Searching for Animals on the Serengeti

The hot African sun heats the canvas and makes it uncomfortable to sleep or linger. It’s 6 am and we are on the move.  We pack our luggage and load it into the safari vehicle. The tents and remainder of the camp will be dismantled and reassembled for our arrival at the next camp. We eat breakfast and finally, I’m able to eat something. I remain cautious and eat little and slow and hope today is the turning point.

We assemble our camera gear, review the shots from yesterday and decide that the best shots will be with the 500mm lens. We attach the beanbag to the camera and put the binoculars in the seat pocket. We slather on sunscreen, don sunglasses and prepare to spend the next ten hours inside the safari vehicle.

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We 4×4 our way on roads that are virtually nonexistent.  They are created by animals and widened by Safari vehicles and erosion. Nausea pesters and intensifies with each pothole. I try to focus on taking pictures and the nausea takes a back seat temporarily. We have put in an order for chips, and ginger drink and I look forward to tonight knowing this will help.

We focus our eyes and search for animals. Stephen and others in our group are amazing at this task. I zoom in on the blob they point to on the horizon and soon an elephant comes into focus. My nausea is forgotten as I happily snap away. There are so many animals on the Serengeti and far more than I imagined.

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We see Lions lazing on the rocks, covered in flies and stretched out without a care in the world. They know their place as the top of the food chain and conserve their energy for when they need to exert themselves to chase down a zebra dinner or a gazelle snack.

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John and I take turns with the camera. It’s nice to be able to just look and see without figuring out angles and the next shot. John spends much time photographing a Baboon eating a mushroom. Forty-two pictures later he is sated.  We are thankful for digital photography.

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Stephen shuts the engine off when we are photographing to avoid any excess shake, still there is movement every time someone shifts position, stands or sits and there are six of us in the vehicle all moving at any given time. The Silver Pod bean bag works great to stabilize the camera.  This was an inexpensive item that I had researched and obtained prior to leaving for our trip.  It is perfect.  We are giddy at times as we look at our results in the small screen.

We park by a large tree and get out of the vehicle. We are each given a boxed lunch prepared ahead of time and enjoy the offerings of chicken, juice, cucumber sandwich, peanuts, chips and a muffin. There is enough food to feed a thrashing crew as opposed to sedentary safari vehicle dwellers. Stephen tells us that predators are near and we chuckle.  Still, I wonder if he is trying to tell us to stay alert?   My relaxing lunch is over as I scan the area continually.  I am not interested in being lunch for one of the many predators on the Serengeti.

Serengeti camping

We arrive at our campsite, our home for the night. The tents are set up and instantly I’m disappointed. Our lodging is small canvas tents. My research suggested spacious tents with double beds and sheets. We are in a special campsite and would not share the space with another group, unfortunately, all nine of us would use the same chemical toilet and rustic shower. We will live like this for the next week. I’m still ill and I retreat to our tent with its two single cots and sleeping bags and cry. John comforts me but soon he is called away. John is the spokesman for our group and he must negotiate for all our group and their demands. He acquires toilet paper and the promise of towels and listens to the growing complaints.

Soon, it’s time to eat. I’m still not hungry though eventually I sit with the others and pick at the food. Hot chocolate is an addition, milo, tea and instant coffee the same as Kilimanjaro. The food is okay, passable. I have no appetite and it does not matter.

The toilet is not cleaned regularly and frequently runs out of paper. It is dismal. We have paid so much money for such poor conditions. We have also been given a letter from the tour company explaining how much we are expected to tip each worker at the end of the Safari. It’s not really a tip but rather a surcharge and an expectation. It seems as though we pay twice and again I wonder how many of the thousands of dollars already paid ends up in these men’s pockets. I suspect none and few dollars have been utilized to make the experience comfortable. I imagine the majority of money has been used to grease hands and line pockets of people we will never meet.

My mood is foul. I stay up for a time and stare into the flames of the campfire and then we retreat to our tent. Luckily, we packed headlamps. We have brought too many clothes, our gear inappropriate. We streamline all useless items into our largest suitcase and put it in the safari vehicle where it will remain. I wish we had been more prepared.

The animals today were amazing and I remind myself that we are here to take photos, which will be incredible. We opted for an experience and a chance to depart from our comfort zone. I tell myself these things as I drift off to sleep listening to sounds I’ve never heard while I lay in a tent pitched on the Serengeti. Okay, this is pretty cool.

Traveling to Africa

Hurry up and wait.
We boarded yesterday at midnight and after a day of traveling, time changes we wait in Ethiopia airport for a plane
Time here seems to be a fluid concept. The typical TV sets letting folks know which terminal, gate, flight number and whether it is on time or delayed seems off and doesn’t have all flights listed. There is no urgency here so we acquiesce and sit and wait and then wait some more
Ethiopian airlines was a pleasant surprise. Attentive to our needs, both real and perceived–blankets, pillows, headsets and more food and drinks then on any recent flight. It was like air travel used to be–nice!
Many beautiful dresses and head covers. One Man praying on his mat and a large number of people wearing hiking boots round out the mix of folks at the Ethiopia airport
Then the delay is over, the plane has arrived and we all herd to board en masse.
We arrive and are treated to more lines as we are deemed healthy enough to enter. We are fingerprinted and then collect our bags, walk through customs and outside. It’s hot but we have water waiting for us. Our luggage is loaded on the roof of the bus and we amble off to our final destination today, The Parkview Hotel
I sit here poolside and look into the distance where I see Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain is gorgeous, looks just like its pictures; however it does look larger in real life. Tomorrow we will begin our ascent. I am so very excited and lucky to have this opportunity. To the top!

