Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kenyan Safari Part 3

Blog number three about our safari in Kenya. 
Don't worry, this is the last one. 
Some things just seem more extreme in Kenya. 
Like jumping. 
Extreme jumpers. 
We went to a Maasai village that was on the national reserve. It was so incredible. They have such a unique culture. And although it has been slightly tainted by westerners coming into Kenya, they still practice a lot of their original unique culture. The greeted us all at the gate with a song/dance/jump. They don't really sing, but they had a low, guttural groan that acted like their bass line, and then they chanted. Sort of like a gregorian chant, only African style. Extremely interesting. 
They invited us boys to come up and join them in their dance/jump. They draped us in Maasai blankets and we had a great time trying to blend in. We didn't really know what they were chanting, but we were somewhat ok at keeping time. We also had a jumping competition. We weren't very good, but they were adamant that we jump. Dillon was forced to jump at least 5 times. They kept laughing since his jumps were more like small scale prances. Ha! 
They taught us how they make fire with a few sticks and some grass. It was pretty impressive how quickly they could start a fire. We were not as successful. They also took us on a tour of the town. They have a fence built around their homes and the fence is used to keep out wild animals. All the men have herds of cows, goats, or sheep that they tend during the day, and at night they bring them inside the fence to protect them.
Their homes are made out of mud, dung, and sticks. The roof isn't really tall enough to stand up in, but the houses all had several rooms, including one room for guests. The rooms were nothing more than an area to sleep, and normally just had beds made of straw or other soft grasses covered in fabric. They didn't look very comfortable, but I didn't try it out. They have to move every 9 years since termites eat their homes and they only last about 9 years. A very nomadic lifestyle. 
We asked them a lot of questions about gender roles and the village. They send all children to school, but they also have chores they do when they are home. Some kids go to boarding school, while others attend school near the village. There weren't many kids hanging around, and the ones we saw were cooking or carrying firewood. 
We spent a lot of time with the son of the chief. He brought out a lion hat that we all tried on (the boys) that he said was from a loin he killed. According to him, all Maasai men must go out into the bush for 2 years to hunt a lion. They paint themselves with red berries so if they get hurt they can't see the blood. They will spend time with other "exiled" young men, and they must kill a lion before they return. Oh yeah, and they must kill the lion with their bare hands. Our safari guide said that this doesn't happen anymore since lions are protected, but he thinks the Maasai still spend time in the bush as a rite of passage. 
After our tour of the village we spent some time in their artisan market to see some of their handcrafts. It was nice to interact with some of the women from the community since our tour guides were all men. Our campsite was really close to the village, so we walked home with our guide. I loved how open and friendly they were. I wish I would have studied a little bit more about their culture before going so I had more questions to ask. Overall, it was incredibly enlightening and fun to spend time in such a unique village. 

On our last day, we got to finally see a rhino - but of course I don't have any pictures of them. They are very illusive, and our guide was pretty honest with us when he said we probably wouldn't get to see one in just 3 days. But on our last day he spotted a few in the distance. We had to get out our binoculars to see them, but there were two of them walking through patches of tall grass.

We really had such an amazing time getting to see everything we did. We drove around a bunch on our last day trying to see some hyenas... but no luck. But we did see a couple of Maasai guys bathing in a creek. They're not animals, but it was something unexpected. :) And I felt super bad for them. I was standing up in the front of our van when we came over a bluff and saw them in the buff. We were only a stones throw away from them too. But they were pretty calm about the whole thing and took a second or two (two really long seconds) to cover themselves up. In the US we are so private about things like... well, like our privates. But I've noticed in East Africa, people are a lot less sensitive. They kind of remind me of doctors. Like they don't look at the human body as porn, but it is just a body and anatomical differences are to be expected, not hidden away. 
And that note about nudity is where this blog ends. After three extremely long and action packed days on our safari, we headed back to Uganda on the overnight bus. We did stop in Nairobi for a bit and we had some ice cream cones at KFC, but nothing so exciting that it can beat Maasai and rhinoceros. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kenyan Safari Part 2

So in case you missed the first part of my Kenyan Safari blog post, you can check that out here. And if you don't feel like reading it, it basically just says, Africa, animals, safari, blah blah. Pretty much exactly what this post is going to say (just be warned). Oh, and it was full of pictures of animals. Which again, this blog is going to also be full of pictures, but of some different animals. :)
These two beauties were our pals during our safari. Cheetahs are a lot smaller than you would think. Our guide told us that they are brothers, and we saw the pair of them on two separate occasions. This was my favorite interaction between the two - licking each others faces. So tender. :)
The ostriches were so strange to see in the wild. It just seemed so weird that there are actually birds out there walking around Africa. We saw about a dozen of them, and they just walked around calmly pecking at the ground. I wonder if lions eat them, or if it would be too much of a hassle to sort through that many gigantic feathers. 
And it is not just ostriches that are huge. EVERYTHING is huge. They say that everything is bigger in Texas... well Texas has nothing compared to Africa... well except big humans and big mosquitos. Texas wins those two hands down. 
But seriously, how come animals are so big in Africa? Is it like the goldfish effect - bigger pond so bigger fish?  
I guess we also have big animals in the Americas, but they aren't as easy to spot. Grizzly bears, moose, and mountain lions live in the forest, so they aren't as easy to spot. We went absolutely crazy over the elephants when we first spotted them. They were so adorable, especially the babies as they followed the moms around, holding onto their tales with their trunks.  
Like I mentioned in the first part of this blog, there are the big five game animals in Kenya - and we got to see all five. The cape buffalo was great because it looked like it had pigtails. Aren't the horns so great? And of course, it had a little friend riding on its back, eating all of the bugs on it. We also saw a pair of lions our first day. A lioness and her teenage son. They were chilling in the shade (actually all the predators were all about the shade). 

