Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wednesday, 12 September 2007 (Amboseli)

After getting my first solid sleep since we arrived (OK, now that I look through my journal, I guess I was restless for a while), we awoke at 5:30, not to coffee and tea but to birds and insects outside. All the rooms face the park, so you can hear the sounds of nature. We left the back door open with the screen closed, and didn’t bother with the mosquito nets around the bed. Actually, beds – two twin beds pushed next to each other.

(As I made my notes for this entry in the afternoon, we were sitting at the pool. A black-faced vervet monkey was staring at me in my lounge chair, while Betsy took a dip. He’s a bit nervous, because at any time one of the Maasai that stroll the lodge will come along and shoo it off with their sling shot.)

I don’t imagine I can ever think about Africa again and not smile. I’m having a hard time not laughing once a day at the thought that I’m actually here.

The drive this morning was great. The highlight was the young female lion with her fresh zebra kill. Fascinating because last night the cars were zipping around like vultures on a kill when word got out that there might be a lion. Speeding on the roads and even off them to get past us. Joe and Alfred decided we couldn’t make it. They understand patience. This morning we patiently waited for the lion to appear. We saw the zebra but couldn’t make out the lion. The driver behind us (definitely NOT Micato) starting shaking keys trying to get the lion to move. We are not going to do that. Micato (and several other outfits, of course) respect nature and the environment and recognize that we are intruding, and must allow things to happen in due course.

Every now and then the lion would pop up his head, then lay back down (zebra tryptophan?). Eventually a jackal came wandering over to try and get some meat. Needless to say, this girl was not pleased. After a few stares, she stood up and walked to the other side of her kill. This of course got a huge reaction from all of us, as this was the most feline excitement we had had yet.

Frankly, I was as much taken in by the jackal as I was the lioness. One of the things I was really looking forward to was seeing wild dogs and other canines. I’ve always been a dog person, so this was a real treat for me. There are times when I see the little ones at home and think about what dogs and wolves are like in the wild, when their pack behavior takes over. I see the kids behave like pack animals, and I’ve always wanted to see it for myself. In this case, at least I was seeing what a solitary would do. That little guy (girl?) would sort of just walk slowly over a little bit, pause, think about it, then come closer, keep trying to get a bite. I really kept staring at the jackal rather than the lioness. But of course, eventually she shot up to protect her lunch, and that made us all gasp with delight.

Alfred mentioned yesterday the concept of the stupid wildebeest. You can see one, lone gnu just standing out in the open, staring into space. Waiting to be a meal. Not really, it’s usually a male just asserting territory, but he stands there, staring into nothing. I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but it’s funny.

After the morning drive we returned for breakfast. This included a fantastic omelet station, with peppers, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cheese, and jalapenos. All sorts of breads and jams, meats and cheeses, and French press Kenyan coffee.

At 11, Alfred led us in a lecture/discussion on East Africa history, culture, and society. All about the tribes, languages, politics, and customs. I found this really fun to hear and to talk about. I think he realized that we would enjoy this type of experience, given the enthusiasm we had shown, and I think he was right. None of us are here, for the sake of saying that we’ve done it. We’re in Africa because we genuinely want to be here, to experience this. Are we all kindred spirits? Maybe sort of – or at least we all have a common appreciation for what the world can provide, for those who just take the time to see.

Betsy spent some time during the afternoon to swim with the monkeys. OK, not literally, but she wanted to say that she swam while the monkeys were out. And sure enough, those vervets were all over the place, including up in the trees around the pool. I thought it was too cold to swim, but hey, how often can you do this!

Before the evening drive, everyone gathered out on the veranda, to have coffee and biscuits. I think this is a common thing, at least at this Serena lodge, to provide refreshments to the guests before they head out for the drive. (I think I’ve mentioned before how neat it is to see all the safari vehicles lined up outside, waiting for their charges. I wonder what the lodge looks like during the drives. I imagine it’s pretty sparse.) Anyway, earlier in the afternoon Betsy and I enjoyed a coconut latte. This thing is fantastic. It’s a latte, served with a jigger of coconut flavoring, for about 200 shillings, or roughly $3. Frankly, you’d pay more than that for a specialty drink at Starbucks. So having had that already, I stuck with one small cup of coffee not wanting to need a bathroom while out in the park.

The evening drive was warm, and the animals showed it. They were mostly lying around with dust swirling around them. Our crew was still hanging tough, R&B in the middle, E up front, Betsy and I in the rear. As always, I’m wearing my hat on my head and the glasses around my neck. I felt real!

The Micato vans are pretty neat. Plenty of room to stand up and hold on. It feels like something out of a movie to be standing up in the back of the van, with the glasses, looking front, back, everywhere, like I’m some sort of expert!

Our goal was to venture off away from the crowds and find some leopards. This didn’t happen (although we didn’t know at the time that we would have success later). But we did get more elephants, the occasional Japanese rhino (aka warthog), and some fast-moving ostriches. There is a unique elegance to that bird. And in dryness like this, they really kick up the dust. We saw five of them taking off across the landscape, leaving a trail of dust behind them.

Eventually we stopped at overlook hill, ostensibly to get a view of the surrounding area from a great distance. We were let out to start walking up the small climb. Betsy and E needed the facilities, so they decided to check out the hole in the ground. I missed out on this life-changing experience. Apparently, this was one of the worst smells on the trip. Sorry I missed it. This was nothing more than an outhouse with a huge hole in the ground. There were two ladies from another tour that skipped this and went straight to the bush loo – this was the preferred option.

Betsy and I walked up with R&B to grab a picture together with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background, plus a few landscape shots. Back at the foot of the hill, we had our first bush drink. Alfred, Joe, and Martin had set up a table with wine, drinks, chips and nuts, to toast our first taste of wild Africa. We toasted our experience. I had to stop and look around me, realizing I was having wine at the foot of the Mountain, my mountain, acacias around me, wildlife moving to their chosen resting location, sun setting on the horizon. Very rarely does reality even match fantasy. We tend to take the images we gather over time and blend them into an expectation of our own true account, should the opportunity arise. It was while we were out here that I realized – this is what I pictured! This was a fantasy come true. All of it matched what I had imagine it would be like. My God, I am blessed.

Given that all parties are supposed to be out of the park by 6:30 every night, Joe hightailed it through one of the many “very good” roads leading out of the park proper, taking us along the back way, past one of the local Maasai villages towards Serena lodge. This was our first African massage, what we were supposed to find out later is a common experience on the road to Arusha.

Back at the room we had waiting for us two beautiful eyeglass holders, hand made by local Maasai. We cleaned up and headed back to dinner.

On our way we discovered a group of impalas, perhaps 30 or so, hanging out inside the grounds, grazing. They were still there after dinner. This was the second of the our neat lodge animal experiences. The first was before the evening drive, when the vervet monkeys, one in particular, attempted (and often succeeded) to steal whatever snacks could be found un-attended on a plate. It was while this little guy was working the crowd that I got a great shot of him, standing not but two feet away from me. I understand that they are pests and cause problems for the staff, but for us newbies they are a cute addition. Or at least to me they are.

At dinner B joked that she would start auctioning off her 33 pounds of plane space, since her KLM luggage had not arrived yet. We got a good laugh out of this, and she seemed to be taking everything in stride.

We headed back to the room to pack up our stuff for tomorrow’s journey to Arusha, Tanzania. Once again, we crashed pretty quickly.

Today's pictures.

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