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Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

9/30/09: Nairobi Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania

[Editor’s note: We have finally found some decent (and I use that word loosely) wi-fi, so pictures have been added to all blogs posts. Thanks for reading!]

I can think of the names of four people that we knew in Kenya but weren’t making the trip with us to Tanzania: Pamela, Tracy, David and Two Tooth (the last two being our drivers in the Masai Mara National Reserve). Pamela flew out of Nairobi back home to Italy, and David probably didn’t know enough about anything to leave the country (no offense to him, because he was a really nice guy, but we were just hoping that he’d teach us more about the animals on our game drives, but it was clear that he did not know a lot).

Today we left Kenya for the greener pastures of Tanzania, and we weren’t the only ones. We ran into both Two Tooth and Tracy at the border – that’s 50% of the people we knew in Kenya that were trying to escape.

Is it too late to go back to Kenya?

Tanzania is the dustiest, dirtiest, hottest place we have been to yet (and I would venture a guess that it is the dustiest, dirtiest, hottest place in the entire world). I have yet to see anything resembling the color green. This is probably not necessary to add here, but even my boogers are brown, as I’ve sucked in more dust that a vacuum on the beach. Every tree visible from the road has a dust coating thicker than a fine New England clam chowder. After twenty minutes in this country, Zhou rubbed her fingers through her hair and came out with nice brown French-tipped fingernails.

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I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of Tanzania, as we’ve only just begun our visit here and we still have to look forward to Serengeti game drives and seeing Mount Kilimanjaro. But if there’s no post tomorrow, you’ll know Zhou and I are passed out from inhaling too much dust.

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Picture of the Day: Dust storms here are more common than Starbucks in America

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9/29/09: Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Knowing you like we think we do, there’s only so many lion pictures that you can enjoy on this blog before you get tired of them.

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There, I’d say you’re more than tired of them now (and we still have our Serengeti game drive to come!).

Honestly though, that was easily the highlight of the day. Once we left the reserve, it was simply a long, hot, bumpy drive back to Nairobi for a relaxing, big-cat-less evening at camp.

Since we have some extra time and I don’t have a clue what to do with it, I’ll provide a quick update on where my head is at regarding the remainder of our world trip. First, Zhou and I both have become very interested in extending our overland tour all the way to Cape Town, South Africa. We have done the math and figured out it would cost us an extra $180/day for the extra 13 days, which would put us way behind budget just two months into our trip, but we’ve decided it would definitely be worth it. For those of you planning a tour through Africa and a bit nervous about pulling the trigger on something as long as 45 days, don’t be. Instead, go find the longest tour you can afford, then book it immediately. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun Zhou and I have been having (although I suppose our blog posts have clued you in on that). There are so many different things to see and do on this continent – 45 days is not nearly enough. I know we’re not even three weeks into our trip, but it’s become clear that we need more time. Plus, our tour group is great, our guides are great, the air is clean, and the truck has even become a sort of home to us.

Anyway, our round-the-world ticket will probably make this African tour extension impossible (there are two flights we’d need to change, and both are fairly hard to get), but we will be looking into it and will get back to you with our final verdict.

On a related note, we are both very glad that we chose to do a group tour at the start of our trip. This has given us an opportunity to adjust to life on the road while not worrying about what our next steps are or if our luggage is safe (we are able to leave the valuables in a locked locker in a locked truck). Most importantly though, we have been able to talk to other world travelers about their experiences. I’m sure we were a bit naïve in planning a trip of this length (even though Zhou did a fantastic job planning), thus it has been very helpful to be around other travelers every day and gain their insight and advice. I actually now feel ready to conquer Everest (base camp) in Nepal, then tour Southeast Asia, etc. On top of that, we have been offered many places to stay on our journey, hopefully making our budget easier to hit.

It’s amazing how quickly a short post about nothing can turn into a long soliloquy about what’s on my mind. Just be happy that I didn’t post about everything on my mind (how these dusty environments lend themselves to more boogers, why not showering every day is good for ensuring a long, healthy marriage, etc.).

