Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sept. 25. The Road to Cheyenne

This may be the first time I have been on this stretch of I-80. I usually make the turn up to Yellowstone, after all who can pass that up - my favorite national park. But this is part of the reason I have missed other sites in the area. Leaving Salt Lake City was beautiful, colorful layers of sedimentary rock which later became enormous wind-blown sculptures. The altitude is higher and the temperature much cooler than yesterday. The last two thirds of the drive was mostly dry plains with the occasional sighting of a herd of small deer.
Yesterday was the first time I had been out on the open plains since the trip to Africa and every so often I would spot something off in the distance which I was sure was some kind of animal - most likely a hyena - but it always turned out to be a car coming around the horizon. We spent so many days in that African van searching for animals that it is a hard habit to break. I am very well trained to scan the distance and may not have noticed the deer today if not for my newly trained eyes.
Sorry about any typos and grammar - all of today's info was put in through the I-pod.
More tomorrow,
Yippee Ki Yea

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sept. 23 and 24 Traveling Again

Wow, what a difference it makes to travel in the Fall. Not only are there less people (crowds), but all the colors, and the air and moods are different.
Yesterday (the 23rd), I left very late and drove to the moon. Well, that's what it felt like anyway. I just spoke to Virginia on the phone and she said, "Remember, this all happened for a reason," (I'll tell you what that's about later). She was right! If I hadn't left so late yesterday I never would have had the opportunity to drive to the moon. The harvest moon was so incredibly huge that it filled the end of the highway in front of me and it felt like, if I just kept going, I would reach it. I spent the evening watching the moon change size as it rose into the night. And the night became day with its incredible brightness.
I didn't arrive at the Nugget (casino, What was I thinking?), until 10:30, and guess what? There was a big biker's convention in town. All the hotels and roads were packed with bikers. Which is fine with me. I have only had positive experience with these fellow road lovers.
Checking into the casino was a bit of a fiasco, as usual. But when I finally got to the room it was quite nice, and quiet.
This morning I exercised (good for me) and hit the road at about 10:30 AM. But not before I realized that I had left my most important travel bag at home! It contains my entire itinerary, directions, doctors info, maps, tour books and reading material. And most importantly, all of my food! I guess I set it aside to keep with me in the front seat and then just left it there -- hence the phone call to Virginia. (Turns out she can't get into the house because she has an old key - I will have to deal with all this in due course. All I can say is thank god for I-pods.)
Today was all driving. It will be the most one day driving I do on the trip and I am glad it's finished. I have checked into the Hilton who lets me use the internet to try to reconstruct my itinerary and I look forward to their very comfy beds.
The high desert today was beautiful. I saw my first color change between the hills - oranges, greens, and yellows. There was a fantastic display of color and light over the salt flats.
More later. :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Aug. 12, 2010 Home

Nineteen hours starting at 4 AM. My god it was grueling. Four different flights and changes. Three customs checks, checking and rechecking baggage, passing through security four times,
riding trains (with all my luggage) to switch terminals, waiting for flights, keeping track of the correct currency, when to buy water, and finally the last flight from Calgary to SF was jam packed and full of shrieking children.

By the time I got to SFO and claimed by baggage and tried to call Kathy for the pick-up ride on my expired phone minutes, I had a mini-breakdown. After sobbing for a few minutes I felt better and managed to hold it together until Kathy and Phil dropped me at home.

Home feels weird and I can't wait to leave again.

