Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized
                We got up and had a quick breakfast before saying bye to mom and dad…they are continuing on to Tanzania and Kendra and I are heading back to Nairobi to leave for home today.  The ride was easy compared to some of the other long and bumpy ones we’ve done over the past few days.  And, as an added bonus, the ladies selling things at the gate had the bowls that mom and I both liked so I was able to get a bowl for mom as we passed through!  Yeah!

                We arrived at the hotel and had no problem checking into our flights and our rooms.  The tricky part came when I started cutting up cardboard boxes and using tape in attempt to make a box for my giraffe!  His name is Alfred, by the way!  I managed to take apart three cardboard boxes and retape them together in something that looked similar to a golf-bag shaped box.  In the box I also managed to put my least valuable clothes and my Maasai blanket for protection!  It looked pretty scary, not going to lie!  I was definitely concerned about the stability of my box considering it needs to go ½ way around the world!

                Kendra stayed in the room and attempted to sleep while I went downstairs for a work out.  It was great…I am so happy that they had a gym in this hotel!  Nice to fit in a few good ones in between travel days!  We ate a nice dinner/lunch (linner!) in the hotel dining room just before we were taken to the airport.

                I paid 800 khs to have my giraffe wrapped in plastic at the airport…it was definitely worth it because they made it look sooooo good and secure!  I was impressed, for sure!  10$ for “shipping” as my luggage is pretty good…if it makes it there in one piece, I suppose!  We will see once I get home.  Nothing I can do about it now!

                As we checked in the agent asked us if we wanted to be bumped.  I automatically said yes and Kendra said no!  It was soooo hard!  I know Kendra wanted to go home and she knows I can’t say no to free money!  Finally, because we couldn’t agree, the agent left us to think about it for a while so that he could help others…I totally begged Kendra to stay another full day in Nairobi!  I love getting bumped and as well as the compensation money, we’d be guaranteed first class to Zurich on the same flight tomorrow.  After a lot of begging and pleading she said it was my decision and that she’d be okay with spending another day here…

                …and then I thought about it…and thought about it…and felt bad for making Kendra stay when she really didn’t want to…and putting both of our airport pick-up people on the other end come another day later to get us…and possibly missing out seeing Laura in Heathrow…so we checked in and will be heading to Zurich in economy this evening…and I’ll get over it (eventually!).

                (Hopefully I get first class from Heathrow to Edmonton anyway…that would still be an awesome thing! J)

Yeah for the awesome last two weeks….back to reality in about 29 hours! L

Until next time!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized

                 We woke up early this morning because our game drive started at 6:30 this morning.  Unfortunately, after all of the excitement of last evening, it was hard to compare!!  We did see some cool things, however!  We saw lines and lines of elephants and zebras walking towards the marshy area for the day, which was neat to see.

                As well we saw hyenas three different times.  The last time we saw them there was a group of three and they were running alongside the road checking out the other animals.  A couple of times the group of hyenas had a stand-off with a wildebeest, which was really interesting to witness.

                Breakfast and then hours by the pool was the remainder of the day, more-or-less!  We played a couple of games of Yatzee and Scrabble before our briefing and afternoon game drives.

                The afternoon drive turned out to be really quite successful!  We saw a lot more lionesses!  We saw four of them off in the distance to start.  We saw at least six ostriches and more secretary birds as well.  We saw a lot of crowned cranes – they are the national bird of Uganda.  They tend to be seen in pairs for the most part, but we saw some in larger groups too, which was cool because they are so colourful!

                More driving led us to a sole lioness not very far away from us.  She had a tracking collar on and was walking around.  She ended up sitting directly in front of the van on the other side of the valley from us – which was sad ‘cause she could have come up towards us!  It was still a good view, though.

                We then saw a lot of elephants in the swamp and then drove up right beside a tiny, tiny baby elephant and its mom.  S.K. guessed the baby was no more than 2 days old!  It was priceless to see it attempting to stand up and walk.  It really didn’t know what to do with its legs at all and attempted to crawl using its trunk a few times.  It was probably the most amazing part of the entire trip, to be honest!  They were right beside the road and we had a perfect view of the little elephant.  It was amazing to see such a young elephant!

                On our way back towards the camp we saw another heard of lions!  There were three females and a baby cub!  It was getting dark, but they crossed the road right in front of us and I did manage to get a good picture of the cub!  It was great to see so many lions today – especially being able to see a little one!  Yeah!

