Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I don't have a safari update today. In fact, I realized the other day that my written journal ended with the post at Mt. Kenya. Since I was writing those a day later, I would have written those notes on our Friday day, when I was really starting to feel down about leaving. In fact, I had to call home to talk to Momma, I was just so sad. Though I do remember a wonderful gesture from B and MJ to shuffle around spa times and to make one for me. (Thank you!) So anyway, I think I'm going to wrap up my safari postings here, but leave it with a few thoughts on this early Christmas morning.

All my preconceived notions about Africa were wrong. Africa is a thriving, vibrant world. It is full of wonderful people working hard to make life better for themselves and their countries. Yes, they have so many challenges and difficulties, but there is a genuine belief that it can all be better, with education, outreach, and time.

I thought I might feel like like an outsider during our safari. But that is far from the case. I felt at home. And not just at home with our safari mates and Micato guides. I mean at home in the bush. And no, I don't have visions of challenging Survivorman any time soon. I mean that being out in the bush, in the natural environment, is the right place to be. Like the wildlife was waiting for me, knowing that I needed to be there in person.

On this early Christmas morning (5:30, shouldn't I be in Betsy's room right now, playing cards together while we guess what Santa put under the tree, and thinking about going down to see but knowing it's too early and we're not supposed to do that and what if for some reason he hasn't arrived yet....), I want to wish you, my friends, here in the States, in Europe, and in Africa, a very, very Merry Christmas. To my safari mates and Micato family, that you for being a part of my experience. It is my true hope to return to Africa someday, and that would not be the case but for the experience we shared together last year. May the spirit fill everyone with good joy. and may you all have a very happy 2009.

Kuwa na Krismasi njema!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thursday, 20 September 2007 - Mara to Mt. Kenya

Once again, the morning wake up call is irrelevant, as the hippo call is followed up by the avian chorus at 6. (Interestingly, we weren't allowed coffee service after 7am, because the restaurant is open at that time. It's a shame they don't serve the wake-up no matter what. But a small matter overall.)

We had a quick breakfast, then went back to say goodbye to the hippos. I could have stayed there all day, just having a drink and watching them sleep. I thought of Momma, and how much she would enjoy just doing that. So I really wanted to do it for her.

I think I was ready for the whole family to be back together, but in now way did I want to leave this incredible feeling behind. Is that what happens when you have an experience like this? I just have to take the feeling with me is all. That's not always easy.

We board the plane for Mt. Kenya, about a 40 minute flight. On the ground we bid farewell to the otehr tour, and eventually see them take off to Nairobi. They will be back in the States by Friday night.

Now began what I call the "re-Westernization" part of our safari. The Mt. Kenya Safari Club crosses the equator. Naturally, we stopped at a tourist trap, where dudes came out of nowhere to push their stores, right before some guy with a pitcher of water attempted to explain the Coriolis effect. This would be the first of several tourist traps we would see the next few days. None of us were interested, really, so we climbed back in the vans and proceeded to the Club.

It is owned by the Fairmont chain, which was making some major investments in improvements (much like the Norfolk). The end result was that reception and the bar are under white tents, though both are very nicely decorated and laid out.

For some rason we had to kill time while the limited staff got our cabins ready. This is why we had to hang out at the equator. I don't know why we wouldn't just wait at the bar or reception. We did that for about 10 minutes anyway.

The lodges were absolutely great. Tons of room, like lush cabins in the wilderness. But is still felt like the continued transition to "real life" - more of a resort than a safari location. And I didn't really like calling for the courtesy van every time we wanted to get to the main buildings, but again, that was all a function of the remodeling work being done.

One of our perks was a free admission to the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Sancutary. Betsy and I decided to go over around 4pm. This was a gift! We were the only two folks looking for a guide at the time. We were introduced to James, a very tall man, with a strong voice, the head animal keeper at the facility. He was just great. They call him the elephant man, because he was gored through the chest by a young bull, and spent 7 1/2 months in recovery. He now loves the hippos the best!

Anyway, James took us around the facility, like on a private tour. We got to feed everything! The pygmy hippos were precious. James would call them over, and they opened their mouths as wide as possible, so we could throw the food in.

