In the middle of telling you about our trip to East Africa https://suddenly70.ca/2019/02/09/wonderful-trip-to-east-africa-pt-1/, I celebrated a big birthday on February 20. My 75th!! Now my philosophy about birthdays is to own them, to rejoice, rather than moan about the passage of another year. I had lots of help with this one as many friends travelled to Florida, where we spend our winters, and they helped me party and enjoy this passage. We have had guests for over three weeks, and it has been a pleasure, although I must admit it is now just fine to be alone in our condo and get back to normal life. My dear sister, Carol, threw me a grand luncheon party, and my loving husband, a wonderful barbecue for our out of town guests and some old friends.
the birthday girl with David Bowie; party at Modernism Museum , Mount Dora
friends listen to curator, johny plays jazz, and gorgeous displays
sisters enjoying themselves and 75 pink roses from my honey
It was a happy time and I feel blessed by the outpouring of love. I also am thankful for good health, despite lots of replacement parts, and the usual aches and pains, but I try to swim often, play golf, run my opera club and sing a little, and take pleasure in simple things like the gorgeous orange hibiscus outside my den window, and my dear cardinals that visit me every day. Actually having a milestone birthday makes you reflect on life. It is kind of like a New Year with resolutions; to exercise, not drink so very much, be a good friend, a good stepmother and grandmother, and a good wife. Perhaps I am seeing things more clearly or just am happy to be alive when so many of our friends are sick and dying.
lunch at 1921 a sample offering of tuna poke yum!
barbecue at home, baked beans, onion strings and tomahawk steak
and the cake
Okay, back to Africa. I left off in Nairobi where we stayed at the charmingly beautiful Hemingways Hotel. We had previously met our guide, Nzioti, and driver, George, and they planned to pick us up at 2:30 in the afternoon, which gave us time for a leisurely breakfast and walk around the flower filled property. The first visit was to the Karen Blixen home/museum, not too far from the hotel, which is in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi and named after Karen Blixen.
front entrance of hotel
gardens and bedroom at Hemingways
This remarkable Danish woman, whose life was the subject of her book, Out of Africa, is memorialized in her home. We saw the movie with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford just before we left for Africa. We needed a refresh since we had last seen it in 1985. Of course it is romantic and charming and focused on her all absorbing affair with Denys Fynch Hatton, portrayed by Redford. It also highlighted the fact that her husband Bror Blixen infected her with syphilis. She suffered through her lifetime from the mercury poisoning that she needed for the treatment, used in those days at the turn of the century, to cure the disease. Karen Blixen lived in Kenya for 17 years. She was not only an author, she wrote Babette’s Feast a wonderful movie, and she was an artist. Beautiful paintings are on the walls of her home that she did of her servants on the coffee plantation. I could go on about her extraordinary achievements, but you can read about them if you follow the link above. She entertained royalty; she lived and loved with passion, eventually returning to Denmark to die. Our tour guide was a delightful young woman who was well informed, and we enjoyed the visit immensely, of course afterward googling all we could in our hotel room.
painting of Karen Blixen
in her home, and the famous typewriter
Finch Hatton and scenes in her dining room
some of her paintings
There was a light rain at the time of our visit, but our large hotel umbrellas and our expert guide, Nzioti, kept us from getting soaked. We then headed to the Giraffe Breeding Centre, and found ourselves among the gorgeous endangered Rothschild Giraffes. We were given some pellets to feed them and had to stand on a platform to get a real kiss from the young ones. If we stood on the ground they would bend over to eat their treats. We learned that a mother, Betty, protected her young female, Selma, against a lion attack by kicking at the lion, great powerful kicks, and sent him injured on his way. The pregnant giraffes go off to the forest, that is part of this sanctuary, to have their offspring that are born standing up at about 6 feet. We spent a long time listening to the local guide, and needed to be urged away from these incredible creatures. When this Centre was founded there were only 120 of this species. Now there are 300, all safe and breeding well.
and the kisses
Our next stop was a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. We were already familiar with the work the Trust does, as we were encouraged by Roar Africa, our travel agent, to foster an elephant before our trip. We fostered a young elephant Maramoja, and an orphaned giraffe called Kiko, and received detailed monthly updates on these young orphans, complete with beautiful watercolour drawings of the elephants. Because we were already fostering we got to visit at a specific hour, I think it was 5:00pm, with other foster parents, avoiding the larger groups of people.
