The Rec.Travel Library
More on Africa
More on Tanzania
[Continued from the Egypt trip log.] Table of Contents:
October 23, 1988: At 1 AM we got up for our transfer to the airport for the 4 AM flight which left at 5 AM. The usual chaos and molasses-like service ruled at the airport. I slept most of the flight but did wake up for the last part. Kenya is beautiful from the air--green with mountains and much more variety than Egypt. We landed and went through immigration, currency control, and customs. On the other side of all this, we were met by John, who told us that 1) most of the people on the tour were stuck in Frankfurt and 2) we would be in Nairobi a couple of days before going on safari. This was good news, especially to Margaret who hadn't gotten any sleep at all. We started for the Hilton. There were flowering shrubs all along the road. The contrast with Egypt was amazing.
On the way in we, or rather the driver, got a speeding ticket. Some things are the same everywhere.
At the hotel we met Cathy Porter, our tour manager. She told us that there was yet another change of plans and that we were flying to Governors' Camp after lunch. She did manage to get us a room to repack our suitcases since you can take only a small bag to this camp.
We had a quick briefing with Marie and Matt from Philadelphia who had also arrived. The plan was this: we six would fly out to Governors' Camp this afternoon, have a game run when we arrive, take our balloon ride Monday morning, take another game run Monday afternoon, one more Tuesday morning, then return to Nairobi. Everyone else would join us at Governors' on Monday and balloon on Tuesday. (They're delayed because Pam Am canceled the FrankfurtNairobi flight Saturday--Cathy thinks it was because it was underbooked though of course they won't admit it.)
After lunch we went to Wilson Airport where we caught our plane to Governors' Camp. It was not a 747. It was, in fact, a DC-3 that had flown in the Berlin airlift.
The flight was about an hour. As we were coming in to the airstrip we flew over a herd of elephants. I couldn't see very much because 1) we had seats over the wing, 2) I had the aisle seat, and 3) I was trying desperately not to throw up. I succeeded but it was so close. I will definitely take Dramamine for the flight back.
From the airstrip we went by Land Rover to the camp. Our tent overlooks the river and is very comfortable. It's about ten feet and twelve feet with two single beds, a desk and stool, nightstands, and clothes rack. In back and accessible through the back door is a slightly smaller tent with rubberized walls and floor (the main tent has a matted floor) that has a sink, shower, and flush toilet. No bidet though--we are roughing it, after all. There is no electricity so far as we can tell; all the lighting is from gas lanterns or flashlights.
After a half-hour to freshen up we went on a "game run." I've heard that this term marks one as a tourist, but so it goes. We saw many of the same animals we saw on the way in from the airstrip as well as many others: black-faced vervet monkeys, olive baboons (they play on the riverbank across from our tent), jackal, hyena, cheetah, several lions, elephants (from a distance--they like swampy ground but the Land Rover doesn't), zebras, warthogs, hartebeest, topis, waterbucks, impala, and Thompson's gazelles. The greatest numbers were of topis and gazelles, in groups of several dozen or so. Oh, we also saw Grant's gazelles and cape buffalo. The latter are very dangerous and frequently charge the vehicles but we had no problem. There were also various birds: saddle-billed stork (which look like they have a brightly painted wooden box on their bills), crowned crane, eagles, plovers, and many others we didn't get identified. We were out for about an hour and a half and returned at sunset. It was wonderful--everything we hoped it would be.
Dinner was at 8 PM in the main dinner tent: soup, grilled fish, braised lamb (not nearly as good as the lamb in Egypt), and fresh strawberries. To get to and from your tent after sundown you flash your flashlight and a guard with a lantern and spear accompanies you. This may seem unnecessary, but apparently late that night an elephant got into the camp.
October 24, 1988: We slept well. Animal noises don't keep me awake and no real sleep the night before helped. At 5:30 AM our tent attendant brought us coffee and rolls. However, since we had to dress and be at the Land Rovers at 5:50 this gave us time for about two gulps of coffee. We drove to the Mara River and crossed by ferry to Little Governors' Camp. The ferry is a seven-person rowboat tied with a loop to a rope tied across the river. We then walked to where the balloon launch was, spotting a giraffe and a hippo on the way.
The balloon is a multi-colored striped balloon of nylon about sixty feet high. The basket can hold ten people and the pilot. They were still inflating the balloon when we got there but within fifteen minutes we climbed into the basket and began our ascent.
Riding in a balloon is unlike anything else I've done. The motion is very smooth and the only way you realize you're moving at all is that you see the ground passing under you. You don't feel wind on your face, because you're traveling with the wind. Unfortunately, there was not much game. The rains were plentiful so the massive migrations didn't have to come this far this year. We did see a lion and a cheetah, as well as hippos, buffalo, zebra, and various antelopes (this covers gazelles, waterbucks, and so on).
After an hour and a half of floating, with the only noise the sound of the burner when it was turned on, we landed. This is a little bumpier than taking off. Everyone crouched in the basket holding on to rope handles. The basket bounced twice, dragged a fair distance, and finally came to rest on its side such that we all ended up lying on our backs. This, I hasten to add, is normal.
We were met by the retrieve vehicles and had the traditional champagne toast (okay, so Mark had grapefruit juice). Then we had a picnic breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, French toast, and coffee. Then we took a game run back to camp (about ten miles as the crow flies, I think). This was much more productive in terms of sightings than the flight. Zebras, gnus, topis, and a large herd of buffalo were just some of the animals we saw. We also saw marabou storks, secretary birds, Egyptian geese, vultures, kites, a lilacbreasted roller, and a lot of unidentified birds.
We also passed by a Maasai village and saw several Maasai along the road. We did not take their pictures because we didn't want a spear through the side of the Land Rover. They do not like having their picture taken, or rather, some do not like having their picture taken and some insist on being paid for it.
We arrived back at camp around 11 AM, rested a couple of hours, then joined the other four Travcoa people for lunch (a buffet). We discovered that they even have diet Coke but we don't know what the artificial sweetener is. It also costs 25% more than regular Coke- -24 cents instead of 19 cents.
After lunch we did log writing, resting, browsing in the shop (we got a Maasai spear), and watching the baboons. Around 3 PM the baboons across the river came out. There were about fifteen or so. One was a female (in heat, I believe, because the hindquarters were very brightly colored) who presented herself to the male and apparently received permission to groom him, which she started doing. We watched until 4, when our afternoon run started, so we had to leave before anything really interesting happened.
The afternoon run could be called "Stalking the Wild Rhinoceros." There are only fourteen rhinos in the Maasai Mara Reserve and only two of them are near Governors' Camp (though "near" is an exaggeration). So we drove out to try to find them.
Of his trip to Kenya, Mike Resnick wrote, "We saw more wildebeest [on our afternoon run], i.e., we couldn't get away from them." Well, we saw wildebeest but for us the can't-get-away-from animal is the zebra. There are also lots of gazelles and topi, but the zebras are everywhere. It looks like a giant circus.
We came across a group of elephants (about ten, not enough to be called a herd) and watched them for a time while they watched us. Matt is a manic photographer and the stops are mostly controlled by him, though the rest of us usually agree that what he wants to photograph we want to see.
After about an hour or maybe even an hour and a half of various antelopes, we found the rhinos. They were a female and her offspring--what is a baby rhino called anyway? We watched them for about twenty minutes. First the baby was nursing, then the two were just ambling around. Most baby animals are cute. Rhinos are the exception. Even the babies are ugly. And the bird shit on the mother's face didn't help her appearance any either.
