By Jon D. Gaede
Staff Writer & Photographer
There are many reasons to travel and most of us seek a pampered experience whenever we can. Any environment that takes us away from the drudgery of work will do.
In Southern California, we don't have to venture too far to achieve just that. Palm Springs, Laguna Beach, Big Bear, San Francisco, Las Vegas or a three day cruise from Long Beach can be had on short notice, with minimal planning. Catalina Island sounds adventurous, but how about Kenya?
Kenya, the ultimate East African destination, will require you to open your eyes and your heart. In return, the experience will change your view of the world. I challenge you to consider a fundamental change in the way most Americans seek a vacation and pursue the experience of a lifetime!
"Geoff's knowledge of tribal culture, Swahili and wildlife behavior was invaluable to all"
In late July, 32 people did just that. Ranging in ages from 12 to 85, we traveled some 12,000 miles from Los Angeles to Nairobi. The group included students, teachers, families, retirees and one veteran of Word War II. We had met five previous times, courtesy of Geoff Sink, legendary Brea-Olinda Basketball coach, adventurer and accomplished photographer. Geoff's knowledge of tribal culture, wildlife behavior and Swahili was invaluable to all.
Our journey would take us to simply the best wildlife game preserves on the African continent including: Amboseli, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, and the Maasi Mara (site of the ‘Great Migration').
There are many ways to experience Africa. Safari is a term used loosely and it can describe a variety of experiences. Some, not so good. Vivien Prince, our African host from "As You Like It Safaris" Ltd." has created a standard for comfort and convenience that was head and shoulders above all others.
"Our Kenyan drivers use safari income in order to send their children to school"
We traveled in modified Toyota Landcruisers with pop-top roof configurations for unrestricted observation/photography of all wildlife. Each of our eight vehicles contained four guests and one Kenyan driver. Our drivers were genuine good souls who earn safari income to send their children to school.
On the first evening, after dinner, we gathered small gifts, hats, sports jerseys, sox etc….The items were placed in a pile and by tradition, divvied up by Kenyan driver seniority. The guides then introduced themselves by name and by tribal affiliation. Kenyans are extremely proud of their tribal lineage. All drivers/guides possess comprehensive knowledge of wildlife and terrain. Some have earned college degrees in the animal sciences.
In pursuit of wildlife, we would embark from our lodge about 7 am and follow various animals for about four hours. We returned for lunch and mid day rest, then continued to pursue and observe animals from 3 pm to 7 pm in the afternoon. We had a routine evening meeting/debriefing, meal and local entertainment. For 20 days, this was the daily rhythm of our safari.
Each ‘game drive' or session is different than the one before. Animal behavior is random, so anything can happen, at any time. Amboseli is known for its quantity of elephant herds and we were not disappointed. One large herd of about 40, slowly approached, surrounded and passed by our vehicle, on the way to their morning water hole. Our drivers put us where the action was and photographic opportunities were abundant.
Whether you are using a digital camera, video taping or simply observing with binoculars, Africa will remind you that key action can happen at any time. Aggressive predatory animals may be stalking their prey as you drive upon them. Our drivers were experts at establishing a side view or flanking position for maximum observation and great pictures!
Our twenty-two day journey spanned the width of Kenya and on one afternoon our vehicles caravanned through the beauty and grandeur of five ecosystems. We descended 8,400 feet to the base of the Northern frontier. These roads led to Ethiopia, Somalia and Samburu. The images are beyond description, you simply must come to Africa.
Opportunity to purchase curios (hand made items) are numerous and most of us chose to spend our dollars in the traditional tribal villages of the Maasi and Samburu. Special arrangements are made in order to visit the villages. Upon approach, we were greeted by a representative of the tribe and asked to dismount our vehicles. In the Samburu village, the women, adorned in tribal blue, sang to us as they methodically shuffled down a path.
We were then greeted by "John" an articulate university educated 23 year old. John explained the dynamics of cooperation in tribal life and why he has returned to become a future leader of his people. We split into small groups, spent time in their huts and then purchased various jewelry, spears, talking sticks etc…..from the Samburu women.
The Maasi people come from land that includes Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Today, they are farmers, cattle herders and professionals. Many villages lie below Mt. Kilimanjaro. They live a shared existence and value the raising of children and ownership of cattle to be central to their way of life.
‘In 1890, a European disease wiped out over 90% of the Maasi cattle"
In the Maasi Mara we visited a thriving Maasi village. It is believed that the Maasi migrated, along with their Samburu cousins from the Nile river, in the 15th century. They live in modest low level huts. The Maasi believe that all cows on earth belong to the Maasi. A young warrior is expected to participate in a lion kill, however, the practice is being discouraged.
The Maasi who wear traditional red, are great trackers and herders. Unfortunately, in 1890, a European disease decimated much of the great herds they once had. Today, they struggle to keep their traditional way of life. They are also unusually good leapers. Several of the young warriors leaped for us in a traditional "adumu" or jumping dance. One can't help but notice how physically fit the Maasi are in person. Most are lean and tall. They are the beautiful people.
Some of the youth from our group played soccer with the Maasi children. Most are very good at soccer. Their village ball consisted of sponges wrapped in tape. We gave them our ball to keep. In Kenya, the people are thankful for anything, so lighten your bags and enjoy the feeling of giving.
"Some 15,000 wildebeast crossed the Mara River for 45 minutes"
During the months of July and August, the great herds cross the Mara River from Tanzania, by the hundreds of thousands. It is simply one of the greatest events to experience in anyone's lifetime. In great numbers they cross, initially, one lone wildebeast, followed by some 15,000 for 45 minutes! Crocodiles and hippos take the weak, but most make it to the other side of the river and the cycle of life goes on.
In the Mara region, there are many lions. One of the great prides in number, the Bila Shaka Pride, had grown to over 40 in strength. Unfortunately, some of the rogue juvenile males killed the alpha male and the result was two smaller prides. Our guides updated group members on pride dynamics. The lion pride behavior was magnificent to photograph and was a favorite among the group.
We concluded our journey with a visit to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage Trust. The orphanage supports baby elephants whose mothers have been brutally killed for their valuable ivory tusks. Elephants form close-knit lifetime bonds from birth and can live as long as some human beings. Some group members adopted their own baby elephant for a small annual fee. website: email@example.com
From Amboseli to the Maasi Mara our journey must come to an end. For the people we met and the pastel Kenyan sunsets we say (asante sana), thank you. We were pleased to be there with you. (Nimie furuhai kua pamoja nawewe).
We thank Vivien Prince for hosting her "As You Like It Safari .com" in her wonderful country. We thank Geoff Sink for his passion and expertise. We hope to see one more bird, one more magnificent lion, meet one more person and see one more sunset. Bless you and goodbye (Heri zote safari njema kwaheri)
Community reminder – On October 14th, Inland Christian Church in Colton will host its annual Harambe. Dinner and silent auction will be followed by traditional African crafts and art for display and sale. All funds raised will support Kenyan missionary work and the African Bible School, Harvest Field. If you have any questions about East African safaris, please ask for me at the Harambe. For more information call (909) 825-7572 or email AlaskaKD@adelphia.net.