Jan 142014
 

The weekend before last, Mike and I joined from friends just 45 min outside of town at a local tea farm.  We were really looking forward to it, since part of our New Year’s resolution was to get out of the city more.  We went to Kiambethu Tea Farm close to Limuru town, which is northwest of us.  On the weekends, they have a lunch session where you can go learn about the farm, take a walk through the forest, and enjoy food on the lawn. It was a really nice day out that Saturday, so perfect weather to be outside!  As we came up on the tea farms, I was pretty startled by how bright neon green the tea bushes were.  I guess I’d never seen a tea plantation before.  It was gorgeous with all the rolling hills.  When we got the farm, there was a living room set up in an old house, and they had set up chairs for people to sit and listen about the history of the farm.  The owner now is this really old cute British lady whose family had come to Kenya in 1903 (!).  I can’t even imagine what it was like back then.  Tea was introduced to Kenya when all the workers from India came to work on the railroad.  They used to bring it from India, but people tried to grow it here and it grew very well, especially in higher altitudes where it was cooler.

Beautiful day!

Beautiful day!

The tea pickers are paid by weight, and it’s amazing to see how fast they work.  They go through the bushes which are planted densely together, and throw the plucked leaves over their shoulders into a basket on their back.  It’s one of the few industries where they still employ human labor to pick the leaves since they’re so delicate and the machines would crush the leaves.  You have to be very careful, because once the leaf is crushed, it immediately starts oxidizing and would get rejected by the processor.  When they pluck, they also only take the first 2-3 shoots off the end, so the bush keeps generating.  The top shoot is the youngest and the best quality.  The different types of tea are made from different types of tea plants but they are all in the camellia family (had no idea!).

Tea leaf pickers hard at work

Tea leaf pickers hard at work

Camellia bush up front with a stripped section in back

Camellia bush up front with a stripped section in back

Then we went on a walk through the indigenous forest–there’s not many left near Nairobi unfortunately and that was nice, but a little strange since it had nothing to do with tea.  But nice to take a walk nonetheless.  They don’t let you walk through the tea fields since you can damage the bushes.

Huge fuschia bushes on the plantation

Huge fuschia bushes on the plantation

Then we all ended it with lunch outside with some nice Kenyan iced tea!  Great afternoon spent and learned a lot.

Overlooking the tea fields

Overlooking the tea fields

 January 14, 2014  Posted by at 10:35 am Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Apr 072013
 

Over Easter weekend, Mike and I went to Rwanda to see the silverback gorillas.  We were deciding between Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo/Egypt, Victoria Falls, or Rwanda.  We went with gorilla trekking in Rwanda since that’s high on our Africa bucket list and it’s very doable in a long weekend.  The flight to Rwanda is only 1 and a half hours, direct, and most people only get the gorilla permits for one day.   Most people see gorillas in either Uganda and Rwanda and we chose Rwanda because it’s a quick 2 hour drive on tarmac to the National Park versus an 8 hour drive in Entebbe.  Rwanda’s permits are slightly more expensive but with the transportation costs they essentially come out the same. We originally tried to get the permits directly through Rwanda Development Board, but no one ever picked up the phone or replied to our emails.  So we ended up going with a tour operator who could arrange everything for us.  It’s nice because we get a discount for being East African Residents.

We arrive in Kigali that day and our tour operator is not there.  I call and I’m like “we’re here, where are you?” thinking oh great, I hope we didn’t just get scammed after we wired all the money to them.  The guy finally gets who I am and then says “wait, I thought you were coming on April 29, not March 29!”  DOH!  Crap.   I frantically check my emails from the week before and even though I had said we’re coming next weekend, I accidentally wrote April instead of March 29.  Pit in stomach.  We spend an agonizing 15 minutes waiting at the airport for the tour operator to call back to see if he can make it work this weekend.  I feel horrible.  But this is an instance where TIA (this is africa) worked in our favor.  Luckily, it’s low season right now since rainy season has just started, so they were able to get us permits for Sunday.  Phew!