Then Benson (our driver) asked if we wanted to see hippos. How far, we asked. About half an hour. Sure, we said, though some less enthusiastically than others. We bounced along roads which were just two tracks in the dirt, or even in the mud or across a stream. It was hot and dusty. If I never saw another zebra again I would be just as happy. After at least forty-five minutes we reached a swampy area followed by a rocky field which looked like some old volcanic rock covered in spots by soil. After a mile or so of this, Benson parked the Land Rover on a cliff overlooking the Mara River and there, about thirty feet below us, were about twenty hippos. It was really an amazing sight. Benson, Matt, and Mark went a ways along the cliff to get a better angle for pictures while the other four of us waited by the Land Rover. We were watching the hippos who suddenly we heard a sound like something falling down the cliff. Our first thought was that one of the three fell in, but a quick glance proved that fear groundless. Our next thought was that one of the cameras had fallen down the rocks. After a couple of seconds we spotted the source of the sound--Benson had thrown a rock down the embankment to attract the hippos' attention. Well, it did that and they started opening their mouths and such, but it also gave us heart palpitations.
After twenty minutes or so here, we decided to head back because it was getting dark. But we still kept making stops--for two bat-eared foxes at one point and a long stop near a cheetah and her cub. The mother had been stalking a gazelle but gave up, maybe because we came along but probably not. They were sitting on a hillock when we pulled up. The baby was very curious and came up and stood against the tire and meowed. Finally we really had to go. It was getting dark fast and we were getting cold; it had been hot when we left and we had dressed accordingly. As we drove, the full
moon rose over the Mara and made the whole scene so perfect we didn't mind the heat, the cold, the dust, or the bumps.
We got back to camp after dark (at about 7 PM) and were the last ones back. Benson said that the dark wasn't a real problem and that he and often driven around on the Mara at night. I would have felt better if I had known this beforehand.
At 8 PM we went to the common area and met the rest of our group who had finally arrived. (We had met a few at lunch, or rather after lunch, but this was the first time the whole group was together.) They were busy deciding how to decide who would get the spots on the balloon ride.
I have to observe at this point that our fully escorted tour has not been quite that. We were on our own for the flight from New York to Cairo, the first night in Cairo, the flight from Cairo to Nairobi, and the first day in Kenya. I am not entirely pleased with Travcoa's handling of this tour.
We ordered mineral water at dinner. It costs about ten times what sodas do. Cathy recommends ordering a club soda instead.
After dinner I had to deal with an unexpected problem. My period, which has never arrived early, decided a tented camp with a candle-lit bathroom was a good place to start. Luckily I had four tampons in my overnight case, since most of our luggage was in Nairobi. (Later I heard from someone else that one of the women campers killed in Yosemite by bears was also having her period. Apparently wild animals have a very strong sense of smell, and this should be considered in scheduling camping trips.)
October 25, 1988: At about 1:15 this morning we heard loud cracking outside our tent. We looked out the windows and discovered an elephant was about four feet from our tent destroying the fence. Life is never dull around here. Mark also saw one on the way back from dinner two tents down and we heard another(?) bellowing that I said was either very loud or very close.
After breakfast at 6 AM, we started on out morning game drive at 6:30. Not very far into it we found a pride of about two dozen lions, including two males, and followed them for quite a while through what seemed like impenetrable brush. But Benson found his way through and we managed to regain the track. There are no roads here but there are well-known tracks. We almost saw the pride attack a buffalo but the buffalo regained the rest of the herd in time.
The next major sight was a herd of migrating wildebeest, mixed with zebra of course. There were hundreds, but later we saw an even larger herd with a large bunch and a line strung out from the left horizon to the right horizon.
We finally got to our goal: the giraffes. There were only about seven; they don't travel in large groups.
After the giraffes, I spotted a hippo and Benson managed to find the rest of the group, which we observed from a cliff across the river. There were about three dozen hippos, but they were all pretty lethargic. Then later we saw a crocodile. On the way back we saw several more giraffes and some baboons.
Then breakfast, packing, and hanging around for the flight back. We sat in the front seats this time and though it was bumpy, the dramamine really seemed to help. We got a bit of a chance to talk to Cathy. She's already developed a dislike for one woman on the tour (she didn't say which one) who asked at the orientation where she could buy ivory--the sale of which is illegal in Kenya. Also, we're not supposed to talk about or even mention South Africa (though they do have stories about it on the news). I have a feeling a lot of the tour members may not be cut out for a safari-- time will tell.
We checked into the Hilton. It took about an hour to get our bags out of storage. Then I did a quick laundry--almost everything we had was dirty. This is our last two-night stop for a while, so I wanted to get caught up.
We had lunch in the Amboseli Grill--a buffet which was somewhat depleted because of the late hour (2:30 PM). It was okay, nothing great. There was an interesting corn curry dish--There is a strong Indian influence here. The brie afterward was very nice also.
We changed some money, did another laundry, then walked around outside. We bought batteries for the camera. Either our old ones were really old or the heat discharges them faster. We still have four that I know are fresh, but this is our last stop where things are reasonably priced. We also bought a couple of books and some souvenirs at the East Africa Wildlife Society. They're cheaper elsewhere but they're so cheap in any case (a carved elephant is a couple of dollars) that I don't mind spending the extra in a good cause.
There is one problem with walking around in Nairobi: the student scam. A young man comes up to a tourist and starts a conversation. He says he's a student and has been accepted at Cornell (or some other American school) but he's a couple of hundred dollars short of being able to go. At last three people tried this on us in an hour (the first one got in a couple of sentences; the other two we just walked away from as soon as they started). After a while it became like an obstacle course, or at least seemed like that. At least the three-card monte dealers in New York are passive rather than active con artists. There's also the dropped envelope ploy, which we haven't yet seen. The area around the Hilton is much like the Times Square area, with a lot of souvenir stores of dubious value. Also, it's not safe after dark and even during the day, we are warned, pickpockets are everywhere. It is not one of my favorite cities.
I was really exhausted so I went back to the hotel and took a nap while Mark walked around some more and fended off more "students." About 6 PM he came back and about 7 he suggested the African Heritage Cafe for dinner. This is a place recommended by a couple of the books we have which serves traditional African food. So we got a taxi (no one would dream of walking in Nairobi at night) and went. The food was really good--injira bread, spicy (perhaps too spicy) Ethiopian stew, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was a buffet so we were able to try a lot of different things. The whole thing came to 255 Kenyan shillings or about $14 for the two of us plus $4.40 for the taxi--it's interesting that the transportation is such a major portion of the meal. After dinner we took a taxi back and went to sleep.
October 26, 1988: We got to sleep in this morning--till 7:30 AM, which on this trip is late. We had breakfast with Ken and Sue (his mother). She wanted to come to Africa but not on her own so she paid for his trip also. So he came and his wife stayed home. Strange.
At 9 AM we had our city tour. Frankly, there isn't much to see in Nairobi. The high points seem to be Kenyatta's tomb, the Jomo Kenyatta Conference Center, the train station, and the city museum. The city museum is a fairly small natural history museum whose only real claim to fame is its snake farm. This also has lizards, tortoises, and crocodiles as well as someone with a sense of humor painting signs. The sign on the crocodile pool said, "Persons throwing refuse in this pool will be forced to retrieve it."
After the museum we drove to Kiambethu Farm up in the hills. This was about an hour's drive over somewhat bumpy roads. The way people complained, I hate to think what they'll be like on Tanzanian roads.
Kiambethu Farm was owned by Mrs. Mitchell. She sold most of it ten years ago but kept the house and a few acres. She told us about how her parents came to Kenya around the turn of the century and tried various crops before finally settling on tea. Then we got an explanation of how tea is grown, picked, and processed. For example, pickers are paid by the kilo, so some pick more of the stem than they should. Others throw old nails and stuff into the baskets, so the factory has a magnet to remove these before they foul up the machinery. Afterwards we walked through the woods and saw some Sykes' monkeys and Colobus monkeys as well as two newborn twin calves (less than a day old). I thought her talk and the walk were interesting but several people found it boring--they wanted to know what this had to do with animals or as one person said, "I came to see animals, not learn how to raise tea." In China too people wanted to see only one sort of thing (pre-Mao stuff) and were not interested in schools or anything modern.
