THE LOW-DOWN ON GAME-DRIVES

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Thursday June 22, 2017

If you’ve never been on an African safari, you probably can’t imagine what a game-drive is like. Well, we’ve been on a few of them already this safari … and we’ve got lots more to come. At least once a day, sometimes early morning while it’s still quite darkish, sometimes later in the afternoon when the landscape’s cooling down, we pile into our waiting 4WDs (Toyota Land Cruisers) and bounce off along the dirt roads that criss-cross East Africa’s wildlife parks. In search of what? In search of the animals, birds and scenic highlights that this continent’s famous for.

The ‘lids are up’ (meaning the vehicles’ roofs are elevated) allowing us to stand, if we choose, for fresh air, clear views and photos. The terrain is frequently cross-country, with lots of lurching and lunging – which all adds to the camaraderie and fun. Our drivers are also qualified as safari guides, with specialist knowledge of ecology, conservation, birdlife and animal habits. In short, they’re a goldmine of information – plus they’ve got amazing eyesight, constantly scanning the surrounds and accurately spotting our moving targets long before we see them.

Over the next few blogs I want to give you a taste of the wildlife Kiwis have been eyeballing. These selected close-ups (snapped by me and my beloved) are for real, but they don’t give you the whole story. There are things you can only appreciate by being here: the endless backdrops, stretching to the horizon … the constantly changing movement and sounds and dust and smells and silences and anticipation and hold-your-breath excitement … and what went on beforehand.

You see, sometimes the wildlife is all around you, impossible to miss. But most times you have to go looking for it – because these game-parks are truly vast and the animals (especially the predator-cats) are elusive. Often the first clue that “something’s out there” is a tiny upright shape in the far-off distance (like the cheetah we spotted yesterday) … a shadow in the long grass (like the leopard we encountered later that same day) … a hint of movement that you think you can see “somewhere over there”. Our drivers are good at this, and they often pick up signals that we can’t see even with binoculars: a cheetah’s head above the terrain … a tail hanging down out of a tree … a sudden panic amongst smaller animals.

And something else you can’t tell by looking at these pix is the hour-or-two of driving and searching along dusty, rutted tracks that finally resulted in a halfway decent photo. Nor can you tell how many hopeless, useless, out-of-focus duds were snapped before this one – and have since been deleted.

Anyway, sorry for going on and on. Enjoy these images-of-Africa (there are lots more to come) – and click on them for some extra comment. They’re a sample of photos we’ll all take home when we leave, reminding us of the wild, wonderful days we’ve spent in Africa … and the amazing wildlife we were privileged to meet.

Snorting buffalos, grumpy, irritable, eager to charge … fat, mud-loving hippos, lethally dangerous but looking like they couldn’t get out of their own way … lanky giraffes, nibbling at sweet shoots in the tallest acacia trees … prehistoric rhinos rumbling short-sightedly across the grasslands … herds of elephants, mainly mums, aunts and playful babies, with the odd bachelor bull grazing nearby … ever-alert antelopes of varied shapes and sizes, ready to leap away at the first sniff of danger … hyenas lurking in the undergrowth, ugly-as but powerful hunters … cheetahs, rare, endangered and lightning-fast … stripey-suited zebras, romping playfully and yipping like dogs … magnificent lions, Kings of the Jungle and feared by all … shy leopards, preferring their own company and hiding their lunch up trees …

PEOPLE NEWS: Another quacky yellow duck has found a new and welcoming home:

  • Ken won our ‘Near Miss’ Award – after forgetting to clear his room a/c at one of our lodges. Ken was shot at by an armed security guard and arrested as we tried to leave the game-park. (No, hang on. Correction. Ken wasn’t shot or arrested. Phew! But he did have to pay …)

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

WHERE WE’VE BEEN & WHERE WE ARE NOW!

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Tuesday June 20, 2017

Okay. You can stop pacing the floor and twiddling your thumbs. By now (as you’ve probably guessed) we’re well into our WILD AFRICAN SAFARI … and I’m gonna tell you a few things you’ve been dying to hear. First, let me bring you belatedly up to date with where we’ve been, where we’ve been staying, where we are now, and how we got here.

02-01 Safari Park Hotel (1024x636)

Saturday: OL PEJETA

Leaving Nairobi on Saturday morning, we set off in our 4WDs for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre wildlife reserve (situated near the town of Nanyuki, between the foothills of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya). It boasts its own chimpanzee sanctuary, plus a higher wildlife-to-area ratio than any of Kenya’s other national parks – and a night under canvas awaited us at the Sweetwaters Tented Camp. But don’t panic: we didn’t have to pitch our own pup-tents! These were spacious, walk-in, permanent tents set on solid floors, with ensuites and all the comforts of home, plus their own private verandas overlooking the nearby waterhole.

02-02 Sweetwaters (1024x634)2

We arrived in time for our first ‘proper’ game-drive – a blast, I tell you, featuring animals galore! But I’ll tell you more about game-drives in my next blog ‘post’ …

Sunday: LAKE NAKURU

Once we were fed and watered (having slept like babies in our hot-water-bottle heated beds) we zipped up our tents, and said “Kwaheri!” (goodbye) to Sweetwaters. We then drove south, crossing the Equator on our way down into the Great Rift Valley – the towns we passed through seemingly littered with families in their Sunday-best, heading to and from church.

