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.

More Pictures from Lake Nakuru





July 28, 2010. Lake Nakuru





Today we left the hotel at 8AM. We are staying here another night so we didn't have to pack everything up. The hotel was feeding some of the monkeys on the grounds the morning so we got to see some more velvet monkeys and some colobus monkeys. We drove for about an hour and stopped at a shop/bathroom. (This has been a regular occurence and we think the driver may get some cut of what we spend.). I have resisted the temptation to buy things but today I bought a small carved gazelle made from olive wood and a pair of carved wooden earrings shaped like African women. Kathy didn't buy anything! She is now resisting the temptation!
After driving awhile in the park we saw some baboon troops, waterbuck, and cape buffalo. Then in the distance we saw a herd of zebra, near the lake. (Our driver, Yusuf, had opened the top of our touring van and we were able to stand up and look around.). We soon saw the unmistakeable pink streak of flamingoes, pink with black tips and underwings - blue sky and water, puffy clouds and mountains in the background. SPECTACULAR! Surreal! A little ways away, a large herd of zebra were standing together. We parked and got out to walk around taking pictures and gasping at the beauty. There were several tour vans - many with Japanese tourists with big fancy cameras and equipment. What an amazing place! It was so beautiful and unusual we were a bit stunned at first. We took tons of photos. (I looked at them this evening and they are fabulous.)
After continuing on, we saw many types of animals in their natural habitats: Thompson's gazelles, elands, black rhino, white rhino, warthogs (running through the bush withtheir two babies), girafffe (a whole herd of Rothchild - very endangered), fishing eagle, lilac-brested roller, ostriches, African crested cranes, hyena, hyrox, pelicans doing a black to white dance in the sky. We stopped for lunch at the "Out of Africa" picnic overlook and had box lunches. The big highlight of the drive was the lioness we saw at the end. She was splayed out on a tree limb some distance away but we got some pictures.
We returned to the hotel shortly after 4PM and saw two Masai giraffe right on the property of the hotel. As soon as we got out of the van we were told to get ready for our boat ride on Lake Navaisha.
Our new friend, the Masai guide, walked us down to the jetty where we loaded onto low floating boats. It was slightly overcast and the colors were spectacular. Papyrus plants were growing all around and the birds were plentiful and active. Finally we arrived at the pod of hippos. They were totally submerged except for ears, eyes and snouts. I was a little nervous having heard that hippos are the number one killer of humans in Africa. We got close enough to take some pictures. I even got a couple where they were yawning and showing teeth. They were very wary of us and never took their eyes off of us.
The boat continued a little way down a small river where we were able to observe more birds, grebbe, tern, kingfisher, Egyptian geese, ibis, blacksmith plover (makes the sound of someone hitting an anvil). The colors and water were beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. We boated through a lily field and the boat driver picked a beautiful purple bloom for us to see and smell.
We docked and walked with our Masai guide back to our room.
Later on we looked at some of the photos we had taken and then went to dinner.
On the way back from dinner our Masai guide took Kathy and I down the path which runs past our room. He used his flashlight to show us the grazing hippos who had come up on land to graze on the grass. They were right in front of the cabins!
Tomorrow, Masai Mara.
video

July 27, 2010. Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort





Today we left the hotel at 8:00 AM.
On the way we passed a point along the highway which indicated we were officially at the equator. There was a man there who performed a "scientific experiment" on the "north" side of the sign using water and a floating match, and then performed the same experiment on the "south" side of the sign. We took pictures and then he told us we could get a certificate at the gift shop - for $5! Of course I bought one.
We arrived at the Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort which is beautiful. The grounds are right next to Lake Naivasha and the are water bucks and hoses roaming freely on the property. They ado keep a couple of giraffes. There are tons of velvet monkeys and birds everywhere. The main lodge building is circular, wood with high ceilings and beams, fireplaces and big leather furniture. We are at 7200 ft. And I feel every inch of it. There is a gorgeous swimming pool and tennis courts-even swings for adults to swing on. Our rooms are also gorgeous, they are suite with a separate entrance way, a sitting room and a big window overlooking the grounds. The bathroom is huge - all blue tile and modern with a bidet. There are four room to each separate little cottage and the cottages look like they came put if Alice and Wonderland.
We went for a walk down to the lake. Kathy found a new favorite bird, the lilac breasted roller - it looks like a butterfly when it flies, There was a whole herd of water bucks in the forest. When we arrived at the dock there was a Maasi groundskeeper to greet us. We walked out on the dock and could hear the hippos across the lake. The light on the water was beautiful in the late afternoon and I took pictures of papyrus and waterlilies. While walking back we spent. some time on the swings.
Back at the room, Kathy spent the evening out in front watching animals and smoking with one of our fellow travelers. A parade of monkeys played right in front of our room and later a line of water bucks walked by. Hippos come ashore at night and grazed on the grass.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 26, 2010. Serena Mountain Lodge





