|The plan||We plan to travel overland around Kenya for 18 days by the following route: Nairobi → Safari through Massai Mara and the Rift Valley lakes (10 days) → Mobassa (6 hours by bus) → Malindi (6 hours) → Nairobi (10 hours)|
August 9... Nairobi - Hello from Kenya! We flew out of London yesterday after encountering a few minor unexpected problems. Firstly, when Nicole rang up to reconfirm our flight, the lady on the phone said in a patronising manner that if we had a physical ticket, we didn't have to reconfirm with British Airways. "We just wanted to double check the time hadn't changed." "Okay" she said followed by a long pause. It turned out, well, firstly the time had changed from 9:30 pm to 10:20 am - oops, if we hadn't rung up we would have missed it by a good 10 hours or so. Secondly, "I have no record of you having a flight booked," and then, "Oh yes, someone has cancelled all of your remaining flights. It must have been your travel agent". Yeah, right! We haven't spoken to our travel agent in 6 months, and we certainly didn't cancel any flights, which would obviously have had a slightly disastrous effect on our holiday. Anyway, the lady on the phone was no help and neither was the local STA branch (our travel agency). Since we didn't want to be stuck in London forever, we trundled off to the British Airways office in the bottom of Harrods, and fortunately got a guy who knew what he was doing, and fixed the problem in a few minutes. (Insert MAJOR SIGH OF RELIEF here). He was also able to help us make a few adjustments to our itinerary - by changing two flights, and cutting down some time from South Africa and China, we're able to come home earlier - on October 24th... We arrived in Nairobi late last night. According to the statistics, Nairobi has the highest rate of crime of any city in Africa, having overtaken Johannesburg a few years ago. We've been warned by foreigners and locals alike not to carry anything valuable on us and not to go out after dark. In fact, one of the things that struck us as we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, was how quiet the streets were - completely devoid of people. Obviously, this precaution is taken very seriously. We haven't had the chance to look around much yet, but we have organsised a camping safari for eight days, taking us to Masai Mara, Nakuru, the Rift Valley Lakes and Samburu. We can't wait! Love Graham and Nicole.
August 10... Nairobi - Today we explored the city centre, starting with a public bus into town. It was fun seeing the bustling streets full of local people from the bus window. We certainly stand out from the crowd. Almost all the women here have fantastically elaborate hairstyles. We passed some type of peaceful demonstration near the government buildings and so made a quick detour to wind up at the main cathedral where we had a look around. The church was quite packed as a midday service was starting. Down the road is a small memorial garden at the site of the American Embassy which was bombed on August 7th 1998. It was sad to read the names of the 200 or so (mostly Kenyan) people who died in the attack. In the afternoon we took a look at the National Museum. It was pretty interesting seeing paintings of all the different tribespeople, taking a look at the traditional crafts and dress, and reading about their customs. There were charms for making a warrior invisible to his enemy and all sorts of unusual cures prepared by medicine men. It will be interesting to learn how much of the traditional life of various tribes remains today - hopefully we'll get a little feel for that on the safari we set off for tomorrow. Love Graham and Nicole.
