Saturday, September 21, 2013

Kenya Reflections and Musings

Reflecting back on our second trip to Kenya, we find ourselves often conflicted with the myriad of challenges and issues Kenya faces as a country, and especially her people, her lands and her prolific wildlife. We were much better prepared for this visit than the first one eight years ago.  We had studied some of the British Colonial history as well as current government issues today in a free Kenyan state that is just 50 years out from under British rule.  We had studied major wildlife poaching issues which we thought were under control when we visited before.  Today, the tragic story of elephant poaching brings us to tears.  

There are many conflicts today with the extreme poverty, in the countryside as well as the largest city of Nairobi.  Many NGO and religious organizations have poured countless dollars and man-hours into trying to " fix" what they think needs fixing, but the needs are still there in such great numbers. Too many still lack clean drinking water and face food security on a daily basis.  

I had an interesting conversation with two women from Calgary who were with another travel company, but we always ran into each other at various lodges and finally at the Amsterdam airport.  They, too, were conflicted over their visit to a Maasai village where women still seem to take a back seat to all rights and privileges.  Yet many efforts to assist women only lead to frustrations on the part of the helpers.  My friends said they would feel much better if women, and young women especially,  felt like they had a choice--to stay with the traditional, tribal ways which will always subjugate women, or to gain an education so they can make some choices.  Education is supposedly free now in Kenya, but there are still uniforms, supplies and other fees which keep many from taking advantage of educational opportunities.  Boarding schools for young women are a start, but still woefully inadequate and inaccessible for many.

My Calgary friends and I couldn't continue indefinitely with our deep discussion of the many issues facing Kenyan women as we were tired and lapsing into blank stares as we tried to make sense of our quandaries.  I feel certain that all of us will continue to mull these issues and ponder ways we might assist.

As in most philanthropy, donors are advised to stay connected with non- profits they give to and giving to Kenyan causes is no different. Our guide, Aaron, has  formed a foundation which supports a school feeding program in a Naivasha school.  Food costs have gone up as well as has the enrollment, and he supports only as far as the money from donors stretches.  Through the foundation, he also supports individual students at $1,000 a year, again, only as far as the money stretches.  We are still in family discussion regarding which to support. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kenya Safari by the numbers

It is always interesting to reflect on an event via the numbers since we rarely are aware of some significant numbers while we are in the moment.

Five of us, plus Aaron our guide and naturalist and Lawrence, our driver, were together for a total of 11 days in sometimes rather chummy conditions as we traveled throughout Kenya.  We established an amazing rhythm early in our journey.  We all sat in the same safari van seats, always entered and exited in the same order.  As the week progressed, we even could shorten the process as we became one fluid movement.  We can be proud of our sense of time as we all wanted to be earlier rather than late.

We traveled nearly  3, 000 KM over the course of our journey.  We consumed in excess of 3 cases of bottled water as using tap water is never an option while on safari. We saw at lest  41 different animals and way too many birds to count. 

We saw for sure FOUR of the BIG FIVE with a possible leopard sighting at the Mt. Kenya Lodge.  We visited  6 parks or preserves, each with a unique aspect of the amazing Kenyan wildlife experience. We enjoyed at least  42 hours of game drives with 33 subsequent " lunch and learn " sessions with Aaron, our guide and friend.  We mention this because in 2 times  we have been on safari in Kenya, we have yet to see another guide eating with and teaching his clients.  This is valuable beyond measure.  Often I would comment that he could qualify his tour as a ROAD SCHOLAR  tour.  We learned so much it was often hard to assimilate it all. We saw 10 sunrises and 10 sunsets,  each one more beautiful than a previous one.  We shared a few with you on earlier blog posts.

The numbers will never ever tell the entire story of our amazing journey through Kenya.  Again, we repeat the saying, " If you have ever been to Kenya, no words are necessary to share the experience. And if you haven't been, there aren't words available to possibly tell you how we feel after our visit."

If you ever think you might want to take a journey through the amazing country called KENYA, please call on us to refer you to TROPICAL WOODS ADVENTURES as we can attest to the quality, the value and the ability to exceed all your expectations.





Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our Last Day in Kenya

We are all packed up one last time and ready for the tricky ride back out of the Maasai Mara and into Nairobi.  The road hasn't improved one bit in 3 days, in fact it might be dustier if that is possible.  We share the road again with a host of animals as before.  You cannot imagine the numbers of animals that are herded throughout the day in search of pasture grasses-- goats, sheep and cattle.


We arrive back close to Nairobi, stopping in the suburb of Karen..named after Karen Blixen, the Danish author of " Out of Africa"  who once owned a farm in the area in the early 1900s.  We stopped at the Karen Blixen Gardens and Coffee Shop for lunch.  This turned out to be quite relaxing after our drive into Nairobi.


                          Sitting out under the lovely trees, we could almost place ourselves 100 years ago when this area was first inhabited by Karen Blixen and her husband and considered one of THE places for the gentry of colonial Kenya to visit.

We scrap going to see the Karen Blixen House which is now a museum.  We are all hot, tired and looking forward to a shower in our day room at the Stanley Hotel in downtown Nairobi.  When we arrive downtown, we are treated to a WOW room for sure and take our showers and try to clean the dust from our luggage.  It is going to take more than a wet washcloth to take all the dust out.


We lost out actually staying overnight in this hotel at the beginning of our tour when we missed our connection to Nairobi and came in early on Friday morning instead of Thursday evening as planned.  This is a lovely old hotel dating back to 1902 with many modern updates, but still retaining much of the old British Colonial elegance.

We enjoy our final farewell dinner in the Thorn Tree Restaurant which has a rich history of its own as people leave messages on a board near the thorn tree.  Our friend from Nairobi, Sarah Muhoya, joined us for dinner and it was great to catch up with her.  Her husband, Nick was to also join us, but he became ensnared in the horrendous traffic jam driving in from the airport where he works. We found out later that there had been a bad traffic accident that slowed all the movement towards the airport.

                          Sarah shows a bag Joyce made for her.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Final Day in the Mara and on Safari

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and left on a game drive for the remainder of the morning......on the trail of the elusive leopard.  We heard that a leopard had made a kill last night and had his trophy, a baby zebra, up in a tree.  We found the tree, but no leopard.  We spent time in the area looking for the leopard because, Aaron, our guide said he would return to finish his meal.  Well, it didn't happen while we were there.  

The free time in the middle of the day is welcomed by all as it is so very warm. We enjoy sitting in our little chickee hut by the pool, but are still very warm.


This is the walkway to our rooms.  A reminder, the photo at the top of the blog page is the view side of our rooms looking out over the Mara and possibly as far as the Serengeti in Tanzania.

We have one more game drive late this afternoon.  Depending on the news on the CB radios in the vans, we may have one more shot at finding the leopards.

One of the highlights of this last game drive was down to the Tanzanian border.  While down, was south of where we were staying, we actually went up high on a ridge to the border area where it was safe to exit the van. We could stand with one foot in Kenya and the other in Tanzania.  

             In this photo, Gene and Kathy are in Kenya and Joyce and Bob are in Tanzania-- no passport needed!!

 The vistas were almost indescribable.  We could see forever out across the Serengeti in one direction and the Mara in the other.  We drove through a huge herd of wildebeest numbering in the thousands.  If they all came over in the same crossing, some safari people were treated to a National Geographic moment for sure.  We just could not fathom the numbers.    

We never did find that elusive leopard, but our final drive was a fitting farewell to our lovely Maasai Mara.  We once read the following quote about describing an African experience:  " If you have been to Africa, no explanation is needed.  It you haven't been, there are no words possible to describe the experience."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Afternoon in the Maasai Mara

Our game drive this Saturday afternoon was a show of lions. We found a male and female on honeymoon.  Our guide said this may have gone on for several days and they will continue until her hormones shift the minute she becomes pregnant.  They were resting for over an hour and we waited and waited until the Park Ranger told us to leave.  We were doing nothing wrong, but he thought the lions were bothered.  It wasn't like we didn't know the ending of the story and who knows how long they would have rested.  The male was a perfect specimen with a gorgeous mane like we hadn't seen.  The female never got up out of the grass.

                He is the Africa we all expect to see!