Aug. 11, 2010 The Highlands and Loch Ness

I caught the tour bus at 10:15 AM. It is actually raining today and I have made good use of Kathy's umbrella.
Our first stop was at the burial cairn of a woman from 4000 years ago. It is now located in a farmer's field. The pile of stones covers a tomb inside where the bones and belongings of a woman were found. The cairn is surrounded by eleven (not twelve) standing stones and on the winter solstice the sun rises to shine directly into the tomb.
Next, we went to the Loch Ness Center where we went through the standard tourist presentations about the history of Nessie, the Loch Ness sea monster. This, of course, was followed by the obligatory gift shop.
Our next stop was Urquart Castle. Originally founded by a pagan "Pict" group, it has been owned, expanded on, raided and destroyed by the Scots, British, and Jacobites. It was alternately inhabited by the Scots and Brits several times. Only ruins of the castle exist now - the last group having blown it up with gunpowder.
We were given two hours to eat lunch, visit the gift shop, watch a short movie and walk around the ruins. It was raining off and on and two hours was too much. By the time the boat came to pick us up, we were soaked.
We had a 1 1/2 hour boat ride along Loch Ness (no signs of Nessie) and back to Inverness.
Tomorrow - the long trip home.

Aug. 10, 2010 Orkney

I woke up at about 5AM and walked to the bus station to catch the 7:15 AM bus to the John O'Groats ferry. The bus was quite full and the ride was about 3 hours. We drove along the coast over many bridges and small isles. The scenery was beautiful, lots of water and green. We saw many castles of the rich and famous: Madonna, Princess Margaret (with her lawn of rare white Chinese deer), Andrew Carnegie, and many others. It is not surprising that these people choose the highlands to keep homes and castles. The area is beautiful and serene. We saw a lot of fat healthy sheep and fat healthy cattle. We could also see, off in the distant sea - giant wind turbines which are being used in experiments for alternative wind energy. Ironically, these are located right next to the many oil drilling platforms. It is hard not to project the horrendous possiblity of an accident in this pristene environment - especially in light of what we have gone through in the gulf this summer.
This is a startling change from Africa. The roads are smooth, the houses beautiful, the scenery green and manicured. I am also happy about the nice sea-level altitude.
Upon arriving at the John O'Groats ferry dock, I bought a sandwich and visited the gift shop while waiting for the ferry to arrive. The water near the shore and docks was clear enough to see the bottom.
We all loaded onto the ferry for about a 40 minute ride to Orkney. Again, beautiful views as we sailed past the small islands through silky waters. The weatherman had predicted hard rain for Orkney today, but it was bright and sunny with a few lingering puffy clouds.
Upon arriving in Orkney we boarded the tour bus and began our journey across the island. The driver told us about Orkney's involvement in the two world wars as evidenced by garrets and sunken ships around the island.
We stopped in Kirkwall for about 40 minutes to view the famous Magus cathedral and to sample Orkney's famous ice cream. Then we drove toward Skara Brae, stopping occassionally for photos.
The entire tour was very rushed and when we finally arrived at Skara Brae, we only had about an hour and a half. Behind the visitor's center is a re-creation of one of the Skara Brae houses that you can walk through. Continue walking down the path and you come upon the actual ruins of this neolithic village. It is located right next to the sea. The tide was out and everything was green, blue, and gorgeous.
The site was revealed in 1850 by a changing tide and has been somewhat "restored" to its present condition. The site consists of one central room which was a tool making center and several stone dwellings around it. These are all built with stone slabs which can be found in rocking outcroppings along the shore. The same construction is used throughout northern Scotland in creating fences. The stones are stacked flatly against each other - no mortar is used.
The site really reminded me of the Viking landing site at L'ans aux Meadow. The scenery is very similar. But Skara Brae is over 5000 years old.
Next to Skara Brae is the Skail House - built in the 1700's. I only had about 10 minutes in the house before I had to return to the bus. There is a set of dishes set on one of the dining tables that came from Captain Cook's voyages.
Our next stop was to the Stones of Brodeger. This is a large stone circle and burial mound - very similar to Stonehenge. We had even less time here and I was the last to return to the bus and was chastized by the driver.
The stone circle is beautifully located on somewhat of a hill. Excavations continue here and the ides of the circle's purpose and size are varied and changing.
We drove by the Standing Stones of Stennis but only observed them from the road. There are three large stone circles on Orkney as well as burial mounds and other later stone village ruins. All I could think of was that I needed to come back to spend more time. I bought some books in the gift store which attempt to explain the various sites.
One interesting fact - the stones for these circles were quarried about 8 miles away from where they were placed. How did they get to where they are? Some are over two tons. There are no trees on the island due to the great winds, so they could not have been rolled along on logs. If they were dragged it seems to me like there would be some geologic evidence of it - earth scarring etc. An interesting mystery.
Our last stop was the Italian Chapel which was built by Italian prisoners of war. During World War II they were brought to the island to help in the building of the island's concrete causeways. The church is made of two army huts and adorned with the artistic talents of some of the Italian prisoners. There is beautiful wrought iron, frescos and tile work.
We met the return ferry and loaded into our bus on the other side. I slept a good deal of the route home and then walked back to the hotel.
Tomorrow - a general tour of the highlands and Loch Ness.

