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 “It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” – Franklin P. Jones

Duma -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: The Power of Words  

In Swahili, the national language of both Kenya and Tanzania, the word for hello is jambo. It was a word we heard frequently, and one we spoke in reply, accompanied by a nod of the head.

I liked the word, and the acknowledgment of human recognition it implied between two people who did not speak a common language.

But on our third morning in Africa, one polite man used two words in greeting me.

“Jambo mama,” he said. Then turned to Kim and simply said: “Jambo.”

I asked Bilal later what that was all about. And he said “mama” was a term used to show respect to elders. While my vanity was a bit hurt, the respect offered me was appreciated. After that Bilal started calling me Mama, too, while Kim remained Kim.

I guess she couldn’t help it that she was 21 years younger than me and still a “hottie.”

Another Swahili word I was already familiar with was simba, meaning lion.

 

Big tembo and little tembo -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Other than those three words, Bilal’s radio conversations in Swahili while talking to other guides out in the field, was a lot of mumbo jumbo, which is a good old English phrase for confusing and meaningless.

Since all our guides spoke excellent English, I never had any reason to use any of the other Swahili words listed in my African travel guide, such as:

Duma, meaning cheetah

Twiga …giraffe

Impala … swala

Elephant … tembo

Kiboko -- Photo by Pat Bean

Mister … bwana

Hippopotamus …  kibuko

Rhino … kifaru

Then there is choo, the word for toilet, and chui, the word for leopard.

I already have a Texas twang that can sometimes be misunderstood, so I can easily imagine myself mispronouncing these two words, and telling someone that I had to use the leopard.

The Swahili word for beer, meanwhile, is prombe.  Kim and I, however, learned to call it Tuskers.

 

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My mind's eye saw this young Maasai girl as one who will face the future unafraid. --Photo by Pat Bean

“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.” – John Ciardi.

African Safari: A Conversation With Bilal

Kim asked Bilal if there were any female guides.

“Some of the other guides do, but I don’t,” he said.

“Huh?” Kim replied.

It seems Bilal thought she had asked him if he ever “visited” girls in the local villages in the evenings when he wasn’t driving us around Tanzania.

His answer when he finally understood the actual question was: “Oh no. They would be too afraid.”

Both replies were telling, I thought.

Our conversations with Bilal revealed a lot more about Africa than what could be seen with the eyes. Of course, we two “uppity” women tried to open Bilal’s eyes as well.

I suspected we were unsuccessful when he laughed in disbelief after Kim told him about our friend, Janice, and my daughter-in-law, Karen – two American women who both hold martial arts’ black belts.

Of course, there are things in life to be afraid of, like hippos that are at the top of the list of Africa's most dangerous mammals. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

“Now those are two women who could even kick your butt,” Kim had said.

But while respectful of our opinions, and us, we could see that Bilal didn’t believe her.

Later, when we were in Kenya, we visited a local Maasai tribe where a couple of the men demonstrated a game played with stones. This time I asked the question: “Do women also play the game?”

The stone game -- played only by men. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

“Oh no. They can’t understand it,” was the response given through our Swahili translator.

My tongue hurt from biting back the retort. We were, after all, guests in another country.

It wasn’t until the Maasai men were demonstrating to us how high they could jump from a standing position that I could once again smile.

A gaggle of young boys were imitating the men – as was one young girl.

She was with the women off to the side, and jumping despite the gentle hand on her shoulder, laid there by one of the women to try to get her to desist.

Perhaps, I thought, she will grow up to be a guide. There was certainly no look of fear in her face.

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 “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

African Safari: From Nairobi to Kilimanjaro

This is a view of Mount Kilimanjaro that Kim and I did not get to see. I post it so as not to disappoint readers, including one who was looking forward to seeing it,. The Wikipedia photo was taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

Our plane to Tanzania from the small Wilson airport on the outskirts of Nairobi was a Twin Otter with single seats separated by a narrow aisle that held much of our luggage. It was a bottleneck one late-arriving passenger had to stumble through to sit down.

The aircraft’s non-uniformed, Anglo pilot, a grin on his weathered face, twisted around and gave us our flight briefing. He ignored the luggage. It was as different from our KLM attendant’s memorized agenda on our flight to Africa, as our scrumptious breakfast at the Norfolk was to the in-flight meal we were served in a paper sack on boarding.

The entire lunch consisted of a slice of zucchini, a slice of carrot and a leaf of lettuce on a miniature hamburger bun.

