Friday, August 9, 2013

The Amazing Race Loser

It was supposed to be a two day trip not four plus.  But when we arrived in Brussels, our connection to the flight to Nairobi, I went to the ticket agent to see about a seat upgrade due to the long flight and she said, " we may not be flying to Nairobi, there's been a fire in the airport terminal".  i was shocked.  An hour or so later, after I scrambled to use the internet and communicate with Ella in Nairobi and as luck would have it, Alex from the US Consulate in Kenya who happened to be on Google chat at the moment, I decided to take the one of two options offered to me.  Brussels airlines either offered to put us up for up to two days in Brussels but warned that there would likely be no open flights to Nairobi for much longer than that.  The other option I chose was to fly to Entebbe, Uganda from which it was my responsibility to find my way to Nairobi.  It didn't look too far on the map and I didn't think the Brussels hotel option sounded good. 

We arrived late into Uganda, about 11pm but I had a woman, Jessy from FL who had chosen to go ahead with her three week long safari trip in Kenya, who was going to share the hotel room with me.  It was a pricey option but I booked it from Brussels and just wanted to know that I would for sure have a decent place when I arrived.  So at the suggestion of Alex the state Dept guy, I booked the Serena on Lake Victoria.  Five star!  

When we landed, Jessy was greeted by a representative of her tour company, Friendly Planet (for those of you who need a good recommendation for that sort of thing) and they took care of her, guided her through immigration and hotel, and transport.  Lucky for her, but lucky for me I had also met Lia Rains, a young woman who as it turns out is from Mukwonogo WI.  She was coming to visit her missionary brother and sister-in-law in Thika, near Nairobi.  So asked if she could stay with me and so we got through the mass confusion of the Ugandan airport and customs where we had to pay royally to just enter and exit the country in less than 24 hours time, grrrr!

We got to the Serena to be informed that they wanted to up the already exorbitant room rate since Lea was with me.  We negotiated and the desk clerks, said 'we'll see in the morning". So we got to bed about 2am and had a 5:15 wakeup call. Never did see the beautiful Serena in the light of day.  It had a beautiful terraced garden overlooking Lake Victoria.
I made sure to tip everyone helping us that night and the next am and they did decide to not upcharge us for Lea, yeah!

Ella told me to be sure to be early for the bus, but due to some confusion about the location of the bus depot and the laid back nature of the locals, we were almost a half hour later than we should have been.  It is also an international holiday and the bus was booked.  I could have had a seat but I wouldn't leave Lea alone in Kampala, Uganda to fend for herself and there was a woman there talking about hiring a van to take a group to the border.  So I said I would do that but if I gave up my bus seat, she couldn't have it since we needed her to share the van with us.  She laughed and agreed.

Her name was Beatrice and she became our Kenyan guardian angel.  She travelled this route alot and knew the ropes. But one big problem was that she'd negotiate a price and then when the driver saw us white girls, they'd jack up the price.  Eventually, I'd give her money and she'd disappear and then pay before they could rethink the price.  Luckily, I had brought more US cash than usual and US cash was working for us. Lea said, 'the Lord knew that we'd need it.'

So we got to the border and we had to get a different driver to drive us across the border and then another to take us to Kisumu in W. Kenya.  We had a long wait at immigration at the Besia border town into Kenya.  My bladder was so full I was looking for a bush, but then Beatrice said, the Immigration office has a really clean bathroom and it was my turn to go in to the office so I asked and was told, "it is for staff only".  I stood in line a minute or two more and then I said really loud so everyone could hear me, " you mean I'm paying $50 to get into this country and you won't even let me use your bathroom?"  They ushured me into the 'really clean' bathroom.

So we got to Kisumu and Lia and I wanted to catch a ride, a tour van, and go but Beatrice said, we really need to eat something.  It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and we hadn't had anything since 5:30am or so.  When I got out of the van, I realized that Beatrice was right, I was a bit dizzy and confused.  A meal and cool drink felt immediately revitalizing.  

