Stories from Kenya (written by Brian)
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Sunday, October 27th
Well, Shelley's string of being up late for work was still intact but this time it was only around 1:00 am so we couldn't complain too much. I awoke fairly early in the morning to make sure some work related things got done. I then made my way out to the front deck as we were coming into port. Shelley soon decided that she had enough sleep (for now) and joined myself and everyone else outside. The first thing we noticed as we were coming into Mombassa was how green it was. The port of Mombassa is actually on a small island right off the mainland part of Kenya. We were making our way through the channel between the island and the mainland. There were lush green trees and plants on either side of us as well as a number of small buildings that dotted the landscape. We could immediately tell that Mombassa was one of the smaller ports that we had been in. As we pulled closer into port we could see the main part of the city across the channel. There were a few skyscrapers but for the most part it was a smaller, spread out city. I think we were all a bit surprised at how modern the city was. While it appeared to be a bit rundown, for the most part, it looked pretty modern.
By this time, Shell had gone back to bed to sleep for a little while. I messed around the ship trying to figure what we should do for the day. This would be the only day in Mombassa, as our safari would take up all but a few hours of the rest of the stay. By mid morning, Shelley was back up and getting ready. A few of the other staff had decided to just go into town and see what was going on. Shell and I joined Bill, Sunny and Sarah on the journey into town. Our first challenge was to find transportation. The night before port, we had been told that the "Mercedes" taxis were the safest and that we should try to stay with those. Well, as soon as we started looking for transportation we realized that the "Mercedes" taxis were nonexistent. We wound up getting a taxi relatively easy compared to previous ports. The five of us piled into a small Toyota and were off to town. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, most of the stores and restaurants were closed. We passed under the famous "Tusks" of Mombassa. They are giant metal tusks that span the road like an arch. While they look quite real, they are fake! Our first stop was an Internet Café as the Internet connection on the ship had been down for a number of days. As was the case in India, there was a ton of security in Kenya. There were armed guards all over the place, even at the business building we went to. The "Internet Café" we went to, turned out to be a local ISP that uses its computers for an Internet Café when SAS is in town (only $1/hour). A real friendly young Indian couple owned the business. They told us all about the city including several places to go (and not to go). They even helped us make reservations for dinner that night at a really great restaurant. Once we were done, they had one of their employees drive us to "Old Town" to grab some lunch.
Being Sunday, our lunch options were limited. There were two places that we knew of that were open. Unfortunately, everyone else knew this as well, so "Old Town" ended up being a haven for Semester at Sea people. We grabbed a seat at one of the small local restaurants called "Island Dishes" and had lunch. It didn't take us long to order as the menu was pretty simple - the beef dish or the chicken dish! The food turned out to be pretty good.
After lunch we started walking around Old Town and taking in the sights. It was during this time that we noticed the Muslim influence. The town of Mombassa is fairly evenly split between Muslims and Christians but we were definitely in a Muslim area. We found our way down one of the streets with many gift shops. As soon as we turned the corner there were people trying to get us to come in and see their crafts. We walked through a few stores but none of us were really in the mood for shopping so we didn't stay long. As we walked down the street, we suddenly saw some things that I think for the first time in the voyage made us stop and take an uneasy look around us. There was graffiti on many of the buildings that was Anti-American. One statement read something like "Osama Bin Laden is the Lion King", and there were many other phrases and statements that were not very pleasant. While we were taken back by the graffiti, none of us really felt threatened. We continued to walk down the street towards "Fort Jesus", which was a local landmark. As we got to the fort we could see that we were close to the ocean. We debated on whether to go into the fort or not and then finally decided to check out the ocean. Next to the fort was an open dirt field that had some old soccer goals on either side. The area was sloped a number of different ways, not a blade of grass and quite uneven but the kids were out playing soccer. We found a little ledge that we could sit on to watch both the soccer game and the ocean. Down below us, there were several groups of kids that were swimming and playing in the ocean. We all sat down and wound up just watching everything for over an hour. The soccer match turned into an official game as the kids all donned old dirty uniforms and one of the adults was the referee. It was great to just sit and observe everything. Both the kids playing soccer and swimming were having a blast and there were several spectators enjoying both scenes as well.
After an hour or so, we decided to walk around some more. I attempted to lead us down a path along the coast but in turned out to be a quick dead end. Shell then led us into a neighborhood area where we again just walked around. We found a small park that we walked through. The town was eerily quiet as we walked around. We stopped for a bathroom break at Fort Jesus. Shelley was quite amused as the bathrooms were marked as "Ladies Low Level Type" (i.e. Eastern toilets on the floor) or "Ladies High Level Type" (i.e. "normal" Western style toilets). As we had reservations at a restaurant across the mainland side we decided to start walking back towards town and eventually catch a taxi. We began walking along the same general path we started but soon realized that we were a little lost. At one point we turned the corner and walked right into this huge trash pile. There was a dumpster that had about 10 times as much trash as it could hold in a huge pile around it. There were a ton of cats rummaging through the trash to find leftover food. The odor was horrible - it was such a sad sight.
