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“Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.” — Alfred A. Montapert

This is the setting where my friend, Kim, and I, ate our last breakfast in Africa. The setting is Little Governor's Tent Lodge in Kenya. We were up early to take our last game ride through Masai Mara National Park. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Our breakfast table this morning looked out on herons feeding in the swamp that surrounded our tent lodging. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 

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 Souvenirs and Memories Go Home With Me

 

One final serengeti sunset -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Any traveler who doesn’t return from a trip a changed person has taken only half the journey. Step by step, I went the entire distance.” – Pat Bean

African Safari:

So sad, I thought, as the last day in Africa drew to a close. Just as the wildebeest had started their migration, so must we migrate back to our homes in America, for which I truly had new appreciation.

I'll miss Africa's bright colors, and the beautiful faces of the Maasai women. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Or I could write an entire blog about our flight being delayed three hours, leaving us with nothing to do but browse the airport’s souvenir shops because there was no place to sit.

Kim and I both thought this was a well thought-out ploy to make sure tourists didn’t take any money out of Africa, although we willing obliged the shop owners because we both had family and friends back home who expected presents from our adventure.

These things were minor in comparison to the memories we were taking home with us. I’ve been fortunate that during my life I’ve had many fantastic adventures. I’ve paddled down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, visited the Galapagos Islands, which prompted Charles Darwin to write “Origin of Species,” and spent a couple of days on Miyajima, what many consider Japan’s most beautiful island.

Hadada ibis in flight. This was both the first and last bird I saw in Africa. -- Wikipedia photo

This African safari, however, topped them all. As I finally got to lean my head back and relax once we boarded the plane I thought of all the things I would miss. The list included our wonderful guides, educated men who watched over us and showed us the best parts of their country.

I would miss the sunrises and sunsets, and knew that I would understand the next time I read or heard someone talking about Africa’s amazing light. It really does have a special glow to it.

One of the black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater that we did not see. -- Wikipedia photo

And oh how I would miss Africa’s colorful birds. I had added 182 lifers on this trip, the final one being a bronze mannikin flitting around the garden at the Karen Blitz Cottages. I wondered also if there was some hidden meaning in the fact that both the first and last bird I saw in Africa was the hadada ibis. I haven’t figured that one out yet, but for some reason it seems important.

I would miss Africa’s wildlife, much of which is disappearing. Kim and I were told we were fortunate to see it while it was still there. I hate to imagine an Africa without big cats, zebras, elephants, wildebeest, jackals, hyenas and all the rest.

And I'll miss the funny antics of baby baboons that tease and then run back to their big dads for protection. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Just the fact that we saw no black rhinos does not bode well for the future. Where in the 1960s, there were about 70,000 of them, today there are less than 3,000, and they are considered endangered. Their decimation has come about because of their horns. The Chinese want them for their perceived medicinal properties, and the Arabs want them for their elaborate daggers. One the black market, a rhino horn is worth thousands of dollars, too big an incentive for subsistence farmers to resist. 

And I would also miss the cacophony of color that I saw everywhere, from Africa’s red earth to the clashing colors of the robes and clothes worn by the Maasai. I’ve always thought bright colors are joyful, and wondered why so many Americans – definitely  not me – mostly choose to wear drab colors. It’s as if we want to blend into the background and not make a statement about who we are.

Africa awakened new insights in me that will color the rest of my days. Travel, I have learned, is as much about discovering oneself as it is about seeing new sights. Anyone who doesn’t return a changed person has taken only half the journey.

Step by step, I traveled the entire distance. And I want to go back.

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 “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird .. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” Richard P. Feynman

Hippos in the Mara River -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: Busy Morning

Our morning game drive with Joseph started off with a lion chase, always exciting. While I’m not exactly blood thirsty, I was rooting for the lion. The gazelle won, however, and lived to run another day. I wasn’t all that disappointed actually.

We saw our first mongoose, and over 50 hippos in the Mara River, just up a bit from where we made daily crossings to and from our tent lodge. Just how close they were to our camp we would learn later that night when several hippos left the swamp and were wandering through the tent area.

