Elena’s Visit

Hi!
Elena was just here for two weeks!! For those who don’t know her, Elena is a friend from Cedarwood.
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While she was here, we went to Ol Pejeta, Nakuru, Maji Moto, and the Maasai Mara.

At Ol Pejeta, we stayed at the Ol Pejeta house for the first night. It was a huge house, and when I say huge, I mean huge. In my parents room, there was this bed like two king sizes put together.
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On our first morning at Ol Pejeta, we went lion tracking, but instead of lions, we saw a cheetah and her baby! On our way back to the house, we saw a lion, but it wasn’t one of the ones we were tracking. The way the lion tracking works is some of the lions have collars with a tracking device in them. If you get close to one of them, this GPS starts beeping.

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The next night we camped. The place we camped was right near a river, and earlier, in the day, we saw some giraffes cross the river. On our last day, we went and saw the chimps. The Chimps were really cool, but it was so hot and sunny, it was hard to enjoy them.

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We arrived at the farm in Nakuru at about 8:30pm, where we ate dinner and set up camp. Unfortunately, me and Elena didn’t put the fly on properly, and in the morning, all our stuff was soaked. The next day we went and visited the Menengai crater, but it was so foggy you could barely see anything! Eventually, it cleared up a little, though. We spent two nights in Nakuru, then my parents and Zeke went back to Nairobi, while I went to Maji Moto with Elena.

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While we were at Maji Moto, we went on a long walk down to a small school, where we played games with the the kids, though I never understood the actual rules of the games. After that we had warrior training, which included chucking sticks at each other and the Maasai jumping dance.

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After Maji Moto, we went to the Maasai Mara, where we stayed at Aruba tented camp. In the Mara, we saw lots of lions, two more cheetahs, tons of hippos, some giraffes, and two herds of elephants. On our first day in the Mara, it started to rain and hail!

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It was awesome hanging out with Elena!!

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Our Trip to Ethiopia by Anya

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For the last week we’ve been in Ethiopia and I’m going to tell you what we did.

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For the first two days of our trip, we were in Addis Ababa, where we stayed at the Taitu Hotel, which is historical, but not the best. It’s historical because Empress Taitu, who created Addis Ababa because of the hot springs, built it so people who came to her city had a place to stay.

We also went to the ethnological museum. It probably would have been really interesting if I hadn’t been half asleep, thanks to our 6 am plane ride (which meant we got up at 3:30 am). The only part I felt inclined to wake up for was the tour of Emperor Haile Selassie’s bedroom, it had all the original furniture. Right next to the bedroom was something that looked like a trophy room full of things given to the emperor by other countries.

The taxi driver that took us around Addis the first day was super rude. He argued with my dad about the price they had already agreed upon. Eventually two other guys came over and started yelling at our driver. We just walked away.

Another thing we did in Addis was have a traditional lunch. It was pretty good except the injera, which was sour, so Zeke and I ate the beef and other things with bread instead.

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The next two days we spent in Gondar, sometimes referred to as Africa’s Camelot. There we visited the old emperors’ castles. The oldest one is 470 years old. Only one of them was still completely standing though it wasn’t safe to go to the second or third floors; however, they’re working on it to make it safe for visitors. That was King Fasillades’ castle and it was awesome.

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On the second day, we went to the Simien Mountains where we saw beautiful scenery and a large troop of Gelada baboons, at least they were called “baboons” but scientists decided they’re actually monkeys. We got to sit among the troop and they didn’t pay any attention to us.

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Zeke and I negotiated with the local crafstpeople in the mountains and I got a container made of fur and leather and Zeke got a flyswatter that worked well as a wig and tail as well!

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After Gondar we went to Lalibella where we visited tons of old churches all carved completely out of stone. By the end of the church tour, I felt like if we visited one more church, I was going to scream. Unfortunately we did go visit another church the next day but we took a steep, scary, gravelly, mule ride up to it so everything was ok (I didn’t scream).

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On our last night in Lalibella, we ate at a restaurant where there was traditional dancing. This style of dancing is done all in the shoulders and it’s super hard. I know because I tried! The dancers brought people up from the audience to dance with them.

On our last day in Addis, we didn’t do much because we were so tired. We just hung out at the Sheraton Hotel before our 11:15 pm flight. We finally arrived home at 3:30 am!

