Kenya Day 1
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Continued from Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Introduction-Part 4
June 1st, 2010
To those who have been gradually developing this uncomfortable feeling that they have accidentally been watching the wrong movie all this time, harbor such erroneous thoughts no more. Yes this story is about Kenya and we have finally arrived where I have promised to take you 🙂
Due to the delay in take off, the landing was proportionally late. We descended onto the runway of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (named after their first President) and the aircraft touched ground with that characteristic bump that makes my heart go thump and my stomach muscles clump. It was 8.30 am instead of 6.30 am and with great relief we left the confines of the claustrophobic and by now rather filthy aircraft and out into 16 deg c of crisp, fresh Kenyan air of the aerobridge, that segment which bears your first step into your destination. As we entered the terminal we were welcomed by a placard (saying Carol family … hey who told them I was the boss? carried by Michael (Mike) of Safari Trails.
Mike was a most pleasant person and greeted us with a Jambo as he guided us right away to the visa counter. Since we already had our forms filled we went right ahead to submit them unlike others who then stood around attempting to do the same. The person at the visa counter was however not as thrilled to see us as Mike was. Not that he was rude or anything but I just didn’t feel the love there 🙂
We went through the very short process of having our photos taken and the visa pasted on the passports. Though V2 being a minor, did not need a visa, his photo was taken too. The visas at $25 per adult amounted to $75 for the three of us and on handing over a $100 note, Mr Visa Man looked me in the eye and unblinkingly returned $20. I stood my ground and ‘unblinked’ right back at him but K never one to squabble at places like these dragged a reluctant and glaring me out of there, off to baggage claim and Mike again.
Me being me, I had to complain to Mike about the shortchanging and he was truly livid. He was very upset that we had accepted the lower amount without protesting and was very insistent that we return for the due. But K did not wish to make a scene and so that is where we left it, our first (and thankfully last) experience of being ‘had’ in Nairobi.
As we waited for our bags to slide down the conveyor (my bags always come out last. Is that because I always check in first?), Mike made a little speech about the do’s and dont’s of Kenyan culture/customs and gave us a quick lesson in Swahili where a relieved Kishore learnt that Jambo meant Hello and not a reference to size. I had noticed his distinct discomfort at all the grinning Jambos that had come his way so far 🙂
No venturing out on our own especially after dark, no taking photographs of government buildings and similar, no clicking pictures of the locals without their permission, this apparently would lead to their making a hue and cry and snatching your camera or demanding money or getting violent. I don’t blame them one bit. I would unhesitatingly poke out a few eyes myself if someone did that to me.
However I soon found that on permission being sought, everyone was willing to oblige and I had no trouble obtaining all the images that I wanted to preserve for posterity. Kenyans are a friendly, polite people and they show the utmost courtesy to their tourists.
Baggage done, we headed out to the car park. Mike was good enough to advice us to change our money at the airport counter and we got the best rate there, one that subsequent ‘changings’ could not match.
At the car park we met Newton our driver/guide a young pleasant chap. A jambo and a handshake there and we were loading our bags into the Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD our transport for the duration of our stay. We had apparently been assigned a regular Toyota Hiace or similar (like our matador/tempo travellers here) but had been upgraded to the 4WD as a sign of goodwill? No I don’t know why but it made a big difference comfort wise besides being a far better vehicle to use on a safari. You will see why later (ref Kenya Day 3). We had the entire 9 seater all to ourselves including the back seat where we could even lie down. Not that we ever did though. There was too much to see. Our stuff went into the back, with space to spare.
