The next morning we left for our Safari. Our journey began with a 4 hour ride through the Great Rift Valley (you know where the dinosaurs migrated to on the movie Land Before Time to find “tree stars”….And where it is commonly believed humans evolved from). We were amazed by the scenery even before we got to the Maasai Mara. We saw herds of Giraffes and Zebras and saw a family of large Baboons cross the road right in front of us carrying babies on their backs. The land was vast and scattered with beautiful Acacia trees. We saw the most picturesque scenes of tall, lean Massai men with shaved heads held high, dressed in their traditional red cloth draped across them that blew in the wind, holding long sticks and herding mass herds of goats or cows across the expansive, rolling hills of the Valley. We didn’t get a photo of this beautifully unique East African scene but when we saw this we both looked at each other in total awe and new it would be etched in our memories. We also saw strong Maasai women with shaved heads, in their traditional colorful attire adorned with beaded jewelry and decorations carrying very heavy loads on their backs with waving, smiling children following behind them. When we reached camp we were pleasantly surprised with the accommodations. Although a bit wary we chose the “Permanent Tent”
option because it was much cheaper than the high-class, all-inclusive lodges that many people stay in. To our delight the permanent tents were great! A large green canvas tent with one spacious room, two beds, mosquito nets, and our own private cement bathroom attached at the rear, with Hot water! All constructed under a hand-made wooden shelter. We arrived just a couple hours before sunset so we quickly deposited our things into our tent and headed out for our first ever game drive. We were so excited to finally be doing a safari on the beautiful African savannah, truly a dream come true. The savannah didn’t disappoint. One of the most beautiful places either of us had ever been. “The Mara” as many people call it, is a Maasai word meaning spotted. Looking over the savannah from atop one of the many hills the land appears spotted with small groups of brush or trees. What an amazing sight! Picture grassland and hills as far as the eye can see, spotted with the beautiful Acacia tree,
flowing in the wind like an endless green ocean. On top of that, herds of gazelles, wildebeest, buffalo, impala, zebras, giraffes and many more all grazing in the warmth of the African sun. Our first game drive was one of the best. We entered the park and immediately saw herds of grazing animals. It’s pretty amazing to see so many different types of animals all together wandering across the land. Only minutes into our first drive we got to see one of the coolest things ever. Lions had just taken down a large buffalo and we arrived in time to see the carcass before it was devoured by the hungry pride.
When we arrived the lions were resting from the exhaustion of taking down such a large animal but staying near to protect their prized dinner. We only watched this scene for a short time because our driver/guide, Paul, told us he had something “much better” to show us. We raced on and came upon a tree with the rarest of the “Big Five” taking a cat nap in the branches. To our amazement, the leopard had also carried its kill, a small gazelle, up into the branches.
The guide said that they can go months without ever spotting a Leopard and we got to see one on our very first day! We were very lucky. From the Leopard we moved on to see three young cheetahs laying in the tall grasses. The van got within a few feet of them and they just laid there allowing us to stare and snap photos. On the way back to the camp site we watched the orange sunset disappear behind the broad view of the tall savannah grasslands. On our very first day, which was only a few hours, we saw giraffes, zebras, Grant and Thomson gazelles, impalas, topis, lions, a large male elephant, cheetahs, a leopard, ostriches, jackals, Olive baboons, buffalo and many large birds, including the largest of all flying birds, the Cori Bustard. We saw 4 out of the Big Five (Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Lion and Rhino), with only the Rhino left to see. This first day adventure surpassed our expectations and was a very emotional experience. What a feeling it is to be in the natural setting of the cradle of human kind., where all of our ancestors are from. An unforgettable experience indeed.
The second day we opted for a day long journey which would eventually take us to the Tanzanian border and to the Mara river.
Again, we saw so much wildlife and natural beauty it felt surreal to us. We returned to the buffalo carcass to find it half eaten and surrounded by many more male lions. Some clearly had already had their fill as their stomachs were round and bloated and they looked too full to even move. We watched for a while as two young males tore off hunks of buffalo with their large teeth and strong jaws. The scene was even more fascinating with the many scavengers; spotted hyenas, jackals, and vultures, patiently waiting their turn to get a quick bite before it was all gone. We finally left this Circle of Life scene and made our way through the Mara to the river.
