Finally made it to Thailand! - Sunday, January 25, 2004

We flew to Thailand this evening and are already in love. We are staying at a great little lodge not too far from the hustle and bustle but far enough so we can get some sleep. The food at the hotel is delicious, organic, and cheap! Our room and dinner only cost us $12. Perhaps we shouldn't have stayed in Europe so long (no regrets)... It's SO MUCH CHEAPER HERE!!!

We plan to head very far southwest close to the Malaysian border later this week to visit an area chock-full of small islands and not very many farang (tourists). Our journey will consist of an overnight, 12 hr train ride, a 2.5 hour bus, and a 1.5 hr long-tail boat ride. After a week in this area, we'll island hop our way north to a few more beaches. Yes, we've got tons of SPF 30, used books, and hats.

It's beginning to hit home that our journey around the world will be over in less than two months. Ouch, that hurt to write... So, we're going to be beach bums for most of our time left! However, we will spend about 2-3 weeks exploring the northern Thailand Hill towns, Laos (maybe), and check out Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

 Hong Kong - Friday, January 23, 2004

We spent half of our week in Hong Kong recovering from the worst jet lag experienced thus far on the trip and the other half of the week mad that everything was closed for the Chinese New Year Holidays! We recently read that it takes 1 day for each hour of flight (or time change?) to recover from jet lag. I guess we still have a few more days to go. We can't seem to get to sleep before 2am!!!

We did have a day or two to sightsee before everything closed for the holidays. The tram ride up The Peak provided us with a nice panaroamic view of the city that didn't disappoint! Later that day we took the Star Ferry over to Kowloon and the shopping crowds. This town is all about shopping with outlet malls everywhere. We kept our cool...The people, tourists and locals, were out enmasse to shop for the holiday weekend and colorful Chinese New Year's decorations adorned most places.

The food is just fabulous here and the atmosphere reminds us of New York City. Our hotel is not far off the 800m escalator that trasports 35,000 people a day up and down the hill. Very convenient! We are off to Thailand tomorrow for our last two months of traveling. It will be nice to be on the beach after a week of freezing in Hong Kong.

 Johannesburg - Jan. 12th & 16th - Saturday, January 17, 2004

Our flights to Vic Falls were not that convenient and necessitated an overnight in Jo’burg at the front and back end. We found a local backpackers close to the airport that had a pool, laundry, and BBQ for $10!! Just what we needed…clean clothes! We really hit if off with the guy running the hostel for his son. Vince used to be a professional hunter, turned park ranger, and then became a safari guide. Evidently, he led hunting trips for some of the former leaders of South Africa. After deciding that hunting was no longer his calling, he turned into a park ranger/conservationist. One of his projects was leading animal conservation efforts for some of SA’s largest national parks, including the famed Kruger Park, where he managed a lion breeding program for over ten years.

Vince is going to start taking people on Safaris again. He will specialize in walking Safaris in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. We can't wait to try this type of Safari to compare it with our experiences on this trip. Hopefully, we can get back to SA soon before everyone starts traveling extensively to this country as it emerges from it's nasty past.

On the second pass through Jo'burg we hooked up with one of M's former co-workers who is now is SA with Dell. Ben, a native Brit, was nice enough to pick us up from the airport and give us a place to crash for our quick stop. We enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner out with his good friend Rosh. We loved his Mini Cooper....

 Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe - Thursday, January 15, 2004

If we spent all our time believing what we saw on TV, we wouldn’t have visited 7-8 countries on our list. Zimbabwe has horrible political problems, but Vic Falls is still a somewhat safe haven for travelers. We stayed at a backpackers within 2 miles of the falls and town and spent much time chatting with South Africans, Namibians, Zimbabweans, Aussies, and Zambians. The owner of the backpackers had his large company and farm taken away from him at gunpoint by the government. He’s actually still paying the electricity for his 4th generation farm, though he doesn’t live there and is forbidden to visit. We got an earful for the 3 days at the backpackers. It’s just such a shame that a country once considered “the jewel of Africa” is all but destroyed. The currency is extremely unstable, finding food/staples is difficult b/c the new “farmers” don’t know how to farm, insane laws are passed erratically, and people are starving. The crowd certainly got us fired up! The situation is pretty bad no matter what color you are.

