African Adventure: A Journey to My Heart

I knew leading a yoga retreat to Kenya would change me. I didn’t know how or why – but I knew.  It is still all so surreal – and I keep having to remind myself that I was there, that it DID happen.  Maybe a part of me is still there, maybe it always will be.

I also knew I needed a new journal for this adventure. I had to write down every detail I could, so I will never forget.  I searched and searched for the right place to write – then I found it:

outside-of-journal

The embossed heart made it just right – it felt like AFRICA.
I will use bits and pieces of my journal writing to share the story of my journey – but truthfully, I am still digesting, processing and therefore many of my current impressions are different than my ‘in the moment’ thoughts.

Every day in Kenya began at about 5am – every night ended with me rushing to jot down the jumble of thoughts and experiences I had during every full day – before I fell asleep at 10:30pm. I am a person who requires sleep. But I knew I had the rest of my life to sleep. I would ‘be like the animals’ – up before the sunrise and out long after sunset. That’s when the magic happens.

The first stop on our adventure wasn’t Africa at all! It was on a long layover in Dubai. We had 15 hours. (by ‘we’ I mean me and a few of my friends/students – Christine, Kat and Lesia) We figured we should sleep a bit – but how could we NOT see Dubai! And so we did.

I do think it was miraculous, since I didn’t have internet – that we all located each other in the airport. I won’t go into details, but honestly the Universe was guiding us.  As a group, with advice from airport personnel, we decided to ride the METRO to the Burj Khalifa. (I decided after that to call it – perhaps inappropriately – THE BURJ!)

burj-khalifa

The Burj is the tallest building in the world.  It was actually quite uneventful getting there – the metro led us right to the beautiful tourist spot.  Before we get to the visit – just an observation; Dubai has a lot of malls. Ridiculous malls. Yep, shopping malls. Kinda like the Mall of America malls.  I was unimpressed (sorry) by that. Yuck.  Felt like America only folks were dressed differently and spoke a different language. But, hey, you could get ANYTHING you wanted.

The Burj Khalifa is beautiful, fancy, TALL. We went to the lowest of the observation decks – the top decks cost about $100 USD and we were saving money for Kenya. The view at the top was lovely. It was light-filled and reminded me of Vegas. I said this to someone who was bothered by that comparison, but I meant it in the nicest way. I always love having a window seat flying in or out of Las Vegas at night. It’s really gorgeous. Dubai is not AS flashy but still reminiscent. It was a quick visit, but one I am so glad I did. I slept in a ‘cube’ at the airport and then we were off to our next spot….

We arrived in Nairobi in the late afternoon and were greeted by guides set up by The Travel Yogi and escorted through customs and to our van. We travelled through the city and to the outskirts to a lodge inside the Nairobi National Reserve. What’s incredible is the park – full of animals – is RIGHT NEAR the city.

giraffe-in-front-of-nairobi

I asked our guide if there are ever animals that ‘break out’ and bust into the city. The answer: YES. He said, on occasion, a Lion has to be tranquilized and moved back to the park. But that being said, it is pretty cool to see Giraffes, Rhinos, Zebras – all with Nairobi as a background. (I didn’t take this picture but I love how well it illustrates the animals and city)

We only stayed inside the park – at the Emakoko for one night. But it was joyous. Each of my 7 students on this adventure were giddy; laughing, connecting and drinking the country’s famous drink – the Dawa – which is kind of like a Moscow Mule but with a bit of honey and fresh chili pepper. YUM.

After an incredible bath in the room that first evening with a nighttime view of a ridge, monkeys in trees and the sound of buffalo in a nearby stream – I slept soundly and went out the next morning for a game drive on the way to the airport for our first itty bitty plane ride.
Christine and I were on the ‘second jeep’ out which allowed for a little more sleep and a private guide. We saw Rhinos – black and white. Turns out white Rhinos aren’t white at all. But this name comes from being called ‘wide’ Rhinos since their mouth is big, flat and well – wide. :) It’s the only place I saw Rhinos in the wild.

plane-to-sosian

We flew between locations in Kenya instead of driving for many hours on dusty roads (thank you The Travel Yogi!) but these were teeny planes. I have flown on a number of these commuter type planes, but this first flight was the only time I have actually gotten nauseous. Luckily that didn’t happen on the other flights. and well, the view was worth it.

view-from-plane

Is this real life? wow. Off we went to the second location – The Sosian. A beautiful lodge in the Laikipia Region of Kenya. Our hosts –  Simon, Rosy and also Daisy made this part of the trip unforgettable. Evenings of hysterical laughter and stories, incredible food and fun.  It was also the spot we met our guide – Paul – who would be with us the rest of the time.  More on Paul in a bit – but suffice to say, while we were together Paul received notification that he was voted best guide in Kenya out of nearly 6 thousand guides. He is INCREDIBLE! And a forever friend. I feel honored to have met him.