On the way we observed the same three cheetahs from the day before lounging in the tall grasses. We also stopped to watch a herd of about 20 elephants cross the road right in front of us. There were enormous bulls with large tusks and also the tiniest of babies following their mothers. We admired them as they slowly made their way to a nearby creek to drink. When we reached the Mara river we got out of the van and were taken on foot lead by a ranger with a machine gun (protection from the territorial hippos). This river is famous as the place where millions of wildebeest and other herds cross to get to the Maasai Mara and are met by massive, hungry crocodiles. The herds migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania when they have devoured all the grasses there and are forced north to greener pastures. Unfortunately, we were too early to see this natural wonder of the world. The herds migrate usually between June and August but no one knows exactly when this will take place. On our walk we saw many families of Humungous Hippopotamuses and the famous crocs basking in the sun as well as the ruts dug into the riverbank from past migrations. We came across several blue balled monkeys (their balls are bright blue!) and two giraffes that stopped eating to monitor our every move. We ate a picnic lunch near the river and then made our way back to camp. We stopped again at the buffalo carcass and saw a single male lion sleeping right next to the carcass, guarding it from the surrounding scavengers. I felt sort of bad for the waiting many who had been patient now for over a day.
When we returned to our camp we immediately left to visit a nearby Maasai village. According to the Massai man leading our “tour”, the community uses the money they get from tourists to fund their school. Their only other income comes from selling cows, goats and handmade goods to other Maasai villages. We stayed in their village for a couple hours. The men showed us 3 of their traditional dances and asked Clint and the other male tourist to join them. Jumping is a big part of their ceremonial dances and the Massai men are known for their ability to jump really high! The men that can jump the highest typically have the most cows or goats and are held at a higher esteem. I joined the women as they showed us a few of their ceremonial songs and dances as well. Small children gathered around and some danced with the adults. So cute! The men then showed us how they make fire using a wooden block and stick placed on a metal sword. We were invited into their homes, a small, square room made of sticks, grass and cow dung that the women build. They say it takes 5 months for the women to make one home and they lasts for about 9 years before they are typically forced to move because of termites. We were shown necklaces with lion teeth and claws and explained the Maasai practices of killing lions with nothing but spears! They also explained that men can have many wives and numerous children. The leader said that his father had 6 wives and over 32 children! They still practice male and female circumcision even with the social pressures to stop this tradition. Boys and girls become men and women during this ceremony at age 13. To show bravery, the boys are encouraged not to cry or make any noises during the procedure. We then went to tables where the women had their handicrafts and jewelry displayed for purchase. Clint and I bought a beautifully beaded and decorated stick made of olive wood used by tribe chiefs during important meetings. We also shared homemade honey beer with the local men and watched as the herdsmen (some as young as six years old) brought their goats and cows back from grazing. Since they live in the game reserve where there are no fences, they keep their livestock fenced in their village to avoid run-ins with Lions or other predators. Our tour ended with a visit to the local primary school and a chat with one of the teachers. We were told that there are between 70 and 90 students in each grade with only 1 teacher to a classroom! We were surprised to hear that they teach Christianity as one of their subjects since the Maasai do not practice Christianity. The teacher said that the students are encouraged to keep their “culture” outside of school and learn how to be a “modern” Kenyan citizen in school. We found this a bit disheartening. How confusing for these young children to be taught one thing at home and then come to school and taught very different values, beliefs and lifestyle. Our tour overall was very interesting and we felt very welcomed by the beautiful people of the Maasai village.
