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Sep 13, 2005 - Safari in Kenya

Reported by JoMar All rights reserved.

... we had a "red-eye" flight on 07th September, out of CAIRO.  Arriving at the Egyptian airport, dimly lit and filled with armed security and fully costumed Muslim women with their curious husbands, staring, I felt vulnerable and yet again, homesick (and so out of my element). I wondered how John felt. We sat down with our backpacks, now not looking so new anymore, rather quite soiled and dusty from the winds of the Egyptians Western Desert; my mind flooded with thoughts of wishful thinking that it was in fact an Air Canada flight, outbound for VANCOUVER, rather than Nairobi; and at our arrival in Vancouver, we'd be met with those precious little smiles of "my kids"...

I cannot wait.

OK, reality...

it was only 9:45pm, and our flight did not leave until 12:35am (midnight) and as we sat in the departure hall, stepping on the bizarre, long legged blond coloured ants, we decided to play UNO to pass some time away. Now the Egyptians really had something to be curious about! Their stares were never threatening, just curious and actually a couple of the "machine-gun-carrying-police" came over to watch. They were invited to join in, but they couldn't, but you could tell they sure wanted to!

All of a sudden it was time to check in with our luggage; we were the first in line for clearance. Behind us was this very smiley lady in traditional head-dress. We started to chat with her and her English was as good, if not better than ours!

This was Nada.

Nada was from Khartoum, Sudan. During our conversation, I wondered why we were in the same line as she...as she was headed home after a business course in Cairo. She told me our flight to Nairobi made a stop in Sudan! We had no idea ... but very cool, yet another country that we set foot on! We chatted with Nada for some time and learned a bit about Sudan and her job as an electrical engineer, as we drank tea and stale airport pastries! It was fun and made our 3 hour wait seem like minutes; thanks Nada!

We boarded our Kenya Airways flight, the service was great and before we knew it, we were on Sudan soil; not much to see from the airport at 3am ... but within the hour, we were up, up and away high above Ethiopia and Uganda headed for Nairobi.

Seven in the morning: exhausted, we were at JOMO KENYATTA INTERNATIONAL... We cleared customs and paid for our visa's ($100.00USD total) when we were greeted by Paul with the big smile! Relief!

The weather was pleasantly cooler than Cairo, it was sunny and +20C -- a change from the +40C weather we left behind at 11pm in Cairo! We weren't very clear on our schedule arriving into Nairobi as there was quite a bit of communication-breakdown through e-mail with our African travel agent, Dipak. But all fell into place quite nicely. We were hoping that our planned safari to see the Great Migration of animals would be starting the next day, as we were up all night on that red-eye flight. But, Nope!  We went to pick up one other couple and headed 6 hours southwest to Masai Mara as we did not want to spend our 7 days in Nairobi, which has been re-named "Nairobbery".

Our guide book paints a very disturbing profile of the city, and even in hotels, 'you know, behind the room door', it warns about the grim possibilities of muggings, rape and murder... :-0 so, out of Nairobi we went!  With little to no sleep the drive to the safari club was a long one, passing through villages that were eye-opening  -- poverty, children of 2-3 years old wandering the dusty, pot-holed roads, alone. As we got closer to the camp, it became quite remote and I (Markie) began to wonder what this camp might be like: 3rd world, spiders, roaches, lizards in the room?  YIKES... just then, OMG! to our left was 5 zebras!!!! just right there, in the wild of the African plains. We were so excited, I forgot about those creepy crawly things!

