Tag Archives: Kenya

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

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Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

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An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

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Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

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Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

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Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

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Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
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Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

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A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.

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Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.

 

The Wildlife Capital of the World: Into the Safari Van and onto the Savannah (Part II)

Welcome into Vintage Africa’s zebra-striped safari van, our home for this afternoon’s adventure. No, don’t sit down! You’ll not see anything for the tall grass. Stand up, hold on to the leather-covered bar in front of your seat and look out through the raised roof. We might spot some animals and birds we’ve not seen in the wild before.

See what I’m talking about! Our first encounter is right after driving through the gates into Nairobi National Park. A Baboon family, mom, dad and a baby. Mom and dad are busy examining the grass, looking for something to eat. And the baby is trying to learn this useful skill.

baboon family ud48After a while his curiosity wins. He comes and sits in the middle of the road. Examines us in deep thought.

baboon baby 3 ud48

He looks confused. Not quite sure what to think about us. But then he smiles shyly and has it all figured out. Humans, right?

baboon baby ud48And so we begin our game drive on the curvy, bumpy, red soil trails. They lead us through many kinds of habitats, from forests to savannahs, uphill and downhill. We are lucky as the trails are mostly dry now after last week’s heavy rains.

trail through savannah ud48Soon we spot our first birds in the sky, the African Sacred Ibis. In ancient Egypt, the Sacred Ibis was worshipped as the god Thoth and was supposed to preserve the country from plagues and serpents. The birds were often mummified and buried with pharaohs. They are now extinct in Egypt, but we are lucky to observe their large nesting colony on an island nearby.

sacred ibis in flight ud47

sacred ibis colony ud47See, there are hundreds of birds. Some are building their nests, others just mingling and talking.

sacred ibis ud47And look out to the left! Our next bird is a big one. This male Ostrich walks slowly, but if need be he can sprint up to 45 miles/70 km per hour. The Ostrich’s eyes are large, but they still have a tendency to run into obstacles. Might it be because their brain is really tiny, about the size of the teaspoon?

ostrich UD47And there – three zebras with their striped butts turned our way. They stand up while sleeping so these guys may be taking a nap in the afternoon heat. At least two of them, while the third is standing guard.

three zebras ud48The Hartebeest have also gotten the memo and pose in the same manner. One is curious enough to look at us. Hello there!

hartebeest ud48We continue our journey and soon spot giraffes on both sides of our trail. They are such gracious creatures. And their eyelashes are just gorgeous, don’t you think?

giraffe 1 ud48

giraffe 16x9 ud48The one on the right seems to be sleeping. Amazingly, this world’s tallest animal only needs 10 minutes to two hours of sleep per day. We don’t want to disturb her, so we continue our bumpy journey.

Keeping an eye on the trees, we spot a bird with a spectacular bill. Our guide tells us it’s the African Grey Hornbill, a female. These birds build their nests in tree cavities and “lock the door” with a cement built of mud and fruit pulp while the female is incubating, just leaving a small “key hole” through which the male feeds her.

African grey hornbill 2 ud47When the nest gets too small for the female and the hatchlings, she breaks out and the door is “locked” again. Both parents feed the babies through the “key hole” until they are ready to fledge. Neat.

african grey hornbill ud47Next we spot a Mousebird flying across our trail.  Her long tail looks quite spectacular in flight. She settles down in a tree at quite a distance. Zoom out and you can see her.

mousebird 2 ud47Oh, look there, in the shade on a large tree branch!  A big bird.  Our knowledgeable guide tells us it’s a “dark morph” of a Tawny Eagle only found in Africa and Asia.

Dark morph tawny Eagle B ud47Just up the next hill we can see something shimmering in the sunshine.  A bird with jewel-like colors, a Superb Starling, jumps around in the grass.

superb starling ud47Oh, he gets scared of our rumbling approach and flies up onto a bush at a safe distance from the trail. He’s easy on the eye, isn’t he?

superb starling 3  ud47From the woods we come onto the open savannah. And there’s a Warthog! He’s looking straight at us for a second, decides he doesn’t like what he sees, and runs away into the high grass with his tail up in the air. Just like in the Lion King. Lol.

warthog ud48The antelopes are much braver. These Impalas are pretty close to the trail. The female examines us thoroughly, while the male decides it’s time to cross the trail to be with his lady. She might need some protection after all.

