Circle of Life.

Jambo!

With my African Tan.

It’s been some time since I’ve written, and I assure you, it’s not for lack of reflection, progress or inspiration.  I’m just tired.  I’ve been working 3 days a week in the office.  I’ve been Lithing my butt off.  I went to Africa.  I haven’t been napping.  I hung out with Lions.  I’ve been going up and down the stairs without holding on.  I’ve been doing some very strategic analysis of the US Economy for work.  I went to my brother’s wedding.

Oh, did you hear I went to Africa?

Yes, that’s right faithful Suzy blog followers– I’ve been to Africa, and back!  It’s taken me some time to get my thoughts together to share one of the most magical experiences of my life, and do it justice.

Most people have a bucket list.  When you go through a medical crisis, that bucket list becomes more important.  More valuable.  More motivating.  I have many things on my bucket list, which are now part of my New Year’s Resolutions.  Running. Lithing. Partying.  Getting to 10,000 hits on my Blog.  (I’m already halfway there!)  Going to Africa was not on the list. It wasn’t on the desk where my list is. It wasn’t in the house where my desk is.  It wasn’t in the zip code where my house is.  No yearning to travel to Africa.  Italy, yes. Ireland, for sure.  Australia, definitely. Africa, eh… I am singing a much different tune now.

In fact, when can I go BACK?

From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking, step into the sun.  There’s more to see than can ever be seen.  More to do than can ever be done.  More to find than can ever be found…


There will be several posts about my trip as there is too much to put into one entry.  I want each of you to experience Africa right along side with me.  So, expect at least 2 more African Adventure entries. But, first things first.  Why on earth did we decide to go to Africa instead of our Christmas Caribbean cruise?  Well, Blame Bobby.  He decided to finally marry the love of his life, Claire, and they wanted to do it on the mystical beaches of Watamu, Kenya.  Quickly, after learning of this, I started googling Watamu, getting more interested and excited about the prospect of exploring a new continent, country and culture.  So much to do.  Then, GBS struck, and my Africa excitement took a backseat to my recovery.

Day One- GBS Rehab

When I was first sent to Bryn Mawr Rehab after 9 days at Abington in the Neuro Wing, the therapists assess you on your first day to get to know you.

They asked, “What is your goal during your stay here?”

I replied, “Learn to Walk so I can process down the aisle at my brother’s wedding.  Oh, and the wedding’s in 6 months.  Oh, and the wedding is in Africa”.

First time Standing without holding on!

My PT was sure if she should take me seriously.  Remember, I was sitting in a wheelchair, with no ability to stand, move most of my arms, or take care of myself.  Let alone, walk down the sandy beaches of Watamu to witness my brother’s special moment.  Goal for Rehab Set.  6 months from my GBS diagnosis Bobby is marrying Claire, and I will be there.  All of me.  Walking.  Feeling.  Partying.

So, each day since August 11, I have labored with this goal in mind.  It’s been a driving force in my recovery.  Did I get to walk down the aisle?  You’ll soon find out.

I discussed the trip with my doctors, and they gave me sound advice.

“You can go, yet I’m not convinced it’s the best thing for you at this point in your recovery,” my neurologist warned.

“Too Bad.  I’m going, so what do I need to do to be safe?” I replied confidently.

His guidance?  Drink lots of water, as your biggest hurdle will be the heat and humidity. You will dehydrate faster, and your muscles will spasm if they are not hydrated.  And get lots of rest.  Easy Enough.  I was ready.

The Masai Mara

The Carneys had planned between 10-13 days abroad for the first time.  I was bouncing up and down with excitement as I couldn’t believe this! No, not that Bobby was Finally marrying Claire. Rather that I was going abroad, and more specifically to Africa, a place I never considered to visit. I made a list of my bazillion questions so that I could be best prepared.

Mufasa.

In light of my medical condition, I had to take precautions, and always be aware of my surroundings.  So, on top of excitement was massive anxiety of the uncertain. What if I relapsed in Kenya?  What if I couldn’t walk down that aisle?  What if I got eaten by a hungry lion because he sensed my fear?  Lots to think about.

