Monday, January 31, 2011

Question: How Do Knowledge Workers Help with Information Overload?

The Information Africa Organization (IAO) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) registered in Kenya. Its main objective is to build capacity among youth in Information Communication Technology/Information Technology (ICT/IT) to enhance use of information available in cyberspace for development. The full description of IAO's objective is found here.

At the site, the current question under discussion has to do with information overload, a subject often given attention in the KM/knowledge services discipline. The discussion forum raises the issue by noting that information overload and professional/scientific language are barriers to information flow, and goes on to state that "implementable decisions are based on clear information (where clarity includes language used)."

The question for discussion is: How best can professionals in information and related fields (which, in my opinion, includes strategic knowledge specialists, knowledge managers, and knowledge strategists) aid in simplifying information to support formulation of time and relevant policies?

Reply to this post with your response (comments will be posted here and at the SMR corporate blog, and passed on to IAO). If you wish to respond directly, link to the IAO Discussion Forum.

Looking forward to learning what colleagues thinking about knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) have to say.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our Private Kenya (2): Oletepes and a Day Out with Charles and Nerisa

Good friends Charles and Nerisa decided that before Andrew and I got too deep into our safari, and since our colleagues had not all arrived yet, we would have a private day out, over near the Ngong Hills.

Now anyone familiar with Kenya and the literature about the country has heard of the Ngong Hills, the great line of peaks along the edge of the Great Rift Valley, and to the southwest of Nairobi (in fact, I've posted a couple of blogs about the Ngong Hills, with some of my thoughts here and here). So Charles and Nerisa took us to another of those private "resorts" that seem so popular in Kenya (sort of like Paradise Lost but not quite as large, or as historical). This one, known as Oletepes, is just as special in its own way, a huge wide-open field with tables and chairs set about and the spectacular view of the Ngong Hills in the distance.

Drinks and meals are served, but I had the impression that Oletepes is primarily a place where people can go to sit and enjoy being outdoors, with magnificent scenery all around. The day we went happened to be a national holiday (Jamhuri, Kenya's Independence Day), and I was surprised that there weren't more people at the resort. Apparently most people found a different way to celebrate the nation's independence (and since the new Constitution had just been passed last August, with a big celebration a few weeks later, perhaps most folks had done enough "national" celebrating!).

As for Andrew and me, we were very pleased with the whole idea of the day out with Charles and Nerisa, and Oletepes was a very special place to go. There was, from time to time, a very strong wind (which is why, I suppose, the park has a few domed tents for providing shelter, particularly for campers who stay overnight), but we didn't allow it to interfere with our good time.

We were also impressed with the waiters and the other staff, and with how hard they all work. Although guests drive their automobiles to the place where they want to sit and relax, or spend the night in the tent, the kitchen is a long 'way off, and the wait staff walk back and forth carrying whatever is necessary to bring the drinks and meals to the guests (and they manage to keep the nyoma choma hot, which is in itself a major accomplishment!). Can't imagine that level of hard work from wait staff in the States or Western Europe, but as we talked about it, we figured it out: with such high unemployment in Kenya, people are happy to have jobs, and to work hard. Don't think Westerners are prepared to work that hard, or walk that much, but Westerners also don't have the high levels of unemployment like that in Kenya. So perhaps what we're seeing in Kenya is an explanation (or the other way 'round).

In any case, it was a terrific day out, lots of fun (as the photos in this album show), and with a climb up into the Ngong Hills to once again see the views of the Great Rift Valley, our day out provided a delightful respite during our Kenyan holiday.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Our Private Kenya (1): Paradise Lost Park and the Kenyan Freedom Fighters

One of the pleasures of travel is the unexpected, and my time in Kenya provided me with plenty of opportunities to see and learn about things I had never known about before. And to go to places that I didn't even know existed.

That delightful situation continued with the recent safari, written about in some of these posts. Four discoveries, in particular, made me stop and re-think some of my ideas and preconceived notions about Kenya (and about Africa). Sadly, all of these did not happen when I was accompanied by everyone in our safari group, so I'm recounting these experiences for them as well as for anyone else who might be interested.

