Wednesday, July 30, 2014

AFRICA: DRIVING FROM LAKE NAKURU TO MAASAI MARA (and The Big Five Purchase)

There were things I liked about our drives between national parks/reserves as much as I liked the parks and reserves themselves. On the game drives we could appreciate the natural world, but on our drives between places, we really got to appreciate the human world. Such was the case on our long drive from Lake Nakuru to the Mara Serena Lodge in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Some things are the same all over the world:
Cute kitty at our first bathroom/shopping stop.
And some things are NOT the same:
On our first bathroom/shopping stop, we encountered our first African squat toilet (but not our last). Note the lack of a sink, paper, etc. Suddenly I understood why almost all African women wear dresses.

However, it was also at this same bathroom stop/gift shop that an especially astute member of our party discovered The Big Five Wood Carving:


Remember "The Big Five"? The term refers to the five African game animals most difficult to hunt on foot: the elephant, the lion, the Cape buffalo, the leopard, and the rhino. Coincidentally, there are five attorneys in my husband's firm, and all five of them stood in front of this carving reflecting on how remarkably appropriate it would be as an art piece in their office lobby. After some consultation with each other and the wives and much haggling over price, the deal was done, papers were signed, and a quick shipment was promised.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

AFRICA: KENYA'S LAKE NAKURU NATIONAL PARK (WHERE WE SAW THREE OF THE BIG FIVE)

Animal sightings:
(*Only sighting on trip)
*Martial eagle
Lilac-breasted roller bird
Male lion
*White rhinos
Cape buffaloes
Common zebras
*Cattle egrets
Thomson's gazelles
Defassa waterbuck
Impala
Hippopotami
Flamingoes
*Rothschild's giraffes
Helmeted guineafowl 
Olive baboons

Our drive from the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge to Sarova Lion Hill Lodge on Lake Nakuru was one of our longer drives: seven hours of bumpy, dusty dirt roads (and two bathroom stops):
(Photo by E. Tooke)
"Nakuru" means "dust" or "dusty place" in the Maasai language. Very appropriate.
See start and end points on map above. (Map courtesy of J. Duckworth)
As always, there was plenty to see along the way. The photos below show common sights in Kenya: a sign for a school (18 km off the main tourist road), men on motorbikes . . . 
. . . an assortment of animals grazing alongside the road . . .

. . . and a young shepherd carrying a stick, the African equivalent of a staff:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

AFRICA: A VISIT TO THE SAMBURU TRIBE (KENYA)

There are many valleys in central Kenya that seem perfect for a village--sky-blue streams flowing lazily beside green fields that appear perfect for cattle, goats, and sheep:
And there are other regions a little less compatible with human and animal needs, but perhaps still workable:
But in a parched, desolate part of the Great Rift Valley is a small village of native Africans of the Samburu tribe, a people related to the better-known Maasai Mara tribe. Our tour company had arranged an optional side trip to a Samburu village for anyone who was interested, and a small group of us rode down rutted dirt roads in our plush, well-padded Land Cruisers to the village's current location. The Samburu are nomadic shepherds, and they relocate every five or six weeks when their cattle, sheep, or goats have cleared the already barren land of anything edible. They seemed to have been in this spot for a while as we could see very little vegetation in close proximity to the village.


The Samburu women were expecting us, waiting patiently in their colorful and wildly patterned clothing, rubber sandals, and layers upon layers of ornate beads:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

AFRICA: BUFFALO SPRINGS NATIONAL RESERVE ELEPHANT PARADE (KENYA)

ele•phan•tine adjective.  huge, ponderous, or clumsy: elephantine movements; elephantine humor.

"Huge, ponderous, clumsy," prehistoric-looking animals don't always come across as the most intelligent or sagacious creatures. Think of the phrase "as dumb as an ox," for example. However, elephants, the largest mammals on earth, are the exception. Ranked with chimpanzees and dolphins in intelligence, elephants exhibit very complex behaviors, and it was one of the biggest thrills of our trip to see them in the wild.

Although we didn't visit either of what are considered the best game reserves in Kenya to see elephants (Tsavo or Amboseli), we saw plenty in Buffalo Springs--at least 70 elephants. It was such a fantastic experience that we hope to one day return to Kenya to visit elephants in other reserves.

We saw them alone, coming and going:
They flap their enormous battle-scarred ears like fans to cool themselves off (I do love the heart-shaped frame an African elephant's ears make around its face), and they roll like happy children in the rich African soil to thoroughly apply Mother Nature's sunscreen, tossing more dirt over their backs with their trunks when needed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

AFRICA: BUFFALO SPRINGS NATIONAL RESERVE DAY 2 MORNING DRIVE (KENYA)

Vervet monkey outside our lodge. (Photo by E. Tooke)
Ever since we got home from Africa, we have been asked a lot of questions about our trip, and a few keep popping up.

Question: Were your game drives crowded? Were there lots of people gawking at animals and causing traffic jams like there are in Yellowstone?
Answer: No, they weren't crowded at all. For example, seven safari lodges surround Buffalo Springs National Reserve, which is a relatively small reserve. Anyone can bring a private car into the reserve, but almost everyone goes with a tour group, which means that the tourist population is partly limited by the number of rooms available in the lodges. Of course, it is also possible to drive in with a tour, do a drive through the park, and then drive somewhere else for lodgings. We did see a few private vehicles, but they were very rare. We never felt that there were a lot of people in this (or any other) reserve/park we were in.

