Monday, March 28, 2011

Lions, Cheetahs, and Giraffes...OH MY!

I SO regret not travelling with my zoom VR lens. For this very moment. What was I thinking? Just because I was travelling around the world and did not want the hassle. Stupid, stupid, stupid me. Thus, any zoomed in pics (and lower-quality-looking) are from our point and shoot.

We have just travelled around South and Central Kenya, going on game drives for a real life safari. Masai Mara is the famous game reserve here, which is essentially the Kenyan side of the Serengheti (in bordering Tanzania). Here, they have what they call the Big 5 because to kill those animals one must exert special effort and be courageous. They are the rhinocerous, elephant, lion, leopard, and the buffalo.

And WOW. To see a cheetah in the wild. That was a sleek and memorable sight. She (I think it was a she because of the air of royalty with which she stepped.) was beautiful. And we saw oh so much more. The wildebeest (whose migration by the millions in July-September from nearby Serengheti makes Masai Mara famous), the giraffe, the topi, the hyena, the wharthog, the Thompson gazelle, the waterbuck, the cape buffalo, the eland, the baboon, the impala, the lion, the zebra, the crocodile, and the rare sighting of a black rhinoceros (only 47 remain in Masai).

We also took time to visit a Masai village. Kenya has 42 distinct tribes, and one of the famous ones is the Masai. They are known for never straying from their traditional way of living no matter the land on which they call home. We were greeted by the Chief's sons, and Wilson gave us our tour. Their village has 200 people among only 6 families, with 6 different entrances. Each family has an entrance at which they bury their dead. The village has a medicine man and a midwife for medical care. In fact, the two most common diseases that they must treat are malaria and upset stomach. For that, they use a special tree. The bark is stripped and soaked in water, and the solution is a malaria treatment. The leaves are spicy (we even tasted them) and can be used for stomach issues. The best part? You know how we often talk about the Kenyans and their white teeth, sans Western dental care? Well, they chew on a special tree bark.

The Masai women build the homes while the men build the fences once setting out to create a new village. The homes last about 10 years, whereupon they must settle somewhere else. The reason is that as it rains, the women mix cow dung and water to create a cement-like paste to cover the roof. Over time, the roofs weigh down the home, and their lifespan comes to an end at ten years. The women later return to collect the wood (which forms the structural component) for fire. Oh yeah, speaking of fire. The Masai create fire using friction and wood-a soft and strong wood. They spin the long stick using their hands until the hay begins to smoke and catches fire. We decided Srin has not proven his Masai warrior-ness yet though.

One of the most fascinating traditions is the becoming of a warrior for the men and the skill that must be proven before one can marry. A Masai boy must kill a lion! And numerous men have died doing it. It is in this way that he shows he can take care of himself and his family. The ceremony is extravagant, and he comes through, if victorious, with the tail on a stick and the men following will bare other body parts of the lion as well.

If marriage is the next step, the family must pay a dowry of sorts. In Masai culture, money is in the form of cow ownership. To ask how many cows one has is like asking how rich one is in the West. To marry, it will cost the family around 10 cows. When they need to buy goods, they sell their cows in special Masai markets. And to invest their money, they buy cows. Dressed in their traditional color of red, the Masai were a welcoming host and to learn of their culture was one of my favorite parts of my African trip.

We then travelled to a city about 6 hours away called Nakaru, home to a lake bearing its same name with thousands of pink flamingos, pelicans, white rhinos, a plethora of baboons, and tree climbing lions!

First, the baboons. Those punks are such troublemakers. Five weeks ago, they set fire to the forest, burning acres of it down. Stupid baboons. Now the lions. We were disappointed to not see a leopard, which is apparently more likely to be sighted here than in Masai but really luck manages it all. In fact, we didn't see many animals at all in our two game drives in the national park, save for those silly baboons. But, on our way out, we ran into a pride of tree lions crossing the street to climb...yes a tree! The lions in Masai cannot climb trees (generally, only the leopard can in the cat family). But this is a different species that was born in Tanzania. It was a cool sight.

A real life safari. I think all families should do one. It's hands on learning at any age. And, one of my most shocking moments was entering Nairobi. There is so much talk about it being unsafe and whatnot. But, I felt comfortable the moment I got here. And once you leave Nairobi, it is tourist land. Safety is NOT a concern. And in Nairobi, just use your head. Common sense tells you not to pull money out of your wallet by the wad, don't wear your diamond engagement ring, and just be aware. It is no different than any other place I have traveled. Sure, luck dictates. So I am sure you know someone who knows someone who heard from their uncle about how he got robbed. But, I am pretty sure walking in NYC could give you a similar story.

Isn't this just how you picture Africa, with giraffes lining the horizon?

Other things about Africa. The Kenyans are a good looking population. Seriously. And well dressed. You know how in general people say the Brits are not blessed aesthetically. Well, the Kenyans are. Beautiful, white teeth bared all in earnest, heartwarming laughs. They are happy with a great sense of humor. Also, Kenya is so clean. I was pleasantly surprised to breathe clean air and see no garbage. Oh gosh. How could I forget to tell you about the 5 kgs of weight we must have put on at the safari lodges. First off, they are gorgeous lodges. Secondly, the food was in sheer abundance. And, they are so aware of vegetarianism. They keep the meat separate, and when they say the soup is vegetarian, it means they also do not use meat stock. In fact, at the Lion Hill Lodge in Nakuru, we were introduced to the vegetarian chef in case we needed anything else. If only other countries would get on board. It was fantastic to be able to eat so well!  Lastly, we attempted to do a tour of Nairobi, only to be hindered by the worst traffic we have ever been through.  Due to a comedy of errors (like the Masai Market apparently being closed), we only saw one thing but it was totally worth it!  It is called the Bomas of Kenya, where they show you dances from the 42 different Kenyan tribes.  It was SO cool.

All in all, I hope people forget their pre-conceived notions about safety, etc and just GO TO AFRICA! Well, at least Kenya. So much of Africa is well traveled and tourism (as sad and wonderful as it is) has shaped up much of the continent.

Stepping in two different countries at one time.  Tanzania on the left and Kenya on the right!

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  1. AMAZING! This must have been such a fantastic experience I love that you got so close to so many animals!

  2. I know! It really was surreal...