Out of Africa… East Africa that is…
Our month in East Africa is drawing to a close… as is our first month out of Canada. It has been a good month but I think I can honestly say I am ready for a new experience. We are currently in a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya. When we were booking a flight to Morocco, we noticed that the flights went through Dubai, United Arab Emirates. So, we booked a six night stopover in Dubai. The weather report indicates that the temperature is in the low 40s during the day in Dubai. Today in Nairobi it was 22C and the low tonight is supposed to be 13C. It is winter here… as winter as they get this close to the equator.
I wrote my lost blog from Nairobi just after finishing our safari in Tanzania. I mentioned that we were heading to Nakuru but did not say much about our time in Nairobi. We spent a couple of days playing it safe in downtown Nairobi. Despite all of the warnings, we actually felt people were quite hospitable in Nairobi. When a city is nicknamed Nairobbery, even when people are friendly and helpful, you are skeptical and do not necessarily trust them. On our first day in Nairobi, we wandered around the downtown area. We needed to find a place to change Tanzanian Shillings into Kenyan Shillings. It was actually harder than you would think. The banks did not take the Tanzanian money so we ended up using a currency exchange place.
Once we had some money to spend we decided to do two things… get dinner and see a movie. We found an Imax theatre downtown but Nic was not too excited that the only moving showing was World War Z. She was a trooper though… maybe Brad Pitt in 3D made it worth it for her. Before the movie though, we wanted some dinner. A man on the bus from Moshi to Nairobi had recommended an Italian restaurant called Trattoria. It was quite expensive… about $20 each for dinner. In Africa, that is expensive! It was a nice meal though and after the long bus ride I think we were okay with splashing out a little. Dinner and a movie in Nairobi… what a lovely date night!!! World War Z was actually a little better than I expected. I don’t think either of us are zombie movie kind of people but I would say I actually enjoyed the movie.
The movie was over however at about 9pm. All recommendations that we read were not to be out walking about after dark in Nairobi. It was amazing how there were so few people on the streets. We walked out of the theatre and got a cab immediately. The driver wanted 500 ksh (about $6) and Nicola said 300… he said 400… and she said 300… he said okay. Do not try to barter with her… she is tough. He took us to the wrong hotel though. We were staying at the Kenya Comfort Hotel. He was going way further than he should and I think we were both thinking we were going to be robbed and dumped in the middle of nowhere. He arrived however at the Kenya Comfort Suites… a sister hotel to ours. When we explained and showed him the brochure he took us there and apologized. It made me think about how easy it is to look for the bad… and hard to see the good sometimes… in people.
The next morning we did not rush to get going. We needed to organize our trip to Nakuru and partly we needed the internet for that. We made contact with a place to stay in Nakuru by calling the owner. She said it would not be a problem. $35 for the room and $35 per person if we wanted full board… total $105 per night which included three meals per day. Next we needed to figure out transport to Nakuru. Nakuru is about 150 km from Nairobi which can be 2.5 to 3 hours in Kenya. We went to the office of a shuttle which does the trip many times per day… 500 ksh ($6) but you cannot book in advance. So, everything was in order for our Nakuru trip early in the day. The rest of the day we wandered around a bit. Quarter fried chicken, chips, and a pop for 250 ksh for lunch. We decided to eat in our restaurant hotel for dinner. I am not sure what I was thinking but I ordered chicken dinner… I basically had the same meal as lunch but for 800 ksh… with no drink.
Day 3 in Kenya was our adventure to Nakuru. We donned our backpacks and headed for the shuttle office. I am not sure the term shuttle evokes the right image. A matatu is basically a small minivan with 14 very tightly packed seats. The one we booked said it had 10 seats and we had numbers 9 and 10 in the very back. We were on shuttle #6… we basically were told to wait outside for someone to call #6. Someone told us they just called #2. OMG… how long would this take. Other vans kept pulling up and the guy would yell optional. I went to ask him about #6. I am not sure what he said but then he called out a second #2. How could that be? Should it not have been #3? A bus then pulled up and I asked another guy and he said to just get on this one. Crowds rushed the bus so we quickly grabbed out bags and got on. The bus was a very tight fit… I am surprised that out bags fit on… but the conductor at the front seemed to have it under control. Now we just had to hope that we were actually going to Nakuru. We were!!!
