Collage of Life

Collage of Life
What you can see...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Home Again

Whew!  We finally made it home to our little Simbas (kitty cats) on Sunday around noon.  We arrived late Saturday night in Orlando and decided to spend the night there before driving another 2 hours in the dark.  We were tired aqnd ready for some rest.  Now I can review the last three weeks and look at some of the video and pictures we took.
I loved our adventure this year.  We did spend the last day in Africa on a morning game drive in Amboseli.  We saw more elephant families and the famous Hoopoe bird finally.  These birds are so unusual with wild colors of orange and black.  I hope we got a good picture, and I will share it with you. 
Our dinner in Nairobi with Felix and his wife, Janet, was at a restaurant called Carnivore and we really enjoyed their company and cuisine.  Here they keep bringing various BBQ meat to your table until you show them you are done by placing a flag on its side.  They bring skewed meats like lamb, pork ribs, chicken wings, croc tail, osterich meatballs, beef, and chicken livers.  I tried almost all except the chicken livers.
We talked about our itinerary and what we saw on our journey.  We promised to go back soon and maybe try to discover the southern region of Tanzania. 
I hope to post some pictures and video later this week, so check back to see the new pics.  I have enjoyed doing this blog and hope you have enjoyed reading it.  I have to say this has been great and who knows what the next adventure might be....maybe taking a boat ride down the Amazon River?
Bye for now.  Ellen

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amboseli Elephants

Our night at the Lake Manyara Serena was another good experience.  The staff there surprised us again with a singing parade through the dining room and a cake.  They were saying "Welcome Back" and they gave a speech at the end.  Everyone in the dining room thought we were celebrating a birthday or something like that.  We made a few friends in the lounge after diner talking about that show.  Two ladies traveling together were nice and we talked with them for quite a while.  Maryann and Joanne are singles who live in RVs and travel to various places in America and abroad.  What a nice lifestyle if you can do it!
We left Lake Manyara early to travel back to Kenya and the Amboseli Game Preserve.  We had to cross the border and go through the customs from Tanzania to Kenya.  We had to say goodbye to Yusef and he seemed to be as sad as we were.  He was a great guide and has become a good friend.  He has 4 children to raise, and he pays for them to go to school.  He has no electric or running water in his home.  He pays $600 every three months for his two oldest children to go to school and his two youngest are getting to the age they begin school.  We gave him the regular tip, but I also gave him some extra towards the children's education since it is so important for them to be able to get out of the poverty they seem to experience.
 We crossed the border and met with Stanley again who will be with us until we get on a plane to go back home on Friday night.  The roads in Kenya are poor and you cannot go fast, so we had a long journey still to go.  We stopped at a Curio Shop and bought gifts for all our friends and cat sitters.  And on the way to the lodge we saw a huge family of elephants right on the road.  There were many babies and adolescents as well as grown male and females.  They were enjoying the water hole and they were so close we could see them in detail.  Lots of great pictures and video of them and we enjoyed watching them interact with each other.   We arrived at the Serena around 6 pm and finally got to our room (#32) to get cleaned up.  Again we got a room that was the farthest one in line.  The very last one!  This has been a trend this trip...either the farthest or the highest up a staircase each time. 
On Thursday, we have two game drives, one in the morning right after breakfast until lunch and the other around 4 pm. This is our last full day here and we want to enjoy every minute.  We did see some male ostriches who seemed to be dancing.  They do this to attract the female. Quite a show!  We saw a lot more elephants.  The elephants here are very famous to the naturalist world.  They have been studied for over 30years.  They are very numerous and they have family groups of over 25 to less than 10.  We saw them all walking toward watering holes during the morning.  There are no giraffes here due to the lack of trees and the lions and leopards are very hard to find. We found some gazelle and baboons, black faced monkeys are all over the lodge grounds, and a black backed Jackal.  There were some wildebeests and zebra and warthogs.  The habitat is dry plains with a small area of swamp where the elephants go during the day.  It is hot in the mid-day but cool at night. 
We are going back to Nairobi tomorrow and will have dinner with Felix Koskei at Travel Connections to let him know what a wonderful time we have had.  Then we are off around midnight and will be flying on Swiss Air through Zurich to JFK.  Then American Airlines to Orlando.  This will be my last post until we get home on Easter Sunday.  Hope you have enjoyed some of the sights we have seen and will come back later to see the pictures and maybe the X Rated video of the Lions later on.  "Wahari" that's goodbye in Swahili!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Big Five