For our last game drive we decided to wake up before dawn to watch the Mara come to life with the rise of the morning sun. We were still yet to see the last of the Big Five, the Rhino, so we kept our eyes peeled for this near extinct giant. We admired the colors of the sunrise and with the light of a new day we spotted a female lioness with three tiny cubs trailing behind her. I was beyond excited to see this! We followed them as they walked on to more private surroundings (away from safari trucks). The cubs were so cute. Our driver said they were only about 8 weeks old. We watched them until they finally disappeared into the dense brush. Next we spotted it! A huge Black Rhino. We read that Black Rhinos are one of the most endangered animals after being poached for their horns (for eastern medicine and Yemen knife handles). Wow! What a treat to see the Big Five in only a few days.
We then stopped back to the buffalo carcass to see what had become of it. We were amazed to find that the only thing left of the huge animal was its head! Hyenas eat even the bones so there was nothing left of the skeleton at all! The lions had left the scene and the hyenas had moved in to take their spot on the food chain. The jackals and vultures still waited, moving in to steal a bite whenever they could. We moved on to watch the pride of full bellied male lions slowly stroll up the hill nearby. We felt more than satisfied with our views of the day so we decided to head in for breakfast before going back to Nairobi. We still feel overwhelmed with our incredible Safari adventure. To see these spectacular animals in their natural environment is something that invoked emotions I can’t even describe.
Back in Nairobi we stayed with Rosemary and Titus again who continued to take great care of us. I think we can say that so far on our trip Kenyans win the prize for greatest hospitality. In Nairobi we took day trips around the city and visited the National Museum and an Elephant orphanage. The orphanage center rescues abandoned or hurt baby elephants and then eventually reintroduces them back into the wild. The stories of some of these small babies was so sad but to see them right before us happy and thriving was a really cool experience. In the city we often saw many paintings of Obama on the sides of buses and Matatus and Kenyans wearing Obama shirts and hats. When talking to Kenyans and telling them we are from USA, they are quick to share how proud they are that Obama’s father is from Kenya. Something else we noticed was how many people walked everywhere. There were always people in the streets and walking along busy roads to get to work. After spending time in the city and with our family from Kenya we took a nine hour bus ride to the coast of Kenya to a city called Mombasa. We headed straight to a budget resort on the ocean and although it was cloudy and rainy, we enjoyed the beach. We met some great local people and agreed to meet two young guys, David and Jesus, at their hut for a fish dinner. We didn’t really know what to expect but when we got there we were pleasantly surprised. Their hut and table was decorated with fresh pink flowers and they had made coconut rice, fresh red snapper fish cooked over an open fire with cut up tomatoes, onions, avocados, mangos and bananas. It tasted so good!!
We all chatted over dinner and David and Jesus shared with us how hard life can get for them, especially during low tourist season. Many of the locals in this area rely on tourists to buy their handicrafts, food or tours and without this income life can get very difficult. The overall living conditions that we have seen in Kenya have been very poor. In Mombasa, especially, we saw many small homeless children begging for money or food and wearing no shoes and worn clothes. Although Clint and I have seen horrible poverty along our journey it is something that hits us to the core every time. It is not something anyone can, or should, get used to. Being a witness to the poverty and listening to people’s plight sparks discussions about the sad state of the world we live in. Here are some of the things we have passionately discussed:
How can it be that some individuals in this world have billions of dollars to themselves while others don’t have even shoes on their feet or food to eat? It is completely unacceptable! Sadly, there are millions of people who are willing and able to work but there’s simply not enough jobs in this current system. Because our society puts profit before human needs some people are worked to the bone (at times still not making enough to provide for their families) while others are completely denied work. As the homeless kids approach us motioning for food and holding their stomachs to show us how hungry they are we can’t help but think of the crop yields that are destroyed or farmlands decommissioned just to control food prices and all the wasted food we see every day in first world countries. We have the capacity to organize ourselves better so all people have access to basic needs. How can we continue to let 25,000 people die each day from hunger related disease when they can be saved for next to nothing? We have the collective power to put an end to these travesties, it’s not an easy road, but is something that has to be done! Often times we are told that we can “help” by donating our money to a worthy cause or sponsoring a child in a third world country. Although this is noble and needed these efforts are simply putting a band-aid on a very serious systemic problem. With the current state of the economy and unemployment on the rise around the world it could easily be us on the street or one of the 4 billion people (2/3rds of the global population) living in poverty. We, as a collective, need to get our priorities in order to end the suffering. We need to put our energy into leadership that represents us and the interests of all working class people across the globe not just the interests of the multi-national corporations and the ruling-class which we have seen time and again. We need to demand change from our leadership and hold them accountable for their actions and promises. We need to remember that our fight against poverty, unemployment, homelessness, lack of healthcare and education does not start and stop with the US. It is in our best interest to make sure the fight is global, unite amongst common goals, and not stop until our demands are met.
