Hello! Long time no speak!
I am now
in Kampala, Uganda, having arrived from Kenya just over a week ago. Uni friends Alex and Suzie have been traveling with me since December 28th, though Alex flew off to Ghana yesterday leaving me and Suzie with a few more weeks to explore Uganda and Rwanda. I get home February 15th!
Kenya was great, and whilst I didn't feel as though I really got 'under the skin' of the country as much as I had in Ethiopia, I had a lot of fun.
After a very hot and sweaty Christmas in Mombasa, it was great to relax on the breezy beaches of Lamu - a ramshackle island village on Kenya's north coast, not far from Somalia. After a few days kicking back, we headed for Nairobi, via a bus to Mombasa and then the rickety overnight train from there.
Alex and Suzie didn't take too well to the fact that I was still haggling for a Coca Cola on the platform as the tooting train announced its imminent departure. I turned, delighted, to the girls to announce that I had indeed managed to get the stubborn vendor to halve his ludicrously inflated asking prices, only to see them jogging after the departing carriages! I say jogging although, really, the 20-plus kilo backpacks had slowed things to a desperate amble which might had proved quite amusing had I not been following in a similar fashion, whilst attempting to drain the returnable glass bottle of its sickly goodness...
Taking a death-defying leap (or a pathetic last-minute stumble, depending upon the story teller), I just
made it, delighted, onto the departing choo-choo with a gleeful face which said 'See - I told you he was trying to rip us off'.
And then we realised that there were about thirty carriages to the train - none in numerical order. We were in the middle of them all, but were told that our compartment was towards the very front of the vehicle. Magic.
Now if you have undertaken this journey yourself you will well remember the narrow gaps between the sectioned-off sleeping compartments and the window, through which you must squeeze your way along the carriages. Most, sensible, customers who have boarded the train at the correct carriage some time before departure, must only perform this delicate ritual when meals are served. We squeezed all the way to the front of the train, each with huge backpacks and small daysacks, only to be told that our compartment was right at the back
of the train after all. It was quite a workout but, forty-five minutes after departure, we collapsed into our seats. By the time dinner was served we were well-known as the train idiots...
I have never been on a train quite so slow, but the lazy pace was a blessing the following morning when zebras, wildebeests and antelope could be spotted on the broad, dry, red plains which stretched out from either side of the tracks.
These sightings proved just the prelude to the wonderful Safari in Masai Maara which started the following day...
We had spent
our final day on Lamu debating which company to book a safari with. Finally, we had agreed that we ought to go with the cheapest known operator. We were all a little nervous about whether this might backfire... In the event, we actually got upgraded! And rather than spend our nights in a holey, mozzie-ridden 'tent' on the cheapo sight (which was, alas, being renovated), we found ourselves housed in 'luxury' tents with full furniture, double beds, hot showers, and buffet meals which I nibbled at in polite reservation (yeah right!)
The animals put on quite a show too! It was absolutely brilliant to spot wild Lions, Giraffes, Hippos, Cheetahs, Ostriches, Gazelles, Impalas, Topi, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Eagles, Hyenas, Vultures, Zebras, Warthogs, Velvet Monkeys, and many exotic birds. I particularly enjoyed observing the strong and graceful Lions - some of whom we caught kipping on giraffe corpses, wearing a face not so different to mine upon finishing off my fifth course at the preceding evening's buffet! Ostriches were fun, and there was something really special about observing lanky giraffes strutting towards you from the horizon. Cheetahs were an unexpected bonus on the final morning.
The wildlife spotting continued as we journeyed further West in Kenya. We climbed Mount Longonot for wonderful views across the Rift Valley and down into the dormant volcano's crater which houses an entirely different ecosystem. We visited the spectacular salt lake Elementita and viewed all manner of birdlife, including flamingos. We went on a pilgrimage to the tea plantations around Kericho, before throwing in a random visit to a Sikh Temple there and an even more unusual tour of a dairy in Eldoret (good Gouda).
Our base for
exploring Longonot and Elementita was a very dusty town called Naivasha. There are few buildings there which aren't built of breezeblocks, and little of note to the tourist in the town itself, yet we loved it! We found the people to be extremely welcoming, and with a cracking sense of humour. We enjoyed the banter in the bakery, the friendly laughs in the (not so classy) bars, and the requests for photos from the motorbike taxi drivers. It was just the kind of random stop-off which becomes a fond memory which I love about travelling. We also felt very relaxed around Nakuru, Kericho and Eldoret.
Which is why it was particularly unnerving, when browsing Wikipedia from Uganda, to be reminded of the events which this region saw just one year ago. Apparently 64 people were killed in Nakuru, and 22 in Naivasha as people were burned out of their villages in post-election violence. Many people in the country remain in IDP Camps, with little certainty of when, if ever, they will return home.
We found the Kenyan people to be very fun, and very welcoming, without ever being too pushy. We didn't even mind big bad Nairobi, and had no problems there. Yet tribe
was a reoccuring theme when discussing Kenyan life with the locals. Even the friendliest people we met sometimes had nothing positive to say about people from a certain other tribe, and many people had some other group - whether religious, ethnic or political - to blame, with certainty, for their problems. People told us how they had been forced to flee to new settlements hundreds of miles away because of the mobs who blamed their tribe for daily problems as well as those specific to the elections. Others explained that Nairobi's different slums are run by different gangs, often known to originate from a certain ethnic group which would make life difficult for 'minorities' in the slums.
This concept of tribalism
and the divisions and difficulties which it can apparantly breed was difficult for us to comprehend. It appears to be a far more obvious problem in Kenya, though I had also experienced more low-level mumblings in Ethiopia which I am sure could be easily exploited in the way in which certain politicians and publications allegedly exploited ethnic discontent in Kenya just last year.
Perhaps the problem would not be so exaggerated if the Kenyan people were able to put more faith in national politicians, and if such politicians appeared able to govern for the national good - the Kenyan whole - rather than for their own narrow, and sometimes 'tribal', interests. We met few Kenyans who held any optimism for the future of the 'Grand Coaltion' Government which emerged out of last year's sad situation.
We loved Kenya - it offers so much to the visitor, not least the warmth of its people, of all
tribes, towards you. It is currently a very peaceful place. However, I got the feeling that special, united, unselfish leadership is needed to hold this somewhat fragile peace together, and many do not feel that this is what is necessarily offered by the 'Grand Coalition'...
I am fine
and well, and Suzie and I are heading to the Sesse Islands tomorrow. I hope to blog about Uganda soon!
I hope you are all very well. Best wishes for 2009,
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