The Safari Gang

Half of the Carneys (Suzy, Michael, Lindsay and David) and the Zorrs (Lucy and BZ), close family friends, decided to go on Safari before heading to the Coast.  Not knowing what to expect, we packed light, threw our cameras and binoculars in our backpacks, and made our way to the Masai Mara, part of the Kenyan Serengeti.

What we discovered when we stepped off the tiny 18 person plane in the middle of a dirt road in the Masai Mara, was that this truly was a whole new world. And we needed to be open-minded and embrace it.  And with the crew assembled to safari together, I wasn’t worried that we would all do just that.  Hakuna Matata!

The Truck- Our Touring & Getaway Car

We had to learn how to behave, because this was their home, and we were just visiting.  Stay quiet around the elephants since the can barely see, and may charge the car if we’re too noisy.  Don’t make sudden movements around lions as they will consider us a threat.

Our driver John, was with us all three days we were on safari.  We had 5 “drives” planned, which meant there were 5 times we would be out in the open air Land Rover, roaming the Game Drive for animals.  Yes.  When I say open air truck, literally any animal could climb into our truck at any time, as we had ZERO protection from them.

Smile for the Camera!

On our way to the lodge from the airport, we had so many animal sightings- giraffes, zebras, wart hogs, elephants– that we ended up adding a 6th drive to our stay.  We were giddy with excitement at the prospect of what we started to encounter.  It was magnificent.  Game On!

We spent two nights and three days in this beautiful, yet simple, lodge-Mara Simba.  Simba, we learned, is also the Swahili term for Lion, just like in Lion King. Who knew?  We ate three full meals a day, all from a huge spread of food consisting of fish, pasta, steak, chicken, salads and 10 different desserts a night to choose from.  Most food had a heavy Indian influence, so I was eating lots of curry each day.  It was like we were on the cruise, but we were surrounded by wild animals.

Our Room at Mara Simba

Our Lodge

Our lodge was bordered by an electric fence, so for those of you wondering how much we “roughed” it, we really didn’t.  We had rooms, running water, electricity (until midnight anyway), and protection from roaming animals.  We didn’t have phones in our rooms, or wireless connectivity, so you truly had to unplug while you were there.   Which was exactly the point. Unplug.  Unwind.  Unleash your mind to accept the beauty that is surrounding you.  I decided to Be Brave, and drop my assisted walking device while at the Mara.  It wasn’t easy, but I did it!

The Safari Gang at our Truck

The schedule on safari reminded me a lot of my schedule at Bryn Mawr Rehab. Wake up Early.  Get dressed.  Go out on a game drive/two hours of Therapy.  Lunch.  Nap.  Go out on an afternoon game drive/1-2 more hours of therapy.  Dinner.  Bed by 9pm.

The only thing different from BMR is that there were hippos sleeping in our backyard, snoring up a storm.  It was like a freight train driving by the lodge, or a normal night sleeping next to my parent’s bedroom.  I already knew this schedule like the back of my hand, and it gave me time to rest and nap, just like the doctor ordered.

Pride of Lions just waking.

We saw some remarkable events while out on Safari.  A pride of lions wake from a nap, perched in a bush.  A Cheetah kill for her babies.  The sunrise over the game drive from a hot air balloon.  A family of elephants playing in the mud.  A lazy hippo lying on his back, belly out, on the sand.  A newborn gazelle walk for the first time.  An elderly water buffalo being discarded from his herd for being too old.  A pride of lions reunite after being separated by danger across the drive.  Simply Remarkable.

During the quiet mornings, you become introspective and reflective.

Mama and Baby Elephant

I realized out on the drive that animals are very similar to humans.  They hunt.  They protect.  They discard.  They love.  As a human, I tried to relate to these animals.  How are they feeling when they rise to start a new day?  Each day, they are out here, waking up, hunting for food, raising their families, and protecting their young ones.  Many won’t survive each day.  Mothers lose their babies.  Husbands lose their wives.  But, they still get up the next day, and keep fighting the good fight.

As humans, we grow, we learn, we provide, we love and we die.  We all lose family members over the years, and it’s heartbreaking.  The animals lose family members, every day.  It’s The Circle of Life.

It’s the Circle of Life and it moves us all through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place on the path unwinding in the Circle of Life. 

