Thursday, April 19, 2018

And then there is Kenya....

While all my mental energies have been focused on thinking about and worrying about Peru, there's the promise of Kenya still 6+ months off.  Everything is booked but for the airfare to JFK to catch the flight to Nairobi from there.  I was waiting for JetBlue to open up their dates that far out as my preference is always to go with them. 

When JetBlue finally opened the dates, I was faced with a conundrum. With a noontime departure out of JFK, is it possible/smart/risky to fly down that morning from Boston? Sure, in November, we shouldn't have to think about weather or other seasonal delays.  But this being New England and me being me, I worried.  And then I started to feel like I really ought to go down the day before and be there, building in a buffer that would allow me to get there some other way if I had to (train, bus, drive myself).  So that's when I realized the smart thing is to fly down the night before and get a hotel room at JFK.  Sure this is an added expense of an essentially lost vacation day and a $200 room that eats into my savings on the incredible Kenya Airways fare, but I've spent the last 4 days-of-departure for safari literally refreshing the Logan Airport webpage for blizzard-related delays and cancellations.  It's intestinal distress I don't need.  So I'm doing it.  I just hate to burn that day off...

Everything else is pretty much in order for that.  It's old hat now, with a packing list and standard routines and rituals.  I'll just need to re-fill my anti-malarial and off I go.  My camps are booked (and they are STELLAR, I'm so excited) and my private visit to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is reserved.  Now it's just the waiting.

As the journey to Peru approaches

As the days tick off and I get closer to leaving for Peru, there's a fair amount of anxiety slipping in.  It take a certain amount of willpower to talk myself through it, because "it", I remind myself, is purely fear of the unknown, or rather, fear of what I'm reading that I cannot confirm or deny for myself.  I remind myself that I felt this way before China, before Russia, before Africa.  And all of those ended up being completely innocuous for the most part.  Heck, Africa now is second nature to me.  Who'd have thought that?

Part of what contributes to the anxiety is due to my hunger for information and reading everything I can get my hands on.  Where this gets me into trouble is when I read too much on internet forums.  Just in the last week I've read about:

  • Pirates on the Amazon.  I kid you not.  They board boats and rob people.  My immediate thought is about my little canoe excursions, upwards of 24 hours of them over 5 days.  Pirates?  Ahoy matey?
  • Snakes.  I mean I kind of sort of expect them in the Amazon, but they're in Africa too and I haven't seen one yet (knock wood).  That Hiram Bingham himself saw them, and "chasing" snakes too, is concerning.
  • Midges or no-see-ums in Cusco and Machu Picchu.  The stories about people being nastily attacked by these "worse than 'squitos" bugs is horrifying.  Months of itching and scars, no repellent is good enough, no anti-itch treatment works.  ARGH!
  • The "is there or isn't there" argument about a upcharge for non-Peruvian citizens that you're surprised by when you get to the airport for a domestic flight.  Argh again.
  • Altitude sickness.  Sure I have been prescribed Diamox by my travel clinic but what if I'm one of the ones it doesn't work for, or it makes me sick?  Dang.
Now it could be that all that is a lot of bluster and perhaps good things to know but that I'll never have to act on.  Maybe I can better focus my attention on other things.  To wit:

I bought a life preserver for my iPhone.  No, seriously.  If I drop it in the river, it'll float on the surface in all its fluorescent orange glory.  I wish I could find similar for my new camera, but I'll just have to be super smart about it.

I also bought a packable backpack to downsize my already small carry-on-sized luggage into.  Apparently on these little canoes and even the train to Machu Picchu you can't take anything even close to full-sized luggage.  And here I thought I was doing well going all carry-on.

Seriously contemplating my wardrobe for this trip and it looks like I need to plan for at least two.  Six days will be spent in the Sacred Valley, which has a low average temp of 30 and high of 50, the last five days in the Amazon with a low of 75 and high in the 90s, but for the occasional "Arctic blast" that blows through this time of year and drops everything to the 50s.  Really.  Now that's a challenge.  Layers I guess?

