I apologize for the very quick update, but I wanted to post something before we leave for Nairobi this morning. We'll be traveling through the country for the next week, visiting three mission hospitals and at least one school. We don't know if we'll have access to internet while we travel. If we do, we will certainly post an update. If not, we will be flying out of Kenya on February 27, returning to Duluth late on February 28.
Thank you so much for your prayers while we travel!
Our trip to Masai Mara included more than seeing the animals, which would have been enough in my book. We had no idea what to expect after the two-hour drive to the lodge. The reservations were made for us by a friend who works at the hospital, so all we knew was the name of the place we'd be staying. We packed for a stay in what we imagined would be a large canvass tent, which meant we brought bug spray and sunscreen and a huge jug of clean drinking water along with our clothes and such. As it turned out, the lodge was not at all what we had imagined. We were in for a treat.
As our driver took us through the front gate, this group of Maasai men greeted us, singing traditional Masaai songs.
They took each of us by the hand and led us down a long path to the lodge, singing and dancing the entire way.
I don't know a lot about Maasai traditions yet, but I do know that men jumping like this is something they often do. They each stepped forward and did it, and then they invited Pete to do it. (One of them had taken our camera and was snapping these photos.)
Ella liked the dancing but wasn't quite sure what to think of the men. After this photo was taken, she quickly warmed up to them. She really liked their necklaces and jewelry. So did I.
Soon after being led to the lodge, we were introduced to our butler Walter (what?? a butler?!). Walter is a father to a little girl about Ella's age. He became quick friends with both Ella and Sam. He took care of everything for us, including planning and serving our meals, bringing us tea and coffee in the morning, arranging our safari drives, and just sitting and talking with us because we asked him to.
Walter told Ella to find tent number 3, so she set off as our leader.
We found "tent" number 3. I suppose since some of the sides were made of canvass, it could appropriately be called a tent, but this isn't even close to what I had in mind.
Our place was completely open to the river in front of us, which only made me slightly nervous when Ella got close to the edge of the deck. There was a small grass landing before the drop-off to the river, but I still didn't let her get close.
What did we find in the river below? Lots and lots of hippos.
I had never been in a tent that also had a bathroom, especially one like this.
And that had a tub and shower that were open to the outside.
At night Walter unrolled the canvasses along the front to keep the bugs out.
This was the view of the river just up from our tent at the lodge. At the time I took this photo, we counted 34 hippos. Hippos come to the surface quite often and then sink back down to stay cool, and they are quite loud. They grunt and snort all day and all night. Did you know that hippos leave the water at night? They find places along the river banks that allow them to walk onto the land with their short legs. (They did not have access to the area where we were staying.) I was amazed to learn that they are very, very fast on land. I just can't imagine that with how short they are, but it's true. Hippos are fast and deadly if you get in their way. In fact, hippos kill the most people of any animal in Africa. I once asked a doctor here if they have many people come from hippo attacks, and he said no, they don't injure people, they kill. That was news to me! I did see one hippo walking on land during my early morning safari drive, but by the time the sun is coming up, most have returned to the water.
We enjoyed watching the hippos from our deck.
Pete and Ella even spotted this enormous crocodile. I saw one that was much smaller.
For dinner, we ate at the lodge. They closed the sides and had beautiful lighting. There was another physician from Tenwek who traveled out with us and offered to stay at our place Friday night so Pete and I could have a date over dinner. How thoughtful! We enjoyed every bite of our five-course meal from chef Wellington.
Pete and I woke early on Saturday morning in the hopes of going on a chilly safari drive together while Walter had breakfast with Ella and Sam at the lodge. We soon realized, though, that Sammy had a bit of a cold. Pete wanted to keep an eye on him, and graciously sent me on my own for the drive. I was given one instruction: take lots of pictures. And I did. I wrapped myself in a blanket in my seat of the open Land Cruiser and watched the morning sun peak over the distant hills.
Yes, I did take a self portrait. I know it's sometimes odd, but I mostly take pictures of the rest of the family and wanted something of myself on the drive. So, here I am.
The early morning brought out all kids of grazing animals. They were able to munch in the safety of the daylight, away from the lions and leopards. These baby wildebeests were leaping here and there around their mothers. Leng, our guide, pointed out that one had clearly been born during the night.
This adorable baby zebra wasn't far from his mama.
After watching animal babies and the gorgeous morning sunrise, I wasn't quite prepared for the complete ugliness that is the hyena.
Yes, we did encounter a few hyenas who had clearly made recent kills. Yuck. I had always thought they were primarily scavengers, but I learned otherwise from Leng. He told us that they mostly kill their own food, but it's not a pretty sight. Let's just say they don't exactly wait until their prey has stopped moving before indulging. And their laugh? That's what calls the other hyenas to a meal. If they don't share, the other hyenas will kill them. Friendly. Ok, let's move on.
Another animal baby! This is a little jackal. See those fuzzy little ears on the other side of the mound? That's his mama.
Way off in the distance near the trees, we spotted a baboon.
