Friday, December 10, 2010

On a Maraventure

This would be our first ever safari in Kenya, and going by experiences of people before us, we were already counting our sightings of the Big 5. The Big 5 here includes the lion (of course), African elephant (you can't get bigger than that), Black Rhino, Cheetah (while some say leopard), and the African Buffalo. Moreover, we were going there during the Great Migration season, so further images of wildebeest stampedes came to mind.


We booked a safari van from Nairobi and traversed the 270 km in approximately 5 hours. The roads at most places were smooth, and the rest were being built. One stopover on the drive is the view point where you can see the massive Rift Valley. In August, everything was dry and barren (although the golden grass has a charm of its own), but during and right after the monsoons, the place is an oasis.


While we were waiting at the entry gate to complete the formalities (60 USD per person per night ensures that you savour this once in a lifetime experience for all its worth), the Masai ladies with their colourful attire came by to tempt us to buy some souvenirs. We found that these were cheaper than the ones sold in the city, but don't be fooled by claims of ebony wood and what nots. Just take it as you see it unless you can identify and want to invest (a lot of money) in the quality stuff.


We stayed at the Keekorock Lodge, the first one that was built in the reserve. Rooms were great, food was ok, but the Hippo Bar was the focal point of the whole place. It is basically a little shed built over a small pond where hippos hang out all day. If you are really lucky, you might even spot other wildlife without having to drive around.

The resort has a resident Masai at whose sight the mischievous monkeys seem to vanish in thin air. So if you are carrying food while walking around the resort grounds, make sure the Masai is nearby unless you want to be accosted by a group of simians.

It gets to be quite cold in the mornings and evenings, but during the day you would want to keep to the shade. Kenyan wildlife reserves are a stickler for rules. You have to be inside the resort before 6pm, and don't think about going off the tracks trying to get closer to the wildlife. Both instances could cost you a hefty fine and your driver may face a possible ban from all the Reserves in the country. Why go through all the trouble when you can see all the wildlife you want right on the track?

The animals in Kenya are used to being in the spotlight, and will go about their business as if you are nothing but a minor distraction - a fly on the wall even. They won't think twice about just brushing past your vehicle  while you stand there not breathing. They do it for fun I think - to ensure that you know your place in the larger scheme of things. As clich├ęd as it may sound, it is one of the most awe inspiring moments you will live through, to have a lion just a few metres away look at you in the eye, and then just go about its business knowing fully well it can devour you in seconds if need be.




We went up to the Mara River on Day 2, but it was low on water and therefore so were the numbers of wildebeests to be seen. We did however, manage to see all of the Big 5 plus the elusive leopard, and a variety  of deer species, colourful birds, and the myriad other wildlife that had us turning our heads in all directions with our eyes wide open.

If you can afford to, go for a hot air balloon ride - you don't see the wildlife up close but the panorama will take your breath away.




 If you have the time, you could also take a tour of one of the Masai villages on the outskirts of the Reserve. They charge you upwards of a thousand Shillings per person for an introduction to their way of life - right from farming, to their tiny cottages, and spectacular dances.

 Once you get a taste of the wild, there is no turning back. Husband has been saving up for a DSLR camera which we sorely missed on the trip, and then we'll start saving up for another trip here during the green season. Can hardly wait!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Where Can I buy 2 parts Patience, and 1 of Persistence?

Has anyone ever tried doing Origami? Those Japanese folks have some patience and spare time to sit around making circles in the sand and folding paper! Their work looks so good though. Some of the modular origamis need over 200 modules, where each module would be made of at least 5 units. It's enough to drive you insane! By happy chance, the Internet at home was not working yesterday, so taking a break from work, I got down to completing my Origami task.

Task 1: Kusudama


This sphere had one of the least number of modules required (only 12) and looked interesting enough. I started with a petal

which turned into a flower

which turned into many flowers

which eventually turned into a sphere.

I got the design from an article on eHow but made some modifications to the center of the petals which works especially well if you are using paper coloured on both sides.

Task 2: Mette Units

Next, I then made two rings using Mette's Units, which is relatively simple and requires just 15-18 units.


Put it all together, and finally I came up with a unique door hanging that Husband assembled with some ribbon this morning. 


Warning: Side effects include numb fingers, increased annoyance, and loss of patience to do anything else.


