impala close by.
A few minutes later, Gloria comes up with none other but a Maasai warrior in tow. His name is Joel Moseka Ole Nchoe (Ole Nchoe means "son of Nchoe" - his father's name). Moseka is his Maasai name and Joel is his Christian name. We had found a Maasai warrior who had converted to Christianity a year ago and wants to be a preacher -- he works at the Lodge to earn money so he can go back to school. A girl who visited the lodge gave him a Bible and he read it and decided this was the truth. He's 26, married to a girl named Mary, and has two sons, 2 yrs old and 1 yr old. And he has an email address! We thoroughly enjoyed talking to him, and he was very interested in where we were from and what we were doing in Kenya. We told him about our trip to see the children and he was very moved by their plight -- we found out later that AIDS is not common among the Maasai, because they do not usually go out from their own tribe, but he identified with the orphans since many children and their parents die from malaria. The lodge hired him to keep away the wild animals -- he carries his stick and club with him all the time. He wore many bracelets and chokers and a special one that his wife had made for his wedding. He finally said goodbye for now as it was lunchtime, but we would see him many times in the next two days.

The walk and the small copse of trees by the boardwalk are also home to a troop of vervet monkeys. We were warned not to get too close and to never have any food on us, as they will attack. I watched a few of them play.

Lunch and as a matter of fact, all the meals were more like a cruise ship than a lodge. It was a nice change from the sameness of chapatis and stew from last week, but the excess was a bit much. I really enjoyed the fruit and vegetables though...Norm had a big was good. Kerry usually had cheese and crackers and had trouble getting the right amount -- either there was too much cheese and not enough crackers or vice versa -- it always entailed another trip to make it turn out even!

We relaxed until it was time for our afternoon game ride.