Up at 5:30 am and breakfast at 6....Hard to eat at that hour, but we were anxious to go down the crater and see what was there.  We made the drive downward on dirt roads and they were a bit steep.  The crater floor has various habitats including a Forest area, a salt lake, high grassy plains and swampy areas with Papyrus growing.  The first things we saw were small herds of Gnu or Wildebeests.  They make the most honking sound I have ever heard.  We saw a large bird called a Kori Bustard with his feathery neck blowing in the wind. The crater is 266 Square Meters, don't know what that is in miles, but pretty big.  The surprise we found was a flock of pink flamingos and white pelicans near the salt lake.  We saw a black rhino who was wounded and knew he had been in a fight last night.  He was bleeding from a head wound and one on his shoulder.  Yusef says his skin is 2 inches deep and he would be alright.  His large horn was also damaged.  I cannot imagine what a rhino fight would be like....pretty scary!  We saw more lions today, 11 adults and 3 of the cutest cubs.  Yusef said they were about 10-11 months old.  They were hiding in tall grasses while three adult females were hunting.  We saw them stalking some warthogs but they did not catch them.  We also saw the male elephants who grow the largest tusks in the world right here.  So we had a good start seeing the Big Five....Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Buffalo, and Leopard.  We did see a Buffalo and now we missed the Leopards.  Unfortunately we never did see a leopard, but as we were leaving the crater, we found two cheetahs, a male and female walking around looking for any possible prey.  This place is wonderful and the Serena Lodge gorgeous.  We had to move on to Lake Manyara Serena Lodge for tonight, so we left for our drive there.  This will be our last night in Tanzania.  Feeling a little sad, but we still have one more lodge in Kenya to visit for two days.  So tomorrow we cross the border back into Kenya and another adventure in Amboseli Game Park.  More tomorrow!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Born Free

Our last night at the Serengeti Serena was very enjoyable.  There was a dance troupe of local tribal people who performed for the guests.  They can really put on a show!  The ladies can move better than any belly dancer or hula dancer!  The men can jump and do all kinds of acrobatic movements.  They were awesome!We sadly left our lodge in the Serengeti this morning.  We drove through the eastern end of the Serengeti and were very lucky again to see more lions.  We saw our first large pride of 12 lions lounging on large boulders on the plain.  There was no dominant adult male, but there were a few male lions beginning their mane growth.  The others were all moms and sisters and they were very beautiful in the wind, their tales and fur flying.  It reminded me of the song Born Free and the movie about Elsa the Lion. 
So our record for the number of lions seen in one day has been 13.  We have seen this number twice now.  Guess What?  We have exceeded our record in just one morning.  We came upon more lions after the pride of 12.  We found another pride of 8 with a full grown male and two more, a female and male on their honeymoon.  The pride of 8 was actually hunting.  They were scattered in the tall grass downwind of a small herd of gnus (wildebeests).  The lions were crouched just like house cats do and slowly moving toward the herd.  All of a sudden the herd began running and we knew the lions had begun their chase.  They ran away from our location, but you could see the herd running like crazy and 6 lions in hot pursuit!  Since we were getting farther away, we could not say if the lions had made a kill or not..and we were not that interested in seeing any actual killing, so the action itself was good enough for us.  So now our new record of the number of lions seen in one day is 22!  And they are all Born Free!
We arrived here at the NgoroNgoro Serena Lodge in time for lunch.  We are at a high elevation here...around 8000 feet.  We are on the rim of the collapsed volcano called a caldera.  The view from our room ( Number 36) is breathtaking.  We will spend the entire day tomorrow down in this caldera where there is the greatest number of animals per square mile than anywhere else in the world.  The elephants here have the longest tusks in the world, too.  There should be some black and white rhinos here also.  This lodge has to have the grandest vista and this place has to be one of the wonders of the natural world.  It is God's country and I love it here!  More tomorrow.....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Now the Giraffes are X-Rated!

