The Maasai Village…Chief Richard…Rightfully proud of his village, his people…

Chief Richard posed inside one of the houses with us.
With our flight leaving at 1:30 pm, we knew the only time we had available to visit the nearby Maasai Village was Tuesday morning. (Maasai is spelled with two “a’s” when referring to the tribespeople, with one “a” when referring to the Masai Mara)
Had we decided not to visit the village, we could have embarked on one more morning safari with Anderson.  Enthralled with the enormous number of animal sightings and the stories that followed, it was time to round out our Masai Mara experience, especially after several other guests suggested a visit to the village was definitely worthwhile.

The entrance to the Maasai Village sealed off at night when no tribespeople may leave. The danger of wild animals is high at night and the utmost security is implemented. These fences made of sticks and cow dung provide a barrier to deter the intrusion of mostly lions and elephants. Years past, the Maaasi were allowed to kill invading animals (using handmade spears the men carry at all times. Now with conservancy efforts by the government, killing any animals in the reserve is strictly prohibited. If invaded, Chief Richard must contact the rangers for assistance. As a result, he is the only villager required to carry a cell phone, neatly attached to his colorful clothing which he proudly showed off as the only modern convenience in the village.

The village was located less than a five-minute drive from the camp. We certainly could have walked deciding instead to accept the ride offered by Camp Olonana with our limited time frame, preferring to spend the time with Chief Richard.

Chief Richard warmly greeted us at the entrance to the village.

After a delicious breakfast, our first actual breakfast eaten at the lodge, we were ready to see the Maasai Village.  Almost completely packed, with our ride to the landing strip scheduled to depart at 1:00 pm, we’d left ourselves plenty of time to have a stress free departure, which is always our ultimate goal when moving from one location to another. 

One of Chief Richard’s two wives. Each wife has her own house, made by women only hands using cow dung and mud. The houses will last for 9 to 10 years before they begin to crumble. The tribe moves to a new location every 9 to 10 years, leaving behind all the houses, taking along all their household goods, livestock (cows and goats) and they begin building a village anew.
Conscientious Concierge Christine informed us during breakfast that our flight time had changed from 2:00 pm to 1:30 pm with no apparent bearing on our 1:00 pm departure from the camp. The landing strip was a 20-minute drive from Camp Olonana but we were stopping at a nearby resort to pick up our pilot, Edwin, who was having lunch and needed a ride. Oh.
The roofs of the homes are made by the women-only using cow dung, dirt, and grass. Stepping on cow dung is considered a sign of good luck and we were encouraged to do so as we wandered through the village. I decided to step on it as much as possible after hearing we’d be picking up our pilot for yet a smaller, single-engine plane ride back to Diani Beach. Apparently, it worked, right?

Anderson had hoped to be able to take us to the landing strip himself, rather than another staff member. This would require him to complete the morning safari on time. 

As we entered the village the wives of the warriors designated by two bands on their ankles as opposed to one band for single women, unmarried or widowed, waited to perform the ritual welcoming dance as Chief Richard familiarized us with their simple yet hardworking lifestyle.

We were hopeful, wanting to spend any last minutes with him going over our glorious safari. We had left a generous tip for him the prior evening in the event he wasn’t able to drive off to the landing strip. Of course, knowing Anderson, he doesn’t disappoint and at 1:00 pm he was helping us load our bags into the Land Cruiser.

As more guests from Camp Olonana arrived, the women and children waited patiently to begin their welcoming dance.
The children were included in the welcoming dance dressed in their finest colorful garb as we all waited for the other guests to arrive.
These dogs, staying awake at night to protect the village from invasions by elephants and lions, slept under the shade of a tree. The sun was hot. I also took refuge under the shade of this tree.
The villagers, appreciative of the visits from guests at various camps throughout the Masai Mara, in no manner, had “commercialized” their village in an attempt to make more money. Their net worth, Chief Richard explained is totally determined by the number of cows they own. When a guest asked how many cows they had, Chief Richard explained that they do not reveal the number any more readily than we’d disclose how much money we have in the “cash machine.”  (He was familiar with “cash machines” as opposed to an actual bank).
Chief Richard also waited for the remaining Camp Olonana guests to arrive in order to tell his story of life in the tribe.
Finally, the other guests had arrived. The tribeswomen gathered us into their “dance line” hoping we would chant and dance along with them.  Feeling a bit overheated, I hesitated to join in but Tom reminded me discretely that they may be offended if I didn’t. He grabbed a bottle of water for me. I took a big chug and joined in the line, later glad that I had.

