Sunday, July 8, 2012

TRIP TO KENYA 1997, SPIRITUAL or OTHERWISE

Below, a cheetah with blood on her mouth; Burchell zebras rolling about taking a dust bath, just as domesticated horses do; Cape Buffalo giving me the evil eye; King Leo; a female waterbuck; assortment of pachyderms; an oryx (or was that addax?); a secretary bird.
Tech specs: Sacrificing the luggage weight limit necessarily imposed for small plane safety on the African continent, both us photographers came packing few clothes for our 1997 animal viewing safari to Kenya (I knew I could buy T-shirts there.) We brought multiple cameras with insanely long telephoto lenses (I even bought a special new one the day before I left) and 50 rolls of film each. Fellow tour travelers were begging to buy rolls of film from us. No dice! (This was the pre-digital Pleistocene.)

Later, instead of boring friends at home interminably with the medium of the era, film transparencies shown in projected "slide shows," I just transcribed my best shots onto 8 1/2 x11" color Xeroxes such as all those pictured here and sent those to pals and travel companions.
Above, pachyderms with babies; a pink pelican with a fish in its mouth; mother hippo with 3-day old infant hippo who suckled by diving underneath mum; gerenuk standing up to the world; white rhinos; Queen Leo; cadre of giraffes; a topi (they really are sort of mauve-ish brown in sunlight.)
Above, a rarer Grevy's zebra; lioness ready for her close up; a wildebeest calf born right in front of me standing up for the the first time in its life; a rare bongo; impala; a black rhinoceros which I actually petted because its 24-hours-a-day guardian armed with an UZI against poachers (what it takes to protect rhinos these days) knew his personality pretty well; giraffes; gnu.
Above, Ms. Cheetah still digesting (she has to eat as much of her kill as possible in one sitting lest bigger cats steal her hard work;) elephant herd with baby timbo; impala siesta; non-native baby chimp in a wildlife sanctuary; genuine zebra crossing; hyenas eat their kill; unnamed songbird; a dik dik.
Above, size differential of giraffes to zebra; jackyls consume leftovers; lioness squats; elephant snorts; firing up the hot air balloon; two overhead views of the Maasai Mara from hot air balloon (the operator boasted, "I have the best job in the world!" and he may have been right;) and Fastfilm herself and better half Mr. Twister at Sumburu, onetime home of the Born Free lions.

Not pictured, our time at the Mt. Kenya Safari Lodge (the only 5-star hotel at which I ever have or ever will stay during my time on the planet) where we saw a tennis court on the equator allowing balls to be batted across hemisphere to hemisphere, where hyraxes were drawn to the animal magnetism of Mr. Twister, and where we rode horses through the wild with a guide. You want an armed guide when there are lions about, born free or not. He claimed not to count on this factoid, but for the most part wild animals do not like the smell of humans and animals so intermingled when we ride horses as it's disturbing to their natural order, so they generally will try to avoid you.

When you leave the luxury hotels near the game (animal) parks and your van guide unlocks your lodge's protective electric fence's gate, it's like throwing open the gates to Jurassic Park. There they all are! All the animals about which you've only read, roaming, mobbing, hungry, aggressive, fearful... nature in action for as far as eyes can see.

Below, giraffes await our feeding them from a balcony; ostriches--8 foot reptilian birds that want to kill you, as scary as dinosaurs would be in person; Mr. Twister feeds a bongo; Maasai madonna and child; our luxury tent next to the hippo and crocodile-inhabited Mara River, luckily with a steep escarpment.
We went to Kenya for the animals, and came back impressed with the people, who uniformly were good-looking, resolute no matter what their walk of life, and good-natured even outside our service industry enclave of tourist-related employ. The panhandlers even displayed a sense of humor yelling "President Clinton!" at us which we knew signified their total lexicon of English words, a friendly gesture indeed, unlike the economically-deprived in other third world countries who consider every American a mark to be bilked or else a mortal enemy. Kenyans consider tourists their business partners who participate in helping them attain their goals.

Our tour of multi-day game drives in several different parks across the country was well run, the nightly lectures fascinating, one by an actual Leakey, and the guides highly educated and truly knowledgeable (writes this amateur zoologist.) I think we tipped our guide more than our far more well-heeled fellow tourists because maybe we appreciated his expertise more fully than casual thrill-seekers. This was a unique trip for us as my parents had coughed up half our expenses, weary of not being able to brag to their friends about our non-existent vacation travels. When they queried where we wanted to go I immediately shot back "East Africa!"  I always aim high.

In the intervening years since the Nairobi terrorism bombings, I've read of native Kenyans protesting, "Why did they pick on us, we're the good guys of Africa?" to which I'd concur (it's been a half century since their Mau Maus.) A friend who undertook a similar tour in 2011 commented on the innate changes since our own visit, claiming that the presence and danger proffered by the new influx of predatory immigrants reminded her of our SoCal gangs: although their violence usually is directed at one another, they are omnipresent so one always has to be on the lookout for these
unpredictable aggressors as a new but now permanently entrenched urban hazard. Just like home.

When cornered by New Agey types whose beliefs I eschew and queried about my "happy place," I go back to the Maasai Mara or Mt. Kenya in my mind, hearing the zebras barking, the hippos bellowing, cheetahs chirping, all sorts of unfamiliar birdcalls and a faint tinkle of cowbells through the light drizzle at night. Heaven.

Virtually all tourists fortunate enough to travel to East Africa babble something inarticulate about how different but how "normal" it felt to be in the wild there. Even though we're rich asshole Americans used to our creature comforts, there's something about creature life and death (there's bleached bones everywhere in the parks) with people and animals coping together as a matter of course that hits the limbic part of your brain. Life is beautiful and cruel, dustyhot and coolrefreshing, and the forces of nature suddenly spring in your face with attitude alongside someone (in this case Abercrombie & Kent) who knows the terrain and is there to help fellow homo sapiens. You and I and all humans evolved from this landscape of East Africa, warthogs and all. I now understand its sway firsthand. It sort of feels...right. Maybe I don't eschew spiritual philosophies as much as the skeptic in me thinks I do.

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