Kim snapped a photo of Dave Richards and me at the end of our bird-watching lunch. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

We were required to stay in the main lodge area, where we saw one of the guards caring a large rifle. It would be only the second gun, and the last one we saw while in Africa. Our lodge hosts said the animals were allowed to come and go and we were simply warned to stay out of their way.

Lunch, after our morning game drive, was a real treat this day. And not because of the excellent food. On checking in I had learned that the lodge had an expert ornithologist on staff and that he was sometimes available for a guided bird tour.

Sadly he was all booked up during our stay, but he had agreed to have lunch with us this day.

My copy of Dave Richard's book.

He was Dave Richards, author of “A photographic Guide to Birds of East Africa.,” which of course I had bought at the lodge’s small gift shop and studied the night before. As promised, he joined us for lunch.

Dave was a small, gray-haired older man who quickly put us at ease. He had great charisma. At one time he had been a safari guide who specialized in birds. He said he tired of that because too many people just wanted to tick off birds.

As a number ticker on this trip, I later told Kim that long-time birders always seem to distain bird listers, but that’s always after they have their achieved their own lengthy lists. Besides, I said, there’s a difference between tickers who are only interested in seeing new birds, and true birders who also enjoy looking at the same birds over and over, even sparrows. I count myself among the latter.

In fact, at this point in our safari, I was as excited to recognize a bird I had seen earlier as I was to find a new one – well almost.

Ross' turaco -- Wikipedia photo

Meanwhile, our pleasant lunch was frequently interrupted as Dave would spot a special bird in the trees or swamp around us, and he and I would go off to look. Kim, who continued her lunch, snapped a few pictures of the two of us with our binoculars pointed up one tree or another.

Our luncheon bird sightings included white-faced whistling ducks, white-browed robin (which sat on a tree right next to our table), spectacled weaver, an da Ross’s turaco.

I had seen one of Richards’ photos of this latter bird in the gift shop earlier. They are truly a magnificent sight. Ours here at the lodge was way up in a tree and without Dave’s help I’m sure I would never have spotted it.

All in all it was one of the best lunches I’ve ever not eaten.

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Above Photo: Masai Mara sunset, Wikipedia

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places … it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof.” – John Muir

Me playing John Wayne in "Hatari" at the Ambolseli Air Strip. Also pictures is Jackson, a member of the Maasai tribe who was nearing the end of his five-year apprenticeship to be a guide. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari: Little Governor’s Lodge

After breakfast, Emanuel drove us the Amboseli Airport, a dirt landing strip with only a sign announcing its purpose, where we were to catch an 8:30 a.m. flight back to Nairobi’s small Wilson Airport.

In reminiscence of John Wayne in “Hatari,” I sat on the fender seat of the Land Rover and drank my coffee while we waited for the small plane to arrive. It was late.

The flight was a replay of the informal flight we had taken to Tanzania on our first full day in Africa, and was repeated again on the connecting flight we took from Nairobi on to the Masai Mara National Reserve, which is the northern end of Serengeti National Park.

Kim on board for the boat ride across the Mara River to get to Little Governor's Lodge. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Our small plane landed on a dirt strip within sight of zebra and giraffes. The smallest airport I had landed in up to this point had been a dirt strip in Smiley, Idaho, but then there had been a small town across the road.

A wart hog visits our tent at Little Governor's. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Here, at the Amboseli airport, there was nothing but wilderness and wildlife. I loved it.

From the airport it was a just a short distance to Little Governor’s Lodge, another tent camp and one where we would sleep for the next four nights. 

To get to the lodge complex, which was on an island surrounded by the Mara River and a swamp, we,took a boat powered by two staff members and a rope, to get across the river. Once across, we were met by a big-stick armed guard who escorted us the quarter-mile to camp.

Other stick-armed guards took us from the main, open air lodge buildings, to our tent, which in any sense of the word was much more than that. It included a large, tiled open shower and a front porch on which we could sit and watch animals across the swamp.