When the ritual dance and chanting werecompleted, Chief Richard enthusiastically shared the story of his village, his life, and his people. 

Once hydrated and “beaded up” I actually enjoyed the ritual singing along in my usual awful voice, having never been able to carry a tune or in this case, a chant.

At present with two wives, he finds himself preparing to take a third wife, yet to be chosen, although his wedding plans are in motion. She must be from another tribe. His first marriage was arranged by his parents, his second wife chosen by his first wife and, he is allowed to pick his third wife. He was excited about this fact, chuckling and rolling his eyes in playful anticipation.

Upon sharing his marital status with us, he began asking the four women in our group as to how many family members, we have in our immediate families, including if applicable, how many husbands we’ve had.

The tribeswomen were anxious for us to attempt “mashing” the cow dung with the stick used for that purpose. Actually, I was adept at this task and the Maaasi women were pleased.

The larger the family, the more the women cheered. None other than me mentioned more than one husband.  When my turn to disclose arrived, I unabashedly stated that I’ve had three husbands, Tom is my best and last. 

A “street” in the Maasai village of 56 tribespeople from 4 families, was neat and orderly. The business of selling their jewelry generated from the nearby camps enabled them to purchase more cows which ultimately made life easier for them with the ready food supply.

That comment, “brought down the house” with laughter, cheering, and clapping in unison. The Maasai women are only allowed one husband, where the men may have multiple wives at any given time. I quickly chimed in, telling them that I didn’t have all 3 husbands at once. Again, they erupted in laughter as we all laughed along with them. Chief Richard explained that my multiple husbands made me special in their eyes.  Gee…finally someone thought that was cool.

Boys are circumcised at 15 years of age with no anesthetic. Their manhood is determined by their ability to withstand the pain of the cutting with the man-made tool.

Women were no longer subject to the barbaric ritual of “genital mutilation” for which the 4 women in our group clapped. So often we’d heard of this cruel ritual still practiced in many tribes worldwide. 

One of the most interesting facts Chief Richard shared with us was the Maasai diet which consists entirely of the following:
1.  Beef
2.  Beef blood, only from healthy cows
3.  Milk from cows and goats.

They consumed no fruit, no vegetables, no grains, no sugar, no processed foods in any form, subsisting on a low carb, gluten-free, sugar and starch free diet. Tom and my eyes darted to one another as we heard this.  

Fifty-five of the 56 members in the tribe were all slim and fit with the exception of Chief Richard’s big belly. We surmised he was either partaking in other foods in his dealings with the local safari camps or eating too much meat, milk and blood. Perhaps, it was expected that the chief is rotund as a sign of wealth. We didn’t ask.

Tom and I later chuckled about their diet. The only differences in my diet is the addition of non-starchy vegetables and the deletion of drinking blood and milk, neither of which I care to consume.

Chief Richard explained that his people live long lives, often over 100 years, although they didn’t celebrate a birthday and speculated on the age of an “elder”. Seldom did illness befall his people. If they did become ill, they were quick to use medicinal plants readily available in the area. Midwives aided in childbirth as well as the women providing support to one another during pregnancy and childbirth.

This is the area in which the cows are herded at the end of the day after grazing in the bush.

He stated that if a tribe member fell prey to animal attacks or an accident requiring medical care they would seek assistance from traditional medical care in the area. They value life, limb, and well being, not foolishly avoiding care in emergencies due to tradition.

