A Travellerspoint blog

Meru

Rhinos FOR CHEAP!

Saturday morning we took back to back computer classes and then brought 500 litres of water to the worksite using the Holden ute, two tanks and two small buckets to transfer the water. Just before lunch Charlie told us that we needed a break and should head to Meru for the weekend. Within minutes we were piled into the car with Charlie and his family.

The road to Meru took us along the fenceline of the Soli game reserve. It boasts the highest rhino density in the worls and unsurprisingly we saw many of them. It was great to encounter them in "the wild" especially because it was for free. Charlie somewhat jokingly and somewhat seriously tried to charge us to see them, albeit through the form of dodgey bet. It was nigh four hours when we eventually arrived in Meru. The long trip caused in part by the significant distance but even more so by the need to stop every few kilometers to greet some distant friend, relative or aquantince. About three qauters of the way to Meru we turned onto a sealed road which forms part of the mira delivery route. Being a drug which loses it potency after 48 hours of harvesting delivery time must be minimised. Because of this we frequently encountered brand new pickups pushing 200 plus kilometres an hour on their way to the airport or the coast. Just before we reached Meru Di spotted a gigantic elephant on the side of the road. The really impressive aspect was that it was not in or even close to a national park and there was no fence, this was a genuinely wild elephant.

Posted by jaredlking 21:27 Comments (0)

Lamu

Went for two, stayed for four.

sunny 34 °C

For the most part the ride to Lamu flew. The roads were in good condition and I had a new book to read. The last couple of hours were damned rough but nothing abnormal. There was another tourist on board called Josh, who we befriended over the following days.

As Lamu is an island we knew that the bus would be dropping us at a ferry dock rather than our ultimate destination. The shock was how small the ferry port was. I had expected a small town built around a small dock but there was no infrastructure to speak of and not a single house or store. We caught a slow boat to Lamu which dropped us right out front of the old town.

We were met by a few touts including one who claimed to be the chairman of the ministry for tourism. Like every aspect of Lamu even the touts were laid back. We found a really cheap hotel with some friendly staff and good security that was set just back from the waterfront.

Without wasting time we went out to indulge on some famous Swahili cuisine. I had the most sensational fish in coconut sauce served on traditional coconut rice. Accompanied by a banana shake it was pretty gluttonous for 4 in the afternoon. After lunch we arranged a dhow trip for the following day and dinner at the house of ¨Ali Hippy¨ the following night.

We sat outside in the hot air of the night drinking beers at one of the only two establishments serving alcohol in town. Whilst we did so I had a bizarre conversation with a local who at first told us he was Australian. When I declined to believe him he told us he was actually Kenyan but wanted to get a gun and work in an Australian ganja farm. His mannerisms were a little disarming so I made it clear we weren't interested in whatever he was selling. Just as he was leaving Josh returned from the toilet and got sucked into conversation. The guy was selling postcards for a 100 shillings but due to a misunderstanding on Josh's part he thought they were 150. To our amusement Josh went into negotiations and got him down to 100, the original asking price. When the vendor moved on we laughed as we retold the story from our perspective, in true British fashion Josh found the humour in it as well.

When our hunger finally returned we had dinner in a restaurant owned by a rasta named James. He was a nice guy and we stayed in touch until the day we left.

To begin our first full day in Lamu we went to the dock to meet our dhow captain. He wasn´t there, apparently he was sick. Two of the other passengers were also supposedly sick. Then it came out that the captain had spent our money on medicine and that we needed to pay more so that our new captain could buy food for lunch. Needless to say we were sceptical, we refused to pay any extra money, after a small debate on the matter the new captain ran off to buy some extra food and we set sail.

