41. African Hornbills

African Hornbills *

There are 24 species of hornbills found throughout Africa.
They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is often found to be brightly colored.
Hornbills are omnivorous and use their beaks to pluck fruit and forage for seeds, small insects and spiders on the ground.
Most all species of hornbills are monogamous. A pair will bond for a single season. Upon bonding, the male will courtship feed the female with either solid items or regurgitation. (Yucky, but true.)

They nest in natural cavities in trees and sometimes in cliffs.

Why feature Hornbills? 

Zazu, the prim and proper bird in The Lion King, was a red-billed hornbill.  His character, who acted as advisor to the king, had a great sense of self-importance. Hornbills can’t be overlooked after one of their species has found Hollywood stardom.

40. Colorful Cash

The currency unit in Kenya is the Kenyan shilling, officially abbreviated as KES, or more commonly as Ksh.
The shilling is referred to as a “bob,” for example “100 bob” or “2000 bob.”

Colorful new notes were introduced last year in compliance with Kenya’s 2010 constitution that prohibits notes and coins from bearing the portrait of any individual.

The faces of the 50-, 100-, 200-, 500- and 1,000 shilling notes all have an image of the Kenyatta International Conference Center, considered one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country.

One of the “Big Five” of the animal kingdom is shown emerging from the final zero on the reverse side of each denomination.

The new coins also feature wildlife rather than Kenyan leaders.

38. Speaking of Money . . .

Although I don’t plan on purchasing much while in Kenya, I’m hoping we’ll have time to walk through the markets in Nairobi.
If we do, I’ll have a currency converter at the ready.
I’ll still keep track of the current conversion rate, as I’ve been known to accidentally press the wrong keys.

The free app I use (GlobeConvert) converts all sorts of things: currency, speed, length, temperature, time, cooking, radiation dose (yikes!), volume, weight, electric current, and more.

My advice to myself while purchasing an item: Slow down – and check it twice.

At the time of this writing,

1 Kenya Shilling = 0.0099 U.S. Dollars.
100 Kenya Shillings = .99¢

To do a mental calculation: Note the price in KSh. Then move the decimal point to the left two spaces. That’s approximately the cost in U.S. Dollars.

37. A Wearable Safe

I’m getting more forgetful as I grow older, and a lot more paranoid too – which is why I just purchased the travel item below.

Normally, I carry very little cash while on a trip. But circumstances are different this time, so I’ll be using an age-old safeguard: The Money Belt.

Here’s the situation. We’ll be using the services of a number of different people along the way: drivers, trackers, guides, spotters, porters, waiters, housekeeping staff and more. That means I’m going to need more small bills than I normally carry.
Since I’m not sure how easy it will be to get to an ATM in the middle of camp, I’ve decided to withdraw a greater amount of cash than I usually do.

Rather than leaving it all under the mattress while I’m out on safari, or in the safe and forgetting to retrieve it before I leave, I’ll wear my cash on me. The money belt is where I’m putting my passport and other essential documents as well.

It will be UNDER MY CLOTHES. I’m always a little taken aback when I see someone wearing a money belt outside her top. Seems like that reduces the security factor big time.

purchased in preparation for the Kenya/Uganda trip
(some I may use again, some probably not)

utility work gloves
nylon gaiters
Money Belt

36. Red and Yellow Barbet

Red and Yellow Barbet *

The Red and Yellow Barbet is a smallish bird with black, red and yellow plumage. It lives in low woodlands, scrubby savannas and rugged, semi-arid terrain. It’s omnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruit, and invertebrates.

Red and Yellow Barbets are very tame wherever humans feed them.

* Why feature the Red and Yellow Barbet?

It has polka dot wings for heaven’s sake! Hard to beat that.

35. Sir Carl L. and The Big Five

The Big Five

These guys are at the top of every visitor’s Must-see Safari List. Travel books will tell you when and where to find them, and why these five animals carry the Big Five moniker.

Hippos aren’t on the list, and they’re bigger than the lions and leopards who are listed.

