1. Oh, All The Places to Go!

Last Friday The NYTimes posted its annual “52 Places to Go” for 2020. Mount Kenya is on the list. The mountain is home to some of the world’s last remaining tropical glaciers. However, glacier monitoring suggests that any permanent ice on Mount Kenya could disappear completely before 2030. According to The Times, “Now is the time to go.”

Uganda also made this year’s list, as it’s leading the way in sustainable travel. We have purchased a permit for a one day gorilla trek in the Bwindi Forest. Uganda limits the number of trekking permits. Parties no bigger than 8 are allowed to visit a gorilla family for one hour. Once you come upon the troupe, the clock starts ticking. Sixty minutes later you’re escorted back to camp.

2. How Big Is It?

Pretty darn big!

The Republic of Kenya is the world’s 48th largest country by total area (224,084 square miles), and the 27th most populous. English and Swahili are its two official languages.

Black band = the natives of Kenya
Red band = in memory of the blood sacrifice of freedom seekers
Green band = Kenya’s natural resources
White fimbriation = peace and honesty
Warrior’s shield and two spears = the traditions and cultures of Kenya.

3. To Offset or Not to Offset

Funded projects: construction of small hydroelectric generators in Honduras, cleaner stoves in Rwanda, electricity generation from mustard crop residues in India

Carbon offsets offer a way to balance out your pollution by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. They’re a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in direct proportion to the amount of GHG you’re creating while in flight. It doesn’t really matter where GHG reductions take place, just as long as fewer emissions enter the atmosphere.

Critics of carbon offsetting say that spending to offset emissions merely allows polluters to feel better about their emissions and discourages working to reduce them. I must admit, it does feel a bit like a papal dispensation. Still, I am going on safari, and I’m not going to swim to Africa to do it. I’m going to fly. Offsetting my carbon emissions by supporting the right projects is better than doing nothing.

I’ll be purchasing offsets.

4. Wednesday’s Word: Jambo

Jambo” is Swahili for “hello.”

In hopes of arriving in Africa with a number of useful Swahili words and phrases at my fingertips, I’m attempting to learn one new word per week.
I’m using the YouTube video “Easy Swahili – Basic Phrases for Greetings” as a pronunciation guide.

I shall begin by cheating, and choose a word I already know.

5. Out of Africa

We plan to visit the Karen Blixen Museum while in Nairobi.

Yesterday I read Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa. I opened to the first page in the morning and didn’t go to sleep until I’d come to the end. It begins, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills .” It is that farm that we shall visit.

— Deeper into the book, she describes the flight made so famous by the movie. —

“To Denys Finch Hatton I owe what was, I think, the greatest, the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm: I flew with him over Africa. . . You have tremendous views as you get up above the African highlands. Surprising combinations and changes of light and coloring. the rainbow on the green sunlit land, the gigantic upright clouds and big wild black storms all swing round you in a race and a dance. “

Source: Screen Themes, YouTube (Time: 3:29 – and worth it)

And then there’s one of my favorite lines:
“. . . You may at other times fly low enough to see the other animals on the plains, and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them and before he had commissioned Adam to give them names.”

7. Maktao: A Whole Lot of Cute

Maktao’s Lunch

Maktao is my temporarily adopted elephant toddler. He currently resides at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi. In order to participate in the 5pm foster visit (much less crowded than visits earlier in the day), visitors must adopt an orphaned elephant for a year ($50).

The orphanage sends a newsletter with updates about your adopted elephant. The latest information I received read, “We can tell all our orphans apart not just by their appearance but their quirky little characteristics as well. Maktao is a playful little chap always keeping the other orphans entertained with wrestling games. He isn’t fussy who he plays with and will choose anyone on any particular day to start a pushing game with.”

Although the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) is best known for its work rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned elephants, it is also very involved in the promotion of anti-poaching programs, and the advancement of community awareness and veterinary assistance to animals in need.

8. She was beautiful. She was notorious. She loved Africa.

At Linda’s suggestion, I’ve begun reading West with the Night. It’s another memoir by a strong-willed woman who called Africa her home. Both Beryl Markham and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) lived their lives with great independence – independence rarely afforded women at that time – taking risks in the face of fear, taking up arms against stuffy social norms, and taking paths previously forged only by men (not to mention taking on a few lovers along the way).

Early in her memoir Markham writes, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla , an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations . . . To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home. It is all these things but one thing. It is never dull.”

And I am eager to go!

9. Camera Thingies I May Take

I’m not sure I’m going to take a camera to Africa, as Linda is such an expert and she’s armed herself with some nice lenses. I may use her pictures and those I take with my cel. But just in case I change my mind . . .

I have a little catch-all pouch in my daypack marked specifically for camera accessories, and I add to it from time-to-time.

