March 24, 2013

Can't judge a day

It was 6am, on a Saturday, and it was raining in Nairobi.  In my world, those three strikes equal a half day in bed and another half day baking and eating warm banana bread.  But I had already paid my dues to Sports 4 Change to go on their Crater Lake hike, and as my dad says, I'm nothing if not thrifty.  So I reluctantly rolled myself out of bed and smeared on some ironic SPF 70 sunscreen.  

Then I dozed on the bus for a few hours, waking now and then to snap some Rift Valley pictures.  Because, really, you can never have enough to truly represent the magnificent expanse.  

Storm clouds and drizzle en route

And so I napped.  And snoozed.  And slumbered just a bit, until we turned off the main highway from Waiyaki Way and started to loop around Lake Naivasha.  And I woke up where it became another world.  The rainy season from Nairobi had stayed behind, and we were in a land of perpetual Kenyan summer, blue skies, and warm sun, with a hint of breeze to ensure our pleasant stay.  

Crater Lake is, well, a small lake in a crater, around the west side of Lake Naivasha.  Sitting within the remnants of an extinct volcano, it's jade-green in color and the Maasai reputedly believe it's waters have healing powers.  

Note the cabins nested around the right side, complete with a floating restaurant jutting into the lake.  

It's not a particularly difficult place to reach- 3 hours door to door from Nairobi to reception for the tented camps.  But convenience isn't the end-game when you're in high-gear fitness training.  So we started at the edge of the game-park and hiked about 3 more hours from the start point, through the Savannah, over the crater, and around the lake.   

It was something like this:

I love old maps like this, despite their complete lack of telling you where you are or where you should be going. 

Like Crescent Island, the game park surrounding Crater Lake provides something of a walking safari.  We started with a casual stroll across relatively flat terrain, only to come suddenly upon a zebra watering hole.  

Only in Kenya

Giraffes (baby on the left) and zebra butts

From the crater summit, you get your first view of the lake, to be followed by a series of completely unnecessary glamour shots.  

Oh, who, me?

Rounding the lake, we also encountered a nearly-complete giraffe skeleton.  Apparenlty one who died of natural causes but was subsequently stripped clean by hyenas.  If you look closely at this the skull, you can see that it only has 2 remaining teeth (on the upper right side of the pic).  Such is one of the natural ways in which giraffes die- they lose their teeth and starve to death.  

Two teeth

But on a brighter note.  We picnic lunched on soft grass at the far side of the lake, where flamingos frolicked, and I took a second nap in filtered sun beneath a grand tree.


Flamingo x2

The view from my nap

Which I suppose all goes to say that you can't judge a day by it's 6am.  Really, you can't judge a day until you can look back on it's entirety.  All you can do is enjoy the passing of its hours, and then enjoy the memory of its feeling.  

Crater Lake

March 17, 2013

Snuck up upon

Someday, someone might tell you that sneaking up on wild animals is a bad idea.  But I'm here to tell you that's complete baloney.  First of all, wild animals can't be snuck up upon.  They know you're there, and if they want to be left alone they'll just saunter away.  Or run.  On water.  

Run away!  Run away!
But if you're still concerned, just remember that it's all about context.  That is, it's probably safer to try sneaking up on a giraffe than a mother lion with her cubs.  Also, its safer to sneak up on hippos in the water than hippos on land.  (Apparently they're less aggressive when buoyant.)  

The family that floats together stays together

So if you want to give it a try yourself (to get your prowl on, as it were), you can go to Crescent Island in Lake Naivasha.  According to my (unofficial) sources, Crescent Island was where parts of "Out of Africa" with Meryl Streep was filmed.  It's an official game park (US$25 entrance fee), but it doesn't have many of the country's fiercest predators.  That means that you can actually do a walking safari of the island without worrying that you're going to get mauled by a cheetah.     

At your own risk

The sign says go right for animals.  The guard says don't go right- there are buffalo!  Either way, animals to the right.  Where you go is up to you... walking safari!

Crescent Island, while not an island (it's actually a peninsula, jutting into Lake Naivasha), is indeed shaped like a crescent.  It's actually a submerged crater, so the top ridge is raised above the lake, giving partial views of the Rift Valley.  Size-wise, the island is quite small and is a very manageable walk, but it's a typical savannah landscape and there isn't much shade or tree-cover.  So it's adviseable to avoid the middle of the day and/or to bring a hat.  

Climbing the crescent

Hungry Giraffe

Wildebeests and Mt. Longonot

Stealthy mom in the wild

Since it's not a real island, there are two potential access points to the park.  You can either drive onto the peninsula where it meets the main land, or you can park across the lake and take a "boat safari" on your way, which I recommend.  There's just something about being on a boat, in the lake, gliding past hyacinths, hippos, water-bucks, and cape weaver birds, that is unbeatable.  

Lake Naivasha

Away we go

Because, as they say, it's mostly about the journey.  

