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Saturday, July 26, 2003

Treated like Royalty
Reading, UK

We spent most of July 24th in Nairobi (our flight to London didn't leave till 10:30pm that night), and that's when I managed to update the logs for our safari. Our last meal there was purely local Kenyan food. I won't try to name the dishes because I've already forgotten most of the names, but we certainly enjoyed them. A big thank you to Amos and Noel from Sagawa Tours who picked us up from the airport, drove us to lunch, to the Internet Cafe, to dinner and back to the airport. We certainly have had a very pleasant trip with this agency.

Flying back to London and using a nice toilet at Heathrow Airport sure brought us back to modern conveniences and comfort. It's definitely a nice break from having to worry about showers and other bathroom related duties. We are staying with our friend Tijana, whom we travelled with last year in China. Tijana has been an amazing hostess - she has a nice place in Reading, which is 30mins by train from Central London (45mins by coach from the airport). Reading is a nice town (in England, cities are defined by the presence of a cathedral) though it's large enough to be considered a city by North American standards.

Yesterday, Winston and I walked along the main streets and enjoyed the shops, beautiful architecture and lively atmosphere of the town center. Then we went to London, where we both got haircuts (mine's VERY short!!). It's nice to feel so clean and tidy .. we were starting to look like bush people after being on safari for so long. I had been craving sushi for the past week, so when we got off the train at Paddington Station, and I saw a sushi sign, I made a beeline for it. It was one of those places where you pick your dishes off a conveyor belt, and the dishes are colour coded for pricing. Yum.. definitely not bad for fast food though we're going to try and find a 'real' sushi place here again before we leave. Somehow we think we'll have better luck here than say in Spain, or Morocco. We met up with Anne, Dave and Tijana in the evening, and went to eat at the same Malaysian restaurant we ate at on July 3rd with Ev and Ken. Hehe.. it was very good, though we ended up ordering way too much food.

This morning, Anne & Dave took the train into Reading, and we all piled into Tijana's car. We went to visit Winchester (the capital of England in the 10th and 11th century), a lovely city with a huge cathedral, nice pedestrian malls and old city walls. There we went to see King Arthur's Round Table and the Gurkha Museum. Lunch was at a lovely bakery - cornish pies! It started to rain off and on, so we did get quite wet. Thank goodness for raincoats and umbrellas - though I think next time Dave will pack one, right Dave? :)

Our next stop was Stonehenge. This historical site is very amazing to see in person. What surprised us was how close it was next to a highway. There were self-guided audio headsets which were very helpful. We were hoping to come here close to sunset, but since it was rainy and cloudy, it wouldn't have made a difference. Next to stonehenge were farmlands with lots of sheep! They were so cute.

Next we drove to Salisbury where we had to loop around a few times to find the entrance into the old city wall to get a good view of their cathedral. It is amazing. It was too bad that we were that after it had closed. A very impressive building, it is considered to be Britain's finest medieval cathedral. Maybe next time we come back to England we can spend more time there.

Back to Reading, Tijana made us a wonderful dinner of Austrian Schnitzel, with potatoes, peas and salad. Oh, I can't forget to mention gin and tonic, and red wine too! We finished off with a fruit salad and ice cream. See, I told you she's a wonderful hostess. We are already expecting her to visit us in Seattle after we get back next year. We have to return this wonderful hospitality. Tomorrow is another day for us to explore the beautiful English countryside. Of course, what we end up doing will be dependent on the weather. Keep your eyes open for the next blog. Time for bed now.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Zanzibar, the Spice Island
Nairobi, Kenya

Ahh... Zanzibar. We had no expectations for this place as we just booked it with our tour. An island off the east coast of Tanzania, resting in the Indian Ocean, we were blown away when we arrived at our hotel, the MNarani Beach Cottages. We stayed at the north end of the island, called Nungwi. Before I describe the hotel, let me tell you about the road there. Only 60km away, it took us 1.5hrs from the airport! The roads were pretty bad. What used to be good roads are now filled with potholes, large enough to drop your refrigerator through. Then the last 10 km were unfinished dirt road, again full of holes. Apparently this is the least developed part of the island, so the infrastructure isn't in place yet.

So, after this long and unexpected ride, we walked from the reception area towards our rooms. Wow - the sight that greeted us was the calm waters of the Indian Ocean, turquoise blue mixed with greens. And white sandy beach just underneath the deck of the bar. The sun was just setting off to the left, just behind the lighthouse. Coconut trees were blowing softly above us, and we felt as if we had reached paradise! Our rooms were Queen bed cottages that faced the beach, with warm showers and running toilets! A true luxury after a week of camping, and very bad toilets on safari. In front of the cottages were swinging lounges and hammocks, which looked so inviting.