Father and Son Giraffe

The Hyenas. Savage, and unattractive.

As safari goers, you would wake up before the sun, and are out on a drive watching the animals wake from a night of slumber or of hunting.  I wondered to myself, who made it trough the night?  Which Cub lost his mom?  Which Giraffe lost it’s baby.  Which warthog didn’t live to see another day?  Which Hyena.. wait.  Who cares. Hyenas are brutal.  Moving on.

We learned so much about the animals as we were all avid question askers… And John had all the answers.

Mufasa

Lions are in charge, like Mufasa from The Lion King.  Male lions have multiple wives, and multiple babies with those wives.  Think Sister Wives from TLC- only legal, in the Serengeti, and with a much better looking husband.

The females are fiercely protective of all of the cubs as the young are targets to other male competing lions. So many female lions will hide the cubs from danger in the “lion’s den”, with one female standing guard while the other females go hunting.  The father lion sleeps….  All.  Day.  Long.   Men Sleep.  Women Hunt.  Ladies, feel free to add your own commentary.  🙂

Calling out for her lost family.

However, with the females protecting their young, many times, prides of lions get separated and can’t find their way back to each other.  If you can imagine, your sister hiding your children from danger, and not knowing where they were and if they were safe?  Heartbreaking, yet necessary for survival.   Well, my lucky Safari Gang got to see a miracle.

A Kiss for Mama.

We saw a pride of lions reunite from across the game drive, obviously having not seen each other in some time.  They cried out, then cautiously made their way toward each other.  As they got close, they started jumping on each other, playing, hugging and kissing.  It was beautiful watching a family reunite after time apart.

Reunited and it feels so good!

Then, Father Lion arrived.

Kissed his wives. Hugged his kids.  Took his place at the front of the family, and in a straight line they carefully made their way to their next destination.   Emotional moment, and simply sensational.

This all happened right in front of our truck.  The lions were so close I could reach out and pet them.  Our driver turned the truck off so that we could watch the pride reunite.  He turned to us and said “Don’t move.  Don’t make a sound”.  So we all froze and watched in awe.  There must have been 15 lions gathered.

At one point, I heard some whimpering coming from the back seat. I turned expecting to see Lindsay or Lucy shaking.  Nope.  It was Michael.  He then whispered, “Eh, John.  Eh… could you keep the motor running. You know, just in case?”  Ah Michael. I expected so much more.

Cheetah in the Bush.

Cheetahs are bad ass.  They are just as fierce as the lions, but they are endangered.  So, they are more cautious than the lions.  It’s very rare to see a cheetah on a safari drive since they blend into the landscape, which serves as their protective armor.  So, you can imagine our surprise and excitement when we pulled up on not just one, but THREE cheetahs, resting in the bush.

As per the rules, we pulled up, and turned off the engine. By this time, Michael had mellowed, so there were no knees knocking in the back seat.

The three cheetahs were just waking up, and in search of their prey.  It was a momma and her two babies.  Momma was looking right at a family of antelope stalking her target.  Or so we thought.  We learned that the cheetah are very crafty– they like to trick their prey into thinking they are safe, so that they can attack swiftly and effortlessly.

Crafty Cats.

Same was true in our case. She was looking right, but took off left after a sweet little gazelle.  The little gazelle was just hanging out, jumping around and playing in the grass.  Minding her own business.  Next thing I knew, the cheetah were crouched, slithering through the grass, undetected.  The gazelle never stood a chance.  Especially when a cheetah can run 80 miles an hour.  WAY faster than my Nissan can do on the Schuylkill.  The cheetahs grabbed their lunch, and immediately devoured the poor gazelle.

Stalking their prey.

We all sat there,  stunned by this.  It seemed so savage.  So uncivilized.  So heartbreaking.

John turned to me and said “It’s the Circle of Life.  That’s a mother feeding her babies to keep them alive.”

Still unsettled, I got it.  “How often do safaris get to see a cheetah kill?”  Expecting it to be a regular occurrence.

“Rarely,” John answered.

I immediately felt proud that our little rookie safari gang saw something that we will always brag about.  (Video of the Cheetah kill is on my facebook page, in case you really wanted to see the action.)

