1998 Kenya
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1998 Kenya
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About our Kenya trip...

The Embassy Bombing

Yes, we were in Kenya when the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed. Fortunately, we were about 150 miles away from Nairobi in the Ngururman Forest when the bombing occurred so we were not directly affected by it. We did pass through Nairobi a couple of weeks after the bombing. By that time, things were pretty much back to normal - the airports were operating normally and -- with the exception of the area immediately surrounding the embassy site, the city was back in operation. We did see US Military and FBI staying at our hotel and drove by the bombing site. It was devastated -- pretty much like the pictures you have seen in Newsweek. The scary thing for us was that we had walked by the Embassy on our first day in Nairobi (1 week before the bombing happened) and knew exactly where it occurred.

 

Nairobi

We flew to Nairobi via London on July 28th. We arrived very tired after two overnight flights. We had heard that Nairobi was not a place to spend much time in. It is a teeming third-world city with a fairly bad reputation for crime. We walked around town and saw a lot of people just hanging around on the streets. We walked through the Nairobi University and went to the National Museum. We also had a drink at the Norfolk Hotel, one of the old colonial hotels reminiscent of the Lord Delamere era. We had a great dinner at an Indian restaurant. The next day we took a tour of the Karen Blixen house (from the movie "Out of Africa") and visited the Giraffe Center – with a treehouse where giraffes come eat out of your hand.

Friday night, we met with our NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) group - who we spent the next three weeks with. Our course was a wilderness skills course with a cultural component - we learned about the Maasai inland and Muslims on the coast. Anyway, we met our group - 16 students from all over the U.S. ranging in age from 26 to 48 and three instructors - two Kenyans and one American on Saturday. We were issued equipment – backpacks, tents, cooking gear, etc. and began our trip driving in Land Cruisers and vans to the Nguruman Forest/Loita hills.

 

Nguruman Forest

The first part of our trip consisted of about 8 days backpacking in the Loita Hills and Nguruman Forest area of Kenya. This area is about 150 miles west of Nairobi across the Great Rift Valley. It is inhabited by the Maasai tribe and has brown rolling hills and deep forests similar to Northern California. The area ranges from 5000-7000 feet above sea level and is inhabited by all kinds of wildlifelion, elephant, giraffe, cape buffalo, hippo, hyena, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest, gazelles, snakes (black mamba, cobras), baboons, etc.

We camped in tents and hiked between 5 and 10 kilometers per day. We were accompanied by three Maasai hikers – Joshua, Robert, and Jonathon -- who helped find trails, protect us from animals, and communicate with the local Maasai. We had a lot of opportunities to interact with the local Maasai people. On one of our first days we were invited to attend a circumcision ceremony for a 14-year old Maasai boy. Circumcision is a rite of passage to adulthood and is a very big deal for the Maasai. The ceremony was held at dawn in a cow enclosure on a cowskin with an olive branches altar. People came from villages for miles around to celebrate. After the ceremony a big party with dancing and singing was held which lasted all day.

For the next several days, we hiked through the hills and forest. On the plains we saw a lot of wildlife. In the forest we did not – largely because we were making lots of noise to scare animals away. It is dangerous to encounter animals such as Cape Buffalo in the forest. We learned camping, cooking, map reading, and first aid skills. We also had classes on Kimaa (the Maasai language), Swahili (used later at the coast), bread making, snake safety and first aid, etc.

Along the way, we were invited to visit a local village – called a boma – and visited a Maasai elder. One of his wives – Maasai can have anywhere from 1-12 wives made us Chai – the local tea while we sat inside his wife’s home. We bought a goat from the village and – accompanied by two Maasai elders, took the goat back to our camp. At camp, our hikers – with assistance from the elders – slaughtered and cooked the goat. We had it for dinner and the Maasai stayed up all night roasting and eating the rest of it.

