Monday, January 2, 2017

I can say "this year" and "next month" now!

With the new year, I can finally say "this year I'm going on safari" and now I can even say "next month I'm going on safari".  When I go back to work tomorrow I'll officially be in the 30s in my countdown.  Phew.  The last few months have flown.  But I know that January and the little bit of February I have to wait through can be cruel.

Since I last wrote I did indeed splurge on a new camera.  This one is crazy expensive but I didn't trust my Nikon anymore and wanted a significant enough upgrade without going full-on DSLR.  I wanted a DSLR but I just don't want to deal with changing lenses in the dustiest of all dust conditions.  So I have spent some significant time learning how to use this camera, including another class at Hunt's Photo where I bought it.  I feel good about it.  I know I can't buy myself better photos, but I think putting some time and attention into this camera will pay off.

To that end, I then had to get a battery charger, spare batteries and a bunch of memory cards.   I got the battery charger, a battery and a couple memory cards for Christmas, and topped that off with a well-placed Amazon order.  As of right now, I'm going with four batteries and seven memory cards.  I'm considering shooting RAW and JPEG this time, which may mean needing more memory cards.  The jury is still out on that decision though.

I also ordered my roll-on insect repellant and have my eye on a new Tilley hat.  I can't count the number of hats I've bought and not worn, but maybe this time will be different.  We'll see.

I applied for and got my Kenyan visa already.  I applied late on December 22nd and it was in my email on Christmas morning.  I wish the Rwandan visa were that easy.  So far I've submitted a rudimentary form and got a confirmation number and that's it.  Strange.  I'd really like to get them both ahead of time just not to worry about them when we get there.

My trainer has been great about preparing me for hiking in Rwanda.  The only real way to prepare is to actually hike but given the weather here, I'm instead spending hours on the step mill and doing a lot of lower body and core strength work.  And I'm starting to wear my hiking boots everywhere to break them in.  The altitude is something I can't prepare for.

All that is really left is getting my prescriptions refilled for anti-malarial, Cipro and Ambien.  Then it's truly over but the waiting and the packing.

With it being the dead of winter here, there is the worrying about getting sick and freakish winter storms stranding me here.  I hold my breath until I get to the airport and actually depart.  But this time  it's more critical that I stay healthy as I cannot be sick and expose the gorillas to my illness.  So I'll be starting up a heavy dose of probiotic and Emergen-C in late January.  And hold my breath just about everywhere I go between now and then.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Best laid plans...and all that

Well had things gone to schedule this would have been day one back to work after Cuba.  I've been blessed, I suppose, in only having one other vacation cancelled through no fault of my own.  It just seemed on this one, though, that Cuba wasn't meant to be.

All along I had this gut feeling I wasn't going.  I never really committed to planning or reading the required reading.  And then about four weeks out the trifecta of Bad Things Happening began, and I never left.  I recouped most of my trip cost, lost the airfare (although I can rebook on American should I have the bad taste to do so...hate that airline!) but managed to have to stay home due to a feline health crisis, my own health crisis from which I'm 8 days post-surgery and then that hurricane that hit Cuba the day I was meant to land there.  No matter what health crises did or didn't strike, it seems even Mother Nature felt that I just wasn't meant to go.

Having 9 vacation days to use or lose before year end meant I had to book something, thus I will be seeing our dear Morrissey in El Paso and Reno later this fall.  Reno, not such a bad thing as we're sneaking back to Vegas (my dirty little secret passion) for a day on the way home.

That doesn't mean however that I've not been busy otherwise in focusing on Africa.  I am rapidly approaching 100 days in the countdown.  After much hemming and hawing, I decided that we really should do the private visit at the elephant orphanage again.  After all, I have three new fosters to meet!  I also fostered an orphan for Kim, so she'll have someone to meet too.  So I contacted Sheldricks and got that all lined up.  We've made the second of three payments on the Rwanda leg and have one left for the Kenya leg.  Other than that, it really is all about the waiting.  I don't even need to buy much in the way of toiletries or clothes, which is sort of a bummer! Although I do have my eye on a new camera....

