Leopard working for her dinner and family of elephants (Post #5)

  

Later in the morning, we returned to the sight of the hyena kill of the wildebeest and we found the leopard eying the wildebeest carcass.   We watched from a distance while she looked for other predators, then she went out to the kill and picked up the entire carcass with her strong jaws and dragged it back to the stream where she and her mom could have their dinner. Awesome sighting and credit to our guide Jono to know to return to this site.

Next, there was herd of elephants just being elephants … roaming around, grazing and a young bull with a little too much testosterone. And who doesn’t like video of a baby elephant in the wild!

I’ll end this blog entry with video and pictures. I love the leopard shots.

Cheetahs, birds, giraffe and hippos (oh, and some lion cubs too!) (Post #4)

After moving on from the hyena kill and aftermath, we came across a couple of cheetahs (brothers, who we had seen in February). They were doing the same thing they were doing 8 months ago … being lazy under a tree!  lol  I took some photos and videoed them hoping they would do something interesting … like look up … they didn’t! Anyone who wants a nice 4-minute video of two cheetahs asleep, let me know.

Off in the distance from the lazy cheetahs were a pod of elephants huddled under a shade tree.  Really interesting behavior. Giraffe are also numerous in the Mara and they are not really shy, they tend to stop what they are doing and stare at you when you are nearby.

Down by the river, a mama and baby hippo were wandering along the shore, the mama yawns when she comes across a crocodile, but she doesn’t seem to be too concerned. If hippos could ever be referred to as “cute”, then these would be cute hippos. By the way, hippos are herbivores but cause more human deaths than any other animal in Africa (other than the mosquito and other humans). Best not be in their path. And their yawn doesn’t mean they are tired, it is done when they feel threatened so best stay out of the way of a yawning hippo.

Later, we came across some kind of vulture, I think (I’m not really a bird fanatic, maybe Beth or Leslie can help). We waited for about 5-minutes for him to fly but he never did, so the only picture I have is of him standing. Good pic, though.  Shortly after that, we saw a Martial Eagle. This is the largest eagle in Africa. Females are up to 14 lbs and a wingspan of up to 8 feet. Eyesight is perfect and can launch an attack on a prey as far as 3 miles away. It preys on game birds, reptiles, and small mammals. We waited for him/her to fly and finally, it did! At 6 fps, I got some nice action shots but the flight path was away from us. Only after takeoff did we see that there will a lizard in the right claw! Outstanding!  What a treat to see the stills showing the lizard, and confirming I’d actually focused the shot!

We went to the bridge that crossed the Mara and view was impressive, I suggested later to Gerry at Wild Eye that he might want to add a “Mara River White Water Rafting” extension to his safari … he said he would give it some thought! lol

Finally, late in the day, we came across lion cubs and mom playing at sunset.  A great end to the day.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and video, and comments are welcome. It makes me think someone is actually looking at the blog!

P.S.  From day 2, I have left out the leopard coming back on the scene and well as the family of elephants (mama, baby and young bull), that will be in the next post.

Final score: Hyena 1 Wildebeest 0 (Post #3)

 

Day 2 - Final score, Hyena 1 Wildebeest 0 (viewer discretion advised)

We started off at 5:30am and shortly we came upon a small herd of wildebeest grazing with a (not quite adult) hyena on the hunt in the distance.  The wildebeest usually graze with zebras because the zebra is a bit smarter as to awareness of predators (big cats, hyena, etc.) But with no zebras on the lookout, this small herd was an easy target for the hyena. He got close enough to surprise them and the chase began. It was explained by our guide Jono that his strategy would be to separate one from the others and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

But after a minute or so, the hyena was pushed out of the scene by a bigger adult hyena. The young, injured wildebeest got back up and actually put up a show of “force” but it was not to be. Another takedown and that was the end. Some vultures joined the scene and the hyena moved the wildebeest a bit, and the vultures went to the previous kill location for some scraps. We watched for a while and then moved on.

