Star Date:  July 2009
 Kenya:  Masai Mara to Lake Victoria


Hello Dear Family & Friends!



Irio nade.  Idhi nade?
(Hello! How are you?  Luo tribe - Obama's tribe)


"The glance of the speechless animal.
There is a discourse that only the soul
of the wise can understand."

(Kahlil Gibran)


Africa.  Wild.  Savage.  Nature in the raw.  As we celebrated the beginning of our 7th year of continuous travel we were thrown headlong into the jaws of Masai Mara, one of Kenya's most dramatic wildlife areas.   Like a chameleon, these plains magically change colors and moods from the golden undulating grasslands punctuated with green lowlands and acacia trees, to the red of the larger than life sun hovering at sunset.  Here on the expansive savannah of southwestern Kenya the tenuous balance between life and death hangs by a thread.  Migrating wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles all graze peacefully on the waving ocean of grass stretching as far as the eye can see.  Caravans of elegant giraffes effortlessly coast by as impertinent ostrich, smaller brilliantly colored birds of all descriptions and warthogs with upright antennae tails survey their territory.  Suddenly the wind blows revealing the stealth forms of a pride of hungry lions lurking in the grass.  With lightning speed several females surprise a group of grazing gazelles, sending them fleeing in panic.  The slowest one, usually the youngest, sick, or oldest of the herd, is attacked and with little struggle becomes today's food for the lioness' and their cubs.  "We are born.  We live.  When it is our time, we die.  Such is life," states our Kamba guide.  Survival.  All the skittish grazers resume chewing, another day of not being featured on today's menu but knowing that many leopards, cheetahs and lions still lurk in their midst.  Only the strong and mighty vegans of the savannah the elephants, rhinos, and hippopotamus have no fear of these big cats.

Each of these incredible animals, unique to this continent, possess their own characteristics and habits; living side by side accepting the unending circle of life.  Leopards like to ambush their prey, often jumping down from trees, then dragging the unwary victim back up on the branch to snack on.  Cheetahs are the world's fastest land animals reaching 105 km/ hour, but are only successful in half their pursuits.  Vultures and hyenas patiently wait for scraps as female lions hunt in groups, seldom missing their mark.  Although these big cats strike fear in the hearts of everyone, the most dangerous of all animals for African villagers are hippos.  These 'water horses' appear placid, almost comical with their wiggling ears and tubby submerged bodies.  Once annoyed they become aggressive furies, lashing out with their large jaws full of teeth; killing the poor villager, fisherman, or swimmer but never eating them like the neighboring crocodiles.  Herbivore grazers come in all shapes and styles from the large, sturdy water bucks to graceful gazelles, kudus, onyxes, black and white zebras with their individual markings as unique as fingerprints, or tiny 'Bambi like dik dik' deer.  Giraffes feed on the tree tops, baboons strip leaves in the shady branches, gazelles stand on their tip toes getting the edge on their shorter neighbors.  Strange secretary birds cruise the ground in search of lurking cobras, vipers or deadly black mambas.  All levels covered, no leaf goes unturned, nothing goes to waste.  Unlike James Bond always sleeping with a gun under his pillow, the animals of the plains accept the dangers surrounding them and exist together in the 'moment'; in complacent coexistence.  As our countries 'great philosopher' and comedian Woody Allen once wrote, "The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won't get much sleep." Such is life on the plains of Africa.

We were so close to these stunning animals that we could smell their odors and hear them panting.  Close encounters of the amazing kind.  An exhilarating experience, not to be soon forgotten.  We loved watching the baby elephants goofing around under the watchful eye of their elders, the tubby hippos with their ears flapping, floating like marshmallows in the chocolate rivers and the mother cheetah teaching her young one how to hunt.  The crowning glory was the majestic lion couple mating for only 30 seconds, then roaring loudly before flopping down flat for a snooze.  They pair off for 1-2 weeks at a time with the sole purpose of mating.  Awakening suddenly, they both started sniffing the wind, ending up sharing a freshly killed gazelle with another lion couple a quarter mile ahead.  Hearing the bones cracking as breakfast progressed less than 10 feet away, made us happy to be in the safety of our safari van.

