Africa Trip

Home Sweet Home!

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It has been 5 days since we landed and everyone seems to be adjusting well to being home. Noah and I didn’t suffer too much from jetlag, but Ilise and Drew have been having some challenges sleeping, but nothing major. I must say that all in all we have adjusted really well. Noah started 5th grade yesterday and Drew starts 7th grade next Tuesday. Getting back into a regular routine, but I don’t know if our life will ever be the same as it was before we left.

When I reflect on our trip I continue to come back to a few major themes. First of all, I hope to never hear the words “life is not fair” out of the mouth of our kids. If we do hear that phrase all we need to say is Gulu, or Robert Okello (the young man we spent time with in No. Uganda). Is life fair? No, but I promise you that the “not fair” part of our kids life is still a million times better than the not fair for Robert.

I have also had some time to process what happened and what I have learned. I had an interesting conversation with Joshua, our host in Kampala, one day talking about the biggest hurdle that I need to still deal with in my life. The conversation happened on the day that I went to the airport to pick up our bags in Entebbe and the bags were still not there. I was a bit frustrated, but all in all I handled the situation in my stride as I try to do with everything in my life. Joshua commended me for how I was dealing with the situation and how I live my life. I looked at Joshua and said that there is still one major challenge that I need to address in my life, my relationship to food.

I can’t tell you how my physical fitness combined with how I consume food has ruled my life. I love to play sports and feel healthy, but how I deal with food has challenged me in so many ways. It is time to take this challenge on head on and deal with it. It will start with adjusting my diet, but also getting in shape physically. That will begin next Wednesday when I go to get my knee cleaned up by Dr. Chao, the orthopedist for the SD Chargers. I have a small tear in my meniscus that wouldn’t be too big a deal if I didn’t want to play so much tennis and volleyball. Since I am interested in all the lateral movement sports I need to get it done.

Once that is cleaned up and I start to control my portion size during meals, I can begin to really get in shape. I look forward to tracking my progress over the coming months as I target moving from 210 – 214 lbs down to the 190 lbs arena. We will see how this goes.

In addition to my clarity on my eating challenges, I am realizing that clarity is the issue that most everyone I deal with is facing. Clarity around their purpose in life, clarity around their life needs, clarity around the role of their work life in their entire life, and so much more. Without clarity there is very little chance to move forward in an impactful way. I am learning that clarity is the cornerstone of everything!

I will look to spend the next period of time trying to solidify my understanding around clarity and how it affects everyone that I interact with. There is so much to learn in this arena and I am happy to be on this path.

Finally, I will need to make some decisions over the coming months on where I spend my energies when it comes to non-profits and how I can make a difference. Spent a lot of time with U-TOUCH this summer and know that clarity around my role with organizations like this will make my efforts more effective and provide those around me with an opportunity to leverage what I do best. I have a purpose to being on this planet, clearly identifying that and communicating it to others will determine my ultimate success.

‘Til next time ……

Heading Home

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I am now sitting in the lobby area of the Southern Sun hotel in Nairobi and typing a blog live vs transferring one from the WORD document I have been keeping for the past few weeks. It is nice to be in a hotel knowing that we are heading home. We have spent a very long time away from San Diego (we left on June 20) and it will be very nice to be home. We have lots to do when we get there to prepare the kids for school and get back into a normal routine. The kids can’t wait to see all of their friends and start to eat normal food again.

I will be very happy to drive on paved roads and enjoy the life we have. I have learned a lot on this trip and will appreciate what we have more than ever. I am also clear that I am not giving up our way of life to move across the world to live in Africa long-term or any other impoverished part of the world. I can see myself investing time and energy in projects that will make the world a better place, including U-TOUCH, but I enjoy our life and look forward to the comforts of home.