Impala female ud48

impala ud48And that’s when we arrive at our “rest stop”. The restrooms are here, in case you need to use them. I’m staying behind at the van. There are some animal skulls collected from the park on display around a little hut.

animal sculls ud48While we’re taking a break from all the shaking on the uneven trails, I finally spot an animal that doesn’t run away, at least not very fast, an African Spurred Tortoise.

african spurred tortoise ud48And a White-browed Sparrow Weaver approaches our van. She examines me from top to toe and judges me correctly. A harmless old lady.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver ud47From here we will continue back onto the savannah. Please return to our safari van – in a couple of days. We don’t want to leave you here at the rest stop for too long.

Cheers from the savannah ~

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The World’s Wildlife Capital: My Journey (Part I)

It was a beautiful early spring day when I left on my latest trip. Tampa Bay was shimmering in the sun.

leaving from Tampa ud48My first flight was short, a climb up to 25,000 feet and down again in Miami. But from there to Nairobi, Kenya, it would take two 8.5 hour flights, with a stopover in London. I was excited as it’d been just over 10 years since I last visited Kenya.

leaving for Africa ud48It would be a work trip of course, with a heavy meeting schedule, but I would be in the wildlife capital of the world! I was hoping for a small break to go for a short game drive in the Nairobi National Park.

sunrise over Nairobi ud48The first morning when I woke up to sunrise over the city, I felt I was back in Africa. I watched some big birds circling in the skies and spotted a Bateleur, an eagle-like raptor, in the distance. He was scanning the cityscape for breakfast. Much in the same way Papa Osprey scans the bay here at home.

Bateleur at sunset ud47And so the days went, I was hurrying from one meeting venue to another. Working. Walking 2-3 miles during each working day.

one of the meeting venues ud48

UN park ud48And seeing much vibrant beauty on the way in this green city. Snapping iPhone photos from the car window, whenever natural or manmade sights that caught my eye.

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flowers in Nairobi ud48After long days I would come back to my hotel to eat, work some more and to rest. The locals were jokingly calling it the “Obama Hotel”.  The President had stayed there during his recent visit. Not in the cheapest single room, but in the presidential suite.

kempinski nairobi ud48It is a fresh hotel with wonderful gardens and great security. I had to walk down to the gates and snap a picture of its beautiful entrance garden. The back garden didn’t disappoint either. It was a tranquil oasis for a late afternoon tea or a pre-dinner drink.

kempinski garden ud48

statue in kempinski garden ud48On Valentine’s Day the staff spread some cheer to us who had to spend the day away from our loved ones. I received a nice vase of miniature roses. That was a wonderful gesture, much appreciated, and those roses lasted for the duration of my trip.

valentines day roses at the hotel ud48And I got my break last Wednesday. A free afternoon! Every minute of it, until sunset, was spent on a four hour game drive in the National Park that is only a short 40-minute drive from the city center. This 117 sq km (45 sq miles) park has a dry climate at an altitude ranging from 1,533 metres (5,030 ft) to 1,760 metres (5,774 ft). It houses a diverse range of habitats and a wide variety of wildlife, including over 400 species of birds. Yay!

giraffe walks the trail ud48I will leave you with this small “teaser” for now. A young giraffe we met on our trail. More posts to come about my mini adventure in the wild. Once I sort out my photos and identify every bird I spotted 🙂

And yes, everything seems to be fine at the salt marsh. Mama Osprey is incubating now. Papa is shuttling fish for her, and taking turns sitting on the egg(s) so she can get a break. But more on that as soon as I have an opportunity to go out and greet my feathered friends. Have a great week everyone, I will try my best to catch up on your blogs in the next few days.

