Controversial legislation being touted by Kenya could see this African nation introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. Under current law, poaching attracts a life sentence in prison or a $200,000 fine. But animal activists says this is not enough. The Global Goddess travelled to Kenya with G Adventures in early April, to experience its amazing wildlife, including some of its 34,000 remaining elephants.
WE are bouncing on a lumpy, bumpy road, along a highway of cellulite and scars, past colourful, chaotic markets, travelling west to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Goats, sheep, shacks and shanties of corrugated iron punctuate the scenery, while babies as black as ink hang in slings over the hooked backs of their mothers. I am on an 8-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari which takes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, best known for its wildebeest migration; Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino; and Amboseli National Park, acclaimed for its elephants.
Shortly after Nairobi we straddle The Rift Valley – a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique – pausing in curious curio shops with jangles of bangles and throaty drums covered in goat skin. Big bottomed baboons cross the road which is framed by the cactus-looking Euphobia tree and Africa’s acclaimed Acacias.
Just after Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara, the blessed bitumen concedes to undying dust, sharp stone chips and cavernous pot holes.
In the Masai Mara National Reserve, they say you can hear the lions roar from five kilometres away. Outside our tents at Fig Tree Camp there’s a croc in the creek and a hungry, hungry hippo, or two.
A late afternoon safari yields gazelle, zebra, buffalo, warthog, baboons and impala. A willy willy, or “Kinbunga” in Swahili dances in the distance around the thirsty earth. We stumble upon a cool school of hippos frolicking in their dirty day spa along the Talek River, while the vultures circle like an aeronautical show and a lone lioness crouches under a bush. A pack of hyenas, suckling their young, display their soft maternal side, while a marabou stork, with the widest wing span of all of Africa’s birds, perches precariously in a tree. There’s even time to spot a leopard, with the same spring in its step as the jolly jumpy up-and-down Masai Mara people, before the flaming sun concedes to a purple marshmallow sunset.
“The Masai happen to be the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life,” G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and our guide George Njuguna Mwaura says.
“They originated from the lower delta of the Nile River around the 18th century. They are pastoralists of semi-nomadic nature.
“They believe all the animals belong to them. Anytime they go raiding they don’t feel guilty. The Masais do not eat game meat.
“The Masais were pushed aside with white settlement and National Parks. Now they live right next to the National Parks because the land originally belonged to them.
“There is a lot of fear that the animals have of the Masai people. They are known as fearsome warriors, even to the lion, the king of the jungle.”
A new dawn ushers in a cool aerial safari in a hot air balloon where in the distance, a roaring lion sounds like a beating African drum. From the air, green shoots of hope are already peeking through the scorched, blackened ground from a controlled burn off, in preparation for the annual migration of wildebeest. Back on the ground, a dazzle of zebra stand top-to-tail to watch each other’s backs while a memory of elephants emerges from a mud bath.
By the time the shocking pink sunset plummets to earth, it’s a day of the jackal.
Cheetahs, known as the “terrorists” of the park, farewell our visit to the Masai Mara as we head towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Colourful churches, spurious shops and pastel pubs adorned with optimistic names line the highway. There’s God’s Victory Pub, Romance Salon and Cosmetics, and the Deliverance Church.
At Lake Nakuru National Park, there’s a sassy secretary bird with its lanky legs, hooked red nose and quills on its head. But don’t be fooled by its amusing appearance of a county court clerk, it can kill even the most venomous snake.
A wake of vultures is feeding on a dead buffalo while a hyena howls in the background. The rare Rothschild giraffe, found only in this park, stands loud and proud in the early morning orange light. Out on the lake, a flock of flamingos, coloured Barbie doll pink from the blue-green algae on which they feast, has gathered to gossip, while further along, a rhino and her calf are grazing on the grass. We head back in the direction of Nairobi, which means “the city under the sun” and past the Kibera Slum, home to 1 million people and the biggest slum in Africa. It is incomprehensible.
But we are not done yet. Before we leave, we have a date with Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. Standing at 5985 metres, Kili is the highest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. “What makes this park really popular is that you are standing in front of the postcard…Kilimanjaro, the elephant, the Acacia tree,” George says.
“Different communities believe their Gods reside on the top of Kilimanjaro. When we are performing our traditional ceremonies, we pray. Even before the colonial people came, Africans believed in God such as the God of Rain.
“Even when we pray we have to face Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya.”
Out in Amboseli National Park there’s a troupe of yellow baboons, a zebra crossing, and a duo of vultures. There’s ostentatious ostriches teetering on their stilettos, spoonbill stalks and Egyptian geese.