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Progress on both fronts

I've always said that once you book a safari (or any package tour, I now know) there isn't much to do but wait.  I'm in that position again for both of my big trips.

On the Cuba front, I found my own airfare that would get me from Boston to Miami and back on American Airlines.  OAT offered to book it for me for $500.  But I found it for $250 and got to pick my own seats.  Why wouldn't I do that?  I also just made my last payment on the trip, so we're about 95 days out from departure now.  I have nothing left to do on that front but read.  I have some fiction and some highly recommended non-fiction to get me ready for this.

On the safari front, I found out that I do need a typhoid booster.  It really cracks me up that most people never need a typhoid vaccine, or if they do, they only need one.  And here I am getting a booster.  Ah well.  So I've scheduled the appointment for the travel clinic in August and will see if there's anything I need for Cuba at the same time.

I also picked up some hiking gear at an Eastern Mountain Sports summer sale.  This was fortuitous since finding summer gear around here in December or January would be near to impossible.  So I now have a rain jacket, hiking socks, gaiters and breathable, long-sleeved summer weight t-shirts.  I may still get a new pair of hiking boots, but that remains to be seen.  And I need a good pair of gloves, as I've been warned about stinging nettles.  Best of all, Mom footed the bill for all this at the register saying this is my birthday gift!  So score all the way around.

I paid all the deposits for safari 2017 and got the airfare from Rwanda to Kenya.  So now, in terms of that too, it's all over but the waiting and the final payments later this year.  I've been losing myself in trip reports from Rwanda, which always fascinate me with wonderful (and close!) photographs of the gorillas.  I just can't believe that will be me!

All considered, I realize how lucky I am to be taking these "bucket list" trips (for the lack of a better word).  There are still so many places I want to get to, but I've started taking them in order of "better do it while I'm young and spry".  I'll save the US and easier European trips for when I start to slow down.

But the mere mention of a bucket list today cannot pass without mentioning Turkey.  I've been so troubled lately by all of the violence: the bombings in the historic quarter, attacks on tourists and even a recent attack at a concert given there by a US band.  But the bombing at the airport really takes it to a whole different level.  We spent a day there in Istanbul on a layover last year and both of us vowed we'd go back.  It was a fascinating time spent with some wonderful food and friendly people.  Unfortunately the violence is keeping us away.  I'm at the point now where I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable enough to go there in the foreseeable future.  And that makes me sad.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

You didn't think it would take me this long, did you?

I've been quiet for a while, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy booking travel.

After my return from safari, I became a bit bitter, hostile even, about what transpired in the Mara portion of my safari.  For a while, I swore off Africa forever.  Between my safari planner, the safari operator who still, for reasons that remain unknown to me, won't tell me why he hijacked my safari with his own vehicle and driver, the he-said/she-said got a bit much.  In all of that, I got lost.  It became more about their saving face than what they can do to make me feel better.  Even an "I'm sorry" would have worked.  I got none of that.

So in early March, on a day fraught with typical New England Winter, I booked Cuba.  Yes, that's right.  A country that was on the bucket list, but pretty far down, got promoted.  Given that Obama managed to reestablish civilized relations with them fairly recently, I decided I wanted to get there before I could buy a Starbucks mug and Hard Rock CafĂ© t-shirt.  So I'm going in October.  Yes, that's the earliest I could get there on the itinerary I want.  I'm going with Overseas Adventure Travel and have a full docket of cultural activities booked with them, as going and hanging out while drinking mojitos still isn't allowed, no matter what Obama does or says.  I booked it all in a day, which is pretty easy to do when all you have to do is get yourself to Miami and hand over a credit card.

