An email that sent us over the moon…A special person we met in our lives of travel…

Anderson, standing at the marker for the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

Yesterday morning, I discovered an email in my inbox from Anderson, our guide while on safari in the Masai Mara.  The email in his words:

“Jambo from masai-mara,Kenya.
Hi Jessica and Tom, how are you doing my friends?.long time since we meet at Maasai-mara at Sanctuary OLonana camp,where are you now?..since you told me that, you were traveling all over the world! sorry that i did not have time to visit you at Mombasa-Ukunda.
Concerning my employment, I resigned from Olonana a few months ago, and I bought a new safari land-cruiser to start my own safari business within Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. So please if happen that you want to do a safari, am always there for you,..and please recommend me to your friends for me. Thanks my friends, Best regards from Anderson ole Pemba.”

In October 2013, over 18 months ago, we went on safari in the Maasai Mara (aka Maasai Mara), situated in southwest Kenya as one of Africa’s most magnificent wildlife reserve. Connected to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania it is the world’s most popular safari game viewing environment.

We stress the fact that our expedition was game viewing, not hunting. We would never engage in the self serving slaughter of exquisite animals in the wild as their numbers dwindle based on the intervention of humans. 

How we got so lucky to have Anderson as our guide falls into the same “safari luck” category that seeing the Big 5 in our first 10 hours on safari seemed to fall into, all accomplished only due to Anderson‘s expert skills and keen eye. No one on the planet can drive across rough terrain with his expertise nor can spot a lion sleeping in a tree all the way across the plains.

Tom and Anderson really hit it off. This was within moments of arrival at the dirt runway airport in the Maasai Mara.

Not only was his warm, thoughtful and engaging personal a factor but his sense of adventure, willingness to literally “go the extra mile (kilometer) and his vast knowledge left us with a memory that will truly last a lifetime. 

An amateur photographer such as I with a less than ideal camera was able to take photos that will always stay in our hearts and minds and into infinity, located here on the Internet for generations to come.

Anderson‘s efforts made this lifelong dream of mine become a reality. As a child I dreamed of Africa, the Africa we experienced in the Maasai Mara, and Anderson helped make it a reality we’ll both always treasure.

When the short three day period as guests at Camp Olonana by Sanctuary Retreats came to a close my heart ached over having to say goodbye. Would we ever return to the Maasai Mara in Kenya with so much political unrest in the country and when there’s still so much world to see? 

I knew we were in good hands the moment we met Anderson. 

Yes, someday we’ll return to Africa to see Victoria Falls in both Zambia and Zimbabwe and to see the gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, although there are other locations where they are to be found. Plus, my heart longs to return to Marloth Park for a period of time as well. Someday.

Although we spent only three days with Anderson, for as much as eight hours each day, the time was never enough. Realistically, three days in the Maasai Mara is enough time during which with a great guide, one can see and take photos of many of the treasures in this extraordinary location.

Not only did he ensure we could see all that we longed to see, he left an indelible mark on our hearts not only with his skills but, with his delightful demeanor, sense of humor and passion to please regardless of the size of the group in his vehicle, at most six tourists. 

When we arrived at the dirt runway airport in the Maasai Mara, Anderson was waiting for us immediately taking me into the circle of his strong arms for a bear hug. At that moment, I knew we were in good hands. He’d take good care of us, ensure our safety and equally ensure we had the time of our lives.

Anderson had arranged a breakfast in the bush with the chefs preparing foods I could eat along with standards for the others. 

At the airport we had to wait for another couple’s plane arriving in an hour and a half. Instead of standing around waiting in the hot sun, Anderson suggested he take us out to see what we could find in that short period of time. 

And find, we did, as shown in the many photos in this post which we uploaded that first evening when we were exhausted after a quick meal having arrived too late from an sunset safari to shower and change for dinner. 

With dust all over our clothes and with no Internet access in our tent, after dinner we sat on the sofa in the lodge with a wifi poor connection attempting to upload multiple photos and story, knowing our readers were waiting to hear from us. 

With wild animals all around us, we dined on a perfect breakfast without a moment of fear. We always felt safe with him even if we were only 15 feet from a hungry lion.

The posts were a mess with poor formatting and typos but, we knew once we returned to Diani Beach, Kenya, we’d have plenty of time to go back and make any necessary edits. 

At 7 am the next morning we were ready to go again although the gurgling sound of the hippos in the Mara River outside of our tent awoke us at 4:00 am. I fell back to sleep with a smile on my face relishing every aspect of this amazing experience.

