Saturday, November 3, 2012

Kenyan Safari

Another one of those early departures...the 7:00 flight wasn't so bad, it was the getting up at 3:00 to get to the airport by 4 ish - that was the issue. We did, however, totally avoid the crunch. We checked in, went to the lounge, had a bite to eat, checked our email...all in relative peace. More people were coming in but honestly, it wasn't too bad. When we went to leave, however, we discovered a totally different world. The hordes had descended with a vengeance. The ropes were out front, defining the line for people entering the lounge. The store had 50 people waiting impatiently to make purchases - should had bought our water earlier! The flight we were on was completely full and ended up being an hour late getting into Nairobi.

That red and white bus on the's traveling down the median strip.

We were met by our company and after a bit of shuffling, we were loaded in a car, heading for our hotel. I do indeed have to once again comment on my favorite traveling theme...the traffic. The drivers around here would probably adjust quickly to traffic in Doha. The drivers wove between lanes, forced their way into traffic, made roads out of the median strips, and allowed no more than one tenth of an inch between vehicles. They would do Japanese drivers proud, weaving with no clearance between vehicles, pulling up on precarious ledges to let someone pass. We went out to dinner to a restaurant just down the street...and it took close to 30 minutes to get there. The driver assured us that it wasn't rush hour because if it was, it would probably take closer to an hour to get to the same place. After dinner, it took about 7 minutes to get back to the hotel. Really don't want to be in rush hour traffic!

We were picked up the following morning by David (seems all the young men around here are named David or Joseph because we met a lot of them). Our David is a gem...humorous and incredibly knowledgeable! Pick a topic...he's conversant. It is fabulous to have such a great guide to take us through Kenya.

Today’s driving was a short trip through the countryside, down to Amboseli Park, located at the base of Kilimanjaro Mountain. We arrived at our lodge just in time for lunch…and what a lunch. You know, it's a good thing that we don't have this much food available all of the time...incredible and delicious...though not particularly Kenyan fair. There are a lot of Indians living in Kenya so curry is found everywhere. Lots of great fruits and so many choices...they even have a man who will stir fry any vegetables you want. Scrumptious!
You have to get a picture of where I'm sitting as I write this. I'm lounging on the patio right outside our room. I am listening to the chirping, twittering, and altercations of a hundred birds. Mixed with that is the chittering of the ever present monkeys (they have hired some of the Maasai to roam the grounds to keep the monkeys at bay - great job security). I am looking out over the savannah where I can see zebra, wildabeasts, gazelles and elephants. There are also Maasai cows and sheep mixed in. Phenomenal view!

Amboseli Park

The park itself is not particularly large. It has swampy areas...spots where the water from the melting snows of Mt Kilamanjaro surface in the plains. These are the areas that sustain life during the long dry seasons. A few years ago there was a long drought that sadly killed thousands of animals. David said that everywhere you looked you saw dead and dying animals, starving because there was no food. Fortunately, rains have improved  but they're still way below normal in the grasslands...they are hoping for good rainfall for November. I certainly hope they get them. Mount Kilamanjaro casts this land in the rain shadow, compounding the problem. It looked like rain was falling on the other side of the mountain, in Tanzania, though none fell where we were. 

Safari drives generally take place early in the morning and in the evening, catching the cooler parts of the day when the animals are more likely to be on the move. Now, you must know, this lodge is not small, even though the park is. David said to meet him out front at four o'clock. Apparently this is the optimum time to raise the top of the van (at the last minute so the monkeys don’t get in) and head off to bounce over the savanna. Everyone in the lodge was given the same time so twenty vans or jeeps were lined up outside the lodge, waiting to head off on the washboard roads, in search of wild animals to shoot...fortunately only with cameras! The drivers all have radios so that they can let other drivers know where the animals are. A hot spot might have ten to fifteen of the vans converging for the photo-op. Even with the confusion and dust, we had a chance to see some amazing views of these animals, up close.

I think the best view was a herd of zebras. They seemed a bit restless, shuffling, looking around, not really grazing. The stallions had a wary look to them. A good pair of binoculars told us why...there were nine lions lounging around in front of them. Now I would have thought the zebras would have moseyed along, moving away but no, they stayed in the area, watching. Perhaps they wanted to keep those predators in their sight...or maybe they knew that the lions were full already?