There were so many wonderful animals here. And the monkeys in particular were fantastic. We fed them all by hand. They have such tiny little fingers. My favorite, of course, was the little 3-week old Colobus. It's mother was killed by wild dogs, so they took it in. When we saw it, it was crying very loudly, so James went and got a little bottle of milk. He handed it to me, so I got to do the actual feeding! The little guy grabbed my hand and held on while he ate. He was just so precious. At that point we knew we had become friends.

When the tour was over, we went back to the office, where we signed up and make a donation to officially become Friends. It turns out the facility had closed much earlier, but James stayed with us to make sure we had a full experience. When we were done, he shook our hands, thanked us, and wished us a blessing of "Go with God." It was a great end to a great experience. We both felt wonderful about what we had done.

This was a great experience to help me. I needed this transition back to the Western life. It was so very hard for me at that point, but I found a place where I can achieve some inner peace, and pure joy. It is the Soul of Africa that has a hold on me now.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wednesday, 19 September Masai Mara

I woke up this morning to a cacophony of sounds. First the hippos returning from their nocturnal feast at 5 am. They are LOUD. I never knew how much noise they made. That was followed by something screaming like it was dying – turned out to be a tree hyrax. I was hoping we would see one, because I liked the name. It is sort of a shrew-squirrel like thing, distantly related to the elephant. Then the avian chorus kicked in at 6, right about the time our coffee and biscuits arrived. The porter put them on the night stand and we slowly got up, hippos still saying goodnight, like some sort of ending to an episode of The Waltons.

Our drives in the Mara were in cars provided by Mara Safari Club, as were the drivers themselves. Somehow we ended up with cars with open tops (ie no shade), limited leg room, and no cushions for the butt. All this would prove problematic (well, just a bit uncomfortable) as the day went on.

This would also make the writing even more difficult. I think everyone tries to come up with a shorthand to use in a vehicle. I couldn’t do it, so I just printed in very large caps. Does anyone have real skill in this department? I think E might, I remembered her being able to make good marks in her journal. Then again, she’s a teacher, so she’s probably had great practice in taking notes on the fly.

Somehow another group got the better cars, with roofs, the new ones. I would have enjoyed the shade. A slight hiccup.

It was a promising start. Not too far along we came across a leopard, just 20 feet away or so, enjoying a healthy breakfast of impala tar tar, with blood sauce. You could see the face a bit distorted. But it was the rump that was the main course. You could actually see inside! Mostly fleshy red meat. What was neat was seeing the leg of the impala twist up and down, much like when we eat chicken or turkey, and you pull it apart. Cool!

Not just 15 minutes later, we found a pack of vultures working on the remains of a former wildebeest. Before now I hadn’t really seen vultures eating up close. Now I can say this – it is VIOLENT. They make these horrible screeching sounds, they tear at the flesh, they fight amongst themselves for position. And there was one stork among them, just waiting his turn. After this, it looked like it was going to be a bloody Wednesday.

Alfred wanted to give us a big finish, so the goal was to drive out into the Reserve. Apparently our lodgings are not in the Reserve, but on private lands owned by the Maasai and donated in a joint venture with a private developer. The result is that we had about a three hour drive just to the gate, on roads closer to the Crater Rim style. When you combine the road with the cars in which we drove, and a fairly cloudless sky, we really took a beating.

However, looking back on it now, I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. The Mara Safari Club is so spectacular, I can’t imagine lodging elsewhere. That was a great decision on Micato’s part to put us there. The drive is long, yes, but in a covered vehicle it wouldn’t be a problem at all, and of course the three hours each way gives you all sorts of opportunities to spot game. And of course, Alfred did an amazing job making it a memorable experience…

Through the gate (and after a stop to check the tire pressure), it was about another hour to the Mara River. Along the way we took a moment to stop and listen to the thousands of animals across the plains. My Lord, I haven’t seen so many creatures in one place in my life. The Wildebeest make a really silly noise. I think that’s where the name “gnu” comes from.

Right around noon we made it to the river. At this location the animals make their final crossing into the Mara. We approached to about 20 or 30 cruisers all along the river, cameras ready and waiting. From what Alfred explained, all it takes is one brave (foolish? naive? hungry?) animal to jump, and then it’s a free-for-all. Water splashing everywhere, all sorts of noise, crocodiles making their selection, survivors scrambling up the other side, mayhem. But alas, after about 30 minutes, we concluding that nothing was happening yet, so we decided to break out the blankets for a picnic lunch just upstream.

