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Archive: September 2009

Horsing Around

It was time to brush off the dust of the morning’s hike and settle in for some lunch (and yes, an ice-cold Tusker or two). As we had come to expect, we had a beautiful spread, and we stuffed ourselves silly in the pretty little open-aired dining room overlooking the pool. After everything we had seen and done over the past 36 hours, we felt that it was time for a little brainless fun. We ran back to our rooms, grabbed our bathing suits, and met back up at the awesome infinity pool. I settled in with my journal with every intention of trying to get some thoughts down on paper; my good intentions, however, were apparently being used as paving stones in hell that day, since all I could do was watch the spectacle unfolding before me. Boys will be boys....oh, and Katie ;-)
It started with Andrew throwing in the stick for the dogs to chase. Soon enough both Andrew and Nic were diving in. From there, it got downright crazy. With Kevin behind the lens, they each tried to outdo the other with ridiculous (okay, hilarious) feats of gymnastic diving. This all evolved into some pretty funny staged photographs, complete with one of Nic “punching” Andrew in the face. It wasn’t long until Dad decided to jump in followed quickly by Katharine (where were Dana and I, you ask? Dude. That water was COLD, and there was NO way I was jumping in, so I stayed wisely on the sidelines). Out of nowhere, Andrew scooped Katie up and tossed her unceremoniously into the drink, which of course elicited nothing but laughter from the rest of us, and although Kate feigned indignation, I secretly suspect she loved it. After that, things started to settle down, and Kevin struck a pose by the edge of the pool.

We were starting to show a little wear, and we had a little over an hour before tea (I may have neglected to mention yet another wonderful part of our Kenyan routine: afternoon tea. Coffee in the morning, meals on a schedule, tea in the afternoon…..can we go back now?), so we headed back to our rooms to recuperate a bit before the next adventure. I have to confess: I REALLY needed a nap, so I laid down and was out in no time flat. Kevin took the opportunity to enjoy our patio, and he spent some time on his computer while the hyrax watched curiously from a distance. It’s a good thing he was working on it, too, since he was able to fully recover the photos he thought were lost forever (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet in our little story, but while we were in Buffalo Springs, the MacBook got a little bit hungry and decided to eat around 700 photos that he had taken, both in London and in Kenya, and we were sick about it). Hot on the heels of his technological success, he decided it was time to join the others for an evening horseback ride. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to say that I sat out this particular evening’s adventure and sundowners. I was simply too overwhelmed, and I opted to remain back in the room with my journal, my camera, and a verrrrrry long bath, so the rest of the story is being told through the eyes of others. Also? In hindsight I *almost* wish I would’ve gone along for the ride that night, but I was honestly in deep sensory overload. Ride 'Em in Rawhide!!!

The boys and Dana mounted up and headed out. At one point, the were mere feet from a family of giraffe; it seems that as long as you’re on horseback, the giraffe could care less and will wander right up to you. Kevin, unfortunately, had a rather…let’s say “sedate” horse, and when they wandered a little too close, he had to give his poor steed a little extra “oomph” to get him going. Katie wisely chose to follow along with Nic in the Rover, and everybody arrived safely at the sundowner site where a roaring fire was awaiting. No, the horse isn't on fire, silly

Andrew quickly manned the grill, complete with more steak and yummy sausages. Against all odds (and I have to say that I can’t prove that this really happened since I wasn’t there to witness it firsthand) Katharine actually tried a {{{gasp}}} sausage. This is a very big deal (and seriously? I know I said it already, but those sausages were the bomb!). More Tuskers were opened, I’m fairly certain that a decent quantity of wine was consumed, and stories were undoubtedly told. There were certainly plenty of smiles to go around.Wild things
Tusker Kev

By now, it was time to head back for some dinner. I had more than enough time to decompress in the super-cool crocodile bathtub, and after Kevin had a chance to wash the horse off of him, we headed back up to the main house for dinner. We ate inside on this night, and it was delicious, as always. After the meal, Dad, Dana, and Katie headed back to their rooms (I suspect they needed a little decompression, too), while Kevin and I joined Nic and Andrew in the living room for a little ginger tea (way yummy, and just what we needed at the end of such a full day). We looked at a few pictures, told a few more stories, saw a genet cat prowling around in the rafters on the porch outside, and then we hit the hay, too. It had truly been an overwhelming couple of days, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.

