Hawaiian Holiday: 12/25/16 to 1/6/17 #1

Oh what high expectations we had for this holiday!  And it was to start with a week-long family vacation to Kauai thanks ito the timeshare of Sandy and Victoria.   Gwen and I, Kyle (our son) and Suzie (his wife, 6 months pregnant), Courtney (our daughter), Joey (her fiancee) and Sarah (her daughter), and of course Sandy (Gwen’s sister), Victoria (her partner) and Seth (their son) all in attendance.

Off Gwen and I went to Kauai on Christmas day.  Sandy, Victoria and Seth were to precede us by a couple of hours (flying from SF to Maui to Kauai), while the rest were to join us the next day.  The flight to Lihue, Kauai (yes, unlike 44 years ago when we honeymooned in Hawaii, each major island now has its own airport large enough to handle the big jets) was quiet and uneventful.

Upon arrival, there was a phone message from Victoria with very disturbing news: Sandy had developed a medical problem just before they were to depart from Maui. As a result, she was hospitalized there, going through the process to determine what had happened.  A worried call to Victoria ascertained that Sandy was stable, thank goodness, but the doctors were yet to complete the tests necessary to determine what had happened, so of course no prognosis was yet available.  OK, problem 1: there was some possibility that we would have to move the whole party to Maui if Sandy was declared unable to fly.  Chances were, however, that she would recover sufficiently to make Kauai, but perhaps a day or two later.

Gwen and I proceeded to the timeshare, duly reserved by Sandy, and reconfirmed two days previously.   Problem 2: when we arrived, they could find no records of any reservation. It was as you will remember, Sunday, Christmas day.  Highest week for Hawaii’s long tourist season. The timeshare agency was as helpful as they could be, but spare accommodations for ten people for a week on Kauai was just nonexistent. They did find a suite to put the two of us up for one night, so tonight’s problem was solved. Sandy was the key because she had made the reservations.  But she had no written confirmation, and her electronic confirmation was on her computer back home.  They’ve been involved with this timeshare company for many years, and had never had any problems before.

Gwen was working hard with the timeshare folks, and with one of her college roommates, Sylvia Woods.  We were looking forward to spending some time with Sylvia while in Kauai, as we hadn’t seen her in over four years.  At that time, she made the move to Kauai, making it her permanent residence.  So, Christmas day ended with Sandy feeling better, but no answers on the travel to Kauai front, and Gwen and me sheltered for one night.

The next day Sandy was doing better, but still undergoing tests.  Much work was needed, however, to find accommodation for all of us.  Thanks to Sylvia’s friend, Marsha, by the time we picked up Courtney, Joey and Sarah, we had reservations for that night sufficient for all except Gwen and I.  We eventually took the three of them to the Westin Resort in Princeville, and when Kyle and Suzie arrived late that evening, they went straight there, our temporary haven.  Sylvia was kind enough to put Gwen and me up for the night.

The next day, things finally began to get resolved.  Happily, Sandy was getting better, and the doctors finished their testing.  They couldn’t find anything wrong, and determined she could fly to Kauai, and so she, Victoria and Seth made those arrangements.  In the meantime, Victoria got on to the timeshare folks by phone, and found out (eventually) that their international reservations group had been hacked.  Someone had gotten into their computer system and re-sold the timeshare weeks, wiping out our reservations (and presumably others), pocketing the money.  The timeshare company decided to take the financial responsibility, so the only problem left for us was to find places to stay.

It was Kyle who resolved this last aspect of problem 2 for us once and for all.  He got onto the internet and discovered that even though all the humans at the Westin were unable to find us any rooms, they indeed had enough for us all over the time we planned to be in Kauai if we reserved them through his favorite internet app.  So  Kyle booked reservations for us online, and we all happily checked in.

By the evening of 12/27, we were finally all together on Kauai, and ready to start our delayed vacation.