  • camera charger and cords
  • extra camera battery
  • powerbank
  • lens cleaning cloth
  • beanbag
  • 2 extra memory cards
  • homemade lens cover
  • extra lens cap and keeper
  • camera rain sleeve

10. It’s Elementary – or is it?

A child’s rhyme helps travelers focus with a greener eye.

The Good Tourism blog has an interesting piece this month on
How Bees, Trees, & Tourism Reduce Human-Wildlife Conflict in Uganda.

I was originally attracted to the article because the title references tourism in Uganda, and is accompanied by an image of a mountain gorilla – both subjects that are pertinent to our African travels.

As I got deeper into the article, I became intrigued with the traditional beehives the villagers were taught to make.

That post piqued my interest, and with a little more research, I found this video.
I can get sidetracked very easily.

11. It’s a long way to Tipperary!

International flight arrangements have been made. It looks as though I’ll be en route for 18 hours. Considering I was expecting over 20 hours of travel time, this is a pleasant surprise. There’s a layover in Amsterdam where I must change airlines (Delta to KLM). Since I’m traveling solo, this concerns me a bit, but I keep telling myself that I’m going to be just fine.

Los Angeles (LAX) to Amsterdam (AMS): 8 hrs, 20 mins.
Layover: 3 hrs. 50 mins.
Amsterdam (AMS) to Nairobi (NBO or WIL): 6 hrs, 50 mins.

I’m going to need a good neck pillow.

13. Born Free

Meru National Park is about 200 miles north east of Nairobi.
We have a 3-day safari planned in Meru.

Meru National Park is where Joy and George Adamson reintroduced their beloved lioness Elsa back into the wild. The Adamsons wrote a book about their experience which was made into the feature film Born Free.

Rented Born Free on Amazon Video last night.
The first time I saw it (which was also the last time) was in 1966, when it was originally released.
I haven’t read Born Free, but I understand the film is a decent adaptation of the book.

14. Thoughts on Content

This morning I came across a post entitled Your Guide to Starting a Travel Blog in 2020. Blogger Brooke Saward shares tips that have contributed to the 8-year long success of her travel blog.

Many of her tips are aimed at bloggers looking to attract followers. This blog, which is meant to be a digital scrapbook, is to be shared solely with family and a small number of friends. Still, I was keen to read the entire post, as I do want the blog to be entertaining and of genuine interest to those who drop in, and not a familial obligation. Three of Saward’s suggestions hit home. She wrote . . .

Choose a good name for your blog.

“A good guide is to stick to under three words if possible and include a word that explains what your blog is about.”

I agree, but having tied my domain to my blog’s title, it’s a bit late to change now.

Break up your text with images.

This will strike a balance between photographic content and words. “Readers on the web are visual and you need to make it easy for them to maintain their attention.”

Write about the experiences you encounter on your journey.
“People resonate well with personal experiences more than they do a factual explanation of where you went.”
I hope to avoid the Lazy Traveler Blogging Style: Here-I-am-in-front-of-the-Eiffel-Tower, Here-I-am-standing-by-the-tall-obelisk, Here-I-am-entering-the-Lourve.

Clockwise from top: devising a way to remove thermo underwear in public, mingling with the crazies, eating Whatever-It-Is like a native, “coaxing” a train station locker to give up your luggage, having weather issues, arriving just as the museum closes

It’s often humorous situations, unavoidable disappointments, questionable foods, loony personalities, unpredictable weather, and nerve-racking predicaments that I remember with the greatest clarity. When I flash back to those situations, I’m reminded of what it felt like to have visited a place. Those stories, when shared on a travel blog, are the ones most likely to draw readers back for more.

Again, those tips and more can be found in the post Your Guide to Starting a Travel Blog in 2020. Thank you, Brooke Saward.

15. The Elephant Whisperer

On page one of The Elephant Whisperer, the author writes, “. . . to be clear, the title of this book is not about me . . . Rather, it is about the elephants – they whispered to me and taught me how to listen.” I tend to judge a book by its cover, which includes its title. The title is misleading, or at least it misled me. Still, I was entertained and learned a thing or two.

Lawrence Anthony, famed conservationist, writes about his experiences when he accepts seven unpredictably dangerous elephants onto his South African reserve. Had he not accepted the challenge (and he was offered a great deal of money not to), the animals would have been shot.

Yes, of course, the book speaks of elephants – and one receives quite an education. They’re curious yet cautious, warring yet loving, powerful yet gentle, intelligent, clever, and loyal. Elephants unite. Elephants celebrate. Elephants grieve.
It appears that their enormous bulk masks the fact that there’s even more to these creatures than first meets the eye.

In addition, the reader learns about what it takes to care for these animals. The constant struggle against soaring heat and torrential rains, the doctoring, the engineering skills, the equipment, the war against poachers – all are present as Anthony risks physical as well as financial safety to protect the pachyderms.