Our first day out, Anderson explained that if we needed to pee to simple say, “I need to check the tire pressure.”  Within a matter of minutes, he’d find a rock or a bush appropriate for providing a modicum of privacy. 

That’s not to say that the trek to the rock or bush wasn’t fraught with a bit of trepidation for what may be lurking in the tall grass. Those breaks were vital to our experience as the daytime heat kept us sipping on bottles of beverages he kept on ice in a cooler in the front seat.

I took this photo of our group on safari that morning.  Its cool in the Masai Mara in the mornings, heating up considerably as the day worn on. That large rock to the right was the spot where we’d “check the tire pressure.”

I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll let our interested readers click back to the posts to read the remainder that continued over a period of over two weeks. The stories and photos seemed never ending, as did the memories with Anderson.

Yesterday, when we received the above email we were thrilled to hear from him. At the time, we’d given him our card knowing it was unlikely we’d hear back with lack of Internet access in the area. We’d invited him to stay with us in Ukunda (Diani Beach) when he’d hoped to make a trip to Mombasa although he was unable to come. 

If any of our readers knows of anyone interested in a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda, feel free to contact Anderson here at this link. We noticed that he’s working in Uganda. We only hope by the time we’re ready to see the gorillas, that we can be with him once again.

Notice my BugsAway hat wrapped around my lower face while we were in Tanzania in an effort to keep the flies out of my mouth.

Speaking of Tanzania, when Anderson was concerned that I was greatly disappointed that we’d missed the Great Migration by one week, on the last day, he drove us over some mighty rough terrain to the border of Tanzania.

There, we were able to see the tail end of the migration while batting off zillions of flies as a result of the dung from 2,000,000 wildebeest and other animals crossing the Mara River numerous times as it winds through the Serengeti, on this annual trek. Only he would try to please to that degree for which we’re eternally grateful.

Thank you, Anderson, for an experience of a lifetime, that in many ways changed our lives and in many ways enhanced our desire to experience more of the wild and its treasures that we’ve yet to behold.

                                                Photo from one year ago today, April 25, 2014:

A huge pile of yarn was lying on the ground in the souk, ready to be woven into an article to be sold. Notice the black cat cuddled up on the yard. At this point one year ago, we were three weeks from departing Marrakech, Morocco and we were ready to go. For details please click here.

An extraordinary evening…Out of Africa, the movie, while living in Africa…

Watching this movie last night had a special meaning for us.

While living in Tuscany, Italy we watched the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” becoming delighted scene after scene of the mention of familiar language, towns foods and customs.  Several years ago, having watched the movie On Demand, Tom read the newspaper in the background, while I drooled over its content.  He referred to it as a “chick flick.” 

Once we were living in Tuscany, we watched it together with a new meaning for both of us.  No longer was Tom grumbling about the “chick flick” factor.  Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by how much we related to its contents.

The replication of the house that Karen Blixen, a writer depicted in her true story, the basis
of the movie.

Isn’t that typical? Having an experience of our own we often find that we become entrenched in a similar experience presented by others; in a story told, a book or a movie.

Last night, this is exactly what transpired for us as we watched yet another timely movie, “Out of Africa,” while sitting in the dark in our outdoor living room munching on nuts, wearing our BugsAway clothing.

The household staff played substantial roles in the movie, as they do here in Kenya in our lives.

I won’t bore you with the romantic storyline of the movie.  Perhaps you too had seen the movie years ago after being released in 1985.  After considerable research this morning, we discovered that none of the film was actually filmed in Africa, although much of the scenery depicted included various parts of the bush, Ngong Hills, the Masai Mara and the Maasi people, all of which according to our experiences, were well represented.  Where the movie was filmed was of little concern to us.

What prompted us to watch the movie, more than anything, was when Anderson, our fabulous guide while on safari in the Masai Mara, pointed out an area that was filmed on site that actually appears in the movie.  And yes, last night, we recognized that very spot, reveling in its familiarity.

Although, when watching a movie we don’t dwell on, “Gee…where was this filmed?”  Instead, we focus of the realistic depiction of a place we may have visited at some point in our lives.  After all, it is a movie: A step outside of our own reality to engage in a compelling story that satisfies our minds and emotions, sufficiently taking us outside of our own lives for a short period of time.  Mission accomplished.

