Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nairobi National Museum

We had one free day in Nairobi before setting out on safari.  Since the National Museum was near our hotel, it made sense to spend it here.  We were glad we did.  The excellent exhibit on East African birds whetted our appetite for more, and the Human Origins exhibit reminded us that we were about to enter the birthplace of mankind.

The museum is open every day from 8:30-5:30.  Allow 2-3 hours here, especially if you're a birder.  There are also exhibits on the various East African tribes--their culture, art and jewelry.The paintings of Joy Adamson of "Elsa" fame were of special interest to me. I knew she was a famous naturalist, but I had no idea she was such a talented artist.

We hired a driver from our hotel to take us here.  Believe me, Nairobi traffic is not something you want to tackle when jet lagged.  He waited patiently outside while we toured the museum and then drove us safely back to our hotel.  That evening we met our safari guide and fellow companions for an orientation.

Our safari was about to begin.  But, in a way, it already had!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Masai Mara Game Drives

It took only minutes once we drove through the gate of the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya to spot a pride of female lions.  I clutched my travel buddy's arm.  "Am I dreaming?  Are we really here?"

Such surreal moments would continue for the next two days.  All of my anxieties concerning this trip vanished into thin air.  The safari surpassed my expectations.  Now that I am back home, I still ask myself:  Was it all a dream?

Our tented lodge at the Fig Tree Camp was spacious and lovely.  A lone hippo sat in the water below our deck.  "He lost a fight," our porter told us, "And now he's sulking."  Then a baboon tried to enter our tent and we learned immediately to never leave it unzipped.

But the real unexpected treat was how close we could get to the wild animals.  They seemed to ignore us completely.  "They know we pose no threat," our guide said.  "All of our Land Cruisers are simply part of the landscape.  Like the acacia trees."

We saw animals sleeping, eating, hunting, mating, playing and fighting.  Living their lives as if we weren't even there.  Sometimes we would have to brake for the animals as they crossed the road. They had right of way and they knew it.  They were the owners of this vast savannah.  We humans were tolerated for brief periods in the early morning and late afternoons.  Then poof! we were gone and the Mara was completely theirs.

I never wanted the game drives to end.  Every single time we went out we saw something amazing.  We returned to the lodge after sunset--so tired that we could barely stay awake for dinner.

 I have never slept so well or so soundly in my entire life.

Was it all a dream?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Packing for an African Safari

I can't believe we are leaving in a few days for Africa.  We booked this safari nine months ago which means I have had nine months to fret, worry, second-guess our decision and feel guilty over the expense.  Yikes!

"Oh, blah, blah, blah.  You know once you see that first elephant all your anxieties will go away."

I hope Mimi's right.

Packing has been a challenge.  I am limited to one small duffle bag and a daypack.  I'm cheating a bit on the daypack.  My backpack is almost as big as my duffle.  But seriously?  How on earth am I supposed to carry binoculars, a camera, a jacket, sunscreen, insect repellent, bottled water, a journal and all those other "feminine" ten essentials in a tiny little daypack?

The new polyester fabrics used in hiking clothes have made my wardrobe decisions easy, however.  I am taking only four wash and wear outfits.  These outfits will see me through two weeks in Europe, two weeks on safari and two weeks traveling solo in Tanzania and Zanzibar while my travel buddy is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I'll handwash them at night and they'll be dry the next morning.

"Yeah, and you'll be sick to death of them by the time you get back."

She's right again.

And so I have promised myself a shopping spree in Zanzibar.  I plan on putting away all the khaki that last week and buying a bold patterned kaftan and colorful beaded sandals while I'm there.  If I survive, that is.  What if I get eaten by a lion?  Or ebola jumps the border?  I'm taking malaria pills, but what if I get dengue fever?

"Oh, blah, blah, blah.  Just go already."

My map of Africa is lacking push pins.  That vast continent has been sorely neglected by me and my travel buddy.   