I got talking to the young university student beside me. He was telling me lots about Kenya, Nakuru, and being a university student in Kenya. We talked about the corruption of the Kenya police. It is quite well known that the police, and especially the traffic police, are completely corrupt. Actually, the day before while we ate chicken, we saw a Kenyan caught on video show on television and they were showing traffic cops who were caught by the anti-corruption force. The traffic cops stand on the road and pull vehicles over for no reason. If you have a violation such as no licence, registration, insurance, or vehicle inspection they will fine you. I think in Kenya this is almost every vehicle. However, they want you to pay them there and then. If you don’t they will take your licence and you will need to pay them off to get it back. We got pulled over. The driver and the conductor both got out and were gone for about 5 minutes. When they returned we were off. The conductor said that the cop said to them “you know how this works; it is 500 ksh per month; you give me 500 and we will not bother you for a month.” They paid him off. I am not sure how they know that they are safe for a month because I am sure another cop might say the same thing. How crazy!!!
We actually stayed a little outside of Nakuru at the Punda Milias Nakuru Camp. Punda Milias is Swahili for Zebra but literally translates as striped donkey. It is a camp. Our room was a big tent that contained a queen sized bed, two chairs, and bed side tables. Nakuru was quite a bit warmer than Nairobi. You can either pitch your own tent or stay in one of their bandas. There is also a dorm banda but for the extra $7 we splurged on some privacy.
Lake Nakuru is the main attraction here. In the heart of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru is a salt water lake. However, two years ago the lake was flooded by massive amounts of rainfall thereby diluting the salinity of the water. Most people who go to Nakuru go because they want to go to Lake Nakuru National Park. The salt water of the lake used to be home to many thousands of flamingos. Now because the water is less salty, most of the flamingos have moved on to Lake Bagoria further north. The remaining few hundred flamingos are almost white. The algae left in the water lacks the amount of carotin they need to make them pink. So if you want to see some albino flamingos, this is the place to go. We actually came here because this is your greatest chance to see rhinos.
On our first night at Punda Milias, we met Betsy and Gordon from Boston. Betsy was working in Nairobi for a few weeks. Her company is in the final R&D stage for a quicker, simpler HIV diagnostic test (I think I got that right). Her boyfriend Gordon had come over to Kenya for a week to bring her more tests. Apparently the mail is not reliable and it was safer and quicker to bring them personally. They were taking a couple of days in Nakuru as a bit of a holiday before they went back to Boston. We had dinner with them and they were very nice. We enjoyed getting to know them very much. They invited us to join them the next day in the National Park… they had a driver.
We joined them… Their driver, Simon, is from Nakuru but works in Nairobi most of the time. His car was a small sedan, very different from the land cruisers we had been on safari in. It is $80 just for the park entrance… per person. That is a pretty common price in Kenya… it may be more in Tanzania. I think it is substantially lower for residents but for non-residents it is quite expensive. The cost of the driver is on top of that.
We came to see rhinos and saw them probably three minutes into the park. We might have been able to see them without even going in… I am not sure. We saw a lot of other wildlife… but most of them we had seen during our safari. We had heard that there was a giraffe near the airport that had been killed by a lion but we never found it. Essentially, you follow a long route around the lake inside the park. However, the roads are not well marked and the flooding has made many impassable. It seemed as though Simon was lost at times. In all, I think we spent about six or seven hours in the park. The other animal that we had not seen a lot of on safari was the baboon. We saw them in Tanzania but did not get any pictures. In Lake Nakuru we saw millions of baboons. In fact, on our way out of the park we had stopped to go to the toilet at the gate and one jumped in our window… I yelled at it and it ran away. They like to steal your food mostly the little thieves.
We decided to spend our next day at Punda Milias laying low and relaxing. I enjoyed having nothing to do. We laid in the sun for a while and played a game of Beans. I think we may need more days like that as the year goes on. It is hard to imagine being able to keep up the pace we have this past month for a full year.
