Notes from Our Trip to East Africa

Bryan and Anna Richards

(317) 826-8520

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We arrived in Nairobi at night. Nairobi’s airport is small and its baggage claim is slow. (For our Danish friends, it was two days slow; their luggage got misplaced en route!) Torben, Joyce, and Joyce’s friend Beth met us at the airport. We traveled to the hotel smoothly via a mini-shuttle reserved by Joyce for the wedding.

The Heron Hotel where we stayed had basic furnishings. A few mosquitoes stopped in for a drink. Our hotel room had no mosquitoes net and or fans. It had a backdoor whichthat led to the roof. We were told that our hotel was located in the safest street ofin an the area where there are lots of embassies from different countries. With so many world embassies nearby and the mosquitoes flying around, iAll a sudden we felt that the world was just surrounding us and we just had to remind ourselves thatt was clear we were a long way from home. O our adventure had already begunwas underway!!

Monday

The following morning was bright and sunny, with a nice cool breeze. Anna and I walked around central Nairobi. The day happened to be Nairobi’s Independence Day, recognizing the end of British Rule more than forty years ago. The city was quiet.

Sidewalks in Nairobi are uneven and littered with glass. Storefronts are shabby. There are quite a few supermarkets, clothing and electronic stores. Both of us We foundremarked to each other simultaneously, " that Nairobi it looks like New Orleans.!" We had been in New Orleans a year before, and the roads and buildings looked very similar.

Most people are polite and friendly. Naturally, we were the residents we saw identified us as tourists by the residents there. But surprisingly, we were not often approached by them they did not try to hawk on their merchandise in our faces like locals do in China, the last place we visited. They were certainly not as aggressive as the residents of some country we visited before. Children in Nairobi like to wave and say hello.

Cars drive on the leftwrong side of the road, as in England.

There are few stoplights, and many cars drive through the red lights, anyway. Pedestrians don’t have the right of way here.

We bought a large bag of rice for a guy who said he was fleeing Sudan’s persecution of Christians and could barely afford food for his family. Lots of refugees from Sudan, Rwanda, and other neighboring countries travel south to Kenya or Tanzania.

Lots of people wear soccer shirts. English Premier League jerseys are especially popular.

We visited the University of Nairobi, where many students studied at desks outdoors in the sunshine.

We went to Joyce’s parents place in Kahawa on the outskirts of the city for lunch. We saw roosters, cows, bulls, and goats along the road leading to their home. Joyce’s relatives and neighbors welcomed us warmly by singing to us at the entrance of the house. Lunch started shortly after we arrived. It was served in buffet style. In general, it was very tasty but we had to compete with the flies for a good bite. Joyce’s father gave us a tour of the new house which is going to be the Mmansion of the town. Neighbors seemed very excited about this celebration gathering and came one after another to share the spirit. All the guests were introduced to the friends, families and neighbors. We enjoyed the party because it had lots of mingling, dancing, touring, joking, singing, and hugging and kissing.

One We found thea traditional game interesting. that Torben needed to identify Joyce, who was wrapped by in blue cloth from head to toes and stood amongst other ladies who were wrapped similarly. If he guessed the wrong person as his wife, he would have to give away a cow. We wondered if he already had one waiting. One of Grace’s family’s friends, who has worked in a customs office for many years, joked that women at the ceremony were available "duty free" for marriage by guests from Europe and the United States.

When we got back to our hotel and had dinner, we were so exhausted that we had to turn downsome of our Danish friends went to an invitation to join the gang a restaurant called at "Carnivore" for dinner. Carnivore used to serve crocodile, zebra, ostrich, giraffe, buffalo, gnu, and hartebeest in addition to the traditional meat. Due to the new restriction law in hunting, they can only serve zebra, hartebeest, ostrich and buffalocrocodile.

Tuesday

The next day we rode into the Great Rift Valley. We took a British military vehicle driven by Ken, the owner of Nairobi Backpackers. This lofty vehicle, which had open-wide-open, glassless windows, gave us the advantage ability to look at things from a high vantage point and enjoynot many residents noticed and of course, spectacular scenes along the roads. What we needed to figure out was when to close the windows had to be closed. It was cold when our vehicle’s window was open, then hot when we closed it.

