My most embarrassing moment – possibly ever

So, as promised in the last blog I am going to reveal one of my most embarrassing moments, certainly if not the most embarrassing, then right up there.

As mentioned we were staying in the small coastal village of Ngwesaung in Myanmar. We had been there a couple of days and were thoroughly enjoying just relaxing on the beach and riding around the countryside on our trusty scooter. Each night we would venture into the village itself and find some dinner. We quickly found a favourite haunt and would make our way there for a few drinks, some great hospitality by the owner and some awesome local food.

The down side to a few drinks tends to be the filling bladder and the fact that most of rural Myanmar is still squat toilets (which in case you’ve never seen one I’ve borrowed a photo from wiki to illustrate). Now for me the issue with squat toilets is usually they are filthy and negotiating western clothing and trying to stay off the floor and balanced after a couple of quiet beverages can be a bit tricky. So anyway of course the time comes to ask to use the bathroom.

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(This squat is very flash with it’s white formwork. Many, including the one in this story, are literally a hole in the concrete floor with two foot prints pressed into the concrete as it was drying. This one is also pretty clean on the scale of things.)

Unfortunately for me this particular restaurant not only had a squat toilet, but it was outside across their darkened backyard. One of the staff grabbed a torch (flashlight) and escorted me out of the restaurant and into the void of pitch black. There he illuminated a traditional outdoor dunny, small and with no internal light. He handed me the torch and said he’d wait outside. Oh yay!!!

Now, this is where perhaps I should mention that not only am I not particularly good in the dark I am also seriously freaked out by spiders, so torch in hand I opened the door and immediately decided “do not look up”. I duly went about my business with no major mishaps until the time came to pull my jeans back up. As I arose from my crouch and tried to negotiate the reclothing of my nether regions that slippery life saving torch slid from my tenuous grip and whoosh, it’s freefall trajectory took it handle first straight down the hole in the floor.

So now I am half dressed, with no control over the only light that I have available to me, currently tightly wedged in the very toilet I had just used, with the beam shining straight up to the ceiling, where of course against my better judgement my eyes had to stray. Boom!!! I don’t know how many enormous spiders there were there as I didn’t stop to count them but lets just say that in my recall it was a classic scene from a horror film. I basically grabbed at my jeans enough to be decent and came all but tumbling out the toilet door, desperately calling for my escort to come and rescue me.

He was rather reticent to enter the toilet cubicle (as you can imagine) but as I had no light and the situation seemed rather dire I managed to convince him to come and help. So there I am, with this rather bemused young Burmese man, me still adjusting my clothing as we both stare into the squat where this torch is wedged perfectly down the hole, as I am desperately trying to stay out of range of the inevitable spider attack.

Thankfully he just laughed, adding to my mortification, and guided me back through the dark to the safety of the well lit restaurant. Needless to say, I had no more drinks that night as I was unwilling to venture back out to spider city and my embarrassment was far too fresh.

I have no idea how they got that torch out of the toilet, and I think that is something that I will never need to know, but I became too embarrassed to set foot in that establishment again at night. During the day we would stop in for lunch but for dinner, thank goodness there were other restaurants that had indoor facilities in town.

So the lesson learned out of all of this was..

a) Before you down any beers check to see where the toilet is located

b) DO NOT let go of that darned torch no matter what

c) Some days it just doesn’t pay to have any pride

The photos I have included below are a grab bag from our Myanmar trip. I have decided that rather than do a retrospective of our whole trip I would just share highlights (and lowlights as the case may be).  Enjoy 🙂

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I was learning to roll cheroots from a single leaf with a tobacco type filling.

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These folks were heading out onto Inle Lake with their fish trap.

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I was fascinated by this single orange fish at the local market.

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These monks were being rowed across the Taungthaman Lake. I just loved the calm and the stupa in the background.

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This was a massive temple built 1790-1819 but destroyed in an 1838 earthquake. 50m tall, 72m long and only 1/3 of the intended size. I am actually standing in the doorway.

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The town of Bagan is one of the main reasons I want to travel back to Myanmar with my “real” camera. This 42sq km plain outside the town has over 3000 temples built between 1047-1287AD. It was mindblowing.

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So I hoped you enjoyed my little tale and my photos. Myanmar is so high on my must go back list. And these places are why.

Next week, I wrangle whales! Well maybe not wrangle but I certainly get close enough to do so.

Cheers.

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Chicken buses and pristine beaches – Myanmar

Having spent a couple of days wandering the streets of Yangon we decided it was time to hit the beaches. Now, from what we could work out the best and closest beaches that dealt with western tourists was a place called Ngwesaung (said as Way Song). It was only 245km away so with our bags packed and our excitement soaring away we went to the local bus station. It seemed to be a mass of people, none of whom spoke English, all milling around a dusty old bus shelter or loitering in the cafe. We eventually found out which bus and when it was leavingso stopped for a quick drink before we hit the road. Dave was quite amused that the beer came with a straw and I just loved the kids with their cute smiles. One young waitress had her face painted in broad swathes of mud seemingly to keep the sun off.