We spent the first evening on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River watching wildlife. A couple from Capetown made the trip even more interesting. Well, beer helped too. We finally got a close up of hippos and had a wily croc follow the boat around in search of food. The sunset was beautiful. We got close enough to the falls (above them) to hear their roar and see the spray.

D took advantage of the low prices here and went on an all day fishing trip for about 1/4 the cost it would be at home. He spent the day chasing the notoriously tough and toothy Zambezi Tiger fish in hopes of making a catch. Half the day was spent canoeing down the river, casting for fish; the other half was spent trolling a wide, lazy section of the Zambezi. D caught 3 fish, sunburn, and met some interesting Brits. Well worth it!

Our last day was spent hiking around Vic Falls National Park sweating our butts off. The trail took us to various viewpoints of the 1708m wide falls where the spray kept us soaking wet. Quite refreshing actually! Vic Falls has the largest curtain of falling water in the world, making it a World Heritage Site. The highest point of the falls creates a “plunge pool” of 108m deep. In full flood ~100 million liters of water pass over the falls. The falls were stunning from every angle.

 Overall Safari Experience - Sunday, January 11, 2004

At both hotels, we’ve chatted with the staff about various things. Everyone we talked to commented on the fact the Brits and Americans stopped coming to East Africa unlike other nationalities. The government travel warnings have a very negative impact to local tourism. Kenyans, like the Turkish, don’t understand how Westerns can believe that Kenya is a war zone like Iraq. Just like 9/11, the acts of terrorism in Kenya were perpetrated by terrorists, not the average citizen. At the embassy bombing in Kenya, mostly Kenyans were killed not westerners!! We heard these types of comments many, many times from frustrated people who think westerners believe too strongly in what is told to them on TV. Our experience thus far has been similar to that of Turkey. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming…so happy that an American is actually out for a visit! We feel completely safe; however, we are a bit insulated due to the nature of our trip.

 Masai Mara - Day 8 - 9 - Saturday, January 10, 2004

We started the day very early again with a long drive south to the infamous Masai Mara. This was possibly the worst of all the roads, and the three of us arrived to the Masi Sopa Lodge pretty battered! The Masai tribe has had so many articles and books written about them unlike the Samburu. We visited with some Masai in Amboseli Park earlier in the week. At the Gates of every national park we visit, Duncan leaves us in the car for about 5 minutes while he goes to the park office to pay for our entry. This is when the local tribes people beg us to buy their beautiful wares for anywhere from $1-$100. It feels pretty rude to keep the windows closed when they are talking to you, but once the window is open, their products are draped all over us and the bargaining begins. Duncan told us to just keep the windows shut. It feels rude and we haven?t been able to do it yet? It?s also hot as hell in the van. Needless to say, we hate stopping! They don?t take ?NO? for an answer.

Masi Mara Park is over 1500 square kilometers?HUGE! At 4000-5000 ft in the high desert, it looks like parts of south Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, or Utah. The terrain is very different than the other parks. It is also somewhat easier to spot game here, as there is more grass, less shrubbery. On our first game drive, we got a MUCH better view of a leopard hording his zebra kill atop a Sausage tree. He was very hard to spot until poking is head out of the top of the tree. We also saw a few cheetahs briefly as they ran around chasing some birds. Two new animals spotted today ? the Topi Antelope and the Hartebeest (or Gnu). Nice coloring? Today was much of the same as the other parks in seeing the plentiful zebras, elephants, gazelles, impalas, Cape buffalo, and dick-dicks. It seemed that all the species were either at play or sparring today, which is more interesting to watch than seeing them eat grass.

The theme of our morning game drive on day two was cats. Were we ever lucky to get an intimate view of a mama cheetah and her cubs just hanging around! These cats are sleek, fast, playful, and beautiful.

