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Trip Report My Trip Report Kenya 14 June to 5 July 2005

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I thought I too should write a trip report, so here it is.

My itinerary was as follows:

14 June Nairobi (Hotel Terminal) 1 night
15 June Samburu (Intrepids) 4 nights
19 June Nairobi (Hotel Terminal) 1 night
20 June Lake Nakuru (Mbweha Camp) 4 nights
24 June Nairobi (Hotel Terminal) 2 nights
26 June Lamu (Yumbe House) 4 nights
30 June Kiserian ' Isinya, Pipeline Rd (Whistling Thorns) 3 nights
3 July Nairobi (Hotel Embassy) 2 nights

Like on my two previous trips to Kenya, my father drove me to Arlanda airport very early in the morning. I spotted four foxes, three mooses, around ten roe deer, a couple of hares and several flat badgers (road-kill) at the side of the road. The two-hour flight to Amsterdam and eight-hour flight to Nairobi went without problems, apart from a persistent cough that had been bothering me for weeks. I even got my Asian-vegetarian food that is usually given to someone else while I'm asleep.

As last year, I checked in at the Terminal and the receptionist remembered me. They had raised their price for a single room from 1,000 to 1,200 shillings and the amount of cockroaches had increased. An envelope with tickets and vouchers for a four-night flying safari to Samburu Intrepids were awaiting me from Let's Go Travel. I'd paid $ 680 and was going to pay $ 120 for four park tickets. $ 200 per night, including flights, is a lot of money, but not too bad considering what I sometimes read on this forum. Other companies wanted more money for the same thing.

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    Next morning at Wilson airport no one said anything about my bag being closer to 20 kg than the 15-kg limit for domestic flights with Air Kenya. The flight was cloudy and a bit rough, but I had remembered to take my seasickness pill and I did manage to see Mount Kenya. Samburu was beautiful and very hot, a lot hotter than Tsavo had been last year. My luck getting a car on “non exclusive basis” for myself had run out. I shared an open top and open sided (perfect) Land Rover with a well-behaved British couple and a very nice young Irish girl called Carmel. They stayed for 3 nights and when they left I shared the game drives with an Indonesian mother, who was teaching “women’s studies” at a university, and her two half-American children. I also had meals together with Carmel who was on her first real holiday (Germany didn’t count). Samburu Intrepids was beautifully situated on the shores of the Ewaso Nyiro under big river acacias, but it was too big – 27 tents – and, worst of all, it was fenced! Samburu needs a place like Tarhi Camp in Tsavo East where elephants and buffaloes walk around among the tents. I saw Larsen’s and it was fenced as well. I took Carmel on a not too adventurous walk around Intrepids (staff quarters, fruit garden, compost, waste oven, thorny bushes, everything) and the only mammals we saw were vervet monkeys and dwarf mongooses. On the other side of the river there were some baboons and livestock (cows, goats and donkeys) and we did see a Nile monitor as well as smaller lizards. On that walk I got bitten by sand flies and that gave me shoe problems for the rest of the trip. As if that wasn’t enough I also got my usual eye problem: I hate sunglasses; you don’t see things in their right colour, and I never wear them at the beginning of the trip. Then I burn my eyes and have to use them all the time.

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    The tents were very luxurious with fans and four poster beds. The tent steward, Rilman, folded my toilet paper three times a day! The bathrooms were a bit too closed and I missed having a bathroom bat as in Basecamp, Masai Mara and Tarhi Camp, Tsavo East. I did get an animal visit at six in the morning when the vervet monkeys stole my cookies and my sugar. I’m a vegetarian and the food –also the meat eater’s, I was told - was absolutely amazing. Probably the best I’ve had at any place. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style and dinner was à la Carte. Can I just mention I had strawberry Pavlova for dessert? Another thing I really missed was a campfire, but I imagine the weather was too hot. Instead there were supposed to be slide shows and talks by naturalists in the evening, but I saw no such thing – only a TV with documentaries from Samburu (the lioness who adopted an oryx etc.). I prefer live animals and a fire … We were actually informed that elephants that try to cross the river into Samburu Intrepids were scared away by gun shots. At least a lovely genet came to visit the restaurant in the evenings and there were camels. I went on a short camel ride across the river and around a Samburu village. The village didn’t even have cow dung for the houses. Maybe it was because of the warm climate, but anyway the contrast to the luxury of Intrepids was quite obscene.

    One of the Samburu camel handlers at Intrepids, J, asked me to come back next morning because he was going to give me a real Samburu necklace and not the touristy things they had for sale on a blanket on the ground next to the camels. I felt very flattered and thought that because I spoke three words in Samburu I wasn’t a “normal tourist”. I learnt those words in the Mara – the languages are identical, only that the Samburu talk faster than the Maasai. The language is called Maa and I really should know some more words, or even phrases… I did know that “do ut des” was the norm, so next morning after the game drive I took a small torch with me to give to J. “Oh, yes, I was going to give you a necklace”, he said and looked at the things on the blanket. Then he gave me one of those black and white necklaces made of bone that are sold everywhere. He got the torch anyway.