We seem to have an affinity for cloud covered mountains. We were in China, to see Snow Dragon Mountain but the entire time all we heard was how beautiful and stunning it was...never saw it. Now we are at the base of the largest volcano in Africa...maybe even the world...and it's covered in clouds. We are making offerings to the wind and picture gods to have it clear for us. Hopefully...

The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast, we again put up the roof and headed out on safari for another washboard drive across the savanna. The temperature dropped today so the ambulating herds heading for the water swamps were making the trek a bit later...good for us because we saw lots of them on the move.

We discovered the latest contestants for the Olympic synchronized swimming - pelicans. We found five of them swimming around in one of the swampy areas (though the video was taken before the other birds joined in). Every time they saw a fish or other delicacy to eat, ALL five ducked their heads, raised their butts and spread their wings a bit, in unison! They did it over and over again, not a fluke. David said it was a fishing strategy...if that tasty morsel got away from the first one, no matter which way it went, it was likely to get picked up by the next guy in line. Cooperative teamwork!

Dust devils are everywhere here. The dirt is very dry, silty, super fine, and the playing winds whip them up quickly. As you look out, you can see ten or more at any given time. The colors are interesting, varying from very red to sandy to nearly black.

Ambesoli Park...continued

 This afternoon began with the clouds still dancing around Kilamanjaro but by the time we were heading back in, the clouds had twirled away, leaving us an imposing view of the mountain. While it wasn't exactly the best lit photo opportunity, it was still that kodak moment to get a shot of the mountain, knowing full well that the pesky clouds could dance back over at a moment's notice.

We found a very reluctant giraffe...she was quite worried about crossing the road to the water hole, either because of all of the cars, or because of all of the elephants. She didn't tell us which, she just kept trucking along. We followed her for a while, hoping to get a close up of her. We did manage to get on the other side and get a decent shot of her with the mountain in the background. Not quite a classic shot but then again there was Mount Kilamanjaro and the giraffe. We did get a great shot with the elephants and the mountain. Can hardly wait to upload the pictures – hopefully some of them came out well.

Our first sighting of hippos in the wild. I have never seen so many at one time! We had headed out for the Enkongo Narok swamp, a very large lake...looked like a lake to me anyway. There we found all of the other animals we had seen around as well as the hippos. One of them kept opening its huge jaws with the giant molars and the ears wiggling but we were never able to have the camera on the right one at the right moment. Still, it was great to get to see them.

On our way back to the lodge, we were heading across a narrow stretch of road that bridged the edge of the swamp. In front of us there were two vans...and a herd of elephants. To add to the mix, three zebras suddenly came snorting and running through the melee. The elephants were very unhappy about it, snorting and trumpeting and milling around. The big male looked quite grumpy...and looked at our van. David immediately went into reverse and we just moved back, giving him room. After a stare-down with the van he must have figured we had cowered enough because he finally moved into the swamp. Whew. We crept by and headed back for our camp!


OK...the next day…the drive to Lake Nokura was long, bumpy, and butt numbing. There was a marathon in Nairobi and wisely, David wanted to avoid the traffic so we took the by-pass. On the surface it seems like that’s not a bad idea and I'm sure your instant thought is 405 or some other by-pass in your life. Well...this by-pass is...shall we say...different. First, to give credit, it is still not complete. To actually get on it you go past the little roadblock, turn into the dirt path, and up onto the road. The road is a dream and we made really good time. Alas, it would not last. We travel along wind through the hair until...we get to an unfinished's graded dirt, now turning to a washboard surface but hey, we've done that before. Then it turns into potholes...similar to our roads in Klamath after winter. Here, however, people drive all over the place...including coming up on the opposite side in the dirt because it has a better surface. Never a dull moment.

I do not believe we in the states are thankful enough for our riches. The resilience and ingenuity of people to survive in conditions we would consider to be extreme poverty in many areas makes me realize how much we have and how much we simply take for granted. Big things, like running water. If you’re outside Nairobi or other larger cities, you have to go get your water to bring it to your home. I'm also amazed at how they reuse things we'd never even think of...old tires are cut and the Maasai make them into sandals. The rubber from truck tires are used in shock absorbers in the cars.

