We drove out of Nairobi, thankfully able to use a new bypass built recently, so we were able to avoid a lot of traffic. There really aren’t highways like you and I know, so it can be slow going to make it through a city- you can’t just skirt around them on the expressways.
Our first stop was an overlook of the rift valley, basically a bunch of tectonic movement created this large “crack” in Africa that is about 6000 km long. We looked out over a large expanse of scrub land which opened up as you came down the “plateau” from which we were standing. It was very pretty but the long distance view seems a bit hazy most of the time and hard to define. There were some dogs running around on the rocks below- including a young mom with puppies, all very skinny. Someone even saw a hyrax too.
We found some bathrooms in the curio shops where we were pressed to buy some things, but we weren’t going to now anyway. The guy seemed very disappointed when we didn’t, but if we gave in at every shop, we’d have too much stuff and be broke. Especially as this also isn’t our one and only, nor last trip to Africa, we have to remember we only have so much wall space and the pictures we take are the real gems.
The road we were on was built by Italian POW’s during WWII. It is easy to forget that Italy was a part of the Axis powers (Kenya was British at the time), as while I do know this, we only ever really got much info on Germany and then of course Hiroshima and such. I don’t know much about Mussolini at all frankly. They were allowed to build a church for themselves to use (Catholic) which was small but nice- and honestly a bit surprising they were allowed to spend the time to do so.
As today was basically a driving day we pretty much just observed and learned a bit about different plants, animals and history. The yellow barked acacia I had asked Herman about at Lake Manyara for example used to be called the “fever tree” because initially, people believed it was the cause of malaria. While that clearly isn’t accurate, the trees do love water and where there’s water, there are mosquitoes, so indirectly, this tree is related to mosquitoes and therefore malaria- not total bs!
Looking at the businesses we go by there are a lot of signs for mpesa and I noticed when paying for things a sign often says “till number xxx”. Mpesa is like African Venmo so it allows people to pay each other for goods and supplies more easily, as well as to use to pay at stores, without cards or cash. So the till number is like the store or person’s mpesa ID number and money can flow freely from one to the other.
Boda Boda (supposedly called this because they could go “border to border” and border became shortened to “boda”) are the many motorcycles for hire (kind of like uber) that people use to get around fast. The drivers line up their bikes at street corners and in groups, then if you need one, you can grab them. The guy Bryan rode with probably did this too.
It is certainly a scary and pretty dangerous ride and it would be pretty frightening to use in a populated area where we were, it was just a small town). In the cities they are always just to left left of the truck, nearly touching, weaving in and out between the traffic and the overpacked minivan busses dropping people off (on the left as this was British ruled).
The two biggest things to change Africa in the modern day were bicycles (and motorcycles) and plastic jugs. These two things opened doors for people in major ways.
Bicycles allowed people to go from subsistence farming (growing and eating what you produce) to being able to also sell their goods. Now they could pack (a surprising amount of) their product onto a bike and get it into town to make money, or even trade with someone else, easier.
We see a fair amount of bikes but there are a TON of motorcycles- a shocking amount actually. Cleary this is a relatively cheap way to get around yourself- and to earn money. People are Ubering here now too, so their typical ride home from work can now be extra income too.
The other major thing to change things were plastic bottles. Plastic bottles offered people the opportunity to carry and hold water that they could use for a few days, rather than needing to go get it a few times daily.
Other than in the city, most people seem to carry a jerry can of water with them. The containers seem to be that of used cooking oil, maybe other less food like things too…but I noticed the kids bring their own jug to school, which is something I’d not have thought about; something we couldn’t imagine being without.
Some people carry tons and tons of the jugs on their bikes and motorcycles, even on their heads. Some people sell the empties for others to use and lay them out at their little vending area for people to look at.
I remember in Madagascar some of the people needed to walk more than 10km one way for water- 2x a day- so I can only imagine here, with many more people and larger distances to go, these jugs are a game changer.