We spent a memorable afternoon with the proud, fierce Masai people before heading north.  The Masai belong to the Nilotic tribe who immigrated from Sudan in the 15th century.  Living in many of the game parks of East Africa the Masai uphold their cultural traditions while participating in today's economic activities of the national wildlife reserves, their former pastoral grounds.  A patriarchal and gerontocratic society, the elders make the decisions for the whole group.  The spiritual leader, 'laibon' acts as the intermediary between the Masai and their god Enkai.  He is also the keeper of the traditional knowledge of medicinal plants, animal knowledge, history of the people and master of the practices of divining and magic.  Masais are divided into patriarchal clans and as with many tribes worldwide the women have few rights.  With enough livestock, and thus wealth, a man often has 3-5 wives.  Initiation ceremonies are celebrated as young boys pass to warriors, adult warriors, young elders and finally elders, honoring each phase of life.

At age 15 the boys become 'morane' as elders teach them their cultural history, war songs, traditional dances, how to build houses and the effective use of arms.  Initiation ceremonies, including group circumcision, mark the transition from boys into manhood.  The boys are not allowed to make a noise or move.  The young fellow showing us his village compound got a wary look in his eye as he showed us the rock where this ritual is performed.  After circumcision the boys are sent to a village made especially for them, far from any female contact.  Striking in their  terra cotta painted braids and colorful beads, they are only allowed to marry once they become adult warriors.  Legend has it that all the young warriors must kill a lion with their spear and club before becoming a man but that is no longer the case.  There is even a program in place to pay money for young men not to kill lions.  Nowadays one lion may be killed by a large group of future warriors and these new warriors instantly gain prestige in their clan and community.  They are then allowed to marry and construct a family home out of sticks and mud.  These stick huts only last 7-9 years before termites completely eat them away.    Consisting of 2 sleeping rooms off a central fire cooking area, several wives were busy making dinner.  The door is low and the windows tiny to prevent predators such as lions from grabbing a quick snack.  Soba, proudly stated,  "We are not afraid of lions!"  The next day while viewing over 25 rhinos and the spectacle of millions of pink flamingos lining the shores of Lake Nakuru, we were told that within the last year 2 rangers have been stalked and eaten by lions.  Occasionally Masai herders or their livestock are killed by lions or leopards.  As with the "Man Eaters of Tsavo" human life is still in a precarious position.  Just another 'entree' on the wild plains of Africa.

Out of a hut came a young man wearing a hat made of a lion's mane, carrying a club, a spear and a horn made from the twisted antler of a kudu deer. We enjoyed watching these tall young men dance and sing, jumping high enough to impress even a professional basketball player of the NBA.  Supposedly the higher you jump the better chance you have of capturing a wife, that is if you have sufficient cattle to back you up.  More cattle, more wives.  Subsisting mainly on milk, blood, and meat many cattle are required to keep the family fed while roaming the area in search of greener pastures.  The women's dances aren't quite so robust.  Most have shaven heads, bright cloths wrapped around them and bead necklaces or hoop earrings for adornment.  Asked why they make long ears, the reply was, "Because it is beautiful!"  Beauty and grooming practices are curious and diverse across the planet.  Some are simple, others require great toil and pain.  In 1996 I took my kids, Mariah & Kevin around the world for a year.  While in Kenya and Tanzania we camped out in the bush for close to a month, with lions roaring just outside the camp's bonfire.  While waiting at the fireside to go out to see animals at dawn, I brushed my hair and put it up, brushed my teeth, drank some water then folded my hands across my lap.  The young masai who had slept by the fire guarding the camp, broke a twig off a nearby tree, chewed it then efficiently brushed his teeth with it.  Next he removed his large bead earrings, folded his long lobes up over the top of his ears, shook off his blanket wrap, sat down and folded his hands across his lap.  We were ready for the day.  Near here is the final resting place for Gustav Fisher and his party, who in 1882 were searching for an overland route from Mombassa to Lake Victoria.  They were slaughtered by Masai warriors with clubs and spears.  The Masai were obviously less than impressed with the arrival of yet another party of imperialists with ulterior motives.  

