Thursday, February 10, 2011

So rich and textured, I'm ready to jump in...

Day 3--early morning drive. I bow down to one of those breathtaking sunrises, the kind I haven't seen since I was in Tsavo three years ago. Breathe....

Right away, the 111 on the rear end of the impala flashes before us--the easiest way to ID them-another Lilac Breasted Roller--such soft, pastels to compliment the early morning sky. A kneeling mother warthog nurses her babies, and this makes even the old mama look absolutely tender.

A gorgeous female lion with her cubs. They nurse, and she's seems in absolute peace--even with us spying on this delicate moment. The cubs finish, and she gets to take a stretch. I think I still lose my breathe every time I see a lion up close. I struggle to describe the feeling of being in the presence of such a burly, yet regal beast. She's AMAZING! The cubs wake up, roll around, and y...a....w....n!

There's a bit of action this morning. A lone wildebeest runs across the savannah, then out of nowhere, a hyena takes off after him. The wildebeest zig-zags across the grass, looking over his shoulder at his assailant as they disappear off into the horizon. Most likely, the wildebeest got away, even though it's usually a death sentence for one to be separated from the herd. A little jackal decides to harass a crested crane--who's about four times his size. He annoys the bird, but it doesn't go much further! We finally spot al eland--biggest gazelle in Africa. Such a solid, grand animal--but it has the strength to even lead over a car!

On our drive that night, it's a long ride into another part of the Mara we've never been. Our driver, Dennis, doesn't say anything, but we think he's heading for something special out here. Then we see it! A dead impala, ribcage opened, hanging from an acacia tree. Leopard! (Leopard are the only cats that drag their prey up a tree using their strong jaws. They can eat it for a week--even if the carcass is full of maggots.) The tree is surrounded by other vehicles, but eventually, we spot the sleek animal. It's a mother and her cub. The baby climbs up the tree to give us great photo opp. They are royal and mysterious, like the lion, and we wish we could stay all day.

It's such a calm drive. Light clouds in the sky, the red road before us. Then nature gives us another gift--double rainbow! (no, i'm not going to do the double-rainbow dance, sorry!) But is is sacred and welcoming, and a beautiful way to say farewell. Looking out into the vast savannah, accompanied with the movement of the vehicle, puts me at complete peace--almost like I'm gazing into an endless sea.

Dinner that night is perfection. Another scrumptious soup (this time, butternut squash,) plus mandazi bread filled with veggies, and our chipati bread once again. And don't forget the hot chocolate and chai! It's been an incredible 3 days. We miss our families, and are ready for home. But not easy to say goodbye to such a miraculous place.

That night, we're sent off with an incredible lightening storm. Explosions of electricity in the black, black sky shock and thrill us. Before it all hits, Nicola is able to get a few gorgeous shots of the sky. So rich and textured, I'm ready to jump right in. (thank you Nic, for sharing your photographic patience and talent!)

The sounds and lights are a perfect way to celebrate all we've seen, all we've done, all we hope to do.

Thank you sky. Thank land. Thank you rain and light.

Kenya. We will be back.

My non-profit is in the works! Keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Symbiosis and giraffe poop

It rains at night, leaving the Mara even greener than before. Once again, mesmerized by the buffalo, we witness their symbiotic relationship with the ox peckers. Water buffalo function like a big, sturdy mobile restaurant for these birds who constantly peck off the bugs and eat them for lunch. Lucky for these buffalo, even though one seems a bit annoyed when the bird pecks a little too close to his eye!

I look at the elephants in pieces this time, partitioning off each part of their bodies. The curvy trunk, contemplating eyes, the textured canyon of their rough, gray sky. Even isolated, each aspect of the elephant is truly unique. And the sum, such a wise, grand piece of art. (especially the "old lady" elephant we see!)

The savannah is scattered with other remarkable creatures. More zebra, one with cuddly baby (I find zebra so fascinating now. Did you know that they were never domesticated as pack animals because their spine is so fragile? And, as they make their migration with the wildebeest into Serengeti every year, they make the wildebeest go first across the river--watch out for crocodiles! Smart and sassy zebras. Yesiree!) We watch a A Marshall eagle on top of a tree is dive-bombed by smaller water birds who probably have a nest nearby. Herds of the mauve and tan colored topi, a medium-sized antelope, grace the landscape. (and even a disguised cell photo tower off in the distance: see funny looking tree)

Lady luck in Kenya shines brightly on us in Masai Mara. A female cheetah and her six juvenile cubs race across the grassland. The cubs tackle and tumble and sprint all around us, while mom sits and watches the horizon. It's a gorgeous sight to see these sleek, regal cats in all their glory.

Our friend Simon, is an amazing guide and driver with Southern Cross Safaris. He's out with other clients in the Mara, and every day we seem to "run in" to him on the roads. Today, his van is stuck in a huge mud hole from last night's storm. They attach his van to another SUV with a rope, rev the engine and T...U...G... Eventually, his vehicle lurches out of the rut and we cheer!

There a buster--heaviest bird in Africa, warthog, ostrich, wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle, and an oribi--a rare gazelle--another gift from Lady Luck. The Lilac-breasted roller is stunning and we catch of group of mongoose by surprise. Count to three, snap a shot and there gone!

Masai Mara borders the Serengeti in Tanzania. After crossing the Tanzanian border (for 5 seconds,) we stop at the Masai River for lunch. We get out and talk a walk with a young Masai Kenyan Wildlife Ranger (armed with machine gun.) We cruise along the river and spot lots of giraffe (see poop here)and many BIG kiboko, or hippo partially soaking in the water (they come on land at night.) Even with just their tops visible, we can see the shear brute of their bodies (most dangerous animal in Africa) ...and look at that print in the mud! We cross the bridge, and aim for crocodile--and spot two basking in the sun, absolutely still like marble. Our guide talks about his Masai culture. These traditional herders do not eat animals from the wild, only meat from their cattle or goats ("and don't be afraid, but I do drink blood!" he says to us.) With eyes wide, we listen as he explains the process of draining goat blood to drink! Ah! But I love what he says about his life as a caretaker. He grew up as a small child herding the cattle, and now he cares for the wildlife. All his life, he's loved the animals. I get one photo of the ranger in a shot of my son, but he's hidden in the bush. Masai do not believe in getting their pictures taken. I am enamored by this beautiful tribe--their multi-colored beads, the delicated drape of their Masai cloths (red, black, blue checkered patterns,) wrapped around them in striking contrast as they walk with staff in hand across the savannah.

We have lunch surrounded by weaver birds (who eat our leftovers) and Vevert monkeys (who steal the bags right out of our hands and get into the snacks in our vehicle!) I watch a mother grooming her baby--just like a human mom and child. The baby rushes into his mother's arms. We watch the young monkeys compete for our food, often erupting into screams and fits. They're hilarious, and totally bold in their stake for our food.

My son decides he wants to catch a lizard with using a loop of grass to whisk him up into our hands for the traditional "calm the reptile by scratching his belly" technique. Finally, after days of attempts, he gets the loop around an purple and orange agama's neck. Pull! The grass breaks, leaving a noose around the neck. We chase the lizard back and forth until finally, we grab the strip of grass, pull him close and scratch the belly. And it works! I hold him tight, and three hearts race (two human, one reptile.) We let him go and laugh and laugh and laugh... until our guide, Dennis, tells us that "any reptile with color is dangerous!" We make it through another adventure ...

Masai Mara. So much to take in. So many gifts laid out before us.

(Thank you Nicola for donating some of your AMAZING photos!)