Thursday, August 23, 2012

Masai Mara

Our drive from Lake Nakuru to the Masai Mara included an 80km stretch of road which would challenge a rally driver.  Our driver/guide Justus tried to keep a steady speed of around 80kmh rather than go slowly and shake us out of our seats.  As it was we were hanging on the the hand grips so that we didn't hit the roof when we hit the potholes.  Out accommodation was in tents, but not your ordinary pitch and stitch type - we had polished wooden floors, an ensuite, and every night we returned after dinner to a hot water bottle under the covers and the mosquito net around the bed to keep out the nasties.  

Camping in style
On our first morning in the mara, we had our balloon flight.  This was just the best experience and the morning was perfect with very light airs.  We had to be up well and truly before the sun came up as we had a 30 minute drive from the lodge to the launch site, and then enjoyed the spectacle of the balloons being inflated then the burners lighting them up in the darkness.  Our pilot was a kiwi with years of experience and our launch and landing we as smooth as could be.   There weren't a lot of animals to be seen, but it was just wonderful anyhow.  When we landed we were given a champagne breakfast on the Mara.

Lighting up the darkness.  
We watched the sun rise and there were some 20 or more balloons flying
In the afternoon we enjoyed a game drive where thankfully we didn't have to count the wildebeest - there are huge numbers of them munching happily of the sweet grasses.  
A solid mass of wildebeest enjoying afternoon tea
We heard on the two-way that a cheetah had been spotted so hightailed it to the sighting where we could hardly spot the cheetah as she crouched in the grass trying to pick out which wildebeest she would have for dinner.  She was surrounded by game vehicles so it's a wonder she was able to concentrate on the hunt at all. 
Stealthy on the hunt
The next report was that lions had been sighted and they were on the hunt as well.  These animals are not phased by the vehicles which surround them as they hunt and we counted 30 vehicles watching them.  The lions were so focussed that they stalked their prey through the surrounding vehicles.  A kill takes hours we've learnt and we could not stay and watch them at work.

Not at all phased by the safari vehicles surrounding her.
That's it for now but there's still a few things to add before we return home. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

We've moved from Amboseli to Mt Kruger Safari Club, which was beautiful but our stay was too short, and from there we continued to Lake Nakuru National Park where we're spending 2 nights which is great for a change from one night here and one night there.  Following is just a brief overview
  • Chimpanzee conservation to rehabilitate orphaned chimps.  The chimps have mostly been kept as pets and there is a long process to introduce a new chimp into an existing pack
Practicing his yoga stretches
Just chillin'
  • We visited a blind Rhino called Baraka who lost one eye in a fight with another rhino, then an abscess developed on the remaining eye and he lost sight in that eye as well.  He is well cared for and they tell us he is happy.
Baraka is a big boy!
  • Our hotel at the Safari Club was built on the Equator and we had a ceremony to celebrate our crossing the Equator.  We were shown that the water really does go down a hole in different direction depending on which side of the Equator you are on
I have a foot in both Hemispheres
  • After a storm at Mt Kenya late in the afternoon, we headed off next morning to Lake Nakuru to see the Flamingos.  Unfortunately we’ve been told the flamingos have moved on because the algae on which they feed has been washed out of the lake due to unseasonal rain.  En route we passed village after village where the roadside markets were set up in the mud.  This mud sticks like glue and Paddy saw one lady trying to clean the mud from her shoes with a machete.  Don't know what might have happened if she slipped with the machete, more than mud might have come off.
  • Bogged! 
  • When we arrived at Lake Nakuru we visited an orphanage which was established and is now run by an Australian couple who sold their home and moved to Kenya to set up the baby orphanage.  This orphanage takes in orphans as babies and as the children have grown, so has the orphanage which now has over 90 children ranging in age from 17 years to the youngest who is currently around 6 months.   The children are happy and confident, and in a loving, caring environment which is obvious when you see their interaction with Mary.
We arrived just as the children were sitting down to lunch.
  • Our game ride this morning rewarded us not with multitudes of flamingos but multitudes of other animals.  A pride of 11 lions with 3 females and 8 cubs of various ages.  We watched these lions for a long time, moved on from them and then found them again after they had kept moving.  We took lots of photos of them and watched as they tried to cross some ground where Buffalo were grazing, but the buffalo chased the leader as she tried to find the best path to follow and it was interesting to see them backtrack away and try to find another, better path, all the while watched by an alert herd of antelope.
Family portrait

I love you my friend

Yes I know there's only 10, but the lookout was following some 200 metres
behind and separated from the rest of the group by our vehicles.  