We packed ate breakfast and left the Inter-Continental Hotel at 9 AM this morning. I left one of my bags there as we will be returning in five days.
We drove all day, only stopping once for a bathroom break. There was also a store at the rest stop and Kathy bought a carved bowl and two giraffes. (There was extended negotiating prior to the actual sale!). The countryside is mostly deforested re-vegetation and farmland. We passed through several small very primitive villages. There were a lot of people beside the road just standing around. We saw school children in their uniforms who often waved to us.
We arrived at the Serena Mountain Lodge at 1:30. All rooms here face a giant watering hole for animals. The rooms have big windows and you can sit and watch the animals pass by. We went upstairs to eat lunch and just as we were finishing one of the staff came to tell us that monkeys had gotten into our room and ransacked the place! They went after a small bag of fruit and nuts I had in my suitcase and littered the room with the trash. I discovered later that one of them had bitten through my tube of toothpaste and I had to throw it out. All in all, the damage wasn't too bad. Somehow the monkeys had gotten through the levered windows which had been left unlocked. The monkeys were so cute it was hard to be mad. They kept coming back and hanging around outside the window (a whole family with babies) for the rest of the afternoon, so I guess it was worth it.
Kathy went to have a deluxe massage and I hung around the room in a cozy corner, all wrapped up in a blanket with my camera and binoculars.
The weather here is overcast, rainy and a bit cold. We are at 7200 ft. but so far I am handling it okay - we'll see how I am in the morning.
So, from my cozy corner, all wrapped up in a blanket, I saw bush buck, two fawns, and cape buffalo. But the highlight of the afternoon was the big bull elephant who walked by and lingered around for awhile. This was the first wild elephant I have seen in person. He had two big tusks and was magnificent. I got to see him run and chase a few deer.
We went up for dinner at around 7:00 and got to know one of our fellow travelers, Meanna, who is traveling with her 19 year old grandson, Dylan. She is a retired teacher and shared very funny stories. After dinner one of the staff came around and asked us if we wanted to be awakened during the night if certain animals came by the watering hole. We chose the leopard, warthog, and bush pig - so we may be awakened three times tonight.
There is no heat in the rooms so they brought us hot water bottles.
Tomorrow we go to Lake Naivasha and see hippos.

July 25, 2010 Blixen Estate, Giraffe Sanctuary and Carnivores





Today we had a great breakfast buffet and then walked to the nearest ATM with the assistance of the concierge. When we got back we finally met out tour leader and the rest of the people on our tour. We were delighted to discover that there will only be thirteen of us and that we will be split into two groups of six and seven. A lot of the people are older and they were very tired from their travels.
Nevertheless, fifteen minutes after the orientation meeting, we were on the way to the Karen Blixen estate. The grounds were being used for a wedding and the music was blasting all during our tour. Kathy was particularly glad to have visited the house because she had read Blixen's biography. She said the tour guide did a good job of telling the story of Blixen's life.
Next we went to the giraffe sanctuary and fed the giraffes pellets of food from a raised porch. We also had a talk on the different kinds of giraffes (there are nine different types in Africa and three types in Kenya (reticulated, Masai, and Rothschild-this is the most endangered with only some 500 left).
They also had two very healthy warthogs who were fun to watch as they played in the grass.
Lastly, we went to eat at "Carnivores" restaurant. Here they serve all types of grilled meat and carve it off the skewer right at your table. We must have had at least ten different meats with sauces.
We got to meet some of our fellow travelers during dinner but a lot of them were really tired and groggy from the trip.
Tomorrow we leave Nairobi for the Serena Lodge (7200 ft.).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nairobi July 24, 2010 Elephant Orphanage and Nairobi National Museum




