East Africa

East-Africa-2

It actually stretches from the northern arid deserts of Ethiopia to the tropical forests of Mozambique and Madagascar, with 19 countries in between.  While my East African adventure in 2006 only spanned 3 countries, the experience it yielded were quite diverse – from the usual Safari adventures to tracking Chimpanzees to the more extreme, whitewater rafting.  Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, territories that were formerly under British control and each hold common thread yet bear its own unique character.

Highlights:

rhino-and-zebra

Catching sight of the Big Five – Lions, African Elephants, Cape Buffalos, Leopards, and Rhinoceroses.

giraffe

The Big Five aside, Zebras along with giraffes have become favorites.

Witnessing not quite the migration but the start of it.  From July to October, one could witness the great migration where wildebeest and zebra travel to and from the Serengeti National Park to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserves.

masai-mara

It is perhaps the most breathtaking event in animal kingdom and the whole point of our visit to this continent.  To see them gather together, sometimes in a line is more than thrilling.

flamingos

Witnessing a gathering of Flamingos.  Absolutely a sight to behold, this sea of pink covering a large part of Lake Nakuru.  One of the Rift Valley soda lakes that attract vast quantity of flamingos that feed on the lake’s abundant algae.

Being in beautiful Ngorongoro Crater.  It is the world’s largest intact unflooded volcanic caldera and is home to over 300,000 animals including the rare Black Rhinos.

ngorongoro

An absolutely beautiful place to be on a safari, the crater makes for a stunning backdrop to rich grazing grounds.

zanzibar4

Chilling in Zanzibar.  A semi-autonomous island separated from the Tanzanian mainland.

zanzibar3

Although just a short distance from the Tanzanian coast, it is at the crossroad of Africa, the Middle East and Asia resulting in a culture of diverse ethnicities, more Middle Eastern in its feel than African.  Likewise with local dishes, the rich fragrance of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, pepper and cardamom is synonymous with Zanzibar, also known as the Spice Island.  The streets of Stone’s Town – the capital’s old quarter – is full of the bustle of back street markets and local flavor.

zanzibar2

The charm lies in its labyrinth alleyways and faded buildings redolent of the glories of the old Islāmic empire.

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Rafting the White Nile.  Stretching 31km from just below the Bujugali Falls in Jinja, experiencing the Nile at its source is by far the best heart-pounding whitewater ride of my life.

Getting lost in Uganda.  On a wrong bus, we went the other way and ended up not quite where we wanted to be.

bus-stop-scene-in-Uganda

Best known for Idi Amin or Joseph Koney, getting lost could be frightening but this mishap gave us a taste of the local flare and the kindness of its people.  We eventually found our way but not without the help of the people we didn’t know from Adam.  An impression indelibly marked in my heart.

It is by far one of the best trip I’ve had – a wonderful surprise, considering that it was not even on the priority.  I will be back Africa, sooner than you know.

Survival of the Fastest

Credits:  J Sprague Digi in Deeper Course Material

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.

African Proverb

Exaggerated perhaps but essentially true.  Survival is the name of the game in the African Savannah.

In the lion’s world, its prey generally consists of wildebeests, zebras, and a variety of ungulates (giraffe, buffalo, and gazelles).   Dubbed the king of the jungle, lions are the 2nd largest cat after the tiger and are vicious predator commanding respect from other wildlife.  They kill to live, and they live a life of feast or famine.  They usually catch something to eat every 3-4 hours but may perhaps not able to catch an animal for a week so they stuff themselves when they can.

They are the most charismatic of all the animals that roam the savannahs of East Africa and safari enthusiasts bend over backwards and are patient for a sighting.  Ngorongoro and Serengeti in Tanzania, Amboseli in Nairobi, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara in Kenya are the best sighting places.

They too become prey to humans who for centuries have killed lions in rituals of gallantry, as hunting trophies, or for their perceived medicinal and magical powers.

Gazelles on the other hand are small antelopes noted for its grace, speed and beauty.  Most species have horns and are generally fawn colored with white or dark markings.  Rarely having to drink and only receives water from the leaves that they eat, they are grazers and mainly inhabit lowland thorn-bush, woodlands and grasslands.