After that we kept walking and kind of hit a dead end. We paused for a minute trying to figure out which direction to go when a guy in his mid-twenties came over and offered to show us back to the market. He first showed us this masque that was right on the cliffs and talked to us for a while. He seemed to be harmless enough so we started walking around with him. He took us to this spot on the waterfront where all of the kids were playing and swimming. There was on old well built in this stone area and the kids were playing in it and in the channel as well. It was pretty cool to see everything. We then told him we needed to get back to catch a taxi to the restaurant so he started walking us back to the market area. This is where things got a little interesting. As we were the only white (and Asian) people anywhere close, we drew quite a bit of attention as we walked down the streets. Our "guide" seemed to know everyone we passed and there was soon a small crowd of people walking with us. We seemed to be going deeper into areas that were probably not the best areas to be in, so we asked him to take us directly to the market. He said that he had a shortcut and pointed down a small alley that wound in several different directions. Most of the buildings in this part of town were old and broken down and we all started to analyze our situation. At the time he pointed out the "short-cut", we noticed that there were now several men around our age following us, and somewhat surrounded us. We all realized that our best bet was to get back into a relatively public place so we declined the shortcut and made him take us back along the "major" streets. We backtracked for a little ways and then took a turn and started walking towards the market. At one point, a man in some kind of partial uniform told us that he was a "security officer" and it was safe to follow him. As soon as we got to the market, we realized that we definitely needed to leave this area. We were now in the highly Muslim area of town. Women were in full dress with only their eyes showing - it was obvious we were still definitely the center of attention. We had now picked up a second "guide" and the two young men went to get us a taxi. We came across a man with a taxi and our guides spoke to him in another language. The driver responded that the fair would be 1,000 shillings, which was about double what the price should have been. We offered 600 shillings and then one of our guides and the taxi driver began arguing quite heavily. The taxi driver agreed to take us for 600 shillings but our guides were beginning to get quite upset. They told us we should not go with this taxi driver and to follow them. We decided that the best path was to remove ourselves from the situation as soon as possible so we hopped in the taxi. We gave our guides a buck or two and they were not happy at all. As we drove off in the taxi, they were banging on the car, obviously very upset.
Our taxi driver turned out to be a very nice guy. He had told us that our two guides wanted him to charge us the 1,000 shillings so that they would get a cut of it. He also told us they were known for trying to steal things from people once they were inside taxis. I think we definitely avoided a potentially bad situation. I don't think we realized how bad the situation could have been until after everything was over and we thought about it. Our taxi driver happily took us to the restaurant and was quite enjoyable to talk to. He was a Muslim man living in Mombassa. We talked a little about the current problems between the Muslim and the Western world. He talked about the Muslim and Christian faiths being not so different (which is true) and that Muslims believed in many of the same things as Christians. He said that on a whole Muslims don't have any problems with the Western world and that the current problems were the fault of a few people. He said he hoped things would work out, as he wanted to see everyone live in peace. It was a nice way to end our situation as it gave us a good perspective.
We got to the restaurant and enjoyed a drink while we watched the sunset (known as a "Sundowner") - the scenery was really beautiful. We were hoping the couple from the Internet café would meet us, but they never made it. We really had a great time and later, had an awesome dinner (Shelley said it was some of the best crab she's ever had). After dinner we went back to the ship as several of us were leaving very early in the morning for our safaris.
Even though the day could have ended up differently, it did turn out to be a very good day. We had been warned that there were people that would try to "befriend" you for a while but would eventually turn on you. While we had encountered our first blatant Anti-American situation (at one point someone yelled at us to "go back to America") we also saw many positive things. If was great watching the kids play soccer and swim in the ocean, just like kids do all around the world. Also the people at lunch were more than friendly and very interesting to talk to. It was our first experience in a predominately Muslim area that was also a good experience. I think it caught us all a little off guard, but perhaps it was a good omen that a good-hearted Muslim taxi driver got us out of a potentially bad situation!
Monday, October 28th
Monday morning was an early morning as we were due to leave the ship at 6:30 am for our flight to Nairobi for our safari. Shell and I were the trip leaders and we had 49 students with us. The morning was somewhat rushed as we were trying to get everyone going - we had a student who overslept so Shell had to pound on his door to wake him up. We also got off to a bit of a rough start, as the people from the safari company didn't seem to hold our trip leader positions in high regard. They somewhat took over our duties of making sure all of the students were on board and didn't bother keeping us informed. We eventually all got on the bus and headed for the airport. The airport process was rather smooth as we were, for the most part, the only ones there. We were actually a few minutes early so we had time to relax at the gate. The flight to Nairobi was only 45 minutes so it was pretty quick. SAS basically took up the whole airplane (I think there were only two non-SAS people on the flight) so some of us actually got to enjoy first class treatment! It was Shell's first time in first class so she especially enjoyed it (even though it was only for a short while). During the flight we were able to see Mt. Kilamanjaro. The mountain is a pretty awesome sight as it just shoots strait up out of the plains and through the clouds. It was neat because we had wanted to see the mountain, yet none of the camping safaris were going to that area. At least we got to see it from a distance!
We landed in Nairobi around 9:30 am and the Micato (the safari company) people were waiting for us. They again rubbed us the wrong way at first! Shelley was trying to organize all of the students and she was told to "let us handle it, we do this for a living". By this time we just said "fine" and decided to let them deal with everything. The guy did apologize to Shell and the relationship with them did turn out to be pretty good. Everyone got organized and we loaded onto the safari trucks. The safari trucks were kind of like medium sized moving trucks with long bench seats in the back. The upper portion of the truck was exposed, so you could easily see out of the truck. We all piled in and got ready for our five-hour ride to the Masai Mara (the game reserve). There were about 16 to 17 people in each truck, so it was a little tight but not too bad.
