Archive for the 'out of africa' Category
Incredible footage of a battle between buffalo, lions and crocodiles in the Kruger National Park.
I swear, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life – just mind blowing. It’s a long vid, but keep watching, just keep watching right till the end, cause even the most stoney hearted would be moved by the bravery of that herd of buffalo!No comments
Olekuye, and the Masai people
Someone who deserves a blog entry all of his very own is a young man who we met at Keekorok Lodge in the Masai Mara. When we first arrived there, I noticed that wandering around the main building and the patio of the Lodge, there were two men dressed in traditional Masai clothing, in bright scarlet red, decked out in what must have been nearly a kilogram of Masai jewellery and beadwork.
Me being the shy retiring type that you all know me to be, it wasn’t until our second day there that I actually talked to him. My parents were resting in their rooms, and I was lounging outside at the Lodge on the patio, during the midday hours when no self respecting animal would be caught dead on camera. I was deeply engrossed in a book (Howl’s Moving Castle, given to me for Christmas by none other than that bundle of joy, ThursdayWeld) and I hear a “jingle, jingle, jingle” approaching. I glance up, and see this tall, slightly gorgeous Masai warrior approaching, wearing (as I would later discover) full Masai warrior garb, and a great big friendly African smile.
“Hello,” he says, holding out his hand in greeting. “What are you reading?”
How do you tell a Masai Warrior that you’re reading a fairy-tale with witches and Wizards and a castle which is powered by a Fire-Demon, without sounding like a complete git?
I did my best, and he nodded as if he heard that sort of thing all the time. We got through all the formalities of where I was from, what I was doing in Kenya etc, exchanging and trying to remember foreign names. He struggled less with my name (pronounded it “Shalett”, and remembered it because it sounds the same as the way he pronounces “chalet”, which are the luxury huts in the swanky area of the Lodge) than I did with his – Olekuye.
Formalities out of the way, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk down to the hippo pool to see if there were any hippos there.
Slightly taken aback at what seemed to be terrible forwardness, but not wanting to give offense, I closed my book and walked with him down to the pool where a family of hippos hang, when the mood takes them.
As we walked, many people who passed us by greeted this striking man warmly, and once we’d got to the viewing area with seats at the Hippo Pool, I started to understand that young Olekuye, and the other Masai Warrior Olenjoi, were employed by the hotel as kind of Masai ambassadors, to befriend guests and help answer questions about this tribe of people who have retained so much of their culture and customs in an increasingly Westernised world.
And my GOD, I learnt so much from Olekuye during the few days that we spent in the Masai Mara, hanging out in the hotel lobby or on the patio, me with just a flood of questions, and him explaining and asking questions of his own about life in the West.
Here’s Olekuye, in the scarlet red of a Masai Warrior:
Pretty impressive, huh?
Olekuye told me that most Masai have their two front teeth on the bottom knocked out, partly as a way of identifying their tribespeople, and partly to allow a distinctive whistle that they use to herd their cattle (my mum also said that she’d heard that when the Masai first encountered Tetanus, it was also as a way of feeding people when Lock-Jaw set in).
Their cattle are a pretty central part of Masai life. A cow can provide all three staples of the Masai diet – milk, meat and blood, though a cow will rarely be slaughted for meat – goats are just as good eating. Yes, you read right, the Masai drink fresh blood, drawn from a live cow whose jugular is pierced and then sealed again once enough blood has been taken. Olekuye said that they rarely eat anything else, perhaps the odd berry or seed when they’re in the forest (young Masai Warriors must spend up to 4 years in the forest learning to be warriors), and that the very notion of Western food is strange to him. All that fruit and bread and pasta…
So with cows being so central to the Masai way of life, it’s little wonder that wealth is measured by no possession more than how many cows a man might own. Not how many wives he has (polygamy is normal, with the female birthrate purportedly being so much higher than the male birthrate), or how much money he has.