August 19... Nairobi - Well, we're back in Nairobi after a week away. Last Wednesday we headed off for Masai Mara National Park in a 4WD van, fortunately driven by a very good driver, Mina, who was our guide for the next eight days. There was also a Spanish couple and an Italian couple, none of whom spoke English, making for some riveting conversation. Coming out of Nairobi, we passed large slum areas packed with shanty houess of corrugated iron and wood. The roadside was lined with large signs for lots of schools and churches (many of which are Kenyan derived denominations that we hadn't heard of such as Deliverance Church and Full Gospel Church) and the odd business. The names really were quite odd - we've passed "Gender Equity Bar and Butchery", "Hop-In Cafe", "Mum's Economical Cafe Butchery", "Suitable Bar", "Decent Bar", "Equatorial Chalet" and "Hassle-free Curio Shop" which is surely a contradication in terms in Kenya (more on that later). As we descended into the Rift Valley, we were met with a stunning view of the vast wilderness ahead. The Rift Valley is a series of valleys stretching for 5,000 km from the Red Sea to Mozambique. Along the valley floor we drove past numerous Maasai shepherds and their herds of cows and goats, and to our surprise, a large amount of wildlife. Before we had even reached the national park we had seen zebras, gazelles, baboons, warthogs and an ostrich. For the next three nights we camped in permanent tents erected near the park and spent most of the days on "game drives". The sheer number of animals at Masai Mara was incredible. The park borders Tanzania and is part of the Masai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. In July, 1.5 million blue wildebeest and thousands of zebras migrate from Tanzania's Serengeti north to Masai Mara in search of food and water. The mass migration then repeats itself in the opposite direction in October, so we were lucky enough to be in Masai Mara at the right time. We'd drive past herd after herd of wildebeest and think there were a lot around, only to see more hills in the distance covered with black wildebeest dots. All these herbivores make fine dining for the predators and the scavengers. We saw four lions munching on a wildebeest and a zebra being finished off by greedy, squabbling vultures - if it sounds gruesome, it was. Perhaps the best though was watching a cheetah in action, surveying a herd of wildebeest, slowly strolling past them as their fear levels rose. We were so tense as we waited for him to make his move - and then he did, with lightening speed. We drove as quickly as we could to follow the cheetah. Finding him heavily panting without any dinner and looking completely exhausted we even felt a little sorry for him. Some of the other animals we saw at Masai Mara included elephants, giraffes, gazelles and antelopes, many birds, hyraxes and hyenas... There are more than seventy tribal groups in Kenya and the Maasai people are one of the largest of these. There are numerous Maasai villages around the national park where a semi-traditional lifestyle is still followed. The campsite we stayed at was run by Maasai people, and four young men took us out for a bushwalk, giving us a good opportunity to learn what life was like for them. Boys are circumcised at about age fifteen marking their transition into manhood, following which they leave their village and live alone as "Maasai warriors". But their main task during the next five years is to build up a herd of livestock before returning to the village. There they marry a girl of their parents' choice, who is normally aged about fourteen. Polygamy is widely practiced, and all the young men we spoke to were keen to build up their herd so that they could acquire another wife, this time of their own choosing. As for the Maasai diet - well, it's surprising. They don't farm crops and mainly live off the milk, meat and blood of their herds. They bleed their cows from the neck veins and mix the blood with milk to drink - they assured us it tastes really good. Yuk! We were shown the bark and leaves of various trees which are used to make tea-like and alcoholic drinks. They also started a fire for us with twigs and elephant dung telling us that they never use matches. On our way out of Masai Mara we visited a village that is open to tourists. Village tours, guiding and the selling of handicrafts brings in a much needed income for school fees, medical bills and goods such as shoes and clothing. All children attend primary school, and many secondary school. The village we visited did not have piped water or electricy, but the villagers would like to see both amenities in their community. In the village we saw some traditional dancing done by men and women accompanied by beautiful singing. The huts of the village are small and cramped and are built by the women from branches and cow-dung. The villages are semi-permanent and every six years or so the whole community moves in search of greener pastures... Our next desination was Lake Nakuru which is one of several salt-water lakes of the Rift Valley supporting a large amount of wildlife, especially birds. It is the main home for the millions of flamingos in the region. It was spectacular driving down to the lake and seeing it half covered in a haze of pink flamingos and pelicans with rhinos trampling by. As we stood by the lake edge, it became easier