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Trip report part 3 by cooked chicken

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Jan 5th, 2006, 07:40 AM
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Trip report part 3 by cooked chicken

I have started a new thread for this report because I do not like the monicker "fresh meat" anymore. After 5 days in the Mara I am an old hand now! Cooked chicken is chosen as tribute to the Kenyan food - all of which offered to me was good and tasty and all of which seemed to be chicken.

Gibson the safari man arrived only half an hour late with his safari van and driver at
6.45. We were not happy but it's all water off a duck's back to G. "Hakuna Matata.. you will see many animals today - rhino, monkey, leopard, buffalo ... er.." "Dik-dik..?" I offer, since he is clearly running out of animals he knows. "Yesss ... dik-dik too". I begin to notice that G hisses the sound "s". Also, that he has very thin lips for a Kenyan. The van was clearly one that had been dumped by a more reputable operator and carried the name of another less reputable safari operator on the door - G's insignia were on a piece of white card sellotaped inside the back window. It was okay but rattled a bit which would have been extremely embarrassing in the Masai Mara.

G of course is a middleman and my advice would be to avoid them. Lunch was originally to be included but we ended up buying not only our own lunch but that of our driver-guide too. This is par for the course and if you don't have my sense of humour and patience (to wheedle the money back out of G or cut it from the offer price of the next "sevice")someone like G could ruin your holiday. It's not the money, but the hassle because there's always an unexpected hitch or something will cost more than agreed now and you have to listedn to a convoluted explanation and wonder whether there is any danger if you play hardball at this point, out in the middle of nowhere...There are at least two reputable companies in Nakuru with real offices if you ever need them.

Anyway, G was forgiven after 5 minutes (that's how far it is from Nakuru town center to the park) because a leopard was stalking a group of thomsons gazelles just 100 meters from the park entrance and had just been spotted by one of the rangers when we arrived at the gate. We'd have missed it if Gibson had been on time. We spotted the leopard ourselves after about a minute of looking - just 30 meters from the road but hiding in a dry stream bed under a bush. It was fascinating to watch her stalking the gazelle for 10 minutes. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a gazelle-lover) some birds spotted her too and sounded the alarm, and the gazelles moved away ... not far, but enough to let the leopard know she'd been rumbled. She was miffed and sashayed back down the stream bed to the road, right past our van and then down the road 30 meters, before turning and giving the gazelles a last wistful look (or us or the birds a dirty look, I am not sure) before disappearing into a bush. We drove down to see if we could see her but she was totally gone. And if you are thinking it was actually us who gave the game away, well it could be true but she was spotted after the birds squarked and flew, not when we arrived, so I prefer not to believe the rattle of our van deprived the leopard of breakfast (which I would feel extremely bad about).

I thought the park itself was great for spotting animals, but rather in the way of an open zoo. The housing estates and the factories in the background were somewhat offputting and there were a lot of Kenyan families driving around in battered old Toyota saloons. Hightlights of the day were the flamingos (of course), a baby white rhino sleeping with two adult rhinos and two adult buffalos in the shade of a tree, and two male rhinos doing the cha cha cha in the open space at the foot of the lake - our driver told us they weer fighting but it was all three steps forward, touch horns; three steps back, touch horns, three steps forward...etc. We watched them for 10 minutes or so and they just kept repeating the moves with tiny variations. Of course it was actually fascinating and I could have stayed much longer, but our driver (who contrary to G-level expectations was actually quite knowledgable) told us they could go on like that for ages, so we drove on.

Oh, I forgot the dik-diks. My wife loves them and I have to admit they're cute. We'd seen them in the Masaai Mara but never this close up - another thing about the animals in Lake Nakuru National Park is that they appear so used to vehicles it is almost unnerving - just standing there when you stop 3 meters away from them (I know that is too close but if they are feeding right by the side of the road what can you do?).

Baboon cliffs in the early evening are a must for the view of the flamingos and lake and for the rock hyraxes playing around. The baboons are not too aggressive either, so far as I could see.

