THE AFRICA DIARIES: 2 WEEKS IN KENYA
Jambo! Or hello in Swahili!
By now you know that we are on our next big adventure: Africa.
First up was Kenya, and the threatening city of Nairobi. We listened to the advice of family, friends, and strangers on the internet who told us that to stay in Nairobi was asking for trouble. Therefore, we spent only one afternoon tiredly circumnavigating the vendors, with their second hand merchandise displayed on the ground.
For all the warnings, the people were welcoming, only stopping us to say hello, ask where we were from, and welcome us to Kenya.
With that said, we opted not to leave the hotel in the dwindling hours of daylight to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Giraffe Centre. Disappointing maybe, but something we didn't regret after ridding ourselves of jetlag by sleeping from 4pm until 6am the next morning.
But, let's get to the real reason we were in Kenya.
In the morning we got picked up by Right Choice Tours and Safaris. Our driver was Jackson, but we had a few other safari mates to pick up before we were on our way.
Once we were on the road, half of the adventure was getting to the National Parks in one piece. Kenyan driving is "assertive" (as described by a taxi operator later on) to say the least. You overtake vehicles on one lane roads while looking down the grill of oncoming traffic, with the game "Chicken" coming to mind. If you are too near oncoming traffic, you simply force your way back into your lane. And, should that not work, using the shoulder to overtake will sometimes do the trick as well.
The first few hours continued like this, but for the remaining drive Jackson treated us to a “full body massage” on dirt roads filled with detours, and huge gauges created by rain, wind, and some crazy drivers. More than once we questioned whether a piece of the vehicle would be left trailing behind us.
Thanks to our driver being the right kind of crazy and bold driver, we made it to the Masai Mara in one piece. Arriving at about 3:30pm, Jackson made a stop at the camp where a few of us would be spending our first two nights. Our initial plan was to take a quick break to have coffee and tea before going on our evening game drive.
That did not go over well with the others in our vehicle.
There was a girl who immediately began to argue that our location was not what she had paid for. As Jackson tried to tell her that we were only stopping briefly for coffee and tea before going on the game drive, then checking in after our safari, she demanded they check in at their accommodation prior to the safari. In the end, the argument blew up enough for her to demand her tour operators put her with a different driver.
To be fair, the accommodation wasn’t exactly fancy.
But, this feeling of discontent amongst travellers on safari was a common theme that continued our entire six days. Many felt abused by their tour operators and the lack of structure on their tours.
Luckily, our expectations for a budget safari were not nearly so high, and we had no itinerary surprises.
On our first full day of safari we got to see all of the Big 5 before lunch, which was everything we could have wanted from our safari. First were the lions, lounging lazily by their recent kill, second were the Cape buffalo, third was the elephant, fourth the leopard, and fifth and finally, the Black Rhino, even more rare than the White Rhino.
Are you curious why a buffalo would make the list instead of, say, a hippo?
So were we.
After asking, we found out that the Big 5 consist of those animals for a specific reason: they were the most difficult and often most dangerous to hunt on foot. Our guide, Jackson, explained it differently: the buffalo for the two horizontal horns, the rhino for the two vertical horns, the elephant for largest land mammal, the lion separately as the king, while the leopard represented the cats.
We stopped after our eventful morning to see the Masai River and the hippos residing in it. According to the park rules and Jackson, the rangers have to escort you to ensure your safety. Mostly though, the hippos camped out on the opposite bank and the entire hour felt more like a money grab as the driver and rangers insist you “show your appreciation.” They weren’t threatening, but when anyone with a gun asks you if you appreciate them, you say yes.
After our guided walk on the river, we stopped for a picnic lunch. Our first monkey encounter occurred mid meal, with a cheeky monkey racing to the back of the safari van and nabbing a banana. We laughed, until another came to our blanket and grabbed bread from right under our noses.
We didn’t leave hungry by any means. In fact, the others in our group were satisfied enough to sleep most of the way back to camp, which Jackson, Lucas, and I meandered slowly back to, all the while stopping to admire the wildlife.
Since the others in our group were tuckered out, we ended up back a bit early. This gave us the option of visiting the Masai Village.
We all opted in.