We also managed to get a peek at a pride of 13 lions. The lionesses were stalking a pair of antelope, but didn?t manage to make the kill for the hungry pride. The other 11 lions were hiding in the bushes looking on as the lionesses hunted. Lions aren?t that fast, so when the antelope took off, the lionesses missed their chance since they weren?t close enough to make the kill. The rest of the pride moved out to the watering hole after the unsuccessful lionesses returned. We also saw another pride of 7 lion racked out in the sun, barely moving. Both the lions and cheetahs passed right next to our van, not the least bit interested in our human scent.

The tree cover in Masai Mara is lower than that of the other parks providing us a great view of giraffes poking their heads atop the trees. The Masai Giraffe has a different pattern than both the Reticulated (Samburu) and Rothchild (Nakuru) Giraffes.

We spent the majority of our final game drive hoping to get a glimpse of the pride of lions from earlier in the day with a kill. No such luck, as they were hiding in the bushes. We did see one of the lions, a big male, lounging in the sun while another was rolled on its back with feet in the air? Other than that, we did see more Topi, an Elund, more birds and

After the game drive, we headed to the bar to catch CNN on satellite. The TV was on, but we didn?t hear a thing since we struck up a conversation with a fellow American. Rick is an accomplished landscape architect from Philly who lives in Lamu (northern most Kenyan Island before hitting Somalia) for a few months a year as well as SE Asia. He was a wealth of information as he has been traveling independently for parts of the year for a very long time. His childhood friend Phyllis was visiting from America, so he was playing safari host. We ended up spending a very fun evening with these folks talking about travel, etc? Rick offered us a chance to stay in his house in Lamu while he was finishing up safari with Phyllis. What an opportunity!!!! Rick has a long term lease on a house, complete with a houseboy and cook, owned by Richard Leakey (one of the kids of the famous archeologist who found the oldest skeleton in the world). Think snorkeling, sailing cruises between the islands, not many tourists, etc.. UNFORTUNATLEY, we couldn?t change our flights after several hours of trying to work it out. SUCH A BUMMER!!! Oh well, we are now off to beautiful Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. We?ll keep Rick?s number in case we ever go on vacation again!!!

So, our safari is over. We?d do it again in a heartbeat. One of the best experiences we?ve had thus far.

Our last night in Kenya was spent in Nairobi. We managed to find an internet caf? in a dilapidated building, but were not surprised to find the speed to slow to upload our pics. Shocker.

 Drive to Lake Nakuru - Day 7 - Thursday, January 08, 2004

We spent six hours driving south across the equator again, then headed west to Lake Nakuru which is in the Great Rift Valley (stretches from Lebanon to Malawi). Along the way, we passed through coffee and tea plantations, small towns, even smaller villages, and managed to see another rainbow. The country is very poor outside Nairobi, but everyone has a ready smile. We took some pics along the way to capture slice of life. In areas without central water (which are many outside of the major cities), fresh water is brought from a well via donkey and foot. School kids wear uniforms and get to go home for lunch. Walking and bicycling is the main form of transportation because cars and gas are so expensive. Bikes are used like we use cars – to transport lots of stuff from the store. Women have very strong necks and seem to be able to carry double their body weight atop their heads. Even outside the tribal villages, the countryside is strewn with people grazing their cattle. They drive their goats, cows, and sheep on any piece of public land for grazing and spend the day finding fresh grass.

The sun peeked through the clouds today just as we arrive early afternoon at the lodge. We managed to sneak in some time in the sun for a ½ hour before our game drive at 4pm. The terrain is still green here due to recent rains, but it generally dry, savannah-like conditions. The Yellow Fever acacia trees are taller than the acacia trees up north, and as the name connotes, their bark is used to treat Yellow Fever.