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Winter Holidays in Kenya by Anya

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I hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year! Though I don’t know what people did without our Christmas Eve party!ūüėČ

The weather in Nairobi wasn’t so great. It wasn’t hot enough to be hot and not cold enough to be cold. But aside from that, I had pretty good break. We went to Diani Beach, which was hot, for a week at the beginning of break and got so much sun I’m probably as tan as you, Claire, if not more. We went to the coast, at a place called Diani, with 2 other families and rented a house with a pool, two cooks, a gardener, and a maid. We (the kids) spent most of our day in the pool only getting out for meals and the occasional movie/rest time.

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Our trip to Diani also included some camel riding , which was extremely fun. To me, the best part about riding the camels was when the camel stood up or sat down. Even though it could be slightly terrifying , it was really fun. This was because first in order to get into the saddle, the camel kneeled and once on, it would pitch forward at a forty-five degree angle. Then, once the camel stood, you felt like a giant.

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Another outing we took at the coast was to go snorkeling in the Indian Ocean. It was beautiful and we saw lots of colorful fish, a giant sea turtle swimming by, and even some dolphins jumping out of the water from the boat!

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I know most of you are wondering what it is like having Christmas in Kenya. That’s what I’ll tell you next. Honestly the biggest differences were the weather and the Christmas tree. In Portland on Christmas Eve it’s all cold and grey, but here, I was actually wearing shorts and a t-shirt outside and was perfectly warm. Personally, I prefer the cold Christmas to the warm sunny one.

In Portland most people, or at least most people I know, go out to tree farms to pick out a Christmas tree, then have hot chocolate and all that. Here, well, it’s quite different. This is how we got our Christmas tree: We were on our way home from Village Market, one of the malls, when we saw two men on the side of the road selling dead branches spray-painted white. We pulled over, looked at a few of them, picked one out, and put it in the trunk.

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We did still have our Christmas Eve party (yes, Dylan, with the chocolate bark), but it felt very different. For one thing, the guests left much earlier, and for another, we spent pretty much the whole time outside.

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Christmas day was also very different from in the states. For instance, one of me and Zeke’s favorite presents was a box of Cheerios, that a friend of a friend brought over. And on Christmas day, we usually go over to Jean and Mark’s, or another family friend’s house for dinner, but here in Kenya, we went for a walk in the tea fields.

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One of the weirdest things was the stockings, they were boots. Another present was to adopt an elephant from this elephant orphanage, and we are going to visit sometime soon.

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We are also going to Ethiopia tomorrow, and when we get back, Elena will be here! I will post a blog of our Ethiopian adventures next.

Hope you all had a happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!

Anya

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Trip to Samburu Land (and Prince George’s naming ceremony)

In a prior post, we introduced Dixon Lemelita, a talkative Samburu that took us on a game drive in Tsavo West.  Dixon told us quite a bit about his hometown of Wamba in Samburu Land and about Samburu culture and traditions (for instance, they pull out the two bottom teeth of children, apparently to allow for straw feeding in the event they contract tetanus/lockjaw).  Dixon offered to take us to his home for a visit and to look at possible development projects around water and renewable energy.  So I took him up on his offer and we headed to Wamba last week for three days.  (Pictures below are of Dixon and me with Samburu sacred mountain РOlolokwe Рin the background, and Dixon and his daughter in their family compound.

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Wamba is in the heartland of Samburu Land in north central Kenya.  To get there from Nairobi, you drive north through Thika (where Aldous Huxley wrote about her childhood among the Flame trees), then past Mt. Kenya to Nanyuki (a center of British colonialism and still with a fairly high number of white Kenyans), then Isiola (the gateway to Northern Kenya and transition from mountain to plains), and finally on to Wamba.  You know you are leaving central Kenya and entering northern Kenya when you start spotting camels on the road side and in the villages.

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The roads on this journey are probably the best in Kenya.  From Nairobi to Thika there is the fairly new Chinese built six lane highway with not a pot hole in sight.  However they do place speed bumps along the way to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the highway.  I guess pedestrian overpasses were not in the budget but it entirely defeats the purpose of a six lane highway to force cars to come to a virtual halt at a series of speed bumps.  The rest of the way to Isiola and beyond is good condition two land tarmac (with real shoulders!) and the portion from Isiola to the far north is brand new.  Again, no potholes.