In the gazelle’s world, they stay clear of their predators, which include lions but cheetahs and African hunting dogs are the most prevalent.  They rely on their keen sense to avoid their predators.  Their large lustrous eyes are on the sides and their pupil elongated horizontally, giving them a broad view of danger from both the back and front.  This aside, they were also created with a sharp sense of smell and hearing.

The great migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving wildebeests, gazelles, topis, eland, and zebras.  These migrants are followed along their annual circular route by hungry predators, most notably lions and hyenas.  I was lucky enough to witness, well… not exactly the great migration per se, but the start of it at least.

That visit in 2006 has made me more aware of animals in the wild, how they live and survive in the wilderness.  I am amazed at how they are individually created with the instinct and distinct features to survive.

Pretty in Pink!

FlamingosCredits-  Papers:  Oscraps Moonrise Paper Dtope 2, Jennilyn 3, Dyoung 3;  Embellishments:  Oscraps Moonrise Bling 3-awall;  Brush:  JSprague Stitching

The lakeshores of Lake Nakuru literally turn pink as millions of flamingos feed on its highly alkaline lake, set in a picturesque landscape of acacia woodlands and grasslands next to Nakuru town.

Nakuru

dramatic entrance

A very shallow and strongly alkaline lake, it is world known as feeding grounds of both lesser and greater flamingos and one of my favorite parks in East Africa.

flamingos

The main reason for establishing this national park was to protect its huge flocks of the lesser flamingos.  Despite being the world’s most numerous flamingos, this bird is classified as near threatened due to its lack of suitable breeding site. Depended on rainfalls, the lake keep decreasing since 1997.  The ecosystem is threatened by annual drought.

flamingoes-3

shallow to dry lake

The second most visited park in Kenya, this small park has been dubbed “the greatest bird spectacle on earth” when thousands of flamingos landed into the lake years ago.  It has become a favorite destination for not only ornithologists but also bird and wildlife enthusiasts.  And the flamingos are definitely the reason to be in Nakuru!

flamingoes-2

Lake Nakuru National Park is situated approximately 2-hour drive away from Nairobi.  A gentle, billowing terrain with open bush and woodlands dominates it.  It is also one of the saline lake systems lying in the Great Rift Valley.

nakuru-enroute

enroute to Nakuru

Famous for its abundant birdlife…

pelicansPelicans

Lake Naukuru also has waterbucks, impalas, and hippopotamus.

waterbuck

waterbuck

Game viewing is relatively easy:  buffalos, leopard, lions, and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe…

buffalo-flamingo

cape buffalo and the flamingos as its backdrop

giraffe

not a Rothschild’s giraffe

the bushlands offers eland, steenbok, impala, while the hyrax occupies the cliffs.

hyrax

hyrax

And speaking of cliffs, the best view of the lake is from Baboon cliff.

flamingoes-from-cliff

view from the top

Lake Nakuru is also home to the Kenya Rhino Conservation Project and therefore an excellent place to see rhinos.  The woodland and forest are now home to both black and white rhino.   Following the ravages of poaching, in the late 80’s, only 2 black rhinos remained.  Creating a rhino sanctuary within the park and reintroducing a breeding herd have recognized the park internationally as an important conservation area.

white-rhinos

white rhinos

Lake Nakuru… not to be missed when in Kenya.  It was definitely one of the of the highlights of my African adventure!

Frame credit:  Oscraps Moonrise frame – awall

Migration of the Wildebeest

Almost.  It was July and the start of the migration.  Perfect timing.  After all, our trip to Africa started with the idea of this “much documented” migration.  Well, no “Great Wildebeest Migration” for us BUT it was still a haven for viewing a multitude of all sorts of animals in a 5-mile radius.  And just to witness and be in an African savannah is enough to thrill us no end.

gathering

zebras and wildebeests

They were getting ready for the migration, we were told.  Zebras were queuing as if for immigration (to pass the border hee hee!)   😀

queuing-zebras

zebras in a line

and hundreds of wildebeest grazing and waiting perhaps for their turn to queue?   😀  Sometime between July and October, the famous Masai Mara National Reserve reverberates to the thumps of millions of hoofs as the Great Wildebeest Migration billows. Even if we missed this, we were thrilled nonetheless to just have a “NatGeo” moment.

wildebeests

wildebeests (waiting for their turn?)

