Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Campi Ya Kanzi

Sopa! (hello in Maasai)

Our first bush camp was an Eco-lodge on 400 square miles of private Maasai land in southern Kenya (right at the border of Tanzania, about 26 miles from Mt. Kilimanjaro, so we were able to get some amazing views of the snow-topped peaks!). it's at the base of the Chyulu Hills ("spotted hills" in Maasai) which are the youngest volcanic hills in the world.

The owners of the lodge have a special relationship with the Maasai tribe of this region and have arranged it so that the local tribe members work at the lodge and the guests get to walk throughout the land. This is unique because many other camps, you aren't allowed to leave the trucks.

Since it is our first camp, we've been oohing and aahing at every little thing. From the herds of Gazelles and antelopes to the zebras and giraffes just hanging out together on the plains.
Our first day, after a delicious lunch (so far I have been soo impressed by the food in general), we spent the afternoon hiking through the cloud forests. These are unique to the Chyulu Hills and were definitely not the landscape we expected in Africa!

 It was so lush and green - ferns and moss everywhere. Apparently these are some of the last remaining cloud forests in all of Kenya so we felt especially lucky to hike around in them. It made me grateful for my newfound love of hiking as well as the cool weather! (which, I should mention has been a daily surprise. I didn't bring many "cold weather clothes" and, while I'm enjoying the fact that it's not blisteringly hot, my limited wardrobe has been even more limited to the few pants and long sleeved shirts I brought along!).

 We saw evidence of many elephants, from torn bark and branches from the trees (with such limited water available, they get moisture from the tree bark) to what we thought was a big pile of elephant poo - although now I'm not so sure the translation was accurate, after seeing more of it! My clumsy self had one good tumble during the hike, but it was relatively graceful. 

We reached the edge of the reserve after about an hour or so of hiking and had just spectacular views of the the national reserves that it bordered.

On our way back to camp, we attempted to find some lions that the other guests had seen that morning - its a total rush to slowly circle an area in a jeep hoping to spot something! Unfortunately we weren't able to spot anything, but we sure had fun trying!

Even Lex was cold!

We spent the evening with a nice family from Seattle - husband, wife and their two young boys. Being on safari and meeting other people has been so fun - everyone is excited to get to know new friends and share what they saw that day. The two boys, aiden and julian were so cute and extremely well behaved. I was so impressed! Dinner was great - Steffano, the camp host, was excellent at putting together a gorgeous table complete with lanterns, candles and fine china. Honestly, every day was better than the first!

Our second day (Amanda and I fell asleep very quickly after dinner, we were exhausted) our wake-up call (and subsequent wake-up calls every morning of the trip!) was a friendly Maasai man with hot chocolate! Note to Patrick -I'm much sweeter when woken up like that!

 We had an early morning (read leave at 6am) game drive through the Private reserve. The landscape was so pretty and the drive itself was a total adventure. You know how on the indiana jones ride at disneyland it's a bit jerky and has lots of sudden stops and sharp turns? Well lets just say its pretty darn accurate. We were off the main paths, twisting and turning through the brush. There are these strange shrubs with wicked spikes EVERYWHERE so you had to be on constant alert to avoid being sideswiped by one as we drove past. The landscape of area was lots of tall dry grasses (I would say at least waist-high, if not more) with shrubs and trees scattered throughout. There were also little pockets of dense shrubs/trees - perfect for the hiding lions, leopards and elephants. To say it was a bit dusty is an understatement. At the end of each ride, you are coated in filth - up your nose, in your ears, everywhere! I am definitely glad I got prescription sunglasses because I would be miserable in contacts.

Towards the end of our first morning game drive, I was getting a bit hungry and was looking forward to breakfast. They had said it would be provided while out on the drive, so I was happily expecting some yogurt, fruit, and maybe some bread in the jeep while we drove around. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a beautifully shaded area and saw a full breakfast table set up for us! We were settling into cereal, toast and fruit when all of a sudden someone pops out and asks us if we wanted eggs and bacon! It is hard for me to articulate just how amazing this camp was. Every single thing you could imagine wanting was thought of in advance and provided before you could ask.

So there we were, eating a hot breakfast in the middle of The Maasai bush with all sorts of wildlife surrounding us. Could it get any better? Umm apparently yes!