On our way back to the lodge, we encountered this little family of warthogs. Leng kept calling them Pumbas, like the little guy from The Lion King. We had already seen quite a few, but they hadn't been in a group like this. They were pretty cute.
When I got back, I joined Pete, Ella, and Sam on the deck of the lodge for breakfast. We watched the hippos and relaxed in the sunshine. I kept whispering in my head to remember all the feelings and the moments of our weekend. It was something I had dreamed of for so long and this was far beyond what I had imagined. Being there with my loves was perfect.
I learned years ago that I married a man who loves to surprise me with things I deeply enjoy. The first gift like this he ever gave me was a Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry bar from Barnes and Noble while I was studying for finals my last semester of undergrad classes. We weren't even dating yet. I don't feel like I ever expect such things from him, so I am truly surprised when he does something for me. After breakfast was just such a time. He gave me a kiss and sent me off to this little tent.
Inside, I was treated to hours of spa loveliness. It began with a pedicure. Not just any pedicure. This was the most in-depth pedicure I had ever had. Next I had a full-body exfoliation treatment, which was a first for me. That was followed by a 90-minute massage overlooking the river with the hippos. To wrap things up, I had a manicure. I was in heaven.
Do I look like I was glowing? I felt like I was glowing. I love my Pete. I know it seems easy to say after he gives me a gift like that, but I really, really do. He treats me so well. And I don't take that for granted.
As I returned from the spa, I found my lovelies sitting outside for a late lunch before we left.
Mr Sammy man was enjoying a bowl of mango yogurt with Daddy.
And with that, we parted from the Masai Mara. We have big plans for our next visit. One, if we return to this lodge it will be without the little ones. It's a perfect place for a romantic getaway. Two, we'll take the walking safari tour to a nearby Massai village and rhinoceros sanctuary. And three, we'll spend time at the outdoor pool and play a game of croquet.
Before arriving in Kenya, if we ever asked Ella what she was going to see in Africa, she would happily reply, "Elephants, zebras, lions." Well, my dear Ella, you were absolutely right. This past weekend, we had the grand opportunity to travel to Masai Mara, a game park in southern Kenya, where we embarked on our very first safari. I'm quite sure it won't be the last. That makes me happy.
Today's photos were taken during our first game drive while staying at the beautiful Ngerende Island Lodge. Shortly after our arrival Friday afternoon, all four of us climbed into a huge, open-sided Land Cruiser with our Masai driver, Leng. Leng drove us for nearly three hours in search of creatures big and small.
The first was big. Giraffes average a height of 17 feet. This beauty was in a group of four, but we saw many during our drives. They are incredible to watch, moving with such grace dispite their size.
Leng had incredible vision for seeing wildlife long before we did and would drive us right up next to animals. Apparently, the animals saw our vehicle as one big beast, not as individual people inside, and didn't mind having us near. It was incredible.
There were roads in a few places, but we mostly stayed off them, driving as close to the tree line as possible. Whether on roads or not, the driving was intense. We splashed through small rivers and mud, climbed over steep hills, and squeezed between leafy trees. Ella loved it.
From far in the distance, we saw trees shake and approached in hopes of
finding something moving amidst them. Indeed, we did. She was near a small river. As we sat watching her, we discovered two more in the trees behind her.
Ella was thrilled. She loves elephants. She often says to me, "Elephant, just like Ella. Ella Elephant. They're the same, Mommy." I adore this photo. She was giddy.
Leng took us to a spot where we could drive through the river and wrap around behind the place we had seen the elephants. After squeezing through trees that I was sure we wouldn't get through, we found this beauty.
Soon, more arrived.
There were eight elephants in all. Each came up over a small hill into view, cautiously looked at us as they got closer, and quickly skirted past into the trees. I think our ginormous Land Cruiser made them nervous.
We continued to drive, scanning the ground beneath the trees for any signs of lions. They nap during the day, within the safety of the trees, and go into the open spaces in the evening to hunt. Somehow, we found these two sleepy lionesses.
We parked right next to them. I mean, right next to them. Seven or eight feet. They didn't seem to mind in the least.
After they wandered toward the plain, we headed out for more discoveries. Eventually, we found the lionesses again! Ella was thrilled.
While we were stopped near the lionesses, I looked out into the long grass on the plain and saw a lion's head peeking our way. When I looked back, though, he was gone. We were told that's how they hide to catch prey. Leng had caught sight of the big guy and drove us straight out to him.
He sat up but paid very little attention to us, even though we were sitting two feet from him.
No joke. Two feet. You can see our shadow.
He eventually grew tired of our presence and wandered off. He was truly beautiful.
As he walked away, we noticed a rainbow far in the distance. Rainbows will always remind me of God's promises. How wonderful to see one across the African plain, the very place that we feel God has called us. His promises are good.
What a first day we had! I have many more photos, but it's getting late and I must be off to bed. Please come back for more of our Masai Mara adventure in the next day or two. We love sharing our adventures with you!