Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Country #50: Kenya

Greetings from what is surely the fastest connection in all of Ethiopia (trust me, we've checked many!). Now I can finally update you on our recent adventures in Kenya.

First of all, Kenya was kind of a milestone--the 50th foreign country we've visited on our round-the-world trip!

That said, we definitely gave the country a bit of a short shrift. We had already been on so many East African safaris in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda (not to mention all those other ones in Southern Africa), so we weren't going to shell out on trips to any of Kenya's big parks. And we'd already enjoyed the seashore so much in Mozambique and Zanzibar that we decided not to head to Mombasa or any of Kenya's other coastal destinations. And we were planning to travel through Kenya's remote north for a few days, en route to Ethiopia, but Ethiopia has stopped issuing visas for overland travel (boo!), which forced us to buy flights from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, breaking up our 13-country overland stretch (booo!!!).

So, bottom line, we spent only five days in Kenya and only visited two places, Naivasha and Nairobi. But even with our limited exposure, and despite some minor frustrations, I would say we had a pretty great experiences in Kenya.

For example, on one of our first bus rides in the country, after crossing in from Uganda, we told the ticket lady that our names were Andy and Tara. As you can see below, something got lost in Eddy and Charon will forever be our "Kenyan names."
After waiting for more than three hours for the minibus to fill up so we could hit the road (even the Kenyans on board started complaining!), we finally took off for Naivasha. We got in late, but luckily the hotel across from the bus park had the cleanest $5 room we have ever slept in. Hooray for that.

The next morning, we took off for the nearby Hell's Gate National Park, the only park we planned to visit in Kenya. What makes this park special is that you can rent bikes and give yourself a self-led "bicycle safari" through it. Sounds fun, right?

I thought so, too. I guess I forgot that it had been more than eight years since I'd been on a bike, and that I suck at biking! Making matters worse, every single bike at park headquarters was busted in some way, so the park had to call a nearby rental place to bring us two bikes, meaning we didn't get to test them out first. (Not surprisingly, half the gears on the delivered bikes didn't work, and my bike was too big for me.) Best of all, the parks office then insisted on charging us the "bringing-in-an-outside-bicycle" fee, even though we'd wanted to rent from them and all their bikes were broken! (If you ever visit this park, make sure to rent your bike from the place at the turnoff, NOT from park HQ.)

Yeah, the Kenyan parks service people were a bunch of A-holes. But we were finally into the park and ready to begin the 8-km ride to the park's gorge. It was slow going, since one of us fell off her bike approximately every 10 meters throughout the day. I'll just let you guess which one of us that was.

Anyway, the park is beautiful.
Maybe more full of rocky outcroppings than animals, but pretty nonetheless.
Is that a lion? No, just some pond scum.
Here's Andy doing his best impression of Mrs. Gooch. Doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo-doo, doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo-doo, doooooooo!
Here, for contrast, is the best picture Andy managed to snap of me on a bike! You may notice that I'm not actually on the bike.
The best part of the day was hiking into the nifty gorge that slashes the park in half. Yes, you heard me say that hiking was the best part of the day--that's how much I hate biking.
If I'd been able to write this blog entry a little sooner, I might have remembered fun things to tell you about the gorge, but since I can't remember anything, you'll just have to make do with this picture of two very attractive people with a nice gorge-y background.

The picnic area near the gorge has some olive baboons. We asked this guy to join us for lunch, but he insisted on having a table all to himself.
The park did have some more animals--mostly zebras and warthogs, and a few types of antelopes. I think we saw our first wild eland (the largest antelope) in the distance, actually, but it was too far away to get a very good picture.

So, after a day in Hell (haha), we made it back to Naivasha town. All I wanted was a beer and some chips (French fries)--both staple foods in Kenya--but for the life of us we could not find a restaurant that served both! And we spent so much time looking that suddenly it was 8 o'clock and all the restaurants in town closed down. It was a frustrating end to a frustrating day.

But the next day we were off to Nairobi, and things started to improve. Nairobi has a not-so-great reputation for safety or attractiveness, so we were certainly not expecting the park- and tree-filled, street-sign-laden, museum- and bookstore-loaded, friendly city we encountered. The nice thing about low expectations is that you usually can't help but be pleasantly surprised!

