Friday, March 30, 2012

African Massage

Fifteen hours of African massages and you may feel a bit tired, but what fun I’ve had the last three days zipping around the Masai Mara visiting the various camps and resorts.  Are you wondering what an African massage is? The bouncing around in the safari vehicles, on the dusty dirt road is what makes one call it so.  It's a great adventure to say the least!

My first visit was to Serena Lodge which is about a two hour ride across the park.  We took a bit longer as we stopped quite a few times to capture some great Kodak moments and to watch the animals as they grazed in the open Savannah.  My favourite viewing was seeing the hippos for the first time, and the crocs too! Serena Lodge is located at the top of a hill, overlooking the park and very close to the Mara River.  I enjoyed watching the sunset while the hippos splashed around at the hippo pool, there were at least 50 enjoying the cool water.  Once the sun goes down the hippos make their way out and head for dinner munching on the Savannah grasses. We spent two nights at Serena visiting with friends before making our way back to Fig Tree for our next flight.

The balloons were both full; sixteen passengers in each, twenty one were Canadian! I was there to welcome them with the rest of the crew at 6:15am.  I had the pleasure of being part of the crew for Tuesdays’ flight, this was the first time I had ever followed along on the ground. I was able to capture a lot of great pictures as I watched the two balloons lift off and began the chase with the crew.

Ten minutes into our drive we saw two lions. As I sat just fifteen feet away from the male with our eyes locked on each other. I was wondering what was going through his mind. He was not far from his lady friend who was peacefully still asleep.  We pulled closer to her which did not spook her at all; she continued sleeping but peeked her head up to check us out. After a few minutes of watching her we carried along on our way to follow the balloons.  Moses was a few hundred feet ahead of Kim's balloon and we were chasing to pick up the passengers from Moses's balloon.  We dropped off the crew under the Acacia tree to set up and prepare for the bush breakfast and quickly continued with our African massage to the landing site.  We arrived to sixteen smiling faces, so happy for their experience, one they will never forget.

Later that day, after a quick nap we hopped on the dirt bike, out for another massage, headed to G.G’s restaurant in Talek, a small town just outside the park grounds. Talek is a dusty Maasai town full of business, you can purchase anything you need in this quaint town.  We were driving through on market day. We met up with the owners of Camp Eden, a lovely camp with six tents located along the Talek River.  During lunch Jay and Munir, the owners of the camp were telling us about the excitement they had at camp the day prior. Twelve lions were on their property stalking the buffalo that had been walking around for days.  They made their attack and moved in for the kill, which left Jay and Munir house bound for most of the day.  As I toured their property I saw the remains of the kill; the head, the spine and a few ribs were all that remained, the lions and hyenas had a feast! After a lovely visit we headed back home to Fig Tree Camp. Biking through the small villages along the way the children waved as we passed by. Their way of life is very simple but I noticed how happy they were playing with big smiles on their faces as we rode by.

Wednesday it was off for our next adventure across the park to visit more friends.  Isaac, our driver was great at spotting the animals hiding in the trees. The Marshall Eagle, sitting on the right was a beautiful site to see. There were a ton of Zebras, Giraffe, Antelope and Ostriches as well on the hour and a half drive.  We arrived at Sarova Mara Game Camp; nestled in the jungle you will find a beautiful camp with 75 tents scattered around the natural fresh water ponds.  After a nice visit and a tour of the grounds we headed back to make it for sunset at Sundowner hill, just outside Fig Tree Camp.  I was delighted to find waiting for us some cold beverages and a lovely meal of Kimchee, a Korean delicacy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Getting back to Africa

Sitting waiting for our delayed flight, from Halifax to JFK we sat and enjoyed our lobster sandwiches(thanks Mom!) Destination? Fig Tree Camp in the Maasai Mara. We were to have a five hour wait in JFK airport so the delay did not affect our next two flights. We boarded the American Eagle flight at 2:30pm and headed to New York City. Just a short plane ride away, comfortably seated I wondered if I was going to be able to see the Statue of Liberty as we flew over the city. We landed in Terminal 8, our connection flight departed from Terminal 7, we made our way via the Skytrain. We enjoyed a cocktail at Sam's Beach Bar and Grill and did a bit of work with the free wi-fi from Boingo.
One hour before boarding started for our next segment of the journey we were called to the service desk to confirm that we were at the correct gate for the connection and to identify our bags, it is great knowing ahead of time that your bags are getting on the flight with you! As the line up began and the four hundred passengers boarded I was excited to learn what our flight path would be. The 747-400 is a massive plane, with a configuration on the lower level of three seats with a middle section of four seats and then another three on the right. I've yet to sit in the upper level. 

The service with British Airways was comparable to KLM, which made me happy knowing my next six and a half hours would be in comfort. The pillow, blanket, headphones, toothbrush and toothpaste were laying on the seat. We made ourselves comfortable and five minutes later we were lifting off. Our dinner was a wonderful mixed greens salad to start, I opted for the vegetable lasagna and whole wheat bun. Dessert was a tasty banana cake with cream cheese icing. I could feel a nice long nap coming soon. 