 Even though Kenya is not a rich country, they are putting care of the environment as an important goal. To help with their animal reserves, they provide extremely cheap buses for people so they can come see for themselves why they have put money on the preserves and how important the animals are. While there’s still much to be done, they're working on it.

Lake Nakuru

We arrived at Lake Nakuru late in the afternoon so immediately raised the roof and took off driving through the park...when the sun goes down it's DARK so you want to use the daylight! Now, I'm not really a bird person. In fact, I usually don't pay them much mind at all. Here, however, they were everywhere. I don't believe I've ever seen as many birds since the movie "The Birds", though fortunately these were quite docile and didn't swarm...well, most of them didn't. 

The lake is famous for its flamingos, and at times, the entire area is covered by pink birds. Unfortunately, they have had some strange climate shifts that are affecting the region. The area of the Great Rift Zone has experienced far greater than normal rainfall, increasing the incoming water and flooding the lake. (meanwhile, Mount Kilamanjaro had almost NO snowfall this winter - it is virtually bare and spring has just arrived) 

Back to the lake...the road you usually drive around the lake on is underwater and the new one is severely eroding already -a third new road is being put in (we are talking dirt roads here). It is also affecting the salinity of the water and the algae’s not growing. The lack of algae, the food for the flamingos, means the flamingos haven't come this year in their normal numbers.  There were still quite a few, interspersed with spoonbills, pelicans, the versatile gulls and more. 

I mentioned mobs of birds...we were crossing an area where the gulls had massed in the middle of the road. We started to go through. The gulls took to the air en-mass, swung around the car and dropped down behind us. They continued over and over, no matter how many vehicles came through. There were so many they filled the windshield as they took off. Never learned...when we came back through later, they were still doing the same thing.

Rhinos and Cape Buffalo

We had our first opportunity to see rhinos today. There were four white rhinos grazing in the grass on the side of the road. They didn't seem to be the least bit concerned about the cars going by at all. The Cape Buffalo also made their home here – another one of the Big Five here in Africa. They are very fierce looking animals – would not want to meet one at night. Strange to see so many birds hovering around them. Guess it helps that they’re herbivores, violent ones but herbivores nevertheless.

We drove up to the top of Baboon named, I believe, because there were hundreds of baboons up on the hill. You don't dare set anything down...the monkeys or baboons will make anything disappear. It did have a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding area...and baboons. 

On our way back down, Jeff fortunately glanced over his shoulder and saw two lionesses coming down out of the hill. We were able to get pictures of them regally ignoring us, rolling in the grass, and finally stalking away, in search of game. A great opportunity!

We headed off for Flamingo Camp for the night...a "tented" camp. I had no idea what to expect and boy were we ever surprised. The reception area was nice, seating for many, very nicely decorated, a bit rustic but well done. We were led through manicured paths out to our tent...and what a tent it was! It's covered, and it is a tent (the wooden/reed cover is over the tent). The resemblance to anything I've ever known ends there. When they unzipped it, you entered into a plush room with a draped bed ... Should explain, draped as in a mosquito net, not drapes, nevertheless...carpets, lights, and a bathroom with a shower! If that isn't luxury camping, I don't know what is.

As we waited for dinner, a local group came to sing for us...and sell their DVDs. They were very good and they pulled in the entire group. Before we were done, they had everyone in a dance, winding through the reception area, forming bridges, circles and laughing like crazy.

Heading for bed that night, we had one more surprise in store for us...they had hot water bottles in the bed warming the sheets for us. I like to be pampered.

Lake Naivasha

The next morning opened with crystal clear skies, warm sun, and us heading further south for Masai Mara. Masai Mara is a protected animal reserve and the most northern part of the Serengeti. The Serengeti extends across the southern part of the Great Rift and almost 1,000 miles into Tanzania.
However, there are no straight lines here...we just had to take a slight side trip. We passed by Lake Naivasha where they had boat rides out to an island where you could walk with the wild animals. 

