Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Introduction-Part 4

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Continued from – Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Introduction-Part 3

May, 2010

Our Itinerary

A holiday in Kenya  would and should invariably involve a safari. And a safari would involve wild animals in their natural habitat with the humans ensconced in their mobile cages, driving within finger chewing distance, millimeters past them.

Somehow in my holiday frenzy and desperation, the realization of this did not hit me before it was too late or I would have chickened out of the whole thing, not being overly fond of offering myself as prey 🙂

In retrospect that was a good thing because now I can proudly say that I am a Survivor and quite frankly I have never enjoyed myself so thoroughly on any holiday ever and yes it was safe.

Kenya as I said earlier has several national parks and reserves. The Masai Mara of course is a must see and the rest of parks one can opt for, depending on the available number of days.

Lake Naivasha/Lake Nakuru and Mt Kenya are on the list of ‘usual suspects’,  being on a somewhat circular route from and to Nairobi and our route involved all of these.

Normally I plan our holidays ahead  since I choose ‘kid centric’ activities and places of interest and since we almost always go on holidays of short durations, I always research my destination threadbare on the net in order to plan the optimal.

But being short of time, this time I left the thinking to the travel agent and he came up with a Nairobi-Mt Kenya-Nakuru-Masai Mara-Nairobi circuit which I gathered is the way it is usually planned.

To get an idea of directions and locations see this Map of Kenya.

Map of Kenya - Copyright Shoor Travel

Map credit from here

I however realized in one of my rare moments of brilliance, that Mt Kenya was a relatively shorter drive to Nairobi than the Masai was and we had a plane to catch on our day of return. Therefore I requested our route to be reversed ie to do the Masai first and eventually Mt Kenya.

Another good reason to do this is that one is rather exhausted at the end of the whole 5 day drive and Mt Kenya is a good place to rest and sleep off the tiredness since there are no game drives there, only watching the animals at the watering hole from the lodge. Coming here first will give you that rest in the beginning of the holiday, when you do not really need it and doing the Masai game drives last, will just drain you out hours before leaving on the flight.

Hence for those who want to make the trip, this is a very useful bit of advice and it was all my idea … yeah I am good 🙂

Plan your last leg closest to Nairobi so you can still make it on time for your flight in the face of unavoidable delay and you will also be well rested after your strenuous safari. I thanked myself several times for this decision. It really made a difference.

For those who have specifically asked, this was a customized package for our family. We had no one else along with us. The land package includes all costs including all meals other than the first and last day in Nairobi and was paid in full at Bangalore itself.

Air fare is apart from this.

The first day was at our disposal and Usha most kindly planned our itinerary to include the places of our interest in Nairobi and also sent her driver and car to take us around, god bless her. More details later.

For those who wish to be escorted, the travel agent has options and packages for Nairobi sightseeing which can be customized as per one’s needs. It is good to use this day fruitfully as one may not get time on the return and the city and surroundings are definitely worth touring.

All unpacked and somewhere to go 

The above statement would be the best way to describe me before a journey. The worrying over the packing begins a month before the travel with the actual packing eventually happening just hours before departing.

K always prefers that we carry minimal baggage (on our USA trip he wanted to carry only backpacks. What a sense of humor the man possesses)  I of course am of the saner opinion that all those who do not fill their allowed quota are totally insane and KQ does allow a generous 40 kg per head with a 12 kg hand baggage and I think our entire luggage combined did not cross these figures. Fie on us 🙁

Hesitant because we were not clear on how much space would be available in the safari van, we carried only cabin size baggage even as check in, a decision I greatly regretted when I had to leave behind several beautiful, big sized handicrafts during my shopping. One mirror that I just couldn’t resist was stuffed into my bag at an angle that does not even exist in geometry and defying all physical laws of occupation of space 🙂

Made sure K carried it, to atone for serious foresight lapse and utter disregard for the wife’s earthly desires.

Anyway, the safari vehicle is a big one, mostly a 7 seater. Our’s was a 9 and if it has been booked exclusively for 1 family, there will be sufficient space to load even medium to bigger sized suitcases, so no need to hold back on that front.

Anyway to get back to what we were talking about, I was in my packing mode for several days before the take off.

Suitcases were strewn all over, unfilled of course and my cleaning lady would carefully sweep around them as she muttered incomprehensible somethings.

What we packed when we eventually packed.

There was barely any walking going to be done, so 1 pair of light footwear was advised. There was no need to carry more and use up space since one never gets out of the van on the safari or drives and at other times one sleeps.

