God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lake Nakuru--Baboons, Rhinos and More

Lake Nakuru has just about everything in terms of Kenyan wildlife but what truly distinguishes it are the pink and white flamingos--sometimes upwards of a million covering the surface of the water, making it seem as if there is no lake. They stand in one legged splendor, bent over claiming the algae on which they thrive.

In recent years, the land around the lake has been designated as Lake Nakuru National Park. Not only is it populated by many species it is, importantly, a sanctuary for the endangered Black Rhino.

Actually, these are white rhinos--white rhino aren't white.
In the early 1900's there were several thousand Black Rhino in Africa but by 2004 the number had dropped below 2500. Poachers decimated the numbers as their horns were sought for many purposes, including by the Chinese who would pound the horns into powder to use to stimulate sexual stamina and fertility. The horns are also used to carve decorations and jewelry. Though poaching is now illegal in Kenya and other African nations, it continues to flourish as poachers, using AK-47s, seek out both rhinos and elephants.

One of our favorite memories of Lake Nakuru is the antics and delightful entertainment provided by the baboons--who seem to think that the world is theirs alone. They are the antithesis of solitary souls but instead form large family and community units. Children are watched over and tended to as in the most protective human family. Mothers patiently groom children and provide free transportation. We spent a good 15 minutes watching young ones playing on a tree root, looking just like a bunch of children playing on jungle gyms in the neighborhood park.

We were hoping that we would see the elusive leopard here--but, no such luck. Kept telling our guide his tip depended on his spotting one for us but in 13 days, that never happened. We did get a great lion shot though.

This park is not far from Nairobi and other larger towns and so it is a field trip destination for school children. There were many school buses in the picnic area--all the kids in their uniforms and being just as enchanted with the resident baboons as Casey was. Fortunately, the park is large enough that it isn't a matter of being behind a caravan of buses while exploring --that would be a rather not pleasant Disney Land feeling, I think. It is a pretty cool field trip, though.

Nakuru is a small park, unlike the Mara and Amboseli which comes next. We spent just one day there; however, we saw many many species--giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, zebra, rhinos,eagles, maribou storks, heron and more--but no elephants; they are not in Lake Nakuru Park. Also, missed the pythons which were in hiding that day.

Buffalo and Friends
Our Digs at Lake Nakuru

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gone Fishing...

Actually, not fishing but in the mountains, in a cabin, in the woods. So can't resume Kenya till we get back. I love my iPad but it's not so hot for heavy word processing. Plus can't upload pictures--as it turns out, nothings perfect.

Casey and friend are having fun exploring and doing water things. Sure makes things easier for us when we don't need to be the playmates!!

Been cooking in most of the time, but, tonight--Sweet Basil Bistro. Need an Italian fix.

Ciao per adesso..

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heri ya Siku kuu!

This was a big birthday year for Casey--his last before becoming a teenager; although, it often seems as if he is already there. I know that he and his friends are much more aware of life around them and incredibly more things claim their interests and passions than when I was 12 going on 18. The thing is I think that in many ways they may be less mature. As much as we try to minimize it and direct focus in many different directions, the "me" of life appears to be much more omnipresent.

Casey was almost a 4th of July baby but fortunately not. He has his own day and doesn't need to share it with the other newborn--the USA. Besides, the 4th is not my favorite holiday--too noisy, too hot, too exhausting. This may explain why he has celebrated his years in a variety of locations over the years--Ecuador, France, Italy-3 times, Hawaii and now Kenya. Next year it will be Italy again--but then that is like being home.

What a special place to have a birthday--Kenya--where you are surrounded by nature, God's creation--unpolluted, natural, and a feeling of oneness with that creation. Science says that life began in Africa so it is as if being at the beginning of time.

Casey's birthday had several memorable events:
  • Stopping at the equator line on the way to the airstrip. When we stopped, a Kenyan man demonstrated the opposite water movement on either side of the line. This was particularly interesting to Casey as he remembered being at the equator line in Ecuador.
Ecuador 2004-Birthday 6

Kenya 2010-Birthday 12
  •  Flying low over the savanna with elephants, lions, giraffes, zebra below. It was a thrill to climb on-board the little plane, strap in, peer out the window and then land no-where. What a neat birthday experience!
This is so cool!