As we left town, we realized that it was going to be pretty chilly ride in these "open air" trucks! Even though the Masai Mara is very close to the equator it lies about 6,000 feet above sea level. The average temperature during October is actually in the mid 60's. So as you can imagine, being outside in that temperature was quite nice, yet being in the back of an open-air truck doing 50 mph was quite cold. As soon as we got out of town people started putting on layers of clothing and a few people even broke out their sleeping bags. The scenery was pretty as we drove up to the Great Rift Valley. The area right outside of Nairobi is actually quite lush with a varied range of trees and plants. We all settled in and tried to stay warm during the long ride. This time was great though as we really had the chance to get to know the students on our truck pretty well. We had traveled with one of the students in Hiroshima (Natalie) and three other students on our truck were students we played volleyball with (Kate, Walt and Chris "Biff") quite regularly, but other than that, all of the students were new to us. At one point along the way, Chris decided to blurt out "does anyone know what the power voltage is"? As we were on a camping safari, we all had fun harassing him for his "blonde" comment!
After a couple of hours, we reached the top of the Great Rift Valley and came to a rest stop. The view from the place was awesome. You could see for miles across the Great Rift Valley! We took several pictures of the view as well as the monkeys that were playing around the area. After several minutes we loaded up and got ready to go. After they had closed the gate to the truck and we were about to pull away an extremely tall (about 6'7") Maasai guy in full traditional dress leaned over and opened the back gate and stepped in. Since Micato had not been telling us anything at all (and they seemed to have decided not to accompany us on this leg of our trip), we did not know who the hell this guy was. Shell stood up and asked him whom he was. He just kind of smiled and said that he was "one of our guides". Shell and I looked at each other - both very confused! He just continued to stand there with a grin on his face. At this point Shelley proceeded to throw him (not literally) out of the truck. The other drivers said something to him and he just disappeared. We had no idea if he was truly one of the guides or just some guy trying to bum a ride. Either way, the trucks got rolling and we were on our way. The students thought it was pretty funny though that Shell "booted" this guy. Driving through Kenya (especially the mountains) was quite an experience. It was kind of like driving through the mountains of Vietnam, only these guys were doing about 50-60 miles an hour in some stretches. The roads were barley big enough for one lane is some places and we were constantly being jostled around, as the truck would swerve onto the shoulder to avoid oncoming traffic. Once we got passed the valley, the scenery changed dramatically. The word "Mara" means plateau, and we were now on top of the plateau. The landscape turned into huge flatlands with gentle rolling hills. Single Acacia trees and even cactus trees (a normal tree on the bottom and cactus branches on top - very weird) would dot the landscape every few hundred yards or so. It was a very different landscape than we had expected and was quite striking (it was somewhat similar to the SW part of the States).
By now it was mid-afternoon and we still had not had lunch. Again, we had been told nothing so we had no idea what the plan was. We knew we were still a ways from camp so we started to wonder. Finally we came to a stop on the side of a dirt road. After a short pause, the trucks started to drive down a gully. At tne point, there was not more than a few inches between the edge of our tire and about a 10 foot drop off! As you can imagine, we were all wondering where in the hell we were going! We were being thrown around in the back of the truck and then finally came to a stop. Our drivers started to get out the coolers so we assumed this was our lunch stop. After we all got out and had some bathroom breaks (we had to be careful of lions ;-) ), they had lunch set-up for us. As we were walking around we saw the same Maasai guy from before. It was at this point that we (especially Shelley) realized that we had made a HUGE mistake in throwing this guy off the truck (however, everyone on the truck was suspicious of him). She went up to him to apologize and introduce herself. One of the first things he said to her was "hacuna matata" (yes, just like from the movie the Lion King!) meaning "no problem". He seemed to completely understand that Shell was just "protecting" the group from an unknown person. (Shell's maternal instincts kicking in I guess! Ha) His English name turned out to be Stanley and after lunch Shelley invited him to rejoin our group (you know, now that we knew he was "legit" and all!). We were both pretty embarrassed about the situation since he was actually a very nice guy. It's kind of funny as well because he turned out to be one of the coolest people we'd met on the trip. Once we began talking to him we had a blast and constantly bombarded him with questions about him and his culture. He patiently answered them all and for the next three days continued to join our truck.
After lunch, we gathered back into the truck and headed for camp and the game reserve. Our camp was supposedly just outside the park and we were and hour and a half away. The paved roads had given way to dirt roads along the way so we were in a state of constant jostling with dust everywhere. It was not too long after lunch that we started to see some animals. We saw a few giraffe from a distance and some small gazelles. Everyone started to get exited about the animals. Within a short time we had reached the entrance to the game reserve. We had thought we were going to camp first but we went ahead and entered the park so the safari was officially beginning. Within a short time after entering the park we started to see many more animals. Gazelles, zebras, buffalo, impalas, baboons and warthogs were all seen within a few minutes of entering the park. We were all so excited to see the animals! People kept pointing out new things they were seeing. As we would see an animal of interest, the truck would stop for us to look and take pictures. Depending on which side of the truck the animals were on, everyone would lunge over to that side of the truck to get a good view. It was a great feeling to be in the middle of Africa seeing all of these animals.
The roads in the game reserve go every-which way. While there are a few "main" roads, there are little offshoots everywhere. The drivers started taking us on some of these small roads that were barely more than a couple of tire tracks. We were going up and down and being tossed around like salad. After the initial flux of animals we saw a couple of elephants through the trees. Everyone got really excited at this. We didn't get a great view of them but we still got our first close glimpse at one of the "Big 5" (lion, cheetah, elephant, giraffe and cape buffalo). Everyone started snapping pictures like crazy. After a few minutes with the elephants we continued on. We soon saw a cape buffalo up close lying down. Again the cameras went wild. For our first game drive, we were having good luck.