We went to the van depot and just missed the 4pm and so we waited and waited until they sold enough seats for the van.  I was getting so impatient I ended up buying the last two seats, it was only about $11 each.  So we were able to spread out alittle.  But the road from Kisumu to Nakuru was horrible, mostly bone rattling potholes for about 100 miles I would guess.  Everything was taking two to three times longer than predicted.  Originally we thought we'd get to Nairobi by 6pm. We adjusted our schedule while communicating with Ella and Ken using Beatrice's phone regularly.  It got to be about 9:30 and we saw the lights of the city, I thought, oh well, we're finally here, late but we're here.  Then I was informed, that this wasn't Nairobi, this was Nakuru and we still had two and a half hours to go.  I have rarely ever felt so disappointed in my life.  During this trip I felt a few moments of emotion akin to 'poor me' but in general was handling it all quite well.  But this disappointment was enough to get me to shed a couple tears in the darkness of the van.  But still it's only two and a half hours....but then the fog set in.  And normally I really appreciate a cautious driver, something we never find in these developing countries.  This guy was very cautious.  We were being passed by large tour busses going twice as fast as we were.  Would we ever get there?
I spent part of my time counting the hours I had been in transit.  And earlier I had thought that this adventure reminded me of the show The Amazing Race.  But I realized that we had lost the Amazing Race.  We arrived about midnight into Nairobi.  

I got to Ella and Ken's to find out that Ken was leaving for Trinidad in about five hours.  I got to greet him and and hold the baby, Liam Theodore, who I just kept in my mental sights throughout this saga, the Holy Grail.  Ken's flight was one of the first to leave Nairobi today.  I slept twelve hours without getting up once.  We had a good homemade chicken dinner tonight.  Life is good!

Jean, Nairobi, Kenya 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Security and the Elections

We couldn't have chosen a much worse timing for this trip.  The day we leave Kenya is the first election in about six or seven years.  One of the leading candidates Uhuru and his deputy are both going before the Hague in April on charges of Human Rights violations as a result of the last election. They are charged with inciting violence and taking advantage of tribal tensions.  There was a lot of violence as a result of that election and already violence this time.  We do have a friend of a friend at the US Embassy who's been giving us personal advice on where to go and not go.

Kenya is already one of the most crime ridden and corrupt countries in the world.  Expats, including Ella and Ken, live in a double gated community.  There is a gate at the entrance to their neighborhood, low security actually. Then there is a high security gate at the entrance to their apartment compound. Strangers are vetted through the phones to be sure they really are delivering something or scheduled to meet someone and so forth.  Then there are double locks on the doors and more gates, doors and locks inside.  Admittedly, it did make us paranoid at first, but we've settled into it now.

So with elections happening the day we leave, March 4th, everyone is preparing and taking precautions.  They've shopped for extra groceries, water, etc, in case they are not able to go out for a few days. Some corporate and NGOs are either sending their expat employees home for a couple weeks or putting them up in swanky hotels and setting up remote offices so they don't have to travel the streets to work but can just go to the hotel conference center to work.

We may stay at or near the airport that day.  Most likely expats won't be targets but there could be incidents that we would want to stay very clear of. Obviously, we are concerned about Ella but they are taking it seriously and I trust won't take risky measures.

Tourism especially along the Indian Ocean is seriously hurting too.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Masai Mara


While it's still fresh, I need to note the highlights of an amazing day.  Some of the highlights were a family of lions with two young cubs, a couple of cheetahs, many elephants, gazelles, hippos, bat-earred fox; but Yata and I both really enjoyed the giraffes.  After a full day of driving the most spectular landscape;probably the furthest panorama ever, over rolling grasslands; we then visited a Masai village.  The young men did a welcome dance with song for us. They demonstrate some of their native skills and took us into a dung and stick home.  It was very dark and cramped. They say the whole village leaves and builds a new one every nine years because the termites cause their homes to fall down.  There are large termite mounds around, in fact one of the cheetahs was sunning himself on one this morning. We are doing the safari with an international group: Paul, Ukrainian world traveler (fifty countries so far), Slim and wife from Tunisia, Sam, a young British/Belgian here volunteering in an orphanage near Nairobi (he got mugged leaving his Nairobi lodging the morning we left and has a big knot on his forehead-he fell) and Leon a Sri Lankan from Dubai who has a professional cameras.  Everyone is getting great pictures.  It was an eleven hour tour.  We left at 7:30 am and by noon stopped at the Mara river for  lunch. This is the border with Tanzania.