The next day we spent our time investigating what the Westin had to offer, mainly swimming and sunbathing.  Sarah spent much time in the pools, accompanied by one or more of us adults relaxing for the first time since we got to the island.

Sylvia told us that up at this end of the island (Princeville is on the northeast corner of Kauai), we were close to the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge, so one of our first trips was to this historic landmark.

The point on which the lighthouse stands, we are told is an excellent vantage point for seeing saline, like whales and seals and the like.

We saw none of that kind of thing, but we enjoyed the views very much.

The wildlife we did see was of the flying variety — the Nene bird.  This state bird is endangered, we were told.  The bird is about the size of a Canadian goose, which we are also told is a relative.

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The next day, we decided to go in the other direction, down to Hanalei town and the beach beyond it.  We started out with a late breakfast at a “lunch wagon” called Fresh Bite.  Ten people ordering at once turned out to be quite a tall order for them, but as long as we were willing to wait, they were more than happy to serve us.  Wait we did, but in the end, they provided a surprisingly good breakfast as agreed by one and all.

Walking to Fresh Bite, we noticed this restored red “woody”, complete with a chicken standing where the hood ornament should be.  It, as we quickly discovered, was artificial.  We had already noticed that the island seemed overrun with the birds.  They provided a morning chorus every day we were there.20161229-dsc_7158

After breakfast, we made our way to the beach.  Gwen and Kyle quickly got their feet wet, but were soon joined by Suzie.

Sarah was not far behind.  She and Kyle enjoyed jumping up just before the wave hit.  Gwen and Suzie were so concentrated on watching the fun, that the wave soon got to them as well!

Soon all were on the beach.  Victoria and Sarah decided to bury a coconut.

Seth and Sarah spent time catching waves on the beach, and all spent time talking and enjoying the sand.

It was cloudy and getting cold, so we decided to go back to the resort.  The resort sits on an overlook well above beach level, so there were some opportunities to get a broader view of the area as we drove along.  The first below shows the valley that leads to the town of Hanalei and the beach to its right, while the second one shows the rain coming down on  the hills beyond the beach.

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The road to Hanalei town took us past a very interesting warning sign, immediately followed by a one-lane bridge, which in its turn was followed by another strange warning sign, which turned out to have immediate meaning.

You know you are in Hawaii when you see large red flowers high up in the trees by the road.  For some reason, the pine trees have seem tall and spindly against their continental cousins we are more used to.

Other strange plants include the Hala tree below, whose branches seem to grow down into the ground rather than up to the sky.  Lots of colored flora adorn the garden areas around the Westin resort.

Next door to the Westin is the St Regis, a related resort, with marvelous views over Hanalei Bay.  We went over there to take advantage of the viewing deck (and their excellent restaurant, but that was a different time).  We watched a sunrise one morning.  Unfortunately, we were not on the side to see the best color.  I do love to watch the colors changing on the clouds as the sun comes up.

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January 18, 2017 · 5:30 PM

Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 12 – Nairobi

We got up this morning (without a wakeup call, for once), and got our breakfast downstairs. At 8:30 we were off in a different van, but still with Charles. Our first stop was the Giraffe Center, where the guide gave us a very well done presentation on the three subspecies of giraffe in Africa, and the many activities the Center is involved in to not just rescue babies and heal sick ones, but more now to educate the community in general on the value of the animals to Kenya now and for future generations. We then went to the platform where we got up on the second floor and with food provided for us to give to them, fed two adult females and a youngster that were there.  Down on the ground, there were four warthogs making sure that none of the feed that didn’t get to the giraffes went to waste.

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Got some great pictures of Gwen, Dee and Gretchen holding food in their mouths so one or another of the giraffes could give them a “kiss” to get it.

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We toured the rest of the Center, including an area where they had some giraffe bones, enabling us to see just how bid the animals were.  20151004-DSC_5399Gwen got a good view of a giraffe jaw, for example.

