scarlettina: (Lion of Kenya)
NPR's Day to Day is running a story today at noon DST, Pacific Tima, about the lions of Tsavo. Be sure to tune in on your local NPR affiliate. The expert being interviewed is one of the two scientists in charge of the expedition on which I volunteered. If there's a call-in segment, you can bet I'll be on the phone.

Wednesday morning

Wed, Sep. 26th, 2007 11:11 am
scarlettina: (What have I done?)
Signs I'm really back in my life again: I'm wearing my wrist brace again. Yesterday afternoon, after only one day back at the office, my RSI was acting up. Annoying 21st century.

In other news, I've started to transcribe and post the trip journal. I hope to have a significant chunk live in the next day or two and will link to the pages once there's something of real interest to share.

ETA: I'm backdating the Kenya entries, so they won't appear in your flist in the normal course of reading. My plan is to post them all backdated to when I wrote them during the trip, then to post a sort of linked table of contents on whatever date I finish the transcription so people can read or skip that which does or doesn't interest them.

Mombasa!

Sun, Sep. 9th, 2007 03:45 pm
scarlettina: (Lions 2)
Transcribed from hand-written journal

We left camp this morning at 6:30 AM--stopped for oil for the car at the machinist's shop nearby and then hit the road, Obadiah driving and Alex M accompanying us. About 10 minutes into the drive, the safari truck began to spew black, acrid-smelling smoke. We stopped and got out immediately to the sounds of the car roaring and grinding pretty fiercely. Seems the mechanic put too much oil into the car and screwed up the compression. So there we were, milling about on the open plain as we waited for another car to come. We all remarked upon the fact that we were pretty exposed out there--to lions and elephants and whatever else might come around. As it happened, of course, we wee perfectly fine. Another car came for us (about an hour later) and off we went. (In the photo are, from left to right, Mark, Obadiah, and Alex.)

In the end, it was just as well that we were delayed. Near a watering tank, we saw a herd of Burchell's zebras, a rare Grevy's zebra, and a lone female cheetah menacing, but not attacking, the equine group. She looked as though she was made of springs the way she moved, graceful and elastic, almost unreal. Really a spectacular sighting. And it more than made up for the delay.

7:30 PM

We got into Mombaba around 10 AM and were met by a local guide named Fauzi, a tall, lanky man with light brown skin and a wide smile. By "we," I refer to myself, Alex M and Kathy Q. The rest of the team went to Tsavo East. Anyway...


Our tour started at Fort Jesus, the fort that the Portuguese built once they were established in Mombasa, which overlooks the port and the outlet to the Indian Sea. It's a squarish, impressive place carved out of the limestone cliffs. We got the basic history of the place and then Fauzi took us into Old Town.

First he took us along the channel that separates Mombasa from the mainland and talked a little about navigation and about how high the water gets t high tide. From there, he showed us building that are being restored under the auspices of the European Union along with a local authority. (The EU provides a chunk of money for each building. As long as 3/4 of the money is spent on the building itself, the owners may keep a quarter of the cash as incentive.) Throughout the area, you'll see the words "Save Old Town" in both English and Swahili. All of the buildings are quite simple. What's being saved are the intricately carved balcony railings and doorways, arched entryways and things like that--details that are clearly strongly Arab-inflinenced and are quite graceful and beautiful. Just like historic restoration in the US, you can renovate inside all you want, but the historic exteriors must be preserved.

All the streets in Old Town are quite narrow, and those that haven't yet been restored with paving stones as part of the conservation work are badly in need of repair, with potholes everywhere. The narrowness of the streets, however, provides much-needed shade from the light and heart of the sun. The buildings are all built of limestone and the walls are at least a foot thick. They are cool to the touch and are probably quite cool inside.

We visited the fish markets. The retail market was a small room with several freezers and baskets of fresh catch. The wholesale market--an open air place right where the big fishing boats dock--was pretty empty, mainly because it was Sunday. I bet the place bustles on weekdays.

We continued to walk--saw signs explaining the tariffs on imports: medicines had none; agri products had very high tariffs indeed.

We passed a couple of madrassas, their wide doors open to the streets, filled with boys all dressed in school uniforms. A couple of the boys turned around when they heard our English conversations, looking at us with big black eyes. Then we made our way into the market area--large and labyrinthine. We past many men and women sitting on the ground selling fruits and vegetables spread on fabric. We stopped at a cart where we tasted nuts and dried mangoes and a sort of peanut brittle. I purchased a bag of the dried mango since it was so sweet and delicious. I'll have it for tomorrow morning's patrol.

Turns out that the street vendors are only sort of legitimate. They pay a fee to sell on the street. The legitimate market is inside a large warehouse. The pace was packed, and yet our guide implied that the crowd wasn't all that bad, that weekdays were much worse. I ended up purchasing several teas and herbs as gifts for friends. We wee treated to tastes of macadamia nuts fresh from the shell, and red bananas so sweet they tasted almost like apples.

From there, we toured the "flesh markets," where we saw cages packed with chickens as well as packaged-up, freshly butchered poultry. One warehouse over were butchers selling goat, lamb and beef. It's unnerving seeing goat heads sitting on a counter top, their empty eyes staring at nothing. Got some interesting pictures there.

We walked more of the Old Town, then, passing several antique and curio shops that I would have loved to pop into, but we didn't really have time. We ended our walk back at Fort Jesus. We took pictures with our guide, then met our ride.