We arrived in time for feeding. Now these are all 3 years old and under, although they are still quite large, probably about 10,000 pounds, although they are shorter and smaller than adult elephants. They certainly knew it was feeding time as they came running into the yard and were taken to their sheds to be fed with large bottles shaped just like human baby bottles, and it turns out they used human baby formula for them. Each shed also had a bed in it for the keeper who was the ‘nanny’ for the elephant. The babies would wake the keeper during the night to get fed. Now remember these are all orphans, many of whom were the children of elephants who had been killed, poached for tusks etc. The Sheldrick organization gives details about finding the orphaned elephants and air lifting them to this sanctuary. The plan of course is to eventually release them into the wild. One young one we saw was injured and he kept pulling at his stitches. The hair is very bristly and coarse when you touch their bodies. They are quite endearing.
on the way to be fed
Kiko, our foster giraffe, was certainly growing out of his very tall stable and we just recently received an account about his experience with a lion. ‘three lions circled his stockade and incredibly one managed to jump into the enclosure. How she scaled that height remained a mystery but the morning revealed that she had quite literally clawed her way up the wooden posts into the boma (livestock enclosure). Thankfully Keeper Ciprian, sleeping next door in one of the elephant stockades, heard Kiko’s kicking, and immediately roused to investigate – giraffes don’t make any audible sound, so other than the thuds of his hooves there was no other noise. On closer investigation Ciprian saw two lions outside the stockade, their eyes glowing red in the torch light, and immediately summoned reinforcements. In no time the night guards and the keepers on night duty rallied and the lioness inside the enclosure leaped from the confines and disappeared. She must have been worse for wear with the amount of violent kicking Kiko was doing. The whole rescue party remained on site until day break to ensure no further drama unfolded, and that the lions did not return, and most of all that Kiko had the comfort and security he needed at this most vulnerable time. Day break revealed some nasty injuries; Angela immediately coordinated efforts with the Sheldrick Trust funded Mount Kenya Mobile Veterinary Unit.
Kiko and playmate
keeper’s bed in the shed and newborn white rhino
Kiko is now recuperating well and has a new home lined up for his future. He grew up with the elephants and has a very strong personality. Again if you go to the link you can read all the fascinating details about him. It is worth it, and who knows you might decide to foster an elephant. We even saw a newborn white rhino on this visit. A white rhino is not white, but has a different mouth/snout from the black ones. The white snouts are wide and flat, the blacks, sharp. They eat different food. There was also a large rhino there that was blind and he was looked after in this safe environment.
We were dragged away and headed back to the hotel amongst it seemed all the cars in Nairobi heading home from work. Cars, a scooter with eggs sitting precariously on the back fender, on another, a sofa, cars totally ignoring the one lane of traffic, and police totally ignoring the cars driving every which way on this narrow road. It was quite hilarious, but it was also very slow. At the hotel our assigned butler took our shoes and cleaned off any leftover elephant dung.
cars lined up forever and being serenaded at dinner, well sort of
Our dinner destination was a restaurant called Talisman. We ate outdoors in a charming corner of a garden packed with other diners. The food was international, everything from sushi, to Indian. I had stir-fried duck in ginger and a spicy sauce. It was tasty. Charles had a fish curry. We drank South African wine, which was delicious, and then we were picked up by our driver and Nzioti, who actually just sat outside and waited for us while we ate. Nice to be accompanied and I am sure important to be accompanied. Back at the hotel we had cognac in the grand bar upstairs and then went to bed, but just before we did, we noticed that birthday cake that was in our room on arrival and kept fresh under a silver salver. We sat down and like two children, grabbed chunks of cake and made a real mess of things. The icing was superb and we really enjoyed this treat.