It was a beautiful sunny day when we took off, the wind was strong and despite our captain (Hassan) dropping the wind a bit we were all forced to one side of the boat the stop it tipping. The water was flat so the keel of the boat carved through the tropical waters making for a relaxing trip across the bay. The trip took no more than an hour, I would have been happy to kick back and sluice the warm salty water my hands all morning. We dropped anchor near some coral bombies and each dropped a fishing line. I caught a huge piece of coral but not much else, Josh and Di did no better, Hassan caught four or five little fish. Some of the fish were so small I felt terrible that they should not be returned but the environment and the future take second place in a continent where hungry kids are more common than computers. Whilst Di, Hassan and his son continued to fish Josh and I took to the water with our snorkels. The bay we were in was completely surrounded by mangroves so the visibility was terrible, if I held my hand out in front of me I couldn't even see my wrist. At least the water was warm so I dropped my snorkel gear back in the boat and paddled around, no doubt scaring away all the fish and annoying Hassan in the process.

When Hassan finally gave up on catching any substantial fish we sailed to shore. Hassan made a fire in the sand and began to cook lunch. Di sat and read her book in the shade of a mangrove tree and Josh and I walked to a nearby beach. On the way we passed 1000s of oysters shells, the contents of which had been swallowed up by sea birds, locals and tourist alike when they were in season. Once on the beach we dropped our things on a small island that stood in the centre of an inlet and waded out into the water. The tide was coming in strong so we made a habit of walking up along the beach and floating back down to base, lazy lagoon style. After cruising on the waning tidal waters for an hour we returned to the crew. Lunch was just being served when we arrived. For a dishevelled Kenyan man Hassan cooked quite well, despite having not much fish there was plenty of coconut rice and fruit. Low winds meant that we had to head for Lamu town a little earlier than we had wanted but it allowed us a longer sail than we had had in the morning. From the water the town looked even more surreal than from the land. Made up of nothing but several hundred year old buildings, surrounded by tropical waters and doused in bright sunshine it looked like an artist's impression of Valhalla centuries ago.

Back on land Di and I nestled into a waterfront restaurant and sipped on juice for a couple of hours. One of the staff taught some the most basic variations of a traditional board game called bao. It was relatively simple to comprehend and within a couple of games I was beating my teacher.

For dinner we met up with Josh as well as our host for the evening "Ali Hippy". We went back to his house where we sat cross legged on the floor and ate crab, fish and lobster. Upon arrival Ali had taken his shirt off displaying his massive gut which was a little off putting but not powerful enough to ruin the delicious food. To finish off we were served a Swahili cake whilst Ali and his whole family sat around singing and playing instruments in Swahili. Personally I didn't think the music was all that (excluding the albino drummer) but the food had been terrific and pretty good value.

To wash down dinner we grabbed a quick beer at the bar. After her nightcap I walked Di home and then returned to the bar. Josh and I met up with a couple of locals and then walked across town to "Boogy Boogy". It was a comical attempt at a local nightclub that had an almost religious following amongst young locals. Held in the compound of the local police station "canteen" it was open air. The beer was served warm and the cover charge steep (for locals anyway). The audio gear was suitably modern and the music a blend of the worst R&B to have graced this earth. It was good to have a dance with my local friends and in all the night was good dirty fun but the local girls all wanted to dance with the foreigners and the guys all wanted us to buy them a beer. In the end it became a little too much and it was barely in the AM when I headed home. Outside the night club the scene was reminiscent of my year 9 social. A big group of girls lined one wall and a even bigger group of boys another. Apparently the girls were waiting to decide if it was going to be a good night and the boys were waiting to see if the girls would go in. If not they weren't about to pay the cover charge. The direct route home took me through the old cemetry and across town but I never once felt unsafe. I was unsure that anyone in Lamu had the energy to be dangerous.

