Friday, September 16, 2011

Movin on up!

I've moved to a new blog check out the latest adventures at I'm working on adding the Black Sea Boogaloo and Costa Rica!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Journey Home

We had a half day to enjoy the resort, so Nita and I were up early to hit the pool. We laid out, rode on the slide, swam around the pools…it was a perfect end to the trip.

For lunch, we finally got to snack on the pizza that never seemed available…but it was worth the wait!

We did a few last pics on the beach and bid Mombasa adieu.

We played a few more games of Spades in the airport…and Tan and Ali killed Seth and me…but it was still fun! If we had a few more hands…we totally would have prevailed!! J

We chatted with the owner of Palbina travel, named Paul in the Simba Restaurant in the Nairobi airport. He was very happy to take all of our feedback and was an extremely nice guy. I highly recommend them if you're planning any travel to Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda.

I'm on the plane about to land in Houston now. We've been travelling for the last 30 hours, but I feel pretty great. It's been fun reliving the highlights of the trip and I feel so lucky to have the best friends to share these experiences with…thanks to you all! Cheers to our next adventure! J

Mombasa Beach Day

5:30 am and the alarm was going off. What had I agreed to? I stumbled downstairs, not sure where we were going to meet. I almost fell asleep on a little outdoor couch when I looked up and saw Tan making his way to the beach. We sat in beach chairs and watched the sky slowly illuminate and the resort lights shut off. We were perfectly positioned for a beautiful sunrise over the water. The landscape and color of the water and sand changed every few minutes. We took pics from the resort and down on the beach. It was beautiful and worth the wait! Thanks Tan!

I went back up to bed to snooze until my massage at 8:30 am...Nita was planning to enjoy a spa day too. Ali, Tan and Seth were off to go deep sea fishing at 7:30 am that morning. Jackson and Mary spent their morning scuba diving in a nearby reef. I was totally relaxed after my spa treatments that were in a little cabana on the beach. I think I fell asleep several times during my massages.

I went down to the beach and 2 guards walked by with their AK-47s and cheerfully greeted me with a high pitched JUMBO! I love this place! Nita joined me shortly after then we ate lunch and went to ride the big waterslide! We took a few trips down and met up with Jackson and Mary. Then the clouds rolled over! Boo. We went to the swim up bar and shivered in the water. When it kept raining, we gave up and headed to the Coco's bar. We all hung out for a while. Mary and Nita went up to the room to get ready for the evening and Jackson and I relaxed a little longer at the bar. Again, the one on one time with people on the trip has been one of the highlights.

I finally heard the other guys were back and raced to get ready for dinner. They had caught 8 tuna and we were having their fresh catch for dinner at a local restaurant.

Richard picked us up and brought us to the Safari Inn. This place was perfect. There were some locals, tourists and a few ladies of the night. But it was all part of the ambiance! They grilled the fish perfectly and we all had more than we could eat…and that was probably just part of one tuna! Their guide took the remainder to freeze for himself. Thanks so much to the guys for the amazing meal and unique experience! They played some foosball and pool with some new "friends" later in the night. We invited Richard in to have a soda with us and got to ask some questions about Kenyan culture. He was truly just a nice, kind person.

After dinner, we went back to the White Sands to check out karaoke…and it finally happened…we heard and got to sing along to "Don't Stop Believin!" We had asked every guitarist along the way if they knew it. After karaoke ended, we went up to Tan and Seth's room to play some cards. We started with Blitz and moved on to my favorite Spades. On the way back to our rooms, Jackson pushed his door open and there was a lady in his room!! She had gone in the wrong room, but it was a little crazy for a minute! It was really late and just a weird coincidence that this happened right before Jackson got there!

Mombasa City Tour

We had breakfast and got to take in the full beauty of the place. The water was blue green and the beach was beautiful. There was some seaweed, but it was still great! And the resort had one huge pool with a waterslide and a smaller quiet pool. The dining area and bar areas were nice and expansive.

We booked a city tour for that afternoon. We all piled in the van and joked that it would be funny to pop the roof and explore like we were on safari. Our guide was a guy named Richard and we scored again being hosted by another wonderful and friendly person! First stop was the crafts village. This little community is a government-created area for artists to carve, sand, paint and gloss the figurines that are sold to tourists throughout Kenya. You could even request a custom piece with exactly what you want. The people are given the wood, which comes from Tanzania and they sell their pieces to each person up the chain. Then the adjacent store tracks the final artist number and that guy gets paid. The people seem happy and were more than happy to chat. The prices were fixed and reasonable. It was the best quality we had seen over the entire trip. This is definitely the best place to buy all your souvenirs. Just skip all the other shops along the way! The city tour continued visiting the port. We also stopped for coconuts as we drove to our next stop…yum!