Later on our way back into the lodge, we come upon the two females and seven cubs who were at the zebra kill last night.  They haven't had to hunt today as they are still full from their hunt last night.  Today, the cubs are full of themselves and cavort right in front of us as close as 20 feet.  Four of the cubs try nursing at the same time.  They are nearly ready for weaning and 4 at once was hilarious.  The mother swatted at one of them once, but he was not deterred.  In the midst of our lion watching, Judy dropped her glasses outside the van!!!!  We all think of 100 ways to try and retrieve them without getting out of the van.  Two problems with getting out....the 2 female lions and their cubs and the other is there is a darn Park Ranger close enough to see us get out.  Finally, our driver is able to signal another of the van drivers, and he pulls up between us and the ranger.  Quickly, Lawrence, our trusty driver opens his door, slips to the ground, grabs the glasses and hops back into the van and the other van moves on.

                      Can you imagine 7 of these guys playing and romping all over the grass and down in the ditch.  The funniest time was when one of the cubs grabbed the tail of another one and pulled and pulled and pulled some more.  We laughed so hard and no one had the video running.

          This looks like 3, but when they quit nursing, 4      cubs emerged.  

Saturday in the Maasai Mara

We change the game plan today and eat early, then head out for a long morning game drive.  We follow the animals today and our trip takes us down to the Mara River as we can see a huge herd of wildebeests poised to cross......or maybe not.  Not 15 minutes later, part of the herd turns and starts running away from the river.  Oh, nuts!  There goes our crossing .......or maybe not.  Aaron, our guide tells us to be patient and sure enough, the herd turns back towards the river.  Now the wait is on again.  In the meantime, at least three huge crocodiles are also waiting in the water for the crossing. The wildebeests are well aware that they are there, and this causes the eternal wait.  Several hippos play around in the water, just waiting for more action.


This only a small fraction of the huge herd numbering well over 1,000 including wildebeests and zebras.
  In spite of the crocodile, all make it but one....he grabs a weaker one and drowns it straight away.  We think this is pretty fortunate that all make it but one.  Then we realize that another wildebeest has made the crossing, but broken his leg.  He won't last long as we see a pack of hyenas heading in his direction.  These unfortunate deaths are Mother Nature at work as there are nearly 500,000 wildebeests born each year and if they all survived, the preserve could not support them.

After the river crossing, we wonder what will entertain us next as that event is pretty hard to top.  We are not disappointed as we find a mother wart hog and her three piglets.  They are all so ugly, they are cute.  Look closely and you see that the mother is on her knees.  Her neck is too short for her to bend down and graze.  Mother Nature messed up on this one!!!


We are glad we have had breakfast as we are in no hurry to return to the lodge.  Soon the hunt is on for the black rhino.  These rare animals have been poached to near extinction, so it will be something if we find one.  Not long after, we head off in a rush and sure enough, there is a lone female black rhino--quite rare indeed and we enjoy a great photo shoot.


We make a pit stop ( pit is no exaggeration ) at the hippo pool and are treated to 7 hippos in the water.


  We end our morning game drive with our favorites...the elegant, graceful giraffes.

  We are having the absolutely the most wonderful adventure in Kenya with Aaron and Judy and our driver, Lawrence all of Tropical Woods Adventures.

Our day in Maasai Mara

We have arrived at our final destination where we will be for 3 days which is very nice as we have moved a lot.  The travel between lodges and preserves has been torturous at best...many bad roads and lots of dust.  Once we arrive, always it is beautiful, so we put up with the inconvenience.

Late game drive yesterday in the Maasai Mara brought great rewards after what had been a rather boring time.  ( can't believe we are bored with elephants, giraffes and zebras!). As we head back to the lodge, our guide hears something on the radio and takes off at breakneck speed.  We are rewarded with 2 female lions, their 7 cubs and a recently killed zebra.  The antics of the cubs entertain us all for a long time.  In the meantime, the African sunset captivates some of us.



                   This is about as much of a kill as most want to see.

Our long day has a spectacular ending and we are so tired most of us struggle to stay awake through dinner.  A good night's sleep and we will be good to go again tomorrow.