Saturday, April 07, 2007

Back in Canada

We have arrived safe and sound back in Victoria. It's good to be home!

This will pretty much wrap up our African blog, although I would like to get up a video from Madagascar now that I have decent bandwidth and some time for putting something together. Look for that video here shortly I hope. Thanks for following along (all 3 of you!), and the best way to keep in touch now will be through

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Last Post from Africa

Our time in Nairobi is now coming to a close, and we fly out tonight at 11:15pm, putting us back in Canada on Friday night. It's been an incredible 6 months here in Africa for us, and we know that we're bound to return someday soon.

We said goodbye to all of our colleagues and friends here on campus today. We will really miss the international setting here, and all of the interesting people that we got to know over the past few months. We have gained excellent experience through the research we've done here, and our safari's and adventures in Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar have been some of the best trips of my life.

We're a bit sad to leave, but excited to get home to Victoria. It's been a great learning experience here in east Africa, and we're ready to move onto the next chapter of our lives. For me, I will be working in Dr Terry Pearson's lab at the University of Victoria full time on breast cancer diagnostics. We'll be working on getting an exciting new technology up and running in his lab, and I'm very excited to be moving into human disease research -- and also back to protein science -- for a bit. For Jessica, she will be studying up for the MCATs when we get back, working the odd shift at her brothers restaurant, and will probably be involved with the sexual health clinic that she volunteered with last summer. Both of us will be working on getting into our respective graduate programs which may see us studying & researching abroad in the not-too-distant future.

To all of our friends and colleagues here in Nairobi: thanks so much for all of your help and hospitality over the past 6 months! We've felt very much at home here, and are forever grateful for all of the friendliness. If anyone is coming to visit the west coast of Canada, please don't hesitate to contact me so that we can meet up in the great white north!

For those in Canada, we'll see you all soon!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Africa 2006-2007: Matt's Final Thoughts

This is adapted from an article I wrote for the newsletter of the project that I'm working for, so it's not really in my usual voice but it summarizes my thoughts, and was easy to copy and paste into a post (and perhaps illustrates the reasons I did poorly in English class):

When planning this working-trip back in Canada, the choice of Nairobi was at the top of the list. I had spent two months in Namibia and Botswana in 2003, and had been looking to get to back to the continent ever since. Jessica and I first and foremost wanted to get some wet-lab experience in Africa, and we knew that we needed to be in a major center for research in order to maximize our job prospects. In Kenya we would have no major difficulties with a language barrier, and east Africa would offer us some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the world. The recent travel advisories issued by the Canadian government warning against travel to Nairobi – known to many travelers as “Nairobbery” – were somewhat concerning, but as with many big cities we knew it was just a matter of avoiding specific areas of the city at specific times. Once we got over the mental hurdle of committing to Nairobi, ILRI was a top choice for me since I was already involved with research on cell surface antigens of African trypanosomes.

Upon arriving at ILRI we were blown away at how nice the campus was, and how good the lab facilities were. Looking at the aerial view of the campus on Google Earth back in Canada I could see that it was beautiful, but the detail wasn’t quite sufficient to resolve the tennis courts, pool, volleyball court, rock climbing wall, and the other luxurious amenities!

At ILRI I was involved with the Shockmouse, Paramouse, Bigmouse, and C57lite projects. Not only did the projects have cool names, but through them I learned a great deal and got experience that I never could have hoped for back home. I found that one of the greatest things about working on trypanotolerance whilst in Africa is the heightened feeling of relevance and urgency for the work that we’re doing. Jessica and I had many opportunities to travel through the rural regions of Kenya in the beat-up ‘92 Suzuki 4x4 that we bought shortly after arrival in Nairobi, where it was easy to see firsthand just how vital livestock is to the people here.

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of working here at ILRI was the people that I got to work and interact with every day. I was surprised – and very happy – to find that at the bench I was working primarily with local Kenyans. There’s no better to way to learn about a culture than to interact with the locals on a regular basis; you learn and experience things that most tourists visiting a country will never have the chance to appreciate. On top of the rich experience with locals, there are visiting scientists from all around the globe working at the facility, which makes for an incredibly diverse experience. At any given dinner out with friends there are often up to ten countries represented, usually from up to five different continents. This diversity is something which I particularly enjoyed while at ILRI, and one of the things I’ll miss the most when I return to Canada.

Life in Nairobi has been not without its drawbacks. In the time that we’ve been here two colleagues have had their vehicles carjacked or stolen by thugs, we’ve been bribed twice by local police, and an astounding number of western tourists have been killed in either car accidents or carjackings no more than 15 km away. Night time excursions for dinner or entertainment have to be weighed against the probability of carjackings, which spike every now and again, and are often made in convoy for safety reasons. These facts produce a certain amount of unease when outside the compound, which for a new visitor can take a while to get used to.

