Archive for August, 2021

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

Tuesday, 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.

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.

Tuesday, 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!

Saturday, 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.