Next, we headed to Fort Jesus. This was built by the Portuguese and was a military base. It was later controlled by Oman and Britain and after that, used as a prison. In the 1960s it was converted into a museum and tourist attraction. It offers nice views of the Ocean and town. I ran into a little boy that was smiling as I took a picture at the top of the fort. He shyly gave me a high five. And I asked him if he'd take a picture with me. He scooted off to his mom's side. Then his older brother came up to say hi and I put out my hand to get a five from him too and he wrapped his little arms around me and gave me a huge hug. I almost melting into a pile of sugar…he was so sweet!! He snuggled up to take a photo with me and the little bro ran over to be in the photo too! His mom and Tan both took pics of us. Their names were Francis and Teddy and they were so sweet with their little British accents! I'm in love!

One of our highlights was an art display by children around the world. They were all told to do a self-portrait. We shouldn't have but laughed our tails off at these kids, but we did! Here are a few children's artwork WINS!

We drove through the old town next. It was filled with narrow streets and shops. There was a large outdoor market too. We kind of wished we had walked this by foot…but it was still nice to see from the car too.

The city tour continued through their downtown area and to the elephant tusks over the main street (not actually made of ivory) that were built to honor the Queen's visit in the 1960s.

After the tour, we went to clean up for dinner…on a boat! We went to the Tamarind Dhow, a sailboat that hosts a dinner cruise and dancing. We started with dawas and reminisced on the trip throughout dinner. The band was fun, but the food was the highlight. We expected it to be okay, but it was fabulous!! I had mixed seafood salad, tomato soup, lobster and fruit. Delish!

I couldn't stay awake at the end of dinner…not sure if it was the Dramamine or just being exhausted, but I was ready for an early bedtime. Tan and I agreed to try one more time to catch the sunrise and planned to meet at 5:30 am. I was skeptical both of us would make it! A few people in the crew went to the Nakkumart…the Kenyan version on Walmart then headed to bed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Masai Mara to Mombasa

It was another early morning as we were set to drive back to Nairobi. We took a different route than we took in…still super bumpy, but interesting. It was through a very flat area with lots of Masai tribes. I'm guessing these groups were far less exposed to the world beyond the Masia Mara. We got lots of stares and tons of little kids waving along the way.

We stopped at another tourist shop along the way and I found my prize souvenir. Peter, the giraffe! He is so beautiful and Ali helped me to negotiate a reasonable price.

Lunch was back at the Carnivore. This time I opted to try the meat. I had chicken, turkey and ostrich. I was pretty surprised I really liked the ostrich. And it fit my no eyelashes rule! We went back and played on the playground a little again. I just can't get enough playtime!

The Nairobi airport SUCKS. There isn't much to do there and there are lines everywhere. Plan on extra time if you're arriving or leaving this place! We finally made it to our gate and it was up and away to the rest and relaxation portion of our trip…Mombasa!!

We drove through town and I got to chat with Ali and Mary. Ali had been riding shotgun the entire time, so it was nice to get to know about him and his family. We arrived at the White Sands resort and it a sea of white marble and all open air! Then, I heard that my favorite Bob Marley song was playing, Three Little Birds. Ahh, I could feel all my muscles relax.

We had met at the Coco's bar and took a little trip down to the beach, borrowing a fire someone left behind from a previous celebration. The sand was white and the Indian Ocean was almost glassy it was so smooth. We all got a little chilly and headed back to the beach bar. Everyone trickled off to bed one by one. Again, it was Tan, Seth and me in the end. We made pillow forts to stay warm with the sea breeze. Tan drifted off to sleep and I got to chat with Seth. Again, it's so wonderful getting to know old friends better…but it's equally wonderful meeting new friends that are interesting and you just enjoy getting to know. We eventually turned in for the first time knowing we'd get to sleep in a little!

Masai Mara

We met Peter at 6:00 am to watch the sun and the animals rise; neither disappointed. The simbas were our playing in the morning light. We first spotted a group of lionesses dining on the previous night's kill. There were a few older cubs tucked in the grass too, I think. Then we went up a few yards and there was a proud male! He was right in the middle of the street. He was huge and powerful. They have definitely earned the title King of the Jungle. We thought there was typically only a single male in a pride, so we were shocked when another huge lion came up right behind our car. There was no confrontation and they seemed okay with each other. We called them the Brokeback Lions. Maybe these guys were more than just friends? J

We went back to the lodge for breakfast then went to visit the Masai Mara village nearby. On the drive, we stopped and picked up a Masai warrior. Guess who it was…here's a hint…we could tell by his name on his belt! Ken! He was so nice and bonded quickly with his brother from another mother, Tan.

