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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)

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.

Thanks for reading. Share this with your friends. And PLEASE make a comment.

Lions and Sunsets

We set out today at the crack of dawn. Our objective was lions. Yes, we had seen lions in Amboselli, but not up close. We ran into a vehicle with a flat tire and while Gideon stopped to help, we were able to get out and walk free on the savanna just like the animals. We used the time to enjoy the freshest air anywhere and just observe a sunrise on the Mara. By the way, Mara is a word in Masai that mean spotted, but applies to the land here which is spotted with bushes and trees, instead of covered like a jungle.

Mary Ann the great white tourist searching for game with her binocs with her back to a Mara sunrise.

Mary Ann the guide "Hey, I see Land Rovers gathering over there!

We quickly headed off to see what this herd of humans was viewing. We were pleasantly rewarded with a Momma lion and four kittens. What a great start for a day.

I probably shot two hundred photos of this little family. I told Gideon the kittens look cute enough to take home. He looked at me quite seriously and said "If you want to commit suicide, try."

Suddenly the whole family was interested in something behind us.

They were interested in a group of Zebras. Yum Yum.

Momma got up and looked like she would set off for a kill. But she thought better of it when...

...she remembered all the humans that were there!

We spent a lot of time enjoying the lioness. She and the babies did not pay us any attention. Their attention was riveted on a herd of zebras a mile away. I was hoping momma lion would get up and go catch one, but I was sure she would not leave the kittens behind.

We returned to the lodge for lunch and a nap. All the game drives take place in the morning and again in the afternoon because this is supposedly when the game are most active. There is a train of thought developing that the animals have gotten smart and are now most active while the humans are back in the lodges. It would not surprise me.

We had two objectives for our afternoon game drive. One was a black rhino, the toughest of the big five to see. The other was an adult male lion.

We had driven a long way when all of a sudden the radio went wild like it did the day before for the leopard sighting. Gideon did a bush style u-turn and said to me “You said you wanted to see lions mating. Well lions are mating and we are on our way.”  We flew over hill and dale, past herds of “boring” stuff like zebras and topis. We drove and drove. We got all shook and rattled in the vehicle. Then we came upon the scene. It looked like the paparazzi had found Paris Hilton mating. There were at least twenty pop top vehicles with people pointing cameras at these two poor lions.

Short of being a Gates or Zuckerman and being able to rent the entire park for yourself. modern day big white tourists just have to put up with this. Like I have said before, this is not even high season. There is a lot of online chatter about the parks in Kenya and Tanzania becoming nothing more than the wild life parks in the USA. Most of that chatter comes from the scientists who want the parks to themselves. But I argue that if we mere tourists see this spectacle of nature, will will be more inclined to help suppost it, somehow, after we leave. Additionally, there is nothing in any wild animal park that can compare with the vast open spaces of the savanna. I can compare it to Montana, Arizona and New Mexico from experience. The savanna wins. AND wait till you see the sunsets.

By the time we got to the lions, we were late, they were spent. The lioness looked like she was passed out. The male lion was not in much better shape. We took photos and waited. Gideon told us once they get started they mate 3 or 4 times and hour for 3 or 4 days. We waited for an encore, waited and waited. The male tried to rouse the lioness a couple of times but she was having none of it. I recorded all this for you my faithful readers, so please enjoy what passes for ‘Lion Porn’.

When we first arrived, the pair were in the afterglow, pillow talk stage.

"Wow" says the lion. "I have an audience."

"C'mon babe, time to put on a show for the great white tourists and earn our keep"

"Aw c'mon, please. We can't disappoint the tourists, some came all the way from Kansas"

"Tough luck for you. No show today. And do not forget, I may wear my hair like Don King, but I am the REAL King!

On the way home I took some nature shots and some sunsets, The Masai Mara is a photographers dream. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

I will start with some shots of trees and bushes.

This is called the whistling Thorn bush. It is the bush the Masai make their protective fences from. It is protected from most of the herbivores by two inch long thorns, except for zebras who have a way of eating the soft areas around the thorns.