There's a story here...
Years ago, back when they made the movie "Out of Africa", they needed some wild animals to film, so, they brought zebra, wildebeests, topis and a few lions to a remote area...with a windmill for bringing up water (also in the movie). After the filming, they captured the lions and any other predators and returned them to the plains. The rest of the herbivores remained on location. A number of enterprising individuals decided to open a "Walk With the Animals" business. The area is actually a peninsula jutting out into the lake, opposite the main road heading to Masai Mara. The main tourist access is via a boat. 

It is uncanny the resemblance the area has to a bayou. The jungle atmosphere, the shallow boats, presence of lots of birds, all sets the scene to make you look for Brer Rabbit. Our first guide, George, was a font of knowledge about the animals and birds on the lake. He wound us through trees and obstacles (this river has flooded its banks also, putting hundreds of trees out in the lake) pointing out this bird and that, telling us all about them. We got to see one of the birds dive for a fish, snag it, then have to argue with the others over who got to eat it. Fortunately, she won. 

We also ran into some hippos...the most dangerous of the African animals. Now I like hippos...from a distance. We got a little closer than I cared for but I will say we got some pretty amazing close-ups. Let's amend that. Jeff did. I seem to be lacking the extreme fearlessness gene men seem to be born with.

Eventually we landed on the peninsula where the animals roamed. We began hiking up into the hill area where we got a chance to get close to zebras, Topis, and giraffes. One giraffe let us get really close to her before she slipped back into the bushes. It was thrilling to be able to see them so close. There were some houses along the edge...what a stunning view of wild animals they had! There, I could live.

On our way back, our boat guide brought along a fish, looking for a fishing eagle. He spied it and told us to get our cameras ready. He whistled a few times then lobbed the fish into the water. At first we thought the bird was going to ignore it but suddenly the bird was swooping out of the, winging its way towards us, snatched the fish and took off. Sadly my camera didn't snap pictures as rapidly as the bird flew.

Masai Mara Camp

From there we returned to the numbing trip to Masai Mara. Fortunately, there were some incredible scenery changes along the way. We passed through hills with scrub trees, vast, dry grasslands, areas where the cactus dominated, scrub brush, and more. It seemed like they couldn't make up their mind what they wanted so they just tried out everything. Finally we reached the top of the Serengeti, the section located in Kenya, given the name Masai Mara. 

The camp we would be staying in was at a different park entry point, much further west, so rather than driving around the park we put up the top and went on safari wending our way through the park. We saw many of the same animals we'd been seeing, zebra, elephant, and giraffe but we also saw a second kind of wildebeest, the common wildebeest (lighter color and thicker beard...I've become such a expert..huh!). David was quite surprised to see so many wildebeest in the area. Apparently they had already migrated to the southern Serengeti in Tanzania but when the rain came here, thousands returned.

Since it has begun raining in the area, there are also quite a few babies appearing. Many of the animals will hold onto a baby until the rains come, guaranteeing more food to nurture both mother and child. There was the reminder of the life cycle that never leaves this of the birds we saw was a vulture perched up high in a tree, scanning the horizon for carrion to feed on. They watch the activities of the predators so that they can move in when the big animals leave. Actually, it was one of the prettiest vultures I'd seen with striking grey and white feathers. More on these guys later....

I'll admit it, my idea of a camp just outside the gate and David' do not match. We left the reserve to head for our camp just as darkness settled in. We entered the camp town that has built up to support the workers (they generally stay for a few months before returning home for a short break) and to provide food, gas, etc., for the camps that surround the reserve. Very smartly the Kenyan government decided to stop allowing permanent buildings in the reserve itself so there are only the original three within the boundary. All the rest of the tourist facilities had to be built outside. Back to the camp town...we drove towards it, we traveled along the edge, the boundary to the park, and we drove and we drove. It was probably only 2k but it seemed like 5. It's another tented camp, this one a bit more rustic than the last one but I'll admit I kinda like it better. We still have all of the amenities including bed, shower and bath-but no hot water bottle. I stood outside on our front deck, scanning the savanna grasslands in front, listening to the lion roar and watching the bats dancing around, devouring those pesky bugs. One bat flitted just by my legs, in pursuit of a tasty morsel.