We were very lucky to come upon some Masai Giraffes.  As we approached, we noticed that in the back were a pair that were mating.  We were told this is a rare thing to see....We tried to get a quick picture, but they disengaged and we missed the acrobatic stance.  We waited for a while, but they were very slow to get going again and I think a bit shy, so we left them to their privacy. 
We had another day of 13 lion sightings!  This time we saw a young cub, maybe 2-3 months old.  There were two female lions with it, so we did not know who the mom was.  Then we saw more and more lions, gathered on the high rock outcroppings sleeping away the daylight.  So, now we have had two separate days of 13 lions in one day, one here in the Serengeti, and one in the Masai Mara.  Also today we saw a cheetah who looked pregnant (what is in the grass and water here?)..and two adorable leopard cubs laying in the deep grass waiting for Mom to come home and feed them.  They were about 10-11 months old and would romp a bit with each other.  Then on our way back to the lodge after a morning out (since 6 am, UGH) we saw a mom leopard who was waiting for her cub to catch up....the cub was limping badly with his back left leg.  He could hardly walk using only three feet on the ground.  Mom was patient and did wait for him but kept going further and he limped along, every now and then he gave a light barking sound that we interpreted as "please wait for me, Mom."  We wanted to call a vet and get him some help...but there is nothing you can do here.  You have to let nature take its path and we both ended up sad and worried for this young cub.  At least we know the Mom will take care of him still since he or she was young yet.  Maybe he just had a thorn in his foot and he will get it out ang be ok?  Sure hope so. 
We also had the luck to see, very quickly, a Serval Cat in the road and that is also a rare sighting.  So today was a kind of CAT DAY!  (We are missing our boys, Simba, Safari, and Cinnamon, at home and hope they are missing us too!)
We had breakfast out on the Serengeti Plain this morning with Yusef, who is our driver/guide.  Now I remember why we like him the last time we were here.  He is a good tracker and takes good care of us.
Tomorrow we leave in the morning to drive to NgoroNgoro Serena Lodge and to visit our three lions that we met when there in 2007.  Will be in touch then...Ellen

Saturday, April 16, 2011

You cannot swim in Lake Victoria...

We have spent the last two days at a lodge in Speke's Bay, on the shores of Lake Victoria.  I believe this is the lake that is the source of the Nile.  Anyway, we were told that we cannot swim in the lake because Hippos do live close to the shore and can be there without you knowing it AND there are LEACHES in the water.  Guess what we did not do?   This lodge has no game drives, just local trips to visit a fishing village or spend the day relaxing and taking a walk to see all the wonderful birds here.  We did take a day to relax and we had breakfast twice on our private balcony.  We called it Breakfast with our Feathered Friends.  Of course Richard loves to see and feed the birds.  So we had lots of bread and fruit and we shared it with our new friends.  There were black faced bright yellow weavers, green weavers, and some yellow canarys.  They liked Richard.  This was a very enjoyable way to have breakfast.  The sunset over the lake was another surprise.  The lodge was facing west over the water and the sunset was great.  Now we have seen this famous lake and enjoyed a little R & R as a break from game drives. 
Next is the Serengeti.  We have already traveled from Speke's Bay and now are at the Serengeti Serena Lodge.  As repeat customers we are getting special treatment.  Even the internet time is free so far. 
Going on a game drive in a few minutes, so will let you know what we see tomorrow....Ellen

X Rated Lions!!!!