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    The driver/guide, Domiciano (Dom), was very knowledgeable and pleasant. When I’m alone I worry that I bore the driver/guide –I’m a very quiet person-, but this time I felt I would have talked and got a lot more information had I had Dom for myself. The last days a young Samburu guy who was learning to be a guide accompanied Dom. The wildlife sightings exceeded my expectations: Already on the way from the airstrip we saw a leopard peeking out from under some bushes beside a tree were he had hung a half eaten male impala. Later we saw him up in the tree in the most relaxed leopard way. There’s no doubt Samburu is elephant country. They were everywhere, with lots of calves and they looked very comfortable with cars. There were innumerable river crossings. I’d seen gerenuks, kudus and oryx in Tsavo - in Samburu they were less shy, so I got a closer look. In the case of the kudus it might be because in Tsavo there are only lesser kudu. There were pairs of dik-diks everywhere, big herds of various impala harems and bachelor groups, waterbucks, Grant’s - and buffaloes, though not in herds of hundreds as in Tsavo and the Mara. Of course there were Grevy’s zebras, mostly lone territorial stallions - the mares and foals were elsewhere, though we did see one family. The reticulated giraffes weren’t as numerous as the Maasai giraffes are where they are found, but there was no problem spotting them. We didn’t see the naked mole rats themselves, but we saw the sand they were throwing up into the air. There were eagles and vultures, lots of pygmy falcons and goshawks, both vulturine and helmeted guinea fowl, go-away birds, bee-eaters, buffalo weavers, yellow necked spurfowl, bustards, sandgrouse, different doves, kingfishers, sunbirds, hornbills, barbets and lots of other birds. We saw a pride of about twelve lions (only one adult male) several times. There where some adorable cubs and once seven or eight lionesses and cubs climbed up and sat in a tree only a few metres from our car. One evening we saw a pair of cheetahs, probably brothers, feeding on an impala. They had the roundest bellies I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately there was almost a traffic jam surrounding the brothers. Samburu was very busy, a lot busier than the Mara two years ago. The most unexpected and exciting sighting was a pack of seven wild dogs! Suddenly they came trotting along the riverbank. After a while they got out of sight, but then we saw them again, very close to the car looking longingly at a big congregation of marabous at the other side of the river. I don’t think marabous look that tasty, but then, I’m a vegetarian. If I compare Samburu to a chocolate bar it would be a milk chocolate with orange crunch. Tsavo East would be 80 % cacao dark chocolate and the Mara is filled with marzipan and cherries in brandy.

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    I returned to Nairobi on an 18-seater plane. There was a stop at Meru that looked absolutely stunning with lots of vegetation and rivers with waterfalls. I have to go there some time. I spent another night at the Terminal and the next morning I took the Akamba bus to Nakuru (250 shillings). When I sat down I heard a rrittzz, something sharp had made a slash in my skirt. A young boy passed my seat, the same sound and he had a hole in his trousers. I told an Akamba representative that something sharp on the seat was destroying people’s clothes. “OK we’ll arrange that”, he answered. Contemplating the scenery I almost thought I was back home in the spruce woods, but soon enough the bus descended into the Rift Valley and zebra families appeared between the farmhouses. We passed Lakes Naivasha and Elmentaita with a short stop caused by a male baboon sitting in the middle of the road.

    After not much more than two hours on a, by Kenyan standards, very good road I was in Nakuru and asked to be dropped off where I could get a taxi to go to Mbweha Camp. I couldn’t see any taxis. A very big man called Moses asked me where I was going. He was from Kisumu, working in Nairobi and had come to Nakuru for a flower auction. His wife had visited Sweden. After a while Moses took one of the handles of my big bag and we found a taxi. Moses’ cousin who was working as a fisherman on Lake Baringo also found the taxi. Neither the men from Kisumu nor the taxi driver had ever heard about Mbweha Camp. After maybe an hour on a very bad road we got there anyway – Moses and his cousin wanted to see the place. At first the driver was going to charge me 800 shilling, when he understood where Mbweha was he wanted 1,800 and I paid 2,000. Mbweha Camp was situated next to the fence of Lake Nakuru National Park, on the outside, at the southern end. There were nine big thatched bandas surrounded by euphorbias, a campsite and a sunken bar/restaurant - it’s like a big empty swimming pool with a thatched roof. A fire was lit in the middle of the bar every evening and you sat there listening to the brown tree frogs playing the marimba very loudly. Isaac, the headwaiter, showed me my banda. It was round and huge with one king-size and one single bed and a very roomy bathroom. The best shower I’d ever had in Kenya was covered with big round stones. I paid $ 60 per night for full board. There were no other guests and Moses wanted to stay so that I wouldn’t be so lonely. I said he should phone his wife and ask for permission first, but apparently she was in America at the moment…

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    The lovely Daniel from Eldoret had been the manager of Mbweha for just a month. The first two weeks he had thought about running away, but now he had begun enjoying staying in the bush. He had been working in a big resort with over a thousand guests in Dar Es Salaam and before that at Africana/Jadini in Diani and Samburu Intrepids. He switched to Mbweha Camp because his father passed away, his mother had high blood pressure and he was the oldest child. When I first met him he was measuring the content of the bottles in the bar with a special stick. Each night all the bottles were taken down and locked in a closed compartment. I asked if there were many alcoholics sneaking around in the bushes and told I was correct, though I never saw them. The one who really was running the camp was Jonas, the cat – an amazing creature. Before seeing him I felt him behind my back while having dinner the first night – I stayed four nights in Mbweha Camp. My first thought was that I was dealing with a very brave genet, but soon a lovely cat’s head stuck out under my arm. Jonas was coloured just like a wild cat and that has made me come up with theories. When some neighbour ranchers came to have a beer in Mbweha bringing their big Labrador, Jonas opened his eyes but he didn’t even raise his head to look at the dog. An extraordinary cool cat! The presence of Jonas didn’t empty Mbweha of birdlife; from the veranda of my banda I saw doves, mousebirds, superb starlings, wagtails, firefinches and other birds. There wasn’t much wildlife inside the banda, but one night I had a small frog and a big spider on the floor. I suppose they got in under the door. They were moving around looking very interested in each other. I considered intervening in favour of the frog, should something happen, though I’m not sure about the ethics of such favouritism. Eventually I had a shower and when I got back from the bathroom I saw the frog and the spider sitting next to the wall eating one wallspider each. In the morning they were gone.