Alex and Obadiah dropped us at a very swanky hotel for lunch. The restaurant was quite fine--very posh, with cushioned seats in an outdoor, canopied area where sea breezes blew through, rustling the palm tree fronds above us. It felt like paradise after a week in the bush. I ordered the butter chicken with rice and naan, and enjoyed every bit.

We took some time on the beach behind the resort, a lovely, white sand beach on the Indian Ocean. The water was a rich aquamarine color, with white breakers in the distance, spreading from horizon to horizon. Beautiful.

While Alex swam and Kathy dipped her toes into the water, I watched the bags. My intention had been to journal. Just before Kathy and Alex went off to the water, however, we were approached by a man in a soccer jersey who chatted us up. I was waiting for his sales pitch and it came soon enough. He was a carver looking for commissions. He also sold sea shells. I politely declined. I couldn't seem to shake him, so I asked him where he was originally from and what he did for a living when he wasn't doing this. Turned out that he was Maasai and had come to the city to supplement that family income during the dry season. The logic went like this: during the dry season there's less food for cows, which meant less food for people. As a result, he'd go into the city to work during the season and try to earn money to make up the shortfall. It's a different life indeed. One of the interesting things about the encounter was the fact that he started the conversation by asking "Where is Osama from?" At first I thought he as talking about Bin laden (which I think was his idea of a joke), and then he said, "Oh, I mean Obama--Barak Obama," the senator from Illinois. Apparently Obama has visited Kenya, which is why this fellow knew his name. He's well-known in Kenya. American politics really does reach everywhere.

Alex and Obadiah picked us up at 4 PM. Our last stop was the Okampa Artists Cooperative, a huge carving center where a large percentage of the carvings sol around the country (and outside of it) are produced. Obadiah had suggested this stop; the tribe that ran the place were his people.

First we toured the workshops, low wood and tin huts filled with the smell of fresh cut wood and the sounds of chopping, carving and cutting. The men (and all of the artists were men) sat either on the found or on low stools to do their work. According to the brochure, 3,000 men work in the center. Certainly, the workshops--ramshackle huts at best--were all full and stretched on for quite a distance. I saw men with piles of masks three feet tall, half finished tables, unpainted zebra and hippo sculptures--beautiful things. I asked Obadiah where these men learned their trade. He said there was no formal training, that they just sat down with tools and started carving. I'm guessing that watching others and lots of practice makes a difference there.

We proceeded to the shop/showroom, which was huge and overwhelming. I wanted to take it all home. As it was, I picked up gifts for several people. Such beautiful stuff.

And then we were off back to camp.

When we got back, I found a group sitting at the firepit. Others came and went. We shared stories about our day. Based on their reports, it sounded like Tsavo East hadn't been much different from a day in the truck here on the ranches. It sounded as though we who went to Mombasa had a better, more interesting day overall. I was pleased.

See all the Mombasa pictures here.
scarlettina: (Lions 2)
I'm in an internet cafe in Mombasa, just checking in to let everyone know that I haven't been eaten by a lion...yet. :-)

It's been an amazing week so far, even though the schedule (as previously posted) has been grueling. But the rewards have been well worth it. We've seen our rare, maneless Tsavo lions almost every day for hours at a time. I've seen elephants, zebra, oryx, giraffe, caracal (go look it up!), hyrax (yeah, go look that up, too!), agamas, go-away birds, and this very morning, a cheetah teasing a group of Burchell's zebra. Gotta say: this ain't nuthin' like visiting a zoo. Last night at about 11:30, I was awakened by an elephant trumpeting, maybe 30 feet from my tent. This morning, I came down from breakfast to find four cape buffalo munching grass about ten feet from my tent--inside the camp perimeter. You can't get any closer than this, and it's been wonderful.

The people are, for the most part, pretty great. As I expected, there's been a certain amount of cliquishness forming, something I'm never comfortable with. Still, I'm finding my people and my comfort zone, and the most imporant thing is that we're getting good work done.

Must run; the costs for an internet connection here are outrageous. But I wanted to say hi and connect, even if briefly. I miss everyone, really, and can't wait to share stories and pictures in detail.

[livejournal.com profile] webcowgirl, [livejournal.com profile] shadowdaddy, and [livejournal.com profile] kit_hartford: See you in a week!

Lion!

Fri, Sep. 7th, 2007 02:43 am
scarlettina: (Default)
Transcribed from hand-written journal

Big night tonight. While Richard was running the antenna and I was running the receiver, we finally picked up one of the three collared lions! After much tracking and triangulating, we discovered Kabochi, a big, handsome male, walking along the very road we were driving along.


He's a big fellow with more of a mane than most of the maneless Tsavo lions--very handsome, very alpha male. Soon we discovered that his buddy Bahati (Lucky) with whom he has formed an apparently very tight coalition, was nearby. We followed them for at least three hours, focusing on Kabochi. Later in the evening, he began to roar, a full-throated, deep chested sound that you could feel in your breastbone, The first time he roared, Nic, Richard and I all said "Wow!" at the same time. It was just amazing.


Eventually, the two lions parted company, but as the evening wore on, they began to call to each other. The calls seemed to follow a pattern: 3 or 4 rumbly roars, then anywhere from 15-25 chuffing roars followed by a last throaty chuff. Alex wouldn't respond to me when I asked him about this--twice. I was peeved but didn't push it.

