Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Travel Writing: Freya Stark
Long before many of us started to put pen-to-paper (as the old saying goes), there were travel writers galore. Indeed, whole libraries are devoted to travel writing, so we amateurs are always on the lookout for good examples.

One of my favorite authors, going back to my childhood (I have no idea who introduced me to her writings) is Freya Stark. An amazing lady, Stark (1893-1993) was famous for her story-telling, and the exotic lands she went to simply provided yet one more structure on which she could frame her stories. Claudia Roth Pierpont writes about Stark in "East is West: Freya Stark's Travels in Arabia" in the April 18, 2011 issue of The New Yorker and notes, "As an explorer, Stark could claim no major discoveries, but her acute observations and her surveying skills had earned her professional respect and, for cartographic contributions, a Royal Geographic Society award."

So she was more than a story-teller. But those "acute observations," together with an strong talent for getting to know the people she was meeting and listening to what they had to say, provided the foundation on which her descriptions of her travels through Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Yemen were built. Pierpont's commentary even includes a sort of mini-essay on slavery as practiced in that region of the world when Stark was travelling there. Another describes Stark's efforts to build the Brotherhood of Freedom ("her proudest accomplishment," Pierpont writes), which Stark set up to counter the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood - which had been around for a while for "training Arab fighters against foreign domination." For this little adventure, Stark's chosen techniques were personal freedom and secular democracy. And, as Pierpont puts it, "the method of spreading these values was Stark's great specialty: talk." All of which worked, as the Brotherhood of Freedom grew eventually to claim tens of thousands of members.

"Proudest accomplishment" indeed.

The Pierpont essay proceeds from the reissue - by Modern Library and I.B. Taurus - of many of Stark's books. In itself, Pierpont's article is fascinating, and a delightful biographical read, providing us with much about Stark that I suspect many of us never knew. A good read.  

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guy's African Family (Complete with Namesake)

As these African notes begin to wind down (after all, it's now been nearly four months since I left Nairobi and the wonderful friends I got to know throughout Kenya), it seems appropriate to share a few more photographs of my African "family." While I had noted the relationship in a previous post, there had not been time to edit the photographs, and I published just a couple.

Here's what I wrote in that December 31, 2010 post:

Another highlight was a visit to Nyanguru Village, to go to Charles's home and visit with his children and be with his and Jane's family. I had visited Nyanguru Village, near Kisii, earlier in the year because Mr. Charles (who started out as my driver and quickly became one of my best friends in Kenya) had invited me to get to know his family. Go here to read about that visit. 

Although I had been to Nyanguru Village before, this visit in December was very special because now I was going to have the opportunity to visit my African namesake. Claire Kwamboka Ombongi Masese, born just a few weeks earlier, is names for Charles's recently deceased sister, and her first name is taken from my last name. I was very honored when Charles and Jane connected to "St. Clair" and chose to name their baby Claire. We're calling her "Angel Claire," which is her daddy's special name for her. It was a wonderful day in Nyanguru Village (and in Mr. Guy's heart) when we went to see Claire and all of Charles's wonderful family.

Now I have the photographs of that family gathering, at Charles and Jane's house on December 22, 2010. You can view them here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Back to Africa: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania (6): Leaving Tanzania

[Despite the confusing title, I'm not back in Africa. Just continuing to posts stories and photos that are still with me, stuff I want to share.]


There comes the time....

The Tanzania/Ngorongoro Conservation Area part of our safari was a real mix. While the great pleasures had to include a few awkward and tense moments - due to differences of opinion between me as the leader of the group and the third-party driver engaged to work for us - the pleasures of the journey made us very reluctant to leave. We could have had another couple of days at the Ngorongoro Crater.

As we left, we found ourselves speaking most about the views, for as you can see from the photos (at Ngorongoro Crater (6) - Leaving Tanzania), the countryside truly is worth seeing, and worth remembering. I continue to be so impressed with the natural beauty of Africa, and while my focus during the year I was in Africa necessarily (and by choice) was on Kenya, even I will admit that the beauty of the scenery in the Ngorongoro Crater and as we drove back to Kenya was impressive.

The roads.... Well, I've already said enough about travelling in Tanzania, and while there are some sections of paved roads, we just try to overlook (and forget about) the rest. We did have fun stopping along the way, and as we made our egress and re-entered Kenya, of course, there were happy and light-hearted moments. We were a very happy safari group when we pulled into our guest house in Nairobi eight hours after we had left Ngorongoro. We were happy to be home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back to Africa: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania (5) - Hippo Pool & Relaxing

[Despite the confusing title, I'm not back in Africa. Just continuing to posts stories and photos that are still with me, stuff I want to share.]


There comes a time on every safari, I suppose, when just being together has gone on long enough. While our group was a pretty light-hearted and carefree bunch, it wasn't until we were in the middle of the game drive on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater that this high-spirited group "broke loose."

As it turns out, conservancy management has built a place to stop at the hippo pool, sort of in the center of the crater's floor, providing a delightful opportunity and place to just enjoy the scenery. And get a good look at the hippos with the birds riding along on top of them, even when they are in the water.

