African Adventures

Following our exploration of Turkey we flew from Istanbul to Nairobi, Kenya then made a six hour Indiana Jones style drive out to Mara West Camp, overlooking the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The camp is a fantastic resort and if you have ever wanted a bit of adventure while still enjoying luxurious accommodations then this is the place for you. I had so many once in a lifetime experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life, not to mention the awesome wedding of Aaron and Natalie to top off the week. 

Our week started with the drive from Nairobi to camp, on which I got to see expansive landscapes, cliffs leading to flat lands filled with wildlife and the communities of people living off the land. The Maasai people are shepherds, roaming with their flocks of sheep and goats. They wear brightly colored, draped clothing and are incredibly brave in my eyes. At the camp there are no fences to keep the wildlife off the grounds, so when it is dark out we were instructed to only walk with a Maasai warrior to protect us. They carried flashlights to spot wildlife and spears in case we came across an unwanted animal. One night we came across a very large waterbuck, but I was informed we were lucky because it was a female, not a male. Still a bit frightening. I think our Maasai warrior even gave a little giggle when he noticed I was startled.

One morning I remember waking up to something running across our canvas tent roof. I am used to small animals like squirrels scurrying across my roof, but soon I realized that this was much larger. I opened my eyes and saw the shadow of a baboon running back and fourth, and then jumping down onto our front deck and even sitting in one of our deck chairs! The nerve. This was one of the first mornings and I was suddenly very aware that I don't know much about African wildlife... could baboon's open doors? Could they rip through the canvas walls? Were they dangerous? Turns out he was just having a bit of fun and after he had a nice moment with a view from our deck chair he ran off to his next adventure.

We were lucky enough be taken on a two day safari trip into the Mara and it was one of the most fantastic things I could imagine. There are so many different animals to see, all of whom are beautiful, majestic, and fascinating to see in their natural habitat. There are five 'special' animals to see while out on safari, known as 'the big five', and they may not be what you expect. These five include the expected, lion, elephant, rhino, and leopard, but the fifth might not be so obvious... the fifth is the water buffalo. These five animals were not picked because they are the rarest or the most beautiful, but were picked by hunters as the five that were the most difficult to kill. Now, the animals in the reserve are all off limits to hunters, but the big five remain as a bench mark for a great safari experience. I am happy to say that we were able to see all of the big five, even the leopard, which is the rarest of the five.

I could go on and on about how incredible our safari was, so I will try to keep this brief. We saw lions, three times! The first, they were lounging in a tree... yes, I guess lions climb trees. The second, they were hunting... one of the coolest things to watch as their plan developed, ending in their targeted warthogs evading their attack. Apparently lions only succeed in a small percentage of their attempts to kill. The third sighting was a pack consuming their fresh kill... absolutely amazing. We saw elephants big and small, small being my favorite. We saw gorgeously elegant giraffe, some of which seemed to be posing for me. Zebra and impala seemed to be everywhere we looked, and I was not complaining. Our driver, John, seemed to have eagle eyes to spot a leopard's fresh kill that had been carried up into a tree and left for later as hyena sat in the tree's shade hoping for some scraps. We visited a small river full of hippos and learned that they make little underwater paths for themselves to bounce across... did you know that hippos bounce up and down? We witnessed both a sunrise and a sunset over the Mara and I loved every minute of it!

As out of this world the safari was it was nearly equally as great to visit a nearby school that the camp helps to support. We were able to chat with some of the older kids while in class and then the entire school put on a very impressive show of original poem reciting and tribal dance. I will never forget those smiles and their beautifully unique singing voices.

Our time in Kenya was a great mix of talking over a bottle of coke while sitting on the porch of the main dinning room for camp and out exploring the Mara and the surrounding community. It was perfect! Kenya is gorgeous country and I would highly suggest that you take any opportunity you get to go explore it!

To end this post I wanted to share possibly one of my most memorable experiences of my life... it's the video at the bottom of the post and I don't want to give anything away, so just go check it out. I apologize that it isn't the best, but you will get the point :)

 

Exploring Istanbul, Turkey

This post is so very long overdue, but personal work gets the short end of the stick most of the time. So here we are and let me just apologize for this book I just wrote, but I couldn't stop myself. This trip was so great that I couldn't help but share it all!