Aug. 9, 2010 Inverness

I awoke too early and misread the clock. I was supposed to be taking this day off. But I dressed and went down to a typical Scottish breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. Back in the room I conked out again for several hours.
In the afternoon I went out to explore the downtown area of Inverness. There are many tourist and woolen goods shops. One building houses the Victorian Market which is full of little shops. I bought some flags and visited a grocery store for supplies. Dinner was pieced together before I fell asleep again.
Sleep here is somewhat problematical for several reasons: there are shrieking seagulls who only seem to quiet for a few hours in the middle of the night. They seem to start at 4 AM and are still at it at 10 PM, and morning comes early - about
5AM. We are quite far north. The walls of the hotel are lacking modern insulation and some sounds from other rooms are transferred.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aug. 8, 2010. Traveling

We awoke this morning on the plane just before arriving in London at 6:45 AM. Unfortunately I did not see any of the other people from our group after we left the plane. They were all off to their individual terminals. I said a quick good-bye to Kathy and then began my own journey to Scotland.
I had to reclaim my luggage, clear customs, and then wait 4 1/2 hours before British Air would let me check in my bags. I waited in terminal five and struggled to stay awake. Finally I went to check in my bags - 3 more hours to wait. While checking in, a snotty girl at British Air said my carry on bag was too big and sent me to another counter to pay extra fees. They told me it would be 35 pounds for each leg of the trip
That's 140 pounds to take it to Scotland and back - ridiculous. Then the woman at the counter told me there was a bag storage service for 8 pounds a day. But, I had to retrieve my already checked bags - no easy feat. I had to go down into the bowels of the terminal - fill out forms and wait. (At this point there were 1 1/2 hours left before the flight.) I finally got my bags and stored one at the service counter. Then I rushed back to British Air and checked in again - then security. The Terminal 5 lounge area is very crowded - lots of shops and people. I managed to buy a sandwich, eat it and make the plane on time.
I switched planes in Manchester - a small propeller plane. I met a nice woman from Inverness, also named Kathleen.
The cab ride from the airport was 25 pounds, which seemed a bit high - and perhaps not the directest route. I arrived at the Columba Hotel at around 9 PM - totally spacey and exhausted.
The hotel seems quite old but has been somewhat refurbished and given modern amenities. It is right on the Ness River and very near the downtown area.
My room is probably one of the worst in the hotel, with a view of rooftops and old-fashioned chimneys. The toilet handle was broken and I had trouble getting TV, but the Wi-Fi works great!

Aug. 7, 2010. The Last Day in Africa

We left at 6:40 AM this morning after cold water showers and a rushed breakfast. It was hours and hours of driving to get back to the Kenya border. Rough roads and a lead-footed driver made for a difficult journey. We stopped a couple of times for bathroom breaks but mostly just held on. We went through the usual paperwork at the border and then met our new driver, Amus. He had a large passenger van where all eight of us could spread out. The ride was a little more comfortable but still took hours. We finally arrived at the hotel at about 4:00 PM. We were given "day " rooms at the Inter-Continental.
We had time to shower and re-pack our bags before leaving for the airport at 7:00 PM. We would all be returning to London on the same flight. Kathy and I were lucky to get one of the few "pairs" of seats on the plane and we were very comfortable.
Tomorrow - more traveling.