This is the veranda to the house that was built for filming the movie in England. It was only yesterday that Tom and I commented that we’ll have to stop calling “porches, decks and patios” a “veranda” after we’ll arrive in Hawaii, where of course, they’re referred to as the “lanai.”  It was only recently that Tom finally stopped saying “grazie” for thank you, when in fact, “asante” is most appropriate while in Kenya!

But, last night, as while in Tuscany, we found ourselves slapping each other’s knees time and again, in a sheer state of enjoyment as we watched the movie’s details unfold, so much of which has become familiar to us over these past three months living in Kenya, where the movie’s story line occurred.

Particularly, we embraced the representation of the wildlife, the Maasai people, the familiar words in the Swahili language, the traditions and the scenery bringing us back to the glorious safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya, an experience embedded into our hearts and minds forever.

Review of “Out of Africa” by now deceased reviewer Roger Ebert

Music from “Out Of Africa”

Meryl Streep and Robert Redford both played award winning roles in the movie which won the Academy Award that year for the best picture with Meryl winning best actress award.  Redford won as best actor in other awards granted to foreign films.

This link to the Youtube full video of Out of Africa can’t be played here in Africa in order for us to test it, as is the case when we try to connect to certain other websites as the servers detect that we’re in Africa or out of the US.  Please try this link if you’re interested in watching the movie. 

In the event this link doesn’t work for you, it can readily be watched on Netflix, Hulu and others and may also be offered for free from your cable company from Movies on Demand.  There are also numerous websites that offer the full movie at no cost, by using a search engine (such as Google), entering:  Out of Africa video.

As the movie was ending, the battery on my laptop indicated it was running out of juice. Quickly, we moved to the glass table, close to the only electric plugin (using our converter and adapter) in our outdoor living room, as we watched the ending. (No spoiler alert here).

This blurry photo (almost 30 years old) has significance after watching the movie.

Need I say, we loved every moment of this movie as it reminded us over and over as to why we came to Kenya.  As depicted by Meryl Streep in the film, “I had a farm in Africa,”  I was reminded of my own words notched into my memory for as long as I can remember, of “I had a dream of Africa” that now, has finally been realized. 

Never in our wildest dream did we ever believe we’d actually come to Africa.  We pinch ourselves almost daily, hardly believing this is our lives.

Three months from now, we’ll begin packing to head to Morocco.  There’s a movie we’ll be watching after we’ve been in Morocco for awhile, “Casablanca,” a movie we’ll surely watch again, with new eyes, new hearts and new minds.

Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat…Our final review…

For interior and exterior photos of our tents, veranda, and the grounds, please see our post from October 10, 2013.
It was hard to say goodbye to the staff at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat after the extraordinary stay and safari.

The lodge was an invited place for us to sit, sip beverages and post our photos and stories. With no Internet access in the tents but available at no charge in the lodge, we spent most of our limited spare time in here.

The library in the lodge also had a fire going each night creating a warm environment.

The dining room’s ambiance was easy going and welcoming.

The lounge area in the lodge was a short distance from the dining room provided a homey feel, eased us into a relaxed state after a busy day on safari.  Notice the beaded plate decorations, most likely handmade by the local Maasia.

One evening, as we were busy posting after dinner, the staff and guests began dancing around the lodge to celebrate a couple’s anniversary. It was an intimate group with no more than 16 guests on-site while we were there. (The camp holds a maximum of 28 guests). With a little prodding from the staff, we joined in the line.

The singing and laughter filled the air as all of the diners stood up to dance.

The tables were always set with the local flair.

When the cost to dine in a restaurant, stay in a hotel, resort, or, in this case, a safari camp exceeds one’s preferences and budget, there’s an expectation of perfection that is rarely achieved in the finest of establishments.

After all, the unexpected is to be expected, whether it’s dust on a window sill, a lack of fresh towels, or an inexperienced server fumbling a food order, perfection is unrealistic.

 Windblown, with hat hair, at dinner each evening we wore our daytime safari clothes, feeling too tired to change. Also, arriving from safari between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, food was more important than fresh clothing.
And yet, us humans lie in wait, with the best of intentions, to observe wrongdoing that may potentially burst that bubble of expectation. Then we think or say, “Ah, that wasn’t worth it, for the extra money we paid.”
When we began our travels almost one year ago, we mutually agreed that we’d temper our expectations in order to have the best possible outcome without whining, complaining, or looking for compensation to offset an infraction, except in the rarest of cases. 
The gift shop had a wide array of souvenirs and gifts, none of which we purchased with no room in our bags as we continue on our world travels.
More gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop.

There were jackets, hats, and clothing in the shop.

