Friday, September 08, 2006

My Summer in a Nutshell

11 weeks. 3 countries. 1152 digital pictures. 504 black and white photos. By any account this equates to a good trip.

When I left June 12, I hoped that my summer would include reunions with friends, time for writing, travel to favorite places and new places, and wildlife. Mission accomplished.

There were many high points of my trip.

It's been four years since I traveled to South Africa, and I longed for it. What a gift to be able to hug my friends and talk to them in person. I felt a strong sense of satisfaction upon seeing my thesis on the shelf and reading it. I wish the donated books from Lab School would have arrived while I was there, but I know they will be appreciated regardless.

I turned 32 in South Africa, and I spent a calm weekend in Franschhoek, a village in the wine country near Cape Town. 31 was a difficult year, and 32 already feels full of hope.

On my safari, the lion sightings were the highlight, especially our first sighting in Lake Nakuru and the cubs in Ngorongoro. The cheetah and leopard sightings come a close second and third. I'll also remember waking up in the Serengeti campsite at 4am and hearing the lions roar as they circled the campsite; it's been awhile since I felt that combination of fear and excitement.

Then there was the liberation of snorkeling in a reef off the Zanzibar coast. This reminded me of quadbiking the dunes in Namibia. I felt such peace and awe with the natural world as I stepped out of my comfort zone.

As for the lows of the trip, I felt a twinge of disappointment that I didn't want to stay longer in South Africa. Chicago surprised me with how much I missed it.

The food on my safari was certainly a low, as the cook thought baked beans twice a day for the first week would be enough. Luckily, the five other group members also wanted their carnivorous meals diversified, so we encouraged more veggies and other protein sources. This being said, there were a few dinners that made me want to cry in appreciation.

The roads in Kenya and Tanzania, but mostly Kenya, left me with bruises. I knew we had long drives, so I bought myself one of those neck pillows. However, I was afraid to sleep on the truck during long drives because there was always the need to brace yourself for unexpected potholes. Yet, our driver, Paul, did such a magnificent drive keeping us and our truck happy, that there wasn't much to complain about.

As I sat in the Dar-Es-Salaam airport for my flight back to Jo'Burg, a woman asked me to complete a tourist survey. I told her the most frustrating thing on my trip was being looked at as a bagful of money. All six of us on the safari were exhausted and annoyed by the hawkers that came up to our truck or up to us while we walked in town. Never were we left to enjoy the village in peace. I admit I felt a twinge of relief when I saw the locals being harassed the same way.

I hope you enjoy my pictures and travelogue. Hopefully, you will some day see aspects of this trip in print.

Lots of love,

Nairobi, Kenya

I arrived in Nairobi on Friday afternoon, three days before my safari departed. I wanted a few days to see the city and my first new African country in six years. Nairobi took some getting used to, as the guide books, my safari company, and the hotel staff all gave warnings about "Nairobbery." Yet, I locked up all my valuables and trekked into the city without my camera, which is a rarity.

The pictures here are from the day trip I took in Nairobi; the pictures are of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (7 baby elephants and 1 baby black rhino), the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum (with the Ngong Hills still clear in the distance). On this day trip I touched a baby elephant, fed a giraffe, was almost trampled by a giraffe (see pic with giraffe nostril), and paid homage to an interesting author. Quite a day. I was relieved to leave the city, but I would like to see it again someday.

Lake Naivasha, Kenya

The first two days of our overland trip we stayed on Lake Naivasha. The first evening we had tea at Elsamere, the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame (first pic). The second day we took a boat ride and guided hike through Crater Lake. Here we saw our first animals of the overland. While we would take seven game drives on our overland, this experience proved unique as we were on foot.

Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru turned out to be the surprise park for me. I knew nothing about it, and on our first game drive we saw lions---11 of them up a tree, in the grass, at the waterhole, on the road. I'll never forget staring eye to eye with the lionness in the tree. We saw a couple dozen white rhinos in full view, thousands of flamingoes (alive and dead in the mud), baboons, eagles, giraffes, zebras, cape buffalos, impalas, and monkeys. I really enjoyed this park, except for the ants that came into our tent at 2am.

Masai Mara

We arrived in the Mara at sunset in time to see the first of the hundred thousand wildebeast and lions beginning their evening hunt. We met quite a few Masai people during our stay--the crowd of women selling jewelry at the gate, the men who helped us pitch our tents, the entire village that told us about their boma (village), and the many in the park watching over their cattle.

The highlight of the Mara was the cheetah sighting because our fabulous driver, Paul, saw it from a quarter of a mile away. A little speck in the bush. She sat there, all quiet and pregnant, scanning the land for lunch. We also saw wildebeast (alive and dead), zebra, hippos, vultures, giraffes, elephants, impalas, and Thompson's gazelles.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lake Victoria

A quick rest stop for us before we went into the Serengeti. We took a quick boat ride on the lake, followed by a walk through the village. We gathered quite a crowd of curious children that competed to hang on to one of our fingers. People selling fish, herds of cattle coming to the lake for water, children enjoing a sunset swim.


So, the Serengeti. The creme de la creme of wildlife parks, or something like that. I'm sure if I had a few more days there I could have taken hundreds of landscape pictures. Our animal sightings were smaller than at the Mara, but we finally saw a leopard. Following the tail through the grass, then around a log, then out in the open, under a truck, over a field, and then stretching out in a tree. I've got about 10 "leopard in a tree" pictures, but you need a big screen... I'd like to go back to the Serengeti someday to see more of it, but I did enjoy the miles and miles of beautiful plains.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The guides and the tour books all say that what you don't see in the Mara and Serengeti, you will see in the Crater. For our group, this meant better pictures of hyena and lion cubs. We couldn't take our big truck into the Crater, so we took a Land Rover. The most entertaining part of our game drive was the pride of lions and their cubs that took refuge from the sun in the shade of the various trucks (see pic of lions alongside truck with my shadow waving).