When we started planning this trip to Kenya with Stephen and Ginny we all talked about what things we wanted to do the most.  At the top of both Nathan and mine’s list was getting to see wild animals in Kenya.  As Nathan said, “I want to see lions killing wildebeest on the savanna.”  It was a good game drive, but we didn’t quite get to see that.

We did, however, get to see lots and lots of other wild animals!

Our tour started with a beautiful sunrise!

We saw the sun rise more times on this trip than I do the rest of the year combined, but it was a very beautiful sunrise.

We saw the sun rise more times on this trip than I do the rest of the year combined, but it was a very beautiful sunrise.

The sun rising over the roof of our tour van.

The sun's rising over the roof of our tour van.

White Rhinoceros

The rhinos might've been my favorite animal.  We got so close to this one we could hear it tearing the grass to eat!

The rhinos might've been my favorite animal. We got so close to this one we could hear it tearing the grass to eat!

This baby white rhino just has a little nub for his horn.  It's so cute!

This baby white rhino just has a little nub for his horn. It's so cute!

Giraffes

These giraffes were so tall, but they're still juveniles.

These giraffes were so tall, but they're still juveniles.

Here's a close up of the graceful, calm giraffe.

Here's a close up of the graceful, calm giraffe. They were Nathan's favorite animal (since we didn't see any lions).

Zebras

Grazing Zebras

Grazing Zebras

Baboons

I really liked the baboons, but Ginny told us she doesn't because they're such a nuisance in Kenya.

I really liked the baboons, but Ginny told us she doesn't because they're such a nuisance in Kenya. Here's a mom cleaning her baby.

Cape Buffalo

The cape buffalo is a very dangerous animal, said to kill more people than any other animal in Africa, because of their unpredictability.

The cape buffalo is a very dangerous animal, said to kill more people than any other animal in Africa, because of their unpredictability.

Waterbucks

A waterbuck just stopped and stared at us for quite awhile.

A waterbuck just stopped and stared at us for quite awhile.

Rock Hyrex

The rock hyrax is a small, furry mammal.

The rock hyrax is a small, furry mammal.

Greater (Pink) and Lesser (White) Flamingos

The flamingos live on the algae in Lake Nakuru.  The lesser flamingos are in the foreground, the pink greater ones are behind, and pelicans are in the back.

The flamingos live on the algae in Lake Nakuru. The lesser flamingos are in the foreground, the pink greater ones are behind, and pelicans are in the back. There were LOTS of flamingos at the park!

Crested Eagle

Crested Eagle

Crested Eagle

Warthogs

We saw lots of warthogs; here is an adult with two babies.

We saw lots of warthogs; here is an adult with two babies.

Hyenas

Early in the morning we came across a pack of hyenas that were eating a flamingo from the lake.  We could hear the bones crunching as they ate.

Early in the morning we came across a pack of hyenas that were eating a flamingo from the lake. We could hear the bones crunching as they ate.

Gazelles

This is a male impala antelope.

This is a male impala antelope. We also saw gazelles, but they were much further away.

Cranes

We saw lots of cranes like this one, feeding in the freshwater stream that led to the saltwater Lake Nakuru.

We saw lots of cranes like this one, feeding in the freshwater stream that led to the saltwater Lake Nakuru.

And what safari would be complete without some tourists?

Here we are in the safari van.  The roof configuration was very nice because we could take photos without a pane of glass being in the way.

Here we are in the safari van. The roof configuration was very nice because we could take photos without a pane of glass being in the way.

There are no elephants that live by Lake Nakuru.  There are a few lions, but we didn’t see them.  James asked on the way out of the park, and no one else saw lions that day either.  That made us feel a little better.

Going to Lake Nakuru was the single most expensive expenditure on our trip, but it was still worth it.  We got to see lots of animals, take gigabytes of photos (this is only a small sample), and we got to know our guide and driver, James.