Giraffes, the tallest animals in the world, aren’t included either.

The large Kudu Antelope was snubbed as well.

So what gives?

The term “Big Five” was coined by game hunters in the late 1800s.
It refers to Africa’s five most challenging and dangerous animals to hunt on foot.
Nowadays the term is used by safari guides and game reserves, both public and private, to entice visitors to use their facilities. “Come visit our reserve and you will see all five of Africa’s most touted mammals. Prepare to be awestruck”

Want to be able to list the names of The Big Five in rapid fire order? Just think of that recently knighted zoologist and endangered species specialist, Sir Carl L.

C – cape buffalo
A – African elephant
R – rhinoceros
L – lion
L – leopard

We’ll begin to examine one or two of The Big Five in later posts.

Move Over, Rick Steves

Move Over, Rick Steves

I have plans to author my very first (and most likely my very last) travel guidebook. Tentative chapters can be viewed under the drop down menu at the top.

It will be an ongoing, ever evolving creation. There’s no set timeline for post entries. Chapters may be introduced out of order and revised or added to at any time.

I’ve asked Denise to add her perspective now and then.

Keep watch.
Linda B.

Getting Personal

Denise and I are Machatunin.  That is Yiddish for two mothers-in-law.  So far, it happens to be the only known name for such a relationship among the languages we have looked up.  It started with a wedding (her son to my daughter).  

Coit Tower, San Francisco, 2017

We’ve shared some get-togethers, a few holiday celebrations,  a small trip to San Francisco and a bigger two week trip on the Viking River Cruise to Portugal with excursions into Spain.  We both have celebrated BIG DECADE BIRTHDAYS recently (eg. important decade life landmarks) carrying us along into “senior land”.

I (Linda) am a retired choral director, piano teacher and still keep a church job as Organist and Choir Director.  As I started babysitting when I was 12, I have been working ever since,  just shy of 60 years.  I have held my teacher’s certificate for 50 years.  I lived in Spain and appreciate how close people are when they can communicate together.  My daughter once told me I have the “largest box” to hold all the people I admire and call my friends of anyone she knows.  That box has almost limitless boundaries for diversity.  I love people, therefore I love the travel. 

It was a mix-up—probably the only time we started on two different pages.  Over three years ago we planned a big adventure trip together.  Denise has connections to Portugal and as I lived in Spain.

Lisbon (2017)

 It seemed that the only choice for our first big trip together was to go to Spain and Portugal for her birthday.  It was a huge success. I highly recommend the Viking River Cruise on the Duoro River with excursion extensions to Spain (www.Vikingcruise.com).  

My big birthday was a little over a year later, but Denise was already booked on another trip with a close friend. 
I have a friend, a Retired Marine Lt. Col who is a marathon runner and all around never-sit-still kind of a guy.  He did a tour of England and walked Hadrian’s Wall. Hey!  I could do something similar.  Surfing the Net brought me to a site for ACTIVE ENGLAND  – a small group company for bikers and hikers around southern England.  I booked two two-week tours of Devon/Cornwall and Windsor, Blenheim, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Cotswolds and Bath with layovers in London and Oxford  . .  all by myself and going to travel!!!  In just over two weeks I hiked over 100 miles.  (**This is where I tell you  that I was just diagnosed with sufficient damage to be eligible for  knee replacements  in both knees. More about that  in the chapter on senior issues and health care.

With the best guide, Helen of Active England walking miles along the Southwest Coast Pathway on the edge of the Cornwall coast. Think Doc Martin and Poldark, Hound of the Baskervilles and Wuthering Height

 Well, Denise still wanted to plan another trip. I thought of the customary destinations:  France, Germany, Scandinavia  et al. —  even Canada  But, we weren’t on the same page.  “Guess where I really REALLY want to go” and before I could guess she blurts out “ AFRICA!”  Not in a million years of dreaming would I have seen the possibility of going to Africa.   And, Africa is a continent, NOT A COUNTRY!