Looking at all that, I suppose you could say that I'm trying to control what I can control.  And what I can't will just be part of the adventure.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Getting caught up

Well it looks like life really got in the way since the last blog I did.  That it's been this long is actually sort of embarrassing.  But, to get caught up...

Paris in May was wonderful.  I've found a beautiful hotel perfectly located in the 1st that I'd gladly return to.  The Vermeer exhibition was wonderful (far better than a different iteration of it in D.C.!) and I jammed about 18 other exhibitions into my week, in addition to a couple food tours, a wine tasting tour and a new find or a cozy neighborhood wine bar to crash in.  I'd love to go back.  If only I had extra vacation time!

I'd booked and planned 2 weeks in Italy for October but as with the previous year, health concerns took over and I ended up on an extended medical leave.  I cancelled Italy (it will be there when I'm ready to go back) and instead enjoyed being home for 5 weeks.  I managed to sneak back to L.A. late fall for Morrissey at the Hollywood Bowl and a bunch of museums.

Even with the cancelled trip and being home-bound, I still ended up with a strong 2017:
35,021 miles across 5 countries and 7 states
188 museum exhibitions in 42 different museums
12 concerts (4 Morrissey)

Having five weeks to lay around and think about traveling without the interference of work got me into a spot of trouble though.  Despite vowing to "rein it in" on vacation spending this year, I still booked a return to London for three Morrissey shows in March and then set my sights either on another bucket list destination or a return to Kenya. I figured Peru for Machu Picchu would be affordable, both in terms of time required and money to pay for it.  So I booked Peru for 10 days and will split it between Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and the Amazon, Tambopata region to be exact.  While the Amazon wasn't necessarily a bucket list destination, I will be in the area and given my interest in wildlife conservation and the environment, I figured that it'd be neat to see rainforest and the Amazon in particular.  The bonus?  JetBlue flies there!  So I earn miles on this one!

Then the inevitable happened.  Kenya Airways finally got approved for non-stop flights from the US to Nairobi.  The routing was up in the air until it was finally announced that it'll be out of NYC.  For me, that lops about 6 hours off the travel time each way.  It also lands early morning, cutting out a need for an overnight in Nairobi before heading out on safari.  And the fare was half what I usually pay going through Europe.  All the stars seemed to be aligning for my fifth safari and fourth trip to Kenya.  I found myself a skilled new safari planner and off I go, on one of the first flights from NYC to Nairobi.  It'll quick for me, only 9 nights on the ground, but another private visit with my foster elephants is in the mix.  It'll cure my need for safari this year anyway!  Maybe!

So maybe next year will be the year for curbing travel spending.  Except I've already started kicking around the idea of either Tanzania or Uganda for chimp trekking plus safari.  And that's not cheap...

Safari is lethal to your travel budget once you're bit by the bug!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Next stop, Paris!

Well, when last I wrote I was still in Nairobi and savoring the last of my African adventure before the painstaking 21 hours of travel home.  But I made it and while that feels like just yesterday I'm actually gearing up for another jaunt across the Atlantic.

Last fall I was planning to go to Cuba until health crises intervened and I stayed home for the best for myself and my princess cat.  The timing just wasn't right.  But that left me with an American Airlines ticket burning a hole in my pocket.  So I started poking around and found that I could get to Paris for pretty much just the change fee to change the itinerary.  So I did.  I quickly snatched up a nice hotel in the first arrondissement near the Louvre and all the plans started to fall into place.  I'm timing this trip with the massive museum exhibitions for Vermeer, Rodin, Valentin du Boulogne and the Leiden collection.  All told I have 9 exhibitions I'm aiming to get to, plus a bunch of foodie tours, wine tasting and cooking classes.  I'm hoping that this 6 day escape is enough to tide me over through the summer and my next bigger trip to Italy in the fall.