Here's a monument in Nairobi's Central Park. How can you not love a monument with a giant rooster on it?

And a shot of downtown Nairobi from the park. Nairobi certainly has slums and less savory areas, but the main downtown area is as clean, modern, and well-organized as you could hope for, and we spent plenty of time wandering it by foot in the daylight hours over the next four days.
Our second day in the area was actually spent in the wealthy Nairobi suburbs of Karen and Langata, which have several fun attractions. We were told that we wouldn't be able to get around without a car or a hired taxi, but we showed the world and managed to get everywhere we wanted in a day by matatu (minibus) and bus and foot. Take that, world!

Anyway, our first destination was the Karen Blixen Museum, housed in her former mansion. Also known as Isak Dinesen, she was the author of "Out of Africa." Since that was pretty much all we knew about her, and since on arrival we discovered that the price to enter the museum had shot up to more than $10 per person, we ended up just taking a picture of the outside of the museum and moving on.
Instead, we blew our 10 bucks each at the Langata Giraffe Center! Thanks to Kristen for tipping us off about this fun conservation center where you get to climb a platform and be up close and personal with Rothschild's giraffes.

I don't think it's overstating things to say that, throughout our time safariing in Africa, it has been Andy's greatest ambition as a wildlife photographer to get a shot of a giraffe with his blue tongue sticking out. Finally, at the Giraffe Center, Andy was able to accomplish this worthy goal.
Also, we got to hug giraffes and make out with them.
Yes, you heard me right. MAKE OUT WITH THEM.
More tongue, please!

OK, OK, enough already--that's my husband, giraffe!
Whew, giraffe orgy over. Our next stop was the restaurant Carnivore, which is like Brazilian BBQ (i.e., endless meat on swords) with an African twist (i.e., a few game dishes thrown in with all the beef and pork). More pictures and details about that in the next foods post, of course, so I'll just say that it was a pricey and touristy, but nonetheless tasty destination.

Finally, we made it just in time for a dance performance at the Bomas of Kenya, which I highly recommend if you're ever in the Nairobi area. A troupe of talented dancers performs traditional dances from all over the country, often while singing and playing local instruments, too. Maybe because we went on a weekend, there seemed to be more locals in the audience than tourists, which was nice.
One dance was a little more skit-like, and involved offering a special stool and some sacrificial food to a village elder. Guess who got plucked out of the audience to help out with that one?
Just in case you weren't able to figure it out, here's a closer-up picture of the lucky helper.
Not to be outdone, Andy leaped out of his seat and insisted on showing off his limbo skills. Or maybe it was a member of the highly skilled acrobatic group that performed later in the day. Who can remember these things?
A "boma" is actually a village, and on the grounds of this cultural center were models of all different kinds of Kenyan traditional villages. Some of the huts and granaries were quite impressive.
We spent the following day in Nairobi proper, visiting museums with the two boys from the family we were couchsurfing with. Malcom and Brandon were terrific companions and, I must say, so much better-behaved than any American kids their ages would have been! We spent the morning at the Railway Museum, which has a terrific collection of old trains...and this being Africa, we were allowed to climb all over them to our heart's content. Here's the one that was used in the movie of "Out of Africa" (yup, the book that Karen Blixen of the too-expensive musem wrote).
And in the afternoon, we visited the National Museum, which is fun because it is an art gallery, natural history exhibit, and cultural museum all rolled into one. Our favorite room was the one with approximately one gazillion stuffed bird samples from all over East Africa. Also fun was this modern-artsy sculpture made out of gourds.
We returned the kids home in one piece (well, two pieces, there are two of them) and took this family portrait along with our host, their mom, Jusca. Jusca taught us how to cook ugali (Kenya's national starch dish), introduced us to the joys of nyama choma (Kenya's national meat dish), and, of course, graciously opened her home to us for three days. Thanks to the whole family for welcoming us so warmly and making Nairobi a special destination on our long journey.
After spending a final day running errands and spending the last of our shillings on tasty food in Nairobi, we made our way to the airport for our first plane ride since June--a 2AM flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. More on that someday!

No comments:

Post a Comment