Sunday, March 15, 2009

Africa - Part 1: Nairobi and Day 1 of Safari

I’m finally getting around to putting up some stories and photos from my trip to Africa. 9 months late. This seems to be a problem. I also would like to post about my trip to Venice, the ‘new’ Trabi, a trip Munich, and more….all that happened last year. But then I get lazy, especially now that I’m scanning in slides, and everything goes up 3 months later or not at all.
I regret from previous travels that I didn’t document or keep a dairy of what happened, as I find I randomly remember some old interesting stories, only vaguely jarred back to memory in unusual situations. Thus I think I should try to use this blog as a sort of journal to write this stuff down. Which could make for slow reading, but will serve well for having a more detailed description for myself to read in the future.
Anyway. Africa. There were a number of reasons this trip came together: 1) I’d never been anywhere in Africa 2) I wanted to go somewhere where I could dive, but hadn’t been before, and preferably not too touristy (i.e. not Egypt). 3) My old friend Mike could finally no longer contain the travel-itch and was planning on heading to Africa as well, so we timed heading out together. Mike visited Dresden for a few days and got to take in BRN before we headed for Nairobi.
I got off to a rough start. In the middle of our long flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi it somehow suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t packed my diver registration card. The worst feeling of doom swept over me as I convinced myself that I would now not be able to dive and this would consume me and my whole trip would be ruined. In dread I wanted someone to commiserate with me and I turned to Mike who was sitting behind me, but he had finally managed to find sleep. I was desperate to share my misery so I actually poked Mike to wake him up and said. “Mike. Mike. Mike. I forgot my dive card.” As you can imagine he was not enthused by all this. He just kind of looked at me like “thanks for waking me up, asshole.” I felt guilty and returned to my seat. I spent the rest of the flight trying to figure out scenarios in which I could get my card or manage to dive without it, and failing that how I would mentally not let it ruin the vacation. I’ve never seen a place let anybody dive without showing a card, but maybe this day and age they would have it all in the internet. But would the remote and probably sketchy dive operators have a facility to use this? Would it be possible that they would look the other way at the prospect at getting a hundred dollars from taking me out? This drove me crazy.
We didn’t spend much time in Nairobi, and it wasn’t just by luck. Nairobi has always had a pretty bad reputation for violence and crime, and with the recent violence following the elections in Kenya in December, it seemed more than sketchy. I managed to find a hotel to book that was across the street from the safari operator I had booked a safari with. That way it would be easy to roll out of bed in the morning to walk over and get on the truck out to the park. The hotel was typical budget lodging in a third world country – no frills. Mike and I had become somewhat disoriented with what time zone we were in and when exactly we were supposed to show up for the safari in the morning. Not wanting to miss the truck, Mike went down at what he thought was 5:30 am to walk over and check out the situation. Turned out it was 4:30am. He nearly tripped over the concierge who was sleeping inside the lobby stairwell, who woke up and asked Mike what the hell he was doing trying to go outside in downtown Nairobi at 4:30am. No, no, it’s too dangerous he told him. The safari leaves at 8 anyway - go back to your room. We showed up then promptly at about 7:30 to make sure we had all the forms/supplies we would need, and, as would become a theme on the trip, there was no urgency on the part of the people there, who suggested we go get breakfast or something. We found a nice looking, although empty, restaurant in the same building and ordered breakfast – eggs, sausage, toast, tea. The waiter was happy to take our order and disappeared into the kitchen. Shortly thereafter some of the staff left out the door. About 20 minutes later a boy came back in the restaurant with a grocery bag with what we expected was eggs, bread, and sausage. Seeing this made us laugh and Mike claim “I was worried you may not get the real Africa experience. Yeah, this is what I’m talking about.” Another 20 minutes later we were served our breakfast.
Eventually after stocking up on water, toilet paper,
cheap rum, and cookies, the safari took off from downtown Nairobi. Nairobi I think must be the most polluted city I’ve ever been in. This includes cities such as Jakarta, Bangkok, Quito, Dar Es Salaam, and Makassar. It seemed like every vehicle on the road was pouring out thick black smoke that left everything grey. I noticed in the city between the jammed streets at one intersection a little gardening – some flowers. Put there by the city, with a proud sign. It was there to point out that they were trying to beautify the city and make life there better. It was so sad. Just so little among the backdrop of dust, trash, black smog, etc. If the city council really were to make an impact on this city it would have to start with some sort of cleaning and/or pollution legislation. As we made our way outside the city, the trucks were still expulsing thick black smoke, but they were much more diluted in number and the smoke no longer seemed trapped by the buildings. There were 6 of us on the safari, packed into a Land Rover along with our driver/guide and our cook. I think the ride was like 6-7 hours, most over unpaved roads. On the way to the park we passed along the Great Rift Valley and stopped for a photo-op and obligatory souvenir-stop:

This is the old don't tell 'em it's a movie at first trick

Besides Mike and I the safari participants were all teachers on summer break: Two American women working at international schools in Budapest, and an Irish couple that were I believe taught English back in Ireland. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon, and got our first glimpse of some wildlife while driving through the park on the way to our campsite on the other side. The wildlife was already breathtaking. Outside the park we did see some animals, but only various antelope and maybe some buffalo.

Once we got in it was completely different. Not long after we entered the park we came upon a colony of vultures on the side of the path we were driving along. They were clearly very aggressively devouring something. As we drove up they ignored the truck for the most part and we saw they were eating a baby antelope – and making quick work of it.

The company we booked with has a permanent sort of campsite set up not far from the outside of the park (it’s not allowed for them to have them inside). It actually had a number of permanent basic lodges and tents. But it was completely empty. Our guide explained to us that since the violence following the elections, we were the first group they had to go out on a safari. The camp could hold 60-80 people, but we were the only ones there. It was nice in that we had booked to sleep in tents but they upgraded us to the empty little cabins. Nothing luxurious – there was no electricity, and we shared a common outhouse. But what was pretty luxurious was that one of the guys would get up early and start a fire under the water tank/pump so that we would have hot water for a shower. The food was quite good, the guys cooked it up over a fire in the floor. The first night there Mike was restless and instead of sleeping decided to go out and explore around at night, eventually settling on our little porch and waiting to spot nocturnal wildlife. Or maybe elephants across the stream our cabin overlooked. At some point in the night, when everybody else was asleep, there was this sudden thundering of feet across the front of the cabins, causing, we found out the next morning, each of us to wake up individually. The others speculated that it was one of the guards chasing off some animals or something. In fact Mike had spotted a small nocturnal cat on one of the other cabins' stoops with his flashlight, and as it ran away attempted to chase it down, probably frightening the heck those in that cabin.

next, but probably not soon:

Part 2: the rest of the safari (with lotsa pictures of magnificent beasts)

1 comment:

Sarah F. said...

I'm hooked already! Moving on to Part 2! :)