By this time it was getting dusk so we headed to camp. Everyone was excited about the animals and excited to see our camp. The camp was just outside the part although it took about 10 minutes to get there because the road was so bad. The roughest ride of the whole trip was the little section between the game park entrance and the camp. Acacia tree branches (which have about 2 inch long extremely sharp spikes) would come brushing against the truck and fly into the sitting area causing us to constantly duck. We would also get thrown around as the road (I'm being generous calling it that), was quite interesting. The camp was pretty spread out. There were 25-30 two-man tents spread out over the area. They also had about five permanent bathroom structures that had larger tents attached to them, which were dispersed throughout the camp. On one side of the camp was the mess tent, a large three-sided tent with tables and chairs for eating and then off of that was a large canopy that provided more shelter and space to eat. There was a cook tent on one of the other sides of camp that was kind of out of the way down a small hill. Once we got there we all gathered around while our safari director, Dan, went over all of the basics about the camp and then we assigned everyone to their tents. Shell and I were given a "special" tent - a larger 3-person tent. We had several people staying with us in the camp. Besides the two safari directors and the truck drivers, there was the cook and his crew. We also had several Maasai people and Maasai Warriors that would stay with us at the camp and keep an eye out during the night. It was really nice as most of them spoke English so you could have conversations with them.
We assigned everyone their tents and then after a little while we all gathered back at the mess tent while the safari directors gave us some instructions and an overview of our next few days. By this time everyone was hungry and dinner was about ready. We all gathered around the mess tent and dug in. Dinner was fantastic and we all enjoyed sitting around the big tables and getting to know each other. After dinner, they had lit a couple of campfires and so everyone either went to bed or sat around the campfire talking to the Maasai. After dinner we had to deal with a small student incident. One of our students had left the camp right after we arrived and had not returned. There was another SAS group camped a few minutes down the hill from us and his new girlfriend was in that camp. Now this may not seem like anything unusual but his ex-girlfriend, who he came on the voyage with and then proceeded to break up with, just happened to be in our group as well. At one point during dinner one of the students asked if anyone had seen him. Since he never told Shell or I he was leaving, we had no idea what was going on. As it was now dark, we were a little worried. After we found out what his plans were, we told the safari director that he was probably in the other camp. They said they would go look for him but insisted on searching the hillside for an hour or so before actually taking our advice and going to the next camp. We played some cards with some students as we waited for him to be found. As we thought, he was in the other camp. He said that once he got there he had felt sick and fell asleep. Shell and I were not too pleased that he hadn't informed us he was leaving camp, but he was back and everything was ok.
After dinner, the owner of the actual camp we were staying at came down and talked to Shelley and I. His name was Asad. He was Indian but was a second generation Kenyan (there is actually a large Indian influence in Kenya). He was a zoologist who worked in the Mara and had a house in Nairobi and a small "tent-like" house next to our camp. He showed us the stars and talked to us about living around the Masai (BTW, the Masai "place" is spelled with only one "a" and the Maasai "people" are spelled with two "a's") and working with the animals. There was a fire on the opposite ridge from our camp that night. The Maasai often will burn areas before the rainy season so that new vegetation will come up for their animals to graze on. The fire looked spectacular set against the clear starry night. It was not a huge fire but you could definitely see the flames across the mountainside as it was only about a mile away. It was interesting because in the States, we would have been evacuated long ago but there was pretty much no worry amongst anyone there as they figured it would just burn itself out on the mountainside. We wound up talking with Asad for almost an hour as we looked up at the sky and mountains. It was the perfect way to end the day! So far, the plains of Kenya were living up to everything we had imagined them to be. We wandered off to bed around 11 pm.
Tuesday, October 29th
Tuesday brought an early morning wake-up call, as our first extended game drive was to begin at 6:30 am. We were awoken at 5:45 am by the cheery call of "Jambo" (Swahili for "hello") and a rustling of the tent by the Maasai warriors. We got up and got ready for our drive. Breakfast was not to be served until we got back so everyone filled up on coffee/tea and crackers. After we got everyone organized we loaded up the trucks and headed out towards the game park. Once we were in the game park we again immediately began to see all kinds of animals. Zebras, gazelles and impalas could be seen everywhere. We again saw several families of warthogs running around which was a funny sight (unfortunately, we never saw them up close though). We turned off the main road and began searching out some of the predators that everyone was so anxious to see. We had Stanley, the Maasai guide with us and he was very good at spotting animals. Having him with us was great as we could supplement our game watching with questions about the area and the Maasai culture. After a while we were driving alongside a dry riverbed when we saw a small group of lionesses lounging around in the shade of some small bushes. We got to within 100 feet of them, yet they seemed not to care at all about our presence. One of them slowly raised her head to look at us and then calmly went back to sleep. At this point the driver took off and drove around trying to find a place that we could cross the river and get a closer look - yet unfortunately, the driver was very unsuccessful. After a short while we noticed that our other two trucks and several other vehicles were quickly converging on a spot not too far from us. Our driver turned the opposite direction and took off. We were all wondering what the heck was going on, as it was apparent that something big was happening. At this point we were probably doing 40 mph down a small hill, not even on an established path. We were being completely thrown around. We finally came up to the other vehicles, which had formed a circle around something. We finally got a glimpse…there must have been eight vehicles surrounding a Cheetah that had a young gazelle lying in front of it. The cheetah was breathing quite heavily as you could see his chest moving in and out. At first I thought it was scared, but then we realized it was just breathing hard because it had just killed the gazelle and was trying to catch its breath before digging in! It was so cool! The cheetah sat there for a few moments breathing and looking around at all of us, the small gazelle lying closely to its body. After a few moments it lay down on its stomach and started poking at the gazelle. It was going to sit there and eat its lunch right in front of us. The cameras were going off like crazy as everyone was watching in amazement. We were sitting about 100 feet away from a cheetah eating a freshly killed gazelle. We drove around to get a bit better view of the feeding. A few of us had binoculars so we broke them out and got about as close a look as you can of the cheetah eating his lunch. The whole thing was incredible. It turns out that a girl on one of our other trucks (a fellow Coloradoan) had seen the cheetah right before it took off after the gazelle. Once the cheetah took off, the truck started trying to follow it. The students said they were doing about 45mph trying to follow it. One of the trucks actually got to see the cheetah tackle the gazelle and make the kill. It seemed as if we were the last to arrive.
