Adventures in kenya-land

Ok, so I am alive.  Sorry for no updates in a while, but I have been off adventuring and working out in central province for the past few days.  Starting on Thursday, PCV Krystle and I headed via train from Mombasa to Nairobi.  The train is an overnight ride, leaving Mombasa around 7:40pm and rucking up to Nairobi mid-morning the next day.  Now let me preface this post with a note: this weekend was a dual-purpose event.  1) To meet and chat with PCV Leah about designing a website for her coffee co-op and 2) to celebtrate the 23rd birthday of yours truly :).  Back to the story!

Now, considering point two above, Krystle and I decided to go all out on the train, first class with dinner and breakfest!  Woo!  We got a compartment to ourselves complete with bunk beds and bedding and a little sink.  Emphasis on little.  See pictures on my Flickr feed.  I claimed top bunk, which comes equipped with a crash net to prevent the occupant from falling off during the night should there be any unexpected stops… there were and I was grateful for the net.

We met this really nice German-Australian couple, V and Jess, who were running around the country for a couple months before heading home to Perth, Western Australia.  Our cabins were adjoined and so we opened the doors and just chilled that night and the next morning.

The food was splendid.  The first of many great meals that weekend.  They even had cold beer on the train!  The tables were set with white table cloths and everything was served on china.  There were even some remnant pieces of original silver: a knife here, fork there, gravy boat, etc, back from when the train was run by the British and was a major holiday-goers experience.

Sleeping was an adventure, and to say the least, I got little of it.  The train would make some of the most horrendous noises when coming to a complete and sudden stop, which it did about four times.  I never learned the reasons for them, though I would not be suprised if the list included: lion on the tracks, zebra on the tracks, lion and zebra on the tracks (performing broadway musicals of course!) or the random, errant Kenya who had just a tad too much Simba Cane.

Breakfest included bacon! ‘Nuff said.  Thankfully, when traveling from mombasa to nairobi, you get some good animals spotting oppurtunities as you climb the central plateau, just as the weather is cooling off.  The last leg of the journey is through the slums of Nairobi which surround the city.  They are unavoidable and make some of the very-obvious tourists stomachs knot up.  That’s life.

We got out of Nairobi as fast as we could.  And got to Karitina, where we met Leah and ate at a place called Starbucks.  Karitina is this up and coming town in Central that proves a decentralized-from-Nairobi Kenyan state is possible.  As an aside, it is of my opinion that heavy-centraliziation based around Nairobi is part of the three-balled leg weight holding back this country (the other two being tri-lingualism and lack of infrastructure of course).

Spent the night at Leah’s discussing the website and playing general peace corps catch up.

And then it was off to Nyeri and Aberdare that saturday.  After securring park passes for Aberdare National Park, we checked into Outspan Hotel, the launchpad to get to our final destination for the night: Treetops Lodge.  You must understand, when Peace Corps Volunteers get together to discuss such urgent matters as website development for coffee co-ops, it is of utmost importance that the discussions take place in only the most conducive of environments for facilitating creative thought: thirty feet in the air surrounded by elephants, warthogs, buffalo and hyena while sipping the first glass of wine imbibed in over four months.  Only by following this formula will desireable results be achieved.

The lunch at Outspan was fantastic.  It was a buffet of Western-food goodness, with strawberry mousse at the end.  Again, ’nuff said.

Treetops is an old hotel, the original being built in the 1930’s.  It started as a two room lodge built up in a tree (who would’ve guessed!) and the original is most famous for being the location Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II of The British Empire (or whatever they were officially calling it in the 1950’s).  “She climbed up on day a princess, and climbed down the next day a Queen,” is how the saying goes.

That place burned down a few years later.

But don’t worry, they built it up again.  This time bigger and better, and MODULAR!  It’s like the International Space Station, but in a tree!  They have expanded it three times, and its current configuration includes occupancy of 53 people (I believe), in little, smaller-than-cruise-ship sized rooms; lounge with bar, communal dining room and top-deck observational platform.

It’s location is right next to a watering hole, which is the real attraction of this place.  True to the mzungu mindset: why go looking for something when you can just bait it and make it come to you.  Also true to mzungu fashion, the plan actually works.  It helps that they sometimes add to the bait by placing salt licks.  I’m not complaining, I saw some cool stuff.

Before settling in for the night though, we went on a true and true safari drive through Abderdare.  I even got to stand up in the 4×4 (Landcruiser of course) and take pictures from a hole in the roof.  If only I had my Hawaiian shirt.  The development worker in me threw-up lunch a little, but the feeling was quickly overcome when the first animals were spotted.  There’s a reason people go on safari: it’s fun.  It’s also rib-bruising, back-aching and probably not a good trip for anyone suffering from osteoperosis, but hey, mom always made me drink milk, so I got my kicks out of it.