Finally arriving at the Mara Safari Club, our mouths dropped! This luxurious club was set in the Ol-Choro Oiroua Conservation area, surrounded from three sides by the Mara River. We did sleep in a "tent" but all tents have their own river frontage, with 4 poster feather beds, verandah, electricity, hot and cold running water, toilet and best part --  the turning down of the beds with chocolate covered pillows AND a hot water-bottles in between the sheets, as it was coolish at night! This was a SIX star tent MAN! (Lisa, and camping gang, I am not sure we will be ready for your kind of camping by the time we get home...) The main building with lounge, bar and dining room is cantilevered over the river. (oh, and did I mention the pool?) We had a late lunch (all meals included) and just settled into our "tent" for the next three nights... ahhhhhh waking from our power nap, we heard some splashing from the river, we went out onto our verandah and feasted our little Canadian eyes at 16 wading, frolicking hippo's!!! It was just amazing! and this was just the beginning!

The Masai Conservation area was donated to Kenya by the Masai Mara warriors, who still live on the African plains together with all the wildlife ... as part of the bargain some of the money from safari's goes to the Mara tribes. The Masai warriors live much as they have for thousands of years, living off the land and the animals. Once when standing outside a warrior compound we asked our driver if the warriors were not afraid that they and their offspring would be food for the lions; he taught us that they make a secret potion with the vegetation that they spread on themselves that keep them safe from being prey; the lions smell this and just pass them by, however if we were in the wild, we would be one tasty meal. They took us out on game drives by experienced driver naturalists, everyday to see if we could spot the "BIG 5" : water buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. These are named the Big 5 because of their importance to big game hunters. We saw all but the leopard, who are very shy and elusive. We saw many elephants up-close including a RARE full grown one without tusks, not to mention Thompson gazelle's, monkeys, baboons, vultures, jackals, owls, snakes, wildebeests, lions, ostriches, impalas and Markie's favourite: the Giraffe! It was all so beautiful ...

One thing we did do that was a major "rip" was the hot air balloon to see the 'great migration', which we did not see :-( and they only told us later (after paying) that the great migration ends about mid August, and here it was the first week in September... *uck. They got us up at 4:30am, drove for an hour, filled the balloon; we were pumped! Got off the ground (barely) the sun-rise was nice, but we hardly gained altitude. I would say about 10 stories up, just above the tree tops and sometimes skimming them! We scoured to see animals, not to mention the herds we were told we would see. Then all of a sudden it was over. That one hour we paid for was 'over' :-(

$850.00 USD for the two of us (so NOT in our budget!) We were served a very nice breakfast in the field where we landed, but ...

The rest of our time was socializing with other guests and just absorbing the 5 star surroundings. Now it was time to head back to "Nairobbery" for the remaining four nights. We were booked at the Dream Inn Comfort hotel in downtown Nairobi, after the long drive back it was just not the same environment as the safari, but seemed OK for the $50US/night. We settled, then out for a brave walk through the downtown core - not pretty. We had heard of two other budget hotels that were in better, quieter locale. We called our driver and he took us to see the Impala Hotel for $30US /night, but they would not rent ONE room for two men. We would have had to take two separate rooms... wtf? so we kept our fingers crossed and headed to the Plums Hotel in the Westlands area of Nairobi; $20US/night ! and they greeted us with wonderful smiles! The area was much better, room is very basic, clean and bug-free! Although we did not ever venture out of our room after nightfall, as per warnings!

One of the days we asked our driver to take us 10KM out to see the "Karen Blixen" house; in the suburb of 'Karen'... named after the "Out of Africa" author, portrayed in the film of the same name, by Meryl Streep. It was a really pretty house, did not seem like we were in Nairobi anymore! The rest of our time was spent going back and forth "to the mall" and feeding hungry, poor, homeless children, some of which were only 4-5 years old, dirty, hungry and glue sniffing addicts; heart-wrenching, but life learning. Count your blessings please. Today is our last day here, we fly tomorrow at 13:00hrs (pm) heading south to the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania; ahhhhhh, beach and quiet!

So as you see, we are fine, have been lucky with being safe and healthy. With all the hoops we have to jump through in daily travel and being lonesome for you all, the aggravations of language barriers, money conversions, we have absolutely NO regrets... and are having the "time of our lives"!

Marc and John ...

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