But then, Africa started to call again.  I woke many a night with the need to "do it over".  My last Mara experience felt like a highway robbery.  It started in April and got stronger as the month wore on.  At first I contemplated not returning to Kenya at all, and just ("just"???) going gorilla trekking in Uganda.  But then I played the "well, while I'm there" game, and now it's 5 days in Rwanda (including a city tour of Kigali, golden monkey trekking and two days of gorilla trekking) and then off to my beloved Mara back in Kenya.  We have enough time in Rwanda to see the city (including the original Hotel Rwanda and the genocide memorial) and then the gorilla monkey trekking to acclimate to the altitude and learn how to use the camera in rainforest conditions, then two days of gorilla trekking.  I'm beyond excited.  It is 264 days between booking and execution. My China/First Safari Friend Kim is going with me this time, which will be fun.  But now it's all booked and the waiting begins.

This time, instead of leaving it up to safari planner to totally botch up my vacation, I booked directly with the operators on the ground.  Access2Tanzania, with whom we went to Tanzania on Safari #1, now operates Treks2Rwanda, so I booked the Rwanda portion with them.  I booked our camp in the Mara directly with the camp itself, and they're handling our transfer, airfare from Nairobi to the Mara and back.  And we get 6 nights in the Mara.  Heaven.  I cannot wait.

I've already called the travel clinic to see what I need for vaccinations for both destinations.  Hopefully I can kill two birds with one stone and only go once.  If I remember correctly, they said my typhoid vaccination would expire in June of this year, so I'll likely need that again.  Who would have thought I'd have to re-up my typhoid???

Let the countdowns begin...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day Ten -- No really, THIS is how you end safari!

It's always strange how these trips turn out, I suppose, with the least expected segment being the one that is the most memorable in the end.  I had known Nairobi would be good for the elephant visits, but I didn't know how good and why.

I had the chance to sleep in this morning, but I think being conditioned to be up and ready for a 6 a.m. game ride had the wrong consequence today, as I was awake and ready to go out at 5:15, but we weren't leaving until 9:15.  Ugh.

So I laid in bed and listened to the noises outside.  It had been fairly active most of the night, with some weird honks and growls I'd not heard before.  At one  point it sounded as if the greenery were being rushed by a trampling herd of something.  
At breakfast I learned it was likely one of Nairobi National Park's rhinos passing through, as it has done the past couple nights.  That's right, right under my window.  Crazy.

When I finally got out of bed (a very good sleep, by the way) I looked out the window only to find two waterbucks out there.  It is not often that happens.

I took a good shower (waterfall no less) and dressed for the day.  It was finally here, elephant day!   This was the day I made three trips to David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, to meet my five fosters and all the other orphans.  I had no idea how incredible that would be.

Breakfast was unbelievable, as all the meals here have been.  I had scrambled eggs, granola and the tastiest cinnamon pancakes.  OJ and a fruit smoothie to top it off.  I had had coffee delivered at 7:30 but still had another cup anyway.  No way I can resist Kenyan coffee.

Peter met me at 9:15 across the Emakoko bridge.  We were off first to a shop for me to buy some souvenirs and then to the elephant orphanage.  Shopping quickly done, we headed off.

The orphanage is pretty much how I pictured it, with enclosures for each little ellie, the mud pit where they get their bottle during the daily public visits and various areas for staff and supplies and whatnot. It's all dirt and clearly an animal habitat.  Peter got me the best spot, shooting photos away from the sun and right in front of a whole lot of mud and a large bucket of water.  As folks gathered around the rope keeping us from the orphans, I got so much more excited than I thought.  Finally, the first little ellies came running down the hill and into the enclosure.  They'd go right to their keepers who were standing with bottles and quickly gulp them down.  If the keepers weren't fast enough, they'd trumpet to show their displeasure.  Some are more impatient than others!

Edwin, a keeper at the orphanage, presented to us the purpose of the facility, how it got started and the rules of engagement (don't get down low and look like a soccer ball to them, don't yell, don't use your phone to call people).  He also introduced each elephant one by one and told what each of their stories was.  Meanwhile if the bottles were done, the elephants would be off basking in the mud, getting the mud shoveled on to them by a keeper, rolling in the dirt or over at the water buckets.  One clearly wanted to tip the bucket on us.  It kept sitting on it and rocking and rolling it forcefully in our direction.  Another was a little more direct: just suck up some water and blow it at us.  I got splattered with mud on my pants and a big glob on my chest, but it was fun being that close.  Little did I know how close I'd be in the afternoon!

