“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

22 days to go - Christmas

Thanks to Sarah for this excellent book by David Hosking and Martin Withers. I already owned a lonely planet guide to Kenya and a pocket Berlitz guide, so I have spent much of this afternoon cutting and sticking together the best bits from both of them into this new wildlife guide, (every ounce saved in weight is going to count!). I was also lucky enough to be given some gift vouchers for Park Cameras in Burgess Hill which I think I will take a trip to tomorrow and see if they have a sale on.
Going through the books and watching the DVDs etc. I think I have come up with what would be my ultimate top five species to see;
1) Leopard (as have never seen a wild one)
2) An Aardvark - just because they are the funniest looking thing on earth! but it's going to be difficult as they are strictly nocturnal.
3) Flap-Necked Chameleon - it can not only change colour, but can change it's pattern too.
4) Masai Giraffe - as opposed to the Reticulated or the Rothschild's
5) Caracal - one of the most sleek and slender, simply a beautiful cat

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

29 days to go - Clothing and the dreaded mosquitoes

My blood has been an irresistible attraction to mosquitoes in every country I have ever visited and I can’t convince myself Kenya will be any different, so I’ve been browsing on e-bay for clothing this week. I’m really looking for lightweight, insect-proof stuff which I can impregnate with DEET to keep the mossies and ticks at bay. I have no intention of getting out of the vehicle whilst in the bush, but back at the camp at night and under only canvas, I can’t see how I will escape them. The Kenyan website gives the following advice;
Insect and tick protection
"Wear long sleeves, long pants, hats and shoes (rather than sandals). For rural and forested areas, boots are preferable, with pants tucked in, to prevent tick bites. Apply insect repellents containing 25-50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or 20% picaridin (Bayrepel) to exposed skin (but not to the eyes, mouth, or open wounds). DEET may also be applied to clothing. Products with a lower concentration of either repellent need to be reapplied more frequently. Products with a higher concentration of DEET carry an increased risk of neurologic toxicity, especially in children, without any additional benefit. For additional protection, apply permethrin-containing compounds to clothing, shoes, and bed nets. Permethrin-treated clothing appears to have little toxicity. Don't sleep with the window open unless there is a screen. If sleeping outdoors or in an accommodation that allows entry of mosquitoes, use a bed net, preferably impregnated with insect repellent, with edges tucked in under the mattress. The mesh size should be less than 1.5 mm. If the sleeping area is not otherwise protected, use a mosquito coil, which fills the room with insecticide through the night. In rural or forested areas, perform a thorough tick check at the end of each day with the assistance of a friend or a full-length mirror. Ticks should be removed with tweezers, grasping the tick by the head. Many tick-borne illnesses can be prevented by prompt tick removal.
To prevent sandfly bites, follow the same precautions as for mosquito bites, except that netting must be finer-mesh (at least 18 holes to the linear inch) since sandflies are smaller."

Janet has kindly given me the remains of their insect repellent (25% DEET) from their trip to the Mara in September and I think I still have some left in the van from our time in Australia, (where’s Linc and his Dugong fat when you need him!).
I am also going to forget the risk of rabies and spend the money on more SD cards instead. I weighed by camera bag last night and without my laptop it’s already 8 kilos!

Monday, 20 December 2010

31 days to go - and where am I going exactly?

I think I am staying in the Northern tip of the park near the Governers camp where the BBC crew film Big Cat Diary and Big Cat Week. But as yet it's only a guess.

Kicheche have two camps, Mara and Bush, and they are marked below, I'm not sure yet if we stay at both or just one.

Friday, 17 December 2010

34 days to go - visit to the doctors

I took my vaccination record into the doctors this morning with the following list from the Kenyan website;

1) Hepatitis A : Recommended for all travellers
2) Typhoid : Recommended for all travellers
3) Yellow fever : Recommended for all travellers greater than nine months of age
4) Polio : One-time booster recommended for any adult traveler who completed the childhood series but never had polio vaccine as an adult
5) Hepatitis B : Recommended for all travellers
6) Rabies : For travellers spending a lot of time outdoors, or at high risk for animal bites, or involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats
7) Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) : Two doses recommended for all travellers born after 1956, if not previously given
8) Tetanus-diphtheria : Revaccination recommended every 10 years

My Hep A and Hep B are both up to date as is my MMR, Polio and Tetanus-Diptheria. My yellow-fever cerficate is also still valid for another 2 years which was good news. However, my Typhoid was due for renewal. You'd think someone who can raft grade 5 white water, throw herself off the Sky Tower and handle close encounters with dangerous predators would not bat an eyelid at needles wouldn't you? Unfortunately I am a complete wuss with anything related to the human body. I have to lie down and, through bitten lip, pant as if I am about to give birth - not a good look.
I have never had a Rabies jab, so the next question was - should I? It's £48 per injection and three injections are required prior to travel, so the first injection would have to be given before Christmas. Some sources say 'highly recommended' and others say 'only required if working with animals'. So does wildlife photography count or not? I will be outside for the majority of my time in Kenya, but I have no intention of getting within biting range of anything (although I hear the monkeys have no concept of personal space at all). I have the weekend to decide at least. The biggest concern the doc pointed out is how far from medical help I could be at the time of infection. Apparently if they can get a drug injected into the bite site within a certain period of time, then there is nothing to worry about!!! nice.

