Part of the beauty of being on sabbatical is that there are no time constraints and no set agenda. So...this blog will be a series of reflections, written as my heart is moved to share them. I will be in Kenya and Tanzania for six weeks beginning November 1st. Welcome to my adventure! To find out more about the Canadian charity that I am spending time with, please go to their website: www.sautimoja.org

Friday, 9 December 2011

A final posting from Africa!

As I near the end of my incredible 6 weeks in Africa, I want to do one last blog - sharing with you some of the pictures from our Safari.  Both Art and I have been deeply touched by the strength of heart and the grace-filled dignity of the people we have met both in Kenya and in Tanzania.  To finish off our time in this country by watching and learning from the animals was a real gift.  We had 3 days, and two nights out on safari.  We began in Tarangire Park.  As we were waiting for our guide to fill in the paperwork, I took a picture of this monkey - mostly because the kids at Sunset made it clear they wanted to see a monkey or two!
One of the things that I loved about Africa was the trees.  This park has many baobab trees - huge old trees that provide great shade.

As we drove along that first afternoon, it was lovely to see a small group of giraffes.  Hopefully you can see the small birds on this female - they are called "tick birds", as they eat the ticks and bugs that must be very difficult for the giraffe to get rid of otherwise.  It was wonderful to just sit and watch these extremely tall, and somewhat elegant  creatures move across the road - they were moving slowly - both left legs together, then both right legs together.  

That first night we stayed at the Tanganire Lodge - this was our room!  

At the back of the tent, there was a flush toilet and a shower - very comfortable.  And the food was very good - amazing how we could work up an appetite just sitting in our vehicle and being driven around!
We did our next drive at 6:30 a.m. - a pre-breakfast look at the wildlife!  This is looking out at the Serengetti as the sun was coming up - the view from the dining area of the lodge.
Our first treat was a group of elephants right near the lodge.  We just parked the vehicle and watched them walk along - no hurry, no fuss - extremely peace-full to watch.  How can you not love those baby elephants??

We saw many water bucks along the way - this one seemed quite happy to stand and pose for us.
One of the incredible gifts of that morning was discovering this group of 10 cubs and their two mommas - just lying there beside the road.  We took many, many pictures - rather than doing a "home movie" moment, I will just share a couple of our favorites.  Sammy (who I will tell you more about a bit later), figured that these cubs would be 8 to 10 months old.  They tend to stay very close to their mothers for the first couple of years.  Beside the mothers there were two younger cubs who were still nursing.

The other animals we saw a lot of in this park were impalas - here is one of my favorite pictures of them.
These next two pictures just say "Africa" to me - certainly not scenes you would see on our prairie fields in Canada:

After we had our breakfast, it was time to load up and head for the next stage of our Safari.  Here is Art on the pathway to our room.  And this is one of the porters who decided it was easier to carry my suitcase on her head than it was to pull it along on its wheels!

We had two amazing experiences as we were driving away from the lodge towards the park gates.  One was this moment where Sammy parked the vehicle and we watched this rather large group of elephants approach us.  They were majestic - both powerful and gentle somehow.  It is very difficult to describe how absolutely beautiful it was to just sit there as the group came and walked around our vehicle.  They were so close we could have reached out and touched them.  They were not at all concerned about us.  It was one of those indescrible holy moments - we sat in silence as they slowly and deliberately walked past us, until at one point they completely surrounded our car on all sides - I actually felt a wee bit weepy at the beauty of the moment.
The other incredible moment was seeing this cheetah.  Sammy just happened to glimpse it roll over with its feet in the air as we drove by - I have no idea how he saw it.  He told us we were very lucky - they are shy creatures and don't show themselves that often.

Our next stop was Ngorongoro crater.  Here is the entrance to the park, and a picture of me contemplating how incredibly blessed I felt to be on this African adventure!

