Thursday, May 6, 2010


Well, the end is here . . . tomorrow (in two hours, actually) I leave Tanzania. We’re driving to Arusha, then either flying or driving to SFS’s Nairobi National Park site (our plane tickets have technically been cancelled, although our flight has not . . . welcome to Tanzania!) where we’ll spend one night with our staff from Kenya before all taking off in separate directions. I’ll be going to Uganda with about 10 other people for a two-day rafting trip down the Nile River, and then to Lamu with five other people to explore beaches, ride donkeys, and eat mango (note: don’t ride donkeys. It is apparently not too much fun).

I have much to say about Directed Research, about expeditions, about Havennature Camp, about all my friends, and generally about stuff I somehow missed talking about. But there will be time for that in the future! And my future still involves this blog: (I was also recently republished on Matador Travel: I’ll be honored if you read there, and if you keep in touch!

Thanks so, so much for reading, guys. Dispatches: buried like the elephant skeletons they are, for now.




I’m moving, not on to better things, but kind of across to different things – the first installment of the blog I was actually asked to write is up. You can find it and future blogs at , and I’ll also be posting travel tips for all you potential travelers, and eventually writing a feature story and an “ethical dilemma” piece. Feel free to read and comment and all that bongo flava ( – it sounds like reggaeton). The blog that I have instead foisted upon everyone (aka this one) will continue in limited measure as well. For instance, I will write in it today!

One of the things that’s been hardest to explain about East Africa is how funny everything is. If the adage/thoroughly scientifically proven theory that laughter lengthens your life applies to me, I’ve laughed enough in the past couple of months to add a couple more onto my life, which I will then hopefully spend in East Africa, whereupon I will laugh more, prolonging my life further, and on and on until I am immortal and fluent in Swahili (it’s a good plan). But yes, it’s funny, and it’s hard to explain why, but a lot it humor has to do with surprise, or apparent incongruence, and that strange kind of culture shock that happens when you come across something familiar stuck into an entirely different context, more culture-squirting-lapel-flower than actual culture shock, and suddenly both the familiar thing and the context are new and newly hilarious.

For instance, when people in the US donate their clothes to Goodwill, large bundles of them end up on the East African coast, and then in markets and along the sides of roads, and then on the bodies of people who belong to demographics they were not originally intended for, which is why you may be walking through Karatu one afternoon and get sidestepped by a very stately Iraqw mama, leading two children, balancing a bucket of bananas on her head (no hands), and wearing a pink t-shirt that has “Grandpa’s Little Princess” spelled out on it in rhinestones. Or my new friend Samuel, a 19 year old shopowner in Mto wa Mbu, who walks around like he’s all that in sunglasses, a knit cap in Rastafarian colors, and a dark green girl’s softball jersey that has the Wendy’s logo on the front and “Martha - #9” on the back. These guys don’t read English, and the clothes are affordable and fit them, and if I start getting into whether it’s sad or undignified or any of these things in my head, it all seems too big to tackle. But initially it’s just funny. Our translator, Lazaro, tells me that everyone helps each other out; that if he sees someone in a shirt that person probably wouldn’t wear if he or she could read it, he lets them know. But the other day his fellow guide, also fluent in spoken and written English, was wearing a shirt that said “Call Me Major Trouble” with little cartoony army hats, the kind you’d see on an annoying 9-year-old pushing over the cocktail weenie display in a department store in the US . . . the implications of globalization are wide and weird. But yes, they make us laugh all the time.

The best way to sum it up is probably with the story of something that happened to us several weeks ago, and that we’ve since been using as a metaphor for East Africa in general. It was a non-program day, slightly into the academic period set aside for our directed research projects, and we decided to drive down Kilimamoja (First Hill, aka the big hill our campsite is set on top of) and climb back up it through the woods. So we piled into the cruisers, as always, and took off down the road, past beautiful flamingo-tinged Lake Manyara (no, really! from far off, the lake is literally rosy with flamingos) and the favorite hangout of Hominid, the Wildlife Ecology DR’s mascot, who walks on his back legs due to a shoulder injury. We didn’t see Hominid (I’ve still never seen him) but we saw a bunch of other baboons, and heard wahoos and grunts and aggression calls and all sort of other noises (my tentmate, Chelsea, studied baboon vocalizations for her DR, so I could probably pass for a baboon at this point if we were going only by sound).

