Category Archives: Africa
I travel because I love to travel. I love planes and trains. I even love airports.
I am a travel blogger because I love to write. Hopefully you love to read what I write. That is the only reason I have a blog at all, because I really like the idea that someone, somewhere is reading what I write. I do not sell ads on my blog and never will. If you want commercials, go watch TV.
In the course of my travels, some of the adventures I have been on were so unusual, or so adventurous, that I actually earned a “diploma” for taking the trip. I was cleaning up my office for the first time since the invention of the internet and I ran across these four diplomas. I want to share them with my faithful readers, and of course tell you a short story about each one. So grab a beer and read on, please.
Prudhoe Bay is 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. I spent 13 wildly prosperous months there. Yes, I was working for an oil company. I was young, I was greedy and I needed to make money to pay for my University education. It was a place of extremes. Not only an extreme salary, but depending on the season, either 24 hours of complete darkness or complete sunlight. I worked 84 hour weeks, 40 at my normally high wage, 40 at time and a half and 4 at double time. I lived in a construction camp where every thing was provided and I had no expenses. The money in my savings account piled up like the snow drifts in January. In the summer, after work, I fished the Sagavanirtok river and caught very large Arctic Char. In the winter I saw wild polar bears. In the spring I watched a three day migration of caribou. The tundra was alive with birds and flowers, or dead with ice and snow. And the Aurora Borealis, wow. When you are 250 miles inside the arctic, the northern lights do not appear on the horizon oh no. They are right above your head and they fill the sky. They make special patterns and the colors seem to chase each other across the your complete field of vision.
But the most amazing thing I saw there was TWO SUNS. One spring morning I was driving between sites when the sun rose about 10:30. I was pleased to see it, because there had been no sun for months that winter. Then, slightly to the west, rose a second sun. I was flabbergasted enough to come to a quick stop and stare. Just to be sure I was not completely losing my mind, I got on the radio and asked “ahh, does anyone else see two suns right now?” The answer I got was “Get off the radio Cheechako, that is a sundog” A cheechako is not nice term for a tenderfoot in the arctic, and a sundog is an atmospheric phenomenon that reflects the sunlight. But for a brief moment, I thought the world had changed forever.
In short it was a great choice I made to go there.
The Nasca lines are, as far as I am concerned, proof that ancient civilizations were visited by extra-terrestrials. These lines cannot be seen from ground level. They are very large. The only way ancients could have made them is if they were guided from the air. The only reason to make them is to guide or welcome ETs upon arrival.
This was an extremely magnificent experience. It is the first one I was able to blog about, and if you go back in my blog and choose Nepal, (or just clickhere) you can find many photos of this flight. I will forgo any further descriptions here. Go back and read the post. Suffice to say the flight is worth the trip to Kathmandu!
Again, I covered this adventure in my blog. In fact, I made 7 posts and put up many photos. You can see them here. So, no need to say more here, navigate to the proper posts and get as good a vicarious experience as you can.
Thanks for reading and letting me brag. These diplomas mean more to me than My University degree. Tell a freind, and share on FB!
There are two very strict rules to adhere to when you trek into the gorillas.First, if you have as much as a cold,you are not welcome to go. Second, you are supposed to stay 7 meters awy from them. This second rule is impossible to follow, because these guys come right up to you. They are not afraid of humans anymore. The tourists arrive about the same time everyday and I honestly think that they regard us as some sort of a protecting force.
Many more of my gorilla photos can be seen here.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please tell a friend and share.
Wait…what happened to chapter seven? Well folks, chapter 7 will be all about the actual visit to the gorillas. I am making you wait for it because I had to wait for it for such a long time. At least you are not bouncing around in a lumber truck. Do this math…16×24=384. 384 hours, most of them in less t han comfortable conditions for ONE hour with the gorillas. Yes, a once in a lifetime trip. Been there, done that and I have the t-shirt. You only have to read one more post to get the photos.
Now I always try to show bizzare restroom signs. Here are two I found near Lake Elizabeth
The next post will take us into Rwanda, where the Intrepid truck throws a drive train bushing in the middle of nowhere. Stay tuned.
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Once again I thank Intrepid travel for helping cross-off an item I did not even know existed on my bucket list. Come to think about it, two items. Source of the Nile and a new booze.
Thanks for reading, share with a friend. Make a comment, please.
Lake Nakura National Park is also home to 420 species of magnificent birds. Scroll back in my blog posts to June of last year and find many photos of beautiful birds.
Here it is, from a year ago.
This was a well thought out and informative day in the trip by Intrepid!
Stay tuned for more, including the source of the Nile and gorillas.
Tell a friend and share on Facebook! Asante san.
A while back, Travel Bloogers Unite and Intrepid Travel announced a contest to go on a Safari in Africa to, among other things, trek into the jungle and see the Mountain Gorillas. These are the giant gentle critters that were brought to the world’s attention by Dian Fossey.
I entered the contest and somehow, maybe I was the only person who entered, I won.
This was a 16 day safari through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and back. I had taken a wonderful safari exactly a year prior and I could not imagine that Africa had changed much, but I wanted to see the gorillas. So I accepted and signed on.
