Sitting on the plane I am so excited to finally be heading off to Africa with my husband, Randy. We had planned to take a photographic safari for our 10th wedding anniversary and now, almost 15 years into our marriage the dream is finally being realized. I believe we packed just about everything possible to ward off anything flying, crawling and even walking within a foot of us. All of the required shots and medications were taken so that we return healthy, barring the unthinkable event of a feeding frenzy by some wild beasts mistaking us for an animal on the lower food chain!
Saturday, June 22, we arrived in London, England. Randy and I check into our hotel near the airport and quickly head into downtown London. First stop, a pub to munch down some of Randy’s favorite fish & chips with malt vinegar. I search the menu for something recognizable with no animal meat, ultimately ordering ravioli with cheese sauce. Maybe I’m really in Italy? No chance of that once the plate comes out!! Walking through London we are quickly brought back to the sights and sounds of our first trip abroad reminiscing about how excited we were the first time we ventured across the pond. We maneuvered around using the subway (the easiest and fastest way) taking our pictures of Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and any other landmarks along the way (which there are too many to mention here, lest this becomes a three page blog). It was now time to get back on the Piccadilly Underground Line heading toward Heathrow, then boarding the 185 Bus to our hotel….ooops, we forgot to get off at our destination so we’re now back at the airport waiting for the 185 bus again!! Wow, 1 hour later we’ve arrived at our hotel in time to eat dinner and head to bed!
Sunday, June 22, we leave London for Nairobi. It is a 7½ hour flight, so time to catch up on some much needed sleep and dreams of what is to come. Upon landing in Nairobi we board our buses to the Norfolk Hotel arriving around 10:00 P.M. Time for sleep again and an early morning wakeup call at 6:30 A.M. This morning is our first glimpse of Nairobi through a soft rain. While the local people walk to work, the streets are beginning to become wet and muddy. We’re back on our buses for a 4-hour drive out to the Abbadere Country Club (now a game reserve and wildlife conservation program). The drive takes us through open spaces and many villages. It makes us keenly aware of the magnitude of poverty in Kenya. We witness the local people (mainly women) carrying extremely large bundles of wood and/or food on their backs while the men tend to their cattle. Children, like children everywhere, are playing in the schoolyards or walking with their mothers happily waving to the white bus with all the foreigners. All along the way there are stands with fresh produce for sale as well as areas with posts designating local taxi destinations, quite a few are nearby schools. Local taxis are very distinguishable with yellow stripes along the side, making our solid white bus stick out as “the tourists are here"!! Tourism has been almost non-existent here in Kenya since December, with the elections dispute, so we are a very welcome sight to many of the Kenyan people. Roadblocks are still up at various points along the route though we are waved on through without any delay. We arrive into Aberdare around 4:30 P.M., check-in to our rooms and are given the briefing on what not to do alone….pretty much walk around the grounds past the main road and definitely not anywhere at night! Here at Aberdare they have large populations of giraffe, warthogs, zebras, gazelles, baboons, colobus monkeys, impala and a few sightings of leopards. It is at night that the sounds of the jungle come alive! Our eyes don’t seem to be shut for very long as we are awakened by noises so close but not knowing exactly what lurks outside our window!
The next day, Monday, I had the thrill of going on a run (guided of course) with others in our group to acclimate to the high altitude (we are at about 6000 feet) and wake up our legs. To our amazement as we came around a corner a herd of giraffe were walking in front of us heading for a clump of trees for lunch. Never in my wildest imagination would I have considered running alongside these massive animals. Our guide was an excellent Kenyan runner (of course) who took the time to point out the various droppings and which animal that they would have come from. There were droppings from leopards….my pace began to pick up!!! While I ran Randy went along on a guided walk and had the thrill of actually walking through the herd of giraffe as they parted to let them pass. I think he is now considering beginning his running career!!
On Tuesday, we again went on a walking safari taking pictures that we had only seen in National Geographic, so close to the wildlife we could almost hand feed them (we didn’t even consider that!). Then it was off for a driving safari into the Solio Ranch. Here we again were able to view gazelles, zebras and giraffe’s cohabitating together in a very lush area. Up on the top of the property we came across a herd of 5 rhino’s as they stopped, starred at our jeep and decided whether to have some fun with us or just pose for the pictures. At one point, one of them began kicking up the dirt with his leg, lowering his head as we all stood, heads and cameras out of the top of the jeep. Now this is what I would call a standoff….we stood as they off’ed us and turned the other way! Now that my heart was back where it belonged I could continue to snap away….what amazing pictures we were able to capture. Heading out of the Ranch we had a very comical moment. There were three warthogs running in front of our jeep and if you have ever seen a warthog run, that alone is funny! Two of them decided to get out of the jeeps way by turning left while the other one headed right….smack into the electric fence, bounced off, continued running with the others and then for some unknown reason headed back to the right and into the fence again. If you could have captured the sounds of all of us in the jeep, in unison, yelling, “Oh…laugh…Oh no” that moment could not be recreated. The laughter did not stop for the rest of the way back to Aberdare with the guys trying to verbalize what the other two warthogs were saying to the other one. It went something like this. “What were you thinking? Not only are we ugly and they laugh at us, but now we’re stupid!” All right, you had to be there to get the full impact of the moment, but what a moment it was!!