We hiked up through baboon territory, over injurious boulders, past friendly Maasai and their shy goats, and under a cloud-heavy sky, until we got to the top of the steepest part. There we rested and looked at the view

(the view, being taken in by Jen)

and scrambled up to the actual highest point, a termite mound positioned right in the middle of things (we contemplated crushing it to look for snakes, but then we remembered that we’re conservationists).

(Our guide, Festo, on the termite mound)

Then we took off again, this time across flat ground, towards the farmlands right outside of our campsite.

We’ve been to a lot of farmlands this semester, and they all tend to look similar – boma, livestock, children, and around it all acres of fields in various stages of growth or decay or ruination by wildlife. We were expecting more of the same. So we were rather surprised when we rounded a corner to find a boma, livestock, children, acres of fields, and a state-of-the-art green felt pool table surrounded by Maasai men with their game faces on.

(here's what it looked like when Lia played)

The Maasai were in purple and red robes. The pool table was on uneven ground, and so propped up on one side by two metal bowls. There were women gathered around laughing, and some of the children were playing on a big motorcycle cocked on its kickstand just outside the thorny gate of the boma.

Naturally we had to join in. We didn’t know the Swahili for pool, but luckily it’s a sport that’s fairly easily mimed. Each of us took turns, and we were good sports when the other team sunk the eight ball before they were supposed to and quietly replaced it on the table. After all, they’d somehow gotten the table to the top of a cliff – they were probably allowed to use it however they wanted. At some point, a case of sodas appeared, seemingly out of the humid air. So we handed them around, and toasted, and rechalked the cues (with cubes whittled out of schoolroom chalk), and watched one boy try to rev up the motorcycle without a key. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, we waved baadaye and moved on, through a tunnel of tall maize stalks and back to camp.

(Here we go!)

So. That’s Tanzania. A great big beautiful oxymoron. A pool table smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful natural landscapes known to the whole wide planet, and a bunch of people right next to it who are so friendly that they consider your very presence in their home cause for a celebratory Fanta. I left that pool table with the sense that some very fundamental truths about the world had been redefined for me, that things were somehow much more and less simple than I’d previously realized . . . when I leave the country tomorrow, I expect I’ll feel the same.

(Alex Hughes gets ready to win us some points)

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Long time no see again! "A couple of hours" Tanzania time is pretty much infinite, it seems like. But here it is: the blog you've been waiting for, maybe!

The next day was special for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it was Sarah’s birthday. Sarah is our Student Affairs Manager, or S.A.M. She has lived in East Africa for four years now – she did the SFS program and got hooked, and after she finished school she went back to Kenya and worked in an orphanage before she got this job. Next year she is going back to the US for graduate school, so this was potentially her last game drive for a long time. Thus, she requested that we dress up as either our favorite animals, or as fanimals (fans of particular animals). She complied with her own request:

as did a few other people who wore zebra-patterned spandex pants. But Christine made two pairs of paper cheetah ears, and we drew on each others’ faces with eyeliners, and I think we may have won:

(Oh, hey Christine. Picture that, but with hair, and it’s pretty much what I looked like, probably). So we went into the crater like that. It had the unexpected result of keeping the hawkers away, because when they cried out “hey, mzungu! necklace, 5000!” it was possible to say “hapana mzungu. duma” (not mzungu, cheetah) and they had no reply. Also, a lot of tourists meowed at us.

The road down to the crater was one part roller coaster and two parts postcard and necessitated (as so many things here do) an a capella rendition of the Jurassic Park theme song:


and the first thing we saw upon arriving safely at the bottom was this goofy-looking secretary bird, balancing himself somehow on a tree.

Soon after we came upon this scene, which I like to call “The Wildebeest Snubs The Weaver”

but it turned out that all of this was a prelude to one of the happiest fifteen-minute sections of my life. Our driver, Dr. Kissui, is our Wildlife Management professor and a lion expert, so he keeps his eyes out for small tawny ears above the grassline. He saw some, and we pulled over and were greeted by these two cheetah brothers:

And then Christine and I summoned them with our minds and they came closer:

And closer, until they were right here!

And we left them sleeping in the grass and dreaming of juicy wildebeests.