Grabbing a "matatu' or jam packed mini bus, we set our compass for Lake Victoria.  Kisumu, still shows scars of the complex political violence following the 2007 elections, when buildings were burned and over 1000 were killed throughout Kenya.  Evidence has just been given proving corrupt vote fixing in the last election.  Recovered and hopeful, the people here are looking forward to better days ahead.  We felt lucky to meet so many friendly and helpful townspeople.  Moving further out we took a bus then open fishing boat to the far shores of Lake Victoria, bordering Uganda.  On the boat we met Maureen, and before we knew it were invited home.  We stayed 1/2 mile away in a small guesthouse but spent the next 3 days cooking complicated African Luo vegetarian delicacies together over the fire such as 'githeri' (cow peas and maize), 'mooga' (mixed greens), 'mukimo' (potatoes & green peas mashed together), 'ndengu'  (mung bean and tomato stew), chapattis (flat fried bread) and the grand finale ground nut (peanut) and lemon soup requiring 4 hours preparation.  We had a great time together with Maureen and daughters Lucy and Patricia.  Maureen was a 'big Mama' as many of the mothers are here.  Turning vegetarian she proudly lost over 100 pounds in the last year and was extremely interested in discussing health.  Her house was spotless and we felt welcome as we learned more about the Luo tribe.  We spent a full day exploring the deep blue water of Lake Victoria with the locals by large open fishing boat, the only mode of transport in the area.  We got off in a tiny village on Mfangano where Maureen and her husband had lived while he was the principal of the school.  We walked 7km back to the main village greeting everyone as we went, before hopping another boat back to Mbita.  Fishermen  hauled in enormous Nile perch as gleaming little  bodies squealed and splashed in the water while Moms washed clothes.  There haven't been crocodiles around here for years but Maureen's daughters did see a large hippo off shore as they washed clothes one morning. 

After going to the market we stopped by to see Maureen's girlfriend in the local Aids Hospital.  With an Aids or HIV Positive rate of up to 20% in parts of Africa, everyone we meet knows of "friends, brothers and 3 kids, sisters, Mothers, Fathers, babies, doctors, teachers, neighbors" who have recently died.  "The rates among teenage girls (who traditionally have sex with older men) and especially among women under 25 defy belief: in 7 of the 11 studies, more than one woman in five in her early 20s was infected with the virus; a large proportion of them will not live to see their 30th birthday.  One third of all babies born to HIV mothers will die.  In 1998, 200,000 Africans died in war but more than 2 million died of AIDS.  More than 13.2 million children have been left orphaned due to parents death of aids, often related to contracting TB in their weakened state of health." (Encarta)  Many of these orphans end up on the streets as dirty little glue sniffing street urchins.  So moved by a young boy crying for a banana from our bag in the market, Joseph spoke before Eldoret's City Council, in an effort to organize basic necessities for these poor waifs.   Education suffers, development slows, and no one knows where this will end.  The Aids epidemic, with it's controversial and sudden onset (linked to impure vaccinations?), is succeeding in devastating Africa and many other parts of the world.  We feel their pain and wonder where the Pope's head is at when he stated in his recent visit that condoms still aren't approved by the church.  When discussing their loss of loved ones the most common statement is, "We didn't know."  Life goes on.  We bid farewell after snapping photos of Maureen and her family, later sending them copies (plus earrings for everyone) via the post.  