The crew found a nice spot near some hippos and crocs; and, as we found out during “bush loo” time, a savannah monitor. I haven’t seen ladies jump that fast. Actually, I believe it was E trying to use the facilities when the lizard came running out. She screamed and ran – Alfred wasn’t too fazed. “Oh, that’s a savannah monitor. You’re fine.” I like Alfred!

Again we had wonderful box lunches, although this time I didn’t eat everything in sight. As always, there was more food than we could possibly ask for. R (R & B) put it best – “God forbid we have a hunger pain!”

After lunch we moved up river some more, as the herd was wondering that direction. A few animals would go so far as to get a drink, but none would jump. Several carcasses floated by. Given the degree of bloat, they had probably attempted a crossing early in the morning or the day before, much further upstream. We finally voted to pack it in, as it seemed clear there would be no suicide dives today (though I thought it would be easy to make it happen – just toss a few firecrackers and watch them move.) Just kidding.

(I’ve told Betsy that, when we go back, I’d like to time it so were closer to the peak migratory season. I really want to see a crossing. She’s not too keen on seeing that much “nature.” She might be up for a more reserved adventure while I’m out there hoping for blood.)

With the sun beating down on us all day, we were absolutely worn out. Alfred said we would try for some rhinos, and maybe a sundowner, but frankly at the time, we all would have been happy to just go back and rest. Thankfully, Alfred knew better.

Along the way one of the vehicles from the camp (not our party) broke down – an axle fell out. This did make me feel good! They gave the passengers a ride in another camp vehicle, and I have no idea what happened after that.

Closer to the camp we worked our way about ½ way up a mountain side, one that overlooked the land below. Here we were allowed to get out of our cars and, accompanied by a ranger, get within about 20 feet of three white rhinos. They are massive, beautiful animals. We were safe because of the armed guard – the rhinos know we are not a threat b/c of his presence. We stayed for just about three minutes, then gave them their space. Meanwhile, these guys keep guard 24/7. I think it is awesome.

We then worked our way a bit more up the hill, to where camp staff had set up sundowners and appetizers, around a fire, overlooking the African plains and the setting sun. I could paint that picture right now – this was another one of those “here’s the Africa of my dreams” moments. It was an amazing view. Here I am, sitting on the ground watching the sun set over the Masai Mara. Like Serengeti, I never imagined I would be here. But that landscape is burned in my brain forever.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Six in a Row!!!!

Congratulations to Micato Safaris, winner of Travel + Leisure World's Best Tour Operator & Safari Outfitter for the sixth year in a row! 2003 to 2008 .... that's pretty impressive!

Well done, and congratulations to Jane, Felix, Dennis, Alfred, Renny, Steven, Joe, and everyone else involved in making African dreams come true. Your awards are well earned!

And also, congratulations to the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, voted the #3 hotel in the world. Micato certainly knows how to pick them, and as you can guess from the post below, we loved it!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tuesday, 18 September 2007 (Serengeti NP to Mara)

We got up this morning, packed our things, and headed to breakfast. For every meal at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge, our server has been a young man named Charles. He was absolutely fantastic – greeting us warmly, assisting us with selections, anticipating our needs. All with a smile and sincerity. We thanked him, shook hands, and went on out to the vehicles. Out at 7:30 to get to the airstrip.

On the way were a few very cool sights. First was the pair of hyenas enjoying a fresh kill, with vultures waiting in the vicinity. One of the pair ran off with a bone, leaving the other on his own – fresh meat flying everywhere. (Somehow I loved this.) This was followed by a hippo pool, and, interestingly enough, some palm trees.

At the strip we took several group photos, while our bags were loaded onto the first of three planes. Once this was done, we said our first goodbyes, this time to Steven. I think this was hard on him, because he shook hands, maybe gave a quick hug, and continued on focusing on his task. (This doesn’t look right on the page, but believe me, I could really tell this was tough.) Renny joined us on the plane, as the safari guide always gets you to customs.