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    It was a bit frustrating to first be fenced in in Samburu, and then fenced out of Lake Nakuru NP. Fortunately, I could go for walks completely on my own around Mbweha and there were animals. I was told not to turn to the left at the fence where there were lots of trees, bush and buffaloes, so I turned to the right walking along the fence. I saw some baboons and buffaloes at the inside and out on the plain on the outside there were impalas, zebras, waterbucks elands, lots of widowbirds in breeding dress flying like toy kites, and a warthog with four piglets that ran away when I was about 30 metres from them. Is there anything better than to be out with the plain’s game as a lone Homo sapiens (variety “not that sapiens”)? The morning after I arrived I went for a little longer walk and found myself in a bushy area, but as I was carrying an umbrella I thought I could defend myself against an angry buffalo. I got a bit worried when I saw four people at a distance and closing in behind me in the bushes – though they looked quite small and might be children -, so I was relieved when I met a worker walking inside the fence. The man was mending the fence and asked me what I was doing. He thought I was too far away from Mbweha and in a place that was no good for walking because of buffaloes and the fence was no protection against the lions that just ran straight through it if they wanted to kill something at the other side. The people who had been “following” me appeared, they where some women with big pangas (machetes) and I said “but they are walking here”. The women said they were in the area out of necessity because they had to get firewood and then they said all kinds of very unfavourable things about me in Swahili – I only understood part of it. To lighten things up I asked if I could take a photo of them which had the opposite effect – they got even more upset, and one of them wanted a lot of money (I wasn’t carrying any). The fence-mender was walking back to his house near Makalia Falls and I accompanied him –it was in the direction of Mbweha - on the other side of the fence. He kept telling me that we were in “a bad place” where I even might meet poachers, not that the people I’d just met were any better – they were working for Delamere – on whose land I was walking and which continued all the way to Naivasha – and they might hurt me even if I wasn’t carrying any money. It was a very hard life to live and work alone among the animals, even if most of them were nice –the fence-man got along well with rhinos and leopard-, but was sure buffaloes and lions wanted to kill him. His wife was living in Nakuru Town so he was going to look for a second wife who could stay with him at Makalia Falls. If the area around Mbweha Camp sounds dangerous, I can say that this fence-man exaggerated quite a bit – when I asked him what would happen if I touched the fence when the electricity was on, he told me I’d get killed. I’d been wearing my walking moccasins and my plaster covered sand fly bites didn’t feel comfortable at all. My favourite sandals were a little better, but when I wore them and almost stepped in one of the very numerous holes in the ground the strap of one sandal come off, as always, and it had to be taken to a very inexpensive cobbler who put some stitches at the base of the strap. I’ve got to have that done the whole way around those sandals.

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    The third afternoon I went on a game drive in Lake Nakuru NP. It was quite expensive for one person ($ 90). The driver/guide was Julius, a serious looking young man with glasses and a bird book. We used the Nderit gate that’s closest to Mbweha. Daniel came along and we dropped him off at Nakuru Lodge. It was absolutely packed with cars and looked extremely busy, so I think I can recommend Mbweha Camp to anyone who is going to Lake Nakuru. Even if Lake Nakuru is a small, completely fenced park, from the inside it looks big and with a very varied and beautiful landscape. Apart from flamingos – as expected, they were many and they were pink – I saw swarms of pelicans, white rhinos, buffaloes, baboons, zebras, impalas, elands, Thomson’s, giraffes, vervet monkeys, waterbucks, herons, secretary birds, rollers, but only one tired male lion. Next afternoon I went on a walk with Julius to learn more about birds and plants ($ 5). We walked to the left, buffalo side, of Mbweha. There was a big buffalo mud bath that Julius said hadn’t been used for two days. When we got out on the field I asked why all the cows had the same colour and Julius had to admit that they were buffaloes, but they were a hundred metres away and in a herd – not dangerous. In the morning I had seen the marks of big cat’s –probably leopard’s - paws on the muddy road, but now I couldn’t find them, I suppose too many cars had passed.

    That same night, my last in Mbweha, I went on a night game drive ($ 10 per person). After my first night there were other guests, but they all stayed only one night. I shared the night game drive with a Basque couple on honeymoon and their guide. Julius drove the Land Rover and one of the askaris sat on the roof in front of us with a spotlight. We were looking for aardvark, but didn’t see any. People who are very lucky may see a leopard – we didn’t. We did disturb impalas, Thomson’s and a steinbuck, though the latter looked quite night active. My friends the buffaloes were out on the airstrip of “Rift Valley Gliders” very close to Mbweha. There were lots of hares, a couple of jackals and, above all, springhares absolutely everywhere. These adorable “mini-kangaroos” only come out at night and I had never seen them before. The Basque bride said “¡que boniiitas!” all the time and the groom thought they were disgusting because he couldn’t stand anything that his wife liked - and they had only been married for ten days. I knew the name in Spanish of all the animals we saw. For once I felt a bit clever in Kenya. The Basque couple stayed up late even though they were leaving at six next morning and I couldn’t leave the fire because Jonas was sitting on my lap.

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    When I eventually got back to my banda I had the by far worst experience I’ve ever had in Africa – there was no water in the taps! Everybody had gone to bed and I couldn’t see any askaris. I thought it would seem hysterical to wake someone up, so I tried to wash myself with my bottle water and some wet wipes and then I set my alarm clock at 5 AM. I thought the water would be back by then and that I’d have time to wash my hair before leaving Mbweha at 9 AM. I always have to shower and wash my hair before going to sleep and now I was feeling dirty and itchy and didn’t sleep at all. At 5 there was still no water. I got out on the gravel path with my torch thinking that the askaris would hear and see me, but they didn’t. I found one of them sleeping by the fire, but I didn’t dare being mistaken for a poacher by the Maasai askari, so I let him sleep. I walked around Mbweha until almost 6 AM when I was discovered and explained the problem in Swahili. Shortly afterwards I got water. I had breakfast looking awful with wet hair and it didn’t dry enough to put it up, so I had to leave Mbweha Camp with a plait. I paid my bills, tipped, said good bye to everybody, Julius drove me back to Nakuru Town for $ 20 and I got on the bus. I slept the whole trip back to Nairobi without reclining my head, though the man sitting next to me woke me up twice because he was afraid I’d dislocate my neck.

