Stakerk Trip Report, Kenya, August 2006

Old Sep 13th, 2006, 10:05 AM
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The only dissapointing thing in reading your report is my realizing that I will never again have a 'first time'.

First time landing in Africa and first time seeing my first animal in the wild.

Please keep going with the report!
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Old Sep 13th, 2006, 01:16 PM
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Hair dryers at Larsens, yippee!

I agree, don't leave any details out.
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Old Sep 13th, 2006, 01:23 PM
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This is not long winded at all. Plus your detailed observations will also be saved for you in the future as well as providing entertainment for those of us with a long way to go before we're back in Africa.

I could feel your anticipation in trying to find that first animal--scouring the barren mountainside, disappointment when it's just cattle. Then I enjoyed your excitement when you had your first sighting despite not really knowing what it was. Who cares? It was wild!

That's great you stretched your first ride into camp into an hour, wanting to look at every animal! Tarangire was my first park (with the Serengeti and Mara to come) and when I saw a wildebeest way in the distance I urged the driver to get close enough for a photo. When he declined, assuring me there would be many more, I was disappointed.

Your make believe description of what must go on behind the scenes for the staff to learn everyone's name is perfect. Their memories are amazing.

A cheetah at your first park. What a start. Looking forward to more.
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Old Sep 14th, 2006, 07:20 PM
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I really enjoyed your Kenya Trip Report. We have a 23 day trip to Kenya and Tanzania booked for Jan 07. Your videos were great and so were the photographs. I can hardly wait to go.
Thank you,
Ruth Smith
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 10:45 AM
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Thanks, I'm enjoying your trip report so much! And it's fun to go back and forth between your stories and your photos. Looking forward to reading more...
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Old Sep 17th, 2006, 01:11 PM
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Henry, our wonderful waiter, had asked us what time we wanted our wake up call for our 6:30 a.m game drive. We asked for 6 a.m.

I finally had a good night’s sleep. (Took a Ambien, no need for rehab on return thank goodness.)

However, I learned I should set my our alarm just before 6. Because Henry dutifully appeared on the veranda of our tent and called inside to wake us up. I thought he would just leave the hot chocolate on the table outside. I said thank you and bleerily started to get up. After about a minute, Henry let us know he was still there and needed to come inside with the stuff or the monkeys. I was rather embarassed at our ignorance. Not quite properly dressed I unzipped the tent flap and let him in. I had learned a lesson there. Set the alarm the next morning for 5:50 so I could somewhat dressed and ready to let him in.

I thought it weird. Hot chocolate in hot steamy Africa. Well it was not hot or steamy that morning. A bit cool and quite dry (an arid area you will remember.) They actually gave us steamed milk and we put chocolate powder in. Very good!

We hurried and got dressed and met Francis at 6:30 precisely. We were excited. What would we see today?

We went back to the bridge at the park entrance and went to the other (south?) side of the river.

We saw two male elephants tussling with each other (see videos). We also saw two giraffes pushing each other. We got a close look at a herd of Grevy’s zebra. Beautiful!

We got back to camp by 9 am. It seemed like noon we had seen so much.

Breakfast (as was always the case) was great. Cereals, fruit, juices, plus cooked choices.. I enjoyed the scrambled eggs with sausage and their (rather ham-like) bacon plus baked beans of all things.

Unlike the Mara, there was not game drive until 4 pm. We had some time to relax (thank goodness actually). Mari, Sean and I played a very close game of Scrabble in the main dining and bar tent.

We later met Francis a bit early at 3:30 p.m. so we could drive up to the Samburu manyatta (village) just outside the northern (Archer’s) gate of the park. We did a bit of a game drive along the way. In fact, it was obvious Francis knew exactly where to go up towards the foothills to find us a few Somali ostrich (another of the Samburu five). It thought they would not be much to see, just another big, bird. Wow! I was wrong. Beautiful. The feathers on the two males were so black and so white. We thought it ironic because we had just seen an exhibit of British colonial uniforms at Kensington Palace in London in which an exhibit talked about the white ostrich feathers of a traditional tropical uniform.

Just outside the gate were the homes of the people. Most of them were not the traditional mud structures but pretty crude more modern dwellings. Somewhat pieced together. The elementary school buildings needed painting. I have never seen such poverty. Amazing we can be so rich and they so poor. But is material wealth happiness (hopefully I will remember to discuss later.)?

