Posts Tagged With: elephant

Mt. Kenya: Pre-climb and Day 1

On September 14th at 7:05 AM I was scarfing rhubarb-apple-crisp-oatmeal out of a bowl I carried as I hurriedly wound my way through the dukas surrounding Tenwek Hospital until I arrived at a small green and white one.  The woman I was to meet there at 7:00AM hadn’t yet arrived.  I relaxed, taking a moment to enjoy the last bites of my oatmeal, and trying to relax my mind with its whirling To Do! list and instead relish the still quietness of the early morning as the sun lit the colorfully painted dukas around me.

Yes! The guesthouse kitchen garden had rhubarb! This Midwestern girl was DE-lighted when she saw this on her first day at Tenwek.

It was our last morning at Tenwek.  We would leave this beloved place today for another one of our “Kenyan Adventures,” but this time we wouldn’t be coming back.  The adventure in front of us was the biggest yet.  We planned to climb Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa.  This was the reason I was outside of this small duka at seven past seven in the morning.  I had an appointment to get my hair braided with “lines” across the top and braids down the back.  I figured perhaps, with my hair braided, I wouldn’t feel quite as gross as I would otherwise after five days without a shower.

At 8:55AM, with two-thirds of all my thick hair stretched into tiny tight braids across my skull, my anxiety became too much and I told the woman braiding my hair I was very sorry, but I had to go, we did not have time to finish.  Scott had been left with empty suitcases and piles of stuff on the floor to pack and our driver was due to arrive at 9:00AM.  As I ran back through the dukas with my empty cereal bowl and my hair partly braided, I got a call from the driver saying he and his co-driver were nearly there.  And so it was that we left Tenwek that Friday morning in our usual style, a rather stressful rush.

We did our best scrambling and managed to get all of our stuff together and on the road with our driver friends, Antony and Isaac, reasonably on time.  We drove through Nairobi, dropped off the majority of our luggage, and proceeded to Mount Kenya with two bulging duffel bags crammed with sleeping bags, sleeping mats, winter coats, long johns, pants, long sleeve shirts, ponchos, hats, gloves, and lots of wool socks.

Arriving at Castle Forest Lodge on the south side of Mt. Kenya, we took a cup of chai at the lodge’s restaurant with our drivers before they left us and wished us the best of luck up the mountain.

Castle Forest Lodge. We had chai with our drivers on this veranda and dinner that night was inside this old, historic house.

As it was not yet dinnertime, Scott and I retired to our bungalow to make sure we had everything we needed to climb the mountain packed as efficiently as possible and sort out what needed to be in our light-weight day packs and what the porters could carry.  At dinnertime we feasted on an intensely green, pureed spinach soup that was so good it had me wondering if this Kenyan-trained chef hadn’t added some truffle oil to it.  The coconut curry chicken that followed was equally as impressive and you can bet that before we departed on our five-day hike the next morning I had in my possession a handwritten copy of the chef’s chicken curry recipe.  The elusive sweetness turned out to be mango chutney.  Now you know, go add it to your curries!

Anyway, back on track as there is much to cover . . .

DAY 1

After a much-needed great night’s sleep, we woke up the next morning at 6:00AM giddy, excited, and nervous.  We had breakfast at the restaurant, and met our guide, cook, and porters who would be taking us up the mountain.

Our crew, trying to fit everything into their giant backpacks the morning we left. This was done with much haggling about what I assumed to be the weight of some items compared to others.

In our party there was Scott and myself, our guide Maina (My-na), our cook Moses, a porter/cooking assistant/waiter/vocal, opinionated jokester Georgie, the head porter Bruno, and four other porters who would help carry everyone’s tents, gear, water, and food.  In total, we made a group of ten.  These Kikuyu men had grown up on the south side of the mountain and were some of the only people in the world who could show us the way to the top of Mt. Kenya using the Kamweti route.  The Kamweti route is a string of elephant trails and it is rarely used; in fact, the last time someone had used it was in February.  Due to this, we were guaranteed to see no one else outside our group until the third night at our base camp before the summit hike where we would join with the popular Noru Moru route.

We started the day’s 17 kilometer trek by walking through 8Km of forest on an old logging road before reaching a morning break stop for chai.

The only time on the Kamweti route that we would follow a visible trail.

Going up!

We knew that a year and a half ago a charging elephant had killed a woman hiking around the Castle Forest Lodge area, so our heads were constantly on a swivel.  Our eyes searched behind trees, through bushes, and up and down hills looking for the looming elephant.  God heard many prayers and appropriate scriptures claimed to help calm our nerves and put our trust in Him who puts breath and life into everything and can calm stormy seas—aka stop an animal from charging us in the name of Jesus!