Ok, so this was not meant to be a lecture…just wanted to share what we have seen, felt, questioned and discussed during our travels. After spending time on Tiwi beach we spent a few days in the city center of Mombasa to stay close to internet and phones. My mom was scheduled to have her 2nd surgery to remove her lymph nodes and I wanted to be able to stay connected to family. This was a high emotional and stressful time as there was complications after her surgery which made my mom go back into the OR. Waiting to hear from my family on how she was seemed like an eternity. In the end, my mom was OK and is on the road to recovery. We now wait for pathology reports and pray, pray, pray for No cancer! After feeling assured that she was OK, we took a 9 hour bus ride (was supposed to be 6 hrs) to an island called Lamu. We had heard great things about this place and although we would not have much time there we decided to go anyway. We are very glad we did! Lamu is an island of about 25,000 people situated off the eastern coast of Kenya. It’s known for its traditional Swahili culture where around 2,500 donkeys take the place of vehicles and nearly everyone is a practicing Muslim. The people are SO friendly and helpful and we were constantly greeted with “Jambo” (Hello), “Karibu” (Welcome) and “Hakuna Matata” (No worries). There are cats and donkeys everywhere and all the streets are extremely narrow. Some buildings date back to the 17th Century and many are built with ocean coral and cement instead of brick. There are also old and new Swahili villages made of sticks and mud mixed right in with the old and modern brick, cement and coral buildings. According to a tour guide on the island, Swahili started when Arabs came and mixed with Africans, creating a unique language and culture. On our first day in Lamu we were greeted by a short, round man who referred to himself as “Ali Hippie”. He told us he was a well known chef listed in the Lonely Planet guide book and asked if we wanted to join him at his home for a seafood feast. We agreed. At his house, we, along with two American girls, sat on the floor and was served plates of homemade crab cakes, chipati, red snapper fish, coconut rice, lobster, fresh juice and dessert. It was delicious!! After dinner Ali Hippie and his family brought out their wooden drums, plastic bins, and bells and performed beautiful Swahili music and songs for us. It was a great night!
The following morning we went on a Dhow boat trip (wooden sail boat) for the day. This was the first time Clint and I had been sailing. We fished for lunch using a line strung around a wooden block in the ocean channel. Clint was the only one out of 6 of us that caught anything.
He caught 3 very small fish that normally we would have thrown back but the captain told us not to. For lunch we stopped at an island full of Mangroves where the captain built a fire and cooked our lunch over open flame in his underwear. We enjoyed coconut rice and mixed vegetables with fresh mango for dessert. He also cooked the very small fish which was just enough for us to get a taste. We then sailed to a beach were we swam and walked along the smooth, deep sand. The weather was perfect all day and we had a great time! That night I got a henna tattoo on my foot, we shared a large Swahili dinner, and crashed early. Our last day on Lamu we planned to walk to another beach but instead were forced to stay under shelter out of the all day rain. We hung out at a nearby café, drank strong French pressed Kenyan coffee and spicy Masala tea as we worked on the blog and listened to the showers. Another relaxing day in paradise! Later we visited with some more local women while they gave me more henna tattoos on my hands. The next morning we rose early and took a boat back to the mainland and then another 9 hour bus ride back to Mombasa. During our ride the bus had suddenly cut off and we coasted to a stop. The driver tried to start the bus but with no luck so after a few failed attempts, a staff member said something in Kiswahili to the people on the bus. We thought we’d be there for a while because a bunch of people got off the bus. After a minute Clint looked back and realized he was the only man left on the bus. Weird…….. then all the sudden the bus started moving slowly forward, the driver popped the clutch and the bus started. Before Clint realized that all the men were helping to push the bus and he should be ouvt there too they were all piling back inside. As our ride continued we enjoyed the stunning scenery from our bus windows. We were in awe of the natural scenery and also enjoyed people watching. We saw many women balancing large boxes or containers on their heads wearing their colorful attire with babies strapped to their backs. Vendors ran to the windows of the bus carrying baskets of golden mangos on their heads and bottles of fresh milk. Men worked in the fields and pushed large overloaded carts along the roads. Children waved to the moving buses, many of them carrying their younger siblings on their backs themselves. Never were we bored with the sights of Kenya.
