17 January 2011

Odd to Graceful: Ostriches to Flamingos

Monday, 17 January 2011

Today we have an easy day, and we were ready for one!  It’s been go, go, GO! ever since we stepped foot in our safari jeep!  Pat, Max, Margie, Alan, and Chris left early this morning, headed back to Solio Ranch in hopes of spotting the elusive big cats.  Shelly, Keith, Rex, Jess, and I didn’t wander down to breakfast until 9 AM, since we were making a trip to Aberdare Country Club for a nature walk.  We all met back at the Bush Bar and Restaurant at Rhino Watch for lunch, and now everyone is taking a much needed afternoon break.  There is hope that we may be able to do a nighttime game trip this evening, but that has yet to be determined.  For now, I’m on the terrace of our lodge, looking out over the colorful terraced grounds.  I just borrowed one of Chris’s macro lenses to take some up close flower pix.  Sweet!

When last we chatted, we had tucked in for a peaceful night at the Maasai Ostrich Farm.  We had a nice big tent there, with a double bed and a twin bed.  I should explain a bit about these tent camps we are staying in, lest you think we are completely roughing it.  The tent platforms are permanent – concrete or tile – and the rear portion of the platform is walled in and contains a bathroom with running water – a toilet, sink, and shower.  Now, the water is not fit for consumption, so we use bottled water to brush our teeth and we try really hard not to get any water in our mouths while showering.  It’s not as easy as you might think, as almost all of us can attest today…  The tents connect to the rear portion of the platform, and sometimes the complete ceiling is a tent.  We have mosquito netting around our beds, as malaria and yellow fever, both borne by mosquitoes, are the most feared diseases (other than HIV/AIDS) in Africa.  You must have documentation that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever in order to leave Kenya, and we are all taking oral anti-malarials and covering ourselves with DEET every day.  Because of mosquitoes, though, we must keep our tents closed at all times, which has made for some pretty warm evenings so far.

My dip in the pool at the Ostrich Ranch really helped, so I was able to sleep pretty well, but I woke up with a bit of a rumbly tummy.  Nothing major, but around here, when bathrooms are few and far between, even minor annoyances can lead to big issues!  Today’s agenda was complicated, as we were traveling from the Ostrich Farm to Lake Baringo by both car and airplane, but since only three of us could fly at one time, we were playing musical chairs!  We left the Ostrich Farm after breakfast, a bit after six.  We were in three cars, and let me tell you, it was like the Three Stooges on a road trip!  Frank had told John to take this short cut to the airport (a term that is used very loosely around here!) but he only knew how to get to the shortcut…  We were in John’s car, in the lead, and John stopped some shy school girls to ask directions.  The children here are just precious, always proudly wearing their brightly colored school uniforms, but they are very shy when directly approached by strangers.  John told us there have been too many incidents of bad things happening to children, just like back home.  Keep in mind that here, almost everyone walks almost everywhere, and it could be miles from village to school.  Children as young as three are out with older siblings and friends on their daily walk to learn!  One little girl sent us back in the opposite direction, so off we went, with the other two cars following us.  Then we pulled off the paved road onto a dirt track, then onto grass.  Then we all backed up and went back to the road, and John pulled into a drive to ask directions from a woman in the yard.  Finally we were on our way to the airport.  Security was tight.  A Wells Fargo agent greeted us at a padlocked gate, spoke a few words to John in Swahili, and let us pass.  A chicken wire fence surrounded the area, and even though there were no trespassing signs posted, schoolchildren were trekking down the hill inside the fence.  When we got to the top of the hill, I understood, as there was a small village there next to the airfield.  This airstrip was tarmac, and there were about ten or twelve hangars for small planes.  Waiting there for us was Joachim and his twin-engine four-seater Cessna with the rear door already removed and stowed in the back.  First up for the day were Chris, riding in the co-pilot seat, Max, riding next to the open door, and Shelley, riding behind Joachim.  We all listened to the safety spiel (fasten your seatbelts, try to stay inside the plane, and use the bag provided should you become ill) and encouraged them to take lots of photos!  And then they were off!!

The rest of us got back in our cars and took off for the next rendezvous point, which was at a Kenyan Army airfield many kilometers away!  Our drive took us north and west, passing through the towns of Matasia, Ngong (of Out of Africa fame), Karen (named for the author of Out of Africa and home of the Nyumbani AIDS Clinic), Kikuyu (home of one of the best schools in Kenya), Sigona (famous for cow skins and Marengo sheep), and into the spectacular Great Rift Valley.  The Great Rift Valley stretches from Jordan (or Israel, by some accounts) to Mozambique, some 6500 km long.  We stopped at an overlook for photo ops for us and easy sales targets for the local merchants there.  Most of us bought some trinket as a memento of the Great Rift Valley, and we all learned a few tidbits while there.  We next drove through Kikopey, the barbeque capital of Kenya, and soon we pulled up at the 81st Tank Battalion were security was SERIOUS.  John warned us not to take photos of anything military or police in nature, so we didn’t!  Now it was our turn for the plane ride, as Keith, Rex, and I were due to fly next.  We were happy to see Shelley, Max, and Chris all safely on the ground, although they had been waiting for us in the hot sun (no shade in sight) for about 90 minutes or more.  They were even looking forward to that car ride now!

