(Still trying to catch up with this blog! This post is mainly what happened last week and the week before that....)----
On Wednesday it was non-program day and we finally had a day with no schedule, well kinda. There was jewelry making that day which was so fun. Maasai mamas from the local village came to camp and helped us make bracelets like the ones they sell. It is such hard work, but really relaxing. We all sat on blankets in the yard and beaded for hours. That day we also went to the Kimana sanctuary were they have captive lions whose parents were killed by farmers. We got incredibly close to them! There was literally just a fence between us and the lions. We visited the sanctuary right before their feeding time, so we got to see them eat and it was such a sight! They were scratching up against the fence a lot of the time and were so close I could have put my hands on the fence and touch them, but of course I didn't. It was very tempting however.
On Thursday we packed for our week long expedition to Tsavo-West National Park and the Chyulu hills. We had an expedition introduction to explain what we would be doing and the dangers we have to be aware of. Apparently a few years ago tourists got dragged out of there tent by lions, but weren't hurt badly. Also, some SFS students have had encounters with lions at the campground, but we weren't told about what had happened. Last year a hyena walked past some girls going to the bathroom and they were in a complete panic. We were pretty much just told to be aware of the wildlife around the camp. That day we also ran into Kimana to get beads for jewelry making and I also paid around $7 to have a skirt made for me with my measurements. I got a little lost in Kimana with another girl, so we wandered around the town for a little bit, and I was extremely surprised at how safe I felt wandering around in Kenya. Everyone seems to know everyone and is so friendly here.
On friday we left for expedition early in the morning and drove for around two hours to get to Tsavo-West National Park where are campsite was. The ride to camp was beautiful and the Chyulu hills could be seen off in the distance, it was a wonderful sight. The Chyulu hills are spectacular. On the way to our camp we stopped at the Shatani lava flow and Mzima springs, which are big tourist attractions. We saw A LOT of French tourists there. Most of the tourists here in Kenya seem to be very unfriendly. Our camp ground was actually in a national park,Tsavo-West National Park, with no gates or fences around it. As we drove into our campsite we saw elephants right down the road and had some walk right next to our camp. It was so cool to camp in a national park with wildlife roaming freely. The first day we set up tents (which were not that big but somehow managed to fit five girls and all their backpacks), unpacked, and hung around camp. There was a shower, which was pretty nice, and the bathrooms were holes in the ground, which took a long time to get used to. Apparently hyenas and lions stroll through camp at night often. Because of all the wildlife, it is required to have KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) guards with us at all times. To go to the bathroom at night we had to get one of the guards to walk with us, incase wildlife was close by. The KWS guards carried huge guns around with them at all times and dressed like military men.
On day two of camping (Saturday), we had such a busy and wonderful day. In the morning we drove a long ways away to the Chyulu hills. The roads we drove through were the bumpiest roads EVER. I seriously mean EVER. It was crazy! We drove through such intense terrain and through magnificent rainforest like vegetation, with the Chyulu hills in the backdrop. The day had a stressful start though. So, midway through the drive we got out to go to the bathroom on the side of the road, like we often do since bathrooms are hard to come by. It is also hard to find trees or bushes to go behind, since there is mostly just dust and little shrubs on most roads. Anyways, so I went to the bathroom and had my camera in my pocket and then got back in the car. A few minutes later I couldn't find my camera in my pocket, so we stopped the car and I went back to look for my camera in the spot I peed, thinking it fell out there. It was kinda funny because me and a few of the staff members were frantically going around looking for the spot were I peed. It took awhile to find the spot, but we eventually did, after looking at many other pee spots haha. My camera wasn't there, so I was starting to freak out a little. But eventually, after 20 minutes or so of looking, someone found it in the trunk of the jeep, which probably should have been check first haha. That off tracked the morning a little, but the rest of the day was full of adventure.
We reached our destination eventually which was a small hill. We climbed the hill and had environmental policy class there. The hill was covered in gravel so it was extremely slippery climbing up and going down, but that was only the least of it. After that, we walked to one of the Chyulu hills and climbed it. It was the most strenuous outdoor activity I have ever done, ever. We climbed a series of three hills to get to the top. While climbing the huge hill (mountain) I thought we had made it to the top and was so relieved, when seconds later I was told we weren't even a third of the way done (!). I honestly didn't think I could make it to the top when I heard that. It was the biggest hill i've ever seen. Walking with us was a KWS guard to watch out for wildlife. It was so straining and I thought my lungs would explode from my asthma, but I made it to the top eventually. It was such a breathtaking sight. The surrounding mountains and hills looked like a mixture of Jurassic park and a Dr. Seuss book combined to make the most beautiful scenery. The hills had peaks, some were slanted, and some were caved in, it was so pretty. I was so so so so relieved to get to the top, but honestly I have no desire to climb another hill/mountain anytime soon. But I can now say that I have climbed a Chyulu hill. When climbing down I fell completely on my butt, two times. The grass was slippery and there was nothing to hang on to going down, so I was grasping at tall grass and slowly slipping down the hills. On the drive back to camp we stopped at a gas station and got ICE CREAM! Ice cream is not very common or popular in Kenya, so we were so excited to get some. That night we had a campfire and had a competition to see who could do the best teacher impersonations. It was one of the funniest things, I could not stop laughing. The teachers here all have very distinct phrases, accents, and mannerisms which makes them hilarious to impersonate.
