Saturday, July 12, 2008
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
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
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.)