Lake Nakuru National Park is famous for its large concentration of white and pink flamingos. The entire shoreline around the lake was strewn with them. The sun went behind the clouds most of the afternoon, so no great shots, but they certainly were beautiful! We spotted our first White Rhino today, but were not that impressed. They just chow down on grass and don’t move around much. Big horns though… Another first time sighting was of the Rothchild Giraffe that has a different pattern than the ones we saw at the other parks. Same graceful beast, same grazing habits. There was also a large contingency of pelicans. These guys are just HUGE!!! We passed much of the same game seen at the other parks: Cape buffalo, all sorts of antelope, warthogs, common zebra, superb starling, etc. We ended the game drive with a scenic lookout point of the valley.

 Samburu National Game Reserve – Day 5-6 - Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Since we missed the leopard yesterday, our goal today was to spot one. Duncan’s plan was to try to reach the place we saw him yesterday where he had his kill in the tree. He was sure that the leopard wasn’t done eating. We beat two other vans to the site by a long shot, thanks to Duncan’s 17 years worth of knowledge of the back roads. The majestic leopard was lazily sprawled out on a tree in perfect view. He stared at us for a few minutes, looked toward the other approaching vans, and decided to go hide. At that point Duncan said that we wouldn’t see him for the rest of the day. When the leopard descended the tree, he ran into a striped hyena (very rare) scavenging for some scraps of his kill. The hyena spooked the wary leopard than the approaching vans had. He high tailed it up another tree, 30 ft from his kill to keep away from the hyena, and watch both his kill in the tree and the spectator vans. This was good for us, as he was in clear view. His coat was almost iridescent….so beautiful; his movements were extremely graceful. This rare sighting and hyena-action took up most of our morning game drive.

We also spotted some mama lions with three very young and tiny cubs. It seemed like every van within 50 miles had come to see the cubs. We hadn’t experienced this type of crowd and hope not to encounter so many folks again. We also captured two baby elephants at play—so cute! On the way back to the lodge, a very large male elephant had tore down a tree and was blocking the road while chowing down. Elephants are well-known to be quite destructive of the forest for no apparent reason. We made a bumpy off-road detour and D managed to cut his head on the roof. By the time we return home, Dave will have quite a few battle wounds from our travels to show off on his hair-free noggin!

On our afternoon game drive which lasted 2 ½ hours starting at 4pm, our only goal was to see the Grevy Zebra indigenous only to this area. We had to drive pretty far to the more arid side of the park where the lions don’t hang out and these zebra do. These Grevy zebra are very different than the common zebra which we saw a lot of in Amboseli. The common zebra are very social and travel in large packs, while the Grevy zebra is quite solitary and travels either alone or in groups less than five. The Grevy zebra’s mane is more hairy like a horse vs. spiky and his stripes are closer together coming to a “V” at his rump. We only saw ONE. Duncan was tuned in to his CB radio, but no one could find any. The one we saw was pretty far away. We could only see the obvious differences through the binoculars but not the camera.

On the way back to the lodge, we spotted a mama cheetah and her cubs…our first cheetah sighting. They are beautifully sleek animals similar to the leopard in coloring and are lithe. We expect to see more when we head south. Duncan parked at a great viewpoint where we were able to check out the lay of the land…We’ve been riding on rough dirt roads in the trees/bushes, so it was nice to get a good vista of this beautiful area.

 Samburu National Game Reserve – Day 4 - Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Another four hours in the car this morning on horrid roads in order to reach our northern most destination – Samburu National Game Reserve. On the drive we passed through several small, impoverished towns and made a stop at the Equator. An industrious man was charging $2 to show tourists how on one side of the equator water flushes in one direction and goes the opposite way on the other side of the equator. The $2 fee bought these folks a certificate!! Pretty touristy.