Next we found 3 grazing white rhino by the side of the road.  We were no more than 6 feet away from them looking down on them from our prime viewing position.  

  • As we toured the lake road, we did see flamingos but they were so far away and few in number as we had been told.  
  • We saw zebra and their young, and sparring antelope, and sparring zebra.  We’ve really seen so many different animal behaviours it’s been fascinating.
Did you know Zebra young have brown stripes which gradually turn black

Tomorrow we head to the Masai Mara and the Wildebeest migration.  We’ve been told the migration is in full swing so it should be exciting.     That's all for now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Amboseli Game Park

It's been quite a few days since we've been able to access the internet, but once again we've been full-on, so much so it's hard to keep up with everything.  Again I'm going to do a bullet-point list and let the photos tell the story.

I can't even remember how long ago we flew from Johannesburg to Nairobi to begin our Kenyan safari tour, but safari is the key to what we're here for.  Nairobi is a massive city and very densely populated.  The traffic is a gridlock most of the working week, so we were lucky to leave on Saturday when we managed to get out of the city fairly quickly as we headed to Amboseli Game Park.  From here on, the photos can tell the story.

- Evening safari the first day and our guide popped the tops of our 4x4 vehicles so we could stand up and get good photos.

These will be our wheels for the next 2 weeks.  They have pop-up tops so that we can get good photos

- Amboseli Game Lodge - It's here that the animals are right outside the fenceline.  Elephants, Zebra, Buffalo.  It's all just so close.  They also have monkeys which are living in the grounds and if you're not careful, they will push your door open and come in and help themselves to the sugar for your tea or coffee.  Cheeky little characters.  

Resident monkeys at the lodge
- Once were settled in we hopped into the 4x4 vehicles and went out to see what we could find.  Heaps of Elephants, Zebras, Wildebeest, Antelope of all sorts, Lions, and Buffalos.  Plus a few I can't remember
A pair of crested cranes scratching for food

Well, you've heard of a Zebra crossing haven't you?
Wildebeest and Zebra mix comfortably as the day settles
You can see the snows of Kilimanjaro behind this here of grazing elephants
- A visit to a Masai Village.  Our guide kept telling us that the Masai are a proud people and don't like to have their photos taken.  We had no idea what to expect when we were taken to a village not far from our lodge.  We found the villagers to be friendly, welcoming, and our guides were only too happy to tell us of their way of life, their medicines, their schools, and some of their customs.  The guides were 2 young men of around 35, one of whom was the chief.  They were handsome, and spoke excellent English, having been educated at a mission school.  This visit was one of the highlights of our stay in Ambosili.  

This girl was using the water pump outside the village enclosure

The Masai dancers who greeted us on our arrival at their village.  And yes, they really can jump very high
The women sang while the men danced, and their headbands and necklaces were sparkling in the sun.  They were truly beautiful

Yep, it's a man's world.  The men stand around and the women do the work

These people have nothing, yet they were happy for us to take their photos and their smiles were pure

The children were brought in from their school holidays to greet us with singing.  They were curious and not quite sure why we were there.  We took up a collection after our visit so that the school could buy books and pencils for for children, and the village received enough money to buy 2 cows.
Now we've moved on, but that story for another post.  I'm off to bed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Livingstone and Victoria Falls

More bullet points so that the photos can talk for me

- Flew to Livingstone and checked in to our hotel the Royal Livingstone which is on the banks of the Zambesi River just above the Falls.  The hotel has resident Zebras and Giraffes which are fed every afternoon.

No words needed
Trivia for the day - a group of Zebras is called a 'Dazzle' and you can see why

- Walked that afternoon to the Falls which was one of those moments I could never have imagined - To actually be walking in the footsteps of David Livingstone seeing 'The smoke which thunders'  as I learnt about in Primary school is just so amazing.  

- Next day was a bus tour to Botswana and the Chobe Game Reserve.  In the morning we cruised the Chobe River taking heaps of photos of the animals we saw - crocodiles, hippos grazing on the sweet grasses, buffalo, heaps of water birds, and antelope, just so many antelope.