Dave drinking beer through a straw

Dave drinking beer through a straw

Happy lady with her sunscreen on her face

Happy lady with her sunscreen on her face

Two total cuties who were posing for the white lady with a camera.

Two total cuties who were posing for the white lady with a camera.

Eventually the bus turned up and so the journey began! I had never been on a chicken bus before. I had always viewed the name with some amusement. I guess I had kind of assumed that there would be some chickens in coops and that it would be a fun and whimsical way to travel with the locals. Oh my goodness! Whimsy? I must have been insane to think of whimsy.

So this rickety old van pulls up, basically something straight out of the 70’s but with the driver sitting on the opposite side to the road. As in he literally couldn’t see what was happening so had a lookout who stood in the doorway and gave overtaking instructions!! Eeeek!

The same sort of bus we were in but ours had a lot more stuff on the roof and was jammed with people.

The same sort of bus we were in but ours had a lot more stuff on the roof and was jammed with people.

We climbed in and were allocated 2 seats. This trip turned out to be quite luxurious compared to one of the ones we would take later. On this trip we sat in our own seats (not the back bench crammed in with 3 others) and we could put our feet down to the floor (on the nightmare ride from hell the floor of the footwell was packed with goods so that we had to sit with our feet level with our backsides for 6 hours). The chicken bus factor was on the roof and all down the aisles. To get to our seat we literally had to climb over mountains of produce, that did include chickens and ducks in coops, using the other seats as stepping stones to get to ours. There was certainly no way to get out in a hurry.

That all said the trip to the ocean was through lovely local countryside and the time passed relatively quickly, even though it was 6 hours. We couldn’t get all the way to the coast so we stopped over for a night in a town called Pathien. We were directed to a local guest house that was permitted to house foreigners and got a taste of rural Myanmar accommodation. There was a bed which was fairly comfortable, air con (yay!!!), and a western toilet (oh thank goodness for no squat). The room itself was a barren box but the wall decor truly spoke volumes. All over the walls were the blood splats from where previous travellers had been squashing the ever present mossies. Ewwww. Not exactly the Ritz but it did the job.

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The next day we carried on our way out to the beach and found heaven. Miles of pristine beaches with little cabins right on the sand. We hired a motorbike and had a wonderful time exploring the area. For our dinners we went into the town and found a great restaurant with a terrific host. He was telling us the stories of the town. It seems the government had decided it wanted to build a big flash hotel resort but that the piece of beach it wanted was right where the town was. So the officials gave the townspeople 30 days to move their whole life and livelihood 300m up the beach. Of course the people have no alternative and move they did. It truly makes you rethink the whole rules and regulations that we attribute to a nanny state, a place where our rights are protected. There is a lot to be said for personal protections. Still, these people were happy enough and the big resort brought tourists.

Do not let a beach wash stop your progress. All you need is a friendly ferryman and a little cash.

Do not let a beach wash stop your progress. All you need is a friendly ferryman and a little cash.

The beaches here were utterly amazing. Not only because they were clean, or that they were beautiful but also because the water was sooo warm. Anyone that knows me knows I hate cold water. This was like floating in a bath. I think Dave was disappointed there were no waves but I loved it.

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We were lucky enough to watch a group of local fishermen hauling in huge nets one afternoon. They had these enormous nets all to catch these tiny shrimp. Like I’m talking the size of a toothbrush head. Waaay small but thousands and thousands of them. They then take them onto mats on the sand where they lay them out in the sun to dry. Hard work for tiny shrimps.

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Loved this old dude with his pipe.

Loved this old dude with his pipe.

Anyway, enough for today. Come back next week for the installment where I share one of my most all time embarrassing moments – ever!

 

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Myanmar

As I sit here on a dull gloomy day listening to the rain pound on the roof I was reminiscing about past journeys and my mind took me back to Myanmar. Not because it was rainy there, the exact opposite in fact but because it still rates as one of my most favourite places I’ve visited. So I thought, what better to do than share a bit of Myanmar with you.

A few years ago Dave and I headed off on our first big international, no end in sight, adventure. We started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as that’s the cheapest destination from Brisbane and when we discovered beers were hideously expensive, we headed to Thailand for a Christmas break while we decided where to go for some adventure.

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Christmas lunch in Thailand 🙂

After a bit of chat we hit upon going to Myanmar. I was a bit trepidatious as at that stage Burma was being heavily boycotted by the world, including tourists due to the oppressive military regime but after a few queries on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums we found that it was safe and that the people were hurting from a lack of tourism so that was it, we were going to Myanmar.

Our big plan was that we were going to limit the money that went to the government by staying local, travelling local and eating local. The visa money was a must spend but aside from that we were determined not to support the regime, instead to support the people. We had been warned that there were no such things as ATM’s and that credit cards didn’t work either so with typical lack of planning we hit the airport with no spare cash and cleaned out our daily limits on the cards and headed to the plane with a total of $1000USD and a plan to stay 10 days.

We landed in Yangon (the capital in the south of the country) and found ourselves a local hotel. A guide book hastily bought in Bangkok gave us a bit of a start point for attractions so we hit the city.