During lunch we talked to a friend of Mrs. Mitchell about crime. Apparently all the farms have alarm buttons which can call a squad of commandos from a private security company to which they pay dues. So if someone tries to break in, the squad comes out and beats them up. I guess the local police are not effective enough in this regard.
After lunch we drove down to the local church, in whose courtyard Louis Leakey is buried. (There's something morbid about all the people who wanted their picture taken with the headstone.) It looked like a typical English church; the stained glass windows were some that were removed from England during the Blitz for safekeeping and I guess their original church destroyed.
Then back to Nairobi for our group picture (in front of the Hilton--what a lovely backdrop!) and more "at leisure." At leisure in Nairobi seems to mean sitting in the hotel room--it's just not a very interesting or safe town to walk around in. In many ways, Nairobi is like Lima and for that matter, the Kenyan countryside is like the Peruvian countryside. I don't mean the terrain, but the standard of living and general appearance of the towns. Nairobi itself seems to be a city that portrays itself as a fully developed city, but situated as it is in a developing country, it doesn't quite succeed. It may have a modern conference, but the Hilton's toilets are the loudest I've heard in a long time, the sink stopper leaks, and the radio volume is erratic.
At 6:30 PM we had a cocktail party and lecture by Dr. Coch of the University of Nairobi (or possibly Nairobi University). He gave a very good history of early man and of the paleontological work, both past and present, to find out more about him. For example, they use potassium-argon dating of the volcanic ash layers to date the fossils, as carbon-14 isn't reliable for more than about 50,000 years. Again, I won't try to recount his entire lecture. He was much better than out lecturer in Cairo.
For dinner we went to the Carnivore. At this restaurant they cook huge haunches of meat over a flame pit in the center, then bring them around to your table and carve them there. We tried camel and eland in addition to the usual beef, lamb, and chicken. The camel was very tender, sort of like very good roast beef. The eland was extremely tough without much flavor. The rest you know. There were also about a dozen small dishes of sauces and relishes. For dessert we had strawberries and cream--strawberries are either very common or very popular here.
Then we took the cab back to the Hilton. It seems to be the standard in Third World countries to have the cab wait rather than being able to call a cab. Perhaps this is a reflection on the phone system?
October 27, 1988: Up early and on the road by 9 AM. And what a road! First off, we were in four mini-vans of six people each. Each van had eight seats so everyone got a window and there was plenty of room for hand luggage. The road to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club started out okay, but the main road was being repaired so we needed to take a diversion (detour). This was a combination of paved and gravel road though the paved felt no better than the gravel. Both were equally bone-jarring, especially when we hit the speed bump at 80 kpm (50 mph). Mark and I were in the back seat and it was exciting, I tell you.
The ride was supposed to take two hours, but took closer to four with a couple of stops, one in a town named Karatina and the other at a sign on the equator. Mark bought a shield at the first, to go with our spear. By the time we had gotten to the second, I had stuffed a t-shirt into my pocket and sure enough, one of the sellers wanted to trade for it. But he started at the t-shirt and two hundred shillings for a spear that had cost us two hundred shillings at Governors' Camp and seemed unwilling to budge. Time was short so we didn't bother to try to negotiate any further and he didn't follow us to persist.
The drive took us from 5000 feet above sea level to 7000 feet through agricultural land. The farmers were out cultivating their land, mostly by hand (and mostly women), in preparation for the coming rains, a taste of which we got while driving. I hope it doesn't rain the whole rest of the vacation.
We arrived at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club around 1 PM. This is a beautifully landscaped country club that may have been the cat's meow when William Holden owned it, but now has gone to seed (if I may mix my metaphors). The buffet lunch, which used to draw people in from as far away as Nairobi, was mediocre. Our room was in a separate building, a ten-minute walk from the main building. It had no lightbulb in the floor lamp and no drinkable water. The heat was provided by a fire that they lit as we were leaving for dinner and which was dying when we returned. The dinner was okay, but nothing worth packing a coat and tie for. To see Mt. Kenya we would have had to walk most of the way back to the main building, but it was too overcast to see it anyway.
Also, there isn't much to do at the Safari Club. The only animals seem to be the birds (peacocks and such) which wander about the lawns and the horses. So we (the Garfields, Mark, and I) went horseback riding. Except for Matt, we were all first-timers. They had only English saddles. Cathy had said they had both and I think we had been looking forward to the reassurance of that horn to hold on to. We were a little late getting started because it was raining, but when it stopped we went out, Mark on Mighty, I on Nyuki.
After the first five minutes I realized I didn't have to clutch the front of the saddle quite so hard. For most of the time holding my knees against the saddle was enough to keep my balance. I should point out the horse never went any faster than a walk.
We rode up into the hills along a fairly muddy trail. It became clear that the rain delay was not out of concern for our comfort, but out of concern for the horses' footing. We heard a river but never saw it and didn't see any animals (other than the horses). We saw a lot of what looked like Spanish moss on the trees. On the way back I got a wonderful view of Mark's horse in front of me leaving a souvenir.
Then we killed some time until 7:30 PM when the Chuka drummers were performing. They played for only about twenty minutes, which was just as well as drumming can get rather monotonous after a while.
As I said, dinner was nothing special. We had better at other places on this tour and they didn't require a coat and tie. After dinner we went back to our room in time to watch the fire die. We could see our breath when we breathed and I felt like an icicle, so eventually I threw both bedspreads on Mark's twin bed and climbed in with him. This managed to warm me up enough so I could stop shaking and get to sleep.
October 28, 1988: I didn't mention that our room was in a building that also had a sound stage in back. It must be where people stay when they're making a film in the area.
After breakfast we finished packing. They pretty much chased us out of the room at 9:30 AM even though checkout time was 10:30. At 10 we boarded the mini-vans and headed for the Outspan Hotel, most of the ride being over the same bad roads as yesterday.
The Outspan is the jump-off point for Treetops. We left most of our luggage here since we could bring only an overnight bag to Treetops. Lunch was the usual buffet--it will be nice to eat sitdown meals again or even cafeteria-style where you make only one trip. After lunch we walked around the grounds a bit and saw the house where Lord Baden-Powell lived. The gardens in front are landscaped in the shape of the Boy Scout trefoil. We browsed in the store but it was very overpriced (ten shillings for a postcard only slightly larger than those that cost two in Nairobi). It looks like Nairobi or the individual stands where one can bargain are the places to go.
Cathy talked about the difficulty of Kenyans taking money out of the country. They can't just change what they want to dollars. One of the women said that a few pieces of the Ethiopian silver and amber jewelry that they sell here could finance a whole trip. In a country with currency restrictions you see people looking for ways around them. In China it was the same, but the set-up there meant that the Chinese couldn't buy many of the luxury goods because they were purchasable only with hard currency or the equivalent.
After lunch we got into different buses and made the fifteenminute drive to Treetops, just inside Aberdare National Park. Treetops is a hotel built in a tree. It has room for (I think) 98 guests and, while not the Ritz, is a much more finished place than you'd expect a treehouse to be. In 1952, Princess Elizabeth was staying there when word arrived that her father had died and she was now Queen of England, so they say, "She went up a princess and came down a queen." Actually, that Treetops was burnt down (during the Mau-Mau, I think) and this is the new Treetops built on the same spot.