Unfortunately Duncan picked this little tourist enclave as the place to leave us for 45 minutes so he could get the roof welded. We didn’t mind sitting around for 45 minutes. The problem was that each of the 27 tourist shop owners tried to persuade us to come into their shop and “just look”. One lady just would not take “no” for an answer…VERY FRUSTRATING!!! We were as polite as can be but very firm. We ended up buying a few banana leaf cards at her shop for a couple of bucks. Then with the other store owners at our heels, we bought a coke and headed for an empty, shaded area for some peace. Yeah right. Five shop owners followed us. The interrogation began: Where are you from? What do you do for work? Where are your babies? Do you have something to trade for something in my shop? Are watches easy to find in America? Can I have yours…I trade you a nice wood lion that I carved myself?? Can I have your baseball hat? They honed in on the idea of trading something we had in our backpacks for a craft from their store when we were clear that no more money was going to be spent. This went on for a while. Everyone then started asking us if we had pens to trade. Sounds harmless. Maybe writing utensils were expensive in Kenya? We actually have an overload of pens, so we handed out a few and passed on trading for trinkets.

We drove through an army checkpoint a half hour later and kids swarmed the car begging for pens, women begged us to buy bananas, men charmed us with jewelry containing carvings of the “big 5” game. We mentioned to Duncan that it was too bad that we already gave our extra pens away to adults b/c the kids probably need them for school. Duncan let us know that pens are cheap and easy to find. Asking for a pen is another way of begging for money since tourists usually don’t usually just give away money. The pens are then sold on the street. Duped again.

At our lodge, the rooms are situated along the Uaso Nyro (Brown River) with a concrete wall and electric double fence to keep the animals out. From our room, we watched an elephant come down a steep hill to drink water from the river. He looked about to fall at any minute! Over lunch we were entertained by one of the security guards/local Samburu tribesman. He is employed to keep the pesky monkeys away from the guests’ food. He was using a slingshot and rocks in a sort of cat and mouse game with these creatures. He would shoot close to the monkeys, and they would run like hell and then come sneaking back. All the while they had an eye on each other.

Our first game spotting once we reached the reserve was of a Beisa Oryx with its pointy horns. This big antelope has beautiful black and white facial markings seemed to be content grazing on shrubs. We then got a glimpse of a mamma cheetah and her two cubs. They were pretty far away and quickly hid behind a bunch of shrubs, so no pics. While driving by the river we caught a giant elephant crossing. He didn’t take a liking to us and came VERY close to the van trying to get us to leave.

Next we spotted the reticulated giraffe from afar and were luckily able to hang out pretty close to the highly social maternal herd. Males go with their papas after 3 months and then become solitary with maturity. These guys have long sticky tongues which helps them when grazing on Acacia trees. They only need to drink every few days or so and are most vulnerable to lion attack when bending down to lap up water.

We managed to miss viewing the elusive leopard by about 3 minutes. The leopard was spooked by another safari van. We did however get to see his fresh kill which he pulled up onto a tree branch ~15ft. They do this to protect their kill from scavengers. ICKY!!! Our last viewing for the day was of a crocodile munching on some meat near our hotel…big chompers. A pair of storks edged in cautiously to pick up some scraps to no avail. Early wake up call at 6am for Day 2.

 Mountain Lodge – Day 3 - Monday, January 05, 2004

Duncan was pretty upset this morning as the pop-top on his beloved van broke. He assured us that he would somehow get it welded before our next game drive. We were thinking – how, we’re out in the middle of nowhere!!?? We left the lodge early this morning after hanging out with a small pack of very cheeky monkeys. They were brazen and not shy to sit right next to us along with their tiny babies hanging around their necks.

Today was a very long day: Six hours drive north to Mt. Kenya and the Mountain Lodge. The last 45 minutes of our drive was on the worst road either of us has ever traveled. Our guts and brains were rattling inside our bodies! Mt. Kenya was clouded over, and the van was amidst a heavy rain pour, but boy is our hotel cool! At 7200 ft, the temperature is cooler than in the south and full of rainforest much like Costa Rica. The Mountain Lodge is in the shape of a semi-circle, is 4 stories tall, surrounds a watering hole/salt lick, and is floodlit at night. So, we don’t have to go on a game drive. The animals are viewable from the comfort of our porch, bar/viewing deck, or a bunker close to the salt-lick. HOW COOL IS THAT??? And get this….before going to bed, all we need to do is tell the on-site naturalist what animals we are interested in seeing, and he’ll knock on our door in the middle of the night if they show up at the salt-lick!!!!!!! Crazy, I tell ya!