Aug. 6, 2010. Ngorongoro Crater

We left early again this morning and drove a few hours to the Ngorongoro Crater. The "crater" is really a caldera - remnant of an enormous extinct volcano. It is about 10 miles across and the rim creates a unique lush ecosystem. There is an alkalai lake with greater and lesser flamingoes and a water dream system fed by underground springs. It is an idyllic place. Dome Masai bring their cattle here to graze but no one lives in the crater. Years ago the Germans had a coffee plantation on the side of the rim but there is very little trace of this now.
Here the animals seem to have everything they need; sun, water, grasses and food. We saw zebra, flamingo, jackals (silver-backed), warthogs, wildebeests, hartbeasts, black rhino, hippo, sacred ibis, African crowned cranes, a cheetah and a small pride of lions. We observed the lions for some time as they were easy to view and the male was easy to see. They also had at least one cub.
The lions and elephants in Africa go mostly unchallenged. They are the lords of their domain. A lion will move from an elephant and yesterday we saw a big cape buffalo bull chase off two lions, but all move for the elephant. Only the baby elephants are in danger from other animals. Elephants really only have msn to fear.
We had a picnic lunch beside a lake - hippo viewing was free. Unfortunately something bit me on my forearm and a big red welt developed around the bite. It is a little better as I am writing this - just itchy.
We arrived at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge at around 2:30. The lodge is built on the edge of the rim of the crater and the rooms have panoramic views. The lodge is beautiful. The main dining hAs a huge tall thatched roof.
I slept for a couple hours and then we went up to the lodge for dinner. Just as we were arriving, a group of Masai put on a dance and chant performance - similar to the ones we had seen before.
We all met in the dining room for our last dinner together. We took pictures and created a contact list for after we get home. Then we went back to our rooms for sleep and an early morning start
Tomorrow - we return to Nairobi.

Aug. 5, 2010. Serengeti

This morning we left at 7 AM for our game drive through the Serengeti. We have become quite jaded about the animals now - barely even noticing herds of zebra and Thompson's gazelles. We have seen quite a few warthogs here and
I have really come to enjoy them. I used to think they were interesting because they were so ugly, but actually they are very entertaining and cute - especially the babies. When they run they keep their tails straight up in the air like little flagpoles.
We drove to a hippo pool and observed a thunder of hippos sleeping in the water. They just looked like grey rocks until one would wiggle it's ears or put it's snout up for a breath.
Our driver then heard that there had been a leopard sighting and we raced to the area. There were many jeeps full of tourists watching a leopard off in the distance. She began to walk and we followed her in the jeep. There was one moment when she came out of the brush right in front of us. We followed parallel to her until she jumped into a tree and was completely camouflaged. She was quite a presence striding through the brush. An entourage of jeeps followed her and all the other animals around her watched her every move and then scattered.
We also ran across a couple of cheetahs who were having a stand off with a few hyena. One cheetah was wounded on his back leg and one of the hyenas had a bloody neck. We don't know exactly what had occurred but it was obvious that the two were very wary of each other.
We watched them for quite a while as they positioned and repositioned and finally moved away from each other. Our new driver, Samson, is a little more patient with out stops and we have longer opportunities to observe and take pictures.
After a while we came across another thunder of hippos who were out on the bank sunning themselves. After a while a whole herd of elephants walked into their pool . The hippos made way and held perfectly still as the elephants drank and washed in the pool. They had a baby elephant with them who was a curious little clown. First he went up to check out the hippos and then he went to play in the pool with all the relatives. It was an amazing scene - hippos and elephants at the pool.
We stopped at a visitor's center where we saw hyrox. I paid a fortune for a map of the park. Everything in Tanzania is expensive and the vendors really have no interest in bargaining. We have all bern disappointed by that.
We started back to the hotel, ate lunch (hamburger and fries), and then spent the rest of the afternoon resting.
Tomorrow, Ngorongoro Crater.

