Nairobi/Aberdare National Park
Jambo and rambunctious Swahili salutations from the foreign continent of Africa- where A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase are residing for the next 6 days. A rather spirited and slightly psychotic traveling mania overtook this pair and after much preparation, violated by Typhoid and Hepatitis A inoculations, malaria antidotes ingested and armed with mass quantities of mosquito repellant-the time had finally come to scratch this big water buffalo off the list.
This ambitious trip could not be coordinated on our own efforts. This type of expedition takes experts- real professionals to synchronize the many moving pieces that are involved. For this, I deferred all expertise and guidance to Right Choice Tours and Safaris– http://www.rightchoicesafaris.com/. George Oketch, the owner has been my right hand man through all the planning, patiently answering all my neurotic questions and lending his knowledge every step of the way. He and his team are true specialists in their field, and if embarking on this once of a lifetime trip-I highly recommend this agency.
After a little over 18 hours of flying time, 3 plane transfers and only 2 valium (physician prescribed)- we arrived close to midnight under the murky Onyx sky, balmy air and an inquisitive unknowing of what curious delights daylight would bring. A bit disoriented and pessimistically suspicious, armed with 4 bags and tourist written all over us, we began to wonder how to get to the hotel. As if on cue, a lovely gentleman approached us and quickly contacted the shuttle for our hotel for the night, The Lazizi Premier Nairobi- http://www.thelazizihotels.com/.
Within moments, the shuttle appeared and in record time suitcases loaded and delivered us to a palatial estate, armed guards, iron fence and security all around the perimeter. At first glance, I would have thought this was an embassy. We were wanded and sent through metal detectors. The hotel is grand and sadly all its amenities were lost on us as it would only be a quick 5 hours of rest until our safari would begin.
However, those 5 hours were filled with plush bedding, a hot shower and a genuine stately feeling of luxury. Few things to say here about The Lazizi Premier Nairobi Hotel-the service is truly impeccable. You are made to feel like royalty. There is a level of hospitality- actually across the board I have experienced that can compare to no other. The staff are available at a moment’s notice and make you feel valued. Additionally, we had a delicious rather reasonably priced breakfast-even beating the tour group of 50 that trampled through the door.
Ken, our knowledgeable driver and guide from Right Choice Tours and Safaris picked us up promptly in a comfortable van. He informed us that he would remain with us throughout the whole excursion. As we snaked our way through the city center of Nairobi headed north to our next destination, he shared with us interesting tidbits of living in Kenya. The traffic inched at a crawl, but Ken with skillful precision maneuvered his way through the automobile obstacle.
As we left the city, the landscape changed. What I first observed, and I say this with regard was a remarkable number of individuals clearly with a notable lack of worldly goods but an innovative industriousness of the likes I have never ever seen, combined with a hard-working nature that was not only creative but practical.
Road side stands displaying the ripest of bananas, stall after stall of open markets with a cornucopia of goods- all of which we take for granted. Tiny huts, put together with a mix match of items dotted the dirt roads-everyone walked-literally-on the street, busy thoroughfares-all in a common effort of productivity. As I sat all cushy in the van, with my backpack filled to the brim of useless items, I could not help but feel a bit vain and pathetic.
However, as that thought still remained in a bubble over my head, Ken pulled up to a non-descript store full of African bric-a- brac-to allow us to have a rest and bathroom break.
In true car salesman style, Julius came rushing over to us to show off all of the genuine items, unmarked with prices-because it is all negotiable amongst “friends”. Like a true sucker, I was given a basket and started mindlessly plopping items in there, as Hubs impatiently paced. When it came time to negotiate on the 5 useless objects- I was informed to pick my price. Well my price was $15. Julius gave me a guttural laugh with an arrogant sigh. He proceeded to give me his “friends and family” discount of $195. In the end, we never came close to a mutual amount-so with Hub’s wallet secure we exited item-less.
Which leads me to the next occurrence-we had no local currency- the African Schilling. Ken had assured us he would take us to a respectable bank so we can use an ATM. Hubs went on this mission alone. Then, he proudly came back with 200 Schillings. He declared we would need to split this up in small bills. Later on, after reviewing the bank balance- the actual withdrawal was $1.96. Now, tomorrow we must again inquire another ATM withdrawal from our dear new friend Ken. This time I will escort Hubs to ensure we have more than just enough for a pack of gum. He insists it was the machine’s fault with improper instructions. Nevertheless, we are rich in love and memories and poor in schillings.
Ken continued to make his way north through deep rusty earth coffee fields, pineapple plantations and lush greenery. Mountains off in the distance conjured up nostalgic movie scenes like “Out of Africa”. Eventually, we were dropped off at The Ark Lodge https://thearkkenya.com/ our dwelling for this one evening. We first were encouraged to walk around the grounds which were vibrant with bountiful flowers. We were fed a stupendous meal overlooking the beautiful landscape on the grounds of the country club- http://aberdarecountryclub.com/the-club/. It was served buffet style with a smorgasbord of African delicacies. Being a vegetarian with many dietary constraints I was apprehensive, but many options were available and they were all healthy and delicious. Between the amazing cuisine, stellar view, incredible weather and my love at my side- it really may go down as one of the most memorable moments on a vacation.
After the incredible dining experience, Hubs and I along with about 8 other people all piled into a van to go the 17 kilometers through the Aberdare National Park http://www.kenyasafari.com/aberdare-national-park-kenya-travel-guide.html. We rumbled and bopped over the bumpy road creating a lullaby affect. I nodded on and off during this as they were many important scenic points and animals the driver was directing us to.
We eventually made it to the beautiful lodge in the shape of an Ark- hence the name-nestled up high above the ground with a rapturing bird’s eye view of all the wild animals below. There was a conveniently placed popular watering hole and immediately we spotted elephants and water buffalo. A little tiff began but no blood was shed and all ended well. As a girl who usually vacations in the city and observes people, music, art and culture-this sort of viewing was very calming and required not too much thinking. Both have their fine points, but this was truly a unique and welcoming experience.
There are several convenient balconies that overlook the waterhole and a bell would ring if something is worthy of watching. A bell rang for the elephants and inspired I brought my computer and started this blog.
We then a few hours later were summoned for dinner. Dinner was also buffet style in a lovely dining hall. Hot, savory African dishes awaited us. A creamed spinach soup, different mouthwatering vegetable entrees and bean choices. Desserts (which yours truly refrained from) were plentiful and as beautiful as a painting.
I now am ready to call my first Safari night to an end. As the pitter patter of a pretty substantial rain system moistens this much needed dry earth, I reflect upon the blessings of a beautiful day in the glorious land of Africa.