They sang and jumped for us. They invited us to dance along too and placed the tribal lion hat on each of us. And we got to hold a warrior stick too. Oh the power! They were also very open and told us to ask anything we were curious about their lifestyle and daily goings on. We learned that they still have multiple wives, a wife is worth about 10 head of cattle, their houses are built by the women and dry walled with cow dung. The men walk the cattle and goats during the day; the women have babies and seem to do most things in the village. Divorce is not common and it's kind of a wonder considering the women's responsibilities. They also still practice circumcision on both the men and women when they come to age. Most women marry at about 15 and the men at about 23. The men are later because when they hit 18 years or so, they go to a central Masai school and learn about their background and how to be a Masai warrior and man. They said the people usually live into their 90s, which was also quite amazing. I have a little ADD and when they were talking about the history of the tribe, I saw a little boy playing on the perimeter and he came to stand next to me; and gave me a high five. So sweet!

We then listened to a chant/song by the ladies…Nita, Mary and I joined them. Next, it was time to visit a Masai home. Wow. Makes you thankful for all the little things we have. It was a stick hut with little rooms for the animals and people. There was a fire going and a lady that looked maybe 50ish in the main room, the living room/kitchen/bedroom. We heard a little whimper and there was a tiny baby on the bed we were sitting on. He asked me if I wanted to hold the baby…umm, of course!! It was so tiny and had big brown eyes. She started to babble and grandma asked for her. I passed her ever so carefully over the fire. I was terrified of dropping her…thankfully we made the transfer just fine!

We then learned to make fire and Bill got kind of swindled into buying the 2 pieces of wood for too much money. We then went through their "gift shop" with the items the tribe makes. Most things were similar to what we had seen elsewhere. But we did pick up a couple of things to support the group. The people are far too pushy for my liking though. They really pull and tug at you and just don't give you any peace to just look and take everything in. Overall, it was very informative and crazy to think that these people live this way. This tribe does have access to mobile phones and plenty of tourists though. So they are pretty knowledgeable about the world outside their community. They said some of their tribe's people have gone to school in Nairobi and in the US. When they return home for visits though, they are to live as the tribes do and honor tradition.

We were all pretty wiped out after the tour and just wanted to sit. I love the fact that even after 8 days almost everyone still spent some time on the patio of the lodge chatting, listening to music, trading pics and just being together. This group really felt like a family. While we sat for a few hours, waiting for the next safari, we got to see all kinds of wildlife from the lodge. There were hippos and crocs in the river; colorful birds in the air; a family of baboons in the canopy of the trees; monitors running about; and cute little coatis running about. On the way back to the hotel to get ready for safari, Nita and stopped and saw some monkeys digging in the trash. We snapped some photos and Nita got close…and they monkey totally came at her! I have never seen her move so fast. He started to come after, but then I stopped. He stopped in his tracks too and went back after Nita. I yelled, "stop" since it worked for me and she trusted me and screeched to a halt and the monkey did too. We laughed a lot after, but I think Nita won't be getting close to any primates anytime soon!!! J

On the way to the evening safari, we took Bill to the airport. The airport was comical. They were literally shooing animals off the runway for takeoff and the runway was dirt. I imagine a pretty bumpy takeoff and landing! The waiting area was a little open air space with a couple of benches and the toilets looked like outhouses. We all said our goodbyes to Bill and waved at the plane passing overhead about an hour later. We were all sad to see him heading out so quickly…he meshed right in with the group and everyone loved meeting my other travel buddy. The entire crew talked about how interesting and nice he was to have on the trip.

As we left the airport, we saw the biggest elephant yet lumber right past out van. It was nice to be the only vehicle and not surrounded by 15 other safari vans. This encounter seemed more relaxed and peaceful. The rest of the afternoon took that pace too. Not sure if it was a transition day for a lot of tours, but it felt like we had much more quiet time on this trip. We drove through the trees looking for a leopard sighting to round out the BIG 5. Jackson mentioned earlier in the day that he just wasn't impressed by the zebras. "WTH", I responded, "they are the funniest animal here!" He told me to prove it. I got my chance as we drove past a group of wildebeest and zebra and one was on the ground rolling around. We all thought he was injured, but they he just popped up. In my head, he was totally taunting a nearby predator in the safely of his big herd. I think I win, zebras ARE funny. J

So, a slow sighting evening, gave birth to Jackson's favorite past time…introducing the group to the horse face. Basically, you blow through your mouth and flap your lips…he was up first. Win! Everyone was game. Throughout the trip we all took our turns…classic. Total blackmail material…as always!

We all watched the sun set over our final evening in the Masai Mara. Such happy memories!

