Kenya

Kenya 6/23/06 - Flight to Nairobi, Carnivore Restaurant, Arrival at Amboseli National Park

Overnight the birds were squawking up a storm! We woke up at 7:30, and I was feeling much better. I ate my banana (leftover from yesterday's hot air balloon breakfast) in the tent to test my stomach. We packed up, showered, and went to the restaurant for breakfast. We saw Jonathan at the door, and were seated at a different table than usual since we were checking out today. They were already preparing for the newest arrivals but we were unfazed. We were on our way to Amboseli today. Craig went to the cooking station and got a ham and cheese omelette and a side of bacon. Some weird guy making inappropriate jokes to the waitresses tried to steal his cooked-to-order bacon by cutting into the line. I had cereal, strawberry yoghurt, and toast. I felt that it was a positive sign that I actually had an appetite today. Back at the table, we showed Jonathan our photo album. He was enjoying the photos but particularly liked the ones with snow. It was funny to hear some of the questions they would ask. "How can you drive?" and "What do you do with it?" He also commented that I look a lot like my mother. He invited us to come back and visit him someday, and he said that he would pick us up at the airport and take us to his village. We exchanged contact information and promised to write. Peter walked by and immediately said with a big smile "Stephanie! Are you feeling better today?" He is such a sweetie.

Before leaving the lodge we just had to get a photo of Bill with his "girlfriend," waitress and bartender Rudiah. We managed to run in to Rudiah in the bar area and we told her we wanted a photo of her with Bill. She laughed and thought it would be fun so we were able to capture the two of them together. They were so funny in how they talked with each other. Bill really enjoyed joking around with her and she clearly knew how to play along. Bill really could be a sweet guy. Making our way to the lobby, we checked out and were waiting for our ride to the airstrip. Kelvin waited with us. Craig remembered there was something he had meant to show Kelvin yesterday but had forgotten. He reached into his little bag and retrieved his lip balm which is labeled "Now with aloe!". There was even a small image of an aloe plant on the side of the tube. We just had to show Kelvin as a tribute to all of the natural medicines that he had showed us yesterday. Once again Craig explained that in our country everyone just wants to buy things and not actually learn about the natural products from which they are derived. Rather than steal a little sap from a tree to heal a burn or a skin wound, we would buy products that captured that very same ingredient. I think Kelvin was a little amused by the manufactured version of what they have used for generations.

At 10:00, Antony, a driver from the hotel, drove us to the airstrip in a brand new LandCruiser. It was only about a 40 minute ride, which around here really is very short. We could see a few small buildings in the distance and knew from what Patrick had told us previously, this was "the airport". Upon our arrival, Antony gave us warm towels to wash up before our flight. The airstrip was in the middle of nowhere. It looked like any other place in the Mara, except that there were two wooden structures. One was basically just an old and worn thatched roof under which were some log benches so that people could wait in the shade. We joked that it was the "first class lounge." There was also a little corrugated metal shack where two men were selling souvenirs. It was labeled in big painted letters "Duty Free Shop." Too funny! Although booked on the upcoming flight we didn't even have tickets for the flight, so we were a bit nervous. But all we needed to do was to show them our park entrance tickets. Nature Expeditions had set everything up and they already had our names on file. We went into the "duty free shop" and saw an interesting carved gourd, but the price was about 4 times what we thought it was really worth. We haggled a bit but it was obvious we weren't going to come to an agreement so we left the shop and went back outside to wait for the plane to arrive. The sun was hot, so we sat in the shade. There was a rather large group of people waiting for the same plane. They had been discussing their trip so far. One of the women mentioned her husband being left in Nairobi because he was sick. How he missed the whole Maasai Mara trip and how much she wished he was there with her. I sure felt happy that I was fighting through even though I did have trouble keeping food down. So far so good for today though.

The guy from the duty free shop came over and tried to get us to come to an agreement on the price. He clearly wasn't seeing this our way. No agreement would make both parties happy so it was not to be. At 11:14, we heard the distant sounds of a small prop airplane. The SafariLink plane appeared and landed on the small dirt airstrip adjacent to the buildings where we were stationed. As we finally began to board the plane we realized there wasn't even a place to weigh our luggage. We had been so worried about the weight restrictions on the luggage, and getting ours well below the maximum weight for such a small aircraft, but it turned out that they didn't even weigh it. They just took our bags and put them in the bottom compartment. It was only a 10 passenger plane, and we got on. After a quick and bumpy ride down the dirt airstrip we lifted off. Immediately we were treated with beautiful views of the land below. We could easily see Maasai villages dotting the countryside. The terrain also looked far more complex from above. It was clear there was a lot more to the land than it first appears. After a short 6-minute flight, we landed at the Siana airstrip, where we picked up two more passengers. This airstrip actually appeared smaller than where we had just left. Two Maasai men in traditional dress had driven them to the airstrip, and were now leaning against the Land Cruiser waiting for the plane to depart. The pilot passed around a bowl of mints and said "This is the in-flight service." The flight was very pleasant and the views were simply astounding. It was interesting to see Maasai manyattas from the air. They are very visible, with round acacia branch fences around their circumference. It really made us realize a bit more about how they live together and yet separate from each other, driving home the notion of what the market day is really all about.