The orphans were split into two groups, so the littlest ones came out first.  My Mbegu, Tusuja, Alamaya and Mwashoti were in this group.  It's hard for me to identify them if they don't have easily identifiable characteristics, but the keepers can identify them at a distance.  Unreal.  Alamaya is know for his missing tail, and because he was thought to be a she until that injury was examined further and it turns out that most of his genital region was eaten away and they had to create an artificial means for him to urinate.  He seems to be doing well now.  Tusuja has the tell-tale sign of having been stuck in a snare, with the swollen foot.  It was hard for me to identify Mwashoti and Mbegu without the introductions.  Maybe because Mbegu was my first, I had her in my head as being a lot older but she was still with the little ones.

The keepers cleared the area and led the little ones out.  They know the signals and the routine and off they went.  The bigger elephants came down next, and it just broke my heart to see poor Simotua, last in the line, slower than the rest.  He was the victim of a snare on his foot, so he has the deformity but also a hatchet wound on his forehead.  As soon as he took his milk he turned inward to face the bush and never came out to play.  (I would later ask Edwin about this at my private visit and he said it's because he's afraid the other elephants will be rough with him.  I asked and he said that he'd get over that eventually, it will just take time.)  The poor guy.  It broke my heart.

These elllies played and wallowed just like the others.  Whenever one stepped out of line, like trying to sneak another's milk bottle, the keepers would make a sound or point a finger at the offender and that was usually enough for that elephant to behave again.  Or just sneak around the other side of that keeper to weasel in on someone else's milk bottle.  It was fascinating to watch, especially how they can use their trunks to grasp the bottle and hold it for themselves. 

Much too soon, it was time for these elephants to go too.  They have a schedule to keep and they were off out to the fields of the park again.

We drove back through the park (as Sheldrick's is part of Nairobi National Park) to the Emakoko for lunch.  As usual, it was delicious.  It was a cucumber yogurt  amuse bouche, which was fabulous.  The main was butternut squash ravioli, incredible.  And I love how you just start to regret having eaten it so fast, and the staff appears automatically with a second serving!  

Back out again at 2:00 to Sheldrick's for the private visit.  Private meant me, all 24 orphaned ellies and their keepers and my guide Peter.  That was it.  To say it was worth every penny is a vast understatement.  I cannot believe how good it was and how fast it was over.  The ellies came in either individually or in small groups.  Edwin the keeper would recognize who was coming and shout out the name to the other keepers to have the bottles ready.  These elephants know what's coming and they go right to their keeper for their milk.  They guzzle it down with record speed and then know it's time for them to wallow and muck about.  I was thrilled to see Simotua was the first elephant down, and he looked quicker on his feet and happier than he did this morning, although he still stayed out of the way of the others once his bottle was done.  

I was completely captivated watching the elephants invade the little space and did not notice when a little one crept up on my right and rested his trunk in my lap.  This was Ndotto, one I do not foster, yet, and he then proceeded to try and fit his nearly 300 pound body on my lap.  At this point any thought of keeping clean was out the window as he was covered in mud and rolling on me from foot to lap.  He loved to be rubbed and talked to and seemed frustrated that I couldn't hold him better.  I know I was!  Finally I stood up because all the elephants were done with their bottles and I could walk among them.  I found Alamaya, my tail-less boy and Mbegu.  I couldn't pinpoint my other fosters, so I just sort of wandered among them and pet them when they seemed open to it all the while Peter and Edwin were snapping photos.  It was a tremendous honor to be among so many of these beautiful creatures.  It is fun to watch them interact and see their personalities play out.  What a perfect little universe, if only it wasn't so necessary.

Edwin took us to see Maxwell, the blind rhino whose mom abandoned him when he became blind.  He will live out his time at Sheldricks because black rhinos need to fight for their territory and he won't be able to.  He didn't seem to want to come out for a look, as his pile of scrub that he was munching down seemed much more enticing.