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Picture of the Day: Why should the hyenas and jackals and vultures and beetles and cheetahs and storks and snakes and other bugs and birds be the only ones who get to enjoy the remains of animal carcasses? And, wait, why are they letting us out of the vehicle when there’s a relatively fresh animal carcass on the ground?

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9/28/09: Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

We have no pictures documenting this incident. We have no film. All you have to go on is our word.

We were rushing to see the lions shortly after their zebra kill, as alluded to in Zhou’s post yesterday. One of the buses in our group was just leaving, and the rumor was there were three female lions gathered around a fresh zebra carcass. In fact, that bus was there to see the lions drag it into the bushes, so it couldn’t have been more than five or ten minutes after the kill.

When we showed up, the last lion was just finishing its meal and walking away. But the remains remained.

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We drove a short ways across the field to find the lion that had made the kill lying under a tree, huffing and puffing like it had just blown your house down.

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There was also a young male lion nearby, drinking water from a stream. In lion culture supposedly the females do all the hunting and the males do nothing, so I can only assume the male was merely thirsty from eating.

This is where things got interesting.

The male suddenly decided his drink was over. He darted past our truck, catching the attention of the female, who got up from her rest to follow.

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They trotted through the fields, gradually getting closer to… another dazzle of zebras! Unfortunately, they were a bit out of camera range, but we saw both lions crouch in the long grass once they were sufficiently close to a straggler. We sat in awe of what we assumed was about to happen. After a few seconds, the chase was on! The lions sprung into action, rushing after the lone zebra! Just as they did, the zebra saw his attackers and sprinted away. The lions were gaining quickly…

It is here that I’d like to say either:

(a) … and just as quickly as the chase began, it ended in a takedown Lawrence Taylor would be proud of. The lions pounced, and all of a sudden the zebra disappeared in the grass. We slammed the car into gear and watched lions from all around join the feast.

Or (b) … and the zebra realized there’s no way he could outrun the massive beasts. With the courage of that drunk guy at the end of Independence Day, he turned around and squared off with his predators. A quick left, a quick right, and both the lions were down. They both whimpered back to their den, vowing never to harm another zebra.

Unfortunately though, as quickly as the lions were gaining ground, the zebra hit top speed and began pulling away. Within seconds, the lions decided that it was too hot, they were too full, and the chase was no longer worth pursuing. We watched the animals stare each other down for a while, then gave up on the kill and left.

Despite the less-than-exciting ending, this still goes down in my top five witnessed chases, a couple spots ahead of OJ Simpson’s white bronco, but still behind Michael Phelps chasing down that Cavic guy in the Olympics.

[Side note: I think I’m ending this with a top five list summary due to the book I just finished (yes you read that right, I finished a book!): High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (author of About a Boy). I highly recommend it.]

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Picture of the Day: The other half apparently flies a private jet directly into the Masai Mara then stays in the $440/night hotel rooms no bigger than a college dorm room.

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9/27/09 – 9/28/09: Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

… It’s the grass that gets hurt.

–         African proverb

It all started with the gorillas.

“Zhou, let me take some pictures, you take some time to watch the gorillas.”
“Zhou, I have a better angle, let me take some pictures.”
“Zhou, I’m taller, you can’t see through the bushes, let me take some pictures.”

And it continued yesterday.

“Zhou, take a picture of the lion yawning.”
“Zhou, make sure you get a picture of the sunset.”

And today.

“Zhou, make sure you get a picture of the zebra carcass.”

So I finally gave up and let Kevin have the big camera for the afternoon. We’ve been really lucky so far – we’ve seen lions, cheetahs, a leopard, elephants, giraffes and lots and lots of zebras. It is just so cool. And I think it’s only me, but I’m just as fascinated by the sky and the clouds as I am by all the animals. The sky is always changing, and the clouds seem so much closer to the ground and more perfect than they do at home. I don’t know if it’s because they really are prettier or if it’s just because I never used to pay attention to the sky. Either way, it’s just reason one million and one that I’m glad we came to Africa.