Outside the gift shop was a Maasai shopping area, displaying the many well made and colorful items typical of the Maasai.
For example, when we had little to no running water during our first week in Belize, giving us no alternative but to leave, we did ask and expect a refund for the unused portion of time that we’d paid in advance. It never came.
Again in Belize at our new location, a lovely oceanfront resort, the steps collapsed under our feet causing us both to fall resulting in injuries taking weeks to heal, we asked for nothing. 
On the second night at camp as we were finishing up yet another safari, Anderson took what appeared to be a new route back over unpaved bush areas.  Bouncing about, we all giggled over the new route wondering why we were taking this route. With the gates to the reserve locking at 6:30 pm, we were late getting out. We’d assumed this new route was a way around going through the gates. Instead, suddenly we saw this campfire, to be surprised by everyone at camp, all guests and most staff were awaiting our arrival that tonight was the ritual “dinner in the bush” a total surprise for the 6 of us.

 The Maasai villagers were in attendance to sing and dance before or dinner as we all sat in a half-moon of comfortable chairs, enjoying appetizers and beverages, sharing our various safari stories. 
The well built and maintained property had wooden steps to our unit that had deteriorated due to the close proximity to the ocean with the raging heat and humidity, unnoticeable to the eye under normal inspection.  Management was very concerned about our injuries and asked what they could do for us. We asked only that the steps be repaired immediately, which was completed the next day. 
In the US, this may have resulted in an ambulance ride and a potential lawsuit. In Belize at our remote location, a treacherous four-hour car ride to a medical facility prevented us from seeking medical care when we knew we had no broken bones.  We’d decided to wait and see how we felt in a few days. It wasn’t easy but in time with self-care, we healed.
Look at my plate at the “bush dinner!” It was exciting to know that most of the meat and vegetables were within my dietary constraints, all prepared to perfection, seasoned with local spices. Once again, great job Chef Ambrose!
Taking these experiences with us, confirmed our notion that optimism and a pleasant attitude would serve us well, even if the servers do not. (No pun intended).
When booking our expensive ($5000 for two, all-inclusive) three day stay and safari at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, once again, we tempered our expectations. If our tent was clean and comfortable, if the WiFi was working, if the meals complied with my restrictive diet (which information I’d sent in advance by email), if the staff was friendly and helpful and, if we saw most of The Big Five, we’d be happy.
After the bush dinner, we posed for a photo, although after a day on safari, I hardly felt photo-ready. Tom’s face was sunburned from the almost 8 hours we spent on safari that day, exposed to the elements, loving every minute.  We couldn’t wait to put our clothing in the dirty laundry hamper to be washed, dried, and folded to perfection that was returned to our tent the same evening.  This service was included in the all-inclusive pricing.
Little did we know that literally every aspect of this safari experience at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreats including activities, meals, and accommodations far surpassing even our wildest dreams of perfection. 
They had it down to a science to not only include the systematic flow for each guest from event to event, location to location, but they excelled by adding a unique personal touch never to be found in any facility of any type thus far in our travels, if not in our lives.
In minutes upon our arrival, every staff member knew our names. Within an hour they knew our preferences, our preferred drinks, our unique needs, and special requirements.
My salad at dinner on the second night was drizzled with an olive oil balsamic dressing Chef Ambrose made for me.  It was divine.
Knowing we were writers with considerable electronic equipment, they’d set up a power source in our tent available around the clock, although outlets, normally were turned off most of the time, only leaving lights working. This consideration meant the world to us, especially with the necessity of recharging our cameras and computers.
The staff seamlessly and discretely observed ours and the other guest’s actions and comments with the hope of discovering a way to further enhance our stay.  This was unique. From William, the booking rep; Joseph, our tent attendant; Ambrose, the chef;  Conscientious Concierge Christine; restaurant server, Philip. and of course, our guide Anderson, the service was impeccable.
Tom’s appetizer was a creamy mushroom sauce atop a slice of buttery toasted homemade
French bread, topped with an over-medium free-range egg. He moaned while eating it. Yeah, I know, an occasional piece of bread crosses his lips when dining out, never at “home.” The next morning at breakfast on our last day, Chef Ambrose explained when making our omelets, that I could top my omelet with this creamy mushroom sauce which was made with real cream, not flour. Then, I knew why Tom was moaning over this appetizer!
With no phones in the luxuriously designed and spacious tents, a personal visit from staff informed us of any events or event changes. Communication was imminent and well-spoken, always friendly, and warm.
The grounds were spotless, the vegetation prolific. An eco-friendly environment with multiple systems in place to save energy costs and wastefulness, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat had a few bugs, few mosquitoes, and no refuse or clutter to attract them. 
On the first night, we both had the same entrée, a grilled sirloin steak atop a medley of sautéed vegetables. Tender, cooked exactly as requested, this steak required only a butter knife to cut it. Neither of us had appetizers or dessert that evening after having had lunch earlier in the day upon arrival.
At night, there were guards to escort us to our tents, a fairly long but refreshing walk from the lodge.  Holding flashlights, they led the way, expressing interest in the quality of our stay.  Never for one moment, did we feel unsafe, not at the camp or on safari. The utmost precaution was exercised at all times, leaving enough freedom for creativity and challenge.
The food? As fine as any upscale restaurant, but made fresh each meal using produce from their garden, grass-fed meats, and freshly caught fish. Nothing was spared in the careful and creative presentation as was in the finest use of local spices to enhance flavors. 
This was Tom’s dinner on the last night, pork chops piled high atop a pile of sautéed vegetables, fresh green beans, and baby corn.
Chef Ambrose went overboard in ensuring my meals were safely within the range of my restricted diet while ensuring that I never felt my meal was inferior in any manner to that being served to Tom or other guests. (He splurges when we’re out, eats as I do when we’re cooking).
As for the safari itself, what more can I say that we haven’t already said in these many prior posts?  Anderson? A gift from the safari Gods! If we’d have made a list of what we’d expect in a perfect safari, we’d have short-changed ourselves. We got so much more.
My dinner was a cheese stuffed chicken breast, atop a bed of sautéed vegetables with fresh green beans with a chicken-based flour-less reduction sauce to die for. I removed the baby corn to a separate unused plate. I had forgotten to tell Chef Ambrose that I can’t eat corn, knowing it wouldn’t cause a problem for me having been on the plate to be removed.  Had it been a gluten-based item, I would have required an entirely new plate of food. With gluten intolerance, the smallest spec on a plate can result in a serious reaction which Chef Ambrose was well aware.
From the fluffy pillows and soft blankets on our seats in the Land Cruiser to the ice-cold cooler always filled to the brim with our preferred beverages, nothing could have been more to our liking. 
To Conscientious Concierge Christine greeting us each time, on time, as we returned from safari, handing each of us an iced cold, tightly rolled washcloth to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, to Anderson, not only providing a mind-blowing safari twice a day but to his obvious joy to take us out one more time.
My nightly dessert of fine cheese and Kenya is grown cashews and macadamia nuts. The night of the “bush dinner” Chef Ambrose had remembered to bring these items for my dessert, as the only guest in camp unable to eat the traditional desserts. Wow!

