Category: Africa (Page 1 of 3)

Cats, Cameras, and Caring Less

So it’s “BIG CAT” week at National Geographic. As much as I’d love to say “big deal’, I do hold a certain fascination for these creatures, and I respect those photographers and filmmakers who spend weeks and months with the big cats to fill a good hour episode. I watch with awe and envy. I know what goes into every frame, and what it takes to get the shot that tells the story.

My own experience with cats and cameras, however, is not so glamorous. I’ve spent some time on safari and have learned a great deal about these cats, and I can tell you this much –

Cats couldn’t care less about cameras. They couldn’t care less about people with cameras, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat person with the camera, or a filmmaker, or an idiot. The cat couldn’t care less.

I have many friends who are cat people. They post silly pictures on facebook of their cat asleep in the sun or looking pissed off about something. When I go to their homes, I am overwhelmed with smell of cats. The cats, however, are nowhere to be seen, they couldn’t care less that I’ve arrived after a long absence. They couldn’t care less about a lot of things, and well, cats are just like that.

I’m not really a cat person in my every day life. When I come home from my travels, I actually like to know I’ve been missed. The pets I own physically rush to the door, wag their tails like helicopters, and smother me with affection. They’re called dogs. There is no doubt in my mind how they feel about me. They care.

I can appreciate cats, however, especially if they are really big and live in the wild. When I observe cats in the wild through the lens of my camera, even the smell doesn’t bother me. I watch long enough, and soon find myself reading their every thought (click). I get into their minds (click), and really connect in ways that I never experience with other people’s kitty cats (click, click, click). And you know what I’ve learned? Cats couldn’t care less. (delete, delete, delete).

Cats love to torment (click). Cats love to play games (click, click). Exactly what they gain from these games is nothing more than the satisfaction of having proven that they care not about anyone or anything other than themselves (delete). They certainly don’t care if I’ve got the right lens on (delete), or need to change the battery (delete), or only have 3 frames left on the memory card (delete all? press OK to confirm).

Hang on, cats. I’m not going to let you off that easy. I can still get in your mind through my lens, remember? My camera is able to freeze a split second of your life, and even though in every frame your “I couldn’t care less” subtext remains clear and consistent, there can be more to the story, and more to reading your thoughts, too. Well, at least this much more: “it’s all about me.”

Case and point: During a recent safari in the Maasai Mara, we happened upon a pair of lions laying in the grass. While the male was lost in his “all about me” thoughts, the female quite clearly “couldn’t care less” about the male; she had something else on her mind.

With absolutely no concern for the fact that I still had a telephoto lens stuck to my camera, the lioness came right to the tree which stood literally within arm’s reach of our vehicle.  She could care less about the vehicle being there, and she could care even less that I was fumbling for a different lens in anticipation of what she might do next.  Nope, she showed no consideration whatsoever, it was “all about her”, and up the tree she leapt.


Tree Climbing Lion – Sequence by Kymri Wilt

Turns out this was more than just a display to express how much she didn’t care about my getting the shot with the right lens. At least, up in the tree, she was again distant enough that I could fit the cat entirely in the frame. She made quite a show of finding just the right spot to settle.

“now what….”

Remember what I mentioned earlier? That bit about cats loving to torment and play games? Turns out that is exactly what she was up to. I mean, why else would she bother fighting gravity to get herself up in that tree?

“oh good, this’ll show him….”
“I don’t care that it’s extremely uncomfortable…I look good”

Well yes, lioness, of course you look good…you’re in a tree and surrounded by wildlife paparazzi! But I have news for you, dear cat. As far as my camera is concerned….it’s not “all about you”.
Cue the male.

“WTF???!!!”
“That B*#@%!!!!”

The photos tell the story. Cats couldn’t care less. Cats love to torment. Cats live in an “all about me” world. But maybe, just maybe, they might actually care that there’s a camera around.

“Are you looking at moi??”

CAUGHT!

More about cats:

Killer Cats of Kwandwe

Tharu, Rice, Tigers, Grass

African Wildlife Photo Gallery

Dedicated to the memory of Sacha, a cat who exemplified the essence of caring less. 

Cats, Cameras, and Caring Less

So it’s “BIG CAT” week at National Geographic. As much as I’d love to say “big deal’, I do hold a certain fascination for these creatures, and I respect those photographers and filmmakers who spend weeks and months with the big cats to fill a good hour episode. I watch with awe and envy. I know what goes into every frame, and what it takes to get the shot that tells the story.

My own experience with cats and cameras, however, is not so glamorous. I’ve spent some time on safari and have learned a great deal about these cats, and I can tell you this much –

Cats couldn’t care less about cameras. They couldn’t care less about people with cameras, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat person with the camera, or a filmmaker, or an idiot. The cat couldn’t care less.

I have many friends who are cat people. They post silly pictures on facebook of their cat asleep in the sun or looking pissed off about something. When I go to their homes, I am overwhelmed with smell of cats. The cats, however, are nowhere to be seen, they couldn’t care less that I’ve arrived after a long absence. They couldn’t care less about a lot of things, and well, cats are just like that.

I’m not really a cat person in my every day life. When I come home from my travels, I actually like to know I’ve been missed. The pets I own physically rush to the door, wag their tails like helicopters, and smother me with affection. They’re called dogs. There is no doubt in my mind how they feel about me. They care.

I can appreciate cats, however, especially if they are really big and live in the wild. When I observe cats in the wild through the lens of my camera, even the smell doesn’t bother me. I watch long enough, and soon find myself reading their every thought (click). I get into their minds (click), and really connect in ways that I never experience with other people’s kitty cats (click, click, click). And you know what I’ve learned? Cats couldn’t care less. (delete, delete, delete).

Cats love to torment (click). Cats love to play games (click, click). Exactly what they gain from these games is nothing more than the satisfaction of having proven that they care not about anyone or anything other than themselves (delete). They certainly don’t care if I’ve got the right lens on (delete), or need to change the battery (delete), or only have 3 frames left on the memory card (delete all? press OK to confirm).