One of the many elephant turds we crossed over. As you can see, they are very uniform with a cylindrical shape. This one looks like it’s a day or two old.

This is my “I’m slightly nervous there might be an elephant behind me” smile

Where we breaked for chai was the old village grounds of our guide, Maina. He had lived here as a child but the villagers were asked to leave by the government since they were inside the Mt. Kenya park lines and the government felt their living there might damage the natural habitat. Sad.
About the bags, they are my attempt to keep my feet dry! My porous running shoes would let water in, but my hope was the plastic bags would keep my socks dry. By Day 3 I had two layers of socks and two layers of plastic bags, worked wonderfully on that day!

After our chai break, we left the logging road and continued on through a bamboo forest using elephant paths and occasionally a machete to help hack our way through.

Bamboo forest, not sure why Scott is waving like that. UPDATE!  Scott has told me that he’s holding up five fingers because we had walked five miles at that point.

This picture illustrates well the “path” that we were on. Clearly, we would have been totally lost without our guide!

Almost to our lunch spot.

Our prayers for safety continued as we climbed higher up and over hills leaving the bamboo forest behind entering our first bit of bog where you had to be careful where you stepped lest your shoe get soaked through with water.  We rested here for lunch enjoying tomato soup and tomato and cheese sandwiches.

The afternoon portion of our hike took us through indigenous forest with beautiful trees covered in Spanish moss and others that had clusters of pink flowers on them resembling clusters of red grapes hanging all over the branches of the tall trees.

Tree draped with moss.

Pink “grape cluster” flowers on the trees above us.

We passed through more bogs that had “meadows” of Forever Flowers and purple thistle-like flowers.  It was all new to us and very beautiful, but we hardly had time to take it in or stop for pictures because Maina, our guide, moved so quickly through the forest and the bogs.

Forever Flowers

Scott and Maina standing on over-saturated ground

Afternoon break. Loudmouth (I mean that affectionately) Georgie is front and center.

I had a more difficult time making my way through the bogs in my old, porous running shoes. (They were all I had!  The hiking boots I could have borrowed were too small!)

A bog filled with Forever Flowers, tall purple thistle flowers, and grass clumps.  Beyond the bog is one of our porters and Maina heading down into the valley where we would camp that night.

After stopping to take the picture above, I hurried to catch up with Scott and the guide who had continued on.  I hopped and jumped from one clump of grass to the next and in my anxious haste I slipped off a clump of grass.  As I slipped, I reached out to catch myself and my hand got all cut up by a Devil’s Horse Whip plant.  With my hand bleeding and my shoe soaked, I felt thoroughly sorry for myself as I plodded along after Scott, who’d stopped for me, and the guide, who had continued his swift pace down the hillside and was now far in front of us on the way down to our campsite.

Me, holding my cut left hand up, walking after Maina down to the river we would camp by that night. Scott had taken the camera from me after my fall. Maybe he was trying to help or maybe he was worried I would ruin the camera, probably both.

At the bottom of the hill, we crossed over a small river and Maina actually helped me (which helped to end my brief pity party) across the river and then it was just a couple hundred meters to our campsite in the river valley.

Look what we found at our campsite! This horn belonged to an African Buffalo. Also a very dangerous animal, especially when they are alone and not in a group. Our tent is behind Scott.

The view out of the front door of our tent.

The view from our bathroom, a.k.a. the open area behind the back of our tent. Tehe. 😉  Up above you can see some of those pink flowering grape cluster trees.

Our camp. The crew’s tent is the green one in the foreground. (Still not sure how all 7 guys fit in there. I couldn’t have done it, that’s for sure.) The kitchen tent is to the right and our tent is in the back left.

That evening for dinner, Moses made the best fish and chips we have ever had, along with popcorn, a platter of fresh, tropical fruit, and chai, of course.

The dark kitchen tent in the evening.  Moses is on the right working his magic preparing our dinner over two kerosene burners.

During dinner, the porters and Maina sat around a campfire and dried this poor mzungu’s wet running shoes.  We retired to bed that night happy to have survived the first day and nervously excited about what the next day would hold.

To be continued . . .

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Masai Mara Safari

Wow.  So Scott and I just had one of the best weekend of our lives, just below the weekend we got married of course!  This is going to be so hard to put into words, so instead we’re just going to bombard you with pictures.  So, grab a cup a chai, sit back, and enjoy!

