Safari, So Good . . .

(A slightly abridged version of my 1990 journal.)

Photo from the Internet.

By Tim Gielow

Posted here 5-26-08. Transcribed: May 2008. Photo above from the Internet.

Map showing Nairobi.
(Map found on the Internet.)

At the Norfolk Hotel in Narobi.
I'm standing outside the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi! Photo by Dad from his video of the trip.

Rain storm in the distance.
We missed this storm behind us, but ran into one or two others. Photo from Dad's video.

We saw a bunch of elephants. This was a big one. Photo from Dad's video.

This is Treetops. We stayed here overnight and could look down from the roof at animals that gathered around a small lake. Photo from Dad's video.

Cape buffalo at Treetops.
As the sun set, this herd of cape buffalo wandered toward Treetops for water and salt licks that had been placed out for them. Photo from Dad's video.

What a wild and crazy guy this lizard is. Photo from Dad's video.

Dancers at Samburu.
Dancers at the Samburu Lodge entertained us. Photo from Dad's video.

Dancer at Samburu.
One of the dancers. Photo from Dad's video.

Dancer at Samburu.
Another one of the dancers. Photo from Dad's video.

I think this is a cheetah walking through the bush. Photo from Dad's video.

A monitor lizzard at Samburu.
The monitor lizard is a scary animal with its long tongue and awkward walk. Photo from Dad's video.

Crocodile at Samburu.
This croc was only about ten feet or so from where we watched him. Photo from Dad's video.

We finally get to see lion. Photo from Dad's video.

At the Equator.
We stopped at this sign right on the Equator. Photo from Dad's video.

Newspaper the day Mandela was released.
When we were at the Equator, we saw that Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison. Photo from Dad's video.

At the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
The Mt. Kenya Safari Club is right at the Equator. Photo from Dad's video.

At the Nt. Kenya Safari Club.
The Mt. Kenya Safari Club is one fancy place, especially when you consider it's in the middle of nowhere. Photo from Dad's video.

I never knew there were so many flamingos. Photo from Dad's video.

Lunch in the bush.
This lunch in the bush was quite elaborate. Photo from Dad's video.

We got quite close to some lions. This one was maybe ten feet from our vehicle. Photo from Dad's video.

The king of the beasts! Photo from Dad's video.

Bob Auchincloss was a balloon guy, so he rode on one of these, Photo from Dad's video.

We watched these hippos for quite a while. They're amazing! Photo from Dad's video.

A couple of giraffes near the end of our trip. Photo from Dad's video.

At the Mara Serena Lodge.
Our last night at the Mara Serena Lodge. Our guide, Frederick, has his arm on my shoulder. At left (foreground) is Margot. Center is Betty. Photo from Dad's video.

I bid farewell to Africa.
I bid farewell to Africa. Photo from Dad's video.

Sunday, February 4, 1990

Went to sleep at 2:00, with 4 Buds, 2 congo bars, and some champagne in my belly and woke up, pre-alarm at 8:45. Figure out that one, will you?

The pomp and grandeur of the Meltzer (Editor's Note: One of my roommates, at the time - Judy) surprise bash has long since faded. It is a good thing I left the party early to see Sue Allen (a friend from college, who I have not seen in a while). The B.U. twins were getting loaded, Michelle (my other roommate) -- 4 drinks down herself, and 1 ˝ usually does the trick -- was telling everyone what she looked for in a man, and Bob's great date Kate was itching to exit. I see Sue for the first time in months, open up the bubbly, and she becomes nauseous (a recurrent theme, throughout this journal) and falls asleep. All I could do was stay for the sports report and then Hyundai home (it is nice to have a car brand name that is also a verb).

Amazingly, I was able to rise and shine, with minimal effort. Michelle greets me with the news that she is nauseous also, and that lanes to the bathroom must be kept open at all costs.

So, amidst this epidemic of queasiness, I proceeded to pack. One good thing about poverty is that I really don't have enough clothes, in my possession, to overpack. Two weeks is a long time to be away (probably my longest vacation stint in five years). Still, I managed to fill only a medium size American Tourister (belonging to Michelle) and my trusty Jansport backpack.

I even had time to sit back and watch an episode of "The Love Boat" (Danno, from "Hawaii Five-O" was a concert pianist, who eventually fell in love with Donna Pescow and helped her decide to go through with the operation.)

A melted havarti on white, a PB&J, 2 chewable vitamin C's and 2 Ibuprofen tabs, and I am ready to roll.