Leopard plays hide and seek

Leopard plays hide and seek

A family of elephants walks across a sunset

A family of elephants walks across a sunset

Two cheetahs contemplating a nap

Two cheetahs contemplating a nap

Mr. Turtle meets a lioness

Mr. Turtle meets a lioness

Taking a nap after eating zebra

Taking a nap after eating zebra

A pod of hippos taking a nap

A pod of hippos taking a nap

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Puzzles for Postcards

Where Am I? (Name the campsite or the body of water)

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Pictures of the Day: A duo: daylight and dusk

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9/27/09: Nairobi, Kenya To Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

What do you think about when looking out the car window? I usually daydream about my professional golfing career, or facing off with Morimoto in a chili dog battle on Food Network’s Iron Chef, or deciphering the secret behind blowing out while you whistle (as opposed to my awkward sucking in method that only allows me to whistle for a few seconds at a time).

Today, though, we were driving through back country dirt (key omission: the word “roads”) in rural Kenya on the way to the Masai Mara National Reserve, and I was thinking about life. The landscape was so beautiful (Zhou said it’s what she pictured Arizona looks like, and I emphatically told her no); there weren’t signs of cities, towns, or even villages for miles. It was simply unabated land as I imagine the world was meant to be, so it seemed like a good place to think about life.

I first imagined what my family was up to – Mom and Dad were probably getting close to waking up, Steve was probably fast asleep in his new apartment, and my new sister, brother and parents were probably asleep as well. In fact, everyone I know was probably asleep since it wasn’t past 5am Eastern. That was a boring game. So then I thought about how lucky Zhou and I are to be upside down from everyone we know, driving through the middle of something so different, so perfect. And that led me to think about how proud my parents would be that my wife and I were fulfilling a….

THUMP! … Thump! Thump! Thump!

Something had clearly just fallen off the bottom of our bus. I, not knowing anything about cars, immediately assumed it was the transmission. (Those can fall out, right?) Almost as immediately, I thought, “Wow, this is going to make for a great blog post!” As soon as our driver pulled over, I scrambled out to see how bad the damage was.

Random aside: Remember how I mentioned that there was nothing around us for miles? Before I could even get out of the bus, a group of Masai warriors had shown up to watch the action. I looked around again – nothing to the west, nothing to the east, nothing in any direction whatsoever. Where in the world did these people come from? You know what would be cool? Taking an O H I O picture with them! But they didn’t speak English, and I found out they wanted money in return for taking pictures, so I passed on the idea.

Anyway, something metal has fallen out alright, and, as I suspected, I had no idea what it was. So I began taking pictures.

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Both of our other buses had stopped along with us, so the three drivers, as well as two Masai warriors with spears were trying to figure out how to solve the problem. As it turned out, the metal plate that was guarding all the bus parts from the large rocks we were driving over had been knocked off. That actually put a damper on the whole blog post, as they screwed it back on and 20 minutes later we were back on our way.

It did actually fall off one more time an hour later, but this time our driver put it back himself, and we managed to arrive at camp for lunch before 3pm.

Kind of a lackluster conclusion to this story… remember the key takeaway: Zhou and I were stranded in the Kenyan desert with no food (ok, we had some peanuts), no water (ok, some water too) and no help for miles and miles (besides the Masai people). What a dire situation!

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Picture of the Day: Look Ma! We’re driving down the right hand side of the road!

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9/27/09: Nairobi, Kenya

This little flag at the table was our “more meat please” indicator

This little flag at the table was our “more meat please” indicator

Tonight we ate at Carnivore. Though it doesn’t call itself a Brazilian steakhouse, that’s pretty much what it is. Kevin ate his body weight in meat, and I ate just a tad more. We had: sausages, spare ribs, steak, turkey, chicken gizzards, chicken wings, chicken legs, pork chops, more pork, lamb chops, more lamb, and ostrich meatballs. And then! We had dessert. Strawberry sorbet for me, chocolate ice cream for Kevin.

[Side note: I never realized how cheap Kevin really was until today, when I literally had to take his fork and knife away from him as he kept sawing through his last piece of steak, simultaneously chewing and announcing to the table, “I think I’m going to barf.” He was that determined to get his money’s worth. Disgusting, and yet, somehow admirable.]

