A Travellerspoint blog

Time to Go . . .

Up at four this morning and driving to the airport by five we hit torrential rain for the third time in three days as this is the short rainy season. The beauty of it is that just a few hours later things dry up nicely and it gets warm again. The exception is of course . . when you are driving on mud . . . which is most of the time . . . but today we were in Nairobi and the streets are paved.

The was a fire at the Nairobi airport a few months back and it affected the arrivals area. Thankfully the departures are still useable, although crowded.

It has been an interesting trip, I learned a lot, made a number of new friends and hopefully helped some as well. I board my plane to Amsterdam in an hour and when I arrive I will hop a train to Rotterdam where my 'favorite niece of all time' (international division lol) and her family will be waiting for me and take me to a football match between the women's national teams of Holland and Greece. Following the game it's off to Maasluis for a couple of days of family time and then back to the snow and cold . . . which I am not looking forward to . . . however, I can't wait to see my Nellie.


Posted by cnmcgeehan 15:25 Comments (1)

Last Day Game Drive

With most of the trip's work now done we are treated to a day of optional possibilities . . . some have gone on a hot air balloon ride over the Mara, some are just relaxing, I have chosen to join the early morning game drive. These are traditionally a bit of relaxation and a lot of fun. I learned a number of years ago that watching African game is so much better live than on TV or in magazines.

Here are some things I saw and learned today:
Some of you may be aware of the Wildebeest migration which is actually a circular route through Kenya and Tanzania where the large herds are following the rains for the best feed. The herds are normally on the Serengeti in Tanzania at this time, however, this year is a surprise for us as after the migration started the herd turned around and came back because the grazing is still better here on the Mara.

I don't think words or pictures could accurately describe what we saw today. We drove for over an hour through the main herd and still we weren't through. Every hill we crested gave us a panorama of Wildebeest in every direction, as far as the eye can see . There are approximately 2 million animals here. Unknown to me, Zebras and Topi (an antelope type animal) travel with the herd making it even bigger.

I have never seen Zebras in the thousands before. The only drawback were the flies . . . they were everywhere, tormenting the animals and us as well. These are not the flies of Canada, they are smaller, faster and land immediately again as soon as you shoo them. Zebras have an ability to cause their flanks to shiver and that helps but they would need more than that and one measly tail to escape.

Elephants live to about 70 years of age . . . if they are not poached for their ivory . . . and often starve around that age when their teeth fail them.

Leopards are secretive and solitary and are easily the hardest animal to see here . . . they like to spend time in trees to avoid being seen and where They will take their prey to consume it. I spent a lot of time looking in trees this day, no luck but we did see the remains of a carcass hanging from high in a tree.

Warthogs like to burrow into the ground, they back into the burrow to escape predators as well as the flies.

If there are monkeys around you have to watch all their belongings . . . I had to laugh when a van full of hungry people stopped to eat their lunch, one of them put down their box lunch and turned around for just a few seconds and a monkey took off with their sandwich and an apple.

The roads, more like tracks, throughout the Mara are monitored and drivers are not supposed to leave the tracks to gain a better view of the animals. If caught they face stiff fines or even expulsion from driving in the game park.

There is a research group from Michigan State University studying hyenas in the area . . . btw, the locals and the researchers call them henas and do not pronounce the "y" the way we do. They are studying the hyenas to find out why they never get sick despite eating carcasses. Apparently they never suffer from rabies the way all the big cats do and the researchers told me that if they see a hyena that has been badly injured in some way, like not being able to put weight on a leg, they are almost certainly fully healed within a week. Also, when hyenas hunt in a pack they are almost always successful, far more than lions. They can run for long distances and when they get a hold of any part of their prey they will not let go and the pack catches up and finishes the animal off. I find them the most fascinating animal on the Mara. When I was young and watching TV shows like Wild Kingdom I thought the hyenas were small yappy dog like creatures, the truth is they are more like brutes with shoulders standing as high as my waist and can even chase lions off a kill.

It is hot here and no shade is wasted.

