January 6, 2015

Day 45 (we go forth)

We pulled into Nairobi in the early afternoon, with plenty of time for me to call a taxi and get back home to my apartment.  But somewhere along the way, without flair or fanfare, the bus/tent combo became my new normal, and I chose to spend a final night at the campsite before returning to my complex.  In fact, when I eventually did get back to the apartment, I wore a dirty sweater out of choice and felt nostalgic for the tent.

Normalcy can change dramatically after 45 days.

But, in truth, a return to Nairobi was just a return to another larger transition because I was planning to move back to the United States just a few weeks later.

Which is where I am now.  Sitting in a cozy studio apartment in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco.  I moved back 17 months ago, and, yes, it's taken this long to finish the blog.  I have all of the normal excuses plus a few extra up my sleeve.  I've been busy.  I've been distracted.  I've moved thrice.  I've struggled through growing pains at a new job.  I've been traveling.  To Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa, Pittsburgh, Boston, Barcelona, and South Africa again for work.  To Tahoe, the Bahamas, Seattle, Montana, Colorado, and Tahoe again for pleasure.  I've put down some roots here, but I'm still getting around.

Ilhabela, Brasil

Sandbars off the coast of Mozambique

Backpacking in Glacier National Park, Montana

So now, after a year and a half of living in Kenya and 45 days of living on the road, I'm left with a few souvenirs I've picked up (salad tongs, anyone?), a couple of pictures I've painted, and these stories.

Thanks for tuning in for the stories.

Health clinic waiting bay, Marsabit District, Kenya

Driving into the sand dunes of the Namib Desert, Namibia

From my journal on that last morning after the last day on the road:

Day 45.  Sitting at the last campsite back in Nairobi, post-breakfast, waiting for [taxi] Peter to pick me up and take me home.  Which won't really be home because [my replacement] will be there, and we have to change apartments, and I'm leaving for good in one month.  

As is the way of things, this trip ends with more whimper than bang.  Only nine people remaining from the last 24; only 3 remaining from the original 28.  I could have enjoyed myself more.  I could have enjoyed less.  I could have behaved better.  Could have been worse.  As it stands, this chapter within a chapter is over, and we head forth into the next.  

So a hearty "Hello!" from San Francisco, and best wishes to you all in this new year.  And as with the better endings, a drive off- not into the sunset but into a sunrise.

Sunrise in the Serengeti.

December 28, 2014

Day 44 (from the bush)

Our final day in the Serengeti was all about the lions.  We were on the road before the sun rose, and came upon a full pack of adults and cubs in our first hundred meters.  

Lions in the earliest morning

Serengeti sunrise

We later saw another family sleeping in the grass, yawning on the side of the road, and teaching their cubs how to stalk.  

The rest of the day was just as flush.  An enormous pod of floating hippos; a ginormous hippo crossing the road.  Hot air balloons drifting just above the horizon.  Another elusive serval.  Jackals sleeping in the shade of tall grasses.  A wary standoff between a hyena and a mother warthog with two pups.  A flock of iridescent green lovebirds, fluttering up from the bush.  Springboks and superb starlings all around.  And two sleepy owls, nestled together on high branches.  

For places perched on the shoulders of tall expectations, the Serengeti stretched even higher.

September 14, 2014

Day 43 (in the Serengeti)

I never really thought I'd be in the Serengeti until about 10 minutes into our first game drive.

After lunch at the Ngorogoro Crater, we drove through the Tanzanian countryside to the Serengeti, stopping just inside the entrance to climb up to a viewpoint and gaze out over the vast plains while toasting with a cold beer.

Plains from the Serengeti viewpoint

Even having booked the trip and paid for it months ago, it didn't register until the late afternoon sun and fading buzz, at which point I thought, "This is the SERENGETI."  A place so vast, an idea so iconic.  The stuff of "one of these days" aspirations and the Nature channel.

Which actually turned out to be a bit of a dud for the first few hours.  Lots of driving through plains of dry grass, a couple of birds, an ostrich, some large boulders... decidedly not the stuff of the Nature channel.



