East Africa, Part 7: Final bit of Masai Mara.

October 8th, 2021

You’ll notice I alternate between spelling Masai with one “a” and Maasai with two “a”s. It’s because it’s supposed to be Maasai but sometimes signs and documents say one or the other so I go with my mood at that moment of typing and completely disregard having some kind of system. You’ll see the same thing happen when I get to Olduvai / Oldupai Gorge.

Wrapping up the Masai Mara. Let’s start off nice and easy with some giraffes.

Always a plus to see their long prehensile tongues in action.

A vulture in a lone tree doing vulture things.

The gnu were crossing! Being that gnu are the dumbest animal in all of God’s great and glorious creations, why were they crossing? No one knows (including the gnu). Where are they going? Again, no clue all around. But there they went, going from a place to another place like they do.

A group of eland on the hill watching this cavalcade of pointlessness.

A splodge of hippos. The scientific name for a group of hippos is a pod but a splodge feels more accurate. They’re a very splodgy creature.

The importance of this splodge is actually the path to the side. It’s a path this group has carved over time to get down to the water and back and it is the path the gnu will follow when they cross the river.

Crocodiles. They’re basking in the sun and waiting for snakkies to come their way.

A herd of buffalo with killer-looking clouds in the background.

This. This is what we came to see. Thousands and thousands of gnu dotting the landscape. Tens of thousands. It’s impossible to capture it in photographs.

Storks! Not marabou storks, but still janky-looking birds so I was happy.

A mother elephant and her baby. It’s a male baby because he was flinging his trunk around and flapping his little ears. You couls hear his weary mother be like “Yes, yes, very intimidating.”

And then they joined their herd.

Then there was a group of giraffes that showed up.

And some eland. It was like someone called a meeting of the herbivores and all of them showed up.

A bird! In a tree! I honestly cannot remember what bird this was but I took some pictures of it so it had to had some significance. Please enjoy the pictures of this bird.

We drove back through the gates with the mongeese and the baboon and I didn’t see them but I did see a semi-tame eland chilling across the street. The guy brought it kitchen clippings and the eland was quite pleased. I didn’t pet it. I wanted to pet it but I didn’t want to become a cautionary tale. When you pet large animals, no matter how tame they appear, it can end real badly and all of a sudden you need a prosthetic something-or-other.

Now this bird coming up was way far away and these pictures are unfortunate but he caught something, a mouse perhaps, and he ate it in front of us so I’m putting it in even though it looks like it was taken by satellite. You can totally see him toss that rodent back.

Then we came back and I said good night for the last time to my gecko, wiped away a tear, and packed to go to the Serengeti.

East Africa, Part 6: Masai Mara.

September 26th, 2021

Day 3! We were heading off in a different direction so we had no idea what we would come across. We’d gone to the left for a while, now we were going right. It was our last day in the Maasai Mara.

Woke up, the hippo group from our first day was hanging out at the watering hole and there were baby hippos! To be fair that’s not really true, we didn’t really see any babies on this trip. Baby season was earlier. This was toddler season and that was awesome in itself. So toddler hippos!

A family unit of giraffes. They were fairly close. They’re giant and they don’t make any noises. I was psyched.

Something to note is how much more awesome the pattern on the Masai giraffe is versus other giraffes. Other giraffes have basic polygons, but the Masai giraffe has that maple leaf pattern look on. Major step up.

I learned that as the male giraffes get older they get darker. I saw some older male giraffes that were not only enormous, from certain angles they looked black.

A Dik-Dik! I love them. They are the smallest African antelope. Their legs look like they’re going to splinter at any time.

Full-grown, they get to be about two feet tall and ~13 pounds.

More fun facts about Dik-Diks: Their name comes from a sound they make. They have a black spot near their eye that secretes scent that they rub on surfaces. And they have these weird kind of prehensile snoots that help them eat those acacia leaves between the thorns.

There was a group of hyenas resting.

And then they smelled Delicious Dead Thing.

Way off we saw them join a group already devouring some kind of antelope. Note the one on the left on lookout. Everyone else is roaming around, making sure they get the portions of meat they want. That lookout hyena doesn’t move.

