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Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Seven. The Gorillas of Rwanda

In this, the apex chapter of my safari to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, I will tell you about what can honestly be called a once in a lifetime experience. I trekked up a mountain to see the gorillas in the mist, and I do not mean the movie.

This is a walking stick the park provides you for the trek. Don’t try the hike without it. The gloves are not related to the temperature, I needed them because of the stinging thistles. I followed all the suggestions, and had a wonderful experience.

Curse Dian Fossey! couldn’t she have found some cute endangered species somewhere near a metro stop?
In order to see the gorillas, the entire purpose of 16 days riding on a cargo truck, you had to follow a guide, an armed man (there in case some other animal did not want you there), and two trackers. The trackers have an incredible job. They must follow the gorillas all day, then go back the next day and see where they have moved to, so that the guide can take the tourists to them. They move about a half kilometer a day before building new nests for the night.
The hike up the mountain was through impenetrable jungle, steep, slippery and boot sucking mud, stinging thistles and heat. I mean steaming, energy soaking heat. Just about the time my body was starting to rebel, the guide whispered  “the silverback is very close, shhhh.” I said out loud “yeah, where?”
He pointed behind me and there he was, a foot behind me, this incredible hunk of an animal. He actually brushed up against me as he went on his way, not at all worried that I was there.
Suddenly my fatigue was replaced with splendor. I reached for my camera and got a shot of him as he moved on.

This is the primary Silverback of the group named Charles Charles. He brushed past me and headed back into the thickets.

Then his family followed him. Two mature mamas a few teenagers and two babies. One of the babies was only a month old, the other seven months.

Mama with the month old baby which does not have a name yet. I wanted to name him Marley,

None of them paid any attention to us. Charles was leading them to a new feeding ground.
This group, our group, my group now, is called the Umubano group  Interestingly all 800 gorillas left in the world have a name. The park has a naming ceremony every year to welcome the new babies. Because of the conservation efforts made possible by each of us paying US$500 apiece to take this hike, (soon to go up to US$750) the gorilla population has been on the rise ever since Fossey did her work. The total population then was about 130. If I ever win the lottery I intend to donate to the foundation and have a baby gorilla named Forrest. Meanwhile anyone can help by joining the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Following the gorillas is hard work, but they leave a trail of destruction as they eat their way through the jungle. They eat just about anything.

A teenager enjoying a bamboo shoot.

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.

The babies like to look at themselves in the mud puddles as if to say “what do these humans see in us?”

My favorite picture out of 1200 I took on this safari. This is the senior female in the family. I have nicknamed her “Miss Rwanda”

Many more of my gorilla photos can be seen here.

I hope  you enjoyed this post. Please tell a friend and share.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Eight

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.

After the gorillas, we are on the road again.  If this is traveling, I am glad I am a tourist.

This was my view for a minimum of five hours a day, up to eleven. Imagine being on a long flight. Now imagine no toilet aboard the plane. Now imagine the seat being made by a masochist. Now imagine that for 80% of the flight you were in extreme turbulence. That is what truck touring in Africa is like.

Here we are passing another group of  lucky truckers. These so called “Safari Trucks” are running all over east Africa.

I paid Uganda another fifty dollars to pass through their country today.

Another no man’s land between immigration offices at a border. They are the same everywhere. Money changers are a common theme. Long lines of cargo trucks waiting for inspection is another.

The most interesting thing I saw all morning was a refugee camp of Congoese. The best I can figure is that the ranchers are fighting the sodbusters for control of the land.

A refugee camp by definition cannot be a pleasant place. But from this distance it seems as if the UN is doing its job.

We stayed a night at Lake Mburo. Nice campground, no up grades were available so I slept on the ground again. The campsite is crawling with Warthogs. The lake is pretty.

Nothing cuter than a warthog with your morning coffee.

This is Pesh our guide and mother for trip. She did an excellent job, as did all the Intrepid crew.

