Wednesday, July 20, 2016

African Adventure: Kenya and Tanzania - Part 1

Arrival in Nairobi
June 30 - July 1, 2016

This journey was the fulfillment of a life-long dream and our greatest adventure yet - a visit to the continent of Africa - and it was everything I had dreamed it would be and more.  In spite of splurging on business class seats on our long flights from LAX to Amsterdam and then on to Nairobi, I was too excited to sleep much, but passed the time watching movies and eating the good meals that were served almost too frequently!
Appetizers on the plane - smoked salmon and lotus root.

A display of ceramic Dutch houses in the KLM lounge in Amsterdam.
We received a gift of one of these houses on each leg of our flight.

We left LAX in the evening of June 30 - our 15th wedding anniversary! - and arrived at the Nairobi airport at 9:45 p.m. on July 1.  After a little searching, we found our Overseas Adventure Travel escort waiting just outside of the baggage area.  Our fellow tour members had also arrived on the same flight, but because Rob and I travel carry-on only, we had to wait for our travel mates to gather their bags and join us on the two vans that would take us to our first lodge.  As we waited for the others to arrive, we chatted with the van driver and learned a little about Kenya.  Nairobi has a population of more than 4,000.000 people.  There are many tribal dialects, but Swahili is the common national language, and English is taught in the schools, so we were able to communicate very well.  The people of Kenya are, naturally, very proud of Obama, whose father was a member of the Luo tribe.

Our tour group members soon arrived, and after introductions all around, we set out for the lodge. Within minutes of leaving the airport, we had our first glimpse of the animals of Africa - a herd of zebras illuminated by the headlights of the cars.  Nairobi actually has a huge national park right within the boundaries of the city!

It was a long drive to the lovely Karen Country Lodge located in a wooded area in the outskirts of the city.  We arrived, exhausted, at 1:00 a.m.  Staff members walked us to our room - a large bungalow with a spacious living area, including a large fireplace.  Because Kenya is south of the equator, it was winter, and in spite of its location in the tropics, the evening was actually quite chilly and we were grateful for the nice crackling fire.
Our bungalow at Karen Country Lodge outside of Nairobi

Bedroom in Karen Country Lodge

Living area and fireplace

Clawfoot bath and open shower area in our bungalow

Elephant Orphans and Hungry Giraffes
Nairobi - July 2, 2016

The Karen Lodge provided a hearty breakfast with a definite British flair - baked beans, broiled tomatoes, marmalade - left over, I'd guess, from the days of the British rule of Kenya which lasted from 1920 until 1963.

Rob in the tropical gardens of the Karen Country Lodge

The courtyard of the Karen Country Lodge

Immediately after breakfast, we set out for our first real introduction to Africa.  It was an amazing day from start to finish!

Our first stop was the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.  What a great surprise!  Rob had recently seen a documentary about the great work done here.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was founded to help preserve and protect the animals of Africa, and one of their primary projects to is provide a home for baby elephants orphans.  Sometimes this occurs due to natural causes, but far more often, these babies' mothers are killed by poachers.  The sanctuary takes in the orphaned elephants and teaches them the skills they will need to be returned to the wild when they are old and strong enough.  Rob had actually sent a contribution to the trust and had mentioned to me that he wished we could have worked out a visit to the orphanage while we were here, so it was a very happy surprise to discover that this was part of our itinerary!

What a wonderful organization!

Rob made friends with this nice man visiting from Armenia
What a delight!  The elephants are only displayed to the public for one hour each had in order to allow the babies to retain their wild character.  The mahouts brought them from the forest into a huge area filled with mud.  After feeding the youngsters goat's milk from giant baby bottles, the elephants were allowed to wallow in the red mud to their hearts' content.  (We asked the emcee why they used goat's milk.  He laughed and said, "It's hard to milk a wild elephant!")  The perimeter of the field was lined with onlookers standing four to five deep.  (In fact, it was a bit frustrating for us short people, as the staff did nothing to ensure that everyone had a chance to get to the front of the crowd.)