Really exciting night.

Note: Kabochi was named for Paul Kabochi, a guide who used to work the project who, several years ago, was trampled to death by an elephant. Bahati was named Lucky because the first time he was spotted, he was with two female lions, and was taking his pleasure with each in turn. Appropriate name.

12:07 PM
This first week, each morning after breakfast the team leads are giving us classes in different subjects (hence the nature walk previously mentioned). Class this morning was Cultures of Kenya. Each of our guides plus our team lead talked about their peoples. Part of me was fascinated. Part of me felt odd about it, wondering if it didn't feel -- for them -- as it would for me talking about Judaism to tourists. It was interesting, though, and I had to remind myself -- as they did -- that a lot of what they were talking about was traditional practice no longer observed by the modern peoples, not unlike the sort of thing one might talk about in social studies class. Note: I'm still working out why this bothered me so much.

Turns out that we're going to a Maasai village tomorrow morning -- very excited about that.

For Sunday, we have the option of going to Tsavo East which is an official preserve, to Mombasa for a city tour, to Kasigow to experience local culture, or to stay in camp. I'm for Mombasa. But it's a majority rules sort of decision, so I hope others are, too.

In the survey truck, 6:45 PM

Kabochi sighted by the other team. Off we went, hellbent for leather across the landscape, bumping, rattling, scraping past thorny trees and bushes. We found the cat reclining amongst a couple of shrubs and a couple of low trees, his eyes shining in our spotlight. I tried to get a shot of him but in the darkness I couldn't get the camera to stay still long enough to make a clear image. Kabochi is sleeping now. I suspect we'll be here for a while.


Earlier we stopped at a waterhole and mud wallow, and watched several elephants, including one juvenile and one not more than a couple of months old playing and rolling about in the mud. I got some great shots of the group. (Note: This was where my long lens failed me. With only one or two exceptions, all the pictures from this incident are fuzzy; it just about killed me to see them.) They're just delightful to watch! I can't get enough of them.


Later

We broke for dinner at 8:30 PM when Kabochi headed off into woods too dense for us to follow.

Cliques are beginning to form in the group, something that always makes me uncomfortable. I never know how to deal with it.
scarlettina: (Lion of Kenya)
9/6/07 12:34 PM
Transcribed from hand-written journal


After breakfast, Simon, who is a botanist, took us on a nature walk--a hike really--around and up Satao Rock (at the base of which sits our camp). He pointed out plants and flowers, talked a little about the geology of the area and some of the wildlife. After a moment of vertigo, through which Sue and Mahmud and Mark helped me, we got to the very top. The tourist camp is up there, and the view from their open air dining room is just spectacular: the flat plain of Taita and Rukinga ranches for as far as the eye can see, a gray scrub forest to the horizon. We too a break there for drinks and then went back down to our camp.


Sighted:
  • Striped mongoose
  • Martial eagle
  • Fireball lily
  • Male red-headed agama (shown in this picture)



  • Turns out that Simon is an avid bird-watcher; we bonded over that a bit. He's going on a bird-watching trip after our expedition is over, leading it. His passion for birds is clear--his eyes sparkled when he talked about it.

    I am amazed at how quickly the time is passing. It's Thursday already! Even though I obviously have time to journal and nap, it feels as though I am busy every minute of the day.

    The first shift drives I'm quite enjoying. It's the second shift--from 10 PM to 2 AM--that I'm finding really tough going. I dozed off a number of times last night; really rather frustrated with myself about that. The lateness of the hour is just really tough. I need to nap properly at midday; no hanging about this PM. I can only imagine what next week will be like.

    3:44 PM

    Horrible dreams during this afternoon's nap.

    Busted a zipper in one of my two pairs of shorts. So pissed off abot that. These goddamned things are brand new.

    7:58 PM
    Haven't really described how the drives work. Seven people are each assigned to a truck: a driver/naturalist, an investigator (also a naturalist), and 5 volunteers. We each are assigned a job beyond keeping our eyes open and spotting critters. One person records each sighting on a sheet, counting how many of each critter we see. One records the animals in a PDA using a special application that records GPS coordinates, animal activity, time of sighting, and number and type of animal. One person uses a range finder to determine how far from the animal we are. One person holds and rotates an antenna to capture signals from one of the radio-collared lions in the area, and one person holds and tunes the receiver so we can hear the signals when the lions are near. Very manual, very old school. When it gets dark, someone takes the duty of using a million-candle-power spotlight to light up the landscape and continue the search. The spotlight helps us locate animals in the dark by catching their eyeshine.

    Each shift (this week) lasts 4 hours. We also record mileage, timing and GPS coordinates. As I've already noted, I find the first shift pretty easy, but the second shift is tough. It's hard to stay awake and engaged. I'm going to try harder tonight.

    I've had an idea for a short story that I want to call "Eyeshine." Don't know when I'll have the time or energy to focus enough to start working on it here, however. We're so busy and time is so carefully allotted. I miss time to work on fiction. It's making me antsy.

    And now--I should go prep for the next shift.