It's been almost 7 years since I've been to Paris, yet it all feels familiar and I see a lot of it in my head.  Navigation should be rote by now.  I know where I'm going and how things work.  It'll be nice to see it again and spend some time soaking it all in.

Today I packed (going carry on only again...there's just no other way!) and got my purse in order, although there wasn't much to that since I've just gotten back from a long weekend in L.A. two weeks ago; it was just a matter of refreshing the clothes.  Credit cards and banks have been notified and all my confirmations, vouchers and tickets are printed.  Just five days of work and a long weekend before I go.  Wheeeee!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is the Mara closed today? And all things elephant

As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel bathrobe at the Eka Hotel in Nairobi, having just scoffed down a veggie burger and onion rings and drinking my last Stoney Tangawizi on Kenyan soil. Yes, we are back to reality, back in Nairobi.  We've partook in our first shower that doesn't involve a bucket being lifted to give us water pressure or dodging the mushrooms growing in the tile.  But elegant waterfall shower aside, this trip has been outstanding.  I felt like I left nothing on the table, no regrets, no wishing for a second chance.  This is how I wanted to do the Mara.  And it feels good.

Last night I couldn't get to sleep.  The excitement of that night game drive wound me up so tight I wished I could go back out.  One simple thing that made it so obvious how incredible the cats are, all the wildlife out there is, for that matter, is that the guides in all the vehicles turned off both their headlights and the filtered spotlights a few times, so we could just sit in the black of night and listen.  We were completely unable to see, yet the cats can and do hunt regularly.  This is their preferred hour, this time after dark.  It's eye-opening.

I dozed off and on until about 4 a.m. and then the lions started.  They were close.  It felt as if they were right on our deck.  I found out later they were on the other side of the trees, maybe 100 yards from our tent.  They roared for the better part of 40 minutes. Another set of lions was off in the distance doing the reply.  What an absolutely incredible way to wake up on our first morning.  Well, that and our Askari guy bringing our french press and coffee at 6 a.m.  I will miss his melodic "goooood mornnnning" every day to get us up.

We packed everything up because we wanted one more early game ride before we flew out to Nairobi.  Early morning game rides are my passion.  I've never missed one, and never plan to.  So off we went at 6:30 with David and Kappen one more time.  Unfortunately it seemed as though the Mara was closed today and no one told us.  Practically no game was out, either predator or prey.  Regardless, we got to see another beautiful sunrise.  Every day we were there had a completely different sunrise and sunset.  To sit and watch is one of nature's gifts.

We all had as a goal finding Lucky.  All four Offbeat vehicles were out scouring Offbeat pride territory with no luck at all.  At one point Kappen spotted three light beige dots on the opposite side of the valley, almost to the crest of the hill. Completely unreachable by vehicle, that was Frank and Jesse, the pride males, and the mother of the two young male cubs we saw in the lion fight last night.  They were on a date last night (quite literally, she left the male cubs with her sisters to go cavort with the pride males!) and were sleeping it off up there out of reach.  Just below them though, we found the entire set of Offbeat nomad lions, all 13, heading into the hills to sleep the day away.  So we had officially seen all 26 of the Offbeat lions.  All the nomads had big round bellies, so they'd made a kill somewhere in the night.

We returned to camp and said goodbye to David and Kappen.  They were incredible and we both got a long with them so well.  I'd definitely go out on safari with them again.

We ate breakfast in camp for once, and they made a nice omelet with toast, fresh fruit and homemade jam made of passion fruit and something called a tree tomato.  I loved the jam.

A driver called Stanley drove us to the airstrip and Kappen came along for the ride.  And wouldn't you know it, he found five lions of the Acacia pride with a wildebeest kill deep in some bushes along the way.  This brings our total lion count up to 52 for the 6 days in the Mara. That's damn impressive.

So off we went on Safarilink back to Nairobi.  I sobbed as we lifted off from the Mara, as I usually do.  I love it there and am already wondering what it will take to return.