Excuse me here while I give you a little lesson I learned on safari. You very often see large groups of wildebeests and zebras browsing together. In fact, the zebras accompany the wildebeests on their famous migration from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti and back every year. This migration follows the same circular route each year and corresponds to rainfall patterns, hence growing grass. The reason they travel together is that the zebra eat the tall grass, exposing low grasses to the wildebeests. During the migration, the carnivores feast. Lions and crocodiles get fat for the lean time. The crocodiles, in fact the largest crocs in the world, wait for the wildebeests and zebras to cross the Mara River. Thousands perish. The lions attack at will along the way. The other benefit the wildebeests get from the zebras is that when the lions attack, and the joint herds run, the black and white stripes of the zebras, in motion, confuse the lions.  Still, thousands more perish.

This is called the Masai Sausage tree. Those seed pods hanging down are the source of the indigenous alcoholic beverage of the Masai. They soak it with water and honey for a few days. Gideon, our guide, says that after two glasses you start seeing things.

OK, now to the iconic Masai Mara shots, the sunsets. Until this trip I never thought I would see a sunset finer, more striking or more memorable than the ones I watched from Maui. Hawaii move over, Africa has you beat.

The flat topped tree is an Acacia tree. The animal is a zebra.

I could watch them all day, if only they lasted more than a few minutes. On the equator, sunsets are shot lived phenomenon.

WOW, what an end to a perfect day.

Asante san for reading. Please share with your friends. Please make a comment. Please come back for my next post when HTT Holidays and Incentives takes us to Lake Naivashu and Crescent Island where you can walk right up to a giraffe and knock on his knee!

Our first day at the Masai Mara

We took off after a wonderful breakfast at the Lion Hill  lodge. The objective was to get to our lodge in Masai Mara National Park and the Sopa Lodge by 1:30 for lunch and the afternoon game drive.

By the way, if you ever go on safari in Kenya or Tanzania, I can recommend the Sopa chain without hesitation, and no, they are not paying me to say this.

Entrance to Masai Mara Sopa lodge

At 1:30 all I wanted was out of the vehicle. We had just spent an hour on the worst road I have been on in years. Gideon, who was working hard at the impossible task of missing potholes asked me if I could drive this road. I told him I had driven worse and described a road equally as beat up but in the mountains of Mexico where you had no room on either side to swerve because of the mountain on one side and a 2000 foot cliff on the other.  When I was done describing that experience I told him how glad I was he was driving instead of me by saying  “I’m to old for that shit anymore”. The road is the only road to Kenya’s most visited park. The government has fixed a lot of roads in the last couple of years, but for some reason, not this one.

All is well that ends well. We got to the lodge and checked into yet another very nice room. Before we could really rest, it was time for the afternoon game drive. We soon forgot about the drive to the park, in favor of the wonderful drive in the park.

This is the only single park in Kenya where if you are lucky and diligent, and have a good guide, you can see all the “big five”.  We got lucky, and we have a great guide.

Big game guides are no different, really, from fishing guides. Except they speak Swahili and Masai. When they pass each other on the road they share information just like the fishing guides. Except instead of asking ”Where are the lunkers”, they are asking “Where are the lions”. At least that is what I think they are asking. They might be swapping stories about the idiots they have in their vehicle that just will not be happy until they see lions mating.   I am one of those people. I told Gideon I would not be happy unless I saw something kill something, and animals mating. We both laughed at that, but an hour later, while we were observing a troop of baboons, he said, ”Look, baboons mating.” Sure enough. This being a full service blog, here is the photo.

Baboon style. Do I not try to include you in everything on my trips?

I never thought that at any point in my life would I say, “Big deal, another herd of elephants” or snidely comment “Oh boy, more gazelles.”  Nor did I think I would ever know the difference on sight between a lesser gazelle, a greater gazelle and an impala. I do now.

Oh Boy, another herd of wildebeests, yawn.