Some people in western dress, other in native, very bright and beautiful.

We came to the village. Interesting, a number of adult men on one side of parking lot under a palm frond arbor. Sitting and standing around not doing anything. Suspected they were not allowed in, when tourists there. Only young males in the village.

Place at first had a bit of a feel of a tourist trap. Native “village” surrounded by a low wood branch fence, more to keep goats, than lions out. About 10 mud huts. Appeared some actually lived in.

Greeted by a beautiful lady (in dress and appearance), Mariana, and a young 20's male, Elijah. He dutifully took our $80, $20 per person. She was our guide. She had been educated in a university. Excellent English, said she had returned to teach pre-school. Very nice and gracious (but a little pushy on occasion trying to get us to buy stuff.)

We were then greeted by about 20 ladies (young and old) singing and dancing a welcome greeting. (See video) Beautiful clothing and jewelry. Very delightful.

They showed us a home. Made with cow dung over branches. Cow hides on the bedroom floor. Dark but comfortable. Did not smell badly.

Two young men then started a fire with just two sticks, twisting between the hands one of harder wood into one of softer wood. I had started fires as a Boy Scout with flint and steel. I knew how hard to do. This was pretty impressive. But could tell was pretty easy for them.

(Have to take off for Hawaii to do some work on our condo. Will try to write more on the plane.)
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 02:37 PM
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Kevin,
I’m enjoying your report. Your family has real entertainment value and you describe the safari feeling in a perfect way when you write about your wife beaming. It’s good that you remind people that the shilling is the national currency in Kenya. All details are very useful – don’t leave anything out.
As you’re asking, “But is material wealth happiness (hopefully I will remember to discuss later.)?” Reading trip reports (not just yours) it sure seems like it is.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 03:18 PM
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Thanks for the latest installment. And I'm with the others: the more details the better.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 11:35 PM
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Next, they began a dance. I can’t remember what it symbolized. But they grabbed Mari, Marisa and Sean by the hand and had them join. It was pretty fun. It was amazing how they could move their heads and upper body forward and back like a chicken. I filmed.

Next, they took us to a blacksmith demonstration. It was a bit lame. They used a hand bellows to heat up the fire, they put an already made spear blade into the fire and heated it red hot, then took it out and pounded on it a bit (not changing it at all). They then took the spear and led us to an adjoining area where about 10 village folk had blankets with stuff to sell. They added the spear to some other stuff for sale. The folk then pretty quickly inundated us offering things for sale. We had heard you were supposed to bargain, that paying what they asked was actually insulting. Sean immediately got into it (with $37 of my money I must add) and bought a spear, and two bracelets. I made it clear I was only filming things (and the money holder) and not interested in looking at anything. Mari and Marisa bought a few items of jewelry.


I had heard they were indifferent in Kenya whether to accept Kenya schillings or U.S. dollars. From this place where a few folk asked if I had schillings to exchange for a $20 bill to other places where they said they preferred schillings, I wished I had bought more schillings (I am repeating myself, aren’t I).

When we had walked in, we had passed a much larger circle of sellers where some other tourists were apparently wrapping up their visit. We then moved back near the entrance to the village to the larger circle of vendors. They looked so lovely in their colorful outfits. Just delightful (However kids were dressed in usually dirty western clothes, one three year old had on a dirty shirt with the Disney Mulan character on the front. I assume when you give clothes away to a thrift store, this is where the clothes end up they cannot sell.)

Thankfully these ladies usually stayed behind their blankets and did not come up and accost us too much. Mariana the guide did get a bit assertive in trying to get us to buy more stuff.

It felt sort of bad to bargain with them. Marisa and Mari wanted some more items of jewelry. They would for example start out at $22 dollars (in schillings) I would reply at $11 and we would settle at $17. They would then apply an exchange rate of about 70 schillings to the dollar. I would then pay in dollars. This would be for a very nice beaded necklace that I should be willing to pay a least $50 for. At times I would realize we were haggling over a dollar. I felt like an ugly American. I would then want to hand them what they were asking for plus another $5. I felt so guilty. I thought it would be great to come back some time. Bargain for and then buy some stuff, and then methodically hand each vendor an envelope and tell them to not open until we left and they would find a $20 bill in it (or better yet 1,500 schillings).