I have been to a lot of places in the world and still consider San Diego the best place I would like to live, so I will look to keep it that way. We did meet some amazing people on our travels and I enjoyed all of the interactions. There were young people with big smiles and empty stomachs and some world travelers that were seeing an African safari for the first time. I learned a lot about myself on this trip and realized that I still have so much to learn. I am on a path that is fulfilling for me, but there is still so much to do. I will look to spend the rest of my life trying to make the world a better place and hope that those of you who read this blog will help in any way that you can.

Making a difference in the world is a responsibility shared by all of us. No matter how crazy or challenging our world looks, I can promise you there are others in the world facing far more dire situations. We are a very dramatic culture and we make so much of every little challenge put in front of us. We can handle so much if we change our perspective, and I look forward to helping a lot of people change their perspective if I can.

I started this blog to share our summer’s journey to NY and Africa, but I am sure that when I get home I will continue to blog and use this platform to share my thoughts. I enjoy writing and look forward to sharing more thoughts about amazing experiences in the world and doing my part to make the world a better place.

‘Til next time ……

Little Plane

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We headed out from Siana Springs this morning around 10 AM to go to the airstrip. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:15 and we were not sure how many stops we would make heading back to Nairobi. I was excited of the prospect of traveling further into the Mara via plane and get to see some more animals from the air. Well, I got my wish. The only problem was that the plane we were on was an 11 seater and taking off and landing were not very pleasurable.

We left Siana Springs with a gentleman from Scarsdale, NY, sitting right behind us. He was talking about the different places he had been over the past month and we later found out he was an attorney traveling the world to see some amazing sights. About 4 minutes after taking off the pilot turned around and said that this gentleman was supposed to get off at our stop and we were heading back to drop him off. So, we turned around and landed a few minutes later. We dropped the passenger off and took off again. Ilise, the kids and even I were feeling a bit green.

We traveled for about 7 minutes and then landed in the Mara dropping off two other passengers. We realized why we had to turn around, they were picking up 6 new passengers, which combined with our party of 5 used up all of the seats. We have a 40 minute flight back to Nairobi and I could see Ilise closing her eyes trying to not get sick. When we landed Noah looked so green and he was complaining that he was about to throw up. It was a unique experience, but we all survived.

We landed, got our bags and met with David Armstrong, one of the students from Mbale in Uganda. David is the young man studying to become a pilot and we provided him with some funds to take his pilots exam. He was very happy to see us and showed us a letter from a potential employer that will hire him when he gets 10 more hours of flight time. From the airport we headed to lunch at a tourist restaurant that sells Americanized food and had some gift shops. The restaurant was OK and we all started to feel our feet on the ground. After lunch we headed to the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. This is a unique park where you can feed giraffes in a very nice setting. Everyone enjoyed the experience and then we decided to head back to the hotel.

It is now about 10 PM and we are leaving for the airport at 1:30 AM for a 4:30 AM flight. I am trying to stay up until the flight and then go to bed once on the flight to Cairo. That would mean I would be going to sleep around 6:30 PM in San Diego. I will try to stay up on the flights to NY and then to SD best I can and then just go to sleep when we get home tomorrow night. The time zone change should be pretty manageable, but I will let you know more about that next week when I am through it. For now I am looking forward to going home.

‘Til net time ……

August 14 – Mara Balloon Ride

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We were awoken at 4 AM, but really got woken up at 2:30 AM by a loud beeping horn of someone trying to get into the camp. They kept beeping and beeping for at least 20 minutes. Boy was that annoying when you are trying to sleep. My guess is that they woke just about everyone in the camp, including the person who opened the gate since the horn eventually stopped.

So, we get ready for our 4:30 AM departure and jump into another jeep for a 90 minute drive. It is pitch dark and we are driving on really bumpy roads. We enter the park with still another 45 to 50 minutes of driving. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate paved roads after the last 3 weeks of my life!

We arrived at an open field in the dark with some tractors in front of us and a few other jeeps parked beside us. We were taken to a basket in front of us and a gentleman starts talking to us in a South African accent. We later found out his name is Andrew and he was our balloon pilot. He was also the owner of the balloon company called Hot Air Balloons (pretty creative for you marketing types). He mentioned to us that when the balloon is almost full we will lie in the basket on our backs until the balloon gets pulled up.

