Prior to El Regalo
While living in Hong Kong JoDon and I decided to do something adventurous during the 2005-2006 holidays. We went through our list of “things you want to do before you die” and there we found the answer to our vacation plans. JoDon had on her list to hot air balloon over the Serengeti desert.
After some investigation on the Internet we decided that we wanted something more than just driving around in jeeps looking for animals so we decided to combine a camera safari with a camel trek in northern Kenya.
The journey was not easy but very rewarding. We arrived Nairobi (AKA Nai-Robbery) at 5 am, Christmas morning. We were picked up in a van and proceeded north to Maralal, Kenya, about 200 miles north of Nairobi. The trip north was miserable. We began on a crowded, narrow highway and the final portion was about 60 miles of rutted dirt roads. By the end of the trip we were covered in dust and my head felt like a bobbing head dashboard toy.
The next day the adventure began. We met our guides, Idi and Sanwaquin. Idi spoke English and Sanwaquin (Samburu word for ‘Fish’, so we just called him Fish) was the camel wrangler. Both were Samburu tribe moran (warriors) who wore their traditional red wool cloth (they prefer red cloth because they pierce the necks of their camels and drink their blood when water is in short supply). Morans wrap the cloth around their waists during the day (when warm) and they would bring the extra cloth over their shoulders at night for protection from the cold desert nights.
The Samburu are ‘cousins’ to the better known Mosai tribe to the south. The Samburu are generally tall and slender built. Men traditionally carry a long spear with a very sharp metal tip and a short, heavy club. The heavy clubs are from very dense wood found in the Sahara desert. They use the club to either throw at an attacking animal to scare them away or they throw it at small game. The men also display jewelry, especially copper chains that loop over their ear lobes and under their chins. Parents pierce their children’s ears and insert a
tea. He called it “Idi tea.” Over a campfire, Idi would boil water, milk, sugar and tea leaves in a big pot. JoDon liked the tea but I prefer black tea. I did learn something from Idi; he swore that to cool you off in the hot afternoons drink hot tea. Surprisingly, it does work!
Sadly, during our visit Kenya was experiencing one of their worst draughts in their history (since then they have had record floods) which only exasperated the water shortage. On average, African women walk 1 ½ miles (each way) to fetch water and with many water holes and lakes dried up the walks became even longer. With such dry conditions, the Samburu men had taken the cattle to the mountains and they left the goats and sheep with young boys to watch. With few water holes, they would stagger their herds so that not too many animals would drink at the same time and dry up the springs.
As we hiked across the open countryside we were in awe of the open sights. There was not large game in this area because the people would hunt them for food and because there was little water. The common big game that was prevalent was zebra because Samburu do not eat an animal without a split hoof (zebras hoofs are like a horse, one solid hoof; a cow’s hoof is two hoofs). Because of our guides, we saw a side of Africa that most tourists do not experience watching women gather wood, young boys tending their sheep and small children running out to us to get a closer look. We brought many packs of pencils with us from Hong Kong and we would give them out to the children. They were so ,
appreciative to receive one pencil! I’m sure for many we were the first white people they had seen and they were fascinated with JoDon’s blonde hair. Every day at the lunch rest stop we would picnic under a tree and there would be no one around. Graduallychildren very slowly would come out of the brush, and with encouragement of our guides, they came closer for a good look. I amused them by taking their photos and showing them their pictures on the video camera. They were so surprised and pleased! This boy even let us take his photo with a niecees Flat Stanley. Idi related the idea of the project to him and he seemed amused to be interacting with another child a world away (notice the wood inserted in his earlobe).
When we returned back to ‘civilization’ our guides took us into the city of Maralal. It was like being in Dodge City; there was a definite mood of lawlessness in an open land. We did take Idi and Fish to a bar where we all enjoyed a few Tusks, the local beer. We said a sad good-bye to our new friends and later mailed them photos from Hong Kong. We never learned if they received their pictures.
Well, it was back to Nairobi to take long showers and send our clothes off to the laundry. We, and all of our clothes, were covered in dust and it was great to be back in the land of Freon (air conditioning). The next day we took a small plane to our safari located in the Mosai Mara National Park.
Just outside of the park we stayed in a very nice hotel with bungalow rooms. We would drive through the park every morning and evening looking for big game and they were certainly abundant! The animals are not scared or intimidated by cars so you can drive up on the animals and they really do not seem to mind. One day I spotted a cheetah carrying something in the far distance. I thought the cheetah was carrying one of her young but it turned out that he had just killed a small antelope. The cheetah was still panting heavily under the tree. Cheetahs, unlike leopards, hunt during the day. We had a wonderful experience seeing vast herds of wildebeests roaming across the prairies, we saw many packs of lions and spent hours watching the little cubs playfully attacking the momma and poppa lions. There were giraffes, and a pride of leopards lazily sleeping in the afternoon. We were disappointed to not see rhinoceros, but they are very rare due to poaching. However, when waiting at the airport for our return to Nairobi, we spotted a rhino off in the far distance. So, our trip was complete!
On our final day at Mosai Mara Park, we experienced a thrill of a lifetime by hot air ballooning over the open terrain. The baskets which we rode were laid over as if we were in a rocket ship facing the sky. The pilot would intermittingly shoot blasts of flame into the balloon to generate hot air to lift us. Once up we
drifted across the plains, sometimes just above tree line and higher. For me, there were two surprises during the trip. First, the number of lions seen was unbelievable. From above they appeared everywhere; some sleeping, hunting or moving with their pride. Second, the animal noises can be heard very clearly from above since there is nothing to stop sound traveling upwards. We could hear every grunt of the wildebeests as they foraged. With the balloon trip, one more thing could be scratched off our list of “things to do before you die.”
In summary, our trip to Kenya was wonderful. The first part was spent getting to know some of Kenya’s people at their best and the second part of the trip was seeing Kenya’s big game in their natural environment. It was a great trip!
small piece of wood. As the child gets older, they continually insert a larger piece of wood so their ear lobes are stretched. Young women are given beaded necklaces; the more necklaces, the more attractive they are for marriage.
Camel riding is not for everyone, especially us. The camel saddle is not very comfortable so we preferred to walk. The camels did carry our back packs and water. We walked all day with our two guides though out the countryside and it was amazing the number of people that
would appear ‘from no-where.” Our cook and camp helper would have camp set up and ready every afternoon at a new location.
The weather was hot and dry, and like central Mexico, it sits on a high plain. At night it was cold. After a day of hiking we would arrive to our new camp and Idi would make the local