Aberdare National Park/Lake Nakuru
Last night we were serenaded to sleep by the rhythmic acoustics of toads, bugs and other night critter harmony. Nestled in our twin single beds with only the simplest of creature comforts, my sleep was heavy from a day full of sensory overload.
Upon awakening, of course shower drama follows me on every trip, shall I remind you of the coffin sized shower in Bruges, the partial bowel dismemberment of Milan and of course, the most famous Hong Kong flood that called for major plumbing renovations?
Well, rustic indeed was this shower, but the instructions were confusing and only icicle temperature droplets dribbled down. After futile attempts, I gave up-doing the best with what I had. And, in true Hubs fashion- he had the most delightful hot shower-that he reminded me of all throughout the day.
Breakfast was served in the beautiful dining room overlooking the breathtaking landscape. African specialties along with an omelet station fueled us for the long day ahead. The service, attention to detail, incredible gentile nature and hospitality of the staff was unmatched by any other experience in any other culture. We left The Ark with fond memories of the views, animals, food and genuine kindness of the people in our hearts. Back in the van we went on the bumpy ride back to meet back up with Ken our driver to begin our next excursion.
We went back out onto to the dirt roads. Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa next to Kilimanjaro- off in the deep distance snowcapped peaks and blue horizon made a brief appearance, escorting us for a short sojourn http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/800.
For hours we passed impoverished towns, perhaps lacking what we find as essential. But, what we saw instead was smiling waving children, hard working men, commerce freely flowing in makeshift storefronts and genuine humanity. I must pause here to share the children-all dressed immaculately, all walking- no buses, no carpools- and no cell phones. Each child we passed waved with enthusiasm, smile and joy in their heart. It was the most beautiful human experience I have had-literally just from a window of a van. I have never felt that kind of delight from the simplest of pleasures.
About a ¼ way through our journey Ken stopped for a bathroom break at a kitschy souvenir store. The owner led us down the pebbled floor pointing out trinkets along the way to the rudimentary much appreciated rest room. Hubs provided fair warning-“No buying!” However, interesting fact here, we were directly on the equator line. In fact, I believe all the businesses along this route touted this. A lovely gentleman was proudly displaying an experiment exhibiting this interesting phenomenon involving water and its opposite effects when below the equator line.
But, instead-Hubs tried to share with this man that knew this because he had obtained his expertise from Bart Simpson extracted from an episode of “The Simpsons”. The poor gentleman laughed in confusion (as I am pretty certain he does not have a TV or know of this show or characters) as I looked on with dismay. I am including the link for your viewing pleasure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnB4qMT5R_Y
We traveled on eventually running into The Great Rift Valley http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Great_Rift_Valley. We took a few moments to soak in the splendor of it. Visible from space, this 4,000 mile geographical majesty runs north to south from Syria to Africa. A seriously deathly looking wooden deck in shambles hugged close to the dramatic edge. Hawkish vendors trying to sell “authentic” souvenirs somewhat diluted this experience with their goods lined up all along the viewing area. Precariously straddling the abyss, with my memory card full, I sadly have not one picture to share.
This blog was created out of necessity to cleanse my brain of each experience so I can move on and enjoy the next. But, it has evolved also into a tool belt of sorts for the novice traveler. I lend my stories, experiences and insight not for ego but for assistance. I share this story with you so you-the reader, do not make the same mistakes I have made. When you travel savvy- you save time, frustration and also enhance your travel experience by focusing on what matters.
So, let’s continue this conversation briefly regarding currency-and only in the frame of “learned lessons”. 10,000 African Schillings = $100 USD. Got it? Good. Because apparently between Hubs & I and a recently earned Master’s degree -this concept, combined with jet lag, foreign African ingested spices and equator “madness” we could not grasp. Ken, kindly and patiently once again schlepped us into the city all in an effort for us to once again go to an ATM to obtain Schillings.
If you recall- yesterday instead of getting $200 Schillings we obtained $1.96. Therefore, armed with the knowledge of google and a currency converter- we once again attempted the ATM excursion. This time, it took 3 attempts and several different tries- but eventually we achieved success. Or so we thought…. Until again, -when we did the math- this time we took out $40 instead of $400.
Ken graciously agreed to make one last final effort on our long journey in the morning. To grasp this- understand that these towns with bank accessibility are far and few between with traffic mayhem and parking chaos of the likes I have never ever witnessed before. And, in full disclosure, this mathematical mishap is solely owned by Yours Truly.
Now, back to our previously scheduled entertainment….
We eventually made our way to our destination-Lake Nakuru http://www.kws.go.ke/lake-nakuru-national-park. As we entered the park gates, we went for a quick, rousing, heart racing drive through the park. Ken raised the roof on our van and Hubs and I perched out the top, wind in our hair, grit in our eyes, perhaps bugs up the nose in an exhilarating voyage through the park en route to the lodge. We spotted a few interesting animals along the way, but the real thrill was the rugged off road experience and total abandonment of rules, etiquette and adulthood.
After our Dukes of Hazard adventure, we arrived at the Lion Sarova Hill https://www.sarovahotels.com/lionhill-nakuru/. It is perched on the side of a hill, deep in the Nakuru National Park. It combines a safari adventure experience with luxury resort amenities-a hybrid of five star opulence and BIG 5 excitement. We were immediately ushered to the dining room where a grand buffet awaited us. A variety of different but similar African dishes, unique vegetarian options, Indian specialties, fancy cheeses and of course indulgent desserts were offered. That same Kenyan love, quiet gentleness and stellar service was ever present. After our afternoon feast, we hit the colorful gift shop for some haggle-free shopping, including a darling Cheetah Indian wall mask that will look divine in my living room.
We then met up with Ken once again for our afternoon game drive. It was raining pretty steady at this point and my expectations were low. Because, frankly if I were a monkey and it was raining, I would head for high, drier ground. However, shortly into our drive as we circled the vast marshy acreage of Lake Nakuru, the sun erupted; the skies turned blue and one by one, as if on cue- animals appeared.
We witnessed flamingoes off in the boggy distance balanced on their fragile limbs displaying their effervescent pink hues. Baboons cradled their babies with motherly love, traveling in familial unity. The parallel black and white patterns of the zebras were captivating in the camouflage of the plush green landscape. In a rather juxtaposition, the giraffe intimidatingly regal and proud engaged in playful neck wrestling with their counterparts.
Around another bend, flowing brown water, splashing brilliantly danced on the jagged rocks in a dramatic waterfall display. The white Rhino calmly and silently munched on the plentiful green grass- its pearly thick, white tusk proudly protruding forward in prideful glory, oblivious to the spectator’s gazing. In gazelle pageantry, the Impala leaped rambunctiously gracefully joining his pack. Water Buffalos grazed along the water’s edge with their coiled horns exposed like warning signs for other prey. They were abundant, populating the landscape.
