Monday, August 30, 2010

Kenya - fun stuff

For me, Africa truly began in Kenya. Even though Egypt is on the continent of Africa it just seemed like it was a whole different world or continent of its own. The people of Egypt are so distinctly different culturally and in appearance while all of the other African countries we visited seemed to have so many cultural similarities.

One of the biggest differences you notice right away, other than the obvious physical features, is how their religious beliefs and the way they act and dress speak loads about who they really are. For these reasons, I don't associate Egypt with any of the other African countries that we visited and never will. What I have learned firsthand and beheld with my own eyes is that Africa is a land of much cultural diversity and each country has inhabitants that are slightly different than their neighbors starting from the far north all the way to the far south. What struck most unexpectedly was that even amongst the mostly black inhabited nations there are striking differences in terms of language, customs, and beliefs. This was perhaps one of the most intriguing things I learned about Africa. Each country seemed to have its very own unique form of expression both verbally and nonverbally.

I knew before going to Africa that it was going to be the most unique and rewarding destination and experience of the entire journey -- and I was not disappointed. We flew into Nairobi from Cairo. Our research had told us that this was a very dangerous place to be especially at night and that we therefore should not spend much time here. The truth is that it was quite the opposite. I've come to realize in my travels that you should never believe everything that you read or hear for that matter in terms of travel advice. It should always be taken with a grain of salt and with a certain amount of perspective. What I have learned is that no matter where you go on this magnificent earth there will be a town that you will stumble upon that might not be as it appears. Truth is every town whether small or big has its safe and dangerous areas. You just have to be duly informed on which parts to avoid and you will be just fine. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and even Topeka, Kansas(yes, Topeka) all have their bad spots. In New York it is the Bronx, in Los Angeles most people would probably say Compton, in Chicago it is the ghetto west side, in Boston it is the "Southie" area and in little ole Topeka take your pick of either the inner east side or the city center both of which are poverty stricken and drug and crime infested. For Nairobi it is the infamous River Road and everything east of it.

Katie did a wonderful job of finding us a backpackers place to sleep called Wildebeest Camp in a very safe suburb on the lower southside. This place was different than any of the other hostels we had stayed at anywhere else. The main difference was that you could choose from a bunk bed in a dorm room or a double bed in what they called a garden tent which was an actual tent. After a quick glance we realized that for a few more bucks, the garden tent was the way to go. It had more of an outdoorzy, camping feel to it. After all, this is Africa I am talking about. It took no time at all to make friends. It was just one of those kind of places where all the elements seemed to fall into place naturally. No extra effort needed.

After becoming acquainted with our new friends we decided to take a few excursions on the town. The main highlights for me in Nairobi were the following: 1)going to carnivors and feasting on bbq lamb,beef,chicken and ostrich, 2) helping Diego shop for an interviewing suit, 3) going to the movies with everyone and watching a movie for the first time in 6 months!, 4) going on a day tour of the widowĹ› jewelry factory and learning every step of how they make their premium jewelry that places like Nordstroms eats up, buying stuff for my family and watching Katie shop for more than 3 hours in the tiny shop in front after the tour -- ok that last part was not fun, just eventful. 5) being able to see the Beverly Hills area of Nairobi where all the corrupt politicians live and being able to compare that to the most poverty stricken areas that we drove through at our taxi driver´s suggestion on our way back from the tour. Very hard to explain to you in words how that made me feel, and last but not least 6) going to the elephant orphanage on the way home to see the baby elephants have lunch. It wasn´t so much seeing the elephants parade around us as that to me was a circus act I didn´t care for because it tended to attract crowds for all the wrong reasons. For me it was what the trainers were doing for these poor little guys. Most of the orphans had lost their mother due to pouching, some were just simply abandoned because their mother had gotten sick or had died, and some just got lost somehow out in the wild. Whatever the case was, I felt very happy and elated to see a very soft side of humanity that you just don´t see in our every day lives back home. Here was a case where I could finally see with my own eyes where just a little bit went a very long way. Without the orphanage´s help, all of these precious little babies would have perished and died. The most vivid mental pictures that I took with me from the orphanage were ironically the ones that the trainers had posted of the many mother elephants that were killed and butchered for their tusks. It made me so angry just to see so many pictures of elephants being masacred for ignorant reasons. All I could think of is, why? How could anyone be so cruel and stupid? It was hard for me to focus on the good that was being done by saving these babies and not the bad that was being done that forced them to be there. Such a wide range of emotions tugged me back and forth and still does to this day. There are no words that can appropriately describe what it felt like to be there in the flesh experiencing that moment. I will never forget being there with those little guys and I will always have a special place in my heart for them. I can now say with good reason that elephants are a big part of my life now.