In addition to taking us from the safari office to our hotel and picking us up again before dawn the next morning to drive us around the park, James gave us invaluable help.  We invited him to join us for a late lunch after the game drive, and he did.  He also let us leave all the luggage in the safari van so we didn’t have to drag it into the restaurant.  At lunch we were talking about where he grew up, and he was asking us about what our plans were while we were in Kenya.  We told him how we were going to catch a matatu after lunch to go further northwest past Kabernet to visit a place Ginny had lived.

James offered to drive us after lunch to the matatu stand.  We thought we knew where it was because the matatu from Kijabe had dropped us off at a Shell station near the town plaza.  Well, James took us to another place nearby that had lots and lots of matatus over a couple of blocks.  Not only did he take us to the stand, but when we got there he told us all to wait in the van.  He went to talk to the matatu drivers, and he found us one going to Kabernet right away that had space for us and our bags.  He negotiated the price, and we were able to just climb right in.  We met a lot of kind people while in Kenya, but for a stranger who went out of their way to help us, James might take the gold medal.

If you find yourself in Kenya and in need of a good game drive guide, you can find James at Susu Safaris in Nakuru, Kenya.  The phone number for the office is +254-20-2211408.  I also have his email address if you’re interested.  You can tell him we sent you! 🙂

Laura is laughing at James’ stories of baboons at the national park.

Laura is laughing at James’ stories of baboons at the national park.

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July 2nd: Matatu Road Trip

August 19, 2009

While we were in Kenya we got to quite a bit of traveling around the country.  For our ride to RVA we caught a ride with friends that were going our way.  For shorter inter-city distances when we had our luggage with us we hired a taxi. We didn’t have our own car, or even a rented one, so we relied mostly on public transportation because it was cheaper than taking taxis.  Most of those trips were in matatus.

Matatus are small buses with three or four rows of small seats in them.  Kenyans regularly crowd in together to travel from place to place for a few shillings.  They’re easy to catch, and they go just about everywhere.  With a two man team, one person focuses on the driving and the other works as a conductor, collecting money and leaning out the open door calling out the destinations to recruit passengers.

It was upon leaving RVA we took our first matatu. We were headed to the city of Nakuru to see some wild animals at Nakuru Lake National Park.  One of the nice things about the matatu stand in Kijabe is that there was a stand selling freshly roasted corn right next to it, so we bought a few ears to eat along the way for lunch.

Nathan holding fresh roasted corn in front of our matatu

Nathan is holding fresh roasted corn in front of our matatu.

Here’s a picture of us loading our luggage into the matatu that would take us from RVA to Nakuru.  Between the five of us, we also had to buy two seats for our luggage.  Most of the Kenyans aboard didn’t have bags; they were going to work or on errands.

Loading luggage

Loading luggage

To give you an image of how”roomy” the matatus are inside, here’s a shot I took from the very back row of seats.  Nathan and Ginny are in the middle row, and Stephen is all the way to the front with the luggage and sharing a seat with the conductor who takes money and tells the driver where we want to go.

Inside the matatu.  This is the only one we took with a TV screen in it.

Inside the matatu. This is the only one we took with a TV screen in it.

In all we took three multi-hour trips in matatus, a couple inside Nairobi, and lots of short trips around Mombasa.  It was a pretty good way to travel, to get to see the countryside go by, and to meet people.  It was pretty crowded, especially, in the ones inside the cities, but we didn’t have any trouble with pickpockets.  I wished several times, though, that I’d had a bag like Mary Poppins’ that would hold our stuff but not take up much space.  It was good to have the things we brought, but it was not as cool to have to find a way to stuff it into the matatus or pay extra for the seats.

The most difficult thing about traveling by matatu was finding one that was going where we wanted to go with enough space for all five of us and would take us there for a reasonable price.  Here’s the matatu stand in the town of Kabernet.