Odd colored birds dotted the exterior, swooping down in fanciful flight, using many of the animals as landing zones providing tick relief as well as tummy tickling. The overall feel of the game drive was a sense of intuitive, animal unity-an unsaid tranquility amongst the different species all coexisting in a harmonious state. Having said all that, an obvious absence of any predators was noted. All in all, the 3 hour game drive was the experience of a lifetime. Animals instinctually understand their world and their place in it; sometimes, better than our human world.
After the excitement of the game drive, we had a few hours for rest and then it was time for dinner. We ate in the same dining room, with many of the same items. A few variances, some odd and peculiar concoctions that my simplistic taste buds rejected. A lovely man played guitar singing along sweet melodies that strangely had a calming effect not only on the frenzied children in the restaurant- but the Hubs as well. He sang tableside crooning Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” with a thick African accent deep into my Beloved’s eyes. The result was positively sedating.
Back in our room, a staff member came to the door for turn down service, which included mosquito repellant, a hot water bottle placed in the bed, and enclosing the mosquito netting securely around the bed (which Hubs and I quickly dismantled due to safety concerns of waking up hog tied in netting) another kind and unique gesture that did not go unrecognized.
Sleep was fitful and uneasy with vivid dreams induced by spicy Indian cuisine, the sighting of a monkey with blue balls-called the Blue Balled Monkey (true story) and the African Elvis Presley vocals circulating around my jostled cortex from Jeep activity.
Today is not only St. Patrick’s day- but also the Hubs birthday. This is always a joyous day and almost always is spent somewhere international. This year was truly the ultimate –being in Africa and on safari. However, we were the only 2 fools in Irish gear as we would later find out. But, nonetheless, I celebrate the day and my Hubs and no matter anything else.
This morning we arose very early- per Ken’s request due to a long day of driving. Some very much appreciated hot showers followed by a hot breakfast with exotic items furnishing the buffet line and subsequently beckoning the Hubs to be adventurous. He dined on itty bitty Quail eggs. Tiny and minuscule and for whatever reason to me- off-putting-but Hubs seemed satisfied.
In the mystic dark, with fog peeking out above Mount Kenya we moved counter clockwise on a map to the next destination. Conversation was plentiful in the van, the roads were smooth and a genuine contentment settled in my soul. As the sun began to rise, the cool air evaporated and the heat began to intensify.
The roads started to get a little bumpy. And, let me just share that tapping away on a keyboard balanced on your knees while hitting asphalt craters is not easy. Consider this burden please as you peruse my pages.
We were moving along at a pretty good clip in that feisty white van of ours. May I add here, that Ken is quite a driving genius. He maneuvers not only muddy, undeveloped passageways, he is alert and ready for the roaming goat, flock of sheep, parade of cows, and not to mention cars passing on both sides of the road. I have yet to see a traffic light or a stop sign and additionally mopeds carrying 2-3 passengers share the roadway as well. Ken handles all this calm and cool and always alert, even while I am rapid firing questions regarding everything I ever needed to know about Kenya.
Out of nowhere, traffic came to a complete halt. There were cars lined up on the curb, the street and everywhere in between half-hazardly. People were roaming out of their vehicles, cell phones in hand trying to capture whatever madness was happening. Out of nowhere I saw white smoke, heard yelling and our driver pulled inside the parking lot of a souvenir shop. Ken went towards the mayhem to determine what was happening.
What we learned was 3 unfortunate members of the Masai Masai tribe had been killed during a mudslide that occurred during a ferocious storm 2 nights ago. The individuals were all buried deep within the mud and the tribe was frustrated that no excavations had been attempted for their bodies. This led to the tribe members blocking off the street of a major highway in protest. The cops and militia intervened with tear gas.
Being in a foreign country, not being privy to these nuances and clearly not understanding the history and delicate nature of this was frustrating and scary for me. We sat outside with hundreds of other people all taking this in stride. A bunch of millennial aged Canadians pulled out a ukulele and began to sing in perfect harmony songs that inspired hope, love and peace. Others joined to listen, all from different nations, backgrounds and languages. It was a “Woodstock-esque” type of moment that offered great comfort and distraction.
When you have nowhere to go, no one to see, no WIFI, no TV, and nothing much to do- you take a lot in. We saw a lot of weird stuff. There was a battered up station wagon of sorts, a typical family mobile, loaded with 30 goats. The smells that penetrated within 20 feet of that car were intense. And, at one point, they were all led out like clowns disassembling from a Volkswagen. One gentleman had a truck stacked high with over 100 chairs. Just a random odd thing, that made us curiously wonder-what on earth was he doing with all those chairs? And, lastly, and I really can’t un-see this- was about 50 live chickens wedged up on the luggage rack of a car. All yelping, their little beaks- they were not in a crate or a cage, just shoved up in there somehow.
We waited for 2 hours for the two forces to come to a compromise. And, then as quickly as it happened people were scrambling in their cars, pushing through frantic traffic on their way to their original destination. As we drove by the commotion, a bulldozer was in place beginning to temper the sacred earth in search of the remains of the blessed souls that lost their lives. The Masai Masai had a bittersweet victory in the end.
With all this commotion, we lost 2 valuable hours shifting our whole itinerary and choosing to skip lunch in an effort to get to our next destination at a reasonable time.
At this point, I must just provide an update and never ever speak of this again. Upon our 3rd and final visit to the ATM, we were successful with decimal points and mathematical equations and obtained the necessary schillings needed for the remainder of the trip.
The next portion of this day involved gyrations, jiggling, jostling and bumping of the likes my mind, body and spirit have never experienced. Our last and final residence for the next 3 days is Masai Mara http://www.magicalkenya.com/places-to-visit/wilderness-areas/masai-mara-game-reserve/.
The journey for the next 4 hours was one I could have never prepared myself for. The windows had to be closed otherwise one would inhale dirt; I do not think this rugged terrain vehicle had air or did not reach me. The heat was scorching. The “road” was filled with rocks, divots, craters, bumps, the occasional goat, roaming small children and nothing else. No other vehicles for hours, unless it was a mirror image of us heading to safari.
However, a beautiful thing came out of that long, not so pleasant trek-we stopped at the Masai Masai tribal village http://www.maasai-association.org/maasai.html and handed out candy and school supplies to the children of the tribe. Bless their sweet souls, they were so polite and all sat and silently waited for their one single sweet treat. At the end, the tribe leader requested we all take a picture (with my camera). The joy and gratitude for such a simple offering will stay in my heart forever.
We finally made our way after 8 long hours to Mara Serena Lodge http://www.serenahotels.com/serenamara/en/default.html where we will reside for 3 nights. Coming from the vast expanse of the Masai Mara Park, the lodge is situated on an impressive hill. The architecture is reminiscent of “The Flintstones” in similar bedrock meets African safari design. It is wide open with commanding arch ceilings and magnificent views of the park from horizon to horizon. Our room resembles a bee hive with a balcony and same beautiful view of the park.