Yesterday, we began our voyage back to Nairobi. Nicola booked us at the Wildebeest Eco Camp in one of the suburbs of Nairobi. It is closer to the elephant orphanage and giraffe centre. We got a ride into Nakuru with Nathalie the owner of Punda Milias. However, when we arrived at the shuttle office they informed us that they were not going to Nairobi today!!! Someone informed us that the police were stopping all vehicles and doing inspections so nobody was going. We now were not sure whether we would make it to Nairobi. We went to where the matatus go from in Nakuru. It was very intimidating… we were looking for a bus… but we were approached by so many individuals that it was a little scary. They kept telling us that no one was going to Nairobi… but they were. In the end we took the gamble and got on a matatu headed for Nairobi.
The driver drove about 25km from Nakuru and then we you could see that very few vehicles were coming and going. People lined the highway and it was very confusing to know what was happening. The driver pulled over and got on a motorcycle to go ahead to talk to the police. The conductor pulled our van into a gas station to wait. After about 20 minutes, the conductor got a cell phone call and drove ahead to meet the driver who got off of a motorcycle. The driver then drove our matatu through the police inspection flashing a certification of inspection as he went through. He let out a big sigh and made the sign of the cross. Apparently, the police can hold vehicles for 24 hours if they want. If we had been stopped, I am not sure what would have happened to us.
We arrived in Nairobi about 3 hours after leaving Nakuru. Getting to the Wildebeest Eco Camp was another adventure. We decided to take a taxi but the driver did not really know where he was going. He was lost. He had originally quoted us 700 ksh to get here which was way too low… that should have been our hint that he did not know. After driving around for a while, we showed him some information about where we were going. He said, that is very far and requoted 1500… that is what we thought it should be. He still did not really know though.
Nicola had booked us in a tent for about $30. She thought it was a tent kind of like at Punda Milias. She found out that it meant… actual tent like a pup tent. For the same price, we could stay in the dorm. Seven beds in a large tent. The bedding is amazing and we were the only ones in it for the first night. On the second night we had one roommate from California. The grounds are quite beautiful. It gets quite cool at night though.
Last night we walked up to a mall about 2.5km from the Wildebeest. It is not much of a mall but the area that we are in is quite a well to do area. As one driver told us today lots of muzungus in this area… white people. We did not see lots but it is very different than downtown Nairobi. We ate dinner in the food court, bought some snacks in the grocery store, and then took a cab back.
Today, we hired a driver for a few hours to get us to the places we wanted to see in this area. First, we headed to the David Shedrick Elephant Orphanage. 27 baby elephants are raised here before they will eventually be re-introduced into one of the national parks when they are more than 2 years old. Most of the babies lost their mothers to poachers who kill elephants for their ivory tusks. A few had become separated from their mothers when they fell in a water well. The breeders stand around and the babies come marching out of the bush and right up to them to be bottle fed. Some of the babies come right up to the rope at which people watch them. One little guy grabbed our hands with the end of his trunk. How cool!!!
Next, our driver took us to the Giraffe Centre. The centre is a breeding centre for Rothschild Giraffes. There are 10 giraffes there, 7 females and 3 males. The 3 males are not mature males. They bring adult males in when they want to impregnate one of the females. The youth males only stay until they mature and then they are introduced into the parks. When the centre was opened in 1979, there were only 100 Rothschild giraffes remaining in Kenya. Today there are about 500. The centre is breeding this type of giraffe to help grow the numbers. Neither of the other two types of giraffes in Kenya are endangered… reticulated and Masai giraffes.
Our driver left us at the Bomas. From there it was about a 45 minute walk back to the Wildebeest. We had the dinner buffet tonight at the Wildebeest for 1000 ksh (about $12). It was perhaps the best meal we have had in Africa. A great way to end.
Tomorrow we are off to Dubai. Good-bye East Africa. We will be back in Africa (i.e. Morocco) in a week!!!
A video at the Elephant Orphanage