Hang on, cats. I’m not going to let you off that easy. I can still get in your mind through my lens, remember? My camera is able to freeze a split second of your life, and even though in every frame your “I couldn’t care less” subtext remains clear and consistent, there can be more to the story, and more to reading your thoughts, too. Well, at least this much more: “it’s all about me.”

Case and point: During a recent safari in the Maasai Mara, we happened upon a pair of lions laying in the grass. While the male was lost in his “all about me” thoughts, the female quite clearly “couldn’t care less” about the male; she had something else on her mind.

With absolutely no concern for the fact that I still had a telephoto lens stuck to my camera, the lioness came right to the tree which stood literally within arm’s reach of our vehicle.  She could care less about the vehicle being there, and she could care even less that I was fumbling for a different lens in anticipation of what she might do next.  Nope, she showed no consideration whatsoever, it was “all about her”, and up the tree she leapt.

Turns out this was more than just a display to express how much she didn’t care about my getting the shot with the right lens. At least, up in the tree, she was again distant enough that I could fit the cat entirely in the frame. She made quite a show of finding just the right spot to settle.

“now what….”

Remember what I mentioned earlier? That bit about cats loving to torment and play games? Turns out that is exactly what she was up to. I mean, why else would she bother fighting gravity to get herself up in that tree?

“oh good, this’ll show him….”
“I don’t care that it’s extremely uncomfortable…I look good”

Well yes, lioness, of course you look good…you’re in a tree and surrounded by wildlife paparazzi! But I have news for you, dear cat. As far as my camera is concerned….it’s not “all about you”.
Cue the male.

“WTF???!!!”
“That B*#@%!!!!”

The photos tell the story. Cats couldn’t care less. Cats love to torment. Cats live in an “all about me” world. But maybe, just maybe, they might actually care that there’s a camera around.

“Are you looking at moi??”

CAUGHT!

More about cats:

Killer Cats of Kwandwe

Tharu, Rice, Tigers, Grass

African Wildlife Photo Gallery

Dedicated to the memory of Sacha, a cat who exemplified the essence of caring less. 

Our African Wedding Story

November 25 marks the anniversary of a dream come true. This is the story of our African wedding as it unfolded in the pages of my hand-written travel journal. 

November 24, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.  Full Moon.

Fur blankets drape a king size bed in the Kimba Suite with glass doors overlooking Ngorongoro Crater. The moon is full and bright, and the lake below glows silver in her reflection.  We are on the rim, 8,500 feet up, and below is a vast caldera crawling with wildlife. This place is spectacular.  There are simply no other words to describe it.

[Earlier in the day, we had stopped at a rest point overlooking the crater. As I took in the view and held back tears of joy that I was actually here, my fiancé informed me that this is where we will get married. Not next year…..but tomorrow! He left only one small detail of planning up to me. What time. Since we had a full day wildlife safari scheduled and I didn’t want to miss one moment of it, my decision was easy. Sunrise.]

November 25, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.     OUR WEDDING DAY!!!

As the sun rose and crept over the opposite rim of the crater, we were whisked off escorted by Shawnab, Francis and Shaibu. The moment we emerged from our room, Shawnab took my camera bag and handed me flowers. The other cameras flashing as we walked through the lobby was the sign of a very special event, which I soon came to realize was our wedding.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just what a production this would be. Apparently we were the first non-Maasai to get married at Ngorongoro Crater, and the first wedding of any guests to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge.

We were escorted out to the jeep with colorfully dressed hotel employees following and surrounding us, then we all piled into jeeps and drove by caravan to the beautiful large fig tree which stands tall and majestic on the rim of the caldera. Visible from most parts of the crater, this tree would mark the location of our very special event.

We arrived at the spot which was still embraced in fog. As the gentle early morning winds nudged up the crater wall, the fog lifted and revealed the incredible setting for our ceremony.

For the wedding party, I was accompanied by three beautiful women in colorful Swahili dress, and my groom was accompanied by three handsome men also in traditional Swahili attire. Waiting at the site to welcome us with song, the local Maasai villagers!  We were introduced to the magistrate – a small man who had traveled by foot from his village to officiate our wedding. Knowing we were westerners, he had dressed in his very best western attire for the occasion – denim blue jeans, a red holiday sweater, and a Reebok basecball cap.

It all happened so quickly, full of colors and sounds and songs and smiles.  And languages! The magistrate first spoke in his tribal language, which Killian then translated to Swahili for our witnesses, and then in English for us.  As he handed us the certificates, he explained…

“There are three types of marriages: one that is monogamous, with one; one that is polygamous, with many; and one that is potentially polygamous, the first of many. You must declare which type of marriage you are making here today.”

Giggles and laughter ensued, as we gave considerable thought to “potentially polygamous”,  just for kicks, knowing that it would only translate into one type of marriage back home. We marked the box, signed our names, exchanged vows, kissed, and toasted with champagne. All the while the cameras flashed and every one in attendance seemed to have a Swahili blessing to shout out! But the recurring word “paparazzi” strewn throughout the Swahili words was unmistakable, followed by buckles of laughter – apparently the hotel manager took great pride in being asked to take pictures with my camera for us.  Had we understood more Swahili, we’d probably have been laughing a whole lot more, but as it was, we could not keep from wearing ear to ear grins. My cheeks are still hurting.

After the signing, vowing, and legalities were done with, we were presented with gifts from the Maasai guests. I was adorned with a beaded bracelet, and my husband a beaded necklace to wear, indicating he is married. Then I was handed a stick which only married women can carry. My husband was also given a stick, more of a beaded club, which he was to use for cattle raids. Then I was presented with a gourd, decorated with beads and a leather handle.  They explained that this is used to hold blood and goat’s milk to “nourish little ones.” Thankfully, I was not expected to drink it until “later….when it is time…..”