Just past the entrance we saw this group of baboons, and this time I asked him to stop so I could get a picture - kind of a laid back old guy!
We stopped at a viewpoint to get our first look down into the crater.  Apparently this was once a mountain, taller even  than Kilamanjaro, but once it erupted it caved in on itself and created this amazing grazing land for a wide variety of animals.  
It felt very different than being in the Tarangire Park, and we saw many new varieties of animals.  But we before we get to the animals, let me introduce you to our driver, Sammy.  He has been a guide for about 20 years - he told me he took a course to learn to guide, but he doesn't have any formal education.  I told him that his lifetime of living and watching the animals here was worth way more than any academic degree - he just grinned at me.  He is an amazing man.  He told us that you can't be in a rush - you need to take the time to just sit and watch and see what will unfold.  It was good not to just snap our pictures and rush on.  We would sometimes sit 20 - 30 minutes and just watch the scene in front of us.  He clearly enjoys what he does - and would often chuckle when we saw the antics of the babies.  He would often throw in little tid-bits of information.  Like, you can tell if an elephant is left-handed or right-handed by watching which one of the tusks is shorter than the other.  Sammy was a huge part of what made this experience enjoyable for Art and I - we are very, very thankful that he was our driver.  He also had a great sense of humor and it was fun to see that playful side of him - like how he sat on a seat cushion with a spider-man cover on it!

One of the animals that we saw an abundance of was zebras - this is where they come in the rainy season.  Along with the wildebeests.
 Here are a couple more zebra shots - they tend to roll in the mud lots, so that is the reddish look on their backs.  And this was near a huge flock of flamingos that were too far away for us to get a really good shot of - thank God for a camera with a powerful zoom!

The crater is the one place where you can still see black rhinos - again, I have no idea how Sammy spotted these guys, but at least we got to see proof that they are there.  They didn't move at all while we sat there, but it's pretty clear that they are indeed rhinos!
This was also our first view of gazelles - this one is a beauty.
As we were driving along we saw this flurry of black and white - apparently we just missed seeing two ostriches mating!  But I was just happy to arrive when we did - this guy looks pretty proud of himself!  Part of the way males make themselves attractive is by turning their necks and legs very pink.  The female on the other hand, is quite dull by comparison.  It was pretty funny to watch.  The intimacy was done - and they both walked away in opposite directions, never even glimpsing back to see what the other might be thinking!

Sammy wore this hat on the drive cause it tended to be so dusty - he didn't like having to wipe the dust out of his hair!
We were able to see a couple of black-maned lions as well.  These guys co-operated nicely and let us see their faces a little bit - they were a fair ways away from our vehicle, but the power in their bodies is still fairly visible - I was fine with just viewing them from a distance.  

At one point right beside the road, we came across 4 female lions.  Literally, I could have reached out and touched one of them.  Sammy told us that lions spend 18 hours a day resting and/or sleeping.  They were incredibly relaxed when we saw them.  Kind of strange to think they are there and not that far away, there are zebras, wildebeest, and ostriches - all a tasty meal for a lion!  It would be kind of hard to stalk anything in this wide open crater - most hunting would happen after dark when the many safari vehicles are long gone.

And, just so you know we saw it, here is a rather comical picture of a buffalo.
Again, we sat and watched this elephant crossing the field beside us.  Sammy guessed it would be about 60 or 65 years old.  Elephants live to be about 70 or so.  It was lovely watching him walk along - as Sammy said: "no rush here in Africa!"  Just one foot in front of the other - same as he had been doing for 60 years before this - before Art and I were even born - a little amazing to think about.
I'll close with this one last picture we took as we drove up and out of the crater.  
This whole time - Marsabit, Nairobi, Longido, the Safari, and now here on Zanzibar - has been an incredible adventure.  I can't quite believe that in two days Art and I get back on a plane and head back to Canada.  I can't even begin to describe how my heart and soul have been touched by this journey.  I have many, many moments that I will continue to ponder and absorb over the next while.  I know that I will indeed leave here a changed person - which was one of my hopes for this time of sabbath.  It is impossible not to slow down here - to leave behind the urgency of time schedules and agendas. My body feels more rested and relaxed than it has been for quite some time.  For this final month of my sabbatical, I will be spending much time reflecting and re-adjusting and sorting out how to integrate this African experience into my ministry with Sunset United Church - but I will not be blogging again until I am back to work, and back to our regular website.  Just to give you a wee glimpse into life in Zanzibar, here are a couple of pictures from swimming with the dolphins - we will be leaving this island much rejuvenated!  Hopefully that will still be the case when I am back to my desk on January 10th.  Thank you for those who have travelled along with me - bye for now...