A family portrait

Well you know, you never smile at a crocodile

- The afternoon we spent in a 4x4 safari vehicle spotting lions, giraffe, elephants, mongoose, and more of the same.  We found a herd of elephants and watched them for ages as they moved closer and closer to our vehicle, before crossing the road in single file only metres in front of our car.  A very special moment as these massive animals made their way to the water. 
It's hard to find a shady spot in this dry land
The elephants passed by protecting their young

- Yesterday we visited the Mukuni Village with a population of over 7,000 people.  These people live in mud huts with thatched roofs, no electricity or running water, their children are only educated to Year 7 and are unlikely to ever get High School, their babies are born in a clinic in the village.  It was sobering to say the least. 
The boys found out what hard work it is to pump water in the village

Mukuni Village children

Could you live like this?
- In the afternoon we sailed down the Zambesi River on a boat called the African Queen (no, not the Humphrey Bogart version) to watch another spectacular African Sunset.

Off for a sail down the Zambesi

The hippos thought it was a bit 'ho hum'

Spectacular sunset

- This morning we took a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls - WOW!

Now we are back in Johannesburg, and early tomorrow morning we fly to Kenya for more animals.  I am getting so many photos and there are still more to come.  

And now I'm off to bed - tomorrow we have an early start.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

There's so much going on every day so I've decided to make a list of bullet points and try to cover the highlights

- Traffic delays present unexpected photo opportunities as the local women make the most of the opportunity to sell food to the passengers in the vehicles waiting to move on 

Pineapples, oranges for sale
- Travelling in a bus doesn't present the best opportunities for photos but luckily the driver had cleaned the bus windows and stopped along the way as we came across animals.  At this stage we were keen to get any photo we could as we had no idea what was to come and how close we would get to the animals when we got to Kruger. 
How awesome was this - a herd of elephants walking single file following the matriarch of the the herd as we drove through the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park

- Enroute from Kynsna to Durban we stopped at the Tsitsikamma National Park  so that we could stretch our legs by taking a walk along the shoreline boardwalk to 3 suspension bridges.  The water from this small gorge made it's way to the ocean passing under the bridges.  We saw whales blowing offshore as we waited to board the bus again

At our hotel in Ghose Mountain we were treated to some wonderful singing by the girls and men who worked there.  Their voices were just so joyous and the impromptu concert was unexpected to say the least.

Next day we took a cruise to try and spot more animals, though the pickings were pretty slim.  In the afternoon we visited a Zulu village to catch just a glimpse of their lifestyle.  The cooking kitchen is a hut with a cooking fire inside where the meals are cooked and the bales of bound grass for patching up a roof made for a great shot.  It was bitterly cold on the mountain and we wondered how these families kept warm as the children were running around in just T shirts or dresses.

It's not the Savannah, but I like the colours of this sunset

After dinner that night we were treated to some high energy dancing - lots of foot stamping and thumping

Leaving Ghost Mountain we headed to Swaziland and visited the Swazi Candle shop where hand-made candles in all shapes and colours are created and sold.  This craftsman is moulding the warm pliable candle wax into a zebra.  When the candles burn the colours are illuminated and are beautiful though the animal shape does change somewhat with the heat.  

From Swaziland to Kruger National Park and the Tinga Game Reserve.  The reserve is a private facility inside the National Park and we were assigned a guide and spotter with whom we have spent the last couple of days.  On the day we arrived, we went out for a Sunset safari where we were treated to sundowners with the hippos - totally unexpected.  Next morning we were up at 5.00 for a 6.00 start, once again coffee and muffins before we left as it was freezing cold and needed something to warm us up.  We went out to the vehicle and found hot water bottles warming the chilly seats and ponchos we could cover up with as well, then we were out spotting.  Our guides could hear baboons making a lot of noise so they stopped the car leaving us alone in the bush to try and find what was causing the baboons to carry on so.  The rushed back to the car to move us to a better vantage point as they had found lions.  What an amazing experience to have a lion walk by your car within 8 feet of where you're sitting.

 Sundowners with the hippos

The elephants were across the river from our accommodation - it was as if the whole thing had been planned
As you can see it's a chilly morning and we're all rugged up sitting on our hot water bottles

    One of the boys and below is his brother

That's about it for now bringing you up to date.  Tomorrow we fly to Livingston and the Victoria Falls.