We then went off to the David Shellbeck Wildlife Center, which specializes in caring for elephants and rhinos that are orphaned in the wild. In both cases (the giraffe and elephant centers), the idea for the orphaned animals is to put them back into the wild when they are old enough, and when they can find a place in the animal society. After gaining entrance to the Wildlife Center, we walked down to an arena where there were already elephants drinking what looked like milk from large containers (it wasn’t milk, but a mixture of nutritional components that David Shellbeck had taken 30 years perfecting to maximize the opportunities these orphans had to survive childhood).

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One of the younger (and they all were young) and smaller elephants fell into the central pond, but was able to make his way out without a lot of trouble.

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The area inside the arena had a couple of watering holes, where the elephants can play and get wet, and plenty of dusty clay to throw on their backs to keep the sun off.  The elephants were there to eat, and you can see the large “milk” bottles in a couple of the pictures.  T

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The keepers had some leafy branches and a soccer ball in the arena as well for the elephants to play with (and a couple of ostrich females that were there as well). The ostriches ate the leaves on the tree branches more than the elephants, but all seemed to enjoy their time in the arena. One of the keepers took to a microphone and told about the work done by the Center, and then proceeded to introduce each of the elephants by name, age and reason for being there.

That was quite a thrill, but after that was finished and they took the first group back out of the arena, a second group was brought in and the process started again. There were about 30 elephants total between the two groups.

That ended the show, and so we headed off to a restaurant with outdoor seating where we enjoyed a very nicely prepared lunch off the menu.

Firefinch, Red-Billed

Firefinch, Red-Billed

Afterwards, Charles drove and Philip introduced us to the various buildings in downtown Nairobi. As it is Sunday, traffic was not that bad (it was bad enough), but we were told it is much worse during the week.

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Eagle, Tawny

Eagle, Tawny; a city park dweller.

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Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou. These storks abounded in the city, much to our surprise.

Well, we are now back in the Eka Hotel, resting and getting ready for our trip back to the airport and our farewell to Nairobi, to Kenya, and to this safari adventure!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 11 – Masai Mara to Nairobi

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Back to Nairobi by airplane today. But we had time for one last short safari in the morning to try once again to find the male lions. We were out at 6:30 am, and bouncing along the back trail from our camp. Sammy, the driver, worked with Philip. 20151003-DSC_4952The first good thing: the sunrise, and the six balloons aloft to catch the morning light. Beautiful!

After that, we saw some birds (storks, vultures, ground birds), but no lions. Then, off in the distance, Philip spied what we were looking for. We were across the river from the two male lions, so Sammy accelerated, and we were headed swiftly toward the fording point. We made it across, and headed back to where we had seen the two lions.

20151003-DSC_4968 20151003-DSC_4963The two were coming to greet each other. They are according to Philip, brothers, and so didn’t fight each other. Instead they keep mostly to their own side of the territorial markers.

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We got some great shots of both the males, and it was really exciting to hear them roar their greetings to each other.  At one point they were roaring at a female lion up on the far ridge from us probably 500 yards away.  20151003-DSC_5034 20151003-DSC_5049The female roared back, but kept on walking away.  Philip believed she had mated already this cycle, and was not interested in more of the same.

We stayed near them for awhile, but then decided to see if we could catch another cheetah that had been sighted in the same area yesterday.

20151003-DSC_5126We never found the cheetah, but found two more male lions, this time on the other bank of the river. We watched them as long as we could (they were walking parallel to the river). After awhile, the one in front stopped, and the other caught up. These two are also brothers, all four Philip tells us are from the same father. When the second brother caught the first in this second pair, they started playing just like youngsters, rolling over and nuzzling each other. 20151003-DSC_5206We soon left them, and what do you know, we found yet another male lion. He was hidden in some bushes, so we didn’t stay with him long. Oh, what fun to find so many lions — it made for a great end to the safaris.