Meanwhile Kili flitters and flirts, at times shrouded in cloud, a mystery to even the Masai who wander her valleys. And somewhere, out in the park, stands Tim, the 48-year-old elephant with the huge tusk, who was once collared by park rangers to track his behaviour.
But Tim had other plans and returned to the front gate, depositing the collar which he had somehow removed without breaking, and dropping it defiantly so it could be found. Tim has forged such a relationship with rangers that he will return to them each time he is injured, before cutting loose on the park to cause more havoc.
And in many ways, this emotional elephant captures the soul of Kenya. Playful, defiant, oozing spirit and soul. Mother Kenya bleeds red. Rusty soil, the crimson cloths of the Masai warriors, the blood of her wildlife kills and her blushing, beating heart. She is simultaneously giving and gritty. Water may be a precious commodity here, but hope, she springs eternal.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/
CONSERVATIONIST Derek Ball is clad in a shirt the colour of the deep blue ocean he so adores, but on this particular day he’s diving into the urban jungle of a Brisbane coffee shop, in which we meet.
A khaki backpack with an eco-friendly water bottle sits to his right, and to his left, the luggage he will take the following day to New Zealand, off on his next expedition.
Derek, 51, is the CEO of Wild Mob, an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to long-term conservation initiatives which empower local communities.
This biologist and zoologist, along with his team of fellow scientists, ecologists, educators and adventurers, takes paying volunteers on conservation expeditions to Australian and New Zealand destinations. It works on a principle of 4 C’s: Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce.
Graeme Wood, who founded the successful online travel company Wotif.com in 2000, and the Graeme Wood Foundation, which supports environmental sustainability, the arts and education, in 2006, conceived Wild Mob eight years ago.
Interestingly, the scientist in Derek was skeptical when first approached about the concept.
“I wasn’t quite sure it would work to be honest. But after three cups of coffee I thought ‘let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“We started out low key in our first few years. Now we are working with islands off of Queensland and in central Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and are looking to expand into Fiji and the South Pacific.”
I stumbled across Derek purely by chance a few weeks ago when I was on Norfolk Island, a place he describes as a “global biodiversity hotspot” and where he regularly takes groups.
It’s a long way from Outback Queensland’s mining town of Mount Isa where he was born, but it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when he was six which changed his world and saw him enamoured with the ocean and its marine inhabitants.
“That was it for me. Everyone has their place in the world and this is mine,” he says.
“It is pretty close to the best job in the world. I get to do stuff I love doing and make the world a better place and have the best time doing it.
“You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, a scientist, professor or career conservationist, every single person can come out with us.
“On every single trip we do, we get to a stage where people realise what they are doing and after a couple of days they get it. People just go ‘we are out here, making the world a better place’. People go away changed.”
Derek says the beauty of Wild Mob expeditions is that they attract every demographic.
“We target school groups. In my view it is they who are teaching us. They inherit this place. Engaging with kids is absolutely critical. Younger people just get it, they’ve been exposed to far more information than the older generation,” he says.
“But we get everyone from 18 year olds to 83 year olds. There are more women. Women are more empathetic and think through the world much better than men. They tend to be more willing to give than blokes are. Women know how to pace themselves and that it’s not a competition.
“And we get all occupations and from all walks of life. Our expeditions are as much about sociology as conservation. Most of my team are introverts and they are really great project leaders because they observe.”
According to the latest annual report published by Wild Mob, in one year it attracted 333 volunteers who worked for 1843 field days and contributed $440,000 worth of their time. More than $500,000 was spent in local communities; 154 students were taught in six outdoor classrooms; and more than 1300kg of marine debris was removed from 10km of marine turtle nesting beaches.
During the same period, 9ha of bridled nail-tail wallaby nursery habitat was protected from cats; weeds were controlled in 35ha of critically-endangered littoral rainforest; and conservation and survey work completed on 50 islands along a 500km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
As recently as last month, Wild Mob announced through its hard work and community collaboration, it was close to establishing a second population of one of the world’s most rare birds, the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, on neighbouring Phillip Island.
But while there are many wins, work as a conservationist is not all sunshine and lollipops with Derek recently posting a scathing attack on social media in which he described leaders of Australian governments as a “dragon’s lair of personal vilification, bigotry, ignorance and greed.”
“That particular day I was frustrated as all get out. There are so many challenges in this country and so many opportunities. You can’t fix the problem without having a purpose, there is no vision in Australia.
“Where do the Australian people want to be in the year 2050? What sort of country do you want to live in?
“As a scientist you need to be objective and logical but I’m allowed to have emotions as well.”