The book’s Afterword tugs at the heart.

16. Gaiters and Gloves

I’ve been told the items below are necessary for a comfortable gorilla trekking experience:
1. a pair of gaiters to keep little critters from crawling up your pant leg,
2. a pair of heavy duty gloves to eliminate cuts from thorny branches you might have to push out of your way.

These weren’t things I just happened to have in my dresser’s bottom drawer. They’re recent purchases.

I’m attempting to buy “speciality items” slowly, over the next six months in order to spread out the cost. Aside from a pair of hiking boots, most things are rather inexpensive, but when added all together – yee gads! So I’m acquiring the stuff a little at a time.

Update: This was my first attempt at composing and publishing a post from my cell. I had two goals. One was to enter text. The second was to post an image taken with my phone.
As it turned out, I had to use the computer to clean quite a bit of this up. I’m left with lots of questions.

17. Kenya and Locusts – Yikes!

Knowing that I’m planning a trip to Kenya, my friend Robin sent me a link to an article in The Guardian (Jan. 25, 2020):
Kenya suffers worst locust infestation in 70 years as millions of insects swarm farmland
The enormity of the infestation, the pitifully few solutions to end the problem quickly, and the damage already done to the lands are of biblical proportions.

Source: New York Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Telegraph

East African nations that are already experiencing a dangerous shortage of food are now witnessing large areas of their crops destroyed.
The United Nations has called for international aid to “avert any threats to food security, livelihoods, and malnutrition”.

If reading The Guardian’s description of the effects of the plague didn’t give you the willies, then try watching this video. It’s a segment from BBC’s Planet Earth, posted on YouTube two years ago. The stars of this video are the same nasty buggers that are plaguing Kenya right now.

Source: Associated Press

The Associated Press explains one of the reasons why this is happening
How climate change feeds Africa locust invasion.”

Is anyone surprised?

18. Walking With Elephants

I was poking around Amazon last night, looking for a good read,
when what to my wondering eyes did appear,
but a video suggestion with a place to Click Here.

It was free with my Amazon Prime subscription. So I figured, “What do I have to lose?”
Turns out, 49 minutes of my life. Well, not 49 minutes, as I just couldn’t sit through the whole thing.

How can a documentary entitled Walking With Elephants be boring?
Go onto Amazon’s site, “Click Here” and find out.

20. Tackling the Travel Trash

I heard or read this travel tip just lately, but can’t remember where.

It addressed how to deal with the candy wrappers you remove from snacks you brought onto a flight, the used tissues you accumulated when you had that sneezing fit over the Atlantic, and the coffee cup you didn’t hand back to the steward because you hadn’t quite finished your coffee yet.

I stuff all my flight trash in the elastic pocket on the seat in front of me. I try to be as neat about it as possible, but honestly, that pocket can get a little disgusting after hours on an international flight.

A tipster suggested bringing a plastic bag to use as a wastebasket, and when you depart, take the bag with you and dump it into the nearest trash bin as you make your way to the luggage carousel. I don’t know why I’d never thought of it before.

Plastic trash bags are no longer allowed in Kenya (Thank, God!), so I’ll be taking a few small recycled gift bags to use on each leg of my flight to and from Africa.

Nice for the Earth’s environment in general.
Nice for my immediate environment on the plane.
Nice for the custodial staff that services the plane’s cabin after touchdown.

21. Lilac-Breasted Roller

We’ll be visiting a country that boasts 1,137 species of birds.
I can identify an ostrich, a penguin, a chicken and a flamingo. Clearly, I’m going to need a bit of preparation to take advantage of this birdwatcher’s paradise.

Every Friday, a single bird, said to be common to Kenya, will be highlighted on this blog.
I don’t imagine for one minute that I’ll be able to shout out, “Look! There’s a Northern Long-Crested Hornbill on our left!”
But I’m thinking that some familiarization with just a few of these winged creatures might cause me to stop and take in the beauty of all that I see.
I’ll start with the National Bird of Kenya.

Lilac-Breasted Roller

The Lilac-Breasted Roller is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world with its pastel colors and long tail streamers. 
Although mostly silent, it announces itself with a harsh, raspy call during the breeding season or when it feels its territory is threatened.
These large-headed birds are often found in a grassy clearings, atop a tree that serves as a hunting perch.

The Lilac-Breasted Roller does not migrate. It stays right in Kenya and breeds there. I guess what happens in Kenya, stays in Kenya.
It nests in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2-4 eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs.

All rollers, including the lilac-breasted, are known for their acrobatic, agile flight, aided by their tail streamers which they use as rudders while flying.

Source: YouTube, SafariLive 10 30 How the Lilac-breasted roller got his name

Next week: A Bird of Prey.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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..

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.