We overslept! We had to jump up to meet our driver. We got up and ready in 40 minutes and met our driver, Simon, in the lobby. He drove us to the Daphne Sheldrich Elephant Orphanage. When we arrived we lined up along a rope and waited for the baby elephants. Soon they came running out to the keepers who had giant bottles of milk formula to feed them. They were darling! After eating, they rompered and played with each other in the dirt, water, and mud. They each had their own personality and name. I had never seen so many baby elephants in one place. One of the keepers gave a talk on the rescue and raising of the elephants. Eventually they would be returned to the wild.
The second group of elephants was a little older and played roughly with each other. Some of us got to touch them - very rough and muddy.
After the orphanage, Simon took us to the Nairobi National Museum. We had a grilled chicken lunch at a small restaurant there along with two begging cats. (Kathy couldn't resist feeding them some chicken.)
It was very exciting to visit the museum. We went straight to the "Cradle of Mankind" wing and saw a very good exhibit of skulls and early hominids along with a timeline of their evolution. But the real highlight was the back room where they kept the original skulls of early humans which had added the most to our understanding of human evolution. The skulls were kept in temperature and motion sensitive cases. They even had the almost-complete skeleton of Turkana boy - what a thrill!
The museum also contains African artifacts from many different Kenyan tribes and an enormous stuffed bird collection.
I bought several posters at the gift shop. Kathy bought a beautiful ruby and emerald (the Kenyan colors) necklace at another shop.
We took a cab ride back to the hotel and sat around the pool and talked through
sunset.

AFRICA! July 23, 2010


We arrived at Nairobi airport at 6:45 AM, secured our luggage and grabbed a cab to the hotel. Our cab driver (Sam) told us a bit about Kenyan politics and the differences between the tribes and their disagreements. The Kokuyu tribe (Sam's tribe) is by far the majority and therefore wins all the elections. While the other tribes feel a need for change and different representation. After the last election, when the incumbent president was reelected, the other tribes rioted, destroyed property, and some 1500 people were killed. Our driver, Sam, lost his safari jeep (it was destroyed by the rioters) and now has to drive a cab - with very little hope of being able to buy another jeep (some $70000).
Kenya money is the shilling. There are about 75 shillings to a dollar.
The drive from the airport was very long and we were stuck in terrible traffic. There were many, many people walking along the road-too poor to afford the local buses. No white faces. It was a little disconcerting.
The Kenyan people, so far, are a handsome people, fit in face and body. They have been exceedingly polite and accommodating to us.
Our hotel room is on the 7th floor with somewhat of a view of the city

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

London Tour July 21, 2010




Today we took a very crowded "coach" tour with Evan Evans Guided tours.
We went first to Oxford, beginning with Christchurch College. This is where the
famous dining room from Harry Potter was inspired. It was also the home of Lewis Carroll and many of the characters and places in Alice in Wonderland were based on people and places here.
Our next drive was through the Cotswold - home of thatched roof homes and 42 registered witches!
Stratford-upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We viewed a presentation about him and walked through his house.
Our last stop was the fairy tale-like.Warwick Castle.
The castle is being managed by a private company and so had somewhat of
an.amusement park undertone. But we were able to go see the jail and oubliette as well
as authentic clothing, furniture, paintings and weapons. The grounds are beautiful with a river and waterfall.
Upon returning to our hotel we grabbed a seat at a local pub for fish and chips.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

England

July 20
We made it to London and I made a discovery -- I brought too much stuff! After hauling two heavy bags through the underground I was desperate to either repack it or get rid of half of it. So, after checking into our very small room at the Corus Hyde Park Hotel, we took the bus to Oxford Street and went shopping.
I had also discovered that the pair of shoes I pulled out of my suitcase at the last minute were the pair I had really wanted to take... so we were shoe shopping az well.
After much walking, people watching (a large Muslim presence here), and shoe trying, Kathy and I both ended up with a pair of shoes.
We then ate dinner at a wonderful Indian food place - YUM!
I am still working on the luggage situation. Tomorrow we go on our organized tour of Cotswold and Oxford.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Off to Scotland


Yesterday I finalized the arrangements for an added trip to Scotland after returning to London from Kenya.
I have been wanting to see Orkney Island for years and am thrilled to finally be able to go.
Orkney is the home of Skara Brae, a neolithic village near the sea. I have also scheduled a tour of the highlands.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

One Week to Go




My first blog post! Well, let's see if if actually works. I still have to figure out how to add pictures and, really, to figure out what exactly it is that a blog does? Is this a one way dialog or can people talk to me, too?

This blog is to inform all interested parties about my various adventures over the next few months while I am on leave from teaching.

So far it has been about house cleaning, paperwork, trip preparations, and a fun Fourth of July party complete with fireworks. (I did get a couple of neat looking spider bites while cleaning the yard.)

Nine more days before we leave for London and then on to Africa. It has been quite complicated to come this far... shots, luggage, layover in London, haggling with the tour operator and visa company. Things are finally settled now and the hard decisions of packing are before me.