Posted by cnmcgeehan 15:06 Comments (2)

A Visit to a Masai Village and the Irbaan School

Before breakfast this morning Eric called me aside and said he had a project for me. He wanted me to talk with the grade 7 kids at the school and find out how education has changed their lives, talk about their dreams and what an education has meant to them. The school has only been open for nine years so before that being a child on the Mara meant living a very traditional life tending the herds. Laura, a journalist will record the event. Well I thought about it for about one second and decided I would take one for the team and spend some time with the kids.

After an introduction, things started slowly as we all got used to each others accents but after I showed some pics of the snow at home they were as full of questions as I was and it just took off from there.

We first talked about some of the challenges the kids faced in getting to school. One boy said he walked seven km each way and often had to deal with lions, elephants and other animals no one wants to meet. This is a challenge for many of the kids and they say they either wait for the animals to move on or they just go home. Then we talked about that they all had friends or family members who did not attend school, one boy saying he has four brothers and only he and one other could go to school as that is all his family could afford. There was general agreement that the kids not in school did not speak English and did not have the dreams of the school kids. Many of them talked about becoming professionals such as engineers or doctors. Some said they would not return to live on the Mara. I was surprised to learn that many of the boys helped their mothers at home and would collect water and firewood, one boy said he did the cooking.
mara-15.jpgthe grade 7 class at Irbaan School who gave a very special dance presentation

the grade 7 class at Irbaan School who gave a very special dance presentation

mara-14.jpgsome of the class clowns; and the best four football players 'in the world' . . everyone in the class agreed

some of the class clowns; and the best four football players 'in the world' . . everyone in the class agreed

Some of the questions posed to me were asking where was my wife, how many religions did we have in Canada, why would we live in the snow and cold and what kind of crops we grew here. The one thing that struck me is that these kids are EAGER for knowledge . . . and change is going to continue for the Masai. Last night we listened to a presentation from Nixon, who is a Masai warrior, explaining the lifestyle and customs of the Masai people. He explained that among the most notable changes in the Masai life is that is that they were once a very nomadic people, following their herds, but now they live more permanently . . . near the schools.
Nixon giving his presentation

Nixon giving his presentation

We went from the school to visit a Masai village nearby. It was a short visit, however, as a big storm was approaching and these roads are very difficult when wet. We walked into a home which is made of dung and straw and was very warm and dark as they have no windows and just two small holes in the walls to let some of the smoke from cooking fires escape. There are two sleeping areas and they use only cowhide to sleep on. The young man who lived in the house with his family said his father had 5 wives but he had only one. When asked why he only had one, he replied "five made too much noise" . . . seriously I'm not making it up.

Posted by cnmcgeehan 20:04 Comments (3)

I May Not Live to Write Another Entry . . . LOL

We had lunch today at a Fairmont Resort Hotel . . . no joke. It's a beautiful resort from the famous chain on a river with lots of hippos. I didn't take any pictures as I feel if you have seen one hippo you have pretty much seen them all. lol We still had a two hour drive on the Mara to get to our home for the next few days . . The Fig Tree Tent Camp. Along the way we passed many Masai people . . men, women and kids tending to their flocks. It is not as solitary as it once was as most Kenyans, now including the Masai, have cell phones. We didn't see a lot of game in close but the number of zebras, gazelles and even warthogs that we did see bodes well for the game drives scheduled over the next few days.

So, we arrived at our tent camp and got the lowdown on what to watch out for. It has been wet so we need to keep covered or apply lots of Deet as there is Malaria in the area. We were also told to watch for bats as there was a problem with someone getting bitten by a rabid bat and they had to be flown to Nairobi for shots. Apparently not that long ago a lady had forgotten her Malaria medicine in her tent before supper so as she was walking back to her room she came across a pregnant lioness in her path . . . she quietly backed away and the lion was chased off but I think her dreams are still restless these months later. Then, if you can believe it there have been leopards coming into the camp as they like to eat mongoose which also come into the camp. The leopard is a known to be a solitary creature and the most difficult to spot in Africa. However, I sure don't want to get my picture as a leopard is trying to decide between a mongoose or Charlie for supper. So I'm feeling a little cautious as I go to my tent. Like I said . . . I may not be around to write another entry on this blog. Kidding!! I have been here before so I think this will be another good experience.