Before we even stopped for lunch, we also encountered this extremely stately hartebeest


he wouldn’t smile.
Luckily, these flamingos were being more social (at least with each other):

Quite a different sort of social interaction was going on between some lions when we accidentally walked (drove?) in on them at an inopportune, PG-13 rated moment. I’m not sure whether it was our fault, but the whole situation dissolved soap opera-quickly – by the time we left, if feline facial expressions and body language are to be trusted, we’d run the gamut of lion emotions, from come-hither gestures:

to slightly angry pillow talk:

We left the lions to their mild domestic dispute and headed to our classroom for the day, a picnic spot near a pond full of noisy hippos and a very climbable tree. Visitors like to eat near the hippos, and black kites like to eat near the visitors, and sometimes, for example in the case of our intern Erica, black kites like to try to eat the visitors themselves (one slashed a carrot directly out of her hand and left her bleeding). I can neither confirm nor deny certain rumors that after witnessing that incident, Christine and I attempted some hawkbaiting. But if it happened, it was not too successful, and we had to settle for this kind of bottom-of-a-snowglobe kind of picture:

After teasing the hawks, we gathered on the hill for a lecture about what makes Ngorongoro special (it’s the only national park that really counts people as a protected species – Maasai graze their livestock in the crater). In the meantime, we found some critters who were hard at (their own, unusual kind of) work:

After the lecture, we strapped ourselves in and went back up the roller coaster and to camp. And what more can I say after all that?

So those were all of nature’s April Fool’s day tricks, which we fell for completely and never want to be disabused of. We humans aren’t quite as good at that kind of thing, but we did our level best. Dr. Wallis, our Wildlife Ecology professor, started the morning off right by trying to convince us that her motion-detector camera trap had snapped pictures of something weird and lionlike overnight. Amanda, Christine, Becca and Ryan turned Sarah’s office literally upside-down. Chelsea and I had been planning to sandwich-face (sandwich-facing: smushing a slice of peanut-buttered bread on either side of someone’s face) Mambo since he threatened to do it to us in Serengeti, and we managed it that night while everyone was doing homework, and he finally let his guard and his hood down for long enough for us to get him. Then he and Ryan retaliated by doing the same thing to me, but they upped the condiment to a peanut butter and mud mixture, so it was basically just like getting a free exfoliate treatment inside a Reese’s cup. Then they threw bread into our tent but Chelsea guarded it valiantly. As a recipient of half of Mike Giaimo’s genes, I am required to consider April Fool’s Day halfway endless, and half of endlessness is still endless, so no one should be surprised to hear that there is something epic in the works. But I can’t say any more until it is actually implemented.

So far, though, the winning prank is The Epic Salt Switch (prankster: Christine; prankee: Ian). Let’s just say that salt and powdered laundry detergent look very similar, but taste a lot different on hard-boiled eggs.

(BONUS TRACK! This is what the inside of a cruiser (specifically KBB) looks like during lunch (back row left -> right: Aubrey, Christine, and Amanda; front row left->right: Sam, Ian):)

I hope you enjoyed your virtual journey! I had a pretty great time reliving it. Soon I will be writing for, so I have a feeling that blog will get slightly more attention than this one. But if you have time, you can . . . read . . . both!
kwaheri sana, kaka duma.
kwaheri sana everyohne else too!

Friday, April 2, 2010

3/30/10 – 3/31/10 A COUPLE OF GOOD DAYS

Well! Still in Tanzania. Still owe this blog a lot of stories, namely about Tsavo and the site switch and the five days we spent in Serengeti National Park (if this were a teaser trailer, you would now see the following images in quick succession: a discouraging lack of wildebeests, a rock hyrax in a tree, some hippos kissing, Christine and Amanda singing the Jurassic Park theme song for an appreciative lodgeowner, a cheetah killing an impala, and an askari named Bura hitting a hyena in the head with my walking stick. COMING SOON). But these past three days in Tanzania have been pretty representative and awesome, and they say good things come in threes, so I can probably count on tomorrow not being quite as worthy of descriptive attention. Before these memories fade, then, time to press ‘em down!

Something the professors here like to do (and something I wish Amherst college professors would do more, though I don’t know how feasible it is) is give traveling lectures – we all get into the cruisers and drive from relevant spot to relevant spot, and in each one we get to hear a little bit about why exactly that spot is relevant. On Tuesday, we had a four-hour one of those, which started out on the top of a hill and about the ecology of the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, and ended up in a curio shop and about tanzanite mining. One great/not so great thing about traveling lectures is that the scenery provides plenty of distraction if you’re up for it. When we were on the hill, the meteorology was enough – the clouds our heads were in boiled around and changed colors and rained on us and then dissipated and left the sky a kind of Barbicide-blue and we all got sunburnt before we knew the sun had even shown up. And then I happened to turn around and see this Maasai boy herding his goats on a hilltop level with ours.

