“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Day 9 - Final day and the Leopard goes on a Stork rampage!

The day started fantastically as we passed a tree and saw the remains of a stork at the bottom, then rounded a bush and saw the Leopard dash across the scrub with the stork in its mouth! How lucky were we!!??
It appears the Leopard had killed at least 3 maybe 4 stork since there were also a number of Steppe Eagles feasting on another one slightly further afield and there was one still lying in the top of the tree, presumably for later.
We watched the Steppe Eagles for some time, mainly because they were playign tug of war with a white-headed vulture, the remains of the stork being the rope! very amusing. It was also interesting that the juvenile Eagle was not allowed to join in and simply sat patiently a few feet away whilst the father and mother ate. Our group were split again today, as David, Marion and Sheila were flying straight to Rwanda to see the Gorilllas and so had a plane to catch just before lunch, whilst Sandy and I had another game drive after lunch before heading off home. We had taken a game drive to the airport to see the others off, and as we were waiting, news came in that a couple of Leopard cubs had been spotted not far away in a tree near the airport. Sandy and I could not get away fast enough! we were waving from the truck driving in parallel to the plane as it took off!
We could only find one of the cubs, but he was at least awake and not too far from the truck as we backed it into the bust to get some shots.
He was so young, he still had his baby blue eyes. We stayed for a while, but when we realised the other cub or the mum was nowhere around, we decided to make the most of our time left and headed back out onto the plains, making the most of the space in the truck and the wind on our faces for the last time.

I was incredibly sad to be going home, and I remember thinking that I would never feel the same way about the place again. They say your first experience stays with you and can never be matched - and my first experience of the Masai Mara certainly feels that way now. The place blows your mind.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Day 8 - The Uncomfortable Leopard Chase

Spent a very difficult morning trying to shoot backlit lions.
Not only was it bloody freezing, but with such high ISO settings and moving targets, the image noise becomes way too apparent and the whole thing became a real challenge.

Afterwards we stopped for breakfast out on the plains. A beautiful breezy view and perfect for the penultimate morning.
Returning to the camp for lunch I unfortunately discovered my firat tick of the trip... in my groin!!! not good. Eventually got him removed and was raring to go find a leopard that we had been told was in the area. Unfortunately it turned out to be not such an enjoyable or exciting trip. We found her and we followed her and we all managed to get a shot or two, but then more and more trucks turned up and she began to move through the grass. Each driver then sped off after her trying to get their clients the best view - it felt like a chase. I felt like we were hunting her and I wasn't alone. But our view divided our passengers and some wanted to continue to get better shots and others wanted to stop and leave the cat alone with her kill.
Eventually after one member of the group had been reduced to tears, the truck fell silent. Eventually the Leopard moved off and as Daniel turned the ignition, David finally ended the awkward situation by telling him not to follow the cat. Thankfully, by the time we got to Sundowners everyone was friends again and the episode forgotten. I do not regret speaking my mind, nor do I regret not getting great images of the Leopard. Watching wildlife is one thing, but chasing it to increase your portfolio is another thing altogether.

The day ended with a fantastic traditional Masai dinner with arrowroot and sweet potato, and a dance display from the staff around the campfire.
A truly magical evening. (Although I will be glad when I finish the Malarone tablets and can get rid of these vivid dreams too.)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Day 7 - Masai Toothbrushes

Throughout our time driving over the Mara I had been wanting to get a picture of one of the many bleached buffalo skulls that litter the plains, but there was always something more interesting to go after, so this morning I was glad when David spotted this perfect specimen. When we got up close, we noticed that it had some sort of moth larvae growing / living on the horns which apparently is quite common.
During our breakfast stop, Daniel made us some traditional Masai toothbrushes from the wood of the elephant-pepper tree (Warburgia Ugandensis). As you chew the end of the cut stick so that it forms a soft fibrous ‘brush’, anti-bacterial properties are released into your mouth and at first it is incredibly strong and peppery, but after a short while it’s actually quite pleasant. Daniel explained that generally a toothbrush like this would last about a week before he would have to find another tree and cut another piece. The ultimate, eco-friendly disposable toothbrush!
We spent a lovely afternoon drive with a family of elephants bathing in mud pools and were quite surprised to witness a mother shielding the babies from our view – every time we moved the truck either forward or back to get a clearer shot of her calf she would move to block our view. Elephants are considered in the Mara to be the best mothers of all the mammals – we could see why.
Since we were late returning again (and after the embarrassment of last nights’ shower preparation), we asked Daniel to radio ahead to get the buckets filled in time for a quick shower before dinner. So when we got back I set the camera cards downloading, and stripped off, confident that no-one would be roaming around outside until I flashed my torch.  Oh how wrong I was – I had just sat down on the loo when Joseph’s voice came through the canvas – “your shower is ready for you Joanne, you had a good day with the simba yes?”