Maasai sheep. Check out the jaunty two-toned baby goat making jumpy-jumpies in the center.

Something I had not anticipated was the effortless marriage of the life that the Maasai have followed for eons and modern technology. People living in mud-covered, one-room homes with a boma (lifestock enclosure) made of sticks, and a satellite dish on their roof.

And you would see this.

A group of Maasai women selling their wares. The Maasai are known for wearing those woven blankets, predominantly red in color. You can easily spot them.

Okay, the roads. The roads are HORRENDOUS. I would say it’s my only complaint about this trip. At one point we were driving, we went into a dip and I tipped out of my seat and onto the floor. It was bad, guys.

All the vehicles have two spare wheels, and some of them had eight wheels, two thin ones at each corner of the axle so if one blew the other one would keep going.

A bird! Really far away! I think it was a bee-eater. You can see it in the upper third. It’s green and yellow.

A pregnant zebra.

Most lodges had a collection of bones their employees had found on their drives around the area. I’m always amazed at how fragile bones are inside the skull.

Warthogs are much larger than you think they are. You think you know and then you get a rude awakening.

We stopped at a gate so our guide could, I don’t know, check in or check out, I wasn’t really sure. There were bird nests adhered to the ceiling.

I went to use the bathroom because whenever you’re presented with a bathroom you should use it. You’re driving around in the middle of nowhere, it’s dangerous to get out of the vehicle and tinkle on the side of the road. Plus, if you’re me a monkey will pop out of nowhere, scare you and you will end up peeing on the cuff of your pants which is not cute. Anyway, I came out of the bathroom and there was a banded mongoose in front of me.

A few more showed up. I resisted the urge to give them pets because while I don’t think I’m the most beautiful person in the word, I think I would look drastically worse with my face shredded.

Then a baboon emerged and my desire to pet dissipated immediately because baboons freak me out. Four hands, giant teeth, and the ability to dart up trees? No thank you and no thank you.

Coming up: The last bit of Maasai Mara.

East Africa, Part 5: Masai Mara.

September 16th, 2021

After my awesome morning drive I went back to the lodge, ate some lunch, took a nap and got ready for my second game drive of the day. I noticed on the path there was some interesting poop. You should always be paying attention to the poop, it can tell you who passed by and when. I saw giraffe (hoofprint included for scale):

And some teeny-tiny pooplets from the dik-dik, the smallest of the African antelopes. We’ll see some later so prepare yourself for the smallness.

As The Moomins and I were walking to the vehicle we walked past reception and I saw something dart out of the corner of my eye. Turns out banded mongoose live under the floorboards and they come out and forage.

I noticed that the doors on our vehicle, you could open them from the inside but not from the outside. That’s the exact opposite of child locks. I couldn’t decide if that was prevent robberies or to keep baboons from getting in. Honestly I would be more afraid of the baboons.

As we were driving out we saw the local eland and her baby. She tends to hang out near the front of the lodge so she’s kind of their resident eland. It’s easy to know it’s her because her horns are misaligned.

We passed some Maasai with their herd of sheep and goats. It still astounds me that these people share the space with wild animals, and not regular wild animals. Advanced-level wild animals, if you will.

Saw some Thompson’s Gazelle and a Random Other Antelope, the one laying down. I’m going to guess it’s an impala.

Ever-present Topi.

Okay, grab a drink and get comfy ‘cuz here we go.

We saw two lionesses sleeping. They were so close to the vehicle, it was a great sighting.

Now remember, this is a conservancy which means the guide can drive anywhere they want. We didn’t have to remain on the roads.

While we were watching the lions take a snooze there was an ostrich who turned to look at me, was like “whatevs” and continued on his way.

There was a warthog. You don’t realize how oddly put-together they look until they turn sideways. Their proportions are all off.

Baboon.

The ever-present cast of characters.

The lionesses rolled over so our attention went back to them.

We were now able to see those pronounced nip-nops on that one lioness. *foreshadowing*

Jacob told us that females tend to stay together for their entire life, so chances are the big one with the teats is the mother and the other one is either her sister or her eldest daughter.