They are beautiful and they abound in the national parks in Kenya. I drove one of these when I was teenager, it was made by Chevrolet and not this pretty.

I have always wondered why no one ever domesticated the zebra. Gideon told me that the zebra has a weak back. I thought about that and said “too bad, it would be a beautiful sight to see a Masai warrior riding a zebra.”  I honestly think he likes my weird sense of humor, because he sure laughs at me. It is a wonderful thing to see herds of zebra grazing amongst gazelles and wildebeest out in the wild.

Ride'em Masai. Can you imagine a tall guy all dressed in red galloping across the Mara on this? Actually this is a tough shot to get. Zebras are shy and as soon as a camera appears they turn their ass to you. I have dozens of pictures of Zebra's behinds, just ask.

Masai Mara, being the most popular park in Kenya, even before high season, has quite a few visitors. This equates to quite a few vehicles out in search of game. They all have short wave radios in case they have a break down. But what they really use them for is sightings of the rarer animals. Today, as we were casually driving around, all of a sudden the normal chatter over the short wave rose to a euphoric level. Even though they were all speaking in Masai, I knew something big was up. Gideon did a four point turn and found a seldom used trail through the savannah and started hustling. “They spotted a leopard. We must go see the leopard.” Mind you, the leopard is one of the big five, and any guide worth his Shillings is going to make sure you see one.  We started flying across the open fields until we came to an established trail and headed to the leopard sighting. We turned a corner around some trees and BAM we were in the middle of a huge heard of buffalo. One thing buffalo are not is in a hurry. Another thing they are not is intimidated by a safari vehicle. They probably outweigh one and could redefine the term fender bender with those horns of theirs. Gideon was motivated. We had to see the leopard. He inched his way thru the herd and we were back on our fast paced quest.

Weaving our way through the herd.

Now the human herd started to appear. Vehicles were converging on the site where the leopard was from every point on the compass. They came on trails, across the fields and through ravines. No obstacle was going to stop any guide from treating his guests to one of the big five. Mary Ann and I started laughing. We could point in any direction and there was another Land Rover hell bent for leopard.

It was worth it. It was an incredible cat just meandering its way thru the bushes and fields. It had no concern for the human element. All the animals seem to know they are protected. Or maybe they know they cannot attack a vehicle. At this point in the history of human/big game relations there is a comfortable peace.

A leopard approaching you in this cat like manner makes you glad you are in a vehicle.

We were not the only ones there! It was amazing how the vehicles all arrived from every direction.

After we navigated our way out of the traffic jam, we noticed another group of vehicles. Could we be lucky again? YES! Gideon again made a bee line to the new sighting and we found our 4th of the big five. Not one but TWO cheetahs. They were laying in the shade watching the humans watch them. They had very obviously just consumed a rather large lunch. They looked too fat to even walk. These are the world’s fasted animals, but apparently not after a feast.

They were just trying to digest their lunch in peace...

...but the humans had other ideas.

I asked Gideon “if this were high season, how many vehicles would have come to see the leopards and the cheetahs?” He wistfully responded “at least a hundred.” It goes without saying, come to the Masai Mara before high season.

Again asante san for reading. Please hit share so your FB legions can enjoy it, and oh please make a comment.

Lake Nakuru, Flamingos, Hippos and Baboons, oh my.

We left Amboseli at 7:30 for an 8 hour drive to Nakuru Lake  National Park. The park is located ½ of a degree south of the equator, so I can definitely claim to be in equatorial Africa. The park and lake are  in the Rift Valley. This valley is over 9000 kilometers long and extends from Mozambique to Israel. It is a valley of legendary big white hunter tales. If you want to know a lot more go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Rift_Valley  I remember it best because  Richard and Mary Leakey have  done significant work in the valley.

Along the way we stopped at a view point and took in quite a bit of it in one vista.

The sign says it all

You are here!

Even overlooking the rift valley, Mary Ann can find a Yankee fan.

We could barely make these out from the overlook, but when we drove past them I was impressed to see them just miles away from where the Leakeys found one of the most ancient humanoids.