Just leaving the park was very hard on me. Betsy and I both cried a little as we started to taxi. Why? I guess it was a number of things. A great time is ending. You’ve just accomplished a very specific goal. And perhaps a bit, you don’t know if you’ll ever be back. Anyway, as we took off, Steven and Emmanuel gave us huge waves from the ground – I think they were sending blessings on our way as we neared the end of our journey. Steven, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving so much of yourself. Betsy and I will never forget it!

We touched down at the port city on Lake Victoria, still in Tanzania. This type of entry out of Tanzania was new for Micato. On the original itinerary, we re-enter Kenya by road. But for security reasons, this has been changed to an air-transfer. After this is another flight to the port of arrival on the Kenyan side. Then a third flight into the Mara.

The immigration area was basically a big waiting room, with big comfy chairs. The officials sat in chairs in front of a table, reviewing everyone’s documents and stamping away. Way too quickly it was time to say our goodbyes to Renny.

This was harder than I thought. I don’t know who started the waterworks, but about ½ the group joined in, especially Renny. I absolutely KNOW he loved being with our tour. He made this experience beyond special – I can’t imagine it would have been the same without him. Betsy and I had a group hug about 2 or 3 times, European style (each side). As we went out to our plane, he thanked us again and again. “Asante sana. Asante sana.” Then he ran to his plane back to Arusha.

Renny, you are loved and missed.

So, still crying half way through the flight, we headed to the Mara Safari Club. We touched down about 30 minutes later, and were met by reps from the club. Although Alfred had arrived earlier in the morning, our plane was actually early, so we waited just a bit for his team to arrive. But pretty quickly, around the corner he comes, standing upright in one of the camp-provided vehicles, grinning and waving!

We loaded up our things and headed away. Our driver’s name was Sammy, very nice gentleman. Along the way, we stopped at a bend along the Mara River, to see a hippo colony (gathering, herd?). HOLY COW! There must have been 60 or 70 hippos along the bend, just laid on top of each other, side by side, upside down, you name it. I had NEVER seen so many hippos in my life! And they are loud! Their noise is neat, sort of like moving furniture along a hardwood floor. (Maybe I can get one of the videos loaded up.) As it would turn out, this was just a taste of what was to come.

We arrived at the Mara Safari Club. OK – this is a favorite! The rooms are real tents. But not like little ‘in-the-bush’ things, but these beautiful canvas-sided structures, with cement and brick floors and area rugs. It felt sort of classic somehow. There are two double beds, two chairs, a dresser, and a complete bath/vanity area. By the way, these were the most comfortable beds we had the entire trip. The pillows too.

Lunch was a buffet service along the river, where you can see and hear the birds, hippos, hyraxes, and everything else. Along the path to the lunch, there is a little bend in the river called “hippo hide.” Here there were three hippos that, while floating on the surface, would, sure enough, dive down and “hide” from us! Every now and then they would take a peek and see if we were still there. Very cute.

At about 3 we loaded up for a trip to the local Manyatta, or Maasai village. We arrived at met Yussef, an elder of about 18 to 20 years. He wsa the only male there, as the others had gone off to find a lost cow, so the women treated us to a dance. They pulled me in, and I joined them! It was pretty neat, they really encouraged me to join them – I did my best. Actually, B (R&B) was the first to jump in, and M (B&M) was very enthusiastic. I think everyone enjoyed it.

We then had a tour of the village and explored the inside of a house – dark and small, as you would expect. Afterwards we did some shopping in the ‘market.’ They had several items laid out somewhat in a large circle. Everyone made a purchase, I think. Betsy and I both made a few purchases – I found the mask I wanted! Next time, though, I’m definitely expanding my collection…the quality of all the goods was wonderful. And better yet, it’s all local.

We finished the day with a nice meal and set up a 6 AM wake up knock, with an order of coffee. We climbed in bed and, after a few tense moments when the wind knocked the lamps over, we felt fast asleep.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Monday, 17 September 2007 – Serengeti NP (Cont.)

I got up rather slowly around 3:30 and went to the drive around 4:00. Our goal now was, in Renny’s words, ‘the elusive leopard.’ Not an LLT (leopard like thing), but an actual ‘spotted-up.’ (Versus a ‘spotted-down’ – anyone know what that is?