Look. Look at the proximity. Acknowledge it.

This shot is bangin’. The iPhone 12 Plus Max Pro Ultra was doing a damn fine job.

Sister woke up, took a couple big sniffs:

And then had a big yawn.

Which apparently was inadequate because it was followed by another equally big yawn.

Now it was time for drinkies so the two ladies headed off to the watering hole and we booked it in the car to get there before them and get a good viewing spot.

The two ladies sauntered up to a pre-existing lioness to say hello.

The pre-existing lioness said “No thank you.”

Then there was drinking.

Followed by some rolling.

The two original lionesses crossed in front of us making a “hrrhhgg” noise like they were calling for someone. *foreshadowing intensifies*

And out of the shrubbery tumbled a pile of lion cubs, squeaking and being absurdly cute. The cubs went over to the mother lioness, she resignedly laid down and the babies started nursing from her and/or walking all over her face with complete and total disregard for her comfort or personal space.

Are you seeing this???

Are

You

Seeing

This???

This is unheard of. I am surprised I didn’t bust a blood vessel in my eye, I did so much very quiet screaming.

My two favorite shots. I call them “Parenthood.”

Eventually the lion family until wandered off in search of food and I got one last shot as the sun was setting.

So good. Such a good day. I couldn’t wait to tell my new BFF, Gecko That Lives Behind The Mask.

 

East Africa, Part 4: Masai Mara.

September 8th, 2021

This was going to be Day 2 out of 3 in the Maasai Mara. I was blown away by the previous day, I didn’t feel like I needed to see anything spectacular so I went out there with no expectations which made what I saw even better.

I woke up at some unacceptable hour, like 4:30am, so I could go on a hot air balloon. I looooove hot air balloons. If you know me personally you might find that odd since I haaaaate flying. The major difference is there’s no vibration and no lurching in a balloon. You feel safe and secure. It’s peaceful from beginning to end. The only problem is if you want to watch the sunrise over that Masai Mara you gotta wake up before sunrise. That’s pretty much the only downside.

A van picked me up, swung by a few other lodges to collect other ballooners and I didn’t have to wait long to see a beastie friend. As we arrived at the gate there was a jackal resting.

One of the women in the car could not wrap her head around how small the full-grown jackal was. “It’s a baby, right?” she kept saying.

In the background was a hyena loping around doing its best impression of a cryptid. This is how local myths get started. I mean, look at that thing. It could be a chupacabra, it could be jackelope with Marfan syndrome, you don’t know.

When we got to the balloon site they were already blowing it up. According to the balloon pilot this is the biggest size balloon in the world.

I don’t think he was lying. The basket seats 16 – 20 people. In order to get in I had to climb into that top layer of the basket. This guy is demonstrating.

I lightened it so you can see what he’s doing.

We climbed in, lay on our backs and assumed the sitting position on a bench in there so when the balloon was full and they tipped up forward we were already seated. Clever.

Then there were hot flamey-flamies and we were off.

One of the things I love about ballooning is if you’re 20 feet in the air or 200 feet in the air, it feels the same to you. So sometimes we drifted over the ground and sometimes we went way up to see all the way to the horizon. And if you’re not paying attention you’re pleasantly surprised. “Oh, we’ve gone high now.” We started here (where I saw another secretary bird!):

Then we were here:

And then we were here:

It all felt the same (which is lovely and peaceful).

We didn’t see very many animals but I was really there to experience the balloon ride so I wasn’t bothered by that. There was the aforementioned secretary bird and decent-sized herd of gnu. One gnu was feeling the need to run around and kick his legs for reasons only known to him.

I learned a lot about gnu on this trip. Our guide Jacob had strong feelings about the gnu, specifically that they were the stupidest animals known to man. After this trip I am inclined to agree. They predominantly roam around, panic and then cause stampedes for no reason whatsoever. I have a story later in the trip that will solidify their stupidity for you, we’ll get there. In the meantime, take my word for it.