You are welcomed to the park by baboons.

The baboons sort of follow you around, like park rangers.

The park itself is very lush and green. It sits on a large salt water lake which provides sanctuary for millions of birds, especially Flamingos. This is not the peak time for the Greater Flamingo migration, but there were still tens of thousands of the lesser flamingos grouped along the shoreline turning it pink. There were thousands of white pelicans as well as guinea fowl and marabous. Time for photos? OK

Not one of the more beautiful birds, but of substantial size.

The trees surrounding lake Nakura were full of large birds

The helmeted guinea fowl is a favorite food of the Masai. Gideon told us you will never enjoy chicken after you have one of these. To catch them they soak corn in liquor and lay it out for the birds to eat. Then they get too drunk to fly or even run away.

The lilac breasted roller is truly fabulously colored in flight, but I missed it.

The flamingos in the background are lesser flamingos. They provide a beautiful pink rim to the lake. However, in July, there are thousands of thousands of greater flamingos that turn the whole lake pink.

We saw impalas, water buffalo, white Rhinos, waterbucks, and troops of baboons. I hope you enjoy these pics.

This was as close as I could get to a herd of white rhinos. The white rhino is not one of the big five. The black Rhino is because they are lot rarer and more elusive.

Baboons were everywhere in the park, just meandering around

Momma and baby baboon

We saw Impalas in every park we went to but I am partial to this shot.

Water buffalo and attendant birds. The birds eat insects dug up by the hooves of the buffalo and peck insects off their skin. Win win

I forget what Gideon said these were, but aint they cute?

We are staying at a place called Lion Hill Lodge. It is  fabulous. We are only here for one night, so I’ll  steal a towel.

We lost an hour of game viewing because an ATM ate Mary Ann’s card. Our tour agency HTT Holidays and Incentives (www.travelhtt.com) did everything short of ripping open the ATM machine with one of the Masai swords. They even lent us cash for the rest of the trip.  It all worked out because of the dedication of the HTT staff and our guide Gideon.

In the morning we head off to Masai Mara National Park. This is the big destination for great white tourists like us. We have already seen 2 of the big five and we look forward to checking off the other three. When we do, I feel like cracking open a bottle of champagne, except I hate champagne.

Maybe we will just have an extra Tusker. Tusker is the beer of Kenya.

Mary Ann enjoying a Tuskers. The brand was first marketed in 1923, shortly after the founder of Kenya Breweries Ltd, George Hurst, was killed by an elephant during a hunting accident. It was in this year that the elephant logo, that is synonymous with Tusker Lager, was incorporated. The slogan "Bia Yangu, Nchi Yangu", means "My Beer, My Country" in Swahili.

The national drink of Kenya is the Dawa. The Dawa reminds me of the Pisco Sour of Chile. It is an acquired taste sort of thing. I’ll certainly have couple more if I see a black rhino and a cheetah, the two most difficult sightings of the big five.

The Dawa African Cocktail is said to be so potent that it will cure whatever ails you. Since Dawa means "medicine" or "magic potion" in Swahili, I’ll believe it! The recipe is based on a famous Brazilian drink that was introduced to Kenya. It is now one of the most widely consumed cocktails in Kenya!

Dr. Dawa will cure your ills!

Asante san (Thank youu very much in Swahili) for reading. Please pass this along to a friend and please make a comment.

My Introduction to the Masai of Kenya at Amboseli

After a 5 hour drive SSW out of Nairobi we arrived at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge, located on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park.  The lodge is stunningly beautiful and comfortable. Yes, we are “in the bush.” I know, because there is no internet and cell phones do not work.  Actually the lodge has had internet, but it does not work anymore, and the cell phone coverage is limited to one carrier, the name of which is, wonderfully, Safaricom. The lodge provides every other creature comfort one would expect in an expensive lodge anywhere. The people who designed and built this place did not miss a detail. The woodwork is all hand carved with animal scenes. The bed has a big elephant head carving for the headboard.