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Day 6 - Transfer from Acacia camp to Bush Camp

Pretty tough day really and not helped by my having stomach cramps and feeling like crap all day.
Morning game drive from Acacia camp was ok, (got soggy trousers taking images of Waste paper flowers which covered the grass) and arrival at Bush camp was fine. The tent is amazing – way better than Acacia, but the wildlife in the local area seems harder to come by. We did manage to see Serval cat during our stop for sundowners and I got some ok shots of Dik Diks, but no sign of leopard, and the Bee-eaters were simply out of reach for my lens.
We arrived at the same time as two birding women from Essex one of whom we now know has a stomach upset as she was not at lunch and neither of them turned up for dinner. Also met a couple of male teachers from an independent school in Berkshire who are here ahead of a teaching conference in Mombasa on Friday.
Today was hard. Both from a photography point of view and from a personal point of view. Medical and psychological issues have dominated the day for everyone; Sheila voiced everyone’s frustration at not having time to review our images and therefore correct any mistakes we are making. I got frustrated at having to configure my camera every time I turn it on, which meant the subject was usually long gone and poor Marian could only see out of one eye and had to wear her dark glasses all day in severe pain. So it was especially nice to get almost 2 hours to myself after lunch to sit, just me and my camera and the visiting birds at my tent. Ironically, I got two of the best shots of the trip so far for me!  One of a ‘Suberb Starling’ and the other a Silverbird with a caterpillar in its beak.
The afternoon drive was another long and hot affair, so I was looking forward to my shower when we got back to camp. We were late as usual and so I had assumed that the shower was ready with hot water. For this reason I was already naked and waiting for the water to run hot when I heard Joseph (my room attendant) arrive to fill my bucket! – this would have been fine except that only the bottom two-thirds of the tent are solid canvas and the top third is see-thru mosquito netting and Joseph has to climb a ladder to fill the bucket! At that point I could not have wished harder for the tent’s solar lighting to run out of power. I crouched down next to the floor frantically looking about for a towel at the same time as answering Joseph’s polite questions about how my day went and what I had seen!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Day 5 – Masai Village

Daniel really is fantastic, his driving skills are awesome. The Mara is basically a large swamp which has had quite a lot of rains lately, making a lot of the tracks impassable and elephant damage means many more tracks are blocked. Yet he still knows exactly where he is and how to get us back to camp. Even in the dark. His birding knowledge is also outstanding considering there are around 1300 different species of birds in Kenya.
Our sunrise and planned backlit shots were a disaster this morning. With no moisture in the atmosphere to diffuse the light, the sun was simply too harsh as soon as it peaked over the horizon. Poor Marian has damaged her eyes looking into the sun. Last year she had shingles which infected her eye and the sheer act of looking at the sun through her lens has re-ignited the pain. So close to the equator the sun is fierce and when you are concentrating on shooting, it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be. My lips are burnt and chapped and the hot wind when driving across the plains takes with it any moisture left in your face and hands until everything feels taught and raw. For luggage weight reasons I didn’t bring any moisturiser with me, only a tube of Aloe vera and a tube of factor 50 sun block. If only I had tested the new lens I could have swapped it for a kilo of moisturiser!
On the way back from our morning drive, we visited a Masai Village. But since Marian and Sheila had already been and Sandy wasn’t fussed, I was the only one who wanted to go in. David decided he had better not let me go alone, so we both got out of the vehicle and went to meet the village chief elder. All the females in the village were lined up in the centre singing and dancing and the chief explained that since we had paid him, we were now free to take as many photos as we liked and ask as many questions as we liked. Unfortunately I found the whole experience a bit over-whelming and so didn’t take many pictures, but joined in with the dancing instead. After a fascinating (but chokingly smelly) tour of the inside of one of their houses, we were taken to their ‘market’ to choose which souvenirs we wanted to purchase. I only had enough money on me for one item and so chose a fly swat made from wildebeest tail and decorated with Masai beading.
The afternoon drive saw us back with Mrembo and Manky-Eye and I managed to catch a distance shot of Manky-Eye chasing a Jackal.

