Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Rick Jackson's African Adventure

Our African adventure was planned and organized through Goway Travel.  The trip would take us to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania, and end on the luxurious island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.  Our goal, other than to have a great adventure, was to see as many animals as possible including the big 5 game which we heard can be difficult.  The big 5 is a term coined by hunters that refers to the 5 most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the collection consists of the African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and the most difficult to find being the Leopard.

Along with my wife, our good friend and 2 children we embarked on a long 16 hour flight to Nairobi Kenya via Amsterdam.  It was summer in Canada but while it was winter in Kenya we were expecting winter on the equator to be somewhat warm.  To our surprise the temperatures we experienced along the equator were only around 15 degrees Celsius.

We arrived at the 5 star Nairobi Serena Hotel for a much needed sleep before meeting our guide James in the morning.  We awoke to a cool but sunny day in Nairobi only to find that our travelling companions had overslept and had only a few minutes to gulp down breakfast.  Fortunately James, who was right on time, was understanding and gave them enough time to eat a hearty breakfast before we headed off to our first game reserve at the Samburu Serena Lodge.  We were hoping that this would be our only glitch for the trip.

The first thing that struck me as we drove along the highway and through the small towns was all the action of people on the go.  There were few cars on the road but everyone was walking and riding bicycles along the highway all apparently going somewhere.  Kenya had just been through months of rioting brought on by high fuel costs and political corruption.  There was a sense of calm and peace but there was also much poverty.  When we stopped the van anywhere we would be swarmed by children trying to sell you something.  It was a bit unnerving for me but our travelling companions took great joy in bargaining for some local crafts.

After a long 5 hour drive we finally arrived at the beautiful Samburu Lodge.  Here the temperatures had warmed up considerably to around 20 degrees which made it pleasant for game viewing.

Samburu Lodge
After a short break to register, find our cabin, and wash up we ate our first African meal of meat, rice and beans before we headed off to our first of many safari's through the game reserve.  It didn't take long before we saw what we had came to see - elephants, lions, cape buffalo, rhino's, hippo's, giraffe, ostrich, cheetah, warthogs, zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, gerenuks, and many native birds.  The only thing that eluded us was the Leopard.

During one of our game drives we saw 2 female lions and 3 cubs sun basking along the river bed.  An interested fact we learned was that one of the females acts as a wet nurse, helping to oversee the cubs. They leave the pride just before the cubs are born (the males may kill them) and return when the cubs are about 3 months old.

It was time to say goodbye to the Samburu game reserve and head to the mountain lodge at Mount Kenya. Our guide was kind enough to go a little out of the way to visit the grave site of Lord Baden Powell who started the Scout movement. Our travelling companions were involved in scouts at the time and they were thrilled to have been able to see this. 

We arrived at the Mt. Kenya lodge high in the mountains to a most spectacular game viewing area.  In each room there was a balcony overlooking a game viewing area in which the animals would come in and graze while we looked on unknown to them.  Being high in the mountains and unseasonably cold the temperature dipped to a frosty 4 degrees.  In order to keep us warm the staff brought us numerous hot water bottles which were laid out on the mattress for us to sleep on and keep warm.  It was a wonderful and necessary experience.
Mt. Kenya Lodge

From the mountain lodge we travelled over the Aberdares Mountains and through the Great Rift Valley where we saw thousands of pink flamingo's at Lake Nakuru.  Since we were expecting warmer temperatures we were not properly dressed for what turned out to be the coldest and darkest day of the trip at Lake Nakuru were it was drizzly and a chilly 12 degrees.

As we moved farther south into the Masai Mara region of Kenya we had warmer weather and had our first tenting experience at the Masai Sarova Tented camp.  I must say I was not excited to sleep in a tent in the wilderness of Africa but it was something that our travelling companions wanted to do so I put on a brave face.  However I soon found out that these were not your normal tents as you can see below and I enjoyed the experience after all.

The Masai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 5,600km long, from Ethiopia's Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. Here the wildlife roams and we got to see first hand the Migration of millions of Wildebeest which is an annual event. It is quite the site.

Migration of the wildebeest

There are many Maasai villages here and we had the unique experience of visiting a local village to see how they lived.  We visited an outdoor school where the children were in class and the tribe members put on a native dance for us all in their dress of red and bright colours.  They wear red so the wild animals will see them.  They performed the Lion Dance first and then the Love Dance. The women wore many necklaces, which they made for us as a souvenir, obviously to show off their upper torso.  When the men dance they jump up and down hitting sticks to the ground and the women undulate their chests and flap the necklaces up and down.  We then entered a villager's house that is low and made of sticks and mud.  Thatched hides are used as a roof.  It had an entranceway with 2 smalls rooms off of it.  At the back of the entranceway was a fire on stones.  We entered the bigger of the 2 rooms which was carpeted with hides.  This is the kids bedroom - 8 sleep here - and the parents live in the other room.  Men can take many wives (if they dare).

On our drive today we stopped at the equator and a local demonstrated the Carioles Effect.  We walked 20 metres north of the equator and the fellow put 2 toothpicks in a bowl of water and they swirled clockwise.  We then walked 20m south of the equator and the sticks swirled anti-clockwise.  We then stood right on the equator and guess what - the sticks did not swirl at all.  A very interesting demonstration.

