2009 Safari

On 9/9/09, less than 14 days after my appendectomy, I climb aboard an NWA/KLM/Delta flight to Amsterdam = 8 hours.  Thank goodness for a 3-hour layover in Amsterdam.  Next I make a grueling 8-hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya.  I arrive the evening of 9/10/09.

After passing through customs, I am immediately assisted with my hand luggage by a nice young Kenyan boy.  He says, “I will stay with you for checked bag.  Don’t worry.” Later a Security Officer strips him of his badge, security vest, and walkie-talkie.  He is an imposter!  I laugh – TIA = this is Africa.  When I get outside the airport, he resurfaces.  I say, “Hello, imposter.”  He laughs and says, “I need more money, so I come to the airport.”  I tip the young man because he has helped me greatly and done me no harm.

I treat myself to a night’s lodging at the Fairview Hotel – a hot water shower, coffee and tea in the room, a beautiful country setting in the city, and wireless internet.  I move to the Silver Springs Hotel for the next two nights since it is cheaper.

On 9/13/09, I take a small plane north to Nanyuki with a stop at Lewa Downs, the White Rhino Sanctuary.  We view warthogs, ostriches, impalas, and elephants along the dirt landing strip.  My stay in Nanyuki is spent shopping for presents to take to little Diana and her family.  I adopted Diana in 2005 while on an Omo River trip in Ethiopia and northern Kenya.  She was two years old at the time.  Her Samburu/Rendille family’s home is in Loyangalana on the shores of Lake Turkana.

On 9/14/09, I arrive in Loyangalana via the Desert Rose, my accommodation in 2005 for the Samburu Circumcision Ceremony.  This northern Kenya area is extremely harsh.
As I deplane, I feel like I have entered an extremely hot sauna, gusting wind throws me off balance; dust is blowing into all my exposed body crevices.  A large group of Turkana children surround me.  They all want to touch me – many with runny noses.  The flies excitedly buzz around their faces.  In the past, I was not appalled by this scene but since I am not well, I am overwhelmed and feel like I am about to faint.  Steve Turner of Originsafaris sees my dilemma and wisps me off to his Land Rover where I sit and sip on a Coke for the next hour.  I remain surrounded by the children as they climb all over the vehicle.  I keep the windows closed to secure my space.  Two professional photographers and a travel writer plus guides, Peter and Deepa, interact with the tribe.  I enjoy observing from my sanctuary.

I spend the next two days with Steve Turner and his clients at the Oasis Lodge.  Sadly, I am left on my own for the next week.  The lodge provides a local interpreter, Phillip.

I feel like I could go “mad” living here with this incessant dry gusting wind.  My first mission is to devise a humidifier for my room. There is no electricity.  I hang wet towels over the open windows at night to give moisture to the gale force winds coming off the lake.  The towels also help trap the dust particles that are suspended in the air.  In addition, I sleep in a wet T-shirt.  It works and I regain my “sanity.”
Now I am ready for my reunion with Diana.  Her Mama, Rebmes, gets wind (excuse the pun) of my arrival and comes to the Lodge.  I am summoned by the askaris (security).

I see Rebmes and wave.  Then I see Diana.  She is still so small but there is no doubt that it is she.   We hug for a long time.  We both remember.  She is six years old now.  She says,  “I want to go to America on the ndege – bird (plane) with Flower.  My skin will turn “white” like mzungu (a white person).”  We all laugh but she is serious.  Diana and I walk hand-in-hand through the village to her Nursery School at the Catholic Mission. Her teacher shows me her scores.  She is very bright; she is very proud.

The next day Diana comes down with the Chicken Pox.  There is an outbreak in the community – the first in five years.  This dampens our reunion.  She feels better after the traditional healing – the body is smeared with fat from a lamb and then washed off in Lake Turkana.   Since I am still recuperating from my surgery, I soak in the mineral springs pool at the Lodge and nap every afternoon.  The meals are nutritious – some of it flown in from Nairobi but the fresh fish from the lake is the best.