Underclothes for 7 days and I mention the unmentionable because we were like the gypsies, moving from place to place on almost a daily basis. No laundromats, no time for laundry services in hotels and absolutely impossible to handwash (as many of us do on vacations and rightly so :-). Nothing will dry in that weather and the rooms have no fans or heaters to help either. Nor did I think the guide would take kindly to ‘airing my (clean) laundry’ on the open top of his van, though I was sorely tempted to attempt it.

Some places however, may have super quick laundry service but at super ridiculous prices.

Interesting tip – I have had friends who carry old (clean ones of course) undies on holidays so that they can throw them off as they are done with them. Logic being it is more inexpensive to buy another than it is to get the old one cleaned.

I however had no intention of donating mine to the savannah ecosystem, so back with us they came 🙂

Sigh, one of life’s biggest mysteries has always been what people do with their dirty clothes on a holiday and many times that has been the first question I have interrupted friends with, as they are bubbling (babbling) over with far more exciting holidays incidents to narrate.

Travelling with kids entails carrying of emergency food supplies. At least that is my excuse.

My kids have such a remarkable disinterest in food that I really wonder where such a big gene could have gone missing ???

At restaurants we resemble cruel parents a la Hansel and Gretel’s, where K and I eat like there is a famine shortly going to befall the land and our kids stare boredly into their plates that bear Thumbelina sized servings. And had they been witness to this, the Grimm brothers would have taken a very grim view of things indeed. Not to mention how unchristian Hans Christian would have thought we were !!!

Thus most food carried along on trips is consumed by K and me.

Anyway the purpose of speaking about food (like I need a purpose at all), was to say that though we lugged our quota of victuals we found absolutely no need to partake of them, being in an overly fed state of stupor at all times. And that really says something for the food that was served at every hotel/camp/lodge on the circuit.

Medicines – Our quota of medicines always travel with us. From the ubiquitous paracetamol and analgesics and antacid gels to strips of antibiotics and mouth ulcer gels and bandaid and cough syrups, we are a flying, walking, travelling pharmacy.

Do not forget the anti emetics for those with weak sphincters, especially those who get the urge to throw up even when they are stationary !!!

We also carried mosquito repellent cream and also electric mats, having been overly warned about the mosquitos.

Rooms do provide repellent mats, wipes, nets etc but I found the need to add my method to the existing madness.

Camera and batteries – V2’s camera apart which is our mainstay, K bought a new one with a greater zoom, a day before the travel. Take your cameras along, for one goes to Africa for the pictures. Extra sets of batteries are very important. They have a tendency to run out at the most inopportune moments and we could recharge only at nights. Carry the chargers and do not forget at least 2 socket adaptors/international adaptors. We forgot ours and were lucky to get one from Ramu and we had to time share that one between the mosquito mat, 2 sets of batteries and cell phone.

Binoculars – these we did not pack, for the simple reason that we did not possess them. But carry your binos with you. They will help in pretending you can see that far away giraffe or distant lion and stating the same with authority 🙂

Newton luckily had a pair but I am not sure whether all guides/safari operators will provide.

Then of course the unavoidable passports, tickets (‘e’ or otherwise), credit cards, passport photocopies, foreign exchange, extra photographs and also a tiny chit of paper bearing full name, date of birth, place of birth, passport number, date of issue, date of expiry, place of issue (totally 7 columns) of the 4 of us, the purpose of which was to facilitate easy filling of dis/embarkation forms, immigration forms, hotel forms etc without needing to open several passports every time. K’s bright idea … yeah sometimes he too does get them 🙂

It will be useful to mention here that on being advised, we had already downloaded the visa forms from the net and had prefilled them before our flight. This helped to save a good amount of time at the visa counter in Kenya. Of course the procedure is not too bad but it helps to be prepared in case of big crowds and long lines depending on the situation.

Finally we fly

For those who are wondering if this story is ever going to take off, I assure you it will. Just as we did from Bangalore airport.

The airport that is 3 years ‘new’ was new to me too. The last time I flew out was in April 2007 from the older and nearer one (not a big contender for frequent flier awards/rewards).

This one took us a short 45 min from my house (and I am not being sarcastic) and being a Sunday afternoon must have helped in keeping that number from being higher. An uneventful and smooth cab ride and we were at the new baby airport. Baby is right because it lacked all the hustle and bustle and importance of an international airport … at least that was my impression (not that I am an airport expert or anything :-). I found nothing remarkable about the place that took years to build and so much controversy to overcome and we had only the appetite killing prices of food and drink to indicate that we were indeed in an airport of international stature.

We had a domestic flight to catch so I did not get to see ‘the other side’. Our flight was at 6 pm and as is usual with us, we landed up far earlier than necessary, preference being given to languishing on airport seats rather than risking missing the flight. For obvious reasons this method has no fan following among the men in my house but my peace of mind usually overrides children’s happiness, hubby’s advice and other such trivialities.