Baby Gazelle learning to run.

We witnessed the first steps of a Baby Gazelle.  We drove up on a Baby Gazelle, limping behind her mother.  I asked what was wrong, and John told us “She was just born, and learning to walk”.  She won’t survive unless she can run (see Cheetah Kill), so her mother is teaching her, right from the womb, to run.  It was so unforgettable to see.

Imagine learning how to walk moments after birth because your very survival depended on it?  Wow.

Sunrise

Finally, We watched the Sun rise over the Serengeti.

We woke up on Day two for our Sunrise Balloon Safari.  There was a knock on our door, as was customary for our “wake up call”.  Remember, no phones.  David opened our door, to a very tall Kenyan wrapped up so tightly in scarves, hats and a coat, we immediately thought it was below freezing outside.  We both panicked because we didn’t pack for cold weather in Africa!  Crap. We’ll just have to deal with it.

We walked out of our room, and looked at each other.  Hmmm.  Walked to the lounge to meet John and the rest of the safari gang.  We looked around and laughed— Any one else get woken up by an Eskimo? It wasn’t freezing outside.  In fact, it was probably 55 degrees F.  Since it’s winter at home, this felt great.  But, I guess when it gets up to 90 degrees during the day there, 55 must feel frigid.  We grabbed coffee, piled in the truck, and we were off.

Sleepy Safari Gang

It was dark outside.  And I recall John telling us the day before that the park gets dangerous after dark as many animals are hunting.  And Lions, they have night vision.  Think Sean Miller hunting Harrison Ford at his house in Patriot Games.  Very dangerous.  So naturally, I’m anxious.

Firing Up!

Firing Up!

We pull up to the spot on the drive where they are setting up the balloons.  No fences.  No walls.  No guns.  No protection from anything.  Fearing that I am going to be eaten by a roaming, hungry lion, I begrudgingly get out of the truck and make my way, in the dark, behind my brothers to the balloon.  I feel much better once we’re inside, and then, we are up.

Breathtaking at Sunrise

Up in the Air.  Up over the Animals Waking up.  Up watching the Sun Rise over the mountains.

It was quiet and peaceful.  It gave us time to stop thinking and yapping, and just take in the spectacle below us.

Breakfast in the Bush.

The Giraffes walking in a straight line.  The pride of lions making their way down the road.  The sun peaking through the mountains as we began our ascent over the drive.  What seemed like minutes later (when in fact it was a full hour), we started to descend, right where we had just seen a large pride of lions walking.  My anxiety set back in as we prepared for landing.  Again, No fences, walls or protection.  Just us.

Safari Gang in the Bush

Once we got out of the balloon, a surprise was waiting for us- a Champagne Breakfast in the Bush.  The food was plentiful.  The bubbly was flowing.   The conversation giddy.  However, I couldn’t help but think I was being watched by a hungry lion.

Don't Look Now!

We said our goodbyes, and we were off in our truck for the rest of our drive.  Not 5 minutes had passed since we left breakfast and we saw a male lion roaming the area.  See, I wasn’t crazy.

Bye Masai Mara!!

It’s hard to believe how quickly our time at the Mara Simba Lodge in the Masai Mara went.  We packed up our bags, thanked our gracious Kenyan Hosts, and took one last drive with John.

On our way to the Keekorok Landing Strip, we said goodbye to the animals we all came to love, and turned our attention to our next adventure– Watamu.

Now, getting to the Coast is the next experience.  Stay Tuned!

Asante kwa kujiunga na mimi katika safari hii!  (Thank you for joining me on this journey!)

Suz

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sandy rynard on March 23, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    Wonderful, just wonderful! Thank you!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Judy Kelly on March 12, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    thank you for this beautifully presented account of your astonding beautiful trip. I feel as if I had been there.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Stuart Eastwood on March 11, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    Wonderfully expressed Suz. So glad you went to the Mara. I have a been hundreds of times over many years, yet it is still an adventure! Yes, you have to come back. There is more to see in this the enchanting country to which I am so drawn.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Noah on March 10, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    What a remarkable journey you took to get to this journey, truly inspiring to say the least. Marissa and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it!

    Reply

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