We're sitting in camp now having a Tusker beer and waiting for dinner to  be served.  We get up for a six am game drive, come back for breakfast and then headed back to Nairobi.  Glad we made this trip.  At times it's challenging, lots of spine jolting and head snapping roads. But we've been taking Tylenol prophalactically and I think it's really helping..

We sleep in a fairly large canvas tent with a tin roof over it and a tiled bathroom attached to the back.  The camp is nicely wooded site, we have hot water in the shower and electriciy for about five hours a day so you have to strategize your phone and other battery charging.
Of course the bed has a mosquito net. We even sleep under one of those at Ella & Ken's mainly because they don't really have screens on any windows here, just bars for security.
More on security in the next blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tiwi and Shimba Hills

We finally got out of Nairobi. Ella and Ken's place is so luxurious that it got quite  comfortable and made it literally hard to get out of our comfort zone.

Last night we took the big coach overnight bus to the Indian Ocean coast town of Mombasa.  We were picked up by a reserved taxi driver who took us to a short ferry ride and then down the south coast a short distnace to the town of Tiwi.  Ella and Ken have stayed at this little resort, the Swahili House and recommended it so  we landed here this morning at 7:30 am.  The roomrate  includes your own private chef so after a quick coffee we made up a grocery list, encouraging him to cook in the local style which is Swahili-coastal seafood with Arab flavoring.

Lunch made us realize that we had hit it big.  Calamari salad and fruit. Humphrey the chef, said he cleans the whole calamari, retaining the 'wings' for flavor, salts and peppers and cuts up.  He pan sears which releases liquid.  Then he add this with pan juices to marinade. Olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro,  black pepper. Then fries again.  It was served on a bed of lettuce, avocado, thin sliced cukes and tomatoes.  Huge serving too! We are going to gain some weight here. But we're only here for four days.

And then dinner.  Fish,something like swordfish steak (Koli Koli)  in coconut sauce . Marinade fish(same as above), saute garic, onion, then add coconut cream. Garnish with cilantro and lemon zest. Sauted eggplant, beans and onions.   Equally good. This was servced on rice.  Fruit for topper.
Humphrey says:Food is a love letter from God.

Just so  we don't forget.  Yesterday we had for lunch,cream of vegetable soup with a salad.  For dinner the remainder of the Koli Ko serve with a tomato sauce (using many of the same flavors like garlic, onion, ginger, lime zest)   He accompanied the fish wiith roast potatoes and sauted spinach.

Today we had cream of spinach soup for lunch(he said he doesn't need a broth since spinach has a lot of water in it.  He addd garlic, onion and alittle mik.  The main course for lunch was lemongrass prawns, again marinaded with the typical flavors but added finely diced fresh lemongrass, sauted and served over fried potato cubes.

You'd think all we do is eat.  But we did go to Shimba National Park where we were virtually guaranteed to see elephants, so wedid'nt see any.  Last week they were seen by the dozens.  So it goes when you are in a park versus a zoo.  Beautiful terrain though. Pines and eucalyptus, figs and acacias covered the hills up to 1/2 kilometer in height.

Yata's also been writing music.  He has a new hit based on something Humphrey said: fish swim three times.....

I've been drawing and painting with watercolor; flowers, landscapes and people.

This resort, a little rustic place called Swahili House, is so wonderful.  Reminds us a bit of our favorite spot in Mexico, Villa Los Mapaches, in Holbox, only it's actually even more relaxing and more pampering.  Temperature is even comfortable in short sleeves out door at night, with a light sea breeze.  Very few mosquitos due to the dry weather.
We are so priveleged, it's good to remember this.

Our last day at Swahili House.  After a light breakfast we went with our guide Evanß to swim in the big tide pool that is shaped like the map of Africa. It's about as big as the Durand swimming pool. It had a few types of coral'a brain coral and another a pinkish brown crenelated wit lighter tips.   It was a habitat  new to us, but similar to Hawaii's tide pools.