Yangon is famous for it’s pagodas and we could easily see why. In the late afternoon and evening we went to one of the most amazing pagodas I have ever seen, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Acclaimed as one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites, the incredible main dome is said to be covered with 27 tons of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds and other jewels. The top of the stupa has a single huuuuge diamond that literally sparkles in the evening light. All around the main temple are smaller golden stupas (the towers) and smaller side buildings that are said to hold holy relics. The local people come along all through the day and evening to offer up their prayers to Buddha. The whole place was humming with people coming and going, chanting their prayers and just general controlled chaos. The outer area around the main stupa holds lots of smaller rooms, often heavily decorated with statuary and golden relics and offerings. It was so beautiful, super glittery at times, but just beautiful.

We don’t normally bother with guides, although there was a constant stream on offer at every temple, but this place was just so amazing we decided that it would be worth it to have someone tells us about it. Which is why you see a photo of Dave (while he still had his glorious long locks) seeking the Buddha’s blessing. Apparently your can dip you hand in the sacred water and whatever part of your body you wish to enhance you simply rub the water and kaboom, Buddha will help you out. Sadly, while it was a fun exercise, I’m not sure that the Lord Buddha heard his westerners prayer and the hair ultimately departed 😉

While my little camera (long before I got into my photography for real) didn’t cope with the low light of evening you can still get a feel of the place from the photos. The last image is one of four amazing entry buildings. At each of the compass points there are these incredible covered walkways that lead to the stairs to take you into the pagoda proper. Such a beautiful way to enter a scared site.

And so, with that, I will leave you for tonight and rejoin you later in the week for more of my favourite country.

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The golden stupas surrounding the main event at Shwedagon Pagoda. For scale there is a man reading on the bottom step.

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Dave praying that his hair stays put (which as time told it just didn’t). Shaggy of days of old.

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One of the side rooms where the local people come to pray to Buddha.

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All along great plinths were thousands of candles lit in prayer. We saw the same in the Nepalese temples. It reminds me a little of the Christian religious ways of lighting candles to be heard better by your God.

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The incredible 99m tall zedi (techincally not a stupa) that is topped with a 76 carat diamond (!!!!)

Burma1-99 The jade Buddha found in one of the side rooms. He was a bit precious as they had him in a big glass box.

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The entrance walkway to get up to the pagoda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m back! And I brought elephants as a peace offering.

I know it has been forever! Actually I think it has been forever and a bit more to be honest, but I’m back.

I’d love to say that the reason I’m back is because we have hit the road and are off on fresh adventures but sadly that is not the case – well not at the moment. As always there are plans in the making but nothing solid just yet.

The main reason I am back is because I decided to get busy with my photographs. You see I literally have tens of thousands of images stored on my hard drive, many of which have never seen the light of day so I decided to get into a little show and tell.

I have opened an instagram account to share my travel images. If you have instagram you can follow me here. I am rather enjoying going through some of the old pictures and reliving the moments that came with them. If you don’t have instagram that’s ok. I’ll be bringing the “best of”s right here.

So, to kick things off I thought I might revisit Africa with you – as that’s where we left off.

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Old Mother

There is something quite amazing as you drive across the plains in an open topped vehicle, the wind in your hair and the dust in your nostrils. Then out of nowhere you spot the big guys, the elephants. They are so old and wise looking. Enormous (well by my limited standards) tusks just poking out front. At first glance you wonder if they are going to get all cranky and come and ferociously topple the vehicle and trample us all to dust like so many youtube videos, but like so many animals that we saw on the Mara, they really didn’t seem to give two hoots about us. They simply wandered their own path, minding their own elephant business.

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Family on the move

Whenever we saw a herd the babies would be well tucked in, safe from any lions on the prowl. The littlies were just so cute. I found myself constantly having to remember – these are wild animals, not something cute to play with.

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Who needs a hand

The younger members were beautiful to watch feed. Because they are smaller they can’t reach as high so settle for the lower branches, which in my unskilled opinion looked pretty darned good, and with their little trunks they would grasp the thorny acacia branches and gently guide them into their mouths.

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Wrinkles

I became quite fascinated by the wrinkles. I mean I think I’ve got a few laugh lines but these wonderful creature have me well whipped. Black and white really brings out the texture of their skin. Wrinkles and feet were my soft spot. I didn’t get too many decent feet pix but the wrinkles were everywhere.

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Wandering

This photo would have to be one of my faves of the elephants. The dust rose perfectly as they were wandering home (wherever home is) and the late afternoon light caught the dust, the grasses, the birds and the herd just perfectly.

I realise that memories are not the same as day by day accounts, but I hope you forgive me. I just wanted to share a few more moments from our wonderful travels.

I have a myraid of excuses for not writing but mostly it was a belief that once a little water had passed under the blog bridge that I could not get it back. I have decided that’s rubbish so a-blogging I will go.

Stick with me. There’s more to come. After all, I’ve got lots of pictures to choose from.

