While in Gilgil Tim took us to Nakuru for our first proper tourism in Kenya – a place called Nakumatt. Walking around Nakumatt, Jules was stopped by somebody who asked her if she was lost. Her response was she hadn’t seen anything so wonderful for a while and she was trying to take it all in. Nakumatt is like Carrefour if you are in Europe, Sainsbury’s if you are in the UK and Pick ‘n Pay if you are in South Africa. If none of these names mean anything to you, then I guess you are probably in Ethiopia and I will enlighten you – a shop with trolleys to help you carry very important groceries like cheese, bacon, avocados, milk, wine and beer. They even sell boerewors (traditional South African sausage that was invented as a slightly stronger cure than bacon for the dreaded disease of vegetarianism. If boerewors fails then you can try the broader spectrum biltong, which can also soften the effects of rugby loss).
We gate-crashed Mikhaila’s end-of-term safari supper party for the teachers and gap students. Fortunately the last stop was Mikhaila’s house so at 1:00am, when things were still relatively civilised Granny and Gramps were able to Ninja Bomb our way into our tent. Unfortunately the last stop was Mikhaila’s house. Most drunkards are unable to keep up with a guy who can run a half marathon in 1.5 hours. In a similar vein, a guy who can run a half marathon in 1.5 hours is generally unable to keep up with most drunkards, but he tried to valliantly. Needless to say, the couch we were expecting to spend the next day lying on watching movies while we nursed our hangovers resembled the main site of the Mau Mau uprising.
We visited Lake Naivasha, staying at a lovely campsite called Carnellys Camp. This had amazing birds, great scenery and cold beer, so we forced ourselves to stay an extra night before heading on to Nairobi. On the way to Nairobi we drove through an “Animal Passage”, a road where you have to drive carefully because animals are passing through. It isn’t often that you get to see giraffe, warthog, zebras, jackal and various antelope on a normal road.
We spent a couple of nights in Nairobi at a campsite called Jungle Junction, where people on trips like this invariably end up to swap war stories, compare notes and get into Land Rover vs Toyota debates. They have a mechanic on site and we got him to sort out the klunk sound with the suspension. After half an hour he came back with a “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“What’s the good news?”
“You don’t drive a Land Rover (pause for laughter and effect). There is no bad news, something just needed to be tightened.” If only that was always the case.
As much as we would love to visit all the game parks, the fees for people from outside of East Africa are extortionate, so we have had to try and balance the “Trip of a lifetime; You only live once; You can always earn more money” mentality with common sense. We spent a night in the Aberdare National Park, driving through a rain forest loaded with Buffalo and Elephant that suddenly appear through the trees and just as suddenly disappear. That night we camped in a clearing with four buffaloes and a waterbuck.
The trip from Nairobi to Mombasa is not one for the faint-hearted. Although not full of potholes, it is full of arseholes who drive like they are on pot. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the country due to hundreds of deaths that have occurred and is definitely the worst road Jules and I have been on, including all roads in Istanbul and Cairo – people overtaking five trucks at a time on a blind corner, with idiots behind them doing the same. A common occurrence is a slingshot overtaking manoeuvre where you overtake somebody and as you get back into your lane the guy overtaking behind you continues past you. If you hesitate because you can’t see if it is safe you will have 5 cars behind you overtaking at once, all using the power of guesswork to stay alive.
We stopped at Tsavo East, a spectacular game park with loads of red elephants coloured from the sand, including one with the biggest tusk I have seen on a live elephant – magnificent! We camped in a public campsite with no fences and Jules is convinced there was a lion below us in the night. I slept through all sorts of animal noises, so the experience was wasted on me. The next morning we saw a couple of young male lions hunting some warthogs. This was especially tense because we had 45 minutes left in the park before we had to pay for another day. They slowly stalked their prey with incredible grace, the warthogs completely oblivious, noses to the ground. We alternated between watching the lions, watching the warthogs and watching the clock. Long story short the lions got lazy, one of them not even bothering to chase the warthogs, the warthogs got away and we made it out in time.