Speaking of churches, we’ve never seen so many. Some of them looked like churches, but lots more were humble little storefront affairs that blended in with the rumpty outlets that lined our route. And the names! You should’ve seen the names!

I mean, we spotted roadside shops and stalls with names like ‘Eliezer Hotel & Butchery’ … ‘God Gives Tailors’ … ‘Meek Hardware & Electrical’ … ‘Blessed Salmon & Cosmetics’. We spotted ‘Shiners School for Girls’ … the ‘Arise Hospital’ … the ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus Health Centre’ … and the ‘Prison Hotel: All Welcome!’ And we spotted churches with some of the most imaginative signage ever: ‘Jesus Winners Church’ … ‘Ministry of Repentance & Holiness’ … ‘Heaven’s Gate Prayer Mountain’ … ‘King’s Outreach Church’ … ‘End Time Believers Gospel House’ … ‘Lion of Christ Church’ … ‘Glory to God Community’ … and ‘Happy Church’.

We haven’t come to Africa, of course, to drive through its towns, but to eyeball its astonishing wildlife. And, eventually, we left this bustling humanity behind and arrived at the beautifully located Lion Hill Lodge in time for lunch and another of those game-drives I plan to tell you about.

02-03 Sarova Lion Hill (1024x636)

Nakuru National Park is home to 400 different species of birds, plus waterbucks, warthogs, impalas, buffalos, and cheetahs. It’s also one of the few places in which you can see the endangered white rhino – and saw it we did, several of them, in fact.

Monday: LAKE NAIVASHA

This is another of the Great Rift Lakes – 1880 metres above sea level, south of Nakuru (check out the map), and famous for its birds. So, for something a little different, we took to the water in a couple of small boat, pointing our cameras at pelicans, cormorants, black herons, kingfishers, rollers, shrikes, fish eagles and more. Oh, and not to mention a sizable population of sizable hippos, which chose to remain (much to our relief) mostly-submerged!

Last night we were guests at a lodge shaded by acacias and spreading fever-trees on the lake’s edge.

02-04 Lake Naivasha (1024x636)

Tuesday: MASAI MARA

Today started (as most of them do) with breakfast. Then, packing bags and bodies into our 4WDs, we began a five-hour drive, half of which was on a bone-jarring, body-pounding, teeth-rattling apology-for-a-road … in search of Kenya’s famous Masai Mara Regional Park!

02-05 Mara Serena (1024x634)

If I get the time, I’ll tell you more about the Masai Mara later, but this sea of bush-cloaked hills and rich, rolling grasslands is centre-stage for the most dramatic wildlife show on earth: the legendary migration of vast herds of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, when millions of hooves pound the open plains.

PEOPLE NEWS: They’re falling over themselves to get one of our world-famous Midlife Madness Awards! In fact, at this rate we’re gonna run out of quacky yellow ducks:

  • Lyn received our ‘You Can Keep Your Hat On’ Award – after losing hers yesterday while out boating close to a watchful gathering of sunbathing hippos.
  • John B scored our ‘Cultured & Refined’ Award – for attempting to wash his dust-covered shorts in the bidet in their safari-lodge bathroom.

COMING UP: Have you ever wondered what we do all day (or most of the day) while on safari? Well, stay tuned and I’ll give you the low-down on game-drives …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

AFRICA: HERE WE COME!

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Sunday June 18, 2017

It seems like four weeks since we left Auckland – not just four days – and I’m sorry that this first blog-’post’ is late. My apologies if you’ve been lying awake at night waiting for news, worried that your friend or loved-one might have been kidnapped by rebels, trampled by elephants or eaten by lions. I’m happy to report that none of the above has occurred … that our Mad Midlife group is intact … that we’ve already enjoyed two marvellous days in Africa … and that we’re having the time of our lives!

WIFI, thus far, has been patchy (to say the least) out here in the African wop-wops … and uploading photos is proving a jumbo-sized frustration. So this ‘post’ will be a quickie – mostly-words, if you don’t mind – and I’ll hold serious pix until we’ve got a stronger signal.

Okay? Okay.

THURSDAY – DUBAI

While you slept under warm Wednesday-night blankets, we flew backwards through the time-zones, landing in Dubai early Thursday morning, just as the desert landscape was warming up. After freezing our butts off during the flight (it was cold aboard that Emirates A380), we stepped out onto Dubai’s streets and proceeded to fry our brains in the close-to 50-degree furnace blast.

There’s no place quite like Dubai, with its modern palaces, its soaring glass-&-steel skyscrapers, its 700-plus Muslim minarets, its 12-lane motorways, its jungle of cranes, and its sparkling latest-model cars … all sprawled along the shores of the Persian Gulf. Twenty-five years ago there was little here except boiling-hot sand and a few grumpy camels, but gushing new oil and some visionary sheiks changed all that. Today, this glittering Middle East showpiece is home to some 8 million people – although barely 1.5 million are Emiratis (Arabs); the majority are foreigners, labourers and construction workers from countries like India, Philippines and Bangladesh … and ex-pat professionals from everywhere else.