    It was Friday and my plan was to fly to Lamu on Sunday. I’d been sending emails to Isabel at Lamu Homes to find out what would be the best hotel for me, so I thought I should buy the air ticket and book the hotel through her. Lamu Homes’ office was in Westlands and it had got a bit late, so I decided to go there in the morning. Another thing I had to do was to see David, known as "Tuskerdave” on this forum, whom I started emailing with when I first discovered Fodor’s and wrote a post. He had been to Uganda, Tsavo and the Mara and was leaving on Sunday. Next morning I got on the right matatu very quickly. Isabel wasn’t at the office, but I got my ticket and returned to the city centre. I’d been communicating with David’s Maasai driver/babysitter (?) Kashu through SMS and at the moment they were at the KWS HQ at the main gate of Nairobi NP, so I got on another matatu to go there. I had warned David that I’m a very boring person that doesn’t say much, but he didn’t remember. He thought it was a not so nice Chinese gorilla-watching girl who had written that. David was about the same as in written form, with BLOCK LETTERS and exclamation marks! The restaurant “Ranger’s” was closed and I think it was Kashu who decided we go to the Carnivore instead. Not my kind of place, but they had a very good vegetable curry at ten times the price at a normal restaurant. Neither David nor Kashu had any game meat. I learnt that David never drinks water in Kenya. Then we went to see some of David’s friends at a nyama choma place. Nice people, though I got some complaints about being too quiet. David wasn’t quiet; he had to “talk naughty” because it’s the only way to make people laugh. Afterwards we met Kashu’s girlfriend at another place. She wasn’t entirely happy about her boyfriend taking David on safari. If I understood things right – which I never do – there’s witchcraft involved in those safaris.

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    Next day I was off to Wilson Airport again. This time I had to pay 1,000 shillings for my 5-kg overweight. We landed on the lovely airstrip on Manda island where Mohamed, who was sent by Yumbe House, helped me with my bag to the boat, over the dark waters to Lamu, and then, through the mazy streets, to Yumbe. The heat made me choose a room with two big net covered windows. The price for a single room with breakfast was 1,100 shillings. A town with donkeys instead of cars is pure bliss; just watch where you step… Besides frequenting the streets as beast of burden, the donkeys go for a stroll in their spare time. In Lamu there are 21 mosques and 3 places that serve alcohol. It suits me just fine because you can get fresh fruit juice – pineapple, passion, mango, lime, banana etc. – for 30 shillings per small (cocktail) glass and 50 shillings per large (pint) glass. I love muezzins, even at 4.30 AM; wasn’t it because I’m an atheist I would chose a religion with music that follows the beat of your heart. The first evening a young man with slightly mad eyes (drugs?) and a big smile sat down at my table at a restaurant and tried to teach me to play bao. He’s known in Lamu, so I’ll call him Captain H (everyone in Lamu is a captain) It wasn’t complicated at all, but I was hot, tired and not very interested in games. Instead he took me on a guided walk that he emphasised he didn’t want to get paid for. He also invited me to some snacks. The problem with the guided walk was that it was so dark I couldn’t see anything. You really need a torch to get back to your hotel at night. There is always someone to show you the way, but you can step in just anything, or, mostly donkey droppings. To go on a dhow trip I had to find some other people to share the cost, so I couldn’t commit to going with Captain H’s boat. To pay back I decided to see Captain H’s family’s woodcarving place next morning and do some shopping. That night a rat was making a lot of noise with, what I considered an empty bag of potato crisps, in the waste bin next to my bed. I put the bin at the other side of the room. The curtain behind my head sounded “flap flap flap” in the wind and I imagined rats were entering through holes in the net. I convinced myself they weren’t going to gnaw on my hair and then I fell asleep until the cocks woke up and I was told God is great - long before sunrise.

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    In the morning I saw there were no holes in the net, but there was rat evidence in the waste bin. Mohamed waited for me to take me on a guided walk and I had to say I was seeing Captain H. Mohamed would have been a better guide. He told me that Captain H was a con man, but when they met they greeted each other in a very friendly way. Captain H showed me the highest building in Lamu and then he took me to some woodcarvers where I bought dhow’s eyes. The sand fly bites were bringing tears to my eyes and I needed a pair of flip-flops. Captain H quickly bought me a pair and didn’t want any money. The flip-flops were very bad for the skin between my toes. Captain H introduced me to his friend R at her house and then he asked me to wait there until he’d be back. R invited me to sit down on her bed and she told me about her two young children, that she liked Lamu, but sometimes had to go to Mombasa for a week for partying, that Jannat House was the most discreet place to have a beer – there were cousins everywhere in Lamu. She also showed me an album with pictures from her brother’s wedding to a white, or more precisely red (why didn’t she start working on her tan well in advance of the wedding?) woman and her son’s circumcision. Captain H returned after an hour. I never quite understood what he’d been doing. He wanted to take me for a walk to his family shamba, but I was hot, tired and wanted to cure my foot. Now I regret not going; it would have been interesting. What I regret even more is not going out to drink with R. Now afterwards I’ve begun to think that maybe she’d asked Captain H to bring her non-Muslim women that she could have fun with. I’m a boring almost-teetotaller, but I could have made an effort.