Our driver picked us up in Nairobi and drove us to Karen Blixen Restaurant in Karen for lunch.  We split Kachos (Kenyan nachos, no stretch there) and I had sweet chili peppers over rice and a Daiwa (vodka, honey, lime and ginger over ice).  Then it was off to Sheldricks Wildlife Trust for the private elephant visit.  Yes, again.

We met with Edwin the head keeper first and signed the waivers and then he gave us his safety speech, how to act and interact with the elephants.  We were in the mudbath area again.  And in they came.  Like before, Edwin called out their names as they came running in and the keepers had the bottles ready for them.  Each baby got their milk from their respective keeper before it played in the mud.  When all the baby had finished their bottles, we were allowed to interact, play with, pat and enjoy the elephants.  I had a mission to seek out as many of mine as I could.

Tamiyoi seemed to take an interest in both Kim and me first.  That same inquisitive trunk was all over us.  I found Ndotto, who really wanted nothing to do with me at all after our love affair last year!  Then I found Mbegu who has gotten so big in a year!  She's so pretty and very stoic.  I expect she'll have moved on to the next step of integration the next time I come to Kenya.  She's 3 1/2 now, the oldest in the herd and the mini-matriarch.  She's started to train another female elephant to fill her shoes, which is really an interesting social skill if you ask me.

I found Luggard, one of my more recent fosters, who was shot in the knee by poachers.  He's slower than the rest and he limps and will likely never be able to keep up with a herd.  That's just so wrong.

There's a new arrival at the orphanage that is still too unstable to give a name and foster out.  He was stuck in a snare and has an almost complete amputation of his trunk.  They've strived to stitch it back up but they're unsure how that will work.  I saw him sleeping and he was snoring so loudly, mainly because most of the air goes out of the open wound at the middle of his trunk.  So incredibly sad.

I got a ton of photos as Patrick our driver and Edwin the keeper took a bunch of photos.  I stood in the middle of them and got dusted by one elephant (Ndotto I believe!) and slapped in the back with mud by another.  Coupled with the bunch of knee-level trunk hugs I got, I was filthy.  I forgot how muddy and dirty they get!  It was just so cool to be there alone with 25 babies.  It was awesome.  And I mean that in the "full of awe" way.  Even the second time around, they are still amazing creatures.

We then killed an hour looking at all of our photos while waiting for the foster parent visit.  This is not as hands on as the private visit but still fun.  The funniest part is when they all come running in in little packs from the park, heading to their bedrooms and their last bottle of the day.  It's so funny to watch how excited they are, trunks swinging.

I nearly lost complete control though when Luggard came in.  He is so slow, he's on his own and his knee looks so hurt.  That's just so unfair that he has to live like that.  I know he's in the best place now and they'll take excellent care of him, but it makes me cry.  And not much does.

Once all the elephants are in their bedrooms, visitors can walk and see them one on one.  Almost all of them were eating, either hay or Lucerne or kibble. None seemed terribly interested in seeing us.  I took some photos and talked to some keepers.  I try to thank all the keepers for what they do for the elephants, it's not an easy job and they sacrifice a lot.   I talked to Luggard's keeper and I asked what his personality is like.  He told me he loves to be scratched.  And he went to scratch his hip and his legs and Luggard gets all excited and starts to flutter his ears.  It's so cute.  He's in good hands there.  They love him.

We visited with Kiko the giraffe too, who is MASSIVE now.  He used to still fit in the door of his enclosure but now he has to duck.  He came over and said hi to us and I gave him a good neck scratch.  What a beautiful creature.

When we'd had our fill of elephants, we went back to Patrick and decided we'd get a day room at the Eka Hotel, where I usually spend my first night here.  We both were filthy and didn't want to fly home like that.  They ended up charging us the overnight price, which we split, because it was that worth it to have a shower. We ordered room service and will leave for the airport at 9 p.m. for the midnight flight home.

I can't believe this is over.  I've been planning and dreaming of this since May of last year.  It far exceeded my expectations and I felt I scratched the itch I've had for the last year.  I think the only way to get over this feeling of sadness as I go is to plan another....