There weren't just animals made famous in the Lion King either. There were a handful of crazy animals that we couldn't even handle. Like this bird on top of a tree. It looked like he was wearing a pair of black capris. We also saw animals called dik dik, which are like a mini little deer. Like really little. Almost the perfect size for your home.  Most of the time when I thought about an African safari, I focused on giraffes, elephants, lions, and zebras, but there are so many animals that we completely ignore.

 After the first day, I seriously felt like we had seen more than I expected. There are so many animals everywhere. It was a dream come true.  Sunset on the African savannah? Yes, please. 
And we were seriously exhausted after a full day of driving around. Ins't our ride the best? I loved having a pop-up top. We tried to stand up for a bunch of it, and some of our group even tried to go for a while without holding on. Very difficult... and dangerous. Those roads out in the bush are treacherous.  
On our second day, our van broke down. First day was a flat tire, second day was a... well we don't really know what happened. But we got to get out of the van and wander around a bit. Our driver didn't let us go very far, but we did manage to sneak a few jumps in.  
While we were stranded, Caitlin and Whitney even tried to herd some zebra. They didn't get super close (although they ran pretty hard toward them). I guess the zebra are used to escaping from oncoming predators.  
And it was March 14, so we had to take a picture with some sort of pie. We're not sure what type of animal this one came from, but it was the closest we could come to chocolate cream. Ew. Sorry, that was disgusting. But seriously, it was pi day. We had to do something to celebrate.  
One of our favorites were the warthogs. They were so much fun to watch. When they run, they put their tails straight in the air. Not sort of in the air, but like a car antenna in the air. And they tend to run in a straight line. It made me love Pumba so much more. 
We drove right into a herd of wildebeest. Those are some of the ugliest animals I've ever seen. Our guide said that they say it was the last creature that god made since it has parts from all other animals put together into one. He has buffalo horns, a tail like a lion, goat legs, zebra stripes, cows body, etc. They really are bizarre looking. And there were millions of them. Our guide had no fear and we drove right into the middle of the herd. It would have been crazy had they began to stampede - which we also saw one of those on our way out of the reserve on our last day. Thousands of wildebeest stampeding. They were a big ball of dust and loud clomping of hooves. We were driving parallel with a fence in between us, so we were safe. Still, it was pretty insane to see such a powerful group of animals.  
We also got to see a lion eating a wildebeest. It was absolutely disgusting, but so fascinating. While we were watching this lovely lady chow down on her lunch, we all of a sudden started driving away at top speed. Since we were all standing and taking pictures, we bounced around in the van while trying to find our seats. We kept asking where we were going, honestly thinking that we were going to watch another lion take down an animal. But it turns out that we were doing something illegal, and our guide had received a tip off on his CB radio that the game police were on their way over. So he told us that if anyone asks, we hadn't seen a lion. Ha! 
After a bit, we were able to go back and watch her gut this poor guy. It is really interesting, they rip out all the guts and eat those. I would've thought they would eat the muscles, but they favored the gizzards. Strange.  
We also saw more herds of elephants, and we even saw a jaguar (which is super elusive). He was up in a tree, but when we came close, he came down and ran through the grass to get away from us. We wanted to see him so bad, but he was on the shy side.  
We had the chance to see two male lions and a handful of lion cubs as well. These two put on quite the show when they decided to mate in front of us. They really had no shame. That is something none of us had on our safari bucket list, but something I don't think I will ever forget. I took a picture of it, but since I don't know the age of my blog viewers, I decided to omit it. Plus, I don't think Caitlin would be very happy to find it later. :)
And last for this blog, we saw hippos! Yes, they kind of look like a bunch of logs, but they are there. They are so big and kind of like pigs mixed with cows... but an African breed. They didn't move at all, and they didn't really make a lot of noise, but when they did move (one attacked another) it was super quick. And when they did make noise, it was kind of terrifying. Low and deep grumbles. Kind of like a pig/cow. Seriously, that is the best definition I can come up with. I didn't think I would be very impressed with these creatures, but they were one of the highlights of the trip for me. 