At night the sound of the hippos outside our tent as they languished in the Mara River was music to our ears.  The cool nights at 5000 feet above sea level, left us warmly wrapped in the finest of down comforters encased in high count Egyptian cotton sheets. 

The over-sized fluffy bath towels, the robes, and the organic toiletries for our use only added more luxury to our stay. The glass bottles of an ample supply of purified water was always at our fingertips. Joseph delivered fresh coffee to our tent early each morning to also serve as a subtle wake-up call for our 6:30 am safari time.

Tom’s homemade brownie dessert topped with a caramel sauce and dollop of real whipped cream. He said it was fabulous!

To simply say that we recommend Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, does a disservice to those seeking this life-changing adventure. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience with memories that will last forever. 

One must not take the risk of choosing anything less than an opportunity to fulfill that dream with the utmost of expectation, the utmost of amenities, the utmost of service, and to our surprise, the utmost of perfection.

One last photo as we drove away.  Goodbye Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat.
Thank you, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat. Thank you for making this dream a reality. We still can’t wipe the smile off of our faces.
Note: Tomorrow, we’ll be wrapping up our final safari post with new photos, our return flight in yet a smaller single-engine plane, and some amazing scenery photos that Tom took using the little camera.
In the interim, more photos and stories are backed up as life continues on while living in Diani Beach, Kenya.  We’re looking forward to sharing these with you beginning on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at which time we’ll have exactly six weeks until we pack once again and make our way to Mpumalanga, South Africa.

We’re back in Diani Beach… The safari photos and stories continu…

One of the Big Five, the Leopard, was one of our early sightings.  They are nocturnal.  This photo was taken midday, a rare treat.  During early evening we had several other sightings
which we’ll post as we move along.