This tented camp seems to cater to Indian groups, my guess because there are many Indians here and also because they have hired one cook who just specializes in preparing the Indian vegetarian dishes. It was wonderful to have such a selection. Sadly, there wasn't much else (and breakfast and box lunches were quite limited) but I was able to fill up on the great curries. This hotel is also making a name in supporting the local Maasai people. The Maasai work to keep up their traditions and way of life but there are also those who are trying to work with progress. Some of their leaders have made it a point to get an education and many of the children are attending school. It is mandated by the Kenyan government but not all children go. Many of the young Maasai people we met at the hotel are walking the line between the traditional way of Maasai life and the changes they encounter as they work with others.

What a luxury to sleep in. I actually can't believe that at 7:00 Jeff was waking me up. I never sleep in like that. We were going to do a full day drive so we were not leaving until 8:00 so it was luxurious not to hurry out. Once again we jumped into the van in safari mode, top up, cameras and binoculars out and eyes peeled for anything.


‘Anything’ started out with what had thrilled us on the first day and has now become routine...oh, it's a zebra, ho-hum, a water buck  oh, is that a giraffe? Hmmm...there's an elephant. Now the elephants are sometimes naughty boys, as David calls them. They will eye you and start moving in your direction. Full grown vans do not argue with elephants even the young males are daunting, so David immediately puts it in reverse and we cower out of its way. Once we've moved back far enough to satisfy him, he'll turn or cross the road and then, when he's far enough away, we’ll move on by.

The savanna is huge and stalking the elusive cats; lions, cheetahs, and leopards, is a daunting occupation. The drivers, however, work together; constantly chatting on the radio about what animal is where. The chatter became a background noise for us, not understanding Swahili, but we immediately knew something was sighted when David suddenly made a U-Turn and positively raced back the way we had come. 

Now, I have to tell you a bit about the roads here. There are the main roads, roads that are theory at least. Then there are the tracks, roads you follow where others have gone before. You're not allowed to just go anywhere; you need to stick to one of the two kinds of road so that the grasslands are not destroyed. Ok. That's fine's the beginning of the rainy season here. The roads have ruts in them and the water just pools there. The land is so dry it doesn't soak up the water quickly. Ruts that get lots of water in them get muddy, especially as more and more cars drive through them. Then add up and down hills and bumps, hills that seem to increase as more vehicles go up and over, cars slip and slide through them...I think you get the picture.

Back to the call...cheetahs had been sighted and every van was on its way. We're in a two wheel drive...and we had to go down a small hill, cross the tiny stream and up the other side. First van slipped but made it. Second one fishtailed but finally shot up the embankment. The third the same. Then it was our turn.... We went down and slipped and slid and spun and spun and spun. Back and forth a few times but, no go. Fortunately, that same network of men also look out for each other on the roads and the drivers from the van in front and behind both came out to push our van, just enough to get traction and we were on our way.

It didn't take long to see where the cheetahs could see vans traveling from the east, traveling from the west, heading north and south, all converging on a lone tree...with two poor cheetahs attempting to sleep. The convention of vans (I would guess a dozen or so) surrounding these poor animals was exciting for actually see the cheetahs. They, however, were quite bored with the entire thing. One pretty well ignored us, feigning sleep. The other one groomed himself, rolled over a few time, groomed some more and then sprawled on the ground as if sleeping. We were getting ready to pull away when he pulled himself up to a standing position and a big stretch. The video camera was on in a flash...and we got great footage...of him going to the bathroom! 

Leopard! (and Mud)

We finished our great videos and headed out to continue roaming the range, searching for elusive animals. We had yet to see the leopard, the last of the big five. We were following a couple of other vans when suddenly, the radio started chattering and all three vans, including ours, immediately made a U-Turn in the road and took off across those same crazy, rutted, muddy roads. All went well until we came to a very serious small stream crossing, MUCH deeper than the last one. The first couple of vans had no problem. We crept down, crossed the water, and gunned it up the other side only to spin. Rolled back down, re positioned gave it another shot. Third time was the charm; the angle was just right, the tire caught and we were on our way.