The cake arrived, and we managed to cut small pieces to exchange…but chewing it was another feat. Then a breakfast buffet awaited, with the hotel chef preparing eggs to order, and everything from cereal to fresh fruits to coffee. We could barely eat with all the excitement, not to mention everyone watching our every move and taking pictures…our wedding paparazzi party.

After breakfast, the Maasai continued with celebratory song. The men wore red kangas and had elaborately decorated earlobes and necklaces around their necks. The “elder”male leading the group had tinges of red henna in his hair. For the most part, they all stood around leaning on their sticks. The females were much younger – it seemed only the unmarried girls were allowed to attend. They sang beautifully; it was as if the melodic voices rang out from their hearts, as their faces and lips barely moved at all. They wore around their necks wide beaded disk necklaces, which flapped up and down to the beat of the men’s drumming. Strings of beads adorned the girls’ foreheads.

I felt truly honored that these were our wedding guests, who had allowed us to marry on their sacred land of the Ngorongoro Crater next to the giant ancestral fig tree. We were, in fact, their guests. And what an honor it was. A very special honor for which we were extremely grateful.

The wedding party escorted us back to our jeep, which they had cleverly decorated with a “JUST MARRIED” sign on the back window.  Brilliant. They all squeezed into the back of the jeep with us, on laps and in bundles, singing a traditional wedding celebration song, including each of our names in the verses.  A few remaining staff chased the vehicle waving palm fronds, singing, and laughing. It was so joyous, we were surrounded with music, smiles, and positive wishes and energy.

Upon arrival back at the Serena Lodge, EVERYONE was standing outside to welcome us as husband and wife. The Maasai danced again, creating a directional path for us to walk while onlookers cheered and took pictures. We felt like royalty.  After a few steps I could no longer contain myself, and the tears began to flow – tears of overwhelming happiness and gratitude. 

We were lead, escorted, and followed by the bouncing Maasai, the singing hotel staff, and the colorful wedding party attendants to the lobby, where even more hotel guests watched and congratulated us. We sat to sign the guest book as “Mr. & Mrs.” while the young Maasai girls bounced and sang behind us. Then the entire party lead, escorted, and followed us back to our Kimba Suite, bouncing so heavily that there was concern the board planks of the walkways might break! At last we reached our door, where we turned and thanked everyone with hugs, teary eyes, and endless “Asenteni” (thanks). 

What happened once we closed the door was just priceless. A split second of silence, broken by a giggle, joined by some snickering, growing into roars of laughter, then bursting loudly into song.  It seemed the ceremony was to involve one more element, for which they felt thundering song, drums, dancing and voices RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR would be most conducive…..

We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Who knew that changing batteries, loading rolls of film, cleaning lenses and packing filters for a full day safari in the crater would be such a festively celebrated activity?! 😉

[The End of the story…the wedding story, that is. But the heartfelt gratitude endures and grows with each passing year. I never lose sight of the blessings in my life and my travels, and though years may fade the pages of the journal, they add glue to the binding.]

THANK YOU for reading my story, and sharing in the joy, wonder, and appreciation of a dream come true, a dream made possible by people in a far away land.  Gratitude means counting my blessings, big and small, extraordinary and ordinary….and I have far too many not to pass along, share, and give back in whatever way I can.

This year,  I will again be participating in the travel blogger’s fundraiser event, Passports With Purpose. The funds we raise are going to make a big difference to the lives of people in a far away land, with the building of two libraries in Zambia through a partnership with Room to Read. Full details are forthcoming, meanwhile….

Here’s wishing you a heart full of gratitude for blessings big and small, on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Asante sana.

Our African Wedding Story

November 25 marks the anniversary of a dream come true. This is the story of our African wedding as it unfolded in the pages of my hand-written travel journal. 

November 24, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.  Full Moon.

Fur blankets drape a king size bed in the Kimba Suite with glass doors overlooking Ngorongoro Crater. The moon is full and bright, and the lake below glows silver in her reflection.  We are on the rim, 8,500 feet up, and below is a vast caldera crawling with wildlife. This place is spectacular.  There are simply no other words to describe it.

[Earlier in the day, we had stopped at a rest point overlooking the crater. As I took in the view and held back tears of joy that I was actually here, my fiancé informed me that this is where we will get married. Not next year…..but tomorrow! He left only one small detail of planning up to me. What time. Since we had a full day wildlife safari scheduled and I didn’t want to miss one moment of it, my decision was easy. Sunrise.]

November 25, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.     OUR WEDDING DAY!!!

As the sun rose and crept over the opposite rim of the crater, we were whisked off escorted by Shawnab, Francis and Shaibu. The moment we emerged from our room, Shawnab took my camera bag and handed me flowers. The other cameras flashing as we walked through the lobby was the sign of a very special event, which I soon came to realize was our wedding.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just what a production this would be. Apparently we were the first non-Maasai to get married at Ngorongoro Crater, and the first wedding of any guests to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge.

We were escorted out to the jeep with colorfully dressed hotel employees following and surrounding us, then we all piled into jeeps and drove by caravan to the beautiful large fig tree which stands tall and majestic on the rim of the caldera. Visible from most parts of the crater, this tree would mark the location of our very special event.

We arrived at the spot which was still embraced in fog. As the gentle early morning winds nudged up the crater wall, the fog lifted and revealed the incredible setting for our ceremony.

For the wedding party, I was accompanied by three beautiful women in colorful Swahili dress, and my groom was accompanied by three handsome men also in traditional Swahili attire. Waiting at the site to welcome us with song, the local Maasai villagers!  We were introduced to the magistrate – a small man who had traveled by foot from his village to officiate our wedding. Knowing we were westerners, he had dressed in his very best western attire for the occasion – denim blue jeans, a red holiday sweater, and a Reebok baseball cap.

It all happened so quickly, full of colors and sounds and songs and smiles.  And languages! The magistrate first spoke in his tribal language, which Killian then translated to Swahili for our witnesses, and then in English for us.  As he handed us the certificates, he explained…

“There are three types of marriages: one that is monogamous, with one; one that is polygamous, with many; and one that is potentially polygamous, the first of many. You must declare which type of marriage you are making here today.”