We had dinner out on the patio that night, with candle light, and listened to the sound of the waves directly below us. We still felt as if we were dreaming. Of course, we celebrated with a bottle of South African Chardonnay, which was quite good. The food was also excellent, and reasonably priced.

Our first day there (July 21st), we told ourselves that we were going to give ourselves the day off, so no tours or anything like that. We lazily woke up though still in time for a beautiful sunrise (this is the only place where we could watch both sunrise and sunset on the island!), had breakfast, then Anne and i went for a morning swim. It was glorious! After that we dried off on the swinging lounges and read our books. Winston's going to build 2 swinging hammock stands when we get home (one for Anne, and one for me!) :) After lunch, Anne and I tried to go for a swim again, but by now, the tide was really low. By the time we walked out towards the reefs, we had already stepped on lots of barnacles, and the water was barely above our ankles. After lunch, along with the boys, we walked along the beach towards the west. We first visited the lighthouse aquarium next door, where there is a natural lagoon sheltering green sea turtles. We picked up seashells and enjoyed watching the men making dhows (traditional fishing boats) right on the beach. Then it was time to go back for sunset, an evening swim and dinner! Ah... so relaxing. The nights there were wonderful. Nice breeze, and very clear skies. There were countless stars above us, and the milky way was also very clear. We pretty much spent every evening there gazing at the sky. It is unlike anything we can get back home. There was a puzzle though - in the 4 nights that we spent there, we never once saw the moon. Does anyone have any theory?

Our guide in Zanzibar is a jolly fellow by the name Mansour, along with his driver Ali. We spent a morning touring and learning about Stone Town. This place has a very colourful history, having been inhabited and colonised by so many different countries. We had to buy a map so that we could understand all the places we were visiting, and how everything was geographically situated. After a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant, eating Pilau and Birani rice, we went to visit the spice plantations. There we were given a history of the different spices and fruits, and got the chance to taste them! These include: clove, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, tumeric, lemon grass, cassava, natural lipstick, coconuts, umbrella mangoes, oranges, passion fruit, tangerine, the mimosa plant (ok, this isn't really a spice but Mansour talked about it) and cardamon. I'm sure I've missed some of them, but it was wonderful! Mansour also bought us a Durian to share along the way. Hehe.. poor Dave had to put up with the three of us smelling of it in the car. We ended up staying in town for dinner that night, as something different. It was wonderful watching sunset directly in front of a bunch of boys playing football (soccer) right on the beach in front of us. Ah.. we slept well that night.

The next day, we drove 2.5hrs down to the south end of the island, to catch a boat out to the bay to watch dolphins. It was windy that morning, so the waters were really choppy! VERY CHOPPY! As it turns out, it was too choppy for the dolphins to surface. We finally did see one though, but it only surface twice so that was it. We also go to snorkel for a bit looking at the colourful coral fishes below us. After lunch, we went to see the Jozani forest, which is home to the Red Colobus monkeys. This breed of monkeys is only found here in zanzibar. We spent our last night at MNarani with another bottle of wine at dinner, this time it was a Merlot. Zanzibar exceeded our expectations, and we would highly recommend it to anyone who comes out to East Africa. It is a perfect end after a safari. We're sure grateful that we were able to spend 4 wonderful nights there.

Safari in Tanzania
Nairobi, Kenya

Our first stop is a lesser-known park called Tarangire, the first of four major parks in Northern Tanzania. We were introduced to the baobab trees, very large trees that grow to be several thousand years old. Where we were, it is currently considered winter, and in the dry season, so there were no leaves on most of the trees. Our guide Yusuf informed us that the trees were indeed alive. If you can imagine those big trunks with large branches that make excellent walking trees around halloween, that's what the Baobob looks like :) We also saw very large numbers of elephants in this park.

After camping for one night at Tarangire National Park, we drove all the way West into the Serengeti, where we spent 2 nights and experienced the most amazing game drives. As many of you know, Serengeti National Park, is internationally known for its wide plains, beautiful sunsets with sillouttes of acacia trees, and home to most of the animals found in East Africa. Winston has pictures on our Tanzania webplace (which you will see when we find a place to upload it to our website) so I won't talk about all the animals here. We were mostly after the cats, understandably of course, having already seen all the gazelles, elephants, zebras, warthogs and baboons. We were rewarded with several sightings, including 2 failed hunts, which were quite exciting to watch. It is interesting to think that as ferocious as the lions are reputed to be for their rank in the animal kingdom, they really seem to have to work hard for their food!