This is John. Not only did he drive for hours over very rough roads, he replaced a drive shaft bushing in the middle of nowhere. He had a great sense of humor and I enjoyed his company.

The rest of the of the folks went off on a hike through the bush to see what we have already seen, I stayed in camp to help break down the tents and write.
The bird sounds are incredible in the quiet of an abandoned camp. The Warthogs were all over the place grazing and making their grunting sounds as if to say “time to leave”.
This was a beautiful blue morning and I am quite glad I had it to myself.
I saw the southern cross  over Lake Mburo. It was as beautiful as ever, now my trip is truly complete.  We were to spend the next two days at the source of the Nile.
Safari comes from the Arab word Safar which means a long journey. I wonder if there is a word that means too long.

Having a Nile beer at the source of the River Nile.

 It is almost bed time. I spent most of the day staring at the Nile and nursing one beer. In short, I am bored to tears.
I skipped all three Intrepid meals today, because they would only have bored me more. The food on this trip has been really good and we were never hungry. But it was just the idea of sitting in  uncomfortable camp chairs to eat and then going through the process of washing the dishes afterwards that bored me. Again, let me say that Intrepid made sure that everything was washed and sanitized after every meal, and not one person got sick the whole trip. I opted for bar food this day and had maybe the best Hawaiian Pizza I have ever had, here in Uganda on the source of the Nile!
 I joined the dinner group for the obligatory briefing about the next day’s events. I could have given the briefing, here is what it sounds like:
Get up at the crack of dawn, break down your tent, lug the heavy thing back to the truck, have a breakfast of cold omelets and crappy coffee. Then wash dishes. Then crawl onto the fucking truck and get your ass bounced around for a few hours until we get to yet another border, where yet another officious asshole will put another stamp in your passport acting as if he is doing you a favor by letting you out of his country. Then walk across no mans land to the next border crossing, stand in line again so another officious asshole can grant you entry into his country. Then get back on the bus and have your ass pounded for a few more hours until we get somewhere in the middle of nowhere and have another lunch, and clean dishes again, then get back on the bus to have your ass bounced for a few more hours just to get somewhere we were two weeks ago so we can set up tents again, have dinner and wash dishes.
Real life adventures, yeah right.
This type of travel appeals to three types of people. First is people who do not know any better. Second, people who consider discomfort adventure and thirdly people who do not give a shit.

 There is no adventure in travel like this. Everything is planned out ahead of time and there is no chance of altering the agenda on a whim. I have done much more adventurous travel in my life, and far less expensively.
All that said, Intrepid does an excellent job of delivering what they say they will deliver. This was their BASIX level of travel. Plus we WERE in Africa. One person on our trip had traveled in Egypt at a superior level with Intrepid  only a month after the revolution ended. She told me that Intrepid went well beyond the published  agenda to secure the travelers safety and comfort. I believe they would.
Thank you Intrepid for a  novel trip. Thank you also to Oliver Gradwell and Travel Bloggers Unite for sponsoring the contest.
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222 × 222 pixels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Six

This was the day we crossed into Rwanda.
The border crossing was easy enough, but then the truck threw a dive shaft bearing and we were stranded by the side of the road.

Real Life Experiences is the marketing tagline for Intrepid Travel. We had one about 45 miles inside Rwanda. Suddenly the truck was making horrible screeching noises accompanied by the smell of burning rubber. No one was more surprised than I was when they pulled a spare bushing out of the storage racks. John, the driver is a very competent man, and two hours later we were on the road.

A man from Sacramento named Casey is a portrait artist and spent time sketching the kids.

Casey spent the down time drawing portraits of the local kids. They loved it and quickly learned how to pose.

I am sure these portraits are proudly hanging in the family homes.

 I took pictures with my Ipad which they laughed at when I showed them.

A hoodie in Rwanda. It must be stylish, because it sure was not cold!

