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Published: October 20th 2013
Trunks packed for Rio 2014
Such cute baby elephants, I know, you all want one of these now, but they do get a bit bigger.
'It began in Africa' so the saying goes, however this trip began one summer’s evening in Balham after a superbly cooked Shepherd’s pie (if I say so myself) and a modest splash of wine a plan the idea of seeing the so called 'real Africa' was born. Fast forward a couple of months, a few injections, a lot of dollars and the tough decision whether to pack hair straighteners or not and it was time for myself and fellow African beginner, Sabrina, to board the plane to Nairobi.
Having only travelled to the northern African counties before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Kenya and Tanzania and the sadly on the Saturday before we departed the terrible events at the Westgate mall in Nairobi took place so it didn’t seem the best time to be going. Still, working on the principle that security is always tighter after such an event we didn’t let it worry us too much and there seem to be plenty of AK47s to go round in Africa.
Flying south over Africa gave you a sense of the size of the continent and how vast and empty the Sahara is, the beige blandness is
occasionally punctuated with the odd oasis which makes you wonder how people ever found them in the first place. At one point we flew over a strange set of large concentric circles which the map informed me was called the ‘Great Oasis’, seems to have dried up now, I can only imagine what was there once upon a time.
Finally landing at Nairobi late at night our first adventure was to begin; our ride didn’t show so we had to take a chance with a friendly lady called Francisca and take a cab to our hotel for the next few days, Karen Camp. The drive took us to the expensive residential area called ‘Karen’ on the other side of Nairobi, with very few street lights and some confusion from our driver, we finally drove down a dirt track to an ominous looking gate and small sign saying the name of our camp. At this point I got a little worried as the place looked like it had been closed down for years and I was contemplating what options we had a midnight in Nairobi but luckily this was the security and the camp was still very much alive. The
Charcoal for sale on the streets of Nairobi
‘camp’ was not much more than a large house which had been converted in to a hotel come camp, 5 star luxury it isn’t but at that point I was just happy we had a place to stay.
Waking up the next morning and we could finally take in the full glory of Karen Camp and after a tasty breakfast outside in the sunshine we chatted with the rather portly looking owner and worked out the plan of action for the next couple of days before we joined our tour. We were informed it was not really wise to walk outside the camp as it wasn’t that safe, so we had to take taxis whenever we wanted to go somewhere. With the high walls and permanent guard on the gates it made you feel a bit like you were in an open prison as you couldn’t just walk out the gates, although it did serve G+Ts so not too bad a place to be stuck in.
The ‘Karen’ district is named after Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame and having read the book just before I came to Kenya it seems it has changed rather a lot
The ladies of the Kazuri bead shop
Seemed a nice and happy place for them to work
since her day. In the time of the book I think the area was just open savannah or coffee plantations but now it has some very large and very expensive looking houses, it certainly had a bit of an colonial feel to it. The security measures people have to take now were very evident with large walls and barbed wire surrounding most homes.
After a restful morning we took a trip out around Karen and visited a local woman’s bead making co-operative, Kazuri, set up to provide employment for many single mothers. The women make and paint beads from the local clay and make them in to jewellery to sell to the ‘Mzungis’. We also visited a place where old flip flops are recycled in to various trinkets and then headed to a local supermarket for a bit of shopping. Driving around was very interesting, lots of enterprising people selling plants and charcoal at the side of the roads, not to mention the fantastic sofas on offer, some were so grand they probably wouldn’t even fit in to my flat. Arriving back to Karen Camp, the place had been overtaken by large hoards arriving in many overland trucks, the
The finished article
Beads ready for firing, all hand painted
place was no longer ours and it was suddenly party central in downtown Karen.
By our second day in Kenya we’d already picked up a few phrases of Swahili and my favourite so far was ‘Pole pole’ (pronounced po-lé po-lé ) which means ‘slowly’. It was becoming clear that a lot of things in Africa are ‘pole pole’ and instead of trying to fight it I was already getting in to the African frame of mind and began feeling rather pole pole myself. So after a lazy breakfast we headed off to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for our first big game experience. The trust looks after orphaned elephants and rhinos found after the parents have died, usually as a result of poaching. Our diver ‘Smiley’ dropped us off and we waited in anticipation for the big babies.