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The stripey one – zebras

I read a lovely book recently about the adventures of a safari guide (Whatever you do don’t run). In it he describes guests trying to take photos of zebras. He describes zebras as “notorious bum flashers”. The bottom line with zebras is that just when you have everything lined up for the perfect shot they all seem to catch that camera vibe and universally all turn tail and all you are left with is a line up of striped backsides. That can be fun but not ideal photographically.

During our week in the Mara it was where the zebra earned a new name. They went from “oh wow, zebras” with excitement in my voice to becoming “pah, bloody zebras” as they’d turn tail and show me the backside of Africa.

That said, they are pretty awesome animals. The babies are super long legged so that they can fit happily behind mum and stay out of sight of predators. They are lovely and fluffy with their stripes standing up above their backs. Mum’s would always put themselves between us and their precious babies. The bigger zebras are certainly wary of everything. Unlike the lions that really didn’t care about the car, zebras always cared. As soon as we came across a herd they would turn tail and either run or walk to a safe distance where they would resume their constant eating. I guess when you are on the menu for every big predator then you rightfully get a little twitchy.

I did have a win one day though when we came across a herd that must have seen a big cat on the periphery. They all stood to attention with their gaze firmly fixed ahead to keep the threat in sight. Finally a bunch of zebras that had more on their minds than avoiding the camera.

The other great zebra times were when we came upon them heading down to the river for a drink. They were still super skittish which made for a great deal of amusement as they would routinely scare each other away from the waters edge and racing up the bank. I did manage to get a couple of shots off though which was pleasing.

When we got to the Laikipia reserve we met a different type of zebra. The ones we saw on the Mara were all Plains Zebras whereas around Mt Kenya they have the much rarer Grevys Zebra. They had huge floppy ears and much wider stripes that didn’t meet over the back or under their belly and unlike the plains zebras these guys don’t hang out in herds. They seem to shun company and just wander on their own until it is time to find a love match. After seeing so many plains zebras at the Mara it was kind of weird to see so few of the beautiful Grevys. It is sad to think that these abundant animals that were so plentiful are now endangered. I guess their beautiful pattern made them an ideal carpet for some folks.

The other thing I noticed was that zebras are cranky buggers. It seemed that every time we came across a large herd inevitably a fight would break out. The stallions would slash their teeth aiming for each other’s legs. They were brutal in their battles. It did however make for an awesome spectacle with the flying dust turning spectacle into spectacular.

While I did get some photos that I am quite happy with I did have one on the wish list that I just didn’t nab. I really wanted that classic shot of a face on zebra up close. The great thing about not nabbing all the shots on the list means I just have to go back and try again 🙂

Plains zebraTypical zebra view 🙂

Plains zebraYou looking at me???

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Drinking and looking and looking and drinking.

Plains zebraA dazzle of zebra (that is the real plural 🙂 )

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Dusk light

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Fluffy baby.

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Rare Grevys Zebra

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Getting into it.

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Tuck those legs in boys.

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Impala vs Lioness

Our first day on safari was almost over. It had been an absolute cracker! We had seen some awesome animals as we were tripping all over the Maasai Mara, and seen a wildebeest crossing, and I had had my amazing Mohican experience. I was happy and exhausted.

Dusk was falling as we were heading back to the conservancy from the main park when we came across two male impala engaged in a heavy war. These guys run a harem of dozens of females and as such there is a lot of competition as to who is the top guy. Only one male rules at a time so fights for dominance break out among the males.

It was an amazing sight and sound. The dust was flying up from their hooves each time they lowered their horns and came in for another round. We could hear the clash of their horns as they struck each other again and again, levering to try to get a better grappling point again their opponent.

One of the surprising things for me was how close we were (a constant surprise) with only 5-6 meters separating us from their fight. They were so immersed in each other that they just didn’t see us at all. And we were not alone. There would have been another 3 vehicles parked around them watching the action. As it turned out though it was not just us these valiant warriors did not see. They also missed the approaching lioness!

With it being dusk I couldn’t take any photos any further (my camera and I were having issues when the sun went down regarding taking good pictures) but I could video. The video capabilities of the EM1 were really very good in low light (dusk) so I had switched into video mode and was recording the fight.

So I’m madly filming the clash of the titans when Charles (our guide) says quietly “there is a lioness coming in”! The excitement level in the car went up to level 10 with this news. I just kept pointing the camera at the impala and bang! in she came!

It was amazing. She barrelled into the two males and grabbed one by the throat, dragging it to the ground. The other male raced off to stand about 15-20m away and stood stamping and snorting his surprise and distress. She held the impala on the ground while her sister came in for a look. Then the sister calls with a couple of low whuffing sounds and out of the bushes came three cubs. When they got close the first lioness let the stunned impala go and as it bounced up the cubs then swarmed it in an effort to “re-capture” it. Incredible to watch (sadly I missed the bit where it got up on the video). Over the next little bit we watched as the adults held the imapla and the cubs were given the chance to hone their food preparation skills.

It was gruesome, and awesome, and scary, and heartbreaking and so many other things all in one incredible scene. We were all quite shocked and amazed. What had begun as an interesting imapala battle where we certainly hadn’t expected any death and destruction had turned into a family feast for lions. I guess that the bottom line is that if animals don’t get killed then no one lives and certainly I had seen plenty of killings on various tv nature shows but there is something quite brutal about the reality of watching it unfold in front of your eye.