We just checked in, had some tea and watched some weird monkeys, water-bucks, and gazelles mosey around the watering hole. The bar manager gave armed us with a big stick to whack any bold monkey who may show up on the viewing deck begging for cookies. During dinner we spotted a Genet cat which is a little larger than a domestic cat but has fur like a cheetah. We can’t use a flash, so we don’t expect any good night pics.

More here about the evening…………………..

 Amboseli National Park – Day 2 - Sunday, January 04, 2004

Our day began at 6am with a quick dose of tasty Kenyan coffee before hitting the road for an early morning game drive. Not quite caught up on our sleep, we weren’t awake until Duncan spotted another pride of lion. The lions were feasting on a kill hidden in the bushes. There were two mamas and a bunch of babies. Scavengers such as hyenas and gray-backed jackals were hovering very closely in hopes of stealing some leftovers. The mama lions didn’t seem concerned even as the scavengers closed in. Hyenas and lions are sworn enemies because hyenas tend to go after lion cubs when they are left alone and too young to defend themselves. With mama lions around, the cubs were within 30 ft of both mama and scavengers. Hakuna Mata (no worries). The cubs were even more adorable than we’ve seen on TV and were extremely vocal and playful….like little puppies but far more dangerous.

Wildebeests and Zebras were plentiful and were very spooked by the noises of the van. The zebras look and act similar to donkeys but have that beautifully patterned hair. The baby zebras were very cute and more brown/white than black/white. When they get spooked, they take off on a 30 yard, bucking sprint out of harm’s way. The wildebeests are pretty strange looking – cross between a skinny cow and huge deer. They are very fast and hang out with the zebras.

A game drive sounds pretty exotic. The only thing that is exotic is the wildlife. It’s basically riding around on crappy, dusty roads in hopes of spotting game. Because the national parks are public, there are many other safari vehicles and regular carloads of people doing the same thing. It didn’t seem too crowded to us, but there were times where there were ½ a dozen other vans stopped on the side of the road quietly admiring the picturesque scene. We can’t even imagine riding on a huge bus with 20 other people and feel very fortunate to have found the lodge safari! The ride leaves you pretty gritty from all the dust and banged up from the under maintained roads. BUT THE WILDLIFE IS INCREDIBLE!!!! We came back to the lodge for breakfast and were handed towels to wipe the dust off with. Geez, we were so dirty and didn’t even leave the van!

Late afternoon we headed out again for a second game drive. We were greeted by high winds sweeping across the plains causing a massive dust storm. It was like driving through fog, but ended as soon as the torrential downpour began! The storm was good news because it held the dust down, created several rainbows, and cleared the clouds from the 19,000 ft Mt. Kilimanjaro. This majestic mountain is the tallest free-standing peak in the world. There was only a bit of snow at the top and it dominated the entire landscape. Duncan took us to the swampy area where we saw some hippos lurking, huge egrets and herons fishing, and huge pelicans camping out by the lake. We caught a glimpse of an elusive cat called the Serval Cat. Smaller than a lion bigger than a kitty, this shy cat was hidden in the reeds eating his lunch.

The highlight of the afternoon was observing two separate packs of elephants. The van was fairly close to these enormous creatures. Even the young ~3 month old was the size of tank! After the rain, their skin was damp and required a dousing of dirt to provide some protection from the sun. It was like watching a carwash. They were also fairly itchy, and we watched as they danced their butts around in the dirt looking for relief. It was amazing!

We ended the day eating a filling meal, listening to a talented guitar player/singer around the fire pit, and catching a rare glimpse of a MASSIVE hippo out of the water. He was bigger than our old VW van Heimo!!!!