So, we are told to get into the basket and get on our backs. We start to feel the balloon straighten up and in a few minutes we are hovering above the ground and right in front of us is a small group of wildebeest. Andrew guides the balloon right over the small herd and scared most of them in all directions. Little did we know that was the only herd of animals we went over. We saw numerous zebra and wildebeest, but most of them were alone or in small groups. The people that told us we HAD to go on the balloon ride told us that their balloons went right over large herds of animals and they would move in waves.

Well, no wave of animal movement but the experience was pretty incredible anyway. We were floating for over an hour about the Masai Mara and toward the end the captain was a bit concerned because in front of us were lots of trees and not a very large landing area before we would cross the river. That might seem like a small issue, but if we landed on the other side of the river then the driver of our jeep would need to drive about 90 minutes just to get to the first bridge that would enable them to come get us. Then it would be a 5 hour drive back to camp. So, we ended up landing just short of the river and all was safe.

The jeep picked us up and we drove about 35 minutes until we got to our breakfast set up. I asked the driver if the balloons ever land where the breakfast is set up and he said it happened the day before. Andrew told us he needs to decide where breakfast is set up before we leave the ground, so he has no idea what the conditions will really be like so we ended up a good 5 – 6 Km from our breakfast site. That might sound close, but there are no straight roads in the park so it took us a little while to get there.

The breakfast was a huge spread. We all had lots to eat and got to speak with some of the other balloon participants. There was a family of 10 from Texas that was very nice, as well as a film crew that interviewed both Drew and Noah for a show that will air in South Africa soon on the wildebeest migration. We will see if their interviews make the final edit. We also spent some time speaking with Andrew about his company, which he started here in the Masai Mara in 1993. He lives in a tent just outside the park and has been doing this just about every day for close to 20 years. Interesting business and he seems to enjoy it.

Our drive back to Siana Springs was about 2 hours with a small traffic jam in the park. The only road we were on with ditches on both sides was only able to fit two cars wide and some people stopped to look at something, we believe it was a cheetah. We sat there for the next 15 minutes trying to get through. In the end we had to back up a good 300 yards to get onto a parallel road and drive around. There must have been 40 vans right there and I don’t believe it was anything really worth seeing. Either way, we are back at camp relaxing and everyone is looking forward to getting home.

‘Til next time ……

August 13 – A Long Day!

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When you do your first 10 hour game drive it is totally invigorating, then when you do your second 10 hour day it is still engaging, but the third day is just a long day. We continued to see animal after animal and headed to the river straight out in the morning to see the wildebeest crossing again. It took us 3 ½ hours to get to the river and there were only a few animals around. Our driver called some friends and they told him that there was a big crossing about 60-90 minutes away so off we went.

All totaled we were in the car for about 5 hours before we parked to see the zebras and wildebeest cross the Mara River. We watched for over two hours and saw a few crocodiles swim right past the zebras and wildebeest. We were waiting for a kill but we didn’t see one. There were at least 10 crocs within ¼ mile of where these animals were crossing but they must have all been full, no one attacked the hundreds of animals that crossed the river.

On our drive out we saw the cheetah with the four cubs and got some really great pictures. In addition, we spotted our first leopard, leaving the rhino as the only main animals we have yet to spot. On our way back we saw a pride of over 10 lions resting in the bushes and tons more zebra, wildebeest and antelope. David tried to reduce our ride home so we exited the park near the river and drove on side roads for the majority of the ride back. All totaled we were in the car for 10 hours again and the sun was hot.

Tomorrow will be our last day in the park. We have a 4 AM wakeup call for our balloon ride then we will come back to the camp for the afternoon. We will end our trip with an evening game drive in the conservancy, so that should do it for our animal watching. This trip has been more than I imagined, and I had some pretty high expectations. The weather has been absolutely perfect in Kenya. We have not had any rain and the clouds in Masai Mara have been breathtaking.