We spent the afternoon napping (and blogging, I swear I am always behind, I'm currently writing this on our way to the next camp even though I tried so hard to write every day, the naps were just too tempting!) and then after lunch Steffano had recommended that we take a hike to a very cool Volcanic cave he had recently discovered. At first we were a little hesitant because we were anxious to see some big game, but we trusted his recommendation and headed out on the hike. After about an hour or so of hiking (Robert found a totally cool porcupine quill) we made it to the cave. Whoa! They had lanterns lighting the entire path! As we continued down into the totallycoolrightoutofIndianJones cave, we saw there was a campfire and chairs set up! Wait, a sundowner IN the cave? No way! AND THEN we walked a little further and they had the entire dinner set up IN THE CAVE! It was absolutely spectacular. Literally the coolest thing I have EVER experienced. Candles and lanterns everywhere, an absolute perfect evening! I felt so so so spoiled. I'm normally too lazy to even plan a picnic or dinner at the beach because it's such a hassle to pack in and clean up. We didn't have to lift a finger! oh wait yes, we had to move our camp chairs from the campfire to the dinner table. So rough. 

Our third day in Camp was spent at the local Maasai village. Our guide, Pashut, took us to meet his family and show us how they live. We were also given a tour of the school and medical dispensary. The village consists of homes called Manyattas - which are dung and twig walled windowless huts with grass roofs. They are about 6 1/2, maybe 7 feet tall, have two rooms and the bedrooms are divided into a child section and a parent section by twigs. The mattresses are cowhides on top of more twigs. There is no electricity, but most of them have a cooking fire inside which provides a little light, as well as a small window near the fire for ventilation and seeing. There are a few decorations - a Calendar with the picture of a politician, some had a couple prized snapshots of them in their warrior days or as babies, but that's it. It's basically pitch dark inside and you can tell that life is lived outside, not in the huts. We did visit one our spotter, Matasha's home, and he had a separate "cooking" building that also had some beds for sleeping during cold times, but in his other building he had a small living room in addition to the beds.

The village consists of about 10 Manyattas in a circle around a larger dirt area. When we came, they set out some beaded items for us to buy - brightly colored bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and blood-milk gourds (more on that later). The women and babies were so friendly and greeted us with a local welcome song - I loved watching them move rhythmically to the beat and bounce their earrings and necklaces.

When we first arrived at our camp, I thought perhaps the staff were dressed in "traditional clothing " for effect, but that is far from accurate. Everyone we saw, Whether in the camps or out herding sheep/goats/cattle (the Maasai are Herders, NOT farmers), was totally decked out in beautiful bright red robes and soo much beaded jewelry.The huge holes in their ears, their wrists, ankles and necks were covered with baubles, both men and women. The only ones who aren't, are the children. They wear secondhand clothes - shirts, dresses, Oshkosh sweatshirts, etc.

We had a blast playing with the little kids in the village, but it was hard to see how dirty and sick they all were. There is such limited water in the villages that they don't dare waste it on washing themselves or their clothes. Their priority is first the animals, and then drinking water and then washing. There were so many eye infections and missing teeth on everyone, not just the kids.

The school is very large - tons of kids in bright blue and yellow uniforms who were thrilled to see us and ask lots of questions about how well we knew Mr. Obama and how many kilometers America was from Kenya. Sadly I didn't have good answers to either one, seeing how I have never met the President and have no clue how far away we are from home! It was a little overwhelming being swarmed by the kids, I literally had kids 6 deep surrounding me when I started showing them the little flashlight and clock on my backpack. We met the headmistress and some teachers and were given a tour of the classrooms and library. It all seems so basic and limited, especially when you compare it to Rising Star in India (not a totally fair comparison, but as close as I can get to an apples to apples) but it is Light-years away from where they were 5 years ago. The trust that the Campi ya Kanzi lodge has set up to help the tribe in the Chyulu Hills has done some truly amazing things for the community and it's clear that there is lots of good being accomplished here.

We also visited the medical dispensary and met the tribe doctor. It's not quite a hospital, but it's a close as they will get for a long time. He does basic preventative, curative and educational work with the people in the area, but there is a major laundry list of setbacks and issues for him. Like not having a car to drive to visits (and he is the only doctor for the entire 400 mile reserve) and the solar powered fridges breaking down and invalidating vaccines. he told us that 77 out of 1000 children will die before the age of 10.

Anyways, it was quite a day and pretty overwhelming to see the state of life for the Maasai people. It also made it a little hard to come back to the camp and be waited on so luxuriously, but It is clear that they are doing so much for the people and the ones who are able to work at the camp are even more lucky to have another step up.