He believes the Australian Greens are “ineffectual” and that the Australian Government “pisses a huge amount of money against the wall”, spending $6 billion a year on the environment without managing to save one endangered species.
It would be easy to assume this vocal conservationist is without fear, he loves sharks “they are perfectly adapted to their environment”; and is happy to remove a deadly taipan from a house; but he does find Australian crocodiles “challenging to work with”.
Just don’t call him a Wildlife Warrior, Conservation Crusader or, even worse, a “bloody Greenie”.
“I am nothing so melodramatic. I am very much Mr Average. One of the great things about Wild Mob is that you meet some very impressive people,” he says.
“The Greenies make our lives so much harder. I want to spend time with people who can find balance in the world.
“Being a conservationist is pretty bloody tough. I can’t think of a time in the past 30 years when it’s been so bloody hard to find money for the environment.
“But I am not going to stop. There is no retirement plan at all.”
To find out more about Wild Mob’s work, upcoming expeditions or to donate to conservation causes, go to https://wildmob.org/about/ Photos in this blog courtesy of Wild Mob
The Global Goddess travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com.au
THIS is a tale of scoundrels, scallywags and sailing and it begins with me losing my credit card on my first day in Bali on my last trip of 2016. I have no one else but myself to blame for this mishap, the effects of two champagnes and several red wines enroute adding to the utter delirium of approaching the invisible finishing line of another working year and causing me to lose focus. And so I simply went to a cash machine, withdrew $200 worth of Indonesia rupiah, and left my card in the ATM, never to be seen again.
It took me a good hour to realise my folly by which time my card had well and truly be swallowed by the machine, or was being given a good, old workout by a Balinese man claiming to be a blonde, Australian woman with a non-Indonesian name. I cancelled my card and did what any Australian in a foreign land on their own without any ready source of cash would do…went to the nearest beach bar and ordered a Bintang. The healing powers of alcohol should never be underestimated in my opinion, and it was only several sips in that I realised there was a solution to my problem. And so I emailed a mate I hadn’t seen in some 20 years, my only friend in Bali, and wondered whether he might like to turn up to a lunch we were having the next day with a cool $500 cash.
This is the other thing I love about Australians. We tend to be pretty decent people, particularly when another Aussie is in strife and my old mate Richard Laidlaw, who by the way pens the most excellent Hector’s Diary https://8degreesoflatitude.com
from his Bali home, barely battered an eyelid, turning up with a wad of cash, not unlike a pimp. But I digress. That very morning I was being picked up by another Aussie, Amanda Zsebik, who owned the ship on which I would be sailing for the next 9 days around Indonesia.
I confessed the previous night’s utter stupidity to Amanda enroute to Al likai, and suspected she too, would curse my carelessness. But instead, she offered her view on Bali which has been her home for more than a decade.
“The energy in Bali takes your money. Many of us come to Bali to learn a life lesson quickly whether it is losing money or screwing up a relationship,” Amanda says.
“I’ve really seen the dark side of Bali, I love it, it’s my home, but you learn an enormous amount of respect for it.
“I don’t think they are bad people but in karmic terms they are having a Bali life to learn the dark side of nature.
“I’ve had black magic on me and spent two years in hospital. Bali has an incredible positive energy but there is a dark side to it too.”
So powerful is this dark side that not only does Amanda wear a black coral bracelet on her right wrist to protect against the black magic of which she speaks, but the words “light and love” are tattooed on her left ankle.
Richard, who along with his partner Lea Crombie joined us aboard Al likai for lunch before we set sail, believes the future of Bali will be “the same shit, but more of it”.
“The Balinese were rich in a self-sustaining way but then people arrived with money. There were the artists of the 30s but it was really when the airport opened in the 60s and the surfers started arriving in the 70s. They would see these guys coming and knew they had money and they wanted it,” he says.
“I think its edge, in regional terms, is it is not Muslim. There is nothing wrong with places that are, but you must accept there are restrictions on the western style of life in a Muslim place.
“There is a sort of mystery to the east. The social structure here is so strong that local religion is not really threatened by western secularism. They are prepared to let people party on.
“I think they have been playing everyone for suckers for decades and I say ‘well done guys’.”
Despite its negatives, Bali remains a place for rule breakers, scoundrels, scallywags, and the sailors I mentioned before. And Amanda, 60, who once called upmarket Rose Bay her permanent home, fits into at least one of these categories, offering sailing journeys which take travellers beyond Bali. On the particular trip on which I join her, we travel east from Bali in the direction of Timor, in a journey which will take us to remote eastern islands, to snorkel with the most sublime of sea creatures and to Komodo, to see the dragons. Over 9 days we’ll travel 350 nautical miles which will take 50 hours of sailing.
