KENYA – Total Solar Eclipse Tour

Into Africa                                                                         October 31, 2013

 

The Fairmont Norfolk – Nairobi

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Our group of thirty-one eclipse chasers, headed up by Astronomy magazine Senior Editor, Rich Talcott, arrived at the historic Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi last night.  Now operated by Fairmont, no other hotel in Africa has such a history and long list of luminaries.  The open verandah was the watering hole for such personalities as Karen Blixen, Denys Fitch Hatton, Beryl Markham, Lord Delamere, whom the terrace is now named.  All safaris began and ended at the Norfolk, including President Teddy Roosevelt’s.

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Today we drove out to Karen and visited the Giraffe Manor and learned about the different types of giraffes and their conservation.  Some got their giraffe kiss.

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At the former home of Karen Blixen, we were treated to early Colonial history and Karen’s struggle with her coffee plantation in Kenya.  At the National Museum we viewed the  paleontological exhibit of Early Man, including the near complete skeleton of Turkana Boy.

The Outspan, Treetops and Mount Kenya Safari Club            November 1 – 2, 2013

Today we headed up into the highlands and the dense forests and cooler weather of the Abedares. Our lunch stop was at the Outspan, once the home of Lord and Lady Baden Powell, founders of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.  The sprawling lawns and lush grounds are surrounded by the tea and coffee farms nearby.

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We continued on to the legendary Treetops, where Princess Elizabeth, learned that her father had passed.  She went up the steps a princess and came down as the new Queen of England.   Built in 1932 on stilts over a watering hole and salt lick where the elephants and buffalos visit during the night.

After an early breakfast we headed to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the elegant 100 acre resort, once owned by William Holden, offers lush gardens with peacocks strolling on the grounds and a view of Mount Kenya, considered sacred by the Kikuyu.  Golf carts transported some to their cottages complete with a sitting room, spacious bedroom and fireplace.photo copy 15

This afternoon we visited Sweetwaters’ Ol Pejeta Game Conservancy.  Although it was pouring rain, we were able to get close to large chimpanzees.  One big guy unhappy to see us kept tossing mud in our direction.

Back at the MKSC we found that the fire had been lit in our suite. Romantic!!  We dined at the restaurant and enjoyed tales of our adventure so far.

Eclipse Day                                                            November 3, 2013

Leaving the Mount Kenya Safari Club excitement brimmed for the total eclipse at Lake Turkana.  Our three charter planes floated over the barren, northern desert before landing at Alia Bay airstrip at the edge of Lake Turkana’s wind blown shoreline in the remote Sibiloi National Park, home to the very first man and woman on earth.  The terrain is a semi-desert, dry open land.  Here in this paleontological site, where the story of mankind is protected, shelter three million years of Homo erectus hominid fossils.  The fossils discovered here have confirmed the evolutionary hominid, the direct descendant of Homo sapiens: Humans.photo copy 4

The air choked our breath as we stepped off the planes into the hot, dusty wind and only a small shelter in sight.   Destination Kenya guides loaded everyone into the rangers’ jeeps and shuffled us to the ridge overlooking the lake.   Colorful Kenyan cloths were spread on the ground under a tin roof as we waited.  The photographers braced the heat to set up cameras.  The Sky and Tel group was below nearer the lake.  The NASA guys were back at the airstrip.

A picnic lunch was passed around along with welcomed iced water and cold wet towels.   The heat was relentless.  All began to notice the dark cloud from the north, but tried not to believe it was moving west.  But it did.  We waited.  This wasn’t happening but it was.photo copy 18

4:13pm,  First Contact, dark cloud looming. Cameras clicked. We celebrated the beginning.  Dark cloud nearer but this time from the east; a dark sand storm was roaring directly toward us.  “Cover cameras”. “Take shelter”. The wind was a stinging, biting beast as some hovered in the shelter nearby.

As it passed we looked westward and that menacing darkness was hovering like a helicopter over the Sun/Moon dance. We waited; we wished; we prayed. It hung there like an African vulture that had not eaten in days. As time raced toward our 14 seconds totality, Rich Talcott encouraged us to observe the changes.  Long streamers peaked from through the clouds as he sky darkened. Darker than any other totality. Counting, shorter than any other, it was still an exhilarating one-of-a-kind experience.

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We loaded up immediately and drove to the awaiting planes. As Tropic Air pilot, Charlie, lifted off so did the cloud and we watched the final minutes of eclipse from the sky.  Birds flew across the orange fire sunset which  seemed to linger a bit longer just for us before melting into the hot, dry land. The dark sky began to twinkle as we flew toward Nairobi and the Mara.