The meal reminded me of the sign noting that millions of Kenyans lived in poverty that I had seen on arrival in the city. Just how thankful some people would be for just such a meal was impressed even more on me as the plane flew over an area of Nairobi where salvaged crate box homes were crowded on top of one another.

I decided right there and then that there would be no complaints from me during my stay in Africa. Kim had the same reaction.

Meanwhile, my seat near the front of the plane gave me a pilot’s view of the 50-minute flight. I could easily tell I was not flying over the United States. The landscape below lacked the tidy borders of fences, parallel streets and plowed fields that consume Americans’ sense of tidiness.

But by my own personal criteria and desire for adventure, today’s flight was perfect – even though Mount Kilimanjaro was hidden by clouds, both from the air and when we landed at the tiny Kilimanjaro airport near its base.

“Perhaps it will be less cloudy tomorrow,” said our pilot as he bade us good-bye. I think he was more disappointed than his passengers. Kim and I were already thinking about our  next leg of the day’s journey, one in which all traffic rules, if there were any, were broken.

Next Episode: The Chaotic Drive to Arusha

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The Norfolk Gardens

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Ernest Hemingway

African Safari: Rum and Chocolate at Midnight

A hadada ibis. -- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

As late as it was, and as tired as we were, Kim and I weren’t ready for bed when we finally got checked into the Norfolk Hotel. We stood awhile on the balcony drinking in the night air and looking out over a lush garden beneath us.

Then we raided the room’s mini bar, making ourselves a couple of Captain Morgan Jamaican rum and cokes, and toasting ourselves on the adventure we were about to begin. There’s something to be said for not being rich enough to be well-traveled. The excitement of finally getting away to strange and exotic places that once existed only in your dreams is delicious – as was the small box of “Out of Africa” chocolates that we ate with our midnight drinks.

 

We were met in the evening and seen off the next morning by the Norfolks Green clad doorman.

It all felt a bit decadent. But I loved the feeling. .

The next morning I roamed through the hotel, where it seemed the décor and furnishings were of another era. The Norfolk Hotel opened on Christmas day 1904. It is said no other hotel in Kenya captures as much of Nairobi’s past. President Teddy Roosevelt, Lord Baden-Powell, the Earl of Warwick and the Baron and Baroness von Blixen are all part of the Hotel’s history.

And so is Ernest Hemingway. As a writer, I got a thrill peeking into the bar where he is said to have sat for hours at a time. I was only brought back to the present day when I observed a maid talking on a cell phone.

Out in the garden, I saw my first African bird. It was a hadada ibis, and a dozen or so of them were hanging out in the garden’s trees. I identified it using the East Africa bird guide Kim had given me for my birthday earlier in the year.

My second and third lifers (bird species seen for the very first time) were a baglaflect weaver and a pied crow.

I was as eager to see birds as I was to see Africa’s more famed four-legged wildlife. So much so that I occasionally annoying to my traveling companion, who likes watching birds but was more excited about Africa’s four-legged wildlife than its winged species on this trip.

A modernistic wildlife scupture on the University of Nairobi campus. -- Photo by Pat Bean

There’s the possibility I might also annoy my blog readers. It’s a risk I’ll take, however. I came to Africa to see birds every bit as much as to see lions and elephants.

Pied crow -- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Kim joined me in the garden, and we went into breakfast, which included some yummy African sausages that we would eat many times again during our African stay.

Afterward, we took a short walk on the grounds of the University of Nairobi across the street from the hotel. Our stroll was accompanied by a black kite flying overhead, whose sighting I added to my daily bird log.

And then it was off to the small Wilson Regional Airport for our flight to Tanzania to begin our safari for real.

Next episode: A view of Mount Kilimanjaro

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 “Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.” Regina Nadelson

African Safari: The Intrepid Adventurers

Kim, the younger of the African travelers, on one of our yearly adventures to Zion National Park. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Kim and I booked our round-trip flight to Nairobi several months ahead of our August 19 departure date. The cheapest plane tickets we could find were about $1,850 each. By purchasing early we were gambling that the cost of the flight would go up in the coming months and not down.

I think we came out ahead, but I really didn’t bother to check. I was too busy at the last-minute replacing a lost passport (another $125 for expedited service). Of course I found my old passport shortly after I returned from Africa.

Then we followed the instructions the Africa Adventure Company sent to us along with our initial down payment for the trip, the remainder of which was to be paid before our journey began.

This included a yellow fever shot and malaria pills, which were to begin a week before the trip and continue daily through a week after the trip. The tour company took care of arranging for our visas on arrival in Africa.