An interesting observation of our group was who was vocally cheering for the hyena and who was rooting for the wildebeest!

Seeing this entire scene was very interesting and this was just the start of a great day of sightings. The leopard from yesterday makes an appearance again shortly!

I have video of the chase and takedowns and some pics of the hyena and wildebeest. If you would like to view them, here is the link:  send me

Link —> http://wanderingaroundasia.com/final-score-hyena-1-wildebeest-0-video-and-pictures-viewer-discretion-advised/
Password:   kill

I have added the password to the link to ensure that you are choosing to view the pictures and video. Viewer discretion advised, this is not a zoo.

On our first day game drives (Post #2)

The Mara Conservancy Triangle is a national park in Kenya about 40 minutes flight from Nairobi. After landing at a dirt airstrip about 10:30am, the 12 of us are met by 2 guides (Gerry and Jono, both South African) and 4 vehicles with drivers (2 Kenyan, 2 Masai). We head toward the Wild Eye camp (20 mins nonstop drive time) but we stop along the way when we see something interesting …. like cape buffalo, some hippo, hyena, a few lions sleeping or relaxing and some elephants grazing. We’ve been here less than 1 hour and we’ve already seen 3 of the “Big 5”. Jim is impressed to say the least.

We arrive at the camp around 1:00pm and get settled in, have lunch and head back out at 4:00pm for a 2.5 hour game drive. More elephant, lions and lots of other things, including a leopard – we’ve now knocked off 4 of the “Big 5 ” and we’ve been here 9 hours! Back to the camp about 6:45pm for showers, dinner, drinks and sleep with the (not so) distant sounds of hippos (more on that and the camp later). Let’s see if tomorrow brings us a river crossing or a “kill”. The pictures and video below tell the story of our first day in the Mara.

Any questions, requests for more “coverage” of anything, let me know in the comments.

Arrived Africa! (Post #1)

I’m in Africa!

Note: I haven’t decided the form that this blog will take, I originally thought that I would do a day-by-day live recap but that is not going to happen. I don’t have enough free time in the day to edit all the photos, post them online here and write a description of the day. So not sure what each entry will contain but let’s start off with a quick intro to how I went from Chicago to sleeping in the bush in 48 hours time!

We arrived after a long journey … Chicago to London landing at 11:45am and a quick visit to the arrivals lounge at Heathrow for a showers and lunch. I am traveling with Jim G. and he is an experienced air traveler but not long-haul international flights. He’s enamored by the showers in the lounges in airports. We get the tube (subway) to Putney and have a few drinks and great Kashmir dinner with my friend Sue. Next morning, a bus and tube back to Heathrow airport, breakfast (and another shower!) in the lounge and a flight to Nairobi, Kenya landing at 10:00pm.

Next morning, we meet up with the rest of the group of 12 going on the migration safari with Wild Eye. I’ve used Wild Eye before so I know the drill. Single engine prop plane to a dirt airstrip in the Masai Mara Park and a short game drive to the camp where we will stay for 6 days (more about that later). We have lunch and do another game drive. Dinner, drinks and bed.

You really want some pictures and video, right ….OK … here are a few from London and the first day here in Africa.

 

 

Africa, here we come …. Migration!

On Sunday night, I’ll start the long trip from Chicago to Masai Mara, Kenya for a trip hosted by Gerry and the guys at Wild Eye.  My friend Jim and I going to witness the Great Migration, where the thousands of wildebeest need to cross the Mara river, with its hazards (crocodiles, jagged rocks, lions and hyenas welcoming them on the other shore, etc.). It’s not all about the kill, though. We’ll see the elephants, giraffe and lots more.  It’s supposed to be the the trip of a lifetime and I hope it lives up to half the hype. Jim is super excited about the trip, especially the elephants!

To break up the journey, we have 23 hours stopover in London, where we plan to visit a pub (or 3) and have a Kashmir curry dinner with my good friend Sue!  Really looking forward to seeing her.  Our flight departs Chicago Sunday at 7:30pm, giving us plenty of time to take in the Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field! Tailgating at 8:30am, Bears vs Steelers game at Noon, flight to London at 7:30pm. Can you imagine a more perfect start to what I hope will be a great trip?!?

