Monday, September 6, 2010

Kenya!

Finally, I've come to our time in Africa, Egypt doesn't really fit into quintessential Africa: big sky, wild animals, and different cultures. Well, Egypt does have a different culture, but it is more middle east than Africa. I have to say now that the Africa posts will be the most picture heavy and sorry for any duplicate pictures between our two posts. There were just beautiful and interesting things everywhere. Kenya will definitely not be an exception to this as our time there was some of the most memorable in the entire trip.

We arrived into the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi at about 4 in the morning, straight from Cairo. For anyone that isn't familiar with Kenyan history, Jomo Kenyatta was the first prime minister and president of independant Kenya is basically the George Washington of the country. Everyone from the plane was pretty dazed going through customs, trying to find a pen and fill out all of the forms. It was our first immigration office in "Africa Africa" and I was a little nervous, but we didn't have any problems at all. Just pay the $25 visa fee and you're good to go. Nairobi was one of the few places on our trip that I was REALLY worried about spending any time in. Over the years I had heard so many horror stories about violence in the Kenyan capital that I made sure we had accommodation figured out and someone at the airport at 4 am to pick us up. It turns out that we had a great time in Nairobi and like any big city if you stay out of certain neighborhoods and take extra precaution at night, you're fine.

I am glad that we did some extra research to find a place to stay because we ended up a great backpackers spot called Wildebeest Camp. Wildebeest is just as it sounds - a camp - right in the middle of Nairobi. Just two miles away is the worst slums, but also the very best neighborhoods. We stayed in a permanent tent that actually had a nice double bed inside of it! Showers were shared, but warm almost all of the time and they had turtles and dogs roaming around the lawn. Best of all that had really great strong coffee, which has been hard to come by at different times during our trip. We only stayed at Wildebeest before we set off for our first SAFARI of the trip. As I would find out during our six day adventure, safaris are pretty much about one thing - driving around. Also, unless you shell out thousands of dollars for a premium safari, you are going to understand very quickly where the term TIA "This Is Africa" comes from. At some point during every safari the truck is bound to breakdown, get stuck, run out of gas or drive around in endless circles staring at baboons or just rocks. Despite that, when you do get to see a lion, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, etc. etc. it is absolutely thrilling, especially for your first time.

Our trip started out from Nairobi with our driver Nicholas, the chef extraordinaire Alfred, and our fellow traveller from Italy via New York, Diego. The funny thing we figured out about Diego after being on the safari for five days was that he was on the exact same plane that we were on from Cairo and that I actually gave him a pen to fill out his custom forms but we were all so exhausted that morning at 4 am that it took us five days to make that connection! Our first stop on the safari was Lake Boringo, about an 8 hour drive from Nairobi. Lake Boringo is know for its bird life and had the first rainy season in three years so many of the birds were nesting and we saw lots of little baby birds! In addition to the bird life, Lake Boringo had lots of hippos. One thing I learned about hippos on this day was that they like to stay in the water during the day and relax and then come out at night when it is cool and eat. Hippos eat up to 100 kg each night! The crazy thing is that we camped out right by the lake and that night when I was trying to go to sleep I heard a noise that kind of sounded like a pig snorting around our tent. It was a hippo eating the grass right by our heads! Another thing I learned about hippos is that they are the most dangerous animal in Africa because they are aggressive, huge, and fast. If you are standing up and get in the path of a hippo it will charge you and basically gorge you to death in a matter of seconds. I was thinking this as Chris was snoring beside me and was hoping that the hippo didn't want to get aggressive with our tent. Right around this time I heard a tent opening, a hippo roaring, and then a tent closing. In the morning we found out from Diego that he had wanted to use the facilities and came face to face with a hippo! Yikes!!!




After Lake Baringo we made our way to the famous Lake Nakuru, but first stopped at Lake Bogovia famous for Geysers and lots of flamingos.




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We arrived at our camp by Lake Nakuru and set up our tents before heading on the game drive. I have to interject here that you will be hearing a lot in the upcoming posts about me camping. I really never camped much before this trip except for a few times in grade school when I was in Girl Scouts. Chris and I had our fair share of sleeping and setting up tents and using outhouses in Africa. I am so proud to have made it through all of this relatively unscathed and am happy to report that I really love to camp! I actually can't wait to do some camping in the US. Anyway, after we setup camp we headed to Lake Nakuru, another lake famous for flamingos, but also with a ton of wildlife, including the shy rhinoceros. It was such beautiful scenery here and amazing to see our first rhinos, elephants, zebras, and giraffes of the trip!


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One of the most exciting incidents of the trip happened at Lake Nakuru. As we were nearly exiting the park, Nicholas somehow managed to spot a young lion up in a tree. As we were gawking out of the top of the Land Rover at the lion in the tree I spotted some movement in the brush below. I shouted at Chris and Diego - "Something is coming, something is coming!" Diego said "Everyone get your cameras!" Chris was luckily filming all of this and before we knew it a lioness came walking right out of the bushes by the truck, walked lazily behind the truck and started to lap some water on the side of the road and then sauntered off, like nothing. Needless to say, the three of us were elated, shouting hoorays, and thankful to Nicholas for spotting the lion in the tree in the first place!