One year ago Jason and I were on our way to New York, Istanbul, Kenya, and New York again. So, this is just the beginning of our travels, Istanbul. I cannot believe a year has gone by since we stepped off our 8 hour flight from NYC to Istanbul and got our first look at Turkey. Waiting in the airport trying to figure out exactly how we were going to find out travel partners, Dustin and Linsday, as they were coming in on a different flight. It is in those moments you really realize how dependent you are on your smart phone. Somehow we found each other and made our way to the taxi line. I don't think I can really explain in words how I felt in that taxi as we bobbed and weaved our way through Istanbul traffic all while trying to talk to our driver. Turkish is not like any other language I have heard or attempted to read. There is no crossover between English and Turkish.

We made it to our hotel, thankfully, unloaded our stuff and then set out to see what Istanbul had to offer... and to find something to eat. I remember thinking that the streets were very clean the people were friendly and all of the narrow, twisty, cobble stone streets made me happy. That night I learned that being a mostly vegetarian person in Turkey was not exactly the best. Let's just say I didn't eat that much as most everything seemed to be some sort of meat. I did however learn to love the Turkish tea and would have it with just about every meal. Plus, it comes in these adorable, little hourglass shaped glasses and everyone else seemed to be doing the same.

While we were in in Turkey we traveled from Istanbul to a locals weekend retreat area of Agva. It took us three and a half hours on a very crowded bus that made somewhere over 75 stops, but we made it and it was totally worth it. Agva is on the shores of the Black Sea and has two rivers that sandwich it making for some beautiful scenery. We stayed in a small hotel, more like a B&B, and the people were so sweet they took us on a boat ride up the river, brought us these beautifully decorated cake and teas while we were just sitting on the deck, and made us the most elaborate breakfast... seriously, the food just kept coming until there was no more space on the table.

We only spent one night in Agva and then made our way back to Istanbul to do more sight seeing. We visited the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. All were so amazing, so full of history. The Palace was so big, with grounds that felt more like a University campus, with it's tree lined paths and large open lawns, rather than some ancient palace. This in contrast with the intricate gold leafing and vivid tile work made for a place a will never forget. We then made our way over the Hagia Sophia, which has to be one of the most interesting buildings I have ever been in. Over the centuries it has gone through many changes, from Roman Catholic Cathedral to a Mosque, and now to a museum. The mix of historical and religious artwork is honestly fascinating.

Once we had gotten our fill of the vastness of the Hagia Sophia we made our way over to the Blue Mosque, one of the famous mosques in Istanbul and one of the places I was really looking forward to visiting. We made it to the steps of the mosque when we realized there was a service going on. As we peeked in through the open doors it was amazing to see hundreds of people all down on their hands and knees in prayer together. We came back once the service was over and waited in the line that wrapped it's way around the interior of the courtyard and prepared ourselves to enter the mosque. Women are required to have their heads, shoulders, and knees covered. As we stepped into the Blue Mosque I remember trying to weave my way through the swarms of other visitors to get a good view of the mosque's giant, low hanging chandelier. It was absolutely amazing, with rings of lights that looked like ripples of water as they branched out to fill the main area of the mosque. It was quite the site to see.

Our last stop of the day was the Basilica Cistern, which looks like an underground cathedral, but was used to hold water for the city. Now it is a tourist stop and feels more like a expansive underground pond, with large fish swimming underneath paths that wind their way through the dark columns and lead to a few irregular columns like the medusa columns. It seems like everything in Istanbul has such a vast history that it is hard to keep it all straight. All I can tell you for sure is, its beautiful, interesting, and so worth visiting!

On our last full day we decided to explore the islands off the coast off Istanbul call the Princes' Islands. Named because this is where princes and other royalty would be exiled, not exactly the greatest sounding spot, but now they are little tourist filled islands. We chose to explore Buyukada. We rented bikes and road our way all around the little island, stopping in the middle to sit and drink Coke while looking out at the shoreline and water. When we made it all the way around the island and took our bikes back to the shop we decided we deserved a treat and while the others got Turkish ice cream (different than American ice cream) I got a nutella, banana, strawberry waffle. I think I was the winner. We made our way back to the ferry and returned to Istanbul, found a rooftop restaurant, ate a little, drank some tea, and watched as our final night in Turkey came to a close.

The next morning we were feeling brave and chose to go visit the site of the protests that were going on in Istanbul at the time. The people were rising up against the government and what started with just a few people turned into thousands upon thousands standing up for their rights and freedoms. We all felt as though we were experiencing the 1960's in the USA. That morning could be an entire post of it's own, and maybe someday will be, but for now I say goodbye to Istanbul once again. I hope you enjoy these photos and they inspire you to get out and explore somewhere you have never been.