There is a large waterhole on one side and a smaller one on the other. When we arrived there were many warthogs and bushbuck around. We even passed a warthog during the walk from the buses. The buses park about a five-minute walk from the hotel and you are met by a "hunter" who makes a big show of loading his rifle before telling you to walk quietly, not to disturb any buffalo, to hide in the blinds if buffalo approach, and all the other rules. Of course, the hunter must have come down with his rifle unloaded, so I suspect this was at least partially for show. Also, the blinds were very small and hard to get into--I can't see the whole group using them if a buffalo decided to charge. I'm sure there's some danger, but I also suspect that they play it up a little.
After settling in our rooms we went up to the rooftop to have tea and watch the animals. There were quite a few warthogs and bushbuck as well as a troop of baboons. A herd of about ten buffalo came down to drink and then wandered off. We also saw a couple of waterbuck and a hyena.
Dinner was served at long tables with benches. Each bench had room for one fewer person than they actually put on it so there was a lot of pushing and poking and those of us on the ends were in danger of being pushed off.
Dinner was roast chicken. It was a nice change to have something as simple as roast chicken. Most dinners have been attempts at fancy cuisine which haven't been very good.
After dinner we all rushed out to see the elephants which had come in. There were three by the water but as we watched eleven more lumbered in. They were remarkably quiet. Oh, there was some snuffling and slurping and a trumpet or two, but on the whole they just kind of plodded around licking up the salt and drinking the water. We were probably only about fifty feet away or less, but since thirty of that was vertical we were pretty safe. It seemed tame after Governors' Camp, of course, but the number of elephants made it interesting.
There were also three hyenas hoping for something to show up. They (the staff, not the hyenas) had put food out to attract the genet cat and sometimes pieces would fall down, so the hyenas show up, hoping. We didn't see the genet (who appeared after I went to bed) but we did see a bushbaby. Bushbabies are just the cutest things! (Sorry-I just felt obliged somewhere in this log to oooh and aaah and this seemed like a good time to get it out of the way.)
I went to bed about 11 PM. Mark stayed up until 1 AM (when it started to rain) and saw more buffalo and a mongoose. The rhino must have had the day off.
October 29, 1988: Up early and back to the Outspan for breakfast (and some quick shopping for those who can't resist), then into the mini-vans for the long drive back to Nairobi. We passed through several small towns and saw women carrying very heavy loads on their heads or slung on their backs , but we didn't see any men so encumbered.
We got to Nairobi about 11:15 AM, giving us time enough to shop. This was actually useful since we will be going into Tanzania in a couple of days and can't take more than one hundred Kenyan shillings each out. So we bought a bunch of stuff at the East Africa Wildlife Society--gifts for family and friends--and Mark bought a copy of Kenyatta's FACING MT. KENYA. He had had a long discussion about Kenyatta, the Mau Mau, and independence with our guide and our driver which I will leave to him to relate.
Everywhere in Nairobi you see signs commemorating ten years of the Nyayo Era. When Kenyatta died ten years ago, the current president promised to follow in his footsteps; "nyayo" is Swahili for "footsteps." Kenyatta's key word was "harambe," meaning "together" as in "we will work together." Sort of like we had the "New Deal" and the "Great Society."
For lunch we actually ordered off the menu. I had a vegetable curry, quite spicy, and an iced tea which was rather bitter. But it had ice, perhaps the last safe ice for the rest of the trip. We also filled our water bottles.
At 1:30 PM we began our long drive to Amboseli--this is mostly a travel day. We drove across dusty plain, Maasai grazing ground. We saw a couple of camels but I think they were tourist camels because they were right next to the Bedouin Restaurant. We also saw zebra, giraffe, and lots of Maasai cattle and donkeys. Also we saw a lot of temite mounds, huge piles of red dirt up to six feet high with turrets and tunnels. You could see dozens in every direction. Some were obviously abandoned, fallen over around dead trees, but others seemed to be new. We were too far away, however, to see the inhabitants if any. In some of the trees were weaverbird nests and other had beehives, so even without a lot of quadrupeds there were a lot of animals.
We stopped at the "Paris Bar and Restaurant." This is a tin shack in the middle of nowhere where you can get a cold (sort of) soda and use the restrooms (two holes in the ground). You can also buy souvenirs, of course.
The two lead vans arrived, but after a half-hour the other two hadn't shown up. We were just about to go back for them when they arrived. One had had a puncture and the other waited for them to change it. It's good to be able to pair up, have backup vehicles (we could fit into three of the four mini-vans if necessary), etc.
Having reunited our party we continued to Namanga. On the way we passed a tin shack that said "Hotel and Restaurant--Fine Cuisine." Somehow I doubt it.
Namanga is the truck stop just outside the Amboseli National Park. It also serves as the border town for people going to Tanzania. As a result it has twice the number of souvenir sellers as usual. We filled up on petrol here and waited for the punctured tire to be repaired; since the road from Namanga to the lodge is extremely bad, we didn't want to travel without a full complement of spare tires. So we all had lots of time to be approached by vendors. At this point I hoped to trade a t-shirt for something rather than spending money but Mark had a different opinion and ended up with more shillings than when he started, but less dollars. It was a complicated transaction involving a carving of a warrior, a t-shirt, a pen, a twenty-dollar bill, and 180 shillings. Many of the vendors in these outposts want to be paid in dollars, which is illegal but highly lucrative for them. (On the way to Namanga we passed a semi-roadblock of nail-studded logs which someone later said was to allow the police to check for smugglers, including those indulging in arbitrage.) To people used to traveling in countries with "hard" currency--which is the United States, Canada, most of Europe, Japan, and a few other countries--the regulations in countries with "soft" currency are unusual. For example, many countries severely restrict the import or export of their currency. This prevents people from taking Ruritanian somolians to New York and trading them for dollars to someone traveling to Ruritania, and hence prevents people from taking wealth out of the country. In countries like the U.S.S.R. this also means most people can't buy imported goods, since the importers want hard currency they can take home. So changing money is an elaborate affair with currency declarations, passports, etc., and even involves writing down the serial numbers of all the bills involved! By contrast, if you go into a bank in the United States to change United States dollars into Canadian dollars, the teller punches up the numbers on his/her calculator, takes your dollars, hands you Canadian dollars, and that's it.
The road to the Amboseli Lodge is bad. It is bumpy and dusty. We used to take an old lumber road into Baxter State Park in Maine when I was little and it was better than this. A brief shower did settle the dust a bit for a while and give us a beautiful rainbow but most of the time was very dry. Part of the way in we found another mini-van by the side of the road with a broken tie rod. Luckily there were only four in that group so we sorted them into our three vans (one had gone ahead) and took them the rest of the way to the lodge. I presume someone went back with a tie rod or something later, or at least to pick up the luggage. I guess they could tow it back to Namanga for repairs.
We passed another vehicle by the side, but that driver thought it was nothing serious, just something loose, and we were getting a bit cramped anyway so we went on and finally arrived at the lodge about 5:30 PM.
At the lodge, as everywhere else in this area, are signs saying that photographing the Maasai is forbidden. It is not clear who is doing the forbidding (national government, local government, or what). So far everyone in our group has followed this rule.
As soon as the porters brought our bags to our room (women porters, by the way), I did some laundry. The prices they were charging were the same as in the United States and given how cheap everything else is here it's a real rip-off. I suppose they want to make what they can off the rich tourists.
I didn't eat much dinner since I was really tired from the ride. The beds were very hard, but that didn't seem to bother me, nor did the fact that we had to sleep under mosquito netting.