                Dinner was good – pizza again.  Early to bed tonight because it is our last night in a real bed as tomorrow night will be in the plane!

So sad that our trip is basically over  L!  It’s been totally awesome!



Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized
              I had such a great work out this morning!  I ran for almost a complete hour and did weights and it was great.  Cold or no cold I definitely needed to do some exercise!  Yeah! J

                The drive out to Amboseli National Park was only about 4h which was so nice compared to the long, painful drive from yesterday.  I managed to sleep through a good half of the drive, which also helps a lot!  We passed our first few signs regarding HIV/AIDS on the side of the road – which is the first indication at all that there is a problem here.  It is clearly a highly taboo subject…

                At the park gates there were the typical people selling stuff and I actually decided to buy a bowl.  It is really nice and I got it at a great price…the problem is that we wanted two of them because mom really likes it as well and I only managed to get one because one of the other cars bought the other one!  It is a perfect salad/fruit bowl and it kind of matches my three other little bowls that I bought near the beginning of the trip.  Good thing we’re leaving soon…I am running out of room for stuff!  I already have to deal with the giraffe!

                We drove through the park to get to our hotel and managed to see a few giraffes and a few elephants on our way through.  It is great that our hotel is so close to the park this time – it takes only 10 minutes to get to the park, which is a nice change for sure.

                After a great afternoon of lying in the sun by the pool we went for an evening game drive – it was spectacular!  Not 10 minutes after arriving in the park we noticed tonnes of vans speeding by us…and when we arrived where they were all parked we saw a cheetah running around scaring all the zebra, wildebeests, and Thompson’s gazelles!  It looked like he’d already eaten, but there was a lot of dust and running before the cheetah left.  It was amazing to be able to see that so close and take pictures!

                Then, we kept driving and saw that way out in the distance there were four lionesses meandering towards the watering hole!  They slowly paced and scared off a couple of wildebeest along the way and ended up crossing the road almost in front of us!  It was amazing.  We were really hoping we would have the chance to see them hunt and kill something, but this was spectacular none the less!

                Finally, just before the sun set we saw what this park is known for: elephants!  Hundreds and hundreds of elephants!  It was such a stunning sight.  There were so many huge elephants and almost as many babies all leaving the swamp to head for “home”.  It was hard to capture it all on camera because there were just so many.  I got a couple of great pictures of the elephants with Kilimanjaro as we were lucky enough to have the clouds clear for sun set!  It was perfect, really.  We also saw a couple of bull elephants arguing, which was pretty unique as well.

                I don’t know how they are going to beat that tomorrow because it seems like it was the perfect evening in terms of animals!

Night!  -AJ

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized
                The bonus about not doing the balloon ride was that we were able to sleep in a bit this morning before heading out to meet up with the group – the downside is that the hotel didn’t get the right tent number and came and woke us up at 6am!  It was sad…but I’m sure they have a lot of people to try and remember!

                We drove to the park gates where we were to wait for the balloon people and because we were there anyway, S.K. decided to have something fixed on the car…and fixed…and more parts needed…and it was quite the process!  The car was jacked up by putting the jack onto a rock in order to achieve the height needed.  Then, when the jack was needed for something else in the wheel well, they used a stump of a tree to hold the van up!  It was a very interesting process and I am still amazed that the entire repair took only 1.5h!

                It was a frustrating 1.5h because we knew we had a 6h drive ahead of us today…but stopping was interesting because lots of local Maasai people came over to talk to us.  The guys seem to be quite well educated and are interested in going to university and the majority speak English fluently.  However, we didn’t see many females and the ones we did see were mainly attempting to sell us things.  We gave the guys Canada pins and they proceeded to put them in the already existing holes in their ears! It was pretty funny.  They all wanted my watch in exchange for something they had –but I am useless without a watch, so I couldn’t give it up.  Had I known that was a hot commodity, I could have brought a few old, still working, watches from home!  Next time!

                We survived the bumpy road of the Mara and stopped at another curio shop to use the washrooms…and I totally caved in and bought a giraffe – that I really didn’t need to buy!  Uggg…now I am going to have to figure out how to get him home.  I think I am going to be able to construct a cardboard box that I can put him in so that I can check him as luggage!  We’ll see.  It will definitely make my last day here more interesting!

                The rest of the drive was long, but rather uneventful.  We decided to skip lunch and go to the shop Dee recommended “The Collectors Den” instead.  It was a great stop because the prices were so good and the quality of the items was excellent.  There was everything from little souvenirs to art.  It was great.  I really looked hard at some Tanzanite, and when I thought I had made up my mind to get some, I was mistaken on the price and that threw me off completely and I decided to not bother with it.  I am fantastically horrible at spending money.  I did get a couple more serving spoon sets and things like that.  All good.

