Sunday, January 8, 2017

Neufeld family visit

Christmas holiday brought our long-anticipated visit by the Neufeld side of the family - Doug's parents and one sister.  We're so fortunate to have family that like to travel and so make the long trip to come see us!  We had two wonderful weeks away from our work, showing them Kenya.

We started with a few days showing them around Nairobi, of course including the elephant orphanage where we renewed our "sponsorship" of an elephant (Joto, this time).

At the beautiful gardens of Matbronze we were treated with a bunch of turacos playing in the trees.  Only found in Africa, they have spectacular colors (for the science nerds - they have unique copper-based pigments that make them one of the only birds that have truly green pigments).  We're constantly amazed by the variety of birds we see here.

Always coming up with a new idea, Alex got the notion to take a blacklight along when we went to visit some national parks.  At our stay in the Amboseli guesthouse, he was searching for scorpions, which are known to glow under a blacklight.  I was skeptical that he'd find any, but he quickly found dozens around the yard!  They're nearly invisible without the blacklight, but they're there, so guess we'll think about that next time we camp!

We had several days to comb through Amboseli Natl Park, which is known for its abundance of wildlife.  Although at the base of Kilimanjaro, the mountain was cloudy the whole time so we missed a good view of it.  But we saw lots of animals, including lions.

Amboseli is known for its elephants - lots of them!  Being just after the wet season, there were lots of young ones.

The Graber Neufeld family is always seeking out new birds and mammals for our list of animals seen in Africa.  Our Neufeld visitors gamely played along with the searches!  Amboseli had beautiful swamps with birds like this Black-winged Stilt. 

Lots of elephants, here groups of them passing across the big swamps and grasslands.  We had some enchating times of sitting in the evening sun watching the elephants roam across the landscape.

White-faced Whistling Ducks

Eastern Chanting Goshawk, we had some great raptor sightings on this trip.

First sighting for a klipspringer as we drove across the Shetani ("devil") lavaflow entering Tsavo West Natl Park.  Like mountain goats, they bounded quickly and effortlessly across the rocks.

Tsavo West has thousands of elephants in its dense bush (hence a hotspot for poaching), and is known for "red elephants".  They're red from the soil that covers them.  We ran across one group squabbling on the road, pretty impressive to watch them locking tusks and pushing each other about.  We kept our distance from those.

Spotting one of the African "little five" in the park, a leopard tortoise.  (Big five being the big animals that people usually want to see like lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo; little five are animals like elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, etc)  

The MCC cruiser properly showing the results of driving days on dirt and mud roads.  Dad was riding shotgun and only gave a yelp of alarm at one point (!), descending down some rocks.  

The KWS guesthouse at Tsavo West was amazing.  Originally the senior wardens house built in 1938, it is perched on a small hill overlooking miles of savanna, hills, and its own watering holes where we enjoyed lots of animals.  Beautiful place just to hang out.

Alex loves sleeping in but wanted up early each morning to see the animals.  The morning after he stayed up until midnight watching elephants etc at our waterhole, coffee could not counter the effects of being a teenager.

Tsavo West roads, here waiting for giraffes to pass.

Another new find, the Lesser Kudu

At one of the cinder cones in the park, some of us climbed to the top while others wait down at the cruiser.

Nearby Chyulu Hills are recently formed volcanic features highly permeable, and thus provide a water source for Mzima Springs in the park.  A small tank allows us to see the fish in the springs.

The last night it finally clears enough to catch a glimpse of Kili just beyond Chyulu Hills.  We had many wonderful hours marveling at our private view of the African landscape!

Then to the coast, here the sunrise at Watamu near the town of Malindi,

A marine national park preserves some of the mangrove forests.  Alex saw his opportunity to grow yet another interesting plant, and was able to get some mangrove seeds from a local community group.

Near our beach lodgings was Gede ruins, the largest Swahili ruins along this section of the coast. 

The ruins were very interesting, even if limited in size.  Most African cultures in Kenya have not left behind many ruins, so it was interesting for us to see some cultural sites from some 600 years ago.

Another Graber Neufeld pilgrimage was had as we searched for the Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew in Arabuko-Sokoke Natl Park, an area of preserved coastal forest.  We saw lots, which was thrilling!   

The elephant shrews are almost impossible to photograph as the rapidly dash about, so we make due with a picture of the mammal guidebook entry.  They're hard describe, just imagine something out of Dr. Seuss.  The Golden-rumped is only found in this forest.

Part of a day in Malindi took us to a pillar erected by Vasco de Gama in the late 1400's (actually this replacement is from the 1600's after the original was destroyed).  Through a complicated series of interactions with Swahili towns on the coast, he found those at Malindi the most friendly and so "honored them" with the marker.

Back in Nairobi on the last day we end the trip with the trip to the tea farm in the highlands.  Here Fiona describes the process of plucking leaves.  Then after a stop to look over the rift valley, we headed back for a few hours until they went to the airport to head home.

Alex's mangrove farm on our back porch, a la instructions from the internet!

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