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A few kilometers north of Isiola (at Archer’s Post and the main gate to Samburu National Preserve), you leave the main road and take a rutted dirt road the remaining bumpy 15 kilometers or so to Wamba. ¬†The women and men in the region appear split roughly 50/50 between those that dress traditionally and modern. ¬†Most striking are the young warriors in their traditional clothes and weapons and the married women with their distinctive beaded neck rings.

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We arrived in the evening and Dixon’s wife, Faith (most Samburu have English and Samburu names) graciously cooked us a meal of meat and ugali. ¬†Actually Dixon and Faith are still engaged but have lived together for many years and have two cute kids aged 11 and 6. Most Samburu men don’t reach the marrying age until they are around 30, and the older men tend to get first dibs on the young Samburu women to marry (two wives are still fairly common in the region provided the man has enough goats, cows, and/or camels for the expensive dowry). ¬†Dixon managed to buck the tradition and have her move in with him.

The next morning we went for a hike into the surrounding mountains to the source of the gravity flow water system that Dixon helped build (actually repair and upgrade) several years ago.  All of Wamba and the neighboring villages, to the extent they have any potable water, get it from the mountain streams.  The system we visited started at a spring high up on the mountain where they built a concrete retaining wall and then pipe it down the mountain to a holding tank where it then continues by gravity to three pump locations in the surrounding villages.  Dixon wanted to show me the system to see if it could be upgraded to a larger pipe size so that more water could be transported to the holding tank daily as the community use runs the tank dry even during the rainy season.  In the dry season, there is not enough water produced in the mountains to meet the community needs, so we also discussed the possibility of erecting a sand dam along one of the eroded pathways from the mountain.  A sand dam captures water during rainy season high runoff and holds it for many months so the community can access water even during the dry season.

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We took a village friend of Dixon’s on the trek up into the mountain as there are many wild buffalo and some elephants that can pose a danger – particularly the buffalo, who kill Samburu cattle herders every year in the mountains. ¬†Fortunately we did not run across any buffalo though we saw plenty of signs of them. ¬†We did enjoy the views in the mountains – called the Matthews Range ¬†(Ol Doinyo Lenkiyo in Samburu). ¬†The Matthews Range is a much studied island ecosystem as it is cut off from other forests and remains very pristine with no logging or other roads making inroads into them. As a result, there are many unique species there of tree, plant and animal. ¬†We saw several examples of an endemic and rare form of cycad that grows barely five millimetres a year – a 15-foot-cycad can be several hundreds of years old. ¬†We also saw a yellow frog with red stripes on its legs¬†that neither Dixon or his friend had ever seen before.

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After coming down from the mountain and relaxing over lunch at his home, we headed out to visit one of the local markets a few villages over.  But on the way out of town, we stumbled upon a convoy of what turned out to be dignitaries assembling for some event at a meeting ground.  Not one to miss out on a party, we joined in with the convoy and found ourselves at a ceremony involving the British High Commissioner (like our Ambassador) and many Samburu politicians and village elders.  There was lots of traditional dancing followed by speeches by local dignitaries and finally by the High Commissioner.  I did not know what the ceremony was for until half way through when it became clear from speeches that it was not about a development project Britain had agreed to fund but rather a naming ceremony for baby Prince George, son of Prince William and Princess Kate!

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The British royalty, it turns out, have a long standing affinity for this area, since Queen II visited in 1952 (she was on her honeymoon and staying in Nyeri County to the south near Mt. Kenya when she learned her father had died and she would be queen). Prince William also has gained an affection for Kenya and visited many times, including a visit to Samburu land in 2004 and then proposing to Kate on the slopes of Mt. Kenya in 2010.  So it was a bit surreal to be out in a fairly remote region of Kenya only to stumble upon a British royal naming ceremony (George was named Lomunyak by the way, meaning blessed, and he was given a small herd of cattle, now the royal herd, to be raised in Samburu land).  But the cultural dancing I got to see was tremendous and very lucky (I love the contrast between traditional costume and song and the newer technology of a microphone above).