waiting in immigration, the airport runway and in the cockpit
In the morning after an early breakfast and check out, we were driven to Wilson Airport (actually Finch Haddon flew his Tiger Moth there) and experienced the bureaucracy of the airport Immigration. Actually the woman was charming and singing along to a rock video that was played on a TV screen in the Immigration office. Then she escorted us across the field to our small plane, I think Charles said it was a Cessna Caravan that could hold up to 14 passengers, but we were the only ones, and Charles got to sit beside the pilot.
sighting of the famous mountain from the plane’s window
The flight was about an hour and we landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. It was very exciting flying by Mount Kilimanjaro and seeing it in the parted clouds. Now this airport took its security seriously. We went through scanners when we got off the plane, and two more times before we took our next flight. We needed an Entry Visa, which I thought I had prepared, but someone connected to Roar Africa met us, and they handled everything. Because of our age we didn’t have to give our fingerprints, just have our pictures taken. I guess older people are less threatening. Go figure.
Then we took a flight with a diversion to a place called Arusha to pick up some tourists from Korea, and then on to Manyara, our destination. Rarely does a plane go from A to B, but often stops en route to pick up passengers. This time we had a super female pilot with a beginner first officer who landed the plane not too well. The runways are mostly sand or gravel and very short. The other passengers did not speak English at all. One wonders how they fared without a guide.
We were met and driven to Ngorongoro Crater, a two hour journey but the country was beautiful and mostly bumpy roads with switchbacks up to the top of the volcano made our trip lengthy to our lodge. &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge proved to be quite fantastic. Rooms that resemble Maasai huts with grand chandeliers hung above gorgeous beds. We dressed and walked up to the lodge before dark for dinner. After dark you must be escorted. We had drinks in a large living room that resembled a turn of the century elegant English drawing room. There were a few other couples there and it was delightful relaxing in this glorious space before dinner. The food was very good if too copious, and we had been assigned a butler/ wine steward called McCoy who would know what we liked and look after us during our stay. The dining room was furnished with beautiful tables, laden with crystal and fine china and we were at the top of a crater that existed 2 million years ago. Amazing!
on the way to dinner, and drinks in the drawing room
the awaiting bath and then…
more views of interior of the lodge and a buffalo hanging out there
The caldera or crater measures between 10 and 12 miles (16 and 19 km) across and has an area of 102 square miles (264 square km). Its heavily forested rim rises 2,000 feet (610 metres) above the caldera’s floor to an elevation of 7,500 feet (2,286 metres). Ngorongoro is thought to have formed about 2.5 million years ago from a large active volcano whose cone collapsed inward after a major eruption, leaving the present vast, unbroken caldera as its chief remnant. The caldera’s floor is predominantly open grassland. It is home to a diverse array of animals including elephants, black rhinoceroses, leopards, buffalo, zebras, warthogs, gnu (wildebeests), Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, and the densest population of lions in the world. The local Maasai people also graze their livestock in the crater.
Riki with Mudy. Charles outside luxurious hut
We were excited to visit the crater the next day. Our guide, Mudy, met us after dinner and informed us that we would leave at 5:50am, always good for seeing wildlife if you start early. We would be awakened with juice and cappuccino, and meet the other couple who would be sharing our vehicle. Then it all began. The time was changed to 6:45 so that this couple could watch the sunrise. Okay, who cares about seeing the animals? When we picked them up at their hut, they were not ready, but wandering around. Hmm. I thought.