Upon arriving at the landing strip (no building) in the village of Kichwa, Kenya, we were greeted by our guide Anderson, a native of the area, a man of great character and knowledge. 

The photos presented today were all taken in the first 90 minutes as Anderson, our amazing guide, took us on safari while we waited for a flight to arrive at the landing strip to pick up another couple.

He kept apologizing for the inconvenience of us having to wait for 90 minutes insisting that he takes us out to get a glimpse of what was yet to come.

Warthogs are funny creatures always on the run, snorting along the way. They seem as if they are rushing to “get to work.” They were oblivious to our vehicles, stares, and photo-taking, other than occasionally stopping for a decent pose.
Warthog babies running behind their mother. Watching their little legs rapidly scurrying along beside her was quite the laughter evoking experience. 

Those first 90 minutes alone with Anderson set the pace for what proved to be the most awe-inspiring days in our travels, if not in our lives.

The only time we exited the Toyota Land Cruiser vehicle in the entire three days on safari was with Anderson that morning during those 90 minutes, as he often held my hand, as we quietly and quickly searched on foot for many of the following sightings. Never again, after the others had joined us, did we exit the vehicle other than to “check the tire pressure” and for two, picnic breakfasts, once with four of us, another time with six.

Whatever inspired Anderson to feel comfortable taking us out of the vehicle during those first 90 minutes escapes us. But, we couldn’t have been more thrilled about this private experience that we’ll never forget.

Somehow, we managed to keep up the pace with him on the fast trek over often rocky and steep terrain as we maneuvered around a massive beehive, quietly watching within a short distance of hungry crocodiles. 

“WOW,” Tom continues to say. And, of course, I continue to agree.

We were up on a hill when we looked down to see these crocodiles.  How exciting it was to be so close.

Often travelers post all of their photos on one of those sites giving others access able to peruse them at their leisure or, not.

The Topi is indigenous only to the Masai Mara. The locals refer to them as wearing “blue jeans” on the back legs and yellow socks on their feet. These graceful animals often fall prey to the alligators, lions, and cheetahs, all carnivorous. Most animals are herbivores or carnivores and will fight to the death if threatened, leaving the remains for vultures. Most animals in the “cat” family only eat fresh kill.
Topi, full-on. There are numerous animals in the deer/antelope family in the Masai Mara.

When we began writing this blog in March 2012, our intent was to share a “blow by blow” journal with photos, rather than posting hundreds of photos at once.

This is a different angle of photo already shown, but one we saw in our first 90-minute drive, along with Anderson, as we waited for Cindy and David’s flight to arrive. This huge 15-foot croc had captured an impala. With Anderson’s walkie talkie, he was alerted when their plane landed. 
While on safari we had hoped to post photos in real-time using our MiFi or Hotspot and laptops while in the vehicle.
Unfortunately, after attempting to do so, we discovered that in the Masai Mara, contrary to what we’d heard, the signal is either non-existent or too poor for uploading photos.
Hippos are huge, dangerous, and fun to watch. At night, with our tent only a few feet from the river, we could hear their funny sounds.We found ourselves laughing in the middle of the night when a loud series of snorts wafted through the air. This hippo was sniffing the ground while the other hippos were napping on the shore.
We were in the vehicle taking this photo. This hippo wasn’t happy with an injury on her left shoulder. See the photo below for a closer shot of her injury.
It appears to be healing well.  The Masai Mara has veterinarians that will treat certain animal injuries but not all. Many, huge in numbers, are left as food for the scavengers. We observed thoroughly picked clean carcasses. The rangers gather the largest skulls returning them to the entrance gate placing them in a neat pile for visitors to see.  The Masai Mara is uncluttered. There’s no trash to be seen anywhere. The reverence the locals and visitors have for the wildlife, the vegetation, and the surroundings are astounding.

Please note that our intent has always been to take great photos.  The glare of the sun, the bouncy conditions, the fleeting animals, the distances from animals at times made it difficult to get a good photo.

This amateur photographer using a lightweight, although reliable camera is unable to carry a professional-type camera with multiple lenses, due to a bad shoulder and the airline weight restrictions, did the very best possible.Tom also managed to take some good shots.

Hippos, vegetarians, aren’t interested in the crocs and crocs apparently aren’t interested in attempting to eat a hippo. In the wild, it’s interesting witnessing first hand, how animals are able to determine which animals are too massive for them to kill for food. In this case, they hang out together never giving it a second thought. We were standing on this ridge as shown. This photo is not zoomed in. I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from squealing.
Here’s a better shot of the above, sniffing hippo. We were so excited, we could hardly hold our two cameras steady.