I was amused by a wheelbarrow of large milk bottles waiting to be drunk. The trust have become successful at saving the orphans as they have developed a special formula for the elephants to drink which means they have saved many cute babies over the years.
The first set to arrive where the very young ones, only being a
At least they didn't have nappies that needed changing
few months old, they were so much smaller than I expected. Almost like big dogs and oh so cute! I wanted to take on home but I am not sure that my neighbours would have appreciated the new pet and I guess in a few months time it might not fit through the door. The keepers lead them around for a bit, had a quick game of football with them, gave them bottles and we were even allowed to pet them, super cute indeed. They were then lead away and another set of bigger babies were lead in to the enclosure. At this point they were starting to be the size of a small pony and rather more of a handful.
One of the keepers began a talk about the trust and its work and listed off all the names of all the elephants we saw, quite impressive as I have to say I don’t think I’d be able to remember which one was which. While the elephants were enjoying the limelight I noticed a few warthogs coming over the hill and enjoyed their rather comical walk, they look like they have little high heels on and totter around
Yes, they really are THAT cute!!!
in a most amusing fashion. Along with a few antelopes it was starting to feel quite wild in Africa with all the strange animals wandering around so freely.
We headed back to meet Smiley and then drove over to have some lunch at a giraffe centre where you get to feed them by hand. They have rather strange, long blue tongues which surprised me a bit and it was good fun to feed them. There were also a family of warthogs milling about as well, I hadn’t even thought about the fact it would be spring when we booked the trip so it turned out to a pleasant surprise to realise there were going to be lots of baby animals around for us to enjoy.
For our last evening in Kenya we took a cab about to a restaurant about one minute away (for our security!) and enjoyed a nice bit of ex-pat living. The club/restaurant was a world away from the red, dusty streets we’d travelled earlier in the day, with the car park full of large 4x4 and the bar full of rather boorish looking white Africans watching rugby. Still the food was tasty and eating
Form an orderly queue
About the best queue we saw in all of Africa
outside was rather nice, ah, pole-pole.
It was time to leave Nairobi the next morning as we were joining our tour down to Tanzania, it was rather a short visit and we didn’t quite get to see much of the city but already I was feeling very happy to be in Africa and was looking forward to the next part of the trip.
Waking up the next morning we met out driver for the next part of the trip, Henry, and loaded up the truck. The over landing trucks can often take up to 20 people, however there were only four of us on our tour which lead to rather a lot of space on the truck. Our fellow travellers, Emma and Paul, also hailed from London and would be sharing the trip all the way down to Zanzibar with us.
Leaving Karen we headed south towards the Tanzanian border at Namanga. The drive would take a few hours and we were enjoying the views from high up in the truck. The roads were somewhat bouncy but it was all good fun and could be very entertaining when we had to take the off road diversions, not
to be recommend if you get a bit car sick though...
As we travelled south, Henry would stop the truck to point out anything of interest and pointed to the large mass of cloud we could see in the distance, this was Kilimanjaro, sadly the clouds didn't lift and we only caught a glimpse of the slopes on occasion, the JuJu was not good for our mountain spotting.
The Masai were out in force herding their many cattle and goats, they don't care much for you taking photos of them, don't blame them really, I wouldn't want people taking pictures of me while I worked but they do look rather majestic in their checked blankets and they do like a good stick.
Finally we reached the border, time for a bit of pole pole administration, a form to leave Kenya and one to enter Tanzania. The guy seemed to be more interested in turning over the tv when it was my turn, he didn't even make me do all my fingerprints, just waved me off half way through processing so he could play with the remote control, pole pole.
Once in Tanzania we stopped in a
town called Arusha for some cash and supplies, the Kenyan money was bad enough, now we had a more difficult exchange rate to deal with, still getting 800,000 out of a cash point can make you feel very rich indeed. finally we reached our destination for the night, Snake camp, so called as they have a lot of snakes. Luckily they are behind glass and not roaming free around the campsite. It is a nice place and had a rather good bar where I managed to teach lots of people the art of darts but then lost a beer in a bet playing against Henry, I think being south of the equator upset my playing ability...
Time for the first night under canvas and an early start the next morning as we were heading off on safari. Stay tuned for the next installment, to be published once I’ve managed to sort through thousands of pictures of animals….
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