The Butterfly Effect

The idea behind the Butterfly Effect is the essence of chaos theory, and it basically states that if a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, that action has the potential to change the climate in Central Park. Now, I’m certainly not a physicist, but I completely understand the concept. We had already experienced so much of what Kenya had to offer, and as our day continued, it became clear that the things we learned about the Samburu would have a profound effect on our lives back at home.

As we made our way back toward the lodge, we asked if we could stop by Julia’s workshop, and thankfully the answer was “yes”. Fittingly, the workshops official name is the Sampiripiri Arts Workshop; sampiripiri means “butterfly” in Samburu. Julia has created an astonishing place for women to gather and learn the delicate craft of beading. Their creations are then sold through the Ol Malo Designs, and the women are paid for their work. (Side note: If you’d like the opportunity to buy some of the astonishingly beautiful beadwork that these women produce, click here. Julia answered all of our myriad questions with supreme patience, and she taught us a little bit about the significance of the necklaces worn by the women. For example: It’s possible to tell a woman’s marital status by seeing whether or not she has a long strand of beads hanging from her pierced ear. Also, much like the Mexican milagros, the women sometimes attach special talismans to represent specific prayers , such as a prayer for rain. The pure red strands represent the “boyfriend beads”, as these are given to women by their suitors. The women also tag each of their handicrafts with their name, so it was especially meaningful to buy the works of the women to whom we were introduced.
Sampiripiri Workshop

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the spectacular shop; Ol Malo Designs had so much to offer that, unfortunately for Kevin, I just had to have. Some of my favorite things from the trip came from Ol Malo, from impressive beaded bowls (of course), right on down to a couple of extra kikois (because, hey, you just can’t have too many kikois). I was not alone, though; Dad came home with a couple of spears, Katharine bought a gorgeous beaded leather bracelet, and Dana commissioned a set of beaded necklaces that tell her life story, just like the ones worn by the Samburu women. It was right about this time that we noticed the rather large kudu wandering down the path. We were assured that he was a pet, and fittingly so: “Ol Malo” means “Place of greater kudu”. Kudu wandering on the path

High on our spending spree, and still full from breakfast, we persuaded Julia to take us over to see her school. Our curiosity was piqued when we drove past it the night before; we couldn’t wait to get yet another up close look at Samburu culture. We passed yet another elder on the drive over who informed us that they had just finished building a restroom for the new teachers (it was their first day on the job, and since it was almost lunchtime, they had apparently been “holding it” for a little while). Soon we pulled up to the little stone wall outside the school grounds. We were very fortunate to be able to meet a few more of the Samburu women who were hard at work putting new dung on the roofs of a few of the buildings; just beyond them was a circle of children (along with their new teachers as well as their Samburu ones) who were busy singing songs about nature. Hussein explained the importance of oral tradition: the songs are about the trees, the animals, and nature, and it’s how the culture is preserved. He told us that the songs that the children were singing were the same ones he learned as a boy.
Samburu Schoolchildren

Julia took us down for a closer look at the reservoir that had been constructed as part of her water project (side note: contrary to what Americans see on TV, the best way to help the water supply in Africa is not just to build a well. Thankfully, people like Julia recognize this and are working extraordinarily hard to provide sustainable solutions. For more detailed information, and if you’d like to help, please, please PLEASE visit the Ol Malo website, as they do a much better job at explaining it than I EVER could). She explained that the children are also in charge of tending the plants by the reservoir; as the plants grow and thrive, they become not only a potential food source but also a home for indigenous birds and insects. Everything is tied to both the Samburu people AND the environment, which makes it an exceptionally beneficial program. Back up by the school houses, we noticed some containers hanging from lines strung between the buildings. Julia explained that these were called “leaky tins”, and they are instrumental in preventing diseases like cholera and serious eye diseases such as trachoma. The leaky tins are ingeniously simple: clean containers (such as yogurt cartons) with small holes in the bottom that are filled with water (the holes are plugged with acacia thorns). As the need arises, hands can be washed simply by removing the thorn and letting the water flow. I’ll certainly never take my kitchen sink and foamy soap from Bath & Body Works for granted ever again. In case you haven’t figured it out, Julia is an extremely talented, intelligent, and BUSY woman! Again, if you’d like to learn more, please check out Ol Malo’s website. Samburu School...check out the leaky tins!

