Saturday, September 29, 2012

African Adventure: More animals in Masai Mara

Part two of the animals we saw while on safari in Masai Mara, Kenya.

 A small herd of zebra munching right outside the entrance to our camp. I always thought they were more like horses, but they are the size and shape of donkeys - with really cool stripes.

 HUGE crocodile. The picture doesn't due his size justice, but trust me, he was BIG.

This is a Topi, also called a Gnu. The largest of the antelope family in Masai Mara.

 The circle of life in this photo - a vulture standing in the ribcage of a dead wildebeest.

 Wasn't even expecting to see Ostrich, but we saw them a couple of times during the three days.

 This is a hyena. We saw quite a few the last day hauling around a carcass of a dead wildebeest. The best part was we even got to hear one "laugh" - very strange sound.

 Another shot of a cheetah. So regal.

One of the little baby Thompson gazelles. So cute! We saw lots of herds of these little guys throughout the trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

African Adventure: The animals of Masai Mara

It was time for safari, which consists of riding around in the truck on the established paths through the savannah searching for animals and then stopping for photos. We loved it! And with the soundtrack of "The Lion King" in our heads, we saw tons of animals.

 The beautiful giraffes. I could have watched them for hours - they were so serene and elegant. Just amazing.

The hippos only come out of the water at night to feed on the grasses along the bank, so we only saw them in the water. Apparently, they hang out in the water all day because the sun will dry out and crack their skin.

We saw these elephants just before they headed into a copse of trees. Had we been 15 minutes later, we wouldn't have even known they were there. Got us thinking about what else was hiding in those trees!

Cheetah! We saw two cross the road on their way to check out a herd of gazelle and wildebeest. We thought for sure we were going to see a "Magic Kingdom" moment, but they must have already had their breakfast.

Our timing was perfect for the Wildebeest migration through Masai Mara to the Serengeti. There were literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest roaming in huge herds. It's estimated that over 500,000 calves are born during this migration each year!

The king and his queen. We were told we would see a "lion honeymoon", which one of Brian's co-workers who was also there actually did. No wildlife porn while we were watching.

Akuna Matata! The warthogs were much smaller than I was expecting - actually sort of cute.

And a few baboons. There were many more, so I'll add some more pictures in my next post.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

African Adventure: The road to Masai Mara

Our Safari guide, Peter, picked us up at 7:00am from the hotel and off we went to Masai Mara. In typical fashion, I didn't have all the details of the trip memorized, so I have to admit I was a little surprised when Brian asked Peter how long the trip to the safari camp was and he replied, "about 6 hours". I won't even try to describe the look Brian gave me. Guess I should have read the fine print.

We rode in a big Toyota 4x4 van with a pop up roof so you could stand up and get photos of the animals. Here's a photo of Brian modelling our mode of transportation for the trip.

The first half of the trip wasn't bad at all. Nicely paved roads and a stop about every hour at some local road-side stand that had decent bathrooms and huge souvenir stores. Every stop had loads of other vans all doing the same thing we were.

The rough part started a little after hour #3 and continued until we reached camp. All at once the road turned to gravel, which continued for about an hour, and then it got even worse. Horrible rutted, washed out roads, sometimes gravel and sometimes just dirt and occasionally a little grass. The last 2 hours were bumpy, dusty and we didn't stop once. By the time we reached the camp, my only thought was for a toilet, which I thankfully found immediately. Here are a few photos I snapped on the drive in.
 One of the road side coffee shops. On the other side was a huge souvenir shop and some decent bathrooms.
 A market we passed. Couldn't get a great photo from the truck window.

A view of the Great Rift Valley on the way to Masai Mara. About an hour outside of Nairobi.

And then we arrived as the Ashnil Luxury Camp where we were greeted with cool washcloths to wash off the dust and sweat of the trip and handed a glass of cold apple juice while being shown to a comfortable seating area near the bar. One of the hotel staff gave us the basis of the place (meal times, check out, pool, etc.) and then we were shown to our "tent".