I also ordered some Malarone (anti-malaria drugs) which I need to start taking 2 days before I leave and continue for a week upon return. At £3 per tablet from the surgery dispensary they are much cheaper than the Larium I was taking when I contracted Malaria in 1995, but the nurse still advised me to shop around as some chemist will sell them for £2.50 each.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

36 days to go and have applied for my Kenyan VISA

VISA requirements;
1) A valid passport with at least one spare page and 3 months more validity from date of entry (check)
2) A completed application form (check)
3) One recent passport sized photo (Hmmmn....)
4) Travel Itinerary (somewhere in the Mara for 9 days?)
5) £30 Cash (check)
6) Daytime telephone number whilst in Kenya (!!)

Spent the whole of last night watching back-to-back episodes of Big Cat Week and am beginning to think there is a chance we will see a hunt/kill. They say the cats hunt to eat every other day at least and considering the sheer numbers of cats there are out there, surely we stand a chance of seeing it? I am trying hard not to get my hopes up. The sunsets alone will be amazing to see. Cats hunting will simply be the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

37 days to go and change of airport plans

Since I will be travelling to Kenya alone on the 20th January and arriving ahead of the rest of the group, I have booked myself a night in the Fairview Hotel. I fly into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which is the major airport in Nairobi, but we will all fly out together to the Mara from Wilson Airport the following morning at 9:15am. I have pre-booked a driver and car from the hotel to take me to and from the airports; I am sure Nairobi’s safety record for lone females travelling at night is no worse than anywhere else on the planet, but sod’s law says I would be the exception and at least this way I don’t have to negotiate a price with a driver. I don’t think my Swahili is quite up to that.

Monday, 13 December 2010

38 days to go and having a diet dilemma

I won a pair of Ripcurl cargo trousers on e-bay last week which arrived at the weekend. In perfect condition and just what I need for the trip, and a bargain at just £3.17. Getting them on is not a problem, but bending over or sitting down is definitely not an option at the moment. So with Christmas round the corner, the diet is going to have to be geared around swapping my preferred beverage (pint of carling) with something less calorific - vodka, lime and soda maybe... do they sell that by the pint? I also ordered a pack of two spare camera batteries this weekend so I am almost there with the equipment list too, just need a few more SD cards. Dad and Janet have lent me their handheld luggage scales to ensure I don't exceed the 15kgs total luggage limit. Here is David's recommended packing list;
  1. Camera body(s)
  2. Long lens - most people take up to 400 or 500mm for this trip.
  3. Shorter zoom lenses
  4. Batteries
  5. Chargers
  6. Memory cards
  7. Storage device or laptop
  8. Lens cleaners
  9. Instruction book
  10. 1 pair shorts
  11. 2 pair cargo pants
  12. 3 T-shirts/cotton shirts or similar
  13. Outdoor shoes
  14. Sunglasses
  15. Fleece & waterproof
  16. Hat - for sun protection
  17. Toiletries
  18. Binoculars
  19. Malaria prophylactics
Laundry is done for us every day and nothing smart is required, so in theory, two sets of clothes is all I will need.   My new book has arrived too - "Tick Bite Fever" - David Bennun's account of growing up in 1970's Kenya, ('A hilarious memoir...Enchanting and amazing', The Daily Mail .'Laugh out loud is an understatement...a wonderful insight into life in Africa from a two-foot high point of view, witty, touching and above all affectionate', The Press Assocation .'Tick Bite Fever itches with mordant wit - there's at least one turn of phrase per paragraph that gets among your ribs like a feather duster. An excelle
nt memoir', Uncut Magazine).  It should help to pass the time on the eleven-hour flight to Nairobi and put me in the picture a little before arrival. It was either that or a book about the murder in the Masai Mara of wildlife photographer Julie Ward back in 1991 which I think I will save for the flight home!

Friday, 10 December 2010

40 days and 40 nights to go!

I have managed to bag myself a discounted spare place on a small photographic trip going to Kenya next month thanks to a last minute cancellation. The tour is being run by David Plummer (same wildlife photographer who led the trip I went on in 2007 to the swamps of Brazil).  His website reads.... "The Masai Mara tour is a 10-day (including 2 travel days) photographic safari staying only at two camps; as such no time is wasted travelling from camp to camp. Photographic tuition is given in lesson form as well as hands-on tuition in the field.   This tour is pure wildlife from dawn to dusk!" Sounds like my perfect holiday, if I don't think too long about the bugs, the heat, the diseases and the first night I will be spending alone in Nairobi.
Staying at the Kicheche camps under canvas promises to be about as close as you can get to the beasts of the big cat world. The Masai Mara is somewhere I have wanted to go for many many years, so within minutes of reading David's email I was online to my bank, calculator in hand. It was do-able. But to be honest with myself, if it wasn't do-able, I would have fiddled the figures for however long it took to make sure it was. I discussed it with Ant, replied to David and told myself I would sleep on it until the weekend. The weekend of course came very early that week (Monday I believe!) and before I knew it booking forms were being completed, money was being transferred and I was sporting a grin similar to those worn by kids on Christmas morning. The agonising countdown had begun.