Saturday, April 30, 2016

GE 2016: Out of Africa

We have spent the last 4 days in the world of Karen Blixen (author of "Out of Africa" and yes, visiting her house was a scavenge).  I've never been to Kenya before and I thoroughly enjoyed our time here (minus the HORRIFIC traffic in Nairobi... which makes you tear your hair out).

The worst part was that - because Wendy and Georgia have knocked it out of the park with their travel skills and are now competitive for the first place - we had to split from them for most of this leg.  And Bill put a new rule in place that we could only do one bonus scavenge with any team, so we had to pick wisely which one we did with Chris, Chloe, Savannah and Bop. We chose a two day trip on safari in the Masai Mara reserve ... very wise selection. We also added another team (Slo Folks) to our group for some of the trip.

We started out early because it was a 6 1/2 hour long ride to the safari camp and more than half of the time was on "jumpy-jumpy road" which describes precisely the level of pot-holes on the mud paths.  But we arrived in time for a late lunch at our tented camp.

And then straight out to an afternoon / dusk safari

We saw so many animals.  It was incredible.

Aren't zebra butts so cute?

The elusive cheetah

And stand back National Geographic... look at the shot I got of the lions.

Herds of white-tail-bobbing Impalas

Mommy and cuddly baby baboon

At the end of the safari, we visited a Masai Mara village and danced with the women, got to see inside their stick-and-cow-dung houses and learned about their traditions.  Fascinating.  And what we really learned is that virtually all of the jobs are done by the women. The men go out into the fields every day and gossip and watch over the cows and sheep, while the women do all of the chores.

Their houses have no windows, just a few small holes poked in the wall, so they are dark, filled with smoke from the fire and smell of cow manure.  Makes you really consider : "There but for the grace of God go I."

Masai warriors showed us how they start a fire using two sticks and a handful of twigs.  These men would be true stars on "Naked and Afraid." They had flames within 30 seconds flat.

They even brought out their ceremonial lion mane headdress... for us to admire and touch. Creepy. And yet you feel compelled to stroke it.

Plus goat milking for dinner

We had an early supper at the lodge and turned in because we had a 5AM wake-call for a balloon ride over the Serengetti / Masai Mara reserve plain.

Seeing everything from the balloon changes your perspective as you realize the true vastness of the plains.

Once we landed, we got a full champagne breakfast, cooked and enjoyed on the plains.

On our way back to town we very politely "invited" ourselves to our driver's home for dinner.  Actually, we started talking about where we might stop to eat and Simon asked us if we'd like to eat at his house.  For 200 points we said "Heck Yes."  Simon has 4 kids, 3 older girls and a 3 1/2 year old son called Troy.  Simon's wife is a journalist and travels all the time so we only got to meet Troy and Simon's maid / babysitter. But Troy made the whole trip to Kenya. What a character.  As Simon opened the door to his apartment, Troy started dancing and he did not stop until we told him we were leaving (when he promptly started crying).

Troy has charisma aplenty and is smart as heck.  Wouldn't be surprised if he grows up to be the next president of Kenya.

The second day, we mapped out a whole set of things to do.  Since we could only complete five scavenges with the Bajan teams we decided to do those first and then split up.  Because Simon had asked us to his house for dinner the night before, we invited Troy to come with us to visit an elephant orphanage and feed giraffes.  Here is Troy's face when we told him we were taking him to see elephants and giraffes:

The baby elephants at the conservatory were cute and naughty and learn quickly how to hold their own bottle of formula.

At the Giraffe Center, you could feed and pet the giraffes.

Bop got "intimate" with one.

We split up from the Bajans just as the skies opened and a thunderstorm started.  Rainey and I spent the second half of the day working hard,seeing stuff and laughing our butts off in the pouring rain.  We were quite the spectacle.

Here is an interesting scavenger:  Talk to young women about the traditions of dowry.  I spoke to a Masai woman (wife of the village spokesperson), a Kikuyu girl and these two Banta teenagers.  Dowry is still measured in the price of cows and goats.  The Masai wife had been bought for 7 cows.  The girl on the left below told me she was only worth 3 cows and 2 goats because her family was modest.  What a world we still live in!!