We also discovered today the reason why the person whose place I had taken had decided to cancel and lose their deposit (and more) - apparently they had read a news report that the Masai Mara is home to AK47-weilding desperados who often come and raid the camps!!! So far we have not seen or heard of any such activity. Although we did today see something which is a little difficult to explain....

We were out on the plains and watched as a white Toyota truck pulled over and a couple of men got out and lifted the bonnet. Then they tried to flag a passing tourist safari jeep down which sensibly drove straight past them. Then to our surprise the men simply shut the bonnet and drove off. It could have been a trap which didn't work, or there could simply have been a very innocent explanation. We didn't hang around to find out.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Day 4 – Musiara Marsh and Leopard Gorge

David’s mobile camera trap caught a hyena passing by his tent last night and the Askari informed us that we had Lion about 200m from our tents, lazing up on the hill! So we all agreed for that to be our first stop on the way to Musiara marsh (and the home of TV’s ‘Big Cat’ Marsh Pride).
This first drive of the day was a long one - 6am – 330pm, but was well worth it. We found the Marsh pride (14 of them at least, including Romeo, the lead Male) and managed to time our breakfast perfectly by moving off and eating when the group were resting and returning just as they were raising to get on the move again.
As you would expect of a marsh, it is home to a great number of waders, cranes and storks. We settled to watch a Saddle-billed stork do a bit of fishing, and were surprised when seconds later he caught a catfish and dropped it in the reeds where he proceeded to stab it with his beak to kill it before eating it, I always thought they just threw them back still alive!
We went from the marsh to the famous ‘Leopard Gorge’ which unfortunately had no Leopards in it, but a huge number of Rock Hyrax who posed beautifully for us like Mr and Mrs.
Our route back through the Masai North conservancy was agony. My chest couldn’t take anymore. So Sandy called a ladies meeting when we returned to camp mid-afternoon and we all aired our concerns and gripes. It seems I’m not the only one silently suffering! It was therefore unanimously decided to all move seats in the truck and allow everyone a turn at good views and a smooth ride. We all agreed to push David to the back seat and to no longer let him hog the best shooting spot at every stop!
The afternoon game drive was a dream. 5pm – 730pm and we all swapped seats; Marian and I went to the front two seats behind Daniel. Perfect. What a view.
Sundowners were great too – us girls seem to have bonded well over our earlier meeting and the entire sunset was spent like schoolgirls in fits of giggles.
I managed to rip the side pocket off my combats at the dinner table by assuming it was held shut with Velcro. It even sounded like Velcro when it ripped! Definitely need more sleep. Marian suggested I asked the Masai if they had a sewing kit, to which Maurice (‘Mr. Drinks’) replied, “Give me the trousers and I will arrange it all for you, Hakuna Matata.” What service.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Day 3 - Sunday and our first major kill

You know you haven’t been in bed long enough when your hot water bottle is still hot and it’s time to get up.
The morning drive was packed as usual with new birds, old mammals and glorious equatorial sunshine. First up were two Ground Hornbills fighting over a Lizard, followed by breakfast overlooking a hippo-filled river with weaver nests dangling over the edge. Very pleasant indeed, but incredibly frustrating to capture with a heavy camera and no tripod.
After breakfast we caught up with Mrembo and ‘Manky-Eye’ getting stuck in to an impala kill with an audience of a few White-Backed vultures up in the trees. Within ten minutes or so, the vulture numbers had swelled to over 30 with more landing every time you turned to look. Soon the nearby tree branches were full and the vultures began to occupy ground space, getting closer and closer to the cheetahs. A Hyena eventually turned up chasing the Cheetahs away and running in to steal the carcass only to come out with a vulture instead! – she spat it out and waded back in through the carpet of ugly feasting birds for a second attempt. A brown hairy mass, carry a blood soaked lump and a flurry of feathers was all I saw as the Hyena dashed into the trees with her swag, but I will never forget the smell. As soon as those vultures had punctured the intestines the smell was everywhere. Truly rancid.
The vultures stripped the carcass in minutes and took to the air in a mass swirling column that moved as one across the plains. It was time to head back for lunch.
After lunch we headed back out across the open plains area stopping to shoot a Zebra threesome en route to a known hyena den where we spent a lovely session with a couple of females and their family of cubs. Apparently the females take it in turns to babysit whilst the other females head out to scavenge. It looked to me as if each female was feeding cubs that could not have been theirs, because one opportune little cub was moving between females and feeding from both!
As the light faded, and ISO settings became too noisy, we headed out for sundowners in the open and grabbed a few sunset shots at the same time. What a beautiful way to end a very exciting day.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Day 2 – Kicheche Acacia Camp