If you would like to stay updated on the trip,  please add your email address in the bottom right of this post, where it says Subscribe to Blog via Email. I plan to post pics some pics and video each day.

Here is a 3 minute preview of what we will see … the good stuff starts about the 2-minute mark!

Beaching it in Cambodia …

We left the town of Sihanoukville for the Otres 1 beach. Found a hotel called SeaBreeze, across from the beach. Absolutely great poolside room. including a cooked to order breakfast and a brand new, beautiful swimming pool (but the water temp was like bathwater).  Only a few rooms occupied out of the 25 or so they had. This room would be $300/night in Miami, $200/night in Mexico but this is Cambodia, so it was $40/night (and was likely the highest priced place on this beach). We planned to stay for 2 days then fly to Bangkok, but instead we stayed for 4 days. These days were spend relaxing, eating, sleeping and sailing.  There was a hobie cat operation down the beach.

Here are some picture and video from the 4 days on Otres 1 beach.

After 4 days, we decided to move to Otres Village (about 5 minutes ride away) for 2 nights.  This is a mile inland and wasn’t even developed when we were here the first time (5 years ago) and was only just getting developed a year ago.  It is a mixture of locals, hippies, backpackers who ran out of money and various other randoms.  We stayed at Sok Sabai Resort, a great room with a rally nice pool and almost no one staying there (sound familiar?).  We kayaked the river, went back to the beach for a bit more sailing with a new friend (Greg from Madison, WI) that we met on the plane, had a good burger at Woody’s and participated in quiz night  there without having to answer stupid questions about our new President.  It was a nice 2 days.

Here are some pictures for the 2 days in Otres Village.

More in the next post about the journey to Thailand.

Travels to Vietnam and Cambodia (the first few days of the trip)

Our Spring trip this year is:

April 19-21 – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam
April 22-26 – Cambodia
April 27-May 2 – Thailand

We did Vietnam at the beginning because the ticket from Chicago to Vietnam, then back from Bangkok to Chicago, was less than $500 round-trip (far less actually). Saigon is fun so we gladly spent some of the airfare savings on 60 cent beers.

April 19, I fly into Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), a few hours from Clar Philippines, via Singapore, and Dawn flies from Chicago to Ho Chi Minh (21 hours).  As planned, we land within 20 minutes of each other, at 9:00pm, and we clear customs and get taxi to the hotel. Nice place ($22/night) but room is on the 3rd floor. Drop our bags and off to Buen Vien Street for a few beers (75 cents for a big bottle of Saigon beer) and people watching.

Wake up and head to Independance Palace late morning, we get an alternate view of the history of the Vietnam war. I guess it’s their right, they won the war.  We ate lunch at Pho 2000, the noodle shop where Bill Clinton ate on his lame duck tour of SE Asia.  Delicious. Have a nap then off for a drink and then dinner at Golden Saigon. Awesome. Back to Buen Vien St for people watching and some “go live” Facebook video.

Here are some pictures from Vietnam


Friday morning, we wake up at 5:00am and go to Saigon airport for the 45-minute flight to Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  Our flight was originally 3:00pm, but they changed it to 7:55am, which seemed kinda wierd, but we found out why. They cancelled the Thursday afternoon flight because of light loads, so they combined the Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon flights to a Friday morning flight.  While waiting for our flight, we noticed a French couple in their mid-20s in a fairly animated conversation (animated for the French, at least).  The girl approached me and said they only had US$25 cash, no Euros and an ATM card.  As the entry visa to Cambodia is $30 per person, they were in trouble.  There is no ATM in Saigon airport after immigration and we are flying to a small airport in Cambodia (Sihanoukville) with 3 flights per week.  She sheepishly asked me if I could give them US dollars for the visa and they would give me money from the ATM at the airport once they clear customs.