It has been four days since my last post and we are now in Tanzania.  I will have to take you back a few days to tell you about the lions.  We arrived at the Masai Mara Serena late in the day, so we missed a planned morning game drive.  We did have enough time to get a short late afternoon game drive and I was very glad we did!  We were able to see a cheetah right along side the road, lounging peacefully.  We knew as the sun set, she would start walking and prowling for dinner.  The next thing we saw was a couple of lions, male and female, laying just a few feet from the road.  We stopped to watch them and take pictures when they decided it was time to mate.  The male and female lions have mating for a week off and on all day.  The mating is short lived....He mounted her and kind of bit on her ears and made some growling noises and she made some growling noises and it was over!  She plopped down in the grass as if she were exhausted.  He stood up and made a very proud stance and did the same.  They rested maybe 5 minutes and they were at it again.  This was quite a experience ane one few safari travelers actually get to see.  We were really blessed and I have a video to post here when we get home. 
The next day, we had a 5 hour game drive from morning and we set a record for the number of lions seen in one day!  We first saw 5 lions, one male, 4 female, a pride.  The two lions sleeping in the shade, then 3 more lions sleeping.  By the end of our day, we had seen 13 Lions!  4 males and the rest females.  Unfortunately, we did not see any cubs, but we still have hope for that.  Our driver and guide Carlos had bragging rights that day.  Other animals we saw were mongoose, black backed jackal, hyenas, waterbucks, osterichs with their pink legs and necks, hippos, giraffe, zebra, gazelles, impalas, crocodiles, elephants, hartebeests, and more birds than I can list.  The Masai Mara is one of the most beautiful scenic places I have ever been.  You can see for miles around, the grasses are high and the plains are green.  The animals are very happy and healthy looking. Our two days here were wonderful.  The Serena Lodges are very exceptional and take wonderful care that you have a great stay.  More to come soon.  Ellen

Monday, April 11, 2011

Plans have changed....

Jambo to my friends....Since the Samburu Village school was closed, we had to make alternate plans with the school supplies.  We decided to give them to our driver/guide, Stanley and his church school tomorrow as we drive back to Nairobi.  Our original flight from here to the Masai Mara was cancelled due to no other bookings, so we have to drive back to Nairobi to get the flight into the Masai Mara...
Today we did take a long game drive from 8 am to 4 pm.  We took a picnic lunch and did see a lot of critters! In the Samburu region there are some animals here that do not live anywhere else.  The Oryx, the Grayson's Zebra, the Gernock Antelope, and the Reticulated Giraffes.  We saw all of those and more.  We also saw families of elephants looking for water.  These savannahs are very dry and dusty.  The animals are looking for water everywhere.  The river is down to a mere dribble here and there.  I feel sorry for the elephants who need more water than anyone.  The big females actually dig holes and use their trunks to pull out mud and squirt it off and dig some more until the hole fills with some water...not clear, but water.  The bird life is centered around the little water in the river also.  We saw many beaters, shrikes, and the lilac breasted rollers that we love so much.  We also saw many weavers and their nests are different from the ones we saw in Uganda. 
As we drove through the Samburu village, children were along the roads and Richard threw lollipops out the window for them  They were screaming and saying "Caribou!"  (That's thank you in Swahili)  The lodge here turns off the power everyday from 3-6 pm and it is very hot and dry.  You drink a lot of water and now there is no fan to cool the rooms.  The windows have screens, but they say the baboons and Verdant Monkeys (black faced) are very bad and "misbehave" whenever they can and can turn a room upside down!  These are some sneaky monkeys!  We have a travel day tomorrow, so will be back in touch when we are settled in the Serena Mara Lodge.  Ellen

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How do you feed a blind black Rhino?

Jambo, we are now at the Savoa Shaba Lodge in the Shaba National Park.  We left Sweetwaters this morning, but not before we did a morning game drive.  The park around Sweetwaters is a private conservation area and they specialize in the endangered Black Rhinos.  They have about 45 in the park and they seem to be flourishing.  They now have a Black Rhino ambassador, a blind adult male.  They keep in in a special place because he cannot be in the wild.  We went to see him and the ranger called to him.  He took a while, but he finally zoned in on our location and came right to the fence.  He gave us some sugar cane pieces and we fed him right from our hand!  Richard even pet him and I talked sweetly (what else?)  He was very calm and well mannered.  He really crunched those canes right away.   We then stopped to see the Chimpanzee enclosure.  The Chimps are not from Kenya, but this is a place where they take in orphans and those found in bad captivity in the interior of the continent like Congo and West Africa.  They give them a home and safe place to be chimps.  The ones we saw were very large.  I had no idea how big they grow...and those hands and feet are enormous! 
Just a note here....we have met a lot of the local people here in Africa at these lodges.  You would expect that they would have African sounding names....NOT  We have met David, John, Peter, Paul, Jacob, Reuben, Joseph...all the names from the Bible.  It is so unusual to have these familiar names here and we have black people in America who use very African sounding names...
We did see two lionesses walking around today.  We saw our first giraffes, more gazelle, both Grant's and Thompson's gazelles.  We saw Dik-Dik (yes that is right) and zebra.  Richard found many beautiful birds and we took some great pictures of them.  Richard also saw a Cheetah, but she was under bushes and not out in the open.  We are going tomorrow to the Samburu village to give the children the school supplies and lollipops.  I am looking forward to that!  Will be in touch again tomorrow....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lions Ahead!

