An Outing Outside of Fes: Moulay Idriss

Moulay-IdrissCredits: Digital sketch by Jen Caputo (http://jencaputo.typepad.com); Papers from Scrapmatters’ Life’s Little Surprises kit — Happy Scrappy Girl, Graham like the Cracker, Haynay Designs

Seated comfortably in the van, enjoying the company of family and newfound friends,

Lake-ChahandLake Chahand

we marveled at the beauty along the way,

roadside-vendor

even stopping to buy some oranges and dried figs from a roadside vendor.

An hour away from Fes is a picturesque whitewashed town scenically perched in the foothills of the Rif Mountain.

donkeys-and-cars

whitewashed

Moulay Idriss is the first of several destinations planned for the day. Considered the holiest town in Morocco, we paid a visit to the final resting place of the town’s namesake, Morocco’s religious and secular founder and the great-grandson of the prophet Mohamed.

entering-the-mausoleum

His shrine is actually off-limits to non-Muslims, but we were able to go as far as the first courtyard.

first-courtyard

Until 2005, non-Muslims were not permitted to spend the night in town and tourists were advised to be out of town by 3pm. Today, I noticed a few lodgings while walking around.

off-limits-beyond-this-pointThis is where we end the visit to the shrine.  Off limits from here.

The town is considered to be the holiest in Morocco.  They say that, for Moroccans who can’t afford the trip to Mecca, five pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss is equal to one to Mecca.

end-of-town

picturesque-view

Pretty and peaceful with beautiful views across the foothills,

local-market

dried-figs

the village has a charming little souk with stalls selling everything from fruits to live hens.

main-square

And while we were not allowed inside the mosque and shrine, we had fun walking around the main square. It is a great place to people watch while sipping mint tea

kebab

or enjoy a terrific lunch of grilled meats before or after a visit to Volubilis.

Aside from the fact that our driver barely spoke English, Ibrahim confessed to never having explored the town of Moulay Idriss and the nearby city of Volubilis making it the perfect reason to come along.

the-groupNew-found friends flanked: Israeli couple Ronin and wife and Ibrahim

But I think he just really likes us.

Meandering Through Old Fes

traditional-moroccan-music

You hear the bangs of coppersmiths in the labyrinth souks combined with the beat and clangs of Moroccan music and the constant calls to prayers,

fruit-vendor

add to that the intoxicating smells of fruits, spices, fresh innards and dung,

children-playing

then you see the chaos of men pushing wheelbarrows, children playing and

donkey

donkeys transporting people and things, and not to mention the vibrant colors of rugs, potteries, spices… all happening simultaneously.  The old city of Fes stimulates all the senses.

Rashid, our guide picked us up right after breakfast at Dar Labchara.  To discover the city, an official guide is essential.

crowded-medina

Ours took us around the medina, passing narrow alleys housing hundreds of merchants and craftsmen selling an assortment of products from dates to musical instruments.

Fes el Bali (Fes the old) is our baptism of fire into an exotic medieval world.  Not much seemed to have changed within this walled city with over 9,000 alleyways.

winding-alleyway

Fes el Bali is the old medina where most cultural sights are located; its labyrinth of narrow winding alleys is almost impossible to negotiate without getting lost.

collapsing-walls-with-enforcement

It is a car-free urban space and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans 1,300 years of Moroccan heritage.  It is the central business where 150,000 people living inside the wall – a cocktail of Berbers, Arabs, and Africans in hooded djellaba cloaks, red tarboosh hat they call fez and open heel babouche slippers – come and go, much like it was 1,300 years ago.

following-rashid

Following Rashid, we found ourselves in the market staring at a camel’s head,

camel-head

preserved-lemon-and-olives

artichoke

drooling over a variety of Moroccan food specialties, admiring vegetables I don’t get to buy in my part of the world, and devouring some beautiful, crunchy strawberries in season.

strawberries

Chaotic, overwhelming, stimulating, similar, in a certain way, to our wet market yet distinctly Moroccan in every way.

Morocco is a shopper’s delight and weaving through the maze like narrow lanes led us to various outdoor bazaars called souks.

cheese-vendor

They consist of tiny stalls displaying objects ranging from colorful scarves to buckets of olives.  It is an integral part of the medina.  It is where the locals buy their essentials.

making-breadA stand making bread

Each Moroccan town has its unique souk quarter displaying some of the fine Moroccan ornaments and crafts.  In larger cities like Fes or Marrakech, there are “specialty” souks of all kinds –

slippers

the spice souk, the carpenter’s souk, the leather souk, the slipper souk, the dyer’s souk… all within a bigger souk.  At every turn, we found ourselves in a new souk typically named after what they are selling.

seffarine-square

One such souk was at the Seffarine Square.  A delightful square that is the center of Fes’ copperware trade surrounded by artisans hammering sheets of metal into shape:  huge cauldrons, kettles, pots, plates and the likes.

craftsman

metalworks

On one side lay the Kairaouine library, on the other, the Seffarine Madrasa.  The open space is a refreshing break from the confining tight corners of the medina.