October 30, 1988: Up at 6 AM for a 6:30 game run. As usual, huge herds of zebra and wildebeest with Thompson's gazelles scattered throughout. We saw a hippo in one of the swampy areas-- our driver mistakenly called it a rhino at first. We also saw a few giraffes and elephants; later we saw a herd of about twenty close up. In the distance we saw a couple of lions that looked like they were stalking something but then they seemed to give up and lie down for a nap. A hyena was sitting in a pool of water, cooling off. (I thought cats hated water.)
We did get to see many bones and skeletons, two vultures feeding on a recently dead wildebeest, and about twenty vultures feeding on a newly dead gazelle. We never saw any skeletons in the Mara; here they're all over the place, like those old pictures of the desert in the Wild West. I guess the heat and dryness preserves them.
What we also saw a lot of were birds. Someone claimed that the Amazon was a bird-watcher's paradise, but I think this may outrank it. We saw many more birds than we could identify: ibises, storks, vultures, plovers, geese, and who knows what else. I noticed when we got back to the lodge there was one mini-van from Africa Ornithological Safaris--they probably know what else.
By the time we got back to camp at 9 AM several of the people were tired/hungry/bored/all of the above. It had been a bumpy ride but I was sorry to see it end. Other than the two game runs (6:30 AM and 4 PM), there isn't much to do in one of these camps. This one has a pool but the water is too cold (hard to believe in Africa, I know). Mostly during the day people read, write, eat, drink, and nap. They're building an addition on the main building so it's not very restful to sit on the chairs in the garden area.
At 4 PM we got back into the mini-vans for our afternoon game run and drove around for two hours seeing nothing more exciting than two ostriches mating, which may have been exciting for the ostriches but didn't do much for me. We saw miles and miles of miles and miles. Even a zebra became an event. Everything that looked like an animal from a distance turned out to be a rock, a dead tree, or an elephant turd. We were supposedly going to look for the cheetah and then the rhino. (One gets the impression each park is issued one of each or something.) Apparently everyone else was also and the first hour was spent in a caravan of mini-vans. After an hour everyone started getting desperate and going off in different directions.
At 5:30 PM we met two of our other mini-vans and stopped for a soda break. My bottle/can opener came in handy since they hadn't brought one. (The bottles they could open on the edge of the roof, but the cans of orange juice would have been a problem.)
Finally, about 6:15, success! We came to a swamp/waterhole and there were about two dozen elephants and a rhino. The rhino had been rolling in mud and glistened. He (she?) looked a lot more majestic than the dry one we saw in the Mara. I highly recommend mud packs for rhinos.
You've probably gathered that rhinos are quite rare. This is somewhat ironic, since its closest relative seems to be the zebra and they're all over the place. But poachers are after the horn and zebras don't have that. They deal harshly with poachers here. Last week Cathy's sister saw some bodies by the side of the road from Mombasa--poachers who had been shot and their bodies left as a warning.
Our driver got in a bit of trouble at this point. He had pulled off the road to let us get a better picture and a ranger appeared out of nowhere to give him a ticket (or whatever they do). I think he was able to talk his way out of it by pointing out that the road was blocked by other vehicles, but I'm not sure.
Regarding the rhinos, by the way, Cathy says there are only five hundred left in Kenya, though Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa all have rhino populations as well and South Africa at least seems to have more control of the poachers.
South Africa is a country we don't talk about in Kenya. In particular, people have been told not to say they have been there or are going there (as many are as part of this tour). It is okay to talk about it as an area (e.g., the rhino population there or archaeological digs), but not as a place to visit. I imagine it's different in Zimbabwe since there are flights between the two.
Anyway, back to the water hole. The elephants who were wading out all had dark legs up to the water line and light color above that. They all looked like they were wearing Wellingtons.
In spite of the sparseness of the game, there were a lot of images that remain: three elephants plodding across an empty plain, a giraffe in the distance silhouetted against the sky, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the sunset.... And as Mark said, "Nothing looks as lonely as one wildebeest walking along, sending up little puffs of dust with each footstep."
We returned to the lodge at 6:30 PM and had our Tanzania briefing at 7:45. This was basically a reminder to get rid of our surplus Kenya shillings and have our passports, health certificates, and currency forms in order when we get to the border. I just have this feeling that Mark and I will be the ones picked for a spot check, though Matt and Marie are also possibilities. We're all young, but Matt has more expensive jewelry so they may pick him.
At dinner Cathy got us Kenyan papaya wine--not bad, but not exported either. The food at Amboseli is among the best we've had in Kenya. Now if only the beds weren't so hard....
One more comment on travelers and money: I'm amazed at how many Americans don't realize coins are not valid outside of their country of origin. Someone tried to pay back a loan from Cathy with United States coins.
October 31, 1988: This morning we had to go to the airstrip at Amboseli because one of our group had developed back problems and didn't think he could take the hour or more ride out on the corrugated road. There were six planes at the airstrip but Cathy had a great deal of difficulty talking even one pilot into making the ten-minute flight. The planes fly in from Mombasa in the early morning with a load of tourists and fly back with the same load in the evening. The problem is fuel. They can't refuel at Amboseli or even apparently in Namanga. Eventually one pilot agreed to take three passengers for 2500 shillings or about $137. So off they went and off we went--like bats out of hell. I think our driver wanted to beat the plane there, so we tore off across the dry lake instead of taking the road around it. The lake was probably smoother and we were doing up to 120 kph at times. In spite of this, the plane did beat us there.
As we were driving, Cathy said this was a good time to spot some cheetahs. Mark replied that it was too late--they were already spotted. Cathy liked that so much she repeated it to several other people during the day.
We stopped at the same shops in Namanga as before, then proceeded to the border. First we had to leave Kenya. So we filled out departure forms and stood in a long line, which did move fairly quickly. Meanwhile Cathy took our currency forms in. Only two were questioned; one had been illegible and the other had lumped together cash and travelers' cheques. Meanwhile they transferred our luggage from the Kenya mini-vans to Tanzanian ones. While we waited for everyone to finish, we were besieged by vendors. I had a t-shirt over my shoulder and everyone wanted to trade. However, most of them wanted the t-shirt as partial payment. ("This necklace for the t-shirt--and ten American dollars." Since I had a similar necklace that had cost $10 without the t-shirt, I didn't feel like spending a lot of time bargaining.) One woman, however, had a fancy Maasai earring which she was willing to trade for just the shirt, so I did. It was an old t-shirt and a nice earring so I'm happy and I'm reasonably sure she's happy too.
Of course, this just encouraged the other vendors and we had quite a time beating them back. Soon everyone was through with the formalities and we drove about a hundred yards to the Tanzanian side.
Here we filled out entry cards and currency declaration forms. Then one person from each mini-van went in with all the forms and passports for the whole van. Mark went in for ours, probably because he was the only man in the bus. The only problem he had was that one person had filled her forms in in pencil and he had to retrace it in pen. One of the other buses had a minor fright, however, when word came back that one person was missing a Tanzanian visa in their passport. It turned out that it was there after all- -they just hadn't turned enough pages.
While we waited, various children came up to the vans asking for pens and sweets. Mark folded some origami for them and they seemed to like that. But there were no hordes of vendors as there had been in Kenya. There was a lot of activity, what with busloads of Kenyans and Tanzanians milling about, but not the sort of carnival atmosphere of the other side. Tanzania seems much more a no-nonsense country than Kenya.
The ride to Arusha was uneventful. The land seems much less developed than in Kenya and also more sparsely populated. It is also a much poorer country and that is saying something. Apparently Tanzania used up all their foreign currency for the military campaign which deposed Idi Amin and while everyone thinks that was a good thing, no one is willing to help pay for it.
We had lunch at the New Arusha Hotel and got a brief talk by Hilda, our liaison with Lion's Safaris. In Kenya Travcoa contracted out to Rhino Safaris for vehicles, drivers, etc.; in Tanzania it's Lion's. My own complaint about Lion's is that there mini-vans don't have handholds and given the state of roads in Tanzania, this is a problem.