On the first day of sailing I ask Amanda, who has completed this journey many times, what draws her to this part of the region.
“I don’t have a favourite place because every place is different and every time we get in the water there will be a different thing to look at. I love swimming with the mantas,” she says.
“The thing I love is the constant moving. Spiritually, only 10 per cent of humans are spiritually awake. Jung talks about this. Those 10 per cent who have to see what’s around the horizon or over the next hill.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, just as long as I’m going. The challenge is to find stillness within the motion.”
The stillness within the motion. Her words stick with me during the entire journey. On the rare occasions that I’m sea sick, and on others when I’m sitting out on the deck in the early evening, contemplating the wild ride that has been 2016, and wondering what 2017 will bring. I focus long and hard on this mantra and then one afternoon, as the sun is dipping below the ocean, snorkelling the warm waters off of Gili Trawangan, I concentrate on one particular green turtle, gently lazing and grazing along the ocean floor. And in that one golden moment, the motion finally stops and the stillness begins.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Al likai. For more information on the boat and her sailing itineraries go to http://www.indonesianislandsail.com
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
BRISK, crisp days out on the remote Arctic tundra can lead to some funny conversations and so it came to be one afternoon that we were watching the polar bears and pontificating about their defining features. While it’s hard to identify polar bears from each other in general (they are all white with few markings), males tend to be bigger with square heads, while females have softer, more refined features. One thing turned into another and before long we were talking about dating, and I coined the phrase Tundra Tinder. Kind of like real-life Tinder, but far more interesting. For your viewing pleasure, I present the following candidates…
BIG OLD BEAR
Big Old Bear weighs about 400kg and is 9 years old. He likes to hang around Seal River Lodge and flop about in the tundra grass, fully aware you are checking him out. But Big Old Bear is also a bit of a show off, and one day, putting himself between the lodge and our group, he decided to come for a wander our way. In fact, Big Old Bear got within 10 metres of our group, and it was only when Churchill Wild guides Derek and Josh started to negotiate with him that he decided to keep walking. He then made a new day bed for himself and promptly plonked his considerable bulk down into it. The only difference between Big Old Bear and a Brisbane boy on Tinder is that you can actually negotiate with Big Old Bear.
Arctic Hare is a bit of stalker, he liked to hang outside my lodge bedroom window at night, looking a little like the Easter Bunny. By day, he’s a bit elusive, hiding behind rocks, cocking his ears for a brief photo, before hopping off into the distance. A bit of a shady character who would probably agree to going out with you to dinner, but disappear when the bill arrived.
Beautiful Girl sported all of the traits of a pretty female bear. And she was far less showy than Big Old Bear. We found her on the other side of the lodge, peacefully stretching and flopping. It’s here I started to think about polar bear yoga poses that I can deploy back home. Beautiful Girl was happy for us to stare at her for hours, which is precisely what we did, and it was one of the most peaceful moments of my life. A low-maintenance date if ever I saw one.
Baby Girl was possibly my favourite of the bears we saw during our stay. She was also the cutest. Only about 4 years old, Baby Girl liked to walk straight down the gravel driveway leading to the lodge, and right up to the fence which kept us humans in. Yes, she adored her human zoo and had a habit of trying to sniff each of us individually, stare right down the camera lens, and then happily walk off. If you ever felt like you could hug a polar bear (not recommended) this was that moment. So beautiful was Baby Girl, that several of us just stood at the fence and cried in her presence. Saving herself for a male bear who deserves her.
Ok. So not all of the Tundra Tinder action revolved around animals. Josh, 19, from Alberta, was one of our guides. And the photos don’t quite show it here, but Josh had the most awesome head of hair I’ve ever seen on a man, coupled with a great personality. Think Brad Pitt’s sandy, foppish hair meets Hugh Jackman’s soul. As a reformed cougar, it was quite the challenge not to leap onto Josh’s head, the situation being somewhat similar to placing a 1969 Grange in front of a recovering alcoholic. But this trip was not about felines, it was about polar bears, and I desisted. I can tell you, young women of Australia, that Josh is a fine specimen indeed, and either you get yourselves up to Seal River Lodge or you invite him to our fair land. The good news is I did manage to pluck a few hairs from his head as I hugged him goodbye, and I am currently cloning him in my downstairs laundry. And yes, I am taking Christmas orders.