Built in AD857, the University of al-Karaouine is perhaps the oldest university in the world.

Karaouine-Mosque

Not open to non-muslim, we had to content ourselves with viewing its beautiful architecture from the entrance.  Rashid took a shot from my camera for a peek at one of the dozen horseshoe arches in the mihrab (prayer niche).

rooftop-view-of-Karaouine

A better view of the university can be had at any rooftop balcony nearby.

Rashid then lead us to another lovely square where you will find the Fondouk el Nejjarine.

nejjarine-museum

The beautifully restored building used to be a fondouk or a caravanserai, a roadside inn built to shelter men, goods and animals along ancient caravan routes.

rooftop-cafe

rooftop-cafe-view

It is today a museum of wooden arts and crafts.  It has a nice little rooftop café boasting of outstanding views of the city.

A visit to Fes will not be complete without seeing a tannery.  And at the Chounara Tannery, the smell of lye, acidic pigeon excrements and dyes drifts around the rooftop balcony, we were given sprigs of mint to mask the stench.

lye-vats

The view from the balcony allows for a site that has not changed since the 11th century –

tannery

workers balancing between stone vessels arranged like honeycombs filled with vibrant dyes.  They soak the hides in the acidic solution and then transfers them to another vat containing dyes such as henna, saffron, or mint.

dye-vats

It is a rare visual spectacle and experience not to be missed at any cost.

Now purchasing high quality leather products produced from these tanneries is another thing.  In fact, shopping in Morocco is an entertaining experience worthy of a post all its own.

A Dar in Fes

Dar-LabcharaCredits: Papers by Gwenipooh Designs and Graham Like the Cracker from Scrapmatters’ Life Little Surprises Kit; Elements by Designs by Tater from Scrapmatters’ LLS Kit and journaling snippets by Crystal Wilkerson

Founded 1,200 years ago in the northern part of Morocco, Fes has remained to be the country’s cultural and spiritual capital.  It is home to the oldest university in the world and its medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Fes has the best-preserved old city in the Arab World and to spend a few nights inside those walls is to, in some way, experience its unique culture.

“When you reach the train station, please call this number”, Said (Sa-eed) advised on his email. “A handsome young man will meet you at the bank outside Bab Boujeloud.” – the main and most attractive point of entry into the medina, Fes el Bali.

A petit taxi outside the train station, he advised, would cost 10 Dh to get us to the main gate.  And true enough; handsome young man introduced himself as Ibrahim.

Decorated with blue (color of Fes) zellij tile on the outside and green (color of Islam) on the other side, the gate leads to the Bab Boujeloud Square.

narrow-alleyway

Meandering through the narrow alleys teeming with people, restaurants and lodgings called riads and dars, provided a perfect primer of Fes.  The passages taper as we marched deeper into the medina, the maze of corridors begin to confuse.  We finally reached a wooden arched door in an uncommonly narrow lane.  Ibrahim unlocked the door and welcomed us into a world bursting with exotic eastern charm.  Dars and riads are traditional homes unique to Morocco.

indoor-patio-2

Entirely closed on the outside, the dar’s foyer serves as gatekeeper that led to an inner courtyard of traditional zellij (small colored tiles) floors, exquisite Moroccan design and furnishings with touches of deep red.

indoor-patio

The courtyard is the center of the house and serves as seating and dining area.  The second floor balcony overlooks it.

A burly man, Ibrahim’s uncle, Said warmly welcomed us to Fes.  He owns Dar Labchara, a lovely house he inherited from his father.  While we sipped tea and recharged from the four-hour journey, he gave us a rundown of what to expect of Fes.

We met a guy on the train also named Said, we told him, exceptionally friendly and extremely eager to help.  “You are the 3rd guests who met him”, he said.  “Does he wear a black leather jacket?” Said asked.  He revealed that one of his guests decided to pay the factory (he said he owned) a visit and found that the Said from the train isn’t quite what he presented himself to be, pretending to own a ceramic factory when he only earns a commission for bringing “tourists” there.  Not exactly harmful, but neither was he truthful.  And with that, he candidly warned of fraudsters roaming the narrow alleyways of the medina.  Warnings of this manner I came across while researching for this trip, I was still shocked, however, to have met one so early in the trip.

dinner

For a traditional Moroccan dinner, Ibrahim pointed us to the nearby Restaurant Palais des Merinides, assigning Mohammed, a staff, to bring and fetch us after.  Beautiful interiors.  As the culinary center of Morocco, my expectations were high.  Maybe too high because the food was actually decent but impressed we were not.  The Pastilla Fassia (chicken pastille) was flavorful and memorable, the play in sweet and savory appealed to me but not to everyone in the group.