We drove through residential areas in Nairobi that had lots of trees and hills. Tall walls and barbed wire surround many homes and restaurants.

As we neared the Great Rift Valley, we saw donkeys pulling carts along the road and vendors selling fruit. Donkeys are a popular tool"tools" for the residents.

We eventually reached an overlook above the Great Rift Valley. The landscape suddenly changed from trees and steep hills to dry flatlands with brush. At the breathtaking overlook, we negotiated with a vendor and got four miniature carved wooden animals – a hippo, rhino, lion, and elephant.

Down in the Valley, we passed small villages made of wooden and corrugated metal walls. People sat along the side of the road, awaiting public transportation.

It was cold when our vehicle’s window was open, then hot when we closed it. The vehicle’s windows were large, making it easy to see anything outside.

A Maasai lady got mad at our friends for videotaping her. At least, she pretended to be mad until she got paid for being in the film.

Along the trip, little children stopped and waved at us. Some asked for water.

The road became bumpy. Our truck had fuel trouble, then a flat tire, and then another flat tire.

Goats and lambs jingled with bells along the side of the road. Children tended the cattle.

A bus passed by with chickens tied to the roof.

We had lunch in Narok. We then stopped by a tourist shop next to the restaurant and bought three sets of wooden spoons. There were many "famous" butcheries and "grand" hotels along the road. Occasionally, we found post offices and banks. We also saw fragile scaffolding s ion construction sites. Tires are is important business products there because of the travelers’ popular demand for tire need for repair or replacement service due to the bumpy roads. According to Ken, the ride gets rougher and longer each year because the government does not have spend the money to maintain the roads.

As wWe continued with the ride, which got bumpier as we went. Aa few giraffes and ostriches appeared and entertained us.

During a flat tire repair in the late afternoon, we saw Maasai rush hour. Twelve or so Maasai women were heading home carrying sacks on their backs. Maasai men walked along, too, but they didn’t carry anything other than walking sticks. The oldest tribesman wore a red robe and a hat that read, "I love Jesus."

We reached our campsite in the Maasai Mara around eight o’clock at night. "Mara" means spotted; the landscape appears spotted with clumps of brush when viewed from above.

A full moon illuminated the area. After putting our stuff in tents, we had tomato soup, bread, spaghetti, pineapple, and tea.

Ken, our safari leader, explained how each Maasai boy must kill a lion or live in the wild alone for six months in order to become a man.

Maasais go through ceremonial rites for, say, circumcision. All Maasai boys who complete a certain rite become a cohort. If one of those boys marries a girl, all boys in his cohort may also "access" that woman for the rest of their lives.

Maasai men get wives by buying them with cattle. Wives then do housework and house-building, kids to do farming and herding, and the men sit around and do nothing. Our Maasai tribal guide, Keyos, however, acted as a liaison with the outside world and brought tourists to his tribe to exchange exchange information on about their cultures, traditions, and habits. His pioneering career certainly brings revenue to his tribe.


Maasais drink milk flavored with cows’ blood to obtain protein..

It’s illegal to hunt game anywhere in Kenya. "Game" means the wild animals in the safari.

This fact meant means that we had to live happily with them under the big blue sky at night.

We had to kick a cockroach out of our tent. We were became acquainted with by mosquitoes and flies during showers. We heard hiyanihyenas, birds, and an unforgettable "lion" that mademaking all kinds of strange noises. Although Maasai workers guarded the campsite, their quiet movement and dark attire made them more spookyier than the animals around..

Wednesday

The next day, we woke up to find the cockroach relaxing on a canvas chair on our tent’s porch.

We showered, ate, and drove to the Maasai Mara safari area, which was dry and very large. We saw gazelles, zebras, wildebeest/gnus, giraffes, a few warthogs, a few monkeys, a small family of elephants, and, finally, a few male lions. Mostly we saw zebras and gnus. Zebras are good at detecting predators – whereas gnus aren’t – and gnus are good at detecting water, so the two animals help each other.

Gnus are ugly. All of them look old and grumpy. About ten percent die from drowning. Many get eaten by crocodiles.