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au) and stayed at Seal River Lodge with Churchill Wild Safaris (www.churchillwild.com)
A CHINESE family, whose Hello Kitty fashion sense loudly suggests they got dressed in the dark on this particular morning, are on my flight over the Great Barrier Reef. But I have bigger concerns today than fellow tourists who combine stripes with flowers and chuck in a Mickey Mouse or two for good measure. I hate small planes and spend most of my time in them imagining plunging to a fiery death while clasping at my notebook just hoping, when the time arrives, that I can pen the perfect farewell sentence. The fact I am placed in the front seat next to the pilot, and warned to touch NOTHING, does little to erase my fear as we soar over the Whitsunday Islands. It is only when we drop to 150 metres above Heart Reef that I unclench my fists long enough to snap a photo or two. Even a scaredy cat like me can appreciate this natural wonder and I’m pretty sure when I’m back on terra firma I’ll love it even more.
I’m in the Whitsundays writing a story on the Great Barrier Reef from every angle and for the next five days I am the equivalent of Action Barbie, constantly stepping out of my comfort zone in the name of research. Later that morning I find myself zipping out to Whitehaven Beach on an ocean raft which reaches speeds of up to 30 knots. The colourful Chinese family are on this trip too and plonk down right beside me, one of them clutching a sick bag she’s snatched from this morning’s light plane flight. Soon enough, Hello Kitty is using the bag, just metres from my face, and as the wind whips up and we hit bumps, I live in mortal fear she’s going to spray her vomit all over my face. Even more fascinating is the fact that after each time she yaks, she quickly composes herself, with nary a snotty nose, flushed cheeks or bloodshot eyes in sight. I’m almost as enthralled by this spectacle as the breaching whales which stalk our boat.
We arrive safely at Whitehaven Beach where we are explicitly warned, in several languages, not to feed the sea gulls. The Chinese family alight, give their child a giant bread roll, and proceed to watch her feed the sea gulls, the hungry gulls angrily swarming Hello Kitty and her clan on the beach. It’s like something out of a Hitchcock movie and it is only when the chain-smoking Germans, who smile maniacally like they’ve stepped straight off the set of Die Hard, and who are polluting the pure silica sands with their toxic fumes, complain that the birds are “annoying” that the child stops.
I half expect to find the Chinese family the next day when I arrive at Daydream Island, their Hello Kitty fashion shredded to bits by the birds, but there’s just a couple of topless mermaids sunbaking on the rocks when I arrive. I’m half tempted to join them on this perfect winter day, but I have bigger fish to fry. I am on a Stingray Splash Tour which involves me stepping into thigh deep water and having baby stingrays suck on my toes like a member of the British Royal family. One ray even tries to mount my leg and I’m pretty sure he wants to have sex with my shorts, just like a British Royal. But they are like a group of baby puppies and it is one of the most delightful moments of my travel writing career. I eschew Lovers Cove and its snorkelling as there’s only so much a single woman can bear, and spend the afternoon in the day spa.
It’s a bit of a bumpy two-hour boat ride out to Reef World on the outer Great Barrier Reef the next day and I suck on four cups of ice to stave off seasickness. I stare feverishly at the horizon and think fondly of Hello Kitty and her sick bag. She would have adored this journey. And just as I’m about to vomit, we arrive in the calm lagoon of Hardy’s Reef where I have booked a learn-to-dive session. As fate would have it, it’s just me and a handsome Spaniard who holds my hand tight for the 30 minutes he’s showing me the Great Barrier Reef from below. I really should be looking at the coral and the fish, but it’s not every day a handsome Spaniard holds my hand and I’m mesmerised by his brown hair which floats in the water like sea weed. He has come-to-reef-bed-with-me-eyes. And yes, as one mate suggests, there may have been a giant grouper down there and I’m not talking about the fish. I fantasise about us having to share the same oxygen hose.
I sleep the night in a swag on the reef pontoon under the big moon and stars with a small group of fellow travellers including a happy Hong Konger called Mabo. Mabo is prone to laughing hysterically at absolutely everything, followed by loud exclamations of “very good, very good”. Mabo’s wife apparently works hard in a seafood company in Hong Kong while Mabo himself spends his days wandering around the world, becoming particularly excited when he poses for photos with nubile Netherlanders. At one point when snorkelling, I find Mabo sitting, stranded on a floating device out on the reef, unable to swim back to the pontoon against the turning tide. When we’re both rescued, I tell him he could have drowned. “Yes, very good, very good,” he replies. His enthusiasm is infectious. There was plenty of colour above, on and below the Great Barrier Reef on this trip and I got to hold the hand of a handsome Spaniard. I didn’t find Nemo, but I met a man named Mabo. And life is very good indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays – http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au