Needless to say, I’m hoping the Tanzanian ecosystem can be studied experientially. At our next stop, next to a road, we learned about beekeeping and I watched bicyclists go by with their handlebars completely hung with little fish they were taking to sell in nearby Karatu. Okello, our Center Director and former professor who still teaches when he gets the opportunity, made a guest appearance to talk about ecotourism. He was smart and kept us in the cruisers for his lecture, which he delivered from the hood of one (from the left: Okello, Clinton, Coral, Chelsea, Sam, and Kaila).

For our last stop, they loosed us on a curio shop complex, where shopkeepers tried to sell us tanzanite (way too expensive, even at “student prices”) and lion teeth (way too cheap, since that’s illegal). Christine and I contemplated buying black t-shirts with cheetahs screenprinted on them and the bottom and sleeve edges frayed and braided with Kenyan-colored beads, but by the time we’d worked out the mental justification necessary it was time for our last lecture, and then we headed back to camp.

After thinking hard about landscapes and people in the morning, in the afternoon we went to Lake Manyara National Park to look mindlessly at animals. Actually, come to think of it, we were there to do a field exercise that involved counting baboons. So we must have done that at some point (oh, I kid, I kid, of course I remember). We drove into the clearing near the lake and were greeted by all kinds of garden-variety large African mammals – giraffes, zebra, Cape buffalo, and the rest of the exotic-locale epitomizers, by now pretty familiar to us, if you can believe it. But we were looking for baboon troops to census! And that day, the baboons felt like hanging out and grazing near the edge of the clearing, among some impala, including this male (who, in a stunning display of actually being scary despite generally appearing cute, bleated loudly in a way you would not expect an impala to bleat and sent most of the females in his harem running. The baboons were not bothered).

The baboons also didn’t mind the presence of these overaggressive warthogs (I know it looks like dancing, but they were fighting! I hope they both made it).

Next we stopped briefly at the swamp to look at all the cool shorebirds and check off some more in our bird books (my first spoonbill! Tori, we’ve come a long way since putting spoons in our mouth and flapping our arms at home).

After that, we happened to drive by just as a couple of elephants got particularly itchy and couldn’t take it anymore. We have studied elephant vegetation damage before, so it was particularly eye-opening to see how it actually happens:

When that elephant’s sides and legs were satisfied, he joined a friend in piggybacking a fallen tree and getting in a nice belly scratch. This was a large tree, but under two elephants-worth of force it shook like a sapling. Seeing these individuals take on a small part of the forest, and multiplying the effect by the number of elephants that tend to roam around together in large herds, it was easy to see how elephants have single-hoofedly changed much of Amboseli’s habitat type from woodland to grassland.

Next, we ran into some babies, including a small elephant who was learning how to be destructive:

And some young zebras who were learning how to have mohawks:

And there were some dikdiks:

who were probably full grown but who always look like small aliens:

Lake Manyara is a very small park compared to the ones we’d visited before, and it was cool to feel as though we’d been able to see so much of it in one visit. The groundwater forest also houses animals that aren’t found very many other places, like the blue colobus monkey, who is much shyer than the baboon. I still have to go back, though – we missed the hot springs, and the lake itself, because baboons don’t tend to hang out there. But according to the brochure, “the lake forms the most spectacular sight”, and apparently when the water is sufficiently high, you can go canoeing among the flamingos. I also missed the infamous tree-climbing lions, although one group did get to see them. And I guess you don’t really need an excuse to revisit a Man and Biosphere Reserve.

Having done a lot of shushing each other and silently pointing, we were glad, on the next day, to be given an Environmental Policy field exercise that involved talking to people. Ji-Yeon, Chelsea, Alex Hughes, Kaila and I set out together into an Iraqu village (Iraqu = a Tanzanian tribe – now that we’re here, we are no longer working only with Maasai) near Karatu-Town (the largest town in the area). We had a translator, but I practiced my Swahili anyway. A few of that day’s commonly used phrases:

“Mbuzi mdogo sana sana sana sana [infinite sanas]” = “very very very very [etc.] small goat”. This was appropriate because the first house we went to had a fuzzy just-born white goat about as big as a small cat and I had to restrain myself from kidnapping it and putting it in my backpack. The second house had a speckled goat and I had to hold Chelsea back from doing the same thing – she decided right then and there to raise goats and become an artisan cheesemaker.