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Yellow-billed

Stork, Yellow-billed

Sand Grouse, Yellow-throated

Sand Grouse, Yellow-throated

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

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Plover, African Wattled (Lapwing)

Plover, African Wattled (Lapwing)

Along the way, we saw more birds and other animals just as we’d seen on almost all our expeditions.  So, after returning to the camp, we ate breakfast, finished packing, checked out and headed for the airport.

The plane, this time a twin-engine plane was almost full, but it flew at 15,000 feet (as opposed to the 8500 feet that the single engine plane that got us to the camp flew at), and while I’d like to say it was smoother, I really can’t. Thank goodness we were all seasoned travelers, as it was a rough ride. One woman behind Bruce and Dee gave up her breakfast before we landed.20151003-DSC_5260 20151003-DSC_5293

Nairobi’s Wilson Airport (not the large international one) where we landed put us all through a security check before they let us out of the area, including a belt for our bags and a walk-through scan, but I was less than impressed with their practices. The buzzer went off when I went through, but no one noticed, so I just kept on walking.

Charles, our driver from the last time we were here met us outside the terminal, and off we went to lunch. Lunch was at the “Carnivore” restaurant, a very up-market place. Their way of working is to bring soup and then to put hot plates in front of you. They then come around with skewers of hot meats of many varieties for you to sample. You keep getting offered more meat until you take the little flag down from the center of your table. The food was not particularly tasty, but the variety made up for it.

Then, it was to the Eka Hotel where we had stayed the first night we were in Nairobi at the start of our adventure. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it easily. We got within a mile or so, and the van broke down in the middle of a very busy dirt road. 20151003-DSC_5310Trucks (large ones, with 40 foot containers on their beds were many, as were trucks that I connected with the construction activities along the road. It took about an hour for someone to come rescue us, and now we are happily put up in our rooms.

Tomorrow, the elephant and giraffe hospital, and eventually the flight home!!!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 10 – Masai Mara

20151002-DSC_4528Today was another early start: 6:00 wake-up call and 6:30 take-off. We got to see the hot air balloons taking off as we ourselves took off.

We headed out to see what we could find, and it turned out to be birds, topi, Impala, and elands, along with some banded mongooses before breakfast.

Topi

Topi

Spurfowl, Red-necked

Spurfowl, Red-necked

Longclaw, Yellow-throated

Longclaw, Yellow-throated

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Bateleur

Bateleur

After breakfast, we saw two lions, a mom and her 3-year-old daughter with a warthog’s’ head in her mouth.  Further along, there was another lion who went to investigate some noise in a gully, and a cape buffalo came up to meet her challenge!

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A thrush?

Heron, Black-headed

Heron, Black-headed

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A lion looking down in the gully just beyond

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A cape buffalo coming up from the gully to “play” with the lion, who had beat a hasty retreat

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Daughter lion with lunch

In addition, we saw the usual variety of antelope, zebras, a crocodile and warthogs.

The sky took on an interesting feature, as a halo of light surrounded the sun.  There were clouds in the sky, and knowing how dry the season had been, we asked about the likelihood of rain.  We were told that the halo was usually seen before rain showers, and sure enough later on in the day, it did rain for a short while.

The highlight of the antelopes we saw were three male eland, which could be easily differentiated from the females by the large dewlap they had hanging below their broad necks.

Male Eland

Male Eland

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A very pregnant hyena

A very pregnant hyena

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A cheetah resting

This afternoon we’ll visit a Masai village hopefully!

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And it was quite a visit. The headman in the village introduced himself to us, and then presented the Masai men, who did their chant with bass and harmony (no instruments, mind, just with their voices), and to these chants, they jumped — who jumps the highest? This went on for quite awhile, and then they approached us and we all participated in the chant and structured walk.

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Next he took us into the village proper. This is a rough circle with about seven houses in it. There is a twig fence around the whole thing, with four openings, one for each main family in the village. When their cattle are driven into the center of the compound for the night, they know to come in the correct entrance. The houses themselves are made out of sticks and cow dung daub, mainly because the cow dung does not get infested by pests.