After a long day stuck in the car, I was anxious to get my blood flowing. I went down to the spa and took a nice run on the treadmill that just happened to also have another breathtaking view of the park. Wide open windows gave the illusion that I was indeed running right along the jackals. After a good sweat, I took a much appreciated hot shower and we made our way to the dining room for dinner.
Dinner was very comparable to the two other lodges we had stayed- buffet style with many Indian and vegetarian dishes. It was tasty, spicy and needed after a long day and a skipped lunch due to the riot delay.
After dinner, much to the Hub’s chagrin, out popped a precession of the entire staff along with a loud and intimidating horn and drums- to sing a traditional African Happy Birthday song along with a beautiful cake that was prearranged with George from Right Choice Tours and Safaris-many months ago. The whole dining room, patrons and staff sang along as the conga line circled around the Hub’s. Flush with embarrassment and mild amusement, he blew out his candles with a big smile on his face. I know this birthday he will always remember. I really couldn’t thank the team enough as they were able to in one song and dance, express the love and appreciation I have of my Hub’s in such a playful and energetic way. High from sugar and birthday love- combined with odd critter sounds of the evening the lull of sleep enveloped us.
We woke up bright and early and following breakfast, Ken was waiting for us with the van newly washed and sparkly clean. All remnants of dust, dirt, mud and bug carcasses were gone- symbolic for a new day and a new experience. We set out in pre-dawn lighting while all the animals began to awake. We were immediately greeted by a family of docile and gentle elephants. There long trunks snaked the earth foraging for tasty treats. There were unimpressed by us and paid no attention to the camera clicking and engine running.
We continued on as the golden grass swayed in the cool morning air. We found ourselves right in the path of a pregnant female lion, hungry and ready for breakfast. She had a pack of 7 or 8 others with her. As they made their way closer to us, a bunch of Elk started to gallop fiercely away. Strange primitive noises were audible throughout the area, fear was palpable. Other animals around not quick enough to flee, stood statuesque and still. We stayed parallel in our vehicle with top up peering down witnessing primal animal instinctiveness. As we stared half anticipation, half dread we could not look away. Van after van piled up, side by side with the radio clatter of CB’s in Swahili alerting other drivers of action. In the end, the Lion moved on and fortunately we did not have to witness the law of the land and fight for survival.
We continued on in the morning hours, riding along the Mara River, directly at the crossing where in July the Great Migration of Wildebeests will take over. For now, it was calm. Colossal slate grey Hippos lounged lazily in the brown, earthy rapid flowing River. Their perky pink ears flittered and twitched randomly, displaying their only action. Frighteningly close lay the Crocodile, his deceptive toothy smile revealing their true lethal potential.
We stopped in a trusted area chosen by our guide, who spread out a blanket and provided us with a picnic lunch. The gesture was kind, the food unimpressive, but the view and experience –memorable.
After lunch, we circled the park, passing by many of the monochromatic Zebra, mindlessly munching on grass. We looked on in amusement at the slovenly Water Buffalo, dunking himself in mud and obsessively swatting his backside with tail in OCD fashion. We drove by many giraffe, gallant and graceful. They gazed at us with their long, luscious eyelashes and awkwardly sauntered off as we drew closer. We learned the Black Rhino is shy and played a cunning game of hide and seek with us-he eventually won.
As the day drew on and it was close to going back, our driver learned that across the park at the far end was a bunch of leopards. The driver put the van in high gear, flooring it from one end to the other. Pebbles flew up in the air, mud splattered ferociously on us, weaving in and out of the path- getting stuck more than once and even having to be towed out from another van.
It took 2 hours to get to the spot, and just as we were to give up, we came upon a bunch of Cheetahs. Fat and happy, bellies full, they laid under a tree allowing the 4 vans of paparazzi to click one photo after another. We then set out to return. Then, at once- the sky turned black and rain fiercely pounded on the roof of the van.
Droplets began creeping in making our already muddy, tired and beaten up bodies cold and damp. Ken floored it going back as the roads turned into roaring rapids. The window was a sheet of fog and there were no other vans in front or behind us. All CB chatter had ceased. And, for one scary moment, I truly thought this is it. This is how it happens. I get swept away in an African current and washed out to a field where lions will munch on my bloated corpse.
Ironically, though as I sat and prayed and wondered morbidly how tasty my dead body is? The engine started to take on a strange sound. I saw with fear and premonition that Ken knew something was wrong. He was calmly on the phone speaking in Swahili, where I clearly kept hearing the word engine. I then, thought, No this is really how it ends. We are stranded in this car, in the middle of an active African Ecosystem. I will at some point have to emerge from this vehicle that has failed us. I will have to step outside and the lions will smell my fear and end the same way-eating my body. But, this time, not swollen and bloated from drowning. I will be eaten alive and spend my eternity embedded in African soil.
Ok, this is getting a bit heavy- you get the point- It was scary. Everything got real- real fast. I thought to myself- you had to tempt the Gods. You could not just stay home and watch Real Housewives and live a falsely perceived “safe” life?
And, then as if the Safari Gods had heard my neurotic mind nonsense-a jeep appeared. I did have to exit the van and climb into his. No lions appeared that I know of….He took us and towed Ken, the van and the faulty transmission back to the lodge. Never once did Ken jeopardize my safety and he truly did a stellar job remaining calm and getting us back to the lodge safely. Our whole day’s excursion lasted 12 hours.
Arriving back to the room, grateful for a happy ending- I pondered my dramatic alternate endings. I asked the Hubs for one second did he have any fear? Nope he said. Then, he proceeded to inquire about 10 questions having to do with clothing supply for the remainder of the trip and such. This he FEARED. Death by drowning or lion ingestion- he did not. Hmppph….
We ate another spicy, Indian dinner in a relatively quiet dining hall. No singing, no dancing, no cake. We called it an early evening as the rain continued on throughout the night.
On day 5 we requested Ken to skip morning game drive as exhaustion and safari fatigue had settled in. We had absorbed so much the prior day and truly seen more than we had ever hoped for that we did not feel any experience could top that. Subsequently, as it would turn out, the van that had provided transport, shelter and joy- was disabled and had to be towed back to Nairobi for repairs. So, for both traveler and guide this worked out well.
However, we were given the option of a morning game drive through Right Choice Tours and Safari if we so desired. This option came through a personal email from the owner George, who at this point in the trip had become an active and engaged participant in our travel. The level of communication and interaction via email had been a great source of comfort and trust. They treat you like family and constantly request assurance that you are an active part of the planning.