After watching the cheetah for about 15 minutes we resumed our game drive. We drove around for a while without much direction. We saw several ostriches from a distance, including a family. We were headed back to the camp when we suddenly saw a giraffe standing right next to the main road. We had to bang on the side of the truck to get the drivers attention to stop. We stopped briefly and then he took off again around a hill. We were yelling at him to stop when we came across a few more giraffes. We finally got him to stop. There were several of them along the hillside just standing there. We were not extremely close, but it was the closest we had been to the giraffes. After a few minutes, we headed back to the camp. When we got back to camp, we learned that seeing a cheetah, and especially a cheetah kill, is one of the rarest sights. Cheetahs only hunt every three days and since cheetahs are on the decline, they are not seen as often.
Once we got back to camp, everyone was buzzing with excitement from the game drive. We had seen so much and it was only the first full day. We had breakfast and then several of us went on a hike with the Maasai as they talked about the local environment. We hiked up the hill that had been on fire the previous night. You could see the black patches where it had burned. The Maasai gave us a spear throwing demonstration as well as other information about the local wildlife and vegetation. After the hike, we returned to the camp for lunch. Again, the food was great. We had one of the local game wardens of the reserve come and talk to us. He was a large imposing man who wasn't the best at personal communication. After his quick talk, he opened it up to questions but most people were too intimidated to ask any. A few students asked questions, but he never really answered them and rambled on about things, so we just kind of gave up. We then had a little time to relax before our big soccer match with the Maasai in the afternoon.
About mid afternoon, we saddled up again and headed over to the school right next to the reserve entrance. We had been told that we would have a soccer game between the Maasai warriors and us. We figured that our butts were about to be kicked. Shelley and a few others had soccer experience but that was about it. Once we got there, we found out that we would first play a group of school children (middle to high school age). Now, we were fine with getting our butts kicked by some Maasai warriors but getting our butts kicked by a bunch of young teenagers would be embarrassing! We organized a team and took on the school kids who ranged between 10 and 16 in age. After a quick goal by them, we played a pretty good game. It was fun seeing everyone get into the game. The kids were definitely more skilled than most of us but we were doing ok. Shell got in and played for a while, however, we both let the students jump in the game first. The game was pretty chaotic so it was not quite the kind of game she was used to playing. I even got in on the action and wound up scoring our teams only goal…a display of soccer skill that left everyone gasping! ;-) Ok, actually, I put in a rebound shot off the goalie into a wide open net from about 5 feet away! Hey, a goal is a goal! (Shelley was jealous anyways! Ha) My goal tied it up at one apiece. After a while the kids scored their second goal and then the game was suddenly called about two minutes after they scored; hometown refs! :)
The next game was supposed to be against the warriors but we wound up letting the other SAS group play in that game. There was only one soccer ball so we could only play one game at a time, and unfortunately, it was their turn. Their game was a bit different than ours as there were the usual 11 players for the Maasai, but the students had about 18 people on the field. It was pretty comical watching them play. The other SAS group finally won the game 1-0. During their game, we got the chance to walk around and talk to the kids, which was a lot of fun. The whole school had come out to watch us once we got there. The kids were all pretty shy but friendly and very inquisitive about us. It was fun to be able to interact with them. Western education is relatively new to the Maasai, and even today, many kids never go through a formal education process.
After the second game, we loaded up the trucks and took off for another game drive. We entered the park and drove for a ways down the main road and then turned in the opposite direction as the morning game drive. We didn't seem to be having much luck when we finally saw a family of elephants. There was a mother with three offspring. The offspring ranged in estimated age from around 12 years old to a couple of years old. They were actually walking across the road right in front of us and we had to stop. When the elephants saw us, the three older elephants surrounded the baby elephant as the mother came to the front and the two older offspring in the back. It was neat to see their instinctive defense mechanism to protect the young. We watched them for a few minutes and then the elephants had enough of us and took off. We drove for a ways following the elephants at a distance and then eventually left them alone. We didn't see too much else during that game drive. It was quite pretty to drive around and see the landscape though. We were driving right around sunset so we got to see the sunset over the plains, which was quite impressive. We bounced our way back to camp and unloaded for the evening. Everyone was pretty beat and looking forward to a shower. While you're on these game drives with the back of the trucks wide open, the dust that kicks up is incredible. Since it was also just before their rainy season, everything was very dry. Everyone was pretty much caked in dust and sweat.