We were booked in the Hotel Sentrim Boulevard, about 45 mins away from the airport. We had barely started out to our destination when we were greeted by a big, fat Marabou stork waddling right across the main road. Unprepared for taking pictures, we could only watch fascinated as our van sped by, going past a couple of acacia trees full of the same birds right in front of our popping eyes. These we were told, were scavenger birds, feeding on carrion and urban waste and hence considered pests but for us they were a novel sight and we aahed and oohed at them much to the amusement of our companions M and N who probably thought that we were totally nuts. As nuts as we would call someone who came to Bangalore and cooed delightedly at our stray dogs or even pigeons!!! Of course M and N were polite enough not to tell us what they thought of us but who knows what is Swahili for ‘crazy’ 🙂
We kept our eyes peeled for more surprises but unfortunately there were no more visits from the stork (oh please may I pun out of context).
Nairobi struck me as very green and clean
With roads that are a Bangalorean’s dream
Truly a city so beautiful
And the air all fresh and cool
(see it brought out the poet in me).
I fell in love with this city at first sight. Mike told us a little about the country as we drove on. Kenya has over 50 tribes, the most important of these being the Masai since they have maintained their culture, traditions and identity better than the others.
As we were drove past the impressive Nairobi skyline, Mike pointed out buildings of interest, giving us an informative running commentary on all that we saw. Had I not been so tired I would have made an effort to remember what he said or at least made a note. Silly me.
We finally came to a crossroad called Holy Circle so named because of the several churches around it and then past the Fairmont Norfolk hotel which is the oldest hotel in Nairobi and wonderfully maintained and within a few yards we reached our Hotel Sentrim Boulevard. It was 10 AM when we got here. A fairly central and decent place with all the usual amenities and facilities like swimming pool etc, none of which we had the time to use. Mike helped us check in and gave us a short summary of what our schedule was going to be like from then on and asked us to be ready by 7 am the next day in order to leave with Newton for the Masai Mara.
Our shocked looks and pitiful pleading and mostly tough Indian bargaining, made him relent just enough to grant us an extra hour.
Giving us a feedback form that we had to fill at the end of our holiday and promising to meet us on our return to Nairobi, he then departed.
We made a quick call to Usha who had been expecting us 2 hours earlier and she decided to send her driver right away, to make up for lost time. Henry the driver arrived within a few minutes with a big bottle of water. Yeah her house happened to be really close by.
I requested him to wait a while so that we could deposit our bags in the room.
Since we needed change for tipping I approached the lady at the exchange counter and being unfamiliar with the currency, handed over a 1000 Ksh note and asked for 2 fiftys !!! Her amused smile and 20 fiftys helped me take a rare quick decision to leave the money handling to K 🙂
There were no lifts but the bell boys helped us with our bags to the 2nd floor to the 2 fairly decent rooms and we had barely enough time to wash our faces and … yeah, that was about it. No time for anything else, not even a bath (gosh do you really want to know all that?)
So off to Usha’s house we went, to give her a hug before setting out on our planned sightseeing.
Having only 1 full day in Nairobi, Usha had chalked out a very suitable plan with the kids in mind. We were to visit the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage situated at the edge of the Nairobi National Park, then the nearby Giraffe center at Langata and the Kazuri Beads factory along the same route. Then we would return for lunch to Usha’s house and after ‘discarding’ the men at the hotel, Usha would accompany me on a shopping spree (what glee) in the afternoon. Shopping being the one and only thing that I would stay awake for, after 30 hrs of sleep deprivation 🙂
Then back to my hotel in the evening for a … yes yes I know, long due bath and rest and onto dinner with Usha and Ramu. Ramu who had very kindly put himself out and left the car and driver at our disposal and found other means to get to work. Are there still such good people in this world ?
The elephant orphanage has a feeding time for the baby elephants and rhinos and that lasts strictly only for an hour between 11 am and 12 noon, where the babies are brought out in a line and one can interact with them. It is said to be the highlight of the visit.
As it would take around 30 mins to get there, there was no way we could have made it and we had to regretfully give up that part. But those of you who can manage it, please do not miss this opportunity and while you are at it, do visit the Nairobi national park too.