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Best day yet...

Two things I forgot from last night.  During dinner the rain picked up again and was pretty heavy for a while.  There is the dining area and then a lounge area, two tents connected by a small roof between them and the whole area is lit by multiple lanterns.  Someone around the table looked toward the lounge area and saw thousands (quite literally) of flying bugs hovering over the lanterns.  Turns out that they were termites, which, when the termite mounds get wet enough like they did in the incessant rain last night, are released with wings and are attracted to light.  It was fascinating and sort of gross all at once.

Also during dinner, someone shouted that there was a cat in the area between the two public tents.  One person yelled lion and a staff member corrected it with "genet cat".  I neither saw nor got a photo of it because enough people jumped up with cameras and scared it off.  But this just goes to show that yes, the wildlife does tend to mingle with the guests here.

Back to today...since it rained so much last night I had next to no hope of a great morning drive.  I figured we'd be contending with fog and mud and the cats would be wet and discontented.  In reality it turned out to be an excellent morning for us.

Very early on, we came across two of the female Offbeat nomads led by Leia, the older Offbeat female who seems to be taking them under her paw and showing them the ropes.  They all looked pretty thin though, so they likely didn't hunt at all last night (and who could blame them in that rain) but they also didn't look like they'd hunt today, as they were headed to their favorite spot up on a bushy hill to bed down for the daylight hours.

We had in our heads again that we should try to find Amani and see if she'd eaten.  We had no luck yesterday and guides told David she still hadn't eaten.  So we were cruising cheetah country again with no luck.  Then out of nowhere, Kappen spotted a lion quite a ways off, on the plain of all places.  David checked with his binoculars and it was an Offbeat nomad male trying to dig a warthog out of a hole!  So we zipped over to that and saw a very muddy young male digging for his dinner, literally!  Males generally do not hunt; the females provide for the pride, so for him to have to do this himself since he has no pride to take care of him at the moment, was sort of a moment of desperation.  He gave it a good shot but eventually gave up and walked off.  We pulled up next to the hole however, and could see the warthog just inside the opening, it wasn't that far off!  Neither of our guides could explain why he gave up like that if the warthog was so close.  The warthog was breathing heavily though, clearly understanding he'd just escaped becoming lunch.

We moved on from that and Kappen stood on the seat as David drove along.  I've come to learn that when Kappen does that, he's only sharpening his already eagle eyes.  This man has eyes like I've never seen, he can spot things with his naked eye that most people need a telescope for.  David stopped the car and they were scanning the horizon.  Far far across the river, Kappen saw a lioness "about 10 yards from zebras but they have spotted her."  This was the Acacia pride lioness we saw yesterday that had taken down the topi on her own.  David said she is an accomplished hunter and likely the dominant female in the Acacia pride.  Kappen also spotted about 100 yards away, a lone lion cub, made to wait quietly and patiently under cover of a bush.  I looked with binoculars and he was sitting there patiently watching his mom.

We made our way over to them and found that the second cub was with the lioness.  He'd likely gone against his mother's orders and followed her as she stalked the zebra.  He was now napping up against her. We pulled up behind them, so I could get the documentary shot of how close the lion got to the zebra.  It really was extraordinary.  David said that this same lioness once stalked a warthog on a totally open plain, keeping low and crawling, stopping every time the warthog stopped.  That's some skill for a lion.  It's pretty typical of cheetah, but not a lion.

We left the lioness to sleep off the failed attempt at the zebra.  Once she and the cub started to snooze the zebra relaxed but still kept one eye on her.

Bush breakfast this morning was on an overlook under an umbrella acacia.  The spread was pretty much the same as every other morning including my favorite eggy bread.  We got settled down and were about halfway through the meal when David heard a jackal barking behind us and said "Leopard". We quickly hopped in the Land Rover, leaving Kappen to watch over our food, and drove higher up so he could look down in the direction of the jackal bark.  A few minutes passed and no leopard materialized.  I think the plan was to go back and finish breakfast and then go drive slowly through the low brush to find the leopard.  But that wasn't meant to be either.