The Sopa lodges are all very nice places to stay in both Kenya and Tanzania

The hotel sits near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. The mountain itself is actually in Tanzania. It is often covered in clouds and everyone hopes it makes an appearance.

Everything is in the style of the Masai tribe, from the curtains to the lamps and the rugs.  The bar, called the Hemingway Bar is huge and is reminiscent of the big white hunter days.  We are here two weeks before high season starts, and the place is almost empty. I think service here would be excellent if they were chock-a-block, it is incredible right now.

Great white hunter bar.

This is Masai country. The Masai people still “exist” just like you have seen in the movies. If you saw Out of Africa, and remember Robert Redford’s Masai servant, well that is how many of them still dress. I’m not talking about some show they put on for tourists. Uh Uh. I’m talking about how they dress out herding their goats or just walking cross country.   They are incredibly kind people and seem as interested in us as we are in them. Plug into this experience the fact that the national language is English and they all learn it in school, and the opportunity for cultural exchange is just incredible.

A Masai and I. (Screw the grammar, it rhymes)

Our guide happens to be Masai. His name is Gideon. All the Masai have baptismal names in English. We have him to ourselves for the entire week, just the two of us and large Land Rover with a pop up roof. I met a teenager on the road and we exchanged names. His was Evan. I told him mine and he said “like the bush?”

Before I try to describe our first game drive, I am going to pass on a few things I learned about the Masai today. I inherited the ability to ask nosey type questions from my mother, so sometimes I actually learn interesting things others might miss.

When you see a pair of Masai men walking together (actually one behind the other is the way they walk, not side by side) one of them will always be carrying a long stick. Even if two are on a motorcycle, one will have a long stick. I imagine that if two of them ever flew on an airliner they would sit one in front of the other, and one would have a large stick. I had to ask why. Gideon’s answer was “self protection.” He saw the perplexed look on my face and said “against animals.” Then he went on to say that the second fellow will always be carrying a sword or club strapped to his leg. To prove the point, he pulled out a two foot long formidable club from under his western cargo pants and said “we never leave home without it.” When I met Evan, he was carrying the big stick and I had to ask if he ever had to use it. All he said was “I have it if I need it.”  Gideon was standing with us. He reached under the Masai blanket (They wear them like robes) of the other young man and yanked an eighteen inch sword from a sheath strapped to his leg and said basically “we all carry.”  These people live every day amongst lions, hyenas and what not. Be prepared is not just a slogan for them.

The hats at the royal wedding cannot compare to this. Those are ostrich feathers in case you want to make your own.

Gideon told us that at age 15 the men get circumcised (ouch) and then spend up to a year wandering in the bush. To become a warrior, they have to kill a lion. If they do, they get branded with a hot piece of metal on their cheeks and thighs. The leader of the group must cut the tail of the lion before they kill it. I’m not sure they still kill lions, but that is the old way. Gideon only wandered for two months and then he had to get back to school. He is not branded. He has a University education in tourism. He had to learn a lot of Kenya history and of course flora and fauna. He is adding an incredible amount to our experience. Mary Ann and I are planning an enormous tip.

I was learning bits and pieces about the Masai all day, but one thing totally blew my hair back. Innocently I asked about their burial traditions. I had not seen a cemetery so I asked if they practice cremation. Now remember, the Masai of today are Christians. Gideon explained that what they do is shave the body, and cover it with oil. Then they slay a cow, skin it, wrap the deceased in the cow skin and take it out in the bush for the hyenas to eat. Then they feast on the cow. I would not have known if I had not asked, which just might put a damper on what else I ask. But probably not. Tomorrow we are taking a side trip to an off the tourist track true Masai village, where I Intend to learn as much as I can about these fascinating people. Having a Masai as an escort should break the ice nicely. The next post will cover that along with some truly cool animal shots!

Asante is Swahili (Kenya’s second language) for thank you. So Asante for reading and please pass this along to your friends on Facebook and in the real world also.

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