One thing I can say for sure, between having Mohican look into me and then watching the way these lions attacked the imapala I have a whole new respect for the reality of these animals. They may just look like big lazy pussy cats as they lay around resting but once they get up and into action – boy oh boy! They sure are a force to be reckoned with.

I have no still photos of the event but I have worked out how to embed a video into the blog (yay for me) so I have included it here. It is not super gruesome (as in not flying blood and guts stuff) so if you think it of interest please have a watch. I was rather proud to have it added to the Kicheche Bush Camp “sighting of the week” on their website. Made me feel that what we had seen and captured on video was something a bit special.

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She might look relaxed and vague – but she isn’t!

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A harem of impala females.

 

  An impala attack

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Lions

I want to start this with an apology. I realise it has been a little while since I last reached out and wrote a blog. Life has been a little challenging of late. We are no longer on the road but have returned back to Brisbane, Australia for a quick sorting out. Coming home when you have no home can present it’s own challenges and as we are not back permanently but only for a quick stop I have been busily finding us a suitable place to live and getting us a little bit organised. With all of this messing about I have found it hard to get in blog writing frame of mind so I apologise for the lack of posts.

So what happens to the blog now that we are home? A heap of good stuff. I now have time to get in and write a little something and I still have plenty to tell. You have barely heard anything of our trip to Africa and there are a few little travel tales from the rest of our journey that didn’t make it in the first time around. So this little travel break will be a time for me to catch you up on some of the fun things that we did and to do a little work on the back-side of the blog (hopefully without breaking it).

And so we re-start our journey from where we left off – the Maasai Mara in Kenya…

On our first full day in the Mara we saw a great many animals of all different kinds, as you would expect. And they all filled me with awe and wonder. It is amazing how sitting in a vehicle with no windows makes everything feel so close and touchable. It is a feeling of being very connected to the scene without actually being endangered by the animals. After all, even though the sides were open on the car it was not as if the animals got that close. Every time we came close to zebra or wildebeest they turned tail and ran away.

Not all animals do that though.

Lions don’t turn and run. Lions don’t do anything. They don’t even acknowledge that a vehicle has pulled up and is full of people looking at them. They are much too regal to bother with insignificant trucks and thankfully they have not worked out that the people inside could be considered edible.

That does not mean however that there is no interaction.

We came across a great big male sauntering across the plain. Mohican was his name and he really was quite spectacular. I was quite surprised that he walked across in front of the car and didn’t seem to care that we were nearby (in an effort to get better shots Charles had positioned us in front of his path). It was the closest any of the animals had come to the vehicle.

Charles then drove us around again for a second run at a series of shots with him walking towards us. I was madly shooting away with the camera firmly pressed to my eye when I realised that I couldn’t take any more shots because he was filling up the frame too much which could only mean one thing – he must be pretty close.

Close?!!!! Ah yep, you could say that!!!! When I pulled the camera away from my face there, no more than 15 feet away, was a lion casually walking toward me. Ok, he was on the ground outside the car and I was up in the vehicle but there were no windows or anything between me and him. I swear – I stopped breathing. I couldn’t look anywhere other than at this magnificent scary beast that was so close and getting closer.

He was so close in the end that he had to alter his path to get around the back of the car without hitting the corner. And just as he pulled level with me he lifted his great head and looked me straight in the eye – and then dismissed me and just kept on walking. This huge beast that was no more than 4 feet away looked straight into my soul and scoured it clean.

It would have to rate as one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life and one of the most exhilarating and life affirming and so many other things that just can’t be put on paper. I couldn’t breathe and when I finally did manage to hitch in a gasping breath I just started to cry. It was so scary and so exciting all in one.

According to my fellow car-mates all of this happened in the blink of an eye (not for me, it took ages for him to walk past us) and every moment of that emotion played on my face. Billy was laughing with sheer delight having watched me have my first ‘big’ African moment and Dave didn’t think I was that scared because I didn’t move away (mainly because I was completely frozen in place). It was certainly an experience I will never forget. I saw Mohican the lion, and Mohican the lion saw me. Does something to your heart I think. Made me love Africa even more and surely made me re-evaluate my place in the worlds food chain 😉

What an awesome way to meet the king of the beasts – face to face and eye to eye.

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Mohican.

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Nap time.

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Your majesty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStrolling through.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy all time favourite photo from the whole trip. This one will be going up on the wall.

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The great migration

A girlfriend of mine commented that she thought it was awesome that I had had such a great time in Southern Africa. I smiled and told her “Ummm, it was actually Kenya” and she replied with an exited “yeah, so cool!”. On the basis of that alone I figured I might just post a couple of maps to give the non-geographic people (nothing wrong with that) an idea of where exactly we were as well as a bit better idea of why we went.

Below is Africa with Kenya marked. Our flight from Thailand took vaguely that path is marked by the arrow and we went straight into Nairobi.