Matatu stand in Kabernet

Matatu stand in Kabernet

You can see that there’s not exactly a ticket window you can walk up to and buy your ticket at.  The good part of having a larger group was that the matatus leave when they’re full, and we did a good job of filling the matatu half of the way up.  They do have three or four place names painted on the sides to give you an idea of their routes, which helped us find the right one.  Ginny did a good job of knowing where we needed to go, so we never got into a matatu that was going where we didn’t want to be.

It’s true; traveling around Kenya is not only beautiful, it’s exciting too!

Wild zebras were grazing on the side of the road to Nakuru.

Wild zebras were grazing on the side of the road to Nakuru.

July 1st: Welcome to Kenya

August 14, 2009

At 6:30am Wednesday morning we landed in Nairobi.  As we were coming in, we were able to see Mt. Kenya poking through the layer of clouds in the pre-dawn light.  It was really spectacular, but it wasn’t the best thing we saw that morning.  After getting off the plane, we met up with our friend Laura, and that was really awesome and fortuitous.  We had planned to meet her after passport control, but there she was in the terminal hallway!  Laura is a friend of ours from Albuquerque, and she’s studying Arabic in North Africa.  She had a break from school while we were in Kenya, so she flew down to vacation with us.  Laura’s been gone from New Mexico since December; getting to hang out with her was a highlight of the trip for us.  Both Nathan and I love to go new places and try new things, but it’s even more fun when you have the kind of friends (like Stephen, Ginny and Laura) who want to go with you!

After making it through customs and picking up our packs at luggage, we headed over to AIM’s Mayfield Guest House.  Ginny and her family spent quite a bit of time over the years staying at Mayfield, and it was a good place for us to meet up with friends of her family who would be driving us to our next destination.  At Mayfield we got to take showers, rest, and eat lunch.  We also finalized our reservations to stay at the guest house our last night in Kenya

AIM Mayfield Guest House in Nairobi

AIM Mayfield Guest House in Nairobi

Following lunch, we loaded into a van and headed west towards the Great Rift Valley and Rift Valley Academy (www.rva.org).  Ginny and her siblings all attended RVA, so we had heard stories about her time there and met some of her friends from RVA.  Before getting to the school we stopped at an overlook of the Rift Valley.  It was hazy so we couldn’t see a long ways, but we could see far enough to tell that it was a very beautiful vista!

Great Rift Valley Overlook

Great Rift Valley Overlook

Sunshine in the Great Rift Valley

Overlooking the Rift Valley at an elevation of 8000 feet

At the boarding school we were hosted by the couple who were Ginny’s dorm parents when she was in 7th grade.  They still work and live at RVA, though not as dorm parents anymore.  For supper we walked down from the school to the village below.  There we went to a small (5 table) restaurant that had really great food.  Ginny told us that it’s good to ask what’s ready when you go to a restaurant because they’ll usually make whatever you order even if it’s not even started.  We found a lot of that kind of go-out-of-your-way hospitality in Kenya.  We had curry, rice, samosas [link], chapatti, and ugali [link].  It was a great introduction to delicious Kenyan food.  The bananas we had for dessert were really great too.  After supper and visiting with our hosts for a bit, it was awesome to finally crash into a real bed!

The next morning Laura and I went running around RVA on the guard’s trail.  I’ve been running all summer, but not at 8000 feet!  As Laura said, “Corrie, can you believe we running in Kenya!?  In the Rift Valley!”  My lungs were a little less sure, but it was an incredible place to run.  We got a tour by Ginny of a few places, including the chapel, the ceramics studio (Ginny’s an amazing sculptor and potter.), and the cornerstone laid by Teddy Roosevelt.

Laura and me stretching after our run

Laura and me stretching after our run

RVA Basketball Court

RVA Basketball Court

Stephen and the RVA cornerstone

Stephen and the RVA cornerstone

The Centennial stone erected in 2006

The Centennial stone erected in 2006

Ginny making a brick for the sidewalk

Ginny making a brick for the sidewalk