I saw warthogs, elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, and, for a fleeting moment, a tried and true LEOPARD!  That’s right readers, now I have both the imaginary leopard living outside my house (though after some noises last night I think he’s moved into my ceiling, though it might just be the mephaquin), and a real leopard at aberdare.  Best birthday present! Sorry to those who sent me parcels.  None contained leopards, so this one takes the top spot.

That night we ate yet another fantastic meal.  There was even cake.  Not birthday cake.  And no andy, there was no stuffed moose head to sing happy birthday to me.  But I did treat myself to some real wine, and to this day am still shocked that I was able to get better wine in the middle of nowhere kenya than in Mombasa.  I think I need to explore more of Mombasa.  Spent the night chatting and watching animals in the lounge and meeting the other tourists there, most of them British.  They enjoyed my youthful charisma, and I am pretty sure I was the youngest person in the entire place.

[Update]:
I forgot one of the most interesting parts of the Treetops experience.  Each room is equipped with a buzzer which you have the option of turning on.  If turned on, you will be informed during the night of the presence of animals of interest.  One buzz is for a hyena, two buzzed for a leopard, three for a rhino and four for an elephant.

At first we were skeptical about the buzzer, but we were soon being buzzed to announce the presence of a hyena.  We woke up and rushed to the observation deck (ok, I rushed… Leah and Krystle slowly made their way there).  Sure enough we got a nice site of a hyena stalking a deer-type thingie, only to be scared off by the elephants who had moved in while we were eating dinner earlier.  Watched this show for a few minutes and then went off to bed.

Of course, literally as I close my eyes to fall back asleep, we get one buzz, two buzzes, THREE BUZZES.  HOLY CRAP A RHINO!  I rushed again, Krystle moped how she wasn’t waking up again, and I think Leah expressed agreement.  I don’t care.  I got to see a rhino.  He walked around the waterhole a couple times and then walked off.  He’s a rhino, he doesn’t care if you are disappointed in his show, he could run you down.  Luckily I was thirty feet in the air and happy to have seen a rhino at all.  That completed my Big Five sightings for Africa (the “Big Five”
 being: Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Buffalo).

We kept the buzzer on, but nothing else came.  As an aside, of the roughly forty guests at Treetops with us, only about 5 of us woke up for the animals.  I’m just excitable when it comes to animals I guess.
[/Update]

That sunday you get whisked away from Treetops for an all you can eat buffet breakfast at Outspan.  Yet another great meal.  And boy did we put the “all you can eat” portion to the test.  The waiters appreciated us a bit though because we were speaking Kiswahili instead of English.  I make it a point of speaking Kiswahili whenever I can, which is still in limited circumstances, but always produces better results.

We spent Sunday night in Nairobi decompressing in a really nice hostel, which is nice because it is a comfort to me to know there is at least one nice place in nairobi.  Also ate at the western-style foodcourt in the Sarit center (the first real mall in Kenya, built in the 80’s).  Played Taki with a group of Israeli backpackers, which was fun.  It’s basically Uno with some different rules.  I asked them if Taki meant anything in Hebrew and they said it meant “Uno,” and then proceeded to laugh.  Smart-allecks, but I like em.  Nice people.

Monday was a tedious bus ride back to Mombasa.  I greatly dislike the Mombasa-Nairobi highway and pity anyone who has to ride it.  I prefer the train, and if you don’t go all out on accomodations and can schedule in the extra time, the train is a far better way to travel and can be comparably priced.  If you can fly, fly, though sorry for having to get to Jomo Kenyatta airport.

All in all it was a great weekend, and a great way to think about desiging a website for a coffee plantation.  Also, I discovered the weather in Central is far more agreeable to my New England upbringing than the Coast.  It’s still in the 80’s and humid as anything here while I was weaering a fleece in the mornings in Central Province.  I still prefer the swahili culture though, and Mombasa is a pretty hopping city.

So yeah, this was, as usual, a long update.  Hope you enjoyed it for those who stayed with me through it, and look to my Flickr account for a photo update of the weekends adventures.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Adventures in kenya-land

  1. kim

    Great pictures and update. Keep them coming. Hope you had a happy bday.

  2. Jeff Briggs

    I wonder if any of those elephants you saw at Treetops were the same ones I saw there in 1981? I agree it is a pretty neat place!

    Jeff

  3. Leah

    Excuse me I was right next to you watching the hyena and I think I beat you to see the rhino. Must be that high-quality wine obscuring your memory…

  4. Hello John, this is Leah’s mom, Linda. She sent me the link to your blog. Great story and it sounds like you had a good time. I’m glad she has been able to connect with her PCV friends and do some interesting/fun things. Loved your photos.