Our first planned stop was at the Kigali Holocaust Memorial. It was OK, containing thousands of graves and an eternal flame. But this very ugly period of Rwandan life is not why I came here.
Onto the gorillas!
That afternoon, Intrepid delivered us to a place run by the Catholic church called Fatima. We are a half hour away from the HQ of the trek to see the gorillas. Compared to the rest of the places we have camped, this is five star.
Finally, after traveling all over equatoriana for ten days in a lumber truck, the gorillas!
In the next post I will give you a lot of pictures of these wonderful animals. Stay tuned, tell a friend, and maybe make a comment?

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Five

We arrived at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our campsite is called something like Hippo Hill and they say the hippos come in and wander around at night. The hippos left us alone.
The park surrounds Lake Elizabeth, which is pretty big. We went on a game drive  with elephants and lions and hippos and god knows what else. Then wewent on a boat that goes down a channel connecting Lake  Elizabeth with Lake George. We  saw crocs and other exciting African fauna.
We crossed the equator today, got plenty of good pics.

Me. I have crossed the equator by air and on land more times than I can remember, but it is always an important moment. To me anyway. Here I am doing my “truckin” act.

The gang, sitting from left. Alex, Karen,John, Robin, Pesh, Juma.Standing from left..the smartest man in the world, Charlie, Daniela, Cassie, Casey and Juliet. In back hamming it up, me.

My “upgrde” sleeping quarters. I was really tired of sleeping on the ground.

Sunrise, equatorial Africa.

Sunset, equatorial Africa

I think hippos are cute.

These might be my favorite birds in Africa. They are very colorful and have a great song. The males construct these hanging nests for their lifetime mates. If the female does not like it, she will not move in and the male must build a better one.

This bird is pretty special also. The African Water Eagle. He is quite the fisherman and beautiful to boot.

Now I always try to show bizzare restroom signs. Here are two I found near Lake Elizabeth

Women’s room.

Men’s room.

The next post will take us into Rwanda, where the Intrepid truck throws a drive train bushing in the middle of nowhere. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend and share, please.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Four

Our leader from Intrepid is named Pesh. She is a Kikuyu. Pesh has been a tour leader for a really long time, and I am just a minor annoyance compared to some of her guests in the past. Oh well, I try to be the most annoying, but I seldom reach that status!
The issue of the US$100 bill minted in ’96 has been on my mind and my lips for days now. I cannot get anyone to give me a definitive reason why older bills are not accepted. It is almost as easy to counterfeit a new bill as an old one. Anyway, just for principle of the argument, it bugs me.
The truck pulled into a strip mall in Rampala where people could get souvenirs or a cup of coffee.
Pesh told me she would get my bill exchanged here. So I am sitting in a UAE exchange waiting for  her.  I am desperately trying to go with the flow on this trip, but the flow is not in my favor, it seems. As planned as our itinerary is, I keep wondering what will happen next. When Pesh arrived, she took the bill and went up to the window. I was ready to accompany her but she told me to just sit down. UAE Exchanges are all over the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In fact I had gotten this bill at another branch of UAEX.  I watched from a distance as they put the bill through a counterfeit detection device and gave Pesh a new one. She  handed me the new hundred with a look that said hakuna mutata white boy.
We had a hour to kill in this strip mall. I had a wonderful banana milkshake in a place that supposedly had wifi, nope, broken. WIFI, even when working in Africa is never fast, and it usually is not working at all.
Then we trucked another six hours directly east across Uaganda. If you want to map it, we drove from Kampala to Port Fortal. I figured out what Uganda does with the fifty dollar visa fee. They build speed bumps. You cannot travel a mile in Uganda without crossing a set of speed bumps. The truck did not take them well at all. Shake, rattle and roll.
We are camping again, In a beautiful campground where supposedly we will see multitudes of chimpanzees. We overlook lake Navi Keri, which means noisy frogs. Other than the lake all we can see are  tea plantations. There are a lot of tea plantations in Uganda, I wonder what the tea is like. The local Beer is called Nile Special. 5.6% and quite good.