The first of these took place in our first week in Kenya. Andrew and I had not yet been joined by the others, and our safari excursions this first week were just the two of us, with Charles, our driver extraordinaire. And to demonstrate why I use that term, let me describe how I learned about this first very special place, known to very few people who are not native Kenyans.

It so happened that a few weeks before our safari - after our itinerary was "set," so to speak - Charles had had occasion to take another client about, and she particularly wanted to go to Paradise Lost. The name refers to a private "resort" or "park," often used by local Kenyans (especially on week-ends) as the site for picnics, games, horseback- and camel-riding, and such family-focused activities. And while the origin of the name is a little obscure to me (just as is the reason the words are used for another private resort, not connected with this one and located near Mombasa, on the coast), I suppose there's some connection between the word "paradise" and the usual meanings associated with it, and the privacy connected with the resort not being a very public place ("lost").

Such speculation aside, however, I'm happy to report that this Paradise Lost is one of the most intriguing places I've ever visited. First of all, it is spectacularly beautiful, overlooking a large lake that is used for many recreational activities. The resort takes up about 54 acres, and it's located about 8 km from Nairobi, off the road to Kiambu (in fact you can see Kiambu Town on the other side of the lake).

Aside from the beauty of the place, however, Paradise Lost is special for the non-Kenyan visitor for a couple of other reasons. First of all, there is the almost unbelievable charm (and little bit of scariness) of walking through the dense forest (the Kenyans prefer to use the word "forest" instead of "jungle"). There are paths, well marked, but the walking is still a little rough. And I can imagine that the paths might be very difficult to maneuver on a week-end, when so many of the Kenyan people are crowding into the park. We didn't have that problem, however, for Charles had blocked out time for us to see Paradise Lost as we embarked on our Thika safari, and as we arrived - very early in the morning - we were the only people there. Quite a treat!

So the forest is special, as you can see from these photographs and the larger set of pictures in the album A Kenya Secret: The Paradise Lost Park and Historical Site.We were intrigued as we walked deeper into the forest and could hear the first sounds of the waterfall (shown above). We kept on, never guessing that the waterfall itself would be so special. And as we approached, well, it's hard to describe just as lush and green the surrounding plantings are. The waterfall itself, which you can walk behind, is magnificent. So high and stately. Truly breath-taking.

What came next, though, really surprised us. As he had spoken with us about Paradise Lost, Charles had made several references about the park and its caves being the place where the "freedom fighters" were able to hide, especially after they had conducted raids or otherwise engaged in their fight for freedom. We heard what he was saying, but we weren't very clear about the implications of the term.

Finally it dawned on us. Charles was referring to what, in America and Western Europe, had been referred to (and taught to us as students) as "the Mau Mau rebellion" or "the Mau Mau uprising." Once we figured this out, we were just a little embarrassed to have taken so long to "get it." After all, as Americans, hadn't our own ancestors had a some experience with "freedom fighters" as well?

The story, as we learned it, was particularly interesting, and especially in light of this new way of thinking about it. The Mau Mau "uprising" had, yes, been an uprising, a rebellion, but to Kenyans, it was an event at the beginning of their national history that is as monumental as our own American Revolution. We even learned that the term "Mau Mau" is not some sort of tribal or rebel group name, as many young people in the West were taught back in the 1950s. The words "Mau Mau" are an acronym of a Swahili phrase, Muzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru, which means something along the lines of "let the Europeans go back and let the Africans be free."

Apparently because they were hidden away, the caves seem to have been forgotten about after independence in 1963. Some 2.5 million years old, so the archeologists say, the caves were re-discovered by workers in 1996, with archeologists from the National Museum of Kenya finding some human remains 8000 to 12,000 years old, and rock artifacts from the Late Stone Age.