Creatives - Some Stuff I Did When I Ran Out of Stuff To Do





I love art and crafts projects...as long as they get over quickly because I am not the most patient person in the world. But there are some projects that are worth the time. My paintings were done in a day or two, whereas the quilling work took days. I have been trying to take out some time every week from my schedule to work on such projects. I love to see the end results.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jambo Nairobi

A while ago, Dad took up a job in Kenya. We believe he took it up only for the chance of going on wildlife safaris, but why look a gift horse in the mouth? He has now returned to India and is more busy than ever with work, but while he was there, we got to take advantage of his hospitality and go for a trip of a lifetime!

Nairobi airport is in a constant state of chaos...that coming from someone who's familiar with the situation at Indian airports. Once in the city, it is quite unexpected to see such clean, wide roads. It is the same kind of eye opening experience that people from the Western world would get when they visit India for the first time ("How do you speak English so well?" "Where are all the cows?").

In my head, I pictured Africa to at least look as poor as it is made out to be, but I was pleasantly surprised by the well maintained city (I am told that being the UN headquarters for the region has a big part to play in that). The soil is extremely fertile which shows in the fresh, organic, tastier and good looking produce available (especially potatoes which everyone in our family is very fond of). Security though, is another matter altogether. It is best to stay off the roads after dark. Getting around the city is very difficult. Public transport mainly consists of jittery Matatus that might fall apart at any time, and taxis are very expensive. Dad had bought a car, and with a short-term driver that he hired, it made our lives so much easier.



Since Kenya doesn't have any phone connections provided by the government, the whole city depends on mobile phones. Even banking and wire transfers are done this way. Dad had an extra phone we could use to keep in touch, but our India phones had to be kept switched off to avoid the super-expensive call charges.

In terms of currency, even though the Indian Rupee is stronger than the Kenyan Shilling, you need a whole lot more of it to get anything here...the place is expensive. Whether you are looking to buy groceries or souvenirs, you better have a heavy wallet which you can empty at the cash counter. The prices souvenir shops will quote might shock you at first, but you need to keep in mind that they quote with a 100% mark up since they know tourists will start bargaining at 50%. So to get a good deal, start your bids at the 25% mark, and depending on how much you want the item, go up till you get it. The quality should also be taken into consideration. Like a bracelet Husband bought for me at a department store was for about 1500 Shillings...but it was made of wooden beads and had a polished bone clasp. You could get a similar looking piece for much cheaper with plastic beads and wooden clasp.






                         


We had gone there in the month of August. It was quite cold (by my standards) and we didn't need the fan at night. The afternoon sun sometimes got very warm, but if you stayed in the shade you'd still need a shawl. Needless to say, I was always wrapped up in one. The house where Dad was staying at was in a nice quiet neighbourhood with a lawn regularly visited by birds, squirrels and other critters—a mini-safari through your window. Nearby was an Indian temple which also served as the local community center, which was a nice evening spent in peace and quiet.

The city blends in with its natural heritage and has its own National Park for those who can't make it to one of the country's many safari destinations. It also has an Animal Orphanage next to it, housing several abandoned, orphaned, or injured animals, and if you happen to be near the big cats' cages during lunch time, you will get to witness up close that caged and seemingly domesticated animals never lose their wild touch. They start getting fidgety around the appointed hour, and by the time the meat is being doled out one-by-one, these cats go on a frenzy, jumping on fences, snapping at everything and pacing around the enclosure.







There are many places in and around Nairobi that you can visit. We went to Nakuru, the Animal Orphanage, and a few malls. Apart from some souvenirs we picked up some coffee (for me) and tea (for Husband), but unfortunately we liked it so much that now it is difficult to go back to having the regular stuff! We need to find people who can keep sending us some on a regular basis. Any volunteers?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

At Last Day 7: Veggies, Juices & Rice

I started the day with some baked sweet potatoes (with a tiny bit of butter and cinnamon), and some fruit juice. Ok so I didn't do Yoga, and had rice crackers instead of the bowl of rice. But I still got through a week of healthy eating and stuck to the diet plan for the first time ever. It doesn't feel much different physically and I can't wait to get back to my normal schedule tomorrow. But it is good to know that temptations can be directed towards healthier options.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 6 - Veggies and Meat

I started the day with some sprouts, then moved on to a nice mix of stir fried veggies (broccoli, baby corn, mushrooms, onion) and had a very early dinner of half a hamburger. I don't think I'll need it, but I have some baked chicken with celery handy for supper (Husband has to eat too after all). I planned to do some yoga, but laziness got the better of me. Tomorrow I will...I promise!