Something I may not have mentioned before is my parents’ profession. They’re both geneticists, and amongst a great many other things, they specialise in Cattle genetics – milk production/quality, fertility, mortality… Generally how to make your cattle herd more productive. So hearing the conversations between Olekuye and my mum were enough to make me beam with pride, to see my dear mum giving advice to a Masai who literally eats, lives and breathes cattle.
At one point we were hanging out on the patio, and another Masai (garbed not in traditional clothes, but in hotel uniform) stopped by, and asked my mother if they were going to exchange me for 12 cows. Apparently 12 cows is the going rate for a girl’s hand in marriage amongst the Masai. I harrumphed, and said that I was worth much more than 12 cows, but my mum just laughed.
Note to self. Don’t allow arranged marriage for a dozen cows. Don’t settle for less than 20.
Masai men don’t usually marry until a) they reach “young elder” status, and b) they have 12 cows to buy a wife with. Their first wife is chosen for them by their father when they graduate from Warrior to Young Elder (celebrations which last 3 months, to which Olekuye has invited us if we can attend in 3 years time!) but subsequent wives can be chosen themselves, but only negotiated for by other Elders. Girls are usually married off as teenagers, right after they’re (gasp) circumcised.
OK, at that point in my conversations with Olekuye, late on the second night, the conversations stalled. Female circumcision is the point at which my cultural open minded-ness hits a wall. I can handle blood drinking straight from a live cow. I can handle polygamy. I can even handle an overtly patriarchal society to some degree. But one thing I’ve realised that I can’t handle is that part of an otherwise rich culture which sees the need to mutilate a teenage girl. They cut off the clitoris, they chop of most of the major and minor labia. Urinating is hard. Childbirth sounds like torture. And pleasure during sex? One can hardly imagine.
I went to bed that night with nightmares about circumcision, and I think I unconscoiusly avoided Olekuye for most of the next day, until later that evening when we had a chance to chat again, and I had to come clean and say that I was pretty shocked by the whole idea. I knew that attitudes are changing in Africa towards this kind of brutality, but he’d talked about it with such matter-of-factness the night before. He assured me in his usual calm way that he thought that when he becomes a father, he’ll give his daughters the choice of circumcision or not (what a decision!) – he felt that he was probably more progressive and open minded than a lot of his peers, because of the company that he kept most of each day.
Sigh of relief from me, that my friend didn’t seem to buy into the brutality of the rest of his tribe (cultural imperialist? me?), and we were friends again.
With all the strange things I’d been hearing from Olekuye, I had to ask him, what was the strangest thing HE’D ever been asked. He smiled (in his usual sunny way) and thought about it for a moment. Then said,
“you know, probably the strangest thing anyone’s ever asked me, was a man who visited here a few months ago. He asked me if the Masai people accept marriage between men. I can’t understand that, why would two men ever want to get married?!”
Even the concept of love between anyone other than a man and a woman was foreign to him. But more than that, he went on to explain that marriage amongst the Masai was as much (or even perhaps MORE) about bearing children and having enough wives to look after the cattle, as it was about companionship. He could scarce believe that in my culture, such a thing could really even be feasible!
I explained that in fact, two men for whom I have much respect were married to each other, and what’s more, another female friend has been living with her boyfriend for 12 years and doesn’t WANT to get married. His comment to that? “Doesn’t your friend feel like all those years she’s been living with her boyfriend but not married, have been time wasted?”
A very interesting few days, getting to know Olekuye and his culture better. I could go on for ages and ages, but I fear that my fingers may fall off!5 comments
So everyone’s heard of the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania, right? Less of a household name is the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, which is essentially Serengeti-on-the-Kenyan-side. I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of it when my father suggested we go there on Safari. But a few web searches later, I was totally on board.
The big draw of the Masai Mara is (as with most national parks) the huge populations of wild animals. You’ll perhaps have seen the Wildebeest migrations on the Discovery Channel. Well the Wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania, to the Masai Mara in Kenya, and back again. Over and over, every year.