In addition to sharing one brain cell amongst 100,000 they also make a noise I can only describe as a sad, slightly out-of-tune cello. Thousands of wonky violas expressing their monotone emotions. I found a decent example on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nwBvgi3MA8

Jacob said you will almost never find elephants near gnu because elephants cannot stand listening to the moaning. It probably doesn’t help that elephants are so intelligent and gnu are very much not. I could see an elephant saying “I’m going to need these sentient corn cobs to shut all the way up” and walking off in frustration.

We came across two mating lions taking a breather! And the male lion was blonde! That was cool sighting. Lions mate nonstop for two days to make sure it sticks and they take breaks in between because of course they do.

The balloon ride only lasts about an hour at most (sadness). When we landed our van driver asked us if we wanted to see stuff or go straight back to our lodges. Luckily, everyone in the van wanted to see stuff so we went on an impromptu game drive. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of these strangers. Look, you like what you like and you can’t control what you like. And I like marabou storks, also known as undertaker birds. They are kinda gross-looking but for some reason I find them charming, with their naked heads and their pretty feathers and their feces-covered legs (they poop on their legs to keep themselves cool, don’t judge.) We saw some and I got excited and weirded out the others.

We found some zebra. I love how their tails look braided.

There were a mommy eland with her young calf. In South Africa I’ve seen elands and they are huge. They are the largest of the antelopes and the bulls can weigh 2,000 lb. These elands were prettier and smaller and a bit more orange.

“I’m going to spin my head all the way around like that chick in The Exorcist instead of turning around to face you.”

There was a topi. They are extremely common but I always liked seeing them.

Saw some rocks in a dry river bed. Thought they looked cool. Took pictures of them.

Green mamba! It’s a really scary snake because it moves so fast your eye can’t follow it and it makes you feel unsafe. These are the only pictures I could take of it before it disappeared into the grass.

The driver parked in front of a tree. I could not see anything special about this tree so I didn’t know why we had stopped. The driver told us to get out and look at the tree which is usually a big no-no but if a guide tells you it’s okay you can do it. But you should NEVER get out of the vehicle without their permission.

Once I got underneath I saw why we were there. A leopard had pulled an impala over one of the branches and it was still there, decomposing. Shocker: I was delighted.

Have you ever seen an ostrich chilling and doing nothing and then decide to freak out and flounce away? I caught a pic of the beginning of the hysterical flounce.

Another secretary bird! I saw them five separate times on this trip and I’m going to mention all five so get used to it. I think I’ve done three so far. Two more to go.

We saw some hartebeest. They’re very pretty, long-faced antelope with teeny horns perched on the top of their heads. Their proportions are weird but I love them anyway. Don’t listen to the haters, hartebeest.

A few hours after leaving (at 4:30am, I cannot emphasize that enough) I got dropped off back at my lodge and got to take a nap before lunch and an afternoon game drive. That’s coming up next.

East Africa, Part 3: Masai Mara.

September 2nd, 2021

I learned what “Mara” means. It means “spots,” referring the sporadic bushes that speckle the area. Other fun facts I acquired:

  • The animals migrate to Kenya in a specific order. The zebra come first because they eat the top of the grass. Next, the wildebeest who eat the main part, then the impalas because they eat the bottom part.
  • Crocodiles swallow stones to control their buoyancy, and
  • Giraffes have healing saliva because of all the wounds they get for nibbling the delicious leaves on the thorn acacia. I saw some different breeds of thorn acacia along the trip, it is not a tree to be messed with. I walked head-first into one and was immediately awash with regret. You really gotta like those leaves to wrestle with those thorns.

The guide Jacob asked us what we were hoping to see. I imagine most people say “Lions, elephants, etc.” I was like “You know what? I’d like to see a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung. I always enjoy that. Or a secretary bird, those are the most dinosaur-y of the birds.” Jacob was like “Alright, unusual, but we’ll see what happens.:

After we left the camp we headed off into the Mara. Normally you don’t see game for a while. Remember, we’re in the middle of nowhere and only by the will of the animals do we encounter them doing their thing. So it was nice to be greeted by zebra.