We had lunch with our driver and over a beer he told us amusing but tragic horror stories about driving for a budget safari company doing trips to Mombassa - such as the clients who told him since they had hired a car and driver for 24 hours a day he should be available for all that time - so if some of them wanted to stay out until 3 a.m. and others wanted to set off on a drive at 6 a.m he would have to serve them both!! He also remarked admiringly on how clean our clothes were. We felt somewhat confused by this but thanked him and told him that people from Thailand probably valued cleanliness of clothes in the same way as Kenyans seemed to do (actually we always wore long trousers and shirts when in company in Kenya because we could see from the way Kenyans dress up it was the right thing to do, but as for cleanliness..... we did try but were getting a bit grubby by day 13... with all the dust we were going through two sets of clothes a day and the laundry just couldn't keep up).

G had accepted a much reduced price for the drive to and pick up from Lake Baringo and so we decide to use him again, for the sake of the luck his tardiness had brought us with the leopard. He showed up with a Toyota with a big crack in the window and an extremely taciturn driver who had bad BO and insisted on driving with his arm resting on the open window pane .... wind, armpits, passenger behind the driver.. guess where I was told to sit after we had taken our picture of the equator? Anyway we arrived safely and in good time with G's commentary on the fauna and flora ringing in our ears ("You sssee the acacia trees? And the honey? They sssell very good honey here. And that'sss coffee). He pointed out Lake Bogoria about 100 meters after we had passed the second signpost for it....

Lake Baringo is a very, very peaceful place. You drive through desert scrub and a very harsh, unforgiving landscape and sduddenly there is this oasis and everything is green again and totally silent except for the bird song. It is very pretty rather than stunningly beautiful but the peace and the water and the birds make it lovely. I am not a twitcher - wouldn't know a warbler from a wagtail - but I was glad my wife had bought me a birding book at the Serena gift shop (itchy fingers and a kind of thanks for persuading her to come because "If we want to sit around watching birds we can do it in our garden" was another of her pre-safari statements) when we got to Lake Baringo. The sun was extremely hot there - one downside - but from 4.30 until dusk and from 6 a.m until 9 I was down in the trees by the water, listening, looking for and taking photos of birds. Never done this before, and I might never again, but the place is magical in that way - everyone's a twitcher all of a sudden. Highly recommended as a place to be at peace with yourself and the world. Even the heat is a plus to some extent, since it means you are forced to do nothing much at all for a good part of the day. Boat ride is a must - and one hour is much too short.
I guess location is not in its favour but if it could fit it would make a great stopover between fairly active visits to two of the bigger parks. Lake Baringo Club is just okay - basic facilities for the price but perfectly servicable and the food is very good, and the grounds are nice, wooded and full enough of birds that you don't need to go elsewhere for a one night stay. By the way, they no longer do trips to the cliffs (except boat trips) unless you have your own vehicle, or (to my wife's great disappointment) camel rides. It's reasonably priced at USD 115 per night for two, full board.

Highlight was watching the weavers make their nests over a swamp at dusk while listening to the hippos grunting as they went about their business just out of sight in the reeds.

Next day G turned up on time, pointed out more coffee plants and honey (and lake Bogoria again for good measure) and we arrived back in Nakuru in time for a final chicken dinner at the Midland.

This was the least good part of the trip - in the Lake District - but there was lots that was good and it was certainly worthwhile except for the disastrous waste of a day off in Nakuru. Stick with the nature and stay out of towns is one lesson, and the other is stay with a single operator for as long as it makes sense, and when it doesn't arrange the transport in advance - it is such a waste of some of those precious few hundred hours you have in Kenya bothering to arrange things... "Mother.. tell your children...not to do what I have done... and spend your hours in sin and misery, in the town of Mr. G"

The final installment has G deliriously happy with his knowledge of flora as we pass through coffee country, the wonderful Mountain Lodge and the surprisingly (perhaps for some) good choice of the Jacaranda for a last day in Nairobi.