Due to the presence of the wild vans, it was easy to see the location of the leopard, but extremely difficult to see the actual animal. He was up in a tree, sprawled out on a branch, oblivious to the commotion going on around him. All we could see was his lounging body and his twitching tail. His coloring allowed him to blend almost perfectly into the tree. How in the world anyone saw him in that remote location, up a small hill and through the grass, hidden in a tree, is anyone's guess. All I can figure is that they saw him on the move and followed him.

Remember that stream crossing, the one that took three tries? Well...getting down was easy, cross the stream and....spin, spin, spin. Back and forth, David tried everything but we were well and truly stuck. That brotherhood of drivers once again came to the rescue. David and one man talked about a huge log being in the way; it restricted your approach because it narrowed the opening, however, the two of them couldn't budge the I said, it was huge and quite waterlogged. It didn't take long for a convention to happen right there at the stream...people coming from seeing the leopard couldn't go anywhere and the folks coming to see the leopard couldn't get there either. The men converged on that tree and while they did a fair amount of grunting and groaning, all together they got it moved out of the way. Then they went to work on the van. David did, of course, have a tow cable: obviously this isn't the first van to get stuck in the mud. One of the other drivers brought his rig down and though it took a few tries, we finally got traction and we were free!

While all of this was happening, the travelers in the other vans were taking lots of pictures and videos. Going to have to check out you tube to see if it gets posted :) we, naturally, didn't get much in the way of pictures besides grunting men and watching vans.


This is going to seem funny to say...throughout the day we came upon lions in various locations, sleeping away the heat of the day, or at least attempting to despite the idling engines, exhaust fumes, picture snapping and squeals of delight...yet they weren't the highlight of the day. Since we had been fortunate to see them elsewhere, and moving, these didn't grab the imagination in quite the same way. Strange how something a week ago would have been instantly exciting and yet now it was routine.

We headed south towards the Mara River, location of the great migration crossing of all the animals as well as home to the hippos and crocodiles. As we approached the bridge - no river crossing for us, thank goodness - we noticed a distinct stench in the air. We also noticed a number of vultures and marabou storks in the air. Hmmm, maybe more than a number, try a hundred. Another hundred were moving around on the rocks, eating from the carcasses of dead wildebeest, all in varying stages of decomposition. Apparently river crossings can be hazardous to your health.

Remember the swollen rivers mentioned earlier and lakes that were overflowing, well, the river was higher than usual too. When the wildebeest cross, the select a spot and then follow each other in a line- they always travel in a line. The first few across are fine: the rocks are dry and they scramble up. The rocks get wet. The next ones have a bit of trouble but they're up. Pretty soon it's quite wet, can't get traction (remember our van?) and one of them slips. There are so many animals crossing and they're mindlessly following and the ones that fall get trampled underfoot. The water is high so some lose their footing and get pulled under. Apparently a hefty number of animals get washed downstream to be thrown upon a stretch of rocks for the buzzards. It was a grisly sight and horrifically odiferous.

Monkey Thieves

A moment out for the monkeys. They have lots of little back faced monkeys almost everywhere we have been. They are champion thieves, lightning fast and opportunists. One lady was sitting on the veranda, sipping a drink when suddenly a monkey appeared, stole the cherry out of the drink, did not spill the drink, and scampered away. Another time they had left the doors open to the restaurant because it was outdoor bar-b-cue night and a monkey dashed in the room, onto the table, and snitched a single roll. One of the jobs the Maasai do is scare away the monkeys. If we jump up to shoo away a monkey it pretty much chitters at us, moves about two feet, and awaits the next opportunity. A Maasai man just has to walk close with a sling shot in his hand before the monkey skitters away. One room we were in the porter specifically mentioned making sure the doors were locked because otherwise the monkeys could get in. Drivers never leave the top of the van up when they're not around because the monkeys will get in and mess things up. One persistent monkey tried to get in our van while we were eating lunch one day so David stood and ate lunch next to it. They also kept creeping up on Jeff and I so the ranger was trying to get the whole herd to move on. I must admit, I rarely exercise so much while eating.