David got a call on the radio that Amani and her cubs had been spotted and were looking to hunt.  We quickly packed our breakfast stuff, chairs, tables, coolers, and took off.  She wasn't that far, less than a 5 minute drive.  By the time we got there though, the deed was done.  She'd caught, killed and had already tucked into a Thomsons gazelle.  The guide who saw the kill happen said the gazelle had been old and slow and practically turned itself over to her rather than put up a chase.  All three cats were really tearing into the carcass and I was so relieved she finally got a meal.  She'd not eaten since we'd been here, which was evident from the three cats' painfully thin physique.  This meal would go far towards remedying that situation.  Within a very short timespan, maybe 20 minutes, there was next to nothing left of that Thomsons gazelle and the three cats sauntered their way to a large acacia tree to lie down in the shade.  Satisfaction, for cat and aficionado.

But the show wasn't over yet.  We went back to the carcass, where about 10 vultures had landed.  They had been circling while the cats ate and waited their turn to move on to the gazelle.  They made quick work of some of the meat, but then the third act started.  The hyenas watch for the vultures overhead and make their way to where they land.  About 6 hyenas quickly displaced the vultures, and the alpha female hyena took the head with horns and most of the spine and ribs and ran with it.  This was her prize.  Seeing the dead gazelle's head with those lifeless eyes running around the plain was sort of surreal. The other hyenas gave chase, one hyena was running with a leg as his reward.  There was much hooting and hollering and scrambling but most of them ended up with bits of it.  And there ended the life of that gazelle, a drama in three parts.

After an exciting and unexpectedly rewarding game drive, we headed back to camp.  Lunch today was wonderful, as usual.  Couscous, a carrot and cashew salad, green beans with olives and feta and an awesome caramel banana pudding with whipped cream. Very, very good.

We spent most of the siesta packing since the plan is to try and do a night drive tonight after an early dinner.  I'm 80% through a book, so it's been a productive week of siestas for me.

After a quick drink in the lounge, we headed out at 4:30 with the soul purpose of finding Lucky.  David is on the same page as us, so it became a very focused drive.  Unfortunately it did not turn up any cub by the name of Lucky.  We saw the four sub-adult nomads of the Offbeat pride that we hadn't seen (so now we've seen all 13) and then we found Polypoly and White and two older males cubs and two younger cubs (apparently female but it may be too young to tell).  Not that I'll ever say no to lions, but after some of the activity we've seen, these sleeping/lying lions were a bit unexciting.

We zipped back to the camp for an early shower and dinner.  Dinner tonight was quite good.  I had either stuffed pumpkin or butternut squash, it was hard to tell which, but it was delicious, stuffed with a spicy bean and rice mixture, au gratin potatoes, the red cabbage salad I liked the other night and peapods.  Dessert was a really refreshing lemon cake.

It rained a bit around dinner time and there were some thunderstorms lingering about, but we still went out in the light rain.  I had low expectations for this night drive, thinking maybe we'd see aardvark or aardwolf.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd see what we did.

The drives are done in the same safari vehicles as we use during the day, but the spotter uses a spotlight with a red filter on it, so that the light doesn't blind the animals and make them vulnerable to attack when they can't see.  The drivers are also supposed to turn the headlights down when they're driving toward an animal.