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Jan 5th, 2006, 08:36 AM
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you really should keep all your reports on the same thread, easier to locate in the future. aside from that, i've enjoyed reading your stories! Thanks!
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Jan 5th, 2006, 08:54 AM
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Thanks for the great read.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 09:06 AM
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Thank you Matnikstym. You are quite right. And I didn't even include a link for the original thread!

I guess my error cannot now be undone?

Here is that forgotten link to the original thread for future readers

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34730608

Paul


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Jan 5th, 2006, 09:12 AM
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kimburu:
Lynda can take care of it when she adds your links to her index--she can put them together.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 09:22 AM
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kimburu:

You wrote:
"there were a lot of Kenyan families driving around in battered old Toyota saloons."
Would you please explain what this means?

Thanks-

Cyn
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Jan 5th, 2006, 09:23 AM
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Hurray for Lynda! And thanks for sparing me more blushes.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 10:04 AM
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Cyn
What I mean is what it says, except that "a lot" may be a gross exaggeration - when I think back critically, we probably saw about 12 the whole day but most were around the same time in the afternoon - after lunch - which made it stick in the mind as an impression. It was a Sunday and quite a few locals or people from Nairobi were visiting the park in their cars, with their families and friends. Most cars in Kenya seem pretty battered - with the roads and the cost compared to the standard of living it's not surprising. They weren't wrecks, and the people in them were looking at the game just like us. They were just not congruous somehow.

The point in the context of the report is that the park had a very different feel to the Mara and (apart from the town in the background at points)the very normal family day out cars was one of the reasons it perhaps felt like an open zoo at times.

If you are asking because it is somewhere you are thinking of visiting, let me say it is beautiful in places and very worthwhile for both protecting and viewing animals (you are guaranteed to see a lot)in what is a natural habitat (albeit surrounded at close quarters by fields, roads and a town) and the lake with the flamingos is really a must-see thing. But it never felt really wild - my wife felt it more strongly than me and maybe she influenced me, but somehow it's a place I'm glad I went but I don't have the desire to go back again. I think if we had gone there before the Mara we would have felt differently and been tremendously excited by it.


Hope I have not missed the point of your question! Tried to guess two different reasons you might have asked, but feel free to ask again.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 10:24 AM
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Kimburu:

I just don't know what a "toyata saloon" is. I keep picturing these vehicles with open beer kegs and whisky bottles in them - actually quite a comical picture in my mind, but I'm thinking not the one you intended?

cyn
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Jan 5th, 2006, 03:33 PM
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Cyn
Oh, language! Picked up the habit of using the word saloon from speaking Thai all the time. It's to do with the classification of things. It is supposed to clarify what kind of vehicle it is but I guess "car" would have done it better, or at least "saloon car" if I wanted to keep all the Thai readers out there happy.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 05:55 PM
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Hello Cyn,

A saloon (in British English) is what would be called a 'sedan' in the US.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 5th, 2006, 11:27 PM
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This is great! I love your humor. Can't wait for the next installment. We also found Baringo enchanting.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 07:14 AM
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One of the funniest and true to life safari experiences. You really got the feel (smell) of the country. Want to hear more.
 
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Jan 6th, 2006, 08:25 AM
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Agreed: this report is howlingly funny. I went back and re-read part 1 just for entertainment value. Also great that you and your wife were just able to roll with all the little glitches and bumps that accompany a trip to East Africa.

Thanks again. And it's exciting that you're already planning your triumphant return to Kenya.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 08:43 AM
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Kimburu,
Love your report - pulled me right in with your 1st title as a different and refreshingly entertaining read. Look forward to the rest.
Thanks;
Sherry
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Jan 6th, 2006, 10:04 AM
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Thank you for your encouragement. I am glad you enjoy reading it since I certainly enjoy writing it and reliving it.

I will finish tomorrow since it is after midnight now - had to stay at work until 9 tonight to clear the backlog that had built up from talking reading and writing about Kenya this week during office hours.