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After spending a rainy night in our camp in Lake Nakuru, we headed back towards Nairobi and to the highlight of our safari - the Masai Mara. The Masai Mara is a huge national park in Kenya and is actually connected to and very similar to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Before getting to the park for the night we picked up four more travellers and exchanged our trusty Land Rover for a new one. The ride to our camp in the Masai Mara was a rough one, eight hours in total, four of which were on very bumpy dirt roads. A word of the wise to anyone going on a safari in the future - the back seat is the bumpiest! Luckily when we made it to the camp, Nicholas had surprise for us. Since it was low season, there wasn't anyone else at the camp so we were able to stay in little huts rather than tents. What luxury! It was late by the time we settled in and had some of Alfred's great cooking so we all went to bed to prepare for an early morning game drive.


Our first game drive in the Masai Mara was quite an experience. All alone in the middle of the park we got stuck in the mud and couldn't move the truck at all! We were out there for two hours trying various ways to get the truck out of the mud. We pushed from the front, we pushed from the back, our Masai guide cut down trees and tried to prop up the truck. I got covered in mud trying to push the truck. Chris looked and inspected and finally realized that the truck was high centered and that all of our efforts were in vain. We all took turns looking out for lions coming from downwind or is that upwind? Right when we all started to run out of water and image the worst two minivans and three trucks came out of nowhere! We're saved! Luckily one of the other Land Rovers pushed us out by getting the two truck grills nose to nose. For a few minutes we were the spectacle that all of the other trucks were looking at.

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After making it out of the mud we headed towards the Tanzanian border and the Masai River where the great wildebeest migration occurs every year in June. Unfortunately we were a little early and didn't see the migration, but it was cool to be in a place that I've seen on TV many times. We also saw some hippos and crocs in the water and a heard of elephants as we left. Nicholas probably felt bad about getting us stuck in the mud so he stirred up some action by revving the truck's engine at the elephants. They didn't like that very much because they had some babies with them and they roared right back at us. We headed back to came, ate some sandwiches, rested and went back out on a game drive where we saw tons of lions! The lions in the Masai Mara were the most beautiful we saw on the entire trip. They were also the most 'friendly' and seemed to pose for the pictures.

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The next day held two more game drives. Again we saw lots of lions and even a cheetah stalking a lone gazelle in a clearing from over 500 yards away! That afternoon we visited a Masai village and saw how they still lived in huts made of cow dung even though they have cell phones with Jay-Z ring tones. They performed some of their traditional dances. The men do a dance and show how they can jump high. Apparently jumping high equals virility, but no matter how high you jump you can't marry until you own 15 cows. Some videos of the dances are at the bottom of the post. The children were very sweet and we all bought some of the bead work from the women. It was interesting to see how the Masai people live today and also a theme that became common through out the trip in Africa, that many of the young people are turning away from their roots in favor of more modern living. The irony is that while tourism makes many of the dances and villages seem contrived, the fact that people pay to see the villages is what is keeping many of the traditions alive. In the evening we almost saw a kill when five lioness were watching some water buffalo. Three water buffalo broke away from the pack and we thought for sure that the lionesses would attack because there were lions waiting in the background and hyenas came by as well. Nicholas was a great sport to stick in the national park late because he told us from the beginning that there was no way the lionesses would attack three of the buffalo, maybe two, but not three. Sure enough as the buffalo came by they charged at the lionesses and scattered them. Even though we didn't see a 'kill' it was still a fun sight to see.


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That was our last day at the Masai Mara. The next day we saw some zebra on the way out of the park and made the eight hour hike back to Nairobi.

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After our safari, we went back to Wildebeest Camp in Nairobi for a few days. Diego joined us and we met up with another girl, Jennifer, from New York as well. We all had a great time hanging out. We went to Carnivours, a huge restaurant in Nairobi where they serve, you guessed it, meat! The menu didn't have anything too crazy on it the day we were there, but we all enjoyed lots of beef, chicken, crocodile and ostrich! We all went to see a Iron Man 2 one day, which was so fun because we hadn't seen a movie in ages. We also went to an elephant orphange and a store where women with HIV/AIDS and single mothers hand make beautiful necklaces and bracelets from clay. Jennifer and I spent nearly an hour in the store while Chris patiently waited and luckily had the cab driver to talk to. On our way back to Wildebeest, our driver took us on a drive through the slums of Nairobi where millions of people live in grave poverty and some of the areas in the interior are so bad that the police refuse to go. It was a stark contrast to the huge mansions that we drove through just one kilometer away. It was eye opening to say the least. All in all our trip to Kenya was a huge success and will be a wonderful memory forever!





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