As my visit came to an end I realized how absolutely amazing it had been and how very lucky I was to be able to do it.  I will never, ever forget that hour.  And I will certainly have to get home and foster Ndotto asap!

I spent the hour between the private visit and the foster visit drinking Stoney Tangawizi and chatting with Peter in the car.  We get along really well and I was sad that we won't have another few game rides together.  But the best was really yet to come...

The foster parent visit at 5:00 every day is really very good, if you haven't done the private visit.  The foster parents line up and wait to see all the babies paraded in from out on the plains.  They come in in little groups and Edwin announces who they all are as they pass by.  It's so funny to see them run in, or saunter in in some cases, and they head right for their own enclosures as they know that's where they'll get their milk and fresh foliage. It seems like they are very much operating on a set schedule and they know how things play out when.

Once the elephants are in the enclosures, the foster parents can walk around the enclosures and visit them.  I found all my kids: Mbegu, Alamaya, Mwashoti, Tusuja, SImotua.  I also found Ndotto, who is still little enough that he likes to have the Maasai blanket over him for comfort when he's in his enclosure.  His keeper still sleeps with him too; there are soft mattresses in all of the enclosures where the keepers still need to sleep with them.

I have one other elephant that Mom fostered for me, but he has already been reintroduced to the next step of the integration process so he is not at the orphanage.  I took photos of all my fosters, and found Kiko the giraffe for mom and Rapa for my friend Bev.  I told Edwin that when I hear the names and finally get to see them in person, it's like seeing a rock star.  I read so much about them every day.

I passed by two enclosures that had no names or rescue dates on them yet.  I peeked in and found two teeny little elephants, so much smaller than those I'd just seen.  They'd just been rescued in the last week or so and have names but there's been nothing made available about fostering them yet.  One sweet little one (his name began  with an L) came right over to me and wrapped his trunk around my wrist.  He was strong!  But he kept opening his mouth and wanted me to scratch the roof of his mouth or allow him to suckle, which we aren't allowed to do.  It was so sweet to see how he reached out to his keeper when he was unsure or in need of encouragement, but brave enough to investigate newcomers.

I passed by Alamaya again and his keeper asked "are you still here?" with a big smile.  I told him that I can't get enough of the elephants and he said "me neither!"  I thanked those I could talk to for taking care of them.  They do such important work and look at how successful they are in giving these babies a second chance.  Wow.

My flight home left at 11 and we left Sheldrick's around 5:45.  That should have been plenty of time to get back to the lodge, have a shower and pack, have a nice dinner.  Then the sighting of the trip happened.

We were driving along in the beautiful golden light that is a photographer's dream and suddenly Peter stopped, reversed and told me to look directly right.  Up in a big acacia, straddling a branch was a gorgeous male leopard.  This was Peter's first leopard sighting of 2016 and it's a big deal because leopards are so seldom seen in Nairobi National Park!  I could not believe my luck.  Peter was thrilled, this was an incredible sighting for him and under such spectacular lighting conditions.  Except he hadn't brought his camera along!  Oh no!!!  He rang Anthony at Emakoko, who is a big leopard aficionado.  We hoped he'd be able to make it to the sighting in time but he was 20 minutes away and this leopard was starting to make motions as if it was going to move, standing up and cleaning himself.  Finally he went down the tree and disappeared into the tall grass.  Sighting complete.  I was leaving Nairobi National Park with a bang!

Anthony met me when I returned to camp with a big smile.  It was an amazing sighting for us.  He asked for photos to put on the Emakoko Facebook page and I complied.  While they were a bit too far off to be crystal clear, they are still pretty good.  That was one handsome cat.

The trouble with lingering over an amazing sighting like that is that it left me with only 35 minutes to shower, change, pack and eat.  But somehow I did it.  I ate my last delicious meal at Emakoko: smoked salmon on puff pastry, eggplant parmagiana and a passion fruit and almond meringue.  We were on the road by 8:20 and at the airport just after 9.