Anyway, that is where I'm going to leave off on this blog. Next time I'll talk about our time in the Maasai Mara village. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kenyan Safari Part 1

So back when we were on the other side of the globe, we decided we needed to go on a safari. After all, how many people get to see African animals in Africa. I mean, seriously. This seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. 
We researched a handful of safaris, but really wanted to go to Kenya and explore a bit, so we decided to do a safari on the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya. And since we took so many pictures during our time there, I'm going to break this post into a few blogs, rather than overwhelming our highly neglected blog with thousands of pictures.
We had very little time to spend in Kenya, so we decided to do overnight busses. I would highly recommend doing this if any of you are making a trip from Uganda to Kenya. Although you do not get a ton of sleep on the bus, I would much rather spend a night on a bus than a day. We had to walk across the border (of course) and had to take a quick picture at the Welcome to Uganda sign. We didn't take anything like that at the airport. 
When we got to the bus station (around 4 or 5 in the morning), our safari guide came to pick us up and take us out. We stopped at the Great Rift Valley, which is basically a big rift that runs from Jordan to Mozambique. It is basically Kenya's version of the Great Valley from the Land Before Time. In the Great Rift Valley you can find the "Big 5" - which are the big mammals that are most difficult to hunt on foot (which I didn't know until I read the Wikipedia article). It is the African elephant, leopard, African lion, rhinoceros, and cape buffalo. We got to see all of these animals on our safari. :)
We stopped by the Mai Mahiu Catholic church that was built during World War II by Italian prisioners of war. It was tiny. Seriously tiny. It would only fit a handful of worshipers inside (like 10-20 max). But the outside was absolutely gorgeous. The details were intricate, and the grounds were really well kept. I loved the windows, since they were pieced together from old glass bottles. 
Something else that was great about this church was that it gave us a chance to walk around. We had been in a bus/car for so long that we were dying to explore a little bit.
The grounds were really small (just like the church) but we took advantage of the delicious Kenyan weather and soaked up a bit of sun. 
And then we kept driving to the reserve.
As we are approaching the reserve, we see this.
Seriously one of the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Both Caitlin and I have been in love with giraffes since we were little. I think Caitlin nearly peed her pants. She was jumping up and down in her seat. And this guy was just standing there, like a sentinel at the gates to our safari. He just stared us down for a while, hardly moving. We thought he may have been a statue at first since he wasn't moving, but he was 100% real. The grace and elegance of giraffes never wore off during our time in Kenya. 
After seeing this beauty, we kept going toward our campsite. Oh yeah, did I mention that we were camping? It was so cool. We had a great campground with beds in our tents and hot water. Real hot water. What a luxury. But before we got there, we had to deal with a flat tire. 
Dang. Totally sucks, right? 
We were in Kenya. Nothing could ruin this trip for us. 
So we just got out and watched our driver change our tire. It was pretty impressive since he didn't have a car jack. He just rolled it up onto a rock and did a quick change (less than 10 minutes). And we had a Maasai guy come up and try and chat with us, although he didn't speak any English, so we just watched our driver do his fascinating tire change. 
Once we got to our campsite, we had some tea and relaxed for a few minutes before heading out into the savanna. As Caitlin and I were walking to get some tea, we heard a rustling in the distance and looked over to see some baboons digging through the trash pile from the campsite. How crazy, right? The people at the campsite urged us to keep our tents closed and zipped all the way since the monkeys (baboons) will get inside and trash the place. Why are monkeys so insane? After our incident in Nicaragua and hearing about these baboons, I can't say that I trust those little devils.   
As soon as we left our camp we started to encounter a ton of animals. Literally right outside of our camp. There were a tons of baboons, and then we spotted zebras, gazelle, impala, etc. So many animals. We were going insane with pictures. 
But how could we not go crazy with pictures? We were seeing these animals in. the. wild. 
We compared so much of our experience to the Lion King. We sang/hummed/whistled Lion King songs for the entirety of the trip. But we really couldn't help ourselves. When you see a wildebeest stampede, or a family of warthogs, it brings back all the Lion King childhood memories within you. 
Our guide was great and would tell us the names of all the animals (most of which I've forgotten). He was also able to spot animals that were hiding in the bush that we could barely see. I don't know how he could do that while keeping his eyes on the road. He also went at our pace so we could spend as much time as we wanted taking pictures with animals or just gawking at them.
And of course, our group was amazing. We had so much fun together. Since there were seven of us, we were able to have our own private transportation. And the top of our van popped up. I loved it. It felt like we were cruising around in pimped out minivan. 
Some things about our safari seemed like a dream. Exactly like you picture it in your head. The trees for example. We couldn't get over the fact that they were African trees. Of course, we had been in Africa nearly 2 months by the time we went on our safari, but they were different. Solo trees with a handful of animals basking in their shade. Definitely dreamlike.  I'm sure I'll continue to rant about some of these things in future posts, but for now I just wanted to mention how much of a dream everything felt like, and I'm sure anyone who has had a similar experience can attest to that. Stay tuned for Part 2.