We spend a day and a half in Kigali and meet up with one of Mike’s coworkers for dinner one night.  Kigali is a beautiful city – extremely clean and safe.  There are parts where you feel like you’re in a suburb in the US.  It was really nice to be able to walk around at night (something you can’t really do in Nairobi) and not have to worry about getting mugged.  The weather is cool like Nairobi also.  I can see why it’s so popular with expats!  It’s amazing that just 20 years ago the country was torn apart by genocide, they have come a long way.  People liken it to the Singapore of Africa – it’s very clean and safe and there’s little corruption, but there’s not a lot of political freedom either.

We went to a nice cafe called Shokola near our hotel and I was obsessed with this one wall they had covered in kanga fabric.  Kanga fabric is a type of cloth worn in East Africa and they are very bright and colorful and usually have Swahili sayings on them.  I want to duplicate this in our apartment!

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

The next day we did the two-hour drive to Volcanoes National Park and relaxed for the afternoon.  We walked around Musanze, the town we were staying in and got to see a church preparing for their big Easter event.  Men and women were singing and children practiced dancing.  So much fun to watch.

The morning of the trek, we met our driver at 5:30am and headed over to the National Park.  While the tour operators are sorting out the permits, we got treated to a local dance group.  They were killing it!

Catching Air

Catching Air

There are many gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and the tourists get split up into groups of 6-8 and are assigned a family.  Your guide then radios with the trackers who stay with the gorillas all day to know where to lead you in the park.  The trackers essentially stay with the gorillas from dawn until dusk for safety from poachers and also ease of tracking.  We got assigned to the Sabinyo family which has the oldest and largest silverback gorilla in the park – 42 years old!  And we also got to see the youngest gorilla at 2 days old.  Pretty amazing.  The groups usually just have one silverback but our group had two, the 42-year-old one and a younger silverback.

We hiked for about an hour through bamboo forests – the paths were very narrow and muddy.  Our hiking shoes pretty much got demolished and we’re lucky they were waterproof.  Although at the end I did step into a massive puddle and my socks got drenched.  The bamboo forest is gorgeous and it’s amazing how much of it there is in Africa since you always associate bamboo with China.  There are parts that are so dense that they have to hack through with machetes so we can pass through.  You’re constantly ducking to get through and getting tangled in vines.

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

How long you hike really depends on where the gorilla family is.  We had heard stories of people hiking anywhere from 20 min to over 4 hours.  We were lucky and had it just right – 1 hour.  The climb gets pretty steep at parts but it wasn’t too bad.  With the permits, once you get to the gorillas you’re allowed 1 hour viewing time and then you have to leave.  The gorillas get visitors every day so they’re pretty used to humans and it’s as if we’re not there.  We got really lucky that it didn’t rain either since it’s the start of rainy season.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla - Oldest in the Park

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla – Oldest in the Park

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

 

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Whatchu Lookin At?

Whatchu Lookin At?

 

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

 

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

 

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

These gorillas seemed very gentle but you quickly remember their strength when the silverback reaches up to snap thick bamboo stalks in half like they were sticks!  What an amazing experience.  Definitely worth it and no matter how much it was hyped up for us, it was still surreal to be that close to the gorillas.

Feb 062013
 

Mike and I have pretty much spent almost every weekend in Nairobi so far running errands and trying to get our apartment together.  We were really sick of going to Nakumatt, which is our everything-store—kind of like a Target/Walmart with groceries.  Produce is very cheap here, especially all the things that are grown domestically.  But things like button mushrooms are more expensive and usually spoil very easily.  Anything imported of course is expensive.

