Thursday, February 28, 2013

Masai Mara

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While it's still fresh, I need to note the highlights of an amazing day.  Some of the highlights were a family of lions with two young cubs, a couple of cheetahs, many elephants, gazelles, hippos, bat-earred fox; but Yata and I both really enjoyed the giraffes.  After a full day of driving the most spectular landscape;probably the furthest panorama ever, over rolling grasslands; we then visited a Masai village.  The young men did a welcome dance with song for us. They demonstrate some of their native skills and took us into a dung and stick home.  It was very dark and cramped. They say the whole village leaves and builds a new one every nine years because the termites cause their homes to fall down.  There are large termite mounds around, in fact one of the cheetahs was sunning himself on one this morning. We are doing the safari with an international group: Paul, Ukrainian world traveler (fifty countries so far), Slim and wife from Tunisia, Sam, a young British/Belgian here volunteering in an orphanage near Nairobi (he got mugged leaving his Nairobi lodging the morning we left and has a big knot on his forehead-he fell) and Leon a Sri Lankan from Dubai who has a professional cameras.  Everyone is getting great pictures.  It was an eleven hour tour.  We left at 7:30 am and by noon stopped at the Mara river for  lunch. This is the border with Tanzania.

We're sitting in camp now having a Tusker beer and waiting for dinner to  be served.  We get up for a six am game drive, come back for breakfast and then headed back to Nairobi.  Glad we made this trip.  At times it's challenging, lots of spine jolting and head snapping roads. But we've been taking Tylenol prophalactically and I think it's really helping..

We sleep in a fairly large canvas tent with a tin roof over it and a tiled bathroom attached to the back.  The camp is nicely wooded site, we have hot water in the shower and electriciy for about five hours a day so you have to strategize your phone and other battery charging.
Of course the bed has a mosquito net. We even sleep under one of those at Ella & Ken's mainly because they don't really have screens on any windows here, just bars for security.
More on security in the next blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tiwi and Shimba Hills



We finally got out of Nairobi. Ella and Ken's place is so luxurious that it got quite  comfortable and made it literally hard to get out of our comfort zone.

Last night we took the big coach overnight bus to the Indian Ocean coast town of Mombasa.  We were picked up by a reserved taxi driver who took us to a short ferry ride and then down the south coast a short distnace to the town of Tiwi.  Ella and Ken have stayed at this little resort, the Swahili House and recommended it so  we landed here this morning at 7:30 am.  The roomrate  includes your own private chef so after a quick coffee we made up a grocery list, encouraging him to cook in the local style which is Swahili-coastal seafood with Arab flavoring.

Lunch made us realize that we had hit it big.  Calamari salad and fruit. Humphrey the chef, said he cleans the whole calamari, retaining the 'wings' for flavor, salts and peppers and cuts up.  He pan sears which releases liquid.  Then he add this with pan juices to marinade. Olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro,  black pepper. Then fries again.  It was served on a bed of lettuce, avocado, thin sliced cukes and tomatoes.  Huge serving too! We are going to gain some weight here. But we're only here for four days.

And then dinner.  Fish,something like swordfish steak (Koli Koli)  in coconut sauce . Marinade fish(same as above), saute garic, onion, then add coconut cream. Garnish with cilantro and lemon zest. Sauted eggplant, beans and onions.   Equally good. This was servced on rice.  Fruit for topper.
Humphrey says:Food is a love letter from God.

Just so  we don't forget.  Yesterday we had for lunch,cream of vegetable soup with a salad.  For dinner the remainder of the Koli Ko serve with a tomato sauce (using many of the same flavors like garlic, onion, ginger, lime zest)   He accompanied the fish wiith roast potatoes and sauted spinach.

Today we had cream of spinach soup for lunch(he said he doesn't need a broth since spinach has a lot of water in it.  He addd garlic, onion and alittle mik.  The main course for lunch was lemongrass prawns, again marinaded with the typical flavors but added finely diced fresh lemongrass, sauted and served over fried potato cubes.