We heard a lot of stuff we knew before: no short shorts, no photographing anything military, no photographing the Maasai without paying them. The going rate is somewhere between fifty cents and two dollars.
We also changed some money. Cathy warned against changing too much and certainly the procedure would discourage that: they write down the serial number of every bill you give them. (It's the same as in Kenya.) To change $10 in ones is a major operation. Matt observed that as long as they spent so much time and effort in minutiae they would never get their economy going. While I understand how all this helps cut down on the black market and makes sure that the government gets the hard currency to pay off its debts, it does seem excessive. Another reason to avoid changing a lot of money is that your hotel bills must be paid directly in dollars--even if you have the exchange receipts, they won't take Tanzanian shillings. Our bills, of course, were pre-paid, and they do take shillings for sodas and postcards. Bottled water must be paid for in dollars--$4 a bottle! These are the same bottles that were seventy-five cents in Egypt and were included in the cost of the tour. Here they're not and we are advised against trusting even the boiled water. At the price we're paying I think we have a right to expect Travcoa to pay for drinking water. We brought two liters of water from Nairobi (we filled two containers from the tap, which is safe there) and are getting by on that and sodas, which are forty cents each or half the price of water.
We left Arusha and drove to Lake Manyara. This took three hours on something that was almost a road. There were a few smoother stretches of about fifty feet each and the rest was potholed dirt. Equipment and piles of dirt and rock by the side of the road would lead one to believe that they might be smoothing it out but with the short rains due soon, I can't see that very much will be gained. Several people are getting annoyed at the roads. They realized that the game runs would be bumpy but they didn't know that the travel between locations wouldn't be any better.
We got to our hotel at Lake Manyara. It's actually on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the lake. It has a beautiful view during the day. What it doesn't have during the day is electricity or hot water. The electricity is on from 6 PM to 1 AM and 6 AM to 8 AM. The hot water starts at 6:15 PM and 6:15 AM. At 6:15 PM I discovered our shower didn't work and ended up rinsing off squatting under the tub faucet. This still beats the Holiday Inn in Merida (Mexico) where we had no hot water for the three days we were there and no water at all one day. Not everyone in our group sees it this way though.
We got a quick rundown on our schedule for the next couple of days, then dinner. At dinner someone said that one reason customs went so smoothly was that Cathy told the drivers to slip something to the officials so that they wouldn't make us all open our luggage. (I don't know which side this was on.)
We slept with the window open since the screen would keep the mosquitos and baboons out. Cathy says the baboons are a problem only during the day but who knows whether there's an insomniac baboon out there.
November 1, 1988: Sure enough, at 5 AM a large primate climbed into my bed. On closer inspection I discovered it was only Mark.
After breakfast we milled around the lobby waiting for the mini-vans. Some of us went into the gift, but apparently they decided there were too many people in there and not enough buying, so they slammed the door and wouldn't let anyone else in. At this point I decided to leave before they locked us in.
At 8:30 AM we loaded up and drove down the escarpment to the Lake Manyara National Park. This is a fairly small park, but very different from any we had been in so far. The road wound through some heavily forested areas populated by baboons. Some ran away as our van came by but others just sat there gazing at us philosophically. Several females had infants clinging to their backs; baby baboons don't have the long noses yet and look more like monkeys. We also saw a few elephants (but no large herds) and of course zebra, buffalo, impala, and gazelles. We did see a couple of new things. We saw two lions feeding on a dead wildebeest (or it might have been a buffalo--we were too far away to be sure). We also saw flamingos, hundreds of them. Unfortunately, we were so far away that even with binoculars it was hard to make out the shapes. It was more like a solid pink line across the lake. We left the park without ever seeing the famous tree-climbing lions. So it goes. (They really do climb trees. Honest.)
From there we drove to the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge overlooking Ngorongoro Crater. This is supposed to be the piece de resistance of game-watching. However, first things first. In this case the first thing was lunch (it was already 1:30 PM) and the second thing was Olduvai Gorge.
To get to Olduvai Gorge was another hour and a half each way over bad roads (we're beginning to think there are no other kind here), yet almost everyone decided to go. A couple of people did opt to stay at the lodge and recuperate from the morning's drive.
The road to the gorge went through Maasai grazing land. There was little to see except the occasional village off in the distance, a few herds of cattle, some giraffes, and scattered assorted other wildlife. Oh, yes, there was one more thing. Groups of Maasai children in all the makeup, jewelry, and clothing who wanted their picture taken. For a price. It was so artificial that taking a picture would be like taking pictures at a costume party. On the other hand, this is their version of setting up a lemonade stand to raise money, and I'm sure they need the money a lot more than most kids who set up lemonade stands. I just had no interest in taking a picture and everyone else in the van felt the same way except Dorothy, who agreed she could take the pictures the next day.
We got to Olduvai Gorge about 4 PM. It's...it's...well, it's a big hole in the ground. Like the Holmdel horn (where the threedegree background radiation confirming the Big Bang was discovered), Olduvai Gorge itself is not that interesting. It is a beautiful view with a magnificent butte (a beaut of a butte?) in the middle, but no one would travel three miles over bad roads just to see that. But after the landmark discoveries by the Leakeys there, it is impossible to be in this part of the world and not come. (Well, since some people skipped it, it's obviously not impossible. Let's just say unthinkable.)
One of the research assistants there gave a brief talk on the history of the work at Olduvai Gorge. A German butterfly collector found some fossils there and told a German paleontologist, Hans Reicht. Reicht excavated and put his finds on display in Berlin (in the 1920s, I think). Louis Leakey saw them and convinced Reicht to let him search for tools on the site. (Reicht hadn't found any because he was looking for flint tools, while the tools at Olduvai were all volcanic rock.) And the rest, as they say, is history. Several million years' worth, in fact. Excavation work is still being done there under the direction of Dr. Johanson of Berkeley. (Dorothy was quick to point out he was originally from Cleveland; Dorothy is from Cleveland. If Oklahoma City is the cultural capital of the world [see Egypt log for details], then Cleveland must be the scientific one.) However, the digs had all been shut down in preparation for the short rains (due soon) so there was no activity precisely when we were there.
After the talk and a look around the small museum there, we headed back on our long drive. Just as religious pilgrims underwent hardships to reach religious shrines, I suppose we scientific pilgrims are also forced to undergo mortification of the flesh. And believe me, riding over Tanzanian pseudo-roads is mortification of the flesh.
Most of the children had gone by the time we returned. We passed a few people returning home at the end of the day and we waved to them and they waved to us. One even pointed out a jackal to us as we passed. Everywhere in the world we've traveled, people have waved to us as we drove by. Only here have the waves meant, "Please stop and give me money," and it was nice to see that there were still some unselfish waves here too.
Back at the lodge by 6:30 PM, dinner at 7:30. I gave Dorothy an extra bottle of sunscreen I had; she had forgotten to bring any and was walking around with a scarf draped over her hat. Cathy said if we had any more extra she would love it, as it is not available in Kenya. I suppose that is a function of the racial makeup of Kenya--the market isn't big enough. In the United States there's not much market for anti-malaria pills so they're hard to get there.
I haven't been saying much about the meals because they aren't that interesting.
November 2, 1988: Breakfast was dry cornflakes and coffee. There, I said something about the meals.
Actually, the day's adventures started before breakfast. When I tried to flush the toilet at 6:30 AM it wouldn't flush. It turned out that something had happened to the water system and the whole hotel was without water (shades of Merida!).