So it was off to the giraffe center with Henry at the helm acting as guide and doing a good job of it too. He was an amiable chappie, probably in his late 50s and speaking excellent English as did all the other locals. He pointed out all the relevant sights along the way, including the large estates with high walls, where the British settlers lived (those who had stayed on since the colonization ) and referred to them as the very rich people.
He was extremely shocked that we were in Nairobi for just 1 day and most of his conversation revolved around how little that time was to see this wonderful city and how we had erred unforgivably by not planning better. He insisted that we should come back again on another leisurely holiday, in the following month no less, making me feel more and more apologetic for our lapse 🙂
He even chalked out our itinerary with a 4 day stay at Mama Usha’s place, with a blow by blow plan of what we would do each day.
Now this reference to Mama Usha had me confused. Henry being old enough to be Mama Usha’s papa, I just did not get the connection. I learnt later that Mama is how women are addressed and this bit of information helped me not to blanch when I was addressed as mama by people much older than I was.
Of course Kishore not to be left out, wanted to know if he was going to be called Papa but I am not sure we got around to finding that out 🙂
The planning of our imaginary holiday came to a temporary halt when we finally arrived at the Giraffe center at Langata Rd in the Karen area after a drive of about 30 mins. This center is home to the endangered Rothschild giraffe and is located in the grounds of The Giraffe Manor, a colonial mansion that is now a hotel where I have heard that the giraffes can be fed from the windows of the rooms.
Digressing a bit, I would like to add that the upmarket Karen area is named after Karen Blixen, the Danish author of “Out of Africa” and her mansion is now converted into the Karen Blixen museum, which we did not have the time to see.
The entrance rates to the giraffe center are Ksh 700 for non resident adults and 250 for their children, residents having to pay a lower fee of Ksh 100 per adult and 20 per child. Timings are 9 am to 5.30 pm all days.
Here there is a wooden platform built, that is raised to the level of the giraffe’s neck and we can climb onto it to feed, touch and pet the giraffes. Little pellets of food are available in a bin and we used them to feed the beautiful and gentle animals to our heart’s content. Needless to say, my children were thrilled.
I gathered up the courage to do my bit and after several misses, I got skillful enough to actually place the food on the wet, slobbery, rubbery tongue. The giraffes kept coming for more and we just did not feel like leaving them unfed. This is such a wonderful experience and should not be missed. Slobbery tongue consequences on the hand can be washed away with soap and water at a quaint sink on a pebble encrusted pedestal. Several warthogs also peacefully co exist on the estate with the giraffes.
While we were there, a bunch of tiny little school children arrived for their ‘outing’ from school and their teacher explained to them about the place, asking questions that I felt like joining in to answer 🙂 The children looked so delighted to be there and it was a pleasure observing their interested faces.
There is also a section behind the platform where they have a couple of tortoises who slowly munch their way through mounds of cabbage, uncaring and unaware of their visitors. K took a video of them climbing the mound painstakingly. Really, who takes videos of tortoises walking ?
A gift shop called Daisy’s Zooveniour shop (Daisy being one of the giraffes, I gathered ) is also on the premises and the prices were on the higher side. However, there is another stall near the tortoises where a couple have spread their wares inside and on the ground outside, mostly handicrafts and wooden carvings etc. These were very beautiful and they were open to bargaining down to very attractive prices. Being my first experience I was very hesitant to try my luck and sadly did not pick up anything from there, though the carved wooden Masai men and women beckoned enticingly. Neither did I have the courage to take pictures, being my first time out. Wisely enough, I shed all cowardice during future interactions.
From here we left to the Kazuri beads factory a mere 10 mins away. This place was founded by a British missionary lady in order to provide employment for the local underprivileged women. Here ceramic beads and other ceramic ware is fashioned from a locally available clay and painted and sold as jewelry and pottery in the outlet on the same premises.
The products are also exported to several countries.
