Masai Mara and Nairobi, Kenya
Three weeks after being back in Abu Dhabi, after spending a month in southern Spain, we were off on Eid Al Adha Holiday, one of the few public holidays in the UAE. Looking for cheap flights out of AD for a peak flying weekend meant we had to keep our options open. Kenya came up and we decided that was where we would go. I had spent one brief, crazy night in Nairobi but hadn’t seen much else so I was stoked to go back. This would be my 3rd trip to east Africa but it was Jackie and Andrea’s first trip so of course we had to do a safari. We booked our first and last night at the Khweza Guest House in Nairobi and they offered to book us a reasonably priced safari to the legendary Masai Mara.
The first time I went on safari in Tanzania I went to see the landscape but fell in love with the animals, tried to convince the safari guide that I was kindred spirits with lions, and stood on the edge of a pond full of hippos. I really couldn’t’ wait to see more elephants and if I was lucky, lions!
Andrea, compulsive globetrotter and wonderful scatter brain, arrived in Kenya without a blank page in which to put the full page Kenyan visa on…so we had to convince the customs official to put the sticker over a UAE stamp. You see we travel so much from the UAE and before they got E-gate our passports were overtaken by exit and entry UAE stamps. Thankfully he did it because otherwise that might have put an abrupt end to our adventure and we never would have been privy to Jackie singing the soundtrack to The Lion King for 2 days straight. We went to Kyrgyzstan about 2 weeks after this trip and Andrea forgot that her passport was full ON THE WAY to Kyrgyzstan…thankfully they only had a small stamp and she was able to find a smidgen of space for them.
Mohammed our safari guide picked us up at the airport in the safari van to bring us to Khweza guest house. On the way out of the airport zone:
Jackie: It’s a zebra!!!
Mohammed: It’s a statue.
Me and Andrea: ahahahahhahahahahahah!!!
Me: Zebras just roam around the airport in Nairobi..what wild city!
Mohammed: (laughing) sometimes you see an animal in the city.
The next morning we got up and left for the Masai Mara, about a 4 hour drive from Nairobi. Two hours of the drive you are on a paved road and about an hour out of the city we stopped at a lookout point over the Great Rift Valley. If you only have a little time in Kenya, definitely get a ride out there.
After 2 hours, Mohammed turned around and said “let me introduce you to your African massage” Having heard this phrase before, I groaned, poor Jackie and Andrea had no idea, until the wheels hit the gravel and we proceeded to bounce and vibrate along the road, the whole van shaking ferociously, threatening to dislodge essential working parts and break apart completely. We happened upon some stranded travellers standing outside their broken down vehicle. Mohammed being a lovely, caring person, stopped and asked us if we would mind sharing the van for awhile. We did not mind and so they piled in and off we went, jerking around violently for another 2 hours to the Masai Mara. At some point our exhaust pipe that runs the length of the van fell off and Mohammed secured it with a seatbelt. He had to get out several times to re-fix the seatbelt to the exhaust pipe. Finally, we roll into the safari camp, unpacked, had lunch and then headed out to the Masai Mara for an evening game drive. That night we saw loads of zebras, buffalo, wildebeests and a cheetah. We almost saw a family of lions but they retreated into the bushes before we could catch a decent glimpse of them.
I’ve heard a lot of people say the food in east Africa was bland but I completely disagree. They served us a very healthy and delicious meal of chicken, lentils, chapati, and veggies. The meals we ate were like home cooking, didn’t feel heavy, greasy, salty; just fragrant and clean.
Let’s talk about safari clothes..you DO NOT NEED safari specific clothes. Jackie wore jeans and t-shirt, Andrea and I were in comfy leggings and tank tops, you get DIRTY!!! The dust is incredible and my white shirt was yellow by the end of the day, from just literally sitting in a safari van with the top open. We saw an aspiring fashionista walking around our safari camp in a fancy wide brimmed hat made for the beach, little beige shorts, a white t-shirt and gladiator sandals…my only regret of the trip was that we didn’t see what a disheveled mess she was by the end of the day. Also wear closed toed shoes..it is really, really dusty!
So many cheetahs!!!! Baby cheetahs, mommy cheetahs, probably daddy cheetahs too! At one point we happened along a cheetah sitting on the side of the road so close to our van. Mohammed turned and told me to close the window “they jump!”. “What about the open roof?!” I said. He laughed.
Zebras, Giraffes, Heartbeast, Antelopes, and Wildebeasts are a given on any safari, probably elephants too, but nothing prepares you for the sight of a pack of elephants roaming through the dry grass. Massive male bulls, females and baby elephants, they are the most powerful animals on the planet, (my assumption) and also the most empathetic and intelligent; look into the eyes of an elephant and you can feel their compassion.
We also saw a fairly gory sight, of a vulture and some other creepy bird feasting on a dead new born zebra, we thought it might have been still born. Hyena’s are gross looking gremlin dogs that stalk around the Masai Mara, lazying around in mud and staring at the safari vehicles with malice, but some how I also find them a little cute. I once read a demon, vampire erotica novel in which they described these hybrid dog/demon creatures and I immediately thought of a Hyena.