Aug. 4, 2010. Serengeti National Park

We left the lodge at 7:30 AM and drove back through Tanagire. We saw a group of cape buffalo running through the dust and crossing the road right in front of us to get to the river. It was like round-up time in the old west. We drove a few hours to Ngotongoro Reserve. The center of the reserve is the Ngorongoro crater which is home to many animals as well as the famous Leakey family discoveries. We had a box lunch overlooking Oldupai Gorge. Oldupai (with a "p" is the Masai word for "wild sisal" which grows wild throughout the area). After lunch we visited the small museum which cleared my mental picture of what the gorge looked like and how geology played a role in the discoveries. We also had a brief lecture on the site by a local man. It was very satisfying to finally see the gorge for myself. We left Ngorongoro and entered Serengeti National Park - the two border each other. The Serengeti is very dry this time of year. It was easy to spot ostriches from far away. We also saw two lionesses just a few feet off a side road. We were able to get quite close and took some excellent pictures. We also saw warthogs, bustards, many Thompson's gazelles, and eventually, as we neared the lodge and the area became more forested, we saw giraffe, dik dik, and elephant. The lodge is very nice and the room overlooks the Serengeti. The rooms ate quite spacious. The food here is good and again, the wait staff and chefs entertained us with song and dance - I even joined them for part of it tonight.
Tomorrow, more Serengeti and a relaxing afternoon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Aug. 3, 2010. Goodbye Kenya

We left the lodge at 7:30 AM. I'm not really sorry to leave this hotel - intermittent lights, low water pressure, mediocre food and peculiar service. We drove around the back way of Amboseli in hopes of finding better road conditions. It was still pretty bumpy but we did get a good look at Kilamanjaro along the way. The road was very dusty, particularly when we drove through a dry lake bed. Several hours later we reached the border town. We stood in line for exit passports from Kenya and then five minutes down the road we stood in line for entrance passports to Tanzania. Yusuf waited with the van and luggage and new drivers from Tanzania. After completing the entry paperwork, Yusuf introduced us to the new drivers and we said good-bye to him - very sad.
Our new transportation is a Land Rover and there are four of us in each one. It is great to finally have some space! Donald and Maryanne went into the other jeep with Elizabeth and Rachel.
We drove a long ways to the city if Arusha where we had a pizza and pasta lunch. Tanzania seems to be a bit more progressive than Kenya-with better road construction and lots of building going on.
Samson is our driver. He took us to an ATM and gift shop before leaving for Tanangire National Park. We arrived in the park fairly late in the day and were fortunate enough to see quite a bit of the park at sunset - it was beautiful.
We saw mongooses, elephants, zebra, wildebeests, gazelles, impalas, warthogs, eagles, a hammertop, and an owl - which I spotted.
Arriving at the lodge - which is located right inside the park we encountered our first mosquito nets in the rooms. They also spray the room with insecticide before bed.
The Sopa Tanagire Lodge is a big hotel. There are no fences around it and sometimes the animals in the park will walk onto the property.
After dinner the wait staff and cooks sang for us and accompanied themselves with instruments made from kitchen items.
Tomorrow, on to the Serengeti.