Leaving the naming ceremony, we proceeded to the nearby market down the rutted dirt road.  We arrived near the end of the market day, but had a chance to see many young Samburu warriors strutting around as well as traditionally clad market women. Arriving back in Wamba for the evening, we had dinner and visited with friends and family of Dixon around town.

The next day we visited a primary school in one of the neighboring villages that Dixon helped get funding to build and discussed possible solar pv for the roof to enable Samburu warriors to study at night. Education is one avenue to steer the warriors away from night time cattle raiding by giving them alternatives for their time and opportunity for careers in something other than cattle herding.  On our way back from the school, we stopped by the same friend that hiked in the mountains with us and saw his puppies.  We had been considering getting a puppy for Christmas for the kids and he wanted to get rid of some of the litter so I wound up taking two of the pups and Dixon a third for his son, and we headed on our way.

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Most housing in the villages no longer is done by the traditional methods seen in the first two photos below.  Rather, they now often place tarps on the roofs to keep water out.  It is not as visually applealing as the rock and wood types of construction but is cheaper and efficient.

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I love the way women carry and contain their children in most parts of Africa, including Samburu land!

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Our final stop in Samburu land was a visit and game drives in the nearby Samburu National Game Preserve. ¬†It is one of the “Big Five” parks in Kenya, and hosts a large herd of elephants as well as rarer species of giraffe (reticulated and found only in parts of Northern Kenya), gerenuk (a form of antelope with long necks almost like a mix between giraffe and antelope).

The preserve has beautiful vistas of mountains and a large river flowing through.

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We spent the night at an Elephant research station owned by Save the Elephants and had a lovely visit with the staff and with a reporter and cameraman that happened to be staying with the staff as well.  Below is a photo of one of their cars that got on the wrong side of a cross elephant a few years ago.

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We did not see any lion or leopard but saw tons of elephants at very close range

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as well as oryx, gerenuk, kudu, dik dik, numerous bird species (including ostrich) and one solitary reticulated giraffe.

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Returning to Nairobi with our new Samburu puppies, we stopped again for nyama choma in Nanyuki and arrived home with a vehicle that earned its keep.

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Days 2 and 3 – In Search of the River Nile

DSCF5958While perhaps not as challenging as the efforts of John Speke over 150 years ago to confirm the southernmost source of the Nile, the journey from Kenya to Jinja, Uganda, still poses some obstacles – mainly crossing the border, avoiding collisions with trucks and matatus, and minimizing inevitable traffic police stops.

We started our journey to Uganda by crossing the Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria and through the beautiful Kerio Valley.  In fact, we found the Kerio Valley, which apparently is a subvalley in the more expansive greater Rift Valley, to be even more stunning than the wider sections of the Rift Valley.

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We went down one switchback escarpment and up another where we encountered a local bicycle racing team, a pack of mules, a waterfall, and crossed the equator along the way.

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This part of Kenya is home to the¬†Kipsigis, a subgroup of the Kalenjin,¬†who are reputed to produce the best long distance runners in the world. ¬†We passed through the town of Iten, which has a world renowned training center for runners. ¬†The town is featured in Adharanand Finn’s 2012 book¬†Running With The Kenyans.¬†Road biking is a much newer sport in Kenya, but the same cardiovascular results no doubt will follow.

After departing the Kerio Valley it was a long pastoral and pot holed slog through Eldoret and to the border town of Malaba.  Note the side saddle way women sit on motorbikes in Kenya, and in this case with a baby in her arms to boot.  Yikes! The last photo shows vehicles traveling on the right side of the road (the wrong side in Kenya) to avoid potholes.

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We finally arrived at the border in the early evening after a good 8 hours of driving.  We were able to pass in front of many dozens of trucks waiting to pass through customs and it only took us 2 hours to circumnavigate the authorities on both sides of the border Рfirst customs to get approval to take our car out of Kenya, then immigration for our passports and visa checks, then money changers to swap Kenyan for Ugandan shillings, then the police to bless everything, then roughly the same process on the other side.  It took a bit longer than normal in that the Ugandan customs official could not log into his computer for a good 20 minutes because his password would not work, while I sat patiently looking at the sign above his head declaring it imperative that customs officials process customers quickly to promote a business friendly climate for Uganda!

With the sun setting, we grabbed a hotel room in the Ugandan border town of Tororo, had a delicious Lake Victoria Tilapia dinner, and awaited our final push to Jinja in the morning (while the kids watched the Disney Kids channel on the sattelite tv).