Thanks again to all those who posted over the past year for helping prepare us for this trip (even though I was only "spying" at that stage) and for helping to make sure the next trip will be even better.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 11:28 AM
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yea, isn't that annoying thing called work a distraction from what our lives are truly about.
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Jan 7th, 2006, 03:50 AM
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We left early from Mountain Lodge and the farewell to Nakuru wasn't quite as sad as that to the Masaai Mara. G had promised us new transport - "much more room for you" - after I had fired him the evening before (after much wailing, many apologies and much hand wringing and ssssincere offersss of friendsssship I had relented - both my wife and I have too soft hearts at times and if that sounds arrogant keep in mind we were paying G. the proper price for this service - I had done research before we left and wanted to be very fair without encouraging G. to continue with his "as much as you can possibly afford" pricing strategy).

Anyway G. turned up with his much more roomy transport. While it is certainly true that there was a lot of room inside, the 4 rows of seats made it rather difficult to take advantage of that room. Yes, the @#**#% had rented a matatu and driver for the day (sorry I lost all affection for him for a moment, but in fact G. is someone we will laugh about ftogether for years to come and we really regert not having our picture taken with him). Fortunately the road to Nyeri is good all the way. The trip was nice (tip: better with leg room) and the countryside was incredibly green despite there being something of a drought on. We stopped at Thomson's Falls - and even though it was only Thomson's Swoon due to the drought, it is a pretty place and it would have been nice to walk down to the foot if we had had more time. We got stopped by police roadblocks seven times on the way to Nyeri because we were in a Matatu - so you see we got a real authentic Kenyan experience - but they always let us go on when they saw there were only a couple of mzungu (sorry "wazungu" - my wife is learning Swahili now - although strictly speaking I don't think my wife is mzungu) they waved us on with many smiles and a few looks which said "this is a safety check for your own good sir and under absolutely no circumstances would we accept payment to overlook flaws in the vehicle transporting you". Since this a ritual in Thailand too just before expensive times of year (it was 21 December by this time) we found it interesting to compare the manner adopted by Kenyan police when demanding bribes from drivers to that usually adopted by Thai policemen. The Kenyans win in terms of looking officious and carrying semi-automatic weapons, but the actual taking of the cash is done with more surreptitious style in Thailand - plus you occasionally get a salute in Thailand after handing over cash, which is a nice touch.

Sorry, that is not relevant to this board!

Mountain Lodge is about 30 km from Nyeri on a good road - even when it is not surfaced. In fact this road is ten times more comfortable than the Nyeri-Nairobi road. Around Nyeri is real coffee and tea country and the intense greenness of the plants on the steep valley sides makes for a really pretty picture. G was delighted to be able to point out coffee planataion after coffee plantation and barely missed any.

Once we got off the main road we started to generate a lot of interest among the local population, who all smiled when they saw us coming and then looked puzzled when we passed them. People even came out of the fields with big bags of agricultural produce when they saw us trundling over the brow of a hill, waving on the way. It didn't take me long to work out that this was not because mzungu/wazungu never came this way and they wished to provide us with goodwill fferings of goodwill, but because we were in an unconverted matatu and they wanted a ride to town.

Mountain Lodge is built among the trees overlooking a waterhole in Mount Kenya National Park. There is a beautiful view of Mount Kenya from most of the rooms (some are partially obstructed by very tall trees)and an underground viewing area right next to a well that has been dug to attract the elephants and buffalo (dung-free water tastes better I am sure). It is all made of wood and creaks when people walk and bangs when they walk quickly. Sound really travels (partly a function of the wood and partly being in a clearing surrounded by thick forst - a kind of natural ampitheater) and although it is very cosy and romantic in bed with the hot water bottle and the cold, fresh mountain air is invigorating, I was dissuaded not to get "frisky" by the knowledge that most of the staff and guests and all of the animals at the waterhole would be listening whether they liked it or not (and I am quite sure not!). A couple had an argument in the room next to us and I am glad we do not speak Swedish because we were able to ignore every word. I should say that my experience was that except for that couple next door to us the obvious amplification of sound and the fact that every room has a balcony overlooking the waterhole seemed to help make Mountain Lodge a very quiet place, even when it was full. So this is not a negative - unless perhaps it is the first night of your honeymoon.