About a year ago, I vowed that I would NEVER again ride in a car, with Michelle at the wheel. This morning, I was at her mercy. I suggested that I drive her car to Alewife (the closest subway station), and she could drive it back, but she nixed the idea. She said that she should drive, so "she can get a feel for how bad the roads are." Her logic was impeccable, as always, and I didn't want to create an awkward moment with a hungover roommate, so I reluctantly agreed.

There was already about six inches of snow on the ground, and, as soon as we were strapped in her replacement cruiser, she turned to me with those puppy eyes and said, "How do you drive in snow, anyway?" I considered taking up religion, at that point but decided it was too impractical. We never got above 15 M.P.H., but that gal got me there alive.

The damn ticket lady at the TWA counter was not impressed, in the least that, I was going to Nairobi. For all she cared, I was checking my bags through to Newark.

Oh, great. It is now Tuesday night. I'm drop dead tired, and I have to start safari-ing at 6:45 AM tomorrow. In this journal, I haven't even left Logan! I hate that. I always fall behind. I'm going to forget all the little nuggets of info, all the outstanding anecdotes, observations, insights and useless filler that makes this whole effort so damn worthwhile.

Oh well, must go to bed. Saturday, February 5, 1990

My, how time flies. It is now Saturday, the 10th! I'm six days in, in body, and 2 hours in on paper. Enough dilly dallying - here we go:

Maybe the ticket lady was unfazed, but I impressed the heck out of the carry-on bag checker. He inquired about my binoculars, and let out a hearty "Oh expletive!" when I told him where I was going. With that, I strolled confidently to the gate.

I can't believe it. I am actually on time for an international flight. Dad would be so proud.

As soon as I reached the gate, my status changed from "On Time" to "Delayed." I wandered, without purpose (You would think that I would actually try to read the rest of "Another Roadside Attraction." Gee, I have only been working on it for a year or two.) for a half hour and boarded strong. Just after we were de-iced (approximately 4:00 PM), the pilot came on and said that the airport had been closed and that a decision would be made as to how we were to proceed, at 5:30.

I coolly exited and made a toll free phone call to Holly Poovey's workplace. You see, I gots the only voucher that will let 3 other safari dogs into the hotel in Amsterdam. The recording told me that their offices were closed. Hmmm. There's nothing I can do for them, now.

I hung around for an hour and a half, and then the balding gatekeeper said "Load 'em up." I have never really flown in snow, before. It was most exciting.

Got into JFK around 7:00. After I finally figured out how to get out of the terminal, I hopped the shuttle to the KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines -- you figure it out) ticket counter.

JFK is so huge! So many people from all over the globe. Students headed to Ithaca, bumping into holy men headed to Sri Lanka. One giant rest stop for the human race. How the hell do you coordinate a place like this? Also, how big do you have to be to have your own airline? "Wala Wala Express," "Tonga Air" -- I have to question the relative safety standards of these lesser known carriers.

I have $10 to my name; literally! 10 bucks, and I am off to another continent. That seems to be a recurring theme in these journal entries. Aside from a Hyundai, a futon and a 5-10 year old wardrobe, that is all the wealth I have accumulated in 26 some odd years on this God forsaken planet! Oh well, might as well buy a hot dog. $3.10 for an "Airport Frank," and $1.50 for a shot of O.J. I haven't even left the country, and I just spent half my booty!

Popped a few quarters in the TV chair (a very "blue collar" thing to do). Caught 20 minutes of "The Simpsons", which made me very happy. That show is hilarious. You would think the show would be for kids, but it really has an adult sense of humor. It is that "childishly mature" (coined it, myself) perspective that I really appreciate.

Caught the remaining quarters worth of "Married…With Children" -- yawn -- and proceeded to the gate.

For an intercontinental flight, it's quite a low budget looking gate! It looks like quite a mixed bag of passengers. Heh, I can spot those tacky safari types from a mile away.

Had smoked salmon for the first time in my life. It tasted very raw and very fishy. Neither are qualities I look for in an appetizer.

Fell asleep during the movie, "Erik the Viking."

Monday, February 5th

Ya know, you're on the plane, and one day just drifts into the next.

Touched down in Amsterdam and found an incredibly relieved Dad. Don't you fret, dear reader, no one was left roomless by my delay.

Watched CNN, power napped and changed my underwear.

Time to go. Aah, time for the first sighting of the rare Auchincloss! Bob is quite an Uncle Jim clone and Megan (the highly touted and heavily anticipated Megan) is a Cheryl Eggleston doppelganger (Editor's Note: funny I should reference this woman, because I ended up marrying her a little over 8 years later.), with a boisterous, Joyce-like personality. Both are very friendly and very outgoing, which is all I was really hoping for.