My 5:30am wake-up call arrived at 5:50am (‘Swahili time’) which meant I had ten minutes to be up, dressed and ready for the off. As a result I managed to make my tea with the hot water which was meant for me to wash in – oops!
Thankfully I have a sad habit of hording teabags from hotel rooms so it meant when I realised my mistake I could make another brew from the flask of hot water, and actually use the brown warm water for washing in.
I made it to the main camp tent after the other ladies but just 30 seconds before David which was perfect as I was then able to join in the jeering at his tardiness.
We set off and managed to reach a good spot just in time for a few sunrise shots before a herd of elephants came through, closely followed by Cheetah! A female called ‘Mrembo’ (meaning Beautiful) and her 9 month old male cub (who we referred to as ‘Manky-Eye’ since he has not been given a name yet and has a dodgey left eye). We followed them for a good couple of hours and managed to catch them playing together, washing and hunting which was incredible. Mum even leapt up onto the bonnet of the truck at one point which put the wind up Sheila, who was standing with her head out of the roof but facing the other way at the time. Daniel, who was in the driving seat, managed to get a good face to face shot whilst the rest of us jostled for space in the back.
Onwards to include Jackals and breakfast out on the plains only 200 or so metres from where we last left the Cheetahs relaxing in the shade. How lucky am I.
We returned to camp around noon for a camera download and some lunch before heading out again about 4pm. I must say the pace is getting to me a little. I was hoping for more downtime and thinking time and also some time to review images etc. None of which we have had so far. My camera keeps resetting itself to factory defaults every time I turn it off which is a real pain (think I have cooked the memory in the heat) and the new £1,000 lens is so soft it’s unusable. Very disappointed. I almost cried silently at one point this morning when I realised every single one of my lion shots from yesterday and all my elephant shots from dawn are slightly out of focus. Very very disheartening. I thought it was down to me not being used to the new lens, but I have tried everything, checked over the settings, done some set tests under controlled conditions and the outcome is still the same. I cannot get it to produce sharp images even when placed on a table, facing a stationary object and taken using the timer.
We went out this afternoon with the intention of returning to the Hyena den to film the cubs in better light, but unfortunately they were very inactive and so I only managed a few shots of mother feeding one cub. I have returned to using my old Sigma 500mm lens now and will simply have to make the best of it. My own fault for not fully testing the new lens before the trip I guess. Lesson well and truly learnt. I did take some nice sunset shots and a few good birds in flight which I am hopeful for. Although I can’t really tell until they go onto a full size screen.
The group are truly lovely woman. Very like-minded and all well-travelled. Sandy seems the least fussed amongst us about getting the perfect composition and is happy to snap away at anything, which means we continue to stop for things that are not great subjects, repeats or are in poor light etc. But so far it’s not causing any of us a problem (except maybe David!), in fact, she has made some odd calls which have turned out to be fantastic for everyone.
We returned after sundowners in the dark and had ten minutes to shower before dinner. Dinner was pork so I just ate the mash and spinach with a pint of lager and returned to my tent for 930pm. The heat is quite tiring and I feel like there is not enough time to unwind at all or think about what we are doing. I understand we need to make the most of the time here and go out in search of game every day, but sometimes I wish I could just do my own thing for a bit. I might sit out of an afternoon drive one day to take some time out (I think there are parts of my anatomy that would appreciate a rest from the painful ride too – there are no roads on the routes we take!). My cameras behaviour is really starting to grate. I have overcome the factory reset issue by simply not turning it off, but it’s proving hard to change a habit I’ve formed over 20 years, and it also means I am going through batteries much quicker than expected. Add to that the fact that the solar-powered charging banks here at the camp also take much longer to work than 240v sockets at home, and I am really struggling to keep the camera going throughout each drive.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Day 1 - Kicheche Acacia Camp