Almost as soon as we left camp, Kappen spotted a single lioness who was walking with a mission, very focused and intent.  Her walk turned into a run and we couldn't keep up on the muddy earth.  By the time we got close enough to see what was going on, she'd already caught a Thomsons gazelle, which is really just a snack for a lion but better than nothing.  The problem was her sister came barreling in, followed by the four cubs.  This was the same set of lions we'd seen right before dinner, and now the sisters were fighting over the gazelle!  There was a bit of a chase and a lot of growling and howling.  The lioness who made the kill sat on it.  Literally.  She let the other lioness eat what was sticking out from under her, all the while she was making this very loud purring/growling sound I still can't explain (Was she mad? Happy to have food? Adoring the attention of her sister?).  The greedy lioness ate with abandon, with the cubs sitting nearby watching.  After about 10 minutes, one of the lionesses made a move and the gazelle was split in two, with the one who made the kill finally getting to sit away from the fray and eat what she caught.  The cubs made an approach and the littlest ones ran to the greedy lioness who gladly shared her part of the gazelle since the cubs were her own.  The two older cubs, the males, belonged to a mother who was out on a date with Frank and Jesse and just being looked after by these two lionesses, so they had to fight for what they got.  One of those males got scraps and didn't seem interested in fighting for himself.  It was all incredibly fascinating to see, as I've never seen lions in such a situation.  And if the game ride ended there, I'd have been thrilled.  But there was more.

We saw some cute little springhares who look like mini kangaroos jumping around.  We saw a white tailed mongoose, which is like a large skunk.  But the coolest thing was seeing two African wild cats, which look like a domestic cat, sort of like my Morley.  It was very cool.  The last sighting was a pair of eyes high in an acacia tree.  At first David called it an eagle, but on closer inspection he thought it might be a leopard, but getting even closer he determined it was a genet cat, which is what came through the dining hall last night.  I got a look through my camera and hopefully at least a documentary photograph of it.

All in all, the night game ride kicks ass.  I'd come back to do that in heartbeat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kill or be killed, at least when it comes to meals...

We headed out early this morning as usual.  We're getting good at the up at 6, out in the truck by 6:30 rehearsal.  There's not much to it though, as we set clothes out the night before and all that's left to be done is sunscreen and toothbrushing.

Today dawned better in terms of weather.  It was cool and there was just a slight fog at ground level but we could see a gorgeous pink sunrise that quickly burned off the fog.  We still have two missions: one is to make sure Amani the cheetah and her cubs get a meal and the other is to find Lucky the lion cub.  While neither is under our control in the least, it's nice to have a wishlist.

Our wishlist however, was entirely turned on its ear, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  It seemed slow for about an hour (which essentially means nothing but plains game) and then, coming up the hill with the sunrise behind them were Frank and Jesse.  God, are they reliable in their ability to appear wherever we are!  It was cold enough that when they exhaled, you could see their breath against the sunlight.  And as usual, they were looking lush and well coiffed from a trip to the bush salon.  They are incredibly handsome boys.

So off we went to look for Amani.  David heard that as of late yesterday she still hadn't eaten, so she's reaching desperation levels with three mouths to feed.  If the guides are concerned about her, and they are, so I am.

We drove for quite a ways before our guides spotted a lioness and two cubs on a topi kill.  David said that topis are rarely caught since they have such good eyesight and that this female took it down alone is really quite notable.  The cubs and mom were all tucking into the belly of the carcass and digging out the soft innards which they love.  I managed to get quite a few good shots of their bloody, well-fed faces and resulting bloated bellies.  When all three had finished eating the lioness dragged the kill into a shadow of a bush so that vultures wouldn't see it overhead and take the rest.  She then covered over the stomach contents (digested grass) and blood left behind so that hyenas and jackals wouldn't smell it.  These lions may return to this carcass later if they're feeling peckish, but judging from the utter food coma they lapsed into and that their bellies looked quite full, I'd be surprised if they did.  Although David said that the big cats are opportunistic feeders and will eat when the opportunity appears regardless of how hungry they are.  Or at least they'll kill when they get the chance, as our next sighting proved.