That evening, rather than doing another game drive, we went for another "cultural" experience. The Maasai's diet consists of only three things - milk, blood and meat. That means they either drink milk and blood and that's it for the day, or on rare occasions, eat meat from one of their cattle/sheep/goats. The main subsistence is milk, but to get blood to drink, they do blood letting on the cows. They take a rope, tie it around a Cow's neck until their main artery pops out, send an arrow through it and collect the blood that squirts out in a blood-catching gourd. When they are finished collecting the blood - which can be as much as 4 liters from one cow - they release the rope and smear some cow dung on the hole to let it heal back up.

Our guide took us to his Father-in-law's home to demonstrate. He also brought milk with him because they will either drink the blood straight, or mix the blood and milk together and drink that. It was really hard for me to watch, but was not as bad as if they had slaughtered the cow instead. You can tell that they truly prize their animals over anything else and this is a way to preserve the animal while also being able to eat themselves.

Somehow my Dad and lex got the great idea to taste the blood/milk concoction. The rest of us were not so "brave". Lex didn't have much milk in his glass so he had a harder time drinking it than Daddy, who had his cup topped off with a bit more milk before trying it. Lex described it as the same sensation as when you get a bloody nose - which I guess makes sense seeing how both times you have blood running down the back of your throat. Blech. For all of you who think i am a brave eater, obviously I'm not THAT brave!

Even Pashut, our Guide, didn't like it very much!

That evening, our last night, we had a traditional Kenyan meal with stewed meat, arrowroot, kale, chickpea soup and Indian bread. Pretty tasty!

Well, that concludes my ultra long description of our time at Campi ya Kanzi - I doubt the rest of my camp logs will be so detailed - but learning so much about the culture was just so fascinating I had to write it all down!

 We loved our guide, Pashut and spotter, Matasha as well as our amazing host, Steffano. I couldn't have imagined our trip getting any better than that - until we arrived at the next place, of course!

Location:Chyulu Hills

Um, hello giraffes!

So we touch down in Nairobi, pass through customs, drive across town and show up to Giraffe Manor with average expectations.
I mean, sure, the website photos were great - but how realistic can it really be?

Um. Yeah. This realistic.
Oh, not enough for you? Ok, how about this one.

Or this.

eeeek! I have lost my mind and kissed a Giraffe!

There were warthogs all over the property. Literally the funniest animal I have ever seen.
I can't get "Hakuna Matata" out of my head.

Oh, and the accomodations? Not bad, I guess. They'll do.

So, once we settled in and ate breakfast with the Giraffes (yes, you read that correctly)

We headed out the Giraffe wildlife conservatory for a little more one-on-one with the Giraffes. If it makes it any better, apparently their saliva has antiseptic properties from their diet of Acacia leaves...

After some shopping that afternoon (I may or may not have spontaneously purchased a Kiapu bag big enough to fit a child) , we headed out to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts' Orphan Project.

You ready for some Cuteness OVERLOAD? Pictures don't even do this justice.
They come in to bed in groups of ten

 the littlest one leads the way - with a blanket to keep him warm.

They have a special blended milk that they suck down in seconds.

Oh, you want more pics? Okay fine...twist my arm.

How about some cute baby Rhinos while I'm at it.

In all seriousness, the work they do at this facility is truly incredible. They rescue baby elephants and rhinos who have been orphaned due to poachers, trappers, etc. Rescuing the babies is essential for their survival, because baby elephants are nursed for their first two years of life and literally cannot survive if their mothers are killed. The Wildlife Trust does its best to teach the babies to survive in the wild and acclimates the elephants to real bush conditions so that they can be released back to the wild around age 3.

We adopted two elephants -

Balguda, who is 7 months old and just the friendliest little guy. Here he is with his keeper - they sleep with the babies every night to help replicate the family environment the animals are used to, and wake every 3 hours to feed. Apparently, if the keeper doesn't wake up when the milk is delivered, the babies will come over and nudge them awake. I'll take that alarm clock!

And the other, Kainuk.

Oh, and i made friends with Edwin, the facility director, who i recognized from the "Born to be Wild" documentary (run to the imax to see it; it's the cutest movie EVER).
Obv, We exchanged email addresses (are you surprised?) Once again, my biggest strength is making friends with older gentlemen. Poor Patrick.

That night, we had a candlelit dinner in the manor's dining room and Amanda and I were in bed by 9pm. Exhausted.

The next morning wasn't soo bad - we woke up to hot chocolate and then fed the giraffes from our bedroom window

 Had another breakfast with our favorite hosts

And headed off for our charter flight to Campi ya Kanzi in the Chyulu Hills.