Day 5 - I see Hamburgers

Beef (hamburgers are allowed) and 6 tomatoes all day. So I start the day with 2 tomatoes, a Thai foot massage, and a good ol' burger at TGIF (I had very few fries...not enough to classify as cheating). I got one packed too for the night, but could only have half of it. Had another tomato (2 of them turned out to be rotten inside so couldn't complete the quota). Today didn't even feel like I was on a diet! Tomorrow will be similar, but I'll go for the lean meat (grilled chicken) and veggies.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 4 - Going Bananas

A day full of only bananas and milk...sounds like a daunting task. But it was surprisingly an easy day....relatively speaking of course. I did not feel drained out, although i felt hungry more often. I had 10 bananas and 3 glasses of milk. Temptations came and went barely noticed. Just 3 more days to go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 3 - Fruits & Veggies

It wasn't bad at all. Had some grilled aubergines, carrots, fruits, salad and since we went for a movie, some plain popcorn. I have to say I wasn't at all tempted by the delicious smells at the food court either - maybe because I had already made up my mind about having the salad (with mint dressing) and cut fruits. I didn't feel drained out, and even did a bit of yoga. Almost half way through!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 2 - Veg Extravaganza

As expected, the first thing I did was to bake me some potatoes. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and dried chives, topped with some butter - YUM! The rest of the day wasn't so hard since I got to have hot, and seasoned food such as - spinach soup (just spinach and garlic); baked aubergines with mint; carrots; and I cheated a bit with popped corn (technically it is still a veggie).

Although it wasn't mentioned in any of the sites that talk about the GM diet, I had to 'go' quite often on days 1 and 2. Every corner of my stomach must be clean by now! I guess that's the reason for any weight loss.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My First Diet Plan: Day 1 - Frooty

I don't do diets...mainly because I am easily tempted. But when I heard of the GM diet plan and the many people who claimed to have been cleansed at the end of it, I decided to give it a try. This would be more of a detox diet than a weight loss plan, but of course a couple of missing lbs won't be missed. I don't have a weighing machine handy so I'll have to just go the 'feeling' of being lighter.

Here I am at the end of Day 1. Today I could eat only fruits (except bananas). This is what I had: 1 pomegranate, 1 cantaloupe, 1 papaya, 1 medium-sized watermelon, 1 apple, and 1 pear...I am starving still. With that and the 10 glasses of water I am required to take, I am not going anyplace too far from the loo.

I have a low impact schedule on most days when I skip gym (which I have for 2 weeks now!) since I work from home. This helped because I did not need much energy required to go out in the crazy world where a bucket of fruits will be used up the minute you step out your door.

Beware though! The absence of carbohydrates drives you crazy. I wasn't able to concentrate on work, and all I keep thinking about is that I can have potatoes tomorrow morning. I can't wait!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Diwali - More about the noise than the lights!

Yes, I am aware that the title sounds cynical but unfortunately, that is what it has come to mean for most. I remember the time when Diwali meant the excitement of new clothes, the smell of homemade sweets wafting in the air, visiting friends and family, some sparklers and at the most a couple of small 'bombs' that could be heard sporadically. The little noise that was, would die down much before midnight, giving people time to relax and look forward to the coming year.

Since then, crackers only mean strings of bombs - if Mr X got a string of 500, I should get one of a thousand at least. They start bursting it a week before and go on till very late in the night, regardless of the discomfort of others - man and animal alike. Many I know prefer to sneak out of the city for some peace and quiet, but not everyone can.

There was a time when fireworks were discouraged since it employs child labor. As a result, people lamented on the fate of the poor children while still buying bags of fireworks. And of course the environment angle would never inspire people to quit, no matter how many animals get terrified or injured, and no matter the amount of noise, smoke and garbage that result.

     
This Diwali, our first in Bombay, was as noisy. Rummy barely came out from under the furniture for the whole week. But it was also a time with family. My parents were with us. Our home was lit up. I had made small give-aways for our neighbors along with a box of sweets, and we even had some rangoli at the door. All of us got dressed up and went for a drive. It was good to see the buildings all lit up (we tried to ignore people playing with fireworks on the roads and near parked cars), and the neighborhood temple was all decked up too for the occasion.


Although a quieter Diwali is still a long way off, there is some hope because people are becoming aware of the hazards of fire crackers. Change usually creeps in very slowly, and before you know it, you will be celebrating a peaceful festival with family and friends the way it was meant to be. Hopefully, I will see that in my lifetime.

National Geographic POD