Afterwards, the ranger took us for a walk down the river to the Tanzanian border, watching for crocodiles. It had warmed up considerably, so the only one we saw was a large, brown gnarly one half in the water and half out. Most of the crocodiles would be submerged at that time, escaping the heat and we never saw another one. We did get to see a large family if hippos bathing in the water and resting on the banks. At one point just down the river a bit we saw a mother and a pretty small baby frolicking in the water. Small, you realize, is relative. The baby was probably well over a hundred pounds.

We continued roaming the savanna plains, searching for elusive animals, generally marked by a large convention of vans. We found some wandering giraffes and sleepy hyenas along with the numerous members of the antelope family. As the afternoon wore on, the hot sun melted behind the clouds, eventually morphing in dark storm clouds. Several thunder claps later and we had a downpour. Now most animals just continued eating, didn't really change much but the wildebeest's had a different strategy. They don't like the rain pelting their face so they turn their backs toward it. They also move into a long single line! Animals that had been grazing just moments before we're suddenly lined up shoulder to shoulder, facing away from the rain. It's a great strategy to keep rain out of your face but lousy for keeping track of predators sneaking up from behind. Fortunately the zebras stayed on duty, keeping an eye out on the range.

Hot Air Balloons Over the Savanna

I have to admit, for an area that is only one to two degrees south of the equator, it is much colder than I ever expected...or packed for. Rather than a hot, humid rain, this was a chilling rain that soaked through cold very quickly. When we returned to the lodge and dried out, we went up to the bar for a drink. One of the men very nicely built a fire to warm me up and dry out my jacket that had gotten quite soaked. It was quite pleasant sitting by the fire, typing on the blog, and watching the bat flit around the room, snatching up mosquitos. Everything is open air here, doors open as well as open spaces ventilation and air circulation so critters routinely check out the insides of the buildings.

We woke up bright and early the next morning for an early game drive. We stepped out of our tent to discover a brilliant sunrise. Absolutely breathtaking. Walking towards the lodge we were able to enjoy the changing skies. It's one great advantage to being in the country. The drive was still crisp and cool with the wonderful scent of rain. Sadly, it also meant that there were more watery, muddy roads but fortunately, they were not churned up into a huge mess at that time.

The early morning is also when they take people up for hot air balloon rides. There were five balloons in our area, floating through the sky, searching for animals. I had wondered why there were so many vans following...but then saw the breakfast setup for them. They brought tables and chairs, tablecloths, napkins, the works. Also the meal was hot, prepared, not the box meals we always get on the road. A very different dining experience out in the plains of Africa.
Although we did not soar through the sky, we did get to see cheetahs on the ground. These two were sauntering down the road, I believe just for the benefit of the extreme number of vans tagging along. They rolled on the ground, cleaned themselves, talked to each other and then continued their stroll, knowing they had satisfied their adoring fan club.

Maasai Village

After a late breakfast David drove us to a traditional Maasai village. The Maasai have opened up some of their villages to educate tourists about their way of life and also to help supplement the income of the village, pay for school costs for the children, and other needs. With the influx of so many people onto their lands and the restrictions on available grazing land, the Maasai, particularly the younger ones, are looking for ways to help themselves and their children move forward in the new world while still retaining their traditions and culture.

The men treated us to their traditional dances. One of them is a line type dance where the men weave around while chanting, finally coming by the visitors to shake hands. They have another dance that is designed, of course, to attract the women. It’s a competition dance where the men stand in a half circle, chanting a challenge to see can jump the highest. One by one each man enters the center to jump as high as they can. The one who can jump the highest is the one most likely to get his choice of young girls. It is traditionally a polygamous society because it takes many hands to raise and care for the livestock. It is but one thing that is slowly changing, with most young men feeling that they lack the income to support more than one wife.

The compound itself is surrounded by a circle of bushes and sticks to make a barrier, a barrier both to keep the predators out and the livestock in at night. Inside the family homes are constructed. The homes have traditionally been round, though many are now built in a rectangle. Inside you enter through a small mud room where you find the dry timber for building fires for cooking meals. Around a corner and you are in the main living area where a small cook fire is located in the middle and two bed areas on either side. You would sit on a small bench or on the beds to visit while waiting for the meal to be prepared. Everything in the home is serviceable. While they make many decorative items and the people wear many different kinds of beadwork and other jewelry, there's little decoration In the house itself.