Question: Did your group do any hunting?
Answer: Hunting safaris ended in 1977, and Kenya joined an international animal protection group in 1978. In most cases, even the local tribes are not allowed to kill game.

Question: What time of day did you see the most animals?
Answer: We usually had two game drives in each game reserve, a morning drive and and afternoon drive. I would have expected to see many more animals in the morning than the afternoon, but it didn't seem to matter when we were looking. We saw animals all the time--although what we saw varied according to the time of day.

That should do it. Back to the safari.

Our second game drive in Buffalo Springs National Reserve was a morning drive. After a delicious buffet breakfast at the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge, we climbed into our Land Cruisers. On our way, we passed these two delightful children with their wooden Medusa-like hairdos. It was common to see children carrying varying-sized bundles of wood. Even children in uniforms on their way to school were sometimes cheerfully carrying loads like these in their arms or on their heads. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

AFRICA: BUFFALO SPRINGS NATIONAL RESERVE DAY 1 AFTERNOON DRIVE (KENYA)

It is a challenge to write about a long safari because in some respects, every day is alike. On most days we had breakfast followed by a morning safari drive. We were back for lunch, and then had another safari drive in the afternoon, returning for dinner and bed. Honestly, before the trip when I envisioned day after day of driving around looking for animals, I was worried that it would get boring. In addition, I tend to get motion sickness, and the thought of bumping along on dirt roads for a couple of weeks didn't sound like my dream vacation.

However, I did not find this to be the case. The big surprise was that every drive was a new adventure, every day had its unique moments and sightings, and I never got bored. As for the motion sickness, I had come prepared with scopolamine patches (the kind worn behind the ear that are often used by people on cruises), and they were generally pretty good at preventing any problems.

I have decided that the best way to write about this experience is to begin by giving an overview of the location of a drive, and then list the animals we saw on that drive. That way if someone is looking for a post about a particular animal, it will be easy to scan the list at the beginning. Also, a list will show the variety of animals we saw every day, which is what made this trip so amazing. I will follow the list with photos of some of the animals and a little commentary.

Here we go!

After the long drive from the Kenya Mountain Lodge to the Sarova Shaba Lodge, we had lunch and a short rest, and then we headed out on our first real safari in the Buffalo Springs National Reserve, 51 square miles on the southern side of the Ewaso Nyiro river (the river that runs through the lodge property).  The other side of the river is the Samburu National Reserve. Buffalo Springs was a great place to begin.

ANIMAL SIGHTINGS 
Those marked with an * are unique to this particular area of Kenya
Termites (or at least their homes)
*Beisa oryxes
*Reticulated giraffes
Common zebras and *Grevy's zebras
Black-backed jackal
*Gerenuk
Impala
Grant's gazelles
Nile monitor
Baboons
Vervet monkeys
Superb starlings
White great heron
Red billed hornbill
Yellow billed hornbill

At an altitude of about 3,000 to 4,000 feet and less than 100 miles north of the equator, the Buffalo Springs Reserve is hot and dry. Flat-topped acacia trees spread their thorny branches threateningly across the arid landscape. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

AFRICA: SAROVA SHABA GAME LODGE (KENYA)

One of my initial concerns about traveling to Africa was about our accommodations. Where does one stay on a safari? I had images of Hemingway's un-air conditioned and mosquito-exposed huts and tents in my mind:
Hemingway with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, on safari in 1953-1954.  (Photo from here)
I needn't have worried. Actually, our first lodge on Mount Kenya was a good indication of things to come. It only got better. After our long morning drive to the Shaba Game Reserve, we ended up at another spectacular lodge.
"Karibu" means "Welcome" in Swahili. (Photo by JKM)
The typical protocol when we arrived at a lodge was to be met by a team of porters who unloaded our luggage and delivered it to our rooms. A lodge employee was usually standing in the lobby with a basket of cool, damp, rolled up washcloths anointed with a touch of eucalyptus or lavender oil, and these were offered to us with tongs. Often there was also a person with a tray of cold juice making the rounds. Yeah, I could get used to that.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

AFRICA: CROSSING THE LINE (THE EQUATOR LINE, THAT IS) IN KENYA

Note starting and ending points above. Nanyuki is on the equator.
On our drive from Mountain Lodge at Mount Kenya to our next lodge, we passed up this wonderful opportunity for what I am sure was a less expensive place to spend the night. We saw a lot of little "hotels" like this one alongside the main road:
One of the many perks of this trip was that as we drove, there was always something interesting to look at. For example, this woman's odd assortment of clothing was intriguing, as was the green pitcher she held up near her head and the plastic barrel on her back. What would it be like to haul water for daily washing, cooking, and drinking?
Our first stop was Nanyuki, a town of 32,000 situated near the equator. We didn't actually visit the town, which also hosts a British military base and was the location for the POW camp discussed in the previous post, but we did stop "to use the washroom" at 0° latitude, along with quite a few other tour groups. (Our Land Cruisers are the green ones.)


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