Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Done with repairs...

I think I'm finally done with the much-needed maintenance for our truck.  It took us about 7 days, but we...
  • Overhauled the main gear box
    • replaced the main gear
    • replaced 4 syncromesh rings
  • Replaced the housing for the center diff - attached to the transfer case (it cracked last year)
  • Replaced the ball joint
  • Changed the fuel and oil filters
  • Changed the motor oil, diff oils and main gear box oil
  • Greased both propeller shafts, both front wheels and all u-joints
  • Replaced the accelerator cable
  • Replaced the rear brake pads
  • Fix the welding for the two spot lights
  • Changed one brake light
  • Welded five cracks found in the supports connecting the chassis to the frame
  • Replaced the driver's door striker
  • Greased both bearings in the driver's side rear wheel
I have now moved onto other projects...including working on a steel security/protective case for our experimental water logger with the guys at the garage.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Kenyans have the best shirts.

This is Macho, the best car washer in Narok.  I'm not exactly sure if that's really how he spells his name...I doubt it.  It's his Kikuyu name so it probably isn't spelled like "Macho" - a man who is aggressively proud of his masculinity.

In case you can't see it clearly, his shirt says, with an arrow pointing up, "Up there for Thinking", and with an arrow pointing down, "Down there for Dancing".  

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Who would have ever thought that we would have been able to rebuild the gearbox.  I'm still a bit amazed.  After the accelerator cable broke during the test drive, I wasn't too optimistic.  I gave it a good drive to the edge of Narok and I'm amazed at how well everything is shifting.  It is shifting better than ever.  
Here is a picture of us working on it this morning at the garage (under a shade tree).  Funny, how the overhaul manual is overexposed in the picture (bottom of the picture)...almost like it's glowing.

On a side note, I think I probably have the best story for field use of a Hakko soldering iron. I carry one in the truck to help fix some of our loggers in the field.  Today, we used it to weld the accelerator cable back together!  

Test Drive

We just got the gearbox back in and test drove it. Then, the accelerator cable snapped. Gotta love it.

Looking at the bright side...

Yesterday was a rough day.  We road tested the truck and was having trouble with third gear.  We made the tough decision to open up the gear box again (it takes about 3 hours just to get it out of the vehicle).  We're going to replace the worn syncro rings and try again.  

After we got the gearbox out of the vehicle, I did a more thorough look around the frame.  I'm glad I took the time...because we found several small cracks that urgently needed to be welded.  

The roads here are rough...like my day, yesterday.  But today, is the start of a new week.  Things are looking up...

Mainshaft Splines

Here is an example of worn splines and new splines.  The worn ones just came from our truck...and has probably never been replaced in the life of the vehicle (25+ years).  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The hardest thing about conducting research in Kenya...

...is keeping our vehicle well maintained and running.  It is exceptionally difficult when you can't depend on your vehicle to get you to your study sites and home again.

It has been a long time since we've had a complete breakdown.  There are actually many kinds of breakdowns.  I consider a complete breakdown a breakdown in which you did not anticipate it, did not have any spare parts to fix it yourself, and could not get up and running again within two hours.   One time three years ago, we actually lost our entire rear propeller (the part that provides power to the rear wheels).  The whole propeller just dropped from the vehicle as we were driving.  That was a minor breakdown...because we just stopped the vehicle, picked it up and put our vehicle in diff lock and drove home with just the front wheels powered.

I just spent the whole day at the garage in Narok beginning some much needed repairs  I'm well prepared...with an entire trunk load of spare parts, lubricants, grease, etc.

I do still get nervous once we start taking major parts out of the vehicle...like the front seats, the main gear box and the transfer case.  

I'm still not convinced we'll be able to get the main gearbox back together tomorrow.  Thankfully, I found the overhaul service manual online to help us when we get lost.  

The Talek

Here's the Talek...the river that has taken two of our depth loggers.  Who would ever imagine how fierce this river can get...

Here's some type of strange film collecting next some rocks in a pool...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Successes and Failures

I just made it to Narok.  I consider that a success, given how my day started.