I discovered a couple of them had for sale necklaces with the horn of our favorite animal, the Dik dik (Marisa, “Dik dik attack!”) I bought one from each. In total I believe we bought about $130 in stuff.

We were ready to go. The ladies then took accompanied us out the entrance, singing a good bye song. We were really enjoying it. We were rather stupidly standing by the jeep until Francis told us to get in because they would not stop singing until we got in the vehicle. Mari and I felt pretty dumb.

We overall really enjoyed the visit. We drove away with broad smiles on our faces.

(Note: our guide Francis seemed to know many of the people. One would assume from his waiting with the vehicle many times waiting for his clients.)

As we drove back to the gate to the Park, we saw some of the lady vendors (we assumed) walking back to their homes. The poverty was not so striking, I guess we were already getting used to it.

One comment though. You could tell that wherever we went in Kenya the people were happy. They were at times literally dirt poor but content in their world. They had enough to eat and a family that loved them. I believe we in the West are less happy. I have surely learned in my work that money does not buy you happiness, in fact too much is a burden and causes more grief than benefit. Our possessions actually possess us at times. I have to fix the car. Clean the courtyard fountain. Keep the condo in Hawaii rented out. Keep viruses and spyware from the computer. On and on. Tasks that take time away from serving other people. The true key to happiness.

I had had to call the office the night before using the camp phone at $24 for three minutes. I could not get reception on the Celtel network, even from the waterhole lookout from which I had heard from a friend of my sister was the best place.

As we were returning from the village we were up in the foothills and I finally got cell service. I called back to the office and got things headed back in the right direction there. It was pretty weird to be talking to my lead assistant Vivian on her cell phone on her way to work in California as I am standing up in the back of the game vehicle looking at some game. Pretty wild.

I also called my mother. “Hi mom, I’m in Africa” and then describing what we were seeing. Lot’s of fun. [I especially enjoy calling my mother from weird places in the world. I once called her early in the morning for me and late at night for her, from a TGV train hurtling across France. “Mom, this train must be doing at least 120 MPH. This is awesome!”]

I only got reception once from the Camp lookout. On the other hand, I learned the camp staff all used Safaricom for their mobile service. I saw them answering their phones frequently and so must have had pretty good service. Note: the opposite was true in the Mara. Safaricom claims they have coverage over all of Kenya but staff down there said they all had Celtel because Safaricom was so bad. In fact, I bought some more time cards from a staff member at Little Governor’s who had a little business on the side selling them. I felt like I was buying drugs the way they were so discreet about it) Celtel worked fine in Lamu, even on the other side of the island at Kizingo. It was pretty wild to sit on the woven mat of their little gift shop hut just before dinner and give direction to my staff back in California (about 10 am their time).

Returning to camp we saw lots of animals. Mari was just simply in heaven seeing many reticulated giraffes. The orange color of their markings is just so beautiful.

Back camp after dark. They have guards to accompany you as you walk from place to place. I thought it weird a guard started following me as I went from the center of camp to the lookout (their waterhole is lit at night). He stood discreetly at the bottom of the stairs and followed close behind me with a flashlight as I walked back to the dining tent. The next day when I saw the staff chasing a bunch of baboons around the inside of the camp, I realized the electric fence was not a perfect barrier and was glad they were more cognizant of my safety than me.

The next morning I was up at 5:50 and then dressed and ready for Henry with the hot chocolate stuff. (Boy I had felt stupid the morning before.) Still felt pretty rocky from jet lag. Running pretty much on adrenaline. Amazing how much we had experienced in just 42 hours in Samburu.

By the way, I cannot imagine staying less than three nights at a camp like this, much less two nights. I guess because I like to settle in (and also take so long to unpack and then pack my stuff.)

We then piled into the jeep (I’m sorry but game vehicle in getting a bit long to type.) Francis is really an ace guide. We were driving along the road parallel to the river towards the gate when he stopped the vehicle, backed up, and pointed down to the dusty road and said, “lion tracks.” Sure enough, there were some huge cat prints, this was either a lion or the biggest house cat on the planet.