Masai Village and more Amboseli

Masai Jumping Contest
Outside the Masai Village

Masai Women

Tent Cabin at Amboseli

Aug. 2, 2010. Ballooning and Amboseli

We got up at 4 AM and were picked up by the balloon company at 5 AM. Only four of us went - Kathy and I and Meanna and Dillon. Our driver drove through the pitch black morning to the balloon site. The workers had unpacked the balloon and were beginning to put it together - all by the cars' headlights. It was very interesting to see how much effort goes into inflating the balloon. It is a bit of a coordinated dance to get everything going at the right moment.
It was a twelve-seater balloon and eleven of us were going. There was a family of five who were from a small French island off the coast of Madagascar and who barely spoke English. One of the sons was celebrating his 10th birthday. There were also a couple of other men.
After the pilot demonstrated how we should sit for take-off and landing, we all got into the basket. Kathy, I, and the birthday boy, were all in one section.
The pilot blasted the butane fuel and the balloon began to rise. Except for the sound of the pilot's occasional blast, it was a very quiet ascent. We saw a group of wildebeest but those were the only animals. It was an overcast morning and it seemed doubtful that we would be able to see the top of Kilamanjaro. We entered a cloud layer and the whole world was white - a white out. You couldn't even see where the sun was. I watched the pilot check his compass. He took us even higher and we rose above the clouds - 11,000 ft! VoilĂ ! There was Kilamanjaro. The sun was shining on the snow and we could see the entire top. Very exciting. Then we saw the shadow of our balloon on the cloud bank below us and there was a rainbow around the shadow. It was really a wonder to behold. It was quite cold up there. We stayed for a few minutes and then began to descend. The whole flight was quick, quiet, and peaceful.
On the way down we saw two hyenas and some kind of cat running away from the balloon. We all sat down in our compartments just before bouncing a couple of times on the ground, and then came to a stop. It was a great trip.
After the ride we were driven to a champagne breakfast out in the bush. When we arrived we saw fully dressed waiters- full service breakfast and a long fully set table. It was very nice. After breakfast they drive us back to the hotel. Kathy.and I slept for a few hours - until lunch.
After lunch we walked out to the lookout point. A Masai guide who was working there took us on a little walk along the fence. We came upon a small group of elephants walking toward the water hole. We were able to observe them for some time.
I did see the Masai boy again but the guide kind of drove him away.
Kathy's rash has improved dramatically. She was able to join us for the game drive at 4 PM. We drove again through Amboseli Reserve and saw many animals. We came upon another herd of elephants, two if which were standing over a small baby who was laying on the ground. It looked like the mother was trying to wake it up but it was not moving. We looked through the binoculars and it didn't seem to be breathing. We were all so sad about the dead baby elephant and the mom who was trying to revive him. One of the other van drivers said the baby was just fooling but we couldn't see any movement at all. Then, just as we were about to leave, the baby got to it's feet. - What a shock! The little guy had fooled everyone. We were all very relieved.
We drove back to the lodge for dinner. Tomorrow we will leave Kenya - and Yusuf - as we travel to Tanzania.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Aug. 1, 2010. Amboseli

We had a five hour rough ride from Nairobi today and finally arrived at the Sentrum Amboseli, very near the entrance to Amboseli Park.
(It should be noted how bad the roads are in Kenya. We have been on very few well-paved highways. If there is paving it is riddled with potholes and ruts. Riding in the back seat of the van can be torture- very hard on the internal organs and boobs.)
The road to the Amboseli Sentrum is the worst road. One wonders how they were even able to get the trucks in to build it. It is extremely dusty - as is the whole park. The fine dust gets everywhere. The tent camp is well manicured but very rustic. These tents have mesh walls and you can hear everyone who walks by - talking and constant bird chatter. In the evening the wind blows through the room. The lights kept going on and off in the bathroom and there is very little water pressure. The food was plain - not awful just not as good as we've been having. Other than all those things, it's fine.
There is a path out to a lookout point where a platform is built around an acacia tree - where you can view Mt. Kilamanjaro - if it is clear - but it never was while we were there. There is also a watering hole nearby where the Masai boys water their herds. I talked to one of them while I was out there and he wanted to trade something, but all I had was my camera. He asked me for a book - which of course I didn't have - Do you know how hard it is for a teacher not to be able to give a boy a book?!
At 4PM we went on an afternoon game drive where we saw: large herds of elephants, African cranes, three female lions, ostrich and zebra.
Kathy elected to stay at the hotel and rest. She treated her rash which seemed to become worse, and slept most of the afternoon.
Upon returning from the game drive we had an orientation from the hot air balloon guy, Riz. Kathy, me, Meanna and her grandson, Dillon, are going in the morning. We were disappointed to learn that this balloon ride is not really for viewing animals. It is mostly to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are going anyway!
After dinner we have to go to bed early because the ride to the balloon is picking us up at 5AM!