We were thrilled to see 2 serval cats, since this was our first time (we hear they are not as common in Kenya). The cats almost look domecile; they are slightly larger than our house cats, with the coloring and spots of a leopard. Oh, we saw 4 beautiful lion cubs, less than 2 months old. They were just darling, and you want to cuddle them up in your arms. Of course we just stayed in our van and observed them from a distance while mommy lioness was out hunting (hers was one of the failed hunts). We felt sorry for her, for she must be hungry after giving birth, and now having to feed 5 mouths! The most exciting thing that happened at the Serengeti was the hippo running into the lions, but I will let you wait till you see the website for the rest of the information. hehe.

We were sad to leave the great plains but looked forward to visiting the famous Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was much greater than we had expected- 250km circumference! We camped for 2 nights at the rim of the crater, at the Simba Public Campsite, along with several other groups. This was the chilliest of our campsites, since we were above 2200m from sea level. Two exciting things happened at the campsite (well, one I would say is not exciting, but definitely different). Our first night there, Winston and I were 'visited' by wild pigs who smelt a small bag of cashew nuts i had in my daypack. Long story short, they ripped a hole in the tent, and took off with my daypack without us knowing it. Anyway, we did recover it, and it was a mess! Winston has more on this on the Safari site too. Our second visitor were 2 elephants on our second night there. They just walked through the campsite, eating leaves and ripping up trees. It was interesting! Several people were shocked when they came out of the toilets. Hehe.. sometimes we weren't sure whether it was the elephants or people who were more startled.

We didn't see too much activity down in the crater floor although there were a ton of animals there. I think we were concentrating too much on looking for cats that we kinda ignored a lot of the animals. We admitted that we had become safari snobs. Oh oh. The highlights here were TONs if wildabeests and zebras, along with jackals and hyenas, the latter 2 which we hadn't seen too much of previously. There was a soda lake at the bottom, with pink flamingoes. They sure look so pretty when they fly. The drive up and down the crater edge was scary!! Definitely can't do it without a 4 wheel drive.

Oh, i forgot to mention that baboons are a pain in the neck at campsites. They visited us twice while we were at the Serengeti. They steal food right off your table, and the alpha-male pretty much fights with anyone else who has food so he ends up eating most of it. Bleah.

Anyway, after the crater, we spent a night at Mto Wa Mbu (Mosquito River) and did a morning game drive in Lake Manyara National Park. It's very nice here, with terrains of all sorts. There were green forests, a soda lake, plains, dead trees (just the trunks were left from a flood in 1997), shrubs, etc. Very interesting. We didn't see anything exciting here, but it was definitely a very beautiful place.

It was a wonderful 7 days of safari, with great food from our cook, Nuru. He didn't speak much English, except for "welcome" which he says before we eat, and after we thanked him. Next, we hopped on a plane in Arusha and flew down to Zanzibar, which I think needs its own blog.

Trip to Lake Turkana (con't)
Nairobi, Kenya (originally written in Moshi, Tanzania)

Little did we know that once entering Samburu Park, we were not to be driving on paved roads until our return to Nairobi 8 days later. The road up to Marsabit National Reserve was the beginning of the roughest ride we've ever encountered. You NEED to have a 4x4 in order to traverse this highway up to Ethiopia. All throughout our drive, we waved at children who were taking care of their animals and those going to/coming back from school. Most of the children were very receptive and waved back, shouting "how are you?" to us. Unfortunately, we also heard many "Give me pen" or "Give me sweets" in return.

Along the way, we spotted a singing well (dried river bed) where there were several herds of camels and goats. The game warden from Samburu Park had caught a ride with us and returned to his home in Laisamis. It was very neat to see him being greeted at his village by his family (mom, wife and son). He has the only built 'house' there - everyone else lived in traditional Samburu Huts!

All along the way, we saw many women and men dressed in traditional colourful costumes. The women were especially striking. We camped right in the backyard of the Marsabit Lodge, facing a small Lake PAradise (the 'real' Lake Paradise was located further inside the park but was unfortunately due to the wet roads, we were unable to drive there). A family of 40+ baboons came to check us out while we set up camp. Luckily these ones were very well behaved and left us alone.