And a topi and a warthog.

The topi suddenly remembered he left the oven on.

Two male impalas posing near a tree because fashion.

A hole where an animal with large claws, most like a lion, dug to try and extricate a meal.

Basic, easygoing, welcome-to-a-game-reserve-type stuff. And then we saw the two other vehicles parked near each other which usually means there’s something worth seeing over there.

It was a cheetah! A cheetah chillin’ out next to a tree! Because this was a different type of park called a Conservancy your guide doesn’t have to stay on the road. They can drive right up to whatever is happening. The downside is only five vehicles are allowed at a viewing at any time so if you show up late you have to wait for someone to drive away before you can see better. But we were one of the first five so we could get right up close to the cheetah.

Now, while the cheetah is wondering off, guess who shows up? A secretary bird, sauntering past us being all weird with the eyelashes and the fancy.

It even turned its head, like “You asked for me?”

As the secretary bird headed off to do secretary bird things the cheetah caught up with his brother (Jacob told us that bachelor brothers tend to pal around with each other). So now there are two cheetahs.

They’re hanging out in the grass relaxing so we turned and there were two jackals running down the road.

Apparently while we were looking at the jackals the cheetahs killed a baby topi! We didn’t see the kill but we did see the cheetahs afterwards. They didn’t have their meal and they were forlornly cleaning the blood off themselves. You can see it on that one cheetah’s chest.

Where’d the kill go? That nervous hyena over there might have something to do with it.

Near that hyena was another hyena and he was gnawing on something.

Holy crap, a dismembered topi head in its mouth!

This is Jacob. You can see how close we are to the hyena through his window.

You need to understand, you don’t ever see this kind of awesomeness on safari. You have one, two great experiences on your whole trip and that’s it. We’d already banged out an absurd level of sightings and we’d been driving around for three hours. What’s truly amazing was the whole rest of the trip was this level. We saw jaw-dropping things every single day. It was outrageous. I described it as “Nature knew it was The Moomins’ last trip to Africa so she brought out everybody. Nature said, ‘Sure, you want herbivores, you got ’em. Carnivores, no problem. You want me to resurrect a dinosaur? I could whip up a Heterodontosaurus if you just gimme a sec.'”

After this we saw a storm was coming as the sun was setting so we headed back to camp but I as we drove I saw a herd of buffalo and the sunset combined with the storm clouds made for some beautiful photographs.

And as the sun started to dip below the horizon an ostrich walked by. “This sunset pic is nice, but you know what would improve it? Me. Let me saunter on through, there you go.”

When we got to the lodge there was a poster of all the local wild animals on the wall. I’m not one of those people who checks off every animal they see and if they don’t “collect them all” they get angry, but I was shocked when I realized the I had seen 15 out of the 20. I was staring so hard at the poster I almost my new best friend hiding behind the mask to the left.

I stood there and watched him eat some bugs and went to bed to recover from my first day. Little did I know what was in store for me on Day 2.

East Africa, Part 2: Okay, we’re starting for real now. Masai Mara.

August 31st, 2021

The reason The Moomins wanted to go to east Africa at this specific time of year is because of The Great Migration. It’s impossible to capture in photos because it is hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and and tens of thousands of zebra walking from part of Tanzania to Kenya. It’s a giant cyclical journey. The animals give birth in the bottom part of the Serengeti because the grass is high in calcium, and then they trek to the Masai Mara because the grass there is high is potassium. By the time they’ve eaten all of the grass they can head back to the Serengeti. Here’s a map I found.

You can see smaller herds throughout the year but this when they clump together in these insanely large groups.