                The hotel was the same as the first two nights that we were in Kenya and it had a beautiful dinner – so we were happy that we missed lunch.  Bed early tonight because I am planning an awesome work out tomorrow morning before our drive out to Amboseli.



Friday, August 24, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized
                 I had the best sleep ever last night.  I think both Kendra and I were sound asleep when my alarm went off at seven this morning.  It was great!

                Breakfast was good…seriously, hot chocolate makes me a very happy person!  And it was also nice because we left camp almost on time – at 8am.  We were all set with music for the bumpy ride to the Mara gates in order to keep “shaken brain syndrome” feeling at bay as we all felt loopy after yesterday’s drive!  It took 40 minutes to arrive at the gates, but it seemed much shorter than it did returning last night!

                The wildebeest were nowhere near the gates today when we drove in so we had a lot of driving to do to get to where they were today.  We drove a lot and saw a tonne!  I would love to know how many kilometers we drove today…we returned back to camp at 5pm today!  Anyway, we saw Topis first off.  They are the Policemen of the antelope and monitor the area from high ground for many other species to ensure safety.  These animals graze in multi-species grazing associations with others such as the Thompson gazelles, impalas, zebras, and wildebeests; it is cool to see them all together.

                I like to stand up in the back of the van to get a better view and to have a change from sitting all the time, so I spotted a giraffe way down in the valley.  We drove there to see him and it was a Maasai giraffe.  It has spots all the way down its legs, unlike the Rothschild giraffe that has white socks up to its knees.  The Maasai giraffe also stands taller at about 16-18 feet!  I do like these guys!

                We saw a bunch more wildebeests…and more wildebeests…and more wildebeests…it was crazy!  I looked around so many times and all I could see where these animals.  It was a bizarre feeling. 

                Driving along we spotted a group of elephants near some bushes.  I forget the name of the plant, but it acts as an antiseptic for the animals, so they eat it when needed.  There were 11 elephants in this heard – a few older ones and a few babies.  It was great to see the huge tusks on the elephants.  The babies were running around and playing which was super cute.  I learned that elephants have 6 sets of teeth.  When they run out of teeth they move to swampy areas so that they can continue to eat greenery that is easier to chew.  That is why there are often bones of elephants in swampy areas because they are old when they live in these areas.  We actually drove by a swampy area and saw two more elephants here!  It was great!  I got such good pictures.

                We drove up to a tree where there were several other vans parked and after a while of searching found the two cheetahs we saw yesterday.  They weren’t far from where we saw them yesterday and were two together again, so we guessed they were probably the same ones.  And, just as we were leaving the park today we were able to spot a female cheetah at the base of another tree, but she was really far away, so it was impossible to get any pictures.  Cool to see so many, however!

                We saw a few carcases and bones along the way as well as a lot of vultures up in the trees and eating one of the dead animals.  It was neat to see in a gory way!  There was also a hyena, awake, with a tracking collar on him under a bush.  It was great to see another one because the few we saw from the ark were too far away to get a really good view of!

                We saw a pair of Secretary Birds (two different times).  They are called that because they are white and black and look as though they have lipstick on their faces.  They also walk like they are wearing high heels!  It was cool to see them as they searched for bugs and snakes on the ground.  My other favourite bird we saw several times was the Iris-Breasted-Roller that has seven colours on flight, and I got a couple of really good pictures of it as well.

                At lunch we headed over to the Mara River to see the hippos.  There were quite a few including one who was mostly out of the water for lots of picture taking opportunities.  Kendra also spotted a crocodile, which was amazing!  And it was super creepy to see all of the bones washed up along the shore of the river of the animals that didn’t make it!

                I was super happy because we saw a tonne of zebra!  I wanted to see a large heard of them before we left here and I definitely got to see that today!  It was great to see.  They like to rest their heads on each other’s backs in order to keep watch and still rest and it is so cute.  They always seem so happy and relaxed compared to the Thompson gazelles or some of the other more skittish animals.

                On the way back we saw a few more giraffes and ostriches and were lucky enough to drive up really close to two lionesses!  It was great!  They were there sleeping away in the shade of some bushes.  It made me realize how well camouflaged they are and how easily we could have driven by so many of them along the way. 

                It was a really long day but we saw a tonne of everything!  It was really great.