    Sighted on first drive: kudu, African hare, serval cat, gerenuk, civet, yellow baboon, kites, dik diks, tawny eagle, superb starling, hornbills, caracal, Grant's gazelle, garden bulbul, klipspringer, cape buffalo, elephants, Burchell's zebra, giraffe, bateleur eagle, martial eagle, crested francolin, whitebellied go-away bird, nightjar, domestic cattle, bushbabies, dwarf and white tusk mongoose.
    scarlettina: (Lion of Kenya)
    Transcribed from hand-written journal

    3:10 AM
    Back from the second day's drive, this time through Taita Ranch. (Our camp's location is on the border between two of the 17 privately-owned ranches between Tsavo East and Tsavo West, Taita and Rukinga. It's the only land upon which the research can be done because of conservation rules about when vehicles can be out on the land in the parks; no restrictions on private land.) Many more dik diks and elephants seen.

    Highlight of the evening—a bittersweet one—was the discovery of a male lion in the rocks above one of the watering holes. He was caught around the neck in a snare that had clearly injured his mouth. Unclear whether he could eat in that condition; he could, however, drink based on reports from the other team, which initially spotted him. He was a big, handsome, muscular fellow, but was clearly suffering. We watched him for more than 2 hours. During that time I took a number of pictures in hopes of recording his injuries for the team. Must review the shots in the morning.

    We concluded the evening by observing a young, lone male elephant drinking his fill at the waterhole below the lion's perch. The elephant was so thirsty that he pretty much ignored us and was a pleasure to watch. He filled the view field of my binoculars and seemed happy just to wallow and drink.

    8:50 AM
    Woke sore as hell from the last couple of days' drives. Hanging on to the truck, one uses muscles one might not otherwise use. My left arm and my back are both just one big ache. I should probably bring some Advil with me to breakfast this AM along with my malaria and iron pills.

    I went through my photos taken yesterday and last night. I got some spectacular stuff: elephants, the vulture, lizards and that poor, injured lion.

    12:20 PM
    Haven't written much about the people here so I want to make some quick notes.

    Team leads
    Alex: Primary investigator for our team. Mid-thirties, round-faced and growing a beard to make himself look older, knowledgeable with a very dry wit.

    Mark: Assistant naturalist, thin and wiry, great grin, youngest of the leaders. Taught us a little Swahili this morning. Also very knowledgeable.

    Obadiah: Naturalist, driver/guide. Very sharp with a wicked, playful sense of humor. Wonderful squarish face with fabulous cheekbones. Great energy.

    Simon: Naturalist, driver/guide. Another sweet-faced young guy, quieter than the others, but quick to smile. Apparently, his last name means "beer."

    Volunteers
    Kathy E: Fiftyish, short, heavy, blond hair. Outgoing and funny, though a little bossy. She's done this expedition every single year it's been run and has had a lion named for her.

    Nicola: Petite brunette from Wales. Extremely soft-spoken but funny and friendly. We've bonded over figure flaws and the vicissitudes of cold showers. She's in the tent next to mine.

    Kathy Q: Thin, older woman, short brown hair, a nurse. Her first Eartwatch expedition, and she's very excited to be here. Quilter, cat person, seems generous and good hearted.

    Richard: An Englishman living in Atlanta, works for CNN. Shaved head, great shoulders, easy-going with a pretty good vibe. Is never without a LiveStrong bracelet. (Found out later that he's a cancer survivor.)

    Alex M: Programmer from Colorado, works for Apple. Tall, dark-haired, friendly face. Quick enough to keep things interesting.

    Mahmud: Bangladeshi Brit, thin and short, great grin and quick to laugh. Great vibe and very funny. Immediately likeable. Works for Mitsubishi.

    Eva: M's girlfriend, from Czech Republic. Petite and blond, the quieter of the two. (Discovered later that she has a dry wit and a practicality about her that I found very appealing.)

    Crawford and Sue: He's 80 and looks fragile but may be tougher than he looks. (Turned out later that I was right about that.) She's probably 10 years his junior, attractive blond. Impresses me as strong and practical. They are both doctors (she of physiology, he of experimental psychology. Brightest, quickest people in the group. I liked them enormously.)

    The service here is remarkable: beds made every day, laundry done upon request, meals varied and tasty, served buffet style and quite generous. I'm working hard but am being treated like a guest. I feel a little spoiled. Though this is definitely a working vacation, it feels like only the latter.

    7:12 PM
    We've stopped at the same waterhole as last night and reacquired the injured lion. He's sitting higher up in the rocks tonight, too high to photograph and impossible to approach. We watch him. He watches us.

    Directly above our feline friend is the Southern Cross—first time I've ever seen it. The Milky Way is visible and the sky glitters with a million stars whose names I don't know. How I regret not bringing a star chart!

    In the car: Alex the leader, Alex M, myself, Eva, Mahmud, Kathy Q. Obadiah is driving. We are becoming more comfortable with each other. There's more good-natured teasing and joking around. I like these people.

    Sighted on the drive:
  • dik dik
  • martial eagle
  • gerenuk
  • eastern pale chanting goshawk
  • giraffe
  • kudu
  • yellow baboon
  • hornbill
  • white-backed vulture
  • scarlettina: (Lions 2)
    Transcribed from hand-written journal

    6:00 AM
    I am awakened by a cramp in my left arm, the result of holding on to the truck for dear life last night. Exotic bird calls trumpet the dawn. People are moving about outside, mostly camp staff, I think. I should go use the facilities.