So, when I get to my tent and as I'm checking out the place I notice the bathroom mirror has been smashed in two places and I returned to the front desk to make sure they didn't think I did it. The guy at the front desk laughed and said he knew it wasn't me . . . story is a baboon had gone into the tent a while back and did some damage. Apparently the monkeys and baboons have learned how to open the tent flaps and go in looking for food. I felt reassured when they gave us a lock . . . albeit of the variety sold at our Wal*Mart stores for about $1.49 . . . and told us to lock the three zippers together no matter if we are in or out of the tent.

We had a nice dinner as the food here is unreal and then we all walked back to our tents with a guard . . . I, of course was OK and confident, just the other people on the trip were afraid. lol

Just after I climbed into bed a storm passed through and I fell asleep listening to the rain on the tent roof . . . I love that. I slept deeply until about 5:30am when I awoke and listened to the lions and hyenas somewhere outside the compound and a bunch of monkeys who had scrabbled over the roof of my tent. Next thing I knew it was 7:30am and I still felt I had enjoyed a wonderful deep sleep.

Posted by cnmcgeehan 03:55 Comments (2)

Tea plantations, and sites along the journey to the Mara . .

We had the pleasure of visiting a tea processing plant before we left Kericho . . . this plant receives tea from all the small independent growers in the area. Tea is delivered to the plantation in late morning and will be oxidized, dried, processed and packed before the day is out. I learned that each tea plant must be harvested every seven days or the taste of the tea will be compromised. They prune the tea plants right back twice a year and each plant will usually produce for up to thirty years. The tea produced here is a strong, dark tea and that is one reason many here like a tea/milk combination to reduce the strong flavour. The tea is trucked from this plant to Mombasa (on the coat) where it is sold at auction and then shipped all over the world. Most of the goods that are destined to the land locked countries surrounding this area, such as Uganda and Rwanda, arrive there and are trucked through Kenya to those countries.
the Tea Factory

the Tea Factory

83E0F55A2219AC6817E9ED4736F78442.jpga small plantation is still a lot of work, harvesting the tea weekly

a small plantation is still a lot of work, harvesting the tea weekly

tea, tea, everywhere tea

tea, tea, everywhere tea

So, Yes there is a lot of truck traffic on the highways . . . perhaps even more than we are used to seeing on the QEII in Alberta.
A lot of the roads here are dirt and mud, many are of the 'African massage' variety making travel difficult by our standards, some of the highways are constantly under construction . . . just like home. My travel mate, Al Poole, has named the paved roads 'Kenya Smooooth'.
road_constr.jpgabw-13.jpg(an earlier day) with some rain in the afternoons we experienced problems when it came time to leave; we had to take off so we wouldn’t be stuck.  One van had to be pulled out so walking was the only option. Warren made a mistake of purchasing these boots, so he had the privilege of pushing the van (photos from ABW blog)

(an earlier day) with some rain in the afternoons we experienced problems when it came time to leave; we had to take off so we wouldn’t be stuck. One van had to be pulled out so walking was the only option. Warren made a mistake of purchasing these boots, so he had the privilege of pushing the van (photos from ABW blog)

On the road now to the Mara now, besides truck traffic we see donkeys everywhere feeding at the side of the roads and even more packing all sorts of items including tea.
Motorcycles here are also common and they too move a serious amount of goods. We have seen all manner of loads, from passengers holding a number of chickens, to household items (including furniture) to transporting wood. In some instances the rider sits on the pile of wood and the load can extend about four feet in both directions (sideways from the bike( . . . I have not be able to capture this wide load on camera.
a not un-typical load

a not un-typical load

You may know that Kenya has a history of developing world class long distance runners . . . we have seen groups of runners putting in their miles, I think the hilly regions help in their training.

Life is hard for most in this country . . . especially for the women. In these rural areas women spend their days cutting, hauling and selling wood for $150 shillings per load. They carry the wood on their backs by a strap on their forehead to ease the load . . . I'm sure I couldn't do it (even at twenty years younger). A typical day might see the these women making breakfast and seeing their children off to school, then heading out for the first load of the day. They come home and make lunch for their husbands and younger children, then head out for another load before coming home and making supper. In this culture, the men folk often just hang with their friends. It's a very hard life for so many.

Posted by cnmcgeehan 19:40 Comments (1)

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