Obama fever!  Whenever asked where our home is we joke "Obamaland." We are instant celebrities as everyone smiles, shakes our hand and proudly tells us his roots are from Kenya.  We drove by the tiny village of Kogelo, the village where Barack Obama's Luo tribesman father was born and his 86 year old step-grandmother still lives.  Last visiting in 2006 Barack promised money to help with hunger and the fight against Aids.   Excitement was high in the whole country as the presidential race neared election.  The national joke was, "Who do you think is going to win?  Obama of course.  Have you ever run a race against a Kenyan and won?"  Their prediction was right and Barack's move to the White House ignited a fury of "Obama Fever" with t-shirts, songs and even a beer and bubblegum in his honor.  For three days after his election shops were closed and parties boomed as everyone celebrated the victory of Obama, Kenya's son.  They simply love him and feel his victory belongs to the whole world.  Obama's success is in fact a universal symbol of hope.  One young mother was quoted in the newspaper saying, " If you look at where this guy has come from, we're saying that you can actually do so much despite the odds."  Kenyans and the world in general are hoping that Obama can restore America's tarnished stature internationally.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just visited last week but her cold demeanor did little to warm the hearts of these usually gregarious and welcoming folk.  "Obama, with his exotic background and diverse heritage has inspired millions to believe in hope and to take control of their lives and governments.  It is time for Kenya to follow in his footsteps."  May both countries move forward with this hope that can move mountains.  Only time will tell.

After spending a day roaming the primal forests with black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, baboons and endless colorful birds in Kakamega Forest Reserve we explored the streets, outside public markets and inside supermarkets of Kitale, perched on the slopes of Mount Elgin. We gathered supplies before heading north into the barren desert 'no man's land' of Lake Turkana.



And so it goes.........................................Next month the remote desert region of NW Kenya bordering Sudan and Ethiopia, home to the intriguing Turkana tribes people living along the shores of the 'Jade Sea'.  Until then take time to commune with the animals living amongst us.   They have many secrets to teach.  As you may have noticed we have spent more time out in the bush than in towns recently.  We love getting your friendly emails, they are a real treat when we finally make it to a cyber cafe.  We appreciate you writing and will answer you eventually, as technology permits.  Also, thanks for sharing this website with friends.  The word is getting out as we share the world with so many interested folk like you.  Glad you stopped by!  Keep Smiling!  Take care!


Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph


Travel notes:

$1.00US = 78 Kenya Schillings

Remember to Keep Smiling - look for Gary Larsen's "Far Side" cartoon series on African safaris.

When you arrive at the airport, walk out the front door and 100 meters down the road.  A public bus (purple in color), for 50s will take you right downtown, within one block of the Accra Hotel.  Rivers Corner is 2 blocks away.  Forget the Hotel Africana or the Hotel Gretan - noise is unbearable, even with ear plugs.

Rivers Corner Hotel, new, right downtown, phone # 020 2059186, 1400s with bargaining, double nicely decorated room on the 4th floor.  Secure place but smart people don't walk around Nairobi after dark.

Hotel Accra, Accra Rd, phone # 251513/343550, A6-A8, 1200s, secure, simple but quiet rooms in the back.

Big Time Safaris LTD. Wabera Str, ST, Ellis House 7th Floor,  cell 254 733 764667, Dennis will meet you and take you to the office.  Safaris are one of the most expensive things you will do while traveling.  Entrance fees have raised to $60 per person per day so the $110 per day for transportation, comfortable bed/tent lodging, entrance fees, and food isn't so bad.  All companies are about the same but most are more expensive so shop around.  Do Lake Nakuru on your own from Nakuru just hire a car for half a day, much cheaper.

Sun Sweet Restaurant, delicious vegetarian Indian tali plates (350s), run by a friendly family.  Ngariama Road, off River Road behind Casino Cinema (near River Hotel) phone # 020 224177.  

Masai Mara:
We tried to figure a way to get to the park without a tour until we met a couple from Nairobi who even said safaris are cheaper than driving.  Matatus don't go close enough to drop you and there are few places to stay.  Ask around for cheaper options but remember the $60 mandatory entrance fee per day, plus you need a vehicle to drive you around. Someone we met went on a walking tour with a Masai but I couldn't imagine getting all the way there and not driving to see all the animals.  Splurge, once in a lifetime.

Mt Sinai Hotel, get a room up on the roof top (#78?), the one facing the inner court NOT out to the road, basic and small but clean sheets and the best view in town.  450s
The Carnation Hotel is supposed to be good also.   There are so many places in town, just have a look around.