As for future trips, I have always said that once I go someplace it is time for a new destination next time. As for Africa, I am not sure I need another safari but I can see myself coming back to Uganda and/or Kenya for my non-profit efforts. The need for the knowledge and experience we have is deep and most of the people I have talked with would like our assistance. My biggest questions still lie around what is best for their culture. I understand what we have accomplished in the west, but will that make their life that much better? Is industrialization what they really need or are they better off in some ways without us? Lots of questions without any answers just yet. Still lots to learn, but a great start on this portion of my journey.

‘Til next time ……

August 13: 7 AM – Sundowner Last Night

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We planned an early game drive yesterday so we could return to the camp for lunch and rest for a while before we took part in a Sundowner. On our drive back to camp around 12:30 PM we received a call from our safari company stating that they made a mistake and the sundowner that we planned our entire day around was a typo in our itinerary and not included in our package. We were about 10 minutes from camp and a good 60 minutes from any animals and Ilise, my brother and I were not so thrilled with the phone call.

We told Dennis, the representative from Gamewatchers, that we appreciated him informing us that the Sundowner was a mistake but that they needed to honor their mistake. We have had our itinerary for over 4 months and most everything else was clearly delineated as to what was included and what was not. I hung up the phone explaining that we understand the mistake but believe they should honor the itinerary. We went to lunch and then back to the tent and I received another call from Dennis. He apologized for the mistake and said that everything was taken care of and we should enjoy our evening. That was a very good decision on their part.

So, it was a bit before 6 PM and we find our driver, David, and start to head out for our little view of the sunset. We leave camp and no more than 5 minutes later we are driving up a hill to an area with a formal table with appetizers and a full bar. There is a man playing guitar, the chef, a bartender and the manager of the facility, Alex. I started to look to see if any other cars were coming and there were none. This whole event was just for us. This Sundowner was amazing.

They built a big fire and Ilise and the kids started dancing to the guitar players music. We all enjoyed the food, the music and the people. I had a wonderful conversation with Alex about his country and how their culture effects their work ethic. We also enjoyed the beautiful sunset and got lots of pictures. The entire evening was excellent and when we returned to camp we had a quick dessert and everyone headed to bed early except for my brother and I.

Kenny and I had a really nice conversation and met a few more people around the restaurant and bar. I ended up meeting a Kenyan entrepreneur who owns a steel distribution company. It was a very interesting conversation as he has been in business for 25 years and is stuck at 60 employees. He is very passionate about his business but it is set up as a lifestyle business and takes care of the people that have been with him for a long time. I am sure that I will get an email from Shamik and we will see where that goes. He was at the camp site with a friend from Boston who is working on open education initiatives and we had a very good discussion about the Kahn Academy and other open education platforms. He was very passionate about his work and I believe he might be able to help another non-profit I am working with called Teach-a-Class. We will see where this all leads.

As for our day tomorrow, we are up early for another day in the park and we are heading straight for the river to sit and wait for the wildebeest to cross. We will see what happens today, but either way it has already been an amazing stay. Beyond seeing all the animals the staff at Siana Springs has been so kind and generous it has been a pleasure to stay here.

‘Til next time ……

August 12 – A Day for a Kill

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We left the campsite at 6 AM this morning to head to the Mara to see what we could early this morning. We told David, our driver, that we wanted to see rhino and a kill if we could. When we entered the park we came across a small family of hyenas. Everyone says that hyenas are nasty animals, but they actually looked kind of cute, like little puppies. There were 4 of them that were playing around with each other. Once we left the hyenas we headed deeper into the park.

We started to pass herd after herd of zebra and wildebeest. The scene yesterday was just repeated, except this time we saw a few herd that were huddled much more tightly together covering the hillside in a sheet of darkness. There were wildebeest and zebras for as far as the eye could see. We continued our travels and decided to stop for breakfast. Across a large field we started to see a few vans lining up to look at something. David took out his binoculars and spotted two cats that he thought were cheetahs. We finished our breakfast and David said that the cheetahs had just killed a wildebeest.