We weren’t sure if this was the bathroom.
Chief Richard explained the quality of the work-women-ship (as opposed to workmanship) in the support system for the roof.
This is the bedroom where a husband with more than one wife will sleep with the family as he switches back and forth to houses. To signify his presence for the night, he leaves his spear outside the door at night. The round white circle to the right is a window, the only source of outside light for the two-room house other than the entrance. 
The kitchen where they cook the meat. With no means of refrigeration, meat is always cooked, never eaten raw. There are no accompaniments to the meals other than the blood and milk. They do not eat lunch, only meat, milk, and blood in the morning and again at dinner.
The door, which is closed at night offers light during the daylight hours.
The other guests often stated, “I don’t know how they can live like this.” In our travels this past year, we’ve seen more sparse lifestyles. The Maasai were happy people, full of life and laughter mixed with a bit of whimsy. They looked healthy as did their children. Their children were attending a local school, learning to speak English, often sent to universities to expand their education. In Diani Beach, we see many professional Maaasi people holding jobs and living a more traditional Kenyan lifestyle. They are recognizable by their colorful clothing and their kind and courteous demeanor. 
Women are forbidden to enter the tabernacle, a place or worship, and conducting tribe business. During a meeting, women may wait outside of the structure on their knees and may pose concerns and questions. They are forbidden from offering input for resolution. As we approached the tabernacle I stepped back to honor the traditional. Chief Richard invited me and the other women to enter along with the men in our group.  He explained, that as visitors, we were welcome to enter and take a seat.
The handmade ceiling of the tabernacle as well as the remaining structure was made by the men.  It didn’t include the use of cow dung.
This man could have been anyone we’d see out in the world, as opposed to being a Maasai warrior living in this small village of four families with 56 residents.
Chief Richard asked this young man to show us how quickly he’ll build a fire using only wood and straw. The participants on “Survivor” should pay attention to this simple method, actually requiring a second participant as the wood becomes hot quickly.
After only a few minutes of twisting the stick into the small hole in the piece of wood, there was smoke. There was no flint, only the two pieces of wood.
The addition of the straw quickly aided the few sparks to ignite.
Working the dry grass in his bare hands, facilitated the fire in igniting.
It’s a fire! Wow!
As our visit to the Maasai village came to an end, we were invited to visit the house with the beaded jewelry which we could purchase if we chose. There was no pressure to do so. 
Instead, we chose to give Chief Richard a donation as a thank you for his and his people’s willingness to share their village and the story of their lives with us, willingly and openly.
Without a doubt, the visit to the Maasai village rounded out our safari in an enriching manner, leaving us ready to return to our own simple life in Diani Beach, Kenya, with a smile we still can’t wipe off of our faces and a special memory in our hearts to remain with us forever.
Tomorrow, the final review on Camp Olonana and many photos we’ve yet to post. Hope to see you back!

Continuation of the strict criteria…

Yesterday, I wrote about the first four criteria that we have discovered making long-term world travel affordable for us as a retired couple (Tom retires on Halloween), on a fixed monthly income. Let’s review those points before I continue with the others:

Criteria #1:   Do not have a permanent home! 
Criteria #2:   Do not own cars! 
Criteria #3:   Do not stay in hotels unless absolutely necessary!
Criteria #4:   Do not pay more than what we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!

Criteria #5: Use the cruise!  As described earlier, we have booked five cruises so far with two more in the works.  Of the 571 days, we have booked thus far, beginning October 31, 2012, 71 days will be spent living aboard a cruise ship, rated a score of 4 or more (out of a possible 6).  

A vital factor in maintaining the integrity of our budgeting is that cruising results in a maximum average cost per day, not to exceed a combined $350 including fees, taxes, and tips. This amount far exceeds our average daily rental of $50. However, we are booking cruises to be a mode of transportation to and from countries where we’ll have booked a vacation rental. 

Cruising replaces the following usual travel expenses:
1.  Cost of Rental
2.  Three (or more, if preferred) meals per day
3.  Transportation to and from the rental location
4.  Taxis, car rental, trains, buses, and other local modes of transportation while getting around the area

Some cruise pricing includes tips, others do not. Keep in mind that tipping may be as much as $25 per day, per person. We have included them above in our daily total. Also, every cruise has an ongoing credit account for the charges, WiFi, non-included tips, drinks, meals in specialty restaurants, spa services, certain activities, and of course, the casino and shopping in the “tourist trap” shops.  

Internet access to your digital equipment is very expensive. Turning off data and roaming features will avoid the shock of one’s life when seeing the bill at for the onboard WiFi fees.

It’s imperative to check in advance with the cruise line as to WiFi policies and charges. Future posts will explain cell phone usage and Internet access while traveling abroad, a challenge for long term travelers like ourselves visiting 25 countries in less than 2 years (Yes, the itinerary will be posted soon)!

The cruise guy (and company we are using) Joaquin, at Vacations To Go has an appealing pre-booking incentive: book cruises in advance, and as prices drop, the customer receives the benefit of the reduced pricing, up to 90 days prior to the sailing date, being unaffected by potential price increases. 