See you in October with lots of photographs and lots of new adventures to write about.  Blah, blah, blah.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines

Exploring Colorado

As we drove up the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway to the summit, we passed a grove of bristlecone pines.  To me, this was an extra bonus of an already spectacular drive.  These ancient trees are the oldest on earth, and I did not know there was a Rocky Mountain variation.  (This is why I love to travel.  I never know what I'm going to find.)  My hike in the White Mountains of California to see the world's oldest bristlecones remains one of the highlights of my life.

This grove is located within the Mount Goliath Natural Area.  The Rocky Mountain bristlecones don't live as long as the ones in California, Nevada and Utah, but 2,000 years is worth bragging rights.  The trees here are suffering from climate change.  A fungus disease, as well as the pine beetle are threatening the species.  And breaking my heart.

I love these trees.  I love how old they are.  Their gnarled and twisted shapes symbolize strength and perseverance.  As my own body begins to sag and wrinkle, I sometimes get depressed when I look at myself in the mirror.   When did I get so old?  So ugly?  Bristlecone pines scold me for such self-loathing. How dare you?  they cry out.  Old age is a gift.  Old bodies are beautiful.  Your face is a reflection of a full and happy life.  Be proud of your old and wrinkled face.

Live long.
With no regrets.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Driving up Mt. Evans

Exploring Colorado

Our flight did not leave until 7 pm.  What were we going to do all day?

"Let's drive to the top of Mount Evans," my travel buddy suggested.

I responded with incredulity.  "Do what?"

Although I'm the one who usually plans our excursions, he came up with some stellar ideas this time.  For one thing, he had been reading all about Colorado's 14ers and learned that the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway went all the way to the top of the mountain.  It is the highest paved road in North America.
I was in.

We stopped by the Visitor's Center in Idaho Springs for a map and to ask where to buy good picnic food.  The woman steered us to Two Brothers Deli where we purchased delicious ham on rye sandwiches and bottled iced tea.  Then off we went--9000 feet up on a narrow windy road that teetered on terrifying and terrific.

It didn't take long before we were in the alpine tundra, the harsh land above the treeline.  We stopped whenever it was safe to do so.  My travel buddy scrambled among the boulders while I took pictures of the mountainous world beyond that seemed to stretch into eternity.

Once we passed Summit Lake, the real fun began.  I confess I had to close my eyes a view times as my travel buddy slowly maneuvered a sharp curve and I looked down at a thousand foot drop.

This amazing highway was completed in 1930 and was the first major road in Colorado designed specifically as a "scenic" one.  I put quotations around this word because "scenic" is an understatement.  Scenic?  How about Staggering?  Remarkable?  Breath-taking?  And . . . oh yeah, scary as all get out! 
Because of snow and harsh winter winds, the road is only open between Memorial and Labor Days.  At the top we jostled for a parking space (Yes, unbelievably, it's crowded up here!) and then donned our down jackets before walking over to the observation platform.
What a thrill!  

The actual summit is another 134 feet up so my travel buddy had to take the trail up (of course).  I opted to stay below and explore the ruins of an old restaurant that unfortunately blew up from a propane explosion in 1979.  I could tell that it was once a beautiful stone building.  I understand, though, why they haven't rebuilt it.  There are too many people up here as it is.  Can you imagine the traffic nightmare if there was a restaurant up here, too?

There is also an observatory operated by the University of Denver up here.  It is a research facility for astronomical and related sciences and closed to the public.

We met an hour later and sadly, forced ourselves to get back into the car for the long drive down.  Our moods lifted, however, when we encountered a small group of mountain goats--the first we had seen on this trip.  They were shedding so were a bit shaggy, but who cares?  We jumped out of our car and took hundreds of pictures.

The drive up Mt. Evans is a great day trip out of Denver.  The airport is only 60 miles away so we were able to get our rental car back and make our flight with time to spare.

Our two weeks in Colorado this summer were memorable ones.  I feel we only scratched the surface of this beautiful state so we are already making plans to return.