We came back hungrey and Humphrey did not disappoint us. Cold Avocado lemon soup, prawns and fish in coconut cream sauce with a salad,rice and veggies.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Serval and the Giraffe

Over the weekend the four of us took a tour of the Nairobi National Park, our own little Safari.  We weren't in the best car for the wet rutted roads and once we got stuck but we  used our snow driving tricks of rocking the car while another pushed and we managed to get out, meanwhile keeping one eye peeled for a lion.  We also lost a bumper and a tail light.  It was a rental and cars in general aren't in the best of condition to begin with, so it was not a big issue in the end.

But, to the wildlife.  Entering the gate we immediately faced a pack of Yellow Baboons. They are known to be aggressive and we kept our windows tightly closed.  There was an abundance of bird life but the most exciting sighting for me was the Serval, (picture above).  The Serval is about twice the size of a house cat with a cute little face.  I posted the photo of the back due to the interesting identifiable white bars on the back of the ears.  First we saw her and she disappeared into the grass.  We drove on until we came to a very wet passage and decided to turn around and go back the way we came and were rewarded by seeing her come running toward us after a rabbit.   When she saw us, she startled a bit and thus lost the rabbit (sorry!) but there were about three chicken type birds also on the road between us and her and they were completely oblivious to her.  It seemed as if she considered coming after them but decided to avoid us and go away from us without the sitting 'ducks' for breakfast.

We drove around for a couple hours sighting things such as the Red Hartebeast, and eventually the Oribi ( a small deer like animal).  Out one window we were watching this small herd when I looked out my window to see the neck of a giraffe high in the trees.  It was shocking!  It felt like I was in Disney world, as if it was a big stuffed animated animal.  We sat and watched it getting a good view of his head and eventually saw a number of them, legs and all.  The pattern on the body was unique, the Camelopsis or Masai Giraffe. The pattern, instead of the typical rounded rectangles I remember were more like maple leafs, jagged and palmate.  Spotted face with a horn on the forehead between the ears.

On our way out we saw more big and small birds and a single Impala.  This was all between 7am and 10:30am.

Yesterday we went to a music event called Blankets and Wine, near Nairobi.  It was great people watching with folks breaking out their most flamboyant clothes, especially the West African clothing/fabric, the most dramatic patterns and color combos.  I'm going have to bring some of that back.

Nairobi is interesting.  Huge contrasts of wealth and prosperity thus there are security gates and guards everywhere.  Ella and Kenfield live in a really nice spacious apartment, with a patio on the fourth floor.  We go through two guarded gates to get to their home and in the apartment there are locks on all doors and bars on windows.  You don't go out at night, out of the compound that is.  The streets have little or no stop signs or signal lights.  I'm glad I'm not driving.  But people who have left and come back say how much better it is now than it used to be.  They are referring to the infrastructure (roads etc.) and banking, etc.

Drawing and painting a bit each day.  Nothing to write about though.

We're still trying to figure out what additional safaris to do or trips to take.  Ethiopia is still looking interesting.

Jean or Yata - JoY

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Enough sleep Aready....!

Well after about 30 hours in transit we arrived five minutes ahead of shedule Tues. night in Nairobi to the Kenyata airport. Yata thinks that is a well named airport since it combines his name and Ken's, our new son-in-law. The newlyweds met us at the airport and as we drove to their apt. in the night  it felt as if we could have been at any urban airport complex but as it turns out we were skirting the Nairobi National Game Park.

We haven't left  their roomy three bedroom apartment since we've been recoverring from jetlag. I think we've slept about 20 hours in last 36. But we flew British Airways on some pretty new planes and we had nearly unlimited  movies and TV. The new movie Sapphires was really good. Great music!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Africa 2013

We depart next Monday, Jan 28th. We plan to stay in Nairobi and work with our daughter's and son-in-law's new businesses: SasaAfrica and mSurvey.
We will also be touring and taking a short Safari in one of the national parks.
                                             It'll be nice to get out of this Wisconsin deep freeze!
                                                               Jean or Yata (JoY)