Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wanderings... Death Valley

Death Valley National Park was a big surprise for me. I've previously seen random photos of the salt flats so I thought it would be neat to visit for some change of scenery. We first drove up to Dante's Peak first since it was on our way. I gasped when I looked down at the white sea of salt below us. It was truly breathtaking and it is safe to say I had never seen anything like it before.

Vince had his fancy new Olympus with him and took some amazing photographs. These next three images are his.

One thing I love to do (and I think I excel at) is taking photos out a moving car window. Through the windshield, through the passenger window rolled up or down, it doesn't really matter. Sometimes I even try to take a photo through the driver side window. There's something thrilling about capturing a photograph in a split second - knowing your perspective will change in the next instant and the opportunity for the same shot may never arise again... especially since Vince is driving and he would not entertain the thought of circling back just so I can try again. By the way, I'll be sharing a lot more of my through-the-car-window photographs in a future blog post. :)

We descented Dante's Peak back to sea level.

There are a lot of photos of landscapes in this blog post. I usually don't post that many but the sky was so incredible that I seemed to find something unique about each photograph. For example, the clouds in the below image... I have never seen clouds like this... and I've seen my fair share of clouds. It looks almost like a glob of melted marshmallow was painted onto the sky with a giant horsehair paintbrush.

We took a little detour to check out the Devils Golf Course. It must be so much fun to name landmarks when you don't have the gumption to name them after yourself.

Did I mention how windy it was that day? I nearly got blown away on Dante's Peak and we got pummelled in the face by flying pebbles. Ouch!!

After we played 18 holes, we headed over to Badwater Basin, which is the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. I was most excited for this part of the trip. Not sure if you can see the sign marker for sea level way above Vince's head.

I got Vince to jump in the air and it was so windy, he lost his hat! Then he got me to jump too but I didn't lose anything except my dignity.

The salt flats seemed to go on for miles and miles. I thought it was really neat that there was an area for walking and it was great that there were not a lot of people around. There's a solemness about the place that would be marred by a big crowd.

It was so windy that the port-o-lets were blown around! Yeah pretty nasty business. I liked that this one looked like it was parked like a car. Like anyone would want to drive one of those.

Next we headed to an area with a short hike to the Natural Bridge. At a slightly higher elevation, there was a great view overlooking Badwater Basin.

Boys will be boys.

A really sweet couple took this photo for us.

And here I am returning the favour... seriously, how cute is this couple?! They were such nice people too. And yeah I know - I should dress a little better when I'm on vacation... I look like such a slob. :(

The Natural Bridge! :)

The last stop before we left the park was Zabriskie Point. I've always wanted to visit the Badlands in Ontario but never got around to it. I had to fly all the way to the west coast to finally see some!

Amazingly enough, even after everything we saw, we only visited a teeny tiny portion of the park. There are other sights like sand dunes, ghost towns, and even a castle within park boundaries. Perhaps one day, we'll find ourselves there again. All in all, the park was a great place for a day trip. Even this tough critic was impressed!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oh Beautiful Kenya

Have you ever had an experience so dear to your heart you've been afraid to voice it? To be completely honest, I've been putting off writing this post. Partly because I have so much I want to share. And partly because I fear I won't do justice to the experience through my words... that somehow it would lose its magic as it travels from my memory into the present.

Please bear with me as I try to formulate my thoughts into a coherent blog post. That being said, I'm still going to try to keep the narrative to a minimum.

I don't talk much about our two weeks in Kenya. Sure, if people ask, I mention the wonderful community, the delicious food, the amazing weather, the gorgeous scenery... but I don't go into too much detail. It's not because I have nothing to tell. In fact, it's just the opposite. I have so much I want to tell that I don't know where to begin. Random stories play in my mind over and over again. Faces of the beautiful people we met haunt my dreams. Memories of minuscule details I could never forget even if I tried.

What stood out most about this trip were the amazing Kenyan people. All the men, women, and children we met were absolutely delightful. I have never seen so many warm and smiling faces. I have never felt so welcome in a foreign land. We were there to build a home for a lovely family: Hellen, Moses, and their eight children.

We spent around half of our trip on the build site and there were many members of the community helping out with the construction. There were times when there was literally nothing to do, which made the experience so much more enjoyable because we could spend the time interacting with new friends.

I picked up some leaves off the ground to make Vince this "pocket square" - he protested against wearing it but I could have sworn he secretly liked it. I looked at him a while later and he had tossed it so I guess he actually didn't. Hmmmph. At least I got a photo.

This blog post wouldn't be complete without a few food photos. There was a beautiful avocado tree at the site that provided us with some much needed shade. The fruits were huge and plentiful... yes, there were a few close calls as they dropped to the ground but luckily none of us were hit. We were treated with fresh avocado for dessert a few nights during the week and they were absolutely delicious... tamu sana!

Habitat hires local staff to help us during our trip. Charles and Ambrose prepared all our food and it was incredibly fresh and flavourful. Joseph took care of security for our site. Our wonderful drivers were Bonnie and Michael - I will always remember laughing hysterically during a game of "Flowers" or "BS" - a card game similar to Crazy Eights except everyone cheats.

These next photos are some of my most cherished of the entire trip. The kids in particular LOVED to pose for the camera. Then when you showed them the photo, they went WILD! It was fine when there were only 2 or 3 kids around but when there were 5 or more, madness ensued and I actually put my camera away on many occasions so the kids wouldn't trample each other.

This little girl was Vince's favourite. She had the cutest little voice and ran up to me at the closing ceremony to hug me around the legs. Kids who do that win me over instantly.

Vince decided to teach the little boy on the left to wink. Oh man, after he learned, he saw that it made us laugh and he kept doing it. Over and over again. I think his parents thought there was something wrong with his face. Sweetie, that's the legacy you want to leave in Kenya? ;)

My heart literally aches when I think of this little girl. Towards the end of our build, Vince took to chasing her around the site and she would let out the most adorable little giggle. I wanted to bottle it up and take it home with me so I could listen to it always. Oh yes, Internet, she had a giggle that could bring about world peace. Every time I asked her name, she would look at me with a glimmer in her eye, cover her mouth with both hands, and... *giggle giggle giggle*.

Our closing ceremony...

This trip was particularly dear to me because there was such a variety of experiences. We had the opportunity to visit the Chongenwo Church Orphanage Home, the Kapkatet Primary School, a nursery school near our build site, a Maasai village, the Maai Mahiu Camp for Internally Displaced Persons, the town of Sotik, the city of Kisii, the Rift Valley Lookout, and Big Mama's soapstone shop. We also got to attend a church service, tour the Kapkatet Tea Factory, go on a number of safaris, and help build a home for our family! It was the most incredible experience and I have never felt so many intense emotions in such a short time span.

After the build, we had a few days of R&R time. This is when we visited a Maasai village and went on a much-anticipated safari. I have wanted to go on safari for years and years. Happily, this one did not disappoint... I just wish I had a longer lens. Next time!

Then came the jumping competition, also known as the adumu. This is done by the men of the village and is supposed to demonstrate strength and agility. After the demonstration, the Maasai invited the four men from our group to try it. Only two agreed. Guess who was part of the two? I'm so proud of my baby!!!

After our short visit, at the end of which one of the Maasai men offered to buy me for 20 cows, we headed to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Wow, if you've made it this far, thank you for sticking around. I know I haven't been very thorough with my descriptions so if you have any questions about any aspect of the trip, please don't hesitate to ask!

  © 2012 | Lesley Wong Photography | All rights reserved.

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