One thing that is sad however is the number of plastic bottles used for water for tourists here. Of course it’s not really a choice to need filtered, clean water you know is safe, but it sucks to think how much this is impacting the planet- especially when you see the amount of litter here, or the GIANT piles of bottles collected for recycling (at least in theory). They do have recycling here- and actually we suspect glass, like beer bottles are actually not melted down and recycled but rather disinfected and reused (due to the wear around the edges where they bump and touch each other)- but we don’t know how organized the recycling program is…clearly the garbage situation is NOT that under control as suddenly you see this one gulley in the town has become the dump which they do burn) and where small piles of burning garbage can be found everywhere along the road.
Ironically, some of the countries have actually banned plastic bags, with a fine of $1000 per account. This is a bit of a scare tactic we think, as while they do tend to use recyclable bags like we have at home, we also see vendors still using them…and plastic wrap for food, still allowed.
So while it does make a difference when businesses cut down on using plastic bags- and people don’ bring them into the country to throw away- there is a bigger, local issue at hand that must be addressed, as well as the tourist water bottle habit.
I honestly think every tour company should include the price of and provide a “lifestraw” water bottle (or something of the type). A friend let me borrow her ozonating pen, which is a more expensive version of this idea (insert website) and can make a cup of any water safe to drink in about a minute it will not filter out dirt however, like the lifestraw can.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be hard for the tour companies to get their hands on some of these, get them branded with their logos and then give them out for the tour. This way no matter where people stop or whether the tour company provides water, it doesn’t matter. I am certainly going to suggest it to Mat, giving him an eco-advantage i HOPE will catch on….because I hate to think how going to see elephants and lions is killing the sea turtles we tried to save in Borneo…and the problem is DIRE.
Please, if you have a water bottle at home, use it often- and frankly if you have ones you don’t use, they are useful to people here. I think next time I will bring a whole extra bag of things like that to give out- even sunglasses…as these are useful in providing support to people here.
Anyway, for most of the drive, the road was pretty well paved. I was amazed at the fresh roads in Tanzania and wondered if they built them, or if like many other places, China has come in and offered to build roads (and railways) for them to create infrastructure for their future needs. I didn’t think to ask Herman, but Mat would confirm that the road going into the Mara used to be horrible, but the Chinese came in a few years back and got at least some of it paved- cutting about half the time from the trip (off the main road). The road was REALLY bad otherwise.
We saw a cool road sign I’ve never seen before which was a skull and crossbones. I wish I’d noticed before passing it, as I usually have the cam or phone on ready, but I didn’t. It was pretty faded- and I have never seen it again. Apparently there was a significant, deadly accident on that stretch of road, so the sign was telling people to slow down and be cautious.
Mat said one time, their tour truck came across the scene of an accident, which he said from the outside, seemed impossible anyone could have survived. However the driver did and his wife was stuck inside. Mat most people were just standing around watching, some were taking pictures, but he and the guys from his truck, were the first to jump in and try and help.
Somehow they were able to use a machete to chop away pieces of the dashboard to get at the wife who had snapped her femur in two and completely degloved her foot. Thankfully, there were some doctors on board (as safari clients) who were able to tend to her as best they could. Mat still shakes his head and says he cannot believe how lucky they both were to be alive and how it just doesn’t seem possible even now.
One of our major stops was in Narok, the Massai capital of Kenya. This is where Moses is from and where much of his family lives still. Our destination was a mall- which I had my suspicions about having been in Africa before- and I think the others were majorly surprised…especially that it has large metal gates and a security guard.
Tusky’s is kind of the Fred Meyer/ Walmart here, only on a much smaller scale. We all needed to go there, but first I needed to stop at the pharmacy for Immodium- which was thankfully the very first thing I saw when stepped into the open air courtyard.
I have been taking Immodium to make sure I am not having major issues while on the road- and while everything is still flowing freely, nothing is happening unexpectedly nor without my control. I want to make sure I have enough, especially if this is going to be a staple of my diet for the rest of the trip (worst case).
I asked about antibiotics too because they are sold over the counter. I was wondering if they had cipro (but doubted it). I asked her what kinds she had and wasn’t totally sure, so I asked what they were for. She listed the first and said, “For chlamydia?” to which I said, nope not that! She said a few others and ended up pulling out the boxes for me- but really it was pointless to try anything else (especially without finding some wifi to research first) as they could exacerbate things, especially if the wrong kind…so I decided to skip them.