At first I was confused, because we were headed out where no one else appeared to be. Before too long we got a flat tire. I could tell Steven was serious, b/c he didn’t say he had to check the tire pressure – he said we had a flat.

NOW, of course, Betsy says “I get it now. He must need to go,” thinking she’s got the code figured out!

“No, Betsy, we really do have a flat tire.”

“Oh. Well, I need to check the tire pressure.”



“You do realize, we’ve got like half a dozen Micato guys out there.”

“But how many safari guides does it take to change a flat tire?” she says.

“I don’t know, more than it takes to change a light bulb?”

“What? I don’t get it.”

Smiling, (she get's it, she's just playing along), I point out that it would take AAA a lot longer to get a truck out here, so this is not so bad. And at least they’re not all pointing at the tire, coffee in hand, nodding in agreement “yup, that’s a flat tire.”

Ten minutes later, we’re back off. I asked Steven why the other two Micato cars stopped behind us and waited while we made the change. It’s primarily a safety and assistance thing. And it turns out that they do an nightly inspection of every vehicle, plus a tune-up after every tour. The vehicles change out about every three years.

The guides said something in Kiswahili, about television and road 610. Apparently, their sources suggested they head out to route 610 for spotted up. Judging by the subsequent bumping and bouncing, I’d say we took a shortcut to get there.

We arrived to about 15 cars, stretched maybe a football field long or so, near a good patch of trees and dense foliage a bit away. Sure enough, up on a horizontal branch of a sausage tree, was the leopard. You can spot the leopard (pun intended) by looking for vertical branch hanging down from a horizontal branch. The vertical branch should curl back up, like the bottom of an old-style umbrella. This of course is the tail.

(In the picture at the top of this post, you can see the cat clearly. Trust me.)

Man, I had no idea how grand the leopard would be. She is a massive creature, just the picture of strength and confidence. For me, I couldn’t get enough. I could spend an hour looking at her. I think this was my highlight thus far. Alas, after about ten minutes, she let out a big sigh, and climbed down out of the tree, and into our memories. We did it – the Big Five!

We drove back for drinks in the tv room, where Renny explained that they decided to skip the bush drinks and go searching for the cat instead. We all agreed that was the better choice. Dinner was outstanding as usual, and we all went to bed knowing how hard it would be to say goodbye. (In retrospect, we had NO idea.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Monday, 17 September 2007 – Serengeti NP

I still haven’t gotten my head around the idea that I AM ACTUALLY IN THE SERNGETI! My dreams always placed me here, but I never thought it would become reality. Mom says I need to blog more about my feelings when I do these reports…

I guess I’m blessed to have seen this beautiful place. Maybe part of the fantasy about it has been the idea that, in the 21st century, there really are no earthly unexplored frontiers. I wish there were new horizons to discover, accessible to me. There aren’t any more. But THIS IS. It is a new discovery for me. And that’s part of what I feel when I think about Africa, and the Serengeti in particular. The overwhelming sense of awe in being here. I don’t recall the last time I felt so content, just looking at the sky. An incredible blue in contrast to the greens and browns of the savannah.

We woke up to some wonderful natural sounds. At about 6 am we heard hyenas howling in the distance. Although that was a great experience, it was preceded by the European couple next door, answering the basic of human needs (and no, not food or shelter). Not exactly something I expected to hear, but at least it wasn’t someone we knew…

We ran a bit late this morning, so breakfast was just a bowl of cereal and some coffee. We again dropped off laundry, and headed to the bus at 8 for a four hour drive. (The laundry service was outstanding. I might have mentioned that before, but I’ll say it again. Next time, I’m packing lighter, and taking advantage of the amenities.)

Not but 5 minutes out, on the road to the park proper, we saw an African porcupine. It’s nocturnal, so this was a rare sighting. It is BIG! I had no idea they got that large. (That was really exciting, to see one in person. I’m quite giddy at this point.) Now I can imagine what that fight last night looked like. And the quill is considered a game trophy, along with the feather of a guinea fowl.