I want to bring something to your attention, which is that I did not bring a camera on this trip, only my brand new iPhone 12 Mega Ultra Plus Max, so my pictures look… adequate. If you’re expecting Nat Geo stuff, go ahead and lower your expectations.. I was lent a nice camera by some family friends but I decided once I got there if I had to plug ONE MORE OBJECT into an outlet I was going to punch something. I had this clunky adapter because their plugs are so different from ours and I was charging my phone and my laptop and occasionally my 2010 iPod that I like to travel with (don’t judge, that thing is the bomb), plus I was dealing with all the infernal paperwork that kept cropping up out of nowhere, I was not willing to feel responsible for another damn thing. So all these pictures are from my phone and some of them look like they were taken on a potato. I’m fine with that. There are so many people who go on these trips who bring crazy equipment and take breathtaking photos. I wanted to have a chill time so I sacrificed photographic quality for that. What I recommend you do is take a top-notch pair of binoculars because I ended up smooshing my camera against the eyepiece and taking some decent photos with that. And you don’t have to plug in and change binoculars. Plus you have binoculars.

We arrived in Nairobi and crashed for the night. The next day our Kenya guide Jacob arrived and we headed off to the Masai Mara, which is an incorrect spelling of the Maasai tribe who inhabit the area. The Maasai are predominantly very tall and very thin people who herd cattle. Cattle is everything to the Maasai. From the time they’re born to the time they die, it’s all cattle. There’s some sheep and goats in there, but the cattle is who they are, it’s their everything. We saw Maasai men everywhere, walking their herds from grazing areas to watering holes. Interestingly, they live in the game reserves with the animals and everyone seems to cohabitate nicely. I asked what about the lions and hyenas and Jacob said, “The Maasai aren’t bothered by them, they carry spears.” I was like, yeah, spears are great but, you know, lions and hyenas, I don’t know if one dude with a spear would cut it, but apparently it does. The only animals the Maasai are scared of are the buffalo and the elephants because if they want to walk through your house and break everything they sure can and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Leaving Nairobi I saw some jazzy mini-buses. It was as if the drivers were given an unlimited budget to buy all the vinyl decals and all the blinky lights their hearts desired. I ended up driving behind one that was particularly disco-tastic.

It had a light that zipped back and forth like Kit from Knight Rider. One thing I loved about these mini-buses (called matatu, btw) is that the design choices were clearly very personal and didn’t need to make a lick of sense to anyone else. I looked up “feelanga free” and it’s some kind of cell phone plan. Or a song. Depending on where you look.

On another matatu that drove in front of us it said “boy child” with the “h” backwards and “keep calm and love academics” as well as “Latema Sacco” which is one the major matatu owners (don’t think I knew that off the top of my head, I very much had to look that up).

This matatu drove past us and I snapped a shot real quick. Good luck figuring out what the theme is here.

But the one that totally blew my mind was an Oakland Raiders-themed matatu. Yep. A football team from outside San Francisco. I’ve been to one of their games, tailgated and everything.

https://design-newyork.com/blog/2016/01/04/christmas-the-super-american-all-inclusive-deprogramming-holiday-of-i-think-im-their-hostage-now/

This matatu was better designed and executed than anything  I saw from the super-fans in the parking lot that day. I didn’t get any pics because my jaw was hanging open but luckily there is a following on Facebook and I pulled some pics from there.

A few times I saw guys clinging to the back which, okay, I understand having to get somewhere but unless it’s a critical doctor’s appointment or the bank is gonna close or something I’m not risking my life, I will catch the next one. I found this as an example.

After driving for about six hours we got to the Masai Mara and the lodge we were staying at. We got out of the car and walked into reception where they said “Please have a seat so we can tell you about the amenities and rules here. You can watch the family of elephants in the meantime.” What??

“Yes, they’re at the watering hole, the one with the hippos.” WHAT?? We’re going to get awesome game views immediately on arrival?

Elephants were my father’s favorite animal so The Moomins had a moment. She started crying and said “It’s like he’s here to greet us!” I, being the extremely sensitive person I’ve always been, said “Is…is it going to be like this the whole trip, with you crying at every elephant? Because that’s going to get very old very quickly. Listen, I’ll let you have this one Hallmark card moment, ‘look at the stars and remember I’m always with you’ crap, but from now on you’re keeping it together. You can do some light weeping but this level of crying where you soak your mask with tears, that’s done.” Come on by for all your grieving needs.

Back to the elephants. Look at the little guy drinking!

I saw some high-end binoculars sitting on a chair so I held them up to my phone and I got some quite nice pics of the elephants and the hippos. You can see the details like the wrinkles in their skin.