Giggles and laughter ensued, as we gave considerable thought to “potentially polygamous”,  just for kicks, knowing that it would only translate into one type of marriage back home. We marked the box, signed our names, exchanged vows, kissed, and toasted with champagne. All the while the cameras flashed and every one in attendance seemed to have a Swahili blessing to shout out! But the recurring word “paparazzi” strewn throughout the Swahili words was unmistakable, followed by buckles of laughter – apparently the hotel manager took great pride in being asked to take pictures with my camera for us.  Had we understood more Swahili, we’d probably have been laughing a whole lot more, but as it was, we could not keep from wearing ear to ear grins. My cheeks are still hurting.

After the signing, vowing, and legalities were done with, we were presented with gifts from the Maasai guests. I was adorned with a beaded bracelet, and my husband a beaded necklace to wear, indicating he is married. Then I was handed a stick which only married women can carry. My husband was also given a stick, more of a beaded club, which he was to use for cattle raids. Then I was presented with a gourd, decorated with beads and a leather handle.  They explained that this is used to hold blood and goat’s milk to “nourish little ones.” Thankfully, I was not expected to drink it until “later….when it is time…..”

The cake arrived, and we managed to cut small pieces to exchange…but chewing it was another feat. Then a breakfast buffet awaited, with the hotel chef preparing eggs to order, and everything from cereal to fresh fruits to coffee. We could barely eat with all the excitement, not to mention everyone watching our every move and taking pictures…our wedding paparazzi party.

After breakfast, the Maasai continued with celebratory song. The men wore red kangas and had elaborately decorated earlobes and necklaces around their necks. The “elder”male leading the group had tinges of red henna in his hair. For the most part, they all stood around leaning on their sticks. The females were much younger – it seemed only the unmarried girls were allowed to attend. They sang beautifully; it was as if the melodic voices rang out from their hearts, as their faces and lips barely moved at all. They wore around their necks wide beaded disk necklaces, which flapped up and down to the beat of the men’s drumming. Strings of beads adorned the girls’ foreheads.

I felt truly honored that these were our wedding guests, who had allowed us to marry on their sacred land of the Ngorongoro Crater next to the giant ancestral fig tree. We were, in fact, their guests. And what an honor it was. A very special honor for which we were extremely grateful.

The wedding party escorted us back to our jeep, which they had cleverly decorated with a “JUST MARRIED” sign on the back window.  Brilliant. They all squeezed into the back of the jeep with us, on laps and in bundles, singing a traditional wedding celebration song, including each of our names in the verses.  A few remaining staff chased the vehicle waving palm fronds, singing, and laughing. It was so joyous, we were surrounded with music, smiles, and positive wishes and energy.

Upon arrival back at the Serena Lodge, EVERYONE was standing outside to welcome us as husband and wife. The Maasai danced again, creating a directional path for us to walk while onlookers cheered and took pictures. We felt like royalty.  After a few steps I could no longer contain myself, and the tears began to flow – tears of overwhelming happiness and gratitude. 

We were lead, escorted, and followed by the bouncing Maasai, the singing hotel staff, and the colorful wedding party attendants to the lobby, where even more hotel guests watched and congratulated us. We sat to sign the guest book as “Mr. & Mrs.” while the young Maasai girls bounced and sang behind us. Then the entire party lead, escorted, and followed us back to our Kimba Suite, bouncing so heavily that there was concern the board planks of the walkways might break! At last we reached our door, where we turned and thanked everyone with hugs, teary eyes, and endless “Asenteni” (thanks). 

What happened once we closed the door was just priceless. A split second of silence, broken by a giggle, joined by some snickering, growing into roars of laughter, then bursting loudly into song.  It seemed the ceremony was to involve one more element, for which they felt thundering song, drums, dancing and voices RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR would be most conducive…..

We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Who knew that changing batteries, loading rolls of film, cleaning lenses and packing filters for a full day safari in the crater would be such a festively celebrated activity?! 😉

[The End of the story…the wedding story, that is. But the heartfelt gratitude endures and grows with each passing year. I never lose sight of the blessings in my life and my travels, and though years may fade the pages of the journal, they add glue to the binding.]

THANK YOU for reading my story, and sharing in the joy, wonder, and appreciation of a dream come true, a dream made possible by people in a far away land.  Gratitude means counting my blessings, big and small, extraordinary and ordinary….and I have far too many not to pass along, share, and give back in whatever way I can.

This year,  I will again be participating in the travel blogger’s fundraiser event, Passports With Purpose. The funds we raise are going to make a big difference to the lives of people in a far away land, with the building of two libraries in Zambia through a partnership with Room to Read. Full details are forthcoming, meanwhile….

Here’s wishing you a heart full of gratitude for blessings big and small, on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Asante sana.

For the Love of Elephants – Sheldricks and Amboseli

“It is easy to love elephants….because they will love you back”
– Caretaker, Sheldrick’s Elephant Trust

The anticipation was growing, and by the time we pulled up the dirt road at Sheldrick’s we could hardly contain ourselves. The day had come, the moment was near – we were all about to meet our adopted baby elephants face to face!

Two days before I left home to lead this very special Travcoa’s 2011 President’s Journey: Grand Safari to Kenya & Tanzania, my September 2011 issue of National Geographic arrived in the mail, featuring an entire article on the very elephants we were about to meet, titled Orphans No More. The baby elephant featured on the lead page was in fact Travcoa’s own adopted elephant, Shukuru!

We gathered round the feeding stations where caretakers held big full bottles.  Then, the first group of baby elephants came happily down the path toward us.

It all happened so fast – these were the youngest bunch, still learning their way, and the next thing we knew there was milk everywhere as the babies eagerly emptied the bottles fumbling and slurping for every last drop.

Then, they were escorted out as quickly as they came.

But wait! The next group was not far behind, and these babies had been around longer and had somewhat better manners as more of us got to hold bottles and meet our own adopted elephants.