Ordinarily, my scam meter would be going off like crazy and I’d pretend not to speak English 🙂 but after sizing them up and thinking through the process, I’m doubtful they are scamming me.  Before the plan lands, I give them $60 and they say they will pay me upon arrival to Sihanoukville.  They were SO appreciative. Upon landing, everyone gets their entry visa and we head to the ATM and it is broken. Not surprising. So they follow me to town in a taxi, withdraw the money and meet me at the hotel lobby and pay me.

My faith in the goodness of humanity (and the French) is restored, we head out on a rented motorbike for lunch at the beach, and to scout out a hotel there.  We only have our place in town for 2 nights, and we find a great place at Otres 1 beach and we make a reservation for day after tomorrow.  We scout out a hobie cat sailing operation and we ride back into town after lunch at Bamboo Shack. Dinner and drinks ont he beach that night (pizza) and early to bed.

Next day, we take a speedboat to Koh Rong Salaem and spend the day there. Ate lunch while watching a recording on my phone  of the Blackhawks being swept by, of all teams, the Nashville Preditors. I guess we offically suck now. 🙁 Speedboat back and good dinner at a place called Mango, and drinks at what used to be Led Zepher.

Here are some pictures from the island, Koh Rong Salaem.

Third day, we check out of the hotel and take a  tuk-tuk to our new home on Otres 1 Beach … the next few days are spent swimming, sleeping, hobie cat sailing, eating and exploring the beach area and hippie town called Otres Village.  More on that in the next post ….

 

Crucifixion re-enactment in the Philippines (viewer discretion advised)

Today, here in the Philippines, I went to the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Barangay Lourdes Northwest, Pampanga, Philippines. Here is what I saw. If you consider any of this not appropriate for you, then no need to go any further.  I’ll just tell you what I saw, with words and pictures … the unedited photos tell the story.  The whole thing was very bizarre to me.

The event is held from about 2:00pm-3:15pm.  Thousands attend. It is very crowded and very hot! Normally, I avoid crowds in the Philippines, due to pickpockets.  But I wanted to go so I went with empty pockets! The event is held in an open field next to a road. The road is blocked off and the events of Good Friday in Christianity are played out (i.e. the stations of the cross).  In addition, at least a dozen people were bloodying their own backs with a bamboo rod with steel wire attached. There is no fake blood here, it’s all real.  The person acting as Jesus Christ carries the cross, falls three times, is helped by the person playing Simon.  All the time, the People playing Romans are ridiculing him.  When Jesus Christ and the two others reach the hill, they are beaten by the Romans, tied to the crosses and then the crosses are raised.  Then, nails are driven through their hands.  They are up there for about 15 minutes, until He cries out the Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words). At this point, death is simulated.  Water is sprayed for about 2 minutes from a water cannon, the Romans are on their knees.  The two prisoners crosses are lowered, and Jesus is then eventually lowered as well. The nails are removed from their hands. At this point, all participants are taken to the hospital for treatment of their bloody wounds.

This country never disappoints as far as interesting things to see. Bizarre!

Photos (and Video) follow, the photos are best viewer by clicking on one then scrolling through them Excuse the fence in the foreground of some photos, I could not get any closer.

PHOTOS

 

VIDEOS (warning – some are graphic!)

 

Kevin and Dawn Smith Charitable Foundation fundraising campaign for Suma, Uganda school nearing it’s end – 70% of goal has been raised.

        

After my trip to Uganda (full diary here, read from the bottom), Dawn and I decided to do something more substantial to help make lives better for the people of Suma Village, Uganda, Africa, by matching donations for the building of classrooms and sanitary facilities in the school, which is in desperate need.  For every dollar donated by others (up to $4,000) by March 31, Dawn and I will match it!!   The $8,000 will fund the project completely (this is a fraction of what this would cost to build in the west, so your money is well spent.)  The work will be done by the villagers but money is needed for the materials!