From Mombasa we drove to Kilifi, camping in the parking lot of a backpackers called Distant Relatives with brilliant showers among tall bamboo trees. Other than that it is a typical backpackers. I enjoy Bob Marley, but I don’t need to have the reggae vibe thing going the whole time. I don’t need a bunch of guys on guitars showing their sensitive side to girls on their gap yah. I don’t need girls on their gap yah volunteering for an NGO and walking around in T-Shirts that say “Challenge Yourself to Change the World” outgooding each other (one NGO we have seen has optimistically been called “A Glimmer of Hope” – Eliminate Poverty, Illuminate Lives). One of the more memorable conversations overheard between the NGO Gap Yah Girls was “Did you hear that the main actor in Glee died?” (What is Glee you might ask? I don’t know either).
“How old was he?”
“Quite old – I think about 28”. I really didn’t need to hear that conversation.
From Kilifi we drove up the coast to Lamu, the land of the French Cowsay, via Watamu and Malindi. “What’s a French Cowsay?” I hear you ask, and I’m really glad you did. Le Moo. We camped in the driveway of a lodge called Barefoot Beach Camp, being charged a reasonable 400 Shillings each to camp there. What we didn’t realise is that they sprinkle gold dust in the fish soup because the next morning we were blind-sided by a sneaky 5,900 Shilling bill for lunch and some beers.
Lamu is an island just off the North Coast. It has only three cars – one for the governor, a tuc-tuc ambulance, and a bakkie for sick donkeys. We left our car on the mainland, trusting that it and everything inside would still be there when we got back and hopped on the ferry. The town is a UNESCO heritage site, although apparently on the verge of irreparable loss and damage due to insufficient management and development pressure. Apart from being quite dirty with loads of donkey poo all over the place, the town is full of character and we saw incredible houses when we went on a tour of the town. The people were generally quite friendly, and with the odd exception the touts and souvenir salesmen generally weren’t too pushy.
We went on a dhow trip to Manda Toto Island to do some fishing and have some lunch. When we got on the boat the captain told us that he had bought some fish in the highly unlikely event of none of us catching anything because fishing is a game and sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose. Jules was the only person to catch a fish (a 3cm long foul-hooked fish is still a fish) but was unable to celebrate because along with rules like “Buffalo”, “No Smugness”, although quite a recent addition, is very much in play. For the unitiated, Buffalo is when you have to drink with your left hand, otherwise you have to down your drink, a house rule that is always in effect. “Buffaloes and Wildebeests” is an optional alternative – alternating drinking hand every half hour.
On the boat trip we were treated to a spectacular lunch of coral fish, coconut rice and curried vegetables cooked in coconut milk, all cooked over a charcoal braai on the boat. To prepare the coconut our chef used the most over-engineered kitchen implement I have ever seen – a carved wooden fold-up chair with a coconut-scraping attachment built into the end.
On the way back from Lamu we were stopped at one of the numerous police check-points on the road. We have heard about the possibility of being subjected to police corruption, but generally they have been quite friendly, and only occasionally want to see things like driving licenses and insurance papers. The police woman at this checkpoint wanted something else. “Where are you coming from?”
“Lamu, but we have driven from London to Kenya”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to Nairobi, then to the Masai Mara”
“Let me look first at myself (Bends over to see that she looks ok in our side mirror). Ok you can go”.
We did the trip from Lamu back to Nairobi over 2 days, stopping again at the backpackers in Kilifi – different sensitive guitarists, same NGO Gap Yah Girls. Early the next morning we donned our brown trousers and left for a marathon 9 hour drive of close shaves, Jules lifting her feet up to brace herself and blocking her ears while breathing in deeply and me dropping the not so occasional expletive and quite probably causing a few expletives.
From here we bankrupt ourselves to hopefully watch some Gnu’s get chomped by Lions and Crocs in the Masai Mara.