What an amazing day. It started with a fantastic buffet breakfast, followed by a quick time-killing tour of the hotel gardens with my camera, before the hotel’s driver, Steve, drove me to Wilson airport where I killed yet more time with a large fresh passion-fruit juice (15p) and a read of my new ebook guide to Kenya waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.
Thankfully they are all lovely – all female apart from David our photographic guide and tour leader. We are four. First there’s Judge Marian, who has been to the Pantanal on David’s tour three times before and is going straight from this trip to Rwanda to see the Gorillas along with the second member of our group, retired marketing and PR person, Sheila, who has also been on the same Pantanal trip four times now. Then there’s recently-retired Sandy who has a great sense of humour, is very down-to-earth and, like me, has not been to Kenya before. This is Sandy’s first tour with David, although she has attended a couple of his UK day courses in the past. And finally me; the youngest of the group, only one Pantanal trip under my belt, and the only Pentax user.
After introductions and anti-malaria drug discussions, we boarded the tiny 16-seater plane. The ride was a little bumpy, but the view was incredible. We were met at the other end by our guide, Daniel, in full Masai dress (the famous red ‘Shuka’ adorned with beads) complete with Tanzanian Yamaha sandals.
As soon as Sandy and I had finished peeing into a wasp-filled hole in a straw hut at the Mara Shukah airstrip we started the journey out to Kicheche’s Acacia camp where we will spend the next 5 nights. Daniel had word from the other guides at the camp that a Leopard had been spotted very close to our tents and so we all agreed (despite the lack of sleep or food) that we would go see if it was still there. It was! My first wild Leopard within an hour of arriving in the Mara! VERY happy bunny.
Along the way we saw allsorts and by the time we reached camp at 12:15pm we were all fit to crash. First though we had to listen to an informative and interesting induction talk given by the camp manager Andy. Because the camp is not fenced in at all and the animals are free to wander in and out as they please, the main rule which must be observed is not walking around alone in the dark. There are Masai Warriors (Askari) on hand to escort us around, all we have to do is flash our solar torches from the tent and they will come to get us.  We have two-way radios in the tent by the bed in case we have concerns and the Masai fill our bucket showers with piping hot water every evening before dinner.
After the welcome chat, we were taken to our tents to settle in and freshen up before lunch. My tent was some way away from the main camp and named Kiboku (meaning ‘Hippo’). David had the tent even further away than mine but both overlooking a tree-edged lugga, skirting plains covered in zebra and impala. Sandy had the tent to my right and Marian and Sheila were nearer main camp.
The tent itself is like a small bungalow with a flushing toilet, basin with cold running water and king-sized wooden bed. There are also two single beds one of which had monkey poo on it when I arrived. The monkeys had also been through my bathroom area and knocked over the jar of washing powder. (The masai do everyone’s laundry every day but understandably they don’t wash women’s undies.)
I barely had time to remove my boots when I realised it was time to make my way back to the mess tent for lunch followed by a photographic revision session covering metering, aperture and things to be aware of when shooting in the Mara and from the vehicle.
Before I knew it we were back in the truck and off again, shooting impala, buffalo, secretary birds and lions before settling on hyena cubs at a den just before sun down.
‘Sundownders’ are an old colonial custom which most white Kenyans continue with to this day. You basically find a nice spot on the open plains and set up a picnic table with bright red masai table-cloth before pouring everyone their drink of choice and handing round ‘bitings’ (crisps, nuts or finger food) to nibble on whilst watching the sun go down. I’m sure if we had the vast open plains, the wildlife to roam it, the enormous sky, and the evening warmth, we would do the same in the UK. But somehow standing out in your local park with freezing wind whipping your face and MacDonalds wrappers swirling round your ankles doesn’t quite have the same appeal.
As darkness descended, we packed up and headed back across the Mara to camp in time for a shower and a drink round the campfire before dinner. The food here is incredible, and all cooked on charcoal. Tonight’s dinner was fried fish with potatoes and mango followed by an attack from Siafu ants. Not nice. Funny looking back, but not nice at the time.
I was sitting at the table when I suddenly felt something bite my ankle, I bent down to brush it off and sat upright again only to be bitten again half way up my leg. Since I was wearing full length combats, I suddenly realised that something must be inside my trousers. Another bite on my thigh. Another slightly higher up. I leapt up and started frantically looking about for an Askari. I had ants in my pants and it felt like plenty of them. Sandy, who was sat next to me, saw more on me and followed as I ran to the communal toilet tent outside, where I stripped off in record time. The askari who had escorted us there was waiting outside the tent and must have wondered what on earth was going on... two women go into the toilet together, lots of commotion and then one shouts ‘take your pants off’ whilst slapping me with a serviette!
By the time we had returned to the table I could manage only a cup of tea. Exhausted, itchy and slightly embarrassed I headed off to bed. How comforting then to find my room attendant had put a hot water bottle in my bed and placed my piglet on the pillow. Day 1 finally over.