Too many asides; back to the reporting. The rooms and bathrooms at Mountain Lodge are slightly smaller than usual, but I would never call them cramped, as I have heard complaints about some of the other similar lodges. The waterhole was pretty busy during our stay. We were visited by groups of elephants twice each day and the waterbucks, buffalos and bushbucks were permanent fixtures during daylight hours. We both fell in love with this kind of wildlife watching here. It is great to sit with the "wide angle" view provided by being slightly above the action and to watch how the animals behave and ineract with with each other and the other animals. If you stay a couple of days you can see that the different types of animals have set times. The waterbucks and bushbucks come early and then move when the buffalos start arriving at about 9 or 10 in the morning. The elephants can arrive whenever they want and the buffalos then move to one side to chew the cud. When the elephants leave the buffalos return, but later the waterbucks come back and sure enough soon the buffalos make space for them by going off to one side of the waterhole to chew the cud again. When the buffalos and waterbucks start moving off as dusk comes, the bushbucks come out from the bushes... it's not quite as straightforward but it is pretty much that way. At night the sound from the forest is fantastic - tree hyraxes, monkeys, birds and hyenas among others I could not identify making a general racket and then a huge racket when there is a predator. A leopard was around the first night we were there and although it did not come out of the bushes to the waterhole to pose for the tourists we could hear that it was moving away from us from the screaming of monkeys and birds - the tree hyraxes seem to scream regardless of any threat. I stayed up until 2 a.m. the first night watching young hyenas playing around the waterhole and practicing their hunting skills with the resident geese - they scored 2 out of 10 on my scale and I think the other members of their pack felt the same because both nights we were there this group of young hyenas was dumped by the waterhole all night while the others went off hunting. It was fascinating to watch the hyenas meeting and greeting as one returned from the bush to the waterhole. The four young ones also encountered a family of giant forest hogs on the second night. They decided they would "hunt" the very young hogs but whenever they got close, the mother would charge them and they would scatter. I guess that hyenas don't get that much giant forest pork because the mother seemed totally unconcerned and only charged them when they got really close. We also saw owls, mongooses (three different kinds which I will not embarrass myself by trying to name now because I do not have my book handy) the regular genet - which is baited - hares and warthogs. We would probably have seen more if it hadn't been for the hyenas!

Food was very good, and the service was excellent - even better than at the Serena in the Mara I thought, but likewise deteriorated noticably when they were completely full on the second night.

This was another place where we felt really, really relaxed and peaceful, and we went on forest walks both days -note that we did not see much in terms of wildlife but it was nice to have a walk in the forest anyway since the only other exercise I got was running down stairs to the underground viewing room to try to get pictures of elephants drinking from the well next to it - missed them by two seconds twice but have some fantastic close ups of elephant bottoms to post later. I suppose you have to count lifting a wine glass to your lips at the bar as exercise in these circumstances, or possibly "breathing" or you wouldn't be able to eat all four courses at dinner.

We were once again sorry to be leaving and I feel it is nice to be sad to leave somewhere. That feeling is why my wife was already planning our next trip by this time. I kept on telling her to enjoy this one first, but she wouldn't stop about Tsavo and how we have to come back to Mountain Lodge again on our way to Samburu. All pictures of my wife at this time feature a copy of Lonely Planet or Insight in the fore or background - she now has five more books and a swahili phrasebook which she complains is not detailed enough. This is a changed person who has sworn off designer bags and clothes and all other things that cost money which should be spent on Kenya ... from now on a Louis Vuitton bag is three nights at Finch Hattons and an MNG top is an extra night game drive!