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Tilapia before…….

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And after………

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We were up early the next morning and after a basic breakfast (saved only by the tasty Ugandan bananas!) we made the last push to Jinja.  We were stopped within 20 kilometers by our first traffic cop (they are all dressed smartly in bright white uniforms) but he was pleasant, merely looked at my license, and waved us on without any request for money or claim of an infraction.

Upon entering Jinja, we headed to an overlanders camp and banda site along the river called River Explorers Camp.  It was up a very narrow dirt road made more challenging by someone seemingly randomly plowing the sides of the road into large gullies.  The village kids got a real kick out of the difficulties the vehicles had in navigating the obstacle course!

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We finally arrived in time for a late lunch to an incredibly beautiful oasis looking out over the River Nile.

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That evening we went on a magical sunset kayak on the river (particularly magical after the 2nd gin and tonic!).  The full moon rising on one side of the river and the sun setting on other as we paddled around and swam to the quiet of dusk falling on the river, shared only with a few fishermen and a family washing at the river side.

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The next day, after a leisurely morning, we headed up the river to view one of the many world class rapids along the river.  We stopped at a more exclusive resort overlooking the rapids for lunch and viewing at Dead Dutchman rapids (thankfully not David).

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Getting back to John Speke, the River Nile at its outflow from Lake Victoria, looks nothing like what it did in Speke’s day. ¬†Then, the source of the White Nile (which merges with the Blue River in Khartoum in northern Sudan) was a large falls cascading out of the lake, named Ripon Falls by Speke (he also named the lake after his queen). Those falls became submerged with completion of the Owen Falls Dam in 1954, which enlarged the size of Lake Victoria. ¬†Then, just two years ago, an even larger second dam, the Bujagali Dam, was completed downriver of the River Explorer Camp at what had been Bujagali Falls, creating the lovely reservoir we kayaked and swam in, but removing a section of the class 4 and 5 whitewater that had been a part of the draw for adventure kayakers from around the world. Below is a picture taken before the Bujagali Dam was constructed at roughly the same location we kayaked in.

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Now, just two weeks ago, Uganda announced an agreement for yet another large dam further downstream and to be built and financed by the Chinese.  The new dam, if completed, would wipe out the remaining class 4 and 5 whitewater sections of the river, including Dead Dutchman rapids, and end adventure kayaking in the region. Needless to say, environmentalists and river enthusiasts are up in arms, but there is no meaningful environmental permitting process, so stopping construction of the new dam is not likely.

This is part of a larger water war over the past and future of the Nile. There are two large dams in the Sudan on the Blue Nile tributary, the Sennar (1925) and the Roseires (1966 and expanded in 2013). Ethiopia is in the process of building the largest dam of all on the River Nile, the Grand Rennaisance Dam. ¬†It has caused significant tension with Egypt, which gets 95% of its water from the Nile. Egypt has its own large dam, the Aswan Dam (completed in 1970). ¬†As population grows, and the region becomes drier due to climate change, there will only be increasing conflict over the Nile’s waters and to what extent they are diverted for agricultural and electric purposes upstream of Egypt.

Saying goodbye to the River Nile and the concerns over its white water future, we were off on our next Ugandan adventure, passing through Kampala and to our ultimate destinations, Entebbe, Lake Victoria and the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

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Day 1: In Search of Flamingos

DSCF5715 The kids had a mid-term break from school so we took a six day overland trip to Uganda. The trip was supposed to be ten days but car trouble delayed our departure. The extent of our car troubles will have to be covered in its own dedicated blog entry!

Our first day we drove to Lake Bogoria to view the flamingos. We previously visited Lakes Elementeita and Nakuru, where historically many of the famous pink flamingos hang out.  As mentioned in a previous blog, they feast on algae and tiny crustaceans in the alkaline lakes in the Rift Valley so do not live in the freshwater lakes Navaisha and Baringo, which are home to crocs and hippos.

The lake water levels are in constant fluctuation. A few years ago residents and environmentalists were concerned by the declining water levels but now the lakes are experiencing higher than usual levels thereby displacing many popular tourist destinations as well as local residents. Unfortunately, the much higher than usual water levels have reduced the amount of nutrients for the flamingos to feast on in the chain of lakes. They have settled on Lake Bogoria for now to try to eke out enough food to sustain them through the year.