A beautiful location. You can see the tents, and in the background the lake.

This is another opportunity to get to know my fellow Intrepid travelers. The oldest person on the trip is a U professor from NZ. She is quite smart and has traveled all over Africa.
The cooks made another  wonderful dinner. On this trip at least, Intrepid feds you very well. Then I bought the crew drinks. I came back to my tent, fell down. And it caved in on me. Thankfully one of the crew came by and saved me.
 In the morning I “explored” a library owned by the Brit who owns this lodge. He was a history professor in Britain and collected quite a few seminal books on the white man’s experiences here in east Africa.

This book was published in like the 1880’s. I perused it a bit and found out a lot of interesting facts about where I was that you do not get from Lonely Planet!

 I was surprised that I was allowed to paw through them. The engravings, photos and maps helped me understand where I am and what it was like back then, 120 years ago. When I took time to read about the early explorers travels, I learned to quit bitching about the truck we were in or the roads we were on. (almost)
This two day stop was arranged by Intrepid to see a forest full of Chimpanzees.  I will quote here from the itinerary
“…an amazing opportunity to watch the way chimps feed…play…and care for their young ones.”
It was nothing like that.
The chimps were all in the tops of the trees and they were not about to come down for the tourists. It was hot and humid on the floor of this impenetrable jungle, they were all up top of tall trees, snoozing in the breeze.

Look very hard andyou might see the outline of a chimp up there, somewhere. At least that is what the tour guide told me, so I took this photo.

Just about the time I wrote this visit off, we found this guy.

Finally one came down from his nice breezy treetop abode, just long enough to get to another tree and climb back up.

OK, so it was sorta cool, but not something I would recommend.
Then we were off for Queenn Elizabeth National Park.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for the gorillas. Tell a friend, share on Facebook and if you will, please make a comment.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Three

This was my wedding anniversary and I missed my wife.
Today we spent nine hours in the truck.  The highlight of the nine hours was crossing the bridge over the source of the Nile. Another unwritten Bucket List  item. This is the White Nile. The other source is at the top of the Blue Nile. The bridge we were crossing was at the northern end of Lake Victoria. This spot is further south than the source of the Blue Nile and it is generally granted that it is the true source. However, about ten years ago a few truly intrepid explorers went up a river that feeds Lake Victoria and claim to have found a little spring that is THE true source. More power to them, I’ll go with my belief to have seen the source of the River Nile, because it makes me feel special I guess.
I also want to think that Lake Victoria is the lake that was in The African Queen, so I’ll just think it is.

I can empathize with Mr Allnut here, after nine hours on the truck. I also missed my wife all day. I was also probably as filthy.

We made our first border crossing, into Uganda. Uganda requires US$50 for a visa. I tried paying with my pre 2003 $100 bill, but they would not take it. We passed  through Rampala which does not resemble a garden spot.
Intrepid Travel again had it right when they chose a campsite. This time we had real toilets and warm water for showers. There was a bar there where I was introduced to a liqueur called Amarula.

This is really good stuff. Amarula is a fruit in South Africa, favored by Elephants, and used as a flavor for this otherwise Baileys type of liqueur. It is a bit stronger at 16.5%, goes down deceptively smooth, and puts a nice end to a long trucking day.

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.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Two

 We climbed into the truck for our first agonizing day on the road. Our destination was Lake Nakura. I had been there a year ago to the day. You can go back in my blogs to see what a wonderful experience I had there and see lots of photos of the wild life and birds.
On this Intrepid travel trip we camped out. The tents were manufactured by Rube Goldberg Enterprises. They weighed a ton. In this modern day of pop-up tents that are lightweight, I cannot imagine why Intrepid still used tents like these.
The campground was occupied by a gang of baboons. A group of baboons is correctly called a troop. Often they are called a congress, but only to make fun of the United States government.

They were a fearless troop and came right up to us to pose.

