Nina's Africa Diary, Part III

Samburu warriors checking us out.
Africa Diary, Part III
by Nina Griscom

Thursday January 19th


This morning found me in bed until 8:30. I needed a solid night's sleep and had been on so many spectacular game drives that I gave myself permission to sleep in. I am sure that Mike gave me a few demerit points for this. Breakfast was brought to my tent and I whiled away the hours, reading on the large chaise outside of my tent, overlooking the river.

I remembered Mike’s warning about hyena, known for approaching sleeping humans and basically biting off their face and then dragging them into the wild to devour. Not exactly manna for sleep. I believe they do this at night, so I hoped that I would be safe if I dozed off in the morning light.
Back in my tent at Lemarti's Camp.
Around 10 a.m., I joined Anna in the main tent to catch up with her. We had met two years ago in Long Island at the home of fellow Africa traveler Frances Schultz, and I have developed a great affection towards her. After a big chat fest, Anna went off to attend to camp matters and I settled down on one of her many cozy sheepskin rugs to read. Sheer bliss, and no one around me to disturb my peace.

Lunch at 1:30 and then a wonderful massage in an open air tent administered by Elizabeth, Anna’s personal masseuse. I was totally restored at this point and ready to join the expedition to a local Women’s Collective to see and buy their bead work. They had their wares displayed on colorful shukas and we all enjoyed meeting the ladies, and buying some lovely gifts to take home.
The women's collective near Anna.
Another superb dinner and then off to bed.  A peaceful, relaxing day, enjoying the ambiance of the camp.

Friday, January 20th

Up at 6 a.m. for an experience Anna told us would be transforming. Her words to my ear, and right she was! Glad I redid my will before I left for Africa. This ride entailed living on the edge.

At 7 a.m. sharp, two helicopters flew over the bush canopy and touched down a scant few yards away from the living area. It looked like a scene out of Apocalypse Now. Several of us had signed on for a 7-hour heli trip over the Rift and Suguta Valleys, Lake Logipi, and the southern shores of Lake Turkana.

We got too close for comfort to this rock face.
This is what 6 inches looks like!
It was nothing short of an epic journey; The doors were retracted and we were strapped into harnesses, with U2 and The Rolling Stones blaring in our respective headphones (I opted for the “Out of Africa” soundtrack or classical music, but was outvoted).

The views from a helicopter are unsurpassed and we had the ability to fly several feet above running herds (who ran faster with the noise of the rotors), and to swoop down upon a lake to witness the flight of thousands of pink flamingos and white pelicans. Rising higher, we flew across the Rift Valley and landed on an escarpment several thousand feet above sea level for our morning tea.

Our flyboys could land on a dime, and were it not for their young age, I would have imagined they had flown in the Vietnam War where pilots were cowboys with amazing dexterity. When I said something to this effect to Ben, our handsome pilot, he flinched at the term, and assured me they were NOT cowboys! OK. Sorry.

After a strong cup of tea, we loaded back in and took off to see more sights. It was hot as blazes (100 DRY degrees on the ground) and if you were in the “door gunner” position, a strong wind was in your face, along with the dull thud of the rotors at full throttle. This made it quite difficult to shoot pictures even slightly in focus. That was fine by me, as the combination of all these elements was quite sexy and fun, and who needed more pictures?

Whenever we saw something of interest we would wheel around and get closer. Sometimes that was a bit daunting as in the case of rock formations, where Ben seemed unfazed to hover within inches of the face. He obviously knew what he was doing, so I resigned myself to a Higher Being ... and the hope of not hearing steel blades hitting rock.

My one moment of abject terror involved a landing that was so harrowing I can barely bring myself to describe it. Ben elected to set down on a promontory with a 1000 ft drop. He maneuvered the bird onto a sliver of meadow 6 inches from the edge of the cliff, and no more than that on the other side where a tall pine tree resided. He left zero margin for error, and I was stunned at his skill!! And he is not a cowboy??? I rest my case.

We landed in different areas to have something to eat or walk around. So many different landscapes and temperatures in the space of a 7-hour ride! It was extraordinary and I think I can say that we all had the ride of our lives.
A friend getting sick after seeing the position of the chopper.
The landing zone in a less-than-populated area.
Helicopter breakfast.
Another bit of topography from the air.
We stopped at a hilltop village for refueling, which involved many jerry cans of fuel being rolled by local guys to the helis. They seemed to have done this before. Meanwhile we walked around and hung out with some of the adorable kids who seemed to think we had come from Planet Mars.

I was both relieved and sad when we finally landed at Lemarti’s Camp and deplaned. It was a journey that I will never forget.