 Masai Mara Village -

Duncan arranged for us to visit a Masai Mara village somewhat close to the lodge. This tribe of people has inhabited Kenya and Tanzania for centuries and maintains their ancient lifestyle. Chief Raphael welcomed us to his village which was followed by a welcome dance by his tribe which involved much singing and jumping. At the end of the dance, the tribesmen surround us both and asked us to kneel for a prayer. They are practicing Christians, but we couldn?t understand the prayer because it was in Swahili. They prayed for rain for the area, rain for us when we go home, and that our visit would bring rain to their village.

Chief Raphael?s village has 134 people and is the main village for the surrounding Masai community of ~1200 people living in similar, smaller villages. The houses are made by the women and consist of a stick frame and ceiling coated in elephant dung. The ceiling is low, the simple floor plan is designed to funnel wind through their homes to keep the air fresh and the smoke from cooking to vent. In a space of 8x10ft, up to eight people live in two bedrooms without a common area.

The Masai eat strictly meat, blood, and milk. The men tend the herds of cattle (goats, cows, and sheep) as this is their only source of food. The women are responsible for the home: building it, cooking, caring for children, and keeping the village clean. Masai practice polygamy. It is not uncommon for Masai men to have many wives and live in many homes. When we met the medicine man, he showed us various natural remedies for illnesses. The Masai have no diseases except Malaria. The Masai burn Olohopheen in their stoves to ward away the mossies (sounds like citronella). The cure for malaria is to boil Meliphora (looks like bark), drink it, then throw up to release the toxins from the body. Apparently it works, though I think we?ll stick to taking our western meds! Chief Raphael also told us about a very popular drug with the men of the village used to help keep up with their many wives ? Orporoquay (similar to Viagra).

The Masai wear very simple, colorful sheets that have been soaked in a natural solution that wards off animals, particularly lions. Most of the sheets are red, a color which repels the animals as well. Every Masai is heavily adorned with colorful, beaded jewelry: arm, wrist, and ankle cuffs, thick necklaces, heavy earrings, belts, and hairpieces. All Masai have close cropped hair except for young males up to age 22 who have long beads. Only after their rite of passage into manhood, the killing of a lion with a spear, can their heads be shaved. Side note: the government and the Masai are now working together to come up with a new ritual instead of killing the dwindling population of lions.

We watched some of the men play a game similar to backgammon, and boy were they competitive! The chief asked some men to demonstrate how they make fire quickly: much like the Boy Scouts teach, a hard wood stick is spun against a piece of soft wood and embers fall down onto elephant dung which then ignites. The men worked in a pair in spinning the stick as to not tire out too fast. Chief Raphael separated us then paraded us through an area when each tribe member showcased their crafts. Good tactic. We ended up buying a few things and did fairly well with our bargaining skills!

Before leaving the village, we took a quick trip to the school house. The 15x30 ft building houses 78 students. It looks like something from a poor city from ?Little House on the Prairie?. The chalkboard is tiny and ancient. Kids practice writing on the dirt floor. Letters, numbers, and days of the week are handwritten on the walls. Students are taught Swahili and English. Kids walk from nearby villages daily for lessons. Sunday is for Bible study.

Some Masai villages allow visitors, but most do not. These few villages are happy to educate outsiders to a point. No sleeping over is permitted or stays longer than an hour. When we asked if the tribe was becoming influenced too much by the visitors, we received a resounded ?no way!? Giving people a glimpse into their culture is profitable for them without being too invasive. Chief Raphael?s village is the only village in their community in which visitors are allowed. The money from selling their wares goes directly into supplies for new homes and school supplies. All in all, it was a fascinating visit.

 Amboseli National Park - Day 1 - Saturday, January 03, 2004

So, after sleeping one hour on our nine hour overnight flight from London, we met our safari guide Duncan at the airport. Immediately we headed south three hours to the Amboseli National Park right on the border with Tanzania. This park is well-known for game viewing with Mt. Kilimanjaro as a constant in the background. We made the requisite pee breaks at the local safari stops and were tempted by the locals to buy art and artifacts. Since we didn’t get much sleep the night before, we were quite vulnerable to the pushy salespeople. All we wanted was a ginger ale and ended up walking away with a couple of neat statues. Let’s just say our recently acquired bargaining skills from practicing in Turkey were nowhere to be found that morning! Suckers….