I must say that being I had won this trip and I was a guest of Intrepid Travel, I want to be nice. I want to be gracious. I’ll try, but this is after all an IRREVERENT TRAVEL BLOG. So I am going to tell it as I saw it. Please be aware this was my first and only experience with Intrepid, so pardon my ignorance.
First I want to deal with the name of the company INTREPID TRAVEL. Intrepid can be defined as audacious, brave, dauntless, and unfearing. Intrepid Travel is none of the above, except at times audacious. I’ll cover this audacious thing a few times in following posts. For now let me say that when I was young, I traveled in a much more intrepid manner. I went where I wanted, when I wanted to with no agenda except being sure I was back at University when classes started. When I set out I had a few destinations in mind, but transportation and lodging were all adhoc.
When you travel with Intrepid, every moment of every day is professionally planned out for you, using years of experience a a guideline. Where you are going, what you will eat, what you will see and where you will sleep are pre-ordained and as sacred as scripture to a Baptist. That is not really a complaint. It is very convenient for most people. Please remember, this was my first experience with Intrepid and I am certainly not too proud to say I am ignorant of the other thousand trips they offer.
The adventure started with the hotel Intrepid assigned us to upon our arrival in Nairobi. I will not say much about it except that I gave it the lowest level review possible on Tripadvisor. It felt great to vent my spleen there, I will resist doing it for my faithful readers here.
The group met for the first time on Sunday night before our Monday departure. We introduced ourselves to each other and ponied up the per-person US$1250 kitty. Very cute of Intrepid to call this a kitty. What it really is is the second half of the cost of the trip. You pay the first half when you register and that is nonrefundable. That was the part I won. The trip notes clearly stated that they would not accept anything other than US$, and only in currency minted after 2003. Well, one of my hundred dollar bills was minted in ’96, and I figured, they cannot be too serious. They were. They would not accept it. Nor, as it turns out would it pass muster anywhere in Kenya.
As the group started the self intros, “hi, my name is…” stuff, one guy immediately started in on what I would learn to be an incessant urge to prove he was the smartest person on the trip. He told us all that he had convened with the world’s leading authority on tropical diseases and that we should all be taking one of three malaria medicines. I have been in malaria regions enough to know that if you are paranoid, use a lot of deet.
The group went to have dinner together, in the hotel restaurant. People compared travel notes and expectations for our safari. When someone asked me why I was there I said that I had won the trip, and all I wanted to see were the gorillas. “What about the game drives, all the animals?’ someone asked. “Been there done that, bring on the gorillas” was my response.
The average age of people on Intrepid trips is 36. This trip was probably right in that neighborhood. The oldest was a 77 year old woman from New Zealand, who by the end of the safari I rated as the heartiest of the bunch.
We somehow got a good night’s sleep. The next morning we met at “the truck”. I was only half surprised, the trip notes DID say it was truck, not a bus,
Please do not be discouraged about reading the next chapters of this trip. In all, it was a wonderful experience, definitely outside my normal way of traveling, so any snide comments or cheap jokes I make are just me being irreverent. Intrepid is a very professional organization, and I thank them.
Please read on. When I take you with me into see the gorillas, you’ll know why you came, I sure did.
With sincere apologies to Karen Blitzen, I used that title to attract readers, a brazen move to be sure.
The more you get to know about any subject, the more you realize you do not know about the subject. Some smart guy said that once, I think he was Greek.
I know a lot more about Kenya after one week as a tourist than I did before, that’s for certain. I now have deep desire to learn a whole lot more.
We were “on safari.” From Wikipedia: A safari is an overland journey, usually a trip by tourists to Africa. Traditionally, the term is used for a big-game hunt, but today the term often refers to a trip taken not for the purposes of hunting, but to observe and photograph animals and other wildlife. There is a certain theme or style associated with the word, which includes khaki clothing, belted bush jackets, pith helmets or slouch hats, and animal skins. Entering the English language in the late 19th century, the word safari means “long journey” in Swahili. Originally from the Arabic (safar) meaning a journey .
Yes, we wore khaki. We read before we left that mosquitoes boycott khaki. Luckily khaki is a popular color among the Indian and Pakistani workers here in the UAE, so I was able to buy mine at discount stores. No, I did not wear a pith helmet or a slouch hat. Ball caps for this boy, I’d wear one to the moon baby. No belted bush jacket, although I saw a lot of them on people and in the hotel gift shops, and I think they are pretty cool. No Animal skins either. I guess I could have acquired an animal skin loin cloth and worn it like Johnny Weissmuller, but I’m sure my wife would have objected. She is much more levelheaded than I am.
We did take what amounted to a long journey, even though we were only in country for a week. We traveled south, then north, then south then north. We went from 2 degrees south of the equator, to 4 degrees, to ½ a degree, to 4 degrees and back to ½ a degree. We did not plan it, our tour agency did. I do not think the itinerary was established by availability of the lodges. It was not high season yet and none of the lodges were full. Consequently I am not sure why we bounced up and down like a basketball.
However I have no complaints. Every drive we made was exciting. Every little town we passed through was in its own way colorful.