Last Friday morning we left Tenwek for the Masai Mara.  The Masai Mara, in southwest Kenya, is Kenya’s (and possibly all of Africa) most famous game reserve and safari destination.  After a two-hour and fifteen minute drive (most of which was on a rocky dirt road) we arrived at our lodge, Ngerende Island Lodge which is almost completely surrounded by the Mara River with many hippos and crocodiles living in the river.  Ngerende is a luxurious safari lodge that normally we would not be able to afford, however, they graciously provide Tenwek missionaries with an incredible discount.  Before our car had even come to a stop, we were greeted by these guys.

Some Masai Warriors encircled our car and greeted us as our luggage was quickly whisked away to our room by butlers.

One of the Masai warriors promptly took our camera and clicked away snapping many photos and even doing a few short films as they led us to the lodge.

Upon reaching the lodge entrance they did their traditional Masai dance which involves jumping as high as one possibly can.  You can watch this video to see them jump and here their chanting song.

Then they had us give it a try!

Scott jumping high like the Masai

Giving it a go. Unfortunately, I’ve never been known for my astounding vertical leap.

After this traditional dance, the Masai all shook our hands goodbye and when we turned towards the lodge we were greeted with cool washcloths scented with eucalyptus oil to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, and given a glass with freshly made mango-pineapple juice with a sprig of mint.  Once finished with our juice, our own personal private butler, Evans, showed us to our tent.  Well, maybe I should say “tent” as it is really more of a luxury suite!

The view of our tent that meets you at the door.  We hadn’t been in our room more than 10 seconds and Scott was already checking out the river.

Scott heard a noise while out on our back porch and looked down and saw this little guy waiting to greet us.

The view from the opposite side of the room looking towards the entry door.

The view from our porch. The bathroom with the soaking tub and a shower with the fancy “rain-like” shower head are to the immediate left. There is only one robe hanging here because Scott had already eagerly tried on the other one when I took this picture. 😉

On the left: Scott enjoying the view of the river in his Egyptian cotton bath robe. Top right: Another view from our room. The bathroom entrance is through the swinging doors. Bottom right: I am lounging in a super comfortable lounge chair while watching the hippos below.

After getting settled in our room, Evans (our butler) met us at the lodge to lead us to our lunch destination.  He arranged for us to have our first lunch at Ngerende under a beautiful thatched roof hut overlooking the Mara River with dozens of hippos lazily basking in the sun or soaking in the river. We had a wonderful lunch with a Mediterranean feta salad, a grilled duck stir fry, and strawberry mouse for dessert!

Enjoying the view, the food, and the company!

A few of the hippos we saw. The little one is less than one week old!

Another shot of the hippos! This one is showing off his grill!

Sitting by the pool overlooking the Mara River and hippos as we wait for Evans to bring our dessert course.

A Nile Crocidile nearby the group of hippos

Here is a video of the hippos, please note that Scott and I crack up and laugh every time we watch this video because we think we sound so flaky!  It is at a great cost to my personal pride to post this here, but I am doing so at Scott’s request so you can see the hippos.

After our tasty and refreshing private lunch, we were ready to get back in a car and bounce along rocky terrain, only this time we would be on a game drive discovering animals in the wild! We met Matthew, our guide and game driver, and he took us on our first ever safari!  We saw thousands of animals and took so many pictures, but we will just share a few to give a general idea of the drive.

The first animal we came across on our afternoon game drive. Little did we know that over the next two days, we would literally see thousands and thousands of zebra. Their stripe pattern really is a thing of beauty.

A couple of Masai giraffes.  Giraffes are my favorite!

Two giraffes reaching up to have some dinner!

I love giraffes. Have I mentioned I love giraffes?  I could post so many picture of giraffes, but I will try to move on!

A female ostrich running through the plains.

A male ostrich chasing the female shown above!

A female ostrich protecting her nest.  We learned that these eggs were laid by different female partners of the male and then the male choses his “best” female to sit on the nest for him during the day, and then during the night he sits on the nest.

In the Mara there are many groups of Impala. A group of Impala contains one dominant male and a few dozen females (without antlers) who the male breeds with. Here, the two male Impalas battled for dominance to determine who gets to control the group of females. The one on the right was the victor!

A Grant’s Gazelle with its long antlers. Many Acacia trees can be seen in the background.

Thomson’s gazelles. These are extremely numerous in the Mara and one can spot groups of these basically at any time. The baby seen here, was not more than 1 day old!

This is a Topi. You can often spot them standing on top of a termite mound looking for predators.  They have a shiny coat with bluish coloration along the upper legs. Our guide refers to the colors as the topi’s blue jeans.

We next encountered a group of 30+ African Buffalo. Apparently these are some of the meanest and most dangerous animals in Africa.