I woke up a few hours later and was delighted we were soon arriving in Heathrow Airport in London. We made our way through customs and security and transferred to our next terminal. With just an hour and a half left to wait we enjoyed sushi for lunch and had a quick nap before heading to the gate. Boarding went quickly as the plane was not full, we both smiled as that meant plenty of room to stretch out for the next eight hours. No sooner then reaching our cruising altitude we were given our meals. Curry chicken and couscous, bean salad, and lemon mouse was the menu this flight! I started a movie and dozed off for a bit, waking as Moses pointed out we were flying over the Sahara Desert. Soon enough were touching down in Jomo-Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, and the heat hit me as the doors were opened and we walked off the plane one to the tarmac. We sailed through customs, grabbed our bags and were greeted by Joel, our driver. Two minute's of being on the highway he had to stop as three Zebra decided to cross the road. In the middle of huge city it was great to be back with animals all around me!

We grabbed a few hours sleep after a few games of pool and nice snack of samosas and wings at a local restaurant. The next morning we learned we had to take the afternoon service to the Mara, flying Safarilink, one of the local commuter airlines. We boarded the twelve seater and our pilot let us know we'd be flying over Lake Naivasha, a large freshwater lake located along the Great Rift Valley, this is our first stop, then to Serena airstrip and onwards to Olkiombo, our stop!

I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the peaceful sanctuary at Fig Tree. The river wraps through the resort with luxury safari tents and cottages positioned all along, a wonderful place to spot many animals. I am so thankful this will be my home for the next two months and I will have the chance to learn the way of life here in the Maasai Mara. My mind is spinning with things to share with my fellow followers!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Journey

When booking clients to East Africa I am often asked “How do I get there?”  My response will vary depending on the clients I am working with.  If budget is a concern then I always search for the lowest possible fare. If comfort is a priority then I recommend Air France KLM, members of Sky Team, which incorporates fifteen airlines working together to offer excellent service.

For my first flight to Tanzania I had the pleasure of making the sixteen hour journey in extreme comfort with the Royal Dutch Airlines. Departing from Toronto on a 747-400 series, this was the first time I was on a plane with 420 passengers.  With two floors the flight attendants have their hands full, although the service they provide was unlike anything I had experienced.  A six hour flight from Toronto to Amsterdam passed quickly with the wonderful selection of entertainment, movies and music to suit everyones taste.  I was very impressed and enjoyed the wonderful meals they served.  During the six hour flight we were given two three course meals and two snacks.  If wine or beer fancies your taste buds you will enjoy the treat without a cost. The service on my next flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro airport was just as wonderful, my favorite was the chocolate ice cream with warm apple pie!

My flight back to Nova Scotia on the red-eye was just as wonderful, collecting my Flying Blue points along the way! The six hour layover in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport passed quickly with two hours spent at the Express Spa, a lovely way to get prepared for the next flight. The many shops and restaurants will keep you busy or you may choose to relax at the Meditation Centre found in the upper level lounge between piers E and F. 

Flying from Amsterdam to Toronto we passed over Greenland, the world’s largest island.  I was in awe at the beauty of the mountains and the spectacular fjords. Touching down in Halifax it was nice to smell the fresh Atlantic air.  My next journey, back to Kenya will take place in just six days.  This time I will travel with British Airways via J.F.K airport in New York and Heathrow airport in London.  I look forward to learning both airports and reading my newest book, The Art of Pilgrimage, during the eighteen hour journey back to the “Garden of Eden!” 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Antelope Play

It has been four and a half weeks of living with the animals here in Tarangire National Park.  I have seen many different kinds of animals and each time I fall in love with them all over again.  Watching and learning how they survive and cohabitate is a wonderful experience that I am grateful for.     

A story that I enjoy sharing with new visitors as we’re floating over the herds is about the Impala, members of the Antelope (Bovidae) family.  When you spot a herd of Impala you will find a group of ten to twenty females with their young and one male standing guard.  Herds of fifty plus are common and males are usually four to six years old before they atain the strength to secure a territory and protect their group of females.  This male is responsible for protecting his “ladies” from cats or any other animals that threaten their existence.  Males or rams will have horns, females are without horns.  The other herds you will notice are the group of males, you often find them practicing for their upcoming battle, the male who protects his group of ladies is their upcoming opponent.  

I often wonder how one male could manage this many ladies and not go a little silly but not to worry he does not have this responsibility for life.  The position normally lasts for three months terms until he is defeated by a younger or stronger male.  Fights between rivals during rutting, otherwise known as mating reason can become very fierce.

As you drive along on safari you will spot many more types of Antelope. The Steinbok, Klipspringer, Bushbuck and Hartebeest are very common to Tarangire. The Eland, known for being able to jump as high as 12 feet are the largest African antelope who make Tarangire National Park their home. The Lesser and Greater Kudu are quite rare but easy to spot with their beautiful distinct markings of white vertical stripes, and don't forget the magnificant Topi, picutered here feeding her young.  Another favorite and the smallest type of Antelope is the Dik Dik.  With extremely sensitive eyesight and hearing they seek cover at the slightest sign of danger.  You will see them pouncing around quickly as you drive by them.  They are named for their ability to alarm other animals of predators with the high pitched whistle alarm calls they make. 
I am excited to now expereince the many heards of the fastest Antelope, the Thomsons Gazelles in Kenya as I make my way to the Massai Mara for two months. I will return to Tarangire  in June for the high season, it will look quite different as all the trees will be bare, the animals will be returning in the masses. Something I'm not sure I can fully imagine yet, I look forward to flying over them all in the balloon!