 But, I am a good sport and I have a fabulous travel agent, CAROL FLAX OF MCCABE TRAVEL IN McClean, Virginia (see chapter on WAYS TO PLAN).   One can never say no to one of Carol’s adventures  And before you knew it,  we’d paid the deposit and were getting into more trouble by adding on exciting things to explore.  So, as first time travelers on an African safari we chose Kenya with an add-on to Uganda to go gorilla trekking.  I’ll let Denise tell you about how we arranged to see the Gorillas.  Suffice it to say it will be the trip of a lifetime, which is why we want to share a blog about it.

• To let friends and family take a virtual trip along with us
• To share thoughts on who, how, why, where and when to plan travel adventures
• To showcase our exploration of the new, ancient, unusual and rare 
• To inspire our BLOG BUDDIES to share their travel dreams 

32. Settling on a Suitcase

I own a piece of carry-on luggage that meets all my traveling needs.

It spins on four sturdy wheels.
My stored electronics are safe inside its hard exterior.
Although I check it on long international flights, it serves as a convenient carry-on, easily fitting into the overhead compartment on shorter domestic trips.
Best of all, it opens like a clam shell, so there’s very little layering.

Yet it won’t work for this trip.

Linda and I will be taking short domestic flights while in Africa.
Due to the restricted storage space in smaller planes, soft-sided bags are a necessity. Hard shell baggage is not permitted.

undefinedSo long, favorite bag.

First: Meeting the Soft Sides Requirement

In the far-back, deep-dark, up-high part of my closet, I located my old cloth roller.
It’s in great shape and seems to be a possible solution to my baggage problem.

I hate to give up the clam shell opening, but this is something I can overlook, as packing cubes have taken some of the hassle out of organizing a single, deep base.

That solves the soft-sided problem.

Next: The Maximum Dimensions Test

We’ve been told that the maximum luggage dimensions
are 24″ X 12″ X 10″.
My bag is 22″ X 14″ X 9″ – wider than allowed, but also shorter and shallower.
According to our travel agent, “As long as the total linear inches (all sizes added together) are within range and you are within an inch or so on any dimension, you are fine.”

Another hurdle overcome.

Finally: The Weight Restriction

The weight allowance on our domestic flights is 33 lbs per person, inclusive of hand luggage.
My old roller weighs over 7 lbs. That’s more than 20% of our allotted weight.

If I spring for a new duffle-type bag, I can save approximately 3 pounds. But osteoporosis and sarcopenia (the medical term for “age related muscle loss”) are now part of my health history. I’ll have to find just the right bag before I’m inclined to give up on wheeled luggage.

The cheapest, and perhaps the smartest solution is simply to pack less.
I’ll still keep an eye out for the perfect bag though.

In the meantime, I plan on borrowing the neighbor’s bolt cutters
and removing the lock with its long-forgotten combination.

31. Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher *

 The Pied Kingfisher, with its black and white plumage, hovers over clear lakes and rivers before diving down sharply to spear a fish with its beak. The video below shows this amazing skill in slow motion.
Males have a double band across the breast while females have a single patch of color on the throat that is often broken in the middle.
They’re usually found in pairs or small family parties. When perched, Pied Kingfishers often bob their heads and flick up their tails.

The Pied Kingfisher is the largest bird in the world
that can hover in still air.

Video source: BBC Studios

* Why feature the Pied Kingfisher?

This bird is one smart athlete. The whole hovering/split-second timing/vertical diving thing is incredible.
He’s shaped a little like a blue jay which might help me to recognize him in a perched position.

30. U.S. Department of State

United States citizens traveling abroad can register their trips with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate by signing on to the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrollment can be done online at the U.S. Department of State website.

Kenya is a developing country, still in the process of improving its human development index. This, coupled with the recent kidnapping of a California woman in Uganda, makes registering my trip seem like a sensible, precautionary step to take.
In case of an emergency, the U.S. government will know about my presence in the country and where to contact me.
Registration is free.