We relaxed for a while and then were served dinner. After dinner, one of our safari guides gave us an overview of the safari business in Kenya and talked about some of the conservation efforts that are being taken and what some of their strategies are. Later that night, we had a Maasai elder and another representative come by to talk to us about the Maasai culture. The elder talked about the basics of their culture and their people. He addressed the fact that the Maasai are polygamists and that a man can have as many as 10 wives (the women in the group didn't seem to like this idea). He talked about their somewhat nomadic nature and other aspects of their life. With him was a younger Maasai (around our age) whose native name was Oletome. He was actually the western representative of the Maasai Tribe. He talked about the process of a boy becoming an actual warrior (a quite painful and interesting experience that can be discussed at another time) and some of the roles that various people play. It was ironic because he told us the story about his first visit to the States, which was actually to Colorado. His first impressions of the States were very amusing considering his first layover was in Detroit, Michigan in November. He had been in native dress (which you can see in the pictures was far from warm weather attire!) and it was below freezing when he got to Detroit. Listening to his story was hilarious as he talked about his impressions of the States and his experiences dealing with traveling and passports. It turns out that he was the primary consultant for the TV show "Survivor" when they were in Africa and designed all of the "Challenges" that took part on the show. We sat around the campfire and talked with him for a long time about many things. It was quite an educational experience for everyone. We soon went to bed after our discussion, as we were extremely tired from our long day. The day truly was amazing as we had saw and experienced so much. We were relieved to get the chance to sleep in the next morning, as we were not leaving the camp until around 9:00 am.
Wednesday, October 30th
Well, the early morning hours brought a bit of an adventure (not like Beijing though) and a good laugh. Several of the students were taking part in a sunrise hot-air balloon ride and champagne breakfast and had to be out of camp by 4:00 am. Those students were awoken by the guides and safely went on their way. Shortly after they had left (not sure of the exact timing), we heard an alarm clock go off. It was the standard annoying electronic "beep" that alarm clocks have. Assuming it was one of the students on the trip, we waited for their tent-mate to turn it off. After a minute or so, it seemed to go silent so we laid our heads back down to go back to sleep. Well, it soon came back on. Shelley decided she would go find out what tent the sound was coming from and take care of it. The noise stopped after a while and she came back to the tent. She then began to tell me that it was an "alarm clock" bird. Figuring she was speaking metaphorically, I gave a mocking ok. She then told me she was serious and that the noise was actually coming from a bird that was actually called an "alarm clock" bird! She said when she got out of the tent and followed the direction of the annoying sound; it led her to a tree right outside of Dan's (our camp director) tent! Dan finally got out of his tent, half asleep, and threw a rock at the bird to get it to shut up. Amazingly, it finally shut up. If it hadn't been 4-something am in the morning, I would have started rolling laughing. Shortly after she got back into her sleeping bag and we layback down, the damn bird started again! I had not been this annoyed in a while. At least when a rooster wakes you up at the crack of dawn it's a natural sound of nature and something you have come to expect. This damn birds call sounded EXACLTY like an alarm clock and it was driving everyone crazy! I was just about to get out of my sleeping bag and do whatever measure, including grabbing a spear from the Maasai and killing the damn bird, when it finally stopped for good. Again, had it been a couple of hours later and the sound had not been SO annoying; it would have been very humorous. As it was, it was mildly funny and really annoying! We eventually got back to sleep and enjoyed a few more hours of shut-eye.
After the man-made alarm clock bird went off, we got up and enjoyed a nice breakfast. Our day was to include a long game drive (about 3 hours) out to a river so we could see some hippos and crocodiles. After breakfast we took off for our drive. The drive out to the river was pretty uneventful as our primary goal was just to get there. We did start to see a lot of wildebeests and continued to see zebras and gazelles. We would pass herds of hundreds of animals stretched out along the plains. After a couple of hours, we stopped at an open area for what we thought was the river. It turned out to be the Kenya/Tanzania border marker. The Masai Mara actually spreads across both countries. The marker was a stone pillar with a line showing the border and then a K and a T on either side. Everyone took his or her picture next to it. We could now include Tanzania on our list of countries that we have been to! ;-) As we were loading the trucks, our friend Bill, who was the trip leader for the other SAS group asked to talk to us. He said there had been an incident with one of our students involving alcohol. His group was pulling out so he just briefly explained the situation to us. We'd have to wait until we got to the river to figure everything out.
After a short time we pulled into the river area to see the hippos and crocs and have lunch. Once we got there, Shell and I had to deal with the student situation first. It turns out that one of our students (one that we knew pretty well from playing volleyball with) had purchased a bottle of vodka from the people running the champagne breakfast (after the hot-air balloon ride) and was showing it off to one of the other students. The Safari Director from Bill's camp had seen this and tried to confiscate the alcohol as it was against park rules to have hard alcohol in the park. He had said the student was disrespectful and refused to give it up. At that point, Bill was called in (as we had not yet arrived to this meeting spot) and the student gave him the bottle. Anyways, long story short, we apologized to the Safari Director and told him we would take care of the situation. We confronted the student (who was pretty toasted!) and told him we were really disappointed in him and that we had no choice but to write an incident report on the situation (which would be dealt with by Student Life when returning to the ship).