That is, until we came across a cheetah with her two cubs, crossing the road in front of us.

Camouflaged in the grasses...

Claiming the right of way.

Cheetah mom.

One cub lazy, curled up on the warm dirt of the road, identifying it as a prime spot for snoozing.  The other, more curious, decided to first inspect and then attack our truck.  Our left front tire, in particular, was the bit to which he took the most offense.

Who, me?


I bite your tire now!

It was an exhilarating (proverbial) eleventh hour.  A baby cheetah cub attacking our tire!  In the Serengeti!!

We lingered too long and had to lead foot the gas in order to make it to our campsite before dark (night game drives are prohibited in the park).

Quintessential Serengeti sunset picture.

Goodnight, Sun.

And we camped that night inside the Serengeti itself.  Enjoying some red wine packed-in from the last convenience stop and falling asleep to the sounds of jackals and hyenas.

August 9, 2014

Day 42 (the Ngorogoro Crater)

The final few days on our epic-ish journey, the bits between Arusha and Nairobi, were spent off the grid in the Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti.  My hand-written journal is blank for those days, only giving a summation from the final campsite in Kenya.  Now, a year later, I'm looking back through these photos I have, amazed.  

The animals were so close.  Even with my silly little point-and-shoot camera, some photos only capture animal bits (a head, some hooves), not because of artistry, but because that's all that could fit in my viewfinder due to proximity.  And it's not necessarily an ethical issue of the habituation of wild animals to safari vehicles; even the baby cheetahs we saw in the Serengeti who had clearly never seen a safari van before came up to investigate.  Other animals just disregard you completely until you get in their way.  It's the feeling of being a shadow.  An almost-there entity.  But the feeling of being the coolest shadow in the world.  A hyena shadow!  A wildebeest shadow! A lion shadow!

The crater was rife with Thompsons gazelles, zebras, and wildebeest.  Flamingos dotted the lake in the center, and we saw a cerval tail swishing in circles as he walked through the tallest grasses.  Lions, hyenas, and wild dogs all crossed our path.  Zebras rolling in the dirt and lining up in an orderly fashion in order to take turns scratching their heads on one particular rock.  

Heading down into the Ngorogoro Crater, shortly after dawn

View of the crater and lake

Flamingos dotting the lake, zebras grazing the plains, against crater backdrop

Zebra feeding headshot

Taking dirt baths, two by two

An orderly line for headscratches

Ohhhhh those headscratches!

Whatcha lookin at, Wildebeest?

Traffic jam...

Wild dog, chillin'.  Ain't no thing.

Lion Xing

Heh heh hehyena

July 11, 2014

Days 40-41 (over rough roads)

The last few days have been transit days.  A shuttle to a ferry to a bus to a ferry to a bus in order to leave Zanzibar. 

Leaving Zanzibar

We spent a night at the same beachside camp in Dar with little stinging jellyfish bits interrupting the afternoon swim, and then embarked before dawn on a very long drive over rough roads to Arusha

Driving through the heart of town in early-morning traffic, I tried to imagine (or remember) how it would feel to see an East African city like Dar or Nairobi through fresh eyes.  People everywhere, walking miles on dusty roads to work.  Green folliage, grey and brown streets.  Cars and matatus rushing by in apparent traffic chaos.  Someone always selling something- produce, children's toys, umbrellas, maps, puppies.  

On the road from Dar es Salaam to Arusha:

Road traffic accidents contribute a real and depressing % to mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

At one point along the drive, you could look up and see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro floating, disembodied, in the clouds.  

Kili, modestly

In Arusha we camped at a site aptly named "Snake Park," which housed all manner of local reptiles.  I was offered the chance to hold a baby crocodile, but wimped out and let the handler keep his own hands over the mouth.  

4 year old crocodile

Of course, I was later justified when someone else held the crocodile too loosely and he snapped his jaws in some massive chomps.  Apparently a baby croc bite doesn't feel much different than a bee sting, but I don't like the idea of bee stings from each of the seeming 100,000 baby croc teeth.