This campsite was what you would call rustic, or basic. The “facilities” were an outhouse with what Intrepid calls a “long drop” toilet. what is commonly called a squat toilet.  On Monday morning in the campsite workers were building a new latrine, supposedly with toilets you can sit down instead of crouch and a cold water shower, major improvements. While the workers toil, they are “protected” from the huge troop of baboons by a woman with a slingshot.

She was a good shot, the baboons knew it and stayed away from the workers

The baboons  love to come to this campsite in search of whatever they can run off with. I saw one who had stolen a wifebeater. He  was trying to put it on. He got as far as over his neck and one arm thru an armhole. I was pulling for him to get it all the way on, when another bigger baboon came and ripped it off of him.
We went on a game drive. Lake Nakura is a great place to do that. It is a national park with good roads, and a lot of wild life.

This little guy decided to jump on board the truck and ride along with us. It turned out he could not contribute to the kitty, so we kicked him off.

Last  time I was in Kenya, I saw four of the “Big Five” game animals. The big five is a phrase coined by game hunters for the  most difficult animals to hunt on foot. It is now used by safari marketing people to encourage you to keep looking until you  have seen all five. When you do I think you qualify for the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom award and a signed photo of Marlin Perkins. The one I missed out on last time was the White Rhino. Some sources say the Black Rhino is in the Big Five, I saw one of those last year and was told I did not get my Big Five merit badge until I saw a White Rhino, so I had to come back to Africa. Well, this time I did!

He was magnificent.

We were also treated to a little sex act by a couple lions. It is after all breading season and no truckload of gawkers is gonna stop the king of the jungle!

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.

http://theothersideofthecoconut.com/2011/06/13/lake-nakuru-flamingos-hippos-and-baboons-oh-my/

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.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter One

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,

Yup, this would be the center of my life for the next 16 days. A close inspection revels it is nothing more than a flat bed truck designed to carry a 40 foot shipping container. It had “specially designed”  box built on it with storage for back packs and chairs to sit in. I spent about 90 hours in this damn thing on very poor African roads, swaying and bouncing and slamming against the windows like a rag doll in a washing machine. “Intrepid?”

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.

Out of Africa

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 jacketspith 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.

Maybe she wouldn’t have objected if I looked like Johnny Weissmuller, but I digress.

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.

'twas the season for red onions. I never priced them, but...

...with entire streets of veggie stands loaded up with red onions, I cannot imagine them being expensive. The lodges all had red onions in the salads, of course.

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.

The vistas just went on forever.

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.

Both Streep and Redford would look good in rags. If I could carry off this safari look the way he did, I would have.

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.

Not bad for a "tented lodge". You can sip champagne and watch the big game stroll in front of you wile sitting in a lounge chair.

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.

So here is some fresh elephant dung to compare the rest of them too! Like I always say, a complete service blog!

One last thing. In all my travels I have shared the local versions of the washroom signs that can sometimes be confusing.

Outside the Hemingway bar, I walked past this sign, assuming it was the women's room...

Until I came to this sign.

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Lake Naivasha, Crescent Island, Thousands of Birds and a Bloat

The day started with the return drive out of Masai Mara Park.  The only thing that made it tolerable was thinking back to what a marvelous piece of earth we had just visited. I want to return to Kenya, but I will not return to the Mara until they fix the road. If you are reading this blog with an eye towards your first trip to Kenya, definitely go to the Mara, but bring a pillow to sit on in your vehicle.

On the way out we went past a Land Rover sporting a logo for the Michigan State University Hyena Study Project. I did not get a photo, but you can Google it to find out that this project has been going on for something like twenty years . Many of the students ,mostly grad students working on a PhD in Hyena (I’m sorry, the job market there must be pretty thin) post stories to http://msuhyenas.blogspot.com. They are a good read. If they cannot find a job being head honcho Hyena researcher, they should try writing.