Welcome to Kenya!

It’s currently 530am and I have had about 5 hours sleep since arriving last night. I am due to get up and go down for breakfast in half hour before heading out to Wilson airport to meet the rest of the group. So far all I know is that one is called Sandy, another is Sheila and the third is a guy. So fingers crossed we all get on. Another Pam for 9 days would really test my tolerance levels.
So the plane landed around 930pm last night into near total darkness. Through the window of the 777 as it descended I could see the odd cooking fire lighting up the landscape, but really it didn’t look at all like the vast sprawling capital city I saw as I drove across town in Paul’s minibus.  Paul works for the Fairview hotel and was the first black Kenyan I met.  He was waiting for me with a board reading ‘JOANNES HEDGER’, I had to smile, both at the spelling of my name and at the relief of seeing it written there in front of me as I came through customs. (The VISA desk was remarkably quick, easy and only £20 which was a bonus.)
Paul and I ventured out to retrieve the van which was to the back of a car park and buried deep in Mercedes cars driven by Asian Kenyans who had all rammed themselves from every direction into the one exit lane to reach the ticket office first. It was chaos. Needless to say by the time we eventually reached the little booth Paul’s temper was a little frayed and an argument broke out as to who’s turn it was and why the guy behind couldn’t just wait. Car horns, frantic arm gestures and shouting was followed by the appearance of a security guard, and two more drivers who had brought along their tickets for payment on foot.  Paul was now outside the van and in full swing. An impressive outpouring of abuse and frustration saw him effortlessly switch from English to Kiswahili and back again. Once he had got it all out of his system he turned to the lady sitting in the booth to pay – to which she helpfully added that she didn’t have any change anyway and we would have to pay at the next machine!
Eventually (after another car park fiasco, more testing of the horn and an end-of-tether defiant drive-through at the final barrier), we were out of the airport. It was almost 11pm.
The hotel is well kept, highly secure and boasts “the fastest internet connection of any hotel in Nairobi”. Unfortunately I didn’t get to test this statement as it was ‘down’, so no final email home to send news of my safe arrival.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Only one more sleep to go!!!

Well if I'm not ready now I never will be, I have checked-in online and printed my boarding card, packed everything that I need and given up fretting about the few kilos extra I'm carrying. My storage cards are all cleared, camera batteries all charged and copies of all documentation safely distributed. The eReader is loaded with books (as well as a guide to Kenya and copies of my travel docs) and my laptop is ready to receive what I estimate will be around 3000 images of everything from sunrise and silhouettes to bugs, butterflies and big cats. My next update will hopefully be when I reach the Fairview hotel in Nairobi tomorrow evening.

Monday, 17 January 2011

WIKI notes on the Masai People

"The central unit of Maasai society is the age-set. Although young boys are sent out with the calves and lambs as soon as they can toddle, childhood for boys is mostly playtime, with the exception of ritual beatings to test courage and endurance. Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking, skills which they learn from their mothers at an early age. Every 15 years or so, a new and individually named generation of Morans or Il-murran (warriors) will be initiated. This involves most boys between 12 and 25, who have reached puberty and are not part of the previous age-set. One rite of passage from boyhood to the status of junior warrior is a painful circumcision ceremony, which is performed without anaesthetic. This ritual is typically performed by the elders, who use a sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. The Maa word for circumcision is emorata. The boy must endure the operation in silence. Expressions of pain bring dishonor, albeit temporarily. Any exclamations can cause a mistake in the delicate and tedious process, which can result in life-long scarring, dysfunction, and pain. The healing process will take 3–4 months, during which urination is painful and nearly impossible at times, and boys must remain in black cloths for a period of 4–8 months."