The lower half of Kenya resembles much of Texas, except the oaks are replaced by Acacia trees. We arrived at the park at ~4pm in time for a game drive on the way to the lodge. We drove across a dry, dusty lake bed where we got our first peek at Masai tribesmen who were herding goat. For the next two hours we viewed wildlife in various areas of the park in our van with pop-up roof. Nothing can describe being within 30 ft or less from an animal and then looking beyond him to the horizon and seeing nothing both the outlines and shapes of animals. There is no way that our pictures or journal can capture this properly, and no TV show has prepared us for how amazing the experience is in person. Animals, animals, and more animals were everywhere: Wildebeests, hyena, gazelles, zebras, buffalo, birds and elephants. We were also lucky enough to see a pride of lions – 2 mamas and lots of babies.

Our digital camera has the remarkable zoom of 320mm, but it would be really cool to have one of those big fat lenses that reach 600mm. We took some neat close ups but found it difficult to capture the vastness of this park. Today, Kilimanjaro was lost in the clouds. We hope to see it tomorrow.

We arrived at the lodge and immediately thought Duncan had taken us to the wrong hotel. This fancy, shmancy place could not be where we were staying???? Guess what? All our hotels are five stars not two stars as we had expected!!!! Perhaps we got a good deal b/c Kenya Tourism is down drastically since the bombings of embassy in Nairobi in ’98 and the recent terrorism in Mombassa. After 48 hours of next to no sleep, we crashed hard right after eating the FABULOUS five star dinner.

 How to Choose A Safari - Friday, January 02, 2004

When we purchased our around-the-world ticket, our travel agent told us that it would only cost $150 for each of us to go to Africa and get four flights within the country! Though not part of our original plan, of course we said “yes”. So we began the process of researching safaris and were pleased to find out that there were some targeted towards budget travelers. Turns out that there are several types of safaris to choose from:

1 - Group Camping Safari – think tents, Thermarest, sleeping bag, 20+ people piled into a large, garbage-truck size vehicle, luggage on top, make-shift kitchen on the side, group outdoor cooking, national parks

2 - Private Camping Safari – same as above but with less people, more hiking than driving around, private game reserves with less tourists, sleep around a the fire

3 - Tented-Lodge Safari – Accommodation in large “Hemmingway-style” tents with real mattresses, wood floors, flush toilets, and tea service in the tent every morning, chef cooks for you, usually on former ranches turned into private wildlife reserve, private driver, LUXURY!! The ultimate, what everyone imagines safari to be like…

4 - Lodge Safari – Hotel accommodations in the bush, usually located inside national park, private or small group (6), food inclusive, swimming pool

Choice number one – the camping safari – is what our research told us was in our price range. We thought it would be fun to experience a safari with a bunch of new friends, albeit a bit uncomfy. We were just happy that we could go to Africa for so cheap! However, these big camping safaris had very set schedules and needed to be booked pretty far in advance. We found one that was in our time frame and sat on it for a while.

Since our around-the-world ticket allows us to change the dates and times of our flight for free as many times as we desire, we’ve become accustomed to not scheduling to far in advance. Why box ourselves in??? So for Israel and Turkey, we weren’t exactly sure how long we planned to stay. We weren’t quite ready to book the camping safari and did one last web check to see if we could find a company that was a bit more flexible with timing.

Lucky us! We found a company that would let us choose our safari date 1 week before the trip, as long as we worked out the itinerary beforehand. And guess what? For the SAME price as the Camping Safari, we snagged /upgraded to a Lodge safari. No, we don’t get to share a van with 20 other people and make new friends, but who cares? We get to sleep in REAL beds and have someone else cook for us! We have enough friends… Pretty sweet deal.

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