So even though we had the opportunity to get out of the vehicle (forbidden on most game drives except when there are special places, as here), we did not, of course, venture around to the other side of the pool or get too close to the hippos. You hear all kinds of tales about the "most dangerous" animals when you're wandering about in Africa, and, yes, hippos are on the list (the most dangerous, according to some accounts). That seems to be because when the animals are submerged, they tend to be very still, and the ladies of the villages come to the water to wash clothes and, without realizing it, stop out onto a hippo or otherwise step into the animal's territory, provoking the hippo to take immediate action which always results in the death of the human being.

Whether that gory assertion has any basis in reality or not, we were not about to find out. So we stayed on the near side of the hippo pool, enjoying the animals from a distance and taking our photos (which you can see at Ngorongoro Crater (5) - Hippo Pool). In fact, we stayed for quite a while, and before we knew it the silliness had taken over and we were having fun, interrupted only by the visit of an apparently fearless (and stunningly beautiful) bird that decided to hang around our Range Rover and enjoy our company. A delightful relaxing interval as we enjoyed the crater floor.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Back to Africa: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania (4) - Birds on the Game Drive

[Despite the confusing title, I'm not back in Africa. Just continuing to posts stories and photos that are still with me, stuff I want to share.]


As we drove about on the crater floor, I was very surprised to see so many birds. Not just the usual flocks flying about, but a great many that seemed oddly out-of-place. For example, we had experienced the famous flamingos at Lake Nakuru National Park, where there are so many that the water sometimes seems pink with the hundreds of thousands of flamingos feeding on the water and flying about (previously reported on here ). There were quite a few of the flamingos flying about in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as well, and like at Lake Nakuru, the flamingos were joined by the pelicans, looking very proud of themselves for being part of the bird picture at the Ngorongoro Crater.

There were other birds, in profusion, and it's at times like this that I'm sorry I'm not a birder. I don't know why, but for some reason I was never much exposed to the study of birds (and I've always been a little in awe of my European friends - particularly people in the U.K. - who are so good about taking their children on long walks across the countryside to teach them about all the birds they see). It would have been nice to have had a little more background in the subject, and as it turned out, most of my safari companions were in pretty much the same situation. Nevertheless, even though we often didn't know what we were looking at, we appreciated the beauty of these wonderful creatures, and seeing them so free in the Ngorongoro Crater made us very happy. We had fun taking photos of some of them, which can be seen at Ngorongoro Crater (4) - The Birds.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Back to Africa: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania (3) - Game Drive Photos

[Despite the confusing title, I'm not back in Africa. Just continuing to posts stories and photos that are still with me, stuff I want to share.]


Just can't seem to let go of the Africa memories, and as I look back at some of the pleasures of the last safari, my thoughts keep returning to the idea of going back to my beloved Kenya. European friends are thinking about joining Andrew and me for a migration safari in July 2012, so I had better get all the Ngorongoro memories locked in place, as I probably won't be returning to Tanzania again.

The descent on to the crater floor was an exceptional experience. As I think I've mentioned, staying at the Sopa Lodge has its own special charms, one of which is a separate roadway down from the rim of the crater, eliminating the need to drive around the rim to get to one of the other descending roadways. And the great joy of the descent is the amazing collection of views of the crater, and, as you get closer, the amazing collection of animals, seemingly just all over the place. And among the first animals we saw were the zebras. There were so many of them that I began to think we were on another migration trip

But all the animals we've grown accustomed to seeing in other conservation areas are not present in the Ngorongoro Crater. For some reason there are no giraffes in there, and apparently no one's ever been able to figure out why. There is - not surprisingly - a great deal of speculation, and the most popular theory seems to be that the steep climb up and down the crater walls is too difficult for the giraffes on their spindly legs. Perhaps. But that wouldn't explain why there are no impala, which can be found in just about all the other parks and conservation areas we visited.

We loved seeing the warthogs, those funny-looking, shy animals that can really move fast when they sense there are humans about. On the other hand, at the Bomas of Kenya tourist attraction near Nairobi, we were equally surprised to see some of these odd animals mingling around amongst all the visitors and staff, apparently not at all uncomfortable around people. So I can't make any definitive statements about warthogs and their connections with human beings but I do know that on a game drive - in any of the places I visited - when our vehicle got even in sight, the warthogs took off running!

Many lions are spread out all over the crater floor, and spotted hyena seem to be everywhere, as our photos show (at  Ngorongoro Crater (3) - The Animals). We were even able to catch sight of some of the hyenas enjoying the last bites of a kill (they don't kill any prey themselves, I understand - just come in and take over after the successful predators have sated their hunger and moved away). And here, for the first time, we were able to see cheetah, and we were very impressed with one fellow who was just sitting there looking around, enjoying the beauty of the place like we were (Okay. Perhaps he was looking for where he might find his supper a few hours later).

There were a number of hippos moving about on the crater floor, and one we spotted was pretty impressive. We were able to drive close enough to get to observe him and his habits pretty well, and he paid no attention to us in our van. He just kept feeding on the grass, and every once in a while he would walk about a bit, so  all in all our experiences with the animals on our game drive were successful, and we came away feeling good about what we had been able to see.