I have to say looking back over the last two weeks, the highlight was definitely the last two days.  Regardless of whatever happened at any other point in the safari, my last sightings in the Mara, coupled with my time with the elephants, my time at Emakoko and the amazing leopard sighting in Nairobi National Park made these last two days unforgettable in so many ways.  While I may have had my doubts at some points in the trip, I will definitely be back.

I slept most of the way from Nairobi to London, thankfully, and will head off to a day room in London to pass 6 hours before my flight home.  I'm so sad this is coming to an end, but blessed for the experiences I've had and the people I met.  That's what this is all about.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day Nine -- THIS is how you leave the Mara

4 a.m. found me awake just before what sounded like a pair of lions started to roar right near our camp.  I made note of the direction and listened, then heard a chorus of jackals start yipping like the next door neighbor's yip yip dog.  When I got out to the land rover to leave for our game ride, Nabala hadn't heard them!  I tried to explain where they were coming from.  Sammy, the camp manager, heard them and was going out to find them.  We got about 20 minutes out and I could tell we were off course, because by now I could see my tent on the other side of the plain and knew we'd gone too far.  Sammy radioed and said they were right where I said they were, and off we went.

These were 3 males, likely the mohawk boys I saw earlier in the week.  They had full bellies but there was no sign of a kill around.  Two of them were quite skittish and ran off when I moved around in the vehicle, but one stayed to comply with photo requests. We followed the other two to a large bush that would be their bedroom for the day.  The morning light was just perfect and I think/hope I got some wonderful shots.  We went back to the remaining boy and waited to follow him back to the same bush.  He followed the scent his brothers' paws left in the grass and went right though the same opening to the bush to sleep the day off.  How funny!

It wasn't much longer before Nabala spotted a lioness in the grass evaluating a herd of zebras.  We watched her for a bit and then she disappeared, further on though, the 6 sub-adult lions from Friday night (who attacked the two interloping brothers) were all lying in the grass keeping an eye on the same herd of zebras.  One female was quite in the lead, crouched low and watching as the zebras cluelessly (oblivious to the lions' presence)  wandered in her direction.  We sat there for about 90 minutes, just Nabala and me, waiting.  I suggested we go eat breakfast and come back if he thought it'd be ok to do.  He felt it better to wait, so we ate right there.  Just as we'd finished the food but still had coffee, another of the females went for it.  She sprinted down into the salt lick where a few zebras had gathered and out she came, with her siblings joining as quickly as they could. It all happened so fast.  When the lioness was very close, it seemed like she'd grabbed the zebra but it flipped over and tried to kick her, then flipped back and got away.  I didn't even have time to even think about lifting the camera until it was well past me.  It was just insane, but what a rush!!!  Of course that would be my last sighting in the Mara, and I'm so hungry for more.  Incredible.

Nabala dropped me at the airstrip and we said goodbye.  I did have a good time with him and some amazing sightings.  As the plane lifted off, I was a blubbering mess.  I so love it here.

Got to Nairobi and was met by Peter at Emakoko.  He knows a lot of the folks on Safaritalk, so we have that in common.  He asked what I'd not seen so far and I said "rhino" and next thing you know, we were in front of 6 white rhino.  Unbelievable.  I cannot believe this is in the middle of a major city!

The Emakoko is gorgeous.  It's made up of five houses set into a hill.  Each house opens out on to a balcony with large double doors.  There's running water and electricity, which is a bonus!  A beautiful queen bed that is dying to be slept in.  Rock hyraxes are all over the place here, and they even come into the rooms!  The girl who showed me to my room said it's ok to leave doors open, completely safe.  I'm sitting on my balcony now, where it's nice and cool, and getting ready for a 4:30 game drive.  Lunch was fabulous.  There were little spicy thai peanut spoonfuls that were heavenly.  The entree was a fish (red snapper) fry with salad, grilled tomato and eggplant.  They offered me a glass of sauvignon blanc. Dessert was a warm rhubarb custard with meringue top.  I could get used to this!