“Mbwa mkubwa sana sana sana sana [infinite sanas]” = “very very very very [etc.] large dog”. The dogs in Tanzania are much more protective of their human and livestock friends than the goats in Kenya were, perhaps because they’re treated better.

“Ninasema Kiswahili kidogo sana sana sana [you get it]” = “I speak very [etc.] little Swahili”. This usually elicited laughter, which is understandable. Oh well. At least I wasn’t in Olivia’s group . . . an older woman told them that she often eats giraffe meat that she’s given by the government (senility is present in every culture! It just displays itself differently, I guess. Although apparently giraffe is delicious).

We went through thorns and sunflowers and from farm to farm asking people about human-wildlife conflict in the area, and got some surprising answers (surprising to us, anyway, but I’ll spare you). As always, we also met very interesting people, including a couple who stopped hoeing their maize to talk to us, and got into an endearingly flirtatious shoving match when the man said he couldn’t stand wildlife and the woman disagreed. There was one woman who politely declined to be interviewed because she was on the way to the clinic in Karatu-town. She looked healthy but then we noticed that the baby on her back had a fully developed sixth finger which was hanging off of her pinky by a tiny thread of skin. We stopped by an evidentally wealthier part of the village, where the houses were much larger and more well-constructed, several houses had cars or rustless bicycles outside, and none of the dogs’ ribs were visible. It was probably not coincidental that the people we interviewed in this part of town cited no conflicts with wildlife at all. One family invited us inside, where they had enough stools for all nine of us, and the walls were decorated with torn-out magazine articles about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and a gigantic poster of fruit, the size and faded bluish color of the kind you see on the sides of mobile Italian Ice stands.

On the way back, we passed a farmstead we’d been in before, and the man we had interviewed smiled broadly and called something out to our translator. It turned out that he was a witch doctor and that his wife was predicting the rains, and he was wondering if we wanted to come watch. This trip, especially our cultural manyatta experiences, has made me a little suspicious of things like that, but of course we weren’t about to miss out, and we gathered around as the witch doctor lady tossed river pebbles on the ground and gathered them up again. It was very fast and reminded me of nothing so much as bananagrams. We didn’t get to find out when it was going to rain next, because the man who had called us over spotted my walking stick, and of course it sparked something, because that’s what it’s good at. This time, the man decided that if I had one stick, of course I would want more (this is a common thought process around here, for some reason) and he brought out his witch doctor stick, a lighter version of mine with a freaky-looking oval head carved into it. I did not want it! but Alex Hughes decided that he did. So he is now 5000 Tanzanian shillings poorer (about $3.75) and is set to go all voodoo on us any day now. A little research reveals that Tanzanian witch doctors do exist, but all it really tells me is that they got in the news recently for killing albinos in order to use their body parts for amulets. There has been a government crackdown, and hopefully they don’t do that anymore.

So back through the sunflowers we went (that’s Ji-Yeon)

and to camp

where I think we had a quiz, and then played some checkers (that’s our kitten, Kili Monster . . . Monster for short)

and got excited for the next day’s game drive in Ngorongoro Crater. And rightly so, it turned out. More on that in a few hours, when the photos are finally loaded!

Monday, March 22, 2010

2/6/10; 2/17/10; 2/19/10; 3/2/10: BEST OF AMBOSELI

Jambo! Jambo bwana! Habari gani! Mzuri sana!

That is the first line of that “Them Mushrooms” song I was telling you about earlier in the . . . month. Sorry for being so neglectful! After we got back from Tsavo, we went pretty much directly into finals, which fried my little brain like a chapati (delicious East African tortilla-equivalent). And then we had to move out of our bandas to make room for the Tanzanians, who proceeded to invade our camp and defeat us by a very slight margin in the Olympics. And then I went to sleep and woke up in Tanzania with my hands tied with a bandana and covered in bees . . . luckily my classmates were with me or I’m not sure what I would have done. But that’s another post! Or several (also, that last part, the part with the bees, didn’t happen). Right now, since I’m in The Amazing New Zone of Almost coNstant Internet Access (T.A.N.Z.A.N.I.A.), I’m going to take this opportunity to show-and-tell you all about Amboseli National Park, the centerpiece of the Tsavo-Amboseli Ecosystem and probably, despite encounters in Tsavo and KBC and around the group ranches, of most of my memories of Kenyan wildilfe.

