Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tails from the Wild

We are so sorry it has been such a long time since posting - in fact, Carol is now home and we have had quite a few people inquiring if we are okay. We had no idea it would be so difficult to find a computer or what little time we had to put together the postings. We decided that we will continue to post until we get the entire trip on the blog. That way we will have a short tale and diary for ourselves and others who might be interested. We will send out an email each time we post. Hopefully we will complete it shortly.

After making new friends, learning so much about the country and having loads of fun in Rwanda, we headed for Kenya. Upon arriving in Nairobi, much to our surprise, we found that we had a 6.5 hour drive down a bumpy rutted road to Samburu. This is not what we were told, but what could we do? At least we stopped for lunch. Our driver joked that the jouncing was a Kenyan massage, but as Carol said, the ride was not her idea of fun even if we did cross the equator on the way and take pictures of the sign.

Upon arriving at the entrance to Samburu Park, we were still over 20 kilometers to the lodge, so we went on a mini safari drive. Here the terrain is lush and green with lots of small brush and acaccia trees with small hills. It is difficut to see animals from afar. Maasai Mara is quite different in that it is a grass plain which is very flat and you can see animals for miles. One of the first animals we saw in Samburu were two lions in mating season. The male was so exhausted. For you men, we heard that they mate for about a week, mating about every half hour. Guess that's why they call lions "king of the jungle."

We stayed at the Samburu Intrepid which is a luxurious tented lodge. The tents, if you can call them that, have four poster beds, writing desks and en-suite bathrooms with stone floors, double sinks and hot showers. Well, they do have zipper doors and canvas walls. This was definitely camping in style. Of course, when reception said "Don't worry about the gun shots. They are only to scare off elephants in the camp!" - we felt we really were in the wild.

For those of you who have never done a safari, the routine is to get up at dark o'hundred and game drive for a couple of hours. Of course we got a soft hello wakeup call at the tent accompanied with coffee and tea - this kind of wakeup call is terrific. After the drive, you come back for breakfast and then do some sort of activity until about 4pm when you go on another drive for a couple of hours. The drives were great. We saw all of the big 5 (lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo) with the exception of the rhinoceros which is not in the park.

In addition, we saw cheetahs with their catch, a confrontation between elephants, buffalos, zebras (Carol's favorite), male giraffes and male elephants each fighting for dominance in their herd, elephants backing down our jeep just cause we're in their way, baby elephants only 6 weeks old, blue ball monkeys (monkeys in heat - now you know why that term), antelopes, baboons and many other animals.

Another wonderful thing that we did was to visit the Samburu Maasai village where the Samburu people take you on a tour. The Turkanas from Northern Kenya were also living in their village because of the strife in Sudan. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the chief and as recommended by our friend, Alecia, we presented the chief with a gift - a new watch. He was so excited and telling everyone that we had others like the chief's son admiring the watches we were wearing and saying how they would also like one. Here on the left is the guide who took us through the village. Here he is with one of his wives. Because he had enough cows, he is allowed to have more than one wife - 12 cows for every wife.

As the Samburu took us on tour, we learned much about how they live. Both sexes get circumcised when they are teenagers. Boys get married at 30, but only if they have 12 cows to support their family. Girls can get married anytime after puberty and wear beautiful beaded rings - some had 30-50 rings - around their neck. They showed us how to make fire so now we are ready to compete on 'Survivor'.

Their huts are made from cow dung and branches and must be rebuilt every year - only women do the building as shown in the picture to the left. Men are responsible for the cattle and goats, protecting them from lions and other such predators. We bought power sticks which allow the elders to speak when in council tribe meetings and Carol and Edith danced with the women of the tribe. It was all a fantastic adventure. 

After Samburu, we headed for Maasai Mara by plane - this time travelling by plane - in an amazing aerial hopscotch. We changed planes once and made 4 stops - the shortest distance being a 3 minute flight! It was like being on an air-borne pogo stick. Upon arriving, we were met by Anthony Kigara who was our guide on the Mara. He was a fantastic guide with 28 years experience.

His delight was to find the animals and situations before any other guide so we had awesome sights of some very special occurrences in the wild, including a lioness killing a wildebeest, a cheetah with 3 of the cutest cubs and the infamous, elusive rhinoceros - we saw a pregnant mom with one calf. He also made sure we saw ostrich (with two chicks less than 24 hours old). We really enjoyed staying at the Mara Serena Lodge which has individual hut-like rooms with bright and imaginative decor. We understand that the artist Jony Waite did the wonderful graphics and art which adorn the hotel and she lives in Lamu, our next destination - who knows maybe we can have lunch or drinks.

The lioness/wildebeest kill was amazing to witness. Anthony, our guide spotted the lion eyeing the injured wildebeest. On earlier game drives, we had seen lions watching potential prey, but had not seen an actual kill. We have heard since then that it is rare. Anthony had witnessed less than 20 in his 28 years of guiding. Luckily for us, it seemed that whatever we asked Anthony to show us, he was always able to provide it even when he said it was an elusive opportunity.

Because the wildebeest was injured, it was no longer able to stay with the herd, limping on its disabled leg. The lioness was hidden in the grass, waiting for the right moment to attack. Once she made a run for the wildebeest, it was amazing how quickly it occurred. The lioness went straight for the jugular and the wildebeest didn't fight back - it all was over in a couple of minutes. Quite quickly , another lioness and five cubs joined to share in the kill. The cubs were so funny because they knew it was dinner, but had not a clue of how to get to the meat. All they did was tumble and somersault all over the wildebeest. It was visceral and quite entertaining to see the cubs' glee and excitement over what their mom had gotten for them. We actually got a video of the kill and the cubs in their happiness and merrymaking.

Again we visited another Maasai tribe where the chief gave Rick a bracelet made by his wife - we found this tribe much more outgoing. Guess they have more exposure to tourists and it showed in little ways throughout our tour. There are differences between the two tribes like the Mara Maasai build homes which last for 15 years instead of just 1 and the homes have some decoration - the chief's has a diamond design. You only need 10 cows instead of 12 to get married and the women do not wear the same bright rings around their neck.

Masaii Mara women performed their dance which was different from the Samburu and Carol joined in the fun. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit. By the end, the chief was leading Carol around, showing her their best crafts and we were having to hurry out because we stayed so long and the men had to bring the livestock back into the village for protection from the predators before nightfall. The last morning on the Mara, we had breakfast in the wild by the hippos' favorite riverside spot and where two warthogs hung out with us, hoping for the leftovers. We highly recommend safaris - they are quite exciting and life inspiring!!