Went on a game ride this afternoon with Peter, my guide here at Emakoko.  The contrast between the city skyline and the expanse of the land here is striking.  45 square miles of beautiful with a skyline looming in every direction.  Just incredible.  In the few short hours I was out, I managed to see 12 rhino, both white and black, so I've seen the big 5 on this trip too.  We spent some time at a hippo pool for one lone hippo and at a lake for several others.  Peter says the lone hippo likes the shallow pool for himself, even though he can't submerge himself, he will loll about and do flips in it to cool his back off.  Lots and lots of white storks and some Maribou storks at the lake, many Coke's hartebeest here too, many more than I've seen anywhere else, I think.   We spent that golden hour before sunset with some rhino and that was quite impressive and very memorable.  I can't believe what a treasure this park is and that it is so accessible.  I'd be here all the time if I lived here.

My sundowner tonight was a Stoney Tangawizi.  I think my time with Stoney is drawing to a close so I'm trying to remember it as best as I can.

Dinner tonight was wonderful.  More Sauvignon Blanc, with cream of tomato soup and vegetable phylo, followed by white chocolate mousse.  The phylo in particular was very yummy.  Believe it or not I think it was all mushroom based, which is surprising that I liked it as much as I did if that's the case.  These folks here know how to do vegetarian food.  It may be a toss up between here and the Tawi Lodge for best food!

I'm already behind my mosquito netting in a wonderful king-sized bed listening to the noises of the night.  No need to close anything up, just listen to it all and breathe in the air.  I've been outdoors now for 10 days straight!  That's a lot of fresh air.

Tomorrow are my Sheldrick's visits.  I cannot wait.  Although I'm sad to be headed home at the end of it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day Eight -- A Mostly Quiet Day, Sort Of

The day was pretty telling, I think, when I realized at 5:00 am that I hadn't heard the lions.  A pretty stiff wind had picked up overnight and Nabala said that the cats don't come out in the wind.  I don't understand the reasoning, but in any event, it definitely was an indicator of how our morning would go.

We headed out at 6:15 and saw both the full moon set and a gorgeous orange-pink sun rise.  Nabala wanted to try to find the mother lion with the young cubs, but we returned to the spot where she was last seen and came up empty handed.  Indeed, most of the morning would be like that: looking for lion, leopard and cheetah and finding nothing at all.

Our ultimate destination was far from camp on a vast flatland with next to no grass, bumps, logs or trees, definite cheetah territory.  None were to be seen though.  So we settled in to have breakfast near a manmade dam and watched the plains game (zebra, topi, wildebeest) come by to drink.  I spent a lot of today taking photos of that sort of game, as I feel I ordinarily give them short shrift.  I think I got some great shots, especially in the perfect morning light.  Breakfast was the same as previous days, with the addition of mini-vegetable quiches which were quite good.

After breakfast we started to head back towards camp and came upon a family of 10 elephants, so we stopped to watch and take some photos.  Elephants are somewhat harder to find here in Naboisho.  Someone among the guests was desperate to see elephants here, and Nabala radioed that we'd found some and where.  As we turned to drive back to camp for lunch, Victoria (British mom in my vehicle) spotted another vehicle flashing its lights to Nabala.  We told him to go back and good things we did.  That vehicle had spotted a lioness stalking a small group of hartbeests and zebras.  She was low in the grass, only her ears could be spotted from where we were.  We watched as she paw-by-paw slinked through the grass closer to the game, narrowing the distance between them.  The folks in the other vehicle said that there'd been 5 females and they fanned out.  We could only see her.

All of us decided we'd wait this out in case they ended up attacking.  She didn't slink quite close enough but decided to leap and when she did it set the hartebeest on alert and they and the zebras bolted.  It seemed a half hearted attempt on her part and her sisters never materialized to help.  We rode through the low bush to see if we could find them, but we never did.  We followed the one lioness until she laid down under a bush in the shade, panting from the exertion in the hot sun.  Nabala thinks she is one of the sub-adult females we saw on Friday night with the eland kill.  Whatever the case, she needs to dial in her sisters for help, there's no way she was going to make this kill on her ow

Before lunch I packed everything except what I was wearing now or what I'm going to wear today or tomorrow.  It's hard to believe I'm at that point already.  I'm really looking forward to Nairobi National Park, the Emakoko and the elephant orphanage in the next couple of days though.