    We'll have orientation to the equipment today and learn how to fill out data sheets. We've got our first real drive this evening. Yesterday was long but never dull. I expect similar today.

    6:38 AM
    A new use for my flashlight: checking my sneakers for scorpions. None this AM.

    6:40 AM
    One of two toilets out of commission. Sighted: White-rumped helmet shrike. Sky pale blue with streaky clouds. Air cool and slightly humid with a gentle breeze. Bird song of one sort or another everywhere.

    8:30 AM
    I continue to be surprised at how cool and breezy it's been here: very mild and comfortable. I expect that will change as the day wears on.

    Sighted at waterhole:
  • Cape buffalo
  • 17 impala
  • 2 warthogs (1 female, 1 juvenile)
  • Yellow baboons
  • Superb starling
  • Rock hyrax


  • 2:00 PM
    Morning spent in equipment orientation.

    Lunch: porks steaks, fries, macaroni and cheese, green beans. Ain't nuthin' kisher about this place.

    Sighted at rocks beyond dining hall: red-headed agama lizard, five-lined skink lizard.


    Sighted outside my tent: white-headed buffalo weaver (small bird with red rump)















    4:00-8:00 PM
    Sighted on first drive:
  • Elephants
  • Warthogs
  • White-backed vulture (one live, one dead)
  • Gerenuk
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Civet
  • Giraffe
  • Cape buffalo
  • Impala
  • Hornbill
  • African hare
  • Bateleur eagle
  • Sand grouse
  • Crested bustard
  • Kudu
  • dik dik

    My first elephant:

  • scarlettina: (Lions 2)
    From Nairobi to Tsavo
    Transcribed from hand-written journal

    Notes in transit:
  • The hotel is located in the heart of the capitol, within blocks of many government buildings. The Israeli embassy is located across the street from the hotel--it's a fortress--which explains why we had to drive through a barracaded traffic checkpoint to get in and out of the place. (Sign: "Please stop for friendly checkpoint!" Illustrated with two smiley faces.)
  • Apparently Kenya has a "Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services."
  • Marabou storks populate the trees of downtown Nairobi
  • 10:30 AM: Ostriches!

    10:25 PM, Taita Ranch, Campi ya Neki (Lion Camp), Tsavo

    The notes above tell part of the story of our travel from Nairobi to Campi ya Neki. The journey really was a trip from one world to another. As third world cities go, Nairobi is growing. Evidence of construction (in the wake of obvious destruction) is everywhere. The highway out of the city was one of those things under construction; it was by turns a pleasure and a nightmare to ride on. Some spots were newly paved, some so rutted and pitted that I thought our bus would rattle itself to pieces.

    Though certainly Nairobi itself was a novelty to me, the Marabou storks in the trees were particularly bizarre, hulking, ugly things that scavenge for scraps. They are, however, large and graceful in flight, with a 10-foot wingspan that is unmistakable for any other species. (Note: Picture taken through bus glass, hence the quality, or lack thereof.)

















    Several things I noticed as we drove: the ground is flat, rust red, rich in iron and unlike anything I've ever seen before. The shadows of clouds cross the scrubby plain, silent wraiths covering and revealing the landscape. The small towns along the way all looked similar to my foreigners eye--strips of flat, square, windowless and doorless buildings that had clearly seen better days, painted with advertisements for cell phone service, energy drinks, paint brands and cigarettes. Many of these towns also had lines of narrow stalls constructed of corrugated metal or sticks and tarps marching along the road's edge for selling clothes and food. Food mostly consisted of big bags of red onions that apparently came from the slopes of Kilamanjaro, hours and hours away. Corn was also in evidence, and melons of unidentifiable variety.

    10:30 AM: we see our first wildlife: an ostrich! A lone bird strolling by the side of the road. It's a pink-legged male, apparently a breeding male. Much excitement in the bus with people (like me) grabbing cameras, field guides and notebooks. We are such geeks.

    The further south we drove, the more we saw termite mounds, tall, wide, elaborate spires of red earth fashioned into tubes by the insects. The mounds get--apparently--as tall as 7 feet and look like alien palaces. I was reminded of the TV version of George R.R. Martin's "The Sand Kings," done for the recent version of "The Outer Limits," and was spooked. Still creeps me out.

    Around 11 AM, one of the women in the buss, Kathy E, pointed out a bird that looked like a large crow wearing a wifebeater: a pied crow. A quite handsome bird that we'd see throughout the drive.

    One of the things we saw consistently was people with herds of little brown, black and white goats, sometimes miles removed from any evidence of habitation. Sweets little animals, the goats. The cattle we saw all had horns, as though out of ancient Egyptian wall carvings. Some breeds had odd humps around the shoulder area, sometimes subtle, sometimes quite pronounced.

    All along the route we saw baobab trees. They are enormous--as wide in the trunk as mature redwoods, with herky-jerky branches bare of leaves in the dry season, looking like the perfect sentinels in a haunted landscape. I couldn't take my eyes off of them. Sometimes their bark looked a little spongy, with holes or bunches of round indentations. Strange. Compelling. The further south we drive, the fewer we saw. Once we entered Tsavo, they disappeared altogether.

    I've seen so much art featuring flat-topped acacia that they don't look real to me--pretty and picturesque, spreading out their canopies to catch the sun.