We are now in Uganda, our 8th country on our Amazing Adventure and now into our 5th month. We leave tomorrow for another 3 day safari to see the awesome Mountain Gorillas of the Impenetrable Forest. Another dream of mine about to come true!
** Special Thanks to Christine for inviting us to stay with her family in Nairobi and to Rosemary, Titus, Joyce, Kui and Kate for making our time in Kenya so special and memorable!
Our flights from Nepal to Nairobi, Kenya were long. First, we had to fly from Kathmandu to New Dehli, India where we had a 2 hour lay over. We walked off the plane to 43 degree Celsius weather ( 116 degrees Fahrenheit). Too hot! Then from New Dehli we flew 4 hours to Dubai, UAE where we had a 5 hour layover. Clint took advantage of the modern conveniences and bought a Big Mac and DQ Blizzard. Finally, from Dubai we took a 6 hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya. We had only slept about 3 hours by the time we reached Nairobi. We were both so excited to finally be in Kenya, Africa! After long lines through immigration we went out doors to find our ride. Before coming to Kenya, a friend from Minnesota, Christine, offered to have us stay with her family in Nairobi. Her mother, Rosemary, planned to pick us up from the airport and luckily we found her right away. We immediately felt very welcomed and comfortable with her as she was very genuine, open and kind. On the way to her home she taught us Swahili words and told us of her family. She had just returned from visiting Minnesota 3 days prior where she visited her son and saw her daughter, Christine, graduate. After a tour of their home and getting settled into our room we decided to skip a nap and instead took a ride to the city center with Rosemary to meet her husband, Titus at their place of work. Like Rosemary, Titus welcomed us with genuine kindness and immediately offered to help us arrange our Safari plans. We would have one day of rest and sightseeing in Nairobi before departing for our 3 day Safari to the Maasai Mara. The next day was my 28th birthday. I felt so happy to be celebrating my day in a new continent and in a region that I have wanted to visit since I was a little girl. We spent our day with the family’s daughter, Kui and niece, Kate. It began with a visit to Kui’s church where we stayed for three hours! Clint and I are not usually churchgoers but we actually both really enjoyed ourselves. The church is located near a university so the majority of the congregation is young. The music was lively, the energy of the people and pastor was so positive and upbeat, and the messages were relevant with discussions about current events and issues. We danced, sang, laughed, discussed topics with our neighbors and later shared tea in the “visitors lounge”. The rest of the day we spent exploring the city. We walked through a “Safari Walk”, and later enjoyed dinner at a local bar/restaurant where we ate Kenyan food, drank Kenyan beer and watched Kenyan soccer. After the match ended, a great live band sang Happy Birthday to me. We made our way back to home by Matatu which was a great way to end my birthday night. These are local minibuses that are stacked with Tvs and incredibly loud, vibrating sound systems bumping R&B and Hip Hop music videos and songs…like a dance club on wheels. Kui said that the music and videos started as sort of a joke but became so popular that most of the Matatus now have them. For the most “pimped out” ones, that have the latest music & video monitors behind every seat, people will wait for an hour to ride in one. After being in Asia where we rarely heard music we could move or dance to this was a familiar treat that we realized me missed more than we thought.