We had a game drive this morning in the Queen Elizabeth Park and we saw our first lions!  They were females, walking separately through the savannah.  The little Kob antelope were sounding the alarms, but the lions did not seem hungry, just looking for a place to sleep.  Nice to see them here.  Most of the parks we visited had some animals, but they are not as numerous as we saw in Kenya and Tanzania.  There were Wart Hogs, Water Buck, Kob, Topi, and a big monitor lizard!  That made my day! We had a long afternoon driving into Kampala and had a wonderful dinner in the hotel...a buffet that had everything.  We are tired and going to bed to get up early (6 am) in order to get to the airport in Entebbe for our flight back to Kenya at 10 am.  Then another driver for Travel Connections will greet us for our drive to our first lodge there.  We will be giving away our school supplies in Kenya.  We don't know just where yet, but some country school where the children need a little cheer....Don't forget, I have those bags of Tootsie Pops to share too!  That is always fun!
Good night for now.  Ellen
Sorry about that followers, my computer time ended and you didn't get the rest of the story.....We were very close to that Gorilla, but were lucky enough to not get wet!  We wondered why there was no warning about standing under a gorilla, but I guess they can't tell you everything....Our gorilla watching was over and we made it back in three hours.  I was totally exhausted but very happy.  I felt like I was Rocky on those steps in Philly dancing with my arms up at the top!  Just a note that our lodge there, Buhoma, was an excellent lodge and the best customer service I have ever had.  But....they have their rooms perched on the side of a steep hill and you had to climb Mt. Everest to get there.  After climbing the mountain to see the gorillas, we then had to climb to our room (the one the furthest up) and down and up again for dinner.  I think my legs are done....  This was our 20th wedding anniversary celebration and the lodge management surprised us with a in room bottle of wine, a large fruit basket, and a home made cake that said "Happy 20th Wedding Aniversary" (spelled that way)  We were very surprised and told the staff how thoughtful they were to do this.  We had finished dinner, so the cake waited until breakfast when we shared it with a family from Scotland who had checked in and had three pieces in our box lunch that day.
So off we went to our next destination, a 6 hour ride to Queen Elizabeth Park.  I happened to count the number of birds we have spotted and as of this date, we have seen and mostly photographed 138 different species of birds.  This place has the most varied and beautiful birds.  They are very colorful and Richard has had a ball taking all the pictures.  I write down the names to document them and our Guide, Sam, has a big bird book to look up any we don't know right away.  We arrived at Mweya Safari Lodge around 2 pm and had a two hour boat ride in the channel between Lake Edward and Lake George.  The water birds there were numerous and we had a hard time keeping up with the boat captain as he called out the bird names.  The lodge itself was set up on a mountain top with gorgeous views of the land around.  We saw stripped mongoose wandering the lodge area as well as some Warthog.  We will stay one day and off again back to Kampala this time to the Serena Hotel for one night and a flight back to Nairobi.  Lots to come....  Will not be able to post for a few internet at Sweetwaters Tented Camp in the Samburu area of Kenya.  Bye for now....Thanks for listening!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Warning continued

The Silverback was right there!  He was just sitting there eating a piece of lumber from a concrete form that was done to make part of hydroelectric system.  He was enjoying himself.  A few others were scattered around him also eating wood.  A couple of babies were there getting the pieces of wood he left behind.  They leaped onto their mothers back to travel.  We saw about 5 or 6 at that spot and they moved around and even passed right by Ivan brushing his leg.  They do not seem to mind humans and really just ignore you.  They do have some very expressive faces...Richard got many great close up shots.  I will share them soon.
Now, we have seen 5 or 6 gorillas and I am thinking this is great lets go....NO...We had to see the whole family.  So, now we had to climb up the very steep embankment to the top so we can view all the other gorillas.  I did not think I could do this....It was very scary and I do not have the balance or stamina these young people had...Oh well, I would try.  With the help of David holding my hand and pulling me up and Ivan behind me holding me and keeping me from falling, I made that climb!  I felt like Rocky at the top of the steps in Philly!
It was not over!  I was huffing and puffing and catching my breath when the other gorillas came into view.  They were moving around looking up for food and choosing which tree to climb.  One mom went up a pretty flimsy tree and the baby held on tight and almost fell.  The baby screeched loudly and I guess Mom caught it in time.
We looked up to make sure the baby was ok when all of a sudden great big stinky bombs started raining down on us....Then when that was over, it was time to shower us with pee!  We were just far enough away so as to miss the 