    Shortly after we entered Tsavo, we saw several zebra and suddenly the whole thing seemed much more real to me. There they were, just grazing by the side of the road. So simple a thing, and so remarkable.

    After a 7-hour drive, we arrived at camp. And it really is a camp. All the living quarters are tents, but they are large enough to stand inside of with room to spare. Out front of each there is a ground cover with a chair and table, like a patio, to enjoy the view. In the picture, the littler basket is a waste basket, the larger a hamper for laundry, which they provided free of charge the first week. The hut behind the main tent in the picture (which was mine) was the bathroom. Each tent sleeps two, but with 10 of us on the team and 2 being couples, the rest of us each have a tent of our own. The privacy and space to spread out is quite nice, though I admit to some trepidation about being alone in a tent at night with critters roaming about outside.

    All meals are served in a dining hall built into the side of a cliff up against which the camp is situated. It's actually quite classy, with a view across the landscape to two mountains in the distance: double-peaked Rukinga and tall, gently-sloping Kasigow.

    After a delicious lunch (chicken, french fries, spaghetti carbonara, vegetables, salad, banana fritters), we received our first briefing. It covered safety precautions (zip up your tents or baboons will get inside; they shit all over everything; also, check your shoes for scorpions each morning), schedules, and camp orientation. We had an introduction to the lions of the area, a low-density population which is the result of a low-density prey population due to overgrazing of cattle. Rather than traveling in prides, they travel in groups of 2 and 3 lions to maximize the shares of each kill, given how relatively little prey there is here in Tsavo.

    Around 6:15 PM we headed out for our first drive. Within 10 minutes, I had the privilege of spotting our first elephants, led by a huge matron. She was accompanied by several others plus at least two babies. She trumpeted and mock-charged the Landrover. Exciting. Impressive. Humbling.

    We drove as the sun set and into the darkness. With a spotlight and flashlights, we saw more elephants, a placid giraffe, a spotted eagle owl in flight, bushbabies, and dik diks, most located by eyeshine. (I'm working on a short story with that as the title now....)

    When we returned to camp, we had dinner (around 8:30 PM), chatted and retired.

    The sky here, without light pollution, is magnificent, the Milky Way in its full glory, the stars twinkly and bright. I wished more than once for a star chart. I'd considered bringing one and regretted failing to do so. As we went back to the tents, we spotted a group of 20 elephants in the darkness walking away from the nearby waterhole. They move so quietly; you can hear little but the gentle rustle of the grass as they pass. They are remarkable.

    I am dead tired. With the lights out in bed now, I can hear birds, but it's otherwise quiet. I expect to sleep like a rock.

    A terrific first day.
  • scarlettina: (Lion of Kenya)
    Fairview Hotel, Nairobi
    (Transcribed from hand-written journal)

    Got into Nairobi on time and was able to get through customs quickly because I already had my visa--yay me.

    The Fairview is a very nice hotel that I won't be seeing much of. By the time I arrived, it was already 10:10 PM and I couldn't bear another moment of being with people after 20 hours of travel. I hope this doesn't bode ill for the trip although the signs are rough at best. Let me start at the beginning.

    First tough sign: the money exchange wouldn't accept bills larger than $20, which meant I had to change my travelers' checks right away--didn't want to do that but I had to have cash for, if nothing else, tips.

    When my driver met me at the airport, I didn't recognize the word karibu--welcome. Felt like an idiot.

    Once at the hotel, the fellow at the desk looked at me in disbelief when I handed him a hundred dollar bill to change. Oops: conspicuous display of wealth. Oh well. I'll tip well later.

    Once in the room, I discovered that I had several problems, as follows:

    1) I seem to have left my Wellbutrin home. I do, however, have my anti-malaria pills, my iron, my Lactaid, and my Cipro.

    2) I can't find my Apple camera adaptor anywhere. This means that despite my best planning, I can't download my photos to my iPod--I have to rely on the memory cards I brought with me. This means I have to be very careful and choosy about what I take and what I keep. What a pain in the ass. On the other hand, experimentation has just proven that my extra PDA memory card fits into my camera and takes pix, so if I need more space, I have it. I can also download pictures into my PDA.

    3) Um. F*ck. It appears that my PDA doesn't like the power adaptor required here, which means I may not be able to charge it. It also means 1) no writing except in my journal, no words on the novel or on the short story I brought with me, 2) no computer games for when I get bored, and 3) I may lose the memory on the PDA completely. Crap. It's my second brain!

    On top of my typhoid medicine mix up (the one in which I got the prescription for same but which I forgot to fill), this all just sucks.

    Now let's look on the bright side:
    1) I'm in freakin' KENYA!
    2) My luggage came through without a hitch.
    3) All three flights were pleasant and on time.
    4) The hotel is lovely and the hotel room is spacious, neat, and pleasant.
    5) I have lots of memory for photos.
    6) My power adaptor works for the iPod so I'll have the music, pix, and games in there available to me.
    7) I have books to read and at least one game to share with others.
    8) Laundry is drying on the line in the bathroom.

    Now, I should go to bed.

    ETA: Wictory! I have found the camera adaptor. YAY!
    scarlettina: (Are we there yet?)
    Don't believe the signs that say TravelEx: Worldwide Currency Exchange.