G arrives to pick us up and we take a short cut through ever more remote villages where people are again hailing us all the way. It's nice to attract attention, but we were beginning to feel seriously unfriendly and were wondering whether perhaps we shouldn't just stop to take these people somewhere. However, before we could decide what to do about the fares (no way G. was getting them) we were back on the main road. We have to drive off road at times it's condition is so bad.

We arrive at the Jacaranda before 2 o'clock - it took nearly four hours because it is nearly Christmas and a weekend and the traffic is heavy. We chose this hotel because we need to buy lots of souvenirs as gifts - it is a normal thing in Thailand that one takes back souvenirs for everyone and it must be done. The hotel is right next to the big shopping mall, Sarit Center, and to the souvenir market where the stalls sell all the things that the tourists buy. I think this market is a better place to buy stuff than anywhere else, provided you have an idea about prices and are able to bargain in a civil manner. People are friendly, generally don't pitch starting prices too high and bargain honestly. However, we saw some western tourists who were bargaining so hard and in such an unfriendly manner that I am embarrassed to be one of them for a while.

People should realise that in normal circumstances like the souvenir market in Westlands quoting a somewhat high price is generally not an attempt to rip you off. This is an invitation to a social interaction which should end in both parties happily shaking hands and promising to meet again soon. Of course if you settle on a price which you are happy with but which is higher than you might have needed to pay, the salesperson is not going to wink at you and whisper "try a little lower". In commerce all over the world the market price is set by what people are willing to pay, not by how little the merchant might be able to make a profit on. You may say that you are being taken advantage of, but you were when you booked your holiday. There are people in your hotel who paid much less that what you are paying and others paying much more. Those who spend hours trawling the internet for bargains get a better deal than those who buy conveniently and save time. Whoah...slow down there Paul... no preaching.

Anyway, there is certainly no need to be unfriendly. Relax, enjoy and take your time. Walk away, try another stall, come back and try again. If you are pressed for time make a friendly offer and apologise and explain to the salesperson that you don't have time to bargain and just need a quick yes or no. No offence given or taken ..oops I am WAY off topic again.

Anyway, the Jacaranda is very convenient for that last day shopping and has a pleasant atmosphere with a nice poolside/ garden bar and restaurant and a lot of space in general. Rooms have seen better days but are comfortable and spacious and really just fine for the last night. Service is acceptable rather than anything better but overalll I think this was an excellent choice for a last 36 hours in Nairobi due to teh location and the laid back atmosphere.

We visited Bomas of Kenya on the final day and came out saying "that was nice", but without any real lasting memories. Some zebra-stripe suited acrobats who play with fire and hoops and are really very good closed the show - I think I saw them on advertising for somewhere on the internet - could it be Carnivore? Anyway, there are two or three dances, two musical performances and the acrobats that made Bomas of Kenya worthwhile. The rest was pleasant filler. It didn't help that the PA system is not very good and we could not make out what the announcer is saying about each dance. The houses of the different tribes are interesting in that you can go inside and see the conditions people live(d) in, as well as look closely at how the huts are made. There is no information about them posted unfortunately and our "guide" from the hotel didn't seem to know much. If you are going with a guide I would insist he be knowledgable about these things - otherwise you may as well take a taxi.

We took a taxi to the airport at 10.30 on the 24th......

My trip report is going to just fizle out here. I don't want to write about the airport and the flight home because I am already sad enough at this stage. I had a wonderful time and although it is not a trip about which I would say "... but I wouldn't change a thing", it was the best trip of my life all the same. I hope that my sometimes flippant style of writing has not hidden the majestic beauty of the country and my great respect for its people in any way.

I WILL BE BACK!
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Jan 7th, 2006, 03:55 AM
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Please excuse the typing - I was getting sad doing this one and consequently distracted and clumsy.
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Jan 7th, 2006, 04:54 AM
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Many thanks once again Kimburu for sharing your wonderful trip. I enjoyed your personal and witty observations.

How many of those designer bags does your wife need to go without to earn another trip - rapid rewards?
Sherry
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