I had let him know I really wanted to see the Big Five, had seen two of the five (Ele and buffalo). Boy, those buffalo look mean. We also still needed to see a leopard and a rhino.

Francis then dutifully circled the vehicle around and then through the area of bushes near the tracks. We looked very hard but did not find them. Oh well.

We then proceeded to the south park gate and the bridge. As we pulled up to the bridge there were a couple of game vehicles stopped on it. We stopped just short of the bridge and watched the baboons play on the guard house. All of a sudden we saw the other vehicles take off and turn left (east I believe). Francis rather calmly put our vehicle in gear and we started across the bridge. I could see the other were really hauling. We began to follow them at a more leisurely but still quick (not like their insane) pace. They were really bouncing around along the track.

I thought this might be interesting. I assumed we were after something. Francis was his usual taciturn self.

We fairly quickly pulled up to a clearing with a few (maybe seven) vehicles around it. We came to a stop and Francis calmly said, “Leopard”. L L L L LEOPARD! Across the clearing I caught a glimpse of it walking behind a big tree. I pointed out to my family its tail sticking out still visible. HOLY MOLY!

Just as we are really realizing what is going on (all this has taken maybe five seconds) and begin the focus on the tail. Cameras at the ready. As if on cue from the film director, the leopard comes around from behind the tree and STARTS WALKING STRAIGHT TOWARDS US.

He walks up and glances up at us. He has to walk around the rear of our vehicle. I am so excited and happy I say, “I just want to bawl.” He then stops just on the other side and poses as as if for our cameras. I am surprised he is not bigger. I then rather stupidly say (you can hear this on the videotape), “he is a young one”. Francis later corrects me and tells me his is five years old. (It is amazing how they get to personally know the big cats).

He then moved into the bushes. Francis then expertly and quickly whipped our vehicle around to the other side of the bushes (I now counted 18 vehicles in the area.) He stopped at the perfect spot to see the cat move past an opening and plop down leaving his tail visible. The vehicle behind us moved backwards for a better view that at least gave us a view through a bush of the leopard grooming himself. After a couple of minutes we left so others could get a look. WOW!

We then wandered around the south side of the river. Everything else paled in comparison to the leopard.

We stopped and looked at the baboons near the bridge. A cute youngster was particularly fun to watch. Very cute. Too bad they grow up to become such little monsters.

On the north side of the river, another driver told Francis of a sight to see. We went a bit upcountry to the north and came upon a cheetah docilely sitting not more than 7 meters from the dirt track. Must not have been hungry, there was a herd of gazelle not more than 150 meters away.

We felt so blessed to see such magnificent animals. We returned for breakfast, what a morning!

MORE TO COME,

Next the Game Walk: “The giraffes never cross the river, they are afraid of the crocodilles.”
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 11:43 PM
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Nyamera: You are correct, material wealth allowed us to go to Africa.

However, I am in Hawaii at our condo. I spent all of today doing tasks to maintain our condo. In theory, I could have done something to serve another person today instead of looking for an ironing board cover and doing other selfish things.

Just a thought

Kevin from California
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Old Sep 19th, 2006, 02:05 PM
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Kevin,

You should not feel foolish about the young leopard comment. Using that standard of 7 cat/dog years for every 1 human year, that makes the cat only 35. I consider that quite young! Leopards seem to have a huge size range, regardless of age.

The material wealth discussion is a good topic for this forum:
http://www.simpleliving.net/forums/

The fact that the Maasais were bargaining makes me think they were doing what they could to amass some more of that material wealth. I'm a poor bargainer and my level of wealth probably suffers as a result.