                Once back at camp we had a nice happy hour with some Tusker Beer and a game of scrabble where Kendra totally won and I came in second (just for the record).  Then us girls proceeded to buy some things from the gift shop – which sounds dumb, but the prices are the best we’ve seen yet and the money goes back to the Maasai people, so I guess it works!  I bought a few little utensils that I don’t need…yeah!  Definitely not a big spending trip – yet!

                Dinner was a barbeque and the pork along with the cheese and hot chocolate made for a great meal!  

Now for a good sleep before the bumpy road out tomorrow!



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized

               We woke up early this morning…to no water!  Thankfully my face cloth was still wet from last night and we have to use bottled water to brush our teeth anyway – so it wasn’t actually that big of a deal.  It was sad to say bye to our cute little cabins on the river…they were so picturesque and perfect!!

                Today was a driving day.  We left camp at 7:30 and arrived into Siana Intrepids Camp at 1:30pm with only one 20 minute stop along the way.  It was crazy-long with some extremely bad roads.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so shook up from being in a car before…and it was hours and hours of that!  That’s the price you pay for going into the boonies, however!

                 I sat in the front and in between naps asked a few questions of our driver.  I learned that corruption causes a lot of problems in the health care system.  They have public and private clinics, but the public ones are often “set up” by the government so that they can receive a nominal payment from patients before they go to the clinic – only to discover the clinic doesn’t actually exist!  As well, because there is a huge doctor shortage, often the physicians work at both the private and public clinics.  Then, when patients who can’t afford the private clinics seek care at the public clinics, the doctors refuse to see them there, but refer them back to their private clinics instead!  It is nuts.  There is an American who established a world-class dental clinic for the Massai people for free care, which really impressed S.K. (our driver).

                Siana Springs is an amazing hotel.  We have such awesome accommodation on this trip!  The camp is rather large and each “room” is a huge canvas tent with two or three beds, and a bathroom (shower, toilet, and sink).  They are quite spread out, and the views look into the bush (within an electric fence!) so you feel rather isolated.  It is beautiful!

                Once we arrived we quickly ate lunch before attending an information session from one of the Maasai people from a nearby village.  We learned that the Maasai believe that after the earth was created, God put man and cows on it at the same time.  Therefore, the people believe that all of the cows belong to them and it is their mission to accumulate as many cows as possible.  The males have three stages in life: boyhood (from ages ~5-15), warriorhood (ages 15-25) and manhood (ages >25).  As a boy they are taught to manage the goats, sheep, and eventually cows and walk many kilometres a day from a very young age.  At age 15 the boys undergo a public circumcision where they are not permitted to flinch at all in order to enter the warrior stage of their life.  At this point they band with others the same age to fight other non-Maasai tribes to accumulate cattle.  They will also form groups to kill a lion in order to enter the last stage of their life.  At this point their heads will be shaved again and a wife will be found for them by their parents.  The Maasai can have numerous wives because having sons equals wealth, so it is beneficial to have as many wives as possible.  The females undergo two stages of life: girlhood (ages ~5-13) and womanhood (ages >13).  As a girl they help out at home with the cooking, cleaning, and learning how to build the houses.  They too undergo “circumcision” (which is just another name for female mutilation…so we were wondering how long that practice will continue…) in order to enter womanhood – where they can be married off by their parents.

                The local who was telling us all of this information informed us that things have begun to change.  Instead of eating only meat, drinking milk and blood, they now buy beans, potatoes, and flour and only kill on special occasions.  There are an increasing number of children who are attending schools, even though there are many more boys than girls going to school.  He also mentioned that because he was educated his parents let him choose his bride instead of being in an arranged marriage.  It still seems like a very hard life, despite all of the changes that have happened already and that will continue to occur.

                We then went and visited his village.  In it, there are 21 families and 92 people overall.  There are the same number of doors in the wood fence as there are families.  Inside the compound, there are stick and cow-dung huts (constructed by the women) for each family as well as enclosures for the sheep, and goats to keep them separate from the cows, who stay in the middle of the compound. 

                The warriors did a couple of dances for us – and got dad up to dance for one of them as well!  It was fun to see.  It is hard to know how much is real and how much is put on for show for us crazy tourists.  However, there are currently 800,000 Maasai in Kenya today (~5% of the total population) living like this, so I don’t think it was too much show.  The women had a market for us to buy things and dad broke down and bought mom a pair of salad spoons without too much negotiating!  It was a good and interesting visit – although I definitely wouldn’t want to live that life.