to comprehend the number of birds when we heard the noise of the collective flapping when a large group would take flight. As we left the park we passed several buffalo, more gazelles, giraffes, and an enormous entourage of baboons which stopped the traffic as they crossed the road. Further north we stopped at Lake Baringo - a fresh-water lake. Unfortunately the only way to get a look at the wildlife was on a boat tour. There was no way we could bring ourselves to pay a guy in a speedboat $100 to take us around for an hour. We attempted to go for a short walk but the "path" was overgrown with thorny bushes and there were so many swarms of flies that we gave up quickly. This left us with plenty of time to talk with locals while we waited for the Spaniards to return from the boat trip. Throughout our time in Kenya, talking with locals has been an interesting experience. The people are extremely friendly but often in a style reminiscent of Egypt in that the conversation winds up with a request for money. It's very frustrating and puts you on edge because you don't know if the person genuinely just wants to talk or is after more. The least tactful has been Francis - a teenage boy dressed in cool American "home-boy" gear, he was very keen to talk to us at Lake Baringo imputing these words of wisdom: "In Kenya, there are lots of con-men who try to get money from white people." And the very next sentence? "Will you give me a donation for a school that is being built nearby? Teacher says that it is good to ask tourists for donations." Skeptical but wishing to remain polite we asked for the school address but were told it was best to give the money directly to him. He had already prepared a receipt for 5,000 KSh - that's $100! We continued to decline in between answering his questions about Australian wildlife. Later we asked Mina (our driver) if it was a scam. He just laughed and said "absolutely"! On the other hand, some locals just want to share their knowledge, be it the admirable facts given by Douglas, a zoology student, or the benefits of the "holy herb," as touted by one very strange young man. (The holy herb we found out later was opium). Sadly among younger children, outright begging for pens, sweets and money is almost universal, although we noticed they were often told off by older adults for doing so. Later we drove to a third Rift Valley lake, Lake Borgoria. It has a beautiful setting against a backdrop of mountains and is also home to many flamingos. Its main appeal though is a string of boiling hot springs that line the shore and give off clouds of steam. Unfortunately the underground volcanic activity that causes the springs is also responsible for an overwhelming sulphur pong. But it was definitely worth a visit... The next day we headed up through the central Kenyan highlands. This is where Kenya's famous long-distance runners train (they come from the Kalenjin people around Lake Baringo but move here for the high altitude). The countryside is beautifully green and lush. We stopped at the 72 metre high Thompson falls for a break on our way to Samburu. As a common tourist stop it is inundated with curio shops and extremely aggressive vendors. They ask you your name and then stick to you like glue telling you that you must come and see their shop - "It's free to look." The problem isn't looking, it's leaving without having bought anything. Explanations like "I don't want it" are just met with a "Why not? It's a good price." If we said yes to even half of these people we'd have accumulated ten backpacks of wooden carvings that customs probably wouldn't allow into Australia, and a mountain of bananas and avocados! So remaining empty-handed, we headed onwards to Samburu National Park. The landscape here was different again - dry and dusty savanna with a beautiful palm-tree lined river running through it. We camped here for two nights among inquisitive baboons and vervet monkeys that kept attempting to steal food scraps and occasionally enter tents. On the second night we were awoken by the roaring of a nearby lion and in the morning there were leopard and elephant tracks a couple metres from the tents. We saw large families of elephants, giraffes and lions up close as well as a number of really cute smaller animals. There were plenty of dik diks (deer-like creatures the size of rabbits), mongooses (squirrel-like creatures that pop up from sandy mounds or logs and look nervous), ground squirrels, wild rabbits and bat-eared foxes. The drive back to Nairobi took a full day including the almost mandatory car break-down. Over the eight days we had two flat tyres, two boggings, and five break-downs. Fortunately Mina was a fantastic mechanic and would diagnose the problem in an instant by the sound the car was making and fix it in a jiffy. One thing that wasn't a highlight was a week's worth of Kenyan food - mince, cabbage, rice and pancakes for almost every meal. We felt we covered a lot of area over eight days seeing towns and rural areas, traditional cultures and plenty of wildlife. Love Graham and Nicole.
August 21... Nairobi - Since we were on safari longer than we planned, we ran out of time to get to the Kenyan coast and back, so we've just hung around Nairobi the last few days, mainly at the local shopping centre... We're off to South Africa tomorrow morning. Love Graham and Nicole.Click here to see some photos from Kenya