At closer range were wart hogs that roamed the tent complex. Our favorite of these was a mom with a tiny young one. The pair came right up to our porch. What fun, especially after we were told they were harmless.

Wart hogs were funny animals. We often saw them running full speed through the grass with their tails stuck straight up in the air. Then suddenly they would stop, as if they forgot where they were going.

Such behavior assured that they were often the entrée on a lion’s menu.

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“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” – Paulo Coelho

The dining area and lobby at Porini Tent Camp -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: A Full Day

Continuing our full day in Amboseli National Park, we ate a box lunch that had been packed for us in view of a high overlook of the Enkongu Narok Swamp, one of the larger ones in the park fed by Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow melt.

Normally we should have been able to see the mountain, which Hemingway’s book, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” put in literary history. But this day, as it was all the other days we were in viewing distance, it was hidden by clouds.

Water buffalo resting in the tall grass with cattle egrets for company. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

The landscape and wildlife in its shadow, however, was gloriously visible after we had climbed to the top of the overlook. Elephants, hippos, water buffalo, all in significant numbers, all took advantage of the wetland landscape.

Then on our way back to Porini, we watched as a fish eagle, which looks an awful lot like our bald eagle, swooped down and caught a fish. Even the non-birders among us were awed.

Photo by Kim Perrin

Back at camp, we just barely had time for a hot shower before we took off to visit a local Maasai village. This was a less of a showplace than the one we visited in Tanzania, and I suspected it was more of the real thing. Both Kim and I were horrified at all the flies on the young children.

I was the kind of mother who went around with a wash cloth swiping at my kids’ faces, a tradition that continues to this day with my grandkids — to their consternation. I longed this day to have just such a wash cloth in my hand.

Women of the Maasai Village near the Porini Camp. I loved the bright colors they wore. -- Photo by Pat Bean

It might not have been the proper respect to show a different culture, but that’s how I felt. Both Kim and I kept our feelings to ourselves, however, as the children lined up to allow us to pat them on the head as their way of showing respect to their elders.

We were both quite thankful someone in our group had hand sanitizer to share after we had left the village.

It was a quiet group that sat and watched the sun go down later that evening, but the wildlife drive back to camp cheered us all up. Among our sightings was a caracal, which was a rare fine. Our spotter was Jackson, who sat on a seat strapped to the fender of our Land Rover with a spotlight in hand.

Sundowner sunset -- Photo by Pat Bean

Back at camp, however, things seemed not to be quite normal. Grim faces peered at us almost everywhere we looked. We were told that an expected supply truck had broken down on the rough drive to camp and had not yet arrived.

Our Maasai guard, on escorting us back to our tent, asked Kim if she had a flashlight. She thought he wanted it to help guide us to the tent, which he did, but then he disappeared into the night with it, never seen by us again.

Things didn’t really cheer up around the camp until the next morning when the truck finally arrived – and then there seemed to be smiles once again all around. And our breakfast,which had already been served, suddenly became more abundant with fresh fruit.

Our Porini stay was interesting, and we loved our sundowners and wildlife drives with Emanuel and Jackson, but we both agreed it was our least favorite of all the lodges – and not just because it wasn’t luxurious.

We would stay in another tent camp before we left Africa, and that one would be our favorite of all the places we stayed, including our one exotic night spent in a tree-house.

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 “We all have our time machines. Some take us back. They’re called memories. Some take us forward. They’re called dreams.” – Jeremy Irons

Elephants on the move in Amboseli -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: Amboselli

The next morning we were up early for breakfast, served family style in open air tent, and eagerly ready for a day in Amboseli National Park, which was about an hour away from our Porini camp. Our driver was Emanuel, whom I was delighted to discover was more interested in birds than Bilal. I never once had to ask him to stop when one was in sight.

Emanuel, our driver/guide for Amboseli. He was a real birder. Yea! -- Photo by Pat Bean

In fact, even before we left the camp he had pointed out a blue-naped mousebird that I had missed seeing. I knew then it was going to be a great day, like every other day I’d so far spent in Africa.

