Luxury camping in Kenya
Was I making a fool of myself? Was I bothering them? Was I just the annoying white person? I had told Andreas, that I would do it. I normally like dancing. But as her dusty hand grabbed mine, I maybe regretted a little bit. No way back. I was now hand in hand with a Maasai woman my age, while Andreas was safe behind his camera, watching.
It was the last day of our 3-day safari to Amboseli National Park in Kenya. We had stayed the night in a cabin at a nice lodge at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. The weather was perfect all three days, no rain and only few clouds. We had planned to be lucky. And we were! Our first safari was an afternoon trip the same day we arrived at the lodge. We were picked up in our own 10 seat minibus with a pop-up roof and made our way from the lodge to the park. Our safariguide and -driver was named George.
We had seen the first three types of animals, even before we reached the gate. A giraffe -gazelle, a zebra, and a Maasai giraffe. George switched on the radio, which allowed the guides to communicate and tell each other about the whereabouts of the most exciting animals, especially the cats. We marveled at the hundreds of zebras and wildebeest, who were heading for the hills for the night, through the dust and the hot rays from the sun. Suddenly, George turned the minibus around and put a heavy foot on the accelerator. Any prying question about what was going on was answered with “moment.”
With our heads poking through the roof and a hand on the frame, we surveyed the landscape. We had a feeling that George had received a tip. We were heading towards a swarm of other minibuses. As we arrived, numerous white people with huge cameras were staring into the distance from under their pop-up roofs. They were looking at three small dots about 200 meters from the road. They looked like tree-stumps. They turned out to be rarely-seen cheetahs. The cheetahs woke up, and the pack of three slowly moved closer to the road. An amazing sight. We were lucky, as planned. And it kept going. A little later, George was told about a pack of four lions, and headed over there. The lions kept their distance, but you can just see them on our pictures.
George has 8 years of experience as a safari guide and driver. Despite that, we did not get much information from him. He did know the names of all the animals we cared to point out, but that was the end of it. The elephants, however, did seem to be close to his heart, as he was able to give a little more information about them. They weigh between 2200 and 6300 kg and eat a daily ration of 300 kg of grass. They are clever enough to shake the dust and sand off the grass before it eats it. The females are pregnant for two years, and plan to give birth just before the rainy season in November, to give the kid the best possible conditions.
George had unianimously on our behalf decided, that we would rather spend the final morning visiting a maasai village, than do another wildlife drive. True, it might be interesting enough, but we had seen lots of people and culture, riding through the country. We speculated that George liked to sleep in and take the easiest ways out.
He dropped us off on the way from the lodge, and three maasai men greeted us, draped in colorful clothes, with shoes made of motorcycle tires, and armed with semes – their huge, traditional knifes. Together, we hiked to the village, one of 28 in the area. One of them spoke english really well, and acted as our guide. The others were silent. Along the way, we stopped several times to look at various animal footprints – hyenas, tortoises, and giraffes.
Upon arrival, we were told to wait outside the city wall, a pile of dry, spiked branches, encircling the village. It consisted of seven huts. Andreas whispered he had the feeling that he would hate what was coming next. He had realized that there would be singing and dancing. Something traditional, which was perhaps more of a tourist trap than a tradition. I love singing and dancing. I was eager to join, perhaps mostly as a reaction against Andreas’ negativity. And just like that, 22 of the 30 people in town emerged, singing and dancing. The women carried their babies on the back and the men all carried a wooden stick. They performed four dances for us: the welcome dance, the wedding dance, the competition dance, and the blessing dance. Not 30 seconds passed, and I was pulled into the fray. It is wonderful to be included in the culture you are visiting, but was this culture, or simply to entertain tourists? Was Andreas right? Is it normal for the entire village to abandon every task to welcome guests like this?
The woman, who squeezed my hand during all the dances, was she the lucky one to hold the hand of the blonde, light-skinned girl, or had she drawn the short straw, being forced to drag the tourist around? In any case, I jumped and danced along the best I could.