So the visit on into the forest, the walk along the forest path, and finally the climb into the caves was a very special, private treat for these non-Kenyans. As for being inside the caves (one of which is shown here), well, that is a different story since I'm not much for going into such enclosed spaces, and through such narrow and confining openings in the rock. But once we were inside, I was amazed at how big the caves are, and how much room there is inside. Indeed, we were told that the freedom fighters after a raid or other fight would easily slip into these caves behind the waterfall and completely elude the British troops looking for them, who had no idea where they might have gone. For the visitor to Paradise Lost, that story makes absolute sense.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Charles Ombongi Masese Completes SMR Africa's First Scholarship Program

SMR International has announced that the winner of SMR Africa's first training program has completed his courses. Inaugurated in 2010 with funding from SMR Africa - SMR's African affiliate - the program enables African students to learn ICT and KM skills.

Charles Ombongi Masese of Nairobi and Nyanguru Village, Kisii was the first SMR Africa scholarship winner. He used the grant for computer training, attending a seven-month program of nine courses, each with 4 -8 class meetings. The program is offered by Hansons' College of Professional Studies, Nairobi.

At the completion of the course, Masese was awarded a certificate from Hansons' College, certifying that he had completed training in a wide range of Microsoft Office programs, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access, as well as training in searching the web.

Completing his studies, Masese was introduced to knowledge management and KM principles through attendance at lectures and programs at various organizations in the Nairobi area and at an international conference at Egerton University near Nakuru.

Masese noted that he is pleased to have this training in ICT and KM.

"This is one more communication tool for me," Masese said, and he expects to put what he learned to use in his business, C&G Driving and Safari Services.

As a driver for tourists who come to Nairobi to visit attractions in the city and the surrounding area, Masese is now positioned to arrange exceptional safari excursions. By using his new skills for searching the internet, as taught in the courses he attended, and combining these skills with his experience as a tour driver and his vast knowledge of Kenya's birds and wildlife, Masese can focus on his clients' particular travel interests. With this training, C&G Driving and Safari Services can now offer clients a better safari experience than they might find elsewhere.

"Taking these courses has been great for me," he said, "and I hope to use what I've learned to move my business forward. I'm very pleased that I know how to use these tools. Now I'll be able to build my client base, especially with clients from overseas."

The Hansons' College certificate was presented by SMR President Guy St. Clair in Nairobi on Christmas Day. In his remarks, St. Clair announced that SMR Africa expects to continue its support in ICT and KM training, and noted that interested parties can contact Nerisa Jepkorir Kamar ( for further information.

For more information about C&G Driving and Safari Services, contact Charles Ombongi Masese directly at

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beautiful Singing

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of good singing, and one of my favorite baritones (for a long time) has been Thomas Hampson.

On Monday night, here in New York WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon hosted a conversation with Hampson. In the program, Hampson shared some of his ideas about the role of music in our lives, especially the high romantic songs of 19th-century favorite composers (including Mr. Guy's particular favorite, Gustav Mahler).

Even more special, Hampson spoke about and sang selections connected with his current focus, American songs. It was truly a splendid hour. Quite properly, even my belowed Ned Rorem was represented, with a lovely Whitman text. I couldn't resist pulling out the sheet music and attempting (only an attempt!) to sing along with this very beautiful song, which was a big part of my repertoire so many years ago.

Thank you to WQXR for making the program available:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The FOGs Safari: Mt. Kenya National Park

Although Mt. Kenya was given a little attention in the Flat Stanley series, like many of the other places visited on the FOGs Safari, there's more to say. First of all, even though Mt. Kilimanjaro is more famous, for Kenyans their own mountain seems to be the one they talk about the most (and Mt. Kilimanjaro is, properly speaking, in Tanzania, although it looms large over and is a great feature of Kenya's Amboseli National Park). Mt. Kenya is also renowned as a great challenge to the expatriates drawn to Kenya over the years, and taking on the training required for climbing the mountain and then making the ascent seem to be favorite adventures for the many Westerners who come to live (or even to visit) Nairobi. The mountain and its challenges has even been the drastic setting for a very unsettling novel by Anita Shreve (A Change in Altitude, published a couple of years ago).

