12 January 2011
I’m sitting in front of Lake Barengo, a volcanic lake in the Rift Valley, watching a crocodile sun himself on the bank as snowy egrets silently stalk their prey in the shallow water, slowly moving through the tall grasses. Numbers of birds, not familiar to me, have joined us on the lanai (not sure what the Swahili word is…), anxiously awaiting dinner, while presumably trying to avoid being someone’s dinner. Proper tea has been served, complete with milk, sugar, and biscuits (cookies), but how ANYONE can drink ANYTHING hot today is beyond me. I have unzipped the legs off my pants, making them shorts, and taken off my safari shirt (not to worry, I have on a camisole), and stuck my feet and arms in the nearby swimming pool, and I am still hot.
We arrived here at Roberts Camp in the heat of the day, after taking a plane ride over Lake Bogoria, where millions of beautiful pink flamingos line the shoreline. Oh, and it wasn’t just ANY plane ride! It was a small four-seater Cessna with the back door removed. Rex was riding shotgun in the co-pilot’s seat, Keith was behind the pilot, and I was sitting next to the open door. Our mission: take fantastic flamingo photos and enjoy the ride. I’m hoping I got a few good shots, but I’m really counting on Shelley, Chris, and some of the others to have gotten the stellar shots! But it was so worth it! And had I not been warned to wear a fleece, I might not be so hot! As it was, I thought I might expire on the plane, even next to the open door. Did I mention we are very near the equator? I will be ready for the coolness of the mountains in a few days, after spending our first few days on safari in the dust and heat. Lest you think I’m complaining, I’m not – it has all been fantastic!!! And hot and dusty!
But let me try to start at the beginning….
We had an uneventful and fairly typical flight from Houston to London’s Heathrow Airport on British Airways, which is still civilized enough to serve decent meals and free alcohol (meals are free, too!) on its overseas flights. We spent a couple of hours at Heathrow, getting online and having brekky at Starbucks. We got to our gate early, and I inquired about the possibility of getting upgraded to business class. I was told no, not now, we’ll see, so we figured, oh well… But, as we were preparing to board the bus that would take us to our plane, the clerk informed us we had been upgraded!! Woo hoo!! Now we are completely spoiled, as we had our own little cubby and seats that reclined completely with an adjustable footrest, electricity, champagne, three course meals, warm blankets, and more! Crossing our fingers for good luck on the flights home! We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, a bit early, about 9:20 PM local time on Saturday. It took us a while to get our visas, but we finished just in time to collect our bags and see someone holding a sign with our name on it. We had another passenger on the van to the Hilton with us, and in the ‘small world’ category, he was from Cary, NC, just down the road from Durham! We arrived at the Hilton, and after passing through fairly tough security, we saw Shelley and Keith waiting for us on the stairs! Big hugs!!! And then another surprise at check in – I gave the clerk my Hilton Honors card and he upgraded us to a suite!! So, up we all went to the 16th floor and a HUGE set of rooms – living room, dining room, kitchenette, king size bedroom, and two full baths! Shelley made us tea and we sat down and visited. It was so great to see her and Keith!!
Sunday morning we met Shelley and Keith in the hotel restaurant for brekky, which was a HUGE buffet – cheese, smoked salmon, pastries, breads, cereal, yogurt, omelets, waffles, breakfast meats, and hot foods that looked more like lunch! I am going to be tested though, not having ANY ice or iced tea for two weeks. Sadly, the water is not safe enough to drink, so ice is out of the question….At the table behind us were fellow safari members Alan and Margie from Adelaide, Australia, and Pat from Victoria (near where Kerrianne grew up). We would be picking up Maxine at the airport later. After breakfast, we packed up our things and met Chris and Jess, our guides, and the rest of the group in the lobby. Hugs all around, and pressies from Chris! Oh, and I forgot to say that Rex and Keith made a quick trip to Tusky’s for a universal adapter, as ours was not able to accept three-pronged plugs (like the one for the computer! Details!) Soon we were on the curb, meeting Frank and John, our drivers, and loading up our gear into the safari jeeps. Frank is German, but has lived in Kenya for some time, and John is a native Kenyan. Off we went to the Giraffe Centre for our first taste of wildlife. Soon we were up close and personal to a very friendly giraffe who ate right out of our hands! He didn’t have a black tongue like giraffes I’ve seen at zoos, but he was very slobbery! In the yard was a warthog (Pumba!) and out in the forest were several other giraffes. We went inside for a short presentation by Vincent, who told us about the three kinds of giraffes found in Kenya. They are the Reticulated, the Rothschild, and the Maasai giraffes, so now we know what to be on the lookout for!