So a few weekends ago we decided to screw the car shopping and go hiking in Karura Forest.  The “forest” is really a protected land within the city only a 10 minute drive north of our apartment.  It’s like our Central Park if you will.  Except really wild and not landscaped at all.  It’s pretty cool that something like this is so close to us and within the city.  We walked a lot of it in 2 hours, so it’s not huge, but there’s a waterfall and a cave that you can visit inside.

Entrance is 200 KES for adult residents and we bought a map (which was a good idea).  We went in through the Limuru Rd entrance which is closest to our apartment (you don’t have to go to the main entrance).  We walked up to the waterfall and caves and it was so nice to be in nature and go for a walk.  We really miss being able to walk around (no real sidewalks and theft make it an issue here).  Most of the times, we were the only ones on the trails, but occasionally we would pass young families or couples.  Great place to run or bring your dog.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Wild Trail

Wild Trail

Karura Forest Waterfall

Karura Forest Waterfall

Magical River Pathway

Magical River Pathway

One thing I couldn’t capture on photo were the number of butterflies everywhere.  All different colors, everywhere!  There must have been thousands.  I felt like I was walking in a wonderland.  The green turquoise ones were especially striking.  Unreal.

Fallen Turquoise Butterfly

Fallen Turquoise Butterfly

Orange Butterfly Duo

Orange Butterfly Duo

Mike saw a bushbuck, which is a like a small version of a deer but I was too busy jabbering away about something that I totally missed it.  Darn!  There are other small animals in the forest, but we didn’t see much probably because it was mid-day and pretty blazing hot.  We will definitely be back and can’t wait to explore it some more!  The only thing I wish there was is a big lawn where you can relax and picnic. The forest is pretty wild and unkempt so there’s not really a place you can sit and rest.

 February 6, 2013  Posted by at 5:54 pm Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Nov 012012
 

I know you are wanting to hear more about Dar, but I couldn’t help but share these photos from when we were in Big Sur.  I had been dying to see McWay Falls forever and my sis highly recommended it after she did her Hwy 1 trip last year.  After we set up camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we decided to go for a drive to find McWay Falls since we figured the view would be nicer right before sunset.  If went the next morning on the way down, there was a chance we could run into fog.  The stopping point for McWay Falls is near the southern end of Big Sur, so it was actually quite a bit farther than we thought.  The roads are pretty windy so be careful driving at night.  The nice thing about going late in the afternoon is that most likely everyone there is staying in Big Sur, so it’s not as crowded since you don’t have all the drive through tourists.

When we got there, the light was beautiful and just right.  It’s a short path to the viewing platform.  We also went the other way, where there are two beautiful campsites, but you can’t see the falls from that side.  Those two campsites fill up so quickly but how amazing would it be to camp cliff side with the amazing Pacific Ocean view??  Mental note: one day we will book it.

And here is McWay Falls in all its glory:

McWay Falls: Amazing Waterfall Into the Ocean

I love the pink flowers on the cliff-side in the foreground.  The views driving down Hwy 1 are pretty amazing and it’s definitely worth taking a couple of days to spread it out and take your time.  It felt rushed trying to drive from Big Sur to LA in one day.  We managed to stop a few times and take in the views though and they were breathtaking.

Famous Big Sur Bixby Bridge, opened in 1932

Big Sur Viewpoint

Closer to Morro Bay, we stopped at the Elephant Seal Preserve.  There they were, all just sunbathing on the beach!  Too cute.  We did see some male lions get into a bit of a tussle, where they rear their heads back and make honking noises.  Reminded me of the penguin preserve in Cape Town.

Sunbathing Elephant Seals

Dueling Male Elephant Seals

We got back to LA pretty late and very tired, but well worth all the amazing scenery.

Oct 122012
 

The last time we went up to SF, we had originally planned to take the scenic Highway 1 route down the coast, but we ran out of time.  This time we decided to break it up into two days to get down which is definitely the right choice.  It’s just too long to do it in one day and you end up just driving down the road instead of stopping to take in all the gorgeous scenic points and hikes.