    Next morning I wanted to go to Shela, but first I had to get some good walking shoes. A rastaman who was working at a “Culture Studio” showed me where I could buy shoes and after a couple of shops I bought a pair of ugly sandals that wouldn’t touch my sand fly bites. A German nurse, Elke, on holiday from her work for Médicins Sans Frontières in Sudan was staying at Yumbe and, as I, was going to Shela after arranging a couple of things. We went together around 11 AM – too late and too hot. It was a long, hot and sandy path, for the most time away from the beach. It would have been more enjoyable hadn’t I tried to walk as if I was in better shape than I really was. Before reaching Shela, the straps of both my sandals had come off and I was walking barefoot. Shela was a beautiful little village, cleaner and more touristy than Lamu. We went to the start of the 12-kilometre beach of golden dunes. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit, so I only bathed my legs. Then I ate the vegetables Elke had brought – I didn’t think of bringing food either. I did buy some vegetable samosas for us from a beach vendor. Of course I got sun burned. I ruined my skin in the sun when I was young and I must do everything to avoid sunburn. We returned to Lamu town in Captain Ali’s small but fast sailboat. At don’t know the exact name of that kind of boat. A German couple who was developing Rwanda (don’t ask me how), Elke and her Belgian friend from Sudan were going on a dhow trip and I joined them. The German couple had already found a boat and we went to a curio shop where we paid some money in advance to buy groceries for lunch. The two men in the shop were chewing miraa (khat). I met Captain H, who knew I’d been seen with a rastaman, and he told me those people (rasta) sell drugs. To compensate that I wasn’t going with his boat I ordered a sign that said “karibuni” from him.

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    Next morning at 8 AM we sailed away with Captain Spoon and his crew of four aboard the Halaien. They had nicknames like Calamari and Coconut because their real names are Arabic and everyone had the same name. It’s called a “dhow trip”, but the correct name for the kind of boat we had is a “mashua”. I was impregnated in sun block and covered up. It was a cloudy day with some drizzle – perfect. We sailed over to Manda and into the mangrove sided creek that leads to the Takwa ruins. I’m not a sea person, but the German couple was impressed that the crew could sail in almost impossible angles to the wind. Before reaching the ruins we were collected by a small motorboat - the tide was too low for the mashua. Takwa is were the people of Shela lived before the wells got salty in the 17th century. The guide at Takwa told us a lion had killed some goats on Manda a week ago. I was probably the only one who believed him. While we were at the ruins, the part of the crew that stayed in the boat had fished five fish. After Takwa we sailed to Manda Beach where the crew cooked lunch. Coconut rice, grilled fish, vegetables unfortunately mixed with prawns and fresh fruit. Elke, who also was a vegetarian, and I could only have coconut rice and fruit. The channel between Manda Beach and Shela is so narrow you could swim over it, though there is a current. After lunch we just had a lazy beach life and the crew lay in the shade smoking whatever they were smoking. We got back to Lamu at 4 PM. This dhow trip including lunch cost only 2,500 shillings for five people. Even with tips it’s almost a robbery.

    In the evening I joined Elke and her friend at the posh Lamu Palace Hotel where we had some over cooked pasta. Next day I was leaving at 3 PM, so I had time to visit the donkey sanctuary and Captain H found me and gave me my sign. I paid a little extra because he had a big problem with the mast of his boat - it was broken. It might have been true. I was sad to leave the donkeys, but zebras have more stripes. I had emailed to book a cottage at Whistling Thorns between Kiserian and Isinya on the Pipeland Road south of Nairobi. At Manda airstrip I had to pay 1,000 shillings for my overweight – again. To get to Whistling Thorns I had sent an SMS to a Nairobi taxi driver called Alex. I didn’t get a confirmation that he’d got my message, so I sent another SMS – without a reply. I was sure nobody was going to pick me up, so in the morning of the day I was leaving I sent a message to a taxi driver, Jacob, recommended by Marie Louise at Whistling Thorns. At Wilson airport two taxi drivers were waiting for me: Jacob and someone sent by Alex. I was afraid everything was my fault, so I gave some money to the other driver and left with Jacob who was a gentleman who even stopped to let people cross the road! Later, when I met Alex he said it was his phone that wasn’t working, but I didn’t receive any more SMS during my trip. Weeks after I got back home my brother explained it was because my phone was full of old messages that I hadn’t erased.

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    It was a one-hour-drive to Whistling Thorns – a lovely place in the countryside at the foot of the Ngong Hills. A British-Dutch couple - Mike and Marie Louise - owns it. There are five horses, five dogs (Rotweiler/Doberman cross) and some pigs. I paid $ 32 for a cottage and breakfast and there’s a restaurant with good food – especially the salads. The only other guests were a nice British gay couple who was going on a trip to Lake Magadi next day ($ 125 for a car with driver). Marie Louise suggested I join them and they were too polite to say anything against that (or maybe they didn’t mind), so next morning I went to Magadi. It was a beautiful trip down to the Rift Valley and all the people we saw on the way were traditionally dressed Maasai. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Olorgesailie prehistoric site where lots of axes and some fossils have been left in place. It was interesting, but as hot as Lamu. On Lake Magadi there was so much soda it looked like snow and to walk on it was like walking on snow with a crust. There were flamingos and we saw a kudu. On the way to Magadi the only wildlife was some gerenuks and baboons. The Magadi Soda Co ran Magadi Town and the place was even hotter than Olorgesailie. We got back to the cool air of the highlands late in the afternoon. Next morning I went on a horse-ride with the “syce” Tanui in the hills near Whistling Thorns. I hadn’t sat on a horse for 11 years and 4 months and galloping among the giraffes was something I’d been thinking a lot about. My horse was called Onsgeluk. Unfortunately I had to wear an ugly and uncomfortable riding helmet. We saw lots of zebras, seven giraffes and some Thomson’s and we got quite close to them. I thought Tanui would start galloping on suitable ground, but he never did – I should have suggested it. It was more a walk on horse back than a ride. One hour cost 1,200 shillings. In the afternoon I went for a walk on my own in the same hills. I sat down on the ground surrounded by animals and with a view over the Ngong Hills. I could hear the thorn trees whistle! The giraffes stared at me and walked away and I wasn’t popular among to zebras either. How do you tell them you’re a vegetarian? When I got back to WT I had a look at some newborn pigs. I want one!