July 31, 2010. Back to Nairobi

We drove ba k to the Inter-Continental Hotel today. It was a long bumpy ride and we didn't arrive until 4PM. Then, instead of taking us to the hotel we had another obligatory gift shop stop in town. Things here were very high-priced. I looked at a ring but $465 was too much! Finally, back at the hotel, we received another orientation from Peter at Vintage Tours and went to our rooms to rest and reorganize.
Kathy developed a neck rash after her massage at the Mt. Kenya lodge and our driver, Yusuf, took her to a pharmacist when we arrived in Nairobi. He gave her some cream and she spent the afternoon treating the rash and cleaning some clothes.
Wehave been struggling with how to organize all our stuff since there have been new purchases.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

July 30, 2010 Masai Mara and the Great Migration

Hey, is anyone reading the blog? Send me an email to let me know.
We left the tent camp at 8AM this nmorning and drove to the Masai Mara Reserve again. And again we were mobbed by the Masai women peddlers. Some people bought bracelets and then we entered the park. It's surprising how we can get used to seeing some of these animals. Where two days ago we would have squealed over seeing one zebra, now we hardly notice them. The savannah is covered with newly migrated wildebeasts, zebra and other hooved animals, like gazelles, and impala.
The most exciting thing that happened today was an encounter with a small her of elephants. There was one tiny baby and several youngsters. There was a magical feeling being among these elephants. It was so obvious that they are family and protecting one another. We were in the way of where they wanted to walk and they waited for us to move along or to find a way abound us. Kathy was crazy about the elephants and couldn't get enough of them. Soon after, we saw two maned male lions feasting on something recently caught by the nearby lioness'. There were also a couple of cubs.
We drove all day looking for animals: giraffe, zebra, ostrich (doing an amazing dance), lions (we saw a female lion in the brush with four cubs), a serval cat, hartbeasts, wildebeats, hippos, secretary birds, etc. We drove to the Mara river where the migrating animals have to cross and saw an entire colony of hipps laying on the bank. We also saw a dead wildebeast floating in the river with a monitor lizard crawling on its back. We crossed the river (over a bridge) and crossed the Tanzanian border. Then we found a tree to park under to have our box lunches. The savannah is mostly 2-3 ft high grass with a few acacia trees here and there. It looks just like the great plains and the migrating wildebeasts remind me a lot of the old herds of buffalo.
the final excitement of the Reserve trip was the sighting of a cheetah that was walking away from a gazelle it had just finished eating. Yosef took us on a wild ride to get to the site and it was worth it. We got a couple pictures of the cheetah but for me the most interesting things were the 50 or so buzzards (vultures) who were fighting each other for a share of the leftover carcass - fascinating.
We left the reserve at around 3:30 - again we were mobbed at the exit by the Masai women (I bought a string of bracelets for about $6).
We drove to the Masai village for our visit. A young Masai man who spoke English very well (he is attending Nairobi University), was in full Masai dress as were all the other Masai men standing around. He told us a little about the Masai culture and told us we were free to take all the pictures we wanted.
First the Masai men did a dance for us and sang. Some of us joined in. The deep tones of the chanting were very primitive and moving. It was a call and response which ended in a lunge forward at the observers. After dancing, we were shown the Masai houses. They are made from tree branches and dung which is used as an outside coating. A third of the house is for the livestock, they take them into their homes at night. There is a sleeping area for the parents and separate area for the kids. There is a fire pit and that's it. It is very dark inside with light coming only from a round "chimney" in tyhe wall. It is amazing to see how little they have - or need. The entire village is covered with cow dung. The do not seem to care, it is a part of their lives. They also don't seem to pay much attention to the thousands of flies everywhere. Some of the women in the other group had a difficult time being around the dung and flies - especially when many of thge flies were buzzing and landing in numbers on the faces of the toddlers. The Masai feel that the cattle was created at the same time they were and they have lived this way for centuries. We think of the Masai and the cattle together. But it is a who system of Masai, cattle, dung - and flies.
A couple of the women on the tour had brought treats for the children. Amy handled out sugar free gum and someone brought crayons and coloring books, but I doubt that mosdt of the children will actually know what to do with the crayons or have an interest in them. Most children spend their days tending the animals. They love different kinds of food as their diet is very limited and does not have much variety. We saved some of our leftovers from lunch and gave it to the children when we reached the village. They were ecstatic to get it and tore apart the box it was in.
After viewing ther Masai house we watched them show us how to make fire with two sticks. Then tyhe women of the village sang a welcoming song and shook our hands. The women look so beautiful in their colorful cloaks and loads of beaded jewelry. But as I was watching them I wondered how many of them had had to undergo mutilation.
The Masai then let us to their outdoor "store" where we spent a good deal of time looking at handmade items. It seems that the cloaks the Masai wear, come from a manufacturing plant in Tanzania. The "parts" of the necklaces, and the beads are all factory produced.
I bought a necklace, giraffe mask, cowry shell instrument, and a carved giraffe. Kathy bought several beaded and bone necklaces.
We headed back to the tent camp and got ready for dinner. The same group of Masai men cam to perform a dance after dinner and brought goods to sell.
Tomorrow - back to Nairobi for a day of rest.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 29, 2010. Maasai Mara