We then went to a rhino reserve where we got out of the car and walked with a park ranger to see the rhinos. . .who were not in a fence!

The White Rhinoceros. These animals are among the most endangered animals in Africa. This particular one weighs over 7,000 pounds!

This picture was taken about 10 feet from the rhino behind us. Of course, on multiple occasions I (and also the park ranger once) had to holler at Scott to back up as he more than once got too close for comfort!

Pumba! We saw many, many warthogs on our various game drives. Each sighting prompted our van to sing…”If I was a young warthooooog!” (from the Lion King movie)

Our first lion! We saw this one toward the end of our first game drive.

A close up!

As the sun was setting, we found these four giraffes on the horizon with gazelles and wildebeests in the foreground!

On the way back from the first game drive, we had the opportunity to witness a gorgeous African sunset

Another picture of the sun setting over the savannah.

Sunset, with an acacia tree and zebra of course!

At the end of our game drive we were taken back to the lodge and our “tent” where Evans had filled our bath with steaming hot water, bubbles, and amazing smelling Eucalyptus oils.  He also started a crackling fire in our fireplace so our suite was warm and cozy when we got back.  The bath felt like I was at a spa.  The heat of the bath did wonders to loosen up tense muscles from a day of driving on dirt “roads,” the smell of the bath oils were calming, and the occasional grunts, snorts, and bellows from the hippos in the river below were an amusing reminder that I was on safari in Africa.  By the time I reluctantly left that soaking tub of bliss, I only had time to sit in front of the fire in a leather, wing-backed chair for a full five seconds before Scott, hungry and ever puntual, pulled me up and out the door to enjoy an amazing five course dinner in the lodge served to us by Evans.

The next morning, Saturday morning, we woke up early, had our three course breakfast at 6:30AM and left for the Maasai Mara on an all-day game drive where we hoped to see a wildebeest crossing. Again, here is a tiny sampling of a few of the things we saw:

This is a jackal.  Now you know what a jackal is.

These hippos we found out of the water. They typically come out at night to graze on the grass, and return to the water in the morning where they remain for the rest of the day to keep cool and sleep on the shore.   Apparently, they eat something like 170 pounds of grass each night!

These are wildebeests, the most abundant animal in the Mara.  Our driver joked that they were made with “left-overs.” They have the long face and tail of a horse, the horns of a buffalo, and the body of an antelope.  What do you think?

Everywhere we looked there were thousands of wildebeests. In total, we likely saw more than one million of these animals.

We came across this mama lioness nursing her adorable little cubs

Another image of the cubs

In this video you can see the lion cubs squirming and working hard to get their fill of milk.

Next, we found a group of vultures scavenging a dead animal. This bird (not sure the name of it, it’s different than the normal vultures) came away with what looks to be a piece of small intestine or maybe the trachea. Sorry, it’s kind of gross!

Wildebeests on the move, with vultures in the tree taking notice!

We came across a group of wildebeests standing on our path and soon we had the whole heard on the move running away from our car.  It felt like we were herding cattle.  Below is a video.

Another female lion resting in the shade during the mid-day heat.  No male lions seen yet!

The Great Wildebeest/Zebra Migration

The great migration is deemed one of the seven natural wonders of the world!  Each year, 2-3 million wildebeests (and hundreds of thousands of zebra) migrate from the Sarengeti in Tanzania, into the Masai Mara in search of vegetation and water.  As they arrive in the Mara, they have to cross the treacherous Mara River. In the river lurks many massive Nile Crocodiles, ready to devour these animals.  The migration occurs annually, typically in August-September.  During these months, the Mara savannah is literally carpeted with zebra and wildebeests.  When groups of animals reach the river, they often will stand at the banks for days before proceeding to cross. Therefore, it makes witnessing this spectacle very hit or miss, as nobody knows which days they will cross.  Well, we arrived at the river and there were thousands of wildebeests and zebra.  We parked our vehicle, and waited hopefully (yet trying not to get our hopes up too much) that we could be one of the lucky ones to witness this.  Sure enough, after about 45 minutes of waiting, one brave zebra decided to go for it and took the plunge, thereby opening the floodgates.  We watched in awe as thousands of zebra and wildebeests braved the water to cross to the other side.  In the process, we watched as two wildebeests were taken by crocodiles, and another broke his right hind leg and was unable to make it past the shore of the river.  After watching the crossing for about 45 minutes, a woman in our safari van actually had to hold back a few tears as this was a one of her dreams to see the crossing, and here she was experiencing it.  It really was an amazing thrill.  Here are a few pics and a short video clip:

Zebra and wildebeests jumping into the river.