The first half of the drive to Bogoria was on the main highway to Nakuru, but from there we hit the side roads which started with pot-holed tarmac (paved road for the American reader) and ended in varying states of dirt roads.  We stopped for a lovely picnic near Nakuru and then for sodas at a small village shop.

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After much driving on very rough road, and being chased by local boys, we finally reached the gate for the Lake Bogoria National Reserve and a short while later got our first glimpse of the lake and the pink ribbon along the lake shore!

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Because Lake Bogoria is experiencing very high water levels much of the road that runs along the lake shore is under water.  So we followed a diversion road onto the hillside and higher ground.

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We enjoyed watching the flamingos in the afternoon, evening and again the following morning, enjoying the varying colors and textures in the differing light.  Incredibly, Lake Bogoria is rarely visited by tourists and we were the only visitors through the western gate on the day we entered.  As a result we had the lake shore to ourselves the whole time we viewed the birds.

Evening …

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Morning….

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Despite all the beauty, nature also displays stark realities. One disturbing thing we witnessed was dozens of flamingo carcasses littered in the acacia trees.  Apparently one down side of flying in formation is that birds on the ends occasionally fly into the thorny trees and impale themselves.  In addition, as mentioned, with the amount of nutrients in the lake very low, many flamingos are dying of disease and malnutrition.

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In addition to flamingos, there were other big birds to see as well, including ostrich, fish eagle (that are also affected by the reduced food options on the lake and have taken to eating juvenile flamingos), and maribou storks.

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During our morning viewing of the flamingos, we met a local boy, Vincent. Before realizing what he was offering, he ran into the lake ‘encouraging’ the flamingos to fly for a better photo opportunity. ¬†At least it was not as bad as the claims of Chinese tourists throwing rocks at the flamingos to try to get them to fly…..

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It was a pretty magical experience to commune with the flamingos and we were fortunate to have such a great viewing opportunity before the flamingos head down to the their traditional breeding ground on Lake Natron in Tanzania.

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p.s. If you want to see some professional level photos of flamingos at Bogoria, check outhttp://www.airpano.com/360Degree-VirtualTour.php?3D=Flamingos-Lake-Bogoria-Kenia.

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Market Day in Limuru

We took a family outing to the local market in Limuru this weekend. The market is daily but the most produce is available on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Vibrant colors of all sorts of fruit, vegetables, and women’s head scarves. ¬†We weaved our way through the maze of stalls and bought some staples: potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro and avocados, and some exotic fruits to taste: passion fruit and marula (called mng’ongo in Swahili and used to make the liquer Amarula, which tastes a lot like Baileys Irish Cream). ¬†Prices are very low for these fruits and vegetables, with dozens of stalls selling the exact same produce – whatever is in season¬†(our favorite is the 8 cent avocados!).

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Below is a woman selling passion fruit and oranges.  She told us that passion fruit makes you strong!

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Below is Kenyan tea being sold in bulk, along with various staples including rice and beans.

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Dave and Zeke, as males and wazungu (whites in Swahili), were in the distinct minority walking around the domain of female sellers and buyers.

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Anya was not terribly excited about walking through the maze of produce stalls but perked up when we passed a clothing stall where she selected a pink t-shirt with only a small hole in the shoulder (opening the door for some discount haggling).

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Below is the truckload of sugar cane delivered to the market with market stalls in background.  Kenyans love to gnaw on their sugarcane.

 

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After buying our produce, we headed to the tailor’s shop to buy fabric and have table napkins made (when Susan first asked just for napkins, they apparently thought we meant diapers!). ¬†An ¬†hour later we walked off with 20 handmade cloth napkins!

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We ended the outing with a visit to a local nyama choma (grilled meat in Swahili) restaurant where we feasted on freshly grilled goat meat and ugali (boiled cornmeal) with salsa.  While only Dave has developed an affection for ugali, all partook in the goat meat.  We selected the leg of the goat we wanted to eat, they carved it off the hanging carcass (sparing some of you the graphic photo) and roasted it on coals.  Tasty! The joint even had an ancient billiard table with differing sized balls for Zeke and Dave to play on.

A wonderful Saturday!

 

 

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