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As mentioned in my last blog we then caught a flight to the Maasai Mara National Park and began our Mara odyssey. I have marked on this map the other places we visited in Kenya as well, just for reference for the up-coming blogs 🙂

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#1 – Maasai Mara National Reserve,  #2 – Laikipia,  #3 – Amboseli National Park

The whole reason I picked the Maasai Mara great migration experience is because I had seen so much of it on such programs as “Life On Earth” etc from Sir David Attenborough. I was thrilled with talk of wildebeest stretching from horizon to horizon from July til October as they made their way from the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania north to the Mara then turning around in late October to follow the rains and heading back to the breeding grounds of the Serengeti for the remaining months of the year. The maps below show the general migration pattern. I most wanted to see the wildebeest crossing the Mara River as they make their way to the grazing lands but as with all wild life there was no guarantee.

Untitled-1On our first day in the main part of the Mara reserve we had let Charles (our guide) know our wish list. Julie wanted a cheetah on a mound, Billy and Dave just wanted to poke their heads out of the roof and enjoy the excitement of Africa and I had no idea really of what I wanted…. Except we all wanted to see a crossing. We wanted to watch thousands of wildebeest plunge into the Mara River, a couple fall victim to crocodiles, lions picking off the easy targets as they reached the other side, then the main herd thunder off into the distance. Not really a big ask surely?

Charles was in communication with other drivers and it seemed the wildebeest were massing at one of the crossing points and that we might be lucky enough that they decided to take the plunge and cross over. You see it is not as simple as you might first think. Just because they are all hanging around the river banks does not necessarily mean that they are actually going to cross. They seem to be incredibly indecisive creatures from my point of view. First they wander aimlessly around an open area just grazing and making gnu (the other name for wildebeest is gnu) noises. Then another distant group might see them and after a lot of milling around they might charge over and join them making the group larger.

Through all of this to-ing and fro-ing we sat in our vehicle on the bank of the river watching to see what would happen. There were quite a number of other vehicles gathering with us and everyone was pretty sure that a crossing would take place. All we needed was for the wildebeest to get with the program. After about 45 minutes of watching nothing much we moved pozzie to get a better look at the milling and eating herd to gauge where their collective heads were at. Sadly from what we could see over the course of another 30-40 minutes the gnus were snoozing and nothing much was happening. Charles was saying that we needed the sun to come out for a longer period (it was playing hide and seek in the clouds with moments of sun then shade again). Apparently the wildebeest get agitated in the heat and are more likely to cross when in full sun. Sadly the sun was not being particularly co-operative.

With a whole bunch of nothing much happening we decided to head off into the bushes to have our lunch. If anything exciting started to happen someone would let us know on the radio.

Instead of the whole shebang lunch (table, table cloth, chairs, etc) we opted for the shortened version where we unpacked onto the bonnet of the car, loaded up our plates and kept the fuss to a minimum. And with Murphy’s Law in full operation, we had no sooner put the final spoonful of food onto our plates when the call came over the radio “it looks like they are going”!

Talk about the worlds’ fastest pack up. We had everything back in the esky and packed in the front of the car in 2 seconds flat. And so began the “Ferrari safari”. Racing along the pitted dirt tracks back to the river we each clung on for dear life with one hand while the other juggled the full lunch plate with the other. It was rather thrilling I would have to say.

Then as we approached the river we could see what felt like 100’s of other vehicles all with the best spots lined up along the bank. We were never going to be able to get a spot to see anything let along take any decent piccys. But I had underestimated our Charles. He roared up and drove straight through the throngs and we ended up being the second car along the river bank somehow and there in time to see the first gnus hit the water.

Julie and I just grabbed cameras and started banging away. Had it not been so intense it would have been funny. We knew that this might be our only crossing and we were determined to get something usable in terms of a decent photo.

The most shocking thing about the entire experience is that it was all over in a heartbeat. Literally from first photo to last it took less than 5 minutes for 2,000+ wildebeest to cross the river. After so much milling and indecision, once they decided to go they just went for it. Not hesitation and no stopping. It was amazing and while there were no crocodiles lurking and no lions feasting it was still exactly as we had hoped and I would have to say that all 4 of us were completely thrilled at the chance to see something so timeless.

One of the fun bits to top off our first crossing would be the moments after it was all said and done. The wildebeest had crossed, the photos had been taken and there was a moment to sit back down and get excited. Then we just grabbed our plates from where we had put them on the seats, took our drinks out of the seat pockets and picked up with lunch from where we had left off, much to the very vocal amusement and admiration of the people in the vehicle next to us, “wow look at that, they still have their lunch ready to go”. It was just one of those weird quirky moments that wrapped up the whole experience quite nicely.

Wildebeest crossing Maasai Mara

Some of the other vehicles at the beginning waiting for something to happen. By the time they crossed there were 20+ trucks all lined up facing across the river side-by-side on the bank edge.

Wildebeest crossing Maasai Mara

The first brave souls.

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Crossing in full strength.

Wildebeest crossing Maasai Mara

My favourite gnu photo. I developed quite a liking for these quirky fellows with their mournful cry.