The house is constructed totally with natural materials. The walls are made from sticks, tied together with strips from bark of trees. On top of the walls they put a paste of cow dung and mud, making the walls strong and water tight. They lay branches across the roof, cover it with grass and then again use the dung and mud plaster to seal it. It worked...the room was totally dry. Some of the rectangular homes now have metal roofs.

A bit about the matches so they make their own. They have a flat piece of olive wood that is in an oblongish  shape and a stick from a soft wood. They do the typical twirling of the stick in the small hole on the olive piece until they start to produce some smoking ash. The ash is dropped into some dry hay and then blown on and coaxed into life. The fire that they make is then shared among all of the houses in the compound.
The women came out to dance for us also. Their songs focused on two primary topics...making more babies and bringing the rain. They were successful with their rain dance today...but more about that later.

We couldn't leave without running the gauntlet of sellers. They had about twenty tables...flat woven pieces on legs covered with the same dung they use on the house...with many necklaces, bracelets, bowls and more. The worst part was each was a different family from the do you decide who to buy from? Sadly, and quite by accident, Jeff and I both bough something from the same table. Wish I had known because I could have had exactly the same thing from any table. Oh well.

Nature Walk in Masai Mara

It started out quite innocently, as all good stories do. David suggested we might want to do something different today instead of a game drive. We had, after all, seen all of the big five, including the very elusive leopard. He suggested a possibility of going on a nature hike. That sounded good to us since we have been sitting in the van a LOT and hiking around sounded just right. David arranged with Joseph, one of the Maasai who works for the hotel to take us on a walk. This, however, was not the walk for all...

Joseph is great. As we walked along the road he regaled us with stories about his people, old ways of doing things and the move into the new way. We headed down towards the Talik River where he simply walked across the water. I bemoaned the fact that I had changed out of my water shoes and put on my boots but...across the river we went. We heard about some different herbs and plants - one that they drink a broth from the root of the tree and mix it with goat milk. They harvest sections from different trees so that the trees continue to live. They also dry the elephant dung and make a tea from it. I have to admit, I much prefer the paper the Sri Lankans make out of dung.

We got to see the coolest thing, a sheep had just dropped her calf as we came up. You could see it shaking its head back and forth, barely seen above the grass. Mother was in ultra protect mode, staring us down instantly. We walked a bit closer to see the calf that quickly jumped up, wobbled a few times, and then tottered off after his mother. It was amazing. We had seen a zebra with a new calf the day before but did not get to see it jump up and run away, something I'm sure it did shortly after we drove on.

We walked along a small stretch of the savannah, watching for animals...don't run if you see a lion...but we saw nothing but scattered dung from numerous sources. The sky, however, was progressively getting darker, with lightning periodically dancing across the swollen clouds. The storm was relentlessly dropping rain across the Serengeti and up into the Masai Mara...heading straight for us. We continued our walk, listening and watching the progress of the line of rain draw ever nearer. To tell the truth, I think Joseph wasn’t near as concerned as we were about the impending deluge.

We headed for the bridge that was being built across the river. Now, I knew exactly where it came out..right in front of the lodge. Just perfect. is under construction so we descended to the river, crossed it again, squelch, squelch, and continued along the river. Found a particular stretch that you had to smear a mud face to get across. I made it but Jeff's boots were soaked and he lost it. Then...we hit a dead end and had to backtrack. That was a drag because then the nice ledge that was there was gone and I just walked along the water to get across. Crossing the river again we wove our way up the terrain until we recognized our own tent where we scaled the hill, opened a hole in the fence (it actually was there in the morning when the gardener was working but someone had closed it up) and walked up to our front deck. We were just in time...the rain struck just as we walked across the deck.  It was fun, soggy and wet but not for everyone.

Market Day is a big day for the local people just north of Masai Mara. It only happens once a week so people put on their best clothes, select what they want to sell, and start walking towards the "big" village. 

We must have seen close to 100 people on the road, riding in trucks (packed with standing room only), driving cattle, or trying to hitch a ride. Found out the Maasai husbands and wives never travel together. They both go to the village, but they each go on their own. They go to shop for food and he handles the money but she is the only one who will carry it.