The first thing I really wanted at Tusky’s was Gatorade or something like it- and on the first shelf, eye level was blue Power Aide- will do just the trick! I was so thirsty I immediately started drinking it, to sip on while we shopped.
We got our “usual” creme biscuits- shortbread cookies with a variety of creme flavors in them. We really liked lemon on our last trip and we’d tried some pineapple ones in Tanzania that were great- but we also came across some just before this what we didn’t like. I made sure to pick a different brand and hope these will be better. The other will also only remind me of being sick now too, as I ate one in an attempt to get something down during the ride…but it tasted weird and Bryan said it wasn’t just me being off.
We were quick shoppers as we knew what we wanted, and quickly went to find the bathrooms. We were told as well a liquor store and ATM were upstairs both of which we wanted to frequent. As we walked toward the bathroom we noticed the mall got dark and the empty stores (of which there were many; more than those open) we so dingy. The floors had been pulled up so some of the rooms almost looked like they were outside, with dirt floors. Two security looking guys were sitting in rolling office chairs near the front window of one, eating lunch- and the whole scene just looked bizarre.
We found the bathrooms, where there is a guy sitting out front with some wads of paper. He made no gesture as to whether we should take one or not- or pay him- and he certainly didn’t offer us anything either. I had paper in my pocket so I was fine, but Marina and Jillian were questioning what he was doing there. I suggested she get some and have it, so no matter what she didn’t need to rely on the bathroom attendants.
We went to the top floor but found a bar, not liquor store- though did come across the ATM. Bryan was trying to make it easy on both of us, so choose the maximum amount, which the machine illustrated was 600,000. So Bryan types this in and it says that’s more than the maximum allowed. I snickered and he’s like “what the”, so he chose half that and it worked.
We only had 30 minutes on this stop, and we were just about done, when we ran into Kris and Paige coming out of Tusky’s. Paige looked a bit concerned and noted that she’d seen Shibani buying a bunch of chicken bouillon- imagining this is what he’d been using for the base of his delicious soups.
She looked at me for a consensus, to which I said that was something I’d bend on if I had to. I have to suspect that when I go out there’s a few things I really like that contain it- and I honestly would rather not know. I am pretty much of a don’t ask, don’t tell mantra- as long as it’s not meat itself.
It dawned on me as all the soups were vegetarian there was no reason we couldn’t provide him with veg bouillon for them, ensuring there was no chicken broth in there at all…so it’s not like he’d have to make two versions- they are always made with us in mind, first.
I suggested Bryan go back in and buy some veg bouillon= problem solved! So Paige, kris and Bryan went back in to look as I walked to the car with Alma, Jaquie and Marina. I saw Mat and told him the concern and he went to Shibani to ask- who confirmed indeed, there had been no chicken in our soup- and that the bullion was for other meals and not anything we’d be served as vegetarians. Good!
This seems obvious enough to some people- that veg won’t want broth made with chicken- but even in the US it is hard to get people to understand what it means for us…and really it’s different for everyone. To us it means no animals, no animal products inside. Anything that has a face isn’t going in our bellies. Others though eat fish- and chicken often gets lumped in with the fish exception- and this is what confuses people…I am glad Shibani got it from the start…and now he’d have extra veg bouillon for later 😉
Back in the truck, we learned a little more history, especially that slavery was already occurring in African tribes and communities- although a much more “firendly” version; more like indentured servant, where the “slave” was treated like a part of the family but they did work in exchange for their “keep. Anyway, this practice is very likely why slavery was an easy sell when the Eurpoeans came to start trade- and why there wasn’t more resistance. The slaves probably believed that while “indebted” to someone, they were going to have a better life.
We learned a bit more about the different skulls and remains found in the area- a summary to much of what we learned at the Nairobi National Museum, thanks to Harbil.