Posting almost daily, we do not edit or improve our photos other than to remove power lines when obstructing a good scene,  (We saw no power lines in the Masai Mara).

Otherwise, you see our photos exactly as we see them the moment they’re uploaded from the camera to my laptop. If we didn’t post almost every day, there would be more time to edit photos. 

So, we continue…

The black and white stripes on the backside of this dainty impalas are an indication of the impala. They daintily leap through the air as they run. There are dozens of species in the deer/antelope family in the Masai Mara.
Anderson was angry to see these visitors being taken out on horseback, a rare occurrence in the Masai Mara. With the number of dangerous animals often frightened of horses, one could easily charge a horse putting the rider and horse in a life-threatening situation. Anderson explained that all recent tourist deaths in the Maasai Mara are a result of uncontrollable visitors taking unnecessary risks, resulting in serious injury and death.There’s no nearby hospital.
The Red-Billed Bird is this bird’s actual name. In-flight it’s wingspan is exquisite. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight.
The Secretary Bird, fairly common in the Masai Mara got its name from the use of its quills used as writing instruments in times past.

Anderson’s warmth and desire for us to have a fulfilling experience were more than we could ever have expected, never to disappoint. Instead, he proved himself as the true “animal whisperer” helping us find and photograph The Big Five as shared in yesterday’s post in the first 10 hours on safari, a feat few guides can accomplish. 

His eagle eye and innate sense of what was in the distance inspired him to step on the gas and safely maneuver to the scene of the next incredible find. Driving with gusto he was totally in control over the bumpy terrain. We held on with our hearts pounding over what we’d see next. Anderson’s determination to get us up close and personal made it possible for us to have the time of our lives.

It was difficult to wrap our brains around being so close to these massive animals. Although relatively gentle, they seldom attack humans in the wild unless provoked or if their babies are at risk. At times, they walked right in front of our vehicle in order to cross the road. We were never afraid as we sat motionlessly and waited quietly for them to pass. This is their home. We’re the intruders.

Please keep in mind that I am saving already posted photos in a separate folder. However, when on safari one may take several variations of a shot. My hope is that I don’t duplicate any photos, but at times, I may, in order to reiterate an important aspect of the safari. 

Vultures travel in packs, anxious to spot the remains of any carcasses left by the carnivorous animals.
The Mara River, 245 miles long, winds through the Maasai Mara in Kenya continuing on to Tanzania when it dumps into  Lake Victoria in Zimbabwe. Over 2 million wildebeest cross the river at various points during The Great Migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and then back when the rains end.  We missed the big event with little disappointment when we had the opportunity to see the wide array of animals that live in the Maasai Mara year-round. Anderson, aware that we had originally hoped to see the Great Migration, drove us to Tanzania to see the tail end over the rockiest roads on the planet, through water-filled creeks and washed out roads. What an adventure!  We’ll also share this story with photos as we progress over the next several days.
The Cape Buffalo, in this case, “A Retired General,” often resided in groups with other such banished males. More photos and details in a later post.

If I know a photo is a repeat I will tell you in the captions. Although, with over 600 photos taken in three days, I could easily make an error. Please slough it off. I have to do just that or I’d make myself crazy, impinging upon the inordinate amount of fun I have writing here.
What we witnessed in that 90 minutes set the pace for the remaining 20 hours we spent riding in that open-sided Toyota Land Cruiser. At no point, did we ever feel we’d seen any particular animal too many times?  At each viewing, our eyes widened in wonder. Tom kept commenting on how I never wiped the smile off of my face. Then again, nor did he.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue on with our story as to our welcomed arrival at Olonana Sanctuary Retreats with photos of our accommodations, the grounds, the lodge, and more.

If you get a minute, please stop back…

Part 1…Our day trip adventure to the Monkey River and rainforest…

Looking like tourists, off we went on our adventure this morning.

Covered in bug spray, looking like tourists loaded down with a camera, binoculars, water shoes and swimsuits under our clothes, at 7:45 this morning we walked across the street to the pier at the lagoon to meet up with our well versed guide, Jason, born in the tiny community of Monkey River, an area rich in Belizean history and culture.
Along the way, we met a lovely couple, Ruth and Howard from Brooklyn, New York staying here in Laru Beya over the next several days, also participants in our planned outing which was arranged through the resort.  The cost per couple for the six hour expedition was $150.