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The next was a demonstration of making fire. The men gathered a flat stick about 1.5 inches thick and a round stick about a foot long and half an inch in diameter. One of the men then put his long knife on the ground, flat, placed the flat stick on top of it, and then used the round stick to spin back and forth creating friction. Meanwhile another man pulled some elephant dung from the roof of the house next to him, and pulled it apart, exposing the undigested dry straw. The heat from the friction and the softness of the wood began depositing smoldering ash on the knife below, and when the man spinning the stick decided that he had enough burning material, the generating sticks were removed, and the embers were put into the elephant dung. With a little blowing encouragement, the fire indeed flamed up, and if it had been wanted for broader purpose, it would have been put under larger wood shavings. From what they said, the bush people taught this to the Masai.

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We went into a house, designed and built by the women. There is an entrance room, followed by the main room where the fire for the cooking burns. This has benches on two sides, and a vent hole high on the wall behind the fire. The houses are dark (no windows), and the roof is flat, with cow dung on top.

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We came out and the village women gave us their version of chants and songs. They also were unaccompanied by instruments. The women didn’t jump, however — that’s just for the men (and boys).

We were lastly led outside of the village proper where there were the women had laid out their wares for us to peruse and purchase if we wanted to. We all picked out something to buy, and bargained our way to the deal.

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It was back to the camp, and this evening Nixon (whose village this is) is going to talk to us about the Masai some more.

Nixon’s talk went into more detail about the Masai culture. They believe that God (undefined) dropped the first human on earth in the Northern Africa area of the Nile River, closer to the source than the delta. He is named, and his wife is named, as are their three sons. Their three sons each started a clan, and the rule became no one could marry within their clan. There are now thousands of clans, and the rule still holds. Marriages are arranged between the parents of the man and prospective wife, based in part on the dowry (in terms of number of cows) on offer.

Their diet consists primarily of the blood, milk and meat of the livestock (cows originally, and now including sheep and goats). Masai are nomadic, in part to provide feed for their livestock, and to account for the weather. Nixon said that the warrior who has two wives will leave his primary wife at the first location, and take his second one with him to the second encampment, to build the house and keep him in the way he has been accustomed. Apparently his village is planning a seasonal move within the next couple of months as the grass is getting too dry to support their herds.

He also talked about the changes that have come about to the nomadic aspect due to the need to have their children in schools. Providing education requires a more stable community, and so that has slowed down the movements of the tribes. He talked for a good 30 minutes, and covered a number of topics. Then it was on to dinner and back to the rooms to pack for tomorrow’s trip to Nairobi.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 9 – Masai Mara

Up early again, we were on the road a little after 6:30. In addition to the normal animals, we saw five hot-air balloons rising near the camp. Gretchen got a good picture of a couple of them as they took off. She saw them from the bar area of the camp, as one of the balloon concessions is run out of our camp.

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

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Jackal with Crowned Plover (Lapwing) in the distance

Jackal with Crowned Plover (Lapwing) in the distance

It took awhile to get started, but we saw the cheetah mother and her cubs playing with each other near a different tree from yesterday.

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We saw a group of hippos in a rather disgusting pond which had only still water, so their waste just stayed put.

Eagle, Tawny

Eagle, Tawny

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Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

It was a small pond, with a number of hippos. One stayed off by him/herself, and she put on a good show. Among other things we saw a group of vultures surrounding a kill that had already been abandoned by the killer (a lion, it was guessed based on the footprints in the area). We also caught up with a number of warthogs and their youngsters. Apparently the warthogs at the height of their reproductive capability will have four babies, having graduated from one upward, and then as she declines, she will have less number of babies. The ones we saw typically had three babies, but at least one had four.

Warthogs - tails up!

Warthogs – tails up!

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Hightailing it!