We arrived at the Nairobi airport at 12:10. As we were coming in to the airport, the living conditions became more and more dense. The large stretches of grasslands were replaced with homes and makeshift places to live. It was a small culture shock after being away for a few days. We knew it would be short-lived though as we would be heading out again shortly after arriving. Once off the plane, Patrick, James, and Lobo were there to greet us. It was great seeing them again and we all felt ready for the next leg of the trip. We collected our bags and hopped into the Land Cruiser. While doing this we could see various students being led in a very orderly fashion, into the airport. We assumed this was some sort of field trip since the students didn't seem to have any travel bags or anything like that. It really seemd that a group of small school children were getting an opportunity to see large and small airplanes taking off to destinations all around the world.

As lunch time upon us, we were headed to the famous Carnivore Restaurant for lunch. We had seen this place on the web, and it is a Nairobi tourist institution. It was all we had expected it to be. When you enter, you pass by this area where skewers upon skewers of meat are roasting over a large fire. The guides didn't eat with us, so the three of us sat at a small table and the onslaught began. A guy came around making their signature drink, "dawa" (which means "medicine" in Swahili). The dawa cocktail was invented by the Carnivore, and consists of vodka, lime, and sugar. Craig immediately ordered one as he always has to try the local drinks when he travels. Craig really liked that it was served with a little stick for mashing up the lime. The waiter said that it is supposed to increase your appetite so that you can eat more meat.

The waiters first brought a lazy susan laden with salad fixin's and sauces specific to each type of meat that would be served. The waiter explained what each sauce was for, but we were on sensory overload and could only register so much. They brought over some bread as well. When you are ready, you place a small white flag with the Carnivore logo on top of your lazy susan. This is the signal for the carvers to visit your table. And visit they did, fast and furious. They were carrying skewers of meat and carved off slices onto your plate. Barbequed spare ribs, beef, pork, ostrich, alligator, camel, lamb, chicken...everything was delicious and had a smokey roasted flavor. We especially liked the ostrich, though we felt slightly guilty after having seen some so far on our safari. I had been worried about coming here because of my stomach. I had heard such great things about the place and wanted to be able to experience it, so I dug in anyway. Luckily, my stomach decided to cooperate. Though I wasn't able to eat huge amounts, I was able to sample just about everything. Craig, loving just about everything that came his way, helped to finish off my leftovers. Craig also tried the chicken livers and chicken gizzards (thinking that Anthony Bourdain would be proud - he always extols the virtues of organ meat on his television travel/food shows). Craig enjoyed the liver but thought that the gizzards were too gristly. Especially with all this other extremely tender meat around. More and more food came until we had to "surrender" our white flag. We took the flag down. This was the signal that we had eaten as much meat as we could muster. Craig and I ordered fruit sorbet for dessert. We were served three scoops (mango, raspberry, and an extremely tart lime). A cute orange and white cat was sprawled out near the rest rooms and occasionally, during the course of the meal, wandered amongst our legs under the table. The cat was extremely clean and we weren't worried about it but it clearly upset some of the other patrons. While still in the city we wanted to take advantage of the ATM on premises, and got some Kenyan shillings. When we got home we would find that the transaction fee for this withdrawal was less than $2 U.S...amazing, since many U.S. ATM's charge more than this even in an adjacent town.

At 2:00 we were finally ready and left the restaurant. On the road we dropped off Lobo, and headed toward the border town of Namanga. Bill would be leaving us today, continuing his trip in Tanzania. We stopped in the town of Kajiado to get gas. As we approached the "Paradise Gallery" gift shop and rest stop, we got our first view of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was breathtaking. There were a few clouds surrounding it, but the summit was visible. We stopped at Paradise Gallery and used the rest rooms. We also bought a few wooden animal carvings and a doll. We would find out later that the prices here were rather high, but not too bad, but we did at least bargain a bit. One of the women working there asked if we could give her a U.S. $10 bill for 10 $1's, since they have no bank. We gladly did this, as smaller bills were more useful to us anyway. We then continued toward Namanga. It was what we are starting to see as a stereotypical border town. On the Kenyan side of the border we realized too late that our windows were down, and we were accosted by Maasai women trying to sell us all kinds of things. One woman put a bracelet on Craig's arm and wouldn't take it back, insisting that he buy it for "mama" (me). James intervened and gave it back to her, and warned us to close our windows. They discourage tourists from buying from the Maasai here, as the Maasai make a nuisance of themselves and interfere with the business that needs to be conducted at the border. He said that when we visit the Maasai village on Sunday it will be orderly, with people sitting down next to their wares. We crossed no-man's-land and entered the Tanzania portion, where Bill was handed off to Paul from Kibo Guides. We drove back to Kenya as Bill entered the immigration office for his transfer. Up to this point, the roads had been surprisingly good but now they would become rough again. We were trying to get to the Amboseli National Park entrance before closing time (6:30) or else Patrick would have to deal with red tape. He told us it could be sorted out, but it was best to avoid trouble and not make waves.