                We then proceeded onto the park in order to have our first game drive in the Mara.  It was great!  The wildebeest migration is happening right now and there were animals as far as the eye could see!  Every year approximately 1.5 million of these animals make the migration from the Serengeti here in order to feed and breed.  It is pretty amazing.  This part of Kenya is the typical “Africa” from the movies with kilometers and kilometers of yellow grass with the odd acai tree here and there.  It is really amazing. 

                We saw some great animals tonight in the short drive!  We saw about 4 elephants just inside the park.  Then we were able to get a good view of 2 ostriches, which was a first (I guess we saw two on the drive in today, but they didn’t really count because we didn’t stop!).  We saw more Thompson Gazelles and Zebras and of course wildebeests.  We also were super lucky because we saw a male lion lounging in the grass!  It was so spectacular to see!  He was a little ways away, but I still got some great pictures!  Then, just as we were nearing the end of our time in the park we got to see 2 cheetahs sleeping under a tree!  Cheetahs are solitary animals, so it is odd to see them together, so S.K. suspected that they were maybe brothers.  We were able to get pretty close to them and it was totally amazing to see these animals!  It was a great animal and people day overall!  We’ve now seen 4 of the Big Five!  Pretty impressive for 5 days here!

                Sleep tonight before a long game drive day tomorrow!



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kenya, Travel, Uncategorized
                I woke up in the night to the coolest nature noises!  There was definitely a hippo right outside of our door making all kinds of noise around 3am as well as so many other unidentifiable noises!  It was pretty cool to wake up to, actually.

                It is much colder here than we anticipated.  I’m guessing it was around 5 degrees this morning!  We could see our breath as we drove over to the other site for breakfast.  It’s crazy the variation in temperatures during the day.  I am able to wear shorts and a t-shirt in the afternoon, yet I am cold and wearing layers first thing!  Much like Alberta – go figure!

                Breakfast was awesome…I have a lovely head cold at the moment, so Nassar brought me a teapot of ginger and lemon hot water.  It was great!  There was also bacon, toast, and eggs.  Camping and eating outside definitely improves the taste of food, I have found!

                We headed out towards Lake Nakuru National Park.  The park is known for its huge flamingo population, however, this year there are very few of these birds.  They feed on blue-green algae and because there has been so much rain, the lake is much bigger than normal and there isn’t enough algae for the flamingos.  We did see a few, however.

                The game drive was about 5 hours long and we saw a tonne of animals.  I barely know where to start with them all!  We saw more Cape Buffalo and a tonne of Impalas.  We also saw a lot of birds – although I am horrible at remembering all the names.  We saw an African Spoonbill – it has a bill that looks like a spoon and it moves its beak around in the water to catch small fish.  Pelicans, Flamingos, and Seagulls.  We saw Marabou Storks that look a lot like vultures as well oranged-billed storks that look more like “normal”.  There were many more than that…but well…they don’t make quite the same impression as all of the big animals!

                We watched the baboons for quite a while.  They have such a personality and it was so neat to see them groom each other and run around and play.  I got some great pictures of them.  We also had the chance to see a leopard tortoise, which may be my only “leopard” sighting on the trip! 

                Driving through lots of fields we were on a mission to find at least one rhino!  We saw lots of zebra and a few giraffes, both of which are awesome!  Finally, in the distance, we spotted a black rhino running away from the road!  It was great!  Then, as we turned the corner we saw a group of 3 white rhinos!  Finally, as we turned around to get a better look at the white rhinos we saw another black rhino!  It was awesome.  I think I was able to get some decent pictures of the rhinos!  I know black rhinos are high on the endangered list, and I suspect the white ones are as well, so it was awesome to see 5 rhinos!  Then, on our way out of the park we spotted 2 more white rhinos in the distance!  So, in total we were able to see 5 white and 2 black rhinos all in one day!  Pretty awesome! (We’ve now seen 3 of the Big Five)

                Lunch was at an “emporium” type store.  Mom, Kendra, and I tried a group negotiation on some salad bowls and bread baskets but our prices were so low compared to the vendors that it just wasn’t worth it and we walked.  I’m not too worried, really.

                Back at camp we had a nice happy hour and enjoyed a downpour from our open-aired thatched roofed cabins before heading off to dinner.

                This is the first place we’ve had internet, so it was nice to check a few e-mails and post some pictures!  Tomorrow is a long drive all the way to the Maasai Mara…and lots more animals, I hope!