Pre-booking secures a decent cabin that we choose at the time of booking by paying the deposit, usually around 25% of the cost of the cruise. We refuse to stay in an inside cabin many of which have little space, if any, to even walk around the bed. All of the cabins we are choosing are either a “Balcony” or “Mini-Suite.”  

In summary, cruising costs about $200 more per day than staying in a rental. Building a budget that allows for this expense, adds much to our enjoyment while freeing us on transportation costs, preparing meals, and handling baggage. The opportunity to see a little piece of many locations in a short time span is appealing.  Adding to the experience is choosing a cabin on the correct side of the ship, allowing the best viewing advantage of land throughout the cruise.

Most cruise fares include port charges but getting off the ship at various ports will undoubtedly result in often hundreds of dollars in additional charges for excursions, meals, shopping, and the usual hawkers selling their wares. We will stay on the ship as much as possible to avoid these tourist traps. 

Soon, Criteria #6 will be posted. Thanks for stopping by!

Sounds glamorous but quite worrisome…

When we decided to travel the world beginning this upcoming Halloween, Tom’s retirement date, we knew the tasks associated with changing our lives to this degree would be daunting. We have made a purposeful point of not getting caught up in the excitement by staying task-oriented and preparing for endless “what ifs” by playing our own devil’s advocate.  

Doing so has resulted in some sleep-stealing worrying one does at 3:00 am. We are not strangers to this particular effect of worrying. Last night we both lay awake between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, tossing and turning, aware of each other’s state, trying not to talk to further our alertness. Finally, we drifted off only to have Tom’s alarm clock startle us both at 6:50. We got some good worrying in!

We ask ourselves so many questions, not so much to put a damper on our adventure, but to maintain a sense of the reality of what is yet to come. “They say” that worry is a useless emotion. If worrying prompts or motivates one to take self-preserving measures, then worry has some unmitigated value.  

Fear in itself is a powerful motivator. Overcoming fear is next in line. The healthy self-love and appreciation we experience after overcoming fear are the greatest rewards life has to offer us in our continuing search for personal growth and self-discovery.  

Oh, good grief, does this mean we will zip line or bungee jump when we spend three months in Belize, beginning in February 2013? Or, will we ride an inner tube through the water caves in the rain forest, the roofs covered with guano (gee, I always wanted to find a use for that word, meaning “bat poop”, if you didn’t already know) while I am terrified of bats? Or, will we ride a hot air balloon in Kenya (during our three-month stay) over the Great Migration in the Serengeti National Park? Or, will we welcome a 275-pound warthog into the kitchen where we will live for three months beginning December 2013 in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, living among the wildlife with no barriers?

Warthog in the kitchen doing “crumb patrol.”
We won’t have to do any of these, but most likely we will do some of these, finding ourselves exhilarated by the life-changing experiences, to finally be “stepping outside the box,” taking the risks and reveling in the process together.

What if we show up at one of our many prepaid vacation homes throughout the world to find out that we were scammed, with all of our due diligence when no such owner or house exists? We’ll take a deep breath, get online as fast as possible, and find a place to stay for a few days while we figure it out. We’ll have lost up to three months’ rent, the maximum time we will stay in any vacation home. But, we’ll continue on, knowing full well that we chose this risk as part of the adventure.

What if one of the five cruises we have booked thus far encounters a storm and is unable to “drop us off” to our desired location a day or two prior to the end of the cruise and instead goes to a different port some 500 miles away? We will go to the next port, get off, and find a flight, a train, a ferry to our planned location.

What if one of us has a gallbladder attack requiring surgery while we are in a remote location? We are purchasing emergency evacuation insurance that will take us back to the states to our desired location or at least to the nearest big city hospital.  

What if our passports or wallets are stolen? We are getting second passports to be kept separately from my purse and Tom’s wallet. We have scanned all of our credit cards with contact information, driver’s licenses debit cards, and banking information to a secure cloud. All we’ll ever need is a WiFi location to immediately contact the necessary parties.

How will we, both gluten-free, not eat the homemade pasta, bread and pastries while spending almost three months in a 17th century stone farmhouse in Tuscany, beginning June 15, 2013? We will either try it and pay the price or, we will choose not to try it and instead enjoy the local produce and meats.