Mechoui

The Mechoui (roasted mutton) was not as tender as I wished it to be.  They say that many restaurants like this pay commission for sending guests over, I hope this wasn’t the case with our dar.

Breakfast, however, was a different story. It more than made up for last night’s lackluster effort to wow.

breakfast-bread-2

The variety of breads alone – flatbread (khobz), pan-fried bread (harcha), pan-fried pancakes (msemen), a more traditional looking pancake (meloui)…

breakfast-bread

were enough to overlook the lack of any meat in the morning.  To complement the breads were cheese, butter, jams and honey, fried eggs served in a pool of olive oil seasoned with cumin and salt.

bessara

One morning, we were served a traditional soup called bessara.  It is pureed beans served with olive oil and cumin.  Usually eaten at breakfast and a prefered soup during Ramadan. Tastes like pea soup with a strong olive oil taste that leaves a slight bitter aftertaste, which quite frankly, appealed to me.

door

From the street, the houses in the medina is hidden by a high wall with a door somewhere, giving no clue as to what lays beneath.  But once inside, one is transported into a remarkable intricately decorated palace.  Fes, in a similar fashion, reveals its charm unexpectedly, its mysteries difficult to comprehend but once revealed, opens up to a brilliant world within.  The key is to run straight in.

Useful Info:

Dar Labchara
8 Derb Lebchara, Souiket
Ben Safi Talaa Sghira
Fes, Morocco
Phone: +212 535 741 306
Mobile: +212 662 347 547
Email: contact@darlabchara.com

4 Hours in Casablanca

Hassan-minaret

Towering over me, I felt very small, its minaret standing 210 meters (700 ft) tall, the tallest in the world, in fact. Half of its enormous structure sits on land, and the other over the sea on reclaimed land.

hassan-II-mosque-tour

I walked barefoot inside, awed by its intricate beauty and incredible size.

“I can show you around town tomorrow”, our reliable grand taxi driver offered before he dropped us at the hotel the night before.  For 550 Dirham, Aziz endeavored to introduce us to his Casablanca in 4 hours.  First off the agenda was his and the rest of Casa’s pride.  The Grand Hassan II Mosque.

hassan-II-mosque

It is the largest in Morocco and the second largest in the world, the brainchild of the late King Hassan II when he felt that Casablanca was somewhat lacking in traditional sight.

Hassan-grandeur

It was not only built to withstand earthquake, but the grand mosque also comes with a sliding roof and a heated floor – a beautiful blend of traditional Moorish Architecture and modern innovation.

hassan-intricate-ceiling

hassan-intricate-ceiling-design

The Hassan II Mosque glistened in the morning light;

zelij

intricate-woodwork

hemmed in beautiful wood carvings, stucco works and ornate traditional Moroccan tile work called zellij.

Aziz wanted to show an old part of Casablanca; he dropped us off at the Marrakech gate of the Old Medina with its imposing clock tower.

Old-medina

We wandered through the labyrinth of narrow streets of the walled city, which includes an 18th century fortress, a jewelry market and a kaleidoscope of other stores – souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods – all requiring more than a little skill in bargaining.

old-medina-fruit-cart

Carts laden with oranges peppered the streets, and a medley of Moorish and Portuguese architectures reflecting its own personality and charm.

old-medina-3

There were children playing and old women filling up at the water station or just sitting at the doorway.

old-medina-2

Not as bustling and quite run down compared to the glories of Fes and Marrakech, the “Ancienne Medina” is a place Moroccans venture to only if there is a need to do so.  It is a part of Casa that predates the French Protectorate, and in many ways, a closed quarter where bikes and cars are restricted.

In the 1930s, the French created the Habous neighborhood just a short ride away from the old walled city, wanting to build a nicer, cleaner medina.

moroccan-ceramics

Also known as the Quartier Habous, the New Medina is home to some excellent shopping opportunities at the Joutiya market, a handicraft market selling top artisan product.

New-medina

Capped with arches, its shops surround a pretty square that lead to a nearby Muslim courthouse, Pasha’s Makhama and on the opposite side of the square is the Mohammed V Mosque

Moulay-Youssef-Mosque

and the Moulay Youssef Mosque.  A pleasant place to while away time.