We were to travel by Jet Airways, who are ‘On time everytime’ … except this one time !!! However they were only 20 mins off time, of which the pilot made up 10 mins by reducing flying time, to eventually land us in Mumbai at 7.50 pm instead of 7.40 pm. Not too bad at all. This was a foodless flight as had been earlier indicated , which was fine since for sheer lack of anything better to do, we had already stuffed on sandwiches the price of caviar.

In Mumbai, the land of my birth, we were met by the strapping Rajesh my classmate from St John’s school, Varanasi (whom I had never met in my life, being in another section) and his gorgeous and delightfully friendly wife Simi .

I will take a moment to say this – I have this  group of school classmates on yahoo which several of my batch mates are a part of and though some of us have not even met (or probably have no memory of having met) being in different sections in school or having attended the school at different times, the rapport and camaraderie we share is amazing. And whenever one of us happens to pass through the same town where another lives, we always make it a point to the best of our ability to meet. Lucky are those who have good friends and luckier are those who have friends whom they have not yet even had a glimpse of but who share so much love and closeness and I am thankful that I am so blessed to belong to both categories !!!

Rajesh drove us in his impressive SUV to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, promising a nervous me that we would surely be back at the airport by midnight. Cinderella had a time to keep and she was her usual agitated self, worrying that her carriage would turn into a pumpkin, as the Mumbai traffic loomed ahead ominously !!!

At the restaurant we were joined by the suave Rajat, another classmate whom I had never met and who had graciously made the time to spend with us. A wonderful dinner and wonderful conversation (who would say we had never met ?) and several photos later, the evening had to end and Rajesh drove faster than the white horses to deposit us in the international airport at the stroke of midnight, only to discover that our flight had been delayed by 2 hours. What !!! Anyway there was nothing we could do at that hour other than check in, so we were forced to do what we were doomed to, languish on airport seats with whining kids and grumpy husband. Mumbai airport is no picnic and the wait from 12 am to 5 am was absolutely devoid of all humor aka really not funny :-). Sitting in awkward positions on seats that have been carefully designed for maximum discomfort … hey pal how about a headrest ?, general neglect of hygiene, awful toilets not worthy of international standards and to top it all, passengers departing from time to time on flights that were not delayed, all contributed to lowering our happiness quotient which was already at an ‘airport’ low.

But along with that was the thankfulness for having booked our return Mumbai Blr flight at a late 7.40 am now that we had a taste of Kenyan Air timings.

The aircraft finally arrived from Nairobi at 4 am and we were allowed to board after the cleaning and other checks were complete. Did I say cleaning? The biggest disappointment (and thankfully the only one) of our holiday was the airlines. Unfortunately so, since KQ is promoted as the Pride of Africa and the in flight magazines and entertainment guides tell a tale of grandeur and splendor, though reality was far from what was grand or splendid !!! There was no in flight entertainment though it was scheduled, with the overhead screen displaying a blur throughout (which was fine with me actually. Which sleep deprived bloke wants to watch a movie at 5 am ?). The headphones did not work … oh wait, when did they give us headphones? Some of the seats failed to push back … sorry sir the gears seem to be stuck.

The staff seemed to be playing a ‘ignore the passenger’ game and very well too. No amount of pressing the steward button on the armrest could bring them forth. I had the cushion missing from my seat and they regretted they had run out so could I please use an extra blanket as a pillow? The overhead baggage racks had doors that flung open on their own from time to time in ghostly fashion and even a couple of times during landing. It was only an invisible hand that prevented the bags from falling off onto someones head. No diligent checks for seatbelt and straightening of seats at take off. I had to tap the person in front a couple of times to pull up his seat.

The breakfast served was awful and bore no relationship to the printed menu and worse still the items on the tray bore no resemblance to anything recognisable visually or taste wise. We ate since we had to but barely. Our flight had a 100% Indian crowd and I wondered how the vegetarians managed.

The washrooms were gross. On a 6 hour flight that is not what one wants to discover. Airplane toilets do not rank very high on my list of places to visit and unclean ones even more so. I don’t know how but towards the end we ran out of water and there was none to even wash our faces before we landed. I think I have never had such an experience even in a train.

Well there was nothing to do but close my eyes and dream of Emirates (Al Emarat how I miss you) or Qatar Air and say ‘how I wish’. Of course a small part of me wanted to be charitable and attribute these lapses to the time delay and how they probably didn’t have time to fix things but the return KA flight 6 days later, snuffed out all kindly thoughts rather abruptly. More on that later. Hold breath, it stinks (literally)!!!

Continued at Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Kenya Day 1

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A food and travel enthusiast who plays with words
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