Kenya 2005

From Arusha, in Tanzania, we take a bus, across the border into Kenya. The trip is billed as being four hours, but of course, takes several more. By now we’ve been in Africa for six weeks, long enough to know that time is relative and elastic here.

We arrive in Nairobi late in the afternoon and after a bit of driving around from one too expensive hotel to another, the taxi driver recommends the Boulevard. It’s perfect! A short walk to downtown down a lane of vendors. Fully fenced and secure, with Masai guards at the main gate. A pool. A garden. A good restaurant. A spectacular buffet breakfast. We love it and will return on our next trip here.

Nairobi is a new city, only about 100 yrs old. So much of this part of Africa is like that. Short on human urbanization and development. While humans have been here for a very long time, they have not built the cities, the structures, the roads and other infrastructure that they have in other parts of the planet. Africa has been left to nature: the wilderness and the animals. Humans are fringe dwellers in a survival of the fittest drama as old as time.

We spend a few days shopping (I replace my sandals with a $10 used pair I find on a bargain table at the mall), lounging at the pool, eating in the few restaurants. Italian, Indian. Italian in a flashy place with an outdoor patio. Indian in an alley with just 4 or 5 other tables. We have drinks on the verandah of the legendary and historic Norfolk Hotel, reminiscent of Meryl Streep in the movie “Out of Africa”.

This trip has not been pre-organized and we have been finding hotels and transportation as we go along. For our time in Kenya and the things we want to do, we decide to engage a travel agent. I wish I had a photo of her or at least remembered her name. This young, rotund, braided black woman does a stellar job of booking us train tickets to Mombassa, into a resort on the coast north of Mombassa, flights north to Lamu island, a safari to Mount Kenya and flights to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She is a gem. It is all reasonably priced and well organized.

The train to Mombassa is very 19th century faded glory. Our compartment is worn, but the sheets are clean, the dining car is sparkly and glamorous but there are mouse turds in my curry, our steward is friendly and helpful, but clearly very poor and not very bright.

North of Mombassa, we spend a couple of days at a resort on the beach. The other guests are mostly German. A monkey and a vibrant florescently coloured lizard visit us on our balcony. We walk on the beach and buy kikoys (cotton skirts) from a young girl sewing them in front of our resort.

From Mombassa, we fly to Lamu, north, close to the border with Somalia. Today no one goes there because of terrorism and piracy, kidnapping and other nefarious goings on. As is so often the case, we are fortunate to visit Lamu before it becomes off-limits to travellers.

We find ourselves in another stone town, much like on Zanzibar. Narrow alleys, fortified walls, two & three story stone structures. Muslim women with various forms of veils, scarves and other cover ups. Markets with abundant veggies and fruit. Fresh fish. Garbage. Lots of it piled high. The World Health Organization has an office building along a side street. Piled high outside the gate is more garbage.

We move hotels from within the stone town to a place down the beach called the Stop Over. Craig spends too many hours on the beach in the noon-day-sun and becomes ill. Simultaneously shivering and sweating, hot and cold, headache, nausea, no appetite, classic sun stroke. I go down to the restaurant myself and bing him back a bowl of soup. It is unnerving as Craig is never sick. Not even when we travel. It is usually him bringing me a bowl of soup.

From Lamu we fly back to Nairobi, this time staying at the cheaper Blue Heron. Fine for the one night we are there. The next morning we are picked up by a driver and a private car to be driven to a tented camp close to Mt Kilimanjaro.

The camp is the blow out treat of the trip. For $500/day we are staying in a tent the size of a hotel room with an ensuite bath. Three buffet meals a day. A game viewing pond outside our tent, where we sit in the evening with cocktails and watch the animals come for a drink.

The first night, having been warned about snakes, we walk back to our tent after dinner very cautiously. Once in the tent we notice something under the coverlet on my bed. Round and slightly elevated, it looks like a coiled viper. Craig grabs a coat hanger and valiantly flips back the coverlet, ready to do battle with an attacking reptile. It turns out to be not a reptile at all, but rather a hot water bottle the staff placed during turn down. There’s one under Craig’s covers too but we hadn’t noticed it. Made for a great story at breakfast the next morning.

We visit a chimpanzee sanctuary. They are not native to Kenya and have been rescued from various, mostly tragic and abusive, domestic situations. They are too human like for words. It is eerily uncomfortable looking into their eyes and watching some of their very human-like gestures and mannerisms,

At a rhino sanctuary we meet Moroni, an orphaned rhino being cared for until he is ready to be reintroduced to the wild. He is way too tame for that game though. He needs to be someone’s pet.

The game drives at Mt. Kenya Park are not a lot different than others we have been on. We’ve seen the “Big 5”: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo.  We’ve seen all variety of antelope, a kill, hyena mating. What more is there to see, we wonder toward the end of the second day at Mt. Kenya? How about a birth? At first we can’t really comprehend what we are seeing. There’s a female wildebeest about 50 ft from the truck, standing behind a tree. Suddenly something shiny and slimy looking falls from her hind end. Is that an afterbirth? As I am processing that question a little calf stands up on wobbly legs. It moves toward the mother, no doubt hunting for a teat. I snap a quick couple of shots. Most of them are blurry or too dark, but one turns out. Wow!

We make a last stop in Nairobi. From here we fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We have a month of travel left before we fly home from Cairo. To read more about that leg of the Africa 2004/05 trip see “Ethiopia 2005”.

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