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    Next morning I returned to Nairobi with Jacob. I thought about asking him to make a stop at Daphne Sheldrick’s elephant nursery– it was the right time of the day – but then he took another road to show me Ngong. I had sent an SMS to one of the receptionists, but when I got to the Terminal it was full. They took me to the Embassy that charged the same price, but was cleaner and included breakfast. The Terminal staff insisted on taking me back next morning, but I said I didn’t want to change hotels for just one night – I’d be back next year.

    When I got out in the street a tout suggested I’d go to Nairobi National Park and without thinking twice I followed him to the office of Big Safari. Last year I’d paid $ 50, but now it was impossible to pay less than $ 60. I was told everybody else paid at least $ 70 and that “we eat because the tourists go to the NP”. That made me stop bargaining, but then I bargained for a better rate when paying in shillings. I complained about that last year the driver left the park before 6 PM to go to a curio shop and I was told I could ask the driver to stay until 6.30 PM. An intelligent looking Kikuyu driver whose name I can’t remember picked me up at 2 PM. Then we went to the Grand Regency and picked up an elderly, very overweight American. The American was working as a consultant in Nairobi for two weeks and was wearing, black shiny shoes, black trousers and a Hakuna Matata T-shirt. There were no more people and I was happy not to be stuffed with five people in a minibus. In the park there were absolutely no zebras at all and no impalas! We saw lots of giraffes, hartebeests, a jackal, ostriches, a kori bustard, buffaloes at a distance, giraffes running because of a lioness (hundreds of metres away from us), a hippo, a black rhino chasing terrified hartebeests (but at least 100 metres away) and just before leaving the park a lioness came out of the bushes and crossed the road in front of us. I asked the driver to stay longer, but he was only supposed to drive for four hours. I suppose I should have offered him more money. The American had had no idea about what to expect and was happy with what he’d seen.

    In the evening I noticed the disadvantage of the Embassy: it was in an empty, dark street next to City Market. Moktar Daddah Street, were the Terminal is, is a lot less scary. Around 7.30 PM I was on my way out to check my email. The receptionist told me to wait for someone to accompany me to a taxi. I said I was just going to a place a couple of hundred metres away and then he became quite melodramatic saying “as the receptionist of this hotel I advice you not to walk in the streets after dark”. At the Terminal they are a lot more relaxed. I said “I’ll run to a taxi at the corner” and then I ran. Instead of stopping where the taxis were I turned and ran up Koinange Street. One taxi driver yelled “stop, the taxis are here!”. I checked my email at a place in a new shopping centre opposite the Terminal and then I returned to the Embassy. I had dinner at Simba Mbili (shouldn’t it be “wawili”?) that’s the restaurant inside the Embassy. The receptionist, another Jacob, from the Terminal to whom I had sent the SMS turned up on his way to work and was very sorry.

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    Next morning I had a bad headache and I assumed it was because it was the last day before I was leaving and I hadn’t found a way to stay in Kenya. I went to City Market to buy a kilo of passion fruit and gifts. I felt dizzy, but thought it was normal with the kind of sales techniques used at that place. I managed to get out of City Market, left my shopping at the hotel and took a matatu to Westlands. I wanted to go to the big bookshop at Sarit Centre and buy a few more gifts at a place with fixed prices. Somehow I got off the matatu in the wrong place, way past Sarit Centre, and I had to return on another matatu. This matatu was full, had very loud music and dark windows and I missed Sarit Centre again. I told the mananba (tout/conductor) and asked to be dropped off at the next stop. He thought it would be a better idea to stay seated until the matatu returned to Westlands. Down at the city centre everyone got off and we tried to get new passengers. A policeman pointed at the matatu with his baton and then he got on and sat down next to the driver. After some nervous laughter he was given money by the manamba and was dropped off at the police station. The manamba said he was sorry I’d seen such an ugly side of Kenya. He’d had to pay because they didn’t have a bumper. Eventually we got back to Westlands. I hadn’t been asked to pay again, but I felt I should pay something, especially as they’d lost money to the disgusting policeman. I looked into my bag, but my wallet wasn’t there. We looked on the floor and between the seats, but it was nowhere. About 5000 shillings, $ 50 (I don’t know why I was carrying dollars) and my Visa card were gone. I had to make a phone call to block the card as soon as possible, but I had no money to make a call. I’d never made a call with my mobile in Kenya. I tried to remember how to dial (lots of # and the like), but it didn’t work. At a place where you could make phone calls I asked if I could make a call and pay later, but the employee couldn’t let me do that. Then I remembered that the Swedish embassy was within walking distance. I went there thinking they’d lend me a phone immediately.