We camped for one night at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which is on the north end of Big Sur.  The campground is really gorgeous and if you can get into the lower number campsites (1-50), they are among a grove of coast redwood trees.  Absolutely breathtaking.  When we drove into the campsite and passed by that first section, we were stunned into silence.  Like out of a movie.  Of course all of those had already been reserved so we ended up in campsite 218 which was nice since it was a little more isolated and had some good trees around it.  We didn’t bother to bring the camp stove for one night so we opted to check out the Big Sur Bakery which is known for pizza.  I saw it on Yelp and the local state park newsletter so off we went.  We got there and oops, turns out it’s a nice restaurant with cloth napkins and candlelight and all.  We definitely showed up in our zip off pants and hiking shoes.  Oh well, I’m sure it happens quite often.  It was a fancy camping dinner complete with glasses of red wine!  Very tasty though the pizza could have been seasoned better.

Luxury Camping Dinner

The next morning we set off on a hiking trail called Buzzard’s Roost that goes through some redwood groves and has views at the top.  It was really convenient since the trailhead started right within our campground.  We chose a relatively short one since with my knee injury, I didn’t want to push it.  What a beautiful hike!  We barely saw anyone on the trail.  That’s the nice thing about Big Sur—most people just drive through and don’t bother with the hiking so it’s not as crowded as the trails in Sequoia or Yosemite.  The redwood groves were fantastic and we saw some cool things along the way.

Sun-Dappled Redwood Grove

Believe it or not, I spotted these on the side of a redwood and turns out there were a bunch of shells that were shed by bees!  At least, I think they were bees?  These were just empty see through shells that were the result of molting.

Shells Leftover From Bees Molting

These trees were all over the top of the hike.  They were so fascinating with the peeling and curling red bark, it was such an extreme contrast of colors with the red and green.  It was like they were shedding their skin like the bees.  A quick search reveals that these are madrone trees, native to the western coast of North America.

Amazing Curling Red Bark on Madrone Tree

At the top of the hike, we were greeted with a blanket of fog on the ocean side, so I’m not sure if there was an ocean view on that side.  But we did get a nice view of the canyons and mountains behind us.

View of Santa Lucia Mountains from Buzzards Roost

It was such a nice, calm start to our day that I wish we could start every morning with such a beautiful hike!  What happy people we would be then, right?  We were tremendously envious of all the isolated, gorgeous homes along the cliffs of Big Sur.  One day…

Oct 112012
 

When Mike and I visited SF last month, we decided to be tourists and enjoy the city on an amazingly beautiful clear weekend.  We didn’t know the next chance we would get to visit the city since when we come back to the States, it will likely be to either LA or Chicago, where our families live.  I wanted to get some good shots of the city view and we both had never been to the famous Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks is located smack dab in the middle of the city if you look on a map and there’s a famous figure eight driveway at the top.  You can get a nice view of downtown, Alcatraz, Bay Bridge, and on a clear day, you can also see the Golden Gate Bridge.  I always think SF city views are unique since all the buildings seem to be white and with the hills it creates a lot of fun lines.  There was plenty of parking when we went up in the afternoon and the view was great!  Highlight of our weekend in SF.

Beautiful, Clear Day from Twin Peaks

Golden Gate Peeking Out From the Fog

Figure Eight Between Twin Peaks, Looking from the Top of One to the Other

I had to climb down the hill to get this straight shot down Market St towards the clock tower on top of the Ferry Building, built in 1898.

View of Ferry Building Clock Tower down Market St.

Sep 132012
 

It seems when you grow up somewhere, you don’t really appreciate the beauty of it until you come back after being gone for a long time.  For almost my entire childhood, I grew up next to amazing scenery and took it for granted.  But now, older and wiser, every time come back after running errands I’m oohing and aahing over the spectacular ocean views.