After all that, Andreas and I agreed, that we were mostly annoying and disturbing them. One thing was that they all had to stop what they were doing, when we arrived, another that we could not quite determine if the maasai people enjoyed the dancing, or it was a chore, like when I have to do the dishes on a Friday night.
The maasai village was round with a diameter of about 30 m. The cattle was kept in a circular fenced area in the middle.
The maasai introduced us to their natural medicine, which could supposedly help aganst headaches, bad stomach, joint pains, and “manpower” (viagra). Manpower smelled suspiciously like eucalyptus, a fact that was categorically denied. The other types of medicine consisted of dried bark and brances from various trees, to be either smelled or made into tea.
One of the locals walked up to us with a dried piece of elephant dung, used to start a fire. Not an easy task, two men shared the hardships. But both Andreas and I are old scouts, and were not so easily impressed – we tried hard to look impressed, though.
Our guide invited us into his tiny little hut. Centrally in the hut was a small fireplace for cooking at day and light at night. In each end was a small bed, lined with cow hides. They slept under their clothes, a couple of pieces of fabric, able to be magically wrapped around your body in a way strong enough to cope with dancing, jumping and hunting.
We were told a little about maasai life, and how a young man has to kill a lion before he can get married – which also requires a payment of 10 cows to the family of the lucky bride. The maasai has a number of rituals. Some pertaining to religion, others to their look. When you are 6-18 months old, you are branded with one or two rings on each cheek. Later, as your adult teeth have grown our, the two middle teeth in the bottom of the mouth are removed. That way, maasais are easy to recognize.
We have been in Kenya for a little over a week. The border crossing from Ethiopia went smoothly. Visa for Kenya took only 5 minutes. There are fuel stations all over the place. Wonderful nature and comfortable climate. Friendly, colorful, and hospitable people. What’s not to like? Kenya is great. Just the change needed after our disappointing time in Ethiopia.
It turned out, that what we expected to be a couple of primitive nights on Mt. Kenya, was pure luxury. We pitched our tent on a plateau surrounded by grazing sheep, goats, horses, and cows, near clean toilets with hot showers. A stone’s throw from the campsite was the restaurant in an old stone house. It had a large, raised veranda with views of the jungle, and the huge bamboo couches were soft. The stay was, apart from a trek a bit up Mt. Kenya, pure relaxation, with delicious breakfast and three course dinners. As it was far from the peak season, we expected to have the jungle and the animals to ourselves. We hoped to see lots of animals – monkeys, birds, elephants. Since somebody on the boat from Egypt thought he needed my hiking shoes more than me, I had to do the 14 km hike in my motercycle boots. Not the best solution, but the hike was easy enough, so it worked out all right. The trip was beautiful, but we saw no animals. Fortunately, the dinner was good, when we returned.
The past few days, we have been staying at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. Jungle Junction is a legendary campsite, which all overlanders, going north or south, check in to. Andreas has been dreaming about this milestone ever since he started planning this trip 4 years ago. Here, we gave the bikes some much needed love, with new chains and sprockets. It has also been a good opportunity to meet others on similar trips. Until now, we had only met a single truck with a Dutch couple at the Egypt/Sudan border, but here are 8-10 other people, going through Africa by push bike, Land Rover or Unimog, travelling for anything from 1 month to 4 years. It has been nice talking to people who don’t think our trip is an insane project. We have also gotten lots of tips and tricks for the remainder of our adventure.
Apart from the campsite itself, we visited the house of Karen Blixen (who was Danish). Even though we are Danes, we had to admit to our guide, that we had not read any of her books. The high point of Nairobi was our visit to the giraffe center, where they raise the heavily endangered Rothschild-giraffes, before they release them to a few national parks. Here, you are allowed to hand feed giraffes!
Tomorrow, we head north west to Lake Naivasha, where we hope to see hippos and flamingos, and eat pizza at the excellent pizzaria, which is supposed to be there. Then we head towards Uganda, to visit the farm my brother, Daniel, used to live on.