Hightailing it!

The wildebeests were common all around, and we even had our breakfast in their midst (well, they were aways away really).

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Picnicing in the midst of the wildebeest

Picnicing in the midst of the wildebeest

Sammy and I practicing to be Maasai

Sammy and I practicing to be Maasai

Another group lunching amongst the wildebeest

Another group lunching amongst the wildebeest

We went to a common crossing point in the Salama River (?) where there were a number of hippos, a number of crocodiles, and a number of vultures.

Vulture, White-backed; Goose, Egyptian

Vulture, White-backed; Goose, Egyptian

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There were also several wildebeest bodies hung up on the rocks in the river. We were told that the river had been much higher and faster last week, and the wildebeests had had a hard time getting across quickly. They stumbled over each other and in the process a few drowned, were captured by predators, or just weren’t strong enough to make it to the other side. It made for a gruesome scene, yet somehow from a distance, natural. We went to another area where it looked for awhile like a herd of wildebeest was going to cross, but they stopped, and we grew tired of waiting, so headed back for lunch.

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Young warthogs

Young warthogs

Topi

Topi

Stork, Yellow-billed

Stork, Yellow-billed

This afternoon, we’re going to a school to give them the school supplies we brought for them. The school is nearby, and one of the Masai warriors who work at the camp (Nixon is his name) has siblings who go there. It is the Loingo (?) Primary School, meaning it has children from nursery school through level 8. It is a residential school, so the students live there during the terms (three months in school and a fourth month at home). Unfortunately, there is a teachers’ strike right now. We are told the reason is that an official in the central government gave the teachers a 50% rise in pay, and it has since been determined that this is not really a good thing to do, so they have tried to rescind it, but the teachers now are striking to have it reinstated. The net result is that schools are not really in session. The only class running at this school is the level 8 class as the students have their state-run graduation test in November.

There are 19 in that class, 15 boys and 4 girls, at least there were on the day we were there. After a brief introduction by the principal, and a welcome song by the students, we were allowed to talk to them individually or in groups. I ended up talking to six boys who were quite interested in interviewing me (as I was them). They asked all sorts of questions about me, my occupation, what it meant, where I lived, what the USA is like (what is our economy based on — yes, that was one of the questions!), what our weather is like, what religions we have, what our political parties are, and a whole variety of other things. They knew President Obama, and wanted to know more about him.

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I asked them about their economy (farming and herding based), their religion (mostly Christian, although they also knew of Muslims), their schooling (they do have high school, if the child and his/her parents choose to take advantage of it), what their ambitions are (pass the test, and then be herders), and so on. They were very attentive, and interested in the answers to their questions, as well as interested that I understand their answers to my questions.

Bruce's turn to be Maasai

Bruce’s turn to be Maasai

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Robin-chat, White-browed

Robin-chat, White-browed

After we finished, the principal had us into his office to do his bit for getting us to gift money to the school, but we demurred by suggesting he send a list of needed books to Philip who would forward it to us and then we would work on providing them to the school.

After we left, we came back to the camp, where we took the afternoon off, meeting again for dinner. The big adventure in this interval was the decision of a large baboon to visit Gretchen’s tent-cabin. He made a lot of noise, and when she came out to investigate, he was on her roof. She went back in to grab her camera, and when she reappeared, he had gone over to the side closest to our tent-cabin, and Gwen had come out to see what the commotion was all about. He saw Gwen, and ran back over to Gretchen’s side. He quickly decided that wouldn’t do, and disappeared up one of the many trees right above our tent-cabins. There was a smaller monkey in the trees as well, just to increase the fun. Unfortunately, no pictures were taken, so we have to rely on Gretchen’s and Gwen’s descriptions.