After peeking into the classrooms (the kids were coloring!), it was time to pile back into the Rovers and head to the lodge for some lunch….and some shenanigans. As we were driving back we saw a couple of young girls gathering wood by the side of the road. Andrew urged us to snap a picture as it was something not usually seen, so we did. Samburu Girls

It’s taking me forever to get this story told, and even then it’s still only in bits and pieces at a time. It’s hard, though, to sit down and write when, as soon as I do, I’m immediately taken back to these magical days. The whole of our time in Kenya defies description, but our stay at Ol Malo was truly something special. This day alone had served to remind us (well, me at least) of not only our human potential to accomplish great things, but also to appreciate the fabric that weaves our lives together, no matter how different we perceive ourselves to be. Jimmy Carter talked about humanity as “a beautiful mosaic”; Anne Frank said that “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same”. I’m not sure there is anyplace on Earth that I could have learned that lesson other than Ol Malo, and I’ll be forever grateful for my time spent there.

“A Camel Makes an Elephant Feel Like a Jet Plane” ~Jackie Onassis

One of the greatest things about our trip to Kenya was letting go of the details. There was absolutely *nothing* that we had to think about other than being present in each moment. The days magically unfolded for us from the time we were awakened in the morning to the minute our heads the pillow at night. The credit for this, of course, goes to the entire team at Royal African Safaris (ask for Bobby). From our time spent in tents to the incredible stays in the lodges, every single thing was anticipated and executed flawlessly. I do have to give special recognition to the folks at Ol Malo, because they not only had to contend with our rowdy group, but they’re also excellent camel wranglers.

Our wake-up call came promptly at 6:30 AM, blessedly accompanied by a large amount of coffee and some delicious shortbread biscuits (good thing we had those, too, since it was going to be a while before it was time for our Bush Breakfast). I know what you’re thinking: “Merrin, you’re not a big coffee drinker, and there’s NO WAY you got out of bed at 6:30 AM”. To that, I’d respond “Kenyan coffee changed my life, and I’m still nursing a pretty heavy craving for it, since it’s the ONLY thing that could possible get me out of bed at such an hour”. Fueled by caffeine, we met up with our group and headed out for a morning hike. We skittered (okay, slid) down a pretty rough incline into the valley below.
I know what you're thinking: "Where's the trail?!?!" There wasn't one. We're hardcore like that.

Hussein and Samwel were awesome as usual, taking lots of time to show us flora and fauna. We saw where a leopard had slept the night before…all cozy on a bed made of the fur of the dik dik he’d eaten for dinner. Speaking of dik diks, we also learned that they mark their territory by, um, pooping in one big heap, kind of like a dik dik outhouse. Thankfully, the poop piles were quite large and easy to avoid! They’re also monogamous, not to mention the cutest darn animals we saw. It was all we could do to keep from bringing one home with us.
Dik dik!!!

We continued to make our way further out into the bush. When we stopped by a strange looking bush to ask a question, Hussein decided it was time to play a little joke on Kevin. We knew the bush was part of the acacia family (because honestly? Just about every tree we saw was some sort of an acacia), but this one had unique looking berry-like thingies on it. Hussein encouraged Kevin to touch the “berry”. As soon as he did, hundreds of ants started crawling out of it and began to fiercely protect their tree. It turns out that cocktail ants, have a symbiotic relationship with the Whistling Thorn acacia; the ants feed on the sap and take shelter in the swollen bases of the thorns. They also keep the trees “groomed” by clipping vines that threaten to strangle the trees. Needless to say, they weren’t happy to be disturbed when Kevin tried to pick the “berry”! In the picture you can see the ants’ backsides in the air, hence the name “cock-tail”. They don’t constantly wish it was five o’clock somewhere, like the rest of us do.
Whistling Thorn Acacia

We walked on, and at some point we noticed that we were being followed… a large group of saddled camels. Katharine wisely asked “Why are we walking in front of what we’re supposed to be riding?”, which really seemed like an appropriate question. The terrain was a little rough, and we were at an altitude that is definitely out of our norm (hello???? I live in Florida. At sea level). It was cool, however, to see lots of leopard prints in the dust, and to be fair to the camels, they couldn’t have handled both us AND the terrain just yet; we needed to get to easier ground, so they walked on behind us for a little while longer.