All the different meats roasting behind us, back when we were each 10 pounds lighter

All the different meats roasting behind us, back when we were each 10 pounds lighter

I also had a Sprite, which means that my soda intake for this year has doubled since we started the trip. Ok, ok, fine, I admit it. I had a Coke in Jinja. Ok, two. And maybe I split a Coke with Kevin earlier today. So really my soda intake for this year has quintupled since we left. I don’t feel guilty. No, not at all. That’s why I’ve spent the last five sentences talking about a subject you care nothing about – because I don’t feel guilty at all.

Anyway, our three-course meal (we started out with some kind of soup that came in a cup with two little handles – very cute) plus a drink each plus tax and tip and whatnot came out to the shockingly low price of $62. That means once we finally finish digesting all of this food sometime next year, we’ll be back.

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Picture of the Day: This is for all you New Jersey-ians – there’s ShopRite in Uganda!

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9/26/09: Nairobi, Kenya

It all started out simply enough…

We were leaving the market after our elephant adventure, and we just needed to get a cab to take us ten minutes down the road. There were seven of us, all walking toward the street with grocery bags and other souvenirs in hand. We were expecting to walk up to the next van cab in line, negotiate a price (maybe 500 Kenyan shillings, roughly $7) and take the easy drive home.

As soon as the cab drivers on the street saw us Mzungus (white people) walking out with our bags, our lives were changed forever. (Well, not forever, but for the next half hour. It sounds better if you exaggerate a little.)

Cabbies approached us from every angle, and amidst the shouting and the pulling, I heard several of the girls we were with shouting, “Talk to Kevin! He’ll sort it all out!” Wait, I’m Kevin! I’m the Kevin that will negotiate a higher price to pay for souvenirs! I don’t want to get involved in this!

But it was too late – they all hit me at once. The next minute was a blur, but I remember somehow getting us all dragged to a van for 40 shillings apiece (about half of what we were expecting). It wasn’t because I was a good negotiator – I’m pretty sure one guy said 40 per head, the next guy agreed to the same price, and while the first guy was getting his cab the second pulled us into his. That’s all I remember.

When I awoke from my stupor, we were all in this pimped out (I don’t like saying “pimped out” but cannot find another adequate expression here) van – purple on the outside with a crazy Minnesota Timberwolves logo on the back windshield, orange and black on the inside with the roof looking like the bottom of a worn out leather couch. Rap music was blasting (the music video playing on the TV in the first row); otherwise I would have thought I was in some 70s disco club in California.

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There were 13 seats in the van, and there were about 131 people occupying them. The side door was wide open and two guys were hanging on for dear life as the engine started and we crept down the road. We didn’t make it far – a hundred feet into the trip, another guy got on, then another hundred feet a couple people got off. The side door was still wide open, the music was still blasting, a girl in our group was still shouting at the driver to make sure he knew where he was supposed to drop of off. He didn’t.

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About halfway to our destination we had dropped off enough people to close the van door, but the guys who were hanging on now sat uncomfortably in other guys’ laps – other guys who were already sitting in other other guys’ laps. The road became bumpy enough to skip the music DVD a couple times, so we used the opportunity to get the money collector to tell the driver generally where we were going.

We finally hit the road our destination was on, and the seven of us piled out, having actually paid 30 shillings apiece instead of 40. This was about right though, as we then had to walk the last half mile to reach our campsite. Apparently the van doesn’t do turns. (I actually think that it simply backs up to the market rather than turning around. Either that or a bunch of guys lift it and turn it that way.)

In those 30 minutes, I experienced agoraphobia, claustrophobia, vomitphobia and deathphobia, each more than once. But more than anything, I kept trying to picture this happening in America. What if you got in a four seat cab, only to find 28 other people get in behind you? What if you were picked up by a limo that then drove down the road with all its doors open? What if you told your taxi where you were going, then it dropped you off a 10 minute walk away.

Things like this just don’t happen back home. Both Zhou and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

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Picture of the Day: They still sell tapes here! And Betty Crocker!

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