Next post: More Day 1 in the Masai Mara. I’ll have to split several of the days up because we saw so much. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to rush through it.

East Africa, Part 1: The Gripening.

August 31st, 2021

This entire post is going to be complaining, so if you’d like to skip this post and go right to the awesome pictures I totally understand, but I gotta air my grievances. I got grievances, y’all! Wait til you hear these grievances. Let’s start from the beginning.

The Moomins bought a fancy tour through a fancy tour company so we wouldn’t have to deal with hotels and flights and guides. She’s 85 and I am not the most organized person in the world, we wanted to make it as simple as possible. We asked them at least twice what vaccines and papers were needed. We got yellow fever shots with accompanying yellow fever cards (it felt very “arriving at Ellis Island.”). We packed the recommended amount of money for border crossings. We did all the things. Or so we thought. On the day of the flight we happily headed off to the airport to take our 13.5-hour flight on Air Emirates (again, fancy).

We arrived at the counter, passports and paperwork in hand. “Do you have your visas?” said the counter person.

The what now? No one told us we needed visas at the airport. We knew we would need to get visas to cross into Tanzania but no one mentioned needing a visa at the airport to go to Kenya, especially no one at the travel agency. So now I’m panicking. Let me tell you, there is nothing sexier than a crying adult woman surrounded by copious luggage and her elderly mother at a ticket counter. It’s just embarrassing for everyone within a two-mile radius. Random people outside the airport were like “Why do I inexplicably feel horribly awkward all of a sudden?” We called the travel agency and luckily got a very nice woman who said she had no idea that we needed visas at the airport. It’s always been “visas on arrival,” meaning you get one when you arrive in Kenya. Apparently this rule changed overnight and the Kenyan website didn’t even have it listed. Commence more frustrated weeping (from me, not the nice lady on the phone, all the weeping in this story will be mine). It ended up we had to push our trip a full week forward which thank God we could do because we have loosey-goosy schedules (Moomins: Retired, Me: Freelance).

We went home so I could spend the week getting an expedited visa and clenching my intestines. I filled out all the forms, took photos of us (we looked TERRIBLE) and waited, obsessively checking my email. The night before I finally had all four visas, we had gotten new Covid tests and we tentatively headed off to the airport, now flying Air Kenya (less fancy but whatever). We made it, though. We made it to Nairobi. I was still vibrating with anxiety but the trip was pretty drama-free. In fact, by the end of the trip when we had to go home I was the diametric opposite of when I left. “If the paperwork isn’t correct I actively don’t care, I’ll live in the airport and be passive-aggressive until they beg me to leave.” We had also acquired some ungainly art, like a stick man who was around 4′ long and fit nowhere in any luggage. This normally would have made me twitchy, but again, the stress hormone had been purged from my system during VisaGate. The point is in the end it was fine and we’re going to make the fancy travel agency pay for our visas and extra cab rides. It’s the least they could do.

For your amusement, my picture on the visa. I look like I had been punched in the face and my hair is extra Bobo the Clown. It’s kind of perfect honestly. An accurate physical representation of how I felt on the inside. Enjoy.

East Africa! I went there!

August 28th, 2021

I haven’t blogged in a month and that is because I went to East Africa, a place I have never been before. I’ve done the bottom bit of the continent a bunch because I have family there but the sides, no. The Moomins wanted to see the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra wander from Kenya to Tanzania and she’s recently become a widow AND she’s been cooped up avoiding the Covid (truly magical year, everyone) so off we went. We splurged big time because The Moomins has earned it with the everything listed above. It also allowed us to have a private tour. Like, our own private guide and a car. Alone. No one else. It was pretty great. I’m going to go on a whole crusty rant shortly but before we get into The Great Unpleasantness let’s enjoy some of these teasers of the magic The Moomins and I got to experience.

The Olympics Opening Ceremonies Live.

July 26th, 2021

They’re still calling it Tokyo 2020. I guess they had everything designed and didn’t want to change it.