On Saturday we got up late. After pancakes and a mandatory juice we walked the streets of Lamu. The town is even more picturesque than Zanzibar. Three of four story building leave the narrow streets in permanent shadow. Intricately carved doors and impressive knockers fill the expansive door frames and coral walls join randomly to form a historical maze. The street s were mostly quite except for the occasional woman washing clothes or kids playing games. After allowing ourselves to get lost in the scene we stumbled out into the open. Suddenly the Swahili buildings gave way to rubbish laden compounds and a handful of mud houses. We had come out at the far end of town, close to boogy boogy. I showed Di the cemetery which was a depressing site, many of the tombstones had become so covered in rubbish that only the tops of them could be seen, others had been broken and all of them were neglected.

When we had grown tired of wandering aimlessly we made a failed attempt at using the sporadic internet before taking some lunch in a very simple, three table fish shop. Juice was calling so we returned to one of our preferred restaurants and kicked back. Whilst Di read a played bao with a local who taught me a new, and more intelligent variation of the game.

Later in the afternoon I trustingly, if not foolishly lent a small sum of money to a local boat captain who approached me whilst I was waiting to met with two of Ali Hippy's sons, one was a religious teacher and the other the local Imam, they were accompanied by the albino drummer from the night before. Between them they answered dozens of questions I had about Islam. Not that I was about to become a Muslim, I just wanted to understand the religion. After nearly two hours of Q&A they gave me a couple of books to read and I said goodnight. Before I left though they asked me for some money (on top of the money which I had promised to pay for the books), it wasn't much and considering how long they had spent with me I didn't mind but I thought it was strange none the less. I couldn't imagine a priest asking for money in the same circumstances, but then again, how long had it been since I'd spoken to a priest.

For our final day on Lamu island we took a walk to neighbouring town called Shella. It is aimed more at wealthy tourists than our sort but the promise of old Swahili buildings and a pristine beach called. Due to the dark clouds on the horizon we chose to visit the beach first, it was nice enough and almost void of people but we didn´t swim. Instead we sat in the sand and read for half an hour. By this time the clouds had moved overhead and it began to rain. The rain was never really heavy giving us the freedom to enjoy Shella town. We wandered the streets admiring the Swahili architecture and the ambiance of the streets. Of course Di wanted to stop in at the craft shops and browse aimlessly. Having seen enough arts and crafts for a lifetime I just read my new books on Islam. This generated a lot of interest from locals, most of whom assumed I was Muslim. In the end I stopped reading as I was recieving abnormaly positive attention.

Later in the afternoon we had a few cold drinks on a second storey hotel deck. When we were just about to order Josh called in search of some disinfectant to treat a cut he had recieved from the coral he had tried to walk on. So I left dinner and helped him out. Whilst I was in his room a local came to see if Josh was going to watch the night´s football match with him, Everton was playing and I became interested. We rushed back to collect Di from the restaurant and continued on to the local´s friend´s office. It was locked so we couldn´t watch the game there. Instead we went to the local ¨cinema¨ which is really just one small and one medium sized tv in an overheated room full of chairs. The big screen was showing the news and the smaller one the match. In the middle of some tragic news story I accidently shouted in celebration as Everton scored a goal. The frowning faces turned to broad smiles when they realised that I was watching the other tv. The Swahilis were so friendly that when they found out we were supporting Everton they decided to aswell.

At dinner that night we were met by a local boat captain who found us playing bao. He was a guru at the game and we learnt what it menat to be good at it. Within seconds who could calculate moves that would take me minutes not to mention pen and paper. After eating I left Di to play bao with the restaurant owner whilst I tried to met the boat driver to whom I had lent money. I never found him but I did have some really interesting conversations with a few of the other captains. I was surprised to hear them talking about the environment, foreign politics, education and so much more. They wanted me to stay longer and I wanted to aswell but I had to return to get Di whom at this stage was ready for bed.

Posted by jaredlking 21:27 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Diani

A side trip to a lost land

For our last hour in Lamu I was completely preoccupied with finding the captain who I had lent money to. Not that I cared so much for the money which was not a great sum but I just wanted to believe that he had been sincere. Dianne had sworn she heard someone knocking on he security door of our hotel during the night but I had slept straight through. In the end we waved good bye to Lamu and the money at around 9.