I have also signed up to receive email notifications when the latest Travel Advisories for Kenya and Uganda are posted on travel.state.gov.
Users can unsubscribe at anytime.

The U.S. State Department publishes a color coded map showing travel safety levels for the world.

Kenya borders the troubled country of Somalia. At the present time, travelers are told not to travel near the Kenya-Somalia border and some costal areas due to terrorism, and to stay out of Turkana County in northwest Kenya due to crime.

28. Mary Leakey: Disclosing the Past

The Nairobi National Museum houses a nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus male youth who
lived over 1.5 million years ago.
One point five million years ago!
Try wrapping your head around that.

If you want to go waaaay back and try to imagine when people started to be people, consider the world’s oldest cave paintings, created 37,000 years ago.

Now, think about Skeleton Boy who is all stretched out under glass in Nairobi’s museum. He was walking around on his own two leggies a great deal earlier than any of those cave wall artists.

It’s that skeleton, and the fact that we’re on our way to see it, that led me to pick up Mary Leakey’s autobiography.*

Leakey begins Disclosing the Past with an account of her childhood, writing about her love of art and her early fascination with excavated artifacts. “I remember wondering about the ages of the pieces, and the world of their makers.”

Although she didn’t imagine it at the time, it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

This portion of her life takes up the first 40 pages.

Then she meets Luis.

Leakey writes as you might imagine a scientist would. There are no wasted words. She describes the landscape, but only to inform, not to romanticize. She chronicles the events that led to the discovery of a fossilized skull believed to be 1.8 million years old – proof that our own species had its beginnings in Africa. This was a ground changing discovery made during a time when few people would give credence to such an hypothesis. Her story covers her work with her husband, her family, her crumbling marriage and life after Luis Leakey’s passing.

Mary Leakey’s autobiography is printed in 10pt font.
When my eyes left the right side of the page to resume reading on the left side, I had trouble finding the correct line on which to proceed. I rarely read without a bookmark.
After 20 pages or so, I had to stop. It took me forever to finish. If you’re the type that likes to rocket your way to the finish line, buy the best pair of reading glasses you can find..

27. Cameras, Lenses, Bags and Books

The following three images are representative of what I’ve been doing to prepare for our 2020 trip to Africa. If you’re not already aware of my great passion for photography, it will be apparent with the reading of this post.

This is an image of all my gear – everything I own except for the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 lens which is wait-listed. Supposedly it will come in June.  It will be worth the wait, as it will allow me to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife.  It was my big lens purchase for my new mirrorless full frame Nikon Z6 camera.  I took the Nikon with me to England last year where I got incredible shots.
 I added a Tamron 100-400 mm lens to bridge the gap with my older Nikon 5200.  Yes, I am taking 2 camera bodies.
The green Mindshift bag is a dedicated camera bag with all kinds of organizational nooks and crannies. That, along with my orange REI duffle, should hold all of my cameras, photographic equipment and clothing.

These are just a few of the photography and travel books in my self-imposed curriculum.  They include a catalogue from the Shangri-La of Photography: B and H Photo in NYC. 
For me, B and H is every bit as much of a temptation as a fine ladies boutique.  Their tech assistants can answer any question and give really great recommends.  My slogan?  Never travel without B and H!

This final picture, taken with my Nikon Z6,  is probably over Newfoundland.  I was on a flight to England that left Dulles around 6:30 PM.  It was August and the sun was above the cloud cover so I had amazing views as the sun dipped below the horizon.
One of my photography books actually has a chapter on taking photographs out of airplane windows! Carol, our Tour Agent Extraordinaire,* arranged a window seat for me, so my camera will be ready! 