We had a light snack at the hotel and heard many a military tale from Bob. He and dad were a regular couple of dueling passports. Dad scored high with his fold-out section and tactful Pepto stories, but Bob seems to have seen and done more.

Back on board the KLM cruiser. Drinks, towels, nuts, food, drinks, towels -- "Jeez, when is a poor traveler supposed to sleep?" And, dang it, I missed "Erik the Viking" again! Although the safari group panned it, I was hoping to see it.

No, wait a minute. That's not right. I did see the movie on that flight. However, this time, it was "The Fabulous Baker Boys." I liked it better, the second time around. Boy, that Michelle Pfeiffer can really A.) heat up the Tourist Class, B.) writhe sensually on a piano, C.) sing and D.) stir my seatbelted loins.

The couple from Toronto, sitting next to me, was very nice. You know, they really do say "Eh?" after their sentences! They're going on a three week, professional, photographic safari. The closer you get to your destination, on these exciting trips, the harder it is to impress anyone. Everyone around you becomes so damn worldly!

Megan fired the first salvo, when she playfully disconnected my headphones on her way to the bathroom.

6 ˝ hours to Amsterdam. 8 to Nairobi.

Tuesday, February 6th

Ya know, it's warm here. Customs was a breeze. I seriously have had more difficult times crossing into Canada. Now, China -- there is an intimidating border cross.

Our key guide guy, Ben (known for his Oscar-winning performance in "To Sir, With Love") had his helpers spot our telltale KLR tags and rounded us up.

I am liking the Swahili accent.

We hopped the KLR van to the Norfolk Hotel - a veritable scenic oasis in the dark, dank city.

Oh, we need to be briefed! Ben and Eunice collected the $20 (American cash only, please) "Processing Fee" (Were we warned, in advance, about this? I don't know.) and the session began.

Cast of Characters:

Van #1
+ Tim - Belmont, MA
+ Fred - Cary, NC
+ Bob Auchincloss - Poughkeepsie, NY
+ Megan Auchincloss (Bob's daughter) - San Diego, CA
+ Betty Hauser - NYC - IBM - "a pistol"
+ Margot Albrecht - NYC - ? - "a Margot"
+ Frederick, the driver - a great guy - reminds me of a more facially haired (Elvis-like sideburns, to be exact) version of Sigourney Weaver's guide in "Gorillas in the Mist."
Van #2
+ The Patten clan (not to be confused with the celebrity Van Patten clan, even though they are in a van):
+ Sr. (greeted us at the restaurant in Amsterdam) - I thought, at first, that he was a spy, but now I just think he is a loving dad.
+ Mrs.
+ Jr. (looks like he belongs on the PGA Tour)
+ Mrs. Jr. - from Annapolis, MD, and
+ Mr. - blue collar incarnate - reminds me of my Uncle Ray LaDuke, in his butt-kicking prime
Van #3
+ A loveable, cute as a cucaracha, Spanish couple, if there ever was one
+ Elmer - Chi Chi Rodriguez - a veteran bargainer, allegedly wealthy; his buzz haircut puts Whitey Herzog's to shame (in form, not color)
+ Jean - a wonderful white-haired gal, with enough spunk for two women
+ Ray - Oh my god, what can you say about this guy? He has been called eccentric, "the Absent-Minded Professor, nutty, you name it. He lost his sunglasses and a $50 hearing aid, before he hit Nairobi. Rumor has it that he misplaced his wife somewhere in Amsterdam. He is absolutely hilarious (and, from me, that's a rave). You gotta respect a guy who speaks French to Swahili natives and likes trying exotic fruits. A former drama professor from NYC - This entertaining fellow now hails from Lexington, Kentucky.
Some of Ben's initial insights, that he shared with us: "Don't make war." "If you don't like my face, we can always call the Flying Doctor." And "You better enjoy yourself, because the money is already gone."

Room, check-in, pool scan, and it's off to lunch.

Jean joined us. It was a pleasure. She said the real reason she wanted to stay at the Norfolk is because Hemingway used to hang here.

Grilled cheese and ham, a generous portion of fries and a Coke, and we're on our way.

We had ample time to kill, so we signed up for the safari tour.

It was at this juncture that I got my first taste of what this whole trip is all about. I did not yet have a good grasp on understanding exactly what kind of animals we were seeing, but it was most exciting nevertheless.

