Monday, October 22, 2007

Tuesday, 11 September 2007 (Nairobi - Amboseli National Park)

Before I begin, I should add one more individual to the cast of characters. My sister, Betsy. Thanks to Mom for pointing that out to me this morning. (Oops.) And to clarify who everyone is, just in case.

I was up at 4 am this morning, ready to go. (OK then, so perhaps early-on during the safari, my sleep was unusual, but this morning the cause was excitement, not jet lag.) We had trouble with the air conditioning, but the fantastic staff brought fans, two of them actually, and it really helped. I would have been up anyway, I was ready to go! We left our bags in front of our room around 6, with the door slightly cracked open (I have this American fear about leaving bags unattended anywhere that isn’t secured). Sure enough, the porter was by promptly to take them to the bus. At 6:30, we gathered at in the lobby, some of still shaking the sleep out of our eyes. We were on the bus at 6:45 and we were gone.

The trip to Wilson airport was fairly quick, maybe about 15 minutes. Wilson is more like a landing strip – well, no, better than that. Probably more like a local airport in the States like PDK, but with a bit more traffic. We thanked our Nairobi driver, George, and proceeded to the security area. Security consisted of a hand-check of our carry-ons and a walk-thru machine. The bags were weighed while Alfred oversaw the operation. I didn’t think weight would be an issue, since we were short one bag thanks to B’s lost luggage. As expected, we had no problems in this area. And as it turned out this would be the only time the bags would be weighed anyway. (And as a plus, the carry-ons don’t get weighed, which meant all the camera equipment was excluded from the calculation. This was excellent, and as I had hoped based on some comments on various sites.) Boarding passes are just a laminated card of a particular color. Today, we were handed a yellow card (insert soccer joke here). When the time came, we walked through the door, handed the ‘gate agent’ our little yellow card, and walked out to the twin otter, 18 seat prop.

After buckling up, Alfred handed out little Micato pouches, with gum and ear plugs inside. And the on-board refreshments provided by the airline are a little box of mints/candies for the trip. I think this is kind of neat. It was pretty overcast outside, so we really didn’t see anything until we got low. But as we descended, I noticed the small hills. Well, I thought they were hills, but they were really trees. No, my mistake, those are clearly bushes. And they are moving. Wait a minute! I’m seeing African wildlife!

Holy cow! We arrived at Amboseli NP, and the cars were waiting along the strip. It was so exciting to see the Micato vans sitting there, two smiling faces waving. There were two drivers greeting us, Martin and Joe. We chose the latter, for no real reason other than the name! When I mentioned my name is also Joe, he gave me a hug. Serving hot coffee and tea right there on the strip was a nice touch, too.

Kilimanjaro was waiting for me! It was peaking out of the clouds, however briefly. Fortunately, I would see more of it later in the day.

Betsy and I sort of gravitated to travel with R&B, so they joined us in the vehicle. We sat in the back, R&B took the middle, and E joined us in the front. So that left an extra seat for shifting around as we wanted to. And we enjoyed moving every now and then, just because.

Seeing that little warthog go running off like there’s no tomorrow was awesome. Joe said (maybe it was Alfred) that it is a rather stupid animal. In fact, pumba (pumbavu) is Kiswahili for stupid. The reason being, they will go running off away from a predator, then stop and forget why they were running. Sort of like “Run away! Run away! Run…oh look – food.”

I saw wild elephants! My god, they are beautiful. It looks neat seeing them in the waters, they come out with a black marking from the water level, like someone was painting them and couldn’t reach the top.

The drives are great. With five people there is room to stand up (actually, even with six there would be room) and shift for photos. We all tended to make room for each other, to make sure everyone got a good picture. Water is always available in the vehicles, as well as very strong Micato binoculars.

Just on day one, we saw:

v Saddle-billed Storks
v Spotted Hyenas
v Blacksmith, Spurwing, and Long-toed Plovers
v Ostriches, both male and female
v Hippos
v Wildebeest
v Cattle Egrets
v Burchell’s Zebra (Plains Zebra)
v Cape Buffalo
v Elephants
v Yellow Baboons
v Egyptian Geese
v Reedbucks
v Grey Crested Crane (national bird of Uganda)
v Grey Herons
v White-bellied Bustard

I remember being worried at the time that we would get too used to seeing some of these animals, sort of de-sensitized to it all.

Our morning drive was basically the commute from the landing strip to the Amboseli Serena Lodge. A rather roundabout commute, though. I love going on a drive when we’re actually headed to a destination. We arrived at the lodge, and the staff was waiting for us at the drive. We received a warm jambo (and cool washcloth to wipe off the dust). Inside we all received a drink (a fantastic juice of some kind, frankly now I can’t remember). We were handed our keys with a schedule to return shortly for lunch.

Lunch was buffet style. Choices included roast goat, roast beef, salad bar, desert bar, pasta bar, etc. Actually, I eventually realized I couldn’t keep up with all the choices of food, so I stopped trying to write it all down. Just know that there was always an option, and you would never be hungry. In the immortal words of R (R&B), “God forbid you have a hunger pain.”

My plan for journaling in the afternoon fell apart when I fell asleep instead. But there was something that felt so good about being there and seeing Africa with my own eyes that brought me great comfort – I think I had already reached a state of serenity. Napping was easy now.

The evening drive was neat from the start. All the vehicles left at the same time from the lodge, making it feel like a race. Of course, it felt like a race when, all of a sudden, some vehicles go whizzing by on radio talk of a lion spotting. (I was just waiting for Wilson to come over the radio and tell Ms. Jobson to slow down.) Alfred and Joe decided we couldn’t make it to the supposed location without jeopardizing the safety of the wildlife. I admire that. (Alfred was in our vehicle for Tuesday evening drive. He shifts between the two drives everyday.)

I’ve seen the African sunset on television and in books, but it is something that must be experienced to truly understand. If I face one direction, a see the blue and purple skyscape of Kilimanjaro. If I turn 180 degrees, I see the red and orange horizon of the setting sun. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – the same sky, two completely different sets of colors. Every time I would look up at that mountain, I just started smiling. Isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to do to you?

Dinner was very enjoyable. The food was wonderful, as expected, but the company was even better. Very quickly I felt comfortable with this group. I don’t think that always happens – this turned out to be a blessing, having such a wonderful set of companions.


We eventually rolled back to the room, completely wiped out from our experience. Our turn-down gift was a hand-made journal, bound in what I assume is cowhide. This and all gifts would be locally made. This was a nice touch, and would come in handy when I needed to make a quick note. We fell asleep quickly, ready for our first full day out in the parks.



And the photos from today's safari.

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