Last scavenge of the night, after a 3 hour drive in traffic to cover maybe ten miles (so frustrating), we ate at Carnivore restaurant. Carnivore is similar to a Brazilian churrascaria except it also offers game meats such as crocodile and ox balls.

This is the last leg with Chloe and Chris as they have to leave early to go back to work (sad face).  The trip will not be the same without them.  Not sure where we are going next as Bill has given us a few hours off before our next check-in.  So packing up now... but where are we heading??? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

GE 2016: Desert ramblings from Oman

Greetings from Oman.  I do not always love the Middle Eastern leg. The cities are very new and often do not have a ton of history or charm. But I totally enjoyed the last 2 days in Oman ... Or at least I enjoyed most of the leg, after we got passed the first 4 hours of frustration. For this leg we were allowed to rent a car and it became immediately clear that a rental car was a necessity if we wanted to do well. But getting a rental car was MUCH harder than it seemed. We took taxis to 4 different rental car places all over the city - wasting almost 3 hours - and came up empty.  Plus we needed two cars as there are 8 of us altogether, which doubled the problem. Just as we were about to give up, we scored two cars but by then we'd lost a lot of time... and points. 

We tried to get back on track with a visit to the main Souk or market: colorful and interesting. 

Then a great meal with Chris and Chloe at Khargeen's, a garden restaurant. It was like an oasis of hip and calm in a day of frustration. We ordered a whole series of dishes recommended by the waiter and the food was incredible. 

Plus - of course - we had to partake of the "hubbly bubbly."

Next up was a sunset cruise on a wooden dhow boat down the Muscat coast. Relaxing and we ran into an Egyptian ex-pat on the boat who helped us plan the next day by calling a bunch of places for us and reserving a sand dune ride. 

We had decided to go to the opera house to watch a jazz musician as our final scavenge of the day but then we instead asked (OK... We begged in our best pleading voices) our taxi driver if we could come to his house for dinner. That was a 200 point bonus. And a totally out-of-your-comfort-zone request.  We fully expected him to politely say no, but instead he called up his second wife (who he said was nicer than his first wife) and told her he was bringing over guests. For the next 2 hours we sat in his living room and talked and talked to Mohamed, his brother-in-law and 3 of his 8 kids. We never got to meet his wife but she cooked up omelets, french fries, a lamb curry dish and warm pita.  

Mohamed's English was great so I asked him probably a hundred questions about Oman, being born and raised in Muscat, how we met his wives (they are both cousins of his, they were both 17-18 when he married them, the second wife is from Pakistan and he never met her - or even saw her - before the wedding but Mohamed's sister told him she was beautiful and that was all that he cared about), some of the practices of Islam and the history of the Sultan (a truly beloved leader of Oman who is 76 and no one knows if he is married, has multiple wives or any heirs ... Can you imagine? The world knows if Obama buys toothpaste but this leader's private life is a complete mystery). It was fascinating and Mohamed is a gifted - although somewhat long winded - storyteller and he was willing to openly discuss anything. No subject was off limits. For example he introduced us to his brother in law and detailed how his sister and husband have been married for 6 years but have no children because the brother in law drinks too much vodka in his room. And yes, the brother in law was walking around with a half bottle of vodka, even though it is illegal in Oman for Muslims to buy or drink alcohol.

How cute is Mohamed's baby daughter?

The next day we were up and out of the hotel by 5:30AM.  First up was a fish market. Yikes. What a smell. But fascinating.

There was a fish auction where the auctioneer shoves a stick into a particular fish or group of fish tied together with string ... and that tells the crowd what is on the auction block.  Then the bidding begins.  And once the round concludes, he flips the fish to a side for the highest bidder to collect.

Then it was off to the Nakhal Fort, which looks just like a sand castle.

A quick dip in the nearby natural hot springs

And a long ride to Washiba Sands where we headed into the desert on 4X4 Jeeps for sand dune dashing and camel rides.

We ended the Oman leg with a stroll along the Muscat corniche (or boardwalk) at sunset.

The leg ended at 9:00PM and we found out then that we had a 2AM check-out of the hotel for our flights through Abu Dhabi to Nairobi, Kenya.  As I write this, we are now in Kenya (a new country for me - YAY).  The leg opens tomorrow... so stay tuned for chronicles of our adventures here in Africa.

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