As well we learned Swahili is typically understood and considered the “common” language in East Africa- and that this language came from the Arabic of Middle eastern traders who sailed to Africa’s eastern shores. Oddly enough while the people who mixed and blended and spoke this language were the fewest in number throughout Kenya (at least). The key was that anyone who wanted to trade (needed to learn/ used Swahili as the way to communicate…and this is how it spread throughout. As such, much like Malagasy, there are many Arabic similarities in Swahili.
Eventually we got to the camp, I believe simply called “Maasai Camp”- and got out our supplies for the night. Again, we had initially thought we’d be setting up our own stuff mandatorily, but instead we participated because we wanted to.
Shock of shocks: ALL the equipment was brand new!? Brand new tents- more of an REI camping type than the army issue of late. Instead of bed roll mats we had air mattresses and a pump (foot operated). While much appreciated, long term air mattresses don’t seem like the practical choice- especially when the 2 inch acacia thorns go through flip flops and the sole of your foot like a knife through butter. It is questionable how long they will last, but, they are new, I very much prefer them and they take up less space in the trucks.
We were also upgraded to camping chairs from the small uncomfortable, utilitarian stools or chairs from before…what’s even better is that the tent has an “atrium”- a little extra space so you can sit under the cover, for example while it’s raining, but not get wet.
We watched Moses set up one and everyone started in on theirs- with his continued help. He’s fast- which is good as it started to rain! I quickly put everyone’s camping chairs under their atriums as most had dispersed to the restaurant/ bar to recharge, in more ways than one!
Most of the group were there, and Mat started regaling tales of past trips. He told us about his biggest tip and that it came from the worst client ever and another about a guy who was always drunk and throwing things, including his beer at people- and into the river from their boat. Mat said if the guy hadn’t already been scheduled to leave the next day, he would have kicked him off…the lady was a whole other story.
I won’t say where the lady is from or how she grew up, but let’s just say Africa is not the place for her. She had some “friends” who had signed her up to go on this trip. I say friends because knowing her, this had to have been a ploy to destroy her- and they nearly succeeded!
The first time Mat met her was when she and her friends were inquiring about some of the things on the trip. She asked if she’d have to sleep on the ground. Mat said, “Well, on bed roll mats, but yes”. She burst into tears.
“Is it going to be cold”? “Yes it may get down to freezing sometimes”. Again, sobbing.
I am sure it isn’t the first time Mat has had people cry, but this lady was special. Mat said she was upset about everything- including throwing a fit, sobbing and crying when she saw a FLY on the truck. She was flipping out screaming to get it out. Naturally, Mat thought she was joking…but she wasn’t.
She proceeded to whine, complain and downright bitch, the entire time about any and everything. It came to a head when she was trying to convince the front desk people at one of the camps to take them to the 5 star hotel up the road. Mat said the people at this place really don’t have great service and just wouldn’t give a hoot however much she cried and whined about it.
Mat was down the desk aways, snickering about her plight- he did not like her and while she is a guest and he was polite, he felt she was getting what’s coming to her. At some point the lady stopped and said “I hate these f*&^ing people”- and Mat lost it. They started yelling back and forth at each other- he extremely upset she’d be so offensive and rude and she somehow still turned it back to her and said he was judging her. In my eyes, she painted the picture, he just looked at it. If you don’t want to be judged as this or that, then don’t embody it and you wont…
This was a trigger for him though and he said he was sorry because he realized he was- and just decided to treat her like a 4 year old child for the rest of the trip. The lady got her way somehow and she went to the 5 star place- also getting away with not paying for the extra person (her daughter!) she should have if she was a normal person…
Anyway, at the end of the tour, she ended up giving him the biggest tip he’s gotten yet 😉
It was dinner time now- time to see what I could muster getting down. There were some delicious looking options, including a fried banana dessert (that Shabani hasn’t made since) that I was terribly distraught to miss out on- so I had a bowl of rice. I figured I’d be eating a lot of rice for a while.
Mat was holding a nightwalk to look for chameleons but I didn’t feel up for it- and I guess it’s all for the best because they didn’t see any anyway. They did see a communal spider web, which looks a lot like a big cocoon, which I was introduced to because we had lunch under a tree with them above. I was fine with this as long as they stayed up there…
My innards were still gurgling but I went to sleep, hoping that tomorrow would bring reprieve.