I am glad your family appreciates the unique little antelope--the dik dik. I really like them too.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 04:49 AM
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Kevin,
I am thoroughly enjoying your report. Your impressions were so similar to mine and I feel like I am right there with you. I was a first-timer in March, and thus far an only-timer, but still dream of returning.
The experience of Africa truly is life changing, I felt it every day while on safari. The one that lingers the strongest is, as you mentioned...who is better off? I too felt such a sense of peace and happiness from the people we encountered along the way. Since returning I have a strong desire to un-clutter my life, and give something of myself to others. Our lives are busy, busy, busy, and all the while we are missing out on the simple joys of life. I watched all of your wonderful videos and as impressive as they were the thing I notice most is the laughter of you and your family!
Keep it coming, I'm enjoying the ride!
Teri
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 10:03 AM
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Kevin and Teri,
Most Kenyans are busy, busy, busy trying to feed, cloth and educate their families and not all are successful at this. I think 100% of the “happy” people you saw would be a lot happier if they had a condo to rent out, or sell. “Who is better off?” It just beggars belief that you can ask such a question. You have CHOICES. Sell your condos, give away all you money and try to survive on subsistence farming or street hawking, if you think that will make you happier – it won’t even if your families would stay with you and love you. You could sell the condos and other things that “possess you” and travel to Kenya and buy necklaces for the money. That would probably make you and the necklace sellers happier – just do it.
To get some sense of reality you could read I Laugh So I Won’t Cry by Helena Halperin. This book, recommended by Jan here on Fodor’s contains interviews with normal Kenyan women, though wealthier women are overrepresented.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 11:16 AM
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I will stick with the condo but I do wonder if a bit less and simpler would be better. (I guess I should not bare my soul too much and stick with the story.)
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 11:36 AM
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Kevin, I am enjoying both your trip report and hearing your thoughts about your experience. I know when I went to India earlier this year it really made me appreciate the material benefits I have in my life (and I am not at all rich by the standards of the area where I live!), and it also made me take a new, harder look at what it takes to make a person "happy" with their life. Of course most people living in developing countries would prefer to have more material and educational advantages (and I didn't get the impression you were saying otherwise). But still, it can be very inspiring to talk to someone who has a positive outlook on life, even while they are living with much, much less material wealth than we have and much more hardship in terms of just getting by. Maybe I am misreading you, but the impression I'm getting from your comments is that your trip to Africa influenced you to think differently about your own life, and I think that is a positive thing for any of us. I really like reading about what people take away from their safari experience, not just about what animals they see along the way.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 11:38 AM
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Nyamera,

I know I shouldn't get involved in this discussion, but...yikes, I just can't help myself.

I think when people express shock or even what seems a kind of envy for "happy Africans" it's more because we who are so very privileged find it hard to imagine that we could ever smile given such despearate circumstances, e.g. very little in terms of material wealth and the trauma of little to no health care not to mention insurance, uncertain employment, very poor public school system, lack of opportunity for our children, etc.

But of course, as fragile as humans are, most are also unbelievably resilient. Life is hard, and how much harder it would be if one never laughed, smiled, found things to lighten one's mood, people to love and so on. Poor people laugh while leading poor, difficult lives. I don't think anyone on this board is trying to suggest that somehow their poverty makes them happier in any way. Of course it's better to have a job, health insurance and a retirement fund. A good education. Personal safety and stable government. Hope for the future and the futures of loved one's as well as for humanity.

Um, what was I saying again?

Oh yeah, we as the fortunates, can choose to rid ourselves of the flotsam and jetsam, the vile excess that clutters our lives and alienates us. Doesn't have to mean throwing out one's retirement funds, houses and gourmet cheeses. But hopefully keeping our acquisitiveness in check will enable us to feel more free to pursue social and economic justice for those who haven't been lucky enough to be born in a certain place, in a certain country to certain parents.

Now you're gonna tell me you're not one of the fortunates. If that is the case, my response is: Is there anything I can do to help? I am trying.

Sorry to get in such a lather over this on your thread, Kevin. Carry on.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 12:04 PM
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Dang it all. I retract everything I just wrote and want to go on record as saying, "I agree with MyDogKyle."
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 12:41 PM
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And I agree with you too, Leely! Kevin, please feel free to bare your soul as you tell us your story.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 12:51 PM
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Kevin,

Go ahead and bare your soul or whatever else you wish. Travel at its best expands the mind and that process, when shared with others, can appear free wheeling and candid.

It generated some more good comments from Nyamara and that insightful dog of Kyle's. Leely's flotsam/jetsam comment alone was worth the effort to log on.

You may indeed start finding that less is more and how nice your kids are sure to be pondering such questions as well.

Now back to acquiring material wealth...
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 01:06 PM
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Kevin,
Please don't just "stick to the story." My favorite part of trip reports is the impressions, emotions and opinions people come away with.
I, like you, came away with a sense of focusing on the important things in life and a renewed appreciation for the priviledges I have.
Teri
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