Outside of Nairobi things become much safer – aside from the highways – and I would say that 99% percent of the Kenya’s natural treasures lie outside of its capital city. During our six months here we’ve been on self-guided safaris to several of Kenya’s national parks, and we’ve enjoyed them tremendously. We’ve had incredible encounters with white rhinos along the shores of Lake Nakuru, we’ve marveled at massive groups of elephants in the shadow of Kilimanjaro in Amboseli national park, seen the rare black serval cat in the high plateau of the Aberdares, and watched the sunset on the gorge of Hell’s Gate national park. We’ve also made trips down to Tanzania and to Madagascar; both of which were incredible experiences.

Overall, the experience I’ve had in Kenya these six months has certainly exceeded my expectations, both professionally and personally. There are some unfortunate truths about life in Nairobi, but the cons are made up for by the pros. I’ve met incredible people, seen incredible wildlife and geography, and have no doubt that I will return one day soon.

-Matt Pope

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Homeward Bound

Our last week in Nairobi.

I'm pretty excited to come home now. It's like hitting the home stretch when you get down to a week before you have to go home!! Things at ILRI seem to be the same. Our hostel room is looking better than it ever has before thanks to some of the accommodations we stayed at in Madagascar!

Speaking of which...Madagascar was wonderful! Kind of a mixed barrel of highs and lows but overall an incredible experience. Our trip began with Matt and I watching the weather report the night before, as previously mentioned by Matt in another post, and Madagascar was to be hit by a cyclone. Seeing as Matt filled you in on the fun bits of that trip I'll wait until I get home to add to the story!

However, the rest of the trip went a lot more smoothly. From the port city of Taomasina (previously known as Tamatave), we caught a boat down the scenic Canal des Panagalanes to a beautiful hide-a-way called the Bush House. The only down side to it was the mosquitoes. I did persevere though and Matt and I ended up spending a fun-filled morning with some lemurs at a private reserve really close to where we stayed. We got to feed them, pet them, and of course they jumped on our backs and shoulders (as seen in the picture). It was pretty crazy considering they were still considered wild animals and we NEVER feed the animals at home! But, when in Rome, right? Plus, it was an isolated incident...we didn't get to feed the lemurs at the other park...I think it was just that this one was private...

So, from there we went back to Taomasina and left for Ile Ste Marie. An island where I finally had my lobster...a whole one for 6 dollars US. It was CRAZY! And delicious. I think I must have had seafood every single day while in Madagascar. Heaven. Anyways, Matt and I pretty much just chilled everyday on the island until we had to head back to Tana...not a very pretty compared to the island...but hey, what can you do? I feel so hard done by...just kidding!

Well, I'm sure I could tell you a lot more but I think I'll wait until I come home in a WEEK'S TIME!! WOO HOO!!!!

Miss you all,


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Return from Madagascar

Since our last post things in Madagascar only got better (and hotter), and all in all we had a great time. I've posted some pictures above, and will have a Madagascar gallery up soon (the internet here seems a bit wonky right now) on our photo site.

We're now safe and sound back in Kenya and have a week here before we return to Canada. Unfortunately there were 3 Canadian tourists killed in the Nyeri district of Kenya today in a car accident -- something that is way too common here in Kenya. Unfortunately with unsafe roads, even more unsafe lorries, very corrupt police, and a severe lack of highway upkeep, these sorts of things seem destined to continue happening here in Kenya.

We're very excited to get back to Canada, and are continuously debating where we will be eating our first meal when we get back and what things we miss the most back home. Looking forward to seeing the people back in Victoria very soon, and our other Canadian friends and family hopefully soon thereafter!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alive and Well in Madagascar!

Sorry for the spelling here... this is a very non-qwerty keyboard Im typing on...

So, things are going pretty well here in Madagascar, and already this trip has been very much unlike any Ive been on before. It has thus far been a trip of extremes to say the least. We arrived just in time for one of the biggest ass-kickings this island has received from a cyclone in about 14 years - perfect! The rains were absolutely torrential, and incredibly high winds too. We weathered the cyclone quite well in a little thatched hut on high ground at a semi-lodge type place along a river in lemur-country. The cyclone flooded the roads about 10 feet deep surrounding us for 3 days or so in which we were stuck. In addition to that there were massive mudslides/landslides all over which made things more interesting. In the presence of all the carnage we still managed to get some incredible sightings of the largest lemurs on the island -- the "Indris" -- as well as chameleons, boas, geckos, and other interesting creatures.

After things had settled down following the cyclone we headed for the coast skirting endless landslides and flipped semis on the ravaged roads. It took us about 6 hours by "taxi brouse" (bush-taxis -- as good as they sound) to get to where we are now. The weather has improved greately in the wake of the massive storm, and we now find ourselves in insanely hot weather with loads of sunshine. The humidity and temperature here feel a bit like if you were in a pressure cooker steaming at an even 40 degrees C. Its the hottest weather Ive ever experienced so far (worse than Peninsular Malaysia or Borneo, even the bottom of the rift valley right on the equator in the summer time feels like a winters day comparatively) and you basically sweat what feels like youre entire body weight each and every day.

Other than the weather things here are absolutely beautiful however, and the people and sights are incredible. Tomorrow were off to boat down a canal on the east coast here, and then were off to a tropical island on Friday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Off to Madagascar!