 

My Muse is on the Loose. Weekly Photo Challenge (13 Images)

To tell you the truth, she’s actually wild. Or maybe I should say she always wants me to shoot in the wild. Take time off from everyday grind. And buy better equipment. Had she a full say, I’d spend months every year on the African savannah or an a secluded bird island in the middle of the ocean shooting pictures of life in the wild. Looking at the natural world through a high quality super telephoto lens.

great egret honeymoon island Florida
A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island, Florida

But like most everyone else, my Muse has to adapt to life’s circumstances. And to my mini-sized wallet. So now she reluctantly allows me to shoot whatever wildish crosses my path. Which is mostly birds. Like this year’s Osprey chicks getting their fish delivery from Papa Osprey. And learning to fly.

papa ospreys fish delivery Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Fish delivery by Papa Osprey.
osprey chick returns to nest Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
The middle chick learns to fly.

Or Mama Osprey defending the nest in a preemptive strike against one particular Great Blue Heron, who’d attempted to raid her home several times previously.

mama osprey prevents attack by blue heron Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey prevents the Great Blue Heron from attacking the nest.

Or it could be Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the calm ocean waters early in the morning.

bottlenose dolphins at caladesi island Dunedin Florida
Bottlenose Dolphins play in the water.

While my Muse still occasionally gets to shoot on wild islands, she’s not giving up on returning to the savannah.

fresh water pond on caladesi island Dunedin Florida
In the wilderness on Caladesi Island.

She constantly nags me about it. Opens old photo albums and makes me scan pictures. Reminds me of the giraffes and elephants I spotted on my first safari ever in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Gosh, she says, that was over 25 years ago.

giraffes South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Giraffes on the savannah in Zambia.
elephants in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Elephant mom with teenagers in the bush, Zambia.

And pokes me about the hippo we encountered on one beautiful New Year’s Eve in Queen Elizabeth’s National Park in Uganda. Remember that pink hippo, who wanted to crash the party on the lodge verandah?

A hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
The hippo who liked to party, Uganda.

Or the baboon, who taught you about food hygiene? She asks these detailed, leading questions to refresh my memory.

baboon mom with her child in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
Baboon mom with her kid, Uganda.

She remembers all the wild adventures of the past. From the hyena, who came to our camp in Awash desert in Ethiopia to the lions we encountered just before nightfall in Kenya.

Hyena awash Ethiopia
A hyena makes herself at home in our camp, Ethiopia
two lions in Kenya
Two female lions prepare for their hunt at nightfall, Kenya

My Muse is definitely on the loose. Who knows where she’ll take me in months and years to come. But she’d better have a good plan for taking care of all I need to take care of. And provide a generous budget. Cheers to that, my Muse ~

You can find other replies to this week’s photo challenge, Muse, here.

Out of Africa

The other day when I was reading a post of a great blogger, Anka, I thought of my favorite actress, Meryl Streep, whom I first really noticed in the celebrated 1985 film based on Karen Blixen’s most famous book “Out of Africa”, written under the pen name of Isak Dinesen. This Sydney Pollack film won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Although almost 30 years old, the film still feels timeless to me. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to the trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHowfGGR3l8.  I hope it will entice you to watch it – even if you were not yet born when it first came out.

Out of Africa book and film covers

Both the book and the film start with Blixen telling us “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills”.  The story is multi-faceted and all-round intriguing, spanning the period from 1914 to 1931 when the author lived on her coffee estate close to Nairobi in Kenya. But I will always remember the film, and watch it again, for its beautiful capture of Africa’s natural beauty and the time-typical environments.

karen blixen's house nairobi kenya

When Karen Blixen and her then husband Baron von Blixen Fincke moved from Denmark to Africa in 1914, they first lived in a farm-house called Mbagathi. In 1917, they bought a nearby farm-house, which became her long-time home she affectionately called Mbogani, meaning “the house in the woods”.  She ran the coffee farm there until her return to Denmark in 1931 after some tragic events on the farm and in her personal life.