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    I explained the situation at the security control and was told there was nobody at the embassy and that I’d have to come back next day. After a while one of the guards asked at the reception, checked my bag and told me to sit down and wait. While I was waiting I almost felt how my account, with a big part of my financial assets, was being emptied. After about half an hour a Swedish woman appeared. She said the person on duty with the “emergency folder” (I hope there wasn’t a real emergency that day) was in a meeting with a minister and she herself didn’t know what to do – she only knew that the policy was that people should make phone calls themselves – not at the embassy. That I’d pay for the phone calls when I got some money – I had Swedish money at the hotel – wasn’t an issue. She went to check some things and then she came back and said she’d let me make a call to block the Visa card. Luckily, I had the number in my bag. She was going to phone them up and then I’d take another phone. Nobody answered at the Visa blocking number, but there was a service number and the Visa lady blocked the card for me, though she couldn’t tell if any money was taken. The embassy employee told me that, if I was lucky, I could get the Visa money back on my insurance. Now the problem was to get back to the hotel without money. It was clear giving MONEY to PEOPLE was the biggest taboo of all. There was a woman at Migration who knew how Western Union worked and there was a branch within walking distance – at Sarit Centre. I got a glass of water while waiting for her. I wasn’t carrying any ID – my passport was at the hotel, but the very helpful Migration lady phoned Western Union and was told I could get money with a test question and control number. She let me phone my parents, who’d never heard of Western Union, but my brother was at home and he went to town to send some money. I walked away to Sarit Centre, found Western Union and was told that it was absolutely impossible to get any money there without ID. I’d have to go to the head office in the City Centre or I could ask at the Post Office if it was possible at Post Bank. I went to the Post Office at Sarit Centre. They did definitely not give out Western Union money with only a test question. I walked back to the embassy. My legs felt like spaghetti and being in such bad shape only a little stress and walking around would made my body useless disgusted me. I also thought about the thousands of people in Nairobi with acute money problem who couldn’t even dream of trying Western Union. I’d met quite a few of them and I hadn’t always given something to them. Back at the embassy the extremely helpful Migration lady phoned Western Union again without saying she was from the Swedish embassy – she pretended to be me – I felt a bit irritated, but maybe it’d only had made things worse. She came to the conclusion the only way was to go to the head office in the city centre where a man named Musimi would give me the money against the test question. Now her problem was that she couldn’t give money to people. I told her the matatu was 20 shillings – she had no idea – and she gave me 60 shillings, from her private money, I suppose. I didn’t have to pay for the phone calls. My head was spinning and I thought I was going to pass out. I asked to use the bathroom where I sat down for a while. Then I powdered my nose, thanked the Migration lady again, and left.

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    The Western Union head office was on Kenyatta Avenue. At the first office I found they’d never heard of Musimi nor did they know about a head office, but they pointed out another Western Union at the other side of the street. My wallet disappeared around noon and now it was 4.30 PM. At the other office Musimi had left for the day. The man I was talking to needed some ID, any card with my name and a number. The Migration lady had told Western Union my passport had been stolen, so I couldn’t go to the hotel to get it, but I had a copy. It would do for the WU man and I went to the hotel and got it. At last I got my (my brother’s) money. I was told that 10 percent of people were robbed – don’t know if it was every day. It was because there were so many Kikuyus, “like this one”, the WU man looked at his colleague who laughed. In Kalenjin country I would be perfectly safe. Now I had to go to the police station. The Migration lady had said maybe it would be safer to get the money after going to the police. At the police station there was a queue. I sat down and leaned against the dirty wall with paint that was peeling off. When it was my turn I told the story leaving out the policeman and the bribe. Everything was written by hand and I was told I should have written down the number of the matatu. Then I was told to go to office number 5 to get an official report. It was 6 PM and the person with the official stamp had left, I had to come back at 8 AM next morning. When I said I was leaving next morning I got my document stamped anyway. I walked to the big new Nakumatt supermarket opposite the Terminal where I bought a lot of things to drink and some yoghurt and cookies for dinner. Then I emailed my parents and the Migration lady telling them I’d got the money.

    When I got back to the hotel I had to sit down in the reception before walking up the stairs. I told the receptionist my wallet had been stolen and that I’d been walking around trying to fix things since noon, and he laughed. Maybe he didn’t understand what I said. Anyway, at the Terminal they would have felt sorry for me.

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    That night my sheets felt like they were on fire and in the morning my face was even redder than it’d been because of the sunburn. I had to sit on the bed to brush my teeth and put up my hair and I understood I had a fever. Somehow I managed to get down the stairs and into Jacob’s taxi. He was the first person who felt sorry for me. He was appalled of what had happened to me and he said I should have phoned (!) him and he’d have been there in a minute. At the airport I bought a small bird book and a map of the Mara. At the Sarit Centre I would have bought a lot more books and a CD with taarab music. Then I had to go to gate where I waited for hours sleeping without reclining my head. Once aboard the plane we where told the flight was late because the pilot had been called to his home and another pilot had to take his flight. Some passengers weren’t going to be able to catch their connecting flights and they’d be taken to hotels. I hoped I’d be fetched in Amsterdam and taken to a cool soft Dutch bed. There was no way I’d manage to cross that enormous airport to get to the gate of the Stockholm plane. I slept the whole way to Amsterdam, only waking up to take a few bites of the meals and to drink. I did get to my gate, but I broke my tradition of buying the “cheese of the month” and some tulip bulbs. I did buy a Toblerone and left my boarding card in the shop. I was terrified I’d had to walk back, but I got a new boarding card at the gate.

    If anyone has read this entire report (hello mum) now is the time for some advice about travelling in Kenya. I don’t feel qualified to give general advice, but I can write what I have to think about next time. I have to:
    1. Protect my eyes and skin from the sun.
    2. Wear good shoes
    3. Not carry all my money in the same place
    4. Avoid being bitten by sand flies. How?
    5. Talk more, especially Swahili
    6. Have more knowledge about birds and plants – and people
    7. Drink alcohol
    8. Be in better physical shape
    9. Do everything to find a way to stay in Kenya

    Someone had paid about $ 95 with my Visa card at a pharmacy, but it was a “protected amount”, so the pharmacy didn’t get any money and I hope someone got some medicines that he needed. I was ill with a fever for a week, but now I’m OK and thinking about how to get back to Kenya.

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    hi sue, this made me laugh. did i send you the pic with the MCHAWI word scraped into the mud on the truck? try to mail kashu he will be glad to hear from you. i have no idea where joseph has been. oh the naughty thing. it works hon he-he.
    see ya

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    Thanks so much for your awesomely detailed report. You certainly have had many experiences that none of us have had. Glad that on the whole the trip was great for you. We all understand your obsession with Kenya/
    Africa. We too feel the same way.


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    This is one of the best trip reports I've ever read. You have a matter-of-fact way of writing the most telling details, while leaving out just enough to make it all quite mysterious. My favorite: "If I compare Samburu to a chocolate bar it would be a milk chocolate with orange crunch. Tsavo East would be 80 % cacao dark chocolate and the Mara is filled with marzipan and cherries in brandy." I have no idea what this really means but I love it anyway. I can't argue with anyone who uses chocolate to make her points. Now I think maybe we should all do the same. Thank you for writing this.