This is Gideon’s home territory. He showed us a set of four contingent lots he is buying in the first big town outside of the park. He bought the lots because they are building a Catholic University right next to where his lots are. He wants to build 4 houses to rent out to faculty. He is an industrious guy. He is the youngest of four sons to a decently wealthy Masai man. In Masai tradition, the youngest gets the biggest cut of the inheritance, but his father told him he would not get a single goat if he did not do well in school and go out and make his own living.

Gideon showing us his 4 lots, a future real estate magnate!

Once we got off the terrible road it was swift and comfortable trip to our next and final destination. Lake Naivasha. This is a popular expat enclave, few hours out of Nairobi. The lake is beautiful. Birds abound. It sits at 6,222 feet above sea level and less than ½ a degree south of the equator. Put all that together and it makes for a wonderful climate.

They should change the name of this place to NO SMOKING. They were really strict.

All that aside, the reason we came here is called Crescent Island. The island is the remnant of the top of the volcano that formed the lake. It is a private game reserve. Some rich guy owns it and he somehow got permission to relocate all types of non-predator animals from the rest of Kenya to this island.

You pay to get a boat ride and a guide to the island. Your boat trip passes thru thousands of water fowl, and herds of hippos. Actually a bunch of hippos is called a bloat. We saw three separate bloats, I think they were independent families, so maybe altogether they made one bloat. (Sorry about that, I just like using the word bloat. Try working it into a sentence with a friend in a bar.)

While I’m on this theme, and before I allow you to look at my pretty pictures, I feel I must let you know that a group of giraffes is called a tower. No, really. A group of hyena? A cackle. Here is a strange one, a group of wildebeest is called an implausibility. A group of baboons is called a troop, and a group of Zebras can be called a zeal or a dazzle. All that is only helpful if you are working on a PhD in safari guiding. A herd works fine doesn’t it.


White pelicans

White pelicans in flight. There many grey pelicans where I lived in Panama. These were bigger by about half.

A white pelican up close. Aint they cute? “A wonderful bird is the pelican, his bill will hold more than his belican….” By the way, a group of pelicans is called a pod.

The Sacred Ibis is often depicted in Egyptian art. They are a group of long-legged wading birds in the familyThreskiornithidae.

A cormorantA cormorant drying his wing after fishing. In a group they are called a flight. Boring.

A kingfisher.

Water Eagles in a tree on Crescent Island.

Our guide whistled to the eagles, then threw out a dead fish into the water. One of them left the tree, circled us and then dove down for his lunch. I was lucky enough to get the photo. I hope you enjoy it.

Ok now for the bloat.

A hippo family. Not something I see every day.

Papa hippo acted like he wanted yo board our little panga.

When we left him in our wake he let us know he was not happy.

Once you are on the island you walk amongst the animals.  It is not a huge island but I will bet there is more dung per acre here than anywhere else outside of a stock yard.

It is a close as you can get to zebra, gazelles, impalas, water bucks and giraffe anywhere. Basically the animals just let you and your camera invade their space. It is as if they know they are there for that particular reason.

Now you know why a group of the are called a tower!

A family of giraffe

Giraffe juveniles, A young giraffe is called a calf. Again, boring.

Momma girrafe letting me know I am getting too close to the calves. They look like sweethearts, but Gideon told us that their defensive kick can crush your skull. Mother giraffes are referred to as cows and fathers as bulls. Ah c'mon, someone come up with something original will'ya?

Momma leading the calves away from the damn human with his camera.

A zeal sharing space with a tower. You often see two, three of four distinct species together in the wild. They do not compete for food, and the provide a mutual early warning system against predators.

I actually have many more photos of the animals on Crescent Island. The new age of digital photography allows one to shoot like mad. But if I showed you more animals, I would probably bore you with more nomenclature.

In the morning we leave for Nairobi, and sadly make our way “out of Africa.”  Final thoughts? Well read my next post because I have to find a way to express how much I loved what I saw. Please share this post with your FB friends as well as your real friends. AND PLEASE make a comment.

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