    When traveling anywhere that isn't Europe, Canada, Japan or Mexico, be sure to order your currency at least three days ahead of when you need it. Anything that's not one of the above-mentioned countries is considered exotic and they don't keep it on hand. In fact, the young man behind the counter--when I was surprised by this, it being a foreign currency exchange and all--looked at me as if I were some sort of moron. As it is, I took the only Kenyan shillings they had, equal to about $20. Assuming the exchange is open at Kenyatta airport when I arrive (ha!) I'll exchange money there or at the hotel. This is not, as you may guess, what I'd planned.

    At any rate, TravelEx had an abundance of British currency, and may I say: Good God! For $95US, I received 45 British pounds. Um. Wow.

    Back to packing....
    scarlettina: (Are we there yet?)
    I'm supposed to be balancing my checkbook and paying bills so I don't worry about them when I'm gone. Instead, I'm reading LJ as though it will be gone forever. Boy, am I good at getting in my own way.

    I'm also finding that I'm having trouble finding things in the house because everything is so cluttered due to the room switcheroo. It was a good idea to get my bedroom in order before I left. But the rest of the house? A nightmare.

    I keep looking at my packing list and wondering how I'm going to take all this stuff with me. Then I remember that I took a similar amount when I went to the Middle East for a month with less baggage than I'm taking now.

    It'll all be fine. I just have to do it all and stop procrastinating. ::sigh::

    A stowaway!

    Mon, Aug. 27th, 2007 09:40 pm
    scarlettina: (Default)
    I heard a rustling sound from the direction of my suitcase. This is what I found:

    Evidence of a stowaway )

    scarlettina: (Lions 2)
    I've started to reread the expedition briefing. Here, let me share some of this with you:

    The trip [from Nairobi to Tsavo East] will take up to
    seven hours. Although the road is paved, it is bumpy and
    prone to jams. Once at Buchuma Gate, the team will be
    transferred to four-wheel-drive vehicles to travel to
    Campi ya Neka. The remainder of the drive will take another
    hour or so over unpaved roads, which will be bumpy and
    likely dusty.... You may want to pack water and snacks for
    the road.


    I suspect that somewhere between hours 6 and 8 I'll be asking myself what the hell I was thinking getting myself into this.

    I've already purchased my oat-and-honey bran bars. Must remember to pack one of my water bottles. I've toyed with the idea of M&Ms, but I seem to be doing fairly well without chocolate lately. And, really, how long would they last? I'd probably gobble them all up my first night there in a fit of "I'm in a foreign country and I'm freaking out!"

    Potentially dangerous animals in the research area
    include scorpions, centipedes, spiders, ticks, mosquitoes,
    cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, baboons, numerous venomous
    snake species, buffalo and elephants.... Snakes are
    rarely seen, but spitting cobras, mambas and puff adders
    are all present.


    I've already dealt with all the inoculations and medications I'll need. The meds are sitting in my "To Be Packed" stack, looking all medication-like. What should two weeks worth of bug repellent look like? And why can't I have a shot of anti-deadly-animal serum while we're at it? ::grin::

    On another subject, it seems that by being a good citizen and a person who wishes to clean out her closet, I've divested myself of clothes that might have worked very well on this trip, clothes that I would not otherwise wear, like long-sleeved tee shirts.

    They recommend that if we're traveling before or after the expedition, we should pack clothes for that part of the trip in a separate bag and check it at the hotel for the duration of the expedition. This idea, while practical, makes me deeply uncomfortable. It shouldn't. The hotel I'll be staying in for my only night in Kenya is a pretty upscale place. Still, I don't like the idea of just leaving my stuff somewhere I can't check on it for a full two weeks. I've purchased compression bags and Ziploc bags for packing. I'll be pressing the hell out of everything and stuffing it all together. The bag may be heavy, but I've dealt with that before.

    I have too much to do; I shouldn't be journaling, but I need to vent a little. Is this really happening? This time next week, I'll be sleeping in a tent in a cot across from a stranger, listening to the sounds of an entirely different world. Part of me can't wait. Part of me is terrified.
    scarlettina: (Lion of Kenya)
    God, I spent a lot of money yesterday. I have to spend more today. And I have things I need to return tomorrow evening when I'm on the Eastside. But I solved a couple of key concerns about necessary tools for the trip (miniaturization technology is going to save my ass; I'll be journaling and novelizing on my PDA the whole time I'm away), got some of the clothes I needed, refurbished my first aid kit. I now have a day pack that may actually survive the trip. And there's more stuff to do.

    The kitties are baffled and quite put out by my inability to sit in one place for more than five minutes, Spanky especially. I think he's feeling a little neglected since we usually bond on the couch while I read or watch TV, neither of which I've done much of lately. Merlin isn't suffering in quite that way, but he is more agile, gets around easier, and has the advantage of being able to jump just about anywhere he wants to get to, so he can follow me around in ways that Spanky just can't. Poor, chubby, meatloaf cat.

    House still looks like a hurricane hit it. I suspect that won't change until I get home. The new bedroom (of which I will post pictures before the day's end) is looking more lived in but no less lovely. Makes the rest of the house look positively drab (which is saying something, given my penchant for art on the walls). I have big projects ahead of me when I get home.

    And now, off to do more trip prep before the work week starts again.
    scarlettina: (Madness)
    It's been a Week. A good week but a Week, if you get the distinction. :-) I'm glad it's the weekend, as I have a monster-sized list of things I need to accomplish before Monday; my only concern is what looks like crappy weather moving in. It won't stop me, it'll just make things less comfortable.