Back on the mainland our bus was waiting. In much the same fashion as the trip north we returned to Mombassa. Around halfway down we picked up a couple of soldier escorts and I was concerned that maybe the violence had flared up again. Fortunately it was all just routine security and we arrived safe and sound.

By the time we arrived in Mombassa it was already getting on. We found a hotel and passed time on the streets doing not much of interest until it became dark.

In the morning we caught a matatu down to the Likono ferry. With no bridges joining Mombassa island to the southern beaches every Tom, Dick and Harry plying this route needs to take the ferry. The lines for the ferry were reminiscent of the cattle yards back on the farm in many ways. The races were filled with locals plying for a good position, none were more aggressive than the ever present porter women carrying 20 kilos on their head, some balancing seemingly awkward objects such as water bottles with the greatest of ease.

As our ferry pulled away I watched a similar procession on the other side of the water. People were lined 10 across and 100 deep as they waited for their turn to board. With the recklessness of all Africans our driver ploughed towards our landing point and dropped the ramp before we had even slowed down. The cars then took their cue and drove off the still moving punt.

Again, like livestock we were herded towards the taxi rank where we found a matatu bound for Diani. Two hops later we were on Diani beach. Immediately we were accosted by a group of three beach boys who accompanied us for a few hundreds meters before giving up. We wandered along the beach until we came across a classy looking hotel. We wandered around the grounds to check the place out. Along the way we found a learn to windsurf place. After a good bit of haggling I arranged for a one hour lesson later in the afternoon. In the mean time, Di and I kicked back on the hotel's deck chairs that overlooked the beach. Not much later we headed into the water for a quick dip, a couple of Mombassa born mzungus were out kite boarding at the time and put on a nice display of flips and spins.

Obviously finding my softer side over the last few days I agreed to check out the arts and crafts of a few local guys. We looked for a nice bao board and when we finally found what we were after we began to negotiate. They initially asked for an absurd sum of money, about 10 times what it was worth, we tried to reason with them but in the end gave up. I felt sorry for these guys, who, like many had suffered greatly from the post election violence. Despite being well away from the problem areas their source of income had dried up completely over the last few months and coming into the off season things weren't about to get better. In all likelihood some of them hadn't sold a thing in weeks. As we walked away a guy said that he had what we wanted but that it was at "his" other shop. We agreed to see it but warned that we couldn't promise to buy anything.

While we waited we enjoyed a surprisingly cheap lunch at the hotels restaurant. We realised somewhere along the way that the hotel was all inclusive and as no one realised that we weren't staying there we could have eaten and drunk for free. Unfortunately our damned morals got in the way and we elected to pay.

Straight after lunch I met my wind surfing instructor. The first 10 minutes were a waste of time as he proceeded to name all of the parts of the board and what they were for. Then we went through how to get on, not exactly difficult when the thing is comparable to a boat in size. We eventually got to the stage where I was allowed to stand on the board and for the next 10 minutes I had to practice balancing which was not much more difficult than standing on a footpath. Finally I was run through how to do a basic turn which was what I had hoped for, it was a relatively easy procedure, much simpler than I had expected. For the remainder of the class I just practised turning and tried to associate movements with results. With a little too much, what happens if I do this, I found myself a little too far down the beach but after a few another short stint of trial and error a managed to work my way back.

Throughout the remainder of the afternoon we never really got any rest with the locals desperate to sell us some handicrafts. As one of them put it, they had barely seen any tourists on the beach for months and when they did come they hid away in the resorts and refused to talk to the locals, for someone like us to come along was a "miracle". The desperation was real, the same guy that had offered us a bao game earlier made four separate trips to "his" other shop and each time came back even more exhausted. In the end we bought the bao game which we had looked at originally, this time for the right price. I was almost heart broken when I saw the look on our hard working friend's face so when Di wasn't looking I slipped him a coin, nothing much but at least his family would eat that night. Again succumbing to my heart strings I bought a small item from another vendor, it was a pitiful price I gave him but we both understood that it was a mercy purchase. Then we made it clear that we didn't want to be hassled for our last hours on the beach and astonishingly they obliged.