Cruising around this vast expanse, scanning the scant patches of vegetation for signs of wild and exotic game. We spotted a couple of giraffes, scores of antelope (little did I know that I would soon become acquainted with all the wild and wacky subspecies of this fun-loving mammal group), and 2 ostriches (what a retarded looking beast). I was filled with much anxiety, when we were nose to nose with the Denorex commercial -- horned Cape Buffalo! Seriously, I was scared. Those steely eyes, those racing nostrils, the tremendous bulk -- camera schmamera, get me out of here!

A taste, a mere appetizer of entrees to come. Finger food preceding a gluttonous feast for the eyes! The palate is teased, but not satisfied. Oh no.

We stopped off at an "orphanage" on the way back to the hotel. Although it was called an orphanage, it was more of a home for sick and wayward creatures. The paltry amount of animals that were there were all crippled and/or generally woozy. This poor monkey didn't know his ass from a banana. He just sat there, sluggishly sucking on a long-since sucked orange rind. It was kind of like a scene from a B-movie simian mental institution flick.

I did get a shot of some free floating zebras. Even though it was in a closed park, it will look like it was taken in the wild. Ha! (You know; I probably could have bought a telephoto lens, gone to the San Diego Zoo, got the same photos and saved Dad a couple grand.)

Speaking of telephotos, my camera really irks me. It's great, because I never have to adjust anything before I shoot, but it's a pain, because anything more than 15 feet away gets lost in the background. And "red eye?!" Hoo boy! I guess I really am in no position to complain. It was a Christmas gift. You shouldn't look a gift camera in the lens; that is all there is to it.

Back to the Norfolk for a VERY nice meal with Betty and Margot. They are the Nancy and Don Sperry of the safari world -- always contradicting each other.

I had my first taste of Tusker Beer. Its taste is almost as good as its name.

Dinner was excellent -- probably one of my all time top 25. It was made all the more special by some great conversation and the fact that it wasn't served in a plastic dish and partaken of on the back of some fidgety airline passenger's seat!

I relayed the tale Mr. Toronto told me about the Indian woman's baby and the x-ray machine. That one sure got a gasp.

I remember dessert being simply heavenly. Ah yes, that's what it was -- a chocolate mousse type thing, "scented" with Frangelico and served atop cake as moist as a towelette.

We exchanged good night pleasantries and hit our respective sacks. That's the way we do it down here. The days are long and exhausting, and the van leaves early in the morning, so you better get your tourist ass to bed good and early!

Wednesday, February 7th

Ah, the air is indeed filled with anticipation. Everyone is sporting their "authentic" safari gear. I haven't seen this much khaki, since that explosion at The Gap.

Buffet is the style of choice for most of the meals that we are going to have. One gets to pick and choose freely from massive, aesthetically pleasing spreads. Have to pay for drinks, though. It comes out to about 7-9 shillings for a Coke and 20 or 50 shillings per Tusker. (There is Tusker Export and Tusker Premium; the former comes in the squat, brown bottle. Premium has more of a full-bodied beer taste, and Export tends to go down smoother.)

Lest I digress. . . Hit the breakfast buffet, sampled some "paw paw" fruit, tried some funky breaded fish and discovered that orange juice doesn't look or taste like orange juice. All of those damn juices (mango, passion fruit -- oooh, pineapple, etc.)! All have that nauseating after taste. Correspondingly, I've been drinking the O.J. like it is going out of style.

Ben divvied us up to our respective vans. We met Frederick for the first time. Listen close to this guy, because his R's sound like L's and vice versa.

One sidenote: Do you know that I have stayed at 3 of the finest 100 hotels in the world: The Imperial, in Tokyo, The Greenbriar Inn, in West Virginia, and now the Norfolk, in Nairobi. I don't know if you can count this or not, but I have also walked through the lobbies of the Ritz Carlton and Park Plaza Hotel, in Boston.

Hit the road! Slowly, but surely, noxious fumes, noxious crowds of people and general urban chaos give way to the serenity of the Kenyan countryside.

Giraffes frolicked in the distance. Masai youngsters prodded cattle with sticks, to move them to nearby watering holes. All was peaceful in the world.

Our first leg stretch/fuel the local economy -- by a curio stop was at the world famous "Hunter's Lodge." Although it was quite subdued, I got my first taste of the Kenyan hard sell. We are encouraged to bargain with these fine young entrepreneurs, but I'm in no position to do so. By golly, they wouldn't even let us play "obstacle golf." I guess it was not the right season for it.

Some guy asked me if anyone in our group was from Wisconsin. He said that his education was being sponsored from someone from there. That's a great thing! He basically owes his future to some faceless samaritan cheesehead from the other side of the world. I wonder if these people ever get to meet, and if they do, what kind of scene develops. How do you say thank you for something like that?