We left camp this morning at around 8AM.  Geemi and I planned to spend two days traveling through the Mara and checking on our loggers scattered around the landscape. We were going to visit Rekero Camp first.  Rekero Camp is a high-end camp on that Talek River, just before the Talek joins the Mara in the heart of the Masai Mara National Reserve.  We were then going to cut across to Talek town and stop by Richard Branson's new camp, Mahali Mzuri, to meet with someone.  Then we were going to spend our night at the Bull's Palace in Aitong (for only 400 shillings a night!).  The next day we were going to head over to Olerai Farms and check on our depth logger and re-install our water quality sonde.  The plan was to end up in Narok by Wednesday evening so I could get a few good days of preventative maintenance on the truck before Amanda arrives in early August.

As we left camp, I heard something odd coming from the rear left wheel.  We made it to Oloololo Gate (about an hour) and the noise stopped.  Most of the Park Rangers currently stationed at Oloololo Gate were stationed at Purungat Bridge last year.  Purungat Bridge is where we spent most of our time counting carcasses.  We became close with most of them and it was great to get such a warm greeting from them...of course...they were all very concerned that Amanda wasn't with me.  I assured them that she's doing great...and she'll be joining me in a few weeks.

We pushed on for Musiara Gate, the entrance into the other side of the park (about another hour).  We made it to Musiara Gate and we were greeted by those rangers as well.  It's nice to see many old faces as we hit the different parts of the park.  The noise was continuing so I was finally able to figure out that my brake pads were falling out of the brake housing.  Both pins were missing!  They must have shaken out or broke off sometime over the last few days of driving.

I quickly rigged it up with a zip tie and we continued on our way to Rekero Camp.

We made it to Rekero Camp as the noise continued to get worse (about another hour).  The saving grace was that it only made noise when I braked.  So....I tried to not use my brakes.

Geemi and I went down into the Talek River and started pulling the chain out of the river.  At the end of the chain should have been a large concrete basin basin along with out depth logger.  Unfortunately, there was nothing at the end of it.  The April floods broke part of the chain and carried the concrete basin (and our depth logger) down to Tanzania.  Safari Njema!

Oh well.

We left Rekero and started heading towards Talek town.  The noise continued to get worse, but only when I applied the brakes.  I was beginning to feel a bit down as I continued to think about another lost depth logger.  I think this is our fourth lost depth logger.  The Talek River has taken two of them now.

I decided that we should probably cut our trip short and get to Narok as soon as possible to start the repairs.  We made a bee-line to Olerai Farms and made it after about two hours.  We found Jimmy, the farm manager, and he took us over to our depth logger at their stilling well for their abstraction pump.

Surprisingly, Jimmy had about 8 guys digging all the mud out of the stilling well today.  The April floods brought in tons of silt from the upper catchment and as the waters receded, it left behind tons of mud, completely blocking their stilling well so they could not use their pump.  In fact, they had just dug our depth logger out of about 5 feet of mud!  They had spent the last week digging and had a few more days to finish their operation.

Depth Logger Covered in Mud

After cleaning it off, I downloaded the data from it.  I am still amazed at how high the water got during the April floods.  The river was almost 23 feet above the depth logger....when average flows are about 4 feet above the depth logger!

Depth Logger Data
You can see the large spike in water around point 26033 on the above graph.  As the water receded, it left behind almost 8 feet of mud on top of the logger!  Success!

Made it to Narok by about 5:30PM.  Stopped by the Dream King for some lunch/dinner.  Ordered the only thing I have ever ordered at that restaurant (boneless chicken curry)...placed the order with the exact same waiter (David) that has been waiting on us since 2008 when the restaurant was called Khushboo....the owner/manager came out to greet us....the curio shop guy next door came over to say hi and ask about Amanda....and they screwed up the order.  

Oh well...at least I get a hot shower tonight.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pete Simpson

Geemi is sporting a really nice fleece pull-over embroidered with the name "Pete Simpson" and Rolls-Royce.  

It's amazing the awesome second hand clothes you can get in some of the Nairobi markets.  

Friday, July 19, 2013


Last night was my first night back in camp in about 4 months.  All the animals are coming by to greet me.  Last night, elephants and dik-diks came by.  Today, a forest cobra stopped by.....