On day three of camping (Sunday), we drove around and looked at vegetation. Afterwards we discussed practical solutions to conservation in the area and whether conservation can ever successfully be achieved. It's a very fascinating topic to think about, I feel like i've spend the majority of my time here trying to answer these conservation questions and not having the answers. That night we had another campfire and a very entertaining talent show. That was also the night I found a scorpion in my tent!!!!!! Scariest thing ever! It all started because a girl in my tent and I had noticed the zipper to our tent was slightly opened and we were warned about all the scorpions, snakes, and beetles around our camp ground, so on a whim we decided to check the entire tent to see if anything had crawled in. We lifted up our backpacks and sleeping bags, and when we lifted up one girls sleeping pad out ran a little scorpion that was almost a clear color. I screamed my lungs off, and the other girl and I were in the corner hysterical and both screaming for help! I was frantically trying to open the window of the tent and crawl out, but I was too panicked to unzip it. It was a pretty funny sight to look back on, but at the time my heart dropped and my lungs hurt from screaming. Eventually a boy walked by our tent and got a KWS guard to come over. The KWS guard came and got the scorpion onto the sleeping pad and lifted it out of the tent. He said that it was very dangerous and apparently it was the same type of scorpion that sent one of the staff members to the hospital and the bite was so painful it required a morphine drip. I could not believe the one night we decided to check for bugs that we found a scorpion in our tent. After the whole incident, we asked if anyone had heard us scream, and no one had! Our tent was practically right next to the campfire where everyone was, and no one heard us screaming, which was not comforting to know. That night it took me a looooong time to fall asleep. On the fourth day of camping (Monday) we went to a rhino sanctuary and had a wildlife ecology class there. While there, KWS guys talked to us about their efforts to conserve the black rhino, how they track them, and how they are working to get their populations up. After that, we had a game drive for hours and got kinda lost, but it was still really fun. We also got to see a leopard for the first time, which was pretty cool.
On the fifth day (Tuesday) we drove around in groups for a few hours and counted all the wildlife we saw, recording the species and habitat. We got fairly close to a group of hyenas, which are one of my favorite animals here in Kenya. They have the most distinctive walk, I just love watching them. We also saw A LOT of dik dik's, which are small antelopes that are the cutest! So far my favorite animals i've seen here are hyaenas, warthogs, elephants, and dik dik's. Warthogs are super cute, they have a prance in their walk and a bounce in their step. After the wildlife count we drove to a lodge and spent the day relaxing and eating. It was spectacular! Yet also really weird going from camping to a five star lodge. It was almost like culture shock, going from peeing in a hole, sleeping in a tent, and being covered head to toe in dirt to being in a lodge with actual toilets and extremely fancy decor and food. It was one of the nicest hotel/lodges I have ever seen. I can't even imagine how much it would cost to stay there a night. The lodge was placed by a watering hole in Tsavo-West National Park, so we could see wildlife coming for water while we were sitting down drinking our tea. There was a open ledge with a magnificent view of the Chyulu hills, wildlife, and the blue sky. We ate the buffet and it was some of the best food i've had here, mainly because I am extremely tired of the food at camp. I have to force myself to eat it some nights. It was so nice to have a different variety at the buffet, I ate SO MUCH. Also, cheese is not common here in Kenya and we rarely have foods with cheese, so at the buffet I practically ate a block of cheese! It was delicious. After lunch, I hung around the pool and than got a massage, which was desperately needed. I was so warn out from camping and my back hurt from sleeping on the ground (since my sleeping pad had gotten a hole in it on the first night of camping). After that we headed back to camp and spent our last night in Tsavo. Apparently hyenas were wandering close to our camp that night and some students could hear them from their tents.
On Wednesday we drove back to camp early and were thrown back into classes and homework. The next few days were spent swamped with HOMEWORK and STUDYING. Exams here count for 40% of our grades in Kenya, so I spent a lot of time studying. The atmosphere around camp was a little stressful and quiet, because of everyone in study mode. On friday it rained for the first time while we've been here. It was so exciting! It seriously was pouring rain for hours, a lot of us got on our raincoats and took some rain pictures. Some people played volleyball and frisbee in the rain. It was definitely a stress reliever. The next day it also poured for hours. Our camp is starting to bud little green sprouts after the heavy rain and the dust is not as bad around camp now. Sunday and Monday were exam days. Exams were fine, considering the material on the tests were very science based and included biology calculations way out of my realm of study. We got grades the day after exams and I'm very content with them. Oh also, backtracking, I was MOD (which I found out means Mwanafunzi (student) of the day) on Thursday. For my RAP I recruited six other girls and we choreographed a dance/fashion show. We got dressed up just like the Maasai mamas, wearing cloths and covered in jewelry. The girls all wore my jewry, which is an extensive collection. We practiced for days and finally had it down. It was hard to keep a straight face when dancing, because our choreography was so ridiculous, but it was so much fun to perform!