You'd think all we do is eat.  But we did go to Shimba National Park where we were virtually guaranteed to see elephants, so wedid'nt see any.  Last week they were seen by the dozens.  So it goes when you are in a park versus a zoo.  Beautiful terrain though. Pines and eucalyptus, figs and acacias covered the hills up to 1/2 kilometer in height.

Yata's also been writing music.  He has a new hit based on something Humphrey said: fish swim three times.....

I've been drawing and painting with watercolor; flowers, landscapes and people.

This resort, a little rustic place called Swahili House, is so wonderful.  Reminds us a bit of our favorite spot in Mexico, Villa Los Mapaches, in Holbox, only it's actually even more relaxing and more pampering.  Temperature is even comfortable in short sleeves out door at night, with a light sea breeze.  Very few mosquitos due to the dry weather.
We are so priveleged, it's good to remember this.


Our last day at Swahili House.  After a light breakfast we went with our guide Evanß to swim in the big tide pool that is shaped like the map of Africa. It's about as big as the Durand swimming pool. It had a few types of coral'a brain coral and another a pinkish brown crenelated wit lighter tips.   It was a habitat  new to us, but similar to Hawaii's tide pools.

We came back hungrey and Humphrey did not disappoint us. Cold Avocado lemon soup, prawns and fish in coconut cream sauce with a salad,rice and veggies.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Serval and the Giraffe

Over the weekend the four of us took a tour of the Nairobi National Park, our own little Safari.  We weren't in the best car for the wet rutted roads and once we got stuck but we  used our snow driving tricks of rocking the car while another pushed and we managed to get out, meanwhile keeping one eye peeled for a lion.  We also lost a bumper and a tail light.  It was a rental and cars in general aren't in the best of condition to begin with, so it was not a big issue in the end.

But, to the wildlife.  Entering the gate we immediately faced a pack of Yellow Baboons. They are known to be aggressive and we kept our windows tightly closed.  There was an abundance of bird life but the most exciting sighting for me was the Serval, (picture above).  The Serval is about twice the size of a house cat with a cute little face.  I posted the photo of the back due to the interesting identifiable white bars on the back of the ears.  First we saw her and she disappeared into the grass.  We drove on until we came to a very wet passage and decided to turn around and go back the way we came and were rewarded by seeing her come running toward us after a rabbit.   When she saw us, she startled a bit and thus lost the rabbit (sorry!) but there were about three chicken type birds also on the road between us and her and they were completely oblivious to her.  It seemed as if she considered coming after them but decided to avoid us and go away from us without the sitting 'ducks' for breakfast.

We drove around for a couple hours sighting things such as the Red Hartebeast, and eventually the Oribi ( a small deer like animal).  Out one window we were watching this small herd when I looked out my window to see the neck of a giraffe high in the trees.  It was shocking!  It felt like I was in Disney world, as if it was a big stuffed animated animal.  We sat and watched it getting a good view of his head and eventually saw a number of them, legs and all.  The pattern on the body was unique, the Camelopsis or Masai Giraffe. The pattern, instead of the typical rounded rectangles I remember were more like maple leafs, jagged and palmate.  Spotted face with a horn on the forehead between the ears.

On our way out we saw more big and small birds and a single Impala.  This was all between 7am and 10:30am.

Yesterday we went to a music event called Blankets and Wine, near Nairobi.  It was great people watching with folks breaking out their most flamboyant clothes, especially the West African clothing/fabric, the most dramatic patterns and color combos.  I'm going have to bring some of that back.

Nairobi is interesting.  Huge contrasts of wealth and prosperity thus there are security gates and guards everywhere.  Ella and Kenfield live in a really nice spacious apartment, with a patio on the fourth floor.  We go through two guarded gates to get to their home and in the apartment there are locks on all doors and bars on windows.  You don't go out at night, out of the compound that is.  The streets have little or no stop signs or signal lights.  I'm glad I'm not driving.  But people who have left and come back say how much better it is now than it used to be.  They are referring to the infrastructure (roads etc.) and banking, etc.

Drawing and painting a bit each day.  Nothing to write about though.

We're still trying to figure out what additional safaris to do or trips to take.  Ethiopia is still looking interesting.

Jean or Yata - JoY