After having so much fun during our stay in Nairobi Katie and I both decided that it would be stupid to go to Kenya and not go on a safari run. That seems pretty logical right? Wrong! What you don´t understand is one key thing: These things cost money and LOTS of it! You have to remember, we are on a planned vacation for 10 months! and neither one of us is kin to anyone with the last name of Gates, Buffet or Slim. And everything, and I do mean everything is !!&%/$$?!! expensive in Africa right down to the toilet paper. Does the word ¨budget¨ mean anything to anyone? To make things clearer, we were already scheduled to do a safari tour($$$$) in every other country we would go to in Africa after Kenya except one, South Africa. Kenya was just supposed to be a pass through to get to Tanzania because Nairobi had the closest international airport to our destination in Tanzania. What? Do another safari tour? But we´re already scheduled to do umpteen of them later. Just how many animals do we need to see? The answer is: as many as humanly possible. I am soooo glad that we decided to do it. It was one of the most if not the most spectacular landscape and wild animal excursions that I would witness for the rest of our journey across Africa. Funny how sometimes when things just don´t go as planned it just makes it that much better. Sometimes you just have to wing it. There´s a term for this. It´s called spontaneity and the payoffs to being spontaneous can be so huge sometimes that you forget that there was even an alternative to your final decided course of action. I could try to tell how what it felt like to be their but I would not do any justice by doing so. I will also tell you that the pictures we took will not quite do the job either but they will do a better job than I can in words. I will just tell you that the feeling you get while you are roaming around the african savannah standing on your seat of a roofless 4x4 with your head held high in the air seeing nature at its very best and just soaking it all in is surreal. It´s like the best drug you ever had and you just can´t seem to get enough of it. It was a 6 day safari excursion that included the following destinations: Lake Boringo, Lake Bagovia, Lake Nakuru and ofcourse the Masai Mara. Each place offered a completely different set of animals and views that was very unique in its own way. The highlights of our safari run in Kenya are too many to list but here are a few: 1) listening to Alfred(our cook) tell his jokes at dinner every night and for introducing us to one of my favorite african foods(Ugali) and for being such a great cook, 2) getting to see a pride of lions almost make a water buffalo kill on the Masai Mara and then watching Nicholas(our driver) get in trouble for letting us stay too late in the park to see it and squirm his way out of it, 3) listening to Diego tell us his story about how he had to do an advanced yoga move to avoid a heard of hippos grazing right next to his tent at Lake Boringo at darkthirty in the morning just to go to the bathroom and not get eaten or trampled in the process(nice one Diego), 4) getting stuck in the mud and high-centered while on one of our many safari runs on the Masai Mara and having to get out of the truck right smack in the middle of lion country and being asked to push from the back and help dig the truck out from the mud. (I´ll let Katie tell you about that one as I think she had more fun with it than I did.), 5) being able to stand right where the most spectacular event in the entire natural world(the wildebeest migration) takes place on the Masai River, 6) watching the sun rise over the Masai Mara at 6:00am in the morning and all the animals come slowly into view - priceless!... there are many others.... but this should give you a good idea of what it was like to be in Kenya.

Below are a bunch of pics. Too hard to put in the middle and line them all up but you should still get the picture. :)




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