Lunch today was excellent, or at least one dish was.  The avocado, tomato and onion salad was absolutely to die for.  I would make that at home if I knew how to do it.  It would be fabulous in the summertime.  There was also a romaine, tomato and mozzarella salad, egg noodles with mushroom stroganoff for me.  A little slice of fudge for dessert really hit the spot.  I went back to the tent with a Stoney Tangawizi to read on the bed in my onesie.

The family I've been doing game rides with wanted to visit the Maasai village nearby.  I couldn't think of a reason not to and was glad to tag along.  I doubt I would have done it by myself.  It was essentially a large plot of land with several bomas and a few mud and stick houses built on it.  The 70 year old man who owns the land and all the cows, sheep and goats on it has several wives, each of which has their own home on the land.  They all have kids, ranging in quantity from 13 to just 1.  One 15-year old wife has one already and another on the way.

The littlest kids were the first to greet us.  They all came right over to us and offered us the top of their heads.  I had no idea what was going on so I backed away from them.  Nabala told me to put my hand on their head and say "sopa" as a welcome.  Then we took photos of them and showed them their image, which they loved.  Sam, the youngest son of the family I was with, was playing chase with some of them, while Bill the dad was teaching them how to high five and do a handshake.  The best I could do was hold their hand and pretend I was being electrocuted.  Hey, I'm not a kid person, but they seemed to think it was funny.

The homes were ridiculously simple.  Sticks and mud made up the outside, and the bed was made of sticks and a cow hide.  There was a small stone stove that could hold two pots and the very small room was hot and smokey, despite the holes in the walls to let the smoke escape.  And the rooms were loaded with flies.  And there were flies all over the kids.  I have no idea how they don't seem phased by that.

The women did three songs for us while the kids watched.  Then we got to ask questions.  I asked what they were making for dinner tonight and they said some sort of corn meal and water mixture, sometimes with salt and fat.  They asked us and while the British family had a very traditional answer, I said I am vegetarian and they asked why.  When I said that I didn't think animals should have to die for me to eat, the matriarch asked if I was Christian, to which I answered yes.  I'm still unsure of that connection.  She informed me that when she felt unwell and ate meat, she felt better.  Ok....

One non-sequitur though was that one of the younger women had a cell phone.  Somehow that just doesn't follow for me.  They live in mud huts with no running water, electricity or plumbing, yet she has a cell phone.  How does she charge it?

They have dogs, a cat and chickens.  The dogs alert to danger, the cat kills mice and the chickens do nothing.  These Maasai don't eat chicken or their eggs, so we're unsure what they are meant for.

This was a very interesting visit, surely more authentic than the Maasai village I visited in Tanzania. It makes me feel very fortunate for what I have.

Victoria asked Nabala on the way back why he is missing the bottom middle tooth.  He said it is first a marker of his Maasai tribe.  Second, it is for if/when he gets lockjaw from tetanus, they will still be able to feed him.  Honestly, I can't make this stuff up.  We noticed that most of the women in the Maasai village we visited were missing that tooth.  That is so hard to believe.

On the way back, I think we were all expecting a sundowner and an early night.  Instead we came across four lionesses dozing in the low thorny acacias.  The lions started to yawn and lick their lips and I knew they'd be getting up.  Nabala thinks these were about 5-6 years old because their noses were mostly black.  It was so touching to see them bond, clean each other, nuzzle.  I'm always so astounded by how similar they are to house cats.  Or how similar my house cats are to them!  I could not have been happier seeing four cats on my last night, especially given how slow the day had been otherwise.  It was a joy to share my sundowner with them.

I will miss my adoptive game ride family.  They were very nice, very smart and a joy to be with. I appreciate like minded travelers and have found so many here.

Dinner tonight was split pea soup, a vegetable bake with cheese for me and tiramisu.  I had my last glass of Unbelieveable red tonight.  I will miss that. 

Off to Nairobi tomorrow, after an early morning game ride!