Andrew and Charles and I had no such grand illusions. We simply wanted to see the mountain and, if we could, climb a little, starting with our vehicle and then getting out and walking as far as our limited climbing skills would allow. Truth to tell, we were primarily interested in the views from the mountain and to see as much of the undergrowth and any blooming wildflowers as we could. Nothing very spectacular in mind and that, in fact, is what we got. We had a very good guide (who also works as part of the Kenya Wildlife Service rescue team, so we felt pretty safe). And aside from the baboons, there's not much to worry about with respect to the wildlife.

The mountain was first noticed by Westerners back in 1849 (although, as I've mentioned before, the Kikuyu, Meru, and Akamba communities always considered Mt. Kenya to be the home of their gods). One interesting feature is the forest (the Kenyans say "forest" instead of "jungle") on the lower slopes of the mountain which give way to a bamboo forest a little higher up (for some reason I never thought much about bamboo in Africa - no particular reason, just didn't). Higher up, where we could not go of course, there are the barren peaks and the glacier, beautiful to see from afar. As I say, we specially enjoyed the views and the wildflowers. Some of our photographs from our expedition up Mt. Kenya can be seen here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (14): At the Equator and Saying Good-by

Finding yourself at the Equator certainly seems an appropriate way to wrap up a safari, so here are three of us, Mr. Geoffrey, Mr. Andrew, and Mr. Charles, basking in the equatorial sun with Stanley somewhere around Eldorat in Western Kenya, on our way back to Nairobi.

After three weeks together, it's time to say good-by to our terrific adventures in Kenya (and our brief venture into Tasmania). We've seen more than we can possibly share, but we're going to do our best, both with these stories about Stanley's adventures and, coming up, photos and perhaps a few more comments about some of the places we visited and the animals we saw that weren't included here. Mostly, though, what comes next will be just the pictures, for Africa is so beautiful and the wildlife and the views so spectacular that we can't stop with just what's been presented about Stanley's safari.

For folks who were not with us when we started these posts, here's the Flat Stanley connection, as described on the back of the book about his adventures (Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure, by Jeff Brown, published by HarperCollinsChildress, 1964): "Flat Stanley is an ordinary boy. At least he was, until the night his bulletin board fell off the wall and flattened him. All of a sudden, Stanley can slide under doors, mail himself across the country in an envelope, and fly like a kite!"

Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew brought Stanley to Africa because Cindy Hill, a good friend in Los Altos, California, mailed him to them. When Stanley arrived at the St. Clair/Berner house in New York, he politely asked to come to Kenya, as his friend JT in Mrs. Nix's Class at Alpine Elementary School in Longmont, Colorado would be very happy if Stanley could visit Kenya and go on safari. So we hope these posts and photos will be useful for Mrs. Nix's class and her students. We all had fun, and we're very grateful to Cindy for asking us to bring Stanley along with us. He was a great travelling companion, and we all learned a lot from him, and from each other.

All the Stanley photos are online at the Flat Stanley in Kenya album (including quite a few that we couldn't get into the blog posts) and as we sign off from this adventure, here are some more photos, just to wrap things up:

The FOGs Safari Group: Mr. John Neral, Mr. Richard Huffine, Mr. Andrew Berner, Mr. Charles Ombongi Masese, Ms. Nerisa Jepkorir Kamar, and Mr. Guy (Mr. Geoffrey Onyango Opile took the photo, so he gets a separate picture below).

Mr. Geoffrey Onyango Opile

Good-by, Stanley. Let's do it again sometime.

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (13): The Elephant Orphanage

Flat Stanley had some wonderful times in Africa, but it seems the Giraffe Center (described last time) and the Elephant Orphanage made him the happiest. Yet describing the elephant orphanage is a real challenge because I become very emotional thinking about how the elephants were orphaned, and what wonderful work the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is doing to save them and then to rehabilitate them to prepare them for their return to the wild.