Kazuri means ‘small and beautiful’ and their finished products are indeed beautiful. The prices are pretty much on the higher side but the work is of international standards, the craftsmanship exquisite and the colors stunning. Also this place helps over 300 women stand on their own feet and support their families.
After going around the shop we entered the factory where several people were working on the clay in various stages of completion.
By now I had learnt to be quick about asking permission to take pictures and from then on it was trigger happy all the way. The girls in the factory were most obliging and offered to take us around and explain the process. Unfortunately it was rather late, we were very tired and hungry and some of us (ahem ahem you know who) wanted to go back and sleep. So it was over to Henry, who still had not given up his idea of our holiday and entertained us thus, all the way home.
Home being Usha’s beautifully done up house with its cool, green backyard and lovely decor.
Usha had promised us a simple lunch, a promise that was far from kept. Between her and the cheerful domestic help, they had managed a spread that interested even my picky kids and did wonders for Kishore’s mood. A mood that was sorely in need of wonders by now. That was topped off with mango ice cream which of course only I had. What is the matter with me huh ? K had the Kenyan coffee and he was very impressed with it.
The drooping threesome now begged to be returned to the hotel and Henry was kind enough to do the honors, probably wondering how they could sleep when they were already so short of time. I however stayed back for the next bit of excitement and Mama Carol went up a few notches in Henry’s eyes 😀
On Henry’s return, Usha along with her dear friend and neighbor M, escorted me to paradise. Paradise, in this case called City market or Triangle market, was a dream come true. A cluster of several tiny stalls on either side of a narrow passage, filled with unimaginable kinds of curios, wood carvings, masks, shawls, soapstone work, bead work… wait didn’t I already mention all this somewhere ? Oh well a little repetition never killed anyone.
That I was short on baggage space did not figure, as I went nuts looking at the possibilities. Usha and M bargained professionally and got me some good deals. The highlight of my purchases being a mirror with leather frame and bead work that I still do not know how I stuffed into my undersized bag. There were etched beer glasses with pictures of African animals, of which I bought only two, a lion and a rhino. They were go gorgeous that I later kicked myself for not buying more. Girl where was your foresight ?
Even K liked those and for those who know him and what he thinks of my shopping, that would be cause for great surprise 🙂
My companions were in a rush to close the process by 6 pm, later than that being considered unsafe and I had to reluctantly bid goodbye to the market. However, Usha kept the flag of hope flying in me by suggesting that I visit a supermarket in Nairobi on my return, since I would have sufficient time before my flight. Did I mention that she was very very wise?
Giving me ideas on what I could shop for, including the exotic Macademia nuts, the flavorful Kenyan tea/coffee that K loved and a few items that I could use in my baking, she recommended the Nakumatt super market, one of the largest supermarket chains in Nairobi, which conveniently had a branch on the way to the airport. Pacifying me with this sage advice, she then had me dropped off at my hotel and I went to the room to find everyone fast asleep.
I woke them up to get ready for the evening and then rested awhile till our friends came to pick us up for dinner. V1 however refused to get up and we had no choice but to allow him to stay behind.
In the meantime K had discovered that the water was not on the house or anywhere in the house and the hotel charged Ksh 300 for a liter. Luckily we had our supply from Usha, so we were spared that atrocity 🙂
Coffee and tea sachets were available in the room and K had to have his dose.
Speaking of hotel rooms I must mention here that there are no fans or air conditioning in any of the hotels here, mostly because it is not needed. We however are used to having the fans on even in winter and we found it a bit strange. Of course it does not make the room less comfortable. It’s just different. For dinner our friends took us to a quaint Mediterranean place (I forget the name) and after a truly wonderful dinner, they dropped us off at the hotel with promises of meeting in Bangalore someday.
It was rather late by now and we had an early morning date, so we hit the bed and then … who knows what happened then. I didn’t open my eyes till the alarm rang next morning.
June 1st, 2010
Continued at Kenya – Day 2