Then these adorable kids were allowed “playtime” to wallow in the mud for a bit while we watched and took pictures and oooh’ed and awwww’d.  They were simply so darn cute we just wanted to bring them all home with us.  I somehow I managed to keep myself from running in to the mud to play with them….that probably would not have been so great for my camera, which I was using to make possibly the cutest elephant video ever:

Wait, there’s one more baby elephant bow….
 

They are a tough act to follow, for sure.  The good news is, you don’t have to travel all the way to Africa to foster an orphaned elephant! You can read all about the elephants and select your own online here, at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Project.

But should you already be in Kenya,  then there’s no better place to learn more about elephants in the wild than Amboseli National Park, and a visit to the Cynthia Moss Research Station (Amboseli Trust for Elephants).  If we could have stayed all week, we’d never have tired of hearing stories from Field Researcher Vicki Fishlock, who hosted us and enthralled us with her knowledge and enthusiasm.

Of course, there is no shortage of opportunity in Amboseli to observe elephants in the wild, and sometimes the encounters are quite close!

Whether up close or from a distance, spending some time watching a matriarch and her family is a real treat, especially when there is a very young one at her side.

I think I could go back to Africa again and again and again and never tire of watching elephants. But for as much wonder and heartfelt joy that I get watching elephants in the wild, nothing will ever compare to the few precious moments experienced with the orphaned elephants at David Sheldricks. That was truly one of the greatest highlights of my life. And guess what….I’m already planning a return in 2012.

For the Love of Elephants – Sheldricks and Amboseli

“It is easy to love elephants….because they will love you back”
– Caretaker, Sheldrick’s Elephant Trust

The anticipation was growing, and by the time we pulled up the dirt road at Sheldrick’s we could hardly contain ourselves. The day had come, the moment was near – we were all about to meet our adopted baby elephants face to face!

Two days before I left home to lead this very special Travcoa’s 2011 President’s Journey: Grand Safari to Kenya & Tanzania, my September 2011 issue of National Geographic arrived in the mail, featuring an entire article on the very elephants we were about to meet, titled Orphans No More. The baby elephant featured on the lead page was in fact Travcoa’s own adopted elephant, Shukuru!

We gathered round the feeding stations where caretakers held big full bottles.  Then, the first group of baby elephants came happily down the path toward us.

It all happened so fast – these were the youngest bunch, still learning their way, and the next thing we knew there was milk everywhere as the babies eagerly emptied the bottles fumbling and slurping for every last drop.

Then, they were escorted out as quickly as they came.

But wait! The next group was not far behind, and these babies had been around longer and had somewhat better manners as more of us got to hold bottles and meet our own adopted elephants.

Then these adorable kids were allowed “playtime” to wallow in the mud for a bit while we watched and took pictures and oooh’ed and awwww’d.  They were simply so darn cute we just wanted to bring them all home with us.  I somehow I managed to keep myself from running in to the mud to play with them….that probably would not have been so great for my camera, which I was using to make possibly the cutest elephant video ever:

Wait, there’s one more baby elephant bow….
 

They are a tough act to follow, for sure.  The good news is, you don’t have to travel all the way to Africa to foster an orphaned elephant! You can read all about the elephants and select your own online here, at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Project.

But should you already be in Kenya,  then there’s no better place to learn more about elephants in the wild than Amboseli National Park, and a visit to the Cynthia Moss Research Station (Amboseli Trust for Elephants).  If we could have stayed all week, we’d never have tired of hearing stories from Field Researcher Vicki Fishlock, who hosted us and enthralled us with her knowledge and enthusiasm.

Of course, there is no shortage of opportunity in Amboseli to observe elephants in the wild, and sometimes the encounters are quite close!

Whether up close or from a distance, spending some time watching a matriarch and her family is a real treat, especially when there is a very young one at her side.

I think I could go back to Africa again and again and again and never tire of watching elephants. But for as much wonder and heartfelt joy that I get watching elephants in the wild, nothing will ever compare to the few precious moments experienced with the orphaned elephants at David Sheldricks. That was truly one of the greatest highlights of my life. And guess what….I’m already planning a return in 2012.

African Skies

Africa is a land where the skies stretch out endlessly in all directions, and the weather systems are as interesting to photograph as the landscape.

KENYA

Puffy white clouds dot the endless skies of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

A break in the clouds light the golden landscape of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

A rhino and an elephant seek shade under African skies of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

MOROCCO

Wispy clouds reach toward the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

NAMIBIA

Clear blue sky compliments red sand dune of Sussusvlei, Namibia

Pink skies welcome full moon rising over the Sussusvlei landscape, Namibia

SOUTH AFRICA

Stormy skies loom over windswept coast of Die Plaat, South Africa

TANZANIA

African rains approaching Lake Manyara Serena Lodge, Tanzania

Setting sun slices through dark clouds to light Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Infinite blue sky reflects in infinity pool overlooking Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Rains sweeping across the parched dry Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Storm clouds gather as the sun sets over the Serengeti, Tanzania

There are several reasons for this post today.

1) Weather is the theme for #frifotos (founded by Epstein Travels) on twitter today, so I thought I’d share some of my contributions here on my blog for everyone else to enjoy.

2) This post is linked to two of my favorite travel photo blog-sharing groups – where you’ll find more links to travel photography themed blog posts.

Budget Travelers Sandbox’s Travel Photo Thursday
Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday

1) I’m getting in the spirit for my next travels, to Africa, this month! I’m so excited to be returning to my beloved Kenya and Tanzania, leading a photographic safari, and I wanted to re-visit these images before I return home with loads of new ones. Please stay tuned, as I’ll be sharing my adventures right here on the Mira Terra Travel Blog!

African Skies

Africa is a land where the skies stretch out endlessly in all directions, and the weather systems are as interesting to photograph as the landscape.