Of course we had to purchase a few new items of clothing for our safari, and then we had to make sure everything we took for the 16 days weighed no more than 35 pounds. The weight limit was because we would be taking small in-country planes to and from some of our African destinations.

We bought small individual packets of Tide for our laundry and plenty of mosquito repellent. I bought a couple of pair of light-weight cargo pants, an extra battery for my digital camera, and a new pair of sunglasses, which I immediately lost in Nairobi. Kim bought a pair of binoculars for wildlife watching. As an avid birder I was already well equipped in this area.

Me, the old broad half of the Africa travel team, taking a breather on Walter's Wiggles during a hike to the top of Angel's Landing. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Then, in the mail, came an official notice from our State Department alerting us to the fact that travel to Kenya, while not forbidden, was not considered a safe destination. Kim and I both had the same reaction – what a great adventure we had ahead of us.

Neither of us had even a fleeting thought about canceling. Tenaciousness, such as the time we continued to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion even after it started to snow, is one of the few traits the two of us share.

During all these preparations, I was mostly gallivanting around in my RV with Maggie, and Kim, who is quite a few years younger than me, was working hard at her job in Utah.

But as the date for our flight approached, I headed to my middle son’s home in Lake Jackson, Texas, south of Houston, and Kim flew into Houston to meet me there. We had chosen to begin our trip here because I could leave my RV and Maggie at my son’s home, and he had volunteered to take us to and from the airport for our flight to Nairobi.

And the couple of days we had before departing for Africa was a chance for me to show Kim a tiny bit of my native Texas.

Next Episode: The Johnson Space Center

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 “We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving. And we all have some power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing. — Louisa May Alcott

African Safari: The Dream

Frank Buck, a macho "bring-em-back-alive" hunter/explorer, provided the first generation of many of today's zoo animals. He also whet my dreams to visit the dark continent. -- Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

For the most part, I’ve been perfectly happy traveling only where my RV Gypsy Lee will take me. America has the most amazing and diversified landscapes – from Death Valley to the Grand Canyon and the Denali peaks to the Everglades’ river of grass – one can find anywhere.

Perhaps that’s only my opinion, but I’m sticking to it and challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

I’ve driven this country from coast to coast and border to border, finding beauty everywhere I go. People ask me what’s my favorite place, and I’m always hard-pressed to answer because I have so many.

But I also grew up reading Osa Johnson and Frank Buck’s tales of Africa. This dark continent so full of wild animals and mystery called to me. The truth is it called and called for many years before my dream of an African Safari finally became a reality four years ago.

Since this is a travel blog, and since Maggie and I, are currently camped out until mid-September here at Lake Walcott State Park in Southern Idaho, where I’m a volunteer campground host, I’ve decided this is the perfect opportunity for me to share my African adventure with you.

I began planning for the trip three years in advance, first telling my good friend, Kim, my travel plans. She and I, over the years, had already shared many adventures, like battling white-water rapids together and getting lost while four-wheeling up an unpaved, muddy canyon.

Osa's Ark: The plane that Osa Johnson and her husband used to study African wildlife, which she wrote about in "I Married African." Her book lit the fire in my desire to visit Africa. -- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“You’re not going without me,” she responded. And I didn’t.

Together, we decided to do the trip first-class, and for three years we each saved the approximate $10,000 cost that covered airfare, in-country transportation, guides, luxury camping (even in tents), daily safari trips, tips and souvenirs.

After pouring over brochures, we chose The Africa Adventure Company to make all arrangements for us, and our choice of tours was their 16-Day African Journeys’ Safari to Tanzania and Kenya, the cost of which I noted on their website http://africa-adventure.com/ this morning begins at $6,450. It was a bit less back in 2007.

Next Episode: Travel Details. Please journey with me as I relieve, from beginning to end, my African safari.

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The Mara River in Kenya was a favorite hangout for hippos, which are considered one of the most dangerous to life and limb in Africa. This photo was taken from an overview of the river from the safety of a Land Rover.

Photo by Pat Bean

 While in Kenya, I crossed these exotic and potentially dangerous waters, several times daily during a four-day stay at Governor’s Lodge.  Shown here, my friend, Kim, and the boatman, wait for me to come on board before crossing to the other side, where Kim and I will be met by a guard to escort us to our luxury tent accommodations.

Photo by Pat Bean

 The tents come equipped with a large tile shower, another form of water. In the morning, we had to wait for another guard to escort us to breakfast.

One night, we were forced to wait out a couple of hippos who had come to visit our tent site before we could return to it.

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