01 Burj Kalifa - Dubai

We went up-up-up in the world’s fastest elevator to the observation deck (124th floor) of the world’s tallest building: the Burj Khalifa. (The above is not my photo, regrettably.) Back on ground-level, we oohed-and-aahed at the world’s largest aquarium, inhabited by the world’s biggest indoor collection of fish, from the largest (sharks and rays) to the littlest.

We then explored Dubai’s Spice and Gold Souks (markets) – but by now the heat and lack of sleep had turned us all into the Walking Dead, and we were past caring.

A dinner cruise along the city’s lit-up waterfront – aboard a traditional Arab ‘dhow’ – saw us revive temporarily. But we couldn’t wait to crawl back to our hotel and collapse into bed, where we slept like babies until our 5:30am wake-up call.

FRIDAY – NAIROBI

We were back in the air soon after sunrise (yawn …), en route to Kenya in East Africa. Five hours later, at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, we were met by the three guys who were to be our driver/guides for the next 10 days: Shem, Peter and Titus. They drove us in purpose-built 4WDs to the Safari Park Hotel outside of Nairobi where we enjoyed a tasty barbecue-under-the-stars (sampling crocodile, ostrich, camel and goat, amongst other meaty delicacies) … followed by a fantastic, energetic performance of modern African song-&-dance.

02 African spectacular - Nairobi

SATURDAY – SAFARI

Next morning (bright and early) we hit the road, motoring south through Nairobi’s suburbs and other small towns to our first appointment with wildlife. Our long-awaited Safari was underway at last! But (sorry about this) you’ll have to pace the floor, twiddle your thumbs, and wait another day or so to hear and see the wild details.

03 Thirsty work - Kenya

PEOPLE NEWS: Nominations for our hotly-sought-after Midlife Madness Awards are coming in … and three quacky yellow ducks have already been claimed:

  • Alison won our ‘In A Daze About Days’ Award – for getting herself in a total tangle over whether it was Thursday, Wednesday, Friday, the Other Day, or even Xmas Day. (Okay, I’m lying about Xmas Day …)
  • Jim B received our ‘Flying South’ Award – for busting the zip in his safari pants in full view of the world when removing his belt at the Immigration counter in Dubai.
  • Jim P carried off our ‘Stowaway Award’ Award – for falling asleep down the back of the bus on our way back to the hotel the other night. That’s not so funny – right? But what made it funny is that no one noticed, including his wife! We all got off the coach, blissfully unaware that Jim was still down the back, snoring like a hibernating bear. It was 10 minutes later, in the hotel lobby, that his wife started asking, “Where’s Jim? Has anybody seen Jim?” (Luckily, the driver hadn’t driven off with Jim on board – he might still be there!)
  • Neville took home our ‘Doing A Runner’ Award – for forgetting to settle his drinks bill at dinner the other night, and walking off like an accountant-gone-bad.
  • Lorraine sneaked away with our ‘Dream A Little Dream’ Award – for sleeping right through our wake-up call this morning, sleeping right through breakfast, and arriving just in time for our 4WD game-drive kinda mussed-up and still half asleep.

COMING UP: We spend a night under canvas at a camp overlooking a waterhole … visit a chimpanzee sanctuary … then drive down into the Great Rift Valley in search of animals, animals, animals in and around Lake Nakuru. Stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

JAMBO BWANA!

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Friday June 9, 2017

We’re in countdown mode again – ticking off the final few days before our departure on Wednesday. We’ll be flying on a big Emirates A380 via Melbourne to Dubai, south of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula … and then on to Nairobi in Kenya. From there we’ll head out on safari, following our map through East Africa’s gameparks and grasslands, getting up-close-and-personal with the free-to-roam wildlife.

We’ve notified Africa that we’re coming. And we’ve already had a positive response from all concerned – including most of the animals:

  • The leopards, cheetahs, crocodiles, antelopes and baboons have all said pretty much the same thing: “Mad Midlife Kiwis? Our kind of tourists!”
  • The hippos, rhinos, giraffes, wild dogs and hyenas have agreed to keep the next few weeks free: “Face it, we’d be barking-mad if we didn’t!”
  • The ostriches, flamingos, saddle-billed storks, crowned cranes and vultures have promised not to get in a flap – they’ll be there with bells on!
  • And the lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeest and cape buffalos are busy rounding-up all their members, who’ve all gone on migration, it seems!

We’ll spend day-after-day in open-top 4WD safari vehicles … and night-after-night in luxury safari lodges and African-theme resorts. In the process, we’ll sample the secrets of this ancient continent … eating lots, laughing lots, making new friends, taking a zillion photos and generally having the time of our lives!

Stay tuned, won’t you. Once our Mad Midlife Safari’s actually underway, we’ll add fresh new entries and award-winning pix – so you can share a little of our wild adventure.

But right now, we’ve gotta get packed. So it’s goodnight from her – and it’s goodnight from me!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)