We were accompanied in the Land Rover by a husband and wife couple, whom I barely remember except that they were pleasant. Kim remembered, when I asked, that he had a lot of expensive cameras and was heavily into photography.

The other person who also accompanied us was Jackson, who was nearing the end of a five-year internship to become a guide. Jackson was a Maasai, and would be one of the very first of his tribe to become a guide.

From a distance hippos looked like big gray rocks, especially since sometimes only their backs were visible in the sunken swamps that dotted the Amboseli landscape. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

While it was an hour’s drive to the park from our Porini camp site, there was plenty to see along the way, including two, then three, cheetahs stalking a gerenuk, which escaped all of them once the pursuit race began.

Our first sighting in the park was a large herd of female elephants migrating across the landscape with a lot of young ones in tow. Following behind was one huge male with a huge desire to sire yet another one.

Amboseli is a Maasai word for salty dust, and refers to the volcanic ash from past Mount Kilmanjaro eruptions. Snow melt flowing down into the landscape here from the mountain makes it an excellent habitat for wildlife, and rarely were we out of sight of the four-legged and winged creatures that call Amboseli home.

Saddle-billed stork catching a fish -- Wikipedia photo

Looking across the savannah, we often saw what at first glance were big gray rocks. In reality they were hippos lazing in the swamp areas of the park. 

Among our more fun bird-watching experiences was watching a saddle-backed stork fight with a snake. The stork won.

We also saw an African jacana walking on lily pads, a jewel colored malachite kingfisher and a squacco heron, which looked an awfully lot like our American bittern.

 Lots of memories were made this day.

Bird Log of new lifers: Lizard buzzard, red-billed hornbill, August 28, 2007,  during the drive to Porini; crested francolin, blue-naped mousebird, crested bustard, black-faced sandgrouse, Fischer’s starling, plain-backed pipit, Fischer’s sparrow -lark, grassland pipit, saddle-billed stork, long-toed plover, common greenshank, malachite kingfisher, African jacana, squacco heron, eastern pale chanting goshawk, pied kingfisher. August 29, 2011, Amboseli National Park. We also saw a sandwich tern, which is a common bird along the Texas Gulf Coast.

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“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chamber. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy.

Dik-Dik -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari: A Kenya Welcome

We joined another couple and their driver for the half-four ride from Arusha to the border town of Namanga, where after a check through customs we met up with Johnson, another Ranger Safaris’ driver. He warned us that we were in for a long bumpy ride to the Porini Camp Lodge, where we were to spend the next two nights.

We were used to a bumpy ride and there was plenty to see along the way, and Johnson was quite knowledgeable about the sights we were seeing. So it all seemed perfectly normal.

Kim emerging from our tent suite, one of only six for safari guests at the Porini Camp. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I even got two more life birds, a lizard buzzard and a red-billed hornbill. The longer we were in Africa, the slower grew my list of new birds. But I was happy because I was beginning to recognize many of the earlier ones now without having to use the field guide every time.

We also saw quite a few giraffe along the way, as well as elephants, zebras, gazelle and a couple of dik-diks, tiny antelopes named for the warning sound they issue when predators are nearby.

The hot water tank for showers in our tent. -- Photo by Pat Bean

When we finally drove up to the Porini Lodge, we were met, as usual, with a wet wash rag to clean the African dust from our face and hands. I noticed my washrag had turned from white to brown by the time I handed it back to a staff worker.

Our lodge, however, was a far cry from the five-star camp complexes we stayed at in Tanzania. Tonight we would be sleeping in tents, albeit one with floors and showers. Hot water for the latter, however, was hauled up in a canvas bag.

A shower would have to wait, however. We had barely gotten into camp in time for the nightly sundowner. This even was a late wildlife viewing drive to a place where we could watch yet another spectacular African sunset.

Two very tired ladies at the end of a long day enjoying their first taste of a Tuskers.

Bone-tired from the long day, Kim and I watched it go down with a Tuskers in hand. While I’m not a big beer fan, this one tasted really good. And the photo someone took of us two with the beers in hand turned out to be another favorite of the trip

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