We didn’t visit there at the time of the migration, alas, but there were still lots of wildebeest who’d decided that the trip was too far, not to mention stacks of gazelles, zebra, impala, elephants, and more lions than you could poke a stick at. Not that you’d want to poke a lion with a stick. Cause they might do something rather nasty… like retaliate.
Anyhoo. The rains had been pouring down the night before we left Nakuru, and so the roads to the Masai Mara were pretty bad. Or so I thought at the time. Turns out that comparatively, the roads coulda been a LOT worse!
OK, so you see the bits of yellow on the far sides of the green grass? That’s the same road, but just an “alternate” route through. It was the most fascinating demonstration of “free choice” in driving that I’ve ever seen – you pick a path, and just hope that it leads through a relatively smooth, dry route of dirt.
Once we got into the Masai Mara National Park, Stanley had been driving on “challenging” terrain for about 6 hours, and had to be tired by that stage. He told us that we’d go straight to our hotel for lunch, before going on an afternoon game drive. Keekorock lodge was about a half hour’s drive into the Mara, through green rolling hills dotted everywhere with the now ubiquitous gazelle and impala.
But when Eagle-Eyed-Stanley started to turn off the main road, we were in for a treat – down in the valley between two hills, a small pride of lionesses was hangin’ in their tree-house:
I swear, for me, seeing these lions (and the many more that we saw over the next three days) was among the biggest highlights of the whole trip. Loved it loved it loved it!
Here’s a little journey of the fluffy lionny goodness that we experienced over the next few days, and the songs which were running through my head when I saw them:
*sings* “a-wim-oh-weh, a-wim-oh-weh…”
“I’m too sexy for my Pride, too sexy for my pride, pride’s going to leave me…”
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”
“Oh I just can’t WAIT to be king!!”
Maaan, those lions were the COOLEST! I loved em!
Anyway, we had our game drive that afternoon, and as we were heading home, we were greeted by this, hanging over Tanzania to the south:
It could only mean one thing: more rain.
So it rained that night. And it was raining still in the morning when we got up. Not that I’d slept much, I’d been kept awake by the rain pelting down outside. I can think of worse sounds to keep me awake…
But what it meant for the roads, of course, was mud. Lots of mud. And deep erosion gullies down the middle of 4WD tracks.
I must say, I was grateful that we were sharing the National Park with so many other tourists and their tour buses, because we encountered a patch of road which even Stanley’s skills couldn’t extricate ourselves from, and we needed winching out by a 4WD which was bringing up our rear:
Thank goodness for 4WDs! Our humble little Nissan Hiace was just a 2WD, but it got the job done most of the time!
And at least we weren’t stuck like these guys:
Now, if I don’t publish this blog entry NOW (written a good month after I got back from Africa, though I’ve edited the timestamp so that it reflects WHEN we were at the Masai Mara) it might be another month before I do, so I’ll leave you with photos of that magnificant animal which you simply can’t go on Safari and miss:No comments
Interesting place, not mindblowing, but still kinda cool. Not VERY far from Lake Baringo (ie only an hour or so, perhaps a little more, over the rough terrain – I’d hardly call it “road” in some places), lies the alkaline lake of Lake Bogoria, known for its populations of Flamingos:
These are Lesser Flamingos according to Stanley – smaller, and white (no pink).
But for me, the real draw of Lake Bogoria was for its geological interest – the hot springs, and geysers:
The fountain of water is about 2 metres high. You can see how there’s a line of geological activity running down the bed of this valley:
These springs are literally boiling hot. Far to hot to touch. From this cauldron of bubbling water, the water flows across the sand a few hundred metres to the freshwater lake, and stays pretty hot all the way down.
As the stream reaches the lake, you can see how far out from the mouth is tolerable temperature for Flamingos, by the distance they keep (or potentially the distance that makes for the perfect temperature for the algal blooms which make up the Flamingo diet).