KENYA

Puffy white clouds dot the endless skies of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

A break in the clouds light the golden landscape of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

A rhino and an elephant seek shade under African skies of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

MOROCCO

Wispy clouds reach toward the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

NAMIBIA

Clear blue sky compliments red sand dune of Sussusvlei, Namibia

Pink skies welcome full moon rising over the Sussusvlei landscape, Namibia

SOUTH AFRICA

Stormy skies loom over windswept coast of Die Plaat, South Africa

TANZANIA

African rains approaching Lake Manyara Serena Lodge, Tanzania

Setting sun slices through dark clouds to light Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Infinite blue sky reflects in infinity pool overlooking Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Rains sweeping across the parched dry Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Storm clouds gather as the sun sets over the Serengeti, Tanzania

There are several reasons for this post today.

1) Weather is the theme for #frifotos (founded by Epstein Travels) on twitter today, so I thought I’d share some of my contributions here on my blog for everyone else to enjoy.

2) This post is linked to two of my favorite travel photo blog-sharing groups – where you’ll find more links to travel photography themed blog posts.

Budget Travelers Sandbox’s Travel Photo Thursday
Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday

1) I’m getting in the spirit for my next travels, to Africa, this month! I’m so excited to be returning to my beloved Kenya and Tanzania, leading a photographic safari, and I wanted to re-visit these images before I return home with loads of new ones. Please stay tuned, as I’ll be sharing my adventures right here on the Mira Terra Travel Blog!

Remembering Egypt – Part III

Continuing Preface: Much has happened in the few days since I posted Parts I and II. If you haven’t yet, please read them here:

Remembering Egypt – Part I
Remembering Egypt – Part II

Mainly, I got news that my upcoming February assignment in Egypt has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. I heard from my colleague who described in great detail the ordeal they underwent getting out of Egypt mid-tour, and I count my blessings. But now it’s a few days later and things seem to be settling down over there. Call me crazy, but if I weren’t a mom, I’d probably still get on that plane. It is my nature to project positively – that there be a smooth transition, that there be peace on the streets and in the hearts of all Egyptians, and that soon we will again be visiting the land of the Pharoahs, welcomed with the gracious hospitality of the locals… Insha’Allah (God willing!) إن شاء الله.

This was my favorite picture, and favorite memory, of the entire journey – when watermelons became the favored source of drinkable water.


In the lower left of the photo is the top of a jar of TANG which we used to make the bottled water more palatable. I couldn’t tolerate it and was so grateful for watermelons, although watching the young boy wielding a machete to split them open was unnerving.

Remembering Egypt – (journal series, part III)

Day 5

Hello Nile. Hello felucca. Here we go, sailing down the Nile.

Of course, the felucca we were shown yesterday was twice the size of this one that we are actually sailing on. I’m irritated, but I’m just too hot and relieved to be getting out of Aswan that I don’t even bother complaining. Good riddance. Of course, the dudes had to have their hooka smoke before we set off.

There were 8 of us total: Marie and myself, the two Danish dudes, two Swedish girls, our captain Kimo, and a small boy of about 7 or 8.

We headed out in a nice wind, but it was blowing up river, so we had to tack. This meant shifting from one side of the felucca to the other in order not to slide off. There was no getting used to this, especially having to hang on to all our belongings (cameras, backpacks) as well as keeping ourselves on the boat! But on we went in this manner – just as all 6 of us got comfortable on one side, we’d have to shift again, back and forth, from one side to the other, and try to get comfortable again. It was impossible to just lay down flat because then the blood would rush to your head (I tried this, just take my word for it).

We sailed down and I waved goodbye to that terrible place Aswan. I never want to go there again. It was such a relief to watch it grow smaller off in the distance.
The lights of the city began to twinkle as the sun moved down over the desert-y west bank of the Nile. It was a beautiful sunset, the sun sat on the horizon as a big red ball.

As we drifted away from the city we began to hear many different noises coming from the banks of the river. The crickets were a constant buzz, and above their hum sounded the frogs. There must have been millions, big ones at that, as their croaks were most prominent! An occasional donkey cried, and the cows, bulls and camels could be heard settling into the night.

The moon was already high in the sky when the sun slipped over the horizon. The silhouettes of the palm trees against the orange sky were the only visible signs of life. But the air was full of sounds and noises, reflecting all sorts of life happening along the river banks. It seemed all the villages were alive with celebration. Drumbeats were faint in the distance, but as we sailed along the drumbeats grew louder and were accompanied by many chanting voices.
“What’s going on?” we asked our captain. He told us they were celebrating because there was a sheik from the village who would be traveling to Mecca the next day.

We drifted ashore and tied feluccas together for the night. While the night was calm, the air was full of noise and it was hard to fall asleep. Or stay asleep. Or get comfortable.

Day 6

This morning our felucca was joined by a New Zealander from the other boat. I was in a terribly crabby mood as I’d not slept well and I wanted only to stretch out flat. Any time I settled somewhere, it seemed everybody on the boat decided to crowd around me, Jeff in particular, with his bad snoring and bad breath. Then when I was finally in my own space, the little Egyptian boy decided to make house and had to rearrange all the blankets on the boat. Which meant I had to move. Again. I gave up sleeping at all and sat up writing in this here journal.

Today was a long, hot one. We had to drift a great deal because there was scarcely any wind worth putting up the sail. With their Third World tape player, the Egyptians played Arabic music nearly the whole day. At first it was bearable, almost interesting even, but then it quickly got irritating. Especially when the tape was ejected and turned over several times and the rhythms were forever scratched in our eardrums.

We seemed to stop at every shore for one reason or another, and some of us were getting impatient. Eventually we set sail, and did a few hours of the shifting routine throughout the afternoon.

Our Egyptian crew prepared us a meal. It was hardly edible for our systems, but we were soooo hungry and we needed to eat something. The utensils and vegetables were rinsed in the Nile river, and I kept thinking “if they can handle it, so can I, we’re all humans, right?” As for Marie and the Europeans, I think they preferred to stay in denial (de Nile…haha).