Oftentimes, Mike and I will go for a walk by the ocean, either by Terranea or by the Oceanfront neighborhood.  If you follow Hawthorne Blvd all the way to the ocean, Oceanfront is where you’ll end up.  There are a couple of lots and we’ll walk along the path to the lighthouse.  I love the smell of the native plants–it’s so familiar to me.  I like to call it “coastal shrubbery.” It’s got that faint hint of herbal citrus.

I just ordered a travel tripod so we went to test it out on the cliff views!  I was pretty excited since I had been wanting one for a long time and to get those super sharp photos, it’s better to have a tripod and a wireless remote shutter release.  I decided on the Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod, it’s lightweight and an affordable price.  So far I’ve taken it around a few times and everything works great.  The true test will be bringing it on an extended hike.

Here are some of the shots from our walk along the cliffs:

Palos Verdes Cliffs

Cliff Views Along Oceanfront Path

Palos Verdes Lighthouse

Palos Verdes Lighthouse

Palos Verdes Scenic Lookout

Scenic Viewpoint from Hawthorne Blvd

Sep 112012
 

My mom and Eric often go hiking in the Malibu Canyons on the weekend, so Mike and I went along with them one weekend on one of their favorite hikes: Solstice Canyon.  The trailhead and parking lot is located off of Corral Canyon Rd off of PCH 1 (make a right if you’re going north from LA).  The small parking lot fills up pretty quickly so we parked about a 5 min walk away when we arrived at 10:30am.  Not too bad.

The trail is pretty easy, there is a loop trail option, but we took the out-and-back Solstice Canyon trail since it was blazing hot and getting close to lunch time. 😉  Here’s a link to the trail map.

Hiking Up Solstice Canyon Trail

It wasn’t a very long hike, but we did stay for a while at the waterfall where you can scramble on some boulders.

Eric and Mike Climbing the Boulders

The waterfall is at the end up the stairs beyond the deserted Roberts Ranch (a really neat old burnt down mansion with some of the antique stoves still in place–Thermador brand, fancy stuff!).   There were a bunch of fruit trees growing around the home, including banana trees and lime trees.  We took a keepsake lime and had it in some beer later, shhh…

Old Fireplace/Kitchen of Roberts Ranch

It was a beautiful day with gorgeous blue skies and even better with NY style pizza slices at D’Amore’s afterwards.

What’s funny is after doing so many hikes/treks on our Asia Trip, Mike and I have noticed that we notice the little things a lot more now.  It could be an interesting plant, different animals, or just the smallest cool detail.  We’ve really found a great appreciation for the little things!

Gold Leaf Remains

Delicate Web

Aug 232012
 

On one of our days downtown, Mike and I went to check out the Art Institute.  The first and second Wednesdays of the month are free for Illinois residents (and Mike still has his Illinois driver’s license).  I managed to score a ticket from someone who had just left the museum so I got in for free too!  The last time I was there was during my solo visit to Northwestern to check out Kellogg Business School before I applied.  I wandered the city, went to a Hubbard Street Dance performance, and rode the Navy Pier ferris wheel with the company of me, myself, and I.

Mainly, we went to the Art Institute for the old time New York photo exhibit which has a special place in my heart.  I love the old city photos and all of the Photo League stuff.  There’s something amazing about seeing the city you live in as a foreign yet still familiar place.  You just get this feeling that…life goes on.  People come and go and the city is there, ever changing but ever permanent.  The exhibit itself was really small, on the basement floor, and while there were some nice photos, they weren’t as good as I’d seen elsewhere.

The star of our visit was really the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit.  If you don’t know his name, you definitely know his art which is synonymous with American pop art. It had really wonderful pieces, here were some of my favorites:

3D Pop 

Always Justifying and Making Excuses…tsk tsk

Drama

After Lichtenstein’s phase of pop art where he focused on comic strip-type imagery, he played with different subjects but always kept his signature “dot” painting style.  I thought this painting of a seascape was really nice, it was done on a clear pane so it felt like you were looking through the glass.  Beautiful.