    I stopped by the University Bookstore last night to see [livejournal.com profile] jaylake and Mark Ferrari do readings. Though I'd vowed not to indulge in any more social activities before my departure, I justified this one by the fact that I knew I'd see a lot of people all in one place before I left, which I wanted to do and absolutely did. In attendance were, among others, [livejournal.com profile] bravado111 and his K, [livejournal.com profile] tbclone47, [livejournal.com profile] bridget_coila, [livejournal.com profile] jackwilliambell, and [livejournal.com profile] anitar, the latter of whom I didn't get to talk to in the way I would have liked (when I get back, I will take you up on your outstanding invitation), and [livejournal.com profile] mistymarshall. I came away with books (but of course), pleased at having seen so many fine folk.

    Today is all about the errand running and, unfortunately, spending quite a bit of cash for Trip Stuff. But the more ducks I get in a row now, the better shape I'll be in later.

    Dinner and time

    Tue, Aug. 21st, 2007 12:46 am
    scarlettina: (Default)
    So tonight I had dinner at [livejournal.com profile] bjcooper's place after work. Her partner T is a fine cook. We spent most of the evening playing with the dogs, drinking wine, and catching up. It was so lovely; I forget sometimes how much we enjoy each other's company when it's been a while between visits. Just a fine way to spend an evening.

    Sunday, I spent some good writing time with EB. Things are kicking along, though I wish I was more productive than I am.

    It's T minus two weeks until my departure for Kenya. Actually, it's less than that; it's about 10 days. I have a huge amount of stuff to do before I depart and very limited time in which to accomplish it. I'm thinking that I'm going to have to curtail social activities after this Thursday. I just really need to focus on preparation for the trip: making sure I have the clothes I need, a packing list, the right equipment for keeping me sane for two weeks in the middle of nowhere, getting mail stopped, arranging kitty care, all of that and more. I'm trying not to freak out about it; it'll all get done, but I expect sleep will be at a premium.

    Speaking of sleep, you may notice that it's somewhere in the middle of the night. And why am I awake at this hour (especially after a glass and a half of red wine) on a school night? Because at around 11:45 PM, the downstairs tenant decided it was a good time to commence opening and slamming spook-house squeaky his screen door. After a while, I reminded said downstairs tenant that people were trying to sleep. I was ignored. About ten minutes later, their wooden door slammed shut, so hard and loud that the whole building shook. All is quiet now. But his landlord got e-mail from me about it, cc'ed to the condo association president. [Activate Crabby Middle-Aged Chick Mode] We're not all of us 20 anymore, dammit, and some of us need to sleep![/end CMAC Mode] I hate activating CMAC mode, but this is ridiculous.
    scarlettina: (Lions 2)
    ...received from a woman at the grocery store check out regarding travel in Kenya:

    "Learn some Swahili before you leave, and take a little Bible. If people start harassing you, wave it at them and ask if they've found Jesus. They'll run."

    "Yes," I answered, "mainly because I'll be wearing a Jewish star. That'll confuse 'em but good."
    scarlettina: (Sleepy)
    Woke up about a half hour ago (see time stamp) and just stayed in bed for a while as the cats repositioned themselves around the newly awakened me. When it hit about 4:50 AM, I got up figuring I could go back at some point.

    Dream journal: I was in a train station, one of those hubs you find in New York City subway stations where the tunnels to several different lines come together. As I exited one tunnel, I found [livejournal.com profile] jaylake surrounded by people doing a reading/signing thing in a corner. I said hi, waved, said I'd see him later, kept walking. There was something about me buying silk scarves all exactly the same for 12 different friends, and the thought that I must do that when I'm in Africa.

    Kenya: My passport arrived back from the visa agency, so now I have my Kenyan visa. It came with a little note that says (exactly as follows):

    With the compliments of the
    Consulate General of the Republic of Kenya
    Los Angeles CA

    Thank you for choosing Magical Kenya
    the cradle of mankind as your Holiday
    Destination. Enjoy your safari


    The visa itself is a rubber-stamped paragraph in the passport with a signature and some sort of code number. I'd hoped for something as exotic as my Egyptian visa, with its colored inks and two postage-stamp-like seals. Still, this is a cool way to initiate the use of the new passport. And now all that's left is the packing. Oh, and the reading.

    Room switcheroo: After painting the window frame and touching up the ceiling, the room preparation is finished. Last night, when [livejournal.com profile] ironymaiden was here, I pulled up the dropcloth, tidied up the paints and brushes, and gathered together everything that has to go into the dumpster. After her departure, I tried to move my first piece of furniture down there. I thought it would be much lighter than it is with the drawers removed. Disappointingly, I was wrong. If anyone's available for furniture moving this Saturday (bed, dresser, jewelry cabinet), I'd love some help. The bed and dresser must come apart a bit. There will be pizza.

    Writing: There has been writing, but not on the novel. I can't complain about producing wordage, it's just not where I want it to be and I need to figure out how to stop obsessing over that.

    I'm grossly behind on my flist reading, so please forgive me if I've missed something important in the last week or so. Anything I should be aware of?

    That's the scoop here at Chez [livejournal.com profile] scarlettina an hour or so before dawn. I'm going to try to get a little more sleep before I properly start my day.

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