The towns were separated by miles and miles of absolutely beautiful open country. My mind, which sometimes works like a jukebox, started playing the old Who refrain “I can see for miles and miles.” Mary Ann who stares at a computer screen all day said “This is so good for my eyes.” Even in the big sky country of Montana, the vistas are broken up by the Rocky Mountains eventually. Not here.
Kenya is not as clean as Hong Kong, but nowhere near as dirty as some other paces we have seen in our travels. It was only littered in small villages. The countryside was pristine. However, we did see a few plastic water bottles tossed on the ground in the parks. We even saw a baboon trying to drink from one. I was so humored that I forgot to get a photo, damn. But whoever disposes of anything, even a cigarette butt in a park should be fed to the hyenas.
Speaking of smoking…
Kenya is most definitely against smoking. They should just hang a no smoking sign at the immigration desk and write below it, Anywhere. When we got to our first hotel, in Nairobi, I walked well away from the front door, across the driveway, and stood in some bushes to light up. I have learned to be this “respectful” of the no smoking fascists in the world, the ones who think if they SEE someone smoking they too will die of cancer. Anyway, just as I lit up, a hotel doorman came running across the driveway and said “You cannot smoke in public in Kenya. You can be arrested for that.” I put out the cig and asked him “Is there anywhere I CAN smoke?” He said, “By the pool.” The illogic of that aside, at least I had a place to indulge my habit without going to jail. For the rest of the trip, I hid behind buildings or elephants, snuck into cactus fields and otherwise obfuscated my custom. I will digress here long enough to say that if someone bans cigarettes worldwide, I will somehow obtain them on the black market and defiantly blow smoke up the UNs arse.
The national language of Kenya is English. It is the primary language of instruction in school. Kenyans also speak Swahili, or a version of it they call Kiswahili. They also speak one of 40 or so tribal languages, such as Masai or Kikuyu.
The dominate religion is Christianity, at about 70%. Islam is second and Hindu third. Arab traders, mostly from Oman, came to what is now Kenya even before the Europeans, sometime in the first century A.D. They stayed mainly on the coast, and that is where you will find most of the mosques. The Hindu religion was brought to Kenya by early traders, but mostly by the people building the railroad. At first, the majority of the Christians were Catholic. Catholicism was brought by The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Portuguese and Spaniards never went anywhere without priests. Later when the Brits colonized Kenya, Protestant missionaries zealously came to save Kenyan souls from Papal dominance. They were fairly successful. The Christians in Kenya are anywhere from 35 to 50% Catholic now. That % is lowering as ecumenical zealots continue to recruit.
Maize is the primary vegetable staple, I asked our guide if he knew what they Masai ate before they had Maize. He said, “We have always had maize.” I then had to disappoint him and tell him that Maize did not exist in the Eastern hemisphere in pre-Columbian times (That and tobacco, so there) He was surprised to learn that. It was maybe the only question I stumped him on all week.
Coffee in Kenya is amazingly good. I have always believed the best coffee comes from Costa Rica, but I am now reconsidering. There is not a single Starbucks in Kenya, to my amazement. Starbucks stores worldwide often sell Kenyan coffee so I do not know why no store in Kenya. Kenyans will tell you that their beans are often blended with other country’s beans to improve the taste. All I know is that it is wonderful, so I bought home a whole bunch of it.
If you ever saw the movie Out of Africa, you will remember that the main character had a coffee plantation. Her name was Karen Blixen. By the way, seems how I stole the title of this post, I’ll tell you to read the book. The film is LOOSELY based on Karen Blixen’s masterpiece of a memoir. Her farm was just outside of Nairobi. There is a town there now, called…hmmm… Karen. There is a museum to her efforts as a single white woman to make it in a foreign culture where even the fellow expats, dominated by Great White Hunter types, was not easy. Karen is a very wealthy suburb now. Beautiful homes, a first rate mall and world class hospitals. In the movie Blixen is played by Meryl Streep and the role of Denys Finch Hatton is played by Robert Redford.
In the movie, Finch Hatton introduces the concept of travelling from hunt to hunt by plane. That idea still exists big time in Kenya. Now of course you travel between national parks on your airborne safari. Many very upscale lodges have their own airstrips, including one called Denys Finch Hatton Lodge www.finchhattons.com. I am not personally experienced with this lodge nor this level of luxury, so no endorsement, but check it out.
The national beer, Tusker is damn good. it is about US$2.50 a bottle anywhere you go.
Whenever I am in a new country I look at it as a possible place to retire. Weather, cost of living, political stability, friendliness of the locals, and whether or not I can smoke in peace are all factors I consider. Kenya is now, without any truly deep investigation, second on my list behind Thailand, with a bullet.
I need to go back. I’ll wait until high season is over. This time I will go at a more leisurely pace and ask a lot more questions.
Just a couple more things. Overall, my new camera, A Nikon p7000 is an extremely good product. I am happy with my photos that I shared with you in the previous blogs. I said I was afraid they would all come oput looking like elephant dung.
One last thing. In all my travels I have shared the local versions of the washroom signs that can sometimes be confusing.
Thanks for reading. Share this with your friends. And PLEASE make a comment.