We were all awaken at 4am the next morning to the sounds of elephants trumpeting. It was quite an eerie though wonderful experience. However, it was too dark to see anything; in the morning, we saw only one elephant and thought perhaps the loud noise were heard was really an echo of the noise of this one animal. Birds sure were busy chirping all morning, and with the cool temperature, it sure was a very refreshing wake up call.

I didn't realize how sore my back was going to be from the bumpy drive the previous day. Ouch. Denise and Karen, I was really wishing you guys were here with me!! :) Those massages would have really helped throughout this trip. We spent 4 hours in the town of Marsabit getting our truck fixed - the springs broke the previous day (again). It was great walking throuhg the town early in the morning watching the villagers set up the market. Winston really enjoyed himself talking to his new friend Issa (read his previous blog).

We set off for the Chalbi Desert. Unfortunately we were not able to drive directly across the desert due to the wet roads. Rufus had gotten stuck there once (for 2 weeks) and he wasn't going to take any chance with the high probability of us sinking. We drove on a trail that took us along the northern rim of the desert. Along with the bumpy ride, we were greeted with tons of lava rocks, camels and deserts. By the time we got towards the middle of the desert, the land was barren. We spent the night camping under the stars at Karacha - a missionary post. We had a fantastic dip in the large and cool above-ground swimming pool there. What a treat in the midst of a hot desert.

In the morning, we set off to watch sunrise from the edge of the desert. However we didn't get too far before the entire truck got stuck on the soft clay. Everyone got out of the truck. Rufus and some of the guys worked on getting the truck out. Eventually we all had to push and after 45mins or so, the truck was finally out of the trench. Gosh, no one had imagined how soft the clay was underneath as everything appears so dry on top and we could see tire tracks.

Driving towards Lake Turkana, we dropped off 3 passengers in North Horr, a very clean village right in the middle of the desert. Once again our truck got stuck in the desert, this time on sand. Luckily it only took a few minutes and the truck was freed again. It was very hot walking on the scorching sand, but it was such a neat place to be, surrounded by palm trees.

We arrived at Lake Turkana and on our way to our campsite, we stopped at Loyangalani where Winston blew bubbles for the enjoyment of the naked Turkana children. They shrieked with laughter and at that moment, we thought, children everywhere are all the same! This is what the Companion Flag is all about. Our lodgings for the next 2 nights were in traditional Turkana huts. They were round, made of palm leaves and branches, and consist of 2 raised beds, with mosquito nets hanging on top, and a small table in the middle. Quite posh, we thought. The view out the front door was beautiful Lake Turkana, also called the Jade Sea. I didn't find out till later that the big white stone right in the middle of the entrance (I also had to watch where I was going otherwise I would've tripped) was to prevent crocodiles from visiting. Can you imagine? Yikes! Unfortunately the lake was unsafe for swimming due to these inhabitants. Actually a pretty sad story is that Rufus actually had a friend that was eaten by a croc here.

With the bumpy dirt roads, traditional huts, costumes, different tribes, deserts, craters and now the lake, we feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to really see Kenya as a country, and to see its people at work and at home. Even when I was sitting on a rock facing the lake, it was quite surreal to believe that we were actually here. Quite a neat start to our travel, I must say. Winston and I bought took pictures of the sunset. It is quite amazing at the lake - the sun has never been as round, bright or easy to see. It was a perfect ball of orange (and when I say perfect, I mean that you can really see the entire circumference of it!). With the rays shining down on the ripples of waves, what an amazing sight. Quite romantic, actually.

The next morning, we took a boat ride across the lake, to view crocodiles and birds, finally ending up at an island where the Moro tribe live. The Moro never numbered greater than 100, and these days, they intermarry with the Turkanas and Samburus. We walked through the village, took pictures, and just observed their ways of life. Of course, there was the compulsory checking of jewelry made by the women. It has always impressed us that in traditional Kenya, the women did all the hard work. They made the houses, took care of the kids, cooked and made jewelry to sell. All the men do is sit around, talk and play games. I suppose the warriors do go out to tend to their goats and cattles, but still.. talk about inequality. No wonder it is so expensive to 'buy' a wife!

