Sunday, August 23, 2009

Africa Part IV: Twigas, Chimps, and a Close Call

We left Mount Kenya and drove to Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy. This place is pretty much right on the equator. We stayed in tent cabins across a little ditch from a watering hole. The first morning we were there, we walked out to the watering hole after breakfast and saw some zebras. We took lots of photos and were very excited to see them. Then, we looked over to the trees in the distance and someone asked, "Are those giraffes?" And they were. Over a dozen of them. We all watched as they ambled over to the watering hole, their journey from the trees taking about 15-20 minutes. This was one of the most amazing parts of our trip. Seeing these tall creatures walking over to end up so close to us with their graceful movements and their very awkward stance to take a drink - it was something!

We also visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The Sanctuary opened in 1993 and is associated with the Jane Goodall Institute. It is a place for orphaned or abused chimpanzees and they currently have around 40 there now.

We saw several lounging in the shade, picking bugs off each other, and generally relaxed.....until this guy came by:

Apparently, he thought we were trying to steal his women. He threw rocks at us and ran by the fence a few times causing a ruckus. His name is Max.

There was a group of teenagers also visiting the chimpanzees to learn about conservation. These students were local and I kept catching several of the girls looking at me. When I was about ready to climb down from the viewing area, I felt someone touching my hair. My hair was pulled back and I was wearing a hat, but I definitely felt someone touching my pony tail. I turned around and a few girls behind me giggled. I could tell that they wanted to touch my hair again and guessed that the reason was that it is so different than their own. I asked them if they liked my hair and they giggled yes. I made some motions that it would be okay if they touched it and they all rushed to feel my pony tail. Then I made some motions that I wanted to feel their hair as well. They let me, with more giggling, and then I climbed down from the viewing area. Later when they saw me by our vehicle, the girls all waved and giggled a bit more.

After the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, we went on a game drive - our first official one of the trip. We all looked out the top of the Land Cruiser trying to spot wildlife. We saw several animals before coming up behind another vehicle. It was stopped and all the passengers were looking at something. What? We couldn't tell. Eventually, our driver decided to drive around them and see if we could see whatever it was on the other side. On either side of the road was an embankment, but we were in heavy off-road vehicles so we'd be fine, right? As we tried to pass, with me standing up and hanging out the top, our Land Cruiser began to tip over! One person fell out of her seat onto the lap of another person and I sat/fell down very quickly. Thankfully, our driver reversed and we didn't roll. Finally, we made it around and saw what animals the people had spotted:

That's right. A lioness nursing her cubs. We would have rolled right in front of the bush they were in. Yeesh. We were all so excited though! These were our first lions of the trip! It was hard to get a picture because the branches of the bush were in the way, but it was amazing to see in person.

We also saw some rhinos, some gazelles fighting, and many other animals. Also, some lovely sunrises and sunsets.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Africa Part III: Kids

We stopped along our route to visit a place where women were working to dye wool and then use it to make scarves, rugs, etc. On the drive, I saw the child with the green shirt walking on the side of the road. I think he is a little boy and I love that he has a notebook in his hand. I wish I hadn't cut his feet off in the picture, but we were driving at the time so I am lucky I got him at all. At the spinners and weavers place, the little girl with the purple hat was sitting with a couple of women. She seemed very shy but we got a big smile out of her when we showed her our cameras with her picture on the screen.

Next to the spinners and weavers, was a school we were not planning to visit. But, as we were waving at the kids, they came to wave at us and the teacher invited us to come see their classroom. These kids were darling and surrounded us pretty quickly saying, "Wow! Wow!" They showed us their classroom and smiled for lots of pictures. I have visited schools in several countries and it is usually where I have some of my best memories of the place.

We also happened to arrive just when a group of older school children were leaving. Our guide got them to sing a song for us.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Africa Part II: Mt. Kenya

Our next stop was at Mount Kenya National Park where we stayed in a lodge with a view of a watering hole. Actually, there was more than a view. You could go into a tunnel and look out barred windows at the watering hole! I was about ten feet from a waterbuck! We also saw cape buffalo, bushbuck, warthogs, baboons, an African fish eagle, a black and white Colobus monkey, and some others.

During the dinner at this lodge, a staff member came around asking what animals we would like to see and checking them off on his sheet. If the animal came by during the night, they would knock on your door and tell you the animal. We crossed our fingers that we would hear the knock and then, "Elephants!" or some other exciting animal even though we signed up for everything. (Hey, this is still the beginning of the trip! We still pointed and took pictures of every creature we saw!) During the night, we did get a knock. "Giant forest hogs!" What? We stumbled out of our beds and looked out into the night to see some giant forest hogs, before getting back to our beds for the rest of the night. It did turn out to be the only time we saw any giant forest hogs though!

Two rather exciting things happened at this lodge. The first was that there were several Syke's monkeys running about outside the lodge. While we were in the tunnel, we saw some trying to open the window of a couple of rooms. We started thinking, our window is locked, right? I ran up to check and then came back to the tunnel. Very soon after, we saw them manage to open a window, sneak in, and come back out with some snacks. Sneaky monkeys.

The next exciting thing happened in the evening. Just outside our window was a post with a small area on top for something to climb upon. We knew something would be visiting this post at some point because there was a leg of some animal tied to the top. In the evening, a genet came and climbed up the post to the top. What a beautiful creature! I don't have very good pictures of the genet because we couldn't use flashes and it was night. (Later in this trip, I had another close encounter with a genet when one ran right by me, brushing my leg! I didn't get a picture of that one either.) Here you can see the post, the watering hole, and the mound from the tunnel all viewed from our window!

In the morning, on the drive to our next stop, we were treated to a nice view of Mount Kenya.

More pictures at flickr!


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Africa Part I: Baby elephants

I traveled to Kenya and Tanzania for two and a half weeks this summer with my mom, her friend Jilayne, and one of my best buds, Amelia. We left from San Francisco and had a layover in London and then hopped on another plane down to Nairobi. On my flight from SFO to London, as soon as I sat in my seat, I realized that my seat was wet. From what? No idea, but I didn't want to sit in it for the next 10 hours. I asked the first flight attendant I saw and he gave me an extra blanket to sit on without looking at me. After we took off and after sitting on a couple blankets for a little while, I got the attention of another flight attendant who found an empty seat and switched the cushions for me. Thank you second flight attendant.

Out flight to Nairobi was less eventful and we arrived in the early morning with a busy day planned for us. Driving away from the airport, we got our first glimpse of a twiga (swahili for giraffe). After checking into our hotel, we headed over to a giraffe sanctuary where we could pet and feed a few giraffes.

Next we went to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where we had a private visit with the orphaned elephants we fostered. This was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. Amelia and I fostered Kilaguni who had been attacked by a hyena and lost his tail. I adopted Kalama for my mom. When we arrived, the elephants' keepers brought them out to a mud hole for them to play and for us to have an opportunity to interact with the babies.

Kilaguni wasn't as willing to interact with us, but I don't think I could have chosen a better baby to adopt for my mom. She walked right up to my mom and wrapped her trunk around her. It was darling!

I decided to do this in parts so it won't take me quite so long to get something up. I have uploaded many more photos at my flickr site.