I began to take interest in the Kiwi dude, Joost. He was really quite nice, and funny too. He had a great way of making me laugh out loud even as I tried so hard to continue being p.o.’d at the whole situation. Yes, I really wanted to cling tenaciously to being irritable and moody, but he somehow got around that and broke through to the point where I was actually having FUN. I figured he’s nothing short of a magician, and I was intrigued by what might be up his sleeve.

We were talking a lot about people. And mosquitoes. And the fact that there were flocks of mosquitoes along the river just hovering and waiting to prey on sweet-blooded people like me. At one point Joost offered to share his sleeping bag so I wouldn’t get bitten (by the mozzies). It sounded like a good prospect because he was genuinely nice and didn’t seem the type to try anything (maybe even gay, not sure, but that would explain his ability to have me in stitches).

But as everyone on the felucca began to settle in, Marie and the tall Danish dude Henry rolled out their full length mat/bed around which the rest of us had to conform, and she kept bitching that there was no room on our boat even for a Kiwi (haha, but humorously rude). He heard her no doubt, and felt unwelcome enough that he went back to the other felucca to sleep. I was beyond upset, so angry I couldn’t even speak, and just had to sleep with only Marie’s skirt as a cover to protect me from mosquitoes.

Day 7

When I woke in the early hours from a sound sleep, both my legs were numb. I had fallen asleep laid out flat, but I woke up with Marie and Henry sprawled out flat and and my legs squished and curled up tight with no room to stretch out. How did that happen? I swear Marie was next to me when I fell asleep, but I rolled over to find Jeff right next to me in my face breathing like a horse. Enough. I got up and moved to the front of the boat and just crashed out on the deck, no covers, nothing. Alas! I had discovered the most comfortable place to sleep on the entire felucca! Too bad everyone woke up only an hour later and we began to move.

This was our last day on the felucca. Eventually we reached Edfu, where we got off. We took a taxi to Luxor and immediately got sold by an Egyptian “friend” to stay at his brother’s hotel. I remember Marie saying the rooms were ok, but then later refusing the sheets. I was wishing we had just gone to stay where we planned, but everyone was tired and lazy and just slept from the moment we got there. I really wanted to go out and see some sights but no one else was interested. I listened to tapes on my Sony walkman (King’s “Alone Without You”, OMD, the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and some early U2).

Eventually our “lunch” was ready at 4:00pm, so up we went to the roof garden cafeteria and looked at the food in front of us. Ugh. I guess the felucca Nile meals did me in, as I had to force myself to eat something.

Days 8 – 12

We finally motivated ourselves to go somewhere, so we took the hotel’s “special service taxi” (which was, of course, another brother’s old car). We visited Luxor Temple, which I found extremely interesting.

Then we went to Karnak for a few hours, most of which were spent outside drinking cokes. I was never a coke drinker but in Egypt the glass bottled coke was safer than plastic bottled water, and ironically coke became the most nutricious meal I could swallow, and only one to stay down.

Editor’s Note: Yep, I was most definitely getting sick, and sicker with every day. I think the technical medical condition was “pharoah’s revenge”. In fact, my journal stopped blank after the above entry.

My ticket stubs and pictures remind me that we went to sites of Deir-el-Barhi (which I had really wanted to see based on a b/w picture in an ad), and the Valley of the Kings, where we wandered into a few tombs, one of which belonged to King Tut. It was anti-climatic. It was also hot and dry. I think my failure to appreciate the history stemmed from the bug wreaking havoc in my guts forcing me to always be here and now (and mindful of the nearest pitstop).

Eventually we got back to Cairo. I don’t remember how. But I remember staying in a hotel with several beds in a large room, and windows looking out over the square across from the Mohammed Ali Mosque.

I remember looking out the window after dark and watching a whole black market taking place right outside – men selling knock-off t-shirts and knives and other things that you don’t see by day. It looked extremely dangerous with lots of shady characters, and I understood why we were told not to leave the hotel after dark. Then in the early hours of the morning they disappear, and as the sun rose I would look down to see people waking from their slumber on rooftops and patches of grass. I remember the guy selling shoes never left, day or night. I remember staring out this window endlessly as I recovered from my bug. And I remember questioning religious faith – theirs, and my own.

I vaguely remember at one point (during daylight) I decided to venture out into the souks to try to shop, feeling dizzy and faint, and refusing beckons to “come inside to my store in back”. I was lost. It was hot, I was severely dehydrated, and only by a miracle did I somehow end up back at the hotel without any trouble. Beyond the gastrointestinal one.

The next journal entry is several days later:

Finally, back in Greece. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Athens! Now I’m back on Ios. The day is Tuesday the 22nd, and I somehow spent my 22nd birthday in Cairo, but it’s not even worth mentioning. So here I am, having walked across the beautiful Milopotas Beach to Dracos Taverna – my home sweet home away from home…away from home. Oh it’s good to be alive! How lucky am I.

This concludes my “Remembering Egypt” journal. Rather abruptly, I’m afraid, but there you have it. I did fully recover by the time I was back in Greece, and I’m certain the river water was at fault. The food itself in Egypt was excellent, and the entire experience was not so bad that I wouldn’t go back.

I have, in fact, returned in recent years, and took my husband and daughter (who was almost 3 at the time) to see the Pyramids.



It was a very different experience, and too short, with time only to visit Cairo and Alexandria. My daughter still has memories of our trip, but not of the Pyramids or the Nile or the other amazing sights we saw.


What she remembers, with great vividness of senses, is nothing more than…the sounds of the burping camels!

We all still have the dream to return and cruise the Nile together in much better circumstances, and I am certain this won’t be the last of my Egypt blog posts. I will return. Some day.

Thank you for coming along on my journey through the archives of my travel journal. If you would like to share a link of your own travels to Egypt, I welcome you to do so in a comment below!

Remembering Egypt – Part II

Continuing preface: My initial intent with this series was to document my first visit to Egypt 25 years ago in order to compare with my upcoming assignment in Egypt scheduled for February. Obviously, since I posted Part I last week, circumstances have changed dramatically! My purpose is not to cover or coat-tail the current events, but I cannot ignore them either as I publish these posts. When I began publishing this series last week, a colleague of mine had been in Egypt with a group, and they were safe on the Nile in southern Egypt as of Friday. I have just learned this Monday morning that they have been safely exited and are now in London, so I can put my focus back on digitizing my journal here. If you haven’t already, check out Part I of Remembering Egypt.