Lions Maasai Mara

Potential predators (although these 2 were not there for the crossing) – just a gratuitous lion photo 😉

Nile crocodile Maasai MaraThese two were near the crossing but being late in the season they were basically so well fed that they really didn’t seem to care enough to swim up for a look or a snack. I should also add that Nile crocodiles are huge and these two were no exception. Absolutely massive!

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An introduction to safari life on the Mara – luxury!!!

Our ultimate organiser (Julie) had picked out 3 areas of Kenya to travel to, the Maasai Mara National Park for the great wildebeest (gnu) migration, Laikipia conservancy where the African Wild Dogs are to be found and Amboseli National Park to see great families of elephants. I can honestly say that I was completely unaware of where we were going right up until the day before we hit Kenya. I figured I really didn’t need to know as Julie had it all in hand and I trust her judgement all the way. When she found out that I had just been smiling and nodding at all of the suggestions and not really paying attention she was horrified. What if it was terrible? I felt pretty comfortable that it would all be fine. The one factor that I hadn’t considered was how we were getting between each of these places. Turns out it was very small planes.

Now for those that have just joined this little rodeo – I HATE small planes. As in, complete fear and sweating with the idea of getting in one. And as it turned out we had 6 flights to take in these little death traps. Of course the reward for sitting in a flying tin can for 40 minutes each time was that I would be going somewhere totally awesome so I just took my calm pills and sucked it up.

The first flight was from Wilson airport in Nairobi to the Maasai Mara and I must admit I was impressed to see that this plane was not too small. I reckon it held about 30+ passengers so apart from serious nerves I managed ok. That said, I was pretty darned excited and when we landed into this vast plain and looked out to see herds of wildebeest grazing and antelope just hanging out. It was all that I had dreamed and more.

And then to top it off there were all these open sided safari vehicles ready to accept their guests and one of those magical trucks was ours!

The camp we were staying at was supposed to be about an hour from the airstrip but being over-excited little safari-ites it took us nearly 2 ¼ hours to get there. Our poor driver kept trying to answer our questions but he was a little overwhelmed I think and just kept telling us that he was jus the driver and not a real guide. That said he did a pretty good job of keeping us well amused. I think that Darren and Emma (our hosts) were a little concerned when we had taken such a long time to make it back to camp but hey – we were excited! 🙂

Kicheche Bush Camp is this incredible patch of fabulousness in the middle of the bush on the Olare Motorogi conservancy, bordering the Maasai Mara National Park. The conservancy is an area of 35,000 acres that was once owned and used by local Maasai farmers. A deal was brokered whereby for use of the land as a game reserve and relocation of the grazing lands and villages the Maasai people would be well rewarded financially and the area available for wild animals would be  increased. There are only 94 beds available in the conservancy, unlike in the main Mara National park, and inside the conservancy the road rules are also different. We could drive offroad and there was a limit to the number of vehicles allowed at an animal sighting. For us this meant that we had flexibility as to where we positioned ourselves for our photography as well as the hope that there would not be 30 cars around a single cheetah.

Kicheche Bush Camp has only 6 tents and talk about luxury!!! Wow, wow and wow! We were shown to our tented room to refresh before lunch and I think my head nearly fell off. The tent was thick canvas with rollup blinds so that in the daytime we could see out to the bush all around us. A lovely bathroom and wardrobe area with all the mod cons you would expect in a 5 star hotel. The bed was huuuuuge and so comfortable and to finish it all off we even had our own little verandah area with a hammock strung outside for midday relaxation. We joined our hosts for lunch with them and a couple of other guests and got a run down of how camp life works. Basically during the day we could come and go as we pleased between the main lounge/dining tent and our own as long as we stayed on the paths. However in the evening an Askari (a Maasai warrior carrying a big stick and a torch) would escort us everywhere. Each day we could select how much time we wished to spend out and about and picnic meals would be provided for us to cover any times we were away from camp. Sundowner drinks would be provided for us on every afternoon game drive (!!!!!) and then in the evening dinner would be served in the dining tent.

I was thinking oh my goodness – somebody pinch me. It was awesome. And all of this came with the most delicious gourmet meals (3 course lunch, 4 course dinner) and unlimited drinks of any choice. And the coolest, most gracious hosts I could imagine. Darren and Emma are English expats who have made Kenya their home and were full of hilarious stories of travel, animals, tourists and life in general. I was seriously liking staying in Bush Camp. And we really hadn’t even gone on a game drive yet.

After lunch we went on our first ‘real’ game drive where we were introduced to our guide, Charles. This man was in charge of our safety and our adventure and was an eminently qualified silver level guide with many years of experience. It turned out he also had a brilliant sense of humour, could handle a 4WD in any conditions and knew when to put the pedal to the metal as it were.