We boarded the plane and Joachim fired up the engines and we toddled out to the airstrip, which might have been partly paved at one time, but now it is mostly gravel.  If there was communication between Joachim and any air traffic control, I was not aware of it!  My job was to pretend to be the door and, on Joachim’s signal, push a button that the closed door usually activates.  It was a pretty important job, as I was now operating the wing flaps!  Okay, then.  A new skill to add to my set!  Take off worked, and soon we were airborne.  The countryside and the Great Rift Valley looked beautiful from the air, and we could so easily see the well-worn footpaths that crisscross the countryside and hills.  Most Kenyans are farmers, raising crops like corn, potatoes, and other vegetables or raising cattle or goats, and we could see all of this from the air.  Soon we approached Lake Bogoria, which is truly not to be believed!

Millions of flamingos live on the lake, giving the illusion of an undulating pink quilt on the lake’s surface.  Parts of the lake are natural hot springs, as much of Kenya is like Yellowstone National Park – volcanic soil, craters, hot springs, canyons, and more.  It was difficult to get good photos from the plane, as my lens would find its way out of the plane and then get almost pulled out of my hands!  And when I remembered to keep my camera completely IN the plane, it seemed that each time I pressed the shutter, we encountered a bit of turbulence.  Add to this the fact that we were warned we would be cold and should wear a jumper (sweater), so I had on a polar fleece sweatshirt.  Given that it was 11:15 when we took off on a very warm (and getting warmer) day, the fleece was a BIG mistake.  I was SO HOT!!  The heat added to the turbulence, but it was still such an incredible experience!  At times I just put down my camera and enjoyed the spectacle!  Joachim would fly down quite close to the lake, and huge flocks of flamingos would scamper across the water on their spindly pink legs and take off in flight, seemingly in unison.  It was AMAZING!!!  We made several passes around the lake, getting closer each time, and then we flew on to the next rendezvous point near Roberts Camp, where we would be staying for the next two nights.  This time, the landing strip was gravel and dirt, but our landing was a very smooth one, somehow!  Just after we landed, a car drove through the gate with a couple of men who were there to fetch us.  Joachim secured the plane, and the six of us (Joachim was as tall as Rex) piled into a little Toyota and took off for Roberts Camp, which thankfully was only about a five minute drive away.

At the camp, we pulled out the box lunches that had traveled with us from the Ostrich Farm, to the airport, on the plane, and in the car to Roberts Camp and settled in at the Thirsty Goat Bar and Restaurant to enjoy our meal.  There was the usual hard-boiled egg, fruit, juice box (mango this time!), cookies, an ostrich sandwich.  A cool Tusker from the bar completed our meal.  We sat in the shade and watched even more splendidly feathered birds frolic in the trees, but it was still very hot.  I had pulled off my fleece before the plane had even come to a complete stop, and I was already down to just my camisole, but I was pretty uncomfortable.  Shortly, a man named David (Frank’s brother-in-law) appeared and led us to our new digs.  We would be sharing a house with Shelley and Keith, so we had plenty of room and we each had our own bathrooms.  David took Rex and me on a tour of the grounds, and before we had even gone a few yards, we had seen a gorgeous hornbeaked bird  and a graceful egret.  We stumbled upon a swimming pool, so I promptly took off my shoes and socks, unzipped the legs off my pants, and sat on the side of the pool, splashing cold water all over me.  AAAAHHHH!!!  Once I had cooled off a bit, I found a chaise and took a little siesta until I woke up hot again!

We made our way back to our house, and I’ve already written about my afternoon nature sightings (see my post from 12 January), although I will tell you that there were a few minutes I was thinking I might need to be wearing my adidas instead of flip flops when that croc was nearby!  After a bit, Pat, Margie, and Alan arrived from their plane ride, and they were exhausted, as they had driven all the way here and then taken their trip to Lake Bogoria.  Jess was with them and had been a really good sport by riding all the way and not getting to fly!  Shelley, Max, and Chris were still at the lake, photographing the birds up close, and we weren’t expecting them back until well after dark. The birds put on quite a show for us, with the prize being the Red and Yellow Barbet, which is a glorious bird!  At one point, there were probably a hundred birds on the feeder and on the ground below it!  Everyone cleaned up a bit and then we gathered back on our lanai for sundowners.

David was to be our cook for the next week, and his first night’s meal was a huge success!  First we had some delicious appetizers, and while we were munching away, the rest of the group arrived.  As soon as they were ready, we sat down together for dinner.  David had cooked red snapper, a spinach salad, and a rice dish, and they were all delicious!  Truthfully, I don’t even remember much more about that night or the meal – it was a long day!!  No one lingered too long after dinner, partly because we were all beat and it was still HOT!!We said our good nights and everyone retired to their rooms, as we had another early day planned!

Visions of pink flamingos filling my head,


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