*Carol Flax
Luxury Travel Advisor
An independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel
Virtuoso Member

26. Lappet-Faced Vulture

Lappet-Faced Vulture *

The Lappet-Faced Vulture is Africa’s largest bird of prey. It has a pink head, blue and ivory beak, and heavy wings. The feathers on the upper part of its legs make it look as though it’s wearing a pair of white trousers. Like many vultures, it has a bald head, which is advantageous, because a feathered head would become spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep clean.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is a scavenging bird, feeding mostly on animal carcasses, which it finds by sight or by watching other vultures. Its vision is practically unmatched in the animal kingdom.
Ranking among the world’s most powerful flyers, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is capable of soaring on upward air currents for hours.

The Lappet-Faced Vulture is the most aggressive of all the African vultures, and other vultures usually cede a carcass to the Lappet-Faced if it decides to assert itself.
The first few seconds of this video remind me of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Source: DougNorrisFam, YouTube

Lappet-Faced Vultures are considered endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. In some cases, dozens at a time are poisoned by poachers who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their illegal killing of protected species.

Source: BirdLife International, Saving Nature’s Clean Up Crew, YouTube (Time: 1:22)

 Why feature the Lappet-Faced Vulture?

These guys are the stars of every safari movie’s After-the-Kill Clean-up Scene that has ever been produced.
Their ill-gotten fame shoots them to the top of the Friday Flyer List.

25. Before We Meet

Linda B here.
Greetings from the east coast half of this traveling duo.

It’s cloudy and cold in
Winchester, Virginia today.

The map below shows my flight plan from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi, Kenya.
Denise and I won’t join forces until we arrive at our hotel in Nairobi on August 19.

First leg, Washington Dulles to Zurich:  9 hours
Layover: 1:50 hours
Second leg, Zurich to Nairobi: 6:45 hours
Total travel time: 17:35 hrs

23. Sticking to the Buyback Plan

Despite the difficulties encountered by some well regarded offsetting groups, I am completing my carbon buyback commitment today by covering my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi and the return from Entebbe back to Amsterdam.

The “Gold Standard,” a classification backed by the United Nations and dozens of environmental groups, sets necessarily rigorous regulatory standards for carbon offsetting projects. It follows, therefore, that meeting those standards is not easily accomplished. Many companies who sell offsets have been exposed for intentional fraud, while reputable organizations struggle with finding projects that can attain the strict Gold Standard of quality.
One study shows that a number of effective offset programs had no real impact because they were scheduled to have been implemented even without offset funding.

Only 58% of Kenyans have access to clean drinking water
On August 24, 2019, an offset program celebrated the opening of a solar desalination system in Burani, Kenya.

So, why continue with the buybacks?

Even with such discouraging reports, I will complete my earlier commitment to help fund potentially successful projects. If the legit projects go up in smoke (pardon the polluting expression), then I shall hold on to the fact that even failure may teach us something.

Tomorrow I may say, “Not one penny more,” but not today.

22. Leila Janah

After reading Leila Janah’s obituary in the NYTimes last Friday, I needed to pause and recognize her in a post.

Lelia Janah dedicated her professional career to providing jobs that pay a living wage to thousands of marginalized people in Africa and India. She was the founder and CEO of three organizations, all of which had one common mission – to “Give Work.”

Leila Janah died of a rare form of cancer on January 24, 2020 at the age of 37.

As a high school student, Janah participated in an international exchange program in Ghana where she taught blind students. “I had never experienced anything like the poverty I saw there,” she said. “It helped me understand how poverty oppresses people.”

Image source: Samasource.com

After graduating from Harvard in 2004, she developed an impressive resume that reflected her commitment to providing financial solutions to the world’s health problems and the creation of decent jobs for the poorest of peoples – which she called “the biggest untapped resource in the global economy.”

In 2008, she started Samasource, based in Nairobi, with the aim of employing the poor in digital jobs and providing them with a living wage while working at those jobs. At present, Samasource operates throughout Kenya, Uganda and India. At least half the people hired by Samasource are women. It has helped an estimated 50,000 people — 11,000 workers and their dependents.

A statement posted on the Samasource website spoke of Ms. Janah’s impact on environmental sustainability and her dedication to ending global poverty.
Cancer doesn’t care who it cuts down.