This guy leapt out of the water.  Note the crocodile on the shore on the left side of the picture.

Zebra and Wildebeests moving to the river to cross

More animals joining in on the fun!

We saw several crocodiles on the bank and in the water.  Here, this zebra narrowly escaped becoming this crocodile’s lunch.  In the background, you can see hippos, and more crocs.

It is kind of hard to see, but here, on the left part of the picture, you can make out a crocodile’s jaw and teeth as he is taking down a wildebeest.

Here’s a video of the crossing to give you a better idea.

An example of the thousands of animals on display at all times.

More zebras!  The one on the left is younger as its stripes have a brown color and its coat is more shaggy.

After viewing the various animals and the river crossing all morning, we had worked up quite an appetite.  We were told that we would be having lunch in the Mara, which we figured would include a picnic/sack lunch type of deal.  To our surprise we were brought to a beautiful spot under the shade tree with views of the river, as well as views of the many animals roaming the plains.  Even Evans was there to greet us and serve us an octopus/seaweed delicious salad, a chicken and Sobe noodle main dish, and finished with an amazing grilled pineapple dessert.

Our picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah

Evans, our butler, explaining the menu.  We loved Evans!!  He was so sweet, nice, friendly, warm, hospitable, and ready to do anything to make our experience just that much better. We enjoyed getting to known him, and of course, appreciated all of his help!

After lunch, we resumed our safari and continued to be wowed by all that we saw.  Here are a few more pics:

Close up shot of another African buffalo.  Their horns remind me of a hairdo with a center-part and maybe Pippy Longstocking pig-tails.

We were taken to a more wooded area and came across 13 elephants.  Beautiful, enormous animals!  Here is an adult and a child.

Elephant strolling along.

The bird here is a Lilac-Breasted Roller.  When it flies, its neon blue color is absolutely radiant!  Another elephant is just behind the bird.

I like this picture for its layers. In the right foreground is the Lilac Breasted Roller, then a young elephant, then three zebra, and in the very back is wildebeest and zebra herds.

Our first male lion!  The king of the jungle!  I was just itching to see a male lion after seeing three females before we found this guy with his girl. He even stood up to greet us and smiled!  Or maybe he was barring his teeth and warning us to stay back.

Settling back in, he began groom himself so he would look nice for his lady friend when she woke up.

On our way back from the game drive, we had yet to see a Cheetah, Scott’s favorite animal.  They can be hard to see in the tall grass.  We were searching intently, and sure enough, in the distance we spotted something, and as we approached, we found this cheetah, feasting on a freshly killed young Eland (similar to antelope).

Just look at those eyes! Love it! Not to mention the blood splatters on his nose and the piece of flesh hanging off of his lower canine tooth.

Staring down and standing over the kill like the haughty cat he is!  (Truthfully I think he got up to look at a jackal nearby and make sure the jackal did not intend to cut in on his meal.)

So, perhaps I should put a warning before this video that it may not be suitable for all audiences.  This is a video of the cheetah ripping flesh out of the young eland.

After an amazing day on safari, we eventually made it back to the lodge, and again, Evans had a hot bath prepared.  We got cleaned up and made our way to dinner where we had stuffed peppers with a delicious filling involving mushrooms (Scott’s favorite), smooth potato leak soup with our names written in the soup, frozen grapes in a wine granita, roasted turkey, and finished with a lemon panna cotta.  Yum!!

A few pics from dinner!

We woke up early the next morning, Evans gave us hot cups of chai, and we headed out for our final game drive.  We were treated to a beautiful sunrise, and of course, countless animals.  Here are just a few more pics:

An Afican sunrise.  Just like the sunset from the first night, there’s an acacia tree and zebras!

The sun just peaking over the mountains.

A giraffe frolicking in the distance among acacia trees.

We observed a group of Topi (shown previously) all staring, motionless at something.  We drove closer to investigate, and sure enough, found another Cheetah.  We watched it for quite sometime as it prowled through the plains.

A little closer up

Staring contest!  Sorry to interfere with your hunt!

We again loved seeing all of the beautiful surroundings and animals.  We were brought back to the lodge, where Evans surprised us by having a private table set for us at another beautiful setting right on top of the Mara river.  We were treated to multiple fresh, tropical fruit smoothies (all grown on site), eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, pancakes, toast, tea, fresh fruit, and a yogurt parfait.  After we could eat no more, we finally had to pack up, and head home.  We were so sad to leave and joked many times that day that we needed to devise a way to stay forever.  It was an amazing weekend getaway, and something that neither of us will ever forget!  Thanks for viewing some of our pictures.

Blessings,

Whitney

Final breakfast.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.