Monday, September 4, 2017

We're going on safari!

Up early to grab a quick breakfast, settle our bills, and load up the buses.

We very cleverly got seats toward the FRONT of the bus today -- no riding the wheel for three hours for us!

antelope crossing!
We said goodbye to the Springlands crew and drove out of Moshi and toward the Kenyan border. It took us a little over three hours to get there, thanks to a stop to allow a presidential motorcade to pass. 

The border was a bit funny ... first we all had to file into the Tanzanian customs and immigration building, and then fill out an exit card. This caused some consternation -- "We already have visas for Kenya!" -- but soon people worked it out.

Then back on the bus, where we drove a short way across the border into Kenya. There we all got off the buses again and presented our yellow fever certificates and our Kenyan visas and were allowed to enter Kenya.

Things seemed a little fluid... first we were told that we'd need to carry our luggage through customs. The front half of the line did exactly that. But by the time we were processed, the guards told us just to walk around the building ... just carry your luggage and walk toward the men holding machine guns.

As we did this, we saw Jenny coming out of the customs building -- she saw us and said, "Are you supposed to do that?" We assured her that, yes, that was what we were told, and just sauntered across the border into Kenya.

Then more chaos. First we found the truck that would take our big luggage to Nairobi and store it for us until the end of our safari, and happily said goodbye to our duffels.

Then -- amid dozens of travelers, vendors, and drivers, we just hopped into the nearest open van and sat down. It proved to be an excellent choice -- but more on that later. Soon we were joined by Tony and Gretchen. We saw Julie on her own outside and pulled her in. Likewise Liz -- who was being mobbed by vendors. And our van was, at least for today, set.

We sat there in the van for quite a while ... which gave the Maasai vendors a chance to ply their wares. Gretchen traded her camp sandals for a bracelet "because we are friends", and ended up buying a few more. I bought a beaded bracelet in the colors of the Tanzanian flag -- amusing because we were in Kenya now -- as well as a beaded gourd I felt would make a good Christmas ornament.

Finally, after what may have been 45 minutes, it was time to move. Our driver introduced himself as "Joseph", and warned us that we had about 30 minutes on a "good road", and then two hours on a "massage road".

Here's a short video to give you a feel for what the "massage road" into the park was like:

Imagine that, but for two hours. It was dusty, too...

Liz, not about to hold up a bank.

Tony, not her accomplice.
Still, we arrived at the park entrance  -- where we had another Maasai vendor encounter, which was fun, but I don't think any of us bought anything.

those beaded necklaces, tho

And, suddenly, inside the park there was no road, and the vans seemed to race each other across the savannah.

At one point we spotted an elephant. AN ELEPHANT. We were beside ourselves with excitement, but Joseph drove on, saying, "We'll see lots of elephants." We couldn't believe it.

Eventually we arrived at our lodge for the next two nights: the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge.

We had a little orientation talk, and then were given the keys to our rooms. Let's just say that our room was fancier than most hotel rooms we stay in...

The room was complete with a small vervet monkey companion if we got lonely.

(Actually, in the introductory talk, we were warned not to leave our doors open because the monkeys have become very bold and will enter your room and STEAL YOUR SUGAR. "If you aren't careful, there will be monkey business in your room.")

After we got settled, we were directed to the restaurant to get lunch -- the first of #20straightbuffets, I'm afraid, starting a tradition of eating waaaaay too much food.

And then, finally, it was time to go on our first game drive! Game drives were the highlight of our next week. We'd pile in our van, put up the roof, and drive into a park or reserve looking for animals.

We saw our first zebra and nearly fainted. WE SAW A ZEBRA. I hate to say it, but we almost stopped noticing them within a few days.

And of course we saw "tommies" -- Thompson's Gazelles, which I once heard described as "the fast food of the savannah":

And a lot of wildebeest. Joseph told us that these are "lazy wildebeest" who don't bother to migrate.

Joseph also reminded us that wildebeest = gnu ... Which made Gretchen and I dredge up an ancient scrap of memory about Gary Gnu and The Great Space Coaster (Get on board!). Sadly, we couldn't get most of the theme... just the "It's the Great Space Coaster -- get on board! It's the Great Space Coaster -- come explore!" Over and over.

No gnus is good gnus!

We passed a hippo skull ... it's the circle of liiiiiiiiife...... Hoping to see live hippos later!

Then we saw elephants. ELEPHANTS. ELEPHANTS!!!!!

Did I mention BABY ELEPHANTS???

At one point we watched a family group walk off toward the sunset -- seriously the perfect ending to our first game drive.

Amboseli lies just to the north of Kilimanjaro, where you get those gorgeous images of elephants and giraffes and zebras in front of the mountain. The melting snows and glaciers from Kili also feed underground springs that keep Amboseli green and even swampy. Sadly, when the glaciers dry up, that will be the end of Amboseli, and the animals will need to move on.

Though the mountain stayed hidden today, we did get some amazing, wide-open vistas.

As we arrived back at the lodge we asked Joseph if he would be our driver for the rest of the week. He said, "Yes, why not?" so I said, "We're Team Joseph!" He said, "Team Jose!" Okay then!

Wil decided we needed to have a gin and tonic -- something that would become a nightly ritual. We were joined in the garden by Gretchen and Tony, and Anna and her mom Donna ... and one of the resident Maasai. While it was nice to talk to him for a couple of minutes, it got a little strained, as we didn't have much to talk about. These are the faces of people who are trying Very Hard to be polite.

I think Anna is doing the best job.
Wil encountered some more wildlife:

Soon it was time for dinner -- why, yes, it was another buffet! -- and then headed off to bed.

Tomorrow we have an early game drive!

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