At dinner that night, we were all wiped out and knew we had an early morning. We did get to hear Jambo, Jambo and Happy Birthday to a little guy named Robert at the next table, but when they sang it sounded just like Robot. Sometimes the dumb things just make you laugh…it worked for Nita and me in our sleepy state!! We sat by our fire and listened to the guitarist again before heading to dreamland.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lake Nakuru to Masai Mara

We had breakfast at the lodge and headed out for our early start to the Masai Mara. As we pulled around the bend to leave the hotel, we looked back and lo and behold, there was the sun peeking over the hill! I guess we stayed up til sunrise after all!

The drive to the Masai Mara was about 6 hours. Tan, Seth and I slept, I mean meditated, for much of the journey. We stopped at a market along the way and guess who was there…the Dutch family! Tan welcomed the dad into our group by sharing an elephant hat! Back on the road, it was a nice time to peek at the view every now and then and catch up on our zzz's. About 2 hours before we were planned to arrive, the road got bumpy. We were rattling about like mad. This is where Peter's mad driving skills came out. I think we were going at least 40MPH and bobbing and weaving, bounding all around, going down into ditches to avoid potholes. There are no rules on these roads. He explained that in the USA if you're swerving, you're drunk. If you drive straight in Kenya, then that's when they know you've been hitting the bottle! Once we all adjusted and just went along for the ride, it was kinda fun. There was also a ton of dust, but we all survived it!

We arrived at the park entrance and about 5 minutes into our drive to the lodge, there was an elephant! In the wild! He was huge! And a big contrast to the little babies we saw at the Sheldrick orphanage. As we snapped photos and popped the roof open, another emerged from the brush, then some babies. It was so cool! I think there were 6 or 7 in all. Their tusks are massive, the best is when they flap their ears and they just exude grace and power.

We continued on the lodge and saw plenty of zebra and wildebeest. At first, we were like, yeah, yeah, another wildebeest, but as the trip grew, we all started to really like them! They just have a goofy look, but they're pretty graceful and always seem to watch the vehicles pass and look back at us curiously. Their migration is the highlight of the year in the Masai estimated 2.5 million of them cross the land. We like to think it's a highlight of their year too when they get to see the "Migration of the White Vans".

We checked in to the Mara Simba. This place was heaven. The lobby is up on stilts above the reserve and overlooks a river and lots of trees. This time we all got to stay together so we could just knock on doors to rally the troops. We took off quickly for the evening safari since we were running a little behind. We quickly learned the Swahili word for lion was Simba. Anytime there was a lion spotting, we would race to the scene…as would all the rest of the vans. We just weren't having any luck. They were always hiding from us. We did get to see a zebra kill that was on the menu for the lions later that night. The stunning thing about it was the ease the lions must have in taking out their prey. You couldn't even see an ounce of blood. It was odd. When we were at the kill, we ran into the Dutch family once again…I think they may have been following us! Jackson and I rode on top of the van for an hour or so and it was a bumpy mess…but worth every second! We laughed and held on for dear life as we wobbled down the paths! Both of us later recalled just being in awe of the panoramic views and it just hitting us…"we're on safari with great friends…in AFRICA!" It was awesome. We did get to see another big elephant, giraffes, zebras, ostrich, vultures and wildebeests that day, so it was a win. Toward the end, we did get to kind of see a pair of lions in the grass, which they call a marriage when it's just one male and one female…but we conceded that we'd have to hope to see them running about the next day.

As we drove back to the lodge basking in the sunset, most of the crew were back in their seats. Seth and I were still up spotting, when I saw a shadow on a hill…everyone popped up like meerkats, all facing the same direction. There she was! Peter called over the radio, "Simba! Simba! Simba!" It was beautiful…she looked so regal and proud. We all snapped shots furiously before we were joined by several other vehicles. She walked down the hill them started to roar to another lioness. The other female came from the trees and they grunted back and forth. I'm sure they were preparing to hunt and you could feel it in the air. They sauntered over to each other and crossed the street behind us. It was awesome and we all headed back to the lodge with huge smiles! This is why we all signed up for the trip and we got to see our lion!

Back at the lodge, we all met up for dinner and watched the jumping Masai tribal dancers. There was one in particular that caught our eye with his name on his belt called, Ken. He jumped high and we just loved that he had his name right on his outfit. We then sat by the fire and toasted to our day. There was a great little guitarist that played John Denver and Bob Marley tunes and of course, Jambo, Jambo. We started to play Monopoly Deal and a guy came up and stated chatting with us and sat down with his drink. He was nice, but we were all just kinda enjoying each other's company…so we said our good nights and got ready for an early morning of safaris the next day.

On an aside, Swahili is great! All the words are happy and cheery…here's a short lesson!



No Worries=Hakuna Matata


Sweet Dreams=Lala Salama

Thank You=Asanti

It's funny how unoriginal the writers of The Lion King were too…they just took the cute words directly from Swahili!