We went to Amboseli four times over the course of the semester, and I took a whole lot of pictures. So here are some of them, along with the stories that were happening when they were taken (the sad part is that, by necessity, the photographer misses part of the story because she is busy taking pictures so that she can better remember/tell what she saw of the story later. But hopefully between the words and the pictures some decent account will emerge, although of course you all just should have been here, and then none of this would be necessary, jeez).

The drive into Amboseli is about 45 minutes of straight red dirt road. The animals like hanging out in the park because it’s about 400 square kilometers of farmless and fenceless space (53% grassland, 22% woodland, 25% swamp! an oft-repeated fact and a favorite of Shem’s), but they don’t know where the park’s borders are, so the drive in is often interrupted by giraffes or zebras or elephants heading out into the surrounding group ranches, probably to try to eat some pumpkins or something. Like these guys:

We encountered all of them on our final visit, the elephant on the way in and the zebras on the way out. At the beginning of the program, our professors said at the beginning of the program that by the time we left Kenya we’d be so tired of elephants we’d never want to see another one again . . . halfway through, though, and they’re still bringing us to seatbelt-necessitating halts (I’ve still got a bruise from the slingshot maneuver Molly pulled when we saw that elephant, I think).

After the road, you get to the gate! Here’s where we get accosted by mamas and other hawkers. And sometimes . . . ACTUAL HAWKS!

This guy was wheeling above us for a while, and occasionally landing at the very top of acacias to survey his domain. By the way, he is actually not a hawk. He is a martial eagle. But! There was a pun to be made, and so I made it.
This was on our first visit and we were all very overwhelmed and excited. My dominant feeling (which I still sometimes get here) was that someone had taken over my optic nerve and was photoshopping amazing things into my field of vision. Even though we weren’t in the park yet, my friends here seem to agree:

(on the ground, from closest to farthest away: Becca, Suzzane (blue shirt), Coral (awesome shades), a mama accosting Coral, Clinton (with camera), and Sam. In the faroff cruiser, from the left: Ian, Jen and Olivia. In the closeup cruiser, from the left: Ryan, Amanda, Mambo, and Christine).

On that first day, we were ostensibly there to start a Wildlife Management exercise that involved keeping track of social organization and behavior of large mammals. Of course, we mostly ended up driving around and gaping at things and then remembering after the fact that we were supposed to write them down. According my notebook, that day we saw a lonely warthog, four elephants, some fighting impala, and a large colony of baboons, including one Mickey Mouse-eared baby:

Other highlights of that first trip included: when, in order to turn around in the rotary associated with a defunct lodge, Daniel drove us through a curtain of dangling electric wires at full speed with the hatches open (twice!); when Daniel’s car broke down (this happened so often over the course of the program that we started blocking time into field exercises for car repair . . . alright, I’m exaggerating. But it happened pretty often. “Maasai don’t need to know how to drive” etc. etc.) so we had to quickly disperse into the three other cars while Harrison, our mechanic, fixed it up in said rotary; when Jordan’s mammal field guide fell off the roof of the car and Mambo had to jump out of the car and bravely fetch it; and, finally, when we drove through the swamp and spotted a rare saddle-billed stork and my camera, in a spectacular show of encouraging me to live in the moment, ran out of battery. So you’re out of luck on that one. But if you google it I’m sure someone else has taken a picture at some point!

The second time we went to Tsavo was for Wildlife Management again, this time to do a mammal-counting exercise that led to lab analysis of species’ habitat preferences within the park. We split into groups, and each group was given a section of the park (also known as a transect) and instructed to count all the mammals while keeping track of the habitat types (because this is SCIENCE, it was slightly more complicated than that, but that was the general idea). Moses, who had taken a break from running the duka to be our driver, decided that it would be best to take on our transect by circling it clockwise and always counting out the right side. I believe we counted around twenty animals over the course of two hours. Meanwhile, on our left side, in another transect, this party was happening:

As you can imagine (and as my ratio of left-to-right pictures proves), it was kind of hard to pay attention to the correct side of the road.
Since we were not invited to the swamp bonanza, it was lucky that our group happened to meet one particular small carnivore whose ministrations were much more heartfelt than the fickle showboating of those big overdramatic grazers and browsers. Amboseli’s manmade water distribution system (necessary for rainy season drainage) has some culverts that necessitate the occasional small bridge, and as we were driving over one, we stalled out quickly to take pictures of a passing Grey-Crowned Crane:

