Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

African Safari Part #4 - Reminiscing

Green Mamba

One day we went to the reptile house in Nairobi. We were shocked at the number of deadly snakes in Africa. The top five are: (1) Green Mamba, (2) Boomslang, (3) Cobra, (4) Black Mamba, and (5) Puff Adder. We had been walking around in near dark at all these camp sites with very little knowledge about these snakes!!

Karen Blixen's Out of Africa house

We returned to Nairobi for some sightseeing after our camping safari. One day we visited Karen Blixen's house. Karen Blixen (real name Isak Dinesen) was a Danish writer who came to Kenya in 1914 and wrote Out of Africa (not available for streaming on Netflix) which became an academy award winning film. The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated in a further four categories. This is a great film to get a feel for Kenya during the colonial period. Blixen also wrote Babette's Feast which won an academy award for Best Foreign Language Film.

One of the best books about early Kenya is Beryl Markham's West With the Night. Beryl was born and raised in Kenya. She became a bush pilot and was the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. Her story was told in a 1988 film, Beryl Markham: A Shadow of the Sun (unfortunately not available on Netflix but available as an audio book on There is a film, Nowhere in Africa, which takes place in Africa and is available on Netflix.

The Lunatic Express

Our group boarding for the trip to Mombasa

Our group boarded the famous Lunatic Express train for the overnight trip to Mombasa. This railroad was built  around the turn of the 20th Century. 

"Due to the shaky-looking wooden trestle bridges, enormous chasms, prohibitive cost, hostile tribes, men infected by the hundreds by diseases, and man-eating lions pulling railway workers out of carriages at night, the name "Lunatic Express" certainly seemed to fit. Winston Churchill, who regarded it 'a brilliant conception', said of the project: 'The British art of 'muddling through' is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything—through the forests, through the ravines, through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway.'" 


Mombasa is an ancient port city. It has been influenced by Muslim culture for many years. The majority of residents are Muslim.

I was surprised to see the open sale of Khat. The chewing of Khat leaves has a long history as a social custom dating back thousands of years."Khat contains a monoamine alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence (less than tobacco or alcohol), although WHO does not consider khat to be seriously addictive. The plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations such as the DEA.  It is a controlled substance in some countries, such as the United States, Canada and Germany, while its production, sale, and consumption are legal in other nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen."


We travelled up the coast 120 kilometers to the beach resort of Malindi. The coastal area of Kenya is predominately Muslim. The main native group is this area is the Swahili  people. 

Swahili man and child

Next stop Lamu Island. It's about a six hour drive to Lamu Island because there is no coastal road going north so we travelled on a small plane which only took about 20 minutes. The plane landed on nearby Manda Island which has a small short landing strip. We took a small boat across to Lamu. Lamu is an ancient slave trading port. It is Kenya's oldest inhabited town. The island has no roads or cars. All transportation is by walking or riding a donkey.

Lamu Island has been discovered by the jet set in recent years. Most visitors spend time in Shela where there are lots of cottages and a beach.
Lamu town

Petley's Hotel

We stayed at Petley's Hotel on the water front. It was the only place in town to get an alcoholic drink. No bars in Lamu town. I also remember that you could eat lobster three meals a day because the local people (primarily Muslim) don't eat lobster and the waters around Lamu (it's an estuary) were full of lobster.

Shela Town and Beach



In the village of Matondoni, they make the traditional dhow boats by hand. In the picture above, the builder is drilling a hole using a bow drill. No electricity folks. 

Egyptian Bow Drill

Thursday, December 26, 2013

African Safari Part #3 - Reminiscing

Flamingoes Lake Nakuru

We camped one night at Lake Nakuru National Park. Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes at an elevation of 1754 m above sea level. It lies to the south of Nakuru, in the rift valley of Kenya. This lake is famous for the presence of flamingoes. At any one time there can be anywhere from thousands to millions of flamingoes.

There were a number of others groups camped under the trees near the lake. In the middle of the night, we all heard a horrible screaming. It sounded like someone had been attacked. It turned out that a monkey swinging through the trees had fallen and landed on top of a small pup tent and both the woman occupant and the monkey had both screamed. No one was hurt.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wasn't including photos of animals because this has been done 100s of time and we all know what lions, elephants,  cheetahs, etc, look like. I was amazed at the variety of birds in Kenya. There are over 400 species of birds at Lake Nakuru. There were some serious birders in our group.

Lilac-breasted Roller

Grues Couronnées

Black Headed Gonolek

Malachite Kingfisher

Secretary bird

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Traditional Christmas Foods of Mexico

Ponche Navideño is a hot punch made from fresh and dried fruits and a stick of cinnamon, with the option of adding booze for the grownups. The fruit can include tejocotes, guava, and tamarind. Tejocotes are fruit from a species of hawthorne tree and they resemble crabapples and smell like jasmine flowers once cooked.