Directly in front of our tent next to where we cook.  Yes....this is a picture of him staring at me.  

But don't worry...he was only coming by to say "hi".  After he greeted me, he took off up the hill faster than I ran off in the other direction.  

It's great to be back!

I'm back at Maji Camp

...and Geemi is with me. Although, this place won't feel like home until Amanda arrives in a few weeks.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dominance Display

Here is a time series of a hippo pooping in the face of a few other hippos.  A very common behavior we often see while we out watching the hippos.  The dominant male is the one doing the pooping.  

Unfortunately, the picture is a little hard to see thanks to a branch that has grown in front of the camera.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Two Hippos Mating

I just received our camera trap images taken from a hippo pool on the Mara from Robert at WWF.  He retrieved them for us a few weeks ago.  I'll be posting some of the highlights over the next week.

Check out this picture of two hippos mating!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

More on the upcoming Mara Day


I just finished a two week sprint through the entire basin documenting the hydrometric and climate network.  I spent about 4 days in Tanzania and the rest of the time in Kenya.  I was lucky to have officers from the Tanzanian and Kenyan water offices accompany during portions of the trip.  During our last stop today, we ended up running into James Sindiyo, the Chief Warden of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  He was nice enough to take us out to lunch at the Sarova Mara Game Camp.  It was an exceptionally good lunch, considering it was the first lunch that we have had in the last two weeks!  We've been traveling so much over the last two weeks....we never had time to stop for lunch.  

Feels good to be done.  I'm in Narok for the night then off to Nairobi tomorrow.  

During our drive between climate stations in the Maasai Mara, we saw tons of wildlife, and lots of tourists.  High season is here.  

Necessary part of any safari

Tire punctures!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hot New Guest House in Aitong

The Bull's Palace!  Run by a local Maasai, Ole Sakat, this place is great. 6 bucks gets you a nice clean room...and he even runs a generator for power at night.

Tree is Life

From the Nyangores Forest Station.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Mau

Stayed in Bomet last night. Heading deep into the Mau today in search of the climate network installed last year by the water authorities.

Thankfully, I've got Maurice with me. Maurice used to work in Bomet but now he is with the Kisumu office. Hopefully our car will make it!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cheapest Steak and Cheese Sandwich Ever

Steak flavored potato chips crammed in a loaf of bread with some cheese.  Thank you Nakumatt.  

Mara Day is coming up....

September 15.  This year, it will be held in Mugumu, Tanzania...so you better book a room now or you'll be driving for 3 hours to Musoma or Tarime in the dark with twenty other people (who also didn't get a room) in your vehicle at the end of the day.

There is already some press about the upcoming event:

Tanzania: Mara River Basin Needs Protection

Last year there were thousands of people in attendance.  It was a pretty awesome event.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pirate Girl

I'm currently traveling around the Tanzanian side of the Mara River Basin...checking out all the different rain, climate and hydrological gauging stations.

I came across these children at the Kiagata Primary School.  They help watch over one of the automated rain gauges installed at their primary school.  I couldn't help but notice that one of the kids was wearing a shirt from Savannah, Ga.  These kids don't see many visitors here since there is no tourism in this area.  I stopped for a bit a tried to tell him some about Savannah...how it is in Georgia...on the coast...has lots of nice people that live there.. that I'm from Georgia...and that there are no Pirates in Savannah.  


I'm always amazed at how hungry the children are for interaction with foreigners and how big their smiles can  get.  

The Dash

Tanzanian flag, Poppy air freshener, and President Kim (I think?).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

12 hours

I forgot it takes about 12 hours to get from Nairobi to Musoma.

Completely worth it for a cold beer and fish fingers from the Afrilux Hotel in Musoma.

Copy me to survive

As he is passing a truck on a blind curb...

Probably not a good idea to copy him.

Back in Kenya

Feels good to be back in the land of filling your vehicle on a block in order to completely max out your fuel capacity.

On the way to Musoma to meet with an old friend and learn what he has been up to for the last few years.  Amanda will join me in a few weeks and we'll formally kick off her field season then.

In the meantime, I'll be travelling through the basin and checking out the monitoring network.