We missed the actual kill but we got there as the two animals were ferociously feeding on this large animal. We stayed there for 30 minutes watching the cats eat. We moved the car a few times to get better angles and took some amazing pictures of the cheetahs eating. They popped their heads up full of red on their faces. They kept popping up looking to see if there were any other animals waiting to steal their kill. We decided to leave the kill and continue through the park and David promised we would come back to see what happens when the cheetahs were done.

We headed off and spotted two female lions. We took a few pictures, but nothing like we got yesterday. Most of the family was kind of “ho hum” since we had gotten such great shots of the lions yesterday, we wanted to see more of the kill. So, about 45 minutes later we headed back to the area where the cheetahs were and they were just starting to walk off. Within 2 minutes the vultures starting to circle and land on the mostly eaten carcass of the wildebeest. The cats were amazing as they dug in, but the vultures were just brutal.

We must have seen 50 plus vultures and a handful of Mongoose Stork fly in to devour the carcass. If we return to see the animal tomorrow I am certain that it will be eaten down to the bone by the birds and the hyenas. Watching nature happen right in front of your eyes is pretty incredible. We all enjoyed watching it happen.

We headed back to camp for a quiet afternoon in our tent and we are heading out for a Sundowner with the family at 6 PM. This is where they bring some drinks and some snacks and we drive to a high point to watch the sun go down and whatever animals are around. We should be back to camp by 7:30 or 8 for a nice dinner. The food at Siana Springs has been quite enjoyable, even the kids have found some things to eat. All in all this trip has exceeded my expectations and has had a profound effect on our family. I am looking forward to going home but the trip has been truly amazing. We still have two more days of game drives and a hot air balloon ride on Tuesday morning. That should be pretty cool!

‘Til next time ……

August 11 – OMG!

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We left on our first game drive from Siana Springs around 8 AM assuming we would see some animals. We didn’t prepare ourselves for what we saw! We drove for about 30 minutes to get into Masai Mara National Park and then we saw some buffalo and a few giraffes grazing in a field. As we began to get into the guts of the park we saw wildebeest and zebra for as far as the eye could see. By the end of the day we assumed that we had seen tens of thousands of these animals. It was like an ocean of animals stretching for as far as the eye could see.

Not only did we see wildebeest and zebras (there are supposedly 1.4 million wildebeest and 500,000 zebras making the crossing this year) we saw so many other animals. We saw two sets of lions, male and female. The first set had just killed a wildebeest that was sitting in a field half eaten. The guts of the wildebeest were leaking out of the carcass that was very fresh. The second set of lions was scared from their resting place and I was able to get close to 100 pictures of the male lion on a 10 minute stroll. That was amazing!

We also saw cheetahs twice, the second time it was a mother with 4 baby cubs. We saw elephants and ostrich and so much more. But the thrill of the day was catching a small heard of wildebeest crossing the Mara River around 3 PM. Most people in the camp said you very rarely get to see an actually crossing, and we got it on our first day! Our driver, David, was extremely patient and he was very good at trying to go to a place that no one else was at where some animals might cross. You can’t imagine what it was like in the areas that were obvious for crossing. There were over 50 vans in this one area and the animals were scared away from crossing the river because of the people. That is sad.

The only down side to the day was the 10 hours we spent in the bush pig. All in all it was an amazing day. We are up this morning at 5:30 AM for a 6 AM exit from the camp. We should be back by lunch and then we will do a sundowner tonight. We scheduled a balloon ride for our last morning here, which should be amazing.

‘Til next time …….

August 10 – First Day in the Mara

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We arrived after a 33 minute flight to a small dirt runway. Waiting for us were two young men with a Land Rover. The first thing comment by one of the young men was he was expecting 4 people (we are 5) and that we were staying for 2 nights (we are panning to stay for 5 nights). This was not a very good sign. We all loaded into the truck and started driving to the campsite when the car died. Yes, the car just died and we tried to push it to jump the clutch and get it to start. That didn’t work.