To call it a tent probably conjures up the wrong image. These tents were huge and really gorgeous and comfortable. We had a four-poster bed with mosquito netting, rough polished wood floors and a granite bathroom with a shower bigger than the one in our apartment. Off the back was a big deck with lounge chairs and a view of the river where we could see hippos. The place was amazing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

African Adventure: Nairobi, Kenya

Yes, another trip. Hey, we've got to take advantage of the fact that 1) I now work for an airline and get great flight discounts, 2) we live on the other side of the world and have easier access to places that would take days to reach from the US, and 3) we aren't getting any younger. Our next adventure was a 3 day safari in the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya.

We started in Nairobi, which is a 4-hour direct flight from Abu Dhabi via Etihad Airways. We arrived and grabbed a taxi to our hotel - the Fairview - and then waited in terrible traffic. It took us over an hour to reach our hotel and only about 30 minutes on the trip back to the airport to give you an idea of the bumper to bumper conditions. The other thing we noticed? No emissions laws - the place was stinky with exhaust. But still fun to see the city a bit.

We then spent the late afternoon and evening at the Fairview Hotel. Beautiful old place with lots of wood, gorgeous gardens and landscaping and a high end restaurant that we managed to get into with a little persistence. The food was amazing and a great start to the trip. Below are a few photos of the hotel grounds.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Italy Adventure - the end

Like all great vacations, this one ended too soon. We had an amazing two weeks, made even better because we traveled with our dear friends. To sum it up, today I'm posting a few photos that seem to sum up the trip. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our 20th Anniversary Adventure - Part II

If you've ever lost your wallet (or had it stolen) you can imagine the panic that started to settle on us after Brian realized he didn't have his. If you've ever done this while in a foreign country, you know that panic is even greater.

The good news is that we didn't have our passports on us, so we knew that at the very least, we'd be able to leave the country and have enough documentation to replace what was gone. But the thought of replacing all that ID was daunting and depressing. Remember all my earlier posts about how long everything takes here in Abu Dhabi? Those lines, paperwork and bureaucracy was about all we could think about that evening.

Our plans for a nice Anniversary dinner were shattered as I instead starting looking online for advice and Brian started calling the credit card company and the train station. As Brian started taking inventory of everything he had in that wallet, he got more and more upset, which is to say quiet and brooding. Not a very festive atmosphere for our anniversary. 

We eventually decided to go back to Florence the next morning and try to retrace our steps in the hopes that either 1) the wallet was forgotten at the last purse store we visited, or 2) the wallet had been left on the train. That decision made, I headed off to bed, while Brian continued to research.

Our mood not a whole lot better the next morning, Brian and I set out for Florence, while Brad and Sherry stayed back at the villa, feeling helpless and sorry for us.

We got to Florence and made our way back to the purse store. The owner was really sympathetic, but didn't have the wallet. And then went on to rant about the state of Florence these days and the horrible problem with pickpockets. He was convinced that Brian had been pickpocketed and that the wallet was gone forever.

Brian, however, was adamant that he could not have been pickpocketed and that it dropped out of his pocket while on the train. So, we headed back to the train station to try and track down a lost and found or the police.

After a bit of searching we found the "Train Police" and explained our situation in as simple English as we could muster as the policeman spoke only Italian. He went off with Brian's passport and we waited ...

And he came back with Brian's wallet!!

You cannot imagine how shocked, thrilled, amazed and grateful we were. We just couldn't believe our luck and thanked him profusely in Italian. There was surely a good Samaritan on that train that day and a guardian angel looking after Brian. Not a penny was missing.

And now? We are a lot more careful about what we carry with us. It was an eye opening experience for all of us and a good lesson learned. We realized how much extra stuff we both carry in our wallets when we travel. Things we don't need and really don't want to lose like work staff IDs, local Health insurance card, etc. We also realized that we need to divide our credit cards between us so if one wallet is lost, we still have a way to get cash. Had Brian's wallet truly been stolen, we would have been without a credit card for the remainder of the trip. Not impossible, but really inconvenient. We were really lucky and now try to travel a bit smarter.

Oh, and the Anniversary? Definitely one to remember. I think next year we'll try to have that nice dinner instead :)