Our vehicle was a Toyota Landcruiser that had been substantially altered. The sides of the car only came up halfway so that everyone had clear and open views of the wildlife and plains, there was a charging station of 4 powerpoints where we could charge up batteries as they died from overuse in the cameras and much to the boys excitement, the roof was completely open so that they could stand and stick their heads out as we drove along. As I think about our game drives I can’t think of too many times that either Dave or Billy were sitting down unless expressly told to. 🙂

About the only thing that was problematic for me was the temperature. I had not considered that Kenya might be cool, after all it is on the equator and it is Africa therefore it should be hot should it not? Turns out not. Turns out that the altitude of the plains (all at 1500-2200m) makes it a lot cooler than I had thought. Early morning game drives with no sides on the vehicle did make for a few shivery starts but we had waterproof ponchos with flannel lining to tuck around us and glamour was not really a concern in our car so I survived.

That first game drive was a doozy but will take too much time to tell it here so I might just leave it for next time. 😉 Catch you then heheheh.

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A Maasai herdsman with his sheep and goats from the air.

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Our safari link plane on the Mara airstrip.

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A lone acacia tree on the Mara plains.

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Dave and I with Charles, our Mara guide.

Capture-Edit

This shot is from the Kicheche webpage but shows our bedroom in the tent – NOICE!!!!!

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Common zebra, otherwise known as ‘bloody zebra’ due to their ability to consistently turn their backside to the camera and/or not pose properly for photos 😉

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Lilac Breasted Roller bird, also renamed. This one started out as the “Julie Bird” because after 2 safari trips Julie had fallen in love with these cute little guys and had spent a lot of time trying without success to get one in flight (the underside of the wings is stunning blue). By the end of the trip it too had fallen victim to ‘that bloody bird’ and no photos in flight were forthcoming.

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There is a very strong message shown everywhere. Poachers in Kenya are shot on sight!

On a personal note I implore everyone – DO NOT BUY IVORY!!!!

If there is no market, there can be no trade.

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On safari

For the last few weeks I have been out of communication range, away from the high tech world that we consider such a part of our regular daily life, away from the internet! And it has been marvellous. Not only because I had no access to that highly addictive world of social media and instant communication but also because of the reason I was so removed. You see, I went to Africa!

About a year and a half ago a girlfriend of mine returned from safari in Africa (her second) and just looked and at me and said “that’s it, I’m going back in 2014” and my response… “count me in, we’re coming too!”. After much discussion we decided that the great migration from the Serengeti of Tanzania to the Masai Mara Plains of Kenya was the destination and September/October was the time.

Fortunately for us my friend Julie loves to research. She says that the planning and research stage before departure means that the holiday lasts for a whole lot longer. It was terrific. She would scour forums and reviews of all of the different camps and safari companies in the Masai Mara and send me little “what do you think of this place” emails. Got to say – they all looked great to me J Very high end and lux (although it turns out that they were officially middle of the road and there was a lot more serious lux to be had with some companies).

In the end decisions were made, bookings made and deposits paid. It was locked in and all we had to do was wait 18 months for the departure date to roll around. As you guys would know from reading this ongoing story, Dave and I went overseas and travelled around while we waited for Africa to come up on the horizon.         And then it did.         After so long of waiting and planning (well Julie planned, I just nodded in mute excitement) it was finally here.

Our trip was 3 separate safari experiences in 3 parks in Kenya. Masai Mara, Laikipia and Amboseli.

The first port of call however was Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and a city that has seen its share of unrest and strife in the last few years. Frankly we were nervous about being in Nairobi but it turned out our fears were groundless. The whole posh safari thing kicked in and we were picked up at the airport by our driver who took us to this delightful hotel (right next to the Israeli Embassy – great security).

I, of course, was completely beside myself. As a kid I was always fascinated by ‘deepest, darkest Africa’ and as an adult Sir David Attenborough and others had kept me fascinated about this amazing place – and here I was. Ok, so small ridiculous admission time… as we left the airport I saw an Acacia tree, that classic African symbol of the bush, and huge tears welled up and my throat closed tight. I truly couldn’t believe it. I was quite overwhelmed by the fact that we really were here! Great start I figured. If an acacia tree got me crying what would happen when I saw the animals 😉

Then as we drove down the road toward the hotel the driver was narrating what we were seeing and there was a huge group of trees roadside with a crown of Marabou storks (the garbage disposal system of birdlife in Kenya). The storks had taken up residence and were quite happily living off the human rubbish. They were huge and as we drove towards them one of the birds decided to take a walk across the road. Unfortunately it didn’t make it. A big truck cleaned it up. My last vision of said Marabou was a cloud of feathers pouring out from under a speeding truck and the sounds of our driver decrying the carelessness of drivers. Ok, so that circle of life stuff started before we even got out to the bush but that’s animals and vehicles so….

After a bit of a nap at the new plush digs (remember we have been backpacking for months and this place was lovely) we got the word that our fellow travellers had arrived. Billy and Julie had come via Johannesburg and when I raced into the lobby there were even more tears and much jumping up and down. Both of us had so been looking forward to this grand adventure and here we were – ready and roaring to go 🙂

So, the next few blogs, ok the next many blogs, are going to be about Africa. About what we did, saw and felt and what it was like to be in one of the most amazing places on earth for one of natures most awe inspiring spectacles. I can’t wait to bring you a little bit of Africa.

I figured that I would leave this here with a few photos just to tease you and leave you wanting more. And there is plenty more to come 😉

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