So, worrying we will do! And, surely along the way, we’ll be surprised, disappointed, scared, and “ripped off” asking ourselves how we let this happen, how we made this mistake, why we left our family and friends behind to seek out adventure.  

Then again, we’ll be amazed, enthralled, enriched, and enlightened and most of all, grateful, to be sharing this experience together for as long as we choose, and for as long as we can. So we’ll miss the ferry, the flight gets canceled, the mosquitoes are biting, the heat is overwhelming, we can’t get online, and then, the giraffes are hogging the road when we are trying to get to the grocery store!

A herd of Giraffe hogging the road in Marloth Park, South Africa (not our photo).

Snail mail solution…Tasks piling up…

I don’t like snail mail. Every day between noon and 3:00 PM, the white rickety US mail trunk comes bobbing down our bumpy private road, the driver bouncing about, oblivious to the numerous potholes, the narrow road, and the little dogs.  

Living on a private road of six homes, situated on a narrow peninsula, the little dogs can roam freely. Sorrowfully, about 15 years ago, our little five-year-old Aussie, Bart, was run over by the then mailman who later commented, “Yeah, I’d thought I hit something but didn’t think I needed to stop to investigate.”

Had it not been for the second kiss goodbye to Tom that day that inspired me to follow him outside and kiss him through the open car window, I wouldn’t have noticed Bart lying dead behind Tom’s back tire. He would have backed up driving over him, assuming he had killed him. Thank goodness, Tom was (and still is) deserving the second kiss. 

That’s one reason I don’t like the mailman, the truck, or the mail itself, an endless barrage of junk indicating we are on some kind of arbitrary, categorical list that perpetually invades our privacy. 

The second reason I don’t like the mail is simple: about halfway through every vacation, I start thinking about the fact that this glorious experience has to come to an end. And, what is the first thing you do when you get home from a vacation??? GET THE DARNED MAIL!!! The therapeutic benefit of this much needed time away turns into a dreadful experience of wading through the annoying pile of useless paper. (We went paperless years ago on all of our monthly/annual/quarterly obligations).

After rifling through this mess, there remains perhaps one item worthy of a toss into the pile on the kitchen counter, which invariably requires some type of task in order to warrant its eventual disposal. I hate mail.

In my mind, one of the major contributors to my desire to travel the world is this: We won’t have to come home to the mail! Ah, but who are we kidding? Do you think it’s easy to get rid of mail?  Mail is relentless! Mail seeks and finds. There is no freedom from the mail!

So, when we started making the daunting “to do” list that will make this many years-long adventure possible, at the very top is “what do we do about the mail?”  

It’s not that simple. One might think we should get a PO box, sending all the mail there. No, this won’t work.  It piles up and then what? Have a family member collect it, go through it, and send it to us? No, that’s too much to ask with everyone’s busy lives and their own mail to contend with. 

Every dilemma has a solution, right? We’re assigning a mail forwarding company the task of our mail. They give us an address, receive the mail, toss the junk, scanning, and sending by email anything we may need to review and assess its value.  

If we choose to touch it for some odd reason, they will snail mail it to us anywhere in the world, overnight if need be. It’s not costly and requires little time commitment plus, partial mail freedom. Full mail freedom only occurs a period of time after one’s demise. We’ll settle for partial. Cost: about $10 month plus additional fees for scanning mail and for sending us anything oversees. One task, resolved. 

Now back to the required second passport for obtaining visas; the visas themselves; the scanning every photo we’ve ever taken; the international health insurance issues; the medical evacuation insurance; the immunizations; the process of renewing prescriptions; the packing of two suitcases each with enough to last us for however long; the disposal of everything we have owned for 26 years; the estate sale at the end; the international cell phones and new computers with an external hard drive loaded with 100’s of movies, TV shows, e-books; the ability to have Internet access worldwide; Tom’s retirement party; the comprehensive spreadsheets of all projected expenditures including fixed expenses, taxes, banking, exchange rates and of course, the itinerary including cruises, ferry rides, air travel, train travel, vacation home rentals, the safari, all of which is already booked out to January 2015.

Oh, oh, I just heard the mail truck bouncing down the bumpy road, the bobble-headed driver behind the wheel. I’d better go check it out!  Just think, only 7 months and 21 days left to partial mail freedom. Yeah!