A huge thank you to Andrew Chaplin, Margo Jackisch, Paul Willamson, Chris & Sue Korsgard, Tony and Sandy Urbik, Joanne Callaghan & The Van Loon Family, Tedd Mallasch, Adrian Boulding, Maria, Jamie Galeher, Team Clark, Cory Korsgard, Woody & Melch, Don Smith, Bill & Judy Mulcahy, Lori and Henry, Nick Vlahos, Reggie, Keith and Lauren Smith, Marilyn Skok, Jill Fahlgren, The Petersens and one anonymous donor who have already made generous donations!

As of this moment, we have raised 70% of the funds necessary. Even small amounts by many people can quickly add up and we can meet our goal.  If you dig into your pockets, we’ll dig into ours!!

One of the people who donated sent me this note: “Thanks for spearheading this. We take so much for granted having food and whatever else we want every day.  These people lack those basic needs and it just doesn’t seem right.”

For details on the project and how money will be used, click here —> Soma school project

To donate with a credit card, click here —> https://www.justgiving.com

For donations of $500 or more, please contact me before donating (so that I can arrange for a 501(c)(3) receipt for your taxes.)

Bonus video

Hi all, here are a few videos that I shot that didn’t get posted.  Some cheetah, wildebeest and some impala.  The very first clip is a 9-minute video summary that I threw together in a couple of hours on the last day.

posted.

Tuskers (part 2)

The African elephant is a sight to see up close. Tall, giant heads, immense bodies and big feet! They are almost majestic as they walk. I could watch them all day. Mike said “it must be great to be an elephant!” Here are a few pictures taken by Dawn, and 2 video clips that I think are a good conclusion to the photo and video entries of the trip diary. The first video shows the elephants almost performing for us (with encouragement from Gerry!) and the second video shows the tremendous size of this bull.


In a few days, I’ll sum up my thoughts on the Wild Eye safari.

Tuskers (part 1)

Now that I am home in Chicago, when I think back to my 10 days in Africa, one of the memories that sticks most in my mind is not a cheetah hunting and killing an oribi, or lions kissing when meeting, or a hyena devouring a gazelle.  It is when the 5 of us (Kennedy, Grant, Steve, Dawn and I) sat for awhile and watched elephants in Amboseli. Grant and Ken seem to have a knack for getting us just in the right spot for elephants. and we were treated to a private show that including “dusting” (spraying dust all over themselves to help remove parasites.)  Then they walked 10 feet in front of us, not paying any attention to us.  A nice way to spend 30 minutes. Here are some pictures (taken by D) and video (shot by me). The video is 2 mins long, so I know it is a bit long for the attention span of a social media view, but I already cut it up from the 9 minutes I took. I tried to remove that shaking camera and any blur.

More and more Big Cats

Coming to the end of the trip reports.  I know cats sleep a lot, as I have a “big cat” at home who spends 15-18 hours per day sleeping. His cousins in Africa are no different.  Many times, we would run across lions that are sleeping and we’d wait for them to wake up. They usually would wake up, stand, stretch and then lay back down and fall asleep. In the Masai Mara, we saw lions most days.  Here are some pictures Dawn and I took of two of those encounters.  The male lion certainly is photogenic. The 2nd to last photo is a lion named Scar.  His name comes from the fact that he has a huge scar on the right side of his face, from a fight with another male lion. Scar walked about 3 miles to meet up with these other lions … the last photo is his kissing greeting with another male lion.

There is a video too, it is 1 min 45 sec long and it is a typical (uneventful) scene with lion and wildebeest I shot in Amboselli (I think). The lion is too small to really do any harm and the wildebeest (and one zebra) move closer as the young lion walks away. They probably spot the adult lions in the distance.  The best description of the wildebeest is this quote from an article I read (accuracy confirmed with our guide Mike) … “For all their stamina, the wildebeest are the most stupid animals of them all.  They have a memory of about one minute. I have seen them escape from a lion hiding behind a bush and then, one minute later, walk back past the same bush and get attacked again.”