REMEMBERING EGYPT (journal series, Part II)

Day 3

Ugh, This morning was full of running around getting things done. Worth a mention was the visit to the train station to ask about tickets. From the moment we walked in we were stared at – Marie’s bare shoulders, my light hair – we stood out like sore thumbs.

As we entered the station, there were men putting down large red carpets in the corner of the room in preparation for prayers. Only the men could pray publicly. If the women wanted to pray, they must not be seen (our guide tells us). I remember even in the mosque yesterday that there was a special area in the back of the room for women to pray without being seen; and even so it was only recently that they were allowed to enter the mosque at all!

There weren’t many women to be seen at the train station. When we went to get in line, our guide (still the taxi driver from yesterday) told us that we must wait by the wall because women were not allowed to wait in line. He was going to do it for us. I didn’t like the whole situation and I kept nagging Marie that we should have just gone to the travel agency suggested by the paper I got before leaving London months earlier. But we were already there and our guide did as he promised. Who knows how much we may be getting ripped off in the process but oh well. Fear and trust don’t mix well, so I opted for trust.

So off we went from there to the Pyramids. On the way through the city the front tire blew out on our little taxi – a minor inconvenience and we just had to go with the flow, ultimately taking another taxi.

At the Pyramids we found our “friends” (they always greet us and add “my friend” to every sentence when they’re speaking to us), and they were waiting to take us by horseback to Sukkara. I couldn’t go more than 2 meters without the guide changing my horse! By the end of the day I’d been on all four horses. Despite these problems, the journey was incredible!

We first rode on a path alongside the banks of the Nile river. There were stray dogs at several crossroads who would growl and looked extremely vicious. I was scared enough that I really appreciated being up on a horse! We went by small farms and villages. We passed by so many military posts. I was so curious as to what they did there. Eventually we cut across down a side street and into the desert.

We rode along the edge of the desert for quite some way, me with the guide who was keeping close watch on my horse. It was so neat to watch the rolling hills of sand sweep by as we galloped through. I lagged behind but finally got the feel of rhythm with my horse as we reached the end. We checked out the step pyramid and rested a bit.
Lo and behold there was our original taxi driver waiting for us with a brand new tire and all set to drive us back to Cairo.

We drove back on Sakkara Road (I think?) along the river through rural farmlands. We stopped at a busy corner to have some drinks, and the locals were quite intrigued with us. Children were working – pulling oxen or riding donkeys with loads of farm harvests. One small girl wearing pink was smiling in curiosity as she’d never seen foreigners before. After a lengthy communication ordeal, we took a picture with permission and encouragement from her father. We thanked her by buying her an ice cream, and her father beamed. She was too cute! But the women covered head to toe in black were downright frightened of us, disappearing anywhere we went.

We got back to the train station in plenty of time, and observed people on the platforms as they observed us. I wondered what it must be like for them, living in poverty, to see us boarding a First Class train to take us overnight to Aswan. For them, the journey would cost one pound and take 4-5 days on a dirt-floored train with no windows or doors, that stops at every village for anyone to get on with any of their animals. They look at us but show no expression. They must hate us, I wouldn’t blame them. They only watch and wonder about our lives as we do them. I was intrigued by three men in particular – they stared at Marie but said nothing. Their eyes said so much though. After they’d had their fill of watching us, they looked away, up to they sky, as if they were reflecting, or praying even. What was going on in their minds? What were they thinking? Where were they going? I took one last look at them then boarded the train, stepping out of the filth and dirt into a world of clean luxury. I stepped into a different world, and these three men were soon far from my thoughts.

Day 4

The train ride was excellent. After dinner, Marie and I went to our friends cabin and had some drinks. After a bit, the discussion turned to politics. This was troublesome and I won’t get into detail, but at one point they were drunkenly singing “We are red! We are white! We are Danish dynamite!”, and that should give you some idea of their ethnocentric view of the world. We woke up in Luxor, hungover and unmotivated to get off, so we decided to continue with the Danes all the way to Aswan. What a horrible mistake that was. What a horrible place.

The temperature was well over 110 degrees in the shade when we found a travel agent. We got a s#%& deal, but managed to visit the Aswan High Dam. It was so hot out there. I know this huge dam out in the middle of the desert is a remarkable modern feat of engineering, but it still looked grotty (is that a word?) and old, not at all what I pictured from Dr. Kim’s lectures. I took pictures for his sake anyway, after all he praises that dam for saving lower Egypt from constant flooding or something (I’m not in the mood to sound intellectual, sorry, it’s hot and I’m on vacation).

Anyway, from there we took a motor boat to an island of the Philae Temples where there stands a Temple of Isis (God of Evil), appropriately. It was really too hot to appreciate the 4000 BC temple.

And the people there – who were demanding us for some money even though we’d already paid the seedy agent – really put us on edge. So our unfinished tour ended at the unfinished obelisk, which closed at 4:00PM. We were really p.o.’d.

The rest of the day was S(expletive), but we managed to arrange a felucca for the next day. Wearily, we walked through the market streets busy with locals doing their shopping. It was so dirty and filthy…and smelly. I was sickened at the fact that we had to buy our food there. Oh, and conducting business transactions with children was most odd.

Our first hotel was horrific and frightening (and unsafe with broken locks and obvious signs of forced entry). I won’t even mention the toilet facility, if you can call it that. We left in darkness and found another hotel, more expensive and a slightly better quality, and we finally fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion and relief in knowing that tomorrow we would be leaving this dreadful place.

– to be continued –

Please return for the third and final Part III, when we cruise the Nile for 3 nights on a tiny open-air felucca, and I celebrate a most unmemorable birthday in Cairo with “Pharoah’s Revenge”.

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