The baby elephants enter the center from their home in the woods.

Hungry babies!

There's nothing like a glorious mud bath!
An announcer shared some facts about the elephants and the work that is done there.  He talked of the work being done in Kenya to save the elephants.  Kenya has made remarkable strides in stopping poaching, which is down 80 to 90% in the last few years due to their strict policies, stiff penalties, and the investment in more park rangers and monitoring.  Sadly, Tanzania lags far behind in its own efforts and the elephant population there has declined almost 60% in the last decade due to poaching.
The orphans return to their pasture.

I noticed this T-shirt in the crowd.  HIV-AIDS is still a serious problem in Africa.
After an hour, the babies were led away, and we left for our second stop, a visit to the Giraffe Centre, part of the African Fund for Endangered Species.  This organization provides education programs for schools to teach animal conservation to young students.

Another fun stop!  Staff members handed out fistfuls of pellets which the giraffes scooped out of our fingers with their long grey tongues.  The viewing station at the top of the stairs allowed my animal-loving husband to actually pet the gentle creatures.
I feed an eager giraffe.

Rob enjoys a cuddle with a friendly creature.
This warthog shared the forest with the giraffes.
The giraffes were not confined to a small pen, but had a
huge wooded area to browse in.

After our exciting morning, we returned to the Karen Country Lodge to pick up our bags and depart for the regional Wilson Airport.  As we rode through Nairobi, I could not help but notice the great disparity between the wealthier parts of the city, where large homes were all protected by high fences with barbed wire or other intimidating barriers, and the large slums that house up to 60% of the Nairobi population.  This was Rob's and my first encounter with the "third world," and it was a sobering sight.
Wire barriers protect the wealthier homes.

One of the slums of Nairobi seen from the car as we drove by.

At Wilson Airport, we boarded a small 12-passenger plane and took off for the 45 minute ride to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, the great park just north of the border between Kenya and Tanzania to the south.  Masai Mara and the Serengeti are actually part of the same ecosystem that forms one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in the world.  As wonderful as the elephants and giraffes had been this morning, we had still not seen them in their natural environment, and I could hardly wait!  Our Masai Mara adventure will be coming up in the next post.

Some of our tour partners head for our little plane.

Selfie on the plane

Our pilot and co-pilot.

It was a little crowded...and a little bouncy...but the view was wonderful!

We could see the circular patterns of the bomas - the Masai homesteads -
as we approached the Masai Mara.


xoxoxtine said...

You both look so contented and happy. What a wonderful adventure, beautifully photographed and written. Looking forward to the sequel. What a bonny happy lass ya arrrr, dear Joanie...

Annis Cassells said...

Joan, I am just beginning reading of your great Africa adventure! Oh, I remember those long flights to Amsterdam and Nairobi. The thing that struck me upon landing at the Nairobi airport was the unexpected feelings of awe and pride as I looked around that place and every person "in charge" of something was black. Like every American-born person, I had never seen or experienced that before. But, for me, a proud black woman, I felt myself standing even taller and more proud. And tears welling up. I felt like I was "at home."

What great accommodations you had at the Karen Lodge! Our tour (in 2005) also included the Giraffe Center.

Looking forward to reading the rest of your safari adventures. Hugs and thanks! xoA

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Annis, thank you for your comment. I actually thought of you and Mark and my other black friends as we traveled around Kenya and Tanzania, and the fact that you would have been surrounded by people who looked like you, and how comfortable that would feel. I can clearly understand how you would have felt "at home." That being said, I will add that we felt very welcomed in spite of being the "minority" group. The entire trip was fabulous.

Karen Lodge was one of the two most "up-scale" places we stayed. Most of our stays, as you will see in the future posts were tent-camps. I am not a "camper," so I had been a little worried about this, but they were also very comfortable!

The Elephant Sanctuary and Giraffe Center were wonderful...but nothing could beat seeing the animals in their own environment! I have a travel tale about that coming up for our critique group!