Buñuelos are made from a yeasted dough with a hint of anise that is deep-fried, then drenched in a syrup of brown sugar, cinnamon, and guava. Buñuelos are commonly served in Mexico and other Latin American countries with powdered sugar, a cinnamon and sugar topping, or hot sugar cane syrup (piloncillo) and are sold in fairs, carnivals, and Christmas events such as Las Posadas.

Tamales Dulces

Most people are familiar with savory tamales. Tamales dulces are sweet and can be filled with raisins and other dried fruit.

Rosca de reyes

It is traditionally eaten on January 6, during the celebration of the "Día de Reyes" (literally "Kings' Day"), which commemorates the arrival of the three Magi or Wise Men. In most of Spain, Spanish America, and sometimes, Hispanic communities in the United States, this is the day when children traditionally get presents, which are attributed to the Three Wise Men (and not Santa Claus or Father Christmas). In Mexico before children go to bed, they leave their shoes outside filled with hay or dried grass for the animals the Wise Men ride, along with a note.
The tradition of placing a trinket (figurine of the Christ Child) in the cake is very old. The baby Jesus, when hidden in the bread, represents the flight of Jesus, fleeing from King Herod's evil plan to kill all babies that could be the prophesied messiah. Whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed and must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2, Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria). In the Mexican culture, this person also has to throw a party and provide tamales and atole to the guests.

Chiles en nogada

Chiles en nogada are not actually a traditional Christmas dish. They usually appear around September for the Independence celebration but continue to be served through the Christmas holidays. It consists of poblano chiles filled with picadillo (a mixture usually containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits and spices) topped with a walnut-based cream sauce, called nogada, and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag: green for the chili, white for the nut sauce and red for the pomegranate. This is one delicious dish.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

African Safari Part #2 - Reminiscing

A Typical Camp site

These are our tents

This is our typical campsite. We basically had the same layout at each animal park. We had three Kenyan gentlemen who did the cooking and other chores. All the cooking was done on a large campfire. We had a porta potty arrangement as a toilet. Fortunately we were able to visit a fancy resort each day where we were able to take showers and often swim in their pool.
We went out twice a day in mini-vans to view the wild animals. I haven't included animals photos because we all know what these animals look like.

We were able to meet and photograph different native people (with their permission). 

Samburu woman

Group of Samburu people

Masai warriors

Group of Masai women

Masai woman

Several of our group ready for the hot air ballon

Picnic after the ballon ride

Shaving by the light of a lantern 

(to be continued)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

African Safari Part #1 - Reminiscing

Windsor Castle - December 1981

What could this photo possibly have to do with an African safari? My route to Kenya was LA, London, Cairo, Nairobi. I had planned to stopover in the UK to visit a friend in Windsor. The day I arrived they announced that it was the coldest day of the 20th century! I remember tramping through the snow from Heathrow Airport and catching the bus to Windsor. Mean temperature 1.6 Celsius.


We finally arrived in Nairobi, got settled in the hotel, and met the safari organizers. The schedule was basically two weeks camping in Amboseli National Park, Masai Mara, and Samburu National Reserve. After the safari, there was an option to go to the east coast of Kenya to visit Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu Island.  We had a few days in Nairobi prior to the beginning of the safari. 

Our first visit was to the Nairobi National Museum. As we entered the building, we were approached by our docent. She walked right up to us and announced, "Welcome I'll be your guide for today, I'm Mary Leakey." We were flabbergasted. Mary and her husband Richard were the famous paleoanthropologists who spent years in Olduvai Gorge looking for and discovering fossils of early man. They were also famous for discovering the Laetoli footprints which showed that early ancestors of man had walked upright.

The Leakeys

Our first camping spot was in Amboseli National Park. Our accommodations were two man tents equipped with cots for sleeping. The guides told us to provide plenty of room between  the tents (which we were erecting) to allow the elephants to walk between the tents without knocking them down. What a start!! Imagine waking up to this scene in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, 5,895 meters. 
Amboseli National Park

(to be continued)

11 Life Lessons from Albert Einstein


11 Life Lessons from Albert Einstein

Stepcase Lifehack - Albert Einstein offered us more than just the amazing theory of relativity and E=mc2. Through his persistence in his discoveries in science, Einstein shined a light on how each of us can do the impossible by hard work, experiencing failure, and valuing people. Even 

Check here for the whole story.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Fountain Pen Collection

 I have about twenty-five fountain pens in my collection. They cover a whole range of different types of pens from various manufacturers and countries. Most of these pens are currently commercially available.

I do have two or three interesting vintage pens.  This first one is a Montblanc Noblesse with gold plating and a 14 ct. gold nib. This pen dates from 1970's.

The second vintage pen is a Montblanc VIP #1124. This pen dates from 1970's. It is rather rare. This is the only Montblanc pen in existence that was NOT made by Montblanc. It was actually made by the Italian pen company Aurora.

In this photo of Montblanc pens, the gold Noblesse is on the far right and the VIP is third from the right.

The third vintage pen in my collection is an Aurora Hastil. This pen was designed by the famous Italian designer Marco Zanuso and is in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NY.