20151001-DSC_4495One other event worth recording is the latest adventure with Frederica and Nameless. They are the eland females who are domesticated enough to be allowed to inhabit the main areas of the camp. Before dinner, the three of us (Gretchen, Gwen and I) were sitting in the bar area, when the two eland walked by the registration desk and headed toward the patio just outside the barroom walls. Standing with her back to them was a young Japanese lady, who was almost rammed by Frederica. When she turned around to see who bumped into her, she screamed loudly and threw up her hands. The eland were remarkably calm about the whole thing, but the woman got flustered a bit. Gwen was closest to see, and tells me we should have a shot of the Japanese lady’s face when she realized she was being bumped by an animal that was just about her size!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 8 – Lake Victoria to Masai Mara

Another travel day, sigh. We met again at 6:30 for breakfast, and then again at 7:00 at the truck to drive to the airport. When we got to the truck, we found that Bruce and Dee had lost their passports and money. Bruce was just coming to the truck to check his backpack, with very little hope of finding anything. But, sure enough, they were there, right in front!  Such a relief for all of us.

On the road there was lots to see.

The road serves many purposes

The road serves many purposes

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Farmland

Brick houses arising alongside the straw and grass structures

Brick houses arising alongside the straw and grass structures

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A local school

So off we went for first the Tanzania – Kenya border, and then the airport. The border was not really a problem, we visited first the Tanzanian agents in one building, and then crossed the border and visited the Kenyan agents in their building. Once we did that, we got back into the truck, and headed for the airplane. 20150930-DSC_3546 20150930-DSC_3558We got off the main road about an hour later, and drove a little way on a secondary dirt road, and pulled under a tree where a woman and her two daughters had set up a souvenir stand. This was the airport. About 20 minutes later, sure enough, a single engine plane drops down out of the sky and meets the runway (which was perpendicular to us), runs to where the tarmac stops, turns around and makes a turn towards us. After saying goodby to Everest, who had unloaded our bags, and hello to the pilot and copilot, we stood around and waited. Everything got on board, but there were three more passengers to meet us. At least an hour later, the first one arrived, and perhaps another half an hour elapsed before the other two got there. We were told that there was a big political rally in town, and our three compatriots had been slowed down for having to make their way through the crowds. By the time they arrived, two more planes had arrived (a twin-engine plane from Kenya Air, and another Safariair single engine job. 20150930-DSC_3589 20150930-DSC_3591 20150930-DSC_3600

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

With all aboard, we took off. We flew for about 20 minutes to the first of two Masai Mara airports. About 15 minutes into our flight, we flew over the edge (literally!) where the plain we were on dropped down to the Masai Mara plain, about 1000 feet down.  The cliff seemed to carry on in both directions forever.  It felt like the whole of the Masai Mara had been scooped out flat with a giant bulldozer.

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

20150930-DSC_3624 20150930-DSC_3628The vegetation immediately went from relative green to almost completely brown, except along the winding waterways.

The plane landed at the first airport, unloaded two of our extra passengers, and then we were on our way again, Up over the next ridge, about 5 minutes flying time, and we set down at the second of the two airports, our destination (almost). Our new driver greeted us, and we set off on another 30 minute drive to the Fig Tree Lodge. We arrived at about 2:00 and immediately had lunch, which was very nicely done. We were all ready for it! Now I’m sitting here on the porch of our tent-cabin, while the domesticated eland is munching at the greenery around.

Gretchen petting the hotel's pet eland

Gretchen petting the hotel’s pet eland

She is certainly calm enough. 20150930-DSC_3665Gretchen got pictures, and then got right up and petted her. Bruce and Dee came out to see her, but now I am left to watch and wonder about her. Just the other side of the path she is on is the bank of the river that runs through the camp. It is down about 10 feet from the level we are on, but it does have water in it, despite the obviously dry conditions all around.

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Two cubs playing while mom eats

This afternoon, we went on our first drive through the Masai Mara. 20150930-DSC_3720 20150930-DSC_3742 We were very lucky, seeing a mother Cheetah and two young cubs finishing off a kill (Thompson’s gazelle, we think.)