After a high speed bumpy boat ride from the Placencia peninsula across the rolling Caribbean Sea to the mainland of Belize, we made our way to the Monkey River, a well known 10 mile long winding river literally amass with wildlife and overgrown vegetation. 

Vultures hovering in the trees along channel as we left Placencia.

By 9:30 am, we were docked at the pier in Monkey River to stop at “Alice’s Restaurant” to place our lunch orders, with a plan to return around noon for the included meal of stewed chicken, rice, beans and pan fried vegetables.  Moment later, we were off on our excursion of the river.

Tom in front of Alice’s Restaurant in Monkey River where we had lunch.
Inside Alice’s Restaurant in Monkey River.
Monkey River locals enjoying the day.
The gift shop outside Alice’s Restaurant.  Notice the conch shell border around the entrance.

Speaking mostly a combination of English and Creole, Jason was an articulate wealth of information possessing the eye of an eagle, quickly spotting every morsel for our excited attention to behold.  We saw all we could have hoped to see! 

Jason, our tour guide and Jess, outside Alice’s Restaurant.

Luckily, the day was overcast, less humid than normal, around 80 degrees making it a perfect day for our adventure.  With low expectations and a little apprehensive about the abundance of horseflies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums hovering around us in the boat, we slathered on the bug spray while bracing ourselves for what was yet to come.

Pair of dolphins we saw on the way to Monkey River.
Moments later, we saw another dolphin.

Jason slowed the boat as we entered the winding river, stopping frequently to point out crocodiles, many species of birds, unusual fish, families of the Black Howler Monkey known for their loud screeching.  Halfway through the four mile river journey, Jason pulled the old fiberglass boat up to a shore as we climbed out to explore a rough trail in the rain forest.

Dense vegetation along the Monkey River’s edge.
We lost track of the names of the endless variety of birds.
Immature Blue Heron are white prior to turning blue as adults.
Believe it or not, there were three Black Howler Monkeys hiding in this canopy in the rain forest.   We saw them move, heard them screech but so high above our heads, we couldn’t focus for good shots.

As soon as our feet hit dry land, Jason began banging his machete against a tree.  Curiosity brought out dozens of the black monkeys high in the trees to begin of earsplitting chorus of a sound unfamiliar to our ears, both annoying and entertaining at the same time.

Dozens of Black Howler Monkeys hovered in these trees.

It was difficult to take photos of the monkeys as it was of much of the wildlife, rapidly flitting around, shy of uninvited visitors.  They moved so quickly, staying buried in the leaves and branches of the enormous trees. 

After a time with our necks straining from looking up, Jason steered us deep into the rain forest along a narrow, head ducking, ankle turning, rock and vine covered path into a world neither of us imagined.

The entrance to Monkey River.

Magical sounds filled the air of creatures big and small, hidden out of sight protecting their young.  Over and again Jason warned us to look out for dangerous plants that were either poisonous or possessing needle like thorns difficult to remove once merely touched. 

We learned about medicinal plants for almost every imaginable ailment as we carefully lifted our feet over potential pitfall from burrowed holes from hidden creatures such as the blue land crab to termite nests to the dreaded red ants meandering across the forest floor.

Jason, his machete and Tom as he explained the medicinal uses of this tree that the locals call “The Tourist Tree” since it relieves the sting of a sunburn.

Bug spray in hand, we continually soaked ourselves, as flies, bugs and spiders presented themselves at almost every turn.  As Jason described some of the dangers in the rain forest I looked down at my water shoes and screamed a scream that must have echoes through the jungle.  I thought I saw an enormous black bug on my shoe.  It was a part of the laces.  We laughed after we all calmed down from my senseless scream.  See the photo below.

I can tell that Tom’s chomping at the bit as I write this!  Its time for me to shower and get ready to go to our now usual Tuesday night Mexican buffet at Habanero’s Restaurant across and down the road.  I’m hungry too looking forward to their wide array of meats, veggies and cheeses that I can enjoy along with the best guacamole in the world.

In the dark of the rain forest, as Jason is explaining the dangers, I looked down at my “worn for the first time” water shoes thinking that this black clasp was a huge black bug.I screamed scaring the daylight out of the five of us in our group.

Tomorrow is my 65th birthday. After grocery shopping for which Estevan will pick us up promptly at 9:00 am come celebrate with us, my first birthday on our worldwide journey, as we tell the “rest of this story” with lots more photos and stories about our day trip to Monkey River.