Then we met them, the spoiled twenty somethings from Mumbai. She played with her smart phone and dropped it numerous times as our jeep trekked over the rough roads. She was dripping with jewellery and he was a chubby little fellow who kept saying, ‘Mudy, I want to see rhino. When can we see rhino?’ Then she started with her wanting to see a lion kill. We stopped for a light breakfast en route to the crater floor. The food is carried in the truck and is limited naturally. She opined,’Mudy I am a vegetarian, what do you have for me? And don’t you have skim milk? I need skim milk.’ Well I thought let’s stop at a 7/11 right here in Africa in the middle of the volcano and see what we can get, or call Uber Eats.
Okay, then we spotted a lion watching all the gazelles, wildebeest and waiting to pounce, but the moment had passed and the lion just hung out in the tall grasses, knowing its short range of attack. It was a standoff as Mudy very carefully explained. Then our ‘Rich Crazy’ Indian young woman whose name I have deliberately forgotten, said, ‘Mudy make the lion attack. Let’s go closer. Mudy, I want a kill, and blood,’ said this vegetarian. Mudy stood firm and then she said two very thoughtful things. ‘Mudy, Call the lodge and have them send us another vehicle’. Sure, it was only an hour and a half away, and then she said ‘Mudy, call the forest ranger and get him to make the lion kill’.
sunrise on our hut, wildebeest and giraffe on the caldera floor
There I was muttering all kinds of things under my breath, holding my tongue, which was trying so hard to tell the little bitch what I thought of her when another jeep passed close by and stopped. I assumed Mudy had contacted another driver. At which point we said we would gladly leave, jumped out of the vehicle and joined a bunch of noisy, fun loving Aussies and headed home to the lodge for lunch. I should mention that we did see multitudes of zebra, wildebeest, gazelles, jackals, and buffalo all hanging out together. That was glorious. The good news is that the lodge is divided into three camps, all identical, and we were in a different one from the brats.
Mudy by the jeep and some striped guys
weaver, a pretty bird by the lake in the caldera
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of salads, cheese, and cold cuts and gazed out the windows of the dining room at the spectacular view. The plan was to visit a Maasai village in the afternoon with Mudy when he returned. When he did he was very apologetic as was the manager. Of course we told him that we certainly did not blame him. In fact Mudy was a superb guide. Both Charles and I were both very embarrassed by the actions and disrespect of the young couple.We had said nothing when we got back, but word travels in the bush I guess. These two had already insulted many of the staff, and it was just unfortunate that we were paired with them in the morning, but actually it certainly made for a good story, and I do a pretty good imitation of the girl’s squeaky sugary voice which amuses Charles.
all that exercise pays off for Charles
We then went to the village that was not too far away, and were the first group there. As you will see in the pictures white men can jump. Charles started dancing with the tribesmen, as did I eventually. We learned that the warriors live on a diet of raw cow meat, milk and blood, and sometimes soups made from vegetables. The young boys are circumcised when they reach puberty, and they have no anaesthetic, they must not scream or utter a sound and they live separately and wear black for a few months until they are recovered. It is painful, but they become initiated as warriors. The girls too are circumcised. No comment here. I have provided a link that you can read in much more detail regarding their way of life, but it was fun and fascinating to meet them and hold their hands, except for the cold that Charles and I both got a few days later. We kept noticing the chief coughing into his shuka, or sheet wrapped around his body. The men have long hair, the women have shaved heads, and they are a beautiful people who apparently never have tooth decay nor high cholesterol.
We enjoyed our visit, and it didn’t feel commercial, although we did buy a few trinkets, and I am sure that our outing was paid for as part of our tour. We returned to our magnificent hut to find a bath had been set for us with rose petals adorning our slippers. Then we headed up to dinner only to find that my birthday was being celebrated with a meringue cake and all the kitchen staff singing and dancing ‘Hakuna Matata’ or ‘no worries’. I got up and joined in the dancing as did Charles, and there was great joy in the room, another nice way to continue experiencing my birthday. The cake wasn’t bad either. We were escorted back to our hut and the guide shone his flashlight on a large group of Cape Buffalo watching us closely. I am sure one of them winked at me.
birthday dinner table with rose petals
In the next part I will tell you about our time in a tented camp at Singhita Sabora.