library at karen blixen's house nairobi kenya

Her house was not available when the film was made, so it was mostly shot at her first farm-house, which was renovated for the purpose to look like her beloved Mbogani. However, soon after the film came out, her house became available and was transformed into a museum in 1986. Many of her belongings were acquired back and now form part of the exhibition, together with some other time-typical items and props from the film. The Blixen Museum in the Nairobi suburb of Karen is a now part of the National Museums of Kenya situated only a short drive from the city center. One hot summer day few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit this museum.

bedroom in Karen Blixen’s house Nairobi kenya

Walking through the house had a slightly magical feel to it. Clearly it belonged to another era and felt very authentic. With a little bit of imagination, one could hear Karen Blixen humming an old song in her bedroom. Or see her waiting for her beloved friend Finch-Hatton on the verandah and the two of them later on sitting in the library, which houses many of his books,  in one of their deep conversations.

karen blixen's house in nairobi kenya

The house has a  vibrant garden with huge trees, colorful bushes and flowers, and a wonderful view of the Ngong Hills. It is obvious that Blixen loved these hills. She describes them in many places in her book, like ” The hills from the farm changed their character many times in the course of the day…in the evening, when it was getting dark, it would first look, as you gazed at them, as if in the sky a thin silver line was drawn all along the silhouette of the dark mountain; then, as night fell, the four peaks seemed to be flattened and smoothed out, as if the mountain was stretching and spreading itself.”

The film captures the beauty of these mountains and, in another filming location, the beauty of the Indian ocean and the beach where her friend Finch-Hatton owned a piece of land (I’ll save this for a later post). Her friend Finch-Hatton died in an accident with  his small plane and was buried by Blixen in these hills. She marked the grave so that it could be spotted from her house. According to the legend, lions come at dusk to guard the grave, gazing toward the Nairobi National Park. Locals say that lions have been seen on these hills as late as in the 1990s. It’s quite a fascinating story.

Have a Moment? Go on a Safari!

Transiting in Nairobi, Kenya and have a few hours to spare? Don’t like crowded airport lounges? Go on a mini- safari! That’s right. Nairobi is the only capital with its own National Park, 117 sq km of protected area situated only 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) by road from the city center. So if you are on a short visit or even in transit, you can still enjoy a short game drive!

Some years ago we were transiting in Nairobi for about a day or so and decided to check out the National Park. After having lived in Africa for many years and having enjoyed many “real” safaris in deep wilderness where one can totally relax into the embrace of nature, I did not have high expectations of such a small tour. In fact, I thought it would be more like a “large zoo”. But I didn’t get it quite right. You can see an amazingly large variety of mammals – there are about 100 species – and even more birds in a couple of hours! And the more time you have the more you can see…

Of course this national park is not large or far out in the wilderness, and you don’t feel that you have entered a domain that belongs entirely to the wild, but surprisingly you really don’t see or even sense the city that much. The landscape is hilly, and once you travel on the savannah and start spotting wildlife, your focus shifts completely. You enjoy what you see – and your mind transports you away from the city.

We saw giraffes, buffaloes and several groups of lions. We also saw a cheetah running really fast in the high grass. I guess she was in the middle of a chase, moving too fast for us to even snap a picture. The park also houses black rhinos, leopards, zebras, wildebeests and hyenas and many other smaller species.

Of all the birds, I was most fascinated by this large Secretary Bird. I had not spotted one before and this one was kind enough to calmly pose for us not far from the trail.

This park is connected to other, larger national parks in Kenya in the sense that it has an “orphanage” for the small ones left without parents and also functions as a major sanctuary for breeding black rhinos, an endangered species, for other parks.

All in all, I thought this mini-safari was a great experience, definitely worth doing if you visit Nairobi and have limited time available,  or even transit through with a few hours to spare. Refreshes you nicely, and beats the airport lounges hands down!

I enjoyed peaking in there again…even if virtually, I hope you did too…Have a good weekend – kuwa na wikendi njema!