Had a quick bucket shower and joined the group for cocktails where the local Samburu warrior population was treating us to a jumping contest. I hate to say it, but these guys weren’t quite as limber as the Masai at Bateleur. But that is only my take.
A euphemism for refueling.
Lyn and a young man. Talk about responsibilities!
Another lovely dinner presided over by Anna, and her team. Boni and Sami were two men in her family of helpers that we got to know, and will miss. They took such good care of us, and taught us many lessons of life and their customs.

Khaki fever can present at any time and in many ways. For some reason, I felt the need to crack the whip on some of the ladies, and to create a fashion shoot, using some of the beautiful textiles that Anna had strewn about the camp. So I styled the girls, and then asked them to pose ... using my camera. Well that is not the whole story, but what happens in Africa stays in Africa! Suffice it to say, we had many belly laughs and went to bed roaring with laughter over Nina’s follies. Trust me; most of these images will NEVER see the light of day!
Our fashion shoot ...
Saturday January 21st

A sad early morning goodbye to Anna, and Tasha and the wonderful team at Lemarti.  A one-hour flight (by private charter) to Wilson Airport in Nairobi to clear customs in order to go on to Tanzania. A laborious process at best. Back into the planes and another one hour in the air to reach Kilimanjaro International Airport, a euphemism if ever there was one. Cleared customs AGAIN, and boarded another charter to fly the hour to our final destination. The Serengeti.

So tired of the flies.
We were met at the airstrip by our local rangers and a line of jeeps.  After greetings, we had a cup of tea, set out on a table for us, and then proceeded to Serengeti Under Canvas, our new home for the next few days, 30 dusty minutes away.

We were getting good at rocky and dusty roads, but the swarm of flies here was a new element, and not particularly welcomed by our group.

Due to the annual Great Migration of Wildebeest  and Zebra, flies are an attendant part of this spectacle. There is a reason that vehicles have beaded fly swatters  in front of every seat. I started swatting immediately!

Once at camp, we were greeted with hot face towels and a fizzy ginger drink which was very refreshing. Then the indemnification process, and the assigning of tents.

Thank God I snore loudly, and as such have had a single tent throughout the trip. No one in their right mind wanted to room with me. I had tent # 4, the one farthest away from the dining/living area. God forbid a wild animal should present; I was screwed by distance! The price one pays for a single tent.
Staff and very serious guards at Serengeti Under Canvas.
My bush butler, Osman. One of Anna's team members.
I was assigned a “ Bush Butler” named Osman, a very elegant gentleman who spoke perfect English. He was there to see to all of my wake up calls, the cleaning of my tent, escorting me to and from my tent after dark, providing hot water for my bucket shower, and helping me to charge my “devices” on a daily basis in the generator tent, as well as any other reasonable requests that one might present. I say reasonable! Note to self: Hire a bush butler when returning home.

We had a late lunch and went to our respective tents to unpack. Late afternoon game drive, led by Mike. Lots of crashing about, but not so much game. Early dinner and off to bed, as I was nursing a cold; far better than the GI issues many of my teammates were encountering ...
Lioness with cubs ... not to be messed with.
January 22, Sunday

6 a.m. game drive, led by Mike. This was a home run! First thing out of the docket was the sighting of a Cheetah and her four cubs. I had never seen a Cheetah before in the wild and was aware they are notoriously elusive. So to find one with cubs was a dream come true.

Mike thought the cubs were a month-and-a-half. We sat alongside them and watched for several minutes. The cubs were playful and adorable, and hearing their little squeaky sounds was exquisite. Their mother was kind to allow us to view them at play. Cheetahs are very solitary and one can stalk them as long as one wishes, but they are the decider of when they present themselves to you. Without their consent, you will never see a Cheetah in the wild.

Hard to leave these gorgeous animals, but we moved on and came upon an equally rare sighting: perhaps the first born Wildebeest calf in the current migration. This calf was only a few hours old when we arrived, and was already running alongside its mother, keeping up the fast pace of the herd. An amazing spectacle!
Mama Cheetah.
Mama Cheetah and cub.
First born wildebeest calf of the migration ... several hours old.
Our group had come to the Serengeti to witness the Great Migration, an annual event which is driven by nature, yet never totally accountable as to a given flight path. Our drive allowed us to see a monumental herd of Wildebeest and Zebra which must have numbered around 500,000 and went on in a steady column as far as the eye could see. It was biblical in its scale. “Astonishing” is all I can muster.

Zebras may be magical, but they are not without their vicious tendencies. Should a young zebra be guilty of making too much noise, as they are wont to do, the dominant male will kill it by a kick to the head in the name of avoiding detection by nearby predators. So much for the cute factor!
Part of the Great Migration.
Hopefully a quiet baby zebra.
A mother's work is never done.
As I said,flies were a constant issue.
Lion eating a freshly killed wildebeest
Back to camp after running into a pride of Lion feasting on a recently killed Wildebeest. Do I sound casual? I hope not.