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    I really enjoyed reading your trip report, misadventures and all! The wild dog sighting at Samburu certainly must have been exciting. And I also loved your chocolate comparisons ;)

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Wow, what an interesting trip. Thank you for the report--very beautifully written. And, as I don't have any immediate plans to visit Kenya, I'm going to have to go on a chocolate-buying expedition so I can get a better sense of what it's like.

    Thanks again, Nyamera. Welcome home!

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    Jan, matnikstym, Lisa, Patty, Leely: Thanks for all your nice comments – I’m happy you enjoyed my trip report.

    In case some things I’ve written about certain establishments sound negative: on the whole, I can recommend all mentioned, except the Western Union office in Sarit Centre – even Nairobi Central Police Station isn’t too bad.

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    Thanks for the entertaining report.

    Your animal sightings on the way to the airport were impressive. Including the road kill was a hoot, but also sad for an animal lover.

    So sorry about your stolen wallet. Such things can be a nightmare.

    I'm glad there is someone else out there that enjoys bats in the bathroom. I too consider it a bonus.

    I was especially interested in your 4 nights in Samburu. You mentioned some of the other camps there also.

    Do you have a camp recommendation based on your experience and observations there?

    Were you glad you spent 4 nights?

    How frequent were your gerenuk sightings in Samburu?

    Wild dogs in Samburu is a cause for celebration. What a lucky sighting!

    Finally, enjoyed your horseback riding account.

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    Jambo Atravelynn,

    If money’s not an issue, I’d recommend Elephant Watch. I didn’t see the camp, but I’ve seen the website.
    Larsen’s Camp has 17 tents compared to the 27 of Intrepids, but as it’s fenced as well I don’t think it’s worth the extra money. I didn’t visit Larsen’s – I only saw the fence when on a game drive.
    I wish there would be an unfenced camp with around 10 en-suite tents on the ground and a restaurant covered by a canvas shade – and with reasonable rates. No swimming pool and no massage – unless some of the staff or a guest would like to give it for free.

    I was glad I stayed 4 nights instead of 3, but 5 would have been even better. I think 3 nights is an absolute minimum for Samburu.

    I didn’t keep a journal, but I would say there was, on average, one gerenuk sighting per game drive. Maybe there was one game drive without gerenuks and one with gerenuks in two different places. They were always in groups of 4-6.

    I saw one moose on the way to the airport. When I checked with my father if I remembered correctly he said I saw one moose and he saw two that I didn’t see. We were lucky with the foxes. Roe deer and hares are very common, as are, sadly, the flat badgers. I left home at 3.30 AM.

    A driver who had been taking guests to Samburu for 5 year told us he had never seen wild dogs.

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    atravelynn -

    Another camp up Samburu way is Bedouin Camp... smaller then both Intrepids, Larsens. Though Larsen's, one of the first camps up here had been closed for awhile and recently reopened under new ownership and completely refurbished.

    Check-out Bedouin Camp for this area.

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    Thank you so much for sharing your trip report. I'm leaving for Kenya on September 3 for my first trip to Africa and I'm getting very excited. I love reading other peoples reports as they help me ponder what lies ahead.

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    Here are some photos from my trip:

    WARNING: low quality photos. I used a “point and shoot” camera with a “35mm–70mm” zoom – whatever that means. Anyway, I had to exclude some pictures where the animals are impossible to spot. The scanner wasn’t too clean and the pictures in my slideshow aren’t as big as in other people’s slideshows. Anyone knows why? At first when I uploaded them they where big, but after applying “instant fix” and “borders” they became small and stay so even when I try “ revert to original”.

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    I really enjoyed looking at these, and agree with Patty regarding Lamu: it looks amazing. I love all the donkeys.

    As a fellow point-and-shoot user, I agree that it's difficult to really capture the beauty of your surroundings. But I think you did!


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    Loved seeing your photos. You are one lucky lady! I've been to Samburu three times in a year and have never gotten to see the wild dogs or tree-climbing lions.

    Also glad that you included some pictures of yourself. Nice touch.

    Are you planning your return yet?


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    Thanks for all the nice comments.

    Patty and Leely, Yes, Lamu is amazing. It’s the best non-wildlife place I’ve visited. Maybe because the “tamelife” is quite wild.

    Jan, I started planning my next trip before going on my last. At the moment it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to travel in the foreseeable future, but I’m considering multiple case scenarios, and, if I’m very lucky, I’ll extend to Tanzania – Ngorongoro and western Serengeti - in June next year. I’ve been to different places on my three trips: first the Mara; next time I wanted to go back to the Mara but decided to see other parts of Kenya and went to Tsavo East; this year I wanted to return to the Mara and Tsavo East, but went to Samburu – and now I want to return there as well. If there’s a possibility for me to travel next year and the Serengeti turns out too expensive I’ll return to the Mara. I still haven’t seen Amboseli and Tsavo West nor northerly places like Maralal and Lake Turkana and, in Tanzania, I also have to see Tarangire and the southern parks – and there are gorillas and chimps in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania… There are places outside East Africa I would like to see as well, but these are “wants” – East Africa is a “need”.

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    Nyamera -

    Like Jan, I never saw tree climbing lions or wild dogs at Samburu - lucky you.

    ... and I see you became good friends with those sneaky vervet monkeys who just love morning cookies. It's amazing to watch them open the zippers of the tents. And, oh so funny.

    Donkeys - other then foot, they're the best means of transport through the narrow alleys on Lamu; glad to see these photos.

    I also found the border on the photos quite interesting and added a certain mystical air to them.

    Best - your later comment "East Africa is a 'need'". My sentiments exactly.

    Thanks for sharing.

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