We're off to Madagascar! We'll be back in Kenya in two weeks time for about 6 days before we return to Victoria on April 6th. We are super-excited for the Madagascar trip, and hope that we'll be able to post stories/photos while we're gone.

Things here have been so busy that we haven't had time to post about our weekend adventure a few days ago to Amboseli National Park. It was with two of our good university friends (Chris Newcombe and Chelsea McCullough), and was one of our best safaris to date by far. It can best be summed up with this photo:

The park is in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro (pictured), and is an incredible spot to find elephants, wildebeest, hippos, tonnes of antelope, giraffe, jackals, and loads more. We were luck enough to spot all of these animals, and had absolutely incredible encounters with huge herds of elephants.

Anyhow, going to Madagascar has been a dream of mine since I was about 12 (it was the boardgame "Risk" which started it off, in which Madagascar is a useful region to control when trying to take over the world), and for Jessica a good 10 years now. We wish we had more time, but two weeks will have to do; hopefully we can return later on in life for a bit longer.

In Madagascar they speak Malagasy & French, and so I've been trying to recall my pitiful knowledge of the French language over the past few days. I think we should be able to get by fairly well, and I am truly looking forward to this adventure more than any I can think of in the recent past....

Some New Photos

We don't seem to be taking as many photos lately, perhaps because we haven't been on as many adventures as we had in the fall since we're saving up for Madagascar, but here are some of the shots that made the cut to our online album:

2007 Africa - Spring Misc

2007 Africa - Amboseli

Hells Gate National Park: In the Dry and in the Wet

A few weeks back we returned to Hell's Gate National Park with our friend Jamie. It was right after the "short rain" season here in Kenya, and we definitely noticed a difference in terms of how much green things were in comparison with the first time we went. I've just been going through some photos and realized that I have a shot from the exact same location taken in the dry season and in the wet. The difference is startling. Have a look (click to enlarge):

Before the wet season (October, 2006)

After the wet season (February 2007):

Friday, March 09, 2007

Last Day of Work, Hippos, and Carnivore!


It has finally come. My last day of work. I never thought it would happen! Things are wrapping up here at ILRI and I have to say that I feel somewhat...indifferent. My project had hit a few obstacles in the last week and I am leaving the project unfinished. However, I'm preparing a parting package for whoever will be taking over and I'm hoping that it's everything they will need to carry on! I have to say I felt both frustrated and stressed that things didn't turn out perfectly with all my experiments but alas, thus is science, no? I've definitely learned a tremendous amount and come back with excellent experiences in the lab which is all I could really hope for! So, cheers to that!

On a happier note, Chris and Chelsea (Matty's uni friends) have been visiting with us for the last couple of days! So yesterday we went back to Lake Naivasha and decided to go on a boat tour! There were hippos GALORE!! I have to say that I was very enthusiastic about this because before I left for Africa I had chosen the hippopotamus as my official mascot! I think they're really fascinating because they can be one of the most VICIOUS animals and are herbivores. How weird is that? Anyways, the day was rounded out with a beautiful lunch at Drifters, a coffee under the Acacias at the country club as well as a walk around the grounds. It was a good day.

Tonight we have planned a dinner at Carnivore. It's a "nyama choma" restaurant. Nyama Choma in Kenya is pretty much the equivalent of different barbecued meats. Carnivore is kind of a swanky version of "nyama choma" and on top of the regular beef, chicken, pork, and lamb there are more exotic meats like ostrich, crocodile, and camel. It's going to be wonderfully delicious! Needless to say, being the food lover that I am, I'm thoroughly excited! Then tomorrow, the whole company plan to visit Amboselli to visit the African savannah before Chris and Chelsea return home on Monday. Phew. It's going to be great!!

Alright, time to get back to work but I'll post soon about Amboselli!!


PS 4 days left until Madagsacar! WOO HOO!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Flight to Madagascar is Booked!

We have booked our tickets, and fly to Madagascar in less than two weeks! We are super-excited to go, not only because of the uniqueness of the flora & fauna to be found there, but also for it's incredible geographical features. Because of its long isolation from neighboring continents some ecologists refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent". It's the fourth largest island in the world, and has numerous species which can be found nowhere else in the world.

The next two weeks for us will be quite busy. My sister & fiance are returning to Nairobi after volunteering in Uganda for the past two months tonight, and will fly back to Canada on Sunday. Next Tuesday two of my good friends from university, Chris Newcombe and Chelsea McCullough, will be arriving in Nairobi. They have also just finished up volunteering in Uganda, and are currently in Rwanda penetrating the "impenetrable forest". While they're here we hope to get in as much adventure as we can, but so far our plans are undecided. On top of the visits, Jessica & I will be wrapping up the projects we are involved in here at ILRI.

Battlecat has been sold, and we have been prepping it for the transfer to the new owner by fixing up the radiator and muffler (the Kenyan roads rattled the exhaust manifold loose once again). The "bad gas" problems seem to have been resolved.

Hope everyone is doing well!