Luckily the camp site was only a short walk from the airstrip so we took our carry bags and started walking toward the camp. We walked through the woods and a small area with lots of rocks to the entrance of our lodge. When we were in Amboseli there we 7 of us total, our group and Geeta and Kirthi. When entered Siana Springs it was like we entered a little city. There were lots of people mulling around and we weren’t sure what to expect. In the end the campsite houses close to 100 people each night and due to the wildebeest migration this is high season and the place is packed!

They are still working out the number of nights, but our flight out is not until next Wednesday so we are here for the duration. Someone else might have a small challenge with rooms for a few nights but I think we will be fine.

We are working with the balloon companies to schedule a balloon ride for the whole family tomorrow. That means a 4:15 wakeup call for a 6 AM ride. We have heard amazing things about the balloon ride and are looking forward to it. Our dinner last night was rather nice. A big buffet with lots of options for everyone. Even the kids had a good selection. For me, I was so full from lunch that I had some soup and a small plate of food and couldn’t even finish that. After dinner we saw a short presentation about the animals we were planning to see in the Maara and then Drew and I headed back for sleep.

All in all it was a very long day and I was really tired. Looking forward to a great day in the park today and seeing lots of animals, birds and everything else.

‘Til next time ……

August 10 – Carnivore Lunch

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So, we left the Porini Camp at 9 AM after a morning nature walk and some breakfast. We had a 4 hour drive in front of us before we got to our lunch at the world famous Carnivore restaurant. Our driver, Tony, was very familiar with the back roads and avoided all of the big bumps. When we were on decent roads he was flying! He completed the drive back to Nairobi about 45 minutes faster than going out to the camp.

Once we reached Nairobi we headed for lunch at the Carnivore. Now, I have been to numerous Churriscarria restaurants around the US and this was no different. We started with some soup and salad and then they brought the meat. There were skewers of lamb, beef, chicken, pork, turkey, ostrich and alligator. There was also ox balls, which I decided not to taste. My brother was the only one brave enough to eat the ox balls, not my cup of tea. We arrived at the restaurant at 1 PM and we were told that we needed to be at the airport around 2 PM for our 3 PM flights.

We finished the meal at about 1:55 and then ordered dessert. Everyone was starting to enjoy their dessert when I went outside to check with Tony on whether we had enough time to finish or should we be heading to the airport. Well, he said we had no more than 5 minutes before we had to leave. So, I returned to the table and told everyone to eat dessert quickly because we needed to leave. We got in the car at 2:10 and got to the airport at 2:20 hoping that we wouldn’t miss our flight.

To our great surprise our airline, AirKenya, was a single gate terminal at the airport with a few people hanging out front checking our bag. We were through security in less than 5 minutes and we are now waiting at the gate for our plane. The next leg of our trip should be the best of all, seeing the great migration of the wildebeest through the Masai Mara. We are taking a very small plane to Siana Springs and the airstrip is supposed to be just a few minutes from the camp. So, our drive this morning should be our last long drive of the trip.

All in all the long drives have given us a great perspective of the culture of both Uganda and Kenya. If we would have flown from one town to another we wouldn’t have gotten the same understanding of the lack of infrastructure in Uganda. It seemed like Nairobi was much more developed than Kampala and the country of Uganda seemed more antiquated. Over the next few weeks I am sure that I will start to digest everything that we have seen. It has been an amazing journey and I look forward to seeing our home again.

We have been gone from San Diego for close to 2 months. We haven’t seen our house, talked to any of our friends or been to the beach. I am looking forward to being home but glad we have this one last leg of our journey. We will return to San Diego from Nairobi next Thursday and that will be a long 26 hour journey through Cairo and NY. We will see how the kids survive that journey, but so far they have been great on just about all of our travels. To the last leg of the journey ….

‘Til next time ……