Warthogs run like puppies.

Elephants are very family-oriented and usually travel together. However, they sometimes kick one of their family members out of the family if its that member does not enjoy respect from the otherbehavior is not respected by the s.

We also saw hippos and a crocodile along a riverbank. Hippos only eat grass and they usually dwell in the water. . Crocs sometimes eat baby hippos. Large hippos can bite down and kill aggressive crocodiles.

We also saw colorful red-and-blue lizards, topis, and impalas, which look like deer.

For lunch, we ate outdoors under a large tree near giraffes. We had sandwiches, roasted chicken, pineapple, crackers, and cheese.

We needed almost the whole day until we found the lions. They were sleeping under a tree surrounded by brush, so we were lucky to discover them. All were males. Males usually hang out together.

Toward the end of the day, we saw herds of gazelles, zebras, gnus, topis, and water buffalo walking, one herd after another, back from a distant water source. It was like an end-of-day commute home.

The safari lasted all day, and sometimes we went a long time between sights of animals other than gnus and zebras. The dirt roads were very bumpy. We were thrown a few times in the air in the military truck.

Thursday

The next day, we got up early, had breakfast, and headed to a dusty area near a hill where our Maasai tribal guide, Keyos, led us on a hike over the hill to his village. He showed us how to make a fire with sticks and flammable elephant dung, get honey from a "sandpaper tree," and use the leaves’ rough surface as sandpaper. Our hike covered areas where animals went before, so we had to step carefully. The air was warm and windy.

At the Maasai village, we saw the villagers’ mud-and-dung homes, which had twig roofs. The homes were small, but families lived in each one with a couple livestock, too. They build fire inside the homes for lighting and warmth at night.

Maasai villagers performed a chant and sold beads, blankets, and other items to members of our group.

We then returned to the truck and drove north to Narok. We had lunch at the same place, consuming spaghetti, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and beef. We also ordered soda bottles. Cocake Cola and its other brand, Fanta fruit soda, are very popular soft drinks. We had to shoo flies away from the food.

That afternoon, we drove northward to Nakuru. The landscape along the route went from dusty brown to lush green, with beautiful views of farms and hillsides. Children continued to wave at our truck and some ran after our truck, despite all the dust our wheels kicked up from the road. Some even danced in front of us.

We reached the campsite by Lake Nakuru under a bright moon. After putting our things in tents, we went to dinner. The campsite had a great buffet spread, including a watermelon cut in the shape of a crocodile’s jaws. A friendly cat walked over to say hello. We discussed how we could make the wedding of Torben and Joyce memorable to them, such as by singing a Danish Christian song modified by Inge., We also discussed the various versions of attire appropriate for the wedding, the logistics of the wedding day, etc.

Later that night, we showered and went to a campfire in the bar area. The restaurant and bar were both open to the night air, with a high thatched roof overhead. A few of us enjoyed the warmth of the campfire and the conversations. We were impressed by a very diligent night worker who kept the water warm for us and the shower facility well-lit. He kept inquiring if the water was of the right temperature for us.

A couple members of our group went on a night safari and saw animals that bounced like a cross between bunnies and kangaroos.

Friday

The next day, we went on safari in the Lake Nakuru area. More giraffes appeared. We also saw some monkeys and baboons, more water buffalo, zebras, impalas, and other animals. As we approached Lake Nakuru, we came across a solitary rhino. Rhinos are solitary creatures. This rhino was about to charge when we got closer to it. Our tour guide, Gerald, warned us that it didn’t look too friendly and suggested us to we get back up to the truck. Gerald also told us that rhinos like to mark their own territory by their body waste. They can share their own territory with other species but not with their same kind. "Black mouths" is are in the species that is more aggressive than that of the "white mouths," and they have an upward hook that can to eat the leaves and shrubs higher above the ground. We also saw thousands of white and pink flamingoes, plus lots of pelicans. White flamingoes do mate with the pink ones and produce either white or pink flamingoes.

The coastline was white with salt. We could see the town of Nakuru in the distance across the lake.