We left the hotel at 9AM and drove until 2:15. What a difficult ride! The road was terrible - fill of potholes. Yosef had to keep zigzagging the van around them. Finally he turned off road and we took a dirt road most of the way. But the dirt road was just as bad and sometimes worse than the highway. It felt like we were lost in the bush. We did see elephants and a dik dik. By the time we got to the lodge we were pretty exhausted and shaken up. Siana Springs Intrepid is a tent camping facility. The "tents" are quite nice with two beds and a shower and toilet area. There is no door and the only way to prevent the monkeys from coming in is to tie a knot at the bottom of the tent zipper.
We had lunch and then listened to a talk by a member of the Masai tribe. He told us about their history - creation and god. He told us about the three stages of being a Masai male - boyhood, warrior and elder. Boys must be publically circumcised at the age of 15. At age 25 they must kill a lion. Then they marry someone who has been chosen by their parents. Girls undergo female circumcision at age 13 - it is horrible. Then after six months they marry. Men can have as many wives as they can afford.
Traveling through Masai country it is hard not to admire this culture. They live as they have lived for thousands of years. They are healthy and live long lives. They are bright flashes of color on a bland landscape - the men mostly in red wraps and the women in many colors and lots of jewelry. But after hearing about their rituals, it is hard to maintain that admiration.
At 3:30 we left for an evening game ride in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. This area is teaming with animals. We saw giraffe and elephants and most wonderfully the long lines of migrating zebra and wildebeats. They mingle together along with topi and other hooved animals. This was a moving sight - the long lines of animals extending into the distance. During the drive we also saw a magnificent black rhino. But the best thing we saw was a leopard up a tree eating a Thompson's gazelle. The leopard stayed in the tree the whole time - posing for pictures.
After taking the bumpy ride home we went to dinner. Lights go out here at 11 PM - because of the generator. So we tucked into our little tent for the night.
Tomorrow - more Masai Mara and a trip to see the river crossing.