Lakeside Guesthouse, (former Western) Kendu Lane off Oginga Rd., phone # 0725 468 797 cell 0722 725 591
email:  Clean, with a great little balcony to sit out on.  Good lake breezes and helpful owner, Azim.  None of Kisumu takes advantage of the lake views so forget it, this is as close as it gets.  Choose a room away from the stairs heading up to the 2nd floor.

Great Indian Restaurant, next block behind Lakeside Guesthouse, Surf? Plaza.  3 restaurants in a row on the ground floor - the middle is the best (closed on Tues), next to the Sleeping Buddha.  'The Grill' food isn't very good.  Sunday night all the Indian families in town gather and eat outside on the terrace, a real event.  Meal for 2 - 600s

Green Garden Restaurant:  Right up the hill, next block on left.  Pleasant courtyard dining, veg curry 350s.

Guide: just ran in to Michael.  Speaks good English and helpful if you need a guide or information.  cell # 0728586051 email:

Lake Victoria: Mbita:
Alma Guest House, quiet, cool breeze, safe, 450s. phone # 0727 023857   At first we wanted a room near the lake but after discovering there are still crocodiles and hippos lurking about we realized no one lives so close.  Back 200 meters gives you good breezes though.  James is very helpful and welcoming.  Our experience was made by spending time with our new friends.  The town could be missed and the island has nowhere to stay!  Staying at the Alma you are 150s taxi ride away from the dock and the spectacular ride on the lake for only 100 out to the island.

We stayed in Kakamega at the Franka Hotel, double rooms in the back, 2nd floor 9-16.  Very Basic.  I wouldn't recommend it for more than an overnight (400s).  It's next to the Western Grill Hotel.  All the hotels in town were full with groups training for the upcoming census so I'm sure you could find something better.

Kakamega Forest:
Take a matatu out for a day trip to the forest 60s.  Walk 600m to the entrance.  Fee for foreigners is a steep $20pp.  Take the first trail down the road to the right and follow it through some impressive trees and frolicking endangered colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, baboons (remember to just carry a rock to show the baboons if they get too forward.  You don't have to throw it, just show it to them and they keep their distance.  No problem.)  Endless birds easily keep your attention up in the canopy.   Hike up to the viewpoint on Buyangu Hill for an enlightening view of the area.  Prime forest behind, now there are dry patches turning to dust where trees have been removed.  Walk down to see the KFS bonda huts.
For a total forest experience take a matatu to the junction.  Walk the 600m to the entrance and arrange to stay in a hut overnight $10 pp.  They said they have bedding but you must bring in food and water.  They provide firewood in little gazebo eating areas.  You can hire a motorcycle from the road to carry you the 2km in.  You will be sleeping in the remote forest with the monkeys and birds and would be a fun time.  You could call Kosgei 0723724229 to check on reserving a hut.  We decided to stay in town and it was a good thing - on Saturday night the huts were full with a group.
You can also take a matatu from Kakamega town to Shinyalu and enter the forest from that side.  Entrance is supposed to be 600s but apparently there are less big trees on this side.  Let us know if you try it.

Kitale Highview Hotel, next to the expensive MidAfrica Hotel. phone # 054 31570  0722 792612.   Clean, good quiet location 2 blocks from downtown, very friendly staff, say "hi" to Carol for us!  Room 401 is quiet, small.  We moved to 201 much larger because there was hot water (800-1000s) for those cool evenings.

Good internet next door in the Mid Africa Building, first floor. 

We ate great authentic African food at the Igari?? Restaurant down the street towards town on the left.  Green and tan building with outside seating right before the round about.  All local specialties, vegetarian style: beans, greens, potatoes and green peas, mung bean soup, and  fresh vegetable curry.  Add some rice and chapattis and you are stuffed for under 350s total. 

The Khetia's Gigabite Supermarket is an enormous place to stock up on supplies.  Kitale is the last post before the remote barren north and everyone stocks up here.  Have a vegetable somosa at their snack bar and say "hi" to Moses from Nancy & Joseph!