We welcomed this much needed rest and it allowed time to catch up as well on this detailed journey of these travels. I find by documenting these once in a lifetime memories –works two fold. First, it allows for full absorption of the moment in complete detail which further assists in helping me recall it back. And, more importantly, years later when the magnet has broken or the picture is erased from the memory card- what I have left are these beautiful words that ultimately create a mosaic of magical memoirs.
The cool air and crimson sunrise greeted our morning. Vocal birds in rhythmic unison whistled musical harmony in a cadenced melody. Wart hogs shyly approached the balcony, grunting and snorting in thick, nasally exhalations.
We made our way to the quiet dining hall as everyone was out on their morning game drives. Gluten free and sugar free specialty breads, along with foreign Indian dishes and traditional breakfast foods were displayed. An omelet station has been a staple in every place we have been. The chefs have been very accommodating to my special dietary needs, formulating new dishes and always ensuring I was satisfied. The service, hospitality and commitment to overall approval have been witnessed here at Serena Mara-as well as all the other places we have been here in Kenya. I truly have never experienced this level of courtesy as a consumer. Additionally, any praise, monetary tipping or contribution is deeply appreciated.
After breakfast, we went to the gym/spa for some exercise. The treadmills and exercise equipment all face the vast park with open glass from floor to ceiling. It is a true one of a kind work out experience. However, what we were not aware of was every day during morning and afternoon game drives, the generator is rebooted for 3 hours and all equipment is shut off. This makes sense, but I was in mid stride running a 12 minute mile, with the distraction of music-when all activity ceased. Hubs and I were forced to a halt, bewildered, sweaty and confused. We were able to have gotten most a workout in-so it was not a total loss.
From there, I explored the beautiful pool area. It as well takes full advantage of the million dollar park view. The pool area was empty as again all visitors were on game drives. I have not been in a pool or water for a very long time, even though I live in sunny Florida where I can do this any day of the year. But, somehow on vacation, it is a treat. Hubs opted out, but sat with me as I plunged in the cold, clear water. Birds overhead chirped in a frenzy as they flitted around their unique nesting system somewhat aware of my human presence. I frolicked a bit in the chilly water. My inner Pisces fulfilled on every level.
We made our way leisurely back to the room for showers then off to lunch in the dining room. On the menu was Indian specialties, a cook to order pasta bar and all the usual items at the buffet-exotic cheeses, fresh fruits and salads. Our personal waiter now knew our preferences as we sat in the same designated spot each day. He anticipated our every need and he remained on standby for any request we may have.
At lunch, we reunited with our guide Ken, who updated us on the unfortunate van situation. This is a rare occurrence and Masai Mara is very limited in resources and is lacking in auto mechanics. He updated us with our future plans and offered different options. One of them sadly, did not include him navigating the afternoon game drive. He made special arrangements for another driver to take us out. It was not our preferred choice, but we complied due to the unforeseen circumstances.
We went out to meet our new guide and I need to mention he was NOT from our tour company. As we approached the Jeep -I knew that this would not work out. In the vehicle was a couple from Australia- “Megan and Simon”.
Perfectly groomed in designer safari wear, white bleached pressed shirt, trendy, expensive sunglasses, blond hair, blue eyes, young- but worst of all- know it alls. They huffed and puffed in annoyance as they were informed that another couple will be joining them. We watched from outside the van as they settled comfortably throwing their overpriced backpack and jackets, in the back seats where we were to sit.
They sulked and negotiated while we waved awkwardly like an uncomfortable blind date. Eventually relenting under protest, we were summoned to the bench where their ridiculously not appropriate for safari items were placed. Hostilely they secured them in their possession as if we were animals from the park taking space.
Then as quickly as we were greeted, we were promptly ignored for the next 3 hours. The driver, in contrast to Ken, drove about 5 miles an hour, stopping randomly with his oversized ludicrous binoculars gazing out onto the wide grassy field-where it was completely void of any wildlife. Occasionally, Megan and Simon would bark out in their Aussie accent, with arrogant undertones, STOP, and we would gaze at a tree or a bird flying by. A few times the ever silent driver would be commanded by Megan and Simon to halt, only to oddly be eyeing a rock that they thought was a Rhino.
The Aussie pair alternated between total indifference to our presence and then back to revulsion as if we were infringing on their quality time. Megan took up the entire space of the open roof, striking model poses as she whined about various outdoor elements such as temperature, wind and sun.
Meanwhile Hubs, immediately disgusted by this twosome that we have witnessed along our traveling routes in other versions, in other countries, took a little siesta as they were nothing to see and no conversation had. This driver did not display the knowledge, expertise, engagement or patience that our guide and driver Ken from Right Choice Tours and Safaris embodied. As it grew dark, and rain was evident, I secretly hoped mud would splatter on her pristine white shirt, if nothing else then to at least add levity to a game ride as tame as a tea party. As we winded up the hill to the lodge, we passed the river, where as if on cue, the Hippos were frolicking friskily vying for attention. Their large gaping toothy mouths open wide in the “say ahhh” position, as they playfully pestered their Hippo neighbor as they swayed with the rapid water current.
However, this could only be viewed by a finger print smudged fogging window as Megan and Simon controlled the viewing area, snapping away and filming footage, they most likely will never see. If they do, they may hear yours truly in her best Jersey accent muttering many of these shameful thoughts.
As the ride came to a close, Hubs and I read each other’s minds-we knew what we had thus far seen with Ken was not just random. He does his job so well that it looks effortless- but, quite the contrary. He spent the majority of the game drive communicating with other drivers via CB. Unknowing at the time the purpose of these frequent discussions were- it became background noise unmeaning in any context. Later on, I realized this was him actively seeking out his driven purpose in remaining vigilant by keenly tracking animal sightings- all aimed at efforts for us to capture the most out of our safari viewing experience.
As we eagerly exited the van, Megan and Simon in false pretenses inquired with dread in their voice and fear in their eyes-if we would be accompanying them tomorrow-as they embarked to Tanzania. We left it open-ended and then watched in evil pleasure them squirm a bit as they most likely were hastily devising an alternate scenario (one with the absence of us). In the end, we let them off the hook, thanking them graciously and only now under the cloak of this blog do I share this tale with you.
I really offer this rather superfluous anecdote to demonstrate that there is a difference in what you will get when on safari. It is truly these variables in which will make or break the ultimate experience. Had I not seen the kinder, gentler “tea party” version of a game ride, I would have fully appreciated the lengths our guide/driver did for us. He physically searched out all the “Big 5” to ensure we got the most out of this endeavor. He not only did this well, but did it without us truly knowing. He kept us out of the fray and then magically a family of lions serendipitously appeared before us. Furthermore, most importantly, he did all this with our safety as priority. Even as we broke down in an active park with predator animals, my safety was never in question or even a concern.