On the way to Amboseli the sun was sinking lower in the sky and we really had to balance the desire to stop for photos with the fact that we still had some distance to cover in a short time. At one point we saw a small bunch of giraffes just hanging out and standing right near the road. Craig was really enjoying this. It's times like this that you are reminded of the fact that you are here. A place previously only known through television and books is suddenly everywhere around us. As with many of our trips, this trip really is very humbling for the two of us and is really becoming who we are. Craig just couldn't resist and asked Patrick if we could make a quick stop to get some photos. Patrick said he was happy to stop for a few photos. He insisted there was no problem with our timing and that we should enjoy the ride and stop when we wanted to.

We made it to the park entrance at 6:11. After a short drive Patrick turned off the road where it was clear many others had previously been before. This new road was a short cut across the dry bed of Lake Amboseli. It was amazing to see how flat the bottom of the lakebed was. This portion of the ride was quite smooth and the landscape all around us was stunning. Kilimanjaro was clear in front of us, and the setting sun was reflecting off of its capping glacier. Absolutely surreal for us and stunning! We saw wildebeest running and kicking up dust, some zebras, gazelles, and a hyena right on the side of the "road." Lake Amboseli fills with water during the rainy season, but we were now at the start of the dry season. We arrived at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge at around 6:40. The staff immediately presented a basket of hot towels to wipe our faces and hands. Patrick went to the desk to fill out paperwork checking us in, while we sat and were given complimentary glasses of fresh orange juice. Patrick wouldn't drink it because it was cold, and many Africans, like many Mexicans, believe that drinking cold beverages can give you a sore throat. We were walked down the dark exterior pathways and were shown to our room which was, no kidding, # 42. We immediately noticed it is much warmer in Amboseli than in Maasai Mara. Apparently this is common since it is at a lower elevation (3675 feet). We settled into our room, which had a mural of various animals. We were intrigued by a few that looked like anteaters burrowed in. Our first impression was that the lodge seemed a bit stuffy after having just spent the past few days in a tent, but we would get used to it.

We left the room and went to the dining room for dinner at 7:15. We met Paul, the maitre d' and waiter, who was very nice. We were seated at table 19. It was located in a small sideroom off the main dining room. The table was large enough that it had extra seats for Patrick and James, who had said they would probably join us. We were hoping they would arrive as we enjoyed their company very much. We like when we are able to share dinner and discussion with the guides. We got salad and cheese from the salad bar. Craig got mutton broth soup and I had cream of carrot (Kenyan cream soups really were delicious!) We ordered chicken and mushroom vol au vent as an appetizer, but it never arrived. This was ok, as there was plenty of food. Craig ordered duckling with ginger and coriander sauce, and I ordered a grilled beef filet with port wine sauce. We were each served carrots, pea pods, and rosemary potatoes. Craig had a Tusker beer, and I got a glass of white wine which was served in a small caraffe.

Just as I was saying that I really hoped Patick and James would join us, they rounded the corner as if on cue. We had a great time with them, laughing about various funny things which had happened so far on the trip. It felt very nice to be reunited with our friends again. We got dessert from the dessert bar (chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and bananas in chocolate sauce) Was this enough chocolate for today? It didn't seem so at the time. We showed Patrick and James the photo album that we had brought from home. They were intrigued by the snow (especially James!) He had so many questions: "Why does it fall on your car? What do you do with it? Does it hurt? How do you drive in it?" We enjoyed answering his questions. Both of them have been so good about explaining Kenyan and Maasai culture to us that we were happy we could teach them something about our home. At 10 pm, Patrick and James needed to get some sleep. We said we'd meet them again at 6:30 at the coffee bar on the back porch of the lobby ("A good idea! Like the ice cream idea!" said Patrick enthusiastically.) We said goodnight and went back to the room. On the walk, we noticed signs warning about not feeding or touching the monkeys. What monkeys? We assumed that they were already asleep, but looked forward to seeing them in the daylight. I wrote in the journal until almost 11:00, and then we both went to bed for the first night of sleep in our new home.
Rudiah and Bill

Duty Free Shop at the Maasai Mara airstrip

Craig boarding the SafariLink prop plane to Nairobi

Maasai manyattas from the air

Meat on the spit, Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi

Dawa cocktail, Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi

Serving meat, Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi

Our first view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Kenya


Giraffe near the entrance to Amboseli National Park

Mt. Kilimanjaro viewed from the dry bed of Lake Amboseli

Sunset over dry bed of Lake Amboseli

Hyena,  dry bed of Lake Amboseli

Dinner with James and Patrick, Amboseli Serena Lodge

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