March 5, 2013


Today feels simultaneously like the day after and like the day before.  But I suppose that's entirely appropriate.  It is, after all, March 5 in Kenya.

For months people have been talking about preparations for the March 4 elections: stocking up on food and water or making plans to leave the country.  Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, U.S.A... folks planned working-vacation emigrations all over the world.  Almost all of my American colleagues who were in Nairobi have left.

I'm still here.  And I've learned that I am terrible at stocking a bunker in case of social strife.  If there's a real lock-down situation, I'll probably regret not buying more canned vegetables and frozen foods.  But I don't like canned foods, and I don't want to be stuck with cupboards of them when everything remains peaceful.  I did my best to bulk-up my kitchen reserves last week (I risked a few post-apocalyptic bread isles) though I'm not sure my bounty is really emergency-ready.

Poor solitary loaves... picked last, just like an unfortunate high school gym class

Interestingly, there was also a run on mini-Toblerones of both light and dark varieties

Things I have that would be helpful in an emergency:
- Bottled water
- 1 can of lentil soup
- 2 cans of chick peas
- A few nuts (raw almonds and honey-coated cashews)
- A bit of dried fruit (apricots and pineapples)
- A half box of cereal
- Some frozen beet salad I made a few weeks ago

Things that would be helpful as long as there is still water and/or electricity to cook them:
- Rice
- Dried lentils
- Dried kidney beans
- 1/2 bag of pasta
- 11 eggs
- 5 frozen empanadas I made a few weeks ago

Things that are not at all helpful in a lock-down:
- Fresh fruit and produce (tomatoes, kale, mango, papaya, lime)
- Bread
- Ingredients for baking cookies
- 12 different kinds of tea (yes 12)
- Emergency chocolate
- Refrigerated leftovers from dinner last weekend
- 2 bottles of wine

I wasn't kidding.

So everyone was waiting for March 4, and now it's March 5 and we're all still waiting.  Waiting for the results to be tallied; waiting to find out if the invalid votes will be counted in the denominator (which will influence the percentages that influence the likelihood of a run-off); waiting to see if the supporters of the losing candidate will accept the results or will take to the streets like 2007.

It's a day of eerie silence.  There's no public holiday, but the roads are deserted and many people have stayed home from work.  Occasionally, I vary faintly hear something that sounds like chanting.  One of my co-workers likened it to the rapture-- those of us out and about are the unfortunate minority left behind.  To me, it feels like the calm before the storm, where the storm may or may not blow out to sea and leave everyone alone, safe and dry.

At first, there wasn't much international coverage of these elections, and then when the coverage came, it was predominantly negative.  Many Kenyans were upset at the media for one-sided portrayals of violence with which the majority of people disavow.  Then, in true form, they got moxie (mock-sy) on their Face-Twitter-nets.

Now, today, we just wait for tomorrow.

March 1, 2013

It started with a goat

I think it started with a goat, though I wouldn't bet on that.  It could have started with a cow or a flock of chickens.  I know it wasn't the honey bees (those came later).

For the past 5+ years, all major gifting holidays (Christmas, birthdays) have been accompanied by a variety of exotic and barnyard animals, courtesy of my brother.  He prints out clip-art animals, accompanied by explanations like "chicks" or "bzzzzzz" and expects people to figure out what it means.


And while these laconic clues do suggest that what very-much-appears to be a cow is indeed a cow, they're less helpful at answering why there's a cow.  The answer is that he's rightfully decided that we all have enough stuff in our lives and has taken to giving Oxfam donations.

For my birthday this year, I became a foster parent to a baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  The Trust rescues orphaned elephants when their parents are poached for ivory and raises them until about three years of age, at which point they are rehabilitated and released back into the wild at Tsavo National Park.

 As far as foster parenting goes, I assume this is one of the easiest gigs you can get.  The the elephants already get all of their TLC from trained staff who sleep with them in the same room and wake up to feed them two bottles of baby formula every 3 hours.

The orphanage is open to the public for one hour every day from 11am-12pm to watch one of these feedings and see the babies roll around in a mud-hole.


Can't get up!

I highly recommend it as a day-trip activity (coupled with the giraffe center) for those visiting Nairobi.  However, if you're a foster-parent, you also get to return at 5pm for a semi-private evening feeding and elephant bedtime.  

Nom nom

Proud parent

They're also served a hearty branch of leafy greens, although it seems as though most of them (like many children) preferred their friend's snack.  

I want that one...


Reeeeeaaachhhhhh GIVE IT TO ME

Each elephant has their own room and a trainer who feeds them, tucks them in, and sleeps in a cot beside them.  

Getting wrapped up in blankets

And off to dreamland

A tip for anyone considering elephant-fostering: They are very strict about who gets to come to the private feeding- only those people listed on the adoption certificate, no exceptions.  So it's best to do a co-adoption with multiple names so that friends or family can accompany you.