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Going dark

One week to go and I have made an important, and positive decision to leave my mobile phone (and my Blackberry) behind. It will be the longest we have ever been apart, but with a 15Kg luggage limit and probably zero signal on the open plains of East Africa, it seemed a pointless waste of weight allowance, space and cost as well as being yet one more thing to keep safe.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

8 days to go

I have now started reading 'West with the Night' by Beryl Markham. A book which very poetically provides an insight into colonial Africa as lived by one of the very first female aviators in the early 1900s. Beryl flew back and fourth over the Masai and Serengetti for a large part of her adult life and for a wide range of reasons; delivering medical supplies, searching for missing people, or stranded planes, hunting, transporting passengers, delivering spare vehicle parts etc. In a land and a time where landing strips were marked with oil-soaked rags set alight inside tin cans and the sight of a motor car always turned heads, every flight was a mini-adventure.
I managed to collect my Malarone tablets today too, along with some one-a-day anti-histamine and a new mosquito-bite electric-clicker (a marvellous invention and saved both mine and Ant's sanity on many occasions whilst travelling in the van). I think I am now well and truly ready to take on those African mossies.

Friday, 7 January 2011

13 days to go - amazon delivery

Dad and Janet gave me some Kenyan Shillings today and some US dollars that they hadn't used on their last trip to Kenya, which is fantastic as not only does it tick another thing off my list (which always brings a smile to the face of an avid list-ticker like me), but it saves me the commission charge too. I am not expecting to spend much of it as the trip fee I have already paid includes everything apart from my entry VISA and food at the airport on the return journey, (even alcohol is included!!! - are the Kenyans mad??).
I then got home to find not only the two second-hand books I have been waiting for, but Series 4 of the Big Cat Week on DVD too. Very happy bunny, that's my weekend sorted.
Also making minor progress on obtaining the anti-malarial prescription - Malarone. I at least have the piece of paper from the doctor now, which cost me £8 and is half covered in black ink due to a fault with the surgery printer which has rendered it almost illegible, so fingers crossed the chemist accepts it otherwise it's back to square one again. I have made a few phone calls and chosen Lloyds pharmacy in Haywards Heath to collect it as they will charge me only £50 as opposed to £74 which was the quote I was given by the Cowfold surgery! Online would have been even cheaper, but I just don't want to risk the postal system delaying their arrival.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

2 weeks to go!

Having read both the books I bought for the trip already, I recently ordered a few more (don't you just love Amazon's secondhand bookshop). When I got home from work last night there was "Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna" waiting for me. Excellent. I finished 'Tick Bite Fever' on Tuesday night which is the story of a white man growing up in 1970's Kenya, so I was eager to get started on this new book which is the story of a lad called Joseph who also grew up in 1970's Kenya, the difference being that Joseph is a Maasai warrior (Lemasolai is his Maasai name) and the book tells about his life roaming the open plains with his cattle and his family. I devoured it in 2 hours flat! What an incredible guy and what incredible people the Maasai are. Cattle are their life and cow's milk and blood their staple diet. Of the hundreds of cattle in their herd, the Maasai can identify each and every cow by name and family. The book gave a great insight into their world, their culture, beliefs and values. The one that stood out the most was that of the 'pinching man'. Every Maasai village has one and it's the person that naughtly or disrespectful children are sent to. A man they fear from a very young age, a man who is permitted to pinch as hard or as many times as befits the crime to teach young Maasai the lessons they need to learn. According to Lemasolai, no Maasai ever forgets their first session with the pinching man!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Happy New Year!

16 days to go and I still need to collect my anti-malarial prescription – going to suffer the VAT increase now as a result – oops.
I did a packing dummy-run at the weekend – camera bag was 8.5kgs and my suitcase was also 8.5kgs - I really can’t see what else I can leave behind. I had only included what was on the basic kit-list as it was! Definitely not going to fit the laptop in either which is a real annoyance.
I have been following a couple of Masai blogs over the holidays too and it seems the weather in Kenya is currently hovering around 28degreesC and getting down to 13 at night which is pleasant. Lovely and sunny too for the next 10 days. I can’t wait to get out of the cold, the wet and the depressing darkness of Britain in January.