As beautiful as Lake Turkana was, none of us really got to sleep much! The wind gusted every night from 10pm till 6am - and it's the strongest wind we've ever seen. It doesn't help that the wind blew towards the lake (usually it's the opposite direction). With the little windows in our hut, all the wind came into these windows, and went towards the lake out the front door. Boy, talk about loud noises all night long. The second night the wind was so strong that it even blew our candle holder off the table. When I brushed my teeth at night, I can feel the wind pushing me from behind. In fact, I was often just on my toes as my heels were lifted off the ground. It was very weird.

Leaving Lake Turkana, we traversed again on bumpy roads, this time at a very slow paced as we were climbing from sea level up to over 2200m to Maralal. The terrain changed very frequently, and after being in the scorching sun, we ended up in a cool, green environment. Our campsite was at the Yale Camel Club and Camp, where there were 3 other Safari trucks there too. After dinner, we hung out at the bar, drinking Tusker beer, and chatting with other travellers.

Our drive back to Nairobi was cold. Everyone had to pee frequently. After about 100km, we ended up on paved roads again. Wow - what a difference, and we drove so much faster! We stopped at Thompson's Fall for pictures, at the Equator where they performed the water spinning demonstration and at the Rift Valley lookout. I bought a couple of large mangoes there. We arrived in Nairobi, dusty but happy, and agreed to meet our friends for dinner that night. Checking at the Boulevard Hotel, we were happy to meet up with Anne and Dave, and to take nice hot showers. What an amazing relief and breather it was to stay in a nice place after camping and being dusty for a week!

We met with Sylvie, Syl and Abbe, and Vierla and Bart who were all at the Backpacker's for dinner at RK's bar and restaurant. We had a lovely night of beer, Fantas and nyoma chomas for very reasonable prices. Bart wasn't feeling too well as he had had a sore in his left side all day (Anne thought perhaps from Kidney stones). We said goodbye to the two Belgians, and agreed to have dinner with the rest of them at the Backpacker's the following night (at the invitation of Ken, the proprieter).

Our free day in Nairobi saw Winston and I at the Internet Cafe where we spent over 2 hours trying to get our laptop connected to their local network. We did get it working, but Winston was unable to FTP so thus no success at updating our website. It took us a while to get started in the morning, with issues of the hotel safe not working, and just basic security with walking in the town of Nairobi (often dubbed as nairobbery). It was very inexpensive to use the Internet, albeit it was slow. The charge is 1 Ksh per minute, which translates to about 80 cents an hour.

We rushed back to the hotel having skipped lunch (because we were online) to meet up with Anne and Dave for our trip to Paradise Lost. We weren't too excited about this trip as none of us had any knowledge of this place. Dave chose this tour because it was cheap so we all did the same. Hehe. As it turns out, it was fantastic! We saw a cave where the MAU MAU freedom fighters hid from 1952-1963. Right at the entrance of the cave is a wonderful waterfall, with green moss, and long vines growing all over the place. There was also boat rides across the lake, and camel and horseback riding (but we didn't do the last two).
Perhaps the most interesting for us was a tour of the coffee farm. Led by Tobias and Milo, and accompanied by Amos (our travel consultant from Sagawa) and Noel (the driver), we had a fun time eating sugar cane, and learning about the process of coffee production. The tour ended with a visit to the original plantation owner's house (where we were in awe of a beautiful huge mahogany table) and we were treated to coffee. We learnt that coffee produced in Kenya were only sold to the government for export, thus the best quality beans were not often found domestically. It was a treat to sit there sipping coffee out of fine china cups. I also found out that having 3 cups of black coffee on an empty stomach was a no no. I ended up being very nauseous on our ride back to the Backpackers, but luckily didn't get sick in the car. Of course, I let it all out once I got there and felt tons better. At the Backpackers, we had a very enjoyable traditional Kenyan meal of Nyoma Choma around a bbq fire outside. It was very pleasant, though sad to say goodbye to our tourmates.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

We're Getting Fat
Stonetown, Zanzibar

Very quick update from Zanzibar. Tanzanian safari was absolutely incredible. Hopefully we'll be able to update the website when we get to London this Friday. Look for details on the wild pig story. And the lion vs hippo encounter.

Zanzibar... man, what a surprise this was. We're still kinda in shock... we're staying in a little piece of paradise on the northern tip of the island. Hopefully more updates on that too.

Just like the last time we were in East Africa, we're not losing weight. Our safari cooks have been great, we're eating three square meals a day, and not really getting a lot of exercise.

Oops, gotta run, Dave and Anne waiting here. Have some nice pictures to put up soon. Later!

p.s. Amanda, it was a lighter... not that we smoke or anything! :)


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