I could have stayed there all afternoon just staring at these natural water features, but Stanley was getting antsy, so we all packed back into the van, and drove for another few hours until we reached…
The Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the few in Kenya to have its perimeter fully fenced off. It’s well known for its flocks of greater Flamingos, as well as some of the big game like rhinos, zebra, lots of different types of antelope, and the rare Rothschild Giraffe.
This is a Dik Dik, smallest of the antelope, stands about 30-40 cms tall, fully grown. Closest thing we’d seen to Bambi:
More flamingos – this time the pink type:
Rhinos – pretty zen, kinda like big cows, munching munching munching away:
Warthogs, of which we actually saw relatively few the whole trip – check out the tusks on this handsome fellow:
The Rothschild Giraffe – fairly endangered, and you can tell it’s a Rothschild because it has white legs. Apparently they’re as much at risk because of interbreeding with Masai and Reticulated giraffes, as they are from poaching:
But probably my favorite animals at Nakuru were the Baboons. Big baboons, little baboons, baby baboons, playful baboons, bickering baboons, gymnastic baboons. Totally unafraid of us, just hanging out by the road side, climbing the fence into our hotel, sauntering across the roof, generally making monkeys of themselves.
There were LOTS of infant Baboons with their mothers, and my word, but they were cute as a button:
The babies in this family group were horsing round, hanging upside down like… well… Monkeys, while older more “sensible” ones were de-fleaing each other:
I got some video footage of baboons being silly, I’ll have to post it up YouTube once I’ve had a chance to do some editing.
Lake Nakuru Lodge was lovely, lots of trees, and a wonderful view of the lake from the bar and restaurant. It was much nicer to not be the only residents there – Lake Baringo felt a bit lonely and isolated, but Lake Nakuru was much more lively.
Here’s me playing around with the slow shutter and high sensitivity of my brand spanking new camera:
We only spent one night at Lake Nakuru, and then it was time to head for the main attraction – the Masai Mara National Park, which is essentially the Serengeti, but on the Kenyan side of the border, not the Tanzanian side. Buuuut that’ll have to wait till the next blog entry!3 comments
How to get to Lake Baringo
Early Saturday morning saw my parents and I meeting our guide for the next 6 days, a steady, rock solid bloke by the name of Stanley, and our tour van, a not-VERY-clapped out Nissan Hiace with a “pop top” for viewing lions with impunity. More on that later. For those who have been reading for a few years now, Stanley actually reminded me of an African version of Kang Laoshi, my old boss in China. Ponderous and deliberate with everything he does, and I have to say, we were glad on more than a few occasions to have him with us:
From the slightly manic roads of Nairobi he drove, out into the country side. Though the lush green pasture-land of the Rift Valley we drove:
We negotiated roads which went from passable by Western standards, to barely passable by Kenyan standards! At least it was dry though. Little were we to know what would happen to the roads in the wet, but that story is yet to come.
After a few hours, the lushness borne of recent rains began to give way to increasingly scrubby vegetation:
Huge termite hills, rising from the rocky ground like great chimneys, became a common sight:
I was having difficulty working out what these great big logs were doing, slung in trees as they were.
I didn’t even put two and two together after we’d passed the third village where orange liquid was being sold in recycled glass bottles (ie old Coke bottles, and Gin pocket flasks!), and Stanley told us it was honey. The massive logs were actually BEE HIVES!! Man made beehives! Too cool!
We ended up convincing Stanley to stop so that we could buy some of that Honey, and I wish I had my camera at the ready, because the moment my father opened the window in the front to begin negotiations with one villager, suddenly about ten villagers surrounded the window, and each one was trying to thrust at least 3 honey bottles through the window. It was a honey-pot invasion!
But we managed to get away with just buying two, for probably about 10 times the normal going price, but what is tourism for, but to inject money into local economies? (Especially developing economies!) Will have to report later as to what it tastes like, though!
Anyhow, on and on we drove, and the road got steadily worse and worse, ceded itself more and more to dirt and pot holes, until eventually, it just… stopped! Looking at where the road ahead should have been, all we saw was a sharp drop, and one helluva big erosion gully. Stanley merely grunted at the washed away road, and stoically turned the van sharply to the left onto a heavily pot-holed, bush beaten track.