So the story of the orphanage is a touching one, and the idea of rescuing these babies after they have lost their mothers is certainly an idea that appeals to everyone. Whether the mothers have died in childbirth, in an accident, or - hard to believe in this day and age when poaching is so strictly outlawed in Kenya - when the mother has been killed by poachers for her tusks, learning about these orphaned babies and their care tugs at the heartstrings. Many parents bring children to see the babies, and when the attendant providing the commentary is as knowledgeable and well-versed as the gentleman who spoke to us on our visit, everyone goes away with a new understanding about the everyday life of the babies as they prepare to cope with going back into the wild. 

There's a certain sense of ceremony to visiting the Elephant Orphanage, starting with the entrance of the little ones, as shown in the photo above. The "procession of the orphans" (it might be called) begins with the babies and the well-trained attendants coming in from the forest quite a distance away, and of course that only enhances the anticipation (and, yes, Stanley was as excited as everyone else, jumping up and down as the elephants got closer to those of us who were watching as they came into the enclosure to be fed).

It was a great privilege to introduce Stanley to the Elephant Orphanage. I've visited several times, and written about the orphanage twice (here and here). Each time I've visited I've become a more attached to the animals, and I am really impressed with the success of the work that is being accomplished. On this occasion, I was pleased to introduce Mr. Andrew, Mr. Richard, and Mr. John to the orphanage as well, since I knew they would be thrilled to see the elephants and, of course, be amused to see the youngsters enjoying themselves and showing off for the visitors (as in this wresting match - all in fun - between two of the "kids"). 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (12): The Giraffe Centre

The Giraffe Centre was a new experience for Stanley. As he prepared for the safari, Stanley had talked a great deal about how much he likes giraffes, and he was really happy he was going to see them up in the wild. Like many of us, he had a hard time expressing just which animal is his favorite, but as he and Mr. Andrew talked about the giraffe (which is Mr. Andrew's favorite animal), it seemed to me that the giraffe was going to be for Stanley as the elephant is for me. I don't think he realized, though (or perhaps Mr. Andrew and I didn't tell him) that he would have the opportunity to visit with giraffes up close, and in person.

It all happens at the Giraffe Centre in Lang'ata, a suburb of Nairobi. Back in 1979, Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of British background and his wife Betty built an extraordinary home there and set up a trust to save the endangered Rothschild giraffe. They brought several of the animals to their home (it's now a luxury hotel called Giraffe Manor) and the Giraffe Centre is the educational institution formed to teach young people about giraffes and wildlife in Kenya.

We had a great time at the Giraffe Centre, including hearing a very fine presentation by a young educator who taught us a much about the giraffes. We came away knowing more than we ever expected to know about these beautiful, gentle beasts. And the best part was getting to know them first-hand.

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (11): Kakamega Forest

I'm not sure getting lost in Kakamega Forest is quite what Stanley had in mind when he asked if he could come along on our safari, but that's what happened.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Kakamega Forest is the last remaining vestige of a tropical forest in Kenya, a beautiful 45-sq-km (17-sq-mile)  rainforest full of interesting animals, an ancient tree (the giant Elgon olive tree), and known for its snakes and other crawly things. There is also a beautiful waterfall, and a very well maintained lookout at the top of a steep incline. I had visited Kakamega with Mr. Charles and his children earlier in the year (you can read about that excursion here), and as we planned this safari, Mr. Andrew and others of our group wanted to add the rainforest to our itinerary.

So off we went, heading out early one morning to see this magnificent natural wonder. Here's Stanley and Mr. Guy standing on the road at the entrance to the forest. You can see how dense it is, and this road is the only way for vehicles to come in and out of the forest.

One of the nicest things about Kakamega Forest is the lookout tower, and here are a couple of photos of Stanley enjoying the views from the lookout (there are others at the Flat Stanley in Kenya album). The view is pretty special. You can see for off in the distance for 35 miles or so, and on my previous visit, we had climbed up to the tower by foot. This time the ranger at the gate suggested we drive a little farther along around the mountain and then climb up the wall of the summit.