A few minutes later, as we revved up the engine to start out again, the noise scared this guy out from under the bridge:

We all hung out for a while, looking at each other (sometimes, you know, words just aren’t necessary). Then, after we were done with our transect, we stopped by a few more times to say hi. He was always under the bridge, and he always ran out when he heard us rumble over. (except once, when we caught him picking over a pile of nearby bones). We named him Troll, after the story about the billy goats. I have a lot more pictures of him . . . he was an excellent model.
That was also the day we interrupted one elephant’s shower and got sprayed:

And, soon after, ticked off another elephant and got trumpeted at:

Maybe that’s why we don’t get invited to parties.

Trip #3 I actually largely described in my second-to-last blog post, as it was the day of the cultural manyatta and Serena Lodge. One thing I failed to mention about that day (on purpose! ha! SECRETS SECRETS ARE SUCH FUN) was our encounter with A LION:

Psych! That’s a concerned Cape buffalo (but I wanted to put that picture up just because. It was strange, during the incidental game drive over to the manyatta I actually took better pictures of animals than on either of the earlier, wildlife-centric trips). This is the real lion:

As with Troll, I have many more pictures of Neville Chamberlain (I named him this because we were all pretty sure he was going to attack a carful of German tourists). As we were driving to the manyatta, we found a large clump of cars all pulled over and filled with tiny gesticulating silhouettes sticking out through the tops. This is generally a good sign in a national park. It is also why, if you are a group of wanafunzi (students) who have a strange aversion to the very watali (tourists) who are keeping the ecosystems you have come to love alive with their extravagent spending habits (hint: despite efforts against these instincts, we are such wanafunzi), when you see something cool, you pull over very quietly, and point often and extravagantly at the sky, so that all the safari vehicles that come by think you’re looking at birds and move on.

We joined the fray, followed everyone’s line of sight, and were treated to two lions, a young adult male and female, on some kind of first date under a big acacia. This was our second lion sighting, and our best at the time – during our second trip, Mambo somehow spotted a few lionesses and some cubs dozing at the edge of the woodlands much too far away for pictures. Through binoculars you could see the yellows of these guys’ eyes, so we were very excited. And then, when boy lion decided he’d had enough and got up and headed towards the road, we were very VERY excited. And then when he looked like he was about to rear right through the front window of the German tourist vehicle we got kind of scared. But then he just crossed the road, like he was in a bad joke or something, and proceeded to mark his territory on the other side. An even more effective message than an attack, in some ways. So that was our first male lion – check out that half-mane! – and our closest one as of then, and we chattered about it all the way to the manyatta, where the most exciting animals were donkeys:

p.s. that girl with the donkeys is the infamous Coral.

Then we went to Serena Lodge, home of the fearless hungry vervets:

In the backpack, teasing the monkey: Lia. In the background, reacting in various ways: Chelsea (in blue, acting calm), Olivia (in white, despairing), Sam (in maroon, ready for action) and Jen (in orange, shocked).

Our forth trip to Amboseli was techinically for a traveling lecture, but we ended up at Serena Lodge again somehow. Before that, though, we found ourselves on Observation Hill, where we ate our lunches/saved them from superb starlings, which look regal and shiny but act like their scrappy cousins. Here is one in flight!

From the hill, we spotted a hippo! So we went closer to investigate, and he found us rather boring, or perhaps tasty:

One really cool thing about seeing animals in the wild instead of in zoos: many of them hang out in large herds. On several instances we saw hundreds of elephants at a time, all shifting and blotting out the horizon. Here’s a smaller group, soccer-team sized and able to fit in my camera lens:

The first couple of pictures were also from that fourth day. And so is this last one, of Kilimanjaro, handsome overlord of all Kenyan parks and students, draped in one of many storms he sent our way that day:

Well, that was Amboseli. Someday I’ll go back. Next up, my week at Tsavo West, Amboseli’s older, tanglier cousin who has pet leopards. Depending on how long it takes me to upload this one, that next one might have pictures too! If it’s not feasible though I can just show you guys later. I miss you all!

p.s. the picture quality did not turn out so large or so good. So hopefully I'll get to show you the originals at some point because they are less grainy because my camera is (/my parents are) awesome.