Members of the four tribes in the area – Samburu, Rendille, Turkana, and El Molo are all   friendly and know me as “Diana’s Flower.”  I attend Mass at the Mission on Sunday – lots of drums, tambourines, singing, dancing, and incense.  I have reached a “comfort level” here – My basic needs are being met and life is predictable.  It is interesting to me how adaptable we humans are and how easily we find our “comfort zone.”  Then we must adapt again because everything continues to change.  I will be heading to Nairobi soon to stay with my friend, Weldon, from the East African Wildlife Society.  I do not know what area of Nairobi or what type of accommodations.  Into the unknown…

I arrive on 9/22/09.  Weldon’s place is located on the Langata Road that leads to the suburb of Karen.  It is named after Karen von Blitzen of “Out of Africa” fame.  It is the best area in Nairobi.  The house has running water (cold), electricity, a television, and a propane tank for cooking and sits on a 35-acre plot with other houses plus the NGO, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Peter Greensmith Nurseries.

Weldon and Saituni make sure that I have bottled water and fresh food.  Saituni cooks, cleans, and washes my clothes while I read, write, and rest.  Water is heated for sponge baths.  We take long walks every evening.  While on a trip to Karen for shopping over the weekend, I purchase a small refrigerator.  Now we can store food properly.

This place is also home to monkeys, baboons, rock hyraxes, and warthogs.  They freely enter the boma (fence) around the house.  They are like new friends. My favorite monkey loves sweet potatoes; hence, her name, Sweet Potato. The warthogs prefer carrots.

My web page is nearing completion so I am planning to do an update monthly.  Of course, this is dependent upon finding reliable Internet connections – a challenge!

Wishing all is well at home.  Thanks for all your prayers for my health & safety.  Dee


“The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles; only a spiritual journey by which we arrive at the ground of our feet and learn to be at home.”  Wendell Berry

My latest journey is coming to a close and I will be returning home soon.  It has been awesome in many ways, disappointing in others, but always fulfilling my basic need for adventure and exploration.  Once again, I have enjoyed the cultural and heritage sites, the natural resources of each country but, in the end, it is the people with whom I encounter that makes it all worthwhile.  A simple smile can say, “I acknowledge that we are connected at a deeper level – we are all the same.”

Riding High

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”  George Eliot

It is early on the morning of February 11, 2010.  I am in Tsethang, Tibet – elevation is
11,644 feet.  My guide, Dorji, and my driver, Tasi, meet me for breakfast.  Then we set off for the countryside.  Eventually we stop and they point upwards.  I look up – it is the oldest building in Tibet perched on top of a hill.  I can see smoke coming from the incense burners at the front doors of the temple and palace of Tibet’s first king, Yambulakhan.  I hesitate as I slide out of our white Land Cruiser.  I feel the frosty morning air and I don’t like what I see in front of me – a steep, winding path up, up, and up!  I know that climbing will be difficult but breathing in the cold thin air will make it double jeopardy. I reluctantly reach back into the car and retrieve an additional layer of clothing.

Can I do this?  I am not so sure!  Then an angel, a teenage Tibetan boy pulling a dark brown furry pony, approaches.  He offers me a ride to the top.  What a blessing…

I imagine I am in the last scene from the movie “Mama Mia.”  Everyone is walking up the steep path to the chapel for a wedding.  The bride is being carried up on the back of a donkey.  I decide to enjoy my ride and the wonderful views.  I let go of my old way of thinking, just for the moment, and forgive myself for being a wimp!

The trail is on the shaded side of the hill and I am thankful for the extra layer of clothing.

Once on top, Dorji and I hang “Prayer Flags”.  All the flags from last year need to be replaced with new ones and we are happy to help out.  I opt to walk down.

Saving the Best for Last

“There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m not so sure I agree with Edna but I am happy that I took the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.  It is famous for being the world’s highest rail track traversing over Tanggula Pass at 16,700 feet on the way from Chengdu to Tibet – the “top of the world.”

When I mention to my new friends in China that I will be taking the train to Lhasa, they give a variety of comments such as: “Why do you want to do this?” “I don’t think it is a good idea.” “Are you sure you are healthy enough?”  “Do you have high altitude medication?”  “I’m worried about you.” Even when I purchase the ticket, I have to sign a government form claiming that I am healthy enough to go to high elevations.  So I begin to ask myself, Am I healthy enough to do this?  The answer comes from within – yes.  When I get on the train, my coach mates from Holland exclaim, “Are you sure you should be doing this?”  My irritated rebuttal is:  “Do you think you should be doing this?”  Now I am questioning myself again and this time I am worried.  It is amazing how the comments of others can begin to undermine my confidence to live out my dreams.

Oxygen is available on the train in our compartment but none of us need it.  We are in a confined space with very little physical activity possible.  I spend most of my time photographing out the window.  The ride lasts for 44 hours.  Then I am in Lhasa and can see the Potala Palace from the train window.  Unbelievable!