OK. That idea made sense at the time, but as we went up, the climb was much steeper than we had expected, and there was a great deal of loose stone and we kept falling back (and sometimes falling down). But we made it and, as the photos show, really enjoyed being at the top of the summit with Stanley (and he had a really good time climbing the posts of the lookout tower, even though it was a little risky for him up there). Here's a photo of Mr. Andrew and Mr. Geoffrey and Mr. Charles with Stanley.

But we had to keep moving so when it came time to go back, since the climb had been so tough, we decided to have Mr. Charles go back for the van and meet us at the bottom of the footpath.

So off Charles went, and we could see him drive away. Then we started down the footpath, getting wonderful views in the forest, and taking lots of photos of the ancient olive tree (and of just about anything else we ran across).

But wait! No one told us that the footpath had several other footpaths going off from it, in other directions. So while we thought we were walking down the main footpath to meet Mr. Charles on the road, we were in fact going off in a different direction. And we kept remembering all the talk about the snakes and the Gabon Vipers (and we could hear the Colobus monkeys in the trees above us). Then someone remembered what the ranger had said, that he didn't think there were leopards any more in the Kakamega. Uh-oh....

So now we were starting to get nervous, and the mobile 'phones were not getting any service and we couldn't reach Charles. But Ms. Nerisa and Mr. Geoffrey are Kenyans, and they are not particularly frightened in situations like this (we won't speak about Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew and Stanley), so we just kept walking. Finally, realizing we were at the bottom of the hill, we kept going and finally came upon the road. Now we could reach Charles by telephone and, not surprisingly (it's just the way he is), Charles was able to figure out where we were and we were safe. No question about it: we were very, very happy to see him and the van!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (10): Nairobi National Park

Nairobi is well known as "safari central," the place in Africa where most safaris go from, but what many people don't realize is just how much safari-like pleasure can be found close at hand. There will be further descriptions later of two of the near-by highlights (the Giraffe Center and the Elephant Orphanage, both of which captured Stanley's interest from the time we got out of the car), but the most satisfying site truly has to be the Nairobi National Park.

Just think about it: a huge park, full of wildlife, right at the city's borders. Indeed, as you see here, an early morning game drive can produce not only an amazing variety of wildlife - especially the big cats as they are wrapping up their night's chase and feeding, getting ready for lazing about in the sun - but the view in the distance is pretty amazing as well. It's Nairobi's cityscape, and as you are driven about in the park, it's just hard to believe. Sort of like having Yosemite National Park or some such between my neighborhood in Manhattan and the Hudson River.

Like all game drives, a visit to the Nairobi National Park starts early, with your driver calling for you between 6.00 and 6.30 am, to get you to the park gate when it opens at 7.00 am. Unlike the rest of us, Stanley had no trouble at all getting up, as the animals he had seen in other parks and game reserves had him excited to get to the Nairobi National Park. He knew he wouldn't be able to see any elephants (the park, at 117-sq-km - or 45-sq-miles - is too small for elephants) but he also had learned that just about anything else can be seen there, especially lions, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, and just about every member of the antelope family.

Stanley was not disappointed, and the rest of the group wasn't disappointed either. While I had had several visits to the park during the time I lived in Nairobi, with my most exciting visit (which you can read about here) in early June, nothing that's come before could compare with what we saw on this visit to the park. Within five minutes, it seemed, of coming through the gates, Mr. Charles (not only our driver but our animal spotter extraordinaire!) slowed the van down almost to a stop, turned off the engine, and whispered, "Lions." And there they were, Mr. and Mrs. Lion just strolling along the pavement of the park road, paying no attention to any vehicles anywhere, and just relaxing as they began their day. What a sight! Here are a couple of the pictures, and there are a few more at the Flat Stanley in Kenya album (and there will be more photos later).