Back on the highway and, I gotta admit, I am feeling a little woozy. It's kind of a headachy, queasy, wormy kind of feeling. It's malaria, I know it! Another too little cautious, too late tourist, ready to fall by the wayside. I'm vulture brunch.

We reached our first game reserve park lodge -- "Kilaguni" (say it phonetically). AKA "Tsavo West."

The Kilaguni buffet was very fly-infested, but the view from the veranda was impressive. There are: water bucks, maribou storks, baboons, warthogs (soon to become my favorite attractions, not, I repeat NOT contingent on whether or not their aerials are up), and an occasional band of skittish zebras, living in harmony down by the old water hole.

I hardly even touched my cold cut (God knows of what) platter. Ya know, no one ever uses the phrase "hardly even touched," unless it is in relation to a meal. It is such a stock phrase for that particular occasion. I guess struggling spouses could employ the phrase, in a pinch, but that is not as prevalent.

I took a prostrate nap, and it didn't make me feel better one iota (a Dad term).

Still, the safari must go on, and I valiantly rose to participate in the afternoon talk (our first official embarkment).

My degree of wellness shifted greatly throughout the bump-filled journey, but it didn't really floor me until later.

What did we see? Well, it was the darnedest thing. We saw zebras (common ones - bouchers - the technical term) with striped infants, eland (very rare, beefy antelopes), giraffes, cape buffalo, helmeted guinea fowl and 99 44/100% submerged hippos at Mzima Springs (soon to be photographed by only 50% submerged Oriental divers). Editor's Note: It has been five years since my Japan trip journal, and I still haven't learned that I shouldn't use the term "Oriental," when I am referring to people.

Despite the excitement, I was visibly fatigued. Ben even noticed my less than exuberant state and questioned if I was going to make it. (Geez, I sit down on a rock for a minute, and instantly my manliness is questioned, in front of the whole group!)

My cerebellum started to pound on the way back from the lodge, and I soon realized that this was just the tip of the under the weather iceberg.

I skipped dinner and actually slept a little bit (while the omnipresent Canovision recharged, like some high tech mosquito, in my left ear).

My earlier anticipated comeback did not come about. Let the night from hell commence! Ten hours of headache/nausea. Ten! Dad went out to hush up partying neighbors, and it was only a little after midnight. Yes, I was violently ill. You know, there's nothing like throwing up. What a horrible thing. Your innards are ripped from you. You are forced to hover in close proximity to a less than sparkling toilet bowl (the LAST place anyone should ever have to put his or her face -- I must question the practice of housebreaking dogs, i.e., "putting their faces in it"). Putting one's face where one is supposed to take care of other business is a flagrant (and fragrant) indignity, a pure abomination. Screw the whales! Let's reconsider our canine values and treat man's best friend with more respect. I know I would never do that to someone I considered my best friend.

Anyway, I can safely say that it was one of the 3-5 worst nights of my life. I could not sleep. I could not even lie still. I can't remember being that dramatically uncomfortable for such a long period of time. If they had filmed me with time-lapse photography, and played me back at top speed, I would have looked like a load of (pasty) whites in the dryer. I rotated around like some clammy-skinned, close to tears, pig on a spit. Whoo, it was bad.

I prayed for the morning light, and it did not come for days, but I made it.

Editor's Note: Inexplicably, the journal ends on that light-hearted note. My deepest apologies to any reader who feels cheated by this abrupt conclusion. No refunds.

[It should also be noted that the cause of all my agony was determined to be spoiled fish! Which I had for breakfast!]

Itinerary in Kenya:
Tuesday, February 6th: At Nairobi. Overnight at the Norfolk Hotel.
Wednesday, February 7th: At Tsavo West. Overnight at the Kilaguni Lodge.
Thursday, February 8th: At Amboseli. Overnight at the Amboseli Lodge.
Friday, February 9th: At Aberdare Park. Overnight at Treetops.
Saturday, February 10th: At Samburu. Overnight at Samburu Lodge.
Sunday, February 11th: At Samburu. Overnight at Samburu Lodge.
Monday, February 12th: At Mt. Kenya. Overnight at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
Tuesday, February 13th: At Nakuru/Naivasha. Overnight at the Lake Hotel (no link found).
Wednesday, February 14th: At the Masai Mara. Overnight at the Mara Serena Lodge.
Thursday, February 15th: At the Masai Mara. Overnight at the Mara Serena Lodge.
Friday, February 16th: At Nairobi. Day room at the Norfolk Hotel.