Packing and Preparation

Packing a suitcase usually done last minute– this trip has had us packing and preparing for one year.  Last night we finished after a final 4 hour marathon to make it all fit, to remove what seemed to be oh so very necessary, to add things that likely are really necessary and still…I wonder what I’ve forgotten.  Packing for all the seasons, packing light, thinking about layering, adding items that likely can’t be purchased are just some of the many considerations.

Glitches will occur, but how we respond to each will make or break the moment. I’m aiming for allowing mishaps and misadventures to roll off my back and adopting the serenity prayer for the majority of the trip.  Last night my camera decided to break.  Today we will buy a new one, lucky that we can, fortunate that it broke last night, and finally its one of three cameras that will be making the journey–so it never would have been a large problem.  We could not check in on Air Canada, but we are not alone in that concern, we will check in at the airport and deal with it that time.

The neighbors are taking care of our home and cats and we are so very fortunate to have a subdivision of neighbors that we call friends.  Our puppies are off to have their vacation at their kennel.  I’ve paid our bills, organized our bills for the next few weeks, suspended services and done all that is needed to leave the country.  We have downloaded movies, books, and games to keep us occupied.  We have figured out when to take our malaria pills and have read through one more time the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness.

While we are gone, the world will keep on.  Our second grandchild will be born sometime on this trip.  We pray for health and wellness of our family’s newest addition, and fervently hope that one day our children and grandchildren will continue to have opportunities for adventure in their lives.

The last few weeks we have received so many messages of good will via email, text, phone call or in person.  We will take each of you with us as we journey to the roof of Africa, adventure on Safari and rest on the beaches of Zanzibar. It will certainly be an incredible journey.  To the top!

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Destination Kilimanjaro.  It was a year ago that I read that email.

Preparing for this great adventure has been a lesson in delaying gratification.  The entire year has been devoted to working, training and planning for a trip that will commence in just three short days.  I had been looking for something to challenge me, to take me out of the comfortable cocoon that had become my life–I knew at first read that this was the opportunity.  The search was over!

I remember the first time I decided on a minus 30 degree day to climb the stairs in my home.  I did this without hiking boots and pack, just in socks.  I went up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.  I was crippled for days after this challenge.  Who knew that months later I would climb 1600 stairs in 30 minutes on my lunch break and that some weeks I would do this 3 times in a week without any pain during or after.

I recall hiking in the winter and how sore I was after just a few short hours.  I was so pleased  with the level of fitness attained since, when just a few weeks ago I hiked for nearly 9 hours and was disappointed that we had to finish the hike as it was getting dark.

I had many illnesses and injuries, but I do know that I did all that I could to achieve this great goal.  I worked hard and at times three different jobs were juggled to make it all fit to pay for this trip.  I worked hard at our home, staining and painting the house, maintaining the garden, doing yard work, dealing with the dogs, cats, house and all that is required for Summertime at the acreage.

I cycled, biked, hiked, ran, stair climbed, hill climbed and mountain climbed. I woke up at 0300 and drove to hike in Nordegg, then drove home to care for the dogs.  I hiked with lung infections, sore knees, sore hips, sore feet and when exhausted to prepare for Kilimanjaro tough.  I read books about this great mountain, visualized the route, practiced breathing,  meditated and did yoga.  I prayed that we will finish the climb together, that our group will all make the journey to the top,  and asked anyone I met to pray for us.  I kept a journal, a calendar to keep track of my training and another to keep track of my jobs.  Preparing to climb Kilimanjaro was a priority for my life this past year.  When I could not make group workouts, I did more at home to make up for the fact that I did not attend. When walking was difficult due to one of the many injuries, I did core exercises twice per day to strengthen–it worked.  I went to my doctor more than I have in any recent year.   To determine the nature of my pain, I had a bone scan, x-ray and consult with a Sports physician. Convinced I was likely too fat for my body,  I lost over 30 pounds and many inches and that is what made all the difference.  I’ve met many great new friends and learned some of the stories of their lives as we hiked together.  I hope that we will remain friends after we have shared this amazing experience together

I know that the mountain will change me. I am hoping to leave some of my less admiral traits on the roof of Africa.  I will take people with me in spirit–my grandparents, parents, patients that have passed and patients that I currently care and have the honor of being a part of their lives at present.  I will think of my daughters, my grandson and new grandchild and hope that their lives will always be full of adventure, that they will never allow their live to be limited and that they will always aim high.

I will use this as a launch to the next chapter of my life.

I have no idea what the future brings–how many more years that I have left to live, but I do know that I will continue to live every day with intent and purpose.  I will continue to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  I will not sleep walk through life, nor take the days for granted.  I will continue to learn, grow and develop to become the best that I can be in this life.

I do know that I have done all that I can to achieve this great feat and I’m ready.  To the Top!