A bit later we saw another jackal, and eventually we came across a beautiful male lion sitting on a kopje. It has a sort of gray mane. Probably a much older male. Again the coat is just beautiful.
Still no leopard sighting, though we continued hunting. So we went over to the soda lake and met tons of birds. We turned back and not too far away was a beautiful lioness, just laying down. The area had a little bit of water in some small streams and pools. She got up, stretched, and walked over to the pool. First one leap, then another, and a drink. She looked so serene drinking the water. We noticed she was probably nursing. Sure enough, she moved to the other side and up a hill, to rest. Probably the cubs were up there.

We had visited the rhino information center earlier. This is where we learned about conservation efforts, and how the TZ officials, together with the Frankfurt Zoological Society (I hope that’s right), work on tracking and protecting the rhino throughout the Serengeti.

At about lunch time I started feeling a bit off. I ate just a little at the lodge, then went straight to the room. I had taken some Pepto during the drive, to help with the discomfort. I was probably crashing from the excitement and the food. I was asleep pretty quickly.

Let me say, there is never much time to rest. I guess this is a good thing, but I didn’t expect then when planning for the trip. I was pretty sure that we’d have a few hours every afternoon. Although we didn’t get the time generally, until this point I never really felt it. I think excitement takes you a long way.

Is there any way to explain to people how I felt about this trip? It really is a life-changing experience. You know, I’ve never been a great salesman, but I know the key is being passionate about what you’re selling. And when you’re passionate, you just start getting excited and want to share with anyone who will listen. I still do that to this day. I try and share whenever I can. And I think about the trip all the time. I want to tell all the birds, and animals, and trees, how much I love them, and how much I miss them. There’s a favorite song of mine, Find Your Grail. It’s all about focusing on what you want, finding that one that to help you through the tough times, and seeking it out. That’s your grail. Well, I always wondered what my grail was. And I found it. Africa.

I’ll continue soon with the incredible story of the evening (with pictures). Anyone reading this, please don’t hesitate to comment!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday, 16 September 2007 -- Ngornogoro to Serengeti

Our knock came promptly at 6 AM. Once again we kept the screen closed and door open, so we were quite comfortable. We chose to have breakfast this morning, so we strolled down at about 7:15. The porters picked up our bags as always.

This time I climbed in the back of the jeep, and E sat in front of me in the middle row. Driving out we saw two amazing sights. First, there was universal evidence that elephants use the rim road during the night, as fallen branches littered the path. We clearly had to drive around them. Then a little bit later on we backed up so Steven could show us the remains of a porcupine fight - it clearly lost, quills everywhere. Although no doubt the cat wasn't exactly feeling great.

We continued along the rim road to the NCA main office, for the first of three rest stops this morning. Something strange about seeing a dish on top of the facilities. But it looks like the whole area is getting serious upgrades. This main building is getting a huge expansion and all the roads are being resurfaced. When that's done, Micato may extend stays in the Crater area to visit what will then be more accessible parts.

Now the extremely bumpy part began. The road leaving the Crater heading down is horrible. It's just barely a road, really. Actually we all laughed about it in our cruiser. But we imagine the Winnabego family might not be having a great time. Then again, given that we woke up to a tremor, perhaps we should have expected it. Every now and then we had to work around the zebras in the road.

We eventually made it to Oldupai Gorge, where we visited the exhibits showing the discoveries of homo habilis and homo erectus, and Australopithecus. The Maasai speaker gave a great talk while we sat overlooking the site. There was something odd at first about seeing him with a cell phone, but as we've learned there are those within the tribe that have accepted a bit more in the way of modern life than others.

Around lunch time we finally made it to Serengeti National Park - at last, I'm here! The name means "endless plains." This is not an exaggeration. It looks like the whole world turned into savannah grass, acacias, and inhabitants. I knew it would be impressive, but not like this.

We ate box lunches at the visitor's center, made up of yesterday's awesome lunch at hippo pool (the lunch, not the visitor's center). I ate every last bite, down to both chocolate bars, then immediately regretted it. I probably ate too fast - understandable though, given how excited I was.

But I quickly forgot about it. Renny gave a very brief talk about the Park (he really is a ranger) then led us up the path to the overlook, which was the inspiration for Price Rock in The Lion King. From here you can see to the ends of the Earth, truly. I think I have to rank this view up there with the view on the road to Denali National Park, Alaska, and from the top of the mountain in Salzburg, Austria.