We spent a lot of time driving through "cheetah country", expansive flat lands filled with lots of Thomsons gazelles, impala and Grant's gazelles which are the cheetahs main prey.  We came up empty for a while.  Then there was quite a lot of chatter on the radio between our guides and another Offbeat guide.  We ended up following them with a sense of urgency and pulled into another patch of "cheetah country" just as we saw a young cheetah dragging a baby Grant's gazelle into some shade.  Quite literally, we had just missed the chase, but weren't too late to see the actual kill.  The gazelle was struggling a bit, despite being dragged by a vice grip around the neck.  Turns out this is one of Malaika's 2 1/2 year old cubs (Malaika being one of the super cheetahs in the Mara, who a friend of mine at work saw with this very cub on her safari 2 years ago).  This cub is newly independent from Malaika and still an inexperienced hunter.  So while she has the chase and catch part down, she's not very good at the kill part.  By the clock on my camera, from first shot to last was over 30 minutes.  This gazelle did not suffer well.  It seems as if the cub thought it was dead and would drop it, and the gazelle would attempt to stand, or move, or bleat, and the cub would become agitated and pounce on it again and again, and try once more the stranglehold across the neck.  We kept thinking it was finally dead, but then it would start breathing or trying to stand again.  It wasn't easy to watch but as time wore on it became obvious the cub wasn't even hungry.  She was just catching food for later.  She laid down next to it and tried to recover from the exertion of the chase and catch, but she was nervous and jumpy.  David thinks she was afraid hyena or other predators were going to come after her and the kill.

Sadder still was when we drove away there was one lone female adult Grant's gazelle standing up the hill watching the cheetah and the baby gazelle.  David said that was the baby's mother, who likely saw the whole thing play out and was helpless to do anything.  It must have been awful to hear the baby bleating and not be able to do anything about it.

So finally, on safari #4, I see my first kill.

Still worried about our other cheetah Amani, we headed back off again in search of her.  Pure happenstance brought us in path of an Acacia pride lioness and her 5 week old cub.  They were crossing the plains and headed into the shade of some shrubbery for the afternoon.  The little cub was tired and didn't want to go too far.  The lioness kept making noises to him to get him to keep up or move along.  Finally she settled under a tree and we parked nearby to take some photos.  It might have been a little too close for her because she moved shortly after that.  The little guy didn't seem to want to go, or have the energy to go, but ultimately he did.  His scampered off on his little legs and they moved deeper into the bush.

Returned to a delicious lunch today of homemade tagliatelle, roasted sweet potato and onion, a green bean and kidney bean salad, an incredible olive bread and fruit salad for dessert.  I don't know how I'm working up such and appetite here, just sitting outdoors watching animals all day, but I am.

The afternoon drive was pretty much a bust, which has never happened to me before.  I mean, afternoons can be more difficult in terms of spotting animals.  The cats are just coming off of day long naps and unless you know where they went to crash, it can be hard to find them.  Today was a bit different, and unique, as this trip has become.  It was meant to be short anyway because we are having an early dinner and night game drive.  We'd finally found some lions, the four nomads we hadn't seen yet and were waiting our turn to pull in and get closer.  There is a horse Safari company here and they were next in line ahead of us, about a dozen of them.  But the heavily pregnant rain clouds moved in and it was touch and go for a while, trying to determine if it would rain here or not.  It did.  At first it just got really windy and then some big ploppy drops started to fall.  We quickly left the lion sighting and were launching ourselves at top speed toward the river crossing, because you never want to get stuck on the other side of what is usually a dry riverbed when the big one hits.  We made it across but I'm willing to wager we won't be going back that way tonight.  Our guides were incredible though, they pulled the Land Cruiser right up in front of our tent, so we were only in the deluge for maybe 4 steps.  They rock. So we waited in the comfort of our tent for the storm to pass.  And we reminded ourselves how much it didn't suck to not be on the horses this afternoon.

What was funny though was seeing the plains game running around like crazy little kids in the torrents.  We saw a herd of zebra racing a herd of wildebeest.  They certainly look like they were having fun!

Our night game drive got cancelled due to all the rain.  Dinner tonight was fun as all of us were meant to be out but were in.  I had stuffed eggplant, mashed potatoes and carrots and a delicious fudge mousse.