We returned back to the lodge as the sky turned black and rain pelted down. The road bed was slick with rapidly flowing water current in the beginning stages. Apparently, we have come on the rainy season. We have been fortunate as it has not hampered our enjoyment one bit. The Serena Mara lodge had available large, luxurious umbrellas that encased you. They knocked on doors individually to ensure this was offered for the short walk to the dining room. This extra touch was just one additional kind thing that made a difference.
Dinner was off a menu for this evening. A velvety butternut squash soup set the tone for the meal. The Hubs had a juicy steak cooked to perfection with crispy potatoes. For me, they offered cooked to order Indian dishes. Always a fan of Indian food, for this trip I may have overdone it-contributing to nightly bad dreams and occasional heartburn. But, nonetheless, every night they had a vegetarian option which I do appreciate.
We called it an early night to prepare for our final day in Masai Mara as well as a long journey back to Nairobi.
This morning we awoke with damp African air, calming rain drops and throaty wart hog greetings. The flamingo sky provided a soothing backsplash to the infinite sedate park. Off in the far distance, the stocky silhouette of Water Buffalo shadowed the plains. I took a mental picture of all this, knowing realistically that this 24 hour trek back to Africa will most likely not occur again. So, there I stood, on the balcony absorbing every last second of this country, this place, this culture and this paradise like setting.
All packed we handed in our key and made our way to our final breakfast. Bernard our waiter- greeted us in his polite manner. We conversed about Africa, its people and their genuine kind hearted nature. I inquired about these large, mighty and intimidating Rhino Beetles that seem to populate the park grounds-scattered throughout the grounds- always belly up, short stumpy legs kicking and jerking in a dramatic, futile effort to propel back up. He gingerly sauntered over to one such creature gently and flipped him over in a silent passive motion. He explained- we work together, we coexist, we have to. Sometimes one of the Rhino Beetle’s buddies will help toss the poor bug over as well. This philosophy seems to work well in this shared existence. Modeling a theme that would carry over well in our shared world we all live in.
Just a simple thought, but as a theme I saw this over and over. Man and nature, nature and nature, brother and brother-each person in this community, wherever they are in the social, economic or educational status-they treat each other equally, with humanity and respect. I can offer so many examples of this, but it is just a common theme that no one even thinks about it. It is an internal instinct for this culture to exist in harmony.
We said our goodbyes, our fond farewells and waited patiently for our driver to escort us back to Nairobi. We were surprisingly greeted by Ken, who wanted to say goodbye as well. We gave him a “blow by blow” of our Aussie experience. Portraying it in a positive comparison and acknowledging that we recognized his efforts and his hard work had formed some of our favorite moments on this trip. He humbly accepted the positive feedback and introduced us to “OB” who would graciously be driving us back to Nairobi. We hugged, wished him well and hope one day to reconnect.
OB had a nice, large rugged jeep, a bit bigger than our previous one. We made our way back out onto the park. We were all on a mission to return, so technically this was not a game drive. But, we did pass many of our favorites along the way. We waved goodbye to the girthy elephants as they balanced on their bulky legs and their trunks foraged for food. The baboons made a final appearance with their silly hijinks. Jackals, Elk and mongoose flanked the pathway in an animalistic crossing of the guards- as they stood rigid with stillness while the hearty vibration of the Jeep pulsated against the jagged earth and rocks.
We exited the park and spilled out onto the same rocky dirt road. OB maneuvered the rudimentary passageway with skill, weaving in and out of flooding waterways, tenacious mud, and even a gaping gap that emerged through the earth. This widening breach left isolated tribe members stranded on one side. Goats, cattle and random animals shared road space with us.
As we passed a young boy straddling the mud knee deep, I began to reflect upon all that I have seen and experienced. Like a movie on rewind, I played back the trip and all the kind Kenyans I have been privileged to meet. I grew emotional, pondering what it is like to have such minimal worldly needs but yet still live life in gratitude. This full embrace of life is mainly what I will bring away from this trip. Kenyan life that I have experienced has shown me that one can do without so much and still have a joy and thirst for life.
We sped by begging monkeys with their hands out like hitchhikers from the 70’s, except they were petitioning for food. They sat on the side of the highway of the plunging mountain range grabbing whatever was thrown their way. It was a bittersweet playful but sad sight.
I had been corresponding almost daily with tour owner George Oketch from Right Choice Tours and Safaris. As a gesture of gratitude and a kind send off, he requested to treat Hubs and I to dinner- of course, we graciously accepted this over the top invitation.
OB raced through the winding, narrow traffic ridden streets all in an effort to get us to our destination on time. With 6 hours of multisensory bouncing from seat to ceiling over treacherous roads and only 2 bathroom breaks offered, we finally made it to our hotel in Nairobi- The Acacia Tree Lodge. https://acaciatreelodgekenya.com/
The area we were staying in is called Karen. It is a suburb in Nairobi, with mountainous plush growth, fertile soil and colorful vegetation. Deep cavernous plunging grassy hills, gated luxury homes, car congestion and activity all around- a complete disparity from the simplistic needs of Masai.
We checked into The Acacia Tree Lodge and perused our interesting surroundings. A spacious yard with gardens, walled off by a security gate. The doors opened up to an eclectic display of various African arts. Inside the room was simple with a canopied bed –no TV, which has been the theme on this trip. It has been welcoming in many ways to be walled off by the constant news reel. However, I do also feel out of touch and disconnected from the world and events. This is a constant inner battle of peace I find when away for several days. It’s good to keep one toe in the water of current events- just to keep abreast and aware.
Jacob, a driver from Right Choice Tours and Safaris picked us up from the hotel for dinner this evening at the famous Carnivore Restaurant http://www.tamarind.co.ke/restaurant.php?carnivore . Even though, our tour with his company had ended upon OB’s drop off in Nairobi, George, the owner felt he owed a bit of gratitude to the effort invested in the documentation of this experience and particularly the feedback through a consumer’s eyes.
As you enter Carnivore http://www.tamarind.co.ke/restaurant.php?carnivore – the intense smell of burning meat overtakes you as fleshy smoke fills the air. The red, flaming grill sputters and sparks flickers of trajectory seared fat molecules. For a vegetarian, this is not the most ideal meal choices, but I was assured there would be vegetarian options. The feel of celebration was in the air with our neighbors behind us being serenaded by the staff in anniversary merriment-with a splendid version of Kuna Matada.
Salad came on a round robin with a whirlwind of options and unique sauces. The Hubs immediately had hot, sizzling meats sliced off intimidating skewers in rapid fire offerings. Rabbit, (he declined) chicken, turkey, sausage, steak all in a stampede of waiters. The Hubs quickly waived defeat surrendering fullness.