Governor’s Camp – Maasai Mara                        November 4 – 6, 2013

The Maasai Mara has long been the home of the Big Five and up to half a million of migrating wildebeests with almost equal number of zebras leading the tromp into Tanzania and back again to the Mara.  A personal favorite, Governor’s Camp, welcomed our group once more.  Friendly and clever drivers met us at the air strip.  After hellos a short drive to Governor’s began our amazing three days of game viewing.

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We were greeted by manager, Katy, and our personal camp stewards who escorted each to the respective tents which were luxuriously appointed with a sitting-area, en suite facilities and a most comfortable bed.  We were reminded that Governor’s is unfenced and the game freely roam through the grounds.  An escort must always accompany after sunset.  On my return one evening after dinner, the guard and I discovered an elephant in front of my tent.

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Thrilled to again be back in the Mara where the early morning bird calls awaken you just before a soft voice at your tent says, “Madam, I have your coffee.  Your game driver is waiting.”

The days filled with:  Game drive, breakfast, rest, lunch, rest, game drive, dinner.  We were divided with five each into open land rovers.  Our driver. Sopia, had  stocked ice water.  We headed out.   Judith, who was on the 2010 annular eclipse tour once again rode with her favorite driver, Moses.  Happy reunion.  Excitement mounted as we motored on to the vast plain.

Early in the drive we came on a small pond where a saddle beaked stork stood statue still. Cameras clicked as his beak flew into the water withdrawing a foot long fish.  He pounded it to death on a rock before swallowing it whole as his audience watched it slowly slide down the narrow neck.

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Lions protecting a recent kill as the hyena and vultures circling; zebras and wildebeasts drinking from the river as a pre-historic looking giant crocodile slowly stalks its prey. The days were filled with elephants with their young, lions at love and kill.  The Maasai Mara cycle of life is ever present.

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A Bush Dinner was secretly planned for our last night.  All the staff was sworn to secrecy.  Sopia told our jeep members that we were going out at 7:30 pm to look for an aardvark.   As we arrived at the site on the levy, it was apparent that the hippos would be dinner music.  Lit by luminaries on the path and a blazing fire, we were greeted by the smiling staff from Governor’s.

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During pre-dinner drinks we sat around the fire and shared a story begun by Astronomy magazine, senior editor, Rich, and each member added to the hilarious tale.

Dinner was a feast beginning with a Moroccan BBQ.  When dessert time came the Maasai staged a mock attack and pulled all those having birthdays and anniversaries into circle for celebration.

The hippos continued to bellow as we drifted back to our smiling drivers and home to our tents greatly regretting that we were leaving tomorrow. 

Zanzibar                                                November 6 – 9, 2013

Zanzibar.  As you say the name, one can almost smell the spices.  While eight of our group continued game viewing in Tanzania, the remainder took the flight across the Indian ocean to the island where we had three nights to relax and enjoy the white sand beach, water sports, and at the all inclusive Melia Beach Resort.   However, mother nature was not with us and a tropical storm blew in, which cancelled swimming and diving, but cooled the air to a more pleasant level.

The following morning we toured a spice farm.  Our guide crushed the leaves in our hands as we guessed the actual spice. Grown there were cloves, cinnamon, peppers, turmeric, allspice. The spices were followed by a fruit tasting of papaya , orange and coconut. One felt as if we had wandered into a Garden of Eden, shaded by grey-green, tall coconut palms.photo

After lunch, we drove to the heart of Stonetown. Our guide led us through Christ Church Anglican Cathedral built over the slave auction block then in to the cells where the Africans were held before auction. Slavery was outlawed in 1883.

Continuing through the narrow labyrinth of streets to the Palace where rooms were as they left them years past. En route to a market we stopped at the yellow house of Freddie Mercury’s early childhood. Many publicity photos were posted under glass on the walls.

Back to the Melia for dinner and dancing before retiring.

The exit out at the airport was dampened with the surprise announcement of the newly added Departure Tax of $48.  Add to the frustration of heat and demand, they did not take credit cards nor did the ATM function in the terminal nor was the Bureau de Change able to assist.  A guard took several of us around the building to an ATM, guarded by an unhappy self-empowered woman who would only let us near the machine, one at a time, after being waned. But first we had to wait a few minutes after each transaction before another could go. It became humorous, wondering what the Daily Show might have done with our scenario.

Off back across the ocean to Nairobi for one last night in the spacious Norfolk before heading out of Africa.

There are two kinds of people who leave Africa, those who return and those who wish they could. This was my sixth trip to Kenya and twenty-third to the African Continent. Each have its own story and exotic memories. And, yes, if given the opportunity, I will return.

til’ the next time

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