Everything about Kenya’s finest wildlife reserve is outstanding.  The wildlife is abundant in Masai Mara and the rolling grassland makes certain that animals are always within field of vision.  After grazing in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti, as if in one accord, a large number of wildebeest and zebra enter the Masai Mara around the end of June drawn by the sweet grass brought about by the long rains of April and May.

buffalos

buffalos

steenbok

steenboks

The rolling grasslands, the diversity of the inhabitants, the acacia trees fulfilled my expectation of the African landscape depicted in Out of Africa.

sunset

savannah

It is where the word “safari” is in its truest sense. We even witnessed a cheetah take down a wildebeest.  A highlight it definitely was for the day.

cheetahs

cheetahs (before the attack!)

A sad note though… scientists at the Nairobi based International Livestock Research Institute (ILPI) have found that the numbers of giraffes, hartebeests, impalas, warthogs, topis and waterbucks noticeably and persistently fell throughout the reserve between 1989 & 2003.  They blame it on the increasing human settlement around the unfenced park.

hartebeests-2

hartebeests

running-gazelles

gazelles in action

Seeing the Big 9 was an experience unparalleled.  And what are they, you may ask?  The Big 5s are the Buffalos, Elephants, Leopards, Lions and Rhinoceroses and the Big 9 extends to the Cheetahs, Zebras, Giraffes, and Hippos.  Yes my friends, we saw them all and save for the Leopard that didn’t get photographed because it was just too fast and nimble.

elephant

elephant

lion

mama lion

zebrazebras

A trip to Africa is obviously not complete without experiencing a safari and is almost always the highlight of one’s trip.  It was for us and we went to not 1 but 4 great safaris in Kenya and Tanzania.  Awesome!  Stay tuned for more safari tales (hopefully soon!)   😉

Photo Hunt: Hands

photohunter7iq3ph-hands

The Massais make fire by hand without matches.  Although still living in primitive abode made of cow dung, it is uncertain whether the tribe still actually use this mode of fire making.  Noted as a vanishing tribe, the Massais struggle to keep their culture as modern influences lurk around their surroundings.  More on the Massais here.

Massai – A vanishing race

Africa—my biggest trip so far and a dream vacation not exactly at the top of my priority list.  I found my way to Africa quite by chance.  A few years ago, a friend of mine did a year of volunteer work in Mombasa, Kenya.  One day, I received an email from her inviting us (her traveling buddies) to join her on a safari.  The thrill-seeker in me cannot NOT take this opportunity, so in June of 2005, I found myself on board a flight enroute to Nairobi.  Turned out to be by far the greatest experience ever.  Extraordinary adventures that made it to my list of firsts.

massai1Credits:  Brushes – DDMWISE a la Mode, NRJ Funky Vintage8;  Papers- Defining flowers – jen wilson, Kpertiet King Me paper, Lumiene – jen wilson, strip – jen wilson, Tjd Kuwtj hardwood 3; Elements – KPertiet – Hemp Tie, Linda GB Tiny tags_all worn, Lynng_barcelona button 2

To kick off this African Adventure series, I’d like to introduce to you to the Massai of East Africa.  They are after all one of the better-known African tribe.  They live on the Serengeti Plain near Kenya and Tanzania.  A unique society with a rich history steeped in culture and tradition, however with the interference of the west, the Massai are at risk of losing that culture within our lifetime.

massai-goods1

It was quite evident at the time of our visit to a village that they have become more and more entrenched in a market economy.  Souvenirs were peddled in one area of their village.  The Massai are pastoral people who live mainly off their cattle.  Traditionally, livestock is their primary source of income.  Beyond being used for food, it may be traded for beads and clothing.  Until recently, it was illegal to sell livestock for cash.  But the modern day comforts have lured many a younger Massai to the Western culture.  In a bar in Arusha in Tanzania, we were introduced to a Massai in regular modern day get up (sans their signature shoes made of rubber tires and red wraps) playing billiards with the locals.  If not for their very distinct earlobe hole and beads and other accessories, they blend in really well with the others.

massai-house1

Despite that, majority of this red wrap cladding people still live in traditional Massai abode made of cow dung and mud.  I know, I know!  We entered one of it upon their invitation albeit hesitantly and with a huge sigh of relief, we found that it wasn’t stinky at all!   😯

They are known to be fierce warriors and hunting and killing a lion is common still today for these warriors to sort of prove their manhood and test their courage.

I am pleased to have caught a glimpse into the lives of this interesting set of people before outside interference completely change them.