Our last day backpacking, we broke into smaller groups and went out without instructors – with just our Maasai hikers. That was a good opportunity to test our skills and ask Robert – our hiker – questions about Maasai culture. Once we reunited with our instructors and support vehicles we did a day hike to a huge waterfall on the Nguruman escarpment – overlooking the Great Rift Valley.

 

Safari

We drove to the Maasai Mara game reserve – one of the most popular game reserves in Kenya. We stayed in a tented Safari camp. It was a real luxury – the camp cooked for us; there were flush (sort of) toilets, hot showers, and cots to sleep on. We spent two days driving through the game preserve looking at and photographing animals. Care shot many rolls of film. The wildlife is used to vehicles and you can basically drive right up and take pictures. It is dangerous to get out of the vehicles, though. The park was crowded with vehicles and it was sad to sometimes see an animal surrounded by mini-vans full of photo-taking tourists.

We also visited Keekorok Lodge – one of the safari lodges in the Maasai Mara. We got to see how most tourists live when visiting the game reserves.

 

Coast

After Safari, we drove to Nairobi and caught a flight to Lamu – the coastal city that was once considered the Katmandu of Kenya. In Lamu, we caught a water taxi to Matendoni, a small Muslim fishing village where we spent the night. The coast is all Muslim so the culture was quite different from the Maasai. The next morning, we got on dhow’s – ancient sailing vessels manned by Swahili sailors. We sailed all day to Kiwaiyu Island on the Indian Ocean near Somalia. We camped on the island with the sailors for three days. On the island, we had sailing classes, windsurfing, and swimming in the Indian Ocean, and went snorkeling in the reefs nearby. In addition to our NOLS instructors, we had Omari Bob – a crazed Muslim windsurfing instructor helping us. We camped in a palm farm and slept in open flys. We cooked with the sailors and had lots of seafood – including crabs and lobster. Our days included very long walks on deserted beaches along the Indian Ocean.

We then sailed overnight back down the coast to Matendoni. There we visited some of the sailors’ homes, took pictures of their families, and bought souvenirs. Care had her arm and ankle dyed with "Henna" a local custom. We were enlisted to photograph baby pictures. The people asked us to photgraph their kids and send them prints. On the last night we had a dinner and dance with the sailors and some of their kids. We then took a water taxi back to Lamu where we spent a couple of days looking at the old Islamic city. We visited a mosque and bought some art. The town had no vehicles but was overrun by donkeys -–the primary form of transportation.

We stayed in a funky hotel called the Casuarina Guest House. It would definitely not pass fire code in the U.S. One of its features was that it was right next to a mosque. Our room overlooked the loudspeakers that broadcast the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic at 5am every morning. Thus we were assured of having a very loud wakeup call.

Our course ended with a flight back to Nairobi and a banquet at the Carnivore – a well-known tourist restaurant that serves all you can eat game. We tried all kinds of game dishes. Jon drank a couple of Tuskers – the local beer.

 

Rekero

After our course, we flew back out to Maasai Mara and stayed at a small Safari resort called Rekero. Compared to our previous accommodations, it was luxurious. We had a small mud cottage next to a natural watering hole. We had our own bathroom with shower and flush toilet. A generator provided electricity in the early morning and evening. There were five cottages with a few other couples staying there. Every morning and afternoon we went on game drives in a land cruiser or hikes with our Masai guide, James.  We had breakfast in the bush and often had "sundowners" at the end of the day – beer or wine that James would bring. We took lots of pictures and saw lots of wildlife – similar to our earlier safari but much more in depth and tailored to what we wanted to see. We had lunch and dinner at Rekero with Ron Beaton – the owner and a former game warden of Tsavo National Park and safari hunter. We met some fun people. The highlight was on our last full day when – right before lunch – a herd of 10 elephants visited the water hole 100 yards from our cottage.

After Rekero, we flew back to Nairobi. Had dinner at the Lord Delemere restaurant in the Norfolk Hotel, and boarded a flight to London then San Francisco.

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