Meanwhile across the table, the vegetarian nibbled at puree like lentils and too spicy Indian that not only lacked appeal, color or taste, but also felt out of place as these animal carcasses simmered nearby. However, this kind gesture and generous offering was an extra step that was certainly appreciated and really drove home the difference between this company that sets them apart.
After the animalistic extravaganza, a light dessert and coffee were enjoyed as we took in the unexpected late night festivities. We fell asleep under the sheer canopy with again spicy, Indian induced nightmares with the backdrop steady hum of foreign night creatures.
Nairobi (Departure Day) London (Addendum)
Today is the final day in Africa. We awoke early to make the most of our limited time left. After an unmemorable breakfast provided by The Acacia Tree Lodge, we ubered to Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage http://www.magicalkenya.com/what-to-see/popular-sites/david-sheldrick-elephant-orphanage. Every day at 11 am, the baby elephants who were orphaned out of necessity, parental death or illness or other unfortunate reasons, are fed by their handlers. It is a big production and a very popular tourist attraction. The crowd is moderate in size but the enthusiasm leading up to the anticlimactic elephant precession was evident. They all get paraded out exactly 11am and they are fed with enormous baby bottles full of infant formula. The leader of this operation goes in great detail explaining the facility, their mission and then introducing the 29 elephants.
Each one had their own personality, twisting tree branches in an entertaining way, their trunk acrobatics making the spectators gasp in delight. The elephants circled the audience and allowed them to pet their thick, scaly skin.
Yours truly for fear of catching some rare African Elephant disease and spreading a worldwide epidemic did not. The Hubs was in agreement on this one as well. After about 30 minutes, sadly the novelty had worn off and I was ready to move on.
We had befriended a lovely gentleman from China, residing from Germany, here in Kenya for a humanitarian mission. He shared his interesting life and in return we hijacked (borrowed) his driver to bring us to our next destination. I kid, but we simply asked about Uber and he offered (for a price) to take us. We were grateful for the offer as there was no WIFI available in the elephant mud bath swamp (surprise, huh?). Even though another tour guide, whom we asked earlier, led us to believe- yes there was WIFI in the restaurant. Ummm, ok gullible tourist- no restaurant- no WIFI. Lesson 26b of subset d of part 3-Don’t believe what people tell you. Whether it is intentional or a miscommunication- You most likely will always be steered incorrectly. Do your fact checking. Be accountable and understand what is being told. I am a great offender of violating all these rules.
Grateful for the ride, we were dropped off at The Karen Blixen Museum http://www.museums.or.ke/karen-blixen/. On a sprawling grassy field resides the home of famous author Karen Blixen. If you are unfamiliar with this name-let me offer this hint- “Out of Africa”? https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/sep/16/reel-history-out-of-africa
She wrote the book “Out of Africa”, based on her own life. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is a beautiful love story with breathtaking views of romantic Kenya in the early 1900’s. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford do a stellar job resurrecting this love story and it really wet my whistle for the beauty of this country.
We were greeting by guide Christina, who re-routed us to a private area outside. We sat in comfy chairs with the Kenyan sun beating down on us and exotic trees providing cherished shade. She went in thorough detail of Karen’s life- her thick accent capturing the allure of the subject matter. She answered questions patiently and then escorted us continuing the factual fine points.
We moved onto the simple house with exquisite niceties inside. The home was left in authentic condition and after seeing the movie, it was interesting to piece the gaps together. We spent about 2 hours there and I really recommend this excursion if you are a fan of the movie or author. It adds a depth to the region and was a nice break from the animals.
From there we took an Uber 1 mile down the road to Tamambo Restaurant http://www.tamarind.co.ke/restaurant.php?tamambo-karen. Sticking with the theme of Karen Blixen, this charming restaurant was situated where Karen first lived when she relocated from Denmark to Kenya. Outside were umbrella covered tables, facing beautiful blossoming gardens. The thick green grass was plush and off in the distance, the Gnong Mountains watched protectively, guarding the land of the Masai’s beloved ex- patriot.
We (Hubs) had a simply sublime meal there, fresh and flavorful with unique elements probably never to be replicated again. Attempted consumption of yet another Indian dish for me- spicy with gastronomically painful exotic curried notes, instantly disabled my delicate taste buds. Hubs had a fish soup which he slurped with determination, followed by a spicy shrimp dish.
We (“Me”) sat outside eavesdropping on foreign patrons around us with interesting international stories. We malingered well past the dessert, knowing we had 9 hours until our flight that evening. We hit the interesting gift shop, with authentic looking African Masks handmade and other traditional items that helped distract us from the long, exhausting night of travel that lie ahead.
After some proud purchases, we Ubered back to the hotel to freshen up and retrieve our bags. The prompt Uber driver was very friendly and made his way expertly through the intense traffic. Apparently, the President of Africa was escorting dignitaries to the airport and he and his entourage had shut down the whole road. Creative individuals bypassed traffic by driving on curbs, nonexistent road shoulders and forming a 3 lane highway into 8. The vexing 20 mile drive took a harrowing hour-but quite affordable.
Now, honestly this is where my usual blog would end, as I try to shield you- my darling reader from the madness and misery of airplane travel and all the jubilations that accompany it. However, in true authentic A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase fashion, this blog is about the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to circumvent the ugly. In this instance, I feel I should offer all the details so you can place in your one of a kind Girl and Hubs travel tool belt free for a just a limited time- just in case you ever travel to Nairobi.
Let’s talk security and safety-here in Nairobi-be aware of the extraordinary lengths that have been set in place for security measures. We not only went through 1 security check point before entering the airport campus along with the car separately thoroughly checked. We had to exit the car, and go through metal detectors with our luggage.
We then had to go through security as we entered the airport – similar to the security anywhere else. Then we proceeded to our gate, abandoning our remaining Schillings and bathroom opportunities to be man handled and sequestered, swabbed, probed and wiped through 3-4 more security points- all right next to each other- all duplicating each previous person’s efforts.
Then, after all that-with 3 hours to spare, we were impounded to a glassed in area, with no bathroom, and no allowance for leaving. This was very “Midnight Express” conditions with little information being provided. Disgruntled retired gentile, southern ladies with confiscated sewing needles demanded the manager, a removed tweezer riot emerged, a FITBIT snagged from a belongings box created a stirring that never quite resolved. I hid mine in an effort of deescalating “A Lord of the Flies” situation.
As we boarded the plane in Nairobi, I had a sneaking suspicion based on the conversation back at the British Airways https://www.britishairways.com/travel/home/public/en_us that we would not have seats for the London-Miami trip- hence, creating an unrestful midnight flight.
My prophetic foretelling was right on the money. We were initially told that the flight had to change the size of the airplane last minute due to snow storms in the Eastern USA. We were well aware of this dangerous weather system and were additionally informed that 2 days’ worth of flights had been previously canceled. We knew getting on this flight was slim to none. However, we were assured that we were early and most likely would have no problem. We were given a voucher to go get breakfast.