Tomorrow, I’ll post about some more cheetah and also a leopard we ran across, and after that, finally, I will finish off with an extravaganza of pictures and video of elephants.

Rhino

Most days, we saw rhino. One day, it was the black rhino but most days, it was the white rhino. The major difference is the shape of their mouths. Black rhinos have a pointed lip while white rhinos have a flat, wide lip. Today, black rhinos remain critically endangered because of rising demand for rhino horn, which has driven poaching to record levels. The horn is trafficked to Asia where it is sold for insane amounts of money. Here are some photos we took, and a 1 minute video. Notice all the birds on the back of the single rhino. Cool, huh? The 2nd photo (with the mountain in the background) is black rhino.

More Big Cats

Back to one of the first days in the Mara Masai, we went for a drive late afternoon and came across a couple of female lions just lounging around. One moved around a bit, drinking water, sitting around then she went to sleep right in front of us. We have tons of pictures of her close-up … a few are below. As she slept, she rolled over on her back, then rolled to the other side and fell off the small hill she was on. My cat does that at home (see picture of my cat, Sanook, below. Notice the resemblance? Same general color but a little more fur.)

Later, we ran across one of the females with all of her cubs, on a late afternoon walk. Again, right in front of us. Pics are below. This was a nice 45-minutes spent watching all of them.

Down by the River

Moving onto some of the “water loving” animals we saw. We saw the hippopotamus almost every day, although seeing him out of water was a rarity (they are usually in the water during the day and walk on land at night). They actually do not swim. Aside from the mosquito, hippos are the most dangerous animal (as in human deaths caused) in Africa. When a hippo yawns, is is a warning sign. Below are some pictures that Dawn and I took. Notice the crocodiles near the hippos.

The Cape Buffalo is one of the “Big 5” and are huge and plentiful. Dirty too. When they are in the water, there is usually a bird on their back. Below are some pics Dawn took of them, plus some video I shot.

Big Cats

One of the areas of focus of this trip by Wild Eye was “cats”, as the trip was called “Big Cats and Tuskers”. So I should get on with the cats, right? This area of Kenya has lions, leopards and cheetah, and we saw all of them.  The most plentiful was the lion, and we saw them many times, sometimes from a hundred yards away and sometimes from a few feet away. Every sighting of them was unique. Most of the time, they were sleeping but not always.  My cat, Sanook, sleeps 18 hours per day so I see it must be just what cats do.  Dawn LOVED every cat sighting.

Here is one of our early sightings in the trip. It was on the first morning, at 6:45am. While the other safari groups have breakfast in the lodge at 6:30am then head out at 7:30am when everyone has showered and look beautiful in their safari clothes, Wild Eye (our group) has a quick coffee and bread at 6:00am, and heads out at 6:10am, just before the sunrise. The cost is needing to wake up in the dark, but the rewards are that you have many more animal sightings. The best time is 6:00am – 8:00am.

This is a pride of male and female lions and their cubs, just hanging out. The last picture is a male lion named SCA .. or maybe SCAR, the South African accent of the guides in the group made me unsure. 🙂  We saw him again later in the trip, so I’ll write more about him later.

This was our first full day using the camera generously loaned to us by Sam Van Loon … and thanks so much to Grant from Wild Eye for taking the time, on the very first day, to show us how to use the camera and get the best photos. I’ll never use auto-focus again.

The Spotted Hyena

We have seen a few packs of hyena on the trip. Certainly not as majestic as a giraffe or an elephant, but an interesting animal. Dawn likes them. They usually hunt in packs, but not always. They are not incredibly fast but they can run for a very long time and when their prey, usually a gazelle, is exhausted from running away, they catch them and the result is not pretty.

We ran across one this morning and he is in the first two pictures. I think we woke him up. Sorry.
The other pictures are of others we saw earlier in the week.  Very early in the trip, we saw one that had just run down a gazelle. The video and pictures of him devouring the gazelle are below. Don’t watch if you do not to see a graphic scene.

I promise, my next post will be something cute and cuddly. 🙂