I went to the bar to grab a couple of quick drinks and noticed than even the cocktails were included in the price of a room. I made a remark to the bar tender that suggested that the rooms must be expensive. Another guy at the bar, who turned out to be the manager said that they would be cheaper than I expected. He made a call to reception and told me that a room would be $95 for the night, all meals and drinks included. I told Di and we decided to stay there for just one night. We went to reception but they gave us a price three fold on what the manager had told me. We followed it up and it turned out that the manager had just offered us a ridiculously low price, unfortunately he asked that we stay for a minimum of three days.

We enjoyed our last hour in the tropical paradise with a swim and a sun bake. When it came time to go we lamented the fact that we couldn't stay for longer.

We returned to Mombassa just as it started to get dark. We collected our bags from the hotel and walked to the bus area. We arranged a ticket on the night bus and found an eatery next door in which to pass the time. The manager was a fat friendly local who wore a smile that let the whole world know he was happy. When we left to board the bus a couple of hours later he made a scene in the bar as he embraced me three times in the Ethiopian style.

Posted by jaredlking 21:25 Comments (0)

Mombassa

Not quite swahili

sunny 36 °C

I have a deep love for night buses, its like a nights accomodation and a bus ticket in one but when the holes in the road make it resemble a giant cheese grater its not so much fun. Luckily the rough road only extended for just over an hour so for the most part I got some decent sleep.

After collecting our thoughts and finding a central hotel we walked to Fort Jesus. Centuries old and made primarily from coral it is an imposing monument built along the Mombassan coast line. We bought the guide book which filled us in on the rich history of the building and its features. The sizzling Mombassan heat was draining but the character of Fort Jesus implored us to spend at least an hour or two within its walls.

We picked up some soft drinks from the vendor outside and sat with a couple of locals whilst we drank them. One of them was an avid Man. U. supporter who I tried to wind up. His friends caught on to what I was doing and had a little laugh.

Just outside Fort Jesus was the old town, we began to walk through but it was pale in comparison to the rich character of Zanzibar Town. In the end we found an air conditioned internet cafe where we passed an hour. I ate some typical Swahili food for lunch and then walked back to the room where we wanted to grab somethings. Instead we grabbed three hours of sleep. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed we went and bought some bus tickets to Lamu. Lacking any energy we sat on the roof of our hotel for the rest of the night; drinking and eating.

Posted by jaredlking 06:11 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nairobi

Itsa not so bad, not so bad a place.

sunny 20 °C

Having learnt a lot about short trip matatu fares over the past few days the voyage from the lake to Naivasha town cost one fifth of what we had paid in the opposite direction. Before jumping onto a Nairobi bound matatu we walked around town and took care of a few small things in the process.

Nairobi's reputation preceded itself so I decided to familiarise myself with our map of Nairobi before we arrived. Back in Naivasha we had made the decision to stay out in the suburb of Karen, primarily because I was asked to visit Karen Blixen's house by my uncle Bob, who as a 50 something, blokey, Australian farmer has an unhealthy obsession with "Out of Africa". The buses to Karen left from the opposite side of the city to where we arrived so we passed through the heart of the city on our way there. In the middle I felt like I was, for the first time since arriving in Africa 4 months earlier, in a developed city. The streets were clean, the buildings modern, there were pedestrian walkways and all varieties of luxury facilities. Despite having come to Africa because it was so different from Australia we were drawn in by one of the many cafes that appeared to be popular with the city's middle class.