Seascape

It was a really nice time and just the perfect length of free museum time!  We’ve learned that museums are best done in 2-3 hour sessions so you don’t burn out and get art fatigue.

Aug 172012
 

While staying with Mike’s parents in Antioch (close to the Wisconsin border), we wanted to find a fun activity for the four of us to do.  I’d been wanting to visit a dairy farm (mostly to try various delicious treats like cheese and ice cream) but the closest ones we found were 2 hours away.  Too far.  Maybe next time?  Anyhow, we decided to go see the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Oak Park, which is a neighborhood just west of downtown.  Mike had gone there as a field trip in high school and he even bought a guide/map so he could take his mom one day…25 years later.  Ha! 😉

We walked around the neighborhood to view some of his famous homes and also took a tour of his home and studio.  The neighborhood is really cute and is an old wealthy part of town.  The lot sizes and homes are just enormous!  Back in the day, as Wright was becoming an established architect, some of his neighbors commissioned him to design their homes, which is why there are so many in one place.  Here is the home is often shown as a great example of the prairie homes Wright is so well known for.  The emphasis is on the horizontal rather than the vertical, a departure from what was going on around him at the time.  It’s amazing that these homes that were built in the early 1900s can seem modern and not “old” at all.

Horizontal Lines of the Prairie Home

One of the things I love most about all his homes is how much they incorporate landscape into them.  Almost all the homes have huge built-in planters to make sure that nature is seamlessly a part of the exterior.  The attention to detail is incredible.  There are a lot of different styles in the surrounding blocks depending on the requests of the client.  Here is an interesting house with some Gothic elements and has really interesting embellishments.

Moore-Dugal Residence

One of the most fascinating parts of the Moore-Dugal residence are the chimneys.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Very long and narrow.  Wright takes even a functional mundane aspect of a house and makes it interesting.

A Beautiful Chimney

Here is a home with beautiful wood paneling on the outside that again was extremely modern for its times.  The curve of the wood around the outside is amazing and the overhang of the porch is also finished with wood underneath as well.  I love his leaded glass windows everywhere.  He used a lot of those since they provided good light with privacy.

Beautiful Woodwork on the Outside

We were thinking about taking the tour of his home and studio and were wavering a bit since it was $15/person and we weren’t sure if it would be any good.  Good thing we went for it!!  We committed because Mike found a book in the gift shop about his home and when we flipped open the pages, we were stunned by the photos.  Definitely do it if you can!  It is truly amazing to step inside his home and look at how he thought of every single detail.  Everything is custom built and designed.

Built-in Fireplace Nook Complete with Curtains

He worked with different ideas to create space or make rooms more intimate.  My ultimate favorite was the dining room with its high backed chairs and an amazing intricately carved screen above the table.  The screen is the same size of the table and is meant to make the room more intimate by bringing the ceiling lower.  Each of the chairs has a high back to frame each guests face to encourage conversation.  Just simply beautiful.

Can I Please Have an Intricately Carved Screen Above My Dining Room Table?

After touring his home, we went over to the adjoining connected studio where he would work with his team.  When you first walk in, it literally takes your breath away and your jaw drops.  It’s an octagonal room with high ceilings and very open.  There is light pouring in through the windows up top.  Definitely an inspiring place to work.

Wright’s Studio

In the waiting room of the studio where he would keep clients, there is an amazing glass skylight with Art Deco patterns.  When you’re in the room, it bathes you in a golden-green light.  The contrast of the glass with the dark wooden beams was amazing.

Beautiful Art Deco Glass Skylight

All in all, an amazing experience and totally blew my mind.  It seems back then more people designed their own homes and today, only the extremely wealth can afford to do so.  Touring the home made you really appreciate the potential for a home to be truly beautiful.  It definitely inspires me to one day perhaps explore what it would take to design your own home.  Or at least maybe one room of it? 😉