We finally got the chance to see the hippos for a while. They were just lounging around the riverbank. Some of them were on the shore sleeping and some of them were in the river with just their noses above water. There wasn't much action going on so we just snapped a couple of pictures and went back to lunch. Unfortunately, we missed the group walk to find the crocs. Some of the students said they saw some down the river a bit but we had been busy taking care of our little incident. They had some sandwich stuff set out for us as well as a few cold salads. There were a ton of monkeys around the area so we had to fight off the monkeys as they kept coming in to try and steel food. It was pretty funny seeing a bunch of grown adults trying to keep about 20 monkeys at bay. As we were eating lunch, the clouds started to move in. Just as we were finishing lunch it started to hail, and I mean hail. Everyone ran for cover into the trucks except a few brave souls who desired to experience an African thunderstorm. They stood around and were pelted with the hail that soon turned to rain. Within minutes, they were completely soaked but were enjoying it immensely. As the rain died down, the guides tried to cleanup as much as they could as the monkeys now moved in full force and were enjoying our leftovers to the fullest. While they were cleaning up, we were trying to get the plastic sides to the truck to unroll as to stop the now almost horizontal rain from coming into the trucks. Once everything had been cleaned up we were off. Our afternoon consisted of the long game drive back to the Maasai village next to the park entrance. There we would have the opportunity to go inside a traditional village.
The rain was still coming down as we began our drive back, which made the driving even more interesting than before. With their huge tires, the trucks were slipping and sliding through the small layer of fresh mud. From the backside of our truck we could see the truck behind us and watch the drivers having a good time as the truck fishtailed down the road. At one point, the truck behind us spun out and wound up driving off the road for a minute until they could get back on the road. The whole time the drivers were grinning and laughing (mostly because they could see us laughing at them). After about twenty minutes, the rain let up and we were able to roll up the side tarps on the truck again so we could see again. During the drive back we spotted a giraffe close to the road. After a short time, our driver took off down one of the side roads to our initial chagrin. After a while, we realized that we were coming up on a giraffe even closer than last time. After snapping some photos, we continued on and then suddenly came upon a mother giraffe with her baby. The baby was trying to suckle up to the mother but she was too interested in figuring out who we were. After a few moments, she seemed fine with us and proceeded to casually stroll right around the truck. They both passed within about 50 feet of the back of the truck. We were all amazed at how close they were. Once they had moved out of close sight, we continued on. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, as we didn't see too many animals.
Once we got out of the reserve, we headed to the small Maasai village that was actually a short walk from our camp. As we unloaded the trucks, the Maasai people came out to greet us. One of the Maasai in western dress came and started talking to us and then said, "Oh, you're the ones from Colorado". It was the same guy we had talked to the night before but he was in shorts and a shirt. We didn't even recognize him! He had looked so different the night before in his headpiece and traditional garb. The people of the village started a welcome dance. First the men got in a big line and danced around us. The whole time they were doing a deep low hum that was almost like a chant. It created almost a hypnotic sound. As the men were dancing around, the women came out and greeted us. The coloring of all their clothing was amazing. The men, dressed in the traditional Batik's, usually red, with an assortment of brightly colored beads and necklaces. After the men danced, the women had their turn dancing in a similar line formation. The women's dress was even more beautiful with the brightly colored beads and clothing. After the initial dance, they motioned us to come into the actual village. The village is laid out so that all of the houses are on the perimeter of the near perfect circle that the Mayetta (a series of bushes forming a circle around the village to prevent any unwanted intruders) forms. There are only a few feet in between the houses and some of them have small pens for livestock. The entire center of the village is completely open ground except the center fire area. Dung piles are everywhere throughout the village as it is an essential part of their lives. Once we were in the village, they continued their dance. This time they (the men) began the tradition of gathering around while one or two at a time would go to the front of the group and begin jumping, while the rest are producing the deep low hum. They would jump up and down several times before going back into the crowd and two more would come out. Some of these guys had some SERIOUS hops! Supposedly, the higher you jump, the more appealing suitor you are for the women (I obviously would have been highly sought after ;-) ). After they completed the dance, they gave us a demonstration of their fire starting technique. They take a long pole of very hard wood and place it inside a notch within a soft piece of wood. They then spin it together rapidly to create very hot ash. Once they have the hot ash, they place the ash in a small pile of straw and blow on it to create the flame. After they successfully demonstrated the technique, they invited some of the students to try. After a short while, the students did a pretty good job, although no actual flame was ever reached. After the fire starting demonstration, they invited us to walk through the village and see the homes. We walked around a little and then were invited into one of the houses.
Maasai houses are made of a mixture of cow and elephant dung and bamboo. Women learn to build a house when they are young and are responsible for building the home whenever required. The frame is built with the bamboo and then the dung mixture is used as a plaster and spread over the bamboo to form the walls and roof. The dung mixture creates an incredibly hard shell once it is fully dried. The first steps into the house were amazing. You enter a small entryway (even Shell had to duck!) and immediately in front of you is a small covered area that takes up the entire length of the house and is used primarily for livestock, and occasionally children. As you turn (either left or right) you step into the main part of the house. There is a narrow corridor running down the middle of the house and opposite the livestock area along the other wall is an open area that has a small fire pit and a few places to sit. The pit is where they do all of their cooking and the primary heat source for the house (the inside was actually quite warm). On either side of the fire area is a closed-in bed area that is the sleeping area. The beds are simply bamboo platforms built into the house and then covered in hide. They are raised about two feet off the ground. One side of the fire is where the father and sons sleep and the other is where the mother and daughters sleep. Now this may not seem that amazing but the ENTIRE structure is probably about 150 square feet! An average Maasai family is anywhere from 5 to 10 people! Being in the house and sitting on their bed was a pretty amazing experience. There was no light in the house either.
After our quick tour, we headed back outside and walked through the village "market". We had thought for a moment that we would not be subjected to the standard market experience but we soon realized that this was not possible. At least they made it a rather pleasant experience as everyone was outside the village with their handiwork displayed for you to browse. After spending some time there and buying a few things, we headed back to camp for dinner.