After breakfast I browsed in the shop checking the prices. Carved animals cost five times what they did in Kenya. Kodak 200-36 print film is $10; Kodak 110-24 is $8.70. (We paid $4.49 and $2.49 respectively in the United States.) Postcards are fifty cents versus about ten cents in Kenya and the selection is much more limited. Just wanted to let you know.
At 8:30 AM we got into our Land Rovers for the ride down into (and around) the crater. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed in the crater and it was soon obvious why. The road down is even worse than the road to Olduvai and at a much steeper angle and much curvier. This trip is not for nervous riders. After a half-hour we reached the floor of the crater and re-grouped. At this point were also several Maasai herders and their cattle but the people who wanted to take pictures had done so earlier so we mostly just milled around. What I want to know is how they got the cattle into and out of the crater. They can't use the road and the rim looks too steep to go up or down anywhere else. The rim is at 7500 feet above sea level, the floor at 5000. The crater, or more accurately, the caldera is nine miles across, making it one of the largest in the world.
We started out with the usual assortment of gazelles, wildebeest, zebra, etc. There were also several jackals and more birds that I couldn't identify. When we got to the soda lake, however, I could identify the birds--flamingos. Not as many as at Lake Manyara, but much closer--you could actually see them as individuals. There was one brown one amongst the pink--a diet deficiency perhaps. I can't quite remember what it is in their diet that turns them pink, but it is dietary.
Near the flamingos was a large clump of rushes with two or three Land Rovers beside it. We drove over and there were four male lions lying in them. Three were surrounded by vehicles but I spotted the fourth off in another section that no one had seen. We were able to get within six feet of them, but of course we were inside the Land Rover and they were outside. (I did open my window to take a picture. The lion didn't seem to care.) A short ways off were two females looking for lunch. We didn't volunteer.
Then we went by the hippo pool. The hippos were not extremely active, but we did see a hippo fight. What is there for two sleeping hippos to fight about? Beats me.
We drove another half-hour or so and found two of the crater's dozen rhinos, a mother and baby. Rhinos are hard to see because they're so rare, but we've seen five on this trip. They tend to be more stolid than other animals and watching a ton of animal just standing is not extremely exciting. These two at least were walking and chewing. They were also better-looking than the first two we saw. I think the lack of bird shit on them is a definite plus.
After the rhinos we saw some more lions, then proceeded to our rendezvous point for lunch. We were the first of our five Land Rovers to arrive, but since we had the soft drink cooler we broke out the box lunches and started eating--inside the vehicle because of the kites which would swoop down and grab the food out of your hand otherwise. Lunch was fried chicken, hard-boiled eggs, bread and butter, an orange, two bananas (they're small here, only about five inches long), and a couple of cookies.
After lunch there was a minor dispute. Nine of us wanted to spend more time in the carter and sixteen wanted to return to the lodge. This meant two vehicles would stay and three return, but four drivers insisted they were going straight back. Cathy finally solved that by telling one of them that he was staying and that was that.
Of course, since it was mid-afternoon there weren't many animals to see. We saw the backs of some elephants from a long way away and when we stopped to refill the radiator from a spring there were a bunch of monkeys. These were fun to watch as they groomed each other and eyed us with curiosity.
If the ride down was bad, the ride back up was terrible. The driver seemed to want to get back as fast as possible so we raced up this steep, rocky, potholed road, careening around the curves. We must have made record time to the top. The road around Applecross Peninsula in Scotland is supposed to be bad; I wonder how it compares to the road into the Ngorongoro Crater.
We arrived back at the lodge covered with a thick layer of dust and in breathless anticipation--did we have water? Yes, but not hot water. I rinsed off the first layer of dirt with cold water. Then Mark went in and suddenly the hot water came on. Rather than count on it lasting we both hopped into the shower. Sure enough, just as we finished, the hot water gave out. I washed my hair in cold water. After I blew my nose, I went in and washed my nostrils in cold water. That dust gets everywhere! This was definitely the dustiest day of our trip. If you are allergic to dust (or have a bad back, neck, knee, or ankle), do not take this trip.
At dinner we got the Travcoa questionnaire to fill out on Kenya and Tanzania. We were also asked what magazines we read (for travel information and in general). We had to write very small.
As far as the questionnaire goes, it didn't cover my main objection to the tour. We bought what was billed as a fully escorted tour and didn't get it. The representative who met us in New York did so in the boarding area and then only long enough to ask us to carry some documents to Cairo. In Cairo our tour manager hadn't arrived yet. We traveled on our own from Cairo to Nairobi. In Nairobi we got sent to Governors' Camp on our own. This is not what I would call a "fully escorted tour."
November 3, 1988: One more note on the previous topic. Because we are not going on to Zimbabwe and points south, several people have said we were not taking "the whole tour" and I've had to explain that we signed up for a "whole tour" which didn't include them. But since Cathy is through with us ten days before the end of her tour, I suspect that we may be getting somewhat short shrift in rooms and such. After all, she still has to live with them and their tips will be bigger at the end. In Egypt we were also there for only part of the tour manager's tour. This sort of thing can easily lead to favoritism and tour companies should avoid it--or we should avoid them.
Breakfast was the usual. The ride to Gibb's Farm was uneventful, being a retracing of our steps, or rather, tiretracks. Gibb's Farm is a coffee plantation known for its lunch buffets. The lunch buffet was all we were there for, though I had thought we were going to get a lecture on coffee-growing or a tour or something. Since we had arrived early we had about an hour to kill. Mark and I found a bao game sitting around and tried playing it. The simplified version works as follows: You have a "board" of two rows of six cups each, one row on each side. Each cup starts with four beans. A turn consists of taking all the beans in a cup on your side and dropping them one per cup in each cup going clockwise from the source cup. If the last bean falls in an empty cup, the turn passes to the other person, else you pick up all the beans from that cup and continue. Any time you add a bean to a cup containing three beans, making four, those beans are removed and added to the score of whoever's side they were on. The end of the game comes when all the cups on one side are empty. If you empty all your opponents' cups you get all the remaining beans. If you empty all your cups, it wasn't clear who got the beans.
After fooling with this for a while we sat and talked to people, then went in for lunch at noon. Again, the crowd management at the buffet table was poor. The table was circular and we ended up with something like traffic circle gridlock. Everyone was waiting to rotate except one person serving herself and she was serving from a dish well ahead of her on the table. After getting food we had to find a place to sit. There were only a couple of dining room tables so we ended up back in the lounge eating off a coffee table. Because all the doors were open there were a lot of flies. The food was good, but the ambiance could use some work.
There was a little gift shop with not much of interest, but it did have a book swap. Most of the books were current-fiction-type stuff but there was a 1962 Ballantine historical novel about the Reign of Terror. Luckily I had my copy of KING SOLOMON'S MINES in my purse so we swapped that. I was in the middle of it but I can finish it in a copy at home.
The ride back to Arusha was bumpy and dusty. Just after Kitty announced that we would be at the hotel by 4 PM, the van in front of us got a flat tire. This was the same group of people as the last flat and the same tire (left rear), but of course a totally different vehicle. Ken was sitting in that corner each time so we told him he has to go on a diet. We waited while they (our driver and the other driver) changed the tire. Two old Maasai men and a boy who happened to be along the road came and watched as well. They didn't say anything, ask for anything, or try to sell us anything, just watched. It only took about ten minutes and we were on our way again. We got to Arusha about 4:30 PM and the driver stopped by some curio shops but we all agreed we'd rather just go to the hotel.
The Mt. Meru Hotel is located on the outskirts of town, not near any stores, but with a view of Mt. Meru. They were doing some remodeling work on the hotel--so our next stay would be more pleasant, they said. Thanks, guys, next time I'm in Arusha I'll remember that.