Warning! Warning! Never Stand under a tree with a gorilla on top!

Jambo everybody!  I have been unable to get access to my blog for a few days, but we are fine and full of interesting stories.  Our impressions of Uganda are good.  There are lots and lots of banana plantations everywhere.  They also grow a lot of tea and coffee.  The country people are very poor, but the children wave and smile to you as you pass by.  They live in one room brick structures with a door way and curtain, maybe a window without any glass or screens, and no running water or electricity.  Some of the families you see along the roads are wearing tattered clothing and the children don't seem to have any shoes.  There are no safety issues at all.  The main roads around the capital and large cities are fine...they drive on the wrong side of the road like most of these previous English colonies.  The country roads are horrible!  Dirt, rutted, full of rocks, and washed out from rain in some places.  You get all bumped around and by bedtime you feel like you are vibrating.  The travel is slow and arduous.  BUT when you reach your destination, it is Wonderful!
The three places we have been to have been different habitats.  The first place in Lake Mburo was a tented camp.  We had not tried this type of lodge before, but it was OK.  The tent was under a thatched room and the floor was concrete.  We had to climb many stairs to get to it and it overlooked a vista of beautiful acacia trees and animals at a watering hole below.  We were the only guests there that night.  We have been the only guests at most of these lodges since it is what they call Low Season....Although they say it is the rainy season, it has only rained once in an afternoon and cleared up by night.
So, you are wondering why I have the warning as the title of this update.....We spent 2 nights at Bwindi Inpenatrable Forest and we did penetrate it!  We trekked yesterday, beginning with an orientation at 8 am and then we were off on foot.  We had a packed lunch with us, gloves, had to tuck our pant leg into our socks so the ants wouldn't crawl up our legs, had a wooden walking stick, a back pack with camera lenses and video.....We decided to hire what they call a was a young lady named Jennifer.  Our guides were David and Ivan.  They said we were lucky and the gorillas were close and not over that huge mountain.  By close I thought great, we won't have to do any mountain climbing....WRONG!  We were told to keep close as they hacked the jungle in front of us and we trudged very carefully through vines, old fallen logs, slippery rocks, leaves, all kinds of holes and tree limbs....I could not believe I was doing this!
We went down treacherous slippery slopes to the small river down deep in a gully.  There was a small water fall and the guides says the gorillas are across the river....So, Ivan says, I will carry you!  What?  That can't be possible!  Guess what?  He carried me on his back across this waterfall slippery path until we got across.  I can't believe this....Richard decided he could do it himself, so he got his shoes and socks totally wet and squishy, but we made it....Then we looked down the river a bit and saw the first of the gorilla family we were visiting.  This family had 19 members with one big silverback male.  To be Continued......

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Africa At Last...

Whew!  We made it finally!  The actual trip did not have any glitches, we just were pretty tired by the time we made it to Nairobi.  We are right now the house guests of Felix and Janet Koskei in Nairobi.  We have been asked to enjoy a lunch in their nice home.  Felix is the Owner/Manager of Travel Connections and he is the reason why we have enjoyed Africa and the wonderful lodges here. 
Our hotel is the Nairobi Serena Hotel and it is beautiful.  There are wood carvings and African colors everywhere.  Our room is very comfortable and the restaurant was great.
So, we are now getting our bearings and getting over the jet lag before we travel tomorrow to Uganda.  Our flight is in the morning and we will be off on the first leg of our "Adventure."  It is so great to have the big travel behind us and three weeks of fun and adventure ahead of us. 
Will be in touch soon.