At Sosian, we had tea delivered to our rooms for wake up. But I always tried to wake up before the tea. That way I could sit on my porch and watch the sun rise and look for animals. It was a morning meditation like no other.

giraffe-at-sunrise

I had moments like this – which felt like just me and this giraffe. Deep breath.

On our first night out on safari in Laikapia – we experienced an event I will never forget. It started as a very slow game drive – nothing. Not even a sign of anything. At dusk, the other jeep (we had two) spotted a cheetah. They tried to get to it – but somehow the jeep (which actually was a Land Rover) I was in took off and got to the cheetah first. We were within what felt like 5 feet of the animal.

cheetah-close-up

He was so beautiful. I had said, from the beginning, I wanted to see a cheetah. It was raw though, as the cheetah ate the impala. The blood, the sounds, the pure wild nature. Somehow I wasn’t grossed out or turning away. I was captivated. So captivated that when one of the guides made a noise and the light moved. In the dark, now, we saw a large lioness poised right behind the cheetah. It all happened so fast. I am grateful I didn’t even think about the possibility of the lioness killing the cheetah. That was what the guides feared. But instead, the cheetah popped up, growled loudly and ran away. The lioness came VERY close to us, picked up the kill and ran away. I was stunned. my reaction was visceral. I was afraid of the lioness, no doubt, But it all happened so so so fast. The guides told us the lioness had baby cubs. We never saw them, but likely why she wasn’t interested in fighting.

lioness-behind-cheetah

Full disclosure – this sweet shot of her was taken by my friend Katie Devine (she had an awesome camera and eye!) – I couldn’t get the moment because I was afraid and it was dark. I have no skills! Bravo – Katie – all the best pictures came from you. :)

Also at Sosian – we went on a game walk!

simon-game-walk

I don’t know if it was comforting or frightening that Simon brought along a shotgun to protect us! We walked to a beautiful river where the crew laid out a bountiful breakfast.

breakfast-bush
and after breakfast we hiked to a waterfall where half our group jumped in for a swim.
waterfall
awe, I wish I did swim, but I wasn’t feeling it at the moment. Truth is, you never regret the things you did, only the things you didn’t do. Remember that.

We experienced ‘yoga in the bush’  – at this ‘platform’ students could see giraffes and elephants on the ridge in the distance.
yoga-platform-sosian

I knew this trip would bring me animal experiences, there was no doubt. But the truth is – the experience that changed me is our trip to a local village. The Samburu tribe is nomadic. While Simon did mention to a few of the men of the tribe we were coming by, the men were out with the live stock in the fields. When we arrived – it was unexpected. But the women were so very welcoming and loving.

samburu-mom

The Samburu tribe, we were told, only eat cow blood and cow milk. Mixed together.  Maybe this is TMI – but they slice the cow’s throat, take what they need, patch up the cow – and put the cow back into the herd.  The cow doesn’t die! It’s sustainable. I did ask the guides if they EVER eat anything else and I was told on special occasions like a wedding – they will eat goat meat. What about veggies? Again, on occasion – they may trade with another tribe. This though only happens once a month, at most.

The women invited us into their singing and dancing circle. I will admit, I was shy, and nervous and felt extremely awkward. I am SO happy I joined in though.

samburu-singing
Let me tell you; looking in another woman’s eyes, when you have nothing in common and cannot even speak to each other, but knowing you are connected – is profound. We are human, we are LOVE. I could cry talking about it now.
samburu-family
I was so happy this elder woman and her husband smiled for this photo. They were happy to be in a photo. They wanted to see the pictures immediately and asked if we could send the pictures to the folks at Sosian so they could bring them next time. The men in this tribe have many wives. This man wanted me to be his wife. I told him (through Simon) I was already married, he said he was too ;) (wink)

I don’t want to put my American eyes and views on this beautiful tribe. But it was an important experience for me.  Obviously we know, people live differently than we do here in America. But to see it, live it, experience is something so completely different.  They don’t have therapeutic pillows and down comforters to sleep (like me). The children are not sitting in front of computer games for hours (like mine). They are happy though. I asked. Truthfully you could feel it too. This is their life, their experience. and it is beautiful.

Also we visited a local school – a portion of our trip cost included a donation to the school.
The children were full of light, curiosity and downright giddiness!

school-classroom
They LOVED Selfies!
school-selfie
These kids were thrilled to be in school. Thrilled to have the opportunity so easily afforded to us. It truly was joyful to be a part of.
school-kids

So much happened in our time at Sosian –
We did partner yoga in the bush on a platform. During class we heard and saw Elephants, Hippos and truly the glory of GOD. It was pure and beautiful and magic.
partner-yoga-kenya

double-elephant
(another Katie Devine photo – swoon)

We celebrated life!
group-shot-kenya

Travel Changes you – It does. There is no denying it. I remember my first BIG international trip in 2000. I went to Italy. While it may sound ignorant and silly (I was) – I thought Julius Caesar was pretend. Then I saw the Forum. Boom. Life-changing.

This is only HALF the trip … part two – sleeping in a tent in the bush, coming soon.

TRAVEL, MY FRIENDS, TRAVEL, PLEASE.

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