We weaved through the neighborhood until it was time to be reunited with our luggage and say goodbye to Casa.  A setback that ended in a good way, at the very least it was a delightful introduction to Morocco, a country that can be overwhelming at first.

Useful Info:

Hassan II Mosque
Sour Djedid
Boulevard Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdaliah
Tours:  Guided tours are offered throughout the day to non-muslim visitors.  Be sure to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering.
 
Old Medina (Ancienne Medina)
Between Boulevard des Almoliades & Place Mohammed V
 
New Medina (Al Habous)
Near Boulevard Victor Hugo

Casablanca: Not the Usual Welcome

Welcome-to-exotic-MoroccoCredits:  4EVER Bloghop Quickpage by Kelly Mobley

Mohamed V International Airport – “No more luggage, finish”, said the porter. “What do you mean? We still don’t have our luggage!” I yelled in frustration. “No anglaise”, he looked at me and shrugged.  A lady, also missing her luggage, told me that the guy is only a porter, and he doesn’t understand me.  I should talk to the people at the baggage service counter.  Valid point.   But not exactly the welcome I expected.

Casablanca.  The bustling port city whose name mean “white house” and made famous by the Humphrey Bogart 1942 classic.  It may not echo the same romantic air the 1942 film brings to mind, but a trip through the city’s swanky lounge and bars can still evoke the spirit of the café from the movie.

Colonial-architecture

Casablanca was a jewel of the French Colonial empire, famous for luscious art deco, neo-classic and a blend of Moorish architecture that is unique to the city.  An architectural style known as Maurasque with trademarks such as wrought iron balconies, staircase and windows; carved facades and exterior corners; floral and geometric design on stuccoed walls.  Boulevard Mohammed V and Place Mohammed V still retains a trace of its unique colonial architecture heritage.

With our luggage arriving on Emirate’s next flight the same time tomorrow, we gained half a day, allowing us to explore more of “Casa” as the locals call it.

“Grand taxi?” a guy approached us as we stepped out of the Gare Casablanca Voyager after purchasing train tickets for tomorrow.  We said no, we wanted a metered taxi. “You’ll need 2”, he said. “A petite taxi can only sit 3, at the most”, he added.

garden-and-train-station-view-from-Ibis

In Ibis Casa Voyageurs next door and our home for a night, the guy at the reception confirmed that the taxi driver was correct and gave us an idea on how much it would cost.  And so our negotiations with Aziz began.  We shook hands at 100 Dirham (US $13).  He would take us to Corniche d’Ain Diab,

corniche-boardwalk

where high-end bars and trendy nightclubs line the area.  “ It’s overlooking the water, where the yuppies go”, the guy on the train from the airport told us.

overlooking-the-water

He suggested that we might want to dine there, but the movie buff in us, out of curiosity, had our eyes set on Rick’s Café,

moroccan-mint-tea

so instead, we walked around the boardwalk and took shelter sipping  “Whiskey Morocco” (Moroccan mint tea)  

outdoor-cafe-by-the-water

in a café when it got too windy.

Dinner, though not our cheapest in Morocco, did not disappoint.

goat-cheese-in-honey

While we found the goat cheese balls drizzled in honey starter and chicken with lemon and olives tagine quite enjoyable,

lamb-chops

and particularly liked the lamb chops with mint pesto, it is the ambience — down to the piano and the sax player named Issam (close enough to Sam) — that made it one of the best “gin joints” in town.

jazz-music

Founded by a former US diplomat, Kathy Kriger, Rick’s Café opened in 2004.

ornate-moorish-design

With potted palms, ceiling fans, whitewashed walls, low archways, ornate lamps casting shadows everywhere, traditional Moroccan carved and inlaid woodwork, balconies and balustrades, antique brass… all provided the right atmosphere and feel of the 1942 cult classic.

archway

The nostalgia alone is reason enough to come for a visit.

Useful Info:

Rick’s Cafe
248 Bd Sour Jdid, Place du Jardin
Acienne Medina
For Reservations:  +212 522 27 42 07 / +212 522 27 42 08
 
Hotel Ibis Casa Voyageur
Boulevard Bahmad
Place de la Gare Casa-Voyageur
+212 0520 48 00 00

Missing In Action

So I’ve been missing in action.  Yes, I’ve been away, to a land overflowing with exoticism, and I’m still struggling to get back to the rhythm of my everyday.  Oh how I wish I could spend more days soaking up the vibe of Morocco while sipping mint tea in some quaint cafe.

Check out an article I wrote for Exquise Magazine on “Five Things You Must Do When in Morocco” here and get a glimpse of what has kept me busy while I was away.

In the meantime, I will struggle to get back to the grind… more of exotic Morocco after I’m done telling you about Japan.

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.

7th-Jul-06-(73)

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!)   😉