DON'T go out to the Kitale Nature Conservancy!  200 for rickshaw to go the 3 kms, then 500s per person for a crumbling exhibit.  Not worth it.  We did see this 3 eyed, 4 horned, midget (vertically challenged) cow though!












Simba.  The undisputed regal king of Masai Mara.


Young Masai men learning to be warriors.


Mother cheetah teaching her young one to hunt.


Wait for me!


The mighty leopard.  Always look up before having your
picnic lunch under a tree.


Focused.  Female lion setting off on the hunt.


Ceremonial lion's mane hat and twisted kudu deer horn.  They
carry and use their spears and clubs every day.


Young 'morane' showing us their traditional jumping dance.  They
make NBA basketball stars drool.


Joseph and a new friend outside a Masai village,
as we took a walk one evening.


Future morane.  All you have to do is start clapping your hands,
dancing and an instant party starts.  These little guys practice
jumping as soon as they can walk.


Our mild mannered Kamba driver, Patrick, bought a goat from this Masai.


The Masai women shave their heads, have long ears , and adorn
themselves in colorful beads and earrings, all hand done.


Inside the mud and stick huts it is quite spacious, with a central
cooking area and 2 or 3 sleeping rooms.  Windows and doors are
small to keep hungry lions out.  But are their entrances Feng shui?


Some ears are twice as long as hers but most are brightly decorated
in colorful beads.  When engaged in manual labor they simply
fold their swinging ear lobes up over the top of their ears in a
tight, compact package.


An enormous, cocky male ostrich.


Breathtaking spectacle as millions of pink flamingos gather to feed
in the alkaline shallows of Lake Nakuru.


African rhinos have 2 horns and will attack if threatened.  They have
 notoriously poor eyesight but make up for it with a keen sense of smell.
We watched with amusement as 8 young males prodded each other on
the head and butt with their horns in a kind of territorial ritual, only
10 feet from our van. "Hey watch where you put that horn!"  Rumor
 has it they will stamp out your campfire!  Just watch the movie, "The
God's Must be Crazy", for the truth on bush lore!


Tubby hippos with their wiggling ears look comical and lethargic, but
 once agitated become smashing jaws of fury. They kill more
people annually than any other wild animal in Africa.

Hanging on for dear life.  Mom jumped up to the top of a tree
and junior just left the driving to her.


This large baboon jumped in the window of our van at a viewpoint
and started helping himself to our lunch.  Vicious if cornered, we
chased him out then a ranger ran at him with a stick.  No way, he
wasn't done with lunch.  Never intending to throw it, Joseph
showed him the rock he was holding and he moved on.


Warthogs always hold their antennae-like tails erect when
running.  I wonder if they get good reception?


Each zebra has individual markings as unique as fingerprints.


Safari vans allow you to get up close and personal to the wild animals.
You have to keep your eyes open as these lions were just a bush to
the van across from us.  When a group of vans gather there is usually something great to observe.  In 1996 there were few tourists and we
camped right out in the wild with the animals for almost a month.
As numbers of visitors increase and animals decrease, some form of
limits will have to be implemented to protect the animals. 


Dressed for dinner.  Sporting a fluffy collar these vultures
could teach us about the virtues of patience.


Our open boat over to the islands in Lake Victoria.


At almost 4000 ft above sea level, the massive blue waters of Lake Victoria
drain into the mighty Nile River.  Covering 27,000 sq miles it is the second
largest freshwater lake on the planet, only to Lake Superior,
where I grew up. 


We spent 3 days cooking traditional African food over the fire
 and eating with Maureen and daughters Lucy and Patricia. 


We hiked all day with the bizarre looking yet comical
endangered colobus monkeys at Kakamega Forest Reserve


Kenya's son, Obama, is loved by all.  His father was a Luo tribes-
man and his face is everywhere from t-shirts, to buses, to even on
bubblegum and beer in his honor!  His hope is contagious and has
 finally changed the image of the U.S. overseas.  Live up to it, Barack!




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