Approaching the gate with bellies full of free delicious English breakfast, our carb high quickly dissipated as we immediately noticed the area was almost empty with just a few nervous individuals pacing -showing true signs of desperation. As luck would have it, we were updated after all those nervous individuals slowly one by one got on the plane-that only one seat perhaps, questionably remained -as they were shutting the airplane door. Hubs and yours truly contemplated separation, I even saw a gleam in Hubs eyes as he fantasized alone time, a whole journey back home in silence void of a Jersey girl barking in his ear.
But, I squashed that- as we are in this together Good or Bad. Instead, I devised an alternate plan that was half brilliant, half ludicrous. Instead of waiting 6 hours in the London airport and then arriving in Miami too late to get to Tampa our destination -and then having to get a hotel in Miami-I proposed- we stay here in London one night. We will make that “sacrifice”. And, then as luck would have it there was a more convenient direct flight to Tampa from the sister airport Gatwick.
The feisty cagey British Airways (BA) attendant declared this an excellent idea and gladly sent us on our way back to where we started to obtain vouchers as BA would fund all this as it was there fault. Lovely Georgine the BA customer Rep. set it all in motion, giving us a check list one by one of how to do this rather simple process in a very confusing, complex mind boggling way. With 2 phones in her hands and a deep furrowed brow she was able to get this procedure in place.
Then- began 3 hours’ worth of crisscrossing 2 airports. We needed to retrieve our baggage, find the terminals to obtain the vouchers, get a bus to Gatwick and then eventually we made it to our new home for the night- Hilton Gatwick London http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-london-gatwick-airport-GATHITW/index.html – with 3 meals included as well as a voucher for $20 worth of incidentals.
We dined in the modern lobby- Amy’s http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-london-gatwick-airport-GATHITW/dining/index.html with business execs feeling all fancy with our free voucher. I had been craving salad and a veggie burger for days. Eating raw vegetables in Africa was not an option due to a different water filtration system and the potential for GI issues. So, I was thrilled to have a Halloumi veggie burger on a crisp bowl of greens. It was simply divine. The Hubs had a Caesar salad, creamy and rich with crunchy greens. African food was great but this is what we were craving and we left quite satisfied.
We embarked upon getting to Central London to make the most of this gift of time. 15 years ago (pre-blog) Hubs and I spontaneously went on a 4 day jaunt to London. Seeing the city in such a small amount of time always left us yearning for more. This was the perfect opportunity. We took the express train conveniently right in the airport terminal to Victoria Station and then took a cab to The National Gallery of London https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/.
The air was cold and winter was in full effect. Coming from Africa, we were ill prepared. But, running on adrenaline and a second wind-and anxious to maximize our time, we high-tailed it to the Gallery. It was only to be open another 2 hours so went through our favorite sections of Italian Renaissance. We viewed in quick delight, surveying the skill of Caravaggio, the depth and grace of Botticelli, the vibrant hues and historical brilliance of Titian, Raphael and Michelangelo.
The National Gallery is free entry and was thriving with all age and cultural demographics. We absorbed every painting grateful for this unexpected pleasure. From there, we walked around the city, landing at Starbuck’s people watching. Londoners are impressively quick and speedy. They zipped through the city by bike, running, walking, racing for the train – all the while I sipped my delicious Matcha Latte and sat for the first time in days.
We walked the Pedestrian Bridge, or at least attempted but the cold, chilly air mixed with not appropriate clothing for this weather and jet lag setting in, we proceeded back to the hotel in the same fashion we came via cabby and Train. We had dinner at the Garden Café –buffet style in the hotel. It was fresh, nutritious and FREE.
London (Real Departure Day)
This morning I had a nice workout in the hotel gym. We went to our FREE breakfast provided by voucher and then packed up for official return to Tampa, Florida (Home).
As I sit wedged in this airplane seat in discomfort compressed between a stranger and my beloved Monkey (Hubs) – memories flood back to me on all I have experienced on this trip. It’s been a long blog, with too much to say and a lot of ramblings. If you have made it this far- I commend you. I find viewing this blog is best done when someone reads it to you in its entirety. Take your time reading it- Don’t rush. Take it to the DMV or the dentist when you are bored out of your mind. There are beautiful lessons in it, a bit of humor, some cynical notes and some glorious humanity.
As I end this labor of love, I want to include my top 10, some tips and a few helpful suggestions. Until we meet again, tune in September 2018- when A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase head for Paris/Normandy.
- The ARK in Aberdares arrival, lunch at the country club and watching the elephants snuggle in the watering hole.
- Time with Monkey (Hubs) with little distraction- no TV.
- Giving gifts to the Masai Masai village tribe children.
- The Hippos frolicking in the Mara River.
- All the delicious food, exotic and new encountered food in all the lodges.
- Watching the pregnant Lion on hunt during game drive.
- Ken our amazing guide from Right Choice Tours and Safari.
- Monkey’s (Hubs) St. Patrick’s day/Birthday serenade at Serena Mara in Masai Mara.
- Right Choice Tours and Safari– George Oketch and his amazing team.
- The kindness, beauty and true Kenyan spirit embracing respect for life and humanity.
- Take the weather and timing of trip into consideration. March is rainy season. At times, the rain was very scary. Flooding villages and roads and creating many issues. However, it provided a cooler climate and no dust. But, mud was a major issue.
- Many want to go during Migration season which is July-October. All though what you will see will be life changing, it is high season expect lots of crowds, tourists and congestion. (higher prices)
- Bring good binoculars. My biggest regret.
- Bring a good camera, with back up battery and appropriate charger and converters. An extension cord is my most valuable accessory.
- Bring baby wipes. Whether wet or dry season, you will get filthy.
- Bring comfy clothes, stretchy, breathing, preferably lighter colors. Ensure it covers all your body parts. Any skin that is exposed, a fly or mosquito will find.
- Bring bug spray! Use it.
- Bring lots and lots of single denominations. Kenyan hospitality is top notch and needs to be recognized. They are grateful for anything. They also accepted the USA Dollar. A tiny exchange discrepancy but mainly equal.
- Do your research on your tour company. They are all different. Make informed decisions regarding the vehicle you will be in, your tour guide, places you go, side excursions, extra costs and transfers. All these decisions will impact your experience.
- Balloon ride? Weigh your options, finances, etc. It is $435 per person. For us, we opted out. It is a once in a lifetime thrill but, you also may have to pay your mortgage.
- Lastly, bring beneficial items for a tribe. I wish I had brought more. They live with such minimal needs, but have nothing else. Anything you can offer will provide you with an immense feeling of gratitude.