I’m positive there are some who would love this cultural experience. For us, it was interesting, but definitely not a recommendation we would make. Or at least the particular village we visited we wouldn’t recommend. I’ve heard too many good things about the village visits to completely abandon them.
The enjoyable part was sitting down in one of Masai homes with the owner who discussed their culture and answered any questions we had. We found out that the Masai participate in bloodletting of cows, usually drinking the blood mixed with milk, but occasionally being allowed to drink the blood fresh.
The calves sleep in the home, which are made by the women out of cow dung and usually last around 9 years, at which time the entire nomadic Masai village moves on.
Polygamy is also common in the Masai. They marry outside of their village, as within the village everyone is related. This involves the girl moving to the boy’s village and the boy’s family giving a dowry to the girl’s village which decreases the higher he is able to jump. Each additional wife gets her own house for her and her children.
On the other hand, after already paying to visit the village, the pressure to assist with donations or to support them by purchasing souvenirs was incredibly high. The men led the tours, with the only contact with women coming from a song followed by viewing their beadwork and fabrics. Saying no was never the right answer.
It left a sour taste in most people’s mouths, and made the entire tour felt like a mixture of begging and performance, with the end goal being for them to make as much money as possible.
At the end of it, we were eager to go and get back to our safaris.
Unfortunately, the downside of seeing all of the Big 5 in one day is that some people are satisfied to leave it at that. Jackson offered to skip our morning game drive in Masai Mara and instead take us to Lake Naivasha for a boat game drive on the water, at our expense. It took all of our cajoling to ensure we still received our early morning game drive, and only one person joined us.
It was more than worth it as we got to see a beautiful sunrise, a hippo out of the water for a early morning breakfast, and lion cubs up close!
We still made our way to Naivasha, paying for a boat game drive that was cut short due to rain. Although it was impressive to see so many hippos and birds, the tour wasn’t worth the cost. We said goodbye to some of our group, and gained two members.
After the first few days in our budget camp, staying at Citymax hotel in Nakuru was a real treat. We had Wifi for the first time, which shouldn’t matter but was nonetheless exciting, and an indoor bed to minimize the many, many, bug bites.
Our game drive through Nakuru was beautiful, it has much denser foliage than the Masai Mara and an official road to follow, so the drive is much more relaxed. We still got to see giraffes, two mother rhinos with their babies, and flamingoes in the lake. And, one of the most scenic viewpoints we have seen thus far: Baboon Lookout.
Aptly named, because as we all stretched our legs and enjoyed the view, a baboon saw his opportunity to race over to our vehicle and climb in through the roof hatch. Jackson ran over yelling, and when the baboon found no food he angrily left our vehicle to go and pose for photos for us.
The view gave us a beautiful send off, but we had a long drive ahead of us, including dropping off our current safari mates and picking up three new ones in four different locations (Nakuru to Naivasha, to Great Rift Junction, to Nairobi, to Amboseli). We didn’t arrive until 8:00pm, which reinforced the discontent that existed amongst some of those in our group.
We found it hard to be unhappy, as Amboseli has a beautiful backdrop of Kilimanjaro. There is nothing more picturesque than the elephants walking in front of the mountain, which we found out on our game drive the following day.
I will say, in our first days on safari we did not meet two single persons from the same country. We met people from India, Argentina, China, Bosnia, Venezuela, Britain, South Korea, Ireland, the U.S., Italy, and even Latvia all within four days in Kenya.
Although many of them were happy to be done, we were sad to end our safari, but excited to get to the coastal city of Mombasa for some rest and relaxation.
During our days in the sun, we had a four course dinner and four hour cruise at sundown on the Tamarind Dhow, a traditional Arab style boat. We also did a full day snorkelling tour where we were lucky to have dolphins swim around us. We visited Fort Jesus and Old Town, even though history isn’t exactly our forte.
We took the hour long matatu (a small minibus that is packed with people) for only $1.5USD each to get to Kilifi, a quiet coastal town or “second paradise” according to the local bush doctor who also offered to sell us some “bush medication”. A beautiful hostel, and the perfect place to slow down for a few days after the rush of safaris and big cities.
After all of that, our time in Kenya will be over!
We hate to say goodbye to Kenya, but Tanzania is waiting for us!