Another hour or so of feeling like we were in a Nissan Hiace-sized meat tenderiser, and we finally arrived at Lake Baringo.
A Country Club in the Colonies
We stayed at Lake Baringo Lodge, which really, truly, absolutely looked and felt like a relic from the British Empire in Africa. Very little glass on windows, just mosquito nets galore in the bedrooms, and wide open arches festooned with flowering vines. Really quite lovely, in a slighly wilting sort of way:
(These are my parents, in case you’ve not met them.)
The main draw of Lake Baringo is (fairly predictably) the lake, and the wildlife it supports. This was to become a theme for the week.
The guide book advised that there were hundreds of species of bird, and I reckon we must have heard the call of each and every one while we were there. But for me, the most exciting part of Lake Baringo was seeing my first bits of “real” wildlife – hippos and a crocodile!
This, sadly, was to be the only croc we would see on the whole trip, but we saw more than enough other exciting wildlife to make up for it – here’s a great big hippo yawn:
One last pic before I wrap up part one – this dude lives on one of the islands in the lake with others in his tribe, and they go out fishing every day in these little wooden kayaks, made out of small logs lashed together. Very, VERY cool!
More soon about Lake Bogoria, Lake Naruko, and the incredible Masai Mara.2 comments
That’s right folks, I’ve touched down safely in Kenya, where my parents are living and working.
Initial impressions of Nairobi? Lush, actually. Lots of greenery, and lovely mild weather compared to the cold of Edinburgh. My wonderful parents picked me up from the airport and we drove across town, my mother fearlessly (or so it seemed) negotiating what appeared to be traffic which followed no particular set of road rules.
Driving by negotiation, my mum called it.
Anyhoo, we picked our way through the potholey roads, dodging said potholes, as well as minivans, cars, pedestrians, children, dogs, goats, you name it. I barely noticed how long it took to travel the hour from airport to my parents new home, glued to the window as I was by what I was seeing outside. I was mesmerised by the tin shacks and low bungalow limestone huts which housed stores, homes, workshops and god knows what else. And by the impromptu seedling nurseries along the sides of the roads. My (brand new!) camera wasn’t yet charged so I didn’t get all teh photos I’d have liked, but here’s one I took a little later:
My parents live at the International Livestock Research Institute a guarded campus-compound, which is just a stones throw, yet a world away from what’s outside the walls. Once you get through the guarded gates, it’s all manicured lawns and slightly 70s/80s-era buildings, happy mzungu children playing (ie White & East Asian), and expensive cars parked outside safe looking houses. More photos on that later.
This afternoon my mum took me to come see the Elephant Orphan Nursery, and OH my GOD, I’ve never seen anything so sweet! My parents had given me an early Christmas present in the form of the sponsorship of a little baby elephant orphan called Lesanju. Time to share photos, methinks!
Here’s little teensy tiny Lesanju. SOOOOO cute!!
They have this big sheet which hangs up in each baby elephant’s stable, which they use initially for the very young ones as a “mother substitute”. They start feeding the babies from behind this sheet at first, to get them used to being bottle fed. Each baby has a keeper with it 24/7, and the keepers even sleep with them in the stable, on a little raised platform that they have to discourage the wee’uns from climbing onto to sleep…
My mum was quite happy to get up close and personal with little Lesanju, her hand doubling as a dummy:
Once they’re used to human contact, They’re unbelievably friendly little creatures, curious and gentle – all you can see over the stable door here is a little trunk, wanting to get in on the action:
And here, dear friends, I shall leave it. I’m a little jet lagged, and didn’t sleep at all on the redeye from London to Kenya, so it’s time to pack it in.
We’re off on Safari tomorrow for 5 days, will take LOTS of photos! I may not be able to upload them all until I get home (internet is a little slow here) but I’ll certainly share some of the good ones!
Yours Out of Africa,