After lunch we finished crossing the CBD and found a bus with a printed sign reading "Karen" in the window. We passed the Nairobi National Park before disembarking at my request about 1km too early. We walked down the wrong road for way too long before being turned away by a security at the gates of the university we had accidentally walked to. Jumping to my own defence only half the roads were actually marked on the map. I was tired and hot but after a little dummy spit and some soothing words from Dianne (these came after her first ones which where critical and precipitated my cranky crack) we walked back to the main road. This was the moment where we became familiar with the pimped out Nairobi matatu scene. The windows are tinted darker than Guinness but once the doors open you fall straight down the rabbit hole. The seats, roof and most other surfaces are covered chesterfield style, bling is draped from anything capable of hanging a chain, the sound system seems capable of making the car bounce and there is at least one TV screening DVDs of hip hop film clips. Even if you can understand the language you can't hear the conductor. Our "ghetto" ride dropped us at the Karen shopping centre where European chains like Mango gave away the fact that we had entered the wealthy, expat dominated part of the country.

It looked like a good sized walk to get to our chosen camp site but due to minimal public transport it was that or a taxi. The direct route was not marked on our map but we were sure that the two roads that looked like they came together off the map would do so. A couple of kilometres later we found that they didn't, well not that we could see. By the time that we got back to the shopping centre we had already walked close to double figures with our packs and opted for the first unnecessary taxi ride of our trip. The book had noted that the camp site was in a quite area but where we were dropped was the back of beyond not to mention expensive, so after all that we had been through to get there we left straight after knocking back an ice cold coke.

We where relatively near Karen Blixen's house so we lugged our bags for another few kilometres until we got there. We were met by an entry five times what we had expected so we didn't go inside but to see the grounds was free so I took a few photos for my uncle. For those that have seen Out of Africa it is weird to see this house in the outskirts of the capital city, her then acreage is now a suburb in its own right.

We caught a city bus from Karen Blixen's old driveway back to the main road. I shouldn't have been so surprised to see that even the local bus had a DVD player. After two more short hops we arrived at a more agreeable camp site. We pitched the tent, cleaned ourselves up, grabbed a beer and put on our best jeans and flip flops. After relaxing for a while and playing with the resident cats we took some matatus to a restaurant called "Carnivore". A fancy looking place renowned for serving mounds of meat and not much else. According to the guide book it had been voted into the top fifty restaurants in the world a few times in years gone. Unfortunately the real draw of the restaurant, exotic game meats, were off the menu. Still I ate no less than ten varieties of carne including ostrich and crocodile. In the middle of the table was a triple decker lazy susan which was burdened with a variety of small salads and a different sauce for each meat. By the time we had left I was bursting at the seams. It was a long walk back to the main road with me stopping every 50 metres to crouch down and hold back my vomit, at least I got more value from my dinner than Di. We made it back to camp just after 9pm, which, due to safety concerns we had been told was the cut-off time for walking and taking public transport.

The next morning we made our way to the main gates of Nairobi National Park. We had hoped to hitch a ride with some self-driven tourists but there were scarcely any in Kenya and certainly none where we were. We didn´t take long to abandon the idea. Instead we opted to return on a Sunday when there was a free bus. As a subsitutute we visited the Nature Walk which was actually a poor zoo. We were shown around by an intern who seemed to know less than the signs and took the tour at her speed, not ours. The enclosures were shitty but there were some pretty unique animals inside including pigmy hippos, albino zebras and a white rhino. The guide was curt and a hinderance on our visit. We had probably not even finished half the circuit when she started to bring up money and tell us how rich we were. Despite all of this we gave her a tip which equates to half a days wages for a lot of Kenyans. She was dissapointed and angry, we felt confused and awkward. She looked like she may cry but not knowing what to do we walked away. Despite her show of emotion my guilt was running low, she was going to college, well fed and better dressed than the over 95% of Kenyans.

We caught the most bouncing matatu yet into downtown Nairobi. After booking some tickets for a night bus to Mombassa we dropped off our bags and lapped up civilisation.

Posted by jaredlking 02:52 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 47) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 »