We barely had time to clean up and change for our 6 PM cocktail party. We milled around for a while. Ken gave Mark a t-shirt that said, "I may be fat but you're ugly and I can diet." Cathy gave us a copy of the tour members' addresses. She was able to make only three copies because there were only three sheets of copier paper. Luckily, it was only six people (three couples) leaving now, so it was enough.
At 6:30 four new people came in. They were from a Travcoa flying safari that was finishing up. We talked to one of them about seeing the gorillas in Rwanda. He said that even though it takes three days and you get only an hour with the gorillas, it's worth it. Oh, well, next time. Maybe when we see West Africa.
At 7 PM our guest speaker, Dr. Hirji of the Serengeti Wildlife Institute arrived. He spoke to us primarily about wildlife conservation in Tanzania. One quarter of all the land in Tanzania is under some sort of wildlife conservation regulations, although some is under multiple land-use as Maasai grazing land as well. In spite of this, he was very pessimistic about the future of rhinos and elephants. The general consensus is that both will be extinct in the wild by the year 2000, at least in East Africa. When that happens, tourism will drop off and the economy will deteriorate even more. Add to this a growth rate of 3.2% annually for the population and it's not a bright future.
There were many questions afterward. One person asked why the farmers weren't given tractors for farming and didn't seem to understand the answer that there wasn't any money for tractors. I asked about why hunting was allowed. As I suspected, it was very limited and generates enough revenue to pay for a lot of the conservation programs which Tanzania could not otherwise afford.
Part way into the questions the "tractor man" moved we adjourn and go to dinner, but he was quickly shouted down. We did finally go to dinner about 9 PM. I had goat. Mark and I ended up sitting by ourselves because we were the last to come in.
November 4, 1988: We drove to the airport, getting a wonderful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way. Amazingly, our flight did fly; often it is canceled because of fuel shortages or other problems. We spent our last Tanzanian shillings on a salad set, then bought a carving in the duty-free shop with dollars. All the luggage was hand-checked because the machine was broken. The flight to Nairobi took about a half-hour. Air Tanzania planes have a picture of a giraffe on their tail fin.
At the Nairobi airport we had to go through customs and all that stuff again, then wait for Alfred to show up. He hold been told that the plane was late (it wasn't). The six of us who were going home said goodbye to the rest of them, then went back to the Nairobi Hilton for the day.
There we ran into Jane (from Egypt) and talked to her about our trip, Africa, etc., most of which I've said here earlier, so I will not repeat it.
We had lunch with Ken and Sue, a real sit-down-and-order-fromthe -menu lunch. I had pepper steak--French style, rolled in pepper, not Chinese style. It was very good.
Then we did some last-minute shopping in the arcade off the hotel, but we mostly sat around the hotel room and watched movies: MURDER WITH MIRRORS and LADYHAWKE. At 6 PM we checked out and went to sit in the lounge until we were hungry enough for dinner. We started down for dinner at 7 PM but got side-tracked into talking to some people from Michigan who were just arriving. At about 8 PM we had a quick dinner of Mombasa prawns with avocado and an ice cream sampler for dessert and talked to Jane a bit more.
At 9 PM we transferred to the airport. First we had to pay the departure tax. The woman there gave me too much change and was very grateful when I pointed this out and returned the excess ($20). Then we went through currency control. Next was customs. For this you stand by your luggage on the counter until they check it or wave you on. The baggage handler who put our luggage on the counter then put his hand palm up between the two suitcases and said, "A little something?" motioning that if we paid him he would put the bags through right then. We shook our heads no slightly and just waited. After a couple of minutes he was back and asked again. We ignored him. After another minute or so he picked up the bags anyway and put them on the conveyor belt. I waited to make sure they passed through the wall before going on, however. I suspect that because there were a lot of people around he was better off getting our luggage off the rack and trying someone else. (We was not the customs inspector per se, just one of the handlers behind the counter.) If there aren't a lot of other people around it may be different. But it probably doesn't hurt to try a polite refusal at first.
Then we cleared immigration and sat around waiting for our gate to open. I was talking to someone from another group who said one of their tour members died on the first day and another person piped up, "Yes, they didn't even get to go on a single game drive." Well, that's one way to look at.
Mark and I couldn't get seats together so I ended up in business class where the seats are wider. (I offered to switch but Mark declined.) It's slightly easier to sleep in a wider seat but not much. KLM is a good airline: headsets and drinks are included for everyone and everything seems to run smoothly. I slept most of the flight to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
November 5, 1988: We arrived in Amsterdam at 6 AM local time; the TWA transfer desk didn't open till almost 9. So we walked around and browsed in the shops. It was wonderful to see something and be able to pay for it in dollars without all that currency rigamarole. We got a magazine, a few comic books, and a stuffed animal for a gift. Everyone at Schiphol was very courteous and friendly...even the guard who put us through the special security check.
You see, when we finally checked in at the transfer desk we were told we had to go down and identify our luggage before it would be put on the plane (it had been checked through to JFK from Nairobi). I went down, leaving Mark to watch the hand luggage. When I got there one guard was asking Margaret and Ann (the two other tour members on these flights) various questions. Another guard asked me if I was with them and where the rest of the tour group was. Then he said Mark had to come down also, so I went back and got him and all our hand luggage.
The guard then proceeded to ask us a lot of questions. Where had we been? Had anyone given us anything to bring back? Had we packed our own suitcases? Had they ever been out of our sight? All very polite but very professional. His asking us about various places we had been Mark figures was to verify that our passports were really ours, for example. Through all this we never actually saw our luggage, but at the end he noted down the claim check numbers and said it would be loaded when it arrived. I hope so, but I'd feel better about it if I had seen it.
(I'm now running around with six different currencies in my purse: United States, Egyptian, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Dutch, and a lone Canadian quarter I got in change before we left. I feel like a branch of Deak-Perrera.)
We wandered around the airport some more. Everyone in the airport was so friendly and cheerful I can't wait to get back and visit the country! (August 1990 the World Science Fiction Convention is in Holland, so we'll probably do Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg then.)
Our flight to New York left on time (pretty much) and was uneventful. When we arrived Mark said something about trying to get a picture of the cockpit, so I let him go ahead and then waited for him at the door of the plane when I got out. After a while everyone had exited and I looked in the cockpit. No Mark. I concluded that the thing to do was keep going as far as the luggage since there was nowhere else he could have branched off to. When I got to the luggage carousel, he was there--with our luggage! This was about five minutes after we got off the plane. Amazing! So we went up to the customs line. There was no one else in it. Double amazing!
This time where the form said "Are you bringing back agricultural products or have you visited a farm or ranch outside the United States?" I had underlined the latter when I checked it off. The last two times I've checked this box, they've asked, "What are you bringing back." "Nothing," we would say. "Then why did you check this off?" "Because we visited a farm." This time we skipped all that and went right to the part where the official calls over the agricultural inspector. She came over and he showed her the form. "Would you like to see our shoes?" I asked. "Oh, you've done this before," she replied. So she looked at our shoes (they want to make sure you're not tracking back all sorts of seeds and bugs on them), and waved us through. That was it--less than ten minutes from plane to exit. A new record for JFK.
So what happened when we got out? The person picking us up was nowhere to be seen. After quietly panicking for about five minutes, I started to look for a phone to try calling him, when I ran into him. He had popped into the store to buy a paper just as we arrived.
On the way home I got caught up on work, namely reading all about the Internet computer virus. This is know as hitting the ground running.
Then after a false start for dinner (the Japanese restaurant wasn't open when we got there), we went out for a Chinese dinner. After a three-and-a-half-week abstinence from Chinese food, it was very good. Then home to unpack (I say that Hurricane Suitcase has hit), call family to let them know we made it (Mark's parents are flying to Asia tomorrow or the next day, so the time interval is short), and to get some well-earned rest.
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