They were near a tree, and the youngsters were splitting their time between eating and playing with each other. They were clearly full of food, as their approach to the kill was fairly nonchalant. We spent a long time there watching. 20150930-DSC_3801 20150930-DSC_3807 20150930-DSC_3837Finally the mother got up and wandered about 25 feet away from the kill and lay down. The cubs joined her, and they licked each other’s faces necks and fronts. Philip says this is common procedure to get the blood off of each other. The youngsters didn’t stay with mother all the time though, they wandered back to the tree, playing with each other. A van pulled a bit too close, so one of the cubs came to challenge the interloper. The van didn’t move, and eventually the cub lost interest. It was a fun watch! In driving around, we also saw another leopard (our fifth),

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

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Hornbill, Ground

Hornbill, Ground

20150930-DSC_3945and quite a few birds. We saw several vultures of various kinds, especially after we left the cheetah kill. A hyena was asleep near the road as well. We saw a hippo pod in a pond, where they were bunched up together.

20150930-DSC_3904The most fun sight, however, was a giraffe getting a drink from a creek.  Giraffes have to get into an awkward position to drink, and it is at this point that they are the most vulnerable to attack.  As a result, they are very wary as they drink.  This I already knew.  What I didn’t know was that they come up quickly with their mouths open, spraying water as they rise.

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We came back and had a nice dinner, got to our tents, and had a good night’s sleep.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 7 – Serengeti to Lake Victoria

Today is the trip from the Serengeti to Lake Victoria. 20150929-DSC_3224The trip itself was not as strenuous as was imagined by the group. At one of the rest stops (read: bathroom break) Everest had to change one of the tires which had developed a slow leak.

Crocodile

Crocodile

One of the fun animal-related events was the sighting of our first crocodile, and in fact we ended up seeing two of them,20150929-DSC_3270 including one very large one out of the water sunning himself.

20150929-DSC_3256Lions are getting to be second nature, so we weren’t too excited by seeing a pride of perhaps 10 lions sleeping under two trees close to the road. Of interest was one of the pride was under one tree while all the others were under the other tree. I wonder what made that lioness so unpopular?

We saw other animals, as well as people along the way to Lake Victoria.

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Saddle-billed

Stork, Saddle-billed

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Heron, Grey

Heron, Grey

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Later on in the day at the Lake Victoria beach-side hotel we went on a bird-watching tour.

Kingfisher, Gray-headed

Kingfisher, Gray-headed

Scimitarbill, Common (Greater)

Scimitarbill, Common (Greater)

Bulbul, Common

Bulbul, Common

Gonolek, Black-headed

Gonolek, Black-headed

Kingfisher, Pygmy

Kingfisher, Pygmy

Thick-knee, spotted

Thick-knee, spotted

Eagle, Fish

Eagle, Fish

Thick-knee, spotted

Thick-knee, spotted

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged; Ruff

Stilt, Black-winged; Ruff

Plover, Spur Winged

Plover, Spur Winged

Dove, African Mourning

Dove, African Mourning

Plover, Three-Banded

Plover, Three-Banded

Thick-knee, Water

Thick-knee, Water

Plover, Spur-Winged (Lapwing)

Plover, Spur-Winged (Lapwing)

Weaver, Yellow-backed female or juvenile

Weaver, Yellow-backed female or juvenile

Gwen is very happy about this place, as it is literally right on the shore of Lake Victoria. The wind is blowing the water right onto the rocks outside our cabin door, and the sights and sound remind her of the Caribbean. I have to admit, after the last week on the savannah, it is quite a nice change of atmosphere.

The bird watching was a good job done by a local connected with the hotel named George. The highlight for me were the Fish Eagles, who have a next in a tree about 30 yards off of the shore. I got a lot of pictures of lots of birds, and Gwen took notes, so we’ll put them together when we get home.

Tomorrow it is on to Maasai Mara by small airplane.

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