From here, we headed back toward Nairobi on Langata Road and stopped at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage to see the one hour feeding of the baby elephants! You cannot imagine how CUTE they are! Down on the plain below us, we saw several giraffes in the distance, but the stars of this show were the adorable baby elephants. Down they came, doing the Baby Elephant Walk, so excited to get their giant bottles of milk and then have a chance to frolic and play in the mud and show off for the hundreds of people lining the ring to take pictures! On our way out, we stopped by to see a rhino that is being cared for by the trust. He was not nearly as cute as the baby elephants! Next it was lunch at Haveli’s, a local Indian restaurant, and the food was delicious! I had Chicken Markhiti, onion rice, na’an, and a Tusker, my new favorite beverage of choice. I see a lot of Tuskers (beer) in my future! Now we were about to get going, stopping to rendezvous with another driver who had picked up Maxine from the airport.
I can’t begin to tell you how different driving is in Kenya. Although Nairobi is very populous and has a lot of traffic, it is evident that most Kenyans walk to get where they are going. Everywhere we went there were people walking along (or on) the highway. And not just people – goats and cows were out in droves as well! Outside the city, roads may be anything from asphalt to tarmac, to lots of potholes to gravel to dirt to heavily rutted dirt. Let’s just say we’ve had some very bouncy rides, and more are in our future! In Nairobi, we saw lots of familiar billboards and ads for common products, but outside the city, the “strip malls” took on an entirely different look. Shacks of sticks and tin line the roads, offering fresh vegetables, butcher shops, colorful plastics, ‘hotels’, food, cell phones, hardware, lumber, clothing, curios, and more. I was surprised to see that almost all signs of all kinds are written in English. Swahili is the official language of Kenya, but all children are taught English in school and each of the 42 tribes of Kenya has its own language. What was very remarkable to me was that in spite of the incredible level of poverty here, almost everyone has a cell phone! Our trip out of Nairobi took us south to the Amboseli National Park, on the border of Tanzania and at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Part of the road we traveled was good, and newly constructed, but most was bumpy! We were rewarded though, with a herd of giraffes that we spotted on the side of the road. Frank drove us right up for a close look at them, and we easily identified them as Maasai giraffes!
As we entered Amboseli National Park, about three hours after we picked up Maxine, we were accosted by about a dozen Maasai women who wanted to sell us beaded bracelets, carvings, necklaces, and more. They tried very persistently for the whole time we were at the gate of the Park (which seemed an hour, but was maybe 15 minutes!) but we did not buy anything – this time! Once in Amboseli, we had only driven for fifteen minutes before we spotted our first herd of elephants! We must have taken hundreds of photos of the grazing elephants and their constant companions – the lovely white birds who ride on their backs and eat insects off of the elephants! Shelley got to use one of Chris’s $16,000 600mm lenses, which are INCREDIBLE!!! It takes some muscle to maneuver that giant thing, but it is so worth it!! When we could finally tear ourselves away from the elephants, we next spotted some ostriches strutting around. followed by a slinking hyena, the beginning of a beautiful sunset, and a wildebeest. But then we got a HUGE blessing and saw a cheetah stalking a herd of gazelles!! We watched it watch them for about ten minutes, but dusk was upon us so we moved on toward Kibo Tent Camp. On the way, we got a good family portrait of three elephants by the side of the road, and just as we got to camp, a giraffe stepped into the headlights! Soon we arrived at Kibo and were greeted at the reception area with cold wet washcloths and a glass of juice – both were very appreciated!! By 7:30 we were settling into our tents and preparing for dinner. What an exciting first day!!