We drove out to our lodge, doing some game spotting on the way. Our first big sight was a gorgeous male lion sitting in the grass. The wind was blowing through his mane - it looked so soft! And with our cameras we can get extreme close-ups. A bit further we found two golden jackals. It looked like they were hunting, but there wasn't much in the way of prey to be found where we were.

Steven stopped to show us how the Grant's establish themselves. They circle around in small loops over and over. This establishes position within the herd. I don't quite understand it.

A kopjes is a rock cropping, formed as much as 4.5 billion years ago. The pressure of hot magma forces pieces of earth up to the surface and beyond. Much like an iceberg, the majority of the rock is below the surface.

It was on a kopjes that we had our first of two magnificent lion sightings. On this rock were a male with a large mane, a juvenile male, there lionesses, and one cub. Fantastic. Again, the wind blows through their manes, making them look soft and fluffy. We were the second cruiser to arrive, so we got some great shots. The cub chewed on the momma's ear, rolled over a bit, walked a little. Everyone adored it. Eventually two vehicles moved off-road to get a better view, which is a big no-no. Steven let the other driver have it, politely. We took a few more shots and moved on.

Later, during drinks, I would ask Renny about this. He and I agreed that there is a problem when the very act of observing the animals changes their behavior you are there to observe. (I believe there is a scientific principle similar to this concept, something about studying particle behavior.) Anyway, he said all they can really do is stick to the fifteen minute observation limit. I think there's a big philosophical question here, but that's for another time.

A bit later on we came to a little area where two vehicles were parked, looking down into a gully. We couldn't see them at first, but as we crested the hill we saw them - a pair of mating lions. they mate very regularly for about five to seven days. We hung out and watched them for about 15 minutes, until the sardine can showed up. This is a huge truck designed for viewing, filled with real campers that sleep inside. Usually these guys spend 12 weeks, rolling from Cape Town to Cairo. I find them annoying, as they are loud and really clutter up the view. Meanwhile, there was a second mating pair not too far in the distance. This set was part of the same pride. If there is enough land, then you can find two dominant males together.

Our final excursion was a leopard 'hunt.' We got word of a cat in some trees not too far, so we hightailed it (no pun intended) over there. When we arrived we discovered that he had his kill at the base of the tree. We decided to wait. It really is neat, sitting out in the middle of the Serengeti, binocs around the neck, with a bunch of other 'hunters,' waiting for that elusive show. You could tell others were enjoying it the same way. One group was just sitting there, eating cookies! It sort of felt like kindred spirits all around.

The leopard never showed, so we headed to the Sopa lodge. Renny says this is his favorite, and I see why. The entire facility overlooks the Park. Each room has a balcony facing out over the plains. There is a ton of open sitting area outside. This is where we had our sundowners. They set up a fire, with chairs encircled, serving drinks and snacks. Tonight the wine was flowing. I think everyone was thrilled to be here and wished to celebrate. I myself probably had more than I should, but I couldn't resist. The meal was fantastic. Two hours later, I was asleep.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Politics takes many forms

I can only pray that the events in Kenya come to a peaceful and just resolution soon. In the mean time, some of the stories of blatant corruption are shocking. I wish the world were more loud and resolute in its responses. From the news site(

-- Meantime, The New York Times reported that, "The European Union said its observers in one constituency last week witnessed election officials announce that President Kibaki had won 50,145 votes, but on Sunday the election commission boosted those same results to 75,261 votes."

Furthermore, ECK admitted that in a constituency with 70,000 registered voters, Mr. Kibaki received 125,000 votes; in another, the tally changed at the last moment to add 60,000 to his score.

So one is left wondering where Mwai Kibaki gets the audacity to place his hand on the Holy Bible and swear-in as President of Kenya.

In an article aptly titled 'Cheated of Change,' The Times of London states, "The verdict of Kenya's voters is unmistakably clear. They have turned out in force to vote for deep reform of a political system that, although democratic by comparison with much of Africa, is deeply scarred by corruption and dominated by a pampered, self-perpetuating political elite...Seldom has an African election so clearly reflected public determination to 'sling the bastards out'. President Kibaki's government and his opportunistically revamped alliance of the political old guard have been dismissed by the electorate."