We were up at 7 am and had breakfast with MIL and FIL in the Norkfolk’s lovely dining room. There was an extensive hot and cold buffet, with eggs made to order and delicious French-pressed coffee. We ate inside as there was no room on the lovely veranda. We met Tonnie at 8 am for our safari briefing. We sat down and started chatting informally with our fellow safari companions, then did the rounds of introductions (by the end of the day I think I had everyone's names down pat). Our group is twelve in total (six couples); in addition to R & C
Tonnie gave us the lowdown on today’s itinerary as well as an overview of the entire trip, along with some basic “dos and don’ts” (e.g. Don’t drink the tap water. Ever. That means closing your mouth when you shower and brushing your teeth with bottled water, which will be available in every lodge.) He told us we were at an elevation of 5,500 feet in Nairobi but would be descending to 3,600 feet in Amboseli tomorrow, where there would be more bugs, so be sure to wear long sleeves and pants. We picked out our cool Micato safari hats (blatant advertising, yes, but also very comfortable and practical) and then heard from Rakita, a Maasai elder, who was dressed in traditional garb with a characteristic red plaid blanket and beautiful beaded jewelry. Rakita was very proud of the fact that the Maasai are one of the only African tribes to have held onto their culture despite Western influence. We were to observe this sense of pride over and over throughout the trip. The Maasai are just one of forty-two distinct tribes in
Maasai men are responsible for obtaining food and guarding the cows and goats; boys are ceremonially circumcised at age 14-15 as a demonstration of their strength and courage, after which they become warriors and grow their hair long (although this practice is disappearing as the boys are required to cut their hair short for school). Around age 25 they get married, shave their heads, and become elders. The traditional roles of women are cooking, taking care of the children, and finding water. (The Maasai also practice female circumcision, but we didn’t learn about that until later in the trip.) We had been warned that the Maasai do not like to have their photo taken without permission, but Rakita told us that we were welcome to take his picture. I started reading The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior by Tepilit Ole Saitoti on the plane; it provides fascinating insight into Maasai culture and the conflict between their traditional lifestyle and the “benefits” of modern society (education, health care, etc.).
After a brief photo session with Rakita (who joined us for the rest of the day's tour), we hopped on a comfortable air-conditioned bus for a tour of downtown
Our only stop in downtown
Back on the bus we headed out of the city, passing a sprawling slum of corrugated-metal shacks that houses over 500,000 people – one of the largest slums in
We headed out of the city on paved but heavily pot-holed roads that we soon realized are the norm here. We stopped at the
At the center we had the opportunity to feed several giraffes, both from the ground and from a special elevated platform. They eat pellets that look like giant rabbit food. Giraffes are vaguely horse-like when you get up close to them, except that they have extraordinarily long, black tongues – the better for reaching between the spines on acacia trees to get at the tender leaves. Their faces and ears are soft and velvety, while their "horns" are covered with fuzzy coarse hair (females' horns are tufted; the males' are not). The giraffes aren’t exactly friendly, and will butt you rather firmly with their heads if you are not feeding them fast enough, but they take the pellets from your hand gently enough. I volunteered for a giraffe kiss, which involves holding a pellet between your lips and letting the giraffe take it from you. It really was not gross at all, honest. But for some reason DH, FIL and MIL all declined the opportunity to be kissed by a giraffe.
The center also has a wonderful display of artwork by local schoolchildren. You can buy a piece of artwork and the money will go to support that child’s education. I purchased a wonderful painting of a zebra that caught my eye. (Unfortunately it accidentally went back to
We boarded the bus again and drove through a neighborhood of lush, gated estates called “Karen” after Karen Blixen. I was awed by the giant poinsettias (the size of small trees), brilliant pink bougainvilleas, and morning glory vines. This area is what is left of Karen Blixen’s farm, which she tried to preserve for the local Kikuyu tribespeople that she employed. (The Kikuyu, originally farmers from the
We headed out into the countryside next, driving through a small town where we got our first shock of the harsh realities of life for the typical Kenyan. The town was no more than a string of ramshackle tin-roofed shacks; Tonnie explained that the economy is based around the local slaughterhouse. We saw women selling tired-looking produce from wooden stalls and men hawking small buckets filled with chunks of charcoal, which is used for heating and cooking. A sign on one shack advertised “four-day-old chicks, layers, and broilers.” Another sold cell phones - yes, we saw cell phones everywhere! Glum-looking men sat by the side of the road in small groups, waiting for work. The roads were lined with donkey carts and men pulling carts themselves. Everywhere we went, people stared at us as we drove past in our Micato bus, which could very well be the nicest bus in all of
We turned onto the “biggest freeway in
We drove through rolling hills of vivid green tea plants and stopped for lunch at a tea plantation that has been run by a British family for three generations. The main house is a simple white farmhouse surrounded by green lawns and gorgeous landscaped flower gardens. We ate lunch outside at a long table shaded by umbrellas; there were several other tour groups eating there as well. Lunch was a buffet of corn chowder, stewed beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, salad, and delicious creamed corn. For dessert there was homemade vanilla ice cream, lemon custard, and fresh fruit. A woman with another group was celebrating her birthday and shared her chocolate cake with us.
After lunch we sat in the living room and learned about tea-making from the current owner, whose wife’s grandfather came to
On the way back to Nairobi we passed the new U.S. Embassy (out in the suburbs) and the U.N.’s African headquarters. Picture-taking is strictly forbidden here – the guards watch the cars like hawks and will chase down and confiscate your camera and/or film if they spot anyone taking photos. Back at the hotel we took showers and DH took a short cat-nap. At 5:00 we met out front and got on our bus again for the short drive to the Pintos' house in the
Before dinner we were served wine in the vast living room and talked a little about our trip preparations. We all expressed concern about the oversized duffels; some people knew their bags were overweight. Tonnie said not to worry because his bag only weighed about 15 pounds. I said that the Micato packing list was somewhat repetitive and mentioned LyndaS's excellent packing list. Mrs. Pinto told everyone to leave behind anything nonessential and to be prepared for early mornings and long days; she warned that we would need a vacation from our safari by the end!
Dinner was an elaborate buffet with Portuguese, Indian, and Kenyan influences. We started with “peanut soup” (pumpkin soup), followed by curry chicken, curried tilapia, bean salad, curried cabbage, steamed spinach with onion and tomato, and rice. My favorite was the chicken curry, but it was all delicious! Our group was divided between two tables; DH and I were seated with MIL, FIL, R2 & B, and Mrs. Pinto. After a while Mrs. Pinto moved to the other table and Tonnie came over and joined us. DH and I talked to him about Kenyan politics, attitudes towards tourists (Tonnie said the locals recognize the trickle-down benefits of tourism dollars), and the pros and cons of being a game warden versus a tour guide. (Tonnie decided the latter would be more interesting, involving more travel and meeting more people.) At the end of the meal Tonnie and the staff paraded out singing a “Hakuna Matata” song (not the one from The Lion King) and carrying birthday cakes for