This ended our first week travelling through Kenya and in spite of the van breaking down twice we enjoyed our time.  However we were still waiting to see the Leopard to complete our goal of seeing the big 5.  We drove to the Tanzanian border where we meet our next guide Babu.  Babu was much younger and talked to us more than James did.  Tanzania seemed more relaxed and culturally richer than Kenya.  The people seemed to be happier and certainly dressed colourfully.  Babu explained that life in Africa is hard - everyday is a challenge to survive and you never retire.  You are responsible for your extended family so if you are lucky enough to have a job you will be expected to provide assistance to other family members.

Our first night in Tanzania was at the most beautiful 5 star luxury tented camp you could ever image.  The Mblageti Tented Camp overlooked the Serengeti wilderness.  The tents were on a fixed foundation of rock and the interior was decorated in wood with a huge king sized poster bed.  This was the life of luxury with a 360 degree view of the Serengeti plains.
Mblegeti Tented Camp

From luxurious camping we headed to the most simplest form of camping in plain tents at the Serengeti Wilderness camp.  This again was not something I was looking forward to however it was different.  He had a bathroom and shower attached to the tent and it was attended to by camp staff on a regular basis bringing us hot water for washing and showering (yes an intent shower).  We were in the middle of the Serengeti wilderness amongst all the wild animals so the camp staff had weapons just in case of attack.  We could certainly hear them in the distance but fortunately nothing happened and we had a lovely meal around the camp fire along with a movie and popcorn.  And to top it off we awoke in the morning to this most beautiful African sunrise.

Along the way to our next game viewing our guide Babu decided to take a shortcut to show us Lake Victoria which is the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Unfortunately he ended up in some soft earth and we got stuck.  The nearby villagers came out of their huts to see what all the excitement was and spent the next hour helping us get out of the quagmire.  The little children were curious about us and frequently asked to have their pictures taken.  We gave a man from the village a set of 20 marker pens and he tried with great patience to get the kids to line up and get one but in a short time it turned into a mass of excited, yelling, grabbing children. 

We finally arrived at the Ngorongora Farmhouse which was an old plantation back in the 1800's.  This place had it's own garden for growing editable plants and vegetables for the guests.  We visited the nearby Ngorongora Crater which is a dried up Volcano basin where we were lucky enough to see the rare Black Rhino along with cheetahs, jackals, warthogs, impala's and many large birds.  At the time there were reported to be only 23 Black Rhino's left in this part of the world so we were lucky enough to see one before they became extinct.

Our final game viewing day before we headed to Zanzibar had arrived and we had yet to see the elusive Leopard.  We were preparing for the fact that we were not going to see it. While we were in the Tarangarie National Park word came over the radio that a Leopard had been seen in the area.  It was amazing to see all the other safari vehicles racing to the suspected location as everyone must have received the same message.  We came upon a crowd of about 50 vehicles so we knew the Leopard was nearby.  And sure enough, after jostling for a good vantage point, we saw the leopard in the tree with it's kill.  Unfortunately the photo below is not vey clear but we finally had proof of it's existence and pleased that now we had seen the big 5. 

It was a very bumpy and dusty ride to our next destination - Oldavia Gorge.  There is a small building housing a museum to the archeological digs that have been done here.  It was thrilling to overlook the gorge and realize that we were standing in the spot that saw the dawn of man.  Here they had found human bones and footprints dating back to the first humoids on earth.

With our mission accomplished we had one final night's stay at the Sopa Lodge before heading to the airport for 4 days of R&R at the luxurious Breezes Resort on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.  We arrived at the airport in plenty of time but noticed that the plane was already full.  As we found out it was common practise to overbook every plane and since it was already full of passengers who got bumped from the previous day's flight we would have to be bumped to a flight the next day.  Rather than adding another flight to clear up the backlog they commonly just bump people to later flights so the backlog is never cleared up.  What a way to run an airline but we were afterall in Africa where things don't run as smoothly as we expect in North America.  The end result was that we were put up in another hotel some 50 kms away and lost a precious day at the Breezes Resort.

When we finally made it to the Breezes Resort it was a spectacular site to behold with nice hot weather, cool breezes, and beautiful scenery situated along a palm tree beach on the Indian Ocean.  When we arrived the hotel management thought that we were not coming since no one had told them of our delay eventhough we instructed our local travel agent to call ahead for us.  But this is Africa and one comes to expect things will and can go wrong when travelling.  As they say don't sweat the small stuff and especially what you can't control.

The island of Zanzibar, which is known as the "Spice Island", is an active, bustling, Muslim society with beautifully restored buildings dating back to the slave trade of the early 1800's.  The Old Stone Town is the capital and is well worth a visit, to get an idea of it's past and wander through the winding streets lined with little shops, bazaar's and mosques.

With an overnight stay in Amsterdam our trip had come to an end and so must this blog.  I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have enjoyed reliving this adventure.  In spite of the few breakdowns and mishaps we experienced along the way it was a trip of a lifetime and one that I would highly recommend. 

Before I sign off here is a powerpoint presentation of what we experienced and some final pictures of the animals, birds, and scenery that we saw during our adventure.  Bye for now.

The powerpoint presentation is here.


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