We had been told that dinner for the night would be a local favorite, barbequed goat. Everyone was pretty excited about the meal, as everything else we had was excellent. As we were pulling into camp (most of the students had walked back to camp), I saw a couple of guys walking down the hill pulling a very alive goat with them. At this point I began to wonder what might be in store. After we got settled, our camp director informed us that they would be slaughtering the goat soon and anyone who wanted to watch was more than welcome. Neither Shell nor I cared to view the slaughtering but as you can guess, a great number of the students did. After the goat was slaughtered some of the students also decided it would be cool to drink the blood so they enjoyed some fresh goats blood with the chef. Shell was pretty disgusted by this. Figured she wouldn't partake if she didn't have to!
The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and doing some packing for our departure the next morning. The goat was taking a bit longer to prepare and cook so our dinner was in stages. We basically ate all of the side dishes first and then had the main course of fresh (and I mean fresh!) barbecued goat. The goat we pretty good (although Shell didn't care for it as it was so tough). It had a good flavor but was kind of rubbery. After dinner, we all relaxed a while and got a fire going. After dark, the Maasai came back and did several more dances around the fire. As they danced, they did the same methodical humming, which, with the backdrop of the fire amongst the darkness seemed even more mystical. They gave us some background on the dances and then got all of the women up to partake in the dancing and even had them show off their chanting ability. Shell thought it was funny that several people commented that her chanting sounded very authentic! After the women, it was the men's turn to show their stuff. This time, they encouraged us to show our jumping ability (which was pretty humorous compared to their abilities). After the dance, most of the Maasai left, but a few of our favorites stayed behind. We bought Stanley and Robert a beer and talked with them for a while by the campfire. We also had the chance to talk with Muchiri for a while, one of the Micato guides who we had befriended. It again had been an incredible day as we mixed natural beauty with cultural education. We soon went to bed, as we were to be on the road by 6:30 am the next morning for our five-hour truck ride back to Nairobi!
Thursday, October 31st
Luckily the only alarm clocks going off this morning were the man-made kind! We got up around 5:45 am and got everyone else up and ready. Breakfast was ready for us when we woke up and everyone enjoyed our last meal in the wilderness. After breakfast, we loaded our gear up and said goodbye to our safari camp. I think everyone on the trip could have easily spent several more days there as we all felt like we had just started to get comfortable. We got back in our trucks and headed out for Nairobi.
The drive back to Nairobi was uneventful but rather cold again. A few times during the drive, we were barreling down the highway so quickly and passing cars left and right, I did come to the conclusion that if we had an accident we would be done for. We stopped once for a quick break but for the most part were on the road. We arrived at the Nairobi airport about 12:30 pm. Our flight wasn't until around 2:30, so we had time to spare. They had made us some sandwiches (somewhat interesting combinations of peanut butter and tomato or fried egg and cheese!) for lunch so we all hung out in the parking lot and ate our lunch. After we ate, we said our sad goodbyes to our new friends. We had met so many wonderful people that we were definitely sad to leave! In particular, Stanley and Muchiri (who was not a Maasai but worked for Micato Safaris) had become wonderful friends and people whom we planned to stay in touch with. (Later we came to find out that both of these guys went directly to send us emails after they dropped us off at the airport!! How awesome is that.) After our farewell, we hung out at the airport and waited for our flight back to Mombassa. Our flight was uneventful and we arrived back to the ship by late afternoon.
We had debated on going back into Mombassa when we got back to the ship, but we were both pretty exhausted. We had wanted to call home but we found out that we could not use our calling cards at all. Some guys had set up a little business outside the ship using their cell phones, so Shell took this opportunity to call home. We also tried to find some postcard stamps, but were frustrated to find out they were all sold out. We then decided to go to the market that had been assembled on the dock. Whenever SAS comes into town, dozens of local merchants come and create a shantytown like market on the dock. They sell everything imaginable and are also known for their bartering. We had brought several items to barter with (socks, shirts, pens) so began our shopping. After about an hour and a half, we had gotten rid of all our stuff (and unfortunately too much money) and accumulated a lot more stuff. Shopping in Kenya was more enjoyable than in other countries. The overall mood was much more lighthearted and the bargaining aspect made in fun as well. After we gathered our loot, we headed back to the ship and basically fell into bed!
Final thoughts on Kenya
Kenya was a wonderful and very educational place. There is definitely a big difference from the cities and the rural areas. While our initial experience in Mombassa was somewhat mixed, I think we also saw a lot of pride in the people and that they were trying to do something with their country. As often seen in the States, the people from the rural area seemed much warmer and we felt a bit more comfortable around them. The people we met on the safari were so warm and friendly and seemed to have a simplistic, yet complete understanding of their environment and the world around them. With the upcoming elections looming, there was a lot of talk about Kenya and what would happen with its first new leader in over 25 years. After talking with many of the people there, there seemed to be an underlying belief that Kenya was beginning to become an actual country rather than a collection of various tribes of people. The people seemed anxious to move forward and create a better life for themselves and their country, but they were also very aware that their past tribal nature was who they were and it had to play a part in their future. On the nature side, Kenya is definitely all it lives up to be. The vast rolling plains are a sight to behold. My only regret is that our camp was down in a valley so we really could not see the sunrise over the plains. After talking with the others who visited other parts of the country, I think the landscape has several uniquely beautiful places. I think we also l earned some interesting modern lessons, as our time in Mombassa was a quick glimpse into the Muslim world. We had our first experiences were a portion of the population made it blatantly evident that they did not want us there, which was also an invaluable lesson.