We had a picnic lunch under a tree out in the open, Jackie sat on her camera rendering it useless for the rest of the trip so I lent her my iPhone since I had my Nikon. We had a mini safari squad photo shoot, we looked so fierce!
The next morning we piled in the van to go back to Nairobi, Mohammed informed us that we would be bringing a family along because their safari vehicle had broken down, this would be the 2nd group of stranded passengers. We were nearly the 3rd, Mohammed had had the exhaust pipe welded back on in town but it detached itself again on the way back, as did an entire, very crucial looking metal plate on the bottom of the van, that rode shotgun the rest of the way back. The 3 of us were discussing our nightlife options for the night in Nairobi, we wondered aloud if Sunday night would be a good party night, Mohammed turned around with a mischievous grin and said “Sunday Night is Reggae night, I will take you,” Perfect!
That night he picked us up in the safari van, the metal plate still riding shotgun, I was really tempted to ask him to open the top so we could go on a city safari. He took us to a club with amazing throwback 90’s rnb music, where we danced on the balcony, smoked shish and overlooked a Halal restaurant on the eve of Eid (fun for us who live in the UAE with their very strict drinking laws). Afterwards we went to a club where a famous Kenyan comedian/musician was performing, he called out the crowd for not dancing too much by telling them that “even the muzungus over there are dancing more than you!” Slightly embarassing but not altogether untrue, we were dating up a storm! Mohammed led us to the Reggae club but it was so jammed, shoulder to shoulder, butt to pelvis, that it was just suffocating so we told him we were going back to the other club. Mohammed and his friends kind of lagged behind us a bit as we were bouncing through the midnight streets of Nairobi. Suddenly I felt a woman’s manicured talons grip my wrist and very drunkenly try to accost me with random questions as to what I was doing there. I surmised very quickly that she and her friends were prostitutes, so I deftly released her talons from my forearm skin and kept moving. The next thing I know she’s run up behind Andrea who is in front of me, grabbed the tail of her little flouncy dress and lifted it up to inspect her panty game. The woman started laughing and declaring very loudly, “Why are you wearing panties, NOBODY WEARS PANTIES IN KENYA, NOBODY WEARS PANTIES IN KENYA, NOBODY WEARS PANTIES IN KENYA!!!!” All the while flapping Andrea’s dress up and down over and over again laughing. Andrea, shocked, was laughing and trying to run away but the woman held tight and kept running after her. Myself and Jackie were doubled over laughing so hard, completely useless to help Andrea! Lesson learned ALWAYS wear panties in Kenya, the more granny the panty the better!
We lost Mohammed at some point and decided to get a taxi back to the hotel. Andrea as always, ravenously drunk hangry demanded that the driver take her to food. We tried to slyly tell the driver not to take us to food but he, being good natured brought Andrea to a restaurant and she proceeded to order All THE FRIES in Kenya. Like 3 huge brown paper bags of fries which they gave her about 2 packets of ketchup for. When we woke up the next morning the table was covered in French fries like we had descended on the food like a hungry bunch of vultures.
We decided to go on the hunt for some coffee downtown, Khweza Guest House was an easy 20 minute walk to the city centre. “You’re smart!” “You’re beautiful!” Those were among the extremely polite cat calls we received as we walked, one fellow commented on Jackie’s short shorts (which I told her not to wear), saying “I like your short pants!” We got pretty turned around and at some point found ourselves walking into a not so friendly, chaotic part of downturn (I’m pretty sure it was the area the guidebooks advise you against going. I tried to convince my friends to get on a body-boda (motorcycle taxi, but they were not having it. An older gentlemen we had passed earlier saw us heading for trouble and rushed after us, telling us to follow him and he would take us where we needed to go. He told us that there was an unfriendly man following us and he felt it necessary to help our dumb asses. He walked us to the cafe we had been searching for and then sat with us while we ate. We tried to buy him lunch but in the end he wanted money for his services which we cheerfully obliged. He told us that he was a safari guide but during low season he struggled to feed his family and then told us that the money we gave him would feed his family for a week, while we had spent the equivalent on one lunch.
Perspective is a heavy thing sometimes, it’s an important thing but it opens up glaring disparities that can make you uncomfortable, necessarily uncomfortable. Learning to appreciate what I have and appreciate those who work just as hard or harder than me but have so much less. Lessons I learn while travelling, learning not to complain about feeling stressed and over worked because at least I have a steady income. I think it’s important to fully comprehend what blessings you have in your life, even if at times you feel there are few. That is why it is hard to relate to people who haven’t travelled much because their experience is limited to a very narrow scope of humanity and way of life. They feel their hardships more than I would, I am privileged of course but I recognize that even when times are tough, there is no reason to wallow; we can be happy without everything going the way we want it to, that this time will pass and better times will come.
Leaving the airport, we were such gross people, having not showered properly in 4 days, that the customs lady searched Andrea’s “drug bun” because it was so big and stuck on her head. Like even when she took the elastic out her, hair didn’t move, she had a perma-bun.
All misadventures and perspectives aside, Kenya will leave an impression on you; the incredible vistas, sunsets over the Masai Mara and dancing the night away in Nairobi, you’ll feel alive in Kenya, with or without panties.