Thursday, January 13, 2011

Travel TidBits: Africa

The Journey Start!

After a long flight, we (Lynda and I) arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday evening, 11 Jan 11.  I am finally in Africa!  After so much planning and anticipation, my African journey has begun.  I am in Nairobi, Kenya, currently and will go on to Amboseli National Park tomorrow.  But today I saw my first wildlife:  baby elephants, giraffes, gazelles and warthogs – a very funny looking animal and the thought comes to mind that only a mother can love these creatures.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Just to give you an idea where I am and where I am going over the next 2 months, the arrow on the map point to the places that I will visit.

After a good night’s sleep, the breakfast at the hotel terrace on Wednesday morning was great with delicious Kenyan coffee and all the trimmings one can think about.   The temperatures were mild and a breeze made the leisurely breakfast a great start of our journey.  We had arrived a day early to settle into the new diurnal rhythm (besides having an optimal airfare  J).   Mid morning, we ventured out into the downtown area of Nairobi.  The streets everywhere were crowded and the roads almost impossible to cross.  Traffic is on the ‘wrong’ (left) side and it takes some getting used to reprogramming the mind.  Although not quite as congested, it reminded me of the streets of Kathmandu without the horse buggies.  We found a crafts market and entered to be ‘ambushed’ by the owners of small stalls selling carvings, paintings, local jewelry, all wanting to pull us in:  Jambo, Mama!  Just look!  Everything was a bit dusty, but there were the typical giraffe and animal carvings that we see imported into the US.  There were paintings with bamboo leaves, intricate patterns of lighter and darker leaves put together in a skillful way.  Batik and canvas paintings peaked out interest.  The abstract, somewhat stylistic way of paining is quite attractive and in the end, we each bought a small one after a bit of price negotiation!  We continued walking downtown, amazed at the myriad of cell phone stores, electronic stores offering the latest in gadgets.  Shoes and outerwear stores offered somewhat outdated clothes and window displays all were a bit tired looking to do dusty display.  On the street, we were approached by the typical touts that we had read about all wanting to sell us safaris, and other attractions.  “Please, Jambo, Mama, come and see the Masai craft market – very unique!  You can see how we make the beautiful carvings”.   Initially making eye contact encouraged them to follow us and to talk, entice, persuade.  So we learned fast just to ignore them and walk away.  All of this was done with a smile and in a friendly manner, not too aggressive.  There were very few – almost none actually – white faces in the sea of dark.  Men predominantly wearing Western style clothes with some long-shirt, flowing to the ankle, clad men.  Young women stylish in Western clothes as well as totally shrouded, mostly black-clothed Muslim women, with a few that covered the whole face with eye-slits only in the black head-dress.  Since the Norfolk is located just at the edge of downtown, we walked for about 2 hours looking at store fronts, browsing a little bit, and then returning to the hotel thirsty. 

Today we saw our first wildlife as we visited the Sheldrick elephant ‘orphanage’.  It is so sad that poaching is still continuing in the wildlife areas of Kenya leaving the tiniest of elephants helpless and orphaned.  The Sheldrick Elephant center has 17 orphaned elephants form the youngest of 4 months old to a couple of ~2year old elephants.  These beautiful animals are being cared for 24/7 by caretakers that are around these babies day and night – and even sleep with the elephants in their night enclosures.  Elephants live in a matriarchal family group of adult female elephants and their young.  The baby elephants are born after a 22 months gestation time and nurse with their mothers for 3 years.  In the family unit, mothers, aunties, sisters and grandmothers care for these tiny little creatures and if an elephant baby is orphaned it can’t survive beyond a couple of days.  Here in the orphan center, the other young elephants substitute for the family group and their natural instinct prevails and even the 2-year old females exert matriarchal traits already.  The goal is to release the elephants to the wild at the Tsavo National Park.  Around 2 years old, the youngsters are transferred to a rehabilitation center in Tsavo and are integrated into the family groups of older elephants.  So far, the success of releasing orphaned elephants into the wild has been greater than 60%.

We watched the elephants frolicking in a mud hole and it was delightful to see them rolling in the mud, interacting with each other and as you can see, they were covered from head to toe in the reddish mud. What a wonderful sight to see!
Since the area is part of the Nairobi National Park, we saw our first warthogs – a whole family with 4 tiny little warthogs, some gazelles and some giraffes.


Well, after a glorious day, dinner is calling.  I don't know when I will have Internet access again, but if I do, I'll share more of my adventure with you.
Until then,

Thursday, 13 January 2011