TheParty
We drove by another rhino and a water buffalo relaxing under a tree, and then our truck got stuck in a rut when Ken tried too ambitiously to cross. Eventually we got out of the rut by putting some planks across the rut and pushing the truck from behind.

We drove through trees and up a hill, whereupon we had a great view of the lake and valley below. We had box lunches there, including goopy passion fruit. A hydrax – a rodent – tried to get into our lunches, but then a hungry bird flew overhead, and the hydrax retreated.

We took a rugged shortcut back towards Nairobi that afternoon. Peder and Finn got some ice cream when we stopped at a gas station. They got the expensive foreign brand rather than the cheaper local brand, which they didn’t trust to be safe.

During our ride, our group voted on which animals deserved to win awards. The prizes were:

Cutest

Zebra (5 votes), warthog (3), gazelle (3)

Scariest

Crocodile (6 votes), lion (3), rhino (3)

Laziest

Lion (8 votes), crocodile (3), hippo (2)

Most Dramatic Performance

Ostriches becoming intimate with each other (5), fourteen giraffes appearing together (1), rhino approaching creek (1), flamingo air show (1)

Smartest

Lion (5 votes), leopard (3), cheetah (3)

Most Elegant

Impala (7 votes), giraffe (6), gazelle (3)

Most Surprising

Ostrich (9 votes), rhino (2), zebra (2)

Best Overall Performance by an Animal

Giraffe (7 votes), zebra (2)

After reaching Nairobi, Anna and I rolled our luggage up the road from the Heron Hotel to Nairobi Backpackers’ headquarters, which included a hostel. I had to kill a larggiante mosquito in the shower area. There were six bunks in our hostel room, but there were no other guests in that room.

We stayed up to pack stuff for the return trip home. After finding out that most of the guests planned to leave shortly after the wedding, and since we had already toured through Nairobi, we decided to reserve an earlier flight for Amsterdam than we had originally planned..

Saturday

The next day we took a van mini-shuttle to the wedding. As was the case throughout the week, it was sunny and warm with a breeze. The wedding would ould take place at a Protestant church.

Many guests arrived after the time the wedding was supposed to start, and Joyce did, too. Freelance photographers showed up to take photos of the ceremony; they later tried to sell the pictures to us. The ceremony went smoothly, with Torben and Joyce emerging as the happily married couple.

The afternoon reception was in a suburb called Karen, in the large yard of the former home of Danish/Kenyan author Karen Blixen. The reception proceeded at a languid pace, with us all sitting at tables to have lunch, listen to speeches from fellow guests and relatives, watch local dancers perform to the beat of drums, and enjoy the spectacle of Torben and Joyce in tribal costumes.

The wedding cakes were cut into small cubes and shared by all the guests.

As the shadows fell, we prepared to leave. We took the mini-shuttlevan back to Nairobi. Matatus, which are like miniature buses, filled the roads. Matatus are fun to see, since they’re often painted colorfully and have bright lights inside that make the interiors look a bit like little nightclubs.

We bid farewell to our friends at the Heron Hotel and walked back up the road to Nairobi Backpackers, Anna and I arranged for a taxi to the airport. The airport has lots of shops, much like a mall. We had enough time before our flight to get some souvenirs and Christmas gifts. Finally, after making our way through a bunch of ticket and ID-checking staff at the gate, we boarded the plane. That night, around eleven thirty, we flew towards Amsterdam.

Sunday

The next morning, Anna and I walked around Amsterdam. It was still dark and quiet at 6 am and we didn’t see anyone until 9 am. There were a lot of souvenir stores in town. We saw a couple local actors and actresses in front of a theatre surrounded by their fans and reporters. BryanI was disappointed that he I could not see much actions at the Red Light District. Right next to the old tourist town is a brand new area where there are modern condominiums and commercial high rises. One of the residents told us that the condominiums are very expensive and owned by young accomplishing professionals. Rent control is not properly regulated there. People with higher income can still pay the same rent they have had been paying since they arewere students.

. We took a train back to the Schipol Airport and tasted thea delicious waffle at the "Oliebollerie" at the airport. We ,then flew to Boston’s Logan Airport, and later flew to Indianapolis. Thus our trip came to its end!

Bryan's Pictures from the trip