Soon enough, however, it was time to mount our fair steeds (okay, okay, it was time to climb not-so-gracefully onto our beasts of burden, but it sounds better the other way). Kevin got the lead camel, which, let’s face it, makes all the difference, because if you’re not the lead camel, then the view never changes. Nic wisely chose to sit this one out and followed us on foot as our official videographer. I secretly suspect, however, that he was unwilling to lay himself at the mercy of a smelly animal that spits. Chicken. The Lead Camels

Our camels did an excellent job of carrying us over the last of our journey. There’s something to be said for riding a camel; it’s completely unlike riding a horse, and it’s terribly awkward at first until you become familiar with the rhythm of their gait. Still, though, there were no mishaps, and we dismounted on a ridge with a spectacular view of the valley below. Hussein and Samwel once again took point and led us into a dry riverbed. They presented us with a “Bush Test”. They held up the skull of an animal and charged us with identifying it. I’m proud to say that I was the only one in our group to guess correctly (it was a camel skull, by the way), and after pointing out various other things (like a huge hunk of flint that I actually brought home with me), we arrived at the site of our breakfast.
The Boys in the riverbed

Andrew had come through yet again, and there was a HUGE spread of food for us (and coffee!!!). We feasted on eggs, sausages, cereal, and fruit. The dogs, incidentally, were *thrilled* that the humans were willing to share the sausages. I feel compelled to mention that they had even set up a “bathroom” for us, since its construction was a topic of discussion. I believe Dana even has pictures!

Breakfast in the bush

We relaxed over breakfast, and it was a blessing that we didn’t have to walk all the way back to the lodge; we were waaaaay too comfortable after our long walk and delicious food. Instead, the Rover was waiting for us, and we loaded up and began the dusty drive back towards Ol Malo. Thoreau once said that “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day”. We had a lot more in store for us on this day, but I can assure you that by the time I closed my eyes that night, had a full and deep understanding of that sentiment. There were a still a wealth of experiences yet to be had, and we had barely begun to scratch the surface of the day.

Awesome Doesn’t Begin to Describe This

I Like To Move It Move It

After a long lapse in our story, things have finally slowed down around here long enough for me to continue with the next installment. Thanks for your patience!

I think it’s safe to say that we had an incredibly overwhelming day, and we were ready for a little decompression. We headed back to our rooms to grab a shower and change for dinner (yes, I totally had a bath in the crocodile tub). Little did Nic know that we had a surprise in store for him; we had all decided that we would wear our kikois to dinner! Sure, we had given him a hard time, but the truth is we really loved them (Kevin loves his so much, in fact, that he packed it to take with him to Baltimore. I have a feeling he’s wearing around the hotel as he watches football today).
Kikoi Night!

We gathered around a HUGE fireplace, and Andrew went above and beyond by fixing us spectacular cocktails and manning the grill to cook up some yummy appetizers. He had his very own version of a churrascaria going on, which means that it was a big ol’ meat fest. We started with some AWESOME grilled beef, the most delicious sausage I’ve ever had (made in house!), and followed it up with mutton chops and assorted sides. The meat was definitely the star, though, and I’ve never been so happy to be a carnivore. 😉

Following tradition, we had a game after dinner. Andrew had a super-sized version of Jenga (which, by the way, beat the hell out of Bobby’s over-complicated dice game). We switched from cocktails to Tusker (and yes, I am now a Tusker convert), threw the iPod on the speakers (I never would have guessed that Andrew is such a huge Country fan!), and proceeded to make absolute fools out of ourselves. Don’t take my word for it, though, since a picture is worth a thousand words:

Nic and Andrew kept adding silly rules, and pretty soon we were all working the catwalk and doing little dances as we successfully removed piece after piece. One of the most priceless images from the trip is of Dad sporting his kikoi and doing a little boogie while backing away from the tower… it toppled straight to the ground. Dana and I came out as the champions that night; we were the only ones who managed to never knock the thing over (and maybe Nic, took, but then again, I’m fairly certain he cheated). Our group started to disband around 11:00, and by midnight, Kevin and I called it quits. I had lost count of how many Tuskers we had put away, but I know it was a lot, and besides, we had a 6:30 wakeup call and a hike in the morning. None of that stopped Nic and Andrew for staying up till the wee small hours and polishing off a bottle of whiskey, though (or so the story goes. I was out about 3 seconds after my head hit the pillow).

This had been an incredible day, and as I fell asleep that night, I knew that even though I may have been in full-on sensory overload, it was destined to be one of the most memorable days of my life. We started the day with a roller coaster of a flight, experienced the Samburu culture in a way that few people get a chance to, and finished it off with an awesome little party in the best company anyone could ask for. And for the record? While I’m super glad we got lots of video earlier in the day, I’m more than relieved that no video exists of the evening (at least not that will ever see the light of day).




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