The 5,000 medals are made completely from e-waste. The Japanese donated all their electronic crap and factories spent hours and hours extracting the precious metals. I think that’s cool.

Hey Steve Kornacki! Kornacki’s Khakis back in effect! You give me those stats I neither needed or wanted, Steve! Glad to hear ’em!

Okay, official opening ceremony has started. There is no audience in the stadium. It gives it a kind of gravitas.

Wait a minute, the Emperor of Japan is wearing a boring West-style suit? Dude, he’s the Emperor. I would wear the fanciest robes and accoutrement I have in my vault. Lord knows one doesn’t get too many opportunities to rock your finest Appointed-by-God attire.

Beautiful opening video.

They have an enormous Mt. Fugi with an orb on top to represent the true name of Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.

The flag also represents Land of the Rising Sun. Which is why I think this design for the Tokyo Olympics is better than the one they chose.

They’re using a lot of light painting on the floor and it is gorgeous. One of my favorite examples of that is this Kylie Minogue video.

Oooo, they got real weird and performance-arty with this. I feel like this MoMA thing is going to go over the head of… most of everyone in the world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous but it’s a bit more Twyla Tharp-y then I think this audience can handle.

Didn’t think during the portion on the rich history of Japanese carpentry there would be tap-dancing but okay. It definitely conveys wood is hard.

Oh hell yeah, the lesbian goth hand-voguing girls Ayabambi are there! Bold move!

Okay, they’re making up countries at this point. Comoros? And every island in the Caribbean is its own country? My U.S. public school education is showing.

The people walking the teams in and cheering on the sides represent manga comics. I love how each country’s sign is in the manga screaming talk bubble. When the characters speak normally, it’s plain round speech bubbles.

But when the characters scream, there are lines like rays of light shooting outward.

Due to that, I read every country’s name as a shrieking harpy.

All the countries are in. And now they’re doing some horribly awkward thing in bad wigs with colored boxes to show unity and I’m out. Nighty-night everyone.

 

P.S. Immediately after I turned off the TV there was some awesome stuff with 1800 drones. But there was a epically cringe-y version of “Imagine” that rotted my teeth so I ain’t sad about that.

Here’s the drone portion.

Museums.

July 21st, 2021

I visited San Francisco before The Pannie and I was delighted to find out there was an exhibition on Burning Man which, while fantastic, was problematic because now I am so hungry to go back. If one remembers I went in 2012 and while the dust and sun made me wanna DIIIIIEE the art was so unbelievable I would forget the horrors of nature for hours at a time. And the exhibit reminded me of that.

The left had an art car of a dragon made entirely from kitchen supplies, a bus that had been transformed into a movie theater that showed old black-and-white movies and origami-style mushrooms that cycled through the rainbow and extended / contracted when you pressed a button. Oh my God, guys.

There was also an enormous Arc du Triomphe-style collapsable arc. You can appreciate the color-changing mushrooms in the background.

There also had some outfits on display which was fine, not as exciting as the large pieces but still, stunning workmanship.

I was there with Nessa and we ended up walking through the rest of the museum and I saw my dream piece. I’ve made it abundantly clear my feelings on ocellated turkeys (I’m pro in a big way) so off in the distance I thought I saw something truly magical. And I was right.

It was made of clay and I wanted in my possession immediately. It’s good it was in a glass case because I would have tucked it under my shirt and bolted with it.

I recently went to the Cloisters, a museum in New York specializing in the Middle and Dark Ages of Europe. It was painfully obvious that no one had ever seen a lion, heard of a lion except in the bible and didn’t even know lions were felines. It was rough.

Not a decent one in the bunch. You clearly had skills, look at that golden rooster. Totally looks like a rooster. Europe had wolves, why didn’t you carve wolves? Your lions are so bad.

To redeem their art skills there was a drawing on a dandelion in a very small book. The detail work was exquisite.

If you’re in the San Francisco area, go to the Oakland Museum of California. The Burning Man exhibit is long gone but they have great exhibits all the time. And if you’re in the New York area, go to the Cloisters. The gardens are wonderful and the permanent collection is excellent.