  • Having a herd of hippos as a welcoming committee. Once we reached camp, slushing around in the mud and making weird noises were the short of adorable hippopotamuses. Fun!
  • Finally, at the end of the day, Casey had his celebration. As we sat at our table in front of the fire pit, we heard a rhythm, a beat and a song and then, weaving in, came men and women of the staff, carrying the obligatory birthday cake. Something magical was in the air.

Aunt Mindy really surprised him.
    Heri ya Siku kuu! Casey Boy

    So it was a good day. I think he will remember 12. Wouldn't you?

    Next: Lake Nakuru--flamingos and baboons. You'll love them.

    Sunday, August 08, 2010

    Karen Blixen Camp and The Mara

    Wow, it's been over a week since the last post. Just taking life slowly, I guess. Among other things, I'm trying to figure out a way to get to Italy in October at something close to a reasonable airfare. Soon, travel will be the exclusive domain of the rich.

    Back to Kenya and the wonderful, haunting Masai Mara. It is easy to close my eyes and transport myself back to the company of zebra and cheetahs --maybe that is what I did all last week? Hmm?

    Our digs on the Mara were not too shabby. The Karen Blixen Camp, she of Out of Africa fame, is a luxurious, lush, safari elegant "camp" in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Until you are there, you can not see it as you bounce down a road which is no more than a path of rocks and mini boulders, jarring ruts and elephant dung. And..then you are there, being greeted with wide smiles as staff offers cool cloths to wipe the dirt off face, neck and hands and then gives you a wonderful cooling glass of fresh passion fruit juice to wash away the dust lodging in your lungs. You know that all is good.

    We arrived on the Mara via plane, taking off from a relatively normal dirt airstrip in the town of Nanyuki but landing on a dirt field with nothing but a vehicle and guide Nixon to meet us. It was really pretty cool!

    The later plane to Amboseli made this one seem large!

    On the way to "camp," we were mesmerized by the flat, never-ending savanna with tall, tawny grasses blowing in the breezes, populated by hundreds of zebra and wildebeast. Nixon drove right through herds who seemed to be oblivious to us--we weren't fearsome like lions and cheetahs. They weren't interested in the strange Land Rover animal.

    Reach Out and Touch
    After being escorted to our tent and just leaving our duffels where the porters put them, we enjoyed a very good lunch--chefs in nowhere are very good and accomplished. Then we went on the first of several Mara game drives including early mornings, late afternoons, all day, and a sundowner.

    A sundowner is when you leave camp just before sunset, drive out on the savanna where you can get out of the Land Rover, mingle with zebra and other animals (at a respectful distance), have tasty snacks, wine and soft drinks and watch the stunning beauty of the sun lowering and finally dropping below the horizon. The silence of the savanna is broken only by sounds of nature and rustling bushes.


    Awesome can not describe the impact on the soul
    During our drives we saw herds of elephants, family units with the mother elephants taking care of their toddlers and teens and hundreds of zebra milling around at the river, deciding whether or not to cross. This was fun to watch as one would try and then step back while another would gather the courage to try. In the meantime these hundreds of followers are forming groups, regrouping not sure what to do. Finally, on this day, they decided the stars were not aligned right so in total herd mentality turned around and left, waiting for a more auspicious day. In the meantime, vultures by the dozens and crocodiles on the bank lie in wait for the certain tragic death of a hapless zebra.


    This Day Vultures and Crocs are Foiled.
    There are so many things I could write about: the half hour watching lions mate almost continuously (much to Casey's fascination), cheetahs chasing and playing, hippos basking in the sun with an occasional snort and foray into the water, topis posing grandly in the bush, hyenas searching for carrion, graceful giraffes loping along, more, more and more.

    I could tell about the exquisite massage that totally eliminated the sore muscles and joint aches acquired in 7 days of safari travel. And then, there was the thrill of sitting on our tent porch and watching giraffes, elephants and gazelles parading by us on the other side of the river.

     But, I am stopping now as this is getting too long to be read. Next I will tell of the after dark rules, Casey's birthday celebration and maybe something else that comes to mind.

    So much of relating safari is in the pictures not the words. At the top of the blog is a link to my Flickr pictures which are just a few of all that were taken (8gb).  This is a link to just the Mara pictures. The Mara

    Don't forget that Casey is blogging, too. KZ on Kenya