Not to be outdone, no sooner had we (reluctantly) left Mr. and Mrs. Lion than we came upon Mr. and Mrs. Rhino, the first of several we would see during the game drive through the Nairobi National Park. As one of the country's most successful areas in terms of rhinos breeding, many of the black rhinos found in the park have been relocated from other areas. We were specially taken with this pair, though, since they seemed to willing to mosey about, not at all frightened by us, and not frightening to us either.

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (9): Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Here's Stanley and me as our group left the Sopa Lodge in Amboseli National Park. We were travelling over into Tanzania to go to the Ngorongoro Crater. Little did we know when we left the park that the real safari adventure would begin (perhaps giving new meaning to the word adventure). We knew we would be heading across the border, since the famous Ngorongoro Crater is over there, in the northern part of Tanzania, and we wanted to see all the spectacular wildlife that lives in the crater. Mr. Charles and I had worked hard to pull together all the border-crossing details, and we were prepared for that. And truth to tell, getting across the border wasn't a problem. Getting to the border and driving along the roads was the problem.

We had no idea of the condition of the roads. If I had been smart, I would have suspected that the roads would be difficult, since I've lived in Kenya for a year and almost every trip is a challenge to me as a passenger. Not to Mr. Charles as a driver, of course. He's an expert in all of this. And the road to Amboseli from Nairobi hadn't been a problem, and we had made excellent time on that trip, considering what we had to deal with since. For in addition to the condition of the roads after we left Amboseli, for the first time in our safari we found ourselves victims of an almost-swindle, and it was a pretty difficult situation. Our Land Rover had been contracted for by a third party (that should have been a warming) and the man who showed up with it turned out to be the vehicle's owner. He was coming along to do the driving (for this venture, Mr. Charles was to be a safari participant, just like the rest of us) and to be our "guide," although this latter description turned out to be something of a misnomer. He was, as far as I could tell, something of a con artist, and the rickety vehicle he showed up with.... Well, let's just say it was not designed to provide any sort of comfort to the passengers. About ten years old and in terrible condition, the vehicle made us worry all the way to Ngorongoro Crater and back.

And to make matters worse, our "driver" apparently had other ideas in mind, like changing our schedule so we would be forced to stay in some hotel of his choosing in Arusha, taking us to places (off our itinerary) to purchase things, that sort of thing. Fortunately, we had our reservations at the Sopa Lodge in both Amboseli National Park and at the Ngorongoro Crater, so we just told him to forget it (and thanks to the Kenyans in our group, and particularly Mr. Charles, I think he soon got the idea that this group of travellers wasn't going to be swindled!).

So after much difficulty, we got to Ngorongoro Crater, and despite the problems of the drive, being there was well worth everything we had to put up with during our journey. First of all, I can't say enough about the views. The crater has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, and even though I've included a few photos here (and expect to post more once I've finished telling Flat Stanley's story), there just aren't words to convey the feeling of spaciousness and sheer natural beauty of Ngorongoro Crater. I can see why it is one of the most popular safari attractions in the world (although, to be fair, the Tanzanian leaders are being very careful to protect the crater, and the number of visitors is strictly controlled).

Another part of the Crater's attractions, it has to be said, are the lodges. At Ngorongoro Crater, the Sopa Lodge is - of all the ones I've visited - the best. Beautiful and absolutely first-rate in service and accommodations (right down to having staff walk you to your room after dark, since the lodge is smack in middle of the forest and, yes, you can hear the lions and other animals moving around in the bushes when you're in bed). Well worth the trip and highly recommended.

And what sights we saw! Stanley was thoroughly enchanted with the lions and the elephants and all the other animals we swy (although there are no giraffes in the crater, which seems odd - no one seems to know why), and the birds were pretty remarkable, too. As for myself, I was specially taken with the zebras but in my opinion even the animals couldn't compete with the views (well, that's pretty much of an overstatement, but you get my meaning). Even Stanley got pretty excited about the views as we drove around the rim of the crater and looked out over the vista. Pretty special.