The afternoon brought a yoga class (without me in attendance), and naptime and reading for others. 

Afternoon drive which was quieter; less animals and more bird life. Beautiful light and a feeling of serenity.

Camp ... showers and dinner en plein air.  Early to bed for me.
Living room tent at Serengeti Under Canvas.
Dining tent at Serengeti Under Canvas.
Monday, January 23rd.

Overcast morning and I awoke feeling nauseated. Decided to stay in camp for the morning along with a few other bilious friends. Read in my tent and then made my way over to the main structure to have tea.

Most of my day was spent reading and writing. Not such a bad way to pass the time. High Tea was served at 4 p.m., which included iced cakes, sandwiches, and black tea. All appreciated and devoured by us. The team at this camp works 24/7 to fulfill any and all requests, and is always there to help in any way. They work so hard, and I often wonder when they get time to be with their families and lead their own lives.

Dinner was quiet and early, allowing us to get a good night’s sleep. Heard lions and other creatures outside my tent. Not scared; happy to hear the bush symphony.
Camp at dusk.
Tuesday, January 24th.

Today’s schedule involved visiting Klein’s Camp, and the local community where the Africa Foundation has built a health clinic in 2006, and living accommodations for a doctor and nurse in 2007. Our trip entailed a 20-minute flight and an hour’s drive to the community. Yes, more bumpy dirt roads. One of us even lost a flip flop along the way. Do NOT ask me how ...

When we rolled up to the clinic there was already a long line of patients waiting to be seen by the doctor in attendance. He typically sees 30 patients per day, and up to 70 during the rainy season when malaria is rampant, along with chest infections.
Patients awaiting treatment.
The sad thing is that due to a lack of electricity, there is no refrigeration, and thus the inability to store vaccines.

We saw a treatment room outfitted with dental tools. Several times a year, a German dentist visits the clinic. When I asked the doctor what he hoped to see at this clinic, his answer was: for the government to supply two nurses, a lab technician, and a midwife.

Since the clinic was built, no preventable deaths have occurred. The most common afflictions are eye infections from flies. A great improvement!
Klein’s Camp clinic, built by the Africa Foundation in 2006.
We returned to the vehicles and set off for another community, after a lovely lunch break under a Sycamore tree in the bush.

The next community we visited had a school that we wanted to check out to see what the current needs were. The kids were excited to see foreign visitors and were extremely welcoming to us. They seem so attentive to their teachers and truly appeared to enjoy our visit. Maybe my delusional thinking.
A classroom of cheeky students.
Before leaving, we visited the women’s collective, laid out on shukas behind the school, and bought some of the beaded work that supports them.  When we loaded into our vehicles, a lady came up to us with a bag full of beaded necklaces and bracelets; an offering of thanks for the work the AF was doing in the community. I could only think of the hours of work that had gone into this huge gift, and of the sacrifice they had made by giving them to us. I will always treasure my bracelet and necklace!

It is always sad to leave these communities and return to another life situation. The glimpses of the children and their teachers, who seem so transparently kind and inclusive, make an indelible impression, and are hard to walk away from. They are what keep me coming back to Africa with Krista.
A community building.
Back on the road to our charter, flying us to camp. Much to digest and think about.

As this was our last night at camp, and in the bush, before returning home to the US, we had a celebratory dinner with toasts. Mike composed the most beautiful toast to us, which probably sucked the marrow from his bone. We had all become incredibly fond of him, and were loathe to part ways after 13 days of extraordinary travel together. He was the galvanizing force within us, and taught us things that years at a university could never do. After dinner, we joined some of the staff for dancing to Stevie Wonder around the camp fire and a quick lesson in the art of tying shukas.
Results of Shuka tying lessons.
Nina with the gang on the last night at Serengeti Under Canvas.
Our band of ladies had struck up strong friendships; some of which would be carried forth at home, and others would be savored and left in the bush. It was an incredible journey, shared between an extraordinary group of talented, fun, savvy ladies. Never to be forgotten.

When one is transposed into a completely different environment such as this, it is a test of many things, both personal and physical. Can one keep up the pace, get along with others in a kind and diplomatic sense, and at the end of the day, what life lessons learned here can be carried home and applied?
The band of ladies. Standing: Patricia Glass, Zita de Zagon, Lyn Pederson, and NG.
Seated: Jenny Kennedy, Krista Krieger, and Pam Alexander.
My days in Africa during this safari will remain in my memory book; to be retrieved in times ahead for purposes of serenity, peacefulness, and the bonds of friendship which were established here.

If any readers of my visit have been moved by my story, please consider donating to the Africa Foundation: www.AfricaFoundation.com.

Click here to read Part I
Click here to read Part II
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