Star Date: July 2009
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"The glance of
the speechless animal.
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.
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 &
$1.00US = 78 Kenya Schillings
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.
Green Garden Restaurant: Right up the
hill, next block on left. Pleasant courtyard dining, veg curry
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!